Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Who will protect the little girls of Beit Shemesh?

It’s a shame that any 8-year-old girl has to put up with abuse, but the hazing of Naama Margolese by fellow Orthodox Jews—albeit of a different sect—is the best civics lesson we’ve had from the Middle East since the fall of Mubarak. [Photo: Oded Balilty/AP]

When hundreds of religious fanatics can line up on a sidewalk to threaten and intimidate little girls, maybe something is wrong with the Zionist vision that the land of Israel is for Jews and only Jews. As in any exclusionary ideology, disputes inevitably must arise as to who is more racially/ religiously/ ideologically/ whatever-ly pure.

The Haredim spitting at Naama for dressing like a slut (apparently her 8-year-old arms were showing) have decided that they, only they, are righteous enough to know what ‘God’ has dictated to be proper biped behavior. This is the exact parallel of the southern Baptists who seethed with murderous rage at the sight of black girls going to Little Rock High in 1961.

Neither is the incident unusual, according to published reports. ‘I think the whole country needs to wake up, that it’s not just a corner in Beit Shemesh, it’s happening everywhere’, a local told The Christian Science Monitor.

It’s too bad that it took abuse of an innocent Jewish child to wake up people to what has been happening in that part of the world for the better part of a century. Can anyone seriously doubt that Arab schoolchildren have been putting up with stunts like this while no one pays any attention? Any objections would immediately be dubbed Hamas propaganda.

The sight of Orthodox Jewish children being called ‘whores’ by religious zealots does illuminate, however, the absurdity of insisting that Hamas recognize the ‘legitimacy’ of the state of Israel—as if the South African problem could have been solved if Nelson Mandela had just endorsed white supremacy.

When Israeli prime ministers get more respect from Congress than a sitting president, we can’t expect an even-handed Middle East policy from Washington. But it will be amusing to watch all the evangelical Christians eager to hitch their wagons to the Zionist train flounder when Israelis themselves can’t decide who is a ‘real’ Jew.

Israeli political leaders, with other, bigger fish to fry, are apparently concerned about the loose cannons on the ultra-Orthodox right. But then again, they’ve empowered these black-hatted fanatics to harass the Palestinian enemy, and their state is based on giving preference and privilege to persons born to a certain ethnic and religious group. Hard to backtrack now.

In addition, the settlement enterprise has made the most extreme elements into heroes and given them military cover for exactly the kinds of nasty behavior on display this week. Too bad when it turns around and bites you on the improperly draped ass.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Bradley Manning & the above-ground railroad

The Manning ballet now being performed in a military court with a pre-determined outcome is not a legal case but a political one. It is a public spectacle demonstrating for all to see which people in our two-tiered country are to be subjected to punishment and which are to get off scot-free.

Manning is accused of spilling government secrets just as Daniel Ellsberg was once long ago. Ellsberg and Manning acted against the United States government’s pursuit of aggressive war unjustified by any conceivable notion of self-defense.

This is the crime for which the accused at the Nuremberg trials were condemned to death or lengthy prison terms. The prosecutor, U.S. Attorney General Robert Jackson, said that aggressive war was the fundamental cause of all the other crimes against humanity that occurred in the 1940s—including the Holocaust.

So did Ellsberg and Manning violent a statute in releasing classified documents? Maybe, but that’s not why they were put on trial. Let’s look no further than Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby’s outing of an active-duty CIA agent who refused to go along with their plans for war in Iraq. They’re off the hook while Manning faces life in prison.

His real crime is whistle-blowing.

Did W’s lawyers violate treaties and our own laws by providing cover for torture? Who cares? Did Donald Rumsfeld and W himself openly admit to authorizing these heinous practices, condemned by civilized nations for decades? No problem. Under the Obama Doctrine, powerful members of the insider club are not to be bothered with legal action or even investigations of their deeds. Only defenseless 20-year-olds who can first be tortured for months in solitary to soften them up must face trial. And given the powers contained in Obama’s recent defense spending bill, he can keep them there indefinitely if he so chooses, without judicial review.

It’s ironic but entirely appropriate that Manning should be facing this kangaroo court just as the U.S. attempt to conquer and occupy Iraq (‘Operation Iraq Freedom’) has ended in failure. While the appalling costs are totted up--$1 trillion of treasure, tens of thousands of deaths, a society ripped to shreds, ongoing death squad actions and terrorist bombing campaigns so relentless and terrifying (such as yesterday’s) that many yearn for the order and relative safety of Saddam Hussein’s era—American military and civilian officials dare to praise this criminal debacle as a ‘liberation’.

And not only are these statements accepted at face value by a society that has utterly lost its moral compass, new war-mongering campaigns are pushed forward at full throttle—a direct result of Obama’s refusal to hold his predecessors legally and politically responsible for their actions.

Here is a Foreign Affairs trial balloon insisting that yet another country (Iran) has really skeery Weapons of Mass Destruction or soon will and that we therefore must get ready to drop bombs on them. Condi Rice’s ‘mushroom cloud’ was effective propaganda, which turned out to be a lie. Rice never paid a price for her perfidy, so we get another round from another unconcerned advocate of unprovoked war. Now, we are asked to swallow more falsehoods and prepare another bellicose enterprise against a country whose annual military budget is one-seventieth ($10 billion) of ours.

Stephen Walt says:

And let's be crystal clear about what [the warmonger du jour] is advocating here. He is openly calling for preventive war against Iran, even though the United States has no authorization from the U.N. Security Council, it is not clear that Iran is actively developing nuclear weapons, and Iran has not attacked us or any of our allies—ever. He is therefore openly calling for his country to violate international law. He is calmly advocating a course of action that will inevitably kill a significant number of people, including civilians.

But so what? Israel’s increasingly demented leadership is very eager for this attack to take place, which is what really matters. The Israeli tail is wagging the dog in Washington more successfully than ever, so much so that even mainstream mouthpieces like Thomas L. Friedman have become alarmed. It’s ironic that the very country that emerged from the Holocaust is now frantically pushing the United States to violate the core principle of the Nuremberg verdict. And it is a testament to the gullibility, ignorance and moral obtuseness of the American people that a huge sector will go along with it a mere eight years after they were bamboozled into the Iraq disaster in exactly the same way.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Are we bored yet?

How long can we bear these elaborate set pieces over minor details and pretend that they equal a political debate? When will it be fair to wonder if the issue of who ends up in charge of our affairs matters? The latest round of posturing by the intransigent Republicans and the pathologically masochistic Obama White House boils down to how much austerity should be shoveled into the latest package of temporary relief for the masses of unemployed and bruised middle classes. But their debate is not over fundamentals: they only dissent over how much wealth should be pushed into the upper income brackets while the social democratic legacy of FDR is slowly dismantled.

Obama’s tying of a tax break to the Social Security Fund is an appalling scandal that, I anticipate, will ring the death knell for the most successful social insurance program in our history, one that even Bush II could not touch. Once the lowered payroll deductions are well established, it will be impossible to return them to previous levels, and the long-standing falsehood about the Fund’s insolvency will molt into fact. There was no need to boost demand in this way as Dean Baker notes in The Guardian:

‘The only reason to tie the tax cut to Social Security is if the intention is to raise issues about the Social Security tax at some future point.The response of the Obama people to this complaint is that this is the only tax cut that the Republican Congress will approve and that we badly need the stimulus. . . . But if that is the case, it only speaks to the incredible failure of this administration to define the agenda and speak honestly about the economy. It's not surprising that they don't have the political support for more effective stimulus when they abandoned the effort to make the case almost two years ago’.

Yves Smith writing in Naked Capitalism a few weeks ago was more emphatic in agreement that Obama’s early error on the economy trapped him in a downward spiral:

‘The widespread, vocal opposition to the TARP [bank bailout] was evidence that a once complacent populace had been roused. Reform, if proposed with energy and confidence, wasn’t a risk; not only was it badly needed, it was just what voters wanted.

‘But incoming president Obama failed to act. Whether he failed to see the opportunity, didn’t understand it, or was simply not interested is moot. Rather than bring vested banking interests to heel, the Obama Administration instead chose to reconstitute, as much as possible, the very same industry whose reckless pursuit of profit had thrown the world economy off the cliff. . . . Obama’s repudiation of his campaign promise of change, by turning his back on meaningful reform of the financial services industry, in turn locked his Administration into a course of action. The new administration would have no choice other than working fist-in-glove with the banksters, supporting and amplifying their own, well established, propaganda efforts.’

I agree with these assessments with one exception: that Obama somehow goofed. I give the man credit for his famous smarts and therefore conclude that he is doing exactly what he wanted to do all along, which is save the threatened behinds of the financier class and consolidate their rule. If Obama is using the Republican wacko brigades to enable him to impose a viciously conservative program of wealth redistribution upward while pretending to be the last-populist-standing, his actions make perfect sense as discussed in indignant detail here by Glen Ford.

There is every indication that the coming election season will confirm that the strategy is working brilliantly and that attention will be diverted to the bad, nasty Tea Party brigades while the 99% are well and finely skewered by the Republi-crat duopoly.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

R.I.P. State of Laws

Nadezhda Mandelstam, writing about the Stalinist terror and its aftermath, said, ‘It is a lucky society in which despicable behavior at least has to be disguised’.

Our luck just ran out.

With constitutional lawyer Barack Obama’s signature and the support of all but 7 U.S. senators, the ancient right to be accused of a crime before a judge and defend oneself from the accusation—enshrined in our founding documents by Franklin, Madison, Jefferson and Washington—will soon be history. The inevitable outcry against this casual, almost light-hearted endorsement of the chewing up of lives in the name of state security, will come too late.

Our society, ten full years after the traumatic events of 9/11, has endorsed the concept that the safety of the majority may be used to eliminate any remaining squeamish hesitations about trashing the rights of individuals. And we can be sure that our ruling lords have registered this very welcome message. Their power is now entrenched, and opposition will slowly be mowed down like spring grass.

It is unfashionable here in America to dawdle over the personal stories of victims of our unleashed police state—ironically, perhaps, in the land of Individualism. In honor of the funeral of the key constitutional protection known as habeas corpus, I share below part of the story of Mohammed El Gorani, an ambitious Chadian teenager who sought education in Pakistan and was picked up at a mosque in the post-9/11 sweeps of anyone who looked suspicious. His story will soon be our own:

I was born in 1986 in Saudi Arabia, in Medina, the Prophet’s city. My parents came from North Chad – I don’t know exactly where. They left Chad for Saudi because they believe that if you live in a holy place, it’s easier to go to paradise. They were nomads, from the Goran tribe. When they arrived in Medina, they took the tribe’s name as our family name, so I’m called Mohammed el-Gorani, ‘the Goran’. My parents were camel herders and always had to keep moving to find grass. But when they arrived in Medina, my father did a lot of different jobs: washing cars, working in a shop belonging to a Saudi – you can’t have a shop if you’re not Saudi. There’s a lot of stupid rules about foreigners in Saudi Arabia. When my parents tried to send me to school, they said: ‘Is he Saudi?’

‘No, Chadian.’

‘There are no places left. Come back next month …’

When I was eight, I went to a school run by a man from Chad. He taught anyone who couldn’t go to a Saudi school. I was there four years until my father got ill. Then my brother and I, we had to start working. We washed cars and sold in the street cold water, prayer mats and beads – you can make good money during the Pilgrimage and the Ramadan. I went every month to Mecca with kids from Sudan and Pakistan to sell to the pilgrims. If the police came, we ran away. We had to be careful. If they capture you, they take your money and your stuff. Sometimes they take you to prison and your father had to come and sign a paper. Thus we paid for hiring our house, for the electricity. We changed house seven or eight times, but we always had electricity and tap water. Not like here in Chad.

He became friends with a Pakistani boy who lived near him. We called him Ali.

When I got 14, Ali asked me: ‘How long are you going to keep washing cars?’ He knew I wanted to be a dentist. All my friends had teeth problems, but there wasn’t a good dentist for non-Saudis – they just pull your teeth out. Also foreigners have no way to study after high school. Ali had taught me some Urdu, his mother tongue: numbers, words you need for selling, anything that’s useful with Pakistani pilgrims. Ali told me: ‘You’re good at languages. If you could speak English, you could work in a hotel in Mecca.’ His brother spoke English and had a good job in a hotel. Ali told me about English and computer lessons in Pakistan. ‘Go to Karachi. My uncles and cousins will welcome you, you just need to pay the lessons.’ I told my parents, they refused. My uncles said, ‘You’re crazy!’ but they knew if I decided something I would do it. My goal when I went to Pakistan was to help my family – life was getting difficult.

Without telling anyone, I went to Jeddah to ask for a passport at the Chadian Consulate. The consulate guy told me: ‘You need to change your name and lie on your age.’ I needed to be 18 and I was only 14 or 15. ‘And you need to pay me baksheesh.’ I had enough money. Every day I gave a part of my earnings to my family and saved the rest in a powdered milk tin that I buried in front of the house. On my last day in Medina, I went to see my Uncle Abderahman. I couldn’t say goodbye openly, but in my heart it was goodbye. It was 1 a.m., not a normal time to visit, as I was planning to leave the same night. I took his hands in mine and kissed his head, like we do in our tradition. In the morning, he told my mum I must have left.

‘Maybe he went to Jeddah, like he does usually,’ she said.

‘No, this time he’ll go far away.’

I took a plane to Karachi. Even Ali was surprised. I called his cousins and they came to the airport. Ali’s uncle taught in his house: the lessons lasted six months, three months of English lessons, and three months of English and computer lessons. I planned to go home after those six months. But two months after my arrival, there was 9/11. I didn’t pay attention – I was very busy with my lessons. Every day, I woke up, went to school, ate lunch, played football with the neighbourhood kids, studied, prayed. Every Friday, I went to pray in a big mosque not far from the house. Most of the people praying there were Arabs, because the imam was Saudi and spoke a good Arabic. One Friday, at the beginning of the sermon, we saw a lot of soldiers surrounding the mosque. After the prayers, they started questioning the people. They were looking for Arabs. They asked me: ‘Saudi?’

‘No, Chadian.’

‘Don’t lie, you’re Saudi!’ It must have been because of my accent. They put me on a truck and covered my head with a plastic bag. They took me to a prison, and they started questioning me about al-Qaida and the Talibans. I had never heard those words.

‘What are you talking about?’ I said.

‘Listen, Americans are going to interrogate you. Just say you’re from al-Qaida, you went with al-Qaida in Afghanistan, and they’ll send you home with some money.’

‘Why would I lie?’

They hung me by my arms and beat me. Two white Americans, in their forties, arrived. They were wearing normal clothes. They asked: ‘Where is Osama bin Laden?’

‘Who’s that?’

‘You’re fucking with us? You’re al-Qaida, yes!’ They kept using the F-word.

I didn’t understand this word but I knew they were getting angry. A Pakistani was in the room, behind the Americans. When they asked if I was from al-Qaida, he nodded, to tell me to say yes. I wasn’t doing it, so he got mad. The Americans said: ‘Take him back!’ The Pakistani was furious: ‘They’re looking for al-Qaida, you have to say you’re al-Qaida!’ Then they put the electrodes on my toes. For ten days I had them on my feet. Every day there was torture. Some of them tortured me with electricity, others just signed a paper saying they had done it. One Pakistani officer was a good guy. He said: ‘The Pakistani government just want to sell you to the Americans.’ Some of us panicked, but I was kind of happy. I loved to watch old cowboy movies and believed that Americans were good people, like in the movies, it would be better with them than with the Pakistanis, we’d have lawyers. Maybe they’d allow me to study in the US, then send me back to my parents.

They started taking detainees away every night, by groups of twenty. We didn’t know where they were going to, but we thought the US. One day, it was my group’s turn. The Pakistanis took away our chains and gave us handcuffs ‘made in the USA’. I told the other detainees: ‘Look, we’re going to the US!’ I thought the Americans would understand that the Pakistanis had cheated them, and send me back to Saudi.

So my hands were tied in the back and a guard held me by a chain. We were twenty, with maybe fifteen guards. They covered our eyes and ears, so I couldn’t see much. When they took off our masks, we were at an airport, with big helicopters. Then the movie started. Americans shouted: ‘You’re under arrest, UNDER CUSTODY OF THE US ARMY! DON’T TALK, DON’T MOVE OR WE’LL SHOOT YOU!’ An interpreter was translating into Arabic. Then they started beating us – I couldn’t see with what but something hard. People were bleeding and crying. We had almost passed out when they put us in a helicopter.

We landed at another airstrip. It was night. Americans shouted: ‘Terrorists, criminals, we’re going to kill you!’ Two soldiers took me by my arms and started running. My legs were dragging on the ground. They were laughing, telling me: ‘Fucking nigger!’ I didn’t know what that meant, I learned it later. They took off my mask and I saw many tents on the airstrip. They put me inside one. There was an Egyptian (I recognised his Arabic) wearing a US uniform. He started by asking me: ‘When was the last time you saw Osama bin Laden?’ ‘Who?’ He took me by my shirt collar and they beat me again. During all my time at Kandahar, I was beaten. Once it was like a movie – they came inside the tent with guns, shouting: WE CAUGHT THE TERRORISTS! And they put us in handcuffs. ‘Here are their guns!’ And they threw some Kalashnikovs onto the ground. ‘We’ve been fighting them, they killed a lot of people!’ All that was for cameras, which were held by men in uniforms. I was lying on the ground with the other prisoners. They brought dogs to scare us.

Mohammed el-Gorani was 14 years of age when he was arrested and sent to Guantánamo. Read the rest here:

Britain’s version of the "paranoid style"

Amid the to-ing and fro-ing of the unwieldy European Union over its uncommon currency, the Brits have managed to distinguish themselves for clumsiness and may pay a steep price. Tory PM David Cameron reacted to the latest save-the-euro scheme by picking up his marbles and withdrawing across the channel, saying that the UK would veto any change in the operative EU treaties rather than subject its financial sector to new rules that might cost it cash.

While this dramatic huffing and puffing was cheered by the tabloids and the permanently aggrieved nationalists (the ‘Euroskeptics’), the Brits soon found themselves in a certain unenviable solitude as the other 26 EU member nations more or less went along with the tentative plans, which in any case are far from a done deal and may flop spectacularly just as all prior magic bullets deployed to date. Nevertheless, in diplomacy and especially EU diplomacy, splendid isolation is the one thing a country wishes to avoid. But in the short run, it’s popular.

We see the same here in the Greatest Country Ever as the America-Firsters insist on special treatment and special rules and subject anyone daft enough to question them to Foxocide. This was the attitude deployed against, for example, the International Criminal Court designed to bring war criminals and genocidists to trial—and which the U.S. is not above utilizing despite refusing to join the treaty as it would subject U.S. personnel to its rules.

Another demented manifestation is Obama’s follow-up to the spy drone falling out of the skies over Iran by asking for it back. Um, right. This would totally work if farmers outside of Pittsburgh suddenly came upon an enemy spyplane, they’d just package it up nice and call UPS.

It’s the same mentality at work when W and then Obama insisted that U.S. soldiers and mercenaries in Iraq not be subjected to local laws (failed); when they undermined the Kyoto global warming treaty so that we can continue to churn out greenhouse gases (succeeded); and when they built protectionist measures into the ‘free-trade’ pacts that are all the rage so that our professional classes and intellectual property-holders are safe from competition while our workers must go toe-to-toe with Chinese wage slaves and malnourished Cambodian seamstresses (succeeded wildly).

What these measures have in common is that they play well to nationalists and xenophobes and always will. Bipeds are pretty much convinced that their particular affinity group is special and should be recognized as such while fairness and as sense of a worldwide commonweal mean nothing. It will come as a nasty shock, however, when other countries eventually acquire the power to apply the same principles to themselves. One day, Chinese and Indian leaders will stick their tongues at us while the rising oceans lap at the shores of Miami and Manhattan. We have every right to burn more coal, they will say, under the rules you have set.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Will Iowa 2008 be repeated as farce?

Those who witnessed the Iowa caucuses four years ago reported two phenomena: the impressively well oiled Obama operation on the ground and the surge of grassroots support for him that very few had anticipated. In retrospect, it seems easier to understand the unattractiveness of Hillary Clinton as the inevitable candidate who would usher in a marginal flip back to the Democratic version of business-as-usual. She represented amorphous centrism, for some (complicity, for others) rather than a clean break with the disastrous W years, most starkly symbolized by her endorsement of the Iraq aggression and conquest. Obama captured the yearning for a new approach.

Well, we know how that turned out, but the yearning hasn’t gone away, and if anything is stronger than ever on both sides of the red-blue divide. That, I believe, contributes to the Republican base’s inability to lose its virginity to the Mitt: they know he’ll be a good provider, but there’s no passion. He’s predictable, pragmatic and exudes perfect-hair more-of-the-sameness.

I suspect this year’s surprise is going to be Ron Paul, the marginalized, ignored, and mocked candidate treated as mostly a joke. He’s blunt, uncompromising, lively, and consistently radical, yet he doesn’t sound nasty or mean-spirited like the others. His campaign ads display a youthful, hip aesthetic, and his libertarian views set him apart from the Washington establishment, which constantly does him the favor of pretending he doesn’t exist or shouldn’t—a reaction not lost on voters.

Alone among the GOP contenders, he thinks wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere are a bad idea, and he dares to suggest decriminalizing drugs along with dismantling whole government departments and smashing the Federal Reserve. For a confused teen with an anti-government worldview, this odd combination can make a lot of sense.

Paul’s poll numbers are already substantial in Iowa, and the caucuses are a month away. The Grinch is riding high, but the recent spotlight should burn off a good deal of his sudden luster. Romney remains Romney, alas, and the others have speed-dated themselves into the back corners of the dance hall. In an electoral season with more volatility than the Dow Jones industrials, a Paul surge makes perverse sense.

Not that his winning in Iowa would necessarily mean much. But it would throw the masters of the universe into a whole new panic, and that would almost make the agonizing prospect of a whole year of this foolishness bearable.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Two signs of shifting winds

Obama made a populist-sounding speech this week in Kansas, just down the way from the John Brown memorial. If Americans still studied history, this would not be the first figure one would expect a politician to be associating with, given that if the man were alive today, he’d be sitting in a 4 x 4 cell in Guantánamo.

But I digress. Obama had a lot to say about the unfairness of our current tax and income structure and even summoned the ghost of Teddy Roosevelt (not the conqueror, the trust-buster). He praised the ‘largest middle class’ the world had ever known, foreshadowing his prompt acknowledgment that the ‘basic bargain’ generated by the Depression and the war to create said middle class has ‘eroded’. So far, no earth-shaking novelties. His critique is red meat for the Democratic base: the benefits of growth have flowed to the top while ‘everybody else’ is struggling. OMG, the man is about to ‘mic check’ and carry his sleeping bag down to Zucotti Park.

It gets better: ‘breathtaking greed’, ‘hard work stopped paying off’, ‘those at the very top grow wealthier than ever before’. Obama’s rhetoric is back to 2008—would he perhaps be running for office?

The creepy part of Obama’s speech, however, is how mismatched his lofty words are from his own actions. This is the guy who held perhaps the most powerful cards since the 1930s to break the power of the financier class that he now criticizes when the banksters crawled to Washington pleading for a lifeline to save their institutions. Instead of extracting real concessions and curbing their power, what did he do? He permitted Geithner and Bernancke to pour cash into the largest banks virtually in secret (the details are coming out only now with Bernancke feverishly resisting); perpetrators like Goldman Sachs suffered no haircuts on AIG exposures; banker bonuses a year after the crisis were as obscenely huge as ever; no investigation has been conducted into the sneaky mortgage practices that Obama now dares to criticize, and the few serious attempts to do so (Schneiderman in new York, Coakley in Massachusetts, Masto in Nevada) face concerted Administration attempts to undermine them; no Justice Department prosecutions have been brought against any major players; Elizabeth Warren, the consumers’ advocate, was boxed into a corner and marginalized; mortgage relief for homeowners has been a fraud via easily-gamed programs like HAMP; and on and on.

Obama talks a good game, especially when he wants votes. Maybe he even believes that stuff, which some people will care about. (I don’t.) But in wielding vast executive powers at a time when the entire country would have supported actions to alleviate the gross unfairness embedded in our system, Obama buckled. He folded while holding a straight flush and now wants us to take his rhetorical flights at face value.

Meanwhile, here in New York State our governor has just shifted gears as well. After weeks of insisting that tax breaks for the state’s millionaires’ were sacrosanct, Andrew Cuomo announced yesterday that Albany’s huge budget deficit requires that the super-rich pay some, too. It’s not a great deal, but Cuomo saw the need to use the word ‘fair’ or ‘fairness’ three times in his 60-second sound bite.

This shows the impact of the Occupy movement and the growing consensus that the system is stacked against the 99%. But it’s far too early to crow victory. This is a tactical retreat by the Democratic accomplices of big money, not a change of heart. There is no rediscovery of the core value of a progressive tax system that provides social services, and public transport, education, environmental protection and infrastructure will continue to absorb the costs of the financial crisis and the radically resliced pie that is now becoming a permanent feature of our class society.

Meanwhile, the GOP circus makes it pathetically easy for ambitious Dems to don the heroic robes of people’s champion while doing very little. With a cariacature like Newt Gradgrind—er, I mean Gingrich leading the opposition and calling for the return of child labor, it’s pretty simple to look humane by contrast. But no one should expect praise for endorsing the Emancipation Proclamation or the abolition of foot-binding.

Monday, 5 December 2011

President of Ubeki-beki-beki-stan-stan mourns departure of Herman Cain from presidential race

My fellow Ubeki-beki-beki-stan-stanians:

It is with deep sadness and disappointment that I must announce to you that our much ignored and almost unperceived country has lost its greatest champion in its history: Herman Cain’s candidacy is no more. [gasps, weeping, lamentations, boos, cries of ‘No!’]

I know all of you thrilled with anticipation at the prospect of our tiny, forgotten, indeed pre-forgotten, entity being at long last recognized as a respected partner in the community of nations, despite our barely perceptible national territory on the sides of the world’s steepest mountains. While this accident of topography makes us invulnerable to attack, as almost-president Cain has astutely noted, it also makes it extremely hard to find us without a map. Even with a map. In fact, Ubeki-beki-beki-stan-stanians are notoriously hard to pin down about anything, including our own geography. This could have changed, but alas, our defender has bowed to the ruthless pressures of great power politics, and we have been shoved aside once again by other claimants on the world’s attentions, such as Sikkim, Nairu and the Solomon Islands [female ululations, chants of “9-9-9”]. Thank you, I completely understand your feelings.

While it is a bitter burden that we must bear, having come so close to our long-sought yearning to appear in Webster’s Gazeteer of the World, this meteoric but dazzling moment in the eyes—or at least the imaginations—of the entire world must inspire us to greater efforts in the pursuit of recognition. Or even perception. We must never waver in our determination, nor abandon our dream. Our dream of existing and being recognized as such, by trudging ever forward on the trail that Cain, our champion, has blazed. May the flag of Ubeki-beki-beki-stan-stan, once we invent it, flutter proudly over these virtually horizontal toeholds that we call home and may our descendents take up the challenge advanced so courageously by Herman Cain, to make our reality at long last, real.

Liberal new York, ah yes

We sail upon a sea of blue here in the Empire State, but underneath that satisfied self-image of diversity, tolerance and sophistication is a rather brutal class society and often a painfully corrupt one. Our new governor, Andrew Cuomo, reflects this paradox neatly in his highly ambitious person (2016 is only four years away, wink wink).

Cuomo pulled together diverse forces on the same-sex marriage fight and helped persuade some Republican state senators to break ranks and support it, a remarkable feat and a highly lucrative one as his campaign war-chest balloons with all that grateful gay cash. He was rightly lionized at the PRIDE events in June, but his achievement only demonstrates that rich people can be both open-minded and stingy.

The recession has clobbered the state’s accounts, and while Cuomo slashes spending on all fronts, he has refused so far to even contemplate extending the so-called ‘millionaires tax’ that would provide the state a sorely needed additional $5 billion, or just about enough to cover two years’ deficits. Cuomo trots out the lame excuse that higher taxes will cause the comfy to flee to neighboring Connecticut and New Jersey, which is just silly.

One area that is getting slammed, as usual, is public transport. The city’s subway system receives about half of its operating and capital budget from Albany, without which a ticket would be $5 instead of the current $2.50. After the collapse of the system during the bankruptcy of the 1970s, New York bounced back and made the trains safe and pleasant to ride again. It was a key element in the city’s renaissance, so often attributed solely to the get-tough policing associated with Giuliani.

My very hip bicycling/urban policy group, Transportation Alternatives, reports in this month’s magazine that Cuomo has barely spoken to transit authorities and seems wedded to the Clintonian-centrist idea that viable Democratic candidates for national office have to act like Republicans. That means refuse to tax rich people and to starve public services. This approach has made Obama so popular among his natural base that a worldwide Occupy movement sprang up comprised of indignant youth. But the blind faith in this failed strategy persists.

Across the Hudson, Governor Christie (the fat one) stirred up major poo by canceling the planned tunnel under the river that would have alleviated commuting for his residents. Some people hated it, some people loved it; but at least New Jersey residents now have a clear choice.

We should be so lucky. Now we have a cost-cutting, millionaire-coddling ‘liberal’ governor who will be opposed by cost-cutting, billionaire-coddling ‘conservatives’. The subway system and in the long run the city itself will suffer, but don’t expect these short-sighted pols to offer us a real alternative. Austerity is the new religion, and all must bow down before its mighty banker-popes.