Archive for November, 2010

How the Democrats killed Democracy

By Thomas Wark
With the death of the political left in the United States, the death of democracy became inevitable. Democracy, after all,  is not just a liberal idea, but a radically liberal one; it cannot  endure absent a viable political left.

Twenty-five centuries ago, governments were by dynastic monarchies, shamanistic religious dictatorships or warlords.  The Athenians came up with the radical liberal notion of government of, by and for its citizens. Even this revolutionary improvement on previous systems was not without  flaw.  When  Rome succeeded Greece as the dominant power in the civilized world, it replaced direct democracy with another radical liberal concept: representative democracy.

Guided by the Enlightenment philosophers they so admired, the founders of the American democracy sought to establish a republic in which the spectrum of political thought could endure not just as a system of checks and balances upon themselves, but also one which inherently militated against the excesses of power that could plunge it into anarchy, oligarchy, monarchy or military dictatorship. It was a system that borrowed much from Rousseau’s Social Contract, which itself can only function under a rule of law.

The two-party system that evolved within the republic of the founding fathers mandated a left, a right and a center of fluctuating but roughly equal strength.  The balance of power would always lie with the center, but balance could exist only if both left and right remained viable.

But the Democratic party deserted its base on the left and the base failed to reassemble around a new political organization. (The fatal weakness of a two-party democracy.) Today, the dwindling handful of liberal Democrats holding public office are not merely powerless within their party; they are treated with contempt by their party and its man in the White House.

The man in the White house wears a different party label than his predecessor, but his presidency is merely a continuation of most of the worst of the far right policies of the Bush II administration.

When the Republican House of Representatives has finished with Dr. Kidglove and the Timidocrats of the Senate two years hence, perhaps even the American electorate will realize that the democratic republic of the Founding Fathers is no more, its Constitution reduced to the status of, say, the Oath of the Tennis Court.

The democratic rule of law  began with the Athenian shift from law as something “imposed” –thesmoi — to something rooted in the people’s social traditions and ideals — nomoi . It came to us through the Enlightenment via the Magna Carta and our mother country’s system of common law.  Talk about radical liberal documents! The Magna Carta, as Winston Churchill put it, gave us “a law which is above the King and which even he must not break.”

In the United States, the framers passed on to us the idea of a “Supreme Law of the Land,” which was above everyone — President, Chief Justice, member of Congress. It brought us, directly from the Magna Carta, the supreme laws of habeas corpus, posse comitatus and, enshrined in the Fifth Amendment, due process.

But the Democrats of Congress, most of whom had long since abandoned the liberal principles of government in which our republic was born, ceded to George W. Bush powers that even the King of England doesn’t have: superiority over the law itself.  Now the president could order warrantless surveillance  of citizens; detention without charge or trial (due process), and criminal torture of detainees.  He could boast about it in print without fear of being brought to justice.  His successor could take his imperial presidency to new extremes and arrogate to himself the right to order the extrajudicial assassination of American citizens.

Dr. Kidglove has, in the name of “compromise,” extended many other violations of the Social Contract in both domestic and foreign affairs.  He will permit continuation of tax policies that favor the very rich over the other 98 per cent of the citizenry.  He will allow further corruption of an already bad “health care reform” law.  He will preside over the devastation of Social Security, further empowerment of huge corporations and the elimination of only those “earmarks” that help people rather than business, supposedly to reduce the government’s fiscal deficit.  He will continue to fight the illegal wars that caused the deficit and will ask for more and more funds to fight them and more and more American toops to bleed and die in them.

He will do all of these things, and more, because there is no political left in the United States to contest him.

There is no democracy here.

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Iowa, Apple Pie, Heroism and a Book of Lies

By Thomas Wark

George W. Bush is making the rounds of talk shows peddling his book.

On Tuesday, Bush’s successor will place the Congressional Medal of Honor around the neck of Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, the first living American to receive the nation’s highest award for valor since the Vietnam war.

What webs we weave.

As for Bush’s book, I can only endorse a friend’s suggestion that we all go into a local bookstore and move a copy or two from its display shelf to the place where it belongs — the crime section.

I don’t know Sgt. Giunta but I know his grandfather, Bob Judge. Someone had to coin the phrase “as American as apple pie” just to describe Bob Judge.

High school football hero, married a cheerleader. Worked his entire life at the absolutely typical American middle class occupation — barber (just like the father of “Charlie Brown” of the comic strip, “Peanuts.”) Loved baseball, steak, riding horses (in blue jeans across dusty roads next to cornfields and apple groves, not the fancy-pants kind of riding that’s called “equestrian.”)

Bob’s a lung cancer survivor, like me. He wasn’t a smoker. What, I asked, when I called to wish him well, caused the cancer? “The doctors don’t know,” he said. “They’re intrigued to find out. Personally, I think it’s from all the ribs I’ve broken falling off horses in my lifetime.” Tough guy. What would you expect from someone who was an all-conference tackle — on offense and defense — in high school? Guy who lifted weights to stay fit and loved to play “burn out,” and if you didn’t grow up in the midwest half a century ago, that’s a version of “having a catch” where you throw the ball back and forth as hard as you can, trying to make the other fellow’s hand sting like hell when he catches it.

Bob is a lifelong resident of Clinton, Iowa, a town that, like Bob, is apple pie American. His wife, Molly, was the town’s women’s tennis champion in her younger years. Won the tournament on the old high school courts before the high school burned down.

Bob and Molly raised six fine kids, worked hard to educate them. Rosemary, Sgt. Giunta’s mother, is a school teacher in Hiawatha, Iowa, although Salvatore was born when she and Steven still lived in Clinton (1985).

Just over three years ago, in a place in Afghanistan nicknamed “death valley,” Sal Giunta ran through a hail of gunfire to rescue two wounded comrades. One of the men he rescued, Sgt. Joshua Brennan, and another comrade, Spec. Hugo Mendoza, died in the action.

“I didn’t try to be a hero,” Sal told an embedded reporter with his unit. “I ran to the front because Brennan was there. All of my feelings are with my friends. I have sweat more, cried more, bled more in this country than in my own.”

“Death valley’s” real name is Korengal. “These people,” Sal said of the Korengalis, “will never leave this valley. They were here long before I could even fathom an Afghanistan.”

The war George Bush started had been dragging on for seven long years when Salvatore Giunta did the deed that won him the nation’s highest military honor. Now, more than three years later, American forces have withdrawn from the Korengali, but elsewhere in Iraq and Afghanistan other young Americans continue to sweat, to cry and to bleed.

Brennan. Mendoza. Giunta. Cunningham. Gallardo. Eckrode. None will ever hold high office in this land. But it’s their tears, their sweat, their blood that fuels the wars Bush started.

And it’s the taxes of Bob Judge, Steve Giunta and their children and their children’s children that will pay down, ever so slowly if at all, the enormous monetary debt of these wars, still dragging on in their 11th year.

Somebody paid George Bush $9 million in advance for his book. That’s probably more than the combined lifetime earnings of Bob Judge and Steve Giunta.

But not enough to pay for the tears, the sweat and the blood of Sal Giunta and his comrades in arms. Not even the Medal of Honor can pay that toll.

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Speaking power to truthiness

By Steve Klinger

I went easy last night, but after watching the post-mortem coverage this morning it’s time to take the gloves off.

So the Democrats (and Obama) lost yesterday because they were out of touch, they weren’t getting the message, the deficit was getting too big, too much government spending on the stimulus, too much attention to health care reform, the president didn’t “feel the pain”?

Obama, of course, has to buy into that crap for fear of alienating voters even further and providing new socialist grist for the right-wing propaganda mills. He can’t very well be defiant the day after such a “shellacking” and say his task was near-impossible and the best way forward would have been the strength of an FDR-style public works initiative and complete financial overhaul. Leadership instead of naïve compromise in the guise of pragmatism. He can’t publicly call the Republicans obstructionists fresh on the heels of their sweeping victory.

The media, of course, don’t even raise the question of whether the Democrats didn’t go far enough. They not only buy into the shallow mainstream post-election analysis—they propagate it.

But what really happened is this: The big money in this country, the shadow elites who run everything, got the voters to go through another charade, this time reacting to all the red-herring hot-button issues like the deficit (which mattered not when Bush was running it up in Iraq) and the mandate of compulsory health insurance (which has existed for decades with income tax, property tax and auto insurance) and persuading the voters to inhabit the elite-fueled populist movement they created (the Tea Party) that revived the culture wars of the 1960s and ‘70s.

The media led the charge, not so much because the rank and file are right-wing (Fox and a few others excepted) but because a dumbed-down America responds best to idiotic sensationalism, and what passes for journalism today is the exploitation of whatever makes the media cash registers go ka-ching (or its digital equivalent).  So instead of substance and logic on whose policies brought us to the brink of another Great Depression, we get Palin’s bluster and O’Donnell’s blather and the G.O.P.’s self-fulfilling prophecy that the Democrats would preside over economic stagnation.

Sprinkle in $4 billion (that’s billion with a b) for this midterm campaign, the great preponderance of it supporting Republicans and smearing Democrats (and blatantly targeted at troublemakers like Russ Feingold) and now you tell me the voters have spoken because the Democrats went too far to the left?

Jon Stewart was dead right about the media – up to a point, because the answer isn’t self-imposed restraint of principle, it’s restraint of self-indulgence.  But that’s what happens when an empire crumbles: All its institutions start to self-destruct, like a body undergoing massive organ failure.

So what big money and backroom power have orchestrated – and the Democrats/Obama were too lily-livered to resist – gets blamed on their “overreaching,” and people of intelligence are supposed to swallow that and express their humble appreciation? Of course people of intelligence and principle (that rarest of modern combinations) are so marginalized that the Macchiavellian shot-callers shrewdly ignore them.

And things will have to get a whole lot worse before the pendulum swings back to the left – if indeed it can, now that we have an activist Supreme Court that opened the corporate money floodgates with Citizens United.

Obama may be optimistic about the underlying decency of the American people – their kindness, their sacrifice, their resiliency. But that optimism ignores their stupidity and their atavism in times of hardship.  And it turns a blind eye to those who manipulate them. I guess that was part of the deal, because no one gets to the Oval Office who doesn’t play by the rules, the first of which is never to acknowledge where the true power in this country resides.

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