Time to think of a new Middle East?

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. You can comment here or there.

At this writing, it is still too early to know the outcome of the uprising in Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak has called in the military to reinforce (or substitute for) police forces that have failed so far to quiet the unrest. What role the military will actually play remains unclear. At least one unit appears to have sided with the protesters. Other units have taken up positions guarding national heritage sites and government buildings. But on the second day of this intervention, I have yet to hear of any clashes involving the military.1 2

I have seen specific reports of unrest in Jordan, Libya, and particularly in Yemen.

Stratfor, a realist (think realpolitik) think tank, has carried a report it says is unverified that the Rafah border crossing into the Gaza Strip is now unguarded, and that Hamas is linking up with the Muslim Brotherhood—which has so far, apparently, played only a peripheral role in the protests.3 Whether or not that report proves to be true, I’m thinking any new regime in Egypt would be far less likely to support Israeli policy—including a brutal ongoing blockade of the Gaza Strip—towards the Palestinians than the Mubarak regime.4 5

Indeed, if these uprisings—driven in part by escalating food prices,6 which some blame on climate change,7 8 9 and hence principally on the largest greenhouse gas emitters in the world—replace authoritarian regimes with governments that are less willing to be bought off by the United States, the status quo which enables Israel to act as a regional bully may be upended.

These governments may also be far less willing to take the blame for U.S. drone attacks against their people.10 Indeed, the U.S. policy of unlimited, endless war anywhere in the world11 12 may be undercut in the very region that the Islamophobia of the United States focuses upon.

And that the United States, for all its financial and military assistance, manifestly cannot guarantee the survival of authoritarian regimes will not go unnoticed by those who have acted to mitigate Arab anger at the United States. Nor will it go unnoticed by those who rise up against those regimes. And it will not go unnoticed by those closer to home who perceive a loss of U.S. influence.

It cannot just be the government

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. You can comment here or there.

Of course I’d heard that the U.S. government had been behind the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. But just because some people I trust believe something to be the case doesn’t mean there’s actual backing for the claim. I’d managed not to know that the matter had actually gone to trial. The King Center has transcripts and an outline of the trial. The juicy part is here:

After hearing and reviewing the extensive testimony and evidence, which had never before been tested under oath in a court of law, it took the Memphis jury only 1½ hours to find that a conspiracy to kill Dr. King did exist. Most significantly, this conspiracy involved agents of the governments of the City of Memphis, the state of Tennessee and the United States of America. The overwhelming weight of the evidence also indicated that James Earl Ray was not the triggerman and, in fact, was an unknowing patsy.1

I don’t know what became of this verdict. I assume that the U.S. government at all levels continues to deny the allegations.

So when I see something on the World Socialist Web Site headlined, “US pursues two-track policy to suppress protests in Egypt and Tunisia,”2 I’m a little less inclined to dismiss it as hyperbole—even if it does call for Trotskyite organizing in Egypt. Indeed, there can be little mistaking Obama administration sympathies in the case of Egypt, a key ally in U.S. policy on Israel.3 4

And when I see Mark Weisbrot write, “Haiti’s infamous dictator ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier, returned to his country this week, while the country’s first elected President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, is kept out,” and that the U.S. role in evicting Aristide from power on two occasions is well-documented,5 6 I’m inclined to say the burden of proof lies with the U.S. government.

But when I combine this with the serial criminality of the Bush administration,7 whose policies have been embraced and extended by the Obama administration, and with the nearly permanent condition of war of the United States that extends from before it was even a country,8 I’m led to another conclusion. This government must truly reflect the people who continue to acquiesce to it. At some point the claim that elites can go on doing all this for hundreds of years and nobody can do anything about it wears thin.

If the people of the United States truly cared about democracy, they would rebel rather than tolerate the transfer of wealth and power not from the rich to the poor but from the poor to the wealthy.9 In the past, they would have.10 But no more.

If the people of the United States truly cared about democracy, if they truly believed in the United States as a “shining city on the hill,” whose system of government is universally beneficial to all humans,11 they would demand a stop to the continual support of foreign dictatorships12 and to its resistance to democracy in other countries.13 14 15 But they don’t.

If the people of the United States truly love peace, then why have there been only sixteen calendar years in which the U.S. has not had its military forces on some sort of killing expedition somewhere?16

It is common to attribute all this to ignorance—after all, I was unaware of that civil trial that found the government guilty of conspiracy in the Martin Luther King, Jr., assassination—and there’s not much question that the mainstream media serve as agents of power.17 18 19 20 Charles Reich projected an image of people exhausted by work and pacified by the illusions of riches on their television screens.21 But then I see all these examples from around the world of uprisings by people who are at least as subject to censorship as those in the United States, by people whose lives are at least as hard, by people who are nonetheless not fooled. And yet I am to suppose that people in the U.S. are fooled.

Again and again the question keeps arising. Why do the Greeks shut down their capital city rather than acquiesce to an “austerity program” that ensures that bankers get paid while their economy collapses?22 Why did Iranians rise up against vote fraud, judicial violence, corruption, and repression?23

I now lean instead towards the idea of pacification that Reich suggested. But Reich thought that this repression of the working class would be unsustainable, that inevitably a new consciousness would arise.24 It never happened. Because as near as I can tell, people in the U.S. want nothing more than to be cannon fodder and to be cogs in the corporate machine, all to preserve an illusion.

And even as the social safety net that should protect them from the ravages of devastating unemployment is eviscerated,25 26 they will join their brothers and sisters on the off ramps and the median strips of the nation’s highways and its city streets with their cardboard signs.

But they’ll be loyal “Americans.”

Obama and the Power of Prayer

A reason for reading Dennis Loo and Peter Phillips’ Impeach the President[1] is to see how much of that case remains applicable today—against the current administration of Barack Obama. It seems we spent much of 2009 and all of 2010 engaged in a debate over whether Obama has betrayed the left or is “governing.” In September 2009, David Swanson argued that Obama has embraced and extended so many Bush policies that we were effectively living in “Bush’s third term.”[2] Towards the end of 2009, Glenn Greenwald wrote, noting Matt Yglesias’ argument that it is the role of Congress to check the executive branch,

I agree with Matt’s explicit point that Congress has an important role to play in checking presidential abuses — a role they’ve clearly abdicated no matter which party was in control. He’s also right that Presidents don’t easily relinquish power. But it’s hardly unreasonable to object when someone runs for high political office based on clear and repeated promises that they have squarely violated. Whatever else is true, watching Obama embrace extremist policies can still be “disappointing” even if one isn’t surprised that he’s doing it. I could understand and accept a lot more easily this blithe acquiescence to Obama’s record if it weren’t for the fact that progressives and Democrats spent so many years screaming bloody murder over Bush’s use of indefinite detention, military commissions, state secrets, renditions, and extreme secrecy — policies Obama has largely and/or completely adopted as his own. One can’t help but wonder, at least in some cases, how genuine those objections were, as opposed to their just having been effective tools to discredit a Republican president for partisan and political gain.[3]

And about a week and a half later, on the emotional attachments that many on the left have for Obama—which he parallels with those on the right for George W. Bush and, more recently, Sarah Palin,

These outbursts include everything other than arguments addressed to the only question that matters: are the criticisms that have been voiced about Obama valid? Has he appointed financial officials who have largely served the agenda of the Wall Street and industry interests that funded his campaign? Has he embraced many of the Bush/Cheney executive power and secrecy abuses which Democrats once railed against — from state secrets to indefinite detention to renditions and military commissions? Has he actively sought to protect from accountability and disclosure a whole slew of Bush crimes? Did he secretly a negotiate a deal with the pharmaceutical industry after promising repeatedly that all negotiations over health care would take place out in the open, even on C-SPAN? Are the criticisms of his escalation of the war in Afghanistan valid, and are his arguments in its favor redolent of the ones George Bush made to “surge” in Iraq or Lyndon Johnson made to escalate in Vietnam? Is Bob Herbert right when he condemned Obama’s detention policies as un-American and tyrannical, and warned: “Policies that were wrong under George W. Bush are no less wrong because Barack Obama is in the White House”?[4]

The left’s criticism of Obama didn’t let up. By August 2010, well on the way to a disastrous November election, which Obama used as an excuse to betray yet another campaign promise,[5] White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was complaining that those who say Obama is “like George Bush . . . ought to be drug tested.”[6] In September, as progressive fury built, Susie Madrak of Crooks and Liars was accusing David Axelrod of “hippie-punching,” saying, “We’re the girl you’ll take under the bleachers but you won’t be seen with in the light of day,”[7] and Vice President Joe Biden was telling progressives to “stop whining.”[8] But it is hard to imagine a more quintessentially progressive issue than a woman’s right to choose abortion, an issue Obama has been weak on in the past,[9] and David Dayen pointed out the hypocrisy of Democrats appealing for votes on the grounds that Republicans would erode that right[10]:

I don’t think anyone doing this explicitly voted for, say, the Stupak amendment. But I don’t think women and abortion rights advocates have forgotten about the outcome of that in the health care bill. They haven’t forgotten that they expected the Obama Administration’s tenure to spell the end of the Hyde Amendment, only to find it extended dramatically, in ways that could mean the end of all insurance coverage of abortion permanently.[11]

One difference between Bush and Obama, however, appears in the role of evangelical Protestantism. Obama pandered to evangelicals on abortion, but at the very least, we do not hear of Obama White House aides wandering down the corridors reading the Bible. It might have been Ron Suskind who coined the phrase “faith-based presidency;” he definitely painted a picture of the Bush White House as governed by a certainty based not on facts but on faith, a faith that apparently played well on the campaign trail.[12] To the extent that Obama has extended and expanded Bush policies, he is extending and expanding that faith-based presidency.[13] And in what might be the weakest chapter of Loo and Phillips’ book, Mark Miller argues only in passing that Bush’s criminality exceeds by far that of any previous president; he focuses instead on how Bush has transformed the federal government into a theocracy.[14]

To suggest that Miller’s chapter might be the weakest in this book is almost not a criticism; the book—and even Miller’s chapter—is that powerful. The passage that concerns me however is,

Whereas the neocons have no grass-roots constituency, the Christianists command a seasoned national army of devoted troops who have long since infiltrated the political establishment at both the state and federal levels and who now run both the GOP and the [Bush] regime’s executive departments, while also dominating Congress and, increasingly, the Supreme Court. The neocons, in other words, do not comprise a full-blown movement but are nothing more, or less, than a highly influtential coterie, and so to cast them as the theocrats’ full partners is to overstate their numbers and their power.[15]

This seems to be true, as far as it goes. But it also seems to understate the role of neoconservatives and corporations. Miller defends this arguing that neither the military nor corporations share evangelicals’ apocalyptic suicidal influence.[16] But if anything is apparent since financial deregulation, it is that corporate quarterly results outweigh long term considerations, even those which ultimately make corporate activities unsustainable—these are dismissed as “externalities” even as the environment that sustains human (and all other) life is destroyed and even as the socioeconomic systems that sustain the economy and the financial system are hollowed out.[17] That surely is a form of suicide. And while Miller points out how evangelicals have permeated the Army, Marines, and Air Force,[18] neoconservatives Vice President Richard Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, both of whom strongly advocated the wars that Miller (probably rightly) sees as so destructive for the military, date back to the Nixon administration[19] and it is only reasonable to believe that fellow neoconservatives have been finding their way into various levels of federal government service for at least that long.

The problem here is that Miller seems to see the federal government in dichotomous terms. It is either neoconservative or it is theocratic. We might consider instead the possibility that it is quite large enough to be both. And then we must consider that Obama inherited institutions substantially staffed by believers of the one kind or the other which were on a trajectory towards a unitary executive that Barbara Bowley discusses in her chapter.[20]

But it would assume negligence on Obama’s part to suggest he did not realize as a candidate that this would be what he was getting into. And it is particularly criminal for this former professor in constitutional law to run on a promise of change on many if not all of these points and then to 1) continue Bush’s program of amassing executive branch power, 2) do next to nothing to alter the trajectory he seems to have inherited,[21] and 3) refuse and resist any investigation of those crimes.[22]

With a Democrat as president, any excuse Democrats had for evading responsibility for their complicity in Bush policy has now evaporated. They, along with the Republicans, fully deserve not just impeachment, but criminal charges for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

  1. [1]Dennis Loo and Peter Phillips, eds. Impeach the President: The Case Against Bush and Cheney (New York: Seven Stories, 2006)
  2. [2]David Swanson, "Bush's Third Term? You're Living It," Huffington Post, September 1, 2009. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-swanson/bushs-third-term-youre-li_b_274438.html
  3. [3]Glenn Greenwald, "Is Obama's civil liberties record understandable?" Salon, November 27, 2009. http://www.salon.com/2009/11/27/civil_liberties_3/
  4. [4]Glenn Greenwald, "My friend the president," Salon, December 8, 2009. http://www.salon.com/2009/12/08/obama_126/
  5. [5]Paul Krugman, "The World as He Finds It," New York Times, November 14, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/15/opinion/15krugman.html
  6. [6]Sam Youngman, "White House unloads anger over criticism from 'professional left’," The Hill, August 10, 2010. http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/113431-white-house-unloads-on-professional-left
  7. [7]Greg Sargent, "Liberal blogger directly confronts David Axelrod, accuses White House of 'hippie punching'," Washington Post, September 23, 2010. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/plum-line/2010/09/liberal_blogger_directly_confr.html
  8. [8]Blue Texan, "Stop Whining, Liberals!" Firedoglake, September 27, 2010. http://firedoglake.com/2010/09/27/late-night-stop-whining-liberals/
  9. [9]Marie Cocco, "Obama Botches the Abortion Conversation," Alternet, July 8, 2008. http://www.alternet.org/reproductivejustice/90675/
  10. [10]David Dayen, "Democrats Running on Abortion Politics," Firedoglake, October 8, 2010. http://news.firedoglake.com/2010/10/08/democrats-running-on-abortion-politics/
  11. [11]Dayen, "Democrats Running on Abortion Politics."”
  12. [12]Ron Suskind, "Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush," New York Times, October 17, 2004. http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/17/magazine/17BUSH.html
  13. [13]David Benfell, "The Obama administration is as dangerous as the Bush administration," January 15, 2011, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=2013
  14. [14]Mark Crispin Miller, "Bush-Cheney's War on the Enlightenment," in Impeach the President: The Case Against Bush and Cheney, Dennis Loo and Peter Phillips, eds. (New York: Seven Stories, 2006).
  15. [15]Miller, "Bush-Cheney's War on the Enlightenment," p. 190.
  16. [16]Miller, "Bush-Cheney's War on the Enlightenment."
  17. [17]Riane Eisler, The Real Wealth of Nations (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2007); Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, Winner-Take-All Politics (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010).
  18. [18]Miller, "Bush-Cheney's War on the Enlightenment."
  19. [19]PBS Frontline, "Rumsfeld's War: Paths to Power." Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/pentagon/paths/
  20. [20]Barbara J. Bowley, "The Campaign for Unfettered Power," in Impeach the President: The Case Against Bush and Cheney, Dennis Loo and Peter Phillips, eds. (New York: Seven Stories, 2006).
  21. [21]Barbara J. Bowley, "The Campaign for Unfettered Power: Executive Supremacy, Secrey, and Surveillance," in Impeach the President: The Case Against Bush and Cheney, Dennis Loo and Peter Phillips, eds. (New York: Seven Stories, 2006); Jeremy Brecher, Jull Culter, and Brendan Smith, "War Crimes are High Crimes," in Impeach the President: The Case Against Bush and Cheney, Dennis Loo and Peter Phillips, eds. (New York: Seven Stories, 2006); jeffroby, "Time for a Dump Obama movement," Firedoglake, September 11, 2010. http://seminal.firedoglake.com/diary/70644
  22. [22]Shashank Bengali, "Other countries probing Bush-era torture — Why aren't we?" McClatchy, August 18, 2010. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2010/08/18/99359/detainee-torture-cases-proceed.html; David Johnston and Charlie Savage, "Obama Reluctant to Look Into Bush Programs," New York Times, January 11, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/12/us/politics/12inquire.html; Susie Madrak, "Wikileaks: Obama Pressured Spain Into Dropping Bush Torture Prosecutions," Crooks and Liars, December 2, 2010. http://crooksandliars.com/susie-madrak/wikileaks-obama-pressured-spain-dropp

Playing with nuclear fire

The argument that a criminal political system remains the only option for change came to mind as I read Larry Everest’s chapter, “Iraq: Phase Two in an Unbounded War on the World,” in Dennis Loo and Peter Phillips’ book, Impeach the President. Everest discounts this possibility and calls for mass protest to compel policymakers to action.[1]

Everest’s chapter remains important today because he highlights how all the justifications for the war on Iraq were false, how the war on Iraq was a criminal act (among the many of which the Obama administration resists investigation[2]) and because he explains the unstated reason that “the U.S. establishment felt that [Saddam] Hussein’s regime was undermining its control of the Middle East and impeding its ambitions globally.”[3] It is the latter of these reasons that is most interesting to me today, because not even eight years after the invasion of Iraq, it is now abundantly clear that 1) the threat to attack the next country on the neoconservative hit list, Iran, lacks any credibility whatsoever;[4] 2) the U.S. paid a very high price, in both blood and treasure, to enhance Iranian political influence in Iraq, presumably to the detriment of U.S. interests;[5] and 3) the at best dubious outcomes in the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan have undermined the status of the U.S. as the world’s sole superpower.

Indeed, while most U.S. citizens continue to view their country as “exceptional,” entitled to lead the world towards “democracy,” they “believe the U.S. is currently at risk of losing its unique character.”[6] As the cognitive dissonance of their country manifestly becoming something other than what, pledging allegiance every morning in school, they were raised to think it was, the question of what happens next, particularly for those who have access to military weapons becomes urgent.

In the past I have worried that the transition from superpower status to that of just another country combined with climate change-induced food shortages and mass migrations[7] might lead some apocalyptic evangelical Protestants, notably in the U.S. Air Force,[8] identifying their country as “good,” to perceive that the final battle between “good” and “evil” is at hand (as Ronald Reagan thought in 1981;[9] to bypass the human-designed permissive action links on nuclear weapons and to launch them. If anything, the decline of the U.S. has been more precipitous than I anticipated, both in geopolitical and economic terms,[10] while mass migration has yet to make itself apparent.

But a renewed focus on the link between violent political discourse and violent political actions has appeared with the attempted assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords. While most discount the relationship, and indeed most people are not motivated to political violence by such words, it seems that aggressive people might be.[11] And while neoconservatives should not be confused with isolationist capitalist libertarians, who in turn should not be confused with social conservatives (of, for example, an evangelical Protestant variety), it appears that self-described conservatives themselves are often not so clear on these distinctions.[12] It would be unreasonable to expect that some of the most aggressive Tea Partiers—13 percent of whom think violence against the current U.S. government is justified[13]—are not in the military; some in the military and in some police departments call themselves “Oath Keepers” and they include “birthers” and “truthers” and capitalist libertarians.[14] It simply would not take that much to impel them to action.

What all this means is that under certain circumstances, a right wing militia uprising might find support from elements in the U.S. military and in local police departments. It might draw upon nuclear-equipped units. If enough soldiers’ families sense what Hacker and Pierson have to say about government transferring wealth from the poor to the rich,[15] support for this uprising might spread like wildfire among the troops. It might find support elsewhere. But any assumption that any such rebellion could be immediately put down by forces loyal to the government should be more carefully considered.

A prudent government would take steps to relieve the pressure on the working class that feeds the desperation that feeds a sense that people will need to take matters into their own hands. It doesn’t appear that our government is prudent.[16]

  1. [1]Larry Everest, “Iraq: Phase Two in an Unbounded War on the World,” in Impeach the President: The Case Against Bush and Cheney, Dennis Loo and Peter Phillips, eds. (New York: Seven Stories, 2006).
  2. [2]Shashank Bengali, “Other countries probing Bush-era torture — Why aren’t we?” McClatchy, August 18, 2010, http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2010/08/18/99359/detainee-torture-cases-proce…; William Fisher, “Outrage Mounts over Bush’s Waterboarding ‘Confession’,” Inter Press Service, November 11, 2010, http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=53535; David Johnston and Charlie Savage, “Obama Reluctant to Look Into Bush Programs,” New York Times, January 11, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/12/us/politics/12inquire.html?_r=1; Susie Madrak, “Wikileaks: Obama Pressured Spain Into Dropping Bush Torture Prosecutions,” Crooks and Liars, December 2, 2010, http://crooksandliars.com/susie-madrak/wikileaks-obama-pressured-spain-d…
  3. [3]Everest, 114.
  4. [4]Reese Erlich, interview for Tehran Bureau, “‘Conversations with Terrorists’: Face to Face with the Bogeymen,” October 25, 2010, http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/Tehranbureau/~3/9NC6TNn8NAg/conversations…; Dov S. Zakheim, “The Military Option,” Tehran Bureau, October 25, 2010, http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/Tehranbureau/~3/BNEB2DMhijw/iran-primer-t…
  5. [5]Neil Arun and Abeer Mohammed, “Rise of Iran reveals polarized Iraq,” Asia Times, April 9, 2010, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/LD09Ak02.html; Suzanne Maloney, “How the Iraq War Has Empowered Iran,” Brookings Institution, March 21, 2008. Retrieved from http://www.brookings.edu/opinions/2008/0321_iraq_maloney.aspx; Gary Sick, “Is Iraq Shifting to Iran?” Daily Beast, November 16, 2009, http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2009-11-16/is-iraq-shifti…; Barbara Slavin, “U.S. wary of Iranian influence in Iraq,” USA Today, February 12, 2004, http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2004-02-12-iran-iraq-usat_x.htm
  6. [6] Jeffrey M. Jones, “Americans See U.S. as Exceptional; 37% Doubt Obama Does,” Gallup, December 22, 2010, http://www.gallup.com/poll/145358/Americans-Exceptional-Doubt-Obama.aspx
  7. [7]Andrew C. Revkin, “Growing Pentagon Focus on Energy and Climate,” New York Times, February 1, 2010, http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/01/growing-pentagon-focus-on-e…
  8. [8]Matthew Harwood, “Share No Dominion: The Lonely, Dangerous Fight Against Christian Supremacists Inside the Armed Forces,” Truthout, July 11, 2010, http://www.truth-out.org/no-dominion-the-lonely-dangerous-fight-against-…; Bryant Jordan, “AFA Religious Survey Called ‘Flawed’,” Military.com, October 30, 2010, http://www.military.com/news/article/afa-religious-survey-called-flawed….; Mike Ludwig, “‘Underground’ Group of Cadets Say Air Force Academy Controlled by Evangelicals,” Truthout, September 30, 2010, http://www.truth-out.org/underground-group-cadets-say-air-force-academy-…; Nadia Prupis, “Family Escalates Fight Against Air Force Academy for Allowing On-Campus Proselytizing,” Truthout, December 22, 2010, http://www.truth-out.org/family-escalates-fight-against-air-force-academ…
  9. [9]James Bennet, “Nuclear Options,” Atlantic, September 2010, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1969/12/nuclear-options/8188/
  10. [10]Alfred McCoy, “Taking Down America,” TomDispatch, December 5, 2010, http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175327/tomgram:_alfred_mccoy,_taking_dow… http://www.parts-unknown.org/drupal6/?q=node/4112
  11. [11]Emily Badger, “Linking Uncivil Rhetoric With Violent Acts,” Miller-McCune, January 22, 2011, http://www.miller-mccune.com/politics/linking-uncivil-rhetoric-with-violent-acts-26828/
  12. [12]Lee Drutman, “America Not as Politically Conservative as You Think,” Miller-McCune, January 14, 2011, http://www.miller-mccune.com/politics/america-not-as-politically-conserv…
  13. [13] kos, “13 percent of Tea Partiers are dangerous extremists,” Daily Kos, January 17, 2011, http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/01/17/936935/-13-percent-of-Tea-Partiers-are-dangerous-extremists
  14. [14]Alan Maimon, “Oath Keepers pledges to prevent dictatorship in United States,” Las Vegas Review-Journal, October 18, 2009, http://www.lvrj.com/news/oath-keepers-pledges-to-prevent-dictatorship-in-united-states-64690232.html; Justine Sharrock, “Oath Keepers and the Age of Treason,” Mother Jones, March/April 2010, http://motherjones.com/politics/2010/03/oath-keepers
  15. [15] Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010).
  16. [16]David Benfell, “Pushing government luck,” January 15, 2011, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=2012; David Benfell, “The Obama administration is as dangerous as the Bush administration,” January 15, 2011, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=2013

The Obama administration is as dangerous as the Bush administration

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. You can comment here or there.

Dennis Loo was remarkably prescient when he wrote,

Even if somehow the Democrats miraculously win the next presidential election [in 2008], and even if, hypothetically, the Democratic president wishes to curb the radical-right’s agenda, the radical right has entrenched itself so thoroughly and strategically int he government, in the military, in business, and in the media that any moves to curb its power and its agenda will be met with the ferocity of a really pissed-off vampire. Look at how angry and vituperative its practitioners are right now, and they have power!1

There is, of course, more. Hacker and Pierson point to how the extremely wealthy organized and funded lobbyists to convert a republican system of government into oligarchy. Their solution is for progressives to respond in kind, which would mean at least matching the money and sustaining the level of organization of the extremely rich at the same time as the rich are sucking ever more money away from everybody else.2 Setting aside the practicalities of achieving media penetration to create a necessary sense of urgency among people who are exhausted from having to work longer hours just to get by,3 4 I don’t think it is even possible for the numbers to come out on that.

But apart from the suffering of the unemployed, particularly those who fail to find work quickly or those who are over 50,5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Loo points out

that as the New Deal-Keynesian Welfare State is systematically dismantled by the neoliberal state—the political expression of globalization—as privatization takes the place of social programs, as deindustrialization and downsizing and speedups and take-aways proceed, as insecurity of job and livelihood becomes the norm rather than the exception, as the positive incentives, in other words, for normative behavior (jobs and decent pay, and so forth) are increasingly shredded, the state and the corporate world have no choice but to rely more and more heavily upon coercion to ensure cooperation and to forestall rebellion and revolution. coercion itself must be used more, but even coercion doesn’t work in all instances, and sheer terror must be employed given their overweening ambitions for world domination.14

Rational people would, of course, realize that increasing pressure in this manner can only end in an explosion. Loo doesn’t refer to the apocalyptic end times eschatology of some evangelical Protestants but quotes Bruce Prescott’s belief that,

Many [reconstructionists] seem to be biding their time until public sentiment turns decisively against the kind of reforms they are seeking. When that happens, I believe that some, if given the opportunity, will be willing to take up arms and wage another civil war.15

Loo also points to a New York Times article in which an unidentified Bush administration advisor infamously said,

That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.16

In that article, Ron Suskind reveals a mindset of destiny. Not only, as Loo observes, did the Bush administration see itself as able to “make reality” but it saw itself as carrying out the will of the god of Abraham. And when we see the irrationality with which the Obama administration continues, extends, and expands Bush administration policy, we can only conclude that the phenomenon of a “faith-based presidency” has carried forward not just across administrations, but between parties.

Indeed, how else can we explain the callousness of Obama administration policy towards the unemployed, that accepts high unemployment as the “new normal,” that doesn’t just enable foreclosure fraud, but uses a phony loan modification program to expedite those foreclosures?17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 This is an administration, which like its predecessor, perceives itself as immune from the consequences of its policies.

This isn’t just reckless, it isn’t just criminally insane; it is a recipe for an extremely violent uprising.

Pushing government luck

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. You can comment here or there.

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.1

While Mona Eltahawy, in an op-ed for the Washington Post, a newspaper sometimes accused of a neoconservative slant, says of Tunisia that the country “is not a major U.S. ally,”2 the New York Times reports, “The country, which is determinedly secular, is a close United States ally in the fight against terrorism. But on Friday, after reports that Mr. Ben Ali had fled, President Obama made strong statements in support of the protesters.”3

The timing of Obama’s remarks is critical. Eltahawy continues:

On Jan. 7, the State Department said it was concerned about the regime’s online and real-life crackdown. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Jan. 12 that Washington would not take sides, infuriating those who saw a double standard in the vocal U.S. position on Iran.

But others saw encouragement from Washington’s reticence. U.S. leaders are “supporting us with their silence,” a Tunisian told me on Twitter. “If they say anything, we will lose.”4

What is clear is that Ali’s regime was the nasty sort of regime that the U.S. seems inevitably to support but which no one now defends. Playing both sides, neoconservatives will undoubtedly embrace Eltahawy’s depiction:

For decades, a host of Arab dictators have justified their endless terms in office by pointing to Islamists waiting in the wings. Having both inflated the egos and power of Islamists and scared Western allies into accepting stability over democracy, those leaders were left to comfortably sweep “elections.” Ben Ali was elected to a fifth term with 89.62 percent of the vote in 2009.

All around him is a depressingly familiar pattern. Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi (68 years old) has been in power since 1969; Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh (64) has ruled since 1978 and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (82) since 1981. Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika (73) is a relative newcomer, having been in power only since 1999. Not so much fathers as grandfathers of their nations, these autocrats cling to office – and are increasingly out of touch with their young populaces.

No doubt, every Arab leader has watched Tunisia’s revolt in fear while citizens across the Arab world watch in solidarity, elated at that rarity: open revolution.5

Indeed, both CNN and the BBC report that Ali has landed in Saudi Arabia.6 7 But there is a larger message for those in government who, rather than any measure of economic justice for their people, instead work to enhance the riches of the wealthy.

According to the Times, “the mounting protests quickly evolved from demands for more jobs to demands for political reforms, focusing mainly on the perceived corruption of the government and the self-enrichment of the ruling family.” WikiLeaks revelations “of the first family’s self-enrichment and opulent lifestyle” did not help. And Tunisia, it seems, is a largely secular, middle class country.8

In the United States, it is the 150th anniversary of the South’s secession from the Union. A number of articles have emerged affirming that a primary motivation for secession was the preservation of slavery.9 10 Apparently, this is disputed by those whose ancestors fought for the Confederacy despite not owning slaves, though Robert McElvaine argues that they were duped into fighting against their own interests just as they are now duped into voting against their own interests.11

What we know is that a desperate, combustible anger that occasionally erupts into violence is widespread across the white working class. It is largely founded in class issues even when it is directed at women and people of color.12 13 14 15 16 17 18 It is an anger that will not be assuaged by pieties such as,

Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let’s use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together.19

It is in fact an anger that has been sorely provoked by a political system that bailed out the banks while leaving ordinary people to twist in the wind. If people were surprised by what happened in Tunisia, they should reflect on what might happen in the United States.

No compassion for a fox fighting for “its” life

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. You can comment here or there.

Somewhere in Belarus a fox is suffering.

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A wounded fox shot its would be killer in Belarus by pulling the trigger on the hunter’s gun as the pair scuffled after the man tried to finish the animal off with the butt of the rifle, media said Thursday.

The unnamed hunter, who had approached the fox after wounding it from a distance, was in hospital with a leg wound, while the fox made its escape, media said, citing prosecutors from the Grodno region.

“The animal fiercely resisted and in the struggle accidentally pulled the trigger with its paw,” one prosecutor was quoted as saying.

Fox-hunting is popular in the picturesque farming region of northwestern Belarus which borders Poland.1

Clearly, my moral values differ from those of the hunter—or even the reporter, who associates fox hunting with a “picturesque farming region.” Reuters included the story with its “Oddly Enough” report, suggesting that the story is unusual, a matter of interest or amusement, rather than the tale of an animal fighting for its life.

At most, we might read in to this story a sort of moral equivalence, where the fox and human each leave their encounter wounded. The human sought out this meeting and will receive treatment for his wounds. The fox ran off. Having served “its” purpose for our amusement, the animal may now bleed to death or continue to suffer from “its” wounds.

But it is the status of being “human” that is supposed to connote a capacity for compassion.

Can Sarah Palin be elected?

Somewhere along the way, I’m pretty sure I’d heard the slander that lies behind the term, “blood libel,” before. I didn’t remember the term itself.

To me this raises some questions about just how this controversy will play with the U.S. public. Because my guess that a lot of other people don’t remember it either finds support in a number of articles appearing that take pains to explain the term. And that might mitigate the controversy’s impact.

For the record,

Blood libel has been a central fable of anti-Semitism in which Jews have been accused of using the blood of gentile children for medicinal purposes or to mix in with matzo, the unleavened bread traditionally eaten at Passover.[1]

That Gabrielle Giffords, shot in the head by someone apparently out to kill her, is Jewish[2] makes Palin’s use of the term particularly offensive.

Joan Walsh thinks “Americans won’t forget that while Giffords and other shooting victims were still hospitalized, Palin was tending to her own psychic wounds. So very petty, so hugely unpresidential.”[3] But I’m not buying that this will stop her from being elected president. Walsh also makes a fairly compelling comparison between Palin and Nixon—and the latter was not just elected president in 1968 but re-elected in 1972.[4]

What caught my attention while reading Hacker and Pierson’s Winner-Take-All Politics was that Nixon split the New Deal coalition by playing on race while pursuing relatively—and clearly by today’s standards—liberal social policies. In terms of economic policy, we’ve actually moved backwards.[5] And I’m not buying that we are a more sensitive people now than in the 1970s.

Sure we have a black president. But the hysterical racist venom that’s been directed against him and other politicians since his election[6] combines with an anti-immigrant hysteria, an anti-Muslim hysteria, and now—possibly—anti-Semitism (where else could Palin have found the term, blood libel?) to suggest that in terms of race and ethnic relations, we haven’t advanced one iota. Mark Potok, writing for the Southern Poverty Law Center concluded,

Hate groups stayed at record levels — almost 1,000 — despite the total collapse of the second largest neo-Nazi group in America. Furious anti-immigrant vigilante groups soared by nearly 80%, adding some 136 new groups during 2009. And, most remarkably of all, so-called “Patriot” groups — militias and other organizations that see the federal government as part of a plot to impose “one-world government” on liberty-loving Americans — came roaring back after years out of the limelight.[7]

At the very least, a radical right wing is becoming more predominant, not less. Against this, Hacker and Pierson insist,

In theory, the parties could be polarizing because voters are polarizing. Yet, puzzlingly, ideological polarization turns out to be mostly an elite affair. Most Americans, it turns out, are just not that far apart in their views. Yes, voters are better “sorted” than they used to be, with liberals more likely to be Democrats and conservatives more likely to be Republicans. And, yes, activists within the parties have moved further apart. But the ideological polarization of the electorate as a whole—the degree of disagreement on left-right issues overall—is modest and has changed little over time.[8]

The way I make sense of this is that activists within the parties have counted for relatively little as policymaking has evolved in a largely neoconservative and economic elitist direction and that the United States population is largely—on a grossly oversimplistic and tightly limited left-right spectrum that, for example, poorly represents many of the students I taught—center-right in orientation. The understanding of “center-right” has shifted to one that is more strongly individualist on economic issues while underlying racism has changed little.

The election of a president of color brings bigotry to the surface. And while most U.S. residents might deny that they are racist, they exercise very little social restraint on those who espouse subtly racist views. At the very least, racism remains socially acceptable across a substantial portion of the U.S. population.

And to sustain Joan Walsh’s position, we have to assume that a plurality of this population will empathize with Jews—whom Richard Nixon was famously bigoted against. Or even that they have become more tolerant of “others” over time.

But if anything, people in the U.S. have become less empathetic and more individualist.[9] The unpopularity of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq seems to have little to do with people—particularly “others”—dying and much, much more with the fact the U.S. is losing.[10] The ending of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell—a homophobic policy that only permitted gays and lesbians to serve in the armed forces as long as they kept their mouths shut about it—permits gays and lesbians to join other stigmatized groups.

In broad demographic terms, the Armed Forces continue to be largely representative of the country as a whole – drawing predominantly from America’s working and middle classes. There are disparities when it comes to the racial composition of certain specialties and ranks, especially the most senior officers. But in all, the fears expressed when the all-volunteer force was first instituted – that the only people left willing to serve would be the poorest, the worst educated, the least able to get any other job – simply did not come to pass. As I alluded to earlier, that group would be hard pressed to make it into a force that is, on average, the most educated in history. Where virtually all new enlistees have a high school diploma or equivalent – about 15 percent more than their civilian peers – and nearly all officers have bachelors’ degrees, many have Masters, and a surprising number, like General David Petraeus, have PhDs.[11]

That’s a fine gloss but Defense Secretary Gates’ speech was largely about how

for most Americans the wars remain an abstraction. A distant and unpleasant series of news items that does not affect them personally. Even after 9/11, in the absence of a draft, for a growing number of Americans, service in the military, no matter how laudable, has become something for other people to do. In fact, with each passing decade fewer and fewer Americans know someone with military experience in their family or social circle. According to one study, in 1988 about 40 percent of 18 year olds had a veteran parent. By 2000 the share had dropped to 18 percent, and is projected to fall below 10 percent in the future.[12]

In short, people in the U.S. military are “others.” Tim Kane’s article for the Heritage Foundation glosses over the issue in a similar way, reporting that

on average, 1999 recruits were more highly educated than the equiv­alent general population, more rural and less urban in origin, and of similar income status. We did not find evidence of minority racial exploitation (by race or by race-weighted ZIP code areas). We did find evidence of a “Southern military tradition” in that some states, notably in the South and West, provide a much higher proportion of enlisted troops by population.[13]

Kane says that recruits are largely middle class, but his graphs show a bulge in recruitment centered on a household income of $30,000 to $35,000, a value he considers reasonable because the median income—not the mean (a more representative statistical measure of the center) income—for U.S. households is around $42,000. He claims that nearly all (98 percent) recruits have a high school education or higher,[14] but this is meaningless because a high school diploma or equivalent is virtually a requirement for recruitment.[15] In fact, very few have more than a high school diploma.[16] And Gates’ claim that “nearly all officers have bachelors’ degrees”[17] is again consistent with generally required qualifications.[18] Recruits also appear to come disproportionately from places with higher housing costs and lower home ownership rates. On race, Kane’s analysis is inconsistent, claiming that the proportion of whites in the military is similar to the proportion of the population overall, even though recruiting focuses on black areas.[19]

So the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in fact says very little about majority attitudes towards gays—historically, the most stigmatized group—and is, if anything, consistent with continuing resistance among the population to same sex marriage. And while the proportion opposed to recognition to these marriages has declined since 1996,[20] it is a mistake to infer that this means there has been any shift in opinion whatsoever amongst those who remain opposed. Which suggests that acceptance of people with “other” sexual preferences for military service is entirely consistent with acceptance of “others” as cannon fodder.

And in fact the various ways in which “others” continue to face severe discrimination is the subject of Ishmael’s collection of essays, Multi-America.[21] Walsh’s assumption, therefore, that Sarah Palin’s lack of empathy, her intolerance, and in fact her gross insensitivity might disqualify her in voters’ minds for the presidency rests on very shaky ground.

If Sarah Palin is sufficiently able to mimic Barack Obama’s performance in fund-raising for a candidacy in 2012, it might all too easily prove the case that a plurality of the U.S. population is mean enough to elect her.[22]

  1. [1]Rick Rojas, “‘Blood libel’ has particular, painful meaning to Jewish people,” Los Angeles Times, January 13, 2011, http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-blood-libel-20110113,0,3315967.story
  2. [2]Sam Dolnick, “At Giffords’s Synagogue, Prayers for Recovery,” New York Times, January 9, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/10/us/10religious.html
  3. [3]Joan Walsh, “Sarah Palin will never be president,” Salon, January 12, 2011, http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/joan_walsh/politics/2011/01/12/sarah_palin_president/index.html
  4. [4]Walsh, “Sarah Palin will never be president.”
  5. [5]Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010).
  6. [6]Sam Stein, “Tea Party Protests: ‘Ni**er,’ ‘Fa**ot’ Shouted At Members Of Congress,” Huffington Post, March 20, 2010, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/20/tea-party-protests-nier-f_n_507116.html; Democracy Now! “Rage on the Right: Christian Militia Raided in Michigan; Tennessee Skinhead Pleads Guilty to Obama Assassination Plot,” http://www.democracynow.org/2010/3/30/rage_on_the_right_christian_militia; Kate Zernike and Megan Thee-Brenan, “Poll Finds Tea Party Backers Wealthier and More Educated,” New York Times, April 14, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/15/us/politics/15poll.html; Eugene Robinson, “The Tea Party must purge racism from its ranks,” Washington Post, July 20, 2010, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/19/AR2010071903686.html; David Neiwert, “‘We Are at War’: How Militias, Racists and Anti-Semites Found a Home in the Tea Party,” Alternet, November 21, 2010, “http://www.alternet.org/story/148946/%22we_are_at_war%22:_how_militias,_racists_and_anti-semites_found_a_home_in_the_tea_party_
  7. [7]Mark Potok, “Rage on the Right,” Southern Poverty Law Center, Spring 2010, http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2010/spring/rage-on-the-right
  8. [8]Hacker and Pierson, Winner-Take-All Politics, 159.
  9. [9]Adam Curtis, The Century of the Self [DVD], BigD Productions.
  10. [10] Jeffrey M. Jones, “Americans Oppose Renewing U.S. Combat Operations in Iraq,” Gallup, August 26, 2010, http://www.gallup.com/poll/142667/Americans-Oppose-Renewing-Combat-Operations-Iraq.aspx; Jeffrey M. Jones, “In U.S., New High of 43% Call Afghanistan War a ‘Mistake’,” Gallup, August 3, 2010, http://www.gallup.com/poll/141716/New-High-Call-Afghanistan-War-Mistake.aspx
  11. [11]Robert Gates, “Lecture at Duke University (All-Volunteer Force)” [speech], Department of Defense, September 29, 2010, http://www.defense.gov/speeches/speech.aspx?speechid=1508
  12. [12]Gates, “Lecture at Duke University.”
  13. [13]Tim Kane, “Who Bears the Burden? Demographic Characteristics of U.S. Military Recruits Before and After 9/11,” Heritage Foundation, November 7, 2005, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2005/11/who-bears-the-burden-demographic-characteristics-of-us-military-recruits-before-and-after-9-11
  14. [14]Kane, “Who Bears the Burden?”
  15. [15]Today’s Military, “Entrance Requirement FAQs,” 2010, http://www.todaysmilitary.com/faq/entrance-requirements
  16. [16]Kane, “Who Bears the Burden?”
  17. [17]Gates, “Lecture at Duke University.”
  18. [18]Go Army, “Careers and Jobs: Become an Officer,” http://www.goarmy.com/careers-and-jobs/become-an-officer.html; Navy, “Frequently Asked Questions,” http://www.navy.com/navy/faq/
  19. [19]Kane, “Who Bears the Burden?”
  20. [20]Gallup, “Americans’ Opposition to Gay Marriage Eases Slightly,” May 24, 2010, http://www.gallup.com/poll/128291/Americans-Opposition-Gay-Marriage-Eases-Slightly.aspx
  21. [21]Ishmael Reed, ed., Multi-America: Essays on Cultural Wars and Cultural Peace (New York: Penguin, 1998).
  22. [22]Hacker and Pierson, Winner-Take-All Politics.

“It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions”

Yes, I wrote that the United States is a violent country, that it “loves violence, revels in violence, celebrates violence.” And it is reasonable to infer from this that I think that love of violence—including a claim to gun rights that fails to account for Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution—might have something to do with the violent rhetoric of the Tea Party and indeed might have something to do with the Giffords shooting.

But it is pretty damned silly for Sarah Palin to claim those are surveyor’s marks—especially the ones in red, especially after having tweeted “don’t retreat, instead- RELOAD!”2

The only plausible uses for guns in political discourse are for police and/or military force, assassination, intimidation, insurrection, or a coup d’etat. Please note that hunting is not on that list—even militia members don’t claim that.3 Also observe that none of these uses are about building consensus, negotiation, or the peaceable resolution of differences.

So when Palin argues that “it is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions,”4 she seems to be excluding her own inflammatory rhetoric. But I guess that being a wingnut means never having to say you’re sorry.5

An incorrigible system

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. You can comment here or there.

I’m in a really weird place right now.

I actually have the opportunity to put a dent in the pile of reading that I’ve been accumulating for years—books I’ve had to go ahead and shelve unread because with a cat around, they’d just get toppled.

I just finished reading Hacker and Pierson’s Winner-Take-All Politics.1 They never did get to the point Stiglitz had made that poorly managed economic globalization undermines democracy by enabling very wealthy corporations to play countries off against each other for the most favorable labor market and regulatory conditions.2

Though Hacker and Pierson point out how Democrats have adopted winner-take-all politics, that they have had to in order to raise the campaign funds needed to advertise on television, and that opposition to corporation-friendly policies has withered, they assume—without adequate explanation—that there remains a significant difference between Democrats and Republicans.

With that in mind, I sat down with one of the older books on my reading pile, Impeach the President: The Case Against Bush and Cheney.3 It will be a reminder of the anger progressives felt against the Bush administration, whose corruption, ineptitude, and lawlessness were legion. Writing in their preface, Dennis Loo and Peter Phillips document Bush’s lie about domestic spying and then write, “It does not end there—nothing about this administration ‘ends there.'”4

What we see a few years down the road is that it wasn’t just that administration. Instead, nothing about this government “ends there.” Hacker and Pierson use the—to put it mildly—watering down of the Obama agenda to show just how difficult overcoming entrenched financial interests will be, as if that were the only problem or even a significant portion of the problem. Loo and Phillips have a long list of crimes on which they would indict Bush and Cheney:

  1. Stealing the White House in 2000 and 2004 through outright voter fraud.

  2. Lying to the American people and deliberately misleading Congress in order to launch an unprovoked war of aggression upon Iraq.

  3. Authorizing and directing the torture of thousands of captives, leading to death, extreme pain, disfigurements, and psychological trauma. Hiding prisoners from the International Committtee of the Red Cross by deliberately failing to record them as detainees and conducting the rendition of hundreds of prisoners to “black sites” known for their routine torture of prisoners. Indefinitely detaining people and suspending habeas corpus rights.

  4. Ordering free fire zones and authorizing the use of antipersonnel weaapons in dense urban setting in Iraq, leading to the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians—war crimes under international law.

  5. Usurping the American people’s right to know the truth about governmental actions through the systematic use of propaganda and disinformation.

  6. Building an imperial presidency by issuing signing statements to laws passed by Congress that negate congressional intent. Hiding government decisions from public and congressional view through subverting the Freedom of Information Act. Illegally spying on millions of Americans without court authorization and lying about it for years.

  7. Undermining New Orleans’ capacity to withstand a hurricane, allowing New Orleans’ destruction by Katrina, and failing to come to victims’ aid in a timely fashion, leading to thousands of Americans dead or missing.

  8. Denying global warming, disregarding Peak Oil, and placing oil-industry profits over the long-term survival of the human race and the viability of the planet.

  9. Violating the constitutional principle of separation of church and state through the interlinking of theocratic ideologies in the decision-making process of the U.S. government.

  10. Failing to attempt to prevent the 9/11 attacks, despite a wealth of very specific evidence of a pending terrorist attack upon New York, and the World Trade Center in particular. Using this failure as a rationale for preemptive attacks on other countries and for the suspension of Americans’ fundamental civil liberties and our right to privacy.

  11. Promotion of U.S. global dominance of the world and the building and use of illegal weapons of mass destruction.

  12. Overthrowing Haiti’s democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and installing a highly repressive regime.5

We might quibble about some of these charges—I’m guessing that Loo and Phillips have assembled powerful essays in support of these points—but as a country under a successor administration elected on the dual promises of “hope” and “change,” it can only be astonishing to see how many of these criminal policies—to which mainstream Democrats offered at most token resistance during the Bush administration even after taking control of Congress following the 2006 elections—have been continued, enhanced, and extended even as they bear their poisonous fruit. And when Hacker and Pierson talk about taking on winner-take-all politics, it becomes clear that they have severely underestimated the enormity of the task.

Not that Hacker and Pierson thought that the task they propose would be easy; on the contrary, but as political scientists they limit their range of possible solutions to those that operate within a hopelessly corrupt system.

And anyone who pretends that “reforming” the U.S. political system from within is possible is in fact complicit in its crimes. The goal here cannot be achieved through elections, petitions, or activist organizations. This is a system that can only be overthrown.

Unfortunately, it is much more likely that the right will do this than the left, that they will do so violently, and that the result will be even more fascist than what we already have.

  • 1. Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010).
  • 2. Joseph E. Stiglitz, Making Globalization Work (New York: W. W. Norton, 2007).
  • 3. Dennis Loo and Peter Phillips, eds., Impeach the President: The Case Against Bush and Cheney (New York: Seven Stories, 2006).
  • 4. Loo and Phillips, Impeach the President, p. xv
  • 5. Loo and Phillips, Impeach the President, pp. xi-xii.