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?

Saturday, September 08, 2012

How do we know our political process has not already been cooped by criminal money?

The only thing I can surmise from the way things are going is that the Republican Party has been taken over by a few -- probably not even very many -- super rich individuals and corporations.  It looks like they already have a powerful grip on our political process.  

The scary part is that so many super PACs that now try to shape the public imagination are funded by unknown sources.  I can appreciate why certain rich individuals would like to remain anonymous when making donations.  But when huge amounts of money are being paid for scandalous, scurrilous, and slanderous advertisements against public figures it looks like money from secret, perhaps even criminal, sources is threatening the whole political process.  

How much democracy has been lost because of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision?  It looks like we are about to find out.  I fear this is the most dangerous election in the history of democracy.  

How do we know that the real sources of these scandalous declarations on TV are not funded by criminal wealth?  Most of us suppose that criminality is weak and marginal in our country.  I doubt it:  Al Capone is still around, in other guises.  A few years ago illicit drugs were believed to be the third largest industry in this country -- industry, not corporation; it was believed only exceeded by the oil industry and the automobile industry.   Moise Naim who has studied criminal behavior for more than ten years, has written a book, Illicit, in which he claims that “networks of stateless traders are changing the world as much as terrorists are, probably more.”  How do we know that these moneys being used for public calumny don't come from foreign sources?  Even non-American criminal sources?  Citizens United stripped the democratic process in this country from the ordinary people and opened it up to whoever has the hard cash to control our electoral process:  from any source, from any country, from any industry.  And the more money the better.  Today the American people have no means of knowing who  controls the political discourse of our country.

Virtually every day we hear about exorbitant amounts from unknown and unknowable sources of funds being spent on negative advertising.  Here is the one I read today:  Thank you ProPublica (in particular Justin Elliott).  If this article doesn't make your hair stand on end you are already inured to scandalous claims on TV.
Revealed: The Dark Money Group Attacking Sen. Sherrod Brownby Justin Elliott  ProPublica, Sept. 7, 2012, 11:12 a.m. 
In May, a previously unknown group started pouring money into Ohio’s U.S. Senate race, considered one of the most important in the country and currently the nation’s most expensive.  The group, the Government Integrity Fund, has spent over $1 million so far on TV ads bashing Democratic incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown and praising his Republican opponent, Josh Mandel.
..., the Government Integrity Fund is shrouded in mystery. It isn’t required to reveal donors, nor has it answered questions about who runs the group. The Fund’s barebones website lists no contact information beyond a P.O. Box.
The only name listed on incorporation papers for the group is a Columbus lawyer, William Todd, who told ProPublica, “I really have no role in their affairs.” (In June, Todd also declined to respond to questions from a Huffington Post reporter, citing attorney-client privilege.)
But previously unreported documents filed with an Ohio television station pull back the curtain a bit: the Government Integrity Fund is run by a state lobbyist who in turn employs a former top Mandel staffer.
The lobbyist, Tom Norris, is listed as the Government Integrity Fund’s chairman and treasurer. Norris owns an Ohio lobbying firm, Cap Square Solutions, and last year hired a top Mandel aide, Joel Riter, to work at the firm.
.... The former Mandel aide declined to say whether he is involved with the group that is chaired by his current boss and running ads in support of his former boss... [Read the rest on the original site, linked above.]
I began this note with a swipe at the Republican Party because that party seems to have become shamelessly committed to protecting the rich against the poor, against even the middle class.  This is not the Republican Part I knew as a child.  I grew up in a Republican environment.  I always thought I was Republican or Republican-leaning (at least until Reagan).  I can scarcely believe any of my family today would want to be associated with what the party now stands for:  Protecting the super rich from paying even the slightest premium for the benefits they have enjoyed in a country that provides unexcelled protection from theft and arson, and an infrastructure that enables reasonable and responsible business activity to prosper.  This is not the party of Eisenhour, Taft, Reagan, Ford, or GHW Bush.  To me the marvel is that they are unashamed for what they have been defending:  No shame for the economic wreckage they left the country in in 2008 -- and now no shame for blaming their successor for it.  

How do we know that in fact the super-rich interests of the world -- who have no national loyalty -- have not already seized the Republican Party to make use of it in their interest?  There are legitimate interests for the Republicans to represent responsibly, but the positions they now hold are an embarrassment.  

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Ralph Reed: Another view of the religious Far Right

Anyone who watched the Bill Moyers report on the career and activities of Ralph Reed would have been deeply troubled.  What Reed stands for is not the gospel of a homeless man who was unjustly tortured and executed for the sins of the world, which is what he claims, but what seems like a different gospel, one that supports the interests of the well-to-do against those of the weak and underprivileged.  

Few trends are more worrisome than the uses now being made of biblical terms and images in politics. Politicians deliberately and calculatedly proclaim their devotion to God. Would that it were true! — at least I wish that an authentic appreciation of the biblical texts as they are would be reflected in the behavior of our leaders; there is a great absence of discernment and wisdom fitting to the challenges of leadership in the modern world. The Psalmist (139:20, NIV) says, “They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name.” Even people who know nothing about the Bible or have no use for it consider the new prominence of religious claims in politics to be cynical, like the psalmist here. We are all disgusted by the pious use of grand moralistic rhetoric by public figures whose life bears no particular evidence of an authentic fear of heaven. The recent past provides examples without number of the callous use of moral claims to justify policies that are animated by the usual incentives: pride, envy, greed, lust.  
Here let us insist what we all intuitively feel, no matter what side we are on: that claims to high minded moral ideals in order to masque the agendas of the rich and powerful, to the detriment of the poor and the weak, debase all that is authentic and good in the world.

Here is some of what Moyers had turned up on the activities of this guy.

Ralph Reed: From Purgatory to Power
BILL MOYERS: Welcome. If you watched the Republican Convention in Tampa only on Primetime television you would have missed the story we're about to report. And it's the one that could make the biggest difference on Election Day in November. On the seventh day, we're told, God rested. But not Ralph Reed. There he was, the Sunday before the convention opened, speaking at a rally of his Faith and Freedom Coalition.
RALPH REED: We're here today not just to celebrate faith and freedom but to pray for its survival. And unlike the other side, we haven't gathered in this city this week to anoint a messiah, because you see we already have a messiah. And we're not looking for one here on earth.
BILL MOYERS: Reed's message was directed to conservative Christians Mitt Romney must convert to his cause if he's to be elected president. Romney is a Mormon, a faith many on the religious right consider a cult, even a heresy. There's no love for Romney among these people, but they are united in their loathing of Barack Obama. And that's where Ralph Reed comes in.
RALPH REED: Four years ago, we heard a lot of talk about hope and change. People were fainting at campaign rallies. There were Che Guevera posters hanging in dorm rooms. There was one candidate who stood in front of Greek columns and vowed to heal the planet and cause the oceans to recede. But you see our hope is in something this world doesn't fully understand. We hope for a kingdom yet to come. The hope of a new heaven and a new earth, in which dwelleth righteousness. A place where every tear will be wiped away. And every broken heart will be healed. And all the pain and brokenness and poverty and injustice of this world will be gone.
BILL MOYERS: But first there's the devil to chase.
NEWT GINGRICH: I believe that Barack Obama is a direct threat to the survival of the country I grew up in.
PHYLLIS SCHLAFLY: Dear friends, our religious liberty is at stake in this election, because Obama is at war with all religion in any public place, any public square, any public school.
TED CRUZ: For the first time in centuries the president of the United States has officially declared himself an enemy of traditional marriage between one man and one woman.
BILL MOYERS: You are witness to a modern tale of resurrection. A second-coming. The Bible speaks of Lazarus, raised by Jesus from the grave to walk again among the living. Ralph Reed, too, has been returned to life, political life. But he goes Lazarus one further. Lazarus was a poor man. Reed is rich, and he just keeps getting richer from mixing religion and politics. And that's a story you don't want to miss. ...
[For the rest click on the site above, or watch Bill Moyers and Company, PBS]

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Treasonous conniving by Republican leaders?

I came upon an article about a Republican conspiracy to by all means -- whatever means -- to make sure Obama was not elected again.  John Reed asked the question whether the intent and actions of this group were treasonous.  He decides that it was probably legal but in its spirit it was quite beyond the pale:  treasonous.

We are learning more and more about how money is being deployed to win elections -- the few using their inflated wealth to persuade ordinary people to vote the way the wealthy figures want -- and for me it is terrifying.  

Here is what John Reed has to say about that early conspiratorial meeting to make sure Obama is a failure:

Republican Dance of Treason?  By John Reed

When America elected her first African American President in 2008, millions across the world wept over the promise made by his election about the possibility for individual achievement in a democratic republic founded upon the ideal that all men are created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights.   America, that most backward and racial of nations, had just elected a black man as President of the United States. The preacher had finally lived up to the promise.
Despite the past misdeeds of our nation, deeds worthy of a pox upon our house, whether we consider our treatment of the Native American, the African American, or our more recent forays into empire building, the world looked with awe at the American character, built over two centuries of idealistic struggle within our unique form of government.   France, where racism toward African descendants is traditionally far less than in America, never elected an African French President, nor has England formed a government with an English African Prime Minister. No major industrial country had ever accomplished what the American people achieved in electing Barak Obama president.   Hope that a new age had dawned not only swept across America, but across the face of the earth, as if the planet momentarily stopped and took the time to smile.
We know now, though, that the very same day the world welcomed the new President into office, a small group of powerful men, bent on his destruction, secretly met to design a plan to create economic and political chaos in America for the coming four years, solely for the purpose of regaining the House of Representatives in 2010, and the Presidency in 2012. According to the Huffington Post, reviewing Robert Draper's book, Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside The House Of Representatives, this meeting at "The Caucus Room," an expensive, Washington watering hole, lasted four hours, and fourteen of the GOP's most important and cutthroat politicos attended.   The conspirators concluded not only would they attempt to win back power by any means necessary, but also they would oppose every policy initiative and every bill of any significance advanced by President Obama, and, by implication, whether the policy or bill forwarded the interests of the American public or not. As we now know, this plan included voting against legislation written and introduced by the Republicans themselves, or formerly supported by Republicans and opposed by the Democrats. As we know now, this agreement included refusing to raise the federal debt ceiling, or, in other words, refusing to authorize payment for expenses the very same Congress had previously voted to incur, which nearly led to a worldwide depression far worse than the "Great Depression" of the 1930's and caused the partial downgrade of America's triple "A" bond status.   This all occurred while troops were in the field and the Commander-In-Chief conducted two separate wars, and played a leading role in a third.    
Who were these miscreants that washed their hands in the blood of the American people?  ...  
[W]hen the clear purpose of the meeting is determined to be to act against the best interests of the American public in its entirety, no matter the merit of the bill or policy initiative, and to violate en masse their Oaths of Office, one must ask if the end result of such a meeting might be considered a conspiracy to commit treason, ...  [For more ... click on the link above.]