Monday, July 31, 2006
Unlike Gore, who gave in timidly, and Kerry, who did not even entertain the idea of a fight following the Ohio fraud, here's what happens when a candidate stands up. The scene (picture from the New York Times) is a rally addressed by Lopez Obrador, the candidate who says he was cheated f victory by election fraud.
What if Gore and Kerry had been more like Obrador? This is the title of an article some weeks back by Terry Curtis Fox. A great piece which makes the point that leaders are supposed to lead. Leaders of the people are supposed to lead people, not talk at them from behind a phalanx of focus group runners, ad mavens and pollsters. Fox makes the point that, even if Gore's public rallies, protests, boycotts, etc. had failed and Bush ended up becoming president anyhow, it would have chastened the administration. As it was, the meek concession spurred them to on to greater levels of brazenness.
An old article by Niranjan Ramakrishnan, "The Silence of the Lambs", written shortly after the 2000 elections, makes the same point. Democracy flourishes when people demonstrate that they have a stake.
Sunday, July 30, 2006
A Senate Race in Connecticut
Earlier this year, Senator Joseph Lieberman’s seat seemed so secure that — legend has it — some people at the Republican nominating convention in Connecticut started making bleating noises when the party picked a presumed sacrificial lamb to run against the three-term senator, who has been a fixture in Connecticut politics for more than 35 years.
But Mr. Lieberman is now in a tough Democratic primary against a little-known challenger, Ned Lamont. The race has taken on a national character. Mr. Lieberman’s friends see it as an attempt by hysterical antiwar bloggers to oust a giant of the Senate for the crime of bipartisanship. Lamont backers — most of whom seem more passionate about being Lieberman opponents — say that as one of the staunchest supporters of the Iraq war, Mr. Lieberman has betrayed his party by cozying up to President Bush.
This primary would never have happened absent Iraq. It’s true that Mr. Lieberman has fallen in love with his image as the nation’s moral compass. But if pomposity were a disqualification, the Senate would never be able to call a quorum. He has voted with his party in opposing the destructive Bush tax cuts, and despite some unappealing rhetoric in the Terri Schiavo case, he has strongly supported a woman’s right to choose. He has been one of the Senate’s most creative thinkers about the environment and energy conservation.
But this race is not about résumés. The United States is at a critical point in its history, and Mr. Lieberman has chosen a controversial role to play. The voters in Connecticut will have to judge whether it is the right one.
As Mr. Lieberman sees it, this is a fight for the soul of the Democratic Party — his moderate fair-mindedness against a partisan radicalism that alienates most Americans. “What kind of Democratic Party are we going to have?” he asked in an interview with New York magazine. “You’ve got to agree 100 percent, or you’re not a good Democrat?”
That’s far from the issue. Mr. Lieberman is not just a senator who works well with members of the other party. And there is a reason that while other Democrats supported the war, he has become the only target. In his effort to appear above the partisan fray, he has become one of the Bush administration’s most useful allies as the president tries to turn the war on terror into an excuse for radical changes in how this country operates.
Citing national security, Mr. Bush continually tries to undermine restraints on the executive branch: the system of checks and balances, international accords on the treatment of prisoners, the nation’s longtime principles of justice. His administration has depicted any questions or criticism of his policies as giving aid and comfort to the terrorists. And Mr. Lieberman has helped that effort. He once denounced Democrats who were “more focused on how President Bush took America into the war in Iraq” than on supporting the war’s progress.
At this moment, with a Republican president intent on drastically expanding his powers with the support of the Republican House and Senate, it is critical that the minority party serve as a responsible, but vigorous, watchdog. That does not require shrillness or absolutism. But this is no time for a man with Mr. Lieberman’s ability to command Republicans’ attention to become their enabler, and embrace a role as the president’s defender.
On the Armed Services Committee, Mr. Lieberman has left it to Republicans like Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to investigate the administration’s actions. In 2004, Mr. Lieberman praised Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for expressing regret about Abu Ghraib, then added: “I cannot help but say, however, that those who were responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on September 11th, 2001, never apologized.” To suggest even rhetorically that the American military could be held to the same standard of behavior as terrorists is outrageous, and a good example of how avidly the senator has adopted the Bush spin and helped the administration avoid accounting for Abu Ghraib.
Mr. Lieberman prides himself on being a legal thinker and a champion of civil liberties. But he appointed himself defender of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the administration’s policy of holding hundreds of foreign citizens in prison without any due process. He seconded Mr. Gonzales’s sneering reference to the “quaint” provisions of the Geneva Conventions. He has shown no interest in prodding his Republican friends into investigating how the administration misled the nation about Iraq’s weapons. There is no use having a senator famous for getting along with Republicans if he never challenges them on issues of profound importance.
If Mr. Lieberman had once stood up and taken the lead in saying that there were some places a president had no right to take his country even during a time of war, neither he nor this page would be where we are today. But by suggesting that there is no principled space for that kind of opposition, he has forfeited his role as a conscience of his party, and has forfeited our support.
Mr. Lamont, a wealthy businessman from Greenwich, seems smart and moderate, and he showed spine in challenging the senator while other Democrats groused privately. He does not have his opponent’s grasp of policy yet. But this primary is not about Mr. Lieberman’s legislative record. Instead it has become a referendum on his warped version of bipartisanship, in which the never-ending war on terror becomes an excuse for silence and inaction. We endorse Ned Lamont in the Democratic primary for Senate in Connecticut.
Friday, July 21, 2006
A perilous excursion into the distant past, starting seven whole weeks ago
Hezbollah, Hamas and Israel: Everything You Need To Know
By ALEXANDER COCKBURN
As the tv networks give unlimited airtime to Israel’s apologists, the message rolls out that no nation, least of all Israel, can permit bombardment or armed incursion across its borders without retaliation.
The guiding rule in this tsunami of drivel is that the viewers should be denied the slightest access to any historical context, or indeed to anything that happened prior to June 28, which was when the capture of an Israeli soldier and the killing of two others by Hamas hit the headlines, followed soon thereafter by an attack by a unit of Hezbollah’s fighters.
Memory is supposed to stop in its tracks at June 28, 2006.
Let’s go on a brief excursion into pre-history. I’m talking about June 20, 2006, when Israeli aircraft fired at least one missile at a car in an attempted extrajudicial assassination attempt on a road between Jabalya and Gaza City. The missile missed the car. Instead it killed three Palestinian children and wounded 15.
Back we go again to June 13, 2006. Israeli aircraft fired missiles at a van in another attempted extrajudicial assassination. The successive barrages killed nine innocent Palestinians.
Now we’re really in the dark ages, reaching far, far back to June 9, 2006, when Israel shelled a beach in Beit Lahiya killing 8 civilians and injuring 32.
That’s just a brief trip down Memory Lane, and we trip over the bodies of twenty dead and forty-seven wounded, all of them Palestinians, most of them women and children.
Israel regrets… But no! Israel doesn’t regret in the least. Most of the time it doesn’t even bother to pretend to regret. It says, “We reserve the right to slaughter Palestinians whenever we want. We reserve the right to assassinate their leaders, crush their homes, steal their water, tear out their olive groves, and when they try to resist we call them terrorists intent on wrecking the ‘peace process’”.
Now Israel says it wants to wipe out Hezbollah. It wishes no harm to the people of Lebanon, just so long as they’re not supporters of Hezbollah, or standing anywhere in the neighborhood of a person or a house or a car or a truck or a road or a bus or a field, or a power station or a port that might, in the mind of an Israeli commander or pilot, have something to do with Hezbollah. In any of those eventualities all bets are off. You or your wife or your mother or your baby get fried.
Israel regrets… But no! As noted above, it doesn’t regret in the least. Neither does George Bush, nor Condoleezza Rice nor John Bolton who is the moral savage who brings shame on his country each day that he sits as America’s ambassador (unconfirmed) at the UN and who has just told the world that a dead Israel civilian is worth a whole more in terms of moral outrage than a Lebanese one.
None of them regrets. They say Hezbollah is a cancer in the body of Lebanon. Sometimes, to kill the cancer, you end up killing the body. Or bodies. Bodies of babies. Lots of them. Go to the website fromisraeltolebanon.info and take a look. Then sign the petition on the site calling on the governments of the world to stop this barbarity.
You can say that Israel brought Hezbollah into the world. You can prove it too, though this too involves another frightening excursion into history.
This time we have to go far, almost unimaginably far, back into history. Back to 1982, before the dinosaurs, before CNN, before Fox TV, before O’Reilly and Limbaugh. But not before the neo-cons who at that time had already crawled from the primal slime and were doing exactly what they are doing now: advising an American president to give Israel the green light to “solve its security problems” by destroying Lebanon.
In 1982 Israel had a problem. Yasir Arafat, headquartered in Beirut, was making ready to announce that the PLO was prepared to sit down with Israel and embark on peaceful, good faith negotiations towards a two-state solution.
Israel didn’t want a two-state solution, which meant -- if UN resolutions were to be taken seriously -- a Palestinian state right next door, with water, and contiguous territory. So Israel decided chase the PLO right out of Lebanon. It announced that the Palestinian fighters had broken the year-long cease-fire by lobbing some shells into northern Israel.
Palestinians had done nothing of the sort. I remember this very well, because Brian Urquhart, at that time assistant secretary general of the United Nations, in charge of UN observers on Israel’s northern border, invited me to his office on the 38th floor of the UN hq in mid-Manhattan and showed me all the current reports from the zone. For over a year there’d been no shelling from north of the border. Israel was lying.
With or without a pretext Israel wanted to invade Lebanon. So it did, and rolled up to Beirut. It shelled Lebanese towns and villages and bombed them from the air. Sharon’s forces killed maybe 20,000 people, and let Lebanese Christians slaughter hundreds of Palestinian refugees in the camps of Sabra and Chatilla.
The killing got so bad that even Ronald Reagan awoke from his slumbers and called Tel Aviv to tell Israel to stop. Sharon gave the White House the finger by bombing Beirut at the precise times -- 2.42 and 3.38 -- of two UN resolutions calling for a peaceful settlement on the matter of Palestine.
When the dust settled over the rubble, Israel bunkered down several miles inside Lebanese sovereign territory, which it illegally occupied, in defiance of all UN resolutions, for years, supervising a brutal local militia and running its own version of Abu Graibh, the torture center at the prison of Al-Khiam.
Occupy a country, torture its citizens and in the end you face resistance. In Israel’s case it was Hezbollah, and in the end Hezbollah ran Israel out of Lebanon, which is why a lot of Lebanese regard Hezbollah not as terrorists but as courageous liberators.
The years roll by and Israel does its successful best to destroy all possibility of a viable two-state solution. It builds illegal settlements. It chops up Palestine with Jews-only roads. It collars all the water. It cordons off Jerusalem. It steals even more land by bisecting Palestinian territory with its “fence”. Anyone trying to organize resistance gets jailed, tortured, or blown up.
Sick of their terrible trials, Palestinians elect Hamas, whose leaders make it perfectly clear that they are ready to deal on the basis of the old two-state solution, which of course is the one thing Israel cannot endure. Israel doesn’t want any “peaceful solution” that gives the Palestinians anything more than a few trashed out acres surrounded with barbed wire and tanks, between the Israeli settlements whose goons can murder them pretty much at will.
So here we are, 24 years after Sharon did his best to destroy Lebanon in 1982, and his heirs are doing it all over again. Since they can’t endure the idea of any just settlement for Palestinians, it’s the only thing they know how to do. Call Lebanon a terror-haven and bomb it back to the stone age. Call Gaza a terror-haven and bomb its power plant, first stop on the journey back to the stone age. Bomb Damascus. Bomb Teheran.
Of course they won’t destroy Hezbollah. Every time they kill another Lebanese family, they multiply hatred of Israel and support for Hezbollah. They’ve even unified the parliament in Baghdad, which just voted unanimously -- Sunnis and Shi’ites and Kurds alike -- to deplore Israel’s conduct and to call for a ceasefire.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these little excursions into history, even though history is dangerous, which is why the US press gives it a wide birth. But even without the benefit of historical instruction, a majority of Americans in CNN’s instant poll –- about 55 per cent out of 800,000 as of midday, July 19 -- don’t like what Israel is up to.
Dislike is one thing, but at least in the short term it doesn’t help much. Israel’s 1982 attack on Lebanon grew unpopular in the US, after the first few days. But forcing the US to pressure Israel to settle the basic problem takes political courage, and virtually no US politician is prepared to buck the Israel lobby, however many families in Lebanon and Gaza may be sacrificed on the altar of such cowardice.
From counterpunch.com, July 21, 2006.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Niranjan Ramakrishnan is a writer living in the USA. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Thank Heaven for 7-Eleven
Democracy rots from the inside out as a nation of telemarketers and war criminals parties on amid the stench.
A spring Sunday morning and I am at the politically incorrect 7-Eleven buying my cholesterol loaded half-and-half for my peasant slave labor grown coffee. In the parking lot, car speakers blare out Bob Marley from a grungy 1987 Olds Cutlass (the last year GM made 'em), while the owner, a Haitian guy, sits on the curb eating his Smokey Big Bite hot dog, sunshine pouring over the whole world sweet as that quart of chocolate milk he is going to wash it all down with. Bob Marley is singing "One Love" and that Smokey smells so damned good I order one for myself and settle in next to that Haitian dude. And I think, "Is this a great fucking country or what? Yessiree, the world's best hope."
And it is. Or was. Or something. Ask any poor suffering bastard in the garbage dumps of Mumbai or Caracas to name the best place in the world to live and most will answer "The United States." Maybe it's for all the wrong reasons. And surely the image is driven by the global hype and bullshit of an America that cannot get over itself -- cannot pause from its huckstering long enough to see that the America of both John Wayne and FDR quit circling the drain thirty years ago. It has since been pulled asunder by spectacular greed and the learned helplessness of the consumer state. And denial. The kind that allows us to sanctify the young men starring in that horrific snuff flick over in Iraq as "heroes." But we were talking about the third world weren't we? Where if you are eating spoiled cat meat and getting raped nightly in a Bangkok slum, things like a Cutlass gunboat with busted springs and a Smokey Big Bite on a Sunday morning look good. Damned good. There is not much that cannot be explained by population geography and proximity to basic goods and services. This is not wasted upon the predatory few among us concerned with capturing, holding and blackmailing others for access to them under our free market system. It's a brutal process, one we can only coexist with through ironclad denial. Did free people make your clothes? Mine neither.
My Dutch friend Bram is mystified at our denial, which he says "is spooky." "How can anyone sustain such a thing?" Well, it's easy when you are born numb. Most of us born under American extremist capitalism are inured to its sheer brutality. To Americans, it's just the way things are. The world is a tough place. We agree that god has blessed us; we deserve what we have and let it go at that. Citizens born under the Third Reich felt the same way about their consensual reality. Not many of us can grasp the national hubris involved, thanks to the heady patrio-religious mythology of American exceptionalism in which we were spawned and educated in preparation for adulthood as citizens of the consumer state. Collectively, we feel exempt from human folly because our particular god, the Christian God, the Jewish God, The Mormon God, the Seventh Day Adventist God, Muslim God or whatever one's cult deems divine, has chosen us. Whatever we think we are as liberals, your nation and mine, the government we are responsible for has always acted on these beliefs, destroying whole nations, peoples and the planet under that exceptionalist banner. At some point, liberals and neocons and the apolitical alike, are going to have to own all of America's history, not just the parts we prefer. For instance, it was FDR who packed off all those decent Japanese families off to internment camps. Abraham Lincoln loved his nigger jokes. Bram remains mystified.
Mercifully enough, the same predatory American capitalism that generates so much of the world's misery renders its own citizens irrelevant save for their purchasing power, to the entire process and therefore guiltless -- in their own minds at least -- of the empire's crimes. Such is the unburdened material happiness granted us. It is not hard for Americans to conclude that we are outside of, and therefore irrelevant to global events or changes. We are waaaaay over here on this vast continent with only a media generated holograph to tell us who we are as a people and as individuals. And it tells us we foremost are citizens of a state which suffers no diversion from profitability. The vast majority of Americans don't even know there is a global reality, except in the sense that the price of gasoline is affected by some swarthy peoples living in a sandy place full of terrorists somewhere else on the globe. We know the price of gas and we know what we are going to rent at the video store on Friday. We know what we will eat at the restaurant on Saturday and when the game is televised on Sunday. Personally, I also know that four blocks from where I sit writing this an old man named Virgil pulled one of his own teeth last week because he cannot afford a dentist. Rather than kick out a little dough Virgil's way, I poured a shot of Woodford Reserve and was grateful I have dental insurance. Being "grateful for what we have" is the time honored American mantra used to mask denial.
Thus we express gratitude for what the corpocracy bestows us, convinced that we are flourishing in those big box store isles of Kansas or in the soft leather booths of the martini bar off Central Park, depending upon one's class. It only took a couple of generations to accept and then enjoy the reduced humanity but increased flood of material stuff as a bona fide life experience. Beat off to internet porn and NFL football while the wife sleeps alone. The state generated hologram IS reality. Reality IS the image, not the flesh. It's true of all of us. I have done it and still do it. I know. And you more than likely do too. Let's not kid ourselves here.
Even as the empire is coming down around us all very few can possibly believe it. Why should they? Nothing seems to have changed their particular religious or political camps. Literate and thoughtful liberals can still watch Brit coms and send their kids to Shakespeare camp. Less than literate Fox Network watching worker bee Republicans can still sup on the easy piety of cross and flag…ogle Anne Coulter's boney ass. And Joe Six-pack still scratches his belly in irrelevance as the elites of two political priesthoods struggle, one to get their mitts deeper into the national treasury, the other to convince us that Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden actually have blood in their veins. The next elections, both parties tell us, will determine the fate of our nation. Really? Regardless of who wins, Joe Six-pack will lose. Virgil will lose. The rest of us will continue being carried along by the media hologram of political lies and profitable illusions that hold it all together. Today I read a news story about how the massacre of Iraqi families in Hidatha "traumatized" our heroes. What do you call a republic that dishes up such shit up to its citizens? What do you call the citizens who mindlessly swallow it? What do you call people who do not march in the streets and start fires in protest of a horrific regime that guts small democracies, slaughters whole families and villages abroad and rigs the ballot boxes at home? What do you call such deniers of the obvious? Of course we can safely call the latter modern Democrats, but that is another story.
In any case, most liberals/leftists/progressives, or whatever the hell one calls such an ineffectual bunch of twits, refuse to even consider open resistance. They exist in the same prison of learned helplessness and planet devouring gluttony as conservatives, but with New Age or pseudo-leftist wallpaper. I have an awful suspicion they will never be brave again in their lives, assuming they ever were.
There seems to be no warning people of the lie they have swallowed, the black thing they have eaten and which now devours them from within. The "American lifestyle," the "good life," was such a comfortable lie to swallow. And because the material world trumps the mind and therefore trumps less quantifiable stuff such as freedom and insight quite easily, the black thing is now chewing at the Constitution which, being essentially a property document, was never all that strong to begin with. But it's all we have. As resident bully of human consciousness, the reptilian brain so easily slashes and chaws through the limbic one, announcing the supremacy of the fist and the gullet over the higher self. "I can eat these tortilla chips (or perhaps nine dollar a pound organically pastured chicken breast, or whatever it is that socially responsible rich people eat) and watch plasma TV right now. But I would have to go to the library to get On Walden Pond, which I never heard of anyway. Take to the streets? What for? "Pass me the salsa, honey." I do this myself almost nightly. There may be no saving me or the world, or mankind in the world from itself. Realization will come the hard way, which is how humanity learns. Too late and at a terrible cost.
Meanwhile, we remain obedient, not disturbing of our comfort, save maybe once a year for a rote "demonstration" downtown for or against something or other, the school bond or the war in Iraq, during which we are flushed with joy at the site of so many of our own kind, but having demonstrated only that such displays are just that -- displays. Toothless displays in a predatory system that respects only the fang and the claw. The newspapers print a photo next day, we dispute their estimated number of demonstrators, and then we settle back into obedience.
Americans have always been an obedient people, proud to be answerable and obedient to the nation's law and god, with one reinforcing the other somehow in the national mind. Obedient people do not look up from their assigned cubicles; do not ask if their work is meaningful or contributory to mankind. Never question the way things are. Not in church, nor in daily life. And if the air reeks of a republic rotting from the inside out, you just hold your nose.
Consequently, we are we forced to acknowledge the fiction of self governance, though voting power never gets in the way of elite agendas such as tax breaks and war profits (though it may slow them down at times, giving the illusion of voting power to a nation with no memory whatsoever.) The pretense reaches its most absurd levels during national elections, where self-governance is put to the test. For instance, no matter who won in the 2004 presidential elections, this country would still have been lead by a member of the Skull and Bones Society. What are the odds of that happening? In a nation of 295 million people our choice came down to two members of one of the most exclusive and secretive clubs on the planet. Do you really believe in coincidences like that? I don't. Nobody does. But we pretend to because the truth is just too awful for anyone with more than an inch of forehead to contemplate.
Yet, unimaginable as it may seem, there are even worse things afoot to contemplate. Forces such as the emerging Christian militia, the Joshua generation, a runaway military establishment, to name a few, working fanatically to make our obedience ever more lethal. Yesterday I saw a photo of 25,000 young fundamentalist Americans marching in Philadelphia and San Francisco in support of a theocratic state. I can honestly say I was completely unnerved by it. Those little electrical nerve waves went through my entire body, the kind that happen when you see a car wreck take place. I live around fundamentalist Christians, my whole family is fundamentalist Christian and I know what they are capable of and indeed are planning to do given the chance. They are being led by the same types who formed the old white militia movements in the Seventies and Eighties before Timothy McVeigh rendered their public position untenable. I couldn't shut up about it and friends. But even the most "informed" ones looked at me like I was crazy, or at the very least, weirdly obsessive. These are not stupid people. They are simply Americans. And because we are friends, we moved on to another topic. This is the sort of strange national disconnect that has so many folks like myself silently screaming inside our heads.
And that is when we must do something something to stop the screaming, something utterly mundane and completely oblivious to break free of the hysterical grimness of it all. Like sit in the sun with a Smokey Big Bite and let Bob Marley "Stir it Up" right there in the parking lot. Grin along with some Haitian dude and watch a white trash mama in ridiculously tight shorts step around you, inches from your face on that curb by the 7-Eleven door, an ankle tattooed, cheap perfumed angel of god sent to remind us that, "Politics ain't everything Buster, and the world ain't all bad. Not by a long shot! Now finish that chowing down dog, get off your ass and go do the right thing."