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WHAT HAPPENED IN THIS ELECTION?

 

John Chuckman

 

Brushing away the extreme claims and rhetoric of much election analysis, there are some observations which deserve attention. These unfortunately mostly provide hard lessons and not a lot of encouragement for people who hold to principles of democracy, enlightenment, and progressivity.

The election demonstrated perhaps better than ever, and better than has been generally been recognized, that American is, indeed, a plutocracy. It took a genuine American Oligarch, a multi-billionaire, a man with a lifetime’s economic empire-building, to defeat a family which could provide the very definition of being politically well-connected, a family which had laboriously constructed and carefully maintained a kind of deep well ever-flowing with money for their ambitions.

It was the ever-flowing well of money, drilled by Bill Clinton with help from some extremely shady friends, such as Jeffrey Epstein, that made the Clintons keystone establishment figures in the Democratic Party. It was not personal charm or exceptional political generalship – although Bill, in his heyday, displayed some of both of those – that earned the Clintons their place, it was the money, the “mother’s milk of politics.” In what is euphemistically called “fund raising,” many hundreds of millions of dollars were provided for the party over the last couple of decades by Bill Clinton’s efforts.

Hillary fully appreciated the fact that money buys power and influence. She lacked Bill’s superficial charm, but she certainly more than shared his ambition.  On the charm front, when she was ready to move into running for office, she adopted, perhaps under Bill’s tutelage, a kind of forced clown face with arched eyebrows, bugged-out eyes, and a smile as big as her lips would allow, and these expressions were accompanied by little gestures such as briefly pointing to various on-lookers or waving helter-skelter whenever she campaigned.

Her gestures reminded me of something you might see atop a float in a Christmas Parade or of the late Harpo Marx at his most exuberant. These were not natural for her. They were never in evidence years ago when she spent years as a kind of bizarre executive housewife, both in a governor’s mansion and later in the White House, bizarre because she indulged her husband’s non-stop predatory sexual behavior in exchange for the immense power it conferred on her behind the scenes over her far more out-going and successful politician-husband.

Anyway, Hillary knew that gestures and simulated charm do not get you far in American politics. She determined to build a political war chest long ago, and there are many indications over the years of her working towards this end of making this or that change in expressed view, as when running for the Senate, when sources of big money suggested another view would more acceptable. She was anything but constant in the views she embraced because when she ran for the Senate she spent record amounts of money, embarrassingly large amounts.

In her years of speaking engagements, she aimed at special interests who could supply potentially far more money than just exorbitant speaking fees. Later, in the influential, appointed post of Secretary of State – coming, as it does, into personal contact with every head of government or moneyed, big-time international schemer – she unquestionably played an aggressive “pay for play” with them all. Covering up that embarrassing and illegal fact is what the private servers and unauthorized smart phones were all about.

A second big fact of the election is that both major American political parties are rather sick and fading. The Republican Party has been broken for a very long time. It hobbled along for some decades with the help of various gimmicks, hoping to expand its constituency with rubbish like “family values,” public prayer and catering to the Christian Right, and anti-flag burning Constitutional amendments, and now it is truly out of gas. That is precisely why a political outsider like Oligarch Trump could manage to hi-jack the party.

He was opposed by tired, boring men like Jeb Bush, seeking to secure an almost inherited presidency, and a dark, intensely unlikable, phony Christian fundamentalist like Ted Cruz, and it proved to be no contest. It was a remarkable political achievement, but I think it was only possible given the sorry state of the party.

The Republican Party had been given a breather, some new life, by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. He had an extremely mixed record as President, but he was popular, held in some affection, and did have a clear vision, but his effect on the party was not lasting. Trump could be seen as another Reagan, but I think the comparison is superficial. Trump literally hi-jacked the party, and he was not deliriously crowned by its establishment.

The Republican Party itself was formed not long before Abraham Lincoln’s candidacy out of the remains of worn out and collapsed predecessors, including the Whigs and Free-Soil Democrats. Parties do not last forever, and here was Trump creating something of a minor political revolution inside a tired and fairly directionless old party, a phenomenon which I do not think was sufficiently noticed.

The press was too busy attacking him from the start to take notice or do any intelligent analysis, and he was attacked precisely for the potential damage to the establishment he represented. His most promising quality is his potential for creating a new coalition of interests and one excluding the continuation of the Neocon Wars Hillary vigorously embraced and would expand.

But the Democratic Party is in serious trouble, too. It has a great deal of internal rot, as the Wiki-Leaks material from the DNC clearly shows us. Arrogance, lack of direction, ignorance of the people it has always claimed to serve, bad decision-making, and the absolute prostrate worship of money are the major symptoms.

It would have been impossible for the party to have so made up its mind and committed its resources to Hillary Clinton without serious rot. She has always had strong negatives in polling, always been (rightly) suspected concerning her honesty.

The Wiki-Leaks material tells us about many internal conflicts, including harsh high-level judgments of Hillary’s decision-making, resentment over the back-stabbing character of daughter Chelsea who is said to resemble Hillary in her behavior and attitudes, and the belief of some that Hillary just should not have run. And, frankly, she had become for many a rather tiresome, used-up figure from whom absolutely nothing spectacular in politics or policy could possibly be expected. But they not only blindly supported her, they broke all their own party rules by internally and secretly working to defeat a legitimate and viable contender, Bernie Sanders.

Sanders might well have been able to win the election for the Democrats, but their establishment was blind to the possibility and rejected his candidacy out-of-hand. After all, there were Bill and Hillary beckoning to their running well of money. In hindsight, it might be just as well that Sanders was cheated out of the nomination. He proved a weak individual in the end, giving in to just the forces he had claimed to oppose and leaving his enthusiastic followers completely let down. He may well even have been secretly bribed by money from the Clintons since he bought a fairly expensive property not long afterward. But, in any event, there he was, out on the hustings, supporting everything he ever opposed personified in Hillary Clinton. Men of that nature do not stand up well to Generals and Admirals and the heads of massive corporations, a quality which I do think we have some right to expect Trump to display.

Another important fact about the election is that it was less the triumph of Trump than the avoidance of Hillary that caused the defeat. The numbers are unmistakable. Yes, Trump did well for a political newcomer and a very controversial figure, but Hillary simply did badly, not approaching the support Obama achieved in key states, again something reflecting the documented fact that she is not a well-liked figure and the Party blundered badly in running her. But again, money talks, and the Clintons, particularly Bill, are the biggest fundraisers they have had in our lifetime. No one was ready to say no to the source of all that money.

Now, to many Americans, the election result must seem a bit like having experienced something of a revolution, although a revolution conducted through ballots, any other kind being literally impossible by design in this massive military-security state.  In a way, it does represent something of a revolutionary event, owing to the fact that Trump the Oligarch is in his political views a bit of a revolutionary or at least a dissenter from the prevailing establishment views. And, as in any revolution, even a small one, there are going to be some unpleasant outcomes.

The historical truth of politics is that you never know from just what surprising source change may come. Lyndon Johnson, life-long crooked politician and the main author of the horrifying and pointless Vietnam War, did more for the rights of black Americans than any other modern president. Franklin Roosevelt, son of wealthy establishment figures, provided remarkable leadership in the Great Depression, restoring hopes and dreams for millions. Change, important, change, never comes from establishments or institutions like political parties. It always comes from unusual people who seem to step out of their accustomed roles in life with some good or inspired ideas and have the drive and toughness to make them a reality.

I have some limited but important hopes for Trump. I am not blind or delirious expecting miracles from this unusual person, and after the experience of Obama, who seemed such a promising young figure but fairly quickly proved a crushing, bloody disappointment, I can never build up substantial hopes for any politician. And what was the choice anyway? Hillary Clinton was a bought-and-paid one-way ticket to hell.

Trump offers two areas of some hope, and these both represent real change. The first is in reducing America’s close to out-of-control military aggressiveness abroad. This aggressiveness, reflecting momentum from what can only be called the Cheney-Rumsfeld Presidency, continued and grew under the weak and ineffectual leadership of Obama and was boosted and encouraged by Hillary as Secretary of State. Hillary, the feminists who weep for her should be reminded, did a lot of killing during her tenure. She along with Obama are literally responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of women and their families, many of them literally torn apart by bombs.

The other area of some hope is for the welfare of ordinary American people themselves who have been completely ignored by national leaders for decades. George Bush’s lame reaction to Hurricane Katrina (before he was internationally shamed into some action) has become the normal pattern for America’s national government when it comes to ordinary Americans.

The truth is that the legacy of FDR has withered to nothing and no longer plays any role in the Democratic Party, and of course never did in the Republican Party. By welfare, I do not mean the kind of state assistance that Bill Clinton himself worked to end. Nothing can impress someone not familiar with America’s dark corners more than a visit to places like Detroit or Gary or Chicago’s South Side, parts of New Orleans, or Newark or dozens of other places where Americans live in conditions in every way comparable to Third World hellholes. No, I mean the people’s general well-being. Trump’s approach will be through jobs and creating incentives for jobs. I don’t know whether he can succeed, but, just as he asked people in some of his speeches, “What do you have to lose?” Just having someone in power who pays any attention to the “deplorables” is a small gain.

People should never think of the Clintons as liberal or progressive, and that was just as much true for Bill as it is for Hillary. His record as President – apart from his embarrassing behavior in the Oval Office with a young female intern and his recruitment of Secret Service guards as procurers for women he found attractive on his morning runs – was actually pretty appalling. He, in his own words, “ended welfare as we know it.” He signed legislation which would send large numbers of young black men to prison. He also signed legislation which contributed to the country’s later financial collapse under George Bush. He often would appoint someone decent and then quickly back off, leaving them dangling, when it looked like approval for the appointment would not be coming. His FBI conducted the assault on Waco, killing about eighty people needlessly. A pharmaceutical plant in Sudan was destroyed by cruise missiles for no good reason. There were a number of scandals, including the suicide of Vince Foster and the so-called Travelgate affair, which were never fully explained to the public. It was his Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who answered, unblinkingly, a television interviewer’s question about tens of thousands of Iraqi children who died owing to America’s embargo, “We think it’s worth it.”  He committed the war crime of bombing Belgrade. When news of the horrors of the Rwanda genocide were first detected by his government, the order secretly went out to shut up about it. No effort was made to intervene.

No, any real change in America could never come from people like the Clintons, either one of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOME HARD FACTS ABOUT TERROR

John Chuckman

 

We are having an outbreak of reports in the Canadian press about “home grown” terrorists, “radicalized” young men of Muslim faith traveling out of the country to participate in extremist groups abroad, a relatively insignificant phenomenon which has received inordinate publicity. In any event, if you give the matter some thought, you realize that this “news” is a kind of empty publicity, noise about something as old and familiar as human life itself, although it has been bestowed with a new name intended to frighten us into supporting measures outside the framework of a society of laws.

The truth is that young men, at least a certain portion of them, have always traveled abroad to join causes and wars. It’s about as ordinary a phenomenon as playing team sports or joining clubs. In many cases, we end up praising them for their bravery and idealism, as was certainly the case with the many thousands of Europeans, Americans, and Canadians who traveled to Spain in the 1930s to volunteer in the civil war against General Franco. In other cases, we condemn and imprison them and sometimes even execute them as part of the losing side, as America has been doing in its rampage through the Middle East.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the emergence of new, independent nations from the British Empire drew thousands of young men to Africa to fight as mercenaries or volunteers. Apartheid South Africa used to run classified ads in newspapers abroad to attract young men in its battle against the African National Congress. Young Jewish men in the past went to Israel to join the IDF out of some sense of brotherhood, and they do so still. The French Foreign Legion gained almost mythical status as a place for young men to leave things behind, embracing an undefined sense of purpose and brotherhood. Young European adventurers, often young noblemen with hopes of gaining glory, sailed across the Atlantic in the 1770s to volunteer in the American colonies’ revolt against the British Empire, far more of them than Washington’s meagre army could use.

Magnetic leaders like Napoleon or Castro or Nasser attracted countless volunteers from abroad in their heyday. Our history books don’t dwell on the fact but large numbers of young men from many countries volunteered for Hitler’s invading legions. The phenomenon does not depend on the high or noble nature of the cause, although the luster and publicity around grand causes undoubtedly attracts a still wider range of young men.

Young men often just want to escape from every-day, humdrum life, a boring marriage, a nothing job, or, as in the case of the Foreign Legion, to leave a criminal or failed past behind in hopes of high adventure, a new identity, and a fresh start in life. The genuine nature of a cause often matters little because young men’s fantasies convert grubby deeds into mythic stuff at least for a time. Young men in the Foreign Legion were actually fighting for a brutal imperialism in North Africa. Volunteers to the IDF only assist in the oppression of an abused people, not in the protection of the Jewish people. Those who joined Napoleon thought they were spreading liberté, égalité et fraternité across a mummified old-order Europe, but they were helping one of history’s great bloody soldier-conquerors glorify himself and do what it was he lusted after doing.

Mental illness also intrudes into terrorist matters, all things unusual or different being grist for the big dumb mill of the press. In Canada, during the wave of empty chatter about “home-grown terrorists,” there were two isolated incidents of murder in different parts of the country, one of a policeman and one of a reservist in the military. Immediately the press began a completely uninformative and patience-exhausting round of speculation about the dark nature of the perpetrators, complete with interviews of various self-proclaimed “terrorism experts,” men, as it generally turns out, who run security firms and are out drumming up business. In both cases, we finally learned through the fog of misinformation generated by the press, that the young dead men were deeply mentally disturbed, their acts having no more political significance than the crazed men set on suicide who first kill their wives or children or the boys who periodically show up heavily armed at school, shooting their way through classmates.

And of course, it is almost invariably males who do these things, our prisons containing about ten men for every woman. The violence we see in professional football, hockey, or boxing being almost an exclusive male domain. Woman rarely commit murder, males being responsible for almost all of it, with young males being responsible for an extraordinarily disproportionate share.

Aside from the psychotic and deeply depressed, there is a certain segment of young men in every society who are simply attracted to opportunities for legal killing, rape, and mayhem – this being the truly ugly side of every war and conflict that we never mention in our sentimental world-war memorial services or high school textbooks. These men are variously termed sociopaths or psychopaths, and they appear to exist naturally in some proportion in any population. They enjoy killing, inflicting pain, and the sense of supreme power over the lives of others, and they are incapable of sympathy for their victims or remorse for their acts. They only fear being caught, and war provides a wonderful legal playground for them.

The bloodiest, most brutal and pointless war of the last half century, America’s grotesque slaughter in Vietnam, attracted thousands of volunteers from other countries to join in the gruesome fun – acts which included everything from raping girls and then shooting them to throwing men out of helicopters. Even then-peaceful Canada, whose prime minister, Lester Pearson, bravely turned down Lyndon Johnson’s bullying demands to send troops (charmer that Johnson was, he is said to have grabbed our Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader by the lapels during a meeting and pushed him against a wall), saw hundreds of adventure-seeking young men, on their own, join the American holocaust, which would see three million horribly slaughtered, countless wounded, and an ancient agricultural land overwhelmed with America’s landmines, cluster bombs, and poisons.

Today we call people terrorists as easily as we more accurately might have called them reckless or mad. The word terrorist has been given an almost frightening, superstitious connotation much resembling the word witch in the seventeenth century when any poor old soul who suffered from a mental illness like schizophrenia might be burnt alive for her mumblings and delusions. Today, the same people we once burnt would be sent to a homeless shelter or a psychiatric hospital. Another aspect of the word terrorist is related to what Stalin used to say when he expected his officials to launch a new purge to keep the country terrorized into submission. The Vozhd would say something about “wreckers” or “wreckers of the revolution” and his minions would busy themselves demonstrating alacrity in finding large numbers to consign to prison or death. All of our press and government spokespeople now use terrorist with those two meanings, and to the extent that they do, we should recognize the foolishness of their speech and its danger to a free society.

Of course, anyone who commits violent crime needs dealing with, and we do have laws covering every form of violent crime and what is judged the degree of culpability. But creating a special class or type of crime, somehow understood to be different in nature from other crimes, and thereby requiring extraordinary measures of espionage and policing and imprisonment and standards of evidence, is a shabby, dishonest, and cowardly political act. It is a political act in exactly the sense best explained by George Orwell.

The template for this kind of state activity comes directly from Israel. It long ago succeeded in changing the outside perception of events since 1948 from that of a relatively powerless people having their homes and lands taken with great brutality. Everyone knows instinctively that people treated in that fashion have every right in international law and custom to fight their oppressors. We call them at various times and circumstances freedom fighters, guerillas, resistance fighters, or irregulars. But in this case, they were transformed into terrorists who seek only to destroy law-abiding, democratic Israel – unspeakably evil beings intent on attacking the imported Ozzie-and-Harriet peacefulness of white-picket fence neighborhoods constructed on other people’s property. It truly is a case of the world turned on its head.

It does make things so much easier when you shoot someone or bulldoze their home or send them to prison indefinitely with no trial and subject to torture, if you first have demonized them, much as in the case of witches or wreckers, with terrorist being this generation’s choice demonizing word. And when Israel kills some people whose identity as “terrorists” might be seen as very doubtful, the victims magically become militants, a Newspeak word which strives to make the killing of anyone from boys to grandfathers palatable, our shabby press in the West having adopted the word in its reportage without so much as blinking an eye, much less asking a question. This has been Israel’s day-in, day-out pattern of government for decades, but now it has managed to export to the United States the same pattern of behavior. The United States, after all, is a nation given to Captain Ahab-like obsessions, as it has demonstrated many times in its history, Muslims now having displaced the Communists it pursued with relentless fury for decades at home and abroad. And when the United States embraces a new obsession, its dependants in Europe, Canada, Australia, and other places are bullied into embracing it too. America has many avenues for pressuring the acceptance and recognition of its latest craze or special interest or dark operation and to quiet the criticism which would naturally flow from those who disagree and think for themselves.

Were America not enthralled with this voodoo about terror, Europe and others would quickly fall away, and Israel’s ugly behavior would be left in a glaring spotlight, much as South Africa’s once was.

It is the force of these considerations in part which leads so many to question the true nature of what happened on 9/11, for that set of events was pivotal in having American public opinion embrace extraordinary, anti-democratic, and anti-human rights measures. I do not subscribe to the (not-uncommon) conspiracy notion that the American government was complicit in 9/11, using it as a kind of Nazi Reichstag Fire to ignite the mindless war on terror and a crusade through the Middle East to overturn governments unfriendly to Israel. I do very much believe though that the full story of that event has never been told, and, as always, that can only mean highly embarrassing or compromising facts are being suppressed. The immense body of confidential information in Washington on all matters of state – literally tens of billions of documents – would largely disappear if it weren’t for considerations of embarrassment and compromise, the need for genuine government secrecy being much rarer than many assume.

A free society does not recognize crimes deemed in some way to be different or more heinous or extraordinary: it maintains and enforces sensible, well-reasoned laws which apply equally to all. It does not create criminal laws which reflect political pressure or special interests. The United States, now on a new hunt for a great white whale, has virtually re-created East Germany’s dreaded Stasi, only in a much more sophisticated and far-reaching form. It meshes with the all-pervasive secret state police apparatus Israel has constructed in the Middle East with infinite care since 1948. Now, over all our lives there is something, not answerable to any electorate, working to dissimulate, to intimidate, and to generate fear as nothing of which the Soviet Union was remotely capable. It influences all of our laws and customs, even attempting to shape the way we speak and think.

 

THE PERFUMED PRINCE AND OTHER POLITICAL TALES

John Chuckman

The Perfumed Prince declared himself a Democrat. Many Americans may not recognize the nickname bestowed upon Wesley Clark by British colleagues as he strutted around Serbia with his set of platinum-plated general’s stars carefully repositioned each day to a freshly-starched and ironed camouflage cap, wafting a thick vapor trail of cologne. His lack of judgment demonstrated in Serbia – including an order to clear out Russian forces that British general, Sir Michael Jackson, had to ignore for fear of starting World War III – should be enough to utterly disqualify him as a candidate for President. But this is America, land of opportunity.

The former general scents, through the mists of his musky cologne, an opportunity for service. Hell, we’re at war, and any real general is better than a former male cheerleader from Andover who cross-dresses as a combat pilot. Dreams of being the hero on a white horse beckon. A fatal attraction in the American people to used-up generals is how the country managed to elect some of its worst presidents – Grant, Jackson, and Garfield, for example.

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts announced that he wants the Democratic presidential nomination. He chose to ask for it from the deck of an aircraft carrier. I have no idea why he would repeat any part of Bush’s pathetic stunt, but to my mind it is an immediate strike against his competence. Perhaps he hoped for a promotional deal on a doll in combat gear to memorialize the occasion? That is, after all, a good deal of the country’s idea of war, limited-edition collector dolls with lots of cute little zippers, flaps, and pockets (all handsomely made in China or Indonesia). Never mind real war where pilots drop cluster bombs and napalm on tiny desperate figures far below, and the occupying troops slosh through the resulting human gore, a good deal of it belonging to children in Iraq.

Well, Kerry was awarded some medals during Vietnam, so that does set him apart from Bush. Kerry’s doll could feature cute little medals to set it apart, but then he threw the originals into a trash bin at a veterans’ demonstration in front of the Capitol in 1971. That’s not the kind of association that excites collectors of expensive kitsch in America’s better class of trailer parks.

By the way, does anyone know whether the Bush Elite Aviator doll wets? Perhaps you can change its undies as girls did with Betsy Wetsy decades ago? This would offer opportunities for different editions. Bush Original could chug little water-filled six-packs while Bush Holier-Than-Thou used a miniature pitcher of iced tea.

Senator Kerry’s involvement with Vietnam certainly reflected the war’s extremes. He earned his medals in questionable actions including the shooting of a man who was running away and the killing of a child by a member of his crew. Remember another Kerry, a former Senator, the boyish one from Nebraska who spells his name “Kerrey,” a Medal of Honor winner in Vietnam, much admired until it was learned that his grisly work there had been as a member of one of the night-crawling murder squads? If only Americans could once see what utterly filthy stuff war really is, the world might be spared a lot of needless horrors.

John Kerry, having become an opponent of the war in which he served, made a speech to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971, describing some of what he had witnessed in Vietnam. Americans had “raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephone to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.” I can only admire such truthfulness, but Kerry’s first instinct, years before, had been to contribute to the mayhem. Only when it was politically opportune did he oppose it. I get the same morally confused signals today with a speech delivered from an aircraft carrier while Iraqis suffer miserably from what such killing machines already have inflicted.

The Democrats held their first debate, hoping desperately to find an attractive candidate. Senator Joe Lieberman was there, but you have to wonder why anyone would vote to replace Bush with Lieberman. The pair remind me of one of those 1950’s cheap horror films about a monster with two heads lurching over the countryside.

Lieberman’s many pious-fraud battles over personal expression suggest that the Two Heads may actually have shared a single brain at birth. Just like his Twin Head, Lieberman avoided military service out of personal interests without hint of conscience or principle, and, just like his Twin Head, Lieberman always stands ready to see people blown up in foreign lands, just so it’s “our boyz” doing the blowing up. Capital punishment warms his heart, too, and he has organizational connections with Dick Cheney’s wife, America’s intellectual gorgon.

Even the Rev Al Sharpton, also a candidate, doesn’t bring quite the same rank smell to the nostrils.

Former general Powell, who once could have been President and have had his own fancy soldier doll, instead ends his career as a tiresome door-to-door salesman in shiny-bottomed pin-striped pants, pitching plans nobody wants to the United Nations. That “irrelevant” institution, as it was hotly described by Powell’s sales manager only a short while ago, now is being offered something called “a role” in Iraq. A role, in the weird idiom of Bush’s Washington, consists of sending vast quantities of money and troops to a reeling, miserable country Americans are already sick of hearing about without having anything to say about their use or the country’s fate. Say-so would stay in the Oval Office, the source of the vicious tantrums that created all the destruction. As of this writing, stubborn blockheads in Germany and France had rejected the attractive limited-time offer.