Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Israel’s Massacre in Gaza

As I write this, the latest reports from Gaza by the AP say that over 350 Gazans, many of them women and children, have now been killed and over 1400 wounded in the latest Israeli assault on the Palestinians trapped in the tiny strip of land named Gaza. More accurate descriptions label Gaza the largest open-air prison in the world, home to 1.5 million Palestinian refugees, all of whom have become civilian targets in Israel’s relentless war again the Palestinian people and its democratically-elected leaders in Hamas.
            Israel, of course, contends that it is only acting in “self-defense,” seeking to end the rocket attacks launched by Hamas militants from Gazan territory. It contends that the people it has killed have been the very terrorists who have been launching the rockets, by implication, soldiers in what has now become an all-out, if one-sided war. But aside from the innocent Gazan civilians who have been slaughtered by bombs and rockets and drones that do not distinguish between active terrorists and unfortunate bystanders, even the so-called “security forces” Israel claims to be killing are in many cases police officers and civil servants who have had the misfortune to be housed or working in government buildings. Even more outrageously, Israel’s Tzipi Livni blames Hamas for not conforming to “the requirements of the international community.”  But if there is a consistent, repeat violator of international rules and regulations, it is Israel. It has thumbed its nose at countless UN resolutions, including 242. It has built an illegal apartheid wall in Palestinian territory. More generally, as an occupying power, Israel is required by international law to care for the people under its 60-year occupation. Instead, it has increasingly tightened its stranglehold on the Palestinians trapped in their shrinking territory, destroying every vestige of livelihood that could allow Palestinians to survive, including food and fuel and even basic medicines like insulin. In this sense, as Ali Abunimah of the Electronic Intifada points out, Israel’s latest assault, said to have been launched in response to the “collapse” of the truce that had been in place for 6 months, is different only in degree from that  “truce,” a word the media never questions:
            “It is very simple. Under an Israeli-style truce, Palestinians have the right to remain silent while Israel starves them, kills them and continues to violently colonize their land. Israel has not only banned food and medicine to sustain Palestinian bodies in Gaza but it is also intent on starving minds: due to the blockade, there is not even ink, paper and glue to print textbooks for schoolchildren.
    As John Ging, the head of operations of the United Nations agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA), told The Electronic Intifada in November : ‘there was five months of a ceasefire in the last couple of months, where the people of Gaza did not benefit; they did not have any restoration of a dignified existence. We in fact at the UN, our supplies were also restricted during the period of the ceasefire, to the point where we were left in a very vulnerable and precarious position and with a few days of closure we ran out of food.’”
            In other words, Israel has been silently killing Gazans for two years by denying its people the most fundamental necessities of life. Its siege has prevented these people from escaping either by land, by sea, or by air. It has prevailed on a quisling Egyptian government to keep the only crossing enabling the transport of precious supplies into Gaza, the Rafah crossing, mostly closed. Its bombs have now destroyed the underground tunnels which Gazans have dug to allow at least some of these supplies to enter. And now it is bombing a terrorized civilian population, including a five-story women’s dormitory at Islamic University, to send them a message: ‘We are your masters here. You have no recourse, no safety, no life to live unless you willingly place yourselves under our heel.’ And it, seconded by the likes of President Bush, expects Gazans to comply. Complying, of course, ultimately means that sooner rather than later, all Palestinians will agree to leave their own lands so that Zionist Israel can finally complete its long-range plan, an Eretz Israel cleansed of its original inhabitants completely.
            What Americans, including the new Obama administration, must decide is whether, and for how long, they can keep sending American treasure, American airplanes, American rockets, American ‘moral’ support to implement such a policy—a policy that is like nothing so much as the one that the Nazis once enforced against their own subject population, the European Jews; a policy which, absent that American aid and support, could not continue for even a single day.
Lawrence DiStasi

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Defining Moment

Our now legacy-conscious president made what should be his final surprise visit to Iraq this weekend, and lo and behold, left us with what I predict will be the defining moment of his presidency. As he was giving a talk side by side with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki, an Iraqi journalist named Muntazer al-Zaidi threw first one shoe, and then the other at the “leader of the free world.” As he did so, he shouted,
            “It is the farewell kiss, you dog.” 
Though both shoes missed the U.S. president—he ducked the first, and Maliki deflected the second—the report of the double insult rocketed around the world. For the reporter had not only called Iraq’s self-proclaimed liberator a “dog,” itself an insult, but threw his shoes in a culture where such an act is considered the ultimate insult. Or rather, the soles of shoes are the ultimate insult; after Saddam Hussein’s statue was torn down in Baghdad, some Iraqis slapped its severed head with the soles of their shoes.
            President Bush, of course, was quick to dismiss the incident as bizarre and limited, saying “I don’t think you can take one guy throwing shoes and say, this represents a broad movement in Iraq.” But the damage has been done. Bush has taken the reputation of the United States to such abysmal depths that even a common reporter, one from a country we are told should be grateful for the sacrifice of U.S. lives and U.S. treasure, dares to hurl public insults at its most exalted figure.
            In short, though one must worry about what is even now being hurled at this amazingly courageous reporter, it is clear that his act stands as THE defining moment of the Bush presidency. It is more emblematic of what this President has wrought than the Mission Accomplished fiasco, where Bush, in full flight regalia, strutted across the deck of an aircraft carrier after landing in a jet, to assure the assembled sailors and the world that the United States had prevailed in Iraq when, in truth, the most vicious part of the battle was just beginning; more memorable than the “heckuva job Brownie” moment, when Bush praised his head of  FEMA for performing so well in the New Orleans drowning, even as New Orleans residents by the thousands were gasping for help.
            Yes, this moment tops them all. It is more delicious than an assassination attempt, for a Bush attacker could be characterized as a fanatic or a madman. It is more satisfying than an impeachment, for right wing zealots could easily attribute that to “partisan politics.” This attack, by contrast, came from an Iraqi, a journalist who could be expected to know the score. An Iraqi who should have been bowing down in gratitude to his, and the world’s ‘savior,’ the world’s ‘liberator,’ the world’s ‘messenger of freedom and democracy.’ And instead, the man threw his shoe, both shoes. Called the President a “dog.” In full view of the entire world. And while the President may have been right when he said al-Zaidi doesn’t represent a movement, what he did not say, and would be determined not to recognize, is the overarching truth of this moment. For here, for all time, is the historical judgment on Bush’s doomed Iraqi venture, the burial ceremony of his entire Middle Eastern policy, indeed of his entire presidency: Iraqi shoes thrown as a farewell kiss for a “dog;” a dog who has attacked a country without cause, on false pretenses, imposing on its millions of people the kind of suffering that not even a dog should have to endure. 
            Could it be any richer? Any more ironic? Remembering that the torture (called enhanced interrogation) that the Bush Administration sanctioned for its prisoners, featured snarling dogs to exploit the Arab fear they incite. Remembering all the metaphors of America’s imperial footprint, and boots on the ground, and the famous shoes of America’s first Iraqi Proconsul, L. Paul Bremer. Remembering also that instead of being welcomed by the garlands and kisses promised to American “liberators” in the runup to the war, the leader of the world’s most powerful nation can now count on being greeted with a pelting of shoes, or rotten fruit, or god knows what else. All of which poses the humiliating question: can the United States still consider itself the world’s sole superpower, the most admired empire in history? It hardly seems so. Its economy is in a shambles. Its public figures have become clowns. Its foreign policy a disaster. Its reputation a joke.
            And it is all symbolized, perfectly, by this defining moment: Two shoes hurled at the most powerful man in the world, the “farewell kiss to a dog.” How strange is the eruption of truth. How satisfying and unpredictable the eruption of poetic justice. And how accurate was the prediction of Gore Vidal, eight years ago upon Bush’s ascension to, or rather theft of, the presidency. “He will leave in disgrace,” said Vidal. Who could have imagined how thorough, how vivid, how global that disgrace would be?
Lawrence DiStasi

Friday, November 28, 2008

Pardon Me

This is the time of forgiveness
When trespassers get well
By making requests
To get out of hell
And return to the living
In the land of the giving
Where crime has no punishment
And lies find new nourishment
But what is the precedent
To pardon the President
For crimes by himself and his friends
Is this where it ends?

Article II, section 2 of the US Constitution provides the specific power for the President of the US to grant pardons and commutation of sentences with virtually no limit. Normally, this is of little consequence to the average citizen, but can be critical for the petitioner seeking clemency or relief. There have been some famous pardons issued over the years. Yes, even George Washington issued pardons and the power has been used in myriad ways in history. President Washington pardoned some of the guilty participants in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. Citizens were energized by the steep increase in the whiskey tax of 1791 and they essentially took the law into their own hands to fight the Feds. There was a serious governmental income shortage and the tax was levied in such a way that many felt it was ex post facto and a terrible personal burden. The ex post facto feeling came to those who had already used whiskey in barter and were required to pony up cash by the federal tax collectors (federal marshals), especially those of Allegheny County in western Pennsylvania. That rebellion may have influenced events to this day when barter is rarely used and cumbersome when it happens. Some of the pardon recipients were never convicted. We will see that replicated under Gerald Ford and William Clinton where Nixon and Rich avoided convictions but enjoyed pardons.

Following the Civil War, there were several pardons issued to assist in the reconciliation of the Union with the Confederacy. Thousands of pardons were executed by Andrew Johnson to help heal the wounds of the Civil War. A few were very long in coming. General Robert E. Lee was not specifically pardoned until one hundred years following his death in 1870. Lee had petitioned Andrew Johnson in 1865, but due to colossal red tape and the technicality that his citizenship had been revoked; the request languished until a researcher found Lee’s handwritten oath of allegiance in a dusty old box in Washington. General Lee had been accused of treason and the loyalty oath was wanted to execute the pardon. Lee got his pardon, but had long lost his famous property that became what we now know as Arlington National Cemetery. President Gerald Ford signed the pardon in 1975. Actually, Andrew Johnson had issued a blanket pardon of all involved in the “insurrection,” but scholars differ as to whether or not the blanket pardon covered General Lee due to his specific loss of citizenship.

Pardons can be controversial such as when President H. W. Bush pardoned Cap “The Knife” Weinberger for his role in sending arms to Iran and the following cover up in what became known as ”Iran Contra.” In that case, there was an independent prosecutor, Lawrence Walsh (lifetime Republican) who sought personal information held by the elder Bush in contemporaneous notes when he was Vice President under Reagan. There were six senior Reagan officials pardoned by Bush. Bush himself was described as a “person of interest” due to his specific knowledge of events and personal notes that he withheld from Walsh. Bush was never charged, and he moved quickly to pardon those who were convicted and those who were about to be convicted. Walsh also cited notes held by Weinberger as being key to impeach President Reagan for his role in Iran Contra. Bush outwitted Walsh and moved more rapidly than he to remove Weinberger from the line of fire before the courts could actually capture the evidence but after it was demanded by the independent prosecutor. This probably saved Reagan the embarrassment of impeachment and may have cost Bush a second term, but it allowed virtually every airport, road, bridge and building to be named after Reagan. Ironically, on his election, it caused Clinton to remark that the concept of pardons had to be examined after this episode of crime and cover up. "I am concerned by any action that sends a signal that if you work for the Government, you're beyond the law, or that not telling the truth to Congress under oath is somehow less serious than not telling the truth to some other body under oath." He would later be accused of harboring a personal interest in a couple of his pardons as well as stretching the truth himself. In that sense, pardons can be a powerful tool to change outcomes or to reward loyalty.

Clinton became an object of scorn for his last minute pardons of dozens of petitioners and non-petitioners alike. Two of those brought special heat and an investigation led by Senator Arlan Spector to determine whether the pardons were actually signed before noon on 20 January 2001. Clinton’s half brother was in the list of 140 pardoned that day and peopled clacked that there was a conflict of interest in Clinton’s action although Roger Clinton had already served his time. One of Clinton’s pardons was granted to J. Fife Symington III, the disgraced Republican governor of Arizona. Symington had once saved William J. Clinton from drowning and, when president, he returned the favor in kind. Far more controversial was the pardon of Marc Rich who was never convicted and, in fact, was a fugitive of justice, parked in Switzerland where he still resides. Marc Rich’s wife was a major contributor to the Clinton campaigns. Clinton claimed that his pardon did not preclude civil court action to recover from any harm alleged to have occurred. Interestingly, it was none other than Scooter Libby, who presented the argument for the Rich pardon. He has since become famous, after being convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the Valerie Plame case and receiving a commutation of his sentence through GW Bush. There seems to be a circular motion that connects pardons as with the elder Bush and Reagan. Again, there was no conviction of Rich prior to the pardon and Congress was powerless to overturn the pardon. Scooter Libby merely played a helping role for President Clinton by claiming that there was no criminal case and that the offense was a civil matter.

So what are we to make of all this history as we count the days until G.W. Bush leaves office and has his final opportunities to issue pardons? First, the presidential power to pardon is essentially without limit. You don’t have to be found guilty in a court of law to be pardoned. On the other hand, if there is a civil wrong, a separate civil court may hear arguments despite the pardon. There is some fuzziness about broad pardons such as those issued by President Andrew Johnson so that identification of the specific recipients may some day be required. Robert E. Lee was not seen as qualified for the general pardon. Can G.W. Bush pardon himself? The answer is yes…but that would set up a qualifying assumption that he was guilty of promoting torture or some other crime and Bush has adamantly denied that. Can he pardon the hundreds that were acting on his orders to conduct “harsh interrogations?” Perhaps if he is able to name them, but recall that did not work well for Andrew Johnson. It may be bad form to pardon oneself but it is legal if the president names himself and others. If he does not pardon himself, Rumsfeld and Cheney, for example, then the crimes of torture and extraordinary rendition are without a statute of limitations and they are internationally recognized offenses. This means that world travel for the leaders in power during Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo may be limited. It also means that at any time in the future, criminal trials may be held here in the United States.
Will the incoming administration or the Congress have the courage to face up to rule by law or will we merely pass to some future generation with a sense of duty and justice? We have a lot to do, but are not the rule of law and the Constitution worth defending? We cannot presume guilt, but without investigations and trials, the rule of law may appear to be no more than a passing suggestion. Be heard. Give Congress some courage and a little hell along the way. Remember…no Peace without Justice. It cannot end here with rule of law traded away for temporary peace and a future draft pick.

George Giacoppe
30 November 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

On Erasing Culture

I have been thinking about the relationship between war and the elimination of “difference” for a number of years now, especially in light of what happened to Italian American culture when home-front restrictions and internments were imposed on 600,000 Italian immigrants during World War II. I have written elsewhere about how this “shaming” of an entire culture affects cultural retention. A recent reading of Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine (2007) has given new breadth and power to these thoughts. In particular, Klein’s description of the plans and machinations of Paul Bremer on behalf of the Bush Administration and its corporate cronies in Iraq makes plain that, far from being random, the attempt to debase the culture of an invaded country, and replace it with an entirely new culture is part of an overall scheme with clear methods in mind, and well-articulated and profitable end states envisioned.  
            First, it is necessary to understand what Klein posits as the conceptual notions underlying such plans. Briefly, they are the notions advanced by one of the most strangelovian psychologists ever to don a doctorate, Dr. Ewen Cameron of Canada. Cameron, supported for years by a CIA which found great promise in his ideas for their growing programs of torture, was the one who initiated the program he called “de-patterning” as a method of “curing” his mental patients. His idea was that by using electroshock therapy and isolation boxes, he could interrupt a patient’s “time and space image” by upsetting both sensory input (isolation) and memory (electroshock). This was meant to break down an individual so that he could be regressed to an infantile state, and then remade on a better mental model. To accomplish this “rejuvenation,” Cameron would often administer shock treatments as often as twice a day for thirty days—sometimes administering as many as 360 electric shocks to a single patient’s brain.  As to the success of such “therapy,” a study by his own institute, the Allen Institute in Canada, found that 75% of his former patients were worse off after treatment than before.
            Despite this dismal record, neither the CIA—in designing its own torture program—nor the Bush Administration—in applying it to whole countries—seems to have been discouraged. Rather, they found the idea of de-patterning and re-patterning on a newer and brighter template quite captivating. This is revealed by what Klein describes of the American plan for Iraq. The plan was first to shock the Iraqi people with, naturally, “schock and awe” aerial bombing, follow it with subsequent culture shocks, and then remake the whole country’s economy on a fresh “free-market” model. (This plan, not incidentally, was also used in countries such as Chile, the former Soviet Union, and many others, but nowhere as purely and savagely as in Iraq.) As Klein puts it, “the initial bombardment was designed to erase the canvas on which the model (corporatist) nation could be built.” Indeed, the comparisons to shock therapy and sensory deprivation are explicit: “the bombing was designed to take out the eyes (electricity) and ears (phone system) of Baghdad...the entire city was (thus) shackled and hooded. Next it was stripped” (pp 333-35). The stripping, of course, took the form of allowing 80% of Iraq’s National Museum to be ransacked. This theft of Iraq’s soul (and since Baghdad is considered the mother of Arab culture, of soul of the entire Arab world) was as much a part of the plan as the subsequent pillaging of state property. In this way, not only was Baghdad’s cultural heritage (the oldest in the civilized world) raped, but its public sector, once the finest in the entire Middle East, was also dismantled. Incredibly, Bremer and the Bush administration actually believed that they were bringing something superior to these deprived desert rats. For as Klein points out, in Afghanistan, as well as in Iraq, interrogators used “Pringles” as a way to soothe prisoners, thinking that this American high-tech junk food would amply compensate them for the torture they endured. This was the plan for Iraq as well: “terrorize the entire country, deliberately ruin its infrastructure, do nothing while its culture and history are ransacked, and then make it all ok with an unlimited supply of cheap household appliances and imported junk food” (p. 339). And so, almost immediately after he arrived, Bremer declared that Iraq was “open for business,” and proceeded to institute a series of proclamations to totally privatize Iraq’s 200 state companies, invite American corporate cronies in to share in the bonanza, lower taxes for them to 15%, and of course, put millions of Iraqis out of work. And best of all, foreign investors could take 100% of their Iraqi profits out of the country. In return, Iraqis would get a Pringle-rich economy and culture: Burger Kings, cheap consumer products, American entertainment and values.
            We all know by now how well this worked. It led directly to what American officials called the “insurgency.” In truth, the insurgents were the Iraqi people saying “no” to the theft of their country. But here, the lesson is not in the results, but rather in the paradigm. The paradigm, I believe, is the wiping out or erasure of cultures—be it the culture of a nation conquered in war, the culture of a nation with whom the United States wishes to “trade,” or the culture of groups of people the United States wishes to assimilate—in order to soften them for the remodeling that is desired. Examples from U.S. history abound.
            The first one that springs to mind is Native American culture. Just last night, a KQED program about the Navajo, “The Long Walk: Tears of the Navajo,” featured unforgettable photos of Indians at the boarding schools they were forced to attend, their hair cut short, their faces grim and chiseled, their bodies clothed not in traditional attire but in tight-fitting military uniforms. Administrators were quoted as saying they had to erase all sign of the Indians’ previous culture, including the languages they were forbidden to utter, in order to remake them as good Americans.
            The same was done to African slaves brought to the pre-Civil War South. Families were separated, all signs of their previous culture were extirpated, and all forms of cultural grouping or cultural retention were suppressed in order to avoid any possibility of organized resistance to the gruesome existence the southern economy required of its slaves.
            What is not so well accepted is the extent to which this same process applies to ordinary immigrants. This is probably due to the fact that most immigrants, in order to improve their economic or political lot, voluntarily make the wrenching decision to leave their homelands and settle in the United States. But the truth lurks beneath the surface. Those who expect to thrive in the United States quickly learn that retention of the old culture carries with it certain disadvantages—disabilities associated with foreign ways of speaking, foreign ways of viewing the world, foreign customs concerning the debts owed to families or friends or co-villagers. In other words, they learn about culture shock.
            It is war, however, and the culture shock it brings, which paints the dynamics of culture abandonment into high relief. In this, the Italian immigrants during WWII are a good type case. On Dec. 8, 1941, those who had not yet obtained full American citizenship were classified by Executive Order 2527 as “enemy aliens.” This meant that their rights were forfeited: they could be rounded up, searched, arrested, and deported with no further authority. They could be restricted as to travel and possessions, as well as excluded from certain areas. In California, this exclusion took place when the Department of Justice set up “prohibited zones” from which all enemy aliens had to evacuate: along the coast, inside San Francisco Bay, and near sensitive installations. And of course, the enclaves called “Little Italies” (the Italian immigrants, up to that point, called them “colonies”), where Italian was spoken, and where Italian culture and mores more or less thrived, were investigated and raided and searched and kept under suspicion. “Don’t Speak the Enemy’s Language” warned a poster, and thousands of families and commercial establishments suppressed their native tongue in response, many of them forever.
            The most vivid expression of this cultural suppression came in May of 1942 during the Assembly hearings on UnAmerican Activities in California held in San Francisco by what came to be known as the Tenney Committee. There, an exchange made quite clear what many in government had in mind for these Italian colonies: the erasure of their traditional culture. It came in an exchange between committee-member Kellems and a witness from the Italian community itself, Gilbert Tuoni:
TUONI: As I was saying to you before, gentlemen of this committee, the best thing is to close the papers, close the Italian broadcasting, reorganize or close the Italian organizations, they are poison—this is the time that the Italians should come into the American family…
KELLEMS: It is your opinion—or rather, I should say conviction—that there are a special group of people whose culture and background is so different from ours, and I think we do admit it is radically different—
TUONI: (Interrupting) Yes.
KELLEMS: (Continuing)—and it will only be possible for them to forget that only if they will enter the American way of life—
TUONI: (Interrupting) They will.
KELLEMS: (Continuing)—and I believe they will. Is it not your feeling that instead of persisting generation after generation teaching these things, creating a Little Italy here, that they will only find their own happiness and strength by forgetting…?
            Thus did the Tenney Committee put into words what the federal government had already put into action: Italian Americans had to prove their loyalty. The way to do that was to FORGET—forget what they knew, forget who they were. In short, the wartime provided a shock to the Italian community powerful enough to induce them to regress—to forget the culture they had grown up with once and for all—and then replace it with American culture and values. And though for Italian and German and Japanese immigrants, the war with their mother countries provided an exceptionally dramatic occasion for cultural erasure, the same is true, to a lesser and slower degree perhaps, for all immigrants to the United States. Forget what you were; become all you can be, i.e., American. 
            The question that has always haunted this paradigm is: why? Other than bigots, who benefits, and how, from a cultural makeover? Naomi Klein’s description of the shock doctrine provides the answer: Pringles. Pringles, as used by the U.S. military, symbolizes and essentializes the program. First, when someone retains and remembers and clings to the values of his own culture, he maintains a structure for resistance. Knowing who he is and what he stands for, can strenghten the courage to resist. If he can remain in a group of like-minded people, that resistance will be even more powerful. If, on the other hand, he can be de-patterned, and re-patterned on a new model, and then isolated from comrades, he will be merely an individual, on his own in opposing overpowering force. He will become malleable. He can then be re-educated in the ways and mores and values of the new culture. Pringles. He can be induced, in short, to believe that being a consumer is the key to the highest human values. To be able to buy an endless array of consumer goods and services—TV sets bigger and better than all others, cars that symbolize status, homes and clothes and foods that mimic the highest social strata—is to approach the summit of human happiness, the reason for which humans are born. And those who produce these “goods,” those who reckon the health of a culture by the always accelerating Gross Domestic Product that measures how many more useless needs are created, smile in the background, their profits intact, their share of the GDP growing ever larger.
            In sum, as long as the populace has been stripped of all resistance to such a hijacking of the human drive for ultimate good, as long as it can be diverted from any notion of sensory or cultural or mental recovery, as long as it can be convinced that its well-being depends on its continually hyped-up desire for newer and glitzier toys, the profitable game can go on. For those in on the game, the erasure of culture is a negligible price to pay.
Lawrence DiStasi

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The B Attitudes

If the meek shall inherit the earth
Just how much is it worth
With scars everywhere
And wars here and there
And for the poor in spirit
It’s heaven they inherit
But what does that mean
For us in between
A loss of all face
Or some Amazing Grace?

We live in amazing times and in an amazing society where the meek get pushed around and those who are poor in spirit are being led to their inheritance of heaven a little faster than necessary. If you are brash and bold and lay claim to the earth and exploit its wealth and resources, then you are authorized to dig mining holes anywhere or poison the water we all need for life. The current administration came into power with a promise of “compassionate conservatism” but has shown neither compassion nor conservatism. Instead, we have seen a cascade of bad news created by bad policies that have made life more difficult for the vast majority of Americans. Given our global economy, the bad news has become international. Pain without borders…what a concept!

In the past eight years, the nominal pay for the average American has declined by $1,000 while the real pay, considering inflation has declined by $5,000. Meanwhile, we have had an eight-year lecture series on the benefits that derive from a “free market.” The final examination on this Bush “free market” is a life-performance exam where the proctor is an unlicensed proctologist and we have all had the probing finger jabbed where it hurts. Multi-trillion dollar deficits have been followed by a trillion dollar bailout followed by worldwide fear and retrenchment. And it is not over. Even the use of the “free market” phrase is an amazing affront. We have witnessed record quantity and value for no-bid contracts and watched a Bush payback to drug firms through the most profligate Medicare Drug Plan that could possibly have been authored by the drug firms themselves. This was a “free market” where the government, representing all us people, chose to prevent competition in the marketplace to the detriment of the consumer and the possible destruction of Medicare. This gave a new meaning to the old saw that “Freedom isn’t free.” We are paying dearly for this “free market” through worse jobs and fewer of them.

One reason to remind ourselves of the dismal failure of the policies of the past eight years is that there are still people out there who firmly believe that we simply did not go far enough in the destruction of the state and the building of corporate power. The neocon theory seems parallel to an earlier theory and time when the state was to wither away and the proletariat would rise to power. At this juncture, these theories appear to be equal and opposite forces that need to be uncovered for the frauds that they both are. If we look briefly at our history since Richard Nixon, the contempt for government has become a growth industry. Ronald Reagan, the uncanonized patron saint of the modern GOP, spoke eloquently of government being the problem rather than being able to solve a problem. On of his early acts (August 1981) as president was in direct contradiction to this pre-election letter (Oct 20, 1980):

“Dear Mr. Poli:

I have been briefed by members of my staff as to the deplorable state of our nation's air traffic control system. They have told me that too few people working unreasonable hours with obsolete equipment has placed the nation's air travellers (sic) in unwarranted danger. In an area so clearly related to public
safety, the Carter administration has failed to act responsibly.

You can rest assured that if I am elected President, I will take whatever steps are necessary to provide our air traffic controllers with the most modern equipment available and to adjust staff levels and work days so that they are commensurate with achieving a maximum degree of public safety....

I pledge to you that my administration will work very closely with you to bring about a spirit of cooperation between the President and the air traffic controllers.

Ronald Reagan”

Obviously, Reagan saw the hazards of overworked and overstressed air controllers as evidenced by his letter written prior to his election as president. After his election, he made no changes in equipment or work schedules for the controllers but put the hammer down on the union. He fired the controllers. Ideology triumphed over practicality and safety, as well as the concept of keeping his word. And remember, that Reagan was a likeable man, unlike GW Bush who has artfully managed to alienate most of the world. Ideologues can act consistent with their ideologies in spite of overwhelming evidence that their theories are suspect or unworkable. What is interesting and sometimes terrifying is that an ideology can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe that government is the problem and then act on that belief, then you act to destroy government rather than improve it. You place administrators like John Bolton who hates the UN as ambassador to it. You place a failed horse show administrator, Michael Brown, in charge of FEMA and continue to curry favor with Texan Joe Allbaugh, major Bush contributor, to hire his friends without regard to competence. These hirelings demonstrated personal loyalty rather than competence. More dramatically, you hire occupation administrators for Iraq, including Paul Brenner, that have correctly answered loyalty questions on such irrelevant criteria as Roe v Wade or their favorite president but have no language or functional skills to conduct the real business of an occupation in a potentially hostile space. Then you can say, “See, I told you that government couldn’t do the job!” Arrgh! Prophecy fulfilled. Now we can outsource fully half of the war. Mission Accomplished! And you never have to say you are sorry for the failed construction or logistics or intelligence or security of an outsourced function. And that is truly priceless.

Unfortunately, the process of damaging government from within has a long-term effect of bleeding confidence from the citizenry, especially when denied examples of good government for eight years. Given the example of the Bush Administration demanding loyalty as an end item, people soon learned that a contrary opinion was viewed as disloyalty and a direct challenge to authority rather than a search for good answers. The downward spiral begins. The incompetent government shifts priorities from supporting the common good to defending the decisions made to enforce loyalty. Recently and in stark contrast, President-Elect Obama chose to avoid rewarding such pandering loyalty on an early dilemma. Senator Lieberman could not have been more disloyal to Obama during the campaign, and yet Obama has asked Senator Reid to avoid punishing Lieberman. This was impossible under Bush.

Serious damage to the rule of law and to the concept of commonwealth has been done by this extension of the Reagan concept of “small government.” Small, in this context, begins to describe the smallness of the heart and smallness of the intellect instead of a true smallness in size of an effective government. The two largest expansions of government in our lifetime have been built by the two loudest proponents of small government. Each has, in his turn, presided over the largest increase in government debt in history to his point in time. Reagan had a reputation for B movies and he had a B attitude about government. Bush never reached a B level in 8 years. His attitude about government was a miserable F and his government failed miserably. We have inherited the country as it is and it is up to us to make it into something worth inheriting for our children and grandchildren. Pray for the strength to do it. The work will indeed be hard and the critics many for our attitudes have hardened against government. It will truly take Amazing Grace.
George Giacoppe
13 November 2008

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Governator Goes Regressive

 California’s “grade-B” Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has just announced his solution to the state’s fiscal crisis: a steep increase in the Sales Tax. The Governator, who swept into office in a recall election on the basis of his allegedly superior skill at balancing the state budget, has never been able to balance it at all. In the past, he has resorted to borrowing via huge bond issues whose billions will need to be paid off for decades. Now he has proposed a 1.5% increase in the state sales tax, as well as upwards of $2 billion in cuts to the education budget. This hews to his conservative bias: when the state needs a bailout, go regressive, making the poor and middle classes pay.
            Here is how that works. In 1913, the United States finally agreed that the Gilded Age had to come to an end.  The conspicuous wealth of titans like Rockefeller, Morgan, and Carnegie, living in their munificent palaces, contrasted too visibly with the lives of the poor barely able to eke out a living in city slums. It also made a mockery of the nation’s creed about “equality.” The 16th Amendment, therefore, legalized a tax on individual income. The tax rate was modest, with the top bracket paying a rate of only 7% of their income. Then, in 1917 during WWI, the rate for the top earners rose to 67%. Income tax had thus become notably “progressive,” the idea being that those who earned the most, and therefore derived the most from government services, should also contribute the most. This was seen as the only fair way to tax. Of course, the wealthy never fully accepted this, and by 1929 they had lobbied successfully enough with Republican administrations to get the top tax rate down to 24%. Then the economic roof caved in. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to mitigate the vast inequality that had set in before the Depression, then raised the top tax rate to 63% in 1933. With the coming of the Second World War, the need for government expenditures for arms and men led to an even higher top rate of 94% by 1944. The top rate remained high throughout the next decades, lowering some to 70% in the 60s.
            Then came the Reagan revolution, with its free-market ideology and its theory of “trickle-down” economics, which said that when the rich do well, the benefits trickle down to the rest of us.  Accordingly, Reagan lowered the top rate to 50% and then to 38.5%, and George H.W. Bush lowered that to 31% in 1992. His son, George W. kept it at about the same level, 35% today. The result has been the greatest transfer of wealth from the poor and middle classes to the rich in our history.
            The point of all this, here, is that even with the radically unequal policies of the most die-hard neoconservatives in the Reagan-Bush administrations, the policy, if not the willingness, has remained firm that the wealthiest Americans should pay a progressively higher portion of their incomes in taxes than the poor and middle classes. The point is also that while income taxes, since their inception, have been graduated, or progressive—i.e. those with the highest income pay higher rates—sales taxes are REGRESSIVE. That is, every single person who buys a pencil or a book or a car or a TV set or shoes must pay the same percentage as a tax. The same tax rate. This, of course, means that when a wealthy person like the CEO of Google, with a personal fortune in the billions, pays a sales tax, its effect on his income is negligible. Like an elephant bitten by a mosquito, he hardly feels it. A middle class or poor person, however, feels the sting of the sales tax bite far more keenly. If he must pay an extra $8 for each hundred dollars he spends, and now an extra $1.50 on top of that, that $1.50 is a much higher percentage of his disposable income than it is for the wealthy person, who may barely notice an outlay under $100 or $1000 or even $100,000. In other words, for the rich, sales tax is barely an issue, while for the poor, it can make the difference between purchasing a needed item and going without.
            It is for this reason that the sales tax is always the refuge of scoundrels like Governor Schwarzenegger. He knows he can get the rich to agree to it. He also knows that they would balk at any suggestion of an increase in their income tax, or, god forbid, in their property taxes. For in those areas, they would pay noticeably more than the poor. So where at one time, a popular mantra said “soak the rich,” in our time it has become “soak the poor.” And that is exactly what the Governator is proposing. For not only is he proposing an increase of 1.5% in the regressive sales tax (many areas will now have to pay over 10% in sales tax!), he is simultaneously proposing a reduction in expenditures for the public schools. And this is also regressive, and a key indicator of what conservative and Republican party policies have come to rely on. For the wealthy, who are the core constituency of Republicans, the public schools are already a matter of indifference, indeed, a bothersome drain on their finances. Most send their children to private schools in any case. Therefore, to let the public schools and those who rely on them wither and die suits them just fine. But there’s more. As Naomi Klein points out in her Shock Doctrine, the wealthy have now decided that they can privatize just about everything, including security services for their gated communities and, indeed, whole townships where they can live walled off from the nasty realities of the riff-raff who inhabit cities. With everything privatized, including companies to help them get away in case of natural disasters like hurricanes (which do not respect the gates that keep out the poor), they can live truly virtual, sanitized lives.
            This withering away or privatizing of government services has been a key element in the conservative program of the last forty years. The latest proposal by California’s Governor fits right in with this program. It only remains to be seen if the Democrats, who control the majority in the California legislature, cave in once again to this latest heist, this blatant attempt to make the poor bear the burden once again, or if they wake up and say No. No way. No how. There is either going to be fairness, or there is going to be resistance, non-cooperation, and whatever else it takes to right the balance of power.
Lawrence DiStasi

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Coming of Obama

What a night. The pundits have all said it ad nauseam, but it’s worth repeating: this was an historic election victory, one putting, against all odds, a Black man for the first time into our Whitest of Houses. What follows are simply some observations and feelings garnered from watching the returns starting at 4 PM Pacific Time and on to the late news after Obama’s victory speech to a crowd of more than 500,000 in Chicago’s Grant Park.
            Images: Jesse Jackson  at Grant Park, tears rolling down his face, his hand to his mouth trying to control his emotions—no doubt a mix of absolute joy and disbelief and perhaps regret that this Black man had done it, done what he himself could not do in his try for the presidency in the 80s. Not far from him, Oprah Winfrey, also in tears at the sight of a man she had championed in his moment of triumph. And throughout the crowd there, and at dozens of other places throughout the country—Times Square and Harlem in New York, Oakland in California, and outside the White House itself—people of all colors shouting and jumping and pumping and weeping at the breadth and depth and sheer exhilaration of the victory of this man and this movement which had inspired so many to do so much to bring home the prize. And the relief: of being at last, free at last, from second-class citizenship to be sure, but also free from the frustration and criminality of a President who had, for this election season, become a pariah, a Bush animal skulking in back rooms and back alleys and literally afraid to show his face to an electorate and members of his own party that now found him so toxic it must have told him, bellowed at him, “Stay away. The shoe is now on the other foot. Where you have slandered and ostracized millions who disagreed with your wars, now you are the leper no one can even bear to be seen with.”
            Maya Angelou. Interviewed on one of the major channels, the poet and Nobelist, after expressing her real emotion at the pride for her people in this, said something like: ‘At last, the American people have shown their willingness to elect someone with intelligence.’
            Donna Brazile, not long ago Al Gore’s chief strategist and acting as a commentator for one of the networks. And she, more than once, mentioned this wonderful irony:  It had been African Americans who built the steps to the White House; and now, an African American was going to actually reside in the White House.
            John Lewis, the representative from Georgia, describing the scene inside the Ebenezer Baptist Church where Martin Luther King had begun his civil rights movement—a movement that Lewis himself had played a major part in—now filled with laughing, cheering, joyous, weeping people unable to believe that after all that had happened to them and their leaders, one was now the President-elect of the United States. And at about the same time, Andrew Young, another of King’s lieutenants in the civil rights struggle, near tears describing all that he and King and millions of others had been through to get the Voting Rights Act passed under Lyndon Johnson, and now, less than 50 years later, seeing all that work and struggle coming to fruition in this amazing election.
            And all these references came rushing to the fore at the moment the President-elect took the stage in Chicago’s Grant Park, and one realized that here he was, out in the open, with bullet-proof panels of glass to each side, but with the stage open to the front where he spoke; and a knifeblade of fear raced through with the thought that this was still America, and that it was still possible that some crazy racist might try to take a shot at yet another Black man. Because after all, it had only been less than 50 years since the first of those horror scenarios erupted in Dallas, ending the presidency of another reviled young president, John F. Kennedy. And it had been even fewer years since Martin Luther King, on the cusp of becoming the real leader of the anti-war movement against the war in Vietnam, had been shot on a balcony in Memphis. And fewer than that when yet another Kennedy, Robert, had been poised to take the Democratic nomination for president to succeed Lyndon Johnson, and he, too, was shot and killed in the kitchen of a hotel in Los Angeles. And at about the same time, Malcolm X, yet another brillliant black leader beginning to stir masses of people with an even stronger message than King’s, also assassinated on the stage of a ballroom in New York’s Harlem. All these killings. All these wasted lives, radical progressive lives, cut short before they could come to fruition. And here, in Chicago’s Grant Park, was another life, a mythic Black life on an almost miraculous rise to power from near-obscurity, a political life coming to fruition on this near-miraculous election evening in the 21st Century, and the blood pumped fear that the mad, reactionary forces that seem endemic to America could do it again.
            Perhaps that was why Obama’s speech seemed subdued. There were no pumping of fists in victory, no shouts of joy that “we did it” or “I did it when no one thought I could,” no hint even of gloating that many who thought it improbable that he could not only beat the Clinton machine, but also the residual resistance in this land to a black man getting too uppity, were wrong. Nothing of the sort. It was somber, that speech. As if mindful not only of the terrible road ahead, of the dangerous rocks and shoals in the way of any president being able to rescue the broken economy, the broken image of America in the world, of a military broken and bogged down by two wars, of a system that has grown rich and fat on cruelty and chicanery and outright theft and massive indifference to the suffering of “others,” not only that: but mindful as well of the risks that he, a Black man, took exposing himself here and continuously on like stages for the next four or eight years to the still festering resentment of those who would like nothing so much as to see him get his “comeuppance.” And he must have been mindful of it, for the networks told us all that though the Obama victory was sweeping, it had hardly dented the solid South. It was there that McCain racked up his only string of victories of the night. In Alabama and Mississippi and Arkansas and Tennessee and Louisiana and South Carolina and Texas and Kentucky and Oklahoma and once-bleeding Kansas, the polls showed conclusively that the white vote went for the Republican candidate by margins of 8 and 9 and 10 to 1. This was the core of the “southern strategy” evolved by Richard Nixon in 1972. Take advantage of that white resentment, the resentment of still unreconstructed southerners outraged at the rights being “given” to blacks, outraged at the northerners who came south to help get them those rights in the 60s, outraged at the “liberals” from New York who had presumed to enter their land and instruct them about rights and equality and about who had the right to sit where and eat and drink what. And vote. And that resentment, harnessed by Nixon and his followers in the Republican Party ever since, gave the minority party just the edge they needed to win four of the last six elections. And Obama knew it. And must have been mindful of it as he gave that subdued speech, emphasizing not victory but unity, not a new deal or any deal at all, but mostly coming together. It was, on some level perhaps, a plea, the same he has been making all along. We intend no major upheaval, no revolution, no attack on values. We mean only to implement a fair way to get the change America needs to get back on track. Whether it worked or not, whether it impressed that still-solid South, remains to be seen. But in Chicago, on this night of transcendent victory over the forces of unreason, that was the tone the winner struck.
            And it capped what can only be called a remarkable night; a night and a campaign in which race came to the fore, but in such a way, and in such circumstances, that a huge majority of the country decided that perhaps it was time. Perhaps the time had come to put this most contentious of American conflicts behind us, at least for the moment, and let the more qualified candidate, the clearly more intelligent and compassionate and informed and humane candidate take the helm of a ship of state which eight years of greed and ignorance and criminal hubris have put on the rocks. And though it is clear that the coming of Obama is not the second coming that many hope it is, not by a long shot, it surely is a cause for relief and even joy that at long last, one long national nightmare is over, and a time of renewal, of renewed faith in community and service and the fine art of governance in its best sense may be at hand.
Lawrence DiStasi

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Chaos by Design

How long shall we endure
The deliberately obscure
When ‘clear sky’ pollutes
And nothing refutes
The lies and the errors
Describing the terrors?
We need abatement
Of the signing statement
And a word that just seems
To say what it means

As we ponder these 2008 elections, we need to make sense of the claims and counter-claims as well as the specific results. Most of us try to do that with whatever knowledge and experience we bring to the voting booth. Good for us. Unfortunately, political campaigns excel in hyperbole, so we need to calibrate our expectations with our internal “smoke detectors” and make some decisions based on an integration and weighting of lots of factors. Normally, we do this without much conscious thought, but when election season is upon us, we have polls that slice the data in ways that only pollsters could love, and in ways that not even they understand.

The question I need to pose to each of you is this:
When you make your everyday decisions about what you eat and wear; your health care; your investments; expenditures for transportation shelter; entertainment and safety, do you know what you are doing? Seriously, do you know what you are doing? Cessation programs such as those for smoking or drinking ask that you keep logs so you know the circumstances of when you partake. That presents one side of the equation and perhaps it might help, but life has become so complex that knowing yourself is simply not enough. Is there melamine in that milk or formula? Are you swallowing a fast-track drug or is it simply a placebo? Do your children’s toys contain lead? Does the mortgage interest rate change? Does your credit card rate change? Does your spinach or ground beef patty contain E coli 0157: H7 or does your chicken dinner have salmonella? Hmm…think about it.
Now what if I asked you what protected you from the unknown in all the areas of your life? If the FDA is to protect you from untested drugs or reports authored by “scientists” with a conflict of interest, do you know if that has that been subverted? Similarly, if the bright imported toys are laced with lead, do you have a test kit to detect the lead? Do you really have an airbag that will deploy in an accident? What protects you from predatory lending or financial products that cost more than they earn?
Stay with me. Of course, we have federal agencies that are chartered to test and investigate, but will they? What if I told you that the system depends on the existence of adequate regulations, funding and staffing of agencies and the desire of the inspectors and investigators to enforce the rules? We know that the “Clear Skies Initiative” actually adds pollution…but how much? The name gives us no clue. In fact, it sounds like a good deal. Everybody wants clear skies.
Political rhetoric has become confusing. Take this quote from Alaska Governor Sarah Palin:
“And Alaska—we’re set up, unlike other states in the union, where it’s collectively Alaskans own the resources. So we share in the wealth when the development of these resources occurs. … It’s to maximize benefits for Alaskans, not an individual company, not some multinational somewhere, but for Alaskans.”
Ms. Palin became shrill in her denunciation of Barack Obama for his plan to share the wealth by planning tax cuts for the middle class and rolling back the Bush tax cuts for the more wealthy. She used “socialist” as a pejorative and then words such as “liberal” were thrown into the mix, but it was Teddy Roosevelt, a conservative Republican, that established a graduated income tax nearly a hundred years ago and it has been policy ever since. So if she spreads the wealth in Alaska, it is “American,” but if we continue the graduated tax in the entire country, it is “socialist.” Division is a useful tool when wielded by experts in the process who use political code words for building fear and even panic in a population that has not done due diligence in researching issues but is ready to blame our ills on some “outside” group or person. Likewise, when Palin denounced Obama for voting against an Iraqi funding bill, she left unsaid that McCain also voted against an Iraqi funding bill. One had time lines and one did not.
My point is simply this: Similar to the impossibility to self-analyze our health, safety, and investment decisions because of their complexity and lack of individual tools and skills; we cannot determine the truth or falsity of claims and counter claims in the political arena because there is so much that is hidden from view. Bush has signed bills into law and then added a record number of “signing statements” that gut the legislation. Right at this very moment, Bush has a task force working to deregulate as much as possible before he leaves office. This is not only a low profile event, but is actively hidden from view. In a way, there is a biblical quality to all this activity. Recall the parable in the New Testament where Jesus describes the prudent steward who, one by one, writes down the debts owed his master so as to set up a good life after his pending dismissal. Bush is leaving office and will deregulate those industries that will offer him the continuing good life; the nation be damned. Given his record on deregulation that brought on the chaos of the mortgage meltdown and the lending laments expect the worst, and you will not be disappointed. An ideologue to the end, Bush will leave office continuing the support of lobbyists that were the hallmark of his reign. Will we keep a log of all the regulations that need to be reinstated? Perhaps if we do, we can avoid another catastrophe rooted in the ideology of deregulation. Again, the enemy is not government, but BAD government where chaos is introduced and nurtured by design.

George Giacoppe
31 October 2008

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Shock Doc

I’ve been reading Naomi Klein’s truly shocking book, The Shock Doctrine. Everyone should read it without delay. For not only does it tell a riveting tale about an overarching plan hatched by the right wing in this country for the last 40 years or so, but it helps make sense of the economic turmoil now facing this nation and the world. It also points out that while the Left has focused its attention on the peril it has seen in political violence and war, the Right has focused on “free market” economics and the real control and profits it provides to those in power. Lastly, it tells us how the 9/11 attacks have been used by the Right to “shock” us all into compliance (see www.ae911truth.org for engineering analyses of the tower collapses), and indeed, what that compliance was really about.
            To put it briefly, the right wing objective for more than 40 years has been to foist a fundamentalist version of capitalism—Milton Friedman’s purist version of “free market” capitalism—on the world. This is the system espoused by Friedman and his “Chicago boys” at the University of Chicago. It is a system that argues that all government interference in the economy is evil, especially the social programs (social security, public housing, government regulations on banks, government-run building programs) that Franklin Roosevelt instituted to end the Great Depression, and that many third world governments instituted to ameliorate the misery of their impoverished masses.  Rather, the Chicago plan urges the privatization of all nationalized industries (especially oil, but also water, power, and so on), the elimination of all social programs designed to help the poor, and the opening of every country to “free trade.” Of course, when such purifying “surgery” is administered to a country rapidly, the pain and misery of the population increases dramatically. Therefore, Friedman argued, a shock is needed to instill fear in the people, and force them and the government to accept the harsh medicine, often called “structural adjustment” when implemented by the IMF and the World Bank.  Klein quotes Milton Friedman’s statement in 1982 about the necessity of crisis or shock to implement such ideas:
            “Only a crisis—actual or perceived—produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”
            Klein’s book then leads us through the countries to whom this “free market” medicine has been applied in recent years: Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia, as well as China, Russia, South Africa, and more recently the United States itself. In almost every case, the medicine is initially rejected as too harsh—rejected, that is, until a shock either occurs from the outside, or is initiated by the government. In every case, as well, the necessity for either a dictator or some form of police state is required to force people to accept the pain. The preferred method, and according to Klein, the virtual twin of such programs, is torture. In Chile, for example, the coup which killed the democratically-elected president, Salvador Allende, and installed as dictator Augusto Pinochet, was the necessary precursor to the transition to free market capitalism. The road to this coup, however, was paved in prior years by a crew of Chileans studying with Friedman at the University of Chicago (the Chicago Boys), a crew which returned to await the chance to implement their policies. The road was also paved by the CIA in helping to overturn the elected government, as well as in the training it supplied in the best methods of counter-insurgency and torture. Once Pinochet seized power, he immediately began to “disappear” people—either dropping them from planes into the ocean or depositing them in torture chambers. In either case, most were never heard from again. And the targets were not only political leaders on the left, but also union leaders of every kind (destroying unions has been a key element of the “free market” program: think Reagan and the firing of 14,000 air traffic controllers). Such killings were not kept secret: the public demonstrations of repression were necessary to send the message that anyone who opposed the new regime did so under threat of death. Thousands left the country, while thousands more—including some of the most prominent figures in the nation like the composer/singer Victor Jara—were eliminated. In sum, Chile endured three complementary forms of shock: the shock of the military coup; the capitalist shock treatment to the economy; and the shock of the CIA-codified torture chamber meant to destroy the left-leaning culture itself. The result was then referred to, especially in the United States, as the Chilean Economic Miracle.
            Of course, what the promoters of this “miracle” never mention is that in fact, the Chicago-inspired shock therapy actually resulted in economic disaster: Chile’s economy crashed in 1982, its debt exploded, it faced hyperinflation, and its unemployment reached 30%, ten times higher than under Allende. Neither do they note that in response, Pinochet was forced to emulate the leader he had killed, and nationalize many of the companies in trouble (he never had to re-nationalize Chile’s biggest industry, copper, because he had never de-nationalized it in the first place.) And even with the economic growth that followed, more than 45% of the population fell below the poverty line, while the richest 10% of Chileans saw their incomes rise by almost 100%. In other words, the free-market “miracle” did what it has done elsewhere, including the United States: it transferred enormous wealth from the poor and middle classes to the very rich (Joseph Giannone of Reuters wrote on Sept. 4, 2008, that “the top 1 percent of all households owned 35% of the world’s wealth last year. Meanwhile, the top 0.001 percent, ultra-rich households holding at least $5 million in assets, commanded $21 trillion—1/5 of the world’s wealth.”)
            This really gets to an underlying thesis of Klein’s book. In each country, the violence against the populace becomes the focus of those opposing the dictator or the dictatorial government. However, the violence is never the goal, but only the means. Klein quotes Claudia Acuna, an Argentine journalist, on the government that “disappeared” so many thousands: “Their human rights violations were so outrageous, so incredible, that stopping them of course became the priority. But while we were able to destroy the secret torture centers, what we couldn’t destroy was the economic program…” The truth pointed out by Klein is that far more lives were stolen by “planned misery” than by bullets:
            “…what happened in the Southern Cone of Latin America in the seventies is that it was treated as a murder scene when it was, in fact, the site of an extraordinarily violent armed robbery.”
            In other words, torture is not meant to extract information, as is commonly stated, but rather is a “means of terrorizing and controlling populations.” It is a means to seize from millions of people what they absolutely require to live with minimal dignity, and would never give up willingly. That this is so can be seen in South Africa. There, the apartheid government “gave” political freedom to Nelson Mandela and the black majority. But while Mandela’s government, the ANC, was focusing on political matters so it could redistribute land and wealth, the white power structure was ensuring that economic power remained with them: the ANC was saddled with the enormous debt of the rulers who had oppressed it, and with paying the pensions of the very officials that had maintained the apartheid system. Further, it became crystal clear that any attempt to renege on those debts or nationalize industries such as mining would cause international investors to withdraw from South Africa and plunge the country into depression. The ANC was, and is trapped, and the majority of South Africans are worse off than ever.
            Many readers would find all this information about “them” interesting, if not compelling. What Klein points out, however, is that the “them” is now “us.” With underdeveloped nations increasingly closing their doors to U.S. privatization schemes, U.S. conservatives saw that the profits of privatization in the new century would have to come from within. Consider the announced plans of our recently- departed Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. This corporate CEO, with a reputed fortune of $250 million, cared little about how best to protect the nation; rather, his primary interest was in reforming the Pentagon bureaucracy—but NOT to save money or increase efficiency. It was to privatize the biggest agency of the United States government. The military, said Rumsfeld, should reduce its focus to warfighting alone…whereas “in all other cases, we should seek (private) suppliers who can provide these non-core activities…” Such suppliers could do everything from cutting DOD checks to running its warehouses to picking up its garbage to providing housing for soldiers to providing computer systems. And as Jeremy Scahill points out in Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, the drive to privatize the military and outsource its traditional functions did not stop with providing clean laundry and Burger Kings at army bases; it was extended to include protection for military leaders and visiting dignitaries, and even to implementing torture (always termed ‘information gathering’) in places like Abu Ghraib.
            Thus, Rumsfeld and his protégé Cheney became the point men not so much in downsizing the United States government that they largely ran for the first 6 years of the Bush administration, but rather in creating a corporate bonanza for their corporate friends and cronies such as Cheney’s Halliburton and Rumsfeld’s Gilead Sciences (maker of Tamiflu, the preferred drug for avian flu, which Rummie expected, when the next flu epidemic hit, to turn into a cash cow of unprecedented proportions). Privatizing and outsourcing were the key policies, and the Gold Dust Twins were already masters of these policies by the time they got to the Bush administration. Under Cheney’s 5-year reign in the 1990s, for example, Halliburton’s take from the U.S. Treasury ballooned by almost 100%---from $1.2 billion to $2.3 billion—while its federal loans and guarantees “increased fifteenfold.” God only knows what Halliburton, now super-enriched by its contracts in Iraq, has been raking in since then.
            There is far more detail in Klein’s book, but the essence is this: The real agenda of the Right since at least the Reagan administration has been not repression and war so much, but an increasing economic stranglehold over the world and its resources. War, violence, spying, torture are only the necessary means to this end. And the corollary truth—which stems from the guru, Milton Friedman himself—is that only a crisis, only deeply disorienting shocks to a national body, can make a population accept the kind of economic pain that goes along with such theft. Everyone now knows what those shocks have been in the last 8 years: the attacks of 9/11, the so-called war on terror, the drowning of New Orleans, and now, the financial meltdown. And it is sobering if not frightening to realize that the most recent shock—the financial one—has done its job perfectly. The United States Congress, even in the face of massive outrage from its constituents, finally succumbed to the shock therapy, and agreed to the massive bailouts for the very banks and CEOs whose policies and thefts were responsible for the collapse in the first place.
            Read Naomi Klein’s book. You may not be glad you did, but you’ll certainly be better equipped to comprehend the public fleecing you’ve been enduring for years.
Lawrence DiStasi

addendum on joe the so-called plumber, from the Daily Kos:

The facts - as even the reluctant to bother actually doing reporting Corporate Media have revealed - are that: Joe The Plumber only makes $40,000 a year, doesn't have a valid plumbers license in the state of Ohio, has only been a "plumber" for 6 years - not 15, has never finished his plumber courses, has never apprenticed as a plumber, can't afford to buy his bosses business - which only generates $100,000 a year in income Profit, not $250,000 - is a registered republican who owes over a $1,000 in back taxes, and under any version of Obama's plan would get a tax cut that would be larger than McCain's.

His (first) Name isn't even Joe - It's SAM!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Government is Not the Problem

And who can view this mess
And pray for success
With Wall Street tycoons
Using us buffoons
With fundamentals strong
Yet bread lines long
And finances so dire
Who is the biggest liar?
Bush/Paulson hints at Fate
But is it deliberate?

Let me shed some light on the questions posed in the verse above to those of you who may not be keeping up with the financial and political theater currently playing in venues near you. The crisis is deliberate. The fear being injected by the White House is exactly parallel to the fear generated by GW Bush just prior to invading “sovereign” Iraq. I was struck by the 25 September 2008 John Stewart parallel running of video clips of the Bush drumbeat of fear not only repeated, but that it was virtually word for word from his “warnings” about Iraq. For those of you who see government as a purposeful instrument to create commonwealth, this will be heart-breaking news, but some far right-wingers want to destroy government. Their patron saint, Grover Norquist has finally seen his dream within reach. He sees government as the “beast” that must be starved until it can be drowned in the bathtub. What better way to starve the beast than to create debt so huge that none of the usual services of government can be provided? If New Orleans and Galveston did not provide a sufficient bathtub, then Wall Street has exceeded expectations. Victory for the plutocrats can now be achieved by destroying all the usual government services and firmly establishing the rule of money. All services, including human services, and even our national defense services have been badly maimed by profligate spending, outsourcing of key activities, elimination and diminution of oversight and regulation, and damaging labor and the agencies supporting it. When the Bush Administration was forced to recognize some of the agencies such as the USDA or FDA, it deliberately chose to reduce the number of inspectors and, worse, indicated that the purpose of those remaining was to help the companies providing goods and services rather than the public at large. To be fair, this began before GW Bush. He simply perfected the assault techniques.
Bush has simultaneously presided over the largest increase in government while reducing critical government services in areas such as food inspection, drug testing (remember VIOXX?), OSHA, Mine Safety, EPA, etc. Further, he has done it through a simple premise that the market knows better than government and that his clients are the corporations in the marketplace rather than the citizens paying the taxes. He uses clever names such as the “Clear Sky Initiative” while fouling the air. His Neocon tactics include the following:
1. Where possible, eliminate government agencies that now provide services to oversee corporations. Deregulate.
2. Where that cannot be done, under-staff or do not staff the agencies at all.
3. Where that cannot be done, then staff the agencies with incompetent and/or antagonistic managers.
4. In any event, outsource key activities including oversight to corporations loyal to the administration. Use no-bid contracts and executive discretion in assigning contracts.
5. Where these measures fail, support corporations through judicial review by sympathetic judges. The “free” market needs a boost to ensure the right corporations thrive.
Time was when caveat emptor might have been sufficient for most circumstances. If nobody added chemicals to milk and you could smell that it was not sour, then perhaps it was safe for your children to drink. In today’s marketplace, we need testing for listeria, for melamine, for E. coli, etc., in our food products; we need to know about lead contamination in toys and we need to be able to compare complex products. People get hurt when we do not set rules, test and enforce. We, as a commonwealth, need to protect one another and to nurture life rather than corporations. Again, corporations do not have colonoscopies. People do. It seems ironic to me that the very politicians who scream to protect the unborn deliberately ignore safety and health after that moment of birth as they champion the interests of corporations over the common man.
The complexity of our food and other products we use daily extends to the financial world. We use general terms to describe some of these products, but it takes experts to distinguish one derivative from another. Some products were so complex that valuation escaped the experts. The upshot of all this…the only conclusion that we can draw is that Reagan was incorrect. Government is not the problem. Bad government is the problem. Medicare is one of the best programs ever developed by our government, yet the Neocons seek to destroy it and replace it with commercial systems. Social Security has protected the dignity and financial security of our citizens from the 1930s, but Neocons would have replaced it with individual commercial accounts using the mantra of an “ownership society.” Exactly where would we be if the Bush plan had been adopted given our current financial meltdown? We would have bread lines without bread, that’s what. We need to fix Social Security, not destroy it. We need to remember that the federal drug plan was written by drug companies for drug companies, just as our energy plan was written by energy companies. It put the government in the position of, again, protecting corporations rather than people, especially those on fixed incomes. It forbid the government from getting low bids for drugs and is far more expensive than it needs to be. That is not due to government. That is due to bad government. There is a clear difference. Government must serve the people first; not corporations, except as they help our commonwealth.
Just think calmly about the tactics. Bush and McCain accuse Democrats of being the “Tax and Spend” party while they borrow and spend and reduce taxes on the most wealthy among us. If they borrow enough, then the government cannot function and they win by default and by de-funding programs that are needed in a complex new world. This borrowing is now at a record high and about to rocket higher. In the interim, prior to collapse, Neocons can give out contracts to friends and appoint “agency assassins” to head up government departments they want to shut down. Examples abound. Bush insisted on appointing John Bolton to the UN despite his hatred of the institution. But long before GW Bush, Nixon appointed Howard Phillips, a virulent right winger, to lead the Office of Equal Opportunity that Phillips antagonistically described as a “Marxist concept.” He systematically fired moderate Republicans; hired YAF extremists, and withheld budget. Katrina has cost taxpayers about $100 Billion and yet few victims have returned to New Orleans. Contracts went to cronies and work simply did not get done much as in Iraq. The ice for Katrina victims continued to avoid refugee centers and was shipped willy-nilly to “earn” money by favored shippers. Until this latest financial crisis and with the painful exception of the questionable but costly war in Iraq, Katrina provided the single largest boondoggle of any in our history. FEMA was led by a man who had failed at arranging horse shows. Brown was a byproduct of Joe Allbough who had no FEMA experience either, but was a close friend of GW Bush and a major contributor to Bush campaigns. After recommending Brown to Bush, then Joe Allbough set up his lobby and was able to garner millions in Katrina contracts. That’s what friends are for.
Please read The Wrecking Crew by Thomas Frank. Most of the examples provided in this essay are from his well-documented book. It is scary, but you need to read it to understand why things do not appear to make sense and why people now trust government less today than at any time in history. We need moderates to gain control of government. Good Republicans and Democrats who understand the common good, the commonwealth. We need quality employees and a vibrant Civil Service dedicated to citizens instead of corporations. We need to insist on good government to earn the trust of America.

George Giacoppe
28 September 2008

The “Inexperience” Code

You’ve all heard it endlessly by now, the Republican attack on Barack Obama which maintains that he has no experience in running a government or a business, and thus is too inexperienced to be President. Now aside from the inanity of this argument, especially when considering the opposite argument employed for Sarah Palin—CEO of Alaska, with a population (around 600,000) smaller than most cities, and Mayor of Wasilla, with a population (6,000) smaller than most colleges—there is a coded message here that is necessary for Americans to understand.
            “Inexperience,” when applied to Barack Obama, is code for “race.”
            Let me explain with an example. Prior to World War II, the United States Navy was desperately searching for boats to supplement its vastly under-equipped Navy. It began to inspect fishing boats, among them the large purse seiners used by hundreds of Sicilian fishermen along the west coast. The Navy would eventually requisition hundreds of such boats and outfit them as mine sweepers, but before it did, it considered whether it would, like England, induct not just the boats but their crews as well. A February 1939 memo from Admiral Hepburn, commandant of the 12th Naval District, summarizes the Navy’s findings, including its assessment of the Sicilian fishermen it might wish to induct. Here is part of what it said:
            “The majority of Italians are not good seamen, good fishermen, nor good navigators. They are not over-intelligent, do not know the Rules of the Road, and, in general, appear to have the characteristics of big, overgrown children….” (see my “Fish Story,” in Lawrence DiStasi, UNA STORIA SEGRETA [2001],  for more details.)
Based on such assessments, the Navy decided that it would requisition the boats alright, but not these “child-like” Sicilians, a group that was, at that very time, presiding over the most efficient and opulent sardine fishing industry the world has ever seen.
            This type of more subtle racism has been thoroughly analyzed by David A.J. Richards in his 1999 book, “Italian American: The Racializing of an Ethnic Group.” In that book, Richards argued that phrases like “big, overgrown children” really represent a judgment that a group is developmentally inferior, even genetically incomplete. This means that its members never quite reach the full mental and moral development that would make them truly adult, i.e. truly human. African Americans, Native Americans, and, in their turn, many immigrant groups like Italians and Latin Americans have been judged in exactly this way.
            Now we come back to the code for Obama. The term “inexperienced,” I would maintain, when applied to Obama, means not just that he has never been a CEO. It cuts deeper, cuts to a place that most Americans understand, if not consciously, then subliminally. And what it is meant to signify is that this man, Harvard-educated or not, U.S. Senator or not, lacks the full development that one finds most ideally in white people—Sarah Palin, for instance. No matter what he does, no matter how eloquently he can speak, therefore, he can never quite rise to the level of full humanity signified by whiteness. That’s because as a black man, by (America’s) definition, he is lacking in those adult qualities of mind and morality that America must have in its president.
            Of course, not John McCain nor Sarah Palin nor even the vicious conservative shock jocks could say this outright. That would be racism, and so toxic is this label that even Obama’s comment about not being the right “type” elicited a “reverse racism” accusation from the outraged McCain. No, the Republican slime machine is too canny for that. So it uses code. This year the code word is “inexperienced.” During the Reagan campaign, it was “welfare queens.” George H.W. Bush employed the now-infamous Willie Horton commercial, suggesting that his opponent, Michael Dukakis, would free black rapists. And our dear George, G.W., not only spread racial slurs in the Carolinas to sink McCain’s surging campaign for the nomination (McCain was said to have a black child), but then employed several techniques to disenfranchise mostly black urban voters in Florida, Ohio, and elsewhere in order to steal one, and probably two elections. These slimy tactics are still going on, the latest being the Republican ploy of requiring all voters to display photo IDs allegedly to “ensure against election fraud” (though hardly a single case of election fraud has ever been demonstrated in states with these requirements, like Indiana.) But in reality the tactic is meant to discourage as many inner-city black voters (who almost universally vote Democratic) as possible from attempting to vote. More generally, it is no secret that the Republican Party’s southern strategy—to incite the racial animosity and fear still prevalent in southern and Midwestern states—has been the key to its ability to win elections since Nixon first employed it in 1968.
            So count on it. You will hear the “inexperienced” slur against Obama repeatedly, daily, without letup. And to the increasingly fearful white populace of the heartland it will signify what it has always signified: in the United States of America, a black man simply does not have the mental, moral, or emotional heft to be fully human, much less to be the highest official in the land.
Lawrence DiStasi

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Pit Bull

I am meditating on violence this morning, the violence endemic to the United States--especially after enduring the acceptance speech of Sarah Palin, the VP choice of John McCain at last night’s  Republican Convention. What a white devil she is turning out to be; a mocking devil cloaking herself in her wonderful, Christian, family-based American values. All of which might have worked save for a few lapses, the main one being the quote whereby she characterizes herself as a “hockey mom,” and how she defines that update of the once-influential “soccer mom.” Here’s how she did it: 
            “What’s the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull?” She asked, pausing with her white-devil, mocking grin, and then giving the punchline: “Lipstick.” And she smiled again. Ho ho.
            Naturally, that hall full of desperate Republicans eager to cheer every line, went wild over this one. We’ve got a winner, they were cheering, we’ve got a tough one. No foreigners or journalists or liberals are going to push our Sarah around!
            But let’s look carefully at this self-characterization, one of the most alarming things I’ve ever heard from a political figure. This aspirant for the Vice Presidency, this person who could be one stroke by an aging McCain away from the Presidency, compares herself to a PIT BULL. That is, this allegedly Brady Bunch mom compares herself to the most aggressive, vicious, killing machine ever bred by dog fanciers. No, not dog fanciers, fanciers of illegal dog-fights. You know, those lovely little matches where two dogs are dumped into a ring and urged to tear each other apart to satisfy the blood lust of adoring dog-fight fans. And pit bulls have been bred specifically for this, for their “gameness,” which is to say, for their insane aggressiveness and refusal to quit even when mortally wounded and bleeding to death. All of which Americans nominally condemn, for it wasn’t all that long ago that football star Michael Vick was arrested and jailed for raising just these fighting dogs on his estate. Pilloried for his association with such cruelty. Forced to forfeit a brilliant career.
            Of course, Michael Vick is a black man. Sarah Palin, by contrast, is a lily-white, “pro-life” super-woman. So from her, the comparison to a pit bull is funny. Haha. But is it? Consider. This Republican convention has already made clear that, with its adoption of the McCain demand for “victory in Iraq” (nevermind that an occupation, by its very nature, cannot end in “victory”), and its criticism of Democrats for “not once mentioning the word “victory,” these people have portrayed themselves as the quintessential, jingoistic American killers D.H. Lawrence long ago wrote about (see his Studies in Classic American Literature). They have made clear that they embody that long tradition in America, which has made not baseball but killing the national pastime. Thus, when, at their convention, they have chanted after every red meat line, “USA! USA!” like some hysterical crowd of American supporters at the Olympics, they are not just being embarrassing, jingoistic yahoos. They are harking back to the entire history of this country, conceived in liberty, perhaps, but steeped in violence and killing even earlier—first, against its original inhabitants, hunted down and exterminated and penned into reservations; second against its imported slaves, where the mere act of keeping and trading in slaves requires the constant threat of violence and death, as does keeping the “freed” slaves powerless, exploited, and trapped in ghettos until this very day; and third and throughout, against the environment itself, the land itself, which from the first has been denuded of its forests, plundered for its riches, plowed, leveled, and flattened in every corner of this continent, and now, in Alaska. And the position of Palin to drill for oil in one of the last wildlife preserves in Anwr is just the latest manifestation of this environmental violence, of which we were constantly reminded by that other bloodlust chant of the Republicans last night, “Drill, baby, Drill.”           
            So just think about what we have here: a woman—casting herself as this compassionate nurturing mother, so compassionate for life that she opted to bear her Down’s Syndrome fifth child—whose chief metaphor to characterize herself is the pit bull. So that she seems not only to be saying that she’s vicious and relentless and willing to fight to the death; she’s also saying she LIKES blood, enjoys blood sport, thrives on the vicious tearing to pieces of her adversaries—and by extension everyone in the world who might think to oppose the US of A. Because she has compared herself to an animal that loves to kill. And her hunting background—hunting from the safety of an airplane where no life form has a chance—perhaps confirms this.
            Is this what we want in the White House? Yet another vice president who’s an avowed killer, (our current one having shot his best friend in the face), another Cheney to turn the White House into the center and source of unbridled horror, including the torturing and killing of anyone who MIGHT be an adversary? Nevermind the law?  Nevermind sparing the innocent? Nevermind sissy negotiations?
            It seems. Because Palin mocked Obama last night as someone who would “want to read terrorists their rights;” omitting, of course, the important point, that it is detainees whose innocence or guilt has never been even considered, much less proven, who deserve the rights of habeas corpus. Because that’s what the Republican chant about “victory,” McCain’s victory, really means: Full spectrum dominance over the entire world, law and/or innocence be damned. Anyone who resists such U.S. dominance, any nation that refuses to bow down to United States demands for its resources or its fealty, that nation will be threatened and attacked and nothing will do but victory. And victory means precisely that: giving up, bowing down, agreeing that the United States, the victor, and its victorious corporations (especially those run by the likes of Cheney and company) is dominant over that nation and calls the shots.
            All of which comes to this: if you like pit bulls—and Sarah Palin seems to—if you’re proud of the American history that honors enslavement and violence and extermination and exploitation, then the McCain-Palin team are your guys.
            And that brings to mind what the Republicans might do this season: instead of the elephant as their symbol, perhaps they ought to be honest and change it to a snarling, slavering, blood-spattered pit bull, rampant. That would be ‘straight talk’ indeed.
Lawrence DiStasi


 Though I couldn’t bring myself to watch the entire interview, I did see a tiny segment of Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin’s interview with Charles Gibson last night. And it finally struck me: all those grins, all those talking points glibly delivered, all that salesman-like addressing of the interviewer by his first name, “Charlie,” all raise one question.
            Is this a real flesh-and-blood woman, or a robot?
            Think about it. She has this piled up hair, all in place. She dresses in perfectly fitted suits (not Hillary-type feminist pantsuits either) that fit her perfectly. She has this perfect smile and this near-perfect delivery of her perfectly crafted lines. I mean if the Republicans had designed a candidate to their exacting specifications—hockey mom with five kids, small town mayor, governor of the most Republican state in the Union, rabid supporter of the NRA, Christian Fundamentalist in the most extreme segment of the most extreme end-times sect in the nation, pro-lifer who not only talks the talk but walked the walk to bear a child she knew would emerge with Down’s Syndrome—they couldn’t have come up with a better model. She even talks about the Iraq war as divinely inspired. And while she was at it, last night, suggested that in order to assure Georgia’s entry into NATO, it would be worth risking a war with Russia.
            I mean, is there no doubt in the woman? Not a tic or a pause to reflect on what her blithely optimistic words might mean? It seems not. Robots have no doubts. Robots do not reflect. Robots simply move straight ahead to their programmed ends. God wants war—we go straight ahead. God wants my firstborn to serve in that war (apparently with a little help from a drug bust to be fixed by enlisting)—praise be. God gifts me a child with Down’s Syndrome—have it and be thankful. No doubts. Not a worry line in sight.
            It’s something that has kept gnawing at me since that convention night when she gave her speech. All I could think of was that Down’s baby. The dominant impression was that he, like the rest of the family, only more so, was on display. He kept being handed back and forth, first to Cindy McCain, then to the 8-year-old daughter, then another daughter, then the father, then on stage to Mom for a few seconds, then back and forth and to and fro. An exhibit—a human exhibit to prove his pro-life Mother’s humanity. Only that humanity was nowhere on display, then, or since. I mean having a child with Down’s cannot be a picnic. One knows the difficulties that are coming. The heartache. The constant questioning of the decision. But none of that ever seems at issue with Sarah Palin. Her smooth brow remains smooth, her smile fixed, her cheeks rosy, her upbeat aggressive confidence ever undimmed. Is there a heart there to ache at all?
            This is why the robot answer comes to mind. A robot doesn’t have heartache. A robot doesn’t fret about the future. A robot simply rolls straight to the target. All systems go, like a drone swooping to launch its rockets into a suspected enemy hideout. And if there happen to be a few collaterals damaged, no problem. We’ll just tinker with the targeting system and do better next time.
            What is most alarming about all this is that, increasingly, it appears that our politicians are all becoming more robotic. Arnold Schwarzenegger was the prototype—the original robot who gloried in his past role as the Terminator. A killing machine. Perfect candidate to be governor, where he became known as the Governator. McCain too; since the Convention repeating without letup the same lines, the same expressions, the same fake emotions. A robot. It almost seems to come with the political territory these days: you want to win public office, you become a robot.
            The trouble is, these robots get into office and make decisions that affect our lives. Reading about Bush and his robotic response to 9/11 makes the blood run cold. He wanted blood. The man had to prove how tough he was, and his programmers, Cheney et al, knew just which buttons to push to get him to “man up” and agree to the most cruel and inhuman measures. Kill the bastards. That was really the program the CIA initially came up with: we’re going to go into Afghanistan and kill ‘em all; there’ll be flies walking across their eyeballs. Nevermind trials; nevermind habeas corpus; never mind Geneva; nevermind the law; just kill ‘em. And the cold eyes of the robot president sparkled with anticipation, his robotic response being the one all robots employ: “do whatever it takes.”
            Robots. The entire nation, more often than not, seems robotized. Seems to WANT to be robotized. Robots that don’t feel. Robots that don’t worry or have fears. Robots who live their lives out on computer screens or TV screens where robots like Sarah Palin look perfectly cool for the perfectly scripted parts they play. And if there are some malcontents who yearn for the days when real humans displayed real concerns about real human problems, why never fear. The luddites you will have always with you—until, of course, the robotic End Times sort out the us’s from the them’s, once and for all.
Lawrence DiStasi