Archive for June, 2009

Democracy When?

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

(Note: I contacted “Democracy Now!” with this complaint. They never answer my emails.)

When did “Word is . . . ” and “There are rumors . . .” become statements of fact, and when did Democracy Now begin reporting nonfactual material? I’ve been following your coverage of the Iran election, and you seem to be promoting a point of view, forcing you to avoid (and your audience to be denied) facts that are inconvenient. I expect this of CBS and NPR and the US government, but not of news sources I’ve relied on for responsible reporting.

Your guest today informed us that Basij carry knives and are scary, but he wasn’t clear about where they were in the videos you were showing of the Tehran demonstrations or what evidence he had that they killed people. He didn’t say how many knife wounds had been reported, and he didn’t mention the arsons at all, even though they were on the screen for all of us to see even as he was speaking. He left us to speculate on who was doing the burning. He said nothing on whether the election was fraudulent, conceding, rather, along with the entire media herd, that election fraud isn’t the issue now. All America now advocates the overthrow of Ahmadinejad and the Ayatollah in the interest of freedom and women’s rights, and Democracy Now agrees. Do your reporters really think a majority of Iranian voters want to advance women’s rights or personal freedom?

The discussion on Democracy Now has been so one-sided as to be misleading. You presented irregularities affecting 3 million voters as a discrepancy of 3 million votes–grossly misleading–much like the mass media’s intentional mistranslations of Ahmadinejad’s words about Israel. You argue, without evidence, that the demonstrators are “reformers” who are “fighting for democracy.” Journalists shouldn’t use that sort of counterfactual metaphor, and you know your audience doesn’t feel informed by it.

Many of us believe that it’s impossible to fix a paper-ballot election without leaving evidence and that Ahmadinejad was almost certainly elected fair and square. We’re not surprised that an Iranian American filmmaker like your guest, able to enjoy a Margarita whenever he feels like having one, might want his aunts and cousins to have leaders other than the Ayatollah and Ahmadinejad, but we don’t expect Democracy Now to endorse him uncritically or allow his counterfactual assertions to go unanswered.

There’s been a spectacular rush to judgment that reporters can’t cover as an event, because they’re the story, and because the story disconfirms what’s been reported so far. For example, you reported, as confirmed fact, that Basij militia killed some university students. Since then there have been conflicting accounts, but you can’t report them because you rushed to judgment. And so Democracy Now presents conjecture. Who shot the bystander? How many are dead? Who sparked the violence? Were foreign governments involved? The correct answer is, “We don’t know yet.” Your answer has been in every case a judgment without evidence.

All this puts your credibility in doubt. News-consumers start to believe you’re there not so much to inform an audience as to draw one. If you’re trying to attract supporters you’re not doing journalism but hawking a point of view, we think. It occurs to us that maybe the accomplishments of Iran’s revolution and accurate translations of Ahmadinejad’s words just don’t sell. This leads us to wonder whether your Somalia reporting or Supreme Court reporting might also be promoting a point of view.

We can’t forget that we saw you disregard a credible poll of Iranian voters with a wave and a wink. You still haven’t discussed it. In fact, today you seemed to be saying that the fairness of the election is irrelevant and that the government should be overthrown even if it received a majority of the votes. We would expect Democracy Now to be concerned about the will of the majority. Even if you don’t like the outcome, you’re supposed to endorse it. “Democracy When?” we ask.

And ask. Did it escape your notice–it didn’t escape ours–that the events in Tehran are uncannily familiar, reminding us of demonstrations in Venezuela, when antigovernment snipers shot their own protesters and blamed it on the government? With the connivance of the US media? When did you stop following such leads?

Could you have failed to notice that the Tehran police, facing vast, hostile crowds, showed more forbearance than the Twin Cities cops who roughed you up in response to a miniscule assembly of compliant political tourists? And how about the irony of the US media, so upset over an election in Iran when they endorsed two stolen elections here? Too bad you can’t discuss any of that.

Democracy Brought to Heel

Monday, June 15th, 2009

The Iranian election was fixed. The word seems to have gone out in advance that the incumbent, a man notoriously hostile to the rich people of the world, was to be defeated, or else Iranians would feel the consequences. “Heed the lesson of Gaza,” the allies of Israel seemed to be saying. People of Gaza elected the wrong government, as readers may remember, and the US-Israel bloc isolated them and then crushed them. The Iranian people didn’t discern the lesson in that, and they will soon be feeling the consequences.

The provocation of the Iranian government seems to be a joint venture of the US government and mass media. The minute the anti-western returns began to come in, the media/government combine began churning out rumor and speculation to cast doubt on the election process. Their immediate reaction was that the count, showing a big majority for Ahmadinejad, was fabricated. Biden expressed suspicion on national television. One Brookings scholar said on NPR that it’s simply impossible that the incumbent could have got so many votes, and a former editor of the Jerusalem Post noted that Ahmadinejad outpolled every one of his opponents in their home towns, and wasn’t that obvious proof of election fraud?

Never mind that the turnout, big by any measure, was swelled by poor people, whose lot has been improved by the present government and who far outnumber the well-to-do. Never mind that the anti-government constituency consists mainly of city-dwelling bourgeoisie, who have done less well under Ahmadinejad and who make up the bulk of the “reform movement.” Don’t pay any attention to polls conducted by the Washington Post three weeks ago (but suppressed till now) showing roughly the same proportion of voters supporting the incumbent as in the official vote.

Fanning flames ignited in the course of a national election is a time-honored means of provoking violence, and this media-fueled unrest could serve as a pretext for armed attack. Israel and the American media have been wanting to teach Iranians the Palestine lesson for years, and this could provide the opportunity. People who allow their leaders to question the legitimacy of the Jewish state get killed in the 21st Century, and let’s not forget that. The media see this as a win-win process for Americans. If you think of the current wars as a board-game–as most Americans do–Iran completes the chain from Iraq to Pakistan and beyond.

There’s no free lunch in USA-land, and there’s no free election either. Where America rules–which is everywhere–you better elect our guy. Or die.

Bad Ideas

Monday, June 15th, 2009

We are participants in a national downgrade. Social institutions are failing–education, government, industry, religion–because values have been degraded. Greed and predation became virtues, and war became a sporting event. Liberty became a matter of privilege. Knowledge was discredited. How did this happen? How did this happen so suddenly?

If we look at history, we see that such failures have occurred again and again, here and in other lands. Bad ideas—especially the idea of superiority and the prospect of conquest—are usually at fault. When people go through failure, including catastrophic failure of institutional proportions, they really ought to examine their policies and practices for bad ideas.

Money

Money may be a bad idea. It’s just paper, and we don’t get to decide what it’s worth. Without money, we’d have to trade things of actual value, and that would be inconvenient and it would slow down the economic engine, but that might not be a bad thing. The trouble with money is not having any. Money is for those that have it. The more they have, the more they can get. For the rest of us, it comes in and goes out, and it seems like the harder we work to get it, the more of it we owe to the people who have it. Our debts are all down on paper somewhere, and somebody else gets to say how much our assets are worth. By my reckoning, most of the actual things I own will eventually belong to the people who have all the money, and I’ll have little or nothing.

As bad an idea as money may be, there will always be money. As long as people can read and do math and record their transactions, money—bills of debt—will circulate. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what the money is worth, and so you might have to unload your house or your labor at a rate below value, and sometimes everybody loses confidence in the value of money, but debtors have to keep it coming in or starve.

There have been attempts to regulate lending and borrowing so that we can depend on our money—after the crash of 1929, for instance—but the people with money invariably sabotage such efforts and the rest of us have to surrender our property when the balloon deflates. We should understand that money is debt, bringing it into conflict with basic personal and institutional values. It may simply be a bad idea to let it proliferate without limit.

Israel

Israel was a spectacularly bad idea. Yes, it was the duty of mankind in recovering from world war to establish a sanctuary for the displaced peoples of the world, for the surviving victims of would-be conquerors. Mankind should have put it in Arizona or Florida, however, not in Palestine. The world, with the no-establishment-of-religion USA in the lead, created a European religious state smack in the middle of an ancient, mostly peaceful, reasonably prosperous eastern-Mediterranean culture of diverse lineage. Could people in their right mind have thought such an implant could take? It’s been a festering sore ever since, and it seems as if it couldn’t have turned out any other way.

Most of the problem is that the sanctuary given to the victims was transformed into a claim of manifest destiny by their vengeful, sanctimonious issue, now terrorizing the grandchildren of those displaced to make room for the Europeans sixty years ago. Do these arrogant upstarts really believe God gave them land? Do they think I believe it? It’s not just Judaism, but all religion that is discredited by the continuation of this assault on essential values of peace, justice, and equity. Our institutions are at risk until we cut Israel loose and demand that the Jewish state and its conquests be demilitarized and subjected to confederation under international supervision.

The Presidency

The founders didn’t contemplate a world order with the US president at the head of it. Their writings suggest that they envisioned a government controlled by the people acting through Congress. The president would supervise the officers and departments created by Congress to administer the government, always according to rules acceptable to the people, expressed as the will of Congress.

Observers around the world claimed to be startled when the first president George Washington vacated his office in favor of his successor at the expiration of his second four-year term, but locals knew that Washington wouldn’t have dared to assume authority not granted by the Constitution. Neither would Congress ever have permitted such a usurpation.

Right up through Dwight Eisenhower, presidents have been held fairly closely to the rules. Franklin Roosevelt had to wait for Japan to attack before he could join World War II. Truman had to call the Korean War a “police action” to keep it legal, and the courts kept him from taking over private industry. From Kennedy on, there’s been no such delicacy, as successive chief executives simply seized power, putting the country through war, debt and discontent as a result.

Not that presidents before Kennedy did much better. Most presidents have been vain, ingratiating crackpots who have done more harm than good. Our presidents have proved that the ability to get votes is by no means a qualification to govern. We ought to have three presidents–the people’s top three choices–with equal authority, acting by majority. They would check and balance each other and guard against the neo-dictatorial regime we tolerate now, one that conflicts starkly with the fundamental values of republican government.

Three ideas, interacting with each other in a way that destroys our values and threatens our way of life. If you look at conditions and events closely and with an open mind, you discover that It’s not human nature, but bad ideas that have brought us to the brink of ruin. We should be engaged in a critical analysis of all the ideas that govern us and replace the ones that undermine our values.

Thugs for Jesus

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

The commitment to nonviolence puts peaceful people at risk in any conflict. Take the case of George Tiller, MD, shot to death by an assassin during a church service in Kansas last week. The doctor, who treated women only and whose services included abortion, had been shot before and took due precautions, but to no avail. Tiller was determined to persevere in his practice, and his murderer, driven by faith in Christ and unrestrained by principle or conscience, seized the advantage.

How might things have turned out if decent people–who support Dr. Tiller and a woman’s right to control her own body–were similarly unrestrained? Suppose that the forces of good could unleash people as violent as those who kill abortion doctors. What might happen if suddenly abortion-protesters’ houses and cars started going up in flames or if Randall Terry got locked in his trunk or Bill O’Reilly got his ear nicked off in the barber’s chair or if somebody put up a couple of hundred bucks to buy a jailhouse beating for Tiller’s killer? The antiabortion movement might evaporate, its members suddenly less interested in terrorizing pregnant women. Tiller might not have had to die.

George Tiller’s medical practice had for years been plagued by threats of violence and patient-harassing abortion protesters. Like all personnel at all abortion clinics nationwide, he knew he was in danger and he knew that the people who were threatening him were capable of great violence. And he must have heard the incitements to violence broadcast by right-wing demagogues like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. Dr. Tiller, a man of nonviolent conviction, would have balked at the idea of a pre-emptive strike on the domestic terrorists that eventually took his life, but with his death, we survivors might not be inclined to such tolerance.

I don’t know any non-Fascists who openly advocate violence to forestall violence, but that may be mere political correctness. Satanic figures like Limbaugh drive us to desperation, and even pacifists can turn nasty when friends and family are endangered. Dr. Tiller may not have been family to most of us, but he was one of us, and his murder weighs on all of us. The punishment of his assassin by due process of law might not suffice.

It’s not unreasonable to feel this way. The law-enforcement people charged with protecting Tiller and his clinic can’t be relied on for protection against Christian gangs, whose absurd claim of a license to kill for Jesus seems to hold sway with the authorities. In fact, the police and FBI had a crack at Tiller’s assassin only a day before the murder, after he was caught on videotape vandalizing a clinic in Kansas City. The cops passed up the opportunity to haul him in, and he stalked and shot Dr. Tiller a day later.

Eventually, peace-loving people may begin to look for other recourse, above and beyond anything the law–or absence of law–can offer in these disordered times. The tactics of the anti-abortion terrorists, including assassination, must be reckoned effective, since they keep many frightened women from exercising their rights and make women’s clinics a dangerous place to work. In the natural progression of conflict, the terrorists’ violent tactics, effective as they are, might eventually be applied to the just defense of the clinics and women they terrorize.