Monday, June 23, 2008

Eye of Newt

“This court decision is a disaster which could cost us a city. And the debate ought to be over whether or not you're prepared to risk losing an American city on behalf of five lawyers…”

That’s Newt Gingrich on Face the Nation after the Supreme Court’s recent 5-4 decision striking down the Bush regime’s denial of habeas corpus to Guantanamo detainees.

Glenn Greenwald, arguably the most eloquent blogger on the planet, explains why this is fear-mongering of the worst kind, and documents other instances in which Gingrich has used the same wording about “losing a city.”

It’s hard to add anything to what he said, but the fiery outrage I feel demands that I try.

First of all, I’d like to know how allowing a human being the minimum due process of appearing in a court of law would cause us to “lose a city.” This is an example of pure nonsense without any rational foundation being peddled on the public stage as if it had substance. Gingrich wants us to believe that the only way we can prevent destruction of a city is to throw people in cages for the rest of their lives at the whim of the executive.

The few examples offered by Bush of terror plots prevented through his methods have all been debunked as pathetic lies or entrapments, exaggerated for political capital. The UK, on the other hand, has actually prevented some plots, and they treat terrorism as a criminal matter for the courts and police, not a phony macho war on terror.

The Bush regime doesn’t want any legal daylight shed on their little concentration camp because that would expose them as the criminal outfit they are. They want to keep torturing people without any consequences. And that’s all this is.

Secondly, I’d like to point out that we’ve already lost a city. It’s called New Orleans, and the Republicans deliberately let it drown because they don’t give a damn about Americans who don’t look like them or go to their country clubs. They weren’t even able to respond competently when the chips were down, so anything they say now about security should never be believed.

In any case, what Gingrich is saying in layman’s terms is, “If the Supreme Court doesn’t allow us to practice our disgusting perversions, you and your family will die.” He’s saying to the American people, “You must consent to human beings being forced to lick their own feces, being chained to a wall without food or water for days, being tied up in stress positions, being beaten to a pulp and shoved underwater, undergoing sexual humiliation and endless sleep deprivation—you must accept all these things and more, or else you and your loved ones could be killed.” That’s what it amounts to.

To Newt Gingrich, the death of an entire city is nothing but a rhetorical strategy, a trick to keep him and his friends in power. All the people in his hypothetical city are nothing more to him than a chess piece or a bargaining chip. And it demonstrates that he is a revolting piece of garbage that should be hauled off the public stage forever instead of being interviewed on network television.

He’s not the only one, either. Not by a long shot. Republicans have been addicted to this tactic for far too long. The slimeball John Bolton said the other day that the only things electing Obama would accomplish are more terrorist attacks. These wingnuts have a compulsion to threaten the American people unless we elect them and agree with them and always let them have their way. They’re like a madman waving a gun around and screaming about how the boogie man is going to get us. If you’re more worried about the boogie man than the madman waving a gun, you’re a fool.

Furthermore, whatever threat there actually is out there, bed-wetters like Gingrich and Bolton aren’t protecting us from it. If there’s a crisis going on, do you want some wild-eyed hysterical coward yelling “We’re all going to die unless you follow me!” while he shits his pants? No, it’s the calm and collected person, the person who can accurately assess the threat, rally the spirits of those around him, and reaffirm our human values, that we trust to lead us in a crisis. But the neocon artists have turned this topsy-turvy so that wetting the bed is now considered toughness, while actual courage and intelligence is derided.

Perhaps the most despicable aspect of this country’s right-wing is how they’ve cynically exploited the tragedy of 9/11 to advance their interests. They have gleefully enlisted the people who were murdered on that day in order to win elections, make money, attack anyone who disagrees with them, and destroy American institutions and values. Deep down inside, Newt Gingrich and his friends loved 9/11. They rejoiced inwardly when it happened. It meant new life for their outdated politics of hate.

And not only do they love 9/11—they want it to happen again. “Please God,” Newt Gingrich secretly prays, “prove me right. Resurrect my career. Show these liberals what’s what. Please, Lord—destroy a city.”

Monday, June 16, 2008

Security Fraud

In the stacked deck of political jargon that passes for policy these days, security is the trump card. With this magic word, our American autocrats answer all arguments and halt all opponents, actual and potential, in their tracks. Everyone wants to be safe. We don’t want our lives and families threatened by violence. We need security in order to live a reasonably happy life. But what is it, really?

That’s a question that generally isn’t asked. To really explore what security means would involve challenging the mental shorthand that has replaced thought in the public discourse. We just assume we know what it means. In the mouths of politicians and pundits, it means being safe from enemies. And who are these enemies? Right now they are Muslim terrorists, who are generally equated, by extension, with all Muslims. The people talking a lot about security are very enthusiastic about the threat posed by these terrorists. When I was growing up, the Communists were the enemies that we were constantly being reminded of. Presumably, if terrorists ceased to be credible enemies at some point, we would find other enemies to obsess about.

Very soon after the atrocities of 9/11, a question began to be posed by politicians and pundits, and echoed by innumerable flocks of human parrots: how much freedom are we willing to give up for our security? It’s a revealing question. For one thing, it assumes that freedom and security are in some fashion opposed—that an increase in one involves the diminution of another. Freedom is seen as insecure, risky, dangerous. Enemies can take advantage of freedom in order to kill us. There is a sense that freedom is a sort of luxury, or a privilege granted to us by our masters that may have to be taken away for our own good if security is threatened.

I can understand how freedom would necessarily involve risk, if we think of simple freedom of movement or of choice, since there’s always the possibility that someone will choose to hurt us, or even attempt to undermine society. So imagine a society where there is no freedom of movement or choice—you are told where to live, where to work, whom you can associate with, when and where to travel. Would that be security? Would you feel secure? Paradoxically, you would probably feel much less secure in such a society. The absence of choice, the domination of your movements and actions by the state, would inevitably produce more insecurity, more of a sense of fear, than the relatively modest risks posed by general freedom of choice and movement.

We know this is true from experience. Totalitarian states attempted just such social control in the name of security, and the result was an all-pervasive sense of dread. In East Germany, for instance, people stopped being able to trust anyone, even family or friends. One never knew if a conversation was being reported to, or recorded by, the secret police. So if this is security, it’s the security of a caged animal.

The issue is complicated, of course, by the fact that there are those who think they will benefit from such an arrangement—the military, spy, and secret police classes that become the privileged elements of society. Such a system rewards those who thrive on domination, suspicion, and the perpetual hunting of enemies, but even they can become victims of the system if they make the wrong move.

Many Americans seem to think that we are immune from such possibilities. A major element in the infantile mythology that we are fed growing up is that America is inherently good and decent, and therefore everything it does is right. So even though we have a military, spy, and secret police apparatus of our own, and it has been clearly proved time and time again that illegal, corrupt, and immoral acts have been perpetrated in secret by the state and its corporate funders, a large percentage of the population remains naively oblivious to the dangers.

It’s important to note that to shatter the mythology of America’s inherent goodness does not mean that we should believe that America is inherently bad and indecent. That is equally infantile. It is simply to recognize that a country is not a simple entity with simple moral qualities, but a complex human reality in which any number of actions and outcomes can occur, good, bad, or indifferent. American autocrats promote this stupid idea of “America” in order to keep citizens powerless. Essentially, the country—the people—is equated with the government, so that if you criticize the government, you’re criticizing the goodness of America. In other words, shut and up and let your betters take care of things.

A key element in the public’s willingness to let go of civil liberties in order to be safe from enemies is simple, self-centered blindness to our own stake in the matter. When people reflexively support torture at Guantanamo, or racial profiling, or the NSA wiretapping, what I hear is, “That couldn’t happen to me.” And why can’t that happen to me? Not because of the Bill of Rights or habeas corpus or anything involving principles. No, it can’t happen to me because I have white skin, or I’m in a higher income bracket, or I support conservative politicians. That’s the deadly illusion. It’s based on seeing all others besides my own group, my family, my buddies, as expendable at best and enemies at worst. It’s the Bush ethos in a nutshell—as long as my friends and I are prospering, what do I care about a bunch of people I don’t know? That’s why elections end up being about the economy—the bodies of Iraqi children can pile up for miles without much protest, but if Joe Citizen’s wallet starts to get light, well, watch out.

We understand this. We understand it all too well. But the fact is, it’s ultimately self-defeating. If all you’re willing to fight for is the right to own your little pile of stuff, you’ll end up ruled by fear, if only the fear that someone is going to take your stuff away. Cheney talks about defending the American way of life. He doesn’t mean freedom—he means our ability to hold on to all of our stuff, and the rest of the world be damned.

Security receives even more rhetorical weight when you add the word “national” to it. For many years now, national security has been the reason for every government action that will not withstand public scrutiny. What was Nixon’s argument against turning over his tapes? National security. Why was Oliver North proud of breaking the law? National security, gentlemen. Why did George W. Bush do everything he could to obstruct the 9/11 Commission? You get the picture. National security means no oversight, no accountability—the spooks should do whatever they want without you knowing. Notice, however, that the government is not really preventing information from reaching “the enemy,” it’s preventing it from reaching you.

National security doesn’t even mean safety for you and your family any more. It means safety for the government. If the nukes start flying, there’s a plan for all the big important people to go underground into their secret command bunkers—it’s called “continuity of government”—while the rest of us fry. Rather than take a hard look at the essential insecurity of having nuclear annihilation hanging over our heads, the war party has instituted a pre-emptive nuclear doctrine. They talk about using “small” nukes like the so-called “bunker busters.”

It should be evident by now that security has become a perfectly empty concept that means whatever the political elites want it to mean. In point of fact, actual security, in any meaningful sense, is rapidly diminishing. Even the fat old Wall Street dynamo—Cheney’s “American way of life,” the consumerist paradise—is crumbling under the weight of endless war debt. And in the midst of imperial debacle, the old truth, even that slaveholder Jefferson’s truth, becomes crystal clear: rights that are inalienable—freedom, equality, justice—are the only true security.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The same old crowd

While the media continues to distract us with the interminable dog-and-pony show known as the “presidential election,” the likelihood of an attack on Iran continues to rise.

Polls show that about 60% of the American public think we should pursue talks with Iran. But, as Dick Cheney said in another context: “So?” The political classes and their media parrots apparently don’t fall within that 60%. Once again, and for the umpteenth time, we find ourselves in a position of watching helplessly while the elites prepare to sink us into further chaos and destruction.

The two main reasons—excuses, I should say—are Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its arming of militias in Iraq. Both are the products of exaggeration, distortion, and outright deception. There are many reasons why attacking Iran is a terrible idea. William R. Polk offered a good summary of them a few months ago. But there’s one very simple and elemental reason that generally goes unremarked in the mainstream media, although I am by no means the first to point it out in the blogosphere. And that is: that the same group of people who ran the Iraq War would be coordinating the attack on Iran.

In other words, even if you thought there was a possible rationale for attacking Iran—which I don’t think, but let’s just talk hypothetically—such an attack would be doomed to have disastrous results for us simply because it would be initiated by the Bush administration.

Call me old fashioned, but I think a record of failure should count for something when the people and organizations that have failed are proposing new projects. Especially something as important and hazardous as an act of war. Now, when I say a “record of failure,” I am aware that the phrase is too mild to completely describe the situation. In fact, the Bush administration has brought the art of failure to a level of perfection never before achieved in the annals of U.S. politics. In our decadent version of the ancient story of Midas, the Bush regime has managed to turn every single thing it touches into pure shit.

I challenge anyone to come up with one Bush policy or initiative that has not been a corrupt, despicable failure. There isn’t one. These people have been wrong on everything with breathtaking consistency. The invasion and occupation of Iraq, to cite only the most obvious example, has been a disaster of unimaginable proportions, a stinking cesspool of rapacity, callous destruction, and mass murder. Bush has destroyed that country, and we can not yet calculate the extent of the damage he’s done to his own. Naturally we notice the economic impact, although the media acts as if the war has nothing to do with the recession. Worse has been the impact on the men who were sent to Iraq, and the degradation of our own souls by being a party to these crimes against humanity.

So why should we ever again trust these people with a decision to go to war? Credibility is a finite quantity. To forget what has gone before, acting as if this Iran situation can be effectively managed by this group of politicians at this time, is insane. Nothing they say can be trusted—they lie every time they move their lips. When they carry out their intentions, the results have always been bad. They have long ago run out of chances to prove that they can be right about anything, or effective in carrying out the duties of government. The entire debate, if it can be called that, is invalid already because the people who are arguing for an attack are proven criminals.

This is a primary example, I may add, of why the Democrats failed the country so gravely in not pursuing impeachment. Even if conviction was unlikely, and even if impeachment would have hurt Democratic election chances (the usual excuse, which I dispute), it was the right thing to do because it would help tie this administration up in a survival for its political life instead of being given tacit permission to continue to act as if it were a legitimate government that can be trusted to take us to war.