The defining philosophical argument being made on the American political right today should not be surprising. And that is because the need to make that argument is also not new.
In every society in human history, in which so many have been forced to live in states of perpetual poverty, violence and despair–in the midst of obscene opulence and privilege for a very few–there has been a compelling need to explain the relationship of these facts.
There has also always been a need for a counter narrative to be created and promulgated in order to deflect attention from the most obvious causes of social and economic injustices.
Poverty has often been explained as a consequence of individual moral failures. And the exploitation of the weak and the poor by the powerful and wealthy has also been denied as a possible cause of human suffering in society.
But an autopsy of every historic incidence of social decay and human degradation has revealed the same shockingly obvious and simple truth: that it is the poverty of the many that has always subsidized the wealth of a privileged few.
My first foray into social services was as a night volunteer in a homeless shelter. I particularly remember one bright and vivacious 12-year-old girl. The two of us sometimes talked during dinner. As we talked, her little brother would buzz around us, using language and gestures more suited to the Navy than to his preschool. Her parents were puzzlingly limited. I would sometimes help them with simple tasks such as assembling their children’s Christmas toys. They angered easily, with predictable results. In the middle of all this family chaos was this calm and resilient young girl. She made me a fantastic playful picture depicting a punked-out teenager with multiple piercings. I had no idea how to help her.
I thought about her as I read the initial installments of Andrea Elliott’s amazing, heartbreaking New York Times profile of another middle-schooler named Dasani, who lives in a homeless shelter called Auburn Family Residence, in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene section. Dasani shares a 520-square-foot room with her parents and her seven siblings. She’s one of 280 children in this huge and forbidding structure. I don’t know that we’re sure how to help her, either.
Homelessness raises many issues that don’t fit cleanly into the grooves of any political parable. Their lives – and their problems — are complicated and particular.
Dasani’s story is often cited to symbolize New York’s glaring inequality and the shortage of affordable housing in the Big Apple. Fort Greene is one of New York’s most rapidly gentrifying communities. Dasani and her family regularly pass million-dollar row-houses, in streets where low-end groceries coexist with places offering $740 bottles of wines. In a time of unparalleled wealth, rents have been rising while the bottom has fallen out of the low-wage economy. Not coincidentally, the number of homeless New York children has swelled to 22,000. Dasani’s destitute mother, Chanel, and her step-father, Supreme, certainly can’t afford market-rate housing.
The right’s politics of cruelty would have the poor, the brown and even children ‘disappeared.’
December 12, 2013 |
Al Sharpton did some great work on Monday’s PoliticsNation where he further exposed the politics of cruelty that have possessed the Republican Party.
Republicans want to cut food stamps, believe that kicking people off of unemployment insurance who cannot find a job in an economy where there are 3 people for every available job, and that a particularly evil and twisted version of “Christian faith” justifies punishing and hurting poor people as righteous deeds and acts that mark conservatives as the elect who are destined for heaven.
I am not a “Christian.” But my understanding of the “historical” Jesus was that he was a man who died fighting State tyranny and would do anything to help the poor, the weak, and the vulnerable. The Tea Party GOP’s bastardization of Jesus Christ remakes him into a figure who puts his foot on the throats of the hungry, weak, the vulnerable, and the needy, in order to motivate them into self-sufficiency–or alternatively die from a lack of breath.
Initially perceived as President Bashar Assad’s worst blunder in Syria’s civil war, the use of chemical weapons by his army last summer increasingly looks like his ticket to military victory and the key to his political survival.
As a small U.N.-affiliated group of chemical weapons experts toils to maintain a tight schedule mandated by the Security Council for the destruction of Syria’s chemical arms, Western diplomats and the United Nations are hard at work organizing a conference in Geneva in an attempt to end the carnage.
But critics say that it could actually help Assad win the nearly three-year war, even as he stands accused by a top U.N. official of complicity in war crimes.
Damascus says its aim in attending the proposed Geneva conference is to maintain the Assad family’s 40-year hold on power. And as observers believe that the military situation now favors the Assad government, he could also seal a diplomatic victory by leveraging his cooperation with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) team.
“Assad will continue to cooperate with the OPCW,” said a Western diplomat who closely follows Syria. “He has the know-how, so he can renew the chemical program in the future if he wants it. But for now, as long as he cooperates with the chemical team, everybody has an interest in keeping him in power,” the diplomat added, asking for anonymity so he could speak freely.
The death of Pakistan Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud in a drone attack on November 1 is a dramatic reminder that US President Barack Obama remains determined to use drones to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda and its allies in Pakistan despite all the criticism his policy has generated. It works.
The reaction inside Pakistan is a revealing insight into the struggle under way in the country between those who want to fight terror and those who want to appease it. The US’s already dysfunctional relationship with Pakistan has taken another hit as well.
According to one count, the US has used the drones in 378 lethal strikes since 2004. Obama has ordered 327 of them in the four and half years he has been in the Oval Office. According to Pakistan’s Defence Ministry, these have killed 2,160 terrorists and only 67 civilians. These have been remarkably effective in putting al-Qaeda in Pakistan on the defensive.
The Wanted Man
Mehsud worked closely with al-Qaeda in December 2009 to use a Jordanian al-Qaeda triple agent, Humam Khalil al Balawi, to get into a CIA forward operating base on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Balawi blew himself up, killing seven CIA officers, two women and five men, as well as a Jordanian intelligence officer. It was one of the worst days in the agency’s history. Mehsud appeared sitting with Balawi in a martyrdom video released by the Taliban after the attack.
Mehsud was also involved in a plot to attack Time Square in New York City in May 2010 using a car bomb. A Pakistani American, Faysal Shahzad, was trained by Mehsud and al-Qaeda to build the bomb. Another video was released with Mehsud and Shahzad.
Fortunately, an alert hotdog vendor, a Muslim, spotted the vehicle emitting smoke and alerted the NYPD before it exploded. The NYPD later told me that had it gone off as planned, the results would have been catastrophic.
But most of Mehsud’s victims in his violent life were not Americans; by far the majority were his fellow Pakistanis. The Pakistan Taliban has murdered thousands of innocent Pakistanis in the last decade. It has fought a bitter and dangerous war against the Pakistani state and army. Its terror has helped to turn Karachi into a lawless mega city. It tried to murder young Malala Yousafzai and has warned it will kill her if she ever returns to Pakistan. Dozens of other young Pakistani children have been murdered by Mehsud’s followers.
“That social norm is just something that has evolved over time” is how Mark Zuckerberg justified hijacking your privacy in 2010, after Facebook imperiously reset everyone’s default settings to “public.” “People have really gotten comfortable sharing more information and different kinds.” Riiight. Little did we know that by that time, Facebook (along with Google, Microsoft, etc.) was already collaborating with the National Security Agency’s PRISM program that swept up personal data on vast numbers of internet users.
In light of what we know now, Zuckerberg’s high-hat act has a bit of a creepy feel, like that guy who told you he was a documentary photographer, but turned out to be a Peeping Tom. But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised: At the core of Facebook’s business model is the notion that our personal information is not, well, ours. And much like the NSA, no matter how often it’s told to stop using data in ways we didn’t authorize, it just won’t quit. Not long after Zuckerberg’s “evolving norm” dodge, Facebook had to promise the feds it would stop doing things like putting your picture in ads targeted at your “friends”; that promise lasted only until this past summer, when it suddenly “clarified” its right to do with your (and your kids’) photos whatever it sees fit. And just this week, Facebook analytics chief Ken Rudin told the Wall Street Journal that the company is experimenting with new ways to suck up your data, such as “how long a user’s cursor hovers over a certain part of its website, or whether a user’s newsfeed is visible at a given moment on the screen of his or her mobile phone.”
There will be a lot of talk in coming months about the government surveillance golem assembled in the shadows of the internet. Good. But what about the pervasive claim the private sector has staked to our digital lives, from where we (and our phones) spend the night to how often we text our spouse or swipe our Visa at the liquor store? It’s not a stretch to say that there’s a corporate spy operation equal to the NSA—indeed, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.
Once upon a time, walking around shouting “The end is nigh” got you labeled a kook, someone not to be taken seriously. These days, however, all the best people go around warning of looming disaster. In fact, you more or less have to subscribe to fantasies of fiscal apocalypse to be considered respectable.
And I do mean fantasies. Washington has spent the past three-plus years in terror of a debt crisis that keeps not happening, and, in fact, can’t happen to a country like the United States, which has its own currency and borrows in that currency. Yet the scaremongers can’t bring themselves to let go.
Consider, for example, Stanley Druckenmiller, the billionaire investor, who has lately made a splash with warnings about the burden of our entitlement programs. (Gee, why hasn’t anyone else thought of making that point?) He could talk about the problems we may face a decade or two down the road. But, no. He seems to feel that he must warn about the looming threat of a financial crisis worse than 2008.
Or consider the deficit-scold organization Fix the Debt, led by the omnipresent Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles. It was, I suppose, predictable that Fix the Debt would respond to the latest budget deal with a press release trying to shift the focus to its favorite subject. But the organization wasn’t content with declaring that America’s long-run budget issues remain unresolved, which is true. It had to warn that “continuing to delay confronting our debt is letting a fire burn that could get out of control at any moment.”
As I’ve already suggested, there are two remarkable things about this kind of doomsaying. One is that the doomsayers haven’t rethought their premises despite being wrong again and again — perhaps because the news media continue to treat them with immense respect. The other is that as far as I can tell nobody, and I mean nobody, in the looming-apocalypse camp has tried to explain exactly how the predicted disaster would actually work.
Republicans are apoplectic about Healthcare.gov, the official Web site for the Affordable Care Act.
They are trying desperately to change the subject from their disastrous government shutdown by ranting about the failures of a government Web site that cost a tiny fraction of what was lost as a result of the shutdown.
Republicans are pretending that they care about the problems encountered in signing up for a system that many of them are bent on destroying.
They are demanding an immediate fix to something they want to break.
They are trying to deflect public outrage away from their record-low approval ratings.
The only problem for Republicans is that a technical issue isn’t likely to have legs. Yes, it’s embarrassing. Yes, it’s frustrating. Yes, it’s an unforced error.
But it’s also fixable, and in the grand scheme of things, a malfunctioning Web site is more understandable and less consequential than a malfunctioning political party.
The Web site will be fixed. Can the same be said of the party that has planted its flag on the outskirts of reason? Can the same be said of the party being hijacked by hyperpartisans?
“The whole dream of democracy is to raise the proletarian to the level of bourgeois stupidity” Gustave Flaubert complained in his letter to George Sand in 1871. In the 1800s, democracy could be described in such simple terms. But as time progressed, so did the demands and perceptions. Today, talking about democracy demands more than providing every citizen the power to vote.
This week Turkey welcomed the news to be invited to join the Development Assistance Committee (DAC ), known as the “club of rich countries.” Erik Solheim, the newly elected chair of the OECD, stated that the Turkish aid provided to Africa and to Somalia in particular drew their attention and demonstrates the significant progress Turkey has made. According to OECD DAC figures, the total amount of Turkey’s official development aid in 2012 was $2.5 billion, a 99 percent increase in 10 years. In 2002, Turkey’s aid totaled $86 million and $1.3 billion in 2011—the assistance provided by other OECD member countries decreased 4 percent in 2012.
No democratic tradition
Positive story so far. But (and there is a but) I have to say Turkey still doesn’t have its own identity in democracy, nor does it have a democratic tradition. As we progress in general terms, in terms of finesse in democratic culture we are being more aware of our gaps every day. Of course steps are being taken to fully amend the constitution and make a more pluralistic, more peaceful society. Turkey’s constitutional problem possess a major challenge to democratic consolidation, however, in the latest democratization package, there were regulations for many ethnic and religious groups, especially for Kurdish people such as the right to education in different languages at special schools, lifting of the legal barriers for the use of Kurdish town names and permission to advertise in different languages and dialects.
One thing our politicians fail to consider is: perception is the only reality in politics – as our former Foreign Minister Yaşar Yakış so eloquently stated. If you look like an Islamist and talk like an Islamist, you will be known as one no matter how many freedoms you provide to your society. Passing an alcohol restriction fully in line with EU countries does not make AK Party an Islamist party but letting bigoted scholars talk about the indecency of pregnant women walking on the streets, does. Letting hijab wearing women go to universities and enter governmental institutions does not make AK Party an Islamist party, but criticizing a host on tv for her revealing clothes, certainly does. In terms of legislation, there is no gender segregation in Turkey, only positive one towards women. But if a society can still comment on women’s clothing and not men’s, how much equality of genders can we talk about in a society? If the dissents can find one leak in civil liberties, doesn’t it justify all other criticism? Still to this day neither the party nor the person who publicly criticized the ladies outfit apologized.
This time is different. What is at stake in this government shutdown forced by a radical Tea Party minority is nothing less than the principle upon which our democracy is based: majority rule. President Obama must not give in to this hostage taking — not just because Obamacare is at stake, but because the future of how we govern ourselves is at stake.
What we’re seeing here is how three structural changes that have been building in American politics have now, together, reached a tipping point — creating a world in which a small minority in Congress can not only hold up their own party but the whole government. And this is the really scary part: The lawmakers doing this can do so with high confidence that they personally will not be politically punished, and may, in fact, be rewarded. When extremists feel that insulated from playing by the traditional rules of our system, if we do not defend those rules — namely majority rule and the fact that if you don’t like a policy passed by Congress, signed by the president and affirmed by the Supreme Court then you have to go out and win an election to overturn it; you can’t just put a fiscal gun to the country’s head — then our democracy is imperiled.
This danger was neatly captured by Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, when he wrote on Tuesday about the 11th-hour debate in Congress to avert the shutdown. Noting a shameful statement by Speaker John Boehner, Milbank wrote: “Democrats howled about ‘extortion’ and ‘hostage taking,’ which Boehner seemed to confirm when he came to the floor and offered: ‘All the Senate has to do is say ‘yes,’ and the government is funded tomorrow.’ It was the legislative equivalent of saying, ‘Give me the money and nobody gets hurt.’ ”