Tuesday, October 28

Fish, Milton, Lennon

I never imagined I would discuss the literary critic and sometimes New York Times editorial writer Stanley Fish favorably, but his recent opinion piece is a stinger, especially if you read it with the religious Right in mind. Fish has a penchant for casting tame arguments in scandalous terms or, at other times, for making truly scandalous claims in an off-hand manner. The upshot of his most recent piece is that, in one important respect, Obama is like Jesus while McCain is like Satan. Forget for the moment whatever Fish might mean by that, because the comparison is bound to create a storm. This may well be the objective for Fish, a veritable storm chaser of essay writing.

Fish's piece reminds me of the famously twisted words of John Lennon, who at the height of Beatlemania in the United States quipped that the Beatles seemed to be more famous than God. The religious Right went bazookey, running wild with the assumption that Lennon meant something like, "I think that I should be more famous than God" or some such blasphemy, and destroying Beatles paraphernalia, getting the group banned from radio, etc. Could a similarly mindless little storm be kicked up in the wake of this oddly couched argument from a literary critic? Fish's piece is really nothing more than an appreciation of the Obama campaign articulated on the basis of Fish's reading of Milton's "Paradise Regained." It is reasonable enough and somewhat colorful, but I can just imagine its getting twisted into something truly execrable -- for instance, final proof that Obama IS the anti-Christ. Let's see. I'll give it 48 hours. Check back.

Thursday, October 23

How to win a crime

Senator McCain keeps bellowing forth that, as president, he is going to "win" the greatest crime of the Bush administration -- the violent invasion and ongoing occupation of Iraq. (Of course he doesn't call the crime a crime. He prefers the inaccurate, righteous-sounding word "war." But let's be serious.) McCain's claim is that, by contrast, Obama can only lose the crime by seeking an end to it. Well, not only is there very little possibility that Obama will end the crime or prosecute those who are responsible for it, the idea that McCain can in any way "win" it is simply inconceivable -- that is, unless by "win" McCain means perpetuate the greatest international crime of the last 60-some years and crush any idea of justice and democracy in Iraq. What a win that would be, huh? And what a whopper of a campaign promise. If this is what is meant, McCain's achieving "victory" would require us to invent a new expression in English -- "to win a crime." But, if that is not the sense intended, it remains unclear how McCain intends to achieve "victory" in any honest use of the word. How, precisely, would McCain appease the vast majority of citizens in Iraq, those who have always rejected U.S. presence there, let alone bring real security and a functional infrastructure back to what remains the most dangerous nation on the planet? And does he intend to do this without withdrawing all US troops, in accordance with the wishes of the Iraqi people?

I don't know if Senator McCain pays much attention to events in Iraq, or to the criminal nature of Bush's designs on that nation and its resources, but it is worth underscoring that the
US president has just signed, or issued a signing statement, showing the intention of the US government to take control over Iraq’s oil.
So notes Raed Jarrar, an architect in Washington, D.C. who translated the relevant documents. Here are his comments:
I think this is an amazingly frustrating and shocking thing to do at the same week that the Bush administration is trying to sign a long-term agreement legitimizing a long-term occupation of Iraq. So, it gives, I think, the wrong—or maybe the right—message to the Iraqi people, that the US will continue occupying their country to secure oil, to control their country’s oil...
Jarrar's blog, Raed in the Middle, presents the translated document in full (also pdf'd here) and also shows photos from anti-occupation demonstrations that just took place in Baghdad. According to Jarrar,
the city witnessed another demonstration with more than one million Iraqi, Arabs and Kurds and others, Muslims and Christians and others, Sunnis and Shiites and others demonstrated together against the occupation and the long term agreement, asking for a complete withdrawal the leaves no permanent bases, no troops, and no mercenaries.
Put the pieces of this puzzle together. On the one hand, you have massive public rejection among Iraqis of all forms of U.S. occupation and intrusion into their nation -- a fact that is left without comment in the U.S. other than in a few independent news sources such as Democracy Now! (see, in particular, show of October 21, 2008); on the other, you have a U.S. president who, never having been even censured for his massive crimes there, continues to pursue, via the ruse of a signing statement, his ultimate goal of controlling Iraq's natural resources, thereby sitting on and butt-smearing any notion of justice or democracy for the foreseeable future.

In the midst of this conundrum peeps up little soldier boy: "I will never concede defeat, my friends. I will never surrender in Iraq!"

Sounds impressive, Johnny.

Now, what the hell does it mean?

terrette photo: Etretat, France 34173

Wednesday, October 22

Choose your elites with care; it matters

Noam Chomsky speaks on voting without illusions and on why it is that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama articulated health care initiatives that, while still falling short of the needs and stated desires of most Americans, nonetheless promised improvement to the currently dysfunctional and brutally expensive health care system:


After years of mulling this question over and at times drawing different conclusions, I can say solidly that I concur with Chomsky's view on the value of a disabused approach to voting, and my vote for Obama in the State of Ohio reflected that.

Sunday, October 19

Our dysfunctional way of life

Andrew J. Bacevich makes a number of insightful comments about the state of the nation in his two-part interview with Bill Moyers. A sample from the online transcript:
I think that the Bush Administration's response to 9/11 in constructing this paradigm of a global war on terror, in promulgating the so-called Bush Doctrine of Preventive War, in plunging into Iraq - (an) utterly unnecessary war - will go down in our history as a record of recklessness that will be probably unmatched by any other administration.

But (that) doesn't really mean that Bill Clinton before him, or George Herbert Walker Bush before him, or Ronald Reagan before him, were all that much better. Because they all have seen military power as our strong suit. They all have worked under the assumption that through the projection of power, or the threat to employ power, that we can fix the world. Fix the world in order to sustain this dysfunctional way of life that we have back here.
The implication here is that equating "freedom" with consumer choice, as so many Americans do, is going, eventually, to lead to a perilous financial and political state for the nation as a whole.

I think the nation would be served well if Bacevich were asked to be the next president's speech writer. His are hard truths that need to be told repeatedly and heard far and wide.

Saturday, October 18

Holy fraud!

The Washington Post reports that Sarah Palin, noting some "movement" in the polls (of the statistically irrelevant sort), attributes the apparent pause in her ticket's weeks-long trouncing to the influence of none other than God.
Giving credit to a higher power for the day's poll ratings, the Alaska governor told the roughly 500-person audience that things might be changing. "We even saw today, thank the Lord," she said, looking upwards and raising her fist, "We saw some movement."(source)
I understand that Palin has been shielded from news -- both voluntarily, over a long period, and, of late, by advisement from her handlers. That is unfortunate, for had she been paying attention, she would have noticed that a recent case brought against selfsame God, seeking a permanent injunction to prevent "death, destruction, and terrorisation (sic)," was dismissed on account of the fact that the defendant has no address and that therefore no legal papers can be served. (BBC report)

This fact should give pause to those like Palin in the GOP who like to imagine that God is on their side in a political campaign. Imagining that God would take a partisan stake in such a matter comes dangerously close to imagining that God would, in essence, cast a vote in favor of the GOP. And, as we have seen, lacking any address, God cannot in fact be registered legally to vote. And since the Holy One has no dog in this fight and no legal means of intervening, any advice or influence God might exercise upon the proceedings would surely be unwarranted.

To stop appearing absurd, Palin and those like her who hype charges of voter fraud need to stop evoking the Godhead as an active member of their team. Is it reasonable to whine publicly that Mickey Mouse has been registered to vote while at the same time boasting that the Creator of the Universe is pushing one's campaign forward by tinkering with poll results? The most Mickey could ever do is toss a single vote in for Obama and Biden; whereas God, if we are to believe Palin, could actually alter the votes of millions of legally registered citizens. Try to tell me that such unwarranted intrusion would not be voter fraud on a massive scale and the end of democracy as we know it.

It is only fitting that I end this post with a retouched quote from John McCain's debate-delivered tirade:
"We need to know the full extent of Governor Palin's relationship with God, who is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy."

terrette photo: Carpathian Mountains, Poland.


Friday, October 17

Ohio voter?

If you vote in Ohio, know that this page, from the League of Women Voters, gives you a heads-up on all state issues that you will be asked to make a choice on. I just sent my ballot in. For Americans living in Japan, the postage costs the equivalent of about three dollars and ninety cents this year, which is a little better than in years past on account of the weak dollar.

Monday, October 13

Chalmers Johnson on a national blind spot

If you have a moment, watch this video of historian Chalmers Johnson explain how US military spending cannot go on at its maddening pace without threatening the prospects of our presumably democratic nation (via the Real News Network).

Jewish Cemetery, Warsaw. Photo: terrette

This is a point that right wing sympathizers, political conservatives, Limbaugh fans, Republicans, and so on, would do well to consider. It is also a point that sorely needs to be raised in the October 15 debate. Of course, for structural reasons relating to party power and owing to the industrial complex stranglehold on political discourse in the United States, there's not a chance in hell that it will.

Saturday, October 11

McCain pulls up, wherefore?

I am not sure what to make of McCain's shift in strategy. After a week of ludicrous mud slinging, he has confronted, albeit timidly, some of the animosity, ignorance, and rage stoked by his and Palin's distortions and distractions about Barack Obama. Le Monde presents a video that brings together a few of these moments where McCain confronts his own supporters. This could be a momentary truce in the preparation for the third debate. More interestingly, it could be another white flag of surrender from the McCain camp (after the one raised in Michigan). Or it could be simply an acknowledgment that the mud slinging had no effect on public opinion at large and that swift-boating your opponent out the way with slander is not going to work this time. In all three cases, it is a sign of desperation. Things look very bad for Republicans this election cycle. And they seem startled to find that hiding their harmful and bankrupt policies behind slander of their opponents is not working anymore. (Links to NYTimes op-ed by Bob Herbert and NYTimes article on the "rough week" for the McCain campaign.)

In the Washington Post, novelist Khaled Hosseini writes that
pretending to douse flames that you are busy fanning does not qualify as straight talk.

What I find most unconscionable is the refusal of the McCain-Palin tandem to publicly condemn the cries of "traitor," "liar," "terrorist" and (worst of all) "kill him!" that could be heard at recent rallies. McCain is perfectly capable of telling hecklers off. But not once did he or his running mate bother to admonish the people yelling these obscene -- and potentially dangerous -- words. They may not have been able to hear the slurs at the rallies, but surely they have had ample time since to get on camera and warn that this sort of ugliness has no place in an election season. But they have not. Simply calling Obama "a decent person" is not enough.
Well said, Khaled. Incidentally, the BBC has added another document to the series of videos from various sources showing "delusional voters" who support McCain and Palin. This time, they interview the clueless in Ohio and sound a note of warning. The warning, on its surface, is that Obama could lose Ohio and the election as a whole; there is also the implication, however, that his personal safety may be compromised by the degree of suspicion and hate being cooked up against him.

Frank Rich, writing in the New York Times, provides a solid summation of this whole issue. His article ends with these words:
The McCain campaign has crossed the line between tough negative campaigning and inciting vigilantism, and each day the mob howls louder. The onus is on the man who says he puts his country first to call off the dogs, pit bulls and otherwise.

Friday, October 10

The Annointed One

The relatively new-to-the-net The Daily Beast, not to be confused with the wonderful source of provocative satire and anti-right wing commentary from Buffalo, NY known as The Beast, has posted video from in and around Sarah Palin's house of worship. Some of those interviewed will surely strike non-initiates as downright wacky. To take them at their word, Sarah Palin has been chosen by the Lord to lead the nation from the "crown" of all fifty states, Alaska. There are also several moments within the secretly recorded church service of "crush our enemy" types of chants that seem to anticipate the "Love Israel, death to everyone else in my way" foreign policy Ms. Palin delivers with a smile and a wink. If this is a glimpse of what a Palin vice presidency or eventual presidency would look like, I'd say we risk having more than just one disaster on the nation's hands at the moment.

Personally, I'd really like us all to avoid another four years of editorial warfare of the sort we saw relating to George Bush Jr., as writers of various political stripes weigh in on the question, "is he/she really an idiot? or is this just political cunning shrewdly enveloped in down-home manners?" Let's just avoid such vain questions all together this time, shall we? President Barack Obama would save our many fine editorial writers the mental anguish involved in trying to postulate hidden capacities and God-appointed leadership.

Tuesday, October 7

The pre-approved debate

On the "town hall" debate between Senators McCain and Obama: Wow, those were horrible questions. Those were NOT questions from human beings (except for, perhaps, the one about whether health care is a commodity, which, not surprisingly, neither of the candidates answered). Those were questions that surely, in one way or another, made a tortuous route through the hands of party operatives. I don't know how these questions were selected, wheedled down, and packaged for public voicing, and if anyone has any light to shed on that, please comment below, but this "town meeting" was more smoke and mirrors from the "Presidential Debate Committee" and another lost opportunity for the American public.

Update 1: Democracy Now! reported that all questions were "pre-approved." The host, Amy Goodman, also picked out the one "real" question that I highlighted in the paragraph above, written just as the debate ended. Goodman also noted that, although, like McCain, Obama dodged the question about "commodifying health care," he did remark later that health care "should be a right for every American." I note that between "is a right" and "should be a right" can easily slip many millions of Americans-without-health-care. It's plenty dainty to say what "should be a right;" but saying that health care IS a right is the only honest way to approach the issue. It's too bad that Obama's answer was also apparently pre-approved.

Update 2: Associated Press writer Philip Elliott reports that, "Tom Brokaw of NBC, the moderator, screened their questions and also chose others that had been submitted online." So, the party influence was not perhaps hands-on, but this is hardly a sign of democratic health. Tom Brokaw is another furrowed-brow showmaster-masquerading-as-a-journalist. Who in their right mind could expect a tough question, let alone a glimmer of light, or a capacity for feeling, from dud-on-arrival Brokaw? This doubles the shame of the process. Not only do we have our democratic process to mourn, we also have the state of journalism to execrate.

Can you imagine questions such as the following? Warning: you are about to enter the Realm of the Politically Unthinkable.

What will you do to alleviate the suffering the Palestinians, who have seen their land and water supply taken, divided up, and parceled off for consumption by the State of Israel?

The American Society of International Law Newsletter, March-April 2004, maintains that,"the invasion (of Iraq) was both illegal and illegitimate." Do you agree with the majority of legal scholars who have studied the matter, that the so-called war in Iraq was undertaken by the Bush administration both illegally and illegitimately, and, if not, why not?

And I could go on, but I think my point has been made. This was a duping of the American public. There should have been a boycotting of the entire damn event.

Monday, October 6


Near Hakone

Sunday, October 5

Stuck in the past, but who?

After repeatedly accusing Joe Biden of being stuck in the past whenever Biden made the reasonable and verifiable claim that Palin's and McCain's policies would largely continue those of the current Bush administration, Governor Palin is now parading an attack on Barack Obama by focusing on an acquaintance he had some forty years ago. As Michael Cooper, writing in the NYTimes on October 4, reports:
Stepping up the Republican ticket’s attacks on Senator Barack Obama, Gov. Sarah Palin on Saturday seized on a report about Mr. Obama’s relationship with a former 1960s radical to accuse him of “palling around with terrorists.”
The fact that no substantive link has been established between Mr. Ayers and Obama and that the matter is very, very far from relating to anything like an Obama policy seems a small matter to Palin, the sprightly hypocrite.

So we should all ask, I think, who is truly stuck in the past, and why?

Turning decidedly toward the future, with a very scary insinuation, Frank Rich has penned an incisive commentary on the present state of the McCain/Palin ticket, which concludes like this:
You have to wonder how long it will be before (certain Republicans) plead with (McCain) to think of his health, get out of the way and pull the ultimate stunt of flipping the ticket. Palin, we can be certain, wouldn’t even blink.
For "social conservatives," those who, for instance, vote on the issue of abortion alone or on a few "moral" issues while ignoring issues of war and the economy, Palin is the perfect candidate. For them, it matters not that she is ridiculously ignorant of politics in the full sense of the word. Should a ticket-flip be pulled on the American public--McCain's health, argues Rich, may well warrant it--it would be a victory for the most radical social conservatives within the Republican party, whether or not Palin actually succeeds in her presidential ambitions this time around.

On a related note, Maureen Dowd has made a sobering assessment of Ms. Palin's "inspiring" use of language, and it ain't pretty.

Friday, October 3

On the VP debate

I watched the debate between Palin and Biden and here are a few thoughts.
Beyond all that can be said about substantial differences between the candidates' statements of facts and proposed policies, the whole debate stank a stench of party control the likes of which we have not yet seen, even when accounting for the prosthetic brain that Bush had had wired under his coat on one occasion. It was obvious that both candidates knew every question that was going to be put to them, as well as the order in which they would be raised. It is no wonder, then, that the two parties, who control these debates so as to exclude all other parties and prevent serious questions from being asked, refused to divulge the terms of their agreement concerning the conduct of the debate. That's why the criticism of Gwen Ifill that was launched before the debate even took place was particularly foul -- because it ignorantly or willfully neglected the much larger fact that the entire debate process and its "committee" lacked fairness and objectivity. None of the four candidates for office even deigned to mention the fraudulent name of the committee, which was hatched to give it an air of officialdom and legitimacy. It is no wonder, given this highly concocted and safe-guarding strategy on the part of Democrats and Republicans (and especially the two representatives of those parties who have undemocratically and in a highly partisan way controlled the whole debate process since stealing it away from the League of Women Voters) that "bipartisanship" was praised with such mad insistence by the candidates. Shouldn't they, in fact, be ashamed of it? Where is there any resistance anymore to the policies of these two parties' leaders? They seem delighted whenever they find a issue on which they agree (as in the cruel and one-sided policies towards the Palestinians or the totally unjustified rejection of same-sex marriage). Caving in to the other side, which is the "other side" many times only in name, has become synonymous with being a "maverick," something McCain surely is not.

As for the exchange, I will leave aside commenting on Sarah's mannerisms, which Saturday Night Live did a good job of portraying. I cannot stand but care not to discuss the winking, the cutesy and cheap one-liners like "Say it ain't so, Joe," and so on, all of which made Sarah's performance look trivializing, fake and inept. What really pissed me off was the glaring falsity, one that seems to be at the heart of the Republican party, in which Sarah claimed, out of one side of her mouth, that government has messed up and, out of the other, that government should be weakened. Somehow, by means of this double speak, we are supposed to believe that the government messed up because it was too strong or that it exercised oversight too well, when obviously the opposite is true and the opposite conclusion should follow. (And we are also supposed to forget, as well, that in principle the government serves as the representation of the people, not as its adversary.) By listening to Sarah, you would think that if government could only be reduced to a barely functioning outpost, then pathological corporations and enterprisingly happy families could finally exist in a state of endless harmony. That's forgetting that, at the same time, this idealized pair, having crushed their own government, would have also to maintain an ever-expanding military and economic empire across the globe. We've seen how well the first steps in that direction have turned out.

In case you think I am going exaggerating the contradictions of this candidate to one of the highest offices in the land, recall what Sarah said the other night:

"Patriotic is saying, government, you know, you're not always the solution. In fact, too often you're the problem so, government, lessen the tax burden and on our families and get out of the way and let the private sector and our families grow and thrive and prosper."

What a goddamn idiot assessment of how the country and its government work. Is there any way to shake this stupidity out of American society, now that the Republicans and their fawning media empire has spread it far and wide?

I was pleased to see that the NYTimes underscored some of this rubbish in their editorial, which included these lines:
When it came to domestic issues, Ms. Palin mainly relied on enthusiasm and humor, talking about hockey moms, soccer moms and Joe Sixpack almost as often as she used the word “maverick” to describe Mr. McCain or herself.


Ms. Palin’s primary tactic was simply to repeat the same thing over and over: John McCain is a maverick. So is she. To stay on that course, she had to indulge in some wildly circular logic: America does not want another Washington insider. They want Mr. McCain (who has been in Congress for nearly 26 years). Ms. Palin condemned Wall Street greed and said she and Mr. McCain would “demand” strict oversight. In virtually the next breath, she said government should “get out of the way” of American business.


In the end, the debate did not change the essential truth of Ms. Palin’s candidacy: Mr. McCain made a wildly irresponsible choice that shattered the image he created for himself as the honest, seasoned, experienced man of principle and judgment. It was either an act of incredible cynicism or appallingly bad judgment.