Didn't The Right Side Win?

Yesterday some Americans paused to remember that the Civil War began 150 years ago with the Confederacy’s attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, and today we heard the President speak about restoring economic justice and reviving the American dream.

In terms of the former, the question arises: What are they remembering, and how much is the country still divided by enduring myths and historical revision? And in terms of the latter, are we able to see what is happening to our country or are we divided by these myths and distracted by atavistic fantasies?

In Charleston, South Carolina today, not far from where the great American bloodletting began, there are two separate tours of the historical city. On the tour for whites, the guide does not mention slavery and portrays a genteel culture of Rhett Butlers and Ashley Wilkes’ standing up for Southern values, whatever that means.  The other tour for blacks shows an alternative universe of slave quarters, auction blocks, and chains and shackles that tell a very dark and different story.

Which is closer to the truth?  First the caveat that there is the unfortunate fact that the truth is a moving target nowadays with Americans reality shopping online for their own versions of the facts that are managed and manipulated by spin doctors in a polarized media.  But that aside, surely the historical record is clear, even if the interpretations are murky.

The Civil War was largely a struggle between two economic systems, one that relied on the unpaid labor of slaves who were the property of a Southern landed gentry and the other, in the more industrial North, a capitalist system based on paid wages. 

Needless to say the British aristocracy, who lost the Revolutionary War, supported the South while the German, Scandinavian, and other immigrants from Europe in the North believed in honest labor and the Union. It is no coincidence that they later embraced that other important union, the labor union, and their descendants are leading the fights in Wisconsin and Ohio today.

Likewise, it is no accident that the South today is the home of the “right to work” states, meaning no labor unions and a plantation economy.  And it is also the home of the new Republican Party, which due to Nixon’s successful southern strategy that pried the Dixiecrats away from the Democrats, has divided the country along a new political Mason/Dixon line of Red states in the South and Blue States in the North.

When Lyndon Johnson signed in Civil Rights Act in 1964 that finally freed the descendents of slaves from Jim Crow in the South, he knew that the Democrats were handing the South to the Republicans. But it was also good riddance for a lot of Democrats in terms of the Party’s uneasy alliance between Northern liberals and Southern reactionaries. 

The bottom line, however, is that Southerners again made their choice of what side of history they wanted to be on.  Ironically, their racism and resistance to black rights caused them to switch, virtually overnight, to the party they had been raised to loath, the Great Emancipator’s GOP.

I remember a scene in an otherwise unmemorable film about the Civil War, “Cold Mountain,” where a wounded Confederate soldier is recuperating in a Southern plantation house converted into a field hospital.  A gaggle of Southern belles are doing the rounds with an exhausted doctor who surveys the broken bodies and ruefully remarks “I’ll never understand why these boys are fighting and dying for the plantation owner’s right to replace them with slaves.”  I have the same problem understanding why working Americans today consistently vote against their interests.

But the gentlemanly myth of a noble Confederacy lives on as does the denial about the role that slavery played in the events of 1861 that still divide the nation.  According to a new national poll by the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll released Tuesday, roughly one in four Americans said they sympathize more with the Confederacy than the Union.

When it comes to white Southerners, the number rises to nearly four in ten. And as to whether the Civil War was fought over slavery or states' rights, 52 percent of all Americans said the leaders of the Confederacy seceded to keep slavery legal in their state.  However a substantial minority of 42 percent believe that slavery was not the main reason why those states seceded.

Unsurprisingly the divide over slavery’s importance to the war that killed more Americans than all its other wars combined up until the Korean conflict, breaks down along political party lines. Most Democrats said southern states seceded over slavery, independents are split, and a large majority of Republicans said slavery was not the main reason. Apparently the pollsters did not ask the crucial follow up question: If it wasn’t slavery, what did cause the Civil War? I suspect they may not have a good answer other than to preserve the “southern way of life.”

Again in terms of the Rhett Butler factor, today’s Republicans also mythologize the Confederate leadership. Eight out of ten Republicans claim to admire the South’s Civil War leaders. Ironically, this number is almost identical to the 79 percent of Republicans in the 1860s who expressed admiration for their own leadership in the North.

Alas the body of historical evidence is moldering in the grave, and the truth is marching backwards as America becomes a plantation economy.  While our revolutionary spirit rots, the Arab spring is reviving the values we claim to stand for.

Ironically, in terms of our economy, we are turning back the clock, becoming captives of our own Mubaraks, Qaddafis, and Ben Alis who, like the Confederacy, ruled in the name of tradition, religion, and family values.  While young Arabs today are exposing the emperor’s nudity, many Americans are revisiting the same old myths of Southern values—myths that serve the few, while enslaving the many.

Waiting For The People


Like a broken record, the inevitable last word in interviews lately comes down to the same conclusion, the people are getting screwed and sooner or later they’re going to rise up and throw the bums out.  Time and time again I hear from seasoned observers and analysts that we have to do an end run around our national politics because both parties are beholden to big money, with the Republicans a wholly owned subsidiary of Corporate America and the Democrats Corporate Lite.

The sad refrain that emerges, without much conviction I might add, is that the people have to organize because our politics and media have been captured and we have to find a way around the corrupt and broken system to reclaim our democracy.  Easier said that done, but there is little evidence that we are even anywhere near that critical mass of a breaking point that could trigger a populist uprising.

Indeed the highest court is continuing to push the country towards a complete capture of our politics by corporations and oligarchs.  The Supreme Court’s recent striking down of the Arizona public campaign financing law is yet another victory for the absurd notion that money is speech.  And while the law of the land is taking us back to the Gilded Age, the Republicans and the media are locking up our public discourse, foisting a suicidal compact on the beleaguered American middle class.

Although it makes no economic sense to cut spending during a recession, the very people facing economic extinction are swallowing the deficit hoax, hook, line and sinker.  Instead of focusing on their own household debt crisis and how that got into the mess and who led them into the trap, Americans are distracted by the abstraction of a short and long-term deficit crisis that is a total lie.

We are a rich country with plenty of money with no end of people around the world eager to loan us money presumably with the expectation of getting paid back.  So why are the American people drinking the Kool Aid ladled out by the same people who ripped them off with the housing crisis that ended up with Main Street getting stiffed with Wall Street’s bill? 

Why do the guileless believe the same people who are gouging them now at the gas pump and in the supermarket, as the price of basic staples go through the roof?

If the Republican get their way and throttle Obama’s anemic economic recovery in its cradle, they might well win the 2012 elections, but the middle class voters who elected the Republicans will be signing their own death certificates.  We are already close to a plantation economy as Warren Buffet has warned us.  And it won’t take much to squeeze that last measure of income from the debt-burdened wage slaves to tip them into permanent penury.

America’s middle class have not seen a pay raise since the 1970’s, they pay more in taxes than the rich and corporation, they have been living of credit to maintain a semblance of a standard of living the American dream promises, they’ve been encouraged to borrow against what they already have on credit, and now their every last cent is being extracted as they are forced to pay more to drive to work and put food on the table.

With no political leaders to turn to, and a media that continues to distract us with fantasy, delusion and disinformation, what and where do we turn to?  History’s dark verdict would indicate a shift to the right as we could easily slide into an American brand of corporate/religious fascism.  On the other hand during the last Gilded Age there was a huge left wing populist movement of rural and urban poor united around religion against the oligarchs.  But the Christian right has effectively neutralized the resurrection of that possibility and the Christian left has yet to get off the ground.

Where does that leave us? Living in hope, with some on the left believing that things have to get worse as you give the capitalists enough rope to hang themselves with.  The opposite seems to be true, with enough rope they can tie us down like helpless slaves.  The other hope is vested in the Constitution that is designed to enable a revolutionary flush of malignant power whenever a government becomes destructive of the ends of our founding father’s dreams.

The final hope is to trust in the people and that appears to be our best bet.  Although as was once said when we needed a new government but the people elected the same old one, “maybe we need a new people”.

The Empire Strikes Out

I read an article this morning by Chalmers Johnson’s widow about her late husband and the fierce intellectual honesty and curiosity that drove him to write his seminal books on the follies of American empire as he struggled against a debilitating disease.

Crippled by rheumatoid arthritis, “Chal” produced the great trilogy on the American Raj starting with “Blowback”, as he fought both the pain of the disease and the cruel irony that the worst president in American history, George W. Bush was accelerating America’s demise and foreclosing any hope for a change of direction. 

Had he lived a little longer he might be experiencing a little pleasure in the pain of our Gulliver-like empire, tied down by its tentacles of hubris, writhing in irrelevance as the world passes us by.  The sorrows of empire indeed; but even worse we are trapped in our own contradictions as democratic eruptions in the Middle East, inspired by our values, leave us sidelined as history is being made by others. 

The inconsistencies are stark as we were caught by surprise by the Tunisian uprising, struggled to catch up with the Egyptian revolution, fumbled the Libyan revolt, tried to have it both ways in Bahrain and now don’t really want the Syrian dictator toppled.

Perhaps we are having the soul searching that Chalmers Johnson had hoped for, but our entrenched and metastasized military industrial complex and its global network of bases is on autopilot, just as the Afghanistan war is, and while billions are poured down the drain, there is little evidence the American people are paying attention.

Except of course for Ron Paul and now the game show politician Donald Trump, who point out the folly of filling potholes in Kabul and not on Main Street U.S.A. 

Perhaps there could be a bottom line awakening that we are wasting money on ungrateful people who hate us while our own people are being downsized as their jobs are outsourced, but that conversation would require focusing on Wall Street.  And since Wall Street clearly owns both political parties, and the Supreme Court has accelerated the total capture of our politics by big money, there seems little hope for improvement there. 

But just as the Berlin Wall fell, the wall of ignorance we have built up about the outside world is slowly crumbling and while we are learning that Arabs want democracy just like us, we might also learn that Europeans and other democracies actually take better care of their own people than we do. 

Even though there is an example right next door with Canada, one would think the intrusion of reality about their better standard of living would be inevitable.  But don’t underestimate the power of the enforcers of myth and the plutocracy of greed. 

America’s oligarchs will not stop until they have squeezed every last dollar of public money into private hands and unless the people act soon to reclaim their government, there won’t be anything left of the American dream, or of America the beautiful.


Parliament or Pulpit?


America has ground to a halt because of the sacred fetus and the sanctity of the sperm.  Church and State are no longer separated as our government is held hostage by ranting Red State Ayatollah’s on a jihad against Planned Parenthood in their war against women.

Nevertheless the Press and politicians continue to refer to the looming government shutdown as the Tea Party’s steadfast stand against taxes, when it is clearly the same old rearguard action in the perennial culture war waged by the right wing of the Republican Party.

How can anyone pretend that this is a movement of economic populists galvanized by outrage over Wall Street’s plunder?  It should now be abundantly clear that this is what many suspected the movement was from the outset, an Astroturf insurgency managed and guided by seasoned Republican operative like Dick Armey and Karl Rove and financed by jaundiced oligarchs like the Koch brothers.

The Tea Party is nothing more than the far right repackaged and rebranded to look less like the wingnut fringe that it is, and more like the mom-and-apple pie center it is not.  In making their stand, and going to the mat to bring the house down, they surely have exposed their true agenda.

The Tea Party caucus scuttled the budget bill over their riders on restricting abortion and eliminating enforcement of clean air standards.  Those apparently are their priorities and they happen coincide exactly with the main obsessions of the religious right and the cherished goals the Koch brothers are paying their lobbyists to achieve.

A small group of anti-abortion zealots staged a sit-in in the corridor outside Senator Reid’s office yesterday spewing out righteous anger against the “socialist baby killer Harry Reid”.  How they managed to turn a mild-mannered Mormon into a monster reveals some of their psychological state, but a deeper diagnosis would suggest these pudgy middle-aged men are on a moral free ride on their road to Damascus.  They can enjoy the rapture of the righteous as they worship someone else’s fetus, without enduring the pain of choice facing the woman who must bear the child and support it alone, whether it has two heads or not.

Since the whole issue of Planned Parenthood is a phony because the Hyde Amendment is the law of the land and no Federal money can be used for abortions, we must assume this is either moral posturing or a reflection of a deeper hostility to women’s health and a woman’s right to plan their own parenthood.  

Venturing into more amateur psychiatry, these martyrs for the unborn might also be acting out of patriarchal desperation, rooted in a fear of women.  The same righteous indignation that led to hundreds of thousands of uppity women being burned at the stake in the good old days of theocracy when we practiced that old time religion that America’s mullahs want us to go back to.

The other diagnosis is more cynical and it has to do with the politics of distraction where Americans are encouraged to take their eye off the ball and not vote in their own interest to see that their taxes are properly spent, but to vote against their own interests on spurious moral grounds for religious hucksters who steal from the poor to give to the rich.

When you consider that the debt and deficits that the Republicans now warn us about in apocalyptic visions of crushing sovereign debt and international penury was run up by them, you have to give them kudos for brazen hypocrisy.  Fully one third of the nation’s debt from day one of the Republic up to the present was run up by their hero George W Bush, and one half was run up the combined misrule of junior and senior Bush and Reagan combined.

Conversely the only president in recent memory who balanced the budget, paid down the debt, got rid of the deficit and left the country in surplus was the Republican’s nemesis who they tried to shame and shun as a sinner because of his unbiblical activities in allowing his seed to fall on fallow ground, that immoral libertine Bill Clinton.

Yes God is great and man is weak.  But where does that leave women?  Are they to be loved or feared?  Go figure.

Failing The Teachable Moment

As the White House blames Congress for the resurrection of Guantanamo Bay back into the headlines, the Muslim world is reminded of the worst of America.  Ironically this is happening just as the Arab spring is identifying with the best of America, as young revolutionaries face their tyrant’s guns, fighting for the rights we claim to stand for.

Eric Holder’s announcement Monday that the 9/11 mastermind Khaled Sheik Mohammed will be tried by military tribunal and not in a civilian court, coincided with the president’s unsurprising message that he is running for reelection in 2012.  The Attorney General’s lame excuse for Obama’s capitulation could not have struck a more dismal note at a time meant to inspire the millions who voted for Obama in 2008 but sat out the 2010 election.

Obama was swept into office with a surge of hope for change in an election in which 140 million voted.  Just two years later the Republicans “swept” back into power in the House with almost half the voters (75 million) participating, thus winning by default.

That in a nutshell describes the fundamentals of American politics; one party makes sure all of its people show up and wins a majority by peeling off enough disillusioned Democrats with unlimited funds and aggressive advertizing.  The other party with a natural majority often fails to inspire its voters to the polls because apparently they are better at running against the disastrous results of Republican misrule than they are at defending their own achievements.

So faced with a choice to revive the worst of America, or make a stand for the best of America, what did the president do?  He folded, and instead of the teachable moment, we got a tawdry capitulation to bigotry, ignorance and defeat. 

Nobody hates defeat more than the military and it took former CENTCOM Commander General Hoar to point out the shame of putting KSM on trial at Gitmo because the murderous little creep is not a warrior, he doesn’t belong to an Army. He’s a common criminal!

The president and the Democrats have missed an opportunity to reverse decades of doubt about them as stewards of our national security.  Democrats have always been on the defensive about whether they stand tall in the saddle and whether or not they are soft on the Communist or now soft on the terrorists. 

Again they missed the teachable moment despite the fact that the recent evidence is clear that Bush and Cheney and the right wing have been disastrous for America’s security.  Rather than fight them on their catastrophic record of the reckless endangerment of America and the precipitous decline in our power, Obama has caved into their bombastic idiocy, thus taking a further step with the serial missteps in the calamitous war on terror.  

From 9/11 on, thanks to Bush/Cheney, we have been wrong-footed and have played into Bin Laden’s playbook.  First by going it alone, Bush elevated this criminal as an equal player on the world stage, smoking him out like a Western gunfighter to face off against the Lone Ranger. 

Goaded into an endless war by a hopeless cave-dwelling fanatic, the Bush Administration promoted Bin Laden as the next Hitler.  From day one we dignified these criminals by calling them jihadis, which is a noble concept in Islam, meaning a person of faith on a spiritual quest. 

But the initial follies were compounded by the catastrophic misapplication of our military power in unnecessary wars.  And the dissolution of our treasury in futile pursuits has resulted in Bush/Cheney running up half of our national debt in a mere eight years out of the entire life of the Republic.

Unless the America people are told the truth about who are the more suitable steward’s of our national security and why, they will continued to go along with the jingoistic John Wayne nonsense that has served the Republicans so well. 

It is past time for the real narrative of who weakened America and what continues to bleed us.  But our chicken-shit gutless leaders continue to capitulate to the loudest most bigoted ignoramuses and thus dignify and perpetuate their disastrous record.

Given that a majority in the Muslim world blame the Israelis for 9/11 and a tortured minority in America think it was an inside job pulled off by those geniuses Bush and Cheney, it would have been very instructive to put the 9/11 mastermind on trial for all to see in a setting that is open, transparent and credible.  That way we might learn something about what happened before and during that terrible day and not allow the black holes of open source information to be filled by despicable denial or delusional conspiracy mongers.

If you are not brave enough to lead, and instead you cower before the fatuous attacks of your foolish opponents, in doing so you make their mistakes your own.  In doing so you not just betray your constituents, you betray America and it’s tattered and torn values that surely need reviving not reversing.