Sunday, December 03, 2006

All The Way to Baghdad!! (Huh??)

One of the world's worst newspaper columnists, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, is urging the Bush administration to take a bold new step in its Middle Eastern foreign policy. He is recommending that the United States invade Iraq, conquer its peoples, and install a democratic government in Baghdad. This will touch off a wave of democratic reform across the Middle East and...wait a second, what year is this? Oh, forgive me, I thought we were talking about the first invasion of Iraq (or was it the second?) which Friedman also championed. What he is now proposing is a re-invasion, the purpose of which would be to kill all of the people who managed to survive the first invasion. I'm barely kidding, but Friedman is completely serious. Let's think for two seconds about the concept of the U.S. re-invading Iraq. The idea would be to fight all of the Iraqi sectarian and ethnic groups together this time. Really, this is just what Iraq needs. Something to bring all Iraqis together again, to remind them of why they are Iraqis. Sunni, Shiite, Kurd, it wouldn't matter. Just Iraqis joining hands across the desert in the common cause of killing Americans. How do you say Kumbayah in Arabic? Secondly, we would be attacking the government we are now trying to install. Presumably, all of the government ministers, soldiers, and civil servants we are currently training would become our new enemies, and we would try to kill them. Fortunately, they wouldn't put up much of a fight because we have done such a lousy job of training them so far. Really, would anybody miss the current Iraqi government after we had destroyed it? Would anyone wax nostalgic for the good old days of Ibrahim Jaafari, Abid Mutlak Al-Jubouri, and Saadoun al-Dulaimi? I didn't think so. Let's bomb these guys. Thirdly, one should at least ask the question of how many U.S. invasions the average Iraqi should be expected to endure in the course of their lifetime. Here come the Americans again? Really? Will Geraldo be involved? On the other hand, the average Iraqi lifespan is so short that there are probably precious few who remember the '03 attack, let alone the first U.S. invasion back in 1991. (Let's face it, who among us still has their original Desert Storm t-shirt? Even though those things are collectors items now?) Finally, if we do decide to grant the Bush administration the right to "do-over" the 2003 war, who else do we have to extend this right to? Here's a list of the nightmarish possibilities we may be facing:

1) Britney Spears gets to do over her first marriage to Jason Alexander in January of 2004
2) Janet Jackson gets to re-do her breast-exposure incident of that same month
3) John Kerry gets to re-do his famous windsurfing expedition of the spring of '04

You get the idea. I don't think this is a road we want to go down. We must regrettably say no to Thomas Friedman's otherwise brilliant idea of re-invading Iraq. And if we're feeling nostalgic for 2003, well we'll just have to break out our OutKast CD's and live the moment in our hearts all over again.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Ferret Border Poorly Enforced, Say Roommates

The border between ferret designated areas and ferret-free zones has been poorly enforced, roommates of a local apartment alleged this week. "Ferret crossings into our bedroom have increased dramatically over the past few weeks," said one roommate who wished to remain anonymous. "We have noticed on more than occasion the telltale signs of ferret activity, including chewed items, books and CD's off of shelves, and mussed up bedclothes. These ferrets have no legal right to be in our bedroom, and we will avail ourselves of any and all means to remove them." Others counseled patience. "The fact is that enforcement of any border is an extremely difficult prospect," one roommate responded. "No one can guarantee that one hundred percent of ferrets will be kept out. Anyone who's dealt with these little guys knows that as soon as your back is turned, they move in. Just the other day three ferrets smuggled themselves over the border in laundry baskets. What can anyone do about that?" Anti-ferret hardliners insisted that something be done about the problem, however. "If need be, we will take matters into our own hands. That could include restriction of the free movement of ferrets, curfews, or even a border fence. If we don't act now, we will all wake up someday and find ferrets licking our faces."

Starting Over

As I take a look back at what I've written on this blog thus far, I think that there is not only room for a great deal of improvement but also for a marked change in focus. I've used this forum to express what to me feels like a naked violation of the borders of my own emotional and political existence in the years since 2001, meaning, the trespass against my life as a citizen of this country, of what had always seemed most secure, of the basic conditions of trust and being provided for which most Americans, myself included, have always taken for granted. Thus these postings have taken the form of koans of rage, a sarcastic blurting out of the emotional pain that derives from having something taken away which was so precious that you never even knew you had it until it was gone. That, for me, has been the feeling of living in the post 9/11 world. It is a feeling of being under attack, constantly, from both within and without. That being said, I don't think that I have managed the post 9/11 world very effectively, and chief among those limitations has been my inability to express that pain in ways which would create communities: of sympathy, of justice, of determination, of reconciliation. Hence, the failure of this blog. Always a serial exaggerator, I have privileged moods of conspiracy, desperation, and frustration. I've conflated the political not only with the purely emotional, i.e. the pain which results from being oppressed by your government with the historical fact of its oppression, but with the theological as well - that tyranny in America would mean that God no longer loves the people living in this country and is in the midst of judging us harshly. The same could be said of my take on post 9/11 aesthetics. Does a bitch-fest between Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie really signal the onset of a permanent state of tabloid fascism (a face being stomped by a Manolo Blahnik, forever)? Is Dick Cheney really anything more than a bad man from Wyoming? I'm not foreclosing any of these questions, only beginning a new approach to answering them. There are creative ways of living even under less than ideal circumstances. I'd like to find some of them. And when I do I'll tell you what I learn.

How to End a War, Continued

In my last post I wrote that the only way to end a war is to stop fighting it. Our elected officials have speculated endlessly about what must happen before the war in Iraq can end. The answer to this is nothing. The war can end tomorrow, if we decide to end it. In offering this judgment I have in mind the President's recent trip to Vietnam (his first visit there, of course,) which came at such a strange time in American history and thus carried with it such odd and powerful symbolism. There is no war taking place in Vietnam right now. It is, more or less, a typical Communist country in the post-Soviet era, still repressive but not unbearably so, at peace with its neighbors, benefiting from and strategically adjusting to the rise of China as an economic power and to the rising tide of globalization. In other words, thirty years after western powers left it, fifty years after being invaded, Vietnam is back to what it always should have been, to what it mostly has been throughout its history. It is not the axis of any kind of evil. It is not a domino waiting to fall. It is just another country, a backwater to the western powers, but one with its own struggles and aspirations. How did this come about? How was Vietnam transformed from a country divided against itself, the site of a global war which killed millions, into one in which peace now prevails? The answer is, the war ended. The United States simply left Vietnam. In the end none of the elaborate scenarios or calculations which the U.S. had made to explain its presence there, its objectives, or the preconditions for its departure, proved to have any substance at all. If they haven't been already, they will all soon be forgotten by history. They were fictions, projections, prevarications. History will record only that the United States left, the war ended, and Vietnam was left to resolve its problems on its own. I am not saying that the end of the U.S. war against Vietnam made any of these problems easier. The civil war continued for many years, and its cost was enormous. But the problems could not begin to be solved until the United States had left. The healing could not begin until the cause of so much of the suffering was gone. Only then could the scope of the problem as a Vietnamese problem, as an episode in Vietnamese history, begin to be resolved. The Vietnamese had to reclaim that history for themselves before reaching for a solution. Many years from now, the civil war in Iraq will finally end. The cost in lives, already staggering, will be unfathomable. It will take decades before Iraqi society can begin to forgive its acts of violence against itself and to knit itself back together again. Then Iraq will finally be at peace again. But that journey will not begin and cannot begin until the last American soldier leaves Iraq. There will come a day when a future American president will visit Iraq (probably for the first time!) and look at it curiously as President Bush recently looked at Vietnam, as a site where so much violence and suffering once took place. But that day will not move any closer to now until the U.S. war in Iraq comes to an end. Which can happen tomorrow.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

How to End a War

There has been much talk lately about the new course for the U.S. in Iraq, and everyone seems to agree on two things. One, the U.S. is not seeking to establish a permanent presence in Iraq. Two, there are certain conditions which must be met before the U.S. can leave Iraq. I would like to suggest that these are contradictory positions and that both cannot be true. My inclination is to believe that the first is a pretext - why invade a country if you don't plan to stay? - but let's proceed for a moment as if the first is true and focus on the second. Supposedly we are perfectly willing to leave Iraq but only after certain conditions are met, which alone would constitute a victorious withdrawal and not a defeat. The condition which is most often cited is an end to the violence in Iraq, which is always described as establishing security there in the form of an effective national government. This condition has always struck me as illogical. First, why would we want to train and equip a national Iraqi army, which would surely exact violent revenge against the Sunni insurgency and simply increase the violence? Secondly, why would we leave Iraq only after pacifying the insurgency? Once it's been crushed and Iraq has been restored to conditions conducive to our presence, why would we leave? If our real goal is to end the violence in Iraq, so that we can leave, why don't we just leave? Wouldn't that, eo ipso, end the violence, at least the part of the insurgency which is directed towards us? Imagine for a moment that a bouncer and a bar patron are fighting in a bar. The bouncer is trying to throw the patron out. The patron is trying to stay, all the while yelling at the bouncer that he is trying to leave and would have done so from the beginning if only the bouncer had not tried to throw him out. The incoherent position that the war must end before we can stop fighting it is a conceit worthy of Kubrick. There's only one way to end a war. And that's to stop fighting it.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Filth Which is al-Qaeda

Every generational enemy has its own brand of propaganda: its characteristic rhetoric, iconic images, slogans, and phrases meant to inspire awe and fear. Sometimes this propaganda itself rises to a kind of greatness and outlives the regime which inspired it. Think of Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will," or Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin." There is nothing grand, however, in the propaganda of al-Qaeda. On the contrary, it seems to reflect a particularly repulsive energy stirring at the bottom of global capitalism. It is a mixture of juvenile sarcasm and hyperbolic romance. It is a smirking kind of evil, deliberate in its universal disregard for human life, hinting at the depths of its own self-hatred, offering its own inflated martyrdom as the salve for the world's suffering masses. Take a look at today's press release from al-Qaeda in Iraq and you'll see what I mean. The way that al-Qaeda deliberately, smugly inserts itself into American political discourse is as predictable as it is repellent. What ought to be a celebration for Americans, a democratic election in which voters went to the polls to elect their chosen representatives, is twisted by al-Qaeda into signifying a victory for their own repugnant brand of evil. Their comments are intended to drive Americans apart, to thwart our collective purpose, to sow the seeds of political and social dysfunction. Knowing our weaknesses as a nation, they move to exploit them, and they do so with brazen confidence that they will succeed. Yes, tomorrow, we will see al-Qaeda's statements repeated endlessly in the conservative media and the conclusion will be as always to demonize the majority of Americans who stand firmly against the war in Iraq. But we don't have to stand for it. We don't have to listen to these agents of lies and calumny. On Tuesday Americans came together to proudly uphold our democratic traditions. That's something we should all be proud of. And al-Qaeda has nothing to do with it.

A Mandate for Peace

When Republicans win elections, they announce their agenda, as in, "I earned political capital and now I'm going to spend it" (Bush in '04.) When Democrats win elections, they assure the voters that they will bend over backwards to work with the other party. Why is this? Nancy Pelosi's address accepting victory on behalf of House Democrats could have been a concession speech with a few changed words. Democrats plan to raise the minimum wage, to push for lowering the cost of prescription drugs, and to send a hallmark card to every grandmother in America on her birthday. Actually, I made that last part up, but could the Democrats' agenda be any meeker? "The Democrats: We Promise Not to Disturb You for the Next Two Years." On the key issue of Iraq, Pelosi said only that Americans voted for a "new direction," which is a little like describing the liberation of Normandy as a day at at the beach. Americans most emphatically did not vote for a new direction in Iraq. They voted for a direction out of Iraq. The Democrats should not mistake or deliberately mischaracterize the intent of the voters. Many of these voters were conservatives or moderates with deep misgivings about the Democratic Party, and yet they showed up and voted for it for one single reason: because they saw no other way to end the war. What little public support there remains for the war is politically and socially marginal. This means that the Democrats now have an opportunity to build something that hasn't been seen in this country in a long, long time: a national anti-war movement. Waiting for 2008 is too long. The opportunity for peace is now. The American people deserve to know that their voices have been heard, that the Democratic party stands united with them in their desire to end this war.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

taking a chance on God

The philosopher Jean-Luc Marion would have us believe that having faith in God means being radically open to possibility, which must mean, any and all possibilities. Taking his cue from the late medieval and early modern voluntarists (God could do anything, even make a square circle, even reverse the Ten Commandments!), he says more or less that our categories of good and evil, freedom and unfreedom, justice, truth, hospitality, et al, only apply to our world, and by no means do they apply to "God's world" which transcends being altogether. So, being open to possibility means being open to the possibility of something awful, something worse than I could ever imagine, as well as something infinitely greater than I could ever imagine. This means that all of us must roll the dice and take a chance on God, taking the risk that what we receive back will be much greater than what we sacrificed, being open to the possibility that it will not. This is simply another way of saying that we must be open to the possibility of our own deaths at all times, to live like there may be a future even when this belief is unwarranted by the evidence. Although Marion adds hastily that all possibilities are ultimately loving, this strikes me as more ominous than comforting. This could be taken to mean that even awful possibilities are in their essence really loving, possibilities such as being attacked or tortured. I am not allowed to have any presuppositions about these possibilities, according to Marion, I must simply be open to them. It strikes me that 9/11 was one such awful surprise, a moment of truly sublime evil. Are we willing to take a chance that the next revelatory event may be something as great as 9/11 was evil, even perhaps, infinitely greater than 9/11 was evil? After 9/11, are we still willing to be open to the future, whatever it may presage? What does it mean to show courage in the face of terror? Or to have faith?

Even I Can't Be Cynical Today

Ok, I was wrong about everything. I wrote America off as an already failed pseudo-empire, constantly wondered whether the average American knew the difference between Norm Coleman and Gary Coleman, and obsessively followed The (tabloid) Globe's dogged coverage of George and Laura's failing marriage. On many occasions, and for a long time, I wanted to tell everyone I saw to just quit what they were doing and have a good time because the end of civilization in North America was near and there was nothing anybody could do about it. I may yet turn out to be right about all of these things. But for today...ah, today! Not only did I wake up this morning dead tired from a night of gloating over npr but when I checked my email at work I found I had won Patriots tickets for this Sunday's game. Who could believe it? What is going on today? On the same day that Americans completely prove me wrong and vote the bums out, lo, God delivers a ram. I may have to completely alter my perspective on life. I may need a brand new personality, or at least, my old one back. Is it possible that God hasn't condemned me and everyone else in this country to live in a hellish eternal darkness presided over by Bush, Cheney, and all the minions of hell? Look, what my political theology may be lacking in subtlety, it possesses in intensity. It is hard-wired for victory. All I know today is that I woke up this morning with that same magical feeling I had after the red sox had won the world series. It's a different world. Something new is happening. Everything might be ok after all. Things might turn out normal. It feels like morning in America again.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

More Suggestions for Philosophers

By philosophy I mean both the work of public intellectuals which is supposedly philosophical as well as popular notions which also count as being some part of philosophical discourse. I am saying that philosophy has failed on both counts. The adoption of post-modernism as a particularly vicious form of sophistry by the present ruling class (i.e., the neo-conservatives), as a means of defining and controlling discourse, ought to give every professional post-modernist not currently on the neo-con payroll a chill (that would exclude for instance Francis Fukuyama and other collaborating intellectuals.) I am saying that our present circumstances, i.e. as being ruled by the Bush-Cheney (for prison!) cabal, constitute the terminus of post-modernism in its official and its popular forms. In 2006 there is no way one can simply go off and deconstruct a cereal box without being complicit in the ongoing slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, is what I am saying. As for the solution, I'm glad you asked. If truth is taken to be part of real-world conditions, a committment that we make in the midst of difficult and conflicting circumstances, if consciousness is an object in the world capable of theorizing and cognizing itself, one which is fundamentally open to those objects which disclose themselves to it, if art is taken to be an excellence or fulfillment or saturation of a type of living, if science can be inspired by the deep desire towards understanding the world as givenness and as gift, and if morality is the cultivation of virtue rather than a capitulation to some essence of apodictic certitude, then we are halfway towards solving our problems, halfway towards liberating this country from its death-grip in the hands of a fanatical regime and its morbidly alienated and barely entertained populist constituents (i.e. paris hilton.)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Terrorist Ferrets Plotting Major Attacks

In a lengthy press conference yesterday President Bush vowed to take decisive action against terrorist ferrets who are allegedly plotting major attacks against the nation's living room carpet. "We will not rest," the President declared emphatically, "until these evil-doers are brought to justice. These little rascals could be hiding anywhere -- under the sofa, in the hamper, even in our kitchen cabinets, if Condi left them open. But know this: they are on the run." Terrorist ferrets are a growing problem, say intelligence experts. "The fact is that five years after 9/11, we are safer but not yet safe," said Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. "Potted plants are still vulnerable. Shoes, keys, and other draggable items are left out in the open. Half-full water glasses are simply left sitting on ledges. These types of targets are what the terrorist ferrets are looking for. Only last week an attempted attack against the nation's laundry detergent was thwarted. What else do these little guys have planned?" Some civil libertarians have raised questions about whether defenses against ferrets suspected of planning terrorist acts have gone too far. "The fact is we have seen an alarming array of abuses against ferrets, some of whom have done nothing more than sniff around in the kitchen," said the director of the ACLU. "Curtailed playtime, treats being withheld, even scruffing of necks has all taken place under this administration. Many of these ferrets sit around in cages all day long. Is this really the America we want to live in?" Many Democrats agreed. "The fact is if we are forced to abandon the ideals which made our nation great, the terrorist ferrets will have already won," said Kerry. "And I'll never find my car keys."

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Don't Mess with a Man's Spinach

Although no proof has yet been offered, I am convinced that al-Qaeda is behind the recent attack on the nation's spinach supply. If I am proved right, this will confirm my thesis that al-Qaeda is truly waging a war against American liberals. Think about it. Did the terrorists deliberately attack and poison America's storehouse of spare ribs? Our stockpiles of Twinkies? Our reserves of cheetos, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, or bratwurst? They did not. No, they attacked our spinach. And that, my friends, is war. You don't mess with a man's spinach. You don't cavalierly screw around with veggies. You keep your dirty B-rab fists out of my salad! Do you hear me, Osama? You'd better listen. Because you may have evaded the marines, but you damn well won't get away from Popeye.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Your Local al-Qaeda: Deaniacs?

Conservatives often make the claim that messages broadcasted by al-Qaeda bear a resemblance to statements made by well-known American liberals and Democrats, thus not so subtly suggesting that Democrats are supporters of or sympathizers with terrorists. I would like to respond to this by pointing out some obvious deficiencies in this argument. First of all, Osama bin Laden and his global network of mass murderers are not exactly liberals. Does Osama drive a Prius? Listen to Moby on his I-Pod? Is he sitting in his cave, surfing dailykos while he waits for his turban to come back from the dry-cleaner? Isn't this the same outfit that was hosted by the Taliban, that takes its ideology from the fanatical Wahabbist sect of Islam? Politically and culturally speaking, the terrorists would seem to be, to put it mildly, highly conservative. If this fact does not seem immediately intuitive, it only goes to show the effectiveness of the Republican propaganda since 9/11 which has subliminally implanted the notion that the terrorists are liberals who hate us because we are so conservative. In fact it is just the opposite. The terrorists are conservatives who hate us because we as a nation are too liberal. In other words, if we ban gay marriage, the terrorists will have already won. Piss off a terrorist, have another latte. They would like nothing more than to kill not just Americans, but liberal Americans. Note for the historical record that the terrorists didn't attack freaking Alabama, they attacked Manhattan and Washington D.C. They wanted to kill as many liberals as possible. 9/11 was an attack against the bluest of states. Why didn't bin Laden attack the red states? Because he's crafty. He knows how dumb your average redneck is. He wants to keep as many of those Americans alive as possible. Those educated, urban elites? They're the ones he wants to get rid of. I find it puzzling that Ann Coulter is constantly ranting about wanting to kill various people she doesn't like, such as Jack Murtha, Justice John Paul Stevens, and the entire staff of the New York Times, yet she hates the terrorists for trying to do the exact same thing. Wait a second, couldn't they team up on this? I'm sure that bin Laden would love to behead a few liberals, and Coulter could hand him the knife. I mean, couldn't we at least agree that some conservatives are definitely terrorists, like Jerry Falwell? Surely Falwell hates America almost as much as bin Laden does, and for the same reasons. And if Osama is reading this right now? Then he's got his talking points for today.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

How You Can Help If You Are a Philosopher

I would hardly presume to tell philosophers how to do their job. However it does seem to me that given the present state of affairs in this country that we can use all the help we can get, and it may be time to at least consider how philosophers could be of some use. To begin with, it seems that philosophers are at least partly responsible for our present condition. In fact I would like to make the claim that the present crisis in America is to a certain extent a failure of philosophy. We live at a time in which post-modernism has become the dominant language of the ruling class. And it is not simply a benevolent elite, but a power-hungry cabal on an apparent arc towards tyranny. This fact ought to raise serious questions about the effectiveness of post-modernism in establishing a cultural standard of discourse. If anything, post-modernism has had a chilling effect on discourse, whose low ebb has been marked simultaneously by the erosion of traditionally democratic institutions, the emergence of rival institutions so remarkably shallow as to invite the spectre of nihlism to the kitchen table, and the rise of a new ruling class with apparently unlimited designs on power. If the task of philosophy is to clarify concepts, dispel errors, and foster the sciences as reservoirs of public knowledge, then post-modernism has certainly failed on all fronts. What is needed are new and more public committments to truth, a robust ethics which challenges the logic of capitalism, and an aesthetics which rejects the wallowing of post-modernism in popular culture. How can philosophers help with this present crisis? They could start by sweeping the floor.

Aporia Ahead

In an interview on NPR, the other day, historian Howard Zinn made the interesting point that war is an impractical and ineffective solution to contemporary political problems. War has become too expensive, too unwieldy, too violent, and too unpredictable to justify the risk of waging it. This is why all of America's wars since the end of World War II have failed not only from a humanitarian perspective but from a practical perspective as well. None of them has achieved their intended effect. Instead, they have only made things worse. I suppose this may be why some have called for a change in strategy, that the war on terror, for instance, should be a smarter, smaller, and more opportunistic kind of war than the full-scale conflicts of previous generations. It seems obvious, however, that this has not been pursued because it simply fails to fulfill the appetite for war which is nearly always war's primary motivation. Small-scale operations to nab foreign terrorists or neutralize plots doesn't conjure the necessary grandeur of, say, shock and awe. If it's a demonstration of military might that we're after, this won't do. Nor does it get the money flowing in the right direction, because along with good old fashioned blood lust there is no drive to war apart from its potential as a business investment. This has been true of all the American wars since the end of WWII. Are we safer or better off for having fought any of them? Were we ever directly threatened by any of these so-called enemy states? War as an economic strategy is indispensable to American-style capitalism. Put differently, it is the foundation of our way of life. Without war, we could not continue to live as we do. (I believe many conservatives would agree with me on this point.) We are a war-making people, and increasingly, war is our business. I believe that the present ruling elite imagine a future in which America has cornered the market, as it were, on war, a future in which our primary export becomes war, in which our entire economic and political life is defined by our capacity to wage war. We are rapidly becoming addicted to war. To that end, much research is currently being devoted into the future of war-making. New types of violence are currently under construction the likes of which we cannot presently imagine. The future promises to contain a great deal of violence inflicted by America on the rest of the world. Unfortunately for us, this future presages an America in a constant state of insecurity, suspicion, and alarm. Extreme violence against Americans is likely to become a commonplace in the near future, and we will all have to live with it as best we can. All of this is being brought about by American policies towards the rest of the world, which is to say, by our way of life. Terrorism is a particularly evil consequence of our actions, as depraved as it is predictable. It is simply the violence we are exporting to the world, being imported back to us. Parts of the world really do look like Manhattan did on that September day five years ago as a direct result of American policy. Each of us support those policies in specific ways. Please do not misunderstand me. Terrorism, in all of its forms, really is the great evil of the modern world, and I am not ignorant of its dangers. It is a fact which I find tremendously difficult to accept, because it is the future of my country, my family, and my own life which I find to be at stake. It is a matter of intense personal concern. This is why I find it to be so ironic that everyone nowadays speaks of war as being not desirable but only necessary. We have no choice but to wage war, I hear all the time. In response I would say that this is not a war we can win. The metrics are all against us. To continue down the path of the Bush Doctrine is to wage a war of America and a handful of allies against the rest of the world. If we fight that war, we will lose our country. Do we have a choice to wage war or not? Of course we do. The matter in which we truly have no choice is to go on living as we are now. This way of life will come to an end in the near future. It cannot be sustained. The choice is between waging an agonizing struggle against the rest of the world with consequences so severe as to be unimaginable, or to begin to change the way we live. We must cease exporting violence to the world. But that means giving up our way of life, capitalism in the way we presently conceive of it. It means giving up our insane quest to monopolize the world's resources, to dominate the world's economic and financial systems, to overwhelm and obliterate local cultures with the influence of mass media and commercialized propaganda. Not only is it not possible for everyone in the world to live like an American, but it is not even possible for Americans to go on living like Americans. It is an unjust, opportunistic, malicious and blindingly short-sighted way of life. It is slow suicide. It means death for many innocents in foreign countries and now, post 9/11, it means death for ourselves as well. I take comfort in the fact that America has such a strong surplus of moral strength, ingenuity, and sheer bravado that our ability to meet the challenge is nowhere near exhaustion. There is so much to love about this country, and that too is reflected in the peoples of the world who have mostly given us the benefit of the doubt (Not even the French really hate America, because come on, who could?) But this is the challenge, and it is enormous, too big for one generation to accomplish. The struggle is not really with outsiders who seek to do us harm as it is with ourselves and our place in the world community. It is nothing less than deciding what kind of country we are going to be. Perhaps America is only now going through something like a national adolescence, and this present challenge will be our coming of age. Then I hope we will grow up wisely and well, so that we can look back in tranquility on these troubled times.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Git Them Terrorists, Gew Gew

I was rudely awakened the other night by the sound of something scuffling around my henhouse in the farmyard, so I threw on my robe, grabbed my shotgun, and headed outside to see what was the problem. Lo and behold, it was them dad-burn terrorists again messin' with my chickens! Well I larned them a few lessons. Not only did I round them up, but I trussed them up in my barn all sexy like, dressed 'em in lingerie, then rolled 'em around in dog shit while I diddled myself silly. Ha, those terrorists. They'll think twice about comin' 'round here agin. At least, I think they was terrorists. They sure enjoyed it like they was terrorists, if you get what I mean.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Addiction and Hope

President Bush said in the State of the Union address yesterday that America is addicted to oil. This is like the world's worst heroin addict blaming everyone else for his problem. Surely if there's ever been a poster-boy for the caption, "Addicted to Oil," it is George W. Bush. If Bush had said these words four years ago and actually meant them, there would never have been an Iraq war. If he means them now, then he's announcing that every single thing about his personal beliefs, his way of life, his governing philosophy, the friends and associates he has kept for life, is completely wrong. For these words to be true, Bush would have to immediately fire everyone in his administration. He would have to renounce his family fortune. He would have to become a totally different person. So we know that Bush doesn't really mean what he says, which shouldn't come as a surprise.

Of all the rich ironies in Bush's statement, I would like to focus on only one. During the speech Bush gave his impressions on the economy and he revealed that his is a pro-growth philosophy. Bush is a firm believer in the age-old capitalist principle of eternally expanding markets. For Bush, growth is the single condition which best defines national and economic well-being. So Bush is proud that the American economy has kept on growing during his Presidency. But, why has it been growing? What does it actually mean when "the economy" (which is an abstraction) "grows" (which is a metaphor?) The answer to that question deserves a great deal of further study but one very plausible, consensus answer might be "consumption." The American economy is powered by the American consumer. In fact, this is an understatement. Americans consume far, far more than we produce. The evidence of this is the trade deficit, which for the year 2005 is believed to have reached a record high of $710 billion. No other global economy has ever worked this way before. Industrialization, not consumption, has always been the key to global dominance. The current state of affairs - what appears to be American prosperity - is really a bubble sustained by foreign investors who accept less than market value for their investments solely for the privilege of being associated with the world's only economic superpower. So our current prosperity is really based on reputation more than performance. The economy continues to grow because Americans consume so much, and we can afford to do so because our habits are being financed by overseas investors in China, India, and Europe. This appears to be a classic case of what goes up must come down. Eventually, the economic balance will tilt back towards production, and when that happens, it will be the producing nations who find themselves in control.

But I want to get back to my point about the President's remarks. My point is that American prosperity as Bush defines it - his fideist belief in continuous, eternal growth - is precisely our addiction to oil. There is no difference. Back in 1973, America imported 35% of its oil. By 2003, that had increased to 55%. Where does Bush think American prosperity comes from? It comes from ever greater consumption of the world's energy supply. It comes from Americans driving more, eating more, buying more cars, building more homes, consuming more media, and fighting more wars than ever before. This truth is not lost on the energy industry. The Competitive Enterprise Institute, for one, chastised the President after his speech with this statement: “As bad as the policies proposed by President Bush are, the addiction rhetoric is much worse. President Bush might as well have said, ‘we're addicted to prosperity, comfort, and mobility, and I've got the policies to do something about it."

Yet oil is really not even the tip of the iceberg. If Bush really was serious about curbing America's dependence on foreign energy, he would have to tell us to change our entire way of life, our whole way of viewing ourselves in relation to the rest of the world. We would have to own fewer cars, build smaller homes, drive less, eat less, and stop fighting so many wars. This would cause a great deal of change in the world. For one thing, the American economy would slow considerably. (The American waistline, which has followed a parallel destiny, would also slim down!) The character of the economy would also change, as the balance would begin to tilt away from consumption and towards production. American life would be much less dominated by media, as we would have fewer dollars to spend on entertainment, and much more focused on craftsmanship. Doing more with less, the hallmark of virtue for millennia, would come back into style. Also, terrorists would stop attacking us, as our aggressive expansion into foreign lands would greatly decrease.

Taking the President at his word might seem like too much to ask, and the hypothetical sacrifice, too great to bear. Yet, there are no real alternatives. Our current lucky state of prosperity will not last for much longer. Reducing our consumption would be painful, but not as painful as the crisis which will inevitably befall us if we continue in our present path. America really is addicted, but it is an addiction to a base and corrupt set of values and a consequently unsustainable way of life. The President may not have meant his words truthfully, but he knows of what he speaks: every addict must eventually face the necessity of change. And every addict has the hope of grace.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Unsolved Spying Mysteries

We are all used to hearing some whoppers told by President Bush whenever he stands up to talk. I for one look forward to them. There is one Presidential lie in particular which weighed on my mind, however, as I heard it being told. It was the story, told repeatedly in recent weeks, about how the CIA failed to monitor or catch two of the 9/11 hijackers who were living in San Diego before the attacks. Bush says they could have been caught if the NSA had been allowed to wiretap them. This claim is untrue on a number of levels(a Bush specialty,) as 1) no existing law would have prevented the NSA from wiretapping the plotters with a court order as FISA requires, and 2) the CIA already knew of their existence yet failed to disclose it to the FBI. What is really suspicious about this story though is the unanswered question of why the Bush administration first began to circumvent the FISA court in the weeks after 9/11. I don't believe that it's because the President didn't understand the law (though he now pretends not to) or out of sheer willfulness just decided to ignore it. Rather, the only plausible explanation is that the President started asking for warrants which the FISA court rejected. This would be truly extraordinary since the court exists for the simple purpose of oversight and has hardly ever interfered with any request for a warrant which a President has requested. There would have to be a truly exceptional reason for the court to refuse such a request, especially in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. What could that reason be? The only possible explanation is that the President was requesting the power to spy on purely domestic individuals and organizations who were unrelated to any terrorist threat or national enemy. That means, most likely, peace groups, activists, and political opponents. Knowing what I know about the Bush administration, i.e. that it has no scruples and makes no difference between political opponents and enemies of the state, and given the tantalizingly unanswered questions about this case, I would be willing to bet that this is close to the truth.

The Twilight of Legal Abortion

The swearing-in of Samuel Alito as the newest Supreme Court justice was a somber day for abortion-rights advocates, some of whom spoke very eloquently about what is likely the end of the era of legal abortion. Here was Catholics for a Free Choice President Frances Kissling, as reported in Salon:

"In a way," she mused, "Roe was a socially transformative decision made in a country that was not socially transformed. In terms of social values, in terms of attitudes towards women, it was a profound anomaly. And it's not surviving. Whether it gets overturned or continues on the road to restriction, the concept of women as moral agents in relation to their own bodies is being rejected year by year by year.

"It was so far ahead of its time," she continued. "It was a visionary decision. The failure, the sad part of it, was that we weren't ready for it. The sad, sad, sad thing is society is less ready for it than it was 30 years ago, but that's not the fault of Roe." Roe, and the larger philosophy behind it -- that women are capable of moral agency -- Kissling said, "was never really realized. But maybe what one can say is that in history, 100 years from now, or 200 years from now, when Roe is looked at, it will be looked at as one of the most-forward-thinking, principled decisions for women. Whether it survives or not, it existed. And it will be looked at as an important moment."

Those are serious, heartfelt words which bear careful thinking about. Kissling is probably right that Roe really did raise the cultural consciousness of "a woman's body" in a way which had never been done before, and gave women unprecedented power (executive, veto-power) over their own bodies even when that autonomy collided with that of other, even less visible bodies. However, that wasn't entirely a good thing. The pornography boom of the 1970's also heightened the awareness of women's bodies, and demeaned them for the sake of the same principle of autonomy. As I have written before, I don't believe that criminalization is a just or reasonable solution to the problem of abortion, especially when it is coupled, as it surely will be, with an insanely contradictory push to limit access to birth control. It is the anti-birth control fanatics who are the real danger, and they are also the ones who will be emboldened by future anti-abortion rulings.

So Kissling is right that something is changing, and something is being lost. An important era in history really is coming to a close. An experiment in women's rights is being concluded. It's hard to say if Roe was ahead of its time or if it was fatally flawed. Perhaps no one should be given as much power over their own bodies as Roe attempted to give pregnant women. Nevertheless there is little doubt in my mind that the confirmation of Samuel Alito is a bad thing for women, and that the consequences will be dire.

Perhaps what is really being lost with the passing of Roe is the possibility of a just and lasting solution to the abortion problem, one which would have balanced the right of women to determine the course of their own pregnancy with the objective reality of the fetus as a developing person. That solution was taking shape during the Clinton years, with the goal of making abortion "safe, legal, and rare." Like Roe, it's quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Hold Your Breath, The Big One's Coming

Anyone who doesn't feel a chill down the spine hearing about the NSA spying case doesn't have a pulse. The more details that come out, the more I feel like we're reaching the "Revenge of the Sith" part of the epic, the part where all the pieces fall into place and everyone realizes what's been happening all along but it's too late to do anything about it. Am I in a paranoid mood today? It's hard not to be. The takeover of this country may really be about to happen. For anyone who thinks that's impossible, let me float a few thoughts your way. First of all, I was never fully convinced that the Bush administration would have actually abided by the results of the 2004 election if it had gone John Kerry's way. When you work this hard to consolidate power, break this many laws, cover up this many secrets - in short, when you go this far down the road of authoritarian rule, you don't just hand over power at the results of one little election. We never got to see the Constitutional crisis which could have erupted in 2000 had the vote-counting in Florida gone Al Gore's way, and the same goes for 2004. Two close misses in five years might mean time's up. So my question is, will there be a Presidential election in 2008? I am deadly serious when I say that I have no idea.

Secondly, it is very important to remember that the central principle being debated in the NSA case is not civil liberties versus national security. An accurate news item summing up the debate would read like this: "Sharp debate has issued from Washington lately on the question of whether the President has the right to break the law in matters relating to war and terrorism. President Bush's critics in Congress have argued that the President must abide by laws which govern his conduct of the war on terror. The President, in contrast, has argued that the laws do not apply to him in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief." So I ask you again whether I am being paranoid in wondering whether we are really approaching a watershed moment in American history. I know that past Presidents have often sought extraordinary powers, and usually been denied them. I know that Presidents have tried very hard to change laws that they don't like, sometimes unethically. I know about how Lincoln suspended habeus corpus during the Civil War, how FDR packed the Supreme Court, and of course about Nixon and Watergate. But I don't ever remember a President arguing before that the laws simply do not apply to him, which is the same as saying that the Executive branch is not compelled to respect any decision or any action of Congress.

So there's an unprecedented fissure opening up between Congress and the Presidency, which will almost certainly provoke a major crisis. But that's not even the bottom of where this is heading. There's also an Executive war against the press which is about to boil over. A White House decision to take on the New York Times over its decision to publish the NSA story could light that powder keg. Will we see the government suspend freedom of the press in the name of national security?

All of this points to the fundamental social and political change which the Bush administration is seeking, ever so methodically, to bring about: the President's actions are to be deemed as always legal and always secret, and to report them or criticize them is to be deemed as always illegal. This is what the White House is basically arguing in its case against the New York Times and in its determination to find and punish those who leaked information about the NSA spying program to the press. National security depends on the President being able to act in secret above the law, and therefore it is a crime against national security to reveal any of these secrets. We are just beginning to see the outline of that argument as it appears.

Of course, this leads to the final war being waged by the administration which is the one against the American people. If Congress fails in its attempt to impeach the President or to compel the Executive branch to comply with elections in 2008 or to prevent the Executive from suspending freedom of the press, then we can expect to see an all out assault against the Bill of Rights, i.e. the freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, etc. Life in America will change in ways that are for the moment impossible to predict. I'll offer one prediction though, if this worst case scenario really does come true. Sometime after 2008, the government will outlaw the Democratic Party, and rename it al-Qaeda.