Thursday, 31 July 2008

Game flames

Oh goody, soon will begin the Olympic Games XXIX and oratorios of outrage over the Chinese government’s snooping on email accounts and blocking of internet sites. Indignant coaches and athletes will wonder what the world is coming to on network TV with panting sportcasters shaking their dismayed heads.

It can safely be assumed that they will not appreciate the irony that, although the Chinese approach is more heavy-handed than the American version, both governments are equally unapologetic about spying on their citizens.

Given that our nation under the rule of Bush has proudly (albeit illegally) spied on its own citizens while kidnapping and torturing people while politicizing the administration of justice, it’s pretty hard to sympathize with the complaints that will soon be issuing from collaborators and abettors of all this about having their mail opened or their favorite porn sites disabled.

The Chinese may be too prudent and sly to draw the comparison, but that doesn’t prevent others from doing so. What a sad day for our Jeffersonian and Madisonian traditions that the execrable government of Zimbabwe can justify its continued persecution of its own starved populace by comparing its approach to the U.S. government’s ‘war on terrorism’.

Meanwhile, the imminent ten-day Chinese p.r. campaign will be an excellent opportunity to recall how the U.S. business class under the Bush/Clinton axis sold out the American worker to communism. All those poorly-dressed worker bees with no labor unions and terrified of mouthing off to the boss will be on the sidelines cheering on their teams in an explosive orgy of nationalist chauvinism—kind of like Los Angeles, 1984. Can’t wait.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008


It’s great to see the growing outrage over the Bush Administration’s embrace of torture, and I haven’t the slightest doubt that the chorus of disgust will only build in coming years and decades (which is the time-frame required for a national shame of this magnitude). However, there are already contradictions popping up in the rhetoric, and these also will inevitably deepen as our society faces this most ugly of sins.

Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post expresses appropriate disbelief over the notorious Bybee memo dated August 2002 that not only allowed torture but absolved its practitioners as long as they had an ‘honest belief’ that pulling out a guy’s fingernails doesn’t really hurt. (He’s probably faking—you know these terrorists.)

Okay, I exaggerate. They were ‘only’ talking about waterboarding. But recall that Bybee and his thug colleagues over at Justice earlier wrote that only acts that could jeopardize vital organs or lead to death would be considered torture under the prissy-parsing new legalese. So who needs fingernails?

Robinson can’t believe that anyone would take seriously the legal acrobatics that let a government official off the hook just because he ‘honestly believed’ he was doing the right thing. The rest of us don’t get away with that when we, say, make an illegal left turn or, um, forget to declare all our income.

But Robinson forgets that the entire U.S. Congress with only a few noble exceptions just did exactly that when it buckled to Bush’s FISA law and gave the telecoms immunity for wiretapping us. So he’s got no business being shocked.

Torture came along because after 9/11, as I recall perfectly well, our airwaves and political journals were chock-full of discussions of theoretical events in which the bomb-carrying bad guy might get away with a crime if we didn’t torture the truth out of his captured friends. While dancing on the head of that pin for months afterward, we collectively enabled Bush and his mafia team to use that justification for massive, institutionalized abuses, the details of which we have only begun to learn.

The Jack Bauer prototype was born in the aftermath of September 11 when the populace said yes to revenge and offered the Constitution on a tray in exchange for its safety. That is the nasty little truth that has yet to come out, not just the sordid particulars of the enforcers’ crimes.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Picky, picky, picky

The nutcase who shot up a church in Knoxville, Tennessee, Sunday turned out to be a liberal- and queer-hater who decided that the best place around to find a couple was during a musical play starring Unitarian kiddies. So as we pry his warped claws from the barrel of his shotgun, would it be fair to say that the guy was bitter and clinging to religion and firearms?

Bittergate, you will recall, was that très grande scandale that occurred when Obama said some frustrated folks out in the back country reacted to their economic marginalization by fetishizing their weapons and working up peculiar interpretations of the Bible. That was considered very bad form because it suggested a snobbish disregard for the noble underclass.

Gunslinger Jim Adkisson, who successfully whacked two older folks sitting in their pews, turned out to be an unemployed Christian with a rather twisted view of the New Testament. But let’s not criticize him as a knuckle-dragger or any elitist terms like that—after all, he’s not a terrorist! Too bad Jesse Helms is no longer around to shake his head and blame the unfortunate incident on affirmative action.


Watching the TV news these days is more and more like visiting a distant galaxy, and luckily one has plenty of internet options to restore a sense of reality. It is astounding to witness the nonstop sniping at Obama’s dazzling foreign trip, after the full-throated Messiah chorus of punditoids insisting that he had to do it to establish his world-leader credibility. Perhaps the chatterers need to keep the race close so that they’ll have jobs for the next three months.

A lot of people have noticed and listed all the contradictory messages pre- and post-Obama tour, but my personal favorite is ABC’s sonorous dismissal of Obama’s flawless performance because the American people are really more concerned about gas prices and domestic issues where ‘McCain has the advantage’.

Say what? How can these bloviators pull such crap out of their nether regions and peddle it as rose water? Pre-tour, they were all breathlessly informing us that McCain’s war-hero status and Senate experience trumped Obama on the foreign policy side. Now all that doesn’t matter?

There was also a lot of insistence from these self-appointed commentator gurus that Obama was getting no bounce from the foreign trip because his poll numbers were holding steady. I wonder what they’ll say now that Gallup shows him opening up a 9-point lead after being in a virtual dead heat two weeks ago.

The conventions are less than a month away, and it will be fascinating to watch the contrast between the genuine enthusiasm for and fascination with the Obama candidacy among both delegates and his huge fan base and the parade of wrinkly white men gathering around McCain.

[Addendum:] The polls also show Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, a McCain clone if ever there was one, losing his bid for a seventh Senate term to the mayor of Anchorage. Stevens, 84 and the longest-serving Republican in the history of that august body as well as the subject of a federal corruption probe, has never won less than 60% of the vote but currently trails Democrat Mark Begich by five. But oh yes, McCain is right on the young guy’s heels.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Gaffes and goofballs

Before Obama’s world tour, stimulated by McCain’s twitting about who had made more trips to Iraq and who knew the dangerous outside world better, all the buzz was about whether Obama would make a major error, stumble on the tarmac or forget which country he was in. That didn’t happen, and the candidate looked masterful, smooth and knowledgeable.

So now the buzz has changed. Since he didn’t make any goofs, does that make him prematurely presidential? Does he look arrogant? Does his rock-star status in Germany hurt with him Middle America? Does anyone care about getting foreign leaders’ names right when gas is $4.00 a gallon?

Our chattering classes really have no shame and are desperately hoping the race doesn’t turn into a rout too soon so that they can milk the horse race for another four months. To this end they seem to be propping up the cadaverous McCain and ignoring the evidence that his campaign is heading for the toilet. If Obama crushes him in November, will anyone remember how wrong they were?

Friday, 25 July 2008


The decline and fall of New Labour in Britian is getting little attention here, but it is highly suggestive for the electoral prospects of a certain political party closer to home. PM Gordon Brown, who came in to refurbish the tattered Labour brand after the unctious Reverend Blair had delivered one sermon too many, has shouldered the public’s disgust with Labour for dragging Britain into the Iraq quicksand while simultaneously stumble-bumbling spectacularly as the economy crashes and burns.

Despite the challenges of deciphering British politics, yet another special election debacle Thursday in one of Labour’s safest districts suggests that the Labourites are heading for a shellacking that will make them nostalgic for Lady Thatcher in her commoner days. Supposedly, it’s the economy, there as here, that has replaced the Iraq war as voters’ top reported concern.

But I’m skeptical that the two can be so easily separated. If the Blairite poodles hadn’t scampered into Bush’s arms so enthusiastically and ruined their party’s credibility in the pursuit of reconquest, they might have retained a smidgen of support from people willing to believe the current meltdown at home wasn’t entirely Labour’s fault. But with Lawrence of Arabia being chased back out of the Middle East, Brown the accountant can’t peddle his actuarial tables to anyone.

Likewise, George W Bush, the Xerxes of his day, heads home in defeat to face the unhappy masses. When the grain harvest also fails, there’s not much left by way of residual support, ‘surge’ or no ‘surge’.

Surge-ery at Operation Iraq

It’s wonderful to see how the logic of war continues to drown out the still-feeble attempts to change course in Iraq and repudiate that criminal enterprise. Now, the reigning assumption among some self-appointed experts is that the troop surge in Iraq has ‘worked’ because the horrific mass slaughter has slowed down, relatively speaking, to a mere homicidal trickle.

This recalls the cynical spin placed on the Salvadoran civil war back in the 1980s when the Reaganite death squads roamed the countryside there and systematically eliminated trade unionists, local leaders or anyone suspect of sympathy with the guerrilla movement. They also drilled a few holes in their victims’ flesh beforehand to make sure they and their relatives got the message although the State Department was forbidden to suggest that ‘human rights’ might be suffering as a result.

When those assassinations dropped to a mere few dozen rather than the hundreds of previous months, Saint Ronald’s spinners said their steady support was producing results on the ground and preparing the way for the wonders of democracy. No one was supposed to notice that the peace they generated was that of the cemetery as the Pentagon’s serial-killer allies had no one left to torture and kill.

But if victory for ‘our’ side is the only issue, then I suppose McCain has a point. Only if there is zero interest in the Iraqi polity and its capacity to exist for and of itself can one find anything in the current situation there to be proud of. However, if we focus exclusively on the possibility that the country can be stabilized long enough to settle U.S. oil companies in a favorable position, perhaps ‘victory’ is indeed just around the corner.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Missteps [an update]

The commentators continue to watch for the first goof by Obama on his world tour, sounding a little frustrated as the faultless choreography has suggested an abrupt resuscitation of Martha Graham. As noted here before, however, almost no one but Jon Stewart lingers on the fact that McCain can’t get straight the borders of the countries he plans to dictate to. Although it would be convenient politically for the Bush if Pakistan and Iraq were neighbors, not even his poodle General Musharraf could arrange that. Nonetheless, somehow McCain gets a pass for failing 11th grade geography while the pundit class waits breathlessly for some sign that Barack hasn’t learned his brief.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Ideologues and dangerous days

Most commentary on the possibility of an attack on Iran these days concludes that the conditions just aren’t there, that even an autistic wacko like Bush realizes that starting yet another unwinnable war, either directly or through Israeli surrogates, will push petroleum up to $400 a barrel and cause economic and political havoc. So, the consensus goes, despite the Cheney gang’s enthusiasm for leaving office in a blaze of fireworks, it just isn’t going to happen.

That logic, however, operates on a couple of assumptions. One is that the Israelis occupy the same planet as we do, and there’s growing evidence that this is optimistic. Israeli historian Benny Morris just wrote in the New York Times that the attack on the Iranians in fact is coming and that we’d better hope it works. If not, he argues, the Israelis simply will escalate to nuking them further down the road.

Morris argues that the Iranian mullahs are irrational and don’t care if their country is destroyed if in the process Israel is too. This blithe acceptance of nuclear destruction tells you something about the state of debate among the Israeli leadership these days and the level of apocalyptic paranoia that obtains there.

The other hasty assumption commentators here make is that the Cheneyite co-conspirators with these trigger-happy Israelis are planning to leave office next January. Having got to the White House through a judicial coup in the first place and spent eight years dismantling restrictions on their power left and right, it would be entirely in character for them to find a way to undermine the popular will more decisively, no matter how the voting shapes up.

A wild scenario? Perhaps. But my years in South America have taught me not to put too much blind faith in the inevitable permanence of civilian power and the rules of modern states, especially in a time of national crisis. The Bush cabal keeps saying Democrats are a tool of the enemy. Is it such a stretch to keeping them away from the levers of state?

Twilight Highlights: We’ve had a good laugh over McCain advisor Phil Gramm’s stupid comment that we’re now a ‘nation of whiners’ who can’t just move on from bankruptcy and unemployment and enjoy life. But this biped really deserves a special medal be created in his honor for calling AT&T chief Ed Whitacre ‘the most exploited worker in American history.’ His martyrdom occurred when he received only $158 million in severance pay instead of the $1 billion Gramm insisted he was worth for his sterling executive performance. Brilliant McCain campaign at work--the race is tight!

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Double Standards

I love all the hushed cautions emerging from the TV reporters about the killer gaffes that Obama might commit during his upcoming world tour. They seem to be anticipating some Gotcha! moment in which they can swoop down and pundit-wank away for hours, thus restoring their own role as the true arbiters of the nation’s fate.

What about the series of whoppers and cringe-making flubs one John McCain already served up? McCain can confuse Shi’ites and Sunnis twice and get off with a chuckle from chief prompter Joe Lieberman, but Obama had better keep them straight? Why is that?

McCain can parade through Baghdad with half an armored division protecting him and then say things are hunky-dory there without being ridiculed into hiding. Obama better not make that goof.

Bush can go to Afghanistan and say it’s really cool and ‘exciting for you, in some ways romantic, you know, confronting danger’ [see Mar 15 post], but no veterans groups stand up to denounce him for his adolescent beating off at their expense. Obama has to be an adult.

McCain’s uniform seems to count for a lot in all this although it didn’t for John Kerry as we well recall. So if I understand correctly, if you’re been in the armed services, that means you automatically know how and when they should be deployed? And anyone not already part of the military insider complex has to pass a series of oral exams, stand exactly the right way for the photo-ops and be vetted by egghead reporters and their paid hacks from the Pentagon thought-control apparatus.

I think the question should be posed exactly the other way around: given the total hash you guys have made of our geopolitics, can you offer any reason why someone with zero responsibility for these historic crimes should NOT take over?

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

No Child Left Behind

Two events Tuesday explained something about the slavering spinelessness of the ‘opposition’ legislature and its Democratic leadership in the face of Bush’s open assault on the Constitution.

First, the chilling and utterly depressing video of the 16-year-old Afghan boy being tortured by U.S. government representatives at Guantánamo, released by his lawyer to spur the equally supine Canadian government to demand his release. This documentary evidence will surely live through the ages, reminding Americans that, as a people, we essentially did nothing to stop the massive post-9/11 abuses because our safety and our sneaking, dirty desire for revenge were more important than human rights or even our own freedom.

We won’t have the ready excuse of the Europeans from the 1940s who could credibly, albeit untruthfully, argue that they didn’t know what was happening down the road in those prison camps.

Meanwhile, the new Jane Mayer book on the administration’s use of torture, illegal wiretapping and the rest gives an insight into the lack of teeth in the feeble objections by Democrats—they were complicit. As Glenn Greenwald recounts in Salon, Harman and Pelosi in the House and Rockefeller in the Senate were informed regularly of exactly what was happening and signed off on it, often enthusiastically. So any attempt at bringing those responsible to account would eventually include much of the top Democratic leadership.

This tells us something about just how much of a democracy we really have. As soon as ‘national security’ is involved, a ruling cabal makes the decisions and compromises the key players by making them complicit. If they object, they’re painted as disloyal wimps and trashed in the court of public opinion.

Stroessner, the Paraguayan dictator, used the same technique in his 40-year reign, but he went them one better: he would assemble his generals right in the dungeons and make them witness the torture of dissidents first-hand. You could refuse and probably end up next in line. Or you could remain silent, forget about conspiring against his absolute power and concentrate on getting rich. But once you crossed that line, there was no going back.

However, one unique thing about torture is that it doesn’t go away even if you dump the bodies at sea, and the Democrats’ complicity won’t save their sorry behinds. We’ll hear more about the specifics of what happened during the Bush years over the next decades, and we’ll know exactly who did (and did not do) what to stop it. Barack Obama’s inauguration parties, should they occur, will be just the first set of banquets haunted by Banquo’s ghost.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Response to The New Yorker

John McCain cariacatured as a WWI ace pilot flying over Iranian oil fields with mad grin, muffler flapping in the breeze. Slim Pickens in bomb bay saddling up nuke graffitied ‘Jesus Saves’. Pin-up of Dick Cheney in Speedo taped to control panel. Steinbergian Middle East map below showing oil derricks in foreground of Shatt al-Arab, Kuwait, Saudi-land, distant background of a random pyramid, Alp, ‘Europe’ legend, oceans, orthodox Jews in prayer garb perched on strip of Israeli beach clawing additional nukes, eyes fixed on Messiah (not Jesus) emerging from clouds. Toilet roll in back cabin, leaves marked ‘Article I, Article II . . .’ Buchenwald-type stacks of corpses on Persian Gulf shores. Cindy McCain as lobbyist tart doing titty-bumps with balloonish, Monopoly-card oil barons.

All in good fun!

Private Lives

Christopher Isherwood wrote ‘Berlin Stories’, which led to ‘Cabaret’ where Liza Minnelli rewrote the role of Sally Bowles and, according to Isherwood, undermined it, but no matter because without her how many of us would have heard of it or him or carried away that delicious and chilling impression of Weimar Germany? After leaving Germany for obvious reasons, Isherwood resettled in Hollywood where at age 50 he met a barely legal, supple and succulent teenager (Don Bachardy) on the beach and later moved him in to his Santa Monica house. They lived together for over 30 years until Isherwood’s death from prostate cancer.

The film ‘Chris and Don’ is a sensitive, critical look at their relationship and doesn’t shrink back from some uneasy-making questions, such as why the California-born younger man (who must now be hailing 80) not only inherited Isherwood’s English accent but his entire speech pattern and gesture-cabinet. The narration probes the evident father-son/Pygmalion overtones of the relationship and airs the view that Isherwood in some way cloned himself onto Bacchardi while at the same time enabling him to become an accomplished portrait artist.

Although the film doesn’t answer all its own questions, the overwhelming impression it leaves is of two devoted lovers whose intense connection gave them considerable courage at a time when gay couples, let alone one with this set of luggage, faced enormous social prejudices.

In less skilled hands the film’s sentimental flourishes would be saccharine and suspect. Instead, it probes the complexity of their time together and the difficult dynamics that inevitably arose from such an improbable juxtaposition. We endorse the romance and even permit Isherwood to wink at us from the afterlife.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Creep, assassin

Just in case we needed another reminder, McCain’s appallingly tasteless joke about the Iranian people yesterday is a good sign of the debased and morally corrupt levels to which our politics in general and the Republican version of it in particular have sunk.

McCain thought it cute to respond to a news item about increased American cigarette exports to Iran as ‘a way of killing them’. This from the presidential candidate of a country that regularly accuses the Iranian state of harboring genocidal sentiments about Jews.

I wrote off this blustering heap of shit months ago after his jokey Beach Boys imitation using the words ‘Bomb Iran’. I suppose it got a real round of belly laughs from the wannabe tough-guy reporters assembled aboard his campaign ‘ship’.

We’re supposed to speak in hushed tones about McCain’s ordeal while a prisoner of the Vietnamese, but we’re never reminded that he ended up as their prisoner by flying over their country in a warplane and dropping very large bombs on it. His adolescent horseplay about the fun of causing ordnance to rip through the bodies of civilians suggests that the suffering he caused never, ever pops up on his radar. Instead, he celebrates it.

That’s probably true for Osama bin Laden too.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Bosses and Court Jesters

An off-duty cop in plain clothes gets into a traffic incident with another driver, pulls out his gun and kills him. The grand jury, a malleable prosecutorial tool, refuses to indict him even for reckless use of his service weapon. The grieving mother, a poor black lady of course, can go piss off up a rope.

That happened yesterday in New York City, and it is a fitting emblem of how things work in the security apparatus from police on patrol all the way up to the Pentagon war room. They do stuff, hurt innocent bystanders and get off scot-free. Everyone knows it’s wrong, but the cost of reining them in is too high. They get resentful and then won’t obey you when you need them. Soon—or perhaps eternally—the exercise of a society’s policing and/or snooping power becomes largely autonomous and escapes real civilian control.

Permit me to suggest that this may also explain how our friend Obama finds himself signing on to the telecoms’ immunity, the dismantling of the Fourth Amendment and the slavish obedience of the Copperhead Democratics, determined to hand yet another inexplicable triumph to the unlikely, yet real, George Bush.

Perhaps it was naïve to think Obama could actually defend our privacy in the face of government spying and creeping Big Brotherism, notwithstanding the convincing speechmaking to which someone my age should be immune. I suspect in certain power stratospheres, there are non-negotiable, Tony Soprano-like deals to which one either signs on or becomes toast.

What a curious reversal of roles with the ever-calculating Hillary C who, no longer needing to show her tough side, voted against the appalling FISA sellout to win points with her outraged liberal base in New York. Had she won and Obama lost, I strongly suspect the votes on FISA would have been exactly reversed. The spying/policing system appears suddenly as the real permanent state, and its on-screen presidential and senatorial faces mere marionettish playthings.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Riding to hounds

Who is the speaker?

‘[We] oppose the government’s obnoxious proposal to extend maximum pre-charge detention . . . . The government has utterly failed to demonstrate the need for this further extension of police power, and [its] ostensible safeguards against possible abuse are almost certainly unworkable and therefore worthless.’

Must be a left-wing blogger type harping on the Obama campaign’s sensible, moderate and cleverly centrist position on national security, right? Wrong. It’s actually Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, the main British Conservative Party spokesperson for homeland security and former chairlady of the Joint Intelligence Committee. The British Labour Party’s current crash and burn is partly fueled by broad revulsion against the dismantling of civil protections for the accused, and the Blair-Brown faction continues to push for even more police latitude.

The Tory party stand on the principle of protecting suspects from abuses of police power is even more remarkable if you consider that the London subway system was the site of a terrorist bomb attack quite recently. But that hasn’t intimidated them into cowering passivity in the face of the government’s repressive measures.

The House of Lords is expected to shoot down the latest attempt to return to the Star Chamber in Britain. Would that we were blessed with an upper house of eccentric fox hunters and butterfly collectors who might feel some similar fondness for the Magna Carta and the 800 years of struggle to limit the power of the state. Or failing that, a party—any party—who could stand up to the permanent drumbeat of demagogy that equates the rule of law with disdain for public safety.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Glug, glug

Have you noticed the sudden precipitious decline in the number of annoying hustles you get in the mail offering yet another unnecessary credit card? From a rate of about three per week last year, I now can’t recall when I last got one.

I assume this sudden reversal of strategy on furiously pitching more credit to everyone in sight is related to the losses coursing through the financial system, now estimated by one source at $1.6 trillion when everything is included like commercial real estate, housing of course, credit cards, construction and 6 percent structured collateralized sinking upside-down debentures.

To get a sense of that number, financial institutions so far have recognized and written down only $400 billion, or one quarter, of that amount.

For its sorry part, Detroit looks less and less likely to be the headquarters of any automobile production at all in the near future, incredible as that seems. There was even a suggestion last week that General Motors might be headed for bankruptcy.

If the end should come, a few out-of-work executives at that institution might wish that the regulatory apparatus of the mean, old government had been tougher on them back when they sneaked their way around the minimum mileage laws and cooked up the SUV market by putting a giant, gas-guzzling car on a truck chassis. Had GM and the other automakers been forced to produce more fuel-efficient vehicles, their stock might not be scraping the NYSE floor, and their fleets of unsaleable behemoths might not be rusting away in suburban showrooms from sea to shining sea.

Instead of reviewing this self-sabotage, leaders ever eager to pander to the bipedal masses will no doubt propose more quick fixes like Hillary’s ridiculous gas tax holiday so that we can all start buying more cars and gulping down as much gasoline as always.

That’s one approach, ignore the causes and sound-bite your way to the front of the uneasy crowd. But another set of voices is also emerging from the elites, none too soon of course, such as that of Treasury Secretary Paulson, erstwhile major poobah from Goldman Sachs. Paulsen has gingerly suggested that greater regulation of the financial markets is needed, now that the system’s own uncontrolled momentum has led it down a slippery precipice with no bottom in sight.

If our presidential debates rise to the occasion, we should be hearing about how to save the capitalist system from itself and restrain its inherently irrational tendencies, rather than silly pitches to ‘Relieve Pain Fast’ as if the state were a Tylenol dispenser.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Love is not blind

Obama has written a thoughtful and tone-perfect (though also obfuscatory) reply to his many critics—from his own team, mind you—on the FISA legislation that the Democratic ‘opposition’ has tailored to enable Bush to get away with illegal wiretapping and to provide immunity to the complicit telecom companies. The particulars of this debate can be found with Glenn Greenwald here, but despite the ongoing bad news I think the unprecedented open letter from Obama to his supporters is a small victory for our battered Constitution.

I never went along with the idea that Obama was selling out or dumping all his decent ideas and instincts to backtrack his way into the Oval Office. I actually quite like his position on how to incorporate religious groups into social services without breaching the church-state wall, for example. His opposition to conquest in Iraq is persuasive enough, whatever he says should be done about it now.

But although his position on FISA wasn’t a ‘deal-breaker’ to use his phrase, it is plenty disturbing. It goes to the heart of the unitary executive and the creeping dismemberment of the powerless citizen’s legal protections in the face of a paranoid state engaged in a permanent war. Detainees shut away in Guantánamo dungeons, torture, secret spying, prosecutions using illicitly-gained data that can then be hidden from the accused on national security grounds—there is just far too much evidence that we are facing serious danger from our own government, even without a major terrorist attack in seven years.

The domestic spying, in defiance of the FISA law and with no oversight by anyone, has been rejected repeatedly by the courts, which are doing a much better job protecting civil liberties than the lapdog Congress. But instead of being shamed, the legislature is rushing to let Bush off the hook, endorse the cover-up and prevent those harmed from pursuing legal redress. This is the famous ‘end of Scooter Libby justice’ that Obama promises?

The Republican Party of today has abandoned its commitment to the republican form of government, and I have been close enough to real dictatorship to recognize its ideological fellow-travelers. The Rovian gang would give the security state everything it wants and are first cousins to the defunct East German Politburo or the grey functionaries that ran the South American military regimes of the 1970s. They are truly dangerous, and on this issue the alarmed sectors of the populace have a much better intuition than Obama’s operatives.

The fact that O had to write us an apologetic letter suggests that he was surprised by the intensity of the opposition to his buckling on FISA and is finding it suddenly harder to justify the ignominious Democratic cave-in.

Twilight Highlights: I see McCain is dubbing the shake-up in his campaign ‘a natural evolution.’ Wouldn’t that be a ‘more intelligent design’?

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Constitutional shoot-out

I wonder how the newly activist justices of the Supreme Court will handle tussles like the one brewing at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport over interpretation of its recent ruling on Second Amendment rights. The battle promises to be most edifying and wondrous to behold given the contradictory tendencies emerging from the right-wingers balancing gun-love and the GWOT.

Of all places you’d think Dick Cheney’s fellas would favor keeping firearms illegal, it’s airports. After all, fearful terrorists roam them eager to attack us because, as W has explained, they hate freedom. However, one freedom they probably wouldn’t hate at all is the freedom to pack metal outside of American Airlines ticket counters.

And irony of ironies, a Georgia gun rights group has filed suit to permit this practice. I can hardly wait for the arguments with TSA personnel to break out while an unknown percentage of irate travelers are legally carrying concealed firearms. Some clammy opposable biped thumbs may well have to be pried off a few barrels soon afterward—too bad Charlton Heston won’t be around to lead the chants.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Kate Smith or whatever moves ya

I read through Obama’s statement on patriotism as someone who feels the usual distance from the concept after having seen it turned into a right-wing, often racist, battering ram since my teen years. After all, it was the segregationist cry that those proposing equality—or ‘race mixing’ as they called it—were subversive agents of foreign powers, carpetbagging interlopers who failed to respect the southern/American way of doing things.

Then during the Vietnam war anyone who thought that adventure was a mindless and criminal waste was liable to be beaten silly with an American flagpole. It is true, as Obama noted, that the counterculture movement turned the flag into a hate object—I recall a bunch of drooling teenagers at one antiwar march leaping maniacally over burning flags and wondering to myself if this was a wise approach—but no one lost sleep in those days over the possibility of alienating the other guys.

However, Obama is recycling a one-sided myth by accusing antiwar youth such as myself for ‘failing to honor’ returning Vietnam vets. In fact, it was precisely my friends and I who extended sympathy and practical support to the returning vets and some active-duty servicemen who either dissented at great cost or sought ways to have no more to do with the whole sorry endeavor.

I shared a group house with draft and military law counselors and spent many a weekend with their clients as they poured in from the bases ringing Washington and ended up crashing on our sofas. They were young kids like ourselves who ended up in uniform and soon realized what a travesty they had been led into.

Today, there is no obvious counterculture coinciding with the opposition to failed foreign conquest, so no one can pin the blame on us for the returning veterans’ PTSD or their disorientation from their previous lives. So what’s the result? Bush, McCain and their consiglieres are free to dump on the veterans themselves, stiff them over benefits and shortchange their medical and psychiatric care. That wouldn’t be so easy if they had an active antiwar movement to bait and felt the need to draw a politically expedient contrast.

As for patriotism itself, it was originally about father-worship and clan chauvinism (note the word’s Latin roots), and Obama strikes just the right modernizing note in refusing to debase the concept into a mere wagon-circling defense of one’s own. He says loving one’s country means loving its better self, not just the people who are contained within its borders, and he even dared to mention other non-American human beings in the same breath. I could do without the God Bless the United States of America, but okay, that’s just me.