Striking Thirteen: The World of Surveillance and Indifference

Since today, June 6, is George Orwell’s birthday, let’s begin with him. “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen,” reads the opening line of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Looking around this morning, I find that the clocks are, indeed, “striking thirteen.”

So let me set things straight for President Obama and the NSA, this way no one has to come looking for me — or if you want to, I’m transparent: I frequently receive phone calls from Kabul, Afghanistan, sometimes even from other provinces; other times I receive communiqués from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Hong Kong; I receive regular communiqués from Argentina and Great Britain, the odd couple, Spain and France, too. Sometimes Germany, though I’m sure you’re fine with that, unless it’s a white supremacist group. Welcome to the reality of global citizenry in the 21st Century. We’re all interconnected so we’re all under surveillance at all times — through Facebook, Twitter, etc. We’re all very willing to tell the world where we are at any given moment.

I am open about all of my communications because it makes little — or no — difference to the Obama Administration since it is pursuing with great force the Bush era Patriot Act section allowing for secret surveillance of US citizen’s phone records (number only for now). I am also a Verizon Wireless client, which is named in the New York Times (yes, I also have an iPhone — just keeping with the transparency). Screwed every which way, I guess.

And just to be clear, my conversations with Middlebury College alumni, which is mostly who I speak to, unless it’s family in Argentina, usually cover the following subjects:

  • The rejection of the Bush – Cheney lies that got us into Iraq, forgoing Afghanistan, until it was time to enter there.
  • The complete understanding that the government in Kabul is totally corrupt and millions U.S. dollars have been siphoned off and the Afghan people continue to suffer — and will suffer for yet another one or two generations. But we don’t really mind that.
  • The disgust over drones that in Obama’s hands makes Bush-Cheney war-mongoring seem like Sesame Street.
  • The militarization of key spots in the world to protect multinational oil business that, in turn, is channeling money to buy senators and congressmen, thus continuing our climate / environmental debacle and our dependency on fossil fuels.
  • The continued global policy, by the most powerful nations, to disenfranchise the poor – those without voice – on whose backs our way of living is built on, though, by all logical uses of statistical models we see that it’s in decline but we don’t want to look inward. So it goes.
  • The willful and systematic dismantling of public education in the USA — and education that’s meaningful globally — in order to ensure that production models of existence that malign one’s identity continue on our current conveyor belts to oblivion.
  • I also discuss, just to create a list of themes: Inverted Totalitarianism, the environmentalism of the poor, world wide, climate change, the industrialization of food and our decaying health, as well as the confusion over health care, which is an inalienable right.

There. If anyone this morning is looking around, just browsing and skimming, it’s impossible not to be depressed. Besides the U.S. secretly collecting the phone exchanges of citizens, FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe says the IRS scandal leads to Obama — and it’s as bad as Watergate. So Obama is being compared to Nixon? At this point, does anyone really care?

Obama, back in 2008, ran on the promise of change. “Yes we can.” Indeed, we can. We have changed — and Bush-Cheney are having a grand old time smiling away their respective retirements because never in a million years could they have imagined that Obama would out Bush-Cheney them. Frankly, I don’t really know why the conservative right is all bent out of shape about Obama; he’s outdoing even them.

Let’s see:

  • Obama is weak on the environment, the Keystone pipeline likely to be the next feather in his cap.
  • Obama is weak on education, following No Child Left Behind — and Duncan’s rather mindless approach to any real education reform (I say reform rather then change, though they mean the same thing to this administration: privatization and homogeneity).
  • Obama is weak on civil liberties, particularly when it comes to our rights as citizens, going full force with an Orwellian (thus the beginning of this piece) scheme that will blanket the nation — and the world. (See the book: Chatter)
  • Obama is strong on keeping our banks strong, as I said he would during his 2008 election campaign; shortly thereafter appointing Timothy Geithner, a Wall Street insider, Secretary Treasurer — the fox in the hen coop.
  • Guantanamo is still open — what more can we say?

On June 23, 2011, I said that even with an Obama victory, nothing will change. GMO’s everywhere so that we can’t tell what’s what; a Farm Bill that, according to Mark Bittman in Welfare for Wealthy, is, well, just that, welfare for the wealthy — multinational agribusiness will be guaranteed pay-offs and given an open door to increase their monoculture production that has ruined land and air, while the poor will get less; Eric Holder is still on the ropes with the FBI scandal, the aggressive probing of journalists.

Has anything changed, really?

In my mind it has — but it didn’t change with Obama. In my mind things began to change and become more violent and aggressive, government more elusive, abrasive and prohibitive, with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. At 12:30PM, Central time, on November 22, 1963, in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas, the world changed — and if not the world, then the U.S. certainly did. A standing president could be assassinated. Shortly thereafter, Malcolm X was assassinated (February 21, 1965), in New York City. On April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. And, on June 5th of that year, shortly after midnight, Bobby went. In the span of 5 years, a sitting president, a brother running for president and two civil rights leaders were all shot down before our eyes. We were all witnesses. American violence played on the evening news, alongside harrowing images of Vietnam and dogs attacking Civil Rights marchers. We passed through the looking glass and became something else altogether different — callous, angry, colder and more reserved and reluctant.

It was no wonder that this lead to Richard Nixon and Watergate. The stage was set for the coming of our hostile age of surveillance and indifference, the twin brothers that accompany a politics that gives justice to malice.

In his seminal work, The Idea of Justice, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen says that, “What moves us, reasonably enough, is not the realization that the world falls short of being completely just — which few of us expect — but that there are clearly remediate injustices around us which we want to eliminate.” All around us, daily, we see, “inequities or subjugations from which we may suffer and which we have good reason to recent, but it also applies to more widespread diagnoses of injustice in the wider world in which we live,” continues Sen.

So I want to be clear, I want to be transparent about what I’m saying, this way, Mr. Obama and the NSA have a clear mission: the most profound injustice, which is evident in the U.S., as a leader, and the wider world, is a resentment towards creative, free and open uses of the imagination; rather, justice, now, is interpreted as equal to or consistent with the injustice brought about by homogeneity and subjugation, the children of surveillance and indifference.

In other words, when I talk to my former students in Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Great Britain, Germany and France and Spain, we all note the same thing: the closing of the American mind leads the world so powerfully that the abuses and violence we see in the rest of the world are a mindless mirror of who we are and what we’ve nurtured. That’s been the big change. We’re leading the world in our repression of social justice, of humanity. We’re all interconnected; it can’t be otherwise.

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Fresh Examples of Inverted Totalitarianism

It’s uncanny, but it’s very difficult to keep up with the numerous examples of inverted totalitarianism appearing daily in our popular media. That these events are routinely covered by the popular media without question and concern should give us pause.

Yesterday, in Nothing Will Change: the 2012 Presidential Election,  I gave the following example:

The NRC (US Nuclear Regulatory Commission), that boasts it’s “protecting people and the environment,” in an unprecedented move, voted 3 – 2 to advise the Obama Justice Department to intervene on behalf of Entergy Nuclear in the company’s lawsuit against the state of Vermont. Vermont wants to shut down Vermont Yankee, the aged nuclear power plant.  A government agency that is solely responsible for the nuclear safety is extending its sphere of influence and advising the Federal Government to intervene in a state’s negotiations with a private entity.

Today, we learn that the US Supreme Court has given pharmaceuticals twin wins:

In one case, a First Amendment decision, the court, by a 6-to-3 vote, struck down a Vermont law that barred the buying, selling and profiling of doctors’ prescription records — records that pharmaceutical companies use to target doctors for particular pitches. And in a second, the court ruled 5 to 4 that the makers of generic drugs are immune from state lawsuits for failure to warn consumers about possible side effects as long as they copy the warnings on brand-name drugs.

The US Supreme court ruled that the State of Vermont was infringing on the pharmaceutical’s first amendment rights. “The amendment prohibits the making of any law “respecting an establishment of religion“, impeding the free exercise of religion, infringing on the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.”  This is untrue, the State of Vermont is not trying to restrict the first amendment, rather they are trying to restrict pharmaceuticals from getting private information concerning different drug protocols doctors use for specific patients.

“Basically, it’s going to allow the drug companies to have more influence on doctors’ prescribing practices, to manipulate their prescribing practices, and to promote the use of more expensive drugs. Almost certainly, health care costs are going to be driven up,” said Dr. Gregory D. Curfman, executive editor of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Information privacy experts also criticized Thursday’s ruling. “One of the practical consequences of the court’s decision will be to make it easier for pharmaceutical companies and data-mining firms and marketing firms to get access to this very sensitive information,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “The states are going to have to go back to the drawing board.

Ever since the Bush v Gore election, we’ve learned quite a a bit about where the US Supreme Court stands. The Court is aligned with right – wing conservative government and big business, this we know. The appointment of Justice Roberts, adding to the Court’s extreme conservatism, demonstrated a move to activist justices for the right.  The Court thus becomes the legal thread essential for big business to control government.  The  Court is the “bag man,” if you will.

In Eduction a story from the mainstream, Republican Challenges Administration on Plans to Override Education Law.  I’m no fan of Arne Duncan and Obama’s education policy, but what we find when we look under the hood of Representative John Kline’s, the Republican chairman of the House education committee, forceful attack on Duncan policies and maneuvers is an attempt to move closer to the privatization of education.

“He’s not the nation’s superintendent,” Mr. Kline said of Mr. Duncan, who assumed powers greater than any of his predecessors when, in 2009, Congress voted $100 billion in economic stimulus money for the nation’s school systems and allowed the secretary to decide how much of it should be spent.

Kline wants control of outcomes and we know that the outcome sought by the right is privatization. This move, by conservatives, is linked to a greater effort for student vouchers, creationism and an anti-gay agenda.

Imagine if all these efforts are also supported by the US Supreme Court.

And now we can look at the Obama withdrawal from Afghanistan proposal — 10,000 soldiers this year (roughly 7 percent of the occupation force) by the end of the year.  No one in the main stream press is covering what’s likely to happen:

“There’s going to have to be an accompanying increase in private security for all the activities of the new soldiers going in,” says Jake Sherman, a former United Nations official in Afghanistan who is now the associate director for Peacekeeping and Security Sector Reform at New York University’s Center for International Cooperation.  “It’s ludicrous. It’s completely implausible.”

The mainstream media is stuck wondering why the usually war hungry Republicans — except for McCain — is going along with the withdrawal. The real story is that as we withdraw — and as the French and the British withdraw as well — there will be a void.  Private sector security companies will fill this need — and they’re the darling of the right, a pay for service military force.

Up and down the economy and culture — pharmaceuticals, energy, education and defense — we see the big reach of business; more importantly, though, we can readily see how government is stepping in and doing the bidding for this new world order. That it’s happening right in front of our eyes and that the mainstream media is simply going along suggests that the media is yet another arm of this move.  The media is not, as pundits would argue, a liberal enterprise; it’s just the opposite and simply looking at who owns the media should tell anyone that story.

The Motivation to Drill for Oil

President Obama is not drilling for oil because it’s politically expedient.  He is not drilling for oil because it reduces our reliance on foreign oil — nothing can do that, and certainly not with the oil deep beneath US waters.  President Obama is not drilling for oil to prove to environmentalists that an environmentalist president can extract oil without harm, while simultaneously developing green technologies and reversing economic stagnation.  President Obama’s decision to drill for oil is a military decision.

Simple but true.  The ongoing and always at the forefront plan to control energy reserves that will ensure the US remains the formidable military, economic and political power is not working according to plan. Drilling for oil in America is a way to stall; the idea being that this change in direction will focus us away from the ongoing US military build up circling the richest and last remaining — and dwindling — energy reserves in the world.

Let’s look at reality, the data: According to Judicial Watch — and others, such at the US Government — in NEDPG documents they obtained, using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), we can see that 60% of all recoverable oil on the planet is in an area no larger that the state of Kansas.  This area is known as the “golden triangle”: from Mosul in Norther Iraq, to the Straits of Hormuz, to an oil field in Saudi Arabia 75 miles in from the coast, just west of Qatar, then back up to the Mosul.  And just about all of Iran’s oil lies near its western shoreline on the  Gulf. ( see maps obtained by Judicial Watch here)

It’s quite easy to see that the US military already occupies part of this area and surrounds the remaining.  On January 29, 2001, President Bush established the National Energy Policy Group (or NEPDG) to develop a national energy policy. The Vice President was then directed to lead the group and other high-level officials were named as members. On May 16, 2001, The NEPDG submitted a report and recommendations to the President. The report was published and entitled: National Energy Policy: Reliable, Affordable, and Environmentally Sound Energy for America’s Future.  The stark but very real maps obtained by the conservative watchdog, Judicial Watch, reveal with uncanny precision the Cheney lead strategy to control this area.

In The Guardian, in September of 2003, Michael Meacher MP, UK  Environment Minister 1997-2003, said, “The 9/11 attacks gave the US an ideal pretext to use force to secure global domination … The plan [“Rebuilding America’s Defenses,” Project for a New American Century — 2000] shows Bush’s cabinet intended to take military control of the Gulf region whether or not Saddam Hussein was in power … The overriding motivation for this political smokescreen is that the US and the UK are beginning to run out of secure hydrocarbon energy supplies…As demand is increasing, so supply is decreasing, continually since the 1960s” (qtd. in Crossing the Rubicon; 42).

The push back military forces are experiencing in Iraq and Afghanistan, followed by the encroachment of Iran, as well as the problems caused by Israel’s refusal to cease building on Palestenian soil, have slowed the Bush-Cheney NEPDG plan to control the area.  For instance, according to Cheney’s NEPDG, “to meet projected demand over the next two decades America must have in place between 1,300 and 1,900 new electrical plants.  Much of this new generation will be fueled by natural gas.” On the other side, oil powers everything — the food supply, for starters; oil powers more than 600 million vehicles worldwide — and the numbers are increasing.  Realities on the ground have slowed our military occupation — and control — of the “golden triangle.”  But demands for oil and gas have not diminished, even when great effort is being made by the likes of 350.0rg to alert us of the damages we make by continuing to consume as we do.

Where is the energy supply to feed us, for the always ongoing mantra of growth, for our automobiles, which we equate with freedom and self-realiance (an illusion), going to come from? Not off the American coasts.

Oil is going to come from the control exerted in the most vital energy area, the “golden triangle.”  We have reached a crisis point; we may even be at a tipping point. Environmentalists and pr0-drilling conservatives are debating what drilling will do to our oceans and the illusion that drilling in US waters will make us less dependent on foreign oil.  It’s a sham.  The real conversation should be about Peak Oil and our over consumption in a closed eco system. We’re heading towards more military action, not just in the “golden triangle” area, but also in Latin America and Africa — follow the military with an eye on the maps and the reality of our situation will become clear.

Gaza, Israel and the Memory of Edward Said

for the martyrs, Kassab and Ibrahim Shurrab

for the suffering, Mohammed Shurrab and his family

and for the future, Amer Shurrab, Adriana Qubaia, Mahmoud and Nisreen

Our world today is evidence that those who profess to speak for God or Allah or a personal Other focused on a single, supreme nature-transcending will have unequivocally erased this almighty power’s truths, a core reality found in Christianity, Islam and Judaism–humility, compassion and love.

At approximately 1PM on Friday the 16th, Mohammed Shurrab (60) and his two sons, Kassab , age 28 , and Ibrahim , age 18, fleeing the family farm in the village of Fukhari, southeast of Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, were struck by a hail of bullets from a group of Israeli soldiers in a house about thirty yards away, according to Yasser Ahmad and Ashraf Khalil of the Los Angeles Times. (see also Day 22)

The Israelis issued a statement: “Given the difficult combat circumstances, complex battles and fighting in urban settings, uninvolved civilians are unfortunately exposed to danger.”

Kassab died after staggering out of their Land Rover. He lay on the street for 20 hours. Ibrahim bled to death waiting for help.  Mohammed, a desperate father, could do nothing as his cell phone battery died. In the face of great suffering, no one had the compassion to assist the wounded, the suffering. Thus is war. Thus is violence.

Some of us learned of this tragedy by email because Mohammed’s other son, Amer,  is a Middlebury College graduate, ‘08.5. The original email was followed by a desperate string, anguished and outraged, and a Shurrab Family Group quickly formed on Facebook. We could do nothing.

I sat in my living room staring out at the gusts of snow. It was gray and freezing and the wind blew hard. I felt totally useless and alone. I thought of my three sons and what I might do should I ever be called the way Mohammed Shurrab has been–and I wept. I was paralyzed by the events in Gaza and the violence in our world.

I longed for the humane voice of Edward Said, how he is always able to make sense of things like this. I pulled him off my bookshelf, something I do frequently with some writers dear to me because they go head first into matters of the heart.

We find ourselves in the era of mass societies that dominate by “a powerfully centralizing culture and a complex incorporative economy,” says the remarkable Edward Said in his “Movement and Migrations” chapter in Culture and Imperialism. In 1993, following the French urban sociologist Paul Virilio, Said suggested that this form of domination is unstable. Powerfully centralizing cultures and complex incorporative economies are unstable and create instability everywhere. Yet instability is believed to be a means to an end, the control of economies, resources and production.

The fundamental premise of terrorism, also instability, is likewise the foundation of mass societies. They feed each other–and there is no end in sight. Make no mistake, Hamas will survive, this is already clear.

“Israel has succeeded in killing everything except the will of the people,” said Taher al-Nunu, the main (Hamas) government spokesman. “They said they were going to dismantle the resistance and demolish the rockets, but after this historic victory, the government is steadfast, we are working and they were not able to stop the rockets.”

“I think Hamas is stronger now and will be stronger in the future because of this war,” said Eyad el-Sarraj, a psychiatrist here who is an opponent of Hamas. “This war has deepened the people’s feeling that it is impossible to have peace with Israel, a country that promotes death and destruction.”

Iraq, Afghanistan, the global deterioration of economies and the tragic horror that is Gaza’s occupation by Israel all point to the notion that “insecurity induced by mounting crises” leads to destruction, violence and war. The innocent die, wounds fester, hatred builds. “Insecurity induced by mounting crises” builds identities reliant on an Other who is hostile.

Israel’s identity is defined by having scripted the ideals of freedom and justice for Western civilization, yet Jews now find themselves withholding these rights–for security reasons, forced to withhold them, many Jews believe–from Palestinians.

Hamas and Hezbollah have identities defined as the maligned Other, even the absent Other that is always already determined by armed aggression. Tragically and ironically, the Prophet Mohammed–and the Qur’an–teach respect for the world’s incontrovertible order, preaching a message that is intensely democratic. The Prophet, “The True,” “The Upright,” and “The Trustworthy One,” withstood severe criticism and ridicule, relentless persecution, and physical abuse and incarceration, and insisted that in the sight of Allah all people are equal.

We are in the era of mass disintegration. Israel’s occupation of Gaza is an example–and hopefully a last breath–of a global pattern attempting to occupy and inhabit all “normally uninhabitable,” the institutions integral to a culture–“hospitals, universities, theatres, factories, churches, empty buildings”; in essence, the occupation of language, speech, consciousness. (The first instance or example is the Presidency of George W. Bush, especially his first election; the second is 9/11 and the repression of Afghanistan; and the Third is Israel’s occupation of Gaza.) Israel’s occupation of Gaza is modern colonization, the “central militaristic prerogative” of mass societies. And the media accommodates, as it has in Iraq.

The alternative to state aggression is a liberation of speech in critical spaces, the integral institutions, and represented by contemporary movements “as a consequence of decolonization (migrant workers, refugees, Gastarbeiter) or of major demographic and political shifts (Blacks, immigrants, urban squatters, students, popular insurrections, etc.). These constitute a real alternative to the authority of the state.” One of the most impressive “crowd-activated” sites is the Israeli-occupied territories of Palestine. This is why Hamas and Hezbullah will thrive. We approach difference and tensions with aggression, where the opposite approach is calling out. We can hear the screams of the suffering, the innocent buried in rubble, bodies decomposing. Our inhumanity is extraordinary.

At least in Gaza, right now, Hamas represents something unique, a “freedom” from the usual “exchange”; that is, Hamas represents a firm antidote to Israeli domination. Israel’s Gaza operation is not meant to stop Hamas’s rockets; it’s meant to shore up a doctrine on which Israel thinks its safety must be still based–immediate response to any signs of a punitive raid, by Hezbullah or Hamas, armed by Iran.

“Those people compelled by the system to play subordinate or imprisoning roles within it emerge as conscious antagonists, disrupting it, proposing claims, advancing arguments that dispute the totalitarian compulsions of the world market,” says Said. “Not everything can be bought off.” This is the war cry of Islamic Fundamentalism, a notion that has fallen on deaf ears. At the heart of Islam–the Prophet Mohammed is the example–is resistance to threats to its existence, even expansion (see: The World’s Fastest Growing Religions)

The problem is that we in the post-modern West fail to understand that in many parts of the world–Iraq and Iran, Afghanistan, some parts of the Arab world and Africa–people, governments and religious leaders are still trying to come to terms with Modernity. There are people and cultures in the world struggling with a singular notion, how are we to modernize?

“The major task, then, is to match the new economic and sociopolitical dislocations and configurations of our time with the startling realities of human interdependence on a world scale,” says Said.

Christianity, Islam and Judaism are interrelated, philosophically and geographically. We have to begin here, in this singular fact.

Islam is derived from the root s-l-m, which means primarily “peace” but in a secondary meaning, “surrender”; its full connotation is “the peace that comes when one’s life is surrendered to God,” that is a surrender to the totality that are humility, compassion and love. Adherence to humility, compassion and love enables creative and virtuous actions. We can’t have peace without this.

Judaism affirms the world’s goodness, arriving at that conclusion through its assumption that God created it. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) and pronounced it to be good. Judaism is a faith of a people, and one of its features is faith in a people–in the significance of the role the Jews have played and will play in human history. This faith calls for the preservation of the identity of the Jews as a distinct people.

The only way to make sense of Christianity–and to make sense of Jesus’ extraordinary admonitions as to how people should live–is to see them as cut from the understanding of the God who loves human beings absolutely, without pausing to calculate their worth or due. We are to give others our cloak as well as our coat if they need it. Because God has given us what we need. We are to go with others the second mile.

Humility, compassion and love–Islam, Judaism and Christianity are one in these principles.

But given the hostile conditions of our world, we can only seek–and find–these principles in the margins, in the shadows, in-between boundaries and lines of demarcation that are always already blurred, stretched, even erased, for better and for worse.

Says Said, reminding us,

Yet it is no exaggeration to say that liberation as an intellectual mission, born in the resistance and opposition to the confinements and ravages of imperialism, has now shifted from the settled, established, and domesticated dynamics of culture to its unhoused, decentered, and exilic energies, energies whose incarceration today is the migrant, and whose consciousness is that of the intellectual and artist in exile, the political figure between domains, between forms, between homes, and between languages. From this perspective then all things are indeed counter, original, spare, strange. From this perspective also, one can see ‘the complete consort dancing together’ contrapuntally.

Historically then it’s not surprising that a new era is upon us, a new stage marked by the inauguration of a Black man of mixed race–and who has come to be following the compelling history of a movement totally dependent upon non-violent resignation and protest. President Barack Obama offers “something unique” and “even against his will,” represents “freedom [from the age old forms] of exchange.”

People forced to play subordinate roles always emerge “as conscious antagonists, disrupting it, proposing claims, advancing arguments that dispute totalitarian compulsions.” Barack Obama represents this historical reality.  There is no other way to look at it.  This is why in the last week or so there has been such an uncomprimising allegiance to history. Today, we finally have soul in the White House.

Israel’s occupation of Gaza–and Hamas’ and Hezbollah’s, as well as Iran’s, hostilities–represent an anti-historical approach based on the violent dislocation of language, speech and consciousness. This has always failed.

Enough. Enough is enough! We can suffer no more like this. Let’s then join Karen Armstrong and sign a Charter for Compassion instead and help make religion a force for harmony.

Pushing Afghans Away: A Misguided American Policy

for the Afghans of Middlebury and Simons, the Afghan Writers (in Afghanistan), and friends of Afghanistan in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and in Kabul

I received a text message a few weeks back from one of my Middlebury students. She is an Afghan and she texted me from Pakistan where she had entered illegally. She and her two sisters, one younger and one older, snuck across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to obtain American visas from the US Embassy in Islamabad. Many Afghans–our allies–risk their lives to obtain visas to the US. It’s a way of life so far from our own.

Police in Islamabad held them. No documentation. They talked themselves out of the mess without even paying a bribe, she told me with a “ha ha ha” and a “;-)”, her texting forms for a special–and delightful–grin she has that always says, “I can get out of this,” something in her special DNA that has evolved from confrontations with war and aggression, the reality that someone is always looking, especially if you’re a woman; someone is always coming after you.

They hid in Islamabad for three days waiting for their visas. This is American diplomacy in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, two of the three young women did not receive visas. They applied as “tourists.” Now they must re-enter this process, only this time with their I-20’s in hand, the only conceivable way to begin their dreams of being vital citizens contributing to the rebuilding of Afghanistan.

Let’s not forget that we’re speaking about women, here, who are routinely deprived of basic rights and necessities. (See also: the Plight of Women in Afghanistan and (very disturbing) Images of Women in Afghanistan). We know from studies done by the United Nations that when women are educated, the quality of life increases.

Why do we advocate for women’s rights on the pulpit but act in contradiction when called to action?

It’s always innocence that suffers most in times of war and violence. The main function of war is to suppress, even destroy the organic process–and promise–of change brought about by the basic human rights of education and knowledge. War turns allies away, the opposite approach we need in Afghanistan.

This past summer I received an email from the same student, this time she was guiding an Afghan-Middlebury freshman into Pakistan–same thing, visas (before the US Embassy began issuing visas in Kabul). Anything can happen on this treacherous border crossing. “We saw the Taliban waiting in Pakistan,” she said. The young women scurried, eyes down and heads covered, and got as close as they could to a family, making believe that they were all one group. The Taliban let them through.

Then comes the very dangerous job of choosing a driver to take them into Islamabad. “You never know where you’ll end up,” she wrote.“They ask for money. They can hold you hostage.”

An American Embassy exists in Kabul and this past summer began issuing single entry visas to Afghans coming to the U.S. to study. Students from all over the world obtain multiple entry visas. Not Afghans. When I wrote to my representatives in Vermont about this—Leahy, Sanders and Welch—I received a long letter from the US State Department saying that the reason for not issuing multiple entry visas to Afghans is security but that they were doing their best.

Presumably, a terrorist can enter the US from any point of entry, no? Terrorist cells can exist anywhere, yes, that’s the definition? Three years ago when I was in Buenos Aires Argentina doing some work with Middlebury students at the AMIA, bombed in 1994 by Iranian terrorists, it is now known, I learned about the triangle, a lawless tri-border region in Northern Argentina, Iguazu Falls , a hot bed of potential terrorist threat, where Islamic fundamentalist groups–Hezbollah profiting from the drug trade–exist in the jungles of Paraguay just a short walk across the water where it’s knee high in spots. It was believed then that at least one 9/11 terrorist crossed that border. I stood and stared, almost touching Brazil and Paraguay beyond the dense subtropical foliage, the wild sounds of exotic birds high in the trees.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban train in Pakistan9/11’s evil seed was grown here and in Afghanistan but we turned to Iraq instead and left causalities behind. (see also: Pakistan Loosing Fight and Pakistan Surrenders — the paper trail on this issue is extensive). Pakistan’s government and military are rife with rogue elements. We’ve turned a blind eye and we’re living with the consequences, deceit and confusion–and corruption in Afghanistan (see also, “Winning the Battle, Losing the Faith“).

We need to collaborate with the Afghans; we need to work closely with them at the village level, helping with governance and infrastructure, education and healthcare, otherwise we’re not going anywhere. Afghans need to come here, too, this way honing skills and gaining knowledge that will serve their society–and on their terms, not ours, such as we’ve learned from Greg Mortenson and Three Cups of Tea (see, for instance, “Military Finds an Unlikely Adviser in School-Building Humanitarian | by Yochi J. Dreazen“.)

In “The Other Front,” Sarah Chayes, the former NPR correspondent, author of The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban and living and working in Kandahar where, in collaboration with locals, she has created a cooperative, Arghand, as a means to fight back the poppy business, wrote for the Washington Post that, “The solution is to call to account the officials we installed here beginning in 2001 — to reach beyond the power brokers to ordinary Afghan citizens and give their grievances a fair hearing.”

Not being able to enter the United States with multi-entry visas is a grievance–as is the humiliation experienced at the hands of Homeland Security, particularly by women.

Our policy has been to force Afghans into the hands of the Taliban. (We did this 50 years ago when we drove Fidel Castro into the hands of the Russians.) “More and more are severing contact with the Karzai regime and all it stands for, rejecting even development assistance,” says Chayes. “When Taliban thugs come to their mosques demanding money or food, they pay up. Many actively collaborate, as a means of protest.”

The solution, says Chayes, is to bring perpetrators who want to carve up Afghanistan to the table.

But in order to do this we Americans must take responsibility for the way we treat our friends, the Afghan people. We cannot want protection from illegal immigrants in our country while then creating illegal immigrants in other parts of the world. The consequences of war are exile, differenchisement and the creation of helpless nomads looking for subsistence–all fodder for extremism. “Existence today,” says Homi Bhabha in The Location of Culture, “is marked by a tenebrous sense of survival, living on the borderlines of the present…” This is our method, to make survival dark and the world wide and foreboding.

The way we treat Afghan students that come here to learn so as to be better equipped to lead Afghanistan’s rebuilding efforts is nothing short of immoral. Three weeks ago, I accompanied yet another Afghan student to the airport and witnessed a Homeland Security officer look at her passport, then ask if her last name was Islamabad, written on a line that reads, “Country of Origin”! This was followed by a humiliating and extensive search–everything, all personal items strewn for all to see, her arms spread wide. I stood on the other side of the glass nearly in tears. “This is a person I care for,” I was screaming through the glass. “A Muslim woman, for God’s sake!” No one heard. A woman walked past, noticed me, looked at the student and shook her head in shame as if to say, “No. No, this can’t be. “

In our zealousness and fear we corrupt ourselves and others. Slavery worked this way; colonialization works this way, too. “The ‘middle passage’ of contemporary culture, as with slavery itself,” says Bhabha, “is a process of displacement and disjunction that does not totalize experience.” We therefore guarantee that those that come to us from Afghanistan–or try to–are disenfranchised because we deny them their “totalize(d) experience(s),” which requires that we acknowledge our role in their lives.

In the “Fate” chapter of The Conduct of Life (1860), Emerson’s most prodigious work–and most difficult–the sage asks, “How shall I live?” And then exerts the challenge, “We are incompetent to solve the times. Our geometry cannot span the huge orbits of the prevaling ideas, behold their return, and reconcile their opposition. We can only obey our own polarity.” That is, our limitations. Once we accept our limitations, the only recourse is to reach for the heart, which is where we live, what matters most. Our hearts.

We have to first grapple with our own demons, ask ourselves why we make the most vulnerable and good hearted suffer, and then change our ways. “We are sure, that, though we know not how,” says Emerson, “necessity does comport with liberty, the individual with the world, my polarity with the spirit of the times.” I trust he’s right. And hope we can come to this in time for all my Afghan students to return to classes this spring–one more remains in Afghanistan still. I’m holding my breath for him. And he’ll arrive, Inshallah.

Visualizing the Future: America’s Future After a McCain Victory

When we cast a vote, we are in fact saying that, based on what candidates have said during the campaign, we believe a particular vision for the country. I took it upon myself, then, to try and imagine this vision based on positions and policy statements made by John McCain and Barack Obama. If one or the other candidate were to be elected–a sure thing–what would America look like in the coming years? What are we facing?

Below is my first prognostication, a John McCain victory. In the coming week or so, I will do the same for Barack Obama.

In each case, I had no pre-conceived notion of what I would say–or should. I am an independent voter, beholding to no political group. I don’t join political action groups or lobby for one person or another. I do, however, take positions based on my understanding of the issues, the concerns of my family, community and students, and my sense of where America should be in the not so distant future. I read a lot, study the issues, and think. The cause or issue I feel strongest about is education. And I can say unequivocally that neither candidate is even remotely close to understanding what’s happening in our schools. Of course, this issue is secondary to the devastation our move into Iraq and our disregard for Afghanistan has cost thousands upon thousands of people here and there.

As a theme, I took it upon myself to try and see how each candidate is going to try and move us away from the politics of destruction. This is the outcome.


America’s Future After a McCain Victory: Descent Into Darkness

Disorder and uncertainty are the guiding principles of our world today. This is what gets John McCain elected by a narrow margin. Somehow he convinces the electorate–including the intellectual class–that the sense of being adrift can be pushed back with his approach to the future, a conservatism based on letting market forces dictate everything from the welfare of veterans to the running of schools to the environment, and the continuation of a Machiavellian foreign policy.

Energy Policy:

Moments after his inaugural address, oil drilling in Alaska begins–as does a huge transformation in the area, socially, politically and environmentally.

Contradicting his promise during the summer campaign, McCain continues (quietly) filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). And since oil consumption in America dropped as Americans reacted accordingly to the high cost of their consumption, and gasoline prices at the pump leveled at just below $4 a gallon, McCain sees this as a sign of change, a sign that we have somehow turned the corner on our reliance on oil and we’re moving in the right direction. America is changing for the better, assumes McCain.

So John McCain proposes A National Strategy For Energy Security. But this does not include any incentives for alternative energy development, putting him at odds with Al Gore and the science of global warming. (see also What is Global Warming?)

John McCain is a proven conservative, and his strategy will not rely on subsidies, rifle-shot tax breaks, line-items for lobbyists, or big-government debacles. It will rely on the genius and technological prowess of American industry and science. McCain thus relies on outdated rhetoric that will continue to effectively build on the policies of the previous administration. But since gasoline prices dropped, the complacent (unconscious?) electorate believes him and goes along with his plan since it’s no strain on Americans–not for now, the immediate.

McCain appeals to American’s propensity to think short term.

The oil industry, in the quarter following McCain’s election, reports even greater profits than the year before. The Bush-Cheney presidency, therefore, is defined as extremely successful by the oil company CEOs–as well as by conservative think tanks–because the mantel has been effectively handed over to “the right person,” John McCain. He will continue the Bush-Cheney agenda in energy and the environment.

And just to make sure, McCain promises that should Americans be worried about the upcoming summer fun, since disorder and uncertainty are of primary concern, he will once again ask Congress to suspend the 18.4 cent federal gas tax and 24.4 cent diesel tax from Memorial Day to Labor Day in 2009.

Americans flock back to their vehicles, some to their outdated S.U.V.’s, but others to new hybrids and more efficient models. Consumption increases and McCain points to this as positive because there is an increase in revenues for rebuilding the highways and bridges across America–a sign of hope, a sign that America is back to where it once was. We’re rebuilding America! America is moving again!

But suddenly, before the first one hundred days are up, the stock market, which has been fluctuating up and down, eventually declines and oil prices tick upward again and reach unprecedented levels.

Terrorism affects diversification strategies in the market. Political volatility in the Middle East keeps energy traders on edge. Climate chaos, including weather swings, increasingly becomes a major element in evaluating the outlook for everything from agricultural crops to energy use, and even to energy production in offshore oil rigs (puts a damper on drilling in Alaska, which becomes more costly than anticipated and doesn’t affect the price Americans pay at the pump or for fuel for their homes–a tragic irony!) and refineries located by seaports. Matters darken. Nature’s whims affect financial markets, the ups and downs of our understanding of wealth. No stability is apparent. The poor in the cold regions of the United States suffer in unprecedented ways.

Our collective belief is that we are vulnerable, more so now then ever before in history. At one hundred days, McCain’s approval ratings are way down. Congress, dominated by the Democrats, is in a frenzy. Stalemate. Nothing is moving forward.

A slow but definitive brain drain, for the first time in American history, is noticeable: those Americans who can afford it, leave the U.S. for other lands–some for Europe, others for developing countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia, believing that the future is elsewhere and since globalization is built on the “knowledge industry” coupled to technology, their work–engineering, science and medicine, the arts and education–can be done from anywhere, and at lower human and environmental costs.

Education and Healthcare:

Education: John McCain issues his premise that Excellence, Choice, and Competition in American Education is what’s necessary to stop the increase in drop out rates, particularly among minorities, and make American children more competitive in the future. To accomplish this, McCain says that public support for a child’s education should follow that child throughout the education chosen by the parents.

On the one hand, McCain increases the demands placed on schools by No Child Left Behind and, on the other, he manages to get through Congress a bill supporting the movement of children from the less competitive schools to the more flexible, student-centered schools, free of violence and that are focused on character-building. The education double bind that spells disaster for learning is strengthened.

The poorest of American neighborhoods become even poorer, their schools even more deplorable. Those that can afford to leave for better schools do, for others, much like school busing in the ’60s, going to another school means tremendous sacrifice. Drop out rates increase, as does crime among kids 11 to 21.

John McCain persists and says that the cultural problems in our education system – is a system that still seeks to avoid genuine accountability and responsibility for producing well-educated children. He blames the administrators and teachers, and the parents for lack of involvement, failing to understand the socioeconomic-familial make up of the communities he’s addressing. The promises of education are now a distant, unreachable dream for many–the unreality of many poor.

Advocates of education criticize McCain for being totally out of touch with the poor in urban centers whose unemployment is 6 to 8% higher than in other parts of the country

Educationally, the gap between the haves and the have nots widens. Some of the most challenged urban centers in America deteriorate further. On the other end of the spectrum, competition for elite colleges and universities increases, particularly given the new financial aid policies of these schools, enabling them to pick from the cream of the crop. The rest are left for the second and third tier schools.

There is an increase in online schooling; likewise, some students learn that Europe offers a competitive higher education model and go there where they are welcomed with open arms.

A more stringent–and obvious–demarcation between the classes ensues. Status reigns supreme; it is the calling card. Class, not race (though this is still the unspoken problem in America, especially after the election), becomes the central issue separating Americans.

John McCain argues for standards based education on a massive scale and points to his success in getting Congress to approve the “let the money follow the child ” model of competition in education  as beginning to move children–and America–in the right direction.

Mayors from urban centers gather and complain even more forcefully that the Federal Government has totally forgotten them. Governors of states with large urban centers follow suit. Cities have lost Federal grants for infrastructure needs, the money being channeled to Iraq and the chaos in Afghanistan.

Healthcare: Healthcare and Education run side-by-side. The way of healthcare is the way of education.

John McCain pursues a policy that is similar to his education policy–let competition settle the problem. This is seen as the right direction by the pharmaceuticals since they are really the managers of America’s healthcare system.

Since 2000, the number of Americans without healthcare has increased by almost 9 million–16% of the population without healthcare. Given the economy, the loss of jobs and the increase in unemployment, coupled to the gutting of inner city neighborhoods, under McCain’s watch, the number of uninsured rises.

Following this “competitive model”, even those who are employed lose healthcare coverage. In 2006, 37.7 million workers were uninsured because not all businesses offer health benefits, not all workers qualify for coverage and many employees cannot afford their share of the health insurance premium even when coverage is at their fingertips. By the start of 2010, McCain’s second year in office, this number increases by 2.5 million workers.

Americans that can afford it seek healthcare services abroad, where it’s cheaper and increasingly just as good. Why put up with expensive, run-of-the-mill health care at home when you can be treated just as well abroad?

McCain’s healthcare policies exacerbate America’s brain drain, on the one hand, and more so than ever before, globalization begins to affect the cash flow in the U.S.: investors place their money in foreign companies in developing countries. More investment capital leaves the U.S..

Veterans hospitals across the country suffer along with large teaching hospitals because external competition means a loss of patients. Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, still increasing, are forced to seek help from non-governmental sources, even non-American sources, because the U.S. medical system’s infrastructure is chaotic, at best, and inadequate for their complex needs.

John McCain insists on pursuing this approach to healthcare since it’s the method he promised to follow during his campaign for office. In two years, the American medical system is the shame of the industrialized world.

Foreign Policy:

In difficult times, Americans chose John McCain for what he said was his “foreign policy expertise.”

But increasingly, Americans realize that McCain’s understanding of foreign policy is merely the continuation of Machiavellian policies as old as the conquest of the Americas. Americans see that McCain’s foreign policy is based on the fundamental themes of conquest, retaining the strength and vitality of the causes of “savage injustice” for those who fail to go along with America.

For John McCain, putting America first, we learn, defines a predatory foreign policy that in reality puts America at further risk, alienating us from the rest of the world that seeks a more hospitable future.

McCain goes against the wisdom outlined by experts and journalists from the left and the right, suggesting that unbridled Bush-style aggression is perceived by adversaries as a justification to wield weapons of terror. Thus McCain calls for the transformation of the military to a more pliable machine and argues for the first use of nuclear weapons and the right for unilateral use of military power, particularly against Iran. American aggression increases.

Iraq is at odds with McCain because he extends pull-out dates into a nebulous future, which is consistent with Bush-style aggression designed to ensure the U.S. maintain military bases in the Middle East. (US Military Facilities in Iraq)

Afghanistan further deteriorates, particularly since U.S. Special Forces increase clandestine operations into Iran. Brutal violence and devastation increases in Afghanistan because McCain follows the Bush-Cheney model of not going after Osama bin Laden. McCain does not heed the advise given to Bush by senior CIA analyst Michael Scheurer, responsible for tracking bin Laden, that “US forces and policies are completing the radicalization of the Islamic world, something Osama bin Laden has been trying to do with substantial but incomplete success since the early 1990s. As a result…it is fair to conclude that the United States of America remains bin Laden’s only indispensable ally”(qtd in Failed States, 23). Indeed.

Afghanistan is in chaos after Karzai loses the election. Attacks by the Taliban on all foreigners, whether military or non-governmental workers, increase.

Pakistan, too, is in chaos, pursuing the Musharraf impeachment. McCain maintains that the military dictator Musharraf is an ally of the U.S. and that he’s been honorable in his pursuit of terrorism; however, Al Qaeda gains unprecedented influence over the Pakistani parliament, finally infiltrating it with political forces sympathetic to their radicalization of Islam.

India gets nervous because Al Qaeda control of Pakistani politics is a threat to their sovereignty. McCain, of course, sees this as a common pattern and he calls forth an alert of strained American military forces.

Israel practices bombing Iran over Iraqui airspace further escalating tensions throughout the Middle East. McCain, like Bush before him, backs Israel’s plans to bomb Iran, though publicly he asks Israel to “cool” their mock military maneuvers.

Throughout the Middle East, even among American supporting moneyed Muslims, there is dismay, an outcry condemning U.S. force , labeling it imperialism.

Europe supports the Middle Eastern outcry and backs away from the U.S.. Even the European wanna be cowboy, Sarkozy, finally pulls French troops from Afghanistan saying that his country had suffered too many causalities amidst NATO chaos.

Meanwhile, in Latin America, an alliance–Chile, Mexico, Columbia and Brazil–manage to isolate Chavez. They pull in the new leftist leader, Fernando Lugo of Paraguay. Likewise, these same countries increase their investments in Cuba while the U.S. maintains its current anti-Cuba policies, though countless Americans travel to the Caribbean country via Canada and Mexico.

In Africa, the U.S. builds more military bases while China and the EU make huge monetary investments. Throughout Africa, the attitude is to turn from the U.S. and towards a future that promises creative engagement with those partners willing to invest in infrastructure building, education and science.

Russia laughs at the U.S., extending its control over oil and gas meant for Europe; in a sense, tension rises because the Russian bear is seen as aggressive as the U.S. There is nothing the U.S. can do since it needs Russia.

China grows, increasing its military strength as well; the country’s demands for natural resources are extensive, compelling it to move wide and far across the globe, becoming partner to many regimes, good and bad.

Within two years, McCain’s America is effectively isolated.

Summary:

I had no idea I would come up with these conclusions; however, following what the senator has been saying, laying out a grid of potential results, leads me to these conclusions. History tells us so; we have no reason to believe otherwise since, as McCain tells us as often as possible, he has experience. This is his experience. Facts are facts.

A McCain victory is a descent into darkness. America finds itself in a state more confusing then it is now.

McCain is not an independent person at all, but someone who is deeply entrenched in vituperative politics. How can he be independent when he is beholding to oil barons, the military and military providers, big business–and the list is endless. John McCain is the extreme opposite; he is a product of the elite system that first pushed him into Annapolis, since he was inadequate intellectually (the same as Bush at Yale), and then enabled his rise through the political structure that rewards those of similar make-up.* McCain is just like everyone else; he’s the same product we’ve had for 8 years.

What is most frightening is that the press doesn’t pick up on this, nor follow the obvious. Mainstream media covers only process, highlighting the “ad” tendencies of each candidate, rather than being responsible–and doing what democracy asks–and putting the candidates’ feet to the fire, asking them relevant questions about how to solve America’s challenges.

Essentially, a McCain victory will lead to a further disenfranchisement of America from the rest of the world. McCain’s narrow vision–held together only by aggression and a shallow open market idealism–leaves America vulnerable to those that are ideologically opposed to this, while then enabling narrow self-interest to manage our affairs of state.

I therefore predict, as I said earlier, the beginnings of an American brain drain. Why stay where reason, humanitarian interests and creativity are not wanted? In a global economy, even Americans can work and study anywhere.

Knowing what you know, what America do you want?: Mainstream media and Truth

Dedication:

to my Afghan students, my past, present and future students in Media, Sports and Identity, and to all my Midd students

Mainstream media protects and serves systems of power. Its role is to push the central narratives of our culture by implying a tension with the dominant culture involving representations of class, race, and gender–and especially masculinity. Political campaigns know this. Case in point is how the McCain campaign is accusing Obama of using the ‘race card.’ The McCain campaign knows that the media will fixate on this; however, this isn’t news, but rather, another sign of the manipulation that goes on for the control of images in politics today given the symbiotic relationship between mainstream media–it acquiesces–and political power–control by the few. (I’ve already covered an aspect of this, here.)

In a democracy, we’re in a bind. Democracy requires an informed citizenry. Are we informed? How are we informed? What work do we to do to keep informed? Who do we trust?

In The Problem of the Media: U.S. Communication Politics in the 21st Century, John W. McChesney tells us that “the creation of such an informed citizenry is the media’s province.” All theories of self-government have this as a premise. Which means that controlling what the message is–the information, the images–requires control over how the message is delivered–the systems of media production.

“The crucial tension,” says McChesney, “lies between the role of the media as profit-maximizing commercial organizations and the need for the media to provide the basis for informed self-government. It is this tension that fuels much of the social concern around media and media policy making.”

I’d add that it is this tension that produces the shallow reporting we experience today, particularly in agenda driven Op-Ed pages. The agenda is partisan, which is fine and expected (this is why we read opinions), but more often than not, this is tainted by a journalist’s need to push his or her own career in a system that rewards star quality rather than substance. To have “star quality” requires bombastic statements, ill-thought and narrow conclusions about life and death subjects.

The critical problem is that our system hurts the pursuit of freedoms, democracy itself, since to be totally free demands understanding; it, in turn, requires that we participate and debate, challenge and ask questions, and then involve ourselves in the processes of decision making. We must therefore critique and challenge those that describe–and define–the conditions for our debates concerning our differences, needs and dreams.

Media obfuscates this process–it’s been profitable to do so. Good examples are Thomas Friedman and David Brooks of The New York Times.

In the case of Brooks, after William F. Buckley’s passing, his voice is the most formidable of the conservatives. Friedman is difficult to pinpoint because he struggles with attempts at insight while trying to provoke. More often than not, he provokes because he carelessly makes grandiose statements that are extraordinarily one sided, failing to account for any other perspective–The World is Flat is full of these, as undergraduates at Middlebury have pointed out in my classes.

“When the world goes flat, the caste system gets turned upside down,” says Friedman in The World is Flat. “In India untouchables may be the lowest social class, but in a flat world everyone should want to be an untouchable. Untouchables, in my lexicon, are people whose jobs cannot be outsourced” (italics in original).

Friedman must be talking about the lives of sex workers in India, as described by William Dalrymple in Letter from India: Serving the Goddess” (The New Yorker, Aug. 4, 2008). “The majority of modern devadasis (deva means “god”; dasi means “a female servant”) in Karnataka are straightforward sex workers; the devadasis…estimated that only about one out of every twenty of those dedicated as children manage to escape into other careers–not least because almost all of them leave school and begin work from home soon after puberty…Nevertheless, the main outlines of their working lives are in reality little different from those of others in the sex trade.” From Karnataka to Amsterdam to Las Vegas–globalization at its finest.

My students didn’t need Jeoffrey Sachs to suggest that in a world that requires collaboration and cooperation, the “special,” “specialized,” “anchored” and “really adaptable” (Friedman) workers are going to require a totally different form of education, particularly in the humanities, with a strong emphasis on ethics, something that never comes up in The World is Flat.

Friedman’s flat world is either you’re this or you’re out. This is not sustainable–or tolerable. The disenfranchised, the marginalized and the small are voicing challenges to the globalization at any cost because the already powerful can gain even more power and control mantra. Proof is evident in what is being described as the “DOHA failure.” I partially agree with what Tim Worstall points us to in an interesting piece on global trade negotiations by Martin Jacques in the Guardian:

The irony of Doha is that it is being killed by western disinterest in the face of the growing power of the developing world. The rise of China and, to a lesser extent India, is likely to be accompanied by a parallel irony. The west, which has been the traditional defender of free trade – because free trade always favours the most powerful and advanced economies – is likely to run for cover and put up protectionist barriers, unable to cope with the political, social and economic implications of the rise of China. In a sense, the death of Doha is a dress rehearsal, albeit an early one, for the end of globalization. And those who bury it will be those who designed it and proselytized for it – the US and Europe.

All systems move towards entropy. Friedman never accounts for this–ever, anywhere. He is a part of an old system that relies on fragmentation and departmentalization, which is buttressed by an education system that relies on partial truths, fractured information and decontextualization. This is how a ruling hegemony is supported. This is also why we fail to see and understand the solutions we need today.

In Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Plent, Jeffrey D. Sachs says that,

To solve the remaining dire problems of environmental degradation, population growth, and extreme poverty, we will need to create a new model of twenty-first-century cooperation, one that builds on past successes and overcomes today’s widespread pessimism and lack of leadership…Such multipolar cooperation is time-consuming and often contentious. Solutions will be complicated; the problems of sustainable development inevitably cut across several areas of professional expertise, making it hard for any

single ministry—or academic department, for that matter—to address the issues adequately.

It is therefore incumbent on institutions of learning to engage in the myriad ways technologies are enabling a closer look at how we educate and learn, how we become. This requires a focus on the process of learning as defined by a critical pedagogy that questions and articulates that relationships that exist between knowledge production, the teacher and the student, and technology and the ever shifting terrain of language. This also involves understanding the relationships between knowledge production, educational institutions and power.

A few years ago I taught a course where I placed Friedman’s The World is Flat side-by-side with Bill McKibben’s Wandering Home and asked one simple question at the beginning and at the end of the course: “Knowing what you know now, how are you going to live the rest of your lives?” Resoundingly, after criticizing both texts, the class concluded that Friedman’s pursuit of rampant globalization misses the point, particularly in terms of individual rights, the pursuit of happiness and how both of these interact in a single life that has to live close to the earth, a prerequisite, students concluded, for being a vital part of the human race.

There is no accounting for how to maintain a world that is obsessed with more production for consumption’s sake. We have to collaborate and cooperate in a world where we are increasingly intertwined.

Stories in the media, and Op-Ed pages in particularly, aggravate the disciplined world bifurcated along differences that stress continued exile–and concomitant tensions–along borders. If we want to see how the world is really being shaped, we need to actually examine those who are exiled because of war and natural disasters. Our inability to confront these challenges shows how narrow our thinking is.

A perfect example of Friedman’s lack of personal connection with his subject, a lack of understanding of his responsibilities as a journalist in a democracy is his Op-Ed piece “Drilling in Afghanistan” (July 30, 2008). I sent this out to my six Afghan students, friends of Afghanistan I know and to folks that are living and working inside Afghanistan. (Has Friedman ever been to Afghanistan? Does he know any Afghans?).

Most distressing to my students, and others, was Friedman’s cold, callous statement that, “The main reason we are losing in Afghanistan is not because there are too few American soldiers, but because there are not enough Afghans ready to fight and die for the kind of government we want.”

Countless Afghans have died for the cause of freedom; theirs is a historically long battle for independence. In fact, Afghans are known for their tenacity and skill on the battlefield. And what about the Afghan journalists that have died trying to practice the most fundamental premise of democracy, freedom of expression? According to the Kabul-based South Asia Media Commission, five Afghan journalists were killed in 2007. This is on top of countless suicide bombings that have killed civilians and police. And On December 20, 2002, 65 civilian Afghans were killed by U.S. air strikes.

Where is Friedman on any of this? Where is any mainstream journalist on this, faulting the Bush Administration’s callous indifference immediately after 9/11? What about John McCain’s pursuit of the exact same policies as the Bush Administration?

Afghan blood is being spilled without cause. Afghan military and Afghan police, along with Afghan journalists, are the first line of defense–this we know for sure. But Friedman is blind to this. He also knows how responsible we are for this tragedy since we evolved a vituperative foreign policy that turned its back on Afghanistan for an energy policy that required the occupation of Iraq. Now the entire situation is a disaster. Afghans aren’t doing anything? The real question is what have we done? Answering this question is the first step towards reconciliation–without it, we can’t move forward.

Sure there is corruption in Afghanistan. But ours is not a corrupt system? The Bush Administration has been quite efficient in its pursuit of destabilization as a means to profitable ends for the very few friends of the White House–mostly oil executives. This is a strategy deployed by banana republics we thumb our noses at–but we’re no better, not to the world we’re not. Why is the media not taking this tack?

But as one of my friends (from Benington, Vermont) pointed out, as did an incredible Afghan student, it’s best to listen to people that are in the country, such as Barnett Rubin and Ashmed Rashid. We don’t though, and this is one of the causes of our problems, giving the Friedmans of this world the opportunity to gloss over lives sacrificed for catastrophic policies that have no vision at all.

We exist in a world where life is cheap and sensationalism, bombastic statements and a fixation on aesthetics is more important. We’re headed deeper into the abyss created by a conservative agenda.

David Brooks is a voice for continuing down this dark path. In Missing Dean Acheson (August 1, 2008), Brooks says that “In a de-centered world, all it takes is a few well-placed parochial interests to bring a global process tumbling down.” By “parochial,” Brooks means the weaker nations, those that are commonly the labor on which globalization for the dominant is built. These nations should reconsider their narrow local concerns for the greater good of humanity (read: the powerful, the societies that already have).

This is an old agenda ensuring that many will still reside on the borderlines; it is the last breath of audacious colonialism. Brooks fails to see that the disenfranchised live in-between spaces that provide terrain for elaborating new strategies for articulating identities. The Doha failure is no failure at all, but rather, a new narrative emerging. But Brooks can only rely on existing–and very old–systems of power. He longs for them. The smaller but emerging nations are articulating their sense of difference from a minority perspective we cannot now turn our backs on, as we have in the past. They won’t let us–the consequence of our interconnectedness.

Brooks clearly wants to hang on to a world that no longer exists. “The dispersion should, in theory, be a good thing, but in practice, multipolarity means that more groups have effective veto power over collective action. In practice,” says Brooks, “this new pluralistic world has given rise to globosclerosis, an inability to solve problem after problem.” As is his style, this is not what Brooks means; he means that the failure to solve problems is a consequence of smaller, weaker and developing nations not acquiescing to the will of the powerful–the US, mainly, but now China, India and Brazil that are, in turn, also challenging the hegemony we’ve learned to rely on. Collaboration is only good when it’s among the powerful. We need not collaborate and cooperate with the marginalized. The future, though, is dependent on how creative we are in our work with others, and particularly with those that have suffered greatly because of our needs.

Our vision is myopic. A new discourse is essential. New disciplines for the US are required as well. Brooks says that “for the first time since World War II, an effort to liberalize global trade failed.” Of course! The effort would have meant further destabilization by ensuring that the “resourced power of tradition be resinscribed through the conditions of contingency and contradictoriness that attend upon the lives of those who are ‘in the minority,'” as Homi K. Bhabha teaches us in The Location of Culture. Simply going along with how things have always been done would mean further estrangement–but estrangement is good for the powerful because it guarantees a “slave class”; it guarantees that the devadasis will continue their trade, though devastated by AIDS.

In Brooks and Friedman we see how media protects and serves. By merely echoing representations of the surface structure of things, nodding to an alleged tension with the dominant culture, we, the citizenry, are dealt the illusion of truth. There is no truth in what Brooks and Friedman say–other than it would be best if the ways of production designed by the ruling hegemony remain. Everyone need simply go along. It is still, in their hands, an “us vs them” world, which is exactly the Manichaen world defined by very close minded conservatism that is running out of air.

Of course there are moments when Brooks blasts the conservatives for not being conservative enough. And there are moments, likewise, when Friedman addresses the Bush Administration’s narrow field of vision concerning the Middle East and the environment. But as Noam Chomsky points out in Manufacturing Consent, the progenitor to McChesney’s work, dissent is built into the system, it is allowed, even expected so to give the illusion of a dialog between differences, whcn in fact, read this way, dissent becomes merely another vehicle for the strengthening of the ruling narrative.

(We never see Chomsky, for instance, anywhere in mainstream opinion pieces, do we? Why? We never saw Edward Said, either–why is that? What’s the relationship between power and the control of voices of opposition to the ruling class?)

So, knowing what you know now, how are you going to live the rest of your lives?

Freedom and democracy require a lot of work; ciphering through information delivered by powerful institutions is the most difficult thing we have to do because it requires that we first face our biases, then our differences and pierce through the fog of mythologized idealism.


There are alternatives to mainstream media. It’s up to you, the reader, to seek these out–and to read.   Here are but a few:

Asheville Global Report: Progressive News Sources

Democracy Now!

Pacifica Radio

WBAI, New York–99.5 FM Pacifica Radio

Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting

Foreign Exchange with Daljit Dhaliwal

Dahr Jamail’s Mideast Dispatches

Raising Yousuf and Noor: Diary of a Palestinian Mother