Archive for December, 2008

Rod and Staff Cold Comfort for Illinois Dems

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

If you were to read in a work of fiction about a notoriously crooked politician who, faced with an opportunity to appoint somebody to fill an important vacancy, got caught soliciting money and other favors from potential appointees, you would find the situation implausible. Nobody could be that foolish.

Except in real life. IIlinois governor Rod Blagojevich put Barack Obama’s vacant senate seat up for bid, and we know he did it because the FBI tapped his phone and has him and his people on tape with an abundance of incriminating utterances. The governor must have known he was under close surveillance: a couple of his most loyal supporters are being prosecuted for federal crimes in which he’s been implicated. How could he be so reckless, when he’s already under suspicion, as to offer Obama’s senate seat to the high bidder?

It seems reckless to ordinary citizens, but public officials are not like us. Government is a racket, as they know, and cautious, law-abiding people don’t make good racketeers. Hence the governor’s surfeit of confidence: he was just doing what was expected of him as a corrupt public official. Rod and staff relied, justifiably, on their many associates in the Democratic party (including our next president) not to rat them out, and Dems seem to have accommodated them. Some of the potential appointees turned the governor down, if we can believe his phone conversations, but they didn’t turn him in. His supporters across the state could not have failed to know what he was, and they went along, because corruption is a tool of the political trade. People who don’t make use of it don’t last long in public office.

Citizens who think this is an Illinois problem should open their eyes. Elective office now attracts only liars and cheats. If you’re not willing to tell voters what they want to hear, accept bribes from political contributors, wine, dine and advertise with the local media, and sacrifice the public interest to the narrow interests of connected people in your sphere of influence, you won’t win elections. Some of our leaders are less crooked than Blagojevich and some are more crooked, but they are all crooks or facilitators of crooks. Because of their vice, our nation is in a state of catastrophic failure, and they’re all scurrying now to secure something for themselves before the political structure collapses.

The cure for this is not republican government. Elections are futile (as the last one proves) when grafters and cheats control them. The cure is likely to be citizen tribunals, criminal prosecutions outside our discredited judicial system, with a sentence of death for malfeasors, much like the process established for people kidnaped by the US government in the post 9/11 pogroms. The process used by our leaders to dispatch Saddam Hussein and select members of his family could well serve as a model.

The Blagojevich case probably won’t require such a process–he’s part of the minority of crooked officials targeted by government prosecutors and he’ll welcome the security of a prison cell–but there’s a vast contingent of well-groomed, unprosecutable thugs out there, and retribution will be had one way or another. Bush and Cheney, if they’re not held accountable in our courts, will almost certainly hang upside down some day from adjoining posts, and their facilitators in Congress and the media will find themselves in tumbrils. It’s happened before when politically powerless people got too riled.

Democrats’ Mandate

Saturday, December 6th, 2008

More War - The Democratic majority in Congress, which has been funding our wars without serious limitation or oversight for two years, will continue to operate in tandem with Republicans to kill dark-skinned foreigners. To judge from our vote, we think America’s done the world a million favors. We seem to consider ourselves a generous people, taking on the woes of humanity, liberating, democratizng, even to the point of sacrificing our children. Or somebody’s children anyway.

Our wars are self-aggrandizement of the worst kind. They prove that kids are willing to kill and die for us. We like to think that war has kept Americans safe since 9/11, even if we have to forget that 100,000 GI’s got harmed in the process, and several thousand came home in boxes. Bush said in a lame-duck interview with ABC that he will miss those little heart-to-hearts with grieving Gold Star parents. Why does he find this so satisfying, and what makes him and the newsmen think we would? The election, that’s what.

Obama and the Democrats in Congress, awed by the public outpouring of nationalism, promised to continue what we’re doing for at least another year in Iraq and indefinitely in Afghanistan. The election gave them a mandate for this.

No Justice - The corruption of the judicial system will continue. Democrats promised no freedom for innocent victims of the post 9/11 hysteria. No penalty for prosecutors who abused their power. No sanction for lawyers who approved illegal acts, including torture, kidnaping, perjury, blackmail, domestic surveillance, and obstruction of justice. Obama and the incoming Democratic Congress have promised explicitly not to seek justice against government wrongdoers. There will be no retribution for malfeasance, and no compensation for the malfeasors’ victims. Democrats now have a mandate for this.

Corrupt Congress - Every seat in Congress, regardless of party, is held by a well-financed candidate. It’s not possible to win an election without money. The news media won’t recognize candidates who don’t spend money on advertising. The money comes from private parties, and they are seldom disappointed in the dividends their investments yield. Bringing dollars back to the district is still the best way for a member of Congress to attract financing and get good press. Congressional accomplishments in the public interest are few and far between in such an atmosphere, while deregulation, targeted tax breaks, earmarked projects, and “constituent services” of various kinds are routine and have become the currency of the legislative process. Even as Congress has buzzed with corrupt activity, the economy has failed, the armed forces have been exhausted and depleted, pollution is rampant, and the future is bleak. Reform was not on the election agenda. Democrats now have a mandate for this.

Private Health Insurance - There will be no single-payer health care for Americans. Health care will continue to be a for-profit venture, with insurance companies claiming the major part of the proceeds. Citizens will have to shop for coverage and take what’s offered at a price dictated by predators. Illness-related bankruptcies will continue, and people will continue to die for lack of sufficient health insurance. The continuation of for-profit health care was the promise of Democrats during the election campaign, and they now have a mandate for it.

Imperial Presidency - When Democrats in Congress took presidential accountability “off the table” two years ago, they set a precedent for the new executive and his successors that effectively exempts the president from all laws. The president may now attack other countries without provocation, hold prisoners without legal process, torture prisoners during the course of their detention, spy on Americans, order prosecutions to commence or abate according to political exigencies, suborn perjury, and decline to execute federal laws. Barack Obama pledged not to hold his predecessor accountable for any of these crimes. By winning the election, he and the Democrats in Congress can now claim a mandate for placing him and his successors in office above the law.

New New Orleans - The federal government displaced hundreds of thousands of poor people from New Orleans by neglecting to maintain the levees that could have prevented the floods of 2005. The new New Orleans will have no place for these unfortunates, who now occupy a diaspora stretching from Texas to New England. Whatever survived of their homes has been long since plowed under. Forecasts tell us the city is slated for development as a sub-tropical playground for the rich and near-rich, with only enough members of the servant class in residence to satisfy the needs of vacationers. There will be no justice for these victims of the other Gulf war, made permanent refugees by floods that were deliberately allowed to happen by public officials. World Trade Center victims got government checks for the illegal acts that allowed them to perish on 9/11. Katrina victims will get nothing. Obama and congressional Democrats discussed New Orleans not at all during the political campaign, and they now have a mandate to forget the displaced residents altogether.

Homeland Security - Democrats conspired with Republicans to create a homeland from what was once a republic, and they have no plans to undo that ill-fated experiment. They degraded the Immigration and Naturalization Service in favor of a general enforcement bureau that imprisons thousands of men, women and children in for-profit concentration camps. They merged independent law enforcement agencies into a framework for martial law, and they now monitor the personal associations, charitable contributions, and political affiliations of millions of Americans. They count hundreds of thousands of terrorist suspects walking among us. Their agents appear in airports and railway terminals in camouflage fatigues armed with assault rifles. They can challenge you for papers at any time, jail you without charges and torture you in custody, and you have no legal recourse. These abuses were hardly discussed during the election debate, and Democrats now have a mandate to continue them.

Hired Guns - Mercenary soldiers with a license to kill are allowed to operate freely, not only in foreign countries but on the streets of our own cities. The owners of these private armies have amassed millions in government payments, and they have the arms and the intelligence to put your neighborhood or mine under occupation at any time. Democrats proclaimed their support for these militias during the election, and they can now claim a mandate to strengthen, enrich and consolidate them.

State Religion - The judeo-christian character of our government is no longer a matter of controversy. Democrats trumpeted their “faith” during the election, repudiating all other religions, and they declared their loyalty to Israel in the clearest possible terms. When all else fails–as seems to be happening right now–voters and their leaders can pray together to the God of Jesus and Moses, who is now on the side of Democrats and shares their mandate.

Corporate Welfare - Democrats and Republicans agreed during the election to effect huge transfers of taxpayer dollars to private business. Voters were under no illusion about these payments. We knew they would continue after the election, and now the super-rich beneficiaries can claim a mandate for this entitlement.

For-Profit Pollution Control - Democrats have promised to create a market in environmental pollution. You will be able to sell your God-given right to foul the Earth to the highest bidder. Instead of regulating emissions, Democrats plan to license them. You can put a scrubber in your stack so somebody else doesn’t have to. Voters, who seem not to care about the world we are leaving to our grandchildren, gave Democrats a mandate for this.

Self-satisfaction - Let’s all give ourselves a round of applause for electing a person with a dark complexion. That’s what Democrats are doing, as if they deserved congratulations for overcoming ever so modestly the national tendency toward bigotry and ignorance. To listen to the speeches they made during the election, Democrats have redirected the contempt that used to be reserved for people of African descent onto Arabs, Persians, and immigrants without papers. The election results tell us that they can rightly claim a mandate for sanctimony.

Maybe we should be willing to give Democrats a chance to prove the skeptics wrong, but that’s easier said than done. The forces of reason have been burned so many times by phony patriots that we distrust our leaders implicitly. The burden of persuasion seems to be on the self-proclaimed change agents, basking in victory with expressions of self-congratulation that make them sound a lot like their predecessors in office.

No News is Bad News

Friday, December 5th, 2008

Gaza, a strip of land on the Mediterranean between Israel and Egypt, now under Israeli military occupation, has been closed to reporters for a month by government edict. Protests were lodged by the free press, but that same free press has given scant attention to them, and Gaza has disappeared from the news.

Suppose you were a news editor and there was a place that was closed to reporters. Would you sense that there was a story to be covered? Would you complain incessantly about the denial of access, reporting whatever other news your stringers could dig up, or would you simply give up and go on to some other place?

Our press gave up. Gazans are cut off from the rest of the world, blockaded by the military power of a neighboring country, in a situation that, in the case of any other people, would be declared a humanitarian catastrophe by the US media, and their condition is ignored. The news media of the USA have capitulated to the Israeli blockade and ceased most reporting on conditions in Gaza.

What explains this? It can’t be a legitimate editorial decision, because the dire circumstances of Gazans are news, and so is the irony of their situation: the main reason for Gazans’ agony is that they elected a government made up of members of a political party that Israel considers its enemy. If the voters of Gaza would just repudiate the results of their last democratic election, Israel would quit harassing them. Can it be that a population held hostage for exercising democratic rights isn’t newsworthy?

Gaza is news, and so why won’t our press cover it? Is it just too ugly for Americans to be exposed to? Are our media sparing us the pain of others’ desperate suffering? Is it OK for them to do that? Or is it racism? Do the news media of the USA hate Arabs? Maybe the media have some special obligation to withhold criticism of Israel. Is it possible that all the networks and all the newspapers could be restrained by a religious minority numbering no more than a few million believers?

News-consumers have long suspected that the sponsors actually decide the content of the news, allowing only what’s consonant with their commercial message. That might explain why the unpleasantness in Gaza, which could inhibit spending, is out of the news, but it doesn’t explain why news about atrocities in Congo is acceptable fare, while news about atrocities in Gaza is poison.

News-hungry readers and viewers might want to ask an editor to explain all this, but censors don’t make themselves available for interrogation except by other censors. They figure you’re better off without any explanations, and they’re right. A news report is like a hot dog. If you knew how they made it, you wouldn’t buy it.