Before this – thankfully – last United States presidential debate, Republican candidate Senator John McCain had promised “I’ll whip [Barack] Obama’s you-know-what”. Well, he whipped nothing. He told Americans he was not President George W Bush. And then he presented himself as Joe the Plumber – a new working class heir to vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s Joe Six-Pack. And then he got “hurting and angry”. And then he lost the plot. Independent voters duly took note – and awarded one more debate to Obama. Three to none. Game virtually over.
Obama – always cool and calculating, carefully hedging his bets – still refuses to stare America in the face and admit that the real economy will tank, and the resulting mass unemployment will be proportionally as devastating as during the 1930s.
Both McCain and Obama remain prisoners of the neo-liberal Washington Consensus. Obama’s top economic advisor is Austan Goolsbee, a Friedmanite from the University of Chicago, not exactly someone capable of reasoning outside of the golden Goldman Sachs box.
But the whole scenario gets more dangerous. As McCain inexorably implodes, an extremely angry Republican party in most of its strands rears its ugly head – the extraordinary levels of hate at recent McCain-Palin rallies are just the tip of the iceberg. This correspondent has seen the mob become really brown-shirt scary, brandishing “Obama bin Lyin” placards or yelling “Kill him!” In the official Republican website in Sacramento, California, there was even a direct link between Obama and Osama bin Laden – with an explicit call to “Waterboard Barack Obama” (it was finally pulled out by Republican leaders). [continued…]
In politics it is generally not considered a good sign when voters are laughing at you, not with you. And by the end of the third and last presidential debate, the undecided voters who had gathered in Denver for Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg’s focus group were “audibly snickering” at John McCain’s grimaces, eye-bulging, and repeated references to “Joe the Plumber.”
The group of 50 uncommitted voters should have at least been receptive to McCain—Republicans and Independents outnumbered Democrats in the group by almost 4 to 1, and they started the evening with much warmer responses to McCain than to his Democratic opponent, Barack Obama. But by the time it was all over, so few of them had declared their support for McCain that there weren’t enough for Greenberg to separate them into a post-debate focus group. Meanwhile, the Obama supporters had to assemble in two different rooms to keep their discussion groups manageable. [continued…]
Let me begin, very obliquely, with the Grand Canyon and the paradox of trying to see beyond cultural or historical precedent.
The first European to look into the depths of the great gorge was the conquistador Garcia Lopez de Cardenas in 1540. He was horrified by the sight and quickly retreated from the South Rim. More than three centuries passed before Lieutenant Joseph Christmas Ives of the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers led the second major expedition to the rim. Like Garcia Lopez, he recorded an “awe that was almost painful to behold.” Ives’s expedition included a well-known German artist, but his sketch of the Canyon was wildly distorted, almost hysterical.
Neither the conquistadors nor the Army engineers, in other words, could make sense of what they saw; they were simply overwhelmed by unexpected revelation. In a fundamental sense, they were blind because they lacked the concepts necessary to organize a coherent vision of an utterly new landscape.
Accurate portrayal of the Canyon only arrived a generation later when the Colorado River became the obsession of the one-armed Civil War hero John Wesley Powell and his celebrated teams of geologists and artists. They were like Victorian astronauts reconnoitering another planet. It took years of brilliant fieldwork to construct a conceptual framework for taking in the canyon. With “deep time” added as the critical dimension, it was finally possible for raw perception to be transformed into consistent vision.
The result of their work, The Tertiary History of the Grand Canyon District, published in 1882, is illustrated by masterpieces of draftsmanship that, as Powell’s biographer Wallace Stegner once pointed out, “are more accurate than any photograph.” That is because they reproduce details of stratigraphy usually obscured in camera images. When we visit one of the famous viewpoints today, most of us are oblivious to how profoundly our eyes have been trained by these iconic images or how much we have been influenced by the idea, popularized by Powell, of the Canyon as a museum of geological time.
But why am I talking about geology? Because, like the Grand Canyon’s first explorers, we are looking into an unprecedented abyss of economic and social turmoil that confounds our previous perceptions of historical risk. Our vertigo is intensified by our ignorance of the depth of the crisis or any sense of how far we might ultimately fall.
Let me confess that, as an aging socialist, I suddenly find myself like the Jehovah’s Witness who opens his window to see the stars actually falling out of the sky. Although I’ve been studying Marxist crisis theory for decades, I never believed I’d actually live to see financial capitalism commit suicide. Or hear the International Monetary Fund warn of imminent “systemic meltdown.”
Thus, my initial reaction to Wall Street’s infamous 777.7 point plunge a few weeks ago was a very sixties retro elation. “Right on, Karl!” I shouted. “Eat your derivatives and die, Wall Street swine!” Like the Grand Canyon, the fall of the banks can be a terrifying but sublime spectacle.
But the real culprits, of course, are not being trundled off to the guillotine; they’re gently floating to earth in golden parachutes. The rest of us may be trapped on the burning plane without a pilot, but the despicable Richard Fuld, who used Lehman Brothers to loot pension funds and retirement accounts, merely sulks on his yacht. [continued…]
Despite their differences over how to pursue the US war in Iraq, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama both want to send more American troops to Afghanistan. Both are wrong. History cries out to them, but they are not listening.
Both candidates would do well to gaze for a moment on a painting by the British artist Elizabeth Butler called “Remnants of an Army.” It depicts the lone survivor of a 15,000-strong British column that sought to march through 150 kilometers of hostile Afghan territory in 1842. His gaunt, defeated figure is a timeless reminder of what happens to foreign armies that try to subdue Afghanistan.
The McCain-Obama approach to Afghanistan, like much of US policy toward the Middle East and Central Asia, is based on emotion rather than realism. Emotion leads many Americans to want to punish perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. They see war against the Taliban as a way to do it. Suggesting that victory over the Taliban is impossible, and that the United States can only hope for peace in Afghanistan through compromise with Taliban leaders, has been taken as near-treason.
This knee-jerk response ignores the pattern of fluid loyalties that has been part of Afghan tribal life for centuries. Alliances shift as interests change. Warlords who support the Taliban are not necessarily enemies of the United States. If they are today, they need not be tomorrow. [continued…]
Excuse me, but when did the words “Muslim” and “Arab” become acceptable epithets?
I’m not a Muslim, and perhaps I was slow to see this coming. Four months ago, I blithely advised a group at a local mosque not to obsess over the anti-Muslim undertones of the presidential campaign. At that point, Barack Obama was defending his Christian bona fides against “accusations” of “being a Muslim” (as if it had suddenly become a Class-D felony), but was doing so without condemning the implicit slurs against Islam, Muslims and Arabs.
In a “don’t worry, be happy” tone, I breezily noted that although the stoking of racial fear and xenophobia was a cherished tradition of American politics, I really didn’t think that this time around the candidates would permit the wholesale slander of Islam or Muslims.
Apparently, I was wrong. The undertones have become screaming overtones. And it is past time to object. [continued…]
No outsider has spent more time tracking the labyrinthine ways of the National Security Agency than James Bamford. But even he gets lost in the maze. Despite countless articles and three books on the U.S. government’s super-secret, signals-intelligence service — the latest of which, The Shadow Factory, is out today — Bamford tells Danger Room that he was caught off guard by revelations that the NSA was eavesdropping on Americans. He remains confused about how the country’s telecommunications firms were co-opted into the warrantless spying project. And he’s still only guessing, he admits, at the breadth and depth of those domestic surveillance efforts. In this exclusive interview, Bamford talks about how hard it is, after all these years, to fit together the pieces at the NSA’s “Puzzle Palace” headquarters. [continued…]