Tuesday, December 23, 2008
You know, it’s become easy to just dismiss Cheney as a bizarre Darth Vader figure, but people should pay more attention to this answer. All the Bush years are succinctly contained in it. These ghouls, these spooks who somehow gained a grip on power in the United States, were overjoyed at the events of September 11, 2001. They saw it as a great opportunity to be exploited. I’ve said this before, and for those of us who are sane it still might sound extreme, but really, it’s right there in the record. These men exploited this horrific atrocity for their own benefit—and a majority of the American people let them. Like sheep, the majority went along with using a single disaster as an excuse for overturning two hundred years of democratic tradition. They bought into Cheney’s lie about “extraordinary” and “dangerous times” that required the exercise of unfettered executive power. And after five plus years of death in Afghanistan and Iraq, and corruption and criminal incompetence at home, it still took an economic collapse for the voters to turn against the monsters that usurped their country.
I won’t take the time to analyze Cheney’s interview further—he reiterated his dishonest arguments for torture and dictatorship. Dahlia Lithwick lays it out nicely for you at Slate (not exactly a radical left-wing site), and her main point is a most dispiriting one, i.e. Cheney’s views on everything have long been thoroughly discredited, yet there he remains, giving interviews and repeating the Orwellian lies that have surrounded us like a fog.
Let’s be absolutely clear. Richard Cheney should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity, and for treason. As detestable a human being as he is, revenge is really not the point. Justice requires that when an individual holding high office in this land violates his oath of office, causes the deaths of untold thousands, and threatens the very foundation of constitutional government, there should be an accounting. Not for his sake—he’s incapable of remorse or apparently even of the recognition of ethical values—but for our sake and the sake of the country. If there’s no accountability for criminal behavior on the part of the most powerful people in the nation, then the law itself becomes hypocritical when applied to lesser crimes. Silence equals approval. If Cheney walks away with no consequences, then it’s essentially a win for fascism because it opens the door to future abuse.
I do not propose submitting Cheney to beatings, sleep deprivation, water torture, sexual mutilation, or any of the other methods he so enthusiastically promoted to be inflicted on others. I do not propose that he be imprisoned indefinitely without trial, kept in isolation until he goes insane, and then tried in a military court where he is denied the basic rights and elements of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence. I would not propose that for anyone, because I believe in the Constitution of the United States, even for those who try to destroy it. No, I would like to see Dick Cheney tried in a regular court of law, with full right to counsel, and all other rights that are supposed to be guaranteed to someone accused of a crime. That’s not too much to ask. The victims of 9/11, who have been so disgracefully used by this man and his accomplices, deserve that much. So do the victims in Iraq. We all deserve some closure. I don’t want to hear any nonsense about “putting the past behind us.” The past never gets behind us unless there is some resolution.
The political establishment is afraid of bringing the Bush-Cheney crimes to account because they fear “instability.” The two parties are more interested in prestige than justice, so they maintain the false respectability of the status quo rather than bringing criminals in high places to justice. There is probably also a fear of being caught in the net—many members of Congress have been complicit in one way or another in the blood and corruption. So the consensus seems to be that nothing will be done. There will be no trials for Cheney, or Stephen Hadley, or Doug Feith, or Donald Rumsfeld. There may even be pardons—pardons before anyone has even been charged, which is a travesty.
So much the worse for us. But even given this probability, we need all the facts to come out. We need to know exactly what these men said and did. The secrecy must stop, or else it will continue to poison our society. We can’t just put our trust in some new “good” guy like Obama and leave it at that. Even if Obama turns out to be a good president, accountability and justice are structural needs that can’t be met with rhetoric or personalities. In politics, as in life, as in recovery—you don’t grow unless you first clean house.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Miracle stories like this express, among other things, a desire that the truth could be directly known and grasped by supernatural means, thus making the world a far better place than it is. Conscience has not proven to be a strong enough force to contend with the desire for gain. In the corporate world, for instance, money has lulled conscience safely to sleep.
I wish that the CEOs of Wal-Mart, Nike, Reebok, Guess? Jeans, JC Penney, and Bloomingdale’s (to mention only a few) would wake up some morning as a 12-year-old kid working in a foreign sweatshop, or a Mexican immigrant sewing clothes in L.A. for minimum wage and supporting two kids. Because I’m sure these guys don’t think about those people--to them, the workers are just a means towards the end of profit, and their struggles and suffering don’t matter.
And I wish that Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld, William Kristol, Douglas Feith, Elliott Abrams, and the rest of those fine, upstanding men who got us into this marvelous war would wake up tomorrow as Iraqi civilians, who have seen family members killed, their society destroyed, their country soaked in blood, and for what? Because I’m also sure these guys don’t think about their victims. Everything is abstract to them--ordinary people are just units in a geopolitical game. They can write the suffering off as “collateral damage,” justified for what they consider a noble end, which happens to coincide with American hegemony, as well as their own power and influence.
I thought of Esarhaddon whenever I saw George W. Bush being interviewed in recent days. It’s obvious he’s on a last-minute mission to spruce up his image, trying to appear like a decent, thoughtful person. It’s impossible, of course. Whether he’s saying, “Obviously I don't like the idea of people losing jobs, or being worried about their 401(k)s” (a far cry from admitting any responsibility for these developments) or naming his biggest regret as “the intelligence failure in Iraq” (when in fact he deliberately bent the intelligence to fit the policy of invasion, as we all should know by now), there’s simply no room for real honesty when you’re sitting on a mountain of lies.
I never dreamed I would be saying this, but there’s something absolutely perfect about George W. Bush as a representative both of U.S. power and the conservative political class. He is the end product of years of political image-making: the elevation of the talking point and the attack narrative over actual discussion, the reduction of ideology to its most basic (and stupid) elements, the shallow pseudo-patriotic rhetoric of Reaganist “pride” in country, the equation of naked greed with “principles.” Behold the apotheosis, the final incarnation of the right-wing ideal, summed up with an almost classical concision in one man, one “decider.” Leaving aside the policies (wrong and destructive 100% of the time, which I would have thought a statistical impossibility), and the corruption (as close to total as we can expect to see in American history), let us look at the man himself. The overriding characteristic is self-centeredness; indeed, narcissism of the most degraded variety. With an utter lack of self-knowledge, and certainly no awareness of an actual moral dimension to human life, Bush is all about himself--his own paltry emotions and thoughts, his image, his role, his “legacy.”
This would be a terrible shortcoming in a talented person, but in Bush’s case we see self-regard combined with a personality so mediocre, so lacking in distinction, that it should make anyone who has learned to read above the 6th grade level experience a cold shudder of fear. This is the end result, embodied in a kind of historical logic that seems eerie in its perfection, of the phony “conservative” movement--a complete cipher, an empty man, a man with no insides, no conscience, no reflection, no shadow. A grinning, head-bobbing, self-regarding fool, who doesn’t even know that he’s done incalculable harm, but thinks that the harm somehow just happened independently of him, and is therefore incapable of true remorse. If Bush woke up, like Tolstoy’s character, as a tortured Guantanamo prisoner, he would lack the ability even then to make the connection. The level of selfishness achieved here, and symbolized for all of us, is itself the true engine of capitalism, the real power behind American imperial ambition. The world’s great superpower is a feckless frat boy trying to impress his drunken friends—oh boy, I get to be the President! The specialness of Bush is not that he is different from other figures in the political establishment, but that he is such a perfect symbol of their secret aims and desires.
You see, the CEOs of Wal-Mart, Nike, and the rest--and the pack of neocons too--are no doubt family men who love their kids, and their pets too. I don’t believe in the Illuminati or any of that diabolical crap. The hidden meaning of Arendt’s “banality of evil” is that banality is the purest (and stupidest, and dullest) avenue of harm in this world. Self-interest, so called, is the most banal motive of all, and the most universal. Only rarely do we see this banality portrayed with such impeccable accuracy by the (harrumph!) “leader of the free world” as we have since 2001. Most of the time I would get so angry watching Bush that I’d switch the channel before the man had said more than two or three sentences. As it turns out, however, there was something to be learned (yet at such cost!).
It is not enough to imagine ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Or to be more accurate, it may be sufficient for those who have taken care to develop a strong conscience, but not for the rest. Why? Because power in the modern age, the age of arrogance, the tragic age when entire peoples can be vaporized with the flip of a switch--power has become synonymous with a failure of imagination.
We are all the same person, not in imagination alone, but in reality. This is the fact, a spiritual fact (dare I say a religious fact), the heaven, the nirvana, the whatever you want to call it, that we eventually confront with our own death but which we are called upon to experience today in order to truly know ourselves. As Tolstoy wrote: “You thought life dwelt in you alone, but I have drawn aside the veil of delusion, and you have seen that in doing evil to others you have done it to yourself as well. Life is one in everything, and within yourself you manifest but a portion of this one life. And only in that portion that is within you can you make life better or worse, magnify or diminish it. To destroy the life that dwells in others is not within your power. The life that was in those you have slain has not been destroyed: it has merely vanished from before your eyes. You thought to prolong your life and to shorten the lives of others, but you cannot do this. For life there is neither time nor space. The life of a moment and the life of thousands of years, your life and the lives of all creatures seen and unseen, is one. To destroy life, even to alter it, is impossible, for life alone exists. All else only seems to be.”
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Why is there not a single person on the team who opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003? I’m not suggesting that every person you appoint should have been right about the war, but I think it’s reasonable to expect at least one non-hawk appointee. One of your main selling points in the campaign was that you were opposed to this war. I don’t see why your appointments shouldn’t reflect that position in some way.
Why should we put up with having Bush appointee Robert Gates continue at Defense? As an old crony of Reagan spook William Casey, he was deeply involved in Iran-Contra and other dirty covert operations. Under Gates, the corruption and looting by war contractors in Iraq has not abated. He continues to push for massive budget increases at Defense, which does not represent any change from the past. And what about all the Rumsfeld parasites still on the Pentagon staff? Do they stay too? Really, sir, are we supposed to believe that you can’t find anyone better than this Bush toady to run Defense? If there was one chance to show courage and determination in appointments, it would be the Pentagon. All this signals is more of the same. I consider any person who worked for Bush-Cheney as already morally compromised.
Speaking of the Pentagon, will you take a good hard look at cutting the Defense budget? I realize that it’s considered politically dangerous to do so, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we happen to be having an economic meltdown after throwing away our resources on an illegal war. The war industry is in fact a drag on the economy—we can have a strong defense without having to waste billions of dollars making weapons manufacturers filthy rich. Moderate cuts in the Defense budget, including clamping down on the massive waste and fraud, will be needed if we’re going to restore the economy. If we can’t challenge this sacred cow, all the economic stimulus packages in the world aren’t going to do the trick.
What about Blackwater and the other private mercenary forces that are a stain on our honor and a threat to freedom? Will you please cancel their contracts?
Will there be accountability for the crimes and corrupt practices of KBR and other Iraq War contractors who have been looting billions from our Treasury?
You have nominated Janet Napolitano to run Homeland Security. This is a huge department created as part of Bush’s so-called “War on Terror.” Are you planning on continuing this so-called “war” which by definition can never end? Do you support the Patriot Act, one of the key items in Bush’s attack on the Bill of Rights? Do you plan to continue the illegal NSA spying “program” which uses the pretense of “terrorist surveillance” to violate the rights of our own citizens? Why is it called “Homeland Security” anyway? This is colonialist language that implies that we have other lands to administer—couldn’t we just call it domestic security?
You have said that you oppose the shameful use of torture by the Bush-Cheney regime, and that torture will end under your administration. Will you also end the so-called “renditions” in which human beings are kidnapped and sent to other countries who then torture these prisoners? Will you end secret prisons and indefinite detention without charges? Will you call for the repeal of the Military Commissions Act, which denies the age-old right of habeas corpus and violates the Bill of Rights?
Will there be any accountability for the crimes against humanity committed by the Bush administration? Will there be investigations into the unlawful actions of these people? If not, doesn’t that send the message that future Presidents can fail to uphold their oaths of office without fear of any consequences? How does sweeping these crimes under the rug help this country to change for the better?
I noticed that there was no nomination for CIA director. Does that mean that Bush appointee Michael Hayden, who has supported all the illegal and immoral foreign policy doctrines of the Bush-Cheney regime, is staying on at CIA? Isn’t it time for thorough reform of the CIA, NSA, and other intelligence agencies, especially following a period when a covert agent’s identity was exposed for political reasons by the administration, with minimal consequences?
I hear you talking about the danger of Iran getting a nuclear weapon. Could we also talk about the danger of any country at all having a nuclear weapon? How can we tell other countries not to get nukes when we’re not doing anything to reduce our own? Are we supposed to think that somehow we have the moral right and the inherent ability to wield these weapons, but other countries don’t? Will you lead by example and create a plan for gradual de-escalation of our nuclear arsenal, thereby lending legitimacy to our professed concerns about proliferation?
I haven’t heard you or Hillary Clinton questioning any of the policies of the Israeli government. Why should criticizing these policies be taboo and equated with hating Israel or being antisemitic? We can criticize the Mexican government’s policies without being accused of hating Mexicans, can’t we? Are you willing to admit that the Palestinians have rights too? This endless conflict in the West Bank and Gaza doesn’t make me feel safer—it makes everybody less safe, in fact. What do you plan to do to help Israel and the Palestinians make peace?
American politicians have been talking about supporting freedom and democracy for as long as I can remember. Why, then, do we pump arms and money into repressive authoritarian governments such as Egypt, Indonesia, or Uzbekistan? Will you end funding of such regimes?
We still hear anti-Cuban rhetoric every election cycle. Yet we continue to treat China, a totalitarian government, as a favored nation. Will you challenge China on its numerous violations of human rights? Will you open dialogue with Cuba?
The Bush administration expressed constant contempt for the United Nations. Will your administration recommit to the principles of international law and cooperation? Will you accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, or will you continue the Bush policy of defying the court, the Geneva Conventions, and other international standards of human rights and responsibilities?
The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have contributed to the drastic poverty and debt of the developing world by using so-called “neoliberal” economic policies to maintain the power and privileges of rich countries and international corporations. Would you consider policies of debt forgiveness for the Third World in order to free poor countries from burdens unfairly placed on their people by corrupt leaders? Would you oppose the predatory economic strategies of international corporations that are impoverishing millions in Latin America, Africa, and Asia?
I expect the answers to a lot of these questions are going to be “no.” I know that there are great political constraints on a President in this country. Some are theorizing that you are bringing the establishment under your tent so that you can govern with less disruption than previous Democratic presidents. You’ve proven yourself to be a brilliant politician, which is a definite plus if you really want to create change. Nevertheless, I think these questions need to be asked, because change has to involve the challenging of preconceptions. And the level of disintegration we are witnessing today, socially and economically, makes this even more vital. You talk about unity, and I appreciate the sentiment, but you know, there are powerful groups who don’t want anything more than a cosmetic change, if that. And they aren’t giving up without a fight. If you just give in to these interests without confronting them, I think that there won’t be a significant enough change. This is true in every area of policy, but since I’m focusing on national security in this case, I will say that we need to make peace our priority, first and foremost. That means shifting away from our war-based social and economic structures. That means letting go of the illusion that we can be the world’s policeman. That means ending the madness of trying to exploit the world’s resources and people for the exclusive benefit of the U.S. and the international corporate classes. That means coming to our senses and recognizing our country as a republic, a nation among nations, and not an empire or superpower.
I wish you luck. I hope you prove yourself worthy of your promises.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
This constitutes one of the most basic mix-ups between church and state that we have. You go to court, you get a license, sometimes you get a blood test. (The clerk actually gave us a little bag of goodies that included detergent, god only knows why.) And then, if you choose, you can have a J.P. perform a marriage ceremony. Or you can have some licensed religious person perform it. In any case, to make the civil part legal, you sign the marriage license with witnesses, and the person who performed the ceremony signs it, and it’s done.
If you just do the religious part without getting the license signed, you’re not legally married, i.e. in terms of civil marriage.
Civil marriage confers various legal benefits involving taxation, inheritance, insurance, medical decisions, and other social advantages. An argument could actually be made that the state discriminates against single people by conferring special benefits on married couples. The idea is that marriage somehow advances the interests of the community or the nation. Traditionally that would mostly imply the advantage of producing children, although of course people who are not married do that regularly. Then we get into the whole notion of legitimate versus illegitimate children, which really ends up being about property and how it’s passed on. Marriage itself was primarily a way to perpetuate property through the male line, and it’s only been in relatively recent times that the question of love has entered into it.
Organized religion being one of the bulwarks of the social order, it stands to reason that civil marriage and religious marriage were traditionally one and the same. But the rise of the secular state has occasioned a gradual split between the two marriages.
I know I’m not the first person to point out that, considering marriage in the light of the First Amendment, it would make sense for the American government to get out of the business of marriage by calling it something different such as “civil union.” That’s what civil marriage already is, but by taking the word “marriage” out of it, we could continue to allow religious institutions to marry, or refuse to marry, whomever they wished, and at the same time allow consenting adult couples to enjoy the benefits of civil union.
Of course this isn’t going to happen, and I think if we consider that fact calmly and clearly we can understand why it is more difficult to protect equal rights for gay people in terms of marriage than such a logical solution would suggest.
The values and mores of a people change over time. It used to be considered fine and dandy to enslave human beings. That changed, and there was a considerable struggle involved in that change. In terms of marriage, we can learn from the Bible that patriarchal society used to believe that having multiple wives was okay. That changed too. The notion that is undergoing change at this point in time is that homosexuality is immoral. There is an ever-increasing number of people who no longer believe this. However, those who still believe it are tenaciously struggling to maintain this “moral” position as part of the laws. The so-called sodomy laws have been successfully challenged. Now the marriage laws are being challenged.
One of the more ironic, and even a bit amusing, aspects of the legal struggle is that gay marriage was never specifically outlawed, simply because the folks who made the laws never conceived of the possibility of gay marriage. The general social hostility against homosexuality precluded any such notion. Now that this hostility is being eroded, those who still believe that homosexuality is immoral want to “define” marriage as between one man and one woman.
In the recent controversy around California’s Proposition 8, a spokesman for the Mormons said that the church was not against gays, but only wanted to protect the institution of marriage. Other religious opponents of gay marriage have put forward this argument, and presented various imaginary disasters that will happen to society if we allow gays to marry. This argument is nothing more than a lie, or at best a piece of outrageous self-delusion. Without the belief that homosexuality is immoral, there is no reason to oppose gay marriage. Those who try to claim that they’re not anti-gay, and yet continue to oppose gay marriage, are simply afraid to state their true belief, which is becoming less popular, and thus less likely to succeed. (Of course there’s also the “love the sinner, hate the sin” canard, which only the most fervent state of denial could distinguish from the position of being “anti-gay.”)
In the case of politicians such as Obama who are, I suppose, not anti-gay, their refusal to support gay marriage is just another example of electoral timidity. They stick their fingers in the wind, and if there’s too much cross-current, they take the safe route, even if it means betraying principle. As soon as the zeitgeist shifts decisively, these same politicians will support gay marriage. This is another example of how change has to come from the bottom up.
Why authoritarian fundamentalists are so fixated on homosexuality, when they pass by the everyday immorality of their own death-dealing imperialist country, and even confer a Christ-like blessing on the nuclear bomb, is a subject for another essay, or probably an entire book. Religion as a guardian of the sexual order has become so dominant that it might escape the average person’s awareness that there used to be something more to “faith” than bickering about who gets to have sex with whom. In a world of suffering and calamity, it behooves us to ask if two loving people wanting to get married really hurt anyone, and if someone purporting to carry a gospel of “love” can reasonably dictate whom we should not love, especially when his own hatred and fear is on glorious display for all of us to see. But such is the predicament of religion in modern life. The least worthy representatives of faith seem to have a monopoly on all the megaphones.
Here is a question that I never hear asked. If gay marriage is outlawed, what of all the churches and other religious groups that have allowed it? For instance, I have attended gay weddings that were performed by liberal Methodist ministers. What of their religious freedom? Does it not violate their First Amendment rights to say that their weddings are invalid? It should go without saying that even if gay marriage is legalized, any church or other religious group has the right to refuse to marry someone within their tradition. So it really comes down to certain religionists wanting to dictate their own marriage (i.e. sexual) beliefs to everyone else.
The issue, it seems to me, is not gay marriage, but straight marriage. If the union of two consenting adults is conceived in the light of an ideological agenda that excludes certain people because of their sexuality, what does that say about the institution itself? I would argue that it diminishes it, and even threatens to invalidate it completely. The real immorality is to enjoy a benefit, civil or religious, that is inherently denied to others. It thereby becomes an unjust privilege rather than a blessing, and it loses whatever sacramental character it might have had. Allowing gays to marry, therefore, is necessary in order for marriage itself to be preserved.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
More than one writer has referred to Obama’s supporters as “cultists”—brain-dead enthusiasts with no understanding of their candidate’s adherence to establishment views on the economy and foreign policy. When it comes to policy, a critical stance is a very good thing. But when generalizations about the people who supported Obama are made with the language of contempt, I suspect that there’s something wrong going on psychologically.
Alex Jones went so far as to say that Obama would be much worse than Bush because the positive consensus, the perception of a mandate, would give Obama more power to take away our freedoms by consolidating a police state. By that logic, the less popular a President is, the better—which amounts to saying that the worse President is better because he will more effectively galvanize the opposition. This is a fallacy. The more the government is inclined to rightist, neo-fascist ideology, the less chance there is for successful progressive action. I know, I know: Alex Jones is not a good example of “leftist” thinking, but this particular idea is revealing of a certain very specific, and wrong-headed, way of looking at American politics.
One can become so obsessed with the criminal actions of the government, and the corruption of the political system, that one’s energy and motivation become trapped in what I call “enemy mind.” Instead of being fueled by a passionate love for human beings and their rights, we can end up stuck in a place of hatred for enemies. From years and years of being marginalized, progressives can become used to not making a difference—become inured, in other words, to an emotional condition of angry futility.
There were a lot of people who were celebrating after this election. I was one of them. Rather than look dismissively on this as the enthusiasm of “cultists,” couldn’t we just acknowledge the valid reasons for celebration? The media focused on the fact that Obama will be the first black President, and that’s certainly momentous. But I really don’t think that was the main reason people were celebrating. For me, there was a huge sense of relief that the right-wing Republican electoral strategy, personified in recent years by Karl Rove, had been defeated. There was relief that McCain, this year’s personification of rightist mendacity, had been denied, putting an end to the Bush-Cheney nightmare. Instead of an insane bloodthirsty criminal, we elected someone who can actually think, can conceive that there is such as thing as the public good and not just another opportunity for looting.
On the positive side, Obama signals that at least some effort will be made to deal with the tremendous problems that the world is facing. There is the possibility of actually getting out of Iraq. Justices Stevens, Ginsburg, or Souter can safely retire without being replaced by another right-wing fanatic. We have a chance to reverse the subversive actions against our Constitution represented by Bush regime torture, rendition, military tribunals, Patriot Act insanity, and Gitmo.
We need to celebrate progress once in awhile. This is part of the energy that keeps us going. Five years ago, I never would have thought that we could have come this far. People at the grassroots made this happen, and are making a lot of other things happen that are not as well known.
The least encouraging aspect of Obama is, of course, his adherence to the idea of empire. Making Rahm Emanuel his chief of staff is not a good sign when it comes to foreign policy. It signals more of the old “support the government of Israel at all costs” approach to the Middle East which is our perennial dead end. But to conclude that there won’t be any difference between Obama and Bush on foreign policy is to overstate the case. The so-called Bush doctrine could drive the world over a precipice—it is a doctrine of unabashed criminal aggression coupled with contempt for diplomacy. The traditional foreign policy establishment is still imperialist, but less dangerous. We’ve got a long way to go before the people of the United States force the state to relinquish empire. At least there’s more of a chance for survival under Obama.
Jim Hightower, speaking in my home town this summer, pointed out that FDR was not a leftist, and that his election was not in itself a transforming event. Instead, it was an opportunity for more progressives to get involved in the government and to influence American policy. The same is true in this case. The answer to the old question from the 1960s of whether one should work within “the system” or outside of it always seemed obvious to me—we should do both, of course. Change isn’t going to happen just because some writer for Counterpunch or The Nation maintained his ideological purity. It will happen gradually, in the messy and imperfect world of grassroots politics.
Monday, October 27, 2008
For the most part, the news shows display a phony concern for “balance,” a stance which has become meaningless because it has been drained of content. What you get is a supposed conservative squaring off against a supposed liberal, both spouting talking points instead of imparting information, and both confined within the most narrow and superficial “centrist” mindset.
The presidential election is covered almost exclusively in the aspect of who’s winning, who’s behind, what the candidate that is behind will or must do to catch up, what the one that is ahead will or must do to stay ahead, what the latest speeches say about the campaign strategies, and endless variations on the “horse race” theme. Pity the viewer seeking insight into the actual problems and issues facing us, because the coverage only provides the most rudimentary information on that, mixed up with huge wads of “spin” that bear no relevance to any of the aforesaid actual problems and issues.
This is emphasized in the presidential race—but in fact, all the political coverage follows the same model. In addition, we have the usual tornadoes and hurricanes, along with lurid crimes and celebrity show biz stories. Last year, as you may recall, the death of a former Playboy bunny took up more air time than all the political news from Europe, Africa, and Asia combined. Somehow the purveyors of this rubbish can look themselves in the mirror and think that they represent a legitimate source of news.
One of the excuses we hear is that with 24 hours to fill up, the cable news networks have to rely on junk. But the truth is that they’re lazy, greedy, and dishonest.
To illustrate my point, take a look at Democracy Now, Amy Goodman’s daily news show that is broadcast on community radio and public access TV. Let me say first of all that I don’t idolize Amy Goodman. She has her blind spots, like any journalist. Nevertheless, Democracy Now is the most important non-corporate news program in the country.
Every day, on a shoestring budget, the show covers a wide range of issues, and features interviews and guests that you almost never see anywhere else. Goodman provides a voice for many authors, representatives of organizations, political figures, activists, and ordinary people. During the Democratic convention, for example, she would interview delegates and give them a good ten or fifteen minutes to talk, and you would learn more from these interviews about the feel of the convention than you would from an entire day of CNN. Her guests have the time to go into detail about events, issues, and problems, in a way that facilitates greater understanding.
Her approach, admittedly, is left-wing alternative, although occasionally someone from the right will agree to be on the show and be given the opportunity to explain his or her positions and debate others with different views. If the networks were to follow her methods, they might justifiably include many more establishment figures, as well as conservative, centrist, and liberal guests, etc. But the point is that there are a lot of people out there who could and should be allowed to speak and be heard.
What the networks give us instead are the same people over and over again, ad nauseam. The same political consultants and operatives, the same pundits, the same columnists, are repeatedly interviewed. In addition, CNN has a “team” of commentators who sit, inexplicably, at little computer screens, and offer up the same pablum week after week. On MSNBC, they have a resident right-wing crank, Pat Buchanan. On almost every show, the host will eventually say, “Now we’ll have a discussion with so-and-so and Pat Buchanan” and out trots the right-wing crank for the millionth time. On ABC’s Sunday show This Week we are privy to discussions between Cokie Roberts, George Will, and Sam Donaldson, all desiccated Beltway insiders who haven’t said anything new or insightful in twenty years or more.
I won’t even bother to describe Rupert Murdoch’s Jim Crow channel, which is a nothing but a wingnut propaganda organ that no one with self-respect should ever agree to appear on.
MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, it should be noted, is more informative than most cable network hosts, yet there is still a reliance on a small group of repeat guests. Rachel Maddow’s show demonstrates some progress in the right direction, but I think there are corporate restraints at work even in her case. I really didn’t encounter, for example, a strong, principled dissenting view on the bailout from watching Maddow’s show.
The excuse that there’s not enough funding for real reporting won’t cut it. Goodman’s show does real reporting every day, on a microscopic fragment of the networks’ budgets. I think the networks could easily fill 24 hours with a huge variety of voices and viewpoints, along with important news from around the world.
They don’t want to. And one doesn’t need to resort to notions of an overt conspiracy in order to understand the reason. Corporate news is set up to make money for advertisers, and to do that one simply needs to “entertain” the audience and stay within a certain narrow framework of information and opinion. The news that is conveyed on Democracy Now doesn’t fit within that framework because it reveals the darker aspects of governments and corporations. Someone working at CNN or MSNBC doesn’t need to be told not to go there—if you’ve climbed the career ladder high enough to get on these networks, you already know how to toe the line without it being explicitly drawn.
As far as PBS and NPR are concerned, they aim at a more educated audience, but their range is still circumscribed, and the right regularly threatens to cut off their funding when they don’t behave. The honorable exception: Bill Moyers, who was not so subtly squeezed off the air during the Bushevik heyday, and finally made a comeback when public opinion started to catch up with him. This brings up another important insight—the TV talking heads only come around when it’s perceived to be “safe” to do so. When Bush’s poll numbers went into the toilet, people like Chris Matthews finally started to voice skepticism. Even so, a comprehensive, critical understanding of the real damage done by the Bush regime is still lacking on network TV. It’s always framed in terms of popularity—Bush is unpopular now; the war is unpopular; etc. The alarming extent of the corruption and degradation of the country and the world is skimmed over. We now go on to the next distraction as if it had no connection to what went on before.
Can you think of an instance in which TV news has broken a national story within the last forty years? 60 Minutes might have done it once or twice—the rest is smoke and mirrors. Then there was the Dan Rather story on Bush’s desertion from the Texas National Guard—which turned out to be a Rovian trap, even though the facts were there. TV news doesn’t break stories. It doesn’t really practice journalism in the true sense. It just receives information from official sources and then chatters over it incessantly.
The newspapers are still the only news sources that actually “break” stories in the classic fashion, but that’s also become rare. Most of the revelations nowadays come from whistle blowers and other people and organizations outside of the media, such as Amnesty International, who courageously bring things to public attention that would otherwise be ignored by the press. We should be grateful for these truth tellers, but most of the time they are attacked and demonized.
There is one more saving grace I must mention—the internet. Oh, it’s not all that the starry-eyed proponents of online community would have us believe, but it’s made a difference. Before the web, the corporate media completely monopolized the political narrative. It was almost impossible for regular citizens to have their views heard in any meaningful way. The internet showed progressives that they were not alone, and that the dominant narrative was far to the right of where most people in the country really were. I’m sure the right-wing establishment hates the internet and wish it could be suppressed and controlled. The corporatists are still trying, and they mustn’t succeed. There’s a sense in which the Fourth Estate—the real one, not the faux press you see on TV—has taken refuge in the blogosphere.
We will need a free press in the struggles ahead. In the meantime, don’t watch too much television. It warps your mind.
Friday, October 17, 2008
The amount of public attention devoted to this campaign has been obscenely exaggerated. It’s been going on for close to two years. The media treats it like a game show, like a huge perverse form of mass entertainment. And this one’s been stupider than ever—the nomination of that idiotic "hockey mom" being only the most obvious example. Meanwhile, the most important things happen at the grassroots. Progressives need to continue organizing at the local level. We need a sustainable movement that doesn’t just protest what the corporations are doing, but actually wrests economic and political influence from them. This slow, often frustrating work is more important than the presidential election.
Nevertheless, it needs to be said: this is not a game show. It does matter who is in the White House, not because electing someone new will overthrow the empire—of course it won’t. That’s obvious just from seeing Obama kowtow to the Israel lobby and talk tough about Afghanistan. No, it’s important because—we need a chance to influence things. That’s all. Just a chance.
There is very little chance for progress as long as the Republicans run the White House. We dare not forget the horrors of the last eight years. Obama and the Democrats tiptoe around this by talking about “failed policies.” The Bush years don’t just represent failure, they represent criminality of the most dangerous kind. These people used terror to try to destroy the last vestiges of freedom in this country. They’ve murdered hundreds of thousands of human beings and displaced many more, while mouthing lies about “democracy.” Their rich allies and military contractor buddies have shamelessly looted our wealth. They’ve made torture and kangaroo courts our official policy. They’ve illegally spied on us, and when they were caught, expanded their spying powers. They’ve rigged elections by voter suppression and fraud, while using the Justice Dept. to cover their tracks. They’ve poisoned our discourse with their sneering, attacking style and their hate radio, labeling anyone with disagrees with them a traitor or terrorist. They constantly sought to divide us with race and ethnicity and gender, demonizing African Americans and immigrants, women and gays. They have opposed women’s rights every step of the way. They let over a thousand people die in New Orleans without lifting a finger to help, and then they blamed the victims. They stacked the government with crazy religious fanatics who want us to go back to the Middle Ages. Their Supreme Court appointees supported the powerful against the weak, marching in lockstep with the right-wing agenda. They lied about everything and sought to conceal all their works from any public scrutiny.
And there’s more. They’ve committed so many outrages, lies, insults, deceptions, betrayals, cynical ploys, and disgusting actions that it would take hours to catalog them all. This is fascism. If fascism wins in this country, there’s no chance for us.
In the last debate, John McCain told Obama that he wasn’t running against President Bush, and that if he wanted to run against President Bush he should have run four years ago. The shithead pundits actually thought that was McCain's best moment. It’s typical of the sort of superficial, amnesiac, twisted thinking that dominates our elections. We’re supposed to think that this is just about personalities. President Bush is a different personality from John McCain, so we’re told not to compare them. But it’s not about personalities. These people represent political and economic forces, powers that hold sway in our government. By himself, Bush is just an empty suit. His power comes from his backers. And the Republicans, with few exceptions, backed him all the way. To pretend now that the last years were all because of Bush, and that they weren’t crucially enabled by all the Republican leaders, including McCain, is to play us as fools. But of course that’s the only way they know how to play us.
With an Obama victory, there will still be a corporate establishment running the country. There will still be a war machine in the Pentagon. The nature of our predicament is such that we do not have truly progressive alternatives at the national level yet. But one thing we would have with an Obama victory is—a chance. A chance to push back against fascism. A chance for progressives and liberals to have some breathing room, and maybe even some influence, if we can flex our muscles. A chance to work for peace, human rights, equality, or at least, some sanity.
I voted for Nader twice, in 1996 and 2000. I was tired of the centrist Democrats taking my vote for granted. Clinton did not offer a meaningful alternative for me in the long term. Gore hadn’t found any courage yet. We forget how much he tried to sound like Bush in 2000—picking Joey the Rat as his running mate, for fuck’s sake.
But I believe the stakes are too high now. I did not foresee the push towards totalitarian rule. I did not foresee 9/11, which became the excuse for an assault on our Constitution. I voted for Kerry in ’04, even though he has the appeal of a soggy piece of driftwood, because I wanted to push back at the fascists. Obama, for all his faults, is a hell of a lot smarter and better than Kerry.
I don’t understand the notion of principled non-voting. When I hear some people say they won’t vote, I just don’t get it. Voting is just a practical thing. You aim at the closest you can get to a practically desirable result. How hard can it be just to get your ass to a voting booth, or to send in a ballot? I do understand the despair and the apathy, but I don’t understand not voting out of supposed principle. That seems phony to me. Of course I’d rather have a real progressive in charge like Nader or Cynthia McKinney. But in practical terms, I want us to have a chance.
If the Republicans win again, it will justify every sick, slimy thing they’ve done to stay in power for the last eight years. They have to be hurt. They have to be beaten down without mercy. That’s another reason I’m voting for Obama. Those fuckers need to be taught a lesson, and nothing hurts them quite as much as losing.
And during an Obama administration, we need to continue to organize and fight and speak truth to power. We need to fight the Democrats’ allegiance to big money and empire, even while we continue to fight the fascist right. Because of course they’ll still be around, whining and throwing tantrums as always.
But in order to do that we need—a chance.
Vote for Obama.
Sunday, October 05, 2008
This is that moment, if you will, when Toto pulls the curtain back and we can all see the con man pulling the levers and yelling into the mike.
Recall, if you have not succumbed to the peculiar strain of amnesia prevalent in America, decades of political blather concerning the “free market.” The corporatists railed incessantly against regulation, saying that if only the restraints were taken off our fine economic system, prosperity would come. Conservative or “centrist” (liberal was now a dirty word), Democrat or Republican, all agreed that greed was good. And when the wingnuts came to power, first in Congress under Clinton (who co-opted their message instead of fighting them) and then in the White House under the current torturer, stealer of elections, and all-around useful idiot, they went whole hog—or whatever porcine metaphor you prefer.
The rich got a lot richer. You and I were forced to endure downsizing, outsourcing, and other forms of economic rape—with the result that both members of a household now work full-time, and often have to take second jobs to pay the bills. And the debt piled up.
Meanwhile, the official narrative was that poor people were the problem. Welfare queens and other shiftless minorities needed to be weaned from the welfare tit. Social programs were a waste of our hard-earned tax dollars—money that could be better used for war toys like the Star Wars missile defense boondoggle.
There aren't enough funds for all these liberal programs. Where are you going to get the money for all that? Just tighten your belt, salute the flag, and watch Survivor on TV.
Politicians became our elected school marms and moral instructors—wagging their fingers at us as they bleated about personal responsibility. Don’t have children out of wedlock, people! Stop looking for handouts and get a job—like the decent hard working people who vote for us. We’re sick of hearing about sexism and racism from people who basically hate American values. Instead of protesting war and poverty, look at the true moral issues facing us today—women getting abortions and those filthy queers flaunting their depravity in public. Don’t forget flag burning. And those creepy artists getting funded by the NEA. This is important stuff, people. And while we’re at it, let’s impeach the President for having sex with an intern.
Your problems are the fault of the others. Not with us. Blame the immigrants. Declare holy war on Islam. And behind all of it, the crazy, wacky, moonbat left. Obama, Osama. Coincidence?
And the hockey mom joe six-packs said Amen.
But now, when the thieves and pirates who’ve been getting filthy rich while the rest of us languish in socioeconomic limbo—when these captains of industry who think nothing of moving their companies overseas while screaming “Country first!”—finally bring the whole stinking edifice down around our ears, what do you think happens?
Suddenly there is $700 billion available from the public treasury to save their asses. There wasn’t enough money for those liberal social programs, but when Wall Street needs a bailout, well lookee! We just happen to have $700 billion handy.
But the voters didn’t buy it. Even the American electorate, capable of voting en masse for an empty Texas suit for President (twice!)—wasn’t fooled. The public was overwhelmingly against this bailout, and they let the Congress know it.
If you’ve been watching the news channels during this time—the regular networks, the cable networks, PBS, NPR, whatever—you couldn’t fail to notice that the corporate media was in favor of this bill. Barely a whisper of an alternative ever made it to the airwaves. We were bombarded with fear—if the bill didn’t pass, disaster would ensue. Your jobs were threatened. Your way of life was threatened. The survival of America was at stake. And this was not confined to Fox or right-wing commentators—all of them toed the line, even the supposedly liberal ones.
And yet—the public still opposed the bill!
After the first try failed, and the Dow plunged, the politicos went into panic mode. The people just don’t understand economics. They don’t realize how crucial this is. Something has to be done—now.
Obama supported the bill. What the hell did you expect? He’s heavily funded by Wall Street. McCain stumbled around like the clueless senile bastard he is, not knowing which way to go, because the extreme right of the party was afraid of getting blamed and voted No. What isn’t talked about much are the Democrats that voted No—they were on the left-end of the spectrum, like Kucinich. No one mentioned their arguments on the news channels. That might call into question the whole system, which is based on greed, exploitation and class war.
The amazing thing is, none of this con-job worked. The public still hated the bill.
So here comes the moment when Toto pulled open the curtain. A month before Congressional elections, with the voters angry as hell, the House ended up passing the bill.
I can’t imagine how the actual structure of power in this country could have been more clearly or obviously revealed. The government doesn’t run the country. Wall Street does. All that Wall Street had to do was kick and whine and declare emergency, and then take a big dive when it didn’t get its way at first, and eventually the Congress bailed them out.
Hey, joe six-pack hockey mom—try to learn a lesson here, if you’re not brain-dead already. The people who own the country don’t give a shit about you or your family. When they use race and sex and homophobia to sway your mind, they’re not looking out for anything but their own bottom line. When they talk about cutting government spending, they mean for you, not for themselves. Hell, no. Government is there to cater to them. They tell it what to do, and it will do what they say even if every single one of you calls your Congressperson to complain.
The man behind the curtain is the wizard of Wall Street. That’s the truth. All this talk about freedom and democracy and the American dream—it’s a sham, and it has been for many years. This is one of those moments when that truth is naked for all to see. Imprint it on your mind and don’t forget it.
There will be no change until we refuse to believe the lies.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
The basis of religious thought, on the other hand, is an intuition of reality as eternal and absolute. When we follow logic to its end, we realize that the limited and conditioned and finite, which describes all events, could not be so unless reality itself is unlimited, unconditioned, and infinite. However, the intuition which forms the basis of religious thought is not the result of logic. Rather, it springs from the fundamental ineffability of self, or what I prefer to call subjectivity. Subjectivity itself, the very fact of experience, seems ungraspable, only approximated in language, because it is the context or background of all knowledge. We intuitively connect this with an idea of the eternal and absolute.
All of our primary emotions become involved with this basic intuition. Experiencing reality nakedly, prior to the formulation of ideas, involves awe, wonder, love, and fear. The predicament of thought is to be newly alive, experiencing the world and struggling to gain knowledge of events in their relations. If subjectivity was immediately graspable, if we could pick it up and examine it like a rock, there would be no sense of wonder, nor would any knowledge be possible. The human being is limited and conditioned, yet intuits the unlimited and unconditioned—the mind exists at this meeting point between the contingent and the fixed.
Let us call this ineffable subjectivity soul—despite the misunderstandings and misconceptions that the word will occasion. Reality itself, the infinite and eternal, is of necessity impersonal. But when I say “reality itself” I am performing an abstraction, as language requires me to do in any explanation. This “reality itself” is in fact not separable from events (i.e. the finite and conditioned); indeed it is the very essence of the absolute to be not separable. The impersonal, so to speak, includes the personal.
The word God (and its equivalents in other languages) can be used as a generic term for the absolute, unconditioned, infinite and eternal nature of reality. Philosophers and theologians have used it that way. However, it first arose as a symbol of the personal, the eternal as a person, in effect as the soul of the world. Every aspect of the human experience contributed to this—gods and spirits (and later, God) reflect every human capacity you could name.
Religious thought is important and valid because it allows access to meanings, to the soul’s understanding of itself, the world, humanity, life, and death. I’m not referring only to instrumental meanings such as “How does this work?” or “What is this made of?” but to meaningful expressions of the entire range of experience, especially including emotions. Religion became the basis for the social order because it was the primary access point for meaning, a sort of map of human life and all its purposes and feelings, including pains and enjoyments.
The boundary between metaphorical truth and literal truth was never completely clear. It was always determined by the necessities of the moment. We didn’t really become conscious of the distinction until the rise of scientific thought forced us into some kind of awareness. Religion in its social function—as the foundation of the social order—projected everything onto a “literal” reality conceived as external to the soul. God was believed to be an existing supernatural being, a creator external to the creation, and an authority to be obeyed. The mythology of religion—its symbols and narrative traditions—was believed to represent actual historical events.
But the curious thing about all this was that the meaning of religion and mythology, its significance for the soul, can only be metaphorical. Outside of practical instrumentalities, “literal” truth has no meaning. The struggle between science and religion in the West was, and is, a political struggle. Religious institutions relied on fixed belief systems in order to maintain an authoritarian social order. Scientific reasoning threatened that because it offered freedom from preconceived belief systems. When religion claimed literal truth for itself, it staked its fortunes on unfruitful ground. It committed the error of misplaced absoluteness—asserting that the limited (mythology, scriptures, symbols) was absolute, while at the same time proclaiming that the absolute (God) was limited (an external being).
An eternal and omnipotent God, a being who created the universe and is separate from it, is literally impossible. Any separate being exists in space and time, and is therefore limited. All the arguments have been demolished centuries ago. To argue about it with a “believer” today is to simply repeat what has already been proven.
But once you realize the metaphorical nature of all religious thought, its validity becomes apparent. Mythology is an imprint of the soul, inclusive of the entire range of experience. It presents contradictory symbols and narratives, just as human beings present them. Spirituality proper is the art of the soul’s apprehension of the eternal and infinite. It has many facets. In its intellectual aspects, it deals with infinity—the realization that all contingent events are ultimately obviated (or subsumed, as it were) in reality’s nature as eternal. In its emotional aspects, it deals with divinity—the transcendent nature of love, or as the Sanskrit perhaps more accurately characterizes it, ananda (joy, bliss).
God is a metaphor for the soul, for the ineffable character of subjectivity. It inspires devotion and worship because human beings desire and seek the personal, as they desire and seek their families and loved ones. The truth was frankly spoken already in the ancient Indian texts known as the Upanishads: Brahman (God) is Atman (Soul). Buddhist philosophy took things a step further by throwing out ontology altogether, a conclusion which is far more accurate and less prone to error than any theistic system, but too difficult for many people to understand. Buddhism ended up replacing the personal aspect of divinity with the Buddhas themselves, human objects of veneration that took on a supernatural aura while remaining benign. It would seem that the need for the personal aspect could not be denied.
This is the great secret of religion. It’s an open secret, but a secret all the same. It has been suppressed in the major Western religions (and to some degree in the Eastern ones as well) because it threatens the authoritarian social order. In the old days, the esoteric and the exoteric tried to co-exist, which in practical terms meant that the mystics had to be careful not to say certain things or they might get burned at the stake. Most religious institutions, at least in the West, have lost access to their own meanings, they’ve lost their power, as a native American might say, and increasingly rely on force.
Fundamentalists seem to think that they’re competing with science for the souls of men. Actually they’ve already surrendered the power of their own traditions—their literalism constitutes a confession that their “faith” is only a narrow set of beliefs about the world, beliefs that are contradicted by the free use of reason. In terms of the soul, in terms of the meaning and significance of life as apprehended by the soul, it is of no account whether the stories of Adam and Eve, or Noah, or any narrative, are historically true. Whatever significance these stories may have for someone, it would be in the nature of a symbol, of poetry that creates meaning. Religious institutions have elevated scriptures to the status of idols, calling them the “word” of God. If we rely on a book to tell us what to believe, then we are absolved (in truth, prevented) from engaging in the direct encounter which spirituality demands. This is very convenient for authoritarians. With book in hand, they can assume an infallibility that they ascribe to God while destructively practicing it on others.
What science has revealed concerning the nature and extent of the universe is astounding and, in a very real sense, inconceivable. We can say the words “billions of galaxies,” but we can’t form any real conception of it. In contrast, the covert mythologies of the literalists are generally small and tidy, with man at the center of things. It is not our awe or our wonder that is threatened by this new information—only our pride.
Those who seek to live a spiritual life today, and at the same time to honor their own ability to think freely, are faced with a necessity that is different, or at least more imperative, than in previous eras. We must see through religious symbolism and mythology; we need to explicitly acknowledge its metaphorical nature and its fundamental connection to self, to what I have been calling soul. We will always need spirituality and mythology. Religion is not going away. But we need to recognize its metaphorical nature if we are to continue to experience meaning in our lives.
The political history of humanity, which is intimately entwined with the history of religious institutions, is a tragic one because it is marked with oppression. This reflects an inner struggle. Humanity has continually subtracted itself from its understanding of reality. We have refused to honor, or even acknowledge, the unity of experience and nature, mind and world, soul and reality. Listening to our fear, we have maintained a wall between an imagined divine “other” and our finite and limited being. But this is the very wall that our intuition of the eternal, the very basis of our religious yearnings, is meant to break through.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
It hardly seems to be seven years since George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, and other administration officials were thrilled and excited by the devastating attacks in New York and Washington. This was an opportunity crying out to be exploited, and they wasted no time in using fear to cement their political power and to gear the nation up for an attack on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Their gratitude to the terrorists has been deep and enduring, evidenced by the constant tribute paid to Osama bin-Laden and Al Qaida in the years since—Republicans citing the terrorists as support for whatever policy or initiative they might be pushing at the time. It was all part of an important campaign against the real enemy: liberals, Democrats, and other components of the “angry left.”
The voiceless victims of the 9/11 attacks became the perfect cheerleaders for the Republican cause. Photos and videos of the burning twin towers provided wonderful imagery for Republican campaign commercials and promotions. Whenever liberals or Democrats would seek to talk about issues, Republicans could threaten another terrorist attack if voters failed to continue supporting Republican candidates. Those who expressed doubts about the direction we were going in were obviously supporters of terrorism. Anyone who protested the war, or the use of torture, or the suspension of Constitutional rights, was suspect, a potential enemy.
But as the Iraq War turned into a quagmire, and various scandals exposed an inability on the part of the Bush administration to actually govern, Republican terrorism began to lose its luster. Most leading GOP figures remember 9/11 with fondness for the good times now gone, and wish that somehow the terrorists could strike again.
Rudy Giuliani, the ex-mayor of New York City, recalls with delight the day that events sunk to his level, so that he actually appeared as a leader rather than a psychotic prick. Ann Coulter stares at the poster of Bin Laden in her bedroom, dreaming of the day her idol will return and show the liberals who was right after all. Karl Rove chuckles to himself as he remembers the lovely sight of people jumping out of the flaming windows of the World Trade Center on that wonderful day. Why shouldn’t it happen again? he wonders. Well, there’s always hope.
On election eve of 2006, when the Democrats were taking back the House and Senate, Fox News’s Shepard Smith looked into the camera with a sad puppy-dog expression and said that he was worried. Even though the public was turning towards the Democratic Party, Shepard hoped that we wouldn’t forget the War on Terror and how important it was. Without the War on Terror, you see, Shepard Smith would be doing commercials for hair gel.
Dennis Milligan, the chair of the Arkansas Republican Party, was speaking for Republicans everywhere when he mused in June of ’07: “All we need is some attacks on American soil like we had on 9/11, and the naysayers will come around very quickly to appreciate not only the commitment for President Bush, but the sacrifice that has been made by men and women to protect this country." Without more attacks, the naysayers continue to gain ground. If only our terrorist friends could come through again and help us prove them wrong.
Earlier this year, Hillary Clinton said that a terrorist attack would help Republicans. Some Democrats reacted with outrage, but she was only stating the obvious. Republicans love terrorism. The more terrorism, the better it is for Republicans. John McCain’s chief strategist Charlie Black later said that another attack on America would certainly be a big advantage to McCain. At the time, with public disapproval of Republicans at record lows, one could hardly blame the McCain campaign for indulging in some wishful thinking. Ah, if only there were some more burning bodies, panic in a major city, mayhem and destruction by fanatic Muslims, wouldn’t that be great for us? Why, we’d win in a landslide!
Although it’s clear to all the wise pundits and talk show experts that terrorism is good for Republicans, there’s another aspect that is rarely mentioned. Absence of terrorism is inherently bad for Republicans. Therefore, it would be a grave error for Republicans to actually try to reduce terrorism. That would be working against themselves. Instead, as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have demonstrated time and again, the correct strategy is to strengthen and support terrorism as much as possible. We must do everything in our power to make America hated in the Muslim world so as to create as many new terrorists as we can. If these policies result in an eventual follow-up attack on America, so much the better. Republicans love 9/11 and they love terrorists. Although it’s politically incorrect for them to say it too loudly, Republicans hope and pray for a terrorist attack on the United States that will return the Republican Party to the popularity and prestige it briefly enjoyed seven years ago. Hopefully the attack will take place on a big liberal city such as San Francisco, so that a bunch of homosexuals will get killed for their sins into the bargain. That would be best. But whatever—they’ll take what they can get.
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
The Republican Party does not really care about governing. And it doesn’t care about issues or ideas, except insofar as they facilitate corporate profits. Everything is about hidden messages, code words, imagery, personality, in short—electoral hypnotism. Previous cynical Repug candidates chose Spiro Agnew and Dan Quayle to be a “heartbeat away.” Those guys may have had a little more “experience” than Sarah Palin, but weren’t any more thoughtful, or competent. The fact is that the Repugs proved with George W. Bush that they could install an empty suit in the White House and still run things—sort of. “Yeah, they ran things into the ground,” you might say, but the rich cronies made lots of money, and that’s all that counts to these people. Their true motto is: “We don’t care.” Power is all that matters. That’s Karl Rove 101, and the man himself pronounced the Palin pick a stroke of genius.
Confronted with the never-ending antics of insane wingnut freaks, the people who dominate the political discourse in the United States, I find myself most distressed at their pathetic Democratic enablers. Instead of an opposition party, what I saw displayed at the Democratic Party was the same old fantasy that somehow they could win by being nice and positive and reasonable. These people just don’t seem to learn.
In all the hot air blowing about in Denver, I don’t recall anyone talking about Alberto Gonzales and the attempt to turn the Justice Department into a machine for voter suppression. I don’t recall mention of the Plame affair and the Nigerian forgeries. Did anyone talk about the rampant war profiteering by KBR and other Bush-Cheney cronies in Iraq which constitutes looting of the Treasury on an unprecedented scale? Or the simple disappearance of $12 billion in Iraq, along with untold amounts of weaponry and explosives? What about the Downing Street memo? Signing statements? Refusing to allow aides to testify? Domestic spying? Abramoff? Patriot Act? Abu Ghraib? The Terry Schiavo circus? Tom DeLay? False linking of 9/11 to Saddam? All the lying, lying, lying?
Why, I don’t even have the space to list all the examples of corruption. This administration is such a cesspool of criminality that it’s difficult to know where to begin. Maybe that’s part of the problem. We’ve been so bombarded with lies and hate and murder that it simply befuddles the mind. Of course there’s the huge issue of torture, which the Democrats have decided not to touch because their polling says that Americans are sadists and approve of barbarism. The evisceration of the Bill of Rights is a matter of concern, don’t you think? But if all you watched was the Democratic Convention, you wouldn’t know that was happening.
No, the Democrats didn’t hammer against the corruption of the vicious criminal regime that has made such a mess of the country in the last years. Instead they talked about the economy. Obama’s overrated speech focused almost exclusively on economic issues, appealing to people’s selfishness while dressing it all up in idealistic-sounding rhetoric. When it came to foreign policy, the message was that
The Democrats pay lip service to the reality of our degraded condition, albeit mostly in economic terms. But the basic assumption is that this is all still “business as usual.” If they simply present a better and more positive choice than the Republicans present, they should win. This amounts to seeing our extraordinary situation, a time or peril, as part of an ordinary political process. It is a losing strategy.
By refusing to hold the Republicans accountable for lying, stealing, spying, and betraying the country, the Democrats surrender whatever moral ground they pretend to occupy. The election then becomes just a choice between two valid alternatives. The popular perception is that the Democrats are frightened wimps, and I do think they’re so used to being bullied by the hard right that they’ve lost the ability to fight back, but the underlying reason for all this is that they’re trying to please the same corporate forces that the Republicans are. They fear that impeachment, or even an aggressive campaign against Republican corruption, will dry up the corporate money.
With Nancy Pelosi and Stoney Hoyer and Rahm Emanuel and all these other clever people running things, there’s a good chance of McCain actually winning. Then what will all their caution have gotten them? Another arrogant Republican president who can defy the rule of law at will. What will it take for them to learn the simple fact that you have to fight these crooks with everything you’ve got? You don’t win by being nice and civilized and reasonable. Go for the throat, for chrissake!
On a simple practical level, the Obama campaign needs to attack the Republican party, not just McCain. “Republican” is a bad brand right now, so you need to say that word a lot if you’re a Democrat. McCain positions himself as being somehow different from Bush, something new, something not exactly Republican. If all you do is talk about McCain and not the Republicans and their horrible record, you reinforce the McCain narrative. If I were Obama, I’d be slamming the Republicans every chance I got. Yeah, throw in your change and your hope rhetoric too, but at this point just about everyone who can be swayed by that call has been swayed. Does negative campaigning work? Of course it does. Why do you think we’ve had twenty years of Reagan-Bush misery?
Obama may win anyway, I suppose. I hope so, just so there’s a chance for even a little bit of sanity to seep into Washington. Anyone who isn’t ignorant should have already decided to kick the Republicans out by now. The ignorant vote is all that’s left, but unfortunately that’s a large group. After eight years of this shit, if people can be swayed by some “hockey mom” nutjob, or another Swift Boat smear campaign, then there were no brains in their heads in the first place.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
In this election year, with all the talk about voting blocs and demographics, there is one group that is rarely mentioned. Yet it is one of the largest segments of the
I’m referring, of course, to suckers.
It’s not as if this is a completely new social group—certainly the advertising industry has long focused on this huge and fertile consumer base. And the emergence and eventual dominance of movies and (especially) television as purveyors of entertainment and information has expanded the economic influence of suckers to the point where they have become arguably the most influential segment of the American audience. But public and popular discourse has been very slow in acknowledging this all-important group.
“There’s a definite social stigma still attached to being a sucker,” explains Dr. Herbert Dietrich, a sociologist and author of the upcoming book The Gullible Majority. “People associate the label with ignorance and stupidity, so suckers are understandably wary of identifying as such, while business and government tend to allude to suckers without being explicit enough to offend. It’s a problem because the shame and secrecy makes it more difficult for suckers to fully participate in public life.”
But there are signs of change. The Bush administration inaugurated a novel approach that has surprised veteran political insiders. Abandoning old notions of apparent adherence to empirical facts, the Bush team has made explicit overtures to the sucker demographic through an ingenious, “fluid” concept of reality that conforms to whatever is required by the authorities at a given time. Voters are therefore encouraged to affirm rather than conceal their sucker identity, a bold strategy that has had interesting but mixed results to this date.
Researches indicate that suckers constitute close to 80% of consumers of pharmaceuticals, beauty products, video games, alcoholic beverages, and family-size vehicles. The percentages are high for many other sectors of the economy as well. The Fox News channel is famed for aiming its programming exclusively at this group, but the other television networks are gaining ground, especially among those who remain ambivalent about their sucker identity.
Suckers are repelled by the cold abstractions of intellectuals and social engineers. Their concerns are centered more in matters of the heart, such as prayer in schools, gay marriage, or the sufferings of celebrities. Values matter to them, not ideas.
Despite the ugly stereotypes, suckers come from all walks of life and every level of education. College-educated suckers are in fact eagerly sought after by companies because of their generally greater spending power. Of course we’re used to seeing those people sitting behind a political candidate holding signs and clapping, but this is only a small segment of this dynamic group—in fact, suckers are all around us, in our homes, schools, and places of employment. Soon they will be tired of the secrecy surrounding their extraordinary dominance in American life.
Already there are sucker clubs and support groups springing up around the nation. Therapists and self-improvement coaches are helping people acknowledge their inner suckers and become proud of their malleability and openness to suggestion. What used to be scorned as naivete is now being affirmed as vulnerability.
If indeed there is a sucker born every minute, we can look forward to a better future in
Friday, August 15, 2008
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
It’s fairly obvious why this is so.
“President” Bush will be at the Olympics, along with NBC, McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Adidas, and many other benevolent sponsors of our way of life. And even though
But I think there’s still more to it. I’ve said it before, but I’m not averse to some reiteration now and then: the neocons and their Repug enablers are passionate secret admirers of the Chinese government. They look at the American tradition and they see weakness and anarchy, a lot of rubbish about self-evident truths and inalienable rights. Then they look at
The fact that the party controlling
So the only difference, really, is that the Chinese government gets to have its way without interference from left liberal ACLU feminist moonbat journalists or other troop haters. They can just lock up their enemies, or kill them, and make lots of money. This is Dick Cheney’s wet dream. With a few minor cultural alterations, it sounds like the Fox News vision for
This neocon push to turn the
If these visionaries, these crackpot neocons, think that Americans are going to easily suppress that pleasure in favor of an austere, Chinese-style cultural hypnosis, they’re going to be disappointed. It’s not that Americans are rising up en masse against the pigs or anything like that—we all know that’s not happening. But there’s a very basic resistance to losing the pleasure of saying what we want, and doing pretty much what we want, without being stopped and frisked, or arrested for making statements detrimental to the welfare and unity of the American people. Don't get me wrong. I don’t think it’s impossible for us to become like
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Lately we’ve been hearing from conservatives who are disaffected with the Bush Administration. The general complaint is that the Republican Party, along with the conservative movement, has lost its way, and that Bush represents a betrayal of true conservative ideals.
Bill Moyers had a couple of them on his show a few weeks ago (here is the transcript): Mickey Edwards, one of the old-guard Goldwater conservatives who has written a book called Reclaiming Conservatism: How a Great American Political Movement Got Lost, and How It Can Find Its Way Again; and Ross Douthat, whose recent tome is titled Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream (all political books seem to use similar strategies in their titles these days). Since this was Moyers, the conversation was stimulating, and I ended up watching the whole thing. I can’t deny that there are pleasing aspects of hearing conservatives decry Bush’s notions of untrammeled executive power, and these two were more intelligent than most conservative intellectuals. And god knows one needs to be welcoming to whatever allies one can find in what is essentially a fight to the death for our liberty. Nevertheless, the assumptions of these conservatives are wrong, and almost touchingly naïve.
One of these assumptions is that conservatives have traditionally believed in “limited government.” Reagan came to power saying that government was the problem, and this was essentially the conservative mantra. So thinkers like Edwards and Douthat look at what’s happened under Bush and think it’s an anomaly, a case of a movement going astray. They are in the pathetic position of true believers who take the rhetoric at face value without recognizing the social and economic powers behind it.
“Limited government” in practice, rather than in the vague nobility of conservative rhetoric, means essentially that the government’s function is to stand guard while business makes money. The one idea, if you can call it that, of the Republican Party has been to make sure nobody interferes with profits. Deregulation and so-called “privatization” were the projects begun under Reagan and continued without pause ever since.
Greasing the wheels for the corporations necessarily involves corporations greasing the wheels of government. To think that it doesn’t is simply naïve. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours—that was the inevitable result of the “limited government” philosophy. And it should be to no one’s surprise that the desire for ever-greater profits will always cancel out any and all concerns for the public good. Therefore, environmental regulations were eroded and ignored, with dire consequences for public health. Therefore, health care became less and less responsive to public needs and increasingly dependent on the profit margins of insurance companies. Therefore, the banking industry was deregulated, regardless of possible consequences for the average person. Therefore, the corporations and the rich were relieved of their responsibility to pay taxes and the burden was shifted to middle-class citizens. The list could go on endlessly.
The point is that conservatives refused to guard against a basic human tendency, or even acknowledge it—I’m talking about greed. With untrammeled greed in control of the government, the power and scope of the state will only be limited in terms of how it can help ordinary people—but its literal power and scope, physically measurable in terms of its ability to control our lives and inflict damage on other countries, that power and scope will inevitably expand. Conservative intellectuals, installed in their think-tanks in order to provide rhetorical support for the movement, are unable to perceive the simplest facts of human nature, facts which have been acknowledged even by the traditional religions and philosophies of the West. Greed was traditionally considered a vice. Not for the American conservatives, though.
Furthermore, there has been no application of these notions of limited government to foreign policy or military expenditure. On the contrary, the Republicans have always clamored to increase defense spending. While Reagan slashed as many social programs as he could, swelling the ranks of the underclass and the homeless and forcing millions of people to take multiple jobs just to survive, he vastly increased the Pentagon budget. And it’s been increasing ever since. Now, what kind of a fool would expect a blank-check policy to the military to result in “limited government”? With the imperial project and the increasing militarization of
Of the two guests on Moyer’s show, I found Douthat the most unintentionally amusing. Fussily clarifying and equivocating while he strained to make conservatism look intellectually respectable, he distanced himself from Tom DeLay and Rush Limbaugh while claiming that Republican economic policies have helped workers by lowering prices. He really believes what he’s saying, which tempts one to lend him the sympathy traditionally accorded to the self-deluded. While so-called “free market” policies have outsourced the American worker to irrelevance, Douthat sees sunshine and lollipops. Indeed, if corporate interests are identified with conservative values, how could he see it any other way?
Over and over, not just on this Moyers show but in general, we hear these conservatives talking about how wonderful Reagan was, and then saying that Bush represents some kind of betrayal of the Reagan legacy. Really? I’m old enough to remember that Reagan appointed as Secretary of the Interior a man who believed that it was unnecessary to protect the environment because Jesus would soon be bringing the end of the world anyway. And he stood behind this man (his name was James Watt) in the face of all criticism, and it was only some stupid incident involving Watt putting down The Beach Boys (of all things) that ended his tenure. Now what does this remind you of? It is redolent of the very wingnuttery we have experienced time and again under Bush.
Reagan’s HUD secretary ended up looting what he was supposed to protect. The collapse of the safety & loans happened because of “Reaganomics,” and it resulted in thousands of average people getting screwed. Prior to the current occupant, it was Reagan’s regime that held the record for indictments among its employees: political cronies who served corporate interests and opposed accountability.
Douthat framed his social conservative brand as “a defense of the particular habits and mores of American life.” And this is consistent with the perennial conservative position of “moral values.” But what does this amount to? Conservatives have never opposed the killings that have advanced American imperial interests. They supported the war in
Conservatives have used race-baiting as a political tool since the early twentieth century. And from Nixon’s “southern strategy” to Reagan’s welfare queens, to Lee Atwater doing the Willie Horton ad for Papa Bush, Republicans have been whispering in code to racist voters for decades. Did conservative intellectuals protest? For that matter, did any of them speak out for civil rights? They did not. They were silent at best, and at worst they colluded in attempts to suppress civil rights.
The moral values of conservatism are pure emptiness. Conservatives are amoral because their values are merely reactions. The “habits and mores of American life” are defined in reactionary terms, as against progressive ideas—therefore against women’s rights, against abortion rights, against civil rights, against the peace movement, against any ideas of corporate accountability or responsibility. The sham of conservative values naturally resulted in the travesty that is George W. Bush. He is not an anomaly—far from it. George W. Bush is the natural and predictable result of the conservative movement. He is the legitimate heir to Reagan, not a mistake or a bastard child. One could even say that George W. Bush is an almost perfect example of the way conservative ideology eventually merges into pure selfishness and stupidity. In his simplistic way, he tears the fig leaf off of right-wing ideology: “limited government” is revealed as “I just want mine” and “Who cares what you think?”
The conservatives who now claim that Bush doesn’t speak for them, who are trying to tell us that “true” conservatism is something different from what we’re seeing now, are like Dr. Frankenstein claiming that he didn’t mean to create a monster. The conservative project has resulted in such disaster for America, has become such an ugly, repellent, oppressive cluster-fuck of insanity, that the conservative intellectual, clinging to his delusional ideas, recoils from the image in the mirror and tries to explain that the reflection is not really him, it’s something else, something different than what we’ve been seeing for the past thirty years and more. I almost feel sorry for them. But I am not fooled.