Tuesday, October 21, 2008

1996

I’ve occasionally mentioned in recent and not-so-recent Posts that Bill Clinton’s years represented a darkness not yet fully explored (as if Reagan’s administrations weren’t dark enough). In fact, if 1968 was a huge failure to re-ignite the democratic politics of the common weal – ignited in FDR’s first two administrations, then layered over with the thick concrete of World War 2’s centralization and the Cold War’s National Security State – then the early 1990s were a huge failure to grasp the stupendous opportunity offered by the disappearance of the Soviet Union. And granted that the first years of that ‘Moment’ were under Bush the First, Clinton’s election represented an opportunity for the Democrats to grasp and wield a chance for ‘democracy’ such as the world had never seen.

Ah well. That was then.

It occurs to me that the Year of Grace 1996 was gravid with portent. We recall that with the Soviet Union gone and the Russian government not quite ready for prime time, Clinton had in 1995 actually taken to flexing American might in the Balkans; this on top of sending to Russia a gaggle of neoliberal, elite university business and economy experts whose incompetence for the task was only exceeded by their kleptomaniac efforts at self-enrichment.

We here were perhaps the only folks on the planet who didn’t notice the irony. The Russians surely did, and in their ham-handed way, took very precise notes.

But on to 1996.

Alan Nasser, in an 8/2/07 article, “The Threat of U.S. Fascism: An Historical Precedent”, at http://www.commondreams.org/, points out that in 1996 Lesley Stahl on ’60 Minutes’ asked then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright “whether she thought that the removal of Saddam from power was worth killing a half million children”. This question was prompted by the fact that under the parameters of Clinton’s bombing sanctions against Iraq, “Clinton bombed Iraq several times weekly for eight years”.

Many of Us might recall vaguely that factoid floating by back in those days, ‘in illo tempore’ as the Latin of the Gospel would put it. Nasser reports that “Defense Information Agency documents, now made available through the Freedom of Information Act, reveal that the strategy of the bombing was to extensively bomb water purification facilities and power generating facilities with the explicit intention to spread diseases that would affect children. The idea was to pressure ordinary Iraqis to overthrow Saddam, with the knowledge that if they did so, the pedicide would cease. [italics mine]” Around the table at Beltway dinner parties this sort of thing is referred to as ‘reasons of state’; in less toney and toned venues it is called a ‘war crime’ – but such are the vulgarities of the unwashed.

The British medical journal ‘The Lancet’ calculated carefully and came up with a figure of 467,000 Iraqi children dead; the number of injured, wounded, and traumatized children was beyond calculation … by any earthly means, certainly, although bible-thumping, big-haired, shiny-suited chaplains on the Beltway A-list would no doubt assert that a bullet from America’s gun is a bullet from God’s gun, as God or Goering had publicly affirmed. And as for the British … they no longer made history. Pass the grape juice, and the bourbon, please. And if you have no communion bread, why a Moon Pie’ll do jes’ fine, maam, and thank ya vurrry mutch. It says a great deal that Moon Pies are available at Beltway dinner parties now, and have been for some time. It’s what ‘the little people’ eat. And ‘little’ they are there inside the Beltway – ‘small’, actually. Very small. In very big ways.

Back to Stahl, where Albright replied – with the full weight of her statuesque, matronly, and feminine authority – “Yes, it was worth it”. Thus the fruits of the revolution that would dethrone the violence of the masculine baboon, at the price of gutting any pretense of a democratic politics. In an echo of the Vietnam-era military lunacy, a woman of high political rank shrugged out a brazen ‘we had to destroy the children in order to save them’, a grotesquerie that surpassed even the woman Janet Reno’s assertion a couple-three years earlier that – come to think of it – she had authorized the Waco massacre because she was worried that the children were being ‘abused’ – said children thereupon having been burned to death when the wooden structure in which they were sheltering was deliberately attacked by police and federal agents with military-grade explosives and weaponry. The local volunteer fire department, just a couple of decades-old apparatus some distance away (this was rural Texas) – the feds had not thought to place on standby alert. Their foresight had not improved by September 11, some eight years later.

In that very same year, nineteen-ninety-and-six, the sex-offender mania, hugely fearful that ‘the children’ were at the mercy of hordes of slavering, stranger-perverts, burst into the realm of Federal legislation, when the parents of Megan Kanka of New Jersey affirmed that if they had only known about the proclivities of the man dwelling across the street they would most certainly have taken more precautions – though their own neighbors clearly recalled to local reporters at the time that his presence and proclivities were common knowledge in the neighborhood. But in an emergency facts don’t matter, and this was surely an emergency. (And perhaps in some future the Kankas will emerge into truth as did the famous Ms. Roe of 'Roe v. Wade' who - many years after the fact - acknowledged in a by-the-by that No, she hadn't really had the problem that the Roe case was all about, and that she kinda felt bad about all the fuss that she had started; as Ms. Roe was seduced by 'facts don't matter in an emergency' (nor 'truth' in a revolution) so as to shatter the American common identity, so too the Kankas may feel a bit bad that their little bit of non-truth had helped start a wildfire that is still consuming the foundations of the American constitutional sensibility. But by then ... )

As the military had borrowed tactics and rocketry and even the shape of its helmets from Hitler’s Wehrmacht, ‘registries’ and assorted restrictions as to employment, residence, and sundry other essentials of even a minimally sustainable life were borrowed from … another agency among Hitler’s inventive bureaucracies; although, to be sure, the maniac with the little mustache had borrowed much of it from the maniac with the much larger mustache in the East, where that Wehrmacht would eventually be sent for a shock-and-awe settling of the hash that was to prove – ach! – more lethal in the recoil than in the projectile.

History is nothing if not inventive, even when it’s repetitive. Which is pretty good, for something supposedly dead. The hell-hot ironies! But Hitler knows that now; what he thought he was making turned out to have a life of its own. Almost like Dr. Frankenstein’s science project. Thus science-fiction and horror come back not as fantasy but as reality.

And in that same year, of the Independence of the United States the two-hundred-and-twentieth, the Telecommunications Act was signed into law with a cheerible smile by Mr. President Clinton. This Act allowed the ownership of the news media to be concentrated in the hands of a relatively few corporate owners. Thus the government need have no fear that spunky and irrepressible investigative reporters of yore, proud of their outsider status – think Kolchak – would be poking around to discover the ‘real’ story, or what was once known as ‘truth’. As a generation of such folk retired or died off, new hires could save their expensive suits and hair-dos by simply publishing as ‘news’ what the government flacks would provide, by fax – the wonders of modern science!

Such ‘news’ as would provide gripping photo-ops were thoughtfully provided by agitprop advocacies, unwittingly (it is to be hoped) fronting and providing cover for the real outrages being perpetrated under color of law and national security and – of course – ‘for the children’.

All three things in one year. There’s almost a symmetry to them. And they all seem to be connected.

Can it be coincidence?

I tend to think not. In matters of state and of high import, coincidences – like the old breakfast cereal – are for kids.

No, I’m not saying a ‘conspiracy’. I’m saying something much worse. That matters have reached a point among Us – and did quite a few years ago – where so much national activity is off-the-rails, rudderless, unguided and unconfined and unlimited and un-Shaped by any overriding principles, that the thick, dense, vigorous sheets of flame are now – as in the firestorms created in concentrated bombing of cities – combining in ways unpredictable except that they will be even more lethally omnivorous than any individual fire could be. But always remaining ‘fire’ – insatiable, destructive, respectful of no boundaries, tempered by no mercy or obligation or responsibility, by no virtue or fear of sin or self-abasement, by no fear of God or of any millstone being hung around its neck.

Fire does answer to ‘the sea’. But it takes a lot of water to make a ‘sea’. If there were a million rains as there were once imagined to be a million points of light – well, that would do some good work.

That, indeed, is what is needed at this point. A People that can start to exercise a confining effect against the fire: like Southern California fire commanders, who will seek to contain and – if the opportunity arises – get to the heart of the fire.

If a patient were to come into the office of a prison psychiatrist, proudly asserting that he (or – most surely now – she) is outraged at the abuse of local children, while refusing to acknowledge the photographic evidence that he (or she) had purposely and deliberately stalked and killed huge numbers of children in a distant city … well, you can imagine that the patient would be coming into the sessions for a long, long time.

Just so, looking at the United States in 1996, the same type of verrrry disturbing symptoms seem clearly in evidence.

And if the patient then professes tearily to the psychiatrist that s/he doesn’t understand why other people avoid contact and seem to harbor ‘negative feelings’ and the patient ‘can’t think why’, except that people like to hate, and people especially like to hate those who ‘do what has to be done’ and who ‘do what is truly good’ … well, you can imagine that such a patient is already slipping the mystic cords of sanity. Prognosis: poor. At best.

And if such a patient then adds that s/he was ordered by God to do it all – deputized, actually … well, there are places for that sort of thing, and the bars on the windows aren’t to keep out the occasional burglar.

And here We are.

A healthy sense of the reality of one’s self would be a good start. One’s gifts but also one’s tendencies to weakness. And above all, a sense of one’s limits – not as an ‘esteem’-smashing downer, but as the first step in developing a social self – one capable of monitoring its own behavior and feelings and expectations while carrying on a set of working relationships with others of its kind. So that one might establish a just and a lasting peace within one’s self and among all other people.

When the sense of limits goes, the sense of self does not ‘grow’, it metastasizes. And this is as true for governments and nations as it is for individual patients. And while the ‘laws’ of economics that govern an individual person may not be the same as those that govern the economies of nations (governments, apparently, can spend well beyond their income, and should), yet the rules governing behavior toward other human beings apply universally. Yes, Hitler said that when a war is won, nobody will ask if you told the truth in the beginning – but did that work out for him?

I suspect more than a few governments around today – and what is a government but a collection of human beings exercising power over and for other human beings? – have fallen into the trap of thinking exactly as he did, except that they wouldn’t make the same mistakes he made. Yet they did. Yet they have.

And here We are.

If Obama wins the election – and what else can one rationally hope for? – let Us not allow Ourselves more than the briefest moment of rejoicing. He goes to the White House with a challenge facing him as great as that which faced Lincoln. The country has lost its integrity – although not in so obvious a way as in 1861.

Worse, there are far too many citizens who are not willing or not able to discharge the office of Citizen, as a member of The People. We are not rubber-stamps to be dragged out once every few years to stand in lines and cast a vote and then go back to the mall or the second job. While Ours is not a plebiscitary democracy where everybody has to vote on the specifics of every law that has passed, yet the tasks of the Citizen know no season: We must inform Ourselves, and then make Ourselves known to each other and to those elected (and damned well sworn) to represent Our interests.

We must educate Mr. Obama (and most surely Mr. Biden) into the tasks of ‘presiding’ over a true and actual People, and to do that We must become a People.

So many never understood what it means to be a Citizen: they did not come here to assume the burdens of a functioning democracy, or were born here so recently that the assorted debaucheries of several decades seem natural to them. And far too many were born here long enough ago to know, but have given themselves up to the apathy and distraction that is precisely desired by those who would make Us serfs, peasants and donkeys.

And collaborators in dark and bloody deeds. Did the German citizenry think in that Spring of 1945 that by sticking a freshly laundered white bedsheet out the second-floor window they would escape the price to be paid for what was done in their name? And not just ‘in their name’: as Maria Doria Russell points out acutely in the last line of “A Thread of Grace”, Hitler never personally fired a weapon in all the years of his monstrous, demonic Reich; “all the harm he ever did was done for him by others”.

This is no note to go out on, if go We must.

So let me borrow a little more of Churchill: for all the troubles that beset Us and infect Us, this election is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but if We brace Ourselves to Our duties, it may be the end of the beginning.

And that is a start. And a good one.
_________________________

Addendum:

I’ve just come across an article printed on Truthout, but originally from ‘The Women’s Media Center’ by one Lorelei Kelly. I don’t go trolling in these shallow, murky waters of advocacy where actuality and calculated fantasy are deliberately confused, but it comes via the Truthout site and is relevant to the Post above. The article by Kelly is dated 23 October and is entitled ‘National Security: Women Must Define the Priorities Debate’; http://www.truthout.org/102308WA

Ms. Kelly asserts that “What were once considered women’s issues are now squarely in the middle of domestic and international debates”. Well, women’s issues have always been begging to be in the midst of domestic debate, but that didn’t happen anywhere near enough, and – I’ve been saying – that as a consequence, large numbers of voters of both sexes (the memos seem to indicate that ‘gender’ means something else and one does try to stay abreast) who may have been rabidly misogynist, or simply doubtful or skeptical or uncertain or just didn’t like having an end-run done on them, simply started voting Republican (nor am I suggesting that they were well-served by their new hosts). That was a hardly unforeseeable consequence of trying to pull the old Leninist end-run-by-the-vanguard-elite play.

Continuing, she asserts that “the old guns versus butter line is obsolete … the U.S. Army now considers girls’ education a vital link to achieving long-term stability”. Well, if it’s true – and what is too ludicrous to dismiss outright these days? – then part of the reason We may be in such deep doodoo on the Eastern Front is that ‘the Army’ is detailing resources to school-teaching duties. Of course, given the overall playbook that’s governed this 2WF advocacy for decades, it may well be that the Army is putting x-amount of dollars aside into such a category in order to assure xxx-amount of dollars for actual war-fighting, from Congresspersons who are still trying to pander to Identities while demonstrating how much they support the troops. A two-fer where only the frontline loses; ‘collateral damage’ of the Revolution, comrade sisters – some eggs must be broken to make any great omelette – though we may be thankful that it’s mostly sperm that are being broken … but let us keep that among ourselves, because only the vanguard is strong enough to hear the truth.

“A global legacy of women’s priorities already informs policy debates about a new strategy for U.S. security. For decades, women the world over have championed the safety of people through positive social change.” The usual glorious, self-serving boilerplate. And men’s priorities have been to champion the non-safety of people? Or is it that ‘women’ simply are doing what ‘men’ are also doing? Or ‘men’ simply doing what ‘women’ are doing? Or is this thinking too much?
And just where in all this ‘safety’ does Janet Reno fit in? Madeline Albright? Nancy Pelosi? Condoleeza Rice? The rest of Bush’s bobby-sox and roadie squad, whether wielding pom-poms or bomb-bombs? Hilary Clinton who apparently didn’t mind what hubby was doing to Iraqi children with his bombing strategy? The (female) Army Major-General who didn’t think wounded troops at Walter Reed were getting bad treatment? Or are these just a few feminist bad apples? Or am I being too harsh because really women are no better than men and shouldn’t be held to a higher standard of morality – even if they claim to be operating by such higher levels of principle … ?

But … if that’s the situation, and women are no better than men, then what have We been going through for the past thirty frakking years? And: why? Was Jesse Jackson right that when all is said and done it just comes done to slicing the pie?

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