Waving From the Rooftops

If we have to use force, it is because we are America! We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall, and we see further into the future.”

— Madelaine Albright

“America is great because America is good.”

— Hillary Clinton

“Of course I wave the American flag, you know a better flag to wave?”

— John Wayne

One can find, without much effort, a laundry list of callous and sadistic comments and opinions from politicians in the U.S. and U.K. today. Opinions, though, that are ratified by many in society. The people who have voted for one or another of these ghouls. I will get back to that below.

In Ohio a heroin (and other opioids) epidemic, and attendant overdoses, has stretched the city budget because Paramedics respond and administer Narcan (Naxalone) to revive the patient. And Narcan is expensive. City Councilman Dan Pickard offered the solution of cutting off paramedic responses after two visits. In other words, let the OD victim die. Besides Pickard’s fundamental stupidity, the glaring question that goes unasked is why has the price of Naxalone tripled in the last year? Well, because there is a heroin epidemic, and an Oxycontin epidemic. That is capitalism.

One of the by products of the spike in Narcan usage (its even sold over the counter in some cities, without prescription) is a kind of Overdose-porn; cell phone videos of addicts passing out and in respiratory arrest being given Narcan and having those symptoms reversed. I see a reality TV show in the future. Of course Narcan also triggers severe withdrawl symptoms in anyone with an opioid addiction. I remember friends being given Narcan and immediately running out to find some junk to stop the pain. There is such an obvious disregard for addicts in this society that it almost feels pointless to repeat the same statistics yet again. The War on Drugs is much like The War on Terror. It is a business opportunity for western Capital.

Interestingly, 76% of Americans think addicts should be a medical problem and not a criminal one. However, compassion is NOT a business opportunity, ergo compassion is not part of the lexicon of the ruling class.

Meanwhile, the propaganda machine of the U.S. and U.K. governments is being ratcheted up regards global war and in particular Syria. Sean Spicer, White House spokesman, warned not just Assad but Iran and Russia, too, regards “another chemical attack”. *Another*? Later Nikki Haley repeated the same lies and some warnings and then tweeted them. The political age of the tweet is something to behold, I must say. However, Sy Hersh, the venerable journalist of My Lai and Abu Ghraib fame published a piece in Die Weltbecause he could find no U.S. publisher, outlining the absolute falsehoods of the alleged Assad Sarin gas attack at Khan Sheikhoun. Now Hersh has been accused in the past as being something of a ‘limited hang out’ safety valve journalist — meaning one who manages the most damaging material in a way to defuse political outrage. But even if that is true, and I am not sure it is, Hersh has great contacts in the military and throughout the corridors of power. And this is a superb bit of journalism. And in his three most famous articles, there has been almost no accusations of false information. So even if this might be pinned to the deep state takedown of Trump, the fact that these rather obvious lies against Assad were repeated ad nauseam by mainstream media is pretty stunning. One wonders why so little was ever revealed about Obama’s crimes, for example. I would love to know where the investigative article is that traces why Obama had U.S. military personnel in Riyadh helping organize if not outright plan the aggression against Yemen? Where is the investigative report on the U.S. relationship, of many decades, with the grotesque and sadistic Saudi Royal family?

There are literally millions of starving children in Yemen today, and millions more adults. And a serious outbreak of Cholera. And one can go back and listen to erstwhile progressive Bernie Sanders suggesting the Saudis ‘get their hands dirty’.

In the Hersh piece he quotes a senior Security Advisor….“There has been a hidden agenda all along. This is about trying to ultimately go after Iran.” Well, right. Trump has filled out his important security appointments with anti Iranian zealots like James Mattis. And its likely that Mattis is the guy calling the shots right now, in terms of military actions. And Mattis was the man behind the war crimes of Fallujah. Obama even recalled him for going off script regards Iran and running covert missions. In other words, Mattis is a full on psychopath. But I digress slightly.

The sadism of the state today reaches from city councils to the President. The recent Grenfell Tower fire in London looms as the single most pronounced example of Western government indifference to what is viewed as a surplus population. No such fires are possible in buildings in The City, or on Wall Street, or Beverly Hills for that matter, or any gated and protected enclave of privilege. Grenfell Tower is additionally significant for the extent and duration of the criminal indifference to safety standards and sub-code materials in that tower block. In fact those who tried to expose the lack of adequate fire escapes and the inferior cladding were threatened. Earlier fires like Laknal House where six peopled died including a mother and her six month old baby did nothing to spur reform. Southwark City Council pled guilty for Laknal, were fined a reduced figure of 270 thousand Pounds and nothing changed. Nothing changed, certainly, at Grenfall Tower. Psychopaths like Maggie Thatcher ushered in the era of Blair and Cameron and May and Boris Johnson — and such people, all of them, cannot hide their contempt for the poor and underclass. In the U.S. higher office is restricted to those from the ruling class or those who desire proximity to the ruling class. Obama was the latter, so was Reagan. Bush was the former. Trump is rich but not of the ruling class. And he is in reality sort of minor league rich. D-League rich. Thatcher was the latter, and even with her implacable pro-ruling class policies, she was also a usurper in the more calcified British class system. But it is hardly surprising that such people tacitly endorse the sadism of Flint Michigan, or cutting welfare benefits or food stamps, or the Imperialist wars bent on controlling the global disposable. That is, when they weren’t the ones creating such policy.

Under Obama, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, in answer to why 16 year old U.S. citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was killed by drone (along with several of his teenage friends) answered..he should have had “a more responsible father”.

Or Madelaine Albright’s noted remarks on 60 Minutes

“Lesley Stahl, speaking of US sanctions against Iraq: “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And – and you know, is the price worth it?”

Madeleine Albright: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.”

Or remember Barbara Bush post Hurrican Katrina…after visiting the site of devastation at the Superdome:

“Almost everyone I’ve talked to says, ‘We’re going to move to Houston.’ What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this, this is working very well for them.”

And it was the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that perhaps best exposed the basic contempt of the state and the 1% to the suffering of the poor. And more, the opportunistic plunder and violence of the state.

James Ridgeway:

“It started immediately after the storm and flood hit, when civilian aid was scarce—but private security forces already had boots on the ground. Some, like Blackwater (which has since redubbed itself Xe), were under federal contract, while a host of others answered to wealthy residents and businessmen who had departed well before Katrina and needed help protecting their property from the suffering masses left behind. According Jeremy Scahill’s reporting in The Nation, Blackwater set up an HQ in downtown New Orleans. Armed as they would be in Iraq, with automatic rifles, guns strapped to legs, and pockets overflowing with ammo, Blackwater contractors drove around in SUVs and unmarked cars with no license plates. { } The Blackwater operators described their mission in New Orleans as “securing neighborhoods,” as if they were talking about Sadr City. When National Guard troops descended on the city, the Army Times described their role as fighting “the insurgency in the city.” Brigadier Gen. Gary Jones, who commanded the Louisiana National Guard’s Joint Task Force, told the paper, “This place is going to look like Little Somalia.”

U.S. police departments routinely travel to Israel for training in counter-insurgency. The militarization of the police is not only found in the repurposing of military equipment but in the tactics and strategies of domestic police departments. In the ideology of law enforcement. Protect property, not people. And suppress the populations of poor neighborhoods, especially black neighborhoods. For the legacy of a slave owning country has never disappeared. Incidents like the Danziger Bridge shooting, after Katrina, are not isolated, and they express the basic sensibility of U.S. law enforcement.

How many videos are there now of extreme and gratuitous police violence against defenseless civilians?

Every crises serves as an opportunity for the redistribution of wealth. And increasingly crises are manufactured. The logic of neoliberalism has seen, as David Harvey put it, the transition from government to governance. Meaning the inclusion of non state actors or actors from civil society. Privatization in other words. What happened after Reagan and Thatcher took power has taken on the name ‘neoliberalism’. The key feature of which (out of many) is the more open role of social enforcement by the state, globally via the military and at home by the police. Social enforcement meant the protection of markets and Capital. And in many cases the creation of markets where none existed. The point here is that this enforcement has increasingly become pathologized — or rather the pathology has been intensified.

The pathology followed on from long standing class segregations and systemic racism. But in the U.S., even more than Great Britain, the cultural effects were melded with a growing Christian zealotry and the impact of a discarded public education system. I cannot think of any comparable historical situation, where so many with so little education, have held so much power. Donald Trump is, of course, the end game product. That said, even the ostensively educated in the political realm have followed the logic of cruelty in what ends up as the quest for global hegemony. Neoliberalism is, then, a logic that erases all but the bottom line, but a bottom line that must be protected from anyone not a member of the ruling class. And protected with absolute ruthlessness.

In the U.S. the ruling elite operated hand in hand with the defense industry and Pentagon, and the C.I.A.– A revolving door of appointments to the cabinet of the President and CEO’s of big corporations, mostly in defense, but also in various reconstruction firms (Halliburton, Bechtel, et al) cemented authority. The Christian fanatics were tolerated because they served the interests of big finance and their hybrid Ayn Randian fantasies. Alongside this was the unprecedented rise of the carceral system which was a response to social insecurity and not crime. It also conveniently reflected the still deeply embedded Puritanism of the American psyche.

Prison populations grew irrespective of crime statistics. The spike in the prison population is a response to the rise in unemployment, and a discipling of the lowest rung of the economic ladder and an enforcing of the acceptance of wage precarity for the working class overall. It also works together with domestic police to patrol the boundaries of affluence and to protect that affluence from the perceived threat of the underclass. There are gated communities now even if there are no gates. The creation of an offender class serves to manufacture recidivist numbers that are really the product of stripping away welfare benefits, housing restrictions and shortages, and food insecurity. All work in sync to protect the ruling one percent and the deserving managerial class and technological priest class. The elite service sector as it were. The remaining population is seen in ever starker terms as disposable and unwanted. And dangerous.

“The capitalist world stumbled towards neoliberalization
as the answer through a series of gyrations and chaotic experiments that really only converged as a new orthodoxy with the articulation of what became known as the ‘Washington Consensus’ in the 1990s. By then, both Clinton and Blair could easily have reversed Nixon’s earlier statement and simply said ‘We are all neoliberals now.’”

— David Harvey

And it was Bill Clinton who signed the crime bill had accelerated the boom in incarceration. The Democratic mask laid over neoliberalism has been singularly harmful. Clinton and Blair can be seen as the kind plantation owners, but who hurried the creation of institutional apparatuses meant to pacify dissent, and emphasized the ideology of individualism, exceptionalism, and personal responsibility. And of risk. Security ! The ethos was seen as protecting the deserving from the undeserving. It was the 1990s that really stamped indelibly the idea of blaming the victim. And with this came a growth in public spectacles of humiliation. Athletes caught using steroids — but nobody asks why pharmaceutical houses produce so many steroids, a product with actually very limited medical purposes. Or does anyone ask why athletes feel so compelled to win that even subjecting themselves to such dangers is brushed aside. It is the criminalization of poverty coupled to a new Victorianism, all in a landscape of surveillance and control. But against all this is the financialization of daily life. As Christian Mazzari observed, using the paradigmatic example of Ikea:

“Ikea, having delegated to the client a whole series of functions (individuation of the code of the desired item, locating the object, removal of shelves, loading it into the car, etc.), externalizes the labor of assembling the “Billy” bookshelf; that is, Ikea externalizes consistent fixed and variable costs that are now supported by the consumer with a minimal benefit in prices, but with large savings in terms of costs for the company…{ } The frontier of the innovation of the capitalist valorization process of the new economy is the marginalization of wage labor and the valorization of the ‘free labor’ of users, i.e., of a labor that is not paid and not supervised, but is nonetheless controlled.”

There is a connection between this hyper exploitation of even segments of the privileged class with the massive cruelty of the society overall.

“Quality of urban life has become a commodity, as has the city itself, in a world where consumerism, tourism, cultural and knowledge-based industries have become major aspects of the urban political economy. The postmodernist penchant for encouraging the formation of market niches—in both consumer habits and cultural forms—surrounds the contemporary urban experience with an aura of freedom of choice, provided you have the money. Shopping malls, multiplexes and box stores proliferate, as do fast-food and artisanal market-places. We now have, as urban sociologist Sharon Zukin puts it, ‘pacification by cappuccino’.{ } The defence of property values becomes of such paramount political interest that, as Mike Davis points out, the home-owner associations in the state of California become bastions of political reaction, if not of fragmented neighbourhood fascisms.”

— David Harvey

With Trump in office, and a cabinet of barely literate amateurs, the veil of legitimacy has been torn away. And the naked fetid barbarism of neoliberalism, of Capitalism, is exposed. And what is different about Trump, at least in appearances, is he doesn’t care, nor do his minions. And the problem is, I think (and maybe this can be laid at the feet of the eroded education system, too) the majority of Americans cannot *read* what is in front of them. Blaming Trump is easy and of course correct up to a point but failing to see that he is hardly unique is highly problematic. And it is likely that Trump and even Mattis are simply submitting to pressures of long entrenched forces in the system. Call it the deep state if you like, these boundaries are overlapping and vague at best. But in foreign policy one is seeing something not dissimilar from what could have been expected had Hillary won the election. Domestically this is the horror show born of several factors; the rise of the Christian right, the inheritance of a slave owning state and plantation economy, and five decades or so of marketing American exceptionalism and the spirit and values of a deeply inculcated fantasy of masculine rugged individualism. The reality is that Wall Street has enormous influence at levels of policy. And the extensions of Wall Street include think tanks and security organizations like the CIA, FBI, and NSA. John Kiriakou, former CIA agent and now whistleblower, wrote…“One of the things that most observers don’t understand is that the CIA will do anything – anything – to survive. All CIA officers are taught to lie. They lie all the time, about everything, to everybody.” And then just remember COINTELPRO when thinking of the FBI. Even the huge right wing oil money, or mega billionaires like the Koch Brothers are not really the shot callers here. For these forces, the ones one might call the Deep State, are global, and are internationalists. To forget the rabid anti-communism of the last sixty years will lead to simplistic analysis. The Koch boys are rubes, in the end. And the Silicon Valley billionaires are just scrubs. They have juice, but they don’t shape policy, not really. And remember too that there is theatre and there is reality. None of us on the outside really know what back channels conversations are taking place. When Qadaffi was brutally violated and murdered, on Hillary’s orders, it was sub contracted to some of those Wahabbi psychopaths on the CIA payroll. And they wanted noise. Qadaffi could just as easily been made to look as if he died of a heart attack. That was theatre. One of the absurdities of the Russia-Gate narrative is the idea that you could find ANY national politician without shady financial ties to foreign countries. That is why they spend so much to get elected. To make more once they ARE elected. The high end military establishment that is clustered around Gen. Petraeus are certainly close to operating independent of oversight. And the CIA has always done so. Both might tolerate that asshole in the White House and let him fire off a few Tomahawk missiles, but they won’t allow him any meaningful decisions. So either Trump learns to better obey or he’ll be gone. I think if he does obey he might well be reelected. But in a sense the deep state is more an ideological process, one entwined with Capital. Things change, and people change. Slowly, but the basic fascistic lust for control, for hegemony, is constant.

There is another factor here that colors all of this, in terms of foreign policy, and that is Israel. For Israel has over the last decade at least, lost control of their narrative. For the first time a majority of people are answering the old intended rhetorical question, does Israel have the right to exist…with a…well…maybe not. Israel is no longer perceived as the victim.

“In recent years Israel has been losing the Legitimacy War being waged by the Palestinians, what Israeli think tanks call ‘the delegitimation project,’ and these UN bashing and personal smears are the desperate moves of a defeated adversary in relation to the moral and legal dimensions of the Palestinian struggle for rights. In effect, the Israeli government and its support groups have given up almost all efforts to respond substantively, and concentrate their remaining ammunition on wounding messengers who bear witness and doing their best to weaken the authority and capabilities of the UN so as to discredit substantive initiatives; (2) while this pathetic spectacle sucks the oxygen from responses of righteous indignation, attention is diverted from the prolonged ordeal of suffering that has long been imposed on the Palestinian people as a result of Israel’s unlawful practices and policies, as well as its crimes against humanity, in the form of apartheid, collective punishment, ethnic cleansing, and many others.”

— Richard Falk


“Incapable of sustaining its founding myths, yet unable to offer an alternative, the Israeli government is now using coercive measures to respond to the budding movement: punishing those who insist on commemorating the ‘Nakba’, fining organizations that participate in such events and even perceiving as traitors any Jewish individuals and groups that deviate from its official thinking.”

— Ramzy Baroud

Israel’s biggest problem, really, has been their arrogance. Israeli leadership always thinks everyone else is stupid. And this has come back to haunt them today. U.S. plans for global hegemony dovetailed nicely with Israeli plans for the region. Divide up Arab states into small manageable client states, satellites, that are under the authority of Israel, either directly or indirectly. The goal of Israel was as a regional Imperial state, and this is exactly what the U.S. has desired, too, since, well, at least the 90s, but probably since the 1960s. Break up autonomous independent Arab states. And this touches on why Iran is so targeted today by the U.S. For Iran’s goal is Arab unity and a liberation from Western control. Remember the main U.S. ally in the region, after Israel, is Saudi Arabia. And the Saudis goal is the same, in the region, as the U.S. and that is to destroy Arab nationalism, and socialism. And the Saudis are deeply integrated with the U.S. economy. Still, as powerful as the Israeli lobby is, they still take orders, too. So do the Saudis. And the current confrontation with Qatar suggests more the goals of McMaster and Mattis, than even the unhinged 31 year old Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. For Salman, who is throwing money at the Trump family (and worth noting Trump’s failed business deals in Qatar circa 2010) is getting clearance from the U.S. (shades of April Glaspie?) From the war crimes of Yemen, to the humiliation of Qatar, one sees the real focus is Iran. For it is Iran that stands most independent of any state in the region, and like Syria, the one most committed to getting rid of foreign interference.

Back in the U.S. — from the vacant eyes of Paul Ryan, cruel and stupid, to the mean and resentful Jeff Sessions, and his invention, the Nosferatu stand-in Stephan Miller, to all those soldiers returned home after laughing as they shoot Iraqi or Libyan or Syrian civilians, to the countless police officers punching out guys in wheel chairs or hitting women or stomping on the heads of traffic offenders, the attitude is the same really. And the systemic racism that accounts for the unimaginable numbers of unarmed black men shot by law enforcement (see the acquittal of Brian T. Encinia). Humiliation, enforced with violence. It is the same as the dark emotionless sadism of Obama or the maniacal delusions of Hillary Clinton — all of it speaks to an absolute loss of human respect.

I’ve noticed that, often, one of the tell tale signs of those who grew up poor is that they polish their shoes. You wont find the rich with polished wing tips, unless on occasion they stop at a shoe shine stand. The rich tend to express this subtle contempt for things they know they can replace. Maybe its about respect. For the things you use, and then extrapolate that outward to respect for human life. For animal life. For nature. Capitalism basically nullifies the very idea of respect. Great wealth is not what anyone should really desire. It is a prison. A psychological one, and the engine for paranoia. Capitalism validates ownership. And ownership trumps {sic} humanity. Remember those images after Katrina. Cops and Private Security flying past desperate people on rooftops the better to quickly secure property and stop looting. Store inventories mattered more than human beings.

We are all on rooftops now. Waving. It may be time to accept they aren’t stopping to rescue us.

John Steppling is an original founding member of the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival, a two-time NEA recipient, Rockefeller Fellow in theatre, and PEN-West winner for playwriting. Plays produced in LA, NYC, SF, Louisville, and at universities across the US, as well in Warsaw, Lodz, Paris, London and Krakow. Taught screenwriting and curated the cinematheque for five years at the Polish National Film School in Lodz, Poland. A collection of plays, Sea of Cortez & Other Plays was published in 1999, and his book on aesthetics, Aesthetic Resistance and Dis-Interest was published by Mimesis International in 2016.