Archive for November, 2008

exceptionalism #2 (redux, the obama challenge)

Monday, November 17th, 2008

In a previous post I pondered that the generic notion of American exceptionalism, the we are better and must export our lifestyle to the world version – is rooted in the deeper sense of our political system being different (or exceptional) from other systems, particularly the European models of democratic socialism. The point of that post was to illustrate how the Bush administration has used the former (generic) sense of exceptionalism to undermine and exploit the (deeper) sense of American exceptionalism. I then questioned, given the results of the recent election, whether the standard appeal of dog whistle exceptionalism may have lost some its shiny luster. Or at least, people have finally come to a tacit understanding of how the appeal of identity politics has been used repeatedly to convince them to vote against their own interests so many times, that they have finally reached the point of no return with regards to those interests . Or, as Janis Joplin would put it, finally reached the point where, literally, freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.

So, as it might seem. Were exceptionalism not so intrinsic to the American psyche. While the neo-conservative Republicans may have abused the notion of exceptionalism to their own demise, the neo-liberal Democrats, in their new found ascent, are also no less willing, ready, and able to fill the vacuum with cord wood and set alight their own version of it. In many ways the election of Barak Obama is in itself a triumph of American exceptionalism. Because it is in a sense proof, or confirmation that the deeper elements of exceptionalism are indeed still intact, that the American dream of equal opportunity, fairness, and egalitarianism is still operational. And that (after a mere 200 years), a black man can be elected president after all.

However. This should not be such a surprise, because within the exceptionalist arrangement, equal opportunity between the races functions in partnership with individualism. Because America is such a multicultural/racial society the arrangement requires that people act rather as independent individuals, as opposed to members of their specific ethno-cultural heritage. Least the country fall into a mass of competing sectarian interests, the emphasis is redirected into an American first type of nationalist identity, as a stand in for more typical ethno-cultural identity (of other more homogenious national identities).

This would be all well and good were it not for the implications riding on such a fragile foundation. Individuality in the exceptionalist sense, requires the sacrifice and distancing of deeply held and specific ethno-cultural norms that have taken centuries to develop, it also both encourages political apathy and discourages social empathy. In the present climate of economic jeopardy its hard to say what happens when such an arrangement, is faced with the prospects of failing to deliver the promised goods, and the all expectations that go with achieving a better material life. What happens when, or if, Americans wake up to suddenly find themselves on the bottom end of a future less hardened two class structure – while also having lost touch with all their traditional, cultural, safety, and security networks and heritage. In such a scenario the Obama miracle can quickly and easily be reduced into a hollow symbol. If the democrats fail to heed the Republican example, and proceed in undermining the social and economic arrangements of exceptionalism. And neglect shoring up and maintaining those foundations with FDR type programs, chooseing instead to proceed feeding the corporatist giant – American exceptionalism will finally be dead enough to ferment its own, but very unexceptional in the world of such things, popular leftist revolution.

More topic conversation at the Moon of Alabama

burning bridges

Saturday, November 15th, 2008

2006, 14″x16″ oil/enamel on wood

hoop (and the long road through)

Friday, November 14th, 2008

2007, 8″x10″, color photograph

hoop (birth&death)

Friday, November 14th, 2008

2008, 11″ x 16″ x 2″, oil on wood

veterans day postscript#2 patriotic equivalency

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

These remarks by Joe Biden:


WASHINGTON – Joe Biden wrapped Old Glory around Barack Obama‘s plan to raise taxes on wealthy Americans, saying the rich should be “patriotic” and fork over more cash.

“It’s time to be patriotic, time to jump in, time to be part of the deal, time to help get America out of the rut,” Obama’s running mate said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.


And especially the recent remarks by John McCain that emphasized a direct linkage between the health of the economy and national security, that the economy itself was a national security issue – got me thinking about the relativity of patriotism, when it comes to service to ones country.

Veterans, as it’s well known, are individuals serve the country in the armed forces either through willing enlistment or conscription, for an agreed on amount of their own personal time. This time is spent in the unquestioned service of the civilian government, to the ideal benefit of the people. This service time can be spent in a variety of durations and tasks preformed. From the perfunctory to repeated combat deployments into war zones, and can require from simple time spent all the way to and including the ultimate sacrifice. And following their service, veterans can carry their experiences and its scars often for the rest of their lives. This of course is patriotic duty preformed in service to defend the constitution, with the primary function as national security. In todays political climate, it is also considered the patriotic duty of the civilian population to express their patriotic duty through the unfettered support of the armed forces in these times of multiple military operations in foreign lands.

What got me thinking about all this was, being on Veterans Day and all, hearing Sean Hannity on the radio wistfully mentioning as a passing thought, “that if Barak Obama raised taxes on the very wealthy, I wouldn’t blame them at all for withdrawing all their money from the U.S. economy and investing it elsewhere.” Now, I’ve heard this veiled threat before, and as usual it flows out there as an almost assumed and tacitly agreed upon assumption that elicits no disagreement, least of all outrage. But this time it’s being floated in the uncertain climate of impending economic catastrophe. In a time of dire threat to the nation.

If Joe Biden can rightfully infer that it’s the patriotic duty for the rich to pay taxes, and for John McCain to proclaim that a secure economy is indeed a matter of national security, how could anybody say that the rich have not only the right, but the expectation to actively evade any service to the country whatsoever? Wouldn’t that be like a member of the armed services in a combat zone saying “gee, looks like my potential investment here is going south, maybe I’ll go over to the other side where the odds look better, and be declared a hero”? I don’t get it. In as little as a year from now, literally hundreds of thousands of American families could be suffering a similar fate as civilians in a war zone, sick, beleaguered, and living in squalid Winnebago villages under a freeway ramps.

This could, and in all probability will, be a national crisis that no armed force could hope to win, but, there could be a ray of hope in the very rich and their assets that could come to the aid of their country. And knowing that they aren’t famous for putting in the personal time and sacrifice that most veterans know all to well, they could as an alternative step forward with their wealth in an act of patriotic service to their country. If not, then their wealth could simply be drafted into service.  As a reward for their service, there could be some medals involved and I’d be proud to reserve a special place right behind the marching  band in 4th of July parades all across the nation.

veterans day postscript

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

There was a woman I used to see in a bar that I frequented. It was after a while, but finally I managed to develop a friendship that had just a glimmer of potential. At some point in the conversation it came up that I was a Vietnam veteran, to which she responded “now I don’t know whether to feel sorry for you or be afraid of you.”

And that was the end of that.

It was a small thing really, insignificant, but somehow the memory of it has stuck with me.

veterans day

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

my vietnam, 1987, 59″ x 121″ mixed media

collection: National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum, Chicago IL

forgiveness not

Monday, November 10th, 2008

2007, 11″x18″ oil/enamel on wood

the ghost of abu ghraib

Monday, November 10th, 2008
Bush administration delays release of prisoner abuse photos

Nick Juliano
Published: Friday November 7, 2008

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The Bush administration is doing everything it can to delay compliance with a court’s order that the Pentagon turn over pictures of prisoners abused in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a new court filing.

A three-judge appeals court panel in September ordered the administration to turn over 87 photographs depicting abuses at Abu Ghraib prison and other sites. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the photos in 2005.

On Thursday, the administration requested a review of that decision by all 12 appeals court judges. The ACLU expected the move, a lawyer for the group said previously, but it was nonetheless a frustration for those attempting to uncover the full extent of abuse that accompanied the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“This petition is a transparent attempt to delay accountability for the widespread abuse of prisoners held in U.S. custody abroad by keeping the public in the dark,” Amrit Singh, and ACLU staff attorney, said in a news release Friday . “These photographs demonstrate that the abuse of prisoners held in U.S. custody abroad was not aberrational and not confined to Abu Ghraib, but the result of policies adopted by the highest-ranking officials in the administration. The immediate release of these photos is critical to bringing an end to the Bush administration’s torture policies and for preventing prisoner abuse in the future.”

to no avail

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

A recent post by Reidar Visser (link on blog roll) draws a stark contrast just how far the U.S. position in Iraq has eroded. In his contemplation on what “leverage” might still remain there for the Obama administration. It’s been nearly 2 years since the “surge” began, and to this date the many benchmark goals of political reconciliation have not been met, despite that the other goal of the surge, reducing the intensity level of the civil war, have appeared to be successful. So what happened? And how does it effect Obama’s prospects?

Anywhere outside of the Republican narrative, the surge itself is now generally accepted to have (in itself) had little effect on the general trajectory of events in Iraq. Predating the surge, the bombing of the 2006 Sammarra Mosque is usually considered to have set off a civil war, as the levels of violence soon escalated. This was especially true in Baghdad. Whats forgotten though, is that in late Spring 2006, only a few months after the mosque bombing, Iraqi PM Maliki initiated the joint I(raqi)S(ecurity)F(orce) and U.S. operation “Forward Together” that was suppose to quell the sectarian violence in the Baghdad area. Later that summer, the so called “civil war” in Baghdad reached it’s pinnacle in violence, which as it turned out, was at exactly the same time operation Forward Together got into full swing. Curious coincidence that. For which the results later in the following Fall and Winter of that year would reveal, an effective sectarian cleansing of the Sunni insurgency and its popular support, was achieved in the city of Baghdad. That ( just before the surge was introduced) set the conditions for and drove the remaining insurgency into the “Awakening” cash deal with the U.S. command to surrender arms against the U.S. occupation and the Maliki government. The Madhi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr, with his area now largely cleansed of rival militia’s, followed suit and ordered his men to stand down. At about which time the surge finally got under way, just in time to physically lock down Baghdad into a walled warren of ghettos that kept the new demographic intact.

Whats relevant here to the subject at hand, is that following the cleansing of Baghdad and Maliki’s summit with Bush that Fall is that Maliki, with Bush’s blessing (then called “Shiite option”) became much, much more powerful. He has since subsequently enhanced his grip on power with several successful semi-independent follow up operations against his UIA competitor Muqtada al-Sadr in the South and against Sunni opposition in Mosul. So successful in fact that he now offering up resistance to former allies in SIIC and his own DAWA parties on UIA politics, the Kurds, and low and behold, the U.S. itself. That as it stands, has failed to get an acceptance of its standard SOFA deal ahead of its termination date two months from now. Much of Maliki’s new position is further enhanced by his co-opting his position onto the wave of anti-foreign (influence) nationalism currently sweeping the country. And as we know, sometimes old habits die hard.

Visser is wise to point out that the single biggest flaw (from the vantage of positive contribution) in the Obama/Biden (along with several other alternative) plan of phased withdrawal, is this serious underestimation of Maliki’s position of power. That the phased withdrawal alone will exert the necessary degree of U.S. leverage, and push Maliki toward the desired reconciliation and accommodation. If so then the O/B initiative has already fallen under the same myopic spell that plagues the Bush administration, especially surprising since Maliki’s rise to the top of the pyramid has been facilitated and orchestrated by them. And more surprising yet is that since all the previous efforts have failed, that the actual withdrawal itself will finally be the magic bullet. Well, so be it. That they get thrown out of their grand occupation by one man, the man they elevated to power, and did for years his dirty work, that the effort ends in a whimper rather than a bang. And that leverage can still be made at this late date, when all else has failed.

Of course Visser is genuine with additional proposals to election procedure and to the constitution that would indeed promote the chances for Iraqi democracy, but I have the feeling that horse is way to long out of the barn to look for the door to do the trick.

On second thought.

If you want to accomplish something on the way out, why not try war restitution payments based on election and constitutional reforms payable on delivery?