Friday, May 22, 2015

José Pablo Feinmann on Esteban Echeverría and the tyrant Juan Manuel de Rosas

This is Chapter 5 of the third season of Argentine philosopher José Pablo Feinmann's public TV series Filosofía aquí y ahora, "T3 CAP 5. Esteban Echeverria: 'El matadero'," Encuentro n/d YouTube 02/07/2013.

Feinmann here discusses the political activist and Romantic author José Esteban Antonio Echeverría (1805–1851) in particular for his criticism of the tyrannical rule of Juan Manuel de Rosas (1793–1877). Rosas was head of the Federalist Party. And while the Federalist position is arguably the more important carrier of the democratic tradition in 19th-century Argentine than their centralist Unitarian opponents, Rosas' rule of the Province of Buenos Aires beginning in 1929 and later extended to the Argentine Confederation was one of the ugliest episodes of brutality and state-terrorist rule in Argentine history.

Echeverría was a partisan of the Unitarians and, as Feinmann describes him, an especially bitter critic of the despicable Rosas.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

José Pablo Feinmann on Juan Galo Lavalle, Argentina's first coup leader

This is Chapter 4 of the third season of Argentine philosopher José Pablo Feinmann's public TV series Filosofía aquí y ahora, "T3 CAP 4.Cartas a Lavalle," Encuentro n/d YouTube 02/07/2013.

In this installment, he discusses Juan Galo Lavalle (1797–1841), to whom belongs the dubious distinction of being the leader of the first coup in Argentina. In doing so, he executed Manuel Dorrego (1787–1828), the elected governor of Buenos Aires Province.

Dorrego represented the federalist trend in 19th century Argentina. Lavalle represented the centralist "Unitarian" trend, not to be confused with the Unitarian Christian denomination.

Feinmann contrasts Lavalle's behavior in staging a coup and executing the elected government with that of José de San Martín (1778–1850), the great Argentine hero of South American independence from Spain, who "hizo la guerra contra los españoles y nunca intervino con el Ejército Libertador en las luchas intestinas entre federales y unitarios." ("made war against the Spanish and never intervened with the Army of Liberation in the internal struggles between Federalists and Unitarians.")

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

José Pablo Feinmann on Juan Bautista Alberdi

This is Chapter 3 of the third season of Argentine philosopher José Pablo Feinmann's public TV series Filosofía aquí y ahora, "T3 CAP 3. Alberdi y la Revolucion de mayo," Encuentro n/d YouTube 02/07/2013.

Here he discusses the great Argentine historian, diplomat and political theorist Juan Bautista Alberdi (1810–1884)

The Encuentro summary notes, "Las ideas de Alberdi representan las bases del primer liberalismo argentino." ("Alberdi's ideas represent the basis of the first Argentine liberalism.")

In the lecture, Feinmann notes, "Alberdi mira a la Revolución de Mayo desde el punto de vista es el de las provincias." ("Alberdi sees the Revolución de Mayo from the point of view which is that of the provinces.") The contrast between federalism, which Alberdi defended, and centralism representing the domination of Buenos Aires over the other provinces is a major theme in 19th century Argentine history.

"Alberdi representa a la línea del liberalismo integracionista," says Feinmann. ("Alberdi represents the line of integrationist liberalism.") Integrationist liberalism is Feinmann's term for Alberdi's federalist perspective, as contrasted with the centralist "liberalismo excluyente" (exclusionary liberalism).

Alberdi also did important work on the laws of war and war crimes.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

José Pablo Feinmann on Mariano Moreno and the Revolución de Mayo of Argentina

This is Chapter 2 of the third season of Argentine philosopher José Pablo Feinmann's public TV series Filosofía aquí y ahora, "T3 CAP 2. El Plan de Operaciones," Encuentro n/d YouTube 02/07/2013, which continues with his discussion of the Revolucion de Mayo of 1810 and its chief leader Mariano Moreno.

The Plan of Operations (Plan revolucionario de operaciones) was a document by Moreno, laying out a plan for constructing an indepedent Argentina, heavily influenced by French Jacobin theorists Robespierre and Saint-Just.

Feinmann argues that Moreno's Plan didn't have a people, a public, that was large enough and so constituted that it could act as a genuine revolutionary subject in the sense that the French Revolution had experienced.

Not to put to fine a point on it, Buenos Aires, where Moreno and his fellow revolutionary leaders Cornelio de Saavedra and Manuel Belgrano, was a small city in a backwater section of the Spanish Empire.

What we now know as Argentina was the largest part of the Virreinato [Viceroyalty] del Río de la Plata, established by Spain in 1776. This graphic from Wikimedia Commons shows the territory it included:

The Revolución de Mayo ended the rule of the last Viceroy of Spain, Baltasar Hidalgo de Cisneros, though Francisco Javier de Elío formerly held the title 1810-12, though he had no effective control in most of his nominal territory. The Revolución de Mayo established the independence of Buenos Aires.

The Virreinato del Río de la Plata was formerly abolished in the Congress of Tucumán of 1816, which declared the independence of the Provincias Unidas [United Provinces] del Río de la Plata

Feinmann here groups participants in a revolution into three groups: enthusiasts, enemies and spectators and discusses Moreno's approach to each.

Monday, May 18, 2015

José Pablo Feinmann on the Enlightenment and the Argentinian Revolution of Independence

This is Chapter 1 of the third season of Argentine philosopher José Pablo Feinmann's public TV series Filosofía aquí y ahora, "T3 CAP 1. Iluminismo y Revolucion de Mayo"; Encuentro n/d YouTube 02/07/2013

href="">Encuentro n/d Filosofía y Praxis YouTube 02/05/2013:

French Revolution made by the masses led by the bourgeoisie, the capitalist class. Liberty, eqaulity, fraternity.

As Feinmann explains, the Revolucion de Mayo was not made by the masses in anything like the same sense. Not a "popular revolution". It was a revolution made by a small group who took advantage of the strange situation presented by the unusual conditions of the French control of Spain under Napoleon.

He stresses the extent to which Enlightenment thought shaped that of Mariano Moreno. Moreno was a Jacobin in his philosophical orientation, but without the sanguinary implications that label carries in its French context.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

US military action in Syria

So, US troops have operating on the ground in Syria. (W. J. Hennigan, U.S. special forces kill Islamic State leader in raid in eastern Syria Los Angeles Times 05/16/2015)

It was against The Terrorists, of course. ISIS in this case. Whose side we were supporting in doing that is less than clear.

Henningan reports, "The military's intent was to capture Sayyaf, but he was killed when he 'engaged' U.S. forces, Carter said. The commandos captured Umm Sayyaf, his wife, who the Pentagon suspects is also a member of the Sunni militant group and 'may have been complicit in what appears to have been the enslavement of a young Yezidi woman rescued last night.'"

So it wasn't an assassination mission. And it was helping women's rights. Good to know.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The value of a progressive/left reading of history

I suppose I should start this off by saying again I'm fine with replacing Old Hickory's face on the $20 bill with that of Underground Railroad leader Harriet Tubman. I'm sure Tubman said something sometime that Ben Carson wouldn't approve. Or something else that would seem retrograde in the context of 2015 progressive politics in the US. But I'm down with using her image on the $20.

What I'm also insistent on is a progressive reading of history that recognizes complexity of progress, which often occurs simultaneously with retrogression in other areas.

Paul Krugman has a good blog post on this topic, Fighting for History 05/13/2015:

... progressives are much too willing to cede history to the other side. Legends about the past matter. Really bad economics flourishes in part because Republicans constantly extol the Reagan record, while Democrats rarely mention how shabby that record was compared with the growth in jobs and incomes under Clinton. The combination of lies, incompetence, and corruption that made the Iraq venture the moral and policy disaster it was should not be allowed to slip into the mists.

And it’s not just an American issue. Europe’s problems are made significantly worse by the selectivity of German historical memory, in which the 1923 inflation looms large but the Brüning deflation of 1930-32, which actually led directly to the fall of Weimar and the rise of you-know-who, has been sent down the memory hole.

There’s a reason conservatives constantly publish books and articles glorifying Harding and Coolidge while sliming FDR; there’s a reason they’re still running against Jimmy Carter; and there’s a reason they’re doing their best to rehabilitate W. And progressives need to fight back. [my emphasis]
I should note that the idea of a progressive/left reading of history quickly runs into objections from postmodernism, which is highly resistant to anything that might suggest a "meaning" in history, much less a scary Hegelian "teleology."

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Should people stage protests when police officers are killed in the line of duty?

Adam Johnson addresses that question in the none-too-subtlety titled Dear Idiots On My Facebook Feed: Here's Why Calling for Protests Over Slain Cops Makes No Sense AlterNet 05/10/2015.

This one line from his piece sums it up well: "It’s simple: one doesn't protest something the system already agrees is bad."

As Johnson points out, people who grump about why there are no protests over cops being killed are making a political point, trying to use this to discredit or demean protests over police murdering unarmed black people.

The typical response among white people to such incidents is, at best, one of non-concern, or only momentary concern.

On the other hand, white people are happy to post videos like this celebrating police in general. In this video, a group of white people, mostly women, with a couple of token minorities thrown in, are seen individually writing thank you signs with Sharpies on pieces of brown cardboard (?!) expressing their general thanks to the police for existing. One white cop is seen being adored by a white, blond woman. Another is shown walking around a room with kids' toys.

To all our law enforcement friends around the world - we see you. LIKE and SHARE this amazing video. #weseeyou #thinblueline (Humanizing the Badge)
Posted by 2015 World Police & Fire Games on Tuesday, February 3, 2015

In other words, the lives of police officers matter to white people.

The lives of unarmed black people gunned down by police for no good reason? Not so much.

Two police officers in Hattiesburg MS were shot and killed during a traffic stop this past weekend, one white and one African-American, Benjamin Deen and Liquori Tate. It made nationwide and internationals news. ('I've been praying it's not true' Daily Mail [UK] 05/09/2015) Here's one article from yesterday: Jack Madison, Athens [AL] police chief offers support to Hattiesburg PD WSFA 12 05/12/2015. The article notes, "Coincidentally, this is National Police Week. Thursday at 5 p.m., the public is invited to the Limestone County Courthouse for a memorial service honoring the nine officers killed in the line of duty in the county."

California Gov. Jerry Brown recently attended a ceremony honoring police officers killed in the line of duty: Jeremy White, AM Alert: Jerry Brown and others honor fallen peace officers Sacramento Bee 05/03/2015. White reports:

In the executive branch, Gov. Jerry Brown will be back in Sacramento to honor 13 peace officers slain in the line of duty last year. Family members will meet with Brown before heading to the 11 a.m. ceremony at the California Peace Officers Memorial, where Attorney General Kamala Harris and Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye will also be in attendance.

Also being commemorated are five long-ago deaths. The most recent honoree, a South San Francisco cop, died in 1953; a Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy named in the ceremony fell in 1881. That was back when the Brown family was somewhat new to California and the sources of the governor’s beloved history lessons were still unfolding in real time. [my emphasis]
A "fallen police officer" is still being very officially and publicly honored for his service 134 years after his death.

There are very public and very official rituals and ceremonies to acknowledge and mourn the killing of police officers, apart from those held by their own families. No one that I know of criticizes this. Even Westboro Baptist Church hasn't protested as police funerals, not that I've ever heard.

And no public officers cheer the killing of police officers or reflexively defend such killings. Nobody does, except possible career criminals and the occasional active urban guerrilla, if there are any of the later in the US in 2015. Maybe the occasional Sovereign Citizen, some of whom are among the cop-killers.

Here we have a story of a different kind of death, a young black schizophrenic woman, Natasha McKenna, murdered by police with a Taser while in police custody. She "was restrained with handcuffs behind her back, leg shackles and a mask when a sheriff’s deputy shocked her four times." (Tom Jackman and Justin Jouvenal, Fairfax jail inmate in Taser death was shackled Washington Post 04/11/2015)

Here's a report from Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks on that case, Restrained Schizophrenic Black Woman Tazed To Death In Virginia Prison 04/13/2015:

The Hattiesburg police officers who were killed have already had their deaths noted and mourned nationwide. (One of my childhood friends mentioned on Facebook that he had known the father of one of the officers killed.) Two black suspects are in custody. No one doubts that the police officers there will be committed to finding the killers and anyone who may have been criminally involved in it in some other way, like providing weapons illegally. No one doubts that prosecutors will go after the accused hard.

By dramatic contrast, no one familiar with the recent history of police brutality and murders committed by police imagines that the same thing can be automatically assumed about Natasha McKenna.

That's why it often takes protests by the community to force the justice system to act in many of these cases. Or federal intervention, which is more likely to happen if there is active community protest.

Will the Governor of Virginia in the year 2149 be commemorating and mourning the death of Natasha McKenna? Only if the country is considerably improved from what it is in 2015.

Kirsten West Savali was asking last week, When Will We Demand Justice for Natasha McKenna? The Root 05/04/2015.

No one needs to ask that question about Benjamin Deen and Liquori Tate. That process began the instant they were shot.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Hersh on the end of Bin Laden

Seymour Hersh has a new investigative report out disputing the official "Zero Dark Thirty" version of Osama bin Laden's death: The Killing of Osama bin Laden.

Hersh's account, based largely on anonymous sources, challenges the official and popular account(s) in various ways, claiming:

  • Pakistani officials knew that Bin Laden was in Abbottabad, and were effectively holding him prisoner there.
  • Bin Laden was not playing any significant role in directing what was left of his Al Qaeda organization.
  • Assassinating Bin Laden rather than capturing him was always the aim of the mission.
  • The Pakistani government knew of the American raid in advance, approved of it and directly facilitated it.
  • The story that the Navy buried Bin Laden at sea is a dubious one at best; his body may have been shot to pieces by the Navy SEAL team.
  • Bin Laden did not pull a gun on his attackers.
  • There was no firefight at the Abbottabad compound.
  • The claim that the SEALS carried away large numbers of valuable documents both hardcopy and paper from the compound are false.

I don't take Seymour Hersh's reporting to be gospel. His book about John Kennedy's administration, The Dark Side of Camelot (1997), showed a surprising credulous attitude toward even some of the dubious tales about JFK's love life. Gary Wills opened his pungent review of the book by commenting, "I am ready to believe nine bad things about John Kennedy before breakfast—until Mr. Hersh adds a tenth, and that makes me begin wondering about the first nine." (A Second Assassination New York Review of Books 12/18/1997 issue)

But he's one of the most accomplished journalists out there and he has excellent sources on military and intelligence matters. So I pay attention to what he does report. And Hersh does have a good record in his War on Terror reporting.

The official Zero Dark Thirty version has been tattered for a while.

I never believed that Pakistan had no advance knowledge of the raid. And it makes sense that someone in the Pakistani ISI or military knew that OBL was staying there. Hersh's account is more plausible on those points, however much is eventually documented or not in the inevitable document leaks of the future. It's also easy to understand that for "reasons of state" both Pakistan and the US would need to deny the cooperation.

And there are several reasons the Obama Administration would need to push back on the notion that the goal was always to deliberately assassinate Osama rather than attempt to bring him before American justice in court.

The squabbling over who decided what to say in the aftermath of the raid and who should review it, etc., are a lot fuzzier. Bob Gates, for instance, who is cited in the piece, isn't exactly known for relentlessly telling the unvarnished truth. But patterns of obfuscation can also us tell a lot. And for researchers like Marcy Wheeler who follow domestic espionage issues, they can be important clues for future areas of research.

Cenk Uygur reports on the story here, Critics Attack Seymour Hersh After Bin Laden Raid Story Goes Public The Young Turks 05/12/2015:

Here are some of the additional stories that have come out in response to Hersh's article.

Jon Schwarz and Ryan Deereaux at Glenn Greenwald's First Look/Intercept shop, Author Reported Essentials of Hersh's Bin Laden Story in 2011 - With Seemingly Different Sources 05/11/2015. The reports to which the title refers are by political scientist R J Hillhouse posted on her blog, The Spy Who Billed Me, about Bin Laden Turned in by Informant -- Courier Was Cover Story 08/07/2011 and Questions Raised by Real Story of How US Found Bin Laden 08/11/2015.

Hillhouse did her first post at that blog since 2011 on 05/11/2015 after Hersh's story came out, Hersh Did Not Break Bin Laden Cover Up Story:

On August 7, 2011, I wrote, among other things:

  • The US cover story of how they found bin Laden was fiction
  • OBL was turned in by a walk-in informant, a mid-level ISI officer seeking to claim $25 million under the "Rewards for Justice" program.
  • The Pakistani Intelligence Service -- ISI -- was sheltering bin Laden
  • Saudi cash was financing the ISI operation keeping bin Laden captive
  • The US presented an ultimatum to Pakistan that they would lose US funding if they did not cooperate with a US operation against bin Laden
  • Pakistani generals Kiyani and Pasha were involved in the US operation that killed OBL
  • Pakistan pulled out its troops from the area of Abottabad to facilitate the American raid
  • The Obama administration betrayed the cooperating Pakistani officials
  • The Obama administration scrambled to explain the crashed helicopter when their original drone strike cover story collapsed

At the time, American media largely ignored the story which was picked up around the world, from London and Sydney, to Istanbul and Islamabad.

The Hersh story makes all of the points described in my 2011 pieces. The Spy Who Billed Me redux.

Digby, Bob Baer muses about Hersh Hullabaloo 05/12/2015

Liberal war-on-terror hawk Peter Bergen challenges Hersh's report in Was there a cover-up in bin Laden killing? CNN 05/11/2015.

Another highly critical piece against Hersh is The many problems with Seymour Hersh's Osama bin Laden conspiracy theory Vox 05/11/2015.

Charlie Pierce, The Bin Laden Raid: The Man Is Still Dead Esquire Politics Blog 05/11/2015. Pierce link to the articles in the two preceding links here and notes:

The strength of Hersh's report comes late in the piece, when he gets fairly deep in the weeds about how the CIA's story of its role in the mission has morphed over the years, and in putting what he alleges is the administration's deceit in the context of the "war" on terror, to which deceit has been fundamental since it was launched.

However, to me, anyway, Bergen seems to do better debunking Hersh's claims than Hersh does defending them. The idea that Saudi Arabia was footing the bills for bin Laden's exile seems less than plausible. I also don't think the president needed an imaginary military pageant surrounding the events to get re-elected, as one of Hersh's sources argues. I think the country would have taken "bin Laden Dead" as something of a foreign policy triumph no matter what the actual circumstances of his demise.

What's clear is that, in the war on terror, or whatever it is in which we've been engaged since we handed the military policy over to the spooks and thrown international crisis diplomacy into the vast, deep underbrush of myth and legend generated by the conjuring spells of the intelligence world, that we willingly surrendered self-government to magic and spellcraft. And Osama bin Laden is still dead, and his body is still at the bottom of the sea. Maybe. [my emphasis]
That bolded part about Saudi Arabia is eye-raising. But who knows? As Bob Baer suggests in the interview linked in Digby's piece above reminds us, Bin Laden may have been able to provide details about the 9/11 attacks that would be very embarrassing to both the Saudi monarchy and the Cheney-Bush Administration.

Peter Grier at the Christian Science Monitor expresses a skeptical take on Hersh's version in The geopolitics of Seymour Hersh's Osama bin Laden story 05/11/2015:

The greatest weakness of Hersh’s piece may be the sheer scale of the deception that would have been necessary for the US to promote a false story of the raid. That’s the problem with many conspiracy theories: They’re just too hard to carry out. Dozens of US officials would have had to mislead the public for years. Pakistan, too, would have had to keep the secret – until now.

And for what? Quartz writer Bobby Ghosh says that while Hersh’s piece may be sensational it never answers the one question that underlies all conspiracy theories: Why?

“Why would the Pakistanis ... and the Obama administration have played such an elaborate ruse on the world?”
Tagging this as a "conspiracy theory" is an ad hominem way to try to dismiss the report. But Hersh's report doesn't strike me as inherently implausible. The Taliban was Pakistan's ally and Bin Laden's was the Taliban's ally. Pakistan wants to keep Afghanistan as a "strategic depth" resource against India and they regard the current Afghan government as pro-India. So it's not at all strange that they might want to keep a resource like Bin Laden in their reserve. Hersh's own explanation that Pakistan wanted to use him as a bargaining chip with the US.

Also, the CIA and the military run high-security, secret operations all the time and all over the world. It doesn't strike me that the level of concealment he describes is inherently unbelievable.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Argentina and autonomist, "anti-globalization" politics

Ezequiel Adamovsky's Más allá de la vieja izquierda (2007) ("Beyond the Old Left") is a series of essays from the early and mid-2000s on Argentine politics. Adamovsky was an active participant in the "autonomist" Asambleas movement in Argentina, founded in local networks which developed after the crisis of 2001 in protest of Argentina's neoliberal policies that came to their most intense development during the Presidential administration of rightwing Peronist Carlos Menem (1989–1999).

These glimpses of left politics in Argentina are relevant to understanding the emergence and development of movements like the indignados in Spain and the Occupy movement in the US. The Asambleas movement was a powerful way to mobilize protest. It brought people into active political engagement, brought them into contact with like minded neighbors and fellow citizens, and produced influential protests.

Adamovsky analyzes the dilemma that anarchist-inclined enthusiasts for the autonomist movement face. On the one hand, the horizontal, egalitarian style of local assemblies is appealing and is a major part of their appeal, being outside of the established politics of the system. But to actually contest for power in the political system, or to create a new one, a movement needs the hierarchical organizations that can compete head-to-head with established parties and lobby groups.

This book discusses these and other philosophical and practical issues around the autonomist and "anti-globalization" movement that made its own mark on global political consciousness in the Seattle protests around the WTO meeting in 1999 in the so-called "Battle of Seattle." (John Vidal, Real battle for Seattle Guardian 12/04/1999)

It's notable that Adamovsky in these essay was deeply skeptical of left-Peronist Néstor Kircher's government, even though he clearly took Argentine policy in a direction defiant of the Washington Consensus, which matched well with the neoliberal policies of Menem's government. These essay predate Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's election as President in 2007 and the even more pronounced moves she has made in the direction her late husband's administration was taking.

This piece published by ZNet in 2014 seems to indicate that his skepticism about kirchnerismo has endured, Argentina since the 2001 Crisis 09/03/2014.

Greece pays IMF loan installment, negotiating on Greece's situation continues

John Psaropoulos writes about the current Greek negotiations in Syriza’s mysterious deal New Athenian 05/11/2015. Alexis Tispras' government is working on a new package of proposed reforms to sell to "its main creditors, the Eurozone and the International Monetary Fund."

Tsipras is also holding up the prospect of putting the package to a referendum vote if Angela Merkel and her junior partners in the deal - the rest of the eurozone countries, in other words - agree to it. Angie doesn't like this referendum stuff. It's seems unlikely that she would be happy about that idea. But her Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is saying he likes the idea! (Christoph Pauly, Euro-Gruppe verhandelt mit Griechenland: Was auf dem Tisch liegt, reicht nicht Spiegel Online 11.05.2015)

Psaropoulos gives a good summary of the stubborn resistance Greece has faced since February:

The rubric agreed on February 20 with creditors was that Greece would sign a partial agreement by the end of April, which would build confidence towards a final deal in June.

But talks have dragged on past deadline. An omnibus bill of agreed measures the government was to have made public on April 30 has remained under wraps. The government in Athens now says it is confident of a deal in May, without specifying whether it will be interim or final.

[Official spokesperson Gavriil] Sakellaridis did not seem to believe that Monday’s Eurogroup would be definitive. “We want this Eurogroup to acknowledge the important progress marked so far in the Brussels Group,” he said, referring to the technical teams of negotiators on the two sides. However, he said a $750mn debt instalment to the IMF on Tuesday will not be held hostage to that demand.

The lack of such acknowledgment hounded Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis at the last Eurogroup meeting in Riga, Latvia on April 24. Finance ministers were so critical of Greece’s apparent lack of progress in talks that Varoufakis left without attending a post-conference dinner. “We see that this process… is leading nowhere,” he said afterwards. Varoufakis maintains that Greece had given technical teams a “hot text” full of proposals, but until there was agreement at the technical level, Eurogroup leader Jeroen Dijsselbloem refused to distribute the proposals to ministers. [my emphasis]
Greece just paid the amount due on its IMF loans. (756 Millionen Euro an den IWF: Griechenland überweist Schuldenrate Spiegel Online 11.05.2015) But the tightrope walk continues.

Renee Maltezou and Robin Emmott report in Germany floats Greek referendum on reform, others doubt timing Reuters 05/11/2015:

EU paymaster Germany suggested on Monday that Greece might need a referendum to approve painful economic reforms on which its creditors are insisting, but Athens said it had no such plan for now and others warned a vote could delay vital aid.

Greece calmed immediate fears of a default by making a crucial 750 million euro payment to the International Monetary Fund a day early. But Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said the liquidity situation was "terribly urgent" and a deal to release further funds was needed in the next couple of weeks.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Obama campaigns for the TPP corporate deregulation treaty

Digby says of Obama's speech Friday in support of the corporate-deregulation TPP treaty, "It was the ugliest, most condescending speech he's ever given." (Sherrod Brown says "Just (Don't) Do It" Hullabaloo 05/09/2015)

The text of Obama's speech is here, Remarks by the President on Trade [at] Nike, Inc. [i]n Beaverton, Oregon White House Press Office 05/08/2015.

His rhetoric was stock "free trade" hype, jobs for everybody, small bitnesses really benefit, blah, blah, blah. Presenting this treaty as though it mainly has to do with "trade" is part of the marketing spin. The key function of the treaty, so far as we know the terms of its still-secret text, seems to be the establishment of business-controlled tribunals that have the authority to overturn national legislation on wages, pensions, working conditions, safety regulations, environmental laws and probably anything else some corporation decides it dislikes. And as a ratified treaty, TPP would be the law of the land on a level with the Constitution, and overruling previous legislation or Constitutional provisions.

Obama denies this: "critics warn that parts of this deal would undermine American regulation -- food safety, worker safety, even financial regulations. They’re making this stuff up. (Applause.) This is just not true. No trade agreement is going to force us to change our laws. This agreement would make sure our companies aren’t discriminated against in other countries."

Then what are those tribunals for? He promises to post the text of the finalized TPP before its's approved. So it's hard for anyone not privy to the currently classified documents to say for sure he's wrong on this. But I don't believe him.

This is probably one of the lines Digby had in mind, "Some folks think we should just withdraw and not even try to engage in trade with these countries. I disagree."

Of course, even the most hardcore Bircher-style rightwing isolationists want to "engage in trade" with foreign countries, no matter how much they may hate those countries and their people. That is a frivolous and condescending claim.

And there's the usual boilerplate claims for the neoliberal deregulation treaties that we've heward since NAFTA, claims that somehow never seem to come to pass in any substantial way: "It’s got strong, enforceable provisions for workers, preventing things like child labor. It's got strong, enforceable provisions on the environment, helping us to do things that haven’t been done before, to prevent wildlife trafficking, or deforestation, or dealing with our oceans. And these are enforceable in the agreement."

Here's another sneer:

So the fact is, some folks are just opposed to trade deals out of principle, a reflexive principle. And what I tell them is, you know what, if you're opposed to these smart, progressive trade deals, then that means you must be satisfied with the status quo. And the status quo hasn’t been working for our workers. It hasn’t been working for our businesses. And there are people here who will tell you why.
And as he enters his closing portion, he repeats his warning against the nonexistent isolationists: "So, yes, we should be mindful of the past, but we can’t ignore the realities of the new economy. We can’t stand on the beaches and stop the global economy at our shores. We’ve got to harness it on our terms. This century is built for us."

Digby comments, "I take Obama supporters at their word that he has finally been freed to do what he really wanted to do. This appears to be one of the things he really wanted to do."

Thursday, May 07, 2015

How hawkish would President Hillary be?

My worry at this point on Hillary Clinton's candidacy is that while she's recently being staking out progressive-leaning positions on domestic/economic issues, that she will "balance" that with hawkish foreign policy positions.

Part of this is based on her history and on the record of the Clinton Administration in foreign policy.

The most hopeful sign in this regard is her seeming opposition to the TPP, because she has expressed her rejection of the private-based arbitration procedures that are central to the corporate-deregulation goals of that awful pseudo-"trade" treaty.

But I've become so accustomed to President Obama giving a great speech or taking a progressive position and soon thereafter taking an awful one that I've become conditioned to waiting for the other (conservative) shoe to drop.

Tom Hayden looks at this problem in Hillary & the Peace Movement Peace & Justice Resource Center 04/27/2015, in which he addresses the lack of adequate organized grassroots pressure for a more peaceful foreign policy:

The absence of a powerful Peace Lobby, on the scale of the civil rights, women's and labor lobbies in Washington, leaves a vacuum allowing Hillary Clinton to drift towards neo-conservative military views.

Certainly there are admirable peace groups lobbying Washington today, but none compare with the NAACP for African-Americans, MALDEF for Mexican-Americans and immigrants, the NRDC for environmentalists, nor with NOW, the Feminist Majority or the AFL-CIO. ...

There is a vacuum where a vibrant peace movement should be. Liberal groups like the Center for American Progress (CAP) focus on domestic issues and are somewhere between tepid and unpredictable on foreign policy. With a few exceptions, the well-funded domestic reformers stay away from issues of war and foreign policy, which might cause political or donor problems. During the height of the Iraq War, big Democratic donors were encouraged to fund MoveOn and anti-war work in Republican Congressional districts, but the effort quickly faded. [my emphasis]
As long as we have the same basic policy we've had since 1991 of maintaining the US as the overwhelming hegemon in the world, we're going to have a warlike foreign policy with authoritarian repercussions at home.

That doesn't mean that people shouldn't challenge bad individual policies. It means what Tom Hayden is saying, that we really, really need an active, organized grassroots peace movement in the US, war in and war out.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Noam Chomsky, Sam Harris and a 1998 cruise missile attack

This exchange between Sam Harris and Noam Chomsky, two people whose work I regard as, respectively, rightwing ideology and excessive generalization: Noam Chomsky undresses Sam Harris: Stop “pretending to have a rational discussion” Salon 05/05/2015. Chomsky's faults in this regard are the lesser of the two.

Harris is one of the best-known militant atheists right now. You need some missionary spirit, or at least a good performance of it, if you're going to run down all religion as bad and false. And atheists are not all peace-and-love hippie sorts. Some of them are social and political conservatives, even reactionaries.

Chomsky is good about pointing out the endless hypocrisy to be found in US foreign policy. But he does seem to regard almost everything about US foreign policy as based on unrelenting bad faith. And it seems every time I encounter his arguments, I find myself wishing he conveyed a little more practical awareness that foreign policy everywhere runs on hypocrisy as well as on calculations of national interests. Most importantly, he seems to be oblivious to the fact that just plain stupidity plays a significant role in foreign policy, just as it does in the rest of human life. Not everything destructive or wrong is because of bad faith decisions.

In this particular argument, I do think Chomsky has the better point on substance, by far. One of the biggest problems in American discussion of foreign policy is that our politicians and lobby groups promote a history-begins-today view of foreign policy issues. Al-Qaida bombs the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Al-Qaida was based in Afghanistan with the permission of the Afghan government. We attack the Afghan government and install a new one. All that makes logical sense and satisfies the "American, f**k yeah!" impulse.

In a longer view, it looks different. Afghanistan was barely mentioned in American news until 1979 when the Soviets took over. Then through the 1980s, we supported Islamic fighters who were routinely described in the US press in the most laudatory terms, brave mujaheddin freedom fighters and the like. Many of them practiced the kind of brutal warfare we see today from ISIS and other Islamic extremist groups. But little was reported about that in the US press and even less said by our political leaders. The Soviet Union was the Evil Empire, the focus of evil in the modern world, as St. Reagan put it. The brave mujaheddin freedom fighters were the enemies of the Focus Of Evil, so we armed, trained and otherwise supported them. And in the process worked with Saudi Arabia to build up an international network for funding and supplying the brave mujaheddin freedom fighters. Part of that network evolved in the 1990s to become Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaida group.

On a somewhat longer scale, both the US and Israel promoted political Islam in various ways in the Middle East as a less Soviet-friendly alternative to the Arab nationalism associated with regimes in Egypt, Iraq and Syria. But this wasn't a one-dimensional effort. It didn't stop the US and/or Israel from having friendly and supportive relations with authoritarian regimes, e.g., US and Israel with Egypt, US with Saudi Arabia, Israel with Iran during the 1980s war against Saddam Hussein's secular regime while the US favored Iraq.

Chomsky performs a valuable service in reminding people over and over about the longer history and the larger picture it creates. If there were a better awareness of such things among policymakers and the public, our foreign policy could be considerably more constructive.

The exchange with Sam Harris includes a lot of hair-splitting quibbling. But the basic point is that Chomsky is talking about an example of US military action in the Muslim world, the cruise missile bombing of the Al Shifa pharmaceutical plant by the Clinton Administration in 1998. This came in the aftermath of the bombing of the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by Al Qaida. The Administration also fired cruise missiles at Al Qaida camps in Afghanistan.

James Risen reported in To Bomb Sudan Plant, or Not: A Year Later, Debates Rankle New York Times 10/27/1999

Officials throughout the Government raised doubts up to the eve of the attack about whether the United States had sufficient information linking the factory to either chemical weapons or to bin Laden, according to participants in the discussions. They said senior diplomatic and intelligence officials argued strenuously over whether any target in Sudan should be attacked.

Aides passed on their doubts to the Secretary of State, officials said. But the national security adviser, Samuel R. Berger, who played a pivotal role in approving the strike, said in an interview that he was not aware of any questions about the strength of the evidence before the attack.

In the aftermath, some senior officials moved to suppress internal dissent, officials said. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and a senior deputy, they said, encouraged State Department intelligence analysts to kill a report being drafted that said the bombing was not justified.
The undated Kubar: Shifa Pharmaceutical Facility (accessed 05/06/2015) describes:

The Administration's initial characterization of the Al Shifa pharmaceutical plant, based on intelligence assembled primarily by CIA, which concluded that the Al Shifa plant was involved in the manufacture of chemical-warfare materials, was based on a soil sample which disclosed the presence of a chemical precursor of VX nerve gas.

Subsequently, however, independent experts questioned whether this chemical would be present in the soil of a chemical weapons facility, and noted that the chemical was also a pesticide residue. As to the initial claim that the facility did not produce commercial pharmaceuticals, it was subsequently revealed that the facility was in fact one of the primary pharmaceutical production facilities in Sudan, and was in fact a showplace routinely toured by schoolchildren who watched the plant's employees package and bottle medicines. Westerners who had either toured the plant or participated in its construction reported no evident restrictions on their movement, and no evidence of chemical weapons production activities. Many CIA analysts believe that, while there is evidence tying Al Shifa to chemical weapons at some point in the past, the evidence cited by the Administration did not represent the most compelling information on the facility.
The 9/11 Commission Report (2004) describes the Al Shifa attacks this way:

By the early hours of the morning of August 20, President Clinton and all his principal advisers had agreed to strike Bin Ladin camps in Afghanistan near Khowst,as well as hitting al Shifa.The President took the Sudanese tannery off the target list because he saw little point in killing uninvolved people without doing significant harm to Bin Ladin. The principal with the most qualms regarding al Shifa was Attorney General Reno. She expressed concern about attacking two Muslim countries at the same time. Looking back, she said that she felt the “premise kept shifting. ...

Much public commentary turned immediately to scalding criticism that the action was too aggressive. The Sudanese denied that al Shifa produced nerve gas, and they allowed journalists to visit what was left of a seemingly harmless facility. President Clinton,Vice President Gore, Berger, Tenet, and Clarke insisted to us that their judgment was right, pointing to the soil sample evidence.No independent evidence has emerged to corroborate the CIA’s assessment. (pp. 117-118)
This article from The Nonproliferation Review Fall 1998 is particularly interesting in that it recounts the various reasons to doubt the chemical-weapons justification for the attack soon after the attack itself, Chemical Weapons in the Sudan: Allegations and Evidence by Michael Barletta1.

Timothy Noah wrote about the case in Khartoum Revisited, Part 2 Slate 03/31/2004:

Why did the CIA end up being fixated on Al-Shifa? The best guess Chatterbox has seen is set forth in an October 1998 piece by the murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Pearl suggested that a man named Mubarak Fadl Al Mahdi put the word out that Al-Shifa was mixed up with chemical weapons in order to hurt the plant's owner, Salah Idris, who was a political enemy of Mahdi's. Mahdi admitted to Pearl that he'd made it his business to collect information about the plant after Idris bought it. Pearl further reported that after the bombing, Mahdi issued a communiqué that said Al-Shifa had harbored "Iraqi scientists and technicians" and that most pharmaceutical plants in Sudan weren't "manned by foreign experts." (Mahdi denied having said anything about this before the bombing, and U.S. intelligence officials denied that they'd relied on anyone with a motive to hurt Idris.)

It is possible that we'll one day learn Al-Shifa was a legitimate bombing target. Most of the information about this incident is still classified. ... But based on the evidence available now, Al-Shifa looks very much like the fiasco we thought it was then. The Sudan bombing is a blot on the Clinton presidency, and a blot it ought to remain.
So while not everyone may agree that the Al Shifa missile strike was as clearly reckless and heedless of life as Chomsky implies in his exchange with Harris, the point he is making is a valid one: people in the United States need to have a better understanding of how our country's actions look to the rest of the world.

Chomsky took some flack after the 9/11 attacks for talking about how an attack that was perceived as a relatively minor incident in the United States could look far more horrible to others. Sam Harris in this exchange is trying to beat Chomsky up for the same thing, trying to make Chomsky look guilty of a favorite conservative accusation, moral equivalence. As Chomsky says here, "'moral equivalence' [is] the term that has been regularly used, since Jeane Kirkpatrick, to try to undercut critical analysis of the state one defends."

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Negotiations over Greece's future continue

Antonio Fatas in The Greek Dra(ch)ma is back? On the Global Economy 05/03/2015 sizes up the current positions of the two sides in the Greek negotiations. For Greece:

What Greece really wants out of these negotiations is straightforward: a restructuring/reduction of its current debt that allows them to survive over the coming years with a primary balance in (small) surplus. This would mean that their pressure is gone and and that they can implement any policies they want without worrying about new loans as long as they can keep a primary surplus, which might be feasible given the current state of the budget. In return it will be easy to promise reforms that can have enough support at home (removing bureaucratic barriers, broadening the tax base, improve government efficiency). Of course, when it come to the actual implementation of those reforms, the support could turn into strong opposition. Greece also does not want to leave the Euro. Support among Greek voters is very high and the government understands the uncertainty and likely downside risk that they would face if Greece has exit the Euro area. [my emphasis]
On the Germany/EU side:

What the European partners want is much less clear. They would love to get paid back on all the current Greek government debt that they hold but that's unlikely to happen. Some would love to see Greece outside of the Euro area so that they do not have to deal with this again. There is a sense that whatever agreement is found now will not be the last one. The lack of trust has reached levels that has made it clear to some that Grexit is the best long-term outcome. But they are afraid of the consequences, both in the short run and in the long run in terms of credibility of the membership that would be left after Greece was gone. What no one wants is an agreement that does not offer a permanent solution to the problem. But is this possible? You need a credible commitment from Greece on implementing reforms in a way that can guarantee a large enough primary balance so that the possibility of future crisis goes down significantly. But credible commitment on reforms is not feasible. Reforms take time to be designed and implemented and there is enough uncertainty about growth and interest rates to ensure that a future crisis can be ruled out. [my emphasis]
The clock is ticking and we're going to have some kind of turning point in Greece's situation. The news leaks and stories about various conflicting options are a combination of actual differences in positions, negotiating bluffs and trial balloons to see how others react to various options. The big question in the latter category is how various players would react to Germany insisting on expelling Greece from the eurozone.

Mohamed El-Erian, formerly of PIMCO and now Chief Economic Adviser at Allianz, has nice things to say about Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis in Varoufakis should be heard Ekathimerini 05/04/2015:

Having spent the bulk of his career in academia, Varoufakis erred toward open public discussion and discourse. Diplomatic niceties were set aside in favor of candid debates. Flowery introductions gave way to laser-like focus on areas of disagreements.

Having also been part of a government that was elected on the promise to restoring Greece's dignity, he had no hesitation about speaking to other European finance ministers as an equal. And because his meetings were closely covered by the media -- in particular those with his German counterparts -- the world was often treated to a level of drama that hardly ever emerges from European negotiations: accusations and counter-accusations, rebukes and unusual physical postures.

Varoufakis is impatient, and understandably so. Having observed the suffering of his people for so many years because of what he believes were unguided policies, he was ready to shake things up. Yet in his keenness to deliver a big bang solution, he neglected the small confidence-building steps that were required.
Varoufakis, after a break of a couple of weeks from his role as lead negotiator, will be back in the saddle at a new round of meeting with the eurozone finance ministers next week.

Finally, Bloomberg News has a really good interview with Daniela Schwarzer of the German Marshall Fund on the Greek situation, No German Majority to Push Greece Out of Euro: Schwarzer 05/04/2015.