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MARX: A HERO FOR OUR TIME? — Suddenly, everyone from the Wall Street Journal to Rolling Stone seems to be talking about Karl Marx. Louis Proyect delves into this mysterious resurgence, giving a vivid assessment of Marx’s relevance in the era of globalized capitalism. THE MEANING OF MANDELA: Longtime civil rights organizer Kevin Alexander Gray gives in intimate portrait of Nelson Mandela and the global struggle of racial justice. FALLOUT OVER FUKUSHIMA: Peter Lee investigates the scandalous exposure of sailors on board the USS Reagan to radioactive fallout from Fukushima. SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT: Kim Nicolini charts the rise of Matthew McConaughey. PLUS: Mike Whitney on the coming crash of the housing market. JoAnn Wypijewski on slavery, torture and revolt. Chris Floyd on the stupidity of US policy in Ukraine. Kristin Kolb on musicians and health care. And Jeffrey St. Clair on life and death on the mean streets of an America in decline
CounterPunch Diary

Romney: Why It’s OK to Stick It to Him for Being a Mormon

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

Mitt Romney will be the Republican to face President Obama in the fall.  Tuesday night was the clincher, as the Mormon zealot won in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington DC. He may stumble on, but the Catholic zealot Rick Santorum is finished.

It’s hard to detect any alluring feature in Romney’s psychic or political make-up, and I’m none too sure about Ann  Romney, who at this stage of the game is filling the role played by the late Elizabeth  Edwards in the Edwards campaign on its upward trajectory back in early 2008.

The last Republican challenger to an incumbent Democratic president was Bob Dole in 1996.  I always had a soft spot for the guy for his crack, which backfired on him, when he was Ford’s veep nominee in 1976, running against the Carter/Mondale  ticket: “I figured it up the other day: If we added up the killed and wounded in Democrat wars in this century, it would be about 1.6 million Americans — enough to fill the city of Detroit.” There was a lot of howling because Dole said “Democrat,” thus diverting attention from the substantive charge which was probably true.

When I was on the Village Voice, James Ridgeway and I went to interview Dole some time in the late 70s when he was one of the most powerful Republicans in the US Senate. I think we wanted him to denounce the New Cold War, then being launched, which he was happy to do because he was from Kansas whose farmers made plenty of money selling grain or corn to the Soviet Union. Though he had a reputation of being a savage conservative, we found him pleasant and very funny and he gave the Voice  an hour of his time. Compared to Romney, or Obama for that matter, he sounded like Henry Wallace.

Santorum got roughed up for actually espousing conservative Roman Catholic positions. For some reason Romney is being given a pass as a Mormon, as though his religion is of no consequence, as inconsequential a piece of  ideological baggage as Bill Clinton’s Baptist label. Columnists evidently feel it’s poor taste to suggest that a candidate’s religion might have some bearing on his conduct and that the candidate should be properly grilled on the matter.

No doubt in the upcoming campaign Romney will attack Obama for his associations with radicals, the lunatic idea —  most recently promoted by the late Andrew Breitbart — being that ex-Weatherfolk Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn imparted to the eager Obama the left’s secret plan to take over the United States and put everyone in slave labor camps, have abortions and engage in unmentionable sexual practices.

Alas, the left never did have a plan – secret or overt — to take over the United States. Abortions and unmentionable sexual practices were a different matter.  Ayers’ and Dohrn’s actual role was obviously to help hook up the eager Obama with big Democratic Jewish money in Chicago, directing the attention of the latter to this well-mannered Harvard-educated black politician as someone to watch and assist.

The left never had a secret plan or much discipline. But the Mormons really do have secrets and a lot of discipline. Does Romney espouse Mormon doctrines about gays or not? About obedience to the Prophet or not? If not, then isn’t he a fake Mormon, without a shred of principle. Why should be believe him about anything? If yes, then where does that put his loyalties and priorities as someone hoping to be President of the United States and supposed upholder of the Constitution? (Of course Obama has shredded substantial portions of the Constitution without even the excuse of being a Mormon.)

What about Romney’s associations? He is no ordinary Mormon. By lineage, upbringing and personal decision he’s about as dedicated a Mormon as you can be – which is very dedicated indeed. I urge you to check out the piece by a former Mormon in our current newsletter, which delves into Mormon practices and points out that Romney attends a Mormon temple. Temples are only open to those members who adhere completely to the strict standards of Mormonism, including unwavering loyalty to the president of the church.

“The level of secretiveness surrounding the temples is extraordinary, so much so that members of the Mormon Church who have not been to the temple have virtually no idea as to what they entail…Before  Mormon are allowed to enter a temple, they must be interviewed by two separate tiers of ecclesiastical leadership to determine their worthiness to enter these edifices. These so-called temple recommend interviews are the first issue of concern regarding Mitt Romney. Among the various questions asked of a member, one particular question goes as follows: ‘Do you support, affiliate with, or agree with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?’ The very nature of this question, coupled with several others regarding complete obedience to the president of the church (or ‘prophet’), put into question the overall allegiance of Mitt Romney (and, indeed, all Mormons). If  members are found to be in violation of this question (or any other from the list of questions), they will not be allowed to enter the temple. Being blocked from entering the temple is tantamount to being blocked from Heaven, albeit temporarily (they can always repent).

“Among the various ‘ordinances’  performed in the temples, none are more divisive than the Law of Consecration. This rite requires members to pledge all their time, money, and abilities to the establishment of the kingdom of heaven on earth (the Mormon kingdom). Couple this with the demand to sustain the president of the church as the only prophet seer and revelator on earth, a particularly troubling form of absolute obedience emerges.”

Mormonism aside, Romney’s opportunism in junking previous positions when under conservative pressure has been unremitting. Take the single biggest issue in American politics today, the minimum wage.

If you adjust for inflation, median personal income in America  hasn’t moved for almost half a century. Nearly a quarter of US households have zero to negative net worth. It just takes one unlucky turn of the cards—an illness, an accident, a brush with the law—to put them under.

Even though the cost of living has gone up, the federal minimum wage hasn’t moved since 2009, when the last of a series of increases signed into law by George W. Bush kicked in. In 2011 dollars, the minimum wage was more than $10 in 1968, when jobs and pay were peaking for America’s workers.

The current minimum wage ranges between $7.25 and $8.67 per hour. Work a forty-hour week for $7.25 and you end up with $15,080 a year, just above the  $11,000 federal poverty line for an individual but well below the $22,000 for a family of four.

In November 2008 President-elect Obama promised to “raise the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2011 and index it to inflation to make sure that full-time workers can earn a living wage that allows them to raise their families and pay for basic needs such as food, transportation, and housing, things so many people take for granted.” It was a pledge to low-paid workers to give them a 30 percent pay hike. Of all Obama’s betrayals, this was one of the bitterest. He never really tried, skittish with fear that he’d be nailed by the Big Business lobbies and their creatures in Congress as an inflationeer.

If ever there was an issue on which Romney could get real traction with the blue-collar voters who liked Santorum it’s the minimum wage.  As Ron Unz, publisher of The American Conservative put it:

“these days a crucial component of the Republican electorate consists of working-class whites, often strongly religious ones, who tend to live in non-unionized low-wage states or otherwise generally subsist, sometimes with considerable difficulty, on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. Proposing a large wage increase  to a socially conservative evangelical Christian who works at Walmart and currently struggles to pay her bills would be the sort of simple, clear message that might easily cut through an enormous amount of ideological clutter. That was in The American Conservative.”

Informally  to me he adds,

“One of the more ridiculous aspects of the situation is that none of the rich banksters actually care about the minimum wage, and might not even have heard of it.  After all, none of their friends or employees are anywhere near MW territory.  None of their nannies earn WM. I even doubt that even any of their nannies’ nannies are paid anything like the current MW.   On the other side, if the MW wage were raised to something like $12/hour, lots of Americans would use some of the money to try to catch up on their delinquent credit-card bills, which would make most of the banksters pretty happy.  So they’d probably support a boost in the MW…except that the paid-ideologues in conservative DC thinktanks would warn them that it would totally wreck the American economy.” (As I’ve noted before, I count Unz as a friend, supportive of left ventures such as CounterPunch as well as of The American Conservative, whose tiller he took over in 2007.)

The left economist James K. Galbraith, picking up Unz’s suggestion of a hike to $12, writes:

 “What would workers do with the raise? They’d spend it, creating jobs for other workers. They’d pay down their mortgages and car loans, getting themselves out of debt. They’d pay more taxes — on sales and property, mostly — thereby relieving the fiscal crises of states and localities. … Women in particular would benefit because they tend to work for lower wages…Working families would have more time for community life, including politics; Because payroll- and income-tax revenues would rise, the federal deficit would come down. Social Security worries would fade.”

Romney was well positioned. In January of this year he said at a campaign event in New Hampshire that he favored raising the minimum wage automatically each year to keep pace with inflation. He could have built on this, just as Reagan did in his 1980 campaign with entirely factitious economic populism. But no. A couple of whacks from the Wall Street Journal and fears of being pilloried as a liberal saw Romney flop on the issue at the start of March. Now he wants the wage to stay at $7.25, with no indexing for inflation. In other words, he wants poor people to earn less every year.

In his first bid for the nomination in 2008 Romney’s foreign policy positions were relatively demure. This time he’s swerved into palaeolithic Cold War conservatism, rivaling McCain’s in 2008. Near the end of March he was bellowing that “Russia is America’s number 1 geopolitical foe.” He wants to keep troops in Afghanistan and bomb Iran – this last a predictable bow to the Israel lobby.

In February, president Obama trailed Romney in the top 12 swing states, 46 to 48 percent. Last week a USA Today/Gallup poll reported that in these same swing states a majority of registered voters now favor Obama by 9 points. According to the USA Today/Gallup pollsters the biggest change came from women younger than 50, where the president now leads Romney by 2–1.  Not long before the poll was taken, Romney, fending of attacks from Santorum, said he wants to get rid of Planned Parenthood and endorsed the Blunt amendment, which would have allowed employers to deny coverage of contraception on religious grounds.

Romney has beaten off all challengers, but now he sports all their most unalluring features. The Obama camp is not unhappy. Most progressives watch with complacency the suicidal Republicans heading over the cliff.  Let them step back and look at the desperation  of millions of Americans today. Will they stay loyal and inert right through to November?

Tumbril Time!

A  tumbril (n.)   a dung cart used for carrying manure, now associated with the transport of prisoners to the guillotine during the French Revolution.

The common view is that thousands of French aristos perished under the blade. Not true. Greer’s statistical study, The Incidence of the Terror During the French Revolution, published in 1935, shows that 666 nobles got the chop in Paris and another 1,543 in the rest of France. Compare that to the carnage after the French commune of 1871 when some 20,000 Communards were executed.

The best defense of the French revolution and its supposed excesses is surely that of Mark Twain in “A Connecticut Yankee”:

“There were two ‘Reigns of Terror’ if we would remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are all for the ‘horrors’ of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe, compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty and heart-break? What is swift death by lightning compared with death by slow fire at the stake? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror ? that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us have been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.”

Almost all the executions were performed by the public executioner,  Charles-Henri Sanson, the rest by his sons, one of whom – Gabriel – perished by slipping off the scaffold.

A slow week on the verbal front. “Has ‘infotainment’ been judged and sentenced yet?” asks John Sprey.  “I heard it used in a car ad the other day, something along the lines of ‘cutting edge infotainment system.’ Maybe ‘cutting edge’ could go too?”

Carol Fitzmaurice, in a hand-written denunciation,  calls on revolutionary justice for At the end of the day, and  Sort of, kind of.

Prosecutor Fouquier-Tinville has added the denunciations to his stack.

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Aside from the piece on Romney and the Mormons, this is a particularly rich issue. Sasan Fayazmanesh dissects Obama’s deadly dance around Armageddon in Iran, his “aggressive diplomacy”. Has it worked? Fayazmanesh: “The policy has managed to unite the Europeans behind the U.S.-imposed ”crippling” sanctions, which are destabilizing the Iranian economy and creating much hardship for the people of Iran.” Have the sanctions resulted in a complete collapse of the Iranian economy? Not yet. “In order to launch a successful strike, the economic conditions in Iran must become as dismal as in Iraq before it was invaded.”

Also:  The war on Gilad Atzmon… can one Jewish sax player be that bad? We asked Jean Bricmont to give us an answer:

“Gilad Atzmon is ‘anti-Semitic,’ he is ‘bad for the Palestinian cause,’ he may even ‘work for Israel.’ I must have a contrarian turn of mind, because that kind of talk never stopped me from regularly reading his blog (quite the opposite) with a mixture of fascination and amusement. It struck me that an Israeli Jew living in the U.K., a voluntary exile, who is accused of anti-Semitism, among others by pro-Palestinian Jews and Palestinian militants, and whose conferences draw protesting demonstrations from ‘anti-racist’ organizations, was at the very least an interesting curiosity….Atzmon’s themes, the politics of identity and memory, are at the very heart of our contemporary social debates. It ought to be possible to listen to a truly politically incorrect viewpoint on these issues, that of someone who defines himself as a ‘proud self-hating Jew.’”

Now subscribe and read on.

And also in this edition, the third of JoAnn Wypijewski’s wonderful  reports from the road: “The anatomy of hopelessness: Scenes from a West Virginia Middle School.” 

And lastly, hurry, hurry, hurry to buy your Dogs Against Romney buttons, as featured top right on our home page. Owner’s love and pride compel me to reveal that the whiskered visage on the button  is Jasper, prominent  and honored resident of the Cockburn home. Current best guess at the 75 lb Jasper’s genetic background is some sort of an Irish wolfhound/collie mix. I once sent off some of his saliva for a DNA test, and when Jasper espied “possible Boston terrier” in his supposed quarterings he sulked for weeks, though I have to say that business manager Becky Grant’s dog is a Boston terrier with somewhat kindred black and white markings, though of course fighting at a much lighter weight.

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Alexander Cockburn can be reached at alexandercockburn@asis.com