Don’t tell my mother I work at the White House. She thinks I play the piano in a whore house.
The Republican presidential campaign has tried to make a big issue of Barack Obama at one time associating with Bill Ayers, a member of the 1960s Weathermen who engaged in political bombings. Governor Palin has accused Obama of “palling around with terrorists”, although Ayers’ association with the Weathermen during their period of carrying out anti-Vietnam War bombings in the United States took place when Obama was around 8-years-old. Contrast this with who President Ronald Reagan, so beloved by the Republican candidates, associated with. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was an Afghan warlord whose followers first gained attention by throwing acid in the faces of women who refused to wear the veil. This is how they spent their time when they were not screaming “Death to America.” CIA and State Department officials called Hekmatyar “scary,” “vicious,” “a fascist,” “definite dictatorship material.”1 None of this prevented the Reagan administration from inviting the man to the White House to meet with Reagan, and showering him with large amounts of aid to fight against the Soviet-supported government of Afghanistan.
Reagan’s successor, George H.W. Bush, palled around with characters almost as unsavory during his first campaign for the presidency in 1988. His campaign staff included a number of genuine pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic types from Eastern and Central Europe. Several of these worthies were leaders of the Republican campaign’s ethnic outreach arm, the Coalition of American Nationalities, despite the fact that their checkered past was not a big secret. One of them, Laszlo Pasztor (or Pastor) had served in the pro-Nazi Hungarian government’s embassy in Berlin during the Second World War. This had been revealed in a 1971 page-one story in the Washington Post.2 When this past was again brought up in September 1988, the Republicans were obliged to dump Pasztor and four others of his ilk from Bush’s campaign.3
And whom has John McCain been palling around with? Who has been co-chair of McCain’s New York campaign and a foreign policy adviser to McCain himself? None other than the illustrious unindicted war criminal and mass murderer Henry Kissinger, who must be very careful when he travels to Europe for there are committed and serious people in several countries there who will again try to have him arrested for the crimes against humanity he’s responsible for . . . Chile . . . Angola . . . East Timor . . . Vietnam . . . Laos . . . Cambodia . . .
By contrast, there is no evidence that Bill Ayers was involved in any Weathermen bombing that killed anyone; nor have I seen any evidence that on the very rare occasion that an anti-Vietnam War bombing in the United States resulted in a casualty that it could be ascribed to the Weathermen.
John McCain’s bombings certainly killed — some two dozen aerial attacks upon the people of Vietnam, people who had neither done nor threatened any harm to him or his country. What label do we give to such acts, to such a man? His level of violence is matched by his degree of hypocrisy. Speaking of Ayers, McCain asked: “How can you countenance someone who was engaged in bombings that could have or did kill innocent people?”4
In his 2001 memoir, Fugitive Days, Ayers writes: “I don’t regret setting bombs. I feel we didn’t do enough.” This is something very few Americans can accept, and I wouldn’t even make the attempt to persuade them. But I personally didn’t blame the Weathermen then, and I don’t blame them now. The Vietnam War was in its eighth year of barbarity. I and the rest of the army of the powerless needed a few points up there on the scoreboard against the lords of the national-security corporate state. A bombing, with a suitably war-criminal target — like the State Department or the Pentagon — and taking care to prevent any casualties, told the bastards that we were still out there, that their impunity was not total, that this is how it feels to be bombed. Armed propaganda. It told the public that there was something more serious going on than a town-hall difference of opinion that could be reasonably resolved by reasonable people discussing things in a reasonable manner. And like an unhappy child having a temper tantrum, we needed some instant gratification. We were struggling against the most powerful force in the world.
The Weathermen were on the right side of that war; John McCain on the wrong side.
And who has Sarah Palin herself been palling around with? John McCain, and the Alaska Independence Party, a secessionist party her husband belonged to for seven years. “My government is my worst enemy. I’m going to fight them with any means at hand,” Joe Vogler, who founded the party, once declared. Earlier this year Governor Palin shouted out to party members: ”Keep up the good work. And God bless you.”5
I do believe that secession of a state from the union is somewhat frowned upon by the powers that be, and if memory serves me, the last time it was seriously tried the government actually went to war. Who do these Alaskans think they are, the Kosovo gangsters whose secession from Serbia was immediately recognized by Washington?
This just in: John McCain (yes, the same one), as a congressman, met with General Augusto Pinochet in Chile in 1975, one of the world’s most notorious violators of human rights, credited with killing more than 3,000 civilians, jailing tens of thousands of others, and torturing a great many of them. McCain met with Pinochet apparently without any preconditions, which is what McCain has repeatedly criticized Obama for saying he would do with certain present-day foreign leaders whom McCain doesn’t like. At the time of the meeting, the US Justice Department was seeking the extradition of two close Pinochet associates for an act of terrorism in Washington, DC — the 1976 car-bomb assassination of former Chilean ambassador to the US, Orlando Letelier, a prominent critic of Pinochet, and his American assistant. McCain made no public or private statements critical of the dictatorship, nor did he meet with members of the democratic opposition in Chile. Senator Edward Kennedy arrived only 12 days after McCain in a highly public show of support for democracy, meeting with Catholic church and human rights leaders and large groups of opposition activists.6
The John McCains of America, in and out of Congress, would much sooner pal around with Augusto Pinochet than Hugo Chavez or Fidel Castro or Bill Ayers.
The Bourgeois Triumphalism That Attended the Funeral of the USSR
Greed is a hot topic now. Stock brokers and others involved in the current financial crisis are angrily accused of being greedy. Time magazine declared that the nation’s current troubles were “the price of greed”. “Blame greed,” echoed the Chicago Tribune. But these establishment publications can’t be taken too seriously. Like other believers in the system, they’re convinced that greed is a built-in, valuable, and necessary feature of capitalism and capitalist man, that it’s indispensable for motivating entrepreneurs, and that it results in all manner of innovation and invention. During the years of the Cold War, this was a key element of the interminable discussions cum arguments between defenders of free enterprise and defenders of socialism; the arguments still continue, although most people now think that history has answered the question — capitalism has won. “The end of history,” leading conservative Francis Fukuyama called it in his well-received book in 1992. He asserted that we couldn’t expect to find a better way to organize society than the marriage of liberal democracy and market capitalism. Subsequent world movements such as anti-globalization and political Islam caused Fukuyama to have some second thoughts about whether history had actually come to an end. (He also came to renounce the war in Iraq, which he had initially embraced on the premise that it would bring the joys of liberal democracy and market capitalism to the benighted Iraqi people.)
Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the boys of Capital have chortled in their martinis about the death of socialism. Until recently, the word had been banned from polite conversation (now achieving new notoriety as a term of political insult). And no one seems to notice that every socialist experiment of any significance in the twentieth century was either bombed, invaded, or overthrown; corrupted, perverted, or destabilized; or otherwise had life made impossible for it, by the United States. Not one socialist government or movement — from the Russian revolution to the Vietnamese communists to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, from Communist China to Salvador Allende in Chile to the FMLN in Salvador — not one was permitted to rise or fall solely on its own merits; not one was left secure enough to drop its guard against the all-powerful enemy abroad and freely and fully relax control at home. It continues today with Washington’s attempts to subvert the governments of Venezuela and Bolivia, and, of course, still, forever, Cuba.
Imagine that the Wright brothers’ first experiments with flying machines had all failed because the automobile interests had sabotaged each test flight. And then, thanks to the auto companies’ propaganda, the good and god-fearing folk of the world looked upon this, took notice of the consequences, nodded their collective heads wisely, and intoned solemnly: Man shall never fly.
It’s widely assumed that the Soviet Union demise resulted from gross shortcomings intrinsic to its socialist system, that the economy somehow imploded from its inherent contradictions. But all the shortcomings and contradictions that could have been found in the Soviet system in 1990 could have as well been found in 1980, or 1970, or 1960. Unlike capitalism, whose volatility is legendary, as each day’s headlines remind us anew, the Soviet system with its government ownership of the means of production and its command economy, whatever its other defects, remained relatively stable and uniform. The question is thus: What happened in the late 1980s in the Soviet system to cause it to unravel? I believe that the best answer to the question lies in the person of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who came to power in 1985.
Gorbachev’s long-time and ardent ambition was to model the Soviet Union after a West European social democracy and have the country accepted as such by the Europeans. That’s the principal reason he put an end to the Soviet military involvement in Afghanistan; and why he instituted his historic economic and political changes at home (with their unintended consequences), and relinquished control over Eastern Europe without resorting to military force. The war in Afghanistan certainly had its effects, financially and psychologically, upon the people of the Soviet Union, and is commonly cited as a major cause for the nation’s breakup. But the same can be said even more so of the effect of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq upon the American people, millions of whom have marched against the wars, yet none of this has led to an American withdrawal from either place; not even close. Superpowers should not be confused with democracies.
Ayn Rand’s Social Philosophy: Let the Strong Prevail, Let the Weak Pay for their Weakness
“I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms. . . . So the problem here is [that] something which looked to be a very solid edifice and, indeed, a critical pillar to market competition and free markets, did break down. And I think that, as I said, shocked me.”
A remarkable admission from Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, long-time opponent of government regulation of the corporate world, and friend and devoted follower of Ayn Rand, the selfishness guru who turned the emulation of two-year olds into a philosophy of life. “I have found a flaw,” said Greenspan, referring to his economic philosophy. “I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I have been very distressed by that fact.”7
Greenspan was induced into these admissions by tough questioning from congressmen at a hearing called in October to deal with the financial crisis. There was a time when Greenspan was looked upon as a guru by a largely unquestioning and unchallenging congress and media, no matter how dubious or obscure his pronouncements. He could have passed at times for Chauncey Gardener, the main character of the book and film Being There. Gardener, brought to life by Peter Sellers, was a simple man with very simple thoughts and behavior, who might have been considered to be borderline “retarded”, but fortuitous circumstances and the deference toward him by those of insufficient intellect and/or courage resulted in him being thought of as brilliant by people in high positions.
There was one noteworthy exception to this delicate treatment of Greenspan. In July 2003, Rep. Bernie Sanders of Vermont faced the Fed chairman across the table at a congressional hearing and said:
“Mr. Greenspan, I have long been concerned that you are way out of touch with the needs of the middle class and working families of our country, that you see your major function in your position as the need to represent the wealthy and large corporations … I think you just don’t know what’s going on in the real world. . . . You talk about an improving economy, while we have lost 3 million private sector jobs in the last two years. Long-term unemployment has more than tripled. . . . We have a $4 trillion national debt. 1.4 million Americans have lost their health insurance. Millions of seniors can’t afford prescription drugs. Middle class families can’t send their kids to college because they don’t have the money to do that.”
“Congressman”, Greenspan replied, “we have the highest standard of living in the world.”
“No, we do not,” insisted Sanders. “You go to Scandinavia, and you will find that people have a much higher standard of living, in terms of education, health care and decent paying jobs. Wrong, Mister.”
Not accustomed to having to defend his profundities, Greenspan could do no better than to counter with: “We have the highest standard of living for a country of our size.”8
This was quite a comedown from “in the world,” and inasmuch as the only countries of equal or larger population are China and India, with Indonesia being the fourth largest, Greenspan’s point is rather difficult to evaluate.
The idea that the United States has the highest standard of living in the world is one that is actually believed by numerous grownups in America, and most of them believe that this highest standard applies across the board. They’re only minimally conscious of the fact that whereas they’ve made extremely painful sacrifices to send a child to university, and they often simply can’t come up with enough money, and even if they can the child will be very heavily in debt for years afterward, in much of Western Europe university education is either free or eminently affordable; as it is in Cuba and was in Iraq under Saddam Hussein.
The same lack of awareness about superior conditions in other countries extends to health care, working hours, vacation time, maternity leave, childcare, unemployment insurance, and a host of other social and economic benefits.
In short, amongst the developed nations, the United States is the worst place to be a worker, to be sick, to seek a university education, to be a parent; or, in the land of two million incarcerated, to exercise certain rights or be a defendant in court.
To which the Chauncey Gardeners of America, including the one who used to sit in the Federal Reserve and the one presently sitting in the Oval Office, would say: “Duh! Whaddaya mean?”
The Rosenbergs As Heroes
John Gerassi, professor of political science at Queens College in New York City, recently wrote a letter to the New York Times:
To the Editor: NYT
In his “A Spy Confesses” (Week in Review 9/21), Sam Roberts claims that folks “fiercely loyal to the far left, believed that the Rosenbergs were not guilty . . .” I am and have always been, since my stint as a correspondent and editor in Latin America for Time and Newsweek, a “far leftist,” and I have never claimed the Rosenbergs were not guilty. Nor have any of my “far leftist” friends. What we always said, and what I repeat to my students every semester, is that “if they were guilty, they are this planet’s great heroes.” My explanation is quite simple: The US had a first-strike policy, the USSR did not (until Gorbachev). In 1952, the US military, and various intelligence services, calculated that a first strike on all Soviet silos would wipe out all but 6% of Russian atomic missiles (and, we now know, create enough radiation to kill us all). But those six percent would automatically be fired at US cities. The military then calculated what would happen if one made a direct hit on Denver (why they chose Denver and not New York or Washington was never explained). Their finding: 200,000 would die immediately, two million within a month. They concluded that it was not worth it. In other words, I tell my students, you were born and I am alive because the USSR had a deterrent against our “preventive” attack, not the other way around. And if it is true that the Rosenbergs helped the Soviets get that deterrent, they end up among the planet’s saviors.
– John Gerassi (moc.liamtohnull@issaregt)
It will not come as a great surprise to learn that the Times did not allow such thoughts to appear in their exalted pages.
Tim Weiner, “Blank Check: The Pentagon’s Black Budget” (1990), p.149-50. [↩]
- Washington Post, November 21, 1971. [↩]
- Los Angeles Times, September 13, 1988, p.19. For further discussion of this issue, see Russ Bellant, “Old Nazis and the New Right: The Republican Party and Fascists,” Covert Action Information Bulletin (Washington, DC), #33, Winter 1990, p.27-31. [↩]
- New York Times, October 3, 2008. [↩]
- David Talbot, Salon.com, October 7, 2008. [↩]
- John Dinges, The Huffington Post, October 24, 2008, based on a declassified US Embassy cable. [↩]
- Washington Post, October 23, 2008. [↩]
- House Financial Services Committee, July 15, 2003. [↩]