• Robert Taylor
  • 28
  • Dec
  • 09

While I spent my Christmas weekend surrounded by family, friends, and the warm central California weather, I tried for just a few days to escape the whirlwind circus of American politics.

Sadly, I couldn’t help myself.

While scanning the Internet for news stories (since TV and newspapers are anemic sources of information), I stumble across President Obama quietly signing a Christmas Eve executive order giving another bailout to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, two of Obama’s largest campaign contributors. And I could barely keep from laughing while watching Senator Max Baucus (D-Pharmaceutical Industry) resurrect the ghost of Ted Kennedy while drunkenly stammering and slobbering all over the Senate floor.

But the thing that stood out to me the most was Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Pentagon) calling for preemptive military strikes on Yemen after the failed attack by what is now being called the “underwear bomber.” On a flight bound for Detroit, a Nigerian man put firecrackers in his pants in an apparent attempt at terrorism. He received training and supplies from Yemen, and Al Qaeda, whose presence is growing in the southern tip of the Persian Gulf, is taking credit for the foiled attack.

Immediately, security agencies (there are too many to count) began beefing up security at domestic and international airports, and President Obama assured us today that he is doing everything he can to keep us safe and will soon be launching “accelerated offensives” in Yemen.

There is so much wrong with the responses to this plot it’s hard to know where to begin.

Increasing government “security” only provides the illusion of safety and at great costs to what’s left of our civil liberties.

As Congressman Ron Paul (R-Constitution) pointed out in a great debate on CNN today, the US is spending nearly $75 billion on security measures that are ineffective and easily outmaneuvered. He correctly notes how markets do a far better of job of providing protection, as it is up to individual owners of factories, hotels, banks, etc. to care of their property. If airlines were in charge of their own security instead of the clumsy and pushy TSA, flights would likely be much safer (and no strip searches either!)

Coming back to the suggestion of Lieberman that the US preemptively rain terror on Yemen, I wonder if he is aware that US special forces have been launching raids inside of Yemen for months, that the US-funded Saudi government is continually bombing the Yemeni border, and that President Obama fired a handful of cruise missiles into Yemen a week and a half ago, killing 120?

These minor points aside, the growing calls to blitz Yemen is typical of US policymakers: counterproductive overreaction. It might come as a shock to some, but terrorism comes to the continental US as a direct response to the terror that the US military has been inflicting on the Arab world for decades.

Initiating sanctions that starve half of a million Iraqis; bombing city after city; propping up corrupt governments in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan that torture, rob, and kill their own citizens; handing out billions of dollars a year for the last five decades to Israel so that they can wage indiscriminate warfare on their neighbors and cage the Palestinians in their own cities.

These are the reasons gullible young Muslim men are willing to blow themselves up. Losing a family member, a home, or a mosque in a US air strike might piss some people off.

Responding to acts or threats of terrorism with overwhelming military force is like chopping a machete to a problem that needs the calculated scalpel of effective intelligence gathering and police work. Using the logic of the Lieberman and Obama, the British had every right to launch air raids on the Irish Mafia in Boston for helping to fund IRA bombings and India should nuke Chicago for the Mumbia attacks.

The attempted attack last weekend fits the cyclical nature of America’s imperial foreign policy perfectly: we intervene militarily around the globe, terrorists strike back, more socialist security; we intervene militarily around the globe, terrorists strike back, more socialist security…

Under this rubble of fear-mongering and the bogeyman of terrorism, Americans become more and more willing to sacrifice freedom for the illusion of security. Eventually, we will run out of liberties to hand over.

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For more of Robert’s work, please visit his Libertarian Examiner blog.

  • Robert Taylor
  • 20
  • Dec
  • 09

When news stories started reporting that DC might be closed this weekend due to a blizzard that was sweeping across the East Coast, I finally got into the Christmas spirit; let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. For the brief bliss of one weekend, Americans would be sparedĀ  from the draconian legislation that usually crawls its way out of DC.

Members of the Imperial Senate, however, did find time on Friday to put the finishing touches on President Obama’s 2010 “defense” budget (H.R. 3326, which passed 93 to 6 in the Senate and 400-30 in the House), a $636 billion appropriations bill. It is loaded with all the corruption you would expect in the largest welfare program in US history, $20.5 billion more than President Bush’s last defense bill.

While taking a look through the bill, it’s easy to see why so many members of Congress enthusiastically voted in favor of such a monstrosity. Americans will be robbed of nearly a trillion of their dollars in order to fund pork, pet projects, foreign aid to abusive governments, defense contractors, and all of the politically-connected cronies that always gravitate towards DC when “defense” budgets are being voted on.

I say “defense” because if Congress or the President were interested solely in the defense of this country, than the amount of money needed for effective intelligence gathering and protection of our shores would be about 2-3% percent of this.

George Orwell famously noted that manipulating the language is an essential task of any government, and labeling this a “defense” bill would make Orwell laugh (or cry).

For example, $30 billion is guaranteed to the Israeli government over ten years, which means that the US taxpayer will be funding about a fifth of Israel’s military expenditures every year. $500 million is headed to the thuggish Palestinian Authority. Additionally, Israel is required to spend at least 75% of this money on US contractors. Who says Obama isn’t creating any jobs!

$130 billion of it will be used to keep funding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which despite claims by the Obama Administration that we’ll be leaving just in time for his re-election run, we’re not leaving anytime soon.

So far under President Obama’s watch, 231 soldiers (and counting) have died in Afghanistan since he took office, over one-fourth of the total American casualties of Operation Enduring Freedom. In 10 months. After that $130 billion is spent, how many more Marines will have died? And how much more money will be thrown at this mess?

The bill also increases funding to the US Navy, which already has 11 nuclear-armed warships patrolling every ocean and is larger than the next thirteen biggest navies combined. Part of this money has probably funded the US Navy’s new PR campaign, asking more farm-boys and poor blacks to join the “global force for good.”

Even our Navy admits that the US is a global empire.

In addition to the Democrats who voted yay, 34 out of 40 Republicans in the Senate and 170 out of 178 Republicans in the House also voted for this Leviathan bill, which means the Boeing’s and Lockheed Martin’s in their district will continue to supply the money and lobbying power to get them reelected again and again.

This “defense” bill proves that Congress and the President are not divided; they are united behind a single, imperial cause: war.

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For more of Robert’s work, please visit his Libertarian Examiner blog.

  • Robert Taylor
  • 05
  • Dec
  • 09

It’s been a few days since President Obama’s West Point Speech where he announced his Afghanistan troop escalation. 30,000 more troops will be shipped over just in time for Obama to receive his Nobel Peace Prize in Norway on December 10th.

This has been the perfect chance to witness the credibility of Obama’s conservative opposition, and without failure, its has been incredibly disappointing.

Relying on their militaristic instincts, the mainstream Right has criticized Obama for not sending the 80,000 troops General McKiller had asked him for and for setting a supposed timetable for withdrawal. Instead of prudently questioning the merits of LBJ-ing our way through another pointless war, conservative hawks are screeching for more blood. According to the cringe-inducing Glenn Beck, Obama should emulate a “real” leader like President Lincoln, who fired general after general until he got the mass-murderer that fit.

What has been pleasantly surprising, however, is the emergence of opposition from some very noteworthy liberal pundits and commentators. Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart have been highly critical of Obama’s second escalation in seven months; Michael Moore has written an open condemnation letter to the President; and Barbara Streisand is even joining the anti-Afghan escalation chorus.

It’s easy to see why there is growing resentment from some Obama supporters about his decision. In his speech announcing the escalation, he sounded shaky, nervous, and unsure, and every argument he gave for this deployment is incredibly unconvincing.

According to Obama, 30,000 more American troops are going to be sent in order to “prevent a cancer from once again spreading throughout the region” and “denying Al-Qaeda a safe haven.” Obama has used this “safe haven” argument before, but the only haven the 9/11 hijackers needed was in Florida, Virginia, and an apartment in Germany. Even if a cruise missile had taken out bin Laden before 9/11, the plot was already fully planned in place and would have likely happened away.

Al Qaeda is a highly decentralized group with barely more than 100 members, and bombing havens in Afghanistan does very little damage to their coordination.

Obama then aimed his crosshairs at the Taliban, accusing them of “maintaining common cause” with Al Qaeda. The only “evidence” that he sites is the immediate events after 9/11, where the US asked the Taliban to give up supposed Al Qaeda members. The Taliban was happy to comply, provided that the US provide proof that they were involved. Three weeks (and no proof) later, bombs away.

It also turns out Obama’s July 2001 “withdrawal” promise was a bit of a truth-stretcher as well. According to Secretary of State Robert Gates and National Security Adviser General James Jones, the US has no intention of leaving Afghanistan anywhere near 2011.

Obama’ Afghan “surge” will only lead to a surge in bodycounts, and it ignores the central lesson of 9/11. The masterminds did most of their planning right in our backyard, just like the London and Madrid bombings were plotted in England and Spain. So why is Obama sending more troops when he obviously is aware of these facts?

A cynic might suggest that this troop escalation is nothing more than playing politics; he appears strong, all the while enriching Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, GE, and the rest of the Pentagon’s merchants of death. And who says Obama isn’t creating any jobs? He’s sending 30,000 government employees overseas.

As Obama celebrates Christmas in the comforts of his DC mansion, his surge will just be arriving in Afghanistan with the gifts of more death and more destruction.

Somehow I think this isn’t exactly how the Prince of Peace would want his birthday celebrated.

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For more of Robert’s work, please visit his Libertarian Examiner blog.

  • Robert Taylor
  • 09
  • Nov
  • 09

It’s been hard to make a lot of sense of the Fort Hood massacre last weekend, where as of now, at least 13 people have died, and over 40 have been injured. Maj. Nadal Malik Hassan, an Army psychiatrist, went on a bloody shooting spree when faced with the prospect of being sent to Afghanistan.

The mainstream media’s reaction to this tragedy has been the source of a lot of my frustration. Every time I turn on the TV, Hassan’s actions are being blamed on psychological trauma, his lack of a girlfriend and social life, and his many poor job evaluations.

It’s not that these explanations are entirely wrong. They are true, up to a point. Hassan did hear the tear-laced horror stories that soldiers brought home from the US’s killing fields in the Middle East, and these undoubtedly affected Hassan’s judgment and his unwillingness to be shipped away.

What is missing from this simplistic analysis are a few elements that throw a wrench into this conveniently timid thesis. Before Hassan became a psychiatrist at Fort Hood, he frequently attended the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Virginia, where he listened to the bloodthirsty Anwar Al-Awlaki preach and mingled with two of the eventual 9/11 hijackers. Eight years later, Hassan gunned down victim after victim while yellingAllahu Akhbar” (God is great).

Hassan was faced with the option of fighting for the US in a war he perceived to be waged on Islam in which he could not possibly participate. This is why the FOX News fascistas labeled Hassan’s shooting as “the first terrorist attack on American soi since 9/11l” and took the opportunity to criticize President Obama for his supposed “weakness” on terrorism (at the same time Obama is leaning toward sending 34,000 more troops to Afghanistan).

The fact that Hassan was an ideological Muslim is a crucial point to this story not because he represents some grand neocon conspiracy of how bin Laden and his ilk want to establish an Islamic Caliphate from Mecca to Montgomery, but for a few key different reasons instead.

US foreign policy has directly led to the radicalization of a religion and culture (that once surpassed the West in mathematics, poetry, and literature) by propping up extremely cruel Middle East and African dictators, starving them with sanctions, and pummeling cities with incendiary bombs. Suddenly, democratic and progressive movements give way to support for anyone who resists this occupation, no matter how cruel or barbarous they may be.

Additionally, US response to 9/11 was the most counterproductive and misguided reaction there could have possibly been. Initiating two open-ended wars on two countries that had nothing to do with the attacks was a recipe for disaster, and made the key mistake of ignoring where the real threats lied.

Despite the lies about disrupting “safe havens” in foreign lands, a few of the 9/11 hijackers spent years in Florida before they struck. While the US Empire was busy radicalizing more and more young Muslims with cruise missiles, Al Qaeda and its sympathetic allies lashed out with infiltration and deception. The FBI, in all of its clumsiness, was asleep at the wheel.

The blame for the Fort Hood massacre lies squarely on Hassan’s shoulders, but it is also the direct product of a ruthless and imperial foreign policy, where the US military occupies two-thirds of the globe. Empire inevitably leads to blowback (the unintended consequences of military intervention), and from 9/11 to Hassan, these consequences are, and will continue be, felt on our soil.

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For more of Robert’s work, please visit his Libertarian Examiner blog.

  • Robert Taylor
  • 31
  • Oct
  • 09

One of the very first things President Obama did when taking office was sign an executive order promising to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp within a year. This move was great news to civil libertarians, since the Gitmo Gulag* is one of the worst stains on the American legal system in its history.

The one year window that Obama gave is almost up, and his Attorney General Eric Holder has recently said that closing the prison by the January 22nd deadline may not be a done deal, thanks to a vote in the Senate last May that denied the Obama Administration the funds required to do so. But as the LA Times noted in a great article last Thursday, the 200 detainees that are still caged off the shores of Cuba may receive trials sooner than we think.

Last week, however, the Senate approved and sent to Obama a budget measure that allows the government to continue transferring detainees here as long as it develops new guidelines and provides 15 days’ notice before a prisoner is moved.

That legislation will make it easier to close the now infamous detention center, where the population has dwindled from nearly 800 to 220, 75 of whom have been cleared for release. But it won’t resolve the question of whether the remaining detainees will be tried in federal court, as they ought to be, or before military commissions. Nor does it clarify what Obama plans to do with detainees he says “cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people.” As we have said before, indefinite detention is repugnant to the U.S. legal tradition and should be a last resort.

This legislation is definitely a step in the right direction, but as the article stipulates, there is an important question that is crucial to the fate of the detainees: where will they be tried?

If they are tried in civilian courts, then there will be an excellent chance that they will be freed due to the nearly non-existent evidence against over 90% of the people held there since 2002. Nearly all of the Gitmo prisoners are completely innocent, guilty of either being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the victims of unsubstantiated claims or bribes, or who defended their homes and families from US invasion.

Unfortunately, too many Americans view these detainees as “terrorists” who don’t deserve rights, let alone a fair trial. Our government would never persecute, torture, and even kill innocent people to advance its own agenda, would they? Just look at the rubble the US government left in Waco, Texas and Ruby Ridge, Idaho.

It is highly likely that when faced with this political climate, Obama will cave and try them in military courts, where they probably will be found guilty and locked up indefinitely. I hope I’m wrong, and Obama might do the right thing and restore some sanity to our fractured legal system.

If he does, it will benefit all of us, since the policy of “preventive detention” that the Bush Administration used to justify sweeping up thousands of people around the world and locking them away included Americans citizens as well. But considering Obama’s aggressive and reckless militarism (the increase of drone strikes and nation-building in Afghanistan, shelling Somalia), it’s hard not be a cynic.

*Andy Worthington, the brave Guantanamo Bay chronicler, will be in San Francisco next month promoting his new movie, Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo. There are also screenings in Berkeley. Worthington is an expert on US policy at Gitmo, and I urge everyone to see the movie, or at least visit his website.