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.