Long piece by Subhankar Banerjee over at Common Dreams.
Long piece by Subhankar Banerjee over at Common Dreams.
This morning I went through some negativity regarding the United States, its culture, its politics, and so on. Nothing unusual about that.
But then I got to thinking that when anyone points out the negatives, which are indeed massive, some pollyanna will come along and say that it’s not that bad, that there are plenty of good things, and so on and so forth. I generally regard those sorts of comments as coming from our ostrich brain.
To a certain extent they’re right. There are some good things one can point to. They are apparently different to everyone, either in kind or degree.
But here’s the problem:
Good is hard.
Evil is easy.
And most humans, the great preponderance of humans, will usually opt for the easy way. That explains the anti-intellectual, the anti-science, the anti-immigrant tenor of the culture. Evil would have us teach religious mythology as science in our schools. Evil would have us bomb into the Stone Age cultures we don’t understand. Evil would have us eliminate most of government because it’s complex and costs money and is not easy to understand, except for the parts about bombing back to the Stone Age cultures that require us to use intelligence to understand. All of that is the easy way. That’s the way much of the country is going, wants to go.
And of course the politicians feed off of that, regurgitate it to their masses of constituents, who then accept the lies and distortions as truths and demand more, which the politicians give them, aided by a journalism establishment that too often goes for the easy way.
We seem to have decided, as a nation, that ignorance is acceptable, that science and intellect are crimes, and that killing is better than smiling and shaking hands and sitting down to talk. Life is just easier that way.
Syria, run by a psychopathic mass murderer and liar operating an army that drags children out into the street and cuts their throats, that drags old men into the street and shoots them in the head, that unleashes furious artillery bombardments on civilians, on Syrians – Syria, a blood-drenched span of territory that exposes the moral failure and cravenness of the Western European countries and the Arab world.
Never mind Russia and China’s objections. They understand Bashar al Assad. He’s doing what they do when they decide it’s necessary. The rule is to kill and keep killing until nobody is left to fight back. By their lights and their morality Assad is a piker, a ten-cent killer.
But the West?
Time and again the West and the Arab nations have taken Assad’s word that he would call off the murder of civilians, and time and again he has lied and continued the slaughter.
And the American State Department? They talk of two things. Graduated sanctions and stability. Nonsense on both counts.
Sanctions haven’t slowed down the killing. And if Assad wins out, crushing the opposition, what then of the precious sanctions? Keep them in place and further crush the Syrian people while Assad eats caviar and orders movies from Amazon? Or remove them and concede victory to a mass murderer?
And then there’s stability. That’s a big word with the State Department. We can’t arm the opposition, say the suits, because that might destabilize the country and the region. Apparently they don’t follow the news or read their own cable traffic.
The region hasn’t been stable since our own psychopathic killer, George W. Bush, illegally invaded Iraq nine years ago. And Syria is not going to be stable until Assad slaughters a few hundred thousand of his fellow Syrians.
State’s other big selling point is ‘We can’t arm the opposition because we don’t know what will come of it.’ Oh, well perhaps they know what will come of the ongoing slaughter? It seems they define certainty as continued slaughter by Assad until he is firmly in charge again.
The Arab world is no better. As has been pointed out elsewhere, the United States has armed to the teeth several Arab countries, and yet those arms sit quietly, unused, while the Arab leadership decries the murderous bloodbath in Syria.
And the United States itself? A complete moral failure compounded with rank hypocrisy. The West took on Libya with little delay, but Syria? Oh, the terrain is difficult there. And the military is kind of tough.
Did you ever notice that the only countries the United States is willing to take on militarily are weak, if not pathetic, militarily. Panama. Grenada. Vietnam. Iraq. Afghanistan. Libya. The vaunted American military machine has shown that it can be stopped by little brown people armed with AKs and homemade explosives. The Syrian army is a different kettle of fish, isn’t it, Generals?
But this American military machine, backed by a vast and vastly expensive intelligence machine (turned against its own people of late), can’t take its million dollar cruise missiles and put them on Assad’s head and on his family’s heads and on the heads of the generals who murder children in the streets of Homs? That hugely expensive and expansive military machine of the Americans can’t send its billion dollar invisible bombers over Syria and cripple the tank columns of the Syrian army, smash command and control installations, flatten military supply dumps?
Apparently not. That might destabilize the country.
Here in America we make guns freely available to any creep, cretin, or violent moron who wants one. But we can’t provide small arms to people fighting for their lives in Syria? Because we can’t see the future? Because they might decide that the United States is crap and not to be trusted?
With this kind of thinking the Holocaust would have gone on until every Jew in the world was ashes; Rwanda would still be going on… oh, wait, nobody did anything to stop that either – they just ran out of people to hack to death; the Balkans would to this day be bathing in enough blood to satisfy even the depraved Countess Elizabeth Bathory. And on. And on. And on.
‘Never again!’ is a joke. It’s a phrase used by politicians and people everywhere to make themselves feel better when they haven’t the guts or the moral courage to do what’s right. It’s what they say when it’s happening, again, right under their noses. It’s their magic charm to ward off evil while they delicately and mincingly step around the pools of blood.
Syria will bleed and nobody with the power to stop it will lift a finger. And soon enough Bashar al Assad will again hobnob with the heads of state in the West and the Arab world. And no one will hear the blood of children crying out from the sands of Syria.
In the Middle East the people of Syria are being slaughtered. Thousands have been killed by the Syrian army.
In America we are debating the potty mouth words of a fat man calling a female law student a slut because she testified before Congress on health care and contraceptive drugs.
In Syria civilians are bombarded by tanks and artillery of the Syrian army under the control of a certifiable psychopath, al Assad.
In America candidates for the Presidency throw money and insults at each other as they try to prove to an ignorant, thoughtless, narcissistic mob of voters which of them is more Christian, which of them is more rigidly and mindlessly ideological.
In Syria soldiers are dragging old men into the street and shooting them in the head.
In America a President threatens yet another Middle Eastern country with destruction as he backs them into a corner, leaving them little option but to snarl and fight and do the thing he says they shouldn’t do, while the Israelis do their best to pervert the American government into doing their paranoid dirty work for them.
In Syria children’s throats are being slashed open by soldiers and the blood of children runs in the streets.
In America families lose their homes. Workers lose their jobs. Bobbling head media ‘personalities’ spew nonsense and call it ‘news’. Roads and bridges crumble. Schools cut education. And ugly men and women collect millions of dollars from amoral and immoral corporations as they spew hatred and bigotry and a vision of ignorance and greed over the broadcast frequencies owned by the people of the United States.
In Syria thousands flee for their lives from their murderous government, spilling over the borders into other countries, fleeing with nothing but the clothes on their back, running from armies of their fellow Syrians wielding artillery, tanks, automatic weapons, and knives dripping with the blood of children.
In America one political party seeks its sole goal of chasing that nigger from their White House and are willing to bring the government to its knees in order to accomplish that goal. And the other party tries hard not to make anyone upset at them, so they adopt the position of standing for nothing.
In Syria the blood of old men, women, and children flows freely in the dirt and gutters.
In America the politicians say they support the Syrian people. One might ask which Syrians the Americans support: the dead ones or the ones about to be slaughtered.
In Syria the government of a murderous tyrant murders its citizens at will, by the scores, by the thousands, freely, without reservation, without reason.
In America the Attorney General of the United States and the President of the United States publicly seek to justify the murder of American citizens on the order of the President, with no charges made, no judicial review, no recourse.
America, the enlightened democracy of the twenty-first century? Or a ship of babbling fools playing to an American mob of ideological and theocratic conformists raptly listening to ugly voices promoting hatred of American against American and American against all non-white , non-English speaking people in the world.
It’s become obvious over the past couple of decades that American governance has fallen down the rabbit hole, but not into the cartoon universe of illogic envisioned by the Disney studio. The American rabbit hole is dark, and it is dangerous, and it is becoming more so by the day. American society is being riven and shredded, broken into battling pieces playing a game deadlier than the Red Queen’s chess ever conceived of being. The forces of ignorance, ideology, hatred, and lust for power have taken center stage and now drive policy.
In the short term, which may last decades, or be done relatively quickly, these forces and conflicts will work themselves out. The country may be better for that, or it may be worse, which may be the more likely result.
In the long term, the country requires fundamental change if it is to continue to exist as a free representative republic.
What follows is a possible path, an ideal, if you will, to be pursued.
The primary consideration, the one thing that underlies any sort of reform in the long term, is education. Education on at least two levels, the general education of the public, and the professional education of anyone aspiring to work in government in either the bureaucracy or in elective office or offices appointed by elected officials.
First, consider general education. Currently the mantra in general education from the early elementary grades through high school is testing. Standardized testing. The MCAS is an example of the sorts of high stakes testing the education bureaucracy wants to rely on to make decisions about education. High stakes testing has been developed for, I believe, the convenience of the bureaucrats, not for the education and edification of the students. Using a set of standardized numbers lets the bureaucrats make neat and clean decisions about educational policy without having to deal with the messiness of all those individual students.
Students are learning how to pass the tests, but it would appear they’re not learning much else that would be of value. Colleges routinely complain that entering students aren’t prepared to do college level work. They can’t write, can’t do numbers, can’t read effectively, can’t think critically.
On top of that, teachers are regularly excoriated by the political classes, parents, and ideologues of all stripes. The schools are underfunded. Teachers apparently often find themselves having to spend part of their salary buying supplies for the classroom. Books are often out of date, too often by decades, and their content is too often decided by people with political agendas immured in dogma and ignorance and blind ideology.
In a word, the public schools are failing their students and they are failing the country. Education should not be a political football, arranged and rearranged by whatever ideologues manage to get themselves elected locally and nationally.
For elementary and high school grades I propose a different path, a different standard.
First, high stakes standardized testing would be abolished. Children are individuals. They have differing abilities, capacities, and interests. They are not a mass of clones, nor a mass of equals, and should not be stuffed into a mass system.
What’s needed is a professional teaching corps of highly trained, highly motivated teachers. A teaching degree should be as difficult to attain as a doctorate, but not as expensive. The successful teacher should be relieved of any debt incurred.
Second, the communities must support their schools and their teachers. That means professional level salaries. That means no interference from politicians or from parents. That means increasing the tax base and the taxes to support modern schools and sufficient numbers of teachers to provide small class sizes. That means allowing teachers to use their own judgment and creativity in managing their classrooms. The Finnish model is an excellent example of effective modern education. That, or something as effective, should be instituted nationwide.
As for content, the usual reading, writing, and arithmetic, but taught in various manners to fit the individual students in any given classroom. But beyond that, there must be an emphasis on logic and critical thinking and scientific thinking, and these should start in the first grade and be rigorously pursued all the way through high school graduation and into college. Rather than hoping that students will absorb the principles through coursework in standard subjects, critical thinking skills must be taught in their own right. They are the absolute foundations of effective learning and education.
That is the general basis of general public education. Everyone in the country would be educated in such a system.
The second level to consider is how to educate the people who choose government service, either in the bureaucracy or through elective or appointive office. An effective education for these people is absolutely critical to the continued success, even the continued existence, of the nation.
Consider that the population of the United States is approaching four hundred million people, and that those people live in a complex world. There are no simplicities in the world anymore, not in politics, not in international relations, not in our relationship to our biological environment.
Governance involves fifty states, hundreds of cities, thousands of towns, vast infrastructure, complex financial arrangements, understanding complicated interrelationships among those elements and the environment, and understanding a variety of world cultures and our relationships and interactions with the rest of the world .
We can no longer afford to have simple-minded men and women operating from a narrow perspective governing the country. We can no longer afford to have ideologues, untutored in critical thinking, untutored in simple facts, running the nation. We must no longer allow just anyone who wants to run for office to run for office.
We need instead to create a highly educated political class. Not an exclusive class, not a privileged class, not an authoritarian class. Membership, if you will, would be open to anyone who can qualify, and one of the hallmarks would be that the government would provide serious aid and assistance to those who want to commit to public service.
Here’s a suggestion on how to accomplish this.
First off, implement the general education system proposed above.
Second, the first two years of college would be exploratory for all students, giving them time to sample various disciplines and possibly come to a decision about their future. The country might also institute a required public service stint of two years as a mandatory prerequisite for entering college: it could encompass military service or community service of some sort. Two years of working in the community could well give most students a leg up on the maturity they need to make serious decisions about their education and their life. The current system of rushing from high school directly into college seems to end up with two years of college wasted.
But the meat of the matter for the politically inclined would be the professional coursework required.
To begin with, students will already have a solid grounding in logic, critical thinking, and scientific thinking, gained through general education. But they will continue to study in those areas as well as be expected to apply those principles to all their other courses.
And those other courses would be broad ranging. World history, American history, political philosophy, political science, at least one language (they should have picked up fluency in at least one during general education), general philosophy, science, economics, statistics, law and ethics. The latter is not a vision of lawyers in government, but people knowledgeable about the principles and history and applications of law in the United States. Along with law there must be study of the institutions of government, their history and evolution, and the details of their functioning. And serious study of ethics.
In addition, once a student makes a commitment to public service, or before he makes a final commitment, he must undergo rigid and thorough psychological testing, and, if deemed necessary, psychological or psychiatric counseling. The country has had more than enough of rigid, delusional, and blindly authoritarian people in office.
It should be noted that a political career would not gain a person any special perks or positions. He gets a salary and a pension, and his salary and pension must be in line with average or normal salary expectations of the citizenry.
Further, the question of money in politics must be resolved. Donations to politicians, to their organizations, to political parties, would no longer be legal. Campaign finance would be government funded, through taxes: if citizens are not willing to finance excellent governance, then they will have to settle for mediocre, or as the case is today, bad, governance.
Campaigns would be severely limited in time. For example, Presidential campaigns might be limited to three months prior to the election. Senatorial and House campaigns to relatively less time. Similar restrictions would apply to local and state elections.
Advertising on television and radio would be free. Radio and television corporations use broadcast frequencies that belong to the public. Corporations should not be charging money for fulfilling civic obligations.
Additionally, the revolving door between bureaucrats, politicians, and corporations must be permanently closed. No member of the government may leave the government and take a private sector job lobbying the government. For example, a member of the Senate Banking Committee could not leave government to work for a bank in any capacity that would require him to interact officially with the government. He might get a job as a bank officer, but contact with government on any issue affecting the bank would be forbidden. And there must be a period of time after he leaves government when he could not work in banking at all. Nor could he work for any other business which would require contact with government officials to further the corporation’s issues.
On the other side, the chairman of, say, Goldman Sachs could not serve the government in any capacity having to do with finance or banking. And for him to serve in government at all he must have completed the professional education and training required of all public servants, and never mind his work at Goldman Sachs.
Furthermore, the insidious and irrational legality stating that corporations are persons and have the rights of persons must be wiped off the books. That bit of delusional legalism devalues human beings and corrupts government. And it is patently false. Were corporations persons, then the tobacco companies would have been put to death decades ago. Corporations are legal entities, paper existences: they have no human rights.
Some will say that this program will create an elitist ruling class, that it makes it impossible for anyone who wants to run for Congress to do so, that it eliminates the common man from aspiring to public service.
To the contrary. Public service would still be open to anyone. There would be no bar to any citizen willing to undertake the education required – there would be scholarships and so forth readily available. If you are poor and want to go to college, you will be able to do so.
As for the common man, it is to be hoped that an enlightened and rigorous educational system will see to it that there are no common men, but that all are well educated.
There would be no elitist ruling class. Governance would come from educated men and women who would receive no special favors from society, and who would not be allowed to turn their government service to benefit themselves. No one would, in fact, be allowed to enrich themselves or their families through government service. You would get your government pay, which would be reasonable and in line with the pay of the populace at large, and that would be all. No speaking fees, no outside income, no deals, no special favors. You would pay for your own haircuts, your own health insurance and medical bills, your own parking tickets, and so on. If you are rich to begin with, you would forego your riches for as long as you serve in government: you must live on your government salary and derive no benefit from whatever fortune you may have earned or inherited, nor can you undertake any action in government that would increase your fortune.
Good governance requires committed, ethical, honest, highly educated people, and that’s just for starters. The United States does not have either good governance nor people in office who can provide good governance. American government, as currently existing, is corrupt, destructive to democracy, detrimental to the people governed, and internally violent. It is wasteful and inefficient. It falls all over itself as it seeks to undo its principled good and replace the good with the cruel and the exploitative. It is falling rapidly into that dark place where governance is done by the ignorant, the thoughtless, the delusional, the arrogant, and the greedy.
It’s time for change. Not hope: hope is not a plan. Change requires action. Change requires planning. Change requires intelligence and long-term commitment. And change must go deep into the structure of society. We need to start clawing our way back out of the rabbit hole and turn our backs on the Red Queens of ignorance and ideology.
Two hundred years? Really? Surely someone is jesting!?
But no. Behold the front page lead story in the Globe today, written by Charles M. Sennott of the Globe staff. While the headline touts Petraeus backing a small troop cut and indicates that Petraeus obviously labors under the impression that removing troops from here and moving them to there will somehow end the brilliant whack-a-mole game played by the Iraqis whose country we invaded and currently occupy, the dark truth is found mid-story.
But Petraeus, a scholar with a Princeton Ph.D as well as a military man, also takes a long view of the Iraqi government’s inability thus far to tackle such fundamental social and political change.
“It takes time to resolve these issues, just as it took the US time to resolve fundamental issues like civil rights . . . or states rights,” he said.
It took the United States over two hundred years to ‘resolve’ those issues, and to tell the truth, they’re still not resolved. Republicans still crow about states rights (code for “We don’t think niggers should be allowed to vote”), and they’ve found new and ingenious ways to trample on everyone’s civil rights, except for the rich and the wealthy who funnel all that money to them. Remember the myth of habeas corpus being a foundation stone of Western democracy? Not any more, babe, not any more. The Republicans stole that from us too.
Obviously the General, an intelligent man, thinks the U.S. will have troops over there for a couple of hundred years killing Iraqis until they get the ‘rights’ thing right. Probably more like a thousand years. After all, don’t they breed children and terrorists faster than Republican white people breed children, tax shirkers, war shirkers, and would-be dictators?
Yup, gonna be a long haul for those poor bastards.
Americans, that is.
If I were an Islamic terrorist, not just a common street bomber, but a leader, a strategist, what would I be thinking these days?
My strategic goals:
To establish Islamic states, I would need an enemy common to all Islamic people.
That’s simple enough. There is A) the West, and B) America.
The U.S. is a major military power, relying on high tech, highly organized armies. These can be bled into impotence by guerrilla forces. Draw them into a battle where they will suffer the death of a thousand cuts.
How? A major attack on one of their cities would likely work, and would be guaranteed to work if a right-wing government is in power. Conservatives historically seek power and destroy democracy. The further right the better. And the weaker the leader the better. A weak leader is easy prey for power-hungry subordinates.
If I were a terrorist, I would now consider myself successful.
I brought down a major symbol of American power, the World Trade Center. I was lucky enough to have an incredibly weak and poor American leader in George W. Bush, and have come to consider him almost an equal partner in my plan to bring down the United States – he and his party of morally and ethically corrupt Republicans, who seek permanent power and thus contribute to the coming collapse of their country.
I have drawn their armies, with virtually no effort on my part thanks to the megalomaniac arrogance of Bush, into a war they cannot win, a war which bleeds them to collapse, which tears apart the United States politically, which drains it economically.
I have partners working closely with me to destroy civil liberties in the United States. They have already suspended one of the most powerful tools of democracy, one of the foundational tools of Western liberty, the right of habeas corpus. They have effectively suspended provisions of their vaunted Bill of Rights, the latest effort being the revised wiretap law. Bush has aggregated to himself dictatorial powers in executive orders and in signing statements that deny the validity of laws passed by Congress. Bush and the Republicans, aided by weak Democrats, have given me all this, and they have, by practicing torture, by imprisoning without cause or justice thousands of innocent people, by slaughtering other thousands of innocents, given me recruits and recruiters in vast numbers.
And I have tens of millions more partners in the United States. I have all those citizens who blithely go on shopping while ignoring the rise of tyranny; citizens who have decided that ignorance is bliss, that biased news is real news, not that they can tell the difference anymore. I have all those citizens who don’t vote, and those who stupidly accept that voting machines proven to be easily compromised are okay because the people in power say so. I have all those citizens who can’t be bothered to read a book, who can’t be bothered to question what they see on television news, who think people shouting over each other is news, who believe everything they see and hear in political commercials. America is populated by herds of humans who fail the simplest tests of knowledge, who have no ability to think critically, who want only to be led, to be told what to think, what to buy, where to go, and where to stand while the ax comes down.
Let me not forget those citizens who cheer their blind, thoughtless, arrogant right-wing politicians who offer, as a solution to the problems I create, the nuclear bombing of my holy cities; who offer as a solution to the flood of illegal immigrants seeking escape from problems created in part by the United States the wholesale arrest and repatriation of these millions of people; who offer as a solution to terrorism the constant drumbeat of fear and the wholesale repression of dissent and criticism.
These citizens, and the Republican party, and the cabal headed by Bush and his puppetmaster Cheney, are my greatest weapons, my most powerful allies. If I can keep them in power, I can destroy the United States.
One more attack should do it, should drive the final nail in the coffin. One more major catastrophe. Perhaps exploding a major dam. Perhaps a suicide squad melting down a nuclear power plant. Perhaps a chemical refinery near a major population center. Perhaps assassinating some Supreme Court Justices or Cabinet officers.
The Republicans and the Bush Administration have given me the power that will allow the Americans to bring themselves to their knees. I barely have to do anything more.
And if they capture me, or kill me, so what? I will be with my God, and another will take my place. And another will take his place if God calls him. I know in my heart that the United States will not stop destroying itself, will not stop its policies of destruction and slaughter in the world, will not rein in its corporations as they despoil the world and ravage populations and create more hatred. The United States is like a blind, enraged elephant loose in a village. Its only weapon is rage and massive power. It will destroy all around it in the stupidity of rage, and then it will fall as the villagers rise up and reclaim their home.
The villagers will feel some pity for such a beast, but the people of the world will feel none for the blind, ugly thing that the United States has chosen to become.
If I were a terrorist, the United States would be my best friend, my greatest helper, and when it has exhausted itself and lies helpless before the world, I will feel no pity, no compassion, no sympathy. One does not pity evil.
But I am not a terrorist. I am a citizen of the United States watching my government and my people destroy what was once the hope of freedom, of liberty, of democracy in the world, watching them follow blindly, stupidly, the plan for their destruction laid out by brutal, calculating men in far lands and in Washington.
I no longer weep.
I vote. I watch. I read. I write.
In time, if the time comes, if I am able, I will rise up to reclaim my country from fascism, or whatever -ism the tyranny will be named. My comrades will call me a patriot. The powers in Washington will call me a terrorist. They will fail to understand that dissent is patriotism in its highest form, and that fighting a tyranny on one’s home soil is the highest form of dissent.
And in time, in time, they will fall.
It is my deepest hope that from that fall will rise the America that is in my heart, that lies in the heart of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the America the world needs, the America that the world looked to for so long as a sane harbor of reason, of democracy, of liberty.
But for now America is a long way from sanity, from reason, from democracy, from liberty. A long way.
What is this nonsense about ‘the homeland’? As in al Qaeda may attack the homeland.
Nazis had a homeland. Fascists in Italy had a homeland. Russians under czars and communists had a homeland, or a motherland, or was it fatherland?
The whole homeland meme is more bullcrap created by the moral and ethical failures who inhabit the White House and the Republican Party, including the brain-dead, pathetic Texas killer and his boss, Cheney, the wannabe Stalin of America.
People in homelands march in lockstep to the orders of psychotic dictators.
This is America. The United States of America, and the United comes from calling a dictator a dictator, from telling the mentally jackbooted marchers and their cheap, smelly patriotism to go to hell, and to take their propagandists in the press with them. And making it stick.
The sooner we throw these Congressional suck-up Republicans and Bush and Cheney and their sycophants back into the gutters they came from, the sooner we can dump this homeland nonsense and get back to being the United States of America.
An Associated Press story on the London car bombs noted:
White House press secretary Tony Snow said: “There is no specific or credible evidence of any threat of any kind against the United States of America.”
And once again Mr. Snow is a) lying b) misinformed c) both.
The major specific and credible threat against the United States today comprises the criminally sociopathic George W. Bush, his staff, his neocon supporters, his Justice Department (it is certainly no longer ours) and the Supreme Court he built.
Go, Tony, go! We just love that deep, measured voice you use to dispense the administration’s ignorance, arrogance, hypocrisy, and lies, and utter lack of rational awareness of what they’re really doing, of what results their actions cause in the real world. Damn, I think we should all chip in and buy Tony Snow a cheerleader’s costume that he can wear to his press gatherings.