Sunday, December 30, 2012

Mobilizing "the masses" and slandering a president: More reason to worry about the Republican Party

At this moment, when we all wonder about what is happening to this country, I want to reproduce here some signs of how seriously the politics in this country is broken.  What I present here has been available to the public for a long time but seems largely unremarked.  

In 2005 the BBC produced a film called The Power of Nightmares. The film was directed by Adam Curtis.  The style of presentation, in its content and background music, suggested menace, the sense of dread and suspicion that animated the two opposing leaders whose struggle preoccupied world attention after 9/11/2001:  Osama Bin Laden, representing the Islamist movement, and George W. Bush and his administration. The film was constructed to provoke, even to irritate, especially an American audience.

Whatever might be said about the film, it included some information about the opinions and activities of notable American officials that few Americans seem ever to have heard of.  So I reproduce selections from the film [drawing from the screenplay posted by Bill St Clair]. What they reveal is a body of individuals within the Republican Party who were willing to exploit the religious populations of the country through unseemly manipulation of information.  

A central point of the film was that the Neoconservatives who came to power with George W. Bush had been influenced by Leo Strauss’s notion that societies run on myth.  For these neoconservatives myth is good when it mobilizes populations to take on “good” projects, even if the “myth” is indeed untrue.  Many of the neocons entered government and participated in the Nixon and later Republican administrations.  They had ideas and agendas, but they had the problem of how to mobilize the American people to join in their particular reading of the world and what to do about it.  

Truncating much that ought to be said about the context, I here reproduce what the film reveals about the way the “neocons” got their “troops” – by appealing to the sentiments of the evangelical community.  This is the story I reproduce here.

A major shift in the conservative white community had taken place during the Carter administration.  The white “evangelical” community turned against Jimmy Carter, the only President who had a Bible class before being elected President and returned to his Bible class afterward.  The reason for this abandonment of Carter was this [according to Ralph Reed, Active Faith, p. 105]]: 
"The greatest spark of the [white evangelical] movement was not abortion but an attempt by the Carter-appointed head of the Internal Revenue Service to require Christian and parochial schools and academies to prove that they were not established to preserve segregation or they would risk losing their tax-exempt status. ... For conservative evangelicals it was nothing less than a declaration of war on their schools, their churches, and their children.  More than any other single episode, the IRS move against Christian schools sparked the explosion of the movement that would become known as the religious right." 
Ronald Reagan, a new-age president, saved the white conservative community from Jimmy Carter.  Whatever his personal beliefs were, Reagan easily articulated the concerns of the white evangelical movement.  We pick up the narrative here from “The Power of Nightmares.”   
From Part One:
Voice Over: And at this very same moment, religion was being mobilized politically in America, but for a very different purpose. And those encouraging this were the neoconservatives. Many neoconservatives had become advisers to the Presidential campaign of Ronald Reagan. And as they became more involved with the Republican Party, they had forged an alliance with the religious wing of the party, because it shared their aim of the moral regeneration of America. 
IRVING KRISTOL , Founder of Neoconservative movement: The notion that a purely secular society can cope with all of the terrible pathologies that now affect our society, I think has turned out to be false. And that has made me culturally conservative. I mean, I really think religion has a role now to play in redeeming the country. And liberalism is not prepared to give religion a role. Conservatism is, but it doesn’t know how to do it. 
VO: By the late ‘70s, there were millions of fundamentalist Christians in America. But their preachers had always told them not to vote. It would mean compromising with a doomed and immoral society. But the neoconservatives and their new Republican allies made an alliance with a number of powerful preachers, who told their followers to become involved with politics for the first time. 
JAMES ROBISON , Fundamentalist Preacher, 1980: I’m sick and tired of hearing about all of the radicals, and the perverts, and the liberals, and the leftists, and the Communists coming out of the closet! It’s time for God’s people to come out of the closet, out of the churches, and change America! We must do it!
Rev. Robinson epitomized the particular way the religious right described those who supported   progressive change in America:  as "radicals, perverts, liberals, leftists, and Communists."  This became the rhetoric by which the conservative leaders  of the country, especially in the South, characterized the progressive movement in America.
PAUL WEYRICH , Religious activist – Republican Party: The conservative movement, up to that point, was essentially an intellectual movement. It had some very powerful thinkers, but it didn’t have many troops. And as Stalin said of the Pope, “where are his divisions?”. Well, we [Republicans] didn’t have many divisions. When these folks became active, all of a sudden the conservative movement had lots of divisions. We were able to move literally millions of people. And this is something that we had literally no ability to do prior to that time. 
INTERVIEWER (off-camera): Literally millions? 
WEYRICH : Literally millions. 
Note Weyrich's terms:  The Republican Party was able to "move literally millions" of evangelical Christians by harnessing the agenda of social conservatives in the South to rhetoric of the evangelical tradition.  Some evangelical preachers may have felt it accorded with their own social perspective; at least some became useful voices for the politically conservative movement.  Conservative rhetoric worked for the evangelicals who believed it as well as for the neoconservatives who merely found it useful.  
VO: And at the beginning of 1981, Ronald Reagan took power in America. The religious vote was crucial in his election, because many millions of fundamentalists voted for the first time. And as they had hoped, many neoconservatives were given power in the new administration. Paul Wolfowitz became head of the State Department policy staff, while his close friend Richard Perle became the Assistant Secretary of Defense. And the head of Team B, Richard Pipes, became one of Reagan’s chief advisers. The neoconservatives believed that they now had the chance to implement their vision of America’s revolutionary destiny—to use the country’s power aggressively as a force for good in the world, in an epic battle to defeat the Soviet Union. It was a vision that they shared with millions of their new religious allies.
WILLIAM KRISTOL , Chief of Staff to the Vice President, 1988-92: For Strauss, liberalism produced a decent way of life, and one that he thought was worth defending, but a dead end where nothing could be said to be true; one had no guidance on how to live, everything was relative. Strauss suggests that maybe we didn’t just have to sit there and accept that that was our fate. Politics could help shape the way people live, that politics could help shape the way that people live, teach them some good lessons about living decent and noble human lives. And can we think about what cultures, and what politics, what social orders produce more admirable human beings? I mean, that whole question was put back on the table by Strauss, I think. 
VO: The neoconservatives set out to reform America. And at the heart of their project was the political use of religion. Together with their long-term allies, the religious right, they began a campaign to bring moral and religious issues back into the center of conservative politics. It became known as the “culture wars.” 
[ TITLE : Christian Coalition commercial ] 
VO (on commercial) : Your tax dollars are being used to sponsor obscene and pornographic displays. 
PAT ROBERTSON : I don’t like Jesus Christ, who is my Lord and Savior, being dumped in a vat of urine by a homosexual, and then have my money to pay for it! I think that’s obscene. 
ROBERTSON : Satan, be gone! Out from this [unintelligible]! C’mon! 
VO: For the religious right, this campaign was a genuine attempt to renew the religious basis of American society. But for the neoconservatives, religion was a myth, like the myth of America as a unique nation that they had promoted in the Cold War. Strauss had taught that these myths were necessary to give ordinary people meaning and purpose, and so ensure a stable society. 
MICHAEL LIND , Journalist and former neoconservative: For the neoconservatives, religion is an instrument of promoting morality. Religion becomes what Plato called a “noble lie.” It is a myth which is told to the majority of the society by the philosophical elite in order to ensure social order. 
LIND : In being a kind of secretive elitist approach, Straussianism does resemble Marxism. These ex-Marxists, or in some cases ex-liberal Straussians, could see themselves as a kind of Leninist group, you know, who have this covert vision which they want to use to effect change in history, while concealing parts of it from people incapable of understanding it. 
VO: Out of this campaign, a new and powerful moral agenda began to take over the Republican Party. It reached a dramatic climax at the Republican Convention in 1992, when the religious right seized control of the party’s policy-making machinery. George Bush became committed to running for President with policies that would ban abortion, gay rights, and multiculturalism. Speakers who tried to promote the traditional conservative values of individual freedom were booed off the stage.…  
VO: For the neoconservatives, the aim of this new morality was to unite the nation. But in fact, it had completely the opposite effect. Mainstream Republican voters were frightened away by the harsh moralism that had taken over their party. They turned instead to Bill Clinton, a politician who connected with their real concerns and needs, like tax and the state of the economy.…. 
VO: At the end of 1992, Bill Clinton won a dramatic victory. But the neoconservatives were determined to regain power. And to do this, they were going to do to Bill Clinton what they had done to the Soviet Union: they would transform the President of the United States into a fantasy enemy, an image of evil that would make people realize the truth of the liberal corruption of America. 
VO: But despite all his efforts, Kenneth Starr could find no incriminating evidence in Whitewater. Nor could he find any evidence to support any of the sexual scandals that had come from the Arkansas Project. Until finally, his committee stumbled upon Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, which Clinton denied. And in that lie, the neoconservative movement believed they had found what they had been looking for: a way to make the American people see the truth about the liberal corruption of their country. A campaign now began to impeach the President. And in the hysteria, the whole conservative movement portrayed Clinton as a depraved monster who had to be removed from office. But yet again, the neoconservatives had created a fantasy enemy by exaggerating and distorting reality. 
JOE CONASON , Author ‘The Hunting of the President’ : They were trapped by a mythological person that they had constructed, or persons—the Clintons, these scheming, terrible people who they, the noble pursuers, were going to vanquish. I think, in the leadership of conservatism, during the Clinton era there was an element of corruption. There was an element of a willingness to do anything to achieve the goal of bringing Clinton down. There was a way in which the people who perceived Clinton as immoral behaved immorally themselves. They ended up behaving worse than the people who they were attacking. …
They commissioned David Brock to uncover every possible evidence of unseemly behavior in Bill Clinton’s past.  This is the story the film presents of that period, based on an interview with David Brock himself. 
VO: Since then, Brock has turned against the neoconservative movement. He now believes that the attacks on Clinton went too far, and corrupted conservative politics. 
INTERVIEWER (off-camera): Was Whitewater true? 
BROCK : No! I mean, there was no criminal wrongdoing in Whitewater. Absolutely not. It was a land deal that the Clintons lost money on. It was a complete inversion of what happened. 
INTERVIEWER : Was Vince Foster killed? 
BROCK : No. He killed himself. 
INTERVIEWER : Did the Clintons smuggle drugs? 
BROCK : Absolutely not. 
INTERVIEWER : Did those promoting these stories know that this was not true, that none of these stories were true? 
BROCK : They did not care.  
BROCK : Because they were having a devastating effect. So why stop? It was terrorism. Political terrorism. 
INTERVIEWER : But you were one of the agents. 
BROCK : Absolutely. Absolutely.
So it turned out that none of the accusations against Carter were true and the Republican leadership seems to have known it all the time.  The whole point was to slander Clinton.

And it was to continue appealing to the loyalty of the evangelical "troops" who could be persuaded to support the Republican Party even if the grounds of their appeal were cynical:  There is little evidence that the Neocons shared the deep convictions of the evangelicals whom they sought to use for their projects.

I post this material because I suspect few Americans are aware of these affairs.  I have lamented that the Republican Party seems tragically to have gone astray, to have lost its authentic moral fiber.  These comments by individuals who seem to have been directly involved in the movement since the 1980s give us some clues as to how this misadventure took form. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The world's most successful gun salesman:

Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association, says that he represents the mothers and fathers and families who are gun-owners.  He never mentions the gun manufacturers who are the main sources of funding for the NRA.  LaPierre represents the gun manufacturers of the country and for that his reported income in 2007 was $900.000.  Pretty good work if you can get it.  Do the American families he claims to represent know how much he gets for representing the NRA? 

Do the American people who hear him object to banning automatic weapons know that he is essentially a gun salesman?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Working list on "The Moral Imagination in Social Practice"

This is a working list on the topic of the Moral Imagination in Social Practice  [11/10/12].  [To accommodate requests for notes from a former course.  There is a huge amount of material; this is only stuff I have used in a course.] In process
>  I take this to be what is involved in all social life.  It is of course manifest in political practice in the sense that all political interactions are informed by issues that in some sense have a transcendental significance, since political discourse implies attempts to frame situations with significance.  So the moral imagination is involved not only in “religious” affairs but in all narratives.

Hayden White:  ??? has argued that all narratives implicitly imply moral orientations

A useful start on the term “moral imagination” can be found at:
What I have in mind by social practice I mean practice in a sense developed by Bourdieu:  Outline of a Theory of Practice, The Logic of Practice, etc.

So the topic, Moral imagination in social practice is essentially a way of looking at cultural affairs, social practices, so as to appreciate the moral implications or insinuations in all social interaction.
It’s another way of thinking about culture.  I have defined what I mean by “culture” at:

If I were looking backwards to earlier works of interest I would include:

The counter enlightenment authors:  See Isaiah Berlin,  Counter Enlightenment.  Dictionary of the History of Ideas.  Key figures:  Vico, Hamann, Herder, Hume.  Respondents:  Kant, Voltaire

Max Muller:  In, Exploratons in Language and Meaning by Malcomb Crick
Max Weber.  On Religion…

Other important works:
For a course I gave on this topic, here is a list of some of the readings we examined together: 
            [* = required of most students],  
            [# = optional, except for grad students or students who have taken AN3700, in which case it is required instead of the other],
            [& = another optional reading in case you are interested and familiar with the other readings.].

As per my understanding of culture as essentially a body of forms whose meanings a community more or less share:
* Clifford Geertz. 1973. “Religion as a Cultural System.” In: The Interpretation of Culture. New York: Basic.
# Clifford Geertz. 1973.  "Ethos, Worldview and the Analysis of Sacred Symbols."  In Interpretation of Culture. New York: Basic.
& Clifford Geertz. 1973. Thick Description. In Interpretation of Culture. New York: Basic.

Geertz:  The following are both about art as a cultural system and can be compared with his Deep Play, which is also about art as a cultural system.  By comparing them you can get a sense of Geertz's concept of cultural system, a topic on which I am not sure many readers have gotten right.
* Clifford Geertz. 1973 “Lost in Translation: Social History of the Moral Imagination.” In: Local Knowledge.
# Clifford Geertz. 1973. “Art as a Cultural System.” In: Local Knowledge.

Clifford Geertz:  The following is the most important article to understand and internalize but it is difficult; it’s easy to miss the fact that the views he presents first are defective.  Note what is wrong with each.  Hint:  Look for what he has to say about defining situations.  The definition of the situation is a critical concept for our topic.
* Clifford Geertz. 1973. “Ideology as a Cultural System.” In: The Interpretation of Culture. New York: Basic.
Also, Geertz, Thick…[above]

Victor Turner:  all of his works are aimed at understanding the moral imagination in social practice.  He comes out of a different tradition [British Manchester School] and so uses a somewhat different language.  See for instance his Betwixt and Between, and his other works on the Ndembu.

Abner Cohen. See his Custom and Politics in Urban Africa.  Also, his Masquerade Politics. [Also from the same tradition as Turner.  Their mentor:  Gluckman.]

Irving Goffman was an influence on Geertz's thought, but he comes out of a "symbolic interactionism" tradition.  This was early associated with Geo Herbert Mead:  "I" vs "Me", as fundamental concepts of the person. 
G. H. Mead.  1934.  Mind, Self and Society.  Ed by C.W. Morris.  Chicago
G. H. Mead.  1938.  The Philosophy of the Act. Ed by C.W. Morris.  Chicago.
Irving Goffman.  1959.  [selections] The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life.  New York:  Anchor.    *Introduction 1-16.  * [6th day] Performances 17-76.

Marshal Sahlins.  Sahlins's ideas we will spend a lot of time on.
Marshal Sahlins  1985  Historical Metaphors and Mythical Realities [Selections]
Marshall Sahlins. 2004. [selections] Apologies to Thucydides: Understanding Culture as History and Vice Versa
            Included is: *"Elian Gonzales"
            Included is: *“On the Shot heard round the world"

William Sewell is looking for theoretical frames of reference that will help historians be more deliberate and conceptually consistent in their work.  I like the whole book.  I don’t think he understands Geertz but he find’s Sahlins’s structuralist approach [that is, as critically revised by Sahlins] to the study of history helpful.  [Of course Sahlins sought to revise structuralism, as in the readings above.]
William H. Sewell, Jr. Logics of History . Chicago: University of Chicago.Chapter 1
* [ch 3, Eventful Sociology ] Logics of History
William Sewell, Jr. [ch 4, Theory of Structure] Logics of History:  Geertz
William Sewell, Jr. [ch 5, Concepts of Culture] Logics of History:  Sahlins
Sewell [ch 6, Geertz]
Sewell [ch 7, Sahlins, Theory of Culture]
* Sewell [ch 8, Translations of Structures]
Sewell [ch 10 Refiguring the Social]

From here many useful studies of the moral imagination appear in the anthropological journals. 
Examples that I have used follow:
On civil wars [civil wars always provide excellent examples of how competing sides misconstrue and misrepresent each other, so good examples of how moral rhetoric works in social practice:
*Denich, Bette.  1994.  "Dismembering Yugoslavia: Nationalist Ideologies and the Symbolic Revival of Genocide."  American Ethnologist 21(2):367-390. [ISSN 0002-7294]
Sells, Michael A. 1996. The bridge betrayed: Religion and genocide in Bosnia. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Sells, Michael A.   2002.  “Construction of Islam in Serbian Mythology.”  In:  Maya Shatz Miller, ed: Islam and Bosnian Conflict Resoltuion and Foreign Policy in the Miltiethnic states.  Montreal:  McQueens.
Ben Anderson:  Imagined Communities.
Bruce Kapferer.  Evil and the State, In: Legends of People Myths of State.

Other works of my own [apologies for self-promotion]:
Robert L. Canfield  :
2008c  Fraternity, Power, and Time in Central Asia. In: The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan, edited by Robert Crews and Amin Tarzi. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.
2004b  New Trends among the Hazaras:  From "The Amity of Wolves" to "The Practice of Brotherhood".  Iranian Studies 37(2): 241-262.
2003.   Symbol and Sentiment in Motivated Action.  In:  Tom Headland, MaryRuth Wise and Ruth Brend (eds), Language and Life: Essays in Memory of Kenneth L. Pike.  Dallas: SIL International.  Pp 343-358. [This was perhaps too abstract an argument; few people pay attention to it.  The Linguists think it is too elementary to be useful.  But the point is to find a way to describe how signs “resonate” both subjectively and intersubjectively.]

Other works of interest:

Richard G. Fox. 1983. [Selections] Gandhian Utopia
Fredrik Barth. 1993. [Selections] Balinese Worlds. Chicago: University of Chicago.
Fredrick G. Bailey: [selections] The Prevalence of Deceit. Ithaca: Cornell University

Verdery, Katherine. 1991. “Introduction: Ideology, Cultural Politics, Intellectuals.” In: National Ideology under Socialism; Identity and cultural politics in Ceausescu's Romania.
Michel-Rolph Trouillot. 1995. "The Power in the Story" Ch 1 in Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston: Beacon.
Michel-Rolph Trouillot. 1995. "An Unthikable History: The Haitian Revolution as a Non-Event" Ch 3 in Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston: Beacon.
Wolf, Eric R. 1999. “National Socialist Germany.” pp 197-273.  In Envisioning Power: Ideologies of Dominance and Crisis. Berkeley: California University.  [What is interesting about this is the effective way that Wolf's marxist approach turns out to reveal effectively how the moral imagination was constructed and reiterated in German history.]
Fernandez, James. 1986. “The Dark at the Bottom of the Stairs: The Inchoate in Symbolic Inquiry and Some Strategies for Coping with it.” In: Persuasions and Performances: The Play of Tropes in Culture.

Lindsay:. Ch 1, "Presidents and Power" in Faith in the Halls of Power. Oxford University Press.
Wendy James.  
* James, Wendy. 2000. Postscript to Part I: On Moral Knowledge. In: The Listening Ebony: Moral Knowledge, Religion, and Power among the Uduk of Sudan. Oxford: Oxford University. pp 143-156. [James is a product of the Evans-Pritchard approach to anthropology, but she reflects the maturation of that tradition into ethnography that is still very interesting. In the above chapter of the longer work she pauses to reflect on the implications of her ethnographic material.  I found it creative and imaginative; my students don’t get it.]
* M.  Foucault.  Two Lectures. [and other works]
*Katherine Verdery: The Political Life of Dead Bodies

* Yael Navaro-Yashin.  2009.  "Affective Spaces, Melacholic Objects:  Ruination of the Production of Anthropological Knowledge."  JRAI 15(1):1-18.
* Starrett: [on Egypt]
Sorabji, Cornelia. 2006. “Manging Memories in Post-war Sarajevo: Individuals, Bad Memories, and New Wars.” JRAI 12:1-18.
Stoczkowski, Wiktor. 2008. UNESCO's doctrine of human diversity: A secular soteriology. Anthropology Today 25(3, June):7-11.
Backer-Cristales, Beth. 2008. “Magical Pursuits: legitimacy and representation in a transitional political field.” American Anthropologist 110[3]: 349-359.
Armstrong, Karen. 2000. Ambiguity and Remembrance: Individual and Collective Memory in Finland. American Ethnologist, 27(3): 591-608.
Eisenlohr, Patrick. 2006: “The Politics of Diaspora and the Morality of Secularism: Muslim identities and Islamic Authority in Mauritius.”  JRAI 12: 395-412.
Lester, Rebecca. 2009. Brokering Authenticity. Current Anthropology. June
Dipesh Chakrabarty. 2002. "Subaltern Histories and Post-Enlightenment Rationalism." Ch 2 in Habitations of Modernity: Essays in the Wake of Subaltern Studies. Chicago: University of Chicago.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Can Planet Earth Be Saved?

Delegates are gathered in Doha to talk about global warming again but scarcely anyone believes much of consequence will result.  Nick Clark of Al Jazeera has produced an article that reminds us of the consequences of global warming:  The Climate Question: Degrees of Change. [26 Nov 2012]
Climate change has become one of the biggest, most complex issues of our time. And the warnings from some of the world's leading scientists are getting louder.  But sceptics remain. Despite the data, many are unconvinced that the science is on target. 
Who will save Planet Earth? - by Nick Clark
...   Zoom in to a remote island community deep in the Arctic, not far from the North Pole, called Qerqetat. It is spectacularly located on the edge of the Greenland ice sheet. Glaciers sweep down into the sea like snowed-up freeways; icebergs with their azure underwater blues stand sentinel in a perfect flat ocean; Arctic terns soar and dip into abundant waters.
Ashore, a dozen ramshackle wooden houses in varying shades of rusts and yellows straddle high ground. Strips of meat hang from wooden frames, drying in the sun. On the beach a hunting party has just returned and Inuit are passing around small squares of thick Narwhal skin, a delicacy called Muktak.
This is a scene that has been played out for thousands of years. And it was a scene that we filmed earlier this year in August 2012.
"Our high tide is higher than we've ever seen it .... The shacks we live in never used to be reached by the waves but now we have to move them further inland."
- Jaloo Kiguktak, a resident of the Canadian Arctic
But it is a scene that, before long, may disappear forever. And from Bangladesh to Amazonia that is a recurring 21st century story; climate change is changing the way people live.
Given that fact, why does it seem that the majority of the world's leaders do not care? Climate change was not even mentioned in the US presidential debates. And then, almost immediately, along came Perfect Storm Sandy to give us a hurricane-force reminder that the weather is acting up and perhaps we should take notice.
Meanwhile, media coverage of climate change has crashed. In the years since the false hopes of Copenhagen in 2009, it has simply gone off the agenda. But that has got to change. Hold the front page - weird stuff is happening! And whether you believe mankind is responsible or not, it is affecting us all.
The natural order

When we filmed in the Arctic this summer, I met Mads Ole Kristiansen, one of a continuous line of Inuit hunters going back generations. We filmed him tossing bloody hunks of seal meat to his baying sled dogs.
"Without my dogs, I am nothing," Mads said. "Without his dogs, the hunter is nothing."
But this Spring, Mads had to shoot four of his dogs because the sea ice melted so early that he was unable to hunt for food.
This is a man who knows and understands the environment that provides his livelihood. And he is noticing change - big change.

...  So how does that affect the man in Manhattan or in countless cities around the world where global warming seems a distant irrelevance?
Well, the Arctic is a global weather-maker. Mess with that and who knows what will happen? Sea-level rises are already being encountered around the world. It is possible they could reach catastrophic levels, which might just take a city dweller's focus away from the daily bagel - to say nothing of warming ocean currents being stopped in their tracks, the resulting desertification, the impact on food supplies and, not least, the very security of nations.
It has happened before
The Earth's cycles have seen countless ice ages and thaws, warming and coolings. Check out the New Scientist’s fascinating article and you will see how just 120,000 years ago, a blink of an eye in the scheme of things, ice covered a large percentage of the planet. Sea levels were 120 metres lower than they are now.
Then came the thaw, just 20,000 years ago.
And this coincided with mankind beginning to settle in warmer climes where small agricultural communities were formed. Indeed you could say global warming made us who we are today.
The difference this time is the rate of change; temperatures are climbing so rapidly that most scientists now agree mankind is at least partly responsible for what is taking place. And therefore something has to be done.
Which brings us to the latest Climate Change Conference, COP18, taking place in Doha. From Copenhagen to Cancun and Durban, all that has been achieved has pretty much been an agreement to meet again the following year.
And this time around, there is already a sense of resignation that this will be yet another talking shop - where delegates, environmentalists and politicians will speak that impenetrable climate language of CO2 sequestration, anthropogenic (human) interference and carbon offsets and credits. And make little progress.

Secret British files of torture exposed

Governments claim the sole right to exercise violence and they also can excuse or dissimulate or expunge the exercise of violence -- at least most do.  When information about the abuse of human beings by a government comes to light it's important.  Now we learn of a treasure trove of files about the abuse of people by British officials during the colonial era.  That's news.  Strangely, not much seems to have been made of it.

This is what is known:  That a British judge has allowed three Kenyans who were tortured by British officials during the Mau Mau uprising to sue the British government.  Apparently what made their claim plausible to the judge was the revelation that files exist that document British torture during that period.    [From an article by Simon Hooper in AlJazeera, 11/30/12:] 
The government conceded that the trio, Paulo Muoka Nzili, 85, Wambugu Wa Nyingi, 84, and Jane Muthoni Mara, 73, had suffered brutal abuse, including castration, sexual assault and beatings as a result of their detentions during one of the bloodiest and most enduring rebellions of the British empire's final days. But it argued that the distance from the events over which it was accused meant a fair trial was impossible.
That argument came unstuck when the foreign office was forced last year to reveal the existence of almost 9,000 hidden files brought to Britain from 37 former colonies. The files had been concealed as a consequence of a government policy that any "embarrassing" documents should not be left in the hands of the territories' successor governments.
Among them were several thousand papers relating to the British authorities' handling of the Mau Mau crisis, including details of how senior officials had colluded in the mistreatment of detainees by changing the law to provide legal cover for what they deemed "acceptable punishment", even knowing that what they were condoning equated to torture by international standards.
"If we are going to sin, then we must sin quietly," wrote Eric Griffiths-Joyce, the Kenyan attorney general, in a memo to Sir Evelyn Baring, the colonial governor, in 1957.
Torture, done quietly, is still "sin."  No wonder the files were stashed away to be forgotten.  

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Shameful strategies to deter voting -- in America?

Elizabeth Drew’s account [New York Review 12/20/12] of the tactics used by the Republican Party to restrict the Democratic vote – narrowing the windows of time in which pre-voting can take place, demanding IDs that would be difficult for poor and minorities to obtain, changing the rules for proper registration multiple times ( as Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husten did), even on the Friday evening before election day – these strategies of restricting voting opportunities leaves me wondering if the Republican Party really believes in the democratic process.
“By the time of the election, more than thirty states had passed laws requiring voters to present some form of identification, often a government-issued photo ID that they didn’t possess and couldn’t obtain easily, in many cases not at all. The point was to make it more difficult for constituent groups of the Democratic Party—blacks, Hispanics, low-income elderly, and students—to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote.” 
“… In some parts of the country, confusion was sown deliberately: intimidating billboards suggesting that photo IDs would be required appeared in predominantly black and Hispanic areas.  // This was no sneak attack but a national, coordinated enterprise ….”
The result was long lines where voters waited in some instances as long as eight hours to vote.  It seems that many of those situations were not due to mis-management but to deliberate attempts to make voting difficult and unattractive.
“[T]he lines were deliberately caused by limits imposed by Republican officials on the amount of time allowed for voting before election day. In 2008, blacks and Hispanics voted at higher rates than others on weekends in Ohio and Florida, and Obama carried both states. In theory, early voting is supposed to provide voters opportunities to avoid long election-day lines and cast their votes before election day, but the limits on the number of early voting days assured that early voters ended up in long lines on early voting days.” 
“Florida, for its part, created a mess by drastically restricting early voting. …[T] the Republican state legislature cut the number of days for early voting from fourteen to eight and prohibited it altogether on the last Sunday before the election. Sunday had been a special day for blacks, many of whom were transported from church by bus to the polling stations. On the Saturday of the final weekend, … some people waited for as long as eight hours, till past midnight….  Yet on Sunday, polling places in populous Miami-Dade County were still unprepared for the onslaught of people wanting to vote. One place unprepared for such a crowd shut down for two hours and then reopened as would-be voters banged on the doors demanding that they be allowed to vote. … On election night some Florida voters were still standing in line to vote when President Obama gave his victory speech. The last vote was cast at 1:08 AM.”
It’s hard to grasp that Republicans, who pride themselves on their bona fides as "true Americans" [who said that?], would have stooped to such transparently un-American behavior.  Have they no shame?

Doomsday Terror in Modern Russia

In the social sciences the emphasis on "science" can conceal the powerful influence that the moral imagination has on human life and social affairs.  That moral concerns animate a lot of our thoughts and worries seems to me generally unappreciated.

An example:  The worry among some Russias about the rapidly coming "end of the world."  They seem to feel that the Mayan calendar, which marks the end of an era, predicts the end of the world; somehow the Mayans knew something that modern humanity has missed.  This in a country having a high degree of education.  RT reports that "Survival kits and trips to hell" are being sold in Russia in anticipation that something dreadful will happen on December 21, 2012.
In the Siberian city of Tomsk such items for “meeting the end of the world” include ID cards, notepads, canned fish, a bottle of vodka, rope, a piece of soap, among other items. The packages are said to be popular among customers, more than 1,000 kits have been already sold, the company says. 
Ukrainian entrepreneurs also offer a version of a doomsday kit. Just like Tomsk package, the Ukrainian one also includes alcohol: champagne for ladies and vodka for gentlemen. The rest of the kit consist of jack-knife, two-minute noodles, shampoo, soap, rope, matches and condoms. 
One Ukrainian enterprise is selling tours to heaven and hell for December 21 promising full return of money in case of “not getting to heaven or hell.” A trip to heaven would cost about $15, while trip to the underworld is more expensive at around $18. The agency explains difference in price by saying that Hell should be more fun.
I wouldn't bet on that outfit being around on December 22.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

The threat of super-rich self-interests

Apparently it was Karl Rove who said to the donors who supported the Romney campaign with huge blocks of cash, “without us, the race would not have been as close as it was.”  The “us” in that statement was the small number of superrich donors who forked over megabucks to defeat Obama.  While Obama’s donors were by comparison fairly modest, which is to say that the support for him came from a broad range of individuals, those for Romney, on the contrary, came in large part from a few superrich individuals, that is, from the upper 1%, even the upper .01%.  AlexanderAbad-Santos on Atlantic Wire has reported on the top donors to both sides.

The top donors for Romney were among the richest individuals in the world.  A Romney win would have been disastrous for the 99% of our country because as the new President he would have been indebted to a small number of individuals.  The presidency would be an instrument of the interests and outlooks of a tiny fraction of the population.  The United States of America would be a Banana Republic.  

And this could happen for little cost to those who are truly super-rich.  According to Abad-Santos the amounts given to Romney's campaign by the largest donors were tiny fractions of their total worth: 
  • Sheldon Adelson, Owner of Las Vegas Sands, gave a mere .04% of his total wealth (i.e., between 70 and 100 million dollars);
  • Harold "The Ice Man" Simmons, owner of Contran Corp, a Dallas-based waste/chemical management company gave a mere .3 to .5% of his total wealth (30 to 50 million dollars);
  • The Koch Brothers – well, they could have given as much a $95 million but no one knows that actual total.  Most of it is hidden; Open Secrets say they can identify $36,637,591 given to conservative, essentially libertarian causes. 
The top donor to Obama, Jeffrey Katzenberg, gave peanuts by comparison: $2.566 million.

Why would Romney’s supporters give such huge sums?   According to Abad-Santos none of them claimed to have done so in the interest of the country, that is, for anyone else than themselves.  Adelson claimed he did so because he “liked to win,” and he was piqued by a comment of Obama that Wall Streeters shouldn't be taking free trips to Vegas on taxpayer's money.  Simons said he gave such amounts because Karl Rove recommended it, and anyway he thinks Obama is a socialist.  The Koch brothers are known to be libertarians; they seem to be major factors in the right-ward bolt of the Republican Party in the last few years.  According to Carter Eskew of the Washington Post, "they are giving to support what they see as being in their business or personal financial interest: lower taxes, less regulation, smaller government" (quoted by Abad-Santos).     

So, to state the obvious:  a President Romney would have owed his soul to a few donors who for little cost to themselves had gained a strangle-hold on the most powerful office in the world.  The rest of the country could have been disenfranchised.  

And would the great donors care?  They have given little sign that they care much about the rest.  Would they even notice the privations of  ordinary people?  Not so far.  

For these men the proportional cost of their investment in Romney was minimal, although for Romney they would have been critical to his success.  He would never be unaware of where the big contributions came from, even though they can legally be hidden from the rest of the country.  In the last election Romney knew very well who gave large sums – a fair number of them showed up for his “victory party” in Boston.  If he had been elected he would have made sure they got their due. 

Our country has been spared a great transformative catastrophe.   But what about the next time?  Does anyone doubt that it will happen again? 

Some related sources on this topic:

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Risks of concentrated wealth

It is now common knowledge that the profile of wealth in the United States has changed radically in the last few years.  While most people in the country have gained little ground in the last ten years a small number of individuals have been acquiring huge amounts of wealth at a staggering rate.  Charles M. Blow in the New York Times recently quoted an October report from the Congressional Budget Office that found that, “from 1979 to 2007, the average real after-tax household income for the 1 percent of the population with the highest incomes rose 275 percent.”

Actually, it isn’t really the 1% that has made the most dramatic gains but the upper one-tenth of 1% of the population.  David Cay Johnston reported last year that “The Saez analysis of tax return data shows that through 2008, the top one-in-a-thousand taxpayers had average income in recent years that ranged between $5.2 million and $7.5 million annually. Just investing that much in corporate bonds will produce enough interest income to keep someone in the top 1 percent.”    

What I don’t hear people talking about is the risk for the country, actually for democracy, that such a disparity if wealth creates.  There is the obvious ability to spend profligately in elections, as in the one being held this very day.  There is the ability to control information – both to truncate discussion about some topics and to promote others that are of interest to those who have the most leverage in the society.  And then at some point a country's leaders – congressmen, senators, even presidents – can become so beholden to powerful interests, dominant industries,  wealthy individuals, that the whole apparatus of government administration  becomes merely an instrument of their will.  

If that happens, those of us who are embedded in the system may not notice how much has changed for a good while, for the narratives that dominate much of our public discourse are constructed by wealthy and powerful interests that have the wherewithal to promote their particular views, in their own interests.  

Monday, October 29, 2012

Democracy includes everybody, right? So why the attempts to limit voting?

It is difficult to believe that such people believe in democracy.  How will they behave if the candidate they support doesn't win?  That is, if it turns out that the "democracy" they claim to want actually doesn't happen?  In the last four years some people in congress had no higher priority than to make sure the duly elected President would not be re-elected -- an ignoble agenda for those commissioned by the people to govern a great country.  See what some have been doing to make sure that democracy doesn't turn out to be what it is supposed to be:   

Democracy denied: Millions of Americans blocked from voting: Voter suppression efforts today echo 19th century efforts to block urban immigrant working class from casting vote.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Obama Apologized ?

I am dumbfounded that the story seems to be gaining salience among many Americans that President Obama went to the Middle East to apologize.  No, he went to the Middle East to call for democracy -- undermining the power of the many dictators in the region.

President Obama went to the oldest university in the world, Al Azhar, a center of learning for Muslims of all nations, in a country ruled by a dictator and explained what democracy meant, and called for the rule of law and responsible government in the countries of the Middle East.  
The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores -- and that includes nearly 7 million American Muslims in our country today who, by the way, enjoy incomes and educational levels that are higher than the American average. …
 And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations -- to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God.  These things we share.  This is the hope of all humanity.  …
 But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things:  the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose.  These are not just American ideas; they are human rights.  And that is why we will support them everywhere….
 Governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure.  Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away.  America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them.  And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments -- provided they govern with respect for all their people.
This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they're out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others.  So no matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who would hold power:  You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party.  Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.  [for more see
That was on June 4, 2009.  What happened next should not be considered direct responses to Obama’s speech but as expressions of the broadly shared hopes for responsible leadership of the sort that Obama spoke of.  It reflected a longing throughout the Middle East for fair and just governments that are accountable to the people they govern, the kind of government Obama described.  

Here are some signs that Obama’s speech touched a chord.

*  On June 12, 8 days after Obama’s speech, Iran exploded.  The government held a presidential election on that day and most Iranians believed their candidate, Mir-Hussein Mousavi, had won by a land-slide.  In fact, they were astounded to hear, even before the polls had closed, that the current President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad, declared the winner.  That night people came out on the streets, not [yet] to formally demonstrate but to discuss how this could have happened.  But the government reaction was so severe that within days many people were clashing with government-paid goons.  Eventually, they would begin to chant “Death to the Dictator” in the streets of Tehran.  The Iranians were demanding the just and authentic democracy that Obama had called for.
*  A year and a half after the speech, almost to the day, the “Arab Spring” began.  It began on December 18 in Tunisia when Mohamed Bouazizi, in a fit of frustration at the way he had been treated by a local official, set himself on fire in a street of Sidi Bouzid.  The shock of the event instigated a riot that spread throughout the country, and by January 14 President  Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, a dictator that was broadly presumed to be secure, fled the country.  

*  Demonstrations of a similar sort were already in motion in Egypt and by February 11, 2011 President Hosni Mubarak was out of power.  
*  That same week demonstrations began in Libya against Muammar Ghaddafi.  It turned into a long, drawn out civil war that eventually took Ghaddafi’s life in October. 
*  In the mean time Yemen was similarly wrought, and after much conflict President Ali Abdullah Saleh was obliged to relinquish much of his power. 
*  Demonstrations elsewhere were less successful: The struggle to dethrone President Bashar Al-Assad is still going on; the struggle against King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has been ruthlessly crushed.

My point is that Obama’s speech seemed well to express the desires of the frustrated peoples of the Middle East, especially of the young people.  

Apology?  No.  Rather, Obama's call for democracy marked a dramatic shift in the aspirations of the peoples of the region, who had long suffered under cruel dictatorships.

Monday, October 22, 2012

McGovern's death reminds us of a tragic moment

The passing of Senator George McGovern reminds us that it is possible for the wrong person to win an election.  McGovern, a Democrat, ran in 1972 the most unsuccessful presidential campaign in American history:  he was beaten by the slate of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew in a landslide:  every state but Massachusetts and the District of Columbia supported the Republican ticket.   But in less than a year Agnew was forced to resign because of charges that he  had been involved in extortion, tax fraud, bribery and conspiracy.   The next year, on August 9, 1974, Richard Nixon himself resigned, having been implicated in the Watergate break-in.  Both Nixon and Agnew were guilty of major criminal behavior before the election took place but they took office with the largest mandate in history.  Can we believe that McGovern would have been a better president?  He would at least have been a very different president, and it is tempting to assert that he would have been better than Richard Nixon. 
But elections turn on the stories that the candidates tell, and in the end the candidate that tells the most convincing story wins. 

Is there anything to learn from this incident in the past? 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Mitt Romney, the Mystery Candidate

Most of us look around the world and we wonder how a society could become flawed to such an extreme that it accepts, even fosters, policies that lead to destruction.  We wonder how the people of Germany could have allowed Hitler’s National Socialist Party to have total power within the country and lead the country into a devastating war.  We wonder how so many Hutus of Rwanda could have been persuaded that they should take up machetes against their Tutsi neighbors.  How could the Serbs of Bosnia become convinced that they should “cleanse” their society of Muslims, not only to kill members of their own communities but also to destroy buildings, museums, every notable structure built by their Muslim neighbors?  We wonder:  How did these societies seem to have lose all reason.

Is not this country about to do something comparably irrational?

There is a chance that we will elect as our president someone about whom we scarcely know anything, a person who steadfastly refuses to tell us much about himself or even of his future program.  He has, as Professor Garry Wills puts it, a “mystery box” of solutions to our country’s problems [NYRB 11/8/12], along with a body of opinions that we know he has changed over time and even now he carefully veils.    

  • On abortion, his wife Ann Romney refused to reveal his opinion [she said it was merely a distraction.   
  • On the loopholes he will plug in order to get to a balanced budget even though he plans to reduce taxes even further [they are already close to an all-time low]:  he says that that matter will be the surprise he will give Congress once he is in office.
  • On voter-ID drives that would reduce the electorate [those most likely not to vote for him], he said the issue was a distraction.
  • On requiring ultrasound exams for pregnant women seeking abortions as many of his party support, he said the question was a distraction.
  • Most surprisingly, on his actual record he carefully provides few details: 
    • On what he did at Bain capital he reveals little;
    • On his major accomplishment as governor of Massachusetts, the health-care law, he carefully evades mention of it since it was the model for the “Obamacare” law that he now denounces.
  • He reveals to the public only the last two years of his tax returns.  This is most curious because his father published his tax returns for the previous ten years when he ran for President.  Does Mitt Romney think that more than the last two years of tax returns should be revealed?  Decide for yourself:  He demanded to see the tax returns of the last ten years of those individuals he was  considering for his running mate.  Romney has seen the tax returns of Paul Ryan for the past ten years [NYRB 11/8/12] but he steadfastly refuses to reveal more than two years of his own tax returns. 
The American public knows almost nothing substantial about Mitt Romney, and he could be our next President.  What would he really do for our economy?  We don’t know.  What plans does he have to fix the deficit?  We don’t know.  How will he deal with the incessant conflict in the Middle East? We don’t know.  What is his policy toward minorities?  Well, this we can guess and he knows better than to put that into words.

Romney was scarcely liked or supported by his own Republican Party – he just turned out to be the last one standing.  So why is he a viable candidate for President of the Unites States of America, the most powerful leader in the world?  

Saturday, October 13, 2012

What they are not saying ... How this country got into its mess

When it comes to elections we all seem to have short memories.  That may be the reason that politicians say the same things over and over again, and why some of them don't mind contradicting themselves.  But what I don’t understand is why some history has been completely ignored in the recent political debates.  
Here is what I remember about how my country got into the mess it’s in:
  • When George W. Bush became President he was given a prize that scarcely any president has ever received in American history:  A budget surplus.                 So what did his administration do with it?  Improve the highway infrastructure?  Update the aging bridges across the country?  Install a national optical fiber system?  Provide the country with comprehensive wi-fi?  No, they gave the money “back” as a "tax cut."  For most people it was a couple hundred dollars; for those with high incomes the return was several thousand dollars; for instance, if your taxable income was between $200,000 and $499,000, your return was $7400 [NYT 10/19/10, from Tax Policy Institute].  So who were the new administration catering to?
  • When the 9/11/01 attack took place the Bush administration was given world-wide support and sympathy -- another gift not given to many presidents before him; even in Iran the young people held a minute of silence in honor of the American dead before a soccer game.  And indeed the American attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan was widely supported; no one had much sympathy for the Taliban, and no one cared when thousands of them died and the rest were forced to flee into Pakistan.  But within a year the Bush administrated turned their attention away from that conflict, leaving the job unfinished.  They turned away in order to attack Saddam Hussein in Iraq; they even claimed he had been behind the 9/11/01 attack [remember this?] in order to justify their refocus on Iraq.  So doing, they awakened the many confused and frustrated unemployed young men all over the Middle East, to give them the sense that America was attacking the whole Muslim world -- and a cause to fight for.  The attack on Iraq squandered the good-will of the world, and revived a nearly crushed AlQaeda.  
  • The Bush administration made no provision for the costs of the two wars they were involved in.  Those costs were taken off-line when the budget was being discussed; the skyrocketing costs of the wars were hardly discussed in Congress.  In those days Paul Ryan and others who now present themselves as budget hawks signed off on the Bush budgets every time.
  • The result was that by the time the Bush administration left office the economy was in the tank -- for many reasons, but one of them was the unfunded wars.  When the Bush administration left office the budget was in deficit.  Their successor was dealt one of the worst hands of any administration since 1930.  
The people who participated in policies that left this country in a mess now present themselves as eager to correct the errors of George W. Bush's successor.  Ryan voted for the profligate policies that caused the deficit that he now deplores.    

Why would the American people want Ryan and those who supported the Bush administration to come back?  How could anyone want them back?

The profligacy of the Bush administration now seems like it was ages in the past -- which is where the Romney/Ryan ticket wants it to be.  Hardly anyone remembers just how our country got to this point.  This story remains unmentioned, and is almost forgotten.  

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Universal longing in "The search for "Sugar Man"'

A few words can sometimes capture the feelings of a whole nation.  “Blood, sweat, and tears…” – words that enshrined the thoughts of many people in Britain at terrifying moment.  But when those words were thrown out into the public arena they enabled a whole people to join in a unity of feeling, a collective sense of who they were and what they faced together.  A few words transformed the disparate feelings of many individuals into the conviction of a nation:  as a people they must, and they would, stand together despite the obvious cost.  

The process by which private sensibilities are brought together into a common conviction is a kind of imaginative miracle.  It is worth asking how it works.  Inner depths of feeling are evoked by a particular poignant phrase – this a wonder worth examining closely.   

But the phrase that works powerfully in one setting may not work in another.   To understand the difference requires explication:  the history of all the fears and resentments and outrages that have piled up through the years becomes a reservoir of buried sentiments that can be awakened by a single event, a single utterance, a song.     

Tonight Rita and I went to see a film about a simple musician, a gifted balladeer, whose brilliance was missed in his own country but discovered by a whole nation elsewhere.  The simple ballads of loneliness, grief, despair produced by an unknown individual galvanized the strong feelings of  thousands of young people elsewhere.  His aching outrage at a broken world gave expression to feelings that they shared and enabled them to experience together their common  frustration, for their world also was grievous.  Carefully chosen chords and phrases objectified the feelings of thousands -- but in a different world.  

Anyone who wants to see how an objective form – music – can be made to stand for the feelings of a whole nation must see “The search for ‘Sugar Man’”.  

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Arab Counter-Spring distracts from the authentic desires of the Middle East

We are seeing the other side of the Arab Spring movement of last year.  This is the “counter Spring”.  I note, however, that these actors in the Middle East are all, I think, men.  Compare the picture attached to the New York Times article on demonstrations in Yeman with the statement by a young woman in Yemen a year ago.  

This woman was appealing for American help in protecting the movement for democracy there.  
In that case, the crowd behind her included a number of women, and she spoke in impeccable English.  

I am prepared to believe that this young woman, whose name will surely never be known, represents the genuine longings of young people in the Middle East.  What I fear is that such individuals will give up and leave – escape to the States or Europe. That would mean that as usual the nations of the Middle East will be run by the most conservative and defensive elements of the society.  And mostly men [as in the NYTimes picture].  Something needs to happen to force the leadership of these countries to listen to the heartfelt appeals of these young people.  

The Middle East has not changed:  the hope for democracy has not died.  But this society is now, as it was a year ago, sharply divided.  What we see now is the attempts of a few, again, to co-opt September 11 as a vehicle of refusal.  It is reactive and defensive.  Lets hope Egypt and Yemen will join the Libyans in punishing such lawless behavior. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Muslims who were murdered eleven years ago today

The attack on September 11, 2001, caused the death of nearly 3,000 individuals from many nations, not only the United States.  It is right that their names were read today in the various locations where the planes crashed.  But as I indicated already, some of those who died that day were Muslims (besides those who deliberately committed suicide).  To draw attention to how Muslim families suffered as well as others, I list here the names that I could recover from another site.  This is not to favor the Muslims who died, for all who perished died unjustly.  But I list them here to stress that the actions of a few radical individuals, who in most cases  were criminals in their own countries, cannot be regarded as typical of Muslims generally.  Only a few days ago someone I met, who in fact is well educated, stated that he didn't understand why Muslims hate us -- evidence that he has essentially no comprehension of what lay behind the attack on that terrible day or of the real nature of Middle Eastern society -- no sense even of how different that region has become in the last decade.  Let us join in grief over all those who suffered unjustly on that notorious morning, even those who were Muslims.

Shabbir Ahmed - 47 years old - Windows on the World Restaurant
Tariq Amanullah - 40 years old - Fiduciary Trust Co.
Michael Baksh - 36 years old - Marsh & McLennan
Touri Hamzavi Bolourchi - 69 years old - retired nurse on United #175
Abul K. Chowdhury - 30 years old - Cantor Fitzgerald
Mohammad Salahuddin Chowdhury - 38 years old - Windows on the World
Jemal Legesse De Santis - 28 years old - World Trade Center
Simon Suleman Ali Kassamali Dhanani - 63 years old - Aon Corp.
Syed Abdul Fatha - 54 years old - Pitney Bowes
Mon Gjonbalaj - 65 years old - Janitor, World Trade Center
Nezam A. Hafiz - 32 years old - Marsh & McLennan
Mohammed Salman Hamdani - 23 years old - NYPD Cadet
Zuhtu Ibis - 25 years old - Cantor Fitzgerald
Muhammadou Jawara - 30 years old - MAS Security
Sarah Khan - 32 years old - Forte Food Service
Taimour Firaz Khan - 29 years old - Carr Futures
Abdoulaye Kone - 37 years old - Windows on the World
Abdu Ali Malahi - 37 years old - WTC Marriott
Nurul Hoque Miah - 35 years old - Marsh & McLennan
Boyie Mohammed - 50 years old - Carr Futures
Ehtesham U. Raja - 28 years old - TCG Software
Ameenia Rasool - 33 years old - Marsh & McLennan
Mohammad Ali Sadeque - 62 years old - newspaper vendor at WTC, reported missing
Rahma Salie & child - 28 years old (7 months pregnant) - American #11
Khalid M. Shahid - 25 years old - Cantor Fitzgerald
Mohammed Shajahan - 41 years old - Marsh & McLennan
Nasima Hameed Simjee - 38 years old - Fiduciary Trust Co.
Michael Theodoridis - 32 years old - American #11
Abdoul Karim Traore - 41 years old - Windows on the World
Karamo Trerra - 40 years old - ASAP NetSource
Shakila Yasmin - 26 years old - Marsh & McLennan    

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Oligarchic America: America In the Hands of a Few Rich Families. Bernie Sanders

I'm grateful to Bill Moyers for introducing those of us from the mid-west to Bernie Sanders.  This is a guy who calls a spade a spade.  What a refreshing amount of clarity and honesty he brings to the political discourse.  

His post on July 31 [with my highlights]:  Oligarchy or Democracy?

[W]e are now witnessing the most severe attack on our democratic foundations, both economically and politically, that has been seen in the modern history of our country. In terms of the distribution of wealth and income, in terms of concentration of economic ownership and in terms of political power, fewer and fewer Americans are determining the future of our country. ...  
Economically, the United States today has, by far, the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on earth,  ....  Today, 
  • the wealthiest 400 individuals own more wealth than the bottom half of America -- 150 million people. 
  • Today, one family, the Walton family of Wal-Mart fame, with $89 billion, owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of America. 
  • Today, the top one percent owns 40 percent of all wealth, while the bottom 60 percent owns less than two percent. 
  • Incredibly, the bottom 40 percent of all Americans own just three-tenths of one percent of the wealth of the country.   
  • In terms of income distribution, the top one percent earns more income than the bottom 50 percent. 
  • Between 1980 and 2005, 80 percent of all new income created in this country went to the top one percent. 
  • In 2010 alone, 93 percent of all new income went to the top one percent.  
  • In terms of economic power and concentration of ownership, the six largest financial institutions in the country (JP MorganChase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Metlife) own assets equivalent to two-thirds of the GDP of this country -- more than nine trillion dollars. ...
Most of us have a hard time internalizing what has actually happened to our country.  None of us has been even remotely considering the possibility that the country may actually be, already, in the hands of an oligarchy -- a country controlled by a cadre of rich elite.  Isn't that what they have in Burkina Faso?  Central African Republic?  Niger? No wonder our congress, even when they seem to be doing something in the public interest, end up doing something that enables the rich to get richer.

The Question:  what to do about it?