June 30, 2008

It's the 1930s, and You Are There

[Updated below. Pandagon readers, take note.]

[See also: "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been...a Racist?"]

In a storefront on Q Street in Sacramento, Kim Mack told a crowd that spilled out onto the sidewalk how she came to back Barack Obama.

With a son serving in the Iraq war, which she opposed, Mack was looking for a like-minded presidential candidate. She was impressed by the Illinois senator's books.

But the clincher came on March 17, when she met the Democratic contender face to face. She describes how he lit up the room with his wide smile, shook her hand and thanked her for volunteering.

"He looked at me, and the look in his eyes was worth 1,000 words," said Mack, now a regional field organizer. Obama hugged her and whispered something in her ear – she was so thrilled she doesn't remember what it was.

Then Mack brought home the point of her story for the crowd of 100 or so eager volunteers, sipping coffee and watching a PowerPoint presentation in the Obama campaign office on a recent Saturday.

"Did that make more impact on you than if I had talked about his health care plan or his stance on the environment?" she asked.

On the verge of a hectic few weeks leading to Super Tuesday, the crucial Feb. 5 multistate primary including California's, Mack wanted to drill home one of the campaign's key strategies: telling potential voters personal stories of political conversion.
-- "Obama Basic Training: Volunteers told to share personal conversion stories with voters -- not policy views," Sacramento Bee, January 21, 2008
I have several complicated essays in the works concerning the nature of the attraction that Barack Obama holds for many of his supporters. Once I complete some other articles, I will turn my full attention to them.

I want to mention the following, only because I am still so gobsmacked by it. A little while ago, in a fleeting moment of distraction, I turned my radio to the Stephanie Miller show. No more links for her; I gave her a link some months ago in connection with her grotesquely awful comments about the tasering of Andrew Meyer (she was Commentary Four). Miller is on vacation this week, so a couple of guest hosts are filling in.

The subject was Obama, and the comments in general were fairly horrifying, but in the way that has been typical for several months now. "Oh, his message is so wonderful!" What's that message? "Hope! Change!" And what's the nature of that hope and change?

So much for specifics.

Then another caller came on the line. She began by announcing that, of course, in general she doesn't believe any of that nonsense about God controlling our national destiny, and she certainly doesn't believe that God chose that awful George Bush to be our president.

BUT, she burbled on, she absolutely believes that Barack Obama has been ordained by God to lead the United States of America. AND, she further oozed, look at the physical effect he has on people! This, she portentously announced, IS. NOT. A. COINCIDENCE.


Reactions of this kind to Obama are fairly common. No, they are not this extreme much of the time, but such statements are far from unusual. And many of Obama's less obviously deluded supporters fall along the same continuum. Take a look at the woozily sentimental, intellectually reprehensible remarks collected at the beginning of "Obama's Whitewash," the third excerpt here, and the comments here. Moreover, this kind of reaction -- an emotion-driven response utterly devoid of coherent ideational content, a response that leads far too many people to be enthusiastically willing to believe virtually anything that Obama might proclaim and to follow him anywhere -- is one that Obama and his campaign explicitly seek to elicit.

People had better wake the hell up, and they had better study some history very damned fast. I have sometimes remarked, and I repeat the warning here, that the twentieth century was a nonstop train of horrors -- yet in one sense, the most terrible and horrifying aspect of the twentieth century is that we learned absolutely nothing from it.

Among the horrors of the twentieth century were several notable leaders who initiated events that led to slaughter and destruction on an ungraspably monumental scale. These charismatic leaders evoked a response from their followers almost identical to that called forth by Obama. These leaders specialized in "personal stories of political conversion." Doesn't anyone see the connection? Doesn't anyone remember any of this?

Read the Alice Miller excerpts that I offered just the other day. Try to understand what is going on here. Try to grasp the immense danger represented by this phenomenon.

If you doubt the nature of my concern on this issue, let me provide what some of you may regard in the nature of a shocker. I am not quite there yet, but I am seriously considering the following. Depending on how this campaign develops, and depending on how Obama conducts himself and -- very significantly to me -- how Obama's most devoted supporters act, I may conclude that, if you vote, you should vote for John McCain. Unbelievable, I realize, but I may have no choice but to think that the alternative is far too dangerous to countenance.

I won't vote for any national office myself for reasons I've indicated, somewhat fancifully in "The Tale that Might Be Told," and more substantively in "The Honor of Being Human: Why Do You Support?" Yes, read your Hannah Arendt, too.

Think about these issues, think about them long and hard, as I will also continue to do. And please, please try to wake the hell up.
I set it down,
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain...
-- Shakespeare, Hamlet, I, v
UPDATE: My thanks to James Benjamin for replying to one post that reacted with predictable outrage to this entry, thus saving me some work. I may have some additional thoughts to add on this particular subject myself. And as indicated above, I am in the process of writing some longer articles about the Obama phenomenon, and about his followers in particular.

I knew this post would rattle some cages; that was, in fact, part of its purpose (given that everything I have said here is absolutely true and accurate in my view). But some of the emails I've received today are...hmm, interesting, and occasionally instructive with regard to some of the issues in play. So I may well have some additional shorter posts on this general subject as well, to address certain narrower arguments that have come up.

June 29, 2008

The Past, Endlessly Repeating: This Is What They Want

Many of you have probably already read the latest Seymour Hersh: "Preparing the Battlefield: The Bush administration steps up its secret moves against Iran." Interesting reading, in conjunction with this. I suppose "interesting" is one word for it.

I think we might distill the article down to a few key excerpts.

Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country's religious leadership. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. They also include gathering intelligence about Iran's suspected nuclear-weapons program.

Clandestine operations against Iran are not new. United States Special Operations Forces have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with Presidential authorization, since last year. These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of "high-value targets" in the President's war on terror, who may be captured or killed. But the scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have now been significantly expanded, according to the current and former officials. Many of these activities are not specified in the new Finding, and some congressional leaders have had serious questions about their nature.


Although some legislators were troubled by aspects of the Finding, and "there was a significant amount of high-level discussion" about it, according to the source familiar with it, the funding for the escalation was approved. In other words, some members of the Democratic leadership—Congress has been under Democratic control since the 2006 elections—were willing, in secret, to go along with the Administration in expanding covert activities directed at Iran, while the Party's presumptive candidate for President, Barack Obama, has said that he favors direct talks and diplomacy.
None of the four Democrats in the Gang of Eight—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman John D. Rockefeller IV, and House Intelligence Committee chairman Silvestre Reyes—would comment on the Finding, with some noting that it was highly classified. An aide to one member of the Democratic leadership responded, on his behalf, by pointing to the limitations of the Gang of Eight process. The notification of a Finding, the aide said, "is just that—notification, and not a sign-off on activities. Proper oversight of ongoing intelligence activities is done by fully briefing the members of the intelligence committee." However, Congress does have the means to challenge the White House once it has been sent a Finding. It has the power to withhold funding for any government operation. The members of the House and Senate Democratic leadership who have access to the Finding can also, if they choose to do so, and if they have shared concerns, come up with ways to exert their influence on Administration policy. (A spokesman for the C.I.A. said, "As a rule, we don't comment one way or the other on allegations of covert activities or purported findings." The White House also declined to comment.)

A member of the House Appropriations Committee acknowledged that, even with a Democratic victory in November, "it will take another year before we get the intelligence activities under control." He went on, "We control the money and they can't do anything without the money. Money is what it's all about. But I'm very leery of this Administration." He added, "This Administration has been so secretive."
Brave Democrats, with significant change in government policy always just over the horizon, when the light appears beyond the curve of the tunnel after the mountain has been climbed, once a multitude of unicorns and ponies have appeared on every doorstep, after...oh, to hell with it. But cutting off money now, to stop the horrific progress of utterly insane actions...nope, don't want to do that.

Beyond these points, none of this matters in the least, first, because intelligence is entirely irrelevant with regard to the conventional arguments about its central importance (read lies for "conventional arguments"), and second, because the Democrats favor, in fundamental terms, the exactly identical foreign policy. Huzzah!

Saved my favorite Hersh bit for last:
Many of the activities may be being carried out by dissidents in Iran, and not by Americans in the field. One problem with "passing money" (to use the term of the person familiar with the Finding) in a covert setting is that it is hard to control where the money goes and whom it benefits. Nonetheless, the former senior intelligence official said, "We've got exposure, because of the transfer of our weapons and our communications gear. The Iranians will be able to make the argument that the opposition was inspired by the Americans. How many times have we tried this without asking the right questions? Is the risk worth it?" One possible consequence of these operations would be a violent Iranian crackdown on one of the dissident groups, which could give the Bush Administration a reason to intervene.


The Administration may have been willing to rely on dissident organizations in Iran even when there was reason to believe that the groups had operated against American interests in the past. The use of Baluchi elements, for example, is problematic, Robert Baer, a former C.I.A. clandestine officer who worked for nearly two decades in South Asia and the Middle East, told me. "The Baluchis are Sunni fundamentalists who hate the regime in Tehran, but you can also describe them as Al Qaeda," Baer told me. "These are guys who cut off the heads of nonbelievers—in this case, it's Shiite Iranians. The irony is that we're once again working with Sunni fundamentalists, just as we did in Afghanistan in the nineteen-eighties." Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is considered one of the leading planners of the September 11th attacks, are Baluchi Sunni fundamentalists.
Just like Afghanistan in the 1980s! Because that worked out so well.

Time to reprise some excerpts from Robert Dreyfuss's Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (I offered them once before, in the second half of "It's Much Later than We Think: Why It Is Not 'Our War'").

I excerpted Dreyfuss's observations as a demonstration of a principle I identified several years ago, concerning "The Folly of Intervention":
Intervention always leads to more intervention: the first intervention leads to unforeseen and uncontrollable consequences, which are then used as the justification for still further intervention. That intervention in turn leads to still more unforeseen and uncontrollable consequences, which are then used as yet another justification for still further intervention. The process can go on indefinitely, and the ultimate consequences are always disastrous in the extreme.
Here is Dreyfuss:
There is an unwritten chapter in the history of the Cold War and the New World Order that followed. It is the story of how the United States--sometimes overtly, sometimes covertly--funded and encouraged right-wing Islamist activism. Devil's Game attempts to fill in that vital missing link.

Vital because this little-known policy, conducted over six decades, is partly to blame for the emergence of Islamist terrorism as a worldwide phenomenon. Indeed, America's would-be empire in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central and South Asia was designed to rest in part on the bedrock of political Islam. At least that is what its architects hoped. But it proved to be a devil's game. Only too late, after September 11, 2001, did Washington begin to discover its strategic miscalculation.

The United States spent decades cultivating Islamists, manipulating and double-crossing them, cynically using and misusing them as Cold War allies, only to find that it spawned a force that turned against its sponsor, and with a vengeance. Like monsters imbued with artificial life, radical imams, mullahs, and ayatollahs stalk the landscape, thundering not only against the United States but against freedom of thought, against secular science, against nationalism and the left, against women's rights. Some are terrorists, but far more are just medieval-minded religious fanatics who want to turn the calendar back to the seventh century.


The United States found political Islam to be a convenient partner during each stage of America's empire-building project in the Middle East, from its early entry into the region to its gradual military encroachment, to its expansion into an on-the-ground military presence, and finally to the emergence of the United States as an army of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan.


From FDR on, leading U.S. politicians were prisoners of misguided stereotypes. They seemed entranced by the almost other-worldly appearance of their Arab interlocutors. FDR, after meeting Ibn Saud, returned to Washington and "could not shake the image of the hawk-like Saudi monarch, ensconced in a gold chair and surrounded by six slaves." Harry Truman, two years later, described a leading Saudi official as a "real old biblical Arab with chin whiskers, a white gown, gold braid, and everything." And Eisenhower dismissed the Arabs as "a very uncertain quantity, explosive and full of prejudices." The official record is full of such uninformed stereotyping of Arabs and Muslims by U.S. officials. For the next sixty years, the handful of American Arabists who actually knew something about the Middle East would try to combat those stereotypes. But they would fail.

The American attachment to a romanticized fantasy of Arab life and a racist-fed, religious disdain for the Arabs' supposed heathenism proved a deadly combination when the time came for America to engage itself politically and militarily in the Middle East. Perhaps those stereotypes led American policy makers to see Muslims as fierce warriors. Perhaps they believed that the fanaticism of their religious tenets would lead them to resist atheistic communism. Perhaps it was the notion that in southwest Asia the traditional religious establishment was a bulwark of the status quo. But it never dawned on U.S. officials that Islamist organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood were a qualitatively different phenomenon from the comprador clerical establishment. Certainly, as the Cold War progressed, the big enemy, the USSR, and its alleged accomplice, Arab nationalism, seemed to have a common enemy: Islam.
More from Dreyfuss will be found in the earlier essay.

And even now -- even now -- the United States government does all this again, with the acquiescence and support of the Democrats. At this point, if you are at all honest, you must give up the pathetic grasping for explanations, excuses and justifications: that the Democrats act as they do because they are weak, or cowardly, or being blackmailed. (Honestly, will you grow the fuck up?)

This is what they want. When an individual or a government repeats the same actions over and over and over again, even when those actions appear to lead to disaster, you must conclude that they pursue those actions because they want to.

Robert Higgs, for the umpteenth time:
As a general rule for understanding public policies, I insist that there are no persistent "failed" policies. Policies that do not achieve their desired outcomes for the actual powers-that-be are quickly changed. If you want to know why the U.S. policies have been what they have been for the past sixty years, you need only comply with that invaluable rule of inquiry in politics: follow the money.

When you do so, I believe you will find U.S. policies in the Middle East to have been wildly successful, so successful that the gains they have produced for the movers and shakers in the petrochemical, financial, and weapons industries (which is approximately to say, for those who have the greatest influence in determining U.S. foreign policies) must surely be counted in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

So U.S. soldiers get killed, so Palestinians get insulted, robbed, and confined to a set of squalid concentration areas, so the "peace process" never gets far from square one, etc., etc. – none of this makes the policies failures; these things are all surface froth, costs not borne by the policy makers themselves but by the cannon-fodder masses, the bovine taxpayers at large, and foreigners who count for nothing.
The ruling class is doing just fine, thank you. And none of this will change with a Democratic president, and with the Democrats having large majorities in both houses of Congress. None of it, not in any significant manner.

So, do we all understand now? Good.

Enchanted Evenings -- and Days, and Lives, in Hell (II)

Shortly after I was born in 1948, my family moved from Manhattan to suburban New Jersey. I grew up in Leonia, just down the hill from Fort Lee, a 45 minute commute to midtown New York. Leonia was a "nice" town, filled with people as "nice" as all those in South Pacific. Some of those people were professors at Columbia or otherwise employed in "intellectual" professions, and a fair number of them were good liberals. My parents and their closest friends fell into a somewhat different category: they were very hard leftwingers. Some of them, like my father, had been members of the Communist Party in the 1930s. Most of the Leonia residents weren't like my parents and their closest friends in terms of their politics, as most Americans weren't; most were typical Democrats and Republicans of the time, safely mainstream and thoroughly embodying the most common current ideas.

One of the significant advantages conferred on me by virtue of my parents' political beliefs was the complete absence of racism in the ideas they viewed as at all legitimate, or decent. It truly never occurred to me as I was growing up that anyone should be viewed as different from me and all the people I knew because of the color of their skin, or their nationality, or on the basis of any of the surface signals that are employed to differentiate "us" from "them."

I began studying the piano when I was about 10. My teacher's students gave an annual recital at the local Presbyterian church, in the social hall. One weekend in the late 1950s or very early 1960s, I was in the church social hall practicing for the big day that would soon be upon us. A black man and a very young girl, his daughter I supposed, came into the hall, and asked me a question the subject of which I can't even recall today. I told them I was sorry, but I didn't have the information they needed and was unable to help them. As I was speaking with the father, two boys who were neighbors of mine came into the hall. After the man and his daughter left, one of the boys, Roger I think it was, who lived just down the street from my house, looked at me, contempt tightening his face and anger forcing his words out in ugly little jerks, and demanded: "Who let the niggers in here?"

I've never forgotten that moment. I know I had read the word "nigger" in books, probably many times, for I read a great deal. But I don't think I had ever it heard it spoken aloud before, certainly not in that manner. I remember thinking: "My God. These kids are my neighbors and my schoolmates. They're just like a lot of people around here. But who are they? Who thinks like this? What does this mean?" And I remember feeling very frightened. I sensed, in the way that an eleven or twelve-year old would sense it, that there was nothing I could say on this subject that would reach them, that they were beyond all facts and all arguments. That was terrifying to me.

I left out an important aspect of life in Leonia, a geographic detail with significant overtones and meaning. Leonia sat, as I assume it still does today, on the side of a hill. In those days, the racial and economic strata of the town flowed downhill, following the land. Above Broad Avenue, which wasn't very broad but wide enough for a small town, were well-to-do, upper middle class whites. That's where my family lived. Below Broad Avenue, there were first less well-to-do whites, with blacks living farthest away from the "nice" part of town, in that part of Leonia that was closest to the flatland and the meadows that led to Hackensack. In "Enchanted Evenings -- and Days, and Lives, in Hell," I discussed some of the racial content of South Pacific. Among many other elements, I questioned the stark unreality of the ending (following Nellie's overnight transformation from a "born" racist, as she herself describes it, to a fully Enlightened Individual proclaiming Equality for All), with its false promise of a happy ending in defiance of the racial realities that the show studiously ignores:
Nellie, of course, comes from Little Rock, Arkansas. In the opening scene of South Pacific, she shows de Becque a society column in a hometown newspaper that talks of Nellie's military service. It thus appears that Nellie comes from a family that is somewhat well-connected and probably well-to-do. The final tableau of Nellie, de Becque and those two "colored" children sitting down to eat together promises a happy future, one where questions about the children and their mother will not lead to rocks hurled through windows, social shunning, and even worse. But South Pacific premiered in 1949. The terrible civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s still lay in the future, and much (if not most) of America remained strictly segregated: "legally" in the South, and by stringently enforced social agreement elsewhere. Nellie, de Becque and the children will certainly not find happiness back in Little Rock.
I should more accurately have said that segregation in the North resulted from not only rigid social agreement (and pressure), but complex economic factors arising from the white racism endemic to American society, pace Mr. Obama. Life in Leonia in the 1950s and 1960s was a perfect, and typically awful, example of part of what I was referring to.

Again, this was in the North, in a "nice" town populated with "nice" people. No one in Leonia was going to throw rocks through windows, or lead a lynching party. But the blacks lived and stayed well below Broad Avenue, never venturing into the "nice" white neighborhoods. As I look back on it, it seems to me there must have been some black students in elementary and high school, but I'm ashamed to admit that I can't remember even one. Isn't that terrible? I think it is. I can't remember even one. And if blacks dared to go into the white enclaves, like the Presbyterian social hall, the young white kids had already learned that a line had been crossed that must never be crossed: "Who let the niggers in here?" This was obviously not a perspective that the kids in my neighborhood had arrived at after study and thought; it was a vicious idea they had undoubtedly learned in the first instance from their parents, and from the people their parents knew socially.

I was reminded of this not only by South Pacific, but because I recently watched Todd Haynes' unusually fine (if flawed) film, Far From Heaven, again. The film is also set in the North, in well-to-do Hartford, Connecticut, also in the late 1950s. The film details the destruction inflicted on two disfavored, despised groups by the ignorance and hatred so common then, blacks and homosexuals. Nellie had her write-up in a local society column, and the wife in Far From Heaven is similarly the subject of an article written by her local society reporter. In the course of her interview with the wife, the reporter sees the wife treat a black man with sympathy and compassion upon learning that the man's father had recently died. In her article, the reporter praises both the wife's invaluable aid in her husband's business success and her admirable maintenance of a beautiful, (apparently) happy home, and she then praises the wife's "kindness to Negroes."

Consider the phrase, which very accurately captures a foundational element of the cultural atmosphere of the time. Note the unspeakable, axiomatic arrogance and condescension and the sense of entitlement. Whites ran America then, as they still do in every significant respect. If a member of a disfavored group was treated well, it was because he was fortunate enough to be smiled upon by a white person's "kindness" -- not because the black was entitled to a minimal degree of respect and decency due to the fact that he was a human being, but because the white person decided to extend himself in a manner that was far from obligatory. The white person decided to be "nice." Damn that American "niceness," which has to rank among the most vicious lies ever told.

Of course, the praise for the wife's "kindness to Negroes" carries an edge, laden with serious warning. You don't want to be too familiar with those people, after all. As the wife in Far From Heaven becomes friendly with the black man, the white women in town have a field day spreading ugly rumors and doing everything in their power to make the wife's existence in their "nice" city a bleak misery. One of the film's truest, and ugliest, moments comes when the husband hears the rumors about his wife and the black man. This is the husband who views his own homosexuality as something "despicable," who is desperately (and unsuccessfully) trying to change it, and who knows that public disclosure of his terrible secret will destroy his standing in both his company and his city. Yet when he hears the rumors, he is enraged: How could his wife so endanger everything he had worked so hard for, by behaving in such a criminally careless, stupid manner, by allowing herself to be seen in the company of a black man? Being the victim of discriminatory hatred ourselves is hardly a guarantee that we will be more sympathetic, or sympathetic at all, to the same kind of hatred directed at members of another group. All too often, we will take out our anger and resentment on someone who is even more disfavored than we are.

I offer these small examples, and they are exceedingly small examples of the viciousness, hatred and destructiveness directed at blacks during even this recent period of our history, to try to provide a sense of how common and how deeply engrained these attitudes were. (With regard to similar attitudes concerning gays, see "Gay History -- Some Personal Notes," about my teenage years in the 1960s.) I emphasize again that these incidents and attitudes did not arise in the deep South. We're not talking about Little Rock, but about the New York City suburbs. Blacks were alien, the "other," "them." Even though my parents were very leftwing, they didn't have any black friends. With the exception of our family maid (a complicated story of its own for another time, although I note again with profound gratitude and love that I owe my life in a significant sense to Lannie Earle, as I discussed here), I didn't start to know any blacks until I transferred to a private school in New York City for the last two years of high school, and until I began living at the Metropolitan Opera. I became very good friends with several blacks (and whites) on the Old Met standee line. They loved opera (and ballet) as much as I did, they were very knowledgeable, they were good and generous people, and they took me under their wing. God, but we had fun.

But on this issue, my upbringing and my own experiences as a teenager were very unusual. With rare exceptions, White and Black America occupied entirely different spaces, geographically, culturally, economically and psychologically. One of the results of these different spaces is the profoundly opposed views of America and of American history discussed by Tim Wise, excerpted in "Obama's Whitewash." The violence unleashed in the civil rights upheaval of the 1950s and 1960s was inevitable; in retrospect (and for perceptive observers at the time), it was remarkable only for its restraint. One of the primary reasons for the violence, and a large part of the explanation as to why a sustained, massive movement encompassing millions of people was required to achieve those changes that resulted, lies in the nature of that white "kindness to Negroes." Whites in America, including those whites who exclusively made up the ruling class, were prepared to be "kind" -- but only to the extent they absolutely had to. Equality was not granted, to the extent it was, primarily in recognition of an unspeakable, deadly injustice that whites had committed, although a few whites were aware of that. For the most part, equality was granted, to the extent it was, because the cost for failing to do so had become prohibitive.

The Obama campaign is a major piece of evidence supporting the truth of these observations, and it tragically reveals how short is the distance we have traveled, and how far we have yet to go. I have written in many essays about how Obama has adopted every attitude, every argument, every cultural signifier of the white ruling class; see "Obama's Whitewash," "The Triumph of the White, Male Ruling Class," "Moving on Up, to the White Side," and the essays linked therein for much more on that. But I confess I find it immensely difficult to describe accurately or completely the surreal quality of the Obama campaign. Everyone comments on the historic significance of a Black American who may be the next president. On the most superficial level, it is certainly historic, and I would not argue that it is entirely unimportant. At the same time, it is astonishing that almost no one notes the myriad ways in which Obama has transformed himself into a white candidate in everything but skin color. Yet on a deeper level, none of this is surprising: it is only another of thousands of examples of the superficiality and triviality of what passes for our national discussion, a subject I've discussed here and here. Still, I had not expected to see "passing for white" dramatized in exactly this manner, or on this scale.

This background is longer than I had anticipated, so I will return to South Pacific in particular in the next installment. There is still more to be said about South Pacific with regard to racism, although this provides further evidence concerning the superficiality of the show's treatment of this subject; and there is much, much more to be said about the show's fundamentally dishonest depiction of war. On that last point, see the first installment of this series for some important background and an indication of the grievous ways in which South Pacific fails in this respect.

Once again, to be continued.

June 28, 2008

Four More Months of This Crap? Noooo...

I don't think I can take it. July, August, September, October...maybe I'll make it through September. Doubtful, though. Very, very doubtful.

I am nauseated, disgusted and deeply repulsed by the fact that almost every member of our sickeningly immoral ruling class is a vicious goddamned racist, especially when it comes to those comparatively poor, weak (and usually dark) foreigners we love to bomb, murder and torture so much:
It's a choice between more of the same policies that have failed us for eight long years or a new direction for the country we love.

We can continue to spend ten billion dollars a month in Iraq and leave our troops there for the next twenty years, or fifty years, or one hundred years; we can follow a policy that doesn't change whether violence is up or down, whether the Iraqi government takes responsibility for itself or not.
Yeah, it's pretty disgusting how, after the world's most powerful nation launched a criminal, genocidal war of aggression against them and then, among many other monstrous acts, deliberately made an autonomous and effective Iraqi government impossible, those Iraqis turned out to be so damned irresponsible. In the Obama playbook, that makes the Iraqis about as bad as half of all Black Americans.

That reminds me, Obama, I've been meaning to tell you something. You truly are a shithead, shithead.

Shucks, you don't like it when I talk the sweet talk? Look, I've given you the lengthy explanation, in "The Triumph of the White, Male Ruling Class: One Fucking Great Country." (I did call Obama a "pathetic little asshole" in that one, but truth is the only defense I require.) If you follow even a few of the numerous links provided in that essay, you will read detailed discussions of the murderous racism that has been one of the foundations of U.S. foreign policy for more than a century -- from Mexico, to the Philippines, in World War II, and on and on. And on to Iraq today. "Shithead" is a term of art, if you will, a distillation of my earlier essays, a condensation offered for the convenience of those 99.9% of Americans who are unable to focus on the meaning of more than one word at a time. Notably crude words appear to be most accessible.

So, yes, Obama is a gen-u-eyne, full-fledged shithead. McCain is too, of course, but Obama claims to be so different, so noble, so above, below, beyond traditional politics. And he turns out to be a 100% shithead exactly like all the rest of them. Well, when you want power, and when you want to be the most powerful person in the world, you do what you gotta do. And what you gotta do is be a shithead.

Speaking of being so different and so beyond traditional politics, this additional excerpt from Obama's speechifying is good for a chortle. I mean, how many gazillion goddamn times have you heard this kind of meaningless drivel?
And that's why at this moment, we must come together not just as Democrats, but as Americans – united by our understanding that there is no problem we cannot solve; no challenge we cannot meet if we meet it as one nation, as one people.
I don't know about the rest of you, but I contemplate the spectacle of most Americans' ignorant, lazy, despicably complacent, relentlessly stupid acceptance of impending tyranny at home, genocide abroad, yet another looming act of barbarous murder and conquest that no one is doing a damned thing to stop, and the thought of being "one" with those people is enough to make me slash both wrists immediately. And my throat, just to be sure.

Your mileage might be different.

In some upcoming essays, I hope to explore in further detail the mechanisms that allow many people to treat insultingly vacuous statements such as the one from Obama directly above as if they actually meant something. In the case of Obama, this problem has become a crippling psychological syndrome, one that causes people who occasionally are not altogether dumb to become pathetic examples of utterly sappy, oversentimentalized, gooey, sloppily awful cheerleading. A few examples are collected at the beginning of "Obama's Whitewash," with links to more.

But in an article I wrote two and a half years ago, I set out what I consider a significant part of the explanation. (Precisely how these dynamics initially take root and the often complex ways in which they operate require a longer explanation, which is the one I hope to get to in the future.) In "The Roots of the Politics of Power," I noted Alice Miller's term "poisonous pedagogy" and her explanation of its meaning:
Poisonous pedagogy is a phrase I use to refer to the kind of parenting and education aimed at breaking a child's will and making that child into an obedient subject by means of overt or covert coercion, manipulation, and emotional blackmail.

In my books For Your Own Good and Thou Shall Not Be Aware, I have explained the concept using concrete examples. In my other books I have repeatedly stressed how the mendacious mentality behind this approach to dealing with children can leave long-lasting imprints on the way we think and relate to one another in our adult lives.
In introducing a further excerpt from Miller, I wrote:
The following is from one of her first books, Thou Shalt Not Be Aware. We should note the revealing subtitle: Society's Betrayal of the Child. As Miller once again makes clear, it is our childhood experiences -- and learning to internalize completely the obedience-denial-idealization mechanism -- that explain so much of our adult behavior.

And those earliest experiences and their resulting psychological damage also throw light on the nature of politics and political debate.
Here is Miller:
There is a good deal else that would not exist without "poisonous pedagogy." It would be inconceivable, for example, for politicians mouthing empty cliches to attain the highest positions of power by democratic means. But since voters, who as children would normally have been capable of seeing through these cliches with the aid of their feelings, were specifically forbidden to do so in their early years, they lose this ability as adults. The capacity to experience the strong feelings of childhood and puberty (which are so often stifled by child-rearing methods, beatings, or even drugs) could provide the individual with an important means of orientation with which he or she could easily determine whether politicians are speaking from genuine experience or are merely parroting time-worn platitudes for the sake of manipulating voters. Our whole system of raising and educating children provides the power-hungry with a ready-made railway network they can use to reach the destination of their choice. They need only push the buttons that parents and educators have already installed.

Crippling ties to certain norms, terminology, and labels can also be clearly observed in the case of many thoroughly honorable people who become passionately engaged in political struggle. For them, political struggle is inseparably associated with party, organization, or ideology.
Since the ominous threat child-rearing practices pose to peace and survival has always remained hidden, ideologies have not yet been able to perceive this situation or, if they do perceive it, to develop intellectual weapons against this knowledge. As far as I know, not a single ideology has "appropriated" the truth of the overriding importance of our early conditioning to be obedient and dependent and to suppress our feelings, along with the consequences of this conditioning. That is understandable, for it probably would mean the end of the ideology in question and the beginning of awareness. Accordingly, many ideologues who consider themselves politically active are like people who, if a fire breaks out, would open the windows to try to let out the billowing smoke (perhaps contenting themselves with abstract theories about the fire's origin) and blithely ignore the flames leaping up nearby.

My hypothesis that Adolf Hitler owed his great popularity to the cruel and inhuman principles of infant- and child-rearing prevalent in the Germany of his day [see the Hitler chapter in For Your Own Good] is also proved by the exception. I looked into the background of Sophie and Hans Scholl, two university students in Hitler's Germany who became famous as a result of their activities in the resistance movement, "The White Rose," and were both executed by the Nazis in 1944. I discovered that the tolerant and open atmosphere of their childhood had enabled them to see through Hitler's platitudes at the Nuremberg Rally, when the brother and sister were members of Nazi youth organizations. Nearly all their peers were completely won over by the Fuhrer, whereas Hans and Sophie had other, higher expectations of human nature, not shared by their comrades, against which they could measure Hitler. Because such standards are rare, it is also very difficult for patients in therapy to see through the manipulative methods they are subjected to; the patient doesn't even notice such methods because they are inherent in a system he takes completely for granted.
Keep in mind that I wrote the earlier essay in January 2006. Given developments over the last year, I find these observations of mine from the end of that piece worryingly prescient:
It should be emphasized that, while the most extreme and dangerous examples of these mechanisms are presently to be found in the United States among Bush's defenders, most of those who criticize Bush are only marginally better. They do not challenge Bush's program on the deeper level indicated by Miller, and most of the political debates we witness are conducted in only the most artificially circumscribed terms. Thus, even those who denounce Bush usually avoid the most significant and meaningful issues -- and in the end, they are helpless to prevent disaster from overtaking all of us.
Tragically, and very dangerously in my view, many of those who so vehemently "denounce Bush" are among the loudest mindless adulators of Obama, thus proving my contention that most of these people never understood the deeper problems involved. In certain ways, I consider the behavior of many of Obama's most enthusiastic supporters to constitute an even greater danger than Bush's adherents represented. That is also a subject I will examine further in the future.

June 27, 2008

I Got Yer Rights Right Here

I briefly pointed out yesterday why the Supreme Court's determination that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is an individual right tells you nothing. The increasingly oppressive and intrusive corporatist-authoritarian-surveillance state can claim to recognize individual rights all day long, and it can still destroy each and every one of them entirely.

The individual right to bear arms identified by the Supreme Court on Thursday will have little practical impact in most of the country, legal experts said, though Washington's comprehensive ban on handguns used for self-defense in the home will have to be revised, and similar laws in several cities are also vulnerable.

Most state and city gun restrictions appear to be allowed under the ruling, including licensing laws, limits on the commercial sale of guns, restrictions on guns in places like schools and government buildings and prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill. "Dangerous and unusual" weapons can also be banned, although that phrase was not fully defined.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority in the 5-to-4 decision, also suggested that bans on concealed weapons would probably pass — new locution alert — Second Amendment muster. Justice Scalia added that the court's list of permissible restrictions was not exhaustive.

The legal battlegrounds will be cities with ordinances similar to Washington's essentially complete ban, most notably Chicago.
But, Arthur, you object, an "essentially complete ban" is out. That's a good thing, right? Sure, my friend, it's awesomely cool.

Except for the fact that an "essentially complete ban" need not be accomplished by, you know, essentially completely banning guns. Through the miracle of the authoritarian-surveillance state's endlessly inventive bureaucratic wondrousness, the government can use licensing laws, limits on commercial sale, place restrictions, ownership restrictions, bans (complete bans!) of weapons considered to be "dangerous and unusual" -- helpfully "not fully defined"! (isn't this fun?) -- bans on concealed weapons ("probably" okay), and still more "permissible restrictions," and presto! Whammo! Shazaam!

You have an "essentially complete ban."

Insert references to Orwell here.

Now you be sure to have fun this weekend! Oh, wait a sec, let me read that list of activities you can't engage in for "fun" anymore. It'll only take three or four hours to read it to you. But don't worry! It's not an essentially complete ban on fun!

Because that would be wrong.

Related history and discussion in, "The Ruling Class Unleashed."

June 26, 2008

A Grateful People, in Their Individual Joy

Dayam, the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is an individual right. And all the worlds in all the universes were saved, or so many seem to feel on this frabjous day. I know, I know: historic, first time the Supremes said it, yeah, I get it. I said it was a frabjous day. Whaddayouse want from me?

The Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures is an individual right. And we know what that's worth. Yeah, baby.

Given prevailing notions of statecraft, to recognize that a right is an individual one tells you nothing. It should also be observed that only individual rights exist, unless you believe in the "right" of 51% of the population to enslave the remaining 49%. That's not a right: that's power. Not the same. In any event, almost everyone believes that you have x, y and z individual rights -- until and unless they are trumped by some other consideration. That other consideration inevitably is tied to some claim relating to the "public welfare," the "public good," the public this, that and the other thing. Who is this all-powerful public anyway? Is it you? Assuredly not, after all it's your individual right that's about to be trumped. And who determines who's a member of this public that will define the limits of your not-so-inviolable individual rights? Why, those members of the public who happen to be in some branch of the government -- which is to say, the state will define the limits of your liberty.

Who's gonna win that battle, your individual right or the state? Hmm?

Dream of a stateless world. Don't vote.

Live dangerously. Dare to dare.

Callooh! Callay!

June 25, 2008

Why I Will Happily See Most of You Roast in Hell

Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. . . . [There is also an] inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and . . . degeneracy of manners and of morals. . . . No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare. . . . -- James Madison, 1793
In seasons of tumult and discord bad men have the most power; mental and moral excellence require peace and quietness.

The worst crimes were dared by a few, willed by more and tolerated by all.
-- Publius Cornelius Tacitus
In "The Fatal Illusion of Opposition," I wrote:
In the final scene [of a common fictional scenario], we learn the truth: the victims' defender had been working for the villain all the time. The defender had never been on the side of the victims: instead, at every critical juncture, he made sure to misdirect the victims' efforts just enough to make certain that the villain was never seriously threatened. The defender had to do this subtly; he had to lie on every matter of moment, and he had to do so repeatedly. He did all this expertly, and the victims never suspected his actual goal. The defender is handsomely rewarded for his work, for he delivered the victims into the villain's power, making certain that the victims would never again be a genuine threat. And the illusion is complete: even after they had lost and their lives had been destroyed forever, the victims never doubted their hero or the fact that he had fought for them so bravely.
We may now be nearing the final scene of the destruction of what little remains of the American republic. Certainly, we are in the last stages of the United States' enthusiastic embrace of its role in history as a barbarian, pariah nation -- one which wages criminal, genocidal war, tortures, obliterates human liberty, and leaves only destruction and chaos in its wake.

The other day, I received an email from Antiwar.com, ominously titled: "Action Alert." The Action Alert concerned what is detailed here: "Iran War Resolution May Be Passed Next Week." That post states:
The bill's key section "demands that the president initiate an international effort to immediately and dramatically increase the economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on Iran to verifiably suspend its nuclear enrichment activities by, inter alia, prohibiting the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products; imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran; and prohibiting the international movement of all Iranian officials not involved in negotiating the suspension of Iran's nuclear program."

"Imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran" can be read to mean that the president should initiate a naval blockade of Iran. A unilateral naval blockade without UN sanction is an act of war.

Resolution 362 has already gained 170 co-sponsors, or nearly 40 percent of the House. It has been referred to the Foreign Affairs Committee, which has 49 members, 24 of whom, including the ranking Republican, are co-sponsors. The Iran Nuclear Watch Web site writes, "According to the House leadership, this resolution is going to 'pass like a hot knife through butter' before the end of June on what is called suspension – meaning no amendments can be introduced during the 20-minute maximum debate. It also means it is assumed the bill will pass by a 2/3 majority and is non-controversial."
At the end of the post, we are told: "Those of you who consider this issue controversial can go to the Just Foreign Policy Web site and tell your representative to oppose this resolution."

Tell your representative? Tell your representative?

This is pathetically too little, pathetically far, far, far too late. Short of massive civil disobedience, including a sit-in of a minimum of several hundred thousand people shutting down Washington, D.C. completely, nothing will stop what may now be the inevitable drive to an unprovoked attack on Iran by the United States.

Please understand one very important point. It should not need to be said that my criticisms here are not at all directed at Antiwar.com. Antiwar.com is one of only two or three sites which consistently and comprehensively make the case against the bipartisan foreign policy directed toward the goal of American global hegemony. Antiwar.com has been warning of a U.S. attack on Iran for years, and it has detailed the unendingly nightmarish consequences of such a criminal act in many articles. I salute them for their efforts on this issue, and on many related ones.

Still, the fact remains that only protest on a massive scale -- protest that would be impossible to ignore, despite the efforts of the ruling class and our deeply corrupt media to erase all inconvenient facts and all crucial moral considerations from our national discussion -- has even the slimmest chance of delaying or stopping what may be the coming destruction and rearrangement of much of the world, including the United States. Given the widespread ignorance and sloth of the American public, such protest would have to be preceded by an educational campaign, one that would provide Americans with the basic facts they require to understand how eternally unforgivable an attack on Iran would be in the present circumstances.

But as I have explained in many essays, going back to February 2007 when I laid out some steps for just such an educational campaign, those basic facts are not that complicated. The problem is the blanket of silence on this subject, the same blanket that suffocates our national debate and restricts our discussions to a profoundly, shockingly immoral, narrow range of permissible opinion. We are dying -- and we may be about to become bringers of death on a scale the world has rarely seen -- because almost no one has the courage to speak forcefully, loudly and often enough on those matters that ought to concern us the most, if that is, we revere human life and give a damn about yet another chapter in our nation's continuing campaign of murder and mayhem.

Over the last several months, the signs have been continually mounting that an attack on Iran will come before the Bush administration leaves office. The Republicans and the conservatives obviously have no objection: this is what they want. And what have the Democrats been saying and doing? Nothing -- except, as just one example, running to AIPAC to assure everyone that the Democrats too will make certain that Iran acts as we demand, because we demand it, because we have the unquestionable, inherent right to demand it, because we are God on Earth. You will do as the United States orders -- or you, and possibly the rest of the world, will suffer the consequences.

I have been writing about the inevitability of an attack on Iran for more than two and a half years; many, but not all, of my articles on this subject are listed at the end of "The Worsening Nightmare." I have begged and pleaded for people to help out with a campaign to stop an attack on Iran; with the exception of a handful of people, no one cared. No one gave a damn. No one even noticed. I have never had any proprietary interest in such a campaign; in "Building an Effective Resistance," I encouraged anyone who was interested to use whatever they wished of my writing, without credit or payment. All I have ever cared about is that someone do something.

No one did anything, not anything that mattered.

And what now consumes the liberal and progressive bloggers? FISA, FISA, FISA, FISA, FISA, always, always FISA. Never Iran.

One of the consequences of an attack on Iran was spelled out a long time ago by the wonderful Jim Bovard:
Attacking Iran will put American civilians in the terrorist crosshairs, with little or no federal Kevlar to protect them. The key question is not whether terrorists will attack but how the American people will likely respond and how politicians could exploit the situation.

There is no reason to expect the American people to be less docile than they were after 9/11. The percentage of Americans who trusted the government to do the right thing most of the time doubled in the week after 9/11. It became fashionable to accuse critics of Bush administration policies of being traitors or terrorist sympathizers. ...

The Bush administration has a record of exploiting terrorist attacks to seize nearly boundless power. After the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration effectively temporarily suspended habeas corpus, railroaded the Patriot Act through Congress, authorized warrantless domestic wiretaps, and nullified restrictions on torture by the CIA and U.S. Military. The Bush administration now claims that the Authorization to Use Military Force resolution passed by Congress in September 2001 raised the president's power above the Bill of Rights.

If there are new terror attacks at home, how much more latent presidential power will administration lawyers claim to discover within the penumbra of the Constitution? How broad would the roundup of suspects be? How many years would it be until Americans learned of how much power the government had seized? Is there any reason to expect that a series of attacks would not quickly result in attempts to proclaim de facto martial law?


If Bush does bomb Iran, the chain reaction could wreck American democracy. The Bush administration shows no signs of developing either an allergy to power or an addiction to truth. The American republic cannot afford to permit a president to remain above the law and the Constitution indefinitely. Anything that raises the odds of a terror attack reduces the odds of reining in the government.
The behavior of the Washington Democrats makes it indisputably clear that, if there are further terrorist attacks here at home, they will be fully, enthusiastically on board with whatever the Bush administration might do. That is trebly true in an election year, when Democrats fear being perceived as "soft on terrorism" more than they fear worldwide nuclear war.

In the fearsome, awful, terrifying wake of an attack on Iran, as the economy crumbles, as violence spreads throughout the Middle East, Asia and possibly elsewhere, as life falls apart in the United States, do you think anyone will give a damn about FISA? Do you think anyone will even remember FISA? Do you doubt that the government will seize and utilize powers that will make FISA look like child's play? Do you doubt that the government will do all this with the active, eager participation of the Democrats?

And yet, progressive bloggers will still tell us:
Senator Reid just informed his colleagues on the Senate floor that, because of all the other bills in the queue (like the housing bill, and the Iraq supplemental), FISA may not get a vote until after the July 4 holiday recess.

This is honestly the best we can hope for right now. Sens. Dodd, Wyden and Feingold are ready to filibuster and gamely trying to get colleagues to do the same (Sen. Dodd's speech tonight was a bravura performance), but realistically the numbers to stop cloture aren't there. However, that could change if the delay continues. And getting this to the recess means being able to get in a lot of Senators' faces on their trips back home. In addition, there's going to be a very short window in August where a ton of must-pass bills have to get through Congress, and throwing FISA in with that mess means that anything can happen.

Now, after that bleak bit of hopefulness: I'm sad to report that it's only because the Senate REALLY REALLY wants to pump billions into endless war in Iraq that we have a shot to delay the deletion of the Fourth Amendment. Quite a Hobson's choice.
Astonishingly, dday then goes on to say in the same post: "But let's be honest: the truth is that the federal government, on a bipartisan basis, is largely indifferent to their constituents' privacy," thus giving the lie to the earlier statement. In their failure to grasp the full meaning of the history they themselves recite about the multitude of attacks on the Fourth Amendment over many decades, only some of which I recently detailed here, these people fail to grasp that "the deletion of the Fourth Amendment" is not waiting to be accomplished: it has already been accomplished. I would say they should pay closer attention and think more carefully, but I don't think this resistance to facts is based in ignorance. Rather, it is based in a belief system they refuse to challenge or even question.

And about the Senate "REALLY want[ing] to pump billions into endless war in Iraq": so much for the Democrats' protests about this despicable, criminal war. Wait, that's right: the Democrats won't call it a criminal war. It's a "blunder," perhaps the worst strategic "mistake" in our nation's history (also wrong: look to Wilson propagandizing the U.S. into World War I for that one), but it's not a crime. But it is a crime. Again, ignorance is not the explanation.

So the progressives collect hundreds of thousands of dollars (with yet another pitch for same in the identical dday post) -- to spend on targeting "bad" Democrats and electing "better" ones. Even if one granted this to be a legitimate aim, it is a strategy that will require years of work and that, even then, will hardly be assured of success. An attack on Iran may be coming in a matter of months, and not that many months. Will the progressives spend any of their money to try to stop that attack? Apparently, they will not.

Just as they do not genuinely care about stopping the genocidal horrors in Iraq, so they do not genuinely care about stopping the next genocide, and even a global war with nuclear weapons. A few of us can only look on in horror, with mouths agape. Where the hell are these people's priorities? Are they completely insane, or just unalterably corrupt? What the fuck is wrong with you?

At this juncture, the tragic, awful fact is that the explanation doesn't matter any longer. It's too late. It might not have been a year and a half ago, but it certainly is now. "The worst crimes were dared by a few, willed by more and tolerated by all." Not quite all, but there are not enough of us who are still aware to make a difference now.

If the worst should happen, I'll be in hell, too. But I will be sure to make certain the worst torments are reserved for those of you -- which is most of you -- who have looked on, who have indicated every now and then that you might have an understanding of what is at stake, and who have done nothing.

The capacity of most people to live on lies and to engage in massive self-deception is genuinely endless. The horrifying changes that may soon be upon us might finally cause you to reexamine some of those beliefs that, so far, you have adamantly refused to question, in even the smallest degree. By then, it will be too late for you, and for the rest of us.

As I have had occasion to note before:
There is such a thing as being too late.... Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with lost opportunity.... Over the bleached bones of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: "Too late." -- Martin Luther King

June 24, 2008


Gotta love 'em:
To sum up: Erica Jong writes a half-baked essay (on the basis of so perfunctory a read of one single line of one single article that she couldn't remember my name; she confused me with my father), violates my mother in print, and calls me a motherfucker. Then, when I write back to defend myself (and, by extension, my mother), she first cloaks herself in the suffering of both the Jewish people and African-Americans, then congratulates herself on having achieved the intellectual level of one of the great geniuses of the 20th century, and then finally compares me, in the space of a couple of sentences, to both the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan -- two great historical enemies of exalted thinkers like herself, thinkers who even as we speak would be tirelessly working to prevent the breakup of the Antarctic ice cap and generally save humanity from itself wherever possible, were it not for the childish insults of such anti-intellectual monsters as me gumming up the works.

Did I miss anything? Because I think she hit pretty much every single liberal cliche in existence. I wouldn't previously have thought it possible to connect a wisecrack about Hillary Clinton's arms to global warming, but I suppose anything is possible, if you really put your mind to it...

I'm sorry, I'd go on, but I'm still laughing about the Antarctica thing. On second thought, Erica, you're right, we'd better drop this. I should step aside and let you intellectuals do your job. It does feel a little warm outside!
Taibbi had me at, "and calls me a motherfucker." Love ya, Matt.

To make my own view clear on one point: in the event you follow some or all of those links (go on! calorie-free and no global warming threat!), I should note that there was unquestionably a huge and detestable amount of misogyny in the coverage of the Democratic primary, as I briefly discussed in "Let the Victims Speak." I'm working on a further essay focusing on that subject; the roots and operation of that misogyny are worth exploring in more detail. But it won't be completed until I've finished some other articles. And to deflect the criticisms I received before (see the Update to that earlier piece), of course there is a great deal of racism directed at Obama. But Obama's racism problem is greatly complicated by the fact that he himself has intentionally and systematically adopted every element of the ideology and belief system of the white, male ruling class. And see "The Fatal Illusion of Opposition," "Obama's Whitewash," "Moving On Up, to the White Side" and the additional pieces they link on that subject. I'll also have a new essay about racism and Obama in another week or two, since Obama's unceasing attacks on Black Americans have created and will continue to create an altogether extraordinary spectacle.

With much more to come on the subject, I wonder how we might summarize this unique situation. Perhaps: Obama -- The First Black Presidential Candidate ... Who Isn't! Or: Obama -- The Great Black White Hope! Or, possibly more in line with what Obama and many of his supporters would prefer: Barack -- He Will Be As You Desire Him! (Just as long as he gets to be the most powerful man in the world, in which case, screw you, bub.)

Taibbi link via Michael J. Smith. We loves us some Michael J., too: "Seems that Jong took exception to Taibbi mentioning that Hillary Clinton had 'flabby arms.' She offered a bit of free and fairly shallow psychoanalysis suggesting that Taibbi really wanted to fuck his mother. (Well, duuhh, who doesn't?)"

In fact, Michael (and aside from the not insignificant fact that my mother is dead, which puts rather a different cast on the entire question), I didn't want to fuck my mother. Not ever. Nope.

Oh, so you think I'm in denial about it, huh? I suddenly have an overwhelming desire to fuck you. Call me.

And to think this used to be a much more family-friendly blog. I shall now attempt to locate my dignity. It's around here somewhere...

Oh, hell. Fuck dignity.

June 23, 2008

Teevee Is Better Than Life!

God, I love this. I deeply, passionately love it. McCain will inspire "the ingenuity and resolve of the American people by offering a $300 million prize for the development of a battery package that has the size, capacity, cost and power to leapfrog the commercially available plug-in hybrids or electric cars."

This is brilliant. With regard to the most dauntingly complex issues involving our dependence on fossil fuel and the fabric and operation of our entire economy and culture, which are made up of hundreds of thousands of interconnected elements that all affect each other in a dizzying multitude of ways, issues that require experts to study the relevant facts, economic and political theory and history, etc., etc., blah blah and blah for decades, after all of which most of these same experts ponderously announce, "Well, huh. Who the hell knows? This is complicated, man," all our problems will now be solved. All we need to do is make the Murkin peepul think they're playing the greatest teevee game show of all time!

And if you win, you get a really, really big prize!

Indubitably, incredibly, infuckingspired, I'm telling you. Thus do Americans finally achieve the end toward which they have so devotedly worked all these decades. The looking glass is shattered and altogether destroyed, and Murka is fully absorbed into a supracontinental, supraplanetary, nay, galactic teevee. Hallelujah, sisters and brothers!

I have but one criticism. McCain does not go nearly far enough. Here's an example, to give you the idea.

Lots of peepul are sexually frustrated. Aren't you? C'mon, you are. Admit it, we're all friends here. When people are sexually frustrated, they sometimes do bad things. I saw what you did over the weekend. Sometimes, you are not nice. We need an even better prize for the person who comes up with a gizmo that will provide ecstatic sexual experience and release wherever and whenever it is desired, sexual pleasure of a kind no one has ever imagined. Kind of like this, but better. So we'll call the prize The Orgasmatron Award.

And what's the prize? Obviously, it'll be sexual gratification of any kind you want, with whomever/whatever you want, as often as you want, for as long as you want. Wait. Hmm. That's what you just invented, right? It can't be that. So what's the prize? Money? Compared to sexual pleasure on this scale, money seems a pathetically shabby reward. Any better ideas?

Anyway, the point is we can do this with everything! Food, shelter, health care, climate change, war and peace, everything! Just offer the right prize, and the solutions will come pouring in. So we need lots more prizes for lots more inventions. C'mon, peepul! Think! Invent! We're going to save Murka, and the world!

Yes, we can! Oh, that's the other guy. Doesn't matter. He'll probably come up with prizes of his own.

Money! Orgasmatrons! Yes, we can! We can, we can, we can, we can...

Or, possibly, not.

June 22, 2008

No One Is Safe (II): FISA Is Only the Prelude to Nightmare

I indicated the other day that, as odious and destructive of liberty and privacy as the new FISA "compromise" bill is, there is one perspective from which the momentous to-do about this legislation is very badly misplaced. The selective focus on FISA misses the crucial larger picture in a way that ensures that the ruling class's hold on increasingly tyrannical power will never be consistently or seriously challenged -- which is, of course, precisely what the ruling class wants. In one sense, I certainly won't criticize those who protest the FISA legislation so vehemently, because I favor almost anything that throws a monkey wrench into the operations of our monumentally awful and oppressive federal government.

However, and it is an exceptionally large however, if the protests about FISA remain the sole (or even the major) focus of their complaints about the surveillance state, the protesters will make a very large gift to those who wish to oversee, regulate and control every aspect of our lives. I will return to that point in a moment. First, consider these observations from Jack Balkin on the FISA bill. In part, I consider Balkin far too generous to Obama, but he makes some important points:
Why did Obama stay silent for so long, and why did he finally offer such a muted response to the bill?

The answer is simple:

Barack Obama plans to be the next President of the United States. Once he becomes President, he will be in the same position as George W. Bush: he wants all the power he needs to protect the country. Moreover, he will be the beneficiary of a Democratic-controlled Congress, and he wants to get some important legislation passed in his first two years in office.

Given these facts, why in the world would Obama oppose the current FISA compromise bill? If it's done on Bush's watch, he doesn't have to worry about wasting political capital on it in the next year. Perhaps it gives a bit too much power to the executive. But he plans to be the executive, and he can institute internal checks within the Executive Branch that can keep it from violating civil liberties as he understands them. And not to put too fine a point on it, once he becomes president, he will likely see civil liberties issues from a different perspective anyway.

So, in short, from Obama's perspective, what's not to like?

Most Americans don't realize that the FISA compromise comes in two parts. The first part greatly alters FISA by expanding the executive's ability to wiretap and engage in much broader searches of communications than were permissible under the law before. It essentially gives congressional blessing to some but not all of what the executive was doing under President Bush. President Obama will like having Congress authorize these new powers. He'll like it just fine. People aren't paying as much attention to this part of the bill. But they should, because it will define the law of surveillance going forward. It is where your civil liberties will be defined for the next decade.

Part II, by contrast, is the part that everyone has gotten up in arms about. It creates effective immunity for telecom companies. It makes perfect sense for Obama to criticize this part of the bill. That's because he doesn't need it as much as he needs the first part, and his base really really dislikes it. . . .

So, let's sum up: Congress gives the President new powers that Obama can use. Great. (This is change we can believe in). Obama doesn't have to expend any political capital to get these new powers. Also great. Finally, Obama can score points with his base by criticizing the retroactive immunity provisions, which is less important to him going forward than the new powers. Just dandy.
Next, I remind you as forcefully as I can of FISA's actual nature. As I wrote in "The Ruling Class Unleashed":
I must immediately interject that to discuss these issues [pertaining to liberty and privacy] with regard to FISA is ludicrous in a much deeper sense. As Jonathan Turley explains here, FISA itself is a secret court whose very purpose is to circumvent the requirements of the Fourth Amendment. The FISA court is no protection against illegitimate government intrusion at all. But as Turley notes, that we are fighting over whether to grant the executive branch and FISA still more untrammeled authority to disregard constitutional rights is a measure of how far we have already marched toward tyranny. And look at this chart to see just how compliant the FISA court is.
As I argued in the earlier essay, if we were genuinely concerned about civil liberties and privacy, we would return to the Fourth Amendment and the procedures it requires, and the FISA regime would be abolished entirely. That's right: it would be abolished. No one wants to do that. Too radical, doncha know. That's scary talk, much scarier, it would appear, than the tyranny which daily strengthens its death grip on all our throats. Nonetheless, if you want to understand the nature and scope of the decades-long attack on individual liberty, you had better remember what FISA is.

Moreover, understand the nature of the old FISA regime, which appears to be just fine with almost everyone, Republicans, Democrats, progressives, everyone. Steny Hoyer has helpfully spelled out the near-omnipotent powers of FISA under the old scheme. Understand how comprehensive it is, and how comprehensively it destroys civil liberties. Quite inexplicably, though, Hoyer declined to summarize the government's powers under the old FISA scheme in easily understandable, everyday language. So I helped him out:
We can already spy on everyone. Everyone! Got that, you schmucks? And we don't even need a warrant a lot of the time! Every once in a while, we kinda think we should get a warrant. No reason for that actually. But it looks better, you know? Keeps the stupidly annoying civil liberties crowd happy. But those idiots at the FISA court will give us one nearly every time! [See here again.] And since FISA is a secret court, none of those peons (otherwise known as "citizens") will ever know a damned thing about what's actually going on anyway. It's good to be an Empire!
I repeat: that's the old scheme, which most people think is the bee's knees, a gentle zephyr cooling a moist brow, a benevolent moon keeping watch over a peaceful world below.

Beyond these points, there is another problem, one that is very difficult to convey, so terrible is it in its obliteration of liberty, privacy and all the values that our politicians claim to uphold. I discussed a related aspect of this problem in the earlier piece:
The fact that every aspect of our lives is regulated, directed and controlled has a further result, one of the most dangerous of all: If someone in government decides to go after you, he has an endless array of weapons from which to choose. Even if you emerge from the battle with your life largely intact, anyone in government who wishes to do so can turn your life into hell for years on end, even for decades. It may all begin with some pathetic bureaucrat in a cramped, stifling cubicle. Perhaps someone cut him off in traffic that morning; perhaps he had a fight at home the night before. Perhaps he's just a rotten human being. He happens to come across your name on some document, and he thinks: "I know: I'll go after him. That could be fun." And your life is destroyed.
With regard to FISA and issues of liberty and privacy in general, let me now ask you a few questions. How long do you think it would take you to identify, read, and understand every provision in every statute, regulation and other authorization that gives surveillance powers to the government? Furthermore: Would you know each and every place to look, or how to determine what those places were? Additionally: With a staff of 20, or 50, could it be done, even if you were provided with limitless time and limitless funds?

I submit to you, without qualification or reservation, that you could not do it. No one could. Consider that most legislators in Washington aren't even aware of much of what's in the bills they so eagerly vote on. Consider the prohibitive length and complexity of legislation that comes before Congress. That's true of what is going on now. If you tried to track down every piece of legislation, every regulation, every administrative agency ruling, and every other pronouncement still in effect that allows the government to surveil and otherwise keep track of you, me, the guy down the street, the woman next door and the man in the moon, based on alleged concern with and the need to protect us all from the ravages of drugs, "illicit" sex, any and all other suspected criminal activity and, natch, terrorism, how on God's green earth would you do it? You couldn't. I further submit to you that the only reason you appear to have some precious remnants of freedom left, and the only reason you remain at liberty, is that the government hasn't comprehensively focused on all the powers it already possesses and hasn't come anywhere close to utilizing them fully and consistently. This is the moment you should fall to your knees and thank whatever gods may be for the miraculous, close to perfect incompetence of the pathetically ineffectual blockheads in Washington.

I did only several minutes of very basic internet research. I offer you a few examples of what I mean. Again, all of this is entirely apart from FISA. Even if FISA were abolished tomorrow, all of these horrific intrusions into individual privacy would remain.

The Patriot Act and National Security Letters:
As a result of newly released Department of Defense (DoD) documents revealing the potential abuse of the government's surveillance powers, the American Civil Liberties Union today filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to force the FBI to turn over documents concerning its use of National Security Letters (NSLs) that demand private data about individuals within the United States without court approval. In today's request, the ACLU seeks records pertaining to the FBI's issuing of NSLs at the behest of other agencies that are not authorized to access this sensitive information on their own. In addition, the ACLU is requesting all documents indicating how the FBI has interpreted and used its power to silence NSL recipients since the Patriot Act's gag provision was amended in 2006.


NSLs are secretly issued by the government to obtain access to personal customer records from Internet service providers, financial institutions, and credit reporting agencies. In almost all cases, recipients of the NSLs are forbidden, or "gagged," from disclosing that they have received the letters. While the FBI has broad NSL powers and compliance with FBI-issued NSLs is mandatory, the Defense Department's NSL power is more limited in scope, and, in most cases, compliance with DoD demands is not mandatory. Additionally, while the FBI can issue NSLs in its own investigations, Congress has not given the agency the power to issue NSLs in non-FBI investigations.
See this page, too, which contains a wealth of information about National Security Letters.

The recently proposed mortgage legislation that will bail out powerful financial interests which just happen to have the right Washington connections has been strongly criticized for providing a taxpayer-funded salvage scheme of that kind -- but did you know that it may also do this?
Buried in the text of the revised legislation, approved by the Senate Banking Committee by a 19-2 vote [during the week of May 23], is a plan to create a new national fingerprint registry. It covers just about everyone involved in the mortgage business, including lenders, "loan originators," and some real estate agents.


What's a little odd is the lack of public discussion about this new fingerprint database. No mention of it appears in the official summary of the revised Senate bill. No fingerprint database requirement is in the House version of the legislation approved earlier this month. No copy of the revised Senate legislation is posted on the Library of Congress' Thomas Web site, which would be the usual procedure.

The feds' new fingerprint database would function like this: Any "loan originator" must furnish "fingerprints for submission to the Federal Bureau of Investigation" and a wealth of other unnamed government agencies. Loan originator is defined as someone who accepts a residential mortgage application, negotiates terms on a mortgage, advises on loan terms, prepares loan packages, or collects information on behalf of the consumer. Real estate agents are covered if they get "compensation" of any sort (including kickbacks) from loan originators.


In the proposed federal system, what remains unclear is what happens to the fingerprints once submitted. The legislation talks about a "background check"--which would imply a one-time use--but also creates a Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System and Registry that "provides increased accountability and tracking of loan originators." Neither Feinstein's nor Martinez's offices returned our phone calls and e-mail messages asking for clarification on Friday morning.


Creating a database of fingerprints of "loan originators" and a subset of real estate agents might make sense. It might not. But it surely would have been reasonable to have an informed debate on the topic before politicians rushed to enact federal legislation before the Senate's Memorial Day recess, and it would surely be wise to insist on security and privacy protections when the bill goes to the full Senate. Unfortunately, there's little reason to believe either will actually happen.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center keeps track of issues of this kind. Example: "In response to a request from Congressman Edward Markey, EPIC recommended strong medical privacy safeguards in a bill that would establish a national framework for electronic health records." And see EPIC's Medical Privacy page. Lots of links to investigate there, many of which are not the least reassuring.

Another example:
President Bush has signed Executive Order 12989 which gives the Department of Homeland Security authority to review employment eligibility for all federal employees and federal contractors. The decision to expand "E-Verify" comes after Congress rejected the President's verification proposal and a federal court struck down the agency's attempt to establish similar authority by regulation. EPIC testified in Congress in 2007 against the "Employment Eligibility Verification System." Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration, a division of Homeland Security, will now require travelers to present identity documents or to be "cooperative." See EPIC Spotlight on Surveillance: "National Employment Database Could Prevent Millions of Citizens From Obtaining Jobs" and EPIC Amicus in Gilmore v. Ashcroft.
Take a look at all the topics listed on EPIC's Privacy page. A huge number of links to investigate, such as the one on Counter-Terrorism Proposals. Still more links there. All of this goes on and on and on and on. In terms of surveillance and unending, relentlessly intrusive information-gathering on all Americans, I consider it impossible that the power does not already exist somewhere for the government to do basically whatever the hell it wants, whenever the hell it wants, to each and every one of us.

Note that I have not yet mentioned the government's vast capabilities for oversight, surveillance, control and punishment gained by means of its general, "everyday" massive taxing and regulatory powers, or by such liberty-destroying measures as a national ID card. If you conducted even a cursory search, I'm certain you would quickly come up with tens, hundreds and even thousands of further examples of government intrusion into areas of your life that you had erroneously believed were "private."

At the top of its Privacy page, EPIC highlights this statement:
"The right to be left alone -- the most comprehensive of rights, and the right most valued by a free people." -- Justice Louis Brandeis, Olmstead v. U.S. (1928)
I do not find the least bit of enjoyment in breaking the news to you, but I suppose someone must. In terms of liberty and freedom, the right to be left alone is the most precious value of all. Regardless of what happens with FISA, and even if FISA were abolished altogether, you lost that right decades ago.

And if it is up to the ruling class, you are not getting it back.