The Coming Plague: the RYAN – Romney Ticket to the Middle Ages

Is anybody scared?

I am. I’m very scared. Very.

Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his VP running mate is a throwing down of the gauntlet: America is going to abide by a stringent hierarchy that will impose a highly structured system that won’t bend – for you or anyone; each class will be identifiable — and verifiable. We will have different Americas. Some Americans will be on the inside, others will forever remain on the outside. It’s all we can afford, so pick yourself up by your bootstraps — and if you can’t, oh well.

This is the election: do we continue to struggle on the demanding, bumpy road towards freedom(s) for each and everyone of us, working really hard, in difficult times, to re-adjust social mobility and tolerance, or do we give that up for a sure place on a ladder’s rung without being able to control (a) which rung we land on and (b) without being able to move the ladder this way and that, this angle and that, re-adjusting it in concordance with great suffering — and there will be plenty of suffering.

Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his VP running mate is a window into who the Republic Presidential candidate actually is and how he works. Romney’s selection is a window into his soul, a dark, foreboding place. It’s obvious now.

Romney is the second coming of “W.” Romney, like W, is willing to be used. With W came Cheney, a very powerful, intelligent and articulate conservative, with hands in some of the most powerful pockets in the world — oil, defense, Wall Street, fundamentalist capitalists. He changed the course of history — and W went along. Cheney’s and W’s tack caused deaths, depravation and a furthering of the American decline: the 2008 economy, Iraq and Afghanistan, Bin Laden running around like a lunatic planning his next destruction, education nearly collapsing, the greatest economic separation among Americans in history. The evidence is indisputable. This was the world handed to Obama and Biden.

Those same forces that gave us W and Cheney are now stronger; they’ve learned from their loss to Obama. Now they’ve forced Ryan onto Romney. Ryan’s economic plan will float money upwards, much like Cheney loved to have power and influence float upward only to him, then he could push the punk, W, around. Romney’s been pushed, for sure; Ryan has the upper hand.  Ayn Rand is winning, an early influence on Ryan, he admits. (I read Rand as  teenager, too, but had the instinct to turn away.)

If I’m not telling the truth, saying it like it is, watch the 60 Minutes Interview that aired last night, Sunday, August 12th.

Romney is cautiously in love. And Ryan can hardly sit still, so enthralled is he to describe his vision. He’s so excited with his new stage that he had to hold back from jumping in with data and projections, deferring to Romney’s jingoistic responses to rather soft questions. When Ryan speaks, Romney looks like a puppy that’s having his belly scratched, grinning from ear to ear. But his eyes, they tell a different story: watch it, this guy is really ambitious — and he can talk better then I can.

What’s he saying? For starters, we’re learning that Romney will have less control. We’re also learning that Ryan’s plan controls from the top.

The Romney-Ryan plan wants less social welfare drag, more struggle in the under classes, more riches at the top of the income ladder. It’s not a solution to our problems, it’s merely a re-distribution of a dwindling pie. Re-distribution, according to Ryan, can only happen by guaranteeing denial of benefits to Americans that are in trouble and struggling, hurting, maybe even confused and vulnerable. Ryan’s plan never looks at the reasons for our state being the way it is. The market place will then run free and produce growth; however, what kind of growth this is, we don’t know. What we do know is that growth depends on how rules and regulations are erased — particularly when these rules pertain to the environment and the extraction of natural resources by international corporations.

The gamble is that Ryan’s plan will provoke the upper-middle class and the socially unconscious. It goes something like this: People are always willing pay for the good life. Let’s take it. Make it. Sell it. Let’s take it now. Screw it. Climate change. Dwindling resources. Hell, there may not be a tomorrow. Let’s take it before it’s too late. Down the road, after much wealth is acquired and it all works out, maybe we’ll have the technologies in place that will allow us to tack back a bit. But for now, let’s take it. What do we have to lose?

Ryan’s plan is medieval. We’ve seen it before — the lord, his serfs and the anonymous living in abject poverty reliant on hand-outs from the serfs. Free market enterprise is the moat — free meaning that to profit one must be socially mobile to access open, competitive enterprise where there are rules that guarantee a kind of success, provided that monopolizing capital is something you’re willing to go along with. It’s a wonderful life.

But no one has a crystal ball. Obama and Biden could win. Romney and Ryan could win and end up paralyzed by a congress that opposes them, having to redefine their harsh perspective on the American future. In the meantime, as each party lobs insults to the other — and at the American people — we can feel safe in knowing that there are dark, harsh forces out there —  we can see them and identify them; it’s not a conspiracy at all —  throwing tons of money into the Romney – Ryan coffers, perhaps because they see the ticket as being Ryan – Romney.

I’m scared. Very scared of that!

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The Place of Alienation in the American Political Consciousness

I seem to be looking for meaning everywhere I turn. But meaning I cannot find today.

Looking for meaning ought to point to something, a thing that corresponds to it. It’s a temptation to try to find some object that we might call “the meaning.” But there is no such object. This temptation — to find the meaning — needs to be cured.

Baffled, I look and wonder about our state of affairs — why we are the way we are, today’s American — and find not a single hint of an answer anywhere. Nothing is predictable. Nothing is obvious. Perhaps, as mathematicians might suggest, the deterministic nature of our system — capitalism flag waving as democracy — does not allow for predictability.

The world is perpetually in flux, yet Americans operate as if it’s static. We speak boldly about Morality and Utility, but these extract demands from our propensity for pleasure — oral, visual, sexual (not so much sensual, which would then move us towards aesthetics and a re-engagement with philosophies concerning Beauty, which would be too much to think about, too complex).

We are very much alone and plugged in — iPads, iPhones, computers, social networks. We are solitary — the self in perpetual solitude. Our experiences, like no other time in history, are profoundly solitary. In solitude we have intense experiences and can, for a short time, transcend the very real flux, the natural course of Being, existence.

Americans are then always in contradictions — solitary experiences that momentarily transcend the flux that is always present. Ironic — we are in a constant state of Irony. The prodigal child of irony is Alienation, a ongoing theme, for instance, in our American Literature that begins with Emerson to Hawthorne and Melville to Henry James and William Faulkner and Wallace Stevens to Toni Morrison and Cormac McCarthy. Alienation gives us a form of rooted rootlessness, security in insecurity, an sense of alienation that has been historically a confirmation of community.

Alienation, rather then any ideology, is the construct of politics in America today. Alienation presupposes the always ongoing struggle to find the meaning that alludes us. There is no meaning — it’s the temptation we follow.

The rhetoric of politicians, keenly orchestrated to appeal to media, exploits the temptation to find the object that will give us the meaning. No one is telling the truth, though. The only truth is that our masquerading democracy seeks exploitation to survive, using Divine Providence — the false notion that we are the Chosen — to embellish our tendency for denial of what we see — or don’t see.

We signed up and followed Obama’s Change Rhetoric, only to find out that change meant more of the same: a rounding up of the Bush-era foreign and domestic policies and greater intimacy with Wall Street, passed down to us by Reagan. We’ve been lead, with our acceptance, down the wrong path. And the alternative, the crazy, Ahab-like Newt of destruction and the indifferent and the callous and blindly ambitious Romney, who made his fortune on destruction, promise a profound exploitation of resources.

In The Ship chapter of Moby-Dick, Melville tells us that, “For all men tragically great are made so through a certain morbidness. Be sure of this, O young ambition, all mortal greatness is but disease.” What we chase is profoundly irrelevant, says Melville.Moby-Dick

We long for men that promise the meaning; we chase after their ambition, as poor Ishmael did when he stepped onto the Pequod and said, “this ship is for us.” But the Pequod is not a democracy; in its appeal to be considered the meaning, what we find, as a microcosm of American culture, in 1851 and 2011, is a totalitarian regime disguised as a democracy fully grounded in self-reliance. And nothing could be further form the truth, which is where we find ourselves today in America — far from any sense of truth.

In the end, now, as did Ishmael, we are orphaned, floating in a sea, only the sharks do not have “padlocks on their mouths.”

Nothing Will Change: the 2012 Presidential Election

Whether Obama retains the White House in 2012 or a Republican wins, nothing much will change. The evidence is overwhelming.

It no longer matters who sits in the Presidential seat or in Congress — unless, of course, the Republican is Newt Gingrich, the extremely nasty former Speaker of the House who wrote a doctoral dissertation excusing the brutal colonization of the Congo, or the absolute dizzy opportunist, Michele Bachmann , who is convinced that CO2 is a natural byproduct of nature.

But even if the intellectually challenged Sarah Palin were to win, all candidates will succumb to the law of the land: the state and the corporation are the main sponsors and coordinators of an “unprecedented combination of powers distinguished by their totalitarian tendencies, powers that not only challenge established boundaries — political, moral, intellectual, and economic — but whose nature it is to challenge those boundaries continually, even to challenge the limits of the earth itself,” says Sheldon S. Wolin in Democracy Inc: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism. The Kock Brothers’ exertion is a perfect example. Thus, all candidates — in the White House and Congress — must adhere to the demands of this imbalance of power that invents and disseminates “a culture that taught consumers to welcome change and private pleasure while accepting political passivity,” argues Wolin.

We live in less democratic times; we wallow in a “collective identity” that is imperial rather than republican. The consequence is that we interiorize an artificial vision of civilization created by the political coming- of – age of corporate power and its concomitant myth making apparatus.

Inverted totalitarianism … while exploiting the authority and resources of the state, gains its dynamic by combining with other forms of power, such as evangelical religions, and most notably by encouraging a symbiotic relationship between traditional government and the system of “private” governance represented by the modern business corporation.

Let’s take a look under the hood at the engine that runs the inversion of power in our current ideological state apparatus.

The top 5 contributors to the 2010 campaign committee of Eric Cantor, the majority leader of the US House of Representatives, are:

  • Comcast Corp, who actively lobbied “net neutrality” legislation, FCC programming issues, and general telecommunications issues. In 2010, Comcast focused its lobbying efforts on a getting a merger between Comcast and NBC Universal approved by the federal government. People and political action committees associated with Comcast Corp. together generally favor Democrats when it comes to political campaign contributions. The monopolization of expression.
  • McGuire, Woods, et al –recently represented BVT Institutional Investments in the sale of 10 shopping centers located in Florida, Texas and Georgia. The $130 million transaction was one of the country’s largest retail real estate transactions of 2011 and marks the conclusion of McGuireWoods’ representation of BVT in connection with its U.S. Retail Income Fund VIII portfolio & in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the whistle blower provisions in Section 806 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX) do not protect employee leaks to the media. Rather, the statute’s plain language protects only disclosures made to federal regulatory and law enforcement agencies, Congress and employee supervisors. McGuireWoods, defending Boeing, moved for summary judgment on the grounds, among others, that SOX does not protect complaints and disclosures to the media. The District Court agreed and dismissed the case. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit affirmed.
  • Dominion Resources — Electrical Utilities, Gas and Electric
  • Goldman Sachs — we know who they are, all the way to their involvement in the Obama administration and their creation of financial instruments that lead to the recession, the demise of the American economy
  • Blue Cross and Blue Shield, through its 45 local chapters, the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Association provides health care coverage to more than 80 million people. Blue Cross/Blue Shield also has a contract with the federal government to review and process Medicare claims. The association proved to be particularly active lobbying Congress during the health care reform debates of 2009 and 2010. It has also lobbied Congress to make it harder for the government to penalize companies if their employees defraud the Medicare program and process false claims. Local Blue Cross chapters have paid about $340 million to the federal government to settle Medicare fraud charges since 1993.

The next 15 contributors to the Cantor camp follow the same pattern — KKR & Co, which sees itself as the leading global alternative asset manager, Guardian Life Insurance Company, New York Life Insurance, McKesson Corporation, pharmaceuticals and health products, and so on. We get the picture: insurance companies, lawyers, financial firms — banks too big to fail — tobacco (Altria Group, the world’s largest), pharmaceuticals. Representative Eric Cantor has reported a total of 2,849 contributions ($200 or more) totaling $3,057,540 in the current cycle.

Who is Cantor listening to? Cantor is an example of the “tendencies of our system of power that are opposed to the fundamental principles of constitutional democracy. Those tendencies are, I believe, totalizing in the sense that they are obsessed with control, expansion, superiority, and supremacy,” says Wolin.

Let’s look at another leading figure, John Boehner, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, elected to represent the Eight Congressional District of Ohio for an 11th term in November 2010, raised $9,796,947. His five leading contributors are AT&T, Murray Energy, First Energy Corp, American Financial Group and the Boehner for Speaker Committe. The top industries contributing to the Boehner effort are: Retired, Securities & Investment, Insurance, Electrical and Health Professionals.

Boehner’s portfolio is just about identical to Cantor’s. Major international companies have their hold on the two top leading Republican leaders. The tragedy we are currently living is that we seem unaware of the deeper consequences of these relationships. “We are experiencing the triumph of contemporaneity and of its accomplice, forgetting or collective amnesia,” Wolin tells us. “Stated somewhat differently, in early modern times change displaced traditions; today succeeds change. The effect of unending change is to undercut consolidation.” If we take a look out our front doors, take a walk down the block, in our cities and in our villages, we can taste “undercut consolidation.” It’s everywhere — city and state workers, public institutions, the NBA, the NFL; neighbors don’t know who their neighbors are; hope is on a tightrope, the future bleak.

The Democrats don’t fair much better. The top Democratic donors are ActBlue (composite of many, many small, grassroots donations), the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Laborers Union, Machinists/Aerospace Workers Union, EMILY’s List (composite of many, many small grassroots donations), Plumbers/Pipefitters Union, National Assn of Letter Carriers, Ironworkers Union, United Auto Workers, United Transportation Union, American Postal Workers Union, UNITE HERE, AmeriPAC: The Fund for a Greater America. This suggests that unions are the primary donors.

But a closer look tells a different story. Let’s take Harry Reid, the Majority Leader of The US Senate. In the 2005-2010 campaign cycle, his re-election committee raised $24,815,104. The top 5 contributors were MGM Resorts International, Weitz & Luxunberg, mesothelioma and asbestos lawyers, Girardi & Keese, trial lawyers, Simmons Cooper LLC, also specializing in mesothelioma and Harrah’s Entertainment, hotels, resorts and casinos.

The top 5 industries contributing to the Reid campaign are lawyers, Securities & Investment, Lobbyists ($1,052,801 total!), Real Estate and Health Professionals. Reid is a carbon copy of Cantor and Boehner — so what, in fact, is the difference,  unions under attack because we need change?

In American’s Future After an Obama Victory, which I wrote in 2008 during the presidential campaign, before turning to Wolin, I was already suggesting that the Obama Administration was going to be challenged forcefully by the extremes in our culture. The last 3 years give us plenty of evidence. Obama has followed, even energized Bush policies in Iraq and Afghanistan (think drones), education and healthcare (think privatization and insurance lobbyists), energy and, sadly, race.

Obama’s victory in the general election was aided by his tremendous fund-raising success. Since the start of 2007, his campaign relied on bigger donors and smaller donors nearly equally, pulling in successive donations mostly over the Internet. After becoming his party’s nominee, Obama declined public financing and the spending limits that came with it, making him the first major-party candidate since the system was created to reject taxpayers’ money for the general election.

The top supporters of Barack Obama were the University of California ($1,591,395), Goldman Sachs ($994,795; note the connections to his staff: Summers [World Bank, President of Harvard that nearly bankrupted the endowment], Rubin [spent 26 years at Goldman], and Paulsen [former CEO of Goldman], all of whom influenced Geithner [worked for Kissinger, IMF Director of Policy Development and Review Dept, and President of the Federal Reserve Bank in New York]), Harvard University ($854,747), Microsoft Corp ($833,617), Google Inc ($803,436).

This list of contributors to Obama continues unabated — and all other contenders pale by comparison: Citigroup (who laundered Mexican cartel money), JP Morgan Chase, Time Warner (Patrick Leahy, another top Democrat, was Time Warner’s largest recipient, 2009-10, $61,400). Of the top 20 contributors to the Obama effort, 4 are universities, and the rest fall in step with the ongoing search, by the corporation, for opportunism (which is not to suggest that the new corporate university is not after the same). “Opportunism involved an unceasing search for what is exploitable, and soon (following a trajectory since WW II), that meant virtually anything, from religion, to politics, to human well-being,” says Wolin. “Very little, if anything, was taboo, as before long change became the object of premeditated strategies for maximizing profits.”

This is where we find ourselves today — in the name of change we are unchanging in the face of an uncompromising corporate will. The corporation owns the House and the Senate. These folks, our elected officials, are spokespersons for the corporate elite. If we wonder why CEO’s make so much money, this is why. If we want to know why education is being dismantled and privatized, benefitting the upper classes, this is why. The dissolution of collective action is here, too. The privatization of schools. And the increasing gap between the wealthy few, the middle class and the poor is here. Our forgotten communities, Newark’s South Ward, the South Bronx, Compton, others — it’s all right here in this negotiation between corporations and our officials.

And since we’re now on the verge of a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, private security firms are smiling. Is this the world we want? It’s already just about out of our hands.

Though I’m speaking to deaf ears, knowing full well that I write to no one, as I speak, 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.  How is that not inverted totalitarianism?  What about us, the people of Vermont?

The tragic story is that this inversion of power is happening while citizens go on with their lives not conscious of the consequences.

Everything is Connected: Contemplating the American Decline and the Rise of Fascism

I stood on West 33rd Street and 8th Avenue, in front of Madison Square Garden, New York City, staring at a block long billboard, a top McDonald’s and Duane Reeds, announcing the savagery of a UFC Kick-Ass Match, when a guy came up to me and asked, “You have a cigarette I can buy?”

Before I nodded “no” he shrugged me off and walked away mumbling something to himself. I looked towards the opposite corner, across 33rd, and a giant Pepsi billboard said that the world is better when we buy a Pepsi. Beneath this Biblical declaration, sitting at the entrance to Penn Station, a woman held a homemade cardboard sign — “homeless” — in one hand, on the other a stained paper cup that she shook and called to passersby walking with such purpose that they didn’t seem to see her; she was invincible, unseen, except to a couple of cops who recognized her and said something familiar to her. She held up a cigarette for a light — for someone to light, anyone stepping around her and heading down the escalator to the trains.

When I looked up from the invisible homeless woman, the huge and incomprehensible, always changing digital account of green house gases emitted into the universe caught my attention. The last few numbers in the hundreds column kept rhythm with the extreme traffic and anxious pedestrian tumult of the streets — heads down, pushing and moving, sidestepping, anxious, changing. And I became aware — and saddened — by how owned we are, how much of how we perceive our lives — billboards and giant TV screens, digital versions of our illusions, avatars on Facebook and MySpace and Twitter– is not of our making. What we do on a daily basis is exchange value. How much are you worth to me? What can you do for me? I felt inconsequential.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, “Men, in order to do evil, must first believe that what they are doing is good.” How much of what we do in a predictable economic system necessitates that we violate and murder, particularly in the judgment of the puppeteers?

Standing on West 33rd and 8th Avenue, I followed the money, how it moves and what it touches in our vertical economy. One way or another, we all have to consume — this is what our economy is suggesting: no way out of consumption. Globalization is also saying that the poorest nations have only one hope: consume your way out of misery. Haiti is our example here — there are more, of course.

I had a memory: in a visit to Amsterdam, staring at the women in booths coquettishly calling to men, I noticed that on the door of these booths are two documents legitimizing prostitution, a city permit and just beneath it, Visa and Mastercard signs. I realized that money works in every nook and cranny of our world; it filters through everything — prostitution, weapons, narcotics, education and health care, war, depravity and violence.  This interconnectivity is forged by the money we put into the system that is pushed and funneled, by powerful people, in directions we have no control over. Everything is connected.  Everything is connected by money.

I learned in Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of The American Empire at the End of The Age of Oil, by Michael C. Rubbert,* in the forward by Catherine Austin Fitts, Assistant Secretary in the first Bush administration, that in “1997, the Washington Post killed a cover story on [Fitts’] efforts to help HUD insure the integrity of its mortgage programs, thus making possible the subsequent disappearance of $59 billion from HUD as a part of this orgy of ‘piratization’ of government assets by private interests.” Benito Mussolini said, “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power.” Rubbert’s investigation — his argument — is simple: follow the money and we’ll find collusion — government, private enterprise and the criminal narcotics trade; money washed through Wall Street. The citizenry is mostly unconscious, paying for the infrastructure, dedicating earned dollars (taxes + consumption) to ‘piratization’.

Why? Because we live in a closed system of limited and dwindling resources (oil + gas). “Global demand for oil and natural gas is growing faster than new supplies are being found, and the world population is exploding,” Rubbert reminds us.  We are in a crisis that results in aggressive and hostile methods to ensure power remains in the right hands. “American fascism,” Rubbert tells us, “is something different now … It’s not just private, elite control over the legal system, nor private evasion of the rule of law. It’s a crisis – induced transition from a society with a deeply compromised legal system to a society where force and surveillance completely supplant the system.”

The first Bush election and the Florida fiasco effectively demonstrated a very real coup d’état— the aggressive start of the surveillance society; the derelict response to 9/11 was a convenience — we know this now since Cheney and clan already had plans to invade Iraq. The old and weak system was effectively supplanted with 9/11. Now Obama. He has little room to move; he will be given latitude, but not so much that he’ll change the “crisis-induced” system.

When I stood on West 33rd Street and 8th Avenue, in front of Madison Square Garden, I came to understand my small place, my inconsequential place in a “crisis – induced” system. Like a serf in the middle ages, I can see the mote I can’t cross — none of us can. I thought about self-reliance and individualism, only to realize that these ideas have been turned on their head, used to ensure we keep walking, heads down, thinking about tomorrow, forgetting about yesterday, and never fully grasping — or seeing — the present because, after all, this is where things are going wrong, the ground floor where a homeless woman begs for scraps.

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.

Why John McCain Won’t be President


John McCain is an American hero. We honor his sacrifice. But this is not a qualification for a deep understanding of foreign policy. In fact, McCain’s understanding of the world immediately disqualifies him for being president.

During a CBS interview with Katie Couric, John McCain said, inaccurately, that the surge strategy in Iraq was responsible for the much-touted “Anbar Awakening,” in which Sunni sheiks turned against Al Qaeda, helping in turn to reduce violence in the country. Ilan Goldbenberg said that, “It’s a real misunderstanding of what has happened in Iraq over the past year.” The record firmly establishes the opposite, as reported by Spencer Ackerman and Goldenberg: instead of being caused by the surge, the key signs of the Anbar Awakening occurred not only before that strategy was implemented, but before it was ever conceived.

Traveling in Jordan, McCain said several times that Iran, a predominantly Shiite country, was supplying the mostly Sunni militant group, Al-Qaeda. Officials have said that Iran is helping Shiite extremists in Iraq. When pressed, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, standing just behind McCain, intervened and informed the Republican presidential hopeful that the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda.

And if this is not enough, McCain said that Iraq was the first major conflict after 9/11. Somehow Afghanistan is not on his radar, following the position—and actions—of the Bush Administration, as devised by Rumsfeld who never saw Afghanistan as a valuable “asset.” Afghanistan is now a mess, used, according to Seymour M. Hersh, “Preparing the Battlefield,” “to direct personnel, matériel, and money into Iran from an obscure base in western Afghanistan.”

These are more than gaffes. Given the time elapsed between them and that McCain touts his expertise on all things Iraq and foreign policy in general, what this suggests is a profound lack of knowledge, understanding and insight. The dark side of American political history taints his worldview.

The picture is more frightening. John McCain’s key advisor on Iraq is Henry Kissinger. Christopher Hitchens, in “The Case Against Henry Kissinger,” back in March 2001, writing for Harpers Magazine, outlined a case for legal prosecution of Kissinger “for war crimes, for crimes against humanity, and for offenses against common or customary or international law, including conspiracy to commit murder, kidnap, and torture.”

“Thus, I might have mentioned Kissinger’s recruitment and betrayal of the Iraqi Kurds who were falsely encouraged by him to take up arms against Saddam Hussein in 1972-75,” Hitchens tells us, “and who were then abandoned to extermination on their hillsides when Saddam Hussein made a diplomatic deal with the Shah of Iran, and who were deliberately lied to as well as abandoned.”

Hitchens also informs us that, “The conclusions of the report by Congressman Otis Pike still make shocking reading and reveal on Kissinger’s part a callous indifference to human life and human rights.”

The Pike Committee Report was suppressed, following a 246 to 124 vote in the House not to release it. Unending pressure came from the White House. Dick Cheney, rising through the ranks, first joining the staff of Donald Rumsfeld, was then Assistant to the President under Gerald Ford. The future was being devised.

Arguably we began our descent towards the post-America America with the murders of John and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and when we entered the Vietnam nightmare. The only thing that we learned from this darkest period of our history is that, following Nixon’s lead, the highest office needs to be more Machiavellian, merciless.

The Dark Angel born from Nixon and Kissinger is Cheney. The nation changed then—and we’ve not recovered. Thus began our unraveling. Bush and McCain are merely accolades of these dark forces—they don’t know better.

The Bush Administration will be defined in history as the last breath of this dark and foreboding period, the last gasp of a wildly ambitious and violent period.

It is amazing, though not surprising, that Obama’s visits to the Middle East, South East Asia and Europe, in some circles, is being critiqued with cynical reason. Cynicism is the dominant operating mode in contemporary culture. This is voiced most emphatically when hope is in the air, when the changes we’ve undergone become increasingly more visible and when the American people begin to embrace these changes and are willing and able to put their shoulders to the wheel.

Peter Sloterdijk, in his Critique of Cynical Reason, states that “Cynicism is enlightened false consciousness. It is that modernized, unhappy consciousness, on which enlightenment has labored both successfully and unsuccessfully.” It is what prompts conservative writer David Brooks, in “Playing Innocent Abroad,” his critique of Obama’s Germany visit, to suggest that “The golden rhetoric impresses less, the evasion of hard choices strikes one more.” This is cynicism to the core and a lack of understanding—or denial—of the historical evolution of the darkest period of American history and how Americans everywhere, and people throughout the world, are asking for a sign of hope.

Our hard choice is not that hard at all: do we continue with the methods, systems and policies that have evolved from secrecy, the violation of human rights, and violence, particularly when waged against the innocent, or do we embrace a rhetoric that is hopeful, promising and designed to ask us to collaborate and cooperate?

Two types of people will vote for John McCain. Those that when they look into a mirror will repress the reality that the Bush Administration—and McCain—decided that bending the Constitution and lying to the American public was a means to a political end, the legacy of Nixon. And those that will vote for McCain because they believe that the world is ours for the taking, and it is our right, as it has been all along, to conquer and take for the lifestyle we live, the legacy of Kissinger, Rumsfeld and Cheney.

Everywhere Obama traveled, the hunger of the people is for reconciliation. Reconciliation cannot begin unless we, the American people, take control of this election and hold the deliverer of the most hopeful message accountable for his promises. Only then will we be able to face our sins; only then will we be able to begin the difficult journey towards reconciliation.