Goodbye To 2011, Year Of The Rabbit

by Alexander Cockburn, January 5, 2012

January 5 — Torture is now solidly installed in America’s repressive arsenal, not in the shadows where it has always lurked, but up front and central, vigorously applauded by prominent politicians. Rituals of coercion and humiliation seep through the culture, to the extent that before Christmas American travelers began to rebel at the invasive pat-down searches, conducted by the TSA’s airport security teams, groping around bosoms and crotches.

The American liberal conscience began to make its accommodation with torture in June, 1977, which was the month the London Sunday Times published a major expose of torture of Palestinians by the Israeli armed forces and the security agency, Shin Bet. Suddenly American supporters of Israel were arguing that certain techniques — sensory deprivation, prolonged stress positions while hooded, incarceration in “cells” the size of packing crates, etc. — somehow weren’t really torture, or were morally justifiable torture under “ticking time bomb” theory.

January 13 — Wednesday night’s memorial in the McHale Arena at the University of Arizona did strike me as slightly strange, like an Irish wake that had prematurely transitioned into the later boisterous phase. The offbeat tone was established from the outset by Carlos Gonzalez, an associate prof at AU who delivered us from stuffy Anglican proprieties by very properly “politicizing” the event .

Gonzalez flourished a talisman of eagle feathers and chanted a bracing traditional Indian blessing, walking the 13,000 crowd inside McKale Center (plus an overflow 13,000 at Arizona Stadium) around the four “doors” to wisdom, spirit, visions and energy and guidance, plus the male energy of the sky and the female energy of earth. He blessed the victims, their families, all Americans, his son in Afghanistan and all his relations, all creatures including snakes.

It was a bracing one-in-the eye for the Judeo-Christian tradition. The event nosedived into bad faith and tedium with an address by the shifty Gov. Jan Brewer, followed by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, who read highly inappropriate verses from Isaiah, chapter 40 and U.S. Attorney Eric Holder giving us verses from the second letter to the Corinthians written by the markedly intolerant Paul.

January 28 — President Obama’s state of the union: It was all very, very familiar. America has lost its technological dominance. Solution: Kennedy’s New Frontier, when the shocking challenge of the Russian sputnik, launched into space in 1957, led to the US moon shot which in turn “unleashed an age of innovation.” America now faces another “sputnik moment.” The challenge: to “out-innovate, out-educate and outbuild the rest of the world. “

This is to be achieved by a green revolution in energy, better schools and teachers, efficient government subservient to the needs of business, less debt.

Every president calls for Americans to do better at science. Clinton made a veritable industry out of it, also out of “reinventing government”, which Obama also proposes to rehab in the form of a new onslaught on burdensome regulation, so crippling to the American entrepreneurial spirit.

The left got a vague pledge from Obama not to mess with Social Security plus a rhetorical kick at the oil companies. The right got substantive support for lowering corporate taxes plus all sorts of agreeable commitments about cutting Medicare and so forth.

Obama seemed to trying to stage a replay of his own, of the US economy in the 1950s. “We do big things.” No we don’t. We do Stupid Big Things, dating back to that last heyday of Stupid Big Thing Thinking – dam construction in the 1930s, surging to the disaster of the Glen Canyon dam and Lake Powell in the 1950s, the same decade freeway construction – Big Concrete — destroyed city after city the same way – albeit more permanently — Big Bombing destroyed Germany and many countries thereafter.

February 11 — We need good news. When was the last time we had some, here in this country? The Seattle riots against the WTO? That was back in 1999. Around the world? Hard to remember – it’s been a long dry spell. It reminds me of the old Jacobin shivering in the chill night of Bourbon restoration, and crying out, “Oh, sun of ’93, when shall I feel thy warmth again!”

We raise our glass to the Egyptian people — the door of history.

February 14 — The Reagan cult celebrates the centenary of their idol’s birth this month, and the airwaves have been tumid with homage to the 38th president, who held office for two terms – 1981-1988 – and who died in 2004. The script of these recurring homages is unchanging: with his straightforward, sunny disposition and aw-shucks can-do style the manly Reagan gave America back its confidence. In less flattering terms he and his pr crew catered expertly to the demands of the American national fantasy: that homely common sense could return America to the vigor of its youth and the economy of the 1950s.

When he took over the Oval Office at the age of 66 whatever powers of concentration he might have once had were failing. The Joint Chiefs of Staff mounted their traditional show-and-tell briefings for him, replete with simple charts and a senior general explicating them in simple terms. Reagan found these briefings way too complicated and dozed off.

The Joint Chiefs then set up a secret unit, staffed by cartoonists. The balance of forces were set forth in easily accessible caricature, with Soviet missiles the size of upended Zeppelins, pulsing on their launchpads, with the miniscule US ICBMs shriveled in their bunkers. Little cartoon bubbles would contain the points the joint chiefs wanted to hammer into Reagan's brain, most of them to the effect that “we need more money.” The president really enjoyed the shows and sometimes even asked for repeats.

March 4 — The Army filed 22 new charges against PFC Bradley Manning, suspected of passing classified information to the WikiLeaks website. The charges include “aiding the enemy,” — a capital offense. These charges coincided with Gen. Petraeus apologizing, also on March 2, to Afghanistan’s puppet leader Karzai for the deaths, via machine-gun from Apache attack helicopters, of 9 children, killed as they gathered firewood in a mountainous area of eastern Afghanistan. A 10th child was injured. The general said he was really, really sorry, and that it seemed that “regrettably, there appears to have been an error in the handoff between identifying the location of the insurgents and the attack helicopters that carried out subsequent operations.”

Among the material that Manning is accused of handing on to Wikileaks is footage of Apache helicopter assaults in Baghdad. The worldwide web was transfixed on April 5, 2010, when Wikileaks put up on YouTube a 38-minute video, a 17-minute edited version, taken from a U.S. Army Apache helicopter, one of two firing on a group of Iraqis in Baghdad at a street corner in July of 2007. Twelve civilians died, including a Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and a Reuters driver, Saeed Chmagh, 40.

Two lethal helicopter assaults, two different outcomes for those divulging them. Petraeus gets a pat on the back for his swift effort at damage control; Manning gets charges that carry the death penalty.

March 12 — A giant has gone from us — a giant of sententiousness, an endlessly cresting tsunami of tedium, I must hasten to add. I speak of David Broder, for many years chief political correspondent of the Washington Post, who passed this week amid much respectful invocation of his mastery of the American political process.

Broder hated any form of disruption to what he admired in American political arrangements, viz two orthodox political large parties agreeing on all essentials, bartering amiably through the medium of the various chieftains with whom Broder palavered on a daily basis. He detested all forms of disruptive change, any threat to received wisdom, any excessive zeal in the pursuit of any cause. The possibility that the American political system might long ago have evolved into irredeemable corruption and criminality never crossed his mind. Through the filter of his reports the American Melodrama was recast into endless reassurance that everything was, in the last analysis, on the right track. Rarely has someone got history so consistently wrong.

March 18 — Americans read the increasingly panic-stricken reports of deepening catastrophe at Fukushima Daichi, speed to the pharmacy to look for iodine and ask, “It’s happened there; can it happen here?” They already know it can, and almost certainly will.

The late great environmentalist David Brower, used to tell audiences solemnly, “ Nuclear plants are incredibly complex technological devices for locating earthquake faults.”

President Obama took plenty of money from the nuclear industry for his presidential campaign and in his State of the Union address last January reaffirmed his commitment to “clean, safe” nuclear power, as insane a statement as pledging commitment to a nice clean form of syphilis. This week Obama’s press spokesman confirmed that nuclear energy “remains a part of the President's overall energy plan.”

April 6 — Peering briefly at the royal nuptials in a house high up in the mountains above Malibu, I was surprised to see how spectacularly tacky the British upper classes have become. They looked very vulgar. The appalling cuteness of the Aston Martin supplied the coup de grace. The groom didn’t know how to stand up properly. Contrary to effusive comparisons, the bride’s much touted dress from the atelier of the wildly overpraised late Alexander McQueen, was a far cry from Grace Kelly’s, designed by Helen Rose, who had dressed her in High Society  and The Swan . The bride’s headdress hung like a dishrag. The only vestments born with confidence and aplomb were those of the churchmen. The Archbishop of Canterbury, with his emphatic beard and specs, had a splendid cope. His voice was confident. I’d like to see him in debate with one of Teheran’s ayatollahs. But the Anglo actresses watching the event on our mountain were ecstatic. My daughter Daisy, returning to London two days later, reported that the young women she was encountering were all swept away by the event and eager for marriage.

April 9 — Fox News says Glenn Beck’s daily program will “transition” off the network show some time before the end of this year. Beck cosigned the statement and confirmed this on his show on Wednesday, April 6, speaking vaguely of sustaining the two-year relationship with Fox by “developing things”. He sounded shell-shocked, like a man who’d been shown the door.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Beck, partly because of his deep roots in the mulch of American nutdom, fertilized by the powerful psychic idiom of rebirth and redemption.

“Progressives”, today’s milquetoast substitute for old-line radicals, have trembled at his ravings about the left’s conspiracies against freedom. Personally, I found them heartening. Respect at last! Who but Beck could turn a conservative African-American Harvard grad, an errand boy for corporate America, into a latterday re-creation of W.E. B. DuBois and Malcolm X, now installed in the White House.

Would you rather sit in a traffic jam listening to Robert Segal than Glenn Beck? Why no threatened advertising boycott from PAW against Rachel Maddow, hot for US intervention in Libya: ““President Obama announced his own military intervention, but he pointedly declined the opportunity to do it in a way that US presidents usually do.” According to Maddow, Obama has foresworn “the chest-thumping commander-in-chief theater that goes with military intervention of any kind,” and “that in itself is a fascinating and rather blunt demonstration of just how much this presidency is not like that of George W. Bush.”

Give me Beck any day.

April 28 — Americans were offered closure Wednesday to one of among the multifarious strands of our national dementias. It took the drab guise of the “long-form” birth certificate, signed and filed in Hawaii on August 8, 1961, indicating that the president is a legitimate occupant of the Oval Office. But will the White House’s release of the certificate finish off the “birther” movement? Certainly not. We’re dealing here with cognitive dissonance, which is what sociologists call the phenomenon of increased commitment to a batty theory, at the very hour of its destruction by external evidence.

May 18 — What began in Britain in 2005 as “a third-rate burglary” of voicemails, supposedly limited to a criminal invasion of privacy by a News of the World reporter and a private investigator, has flowered beautifully into a Level 7 scandal that threatens the careers of two of Rupert Murdoch’s top executives, not to mention the heir apparent to the News Corp. empire, James Murdoch. It even laps at the ankles of the 80-year-old magnate, threatening the final financial triumph that was scheduled to usher him into Valhalla.

May 20 — The French are for the millionaire. The Americans are for the maid. Among the French, three out of five think the IMF’s former managing director, Dominique Strauss Kahn, has been framed. (Strauss-Kahn tendered his resignation as head of the IMF May 18.) Here in the USA there’s not been a reliable poll, but public sentiment is clearly against Strauss-Kahn, amplified by self-congratulation that America is a nation of laws, a maid’s word as potent as that of a millionaire, in contrast to the moral decay and deference to the rich prevalent in France.

The French, for their part, stigmatize America as a puritanical, omnipotent imperial police state, whose intelligence agencies are efficiently capable of any infamy. But even as they charge that Strauss-Kahn was set up, the French press is rather weak on identifying or even suggesting the precise mastermind or group working to destroy a man who might have been the French Socialist Party’s candidate, evicting Sarkozy from the Elysee Palace.

June 8 — On June 6 the independent International Crisis Group, stocked with well-informed regional experts and former diplomats, issued a report “Making Sense of Libya”. It stated forthrightly that NATO was in the business of “regime change” and was strongly critical of NATO’s refusal to respond to calls for ceasefire and negotiation, a stance which the ICG says is guaranteed to prolong the conflict, and the tribulations of all Libyans.

The ICG then address the topic of Qaddafi’s alleged “crimes against humanity”, even genocide. Remember that the relevant UN resolutions that led to NATO’s current onslaughts were rushed through the Security Council powered by fierce rhetoric about Qaddafi’s “massacre of his own people”, and his “crimes against humanity”, even genocide. The diffuse and mostly vague allegations were usually studded with adverbs like “reportedly”.

On the issue of Qaddafi’s alleged war crimes the International Crisis Group notes reports of mass rapes by government militias, but declares that at the same time,

“much Western media coverage has from the outset presented a very one-sided view of the logic of events, portraying the protest movement as entirely peaceful and repeatedly suggesting that the regime’s security forces were unaccountably massacring unarmed demonstrators who presented no real security challenge. This version would appear to ignore evidence that the protest movement exhibited a violent aspect from very early on….there is also evidence that, as the regime claimed, the demonstrations were infiltrated by violent elements. Likewise, there are grounds for questioning the more sensational reports that the regime was using its air force to slaughter demonstrators, let alone engaging in anything remotely warranting use of the term ‘genocide’.”

A hundred years down the road the UN/NATO Libyan intervention will be seen as an old-fashioned colonial smash-and-grab affair. There may even be a paragraph or two about the collapse of the U.S. left, in mounting any powerful show of protest.

June 21 — In Paris we have had the sad spectacle of former Dior designer John Galliano on trial, dumped by Dior, for a drunken anti-Semitic diatribe to a couple in a café in the Marais in Paris, yet another ludicrous episode in the ongoing repression of free speech. Charge him with being drunk and disorderly maybe, but for verbal ethnic and historical slurs? If DSK makes it back to Paris in the foreseeable future and some says to him in a café, “You dirty sexual pervert” no crime will have been committed. “You dirty Jewish sexual pervert” brings the prospect of heavy fines and even jail time for the perp.

July 18 — On August 2, the United States could start defaulting on its obligations as the Tea Party crowd in the House of Representatives refuse to raise the debt ceiling.

America is in love with Apocalypse. It always has been. Every couple of years someone says the End is Nigh. When I came to America’s shores in 1972 Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth had just been published and sold 30 million copies over the next 20 years. Lindsey wrote, rather presciently, that Antichrist would rule over a ten-nation European Community through the 1970s until the Rapture – scheduled for the 1980s – and the Second Coming.

Not many people here really think the US government will shut down on August 3. The fight over the deficit is one of those American ceremonies, as embalmed in ritual speech and gesture as an English coronation.

August 4 — Of course he blew it. Whether by artful design or by sheer timidity is immaterial. He blew it. Two days before the United States was officially set to default on its debts on August 2, Barack Obama had the Republicans where he wanted them: All he had to do was announce that he’d trudged the last half mile towards a deal but that there’s no pleasing fanatics who reject all possibilities of compromise. Obama could have done that, but he didn’t. At the eleventh hour and the fifty-fifth minute he threw in the towel, and allowed the Republicans to exult that they’d got 95 per cent of what they wanted: cuts in social programs, a bipartisan congressional panel to shred at its leisure what remains of the social safety net, no tax hikes for the rich, no serious slice in the military budget..

August 10 — What’s a riot without looting? We want it, they’ve got it! You’d think from the press that looting was alien to British tradition, imported by immigrants more recent than the Normans. Not so. Gavin Mortimer, author of The Blitz, had an amusing piece in the First Post about the conduct of Britons at the time of Their Finest Hour:

“It didn't take long for a hardcore of opportunists to realise there were rich pickings available in the immediate aftermath of a raid – and the looting wasn't limited to civilians.

“The looting was often carried out by gangs of children organized by a Fagin figure; he would send them into bombed-out houses the morning after a raid with orders to target coins from gas meters and display cases containing First World War medals. In April 1941 Lambeth juvenile court dealt with 42 children in one day, from teenage girls caught stripping clothes from dead bodies to a seven-year-old boy who had stolen five shillings from the gas meter of a damaged house. In total, juvenile crime accounted for 48 per cent of all arrests in the nine months between September 1940 and May 1941 and there were 4,584 cases of looting.

“Perhaps the most shameful episode of the whole Blitz occurred on the evening of March 8 1941 when the Cafe de Paris in Piccadilly was hit by a German bomb. The cafe was one of the most glamorous night spots in London, the venue for off-duty officers to bring their wives and girlfriends, and within minutes of its destruction the looters moved in.

“Some of the looters in the Cafe de Paris cut off the people's fingers to get the rings,” recalled Ballard Berkeley, a policeman during the Blitz who later found fame as the 'Major' in Fawlty Towers. Even the wounded in the Cafe de Paris were robbed of their jewellery amid the confusion and carnage.”

November 2 — The middle class has – at least two thirds of it – crashed into hard times. Americans’ store of value and savings – the house – is worthless; the always pathetic social safety net has eroded. Thirty million Americans are without work or working part-time. Nearly 6 million manufacturing jobs in the United States have disappeared since 2000, and more than 40,000 factories have closed. African-Americans have endured the greatest loss in collective assets in their history. Hispanics have seen their net worth drop by two-thirds. Millions of whites have been pitchforked into desperation. Students emerge from higher education crushed by debt.

This is the mulch that has created the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Its strength lies in the simplicity and truth of its basic message: the few are rich, the many are poor. In terms of its pretensions the capitalist system has failed.

Having briefly tasted batons and pepper spray, OWSers should know that when capital feels it is being pushed to the wall, it will stop at nothing to crush any serious challenge. The cop puts away his smile. The indulgent mayor imposes a curfew. “Exemplary” sentences are handed down. The prisons fill up. The FBI dusts off the Cointelpro blueprint. Organized repression can only be defeated by organized resistance, nationwide. How to mount this is the OWSers’ long-term challenge.

November 8 — As he prepares to follow Gov. Rick Perry into the oubliette of campaign history Herman Cain can at least console himself that as an alleged harasser of women, his was certainly a classier act than that of a man who not only got elected president in 1992 but was triumphantly reelected in 1996, each time by about 45 million Americans armed with the knowledge that if you left your wife at the next table to Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas in Macdonald’s, by the time you got back from ordering more fries Bill would be ensconced in your seat, his hand already hovering above your wife’s thigh.

Sharon Bialek, one of the women accusing Cain of seeking to take advantage when he was head of the National Restaurant Association in 1997, says that her apprehensions were aroused when in his car, having offered to drive her home, Cain told her he’d already called Washington’s Capital Hilton and upgraded her accommodations to a luxury suite. It was only after this material demonstration of his high regard that Cain put his hand up her skirt and then sought to guide her head towards his lower regions. Ms Bialek says the minute she said No, Cain abandoned his advances and drove her home.

A luxury suite! One of Bill’s targets, when he was governor of Arkansas, would have been lucky to get a ride home in the troop car, after a brisk session in the governor’s office, with bruises on her arms when she resisted the guiding hand. Who says this isn’t the land of progress? Seventy years ago a black man making the sort of advances of which Cain is accused tended to end up swinging from the branch of a tree, not running for president with a hefty quotient of Americans saying they don’t give a toss about the harassment charges.

December 8 — Obama has seized on Teddy Roosevelt as his role model in denouncing those destroying the supposed guarantee of the American Way, strangely defining’s TR’s philosophy as one guaranteeing that every citizen gets a fair bounce on the trampoline, soaring into the safe harbor of “the middle class.”

As for imperial destiny, last month Obama did his own reprise on the Great White Fleet, opening a new US marine base in Australia and shaking his fist at China.

Last Tuesday in Osawatomie, Kansas where TR, attempting a political comeback in 1910, slagged corporate power for the benefit of his audience of 30,000 prairie populists, Obama told a crowd of 1,200: “At stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, and secure their retirement.”

When in doubt, wheel on Teddy Roosevelt. It's in every Democratic president's playbook. TR was president from 1901 to 1909. He was manly, ranching in North Dakota, exploring the Amazon and nearly expiring on the River of Doubt. He was an imperialist con amore, charging up San Juan Hill, sending the Great White Fleet round the world, proclaiming America’s destiny as an enforcer on the world stage. He loved wilderness, mostly through the sights of a big game hunter’s rifle — a wilderness suitably cleansed of Indians. “I don't go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians,” he wrote in The Winning of the West, “but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn't like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.”

When necessary he could play the populist rabble-rouser's card, flaying the trusts, railing against “the malefactors of great wealth.” But on TR's watch the modern, centralized corporate American state came of age. LBJ loved TR for his “toughness.” Draft-dodging Bill Clinton invoked TR as his ideal. At least Johnson and Clinton had elements in them of TR’s most admirable trait – gusto, something of which Obama is dismally devoid.

December 18 — The great historian Gabriel Kolko makes a persuasive case that in the end the eurozone, inded the EU, will go into meltdown. Good. The EU “project,” a very irritating word that should be tossed in the dumpster along with “iconic,” “meme,” “parse” and “narrative,” is in potential outline a totalitarian nightmare. Down with federalism! Remember Simone Weil’s hatred of the Roman Empire and what it did to Europe’s cultural richness and diversity: “If we consider the long centuries and the vast area of the Roman Empire and compare these centuries with the ones that preceded it and the ones that followed the barbarian invasions, we perceive to what extent the Mediterranean basin was reduced to spiritual sterility by the totalitarian State.” As Weil’s biographer, Simone Pétrement, comments, “The Roman peace was soon the peace of the desert, a world from which had vanished, together with political liberty and diversity, the creative inspiration that produces great art, great literary works, science, and philosophy. Many centuries had to pass before the superior forms of human life were reborn.”

“What did the Roman Empire ever do for us?” the left nationalist asks in Monty Python’s imperishable The Life of Brian. “Roads,” the federalist begins tentatively. My native country of Ireland has been covered with vast roads, courtesy of the EU. We’ve got enough of them. Europe’s got enough of them. Enough of the eurozone, enough of the “European project.”

December 22 — A couple of months ago came a mile marker in America's steady slide downhill towards the status of a Banana Republic, with Obama's assertion that he has the right as president to order secretly the assassination, without trial, of a US citizen he deems to be working with terrorists. This followed his betrayal in 2009 of his pledge to end the indefinite imprisonment without charges or trial of prisoners in Guantanamo.

Now, after months of declaring that he would veto such legislation, Obama has now crumbled and will soon sign a monstrosity called the Levin/McCain detention bill, named for its two senatorial sponsors, Carl Levin and John McCain. It's snugged into the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act.

All accused terrorists can be indefinitely imprisoned by the military rather than in the civilian court system; this includes US citizens within the borders of the United States. Obama supporters have made strenuous efforts to suggest that US citizens are excluded from the bill’s provisions. Not so. “It is not unfair to make an American citizen account for the fact that they decided to help Al Qaeda to kill us all and hold them as long as it takes to find intelligence about what may be coming next,” says Senator Lindsay Graham, a big backer of the bill. “And when they say, ‘I want my lawyer,’ you tell them, ‘Shut up. You don’t get a lawyer’.” The bill’s co-sponsor, Democratic senator, cosponsor of the bill, Carl Levin says it was the White House itself that demanded that the infamous Section 1022 apply to American citizens.

Anyone familiar with this sort of “emergency” legislation knows that those drafting the statutes like to cast as wide a net as possible. In this instance the detention bill authorizes use of military force against anyone who “substantially supports” al-Qaeda, the Taliban or “associated forces.” Of course “associated forces” can mean anything. The bill's language mentions “associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or who has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.”

This is exactly the sort of language that can be bent at will by any prosecutor.

Mindful that the votes of liberals can be useful, even vital in presidential elections, pro-Obama supporters of the bill claim that it doesn't codify “indefinite detention.” But indeed it does. The bill explicitly authorizes “detention under the law of war until the end of hostilities.”

Will the bill hurt Obama? Probably not too much, if at all. Liberals are never very energetic in protecting constitutional rights. That's more the province of libertarians and men like Ron Paul actually prepared to draw lines in the sand in matters of principle.

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