How To Spot a Hypocrite

How do we distinguish trustworthy politicians from hypocrites? On the budget war, there is a simple test.



Great leader to people: “If you want to lead the world, bite the bullet. World leadership takes effort, determination, sacrifice. And we are the greatest people in the world. Therefore, you (not me personally, of course) will sacrifice your environment, your health care, your national parks, your safety (running the world means making enemies, after all), your kids’ education, and your civil liberties. That’s the sacrifice part. In return, we (including me personally, of course) will then rule the world.”

If you like that, you are empire material; if not, you’re a wuss. No matter. The point is, the above statement is honest.

Perhaps the fundamental problem in U.S. politics today is distinguishing honesty from hypocrisy. How do “we the people” spot hypocrisy? Actually, it’s easy.

Take the budget, for example. If a politician in Washington is discussing the popular topic of how to cut the budget (we all know that politicians hate spending our hard earned tax dollars), that politician will offer ways and means of cutting costs (praise his soul). If he does not start by noting that the only significant source of potential savings lies in the war budget, then you, dear citizen, have just discovered a hypocrite. This is the dirty little secret that everyone knows and that everyone (who is anyone in the ruling elite) has agreed not to mention (“vatever you do, don’t mention the war!!”).

If you think I am being too flip about a subject that is frankly risking the destruction of the American way of life, I suggest you read the writings of Nobel Prize Winner Joseph Stiglitz for the sobering details about the cost of American empire. At the moment, the mathematics are not my interest.

My point here is simpler: the ruling elite (composed of the Republican and Democratic wings of the American Conservative Party, Wall Street executives, Big Pharma,  Big Oil, and of course those who preside over the manufacture of all those weapons) will to a man refuse to admit that significant budget savings are only possible by cutting the war budget because the war budget is their personal priority. Not the wars per se, the war budget…the massive mercenary armies, the assumed need for more weapons than are possessed by all the rest of the world put together, the endless construction of city-sized overseas bases to defend against threats that did not exist until the bases provoked opposition. To be more clear, the “war budget” is not a cheap attempt at sarcasm: it is quite real, encompassing the official U.S. defense budget plus all those little hidden extras like the multi-trillion dollar war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, and the endless billions in backroom deals to stimulate Israeli militarism. For those of you interested in the underlying dynamics of things, the latter point is a neat example: we hand endless offensive weapons to Israel (almost none of which are designed to prevent terrorist attacks on the Israeli people), thus tempting the most aggressive politicians to use them, thus provoking general hostility toward Israel, thus “justifying” the provision of further arms because now the security of the Israeli people truly has been endangered; for arms manufacturers, it is a no-lose process, and it comes in handy for those who need global tension to justify empire-building, too.)

All this is good business, and it is the business of the elite. The members of the elite are not stupid. Well, not that stupid. They know what they want: the good (for them, not for you obviously) business of empire. They also know what they do not want: they do not want cuts in arms production, they do not want to trim the monstrous army of Defense Department contractors making semi-private war throughout the Muslim world (those private armies are gold-plated and drive the best SUVs), they do not want to be forced to provide health care to people who cannot pay top dollar for the service, they do not want their Wall Street gambling habit (using your mortgage payments) to be taxed, they do not want to spend corporate earnings for stuff like clean drinking water, they do not want teachers’ unions demanding higher teacher pay (which would lead to more educated and therefore more argumentative citizens).

This essay could have been far more detailed, with lots of statistics, but others, such as the eminent Stiglitz, have done that work. What I hoped to do here was make the message clear, and I don’t know how to make it any clearer than this. Now you understand the Washington budget debate. Have a nice day.

Liberty: Defend It or Lose It

Liberty is a fragile achievement requiring constant care. Some think it should be treated as a gated community, in which “I” should hide, excluding “you.” Others view liberty as a common good best shared. Both groups, however, surely agree that to take liberty for granted is to weaken it. Consider, in this context, the significance of some events currently taking place in the Mideast and the U.S.
Across the Arab world, people are putting their lives on the line by publicly protesting, often in the face of both laws prohibiting freedom of speech and security forces with a reputation for torture and murder. Simultaneously, Arab societies are now building civil society. In Egypt, for example, a free union federation has just been organized.
Meanwhile, on March 2 Israel totally closed a border crossing into Gaza via which limited but critically important food aid was being transferred into the ghetto, thus intensifying its policy of collective punishment. In addition, yesterday used F-16s to attack a university building under construction in Gaza. This is perhaps understandable: if you wish permanently to repress a population, it is indeed useful to prevent them from being educated. And this is not an isolated incident of Israeli efforts to prevent Palestinians from becoming educated. On the West Bank, an armed band of Israeli terrorists from the illegal settlements there—settlements recently supported by the U.S. government at the U.N.–attacked Palestinian villagers.
In the U.S., the right to bargain collectively, won under near-revolutionary conditions during the Great Depression, is now once again under attack, albeit by peaceful, fairly democratic, though arguably illegal methods. In addition, the U.S. government is holding a soldier naked in jail every night “for his own protection.” Having kept him in confinement for months, much of it in solitary, the government has evidently succeeded in so damaging his psyche that he might stuff his shirt in his mouth and kill himself. Even Solzhenitsyn’s tales of the Gulag Archipelago didn’t include this legal tactic.
Now, these are just random events and do not constitute proof of which country has a more decent government or a more responsible society or a stronger democracy. But these events do suggest something about the direction in which various societies in this world are moving, and I would like to suggest that it would be in your interest, as a citizen, to pay attention.

Identifying the Black Shoots of Fascism


If any lesson has been learned in recent years, it should be that achieving democracy does not constitute “the end of history.” Leaving aside the degree to which any society ever has “achieved” democracy, to do so would be more like a mountain climber gaining the peak – the view is splendid, but living there takes effort. Nothing is easier than sliding back down the peak of democracy.

The weeds of authoritarianism or outright fascism sprout easily in fertile democratic soil. Authoritarian figures like nothing better than to exploit the  civil liberties of democracy in order to kill it. It is not clear that even a perfect democracy would be stable, but certainly no known democratic society–especially one with a population as ignorant and amenable to manipulation by politicians with private agendas as that of the U.S.–can be considered stable. A democratic society is a mountain climber perched on a very slippery slope.
Everyone who values civil liberties should keep their eyes peeled for the following (short list of) the black shoots of fascism. Do you see any sprouting in the garden of your democracy?

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Black Shoots of Fascism

Patriotism tests for professors
Police failing to prevent mass ethnic violence
Violence against civil rights activists
Public figures attacking patriotism of peace activists
Public figures calling for murder of foreign leaders
Arrests of investigative journalists
Arrests of people meeting dissidents
Government closing of critical newspapers
Building “security walls” that enclose minorities
Advocating the expulsion of a minority
Police violence against peaceful demonstrators
Arresting activists on the basis of vague, non-falsifiable charges
Paramilitary violence
The open protection by police or the military of paramilitary gangs committing violence
Outlawing the language of a minority
Advocacy of war
Glorification of violence
Advocacy of nuclear aggression
Advocacy of preventive war
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Pull them up while they are small.

Vice and Virtue

Talk about “vice” and “virtue” is just trouble-making. When you are part of a team, your duty is to “be a team player.”
Spain in this generation is a fine democracy led by a moderate regime, a place open-minded Americans (Americans not yet addicted to empire) may look up to as something of a model, but today Spain’s most famous judge–Baltasar Garzon–is being taken to trial with the threat of being jailed essentially for the rest of his life because he is challenging the Spanish conspiracy to pretend that fascism never existed in that land [Vicky Short, “Judge Baltasar Garzon suspended for investigating Franco’s crimes,” World Socialist Website 5/27/10].

The case is causing consternation both in Spain and abroad, mainly because it was brought by three ultra right-wing organizations. Among these were the Falange Española, the Fascist party once presided over by Franco himself — whose military coup of 1936 sparked the bloody, three-year Spanish Civil War, and culminated in a long dictatorship that ended only with his death in 1975. Historians estimate that Franco’s postwar reprisals cost the lives of 100,000 people.

Garzón’s many supporters have responded to the case with dismay, moved by its outrageous symmetry: a highly respected judge brought to trial, for attempting to try crimes, on an accusation by the disciples of the regime that perpetrated those crimes in the first place. [Julius Purcell, “Baltasar Garzon, “General Franco’s latest victim,” The Atlantic.com  5/29/10]

In the U.S. today not one former official is on trial for having lied about the reasons for launching a war of aggression, not one person is being forced in court to justify advocating “preventive” war, not one official is being called to account for supporting death squads, not one official is being tried for undermining constitutional guarantees of civil liberties, not one is facing a hearing for attacking a city or providing arms to a state practicing collective punishment against an ethnic minority or a class of poor farmers sitting on land needed by rich cattle barons., not one has even been fired for advocating nuclear war against a non-nuclear country. Hardly a single judicial action exists today against those who cut corners and gambled with the existence of the Gulf of Mexico as a biosphere; hardly a single judicial action is investigating the possible criminal behavior of individuals whose financial gambles put millions out of work and certainly none are hauling to court officials who passed laws designed to facilitate those gambles or officials whose job it was to regulate the gamblers.
There is nothing new about this dilemma.

From the most ancient times justice has been a two-part concept: virtue triumphs, and vice is punished.


We have been fortunate enough to live to a time when virtue, though it does not triumph, is nonetheless not always tormented by attack dogs. Beaten down, sickly, virtue has now been allowed to enter in all its tatters and sit in the corner, as long as it doesn’t raise its voice.


However, no one dares say a word about vice….”Why open old wounds?”….


What kind of disastrous path lies ahead of us if we do not have the chance to purge ourselves of that putrefaction rotting inside our body?…


What are we to do? Someday our descendants will describe our several generations as generations of driveling do-nothings. First we submissively allowed them to massacre us by the millions, and then with devoted concern we tended the murderers in their prosperous old age….


But let us be generous. We will not shoot them….But for the sake of our country and our children we have the duty to seek them all out and bring them all to trial! Not to put them on trial so much as their crimes….


It is unthinkable in the twentieth century to fail to distinguish between what constitutes an abominable atrocity that must be prosecuted and what constitutes that “past” which “ought not to be stirred up.”


We have to condemn publicly the very idea that some people have the right to oppress others. In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousandfold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations. [Aleksandr SolzhenitsNY: Harper Perennial, 2007, 175-178)]

Meanwhile back in the West, heroic nuclear whistleblower Moredechai Vannunu is going back to jail; his 18-year sentence was not enough. In the U.S., Wall Street fraud-investigating whistleblowers [“Silencing the whistleblowers,” Democracy Now 5/20/10] were fired. Protect the guilty; punish the trouble-makers. And we wonder why our country seems so confused.

Climbing the Ladder of History

Human history is the story of man’s climb up the ladder of justice. The West now stands on the step of welcoming the Muslim world. The “long war” so glibly threatened by extremists of all stripes will be the penalty for failure to take this step.

Human history is, or at least one must so hope, the story of man’s climb up the ladder of social justice. Skipping a few steps, let us zero in on the history of the U.S. and summarize it in a sentence: if the first step was declaration of self-evident truths (and a bit of a mix-up with the day’s superpower), the second step was the inclusion of black men in the dream, and the third step was the inclusion of all women.

Each step brought the next into focus. Articulation of natural rights of humans led logically to abolition. Welcoming male ex-slaves as citizens and voters led logically to welcoming women. With each step, the emerging society improved. If the Declaration of Independence gave the vision inspiring the first step, then Lincoln’s warning that a house divided cannot survive articulated the vision of the second.

That double vision of self-evident rights exercised within a united house should today inspire us to raise our sights to the necessary fourth step. It is now time for the West to articulate a vision of a global political system that will welcome Muslims.

So difficult was it for American society to conceive of a social structure including black men that a near-suicidal fratricidal war had to be fought to accomplish it. Society matured a bit as the result of that lesson and outright war between men and women proved unnecessary to accomplish the next restructuring. Difficult though it was to carry through the resolution to share power, each invitation, each compromise with those formerly marginalized strengthened and enriched society. Now it is not national society but global society that must be restructured.

The immediate challenge is one that in particular faces the party leading the resistance, Americans, and the challenge is to articulate both the goal of inclusiveness and a practical process of achieving it. This cannot be simple. That slavery made a mockery of the Declaration of Independence today seems obvious beyond any need for comment, but it took American society a full generation of agonizing argument and another century of refinements even to approach racial equality. Again, the logic of a white man granting to his wife the same rights that he had granted to male ex-slaves today also seems obvious, but that step took three more generations.

Can reform of the complex global political system prove any easier? Provision will have to be made for tribes that choose not to modernize and states demanding a reform of what today are highly discriminatory nuclear rules. But start we must if we are to avoid the Long War nightmare evoked by extremists on both sides.

Education: Another Option for Helping Afghanistan

Here’s another option Obama overlooked on Afghanistan: funding a national educational system.

The thesis of “Hammering Islamic Radicals” was that Obama’s troop surge into Afghanistan solidifies U.S. relapse into the neo-con foreign policy based on force, effectively institutionalizing an aberrant, extremist position that ignores a broad range of policy options. While a few of these options were noted, the article’s thesis stands on weak ground unless it can be demonstrated that, in fact, the policy options Obama is ignoring truly do constitute a “broad range” of serious options.

Making that case will require significant thought and research. Any reader with suggestions is cordially invited to offer them. Here, I simply wish to add one option that was suggested by a reporter interviewed on Dalgit Daliwan’s TV news program on December 4:

Fund a national educational system for all the Afghan students currently studying in madrassas so as to expose them to a modern education rather than an education that will arguably prepare them to be Taliban recruits.

I do not know how radical the curriculum of Afghan madrassas may be. One could also question the degree to which, given the deplorable condition of the Afghan government at all levels, how radical education should be in order to prepare young Afghans to build the kind of government they need. But “funding an Afghan educational system” should not be taken to mean imposing regime-controlled curriculum; indeed, the experience of an innovative new compromise madrassa in, of all places, violent Helmand Province, suggests that education might actually be a topic on which radicals and the regime can hold a useful dialogue.

But when the total cost of such an educational system for a year would only be equivalent to the cost of some 20 U.S. soldiers, according to the interviewee (i.e., $20 million)—cookie crumbs off the $30B table of military expenses for Obama’s new military surge, this is obviously an option worth considering. In fact, even under the violence-addicted Bush-Cheney Administration, the U.S. invested money in the Afghan educational system, one small Republican idea that would have been worth focusing on.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Other options include –

1. Campaign to eradicate heroin labs

2. Stress desire for Muslim rather than Western “boots on the ground”;

3. Offer the police a living wage.

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Does anyone have more information about the current Afghan educational system?

Can anyone offer additional options that Obama might have considered to complement or substitute for his overwhelming focus on military force?

Cultural Taboos Threaten American Progress

American culture is evolving in ways that pose increasingly dangerous and unnecessary constraints on the ability of American society to imagine effective solutions to the highly interconnected set of foreign policy, economic policy, environmental policy, and health policy problems it currently faces.

Politics in the U.S.—at the level of policy-making—has a degree of rigidity, narrow-mindedness, and short-sightedness that causes enormous harm to the security and quality of life of Americans. The artificial constraints that American voters and policy-makers impose on themselves, the unstated and unreasoned taboos that are accepted without a second thought, have the effect of preventing Americans from taking full advantage of their vast natural and intellectual resources. The result is a set of interlocked policies that needlessly undermine American security and worsen the general quality of life in American society.

Taboos obstructing honest evaluation of fundamental policy choices prevent American society from moving effectively in new and desperately needed directions. The American system is based on open debate to find answers to complex problems. That is the best system yet discovered for resolving national problems, but it only works when society faces its options honestly. New directions do exist for addressing this set of challenges, but the roads will only be found if we are willing to look for them.

Ironically, these fundamental decisions—precisely the ones meriting the most meticulous public debate—are typically the public policy decisions made with the least care, the least debate, the least thought. The results include a foreign policy based on military force even when force intensifies hostility; health care as a business rather than a right; environmental policy favoring consumption now rather than preservation for future generations; and an economic policy that has more or less steadily been enriching the super-rich and impoverishing the rest since the Reagan era.

The careful reader may notice an underlying similarity among the four policy arenas: a foreign policy based on force benefits the military-industrial complex, an environmental policy favoring consumption benefits corporations looking for short-term profits, the economic policy benefits the Wall Street, banking, and real estate businesses; the current health care system benefits the insurance and medical businesses. And all four harm the average American.

That American society now faces a crisis in each of these four major policy arenas–foreign policy, economic policy, environmental policy, and health care policy–is now fortunately becoming widely recognized, though at an enormous cost (a decade of war against radical Islam, a still-deepening recession made in Washington, declining environment [see the New York Times’ expose this past week of corporate poisoning of the nation’s drinking water], and one of the least effective health care systems in the modern world).

The economic decline of American society, just to take one example, over the last half century is easy to see if one only recalls that in the 1950s, a man could support a middle class family on his salary alone, that by the 1990s a middle class lifestyle required that both husband and wife work, and that today a rising percentage of families face the perilous situation of the wife being a temp without benefits while the husband is unemployed. The overall economic trend is not “a natural result of the rest of the post-WWII world catching up.” That excuse contains just enough truth to be marketable, but the real reason is socialism for the rich. “Socialism for the rich” is not just a cute slogan, though few people ever stopped to think about what it really means until last fall’s billionaire bailout brought the idea to everyone’s attention.

Given the current recession, perhaps the most obvious example of “socialism for the rich” is taxing wages but not the profits from derivatives. This policy, if one thinks about it, sends the clear message that the U.S. government discourages people from holding honest jobs and prefers that the rich gamble on the market and, in particular, gambles by inventing financial tricks that enable the rich to evade legal requirements for collateral, instead building financial houses of cards. A more traditional but equally scandalous type of “socialism for the rich” is allowing huge lumber companies to clear-cut national forests (perhaps the most precious natural resource in the possession of the American people) virtually without paying any compensation at all to the thus cheated American taxpayer and, needless to say, without being required to restore the forests. Anyone who is shocked at this revelation need only drive on a side road somewhere in Oregon, notice the fine line of trees, and then walk 50 feet off the pavement: behind the screen, all you will find in a shocking number of places is a national desert.

Similar analyses could easily be made for foreign policy, environmental policy, and health care policy. The broader point is to figure out why Americans have such trouble reforming public policy. It is far more subtle than just “crooked politicians.” American voters consistently support politicians who favor socialism for the rich, environmental destruction, military force as the core of foreign policy, and health care as a business to enrich insurance companies rather than a natural right of all Americans. Intellectually serious reform candidates ran in the recent presidential election under Republic, Democratic, and several third party labels.

At the heart of this self-defeating American attitude toward public policy lies American culture, and unfortunately American culture is evolving in exactly the wrong direction. In only the last couple decades the trends toward irresponsibility (“it’s society’s fault”), winner-take-all, and bullying (whether it’s bullying your neighbor on the highway or Muslims worldwide) have become all too visible. Combine these negative trends in general culture with some highly pernicious cultural taboos that prohibit the honest public analysis of our public policy options, and the result is a social system condemned to self-defeating governance.

Maybe violence and overwhelming military superiority are the only way to achieve security. Maybe we want a country with sick poor people and great health care reserved for the “important” people. Maybe we can destroy the environment to our heart’s content and just keep inventing new ways of surviving (yes, I actually read a book making exactly this argument). Maybe the historic capitalist boom-bust cycle is the best of all possible worlds. Maybe…but that conclusion is not obvious. It deserves debate.

Alternatively, maybe allowing Muslims (e.g., Palestinians) to have their own countries and to play by the same rules as everyone else (e.g., nuclear policy toward Israel and Iran) would lead to a more stable and secure world. Maybe the provision of free, public, basic health care with the emphasis on nutrition and disease prevention for all would create a richer and happier and more productive society. Maybe saving our forests for our children would create a stronger America. Maybe America would be a better country if tax policy were designed to encourage honest labor and discourage irresponsible forms of Wall Street or real estate financial manipulations.

These are all fair questions. They deserve debate.

  • Should the U.S. continue to give a blank check to right-wing Israeli militarists trying to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from their own land? Or should the U.S. support Israel reformers?
  • Should Iran be denied the opportunity to emerge as a regional power or be forced to accept limitations on its nuclear capabilities that are not imposed on Israel or even Pakistan or India?
  • Should we learn to build more environmentally acceptable homes (i.e., not out of wood) in order to save our remaining national forests?
  • Should we keep the current health care business that has produced the richest medical and insurance companies on earth or pay to create a one-class society where the poor and the unemployed have basic health care?

Unfortunately, such core questions about public policy are considered “off-limits.” Or, at least, those profiting from the current system are trying very hard to sell that viewpoint.

Sure, everyone talks about health care and foreign policy and economics and the environment, but look at content of the debates: it focuses on details. Should we, perhaps, modify the degree of Wall Street regulation a bit (while still leaving the main offenders in business)? Should we, perhaps, talk to international adversaries (in order to get them to do what we previously used the threat of violence to achieve)? Should we, perhaps, add a few soldiers in uniform to your Muslim country of choice or should we use mercenary forces out of uniform (but without altering the goal of our war)? Should we, perhaps, pass a new environmental protection law (but without holding corporate executives criminally responsible for their cheating on the laws already passed)? Should we, perhaps, add a sliver of the disadvantaged to the rolls of those favored with health insurance (but surely without endangering the massive profits of the health care industry)?

The basic questions that address fundamental direction are seldom voiced. They are taboo.

  • A foreign policy of true compromise with reformist Islam is a taboo subject.
  • A health care policy that rejects socialism for the health care industry and institutes socialism for the disadvantaged is a taboo subject.
  • An environmental policy that punishes corporate polluters and preserves the environment (allowing economic functions only within those constraints) is a taboo subject (the recent New York Times expose of corporations polluting the nation’s drinking water notwithstanding).
  • A financial system that controls exploitation and stimulates responsible productivity is a taboo subject.

Americans do have certain cultural/political advantages. Perhaps the greatest is the consensus that those who break taboos are not killed, so, yes, I can voice these complaints in safety, something I would not be able to do in, say, China, Saudi Arabia, or Iran. While I am grateful for this, it does not invalidate my argument. Taboos work more subtly in the U.S.: those who violate them may speak; they are simply ignored. In terms of having influence, if you challenge taboos, you will be cut out of the debate, will no longer be heard, will effectively no longer exist except as an official nonperson, an “…ist,” as in “racist, socialist, leftist.” In (we imagine) highly stable but tenuous Neolithic times, banishment of those who broke village taboos by speaking out may have enhanced group survival; in the contemporary rapidly evolving world, it invites disaster.

The U.S. has an historic power advantage over its adversaries (even after a decade of behaving like a rogue elephant), the best academic establishment on earth, and enormous resources. These advantages give American society an incredibly fruitful array of options. That is, Americans have the collective power to do an unimagined range of different things…if they can open their minds sufficiently to imagine taking new directions toward a fundamentally more just and effective society. Whatever the route to a perfect society, we will never find it (or even succeed in treading water in today’s world) if we censor ourselves from discussing the basic options about the fundamental direction of public policy.

War, Recession, Health Care: What Can We Do?

What can we do about the war with Islam, the recession, the health care debacle, and other national emergencies in the U.S.? Quite a bit, actually, but it all starts with attitude.

“Oh, dear. What can we do?”

That, in essence, is the national debate…whether the subject is the recession that we needlessly provoked, the endless “chickens coming home to roost” war with Islam, the national shame of our health care industry, the steady degradation of the environment, or the wave of corruption among the commercial-financial-government elite.

The idea of reacting to these fundamental national problems with a sigh of “what can we do?” is of course to imply that these evils came from “somewhere else” and are by definition something beyond our control and, most importantly, NOT OUR FAULT!

  • It is thus “not our fault” that some Muslims finally got fed up after years of Western mistreatment and decided on a global campaign of terrorism to send us a message. We didn’t get the message. Hence, our old behavior continues, and we remain utterly unable to understand why military force is not working in Afghanistan…or Gaza or Somalia or Iran.
  • It is of course also “not our fault” that the two factions of the national party-for-the-conservation-of-elite-privilege cooperated back under Clinton (!) to destroy the New Deal safeguards against financial terrorism by big banks and thus paved the way for the recession. Hence, the members of that elite in Washington rewarded the members of that elite on Wall Street, the guys on Wall Street are happily gambling on life insurance derivatives (the old real estate-based derivatives having been, ah, “discredited”), and more guys on Main Street are unemployed every month.

OK. You get the idea.

So, what if we took responsibility and looked for solutions? One word on health care and another on the recession.

Health Care. The problem with the health care industry in the U.S. is that Americans, and particularly elite Americans (who profit), accept that phrase—health care industry—as legitimate. Health care cannot, in a decent society, be viewed as an “industry,” i.e., a business. Businesses are supposed to make profits. And that is exactly the purpose of the business of providing health care to Americans. To repeat, health care in America is highly successful; it does exactly what it is designed to do: it generates fat profits for the practitioners (insurance companies, drug companies, friendly politicians who get campaign funds). These profits are generated by methods with which every American is very familiar: by preventing the sick from getting insurance, by pushing the sick out of hospitals as fast as possible, by utterly ignoring elderly patients with cognitive problems and throwing them on the mercy of their untrained and probably working relatives (thus wrecking family after family). At least the wave of unemployment in the recession will give many more family members the time to care for these aged parents! Fixing the health care system requires throwing away the idiotic and immoral idea of a health care business and replacing it with the concept of universal health care as a basic human right.

The Recession. At a certain level, the problem is too little money in the hands of consumers because of too few jobs. We happen in the U.S. to have a crumbling infrastructure, inhumane central cities, and collapsing main streets in small towns. Hiring the 15 million unemployed to rebuild the country would resolve all the above problems, but that takes money. Where can we get it from? The answer is pretty simple: tax the most lucrative business in the U.S. (no, I don’t mean illegal narcotics): Wall Street gambling. Tax profits on derivatives (my thanks to Ralph Nader for advocating this idea). The law Congress should pass is provided below in its entirety:

All financial transactions of the general form known as “derivatives trading” or related transactions shall be taxed at a rate at least 50% greater than the income tax rate of the mean American worker, as calculated annually by the Congressional Budget Office.

In a very basic sense, the U.S. really is a democracy: we Americans have the system we designed. It does what we designed it to do. If we do not want a system that rewards political corruption; creates enemies; wrecks our environment; and generates obscene profits from the premature sickening, aging, and death of American citizens, then we have the option of designing a different system. Truly, we do. We have the skills; Americans frankly are rather badly educated, but we have the best academic establishment in the world and could choose to educate ourselves better. We have the money: although the average American is having an increasingly tough time, the total amount of money in the society is enormous (needing only to be spread more equitably and used for serious things like productivity rather than gambling on Wall Street, conspicuous consumption, and bombing everyone we don’t like). We have the resources. We have voted for corruption, recession, imperial conquest, bad capitalist (for profit) rather than good socialist (for society) health care, and dirty drinking water. We could, if we so chose, vote for the opposite and pay for its achievement.

Iranian-Israeli Nuclear Accord: Focus on Mutual Benefit

This post follows yesterday’s introduction of the concept of simultaneously strengthening the national security of both Iran and Israel. The fundamental question, broached yesterday, concerns the possibility of this being conceivable.

Here I wish to point out an advantage to proceeding with small steps, several of which were suggested in yesterday’s post, that are nevertheless sufficiently large so that each side considers them to be beneficial. Each side would say, “Sure; if my adversary were to accept international controls over Weapons System X or Technology Y, that would make me more secure.”

One advantage of such an incremental approach is that it avoids the highly contentious Israeli issue of telling the truth about its nuclear capabilities and avoids the unanswerable Iranian issue of what their ultimate intentions are. Whether or not Israel has its reputed 200+ nuclear bombs, if its AWACS are grounded under international observation, it will have more difficulty committing aggression, so Iran should be willing to pay something to achieve that. Whether or not Iranian leaders’ ultimate intentions are aggressive, if its research into nuclear warheads is constrained and under international inspections, a future Iranian regime will have more difficulty committing aggression, so Israel should be willing to pay something to achieve that as well.

Radicalizing the Poor

Steven Zunes is to be commended for writing and Common Dreams for publishing an article on the “old” issue of NATO’s Kosovo campaign because the parallels between that escapade a decade ago and U.S. policy toward the rest of the Muslim world are sobering. Yes, a few eyes are opening a bit in Washington with the arrival of Obama’s spring, enough perhaps to give cynics a moment’s pause, but Washington and the broader American public have still not learned the lessons of America’s adventures with third world rebellions. At best, Americans start in the middle because they can’t be bothered to study history.

The Palestinian predicament is perhaps the most obvious: that desperate group of the dispossessed gets absolutely no attention except when it turns to violence. Americans remains utterly tuned out, unfortunately, although the recent excesses of both Israel and its U.S. lobby may slowly be awakening the tone-deaf.

This is also the story of Lebanon, whether the reference is to Palestinian refugees or Hezbollah’s representation of South Lebanon’s poor Shi’a. I doubt we have heard the last from the former, of whom several hundred thousand remain, despite Sharon’s vicious little 20-year-war. Further spillover from Bush-Cheney’s mishandling of al Qua’ida and post-invasion Iraq is to be expected.

Until the 1960s, Lebanon’s Shiites were a neglected, invisible community, oppressed by feudal landlords and disdained by their fellow Lebanese. Today, they are a rising political force, thanks in large part to the militant political movement Hezbollah. It is now a virtual state-within-a-state, with an army of several thousand men, an extensive social service network, a popular satellite television station called al-Manar (“the Beacon of Light”), and an annual budget in excess of $100 million, much of which comes from Iran, Hezbollah’s major patron.–source

As for Hezbollah, after Sharon’s 1982 invasion provoked Hezbollah’s formation and Israel’s 2006 invasion consolidated its image, Hezbollah’s political position continues to improve. But these, like Kosovo, are issues Americans are content to ignore.

South Asia is another matter. Surely everyone must by now be aware that the Afghan Taliban took control in the 1990s after the U.S. walked away, leaving post-Soviet Afghanistan in chaos. And surely everyone must by now be aware we are losing the resultant war. Not only are we losing in Afghanistan, now we are beginning to pay the price for ignoring the plight of marginalized Pushtuns in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

According to former adviser to Petraeus in Afghanistan Australian David Kilcullen:

Pakistan is 173 million people, 100 nuclear weapons, an army bigger than the U.S. Army, and al-Qaeda headquarters sitting right there in the two-thirds of the country that the government doesn’t control. The Pakistani military and police and intelligence service don’t follow the civilian government; they are essentially a rogue state within a state. We’re now reaching the point where within one to six months we could see the collapse of the Pakistani state, also because of the global financial crisis, which just exacerbates all these problems.

The problem of insurgencies being provoked by the failure of “the system” to permit participation by the marginalized applies to non-Muslim regions, as well, of course. The inability of Colombia’s impoverished peasants to get any respect or fair treatment from rich cattle barons until the FARC arose to lead them in rebellion is the classic example.

An underlying theme in all of these disputes is that the oppressed are ignored as long as they “know their place,” which enrages and radicalizes. Then Americans interfere, to be polite, “in ignorance,” claiming they offer peace but siding with the oppressors and innocently asking “why they hate us.”

The disastrous Pakistani military “victory” in Bajaur last August, which resulted in half a million refugees who are still being treated more like prisoners than victims, is a case in point. The Pakistani army effectively employed Israeli tactics of effectively making war on civilians, and reports suggest that Bajaur today looks very much like Gaza. According to well-connected Asia Times reporter Syed Saleem Shahzad, this campaign came as the result of “immense U.S. pressure.”

The American approach to these rebellions in search of justice is to screw the lid of the pressure cooker tighter, in the name of “stability” but without turning down the “heat.” Denied civil services, economic development, and the option of effective peaceful political participation, enforcing short-term stability through military suppression of protest only gives the pressure of frustration more time to build. This in turn empowers extremism (Taliban reformers become Taliban oppressors and U.S. client regimes start bombing villages; FARC revolutionaries become FARC drug-dealers and cattle barons do the same). A cynic would accuse Washington politicians of adopting such a policy intentionally to exploit chaos. (Neil Clark’s essay on “corporate takeover of the ruins of Baghdad and Pristina” is must reading.) Others may attribute Washington’s behavior to ignorance. Either way, it is an increasingly dangerous and ineffective strategy: not only are the original socio-political issues not resolved but local politics become radicalized and Americans become the target.