Obama should “come to Jesus”

While presumptive Democratic Party presidential nominee Barack Obama appealed to evangelicals–some of whom may actually prove receptive–some progressives are demanding that Obama reaffirm core values. In a letter to the editor of the New York Times, Eric Chivian wrote:

Senator Obama’s apparent willingness to adjust some of his seemingly deeply held positions to match the perceived political winds, whether it be about spying on Americans or drilling for oil in coastal waters off states where it has been rightly banned for environmental reasons, makes him look like the same old kind of candidate we have all become used to; undermines the passionate belief felt by tens of millions of us in him and his candidacy, with many of his strongest core supporters feeling deceived and angry; and could cost him the election.

Progressives aren’t the only ones howling; the notorious Karl Rove wrote for Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal that “Sen. Obama has shifted recently on public financing, free trade, Nafta, welfare reform, the D.C. gun ban, whether the Iranian Quds Force is a terrorist group, immunity for telecom companies participating in the Terrorist Surveillance Program, the status of Jerusalem, flag lapel pins, and disavowing Rev. Jeremiah Wright.” Rove continues, blasting Obama for a series of shifts on the war on Iraq.

On Counterpunch, however, John Walsh points out that Obama “has voted for hundreds of billions of dollars to fund the Iraq war and to slaughter hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis,” indeed, a far cry from Rove’s characterization of Obama as having “pledged [throughout 2006 and early 2007] to remove all U.S. troops, even voting to immediately cut off funds for the troops while they were in combat.” Walsh rather sees Obama as having “made it clear long ago in one of his few clear statements on the war that he does not oppose all wars and in fact supports ‘smart’ ones” like another one the U.S. is losing in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party front and faux-Progressive organization, MoveOn.org, offers free Obama buttons.

What will matter in November, however, is not whether Obama sold voters a bill of goods, but whether voters perceive that he sold them a bill of goods. They voted for Democrats in 2006 to get us out of Iraq; Democrats have instead capitulated to the Bush administration on every vote that mattered. When pressed, they blame members of their own party, a coalition of 49 Blue Dog Democrats.

But I don’t see Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi listed as a member of that coalition. It was Pelosi who famously took impeachment of President Bush “off the table.” Blue Dogs claim their goal is “representing the center of the House of Representatives and appealing to the mainstream values of the American public,” and Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, Diane Feinstein, and Obama are a part of the Democratic Party mainstream. Walsh writes:

The war is wildly unpopular and close to 70% of Americans want the U.S. out of Iraq asap. What is “centrist” about moving away from a landslide majoritarian position? And what is the “peace”candidate doing when he calls for 100,000 more active duty army and marines, when he calls for more military spending, when he calls for stepping up the war on Afghanistan, when he talks belligerently about Iran, and when he equivocates on how many tens of thousands of troops are to be left in Iraq? All these are positions that the “peace”candidate took during the primary. They are not new.

Progressives should know by now that the Democratic Party is not, and never will be, a party of “change.” Gore Vidal said it best when he said that the U.S. has a one party system with two right wings. The election in November is not about getting the U.S. out of Iraq, nor is it about restoring civil liberties or the checks and balances intended in the Constitution, or even of relief for a struggling economy. It is about passing control of the power that the Bush administration has amassed in the executive branch to a different faction,a different “right wing,” and a different subset of the wealthy who, alone, remain enfranchised in this country.

A vote for Obama in November is a vote for the status quo, just as surely as would be a vote for John McCain or as would have been a vote for Clinton, just as surely as was a vote for John Kerry in 2004. Progressive ire should be directed not so much at McCain or even George Bush as at a political system that deprives any true opposition of a voice. The so-called two-party system is the problem, but a vote for either mainstream candidate affirms that system.

And if Obama wants to be a voice for real change, he should reject the establishment that secures his position.

Ukraine wants to join Bush’s missile shield

In a move sure to further provoke Moscow, “Ukraine has said it is prepared to open its missile defence network to cooperation with European and other foreign powers. . . . Washington says the system is intended to protect itself and Europe against missile attacks from ‘rogue states’.”

Then-Russian President Vladimir Putin at one point had suggested that Russia and the U.S. could jointly implement a system in Azerbaijan to protect “all of Europe,” but Russia has believed that it is the real object of the U.S. system. And the U.S. ultimately decided the Russian proposal was insufficient, in effect labeling Russia a “rogue state.”

Great circle route calculations make the Bush administration position seem plausible. The great circle route is the shortest route between any two points on a sphere, the route a long-range missile would follow. The real difficulty, as illustrated in a New Scientist article (written when Iraq was of greater concern than Iran) is that disabled missiles from Iran would likely fall on NATO allies. New Scientist speculates about laser interceptions from air or sea; these can disable the booster, but not destroy a warhead designed to survive the heat of re-entry. “To destroy the warhead itself during the boost phase would need a larger and more manoeuvrable interceptor than anything the US is currently developing.”

Intercepting a missile during its ascent requires something faster than the missile itself–hence the New Scientist‘s speculation about a laser weapon–or something placed in between the launch site and the target. Interception is easier in the early stages of the ascent while the ICBM is still moving relatively slowly; it accelerates under thrust as it ascends and as it passes through progressively thinner reaches of the atmosphere. So anti-missile missile batteries need to be placed as close as possible to the launch site and along a projected trajectory.

Azerbaijan, a small country on the western shore of the Caspian Sea, is much closer to any Iranian launch sites than the Czech Republic. If the object of the Bush’s missile defense system is truly Iran, it makes much more sense. But the “Kremlin offer to share a radar site in Azerbaijan could not replace US plans to site a missile shield in eastern Europe.” And Dinshaw Mistry raises considerable doubt that Iran can rapidly deploy any substantial ICBM capability, while Russia already has ICBMs.

There can be little doubt that Russia’s invasion of Georgia provokes angst among its neighbors who have long lived under the shadow of Russian might, but it also sends a message about NATO’s eastward expansion. Georgia and Ukraine both want to join NATO, and while the United States supports their bids, NATO has deferred action on their requests.

Georgia now pays a price for serving as a U.S. proxy, while NATO fails to ride to its rescue, even after sending troops (who were recalled to meet the Russian invasion) to Iraq. “‘We encouraged [the Georgians] to think they were a critical American ally,’ agreed Daniel Nelson, a former European expert at the State Department,” but the head-butt style of Bush administration “diplomacy” has at least one of my professors looking for a “green light” to Georgia’s assault on the separatist provinces Russia has now defended. It is a shame to see Ukraine wanting to pay this price as well. For the only winners in a renewed cold war are the military industrial complex.

Further marginalizing the already marginalized

“’Sanctions are never far from our mind,’ said Al-Amin Dafa Allah, chairman of [Sudan’s] National Assembly’s agricultural committee” in a New York Times story contrasting Sudanese food exports with a United Nations scramble to find food for people in Darfur. “’Sudan could be self-sufficient,’ said Kenro Oshidari, the director of the United Nations World Food Program in Sudan. ‘It does have the potential to be the breadbasket of Africa.’” Meanwhile, Darfur refugees face “less food and soaring malnutrition rates, particularly among children.”[1]

Meanwhile, “the military commander of the UN-African Union mission in Darfur [UNAMID] . . . urged the world community to put as much pressure on the fragmented insurgency in the war-torn Sudanese region as it does on the Khartoum government,” complaining about “the reluctance of Darfur rebels to negotiate,”[2] The next day, Darfur rebels “accused the Sudan government of mounting a massive attack to wipe out their strongholds in the far north of Darfur where they are losing ground for the first time.” Apparently, only rebels would confirm the attack; they said “that Chinese oil workers had arrived in the desert area of North Darfur to begin oil exploration.”[3] Chinese engineers had previously arrived in South Darfur as part of UNAMID,[4] where Chinese companies also explore for oil. Two-thirds of Sudan’s oil production goes to China[5] and China supported the African Union’s criticism of the International Criminal Court’s indictment of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.[6] This suggests that China masks its dealings with Sudan’s government by sending a token force to join U.N. peacekeepers (mostly from the African Union), who themselves appear at least as concerned for Sudan’s government as they are for the people of Darfur.

The complicity of the African Union, as a regional international organization running peacekeeping operations in Darfur, criticizing Darfur’s rebels, and opposing Bashir’s indictment—its “Commission [chairman] Jean Ping accused the ICC of ‘pouring oil on the fire’”[7]—is striking. To credit these positions as legitimate, one must ignore, or assume that African Union leaders are ignorant of the Sudanese government’s history of employing starvation and exploiting peace negotiations to prolong genocide against its own people, while ethnically cleansing areas for oil extraction.[8]

From a Google News search, it does not appear that any other major news organization has picked up the New York Times story about Sudan’s food exports. But Agence-France Presse reported in July that Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries were investing in Sudanese agriculture because “amid surging food prices and a fear of shortages caused by export bans from major crop-producing countries, GCC states now want food lifelines.”[9] A lifeline for Darfur’s long-suffering and already hungry people is apparently less compelling, less compelling than food for the already rich, less compelling than oil for the already powerful, and less compelling than the relationships among the ruling class.

[1] Gettleman, Jeffrey, “Darfur Withers as Sudan Sells Food,” New York Times, August 9, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/10/world/africa/10sudan.html?em (accessed August 15, 2008).
[2] Agence-France Presse, “Darfur rebels are no saints, says UN-AU military chief,” August 12, 2008, http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5ic_U4H9PXaSSgPDSDde4fvVx34ZQ (accessed August 15, 2008).
[3] Agence-France Presse, “Darfur rebels accuse Sudan of mounting major attack,” August 13, 2008, http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5i3X1vk3Vznks_TkeKetEkwJUf4eg (accessed August 15, 2008); see also The Times (London), “Darfur onslaught ‘to clear way for Chinese oil hunt’,” August 14, 2008, Lexis-Nexis (accessed August 15, 2008).
[4] Agence-France Presse, “China boosts peacekeepers in Darfur,” July 17, 2008, http://afp.google.com/article/ ALeqM5jxVo9_9z2jJm2wxZW65dyP8CflEw (accessed August 15, 2008)
[5] The Times (London).
[6] Xinhua, “China urges Security Council to suspend ICC indictment of Sudanese leader,” August 1, 2008, http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2008-08/01/content_8891113.htm (accessed August 15, 2008).
[7] Sudan Tribune, “Deferral of indictment for Sudan president not on UNSC August agenda,” August 5, 2008, http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article28156 (accessed August 15, 2008).
[8] Cheadle, Don and John Prendergast, Not on our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond (New York: Hyperion, 2007), 75, 82-83; and Morse, David, “War of the Future: Oil Drives the Genocide in Darfur,” TomDispatch.com, August 19, 2005, http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/14239/david_morse_on_darfur_as_a_resource_war (accessed August 15, 2008).
[9] Agence-France Presse, “Gulf states look to harvest food from foreign investment,” July 20, 2008, http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5iodC-YqeQO0l4kw9v8bEw5r4B8SA (accessed August 15, 2008).

Wonder what Cuba thinks

In all the furor over Russia’s invasion/liberation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which President Bush labeled as “bullying” Georgia, I cannot help but wonder what citizens in a series of countries around the world think.

It is all just too ironic. There is little that is unique about our invasion and occupation of Iraq. The war there echoes a series of previous interventions of various sorts, ranging from support for right-wing dictators and multinational corporations, engineering coups d’etat, proxy wars, and direct intervention in a list of countries too long to name.

Russia’s response appears to protect its own citizens (whose status Russia guaranteed when the Soviet Union collapsed) and to send a message about the encroachment of NATO and the placement of an anti-missile system the Bush administration implausibly claims as a defense against Iran. It reaffirms, for those who did not really believe it, that Russia has regained military power.

While some say the Russian logic mirrors that of NATO intervention in Kosovo, I’m thinking more of Grenada, a tiny island in the Carribean, which the United States invaded, ostensibly to rescue students at an American University who were never under any real threat. As Lorne Gunter wrote in the Edmonton Journal, “Just as America’s invasion of Grenada in 1983 was a signal that the U.S. had shaken off its post-Vietnam lethargy, Russia’s invasion of its southern neighbour is likely a sign it is over its chaotic, criminal post-Soviet phase.”

“stress tests unlike anything we have done before”

According to a story in the Financial Times, the Federal Reserve has asked “all big Wall Street” banks “to run a comprehensive series of stress tests unlike anything we have done before” to evaluate “how they would fare in a major liquidity shortage or sudden downturn in capital markets.”

As defaults on mortgages and consumer credit rise, a lot of phony money disappears, compelling a contraction in lending in an economy that depends on finance. While the Financial Times suggests that this testing “could be a harbinger of a new regulatory regime if policymakers extend the Fed’s interim powers and let it take over from the Securities and Exchange Commission as the industry’s main regulator,” that these tests are “unlike anything we have done before” could also suggest something more as former Clinton White House economist Nouriel Roubin “estimates the financial crisis will lead to credit losses of at least $1 trillion and most likely will be closer to $2 trillion.”

That’s a lot of money, and I’m not an economist, but with federal reserve requirements, it strikes me that a lot more money than that $1-2 trillion disappears from the economy. The Asia Times puts it this way:

As the debt securitization market collapses, banks cannot roll over their off-balance sheet liabilities by selling new securities and are forced to put the liabilities back on their own balance sheets. This puts stress on bank capital requirements. Since the volume of debt securitization is geometrically larger than bank deposits, a widespread inability to roll over short term debt securities will threaten banks with insolvency.

But again, insolvent banks are only part of the problem. Last year, many worried that as housing prices dropped, homeowners would no longer be able to sustain the consumer spending that has kept the economy afloat since the dot-com crash. Now businesses will have trouble spending as well and can be expected to cut jobs before they cut profits.

This could be a very cold winter.

I thought a weaker dollar was supposed to make us more competitive

Silly me. The bright side to all this economic turmoil we’re going through was supposed to be that a weaker dollar would make U.S. exports more competitive overseas, boosting domestic manufacturing. But if this is true, then why is China now set to take the lead in manufacturing next year, rather than in 2013? Instead, it appears that the declining U.S. economy means “a large downward revision in likely output this year and next is expected to cause the US to slip more quickly than had been expected.”

Unsurprisingly, the National Association of Manufacturers is unperturbed. John Engler, the association’s president remarked, “This should be a wholesome development for the US, for it promises both political stability for the world’s largest country and continuing opportunities for the US to export to, and invest in, the world’s fastest-growing economy.” Capitalists profit from exports and from investments. But “reduced output” means fewer jobs; it especially means fewer well-paying jobs.

European Court to rule on allegations of torture and inhumane treatment in US

The European Court of Human Rights will rule on radical Muslim preacher Abu Hamza’s appeal against extradition from Britain to the United States. “The radical preacher filed an appeal with Europe’s highest human rights court complaining that if extradited, he could be exposed to torture or inhumane treatment in the US.” The court asked Britain to delay the extradition and the Home Office has said it will comply. U.S. prosecutors claim Hamza has provided support for al Qaeda.

Reverence for Life? Not all Vegans think alike.

Police are investigating two firebombings targeting UC Santa Cruz scientists. One victim “was one of 13 researchers listed in threatening animal rights pamphlets found Tuesday in a downtown coffee shop.” Opponents to vivisection have published home addresses of researchers who experiment on animals, adopting a tactic reminiscent of anti-abortion protesters. According to the FBI, “Environmental and animal rights extremists who have turned to arson and explosives are the nation’s top domestic terrorism threat.”

These tactics reinforce the FBI assessment; they offer a rationale for profiling all Vegans who put bumper stickers on their cars such as those I have, which read, “Killing one animal is abuse; killing many animals is science,” and, “Wear your own skin,” as potential terrorists. They win no sympathy, they only cast those who sympathize with animal rights as dangerous extremists.

I’ll accept the designation of an extremist. But if I’m going to be cast as dangerous, I would prefer it to be for my own actions. Thanks a lot, assholes.