You Remember It, Don’t You? An Incredible, Hope-Filled Year

Hope is the fuel. Hope the feds will bail you out of your foreclosure, hope you’ll get a job, hope you don’t get sick and go bankrupt, hope your money manager didn’t give your trust fund to Mr Madoff. Bury 2008 and write its epitaph, “I question why I never questioned it. I believed it; it was an incredible, hope-filled story.”

This was the forlorn wail of the literary agent who bought the latest fake memoir to have embarrassed the publishing industry – the story of Herman Rosenblat who claims in Angel at the Fence that he met Roma Radzicky, his wife of 50 years when he was a kid in a Nazi German concentration camp. He says a little Polish girl fed him apples through the barbed wire and that they met on a blind date in New York in the Fifties and fell in love.

Funny thing is, Herman WAS in a concentration camp  and he did meet Roma on a blind date in New York. She had been a child in Germany, and had come to the States via Israel. They have been married for 50 years. So theirs is a truly a hope-filled story. But not hope-filled enough in today’s market. Not hope-filled enough for Berkley Books and Oprah. Some time in the 1990s  Herman, a retired tv repairman living in Miami, began to improve on reality, to the the fury of his and also Roma’s family who knew perfectly well what he was up to. He decided he met Roma through the wire of Schlieben, a subcamp of Buchenwald.  Berkley bought his book and Oprah had him on her show, twice. Investigators finally demolished Herman’s fantasy, saying the layout of the camp would have made it impossible for Roma to throw the apple that far. Herman, 79, has fallen back on the hope defense: “I wanted to bring happiness to people. I brought hope to a lot of people. My motivation was to make good in this world.”

Kenneth Waltzer, director of Jewish studies at Michigan State University, who investigated and exposed Herman and Roma’s fables, told Wyatt Mason of Harpers on the last day of 2008:

“Herman erased his own compelling story. His three older brothers took an oath never to part from him. They fed him in the camp and they lied about his age to protect him. Herman wrote his brothers out and substituted a fantasy tale about meeting a young girl at the fence. Roma, the compliant wife, erased her own compelling story. She was part of a family group from Krosniewice that survived–and few survived from that town–by dint of special cunning, forged documents, and luck. She also reconstructed her family as a family of four when there were five. The third sister, too young, too dark, to pass in hiding as a Polish Catholic, was, sadly, left behind.”

So Herman and Roma decided, in evening of their lives, to repackage their survival as  a love story of the death camps, “the single greatest love story… we’ve ever told on the air” Oprah Winfrey.)

As the late Raul Hilberg, great historian of the Nazi extermination of the European Jews wrote in his often acrid memoir, The Politics of Memory, published in 1996. “If counterfactual stories are frequent enough, kitsch is truly rampant… The philistines in my field are truly everywhere. I am surrounded by the commonplace, platitudes, and clichés….The first German publisher of a small volume, containing my introduction and documents about the railroads [viz. their role in the destruction of the Jews] inserted a poem for which, he said, he had paid good money, describing human beings in freight cars including children whose eyes glowed like coal… . The manipulation of history is a kind of spoilage and kitsch is debasement.”

Israel, Gaza and the U.S.

President-elect Obama is getting whacked by the left for declining comment on Israel’s onslaught on Gaza, but his prudent silence is just as discomfiting to the Israeli government and its allies here, in the United States. They wanted a ringing endorsement of their onslaught. There were also hints in their demeanor on television that Obama’s senior aides like David Axelrod were not overly delighted with Israel’s state propagandists for headlining Obama’s remarks on a visit to Israel in the summer that “If somebody shot rockets at my house where my two daughters were sleeping at night, I’d do everything in my power to stop them.”

On the campaign trail and, indeed, since he reached the U.S. Senate in 2005,  no politician was more sedulous that Barack Obama in ensuring that the Israel lobby here had no cause for disquiet. On arrival in Washington, he instantly selected Joe Lieberman, known informally as the senator from Israel, as his mentor. At the annual conference this last summer of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Obama drew criticism from across a broad political spectrum for his groveling.

“Israel should get whatever it wants and an undivided Jerusalem should be its capital,” Obama assured the American Jewish delegates, many of them influential Democrats from across the U.S. The next day, one of his foreign policy advisors hastily issued a clarification to the effect that Obama believes “Jerusalem is a final status issue, which means it has to be negotiated between the two parties” as part of “an agreement that they both can live with.” The aide refused to rule out such possibilities as Jerusalem also serving as the capital of a Palestinian state or Palestinian sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods.

So, is there any evidence that when he sits down in the Oval Office, Obama will try to set a new course?

It’s certainly true that the minute the new Obama administration made any move, however tentative, deemed “anti-Israel” by the massed legions of the Israel lobby – stretching from vice president Biden’s office, through Obama’s own Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to about 98 per cent of the U.S. Congress, the major newspapers and TV networks, the think tanks in Washington, the big Democratic Party funders – political mayhem would break loose. The White House would see its prime political enterprise, the  economic recovery program, immediately held hostage.

It’s also true that both Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have in the past evinced sympathy for Palestinian aspirations: the former was photographed with his wife Michelle in what was obviously an amiable meeting with the late Edward Said, America’s best known Palestinian, and Hillary Clinton publicly embraced Yasir Arafat. It seems safe to say that, unlike Bush Jr., neither Obama nor Mrs. Clinton have any rootedly ideological or religious commitment to the Zionist cause. Political self-preservation and advancement form  the  leaven in their loyalty to Israel and will remain predominant.

But if the power of the Isrel lobby , here in the U.S.A., is as obstructive   as ever to the formation of any equitable U.S. policy to address Palestinian aspirations the international situation does offer opportunity. Although ruthless and horrifying Israel’s onslaughts on Gaza are evidently an expression of weakness, in a quest for military credibility forced by the imminence of elections in Israel, just as Shimon Peres, in similarly dire straits, launched Operation “Grapes of Wrath” against Lebanon before an election (which his party lost) in 1996. Bombardment, as always, unites the population on the receiving end and rallies it around its political leaders, assuming they don’t run away.

In the end, Israel will stop the bombing and what will it achieve  beyond another exhibition of futile strategy, like the attack on Lebanon in 2006? The last time Israel had an effective military campaign that could be called a victory was 27 years ago, in the 1982 attack on Lebanon. Hamas has been greatly strengthened by the current attack and the status of President Abbas reaffirmed as a spineless collaborator with Israel,;Mubarak likewise; Syria and Turkey alienated from Western designs; Hezbollah and Iran vindicated by the world condemnation of Israel’s barbarous conduct. For months Israel besieged Gaza, starving its civilian inhabitants of essential supplies with no effective international reproach. It’s hard to take dramatic photographs of an empty medicine bottle, but  easy to film a bombed out girl’s dorm or a Palestinian mother weeping over the bodies of her five dead daughters, featured on the front page of the Washington Post this week.

Israel’s current  crop of leaders are second-raters, and conditions ripe for a forceful push from the U.S., assuming that the new administration has the requisite modicum of courage and ingenuity – a very, very long bet, as bitter experience for nearly forty years instructs us.

In the dying moments of his administration, Bill Clinton nearly brokered a deal between Barak government and Arafat. Hilary Clinton certainly knows that the story of Arafat walking away from “the best possible deal” is a myth fostered by Israel and that it was Barak, facing elections who collapsed the deal at the Taba summit. Everybody knows what the contours of a settlement should be. Olmert, on his way out, put it flatly in his famous October interview in Yediot Aharonot:  “We must reach an agreement with the Palestinians, the essence of which is that we shall actually withdraw from almost all the territories, if not from all the territories … Anyone who wants to keep all the territory of [Jerusalem] will have to put 270,000 Arabs behind fences within sovereign Israel. That won’t work.”

In that same interview Olmert said of his previous 30 years as a politician, apropos the Palestinian question, “I was not ready to look into all the depths of reality.” Will  Obama and Clinton confront reality? America’s changing and weakening circumstances prompt them to do so. If Obama wants to be judged as anything more than a partisan of the Israel  lobby, he will have to make the attempt. That said, no one who has followed US policy in the Middle East with any attention since the Six Day War in 1967  should discard profound pessimism as the anchor for all assessments.

For those who want to get a taste of Hamas’ outlook, where better to turn than to the interview in our latest newsletter with Hamas’s leader, the Damascus-based Khaled Meshal. Last May CounterPuncher Alya Rea and   yours truly were among a party of Americans sitting down with Meshal and some aides in a house in the suburbs of Damascus. Meshal himself is an alert and humorous man who looks to be in his early 50s, born in a village not far from Ramallah. He was trained as a physicist, has visited the U.S. a number of times and speaks good English.

In  this same bumper edition subscribers get  the definitive rundown from the grerat Indian journalist P.Sainath on a prolonged spasm of terrorism which has probably claimed in total well over 200,000 lives. I refer to the neoliberal onslaught on Indian farmers which drove  some 17,000 farmers to suicide last year alone, many of them not too far from Mumbai. In this instance the sponsors of terror are not to be found in Pakistan but in economics departments in Chicago, Harvard and Yale and the headquarters of the World Bank.

Talking of academe you’ll also find in the newsletter gratifying testimony to the vile conduct of Harvard Law School during the McCarthy witch-hunts as the School tried to force famed attorney Jonathan Lubell and his twin brother David to Name Names. Finally, in the newsletter There’s an excellent probe by Steve Higgs into the possible environmental causes of autism and a homage by yours truly to the late great English environmental writer Roger Deakin. Subscribe Now!

So let’s turn now to politics as kitsch, and the campaign year just concluded, with hope’s (and Oprah’s) candidate triumphant.

January 1

It’s time to take stock of the landscape.  The American political system, as conditioned by corporate cash, legal obstructions to independent candidacies, the corporate press,  is designed to eliminate any substantive threat to business as usual. In the case of the Democrats, the winnowing process is working well.  Mike Gravel, by far the most vivacious and radical of the party’s candidates on substantive matter of the war and empire, was swiftly  marginalized. I’ve seen very few Gravel buttons.

Dennis Kucinich seemss to have a lock on those Democrats prepared to say true to a hopeless outsider. I don’t understand this loyalty to the Ohio congressman. The point of hopeless outsiders is to give us hope. It’s a dialectical thing. They convince us that their cause is not hopeless, is worth fighting Kucinich gives me no hope. He has barely shouldered his way into single digits.  His signs and buttons and tickers already look as though they’re collectibles on e-bay.

The three major Democratic contenders for the nomination are all unalluring. John Edwards is offering us a populist package, with homilies on fair trade, gaps between rich and poor, corporate greed and so forth. Decent people including many labor organizers are working for him. I don’t believe a word he says. His substantive record on war and empire is bad. He has poor judgement. Why spend $400 to have a hairdo that makes you look like a slick lawyer with a fancy haircut?

Barack Obama?  I can’t remember a single substantive statement he’s made. In terms of political philosophy and pragmatic intention his platform is like the Anglican clergyman’s answer, when asked for his conception of God: an oblong blur. When pressed, Obama’s positions on war and empire are usually very bad.

January 3

Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign is now fighting for its life after a shattering defeat last night in Iowa at the hands of the black senator from Illinois, Barack Obama. Also on life support is the candidacy of the Mormon Mitt Romney, trounced in Iowa’s Republican caucuses by Mike Huckabee, the folksy and decidedly Christian former governor of Arkansas.

Confounding all expert predictions, the turnout on the Democratic side doubled from 2004 and Obama can fairly claim he was the reason. His vague calls for change held huge allure for Democrats and independents in every age group, except among women over 65 who stayed true to Mrs Clinton.

Obama won in the cities and in rural counties. Among young people Hillary won 11 per cent of college voters. Obama won 60 per cent. Young people simply didn’t care for Hillary. In their cohort, Hillary’s ‘likeability’ scored a desolate 17 per cent.

The parlor wisdom in the press has been that the war in Iraq is no longer an issue. It turned out that the three main issues on voters’ minds were, in descending order, the war, the economy and health care. Obama led in all three.

For the party establishments – Democratic and Republican – it was a bad night, as their favoured candidates went down to severe defeat.

The Clintons’ calculation had been that Obama would never be able to match their fund-raising. Wrong. Obama raised huge sums from small-sum contributors, who can continue their support. A lot of Hillary’s big financial backers have already reached their legal limits.

Mrs Clinton had the big feminist organizations in her corner and a good chunk of organized labor. They didn’t deliver, any more than the Democratic machine supervised by campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe and super-pollster Mark Penn. They thought they could sink Obama withDecember’s slurs about drug use, Islamic heritage and color. The slurs backfired.

On the Republican side Mike Huckabee sank the hopes of Mitt Romney and the Republican establishment in part because of his version of economic populism, far more persuasive than that of the Democrat John Edwards, whose run now seems doomed.

Ron Paul scored 10 per cent, a respectable performance for an anti-war candidate running in a pro-war party. The Iowa results have brightened the landscape by overturning the official apple cart.

January 8

The women of New Hampshire saved her. Hillary Clinton, confounding premature expectations of her political demise, won the Democratic primary by a narrow two per cent, 39-37. The prime reasons for her victory over Barack Obama were a) women and b) the lower profile in New Hampshire of the war in Iraq.

In New Hampshire, Hillary got 47 per cent of the women’s vote, 34 per cent going for Obama. The Clintons learned, how to calibrate an assault on Obama. That was Bill Clinton’s role. His carefully prepared outburst the day before the primary, assailing Obama for lies and malicious slanders on his own character, was an eerie reprise of his furious outbursts during the Lewinsky affair.

As in Jacobean tragedies, the time is coming for the stage hands to haul the dead and dying off the stage. Gone: Fred Thompson (one per cent of the vote in New Hampshire, after an incredible amount of press); Mike Gravel, 396 votes; Dennis Kucinich, 3,800 votes, the same number of UFOs Shirley MacLaine sees on a clear night; Bill Richardson, 12,845 votes, or five per cent.

Giuliani? It doesn’t look good for him. This is the north-east, his quarter of the Homeland.

January 11

On January 10 Moody’s, in concert with the other main bond-rating firm, Standard and Poor’s, gave the United States its top AAA credit rating. The terrorist blackmail threat came in the form of a demand by Moody’s that the US government “reform” Social Security and Medicare. “In the very long term, the rating could come under pressure if reform of Medicare and Social Security is not carried out as these two programs are the largest threats to the long-term financial health of the United States and to the government’s Aaa rating.”

Today, the world’s credit system is strained to bursting point by such financial scams as CDOs (collateralized debt obligations) which are bundles of debt instruments, ranging from junk bonds through subprime mortgages. Moody’s and the other rating agencies have played a crucial role in putting the CDOs together in the first place.

If Moody’s is going to present itself as a major political player presuming to dictate national policy down the barrel of a financial gun, its executives and analysts should be hauled into the star chamber. Let’s have a rendition of these Moody’s executives before a special investigative committee of Congress with full subpoena power. Ask them to explain their own role in causing the financial upheavals afflicting the planet right now, due to the collapse of the housing bubble and its impact on the home mortgage market.

January 21

He’s a smart fellow and so Barack Obama surely knew what was in store for him if he ever looked like taking the Democratic nomination away from Hillary Clinton.

Obama’s charmed life came to an end with his Iowa caucus victory. In New Hampshire, Hillary’s campaign manager Billy Shaheen warmed up voters by reminding them Obama was unelectable because of his past “drug use” as a pot-smoker and a cokehead. Hillary snarled that whereas the black Martin Luther King was a merchant of dreams it took a white president, Lyndon Johnson, to get the Civil Rights bill through Congress. Andrew Cuomo, a prominent New York Democrat, said he was tired of Obama’s “shuck and jive”.

Bob Johnson, America’s first black billionaire and a big Hillary supporter, stood next to Hillary on a campaign platform in South Carolina and said the Clintons had been fighting for black justice while young Obama was still “doing something in the neighbourhood” ie doing drugs behind the schoolyard fence.

Racial decorum is paper-thin in America, and already the gloves are halfway off. Obama’s home preacher and spiritual counselor, Jeremiah Wright, told a huge and applauding congregation in his church in Chicago that “some argue that blacks should vote for Clinton because her husband was good to us. That’s not true! He did the same thing to us that he did to Monica Lewinsky.”

Now Clinton and Obama are locked in a desperate struggle for the South Carolina vote on January 26.  It won’t be long before the Clinton campaign circulates some of Rev Wright’s sermons linking Zionism with racism. Already they’re trying to link Wright’s church to the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Jackson can predict accurately to Obama what will happen next and those speeches praising Senator Lieberman won’t help.

January 31

McCain’s victory in Florida on Tuesday is a measure of the terrible shape the Republican Party now finds itself in. They have a front-runner that no faction in the party really likes. He’s old, short, bald, with a history of serious skin cancer and a record of psychological instability. He is favor of a war deeply disliked by about 70 per cent of all Americans and has publicly proclaimed that the U.S. may well be in Iraq for a hundred years. With the country is poised on the lip of recession he calls for budget cuts. In Michigan he told distraught auto workers, – many of them “Reagan Democrats”, that their jobs were never coming back. In Florida he said he didn’t know much about economics but that Social Security would have to be fixed – i.e. privatized. Over half the people voting in Florida’s Republican primary were over 60 and the Arizona senator’s blithe endorsement of privatization would have scarcely been encouraging as they read the slumping bottom lines on their private 401K retirement accounts.

February 1

Politics offer many sagas of lowness acting in the service of decent achievement. Richard Nixon was a low character but presided over the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and passage in 1973 of the Endangered Species Act, the single most significant piece of legislation in American environmental history. Bill and Hillary professed noble intentions endlessly. Page upon page in Sally Bedell Smith’s book, For the Love of Politics,  even amidst scandal and impeachment, has them raptly discussing constructive “public policy.” If mere information was the key to political success, the Clintons would have rivaled FDR and Eleanor.

Bill Clinton had “typically had a half-dozen books going at any one time.” His briefing primers “ran more than one hundred pages.” He “liked to devour the Department of Agriculture’s acreage-planted reports.” But the gabfests went round and round in circles because very early in Little Rock, Arkansas, Bill and Hillary had also learned conclusively that a hundred worthy position papers, each a thousand pages long, weigh less in the balance of forces than a single phone call from the CEO of Georgia Pacific or Tyson Chicken or Wal-Mart.

The book echoes with the stunned gasps of astounded friends, long-term political supporters and lovers, as the Clintons’ knives sank between their shoulder blades. The most vivid of Bedell Smith’s pages portray a man operating well beyond the norms of rational or civilized behavior. His Georgetown professor had told him great men could do without sleep, and so he tried to get by on four hours a night. His eyes would glaze in important meetings. Jolted awake, he would abuse his subordinates in endless, profanity-laden tirades.

“Some aides,” Bedell Smith writes, “thought his eruptions were pathological … Years later, Bill explained that he was able to live ‘parallel lives,’ which he described as ‘an external life that takes its natural course and an internal life where the secrets are hidden.’ He traced his identity as a ‘secret keeper’ to his troubled upbringing, when he hid the chaos of his household behind a sunny persona. He had difficulty, he said, ‘letting anyone into the deepest recesses of my internal life. It was dark down there. He admitted that over the years his own anger ‘had grown deeper and stronger.’”

As president, he kept everyone waiting, including a group of elderly concentration camp survivors huddled for two and a half hours in a tent during a rainstorm until they finally left. Terrified of open conflict and desperate for approval, he drove his staff mad by vacillation in reaching any decision, followed by abrupt switches in direction.

February 10

At the end of last week, Ann Coulter, the Saxon Klaxon, announced that if McCain gets the nomination she would not only “vote for” Hillary, she would “campaign for her if it’s McCain” because  Clinton “is more conservative than he is”.

On Super Tuesday the dirigible of drivel himself, Rush  Limbaugh, told his vast radio audience: “If I believe the country will suffer with either Hillary, Obama or McCain, I would just as soon the Democrats take the hit rather than a Republican causing the debacle. And I would prefer not to have conservative Republicans in the Congress paralyzed by having to support, out of party loyalty, a Republican president who is not conservative.”

February 14

Hillary Clinton’s biggest mistake was not divorcing Bill in 2001 and then pressing forward into the presidential campaign as Senator Hillary Rodham, He’s a millstone and the campaign thus far has exploded the claim that Bill Clinton is still magic as a vote winner. Many Democratic party regulars have very hard feelings about him. Clinton was not good for the Democratic Party when he was in the White House. As Barack Obama pointed out in a speech in Virginia Beach, “Keep in mind, we had Bill Clinton as president when, in ’94, we lost the House, we lost the Senate, we lost governorships, we lost state houses.”

On top of that Bill Clinton infuriated blacks in South Carolina by mildly race-baiting Obama. Clinton’s little slaps, designed to ghettoize Obama, produced huge black majorities for the purveyor of Change and angered many white liberals too.

Hillary as divorcee would have had real panache, a woman high-stepping into freedom on the ashes of her past, like Eva Peron. As things stand she can’t even offer Obama a deal whereby she’ll accept the vice presidency. Who would want Bill scampering in and out of the Old Executive Office Building, ogling the interns.

But if Hillary’s in bad trouble, the Hillary-haters are in even worse shape. The conservative movement is finished. Rush Limbaugh, is flaming out, like the zeppelin Hindenberg. For years now the liberals have loved to tremble at Limbaugh’s malignant powers. But it turns out Rush couldn’t get a dog-catcher elected. For months he’s urged the dittoheads to rally to a true conservative. He’s worn himself hoarse denouncing McCain as a traitor to the cause. With each daily dose of raillery from Limbaugh McCain’s cause flourished.

The prophets are discredited because their cause has failed. The conservative movement has splintered, victim of lethal saber slashes from the neocons, who plunged the country into an unpopular and hopeless war; from George Bush, who rewarded the conservatives with the No Child Left Behind Act and the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit, both of which could have been put forward by Bill and Hillary Clinton.

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Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.