Boris Yeltsin, who died on April 23, was a towering figure in Russian political history. But was he, as so many US obituaries and editorials have described him, the "Father of Russian Democracy"?
As though a wave of historical amnesia had swept over the media, few commentators seemed to remember that it was Mikhail Gorbachev, upon becoming Soviet leader in 1985, who launched the democratic reforms of "perestroika" and "glasnost"--ending censorship, permitting, even encouraging, opposition rallies and demonstrations, beginning market reforms and holding the first free, multi-candidate elections. (Indeed, Yeltsin was the chief beneficiary of those reforms.)
Those reforms provided Yeltsin with an opportunity unique in Russian history. In June 1991--when he was elected President of Soviet Russia in what remains perhaps the freest and fairest Presidential election the country has ever had--and again in August 1991 when he stood, iconically, on a tank to face down an attempted coup by Communist hardliners, Yeltsin could have seized the chance to become the co-founder of Russian democracy.
But if Yeltsin was any kind of reformer, it was in the undemocratic tradition of Peter the Great, with whom he often compared himself, and he quickly squandered--even betrayed--that chance. After August 1991, Yeltsin's anti-democratic policies polarized, embittered and impoverished his country laying the ground for what is now unfolding in Russia--though it is being blamed solely on today's Russian President, Vladimir Putin.
What follows is a quick tour of nearly ten years of Yeltsin's shock politics and policies:
** In December 1991, Yeltsin and a small band of associates suddenly, without any legal or practical preparation, or consultation with the Parliaments or peoples involved, abolished the Soviet Union. Even if the Soviet Union needed to be disbanded, Yeltsin did it--as even his supporters later acknowledged--in a way that was "neither legitimate nor democratic." As Stephen Cohen wrote last year in The Nation, the breakup was " a profound departure from Gorbachev's commitment to social consensus and constitutionalism," and represented a return to the country's Tsarist and Bolshevik tradition of imposed change from above. It also bred mass resentments that jeopardized the democratic reforms achieved during the previous six years of perestroika.
** Beginning in early 1992, Yeltsin launched the disastrous "shock therapy" policies which sent the country reeling with pain. Urged upon Russia by a group of US (primarily Harvard) economists, and supported by the Clinton Administration and energetically implemented by Yeltsin's young "reformers," these policies--almost universally touted as "reforms" in the Western media-- involved the swift elimination of most price controls and a privatization program that resulted in hyperinflation wiping out, in installments, the savings of average Russians. Roughly half of Russia's people thus found themselves living below the poverty level.
** In October 1993, Yeltsin used tank cannons to destroy not only the Parliament that had brought him to power and defended him during the attempted coup of 1991 but the entire political, constitutional order of Russia's post-Communist republic. The US government and media, with few exceptions, acted as Yeltsin's cheerleaders as the Russian President's tanks pounded Russia's first ever popularly elected and fully independent legislature. A senior US official told the New York Times that "if Yeltsin suspends an anti-democratic parliament, it is not necessarily an antidemocratic act"; and an unnamed US official was quoted by Newsweek as saying the Clinton Administration "would have supported Yeltsin even if his response had been more violent than it was." (187 people died and almost 500 were wounded in the attack.) The Nation, almost alone among US media outlets, deplored Yeltsin's act, which led to Russia's super-presidency and obedient Parliament today.
** In December 1994, Yeltsin launched by decree a war against the tiny breakaway republic of Chechnya. By the time it ended in a temporary truce in 1996, the war had killed tens of thousands of civilians, many of them ethnic Russians ; eviscerated and alienated the army; made a mockery of constitutional federalism; and, barely noted, earned the horrifying distinction of being the first civil war to take place in a nuclearized country. While Russian planes, tanks and artillery rained death on the Chechen capital of Grozny, President Clinton saw fit to compare Yeltsin to Abraham Lincoln.
** In 1996, Yeltsin's reelection campaign---financed by a handful of oligarchs including now-exiled Putin opponent Boris Berezovsky and aided by pro-Kremlin media bias and censorship--was marked by spectacular legal violations. No less enduring in its consequences was the most aggressive giveaway on Yeltsin's watch --the notorious "loans-for-shares" agreement--which allowed a small group of men, in exchange for financing Yeltsin's campaign, to take control of and Russia's most valuable economic assets.(It was a colossal piece of criminality glossed over at the time by almost all US media outlets as "market reform".) Thus was birthed the rapacious oligarchy--leading one Russian journalist to remark the other day that Yeltsin was not "the father of democracy" but "the father of the oligarchy."
**In August 1998, following a number of financial dealings that victimized or failed to benefit most Russians, the government after pledging not to do so,suddenly devalued the ruble, defaulted on its debts and froze bank accounts. In effect, people's savings were once again expropriated, this time decimating the post-1991 middle class.
Such events help explains why for millions of Russians, Yeltsin's rule was an age of blight not democracy. This magazine never lost sight of the social and economic disaster he presided over. But almost no one in the US media wanted to tell that story. Preferring Panglossian narratives, few cared to report that since 1991 Russia's reality included the worst peacetime industrial depression of the 20th century. In 1999, when the UN Development program reported that " a human crisis of monumental proportions is emerging in the former Soviet Union," the report was virtually ignored. And while, as Professor Peter Reddaway and Dmitri Glinski wrote, "for the first time in recent world history one of the major industrial nations with a highly educated society has dismantled the results of several decades of economic development," American press coverage preferred to run glowing stories about Yeltsin's crusading "young reformers" --sometimes called "democratic giants" -- showing a cold indifference to the terrible human consequences of the crusade. (A Reuters journalist later made the observation: "The pain is edited out." ) As Stephen Cohen wrote, "sustaining such a Manichaean narrative in the face of so many conflicting realities turned American journalists into boosters for US policy and cheerleaders for Yeltsin's Kremlin."
Neither these cold realities nor the political and economic consequences today have chastened the the booster-journalists. Indeed, while many of the obituaries in newspapers that were Yeltsin's most uncritical supporters at the time now give a more balanced account than they did at the time --there is no acknowledgement that they helped promote the acts they now criticize or regret.
Embedded in those obituaries is another argument, perhaps stated most clearly by Strobe Talbott, a Russia expert and Clinton's primary adviser on Yeltsin's Russia, that while there are valid criticisms of Yeltsin there was no alternative route to what he imposed. Yet the majority of Russian pro-market economists warned against "shock therapy" --abetted by US-sponsored policies--foreseeing its tragic outcome. The alternative road they offered was more evolutionary, a gradualist approach, a "third way" that would have averted catastrophic impoverishment, plundering and lawlessness. Time has proved them right.
Certainly, the anti-democratic consequences of Yeltsinism are clear. (Last year, a respected Russian survey revealed that nearly 70 percent of Russians polled believe the country needs an authoritarian ruler.) Yeltsin's legacy to his anointed successor, Putin, was an impoverished, polarized and dangerously unstable nation. And his succession had much to do with Yeltsin's fear of being held responsible for Russia's collapse and looting. (Indeed, one of Putin's first acts was to issue a decree protecting Yeltsin from future prosecution for corruption.) As a result, as The Nation argued at the time, Putin's rise to power and his semi-authoritarian rule today are best understood as the outgrowth of Yeltsin and Yeltsinism --which Washington so assiduously championed during the 1990s.
I'm not going to hold forth on Leslie Bennetts' new book, The Feminine Mistake, because I haven't read it (that hasn't stopped plenty of others in the blogosphere from weighing in), and I don't disagree with Bennetts' premise that dropping out of the workforce to raise kids can be financially risky for women, especially if they get divorced. But cyberkerfuffles over this book are raging, as they are over Linda Hirshman's op-ed in yesterday's Times, "Back to Work She Should Go," ordering stay-at-home moms back on the job (yet again: Hirshman is also the author of Get To Work: A Manifesto for the Women of the World). Hirshman has her panties in a twist about a study showing that slightly fewer married mothers of infants under a year old are working now than in 1997. She's particularly cheezed that -- surprise! -- rich, well-educated women are the most likely not to work when their children are babies. (The actual study, by Sharon R. Cohany and Emy Sok, economists with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is interesting but hardly alarming: the percentage of married moms of infants who were working fell six points, to 53.3 percent in 2000 -- the beginning of a recession! -- and since then, according to the authors "has shown no clear trend." The labor force participation rate for married mothers of school-aged children has fallen only 2 percentage points since 1997: 75 % of them were on the job as of 2005.)
In any case, isn't it time for writers and academics to stop telling other women how to live their lives? Our workdays are much more flexible than most people's, and although we do face some difficulties -- huge expenses of health insurance, if you're a freelancer, and of child care -- we're lucky: we get to do work we enjoy and spend lots of time with our kids. Many people (men and women) don't get to do either of those things. It is obnoxious when Caitlin Flanagan waxes judgmental of other working mothers, from her fortunate position as a writer for the New Yorker and Atlantic magazines, working from a comfortably large home in Connecticut with several nannies. But it is also obnoxious when pundits like Hirshman wax condescending about mothers who choose not to work; she wonders who will be the "role models" for future generations of girls, as if women who take a little time off when their babies are under a year can't be role models. There's something elitist -- and a little disturbing -- about the clear subtext here: the labor of childcare is all very well for impoverished immigrants but a waste of time for women with Ivy League degrees. Hirshman -- who retired as the Allen/Berenson Distinguished Visiting Professor at Brandeis University -- doesn't care much, either, about the value or content of other people's work, indeed, in past writings she has criticized women for taking pay cuts to teach or work for social justice, when to truly advance the cause of gender equality, they should be sharking it out in the corporate world. I'm guessing that neither Flanagan's, nor Hirshman's, nor Leslie Bennetts' work life looks very much like that of a Starbucks barista -- or a hedge fund manager. Or that of your average suburban office park commuter.
Much more helpful than the exhortations of pundits are strategies to improve life for regular working women who are not among the super-rich, nanny-hiring, private-school-volunteering set -- and aren't writers or retired professors, either. Moms Rising, the Internet organizing group, along with many other activists and policy organizations, have been fighting to get a Paid Family Leave bill passed in Washington State -- and this week, they won! Now that bill is headed to the governor's desk, where it is expected to be signed in early May.
The Senate majority leader is being portrayed as an awkward duck who doesn't look the part and can't talk it either. Harry Reid, it's true, is given to saying the most inappropriate stuff, opinions that disturb Washington pundits and the third-string political consultants who appear of TV talker shows. They tut-tut and scold. The kinder ones think he must have misspoken. Others insist Democrats should give him the hook and replace Reid with a more responsible leader.
What did the man say? "This war is lost." "The President is in a state of denial." A few years back, Reid shockingly called Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan "one of the biggest political hacks we have in Washington."
What do these and other outrageous remarks have in common? They are all true.A political leader who speaks the truth in unambiguous ways is naturally suspect in the capital city. But he ought to become a hero in the hinterland where citizens dwell. People who care need to rally around Harry Reid now and express their feelings because the political establishment is coming after him. White House slime agents are leading the campaign
Reid is being caricatured in ways designed to destroy his legitimacy and influence. If it really tries, the press can accomplish this. Remember how leading newspapers depicted Albert Gore as an egotistical goof back in the 2000 campaign?
Honk if you like Harry Reid. Bloggers, unite and bite back in his behalf.Washington Post columnist David Broder (a friend and former colleague of mine) is the chief tut-tutterer among media influentials. Broder took a truly ugly swipe at Reid in today's Post by comparing him to Alberto Gonzales, the "dead man walking" attorney general.
But wait a minute. Gonzales is ruined goods because he lied and disremembered and ran away from obvious facts. Harry Reid is guilty of the opposite behavior – saying aloud what most everyone in Washington knows to be true. Shame on you, David.
The cynical presumption among Washington "wise guys" is that Reid's remarks are bad politics. Some things can't be said, even if they are true. The insiders are wrong, wrong, wrong about that too.
Reid has an old-fashioned quality that sounds unhip to media junkies, but he is a savvy, tough politician known among insiders for an old-fashioned loyalty and willingness to stand up in a fight (ask labor leaders if you doubt this). A week ago when Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with Bush, the majority leader told the president to his face that Democrats knew the White House was coming after them with slurs. Reid said he intended to fight back sound bite for sound bite.
That's essentially what the Senate leader is doing now. It can pay big dividends with the American public, never mind Beltway pundits. The disgust with this president and his war is general throughout the land. People do not want David Broder's version of "bipartisan" compromise" on war-making. They want out. And they want Democrats to stand their ground.
If you want to understand Harry Reid, think back to another Harry who was also feisty and blunt – President Harry Truman. Running in 1948, Truman was ridiculed by major newspapers as a hopeless loser. But voters picked up the beat and they gave him a surprise victory.
On the campaign trail, Truman would encounter voices from the crowd shouting, "Give ‘em hell, Harry." The president would respond, "I don't give them hell. I just tell the truth about them and they think it's hell."
This is Harry Reid's old-fashioned politics. The country desperately needs it.
On his way to formally announcing his latest bid for the White House, John McCain stopped to consult with the most high-profile supporter of his campaign to become the oldest first-term president in American history.
Perhaps it was a desire to look young and fresh by comparison that led McCain to pose for pictures in New York with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
But the image of the two unreconstructed Cold Warriors giggling with one another about some inside joke -- a whispered rendition of the senator's "Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran" song, perhaps -- did nothing to inspire confidence.
It is a measure of the extent to which McCain has lost his political wits that he thought lining up with the embodiment of America's corrupt and dysfunctional past and present foreign policies would somehow make him a more appealing replacement for George Bush.
In 2OOO, when McCain challenged Bush for the Republican nomination, he ran as an the outsider. The senator presented himself as an open-minded maverick who, while his stances on most issues might err on the right, refused to fit into the neat ideological i n which Bush wedged himself. Americans responded well to McCain. He won key primaries and was only prevented from securing the GOP nomination by Karl Rove sleazy, race- and religion-baiting attacks. Had McCain secured the Republican nod in 2OOO, he might well have been able to do something Bush could not: win the support of a majority of American voters.
Now, however, McCain is edging closer and closer to the political fringe occupied by deservedly unpopular characters such as Kissinger, who with the passing of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet is now commonly referred to as the world's most prominent war criminal.
Kissinger has yet to wash off the blood stains left from his malicious meddling in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, East Timor, El Salvador and dozens of others countries as a member or ally of the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations. Yet, now, he is Vice President Dick Cheney's go-to-man for advice on how to maintain the mess that this current administration has made of the Middle East.
Kissinger does not speak as his own man.
The former Secretary of State has for many years now been a paid mouthpiece for the Chinese government. Thus, the counsel he provides McCain, Cheney and everyone else with regard to global trade in particular and global affairs in general is not the reasoned assessment of a former diplomat. Rather, it is the official spin of a foreign government proffered by a hired gun.
Does Kissinger know that he is giving bad advice to American leaders?
Of course. That's his job.
It is, as well, his desire.
Kissinger has never respected American values or ideals with regard to foreign policy. Resolutely self-serving, he seeks to position the U.S. as a superpower that can defend the interests of the multinational corporations that reward him richly for advancing their agendas.
In order to accomplish this, he has regularly used his influence to make America a tool of his interests and those of his clients.
In the key positions Kissinger occupied in the White Houses of the 197Os, he casually approved invasions, occupations and secret wars that continue to haunt the United States and the world. He has consistently put the United States on the wrong side of debates about human rights and international development. Whispering in the ears of presidents and pretenders to the presidency is Kissinger's style. He rarely if ever pays attention to the system of checks and balances that is supposed to assure a sharing of responsibility for foreign policy making between the executive and legislative branches of the federal government. And he urges his partners in crime to do the same.
In the 198Os, before anyone had heard of Oliver North or the Iran-Contra scandal, Kissinger worked to line the U.S. up with the paramilitary death squads of the Latin America countries he sought to maintain as banana republics.
In the 199Os, playing on the ignorance of Americans with regard to global economics, Kissinger promoted free-trade pacts that would gut whole industries within the U.S. while undermining protections for workers, the environment and communities in this country and abroad.
Today, Kissinger cheers on the worst instincts of the oil men in the Bush White House, and of McCain, with regard to the continuing U.S. occupation of Iraq.
John McCain's alliance with Kissinger does not merely raise questions about the senator's obviously impaired judgment.
It should disqualify McCain from serious consideration for the presidency by liberal and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans and all those Americans who reject the notion that the United States should be another of Henry Kissinger's client states.
John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"
Britons go to the polls May 3 to vote in local elections that will have a sizeable impact on the way that Tony Blair's ten-year premiership ends. Blair, who has been Prime Minister since May 2, 1997, has promised he will step down from the post before this year's Labour Party Conference, due in September. I've spent several weeks in the UK since early March-- and was back there again early this week. In much of the country, people just seem eager for him to go, and quickly. But he has hung on and hung on.
His decision to join President Bush in invading Iraq in 2003-- and the slavish support he has given to Bush ever since then-- are the main cause of this disaffection.
Now, Labour looks set to do very poorly in next week's local elections, and that performance is expected to bring Blair's Labour colleagues to the point where finally they tell him that-- for the sake of the party-- it is time for him to go. Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown now looks more secure than ever to replace Blair as head of the party (and therefore, also of the government.)
Given the huge popular revulsion with the current situation in Iraq, Brown-- or indeed, anyone else coming in as PM in the post-Blair era-- urgently needs to position himself as significantly different from Blair on the Iraq issue, and on relations with Washington more generally. The next general elections must be held in or before 2010, so the Labour Party's next PM needs to be able to rebuild the party well before then.
That Guardian/ICM poll linked to above notes, regarding Brits' attitudes toward national governance, that:
Labour support is now at bedrock. The party has only twice scored below 30% in the Guardian/ICM series, which began in 1984. Over a quarter of the people who say they voted Labour in 2005 have switched to either the Conservatives or LibDems...
Indeed, as I noted here recently, the outcome for Labour of the May 3 elections could be even graver. That day, voters in Scotland and Wales will also be voting for representatives in the regional parliaments they each now have-- and in Scotland, there is a real chance of the Scot Nats, who have an openly secessionist platform, winning control of the Holyrood Parliament. If a velvet divorce between the two kingdoms of England and Scotland ensues, Labour might have a hard time winning in either of the two countries that emerge.
It would be ironic if Blair-- the Prime Minister who has done the best of any PM in modern times at winning a reasonable negotiated outcome to the previously debilitating Northern Ireland conflict-- ends up being remembered also as the man whose bullheadedness on Iraq helped break up the England-Scotland Union.
But what might we expect from a Prime Minister Brown regarding Iraq? So far, Brown has done very little, if anything, to tip his hand. Instead, he has remained a loyal-- indeed key-- member of Blair's cabinet, with this loyalty underpinned by the agreement the two men reached some years ago that they would "take turns" in the premiership.
Today, however, the Guardian's Patrick Wintour is reporting that Lord Ashdown, the former UN high representative to Bosnia, and Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the former British envoy to Baghdad are going to be preparing a report for Brown roughly similar to the Iraq Study Group report handed to Bush last December. (Ashdown was the leader of the UK's Liberal Democratic Party for a long time before he went to Bosnia, so he would bring a multiparty flavor to this project.)
Wintour had tracked down a speech that Greenstock made very recently in Australia, which hinted strongly at the idea of proposing a timetable for ending the occupation of Iraq.
Both Greenstock and Ashdown seem to favor a regional-conference approach to figuring out the modalities of getting the occupation forces disentangled from Iraq-- very similar to what the Iraq Study Group proposed, but probably with more of an explicitly UN flavor to it.
It is quite possible, though, that a combination of public sentiment and the demands of military planners might push Britain's next PM to pull Britain's forces out of Iraq even before there is time to comnvene and such conference...
But a lot still depends on the depth of disaffection with Blairism that is revealed at the polls next week.
(Cross-posted to Just World News.)
How much appeal does an anti-Alberto Gonzales appeal have with grassroots Republicans?
A lot, if John McCain's political calculus is to be trusted.
On the day that the Arizona senator relaunched his candidacy for the Republican nomination for the presidency, McCain pronounced himself to have been "very disappointed in (the Attorney General's) performance" before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"I think loyalty to the president should enter into his calculations," McCain added.
What does that mean?
Is McCain saying Gonzales should resign?
"I think that out of loyalty to the president that that would probably be the best thing that he could do," said McCain.
The senator plans to pound another nail into the Attorney General's coffin, er, comment further on the matter today. Hmmm, are we seeing a campaign theme developing here?
McCain, who knows he must appeal to Main Street Republicans in key primary and caucus states, had to make a choice: Stand by Gonzales or present himself to the GOP grassroots as something other than an apologist for every sin of the current administration? The senator calculated that it was smarter to run against Gonzales. He was right.
John Nichols, the best-selling biographer of Vice President Dick Cheney, is the author of a new book: THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"
This morning hundreds of human rights advocates nationwide began a three day fast to bring attention to the victims of the violence of the School of the Americas and to put pressure on Congress to vote in favor of HR 1707 which would cut funding for the SOA/WHINSEC.
What is the SOA? The School of the Americas, in 2001 renamed the "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation," is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers, located at Fort Benning, Georgia. Since its founding, the SOA has trained more than 60,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence, interrogation tactics, and, yes, torture. These graduates have consistently used their skills against their own people, frequently on behalf of anti-democratic US-supported governments.
Among those targeted by SOA graduates have been educators, union organizers, religious workers, student leaders, and others who oppose the corporate hegemony of the region. Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, "disappeared," massacred, and forced into fleeing their countries by soldiers trained by US tax-dollars at the School of the Americas. Initially established in Panama in 1946, the SOA was kicked out of that country in 1984 under the terms of the Panama Canal Treaty. Former Panamanian President Jorge Illueca, called the school the "biggest base for destabilization in Latin America."
So, over the next three days, activists are conducting public fasts and demonstrations in front of Congressional offices, federal buildings and at colleges and universities to inform the public and new members of Congress about the SOA and why there's a popular movement to end its operation.
SOA Watch, an independent organization that seeks to close the school, is asking people to support those fasting by imploring your Congressional reps to support legislation proposed by Rep. Jim McGovern on March 27 (with 72 original co-sponsors!) that would shut down the School of the Americas.
Click here for tips on helping SOA Watch, and check out this YouTube video, narrated by Susan Sarandon, to learn more about the SOA's bloody history.
Rush Limbaugh has obviously learned nothing from the outrage and anger unleashed by Don Imus' unfortunate "nappy headed ho's" remark. Never one to shy away from unfunny "humor", Limbaugh recently played a song parody on his radio show in which an Al Sharpton impersonator (played with stereotypical gusto) sings a song filled with idiotic assumptions about black people and dripping with ignorance called "Barack the Magic Negro".
Perhaps this kind of garbage (set to the tune of "Puff the Magic Dragon") is someone's cup of tea. Limbaugh does have millions of listeners and they do adore of much of what the man says. Whether he's lampooning former President Clinton's daughter or suggesting Michael J. Fox is exaggerating the effects of his Parkinson's disease. So I don't expect his listeners to desert him over this. What does surprise me is that Vice President Dick Cheney among other major conservatives is still a regular guest on Limbaugh's show and I don't anticipate the kind of repudiations that Don Imus received over his transgression from him or anyone else on the right with regards to Limbaugh.
It is true that Imus was chided because he was on a national cable news network and was perhaps less associated with being a provocateur than Limbaugh. But I still think Cheney and his ilk should refuse to appear on Limbaugh's show from now on. I wonder, will there be any outcry? Are people becoming so desensitized to this now that they just don't care about the inevitable phony apology and/or Al Sharpton protest. I'd like to see calls for Limbaugh's removal not just from the black community but from the supporters of the president and vice-president who are not racist, who don't find "jokes" like "Barack The Magic Negro" funny.
But this will never, ever happen. Limbaugh's entire career and success is based on being petty and juvenile, so one more stupid act will most likely change nothing. Personally, I'm just disheartened that so soon after the Imus controversy came and went the so-called shock jocks and right wing nuts went right back to business as usual, didn't blink an eye and continued to use racism to insult and humiliate.
Here are links to a transcript of my conversation with Amy Goodman on the April 24 edition of Democracy Now. We discussed the legacy of Boris Yeltsin, the tragic death of David Halberstam and the growing campaign against the United States Postal Service decision to dramatically increase mailings costs for small publications while decreasing the postal burden of Big Media giants like Time-Warner.
Last January 16th, a car bomb blew up near an entrance to Mustansiriya University in Baghdad -- and then, as rescuers approached, a suicide bomber blew himself up in the crowd. In all, at least 60 Iraqis, mostly female students leaving campus for home, were killed and more than 100 wounded. Founded in 1232 by the Abbasid Caliph al-Mustansir, it was, Juan Cole informs us, "one of the world's early universities." And this wasn't the first time it had seen trouble. "It was disrupted by the Mongol invasion of 1258."
Just six weeks later, on February 25, again according to Cole, "A suicide bomber with a bomb belt got into the lobby of the School of Administration and Economy of Mustansiriya University in Baghdad and managed to set it off despite being spotted at the last minute by university security guards. The blast killed 41 and wounded a similar number according to late reports, with body parts everywhere and big pools of blood in the foyer as students were shredded by the high explosives." The bomber in this case was a woman.
In terms of body count, those two mass slaughters added up to more than three Virginia Techs; and, on each of those days, countless other Iraqis died including, on the January date, at least thirteen in a blast involving a motorcycle-bomb and then a suicide car-bomber at a used motorcycle market in the Iraqi capital. Needless to say, these stories passed in a flash on our TV news and, in our newspapers, were generally simply incorporated into run-of-bad-news-and-destruction summary pieces from Iraq the following day. No rites, no ceremonies, no special presidential statements, no Mustansiriya T-shirts. No attempt to psychoanalyze the probably young Sunni jihadis who carried out these mad acts, mainly against young Shiite students. No healing ceremonies, no offers to fly in psychological counselors for the traumatized students of Mustansiriya University or the daily traumatized inhabitants of Baghdad -- those who haven't died or fled.
We are only now emerging from more than a week in the nearly 24/7 bubble world the American media creates for all-American versions of such moments of horror, elevating them to heights of visibility that no one on Earth can avoid contemplating. Really, we have no sense of how strange these media moments of collective, penny-ante therapy are, moments when, as Todd Gitlin wrote recently, killers turn "into broadcasters." Like Cho Seung-Hui, they go into "the communication business," making the media effectively (and usually willingly enough) "accessories after the fact" in what are little short of pornographic displays of American victimization.
Finally, articles are beginning to appear that place the horrific, strangely meaningless, bizarrely mesmerizing slaughter/suicide at Blacksburg -- the killing field of a terrorist without even a terror program -- in some larger context. Washington Post on-line columnist Dan Froomkin caught something of our moment in his mordant observation that, at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner the other evening, with the massed media and the President (as well as Karl Rove) well gathered, "the tragic Virginia Tech massacre required solemn observation and expressions of great respect, while the seemingly endless war that often claims as many victims in a day deserved virtually no mention at all." Los Angeles Times columnist Rosa Brooks took a hard-eyed look at the urge of all Americans to become "victims" and of a President who won't attend the funeral of a soldier killed in Iraq to make hay off the moment. ("It's a good strategy. People busy holding candlelight vigils for the deaths in Blacksburg don't have much time left over to protest the war in Iraq."); and Boston Globe columnist James Carroll offered his normal incisive comments, this time on "expressive" and "instrumental" violence in Iraq and the U.S. in his latest column. He ends with this: "Iraqi violence of various stripes still aims for power, control, or, at minimum, revenge. Iraqi violence is purposeful. Last week puts its hard question to Americans: What is the purpose of ours?"
Sometimes, in moments like this, it's actually useful to take a step or two out of the American biosphere and try to imagine these all-day-across-every-channel obsessional events of ours as others might see them; to consider how we, who are so used to being the eyes of the world, might actually look to others. In "The Cho in the White House," John Brown, a former U.S. diplomat, one of three State Department employees to resign in protest against the onrushing war in Iraq in 2003, considers some of the eerie parallels between Cho's world and George's that wouldn't normally come to the American mind. He concludes: "Regrettably, I fear that, after more than six years of George W. Bush, Baghdad and Blacksburg are, to many on our planet, not that far apart. Woe to the diplomat who has to explain us to the world today."