by Edward S. Herman
(Swans - December 19, 2005) The year 2005 has been another disastrous one from the standpoint of policy trends in the dominant and pace-setting states and their welfare impact. On the "bright side," things have been so bad that stoked fear and patriotic ardor have not been enough to prevent growing numbers in the United States from opening their eyes to administration dissembling, incompetence and illegal and immoral behavior. Plunging popularity and approval ratings of the Bushies, along with the intrusion of John Murtha's views, have made the media and Democrats a bit more willing to criticize and oppose administration claims and initiatives. This has put the administration on the defensive and somewhat constrained its ability to act. But it still has considerable freedom of action, as Bush is still "Commander In Chief," has majorities in the House, Senate, and Supreme Court, the Democrats are still paralyzed, and the media are still manageable.
The other bright side is the growth of resistance abroad, most notably in Latin America where, led by Venezuela, a number of countries are now governed by leaders prepared to oppose US free trade moves and military threats. This is encouraging, but it is tentative and possibly fragile, and will be under steady pressure from the powerful forces that have wreaked havoc with Latin America in the recent past-comprador and foreign business interests; the U.S.-trained local military and police; the IMF, World Bank, WTO, and global banking interests; and US economic and military power.
Iraq continues to be a human disaster area, with a de facto civil war now merged with a murderous occupation, with the occupiers who provoked the civil war now serving as the military arm of the Shiite occupation-collaborators. Shiite death squads and Saddam-like prison managers work in coordination with US ground forces and airpower. Meanwhile the insurgency doesn't slacken, drawing support mainly from indigenous sources reacting to US savagery (as in Vietnam, where indiscriminate US firepower and racist behavior produced a steady stream of recruits -- the famous line then was the comment of a house Vietnamese to a US soldier in a plane dropping bombs on the countryside: "Today I think we make plenty of Vietcong"). The frightening new development is that the Bush gang is openly moving to a still more capital-intensive war, relying on airpower and missiles as a substitute for troops, to reduce US casualties while continuing to try to pacify the Sunni-based insurgency. This means the Falluja -- Guernica with more lavish firepower -- treatment generalized, with vast devastation and huge civilian casualties that will not be counted or seen in the US media. This is ultra-terrorism, but will be swallowed by the US liberals and mainstream as part of a necessary contribution to "stability" that we "owe" to the victims. We are beyond the age of Orwell, into the Kafka years.
In Palestine also we are beyond Orwell, as the Israelis have gotten the Bush gang plus the Democrats, and of course the mainstream media, to sanction the brazen theft of Palestinian land and water and the creation of a small set of impoverished and Israel-dependent Bantustans, a culmination of a lengthy process of ethnic cleansing and racist brutalization and discrimination, all in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions, international law, and elementary morality. This has been a remarkable case of approved apartheid and ethnic cleansing, by a West that got so very enraged over ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, although there also it was highly selective so that when done by the allied Croatians in the Krajina area and the Kosovo Albanians under NATO protection in post-victory Kosovo, the silence was eerie.
The trick in the Israel-Palestine struggle was to make the desperate and endlessly provoked violence of the weak victims, whose land and water was being stolen and who were being subjected to continuous expropriation, bullying and humiliation, into inexcusable "terrorism" that threatened the "security" of the chosen people. Israel's wholesale terrorism resulted in the deaths of much larger numbers of Palestinians than Israeli victims of the "terrorists." The success of this trick was dependent on the disproportionate attention given in the media to the victimized Israelis and parallel neglect of the victimized Palestinian "unpeople." Again, this is beyond Orwell and into the world of Kafka.
Among the other terrible things that have happened in 2005 were the tsunami and its devastation (actually striking at the very end of 2004), the devastating earthquake in Pakistan, and the Katrina hurricane and its impact on New Orleans and the Gulf region. These were big and dramatic, but the much larger casualties from the AIDS epidemic and the effects of poverty and lack of clean water, sanitation and medical service in large areas of the world -- even in big and growing pockets in the NATO world -- helped make the year another tragic one. The tragedy stems in good part from the fact that global resources and know-how could have saved hundreds of millions of lives if directed toward human welfare. But under triumphant neoliberalism inequality has continued to grow, the global elites are thriving, vast sums are spent on arms and killing, public sectors and public services continue to be under attack by the elites, and desperate conditions for vast numbers grow and fester. Louis XVI's pre-French Revolution phrase, Après moi le déluge, is an apt description of the ethos of the global elites today, and most notably that of the United States.
The deluge may come in a literal sense under the impact of global warming, as research findings point to a gradual steady rise in the sea level reaching 25 feet or more over a several-century time horizon, along with more violent weather. The world, led by what Madeleine Albright called "the indispensable nation," is doing virtually nothing to deal with this threat as the protective forests continue to be removed and no serious plans exist for ending or even reducing dependence on fossil fuels.
Admittedly, there has been a turnabout of opinion in the United States on the merits of George Bush as a warrior and manager, thanks mainly to the Iraqi resistance and Katrina. But the turnabout is slow, as the centralized and right-wing-infested corporate media still give the Bushies the floor and every break for his "vows" and "plans" -- for victory and prosperity -- and refuse to help drive out of office a brazen war criminal, liar without compare, conniver with and servant of corporate robbers, and violator of both US and international law and major threat to constitutional government. The plutocratic political system, combined with the degenerate media, have made it impossible to put forward a viable political option that would serve the public interest. The Dems flounder and offer nothing, and the system does not allow them to be pressed to offer a democratic option or allow an alternative to provide a meaningful challenge (recall what happened to Nader in 2000, and he was already a celebrity and known for his ability and honesty).
Of course, the US citizenry deserves a lot of credit for this parlous situation. It is true that the media divert and propagandize them into supporting not very plausible scoundrels, but shouldn't we hold them to a moderate standard of concern for truth and decency as citizens? Should we excuse their frequent racist bias and easy manipulability by formulas and stereotypes? Shouldn't they be able to see through used car salesmen's, grade-B actors', and spoiled frat-boys' facades and not be taken in by rank demagoguery and serial lies? At the possible cost of being called an "elitist," I close with a quote from Vernon Louis Parrington's review of "Sinclair Lewis: Our Own Diogenes" (written back in 1927 and published in Parrington's classic Main Currents in American Thought):
Now what is the tremendous discovery that Sinclair Lewis makes so much of, and what we pay so great a price to learn? It is no other than this: that the goodly United States of America are peopled by a mighty herd, which like those earlier herds that rumbled about the plains, drives foolishly in whatever direction their noses point -- a herd endowed with tremendous blind power, with big bull leaders, but with minds rarely above their bellies and their dams. In the mass and at their own romantic rating they are distinctly imposing-big-necked, red-blooded, lusty, with glossy coats got from rich feeding-grounds, and with a herd power that sweeps majestically onward in a cloud of dust of its own raising, veritable lords and masters of a continent. But considered more critically and resolved into individual members, they appear to the realist somewhat stupid, feeble in brain and will, stuffed with conceit at their own excellence, esteeming themselves as the great end for which creation has been in travail, the finest handiwork of the Most High who spread the plains for their feeding-grounds: with a vast respect for totems and fetishes; purveyors and victims of the mysterious thing called Bunk, who valiantly horn to death any audacious heretic who may suggest that rumbling about the plains, filling their bellies, bellowing sacred slogans, and cornering the lushest grass, are scarcely adequate objectives for such immense power: a vast middleman herd, that dominates the continent, but cannot reduce it to order or decency.