My favorite nickname for Chomsky – from a 2003 New Yorker article – is "The Devil's Accountant." He dares to ruthlessly and dispassionately catalog the lies of accepted conventional knowledge. Read his May 6 accounting of the Bin Laden killing here.
at how we got to where we are in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana:
– First, private sector recklessness, and private-driven laxness in public oversight, tank the national economy.
– Next, privately-funded politicians who enabled the tanking of the economy gain election by loudly blaming "overactive" government for the crisis.
– Meanwhile, states go financially belly-up in the tanked economy.
– Finally, privately-funded politicians, now running states that their policies bankrupted, find a scapegoat for their empty coffers: public employees.
If we weren't seeing it, you would never believe it. Yet here we are in a hall of twisted mirrors, where a charlatan and hack like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker can, with a straight face, go easy on the folks who actually have the money (his sponsors) while bulldozing one of the last remaining shelters for those who don't, namely public employee unions.
You know the rest of the story: Democratic legislators fleeing to a neighboring state; angry crowds massing; Governor Hack bleating daily about those Omnipowerful Fat Cat Public Workers; his big-money sponsors busing in throngs of cooperative anti-union stooges; unions yielding to virtually all of the governor's fiscal demands while wide-eyed reporters call it a two-way "standoff" because workers won't agree to being stripped naked and whipped. The latest in Wisconsin is that Republican legislators are moving to fine AWOL Dems $100 a day and take away their parking spaces and spending accounts after already having commandeered their paychecks. My source in the Wisconsin capital now tells me that, after a period of unity among runaway Dems, a rift has opened between those who want to stick it out to the bitter end and those who want to return home. Less dramatic versions of the public-employees-as-budget-breakers script are playing out in Ohio and Indiana.
Governor Walker may win or lose his war to strip Wisconsin's state workers of the bulk of their collective bargaining rights. Either way, he may or may not politically survive his victory or his loss. Resulting scrutiny of deals buried in Walker's budget by his major sponsor, Koch Industries – and a national boycott of Koch products – may alter the trajectory of Walker's administration regardless of what happens with the unions.
But one thing is for certain: Whatever "success" the rich and their political employees enjoy via these union-demonizing diversions will be short-term. Yes, some wealthy folks and their companies and major stockholders will sock away more loot and dodge more taxes for a while. And some governors, senators and congresspersons will enjoy a few years of power as the reward for their complicity. But you cannot keep picking fruit off a tree while starving its roots. Sooner or later, the sustaining force of the economy – ordinary people's jobs and spending power – has to be sustained itself. The path out of the Great Recession (notice how its official name is creeping closer and closer to that of the previous epochal economic collapse?) is ultimately unavoidable: More regulation of private sector behavior, more progressive taxation, and more public sector investment in jobs and infrastructure.
There are no shortcuts. And the liars and scoundrels who peddle them – the Scott Walkers of today – will be remembered as the George W. Bushes of tomorrow: with well-deserved derision and contempt.
read a bumper sticker I saw yesterday on the highway.
Talk about a whoring out of the role of veterans.
The last war in which the American military arguably protected our freedom was World War Two.
The Korean War did not protect our freedom. Neither did the Vietnam War. Neither did the Gulf War. Neither did the Iraq War. Neither does the Afghanistan war, although one could make the argument that had Bush not blown off Afghanistan in favor of oil, it might have at one point. But certainly not now.
Want to know what really threatens my freedom? Out-of-control corporations. Out-of-control health insurers. Gelded federal regulatory agencies. Politicians who auction themselves off to the bidding of companies (e.g., Verizon) that would invade my privacy and violate my constitutional rights. A "security" state that trades its foreign policy for oil revenues and cynically strategic military alliances. A for-profit prison industry that hawks incarceration as a solution to rage and drug addiction. Police departments for whom the War On Drugs has become a money-making enterprise.
Want to thank veterans? Then let's stop using them, with all they have sacrificed, as pawns in a long-running ruse of false enemies. Vets deserve far better.
the sea life and human livelihoods of the Gulf of Mexico. It is affecting the political ecosystem as well.
Biologists say the ecological damage we are now seeing in dead animals and ruined habitats is just the beginning (WaPo 5/27). As things get worse, greater human consequences will follow (think seafood and tourism, huge factors in the Gulf economy). Not to mention the unknown ripple effects of such an environmental catastrophe on human health, globally migrating sea animal populations, and the national and international economy. Having surpassed the Exxon Valdez disaster now that BP's fig-leaf estimates have been yanked aside, the BP spill is taking on biblical proportions.
And the tide of oil is further undercutting the credibility of President Obama.
To be sure, the administration of Dick Cheney (and that sidekick what's-his-name) ran a legal payola scheme in the Minerals Management Service (MMS) that was second to none. But Obama -- who inherited an MMS whose officials legally collected bonuses from oil and gas leases while allegedly regulating those very leases(!!) -- still showed little interest in "change" until a publicly-visible disaster changed the PR landscape.
Now, suddenly, Obama's administration calls for separating MMS's leasing and enforcement arms, the President talks tough about clamping down on industry's disregard for safety and its cozy relationship with government regulators, and MMS head S. Elizabeth Birnbaum "resigns" after ugly details of her agency's corrupt culture come to light. But here is what her boss, Bold Reformer Obama, had to say about oil industry practices just 18 days before the BP spill, when he confidently called for expansion of offshore drilling: "It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don't cause spills. They are technologically very advanced." (WaPo, 5/27)
Obama has already, deservedly, lost trust and gained contempt for failing to lead on both meaningful health care reform and fair resolution of the Wall Street bank job. His quisling tolerance of the brazen tryst between government and big oil, and his shyness in using his powers except that of on-camera eloquence since the spill, have now earned him more of the same. That is something he cannot blame on George W. Bush. As Maureen Dowd put it in her NYT piece this week, "The laconic president is once more giving too much deference and trust to rapacious corporate scoundrels and failing to swiftly grasp and articulate the alarm of Americans."
This is not Change We Can Believe In, nor, seemingly, is it a president who can be believed. We will hear plenty of artful bluster from Obama in the coming weeks as the casualties of the BP spill become clearer. But left to his own devices, I think, Obama will ultimately spearhead little change that matters beyond the slam-dunk compulsion to divide the MMS. If he musters the will to do much more, it will be as a result of, tragically, having a massive Gulf spill kill to use as political cover.
Say the word aloud. Say it twice, three times, four. You're entitled. You paid for it. With your tax dollars. So did I.
We worked and earned money, and we surrendered some of what we earned to the United States government, and they spent it on, among other things, torture. It has your name emblazoned on it. Mine, too. So let's go ahead and utter those two syllables we purchased:
The correct term is not "harsh interrogation techniques." It is not "enhanced interrogation techniques." It is not "controversial" or "contested" or "coercive" or "aggressive" or "refined" techniques, this last of which was the expression favored by the Gestapo. It is not "the tools necessary to protect the American people," as a White House operative named George W. Bush once proclaimed. It is not "sleep management." It is not "extraordinary rendition" to, er, cooperative regimes. It is not vaguely "brutal" treatment, the New York Times' latest try at dodging the appropriate descriptor. It is not placing prisoners in "stress positions" or subjecting them to "non-injurious physical contact." It is not "sexual humiliation." It is not "waterboarding."
Torture is the act of putting prisoners through the experience of drowning and feeling themselves on the brink of death. And then doing it again. And again. Sometimes more than 100 times. (If you're willing to actually know the product you've bought with your tax money, go here for a detailed physical explanation of the act of waterboarding, which dates back to the Spanish Inquisition and was also used by the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. Nice company for your country to be in, isn't it?)
Torture is forcibly keeping prisoners awake for 11 days in a row, shackling them to the ceiling or wall or floor in the process.
Torture is breaking prisoners' limbs.
Torture is confining people in pitch-black boxes.
Torture is having a female interrogator smear her fake menstrual blood on a prisoner who has been taught all his life to believe with all his heart that this act will cause his soul to suffer hell for eternity. And it is forcing prisoners into sex acts -- a kind of group rape -- with the same mind-crushing effect. (Don't be bamboozled by the obvious and odious misogyny of some prisoners' beliefs; if you consider a person's sexist vision of hell a fair basis for torturing him, what does that say about you? And for cultures that condone sexual torture of women to keep them in line, are you on board with the sexual torture of male alleged "illegal combatants" to keep them in line?)
Torture is employing a trained psychologist to dig for the nail-bomb of a prisoner's most deeply-buried horrific fear or hysterical phobia -- of pitch darkness, or huge insects, or sexual abuse, or certain kinds of pain -- and to then detonate it. On purpose.
Let's not kid ourselves. You and I have funded all of this, and we have tolerated it. We have not flooded our government with outrage. We have not, by any significant measure, gone to the streets to protest this sadistic rampage of American illegality and amorality. We have not, in any numbers, refused to shell out the portion of our own personal taxes that have paid for it. We have, to our credit, voted in a new president who calls torture by its name, even if he will not hold accountable those who carried it out, for which he uses the lame excuse that we must look forward, not back. (How well would that rationale go over in any criminal trial, or in disposition of any number of infamous international human rights violations, including those committed against Americans?) Admit it: as far as facing up to the consequences of our government's savage treatment of other human beings, the great bulk of we citizens have not done squat in pursuit of justice. Shaking our heads in disapproval does not count.
And let's also admit this: Years from now you or I will be in a cafe or on a bus or train and we will overhear two young people arguing. And one kid will say, "Yeah? Well, we tortured. Those years after 9/11, we did medieval stuff to people who hadn't even been charged with crimes. And this whole country full of people just stood around and watched." And the other kid will say, "Yeah, that's true."
So let's own this word. It is ours. We bought and paid for it, and we did little or nothing to stop it.
I saw a sticker like the one above on the tailgate of a Volvo station wagon yesterday, and what struck me most about it is what bawling babies many of those on the American right have always been taught to be.
By "always" I mean since the conquest of this continent by Europeans, when an infant's fearful, self-centered, me-take-all sense of entitlement took hold at the heart of Americanism. With help from (in chronological order) planters, industrialists, and corporate messengers, this babythink has kept its tiny fist locked around a good-sized chunk of the American personality for hundreds of years now. This kind of quivering petulance has always been the handiest feature of American white supremacy: since the day centuries ago when the first dirt-poor white was convinced by a planter that sloshing through a swamp in pursuit of an escaped black slave lifted him to a station of grim superiority, many American whites have held tightly to their terror and loathing of blacks and assorted other "thems" in order to give meaning to the crushed space they themselves occupy beneath the heel of the aristocracy. By now, though, this kind of ongoing tantrum of self-therapeutic egoism and contempt toward others has migrated from the Original Sin of white supremacy to pollute much of American culture, period: You should hear, for instance, some of the ridiculous things I hear black people say about various "thems," and the absurd arguments and discussions I sometimes can't believe I even need to have with other African Americans.
But back to the sticker on the Volvo, which is a vivid example of this age-old brand of brainless compensatory narcissism. Look at the message of the sticker -- "I will give your President the same RESPECT that you gave mine" -- and you can see the writhing baby at work, wailing its me-first assumptions and its know-nothing accusations, the two main elements of which go something like this:
1.) I had MY president. Now you have YOUR president. The presidency isn't OURS as a nation; it belongs to whoever grabs it, and they can then rule the country in whatever way they want to. Now YOU'VE taken the presidency from ME and I WANT IT BACK. This is part of the imperial rightward mentality that, one could argue, began its recent era with Nixon's "silent majority" mantra, although it was Reagan and, most viciously, Bush II who sold the us vs. them parable to insecure citizens. And so now Obama is "YOUR" president, not "OURS." Never mind that Obama is easily the most rational, level-headed, even-handed president in at least 30 years. Never mind that the goal of democracy is supposed to be broadly representative justice, not what Lani Guinier has called The Tyranny of the Majority. Never mind how nonsensical it is to conclude that Bush's swagger and his doltishness and his big talk and his praising Jesus made him "YOUR" president while he acted consistently to aid the rich and to screw you. None of this thinking makes a lick of good sense. But then, babies don't do much high-level thinking. Mostly they cry and sleep.
2.) You disrespected the presidency by dissing W. Now I get to diss Obama. Again, there's a baby on board here. First, declaring publicly (on your car, for example) that you will diss a sitting president specifically in response to your guy having been dissed is about as childish as politics can possibly get. It betrays how primitively emotional and devoid of intellectual substance much of the loyalty to W was and is, and how preoccupied many of his supporters were and are with meanness and vendetta (as was he). Second, any adult assessment of a presidency is based on a straightforward question: did s/he honor the office or abuse it? Bush lied about war and security policy, condoned and oversaw torture, dismantled fundamental governmental oversight, spent like there was no tomorrow, ignored well-informed advice, killed tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians and sent the economy into a tailspin, and did everything but belch into the microphone as he strutted and bragged. By any objective standard, Bush abused the office of the presidency and damaged the nation to a tangibly greater degree than any president within at least the past century, and, as many historians already agree, any president ever. Bush left office with 73 percent of Americans (many of whom had to be Republicans) disapproving of his performance as president. Obama, in 60 days, has done a striking amount to fulfill specific campaign promises while dodging others, has done nothing even remotely suggestive of gross abuse of office, has shown a well-read and well-briefed presidential stance that even his opponents respect, and has shown no hint of the kind of lying, corruption and arrogance that characterized the two Bush terms. The clear factual conclusion, then, is that Bush was not and is not entitled to significant respect as a president because he so abused the office, while Obama is entitled to such baseline presidential respect because he has done nothing to date to grossly dishonor the office as Bush did. End of story. A fifth-grader could understand this. An infant, however, would have trouble.
And so the stickers go on cars, and a contingent of our fellow countrymen and women carry on the old American tradition of kicking and screaming when their double-standards are violated, and the rest of the world waits -- with much patience and optimism now -- for the United States to grow up.
George W. Bush cannot even exit the oval office, it seems, without doing damage. It is safe to say that W, being a man of minimal thought, has very little idea why Iraqi journalist Muntader al-Zaidi felt moved to throw his shoes at him on Sunday, and virtually no grasp of what the event and its aftermath actually mean, short of Bush's usual boy-in-a-bubble snorting at the misbehavior of non-Americans.
But the shoe demonstrations that have sprung up in response throughout the Arab world (can you believe that the phrase "international wave of anti-US shoe demonstrations" has suddenly entered the global vocabulary?), and the elevation of the shoe-thrower to hero status amid hundreds of millions of competent adults, are yet another dose of reality for non-delusional (and non-ducking) Americans. Which is to say, Bush's sneeringly unilateral, militarily misdirected, corrupt and inept response to 9/11 and world conflict is arguably the biggest foreign policy f**k-up America has seen since Vietnam.
It is hard to fathom, really, just how far this smirking dolt of a president has set back American relations abroad. I guess we will get a truer sense of the distance to be made up when a well-informed and statesmanlike -- if himself flawed -- new president sets out on January 20 to begin to regain the international ground we have lost. While also trying to repair the devastation of a recklessly deregulated economy.
It's not that all of this is Bush's fault, although plenty of it is. But it's also that Bush is so singularly, hatefully ill-equipped for anything approaching leadership, judgment or diplomacy. Let alone basic repairs of busted governments, whether here or in Baghdad.
And so Bush, feckless and clueless as ever, makes his final victory lap, and the shoes fly. And, thankfully, in another month we will be airlifting him out of Washington.
Well, this one certainly beats out Nikita Krushchev's notorious banging of his right shoe on a desk while interrupting a United Nations session in 1960 to yell at a Filipino delegate. There is doubt, anyway, as to whether Krushchev actually banged the shoe or instead banged his fist while holding the shoe. Apparently, no definitive photos exist.
There is no doubt, however, as to the fact that yesterday at a press conference during what was supposed to be George W. Bush's statesmanlike final Iraq tour, an Iraqi journalist stood up and fired not one but both of his own shoes at Bush's head while calling Bush a "dog" for what Mr. Bring 'Em On has wrought in that country.
To be exact, according to the 12/15/2008 New York Times, Muntader al-Zaidi, a reporter for independent Iraqi TV station Al Baghdadia, rose and shouted in Arabic, “This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!” as he threw the first shoe, barely missing Bush's head as W ducked. He then threw his other shoe at Bush, again barely missing W while yelling, “This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq!” Security agents then pounced upon al-Zaidi, beat him according to a witness interviewed by the Times, and detained him to face unnamed charges in what will surely be a fair judicial process in the democratic Iraq Bush is helping to forge.
And yes, there is video of the entire thing, including Bush ducking, which is in and of itself a sight not to be missed.
Strange how poetic events work. This outrageous, furiously personal incident may turn out to be the one that historians point to as best capturing the tragic absurdity of Bush's attempts to lead the free world through his eight-year spree of dishonesty, incoherence and dull-eyed supervision of carnage.
Not to be lost in the spectacle is the fact that hitting someone with a shoe is reportedly the most profound Iraqi insult, symbolizing a person's being more lowly than a dirty shoe that travels the ground.
Okay, you 17 remaining Bush supporters. Here is one of your very last chances to explain to the rest of us how the silver spoon weed-whacker from Crawford, Texas is looking out for the interests of we ordinary slobs. (Sorry, no more free passes for W's alleged faith in Jesus.) This from the December 5 New York Times:
In another regulatory action in the waning days of the Bush administration, the Interior Department on Thursday unveiled a new rule that challenges Congress’s authority to prevent mining planned on public lands.
Congress has emergency power to stop mineral development, and has used it six times in the last 32 years. The most recent was in June, when it put a three-year moratorium on uranium mining on one million acres near the Grand Canyon. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne has ignored that Congressional directive, saying it was procedurally flawed.
The new rule issued by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management comes as environmental groups are suing the bureau in federal court for failing to obey Congress’s directive, which under a 1976 law can be invoked when “an emergency situation exists and extraordinary measures must be taken to preserve values that would otherwise be lost.”
The revision of the rule eliminates all references to Congressional authority. The revision moved through the often-cumbersome rule-making process with lightning speed; it was proposed in October, and the public was given just 15 days to comment.
Let's say somebody steals your car and replaces it with a lemon.
And then, later, someone else offers you a good car. And you tell your friends, "This looks like a good car, a better car than the one I've been stuck with. I'm inclined to take it."
But then you're reminded that the thug who stole your car and replaced it with a lemon is a big wheel. He's got clout. He could hurt you. In fact, he sends goons around to your house to quiz you about what you reportedly said. So you publicly backpedal from having said you'd prefer the better car.
But the truth is, you hate the lemon that was foisted on you, and you really do want the better car, and you were being honest when you said so.
This is roughly the position in which Iraqi prime minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki now finds himself.
This, of course, isn't the story line that Maliki's sponsors in the Bush Administration want to hear, and so Administration enforcers immediately got to work on Maliki. According to the New York Times:
"Diplomats from the United States Embassy in Baghdad spoke to Mr. Maliki’s advisers on Saturday, said an American official, speaking on condition of anonymity... After that, the [Iraqi] government’s spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, issued a statement casting doubt on the magazine’s rendering of the interview."
But, the Times goes on to say, Dabbagh's denial pointed to no specific mistranslation, and, further, the allegedly erring interpreter works for Maliki, not for the German magazine. Moreover, the Times obtained a recording of the interview on its own and found, through an independent translation, that Maliki's statements seemed to clearly praise Obama's withdrawal plan. This from the Times:
"The following is a direct translation from the Arabic of Mr. Maliki’s
comments by The Times: 'Obama’s remarks that — if he takes office — in
16 months he would withdraw the forces, we think that this period could
increase or decrease a little, but that it could be suitable to end the
presence of the forces in Iraq.' He continued: 'Who wants to exit in a
quicker way has a better assessment of the situation in Iraq.'"
Not a convincing case for Maliki's denials.
Der Spiegel, too, stands adamantly by its story.
So the whole thing looks a lot like a man caught between his desire to tell the truth and his fear of having to face a couple of the Big Boss's gorillas wielding lead pipes.
It's tragic for Iraq as well as for the United States, this scared-stiff prime minister tremblingly disowning his own truthful assessment of his country. It's also a brutal portrait of the contrast between the bully-and-lie politics of the current White House, with its latest "general time horizon" babble about troop withdrawals, and the approach of Obama, who brings an actually presidential perspective to the real problem of ending this awful war. Maliki, understandably, succumbed for a moment to the relative good sense of Obama's basic grasp on reality. Now he is paying for it.
If you've kept tabs on me, you know I'm no Obama cheerleader. But, cripes, come January, won't it be nice for us to have an actual president?