Sunday, 30 December 2007

Murder without Mystery

Whoever pulled the grenade pin or fired the gun that killed Benazir Bhutto, it’s now pretty obvious that the Pakistani state was at least a half-partner in the assassination. That was unintentionally confirmed by the bizarre explanation of the interior ministry spokesman who cobbled together the completely incredible official account of her death in 48 hours without the benefit of an autopsy. So we’re to swallow the absurd tale that Bhutto hit her head on a metal bar and died of a concussion while people standing around her were splattered with her blood and immediately reported that she had been shot through the neck.

The Independent of London notes that the entire area around the assassination point was promptly washed down with high-powered hoses, which conveniently removes key evidence and is also par for the course in Pakistani political hits, including that of Bhutto’s own brother while she was prime minister. The mounting evidence that Musharraf and his secret police are complicit makes even more repugnant the facile crap mouthed by our own presidential candidates about the need for Pakistan to ‘continue on the path to democratization’ (Edwards, who should know better).

The reality-based candidates (i.e. not including McCain who thinks Musharraf has done a heckuva job) are now recognizing that the credibility of the Pakistani regime is approaching absolute zero. But their policy suggestions don’t rise to the occasion.

We should be hearing much more about restoring the independent judiciary recently trashed by Musharraf as a minimum first step both toward finding out the truth about the Bhutto assassination and any chance of building a system based on the rule of law. Instead, the candidates are far too focused on U.S. security needs to be distracted by anything as dull as the well-being of Pakistanis.

It’s the same exact error committed 30 years ago with the bitter-end support for the Shah of Iran, and the consequences were and are neither security nor well-being for anyone. I will be dumbfounded if the endgame in Pakistan leads in any other direction.

Friday, 28 December 2007

Yucks from the Huck

I have a confession to make: I’ve been secretly rooting since October for Mike Huckabee to pull off an upset and take the Republican nomination. I admit it’s perverse, but there’s a twisted logic to it. First of all, his positions on a lot of domestic issues have been remarkably sane compared to the rest of the australopithecus-heavy field. He says reasonable things about prisons and the war on drugs and other nuts-and-bolts state government issues.

Second and most importantly, I am convinced Huckabee would be annihilated by any credible Democrat, especially when people hear his hard-line wacko religious beliefs, which are not as slicked up as Bush’s were. Huckabee is a true believer and capable of saying shrill, punitive things through which he imprudently shows the true face of the theocrats.

Huckabee would run on what the religious right actually thinks and believes, rather than a prettified version of it, and that would be extremely inconvenient for the Republicans because I think the great American middle is pretty much fed up with their fanatical, holier-than-thou shit and ready to give them a licking they won’t forget.

But the limelight hasn’t been kind to ol’ Mike. One of the things that first attracted my attention was his entirely decent comments about the immigration issue in which he focused on the real human beings who have poured into his own state rather than the abstract Illegal Alien [organ chords!]

But the sudden pressure of being a frontrunner has pushed Huckabee over the edge. Friday, he picked up on the Bhutto assassination to say that it showed how we need a solid wall on the Mexican frontier and an ‘immediate, very clear monitoring to make sure if there’s any unusual activity of Pakistanis coming into this country.’ Huh?

We periocially see those stories about how most Americans can’t find Canada on a map, but I’d have thought a presidential candidate would know that Pakistan doesn’t lie in South America.

But aside from the dubious geography lesson, here’s the Huck’s new religion on the topic:

The fact is that the immigration issue is not so much about people coming to pick lettuce or make beds, it’s about someone coming with a shoulder-fired missile.

Um, no, Mike, it’s actually about coming to pick lettuce and make beds, which you know perfectly well because you grow lettuce in Arkansas, along with psilocybin mushrooms, apparently.

And I recommend strict limits on the hours you’re spending on the Book of Revelations, my man. Time to stick to Third John and Habbakuk.

Once upon a time, Huckabee was grounded in reality on immigration. The fact that he could so suddenly lift off into the ionosphere is a good measure of the utter irrationality that the issue stirs in the hearts of his fellow fantasists.

Blowback and Bhutto

Jimmy Carter, champion of human rights, led the charge way back in 1979 to pour billions through the CIA into the hands of all sorts of Pakistani reactionaries, the ancestors of the suicide bombers who blew a hole into the country’s yearning for a modern, democratic state on Thursday.

But back then in the 1970s world communism led by the USSR was the principal bugaboo driving American policy, and Carter faithfully fell into line behind that campaign—not that it did him any good. He wasn’t nearly far enough on board for the organized military-industrial complex, which mobilized through things like the Committee on the Present Danger to pave the way for a more enthusiastic shifting of national priorities into war preparation and warmaking under Saint Ronald of Malibu.

It’s certainly ironic to learn decades later that Carter’s Condi Rice, Zbigniew Brzezinski, worked hard to provoke the Soviet invasion in the first place, hoping to snooker the Russians into a Vietnam-like quagmire. As ZB himself put it (Le Nouvel Observateur, 1998) ‘We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.’

They got their wish, and it only took a million Afghan deaths to provide Zbig with his Cold War triumph. Cheap at half the price.

There were moderate forces involved in the resistance to Soviet occupation of Afghanistan way back then, but they attracted little interest from the CIA handlers who were much more excited by people like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and other Islamic fundamentalists from the Seven Party Mujahideen Alliance and their eager volunteers like one Osama bin Laden.

Why is it that the ‘moderate’ types we supposedly need and want to be in charge, like the late Mrs Bhutto, only get a hand from Washington when their true favorites, military dictators who can deliver on demand with a flick of the baton, begin to stumble?

The body-blow taken to Bush’s schemes in Pakistan reveals yet again why a policy led by the intelligence services and based on secret dungeons around the world is doomed to implosion sooner or later. Bush and Cheney were delighted with Musharraf because he could deliver key targets to the CIA interrogators, and the regime in Washington could then beat interesting facts out of the prisoners and trumpet their successes, thus justifying the eclipse of the rule of law once and for all.

No matter that Musharraf simultaneously cut deals with the fundamentalists, which allowed them to regroup and carry on their war in Afghanistan. Now Bush & Perv are stuck with each other, and the Taliban are laughing all the way to Tora Bora.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Death of Benazir Bhutto

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto is a reminder of how quickly conditions can change for the worse when you’ve spent a decade wasting your resources in the pursuit of fantastic dreams based on telegrams from God.

Bhutto as Bush’s last-ditch effort to save the sinking Pakistani ship was never a great bet; now it’s gone entirely. Pakistan’s January elections, if held at all, will be meaningless, and the Musharraf dictatorship, which now lacks any semblance of fig leaf over its unlovely nether regions, will have to fall back on the support of the discredited army and intelligence apparatus, at least portions of which must loathe him. Nothing in the present scenario suggests that the comparisons with Iran circa 1979, much dismissed a month ago, are off the mark.

Meanwhile, the unexpected event blew the skirts of the U.S. presidential candidates up over their heads as well. Most of them showed signs of megalomaniac dementia in announcing that Bhutto’s death was really about them, a reflection of their core belief that the United States is the center of the known universe and that the republic’s heart in fact beats within their own hoary breasts.

Giuliani promptly scheduled more Twin Tower ads, proving the truth of Joe Biden’s mock that he couldn’t form a sentence about Bhutto or anything else without ‘9/11’ appearing as a particle. For his part, Biden at least threw down the gauntlet at Musharraf and suggested that security for Mrs Bhutto was lax, a hint at negligent collusion in her death.

But Biden couldn’t resist mentioning that he had told Perv as much personally twice—just so we see how awesomely plugged in he is.

McCain and Clinton said the event proved the need for ‘experienced’ pols at the helm, i.e. themselves, while the untutored Romney said there was plenty of good advice to be had at the State Department without actually citing any of it.

Obama sounded unconvincing and lost, declaring that ‘we’ve got a very big problem there.’ Thank you for sharing that, but I’d say the Pakistanis have rather a larger problem there.

After Biden, only Richardson showed any substantial grasp of the situation and addressed it rather than the mirror bearing his own likeness. He was the only Democrat to offer a policy shift and a bold one at that, saying that U.S. military aid should be suspended and Musharraf step down.

In response, Edwards echoed the Bushite line and sounded like the noon briefer at the State Department with some facile, holiday b.s. about letting Pakistan ‘continue on the path to democratization.’ Ho ho ho!

The United States, whether led by Bush, a Democrat or Balthazar of Smyrna, is likely to have damn little to say about what goes on in Pakistan for the foreseeable future. The war on Al-Qaeda was never popular there, but Bush went ahead and then pursued it in the worst possible way, half-heartedly, while his real passion was the conquest of Iraq. So now we have a fine mess and nothing much left in the policy arsenal to do about it. Musharraf, like the Shah of Iran in 1979, was the Americans’ default position because policymakers in Washington thought that anything that followed him could only be worse. So they dug their, and our, grave deeper and deeper. The results have been with us ever since.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Mr White's blackness

It must be vaguely disturbing to be born with dark skin, even today, even in this supposedly hip and liberal city. One goes about one’s business, interacts with whites, Chinese, Latins and Azerbaijanis, but there is always that subtle question of who or what will come to one’s aid in a pinch or what will be the outcome of a clash with the majority ethnicity or the powers of the state.

A black man, John White, was convicted Dec 21 of manslaughter for shooting a young Italian kid, and I can’t help thinking that if the skin colors were reversed, the guy facing prison would have been hailed as a hero in the tabloid press and his prosecution denounced by the chattering nabobs on CNN. The man had guns in his Long Island house for his family’s protection (that alone would give him NRA points) and pulled one out when a screaming carload of white guys pursued his own teenager up to their doorstep shouting racist threats. There’s a dispute about exactly what happened next, but if a white suburbanite had faced down a posse of drunken black hoodlums, something tells me he wouldn’t be facing 30 years.

Meanwhile, the trial of the three cops who shot at Sean Bell 50 times outside a Queens club in 2006 the night before his wedding are about to go to trial, too, and you can bet there will be plenty of support for them from the newspapers and from their uniformed colleagues, who invariably pack courtrooms to express their collegial solidarity. The three plainclothes detectives say they thought Bell and his friends had weapons (they didn’t) and blasted them without further ado. Bell might have mistaken them for muggers and tried to drive away. Even Mayor Bloomberg said at the time that 50 shots against unarmed suspects seemed a little excessive. Bell died, and his fiancée is leading the campaign for justice. The cops’ defense lawyers want the venue moved away from Queens so they can get an unbiased trial.

That doesn’t happen, however, when a police officer is gunned down, and fellow cops pour into the courtroom every day to glare. Then they mass outside to roar their approval at the police union head Patrick Kelly’s hysterical news conferences calling for the attacker’s head on a platter. A juror would think twice about that if he planned to live in the same city after the trial was over.

I’m reading about Cicero again (Imperium by Robert Harris) and his attempts to use the Roman courts against the powerful aristocrats who were used to bribing everybody and getting their way. It’s a reminder that the rule of law as a way of resolving disputes depends heavily on the relative balance of forces within a society. If things are too skewed one way or the other, the assumption that there is a set of rules that everyone must obey really doesn’t hold up though even the illusion sometimes can work in your favor if Cicero is your lawyer.

The one bright spot in the local judicial panorama is the new trial being granted to Martin Tankleff, who’s now spent 17 years in prison for killing his parents, which he didn’t. As a dazed 19-year-old he wandered downstairs in his Long Island home one morning in 1990 to find his parents’ bodies and then was tricked by the police detectives into thinking he’d blacked out and done it himself. The prosecutors did no forensic work since they had somebody to charge and then ignored ample evidence that someone else was behind the crime. Finally, an appellate court gave the whole system a tongue-lashing for caring so little about the facts and ordered a new trial. Tankleff, whose story was featured on a one-hour, prime-time investigative special a few months ago, may soon be a free man, and the long-suffering relatives are cheering at last.

On the other end of Long Island at the White trial, the attitudes outside the courtroom were a study in contrasts. Both before and after White’s conviction, he and his lawyers spoke with regret about the loss of the young man’s life; the Italian family high-fived each other as if they had just won the state basketball championship. This, they told reporters, proves that Daniel wasn’t a racist.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Bush's thugs & Schumer's complicity

We’re getting a first glimpse of the Attorney General whom Bush named to replace the historically corrupt and partisan lapdog Alberto Gonzales, and guess what? He’s eager to continue the cover-up, defend torture and deepen the irrelevance of the legislative branch. Surprise, surprise!

But in the long and depressingly predictable article in today’s NY Times about Michael Mukasey’s aggressive defense of Bush’s CIA torturers and the ensuing cover-up, there isn’t a single line about who is responsible for this new creep: New York’s liberal Democratic Senator, Charles Schumer.

Schumer pushed Mukasey to replace Gonzalez just as he had earlier peddled his name as a Supreme Court nominee. Mukasey was appointed to a federal judgeship by Ronald Reagan, contributed to the political campaigns of Rudy Giuliani and Joe Lieberman and still serves on Giuliani’s Justice Advisory Committee.

Mukasey’s confirmation hearings were truly appalling coming on the heels of the wholesale dismantling of the rule of law led by his predecessor. Even the usually supine Democrats finally turned against him, only to see Schumer and the loathesome Dianne Feinstein throw him a lifebuoy. They provided the swing votes to allow the Republicans to vote him into office.

Camera-horny Chuck likes to be in the limelight, but he’ll probably try to stay out of the coverage of Mukasey’s tenure at Justice. It’s good to be reminded that whatever the Bush administration’s lawyers do now, Charles Ellis Schumer of New York made it all possible.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Capitalism and the Alien Hordes

The Federal Reserve’s issuance of rules Tuesday to prevent further mortgage lending abuses makes it abundantly clear that Alan Greenspan could have done the same years ago and refused to, despite ample warnings that the practices were dangerous. It will be interesting to see if the revered AG, who spoke only with gods and presidents during his excessive tenure, will now get a sound licking for his responsibility in the current credit mess that has drilled a hole in the U.S. economy.

Greenspan has been so slavishly lathered in the press for so long that one could be forgiven for not knowing that some economists think his reign was perfectly appalling. They point at the total abandonment of the Fed’s regulatory role, and even the Dec. 18 flip-flop doesn’t really mean all that much given that the industry already realized that it had shot itself and not just in the foot. So much of what Bernacke’s team is proposing is already being done—a day late and a dollar short.

Ideology rules our lives today, ironic since the Cold War was fought partly over its oppressive role in the enemy camp. But according to marketplace econ 101, the mere thought of restraining the cash-handlers in any way is nanny-statism and party-pooping. So the standard response is to give the financiers (or the industrialists or the traders) free rein to do whatever makes short-term sense, and that’s a pretty good recipe for catastrophe given the inherent, periodic irrationalities of markets, of which the latest meltdown is a fine example.


Given the hysteria about ‘aliens’ and illegal immigration these days, I have been surprised to see so few references to the seizure of the commanding heights of U.S. capitalism by foreign communists and Islamic fundamentalists. The Chinese government’s investment vehicle took a $5 billion piece of Wall Street firm Morgan Stanley today due to that entity’s huge losses after being suckered by the subprime mortgage market just as badly as Aunt Myrtle and Uncle Ed. This follows the November news that a 4.9 percent equity stake in Citibank was snapped up by the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, i.e. a couple of guys in long gowns. As long as they don’t try to do our yard work!

Monday, 17 December 2007

Atlanta flyover

Flying over Atlanta as I have done all too frequently in recent weeks, one is struck by the vast urban sprawl down below that used to be peculiar to places like Los Angeles. You can observe how the woods are being gobbled up acre by acre, as the construction of yet more suburban split-levels guns the engine of growth, delights the Home Depot stockholders and sucks in droves of Mexican laborers--or did until the recent housing debacle.

How appropriate, then, that the area should be facing a severe drought that ought to put the whole development scheme in serious doubt. While Georgia’s builders and planners (or anti-planners, more exactly) bulldozed forward to add their quota of tonnage to greenhouse gases, they have also harvested the result of this ill-advised strategy in the form of a globally-warmed water shortage. Gov. Sonny Perdue called upon the Lord recently in a prayer vigil on the statehouse steps, but unless something changes pretty soon, he’s going to need more than a good drenching from Jaysus to save the lifestyle he’s encouraged his constituents to expect as their due.

The optimistic news out of Bali about the eleventh-hour agreement on global warming forced upon Washington is welcome, of course. But it is hard to see this translating into a radical reshaping of the ‘facts on the ground’ that places like Atlanta have created. The new, planet-friendly city, if it does indeed come into being, will have to be far more dense with far less vehicular traffic than anything we’ve seen so far. Will we survive long enough to see the vast square mileage of suburban tracts named “Leafy Acres” and “Golden Meadow” turned into ghost towns of urban kitsch, right next to the pink flamingoes?

Sunday, 16 December 2007

The Bible tells me so

I don’t see what all the fuss is about if Mike Huckabee wants to know whether the Latter Day Saints believe Jesus and the devil are brothers. It’s seems like a valid question to me if you’re going to base public policy on the Voice of God trumpeted either through Pat Robertson or a huddle of Mormon prophets.

The early centuries of Christianity were replete with wars over whether JC was human, divine or a little of both. Huckabee got pulled into exactly that terrain with his not-so-innocent query, and if true, it’s one of the least bizarre Mormon beliefs out there. In Paradise Lost Milton placed Lucifer in heaven as a top angel who got thrown out for rebelliousness. I’m sure theologians can work out whether that makes JC and Old Scratch siblings or second cousins, once removed.

Now that the Bible-thumpers have had their day in the halls of state stretching over the last 25 years, we can now view the effects of forcing theology down the throat of the body politic. I think it’s just grand that Romney has to throw himself naked onto the floor before the assembled elders and parse his spiritual well-being for them—that’s what you get for pushing our polity towards theocratic rule.

The spectacle is exactly what the founding fathers tried to spare us when they decided to separate church and state and keep dangerously potent religious beliefs as far from the business of state as possible.

I sometimes perversely hope that the injection of religious sects (like Baptists) into politics deepens and undermines religious belief entirely. Our evangelicals ought to pay some attention to what has happened in Iran after three decades of clerical rule where political and religious dissidence are officially equivalent because the mullahs are the tax collectors and vice versa. Iranian youth are fed up with religion and increasingly secularized. We should live so long.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Morituri te salutant

If the popularity of professional wrestling is any guide, the steroid scandal will have little effect on major league baseball, which is not so much a commentary on the sport itself as on the audience for it. The narrative of the ‘home’ team will go forward, and those who enjoy a good story won’t care much if it is based on a pack of lies. It also says a lot about the public disinterest in the mere playing of a good game. If you don’t win, you don’t exist.

I’m not the first person to notice that this phenomenon parallels the one surrounding our ongoing nation-at-war myth in which the reasons for starting it and the benchmarks for ending it all shift like a sand dune, but the meaning of continuing it trumps everything, at least for a sizeable chunk of the public. In both cases the obvious lies fail to overcome the eagerness for believing in a good tale and enjoying the narcotic thrill of triumph.

No doubt after some public breast-beating with downcast eyes and mumbled confessions of ‘poor judgment,’ the sport will get around to the business of pillorying those who dared to spill the beans. I am reminded of the wonderful Robert Redford-produced movie, Quiz Show, based on the true story of the rigged 1950s program ‘Twenty-One’, in which the contestants who finally admitted to the scam were tossed onto the trash heap while the network execs who covered it up for their bosses went on to greater and more glorious spectacles.

It’s ironic in the midst of so much concern about health and fitness that the vast professional sporting apparatus should be built on a system that feeds athletes into its destructive maw like logs into a wood chipper. If the steroid business doesn’t cost baseball plenty, no talented kid will have a chance for a pro career in any sport if he doesn’t sacrifice his body on the pyre of first-place standings. We look back at the Romans with a shudder, but we seem to be headed for a gladiator system of our own with the unforgiving TV viewer as the new emperor. ‘We who are about to juice, salute you.’

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Thugs and Consiglieres

The Bushite torturers will get theirs some day, and I hope I’m alive to see it. However, there is something particularly oily and nauseating about the faux criticism from people who knew what was happening all along and abetted the crimes willingly. Our homegrown star collaborator is Nancy Pelosi who, turns out, was one of the few in Washington privy to the official crimes, which she faithfully kept secret.

The particular twisted spin Pelosi and others use to get themselves off the hook is that they swore to uphold national security secrets. Here’s NP herself on the topic [all quotes cribbed from a Ray McGovern post on]:

When the administration notifies Congress in this manner, it is not seeking approval. There is a clear expectation that the information will be shared by no one, including other members of the intelligence committees.

How convenient for everyone! The crimes are committed; four screened and vetted legislators of the 535-member Congress get the skinny, thus fulfilling the ‘consultation’ requirement; no one can breathe a word of any of it, assuring that the oversight is meaningless; and when the poo-poo flies, no one is responsible.

Even the apparently decent Dick Durbin of Illinois got seduced into this abandonment of his legislative, not to mention moral, mandate:

We’re duty-bound once we enter that room to respect classified information. Everything you hear is supposed to stay in the room…I certainly had enough to know that the statements that were made about mushroom clouds were not the conclusions of someone in the administration who was really being honest about the full debate. But you really know, walking in the room, what the rules of the game will be.

Well, Dick, maybe you shouldn’t be playing along by them! Perhaps it isn’t so important to be one of the big players getting to hear all the cool secrets if the cost is betraying your public trust.

I am old enough to remember the exact same weaselly bobbing and dodging among the pious Democrats during the carnage of the Vietnam war when they proved again and again, with extremely scarce exceptions, that they cared more about their pathetic sinecures than another million or so human lives. I am not surprised, only depressed, to see it all once again.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

CIA porn

A lot of the hand-wringing about the destruction of the torture tapes seems to me to miss the point. People talk about the false evidence used to arrest Jose Padilla or to condemn the accused in Guantanamo based on phony confessions produced by waterboarding. But the hue and cry about what was or wasn’t on those videos presumes that people care about fairness to individuals. I don’t see the evidence of that.

The argument in favor of torture from the beginning—and that seduced many so-called liberals who eagerly debated how many angels should be tortured on the head of pin—was that no matter who got hurt, saving innocent Americans was more important. That’s the standard retort to any claim that something is going wrong with the interrogation/secret prison/beat-em-to-a-pulp system. Are you willing to risk thousands of dead Americans by restraining us? That is, who cares if the guy's innocent? We might find a guilty one.

Obviously, most people prefer their own safety to the civil rights of others and are willing to sacrifice the historic protections from tyranny built up over centuries to make sure that no 9/11s ever happen again. I would add my own personal belief that there is a strong whiff of vengeance involved as well as people sit back and contemplate or refuse to contemplate torture because they are pissed off about what happened and want someone to pay. It works in criminal justice all the time—bring in someone and accuse them whether they did it or not—so why not in world politics?

I thought that Rumsfeld would be toast 48 hours after the Abu Ghraib photos came out, and instead he lasted for years. Why does anyone think the torture videos would have changed the debate significantly? The moral rot oozing from the centers of power here has only begun to emit its penetrating scent. We have a lot longer to wait before the stench becomes overwhelming. But that day will come, and one piece of evidence more or less won’t make all that much difference. Underneath is a collective, national crime whose poison runs far too deep.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Faulty & Fallacious Assumptions

Now that the dust is partially settled from the unbombshell dropped by the intelligence agencies over the Iranian nukes, I wonder if anyone makes the connection with the intelligence that buried hundreds of guys in the Guantánamo dungeons (one of whom just tried to commit suicide by cutting his own throat with a fingernail). The reasons given for them to be held there is that they are ‘terrorists’ and ‘very bad people,’ in the words of a guard.

But if our intelligence can be so faulty on Iran, could it also be the case that some of the men imprisoned at Guantánamo are in fact innocent? Does it matter to anyone?

It certainly doesn’t seem to matter much to the American people—otherwise, someone among the Democratic contenders might be insisting on raising the issue. They’d be trashed as wacko-lovers who hate America, but at least they’d be able to defend their behavior to their grandchildren, something damn few of us can claim these days.

As for the sudden release of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program, that huge, stinking turdette dropped onto the desk of a certain oval-shaped office bears the stamp of a resurgent spyboy coalition flexing some long-unused muscle. I would also guess, based on the commentaries and subtle hints in the news coverage, that some top-level military guys also weighed in and said, Stop these lunatics! And it looks as though the famous Cheney machinery that could have detoured that document into the trash-heap four years ago is now good and well checked, if not checkmated. We still have a year to go before these demented elements will leave the stage en route to the fetid caves that history will assign them. But it certainly seems that major adventurism is getting pushed gingerly off the table, let’s hope for good. Perhaps we can even start thinking about how to repair the damage over the next few decades that these creeps have done.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Attending to duties

I'm traveling, conferencing, free-lancing with deadlines and generally staying up way too late, so I can't offer anything amusing from this end until Wednesday.

However, I can't resist noting this genius headline from AP: "Violence Hampers Iraqi Security Forces." Thank you for sharing that! Who would have known?

Friday, 30 November 2007

S & M with Bill and Hill

Amidst the gossip chatter about the CNN Republican debate incident in which a Hillary plant managed to put a question about gays in the military to the assembled yahoo candidates, it’s time to remember that the true villain of this shameful situation is none other than the ambitious First Husband himself. If Clinton had had the Trumanesque stones to say, Hey, I’m the decider here—for which GWB wins his few deserved points—we would have a non-discriminating armed forces.

Clinton could have pulled in all his top brass for a public ball-busting and said: Sit down and shut up. No one in the military will be asked or bothered about their sexual business in uniform or out, and that will happen because I said so. Any questions? You in the back don’t like it? Okay, retire, and go complain about it on Fox because the issue is now CLOSED. Defy me, and I’ll carve you another bunghole.

That would have caused a mass panty-knot-tying among a lot of hard-ons in the services, kind of like what happens when you try to integrate schools in Little Rock or do other difficult but ethically imperative things. (BTW, that fuss happened anyway.) Then it would have died down, and today no one would remember what all the brouhaha was about.

Instead, we get weaselly, waffly non-positions from the other Clinton about how that was maybe not so nice and maybe all we could manage at the time and maybe should be changed and maybe we’ll think about it once we get back to Pennsylvania Avenue. Hillary has shown zero inclination to break with Clintonoid-style triangulation on this and pretty much every other topic, and Barack meanwhile goes dancing with a screaming homophobe while vote-whoring through South Carolina. Don’t expect equality in the military under these people.

Thursday, 29 November 2007


The gingko tree at the bottom of Isham Park, a spooky creature with vast, horizontal arms, keeps me posted on the seasons. It finally felled all its leaves this week, papering the path to the 207th Street subway station in the space of a few hours. In the autumn it goes from brilliant yellow to barren in a single day with the first strong breeze, as if an internal bolt suddenly came loose.

Summer lingered into November in New York this year, and although one freak event does not a globally-warmed planet make, it is disconcerting to see so many of the leaves on the other trees drop to the ground with most of their chlorophyll still intact. The fall colors this season were green, pale green and burnt green rather than the usual russets and golds. Without the bracing cold snaps of October nor hoar-frost on the pumpkin, the trees didn’t seem to register that time for hibernation was nigh. They’ll do fine anyway, no doubt, and it is comforting to know their descendants or mutant versions thereof will still be standing in Isham Park long after ours are living in stalactite caves and dining on bats.


Meanwhile, Wall Street should consider going on lithium carbonate right away. Every day either we’re heading into recession—sell!!—or the Fed is going to soften monetary policy soon—buy!! The speculators must be having a field day and justifying their $14,000-a-week salaries, the average gross pay for financiers these days, according to one of the magazines. No wonder hamburgers are so overpriced around here.

Now that our economy has been stripped of the manufacture of actual products and runs instead on the process of selling one another houses with money borrowed from China, it’s hard to understand how injecting still more debased dollars is going to help. All eyes are now fixed on the mighty consumer in hopes he and she will once again overspend foolishly and save the day, undeterred by three-buck gas and thousand-dollar dental visits.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

“Iranian-backed Shiite militia”

I heard this phrase on the local New York news station in reference to a bomb attack, and it set off a whole belfry-full of alarms. It immediately conjured the 1970s civil war in Angola about which the U.S. news media couldn’t formulate two sentences without identifying one side as the ‘Cuban-led Soviet-backed’ forces. It was as if the networks had all been through a Baghwan Sri Rashneesh mantra training. They never called the other side the ‘apartheid-led, U.S.-backed UNITA’, which it was, because that would have been giving away the game.

Having assembled a perfectly Manichaean set of players, the white hats versus the black hats, it was easy to subtly justify the U.S. meddling on the side of the extremely dubious Jonas Savimbi and the UNITA ‘forces’. Had they been the bad guys, the papers would have called them ‘marxist insurgents’ or ‘guerrillas’ or today ‘terrorists’. I remember the Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett telling a roomful of us about his time covering that war and once reading over the shoulder of the guy from Newsweek whose editor had cabled him, ‘Not interested in UNITA atrocities.’ The fix was in.

I raise this turn of phrase for two reasons: first, the claim, attributed to U.S. military sources, sounded bogus as hell because the bomb had just gone off. How on earth could anyone pretend to know who had set off the thing so soon? That made it sound like fitting the facts around the pre-established narrative, and we certainly do have some precedent for that practice in Mr Bush’s war.

Secondly, laying anything bad that happens at the feet of the bad guys du jour, i.e. the Iranians, is not only a good way to distract attention from the ongoing nightmare but also fits the disturbing rumors about an imminent attack on Iran. I’m going to be listening for more references to the ‘Iranian-backed Shiite militia’ to see if the trope becomes standard fare, which might be significant. I won’t repeat the many learned expositions of why it’s a perfectly meaningless and quite stupid formulation, nor how Bush’s bumbling policy has created a huge triumph for the Iranians. But we’d be naïve to think he’s incapable of making things worse.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Guess Who

Okay, parlor game: who will be the nominees of the two parties, and who will win the presidency next November?

I was at a New Year’s Eve party in 1979 when we played this game and tape recorded our answers so that we couldn’t rewrite the predictions later. Results? not one of us thought Ronald Reagan would be president a year or so later, but he was. Whatever happens in 2008 will look perfectly logical and inevitable once we’ve lived through it, so it’s interesting to see what we’re expecting now. Here’s the non-scientific poll of my Thanksgiving co-diners, which surprised me greatly.

Of the seven people at the dinner, five thought Giuliani would win the nomination and go on to beat Hillary Clinton in the election. Not one of them was pleased with this prospect, but one by one they told stories about Aunt Agnes or sister-in-law Jane who are concerned about (1) their safety from terrorism and (2) ‘supporting our troops,’ including at least one close relative in Iraq per family. Fear and militarism continue to sway the thinking out in the heartland, they said. Their hearts were for Richardson, Thompson or Kucinic, their confidence in Hillary as the most competent. But their reluctant predictions favored Rudolph.

This consensus against the likelihood of a Democratic victory is pretty startling. What else do the Bushites have to do to people? It’s a frightening commentary on the slavish masochism of our culture that the Republicans can bankrupt us, lie to us, systematically undermine our safety net, wreck civil protections and lead us into a failed war and still be a credible political force, just by intoning ‘911!’ every other sentence. But that’s what war does and no doubt a big reason why it’s so perennially popular.

P.S. One intrepid seer went out on a limb and said Huckabee would stun the pack in Iowa and go on to take the nod for the Republicans. I'm not sure this person really believed what he was saying, but he found all the current front-runners unimaginable. Perhaps it was a psychological defense mechanism at work.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

A Backward Glance

Quiz time: who is speaking?

‘All of us for years have been defending the presidential prerogative and regarding the Congress as a drag on policy. It is evident now that this delight in a strong presidency was based on the fact that strong presidents in American history have pursued policies of which one has approved. We are now confronted by the anomaly of a strong president using these arguments to pursue a course which can lead only to disaster. It is very hard to see how the Congress can restrain the presidential drive toward the enlargement of the war. Voting against military appropriations is both humanly and politically self-defeating. The only hope is to organize a broad political movement.’

Here’s a hint: the excerpt is from a personal journal written in 1967.

The author: Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., confidante of the Kennedy and later the Johnson White House [reprinted in the New York Review of Books, Oct 11, 2007].

Even more revealing is an anecdote about a dinner with Hubert Humphrey when dissidents like Schlesinger were trying to get the vice president to stake out an independent position on the Vietnam war and pressure Johnson to change course. Humphrey, said Schlesinger, echoed the official line about ‘aggressive Chinese communism’ and evidenced a ‘dismaying lack of concern over the human wreckage’ caused by Johnson’s war policy. Sound like anyone you know?

The difference is that back then the seeds of a ‘broad political movement’ to end the war had germinated, and substantial popular opposition already had burst the confining bonds of the Democratic Party. Even so, it took another six years to bring the war to a close even though the deaths were not two dozen American soldiers a week but a couple hundred. Given the weakness of its contemporary counterpart, I would give the Iraq adventure a good ten more years, perhaps twelve, spanning both Democratic and Republican presidencies, before it is brought to its ignominious close.

As the Athenians learned to their dismay 2500 years ago, it’s easy to send the troops off to conquest in faraway lands, but far harder to get them back again in one piece and impossible to unspend the squandered treasure. The hen does not resume her egg.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Calleigh's Law

A sign that the CSI franchise is well into its decadent phase is its increasingly desperate focus on the private lives of the main characters, who were never central to the shows’ appeal. I gather that someone in Hollywood cribbed the idea from the various true-crime series on the Discovery Channel like “Medical Detectives” and “The New Detectives,” whose high-tech analysis of neat clues against the backdrop of human baseness and criminality made them irresistible. The cheesy set-ups, wooden acting, phony reconstructions and interviews with charmingly oddball lab technicians gave the original cable shows a gritty verité that the fictionalized version could never hope to pull off.

Instead, CSI turned the goofy, backroom dirt-comber nerds, Luminol sprayers and DNA salvagers into glamorpusses with centerfold bodies, and that’s okay because it’s a show, after all. And they added space-age toys that turned these golden youths into magicians, along with souped-up plots that got increasingly baroque and then formulaically weird as the seasons rolled by. But the kiss of death was planted when we started to hear about the bombshell lady cops’ childhood traumas and dysfunctional boyfriends. Now the shows are morphing into kitsch and are doomed to join Law & Order in TNT rerun eternity sooner rather than later.

But it was surreal to see the beginning of last night’s episode with Calleigh the steely avenger on CSI: Miami facing disciplinary proceedings for a clear case of self-defense while simultaneously watching the non-stop parade of real cops shooting real people on the New York local newscasts. The incidents are endless lately, and their plots look depressingly formulaic too: NYPD officers blast away; young, black males lie dead on the street. Some of the cases look more ambiguous than others, but the cumulative effect is a sense that Giuliani is still mayor and that the police force has a free hand to fire at anything that moves.

TV cops are portrayed as well-meaning types who get hit with unfair criticism while just doing their jobs. [To be fair I suppose ‘The Shield’ counts as an exception.] I once wrote for a tabloid detective magazine about a murder, and the editor instructed me to ‘always make the cops look good.’ I understand the need for morality plays in which Good triumphs over Evil. But we need nuance and justice, too, not just cozy cliché, both in art and especially in life.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Could it be. . . Satan?

I have hesitated to make fun of Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue raising his arms to the Most High on the steps of the capitol to ask for drought relief out of fear of offending any thrones, powers, dominions or archangels, i.e. the beings known to be partial to suburban strip malls and most likely to heed his prayer. However, I am wondering if in case there is a sudden weird dip in temperature leading to a hailstorm or if tempest-like winds blow in from the Atlantic whether Georgians will reach the obvious conclusion that Governor Perdue is consorting with Satanic forces.

This might be occurring even if he is unaware of it. After all, many old Bolsheviks were found by Stalin to have been cooperating with saboteurs, Whites, kulaks and all sorts of nefarious fifth-columnists for years without even realizing it. He was wise enough to allow them to confess, so that the workers' state could correct the dangerous tendencies these turncoats unwittingly had caused. I think if there is a hailstorm or even just a continuation of the drought that leaves Atlanta bone-dry and drinking its own peepee that Perdue should be led by the appropriate representatives of Jesus Christ to don sackcloth and ashes and publicly repent, perhaps through voluntary crucifixion on the statehouse lawn. I mean, one can’t be too careful when dealing with the wrath of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Unseen Attack Ad

I wonder what kinds of TV ads we would be seeing today if a Democratic president were in the White House and the Republicans were on the sidelines. Wouldn’t the failure to catch Osama bin Laden be People’s Exhibit A?

Or what about a question like this for the presidential debates: Senator Clinton (or Senator Obama or Senator Dodd or Congressman Kucinic): Why haven’t you criticized Bush for failing to capture Osama bin Laden?

Or this follow-up: Why is it that reporters can find bin Laden and interview him while the Pakistani government can’t seize him?

I gather the answer is that everyone knows that Gen. ‘Perv’ Musharraf, dictator extraordinaire of Pakistan, knows where bin Laden is but is either so weak or so complicit with the Islamic radicals himself that he doesn’t dare bring in the top trophy for fear of an even worse rebellion than the one he’s already got on his hands. Wouldn’t that be a good case for handing Bush his butt on a plate? It’s simple, it’s clear, it’s undeniable—from a propaganda point of view, it seems unbeatable.

[Creepy music, grainy b&w photos of Bush grinning with Musharraf at the Crawford ranch.] Voiceover: ‘He gets billions of our tax dollars, but he refuses to arrest Osama bin Laden [picture of same grinning, towers collapsing]. Why is George Bush so friendly with this man?’ You wouldn’t even need to buy a 30-second spot, 15 would do.

If the Republicans were out of power, they wouldn’t be shy about drumming up a wave of hysteria over this abject failure even if it screwed up the war. Why are the Democrats such flame-outs? It’s a serious, i.e., not a rhetorical, question.

Headline of the Week: Over a rundown in The Independent of London on the obscenely lucrative new career of Britain’s former PM: ‘The Blair Rich Project.’ Ha ha. It notes that he earned 237,000 pounds (that’s a half-million of our debased U.S. dollars) for a 20-minute banquet speech to a boatload of Chinese gangsters. The article also won second prize with the kicker: ‘After-dinner Mint.’

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Life & Destiny

That’s the lame title of one of the best books I’ve ever read, and it’s not new. It’s the twentieth century War & Peace, written in the 1950s by Vasily Grossman, who fell afoul of Stalin like any decent person. The book was smuggled out of the USSR after the KGB destroyed all known copies and even confiscated Grossman’s typewritter ribbon to try to suppress the work. Luckily, they failed. I’ve been sick most of the week, so it was a good moment to delve into a thoroughly absorbing (and long) work, which deserves far more attention.

Having just seen the masterful seven-hour Soviet version of War & Peace in two sittings at Film Forum, I was attuned to the rhythm and sweep of the original work and the way it wove the personal stories of Natalya, Prince Andrei, Pierre and the Rostov family into the backdrop of the Napoleonic invasion and the great battles of Lodi and Borodino. Grossman’s 900-page treatment of World War Two does the same thing with the battle for Stalingrad as the centerpiece and a similarly huge cast for his epic ambitions.

Having grown up on WW2 movies made from the American perspective, it’s an eye-opener to see how the individuals fighting on the Eastern Front had to navigate not only the murderous Nazis but also their own bloody-minded handlers weaned on the Stalinist poison and full of paranoia, stupidity and brutality, as well as plenty of old-fashioned anti-Semitism. Some of the book echoes Solzhenitsyn, but that hero of the post-Stalin thaw comes off as single-note and dull compared to Grossman. And I’ve read just about all the Holocaust accounts in existence but never actually accompanied victims into the gas chamber as Grossman does his fictionalized Ukrainian Jews. One is reminded of Primo Levi’s statement that the true story of Auschwitz could only be written by those who did not return.

Grossman thought the book stood a chance of publication during the Khrushchev thaw and tried to bring it out. The regime’s chief ideologue disabused him of that notion by saying it would have to wait 200 years—a backhanded recognition of its stature. In a letter Grossman said he wanted to ‘speak for those who lie in the earth.’ Ironically, no one could read his book until he had joined them.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Star-Spangled Burden

There’s a peculiar slant to the budget debates taking place now on whether we should continue to pour a trillion dollars into wars of conquest and attempts to seize other people’s resources or instead see about creating a more humane polity in our own 10 million square miles. But the choices are never cast in those crude terms because the consensus at the top from one end of the liberal/conservative, Democratic/Republican spectrum to the other remains that what’s gone on in the last six years in Iraq has something to do with our security in the face of ‘terrorism’ rather than old-fashioned colonial conquest.

In fact, the invasion of Iraq under false pretenses in 2003 has much more in common with the seizure of the Congo in 1885 by King Leopold of Belgium for its rubber trees than with any Pearl Harbor-like repelling of the 9/11 attacks, which provided the convenient excuse. The leaders of the Democratic ‘opposition’ struggle to mount an effective counter-discourse on the ongoing war due in part to their complicity with the underlying phony rationale.

Capitol Hill critics talk about the ludicrous mismanagement of the war and its frightful outcomes, but they can’t bring themselves to expose and denounce the original motivations for it. Bush’s defenders can then hallucinate in public about the war’s achievements and insist that the defeatist Democrats just stick it out a little longer so ‘victory’ can be achieved. No one questions that this illusory victory, i.e. successful conquest, would be a good thing.

As a result, solid liberals like Tom Harkin of Iowa appear in the sad role of fighting for health, education and infrastructure spending at home by complaining that Bush is squandering a fortune ‘giving’ the Iraqis all those things. Sure, Bush is tossing a trillion bucks down a hole, but Harkin and his peers should know better than to pander to American selfishness and to use the horribly abused Iraqis as whipping boy.

That kind of whiny critique of foreign aid used to be the stock-in-trade of the UN-baiting reactionaries. It’s one of the many ironies of the current situation that now it’s the Republicans who insist on giving Bush billions to waste overseas and who turn a blind eye to the stealing, graft and screw-ups that the not-so-well-meaning projects engender. What will be next? A Republican movement to expand the UNDP?

Despite their weaknesses the Republican’s monotonous flogging of ‘winning’ in Iraq and accomplishing the mission and staying the course and the rest of the repetitive drivel is hard to combat if you’re a Democrat secretly hoping that American companies eventually do get their mitts on the Iraqi oilfields. I suppose it’s unrealistic to expect our two parties to produce even a single proponent of a foreign policy based on real respect for the sovereignty of other nations and their people’s rights to the usufruct of their own belongings, including the oil underneath their sands. So it’s up to mere citizens to fill in the yawning gap.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

All Things Being Equal. . .

An episode little noticed outside of the world of gay advocacy illustrates how the maturation of gay politics brings in its wake both advances and depressingly consistent displays of bipedism. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was to be an historic declaration of equality for people of whatever sexual orientation, and the original version included gender expression as well. But in some backroom deals in the days preceding the vote, that tranny-friendly language was excised, and the watered-down version passed the House November 7 by a vote of 235 to 184.

Now one can take a variety of positions on the best tactics for achieving equality on this hot-button topic, but what is completely depressing and yet totally predictable was the dirty dealing that went on to split the gay advocacy camp—led by none other than the biggest gay advocacy organization, the Human Rights Campaign. The HRC provided the cover the nervous Democratic leadership needed to take out the tranny-friendly language and pass the weaker version. Smiling pictures of Nancy Pelosi and the HRC lobbyists followed, which will sure look great on the next fund-raising appeals of each.

Ironically, the smoke-filled-room deal to stiff the transgendered will have no practical impact since the entire bill is guaranteed to draw a Bush veto even if it could get through the Senate. So the LGBT camp was split for a cheap headline. Worse yet, the whole rancid double-cross was done behind the backs of the rest of the advocate groups.

Some people will say that the transgender issue is small beans compared to the ‘larger’ cause of gay and lesbian equality. But it’s precisely the debate over what constitutes a ‘real’ man or woman that makes people so nervous about homosexuality in the first place. It’s reminiscent of the early skirmishes among feminists about whether it would be wise to include lesbian demands in their program for fear that everyone would assume feminists are all dykes. That turned out not to be true, didn’t it? But a lot of people made those arguments at the time and tried to steer the movement into a ‘safe’ position by stiffing gay women and marginalizing them.

I’ve been away far too long to know all the skinny behind this, but a casual observer can see from HRC’s enormous Washington headquarters that they know how the money game is played. And given the many fine examples we’ve seen lately of Democratic collaboration with the worst reactionaries, such as the Feinstein/Schumer maneuver to get Mike ‘What’s Torture?’ Mukasey confirmed as Attorney General, one shouldn’t be surprised to see similar tactics applied anywhere and everywhere else. Once a social movement has arisen, the full-time opportunists will always figure out how to ride the wave to accumulate power and influence and then turn against it for personal or institutional gain. That’s nothing new, and now we have proof that gay bipeds are just like all the other ones. Vive l’égalité!

Monday, 12 November 2007


Despite the spin emerging from the less-than-credible lips of Rice, Gates and Bush, Pakistan looks increasingly like a candidate for the Next Big U.S. Foreign Policy Triumph, similar to the brilliant maneuvering by the Carter Administration that turned Iran from ally to enemy in the late 1970s.

Although the headlines are all about ‘elections’ to be held in a couple of months (with half the civilian opposition in jail, no independent media and the courts in military receivership), less sanguine news can be found further down the page. Turns out the Taliban and their allies are conquering more and more Pakistani villages and towns while the nation’s soldiers are refusing to fight them. That alone would be enough to convince me that the survival chances of Pervez Musharraf (we’ll call him ‘Perv’) are not so good.

It’s rather remarkable that the collapse of the Shah’s terror regime almost 30 years ago taught the American foreign policy establishment so little. Or perhaps it would be fairer to say that the lessons may have been learned, but at crucial moments like these they just don’t matter. Decisions about how to handle the Pakistani crisis are being made by a half-dozen people closeted in some D.C. bunker, and the chances of a wise head with a long-term perspective having a say looks remote, especially among this crew directly mandated by God Above.

The ironies abound. After all the nonstop banging on about Iran’s attempt to acquire a nuclear capability, it turns out that the real threat is a country supposedly safely in the western camp where such weapons already exist and were acquired, furthermore, under the benignly unwatchful eye of the United States for the simple reason that the Pakistanis were our guys all those years. One expert commentator is saying not to worry because the radical nutcases typically only get 13% of the vote when the country gets around to holding elections. Somehow, that fact isn’t terribly reassuring just now.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Fundamentally speaking

It’s tons of fun to read the business pages and observe how much of what passes for expert opinion is the modern equivalent of examining sheep entrails for divine clues. Or more precisely, petitions to Jupiter for relief.

The latest round is a debate over whether or not the U.S. is heading into recession, and after years of tut-tutting any such suggestion, the hounds are braying from Wall Street to Capitol Hill that yes, in fact, we are. The driving motive behind this unusual doomsday talk is the financiers’ craving for another quick injection of cheap money by way of an interest rate cut. As with any addiction, the habit requires ever larger doses to produce the calming effect.

As long as the Received Wisdom was that things were just great, you heard a lot about the ‘fundamentals,’ meaning the underlying facts of the country’s economic performance. You don’t hear any of that now, and this ignorant rube suspects that it’s because key aspects of the ‘fundamentals’ are appalling. The war is costing money we don’t have; Bush responds to the war’s fiscal requirements with tax cuts, deficit spending and pump-priming low interest rates. My traditionalist economics professors years ago would have called that a perfect formula for inflationary debasement of the currency, and voila, the dollar cannot buy even half an English pound.

The problem with bad ‘fundamentals,’ the guys on the business pages tell you, is that they leave you with no attractive options. Where once it might have made sense to lower interest rates to give economic activity yet another jump start, further cheapening of the dollar could have unexpected consequences given the vast trade deficits the country is running with China and other countries. And so the whirlygig of globalization brings its revenge.

The whole scenario makes me contemplate with awe and some perverse glee the eternal truths of market economics, ergo, that the markets will always drive themselves into a huge jam unless someone at the top is putting on the brakes, regulating and adjusting, so that its innate tendencies toward instant gratification and quick profits don’t overwhelm the fragile economic organism. Kind of like parents monitoring the amount of Halloween candy their children consume after running through the streets in scary costumes.

Friday, 9 November 2007

The Law R.I.P.

What better symbolism of the historical epoch unfolding around us than the rebellion of the Pakistani suits? And just as the lawyers’ revolt against Musharraf gathers steam, the shameless U.S. Senate led by its Democrat copperheads confirms as the nation’s guardian of laws another sniveling shill for the Bush regime’s Star Chamber, Attorney General Michael Mukasey, a man who can’t quite decide if American government agents should be authorized to shackle prisoners and suffocate them. Playing out on the world stage is indeed a titanic moral clash, but it’s not between terrorists and nice people. It’s between those who believe in the rule of law and those who don’t.

Under the Bushite world view, even defending the accused in court becomes an enemy act, so it’s no accident that Musharraf echoed these sentiments in his martial law declaration justifying the takeover of the courts. Dictatorships always consider resistance in any form subversive, even when it uses the rules under which they themselves pretend to operate. In fact, there are no rules, only the top guy’s will. It’s amazing to witness the reinstallation of this pre-Enlightenment attitude amidst our polity and to see so little alarm expressed over it.

But it’s too easy to blame Bush for the the slow strangulation of our civil protections. The wretched Charles Schumer (a Democrat) weaseled through his vote for Mukasey by noting that he was ‘dead wrong on torture,’ surely a phrase that will live through the ages. Now we debate torture, as if it had pros and cons like the Oxley-Sarbanes Act!

The ultimate mark of America’s ignominy is that when dangerous authoritarians like Schumer sell our birthright for a mess of Beltway pottage, there’s barely a whimper of protest. The betrayed liberals cast their annoyed gaze no further than January’s Iowa caucuses and convince themselves that Schumer’s ever-ready accomplice Madame Hillary soon will ride to the rescue.

It gets better: The same day (Nov 8) former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik, Rudolph Giuliani’s one-time favorite for the top police job in the country, was indicted on a raft of corruption charges, including taking bribes from Tony Soprano’s construction buddies. The fact that this could occur without completely annihilating Giuliani’s career speaks volumes. Americans are telegraphing a powerful message to their ruling elite—we don’t care about freedom, safeguards, fairness or procedures. We don’t care if the next-door neighbor is spirited away in the dark of night, dropped into a dungeon, handed his nuts on a platter or never heard from again. Just KEEP US SAFE.

November 8, 2007: a proud day to be a Pakistani.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

In Excelsis De-e-o

Has Christian conservative politics come full circle? Suddenly, it doesn’t even matter if you are a thrice-divorced, cross-dressing abortion-simp with a gay ex-roommate as long as you believe in a police state and are eager to slaughter Ay-rabs. I just love values clarification, don’t you?

I refer, of course, to the endorsement by the 700 Club’s Pat Robertson of the presidential aspirations of Rudolph Giuliani. How appropriate that it occurred a mere 48 hours after the death of Paul Tibbetts who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima in 1945 and then spent the next 60 years merrily selling Enola Gay memorabilia and cackling, ‘What a good job I’ve done, mummy!’ Tibbetts recently said Islamic radicals should be nuked down to the last man, a sentiment that would surely bring a full-dentured smile to the beatific mug of Holy Pat and his 900,000 listeners.

It’s curious that amidst all the breathless talk about our safety and the scary dangers of Iran possessing a nuclear capability, one rarely hears discussion of the actual use of these weapons or even of the sorts of doomsday scenarios about the human habitat that were common currency during the Cold War.

The existence of a major blind spot in our national consciousness dawned on me gradually as a child of the post-WW2 epoch when the anniversary of the nuking of the Japanese came around each August. Two gregarious and well-liked twins lived in my midwestern town who were vets of the Pacific front; their children were my classmates. They’d be interviewed by the local newspaper, and their answer ran along the lines of, The Japs started it, and we finished it, and townspeople would respond with a ‘Yeah!’ and approving nods of the head. No one ever stopped to ask whether powerless civilians under a military dictatorship deserved to be burned to death by the tens of thousands. Our Christian lives were undisturbed by irony.

So the blood-lust of the Robertsons and his camp isn’t at all novel or particularly surprising, but the response of the rest of the movement will be fascinating to watch. Will the thin towel covering the reactionary underpinning of the Christian right wing now drop entirely to the ground, exposing its unkempt neofascist pudenda? Or will the ranks balk at the leadership’s crass jettisoning of their pet Christian family issues in favor of world conquest and the Rapture?

Who knows? I confess to being utterly and delightedly clueless about the answer as I pride myself on both my lack of understanding of these bipeds and my bottomless disinterest in them. But their reaction may well have relevance for, um, our chances of dying in our beds.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Pakistan: The Movie

The undoing of the Pakistani polity reminds me of 1979 when another bulwark of the U.S. geopolitical strategy was coming apart at the seams: Iran. You old-timers will recall that Jimmy Carter’s administration imploded when he defended the appalling Shah right down to the last minutes of his frightening regime and spirited him out of Teheran to safety even though no country on earth wanted to receive the tyrant. That led directly to the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Iran, the seizure of the diplomats, the year-long hostage crisis and the collapse of the Democratic Party’s credibility, from which it has never recovered.

This is the same J Carter, let us not forget, who brought the human rights discourse into vogue and has sounded like such a decent sort after being thrown out by the Reaganites. But when it came to defending U.S. interests, Carter was just as capable of turning a blind eye to the monsters in the Shah’s SAVAK as Dick Cheney is in conspiring with their counterparts in the Pakistani ISI. How ironic that Carter ruined his presidency defending a criminal who represented the exact opposite of his alleged doctrine and Weltanschaaung.

I draw that parallel only to illustrate the way that events sometimes take on their own momentum and reduce the personality traits of this or that leader to irrelevance. I find the avuncular Carter persuasive these days, and I think Cheney's a traitor. But I wonder if either one of them presiding over the U.S. policymaking apparatus would have much influence over whether Pakistan blows up, becomes an Islamic republic, or wins the world cricket championship. Things have been building to a head in that country for decades and only accelerating in the last six years. My impression is that Musharraf has now set in motion a process that has taken on a life of its own.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Me, me, me

Is it old age, or is our culture really becoming more selfish? I’m writing this sitting on an Amrak train and already after ten minutes can count at least five potential cases of justifiable homicide: the loud-mouthed junior exec in his 20s making endless business calls on his cellphone; the 60-ish lady behind me with a head cold who snuffles loudly exactly once every 14 seconds as if she were wired to a metronome; the giggly college student across the aisle who thinks her life is like, totally hilarious; the iPod dufus who can't hear his own off-key humming but thinks the rest of us all should; and last but not least the ticket-taker 25 years my junior who has arrogated to himself the right to address me as ‘Timothy,’ a privilege not enjoyed by my late mother. I could understand it if we were on a football team bus from a remedial high school, but these are alleged adults--a category, by the way, that should be earned, like fatherhood, rather than awarded by biological default.

Like so many of the seamy and perverse aspects of American life, I trace this phenomenon to the crude self-congratulation unleashed by Saint Ronald and his minions as a way of life and thought in the 1980s. It’s ‘Morning in America,’ they proclaimed, and we should start feeling good about our country, our families, ourselves and our precious bodily fluids. Nuance became suspect; criticism of our way of life a sign of wimp, loser pessimism. We were to think only about America and Americans’ comfort and safety and never stop to consider the world from others’ point of view. This blithe jingoist Me-ism spilled over into our personal lives as well, and now no one even blinks when personal affairs like one’s business, one’s music or one’s annoying tics are splattered all over public environments.

This debasement of the public space has its exact political parallel in the triumphant neoliberal disdain for the public sector, i.e. local and national government, or any notion of collective assets or collective welfare. Even in the realm of security, which trumps everything, the preeminence of the public’s safety implies not respect for vulnerable individuals but a vast steamroller of policing designed to crush all threats, real or imagined. We’re taught either to expect nothing of the public sphere or to be terrified of it.

Our fragile polity is in urgent need of an examination and a renovation of its social manners because they manifest and reflect but also actively build our core collective values. I dream of a day in which people pay as much attention to them as to their personal electronic arsensals.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Could you gag?

If we needed any further evidence about how the runaway endorsement of thuggery at the top is going to come back and bite us all in the ass, consider the prosecution and conviction Wednesday of a Mexican gangbanger involved in a Bronx street shootout that killed a 10-year-old kid. That’s obviously a criminal act and deserves severe punishment, but I think the laws previously on the books probably covered the murder of little girls. We don’t need a police state to address phenomena of this sort, and the anti-terrorism crusade hasn’t slowed them down either. But we’ve pumped up the police with new surveillance, spying, interrogation and prosecution powers, and anyone squeamish about the package and the implications for what Bush likes to call ‘freedom’ is trashed as a hopeless wimp who doesn’t understand war.

The spectacle of the new Attorney General nominee is yet another moment to witness the ongoing bipartisan endorsement of this trend despite the welcome last-minute resistance from certain Democrats. Turns out lawyer Mukasey can’t decide whether tying someone down and asphyxiating him constitutes torture, which kind of makes you want to strangle the guy—just a little.

My own senator and Friend of Hillary Charles Schumer is undergoing severe discomfort since he was instrumental in producing the job offer in the first place and wanted to shepherd the nomination through without too much talk about torture, which tells you something about that gentleman’s priorities.

After everything that’s happened in the last six years, Bush’s abysmal poll numbers and the clear threat to the rule of law implied in letting this guy slip through, you’d think the so-called ‘opposition’ would have enough steam to actually impose its will. But don’t hold your breath.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Illegal, Unlawful, Illicit

HELP HELP!! ****ILLEGAL**** immigrants are coming! Emphasis on the illegal. We have to insist that people obey our precious LAWS, dontcha see? That’s the mantra you hear from pious ‘moderates’ trying to figure out a way to pile onto attacking Latinos without looking like racists.

Funny how the whole idea that laws exist only pops up in the context of immigration while anywhere else it’s a pansy whine from mushy liberals soft on terrorism. No one gets up in arms when telecom companies illegally wiretap us at Bush’s behest, nor when the Democratic Congress enables them to be forgiven—retroactively, no less! Nor when these same servile hangdogs insisted on taking impeachment ‘off the table’ as soon as they gained control of Congress, despite Bush’s trituration of the Geneva Convention, torture authorizations and phony war.

But when it comes to impoverished Guatemalans risking their butts to cross the desert for the chance to work 14-hour days, suddenly it’s The Law, sancrosanct, the Holy of Holies. You hear this refrain endlessly, and its spouters think they’re so original.

The Constitution in Article II says the president ‘shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.’ But the entire history of the last six years has been the utter lawlessness of the Bush regime and their obscene frat-boy delight in it. Bush’s ‘signing statements’ are a public declaration that laws suck and he wipes his ass with them. When he’s caught out again and again, he simply browbeats the execrable congressional copperheads into changing the laws violated, then grants immunity to the guilty and crows about it. This doesn’t outrage the defenders of statutory rectitude; Mexican gardeners do.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Rules and Rulers

If you’re one of those people who thinks the Iraq war isn’t going so well, you might have gone down to one of the demonstrations against it this past Saturday, unfortunately a pale shadow of those mounted at the outset against the whole idea. Wiser heads than mine have discoursed on why that is the case.

For my part, I’m curious about the arguments you hear about what should happen in Iraq next and about what U.S. policy should be. That discussion often presumes that the people in charge of those decisions have some sort of legitimacy, and personally I don’t grant them any. Mind you, I’m not eager to get involved in acts of civil disobedience due to my current state of moral and physical laziness. But given the ongoing complicity of the so-called opposition party and the drumbeats of yet another war against Iran getting a boost from Madame Hillary, I believe the first order of business is to find new ways to challenge the legitimacy of this ruling clique to, well, rule us.

I don’t refer to the ravings of left-wing sects but rather some of the effective undermining of the consent of the governed that occurred during the 1960s and ‘70s and gummed up the gears of the war machine during the Vietnam debacle. It took a variety of forms, cultural, political, practical and unfortunately sometimes criminal as well. But beneath it all was a profound shift in attitudes, a visceral reaction against the dominant class and their logic. If you read the writings from those years by insider commentators like Joseph Kraft or David Broder, you get a sense that this widening split, this crevasse between the governing and the governed, was what finally turned the tide and convinced policymakers that the war couldn’t go on.

We’re still a long way from anything like that Slough of Alienated Despond, which tells me that this war has many more years to run.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

What is Hate?

Twenty-nine-year-old Michael Sandy headed for Plumb Beach one day last October for what he thought was a date along a wooded stretch of the Brooklyn-Queens shoreline (yes, woods in New York). He had hooked up with the guy on the internet, but instead of a walk on the wild side, he was mugged by four men, ran onto the Belt Parkway to get away and was killed by a passing automobile.

Police tracked down the perps, and they were charged with murder as a hate crime, which increases the potential jail terms in case of a conviction. Prosecutors argued that Sandy had been targeted for being gay, a category covered in New York’s hate crime statute. The attackers knew they could prey upon Sandy in a specific way—get him to come to the park alone—and that he might well cover up the crime instead of facing wisecracking police at the station house. The fact that Sandy was black added to the complexity despite or because of the fact that prosecutors never argued that the muggers were racists.

The trial was an extraordinary opportunity to see how the hate-crime phenomenon plays out, and there were surprises as well: one of the defendants said HE was gay too, and brought in ex-lovers as witnesses. So, he argued, whatever crime he committed, it wasn’t based on hate.

In the first case to go to trial, the jurors took their time figuring out what to do with all that, and they came back with a measured decision. They reduced the charge to manslaughter, but affirmed the hate-crime aspect, endorsing the idea that the point was not the defendant’s private sentiments but the act of targeting an individual for what he is.

That strikes me as a new wrinkle in the debate about hate crimes, and it’s worth considering now that nooses are appearing in doorways all over the New York area lately, probably an after-effect of the attention paid to the racist incidents in Jena, Louisiana. Al Sharpton is clamoring for the law to be expanded and toughened, and the situation is troubling enough that the idea deserves a hearing.

It also brings up two other situations to my mind: all the undocumented Hispanic workers being mugged by knowing teenagers, such as the rash of incidents reported in the Washington Post Friday, anecdotes I hear repeated all over the South where I travel for work. Since the Mexican and Central American workers aren’t likely to go the police and can’t get a bank account to deposit their earnings, they’re easily victimized by young thugs. According to the Michael Sandy standard, those are hate crimes and should be prosecuted accordingly. I wonder what Sharpton would have to say about that.

Finally, you can’t live in New York these days without seeing frequent news items about young African-American males shot down by city police officers, on and off duty, under highly suspicious circumstances. Oftentimes, the officers themselves are African-American too, but the effects are pretty much the same: dead, unarmed black men who were minding their own business. Using the Sandy standard, these incidents are arguably hate crimes, given that the perpetrators apparently think the victims are easily targeted as a class.

In any case, something needs to be done to stop this epidemic of official violence, and it would be a strong signal if a hate charge were slapped on one of these trigger-happy cops.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Who Slew Whom?

Twilight Highlights: Oklahoma state lawmaker Rex Duncan wins our Biped of the Week award for hastening the Twilight hither one giant step. He returned a Koran to the Governor’s Ethnic American Adivsory Council because the Muslim holy book condones the killing of innocent people. Dastardly. Regrettably, Mr Duncan is not acquainted with the Holy Bible, which exhorts Joshua in the eponymous Book (6:21) to ‘destroy with the sword every living thing in [Jericho]—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys as God had ordered them, so the false gods will not be adored among them because the gentile women will induce the Israelites to adore false gods’. Those gentile women, what can you expect? Never happy unless they're off inducing. Anyway, no false gods here, nosiree! Just a normal manifestation of biped genius.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Smithereens (Updated)

What sort of individual could place bombs in places likely to go off and blow defenseless civilians to bits? What perverse, medieval fanatic with utter disregard for human life could harbor such vile sentiments?

Of course, bombs can be placed on a suicide belt, secreted under the bar in cafés Battle-of-Algiers style, wired to the pillars of a building—or dropped from airplanes. They tend to have rather the same effect in any case, throwing bits of metal in every direction, collapsing structures, blowing out eyes and ears with their shock waves, burying the innocent, often alive, under tons of concrete and steel.

If one places a bomb on one’s person, there is probably a fairly clear radius of those likely to be destroyed by it. Leaving it in a public place and hurrying away is less precise and, one could argue, somewhat more cowardly if there can be a hierarchy of such things. But dropping a bomb from a mile high is undoubtedly the least careful procedure in terms of directing the intended terror toward a given target and therefore the most morally troubling as one can merely fly away from the aftermath without a glance.

How curious that our entire society shrinks back in horror at the idea of rushing toward other human beings with a bomb strapped to one’s waist yet barely registers the impact of ordnance delivered from above. No doubt we identify with those airborne due to the relative impunity of the American territory, whose citizens are unfamiliar with the flights of enemy aircraft overhead. Conversely, our own military force is projected most effectively and consistently through domination of the skies, so we are infrequently called upon to wonder what is must be like to have lethal projectiles rain down upon us.

This is not the case for many of the world’s peoples—no need to be tedious and list them. But one would think that a man responsible for having dropped bombs on civilian populations, for whatever laudable and applaudable reasons, would have some sense of awe and reserve over the terrible impact of his actions. Americans aren’t much for totting up the numbers of foreigners slain in wars of our doing, but they’re just as dead all the same.

However, there is a layer of moral vacuity that defies labeling involved in laughing at those you have killed in war, especially when they have not donned the enemy uniform. That is what makes John McCain’s preening performance at the Republican ‘values voters’ debate—scorning the Woodstock memorial while boasting of his days as a bomber pilot—such a monstrosity, coming after his jokey warbling of ‘Bomb Iran’ to the tune of an old Beach Boys number. The value-laden faithful thereupon rose to their feet and roared their approval of a perverse, medieval fanatic with utter disregard for human life—not to be harsh.

Not incidentally, it turns out that air strikes in Iraq are up, including those called in to support troop movements on the ground. Aerial bombardment of a city that one already occupies militarily turns out to be a violation of human rights law as it inevitably maims and kills civilians—not that Mr McCain cares about that or them.

I often fantasize about how people would react if foreign pilots destroyed Pittsburgh and left ten thousand people dead. I don’t think we’d need Dick Cheney to propose waterboarding those whom we managed to shoot down. McCain is lucky to be alive, but after seven decades on the planet, he’s remains devoid of human empathy. Do we want a ruthless killer to lead us? I don't.

Twilight Highlights: Chris Dodd's spirited albeit perhaps opportunistic defense of the Fourth Amendment and the rule of law is highlighting by contrast the weasely positions of the major Dem candidates. Glenn Greenwald exposes them so thoroughly that I have nothing to add. Don't miss.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Grovel Pit

What a contrast between the Republican candidates groveling before the organized social-issues conservatives Sunday night and the complete reversal of roles among Democrats where the base is expected to grovel before the politicians. While the Republicans have to justify themselves and defend their career compromises before a knowledgeable, stiff-necked and exacting crowd of anti-evolutionists, we in the reality-based camp have to defend our lack of enthusiasm about another decade of Clintonoid triangulation.

I’m already bored with all the arguments about why we should not expect more of Hillary or the rest of the candidate pack, not demand that they put an end to torture, nor go to bat for the separation of powers nor even cynically promise to restore our civil liberties. The reasoning follows just a few, endlessly repeated mantras, which I will intone below:

One: The Republicans are an imminent danger to the republic, so we must stop demanding a fabulous or perfect candidate (note the straw man) and settle on a middle-of-the-road moderate who can actually win. For example, Jimmy Carter in 1980, Michael Dukakis in 1988 and John Kerry in 2000. These are appealing, safe, centrist candidates, albeit a little bland, and even if they lose, they’ll leave a powerful movement for change behind them ready to sweep into power later.

Good thing we listened to that wise counsel—otherwise, we might have been saddled with Ronald Reagan, George Bush and George W Bush respectively. And we might also have ended up with a weak Democratic opposition that could never have mounted the effective challenge we’ve just witnessed to two decades of right-wing social, cultural and political trends. Whew, that was close!

Two: Hillary has to sound tough on Iraq because she’s vulnerable as a female and has to run to her right to neturalize the yahoo Nascarites, nervous Jews and confused suburbanites buying duct tape. Although the Iraq war is a disaster, she shouldn’t be faulted for voting to authorize it because she had to shore up her conservative New York base. And she HAD to vote to rattle sabres at Iran for the same reason. We can’t indulge ourselves and be one-issue voters because that would play into Republican hands.

Three: We need Clinton in office to protect the Supreme Court. Without a Democratic majority we might have ended up with a reactionary court majority eager to dismantle judicial review of the Unitary Executive. Lucky for us that didn’t happen!

And so on. Where the right wing has a social movement with organizations, resources, strategy and troops, the amorphous liberals rely on—the Democrats. Instead of demanding that Democrat potentials meet us on our terms, we’re browbeaten into accepting theirs, based on flimsy promises that they’ll do the right thing later. Given the vast evidence that they won’t, these tails attached to the Democratic Party’s rear end are just as faith-based as the Dobson-Robertson gargoyles.

The irony is that I hardly disagree with the proposed tactics nor with the world-class disaster posed by the Republican machine. I’ll probably do what’s necessary when and if the time comes to choose between the two horrors. But the furious reaction I get when expressing distaste for these sound-bitten, fleabag politicians is highly suspect. It suggests to me that the same things many of the Bush-hating Democrats are so up in arms about now won’t bother them much when done by a certain lady in the Oval Office.

[Update: I wrote that last night, and lo and behold read the following in New York magazine two hours later: “Far from Bush’s policies being repudiated in a Clinton presidency, they might in fact be continued with a different paint job.” –John Podhoretz, neocon extraordinaire and the new editor of Commentary.]

Monday, 22 October 2007

The Four Horsemen Chase the Cash

My friends at Off the Bus, which covers the campaign for the Huffington Post, asked me to jump in on a juicy story about the aftermath of the no-show debate at Morgan State. (Mentioned on this site Sept 29, which includes a link to that story on Huffington.) You will recall that the four top Republican contenders didn't show up at that historically black college to address minority issues because they had 'scheduling problems.'

Turns out they were busy raising cash from a host of the usual suspects, including a company accused that same week of redlining, i.e. racial discrimination. Check it all out here, and note that the cynical irony is getting a strong push from the Huffingtonoids.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Holocaustics (bis)

It just gets better and better. Recall the very recent, very public rending of garments sustained in New York over the visit of Iranian president Ahmadinejad who questions the historical accuracy of the Nazi holocaust. Fine, well and good, he deserves it.

Now let’s move over to the Turkish slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians. The Turks have always denied it, and their intellectual thugs, like the Auschwitz deniers, call for endless scholarly commissions to reexamine the evidence as if there were doubts.

Among the latter—Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, i.e. Holocaust Central.

This can be explained (although not explained away) by the fact that Turkey is a key ally of Israel and has made it clear there will be reprisals if the U.S. Congress passes a pending resolution declaring the Armenian killings a genocide. The resolution sponsored by paragons of ethical probity in our national legislature is wobbling severely as a result of Turkish pressure (some of which has been generated by disgraced ex-Congressman Livingstone who now earns millions peddling holocaust-denial).

After reading a full piece on the controversy in Friday’s Times, one can hardly escape the conclusion that genocide memorials are today a political tool to be trotted out when they are convenient and buried, excuse the expression, when they are not.

It’s no revelation that anti-Semitism, for the zionist camp, can be reduced essentially to hostility to the state of Israel. Anyone who slavishly adheres to the zigs and zags of Israeli interests and policy cannot by definition be an anti-Semite even if he is standing by to applaud the annihilation of any Jew who refuses to convert to Christianity at the time of the Rapture.

This suspension of all critical thought about a given nation because one considers it the beacon of hope for the future of mankind, or at least a portion of it, has an eerie parallel: the blind allegiance toward the Soviet Union required of the international communist movement during most of the 20th century. The iron discipline imposed on European CPs and sympathetic radicals provided a certain potency, but by shifting their focus to a foreign capital, they paid a heavy price.

Friday, 19 October 2007


Iraq is in chaos, but what if the ultimate goal of the conquest isn’t stability at all? The provocative London Review of Books has a short article by Jim Holt suggesting that the U.S. could be quite content to let most of what’s left of the country continue to slide towards hell in a handbasket as long as enough territory can be secured to permit oil drilling and exploitation.

Under this line of thinking, the vast untapped and unexplored oil reserves lying under the Iraqi desert more than justify a continued occupation especially if U.S. forces can be reduced substantially and casualties minimized by essentially giving up on the place. Under this approach, the U.S. lets the three main ethnic factions go their respective ways, and signs oil deals where necessary with willing partners, which won’t be in short supply given the staggering opportunities for bribes and kickbacks. The control of Iraqi oil would shift the geopolitical balance of power significantly by enabling American overlords to dictate the price of oil on the world market, bypassing the Saudis and keeping the oil-dependent Chinese on a short leash as well.

This makes eerie sense if you take Bush’s repeated references to the 60-year U.S. military presence on the Korean peninsula. Furthermore, it’s exactly the kind of halfway solution that would fit into a new Democrat-led administration. Madame Hillary would be more than comfortable defending a low-intensity war there and finding convincing justifications, starting with keeping her constituents happy at the pump.

Two other bits of evidence support this analysis: Greenspan, aka Our Lord, blurted out an inconvenient truth the other day when he said the war in Iraq was always about oil (he admitted to being embarrassed by that fact although I can’t imagine why). And then there was the fierce battle, successful so far, to keeping the deliberations of the Cheney commission on energy policy secret seven years after the fact? Did they include a plan for conquest?

I have great faith that the great majority of Americans will forgive all and abandon their opposition to the war if it leads to cheap gasoline flowing lovingly and forever into their tanks. Now there’s a chilling thought—Bush proved right.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007


I’m reading a biography of Mae West along with the new book about the murder of Bishop Gerardi in Guatemala, which feels like just about the right mix for keeping sane. West was a Brooklyn girl and a product of the burlesque/vaudeville circuits that pre-dated movies and television, and the ambience described in the book feels closer to theatre in ancient Greece than our aloof electronic entertainment. But the tales of how she clawed her way to stardom are quite contemporary.

It’s curious to watch how she toyed with sexual innuendo and conquest in her roles and her public image, stirring both amused fascination and outrage. Although her movie career was pretty much crushed by the Hayes Code and the moralistic counter-Reformation that cooled Hollywood’s jets during the Depression and war years, West must have struck a deep chord among women finding their way into the working world and trying on new ideas about what women could be and do.

West was no avant-feminist because her only real cause was herself and her career. But she seems to have been quite genuine in expressing her puzzlement over all the fuss made about what people do in bed. Too bad she couldn’t take enough amused distance from her camp self to accept the role of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard (which was offered to her). Imagine West behind the line, ‘I’m still big—it’s the movies that have gotten small!’

The book is entitled, It Ain’t No Sin. Speaking of which, Bishop Gerardi was the moving spirit behind the report on Guatemala’s 40-year nightmare of war and the human rights abuses committed therein, including massacres of whole villages by the Guatemalan armed forces. He was murdered in his garage two days after the report came out, and it’s no accident that Guatemala continues to occupy a lower circle of hell while many other Latin countries have clambered away from impunity toward some semblance of civilized politics. The Art of Political Murder by Francisco Goldman is part detective story, part lament for the capacity of a vicious elite to keep itself in power pretty much forever.

I wonder when the slaughter of 200 thousand Mayan villagers will merit a solemn pronouncement from Capitol Hill, busy denouncing what the Germans did in Europe or the Turks did in Asia. Not likely to happen any time soon since they’d have to explain Saint Ronald's support for one of its principal architects as just a regular guy ‘getting a bum rap.’

[Update] I wrote that last night, and lo and behold today’s paper says the House of Representatives is getting cold feet on denouncing Turkish genocide after all since the plans for conquest in Iraq come first. Isn’t that special?

Monday, 15 October 2007


Just days after the great gnashing of teeth over Ahmadenijad-the-Holocaust-denier, complete with dramatic mugging for the cameras by Bush, rabbis in Brooklyn and the president of Columbia, now we have half of Washington trying desperately to figure out a way to keep discussion of the mass slaughter of Armenians away from the dinner table. Since it was our allies the Turks who massacred them, we’re not to discuss that.

Our valiant Congress chose this time to declare itself against the murder of thousands of people 90 years ago in lieu of doing anything about the thousands it’s responsible for killing in the last four. A Turk sitting behind me in a movie theatre Saturday said it was because Nancy Pelosi has Armenians in her district, which sounds about right for this sorry band of moral pygmies.

The timing has created a problem for the Bush warmaking strategy in Iraq, and for that reason alone I applaud Congress in all its glorious opportunism. The Turks don’t like to have that particular mirror held up to them and are threatening to stop cooperating and force the U.S. military to fall back on support from coalition members like Azerbaijan, Estonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Meanwhile, did anyone notice the public tongue-lashing Putin gave Condoleeza Rice and Pentagon chief Gates at their little confab last week? Putin kept them waiting at the door, then lit into U.S. plans for missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. All Rice’s stunned press people could say later was, He has a really nice personality in private. It’s a sign of the steady collapse of U.S. power and influence that Bush’s envoys can be stiffed and humiliated with such impunity.

For the record, the Ottoman Turks slaughtered over a million Armenians just as their empire was being crushed during World War I. The Turks’ efficiency in transporting the victims in railway cars was observed by German military officers posted to the region, who made note of the technique and, need I add, used it later. The Turkish state and fascist nationalists refuse to acknowledge this history, and I think it’s great when it gets thrown in their faces. That said, the U.S. congressional action is still pathetic. Stop funding today’s slaughter, THEN pass pious resolutions about other people’s crimes.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Warm me, globally

Good for you, Al.

Now before anyone takes the piss out of me for churlishness, let me rise in my own defense and say that 90% of the following was written last week. I already hadn’t been reading any of the latest news about global warming when the news broke that Gore had won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the topic. Not from indifference but because I’m waiting for someone to take us to the next chapter, beyond feeling really bad about it.

So far, I don’t see a coherent political action program, and I wonder if the prize, instead of focusing on that thorny question, will only reinforce the sense that things are now okay, or will be soon.

Sure, there are solemn recommendations from think tanks and experts, but they sound like the liturgy from a church service (‘Blessed art thou who purchaseth a flourescent bulb. . .’) Does anyone really believe that our society is going to undergo the sort of radical transformation in consumption that the diagnoses point to?

There’s a peculiarly American habit of associating the identification of a problem with its solution, as if naming the evil somehow casts it out. Our sunny pragmatism is most on display in the televised confessional industry in which people face the Awful Truth as a valiant step on the road to Healing.

Whether this rump psychiatry actually works is highly debatable, of course, but it is clearly a failure when applied to public policy. It’s not enough just to FEEL really bad about global warming.

I trace this habit of mind in the political realm to the Saint Ronald years, in which ‘feeling good about America’ was our top priority. We were coached full-time to think that our feelings were so important that they could overpower, if not replace, disagreeable external realities. The Bush gang is only the reification of that principle taken to absurd heights, and the Bushites themselves a veritable pageant of rich-kid self-reference.

As a Washington reporter I witnessed Reagan’s handlers sacrifice 25 years in responding to global warming with the cynical and opportunist position that the phenomenon needed further study, even though the science was compelling even in 1980. But habitat-destruction didn’t fit into ‘feeling good.’

Now we’re reacting to those Pollyanna years by feeling bad. But Al Gore the prophet can tell us a whole lot of things that Al Gore the president wouldn’t have dared, which tells me that the future of this topic is far more likely to be more schlumping along with a lot of crisis alerts that lead nowhere, Nobel prizes notwithstanding. We bipeds need a catastrophe of mammoth proportions to wean us off SUVs, fossil fuels and plastic Tide containers.

I hope I’m wrong, but I suspect that as long as Oprah feels our globally-warmed pain, that’s going to be pretty much enough for now.