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Into the Tumbrils With Them

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

First up: “sustainable.” It’s been at least a decade since this earnest word was drained of all energy, having become the prime unit of exchange in the argot of purposeful uplift. As the final indication of its degraded status, I found it in President Obama’s “signing statement” which accompanied the whisper of his pen, as on New Year’s Eve – a very quiet day when news editors were all asleep —  he signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2012 which handed $662  billion to the Pentagon and for good measure ratified by legal statute of the exposure of US citizens to arbitrary arrest without subsequent benefit of counsel, and to possible torture and imprisonment sine die, abolishing habeas corpus. Don’t bother ask what happens to non-US citizens.

As he set his name to this repugnant legislation the president issued a “signing statement” in which I came upon the following passage: “Over the last several years, my Administration has developed an effective, sustainable framework for the detention, interrogation and trial of suspected terrorists…”

So much for “sustainable.” Into the tumbrils with it.

Obama is against signing statements, at the theoretical level. In 2008 he said, “I taught the Constitution for ten years, I believe in the Constitution, and I will obey the Constitution of the United States. We’re not going to use signing statements as a way of doing an end run around Congress.” Whatever Obama may have taught, a signing statement, whether issued by Bush or Obama, doesn’t have the force of law. Obama’s December 31 signing statement was part of a diligent White House campaign to suggest that (a) there is nothing in the NDAA to perturb citizens, but (b) anything perturbing is entirely the fault of Congress, and (c) Obama solemnly swears that so long as he is president he’ll never OK anything bad, whatever the NDAA might be construed as authorizing, and anyway (d) there’s nothing new about the detention provisions because they merely reiterate those of the Authorization for Use of Military Force, signed by Bush in 2001.

Next up:  “iconic.” I trip over this golly-gee epithet thirty times a day. No warrant for its arrest is necessary, nor benefit of counsel or trial in a  US court. Off to the tumbrils, arm in arm with “narrative.” These days everyone has a narrative, a  earnest word originally recruited, I believe, by anthropologists. So we read “according to the Pentagon’s narrative…” Why not use some more energetic formulation, like, “According to the patent nonsense minted by the Pentagon’s press office…” ?  Suddenly we’re surrounded by “narratives,” all endowed with equal status. Into the tumbrils with it.

I think “parse” has almost run its course, though occasionally this shooting star of 2011 is to be spotted  panting along in some peloton of waffle from the Commentariat. Off with its head , along with “meme,” an exhausted little word that deserves the long dark rest of oblivion.

Back to janitors and the flailing Gingrich’s masterplan for youth. Doug Lummis writes from Okinawa:

“Alex,

You should know that the public schools in Japan do not hire janitors.  The kids do it, boys and girls, all of them.  Nobody gets paid for it, so it doesn’t have anything to do with rich or poor.  It’s just one of the things you do at school.  They dust and sweep, and wipe down the floors with damp rags, and clean the toilets.  I don’t know if it teaches a ‘work ethic’, but it teaches them some valuable skills, and it also teaches them that that kind of work is not ‘beneath them’, something only poor people do.  I suppose some of the kids dislike doing it, but a lot of them seem to enjoy it, and take pride in their skill at wielding the broom, or bending over and laying your wet cloth on the floor, putting your weight on it and running to the end of the hall, leaving a clean damp streak behind.  Of course this is utterly different from what Gingrich is proposing which, like the present US system of hiring adults to clean the children’s schools, is bound to teach that certain jobs are only for certain classes.  The Japanese system doesn’t produce and egalitarian society, but it does have a good educational effect.

“You might mention that I consider myself qualified to talk about janitoring because when I was in the fifth and sixth grades I was the janitor for the one-room Donner Trail Elementary School at Norden, California.  I was chosen not because we were the poorest family but because I was one of the few who didn’t have to take the school bus to get home. They gave me $20 a month, which in those days (1947-48) was very nice money for a kid to get.”

Next, from John Walsh’s letter to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now:

“I have a bone to pick about your coverage of Ron Paul and the five comments that appeared in his newsletter a generation ago.

“First, contrary to what you say, the rest of the MSM does publish the exact words of the statements – in fact they appear ad nauseam in semi-official publications like the NYT.

“Second, as you surely know, Paul has said he did not write those statements, did not read them or know of them at the time and DISAVOWS them.  You did not mention that.

“Third Ron Paul is against the death penalty and mandatory minimum sentences in part because they are racist – and he has said so.  You did not mention that.

“Fourth, the head of the NAACP in Austin who has known Ron Paul for 20 years says that the man can in no way be considered a racist.  You did not mention that.

“Fifth, in an interview with Bill Moyers Ron Paul specifically says that Libertarianism is incompatible with racism.  You do not mention that.

“I think you have a duty to tell the whole truth on the matter because a half truth is a full lie – as the saying goes.

“Finally I might ask which is more racist- bombing people of color all around the world as Obama has done, for example in the war on Libya for which your constant guest CIA ‘consultant’ Juan Cole was a cheerleader – or five statements written by someone else a generation ago which have now been repudiated by Paul?

“Have you forgotten that your program is subtitled the War and Peace Report?  My friends in NYC have taken to calling it HypocrisyNow!  I hope that soon it can reclaim its older tradition of principled and consistent anti-interventionism and report the full truth on antiwar candidates like Ron Paul, the only anti-imperialist and peace candidate in the race.

John V. Walsh, MD
Professor of Microbiology and Physiological Systems
University of Massachusetts Medical School.”

One question Paul  should be asked is whether or not the doctor believes, as Lew Rockwell (the imputed author of the memos, though he denies it)  and most other southern libertarians do, that plantation owners should have been compensated after the freeing of the slaves for their lost ‘property.’

The So-Called Newspaper of Record: Can’t They Get Anything Right?

Thanks to The Poke for that one.

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Alexander Cockburn can be reached at alexandercockburn@asis.com

 


More articles by:

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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