Saturday, October 24, 2009

Taking The Prize

In Richard Rhodes magisterial work The Making of the Atomic Bomb he recounts how the Nobel Prize committee was concerned for the safety of Italian physicist Enrico Fermi. Fermi’s wife, Laura, was Jewish and Fermi himself was no friend to Mussolini’s Fascist Regime. Members of the selection committee for the 1938 Physics prize made overtures in advance of the award to see if Fermi would be ready to leave Italy if the Nobel could get him and his family out to Stockholm and safety while providing them a financial buffer. Thanks to the award of that Nobel Prize in Physics the first controlled nuclear fission reaction happened in a squash court at the University of Chicago and not within the confines of Mussolini’s Italy or Hitler’s Germany.

That story came to my mind when I heard the announcement that President Barak Obama was the selected recipient of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.

Since the award we have been subjected to cogitations by an array of fools, scum and thinkers opining on whether President Obama deserved the prize. Some have objected that there are groups working, often with little recognition, to promote peace in The Congo, Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Horn of Africa generally and promoting democracy in China, Burma, Iran, Saudi Arabia and a raft of countries that once were part of the Soviet Union who might lay more claim to this prize. Others, mostly lurking in the neo-fascist shadows of Fox News, the Heritage Foundation and the Weekly Double Standard, have attempted to argue that Obama does not deserve the prize at all based on a thinly disguised version of the racist “it’s just affirmative action” farrago.

I am about as far from knowledge of what goes through the minds of the people who select the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize as one can get. Still that story about Fermi came to mind.

To those who consider themselves members of the political Left who object that President Obama has not yet closed the Concentration Camp at Guantanamo Bay, repudiated all of the odious acts of the previous Administration or withdrawn troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, let me point out that in 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt was awarded the Peace Prize for organizing and hosting the Portsmouth Conference that ended the Russo-Japanese War. At that same time Roosevelt was pursuing a genocidal war in the Philippines and bullying much of Central and South America.

America’s next Peace Prize winner, Elihu Root, was a staunch Republican from Clinton, New York who won the prize for his work in that bugaboo of the xenophobes and jingoists in his own party then as now, international law. Root won despite his record of support for Theodore Roosevelt’s worst imperialist tendencies and service to William McKinley in promoting the overtly imperialist Spanish-American War. In short both TR and Root won their prizes more in spite of their records promoting strife rather than their records of promoting peace.

But let’s go back to the story of Enrico Fermi’s prize in Physics. The Nobel Committee chose Fermi as much because of his future potential as for his past accomplishments and, most significantly, to demonstrate its opposition to Mussolini’s fascism and Hitler’s Nazism. Those wise men, whose formative experience had been the senseless and vicious World War I, now saw their world descending rapidly toward the horrors of World War II. Their practical motive was depriving the forces of fear and violence of a great mind whose genius might be forced to feed the fascist monsters’ military bloodlust. Their ideological motive was to demonstrate their opposition to fascism.

The faces of the committee members have changed many times in the last 71 years but the motive to oppose fascism has, I think, remained constant. I would suggest that the Nobel Peace Prize winners, particularly since 2001, have demonstrated the committee’s increasing fear of America’s descent into fascism.

In 2001, the prize went to Kofi Annan who had capped his service as Secretary General of the United Nations by opposing the Bush Administration’s imperialist militarism. In 2002, as the Bush Administration gear up for an unjustified, ill-planned and ill-executed war against Iraq, the prize went to former President Jimmy Carter for his 21 years of work toward world-wide democracy and peace. Carter, we should note, has been the neo-fascist’s whipping boy since the day of his inauguration and at no time more than during the Bush Administration. In 2005, as the Bush Administration ginned up nuclear fears for a third war against Iran, the prize committee chose Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, in good part for his refutations of Bush propaganda. Then in 2007 the Peace prize went to Al Gore for his work in raising awareness of global climate change though no one could miss the rebuke in honoring the man from whom Bush and Cheney stole the 2000 presidential election.

And now we have the selection of President Obama. The president has accepted the prize with characteristic modesty and decency while the neo-fascists scream that he’s done nothing to deserve the prize. That, however, is only in their blinkered and clouded eyes.

Throughout most of the rest of the world Barak Obama has done many things from addressing the Arab-Israeli conflict in real terms to trying to mitigate the world-wide economic collapse created by American financial pirates. But his greatest achievement is neither his personal history, his understanding of Islam nor his skin color. President Obama has done enormous service to world peace simply by not being George W. Bush or, in fact, any other Republican. Just not being a representative of American fascism is to be worthy of the prize in the eyes of those beyond our borders.

And, I believe, the committee that chose him as the 2009 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize also had in mind another factor that may have moved them to significant haste. You see the Nobel Committee awards the prizes to living persons. I suspect that committee members may have worried that their time might be short. America’s reputation for violence and insanity, its racism, its senseless fetishizing of guns and its history of turning character assassination into actual assassination may have influenced the award while the committee had the chance.

The Nobel Committee, I’m sure, wishes President Obama well and long life just as I do. Yet I cannot but think that some members saw the news footage of neo-fascist lunatics bringing pistols and assault rifles to presidential appearances and thought those pictures a prelude to their worst fears for the President.

So I have to conclude that the award of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama was both earned and timely. Earned by the simple fact of his presidency making the world a less dangerous place and timely because we do not know when the next Timothy McVeigh, Byron de la Beckwith or Eric Robert Rudolph incited by a Rush Limbaugh, James Dobson, Fred Phelps or Glenn Beck will target this good man.

If those considerations entered into the prize committee’s deliberations I am as ashamed for my country as I am proud for President Obama. I am glad he’s been awarded this honor. After eight years of wishing that my president could live up to even the lowest aspirations of my country I find myself in the position of hoping that my country will rise to the least of President Obama’s expectations for it. However, since this award, we seem to have been bent on demonstrating that Americans generally stand shoulder to shoelace with the president.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Oiling The Cogs of Cognitive Dissonance I

When General Motors and Chrysler were in financial trouble in the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009 we heard very little about the ways in which management had screwed up those companies. What we heard was a deafening chorus primarily from those in the pocket of the Chamber of Commerce and similar neo-fascist organizations of blame heaped on the unions. A great, Visgothic Horde of pillaging unionists were sucking the lifeblood out of the American auto industry having steamrollered a valiant phalanx of noble executives and directors in a 20th Century Thermopylae. There were no incompetent, greedy members of management. The Unions alone were the ravening wolves dragging down American industry. In fact, this is a chant we've heard for decades. Noble corporate executives aided by white knights like Lee Iacocca, Carl Icahn, Kenny-Boy Lay and Jeffrey Skilling and more faceless others are simply overwhelmed by the selfish, vile trade unionists who make unreasonable demands like living wages and decent medical care for their workers or comfortable pensions for those who've given their productive lives in service to the company. The critiques were all but silent on the multi-million dollar salaries and bonuses paid to executives and directors regardless of the health of the companies. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, Fox News, The American Enterprise Institute, Hoover Institution and economists well aware of the side on which their bread is buttered from The Wharton and Harvard Business Schools or that nexus of neo-fascist thought, the University of Chicago demanded the gutting of union contracts as the sole prescription for saving these corporations.

Yet when it came to bonuses in the millions and billions of dollars for the people at banks who had bankrupted their own institutions, their investors and the nation as a whole, with barely a pause for breath, we were told by the same propagandists for neo-fascism that the contracts with these pirates must be honored, the exorbitant bonuses paid. While perpetuating this con they mount a vociferous defense of the necessity of paying these traders and executives to blare from their propaganda machines.

This is only one of the more subtle -yes, subtle - examples of how the Republican Party, fundamentalist religion and the right wing generally actually are a corporate sponsored criminal conspiracy got up in ill-fitting but no less ugly Halloween disguises.

Another example?

How about Jamie Leigh Jones?

Ms. Jones is a very pretty young woman. Let me note at this point that those are three attributes over which she has little or no control: pretty, young and female. They are an accident of birth. Her husband was in the military and at age 20, she decided to do her part by taking a job with Halliburton's subsidiary, Kellog, Brown and Root (KBR), Inc. Subjected to the unwanted advances of a KBR supervisor at its Houston headquarters, Ms. Jones requested a transfer. We don't know whether Ms. Jones refusal to put out for her supervisor influenced the choice of tranfers offered to her but she was sent to work for KBR in Iraq. KBR placed Ms. Jones in a dorm with no separate facilities for women. The bathroom was one floor below her bunkspace accessed through a men's dormitory.

Ms. Jones was subjected to continual harassment whenever she had to pass through that dorm. At this juncture it seems only fair to note that the sexual harassment of Ms. Jones has nothing to do with accidents of birth other than the lack of intelligence in those who carried it out. The harassment is behavior over which the rapists engaged in it and their employer had complete and absolute control. Had KBR personnel docked the pay of or fired any of the harassers they would have sent a powerful message that such behavior had to stop.

Ms. Jones complained about the harassment to her supervisors exactly as she was supposed to do. The next day following her complaint she was cornered, drugged with a date-rape drug and repeatedly gang raped. As the drug began to wear off she made her way back to her bunk only to find another rapist lying there. The next day she reported the rape to a supervisor. She was sent to an Army hospital where they took a rape kit and photographs. The medical staff also completed reports all of which were supposed to be confidential. Yet the next day her rapists threw her into a shipping container where she was imprisoned without food or water by the rapists under armed guard for more than 24 hours.

After she'd been out of contact for a couple of days, her father back in Houston contacted KBR for news of his daughter. He got no help from KBR and so contacted his Congressman. The Congressman contacted the State Department which eventually sent a delegation that freed Ms. Jones from her imprisonment and got her out of Iraq.

What is eminently clear so far is that the KBR supervisors colluded if not participated in Ms. Jones' drugging, rape and imprisonment. Moreover, the Army may have colluded with KBR because reports and photos of Ms. Jones taken at the Army hospital in Iraq remain missing. In fact, the damage even now continues. You see, Ms. Jones found that she had signed away her right to sue KBR over its, at minimum, negligence as a condition of her employment under a policy implement under the leadership of - I'm sure you're way ahead of me here - Dick Cheney. In short and in fairly typical right wing cognitive dissonance Ms. Jones was not even entitled to the apology that Cheney undeservedly got from a friend whom he'd shot in the face during a drunken quail hunt.

Ms. Jones was more than a little upset by her treatment by co-workers and KBR. When she found that she could not hold her rapists or KBR accountable she went public and testified before Congress. This, of course, set off the whores paid by Halliburton in the neo-fascist blogosphere. Predictably they have projected their own trade on Ms. Jones. After all, those neo-fascist bloggers voluntarily line up to accept money for what they do. But there is more which is how we now come to the most interesting development in this case.

One would think that gang rape would be unable to gather much public support. You would think. Yet this is not just a matter of gang rape. It involves Halliburton and KBR. If you are a Republican Senator and very well paid to lie back and make noises like you enjoy whatever Halliburton chooses to do to you, you do as you are told.

Senator Al Franken of Minnesota proposed an amendment inspired by this case to a military funding bill. Franken's bill would withhold Federal funds from corporations that attempt to shield themselves from liability when their employees rape a co-worker. Not a tough call one would think. Yet 30 of the Senate's Republicans bent over for Halliburton, just as they have been well paid to do, and sang, "Do It To Me One More Time."

Amazing? Who would go on record siding with rapists rather than their victims? I am so glad that you asked.

From Alabama - Sens. Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby
From Arizona - Sens. John McCain and John Kyl
From Georgia - Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson
From Idaho - Sens. Mike Crapo and James Risch
From Kansas - Sens. Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts
From Kentucky - Sens. Jim Bunning and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
From Louisiana - Sen. Mike Vitter
From Mississippi - Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker
From Missouri - Sen. Kit Bond
From Nebraska - Sen. Mike Johanns
From Nevada - Sen. John Ensign
From New Hampshire - Sen. Judd Gregg
From North Carolina - Sen. Richard Burr
From Oklahoma - Sens. James Inhofe and Tom Coburn
From South Carolina - Sens. Lindsay Graham and Jim DeMint
From South Dakota - Sen. John Thune
From Tennessee - Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker
From Texas - Sen. John Cornyn
From Wyoming - Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso

To be honest I don't think that any of these senators are in favor of rape, gang or otherwise. The issue for them was not crime. The issue was who pays their bills. These senators, all of whom will grab a noose and scream for the public hanging of the odd criminal, even rapist, who is not a generous campaign contributor found themselves suddenly overwhelmed with Christian charity and, dare I say, empathy when the issue became the profits of corporations that pay for their campaigns. They have spent a great deal of time on the public airwaves and in the Congressional Record decrying Federal funding for ACORN which tries to insure that all Americans actually get to vote and are counted in the census, but will eagerly give KBR a pass on gang rape.

These senators argued that the Federal government should not interfere with the terms of private contracts. They were arguing a few months ago that the Federal government needed to void all sorts of terms of the contracts between both current and retired workers of General Motors and Chrysler.

These same senators have argued that there is grave moral hazard in renegotiating mortgages of families who were conned into contracts that they plainly could not afford by loan officers and companies interested only in their own commissions. Yet these same senators see no moral hazard in exempting corporations from liability when they fail to protect all their employees.

To a man they argue that 1 trillion dollars over a decade is too much to pay for universal health care for Americans yet have had no trouble in writing 1 trillion dollars in checks to pay for an unnecessary and ruinous war in Iraq.

They claim a mantle of fiscal responsibility in the face of deficit spending while expecting everyone to forget that when they came to unrestricted power in 2001 they immediately turned a Treasury surplus into the largest deficits in American history.

The fact is that we aren't even talking about cognitive dissonance which implies honestly held opinions at variance with one another. We are dealing with simple, old fashioned fraud. The Republican Party has long been bought and paid for. One can reasonably argue that has been true since it emerged as a majority part following the Civil War. Yet over the last six decades with the fascist militarization of America the whoring of the Republican Party has reached its apotheosis. We accept that both parties are in thrall to wealth and particularly corporate wealth. Yet the Democratic Party has created the "big tent" that the Republicans lie about having. The Democrats' multiple constituencies both immobilize it, at worst, and make it, at best, responsive to the people. The Republican Party, the ultra-right religious fanatics and Fox News whores who promote it, is responsive to none but its corporate masters. The Republican Party is more a criminal conspiracy like the Mafia than a political party and far more a threat to the nation than most of organized crime.

So when a Republican or one of the neo-fascist apologists from their foundations, institutes or propaganda outlets like Fox News begins to spout about fiscal responsibility, moral hazard, or the necessity of something utterly counter-intuitive, ask yourself, "Who's profiting from the course he or she proposes?" If it's not you and/or your partner and your combined income is less than $75,000.00 per year let me suggest that regardless of any buzz words in the presentation, it is not in your interest. Taking a position opposite to the con man to whom you are listening is almost certainly the best for you. The Republicans would not know moral if it bit them on the ass. It is they who are the hazard to America.