Okay, I just discovered “Garfunkel and Oates,” so here’s my new favorite song, “Save the Rich” (warning: some profanity… though not nearly as much as the subject warrants).
****** The PROFANITY-FREE version with Wierd Al is also tres bueno… ******
(Did you follow the link? It’s funny and true. Excellent job, G & O! — musical, comedic satirists, Kate Micucci and Riki Lindhome)
Okay, so we’re not New York City or San Francisco. We’re not Oakland or London or Washington, D.C. Nonetheless, our sprawling, politically and culturally diverse, not-so-little patch of Silicon Valley-feeding suburbia is participating in the OWS movement that made 2011 a year to remember… and we’re only getting started.
Thanks to the initiative of inspired local youth and civic-minded houses of worship, Fremont Occupiers have been gathering for over two months now, in numbers that have ranged from a dozen or so to more than a hundred… and now we’ve established a core group of concerned — and positively energized — citizens, meeting weekly to share our ideas about how we can contribute to our society.
So far, we’ve been having our weekly GENERAL ASSEMBLY AT NOON at Veteran’s Park on the southwest corner of Walnut Avenue and Paseo Padre (if you’re in the neighborhood, why don’t you JOIN US on SATURDAYS — sometimes people bring FOOD!). We’ve been sharing our facts, concerns, and ideas regarding local, state, national, and even global issues — in the understanding that, as (relatively) economically privileged individuals residing in the remains of a free and open society, we bear a special responsibility to exercise our voices and at least try to benefit our community.
We’ve begun to shape a process for introducing weekly “action items” for those who are motivated to act on any given issue. Thus far, we’ve discussed disappearing civil liberties, food safety (and availability), poverty, universal healthcare, police brutality (particularly with regard to the federally-coordinated crackdown on OWS camps), the co-option of justice by powerful elites, and national politics in a presidential election year, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s outrageous decision in Citizens United (determining, once and for all, that corporations are indeed PEOPLE — plantation owners and pirates, mostly).
Much interest has been expressed in contributing to local community gardens — and possibly establishing one of our own. Much angst has been shared about the transformation of America, in the post-9/11 era, into a nation whose laws are virtually indistinguishable from regimes traditionally considered AUTHORITARIAN. There have also been discussions about the classic dilemma for American liberals: How can I not vote for Bill Clinton/Barack Obama/the Far-Right Democrat, when the Republican alternative seems to be an irrational, barely disguised KKK-throwback and champion of Gilt Age inequality?
(This is the part where I offer “good advice for 2012.” Please understand that I am NOT speaking as a representative of Occupy Fremont or OWS, but simply as an INDIVIDUAL.)
GOOD ADVICE for 2012: ABANDON THE THOROUGHLY CORRUPT ESTABLISHMENT that has sold you out 100% and views you the way a great white shark views a lone, badly hemorrhaging baby porpoise… asleep, with a broken tail. This year the rotten-to-the-core establishment has two champions: Barack Obama (Wall Street savior) and Mitt Romney (Wall Street avatar). All branding and empty, dissembling rhetoric aside, there has never been smaller divide between “Good Cop” and “Bad.”
Neither man has any regard for the Constitution or rule of law. Neither believes in due process, habeas corpus, Posse Comitatus, privacy rights, or Amendments I, IV, V, VI, or VIII (all of which are largely defunct, thanks to George W. Bush and, more surprisingly, Barack Obama). Neither man has proposed any serious remedy for keeping Americans in their homes, despite the fact that many of the foreclosed (and those facing foreclosure) were lied to and defrauded by habitually criminal banks (even ALAN GREENSPAN has said as much). Neither man has come close to offering a serious proposal for combating the looming threat of climate catastrophe (which they both ignore, almost as if it were the Constitution). Neither man has advocated for the kind of infrastructure investment that America SORELY needs (which could modernize and GREEN our waterworks, transportation, and power plants, while putting millions of Americans to work, revitalizing our economy, and making us far less dependent on foreign oil — a commodity for which we have gone to war).
Both men believe in elite immunity for lawbreaking government officials and corporations, endless/boundless/illegal war, elections-as-opaque-auctions, and unfettered oligarchy (which is destroying both the middle class and free markets). Both believe in trade pacts that efface national sovereignty and defile the environment while creating a global “race to the bottom” — oppressing workers, profiting our global rivals (India and China), and decimating the number of good jobs at home. Both are vigorous champions of the unfathomably brutal, racist, and farcically-counterproductive Drug War that fills expensive, for-profit prisons (disproportionately) with African-Americans and Latinos, and puts them to work for big corporations — virtual slave laborers, subject to all manner of abuses. Both have telegraphed an eagerness to restructure and slash Medicare and Social Security… while leaving corporations and plutocrats virtually untaxed.
WHAT CAN WE DO WHEN THE ESTABLISHMENT OFFERS US A CHOICE BETWEEN: A) DEATH BY ARSENIC and B) DEATH BY CYANIDE?
We can respond with a healthy, cleansing NONE OF THE ABOVE! (Stop falling for the “Good Cop/Bad Cop” farce and letting FEAR of “that other guy” determine your vote for the “lesser” evil — because both Good Cop and Bad Cop answer to the same ruthless mob!)
In this presidential election year, abandoning the establishment means throwing our support behind the most sensible and potentially electable anti-establishment figures running for office — and, for my money, that’s Ron Paul, on the right, who has been absolutely slandered by the media; and Rocky Anderson and the Justice Party, on the left. Both men have spent the past several years vociferously rejecting the stupidest and most morally atrocious policies that leading Democrats and Republicans have embraced.
It also might be time for the aroused rabble in our country (whether we’re calling ourselves Tea Partiers, Occupiers, Independents, or whatever) to UNITE BEHIND A SINGLE DEMAND (yes, it’s time) — and there’s no question in my mind about what that demand should be: DEMOCRATIZE OUR ELECTIONS AND CAMPAIGN FINANCE SYSTEM! It is absolutely imperative that we counter and neutralize the insanely outsized influence of private interests (and their lobbies) over our politicians and elections. This is the ONE priority that, if achieved, could pave the way for all kinds of beneficial policies, freeing our politicians to act on their better instincts instead of their campaign donors’ orders.
As unattainable as this goal may sound, OUR DISSENT IS POWERFUL and the oligarchs know this. Right now, they’re afraid of OWS and the intelligently obstinate conservative base that has, thus far, denied the establishment its easy coronation of Mitt Romney. IF ENOUGH OF US MAKE THIS DEMAND — and if we resist the establishment’s Divide & Conquer tactics — WE WILL SUCCEED (however, we also have to assure the powers-that-be that we don’t want their heads on pikes or their fortunes confiscated — for if we fail to do so, they will surely annihilate us and eat our children.)
*** THE BEST PART IS, IT’S NOT AS HARD AS IT SOUNDS *** Cleaning up our elections does NOT necessarily require that we first overturn Citizens United — that we somehow get our co-opted (bought and owned) politicians to pass an amendment to the Constitution which would put the kibosh on decades of legal precedents equating money with speech (a tall order of Olympian proportions — but not one we need to fill, at least not as the first order of business).
PASS ON THE FOLLOWING LINK TO AS MANY FRIENDS AS YOU CAN (for this way, I believe, THE ANSWER doth lie): Lawrence Lessig’s strategy for democratizing our campaign finance system and ending the shadow auctions that pass for American elections today, in which the side that spends the most money wins roughly 90% of the time: www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-december-13-2011/exclusive—lawrence-lessig-extended-interview-pt–2 Mr. Lessig has also written a book on this subject which I highly recommend: “Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress — and a Plan to Stop It”
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, has been similarly clear, observing that “President Obama will go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in US law.”
All of the Democrats who spent Bush’s two terms in histrionics over Bush/Cheney’s assault on the rule of law and destruction of civil liberties apparently owe our 43rd president an apology for repeatedly comparing him to Hitler (as they are now — stupefyingly, and without explanation — rallying around his successor, President Obama, perhaps the all-time champion of the 1% and America’s greatest defender of torture and lawless authoritarianism… with the superior style and acceptable brand).
I understand why many people will find the title question offensive — indeed, any comparison of modern war crimes and morally atrocious state conduct to the quintessence of such behavior exemplified by the Nazis — but such concerns should never prevent us from having an intellectually honest discussion about our nation’s policies… not when so many lives depend on it.
Before proceeding to today’s blog, please read the following linked articles in their entirety:
1. John Tirman’s op-ed appearing in the Washington Post three days ago, “Why do we ignore the civilians killed in American wars?”
2. Lakhdar Boumediene’s op-ed appearing in yesterday’s New York Times, “My Guantanamo Nightmare”
3. And Glenn Greenwald’s blog from yesterday, “The Evil of Indefinite Detention and Those Wanting to De-prioritize It”
Now, I hope you will agree: The questions raised in these articles present a moral challenge to us — as Americans — which we must not shirk… lest we risk repeating the mistakes of the past.
* * *
In today’s America, there are many things that one is not permitted to say in polite company — and never in establishment circles — unless one wishes to be scorned, ridiculed, and permanently marginalized to the point where the vast majority of Americans will never hear your name (a la Noam Chomsky, America’s most internationally celebrated intellectual, Naomi Klein, author of the indispensable ‘The Shock Doctrine,” John Perkins, the former “Economic Hit Man,” whose story, along with Klein’s book, perhaps, tells us everything we need to know about global economics — and countless other heroes, including Amy Goodman, Jane Mayer, Glenn Greenwald, Mahmood Mamdani, Norm Finklestein, Arundhati Roy, Robert Scheer, Tariq Ali, Tom Tomorrow, Col. Ann Wright, Randall Robinson, Medea Benjamin, Bill McKibben, Ray McGovern, Chris Hedges, Antonia Juhasz…).
While most Americans (among those who pay any attention at all) are subjected to a “debate” between Establishment Brand A and Establishment Brand B — forced to slurp the very thin gruel of “intellectual” discourse between Chris Matthews and Sean Hannity (or, at best, between Jon Stewart and Bill Kristol) — the best and brightest commentators are banned from The Conversation entirely, simply because they’ve had the audacity to publicly observe — and worse, to chronicle — the pernicious official policies and disturbing societal shifts that have come to define America in recent decades.
Most of these forbidden observations have to do with recognizing and empathizing with the first victims (impoverished minorities and foreigners) of decades of policies that have transformed the character of the nation, under both Republicans and Democrats, into something the Founding Fathers would not recognize (or rather they would recognize it and give it its proper name: “Tyranny”).
THE FOLLOWING ARE AMONG THE PRIMARY FORBIDDEN OBSERVATIONS IN TODAY’S INCREASINGLY OPPRESSIVE (AND CLEARLY FAILING) AMERICA:
* It is forbidden to say that our justice system is fundamentally broken, undemocratic, mightily skewed to the rich, and unambiguously racist in terms of how it is administered (devastating certain demographics — blacks and Latinos, chiefly — thanks primarily to the cruelly farcical Drug War, but also due to official reluctance to prosecute the crimes of powerful elites who customarily prey on those same disenfranchised populations);
* It is forbidden to say that “upward mobility” in America and the “level playing field” or “meritocracy” of the past are practically nonexistent today, due to the rise of a corrupt and untouchable American oligarchy that has sucked the life out of our economy and decimated the middle class (succeeding, at least in part, because everything that can be said about the flaws of our justice system also applies to our education, electoral, and healthcare systems: they are broken, stratified, glaringly unequal, and fundamentally bigoted);
* It is also forbidden to say that most of the “good” that America does in the world comes in the form of war-making and advancing our own — perceived — geopolitical and corporate interests (in addition to being the world’s leading incarcerator of human beings, we are the preeminent arms dealer, benefiting dictators, drug cartels, terrorists, and slavers alike). The vast majority of aid that we deliver to disaster survivors and victims of droughts and famines goes straight into the coffers of favored corporations and NGOs, with only the crumbs reaching the suffering populations nominally slated to receive that aid (when we assist them at all — many of the victims of the 2004 tsunami, for instance, were “aided” right out of their villages and livelihoods, barred from returning to their homes and fishing grounds, in order to facilitate the building of resorts catering to wealthy tourists — our “aid,” in short, assisted developers and turned residents into economic refugees, rather than mere storm victims… much like most of the poor African-Americans temporarily displaced by Hurricane Katrina — they were permanently displaced by gentrification and the willful destruction/shuttering of structurally sound low-income housing and the vital public hospital that had served their community for decades).
* It is forbidden to say that the global economic system over which we largely preside is one that accepts — without apparent anguish or self-reflection — the deaths of NINE MILLION CHILDREN EVERY YEAR (nearly a Holocaust each and every year) simply as the cost of doing business (that figure is the estimate of the World Health Organization, which states that approximately 70% of those children’s deaths are preventable — and for a trifling cost, especially when compared to our enormous expenditures on war, surveillance, and the data-mining of biometric and other information pertaining to most human beings on Earth).
* But most of all in today’s America, it is forbidden to say that the United States is the very embodiment of an empire that, since the settling of this continent, has never truly renounced or repudiated genocide and colonialism, with a modern population that is largely indifferent to the countless millions of victims of our policies in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and beyond (including right here at home, where our prisons are brutal, profiteering testaments to cruelty, rape, captive labor, and torture).
WHAT MORAL CODE ENABLES MOST AMERICANS TO DEFEND THIS ABHORRENT STATUS QUO?
WHAT COMPELS MOST AMERICANS TO ACTUALLY DEFEND THIS SYSTEM? (It’s not patriotism, because a patriot wouldn’t defend the shredding of our Constitution and the blatant corruption of our legal and other institutions.)
The answer to those questions is actually quite simple: It is no moral code but rather a potent combination of IGNORANCE, FEAR, and DESPAIR that allows us to continue in this fashion.
Many of the more informed and concerned fellow citizens with whom I’ve discussed these matters repeat some version of the following frustrated sentiment: “Most Americans simply don’t care.”
Most Americans are ignorant of these realities; they simply don’t know about our real policies and the abundant victims of those policies — or how inflated are the claims about our alleged enemies and threats. To paraphrase one of America’s most notorious modern war criminals, they don’t even know how much they don’t know (the “unknown unknowns”), since they are unaware of the extent of media consolidation/control and the prevalence of propaganda (NPR through FOX). They are both the victims and the unconscious avatars of the breathtaking myopia and narcissism of 21st-Century America — widely noted beyond our shores (with a mixture of bafflement and disgust).
Furthermore, most Americans are, in my opinion, afraid of what they might learn if they began to explore for themselves the more serious complaints of their less complacent (and/or more agitated) fellow citizens. In their defense, it is a truly frightening prospect that one’s government may not be just inept and imperfect, but truly morally corrupt, and on a historical scale… but the more we turn away and fail to confront this reality, the more we become a reflection of our government’s values (the more we become the analogy that dare not speak its name…).
Deep down, I think, most Americans suspect the horrible truth, but are doubtful of the possibility of a brighter future. Why bother to inform myself when there’s nothing I can do about it, they reason. They despair of our ability to reverse course and make a better world than the currently terrifying one that has us hurtling, quite possibly, to the end of our civilization and the snuffing out of the lights of billions of living beings, human and otherwise (either that, or 98% of climate scientists are all huffing ether or stark raving mad — but if that’s the case, why are so many natural systems, oceanic and otherwise, producing so many troubling signs that they are foundering, if not failing outright? Why are there so many “dead canaries?” we might reasonably ask — regardless of whether the “miners” toil on, refusing to acknowledge them.).
* * *
And that’s all it takes to make a society of (metaphorical) Good Germans: IGNORANCE, FEAR, and DESPAIR. (Or do we really believe the Hollywood version of history, that post-WWI Germans became a nation of monsters, an entire country of sadistic racists incapable of conscience or human feeling? That kind of moral reductivism ignores what political theorist Hannah Arendt brilliantly termed the “banality of evil,” describing a phenomenon that pertains not only to WWII-era Germans, but which is crucially relevant to people in all societies — including Americans today, unwilling to question authority. And while a one-dimensional moral construct — “evil” Germans — is certainly an easy trope for hack screenwriters to employ, such notions are beyond dangerous in the real world, especially in the political realm, as they’re all-too-convenient for warmongers perversely seeking to replicate — and exceed — the “success” of the Third Reich; some highly regarded analysts have posited that such considerations may have helped determine the path that America’s leaders followed after World War II, explaining why our government elected to shield and relocate so many upper echelon Nazis from justice and indemnify Japanese practitioners of bio-warfare; it was in exchange for their secrets. The Axis powers had, after all, come very close to winning control of the world with their methods — and what ambitious inheritor of a world in ruins wouldn’t seek to emulate that?)
Please understand that I am not trying to be glib or make facile comparisons for provocation’s sake; I believe the analogy (unfortunately) informs the present discussion and (fortunately) has unique potential to spur change — change that is desperately and urgently needed.
To be crystal clear, I vehemently denounce Nazism, fascism, and all who would adopt their methods — whatever their rhetoric, political stripe, or creed. However, I make such judgments on the basis of SUBSTANCE, not exterior trappings (a swastika is one thing, but TORTURE is TORTURE; and INDEFINITE DETENTION WITHOUT CHARGES is, likewise, what it is; and PERSECUTION OF PEOPLE ON THE BASIS OF THEIR FAITH is always morally repugnant; and so on…)
Understand also that I realize that there are important differences between what the Nazis did and what America’s political leadership has done since the end of WWII: The Nazis trumpeted their racism and world-storming ambitions to the world, vulgarly and brashly exulting in the ugliest of their ideas; whereas America’s leaders have wrapped their racism and quest for world domination in the language of liberation and liberalism. Nazis, in far more straightforward — and unbelievably heinous — fashion, simply rounded up their victims, forced them into slave labor, and marched them to their deaths, Jews and Gypsies, Communists, labor leaders, artists and intellectuals, and homosexuals, too; whereas America’s leaders have utilized methods — sweeping sanctions regimes, poisoned environments, support for terrorists and dictators, covert wars, economics, etc. — that in most cases are indisputably less brutally efficient. (Nonetheless, I can’t imagine it makes much difference to our victims… or that future generations will see anything but a tactical shift within the context of the same basic ethos.)
Realize also, however, that the Germans had one excuse that we do not; they had globally powerful enemies that had defeated them in a world war and, long after the war was over, endeavored, with considerable success, to reduce them to abject poverty and utter powerlessness; whereas all America has are a few, relatively powerless radical Islamists, discredited by their methods and politically isolated (reviled by mainstream Muslims from Indonesia to Iran — at least before we began making their case for them, killing hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Iraq and scores of thousands in Afghanistan, torturing countless thousands globally, and unambiguously announcing ourselves, via our ACTIONS, as the imperial enemy of both Islamic free expression and freedom, generally — hostile to the existence of free press, freedom of assembly, open societies, and the rule of law).
What it boils down to (for me) is that MORALITY IS MORALITY… and most people alive today recognize that America is on the wrong side of this ledger. There’s simply no disguising the fact (with lofty rhetoric and message campaigns concocted by high-priced image makers) that the most powerful men in the world — chiefly Americans — are butchering millions so that a few may profit… and very likely damaging the world’s life-sustaining systems in the process, recklessly and callously endangering billions.
Whatever the Nazis did (which was plenty, I readily concede), the history books of the future — whether they’re written in electronic characters or once again on stone tablets — will record that WE were the ones in charge of the world, with more power by far than any other nation, when the rule of law and institutional concern for human rights cratered… when the human race, abjectly and without a hint of real effort, failed to take steps to prevent wholesale environmental collapse.
That all-too-possible catastrophe may well be something for which our generation of Americans must answer. It may even birth, some day in the far future, a new unspeakable metaphor, a new analogy that dare not speak its name.
How’s this for an outrageous sounding non-whopper: BOTH Romney AND Obama are empty suits who believe virtually nothing they say and will vigorously defend the existing U.S. oligarchy with any and all powers we grant them — and many that we don’t.
After three years of Obama fulfilling the wildest dreams of Dick Cheney, the Heritage Foundation, and Grover Norquist while cementing the most radical aspects of GWB’s assault on our Constitution, I’m as disgusted with the nominal left as I am with alleged conservatives (whose appetite for red-meat soundbites has reduced them to a pack of animals, incapable of reason — Trump’s birtherism? Bachmann’s recklessness? Perry’s incoherence? Cain’s inanity? And now, Gingrich, an egomaniac who’s foibles and slipshod ethics are the quintessence of what’s wrong with Washington?) Conservatives, like progressives, have revealed themselves to be utterly without principles.
Obama had the best chance in generations to turn America around — and an overwhelming mandate to do exactly that. Instead, with huge majorities in Congress, he OPTED to continue the Reagan revolution and put the final nails in the coffin of democracy, the rule of law, and the middle class.
The biggest fallacy of this presidency is that Obama faced too many obstacles to accomplish his great progressive agenda. Nonsense! From the start, Obama has demonstrated a willingness to fight ONLY the people who broke their backs to elect him.
UPDATE: Mea culpa, the NYT eventually posted my comment — they just sat on it for over THIRTEEN hours first, before throwing it at the bottom of the heap.