Friday, 30 November 2012

New winds ruffling Israeli feathers

The reactions of our fearless diplomats to the UN General Asssembly vote on Palestinian quasi-state status were marvelously contradictory: first, furious lobbying took place to prevent the issue from coming to a vote at all (successful on the first try). Then, when it was obvious that the U.S. was going to lose badly, bland assurances that the whole exercise was meaningless, a position obliquely endorsed by the NY Times headline today, ‘Statehood Is No Closer’.

No, it’s not, but severe diplomatic isolation sure is for the U.S. and its Israeli ally, and any talk of this being irrelevant is complete whistling in the dark. Negotiators and diplomats are extremely conscious of building alliances and really, really like having other guys singing from the same songbook (and conversely, hate it when other countries break ranks). When the Central American wars were raging, State Department people whom I covered in Washington and later in Santiago when they passed through always made a big show of the alliances they had built up with wonderful partners like the Guatemalan dictatorships, the Honduran junta and anyone else they could corral to look less like go-it-alone bullies.

The Times is certainly correct that the vote waves no magic wands, returns no refugees and stops no illegal West Bank settlements. But it is folly to pretend that it is merely ‘symbolic’. After all, symbols are very powerful—take flags or crosses, for example. And having some sort of UN status is a step forward in the Palestinians’ long trek towards having some sort of human and civil rights, which statelessness robs them of, as diaspora Jews know from bitter experience.

One knowledgeable observer explains that there are a number of entirely concrete measures that logically could follow from the Palestinian presence in world bodies as they are now enabled to bring resolutions and complaints before a number of UN bodies.

Over time, such steps could begin having a major impact on settler enterprises and even on the Israeli economy itself (which is fragile and highly dependent on foreign trade with Europe, since its goods are often shunned in the Middle East).

An example is the recent demand of the youth wing of the Swedish Social Democratic Party that Sweden boycott all settler-made goods. (Sweden, a little unexpectedly, voted for the UNGA resolution yesterday). If such demands proliferate, and the next generation of Europeans feels so strongly on this issue, the settlers could end up bankrupted. Over time, such steps could begin having a major impact on settler enterprises and even on the Israeli economy itself (which is fragile and highly dependent on foreign trade with Europe, since its goods are often shunned in the Middle East).

This starts to sound like the anti-apartheid divestiture movement, which cut the props out from under that regime and turned Nelson Mandala from a terrorist pariah into a worldwide hero celebrated by rock stars. We can safely presume that the Israeli hard-liners are extremely disturbed. Not only that, they seem to be suffering from a sort of Romneyoid break with reality are are completely shocked by the diplomatic shellacking suffered from their key European trading partners.

A very smart Israeli Arab journalist once said to me, back in the 1980s: ‘The U.S. has Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. With that, you control the region.’ Only two of those four pillars remain sure things (given the Jordanian king’s vulnerability to Arab springism), and now the Europeans are acting like independent actors capable of real mediation. American pols will continue to wag their tails dutifully at Netanyahu’s command, but the game has changed.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012


Who would ever have thought that Senate Republicans would invite potential Hillary replacement Susan Rice over for a nice, friendly chat and then slip a dagger between her ribs on the way out? Why, there’s NO precedent for thinking they would ever-ever do that over the last four years! Is there?

The mindless faith displayed at the White House in the ever-elusive Big Bipartisan Family Chat To Work Things Out is really stunning, and no doubt they thought that this time would be different since it was to be a powwow on foreign policy issues, where not ever a “wafer-thin” mint could be wedged between most GOP and Democratic policy positions. But oops! turns out the duo of brain-dead John McCain and butchona Lindsay Graham turned out not to want to play along. So McCain—who brought us the mighty intellect of Sarah Palin as his back-up president—gets to trash Rice as intellectually inadequate. News flash: the alleged death of wacko, nutjob, Republican obstructionism widely announced after the recent election is a tad exaggerated.

I don’t give two farts about Susan Rice and her ambitions to become the latest defender of anonymous drone missile assassinations and Israeli war crimes. But I hope to live long enough to see the Obama team of chronic enablers figure out that they have to change tactics if they plan to get anywhere, starting with a little hardball a.k.a. old-fashioned revenge. Meanwhile, you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got. And you’ll deserve it.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Turning children into trash

Two films are playing here on what appear at first glance to be separate topics: pedophile priests and the notorious 1989 Central Park jogger rape case.

But in fact, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God by Alex Gibney and the new Ken Burns documentary, The Central Park Five, treat exactly the same subject from different angles—how easy it is in our supposedly child-worshipping culture to take vulnerable youth, have them for breakfast, spit them out and then wash our collective hands of responsibility. That is, if you belong to one of the powerful institutions that will protect you from the consequences like the police or the Catholic Church.

In the Central Park case, police and city authorities needed to solve the brutal rape and near-murder of a young woman jogging through the park on a summer evening. Detectives found five usable suspects ages 14 to 16 and intimidated them into making phony statements through threats and all-night grilling sessions. False confessions are better understood now, but at the time the idea that a ‘wolfpack’ of rampaging black teens were responsible for the attack on a white female fit the stereotype and the narrative the city thirsted for. Crime, punishment, psychological safety restored—who cares if it’s true? It was ‘truthy’ as Colbert would say, and that was enough.

A school for the deaf in Wisconsin was the site of decades of serial child molestation, made doubly heinous by the calculated use of children who literally could not speak up. Father Murphy even may have targeted specific boys whose parents did not know American Sign Language. But the creepiest part of the film is how eager those around Murphy and above him in the church hierarchy were to push the business under the rug. His elderly housekeeper is outraged that the adult abuse survivors would dare to confront him in person about something ‘from long ago’ rather than ‘forgive’ the perpetrator like good Catholic boys.

One can conjure easily the defense that ‘pro-life’ types and defenders of childhood innocence would formulate upon seeing these accounts, and in fact there is already a campaign from the Murdochian right-wingers to defend the Central Park 5 cops and suggest that the exonerated boys—now men of 40—were accomplices to the real rapist even if they didn’t do the things they confessed to. The cops must be shown to have acted properly at all costs, and Bloomberg even now is trying desperately to fight off the civil damages suit moving glacially through the courts. After not cooperating with Ken Burns’ documentary, the city of New York promptly tried to subpoena his unused film to snare some contradictory evidence and buttress their case.

Gibney shows that the current Pope directly assisted in the suppression of damaging revelations and never ordered the principal diddler of boys in the Wisconsin case to be defrocked. Protecting the priestly caste was and is the Vatican’s priority, not succor to their victims. In this regard the two mighty institutions exposed in these films are mirror images of each other: Mafia-like structures whose mission is to ensure that shit flows only downward and no noxious fumes reach the top.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Hitler’s Children and The Flat

Holocaust reminders are in the cinemas yet again, and some of us never tire of revisiting this mind-melting tale of our recent biped past. I’m not sure if poetry is pointless after Auschwitz as Adorno claimed, but it’s pretty hard to read it in the same old way after immersing oneself in the details.

Arnon Goldfinger’s The Flat tells the bizarre story of an Israeli fellow (himself) who rummages through his late grandmother’s hoards of belongings and finds copies of a Nazi newspaper, Der Angriff (Attack). Justifiably mystified by this, he begins to track down the story of his grandparents’ lifelong friendship with a German couple that began pre-war and was reestablished after the nightmare was over. That the German gentleman in question was a correspondent for this Nazi mouthpiece never interfered with the regular visits between the two couples and joint holidays, a fact the filmmaker grandson finds peculiar, to say the least. I don’t want to spoil the gradual revelations that make the film worth seeing, but it won’t ruin anything to say that the Nazi’s daughter becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the news that good old dad wasn’t just a cog in the evil wheel.

Denial and cover-up is the theme of the other Holocaust film now showing, Hitler’s Children, about the descendants of top Nazis like Goering, Frank and Hoess, and the startling element there is that these daughters, sons and grand-nieces refuse to partake. It’s quite something to see a healthy, clear-eyed young woman named Katrin Himmler speak with brutal frankness about who her granddad was and how she faced it.

Thinking that one’s DNA is eternally corrupted because of the sins of one’s forebears, she points out, is Nazi ideology. Ms. Himmler rejects it, and given that she’s married to an Israeli Jew, she’s obviously not kidding (nor, needless to say, is he). A lot of her relatives don’t feel the same way, and these uniquely disturbing accounts are full of family splits and rejections.

Perhaps most poignant and terrifying are the tales of the now elderly son of Hitler’s governor-general of occupied Poland, Hans Frank (executed after a trial at Nuremberg). Old enough to remember watching cruel games with ghetto prisoners (and worse yet, enjoying them), Niklas Frank wrote books denouncing his parents’ crimes and speaks regularly to high school students. His siblings hate him for it, and one hears the steady pressure, from unheard, off-screen voices, to bury the past and stop saddling the living with disquieting recollections.

Given the success with which many Nazis slipped back into polite society and were never confronted with their collusion, it’s hardly surprising to learn elsewhere that neo-nazi ideology is making a comeback all across Europe, aggravated by the economic train wreck gobbling up one country after another. Banker misdeeds always are easily blamed on ‘the Jews’ if one is so inclined, and we delude ourselves to think that a new round of scapegoating cannot follow.

Perhaps the eeriest comment comes from the grandson of Auschwitz commandant Rudolph Hoess who peers at the photos of his father’s upbringing in a sheltered compound on the grounds of the concentration camp. ‘Here is where my grandfather sat around with his family having tea’, he muses, ‘and then got up to say, All right, children, I’m off to kill a few more thousand. Back soon.’

Spielberg’s “Lincoln”

With Tony Kushner writing your script, it’s no wonder that Lincoln feels at times like a stage play carried to the screen. It relies on lively dialogue to tell the little-known story of the Thirteenth (abolition of slavery) Amendment at least as much as on its sometimes predictable imagery. That’s not really a criticism, and the two-hour-plus film is more engrossing than a standard biopic would have been especially on such an over-examined and profoundly unknowable life.

Lincoln keeps its focus narrow and lets us see a lot of the secondary characters like Tommy Lee Jones as the radical (Republican, no less) Thaddeus Stevens, David Straithorn as Seward, and many others in the surprisingly raucous Congress and among Lincoln’s inner circle. The portrayals, including Daniel Day Lewis, of course, are nuanced and convincing. (Prepare to hear about their Oscar chances for the next six months.) The Confederates and their sympathizers get a rounded treatment as well, including a watery-eyed Alexander Stephens, the CSA vice president trying to salvage a deal for the South as the war goes against them.

Considering the central issue being discussed and fought over, however, it’s at least curious that household servants, life-long freedmen and recently liberated slaves in the film are generally ciphers. At the film’s opening, a black enlistee speaks up boldly (and rather incredibly) to the visiting prez, Mary Lincoln’s maid is given several bodice-heaving moments of high emotion, and a Greek chorus of well-dressed Negroes in the House gallery is introduced to cheer and weep at the passage of the amendment at the end. Lincoln has a manservant who gets a few lines, and other black figures flit across the screen here and there.

None of them, however, ever gels into a full-fledged character. They remain stock figures and are largely interchangeable. It’s ironic that in a film that hinges on how the nation will consider its African descendants, none of its representatives ever achieves full personhood.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Crooks afoot

Readers of the financial press will have noticed a stunning admission from the heads of Hewlitt-Packard this week, that they had been bamboozled by the managers of a company called Autonomy, which HP recently absorbed, causing them to lose the tidy sum of $8.8 billion. Oops! HP’s stock dropped like a stone, losing 13% in one day, heads rolled, etc.

Why this is not just another case of nefarious corporate hustling may be gleaned from this paragraph:

The Autonomy investigation is believed to have been started by a whistleblower in Autonomy's leadership who came forward after Lynch's departure. The whistleblower gave ‘numerous details’ of alleged accounting irregularities about which the company [HP] said it had no prior knowledge. HP called in PricewaterhouseCoopers to do a forensic review.

How curious that accounting fraud, i.e., not copping to your company’s true financial state, is named as the culprit in this gigantic rip-off. Hold that thought while we turn to another event of the week.

The State of Missouri has just settled a suit against one of the most notorious mortgage fraud operations involving so-called ‘robosigning’, in which minor officers of mortgage servicing firms around the country were discovered to be rubber-stamping foreclosure and other documents and notarizing them despite having no concrete knowledge of whether the facts and figures contained therein were true or recently pulled out of their aunt’s butler’s ass. This practice has been whitewashed since as ‘sloppy paperwork’ or ‘processing errors’ instead of what it was: fraud. Fraud of the most serious kind, i.e., fraud in the preparation of documents to be used in court.

So tons of these perps and their bosses were frog-marched off to jails from sea to shining sea as a result of this massive criminal scheme, right? Um, not so much. The mortgage fraud Get-Out-of-Jail-Free-card ‘settlement’ cooked up by Obama and AG Eric Holder, with shameless cover provided by our turncoat state Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, allowed for no prosecutions and even permits a ‘small number’ of continued abuses to continue indefinitely into the future.

Let’s take a moment to stop and think about what is being enabled here: banks and mortgage servicing companies can mess with the single most important asset of most American households and not fear prosecution if they make shit up, including documents that could cause homeowners to be falsely accused of missing payments and eventually losing their properties. If this sounds exaggerated, you’re not doing your homework—such cases have been reported over and over again in the ongoing scandal related to the destruction of the U.S. mortgage market, and IMHO the only reason there is no national movement to place heads on pikes in retaliation is that our president is named Obama rather than Bush or McCain.

Allowing corporate entities to falsify documents is equivalent to giving them permission to steal your checkbook and not worry about getting caught. Not prosecuting notary fraud undermines the entire system of contractual obligations and opens up the economy to rampant corruption a la Mexico or Azerbaijan.

Given this sorry and very recent history, HP’s dilemma at being bushwhacked by clever accounting crooks is not only not surprising but an omen of where corporate life could be headed. And if the big players suddenly discover that they can’t trust the guy in the next suit as far as they can throw him, they will have only themselves to blame.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Petraeus and the perils of bimbography

Glenn Greenwald’s take on l’affaire Petraeus in The Guardian remains the best to date:

Having the career of the beloved CIA Director and the commanding general in Afghanistan instantly destroyed due to highly invasive and unwarranted electronic surveillance is almost enough to make one believe not only that there is a god, but that he is an ardent civil libertarian.
Despite Greenwald’s musing that perhaps, just maybe, this self-consumption by the Security State of itself could lead to a national conversation about snooping, one should not err on the side of excessive optimism. Petraeus was a big fish, but he’ll be forgotten soon, and others will pick up the juicy pieces, including the many trillions of our private messages now being stored by the Matrix.

Nonetheless, gape-mouthed amazement is in order that the FBI could perform warrentless trolling through the private emails and computer files not of mere you and me, but of the nation’s top intelligence officials without even a nod at a court-approved warrant. They did this on the basis of a vague and not particularly threatening series of anonymous notes from a supremely stupid grown woman acting like an adolescent bitch and wrecking a half-dozen lives in the process. Well, yeah, police states provide lots of opportunities for people to rat on each other—is that what we want?

However, the implications of the scandal, now blooming and blossoming daily like genital cauliflower warts, are legion. Let us earnestly hope that much attention is paid to whether the hallowed general’s weenie wandering compromised state secrets. This is highly relevant given the immediate and Obama-endorsed assurances that Bradley Manning’s alleged document dump to Julian Assange at Wikileaks did exactly that and in fact was the full equivalent to intentionally shooting American soldiers between the eyes. Let’s hear the details about exactly how which piece(s) of sensitive data damaged U.S. security interests, and then let’s compare that with the evidence soon to be presented in the Manning trial. It will be great fun because in one case the state wants to prove nothing terrible happened, and in the other, the exact opposite.

Also of note is the less-than-ringing endorsement offered by Obama when commenting upon Petraeus’s departure. Let’s parse the exact phrases used:

I have no evidence at this point from what I've seen that classified information was disclosed that in any way would have had a negative impact on our national security.
In the first highlighted phrase, the prez is saying that he personally has not seen anything so far about classified information being disclosed. That leaves several lawyerly gaps through which truckloads of secret documents can be driven. If it turns out later that Petraeus did give his bimbographer the keys to the CIA safe, Obama can backtrack and clarify by adding, Well, I hadn’t seen anything then, but now I have, golly gee. Compare that to a statement that Obama could have issued but did not:

General Petraeus did not give that woman any state secrets.
Now how about the ‘would-have-a-negative-impact’ line: Obama is saying that even if the skinny that Paula got while sitting on David’s lap was classified, nothing bad came of it. That immediately suggests that the first half of the sentence is already known to be false or at least that there is a good chance secrets were in fact told. So Petraeus is getting two firewalls of legal protection, that he didn’t tell her anything classified—which is almost impossible since the government has long since gone wild and classified EVERYTHING—and that if he did, it doesn’t matter.

Contrast that take with Obama’s April statement on the Bradley Manning whistleblower case:

And if you’re in the military… And I have to abide by certain rules of classified information. If I were to release material I weren’t allowed to, I’d be breaking the law. . . . We’re a nation of laws! We don’t let individuals make their own decisions about how the laws operate. He broke the law.
So Manning did but Petraeus didn’t, okay. But aside from the legal pirouetting, it’s remains pretty incredible that the guy charged with managing the nation’s secrets, for pity’s sake, is being carried off in a sedan chair before any sort of thorough investigation can be done on whether he got caught in the oldest intelligence goof in human history: the Venus spy-trap. So is the man a moron?

Clearly, no. But Petraeus’s careful massaging of reporters to the point where they will perform hagiography on him is a well-known secret of his success: he has been playing the media for decades to make himself out as the smart guy in the room, an image which many sheepish reporters are now recognizing publicly that they unduly burnished. One aspect of that ambitious strategy was to go off the record with them and discuss issues beyond the usual official line, a practice journalists love because they get more meaty insights into what’s going on. But they can also be more easily played that way, and were.

So Petraeus’s possibly excessive “access” granted to Ms. All In Broadwell is just part and parcel of his well-known propensity for chatting up reporters to show off his intellectual chops and promote his career. Given that top military officers are now quasi-politicians in their own right and have to polish their image right along with their rows of medals, this spectacular nose-dive of his golden career should not really come as such a great surprise.

[P.S.] Anyone notice how the right-wing press (e.g. the New York Post) have used the word-play on Petraeus/betray us that got MoveOn into so much trouble years ago? So you can’t criticize as disloyal a guy who is organizing death squads in Iraq, but it’s open season if he puts his penis somewhere he shouldn’t.

Monday, 12 November 2012

More beans yet to spill

There are just too many signs that the full story of the Petraeus resignation has not yet been told. Although having an affair that conceivably could subject one to blackmail obviously is grounds to losing your job as the nation’s top spymaster, the seamier details of what exactly happened suggest that many elements of the scandal remain hidden.

Teddy Partridge at firedoglake summarizes the mysterious Dianne Feinstein flipflops, starting with the Senator’s unusual initial statement that she wished Obama had NOT accepted Petaeus’s resignation. As Partridge points out, openly questioning her party’s president means either that she was completely in the dark about what was happening (a protocol goof by the White House), or that she was not told the full story (ditto, but maybe she then got the full story by this very public signal), or that she is just now grasping the political implications of a late-October national security blow-up during a tight presidential race (hard to believe).

Then, too, the actual facts of the case remain completely fuzzy. So Horndog Dave was banging Paula Broadwell, his official hagiographer, while talking to her about how great he is (the fantasy scenarios waiting to be hypothesized here are juicy), and that is a serious breach of judgment if said lady-friend were to threaten to tell his wife or his boss unless-you-give-me-X. Okay. But why did she send threatening messages to Jill Kelley, and what did the messages say? Why would she do that unless she is an absurd bimbo or thinks she is among people so powerful nothing can touch her? If the latter, what experiences have led her to think that?

And who is Jill Kelley? Is she a prior Petraeus bangee? So far, everyone says, Perish the thought! She likes to call herself ‘ambassador’ but is not one. In fact, she does not work for the State Department. In fact, she does not work for the U.S. government at all. WTF? AP said today she is an ‘unpaid social liaison to MacDill Air Force Base’. That’s the dangerous rival that Broadwell decided to pester? Could this whole thing be as banal as an adolescent facedown over b/f access or unauthorized eyelash-batting?

The FBI is understandably sensitive to trolling in officials’ sexual escapades given how J. Edgar notoriously turned the whole Bureau into a perv patrol for his own nefarious ends. But news of the dirty little secret seems to have been kept very close to a very few chests. That makes sense in rumor-hungry Washington, and yet someone decided that the situation that was not dangerous to national security in July or August was so in October. Who was that and why?

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Elections II – The Bad

[Second of three parts]

Subway track workers say the most dangerous moment for fatal accidents isn’t when a train is barreling towards you. An old hand knows where to find a concave safety shelter while working on repairs and step out of the way.

No, the worst moment for sudden subway death is when the train has roared past, and you feel safe. That’s when you move onto the tracks without looking both ways—just when the next unexpected, unheard train is approaching.

The soon-to-be-forgotten Mittster is the dangerous train that has just rattled through our lives on its way to historical oblivion. Given how long it took to pass, it felt several light-years long. That train, deadly as it was, isn’t going to flatten us despite its size, speed and ugliness.

But Obama’s might.

Now that our guard is down, Obama and his neo-liberal cabal have free rein to turn the will of the people on its head. In fact, he’s promised to do exactly that, and we, our ears still ringing from the danger we sidestepped, are deaf to what he’s saying. The ‘fiscal cliff’ is just the latest bogus, induced panic over the government’s books to be used to convince us that Something Must Be Done to right the fiscal ship of state and that that Something involves taking our public assets like Social Security and Medicare and starting to strip them away.

Oh, it will feel like minor surgery at the beginning, but given the RepubliDemocrat consensus gathering force like a new Stage 1 hurricane, the essential elements will soon be in place: that Social Security is ‘bankrupt’ and must be ‘fixed’ by reducing the benefits paid out in ‘entitlements’ to retirees. (Isn’t it odd that a social insurance program that we pay for during decades of employee is suddenly an ‘entitlement’? Does your car insurance company argue that anyone who submits a claim for accident damages is a whiny ‘entitled’ boomer?) In addition, despite our still-warm rejection of the Ryan plan to privatize and wreck Medicare, the long knives promptly will come out for that successful program as well.

Glenn Greenwald has a convincing narrative of how this occur with ample posturing by the ‘defenders’ of Social Security saying that this punishment is for our own good. Many economics and finance writers have been predicting what they call the Great Betrayal as its political rationalizations gel and set in the public mind, and they can even spot the rhetoric as its engineers from the Obama camp and attendant echo chambers in the big newspapers drum these talking points into us as if they were Revealed Truth. Here’s just the latest of a dozen ideological attacks from a former Obama team player, now employed by welfare queen Citigroup.

I plan to pound away at the scam regularly in this modest space while looking for an organizational vehicle to join for pushback, some sort of Occupy Social Security. (It will be far more difficult with Democrats in power as people will refuse to believe that such a lovely family would be at the service of Wall Street and the piggybanks. Romney would have been a much easier target.) I assume the long-term trends are unfavorable since the 1% no longer needs a prosperous middle or working class to sustain its accumulation. Instead, having milked dry the housing market, the parasitical finance sector needs new revenue streams to divert from public utility into private pockets.

The vast pool of capital set aside for Social Security is the next target (the huge spending on public education is already being looted). The bloated robber barons of today want to get their filthy mitts on it, and unless we put aside our party blinders and look at what is happening to the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt, they will.

Feeling disempowered? Hopeless? Don’t be. Here’s a way to signal your discontent with the stealth attack by signing a petition against the rumored appointment to Treasury Secretary of Old-People-Should-Eat-Catfood Commission chairman Erskine Bowles. Bowles held up the Demo half of the ‘bipartisan’ attack on Social Security along with Republican Neanderthal Alan Simpson after Obama put them together on a blue-ribbon panel and gave them the mandate to justify what the big boys have already decided has to be done: slash, cut & burn our government-backed pensions. It’s a simple way of showing Washington that we’re on to what’s coming.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Election Part I: The Good

[First of three parts]

Some good news from Tuesday: the American people are not completely insane. This is good. This is a good thing. It is also a very modest thing given our collective future, roughly comparable to feeling satisfied that your liver spots are not Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Or feeling a warm glow over the fact that your children do not inject crystal meth. Nothing wrong with that. But limited.

Only the demented could have welcomed a President Romney, a candidate who promised, with trumpets, that he would set about to strip them of their remaining assets and transfer said wealth to people like himself. Happily, we have proven ourselves temporarily free of that psychosis. Nonetheless, this malady was manifested by a significant minority of the populace, many millions of whom now will complain loudly if the government benefits they just repudiated do not suit them.

Another good thing to add to our repudiation of mental instability: rape still is considered by a wide majority not to be normal or to involve in any way the will of ‘god’. Also, women’s vaginas are understood not to be capable of distinguishing between the penis of a rapist and that of a bank president or a member of the Rotary Club. Rather, most Americans, particularly females, retain a rather protective feeling toward this zone and think that unauthorized entry therein should remain a matter of grave public concern. Those not adhering to this view are considered, for the moment, beyond the pale. Rah.

Further positive news: homosexual behavior, including the matrimonial version, once a sure-fire generator of horrified alarm in church basements throughout the land, has become remarkably mainstream. It has been defanged as an issue by three decades of repetitive exploitation and by effective push-back deployed by well-heeled, well-organized, savvy, and impassioned defenders of human sexual rights. Another factor in lesbian and gay respectability is those communities’ noble and expert response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, a landmark in public health activism.

Thus the long, demoralizing culture wars, artfully mined by the Christian politico-preachers and their GOP empresarios, have ground to a stalemate. No longer can the call of 1980 against homos, amnesty and abortion guarantee electoral success. But wait! Amnesty is back, just with a different alleged beneficiary: instead of war resisters, the enemy du jour is undeserving, dark-skinned immigrants. That one will take a bit longer to undo although the growing Hispanic vote may focus the Republican mind before too long.

But the most gratifying aspect of Tuesday’s climax is the public’s capacity, not yet lost, to perceive the elite rich for what they are: smug, disconnected, selfish, entitled and clueless. As Dana Milbank reported in the Washington Post, Romney told reporters sitting in his (coach section) campaign aircraft that one of his first acts as president would be to buy another Weimaraner, a pricey hunting dog once bred by European royalty.

Dear merciful God, Jesus and all the saints! Was he also planning to don one of those funny English riding hats and carry a crop? Maybe to his inauguration? You cannot top self-cariacature, and luckily for our reasserted sanity, we won’t have to witness it.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

It will soon be over

Praise Jaisus.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

How about we dig our heads out of Coney Island sand?

It is too early to appreciate the long-term impact of Hurricane Sandy, but already there are stirrings of unease, perhaps a dawning sense that we are indeed in a brand new ballgame. And no, I do not refer to the (yawn) presidential foolishness. This is something much more visceral and serious.

I wish I had a copy of something a woman read a year or so ago down at the Poets’ House in its old Soho location. She explained that somewhere on an island off Lake Michigan, I believe it was, a tiny group of a half-dozen birds representing the last of their species being driven into extinction, was observed by naturalists. Little by little, she described in her short piece, they stopped flying out to feed or gather debris for their nests and simply huddled together in a seizure of dazed passivity.

The story has stuck in my mind.

As disasters go, this storm is nothing special, and plenty of places around the country and the world go through much worse on a regular basis. But this is New York City, home of the masters of the universe and their ruling banks—this is not supposed to happened to us.

I dare to predict that Romney’s pathetic trashing of FEMA as part of his four-legs-good, government-bad litany is going to be ditched (although I see he lamely attempted to whip up the right-wing talking point about how ‘just folks’ will pitch in to help their neighbors without any bad old gummint getting in their way). It’s pretty hard to stand there with the waters lapping at your ankles and argue that the private sector should somehow magically come to the rescue and pump the water out of the subway tunnels.

But now that the storm-of-the-century now occurs once every few months, the non-topic of climate change is going to force its way back onto the agenda. No doubt the oil companies and their intellectual enforcers, like the cigarette companies before them, will find a way to adjust to the new conditions and shift their discourse away from total denial to something that will enable them to extend the delays and keep their earnings intact.

But what we really need is a sharp break from the Pollyanna past in which mindless pseudo-debates over the reality of climate change have been permitted to block the screamingly urgent need for immediate action. Back during the run-up to the Iraq war, Condie Rice and her thugs used to go on TV to warn ominously that we could not afford the luxury of a ‘mushroom cloud’ error if we got the facts wrong on Hussein’s weaponry. You don’t hear much about the need to act on greenhouse gases even if there were lingering doubts about the science—which there aren’t—despite the many mushroom clouds in our collective future.

That’s why Obama will be marked by future generations of historians—if there are any—as a presidential failure. Not because he’s done such a terrible job overall, but because he had a tiny, platinum opportunity to rip up business as usual and set the country on a different path, and he refused to use it. Even if he had been crushed by the security state and the financier elites, he could have opened up the needed debate and staked out positions on the issues that can and probably will kill us, such as the looming climatic disaster. Instead, we remain leaderless.

This impassioned open letter by Wen Stephenson to former journo colleagues printed in The Phoenix from a mainstream idea-meister is a good example of what we needed then and now: he describe the safe, cautious world in which he found himself when he realized that he was part of an unconscious old-boys consensus to indulge the two sides and avoid open disbelief of bullshit because it constituted a career-busting display of ‘advocacy’. He quit his job and has become a full-time activist on the issue, picking up the old ACT-UP slogan in their fight against AIDS: Silence = Death.