Friday, September 18, 2009

The Twitterings of War

Once again the wretched hordes of war are circling around the people of Iran. Like schoolchildren who must prove their rectitude, some American observers are taking gleeful note of how the people of Iran are willing to step into harm’s way to overthrow the current regime. There are no certainties of the outcome, except one: when the rulers of Iran tire of the disruptions, they will send the protesters into oblivion. What else can these safe-in-their-homes commentators say, then, except, we the righteous western champions of goodness must uphold what we think are unchallengeable moral certainties. These electronic picadors do not get near the bull they taunt.

Even if a new set of rulers rise from deadly chaos, and they are given the task of cleaning the flesh and blood from the streets in Teheran, what do U.S. commentators know about how the new regime will change Iran? Nothing. The waste of lives may very well continue under a new regime; like many revolutions, they only provide a new set of fingerprints on the guns. The commentators will have moved on, by then, seeking a new field for their games of empire, unchastised, unbloodied and well-paid for their efforts.

We are forcing the hand of the current leaders in Iran. It is only one day after President Obama said our missile defenses will be turned against Iran. What would you do if you where in charge of Iran, under these circumstances? History’s largest empire, most certainly the nation with the greatest military might in history, the country that overthrew your government a little less than 60 years ago and that has never recognized the legitimacy of your rule, is egging on your people (this is from their point of view) to topple your rule.

Soon, we will find out if President Obama can stand up to the dogs of war and further America’s interests in peaceful ways or if he has to make another “compromise” and start a new, unwinnable conflict. We can only hope he is more John F. Kennedy than Dwight D. Eisenhower (the latter authorized Project Ajax, the operation that overthrew Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh, the man elected prime minister of Iran in 1953). Even though Kennedy was as cold a warrior as they came, he refused to be dragged past the point of no return during the Bay of Pigs fiasco. He also nixed an all-out attack on Cuba when the Soviets put nuclear missiles there. I hope President Obama has read The Guns of August.

From one of the tweets coming out of Iran: Not Gaza, not Lebanon, I’ll die for Iran. If that is your wish, yes you will. And you will only succeed in adding your corpse to the piles.

I do not credit the Iranian regime with pure motives. They are as wicked and dangerous as any set of rulers. The continued incarceration of Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Joshua Fattal, the hikers who, it seems, accidentally walked into Iran in August, appears to be indefensible. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has linked their release to Iranian diplomats he says Americans have arrested. The U.S. did arrest five Iranian diplomats in Iraq, allegedly for arming Shi’ite militias, but they were released in July. The backpackers have become pawns in a wretched, global war game. How they may be sacrificed or returned has nothing to do with their own actions. This is senseless cruelty and may still escalate, wasting three more lives.

It looks like the hot, violent repression has been cooled, for today. We will probably see a spate of show trials, forced confessions and executions. The Iranian officials will be using enhanced interrogation techniques to force confessions. Maybe they can outsource that nasty chore and hire Blackwater USA (pardon me, Xe Services LLC) or our own CIA; we can offset the cost of health care insurance if we are shrewd in negotiating a good fee.

Remember, America, Iran and Israel were backroom buddies, once (maybe still, ala Margaret Thatcher). In 1986, under the auspices of President Reagan, Israel supplied Iran with weapons and the U.S. resupplied Israel with new weapons, for which we got cash. Some of that loot went to supply anti-Sandinista and anti-communist rebels, the Contras, in Nicaragua. Also part of the deal was that Iran would do what it could to help in the release of six U.S. hostages who were being held by Hezbollah in Lebanon. This is what we know. My guess is that there exist unknown unknowns in the tangle that we call American foreign policy.

Nothing the U.S. government says about Iran should be believed. It wastes time trying to intuit the real story. We should not be twittering away the lives of Iranians on such flimsy evidence. They have their own ways of needlessly dying.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wrought Iron

You think no human being can be completely concealed and still walk among his equals? The wretched can and do. Everyday. Read on, if you want to waste your time.

Lambert is the last, regular human contact I have. Since he allowed me to sublet his basement apartment, we no longer see each other. I have never seen another tenant in the building. No one in the building, except Lambert, has ever seen me. I put Lambert’s payment into a wrought iron mailbox.

I suspect Lambert comes into my apartment occasionally. There is no proof of this. If the casement window is opened, or closed, and I remember it being closed, or open, I do not trust my memory. It is the same when I leave a legal pad on the table. Was it turned up or turned down? My memory must be turning wretched, too.

Nothing was unmistakably disturbed, ever, until today.

The lives of the wretched are concealed. Your ability to disappear increases as your wretchedness grows. The truly wretched completely disappear. Street beggars are not wretched. They are not hidden; thousands of people can pass a supplicant each day. People ignore beggars. People cannot see the wretched; you cannot ignore what you cannot see. Wretches do not want to be seen. I am not asking for anything except to be left alone. That is what I have gotten: only what I had asked for. Only, I have gotten more of it than I expected.

“Noble,” Lambert said when he handed me the apartment keys, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Haugh, haugh.”

I first saw Lambert when he came up to me outside the supermarket. The supermarket manager allows people to take away food that is just overripe enough not to sell, but is still safe to eat. You know how that goes. Urban gleaners can slice away the soft quarter of a head of lettuce or soak stale bread in a cup of coffee to get a meal.

I was just looking at some withered broccoli when a big man, a tall and wide big man, looked down on me. His left eye was slightly, almost unnoticeably, independent of his right. The expected bass voice that asked do you need a bag was instead just over the baritone edge of tenor. I mean you’re just stuffin’ the food in your pockets.

He was the blackest man I had ever seen. His close-cropped natural hair had begun to turn grey. Nothing else distinguished him from the other people on the street: blue jeans, tan polo shirt and white sneakers. There were no scars, tattoos or jewelry, not even a watch. The smoothness of his dark, black skin belonged to someone in his twenties, not to the man in his late forties or early fifties who was handing me a cloth, Whole Foods shopping bag.

I put the gleaned broccoli into the bag and nodded a thank you. He moved on without another word. Within a week I had taken up residence in his basement apartment and Lambert had taken up with a woman who lived on the third floor. The romance has lasted three years. I do not know what will happen if her passion for him cools off, or the other way around.

The wrought iron mailbox hangs on the inside of the basement door. Every person in the building passes the door. The door is locked and only Lambert has a key.

Lambert maintains the mailbox. He is the building’s super. Tenants pass notes into this box through a slot in the door, if they need his services, or drop in their rent checks. It is where I pass my payment to Lambert, through the top of the mailbox. The box is locked and only Lambert had a key, once. Now, I have one, too.

We never see each other. No one in the building knows I live in the basement. There is a separate entrance to the basement from an alley. I am the only one who uses this entrance. Both Lambert and I have this door’s keys (there are two, dead-bolt locks and a police lock).

Unless I do not give Lambert his money for the sublet, no one will notice if I am dead.

This arrangement has allowed me to disappear. Not such a difficult trick. All it takes is enough desire. I got lucky finding someone willing to abet my wretchedness.

It was already dark when I made my way back to the building, opened the locks and scurried into the basement last night. I usually take my shopping bag with me, in case I pass the supermarket on my way in.

The bag hung where I left it. Inside was a large cluster of grapes.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Precious Freedom

Sometimes our better selves guide the pen, even if our real thoughts are opposed to the written words.

If the white, property-owning men who founded this country did not actually believe blacks, women and working people should be equal to them, at least the words they wrote belied their presumed assumptions. You cannot print words about the universal rights of man and hope readers will forever understand man was really meant to be limited to a racial subset of men or one economic class. It is also hard to read those words and think the entitlements to life, liberty and happiness stop at national borders. Maybe they wanted freedom to become more common than even they themselves could support in their own time.

It wastes time arguing what people may have thought, then. Now, we believe freedom is universal no matter what was in our founders’ hearts.

“America will remain strong and united, but its strength will remain dedicated to the safety and sanity of the entire family of man, as well as to our own precious freedom,” said President Gerald Ford upon taking the oath of office (more famous for its “long national nightmare” sentence).

The language used in our political discourse matters. We may not live up to our words at any given moment. Few among us are so constant. Yet it is wise and practical to include the soaring rhetoric of freedom into our laws and official documents. If our fidelity to freedom slips today, at least the language will exist to give subsequent generations a chance to put into practice our self-evident ideals. Weakening freedom’s words puts us at risk of becoming political atheists, or those who do not believe in the people’s right to govern. Political atheists do not believe in universal rights. They frequently use the practical concerns of the moment to undermine our system of government.

These are the stakes in the current debate on what torture means. A few crazies believe we should allow all forms of torture. Most of us do not. It is un-American.

Torture has been used by every military force and national power since the beginning of civilization. Of course America has practiced torture and is using it now. The only people who seem not to know this are those who have been lucky enough to stay out of war or out of prison. Anti-torture language or laws have never stopped the practice. That is not the point.

It is still wrong to torture people and our laws must make all forms of illegal, no matter what we currently believe is practical. We will fall short of our ideals, who does not? The worse alternative is if we fail to embody those ideals in the language of our law. Then, we risk a greater danger of losing those ideals forever in the dilution of the moment.

Sometimes, we catch up in practice to the words we publish, but I would not waste time waiting for that with torture. Still, I am not wretched enough to believe it impossible that America can, in its deeds, move closer to its ideals. Ask women and blacks, who fought to be included in the universal language of our constitution, if you think there is no chance that America can correct its practice of freedom. We cannot control what subsequent generations will do. The best we can hope for is they will take our words at face value.

Wretchedness knows no boundaries. We now call it torture when our enemies do it. If torture is practiced by Americans, it becomes enhanced interrogation techniques. It is a despicable complication of clear language this weaving of torture into the fabric of patriotism.

If you are being interrogated with enhanced techniques and it feels like torture to you, it is torture.

When the rest of the world sees that America openly supports a splitting of enhanced interrogation technique hairs, they naturally understand our precious freedoms apply only to us and us alone. American exceptionalism might become to mean our laws and freedoms apply to everyone except non-Americans. We must make it clear by our actions that our ideas of governing apply universally.

Ford went on to say in his acceptance speech: “truth is the glue that holds government together, not only our Government but civilization itself. That bond, though strained, is unbroken at home and abroad.”

Break the bond we have with the rest of the world and we give the terrorists who would attack us the tool of truth.

That strained bond might break at home, too. Many Americans also find the language subtleties of enhanced interrogation techniques torturous.

As the spinach-hating little girl created by Carl Rose and E.B. White might conclude today: “I say it’s torture, and I say the hell with it.”

Rock Salt, at Least

If you thought my last post too wretched, or that Rolling Stone too far out for serious discussion about economic issues, check out Paul Krugman's column in today's TNYT.

Maybe rock salt is too gentle a method to punish these monsters.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Load the Rock Salt

I thought I was at the wretched nadir when I began this blog. I should have realized that the world is far more base than even I could imagine.

See Matt Taibbi's piece in Rolling Stone: The Great American Bubble Machine.

When I was a kid, I once played near a junkyard (now known as an automotive recycling center). The owner was, well, meaner than a junkyard dog. He kept a shotgun with rock salt loaded shells handy to guard his precious junk. While not hit directly with the sodium pellets, a couple of pieces that scraped my leg managed to teach me about the sanctity of territory.

It is time to get out the rock salt. My guess is that more Americans own guns than pitchforks, the latter being a rather clumsy teaching instrument. The blast and instant creation of salt-rubbed wounds of the former instrument make it a far better tool for deterrence than any garden implement.

A couple of shells per Goldman employee would cure all the ills Taibbi wrote about in his screed of greed.

It is a waste of time to think our government would do anything to help us. No one, and I really mean not one, single person in the executive, legislative or judicial branch of government--or any real contender for any elected or appointed position of power in our government--would do anything else but wait for the calm after the protest storm to resume business as usual. There are long lines to get a chance to wear the public feedbag. So maybe it is time to take the protest directly to the thieves.

There is a cliche about fixing the economic mess that involves letting the people who buried the bodies fix the economy since they know where the bodies are buried. I have not heard anyone point out that the more important point is that these financial ghouls are the ones who know how to bury the bodies and are absolutely uninterested in unearthing their crimes. These ghouls only want to enlarge the economic cemetery.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Headed for the Showers

As wretched as Richard Nixon was, his facility with language sharply contrasts with soon to be ex-Governor Sarah Palin’s “you won’t have me to kick around, anymore” resignation. She has committed political suicide. To use a sport analogy, why would you give a pitcher who walks off the field during a minor league game the ball to pitch in the major leagues?

She looked unsteady and unsure during her resignation. It did not look like someone with national ambitions. Palin is scared. The confidence we saw when she gave her vice presidential candidate’s acceptance speech is gone.

I think it would be a waste of time for Tina Fey to reprise her Palin role, or for others to continue using her for satiric material. Palin is down and out and it would be a loathsome to ridicule someone with such obvious emotional problems. Had she continued in her job, stayed and fought the ethical or other charges pending, if any, then I would say, unleash the dogs of laughter.

Palin might resurface if she her time on the speech circuit becomes politically productive. I doubt it. The Republican wing of the Republocrats was already assembling more suitable politicians for 2010.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Madoff the Piker

Federal District Judge Denny Chin noted Bernard L. Madoff had no one, friends, family or other supporters, attesting to Madoff’s character or any good deeds he may have done. There were no immediate family members present at the sentencing. Madoff is learning about wretchedness.

Salem burned witches and blacks were lynched all over America and they had the same amount of friends: none. Madoff is certainly no victim, but his new 150-year lease with the American prison system is a waste of time. Chin opted to take the least amount of criticism by supersizing the sentence. He acted irrationally and rationality is the least we should expect of federal judges appointed to life terms.

Many people left Madoff to dangle alone in the courtroom. The myriad of useless regulators who job it was to notice if Madoff was actually investing his clients’ money, need to be burned to maximum prison sentences.

Madoff is being used as a lightening rod. He helps deflect anger from the real crooks: the people who brought down the international financial system. They were sentenced to accept trillions in handouts from all of us. Still these crooks have many friends.

Madoff is a piker compared to those scum.