Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Emperor has No Clothes

Those living in glass houses, etc. is well known. Yet, the hubris of the Bush administration is such that they actually tried to blame 9-11 on the Clinton Administration. As is well known, Clinton finally hit back (too little, too late, and too much in self-defense after being quiet and cozying up to the Bushies all these years as the country was going to hell) but nonetheless...

A mini- Ed Murrow for our times. Keith Olbermann of MSNBC broke the silence finally, in the mainstream media, and made this brilliant peroration. View it here.

300 Billion and Counting

Torturing the Obvious
Why this too shall pass

by Niranjan Ramakrishnan

According to the New York Times, a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) from April 2006 concludes the Iraq War has actually increased Islamic radicalism.

You don't say! Americans are shocked, shocked that our bombing, devastating and occupying a country that did us no harm would inflame its inhabitants and swell the ranks of those arrayed against America.

"Common Sense", wrote Einstein, "is prejudice acquired before the age of 18". In science, the obvious is often contrary to the truth, which is why scientists are sticklers for 'proof'. As Isaac Asimov said, anyone could 'see' that the sun revolved around the earth. Mistrusting the obvious is thus the first attribute of a scientist.

In human affairs, on the other hand, the obvious may be the most important thing. Not for nothing does the Declaration of Independence say, "We hold these truths to be self-evident". If instead, Thomas Jefferson were to have set out to prove why Life, Liberty and Happiness are essential commodities for human existence, the English might still be here. As it is, the document calls out to us across the centuries. The great leaps in politics are made by appeals to the heart, not the head.
The great truths (eternal verities, my dad called them) have no proof, nor are they pious. They are merely based on emprical, societal, experience. In the old saying "Honesty is the best Policy", the use of the word, "Policy" is worth noting. It appeals not to ideology or ethics, but to simple everyday practicality. It says that any temporary gains of dishonesty are bound to evaporate over the long run.

Devotion to such obvious truths was America's salvation. Its common sense was a uniter. It was obvious that rules were to be obeyed, that the law was majestic. Even more, it was obvious that the law acquired teeth not by adding provisions, but by first enforcing the few that existed. Scrapping or changing laws was difficult by design, but the laws on the books were respected. Even the 'American Street' seemed to have a working understanding of the Constitution and ordinary people were aware of things like the first or fourth amendments, no mean achievement for a large society.

What is one to say when, in a few short decades, the same people whose native pragmatism and instinctive linkage of societal and personal self-interest made their country unique, suddenly seem to have reached a stage where the obvious requires a dissertation? We have arrived in a milieu where coffee shops need to put up signs warning patrons that spilling hot coffee on your crotch can be painful.

How do we suddenly find ourslves here? Not so suddenly, in fact, for the signs have been there all along. As Michael Neumann wrote, the onset of Dementia Americana has its origins all the way back in the election of Ronald Reagan. Whether or not Neumann is correct, take a look at the list below; blunders that would have been immediately obvious to a previous generation, but which barely trouble the current one:
  • The proposition that budget deficits and lowered taxes would together usher in the millenium, an obvious crock, gives the Gipper a 49 state reelection win,

  • The notion that shutting down American factories and getting things manufactured abroad, touted and accepted as the way to enduring prosperity,

  • NAFTA, whose obvious consequence was described best by Ross Perot's "Giant Sucking Sound" (a prediction realized in greater measure than even Perot might have imagined)

  • The Environment, an American ideal dating back to Teddy Roosevelt, steadily under attack begining with James Watt, with state after state voting for the notion that land conservation was inimical to individual prosperity,

  • The obvious advantage of having a common language for the country, undermined by a tawdry appeal to multiculturalism and multilingualism (signs in every language, so long as we can sell in one of 'em!),

  • The country actually entertains a serious debate on whether illegal immigration is wrong,

  • President ignores warnings of 'bin Laden determined to strike inside the US', vacations, reads My Pet Goat, and refuses to order an inquiry into 9-11 until over a year later, when forced,

  • Responding to 15 hijackers coming from a country which financed madraasas and recognized Osama's hosts, by going to war against a country which had no connection to 9-11,

  • Responding to the attack by training our guns on the American Constitution, a la the Patriot Act, illegal wiretapping, detentions without trial...,

  • Reelecting a President who had not only flubbed 9-11, but was so obviously clueless three years later that he had to declare in the first presidential debate, "Of course I know Osama Bin Laden Attacked Us. I know that!".
Comedy happens when the fool pays inordinate attention to some trifling problem while disaster looms in the background, unnoticed by him but obvious to the audience. Tragedy too. While America gets riled up over gay rights (for or against) and engrossed in who won Survivor last night, state and country totter under a quarter century of determined movement (see James Kurth's excellent essay, The Rich Got Richer) toward a split society.

Now, three hundred billion dollars (and countless dead and maimed) have bought, we are told, the spread of Islamic radicalism.

The obvious solution? Go after those who leaked the story, of course. And thank God for that brand new torture agreement. Now at least the President is bound (unless he decides otherwise) to permit the Times and the leakers to see the evidence.

Niranjan Ramakrishnan can be reached at njn_2003@yahoo.com. His blog is at http://njn-blogogram.blogspot.com.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Three 9-11's

P. Sainath writes of three 9-11's. This appeared in the Hindu on 9-11-2006.

Three 9/11s — choose your own
P. Sainath

There were three 9/11s in history. The New York one of 2001. The neo-liberal one of Chile 1973, and the non-violent one of 1906 — Gandhiji's satyagraha in South Africa. The authors of all three tried to change the world. Two brought bloodshed, destruction, misery, and chaos. But the Mahatma's WMD — Weapon of Mass Disobedience — helped change the world for the better.

FIVE YEARS on, the world is a more dangerous place than it was prior to September 11, 2001. Acts of terror, real and presumed, cause panic each month across the globe. Hundreds of people have been killed in terror attacks in many countries. Tens of thousands have been slaughtered in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone. Both nations have been ravaged and devastated. Millions of lives have been disrupted forever. Lebanon lies shattered. And more and more flashpoints — even nuclear ones — emerge. In a divided planet, there is one zone of agreement: the worst is yet to come.

The appalling crime committed in New York on 9/11 — when close to 3,000 people were murdered in the WTC bombing — is still fresh in memory. One claim of the time was that it had "changed the world forever." Did it? And in what ways? The West's search for security against a global threat continues. It was there in the 1960s too, when the satirical song writer Tom Lehrer sang an ode to it in his "MLF Lullaby." The `multilateral force' set up to `deter' the Russian threat was its subject. "MLF, will scare Brezhnev," crooned Lehrer, "I hope he is half as scared as I."

Changing the world in terms of `exporting democracy' has come a cropper. The bloodied streets of Iraq show us just how insane that notion was and is. As for Afghanistan, it gets more bizarre each month. Take the recent claim by British Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells. "Across the country progress is being made. Afghanistan had economic growth of 14% last year." Well, in 2003, the same country had the fastest rate of growth in the world — 21 per cent. More than half of that coming, as the United Nations noted, from opium. In any case, Afghanistan's figures improve if you just stop the bombing for a few hours. It's not hard when your base is zero. Or worse.

Both the crazies who brought down the WTC and those later responding to them, stay firmly convinced they are changing the world. The world itself remains somewhat stubbornly resistant to these notions. In every society, the Muslim-non-Muslin divide has deepened as neighbour suspects and lives in fear of neighbour. The war on terror translates too, into a war of suspicions and nerves. Meanwhile the basic pretexts for the assault on Iraq have collapsed. A U.S. Senate panel finds that Saddam had no link with Al-Qaeda whatsoever. And the weapons of mass destruction story has ceased to be even a joke.

Neo-Liberal 9/11
September 11, 1973. Then it was the export not of democracy but of terror. This was the day the elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile was brought down. By the Chilean armed forces led by General Augusto Pinochet. And fully supported by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Allende was pushing measures that favoured his nation's poor. But even the most modest re-distribution of wealth was intolerable to the Chilean elite. As also to the U.S. corporations controlling so much of the economy.

"Make the economy scream," President Nixon ordered CIA boss Richard Helms in 1970. His order was duly carried out. A vast array of overt and covert actions were launched to wreck that nation's economy. "I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves," declared Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

The 9/11 of 1973 saw what analyst and author William I. Robinson called "the bloodiest coup in Latin American history." Over 3,000 people were murdered after the armed forces bombed and stormed the Presidential Palace. Allende himself went down in the battle. Estimates of people killed in the years that followed range from 3,000 to 20,000. Well over 100,000 people were arrested in the first three years. Many simply "disappeared." The film Missing starring Jack Lemon was inspired by this period.

Chile's National Stadium was used as a concentration camp. Thousands suffered gruesome tortures. And many of them were slaughtered. Among those tortured and put to death here was the legendary Victor Jara, one of Latin America's greatest musicians.

Chile's 9/11 also marked the start of the imposition by force of a neo-liberal economic model on an unwilling nation. U.S. economist Milton Friedman and his "Chicago Boys" ran riot in Chile. While the putschists raped, tortured and murdered pregnant mothers and children, neo-liberal policies had the same impact on the economy of the poor.

Some 25 years later, the U.S. and the Britain were still holding Gen. Pinochet's hand. The leader of Chile's bloody putsch was arrested in London while there on a visit. This followed an Interpol Red Notice. A warrant had been issued against him in Spain for crimes his junta had committed against Spanish citizens in Chile during his 17-year dictatorship. But his old friends in the West did not desert him. (The same powers are driving trials of war criminals in Iraq and elsewhere.) Pinochet is back in Chile — facing murder charges there too.

Latin America, though, is seeing a wave of anti-neo-liberal globalism protests. And a trashing of pro-U.S. regimes. Whether in Venezuela or Ecuador or Bolivia. Last year, tiny Uruguay became the first nation in the world to ban water privatisation. Others too, are reclaiming their natural resources from foreign corporations. The world is changing, but not in the way the authors of 9/11, 1973, hoped for. Moral authority in Latin America belongs to a Castro or a Chavez. No pro-U.S. leader comes anywhere close.

Non-violent 9/11
The first of the 9/11s did help change the world. That was the day Gandhiji's Satyagraha in South Africa first began — September 11, 1906. Today is the 100th anniversary of that launch of his non-violent resistance movement. Gandhiji was quite clear it was a war he was fighting against racism and colonial oppression in South Africa. A war he saw as touching anti-colonial sentiment in India as well. A war he felt he had a strategy for. "Only the general who conducts a campaign can know the objective of each particular move," he later wrote. "And as this was the first attempt to apply the principle of satyagraha to politics on a large scale, it is necessary any day that the public should have an idea of its development."

For decades, the weapon of mass disobedience he had developed rattled the British in India. Gandhiji always referred to 9/11, 1906, as the day it all began. "The term satyagraha was invented and employed in connection therewith," he wrote. And listed the times where he used it again — in India. It was to be used yet again in South Africa much later. It was also used by Martin Luther King in the civil rights struggle in the United States.

On that day in Johannesburg, the Indians Gandhiji spoke to were more than a little mystified by his notion that the might of the Empire could be engaged differently. It's a debate that lasts to this day. With no easy answers. Gandhiji himself acknowledged there were no "miraculous qualities as such in satyagraha..." And that a movement which lost sight of the truth would find the technique of little use.

Yet, the struggle put the South African government in the dock. It saw the repeal or suspension of some of the more obnoxious laws the Indians there were opposed to. Very importantly, it brought about a vital measure of Hindu-Muslim unity amongst Indians in South Africa for the first time. New factors were to make things a whole lot worse later. But at the time, it set off a process that caught on in many other parts of the British Empire. Not the least within India, led by Gandhiji himself.

The British had to contend with the rising of millions of ordinary people. His weapon and its allied tools helped forge great changes in Indian history. But this General was not for war. "War with all its glorification of brute force is essentially degrading," he wrote. "It demoralises those trained for it. It brutalises men of naturally gentle character. It outrages every beautiful canon of morality."

That was in an era when another global figure, then bigger than Gandhiji, had declared "War is the most natural, the most commonplace thing... War is life. ... all struggle is war." Hitler too, changed the world.

Three 9/11s. One that helped change the world for the better. Two that had much in common. The bloody slaughter of innocents, the brutalisation of millions. And the imposition of regimes hated and despised. Juntas with no legitimacy at all. Think of a Pinochet now hiding behind pleas of age, ill-health, and senility to escape justice Think of an Iraqi regime whose leaders almost no one can name. Or of a Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan whose writ barely runs across the presidential palace in Kabul. Who has to at all times be protected from his own people by American soldiers. Think also of a Henry Kissinger who has curbed his travel in recent years for fear of facing war crimes charges in more than one country in Europe. Think, too, of an old man who warned: "An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind."

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Friday, September 22, 2006

Krauthammer on the Pope's Remarks

Tolerance: A Two-Way Street

Friday, September 22, 2006; Page A17

Religious fanatics, regardless of what name they give their jealous god, invariably have one thing in common: no sense of humor. Particularly about themselves. It's hard to imagine Torquemada taking a joke well.

Today's Islamists seem to have not even a sense of irony. They fail to see the richness of the following sequence. The pope makes a reference to a 14th-century Byzantine emperor's remark about Islam imposing itself by the sword, and to protest this linking of Islam and violence:

In the West Bank and Gaza, Muslims attack seven churches.

· In London, the ever-dependable radical Anjem Choudary tells demonstrators at Westminster Cathedral that the pope is now condemned to death.

· In Mogadishu, Somali religious leader Abubukar Hassan Malin calls on Muslims to "hunt down" the pope. The pope not being quite at hand, they do the next best thing: shoot dead, execution-style, an Italian nun who worked in a children's hospital.

"How dare you say Islam is a violent religion? I'll kill you for it" is not exactly the best way to go about refuting the charge. But of course, refuting is not the point here. The point is intimidation.

First Salman Rushdie. Then the false Newsweek report about Koran-flushing at Guantanamo Bay. Then the Danish cartoons. And now a line from a scholarly disquisition on rationalism and faith given in German at a German university by the pope.

And the intimidation succeeds: politicians bowing and scraping to the mob over the cartoons; Saturday's craven New York Times editorial telling the pope to apologize; the plague of self-censorship about anything remotely controversial about Islam -- this in a culture in which a half-naked pop star blithely stages a mock crucifixion as the highlight of her latest concert tour.

In today's world, religious sensitivity is a one-way street. The rules of the road are enforced by Islamic mobs and abjectly followed by Western media, politicians and religious leaders.

The fact is that all three monotheistic religions have in their long histories wielded the sword. The Book of Joshua is knee-deep in blood. The real Hanukkah story, so absurdly twinned (by calendric accident) with the Christian festival of peace, is about a savage insurgency and civil war.

Christianity more than matched that lurid history with the Crusades, an ecumenical blood bath that began with the slaughter of Jews in the Rhineland, a kind of preseason warm-up to the featured massacres to come against the Muslims, with the sacking of the capital of Byzantium (the Fourth Crusade) thrown in for good measure.

And Islam, of course, spread with great speed from Arabia across the Mediterranean and into Europe. It was not all benign persuasion. After all, what were Islamic armies doing at Poitiers in 732 and the gates of Vienna in 1683? Tourism?

However, the inconvenient truth is that after centuries of religious wars, Christendom long ago gave it up. It is a simple and undeniable fact that the violent purveyors of monotheistic religion today are self-proclaimed warriors for Islam who shout "God is great" as they slit the throats of infidels -- such as those of the flight crews on Sept. 11, 2001 -- and are then celebrated as heroes and martyrs.

Just one month ago, two journalists were kidnapped in Gaza and were released only after their forced conversion to Islam. Where were the protests in the Islamic world at that act -- rather than the charge -- of forced conversion?

Where is the protest over the constant stream of vilification of Christianity and Judaism issuing from the official newspapers, mosques and religious authorities of Arab nations? When Sheik 'Atiyyah Saqr issues a fatwa declaring Jews "apes and pigs"? When Sheik Abd al-Aziz Fawzan al-Fawzan, professor of Islamic law, says on Saudi TV that "someone who denies Allah, worships Christ, son of Mary, and claims that God is one-third of a trinity. . . . Don't you hate the faith of such a polytheist?"

Where are the demonstrations, where are the parliamentary resolutions, where are the demands for retraction when the Mufti Sheik Ali Gum'a incites readers of al-Ahram, the Egyptian government daily, against "the true and hideous face of the blood-suckers . . . who prepare [Passover] matzos from human blood"?

The pope gives offense and the Mujaheddin al-Shura Council in Iraq declares that it "will break up the cross, spill the liquor and impose the 'jizya' [head] tax; then the only thing acceptable is conversion or the sword." This to protest the accusation that Islam might be spread by the sword.

As I said. No sense of irony.


Monday, September 11, 2006

Five Years after 9-11

What Happened?
When Anecdote Beat Principle

Niranjan Ramakrishnan

What's become of 'merica
Soothly, Who can say?
Bush and Cheney only grin
In a nasty way.
Justices are reticent
Senators are mute
But the belts of all their friends
Simply bulge with Loot.

--with apologies to Rudyard Kipling

However compelling the immediate drama, history's milestones are laid out in retrospective, not as things unfold. They are at best convenient markers for processes which are more significant by far. If events are the hares of history, flashy and flamboyant, processes are its tortoises, obstinate, relentless -- and conclusive.

We live in the Age of the Picture, where almost everything has to be made for TV, where reality itself is not exempt from adaptation. Because events lend themselves to graphic portrayal so much better than processes, which are tedious, it is natural, given our predeliction, that our dominant means of understanding be shaped around events. More people get their grasp of the world from watching 20 minutes of the evening news, than by reading the newspaper. This enforces its own reality.

Chances are that this glacial truth will determine our destiny more than 9-11 or the Iraq war. If the Battle of Waterloo was won in the playing fields of Eton, the twin towers clattered to the ground with the sound of phony debates in a hundred 'episodes' of Meet the Press, Larry King Live or Face the Nation, playing in the background on our TV sets. You cannot spend fifty years replacing the paradigm of reading and discussing issues with a culture of entertainement and sound-bite politicking (while your government is playing with fire all across the globe) without reaching a point where so much failure on so many fronts becomes possible.

Alexander Cockburn in his latest piece has loosed some withering scattershot in the direction of all those conspiracy buffs who claim that there is more to 9-11 than meets the eye. Don't these nuts know that even the best planned operations can go wrong, he asks. One is tempted to echo the Reverend Al Shapton, "I hope Bush is lying. The alternative is too scary to contemplate". If the notion of hundreds of people having to be involved in a conspiracy is troublesome, how about a conspiracy of millions? The cloak and dagger stealth of 9-11 is nothing as compared to the open machinations which brought forth the Iraq War, launching it with a huge majority of public support. That was a conspiracy of 290 million people, secure in the knowledge that the bombs would be falling elsewhere, even if a goodly number of them couldn't find Iraq on a map. Agatha Christie, in her bestselling Murder on the Orient Express, was far more modest.

And with public support for the war now headed south, is it fair to ask why such a huge majority has cratered? The 'principles' that launched the war have not changed. Please don't say it is because no WMD's were found. That was settled long ago, and well before the 2004 elections, when we elected the same gang which carried out all this, our eyes wide open. The cause of the current angst and unease is that things have not gone swimmingly. What if they had? I'm reminded of something I read in the wake of 9-11. When some middle eastern spokesman went on television and expounded at great length how 9-11 was immoral because Islam condemns violence, a writer asked, "and what if Islam did not condemn violence, would that make killing all these people right?". The sad irony is that the politics and the population of a country founded on principles are both bereft of any allusion to same when considering their affairs. The implications of this truth underly all our follies -- and our fates.

As the brilliant Joe Bageant wrote in Counterpunch recently (I paraphrase), we are now so far along a haze induced by our decades-long sniffings of consumerism that even the capacity to grasp and discuss matters of principle has deserted us. All we can do is talk personalities, and whom we can 'trust' (the fellow who at least seems to believe the lies he tells). With apologies to Kipling again,

And that was like arranging chairs
Upon a sinking boat,
Though he that told the better lie
Might get the larger vote.

Even when discussing 9-11, isn't it astounding that not single politician has asked, five years on, why so many checks and balances failed that day and after? All we can think of is how Giuliani did this or that while Bush did not. What happens when personalities trump principles? The quick answer, 9-11 -- and its aftermath.

For a quarter century at least we have steeped ourselves in what Mahatma Gandhi termed a deadly social sin, Politics without Principle. I don't even mean this in the conventional sense, a la Tom Delay's gerrymandering or the Abramoff junkets. I mean the pursuit of politics without articulation of principle.

A whole generation has thus been raised in a political atmosphere that brooks no politics! A respectable philosophy has taken hold that everything will be resolved by the market, and politics is despicable. The myopic view that all politics is local, attributed to Tip O'Neill, obscures the fact that without grasp of principles, it is impossible for anyone to transcend boundaries. Having imbibed this lesson too well, all that the local politician does upon ascending to higher realms is to apply the same understanding to his new environs, that is to say, up-shifting from petty theft to grand larceny. This is a bigger tragedy than mere corruption. It is impossible to have a national conversation when the population has lost the ability to discuss principles. It is the same mindset which leads serious politicians to argue that trade is a substitute for politics.

Is there a principle involved in 9-11? Is there a principle which says that when a huge failure like 9-11 happens, someone should be held responsible? Is there a principle that when one accepts responsibility, it means paying a political price (a resignation, a demotion). Is there a principle that no matter what, freedoms are sacrosanct? Are not politics arguments over principle? Isn't this the sort of discussion that should dominate the political debate, and animate the presidential race? When was the last time you recall a Democratic candidate raise an issue of principle? Even in the last general election, which ought to have been ideal for a discussion of principles, Kerry, for all his wealth and education, turned out a true man of the masses , a politician who could not argue principle. He sought to run an entire race without asking if it was right to invade Iraq.

Without principle, the national debate reduces to little more than a series of sitcom episodes. For showcasing his welfare reform package, one president would make some lady in the audience stand up during the state of the union, relaying her vignette. To show that Katrina victims are being helped, another president has some individual appear in a press conference with him, telling his story. This is the level of politics in America, bereft of principle, replete with anecdotes. News coverage is the same way. If there is at all a principle somewhere in all this, it has been that the market will take care of everything, including politics. And in a perverse sense, it is.

It is why our leaders (why blame Bush alone, any Democract could have given voice to these) call for shopping and traveling as a way to combat Al Qaeda, instead of asking the nation to sacrifice, share in the challenge of protecting and preserving the nation. As with the Sherlock Holmes story of the dog in the night, what was not done after 9-11 is as significant as 9-11 itself. There has been no effort to rein in energy consumption, no call to sacrifice. There has been no action on border or port security worth the name. We are morphing into a third world kleptocracy where the leader thinks all is well so long as his family, tribe or unit is profiting from his reign. There is no challenge in principle, from the political class, to the notion of spying on citizens or detention without trial. The author of the magic bullet theory, Arlen Specter (there's one more anecdote!), now wants to turn the law retroactively so that Bush will be exonerated for his warrantless wiretapping.

The entire text of the Federalist Papers is about principles. The entire political debate on TV is anecdotal. For the political process and for the country, from 'anecdotage' to dotage is a but a short step.

Niranjan Ramakrishnan can be reached at njn_2003@#yahoo.com. His blog is at http://njn-blogogram.blogspot.com.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Thoughts in the Traffic Jam

Joe Bageant is one of America's best essayists. Read his latest.

Inside the Iron Theater


Nobody talks about it out loud, but a few million Americans are seriously doubting their sanity these days. Or having their sanity doubted. Or both. They seldom speak their minds because what is going on in there is a vision of society that conjures grave doubt, if not outright horror. It is the kind of stuff that will get your ass kicked off the island in a heartbeat. Nobody wants to hear it.

Yesterday I was gridlocked with my wife in traffic near the new mall, surrounded by cars full of monsters. Every redneck face and bloated or coifed middle class head in every vehicle was a grotesque, awful thing. In them you could see the meanest kind of white man ignorance, or smug middle class obliviousness, the kind that could care less if all the babies in Iraq were fried on spits in the Green Zone of Baghdad, so long as their nails get done on Saturdays. (Ah, you’ve seen the monsters too, haven’t you!) There was that fleshy, overweight killer ugliness America seems to produce these day, the faces of a happy motoring people whose armies hold the world at gunpoint so they can stuff down pizza and check out this town’s newest mall. Underneath the ugliness, there's a festering mean streak caused by frustration of knowing deep-down that government and commerce are corrupt -- everybody knows this, but tolerates it for fear of losing their bling. The choice was ever thus (DeToqueville noted its beginnings) but now has become a waking nightmare. One that brings up rage for some if us, rage that, if expressed in the wrong places and too often will get me thrown into the psyche ward if I tarry too much longer here in the land of the free.

“Lookie there,” I told my wife, who was driving, “A fucking car wash right over the spot where Nancy Hanks Lincoln’s mother was born! I remember when it was in a cornfield. And all these zombies who don’t give a crap about the bloody sand and sweatshops they create, just so they can buy a cheap skirt and drive cars worth 10 years of wages in most of the world through a goddamned car wash! If every American died tomorrow, it is unarguable that the planet would be way more sustainable for not having to feed their greed!” On the inside I was bawling and screaming at the same time. I go off on on these tirades increasingly these days. It is not good.

I could see by my wife’s face she was wondering if “getting Joe some help” was in order. Oh yes, getting some help---which in America means calling the authorities, in this case the psychiatric medical ones. Advanced technology and the skills of the medical cadre of the super-state offer its citizens wondrous ways to reach out to those in need of help. But it always comes down to prescribing drugs or possibly of even being locked up “for your own good,” until your ideations are more “normal.”

And so it is that many of us keep the rage inside as best we can, unwilling to destroy a job, or a marriage. And there are many of us, judging from the emails I receive (see www.joebageant.com), men and women alike, mostly over 40 with lots at stake, who fear being judged unstable by the well intentioned folks around us who never in their wildest thoughts would consider themselves good Germans. At any rate, who wants to be seen as unbalanced at the very moment in our lives when we unexpectedly find ourselves seeing Americans and America as they really are (and may have always been) for the first time. Not that it required insight. The sheer scale and pervasiveness of our national condition, plus decades of exposure, made it so damned obvious we could no longer escape it.

Regardless, inside me it gives rise to an alter ego I call THE SCREAMING MAN, who luckily for me, only screams inside my head. I’ve come to learn lately that plenty of other Americans have their own SCREAMING MAN and even see the same monsters I see in the traffic. (A big thank you to the L.A. Times reporter who was the first to tell me he saw the same creatures). The thought that so much of my readership is comprised of such folks is worrisome at times.

Once the monsters in the traffic reveal themselves, life can never be the same. We are left to go about doing all the ordinary things we always did, but with the building inexpressible moral outrage, living out our lives as rote actors in a theater of iron. Inside the iron theatre---a place surrounded by high walls of normalcy, where to discover a window to the outside is considered madness---the majority have apparently learned their scripts too well. So we are left in sitting in traffic jams to fester on our evil situation.

The great evils both past and present---the American genocide against the red Indian, My Lai and the uncounted others like it, Chairman Mao’s purges, the Israeli war crimes against the Palestinians, the Muslim slaughter in Darfur, Bosnia, and most notably the Holocaust---were not carried out by sociopaths, but by ordinary people who believed in their states their leaders and their gods. The machinist who made instruments for Nazi Germany felt no guilt. Nor does the anonymous mailroom employee in the Department of Homeland Security. I make a living editing military history magazines, thereby providing “pompous reaffirmations of a great past amid present mediocrity and immediate disorder,” as Marguerite Yourcenar put it. And right next door to my workplace Pakistani and Croatian programmers design death dealing aircraft circuitry for Curtis Wright, yet inside our florescent lit, air conditioned reality, there is not an ounce of guilt, much less a sense of accountability. Our work feels unquestionably ordinary, just as does the work of the traffic monsters, most of who work in Washington DC or the beltway around it.

(Vertigo, a taste of vomit in the throat, then…)


Oprah, LSD and the Lycra Micro Jukebox

How did we become so numb to the greatest moral issues of our time? Our time? Probably in human history, considering the irrevocable destruction of our ecosystem. Especially considering that 40 years ago they seemed to dominate the national arena…The Vietnam War, civil rights… A hell of a lot of wrong choices built the 200-year long road to where we now find ourselves, and I must admit that my generation did its share of the paving, laying down much of the roadbed during the Sixties. Despite much talk since then about the Sixties fight for moral justice, talk still easily launched by the pop of a chardonnay cork or the appearance of The Grateful Dead at the local arena, nearly to a man or woman, my generation, regardless of affluence, has traded principles for simple materialism. Assuming of course, they had any identifiable principles, which most didn’t.

Perhaps it was only part of this country’s ongoing struggle to accept successive waves of immigration, but the Sixties saw a push toward openness toward diverse viewpoints and values. There has always been great pressure on our social and public institutions to be capable of accepting the diversity thronging at its doors, a pressure yielded to only when it looks like things are about to blow sky high: “OK niggers, you can ride in the front of the bus. Pssst! Jeeter, get out the fire hoses and turn the dogs loose.” No institution is more pressed than the educational system. “Aw now the Mexicans want bilingual education!”, which has been handed the responsibility of building character by parents, and charged by the state with creating obedient, functional citizens who can multiply at least to the sixth power, are willing to file income tax forms, and at least pretend they don’t smoke pot. We are talking bare minimum standards here, although lately the multiplication standard has been dropped in favor of a willingness to be subjected to surveillance and mass body cavity searches at football games. In a nation where real education remains under suspicion by both the devoutly religious right, and the all-but-antireligious left, it was natural that school administrators and 10 million or so state teachers college graduates---themselves products of the mediocrity characterizing our common denominator approach to democracy and education---would arrive the “morality-is-all-a-matter of opinion” solution. It was the only way out. And, besides, from their standpoint, it looked true.

(Hissss…crackle…can this truly be a signal through my fillings?)


Godammit, I was trying to establish rational discourse here. Now where was I? Oh yes. The erosion of moral principles…

So we now we find principles treated as mere opinion by most young people and their parents, call it diversity tolerance overshoot, and any answers posed to the great questions of our age neatly written off. Global warming? Just some scientists’ opinion. The unjustness of our wars? More opinion. Inequity in society? In whose opinion? Wastefulness of our lifestyle? A matter of opinion.

Over the course of two generations of this, a predictable thing happened. Because the first generation avoided the questions, the second one never learned that they could be asked. The atmosphere could not be riper for pure triumphant consumer capitalism and its inherent militarism (Somebody has to clear the way for Wal-Mart democracy.) If there are no overarching public moral or intellectual questions, then the only remaining questions are material ones: Which is best? The iPod or the RCA Lycra Micro Jukebox? Headphones, cell phones and polyphonic ringtones, everyone is plugged into the white noise of pure commerce. It’s the new “Turn on, tune in, and drop out.” I liked then old version better. Used appropriately, LSD posed the great questions. And sometimes highlighted a few answers, too.

But it doesn’t take a psychedelic experience to pursue the kind of truth inherent to fleshly human existence, the kind that seeks justice from within our bones. In fact, it takes effort to avoid it. I’ve never seen a culture or human being that did not have an inherent sense of justice, an innate desire for balance. Most consider this to be the spiritual side of man, if they consider it at all. Most do not. A huge portion of the world is commodity addicted, while another portion is simply looking for a warm dry spot in which to shit or lay down and die. There is not much room for contemplation of the finer points of existence in either instance. Whatever the case, the American lack of even minimal spiritual observance inducted us into the Empire’s cast of featureless players inside the iron theater. Nobody needs answers to meaningful questions that are never asked, or dare not be asked.

Some days however, change does seem to be afoot, as it certainly must be, given that change is the world’s only constant. A majority of Americas now disapprove of the war in Iraq. Just three years ago when I started writing from this town’s taverns and churches, working people therein absolutely loved George Bush. Now they have returned to their normal state of political apathy, seldom speaking of Bush, but with one difference---they no longer approve of his war, and express disapproval generally in the form of grumbling. They grumble because television has given them permission to do so, through its constant touting of polling results expressing “dissatisfaction” with the war. Being “dissatisfied” with something, a war in this case, is more in accordance with their programming as consumers, not citizens. They will never get permission to be really pissed off, much less pissed off enough to burn anything down.
Television polls never specifically count the outraged and the heartbroken, thus reducing our deepest emotions, once more, to mere opinion in another opinion poll. Outrage is impermissible, except for the pretend outrage of Crossfire, etc, which has entertainment value, thus profitability. Which is why the majority of Americans know little about Cindy Sheehan. Sorry to say that here in lefty blogdom, but it’s true. Cindy Sheehan has never been on Oprah.
When and if Sheehan ever is on Oprah, we will know we have won regarding the war in Iraq. We will have won if your standard for victory is acknowledgment by the high priestess of emotional vapidity and Barnes and Noble sales, talked to by a woman who uses her child rape as a credential. In her particular celebrity delusion, she considers herself the emotional caretaker of the nation, the Martha Stewart of the soul. Lusting for proximity of your cause to celebrity may be a gratifying short term antidote, but lusting for universal justice is the ultimate cure.

But even assuming getting within four feet of Oprah Winfrey constitutes victory, we will have won far too late for the already dead on both sides. Vietnam proved that the Empire’s wars are easier to stop than the overall trajectory of national hubris and folly. Winning is stopping wars before they start, or creating a society wherein war is the last resort, not a casual preemptive option. As for the growing rejection of the war, copping to the obvious in the face of defeat, then claiming moral high ground after we have scorched it and everyone on it, well, that’s no victory at all.

Which leaves me here to fester on celebrity and moral victory under the looming possibility of forced medication by the state. Hmmmm….

Where the hell are you Aldous Huxley?

So are they gonna medicate me and you or what? Surely I must have some time left before that happens. And if they don’t, then I’ll have to do it myself anyway. You cannot win in the Iron Theater. What its producers and directors want to happen is destined to happen. They are always in control. And when it comes to control, you can’t beat the good ole US pharmaceutical industry, which has clearly met the challenge of adult rage and despair, and is now doping down the kids before they even hit puberty. Over the past six years mental health drugs prescribed to children have jumped 550%.

Recently the NFC (New Freedom Commission on Mental Health) recommended the mandatory mental health screening for 100% of America’s school children and drug treatment for all children “judged to in need of drugs.” Hell, every kid in the whole damned country needs drugs, if only to face their future in the global gulag being constructed for them.

Godammit, Huxley, you saw it coming, didn’t you? But I don’t think it will be nearly as much fun as your grim vision. You held out the possibility of science perfecting bread and circuses—Soma. Now THAT was an idea, bud! Three brands of pharmacological reality: Technicolor Soma a pleasant hallucinogen; Soma medium, a Valium-like tranquilizer; and El Crusho black gold, the heavy sleeping pill. And for the rugged freedom loving individualist, you offered those tropical islands offshore. There was really nothing coercive about it all. If the corpocracy had listened to you Hux, about how to do oppression the right way, I’d be curled up in the lap of Halliburton right now, gurgling happily. I have nothing against state-controlled euphoria if they don’t skimp on the euphies. By the way Hux, can I do the Technicolor on the Island? Or will I be kicked off that one too?

Anyway, we seem to be truly dicked now. Man the machine making monkey is so proud of the machines he has created he now pushes toward the machining of human nature itself. Why not? It was always so damned unpredictable. So yes, by dammit, let’s do’er! Let the scientific and economic machinery we have created remake us in its own likeness. Let there be technology without wisdom and efficiency without human benefit. Let there be one blissful nation of highly medicated sleepwalkers in a scientific hell that, if you get doped up enough, feels like paradise.

A visitation from Diogenes and Stonewall Jackson

So what about that rage, huh? My own personal experiences tell me that, being part of human nature, it’s also unpredictable stuff. Tonight I went to a dinner party given by a freedom-hearted couple, the female half of which is probably the most intellectually courageous woman in town. I can’t know that with certainty because even the most liberal people in this Southern burgh would never dare to invite me to dinner. Word has gotten around.

Two hours into the dinner party, I did a bad thing. I called a nice-enough but gutless, apolitical guest, “one more ignorant motherfucking American wanting respect for his self-imposed blindness,” adding that “Everything is not just an opinion, you know.” My good wife stood horrified. (Yes, there was alcohol involved.) Now, I know I am not the judge of that man’s days, and that he has the right to his opinion or non-opinion. But some days I cannot find even the dinner party pretense of respect for American denial, and this was one of those days.

By way of rationalization, I tell myself that if Diogenes of Sinope could live under a tub and take shots at the entire Greek world, then I am entitled to a snootful and an occasional outburst, despite the disparity between my talents and the long dead old Greek’s. It’s either that, or the deer rifle and water tower solution. Or the cheap online polemics you are now suffering. All of which is more bullshit, but it is the best I can do at the moment to rationalize bad behavior.

It is 11 pm, after the dinner party, and I sit in this muggy summer darkness on a bench in front of the Stonewall Jackson Headquarters Museum, located right behind my house.

Stonewall Jackson sat on his horse and sucked on lemons while he calmly managed the slaughter of thousands. I should probably take up lemons instead of gin. But at least I am guilty of mere stupidity, not slaughter. Tomorrow I will repent. Maybe. Depends upon whether anyone with legal authority finally decides I need help. Meanwhile, any kind of resistance, even the stupidest sort waged against fools, gives relief on a hot night inside the iron theater.

This anger will all come out in the morning as prose. Most likely, bad prose. (It did and you are reading it now.) But at least it will be out. Hell, there is only the world at stake.

*For Al Aronowitz, “The Blacklisted Journalist,” (1928-2005). A friend and mentor in art.

Joe Bageant is the author of a forthcoming book, Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War, from Random House Crown about working class America, scheduled for spring 2007 release. A complete archive of his online work, along with the thoughts of many working Americans on the subject of class may be found at: http://www.joebageant.com. Feel free to contact him at: joebageant@joebageant.com. Copyright © 2006 by Joe Bageant.