Holy Clusterfucktastrophe!

Yet another gift to Republicans.

The Obama administration on Tuesday, in a letter to congressional leaders, announced its intention to move forward with a massive free trade agreement that would be the largest since the North American Free Trade Agreement.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in a letter that the U.S. plans to begin negotiations to enter into the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The TPP is currently comprised of Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore. Vietnam and Australia are in negotiations to enter the free trade zone. In addition, Kirk said that he would eventually like to see Japan, Malaysia, Peru and South Korea enter the fold as well.

“U.S. participation in the TPP agreement is predicated on the shared objective of expanding this initial group to additional countries,” Kirk wrote.

More.  Far too much more …

OopsieUPDATE:  Candidate Obama —

I voted against CAFTA, never supported NAFTA, and will not support NAFTA-style trade agreements in the future. NAFTA’s shortcomings were evident when signed and we must now amend the agreement to fix them. While NAFTA gave broad rights to investors, it paid only lip service to the rights of labor and the importance of environmental protection.

February 28, 2008 – Such a long time ago.

I wonder if Obama will reform NAFTA before entering into TPP?  Or is this another one of those problems that he would prefer to resolve badly while promising to fix it later?  That seems to work.

What If?

My capacity to wonder has been damaged recently.  Good thing Rebecca Solnit is still up for it.  Of course, I am a lot older than her.

What if Obama would say what he has to know, what they all have to know, that saving the planet from our slo-mo, unevenly distributed version of Judgment Day requires destroying the status quo and maybe changing everything? What if he’d just learn from Schwarzenegger that you can do quite a lot and still survive politically?

Yes Rebecca.  What if?

There’s much more.

Voice from the (Not So Distant) Past

Judith Butler on the election of Barack Obama:

The election of Obama means that the terrain for debate and struggle has shifted, and it is a better terrain, to be sure. But it is not the end of struggle, and we would be very unwise to regard it that way, even provisionally. We will doubtless agree and disagree with various actions he takes and fails to take. But if the initial expectation is that he is and will be “redemption” itself, then we will punish him mercilessly when he fails us (or we will find ways to deny or suppress that disappointment in order to keep alive the experience of unity and unambivalent love).

If a consequential and dramatic disappointment is to be averted, he will have to act quickly and well. Perhaps the only way to avert a “crash” – a disappointment of serious proportions that would turn political will against him – will be to take decisive actions within the first two months of his presidency. The first would be to close Guantanamo and find ways to transfer the cases of detainees to legitimate courts; the second would be to forge a plan for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and to begin to implement that plan. The third would be to retract his bellicose remarks about escalating war in Afghanistan and pursue diplomatic, multilateral solutions in that arena. If he fails to take these steps, his support on the left will clearly deteriorate, and we will see the reconfiguration of the split between liberal hawks and the anti-war left. If he appoints the likes of Lawrence Summers to key cabinet positions, or continues the failed economic polices of Clinton and Bush, then at some point the messiah will be scorned as a false prophet. In the place of an impossible promise, we need a series of concrete actions that can begin to reverse the terrible abrogation of justice committed by the Bush regime; anything less will lead to a dramatic and consequential disillusionment. The question is what measure of dis-illusion is necessary in order to retrieve a critical politics, and what more dramatic form of dis-illusionment will return us to the intense political cynicism of the last years. Some relief from illusion is necessary, so that we might remember that politics is less about the person and the impossible and beautiful promise he represents than it is about the concrete changes in policy that might begin, over time, and with difficulty, bring about conditions of greater justice.

Time to rejuvenate that “critical politics”.  Past time really but better late than …

Yes, there’s more from Butler.  It comes via wood s lot.

Greenwald on the Torture Memos

The most criticism-worthy act that Obama engaged in yesterday was to affirm and perpetuate what is the single most-destructive premise in our political culture:  namely, that when high government officials get caught committing serious crimes, the responsible and constructive thing to do is demand immunity for them, while only those who are vindictive and divisive want political leaders to be held accountable for their crimes.  This is what Obama said in affirming that rotted premise:

This is a time for reflection, not retribution. . . . But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America’s ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence. That is why we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future.

That passage, more than anything else, is the mindset that has destroyed the rule of law in the U.S. and spawned massive criminality in our elite class.  Accountability for crimes committed by political leaders (as opposed to ordinary Americans) is scorned as “retribution” and “laying blame for the past.”  Those who believe that the rule of law should be applied to the powerful as well as to ordinary citizens are demonized as the “forces that divide us.”  The bottomless corruption of immunizing political elites for serious crimes is glorified in the most Orwellian terms as “a time for reflection,” “moving forward,” and “coming together on behalf of our common future.”

Regardless of the reasons, it is clear that Obama will not single-handedly eliminate the immunity from the rule of law which the political class and other elites have arrogated unto themselves.  If anything, as his comments yesterday reflect, he is likely to affirm and defend that immunity (and, obviously, he personally benefits from its ongoing vitality).  Demanding that political leaders be subjected to the rule of law — and finding ways to force the appointment of a Special Prosecutor — is what citizens ought to be doing.  Either we care about the rule of law or we don’t — and if we do, we’ll find the ways to demand its application to the politically powerful criminals who broke multiple laws over the last eight years.  Obama’s release of those torture memos yesterday makes that choice unambiguously clear and enables the right to choice to be made.

The whole thing is here

Time to Freak Out

I’ve been thinking for months now that the economies of the Western industrialized countries are on a downward path that isn’t about to end and that no amount of fiscal stimulus fiddling of the kind we’ve seen thus far in Canada and the US is going to stop it.  When George Soros and Paul Volcker agree with me, then I really am scared:

Renowned investor George Soros said on Friday the world financial system has effectively disintegrated, adding that there is yet no prospect of a near-term resolution to the crisis.

Soros said the turbulence is actually more severe than during the Great Depression, comparing the current situation to the demise of the Soviet Union.

He said the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September marked a turning point in the functioning of the market system.

“We witnessed the collapse of the financial system,” Soros said at a Columbia University dinner. “It was placed on life support, and it’s still on life support. There’s no sign that we are anywhere near a bottom.”

His comments echoed those made earlier at the same conference by Paul Volcker, a former Federal Reserve chairman who is now a top adviser to President Barack Obama.

Volcker said industrial production around the world was declining even more rapidly than in the United States, which is itself under severe strain.

“I don’t remember any time, maybe even in the Great Depression, when things went down quite so fast, quite so uniformly around the world,” Volcker said.

Oops.  Ya think Volcker has told Obama?

Rock Star Obama

From Andrew Steele at the Globe and Mail:

The hype around President Obama’s brief state visit to Ottawa can only be described as embarassing, overwrought and – amazingly – failing to live up to the importance of the day. 
 
Obama’s visit was a media hurricane of the worst sort of flaccid, photo-driven pack journalism.

Oh wow the way people do dribble over him really freaks me out.  Simply put, it’s dangerous to see a politician as a rock star.  He’s not.  He can’t be.  He shouldn’t be.  The joy in Lloyd Robertson’s voice tonight.  Really.  Freaks.  Me.  Out.

Swamp in the Desert

More reactions to Obama’s decision to send 17,000 US troops into Afghanistan:

… in a TV interview Tuesday, Obama said he was “absolutely convinced that you cannot solve the problem of Afghanistan, the Taliban (insurgency), the spread extremism in that region solely through military means.”

“If there is no military solution, why is the administration’s first set of decisions to continue drone attacks and increase ground troops?” Marilyn B. Young, a professor of history at New York University, told IPS.

She said the uncertainty around Afghan policy seems to be spreading even while the Obama administration announces an increase in troops.

“This is one of the ways events seem to echo U.S. escalation in the Vietnam War,” said Young, author of several publications, including ‘Iraq and the Lessons of Vietnam: Or, How Not to Learn From the Past’.

On Tuesday, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released a report revealing that in 2008, there were 2,118 civilian casualties in Afghanistan, an increase of almost 40 percent over 2007.

Of these casualties, 55 percent of the overall death toll was attributed to anti-government forces, including the Taliban, and 39 percent to Afghan security and international military forces.

“This is of great concern to the United Nations,” the report said, pointing out that “this disquieting pattern demands that the parties to the conflict take all necessary measures to avoid the killing of innocent civilians.”

During his presidential campaign last year, Obama said the war in Iraq was a misguided war.

The United States, he said, needs to pull out of Iraq, and at the same time, bolster its troops in Afghanistan, primarily to prevent the militant Islamic fundamentalist Taliban from regaining power and also to eliminate safe havens for terrorists.

But most political analysts point out that Afghanistan may turn out to be a bigger military quagmire for U.S. forces than Iraq.

Solomon of the Institute for Public Accuracy said Obama’s moves on Afghanistan have “the quality of a moth toward a flame.”

In the short run, Obama is likely to be unharmed in domestic political terms. But the policy trajectory appears to be unsustainable in the medium-run, he added.

“Before the end of his first term, Obama is very likely to find himself in a vise, caught between a war in Afghanistan that cannot be won and a political quandary at home that significantly erodes the enthusiasm of his electoral base while fueling Republican momentum,” Solomon argued.

Dr. Christine Fair, a senior political scientist with the RAND Corporation and a former political officer with UNAMA in Kabul, told IPS she is doubtful that more troops will secure Afghanistan.

“Perhaps several years ago more troops would have been welcomed. My fear is that more troops means more civilian losses and further erosion of good will and support for the international presence,” Fair said.

Read the whole thing here

UPDATE:  Check out Ethel the Blog on this – here’s just a bit –

Now that we’ve discovered that the only difference between Obama and McCain vis a vis foreign policy is that the former doesn’t visibly drool when contemplating spilling more blood, we can better understand Obama’s plan to stimulate the economy by increasing the demand for body bags in Afghanistan.

Europe Not Into Afghanistan

NATO defense ministers are meeting this week in Poland.  The conversation should be interesting now that Obama has decided to send 17,000 US troops in.  If only Canada’s defense minister was inclined to make the fuss that Europe’s defense ministers are going to make.  Maybe they know something that we’re not yet prepared to admit.  From Speigel Online International:

It is no secret that the Obama administration would like to see NATO member states in Europe agree to send more troops. Both Gates and his spokesman Geoff Morrell have dropped plenty of hints that additional troop commitments would be most welcome. That, though, isn’t likely to happen. European capitals have for years shown a reluctance to send more soldiers, often hampered by a voting public that has long since lost enthusiasm for the war.  [Smart!]

[…]

The center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

“Afghanistan hasn’t yet become NATO’s Vietnam. But to avoid such a scenario, the alliance has to undertake a detailed examination of its engagement. First and foremost, NATO has to bid farewell to the idea that, as is often said internally, ‘the fate of NATO will be decided in Afghanistan.’ This sentence is nonsense. A defeat or even a withdrawal without real success would certainly plunge the alliance into turbulence. But stubbornly staying the course out of fear of this scenario, blindly hoping that the amount of troops and quality of weapons will one day prevail, isn’t a strategy. Such logic bears witness to a dangerous degree of helplessness.”

“NATO has to find the courage to rethink everything. Instead of, as will happen this week with alliance defense ministers gathered in Krakow, busying themselves with demands for more troops, the member states should take a realistic look at the situation in Afghanistan and then decide what can be achieved and, most importantly, how large a commitment the alliance is prepared to make. It is time to abandon the illusion — especially popular in Germany — that the Afghanistan mission is one primarily focused on redevelopment and on providing a safe place for the delicate flower of a halfway free society to flourish.”  [more]

Political Activism & Social Change

Ya can’t have one without the other:

FDR became a great president because the mass protests among the unemployed, the aged, farmers and workers forced him to make choices he would otherwise have avoided. He did not set out to initiate big new policies. The Democratic platform of 1932 was not much different from that of 1924 or 1928. But the rise of protest movements forced the new president and the Democratic Congress to become bold reformers.

[…]

Obama’s campaign speeches emphasized the theme of a unified America where divisions bred by race or party are no longer important. But America is, in fact, divided: by race, by party, by class. And these divisions will matter greatly as we grapple with the whirlwind of financial and economic crises, of prospective ecological calamity, of generational and political change, of widening fissures in the American empire. I, for one, do not have a blueprint for the future. Maybe we are truly on the cusp of a new world order, and maybe it will be a better, more humane order. In the meantime, however, our government will move on particular policies to confront the immediate crisis. Whether most Americans will have an effective voice in these policies will depend on whether we tap our usually hidden source of power, our ability to refuse to cooperate on the terms imposed from above.

From an article at The Nation by Frances Fox Piven here

Afghanistan Becomes Obama’s War

From MSNBC:

President Barack Obama approved adding some 17,000 U.S. troops for the flagging war in Afghanistan, his first significant move to change the course of a conflict that his closest military advisers have warned the United States is not winning.

“To meet urgent security needs, I approved a request from (Defense) Secretary Gates to deploy a Marine Expeditionary Brigade later this spring and an Army Stryker Brigade and the enabling forces necessary to support them later this summer,” Obama said in a statement issued by the White House.

About 8,000 Marines are expected to go in first, followed by about 9,000 Army troops. Some 34,000 U.S. troops are already in Afghanistan.

“There is no more solemn duty as president than the decision to deploy our armed forces into harm’s way,” Obama added. “I do it today mindful that the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan demands urgent attention and swift action. The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and al Qaeda supports the insurgency and threatens America from its safe-haven along the Pakistani border.”

Of the 17,000 troops authorized, deployment orders have been issued for 12,000 and some of those are being reassigned from roles in Iraq. Where the remaining 5,000 troops will come from will be determined later.

I was holding on to the hope that Obama might be converted to sanity on this issue.  Sob.

Read the whole thing here

UPDATE:  From NYT

… the decision also carries political risk for a president who will be sending more troops to Afghanistan before he has begun to fulfill a promised rapid withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

Many experts worry that Afghanistan presents an even more formidable challenge for the United States than Iraq does, particularly with neighboring Pakistan providing sanctuary for insurgents of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. [more]

Tragic.  Error.

Also from NYT:

The number of civilians killed in Afghanistan leapt by nearly 40 percent last year, according to a survey released Tuesday by the United Nations, the latest measure of how the intensifying violence between the Taliban and American-led forces is ravaging that country.

The death toll — 2,118 civilians killed in 2008, compared with 1,523 in 2007 — is the highest since the Taliban government was ousted in November 2001, at the outset of a war with no quick end in sight.

Civilian deaths have become a political flash point in Afghanistan, eroding public support for the war and inflaming tensions with President Hamid Karzai, who has bitterly condemned the American-led coalition for the rising toll. President Obama’s decision to deploy more troops to Afghanistan raises the prospect of even more casualties.   [more]