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Democracy has been taken for granted at a time when it is most endangered. Neo-Conservatives are organized to replace it with oligarchy, to replace consent for the rule of law with fascistic allegiance to the executive branch disguised as "patriotism." As a team made up of a political philosopher and a writer, we consider otherwise repressed information from a critical perspective in the hope of elevating the quality of our political dialogue so that it is worthy of a truly democratic society.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Susan Sontag: 1933-2004

A remarkable thinker.
Judy Miller's War
by Alexander Cockburn
Dissident Voice
August 19, 2003

Lay all Judith Miller's New York Times stories end to end, from late 2001 to June 2003 and you get a desolate picture of a reporter with an agenda, both manipulating and being manipulated by US government officials, Iraqi exiles and defectors, an entire Noah's Ark of scam-artists.

And while Miller, either under her own single by-line or with NYT colleagues, was touting the bioterror threat, her book Germs, co-authored with Times-men Steven Engelberg and William Broad was in the bookstores and climbing the best seller lists. The same day that Miller opened an envelope of white powder (which turned out to be harmless) at her desk at the New York Times, her book was #6 on the New York Times best seller list. The following week (October 21, 2001), it reached #2. By October 28, --at the height of her scare-mongering campaign--it was up to #1. If we were cynical...

We don't have full 20/20 hindsight yet, but we do know for certain that all the sensational disclosures in Miller's major stories between late 2001 and early summer, 2003, promoted disingenuous lies. There were no secret biolabs under Saddam's palaces; no nuclear factories across Iraq secretly working at full tilt. A huge percentage of what Miller wrote was garbage, garbage that powered the Bush administration's propaganda drive towards invasion.

What does that make Miller? She was a witting cheer-leader for war. She knew what she was doing.

And what does Miller's performance make the New York Times? Didn't any senior editors at the New York Times or even the boss, A.O. Sulzberger, ask themselves whether it was appropriate to have a trio of Times reporters touting their book Germs on tv and radio, while simultaneously running stories in the New York Times headlining the risks of biowar and thus creating just the sort of public alarm beneficial to the sales of their book. Isn't that the sort of conflict of interest prosecutors have been hounding Wall Street punters for?

The knives are certainly out for Miller. Leaked internal email traffic disclosed Miller's self-confessed reliance on Ahmad Chalabi, a leading Iraqi exile with every motive to produce imaginative defectors eager to testify about Saddam's biowar, chemical and nuclear arsenal. In late June Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post ran a long story about Miller's ability in recent months to make the US Army jump, merely by threatening to go straight to Rumsfeld.

It was funny, but again, the conflicts of interest put the New York Times in a terrible light. Here was Miller, with a contract to write a new book on the post-invasion search for "weapons of mass destruction", lodged in the Army unit charged with that search, fiercely insisting that the unit prolong its futile hunt, while simultaneously working hand in glove with Chalabi. Journalists have to do some complex dance steps to get good stories, but a few red flags should have gone up on that one.

A brisk, selective timeline:

December 20, 2001, Headline, "Iraqi Tells of Renovations at Sites For Chemical and Nuclear Arms".

Miller rolls out a new Iraqi defector, in the ripe tradition of her favorite, Khidir Hamza, the utter fraud who called himself Saddam's Bombmaker.

Story:

"An Iraqi defector who described himself as a civil engineer said he personally worked on renovations of secret facilities for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in underground wells, private villas and under the Saddam Hussein Hospital in Baghdad as recently as a year ago.

"The defector, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, gave details of the projects he said he worked on for President Saddam Hussein's government in an extensive interview last week in Bangkok. The interview with Mr. Saeed was arranged by the Iraqi National Congress, the main Iraqi opposition group, which seeks the overthrow of Mr. Hussein.

"If verified, Mr. Saeed's allegations would provide ammunition to officials within the Bush administration who have been arguing that Mr. Hussein should be driven from power partly because of his unwillingness to stop making weapons of mass destruction."

Notice the sedate phrase "if verified". It never was verified. But the story served its purpose.

September 7, 2002: Headline: "US says Hussein intensifies quest for a-bomb parts".

This one was by Miller and Michael Gordon, promoting the aluminum tube nonsense: "In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium." All lies of course. Miller and Gordon emphasize "Mr. Hussein's dogged insistence on pursuing his nuclear ambitions, along with what defectors described in interviews as Iraq's push to improve and expand Baghdad's chemical and biological arsenals".

Another of Miller's defectors takes a bow:

"Speaking on the condition that neither he nor the country in which he was interviewed be identified, Ahmed al-Shemri, his pseudonym, said Iraq had continued developing, producing and storing chemical agents at many mobile and fixed secret sites throughout the country, many of them underground.

"All of Iraq is one large storage facility," said Mr. Shemri. Asked about his allegations, American officials said they believed these reports were accurate."

A final bit of brazen chicanery from Gordon and Miller:

"Iraq denied the existence of a germ warfare program entirely until 1995, when United Nations inspectors forced Baghdad to acknowledge it had such an effort. Then, after insisting that it had never weaponized bacteria or filled warheads, it again belatedly acknowledged having done so after Hussein Kamel, Mr. Hussein's brother-in-law, defected to Jordan with evidence about the scale of the germ warfare program."

What Gordon and Miller leave out (or lacked the enterprise or desire to find out) is that Hussein Kamel told UN Inspectors that he had destroyed all Iraq's WMDs, on Saddam Hussein's orders.

September 13, 2002, headline: "White House Lists Iraq Steps To Build Banned Weapons".

Miller and Gordon again, taking at face value the administration's claims that it was "the intelligence agencies' unanimous view that the type of [aluminum] tubes that Iraq has been seeking are used to make such centrifuges."

If nothing else this shows what rotten reporters Miller and Gordon are, because it now turns out the intelligence analysts across Washington were deeply divided on precisely this issue.

September 18, 2002: "Verification Is Difficult at Best, Say the Experts, and Maybe Impossible".

This is Miller helping the War Party lay down a preemptive barrage against the UN Inspectors: "verifying Iraq's assertions that it has abandoned weapons of mass destruction, or finding evidence that it has not done so, may not be feasible, according to officials and former weapons inspectors"

A cameo appearance by Khidhir Hamza reporting his supposed knowledge that "Iraq was now at the 'pilot plant' stage of nuclear production and within two to three years of mass producing centrifuges to enrich uranium for a bomb."

December 3, 2002, a Miller Special, murky with unidentified informants: "C.I.A. Hunts Iraq Tie to Soviet Smallpox".

Classic Miller: "The C.I.A. is investigating an informant's accusation that Iraq obtained a particularly virulent strain of smallpox from a Russian scientist who worked in a smallpox lab in Moscow during Soviet times"

January 24, 2003:"Defectors Bolster U.S. Case Against Iraq, Officials Say".

Another Miller onslaught on the UN inspectors:

"Former Iraqi scientists, military officers and contractors have provided American intelligence agencies with a portrait of Saddam Hussein's secret programs to develop and conceal chemical, biological and nuclear weapons that is starkly at odds with the findings so far of the United Nations weapons inspectors."

Al-Haideri is still in play: "Intelligence officials said that some of the most valuable information has come from Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, a contractor who fled Iraq in the summer of 2001. He later told American officials that chemical and biological weapons laboratories were hidden beneath hospitals and inside presidential palaces. Mr. Haideri was relocated anonymously to a small town in Virginia."

We'll leave al-Haideri in well-earned retirement and Miller heading towards her supreme triumph of April 20, 2003, relaying the allegations of chemical and bio-weapon dumps made by an unnamed Iraqi scientist she'd never met.

Alexander Cockburn is coeditor of The Politics of Anti-Semitism, and the author of The Golden Age is In Us (Verso, 1995) and 5 Days That Shook the World: Seattle and Beyond (Verso, 2000) with Jeffrey St. Clair. Cockburn and St. Clair are the editors of CounterPunch, where this article first appeared.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Jailing Judith Miller – One Step Toward Liberating the Press

I made up my mind last week to seek out journalistic assessments of Judith Miller’s journalism. Knowing little about her professional career at the New York Times, I cannot understand why so many people associated with the industry see her as an heroic figure. What little I know of Judith Miller leads me to see her as one of those glaring examples which gives the lie to the assertion that the Times is a left-wing rag.

Judith Miller is the paradigmatic example of a courtesan press which has traded a constitutional mandate to function with integrity for a chance to be in the inner-sanctum of corporate media who transcribe official doctrine as it is delivered from the White House. She was largely responsible for the public relations blitz before the Iraq war, in which Chalabi and his band of exiled but powerful conspirators claimed to be able to establish the truth about Iraq’s developing WMD programs and other violations of international expectations. Miller published Chalabi’s disinformation as if it were fact, a project for which she was even sent on assignment to Iraq to work on, where she alienated everyone she would work with, with her arrogance and aggressiveness and allegiance to the project of making the Bush view of Iraq into a reality. These “factual” reports from disreputable sources were in turn used by the administration during press briefings and in public statements as “factual evidence” of the existence of WMD programs and capacities. So you see, she was hooked up with the exile community desperate to regain political and economic control of Iraq, she published their spew of manufactured rumors designed in cooperation with the Bush administration to function as justification for a war effort that could not have been sold any other way. She is a propaganda lackey and a newsprint whore.

While the New York Times issued its mea culpa, Judith Miller remained arrogantly unwilling to acknowledge the way in which she compromised her craft in order to allow one branch of government to bypass the constitutional process of declaring war and the international rules intended to prevent wars of aggression. She was taken to task on none of these things.

Finally, however, Judith Miller broke the law and committed a felony offense by revealing the name of an undercover CIA agent, leaked to her and select others by a White House official intent on bullying Joe Wilson – a critic of the Bush Iraq policy and the individual who exposed the yellowcake scam – into silence. Now, Judith Miller is faced with an investigation into her role in cooperating with the White House to compromise national security by outing an agent who happened to be married to an outspoken member of their opposition.

I saw Judith Miller and a host of others with legal and journalistic perspectives on her situation on C-SPAN, although I caught very little of it and didn’t see her defend herself entirely. However, here is her argument as I understand it.

P1: The press has a Constitutional responsibility to report political developments which are kept from public view and thus would not be known to the public otherwise.

P2: A significant aspect of the press’ ability to perform its Constitutional role depends on the right of the journalist to make use of anonymous sources.

P3: By being forced to choose between revealing the source of the leak or going to jail, Miller’s case exemplifies an unconstitutional restriction on the freedom of the press.

P4: The press must have immunity from such legal investigations in order to perform their constitutional function of providing a check on State secrecy in the public interest.

C: Judith Miller should not be forced to reveal her source, nor should she go to jail, nor should she be the focus of a legal probe into a felony offense.

How any of the lawyers and journalists at the table managed to keep a straight face, I cannot say. And yet, while Miller tried desperately to hammer in the third nail on the cross of her own martyrdom, they quibbled over the history of constitutional interpretation and alternative explanations for why Miller is a target. The whole affair might have just as well been a public relations event staged by the White House, for all the cross-examination Miller received. In fact, she was unanimously declared the hero of the journalists and her martyrdom celebrated as professional integrity.

Here is the case for sending Judith Miller to jail for refusing to reveal her sources as a defense of the Constitutional provision for a free press.

P1: There is a distinction between a free press that monitors the state on behalf of its citizens and a press that is corporate-owned and cooperates with political factions on behalf of advancing one agenda over another.

P2: The press does not have a constitutional right to print any information whether true or false without being responsible for the credibility of the information.

P3: The press has the responsibility to check the power of the state against the citizens by monitoring the state and passing along news information to its readers. This does not equal a right to commit what would otherwise be considered a felony offense on the basis of journalistic privilege.

P4: In the case of corporate media in collusion to publish disinformation about potential threats to national security, there is a clear violation of the constitutional provision for the ‘freedom’ of the press, and we are left with a propaganda mechanism.

P5: In the event that an individual representative or association of the media industry performs a propaganda function on behalf of the state, they are legally accountable for their activities. In the case of a national security violation, the individual or association has committed a crime, and stands without constitutional immunity.

P6: In the event that the representative of the media refuses to cooperate with the inquiry into felony activity, he or she stands in contempt of court and must accept the consequences that obtain with any attempt to obstruct the judicial process. Jail time may be recommended.

C: By publishing propaganda on behalf of an administration deliberately deceiving the public about the reasons for war and its implications, Judith Miller compromised her Constitutional responsibility to check the power of the state. She participated in a politically-motivated felony that compromised national security. She can claim no journalistic privilege and cannot be held above the law as a defense of this privilege.

To this Miller responds, "we are only as good as our sources." Bullshit. From one side of her mouth, she has tried to invoke the privilege of immunity based on a responsibility to expose governmental impropriety. Out of the other side of her mouth, she foists responsibility for the journalistic process onto somebody else, and explicitly acknowledged the role of the courtesan press in reporting the official Bush administration "talking points" uncritically, without investigation into their credibility. She is just the mouthpeice, you see, and not accountable for what she does in the name of the public interest.

But here’s the part that really violates my sense of moral justice and political integrity: Judith Miller passionately portrays herself as the victim, who must unfairly sacrifice her life so that her profession is not compromised. Her self-pity and indignation are offensive to the principled tradition of American civil disobedience. Put aside for one moment the question of whether she is or is not guilty of committing a felony. The philosophy of civil disobedience describes rule-breaking as the process of rule-testing in consequentialist terms, including the role of legal punishment for disobedience to laws which are possibly unjust. So, Thoreau accepts jail in exchange for refusing to send taxes to support the war with Mexico, and he says that the place for free individuals living under state tyranny is in jail. Unjust laws do not get changed unless there is meaningful resistance, and such resistance may overwhelm the institutions designed to deal with such matters and force a revision of the law. If Judith Miller really believed in her innocence, accepting jail time to preserve her journalistic integrity might not be as traumatic as it clearly is for her. She is instead on the brink of tears, more worried about herself and trying to prove that she should not be accountable for a crime having been committed, all the while unconcerned with the well-being of the agent and possibly agents she endangered. She is even less worried about the hypocrisy of claiming journalistic immunity for compromising national security, while collaborating on a propaganda campaign to pass off the neo-cons’ war as necessary in the name of national security.

She claims the press will fail its obligation to the public if she is not protected by immunity for journalists to report freely what they learn from unnamed sources. She ignores the fact that the press DID fail when it published a public relations campaign concocted by the exiled Iraqi corporate class and the Bush administration as factual proof of an immanent threat to national security. The time for the press to make good on its Constitutional responsibility to check the power of the state came when this administration used all means at its disposal to pull us into a war which was illegal nationally and internationally, and instead she aided and abetted this covert neo-conservative plot by turning herself into an instrument of propaganda.

She should resign her post at the NYT, and she should go to jail if she continues to refuse to reveal the name of the leaker. If all such propagandists who commit felonies and violate the public trust provided for by the constitution were held to account, perhaps we might come closer to realizing the freedom of the press in practice.



ELECTION 2004: Bush Inauguration Heralds the Return of Savage Capitalism


The 2004 election has been a traumatic experience for those who have invested their passions in opposing the Bush administration. Curiously, it is something that I anticipated strictly intellectually as one possible outcome among many, but even at the time I knew that I wouldn’t be able to fully understand how jarring and numbing a Bush victory would be until it actually happened. The effect of this election on thinking citizens who generally oppose the insane, cutthroat policies and methodology of the Neo-Conservatives and their corporate and religious allies is much like the depressed hush that fell over the country after 9/11. Instantly Bush was given an institutional mandate to do as he pleased, no matter how drastic and radical the implications. We were supposed to shut up, and this was evidenced by the fact that, once the left and its allies began to speak out against the war, the patriot act, tax cuts for the wealthy and job losses for the working poor, underfunding of social programs, etc., we were told any number of things by those who prefer to see crises as political blank checks rather than problems that require the democratic process for clarification and resolution. In all, these injunctions were really nothing more than less than polite demands for our complicitous silence:

1) We’re at war – the president is the commander in chief. He has the right and responsibility to lead.
2) We’ve just come through a recession, you can’t expect us to meet some ideal policy standard when we face so many challenges all at once.
3) If you criticize the president, you do so in front of our enemies. Any sign of division or weakness will invite more attacks.

And so on and so forth. But the voices of resistance grew, came together and in the spring of 2004 it looked like we had a serious chance of throwing the rascals out. We realized that half the country was fed up with the corporate whoring, the reckless warmongering in the interest of the market rather than national security, the false adolescent machismo, the unwillingness to allow multiple perspectives on our approach to our problems and our understanding of the common good.

I think it is impossible to tell who would have won the state of Ohio this year if there had been voting resources available in African-American and heavily democratic districts, as there were in Republican and rural districts. Statistically, democratic districts were more likely to fail to provide access to the voting procedure (in numbers of ways) than their republican/conservative counterpart districts. What the Bush administration learned from the 2000 election was to WAIT to certify election results until it was clear that enough folks had been prevented from casting ballots; thus there would be no troublesome ghost of Katharine Harris to contend with.

Bush was quick to interpret the results as an automatic mandate, in which he accumulated what he refers to ask “political capital” for the spending. This response was unnerving and insulting, because it was a ruthless attempt to exert hermeneutic control over the democratic process. Bush gave the executive finger to the possibility of a democratic debate about the election's significance and implications. The other, more accurate view of the Bush victory is that he obtained a slight statistical majority overall, which may well account for nothing when voting irregularities factor in. In other words, Bush was quick to describe the democratic decision-making process in overly-abstracted terms borrow from classical liberal economic theory to deny a more unsettling reality. In one sense, this election must be seen as being wholly arbitrary from the perspective of popular sovereignty. We have not given Bush a mandate, and the homo economicus model of political power is inappropriate if it is to represent the workings of a democracy.

In another, more interesting sense, the election was NOT arbitrary if viewed from the perspective of state capitalism. When I was in my early twenties, I began reading Marx. I didn’t have a sophisticated view of historical materialism and I imagine I seemed rather ideological at times. I also did not understand that the decline of communism was not the proof of capitalism’s superiority but represented a transition point in its development as a single, irrational and deeply conflicted world system. Marx’s view of the dialectical relationship between the state and the economy seemed one dimensional to many of the people I talked with. In the decade or so since then, I have seen this so-called naïve and implausible view of liberal democracy as state capitalism crystallize in real-world economic and political developments. Much of it has been Machiavellian: so autocratic. I am disturbed by the increasingly quasi-fascist actions of right-wing politicians and the right-wing political culture. Fascism assimilates a corporate ideology and rule by the rich with cultural backlash. This unholy sort of allegiance between the powerbroker organizations of old, rotting ruling classes is ironic and powerful. In effect, the classes most negatively impacted by the centralization of economic and political resources can be made to scream for their own disenfranchisement if it comes with the opportunity to legislate social morality to others whom they shun as sinful or lewd or whatever.

In part, this is depressing because the culture of right-wing social politics is not consistent. Thus, people enforce biases through political choices that do not represent a thorough, thoughtful – and most importantly coherent - approach to political problems and values. As Howard Dean notes, the working poor who are harmed in real terms by the policies of the Republican party will vote for them anyway, as an expression of their views on abortion, guns, god and gays. For example, conservatives want to protect the sanctity of marriage by preventing gays and lesbians from marrying. But conservatives generally believe that marriage has a positive effect on people and is worth encouraging on a widespread level. In fact, if conservatives really believed in marriage, they would be having a sophisticated debate with themselves and with those on the left about whether it is appropriate to ENCOURAGE marriage in the gay and lesbian community – people whom they have objected to historically on the basis of promiscuity and lack of personal commitment to relationships. But the anti-gay marriage impulse isn’t about marriage, it’s about preventing the implications of gay marriage: that there is somehow something “okay” about gay sex. Republican ideology capitalizes on the fact that we are a homophobic culture, and deeply unhappy with what we perceive as being forced to tolerate the open practice of same-sex relationships.

Anti-abortion groups are another excellent example. At a time when conservatives could barely show less concern for the long-term well-being of future generations, they insist not only that abortion be made inaccessible through lack of education and funding, but that birth control education be restricted as well. How to make sense of this? The right is not pro-life, they are pro-birth. They don’t value life in any coherent way, but they want to make sure that it is impossible for people to experience the enlarged sphere of choice that resulted from the sexual revolution without having to pay the price, to experience sexual freedom without consequences. It is inherently an attempt to control the sexual autonomy of women according to a puritan morality of punishment. Forcing pro-birth policies on the nation without regard for the social complexity of reproduction in general gives the lie to the Orwellian term “culture of life.” Reasserting puritannical control over sexuality is the right-wing Scarlet Letter. In both the cases of abortion and gay marriage, the rhetorical religiosity of valuing life and marriage is a shallow disguise for a regressive, backward-looking social morality that is anti-sex.

The religious right is problematic for these reasons. What is clear, however, is that this group is politically organized and controlled from above. The Robertsons, Reeds and Roves have shown how effectively one political viewpoint can be instilled from the pulpit, eventually trickling down to the election booth. Catholics are told they should not vote for any candidate who endorses pro-choice policies. They are NOT told they should not vote for any candidate who endorses the death penalty, the war (which the Pope condemns) or the flagrant refusal to heed the commandments of the sermon on the mount, in which Jesus tells his followers to care for and put first those who are at the mercy of the powerful and the wealthy. The major media portray the right as having cornered the market on the sphere of values, and the left – even when they are given an opportunity to exploit failures of the right – never manage to do much to dismantle this distorted political disposition. In large measure, this occurs because they share the most basic problems of the Republican party (endemic to a two-party system of rule by elites), and because they have allowed the Republicans to define the terms of all the relevant debates.

So, to cash out my reflections on the 2004 election, I find myself and everyone around me in a sort of deep depression because the political life of the United States is irrational and undemocratic. It is demoralizing enough to know that the political process is thoroughly corrupted by right-wing corporate jackals and democrats who have sold out to said jackals for a comparative sliver-share of the loot. It is more demoralizing to know that this could not have happened so seamlessly unless their was enough complicity in the electorate, such that more people would vote to reinstate an administration who would proceed to strip them of their sovereignty, their economic security, the protections of the law and the welfare state.

I saw this coming months and months ago. I knew that the Bush administration had every reason to be scared shitless no matter WHAT democrat they ended up facing, but I could not underestimate their Orwellian skill promoting doublethink, or their institutional willingness to suppress the vote. I had the sense that this election was a test of sorts. For one thing, it was a test whether we had any democratic legitimacy: whether an active, informed citizenry could make use of the political franchise to clarify their problems, their interests, their commitments, hold the administration accountable to these, and kick the rascals out if necessary. If we failed at this, I worried about the consequences for the next four years. This branch of the radical right came into office improbably, via a swindle. If they remain, they will rework the political, legal and economic structures so as to consolidate their hold on power. Before the election, I became depressed because there were as many reasons to think Bush would win as there were to think Kerry outperformed him.

Woody Allen often has his most autobiographical characters pivot on the axis of the personal and political domains. Each is a refuge from the other. When politics become irrational, interpersonal relationships are more significant. When our private lives are imploding, we turn our attention toward the problems of society and the world in general. Personally, I cannot separate these things, and I think this unavoidable fusion is something Woody intends us to explore. I shut myself off to the part of my life that is wrapped up in politics and economics and all such things, and focused entirely on my private life. I’m in love and my relationship with Bill is more and more serious as the months go by. This is the first time I have written in months.

John Bellamy Foster told me that he stopped reading Marx when the Vietnam war started because he was depressed about it. He began reading Schopenhauer for the abstract philosophical concern with the suffering human condition and its solution. I asked him why he came back to Marxism and he said he had no choice – his friends began dying in the war. I think this is what will happen to many of us who opposed Bush in the last election.

Think of what we will witness in the next few years. The war will not cease because the occupation will be complicated by the process of nation-building. We will be asked to keep paying more and more, while a military stretched thin will be presented with the imperative to engage Iran, possibly Syria, and North Korea as new threats, this time REALLY equipped with weapons of mass destruction. China’s economy will grow as the European Union solidifies itself, the euro will replace the dollar as the dominant currency. The prospect of investing in the United States will be less appealing when investors finally acknowledge us as a debtor nation, no longer the dominant economic power, with a looming constellation of social crises just ahead. The last vestiges of the New Deal will be stripped at a time when our population is growing older, sicker and poorer. Legal protections for citizens against industry will be restricted, while restrictions on corporate activity will be loosened. Coffers for social services (once understood as the public good and thus a political responsibility) will be raided to finance tax cuts (those nasty obstacles to limitless accumulation of capital), and to encourage business growth according to the “risk-reward” model, just another name for trickle down economics. The world will call on us to answer for our disproportionate pollution, consumption of resources and capitalist war-mongering at a time when human crises have global proportions. I could go on and on.

Ultimately, I am pulled out of my depressed state about a second Bush term by my ambivalence about liberal democracy as state capitalism, especially at a time when capitalism has outlasted communism to become the dominant, totalizing world-system. The right-wing represents the most anti-democratic aspects of our political and economic culture and institutions. Rather than expand political power by diffusing it to the electorate, they consolidate it in the institutions of elite power. The bourgeoisie manages the state, and the employed classes bear the cost of their goal of amassing limitless wealth. In order to privatize social security, one-third of the current resources going into the system will be handed over to Wall Street investors in the name of “personal accounts.” In order to finance the diversion, there will be massive benefit cuts. This will not work out well as we collectively approach sickness and old age. Nevertheless, the Bush administration will put its courtesan congress and media apparatus to work to enact the required legislation and conduct a corresponding media blitz of disinformation of world-historical proportions. They may well get away with it. But even the political ideology of right-wing culture is not immune from the confrontation between the policies of this administration and our most deeply held beliefs about the responsibility of the state to support the public good.

The Bush administration is hard at work to define the public good in the most narrow terms possible: as the process of wealth creation by private ownership and the promise of capital accumulation. A very von Hayek way of looking at a sustainable, well-organized society. But we have lived for seven decades with the New Deal. We may not be politically adept enough to recognize the way in which it has been systematically dismantled, but we’ll feel the consequences of losing it. And when this happens, people will not accept massive tax cuts for the rich so easily when they no longer have enough money to survive and must think of their eventual retirement. They will not accept massive war budgets when social programs begin disappearing. Treating corporations as if they are the mechanism of meeting the interest of the public will not cohere with the abject disregard the right will show for the public good in practice. They will not, I truly believe, accept the strategy of feeding the sparrows through the horses.

In fact, I think they know this. I don’t think they’re deluded, they’re too effective at implementing their goals to be delusional. They are morally depraved, but their cunning Machiavellian cynicism is the product of an institutional learning process that has shaped their psychology. I believe that the elite classes (and there are many, often battling one another for political and economic supremacy but generally sharing the same anti-democratic worldview) are consolidating power in various ways, with the knowledge that the conflicts of the future will revolve around struggles for basic resources, at the international as well as the domestic level. Those homeland security dollars are being used under our very noses to eradicate all forms of dissent, to widen the institutional barriers between the public who believes it is entitled to the democratic franchise, and the brokers of power.

As Hitler rose to power in Germany, the leftist intellectuals of the Frankfurt School had to seriously question why the economic life of society had become regressive in the face of historically unprecedented means for liberation. One problem they identified was the development of mechanisms to address the social function of the economy. So, working classes would accept the reality of wealth disparity if, for example, they were paid enough to survive and retained certain other benefits. This is the capitalism we are all vaguely familiar with – the New Deal form of liberal democracy that staves off the crises of capitalism by addressing, if meagerly, the negative costs this economic form passes on to society. Before, under the Victorian era of robber barons and starving paupers, the position of the rich was far less comfortable, because savage capitalism provokes social unrest.

The New Deal may well be a thing of the past, and we seem to be beginning a transition back to the Victorian-era distribution pattern of absolute affluence and absolute poverty. But this model isn’t sustainable and will collapse eventually. This time, the affluent classes appear to be willing to allow the conflicts inherent in the model to crystallize into protracted, irreducible human crises rather than give up a measure of wealth to keep the crises at bay. But the New Deal model wasn’t alleviating the basic contradictions between wealth and power, it was allowing them to persist as we gradually became more and more overextended. As the crises unfold, the public’s affinity for right-wing ideology will collide with its material conditions and the deep faith in democracy inherited from a history which has never made good on the democratic promise. This may be the only way of culling our conservative fellow citizens out of the social morality which masks the excesses of conservative politics and economics. American adolescence is a national phenomenon – and the tribulations of adolescent psychology are rooted in the subject whose limitations indicate that a pre-existing social contract must be fleshed out and understood in order for one to be truly autonomous and responsible. It may require a drunken fratboy driving the country into a ditch before there is a general realization that right-wing political ideology is bunk. But we must realize it is bunk if we want to reinvigorate a healthy democratic culture. This is why, by the way, Howard Dean is the future of the Democratic party, if they are wise enough to realize it and principled enough to practice accordingly. The democrats will never win if they pass themselves off to us as sharing the political culture of the Republicans. The Republican ideology is too firmly allied, institutionally and psychologically, in the political platform of the right. Instead of selling out to it, it should be broken by exploiting its weaknesses in the face of real-world problems.

If Bush has his way, a system in decline will decline at an exponential rate. We may yet have some say in determining how things look on the other side. But to do this, we need to work together to bring intellectual, political and economic pressures on the system. We need not just to organize but to practice sustained, active resistance. I don’t know yet what resistance will develop out of our collective disappointment with the failure of our democracy and the inability of our economy to perform the social function we would have it perform. We may find that soon the Bush administration has one muther of a fight on its hands. Even Nixon could be made to resign, and if the current Republican leadership is as ruthless in their efforts to purge dissent as he was, they may loose whatever political capital they believe they have. So, while we are collectively grieving and managing our depression, let’s not forget to look for the development of organized resistance and begin to work actively for that end. History, social well-being and democracy are on our side – we need to start fighting in earnest for a “structural transformation of the public sphere.”

Monday, December 13, 2004

A Nice Email Going Around

This has been making the rounds in various forms:

Dear President:Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from you and understand why you would propose and support a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage. As you said, "in the eyes of God marriage is based between a man and a woman." I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination... End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God's Laws and how to follow them:1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanness - Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2. clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination - Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there 'degrees' of abomination?

7. Lev. 21: 20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though Lev. 19:27 expressly forbids this. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev. 24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Period of Mourning Over

Actually, it has been more like a period of rage and disbelief (even though I didn't like Kerry/Edwards), but I am back in whatever condition. And Lisa, what are you up to? I noticed you had a script draft up here for less than a day and then it disappeared, so I know you still breathe . . .

I am not moving to Canada, I have decided. I would rather stay here and be as much of an irritant as I possibly can be. My current focus is going to be on the untennability (is that a word?) of mixing religion and legislation, something practically no one in the state of Montana seems to think is problematic. And I'm not stopping with the fabulous array of confrontational bumper stickers I've purchased lately, either.

On the home front, I have a new obstacle, and his name is Roy, age: 2 months. Roy is a ruddy, male, Abyssinian jerk I got last weekend in Laramie, Wyoming. He's not a fan of road trips. And he is a freaking handful, although he's cute and cuddly when he wants to be.

Good things on the horizon: the title story of my MFA thesis finally comes out in print in The Flint Hills Review before the end of the year, and I got tickets to the Scissor Sisters' Seattle concert for late January (catch them on Saturday Night Live tonight!).

The mountains are lovely, and the ski bums are stoned and preoccupied.

More soon.

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