Archive for the ‘Obama’ Category

Obama and the Sony Hack

January 5, 2015

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I think it’s become clear by now that the Sony hack was not carried out by North Korea. (See here, here, and here.) Yet the Obama Administration continues to insist that North Korea was behind the hack. There are several possible explanations for this, none of which speak well for the administration. The kindest explanation is that these people simply aren’t very bright. However, I believe these people do know what they are doing. So, the next explanation is that Obama simply decided to use this hack as an excuse to apply more sanctions on North Korea. (Sanctions that haven’t brought down the government and probably never will.) Or perhaps Obama has decided to use this as an opportunity to show that he is tough with the US’s enemies. Or perhaps both. Whichever is the case, the President is acting in a cynical and dishonest manner.

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Citizenfour

November 29, 2014

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Citizenfour is a documentary by Laura Poitras about the recent revelations of NSA spying on US citizens. For those who have been following this scandal, this film will reveal nothing new. It is primarily of interest as an historical document. There is footage of the first meeting between Snowden and Greenwald and Poitras in hotel room in a Hong Kong. In these scenes, Snowden appears confident, yet one sometimes senses a feeling of anxiousness in him. He is clearly concerned about what might happen to him. (Snowden has been criticized for seeking refuge in Russia, which is a dictatorship. This film tells us that he had intended to fly from Moscow to Ecuador. He no doubt had to give up this idea in the face of the US’s manhunt for him. A plane carrying Bolivian president Evo Morales was forced down because it was suspected that Snowden might be hiding on board.)

Citizenfour ends by hinting that there are even bigger revelations to come. Yet it never really addresses the question of why the government is doing so much spying. Is it really about the “War on Terror”, or does the government have a deeper motive? In one scene, Jacob Appelbaum suggests that the government collects this information so that it can target people who get too much out of line. This may sound conspiracist to some people, but it should sound plausible to anyone familiar with the FBI’s Cointelpro program.

You are being watched. Always remember that.

What is the US Doing in Syria?

October 10, 2014

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There has been a proliferation of conspiracy theories since ISIS captured Mosul last June. This should not be surprising, considering the way that ISIS just seemed to appear out of nowhere, though what actually happened is that the Western media simply didn’t pay any attention to them up until that point.

One of the most popular conspiracy theories holds that the US deliberately created ISIS to give itself an excuse to send troops back into Iraq. CJ Werleman has put forward a somewhat more plausible theory, which holds that the US and Saudi Arabia have conspired to create a sectarian army that would attack Iran’s allies in Iraq and Syria, and perhaps eventually Iran itself. But if this is the US’s plan, wouldn’t the US now be attacking Assad, who is Iran’s ally?

I’ve have grown wary of conspiracy theories as I’ve gotten older, but I still have to wonder if we’re being told the truth about what is going on. A recent article in The Guardian reports that:

    No coalition strikes have been made to help or relieve rebel forces where they were facing either Isis or government troops. Emile Hokayem of the International Institute of Strategic Studies said Assad has been able “to give his troops a break while surveying the landscape and looking for opportunities.”

We also learn that:

    Coalition hits on grain silos and a gas plant in Manbij and Deir al-Zor drew warnings of a humanitarian disaster – and the risk of playing into Isis’s hands, as shortages during the winter will be blamed on the international community. The Hazm movement – backed by the US and supplied with advanced anti-tank weapons – publicly denounced the intervention but was quickly silenced by Washington, rebel sources say. Attacks on Jabhat al Nusra (another al-Qaida-linked jihadi group and a rival to Isis) have backfired, and are said to have brought it new recruits.

    Civilian deaths caused by coalition attacks clearly risk a backlash. “We had 10 martyrs when they targeted Al-Riqa,” said Zeid Al-Jabli, a student from Zawiya in the Idlib area. “There had been a base for Jabhat al-Nusra but they pulled out a long time ago and the civilians were killed instead. Shelling by the regime has intensified because of the coalition. We have martyrs and wounded every day.”

The Guardian also reports that Kurdish fighters are saying the air strikes are doing no good:

    He [a Kurdish spokesman] said Isis had adapted its tactics to military strikes from the air. “Each time a jet approaches, they leave their open positions, they scatter and hide. What we really need is ground support. We need heavy weapons and ammunition in order to fend them off and defeat them.”

The US is following a strategy that is not only not working, but which is actually counterproductive. One can spin all sorts of conspiracy theories about this, but I suspect the problem is really just that our policymakers have no idea what they are doing.

Once More into the Big Muddy

September 25, 2014

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Earlier this month, Andy Borowitz wrote an article with the title “Growing Pressure on Obama to Do Something Stupid”. This title is (partly) meant in jest, but it has proven to be prescient. Obama has finally done something that he has long resisted doing: he has bombed Syria. Why? Salim Lone, in The Guardian, writes: “Obama’s resistance to launching a war has for months made him the target of a sustained barrage of criticism, of a vehemence suffered by no other US president in the last 40 years.” Lone is probably referring to Jimmy Carter here. He was harshly criticized for not going to war with Iran over the hostage “crisis”. I would go back further, to Harry Truman, whom Republicans and much of the news media accused of “losing” China. These accusations may have contributed to Truman’s later reckless behavior during the Korean War, when he allowed Gen. MacArthur to exceed the UN mandate and invade North Korea – which led to a horrific war with China.

Over the past year or more, Obama has been under intense criticism from the media. They accuse him of being “soft” on Putin. (Do these people really want the president to start World War III?) As Lone points out:

    To get a sense of the pro-war shift in the US political landscape, recall how Bush’s infinitely more contentious 2003 war was preceded by a national debate. [Not much of a debate, actually.] Merely a media-amplified campaign for stepped-up military intervention has preceded Obama’s war. Even within his party, there has been little support, with senior figures like Hillary Clinton pouring scorn on his reticence.

Such discredited figures as Dick Cheney, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham – all of whom helped to create the current crisis in Iraq and Syria – are being exhibited on news shows as “experts” on what we should do now. We shouldn’t consider this surprising, considering that most of the people in the news media supported the invasion of Iraq.

Once again into the Big Muddy.

Iraq and the Law of Unintended Consequences

August 17, 2014

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Nouri al-Maliki and Barack Obama

The other day I went to my local library to read Hillary Clinton’s memoir, Hard Choices. I found it dull, and it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. I was, however, struck by the following sentence on page 389: “Benghazi is a port city on the Mediterranean Sea with a population of more than 1 million people, mostly Sunni Muslims, and large African and Egyptian minorities.” So, our former Secretary of State doesn’t know that Libyans and Egyptians are Africans. Interesting.

I got so bored, that out of desperation I picked up a copy of Robert Gates’s memoir, Duty. I must say that I found Gates to be a more interesting writer than Clinton, if only because his writing doesn’t sound like sound-bites from a presidential debate. I also learned something from him: Bush had frequent video conferences with Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, and with Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq. Gates says that Bush acted as a “useful mentor” to these men (page 337). The idea that Bush could serve as a mentor to anyone, let alone the leaders of two nations, is mind-boggling to me. Later, Gates says that Maliki’s party came in second in Iraq’s 2010 (page 472) elections, but Maliki was nonetheless eventually able to resume his position as prime minister. What Maliki apparently learned from Bush was how to take office after losing an election.

Gates shares with us the following heart-warming anecdote:

    … Maliki, frustrated and angered by Iranian-backed Shia extremist actions in Basra, ordered units of the Iraqi army into the city to reestalish control. The U.S. commanders were horrified that Maliki had taken such a risk without proper preparation. They scrambled to provide the logistics, planning, and military advice to support Maliki’s effort; without such help, he almost certainly would have failed. But he didn’t and therefore won significant recognition all across Iraq for acting like a “national” leader by suppressing his Shia brethren. The president told the chiefs, “We ought to say hurray to Maliki for going down to Basra and taking on the extremists.” He charactized is a “milestone event.” “Maliki used to ba a paralyzed neophyte – now he is taking charge.” Bush was right. (Page 233.)

This same “national”, Maliki, is now widely blamed for the disintegration of the Iraqi state; his relentless sectarianism is alleged to a have antagonized the country’s Sunni Muslim minority. At this point, one must question whether Bush and Gates really understood what was going on in Iraq.

Ah, but according to conspiracy theory, leaders always have complete control over what is happening. Consider this article by Mike Whitney, Why Obama Wants Maliki Removed in the most recent isssue of CounterPunch. Whitney writes:

    The Obama administration is pushing for regime change in Iraq on the basis that current prime minister Nouri al Maliki is too sectarian. The fact is, however, that Maliki’s abusive treatment of Sunnis never factored into Washington’s decision to have him removed. Whether he has been “too sectarian” or not is completely irrelevant. The real reason he’s under attack is because he wouldn’t sign the Status of Forces Agreement in 2011. He refused to grant immunity to the tens of thousands of troops the administration wanted to leave in Iraq following the formal withdrawal. That’s what angered Washington. That’s why the administration wants Maliki replaced.

That’s right! Obama was so angry at Maliki, that he waited three years to demand his removal from office.

The life of a conspiracy theorist is difficult and unpleasant. He must be continually searching for whatever paltry (or perhaps non-existent) evidence that may buttress his pre-conceived ideas. He simply cannot concede the possibility that the people in charge may not always understand what exactly is going on.

The Slaughter in Gaza

July 25, 2014

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I know a woman who used to live in Gaza. Today, she told me that three children she knew when she was living there have been killed by Israeli bombs. As the slaughter in Gaza continues, it’s effects are beginning to be felt even here in the US.

Barack Obama has displayed his usual moral cowardice, giving pious speeches about Israel’s “right to defend itself”, as if the people of Gaza have no right to defend themselves. Obama talked about this at an Iftar dinner attended Muslim Americans. Obama deliberately insulted these people by inviting the Israeli ambassador to the US to this dinner.

There is growing opposition to Israel’s attack on the people of Gaza throughout the world including within Israel itself.

We must stand with the people of Gaza.

Annals of Unemployment, Part 5: Kafka’s Castle

June 6, 2014

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Last November I went to the Covered California website to look for health insurance on the exchange. I was told that I qualify for Medi-Cal, California’s version of Medicaid, under the new rules. I filled out the application on the website and submitted it. I was told that my application would be forwarded to the Department of Social Services. I waited a few weeks without hearing anything. I called my caseworker at DPSS and asked her about it. She said that the new rules didn’t go into effect until January 1, and I wouldn’t hear anything until then. So I waited. January 1 came and went. In the middle of January, I called my caseworker. She told me that they were still waiting for instructions from the federal government. Until then, they couldn’t do anything. I would just have to wait until I heard from them.

I waited a few weeks. I called my caseworker again, and she told me the same thing. In late February, I looked at the Covered California site again. It did not say that my application had been approved. I called my caseworker, but she was out of the office. So, I called the DPSS’s information line. I gave the operator my case number. He said that they had never received my Medi-Cal application. I told him that I had applied through the CC website. He told me I should try calling them. So I called Covered California. The person there told me that my application had been forwarded to the DPSS.

So I downloaded another application, printed it out, and filled it out by hand. I then put it in an envelope and wrote my case number and my caseworker’s name on the outside. I then went to my local DPSS office and put it in the mail slot. Several days later, I received a letter from my caseworker saying that she needed proof that I was receiving unemployment benefits, as well as a copy of my driver’s license. So I sent those to her. I waited a while, and then I called her. She said that my application was “pending” and that they would contact me when it was approved. I waited a couple of weeks and called her again. She said that my application was still pending. This went on through March, April, and most of May. A couple of weeks ago, I called my caseworker. A different woman answered the phone. She told me there was something in the computer system that was blocking my application from going through and that they were working on it. After I hung up, she called me back and said that she needed proof that I was receiving unemployment benefits. She gave me a fax number. I had already given this information, but I decided not to argue with her, so I faxed it to her. The next day she called and said that my application had been approved. She said that I would receive my Medi-Cal card within a week.

A week later I received a plastic card in the mail. On it was printed, “State of California Benefits Identification Card”. On the back, it said, “This card is for identification ONLY. It does not guarantee eligibility.” This didn’t sound encouraging to me. I called my caseworker. The woman I had talked to the week before answered the phone. When I asked her about the card I had received, she said that was my Medi-Cal card. When I asked her when would I receive instructions on how to use it, she said that I didn’t need instructions, I just had to show the card to my medical provider. When I asked her if I could get a list of physicians who accept Medi-Cal, she told me I would have to “research” that myself. She said they would eventually send me a list, but they couldn’t do it now.

Today, out of curiosity, I looked at my account on the DPSS website. It said that my Medi-Cal application had been DENIED. What the hell??? I immediately called my caseworker. This time, a third woman answered the phone. When I told her my case number, she said that my Medi-Cal application was still pending! When I asked why the website said that my application had been denied, she said she didn’t know. She said that my regular caseworker will be in tomorrow, and she will have her call me.

It is now June and I still don’t have the coverage that I was supposed to receive back in January. If I had become seriously ill during this time, I would have been screwed.

Yeah, Obamacare is a huge success, ain’t it?

Chicken Little Comes to CounterPunch

May 15, 2014

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John Pilger

The May 14th edition of CounterPunch has an article by John Pilger with the ominous title of A World War is Beckoning. Pilger begins by asking a couple of rhetorical questions:

    Why do we ­tolerate the threat of ­another world war in our name? Why do we allow lies that justify this risk?

Uh, maybe because there is no threat of another world war in our name? I suspect that isn’t the answer that Pilger wants to hear. Later on, he writes:

    For the first time since the Reagan years, the US is ­threatening to take the world to war. With eastern Europe and the Balkans now military outposts of Nato, the last “buffer state” bordering Russia is being torn apart. We in the west are backing neo-Nazis in a country where Ukrainian Nazis backed Hitler.

Pilger needs to get a grip. Placing mild economic sanctions on Russia is not “threatening to take the world to war”.

    Having masterminded the coup in February against the democratically elected government in Kiev, Washington’s planned seizure of Russia’s ­historic, legitimate warm-water naval base in Crimea failed.

There is evidence that the US has meddled in Ukraine’s internal affairs, but it doesn’t necessarily follow from this that the US “masterminded the coup in February”. And he offers no evidence for his amazing claim that US planned to seize Russia’s naval base in Crimea. This would have been an act of war, not to mention an incredibly stupid thing to do.

This is an example of the Chicken Little argument that has become popular among the Left in recent years. For the past three years some on the Left have been screaming that Obama wants to go to war with Syria, yet said war has failed to materialize. We need to try to understand what the people in power are actually trying to do, rather than just assume that they have the most evil intentions imaginable.

There is a good deal that the Obama administration can be criticized for in this situation. And too many people in the media have given Obama a pass on this. (Even worse, some of them have urged the president to “get tough” with Putin.) There needs to be a congressional investigation of the role that the State Department and the CIA have played in the recent events in Ukraine. I’m afraid, however, that this will probably never happen. (Because, you know, Benghazi is far more important.)

Obamcare’s Tiny Dent

April 10, 2014

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President Obama and his supporters are crowing about how 7 million people have signed up for health insurance since Obamacare inched rolled out. This number sounds impressive, until one thinks about what it actually means. Writing in Firedoglake, Jon Walker tells us:

    Not all 7 million who have selected a plan on the exchange will actually get coverage because they won’t follow through with paying their premiums. Sebelius said about 80-90% of people who have signed up so far have actually paid their first premium. If we assume roughly 15% of people won’t fully complete the process the roughly 7 million signups should translates to about 6 million people actually being covered by exchange policies this year.

The Los Angeles Times, on the other hand, tells us that 8 million people have “gained coverage” since last September. For the sake of argument, let’s take the Time‘s more optimistic figure of 8 million. (It’s not clear whether all of these people were uninsured before. For the sake of argument, let’s assume they were.) According to all the sources I’ve consulted, the number of Americans without health insurance before Obamacare seeped rolled out was around 44 million. That would mean that there are still about 36 million uninsured Americans. So, even when we make the most optimistic assumptions, it is still clear that Obamacare has been a failure.

Ah, but we live in the Age of Public Relations, in which every failure can be presented as a success. So we are told, for example, that the Iraq War was a success, even though, by every objective standard, it was a failure.

Single payer is the only way to solve the health care crisis in this country.

Obamacare Walks Among Us

March 27, 2014

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Last November, I applied for Obamacare using the Covered California website. I was told that I qualified for Medicaid under the new rules of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Medicaid is a federal program. However, in keeping with our nation’s passion for inefficiency, it is administered through the states. In California, it’s called Medi-Cal. Every time I call the Los Angeles County Department of Social Services about my application, they tell me that my Medi-Cal is “pending”. They say this is because they are still waiting for instructions from the federal government. The new Medicaid rules became effective on January 1st of this year. It’s nearly the end of March, and the federal government still hasn’t told the states how to proceed with this.

Part of me is hoping that the federal government never does tell them what to do. What many people don’t know is that the state governments have the right to demand that people reimburse them for medical treatment that was paid for by Medicaid. The state can actually seize a person’s assets to do this. Cute, huh? And you thought that Medicaid was a social safety net.

I’ve been told that in California, where I currently live, the state waits until after somebody dies before seizing any of his assets. (Sort of like having your pockets picked by an undertaker.) Apparently, in some states they don’t necessarily wait until you’re dead before they seize your assets. The sign-up site for Medicaid in New York contains this clause:

    I understand that once I get Medicaid coverage, if I am over 55 or if I am in a medical institution and not expected to return home, the Medicaid program may do the following in order to pay for my medical care:
    Take money I already have or that is owned [sic] to me.
    Take money that was made from selling certain things I own
    Take money from people who were legally responsible for me when
    I got benefits.

Nice, huh? Things may be different here in the Golden State, but who knows, our notoriously cash-strapped state government may decide to change the rules at some point.

Because I qualify for Medicaid, I am automatically blocked from applying for subsidized insurance on the exchange. I have been told, however, that I can purchase private insurance at full price. (If I could afford to do that, I wouldn’t have qualified for Medicaid, would I?) Now, here’s a really fun fact for you. Almost half the states have refused to accept the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid. If you qualify for Medicaid and you happen to live in one of these states, you are doubly screwed: not only do you not get Medicaid, but you can’t purchase subsidized insurance precisely because you qualify for the Medicaid that you can’t get. What a brilliant piece of legislation the ACA is! At this point, one has to wonder whether the ACA will significantly reduce the number of uninsured people in this country.

Single Payer is the only rational and humane solution to our country’s health care problems. It is time for us all to admit this.