WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

10 09 2011

Here’s my response to that “Mid-Tennessee Progressive Strategy” group’s response to the Obama indictment.  I’ve added links, and changed it a little for greater clarity and because, when I took a little more time for fact-checking, I didn’t have all my details right–but this is substantially the same post.

As I was considering how to respond to the many comments my post elicited, I read the following quote from Susan Sontag in Yes!:

Acting on principle is, we’re told, a good in itself. But it is still a political act, in the sense that you’re not doing it for yourself. You don’t do it just to be in the right, or to appease your own conscience; much less because you are confident your action will achieve its aim. You resist as an act of solidarity. With communities of the principled and the disobedient: here, elsewhere. In the present. In the future…..

The likelihood that your acts of resistance cannot stop the injustice does not exempt you from acting.”

So, with that to set the tone, here is my response to the different objections that were raised to my bill of particulars against the strategy of aligning with Obama and the Democratic Party.

I cannot support him or the Democrat Party because they are war criminals. Obama has not only declined to prosecute any Cheney administration officials for war crimes, he has continued and actually expanded Cheney’s criminal policies. It should be obvious, at this point, that he went into the Presidential race knowing full well that he would be doing that, throwaway lines like “close Guantanamo” (which never happened) not withstanding. To vote for him, or anyone who, like Jim Cooper, continues to support war crimes and war criminals is to be complicit in those crimes, just like the “good Germans” of the last century. And, like Germany and Italy, America has become a fascist state, defined as one in which the government is run in collusion with, and for the benefit of, big business.

Of course, 21st century American fascism has learned a thing or two about how to be “kinder and gentler”–nobody’s getting sent to the gas chamber–but Gaza and Palestine, and the now-60-year old Palestinian refugee camps are the 21st century equivalent of concentration camps—and they are maintained with U.S. aid. And, likewise, this fascism is sure enough of its hold on power that it won’t send us to the camps just for making accusations like this. It’s much cheaper (and better PR) to simply ignore us, dismiss tax protests as “frivolous filings” to be dealt with administratively, and save the legal big guns for those who actually do things that throw a monkey wrench in the gears of power, like Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, or Tim DeChristopher.

As for the charge that I am not “dealing with the realities of America politics,” those “realities” are insanely out of touch with real-deal reality. The real-deal reality is that our government’s willful ignor-ance of the seriousness of climate change is a serious threat to the ability of this planet to continue to support higher life forms such as ourselves. The grim difference between the late 20th century’s bane, “Mutual Assured Destruction,” and our current situation is that, while Mutual Assured Destruction turned out to be a threat that never materialized (except to the extent that military expenditures stole from our ability to make the planet a better place for everyone), every day that we continue to extract and burn fossil fuels sinks us deeper into the tar pit of runaway climate change, while our “leaders” babble about “growth” and “job creation.” This kind of unconscious commitment to the idea that the way it’s been is the way it’s going to be is a planetary suicide pact, and, weak old man that I am, it makes me want to kick and scream and raise hell to wake people from the sleepwalk of politics as usual in America.

“I” can’t do a whole lot about this, but “we” can. Vaclav Havel started out as a lonely dissident, and was ground under the heel of the Soviet empire—but he persisted, and eventually enough people came around to his point of view that the whole sorry reality of “Communist” totalitarianism crumbled–not through confrontation, but by decay from within, as an overwhelming majority withdrew their consent from the system. You can bet that he got plenty of well-intentioned advice along the way about how he needed to be more realistic and accept “Communist” domination! Something similar has to happen here. There are two ways the two-party duopoly could come undone: either an East-bloc-style revolution of belief, or the total collapse of America as we’ve known it. As a guy who would like to die peacefully of old age, I would much prefer the former, but, as it stands, I’m deeply concerned that we’re heading for the latter.

As it stands, “progressives” (a term whose definition is a whole other subject) in the Democratic Party are in the position of a woman who stays with her abusive husband, hoping she can change him. As with individual cases, that’s unlikely to happen, especially as long as he (the corporate-oriented Democratic Party, in this case) thinks he can take your support for granted, no matter what he does, because you view him as your only option. Here’s the reality: he’s too addicted to corporate money to ever listen to “progressives” again, and it’s been that way for at least 30 years. There have been some truly noble “progressive Democrats” like Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee, and Cynthia McKinney, but they have been seriously mistreated by the mainstream of the Democratic Party.  Well, OK, Barbara Lee has not been harassed by her own party–she pulls 85% of the vote without even trying.  It’s pretty hard to harass somebody who’s that popular at home.

Cynthia McKinney had the good sense to jump to the Green Party, which could really take off if all the people who “hold their nose and vote for Democrats” screwed up their courage instead of holding their noses, and walked out on the Democrats instead of voting for the stinkers. One commenter said he thought the American electorate was trending rightward. I disagree. My understanding of the results of the 2010 election is not that a whole lot more people voted Republican, but that a whole lot fewer people voted Democrat, due to feeling burned by the party’s failure to deliver on their expectations of it. I am also aware of repeated polling that shows that Americans overall are much more “progressive” than the choices that are allowed in our corporate-run political system, and that the” Tea Party” is, when all is said and done, a minority voice. The fact that 50-60% of potential voters don’t vote in most of our elections means that the “Republican majority” is really only about 20-25% of the electorate, and tells me that there is enormous potential for a new political movement in this country that will actually listen to–and speak for–the real concerns of real people. The Green Party was created to do just that.  We do not take corporate money. Those of us who have been keeping it going in this state for the last ten years would love to be supplanted by “progressives” who got disgruntled with the major parties and came on over. In Canada, the New Democrats, who were a “third party” for years, have now supplanted the Liberals as the country’s main opposition party. Change can happen, but only if enough people are willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen.

Oh, and “scary Perry”? The blustering bully from Texas and the smooth-talking con-man from Chicago are working for the same masters. Choosing between them amounts to, do you want to be railroaded by the good cop (Obama) or by the bad cop (Perry, Bachman, etc.)? My response is, I haven’t done anything wrong. They have, and I’m not giving them my power. Obama’s a war criminal, Perry’s a murderer who aspires to be a war criminal. The proper response to people like them is to step away, not to try and reform them or work with their political supporters in hopes of creating substantive social change. It ain’t gonna happen, any more than the Mafia is going to become a model civic organization if we reach out to it and try to work to change it.

There are those who say that it’s too late for politics, that the only thing left to do is duck and cover and create our own community survival networks.  To me, that’s a worst-case scenario–not so far out as to be ignored, but not yet inevitable.  I believe it is still possible for the people of this country to wake up, shake off the whores who pass for politicians, and take this country back, and that’s what keeps me, as Susan Sontag put it, “acting on principle.”  Whether it has wider results or not, it’s the only way I can live with myself.

Music:  Richard Thompson, “Borrowed Time





THE EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES

7 08 2010

President Obama gets our truth in strange places award this month for his comment on Wikileaks’ release of tens of thousands of “secret” documents relating to the US war on Afghanistan:  “these documents don’t reveal any issues that haven’t already informed our public debate on Afghanistan.”

Unfortunately, that’s where his truth train left the track.   Well, not exactly…he also said the document release  “could potentially jeopardize individuals or operations,” and it could, but not because it released inside knowledge to the Taliban.  The information released by Wikileaks “jeopardizes” the war effort by revealing its rickety nature, and by  showing the American empire’s naked ass flapping in the Afghan breeze.  The emperor has no clothes.

One of the most embarrassing facts to be confirmed by the Wikileaks release is the level of co-operation between Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, and the Taliban.  This makes perfect sense, from the Pakistani point of view:  the US is just passing through, but the Taliban are going to be Pakistan’s neighbors for a long time to come.  Other embarrassments validated by the Wiki release are the total corruption of the Afghan “government” the US is trying to install, and the way US money keeps ending up in Taliban hands.

What the leak reveals is often evidence of war crimes:  civilian deaths,whether  by “accident” or by deliberate assassination of selected civilians, or, as with the Iraq helicopter video that prefaced the full release, the random, intentional slaughter of obviously unarmed civilians.

Considering the exposure of such tactics, it is hypocritical, if not downright schizophrenic, for various US government spokespeople and conservative talking heads to say that Wikileaks “has blood on its hands.”  Wikileaks did not set up the Taliban–America’s CIA and Pakistan’s ISI did that, to defeat the Soviets when they attempted to occupy Afghanistan.  Wikileaks does not conduct assassinations of reputed resistance leaders.  It has no drones, no jet fighters, no tanks, no artillery.  Wikileaks is not the source of hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In fact, Wikileaks has been careful to censor the documents it is releasing so that they do not give away the identities of any Afghans who might be put further in harm’s way by disclosure of their collaboration with US forces.

But the government spin machine, like the right-wing spin machine that hopes to replace it in the next couple of elections, has never let facts stand in the way of putting its point across, and the parrots are squawking “Arwak–blood on his hands–blood on his hands.”  The precedent has long been set in this administration, like the Bush administration before it:  whistle blowers will be punished, but the crimes they blow the whistle on will be ignored, or even rewarded.  You know, Tim Geithner….

Meanwhile, the right-wing spin machine is doing its best to out-spin the government with its storm of indignation.  GOP Congressman Mike Rogers, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, has called for execution of the alleged leaker, Bradley Manning, for “treason during time of war.”  One problem, Congressman:  the US never declared war on Afghanistan, and “The Global War on Terror” has no legal standing as a “declared war.”  Not that that will necessarily stop anybody.

Marc Thiessen, a former speech writer for George W. Bush, claimed recently in the Washington Post that Wikileaks is “a criminal enterprise” and said, further

the government has a wide range of options for dealing with him. It can employ not only law enforcement but also intelligence and military assets to bring Assange to justice and put his criminal syndicate out of business.

The first step is for the Justice Department to indict Assange. Such an indictment could be sealed to prevent him from knowing that the United States is seeking his arrest. The United States should then work with its international law enforcement partners to apprehend and extradite him.

In other words, “shoot the messenger.”

Talk about hypocrisy and schizophrenia…conservatives were not nearly so concerned when Dick Cheney and Karl Rove outed Valerie Plame, an “act of treason” that didn’t just confirm what everybody knew already, but destroyed the US’s clandestine efforts to keep tabs on nuclear weapons proliferation–how’s that for “treason,” Congressman Rogers and Mr. Thiessen?  Are you ready to hang Dick Cheney?

I didn’t think so.  Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, eh?

As our President said, Wikileaks publication of the US government’s “top-secret” Afghan war log didn’t really tell us anything we hadn’t suspected, but it certainly does confirm our worst suspicions.  The leak does make one thing very clear:   Afghanistan is just as much a “quagmire” as Vietnam ever was.  Attempts to “surge” and “win” will just kill more people, create more animosity, and waste more money and other resources that would be better spent fixing real problems like climate change, hunger, and the destruction of the natural world.  Bradley Manning deserves a medal, not a trial.  It’s time to grow up as a country, drop our fantasies of world domination,  and re-direct our national attention to what’s really important.

music:  Richard Thompson, “Dad’s Gonna Kill Me”





McCHRYSTAL FOR PRESIDENT?

11 07 2010

By now, Rolling Stone’s article about General McChrystal, and his consequent sacking, is old news.  Michael Hastings has been excoriated by the mainstream media for doing honest reporting, the military has announced that they will be a whole lot more careful about interviews, and the general mood seems to be that “we’re not going to let anything like this happen again–all puff pieces, all the time!”

In a similar vein, the government (or BP–it’s hard to tell them apart) has further restricted public and media access to the Gulf of Mexico, making it a federal crime to come close enough to the cleanup effort to report on what’s really going on unless you’ve got an official minder.  But that’s not what I’m going to talk about now.  There are important pieces of the McChrystal story that have been largely ignored, and another story that intersects with it in a surprising and radical way, and I want to bring those together for you.

One aspect of Michael Hasting’s profile of General McChrystal that has been widely overlooked is that  he actually paints a very positive picture of the General–who, by Hastings’ account, was well-liked by his subordinates, deeply concerned for the well-being of the troops in his command, personally courageous, and even tolerant of his own son’s decision to dye his hair blue and get a Mohawk.  For a hired killer in the service of an exploitive empire, he is not a bad guy.

Another aspect of the whole flap that I have not seen much mention of is that an awful lot of people in this country agree very strongly with McChrystal’s dismissive opinions of his Commander-in Chief and the other civilians who are technically his bosses.  My own view is that the US has no business in Afghanistan, but I can see that, if you accept the premise that it’s OK for us to be there, the Obama administration (following the precedent set by  the Bush administration) has bungled the situation just about every way it could, and those who are hung up on the concept of “victory” are understandably feeling very frustrated and wishing they/we were free to turn the military loose to “kill them all and let God sort ’em out,” as the old bumper sticker said.

So, McChrystal is out of a job, and a lot of people feel like he got a bum deal.  That’s where the next element enters.

A few months back, there was a brief flap when New York Congressman Eric Massa was forced to resign amid allegations of sexual harassment, which he claimed was really retaliation for his opposition to the health insurance industry bailout.   But, in Esquire Magazine, of all places,  Massa had another, stranger tale to tell.

According to Massa, General David Petraeus  met with Dick Cheney, who urged him to resign from the military and become the Republican candidate for President in 2012.  Petraeus’ problem, as Massa sees it, is that in order  to run successfully against his own commander, he would have to make sure the war in Afghanistan did not go well.  A military commander  plotting with the opposition party to throw a war so that he can replace the civilian commander as President is, in Massa’s view (and mine), essentially the opening move in a de facto military coup.

The tricky part of this scenario is “throwing” the war, although it has not been going well and probably won’t, no matter what strategy the US pursues, short of immediate and complete withdrawal. That, like most sensible solutions to the problems our culture faces, is “off the table.”  But now General McChrystal has “just happened” to make some–apparently–unguarded, highly critical remarks about the conduct of the war to a reporter from Rolling Stone, and they were printed. No matter what the job, who the employer or the employee, badmouthing your boss in print is reasonable grounds for dismissal.

To digress for a moment, it’s similar to the situation in which the Pentagon decided that they would really like to shut down Julian Assange’s Wikileaks site, and then somebody “just happened” to release “top-secret” diplomatic cables and a video of US troops gleefully killing innocent Iraqi civilians.  Now, the only reason such a video would be considered “top secret” is to conceal evidence of a shameful war crime, but that doesn’t matter–acquisition of these items hotted up Assange and he’s had to watch his back ever since.  The point of this digression is to raise the possibility that everything is not as simple as  it seems.  Now for another aside.

The US government recently announced the discovery of vast stores of minerals in Afghanistan–gold, iron, copper, cobalt, copper, lithium, and other  substances more important to highly industrialized societies than to Afghan peasants.  Actually, the existence of these deposits has been known for thirty years, but there was a need for good news, so “discovery of Afghan mineral wealth” was trumpeted.

Mining and extraction are water-intensive, ecologically destructive processes.   Traditonally, they produce wealth for a few and misery for many. There is little water in Afghanistan, most of it is claimed, and the ecosystem is fragile.  The Chinese, not noted for their sensitivity to either ecology or local needs, are moving in to exploit these resources.  Will we end up trying to kick the Chinese as well as the Taliban out of Afghanistan, so we can further destroy the ecology and what’s left of the local way of life in our own rush to suck up raw materials?  Stay tuned….

So, there are serious stakes to be gained by securing Afghanistan as a mining colony,there is a disgruntled, charismatic former General looking for a job, and there are a lot of  insecure people in this country psychologically inclined to accept a military man who will provide strong, disciplined leadership in a time of crisis, and the possibility that Dick Cheney is pulling strings from his undisclosed location.

“McChrystal for President?”  Don’t say you weren’t warned….

music:  Dr. Hook:  “The Cover of Rolling Stone








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