Archive for December, 2011
Torture is now solidly installed in America’s repressive arsenal, not in the shadows where it has always lurked, but up front and central, vigorously applauded by prominent politicians. Rituals of coercion and humiliation seep through the culture, to the extent that before Christmas American travelers began to rebel at the invasive pat-down searches, conducted by the TSA’s airport security teams, groping around bosoms and crotches.
The American liberal conscience began to make its accommodation with torture in June, 1977, which was the month the London Sunday Times published a major expose of torture of Palestinians by the Israeli armed forces and the security agency, Shin Bet. Suddenly American supporters of Israel were arguing that certain techniques–sensory deprivation, prolonged stress positions while hooded, incarceration in “cells” the size of packing crates, et cetera–somehow weren’t really torture, or were morally justifiable torture under “ticking time bomb” theory.
Wednesday night’s memorial in the McHale Arena at the University of Arizona did strike me as slightly strange, like an Irish wake that had prematurely transitioned into the later boisterous phase. The offbeat tone was established from the outset by Carlos Gonzalez, an associate prof at AU who delivered us from stuffy Anglican proprieties by very properly “politicizing” the event.
Gonzalez flourished a talisman of eagle feathers and chanted a bracing traditional Indian blessing, walking the 13,000 crowd inside McHale Center (plus an overflow 13,000 at Arizona Stadium) around the four “doors” to wisdom, spirit, visions and energy and guidance, plus the male energy of the sky and the female energy of earth. He blessed the victims, their families, all Americans, his son in Afghanistan and all his relations, all creatures including snakes.
It was a bracing one-in-the eye for the Judeo-Christian tradition. The event nosedived into bad faith and tedium with an address by the shifty Gov. Jan Brewer, followed by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, who read highly inappropriate verses from Isaiah, Chapter 40, and U.S. Attorney Eric Holder giving us verses from the second letter to the Corinthians written by the markedly intolerant Paul.
President Obama’s state of the union address: It was all very, very familiar. America has lost its technological dominance. Solution: Kennedy’s New Frontier, when the shocking challenge of the Russian sputnik, launched into space in 1957, led to the U.S. moon shot, which in turn ‘unleashed an age of innovation.” America now faces another “sputnik moment.” The challenge: to “out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.”
This is to be achieved by a green revolution in energy, better schools and teachers, efficient government subservient to the needs of business, less debt.
Every president calls for Americans to do better at science. Clinton made a veritable industry out of it, also out of “reinventing government,” which Obama also proposes to rehab in the form of a new onslaught on burdensome regulation, so crippling to the American entrepreneurial spirit.
The left got a vague pledge from Obama not to mess with Social Security, plus a rhetorical kick at the oil companies. The right got substantive support for lowering corporate taxes, plus all sorts of agreeable commitments about cutting Medicare and so forth.
Obama seemed to be trying to stage a replay of his own, of the U.S. economy in the 1950s. “We do big things.” No we don’t. We do Stupid Big Things, dating back to that last heyday of Stupid Big Thing Thinking–dam constsruction in the 1930s, surging to the disaster of the Glen Canyon dam and Lake Powell in the 1950s, the same decade freeway construction–Big Concrete–destroyed city after city the same way (albeit more permanently) Big Bombing destroyed Germany and many countries thereafter.
We need good news. When was the last time we had some, here in this country? The Seattle protests against the WTO? That was back in 1999. Around the world? Hard to remember–it’s been a long dry spell. It reminds me of the old Jacobin shivering in the chill night of Bourbon restoration, and crying out, “Oh, sun of ’93, when shall I feel thy warmth again?”
We raise our glass to the Egyptian people.
The brave Egyptian demonstrators did it. Conscripts ready to muntiny if ordered to fire on the crowds did it. Immensely courageous Egyptian union organizers active for years did it. Look at the numbers of striking workers enumerated by Esam al-Amin on this site today. This was close to a general strike. It reminds me of France, its economy paralyzed in the uprising in the spring of 1968. That was when President de Gaulle, displaying a good deal more energy and sang-froid than Mubarak, flew to meetings with senior French military commanders to get pledges of loyalty and received requisite assurance.
And next for Egypt? These chapters are unwritten, but the world is bracingly different this week than what it was a month ago. Rulers and tyrants everywhere know that. They know bad news when they see it, same way we know good news when we hear its welcome knock on the door of history.
The Reagan cult celebrates the centenary of their idol’s birth this month, and the airwaves have been tumid with homage to the 38th president, who held office for two terms–1981-1989–and who died in 2004. The script of these recurring homages is unchanging: With his straightforward, sunny disposition and aw-shucks, can-do style, the manly Reagan gave America back its confidence. In less flattering terms, he and his P.R. crew catered expertly to the demands of the American national fantasy: that homely common sense could return America to the vigor of its youth and the economy of the 1950s.
When he took over the Oval Office at the age of 66, whatever powers of concentration he might have once had were failing. The Joint Chiefs of Staff mounted their traditional show-and-tell briefings for him, replete with simple charts and a senior general explicating them in simple terms. Reagan found these briefings way too complicated and dozed off.
The Joint Chiefs then set up a secret unit, staffed by cartoonists. The balance of forces were set forth in easily accessible caricature, with Soviet missiles the size of upended Zeppelins, pulsing on their launchpads, with the miniscule U.S. ICBMs shrivelled in their bunkers. Little cartoon bubbles would contain the points the joint chiefs wanted to hammer into Reagan’s brain, most of them to the effect that “we need more money.” The president really enjoyed the shows and sometimes even asked for repeats.
Today, there’s a flourishing little internet industry claiming that the overthrow of Mubarak came courtesy of U.S. Twitter-Facebook Command, overseen by the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Twitter, in the unappetizing, self-promoting form of Jared Cohen, with flanking support by the National Endowment for Democracy and Freedom House.
The New York Times runs endless articles about the role of Twitter and Facebook, but now either ignores or reviles Julian Assange and Wikileaks.
In any discussion of the role of the internet in fuelling the upsurges across the Middle East, Wikileaks should be central. Tunisians were able to read the unsparing assessment of the kleptocratic regime oppressing them, courtesy of U.S. Ambassador Gordon Gray’s cables, secured by Wikileaks. Egyptians were able to read hitherto secret details of the role of Omar Suleiman in renditions, of Egypt’s abject services for the U.S. and Israel.
The New York Times, to whom Assange made available some of his Wikileaks, repaid him (as did The Guardian) with a vulgar onslaught by the Times‘ editor, Bill Keller, essentially endorsing patently factitious accusations concerning the supposed nature of Assange’s sexual relations with two Swedish women, and also trumpeting the high-minded concern of the New York Times with protecting the lives of U.S. personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Army filed 22 new charges against PFC Bradley Manning, suspected of passing classified information to the WikiLeaks website. The charges include “aiding the enemy,”–a capital offense. These charges coincided with Gen. Petraeus apologizing, also on March 2, to Afghanistan’s puppet leader Karzai for the deaths, via machine-gun from Apache attack helicopters, of nine children, killed as they gathered firewood in a mountainous area of eastern Afghanistan. A tenth child was injured. The general said he was really, really sorry, and that it seemed that “regrettably, there appears to have been an error in the handoff between identifying the location of the insurgents and the attack helicopters that carried out subsequent operations.”
Among the material that Manning is accused of handing on to Wikileaks is footage of Apache helicopter assaults in Baghdad. The worldwide web was transfixed on April 5, 2010, when WikiLeaks put up on YouTube a 38-minute video, a 17-minute edited version, taken from a U.S. Army Apache helicopter, one of two firing on a group of Iraqis in Baghdad at a street corner in July of 2007. Twelve civilians died, including a Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and a Reuters driver, Saeed Chmagh, 40.
Two lethal helicopter assaults, two different outcomes for those divulging them. Petraeus gets a pat on the back for his swift effort at damage control; Manning gets charges that carry the death penalty.
A giant has gone from us–a giant of sententiousness, an endlessly cresting tsunami of tedium, I must hasten to add. I speak of David Broder, for many years chief political correspondent of the Washington Post, who passed away this week amid much respectful invocation of his mastery of the American political process.
Broder hated any form of disruption to what he admired in American political arrangements, viz two orthodox political large parties agreeing on all essentials, bartering amiably through the medium of the various chieftains with whom Broder palavered on a daily basis. He detested all forms of disruptive change, any threat to received wisdom, any excessive zeal in the pursuit of any cause. The possibility that the American political system might long ago have evolved into irredeemable corruption and criminality never crossed his mind. Through the filter of his reports, the American Melodrama was recast into endless reassurance that everything was, in the last analysis, on the right track. Rarely has someone got history so consistently wrong.
Americans read the increasingly panic-stricken reports of deepening catastrophe at Fukushima Daichi, speed to the pharmacy to look for iodine and ask, “It’s happened there; can it happen here?” They already know it can, and almost certainly will.
The late great environmentalist David Brower used to tell audiences solemnly, “Nuclear plants are incredibly complex technological devices for locating earthquake faults.”
President Obama took plenty of money from the nuclear industry for his presidential campaign and in his State of the Union address last January reaffirmed his commitment to “clean, safe” nuclear power, as insane a statement as pledging commitment to a nice, clean form of syphilis. This week Obama’s press spokesman confirmed that nuclear energy “remains a part of the President’s overall energy plan.” Obama was flacking for boosted plutonium production even as Fukushima Daichi went into meltdown.
The United States produces more nuclear energy than any other nations. It has 104 nuclear plants, many of them old, many prone to endless leaks and kindred malfunctions, all of them dangerous.
Perhaps the news that Japanese nuclear reactors have been damaged and that clouds of official deception are already rising above them will cool the revival of enthusiasm for building new nuclear plants here in the U.S., spearheaded politically by President Obama and okayed by major green groups using the cover of alleged anthropogenic global warming, as long ago planned by the nuclear industry.
Peering briefly at the royal nuptials in a house high up in the mountains above Malibu, I was surprised to see how spectacularly tacky the British upper classes have become. They looked very vulgar. The appalling cuteness of the Aston Martin supplied the coup de grace. The groom didn’t know how to stand up properly. Contrary to effusive comparisons, the bride’s much-touted dress from the atelier of the wildly overpraised late Alexander McQueen was a far cry from Grace Kelly’s, designed by Helen Rose, who had dressed her in High Society and The Swan. The bride’s headdress hung like a dishrag. The only vestments born with confidence and aplomb were those of the churchmen. The Archbishop of Canterbury, with his emphatic beard and specs, had a splendid cope. His voice was confident. I’d like to see him in debate with one of Teheran’s ayatollahs. But the Anglo actresses watching the event on our mountain were ecstatic. My daughter Daisy, returning to London two days later, reported that the young women she was encountering were all swept away by the event and eager for marriage.
Fox News says Glenn Beck’s daily program will “transition” off the network show some time before the end of this year. Beck co-signed the statement and confirmed this on his show on Wednesday, April 6, speaking vaguely of sustaining the two-year relationship with Fox by “developing things.” He sounded shell-shocked, like a man who’d been shown the door.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Beck, partly because of his deep roots in the mulch of American nutdom, fertilized by the powerful psychic idiom of rebirth and redemption.
“Progressives,” today’s milquetoast substitute for old-line radicals, have trembled at his ravings about the left’s conspiracies against freedom. Personally, I found them heartening. Respect at last! Who but Beck could turn a conservative African-American Harvard grad, an errand boy for corporate America, into a latter-day re-creation of W.E. B. DuBois and Malcolm X, now installed in the White House?
A fairly typical reaction from the pwog sector was that of Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way, who swiftly proclaimed that “It’s encouraging to know that it is no longer economically viable for a major television network to support the demagogic rantings of its most unhinged conspiracy theorist.”
But from Keegan’s point of view, aren’t demagogic and unhinged rantings exactly what he and his liberal fellows should want from Fox? Isn’t it good to have a clownish ideologue bringing the Republican Party into disrepute?
Would you rather sit in a traffic jam listening to Robert Segal than Glenn Beck? Why no threatened advertising boycott from PAW against Rachel Maddow, hot for U.S. intervention in Libya: “President Obama announced his own military intervention, but he pointedly declined the opportunity to do it in a way that U.S. presidents usually do.” According to Maddow, Obama has foresworn “the chest-thumping commander-in-chief theater that goes with military intervention of any kind,” and “that in itself is a fascinating and rather blunt demonstration of just how much this presidency is not like that of George W. Bush.”
Give me Beck any day.
For a nation that that loves anniversaries, the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the American Civil War–April 12, 1861–crept by on tiptoe, like a burglar slipping through a darkened house. The reason for this eerie semi-silence is not hard to find. The Civil War is contested political terrain, particularly in the racist backwash after the 1960s and the civil rights movement which naturally looked back on the Civil War as one in which tens of thousands of Americans gave their lives for the principle that all are born free and slavery a shameful blot on any society.
These days we live in the shadow of Nixon’s southern strategy, which became Reagan’s southern strategy and is now standard issue campaign politics for the Republican Party: play the racist card, throw money at think tanks to churn out papers churning out onslaughts on quotas, deride all attempts to level the racial playing field. Speak “frankly” about the supposed pathologies of the black family.
Meanwhile, up north, the forthright honoring of a war waged for honorable principles has faded amid revisionist histories of what the war was really about. Add to this a general wan feeling that the fruits for a terrible conflict were the appalling racism of the Reconstruction Period after the Civil War, when the Ku Klux Klan began to burn and lynch, and the migration of southern slaves and their descendants from the Deep South to the slums of Chicago and other northern cities. Ahead lay decades of poverty and oppression that prompted the riots of the 1960s.
So the Civil War is a dangerous football to start kicking around on network TV, bad for the advertising business, except for the deadened hand of Ken Burns. The arrival of a black man to the White House has naturally intensified these divisions.
Americans were offered closure Wednesday to one of among the multifarious strands of our national dementias. It took the drab guise of the “long-form” birth certificate, signed and filed in Hawaii on August 8, 1961, indicating that the president is a legitimate occupant of the Oval Office. But will the White House’s release of the certificate finish off the “birther” movement? Certainly not. We’re dealing here with cognitive dissonance.
Harold Camping, president of Family Stations Ministry, has been preaching for some time now to a vast and devoted national audience that God’s plan is to inaugurate the Second Coming and end the world by flooding on May 21, 2011 (thus achieving a Judeo-Christian planetary closure before the prime current pagan rival, the end of the Mayan calendar, scheduled for December 21, 2012.)
It’s a safe bet that Camping and his disciples will be saying on May 22 that his math was merely a year or two off, and the end is still nigh. His congregation will have its faith fortified. Membership will probably increase, as it did after the failure of Camping’s last prediction of the Second Coming, which he scheduled for September 6, 1994.
Sociologists call the phenomenon of increased commitment to a batty theory, at the very hour of its destruction by external evidence, “cognitive dissonance.”
Pinko terror-symps and the “rule of law” gang may cavil and whine at the lack of legal propriety in the execution of Osama, but it’s not cutting much ice with liberal America. For long years what might be called the “progressive” segment of American voters have chafed at Republican gibes that their guy Obama is a wimp, all the more irritably because deep down many of them thought the charge had some merit.
It’s wondrous what two expanding bullets to the head of an unarmed man will do. The chorus of approval for the SEALs covers the liberal spectrum. The Nation‘s Jeremy Scahill exulted, as did Gary Wills on the New York Review of Books site, with an ecstatic paean, “The President’s Crack Team,” concluding, “we should keep in mind what superb things can be done by our Navy Seals. And we should keep somewhere in the back of our minds a remembrance that the one ultimately pulling the trigger in both Seal actions was the President of the United States.”
What began in Britain in 2005 as “a third-rate burglary” of voicemails, supposedly limited to a criminal invasion of privacy by a News of the World reporter and a private investigator, has flowered beautifully into a Level 7 scandal that threatens the careers of two of Rupert Murdoch’s top executives, not to mention the heir apparent to the News Corp. empire, James Murdoch. It even laps at the ankles of the 80-year-old magnate, threatening the final financial triumph that was scheduled to usher him into Valhalla.
The French are for the millionaire. The Americans are for the maid. Among the French, three out of five think the IMF’s former managing director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has been framed. (Strauss-Kahn tendered his resignation as head of the IMF on May 18.) Here in the USA there’s not been a reliable poll, but public sentiment is clearly against Strauss-Kahn, amplified by self-congratulation that America is a nation of laws, and a maid’s word as potent as that of a millionaire, in contrast to the moral decay and deference to the rich prevalent in France.
The French, for their part, stigmatize America as a puritanical, omnipotent imperial police state, whose intelligence agencies are efficiently capable of any infamy. But even as they charge that Strauss-Kahn was set up, the French press is rather weak on identifying or even suggesting the precise mastermind or group working to destroy a man who might have been the French Socialist Party’s candidate, evicting Sarkozy from the Élysée Palace.
At home and abroad President Barack Obama trumpets Uncle Sam’s virtues and dispenses patronizing homilies to other nations on how to behave themselves and honor freedom and democracy. This last week it’s been Europe’s turn to hear these self-righteous preachments.
Wearisome though these exhibitions of the U.S.’s double standards abroad may be, they pale before the macabre spectacle of Obama and Clinton extolling the moral credentials of a country with a vast gulag of some 2.3 million behind bars–some 743 prisoners per 100,000 population, compared to Russia’s 580, China’s 186, England and Wales’ 154 and India’s 32. African Americans, who are one eighth of the nation’s population, are almost half of its 2.3 million prisoners, and Latinos, also an eighth of the U.S., are more than a quarter of those locked down. In America today more than 7 million people are under correctional supervision.
On June 6 the independent International Crisis Group, stocked with well-informed regional experts and former diplomats, issued a report “Making Sense of Libya.” It stated forthrightly that NATO was in the business of “regime change,” and was strongly critical of NATO’s refusal to respond to calls for ceasefire and negotiation, a stance which the ICG says is guaranteed to prolong the conflict, and the tribulations of all Libyans.
The ICG then addressed the topic of Qaddafi’s alleged “crimes against humanity,” even genocide. Remember that the relevant UN resolutions that led to NATO’s current onslaughts were rushed through the Security Council, powered by fierce rhetoric about Qaddafi’s “massacre of his own people,” and his “crimes against humanity,” even genocide. The diffuse and mostly vague allegations were usually studded with adverbs like “reportedly.”
On the issue of Qaddafi’s alleged war crimes, the International Crisis Group notes reports of mass rapes by government militias, but declares that, at the same time,
much Western media coverage has from the outset presented a very one-sided view of the logic of events, portraying the protest movement as entirely peaceful and repeatedly suggesting that the regime’s security forces were unaccountably massacring unarmed demonstrators who presented no real security challenge. This version would appear to ignore evidence that the protest movement exhibited a violent aspect from very early on…. There is also evidence that, as the regime claimed, the demonstrations were infiltrated by violent elements. Likewise, there are grounds for questioning the more sensational reports that the regime was using its air force to slaughter demonstrators, let alone engaging in anything remotely warranting use of the term ‘genocide.’
A hundred years down the road the UN/NATO Libyan intervention will be seen as an old-fashioned colonial smash-and-grab affair. There may even be a paragraph or two about the collapse of the U.S. left, in mounting any powerful show of protest.
Rep. Anthony Weiner is gone and a good job too. Though progressive publications like The Nation were disposed to clamor for his political survival as a champion of the left, and to deprecate his foolish sexual exhibitionism as an inconsequential blemish in a promising politician, Weiner surely embodied many of the viler strains disfiguring the Democratic Party, starting with servility to Wall Street–the prime trait of his mentor, Senator Charles Schumer. Both Schumer and Weiner voted for the TARP bailout, in contrast to New York’s other U.S. senator, Kirsten Gillibrand.
In Paris we have had the sad spectacle of former Dior designer John Galliano on trial, dumped by Dior, for a drunken anti-Semitic diatribe to a couple in a café in the Marais in Paris, yet another ludicrous episode in the ongoing repression of free speech. Charge him with being drunk and disorderly maybe, but for verbal ethnic and historical slurs? If DSK makes it back to Paris in the foreseeable future and someone says to him in a café, “You dirty sexual pervert,” no crime will have been committed. “You dirty Jewish sexual pervert” brings the prospect of heavy fines and even jail time for the perp.
On August 2, the United States could start defaulting on its obligations as the Tea Party crowd in the House of Representatives refuse to raise the debt ceiling.
America is in love with Apocalypse. It always has been. Every couple of years someone says the End is Nigh. When I came to America’s shores in 1972, Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth had just been published and sold 30 million copies over the next 20 years. Lindsey wrote, rather presciently, that the Antichrist would rule over a ten-nation European Community through the 1970s until the Rapture–scheduled for the 1980s–and the Second Coming.
Not many people here really think the U.S. government will shut down on August 3. The fight over the deficit is one of those American ceremonies, as embalmed in ritual speech and gesture as an English coronation.
Everyone talks about Norway’s peaceful traditions, now destroyed by Anders Breivik’s day of mass murder. Tell that to the Irish Christians on Lambay Island, or the monks of Iona, victims of the first Viking raids in 795 A.D., not so long ago when you take the long view. Breivik worried about Muslim immigration, with an alien faith. The Vikings had their furious Gods, certainly not Christian. Truth be told, the monasteries in Ireland had been attacking each other before the Norsemen ever set foot on the Emerald Isle. In 807 the monasteries of Cork and Clonfert went at each other with, as the chronicle put it, “an innumerable slaughter of the ecclesiastical men and superiors of Cork.”
Of course he blew it. Whether by artful design or by sheer timidity is immaterial. He blew it. Two days before the United States was officially set to default on its debts on August 2, Barack Obama had the Republicans where he wanted them: All he had to do was announce that he’d trudged the last half mile towards a deal but that there’s no pleasing fanatics who reject all possibilities of compromise, who are ready and eager to shut down the government, to see seniors starve and vets denied their benefits. So, Obama could proclaim, he was invoking the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which states that the “validity of the public debt of the United States … shall not be questioned.”
Obama could have done that, but he didn’t. At the eleventh hour and the fifty-fifth minute he threw in the towel, and allowed the Republicans to exult that they’d got 95 percent of what they wanted: cuts in social programs, a bipartisan congressional panel to shred at its leisure what remains of the social safety net, no tax hikes for the rich, no serious slice in the military budget.
What’s a riot without looting? We want it, they’ve got it! You’d think from the press that looting was alien to British tradition, imported by immigrants more recent than the Normans. Not so. Gavin Mortimer, author of The Blitz, had an amusing piece in the First Post about the conduct of Britons at the time of Their Finest Hour:
It didn’t take long for a hardcore of opportunists to realise there were rich pickings available in the immediate aftermath of a raid–and the looting wasn’t limited to civilians.
The looting was often carried out by gangs of children organized by a Fagin figure; he would send them into bombed-out houses the morning after a raid with orders to target coins from gas meters and display cases containing First World War medals. In April 1941 Lambeth juvenile court dealt with 42 children in one day, from teenage girls caught stripping clothes from dead bodies to a seven-year-old boy who had stolen five shillings from the gas meter of a damaged house. In total, juvenile crime accounted for 48 percent of all arrests in the nine months between September 1940 and May 1941 and there were 4,584 cases of looting.
Perhaps the most shameful episode of the whole Blitz occurred on the evening of March 8, 1941, when the Cafe de Paris in Piccadilly was hit by a German bomb. The cafe was one of the most glamorous night spots in London, the venue for off-duty officers to bring their wives and girlfriends, and within minutes of its destruction the looters moved in.
‘Some of the looters in the Cafe de Paris cut off the people’s fingers to get the rings,’ recalled Ballard Berkeley, a policeman during the Blitz who later found fame as the ‘Major’ in Fawlty Towers. Even the wounded in the Cafe de Paris were robbed of their jewellery amid the confusion and carnage.
The riots in London last week started in Tottenham in an area with the highest unemployment in London, in response to the police shooting a young black man, in a country where black people are 26 times more likely to stopped and searched by the cops than whites. In 1997/98 there were 7,970 stop-and-searches, increasing to 53,250 in 2007/08 and 149,955 in 2008/09. Between 2005/06 and 2008/09 the number of Section 60 searches of black people rose by more than 650 percent.
As the Daily Mash puts it: “Many of these kids are less than two miles away from people who get multi-million pound bonuses for catastrophic failure and live in a culture where the material excess of people who are famous for nothing is rammed relentlessly into their faces by middle-brow tabloid newspapers. And of course later today the looters will be condemned in Parliament by a bunch of people who stole money by accident.”
I’ve no idea what levels of political organization there are in the ghettos, nor the possibility of unity, amid the stories of murderous racial clashes between blacks and Asians, with Turks and Sikhs arrayed in defense of their modest stores and temples.
America’s problems are huge: 14 million Americans officially looking for jobs—-about four job seekers for every job vacancy; 8.8 million part-time workers since the recession began; roughly 2.6 million people too discouraged even to look for a job. Total: about 25 million people needing work or more work and an economy that is creating no new jobs.
This brings us to Thursday night, and Obama’s address to Congress. He flourished a $447 billion plan involving tax cuts, public works, extensions of unemployment relief, credits to business hiring people who’d been out of work for more than six months.
It’ll do something. Economists raced to their calculators and said that the proposal might add about a million jobs.
But as the economists Randall Wrey and Stephanie Kelton point out, “Business will not hire more workers until it has more sales. Consumers will not spend more until they’ve got more jobs.”
You can find America’s future in blueprints minted in business-funded think tanks 30 to 40 years ago at the dawn of the neoliberal age: destruction of organized labor; attrition of the social safety net; attrition of government regulation; a war on the poor, fought without mercy at every level. Last year the New York police stopped and questioned 601,055 people, predominantly blacks and Hispanics, and the numbers were up 13 percent for the first six months of this year.
Even by the forgiving standards of American credulity, the supposed Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. is spectacularly ludicrous. Why would Iran want to kill the Saudi envoy–the mild-mannered functionary, Adel al-Jubeir? I could understand an inclination to dispose of the irksome Prince Bandar who held the job for 22 years, from 1983 to 2005–simply in the spirit of “change.” But to kill any ambassador–particularly a Saudi ambassador–is to invite lethal retaliation, even war. Iran doesn’t want war with the U.S.
Utter absurdity in allegations leveled by the U.S. government is no bar to a deferential hearing in our nation’s major conduits of official opinion. Suppose the CIA leaks a secret national security review concluding that the moon is actually made of cheese, and the Chinese are planning to send up a pair of gigantic bio-engineered rats to breed in numbers sufficient to eat the cheese and this will sabotage U.S. plans for Missile Defense radar deployment on the moon’s dark side.
The headlines will initially proclaim “Doubts on Chinese Rat Threat Widespread. Many scoff.” The lead paragraphs in news stories in the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal will quote the scoffers, but then “balance” will mandate respectful quotation from “intelligence sources,” faculty professors, think tank “experts” and the like, all eager to dance to the government’s tune: “Many say rat scenario ‘plausible’,” etc, etc. Lo and behold, by the end of a couple of days of such news stories, the Chinese rat plot is firmly ensconced as a credible proposition. News reports then turn to respectful discussion of the U.S. government’s options in confronting and routing the Chinese rat threat: “Vice President says ‘all options are on the table’,” etc.
The middle class has–at least two-thirds of it–crashed into hard times. Americans’ store of value and savings–the house–is worthless; the always pathetic social safety net has eroded. Thirty million Americans are without work or working part-time. Nearly six million manufacturing jobs in the United States have disappeared since 2000, and more than 40,000 factories have closed. African Americans have endured the greatest loss of collective assets in their history. Hispanics have seen their net worth drop by two-thirds. Millions of whites have been pitchforked into desperation. Students emerge from higher education crushed by debt.
This is the mulch that has created the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Its strength lies in the simplicity and truth of its basic message: the few are rich, the many are poor. In terms of its pretensions the capitalist system has failed.
Having briefly tasted batons and pepper spray, OWSers should know that when capital feels it is being pushed to the wall, it will stop at nothing to crush any serious challenge. The cop puts away his smile. The indulgent mayor imposes a curfew. “Exemplary” sentences are handed down. The prisons fill up. The FBI dusts off the COINTELPRO blueprint. Organized repression can only be defeated by organized resistance, nationwide. How to mount this is the OWSers’ long-term challenge. These are very early days in the formation of the movement. In Oakland, on Wednesday, OWS staged a rally calling for a General Strike. That was optimism of the intelligence. That was most certainly thinking along the right lines.
As he prepares to follow Gov. Rick Perry into the oubliette of campaign history, Herman Cain can at least console himself that as an alleged harasser of women, his was certainly a classier act than that of a man who not only got elected president in 1992 but was triumphantly reelected in 1996, each time by about 45 million Americans armed with the knowledge that if you left your wife at the next table to Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas in McDonald’s, by the time you got back from ordering more fries Bill would be ensconced in your seat, his hand already hovering above your wife’s thigh.
Sharon Bialek, one of the women accusing Cain of seeking to take advantage when he was head of the National Restaurant Association in 1997, says that her apprehensions were aroused when in his car, having offered to drive her home, Cain told her he’d already called Washington’s Capital Hilton and upgraded her accommodations to a luxury suite. It was only after this material demonstration of his high regard that Cain put his hand up her skirt and then sought to guide her head towards his lower regions. Ms. Bialek says the minute she said No, Cain abandoned his advances and drove her home.
A luxury suite! One of Bill’s targets, when he was governor of Arkansas, would have been lucky to get a ride home in the troop car, after a brisk session in the governor’s office, with bruises on her arms when she resisted the guiding hand. Who says this isn’t the land of progress? Seventy years ago a black man making the sort of advances of which Cain is accused tended to end up swinging from the branch of a tree, not running for president with a hefty quotient of Americans saying they don’t give a toss about the harassment charges.
So Obama’s opponent in 2012 will surely be Mitt Romney, a Mormon millionaire reminiscent in style and utter lack of any fixed political conviction beyond knee-jerk conservatism to George Bush Sr. There’s no point in trying to sketch in “the real Mitt Romney,” because there isn’t one. He’s been campaigning for the Republican nomination for eight solid years, and his brain has been washed clean years ago of anything approaching an original or useful thought about America’s condition.
What next? Thus far the OWS movement has mostly been evoked by its participants in terms of self-education and consciousness-raising about the nature of America’s political economy. There’s been a lot of talk about a brave new world being born. One fellow chided me for not writing more about the movement which he hailed as “the most militant upsurge from the Left since the Vietnam War, the most frontal assault on the worst features of capitalism since the Great Depression.”? ?This is a vast overstatement. In terms of substantive achievements, OWS has a long way to go, which is scarcely a reason for reproof since it only really got going in September. “The most frontal assault on the worst features of capitalism since the Great Depression?” Scarcely.
The early 1960s Civil Rights Movement prompted the Civil Rights Act, and Medicare, the latter being effectively socialized health insurance for the senior crowd. Pushed by the popular movements, President Johnson and a Democratic Congress passed a flood of laws.
These days corporate lobbies own the President and the US Congress and the regulatory agencies. National economic policy is laid down by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, an errand boy of the banks. He took over from Hank Paulson, also an errand boy for the banks. If Obama is not re-elected in 2012, another errand boy will be waiting in the wings.
In the 1930s Roosevelt developed his New Deal program in part to head off mass movements to his left. In the 1960s Kennedy and Johnson similarly responded to the challenge of mass movements. Today, the OWSers have registered a presence and won considerable public support, which should not be surprising because America is in poor shape, the rich unpopular and politicians despised. But, as yet, there is no sign of any material political consequence deriving from this popularity.
Four years ago a candidacy was gathering momentum, declaring that the time had come in America for a moral awakening, for a change in national consciousness, a rising above self-interest and partisanship. Young people rallied to the call. Obama swept into the White House and promptly stuck a ‘Business As Usual’ sign on the door of the Oval Office.
Michael Hudson lays out a minimal economic program on how to clean out the Augean stables. He calls for a financial Clean Slate:
“To restore the kind of normalcy that made America rich, the most important long-term policy would be to recognize what is going to be inevitable for every economy. Debts need to be written down – and the politically easiest way to cut through the tangle is to write them off altogether. That would free the bottom 99% from their debt bondage to the top 1%. It would be a Clean Slate, starting over – and trying to do things right this time around. The creditors have not used the banking system to make America more productive and richer. They have used it as a vehicle to reduce the population to debt serfdom.
“A debt write-down sounds radical and unworkable, but it’s been done since World War II with great success. It is the program the Allies carried out in the German economy in that country’s 1947 currency reform. This was the policy that created Germany’s Economic Miracle. And America could experience a similar miracle.”
Michael Bérubé has launched an attack on the “left” for its anti-NATO conduct during the recent upheavals in Libya, during which the current National Transitional Council of Libya has been installed under the supervision of this same NATO. The most obvious fact about what passes for the Left in the US and Europe regarding the entire Libyan saga was that it was only a few notches short of unanimity in endorsing the entire NATO-backed enterprise.
What consistent voices were raised in questioning the premises and applications of the two Security Council resolutions enabling NATO, the factual basis for the reporting coming out of Libya that enabled the near 100 per cent agreement in the press that the UN resolutions justified NATO’s bombing campaign, to avoid “genocide” by Gadhafi “against his own people,” that the credentials and conduct of the rebels, later renamed “revolutionaries” were beyond reproach?.
I do not recall CounterPunch as being part of a substantial chorus in this worthy enterprise. In fact I recall us as being among a mere handful on the left, more in concert with a libertarian site like antiwar.com. This is born out by scrutiny of Bérubé’s attack, which is markedly short on names and publications on which to lavish his reprobations of “the left” which, at least prior to the welcome rise of the Occupiers, has been a scrawny thing in recent years. On Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now one was far more likely to hear CIA-consultant David Cole issuing fervent support for the entire intervention than rather any vigorous interviewing of informed sources about what was actually happening on the ground in Libya.
Failure as concerns Libya’s history this year belongs not to the virtually non-existent left, but to the entire political spectrum from progressives and the whole arc rightwards.
Obama has seized on Teddy Roosevelt as his role model in denouncing those destroying the supposed guarantee of the American Way, strangely defining’s TR’s philosophy as one guaranteeing that every citizen gets a fair bounce on the trampoline, soaring into the safe harbor of “the middle class”.? ?As for imperial destiny, last month Obama did his own reprise on the Great White Fleet, opening a new US marine base in Australia and shaking his fist at China.
Last Tuesday in Osawatomie, Kansas where TR, attempting a political comeback in 1910, slagged corporate power for the benefit of his audience of 30,000 prairie populists, Obama told a crowd of 1,200: “At stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, and secure their retirement.”
When in doubt, wheel on Teddy Roosevelt. It’s in every Democratic president’s playbook. TR was president from 1901 to 1909. He was manly, ranching in North Dakota, exploring the Amazon and nearly expiring on the River of Doubt. He was an imperialist con amore, charging up San Juan Hill, sending the Great White Fleet round the world, proclaiming America’s destiny as an enforcer on the world stage. He loved wilderness, mostly through the sights of a big game hunter’s rifle — a wilderness suitably cleansed of Indians. “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians,” he wrote in The Winning of the West, “but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.”
When necessary he could play the populist rabble-rouser’s card, flaying the trusts, railing against “the malefactors of great wealth”. But on TR’s watch the modern, centralized corporate American state came of age. LBJ loved TR for his “toughness.” Draft-dodging Bill Clinton invoked TR as his ideal. At least Johnson and Clinton had elements in them of TR’s most admirable trait – gusto, something of which Obama is dismally devoid.
The great historian Gabriel Kolko makes a persuasive case that in the end the eurozone, inded the EU, will go into meltdown. This is just fine in my book. The sooner we get back to francs, lire, punts, drachmas and the rest of the old sovereign currencies, the better in the long run. It used to be as much a part of going to France as choking on Gauloise smoke to change money and be handed a bundle of notes featuring the devious Cardinal Richelieu, instead of the characterless but somehow always expensive euros.
The EU “project,” a very irritating word that should be tossed in the dumpster along with “iconic,” “meme,” “parse” and “narrative,” is in potential outline a totalitarian nightmare. Down with federalism! Remember Simone Weil’s hatred of the Roman Empire and what it did to Europe’s cultural richness and diversity: “If we consider the long centuries and the vast area of the Roman Empire and compare these centuries with the ones that preceded it and the ones that followed the barbarian invasions, we perceive to what extent the Mediterranean basin was reduced to spiritual sterility by the totalitarian State.” As Weil’s biographer, Simone Pétrement, comments, “The Roman peace was soon the peace of the desert, a world from which had vanished, together with political liberty and diversity, the creative inspiration that produces great art, great literary works, science, and philosophy. Many centuries had to pass before the superior forms of human life were reborn.”
“What did the Roman Empire ever do for us?” the left nationalist asks in Monty Python’s imperishable The Life of Brian. “Roads,” the federalist begins tentatively. My native country of Ireland has been covered with vast roads, courtesy of the EU. We’ve got enough of them. Europe’s got enough of them. Enough of the eurozone, enough of the “European project.”
A couple of months ago came a mile marker in America’s steady slide downhill towards the status of a Banana Republic, with Obama’s assertion that he has the right as president to order secretly the assassination, without trial, of a US citizen he deems to be working with terrorists. This followed his betrayal in 2009 of his pledge to end the indefinite imprisonment without charges or trial of prisoners in Guantanamo.
Now, after months of declaring that he would veto such legislation, Obama has now crumbled and will soon sign a monstrosity called the Levin/McCain detention bill, named for its two senatorial sponsors, Carl Levin and John McCain. It’s snugged into the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act.
The detention bill mandates – don’t glide too easily past that word – that all accused terrorists be indefinitely imprisoned by the military rather than in the civilian court system; this includes US citizens within the borders of the United States. Obama supporters have made strenuous efforts to suggest that US citizens are excluded from the bill’s provisions. Not so. “It is not unfair to make an American citizen account for the fact that they decided to help Al Qaeda to kill us all and hold them as long as it takes to find intelligence about what may be coming next,” says Senator Lindsay Graham, a big backer of the bill. “And when they say, ‘I want my lawyer,’ you tell them, ‘Shut up. You don’t get a lawyer.’” The bill’s co-sponsor, Democratic senator, cosponsor of the bill, Carl Levin says it was the White House itself that demanded that the infamous Section 1031 apply to American citizens.
Anyone familiar with this sort of “emergency” legislation knows that those drafting the statutes like to cast as wide a net as possible. In this instance the detention bill authorizes use of military force against anyone who “substantially supports” al-Qaeda, the Taliban or “associated forces”. Of course “associated forces” can mean anything. The bill’s language mentions “associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or who has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.”? ?This is exactly the sort of language that can be bent at will by any prosecutor. Protest too vigorously the assassination of US citizen Anwar al Awlaki by American forces in Yemen in October and one day it’s not fanciful to expect the thud of the military jackboot on your front step, or on that of any anti-war organizer, or any journalist whom some zealous military intelligence officer deems to be giving objective support to the forces of Evil and Darkness.
Mindful that the votes of liberals can be useful, even vital in presidential elections, pro-Obama supporters of the bill claim that it doesn’t codify “indefinite detention.” But indeed it does. The bill explicitly authorizes “detention under the law of war until the end of hostilities.”
Will the bill hurt Obama? Probably not too much, if at all. Liberals are never very energetic in protecting constitutional rights. That’s more the province of libertarians and other wackos like Ron Paul actually prepared to draw lines in the sand in matters of principle.
Simultaneous to the looming shadow of indefinite internment by the military for naysayers, we have what appears to be immunity from prosecution for private military contractors retained by the US government, another extremely sinister development. The corporations involved are now arguing in court that they should be exempt from any investigation into the allegations against them because, among other reasons, the US government’s interests in executing wars would be at stake if corporate contractors can be sued. They are also invoking a new, sweeping defense. The new rule is termed ‘battlefield preemption’ and aims to eliminate any civil lawsuits against contractors that take place on any ‘battlefield’.
You’ve guessed it. As with “associated forces”, an elastic concept discussed above, in the Great War on Terror the entire world is a “battlefield”.
Suppose now we take the new powers of the military in domestic law enforcement, as defined in the detention act, and anticipate the inevitable, that the military delegates these powers to private military contractors. CACI International or a company owned by, say Goldman Sachs, could enjoy delegated powers to arrest any US citizen here within the borders of the USA, “who has committed a belligerent act or who has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces,” torture them to death and then claim “battlefield preemption”.