Monday, January 10, 2011

The shootings in Arizona

The dissipation of the rule of law – the emergence of a police state – is, for a time, a gradual process. Cheney tortured “others.” The absence of habeas corpus at Guantanamo is someone else’s problem. Surely, as Martin Niemoller’s famous poem suggests, “they will not come for me…”

But then things change.

Gabrielle Giffords is an ordinary Democrat from Arizona, She is not a national leader, a Jack or Robert Kennedy, a Martin King or Malcolm X, As Alan Grayson’s lovely and shocked letter about her reveals, she is a charming person, a good colleague, someone who tries to meet with her constituents even outside Safeway, someone each of us would be grateful to know, someone to whom (and to whose friends and family) one’s heart goes out. She has miraculously survived so far though with enduring injuries.

The 9 year old girl who wanted to learn about American government, the 76 year old church volunteer, the federal judge, the aide to Giffords, and two other elderly women have not. They are each of us.

Here is a dark, anti-democratic message. Representatives must stay away from, not organize public gatherings if they want to live. Citizens, except the most dedicated, must not be in the vicinity of potential targets.

Now, elections require running. It is just the very limited democratic hearing of the voices of constituents which this slaughter limits. And even electioneering, weak democratically as it is, will be truncated (heavy security). As it stood last week, most of the scenes and candidates are highly scripted and fearful and elliptical; it was Obama’s stepping out, for example on the issue of race, which made him an unusual, memorable candidate… Now there will be less.

Giffords was “targeted” by Sarah Palin. If one wants to understand the sheer murderousness of the American Right, this shooting should be an emblem. The Republican Party in America is not conservative. It is authoritarian (“commander in chief” power), imperial, and inspiring of mass fascism (Palin, Loughner bullet-spraying at someone he generically hates – perhaps for a very modest, in many respects pro-insurance company health care reform – knowing nothing…).

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik yesterday spoe the truth. Arizona is the “capital of the anger, the hatred and the bigotry that goes on in this country.” Talking with Amy Goodman this morning, he explored the brokenness and danger of the “mainstream,” corporate political culture:

“Well, I think that there are a lot of people in the radio industry, especially, and some in the TV industry, who make millions of dollars off of inflaming the public, purveying hate against the government, and distrust. And in some cases, we have political candidates who say, `Maybe if we can’t solve these problems, we need to consider the Second Amendment as a solution,’ or we have high-profile people saying, ‘People like Gabrielle Giffords, we need to keep in the crosshairs.’ And in my judgment, these kinds of statements are totally irresponsible, and there are consequences associated with them.”

Some people, even in authority, understand that American politics has crossed a line. We all need to learn from Dupnik and fight this. But unsurprisingly, Arizona Senator Jon Kyl said Dupnik shouldn’t have spoken. Political murder should not interfere with tourism…

This dangeous atmosphere has been consciously developed in Arizona (it is linked to extreme laws concerning racial profiling, gun control and now the outlawing of ethnic studies by the legislature on college campuses). Both Giffords' and Congressman Raul Grijalva’s offices were vandalized, and a gun fell out of an attendee’s coat at another of Giffords’ public gatherings. The campaign against her by Tea Party candidate and reactionary Iraq aggression vet Jesse Kelly followed the rhetoric of Palin:

“AMY GOODMAN: And Gabby Giffords saying to Congressmember Moran, "it’s really bad out there, particularly in a district like [hers]," she said, very much troubled that Sarah Palin had put her in the crosshairs. But also her opponent, the Tea Party-backed Jesse Kelly, who had this remarkable invite to a campaign rally, talking about targeting and ultimately saying… "Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly."

"REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: We commiserated after the election, and occasionally during the election, about the campaigns that we were going through—hers tougher than mine, but nevertheless very, very tough campaigns for both of us—and having to endure this for that whole period of time. But we need to be accessible. And I think that was Gabby’s point. She needed to do what she does in serving her district. And we all pray that she continues to do that. But yeah, the rhetoric was part and parcel of this last campaign, and the vilification of other people, the hatred. And they all—everybody bears a significant responsibility for the tone of politics in this country. And more so the people who incite.”

The Israeli papers, though not the American, note that Giffords is Jewish. One should notice the extreme current of anti-semitism toward some Jews, anti-racist or egalitarian ones, by the same people who lionize reactionary politics in Israel and here. Sarah Palin was “discovered” by Bill Kristol, a secular Jew, who pressed her on John McCain. Palin is supposedly an Israeli zealot (wants to bomb Iran…). Yet she also speaks to a “real America,” a supposedly rural America, which is that of the fascism of the 1930s, and does not include urban Jews or blacks or chicanoes or urban whites or most rural people. Palin “took aim” at Giffords. The politics of reactionary supporters of Israel like Kristol but much more broadly, denouncing any jew who notices that Palestinians are human – prophetic Jews, I might say, who with Amos speak the truth - as “a traitor to the jews” fits in with, draws strength from this old-style anti-semitism (there are non-people, those who have the wrong views, the wrong being...). The reactionary atmosphere that has been building is powerful; it is not just some deranged and dangerous individual…

There are roughly three broad political tasks in this country for those who want to make it more decent. 1) There is the effort to forge a peaceful and egalitarian society. This is not and will not be, short of a major movement from below, a center of mainstream politics, but as Martin Luther King, John Brown and many others have shown, it is a real American possibility. 2) There is the need to have a green economy, to reengage productive manufacturing, provide jobs, and limit global warming – this was a promise of Obama’s election, which at the moment is weakened but still possible, 3) there is fighting the strong tendency for a police state to emerge, led by Bush but furthered by Obama as well. Obama leaves the blueprint of torture – he abandons the rule of law for official torturers and “looks to the future” - and state secrets and indefinite detention and spying on citizens to be developed by future tyrants, even though it is only the last three that he is refining himself.

For the past 10 years, I have devoted myself to fighting the development of a police state which, unless stopped, will make the first two possibilities a fantasy and probably lead, in the foreseeable future, to human extinction (Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, the Nobel Prize winning physicist, testified before Congress that as it stands, that is without serious effort to curb global warming, California will be a desert – no longer produce agriculturally – by the year 2050…And this dovetails with the destruction wrought by so many wars, even under Obama….). It is not clear to me that the third possibility – the police state - can be headed off without doing something much sharper to further the first two courses of action. Nonetheless, it is a new stage in the emergence of fascism that the Palin and Kelly “targeting,” the Lauchner bullet-spraying slaughter marks. And there is only a limited time to prevent this from becoming much worse.

Israel and America have long been locked in a death dance. My friend Hilary Putnam is teaching in Tel Aviv. He sent me a story from Haaretz two days ago of Israeli intellectuals standing up courageously against the fascism of the Netanyahu government (see below). The Knesset has set up a committee to “investigate” human rights groups. One might call it the committee of Jared Loughners. Those who are concerned about murder and war crimes must today be persecuted in Israel because the regime, in illegally holding the occupied territories, brutalizing Palestinians, and trying to win security by belligerence (making ordinary Israelis more and more insecure), commits these crimes. The Knesset competes with the Arizona state legislature. Soon, it will be officially forbidden in Israel to use one’s eyes…

Those who speak out and act against fascism, here and in Israel, are doing the right thing. And many more ordinary Israelis and Americans see the truth and could act on it…Some time ago, Francis Fukuyama wrote a fairly silly piece about the “end of history,” the triumph of free markets, and as an afterthought, parliamentary regimes. But comparatively unrestricted markets lead, as America shows, to vast inequalities and financial collapse. And democracy is frail.

In Europe, which is currently a more decent place, the financial crisis has also strengthened the rich at the expense of everyone else. There are huge demonstrations from below in Greece, Spain, France and England, of workers and students fighting cutbacks and a two year delay in the retirement age (in Spain, Prime Minister Zapatero just announced this week an agreement with the Partido Popular to push that age back to 67). If we work together, at home and internationally, we could get something much better. But as America and Israel show today – before our eyes - we could also see an eclipse of democracy and the rule of law. Everything is not as before...As we mourn those who are injured and lost, these possible futures are something to take in deeply.

Haaretz, January 9, 2011
Israeli intellectuals decry Knesset plan to investigate Leftist groups

In letter sent to all Knesset members, signatories say investigation of citizens by elected officials signals the end of democracy.

By Jonathan Lis

A group of Israeli intellectuals has sent a letter to all Knesset members decrying the intent to establish a parliamentary committee of inquiry into Israeli human rights groups.

Knesset session, May 3, 2010

Photo by: Archive [the photograph did not repoduce]
The group includes a number of Israel Prize laureates, among them professors Yehuda Bauer, Chaim Adler, Yermiyahu Yovel and Micha Ullman, Shulamit Aloni, David Tartakover, Danny Karavan and Ram Loevy. Signatories also include Prof. Haim Ben-Shahar, Prof. Yaron Ezrahi, the painter Yair Garboz, Prof. David Harel and authors Ronit Matalon, Sami Michael, Yehoshua Sobol, Sefi Rachlevsky and Yoram Kaniuk.

"Last week, the Knesset raised its hand against democracy in Israel," the letter states, adding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had encouraged the initiative by imposing faction discipline on the vote.

"He, and each of the 41 MKs [members of the Knesset] who voted for the establishment of a political committee to hunt the human rights organizations, will be remembered as being the ones who attempted to smash what is left of democracy in Israel and impose a fascist regime. What is worse, only 17 MKs bothered to try to stop the destruction. Each and every MK who did not find time to oppose the initiative to end democracy in Israel bears personal responsibility for the disaster. A black flag now flies above the legislature in Israel."

The letter also states that in a democracy citizens are sovereign, and the task of elected officials is to supervise the work of the government. "When elected officials, even led by the prime minister, seek to investigate citizens, democracy ends," the document said.

The letter ends by saying that if the committee is established, "the government in Israel will lose the last of its legitimacy. All its activities, its laws and its demands of its citizens will be patently illegal. Thus, the obligation of citizens in a democracy to respect its laws will be fundamentally undermined."

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