A New New Deal?

Lawrence Goodwyn, a historian of democratic and social movements, retired from the history department of Duke University, argues that a divorce from reality will propel a “large-scale party realignment with historic implications” for the progressive movement, comparable to that which led to the New Deal.

The time is 1930. Democrats have just found themselves in control of the House under conditions they did not create and could not have imagined even two years earlier. They have essentially been bystanders at the instant of their ascendancy. The decisive political fact is that something fundamental has gone terribly awry. The disaster has come upon the nation with great speed, the consequences have gotten more severe with every passing day and the President is doing nothing in response. Instead he makes pious speeches that depress people because they do not address reality. A testy minority has long seen him as a complacent man nursing a penchant for pomposity. To them, his posture comes across as disdain for the suffering of millions, not to mention the mounting anxiety of almost everybody else. He has begun to be hated by many people and is no longer trusted by most. The disaster that generates all this is called the Great Depression. The President who does not act but speaks in slogans is named Herbert Hoover. Though the Civil War had conferred great prestige on the Republican Party, suddenly, after many decades, grave peril looms.

Much here rests on a widespread popular perception that something is indeed fundamentally wrong; this is a conviction I do not yet see as gaining traction.

The Dollar Slides

Iran has responded to United States rhetorical attacks by selling oil in euros rather than dollars and by significantly reducing its foreign exchange holdings of dollars. China, which “signed last year a long-term $100 billion deal with Iran to develop Iran’s giant Yadvaran oil field,” and “which now holds $1 trillion in foreign reserve holdings, announced March 20 it will no longer accumulate foreign exchange reserves.”

The United States currency is now dropping, “as dealers worried over the outlook for the US economy. . . . With many believing the dollar has to weaken further to ease its trade and current account deficits, free-floating currencies such as sterling, the euro, the Australian dollar and the Canadian dollar are taking the brunt of the currency’s slide,” which is to say that they are gaining value against the U.S. dollar, adversely affecting their competitiveness against the U.S. in exports.

Are conservatives worse today?

I’ve been arguing for a while now that President Bush really is just another imperialist in a long line of imperialist presidents in a country whose history of imperialism dates back centuries before it was even a country.

David Michael Green, a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York, suggests otherwise. Referring to historical abuses ranging from McCarthyism to Nixon, he writes that “somehow there were limits then that don’t seem to exist today. Somehow there was a fundamental decency – though hardly universal – that has disappeared in our time.” There is a hatred, he senses, based on economic stagnation (for the working and middle classes), what some call “reverse discrimination,” self-absorption, and imperial decline.

Without question, these politicians resonate with our bedraggled [Baby] Boomers not only for their jejune policy prescriptions of belligerence abroad and selfishness at home, but most especially because such voters recognize in them a kindred spirit. One which hates Hillary Clinton profoundly and viscerally, without really being able to explain why. One which thinks blacks and Hispanics have gotten to be more than a little uppity and are stealing ‘our’ jobs. One which thinks that kicking some Arab ass might be a pretty good idea just on general principles.

Curled on on the wrong lap

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has clearly been a presidential poodle for too long, “railed against the ‘politically correct’ outlook that refused to acknowledge that the recent spate of gun and knife crime was linked to black youngsters.” For cover, he quoted an Uncle Tom preacher who reportedly asked him, “When are we going to start saying this is a problem among a section of the black community and not, for reasons of political correctness, pretend this is nothing to do with it?”

A bureaucrat at “the Commission for Racial Equality commented: ‘The Prime Minister is right – this is a serious problem and it isn’t going away. We shouldn’t be afraid to talk about this issue for fear of sounding prejudiced.'”

So, okay, all you politically incorrect and proud of it upper class white people, when’re you going to do something about white collar crime?

Bluffing dangerously

Hardline statements, made by Iranian President Ahmadinejad on the one hand, and by United States President Bush on the other, may have been intended for domestic consumption in each of their respective countries. Ahmadinejad seeks a distraction from repressive policies at home and Bush seeks “to reduce the sense that the administration had lost control over Iraq and the Middle East and to provide political cover for a move to open direct talks with Iran.”

States refusing abstinence money

More states are finding abstinence-only “sexuality” education ineffective:

[Ohio Governor Ted] Strickland, like most of the other governors who are pulling the plug on the funding, said the program had too many rules to be practical. Among other things, the money cannot be used to promote condom or contraceptive use. Students are to be taught that bearing children outside wedlock is likely to harm society and that sexual activity outside marriage is “likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects.”

And, according to the governor’s spokesman, Keith Dailey, Strickland sees little evidence that the program has been effective. “We’ve spent millions of dollars on such education since Ohio first started getting grant money in 1998,” Dailey said. “If the state is going to spend money on teaching and protecting kids, the governor believes it’s better to spend it in a smarter, more comprehensive approach.”

In response, abstinence-only advocates invent children:

“There are kids who don’t want to know how to put on a condom, because they don’t want to have sex,” said Leslee J. Unruh, founder and president of the South Dakota-based Abstinence Clearinghouse, the nation’s largest network of abstinence educators. “So why can’t kids who want to abstain have equal time, funding and education in the classroom as kids who are having sex?”

Even if such children (who have reached puberty) exist, abstinence-only programs cannot be distinguished from an evangelical Christian moral foundation; they deprive children of “access to medically accurate information about contraceptives and disease prevention.”

Even though a Government Accounting Office report concluded that abstinence-only programs were (still) unproven, “[i]n a federal budget that is tight for nearly everything but entitlements, domestic security, and the military efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, President Bush has asked Congress to carve out $191 million for the abstinence program in fiscal 2008 — an increase of $28 million over current funding.”

Federal officials hope to prevent other states from dropping out of the Title V program. Late last month, a memo by the Family and Youth Services Bureau at the Administration for Children and Families clarified that although state agencies could only use Title V grants for abstinence-based programs, those programs could be part of a broader curriculum that includes contraception education.

“This is not an either-or-situation,” said Harry Wilson, the associate commissioner of the bureau, which manages the program.

Abstinence-based programs, distinguishable from abstinence-only programs by a sort of middle-ground approach, still advocate abstinence but include information on contraception.

William Smith, vice president of public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, called the memo “an utterly desperate and disingenuous response to a crumbling program. The language is clear: If you get this money from the government, you teach only one thing: abstinence.”

California, having already seen its own abstinence-only programs fail, never accepted federal money for them; Colorado, New Jersey, and Wisconsin are now also dropping out of the program.

Limitations of a Western View

Noam Chomsky compared the Iranian response to a hypothetical U.S. response, should the Iranians have invaded and occupied Canada and Mexico, just as the U.S. has invaded and occupied both Iraq and Afghanistan. Gilad Atzmon offers what is perhaps a more apt comparison in light of the recent capture and release of 15 British sailors, pointing out that “[i]t was [Iranian President] Ahmadinejad who has pardoned the enemy, it was Ahmadinejad that evoked some prospects of a peaceful future.” He continues:

Brits and Americans should ask themselves whether they can recall Bush or Blair meeting with any of the many illegally detained Guantánamo Bay inmates. Brits may also want to ask themselves when was the last time their Prime Minister was seen chatting with Abu Hamza* or anyone like him. My usual Ziocon critics would obviously blame me for equating here ‘innocent’ naval personnel to ‘murderous bloodthirsty terrorists’. I would suggest to them to bear in mind that it is ‘us’ who label others as ‘terrorist’ as much as it is ‘us’ who generously label ourselves as ‘innocent’. I may as well voluntarily suggest to my possible critics that within this so-called ‘cultural clash’, it is again ‘us’ who launched an illegal war, it is ‘us’ who are legally and morally responsible for the ongoing genocide in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is ‘our’ democratically elected governments that support the Israeli atrocities in Palestine. It is ‘our’ leaders who happen to be the terrorists who fail to talk to the so-called enemy. It is ‘our’ leaders who fail to offer any hope for peace. Instead they just prepare us for many more conflicts to come. More importantly, I may suggest to my critics that in the eyes of an Iranian, the captured naval personnel are part of an invasion army that destroys Arab and Muslim States.

I wonder how the majority of British people would feel about a bunch of Iranian naval commandos operating in the English Channel, stopping every Western vessel and searching its belly for some potential military goods. I wonder as well how most Brits would feel about the democratically elected Iranian government interfering with the British Parliament’s recent decision to spend dozens of billions of Sterling on a new Trident, a weapon designed for the indiscriminate killing of millions of people. Obviously there is no need to elaborate on these rhetorical questions, the answers are clear. The vast majority of Brits wouldn’t accept anyone interfering either with British politics or with the Kingdom’s territorial waters. Yet, for the majority of Westerners, constant intimidation and destruction of Muslim or Arab States seems to be nothing other than business as usual. . . .

The President whom some of us call ‘Islamofascist’, believes actually that the Iranian people are equal human beings. Thus, he genuinely believes that like more or less every Western country, his country and his people have the right to benefit from atomic energy and nuclear research. Is it that outrageous? I may suggest that considering Western governments are becoming increasingly enthusiastic about atomic energy, it is basically impossible to produce any sufficient ethical argument against Ahmadinejad on that matter. Moreover, bearing in mind the Israeli nuclear might, there is not a single moral argument for preventing any of Israel’s neighbours from having at least a similar deadly capacity.

Ahmadinejad doesn’t shy off. He says what he believes to be right. He believes for instance that if the Europeans feel guilty for their past crimes against the Jews, it is the Europeans who should face their past and take responsibility for the Jews rather than dumping them in the Middle East at the expense of the Palestinian people. Again, this thought is rational as well as implacably ethically grounded. Whether we like its implication or not is a different matter. Ahmadinejad may be seen by some as a Holocaust denier, yet as far as I can see, he is one of the very few statesmen who manages to internalise the real meaning of the Holocaust. He says No to racism. Accordingly, he believes that Israel, the ‘Jews only State’, a racially orientated nationalist entity, has no right to exist as such. Ahmadinejad has never called for the liquidation of the Israeli people but rather for the dismantling of the Zionist apparatus. Again, I see nothing ethically wrong with that.

Saying whatever they want you to

So, it turns out that the boundary between Iraqi and Iranian waters that the British and the Iranians were fussing over has never been defined and Iran appears to have backed down in its confrontation with Britain over fifteen British sailors it had seized, extracted confessions from, and now pardoned and released.

My favorite professor thinks that it is really Britain who backed down, but now that the sailors are back in British hands, they have, according to bulletins from the BBC and the U.S. broadcast network, ABC, repudiated the confessions Iran attributed to them, declaring that they were in Iraqi–not Iranian–waters at the time, and that the Iranians had put them under “psychological pressure.” My professor thinks the British and Iranians made a deal — Prime Minister Tony Blair certainly hinted as much when he had said that the next 48 hours would be crucial and for the Iranian president to call the release a “gift to Britain” suggests his satisfaction with the outcome.

Whatever happened behind closed doors, each side has scored its propaganda points. While those fifteen sailors undoubtedly had the experience of their lives, it seems they’re now safely back in Britain, telling authorities there what they want to hear, just as, perhaps, they “confessed” to the authorities in Iran what they wanted to hear.

I can only hope that perhaps through some sort of catharsis, this outcome reduces the chances that the United States will attack Iran. If it doesn’t, Noam Chomsky advocates popular protest such as that which “frightened the political-military leadership enough in 1968 that they were reluctant to send more troops to Vietnam — fearing, we learned from the Pentagon Papers, that they might need them for civil-disorder control.”

Uncharacteristically, such protests might have an impact. The Bush administration now seems in retreat. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has embarassed neoconservatives, taking up the quest for peace between Israel and Syria. Bush was “too busy” to throw out the first pitch of the baseball season; Susie Bright suspects Bush “feared the stadium crowd would boo and jeer [his] arrival” and comments at length on the sexual politics of presidential crisis. The conservative Washington Times carried a story about a popular demand for impeachment; an online petition counts over 863,000 “votes” in favor.

But as has previously been noted here, Tony Blair is hardly in better shape. It is something of a miracle, from the reports I’ve been seeing, that the man is still in office, having served as Presidential Poodle, led his country into two unpopular wars alongside his master, and been implicated in an honours scandal. Where Susie Bright sees sexual politics as a diversion from Bush’s troubles, the crisis between Iran and Britain also serves as a diversion for Blair.