Monday, 31 May 2010

Keeping us safe?

When Israeli commandos can assault a humanitarian aid flotilla and kill a dozen civilians from all over the world in full and reasonable expectation of total impunity, who is putting our lives in danger? Afghan religious fanatics or the zionist variety?

How long will it take for a more competent terrorist, enraged by the imprisonment and slow annihilation of 1.5 million Gazans, to attack our subways or blow up a bus terminal in retaliation?

It will be interesting to hear how our New York senators, terrified by or perhaps part of the zionist lobby, spin the latest outrage. Already we can see the shape in a commentary in the British Guardian: the attack is an ‘own goal’, the Israelis have shot themselves in the foot and damaged their image.

This is exactly what Pope Benedict says about pedophile priests: it really hurts the Church, which is all he cares about.

Israel’s spokespeople immediately claimed that its military force was attacked by the civilians, which will be promptly believed by its unconditional defenders. Others say the commandos boarded the ship and started shooting. Details aside, could one of the most skilled fighting forces in the world have found it impossible to seize the ships peaceably had it chosen to do so?

Israeli PM Netan-yahoo is in Washington today. Let’s see if Obama stands next to him less than 24 hours after this war crime committed by his failed state.

Meanwhile, my local supermarket sells something called ‘Jordan dates’, which turn out to be Israeli goods from the somewhere near the Jordan River, not the eponymous country. I will not be buying them.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Contradiction round-up

The professional pollsters at point out that any question with the word ‘illegal’ in it is bound to attract a certain kneejerk response, as in, ‘Do you support the state of Arizona’s attempts to end illegal immigration?’ A large sector, often a majority, will answer yes to that without further ado.

I wonder what the response would have been a few years ago if someone had asked the question, ‘Do you support President Bush’s illegal detention of prisoners accused of terrorism-related crimes?’ Or how about, ‘Do you support the illegal use of torture to extract information from detainees?’

Nor do I recall anyone bothering to poll the public on this one: ‘Do you believe the government should be allowed to wiretap telephone conversations even when the law prohibits it?’ That might have generated an interesting set of numbers before Congress (including one Barack Obama) mooted the argument by absolving the government snoops and their telecom enablers by passing a convenient law ex post facto.


And speaking of legal niceties, the Times had an interesting piece this week on how the New York Police Department has thumbed its collective nose at the courts by continuing to maintain and consult its database on collars for ‘suspicion’, which disproportionately affect young black and Latino men. That hardly raised an eyebrow—after all, when you can shoot somebody 50 times and get off, no one really expects you to conform to the dictates of The Law.

Also this week there was a rather dreary piece in the Village Voice on the continuing and failing efforts to get mob influence out of the New York unit of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners. Twenty years after the first receivership and supposed clean-up by a court-appointed monitor, the latest (No. 5) was found to have succumbed to the ample grease and enabled employers to cheat the union’s members of their just wages and benefits. Between the lines you catch a persistent whiff of tolerance of the ongoing activities of organized crime in our fair city. ‘Crime’ as in illegality.

Coincidentally perhaps but probably not, another Times piece outlined the continuing ‘inability’ of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs our busses and subways, to steer clear of mobbed-up contractors, despite repeated warnings. The article noted ‘the authority’s persistent failure, despite its budget problems, to aggressively vet subcontractors in an industry where corruption, fraud and abuse are widespread’.

Reading between the lines, that would mean something like, ‘The MTA constantly does business with organized crime, and nobody really gives a shit’.


Double-standards abound and are depressingly facile for our biped brethren, as summed up in the hoary quip, ‘Do as I say, not as I do’. A major powwow on nuclear non-proliferation ended this week with the Israelis objecting to being singled out, despite the fact that they singled themselves out by obtaining nuclear weapons and introducing them to the Middle East tinderbox.

Ironic that we can go to war over a phony threat of nuclear weaponry entering the region (Iraq) and get our knickers all in knots over a vague possibility of same next door (Iran), all the while refusing to even discuss the already existing Israeli bomb. Who can argue that the fanatic racists now in power in Tel Aviv are less inclined to use it than the Iranian thugs?

In the end, as George W. and his friends demonstrated in the fall of 2000, when The Law doesn’t suit your purpose, there are many ways to get around it. Although the rule of law becomes quite real once it disappears into a police state, the everyday appeal to respect for legality nearly always reflects a highly politicized discourse. We enjoy pretending that we worship at this altar, but more often than not, we are indulging our extra-legal wishes, much as we listen contentedly to sermons denouncing sinners—that is, other people.

Friday, 28 May 2010

British Tories shame U.S. Democrats

Rather amazing, is it not, that the British Conservatives, the supposed ‘right’ wing of British politics, are moving swiftly to dismantle the Big Brother-ish national identity card system introduced by the outgoing Labour Party. Although they make a lot out of noise over the estimated 4.5 billion pounds to be saved by ending the scheme, the Tories also have cast their opposition to the anti-terrorism measure explicitly as a defense of civil liberties and personal freedom from government intrusion.

Conservative Home Secretary Theresa May [above, in boots] lauded her government’s move as reducing ‘the control of the State over decent, law-abiding people and hand[ing] power back to them. With swift Parliamentary approval, we aim to consign identity cards and the intrusive ID card scheme to history within 100 days’.

Bravo! Theresa May for Governor of Arizona!

It is a sorry commentary on the deeply reactionary political culture that grips us here that our party that purports to represent workers and progressive-minded people and is currently led by a member of a once-enslaved minority group shows no similar enthusiasm for overturning the gross abuses of the Bush years and restoring the rule of law.

The Tories are also dumping a plan for something called ‘biometric fingerprint passports’, another hare-brained scheme to funnel national wealth into the hands of security companies. They further announced that the position of Identity Commissioner (you can’t make this shit up), will be abolished—perhaps along with the Ministry of Truth and the Oxford Newspeak Dictionary project.

Curiously and unexpectedly, the Tories have consistently denounced Tony Blair’s complicity with torture and the Labour government’s enthusiastic ripping up of centuries of hard-fought protections against the abuse of state power. What a contrast with the mewling whimper of faux protest issued by the bulk of the Democratic Party in the face of national disgraces like Guantánamo and the torture regime.

The Guardian reports that the data currently held in the British national identity register will be destroyed. Can we imagine their American counterparts, the National Security Agency snoops now carefully recording our telephone calls, ever agreeing to any such thing? Or ever actually destroying records even if legally bound to do so?

Au contraire, we are thoroughly indoctrinated to believe that the database state has the right and the need to know everything about us, the better to make sure that skeery terrorists with funny surnames don’t blow up our grandchildren’s kindergartens. You gotta applaud the Brits, who have far more direct experience with living under the daily threat of bombs than frightened Nebraskans, for insisting that their private lives are still worth defending.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

Yahweh disturbed over Greek debt crisis—first plague strikes Greece!

Massive swarm of locusts headed for Goldman Sachs headquarters!

Hudson River displaying slight reddish tint!

Treasury Secretary Geithner complains of painful boils!

Will Jehovah slay first-born of Fox News anchors and hedge fund managers?

Prepare unleavened bread! Head for the desert!

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Get with it already

From Huffington: ‘The government regulator with oversight of offshore drilling allowed industry officials to fill in their own inspection reports and federal employees accepted gifts—including meals and tickets to sporting events—from oil and natural gas companies, according to a new report by the Interior Department's Inspector General’.

‘The report was prompted by an anonymous letter dated October 28, 2008 which alleged that several MMS [Mineral Management Service] employees accepted gifts, including skeet-shooting contests, crawfish boils and fishing trips, from the Island Operating Company, an oil and gas production company that works on oil platforms. Among the employees was an MMS supervisor in the New Orleans office, who was later fired’.

I wonder if President Obama will retaliate against the leaker of that dirty little secret for revealing restricted government data. It would be consistent, after all, as Obama guns for leakers in the full Bush/Cheney tradition, racking up another indictment today against a guy who depantsed his bosses at the National Security Agency. The NSA is that lovely outfit that listens in to our telephone calls and reads our e-mails, now without fear of legal interference thanks to both the current president and his predecessor.

The whole crew at Interior, including this grotesque parody of a ‘regulatory’ agency called MMS, looks like exactly where a true reformer truly prepared for some ‘hopey-changey’ stuff would have directed some icy stares upon taking office. Instead, Obama rushed to authorize new offshore drilling in March of this year without even a cursory review of the environmental safety issues, looking once again as if he were more concerned to placate his right-wing enemies than to listen to the people who put him in office.

Now that the entire Gulf of Mexico has become an open-air petroleum pit, Obama has belatedly named a commission to examine what went wrong. Both of the first two names are old-time Washington insiders: Bush Senior’s EPA chief and a former senator from Florida.

Ho hum. All this lumbering bureaucratic machinery might have made sense BEFORE changing the policy and BEFORE the disaster. Now it looks lame as shit.

Even Obama’s rhetoric sounds like he’s presiding over a ribbon-cutting for the new high school gymnasium rather than responding to a huge national environmental emergency.

‘I can’t think of two people who will bring greater experience or better judgment to the task at hand’, Obama said in his weekly radio address. Who the fuck cares? How about stopping the oil leak?

A Louisiana senator, Republican David Vitter, sounded more p.o.’d—no, more in touch with reality—than Obama, when he said that ‘the time for committee hearings is for after the well has been capped, not before’.

I’m sorry, but when you’re being outflanked as a populist champion by a corrupt whoremonger-extraordinaire like Vitter, there’s something seriously wrong with your approach to governing. The BP spill is not yet Obama’s Katrina, but it is heading straight in that direction.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

All inside-out

The narrative from Tuesday’s primaries is pretty hard to miss—incumbents, boo!; ‘outsiders’ yea!

And yet, What exactly is a political ‘outsider’ as we understand them here? Ronald Reagan somehow managed to convince everybody that he stood outside the system while protecting the powerful and crushing the rest of us with that goofy, feel-good smile.

Bill Clinton played the outsider game as he galloped into Washington from the Ozarks to promptly triangulate his way through eight years of delivering NAFTA to the corporate elite, dismantling financial regulation, ripping up the safety net, caving to the Christian right on sex ed and institutionalizing antigay discrimination in the military while fucking interns.

It will be fascinating to see if the libertarian Son of Paul from Kentucky wins a Senate seat and joins his Republican colleagues in covering for Wall Street and British Petroleum with the excuse that ‘government interference’ in the free markets is bad. Or if liberty-worshipping Paul and his tea-bagger buds will think poorly of Arizona’s stop-and-frisk-Mexicans law. In any case, how nice for the Repubs to have to figure out what to do with this potent and quite wacko movement whose latest poster child wants to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1965.

The Obama team apparently has decided that it should look like the adult in the room and eschew capitalizing on this outsider/populist fury to push its program, even the financial reform package that would be a natural fit. I suppose it’s admirable that the White House refuses to pander to the more offbeat and impractical solutions. But the last guy who decided to stick to a moderate, centrist position in the face of the right-wing drumbeat was named John Kerry. Anyone remember him?

Anyway, the fascination with supposed outsiders is pretty much bullshit. We do not generally find real outsiders delightful or admirable but repugnant, and the faux worship of a Lone Ranger figure riding in to save us is usually a cover for a dishonest discourse.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Obama's MOR BS

So the answer is not drilling everywhere all the time. But the answer is not, also, for us to ignore the fact that we are going to need vital energy sources to maintain our economic growth and our security. Ultimately, we need to move beyond the tired debates of the left and the right, between business leaders and environmentalists, between those who would claim drilling is a cure all and those who would claim it has no place. Because this issue is just too important to allow our progress to languish while we fight the same old battles over and over again’. -Barack Obama, Andrews Air Force Base, March 31, 2010

This lame I’m-so-moderate approach is typical of Obama, who thinks he can observe people’s passionate differences from on high and find the truth eternally located somewhere in the middle. Like those who dismiss arguments about torture as mere ‘tired debates’ when the reasonable, adult posture is something in between, like, Only do it sometimes and then feel terrible about it.

The tired left v. right debaters on off-shore oil drilling whom Obama refers to would then be, um, Al Gore and George W. Bush? Remind me of that next election cycle when we’re being browbeaten to rush out and vote for Democrats because they’re SO not the bad guys.

I’m reminded of the difficulties faced by colleagues at National Public Radio who were never permitted to let anyone say anything without ‘balancing’ it with a neutralizing, opposite view. One poor young woman was at her wit’s end trying to find something to ‘balance’ a Guatemalan death squad leader who in an interview had justified snatching people from their beds and ripping them to pieces in dungeons.

Although it is height of hypocrisy to call the BP oil slick ‘Obama’s Katrina’, he did abandon the moral high ground when he chose to ignore those bad old extremist environmental groups who warned that off-shore drilling was not safe and to authorize more of it. A more sincere moderate would have held off on a decision and invited the interested parties to a policy review that might have exposed the miserably incompetent governmental regulatory oversight before the fact rather than after. Not that it was much of a secret, had Obama chosen to ask.

So now we have a world-class ecological disaster that the federal government seems clueless to address with Obama doing his usual above-the-fray number and issuing stern-daddy warnings as the oil-pool wriggles slowly past the Florida Keys en route to the Atlantic. It might be more convincing had the Obama Administration not permitted BP to hide its video of the gushing pipe from public view for three weeks while playing it live inside the White House.

So much for Mr Middle-of-the-Road who increasingly looks and sounds like a bad imitation of Bill Clinton.

Monday, 17 May 2010

The Arid-Zone: dry, dusty, deserted

Arizona should be thinking about refurbishing Tombstone and the Boothill Graveyard now that the deep revulsion caused by its nasty anti-immigrant law has made the state so unpopular that the tumbleweed threatens to outnumber the tourists. Arizona’s distinguished political leaders, now scrambling to recover from the gaping, self-inflicted wound to their lily-white tootsies after they imprudently listened to the siren calls of the tea-baggers and Lou Dobbs-ites, are now realizing that in America it’s all right to be a racist, but you can’t sound like one.

New York cops can shoot down young black guys and generally get away with it, but they can’t call them the terrible ‘N’ word that we are forbidden to commit to print. Arizona’s goofball solons didn’t realize that they could have Sheriff Arpaio round up Mexicans by the caravan-loads, but they made a big mistake by passing a law saying they were going to do it.

Now the floundering governor, Jan Brewer, has announced it’s time to ‘rebrand’ the state to stop people from canceling their conventions and further wrecking Arizona’s road-kill economy. A bit late there, Jan! She and her Republican buds might have thought of the impact on convention business before launching their anti-brown-guy crusade, but I guess it’s more fun to be ideologically rigorous.

Brewer was hilariously clueless about why the new stop-and-frisk law was making people want to avoid her slab of desert. Attempting to deflect what she called ‘mistruths’ about the new law, Brewer insisted that people won’t ‘be asked for ID unless you first commit a crime’.

Hello, Madame Governor? The law you just signed says that people can and in fact must be picked up on ‘reasonable suspicion’ of being in the U.S. without a visa, otherwise known as illegal lawn-cutting or an excessive tan. Having to carry your ID around or get hauled off by cops feels like apartheid South Africa or a banana republic police state, i.e., exactly what pissed everybody off in the first place.

Meanwhile, conferences continue to be canceled, and the city of Los Angeles now refuses to do business with the state. Other groups that had been planning for future events in Arizona aren’t even answering tourist operators’ phone calls, reported the Phoenix-based Arizona Republic.

‘This is impacting Arizona’s face to the nation’, moaned Brewer, rumored not to hold a doctorate in English composition.

Inevitably, some people complain about injecting ‘politics’ into things like sporting events and high school seniors’ graduation debaucheries. That never seems to come up when Yankees owner George Steinbrenner tries to make everyone stand up and sing ‘God Bless America’ in honor of ‘the troops fighting for freedom in Iraq’ during the 7th-inning stretch—but I digress.

The Arizona debacle is an encouraging sign that wackos in power stand a good chance of promptly turning themselves into a laughingstock. Meanwhile, they’ve got their work ahead of them as they try to make the late-night jokesters stop the punishment.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

The non-bomb

We got lucky with the Times Square would-be bomber in a lot of ways, starting with his incompetence and the background of old-fashioned police work not involving torture. We’re also lucky that Times Square is in the state of New York and not Arizona so that the street-corner vendor who spotted the suspicious truck was not hostile to the police or afraid of having his papers checked. (For all we know, he’s a foreigner without a visa, but no one here has asked nor would particularly care.)

The whole incident illustrates the absurdity of justifying the ongoing debacle in Afghanistan and Pakistan in terms of protecting U.S. soil. Although incompetent nutcases can do plenty of damage, there’s no underlying threat to our society from a random bomb-thrower any more than from a turnpike sniper or a mad slasher loose on the subway. We fear such incidents and mourn their victims, but there is no way to completely eliminate such acts from biped DNA.

How much more threatening would the Taliban or other Asian political movements be if they had the sense to try to explain themselves and their goals to the U.S. populace instead of blowing up our streets? Can we imagine the North Vietnamese leadership responding to the reign of destruction they underwent in the 1960s and ’70s by planting a bomb on the New York city subway? They had far more sense than that, and they won.

It’s pathetic and sad to watch Obama bow and scrape with the loathesome and useless Afghan president who thumbs his nose at anyone standing in the way of his corrupt regime. He cashes in on the heroin trade and steals the election, but the United States can’t bear to admit defeat or face the wrath of the dead soldiers’ families whose kids got shot up to sustain this creep. Instead, we continue to feed on the fantasy that Times Square’s safety requires Nebraskans to traipse around Kandahar with guns.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The Herd

Don’t mistake me for someone who cares that an elderly Mormon reactionary no longer gets to be a senator. But some of the poll crunchers and Beltway pontiffs argue that the peremptory toss of Senator Bennett into the trashcan by the Utah Republicans doesn’t mean anything because the GOP will hold the seat against any Democrat not openly endorsed by God and campaigning from a heavenly chariot. I don’t see it that way.

The tea partyers are a convenient bunch of white rabble for the Republicans to whip into a frenzy over health insurance reform, Latina judges or climate change bills. But now the masses are riding bareback into the manor house and setting fire to the French antique furniture. This has to be making the Brahmins’ stomachs mighty queasy.

Today’s story is that the Maine Republicans have similarly been seized by the Beck-ites who think Obama is a foreigner and Sarah Palin speaks to God. Once again, the reassuring line is that party platforms don’t mean anything, and so who cares if the wackos insert language calling for Jesus to start The Rapture on March 23rd?

Recent history does instruct us that we laugh at political goofiness at our peril and that the weirdest, most far-fetched fairy tales always carry the danger of lighting a bonfire in biped hearts that can be extremely costly to put out. Nonetheless, I permit myself to smirk over this display of grinning zealotry, encouraged by the Republican Party leadership for 30 years and now eagerly turning upon its erstwhile masters ready to rip out their insides and feed on their entrails.

Beck, Palin, Limbaugh, Dobson, Falwell, Robertson & all that gang pander to anti-intellectualism, dismiss disagreement and make up ‘facts’. They delight in running like a pack of wolves; in fact, they remind me of the most juvenile tendencies of our ‘60s enthusiasms, the same disregard for strategic alliances and a similar impatience with doubt. As long as bad old liberals and ACORN were the only targets, that was fine, but now it’s the Republican old-boy network itself that has got in their way. How grand!

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Europe on edge

By chance, or perhaps not, two events in Europe are unfolding with unusual speed: the potential of a new financial panic and deepening recession and the sudden scramble to decide what course Britain will take given that no party won a clear majority in their May 6 elections for parliament.

Our domestic papers haven’t been much help in figuring out these parallel dramas, but the continental fusses could affect us deeply. Greece’s sovereign debt problems threaten to spill over throughout Europe and create a new run on the too-big-to-fail megabanks, all of which are incestuously intertwined. There is already talk of a disastrous refreeze of global credit markets, which could toss us right back into the recession we thought we were escaping.

The banking regulation that now hobbles through Congress has been beaten and bloodied about the head and shoulders by the blunt instruments of the ever-bloated banker lobby—an amazing display of its continued sway over (or shall we say ‘purchase of’?) Capital Hill despite having just wrecked the country. But a new episode of finance-induced economic collapse could change the gameboard. The just-defeated Brown-Kaufman bill to mandate the shrinkage of all banks to a mere $100 billion in size might look less radical if we get Round II of the bursting bubble less than two years after Round I.

The European Union’s central bank poobahs are meeting Sunday to try to come up with some convincing move to stave off the viral spread of a new banking panic, and we’ll see if they pull it off. However, unlike the dictatorial and secretive powers awarded our Fed chairman, the ECB board has to navigate through a coalition of opinionated and jealous states where everyone has a veto. Such conditions would complicate to death a PTA bake sale.

Thursday’s mysterious and still unexplained 600-point drop of the Dow in fifteen minutes is a sign that all is not well. Large amounts of money swirl about seeking safe harbor.

Meanwhile, the British populace has pronounced itself at the polls. Unfortunately, no one can quite agree on what it said there. Their weird voting system (we should talk, but anyway. . .) produced a three-way split with no majority and the balance of power residing with the guy who came in last. Any conceivable solution can be said to have two-thirds of the country theoretially against it: a minority Tory government? Exhausted, unpopular Labour back for a fourth term, perhaps minus Gordon Brown? Nothing makes sense, and the sudden headlessness compounds the aura of uncertainty.

Perhaps it is a coincidence that these two things are occurring over the same weekend. But one can hardly escape the double impression of a pair of rickety carriages careening madly downhill with various drivers fighting over the reins.

Friday, 7 May 2010

War party ousted

So the Liberal Democrat boomlet fizzled out, and the Brits are saddled with the horrible Tories. No doubt this is quite depressing for some English people, but I say good riddance to New Labour, the Anglo equivalent of Clintonism without the vaginal cigar.

It’s amazing to pour down column after column in the British papers and find tales of coming horror from aghast liberals while there are virtually no references to Tony Blair’s great crime—the slaughter occasioned by the colonial conquest of Iraq. Which failed, no one seems to recall.

Unbelievable that Britain’s curiously provincial scribblers can bang on about their national health service, the coming cuts in social expenditure, immigration policy and whether the Queen should ride in a carriage drawn by four horses or six. But none of these sophisticated wankers can condemn the snakes running their favorite party for raining death on foreigners in a pointless war and turning their country into a nightmare of violent lawlessness, tyranny, dysfunction and collapse.

The Tories didn’t object to that, and they might well have sucked George Bush off in precisely the same way Blair’s Labourites did. But that’s no excuse. May they all join W and Tony and rot in hell throughout eternity. The decent ones resigned in protest.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010


GOP senators and talk-show hosts today high-fived each other today for a ‘close one’ after an attempted terrorist bomb attack fizzled in New York’s Times Square.

The blast, had it occurred, would have propelled the minority party toward certain electoral triumph in November.

‘Obama got lucky’, said Texas senator John Cornyn [above] referring to the attempting bombing of the famous entertainment district that would have injured or killed dozens of civilians. ‘But we only have to be lucky once, and then it’s sweet revenge at the voting booth’.

Republicans have long understood that their relentless appeal to fear of a repeat of 9/11 brings them political rewards. While acknowledging that their Democratic adversaries are respectable and patriotic citizens, GOP National Committee chairman Michael Steele reminded Americans that the ‘tree-hugging, pantywaist, Miranda-worshipping, homo appeasers’ are unwilling and incapable of defending the nation and protecting their own wives and daughters from rapists.

Despite the narrow loss of a violent terrorist incident that would have turned the country from its dangerously weak-kneed course, there was a bright side as Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman introduced a bill to require the torture of all arrested terrorist subjects before any questioning by police detectives.

‘It just isn’t right that these guys can escape punishment by merely relating all the details of their terrorist training and preparations to FBI interrogators’, said Lieberman, ‘thereby depriving us of the chance to kick their balls in’.

Lieberman also called for President Obama to dump Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano, who blocked the potentially game-changing terrorist act. Lieberman suggested Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (no relation) as a possible replacement.

Republicans will regroup at a weekend retreat to discuss how to respond to the temporary setback to their grand strategy. ‘It’s disappointing to have come so close’, said a high-ranking former Bush Administration official reached by cell phone while on a hunting excursion, who agreed to speak without attribution. ‘But the conditions are in place for a successful event that will remind Americans who truly understands the terrorist enemy’.

[Disclaimer for the especially thick: You have just read a satire.]

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

May 4, 1970

I have been alive for the last 40 years due to a fluke of history. The kid lying dead in this picture, shot by the Ohio National Guard on the campus of Kent State University, could have been me.

His crime was to appear in public to oppose the Vietnam war, which still had five years to run and eventually would kill two to three million Vietnamese, mostly civilians, and 55,000 U.S. soldiers. The spillover war in Cambodia would add more untold hundreds of thousands as perhaps one-third of that country’s inhabitants were slaughtered by the demented Maoists who seized power there.

What was achieved by this endless carnage? A communist government took control of South Vietnam, unified the country and now does business with capitalist clothing manufacturers to produce pullovers. (I wear some.) Tourism is booming, and no one worries about whether the Vietnamese are building atomic weapons, getting too friendly with the Taliban or promoting Marxist revolution in Burma (which would be a decided improvement there in any case).

What ever happened to the youthful distaste for pointless warfare and militarism that we celebrated then? Why do passers-by in the Atlanta airport feel the need to applaud as automatic heroes the line of troops in camouflage filing past them without a second thought as to what those kids might be told to do with their weapons and to whom?

Who paid for the decision to continue this destruction and waste of life and resources any and everywhere at any time, whenever a president determines we should, based on whatever feeble lies he needs at the moment? Where is the soul-searching about the use of American firepower on either practical or moral terms? Why do Henry Kissinger and John McCain get to parade around triumphantly or even brag about what they did there instead of keeping a prudent silence about their role in a frankly criminal enterprise and world-historic debacle?

The photo above reflected the consternation of those times, how unimaginable it was that National Guard reservists would fire on their own children. We soon learned better. That summer, visiting my home town in Ohio, we were doubly shocked to hear many of the townspeople applaud the action—essentially saying that they wished we were dead. They proceeded to re-elect Richard Nixon, who had pumped up the hatred of us peacenik youth, in a landslide two years later.

We didn’t give them the satisfaction of disappearing, but their view of war and conquest has gradually erased the memory of that generational rebellion with help from Meryl Streep (The Deer Hunter), scores of angst-ridden Vietnam memoirs focused on our suffering troops (their victims appear only in the background), historical rewrites, a decade of intervention in Central America on the side of neo-nazi nun-murderers to protect Texas from red Latinos, Reaganite triumphalism and permission to ‘feel good about America’, and probably a half-dozen other influences I haven’t thought of.

Now, it’s pure fantasy to imagine hordes of youth heading into the streets to denounce American war-making in remote corners of the world or to question the virtue of our military machinery—or even how much of our shrinking treasure it absorbs. Even our Nobel-peace-prize winning president has the revolting tastelessness to joke with the sycophant press about predator drones, like the ones he has sent to annihilate the families of his enemies halfway around the world since his first days in office.

The times shown in this photo were different: we thought about non-American populations and what life was like from their perspective. We shuddered at rampant destruction and questioned the practice of raining death upon defenseless civilians.

Now, instead, after experiencing arbitrary slaughter on our own soil one September 11th, nothing matters but revenge.

Monday, 3 May 2010

You clean it up

What better example of what Tony Judt called in his recent NYU speech the combination of vast ‘private affluence and public squalor’ than the destruction of half our coastline by the rapacious oil companies. Some of the usual mean spirits already have dubbed the Gulf oil spill as ‘Obama’s Katrina’, which is the closest they come to acknowledging that their hero’s performance in the original one was somewhat inadequate. That will generate knee-jerk defenses of the federal government’s handling of the disaster from people with a weird attachment to the Democratic Party, but in this case it will involve acrobatics that would make Cirque du Soleil proud.

Obama’s on his own with this one. It was his decision to issue the executive order to expand offshore drilling and make the bizarre spectacle of thousands of fat white guys (led by their token, Michael Steele) chanting ‘Drill, Baby, Drill’ at the Republic National Convention his own cause. What exactly he thought he was getting in exchange for jettisoning his environmental allies on a crucial issue is not very clear given the ongoing, ferocious denial of global warming issuing from the Palin/Beck/Huckabee camp.

No, smart guys in the White House, this is your catastrophe to deal with, your time to convince us that you know best and that the people who elected you can be arbitrarily ignored through executive order when big, important deals are to be cut with the powerful.

Speaking of executive orders, how curious that the one Obama could issue to speed up the slow, ridiculous, agonizing decline and decease of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell is nowhere to be seen. Now Defense Secretary Gates, a hold-over from the Bush horror that we voted against, is saying that we should wait for the issue to be ‘studied’ some more as if the evidence that the policy is bigoted and useless has not yet been accumulated. ‘Our military must be afforded the opportunity to inform us of their concerns’, said Gates with Obama’s silent consent. Harry Truman didn’t think ending racial segregation in the ranks needed years of research—he just did it.

As we watch the oil seep into our national shoreline, we can contemplate just how far from democratic rule and the people’s will we have moved as the Obama team scrambles to explain to us why the huge oil companies should be allowed to continue to wreck our planet—oh, and also why we should rush out in November to defend the party that wipes its collective behind with the mandate of 2008.