Equanimity, Power, Gaza, and the Times

I have always been revolted by the outward equanimity of the power elite. It sits smiling atop domestic and global institutions that produce monumental human suffering like evening produces darkness.

The dawning of the Age of Obama will not change this.

GOOD TIMES ON CAPITOL HILL

A picture, the saying goes, is worth a thousand words. On the front page of last Tuesday’s New York Times, you can see United State House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi sitting with a giant grin between a smiling President-Elect and the grinning Republican Representative John A. Boehner. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gazes into the distance with a look of contentment and victory.

They had gathered to discuss what Mr. Equanimity himself, Barack Obama, called a “very sick” economy. They would never say it but their subject was a state-capitalist corporate system acting in accord with its institutional DNA by inflicting enormous material pain on working and lower class people. Many of those people – already in precarious straits before the onset of the latest recession (this one truly “epic”1 two Decembers ago – are being pushed into destitution by a system Obama (a leading Wall Street bailout-supporter who proclaims that “I love free markets”) and the rest of the political class are sworn and duty-bound to defend.

Meanwhile, the rich and powerful Few who provide most of the above politicians’ campaign funding – like George W. Bush in 2004, presidential candidate Obama received just a quarter of his campaign finance haul from small donors – continue to enjoy lives of spectacular opulence. The world is mired in savage socioeconomic disparity and plutocracy, careening toward an intimately related ecological collapse because the Few want it that way.2

The smiles are even bigger on p. A15, where Times photographer Doug Mills captured millionaires Obama, Joe Biden, and Reid appearing to enjoy an especially delicious inside joke. Good times on Capitol Hill.

On p. A16 we see a bemused looking Bill Richardson speaking to reporters about the collapse of his bid to head the plutocratic U.S. Commerce Department.

On p. A17 it’s a smiling Obama again, standing next to his smiling wife Michelle while talking to their daughters about their first day at the posh private Sidwell Friends School .

Below this photo there’s a story reporting that Mr. Equanimity “has raised more than $24 million for his inauguration so far, much of it with single checks of $25,000 or $50,000 from executives from Silicon Valley, Wall Street and Hollywood as from former supporters of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.” We see pleasant photos of four top donors, including international mega-billionaire George Soros, Hollywood uber-mogul Stephen Spielberg, and Hollywood superstar Halle Berry.

“While the inauguration committee bars money from corporations,” the Times reports, “it accepts money from corporate executives …Top executives from Microsoft, for example, have given $300,000 and those from Google have given $150,000.”

Nice. More good times are on the way for the powers that be. But something tells me that a large number of social workers and related nonprofit human service providers could think of some better uses for $24 million right now in America ’s many poor communities.

THREE SMALL CHILDREN “KILLED BY AN ISRAELI TANK SHELL”

There were some different imagery and information to process on page A8 in last Tuesday Times. Down at the bottom, that page contained a disturbing picture snapped by Mahmud Hams of the Agence France-Presse in the open-air prison that is the Gaza Strip, where 80 percent of the population subsists on less than $2 a day under apartheid and siege conditions imposed by Israel .

Hams’ shot makes me want to wipe the self-satisfied grins off the faces of Obama, Reid, Pelosi and the countless other U.S. politicians who underline “support for Israel ” on their ruling-class resumes.

It shows a Palestinian man being restrained by two other men. He is kneeling over the dead bodies of three very small children – his two sons and a nephew. The children, the photo caption matter-of-factly reports, were “killed by an Israeli tank shell early Monday.” Note the deletion of murderous human agency: the ordnance did the dirty work, not the state of Israel and its U.S. sponsor and supplier.

An accompanying Times story briefly and bloodlessly reports how a Palestinian family was ordered last Sunday by Israeli troops to evacuate their building for another one. This they did, moving in with relatives. Tragically, eleven members of their extended family were killed at six on Monday morning when “a missile fired by an Israeli airplane struck the relatives’ house.” Again note the omission of human and political agency.

Above this sickening story – just one small part of a U.S.-supported Israel attack that has butchered many hundreds of Palestinian civilians3 – we see a picture taken by Mohammed Salem of Reuters. Its shows two discouraged Palestinian women who “took refuge in a United Nations school as Israel ’s offensive continued with artillery, helicopter and tank fire.” Was this perhaps the same UN school that Israel demolished on Tuesday, killing more than 40 children?

Obama absurdly maintains that “institutional constraints” prevent him from commenting on the Gaza situation (“one president at a time”) even as he gives televised proto-presidential speeches on the economy.

THE NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD TIMES WEIGHS IN

Last Tuesday, the New York Times editorial board (NYTEB) said that it “sympathized” with Israel ’s goal of silencing “Hamas rockets that have terrorized its people for years.” The NYTEB blamed Hamas for “ending a six month cease-fire.”

But Israel , as the Israeli dissident group Gus Shalom noted, broke the truce by firing missiles into Gaza on the evening of the U.S. presidential election.4

As the Times could never acknowledge, moreover, Israel is a much bigger terrorist than Hamas. It has killed 600 or more Palestinians in less than a week while just 17 Israelis have been killed by Palestinian rockets over the last seven years. The “Israel-Palestine conflict” is a rather asymmetrical affair.

The NYTEB worried that Israel ’s assault, if not tempered, could increase Hamas’ popularity and alienate “moderate Arab states” (“moderate” is an interesting description to apply to the arch-repressive neo-feudal U.S. client-state Saudi Arabia ).

The NYTEB expressed “understand[ing]” for “Mr. Obama’s decision to leave the current crisis to President Bush.”

The NYTEB was concerned, finally, that the attack “will also make it harder for President-elect Barack Obama to pick up the pieces of peacemaking when he takes office on January 20.”

The NYTEB voiced no concern over the immoral criminality of Israel ’s absurdly disproportionate response. It said nothing about:

  • The four ways in which Israel’s policies and actions violate the Geneva Convention: (i) the imposition of collective punishment on the whole Gaza population for actions of a few militants; (ii) the targeting, both explicit (as with schools, police stations and television broadcast centers) and inadvertent (but unavoidable), of civilians; (iii) disproportionate “response;” iv) failing to ensure adequate food and medical supplies to the subject population – a leading requirement of occupying powers5
  • The continuing siege and starvation of many of Gaza’s 1.5 million ghettoized inhabitants, who live in conditions of abject misery that make “anti-Israel” “extremism” less than surprising within and beyond the occupied territories of Palestine.
  • Israel ’s criminal interference with the Palestinians’ right to choose their own elected officials.
  • How the U.S. Human Rights and Security Assistance Act requires ending military aid to states that consistent violate internationally recognized human rights.
  • How the U.S. Arms Export Control Act prohibits U.S. weapons from being used for any purpose other than national self-defense inside the borders of the arms-receiving nation (Israel has done much of its Arab-killing with weapons supplied by its leading sponsor and protector the United States, which provides its top Middle East client state with F-16s, Black Hawk Attack Helicopters and other materials).

The Times also expressed no concern over the fact that Obama would seem to be a poor candidate for even-handed “peacemaking” in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Mr. Equanimity’s pronounced reluctance to rock the imperial boat and question conventional U.S. foreign policy wisdom6 has been sharply evident in his statements and actions relating to Israel-Palestine. As a U.S. Senator and presidential candidate, Obama has gone to practically grotesque lengths to demonstrate support for Israel’s government on nearly every important policy matter (including Israel’s aerial murder of more than 800 people, mostly civilians, in Lebanon in the summer of 2006) relating to Palestinian issues.7

DAVID BROOKS’ “GAME” AND THE “RECUPERATIVE POWER OF DEMOCRACY”

Last Tuesday’s New York Times also included a despicable opinion piece by the Republican Obama-fan and Times columnist David Brooks.8 “By trial and error,” Brooks proclaimed, “ Israel is learning to keep an even keel” – a nauseating statement (typically enough for Brooks) amidst that nation’s ongoing butchery in Gaza .

Brooks considered the Israel-Hamas “game” – yes, his term: “game” – to be not “a war of attrition. It’s a struggle for confidence, a series of psychological exchanges designed to shift the balance of morale. The material destroyed in an episode can be replaced, but the psychological effects are more lasting. What is really important is how each episode ends, because the ending defines the meaning – who mastered events and who was mastered by them.”

Brooks praised “Israeli leaders” for having “adjusted to the new game with the new rules. The initial incursion into Gaza was an effective display of prowess. According to The Jerusalem Report, in the first wave, 80 Israeli planes hit more than 100 targets and nearly all of the Hamas military compounds within 3 minutes 40 seconds. The I.D.F. has clearly addressed many of the weaknesses exposed by the Winograd Commission,9 showing the recuperative powers a democracy is capable of.”

Yes, what a wonderful testament to “the recuperative powers” of “democracy” that “even-keel[ed]” Israel could launch a monumentally criminal assault on poor and defenseless Arabs it was already starving to death!

I wonder if Brooks would like to talk to the grieving parents of Palestinian children murdered by Israel about how “material destroyed in an episode can be replaced.”

Would he like to discuss with them “the lasting psychological effects” of seeing your children blown to bits by U.S.-delivered F-16s piloted by Top Guns from the Israeli “Defense” Forces?

David Brooks is an offense against humanity, thanks in part to blithering, egg-headed equanimity with which he relentlessly transmits the deadly doctrines of the rich and powerful. Still, he is representative of the establishment institutions that employ him (the New York Times and the “Public” Broadcasting System) and of the broader political class of which he is a dutiful and smiling part.

One of our many jobs as citizens is to wipe the happy know-it-all smiles off our privileged masters’ faces. Their oblivious sense of composure is offensive in light of the stunning misery they inflict at home and abroad. Still, it’s our fault to no small extent. We the People let them take pleasure in illegitimate wealth and power when we should be preparing their abolition and otherwise scaring the living Hell and equanimity out of them.

  1. See Jack Rasmus, “Epic Recession Revisited,” Z Magazine (January 2009): 29-34. Rasmus lays out 10 points that make the current recession atypically “epic” and therefore capable of deepening into a legitimate depression: duration, depth, debt, deflation, defaults, financial credit instability, monetary policy, fiscal policy, currency instability, synchronized globality. []
  2. See Herve Kempf, How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2007), dedicated among other things to the proposition that we cannot meaningfully defend our gravely threatened biosphere (livable ecology) without confronting the deadly and unjust concentration of economic and political power in the hands of the Western capitalist oligarchy. []
  3. There are many other terrible incidents. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported one Gaza story from shortly before midnight on Sunday, December 28. That’s when “Israeli warplanes fired one or more missiles at the Imad Aqil mosque in Jabalya, a densely populated refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip. The attack killed five of Anwar Balousha’s daughters who were sleeping in a bedroom of their nearby house: Jawaher, 4; Dina, 8; Samar , 12; Ikram, 14; and Tahrir, 18… ‘We were asleep and we woke to the sound of bombing and the rubble falling on the house and on our heads,’ Anwar Balousha told Human Rights Watch.”
    An hour or so after, an Israeli Blackhawk fired two missiles into the Rafah refugee camp. One struck the home of the al-Absi family, killing three brothers – Sedqi, 3, Ahmad, 12, and Muhammad, 13 – and wounding two sisters and the children’s mother. See Human Rights Watch, “Israel/Hamas: Civilians Must Not be Targets,” December 30, 2008. []
  4. Gush Shalom, “The War in Gaza – Vicious Folly of a Bankrupt Government,” (December 29, 2008). []
  5. Marjorie Cohn, “Israel ’s Collective Punishment of Gaza,” ZNet Commentary (January 7, 2008). []
  6. See Paul Street, Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008), Chapter 4, titled “How ‘Antiwar?’ Obama , Iraq , and the Audacity of Empire;” Paul Street, “There is No Peace Dividend: Reflections on Empire, Inequality, and ‘Brand Obama,’” Z Magazine (January 2009): 24-28. []
  7. For details, see Stephen Zunes, “Barack Obama and the Middle East,” Foreign Policy in Focus, January 10, 2008;
    Ali Abunimah, “How Barack Obama Learned to Love Israel,” Electronic Infitada (March 4, 2007);
    Ali Abunimah, “What Obama Missed in the Middle East,” Electronic Intifada, 24 July 2008;
    Paul Street , “Obama-Gaza: No Surprise,” ZNet Sustainer Commentary (January 4, 2009);
    Prepared Text of Barack Obama’s Speech for the AIPAC Policy Forum,” March 2, 2007; Obama Letter to UN Ambassador (January 2008);
    Agence France-Presse, “Jerusalem Must Remain the Undivided Capital of Israel: Obama,” June 4, 2008. []
  8. David Brooks, “The Confidence War,” New York Times, January 6, 2009, A21. []
  9. The Winograd Commission was an Israeli government-appointed agency set up to investigate the failures of Israeli military policy during Israel’s savage bombing of Lebanon in the summer of 2006 – an action that was widely understood to have damaged Israel’s status in the Middle East and the world. []

Paul Street (paulstreet99@yahoo.com) is a veteran radical historian and independent author, activist, researcher, and journalist in Iowa City, IA. He is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Paradigm 2005); Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (Routledge 2005): and Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (Rowman&Littlefied 2007). Street's new book Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics can now be ordered. Read other articles by Paul.

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  1. ronald mcdonald said on January 12th, 2009 at 10:20am #

    good article on gaza from the irish times

    NEVER liked Paul Gascoigne. And for that ancient prejudice I gave myself a free pass while watching Surviving Gazza on Channel 4 last week . I felt insulated from the cold fog of guilt which must have been fingering the collars of those media sirens whose simperings lured Gascoigne into becoming the ghastly shipwreck of a man that he now he is.

    My simplistic theory on Gascoigne has always been that he is an English weakness, a gormlessly boozed-up icon for the more bellicose elements of a tabloidised country which can’t hold its lager tops without becoming bellicose and puerile. An unfortunate mix of lad culture and Carry On juvenility, I was never tickled by the sight of Vinnie Jones squeezing the young Gazza’s nuts in a Wimbledon versus Newcastle game all those years ago (21 years actually – scary), never moved by the colossal selfishness of his weeping at Italia ’90 or amused by the boorish idiocy of his open-top bus ride wearing plastic breasts when he got home. Then again I have a face of po.

    He had skills which could have made him sublime but even at his best he looked like a man who must have been well nigh impossible to play in a team with.

    He become addicted to easy applause early in his career. Every moment of genius he submitted was an excuse for the couple of dozen preceding moments of exasperating football when his willingness to ignore all other options apart from glory for himself almost paid off, but didn’t.

    He wouldn’t be the first or the last professional footballer to have become crazed by the sight of the cartoonish image of himself which stared back at him everywhere he looked from his Newcastle days onwards. Pretty soon though he hung above English football like one of those colossal inflated balloons you see in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York city. To have your doubts was to be somehow against FUN and also to be against “continental-style genius”.

    He was a patently fragile and rudderless creature and English football and it’s cheerleading media section conspired to pamper and indulge him and reward him with benign smiles to his face and knowing winks behind his back. And in Surviving Gazza we saw, well caught glimpses of what is left now the music has stopped.

    His former wife, Sheryl, a one-time wag whose treatment at (literally) the hands of Gascoigne induces a sympathy one would have thought unlikely when in frothier times they were picking out villas in Rome and turning themselves wilfully into tabloid fodder. Having endured her beatings and walked away, Sheryl returned to Gascoigne’s side last year to help him in an increasingly one-sided battle against complete self-destruction .

    That she chose to do so with a TV camera present is one of those troubling wrinkles which comes with the territory. Was Gascoigne being helped or further exploited? There was so much hurt and scarring on display it was hard to tell and in the end difficult to argue that it mattered.

    For once, although he haunted the piece like Banquo haunts Macbeth, it wasn’t all about a grown man who found making faces and telling people to f*** off to be endlessly funny. It was about the wreckage. The best that could come out of the excursion into the hitherto rather private hell that Sheryl and Gascoigne’s children have endured would be that in some future time they look at the film and see themselves as the jetsom and flotsam of a life that sunk and brought others down with it.

    The hurt which defined the personalities, most particularly of Sheryl’s son Mason (whom Gascoigne helped rear though he is not his own) and of Regan (Gascoigne’s flesh and blood), was the essential theme of the film but flicking afterwards through the backpages of Gascoigne’s life one sees him as an extreme and inflated example of the illness which has distorted the game.

    Back in the mid-’80s when Gascoigne was breaking into the pre-Premiership world of English soccer in the black and white stripes of his native Newcastle United, the club had signed the English game’s first Brazilian, Mirandinha. The Brazilian was the first piece of exotica to reach the English game which was then the shopfloor of English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh pros.

    Typically of Newcastle, who had seen him score a good goal (his only international goal) against England, Mirandinha was a bust.

    The boy Gascoigne had real flash about him, though, a quality which assured the fatalistic Geordies of James Park it wouldn’t be long before he was on his way. Soon he was down in the media Wonderland of London and they were happily throwing frozen Mars bars at him and abusing him as a yuppy. Suffering has ever been their pleasure but a new type of circus had begun.

    There was a moment (to paraphrase Philip Larkin) somewhere between the squeezing of Gazza’s nuts and Gazza’s move to Spurs when it was still possible to view Newcastle and Gascoigne and Mirandinha as sport rather than entertainment. By the time he went down south and certainly by the time he came home from his blubberings at Italia ’90, the world had changed. He had proved, inadvertently but definitively, it was possible to be bigger than the game.

    George Best is often cited as the precedent and in terms of the cost George footed a bill just as steep but his genius was considerably more extravagant than Gascoigne’s, his longevity in the game greater, his achievements more substantial, his wit and appeal more adult and most importantly, football’s concern for his well-being and his decorum more genuine. His time at Manchester United, where he remained, it is easy to forget, for 11 years, was marked by attempt after attempt to rein him in and to help him fulfil his talent. His decline came, or was markedly accelerated, after his pomp.

    Did the media connive? Of course, but mainly through the naive adulation afforded the “fifth Beatle”. Georgie was the first sexy soccer star after sex has been invented (post Chatterley ban-first Beatles LP window in time.) By the time Gascoigne disintegrated we had come to live in a media world which would remove him from soccer and view him as an entertainment in himself, to be encouraged and prodded and indulged regardless of his well-being. Soccer, which seems bigger now by virtue of being richer and more antiseptic, is in fact smaller in that it has denuded itself of values and aided fecklessly in producing the entire Gazza show for public consumption.

    From the start Gascoigne was as much a property of the Sun newspaper as he was of any football club, and his life and loves played out as a Truman Show-style entertainment for admirers and begrudgers alike. And behind him the glory game was mere backdrop. He played with extras and not team-mates. He moved with hangers-on and leeches and not friends.

    Back in the days of Georgie nobody knew how the script would unfold. With Gascoigne, Fleet Street had it all written and ready to go before Gascoigne realised he was just a character. And somewhere along the way the game disappeared as a relevance to flesh and blood lives and became a remote entertainment devoid of loyalties and morality.

    So Sheryl Gascoigne took the cameras with her as far as she could till her former husband, the clown and wife-beater, told them from his darkened hotel room on the Algarve to f*** off and leave him alone. It was a small media moment. The circus has long since moved on. But the faces of those kids are the by-product of a game’s estrangement from reality. Money comes even easier now than in Gazza’s time. And more of it. In the week when Ronaldo wrecked his Ferrari we looked at Gazza’s wrecked life and wondered. Who shrunk the beautiful game?

  2. paul street said on January 12th, 2009 at 10:03pm #

    Empire’s New Clothes has had more to say on U.S. college football playoff system than on the crimes against Gaza.

    From Antiwar.com the other day:

    “Since Israel began its war on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip two weeks ago, Obama has gone to great lengths to avoid commenting on the situation. The only comments the media has managed to squeeze from the new President so far came in the wake of Tuesday’s Israeli attack on a UN-run Gaza school, after which he said little, but promised more elaborate comments sometime after January 20th. In fact Obama has spoken at greater length and with more conviction on his support of a college football playoff system than on America’s involvement in a war he will soon inherit.”