Friday, November 30, 2012

Yes, it's a relief but…

Like so many other Americans I was very afraid of four years under the leadership of a cynical, callous capitalist like Mitt Romney whose only real interest is piling up more money at the expense of American working people.
Yes I'm glad that Obama got elected. I'm glad that enough white Americans were ready to resist racist pressures to vote for him. (Romney voters were 88% white.) I'm glad that women made a strong showing in a campaign where women were assigned the traditional role of smiling wives in the background of the two great men.
Yes, I am glad that money cannot completely buy elections yet.
But as citizens of the United States we must also look this fact very clearly in the face: In re-electing Barack Obama president of the United States, we all continue to be guilty of mass murder of innocents around the globe.
According to reliable estimates, American unmanned aircraft – the so-called “drones” – have killed about 3500 people in the last year among whom as many as 25% may have been noncombatants. One in four of the victims of our drone attacks have been innocent bystanders, about 900 people or so.
According to some estimates, as few as 6% of the remaining 2500 victims of drone attacks were high profile terrorist enemies of the United States. The others are what observers describe as “foot soldiers,” who are no more a threat to the security of the United States than ordinary soldiers in the military of other countries. But they were Muslims.
Four of those killed were American citizens. One of them work for Al-Qaeda; one of them was his 16-year-old son who was not accused of anything except being his father's son. Al Awlaki was not a good US citizen, for sure. But constitutional guarantees of a trial by your peers are not reserved for the innocent. It is a constitutional right for everyone. The constitutional lawyer in the White House has limited respect for our Constitution.
In voting for Obama, we have unfortunately also voted for the drone war and other infringements on our constitutional liberties. If the president can kill al Awlaki without arresting or trying him in a legitimate court of law, he can do the same to you and me.
We must be clear how bizarre this situation is. After 9/11 our government has repeatedly violated our Constitution. The security in the war against terror that our government promises us is not security for us as free American citizens because we are being asked to give up those freedoms. The security they promise us is the security of the all powerful state – of totalitarianism.
In line with this disregard of American liberties, and of the entire issue of clearly illegal assassinations of American citizens and citizens of other countries, this whole issue was not mentioned but once in the entire campaign. For a year or two Romney and Obama battled it out and tried to sell themselves to the American electorate but our program of illegal assassination was not mentioned. Neither candidate pointed out that one of the many things we voted for was a continuation of America as mass murderer.
When it comes to matters of security the government is extremely close lipped. Not much is known about the drone war. Not much is known about how the government selects its victims. Not much is known about whether there is any way of getting off the presidents kill list.
Democracy is impossible if citizens do not know what the government is doing they are asked to vote for. Our government once again asked us to vote for it, but they asked us to vote for it blindly. They are not telling us what they do.
So, yes, this election made some space for democracy over lies, over obscene amounts of money, over racism and gender prejudice, and religious intolerance. But it was also a vote for secret, illegal mass murder, of violations of our constitutional liberties.
I am relieved, but…

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

War in Gaza

Hamas in Gaza has lately sent many long-range missiles into Israel. Three Israelis were killed so far; Israeli reprisals have killed more than 70 Palestinians. The Israelis claim the right to self defense. US officials from the president on down repeat that self justification.
Consider this interesting historical analogy.
In 1939, Germany invaded Poland. In 1940 the Germans moved the large Jewish population of Poland into a number of urban ghettos. The largest of those was the ghetto in Warsaw. By 1942 the Germans began emptying the ghettos and transporting Jews to extermination camps. In 1943, a Jewish resistance groups in the ghettos began attacking Germans who had come to transport more Jews to the death camps.
The Germans wiped out the Jewish resistance who were poorly armed by force of superior weapons. Their justification was obvious: when troops are attacked they fight back and try to kill the attacker.
The point of the analogy should be obvious. There are two ways of telling this story of the Warsaw ghetto. The German version of the story goes as follows: German troops are being attacked without any justification by Jewish resistance. The Germans using their God-given right of self-defense wipe out the Jews.
The Israeli and US government tell a similar story about the current fighting in Gaza. Israeli civilian populations are subjected to shelling by Hamas. This attack is totally unjustified and gratuitous. The Israelis use their God-given right of self-defense and kill many Palestinians.
Consider the Jewish version of the Warsaw ghetto story: the Germans were methodically exterminating millions of Jews in the Polish extermination camps. The Jews resisted. Much better armed, the Germans crushed the Jewish resistance.
Here is the Palestinian version of the current war in Gaza: ever since they began taking over Palestinian lands in Palestine in the era around World War I, Jews, and later Israelis, have been oppressing Palestinians. The occasional efforts at resistance on the part of Palestinians have been crushed mercilessly by superior Israeli arms, amply supported by the United States and other Western countries.
The Israelis, seconded by the US government, assert their right to self-defense. So did the Germans who crushed the resistance of the Jewish rebellion in the Warsaw ghetto.
Neither of those appeals to the right of self-defense will stand up to scrutiny if one places the present conflict in the larger context of the histories of Jews in Poland or of Palestinians in Palestine.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Too Close to Call?

Up to the very end of this election, the media insisted that the the electoral contests were “too close to call.”
As soon as the election was over, everyone seemed to have a bunch of facts which showed Obama to be the likely winner.
Many pundits have insisted that the Republicans completely misjudged who was voting out there. Their appeal was mainly directed at grumpy elderly white men, while people of color, women, young people voted in larger proportions than before. After the election, the pundits all talked as if everyone knew this. But if everyone knew this, why did they think that Romney had a chance?
No sooner had Obama won the vote in Ohio than everyone shared the information that Obama had almost 3 times as many local electoral offices in Ohio than Romney. Obama relied on the tried and true methods of community organizing: you go out there and talk to people. Romney relied on media ads.
That suggests to me that Obama had a pretty good chance of winning in Ohio all along. Why was it too close to call?
The Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren obviously appealed much more powerfully to women voters than Scott Brown, a macho guy who liked to pose with his pickup truck and whose votes in the Senate gave the lie to his avowed concern for women.
That was obvious before the election. Why was it “too close to call?”
Romney quite consistently showed his contempt for what we now call “the middle class,” the folks who work regular jobs and have a hard time making ends meet. Why didn't anyone think that would not make a difference?
Over last summer, The Republican party engaged in a truly embarassing primary campaign  that paraded a series of imcompetents as Presidential material. Can a party that offer us  a choice between Michelle Bachman, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain be a serious contender for political power?
There are many other examples of straws in the wind that the media failed to, or refused to, or pretended not to see.
In recent years psychologists have done a whole lot of work on how we form our own opinions. It is clear today that one of the factors that affects our beliefs is what we think other people believe. Especially in situations where we are not very sure of ourselves, we tend to adjust our views to those we believe the majority to hold. It makes sense, doesn't it. If you're not sure of yourself you're likely to go with the crowd, hoping that they know something you don't.
Following that, one would expect that more people would have voted for Obama, had they known beforehand that he was going to win. If the media on the other hand persuaded voters that the election was too close to call, the inclination to go with the majority would have been much weaker.
So it could be that the media more or less deliberately denied that Obama was going to win in order to minimize the conformity effect. Had people known what the media clearly knew weeks ago, but refused to divulge, more might have voted for Obama.
Possibly the media – owned solidly by supporters of Mitt Romney – manipulated the news in favor of their candidate.
Of course it could have just been the sort of blindness, the unwillingness to see what was happening that Karl Rove displayed on election night when he refused to admit that Romney lost long after everybody else had recognized that.
So we face an interesting question in the week after the election: did the media deliberately misrepresent Obama's chances or were they just unwilling to recognize the truth that was staring them in the face?
Far be it from me to accuse the Rupert Murdochs of this world of manipulating the news for their own political interest.
You have to decide for yourself what you believe.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Occupy Wall Street-- a Year Later
When groups of mostly young people descended on Zucotti Part on September 17 2011, mainstream observers expressed exasperation: " They never tell us what they want; they do not have a program." These observers were looking for a limited list of demands: new government programs, new legislative agendas, or ending existing programs and agendas. The observers were looking for appeals to existing power holders.
Even observers on the left had elegant phrasing to conceal what Occupy Wall Street had said very loudly and clearly. The observers on the left talked about Occupy Wall Street "putting process in place of program." The Occupiers were accused of being so riveted on the General Assemblies and their procedural innovations that they forgot to decide what they stood for.
Surprise! None of that is true.
The Occupiers made a series of statements. They made them over and over for all to hear and read:
America is radically unjust and injustice is spreading like a virus. We are living though a veritable epidemic of injustice.
America is unjust because our decision making processes are infected by this plague of injustice. Rarely do those in power listen to ordinary folks. No one listens to the poor--both in the inner cities and in distant rural counties.
No more graphic evidence exists for that than the current electoral campaigns. By the time it will be done, the Presidential campaign alone will have cost the mind-boggling sum of $2 BILLION. What did they need all this money for? Did Obama and Romney come to every town in the US or, if they could not go there themselves, did they send a trusted emissary and sit down with citizens and ask: what is hardest for you now? Do you have any suggestions for us ? Here is what we are thinking of doing. What do you think about that? Together the candidate and his voters would try to work out a good plan—far away from Washington, corrupt legislators and lobbyists. (In Vermont, US Senator Bernie Sanders has been doing this for years, sitting down for long conversations in hundreds of towns. Vermonters have responded by re-electing the avowed socialist, Sanders, for many years. Polls have him currently ahead of his Republican challenger by 40%.)
That would be costly but it would not demand $2 BILLION. That money goes to selling us a bill of goods. It is tempting to say that the candidates are selling themselves to us but even that is not accurate for what we are being offered are neatly dressed up Barack and Mitt dolls—no more than virtual President and Challenger. Two Ken dolls with their Barbies decorously in the shadows behind them. Obama and Romney are not offering to represent us and asking us what they should be doing on our behalf. No, they are telling us what to think. They obviously believe that it will take a huge, high pressure sales job to get us to fall in line. They are not asking for our vote, let alone for our thoughts and suggestions. They are manipulating us big-time-- and being quite open and shameless about it—into pulling their lever on the voting machine. The appeal is strictly to our emotions, not to our intelligent and thoughtful self.
There is no conversation between citizen and politicians in the modern US. The politicians, their wheels greased by $2 BILLION from multimillionaires, are telling citizens what they should think.
The presidency has become a giant tube of toothpaste.
Politicians and millionaires have all the power, as the existing political communication--there is no conversation--shows. They have the goods and are trying to get us to buy them. They care for our opinions only to fine tune their advertising messages. Our opinions have no effect on policy. Is it any wonder that these powerful people make decisions that are inherently unjust?
The Occupiers uncovered the injustice of political communication where the powerful manipulate the people who do the work in America. Justice in communication, democracy, involves conversations premised on equality: everyone participates equally, everyone is taken equally serious, all decide on policies together. This is the democracy Occupy Wall Street advocated.
But they also practiced it. What they advocated was not one more well meaning but untried reform project. The many people in Zucotti Park, in many other America cities and in many cities all over the world demonstrated that democracy, justice in politics, shared and equal participation in political decision making would work. It would keep sizable groups housed and fed. It would provide medical services, maintain security and deal effectively with breaches. Incidentally it provided shelter and food for homeless people.
No one claims that the hard work of General Assemblies in Zucotti Park are a ready made template for reorganizing American politics. But American politics as it is today does not work either. It may work to keep people running on the treadmill in their cage. But it does not produce a democratic politics. It does not produce a democratic society. It does not produce JUSTICE.
In order to produce a just society where everyone has the means to have a good home-and-work life, we need to all be able to participate in carefully producing policies. No one has a blueprint of how to change over from what we call “democracy” today—a vast effort to sell us the Brooklyn Bridge—to different ways in which different groups-some large, some small—will be able to work out just policies together in conversations where no one is the boss, no one is in charge because they are property owners, everyone is equal.
The Occupiers elaborated methods for holding equal, efficient conversations. If America wants justice it will have to do the same.
If America wants democracy it must do what the Occupiers did and sit down and talk to each other about how we will run our affairs. As long we leave it to the owners of power and money to decide everything we get not JUSTICE but a big, fat NOTHING.