Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sound and Fury; Signifying Nothing

The cable news and other main stream media outlets are and will continue to be filled with hosannas praising the supposedly uplifting inaugural speech by Hopey. I listened to the whole thing live, against my will, and I was not particularly impressed by it all. It was filled with much of what Hopey has said throughout the campaign: "America is great, moral and just and so all that is done in its name is thus"; "There are real challenges but if we all come together (with me) government and the private sector can fix it all"; and "Divisiveness, or any dissent, is dangerous and so cannot be tolerated". As despicable as most of the right wingers and others of that general leaning are who shout about Hopey's "socialism", the contention that this leader worship of him is dangerous is more than sound. This danger can be seen in recent memory with George W. Bush, when he had his highest popularity after 9/11 he was able to achieve the worst and most long lasting disasters of his presidency: the war in Iraq and the secret prison network.

More to the point of this post, Hopey's paeans about the greatness of America were both hollow and false. Hollow in the sense that he didn't describe how past and future challenges were and will be solved other than by some vague American greatness or through "uniting for a common purpose" (the lack of dissent idea again). False in the most obvious sense that his claims about how problems were overcome were either plainly wrong or misleading. His whole approach follows the same model that nearly all mainstream political thinkers ascribe to: Capitalism is generally alright except when it doesn't lead to the consequences "our democracy" wants and then it needs to be put back in line by the the even hand of government (even while there may be a few people in government who are disreputable, as an institution it's quite moral). Leaving aside what one thinks about capitalism for a moment, this faith in government to be the steady hand in steering the nation to a brighter tomorrow can be seen whether one is a Leftist or Right-Winger or anywhere in between if they think about it carefully and look at the government practices historically.

One can find scandals of graft and corruption in governments from local municipalities up to the White House, even going back a few years. But what's even worse, one can find that the "legal" practices of governments in relation to the rich and powerful, those connected to politicians anyway, are almost always mutually beneficial. Minimum wages, for example, long touted as the example of democracy triumphing over the "greed" of capitalism to ensure the downtrodden will earn a wage that they can live on. However, they also have the effect of making the cost to employers rise so that competition with existing employers is more limited and the decrease in potential employers further reduces opportunities for the unemployed to find work. In short, Hopey is offering more of the same sentimental, meaningless American (Government, in particular) Exceptionalism that has been offered over and over again, but with more palatable rhetoric than Bush could muster. One can only hope that his honeymoon will be short and there won't be another event which he can use to rally support like his predecessor did.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Relief in Somalia

For some good news, the Ethiopian army has finally withdrawn from Somalia, though not all (The stationing of the Ethiopian army, which has been so violent in Somalia, in the Jubba Valley has a special serendipity). Of course, even this relative improvement in the situation is mitigated by the fact that the fighting continues and that the Islamist that the Ethiopians, backed by America, were ostensibly trying to eliminate are now the among the main groups seizing control of the country. The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) placed in power by the Ethiopian invaders is of course collapsing without the Ethiopian army to prop them up. What dampens this occasion even more is that the UN has already passed a resolution granting permission to for any nation to strike Somalia at any time.

But despite all that, this a victory for the Somalis, they have pushed out their occupiers and have achieved the freedom to at least squabble amongst themselves over who will rule their home rather than have foreigners or Quisling locals imposing rule upon them. Once again, people the world over are not interested in being dictated to by foreigners, least of all to be ruled by them. This whole catastrophe in Somalia, recently upstaged by the events in Gaza, provides yet another example of how aspects of conflicts the U.S. gets involved in are viewed through the wrong paradigms. First, the Union of Islamic Courts was viewed as synonymous with al Qaeda when there was no particular reason to believe that. While the Union was explicitly Islamic, nearly all Somalis are Muslim and see that place as an Islamic land so that evidence for such a conclusion isn't particularly strong. Yet, the U.S. continued to act as if that was true and so made it into a self-fulfilling prophesy, the Islamists are in a position to potentially take over Somalia. The other paradigm was that Somalis wanted a Western created government to rule them. It may seem that I'm simply repeating myself, but if one looks at all the attempts by the UN to "achieve peace" in Somalia all have involved a coalition government organized and "recognized" by the "international community". "International community" is the euphemism typically used for the Western governments and others who generally agree with them and all these coalitions have been made outside of Somalia. Little wonder then that these peace plans were seen as attempts for outsiders to dominate them.

With luck, there will be some sort of reconciliation between the different groups and the war can end. But given that the U.S. was willing to come back after the whole Black Hawk Down debacle I wouldn't bet on that. Congratulations just the same to the Somalis who kicked out the Ethiopians though, for whatever it's worth.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Gaza Disaster

It's been months since I've posted anything, mostly due to personal troubles and the struggle to collect my thoughts. I've finally decided to make this post about the unfolding disaster in Gaza. One of the key misconceptions of this incident in particular and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in general has been the whole "human shield" myth. Uri Avnery wrote about this (beginning of the article) and how this whole perception of Hamas as "hiding" among civilians is the wrong paradigm with which to see the events on the ground. Hamas is the duly elected and generally supported government of Gaza and as such they are the ones who are supposed to defend the territory of Gaza in the case of military attack. Whatever one may feel about Hamas's political views, they are as much the government of Gaza as George W. Bush and his team still are, and Hopey McChangington will soon be, of the U.S. and so should be described as such rather than as some foreign force holding Gaza hostage.

In fact, if anyone is holding Gaza hostage it is Israel. The IDF maintains checkpoints and restricts travel for Palestinians throughout Gaza and the West Bank. These checkpoints and other draconian measures have been criticized throughout the world, even in Israel. The IDF attack on Gaza has just been a more nakedly aggressive action that what the Israelis had already been doing. Israel rules over Gaza and the West Bank for intents and purposes as the authority of the Palestinian governments is limited. All the necessities of life for Gazans and most of the functions of a sovereign government are in the realm of the Israeli government to provide. What's worse is that this recent IDF attack on Gaza was planned even before the last ceasefire went into effect.

Clearly this conflict is more than just the evil, would-be Holocaust-repeating-Nazi-esque Arabs versus the plucky democratic Israelis struggling just to exist as a nation and a people. Analysis of the situation by someone other than an Israeli propagandist would conclude that the reality is practically the opposite. Gazans, despite all efforts at resistance (to the dismay of the IDF), are more or less defenseless from the attacks of the Israelis and cannot force the Israelis out through military means, much less annihilate Israel. Much of this problem relates to another issue: all criticism of Israel is regarded as antisemitic. One might not always be specifically called a Nazi or the like for criticizing Israel and specific conduct of IDF may be critiqued, but calling into question the basic premises of the Israeli government is seen as racist. More often than not it's either expressed as "Well that might not have been the best move for Israel to have done, but to harp on it means that guy is fixated on Israelis and how evil they are" or "Sure it might be bad, but what about the other terrible actions by soldiers throughout the world you have said nothing about. Since you didn't mention those you're holding Israelis to a higher standard because you think the Jews are evil and the Holocaust wasn't such a bad idea after all".

Again, this paradigm of viewing criticism of Israel is flawed as well. While one can find many who are antisemitic that oppose Israel, the reality of the situation is that the Israelis are the dominant force in Gaza and the West Bank and brutally occupy those lands. In the end, the vision of Israel as plucky democracy against the Brown Peril of Palestinian hordes is fantasy and in total conflict with reality. However, unless and until the political classes of the U.S. finally accept this or at least act as if this should change, Israeli oppression will continue.