two op-eds on neera tanden

The Streetlight Effect: When People Look Within The System For Solutions To The System
Caitlin Johnstone, Dec 2 2020

A policeman sees a drunk man crawling around on his hands and knees at night and asks what the problem is. The drunk man says he’s trying to find his keys, so the officer gets down and starts searching with him. For a few minutes they crawl around hunting for the missing key ring by the light of the street lamp before the policeman stands up frustrated. “Are you sure this is where you lost them?” he asks. “This isn’t where I lost them,” replies the drunk. “Then why are we searching here??” “It’s where the light is.” This old joke is the source of the name for the streetlight effect, one of the many, many glitches in human cognition which cause us to tend toward misperception of our world and the way it’s happening. This one describes our tendency to only look for things where it’s easy to look for them, and it distorts our understanding of subjects from science to big data analysis to history to spirituality.

It’s like the scene from the children’s animated movie The Land Before Time where one of the young dinosaurs knows the way to the Great Valley, but the others vote to travel a different direction to search for it, not because they have any reason to believe it’s the right way but because it is easier. One dinosaur says “I’m going the easy way!” while the other yells out in exasperation “But it’s the wrong way!” It’s also like the way people keep trying to fight oppressive political systems by working within those systems, arguing that it will be much easier to defeat the oppression machine using the tools the machine gave them. We’re seeing this highlighted today in the controversy over Biden and Company’s nomination of Center for American Progress president and virulent left-puncher Neera Tanden to direct the next administration’s Office of Management and Budget. Tanden has spent years doing nothing but advancing the most toxic elements of the Democrat Party establishment and attacking the party’s progressive base at every opportunity, and her nomination is probably the biggest middle finger BidenCorp could possibly have given to the Sanders supporters who elected him. After months of lying to themselves that lifelong warmongering corporatist Joe Biden could be somehow “pushed to the left” by progressives in order to make voting for him seem more palatable, the incoming administration has been seemingly going out of its way to prove them wrong in as spectacular a fashion as you could possibly imagine with its nominees and transition team of war whores, corporate sociopaths, free speech opponents and austerity enthusiasts. Tanden is just the diarrhea icing on the giant steaming shit cake.

But this was always how it was going to be. Believing anyone could move Joe Biden to the left was as foolish as believing anyone could move a mountain or a skyscraper or any other immovable object. If Biden were the sort of person who could be pressured into ending wars, reversing US military expansionism, ending austerity policies and redistributing wealth, he never would have been permitted anywhere near the White House. He would have been replaced with a Kamala Harris or a Pete Butigieg or one of the other endless army of stalwart establishment loyalists. The US political system is not designed to be moved to the left. It is not designed to facilitate a revolution. It is not designed to reflect the general will of the public in any way. The US political system is designed to keep the public placid and obedient while the imperialists run the empire. Nothing else is allowed. Nothing else will ever be allowed. Self-described progressives who advocate supporting the Democrat Party while slowly taking it over from the inside and moving it to the left argue that doing this is much easier than trying to fight the system from the outside, because activism isn’t enough and the US Constitution is written in a way that makes third-party voting unworkable. So they pour massive amounts of energy into supporting a political party that is expressly designed to ensure they never attain any of their goals. They are searching in the lamplight for keys that aren’t there. They are walking away from the Great Valley because that direction is an easier journey.

Arguing that you should wage the revolution from within the system because it’s easier than fighting the system from the outside is like saying you should journey to the top of the mountain by going downhill because that’s easier than climbing. Sure you’ll meet up with a lot less resistance, but that’s not how you get there. It’s the wrong way. Ruling power structures are all too happy to let us keep marching into the mirror maze of establishment politics which always spits us out right back where we started. They’ll let us do this until their blinkered agendas have turned our planet into a lifeless rock. This is true of US politics, and it’s true of the political systems in any government which plays a significant role in the globe-spanning US-centralized empire. Yes, the way to the Great Valley is far less easy than casting a few votes and stanning AOC. The way to true revolution and drastic, meaningful change is not just challenging, it’s a way that has never been traveled before, by anyone. It’s going to mean trying things that are completely unprecedented, because we’re trying to create a society that is healthy in a way that it’s never been before. Ultimately, we need to wake up. We need to awaken from the mental prisons that have been deliberately designed to keep us searching under the streetlight instead of where they actually are, and then we need to wake up the others. Only then will we ever stand a chance at using the power of our numbers to force real change. Until that happens people are going to keep entering the mirror maze and never getting anywhere while the noose on our species gets tighter and tighter.

The powerful are screwing us, and there are more of us than there are of them. That’s why we have a rigged political system. It’s why plutocrats and government agencies pour immense fortunes and manpower into manipulating the way we think, act and vote by mass media propaganda. It’s what keeps us crawling around searching for keys that aren’t there. It’s not that you can’t beat the machine, it’s that you can’t beat the machine using the tools the machine has given you. But the first step is getting people to stop searching under the streetlight for solutions using those tools and realize they’re misperceiving the situation. We need to awaken people to the reality that the world is not happening the way they were taught in school. Luckily, with trust in the mass media at an all-time low and our ability to network and share information at an all-time high, we have every opportunity to begin doing that. We just need to stop pouring our energy in inefficient directions and strike while that iron is hot.

Bomb Libya and take its oil: Biden budget chief pick Neera Tanden agreed with Trump
Ben Norton, The Grayzone, Nov 30 2020

Editor’s note: US President-elect Joe Biden nominated Neera Tanden, a close ally of Hillary Clinton and president of neoliberal DC think tank the Center for American Progress, on Nov 29 to serve as director of his administration’s Office of Management and Budget. Tanden is notorious on Twitter for her aggressive attacks on the left. In response to the nomination, The Grayzone is reprinting this Jun 20 2016 report by Ben Norton.

“Unless we take the oil from Libya, I have no interest in Libya,” Donald Trump declared in an Apr 2011 interview on CNN Newsroom. The US government was considering military intervention in the oil-rich North African nation at the time. Trump said he would only participate if Washington exploited Libya’s natural resources in return. “Libya is only good as far I’m concerned for one thing: this country takes the oil. If we’re not taking the oil, no interest,” he added. NATO claimed its US-backed bombing campaign was meant to protect Libyans who were protesting the regime of Muammar Qadhafi. Micah Zenko, a senior fellow at the CFR, used NATO’s own materials to show that this was false. Zenko wrote in an exposé in Foreign Policy in March:

In truth, the Libyan intervention was about regime change from the very start.

Trump was not the only figure to propose taking Libya’s oil in return for bombing it, however. Neera Tanden, the president of the pro-Clinton think tank the Center for American Progress, proposed this same policy a few months after Trump. Tanden wrote in an Oct 2011 email titled “Should Libya pay us back?”:

We have a giant deficit. They have a lot of oil. Most Americans would choose not to engage in the world because of that deficit. If we want to continue to engage in the world, gestures like having oil-rich countries partially pay us back doesn’t seem crazy to me,.

The message was obtained and first published by The Intercept.


Tanden is a close ally of Hillary Clinton, and is frequently named as a likely chief-of-staff in a Hillary Clinton White House. The Center for American Progress, which Tanden leads, was founded by John Podesta, a key figure in the Clinton machine. Podesta is the chairman of Hillary’s 2016 presidential campaign, and he previously served as chief of staff under President Bill Clinton. With his brother Tony, John also co-founded the Podesta Group, a public affairs firm that has lobbied for Saudi Arabia, among other countries. Tanden has expressed hawkish views, although in a statement to Salon she strongly opposed being described as hawkish. The NYT has described Hillary Clinton as more hawkish than her Republican rivals, although it still endorsed her for president. The Center for American Progress president invited Netanyahu to speak in Washington DC in November, after he had spent months aggressively trying to jeopardize the Iran nuclear deal. Tanden does not comment on international affairs much, but her tweets provide some insight into her hawkish views, which do not reflect the official policy of the Center for American Progress. In Sep 2013, when the Obama administration was preparing to bomb Syria, she tweeted support, writing:

Just over a week later, the administration backed off of its plans, in response to enormous backlash, and in fear that it would end up with another Libya on its hands. During the lead-up to the war in Libya, Tanden expressed support for military intervention. She suggested that Americans should be “chanting” for Qadhafi’s ouster.

Days after the NATO operation was launched, she wrote:

Less than a month later, Tanden conceded:

Like many liberal figures who supported the NATO bombing of Libya, she stopped talking about the country between 2011 and 2014, while it was roiled by violent chaos and extremism. These tweets came before the October email in which Tanden suggested taking Libya’s oil in return for bombing it. Trump made the same proposal several months before, in April. After this article was published, Tanden stressed in a statement to Salon that her views do not reflect those of the Center for American Progress, which did not take a position on Libya. She claimed being labeled “a hawk is a ridiculous caricature,” adding, “I opposed the Iraq war from the beginning.” Tanden noted that the Center for American Progress “was among the first think tanks to lay out concrete plans for ending the war in Iraq.” She also said that she does not support putting US troops in Syria. Tanden stressed, referring to the organization by its acronym:

CAP is a think tank. We have internal discussions and dialogues all the time on a variety of issues. We encourage the deliberation of ideas to spur conversation, push thinking and spark debate. We do this in meetings, on phone calls and yes, over e-mail. One internal e-mail exchange among colleagues, which was leaked to another organization, or a few tweets does not constitute a published, official policy position.

Salon never once stated that Tanden’s views reflect the Center for American Progress’ official policy, but Tanden accused Salon of implying this. Leftist critics have long lambasted the Democrat Party’s militaristic foreign policy, arguing it is not much different than the GOP’s. This exploitative idea proposed by both Trump and Tanden lends further credence to the argument that, when it comes to the US empire, the Democrat and Republican parties are much more similar than their adherents make them out to be. At the time of his Apr 2011 CNN interview, Trump was considering running as a Republican in the 2012 election. His nationalistic rhetoric then was very consistent to that of today. Trump lamented that the US was “just not respected” and had become “a laughing stock throughout the world.” He hoped that he could reverse this supposed trend, just as he now promises to “make America great again.” In the 2011 CNN interview, Trump expressed skepticism about the rebels in Libya, saying:

They make the rebels sound like they’re from ‘Gone With the Wind,’ very glamorous. I hear they’re controlled by Iran. I hear they’re controlled by al-Qaeda.

The rebels had very little to do with Iran. Iran did express support for the opposition to Qadhafi’s dictatorship, but it staunchly opposed Western military intervention, which it warned was hypocritical, neocolonial in nature and motivated by Libya’s large oil reserves. By no means were all of the rebels extremists, but there were al-Qaeda-linked elements in the opposition to Qadhafi. Human rights groups documented atrocities committed by extremist rebels, including ethnic cleansing of black Libyans. After the NATO war toppled Qadhafi, the country was thrown into chaos. Rivaled forces, including extremist groups such as Ansar al-Sharia and eventually ISIS, seized control of swaths of the country, and weapons from Qadhafi’s enormous cache ended up in the hands of extremist groups throughout the region. To this day, large parts of Libya are not under the control of the internationally recognized government. Hillary Clinton played the leading role in rallying up US support for the NATO war. Reports have since shown that the Pentagon was skeptical of US involvement at the time, but, under the leadership of Sec State Clinton, the Obama administration portrayed it as a humanitarian mission. President Obama insisted at the beginning of the intervention, “Broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.” The State Dept likewise said:

President Obama has been equally firm that our military operation has a narrowly defined mission that does not include regime change.

Then-Sec Def Robert Gates later told the NYT, referring to Qadhafi:

I can’t recall any specific decision that said, ‘Well, let’s just take him out.’

Micah Zenko, the CFR scholar, showed this to be false. Zenko rejoined in his detailed report:

This is scarcely believable. Given that decapitation strikes against Qaddafi were employed early and often, there almost certainly was a decision by the civilian heads of government of the NATO coalition to ‘take him out’ from the very beginning of the intervention. The threat posed by the Libyan regime’s military and paramilitary forces to civilian-populated areas was diminished by NATO airstrikes and rebel ground movements within the first 10 days. Afterward, NATO began providing direct close-air support for advancing rebel forces by attacking government troops that were actually in retreat and had abandoned their vehicles.

The military intervention continued for more than seven months. Rebel forces went on to brutally murder Qadhafi, sodomizing him with a bayonet. When then-Sec State Clinton heard that he had been killed, she rejoiced in front of TV cameras, joking:

We came, we saw, he died!

In April, Obama singled out US support for the NATO war in Libya as the worst decision of his presidency. Zenko warned:

The intervention in Libya shows that the slippery slope of allegedly limited interventions is most steep when there’s a significant gap between what policy-makers say their objectives are and the orders they issue for the battlefield. Unfortunately, duplicity of this sort is a common practice in the US military.

Interestingly, Trump himself cautioned in an interview on Fox & Friends in Mar 2011 that US intervention in Syria would be a “slippery slope.” Expressing skepticism about US military involvement very early on in the war, Trump said:

It is a slippery slope and more and more, you realize that we’re over there fighting wars to open up these governments and they would have opened up themselves.

Clinton called for the exact opposite in Syria. She would go on to oppose diplomacy and insist the US should support the “hard men with the guns.” Trump’s unusual mix of anti-interventionist and exploitative foreign policy views are highlighted in the DNC’s alleged opposition research. A hacker broke into (? – RB) the computer network of the DNC and leaked its opposition research on Trump. A 210-page document that appears to be this report highlights Trump’s past remarks on Libya, Syria, Iraq and more. Also revealed in the report is that Trump bragged that he “screwed” Muammar Qadhafi with an unfair business deal. US media outlets immediately blamed the DNC hack on the Russian government. Soon after, however, they quietly backed away from the hasty conclusions they made based on what FAIR pointed out was incredibly flimsy evidence.

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