Sunday, December 30, 2007

A note to my readers

A health emergency in my family requires me to fly across the country on short notice. I probably won't be writing anything on this blog for at least another week. I wish you all a good new year. Well, it can't be worse than last year, right? Don't answer that.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas greetings

Today, Christmas Eve, I’m sending greetings to all my pals on the Christian Right. I thought they might appreciate some Bible verses.

To Pat Robertson:

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they can be seen by men…And in praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” (Matthew 6:5,7)

Do you think this only has to do with people long ago, or does it perhaps apply today to certain, er, prominent evangelists?

To James Dobson:

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)

How about it? Got any lumber in there, buddy?

To Tim LaHaye:
"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only." (Matthew 24:36)

Oops. Think maybe your novel-writing hobby has gotten out of hand?

To George Bush:

“Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” (Matthew 25: 41-43)

Hmm. Not too encouraging.

And that's just Matthew. There are three other gospels too.

Merry fucking Christmas, you bastards.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Talk to me about abortion

Talk to me about abortion

Only if you also talk to me about:

13 million children going hungry.

More than 9 million children with no health insurance.

Almost a million and a half homeless kids.

More than a fourth of all households headed by women living under the poverty line.

Talk to me about abortion

Only if you also talk to me about:

2 million inmates in the prison industry, with 65% of them black.

Poor and minority families provided with inferior education, inferior housing, inferior health care.

Black youth criminalized and controlled in a phony drug war.

Poor people, many of them black, left to die in New Orleans.

Talk to me about abortion

Only if you also talk to me about:

Women still treated as inferior to men.

The continuous battering and sexual abuse of women.

Sexual assault in the family.

Women demeaned, objectified, and exploited daily in the media.

Lower wages and less opportunity for women.

Talk to me about abortion

Only if you also talk to me about:

Hundreds of thousands of innocent people slaughtered in the Iraq War, including many thousands of children.

Millions of children impoverished and dying of hunger and disease worldwide.

Corporations poisoning out water, food, and air while exploiting and impoverishing Third World countries.

Women and children enslaved in sweat shops so that corporations can make huge profits.

The U.S. practicing torture, secret renditions, and assassinations.

The existence of nuclear weapons, giving human beings the power to wipe out entire nations, and even the entire human race.

Addiction to oil causing catastrophic climate change threatening millions of lives, while politicians deny the problem.

Talk to me about abortion

Only if you also talk to me about

Sexism, white supremacy, hate crimes, homophobia, religious bigotry, corruption, misogyny, racism, fascism, election fraud, death squads, treason, imperialism, and genocide.

Talk to me about abortion

Only if you talk to me about all these other things.

Otherwise, don’t talk to me.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Freedom vs. Security

In late 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, The Economist and Shell Oil announced an essay competition with the subject: How much freedom should we trade for our security? Below is the essay I submitted. It was intended to be satire, but what I find astonishing now is how much of it has really come true. Of course, it didn't win. (Here are the essays that did win.)

How much freedom should we trade for our security? We are faced with this question at a moment of crisis, but it also represents an opportunity. Perhaps now, confronted with the threat of terrorism, we can finally put to rest old ideas that have not only hampered our security, but have prevented us from attaining our proper development as a society.

Above all, it is the idea, expressed by Thomas Jefferson in the phrase "inalienable rights," that we are called to overcome. The notion that rights are bestowed at birth, and cannot be traded for security or anything else, has repeatedly placed our safety in peril. By declaring that individual freedom has an absolute, one might even say metaphysical basis ("endowed by our Creator," in the quaint words of the Declaration), this concept of rights constantly impedes the effective functioning of police and military authorities that are charged with keeping us secure. Legal strategies that attempt to circumvent this idea have only partly succeeded. We need a reevaluation of principles rather than a mere tinkering with machinery. The terrorist attacks have made clear that we need to change our thinking in a fundamental way.

The "freedom" of dissent, the "freedom," even, to overthrow the government, was undoubtedly important to a group of eighteenth century planters justifying a break with their colonial parent. But we live in a different world now. What the majority of people find important is the freedom of economic well being, i.e., the freedom to buy and own what we want, and to live in a degree of material comfort unknown to our forefathers. This way of life is provided by our free market system, with its corporations providing goods and services not only to the West but to the entire world, and which has made the United States economy the envy of all.

Terrorism represents a direct attack on that freedom. The terrorists couldn't have been clearer in their choice of targets. The World Trade Center and the Pentagon symbolized our economic and military power. It is here, then, that our freedom lies, not in abstract, disruptive concepts of inalienable rights. It is our duty to protect, at all costs, what we truly value. When people are insecure about their safety, the market becomes insecure. What possible political freedom could compensate for the loss of our material prosperity? We need only look at the underdeveloped world, that supposedly won its freedom from the colonial powers, to know the answer.

We know, then, that terrorism must be eliminated. But in order to do so, we need to dismantle those antiquated features of the American Constitution that are based on outmoded ideas concerning civil rights. These traditions only make it easier for terrorist or subversive groups to escape detection, while adding nothing to our essential quality of life.

Of what value is dissent in the modern world? We may bravely ask this question, in defiance of certain sacred cows, because our very existence is at stake. Difference of opinion is safely expressed within the parameters set by our governmental leaders and by the media. The people are as well informed in this respect as they want to be. But dissent in a wider sense - as a questioning of our system itself, of the legitimacy of government and corporate practice, or of the proper exercise of authority to ensure national security either by war or police action - has no use in the modern world, other than to create disunity, encourage unrest, and help to foster the very conditions under which terrorism can thrive. It could be argued, however, that the opportunity for dissent offers a necessary release valve for antisocial tendencies that could not otherwise be satisfied or controlled. I recognize some justice in this observation, and I expect the "right" of dissent to be preserved, at least in appearance - but with the important proviso that groups and individuals expressing dissent outside the mainstream need to be kept under rigorous surveillance by the police, so that any movement towards disruptive actions, such as demonstrations or political organizing outside of accepted institutions, can be immediately nipped in the bud by the authorities.

The U.S. government has already shown considerable wisdom by taking a hard line towards immigrants, and by avoiding the loopholes of the civilian justice system through military tribunals. By arguing in terms of war rather than crime, our leaders have shown the way towards a new understanding of freedom and security. War is no longer a temporary condition from which we can retreat into an illusion of disengagement. The rise of terrorism signals the beginning of a war that is essentially continuous. In order to maintain the economic well being that constitutes our true freedom, the so-called political freedoms need to be sacrificed. The government must be gradually militarized, and the capacity for surveillance and control of subversive elements must be increased tenfold in order to eliminate terrorism. In addition, the empowerment of the police authorities, at the national and local level, must continue even after terrorism is defeated, in order to ensure that this peril can never threaten us again. To this end, the current trend towards paramilitary training of police forces must continue and become more pervasive. Ultimately, our political institutions will need to take on more of the character of military government rather than "representative" government, which has proven inefficient and has, moreover, lost the faith of the people. The military retains its popularity, as well it should, since it represents the best of us - those who selflessly serve the nation in order to preserve our freedom. We can be confident that our economic growth will become more robust after the legalistic impediments to rightful authority are finally removed.

There is no need to give our institutions new names. A certain amount of continuity with tradition helps foster a sense of comfort. The old paradigm of political rights is already practically obsolete in mainstream society, where people have enough common sense to know that our culture will simply break down without the cooperation, expertise, and financial clout of multinational corporations. No clearer evidence could be provided for this than the almost palpable anxiety and concern that is generally expressed when the stock market is going through a downturn. We know that our true security depends on these markets, and therefore our trust lies in the successful men and women who run our economy. To question these institutions, or actively oppose them, is alien to the desires and concerns of the average person, and to allow fringe elements to do so is a luxury that has become increasingly unacceptable. Now, just as the people trust our economic system, so they can gradually grow to have more trust in our governmental system, provided that the state takes the vigorous steps needed to prosecute the war abroad and suppress dissent at home. Terrorism, along with other revolutionary ideologies, is fostered by ideas of fundamental social change, ideas which are delusory and only serve to agitate people. We must let go of the remnants of these ideas in our own traditions if we are to defeat them when advocated by others.

It might seem wiser to simply take incremental steps towards increased police and military power without bothering to reassess our philosophical assumptions. In the short run, this may be true. But as the struggle continues, the clarity of our thinking will become just as vital to our security as any practical measures. Terrorists will seize on our weaknesses in order to undermine our society. That's why it will become necessary, sooner or later, to repudiate the Jeffersonian doctrine of inalienable rights. As long as "liberty" - individual independence involving the freedom to actively oppose our system by word and deed - is seen as inherent in the human condition, it will continue to be invoked by our enemies in an effort to protect themselves and destroy us. This old concept has taken on a new guise in the idea of "human rights" that extend beyond the boundaries of America and the West, applying to all people regardless of their nationality or economic condition. In practice, this notion has always been used as a challenge to our economic power and military presence.

The truth is that freedom is a privilege, not a right. It is bestowed on us by those who possess legitimate power, won through economic risk and initiative. Middle class citizens, who constitute the majority in America, know that there is nothing to fear from the just exercise of their leaders' power, because they participate in the benefits of our system, the greatest the world has ever seen. The claims to power made by advocates of civil and human rights are illegitimate because they depend on birth, on the mere condition of being human, rather than on effort and merit. Their "freedom" is illusory because it leads only to misery, as evidenced by the failed experiments of communism. The civil liberties allowed in the West are fragile luxuries, and should be taken away when they represent a danger to our security. September 11th showed us that this time has indeed come, the time to "face facts." At the present time we need to carefully monitor all dissent, and as much as possible maintain the secrecy that is indispensable in this effort. If terrorists attack again, as our leaders seem sure they will, martial law will provide the necessary transition towards a future organization of society that will satisfy both our need for security and our freedom to buy and own the possessions that we need in order to live a happy and comfortable life. That is the freedom that counts. The danger is that we will lose this freedom, and our security, in a vain attempt to preserve the illusion of political freedom.

Ultimately there is no real freedom that is independent of national security. That, as uncomfortable as it feels to those living in the past, is the truth we need to embrace. How much freedom, then, should we trade for our security? The answer is simple: all of it.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Radicals needed

One of my favorite bloggers, and in fact one of the top political blogs out there, is Chris Floyd at Empire Burlesque. He understands the big picture, is consistently informative, and his writing has that quality of righteous indignation at the corporate state that is a prerequisite for political sanity in our time. He doesn’t see all the evils of our system as caused by Bush-Cheney, but regularly points out the complicity of both parties in the misbegotten drive for American empire. (The most recent example of his work along these lines is here, but you can find this penetrating insight throughout his blog.)

Regarding the Bush administration’s various operatives and other functionaries, particularly in the contexts of appointment and confirmation, Floyd is fond of pointing out that anyone who is willing to work at high levels for this blood-soaked regime is by definition assenting to its criminality, and is therefore unfit to serve our country. I agree with him, and I think it’s important to grasp the principle involved here if one is to maintain a realistic view of the political situation. It is one thing to say that so-and-so is a bad president, or attorney general, or whatever—or to say that one disagrees with the policies of a given administration or party. It is quite another to say that so-and-so is a criminal, that the administration is a criminal operation, and that (in the only possible conclusion that follows from this) said administration or government is illegitimate.

The list of abuses is a long one, of course. The case for impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanors has long ago been made thoroughly and convincingly. Prior to all this, however, even prior to the grave crimes against humanity committed in the name of a phony war on terrorism, this administration is essentially illegitimate because, I would argue, of the deliberate perpetuation of fraud and abuse in the electoral system. Any persons or organizations that take away the people’s suffrage by either falsifying or suppressing the vote, has violated one of the most basic values of our republic. If the state cheats on the vote, so that the voting public may no longer trust that the announced results of an election are true, the most basic element of legitimacy, the connection between the people and the elected public servants, is completely severed. This is not to say that the voting process hasn’t already been compromised, manipulated, degraded, and trivialized to an incredible degree over the years. But there’s a yawning gulf between the perception of general decadence in the electoral system, as serious as that is, and the perception of outright fraud and illegality reversing the actual objective results of a given vote. The former represents corruption; the latter goes further into dictatorship. In other words, it is truly subversion, and in my view is tantamount to treason because it completely invalidates even the appearance of government legality.

Now, this subversion occurred not only in the 2000 election, but in the 2004 election as well. And the crime of 2004 was actually more serious, since it was perpetrated by the administration in power in the White House, and thus indicates an even more dangerous incursion. The media has maintained an almost universal, deathly silence on the fraud of 2004, precisely because the implications are so frightening. For the Bush administration to have criminally re-elected itself would clearly identify it as an illegitimate government, thereby raising the bogeyman of a “Constitutional crisis” for which the establishment and its media have no stomach. Perception of the fraud on the part of the public is, however, widespread, and especially damaging to public trust. Furthermore, underneath the recent scandal of the fired U.S. attorneys is the greater scandal that the administration sought to use the Justice Dept. to subvert the electoral process. This is of course not as well known by the general public, but it is known by the Democratic leadership. In their own self-interest, then, the Democrats pursued that investigation, at least to the point of forcing the Attorney General from office, but it’s not clear if things will go any further at this time.

Which brings us back to Chris Floyd’s point about appointees and confirmations. You may note that even Russ Feingold, one of the more principled progressive Democrats in the Senate, voted to confirm Michael Mukasey to replace Gonzales as AG, even while expressing misgivings. Mukasey, of course, refused to say whether waterboarding is torture, and that’s what got the headlines. But in general he’s been an advocate of the police state, and his history includes a close relationship with crypto-fascist Rudolph Giuliani. Floyd’s principle applies, as always. Anyone who would be willing to work for Bush is by definition unfit to serve the country. But the principle is considered unworkable in the context of Congressional politics. Democrats, even liberals like Feingold, are afraid to oppose Bush in everything, because they are afraid of being painted as unprincipled obstructionists. On a deeper level, the Democratic Party must believe—or at least must publicly appear to believe—in the legitimacy of the government. To admit that we are being governed by a criminal outfit would constitute, once again, a “Constitutional crisis,” which in the mind of a politician is feared as a dangerous disturbance of the peace, a stepping out into the dread unknown. Better, they think, to bide their time and elect a Democrat to the White House in 2008.

This is assuming that the election of 2008 would be fair. But wait—that’s exactly the problem. We can no longer make any such assumption. This is precisely the most basic underlying reason for the illegitimacy of the present regime. There is no assurance that the vote will not be falsified again. It’s sheer foolishness for Democrats to continue to postpone their opposition to an illegitimate regime by putting their faith in an electoral process already subverted by said regime.

Having said all that, we come to the much more serious crisis, which is a crisis that predates the ascension of Bush and his friends to power. Both political parties are complicit in a long-term imperial project, a drive for world hegemony that goes back, at least in its most threatening form, to the end of World War II and the beginning of the so-called “Cold War.” That’s the paradigm that is strangling us. The crisis of Bushism is serious enough, since it threatens a takeover by what is, in effect, a neo-fascist cabal that would destroy what vestiges of freedom we have left. But even if the neocon and rightist Republican movement is defeated domestically, the imperial project remains in place, regardless of which party is in power. Those putative progressives who expect the struggle to relax when (if) a Democrat occupies the White House, are living in a fool’s paradise indeed.

The correct political strategy in the long run is to oppose the Bush administration in everything. Bipartisanship has been dead a long time, and it was killed off quite deliberately by the Republican Party. Those who still believe in it and try to practice it will lose every single time because they’re playing by defunct rules. Those who support the Bush administration in anything, regardless of party, need to be opposed in regards to that support. If my representative in the House is a Democrat, and she votes to keep going in Iraq, or to confirm some crackpot Bush appointee, or whatever, she needs to know that I oppose that, and she can’t take my vote for granted. More significantly, we need to oppose imperial policies regardless of which party supports them—in this respect we can see how it makes perfect sense for people to stage protests at Nancy Pelosi’s office, and for Cindy Sheehan to talk about running against her. I don’t give a damn who is annoyed about it. The times are too serious for half-assed measures.