Monday, May 17, 2004

What About Me?

The election in India, the world's largest democracy, may turn out to be among the most significant events in recent years.  Most assuredly it will be analyzed by many including people who, unlike myself, really know something about the sub-continent.  I see it as sign of possible things to come.  On the simplest level, much ink and many words have been devoted recently to the miracle of the Indian economy, to its brilliant well educated middle class and its aggressive move into technology.  Indians answer the phones when we call tech support representing a major endpoint of all the outsourcing that has become an issue in our Presidential campaign.  But the real story of India is that, despite years of democracy and of economic growth, the vast majority of its citizens remain mired in abject poverty.  This election appears to have been about them, those many left behind, truly left behind.  In bringing back the Congress and other Leftist parties, these people were asking, what about me?

It's an important question and if you put it in a global context, one that can be posed by the majority in most places.  As an American, it's hard these days not to be obsessed with our conflicts, external and internal.  Aside from aggressively flexing our muscle and promoting global trade, we have little time for the world at large.  Even when we venture out; we do so awkwardly without any real conviction about engagement in any substantive way or necessarily assessing the near or long-term consequences of our actions.  Today there are people in Washington and on Wall Street who are ringing their hands about the Indian election results and the potential impact they might have on us.  Interestingly these are the same people who insist that the Almighty wants everyone to live under democracy.  Right, so long as they don't think about exercising it.  Remember the kind words spoken about the Spanish electorate after they translated their opinion into votes?  While I don't think God is its advocate or sponsor, I do believe that democracy is a great thing and truly wish it were more widespread all over the world.

What if that were the case and all the disenfranchised could, and more importantly would, vote?  Contemplate that and you'll see why the election in India was so important, perhaps prescient.  We all talk about the growing disparity between rich and poor, or even middleclass and poor.  We bemoan it, but we don't do all that much about it.  We rightly criticize the Bush Administration for its lack of after-planning in Iraq, which has turned out to be so costly on every level.  The fact is that nobody in any party here or elsewhere around the globe seems to have a strategic plan in place to transform this planet into something that at least puts everyone on the playing field.  In fairness, I don't know that such a plan is even feasible, but don't you think we should be taking a stab at it? 

Go into the neighborhoods of poverty in the United States and in many other places.  Visit the homes and what will you see?  A television set.  Walk the streets and you'll probably see some cell phones which are morphing into post-computer powerhouses of capability and connectivity.  Images and ideas are multiplying faster than the families of fundamentalists.  Perhaps they haven't pulled themselves together yet, but they will and they will most assuredly be asking, what about me?  That shouldn't come as a surprise to us who ask the very same question almost every day.  In fact, what about me is our favorite question, the icon of our times, at the very moment when we should be asking more vigorously, what about you?

Sunday, May 9, 2004

Moral Authority

While taking his anguished apologies at face value, what seemed to bother Donald Rumsfeld most was the fact that the gruesome photos got out.  It reminded me of how we all feel after some accidental event, kicking ourselves that we could let such a stupid thing happen; if we only had...  Rumsfeld contended that photographing and the release to CBS, The New Yorker and other media were illegal renegade acts, and you can be sure that, if he can find a way below the radar screen, they won't go unpunished.  Punishing the chain of command is another thing altogether which is exactly what troubles Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican known for his prosecution of Bill Clinton during the increasingly beside-the-point days of Monicagate.  Perhaps I misjudged him because he certainly is less partisan than might have been expected.

I've noticed in talking to people about this that, after mouthing the appropriate horror, strong supporters of our invasion of Iraq are eager to place it in the proper context: terrible things happen in war.  True, which is precisely why many of us are so reluctant to engage in it.  But even if you accept war, which sometimes is unavoidable, what happened in this prison can't be construed as one of those spontaneous combustible acts in the heat of battle.  Getting people to undress and into suggestive embarrassing positions, leading them by dog leashes, is something that doesn't just happen.  It takes planned intentionality.

We simply can't let ourselves off the hook with the things happen in war argument, the kind of reasoning that in a profound way is at the heart of what makes our times so troubling.  Perhaps it is overstating it to say that we've proven ourselves no better than our adversary, but to deny it entirely misses the moral point.  Morality is one of those pesky things that demand absolutes.  The country I love claimed the moral high ground in sending its daughters and sons into battle to fight for democracy and decency against the evil one.  We tell the world that we don't do those terrible things done by others because that's not what we're all about.  Having found no WMD's the President justified our action by pointing to torture chambers like Abu Ghraib in what now appears to have been a compare and contrast shell game.  I don't suggest that Bush knew the specifics, but rather that it is all part of a claim of moral certainty – I'm right and everyone else is wrong – that is emblematic of the neo-con rhetoric to which he so closely adheres. 

The Conservatives that hold sway in America, so certain that theirs is the right way, are clearly not terrorists, but like them claim to act on  on behalf of The Almighty.  It is the same proprietary pipeline conceit used by those who bomb the innocent around the world on instructions from Allah or of Orthodox West Bank settlers who claim Divine Right in withholding lands from Palestinians who lived there for centuries.  Everyone with a gun it would seem claims to be carrying out a mission of a "Higher Authority."  If all the terrible things going on these days are the result of what God really wants, I want no part of Her.  The fact that I view all these claims as self serving and bogus is the only thing that permits me to hold on any modicum of belief.  My father was born 102 years ago today and based upon his lifelong work and thinking most assuredly would have shared this sentiment.  Had he voiced it in one of his sermons, he might have concluded with this prayer: May God protect us from the many divergent forces that claim to hold the absolute Divine truth

Wednesday, May 5, 2004

From Bad to Catastrophe

Our intelligence wasn't good enough to avoid 9/11 or to find Osama in the hills of Afghanistan, but apparently right on target in understanding what it takes to humiliate Moslem men.  It is one thing to see rage based upon presumptions and misconceptions, it's another see it based upon clear evidence.  I ask myself how I would feel as a Jew seeing analogous humiliation of my religious and cultural beliefs?  But that's silly isn't it, here I am a child of, but not born in, Nazi Germany and I still can't look at Germans with complete trust sixty years after the fact.  The day Saddam was captured Howard Dean was asked if we were safer now.  He said no and was vilified for it.  Not only was he right, but we are less safe with every passing day.

You have to ask yourself not only why representatives of this country tortured prisoners, but also what in the world was the nature or purpose of the interrogation.  We still don't have a shred of evidence that Iraq was connected with terrorism, and what might we have wanted to learn about a fallen regime?  Was this simply a case of profiling, of late day sadistic McCarthyism?  And what about all of those civilian interrogators?  Did you know that we were hiring people to do that?  Obviously, they are getting higher pay than the military, but do they also work for a company whose owners are sitting comfortably and risk-free in the US collecting millions of tax payer dollars?  Is that off the books or on?  Is this an Enron in the making?

When George Bush couldn't answer a reporter's question about mistakes – something he joked about at a recent press dinner (but still didn't answer), it was revealing.  The man couldn't bring himself to say a simple "I'm sorry" during his two interviews yesterday with Arab TV.  He is clearly viscerally unable to do so.  Ah to be so perfect.  Remember how outraged this gang was at Richard Clarke's apology to the 9/11 families, something Condi Rice refused to do?  And Donald Rumsfeld, the arrogant and obviously incompetent Secretary of Defense, couldn't bring himself to say so either.  His response was very similar to that of the day when looting was going on in Iraq, the day we essentially blew it and from which we have not recovered.  Shit happens, he said then and shit happens he says now. 

When will the American people wake up and realize that we need regime change, not to mention drastic thinking change, before this Republic implodes?  Will it take a Holocaust-like catastrophe to make people sense that something is going drastically wrong, that we are being led down a  road that ends with a cliff?  Where is our sense of outrage, not at the low level soldiers (men and women), but against the chain of command that made this ill conceived war and disgrace possible and that leads straight to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?