Belaboring the Obvious

Saturday, July 29, 2006

It's Enough to Give a Person Brain Cramps....

The political geography of the Middle East and South Asia is comprised of a complicated tangle of mixed motives and ahistorical alliances. Throw into that mix a right-wing militaristic Israel and a right-wing militaristic United States, and it gets even more complicated, and much, much uglier.

On Friday, Master and Commander Bush attempted to parse the role of the United States in the Middle East, in the context of what's happening now, and managed to convince much of the outside world that not only does he not have a clue, but that what little he does seem to acknowledge is blurred and confused by a messianic zeal that is most likely the result of some neurological disorder. No one rational or informed could say something like this:

QUESTION: Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister, with support apparently growing among the Arab population, both Shiite and Sunni, for Hezbollah, by bounds, is there a risk that every day that goes by without a cease-fire will tip this conflict into a wider war?

And, Mr. President, when Secretary Rice goes back to the region, would she have any new instructions, such as meeting with Syrians?

BUSH: Her instructions are to work with Israel and Lebanon to get a -- to come up with an acceptable U.N. Security Council resolution that we can table next week.

And, secondly, it's really important for people to understand that the terrorists are trying to stop the advance of freedom. And, therefore, it's essential that we do what's right -- not necessarily what appears to be immediately popular.

There's a lot of suffering in Lebanon because Hezbollah attacked Israel. There's a lot of suffering in the Palestinian territory because militant Hamas is trying to stop the advance of democracy. There is suffering in Iraq because terrorists are trying to spread sectarian violence and stop the spread of democracy.

And now is the time for the free world to work to create the conditions so that people everywhere can have hope. And those are the stakes. That's what we face right now. We've got a plan to deal with this immediate crisis.

It's one of the reasons the prime minister came, to talk about that plan. But the stakes are larger than just Lebanon.

Isn't it interesting that when Prime Minister Olmert starts to reach out to President Abbas to develop a Palestinian state, militant Hamas creates the conditions so that, you know, there's a crisis, and then Hezbollah follows up?

Isn't it interesting, as a democracy takes hold in Iraq, that Al Qaeda steps up its efforts to murder and bomb in order to stop the democracy?

And so one of the things that the people in the Middle East must understand is that we're working to create the conditions of hope and opportunity for all of them. And we'll continue to do that. This is the challenge of the 21st century

Or this:

Q: Mr. President, both of you, I'd like to ask you about the big picture that you're discussing.

Mr. President, three years ago, you argued that an invasion of Iraq would create a new stage of Arab-Israeli peace. And yet today there is an Iraqi prime minister who has been sharply critical of Israel.

Arab governments, despite your arguments, who first criticized Hezbollah, have now changed their tune. Now they're sharply critical of Israel.

And despite from both of you warnings to Syria and Iran to back off support from Hezbollah, effectively, Mr. President, your words are being ignored.

So what has happened to America's clout in this region that you've committed yourself to transform?

Bush: David, it's an interesting period because, instead of having foreign policies based upon trying to create a sense of stability, we have a foreign policy that addresses the root causes of violence and instability.

For a while, American foreign policy was just, Let's hope everything is calm - kind of, managed calm. But beneath the surface brewed a lot of resentment and anger that was manifested on September the 11th.

And so we have, we've taken a foreign policy that says: On the one hand, we will protect ourselves from further attack in the short run by being aggressive in chasing down the killers and bringing them to justice.

And make no mistake: They're still out there, and they would like to harm our respective peoples because of what we stand for.

In the long term, to defeat this ideology - and they're bound by an ideology - you defeat it with a more hopeful ideology called freedom.

And, look, I fully understand some people don't believe it's possible for freedom and democracy to overcome this ideology of hatred. I understand that. I just happen to believe it is possible.

And I believe it will happen.

And so what you're seeing is, you know, a clash of governing styles.

For example, you know, the notion of democracy beginning to emerge scares the ideologues, the totalitarians, those who want to impose their vision. It just frightens them.

And so they respond. They've always been violent.

You know, I hear this amazing kind of editorial thought that says, all of a sudden, Hezbollah's become violent because we're promoting democracy. They have been violent for a long period of time. Or Hamas?

One reason why the Palestinians still suffer is because there are militants who refuse to accept a Palestinian state based upon democratic principles.

And so what the world is seeing is a desire by this country and our allies to defeat the ideology of hate with an ideology that has worked and that brings hope.

And one of the challenges, of course, is to convince people that Muslims would like to be free, you know, that there's other people other than people in Britain and America that would like to be free in the world.

There's this kind of almost – you know, kind of a weird kind of elitism that says well maybe - maybe certain people in certain parts of the world shouldn't be free; maybe it's best just to let them sit in these tyrannical societies.

And our foreign policy rejects that concept. We don't accept it. And so we're working.

There are so many aberrant philosophies and strategies implicit in all this drivel that deconstructing it would take more time than it would take for the latest Israel-Lebanon war to burn itself out. But, maybe, for the sake of a clarity found infrequently these days, one ought to try.

Bush speaks of freedom and democracy as if they are brand names registered at the U.S. Patents and Trademarks Office, and I find it remarkably odd that whenever Bush talks in this way, it is almost programmatic that he use those words--frequently and without much, if any, context--as if the words themselves were the codification of policy.

Therein lies part of the problem: the concepts of freedom and democracy, for this administration, anyway, no longer have any real meaning--they are treated as logos of the corporate United States. They no longer, because of so much empty repetition over the decades, mean what they once did.

Secondarily, Bush uses the words to evade reality. By concentrating on abstractions which he uses in figurative, rather than literal, ways, unpleasant facts can be ignored. For instance, there is his emphasis, often cited, of Israel being the only democracy in the region. Bush's tunnel vision enables this falsehood. Israel is not a democracy in the modern, contemporary sense of the word, simply because it excludes some of its citizens from full participation in the government and the social structure of the country. Full rights of citizenship accrue only to Jews in Israel. It has been that way almost from Israel's inception in 1948. Might that--and forty years of Israeli occupation of land not its own--be one reason for the hatred Bush speaks of in the Arab world?

There is no doubt that some factions in the Middle East have a virulent and irrational hatred of Israel, and Jews in general. Such hatred is likely not much different than that expressed by white supremacy groups in the U.S., or proto-Nazi groups in Germany and France. That sort of hatred can't be explained by facts or historical events. It simply exists as a bigotry laid bare and divorced from reality. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regular denials of the Holocaust almost certainly fit into that category.

To assign all hatred of the state of Israel, however, to such bigotry--or, as Bush does, because it is a "democracy"--is facile and wrong. Israel has, for almost six decades, used both military and constitutional power to subjugate Palestinians, and more recently, until 2000, the Lebanese, in the name of its own "national security."

It is for this reason that Bush can also ignore Lebanon's status. Because there are people in Lebanon opposed to Israel's actions--who were democratically elected to its parliament--Lebanon itself can be delegitimized as a democracy in Bush's mind and so be broadly attacked by Israel. Does this suggest that Bush has a reductive and Manichean view of the situation in Lebanon, as he does of the rest of the Middle East?

His words strongly suggest such--Israel is right, Lebanon is wrong. People with some understanding of the political and social complexities of Lebanon know that Hizbollah wears many hats. It represents the political interests of perhaps 35-40% of Lebanon's population. It serves a number of social needs--schools, food banks and health clinics--which a Lebanese state, after fifteen years of civil war, could not yet provide. Its militia acts as a border guard for the predominantly Shia population of south Lebanon. And, yes, it also has a branch of dedicated terrorists who have carried out brutal attacks on Israeli interests, including on the Israeli embassy and the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires in 1992 and 1994, respectively (although Hizbollah has denied involvement in those attacks, the evidence suggests otherwise). While Hizbollah is clearly an Islamist organization, it coexists within a democratic state controlled by Christian and Druze and secular factions.

That Bush seems wholly unaware of the support of Hizbollah in Lebanon and in the broader Middle East--precisely because it is resisting Israel's attempts to destroy Lebanese sovereignty and because it is a legitimate part of the Lebanese political process--is readily apparent in his answers above and is a function of Bush's inability (or refusal) to see Lebanon except in Israeli terms--if there are factions in Lebanon determined to thwart Israel's expansionist policies, Lebanon is therefore a terrorist state. Much the same situation exists in Gaza and the West Bank. Bush's faith in Abbas is a reflection of Israeli intentions for the occupied territories--Abbas and the Fatah would have given Israel what it wants for very little in exchange. That is the reason why Palestinians elected--quite democratically--a Hamas government, which they expected to serve their interests, rather than the interests of the United States or of Israel's.

Deep down inside Bush's words, though, is a recognition of a common conceit of both the United States and Israel, one which has operated in similar ways--a deeply-held belief in a god-given right to what the United States has defined as manifest destiny. There are striking similarities between what happened in the United States from the period of 1825-1890 and what has occurred in the Mediterranean Middle East, on a smaller scale, from 1948 to the present. In both countries, military force was used to drive indigenous people further away from population centers, onto smaller and smaller tracts of land, with permanent military outposts used to keep indigenous populations removed from "settlers" who were subsidized by the government to act as colonizers of newly-taken land, finally forcing those indigenous people onto reservations in which they were given a very limited kind of sovereignty in exchange for freedom from attack by the occupier's pervasive and large military. Arabs, to Israel, are the "injuns" of the 18th and 19th century United States. We called Native Americans "savages," while the Israelis call Arabs "terrorists." They are spoken of in the same way, with the same contempt. (Interesting that poputonian over at digby's place seems to be on a similar wavelength.)

So, what's the difference between the United States then and Israel now? In national temperament and intent, not much. The circumstances, though, have changed a great deal. The major difference is that the world has changed--we now have 20th century institutions and international law in place created, if not to prevent, then to deter the sort of abuses which occurred around the world in the past. Geneva Conventions, international laws on warfare which prohibit the seizure and occupation of territory through war, widely-held conventions on human and civil rights and a UN to adjudicate international disputes.

Just as Bush and Co.™ have been renegade cowboys in the Middle East, drunk on air power and synthetic testosterone, so have the Israels emulated the Wild West of our 19th century, shooting up everything in the name of God and manifest destiny, with the intention of securing the means of expansion and wealth. In the United States, the natural resources provided by the land were minerals, coal, timber and eventually, oil. The seizure of land by Israel increases its access to water, among the most precious of commodities in its region.

That Israel does so with American arms and money and complicity is our problem, one which we've been loathe to address for almost five decades (and on which Bush gave up even before he was President, when he visited Ariel Sharon's "ranch" in 1998).

It's probably not quite the time to introduce the Palestinians to gambling casinos, but you can likely see the resemblance of their situation to that of the Mescaleros, or the Choctaws or the Pottawatomie in 1880.

Maybe George "wanted dead or alive" Bush still thinks it's some `50s television version of the Wild West, in Iraq and Lebanon, and the West Bank, and Gaza, even though the "injuns" communicate with cell phones, let the rest of us know what's happening via blogs and the internet, and all the while wish for peace and the opportunity to tend their fields and orchards and their businesses and have a little sweet tea and talk with friends in the heat of the early evening, and to come and go as they please in their own way, in their own time, in their own country.

Is there much of a difference between the Israelis bombing electricity and water treatment plants and closing access to food distribution centers in Gaza and Lebanon, and the wasichu hunters destroying all the Plains buffalo? If there is, I can't tell.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Any Excuse to Pontificate....

Birthdays in middle age are, we are often told, supposed to be a time of reflection (or, if we believe the messages inside half the cards we get, a time for wild bacchanalia before we no longer have the energy for more than choking down a little prune juice).

This year, as with so many years in the past, my birthday has coincided with war. For a "peace-loving" people, we end up doing a lot of fighting, and, often, for some very specious reasons. As my 21st birthday approached, I was sitting in an army barracks, ordered not to leave from 8am to 5pm, while I waited for orders to Vietnam (fortuitously, those orders came and then, inexplicably, were cancelled--not until many years later did I realize that I was just one of Gen. Westmoreland's 200,000-odd man "contingency force").

I say, "fortuitously," because it was not an easy thing to acknowledge two competing forces in my psyche--a profound disbelief in the war in Vietnam as an urgently necessary war and the concurrent requirement, as a member of a military family, to accept one's then-current civic responsibility of military service when called.

I see my military service in that context--I succeeded in grudgingly doing what the army, in all its obscene stupidity, told me to do (thereby fulfilling the minimum requirement of military service), and I managed, somehow, not to kill anyone in the process.

But, nearly forty years later, I still think about the ways in which that war and succeeding wars have defined this country. The Age of Aquarius ended up being very, very short, indeed. The influence of the authoritarian right has become, in the intervening years, all-pervasive. We're told the country has become ever more conservative over the decades, and, as a result, we're inclined, as a nation--if we believe the mainstream press--to overlook our government's fundamental violations of civil and human rights in order to secure our safety.

Mostly, that received wisdom is bullshit, and always has been. The ordinary man in the street is happier living in a state of peace than in one of war, despite the general tendencies of the right to foster flag-waving nationalism in the public. True, fewer people understand the ramifications of attacks on their civil rights (since so few people understand their civil rights in the first place, and are, therefore, unable to quantify that loss from a personal perspective), but that's a matter of education, not natural inclination. Acquiescence is not directly equatable with informed acceptance.

Now, some of that reflection. Even after living through the Vietnam War, Nixon's excesses and the rollback of the New Deal and the governmental adulation of the multinational corporation that came to fruition in the Reagan years and continued through the administrations of Bush the Elder and Clinton, the Bush II years have been, overall, the worst time of my life. The sheer, brazen, bald-faced gall of the Bushies never fails to astound me. Equally, the realization that I'm not going to be able to do much more than resist that Bush Leviathan is frustrating.

It's for that reason that, these days, I often rely on the words of an old acquaintance who said, "nothing lasts forever--not even the bad things." Resistance (as a means of fixing in memory older and more enduring values and ethical bases) may be all that is possible when the cumulative political power of the citizen has been diminished and adulterated by programmatic misinformation and disinformation campaigns.

It's important to me that I keep in mind that George Bush and his cronies will not be in power forever. We have 2-1/2 more years of stupidity, arrogance and extremist ideology to endure. Uncurious George will continue to say truly stupid things, will continue to embody the Ugly American overseas, will continue to monger war in the name of Christ, peace, terror, strength, his Aunt Fanny twice-removed, whatever. Cheney will continue to play Rasputin in the Court of the Clown. Rove will continue to be Bush's Svengali (even Reagan had his astrologer).

But only for thirty more months. One of the things about impending old age is that time seems to go by more quickly than one might wish, and in the process of expectation about Bush's departure from government, along with his myriad idealogues, that's somewhat a good thing.

What happens in 2008, in the elections, however flawed they may be, can't be known as of now, but it's difficult to imagine a worse set of circumstances arising from those elections. The government won't suddenly be inhabited by sensible, progressive wise men and be bursting with great expectations, but, at least, it will no longer be occupied by the likes of the current crop of dunces and moral eunuchs, the rabid Christian right, snake-oil salesmen, Sauron's army and corporate procurers all at once.

To age gracefully is to live in hope for those who follow. One day, there will be a cure for AIDS/HIV. One day, some bright man or woman or collection of same will find ways to solve the energy/CO2 imbalances that plague us today. One day, we may achieve a means of governance which will not enable the strong and wealthy to exploit the weak and powerless. Maybe not instantly and all at once, but eventually.

These past years have been--and will continue to be in the near future--dark times, when reason has fled and appeals to base instinct have reigned, but, it need not be so forever. We will never achieve any utopia, of any kind, but we can and should expect better. We may even have to suffer more travails prompted by avarice and stupidity and blind ignorance before conditions improve. But, improve they will, with a little luck and more than a little perseverance.

Why do I think that? I'm not sure. Perhaps, it's only because the alternatives are too depressing to contemplate, even for the most jaded of cynics. Perhaps it's because of one realization--if our general situation doesn't improve, we're fucked--no matter what the minority right-wing crazies think about their ideal world under their Dear Leader. It's kind of difficult to generate much enthusiasm for the future when imagining Ann Coulter as the Minitrue minister and William Kristol as the Inner Party planner of faith-based warfare, so it's easier on the psyche to imagine them, one day, being relegated to the margins of society where they belong. Some possibilities are simply too ugly for even passing consideration, and to consider them seriously denies the mind the freedom to explore greater opportunities.

So, my advice to those of faltering hope, in a time of reflection. Take heart: nothing lasts forever--not even the bad things.

(the graphic is of the "Family of Man" sculpture in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, which was originally part of the British exhibit at Montreal Expo `67)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Who's Blocking All of Bush's Brain Waves?

Shorter George Bush: "Just wait, I'll prove ta y'all that I have shit for brains."

There's been so many contradictory bits in the last week that, when they're all placed side by side, little of it seems either rational or considered or coordinated, or those bits are, when considered together, sending out exactly the opposite message than the one intended. In other words, business as usual for the Bushies.

Let's review. Hizbollah makes a cross-border military raid which in a few minutes kills three Israeli soldiers and captures two. Israel responds by destroying much of the infrasture of an entire country, Lebanon, and though Hizbollah fighters are mostly concentrated in the twenty or thirty miles of southernmost Lebanon adjoining Israel's northern border, Israel attacks, from the air, targets as far north as Tripoli, coastal Beirut, in the south of Lebanon and virtually all routes out of Lebanon on the Syrian border. Once Israeli attacks begin inside Israel, Hizbollah begins short-range katushya rocket attacks on northern Israel, and longer-range rocket attacks on Haifa. Israel sends ships to blockade Lebanon's coastline. Israel, more than once, pelts southern villages with leaflets ordering the population to evacuate, then attacks fleeing civilians on the roads from the air with rocket and bomb attacks. Then Israel bombs the roads, making evacuation impossible.

Almost immediately, it becomes apparent to most observers that Israel's intention is not to simply strike back at Hizbollah, but to incapacitate the country. Israeli targets in the first two weeks of fighting have included television stations, commercial radio and antenna arrays in both north, south and Beirut, major viaducts bringing water to Beirut, hospitals, ambulances, residential housing in east and south Beirut, virtually all major bridges in the country (46 at last count), Beirut's international airport (three times at last count), Beirut's largest dairy farm, electrical plants, most of the country's Mediterranean ports, along with several non-defense factories. Israel jets even blew off the top of the recently-built Roman-style lighthouse on the Corniche in Beirut.

While Israel argues that it is cutting off routes of resupply, the total damage far more suggests that Israel's intent is for non-Shi'ite Lebanese to blame Hizbollah for the carnage. Some do, but as time passes and the damage increases, the blame seems to be shifting and accruing to Israel and the United States.

This shift probably began with Bush and his G8 buttered roll-in-the-open-mouth comments that it would be simple for Kofi Annan to call Syria: "What they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it’s over."

Not only did Bush have Emily Post spinning in her grave (and you thought LBJ showing reporters his gall bladder surgery scar was gross), but most of the world almost immediately came to the fairly solid conclusion, because of that remark, that Bush doesn't have a friggin' clue about what's going on. Hizbollah certainly has allies in Syria, but they weren't the ones that ordered Hizbollah's cross-border incursion, nor would Hizbollah be sacrificed by Syria--even if they had the power to disband them, which they don't--when Syria still cannot get Israel to relinquish its occupation of the Golan Heights and Shebaa Farms.

Of course, no phone call would stop it--at least not until Israel had accomplished its aims. Matthew Kalman of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote on July 21st that war against Lebanon and the Hizbollah had been planned in earnest for a year, and that "U.S. and other diplomats, journalists and think tanks" had been fully briefed on the details. Remember the nervousness last year about the U.S. authorizing the transfer of bunker-busting bombs to Israel? Everyone thought that meant the possibility of a surprise attack on Iran. Now we know.

We also now know, because U.S. diplomacy has been moving in slow motion on any kind of cease-fire, that the U.S. knew this attack was coming, if not on July 12th, then reasonably soon, and that the U.S. intends to sleepwalk through this until Israel's air war and invasion of southern Lebanon has been completed to Israel's satisfaction.

The rest of the world may also know more than what we know, because nine days into the war, the U.S. expedited shipment of 100 GBU-28 5000-lb. laser-guided bombs, along with additional satellite-guided bombs. Just a few days into the war, the U.S. agreed to transfers of $210 million worth of jet fuel to Israel. If we've supplied Israel with the planes and attack helicopters to embark on this operation of sweeping destruction, and then have supplied them with the bombs to be dropped by those aircraft and the jet fuel to run them, and had foreknowledge of the plan, does this mean we have, in effect, engaged Israel as our proxy for the purposes of destroying the country and government of Lebanon after praising Lebanon's "Cedar Revolution?" (Bush, of course, will take credit for instituting "democracy" in Lebanon--even though the country has had open elections since at least 1948--but will he take credit for destroying the country when open elections made Hizbollah a party in that Lebanese government? One imagines not.)

What exactly does this say about the ability of the U.S. to be an impartial broker in any future disputes in the Middle East? If the U.S. ever wanted to play that role again, the Bushies pretty well have screwed the pooch with that confluence of news. For forty years or so, the U.S. has been able to maintain the fiction that it could treat adversaries of Israel with equal rapport and respect in any negotiations involving Israel, but now? If the debacle in Iraq hadn't completely sealed the reputation of the U.S. as incompetent, this latest badly-intentioned bumbling regarding Lebanon will convince everyone that the U.S. is hopelessly biased in any matter concerning Israel and cannot be trusted to mediate in good faith.

Complicating this is the White House's recent statement, as reported by the Telegraph in the UK:

White House aides have said they consider the Lebanon crisis to be a "leadership moment" for Mr Bush and an opportunity to proceed with his post-September 11 plan to reshape the Middle East by building Sunni Arab opposition to Shia terrorism. Yesterday Mr Bush cited the role of Iran and Syria in providing help to Hezbollah.

Now, maybe that statement was made because Bush managed to get Saudi Arabia to initially blame Hizbollah for the destruction of Lebanon, but that won't last. And it's far more complicated, as usual, than Bush understands. After all, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" has its origin in Arabic lore. Moreover, the complexity of the situation often originates in longstanding disapproval of--and sometimes hatred for--Israel's actions in the Middle East. In Bush's pea-brained assessment, Syria is Shi'ite because it aids Hizbollah. In fact, Syria is mostly Sunni, as are its leaders. Syria supports the Shi'ite Hizbollah because of the latter's proximity to Israel and the defiance of Israel it provides. Syria, as mentioned above, still has aims to recover the Golan Heights from Israeli control, and certainly thinks Hizbollah can help toward that end.

Too, how does that statement jive with the election results in Iraq, which Bush extolled as an example of "democracy on the march" in his 2005 State of the Union address? The Iraqi government, up until this major upset in Lebanon principally generated by Israel, was in fairly firm Shia control, with good relations with Iran--and the U.S., if White House propaganda is to be believed. If one were blunt, it would not be unfair to say that all factions in Iraq--Shia, Sunni and Kurds alike--have done their fair share of terrorizing the population. Many astute observers in the region will see Bush's statement as both inherently ignorant and favoring the corrupt Sunni monarchy of Saudi Arabia as the preferred U.S. model for stability in the region. And yet, Saudi Arabia's own greatest terrorist threat comes from... wait for it... Sunni fundamentalist extremists. Has Bush forgotten (or did he ever know) that Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri were both fundamentalist Sunnis, with the latter aligned with the Egyptian Sunni Islamic Brotherhood?

Want more complicated? Pakistan, our friend in the "war on terror," is mostly Sunni, but gives considerable surreptitious aid to Afghanistan fundamentalist fighters and the Taliban, who are... Sunni. A majority of the hijackers of 9/11 were reported to be... Sunnis from Saudi Arabia.

Ultimately, not everyone Bush and Israel say are terrorists, are (it's an easy label to throw around), and there's plenty of exceptions that disprove Bush's notions about who are our friends in the region. The genuine problem in the Middle East and central Asia is fundamentalist extremism, Shia and Sunni and Israeli alike, but you're not likely to hear Bush utter that phrase, since about half of those in his voting base in this country are fundamentalist extremists.

His message is probably mostly directed at Iran (predominantly Shi'ite, not Arab, and the only Islamic republic in the region), and that should be of concern to everyone who is wondering what's next on the neo-con agenda. Iran isn't the largest part of the problem, though. After what has happened to Lebanon, if either the U.S. or Israel embark on a large-scale attack on Iran, Bush and the U.S. will likely discover that the various factions of the Muslim world are a lot more united against Israel, and its friends, than they are opposed to each other. The Saudi royals still see the fundamentalists as a threat, too... and they aren't much interested in having their opulently cared-for heads hanging from the lampposts in Riyadh.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

If Damascus Even Twitches....

Being a long way from Beirut or Gaza, and being mostly dependent on the less than accurate
reporting from the U.S. press, it's not a time for absolutist pronouncements on what is happening in the Middle East at the moment.

What is apparent to most everyone with their cognitive faculties still intact, however, is that Israel's response is clearly over the top. More than a few world leaders, nevertheless, have taken up the phrase, "disproportionate response" to describe what's going on, although the rest of us might be less diplomatic and say it's outright insane. It's that way for one of two reasons--either Ehud Olmert has gone completely irrational, or there's some unseen ultimate intention for Israel's balls-to-the-wall response to a situation that required a rather simple military response. Of course, Israel prefers to cloud the issue by claiming its soldiers had been kidnapped by terrorists (in some stricter sense of the situation, Palestinian and Hizbollah fighters consider the IDF a military enemy--just as the IDF considers Palestinian fighters and Hizbollah the enemy--and, as such, the Israeli soldiers were captured in military actions, not kidnapped). Moreover, the media is concentrating on the factors in play at the immediate moment, and ignoring the recent history leading up to this latest venture of the IDF into Lebanon, and that the IDF has been applying disproportionate force and methods of collective punishment in the West Bank and particularly in Gaza almost from the moment Hamas achieved an electoral majority in the congress of the Palestinian Authority, with the clear intent to punish the Palestinians for their electoral choices.

Hizbollah's attack on an IDF tank just across Lebanon's southern border, so far, seems to have been an act intended to be in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, but, perhaps not without the tacit support of Damascus. Hamas' demands for a prisoner exchange suggest that capturing an IDF soldier had a prearranged purpose, and Hizbollah's capture of two more was likely intended to reinforce the Palestinians' position on prisoner exchange, or to further their own aims in that regard. (A fact not in wide distribution in the U.S. press is that about 9400 Palestinians are in Israeli military prisons at the moment. Some are women, not a small number were children when incarcerated, and some have been held for some time without trial. Since the IDF occupation in 1967, some 650,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned by the Israeli military--according to various rights groups, this amounts to 20% of the total population and 40% of the men in the occupied territories--perhaps the highest rate of incarceration in the world.)

Were Israel's intention all along to negotiate peace, it seems likely the situation would have not deteriorated to the point it has, and as rapidly as it has, and some quick negotiation might have been made for some female Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the captured IDF soldiers. On this matter, it's difficult to determine from public statements if this is Olmert trying to assert his creds to the right wing (not being a combat soldier as were Begin, Sharon and Rabin), if it's just a stubborn refusal to negotiate for fear of losing face, or is it a part of a preexisting plan, just waiting for push come to shove?

That push may have started months ago, with the election of Hamas. For much of the Palestinian Authority's existence, the predominantly right-wing governments of Israel have sought to put the PA in a box--and especially after the Oslo accords--by making the PA (and the Fatah party) responsible for Israel's security, without true sovereignty in exchange. As occupier of the Palestinian territories, Israel still kept for itself the right to invade anywhere in those territories it chose, at any time, for any reason. It controlled all the roads and checkpoints into and out of the territories, its shorelines and Mediterranean fishing limits, its ports, its borders, its air terminals and its air space--all controlled by the IDF and Israeli police. Israel collected Palestinian taxes, controlled its imports and exports and the movements of all Palestinians.

Sharon's unilateral decision to move Israeli settlers out of Gaza was not exactly the magnanimous gesture it was portrayed to be in the Western press. It was, in fact, because Israel retained complete control over virtually all aspects of life in Gaza, the creation of the world's largest open-air prison, and it paved the way for the sort of collective punishment which has been directed against Gaza most recently. There was no chance of retaliation by Palestinians against Israeli settlers for IDF actions because there were no settlers, no chance of the IDF accidentally killing any Israelis during sometimes indiscriminate bombing and shelling in Gaza.

What the Western press did not elucidate in any detail was that the Gaza Strip had become virtually worthless to Israel--except as a repository for Palestinians. The most recent intifada had made defending the relatively few settlers there an expensive proposition. From Oslo to the building of the wall and the removal of the settlers, the Fatah and the PA had grown progressively more corrupt and the occupied population came to see Fatah officials as in league with the Israeli government for their own profit. Where the general population wanted Fatah and Abbas to negotiate with Israel for their freedom and sovereignty, they were, instead, seen as collaborating with the Israelis. Where the U.S. and Israel saw in Abbas a moderate, the Palestinian people often saw a quisling. Hence, the election of Hamas to a majority in the Palestinian congress. Palestinians wanted genuine negotiations, and Hamas assured them that would be done.

Herein lies the rub, and one of the possible reasons for what seems an irrational escalation of the fighting in the last two weeks. Israel has never intended to give up--either by dint of force or negotiation--what it now conceives to be its own land, its own water. Since 1948, Israel has hoped to make life so miserable for Palestinian Arabs that they would abandon their own lands of their own volition. From 1948, from David Ben-Gurion onwards, the great fear of politicians of the new state of Israel was eugenic in nature. They were afraid that the Palestinians would outbreed them and eventually claim a majority in their own state. (This is the primary reason why the so-called single-state solution is pointless to pursue.) Hamas, well aware of this, began its control of the Palestinian territories with a willingness to negotiate, but very firmly. Attacks in Gaza, Lebanon and the West Bank may be preparation for Olmert's decision to arbitrarily and unilaterally establish Israel's borders without consultation, and a reflection of his determination not to negotiate. Such a plan is certainly an attempt to create an artificial end to a working policy now in effect for fifty-eight years. The wall running through the West Bank, begun in 2002, along with Israeli-controlled roads and checkpoints will effectively annex large amounts of the West Bank and cut the West Bank into a series of Arab Palestinian Bantustans connected by Israeli-controlled roads. Reoccupation of southern Lebanon and/or a concerted bombing attack on Lebanon from the air may be a means of ensuring a buffer zone pushing Hizbollah and the Palestinians further apart when all the crap starts to come down from Olmert's unilateral remapping of that part of the world.

But, most importantly, the events precipitating Israel's recent attacks started not a week or two ago, but, rather, months ago, shortly after the election of Hamas. The Sharon/Olmert government immediately stated it would not negotiate with Hamas (the major reason Hamas was elected) and immediately began to choke off funds to the Palestinian Authority by refusing to return tax and customs payments and by encouraging the rest of the world community to withhold emergency aid. The IDF began with a reinvasion of Balata Camp, near Nablus, in the third week of February, 2006. Similar attacks occurred in Bi'lin. Regular artillery shelling of Gaza began in earnest early in April. Shortly after the election, Israel began prolonged closures of the Karni/Muntar cargo crossing which is adjacent to the main food warehouse (located in Israeli territory) which supplies much of Gaza with staples, either for sale or supplied by the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA). At one point in the early spring, access to the warehouse had been closed for several weeks and bread was being rationed. By May, the United States had begun blocking wire transfers to the PA, in support of the Olmert government, and reinvasions of Ramallah had been carried out. Throughout the spring, the Israeli Air Force made periodic raids into both Gaza and the West Bank, carrying out attempted targeted assassinations of Hamas officials and supporters. By the time of the killings of eight Palestinians, including children, on the beach in Gaza on June 9th, the situation had deteriorated enough that home-made rockets were being fired from northern Gaza into Israel on a near-nightly basis, causing little damage, but creating considerable fear in civilians, thus giving the Israeli government a ready excuse to escalate its program of collective punishment designed to isolate Gazans from all outside help, including the bombing of Gaza's electrical generating station, border bridges, homes, schools and offices.

Israel has initiated the same sort of program now in Lebanon. As in Gaza and the northern part of the West Bank, the object has been to cut off the population from any outside assistance and to target Hizbollah leadership, both military and spiritual, from the air. Bombing the airport, destroying bridges at the Syrian border and on roads leading from Beirut, along with blockading the Lebanese coastline and bombing port facilities, are all intended to put Lebanon under siege. Without the Syrian army in the country (nicely finessed with the help of the U.S.), the Lebanese army is so ineffectual as to be very nearly helpless, its weapons antiquated and its personnel poorly trained. If Israel reinvades southern Lebanon, it may well turn out that the only trained and armed resistance to the Israeli military available is in Hizbollah's guerilla fighters. If Israel intended these strikes to cause the Lebanese people to turn against Hizbollah and repudiate them politically, there may be considerable blowback coming from that assumption, especially if Israel continues to destroy Lebanon's infrastructure with ruthless abandon. Hizbollah may be the only thing between the Lebanese and Israeli reoccupation, and Hizbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has said he's ready for a war with Israel. Beyond that, there are no assurances that Israel's current leaders have learned the difficulties in fighting fourth-generation warfare with high-technology firepower.

The Lebanese also know that Hizbollah fighters were the primary, if unspoken, reason for IDF withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 after eighteen years of occupation, and the Israeli military is still annoyed by the unhappy realization that Hizbollah has been the only force which has successfully repelled them from territory they've occupied. That may be part of the reason for the savagery of Israel's recent attacks, but, I wonder if that's all there is to it.

It's no secret that Hizbollah has strong alliances with both Iran and Syria, and, largely because of Bush's looking the other way as Israel pounds Lebanon and Gaza, one might reasonably suspect that Israel could be doing its level best to draw one or both of those countries into the fray, with the full understanding that the United States will cover its back. Or, worse, that Israel and the U.S. have been cooking up a set of circumstances that might prompt one of those countries to act militarily. Recall that Israel has been making unauthorized fighter overflights of Syrian territory in recent weeks, perhaps hoping for a response from that country (perhaps much in the same way that Bush hoped that Saddam Hussein would retaliate against U.S. overflights of Iraq by U-2s painted in UN colors).

Perhaps this assault on Lebanon is yet another attempt to push the envelope, to force the hand of Bashar Al-Assad. If Assad were, in turn, pushed hard enough by his military to assemble troops and tanks on the Syrian-Lebanese border in readiness for a land invasion of Lebanon by Israel, that would certainly prompt the Israelis to mount a preventive strike. Since Syria and Iran have signed a mutual defense pact recently, Iran might retaliate against Israel in some fashion (or, either the U.S. or Israel might claim an Iran-inspired terrorist attack related to that pact), which is all it would take to set off a full-scale joint U.S.-Israel attack on Iran and Syria. The proximity of Damascus to both Lebanon and Israel would make air assassination strikes on al-Assad and his military leadership virtually inevitable, and the U.S. would have its casus belli, however thin and manipulated, to set in motion its existing plans to attack military, nuclear program and leadership targets in Iran without having to go to Congress for prior authorization. No one in Congress, under the circumstances, would chance bringing up the delicate matter of the U.S. having no bilateral mutual defense treaty with Israel, thus calling into question Bush's authorization to attack under the War Powers Act.

Were all that to come to pass, the neo-cons would have their fondest desires met--U.S. warfare in progress from the western Chinese border to the Mediterranean, all for the sake of regime change and control of petroleum and the routes of its transport throughout the Middle East and South Asia--and Republicans would be able to inculcate in the public a new round of war fever before the 2006 elections, this time for the noble purpose of defending an ally.

What, ultimately, might be accomplished by all that? Simply multiply Iraq by, what, five, six, ten? Probably. Peace and harmony after a brief period of intense destruction? Again, look at Iraq for the likelihood of that. The military will be stretched even thinner, and the supplemental budgets will balloon well beyond the already egregiously large current ones for Afghanistan and Iraq. If Syria reenters Lebanon, that country may find itself in the midst of a new civil war. In any event, Lebanon's recently rebuilt essential infrastructure will have been destroyed by Israel's bombs and missiles and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of innocents will be killed (over 150,000 were killed in the fifteen years of Lebanon's previous civil war). Hizbollah and Iran may direct either terrorism or other asymmetrical warfare at either Israel or the United States, or both. Islamist sentiments could become inflamed in Pakistan and have effects on the government there, setting off increased aid to the Taliban in Afghanistan. An air strike on Iran could easily cause a renewed focus of various insurgent groups and militias on U.S. occupation troops in Iraq. Oil would undoubtedly spike to $100-120/barrel, especially if Iran sought to disrupt, in myriad possible ways, oil shipments through the Persian Gulf. Even if these various possible wars might not last for decades, the ill will generated in Muslim communities around the world would, setting off new instances of terrorism against the U.S. and other Western targets. This will, likely, set off new waves of religious extremism in this country (the Rapture-believing crowd is already positively giddy at current events--imagine their ecstasy over war across the whole of the Middle East).

Israel can look forward to more resistance from Palestinians, and certainly more desolated and despairing kids strapping on vests of explosives, innocents killing innocents. It's almost impossible to comprehend that Israel has been fighting Palestinians and/or its neighbors for sixty years without ever publicly acknowledging that it has both failed in its efforts to drive the Arabs away and that it has assured, by its actions, intensified Islamist efforts at creating theocracies in the region and an enduring Arab enmity that will last a long time--even by the standards of a culture which measures grudges in millennia. When Einstein said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting different results, he could have been describing Israeli governments over these many years.

Robert Fisk, living in the midst of the carnage now, in Beirut, and who has lived through it before, thinks Israel will eventually give up on destroying things and settle for a prisoner swap, because it has done so before.

This time, I'm not so sure. The last time all this happened, in 1982, the neo-cons were busy impressing each other with their plans to destroy the Evil Empire and Star Wars was still just a movie.

Bush could induce the Israeli government to cease and desist, and quite lawfully. The Arms Export Control Act bears a provision that denies Israel the right to use US-supplied arms against civilians. Invoking an embargo of funds and ammunition resupply and ordering a stand-down of US equipment (including all those F-16s and Apache helicopters) might slow down the carnage long enough to get Hizbollah, Israel and Hamas to agree to a cease fire, and to implement the prisoner exchange which would inevitably come to pass, anyway. It's worthwhile to remember that while the news is full of civilian deaths in Haifa from Hizbollah rockets (and Hizbollah deserves the blame for that), American-made arms, many of them supplied to Israel gratis, are killing civilians in Lebanon with far greater frequency.

The fact that Bush has not done so, and instead has invoked the same self-defense against "terrorism" mantra on Israel's behalf as he has done at home, means two things: Bush, once again, shows no practical or virtual grasp of the actual situation, and two, there's something else, unseen, at play in the unfolding of events. After the evolving revelation of truth regarding the reasons for the invasion of Iraq, one would be well-advised to be chary of tub-thumping for Israel's latest war, as it may portend more than what events in the most recent couple of weeks suggest.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Bottom Line Politics....

Why does the thought of voting for Hillary Clinton stick in my craw like a big, sharp fishbone? Gack, gack.

Is it because she's a woman? Nope. It's the positions she holds. Gack, hack, hack.

Yeah, I know that the right wing hates her with more vitriol than most people reserve for hating Satan, or Richard Nixon, or Tiny Tim, but that doesn't mean she's therefore automatically good for the rest of us. That's a false tautology. The right wing hates Hillary on principle, or close association to Bill, or because the word "liberal" (which they consistently misapply to Hillary) causes their hair to spontaneously combust (which is something to see when we're talking about that Texas big hair with all that congealed hair spray to give the flame front a boost). Progressives just don't care much for her because they know, from her positions, that she's Republican Lite, a DLC poster child, and that there are bound to be better people that could be run for President after almost twenty-five years of conservative Republican and quasi-Republican leadership.

I admit it--I've got a huge problem with the DLC types. First, because being apologists for big business and Wall Street is the Repugs' job, and encouraging that in Democrats only ensures that ordinary people will be forgotten in the processes of government. Second, because the DLC folks generally insult everyone's intelligence by treating dissent with their programs as abject stupidity, i.e., how could anyone not want to further the aims of the rich and powerful? If Al From tried that routine on a bunch of longshoremen in an Oakland union hall, he'd get his ass handed to him with the sharp end of a baling hook lodged in the plump part of it.

At some time in the distant past, there might have been some reason to marginally accommodate the Fortune 500. In the 1950s, the Fortune 500 accounted for about 20% of the jobs in the country. But, now, they employ only 7% of the workforce (the difference being largely in overseas employment). The percentage of employees represented by unions in the private sector has declined sharply, decade by decade. That's not because unions have become superfluous because workers' rights have improved so much, but, rather, because business has sought, beginning with the post-WWII enactment of the Taft-Hartley Act, a range of laws and NLRB rulings making it much harder to organize and almost impossible to punish a company violating rules on organizing.

The simple truth is that union protections brought a lot of working-class people into the middle class. They didn't live like kings, but could afford a new car once in a great while, could eventually buy a modest house, send their kids to college and have a vacation once in a while, and, more importantly, could retire with the knowledge that they would not be eating dog food and living without heat in the wintertime. Social Security and Medicare reinforced their ability to spend their retirement years with dignity.

That middle class, along with manufacturing, has been in steady decline since the early `70s. Wages against inflation are stagnant--this despite unparalleled increases in productivity--and the typical worker protections and benefits of the past are slowly being chipped away. Offshoring jobs is now a fact of life. Companies whose fortunes were built on U.S. labor now have all the loyalty of a crack whore. Wall Street applauds layoffs, even when the cuts go so close to the bone that the profits are sure to be temporary. The number of people without health insurance--and of those declaring bankruptcy because their insurance didn't cover actual costs--continues to climb. By almost every measure--savings rates, real wages, level of benefits, the real number of unemployed, time unemployed, levels of household debt--the middle class is worse off today than it was in the late `60s and early `70s. That the trend is accelerating under the ministrations of the Bushies is no surprise--they're just trying to do, in a very accelerated fashion, what the wealthy have been trying to do ever since the death of FDR--knock the pins out from under the people who work for a living. A desperate work force will put up with a lot of shit.

Americans now work longer hours than even the driven-to-excel Japanese, and for lower rates of return (the median family income in Japan is over 15% above that in the United States). In this latest recovery from recession, the average wage has actually been dropping slightly, even with increases in income of the top 10% of wage earners.

All that adds up to one thing: the ordinary people in this country need some political representation with undivided loyalties. And that's not going to come from the DLCers. Not from Hillary Clinton, not from Evan Bayh, not from Chuck Schumer, not from Joe Lieberman nor from the Joe Bidens of the Democratic Party.

They luvs them some big business types, because they get such good presents from them, like free trips and lots of campaign cash. Maybe it's rude to bring up the subject of money, but that's what this is all about. If it weren't, why would a self-respecting Democrat give a flying fig about what big business wants? In the 2004 round of tax cuts, which went mostly to the top 20% of wage earners and to business, the Senate voted 92-3 in favor. Since neither Kerry nor Edwards returned from campaigning to vote (although both said they were in favor of the bill), that means that virtually all Democrats were in favor of a disproportionately unfair tax cut favoring the wealthy and business. Would FDR have approved?

The problem, in large part, is that the Democrats have been trading the interests of working people for the short end of the heavy-duty campaign cash for so long that it now seems normal. This failed tactic has driven so many away from the Democrats--and from voting in general--that the Democrats increasingly have tended to move their message ever rightward in the hopes of securing the votes of the conservative undecideds in the middle--at the urging of the DLC. In all three of the last general elections, the undecided in the middle amounted to just a few million votes. Sitting outside the political process, registering their disgust with both parties by not voting, is a gold mine of voters. There are about 70 million people in this country who don't vote. Twenty-two million of those are single women. Chances are their concerns don't have a goddamned thing to do with whether or not ExxonMobil gets a free ride on royalties paid to the Treasury, or whether or not the Paris Hiltons of the country finally get their inheritance tax-free, or whether or not the coupon clippers get yet another tax break on capital gains. They're worried about putting food on the table, getting their kids to school, praying they don't get sick and need a doctor and hoping the car doesn't break down because the credit cards are maxed out. If Democrats paid attention to their problems--and followed through--along with telling the wealthy and the multinationals to take a flying fuck at a rolling Medicare doughnut hole, they'd win every election every year.

Somewhere along the line, Democrats started to think like Republicans, to believe that elections are about money raised, that votes follow the money. Traditionally, that has only worked for Republicans because the power of advertising is, in their case, more effective than telling the truth about their intentions. If Republicans actually told the truth about what they wanted to do and why, they'd never get more than 25% of the vote, anytime, anywhere.

The people who started the DLC bought into that, because life was better for them. The poor don't send their private jet to fly them off to Marco Island for a weekend conference and some golf on the side. The poor don't pay their way to attend the Aspen Institute's annual week-long how-do-we-make-it-easier-on-the-consciences-of-the-corporate-movers-and-shakers events. The poor don't pick up the tab for dinner at Citronelle. The poor don't have the $50K or so to buy a place on the DLC board. The poor can't afford their own personal lobbyist.

The poor are getting poorer and the middle class, the backbone of the Democratic Party, is losing ground and the DLC mindset infecting the Democratic Party is one of the primary reasons why. Joe Lieberman, a charter founder of the DLC, is campaigning as if he is entitled to the seat, and spends more time defending his support of Republicans than he does working for the poor. Joe has over $3.5 million in his campaign chest from the FIRE sector (financials, insurance, real estate). Of course, Joe takes their money and instead works tirelessly for the poor... not. He supports a war in which the predominant casualties are the poor who signed up because they were in dead-end jobs, if they could get a job, and because the corporations used campaign contributions to rig the system so that those kids couldn't get into college without loans they couldn't afford. Hillary won't say the war is obscene and should end at once. She can make excuses, but she's supporting Joementum. She was in favor, in principle, of a bankruptcy reform, just like the Joes, Lieberman and Biden, that favored financial corporations and banks and stuck a broomhandle up the ass of the poor and disadvantaged and broke it off. No one realized, when Hillary said, "it takes a village," that she actually meant a corporate village.

Corporations rape local communities of revenues in exchange for temporary jobs, but that's okay with DLC Democrats today. DLCers will sell themselves, just like Repugs, for a campaign contribution, but that's okay with them as long as they convince themselves it's for the greater good. If there's a bill that's good for business but bad for people, the DLCers vote for it, because they've deluded themselves into believing Calvin Coolidge's old rubric. Tax cuts for the wealthy coupon clippers and corporations? Yup. Vote for George's misguided war and hundreds of billions of dollars to fund it which go into the pockets of corporations without any real accounting? Yup. Vote for an energy bill which puts billions of taxpayer dollars into the pockets of mature, profitable corporations and does little to further energy independence? Yup. Enable the confirmation of right-wing judges who are uniformly on the side of unlimited government executive authority and corporate greed? You betcha.

And, do you know how I know all this is true? Because not a single Democrat has expressed an iota of remorse for voting with business against labor or for special corporate interests against ordinary people--even when they're getting their asses kicked in elections, year after year after year after insufferable year.

The Republicans, post-Lincoln, have been the party of Business. That left the Democrats, especially from the New Deal onward, to be the party for the people's interests. It was FDR who pulled back hard on the corporate reins in 1933, Hubert Humphrey who told the Dixiecrats that it was time to change trains at the convention in 1948, and it was Democrats who made it possible for the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and Medicare to come into being. It's no good that, today, Democrats--as exemplified by Hillary Clinton and her ilk--are just like Republicans, in matters of perks for big business, support of illegal wars, gargantuan defense spending, but still try to hang on to their "party of the people" reputation by saying they're pro-choice.

It's a bit like Pol Pot saying, "hey, but I'm a vegetarian."

There's a reason why progressive populism is rapidly on the rise and its proponents are increasingly disgusted by the establishment Democrats who see incumbency as an emblem of their legitimacy, when, in fact, they're often the barely lesser of two evils. Pandering to the religious right and to an out-of-control President and begging campaign favors from corporate fatcats is still pandering and begging--no matter who's doing it.

Wanna know how well the DLCers are doing with this "I'm mostly a Democrat routine?" Man in the street interview of a long-time Connecticut Democratic voter:

Brian Burnell: Edward Anderson is a long-time Democrat who says he just doesn’t buy Lieberman’s excuse that he votes with the Democrats 90% of the time.

Edward Anderson: Joe is like saying I only cheat on my wife once a month, I’m basically a good husband. But when push comes to shove, he’s out there cheating. And a lot of us don’t trust him. Let me tell you, he’s earned the Republican’s respect for a reason. Because he sells us out when it matters.

According to Glenn Greenwald, it may no longer be a matter of who's liberal, or who's conservative--it might be that the primary political problem today is that some people labelling themselves in those antiquated ways may actually be neo-conservatives in the matters that really, really count.

But, y'know, one way or another, if you don't manage to cough up that bottom-line politics fishbone, it'll kill you. Gack.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Bush and Creative Destruction....

It occurs to me that I haven't said too much about George W. Bush lately (although much more about his friends, associates and political allies). Of course, it might be that there's little to say about the man that hasn't already been said better by others.

But, we're getting to the point where we can, with some assurance, say that Bush's reign of error is clearly coming to an end. Oh, yeah, there will be more of Karl Rove's magic tricks ("hey, look, an illegal immigrant, over there!"). After 5-1/2 years, though (not including that bizarre 2000 campaign laced with more outright lies from him than you'd hear at a Liars Anonymous convention), we get a sense that we have a fix on him, finally. He's not the moron he's often made out to be--at least not in the strict clinical sense--but, what intelligence he does have is undone by a streak of calloused self-entitlement so profound that Louis XIV would stand in awe of it, with a bloated arrogance topping it all like a fat, red overripe cherry on a rancid sundae.

But, it was probably the lies that soured the public on George. He came into office with high ratings for honesty and credibility, but after five years of lying about almost everything, the public thinks now, um, not so much. That says a lot more about the American public's willingness to give a politician the benefit of the doubt than it says about Bush's facility with mendacity. While it's probably the thing with which he's had the most experience in life, he's still not very good at it, and the clumsiness shows. What was sloughed off initially as a Gary Cooper-ish, toe-in-the-dirt shyness about public speaking is now seen as a groping for the most convincing lie, the most operative spin.

The repeated lies about the war were what corked it. The inevitable compunction of Americans leads to a desire to correct our mistake, to have the troops brought home--if not immediately, then soon. The mistake was in believing in George W. Bush too much, in granting him the stature and the authority of the office. The public discovered, though, that George was just a small man in a big suit and cowboy boots with lifts in them. And they hated being lied to by such a character.

It's also true that the press had a great deal to do with elevating George Bush to a position in the national psyche he did not deserve. The press helped in amplifying and accrediting Bush's lies. They made it much easier for Bush to succeed in the illegal maneuvers he had planned. For that, the public is now skeptical of both Bush and the press that coddled him. And that's just one of the bits of damage that will be on the repair list after 2009. That hasn't stopped Bush from "working the ref" lately, for the purposes of the 2006 election, but after November, Bush likely won't regard the damage done beyond a "who cares what you think?" attitude.

Most people, whether by nature or nurture, or a combination of the two, are what they are, and most people's characters don't change much over time. Their views may change, but their psyches generally don't. George Bush, despite his self-congratulatory premise that God chose him for the job, is pretty much the same person he was before he became President. What marked his life was a relative freedom from having to live with his failures. He may have regretted not making his fortune in oil, like his very rich father, but he was always spared the damage which accrues to men who make big mistakes without a safety net. Through the largess of family friends, he could make a living while doing little to actually earn it.

His life, if one looks at the evidence, has been one long effort to best his father, either in fact or in his own estimation. Not long after his graduation from Harvard (a besting of sorts--his father went into the oil business after graduation from Yale, while Bush the Younger got a second degree, an MBA), he determined in 1978 to run for Congress, hoping to go to Congress at an age ten years younger than his father was upon entering Congress, and failed to win. Without any real knowledge of the oil business beyond his father's contacts in it and not much inclination for it, Bush went into the oil business, and failed, repeatedly. Each successive endeavor was bailed out by his father's friends, and it was only when the fatcats let him cheerlead for the Texas Rangers did he find a measure of success, maybe because he just liked baseball, but again, his fortune was largely made by big Texas money (his father's friends) in the sale of the Rangers rather than through any special skills of his own, through a deal which gave him an unequal share of the profits from that sale. When Bush became governor of Texas, that gift was, in effect, repaid with public funds. Bush made one of the wheeler-dealers in the Rangers deal, Tom Hicks, the chairman of the University of Texas Investment Management Co., which manages the school's Permanent University Fund, which had also invested in one of the Rangers' sellers investment funds.

In a weird, disconsoling way, though, Bush is the perfect person to be leading the country right now, given his aims. He and his administration have been consummate liars, a vanguard in the attempt to delegitimize both knowledge and the search for truth, invariably deriding the intellectual process of weighing the facts and acting upon them. Where else could a man so much in denial of the truth, so dependent, as he has proudly proclaimed, on his "gut," so indifferent to facts, actually do the thing he had always been told at the family dinner table needed to be done, i.e., the destruction of the post-New Deal government which had prevented his family's large fortune from becoming immensely larger, the government which had seized his grandfather's Union Bank Corporation assets during WWII for trading with the enemy (even though some were returned after the war), the government which had forced the Bushes to redistribute some of their money through taxation to the "lazy" poor and the elderly.

To accomplish that required an elaborate system of lies, and Bush had spent his whole life lying--about his accomplishments, about his failures, about himself, and finally, during the 2000 campaign, not only about his past, but about what he intended to do once he was installed as the titular head of government. Eventually, the fringe press did what the mainstream press should have done at the outset--offered a glimpse into what Bush intended to do. A war with Iraq would complete, in his mind, what his father failed to do, and would provide him with the "political capital" he needed to accomplish his intended task--destroying the government. It has been the intention all along to make people hate that government, to make it dysfunctional, horribly expensive in both blood and treasure, to reinforce in the public mind that it was profligate with the public's money, and that everything would be much better if government could be turned over to private business to run. Social Security "reform" is the centerpiece of that effort, since it is both emblematic of the New Deal and a program which shows the public just how well government can work--it is a model of efficient and equitable distribution of tax dollars, and that is why, after most politicians would have quietly abandoned the effort after last year's truly meager showing of support for the idea, Bush is once again on the attack.

It's convenient for the corporate world to endorse and manipulate the anti-intellectualism now rampant in the country for profit, but it's odd, indeed, for the leaders of the country to employ that same anti-intellectualism in the management of the affairs of state and government, and to encourage it in as much of the public as is possible. If they're not truly stupid men, then there must be some reason for it.

That reason goes back, I think, to the way Bush was raised, to what he heard in the family household while growing up. Even in graduate school, he was disparaging of, for example, the SEC, one of those independent agencies of the New Deal, meant to prevent unscrupulous stock and bond traders and corporations from fleecing their investors, the mandate of which was to prevent in the future the sort of chaos which grew out of the market collapse of 1929.

If one looks at Iraq as the hoped-for rallying point of public opinion necessary for Bush to carry out a much more ambitious program of "creative destruction," along with a concomitant increase in government secrecy which had nothing to do with national security, the elements were in place for a wholesale transformation of the government which had evolved from the New Deal:

  • Bush, by executive order, began the process of transforming government jobs under federal civil service management to privatized ones by falsely claiming that private firms competing against government workers would produce greater efficiency.
  • Bush encouraged Congress to cut taxes on the wealthy repeatedly. Even when he complained about deficits, he has never vetoed a tax cut his administration recommended to Congress. Myriad lies were used to justify these cuts and while the most egregious ones were reserved for the so-called "death tax," the Bush administration and Bush himself, played with figures--especially distortive averages--with great regularity and with the object of misleading a public increasingly unable to interpret mathematical sophistry for what it was.
  • Erstwhile independent agencies were heavily politicized. Nixon had been unable to draw those agencies into the executive framework he controlled, so the Bush administration's plan was to make them as ineffectual or as friendly to big business as possible through political appointment. This happened to the SEC under Harvey Pitt, the CIA under Porter Goss, FEMA through long-time go-to guy, Joe Allbaugh, and his successor, Michael Brown, Robert Battista at the NLRB and Michael Powell as chairman of the FCC.
  • Highly political selections for cabinet posts, such as Mike Leavitt for the EPA, ensure those departments of government will drag their feet in carrying out the law, thus undermining their efficiency.
  • Tried to break federal union and collective bargaining rights in the formation of the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Spending almost immediately went out of control after Bush's inauguration, and yet Bush chose not to veto a single spending bill. This had the effect of greatly increasing total government debt, made even worse by virtually unaudited war spending through supplemental requests. By the end of this fiscal year, annual interest payments on the debt will be over $350 billion. With ever-increasing military/intelligence spending of all types, this has the inevitable consequence of enabling Bush's demands for reduced domestic spending on social programs.
  • The Bush Medicare reform plan did three things--it shoveled large amounts of taxpayer monies and private co-pays (via the doughnut hole) to the pharmaceutical and insurance industries, it further increased the national debt, and set the stage for future demands for cutbacks in the cost of Medicare, in large part intentionally created by the Bush administration through low-balling cost estimates of the plan to Congress and Republican demands that Medicare not be allowed to negotiate drug prices under the plan.
  • Repeated attempts to introduce a Social Security reform package which includes the seeds of Social Security's destruction, privatization, and which also provides for a means of implementation that would be back-breakingly expensive, greatly increasing future shortfalls, thus ensuring much, much more government debt.

Put these and other program changes together, and it looks much more like not just conservative "values," but, rather, a comprehensive intention to break the New Deal, to return the country to the Gilded Age, back to a time when government worked for the benefit of the obscenely wealthy.

In order to do all that, Bush has had to lie, and lie a lot--about what he wanted before he was elected, what he intended to do once elected, and what he is doing now. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are abject failures by almost any standard, but keeping them going serves the greater purpose of impoverishing the country's Treasury. Bush's attacks on science and trusting in his "higher Father" and his "gut instincts" appeal to those who can't figure out that what he's doing will ultimately harm them and their future generations, and to the multinational business community which cynically supports Bush in his aims to break the back of a government it sees as interfering with profit.

With the aid of a corrupt Republican Congress, Bush might well yet have time to ruin that government. But, since he's not a genius, just an ever-so-slightly brighter than average guy with a monstrous ego that tells him he can ignore reality at will, George may not realize that in the attempt to ensure a future for himself and his wealthy family free of the New Deal and the hated FDR's legacy, he will have ruined the country, too.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Musings on Getting Taking What You Want....

The past two weeks or so have been one long, extended political orgasm for the right wing in the United States, and for their enablers (anyone hear Rove giggling hysterically?). The increasingly rightward-leaning The New Republic has been in bitter rhetorical combat with lefty bloggers, defending stuffiness and establishmentarianism for all its editors are worth. The more dysentery-mouthed tongue-waggers on the right have been excoriating The New York Times, first, for a story on the Bush administration's use of international bank transfer management in its "War on Terror," and second, for a story in that paper's travel section on the rather upscale mini-mansions of Messrs. Rumsfeld and Cheney, in the latter case, claiming that the "treasonous" New York Times has provided terrorists a road map for the assassination of those icons of PNAC duplicity.

Ann Coulter ups the ante wherever she goes in promoting her latest tome on her perennial subject, liberals and the incredible damage they do to America. Republicans in Congress mull over ways to make the Democrats look stupid, such as meaningless resolutions to "stay the course" in Iraq, and the religious right continues seek out friendly politicians who don't mind a touch of theocracy in their government.

In all of this brouhaha, I wonder how many of the followers of this Brigade of the Belching Bellicose stop to consider what life in these United States might be like if they get everything they want.

They love Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld. What would government by those porkers or their analogues be like in perpetuity? Well, we have had two wars in 4-1/2 years. At that rate, it would mean another forty-two wars in the remaining years of this century. Probably would mean all the countries of the world united against us, not just most of them. Defense/war spending would occupy all of the federal budget, and most of that would be paid by the poor and middle class, since tax cuts for the wealthy would be continue to made; as the economy becomes more and more devoted to using military force to chase and capture dwindling oil resources, worker dislocation will increase and, therefore, the "need" for more tax cuts for the wealthy would be required to "create jobs."

Given the past few years, along with the steady growth of technology, it would seem likely that virtually all of the country's citizens would have no legal recourse to force the administration to stop spying on them, and even if they could, giant personal data database firms such as ChoicePoint would be free to collect data that the government would then purchase for its own use, using our tax dollars, of course. Each person's daily life would be open to inspection through his or her electronic transactions, phone calls, and network activity. Even those who say, today, "what worries do you have if you have nothing to hide" would find their lives compromised by the information interface between government and private firms. The creation of national ID card systems, immensely profitable to the private firms engaged in the creation and implementation of such systems, might, for national security purposes, morph into a system of travel papers, restricting movement and requiring approval for travel, for "national security" reasons, of course. (Additionally, privatization of transportation systems in the country may make most travel exorbitantly expensive, anyway.)

Over time, because of war, declining real wages and pensions, increasing numbers of people without health insurance, the effects (particularly in the Southwest) of climate change and increased rates of incarceration for political crimes will result in shorter life expectancies, increased infant mortality and more ferocious and longer-lasting epidemics, some preventable. With the further privatization of the hospital system, premium health care would be restricted to the wealthy and upper tier of working professionals.

Corporations would become controllers of the economy, with government operating for their benefit. Eventually, these corporations would grow larger and larger through consolidation, until just a few controlled all aspects of economic life. The hated EPA and SEC would be abolished and so-called "free market" principles would become law. Corporations would likely never be punished for transgressions, because all restraints on their operation would be removed by government law rollback. The air would get worse, the water less drinkable and the number of cancers from chlorinated biphenyls and the like in the environment would greatly increase. Most tax dollars would go to these large private firms for performing government services, such as waging war and providing security. Banks would find themselves suddenly free of previous restraints and would make large fees laundering money for drug dealers and terrorists, and would find themselves in the position of making even greater fees for loaning the government money, as government spending continues to exceed the ability of the middle class to pay for ever more expensive weapons systems. Black marketeering and a barter economy will be the inevitable consequences of an oppressive taxation system.

With increased one-party power in the federal, state and local legislatures, the Christian Reconstructionists will begin to meld Biblical and civil law, at first, by censuring non-Christian religions, using methods of civil strife to force those of alien religions from community to community, and then, by use of merged church and government databases and data mining techniques, they may then begin to ferret out non-believers, non-church goers and single them out for punishment or incarceration and/or deportation. Eventually, this may extend to people whose occupations are not in accordance with Biblical principles, particularly those in the life sciences. Puritanical purges of homosexuals, adulterers and those engaging in sex before marriage will likely become common. Church attendance will surely become an everyday matter, with the homily replaced by government announcements. Women will eventually find that their uteruses can be used as government evidence against them.

Eventually, there will be internecine wars between religious sects originating in arguments over the purity of their actions and ideals, as one or the other sect seeks to consolidate government power. Over time, Old Testament notions of the way the world works will crowd out the teaching of science, and the secular arts, humanities and political sciences will be co-opted for the purposes of religious instruction and uniformity of viewpoint, especially at the college level. Some science will still be conducted, but only for defense research purposes. As science instruction declines, so will the economic power of the country, and large U.S. corporations will become increasingly avaricious overseas to absorb companies with technological skills they themselves do not possess. Over time, the United States will be shut out of more and more international markets in which it has behaved badly, thus generating more U.S.-initiated wars for resources. Slavery and/or indentured servitude, sanctioned by Old Testament law, may once again become common as economic conditions and profitability decline, and as the need for conscripts in ongoing wars increases.

All news will be effectively filtered by the government through an Office of Censorship, and any newspaper publishing information contrary to government authorization will have its staff and owners prosecuted under the Espionage Act. No news from outside the country will seep in via networks, as giant media firms are engaged by the government to employ blocking software. Public opinion conforming to government wishes will be broadcast far and wide, while dissenters will be ridiculed and punished. Elections will be dominated by government- and church-approved candidates, and official appointments will require the approval of church leaders.

Over time, the landscape will be dominated by corporate farms, ever more dependent on petrochemicals and genetically-modified agriculture to maintain production, and instances of massive crop failure due to climate change and the limitations of monoculture increase bouts of periodic famine.

After two or three generations of the right wing getting (or taking) all that they want, the country would be purged--either by coercion or persecution or law--of all liberal influence and the schools would teach what the radical Christian churches wish. Libertarian notions of free-market principles would combine with Old Testament morality to produce a nation of a few wealthy individuals blessed by God controlling a vast population of underemployed, undereducated and impoverished God-fearing subjects in ill-health and without expectations beyond daily church attendance and perhaps a Saturday afternoon stoning once in a while. An authoritarian, theocratically-bent government would find itself perpetually occupied with enemies both from without and from within. The country would find itself finally united as one white people under one common set of beliefs, one common ethic, one common religion and one-party government.

Welcome to the United State of Puritanical Feudalism and the world's next banana republic, the world's next failed state.

Be careful what you wish for--you just might get it.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

About Utopias....

As fractionated as society is today, there's a tendency on all sides to think, "if we can only do (pick a task, nasty, foolish, necessary or otherwise), things will be great in the future."

Utopian thinking. When the situation gets desperate, people begin to think in bizarre ways--the "if only" routine gets embedded in people's minds. If only Bush were impeached, things would get back to normal. If only the New York Times would go up in flames and everyone there died, we could have a perfect country. If only "..." were President. Etc., etc., etc.

Most everyone wishes for what they imagine will relieve the psychic pressure on their own gray cells. What distinguishes the flaming assholes from the rational types, though, is that the leaping screamers think that the impossible is true, without any evidence at all, while the rational types sit on the sidelines and think, "god, this asshole believes pigs can fly. Has he seen one go by yet at altitude under its own power?" (The closest to the correct answer is, yes, for anyone who has witnessed Air Force Two take off, given a liberal interpretation of what power means).

It's about belief, in so many ways. The right wing believes that George W. Bush is a genius. But, they require no evidence for that dubious assertion. The left thinks Al Gore is a genius, but at least they offer his latest movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," as evidence that his arguments about the future have some scientific backing, and therefore, have merit in the greater argument about _who's right_.

Even though we are caught up in the moment, it's worth remembering history, and its general lessons. The first of those lessons is: there are times when we are going to find ourselves overwhelmingly occupied with and informationally subsumed by the ravings of idiots, because there's no one universally trusted to tell us and the idiots that they are idiots. We are going to be offered snapshots in time in which those ravings seem perfectly plausible and wholly rational, and yet, they are the epitome of pure madness. There have been many such times in the past.

The second of those lessons is: most everyone in authority will lie to you if they have a self-interest impellng them to do so. The corollary to that is that almost everyone in authority has sufficient self-interest to lie. (That can be characterized as the Cynic's Lament. That does not make it any less true.)

The third lesson is: stupid people, and clever people with stupid or wholly self-serving notions, succeed in politics, often for a longer period of time than even irrational people might hope and imagine. Rick Santorum. Tom DeLay. Need I say more on this subject?

The fourth lesson is: It's a peculiarly American trait to have 20/200 political hindsight.

The fifth lesson is: Because of the first four lessons, we are not the country we imagine ourselves to be.

It would be instructive, I think, if there were just one person alive today from 1776 who could explain to us the meaning of the Declaration of Independence, to go on "All Things Considered" and Fox News and talk at length about what in colonial life finally prompted the issuance of that declaration (well, maybe Fox News would be a waste of time--Brit Hume would spend most of the time cutting off that person and correcting him).

Today, it's remarkable how the Declaration of Independence resembles a bill of divorcement. Its language is similar, listing the reasons for "the causes which impel them to the separation." It speaks of "abuses and usurpations," "patient sufferance," "repeated injuries," "circumstances of Cruelty and Perfidy," and there are multiple mentions of the tyrannical nature of the relationship.

The object, of course, as in divorce, was to decide one's affairs for one's self. But, that may be where the resemblance ends, because we are, of course, speaking of a large collection of people of varying opinions in opposition to another collection of people with their own set of ideas, one of whom just happened to be a king.

Today, we find ourselves in a similar situation. The various allied factions of the right wing of the country have spent thirty years trying to create divisions among the people--unity today almost seems like a silly word to employ to describe anything in American politics these days--and their success in that endeavor has opened old wounds, invited new partitions along old fault lines, gleefully made enemies of people who previously could accept, however grudgingly, each other's political differences.

What is now taking the place of traditional political infighting are utopian desires for the future--traditional conservatism has been replaced by a neo-conservatism which imagines the
United States riding to absolute world dominance on the back of a pre-eminent military machine. Traditional liberalism, the political implementation of Bertrand Russell's dictum, has been superceded by neo-liberalism, which imagines the United States' large businesses controlling the world economically, with the rest of the world assisting the United States in that goal, in the self-referential belief that the rest of the world will be improved by aiding the United States in its ambitions.

Both camps depend on visions of the future--and perceptions of the present--which are devoid of any acknowledgement of reality, or of those five lessons I mentioned. Perhaps the political system we have created over time has produced this overweening need to be Number One, to see the world only in terms of rankings of our choosing, to have one winner and many losers. Regardless, it's certainly an integral part of our national character today, and it has promoted the sort of winner-take-all partisanship which is all too evident in the Bush administration; governance has become, for the worse, the mimesis of the personal characteristics of its born-on-third-and-thought-he-hit-a-triple leader.

An historical truth: every world power in history, in its public pronouncements, has felt that its actions were always honorable, every war it fought a dire necessity, every imperial gesture a benefit to mankind, and that its hegemony over world affairs would bring everlasting perfection to the world.

Americans began their journey as a separate nation with few such ambitions. In his farewell address, George Washington expressed his desire for the country in this fashion:

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people under an efficient government. the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.

Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?

It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.

No imperial ambitions implicit in that. It would be less than forty years from the ratification of the Constitution that those ambitions would be revealed in the Monroe Doctrine, about seventy to the use of Commodore Perry's gunboats to threaten Japan into a trade pact which would wreck its economy in a few years and a little more than a 110 years to the time when President McKinley would use the USS Maine to extend U.S. influence and power well into the Pacific.

This tendentious inclination to world power has been fueled largely by cheap energy. It's probably no accident that U.S. share of world GDP (about 25%) is roughly equal to its share of world energy use (about 25%). As both neo-conservatives and neo-liberals dream of world domination, the conditions which have enabled both its previous military and economic strength are steadily eroding. The United States, in a scant twenty-five or thirty years, has gone from the world's largest creditor nation to the world's biggest debtor. Cheap oil is no longer a certainty, and the country has been unable to meet its energy demand domestically for many decades, nor has the real wealth and income of the largest part of its population kept pace with increases in energy costs. The once-vaunted American educational system has become dissipated by the disinclination of the wealthy of the country to be taxed for support of infrastructure. Military spending supported by debt (along with the interest payments this creates) has come to represent the largest portion of annual national budgets. Defense research further drains the human resources of the colleges and universities devoted to scientific research at a time when much larger problems than actual defense of the nation are looming.

At precisely the time when we are on the cusp of a transitional period in the nation's progress, we are behaving as if nothing has changed, that the perceived world dominance of the country (a belief fostered by post-WWII planners) must be maintained at all costs.

So, on this Fourth of July, 230 years after the independence of the nation was declared, it might be worth asking one's self if the political choices we perceive as possible, neo-conservative or neo-liberal (or some combination of the two), are capable of preventing the sort of collapse which has always occurred with previous overly-ambitious world powers, or are the policies expressed by them as necessary certainties going to ensure that collapse?

We may be fast approaching a time when a failure to ask, and answer, that question honestly might moot future celebrations of the advent of the nation, as our independence may be made moot by forces greater than our ability to control.

When the political discourse and the country's budgets are dominated by politicians with utopian fantasies of world control, when the general populace has had its political power reduced to a point where it is left with wishful thinking, "if only...," it may already be too late. We have, in a few decades, and especially in the last few years, acquiesced in invasions of our privacy and progressive diminutions of our "unalienable rights" which in real terms constitute a diminishment of liberty. We have allowed our taxes to be spent in ways that support those utopian ambitions and which have done little to improve our security, and much to distance control of our government from its citizens and threaten our independence.

On this Fourth of July, it would be well to remember our origins, and to remember that we are no longer the nation we imagine ourselves to be.