Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Res Gestae Obamae

It's been nearly a year and the common opinion is that President Obama has gotten little done and failed to deliver on any of his promises. Of course it's unrealistic to expect he would in only a year. It took Bush eight years to right and fully screw this country over inside and out. So we should wait for at least Obama's second State of the Union address before assessing him as a president. He has yet even to deliver his first (due this January). So let's not be premature. 

Nevertheless, I was buying into the zeitgeist myself until I read some recent articles that really exposed the lie: most of the mainstream media is outright ignoring dozens of things Obama has accomplished, and downplaying the rest with biased terminology like "dithering" (to sane people, it's called careful deliberation) or with biased depictions of his actions as aloof or accommodating (actions the rest of us rightly call bipartisanship, which all those same people actually claim to want, yet when they get it, they condemn it as "accommodating" or "aloof").

The problem is now so well described by a few journalists and editorials, you simply have to read them. I was first put on to an article by Mark Morford for SF Gate, "Obama, the Great Disappointment? The Miracle President Hasn't Actually Accomplished Much? Wrong." That humorous take in turn led me to two articles, which led me to a third, all three of which chronicle an impressive list of achievements for a president who still has yet to end his first year in office:

Dr. Robert Watson lists at the Daily Kos "90 Accomplishments of President Obama Which The Media Fails to Report...."  Though over half the items on his list are weak tea (things that might have happened anyway or that haven't been fully seen to fruition yet), still at least half (some forty or more accomplishments) are very significant and certainly warrant more attention than the media has given, and are certainly more than I know any other president to have done so quickly. Basically, Obama has had his hands so full getting sh*t done that he hasn't had time to get the sh*t done that this or that idiocrat wants him to. So they bitch about his failure to please them, ignoring what he has done in the meantime. Another list of accomplishments, often overlapping Watson's yet still adding more that even Watson left out, is provided by the Democratic Underground: "What Your President has Accomplished Just 6 Months into His First Term."

I'm particularly encouraged by his reinstitution (finally!) of Al Gore's government reinvention program, which during the eight years of the Clinton administration actually reduced the net cost of the federal government by billions of dollars, and greatly reduced paperwork and red tape at all agencies, increasing efficiency across the board, an incredible accomplishment, in part making it possible for our nation to actually begin generating annual revenue surpluses rather than deficits, a trend decisively reversed under Bush as the reinvention program was outright canceled and runaway spending let loose once again. Notably, the media completely ignored that accomplishment, too, and most people don't even know it happened. Obama's reintroduction of it may well be the most important thing he has done this year, even more important than passing federal health care reform, despite all the attention the latter gets. His economic policy in general also trends closer to Clinton's, which is good news, because it worked for us before (see The Clinton Presidency: Historic Economic Growth). We won't know until the economic collapse under Bush is finally weathered out (which typically requires two years from any crash, so watch where things start heading in mid-2010).

I plugged Gore's reinvention program in Sense and Goodness without God citing Gore's From Red Tape to Results: Creating a Government That Works Better and Costs Less (1993) and Osborne's Reinventing Government (1992), but I could also have mentioned Gore's Best Kept Secrets in Government (1996), Kettl & DiIulio's independent appraisal in Inside the Reinvention Machine (1995), Osborne's further analysis in Banishing Bureaucracy (1996), The Reinventor's Fieldbook (2000), and The Price of Government (2004), as well as Popovich's Creating High Performance Government Organizations (1998) and Ingraham, Thompson, & Sanders' Transforming Government (1998), among many more good, solid, real-world studies. Obama shows signs of going in the same direction. Hopefully he'll carry through. But we won't see results to measure by for several more years.

In broader strokes the same point is made (that Obama has actually gotten a lot done) by Jacob Weisberg for Slate.com, "Obama's Brilliant First Year: By January, he will have accomplished more than any first-year president since Franklin Roosevelt." He actually comes to that conclusion for the wrong reasons, but the conclusion appears to be correct nevertheless. For why, I was led by commentators on the Watson piece to find a good article by John Richardson for Esquire, "Whaddaya Mean Obama Hasn't Done Anything?," which gives a tighter list of important achievements that leads to the proper conclusion that Obama has done quite a great deal of real substance. (Oh, sorry to distract you with a picture of Katy Perry from a recent issue of Esquire...I meant to post some serious and relevant cover of Esquire Magazine and this just popped in by accident...dear me, how ever did that happen? Hey, now! I'm sure she has deep thoughts about politics)

Inspired by these articles, I then hunted down what else I could find, and there are additions and worthwhile commentaries to include in the same analysis: Albert Hunt for The New York Times, "Obama Throws Critics by Sticking to His Word," is well worth reading. And for a really neat "promise check" list, see PolitiFact.com's The Obameter: Tracking Obama's Campaign Promises (for the sub-list of promises already kept, which is remarkably long, clocking in at almost sixty so far, see: Promises Kept). Notably, for how he's done on what some judge to be the his top 25 promises, see Top 25: all have been kept (a few with compromises), or are in process of being kept. Only one is stalled (immigration reform, probably shelved for now because health care is more important and is the battle he has picked to fight with the GOP this year), and only one has actually been broken: the promise not to hire lobbyists (which was an unrealistic promise to begin with, although it would be nice to see it made law, as that would change everyone's career decisions from here on out). (In all, Obamameter finds only seven Broken Promises, one of them trivial and diplomatically justified, another beyond his control, and three that could still be kept if achieved in future years)

So let it not be said that he isn't getting anything done. Considering the tremendous and irrational opposition he is facing from the GOP, which tries to tank and stall every single thing he tries to do, his achievements are actually quite remarkable. I may not agree with everything he does or has done. But it's a far sight better than everything Bush did. So I can only hope he keeps this pace up every subsequent year he serves.

41 comments:

Luke said...

I have no idea if I agree, but this is a very helpful summary, thanks!

Explicit Atheist said...

I agree. As someone who reads a newspaper front to back every day, plus a little TV and radio news and commentary, I have noticed both that he is doing good overall and that the media have exhibited what also appears to me to be a negative bias in their coverage of and commentary on him.

AIGBusted said...

That picture of Katy Perry was just delicious...

By the way, why do you censor "shit" but not "bitch"? Seems inconsistent to me. Not that I'm offended, just curious.

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

Thanks for the links.

Ben

Pikemann Urge said...

Along with comparative religion, media studies should be taught in every year of secondary school in some way, shape or form. This is just one reason - in a long list - why that should be the case.

David Fitzgerald said...

Excellent post - and just what I needed after all the crap the Pundits have been spewing on overdrive lately.
And yes, I do forgive you for the picture of Kate Perry!

Andrew said...

Obama has upped the ante in Afghanistan.

Its Obama's war now.

B. Dewhirst said...

Glenn Greenwald was, during the Bush Presidency, a harsh critic of then-President Bush, and under the new administration he has been quite critical of Obama on a number of points.

Among those points are his administration's stance on accountability for torture, the right to a trial*, the continuation of executive privilege, etc.

I freely concede that there are positives which have been overlooked, but I find Obama's behavior more consistent with the investment theory of politics than with hope.

* Yes, there are to be a handful of slam-dunk show trials, but with the stipulation that if the defendants are found innocent they will still be held, and there aren't plans to try those for whom a conviction is a forgone conclusion.

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

Good post! Thanks for doing all the research.


@B. Dewhirst

Thanks for the Glenn Greenwald recommendation. Somehow I'd never read him and it looks like he has some well balanced criticisms.

Tina from Houston said...

Thanks for putting this together Richard. I'm going to use this information to educate my Republican friends.

The Science Pundit said...

You do realize now that you will get increased traffic to your blog from people doing Google and Bing image searches for Katy Perry, don't you?

Richard Carrier said...

AIGBusted said... By the way, why do you censor "shit" but not "bitch"?

Because web blockers, ironically, tend not to block bitch, but do block shit. Perhaps I shouldn't even bother now that most filters replace "undesirable" words rather than block pages with them, using browser display scripts. And since commentators like you just put the words back in anyway. :-)

Okay, I guess I might as well, too...

Richard Carrier said...

Andrew said... It's Obama's war now.

Though the media keeps saying that, it's completely illogical. He got stuck with that war and has to figure out the best way to get out of it while doing what's best for our own national security. That doesn't make it "his."

It's a really silly remark, too, since as one friend of mine said, even Nader would have invaded Afghanistan. That was an entirely righteous war. Unfortunately, it was fought by a retard for seven years, leaving a disastrous mess for Obama to clean up. We should have had Iraqi troop levels in Afghanistan from day one, we should have had the Army Corpse of Engineers building up Afghani infrastructure since day two, Tora Bora should have been encircled from day three by fifty thousand troops, three armored divisions, and eight air cav units, and the poppy fields should have been burned, border to border, since day four. By day five we'd have been out of that war. Which is to say, more literally, we would have been extracting our troops in year five (aka by 2007). And there would have been no Afghanistan war left for Obama to clean up.

It's a lot harder to fix a cluster fuck than to fight a war the right way the first time around. Obama didn't get a chance to do the latter. So he has to do the former. And that's Bush's dumb-assed fault.

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

And how!

Richard Carrier said...

B. Dewhirst said... I find Obama's behavior more consistent with the investment theory of politics than with hope.

Actually, it's just pragmatic reality. As I explain in the politics section of my book Sense and Goodness without God, we need to be more comfortable with the fact that in politics there is no straight line from A to B. You have to work with the fucked up system you're given. That's why voters need to distinguish hyperbolic rhetoric (even from their own side) from the actual values being endorsed. I said this even before Obama was elected. Unrealistic expectations are the cause of most disappointment.

Even Obama I think was surprised by how hard it was going to be to close Gitmo, when all the Republicans in America turned over night into such quivering pussies that they refused--in abject, pants-pissing terror--to allow any prisoners to be transferred to real jails. Their urine-soaked trousers now tell us their true colors: various shades of yellow. And even if the Republicans grew spines and balls again, the quandry remains of what to do with POWs when our declared enemy has no nation to ship them back to. It doesn't help that Bush fucked the whole game up by violating every right these defendants had and in some cases didn't even keep documentation on why or where they were captured in the first place. Again, fixing a cluster fuck is much harder than doing it right in the first place. You should adjust your expectations accordingly.

Conversely, Obama never promised to put the prior administration on trial for anything, so it's not even half realistic to expect that to happen. If you voted for him because you thought he made such a promise, you were hallucinating. Likewise, there is such a thing as executive privilege--just because the previous administration abused it doesn't mean this administration should abandon it. There are valid criticisms about where they are drawing the line, but at least they aren't drawing it anywhere near where the last administration tried to put it.

And don't forget that that debate is largely moot when all an admin has to do to cover a crime is pretend to have forgotten everything (remember Iran-Contra? Lawyergate? Even Nixon would have gotten away with it but for some (un-)lucky tapes and red-handed arrests). It has been a fact for the last century or more that the only way a criminal President will ever see justice is at the end of a bullet. So unless you are going to start calling for the vigilante assassination of Bush, you might as well stop kicking against the goad on that one. The best we can do is do our best to prevent it happening again. Small moves will get us there, but not overnight.

But don't get me wrong. I'm not happy with everything Obama has done or is doing. I just never expected it to be otherwise. I knew full well going in that there is no such thing as a perfect president. The only valid issue is of degree and direction: how bad is this guy compared to others, and in what direction is he taking our country?

The Nerd said...

Don't forget to cater to the other half of your readership in addition to Katy Perry aficionados. For instance, I'm sure this man has deep thoughts about health care reform: http://www.scavengeinc.com/images/dg/makin-house-calls-mens-costume.jpg ;)

Richard Carrier said...

Oh, hey, valid point. But to be comparably analogous to Perry (for in fact two other halves of my readership), shouldn't I link to this guy? ;)

The Nerd said...

Mmm... I like your thinking!

czrpb said...

Richard: Love your book!

I might be too 'extreme' -- ie. unpragmatic -- but I am not terribly impressed with the esquire "record".

"Two days after he was sworn in, Obama banned the use of "harsh interrogation" and ordered the closing of Guantánamo." My understanding is that "harsh interrogation" is proceeding just fine both at Guantánamo and else where and "order[ing] the closing" is not the same as it actually being closed, so much in the same vein as your wait-and-see, perhaps we should wait to see if it actually closes in his presidency?

"Oh, and one more thing: President Obama is now a month or two from accomplishing the awesome and seemingly impossible task that eluded mighty presidents like FDR, LBJ, and WJC — health-care reform." Again, I must be reading different stuff: My understanding is that this will do zero if not be worse for actual people, while quite nice for the existing medical industry.

"Ten days after that, Obama formally announced America's withdrawal from Iraq." Again, perhaps we should wait? Also, do you believe we will really "withdraw[]"? Does "withdrawal" include leaving a massive military base in the country?

B. Dewhirst said...

I've read your book, and like it quite a bit.

We'll see how you feel in two years or so. Although I haven't given it a very good showing here, I believe you'd appreciate the evidence-based approach being taken in the Investment Theory of Politics (in wikipedia under "Investment theory of party competition".)

It seems to have some predictive power to it, and although you may not agree with it based on a different evaluation of the evidence, I find it consistent with the worldview you outline.

I didn't vote for Obama because I believed Massachusetts would be a "safe state," a prediction which held true. Instead, I voted for a third-party candidate as an imperfect way to register my dissatisfaction with his decisions subsequent to the primary.

Richard Carrier said...

CZRPB said... My understanding is that "harsh interrogation" is proceeding just fine both at Guantánamo and else where

Identify your source.

and "order[ing] the closing" is not the same as it actually being closed, so much in the same vein as your wait-and-see, perhaps we should wait to see if it actually closes in his presidency?

No, it's different, because steps are actually being taken to execute the order. As I remarked in my blog already, the situation he inherited there is completely screwed by the ineptitude and immorality of the previous administration, so there is no "quick fix" solution, which is why it is taking so long.

Nevertheless, in accordance with his order, many have been released, others are slated for trials or tribunals, others are being readied for transfer to mainland U.S. jails, and the rest are being evaluated for one of these same three options.

Many will remain POW's under the Geneva Conventions. Like all POW's in all wars, they will receive no trial, and need not be released until Al Qaeda surrenders or they renounce their support for or affiliation with Al Qaeda (because we are still in a formally declared state of war with them), or the Afghanistan opposition (as we are still at war there). As long as these prisoners are treated legally and humanely according to the Geneva Conventions, and choose never to renounce or surrender, their permanent detainment would not violate any international standards or laws. Assuming our war with Al Qaeda is never formally concluded, that is, which everyone knows is certainly possible, but that's not our fault; those held as POW's only in respect to the Afghanistan war, and who are thus not members of Al Quaeda, will likely be released when that war concludes, probably in 2012.

The villainy of Guantanamo was not the permanent detainment of POW's, but their gross mistreatment (both morally and legally, denying them even representation), and not only that, but also the shockingly large number held there who weren't even demonstrably enemy combatants. The past administration even used the excuse that some of them were criminals, but perversely allowed them no trial. So the ones that the Bush admin. had identified as criminals are now getting trials. The rest are being treated as POW's or released.

That's huge progress, and is alone more than Bush ever did in all his eight years.

health-care reform: Again, I must be reading different stuff: My understanding is that this will do zero if not be worse for actual people, while quite nice for the existing medical industry.

Then you are a dupe of the Republican political machine. See my recent blog on this: ObamaCare.

Again [re: withdrawal from Iraq], perhaps we should wait?

I have no doubt the vast majority of our troop presence will have vacated Iraq by 2012 and a formal conclusion of the war will be made. Obama is already taking active steps toward that goal (and it would take that long anyway, so there is nothing unusual about its pace).

Yes, we will probably retain a few bases there, by treaty arrangement with the Iraqi government, just as we have other prior war enemies, like Germany and Japan. But the war will be over. If you have the irrational desire that we tear down all our bases on foreign soil, even in Germany and Japan, then you are expecting what no one has ever promised, nor what any reasonable person should ever want.

czrpb said...

Hi!

Well, I will start with your last line so that I might provide a bit of bio info that will turn you off so that you can stop reading immediately! grin! (BTW: This is not supposed to be read as 'snarky' but as 'playful' -- honest!!) You said: "If you have the irrational desire that we tear down all our bases on foreign soil, even in Germany and Japan, then you are expecting what no one has ever promised, nor what any reasonable person should ever want." Actually, if I am a "dupe" (I know: "dupe" is no where in that quote, but I am pulling from a bit earlier!) it is at the hands of the likes of Kolko, Bookchin, libertarian socialism, and of course the much dreaded Chomsky! Ack! I suppose I am "irrational" enough to want w/o thought like 75% of our (foreign) bases to disappear. I guess I do not have much of an original thought on this, so I will parrot the classic: By what other belief(s) do we convince ourselves that we get the priviledge to have 700+ bases in countries around the world than arrogance, hubris, "manifest destiny", etc?
http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=5564
http://www.nonviolenceworks.com/usmilitaryglobal.pdf

Here are some links that lead me to dis-believe in a great moral difference between Bush and Obama:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/08/11/target-of-obama-era-rendi_n_256499.html
http://abcnews.go.com/International/Story?id=8144448&page=1
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2009/aug/12/barack-obama-torture-geneva-conventions
http://ccrjustice.org/newsroom/press-releases/ccr-criticizes-announcement-gtmo-detainees-will-be-moved-illinois-prison
http://ccrjustice.org/learn-more/faqs/guantanamo-bay-habeas-decision-scorecard
http://ccrjustice.org/files/april-english.pdf
http://www.ifex.org/iraq/2009/09/03/jassam_still_jailed_without_charge/

Regarding "ObamaCare", again, probably due to my general understanding (belief? interpretation? dupedness!?? wink!) of history, I have grave doubt in our *political* leaders in so far as to initiate, innovate, and sustain change more than minimally good for the masses. To the extent that they do, it is because of political expediency, ie. public opinion pushes them to do so. Here are some links that I have read:

http://pnhp.org/blog/2009/07/20/bait-and-switch-how-the-%E2%80%9Cpublic-option%E2%80%9D-was-sold/
http://www.counterpunch.org/redmond11232009.html
http://www.cepr.net/index.php/publications/reports/free-ride/

Among many, these two books have influenced me: _Triumph of Conservatism_, Gabriel Kolko; and _They Thought They Were Free_, Milton Mayer. From the former: I do not see why the documented influence of big-business during that time (the supposed "Progressive Era" 1900-1916) is not the standard operating procedure since? and from the later: Even National Socialism did good, so I recognize the 'grayness' of the real world (I hope!)

You said: "Many will remain POW's under the Geneva Conventions." May I ask for citations that show they have been officially declared POWs?

Richard Carrier said...

CZRPB said... I suppose I am "irrational" enough to want w/o thought like 75% of our (foreign) bases to disappear.

First, I said it is unreasonable to think Obama ever promised such a thing, i.e. there is no sense in measuring him by a standard he never sold himself as meeting.

Second, I didn't say your desire, independently of that, was irrational, I said it is unreasonable. To be irrational is to argue fallaciously. To be unreasonable is to argue from insupportable assumptions about the actual facts or warranted values. It is unreasonable to desire the dismantling of American military bases in Japan and Germany because those bases are essential to maintaining peace, the present defense of allied nations, and the logistical support of justified active conflicts (e.g. Germany is an essential command and supply center for the war in Afghanistan) and humanitarian missions (e.g. the American air force and navy could not have effected its supply mission in post-tsunami Indonesia without its bases in Japan). I do not believe you have fully accounted for these actual facts. A base in Iraq will serve exactly the same functions.

I was assuming, of course, that you weren't talking about a desire to pursue a state of world peace and prosperity whereby one day we won't need such bases, since it would indeed be irrational to expect Obama to achieve such a thing even if he serves all eight years. But we can all agree it is an end well worth pursuing. That's just not relevant to the topic of this blog.

Richard Carrier said...

CZRPB said... By what other belief(s) do we convince ourselves that we get the priviledge to have 700+ bases in countries around the world than arrogance, hubris, "manifest destiny", etc?

Now that is irrational. "I can't think of any reason but hubris et al., therefore it's hubris et al." is a blatant non sequitur.

Indeed, it is appalling you'd even use a term like "manifest destiny" which refers to the policy of acquiring and governing territory across the contiguous united states (you must be ignorant of the actual history and meaning of the term: look it up), which has absolutely zero relevance to anything going on today, much less American base situations (none of which have anything to do with increasing our territory anymore, much less anything to do with the contiguous geography of North America).

We have those bases because they are useful to the service of national and world security and our logistical humanitarian endeavors, as well as diplomacy (by either benefitting the economies of local communities or serving the interests of host governments), and we have them where we do in almost all cases because the host nations have freely negotiated a mutually beneficial arrangement to keep us there and actually want us there. Otherwise we wouldn't be. Exceptions are few (e.g. Cuba) but are not the products of hubris, but necessity (Cuba, you might recall, has nuclear artillery and an actively hostile posture toward our national security and the freedom of trade and transport in local international waters). We certainly have no designs on annexing Cuba to the United States.

Colonialism is dead. Instead of our military governing Puerto Rico, for example, we established their own democracy and let them govern themselves, and even provide them aid and benefits in exchange for the right to retain our bases there. Though in some cases we should be better neighbors, that is an argument for being better neighbors, not for leaving.

As for the wild conspiracy theories you linked me to, I have no interest in unsupported claims. Though certainly America abuses its power, and unjustly harbors and aids corporations, for example, you should never exaggerate the reality. For doing so discredits your cause and thus does even more harm, because once people look at the lunacy of wild claims like that, they will assume there is no truth to them at all. Instead, we should simply tell the sane truth, so it can be rectified. And the only way to do that is to keep electing responsible leaders like Obama, for only then can systemic behavior change for the better in response to the needs and requests of the world. Because such developments require a very long time. They cannot occur over night. And yet even with our use of them fully rectified, we would still need and have bases overseas. They would simply be used more consistently for justice.

Richard Carrier said...

Here are some links that lead me to dis-believe in a great moral difference between Bush and Obama

I already addressed this earlier. The differences here are huge, both in regard to the nature and accuracy of key facts in those stories, and in regard to the actual behaviors and policies of both presidents. If you don't see those differences, you are delusional.

Indeed, read between the lines: we now see freedom of information, freedom of speech, liberation of prisoners, formal inquiries, discipline hearings, and legal representation for the pursuit of their claims. What comparison is there with the Bush era again?

I have grave doubt in our *political* leaders in so far as to initiate, innovate, and sustain change more than minimally good for the masses.

So social security, medicare, unemployment insurance, FEMA, labor laws, OSHA, the FAA, FHA, CDC, all useless garbage, eh?

To the extent that they do, it is because of political expediency, ie. public opinion pushes them to do so.

Um, maybe you skipped civics class, but that's exactly what's supposed to happen in a democracy. We push our leaders to do what we want. Are you imagining some sort of enlightened dictatorship where we don't have to express our will, we can just sit back and enjoy all the great things our benevolent overlords deem us worthy of?

Here are some links that I have read:

Boy. You are a dupe. "No cost controls that would decrease profits." Lie. There are tons in both bills. "No negotiating drug prices." Lie. Negotiating power is a major component of both bills.

You need to stop blindly trusting demagogues who spout shit you want to hear, and instead actually check if they are telling the truth first. As soon as you catch them blatantly lying or distorting the truth like this, especially several times, you need to stop reading them altogether: for they shall then have been completely discredited as authorities.

You also need to stop ignoring progress and focusing solely on the usual failures. Just because compromises we don't like get into a bill, doesn't mean the net effect of that bill won't be positive. Hence my analysis is evidently much better informed and rational than yours (ObamaCare).

I do not see why the documented influence of big-business during that time (the supposed "Progressive Era" 1900-1916) is not the standard operating procedure since?

I fail to see the relevance of this fact. Sure, we all know influence peddling of corporations exists on an unfair scale. What has that to do with determining what direction we are presently going in? You seem to be suffering from authoritarian personality disorder: you blindly trust your chosen authorities (otherwise known as the fallacy of argument from authority), and only see issues in black and white (otherwise known as the fallacy of false dichotomy). Thus, we either have a perfect society, or an equally evil one. There is no in between. Thus, you cannot countenance a President making progress from one to the other. If he hasn't given us a perfect society yet, all he has given us is a society just as evil as the previous one.

Bullshit.

Richard Carrier said...

"Many will remain POW's under the Geneva Conventions." May I ask for citations that show they have been officially declared POWs?

Granted, there is a legal distinction between POW and UEC. Even according to the Geneva Conventions those currently at Gitmo (who have not already been classified as criminals or as unlawfully detained and released) are technically UEC's (Unlawful Enemy Combatants, or just unlawful combatants; see citations in that link, and in particular here), but the difference is not significant (as the linked documents demonstrate), i.e. UEC's are required to be treated as humanely as POW's, and their status is technically identical. Both are enemy combatants captured and held in time of war, and UEC's do not warrant any more privileges than POW's, so just replace POW with UEC in my comments above and everything I said remains correct. The differences are of no consequence to my discussion of Obama's policy--it was Bush who attempted to create exaggerated differences, using an Orwellian distinction of legal vocabulary to justify inhumane and illegal treatment of UEC's. Obama is restoring the POW-commensurate treatment of those UEC's.

B. Dewhirst said...

CZRPB, while I likely agree with you, you're not arguing from the same premises as our fine host here. You either need to spend about 40 hours very carefully laying out your argument, defining your terms, etc... or you'd be better off not having the discussion. Please don't assume Dr. Carrier is arguing in bad faith-- he just has no idea where you're coming from, and it isn't his job to figure out whether you're arguing from well-considered premises or talking out of your ass.

I believe CZRPB and I would both question the legitimacy and intentions of military actions carried out through our international system of bases. Since you don't consider Chomsky's arguments persuasive (or worth considering), we're not likely to persuade you.

We think the US military is regularly asked to carry out what we consider to be war crimes, that these crimes are regularly justified as peace-keeping actions but that peace is not the goal or consequence, and that these actions are ultimately short-sighted.

I do not claim to have supported that position, and I'm posting just to clarify-- and I do think it would take a minimum of 40 hours to do properly.

czrpb said...

Hi Richard!

Thx for the reply! I told ya I was a dupe! grin! Anyway, I wanted to mention: I will definitely do more research into the current health care bills *for myself*! Thanks for chastising me into doing so.

If I might say one thing: In the link to that DoD PDF you gave, it is said: "Questioning of Guantanamo detainees has improved the security of our nation and coalition partners by expanding our understanding of al Qaida, its affiliates, and other extremely dangerous terrorist groups that threaten our security." Speaking of bullshit, my understanding (from _The Dark Side_, Jane Mayer) is this is a particularly good example. Is there "grayness" here we could find? I am sure, but a pretty white gray: #F5F5F5. But the net negative (again my understanding) is a great big steaming cow pie.

(I am not replying in length, mostly 'cause I assume I have been dismissed and you have better things. If not, I would love to carry on!!)

czrpb said...

Hi B. Dewhirst!

See! Now, I do not have 40hrs to put in (well, that is not true: I of course do have 40hrs, but one must pick and choose; plus I do intend on spending more time on the health care issue as I just replied) for every topic. So I am forced into relying on someone or ones! And then I get accused of "arguments of authority"! I mean I did review at Wiki and I can not see where I said something was true *because Chomsky* said so, only that he is a good representative of where my understanding has come from.

Anyway, maybe you can help me: Where did I go wrong with the "manifest destiny" bit? I mean I know "Colonialism is dead." in the sense that we care to rule *physically*; but instead, and much more nuanced, project enough power and support just the right elite to accomplish the same thing(s): Bring the wealth back.

B. Dewhirst said...

It isn't that our fine host doesn't think that the US has done bad things, it is that he perceives the balance of good to bad and the motives of those involved differently than you or I.

This leads him to interpret contemporary events differently.

Among other things, you'd need to explain what you consider a justifiable use of force (and why), why you consider sovereignty of other nations as important as you do (is it more, or less, important than peace?), provide statistics to back up claims about "humanitarian interventions" not being particularly humanitarian (without Godwining things), etc.

If you haven't read his book, if you can find a spare half-hour, I'd suggest you look at his thoughts on politics (in the very back). Boochin and Chomsky would be much happier under that system than this system, all things considered. (Essentially, a legislature filled by sortition with term limits which hire an executive if one is deemed necessary. There are some details to quibble with, but don't try arguing with it until you've read his longer treatment of it.)

I suspect if Richard were born about ten years later, and had written his book at the same age, his differing life experiences would have led him to write a book more critical of really-existing-capitalism... but obviously, that isn't a very easy claim to prove!

czrpb said...

Hi again!

You said: "Boy. You are a dupe. "No cost controls that would decrease profits." Lie. There are tons in both bills. "No negotiating drug prices." Lie. Negotiating power is a major component of both bills."

I reviewed the link with this quote: http://www.counterpunch.org/redmond11232009.html.

The quote "No negotiating drug prices." comes from comments by "Billy Tauzin, President and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA.)"

Here is another link to this comment: http://www.slate.com/id/2224621/ (date: Posted Thursday, Aug. 6, 2009, at 7:02 PM ET) So, this does look to have been true at some point.

Here is a later Wall Street Journal link: http://blogs.wsj.com/health/2009/10/30/house-bill-would-allow-feds-to-negotiate-medicare-drug-prices/ saying that this has been reversed.

So, the article looks to be out of date, and does not look to be an outright fabrication.

I have emailed the author for clarification and an update on this particular point.

Ian Andreas Miller said...

Ha ha, titulus ipse mihi placet, Richarde!

Richard Carrier said...

B. Dewhirst said... We think the US military is regularly asked to carry out what we consider to be war crimes, that these crimes are regularly justified as peace-keeping actions but that peace is not the goal or consequence, and that these actions are ultimately short-sighted.

That all may be true, but how the military is used is a different question from where it has operational bases to do it. It is a non sequitur to argue "we have bases in Germany, therefore we are using the military to commit war crimes." A base in Germany can be used for moral and legal military actions as much as criminal ones. The difference will always be a factor of leadership, and will never change overnight, largely due to the ambiguity of many cases, most of which are not black and white, or easily resolved.

For example, we use our military to support a corrupt regime in Yemen and to support what are essentially murder ops in that country, but when you are tasked with deciding what option we have, the alternatives all look worse (e.g. the take-over of Yemen by Islamic radicals who will support our enemies at war, instead of the elimination of the Al Qaeda we are at war with, who we are currently trying to kill there, in a war we cannot fight conventionally because our enemy won't let us). It's a rock and a hard place. Most presidents will choose the rock. And it's not so easy to argue they shouldn't. Sometimes the lesser of two evils is all you have left.

Richard Carrier said...

czrpb said... "Questioning of Guantanamo detainees has improved the security of our nation and coalition partners by expanding our understanding of al Qaida, its affiliates, and other extremely dangerous terrorist groups that threaten our security." Speaking of bullshit, my understanding (from _The Dark Side_, Jane Mayer) is this is a particularly good example.

Depends on what Mayer was claiming (I haven't read that book).

Notice the absence of any mention in that paragraph of which detainees or how they were questioned (or even where). As written, it's entirely and demonstrably true: questioning of detainees has produced invaluable intelligence in our present war. It's just that all that valuable intelligence was secured almost immediately by minimally coercive interrogation (and in many cases, before they ever arrived at Gitmo), and none was gotten after repeated abuse. So the bullshit is not that paragraph. The bullshit is using that paragraph to argue, "See, torture works!" or "See, we can't ever let them leave Gitmo or have a lawyer or anything humane!"

I can't recall his name, but there is a CIA interrogator who published a book on this very fact quite recently (I think last year), demonstrating that torture never worked, but cleverer (and once-upon-a-time standard) methods frequently did. The Bush administration just never listened to their own people in the field.

Richard Carrier said...

czrpb said... Anyway, maybe you can help me: Where did I go wrong with the "manifest destiny" bit?

The phrase referred to the belief that because the American continent was contiguous in the direction of the sun, it was our "manifest destiny" to conquer the land in between both coasts and convert it into states in the union. As in fact we did. It was argued it was God ordained, in fact. The idea was used as a popular justification for the Mexican-American War. The notion was derived from the observation that we had been starting the process of adding states inland, so it was seen as "manifest destiny" that we would continue to do so, all the way from sea to shining sea.

Republicans tried to apply this abroad in the late 19th century but that's exactly when it puttered out, precisely because the concept lacked popular relevance. No one saw it as "manifest" that we should annex as states any other lands abroad. And so we never did. And no one anymore argues that God has ordained us or that our manifest destiny is to annex foreign lands as states in the union. The most the Republicans of the time could accomplish was the securing of a few militarily strategic "territories" (Guam, Philippines, Puerto Rico, etc.), part of our bid to play at being the British Empire, but it was comparatively trivial in scale, and the manifest destiny concept never stuck, and we never converted them into states, and only increasingly surrendered power to their native populations instead (the exact opposite direction from "manifest destiny"). And now we are not even adding any more territories at all.

I think a lot of the bullshit anti-imperialist rhetoric today is based on a complete ignorance of our actual history. If you want to see what American imperialism actually looks like, study the 19th century. Study the actual effectualization of manifest destiny and the subsequent (and far more feeble) foreign territory acquisition. Compared to today, the difference is far too stark to gloss over. Modern "imperialism" barely deserves the name, and at any rate manifests not in the form of territory acquisition (much less annexation), nor in direct government of subject peoples, but in diplomatic and economic influence peddling, and extralegal meddling in foreign governments, no longer for the purpose of realizing anything as bizarre as "manifest destiny," but solely to protect the interests of (largely but not only American) corporations and their foreign suppliers. Which has its own stink of evil, but it's still nowhere near like what went on in the 19th century.

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

"but in diplomatic and economic influence peddling, and extralegal meddling in foreign governments, [...] but solely to protect the interests of (largely but not only American) corporations and their foreign suppliers."

That could be considered just an imperialism of a different color, though right? It's somewhat understandable why other countries feel bullied around and sort of the bitch of our prerogatives.

I dunno, the first time I heard an anime refer to the USA as the United States Empire, I was like WTF? Why do they think that's so plausible? Granted, it was in the context of their science fiction of the future, but still. They must think that's where we are going if we aren't there already.

I still think it's overblown, but I'm just making sure I'm taking that step back and asking the question.

Ben

Richard Carrier said...

WAR_ON_ERROR said... That could be considered just an imperialism of a different color, though right?

Certainly. But the rhetoric is usually conflationary, rather than qualified. The differences are far more than trivial. Indeed, I think the differences go so far as to make the term anachronistic. Instead of an actual empire, we have a highly metaphorical one, with very different elements of power, aims, and control. You can't fight the actual imperialism if you keep conflating it with the 19th century variety.

That's even worse than animal rights activists conflating animal husbandry with slavery, which actually damages the cause of increasing humane treatment of livestock, by not only painting that cause as out of touch with reality, but also by directing advocates to completely ineffective and self-defeating strategies. Another analogy is abortion opponents, who actually make things worse with their present strategy derived from an irrational conflation of fetuses and adults, when actually gradualist approaches to improved support for mothers and children and birth control technologies and improved quality of secondary and primary education would enormously reduce the number of abortions, in a way that trying to pass laws against (and interfere with access to) abortion never has and never will.

So the term should perhaps be accompanied by a modifier (unless you articulate the relevant qualifications in accompanying prose). By analogy with "cultural imperialism," which is the idea of attempting to pressure or belittle other cultures into adopting one's own culture, rarely accomplished anymore by invading and directly governing foreign countries and forcing them by law to adopt the conquering culture (as had been done in some cases by the British imperialists of the 19th century). So perhaps "economic imperialism" would be the best descriptor for what America does now.

But even that is not very coordinated. Corporations do most of it on their own, and only draw the government into matters when things don't go their way. The government itself has no unified agenda or plan, wavering from administration to administration and office to office, but by and large acquiescing to corporate interests. Which IMO does more harm to our national security than any other policy. But I already discussed that in my OEN Interview.

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

"So perhaps "economic imperialism" would be the best descriptor for what America does now."

Works for me. Though I'll be on the lookout for a slightly more refined term that incorporates the lack of intentionality.

Ben

czrpb said...

For Richard @ "January 16, 2010 9:43 AM"

Hmm .. I guess what I do not like is that this feels to me like you -- though I really mean others who speak sort of like this -- seem to feel good about the progress.

I do not. I suppose I am an absolutist, dogmatic and other nasty things, but I do not feel "good" that we no longer rape and pillage on the scale and in the way we did, and that now we have a kinder gentler "cultural imperialism". Just like I do not feel good that in my attempts to be a "better" person (my definition of "better" of course), I do the things I dislike in myself less: My goal is not less but not at all. (For the record, this does not seem to make me a depressed person! Most people do not consider me "unhappy"; and I know 'cause I ask and that is what they say! wink!)

My experience is that many many people really do feel that because we/they are not like 19th century Americans that everything is fine. In fact: Even more than "fine": We are no longer like that in any way. It seems pretty easy to slide from "Hey! That is totally unfair! The 19th century was horrible; much more horrible that you seem to know." to "It's all good .. now where is Walmart?"

czrpb said...

Hi! Richard said: "If you want to see what American imperialism actually looks like, study the 19th century. Study the actual effectualization of manifest destiny and the subsequent (and far more feeble) foreign territory acquisition. Compared to today, the difference is far too stark to gloss over."

Assuming one believes our involvement in say Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. comes when we do not get our way using "cultural imperialism", are you saying that the results are "far more feeble" when compared to the 19th century?

Richard Carrier said...

Czrpb said... I do not feel "good" that we no longer rape and pillage on the scale and in the way we did, and that now we have a kinder gentler "cultural imperialism".

As long as you don't translate that into feeling the same about both periods of our history, then that's fine. As a historian of antiquity I see in big picture terms--we're not going to end American evil in this generation. The most of it will take a hundred years at least, judging by the progression curve of the last hundred years. Getting all panicky and depressed about that is a waste of energy--kicking against the goad as it were. Hence I see the contrast, and the progress we've made, as something quite remarkable. And I see no signs of the trend stopping or reversing. It continues full steam. Keep working to make things better in the ways you can, and you will be a part of that process, as those before you were. Call out the evil you can verify. But don't paint everything with the same broad brush, don't exaggerate evils or invent those that aren't there, don't see conspiracies where there is only incompetence, that's my point.

My goal is not less but not at all.

For yourself that's almost practical--since you actually control yourself (I say almost because perfection is impossible and thus is an irrational goal, as all impossibilities are; you should aim for merely benevolent, tolerably honest, and sufficiently competent; no one of sense will expect any more of you, nor should we expect any more of them).

But you don't control this country. So having a "goal" of perfecting it is foolish at best, megalomaniacal at worst. You can only participate in a long process, doing a small part, which collected with a hundred million other small parts performed by a hundred million other people, will continue carrying this country in the direction it has slowly been stumbling for two hundred years.

Czrpb said... Assuming one believes our involvement in say Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. comes when we do not get our way using "cultural imperialism", are you saying that the results are "far more feeble" when compared to the 19th century?

I said territory acquisition (e.g. Guam, Hawaii, Panama canal zone, etc.), that was comparatively feeble relative to the conquest of continental America.

But sure, when it comes to cultural imperialism, compare the laws and efforts (often ending in destructive violence and always involving suppression of liberties and other cruelties) to force Native Americans to abandon their cultures and become "Americans" with anything that's happened in Viet Nam, Iraq, or Afghanistan in the past forty years. Yes, comparatively feeble. Feeble indeed.

In fact, we've all but given up real cultural imperialism for (as I remarked earlier) economic imperialism, hence we don't really give half a shit whether McDonalds or Old Navy get market share in Iraq, as long as we get the oil out of there without anyone setting it on fire. Halliburton didn't open any Walmarts there. We didn't even douse them with cultural propaganda, much less physically force them to adopt American language and customs.

Honestly, if anything, we did too little to market American values in Iraq. They could use some of them. Honor killings, voting by sectarian block instead of personal conscience, are cultural defects they could do without, while putting the welfare of the nation before sect or family, abhorrence of corruption and love of competence, etc., are values they could use more of. Sometimes aspects of one culture are superior to another. But it takes humility and objectivity to identify which, and why. And it takes sincerity to persuade others to agree without forcing, manipulating, or coercing them.