Friday, December 24, 2010

Chris Hedges, Marx and Climate Change

Okay, the day before Christmas is probably not the ideal time to be writing an important blog, I shouldn’t have announced it, but since I did, I’m posting it.

In The Death of the Liberal Class Chris Hedges faults the liberals,  i.e, the Democrats, for not resisting the siren calls of access to power or the seductions of the media.  He believes, as do I, that failure to respond to popular discontent will result in a right-wing revolt, as it did in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

“That this revolt will be funded, organized and manipulated by the corporate forces that caused the collapse is one of the tragic ironies of  history.  But the blame lies with the liberal class. Liberals, by standing for nothing, made possible the rise of inverted and perhaps soon classical totalitarianism.”

According to Sheldon Wolin, whom Hedges quotes, “inverted totalitarianism differs from classical forms of totalitarianism, which revolve around a demagogue or charismatic leader.  It finds its expression in the anonymity of the corporate state....The corporate forces behind inverted totalitarianism (neither replace decaying structures with new revolutionary structures (nor) offer a radical alternative. Corporate power purports to honor electoral politics, freedom and the Constitution, but (it) so corrupts and manipulates power as to make democracy impossible.”

Climate change is inseparable from inverted totalitarianism.  According to Hedges, the failure of the liberal class that it ‘sought consensus and was obedient when it should have fought back.  (It)continues to trumpet a childish faith in human progress.....the naive belief that technology will save us from ourselves.” The liberal class assumed that by working with corporate power, it could mitigate the worst excesses of capitalism and environmental degradation. It did not grasp, perhaps because liberals to not read enough Marx, the revolutionary and self-destructive nature of unfettered capitalism.”

I commend Hedges for using the M word without being openly or insidiously derogatory. Due to the extraordinary staying power of McCarthyism, Marx’s insights about capitalism and imperialism - however badly Soviet-style regimes turned out  - have been unable to penetrate the minds of well-meaning intellectuals.

Another thing I am grateful to Hedges for, is his recognition that Americans see themselves as a good people, and do not understand why the rest of the world sees us, at best, as dangerous. “American society, although it continues to use the traditional and sentimental iconography and language to describe itself....bears no resemblance to its self-image.  Corporate forces, whether in Copenhagen or the U.S. Congress, ignore the needs and desires of citizens” - not to mention those of the rest of the world.

Recognizing that corporate interests will not be defeated through elections,  Hedges offers several grim alternatives.  As the author of War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning , he comes out squarely against those in the anarchist movement who argue for violence. While admitting that there are times when humans are forced to respond to repression with violence, he warns that “when you ingest the poison of violence, even in a just cause, it corrupts, deforms and perverts you.”

Personally I have long been convinced that Obama was allowed to enter the White House in a tacit agreement with the Clinton Democrats that he not upset the apple cart.  According to Hedges: “The election of Obama was one more triumph of illusion over substance.  It was a skillful manipulation and betrayal of the public by a corporate power elite.  We mistook style and ethnicity - an advertising tactic pioneered by Clavin Klein and Benetton - for progressive politics and genuine change.  The goal of a branded Obama...was to make passive consumers mistake a brand for an experience.”

One of the most interesting comments in this work full of illumi-nating passages, is that “our passivity is due in part to our inability to confront the awful fact of extinction, our own inevitable mortality or that of the human species....We prefer illusion.” Predic-ting a global collapse Hedges believes that the only way to survive it will be by building small largely self-sufficient, self-contained com-munities with access to sustainable agriculture. But he warns: “As climate change advances, we will face a choice between obeying....the corporations and rebellion.” Civil disobedience and the systematic breaking of laws will be the new radicalism.

Finally, Hedges espouses another idea I have expressed in A Taoist Politics: Moral acts should be carried out not because they are effective, but because they are right, and I thank him for providing me with the hefty rationales of the Catholic Workers Movement for that principle.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Chris Hedges is Right!

Chris Hedges’ new book The Death of the Liberal Class should be mandatory reading for anyone who hopes that activism can still make a difference.  It is probably the best of his books, the work of a mature mind and a disciplined pen. When the book club I run read Empire of Illusion, published in 2009, its members accused Hedges of not providing solutions to the problems he exposed.  This time he does, and they are brutal.

Identifying hedonism, fear and distrust as the weapons of choice of a system that is too far gone to save, he faults the liberal class for having identified itself with power that is determined to ‘recreate the world through violence’.  In a powerful indictment of the media, academia and government officials, he describes the ‘Freudizing of society’: The belief that if our individual repressions can be removed - by confessing them to a Freudian psychologist - then we can adjust ourselves to any situation, and the world would no longer need to be changed.

Hedges harbors a particular - and justified! - animosity toward the press, which reduces news to ‘facts’, allowing the public’s emotions - which determine how they think -  to be manipulated by surveys and polls, where labels, celebrity gossip, angry rhetoric and syndicated columns replace local reports, town debates and other forms of popular expression.

Hedges traces the demise of committed journalism in the early twentieth century, noting how the shift “from hatred toward ‘the Hun’ to hatred toward the Red was seamless.” (Early propaganda tied communists to the German war machine, much as, today, the Tea Party lumps Communism and Fascism together.)

Those of us who criticized the right for lumping liberalism and socialism can learn from Hedges analysis of its evolution:

“The liberal class - buoyed by the rise of an independent press,  militant labor unions, workers’ houses, antipoverty campaigns, and the rising prosperity of the country bequeathed by the industrial revolution - embraced institutions, and especially the state, as tools for progress. This created a new form of liberalism that departed from ‘classical liberalism’. While the two belief systems shared some of the same characteristics including a respect for individual rights, the new liberal class was and remains distinctly utopian.’ It places its faith in practical state reforms to achieve a just society... (whereas) classical liberalism was colored by a healthy dose of skepticism about human perfectibility.”

Hedges’ disdain for intellectuals who have chosen to work within the system is boundless. He explores the influence of the Social Gospel movement, which he obviously admires as a former seminarian, and some of the best parts of the book are devoted to Dorothy Day and the movement she founded,  Malcolm X, and King who, according to Hedges, was much farther to the left than is commonly believed.

I interrupted this diary for lunch, but Hedges’ book provided a template for understanding the news on Democracy Now running on my computer: today, Wikileaks revealed U.S. pressure on European countries as well as the European Union itself to eliminate the barriers to genetically-modified seeds, and Amy Goodman’s guest scientist described laboratory studies on mice that vividly illustrated the corporate/government nexus that Hedges’ excoriates in his book. How to be surprised that out tax dollars allow our diplomats to strong-arm the rest of the world into buying Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds, even if they cause cancer and other damage to humans? In the same broadcast, various peace and pro-Palestinian activists told of getting ‘a knock on the door’ at seven a..m. from FBI agents armed with subpoenas to appear before a grand jury, or with authorizations to search their homes and cart away boxes of documents. One of them referred to the visitors as ‘the thought police’, because these activists are being investigated for their opinions.

I will return to Hedges’ book tomorrow. It is too long to accommodate my preference for writing relatively short posts, but I want to get this out: Hedges’ warnings that it may be too late for anyone to reverse the tide may strike some as exaggerated, but there is not a single point that I disagree with.

Tomorrow: Hedges talks about Marx and climate change.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bricks no Longer Refer to Dollars

With all the excitement over what the Lame Duck congress would or would not vote on or pass, a significant event has gone unremarked:  China and Russia, two of the four countries known as the BRICS  (Brazil, Russia, India, China), have begun to conduct their business in Euros rather than dollars.

I believe it was about two years ago the Vladimir Putin first mused publicly that the dollar was no longer suited to be the international currency and that it should be replaced by the euro.

Lately, there has been a lot of noise about China’s refusal to revalue the yuan.  Does this mean our financial experts have taken their eye off the ball, or that they believed they could indefinitely bury the news that two major players now prefer the euro to the dollar?

Every time I turn on a news channel I hear weighty discussions about the financial crisis, and every nuance of opinion as to how it may evolve.  I also hear about competitiveness, jobs being outsourced and a myriad of other considerations regarding the financial situation.  I’d like to hear someone opine on the likelihood of the euro replacing the dollar as the international means of payment across the board, as ever more countries take their cue from China.

That, rather than Senator McCain’s rants about DADT, would appear to be more relevant to United States security.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Apologies, Apologies - and a Question

Before anything else, I must apologize to Jullian Assange for identifying him as a Swede, and to Liu Xiaobo for identifying him as a ‘Chinaman’.  The first occured because Mr. Assange looks Swedish and doesn’t have an Australian accent.  Although I KNOW as well as anyone, that he’s Australian, the idea for the blog came to me as I was waking up, and somehow the half-asleep picture stuck.  As for Mr Xiaobo, I had no idea the word Chinamen was politically incorrect. Using the word ‘Chinese’ as a noun just doesn’t sound right to me, but I will henceforth.

Now that I have that embarrassing incident behind me, I have only one comment to make today and that is: Will not removing nuclear sanctions imposed on Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait be invoked by Iran to justify its on position on nuclear research for peaceful means?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Chinaman, the Cuban and the Swede

Almost simultaneously, a Chinese writer and activist, Liu Xiaobo received the Nobel Peace Prize, angering the Chinese government; the Cuban dissident, Guillermo Farinas was refused a Cuban exit visa to receive the European Union’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, and Jullian Assange was arrested in London for leaking damning American military and diplomatic cables. This is at once striking and in need of clarification: the peace prize and the free speech prize can be said to reflect the overall primacy of American interests on the part of the Nobel and the European Union. But one must suspect much more than that in the charging and arrest of Assange.

As I wrote in a previous blog, it is hard to believe that two Swedish prostitutes, knowing Assange’s work, would report him for failing to take an HIV test, unless prompted by the CIA. Secondly, I do not believe that a social-democratic Swedish govern-ment would do the United States’ bidding by extraditing Assange to face espionage charges that carry a threat of death.  But right now, Sweden has a Conservative government....

Back now to the remarkable coincidence: Farinas was and Liu is in jail in their respective countries for campaigning for human rights.  Assange is in jail in London for publishing communications thought to reveal military and diplomatic secrets involving the United States. I see these events as one more example of the common ground shared by rulers. These three men are speaking out against the politics of their country:The policies of the Chinese and Cuban governments, which affect mainly Chinese and Cuban citizens, are treated in the same way when denounced, as the policies of the American government that affect people worldwide. The fact that all governments use every means at their disposal to prevent the citizens of the world from disseminating unpalatable truths indicate that the leaders of the world not only use the same tools, but agree among themselves as to conduct they will tolerate from the planet’s inhabitants.

The good news is that citizens around the world are beginning to take matters into their own hands. As governments scramble to act to limit information emanating from Liu, Farinas and the highly organized Wikileaks, they must also combat the dozens of loosely organized grass roots groups that converged on Cancun, Mexico, last week for a U.N. follow-up conference on climate change.

As happened a year ago in Copenhagen, thousands of people who made the trip from around the world were cordoned off in an area far from the site of the official conference, with U.N. and Mexican employees ‘just doing their job’ of preventing activists from being heard.  (You can see this by watching the videos from on your computer.)

Not only do individual rulers stand together against the ruled, the United Nations, largely funded by the U.S. and the rest of the developed world, knows which side its bread is buttered on. It’s time for someone to start a campaign to elect Lula Ignazio da Silva, Brazil’s outgoing presi-dent, as the new Secretary General of the United Nations.  As seen on last Sunday’s 60 Minutes , the life-long activist and trade union leader explained his success with Brazil’s business class: “Do the obvious, which no one ever thinks of.”  In Lula’s case, that meant, for starters, paying poor families a stipend on condition they send their children to school and for vaccinations. This program reduced poverty by almost 30% during Lula’s first term as president.

The international community can go one of two ways: it can continue to bail out the leaking world boat with one had while clamping handcuffs on dissidents with the other; or it can reorganize the United Nations so that it becomes, effectively, the embryo of a world govern-ment, with the vastly increased powers to effectively deal with climate change and local conflicts.

The myriad people’s organizations that are endeavoring to serve as a shadow world government must unite to put Lula in the Secretary General’s chair. Ban ki Moon’s term will end on December 31, 2011, and there had never been a Latin American Secre-tary General. It’s time, and no political figure on the world scene enjoys the respect and popularity of Lula, a man who has proved he can get the rich to help the poor.

As long as the U.N. is the descendant of the organization sketched out by Roosevelt and Churchill in 1942, that was intended to maintain colonialism on the part of the great powers, it will not serve the needs of the twenty-first century, when colonies have given way to warring states, all of whom, whatever their form of government agree on one thing: dissent is to be suppressed.

Monday, December 13, 2010

John Boehner, Poster-child of Republican Indignation

John Boehner’s life story is all over the media now that he’s about to grab the House gavel. Boehner cries when he gets emotional, and one of the things he’s most emotional about is having reached the pinnacle of power, after ‘chasing the American dream” all his life. Watching him reminisce with Leslie Stahl on Sixty-Minutes last night was revealing for more significant reasons.

The genesis of Republican resistance to taxes was spelled out for us with each word. We know it in our bones now wonder why blue collar Americans voted the Republicans back in power, why some actually resent the health care bill.  They hope to achieve what John Boehner did.

Up from hard-scrabble, next eldest of twelve children who start work in their father’s bar by ten, Boehner served during Vietnam, but was discharged because of a bad back, worked his way through college for seven years, (no money from Dad with eleven other kids to feed), and got his first job in a small business company, which he eventually bought out.

Now comes the key point: as a businessman, Boehner gradually started making a decent amount of money; we don’t know how well or badly he paid his workers, let’s assume he was fair-minded because he knew where they were coming from; but he surely thought that being the owner meant a lot more money to take home. Finally. So when he looked at his first income tax return, he flipped: What?!  All that money to the government?  I’ve been working since I was ten, attended mass every morning, put myself through college, worked hard, played by the rules, and now I’m supposed to give my money away???!

A Democrat until then, Boehner promptly joined the Republican Party.  After all, what did government have to do with his achieving the American dream? He worked for what he got, his parents slept on a fold-out couch, the twelve kids were like a mini-army, each with his task, in a one-story house with two bedrooms.

It wasn’t only his family story that formed Boehner’s outlook: his typical Catholic public education gave him a patriotic view of American history (as opposed to Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States) and a cursory view of the Others, out there. It instilled the idea that we must defend the pursuit of happiness.  Not some French revolu-                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      tionary idea of liberte egalite fraternite that leads to mob rule, the storming of the Bastille, and the tumbrels to the guillotine. Here we respect power, the pinnacle of the American dream.

Here it’s every man for himself: the roads, the trains, the water-mains, are God-given. If it requires a few dedicated souls to defend our borders, they should do it gladly, like the Boehner kids helped out in the bar, because God gave us this land, it’s ours and we should be proud to defend it. The citizens being defended will hand out a few coins on Saturdays to the ones who also behaved, didn’t ask questions.

A few coins is all the Republicans are ready to give. They work hard for their money: the ones clever enough to get to Wall Street work hard figuring ways to make greasing the wheels for entrepreneurs like John Boehner benefit them too.

Figuring things out is work. Government employees just follow orders, sit in cushy offices shuffling papers that complicate the lives of the rest of us. Let them get out and hustle, that’s productive, that raises the GNP. Then they won’t always be raising taxes.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

By Request: About No-Growth

A Daily Kos reader asked me to say more about a reference in my last post to no-growth:

The idea of no-growth is big in France, and probably other European countries, where people are familiar with Marxist theories.  I see it as a kind of up-dating of Marx.

Two books that are available here are Farewell to Growth by Serge Latouche, at Polity Press and Ecologica, by Andre Gorz, at Seagull.

People like David Korten, the publisher of Yes! magazine and author of several mass market books on the economy, have not yet reached the point where they realize we need a no-growth policy, but they offer intel-ligent solutions for reforming the present system.

I believe the case for no-growth on a global level is the only sane solution to the ecological and energy crisis.  Andre Gorz, while a bit less immediately accessible, provides a very compelling argument based on the idea that the important thing is not who owns capital but what is done with it.  He also explains why ‘capitalism’ as an economic system requires growth, to the detriment of humans and the planet.

Arguments that have been taking place for some time between the United States mainly, and the developing world, center on leveling the playing field: we would ‘have’ less, so the rest of the world could reach a reasonable level of development.  We are, in fact, overdeveloped; we produce far too many things that no one spontaneously needs, but are foisted on us by advertising.  With a limit to how much the country’s population can consume, war becomes a necessity, to guarantee the return on capital.  See also, Andrew Bacevich’s Washington Rules about that.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Imagine! Cyber Wars INSTEAD OF Battlefields

In a belated salute to John Lennon, imagine we stop all death and destruction involving humans and duke it out on computer sites.

Hail to the hearty hackers who’ve taken on the powers that be in the only way they understand, by preventing them from move money around so that it rains one day and snows the next on the rest of us.

Wikileaks has been a long time coming  - at least since the days of McCarthy, when the American press was disabled for life.  All our precious sources of information, from The Nation, to In These Times, to Mother Jones etc. cannot do one tenth as much to move the world off dead center as the gzillions of leaked cables that put our noses in governments’ secrets.

My friends say: diplomacy is about lying and secrecy. Pace Machiavelli, it’s also supposed to be about solving mutual problems.

The most significant thing about the leaks is the extent of arm-twisting, blackmail, threat, and downright setting-up of allies by a United States bent on ruling the world to the everlasting glory of capitalism and imperialism.

Compared to what goes on behind our backs, at least the Somali Pirates are in the open. It’s time more people realized that each downtrodden group will use the weapons it has - and that they are right to use them since most of what is hurting them is taking place behind their backs - see no evil, hear no evil, don’t ask, don’t tell on a planetary scale.

Three cheers for the British students: there are too many highly educated people to fill the jobs capitalism has created for them, but a better way to avoid having an army of overqualified people is to cut the work day in half, meeting the climate challenge half-way by a hard left to a policy of no-growth.

Cancun’s follow-up to last year’s Climate Conference in Copen-hagan, was intended for no-show presidents and prime ministers, and consequently ignored by the world press (except for Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, it seems). Indigenous people did show up and were restricted to obscure locations, far from the crowd that wasn’t there.

A salute to the murky dealings brought to light by Assange and his cohort - heroes all - and to all those who have found new weapons to fight the darkness.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Is it About Assange's DNA?

The effort to entrap the founder and chief mischief maker of Wikileaks appears, on the surface, so ludicrous, that it must be part of a well-thought out plan, which can, I believe, be discovered by considering the recent leaks:

American diplomats are asked to obtain all sorts of apparently irrelevant information from everyone they meet, credit card numbers and DNA being the most obviously shocking.

Can’t you just see the CIA hatching this plot? Offer Assange a couple of women, get his DNA from them, and, to cap it all off, have him arrested for sexual molestation on the excuse that he didn’t wear a condom! (This is against the law in Sweden.)  The charges enunciated today by BBC online (which to my knowledge has never mentioned the Swedish law or its infringement by Assange, tut, tut!) appear to be typical legal ways of describing one and the same act: one count of rape, one of unlawful coercion and two counts of sexual molestation.

I’m not an investigative reporter.  I hope those qualified in this domain will follow the lead - or leaks - to discover what the CIA plans to use people’s DNA for: that’s sinister.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Assange’s ‘Crime’: See Wikileaks Revelations

I wanted to write this yesterday but a manuscript took precedence. Too bad for my reputation as seer.

Can anyone aware of the revelations on U.S. behavior doubt that Assange is being framed?  Today it turns out that one of the women who ‘accuse’ him of having sex without a condom has ties to the FBI.....

Can anyone believe that a modern Swedish woman would wake up after sex and denounce her partner instead of insisting on protection before?

You'd think the government would worry about looking ridiculous by hatching such a stupid plot. But the leaked evidence of its activities all over the world against all sorts of individuals, simple citizens or leaders, suggests it will never learn.

The question is:  Will we?

P.S. To find out what’s happening at the Cancun Conference on Climate Change, which most news organizations are boycotting, watch Amy Goodman on your computer at  The U.S. is not participating: too busy  chasing Assange no doubt.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Peoples are Angry, the Kings are Weak and the Princes Circle the Wagons

The Peoples are Angry, the Kings are Weak and the Princes Circle the Wagons

The only way to approach the current buildup of conflicting events that risk ending in worldwide catastrophe is by telling it like it is: a fairy tale.

Not the people of one country or one king, but the peoples of the world are, for their separate and related reasons, all angry: in most place they take to the streets: in the United States having been taught that their only recourse is the ballot box, the majority have been left powerless by the 2010 election.

The Kings rule the world under various titles: President, Prime Minister, First Secretary of a party, Mullah, Ayatollah: they know why the People are angry, but can do nothing about it, for they have ceded their power to the Princes.

The Princes are CEOs, Sheiks, Army Generals and Drug Lords, who either possess or manipulate the world’s weapons, ranging from explosive devices to drones. They circle the wagons being ostensibly driven by the Kings, waiting for them to fall from the driver’s seat.

In the United States, a minority of the People work to topple the Kings from the drivers’ seats, believing the Princes will be better rulers.

Other minorities come together in large groups around the world: Copenhagen, Cancun, Detroit, Rio, particularly in the annual World Social Forum usually held to coincide with the G8 or G20, the liberal economic forums attended by Kings and Princes.

The Kings and Princes keep warm inside fortified castles, while the people in the streets wrap themselves in the new weapon: solidarity.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The World is Angry

Wikileaks’ latest installment of incriminating inter-governmental communications comes just in time - perhaps - to wake governments up to their citizens’ anger.

‘The People’ are angry from England to South Korea and every-where in between, east and west, north and south. The anger has  dif-ferent targets, but it all boils down to the same issue: the leaders of the world, meaning governments and business, have dug us into a hole, and they have neither the will nor a clue how to get us out.

British students riot because they might have to pay $15,000 a year for college tuition.  (Our Ivy League parents only wish the bill were so low.)  The Irish (of the Republic of Ireland) just got a bailout from the European Union,  the latest country to discover that you cannot imitate the American way without consequences.  Before that there was Iceland, and waiting in the wings are Portugal, Spain, and Italy.  Recently bailed out Greece is being told it might have to pay a higher interest. All over Europe, workers and students are fighting budget cuts in the streets: strikes in China are less visible to the outside world.

During the Cold War what frightened people and governments alike was the threat of a nuclear attack.  Who would have thought that could be surpassed by anything?  Yet twenty years after the collapse of the Evil Empire, we’re not fighting the Jedi of an imaginary world, but our very own climate.

Are Kim Jon Il’s antics related to his realization that climate change might inundate his island realm?  At any rate, North Korea isn’t the only country behaving like there are no consequences when it attacks real estate in the South: When Wikileaks exposes the orders to U.S. diplomatic personal, including those at the U.N., to get DNA and credit card numbers from people, you know for sure that our leaders have spent more time watching reality TV than getting Ph.Ds.

World government, anyone?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Are Syria’s Protestants Being Persecuted because of C Street?

I know my readers are not foreign policy wonks but here’s something they might want to ponder:

This week’s Economist reports that although Syria is a secular country where all religions are welcome, the government has been telling foreigners serving Protestant churches it will not renew their visas.  The reason?  The churches have been proselytizing.

Reading Jeff Sharlet’s book C Street I would bet anything this isn’t so much about religion as it is about politics:  Members of (sic) The Family as the politicians who frequent the Washington house on C Street call themselves, travel a great deal at government expense to foreign countries for the purpose of influencing leaders to ‘accept Jesus without denying Mohamed'.

This is a really kooky idea, but it’s for real. The Ugandan government recently passed a draconian law against homosexuals, who now risk prison and even death as repeat ‘offenders’.  If you wonder why American legislators should be fingered, and don’t have time to read the book, read Sharlet’s article Junkets for Jesus in the November/December issue of Mother Jones.

Then if you hear about Syria’s ‘crackdown’, you’ll know that it’s because some governments are less willing than others to have their policies come under the influence of Protestant fundamentalists.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Why Republicans Wont Compromise

Republicans’ determination not to compromise has many wondering why they would do something that risks pushing the country deeper into the hole. It doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that the reason for their behavior may be worse than suspected.

For the last few days Dylan Ratigan has been saying that the government does the bidding of six major corporations, but he fails to elaborate.  I will take a stab at that. Consider the recent Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to pour as much money as they want into politics.  Add the more recent news that unidentified foreign money is being used by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to fund elections, and add the fact that U.S. jobs continue to be outsourced to foreign countries.

There is a reason why the Republicans - and to some extent the Demo-crats, who are part of the system - are stabbing American workers in the back: in the context of the global financial crisis, global corporations are no longer doing business the way they used to: to maintain global corporate bottom lines, jobs must be spread around the globe, even if American workers get hurt.

I believe that the influx of foreign capital into our Chamber of Commerce is the corporate world’s way of thanking American politicians for allowing jobs to continue to be lost at home so that more can be created abroad.

Not only does the interest of corporations not correspond to the that of American workers. It does not contribute to maintaining the planet’s ability to sustain humans. We need to reduce greenhouse gases to miti-gate climate change before it’s too late. This requires implementing a policy of de-growth in the industrialized world in order to bring the entire world to a ‘sufficient’ rather than extravagant level of development.

Two books worth reading on the idea of ‘sufficiency’, that favors citizens well-being rather than corporate profits are Ecologica, by Andre Gorz and Farewell to Growth by Serge Latouche.

Until these ideas enter the mainstream, not only the U.S. but the entire world will be doing the bidding of its corporations.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Word for Dems: We Did NOT Win the Cold War!

As Congress gears up for the fight to defend the half-baked health care program Obama was able to get past the insurance companies, it’s important for Americans to know that we did not win the Cold War.  By the latter half of the twentieth century, the competition for Third World allies was over, and the two superpowers had ceased to build up their obscene hoards of arms.  If you think about it, the fight with the Soviet Union boiled down to conflicting opinions on the role of government.

By the time Mikhail Gorbatchev became First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, the regime had long since ceased to be monolithic. In 1986, he introduced perestroika “the development of democracy, socialist self-government, encouragement of initiative and creative endeavor, utmost respect for the individual and consideration for personal dignity." Two years later he introduced glasnost, or openness and transparency in the activities of all government institutions, together with freedom of information. Following upon these two major reforms, the transformation of the Soviet Union from a centrally-planned economy under one-party to something approaching a Western-style democracy was inevitable.

The United States is thirty years behind, just beginning to admit that there are different views of the proper role of government. It might never have done so had it not been for the half-baked health care program that President Obama was able to win from the insurance com-panies. Yet polls and reports tell us that Americans are the only civilized people on the face of the earth who would prefer to pay exorbitant sums for their health care rather than see it as a major item in the nation’s bud-get, alongside war and education.

A few courageous politicians such as Dennis Kucinich or Russ Feingold have dared to suggest that health care is a right, not a privilege.  They need to let the American people know that an overwhelming majority of the world’s people want their health care to be financed through taxes to their government, who pays the bills, rather than having to go into hock to do so individually.

Unlike for-profit companies, the government has every incentive to keep you healthy at the least cost. It was inevitable that the centralized Soviet system would eventually collapse under the weight of its own inefficiencies, but none of the countries liberated from Soviet rule has embraced for-profit health care.  (China did, and is now trying to correct its mistake.) When a capitalist system is no longer based on the production and sale of goods but on fictitious money with nowhere to go, it too collapses, as we are witnessing.

We should not wait for China to present us with the bill to start creating a different system, in which capital is regulated by government so that it once again serves a useful purpose.

People around the world who do not benefit from single-payer health care wish they did. Only Americans believe the fairy tale that if government is in charge, terrible things will happen to you. We need to realize that government and private sector employees being inter-changeable, government can be as innovative and efficient as Microsoft.

As long as Americans believe that we ‘won’ the Cold War, i.e., the dispute over the role of government, it will be difficult for politicians to confess that we are the only developed country that has not embraced some form of social democracy. This is also a ‘mixed economy’, in which the private sector is regulated and government makes sure everyone has a decent standard of living. It quite naturally involves some form of cradle to grave single-payer health care for all, with fancy private care as an option.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Cuba, Haiti, Rachel Maddow and The American Taliban

Last night Rachel Maddow gave a stunning example of her analytical and didactic powers. Her lesson on how falsehoods are generated and ampli-fied by each successive commentator on the ultra right circuit should be taught in every social studies class.

Of course, it won’t.  Nor will students receive any useful information as to the proper role of government when they learn about Haiti’s triple whammy: first, last January’s earthquake, then floods, and now cholera.

Bill Clinton has been leading the Haitian relief effort, but he believes that getting the rubble out of Port au Prince eight months after the earthquake is an accomplishment, since it allows access to the tourist hotels that have been built while Haitians survive in tents.

There’s a visible gradation from the right’s outright lies, to the center’s blind-sided focus, to the valiant afternoon and evening news anchors at MSNBC, who still cannot bring themselves to pronounce the word social democracy, even when they could point out that it has nothing in common with national socialism, which is another word for fascism, and is the way the right describes Obama’s government.

Please, Ed Schultz, leave your hot buttons alone for a while and give your listeners some food for thought:  Haiti has been a United States pawn for the last hundred years.  Cuba has a fifty-year-old communist regime. Haiti’s few can fly to the U.S. if their homes perish in an earthquake, but even with international aide, the many are left indigent.

The story on neighboring Cuba is very different: No matter how many deprivations Cubans have suffered, in part because they would not give an inch to their powerful northern neighbor, even the dissident are glad they’re not Haitians. However meager the rations, when disaster strikes the government takes responsibility. It is able to do so because during their fifty years of defiance the Cubans have trained medical staff, built hospitals, and organized block by block to ensure the safety of all.

America’s internal enemies would take us back to a time when a popu-lation equal to that of Chicago today, had an area one-tenth the size of the lower forty-eight to do their thing in. They didn’t need income tax (although the government assessed one as early as 1862 because, unlike present governments, it didn’t think it could pay for war without one).  Carriages rode over dirt roads, there was no such thing as a life ‘saved’ by chemistry; most daily necessities were made or grown at home.

The Tea Party wants us to fight terrorism while being left alone by govern-ment. Maybe the militias in our northern woods plan to build a few gunships and sail over to Pakistan via India to take on the Taliban?

As Markos Moulitsas emphasizes in American Taliban , American fundamentalists and the Taliban are culturally in synch.  Maybe our Taliban fighters will get used to doing without television while they’re at it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

More on Guerillas and Presidents

Two things come to mind on this post-election morning: how many of the newly elected Republicans are Tea Partiers?  Maybe they’ll tell us by the end of the day, but the worried took on John Boehner’s face as he announced that they were just going to have to cooperate with the Democrats can only mean that it’s not the president’s party he’s worried about, but his new troops.

While we wait with baited breath to see how far the Tea Party is going to carry its threats to ‘take back the country’, we can usefully reflect on how things are happening elsewhere.  As I wrote yesterday, a former Marxist guerilla was just elected president of the most powerful country in Latin America. This didn’t happen under any kind of martial law: the Worker’s Party has been in office for the last eight years, under Lula da Silva, one of the most respected politicians on the planet.

So what does this mean?  It means the United States always wants things to happen their way, right away.  The Soviet Union lasted some seventy years, and for most of that time provided the excuse for a never-before-seen military buildup on our part - as our cities went to pot and our education scores went down.

The former Soviet Union - now known, for all practical purposes as Russia - has become an oligarchy with elections, kind of like watered down ice-cream with whipped cream, that cooperates with us against a common enemy: radical Islam.

Does anybody honestly believe there is a fundamental difference between Marxist guerillas and Islamic fundamentalists - other than the whipped cream?  Let’s be real: communism is about worker control of the economy so that workers can get a fair shake. Socialism is about democratic control of the economy which is better than corporate state capitalism at giving everybody a fair shake.  Islamic fundamentalism, depending on the brand, is first and foremost about evicting a foreign culture from Islamic lands (Al Qaeda); secondly it’s about achieving a fair shake for the Palestinians who have been pushed aside by Israel (Hamas, Hezbollah, with the support of Iran); and covering all that like a lot of whipped cream is the desire of ordinary Muslims for a better life, especially if they are Shi’a Muslims, who revere Ali, who like the Prophet was for the little guys.

Tribal or ethnic pride - as in places like Sri Lanka and Africa - disappears as a cause of conflict when people are moving up in the world.  The idea that by bringing development to the world, the United States would ensure peace was not far off the mark: but its methods were.

What happened in Brazil? When you have a military dictatorship, the only thing  you can do to get rid of it is take to the woods with a gun. Once the military were ousted, activists like Dilma Rousseff could work for greater equality through politics. Lula Ignacio da Silva first stood for the presidency in 1989, not winning it until 2002. Coincidentally, American involvement in Brazilian politics was considerable up until the election of da Silva, when Brazil achieved real independence from the United States.

Am I suggesting that the Muslim countries could follow the Brazilian path to social-democratic government? Of course not :no two apples are not the same, much less apples and oranges. What I am suggesting is that in our impatience, we want to see the entire world become like us - which we think is the best way to be. (It also suits our corporate-military complex to have an outlet for their products. As I mentioned in a previous blog, Oliver Stone’s recent film South of the Border shows Nestor Kirchner the recently deceased former president of Argentina telling how George W Bush assured him that the way to economic progress was through war.)

But getting back to the Muslim world (over a billion people out of a total of six plus billion), Indonesia passes for democratic, but there is terrorist activity there; Saudi Arabia is fighting Al Qaeda at home and in Yemen, across its southern border; if the Taliban return to power in Afghanistan following a negotiated settlement of the war that is draining our budget, they are likely to prevent girls from going to school again.

On the other hand, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan have modern economies, the former has too many minorities to be successfully governed for any length of time, the second relies on a strong central government under Baath (socialist) rule, while Jordan has been ruled since independence from Britain by an enlightened hereditary monarch with strong ties to the United States and Israel.

So where am I going with this lesson in political geography?  I’m saying that countries and polities evolve in their own good time, according to their traditions and history: our interventions don’t make them evolve sooner or ‘better’: all humans want a fair shake from their own govern-ments. However, ‘modernity’ is very frightening to some, especially macho fundamentalists, whether in the U.S. or the Muslim world.  At the same time modernity brings awareness of more ‘things’ to more people, who then want development.

The Taliban may succeed for another generation in preventing women from leaving the house, but eventually they too will have to give in to the overwhelming influence of the outside world. Except for America’s right-wing fanatics, everyone in the world wants government-funded health care, even the Taliban, whose one claim to popularity is that they set up free clinics - like the Marxist guerrillas.......

The rest of the world has been moving forward without us for quite some time, (a few commentators are beginning to admit it if you listen closely).  There will be more Dilma Rousseff’s, and how they get from guerilla to president should not concern us.  Let’s worry, rather, here at home, about the Tea Party’s stated agenda of taking us back to colonial times. Brazil lifts millions out of poverty with family payments dependent only upon children attending school, while we are headed for a regime that wants to close down the Department of Education and do away with Social Security.  But perhaps we need not fear returning to the days of American isolationism, because three hundred years after that policy was enunciated, the Western Hemisphere is likely to become one big entity under Latin American rule.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Mid-Terms' Supreme Irony

By now it would be trite to say that from watching our airwaves for the last month, Americans can scarcely be aware of the wider world.

But one coincidence seems particularly ironic: while we are hoping against hope that our country will not be delivered into the hands of right-wing fanatics (as Marcos Moulitsas correctly analyses them in American Taliban, just out at PoliPointPress), the largest country in Latin America and undisputed leader of the BRIC countries that also include Russia, India and China,  rejoices over the election of a female president who was once not a witch, but a Marxist guerilla.

The daughter of a Bulgarian immigrant and a schoolteacher, Dilma Rousseff was jailed and tortured by the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985. She went on to study economics, but most of her energies were invested in Brazil’s long political fight.  After serving as President Lula da Silva’s Minister of Energy, she became his Chief of Staff in 2005, and Sunday was voted President of a country roughly the size of the United States, with the fifth largest population of the world.

While many Americans want to ‘take their country back’ to the time when average life expectancy was about fifty, when there were no iphones or ipads, no TV, no movies, no cars or planes and it took weeks to cross the Atlantic, Brazil, a country forty percent of whose population is of mixed origins, has elected its second Workers’ Party president.

Lula da Silva, the outgoing two-term president, has been called the most popular leader in the world, and I personally think he should be the next U.N. Secretary General. To our own president’s dismay, Lula is not only a major figure in the new Union of South American States, he negotiates worldwide, including with Iran’s Ahmedinejad.

Perhaps if Obama had sided with the Lula’s and Dilmas of this world, as the popular force that brought him to the White House wanted him too, Americans could be climbing up from darkness, instead of facing what could well turn out to be a right-wing coup.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Why Progressives Can't Make you Act, Mr. President

Franklin Roosevelt’s injunction to progressives in 1933: “Now Make Me!” has never been so oft cited. It worked, but that was then.

'Then’ was before McCarthy, the atom bomb, ‘containment’ transformed into an arms’ race; before the Civil Rights Movement and Roe vs. Wade. Before Richard Viguerie, Karl Rove and the Koch brothers. Before senators and commentators had so often repeated the words “A strict interpretation of the Constitution”, or  “a strict Constitutionalist”, that people with limited schooling began to take those words literally.

With all the things the progressive movement made Roosevelt do for the working class (social security tops the list), you chose to follow him in a direction that helped eliminate that movement for the next sixty years: in the 1930s, the famed muckraking writer Upton Sinclair decided to put his money where his mouth was and run for governor of California. He won the primary, but according to Greg Mitchell writing recently in The Nation,  FDR withheld his endorsement because, "he believed the greatest challengefor the head of a democracy was not to fend off reactionaries but to reconcile and unite progressives.”

Similarly, your priority was to cajole cooperation from a Republican Party determined, for its part, to see that you are a one-term president.  Obsessed with this goal, Republicans allowed themselves to be co-opted by a movement that takes 'strict constitutionalism" literally, naively believing the country could be run according to a document written two hundred years ago, for a different world.

In Roosevelt’s day, the progressive movement provided a vibrant foil to the designs of the country’s reactionaries. After Roosevelt dared to recognize the USSR as it tried to ‘build socialism’, fear that similar remedies would be applied to the dire situation of the American economy convinced most Americans that socialism was a dirty word, like death and taxes.

And yet, since Roosevelt’s death at the end of the Second World War, the countries that have consistently been among the top performers in health, education and general quality of life, are those that have combined entrepreneurship with government-administered education and welfare. We see French workers take to the streets when they do not agree with their government.  But few Americans know that top administrative ranks are filled by graduates of the Ecole Nationale d'Administration, as elite a school as you will find anywhere, founded by Napoleon.

By now many Americans realize that the country's options are painfully limited without the rehabilitation of government-led regulation and solidarity.  Yet since the days of the  Pilgrims they have clung to the absurd belief that government is our greatest enemy - a necessary evil.  By worshipping an eighteenth century revolt against tyranny, reformers have cut themselves off from twenty-first century solutions to the problem of equity.

The war Roosevelt took us into, craftily, some say, but necessarily, was the opening salvo of a confrontation between two philosophies of governance: corporate fascism and a no less tyrannical communism. Distracted by the extremes, Americans have never been allowed to understand that the struggle is not between government and citizens, but between the few and the many.  As a result, the most powerful country on earth has been deprived of solidarity, not from a lack of means, but from a collective failure of nerve on the part of opinion-makers. Even the most outspoken broadcasters, whether mainstream such as MSNBC or ikons of the alternative media such as Amy Goodman, have not allowed themselves to use the ‘s’ word. The entire progressive community has painted itself into a corner, whence it tries (unsuccessfully) to foil attacks by crying out: “Of course we’re not talking about socialism!”

Their pusillanimity has been as decisive to the rise of the Tea Party as Sarah Palin.  And by commandeering both the word socialism and the word fascism, the Tea Party has killed two birds with one stone: the progressive movement is barred from defending civilized govern- ment, and simultaneouly, from warning Americans that a right-wing revolution could become reality.  Whatever the outome of this election, in an eerie echo of the nineteen-thirties, the brutal few are poised to take over.

Mr President, it’s time for you to explain the eternal struggle between the few and the many to Americans, and liberate progressives so they can make you do what they made Roosevelt do: choose the civilized many over the brutal few.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Haiti has New Hotels - and Cholera

I’m glad former President Bill Clinton is going all-out to boost Democratic participation in the mid-term election, but a few weeks ago in a short interview about the reconstruction in Haiti after January’s devastating earthquake, he was pleased to announce that the rubble had finally been cleared from the streets of Port au Prince and that “I have several hotels”.

Clinton was obviously referring to his personal efforts to encourage donors to rebuild the Haitian capital, not to private possessions. The interview was cut short after those brief words, probably by a technician or jour-nalist who foresaw that more on the subject would be damaging to Clinton’s image.

What alert listener could avoid the obvious question: “Why are hotels more important than hospitals?”

Our media never mentions the 400 Cuban doctors who have worked in Haiti for years, and we don’t know how long the relief doctors remained on the island or what the overall health situation is ten months after the quake. What we do know now is that - according to a Fox News report that came up when I Googled the subject - 140 people have died and 1500 are seriously ill, in an area outside of Port au Prince. The worry is that the epidemic could spread to the thousands living in the capital’s tent cities.

What can you expect, when you build hotels instead of health-saving infrastructures?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

In My Mailbox, the Government’s Wastebasket

More and more I’m wondering why we pay for a Postal Service. It started out in Ben Franklin’s time, authorized under the US Constitution. Since it was losing money, in 1983 it was reorganized as an independent organization, charged with becoming self-sufficient. Since then it has not directly received taxpayer-dollars, however it has received subsidies for costs associated with the disabled and overseas voters. Currently, it is borrowing money from the U.S. Treasury to pay its deficits.

With the increased usage of email, the postal service has had to look to other sources of revenue while cutting costs. Most mail now consists of requests for contributions from NGOs. We can assume that much other unsolicited mail, such as catalogues, result from a vigorous sales campaign on the part of the USPS.

But it’s worth mentioning that many civil organizations, such as the Sierra Club, Oxfam, Save the Children, Habitat for Humanity, are doing work that in other countries is done by government. Of course, government watchdog groups such as Amnesty Now, or the ACLU, are not going to be run by the government. But overall, the result is that not only do Americans pay taxes, they also make contributions to innumerable ‘causes’, AND put in time as volunteers.

If predictions for the mid-term elections are any indication of American satisfaction with government, in particular active government, or what the Republicans and Libertarians call tax and spend government, there is a fundamental disjuncture here: one can defend it by affirming that Americans want to decide for themselves what causes to defend. Many of Americans who perhaps do not support the ACLU may contribute many volunteer hours to the Rotary Club.

But having recognized that, is this not an illustration of the basic inequality that constitutes the foundation of our society. Should people choose the charities they support, or should government represent the common solidarity of all its citizens toward each other and toward the planet that is our home?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Open Letter to Bob Woodward, cc Joseph Stiglitz

As the most famous contemporary journalist, you expose the inner secrets of our government. I am wondering why you do not investigate the link between American jobs being shipped overseas, and donations to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce from foreign corporations.

I have a hard time believing that these two situations are unrelated. Personally, I believe Americans have to share the work that exists worldwide with workers from other countries. But I am not hearing that conviction offered as justifi-cation for shipping our jobs abroad.

Could it be that there is an understanding between the leaders of the United States and the rest of the world - whether they head capitalist regimes or not - that we agree to spread the work in return for their financial support of our economy, whose collapse would bring the rest of the world down with it?

Without a spectacular revelation that only you can provide of what may be happening, leaders will not be able to tell American workers the truth. They will continue promising to ‘fight for American jobs’, knowing full well this is not in the cards.

Please release our leaders from their captivity to a false narrative so that they can legislate true reform: job sharing. Instead of calling for an increase in the retirement age, let them promise early retirement with full benefits for those who voluntarily give their job to a younger worker. Instead of eight hours a day, allow them to explain that four hours would suffice, because there is more capital floating around in the world than profitable use for it. (Be sure to emphasize the difference between ‘profits’ and investments in schools, medical care for all, green energy, etc. And while you’re at it, suggest that we don’t need more ‘stuff’, but more time for joy.)

We’ve been deriding or condemning Europe ever since the French Revolution. As a last favor, I ask that you reveal the work of the European no-growth movement. Make sure the public and its would-be masters understand that the planet will survive no matter what we do to it, but humanity may not.

Each generation has its problems, and we must not hold future generations hostage to our fears. During the Cold War many chanted “Better Red than Dead”, and today the bogeyman is Sharia law. We need to stop worrying about who will rule the planet and make sure it remains hospitable to humans. Job sharing across the world will enable us to do that, and it will enable our children to find their own rulers and laws.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Incredible Docility of the American Left

As France takes to the streets for the nth time to protest a rise of two years in the retirement age (they currently retire at 60...), progressive Americans gathered in various cities yesterday, including Washington, to affirm their determination to put aside their disappointments, and give the Democrats another chance to prove that they represent the people.

Why do Americans rally, while Europeans demonstrate? The difference is crucial.
Americans desirous of change gather together to listen to well-known figures tell them what they already know. (This follows thousands of meetings across the country where activists do the same thing, but in smaller numbers. There may be slight points of disagreement among featured speakers as to which cause is more important, or how best to achieve the goal of a more just society, but essentially, these events consist of preaching to the choir.)

If this were Europe, which I know well, after a couple of months of choir meetings, people would be out on the streets with banners flying, megaphones blaring, and very little traffic moving across entire cities. Europe doesn’t need general strikes anymore, because the same effect can be had by just having a lot of people make a lot of public noise.

In America, union busting began as soon as unions appeared in the nineteenth century - setting the stage for muscled interventions in the Philippines and underdeveloped countries closer to home. Eventually, as technology gave up ever more of its secrets to man’s subliminal desire to dominate the Other we launched drone attacks on the civilians of a government we’re not officially at war with.

Our soldiers, ordered to carry out atrocities or risk becoming victims at the hands of their own, return home broken in body and spirit - to face a Congress that cavils over their care - until the suicides become embarrassing.

President Obama may be able to work his magic again in the mid-term elections, but until his base gets really fired up - enough tomarch from the Mall to the White House and the Congress-on-a-Hill, Americans will remain without not-for-profit, comprehensive health care (referred to in newspeak as ‘single-payer’), making war wherever the interests of its corporate masters are in danger.

How did this state of affairs come about? The opprobrium of ‘mob rule’ that attached to the bloody French Revolution has pre-vented Americans from taking literally their own Declaration of Independence which states: “Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of (the pursuit of life liberty and happiness), it is the citizens’ right, it is their duty, to throw off such a government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”

Instead, American progressives can only murmur disapproval when Tea Party candidates threaten to resort to ‘Second Amendment rights’, which owes its existence to the need for a militia with which to defend against the Briitsh, but which they claim allows every citizen to carry a gun with which potentially to eliminate leaders they resent.

Europe is criticized for ‘instability’, governments rising and falling according to the ‘whim’ of the electorate. Ours is touted as superior because it has ‘checks and balances’ which, with the help of the Supine Court, are as mobile as European parliamentary majorities. At least in Europe, the ‘mob’ keeps governments on their toes - and able, as the charts show - to better recover from American-led financial follies than we are.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Worst Inequality

As we head toward the mid-term elections, progressives will wring their hands in vain until some of its fat cats put their money where their inner beliefs are, breaking the spell of Seditions Acts, HUAC, (think McCarthy), and un-Ameri-canism.

As the Tea Party gobbles up what’s left of the Republican Party, Goebbels would be proud. At first it seemed that the Palin-inspired movement would declare itself a Third Party, with good chances of winning elections as an emanation of one of the two established parties. Either because they didn’t believe a third party could win, or because they feared it just might this time, the leaders of the Grand Old Party, caved and joined the rebels.

Why can progressive democrats not respond? How much cour-age does it take to declare loud and clear that this country needs less flag-worship and more social-democracy; that we fail at our peril to join the rest of the civilized world in recognizing that freedom must go with responsibility, that creativity is not impeded by solidarity? As fascism rears it ugly head, neck and arms, our loudest, most desperate voices, such as Chris Hedges and Curtis White, can only rail hyperbolically at the powerlessness of the many to effectively demand that we turn this ship around: apparently, Soros, Gates, and other philanthropes believe money can buy immunity from witch-hunting. By failing to lead the people, they break the chain Che Guevara referred to when he told me, with that tone of patient exasperation that was his specialty: “Its always been the bourgoisie that has made revolutions.” Our top-of-the-line apparently believes luck will protect them, when freedom to speak and to write disappears, and their wealth is comman-deered for whatever folly the Tea Party decides that God - ‘our God’ - commands. Yet they have been complicit in the failure of the press to combat a 70 year-old court decision that jour-nalists may not belong to a union. After firing a reporter for taking the workers’ side in his writing, the Associated Press was able to impose the following principle:

The reporter’s job is to present facts as an objective observer, avoiding partisanship....News can only be presented to the public with objectivity if newspaper owners are free to choose those it deems best qualified to report and present the facts.

In other words, journalists must have no opinions, much less an ideological preference, for then they would no longer be objective. They must disregard family environment, their conscience and convictions in order to present the facts ‘objectively’. Generations of journalists have been trained in this ethic - in turn training the public to believe that objectivity really exists.

And yet, aside from the human factors, four other things make true objectivity impossible. First, choices are made throughout the publishing process: What news will be covered? Who will be assigned to twhat? How much space will each story be granted, what page will it be on, will there be a picture? etc., etc. Obviously the most important thing in all this is not the fact that these constraints exist, but the journalist’s and the public’s failure to recognize that they affect objectivity.

Second, the paper - or the news channel - relies on investors and advertisers. The media having become less a purveyor of news than of advertising, the information it carries must not contradict the opinions of its advertisers - or shareholders.
Third, as governments and companies become increasingly adept at constructing events, the line between news and propaganda is fatally blurred. Last but certainly not least, the media loves to amplify the importance of passing events without explaining the processes which led to them. They never tells us why other people attack us - or refuse to do our bidding - providing carte blanche to the military-industrial complex to continue its deadly business. See Andrew Bacevich’s latest book: Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War.

Can wealthy progressives still tip the balance by funding mass media with a different message? One thing is certain, they will not be able to ward off the coming fascist state by organizing protests, because progressive protestors lack the ideological education and tradition of workers’ rights required to command attention. The Democratic base needs a crash course in the history of democratic worker’s rights, and their implementation in the social democratic countries which are our allies. Only then will they be able to stand up to the Tea Party and its selective and often erroneous interpretation of our two-hundred year Constitution.

The worst inequality is ignorance. In the end, it’s always about fairness. The American tradition calls for freedom to pursue happiness, while the rest of the world wants liberty, equality and solidarity. Not only Communists, but many Muslims as well, in particular those inspired by the original martyr, Mohammed’s cousin Ali, whom the Shi’a worship and the Sufi dance to.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Media as Watchdog

This week’s recall of thousands of salmonella-tainted eggs is proof that the media is anything but a watchdog.

Two years ago, in the film "Food, Inc", Eric Schlosser, author of "Fast Food Nation", and Michael Pollan, author of "The Omnivore’s Dilemma", were featured by director Robert Kenner in a brutal expose of the deleterious practices of the food industry.

In one of the most disturbing segments of the film we see chickens crammed together in cages, hardly able to move, their feces dropping through the wire floor into spaces rarely cleaned. The buildings holding the chickens are hundreds of feet long, lit day and night, and dead birds are left to rot for days before anyone comes by to check on things.

Two years after a documentary vividly laid out the facts about industrial farming, the mainstream media is finally forced to report them because its practices have made large numbers of people sick - not to mention the money being lost by those having to recall their eggs.

This morning, a week after the recall of thousands of salmonella tainted eggs, CNN finally turned to Eric Schlosser and Dr. John Boyd, Founder and President of the National Black Farmers Association, who is a chicken farmer, for “insights” into this shocking state of affairs.

Alas, the excellent medical reporter Elizabeth Cohen, instead of being allowed to add her expertise on salmonella to the information provided by the chicken farmer, is there to exonerate the industry, pointing out that it is more difficult to be on top of things in industrial-size farms.

Instead of using the ‘teachable moment’ to suggest that industrial production of eggs is a bad idea, as eloquently demonstrated by a serious film two years ago, and explained today by the small producer and the investigative reporter, the message of the news channel that reaches into every household, is that salmonella is a minor matter compared to the (supposed) benefits of big agriculture.

The drill is the same for questions of war and peace - notably, this week, the growing threat of violence in our own streets over the building of a Muslim Community Center that will house a mosque. No meaningful information about Islam, its roots, its history, its brilliant scholars, etc.

But under the enlightening morning news features, the tiny crawler announced that Levi Johnson has filed papers to run for mayor of Wassila.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Puck the Magic Dragon or Willie the Woolly Mammoth?

The swirl of speculation, invective and silliness reached truly epic proportions this week, hence my title.

The idea is this: Can President Obama magically instill the fear of a dragon in Republicans bent on destroying the republic, or will a credulous, untutored America, like the Woolly Mammoth that required grasslands when climate change brought forest, lumber into extinction?

The back cover of the September issue of In These Times presents a tale that everyone should read: “The Manchurian President: Chicago’s Commie Liberal Puppet” by Chip Berlet. The title evokes McCarthyism for good reason. As Berlet says for openers: “America is in the midst of a 21st century witch hunt. A loose-knit network of right-wing ideological strategists, Republican Party operatives and media demagogues generate the odious smears. Their goal is to stymie the Obama administration’s policy initiatives, capture Congress in November and unseat President Barack Obama in 2012. This propagandizing echoes the scapegoating of liberals, union and community organizers, peace activists, gay people, Jews and people of color during the anti-Communist witch-hunts of the McCarthy era.”

Berlet recalls that flyers claiming Martin Luther King Jr. was the dupe of a communist conspiracy were distributed nationwide, depicting liberals as either tools or agents of a plot to build collectivism and global governance. FDR had been labeled a fascist, now Obama is tagged as both Hitler and Stalin. Yet Kennedy, who famously exhorted “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” was never accused of submitting the individual to the state.

A new book entitled: The Manchurian President accuses Obama of ties to communists, socialists “and other anti-American extremists”. According to its right-wing authors, Obama was “groomed for office by a nest of socialists, communists and other dangerous radicals based in Hyde Park, the South Side neighborhood that includes the University of Chicago.”

According to a public relations consultant quoted by Berlet, Obama’s opponents cannot attack him openly on race or on his qualifications, so they “map out ‘who-knows-who’”(known as guilt by association).

In these efforts, the conspirators stumble all over the fateful combination of “socialist” and “democratic”, boastfully condemning the idea of “social democratic organization based on the idea of local autonomy”.

The right-wing version of local autonomy is ‘it’s every man for himself’, while the social-democratic idea favors the basic notion of the solidarity of the group toward the individual. The two political currents criticizing Obama are like two careening bumper cars in a theme park, and we can’t foresee whether the left’s magic dragon will win out over the fate of the right’s woolly mammoth, the danger being that some in the public will confuse the two.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Professional Left? Really???

You would have thought Robert Gibbs was referring to card-carrying communists - or at least socialists - when he lashed out at the political class he owes his and his boss’s job to.

How far can knee-jerk professions of innocence go? (“Change? Who said anything about change? Change to what? Canadian health care??”)

How ruthlessly can our president - who showed he could be ruthless in Chicago, thereby reassuring us before we elected him, that he would put those indispensable political skills to good use Washington - throw us off the train instead?

With Gibb’s fatal words, the President metamorphosed into a clone of one of those right-wing homophobes who turn out to be gay. Trans-lation: Obama knows that the forces arrayed against him are invincible, to the extent that his life is on the line if he makes one false move (Fidel Castro is not the only one who fears for his survival). He cannot follow in FDR’s footsteps and submit legislation to Congress while wielding a big stick; he can only survive if he pretends that he wouldn’t consider imple-menting his progressive promises to those who elected him.

The worst of it all is that this is a forty-year-old story. Read Andrew Bacevich’s new book: Washington Rules and you’ll find this, page 32:

“What Americans mistook for politics - the putative rivalry that pitted Democrats against Republicans, the wrangling between Congress and the White House - actually amounted to little more than theater, he implied. Behind the curtain, a consensus forged of ambition, access, money, fevered imagination, and narrow institutional interests determined the nation’s actual priorities. Although Eisenhower was about to surrender his office to a handsome young successor who promised dramatic change - neither the first nor last president to make such a commitment - he knew that John Kennedy’s personal qualities, however attractive, counted for little given the forces arrayed against him. “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist,” the outgoing president warned. “We should take nothing for granted.”

Kennedy’s election marked the fatal moment when the left gave in to Washington’s consensus that America should maintain its superpower status through war. Kennedy got sucked in first to the Bay of Pigs, then to the Cuban missile Crisis, and finally to Vietnam. The same forces that manipulated “the most powerful man in the world”, saw to it that the left survived only as a convenient tool of ‘fevered’ imaginings of (always) ‘clear and present dangers’. Now it is probably too late for Americans bereft of their homes and jobs to organize to obtain the rights that were grandiloquently included in the Constitution, a hundred years before the word socialism was invented. The populist but not for the people Tea Party is beating them to it.

There is no “professional left” but there is a professional class of writers and pundits who, in exchange for upper class salaries, occupy a niche reserved for those who do not wish to be called conservatives - or even liberals. most of them do not even wish to be called progressives! Oh, there is a progressive caucus in the congress, and Raul Grijalva does it proud. But without Wellstone, it doesn’t amount to the hill of beans that Robert Redford immortalized in The Milagro Beanfield War.

While European Marxism has renewed itself into an green, decentralized, no-growth movement, our “professional leftists” have been left behind.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Americans are Caught Between Two Fundamentalisms

You maybe wondering what I mean, but think about it for a minute: on the home front we have the Tea Party which wants to turn back the clock to the eighteenth century, when the Constitution was written, and barring that, to the nineteenth, when the 14th Amendment declared that anyone born in the United States was automatically a citizen, with all the protections of the law.

Overseas, we have, loosely speaking, the Taliban, or Al Qaeda, or any number of other fundamentalist Islamic groups who don’t care about citizenship, since they dream of a universal umma , or community. But, like Americans on the extreme right, they want women to stay at home, and they’re fiercely against homosexuals.

Both fundamentalisms believe the commandments of God take precedence over the laws of men, many going so far as wanting the U.S. to be officially declared a Christian nation (which was not in the minds of the founders!).
I sometimes wonder how fundamentalist Christian-American soldiers rationalize killing fundamentalist Muslims who proclaim so many of the same principles? Has anyone looked into that aspect of the psychological toll on our troops? The answer is probably that American soldiers are unaware of the opinions about God, politics and women that they share with the enemy.

Moving on to the 14th Amendment, few Americans know that in the West, there are basically two conceptions of citizenship, based on the Napoleonic Code (I don’t know what goes on in the Orient). According to the most widespread usage, jus soli, (soli meaning the land) a person is automatically a citizen of the country he or she is born in. But there is another possibility, called jus sanguinis, (sanguinis meaning blood) in which either the father, the mother, or both must be a national of the country in which a child is born for the child to be considered a citizen.

Until the year 2000, unlike the rest of Europe, (but like Switzerland), children born in Germany to foreign parents were not entitled to German citizenship. It was only when pressure from Turkish guest workers reached a tipping point, that the ancient law was changed. Children born of immigrant parents are now Germans at birth, but must choose by the age of 23 whether to retain their German citizenship, or be citizens of their parents’ country of origin.

In Germany, there is also a law of return: Germans who had been expelled from Germany during the wars can claim German citizenship if they speak the language. But now, the right-wing government of Hungary, a country that has historically had close ties to Germany, has been inspired by the German law of return, to extend the right of Hungarian citizenship to all ethnic Magyars living beyond the country’s 1918 borders. This includes Romanians, Slovaks, Serbs and Ukrainians, two million people in all.

Although the Hungarian move is in response to events that took place almost a hundred years ago, now, nationalistic legislation is not likely to amount to much in the context of the European Union. But the fact that during what should be a lazy month of August, august American lawmakers fill the airwaves with calls for a repeal of the 14th amendment, that would deny citizenship to children of mainly Mexican immigrants born in the U.S., will, I wager, have long legs, leading ultimately to the creation, as I’ve already suggested, of USCANMEX.

Our political class has chosen to fight yesterday’s battle, instead of those of today and tomorrow: meeting the consequences of climate change that defy governments and their poor human means everywhere, from China, to Pakistan, to Moscow, to the American Gulf Coast.

Fundamentalists both Christian and Muslim may be right after all, to consider that man’s laws cannot compete with those of God/Nature.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Open Letter to Vice-President Joe Biden

Dear Joe:

A few days ago you sent out an email asking for contributions so that we could have a government ‘by the people, for the people and of the people’.

I find that a bit stiff, given the situation.

Those words were written 200 years ago by white, Protestant men who could no more conceive of a government of, for and by ‘the people’ than you can. There were the only real players. The farmers and crafts-people were nothing more than a - excuse me for mixing my metaphors - Greek chorus.

(Later we had ‘chorus lines’ but now we have only unemployment lines.)

Joe, you don’t seem to understand. (If it’s any consolation, you’re not the only one: twenty years ago, when the long-patient Russian people finally got angry, the well-intentioned, intelligent Gorbachev didn’t under-stand that it was too late to reform the Soviet system, so he was swept aside. The Russians lost their free health care and got inflation.)

Now, the American people are angry, but most of them figure they can’t do anything about it because they don’t have a leader. Oh, there are a lot of organizations on the left, but we have no national leader. On the right, it’s a different story: they have the equivalent of a communist party. I say that because the Communist Party was the most famous top-down organization the world had ever seen. Fascist parties were also top-down parties, and they worked pretty well for a while. But they couldn’t hold a candle to the communists because they were mainly into war.

The Communists weren’t interested in war: they wanted.... government of the people, for the people and by the people. They started with local Soviets: people power - in the beginning. Then they got the Supreme Soviet and that was the end of people power/

Here in America we’ve been taught that communism, socialism - any kind of real people power - is bad. It’s all right to be a democract - or even a Democrat. But that doesn’t allow you to talk about people power. The Tea Party talks about taking back ‘our’ government. But when the right goes out for rifle practice, it’s getting ready to take back ‘its’ government.

It’s not gonna be people power. They’re gonna stop paying taxes because taxes benefit welfare moms. They’re gonna do away with social security because folks who’ve been clever with their money shouldn’t need a common pot.

They might actually ‘bring the boys home’ from wherever they’re fighting when the Tea Party comes to power, because they’re gonna need them on the frontier - I mean the border. They’re gonna need them to round up all the immigrants and ship them back to wherever they came from (Hitler shipped ‘inferior’ peoples to concentration camps and gas chambers, but our Tea Partiers are just gonna ship them back to wherever they came from, even if there’s nothing to eat there.)

So Joe - and Barack and Nancy, and John and Howard - quit holding your hands out. It’s unseemly. Money can’t buy spine. And if you don’t get it, hopefully ‘the people’ - who thought you had it - are gonna realize they don’t need more voices in the wilderness, but a top-down organization like a Tea Party - or a Politburo. Before the glaciers melt, the sea rises, the oil and gas wells and electric lines come tumbling down, leaving us without even a fridge to keep a people’s dinner in.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Tea Party is Coming!

Did you get a frantic letter from Senator John Kerry, on behalf of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee? The usual plea for ever more money comes with a separate sheet warning that: “Republicans will do anything to see president Obama fail, and america will pay the price. The headline on the reverse quotes Rush Limbaugh saying: “We need to wipe them out!” Following are quotes from Tea Party darling Rand Paul, and other Republicans Pat Toomey, Roy Blunt and Linda McMahon.

Coincidentally, a former NAACP employee who years ago sent a white farmer to a white lawyer, so he could be “helped by one of his kind” lost her department of agriculture job for doing so after mentioning the incident in a speech. The TV, as CNN says, is ‘all over the story’, and the Tea Party is feeling vindi-cated after the blooper by popular radio host Mark Williams.

Both incidents bring to my mind the Russian Revolution.

“Whhaat?” you’ll say. Not Hitler? “I thought the danger we’re in with the Tea Party and the local militias is fascism!”

True, but I’m referring to how various unde-sirable events, however different they may be, come about. In the early 20th century there was a Russian Social Democratic Party whose majority was referred to as the Bolsheviks (for big) while the minority were called the Men-sheviks, for small, or minority. The latter were more inclined to cooperate with the Liberals at a time when most Russian activists broadly agreed on the need for reform.

BThe Bolsheviks staged a successful revolu-tion in Russia because the Mensheviks failed to stand up to the Liberals.

I’m drawing this picture with a broad stroke, because what’s important here is not the detail - about which some readers will inevitably nitpick - but the gist.

Not so long ago entire populations were cowed by the warning: ‘The Russians are coming!’ Now we’re told: “The terrorists are coming!”

But the Democratic Party’s frantic appeals for help are like closing the barn door after the horse got away: It’s not more money they need, it’s the courage to form a Social Democratic Party that will stand up to the Republicans and deal with terrorism with a cool head.

Before the Tea Party takes over.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Israel's Paranoia, Obama's Lockstep

Israel’s mounting paranoia offers an excellent opportunity to analyze how news is slanted, by whom, and to whom.

A friend in Europe emails me news from various sources, and recently I received a story whose original source was the Near East News Agency (NENA), a collaborative of journalists working in the Near East that publishes in Italian and English. The story was about Israel’s efforts to prevent its neighbor Jordan from building an independent nuclear energy capability.

Israel is one of four countries with known nuclear capabilities not to have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the others being India, Pakistan and North Korea. Not- withstanding its own rogue position, Israel has been waging a relentless campaign to persuade the world that Iran is a mortal threat, not only to Israel, but to everyone else.

Now, just in case its campaign against the relatively distant threat should ultimately be unsuccessful, Israel now asserts that an equal threat lies next door, in Jordan, a tiny Muslim country which has been its steadfast ally.

The NENA article emphasized that Israel, with the backing of the U.S., is withholding “acceptance” of its neighbor’s plans to build two nuclear fuel plants, until Jordan promises that it will send its nuclear fuel abroad for reprocessing. (The NENA article also revealed that Jordan possesses 3% of known uranium deposits.)

Curious to know more about this story, I went to the New York Times. A May 2 Times article placed the Israel/Jordan controversy within the larger scope of U.S. efforts to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty during a month-long international conference. It pointed out that diplomats were negotiating agreements for overseas reprocessing with Jordan and Bahrain, and indicated there might also be a deal with Saudi Arabia.

The Times article quoted a participating diplomat saying that these endeavors were part of an attempt to isolate the Iranians, but that Iran and others at the United Nations non-Proliferation Conference, including Egypt, were more interested in forcing the region’s one nuclear-weapons state, Israel, to acknowledge its atomic arsenal and sign on to the nonproliferation treaty.

Egypt, in particular, wants the Middle East to be nuclear arms free, but the Obama administration only supports this idea within the context of a broad regional peace.
In other words, for Washington, a nuclear-free Middle East is contingent on resolving the situation with Iran, rather than the situation between Israel and the Palestinians.

This is worrisome because Egypt, while lobbying for a conference next year on its proposal for a nuclear-free zone, also plans to build several nuclear reactors. According to The Times, Egypt’s President, Hosni Mubarak has hinted that if there is no agreement, his country might feel that needs to develop nuclear weapons, too.

Although the Times article has broader thrust, it manages to obscure the fact that the Obama administration accumulates blunders in the most volatile part of the world. Unlike the admittedly partisan NENA story, it fails to mention fthat Washington is threatening Jordan with a loss of 600 million a year in financial support if it goes ahead with a project that makes Israel nervous. Nor does it mention that our close allies, France and South Korea, are planning to help this tiny, resource poor county ensure its future energy needs.

Without several sources for world news, American voters are blindsided, taken totally unawares by major events. Nuclear non-pro-liferation is a major policy goal of President Obama. But alternate news sources reveal not only that in this, as in so many other laudable goals, his policies are counter-productive; they document the fact that a multi-faceted world can pursue laudable goals without us.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Our Wars are About Sex and Money

But they’re no longer about Cleopatras nose.

If we look at the world from a distance, instead of a series of highly differentiated conflicts, we see one big conflict that pits haves against have-nots, and simultaneously, license against sexual repression.

The buzz today is all about maybe talking to the Taliban. But we do not see the Taliban to, say, the way we saw the Germans during the second world war: essentially people of the same culture who had fallen prey to a national delusion of grandeur. We know the world the Taliban are defending tooth and nail is different in fundamental ways from ours, so how can we talk about leaving the Afghan people to their mercy?

I should say “the Afghan women”. For this is a war about license versus sexual repression. In the West, which is organized for the unlimited growth of capital, everything is a means to that end, and sexuality is tailored accordingly: men and women must constantly be concerned with looking young and if possible beautiful in order to attract a succession of mates. To that end, they purchase beauty products ever improved upon and clothing that will be out of fashion next year. And when women - and men - serve advertising to earn a paycheck, they become full-time sex symbols. The feminists denounced this long ago, but they got nowhere with this aspect of women’s lib because they didn’t realize that we live in a culture whose ultimate purpose is to increase returns on capital. Anything that achieves this is impervious to reform.

This is the nexus between the revolt of the have-nots (the Shiites), against ‘the West’, and the fierce determination of the repressive Sunni Wahabbi, represented by the Taliban, to preserve the sexual slavery of women. The differences between these two groups have us in a state of utter confusion: the greater conflict in the Middle East and Central Asia - which has recently spread to the Horn of Africa - is about the unequal distribution of wealth. In those areas where fundamentalist Sunni Islam holds sway, it is also about maintaining the subjection of women, considered as possessions.

Given that the Taliban fall into this latter category, we could possibly persuade them to abandon the wealth provided by poppies for that which could be extracted from high priced minerals - apparently ’discovered’ in the nick of time, but perhaps in fact the heretofore unavowed reason for the eight-year Afghan war. In that case, the liberation of Afghanistan’s women would have to wait until the influx of wealth from that economic bonanza overwhelms tradition, as is beginning to happen in other Muslim countries.

The fight for equity that is foremost in the Shia dominated areas, (Iran, and recently Iraq, where the long suffering Shia majority are now in power), is not that of equity in the traditional Marxist sense, but as Hezbollah’s leader Nasrallah makes clear, in the sense of the Radical Enlightenment about which Princeton’s Jonathan Israel writes.

And so, in reality, our foreign wars mirror our domestic situation: the United States is increasingly polarized between a growing minority of Christian fundamentalists, whose women are expected to remain in the home, often schooling their children to shield them from the secular education system, while workers, blacks, Latinos, single mothers, and those with special needs begin at last to organize events such as the Second US Social Forum recently held in Detroit, where residents are inventing new forms of urban self-sufficiency instead of waiting for government to solve society’s problems. At the very same time, however, Tea Partyers are pushing back against these initiatives, also in the name of not waiting for government to do so.
Monday night Larry King rebroadcast his recent interview with Bill Maher, who in a rare moment of passion, said what American progressives are thinking on this Independence Day: “There is no Tea Party equivalent for us. We have two parties, but only one politics, and while the Tea Party is pushing the Republicans to the far right, no one is pushing the Democrats to the left.”

While Christian fundamentalist women do not cover their heads, they are expected to remain in the home - and to vote for a politics of inequality based on a consumerism that relies heavily on fashion models and wrestling match sex queens.

Talking to the Taliban and Hezbollah, is only likely to be productive if and when “the West” drops the capital W that implies superiority and accepts the inanity of chasing after oil and gas in order to continue a way of life that besides demeaning one of life’s great pleasures, will render the planet inhospitable to humans.

It took the admission by BP that it may ultimately not be able to plug the leak in the Gulf for President Obama to commit major funding for solar power. Energy Secretary Chu fears that we might be reaching a tipping point on climate change, yet he suggested we could save a lot by adopting tougher energy standards for new buildings, implying that the consumer society these represent could continue in the face of a point of no return for the planet.

Replace Allah and Jehovah with nature and it’s clear that our conflict with Islam is importantly about how we live our individual lives. Before we can hope to see them move toward more personal freedom, we have to reconsider what we do with our own.

Friday, July 2, 2010

There is Nothing that can "Never Happen Again"

The expression first became a rallying cry during the First World War, with the slogan “Never Again.”  Then there came Buchenwald, and it was “never again” all over again.

Katrina was a natural disaster piled on top of Army Corps indifference, which was never to be allowed to happen again.

The more recent worldwide financial debacle really concentrated minds worldwide, so that, two years later, heads of finance from the countries that make things happen (even things that are never supposed to happen again) gathered in Toronto to make sure that this particular event should never happen again. The President returned home with an assignment from the countries that America used to tell what do do, which was to kick domestic opposition into line to create a Consumer Protection Agency (or whatever it’s called, don’t hold me to names) so that at least if this does happen again, it won’t be our fault.

The President was unwise to hold that it would never happen again.  But hardly less wise than BP that has been assuring us that thanks to its good faith and its technical know-how what we could all a “magnitude ten” oil spill would never happen again.

Never?  With more than 3000 oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico alone, not to mention those we haven’t been told about in other oceans and on other lands.

Or, less spectacularly, the gas rigs whose numbers remain secret, on lands that used to be picture postcard perfect, throughout the country, fracking, or fracturing the soil hundreds of yards down, pumping scarce water laden with chemicals into once fertile land, sending fumes into the water pipes of nearby kitchens, causing them to burn in contact with a match.  At this point, the question becomes: “Never what?”

Never more jobs lost, never more private prisons built, never more men in search of work arrested, never more soldiers turned into invalids - never more what?

I don’t know if it was due to his famous poem “The Raven” that the early nineteenth century writer Edgar Allan Poe is seen as a forerunner  of science fiction, but surely our powerless lives today, would have been considered science-fiction in his time.

The hero of Poe’s poem hallucinates a black raven sitting unruffled over his bedroom door, repeating only one word: ‘Nevermore”.  He mourns the loss of his love Lenore, and asks the raven if there is “balm in Gilead”, to which the answer is also “Nevermore”.
Still not getting it, the poet implores:
‘Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,

It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels named Lenore     But: “Quoth the raven,`Nevermore.'”

Now, with a dramatic gesture the poet orders the beast to:

“Get back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!”

“Take thy form from off my door!.... and leave no black plume as    a token of that lie...!”
“The raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming

Unable to accept the finality of death, Poe wanted desperately to bring back the past.  We, very differently, imagine that we can prevent its repetition.   But like Poe's demon, we are dreaming.