Mitt Romney releases part of his 2010 tax returns, but not 2011 or previous years. What is he hiding? When you make $22 million a year, the odds are…a lot.
Winter Looms. Occupy Movement Wiggles Fingers. What Next?
“Let’s recreate Tahrir Square.” The email blast that began it all in June, a call for opponents of America’s wars and bank bailouts and rising income inequality and a host of other iniquities to occupy a public plaza two blocks from the White House, drew its inspiration from the Arab Spring.
The call worked. For the first time since the unrest of the 1960s, Americans joined spontaneous acts of protest and sustained civil disobedience in vast numbers. Why? Perhaps Americans, smugly dismissing the Muslim world as inherently inhospitable to democracy, were embarrassed to watch themselves shown up by people willing to face down bullets in Bahrain and Yemen and Libya. What’s a little pepper spray considering the thousands killed in Syria? Maybe Tahrir appealed because it worked. Or seemed to work. (Note to revolutionaries of the future: never trust the old regime’s military when they say it’s OK to leave them in power.)
The Arab Spring begat an American Fall. An aging Canadian magazine publisher cut-and-pasted the Freedom Plaza occupation (which still goes by the name of October 2011 Stop the Machine). Then he preempted STM, scheduling it to begin a few weeks earlier. He moved it to New York. Finally, he branded his cut-and-paste occupation with a better name: Occupy Wall Street.
Occupy Wall Street, not-so-new but much improved by its proximity to the national media based in Manhattan, began with aimless milling about the closed streets of the Manhattan’s financial district. It was ignored. A week later the collision of a thuggish NYPD officer, a dollop of pepper spray and four stylish young women made the news. “The cops spraying a bunch of white girls, well, our donations have tripled,” victim Chelsea Elliott told The Village Voice. Within a month, OWS was the beneficiary of an unreserved endorsement by The New York Times editorial board. On Sunday, no less–the most widely read edition.
More than a thousand cities now have their own occupations, cut-and-pasted from their format of their Washington and New York granddaddies. The Occupations trend white and young. They claim to be leaderless. Most of them cut-and-paste their tactics from OWS. They first take over public parks in downtown areas. Then they either apply for police permits to use a public park (as in Washington), obtain approval from private owners (as in New York), or take over spaces sufficiently unobtrusive so that the authorities grant their tacit consent (as in Los Angeles, where the encampment is in the city’s mostly disused downtown).
With a few exceptions like Denver, where police forcibly cleared out and arrested Occupy Denver members and confiscated their tents and other property, most local and federal law enforcement agencies have assumed a “soft pillow” approach to the Occupy phenomenon.
This missive to Occupy L.A. participants gives a sense of the modus vivendi: “The event organizers say they have talked to the police and the police say they are welcome. There are certain rules planned to be in place, such as moving tents off the grass onto the sidewalk at night. Please follow the directions of the police or any officials. The lawn has an automatic sprinkler system that someone who went and watched says turns on at 8 pm – 9 pm. The park area closes at 10 pm, but sleeping on the public sidewalks adjacent to the street is allowed from 9 pm to 6 am. That is the sidewalk surrounding the park area, not the sidewalk within the park area. Also, keep in mind you can be charged for clean-up and repairs, so wherever you go, be sure you do not create any need for clean-up or repairs. Please be very mindful of this.”
Aware of the fact that the movement has grown in response to official pushback–in New York after the pepper-spraying of the four women as well as after a threatened “clean up” operation similar to what went down in Denver–police are reluctant to create a spectacle of violent official repression. Protesters, meanwhile, are understandably reluctant to become victims of violent official repression. There have been hundreds of arrests, but no violent showdowns as we’ve seen in Athens. Leftist professor Cornel West seems to get booked every other day yet looks none the worse for wear.
In the absence of serious confrontation the occupations have become campsites. After police threatened to sweep up Freedom Plaza in Washington hundreds of supporters poured in to face down the police. The U.S. Parks Police blinked; now Stop the Machine has an official four-month permit. The same thing happened when New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg scheduled a police-led “clean up” of Zuccotti Park. A night’s worth of phone calls by panicky city politicians made him back down.
Also, as The Nation reports, the NYPD wasn’t certain they had legal grounds for evicting the Occupiers from Zuccotti Park, which is public but privately-owned: “Jerold Kayden, a professor of urban planning and design at Harvard’s Kennedy School, says that these spaces ‘occupy a somewhat murky terrain in terms of what activities and conduct of public users within the space should be acceptable and what goes beyond the pale.’ That is, the protesters have been able to set up camp in Zuccotti not because of any regulation that protects their presence there, but precisely because of a real lack of any defined regulations at all.”
With free food, legal services, a press table and bilingual information booths–plus the passage of time–Occupy Wall Street looks increasingly permanent.
Occupy movement outposts utilize an anarchist-inspired “general assembly” structure to make decisions ranging from the profound (resolved, that we should jail Obama) to the mundane (what time shall we hold the next general assembly). Everyone gets to speak. A “mic check” of repeated lines pass everything said to the outer ring of listeners. Attendees indicate approval by holding their fingers up and wiggling them. Downward wiggling indicates disapproval; sideways wiggling reflects uncertainty. Forming a triangle with one’s fingers is a demand for a point of process.
Why this approach? No one asks. That’s how it goes with cut-and-paste.
Crossed arms are a “block.” Anyone may block any motion. A 999-to-1 vote means no passage. Blocks, we are told by non-leader facilitators, are a nuclear option. “You might block something once or twice in your lifetime,” Starhawk, a genre novelist introduced as an experienced facilitator at one of the D.C. occupations. But a lot of nukes went flying around. Occupy Miami took weeks to get off the ground because rival factions (liberals vs. radicals) blocked one another at every turn.
Cut-and-paste at every turn: the local occupations use similar interfaces, even typefaces, for their websites and Facebook pages.
The movement has grown nicely. But, just as Mao found it necessary to adapt industrial-proletarian-based Marxism to China’s agrarian economy with “Marxism with Chinese characteristics,” activists are about to face the negative consequences of trying to replicate Tahrir Square in the United States. The U.S. isn’t Egypt. It isn’t even European. Americans need Tahrir Square with American characteristics.
Conditions on the ground necessitate a reset.
Namely: the weather.
IN MY NEXT COLUMN: Winter is coming. What will happen to the northern Occupations when the snow starts falling?
COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL
Culturally Clueless and Politically Tonedeaf, U.S. Gave Bin Laden the Martyrdom He Craved
The assassination of Osama bin Laden was masterfully orchestrated to appeal to American media consumers. But it will play poorly overseas.
President Obama’s Sunday evening announcement, timed to fill Monday’s papers with a sickening orgy of gleeful triumph but little information, prompted bipartisan high-fives and hoots all around. “U-S-A! U-S-A!” chanted a mob of drunken oafs in front of the White House. Blending the low satire of two Bush-era classic send-ups of a nation allergic to self-reflection, “Team America: World Police” and “Idiocracy,” they set the tone for a week or a month or whatever of troop-praising, God-blessing-America, frat-boy self-backslapping. “So that’s what success looks like,” wrote New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley in the paper’s special ten-page “The Death of Bin Laden” pull-out section.
Success for Obama, certainly. He’ll see a much-needed bump in the polls. But it won’t last. Eventually the unemployed will wonder why the president devotes so many resources to killing one man but so little to them.
On the geopolitical front, the CIA’s ballyhooed Bin Laden takedown operation couldn’t possibly have been handled any worse. The War on Terror, if it ever existed, is a war for the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of Muslims.
It’s about them. Not us.
“Bin Laden wanted to die as a martyr. In this sense, his wish was obliged,” notes Stephen Diamond in Psychology Today.
Nothing was more important to Osama than to be seen as a brave soldier in an epic clash of civilizations. Claims that he hardly saw combat during the anti-Soviet resistance of the 1980s hurt him. The soft son of a Saudi billionaire and a former mother’s boy, Osama wanted to prove himself.
This past weekend, thanks to Navy Seals, he did. He went out in a blaze of glory, like Scarface. His status as a martyr, as a legend of jihad, is assured.
Yet another screw-up for the U.S., which fell into Bin Laden’s trap after 9/11. To Al Qaeda and other Islamist groups, the United States and the West is enemy #2. Their biggest foe is pro-American Muslim dictators and autocrats, and the apathy and indifference among Muslims that allows them to remain in power.
As with most actions carried out by small terrorist groups against enemies with superior manpower and weaponry, the operations attributed to Bin Laden—the bombings of the U.S. embassies in east Africa in 1998 and the U.S.S. Cole in 2000, and 9/11—were intended to provoke the U.S. into overreacting, thus exposing it as the monster he said it was. The invasions of two Muslim countries, Guantánamo, torture, Abu Ghraib, the secret prisons and disappearances and all the rest neatly fit into Osama Bin Laden’s narrative, proving his point more succinctly than a zillion fatwas faxed into Al Jazeera.
Everything about Bin Laden’s killing squares with the jihadi narrative.
The operation violated the sovereignty of a Muslim country, a constant complaint of radical jihadis. Armed commandos lawlessly invaded Pakistan. Infidel soldiers shot up a house and crashed a helicopter down the street from a military academy. Pakistanis see American drone planes buzzing around overhead, invading their airspace without the thinnest veneer of legality; American missiles blow up houses indiscriminately. Taking out Bin Laden without asking Pakistan’s government for permission is an act of war to which the country’s poverty permits no response. It’s yet another humiliation, another triumph of might over right.
Much will be made of the disrespectful treatment of Bin Laden’s body.
In an echo of Bush’s selection of Guantánamo as a extraterritorial not-U.S.-not-foreign no man’s land, the Obama Administration claimed that it buried Bin Laden at sea because it couldn’t find a country to accept his body within the required 24 hours after death, and to avoid the possibility that his grave would become a shrine for Muslim extremists. However, Bin Laden’s Wahhabi sect of Islam allows neither shrines nor burial at sea.
Of course, few Americans care about respecting Muslim religious sensibilities. So this decision went over well in the States. Countless editorial cartoons depicted sharks feasting on the carcass of the Bogeyman of the Twin Towers.
But it will inflame Muslim purists. Worse than that, dumping Osama into the Indian Ocean feeds an image the United States would be smart to shake, of a superpower hell-bent on occupying Muslim lands, stealing their oil and trashing their religion.
On the hearts-and-minds front, Americans’ chest-thumping is a PR disaster.
“Rot in Hell,” blared the headline of the New York Daily News. “Justice has been done,” pundits and politicians claimed—a strange endorsement of extrajudicial assassination by a nation based on the rule of law.
“Triumphalism and unapologetic patriotism are in order,” wrote Eugene Robinson for The Washington Post. “We got the son of a bitch.”
Islam teaches combatants to respect their enemies. The death of an opponent is tragic, sometimes a tragic necessity, but never trivial, never a subject for joking. A vanquished enemy should be dispatched quickly, presumably to be chastised by Allah for his wickedness in the afterlife, but he is never to be mocked. A Muslim should not enjoy war or combat, nor gloat when victorious. When the powerful crush the weak, as was the case with the U.S. killing of Bin Laden, dancing around like a beefy hunk of steroids spiking the football at the touchdown line makes one look small.
It also makes us look dumb. As anyone not drunk on bloodlust knows, the worst thing that could have happened to Osama Bin Laden would have been arrest followed by a fair trial.
COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL
Who Are the Libyan Opposition?
Hi. You don’t know me. See that big guy over at the bar? I’m going to pick a fight with him. Wanna back me up?
That’s what we, the American people, are being asked to do in Libya. We’re not picking sides. Picking sides implies that we know what’s going on. We don’t.
Give George W. Bush this: he respected us enough to lie us into war. Obama wants us sign a blank check, no questions asked.
“We do not have any information about specific individuals from any organization that are part of this [war],” Hillary Clinton said on “Meet the Press.”
“But of course, we are still getting to know the people [rebels] leading the Transitional National Council [TNC].”
This was over a week into the war.
I don’t know what’s more frightening. That Secretary of State Clinton expects us to believe that the U.S. government is fighting, spending, killing—and soon, inevitably, dying—for a cause it doesn’t know anything about? Or that she may be telling the truth.
For all we know the Libyan TNC, also known as the National Conference of the Libyan Opposition, is composed of and led by noble, well-intentioned, freedom-minded people everyone can get behind. But that’s the point: we don’t know.
Obama’s defenders say he’s different than Bush. Look! No cowboy talk! He got an international coalition! Even the French are on board!
Big deal. Hitler had a coalition too. Which also included the French.
Remember how, after 9/11, we got a history lesson about Afghanistan? Remember “blowback”? Remember how Al Qaeda came out of the anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s? How, if it hadn’t been for the U.S. and its CIA, Osama bin Laden would today be working for his dad’s real estate development business in Saudi Arabia? The last thing U.S. policymakers should want to do now is replicate the 1990s, when they had to tramp through the Hindu Kush, buying back Stinger missiles from the Taliban.
Incredibly, in Libya today, the U.S. may be crawling back into bed with a bunch of crazy Islamists.
Who are the Libyan opposition? We have few clues. From what we can tell, the TNC is apparently a peculiar alliance of convenience between monarchists and Islamists.
One TNC leader is the pretender to the throne. The TNC uses the flag of the former kingdom deposed by Kadafi.
Western media outlets ridiculed the Libyan dictator for blaming unrest on Al Qaeda. On February 25th CNN’s Paul Cruickshank reflected this official line: “Militant Islamists have played almost no role in the uprisings in Libya.”
How much changes in a month.
As bombs were raining down on Tripoli, military officials began to concede an open secret: eastern Libya has long been a hotbed for Muslim extremism. “Al Qaeda in that part of the country is obviously an issue,” a senior Obama official told the New York Times on condition of anonymity. NATO military commander Admiral James Stavridis admitted to a Senate hearing that there were “flickers” of foreign fighters affiliated with Al Qaeda and Hezbollah presence among anti-Kadafi insurgents.
Constitutionalists to return to the Founders’ original intent. They say Congress, not the president, ought to decide whether or not to go to unleash the military. Obama didn’t even bother to get the usual congressional rubber stamp for this latest invasion.
But never mind Congress. War should be voted upon by the citizenry. After all, we—not Congress—bear the costs. If a president can’t be bothered to explain why we should kill and be killed and spend billions of dollars on a conflict, too bad for him and his pet defense contractors.
Starting with Obama’s carefully calculated conflation of civilians and insurgents, everything about Obama’s Libyan war stinks. The U.N. has authorized military operations to protect “civilians.” How, no matter how likeable they are, do Libyan rebels armed with anti-aircraft guns qualify as civilians?
As does this nightmare of a president’s what-if scaremongering, so reminiscent of Bush during the run-up to the 2003 attack on Iraq. What if there are massacres? But there weren’t any. What’s next—WMDs?
Hillary cites Kadafi’s “history and the potential for the disruption and instability” as casus belli. Funny, Moammar’s history didn’t bother her in 2009 or 2010—when her State Department had full diplomatic relations with his regime. As for the “potential” of “disruption and instability”—aw, hell, that could happen anywhere. Even here.
“If Jeffersonian Democrats take over in Libya, he’s a hero,” Robert Borosage of the Campaign for America’s Future said of Obama. “If he gets stuck in an ongoing civil war, then it could be enormously costly to the country, and to him politically.”
Which outcome would you bet on?
(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)
COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL
Time to Take Religion Out of the Calendar
We are a secular nation. We enjoy the constitutional right to exercise any religion—or none whatsoever. So why is Christmas a federal holiday?
The U.S. has no national religion. Yet Christians get special consideration. Aside from Christmas, they also get the quasi-Christian holiday of Thanksgiving. Financial markets are closed on both of those, plus Good Friday.
Devotees of other faiths must ask their employers for time off. Jews aren’t supposed to work on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, the first and second days of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, Simchat Torah, Shavu’ot, or the first, second, seventh and eighth days of Passover. They have to take up to 13 days off from work each year, more than most employers offer.
The message to Jews and other non-Christians is plain: you are second-class citizens. Separation of church and state is a fraud. You wanna practice your faith? Do it on your own time.
You might think that the government’s official embrace of Christmas is a cultural relic of America’s puritan past. But you’d be mistaken. For nearly 100 years, Christmas was not on the calendar of federal holidays. On December 25, 1789, the first Christmas under the new U.S. constitution, Congress was in session. Ulysses Grant made it a federal holiday in 1870.
At first (and second and third) glance, the Christmas federal holiday seems like a clear violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. In 1999, however, a federal district court judge in Ohio rejected a lawsuit challenging the special status of Christmas. The court ruled that “the establishment of Christmas Day as a legal public holiday does…not have the effect of endorsing religion in general or Christianity in particular.”
Legal reasoning gave way to the simplest calculus: we do stuff because we can.
Right-wing commentators such as Bill O’Reilly have accused liberals of waging a “war on Christmas.” Actually, there’s a war of Christmas: Christians use the holiday as a bludgeon against the rest of us. (Sort of how the “war on terrorism” is really a “war of terror.”) Christmas’ designation as a federal holiday is the most brazen and thus most offensive manifestation of Christian hegemony in America.
The Christian Right’s “war on Christmas” meme would be laughable if it didn’t work; they’re the majority, they’re in charge, but somehow they’re victims. The smallest concession to common decency and sensitivity—e.g. not displaying nativity scenes on government property—is portrayed as an attack on innocent Christians. Not subtle. But clever: the dominant majority gets to claim victimhood. Anything short than total domination isn’t good enough.
This has nothing to do with suppressing Christianity. I am touched, not offended, when a person of faith says that he or she is praying for me, or wishes me a “Merry Christmas.” Individual and/or private displays of religiosity are fine.
Official expressions of a specific religion, however, are disgusting and inherently repressive. Public-school teachers should not wish their students a Merry Christmas. Presidents should not end speeches by saying “God Bless America.” Our currency should not read “In God We Trust.” Courts should not use Bibles to swear in witnesses. Government officials and employees who wear their Christianity on their sleeves reinforce the majority and subjugate the minority. Notice, it’s always Christians. When’s the last time a TSA screener wished you a blessed Ramadan?
A country should live up to its stated principles. Everyone who wants to honor Christmas, whether in its religious or its consumerist contexts, is free to do so. Go to midnight mass. Festoon your roof with plastic Santas. But the government shouldn’t make it easier on Christians to celebrate one of their religious holidays than it does members of other faiths.
There are only two fair courses of action:
First, remove Christmas from the list of federal holidays. But replace it with something secular! Preferably in March or April. There’s a long gap there.
Alternatively, add holidays for other religions. Of course, this could get complicated. How many holidays for each religion? Some faiths are more festive than others. How far down the list of major American religions do we go? The Zoroastrian holiday of Navruz? Shall we make room for new religions like Scientology?
After every sect gets its day in court there might not be a single day left in the year to work.
I say: the more days off, the merrier. Er, better.
(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)
COPYRIGHT 2010 TED RALL