Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Netanyahu defeat only a breather

Eric Foner’s third course on the American Civil War is airing now on EdX, the MOOC channel. He tells this anecdote in one of the recent lectures on long-standing American attitudes toward post-war Reconstruction, molded by popular culture such as the films Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind and reinforced by racist historians headquartered at Foner’s own (and mine) Columbia University:

Allen Dulles, later the head of the CIA after World War II, was a diplomat in Germany when Hitler came to power. What does this have to do with Reconstruction? Well, he went to see Hitler in 1933. And Hitler started complaining about Germany’s plight under the Treaty of Versailles that ended the First World War and imposed all these penalties and financial burdens on Germany. And Hitler said to Allen Dulles, “How would Americans have felt after the Civil War if the North had made the southern states sign a treaty keeping them in subjugation?”

Well, without fear of exaggeration, Dulles replied, “In fact, the way the North treated the South after the Civil War was far worse than anything France had done to Germany. The North even installed former slaves as judges.” Hitler was astonished. Black judges? He admitted the South was treated worse than Germany.

If Netanyahu loses today’s Israeli elections, we’ll hear from a lot of well-meaning, na├»ve commentators who will hail a new day in the intractable situation there. They will spill much ink to tell us that the reasonable people now have come into office in Israel who will promptly prepare a cozy solution for all.

Foner’s tale is a sobering rebuttal to that fantasy. He reminds us that racist attitudes, once installed, are far deeper and more resistant to change than anyone can imagine. We are amazed in retrospect at how white Southerners went nuts over desegregation during the 1950s and ‘60s, but we forget the corollary: that without federal intervention the civil rights movement didn’t stand a chance. We read about the beatings of freedom riders in the Hattiesburg, Mississippi, bus station, but without phone calls to Wallace from Kennedy and later pressure from LBJ the white vigilantes would have slaughtered them outright.

Entire generations of Israelis have been raised to dismiss the concerns of the Palestinian minority, and a vast bloc of outright racists has been empowered by the legal apartheid of the last 60 years. So a temporary rejection of the worst extremes of rhetoric and behavior that embarrass Israel internationally doesn’t mean much. Israeli liberals will continue to blink at the relentless abuse of stateless Palestinians by zionist klansmen in the occupied territories until external forces call a halt.

Today’s election may bring a temporary respite from the region’s march to catastrophe and retire a particularly heinous representative of Middle Eastern racism. But only the U.S. and its European allies can reverse the trend, and without greater pressure domestically they won’t rock the boat.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Loyalty and betrayal

I was rereading Greg Palast’s “Bailout Bonanza” this week to recall the details of how Mitt and Ann Romney made millions on the General Motors “bailout” engineered during the first Obama Administration. Palast relates how the Romneys partnered with the notorious Paul “Vulture Fund” Singer and other financier sharpies to strip and deunionize the auto company’s parts supplier, Delphi, such that it now employs 100,000 Chinese (no doubt miserably) but only 5,000 Americans. One of their hedge fund squillionaire buddies, Daniel Loeb, crowed after the deal that his newly acquired stake in the company was a great coup because it now had ”virtually no North American unionized labor” and “significantly smaller pension liabilities,” as the hedges had jettisoned those responsibilities as part of the bailout arrangements.

This story provides important perspective on the accusations of “treason” that have enlivened our current political season, most recently those aimed at Republicans for trying to become penpals with the Iranian ayatollahs. Meanwhile, to call Obama a “traitor” has been a staple of GOP and Tea Party rhetoric since he took office—a Google search of the word pops up Obama’s photo more than Kim Philby’s.

But although the GOP love-note to Khameini is an Onion-worthy moment, to be sure, betrayal of the nation isn’t really out of character for the bulk of our rulers, despite their nonstop rhetoric of patriotism. That is, if we understand love of one’s country as a refusal to turn one’s back on it for personal gain.

We presume a basic loyalty to our immediate relatives, our society and the polity that governs it as a fundamental human virtue, an expression of gratitude and loyalty to what gave us life. The Latin root for “nation” is nascere, “to be born”; we are a nation because we share a “motherland.” In short, we feel affinity with and owe something to others who were born in the same place.

So do we? Should we? Perhaps like religion, how we understand these concepts is best left to the private sphere. In any case, the desire to contribute to the wellbeing of our place of birth and citizenship is certainly a laudable sentiment, but our governing class cannot be said to harbor much of it. As Palast describes in gruesome detail in the GM/Delphi case, Republicans and Democrats both have eagerly dismantled the country’s industrial base and shipped our citizens’ jobs to the four corners of the earth. The beneficiaries, along with themselves, have been regimes that crush their own workers to generate succulent profits for the deracinated, international owning class.

So Obama, Biden and Hillary C can rend their garments all they want about the GOP’s attempted seduction of a turbaned cleric. Republicans and their indignant bubba supporters can wail and stamp their feet over Obama’s daring to occupy the White House as a resident instead of a bartender. But they all have long betrayed the interests of the people who actually inhabit the country that bore and bred them. Despite the talk about patriotism and the fetish of American flag pins, these squabbling elitists are not true nationalists. They have no loyalty to the human polity that gave them birth as they continue to sell out working people of all nationalities for their own gain.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015


In all the torrents of ink being spilled over the amazing campaign visit of Israeli PM Netanyahu as he attempts to formalize foreign control of U.S. foreign policy, has there been a single reference anywhere to the irony of our being lectured about arms control by the very state that nuclearized the Middle East?

You’d never think, given the ringing denunciations of Iranian perfidy in daring to even think about having nuclear capability for any purpose, that the accusers themselves assembled warhead technology, defied the world to develop bombs, maintains them and puts them to use regularly. By “use” I mean exactly what we mean when we say that an armed robber “uses” a weapon in assaulting a bank—it need not be fired to fulfill that condition. Being the only person in the room with a firearm gives the bank robber an important advantage, albeit a temporary one.

You’d never think that the same entity that rends its collective garment over the nuclear threat—to it—once assisted apartheid South Africa in its fledging nuclear weapon capacity. It wouldn’t occur to you because that sordid tale was suppressed as it occurred (reaching its height under the Carter Administration) and stamped out of the historical record when it became an embarrassment. No wonder Israelis are so sensitive to being called an “apartheid” state.