What is the American obsession with grandeur, a kind of stuffy pedigree that we thought we had outgrown?

In Obama’s Tuesday night address to the nation, Americans clapped and cheered and urged each other to believe that we could again achieve primacy in education, in manufacturing clean energy and automobiles. ” We will be first,” Obama said, “because we are the greatest nation on Earth.” Really? Is this really what we should be striving for? Instead of building healthy communities where everyone can feel a sense of purpose, well-being and opportunity; we are striving to be # 1 in the fields of technology, business, entrepreneurship, etc. I am not against hard work and living up to one’s highest potential. But isn’t this what got us into this mess in the first place? 

I love this imagery, despite the spelling mistake: “The Americans, the British are all raising huge amounts of capital and there is a giant sucking sound you can here (hear) going in that direction.” http://english.aljazeera.net/business/2009/03/20093965640468145.html

Filled with the need to be # 1 in their class, a bunch of hedge funders took risky bets and inflated the housing market. Meanwhile they bought mansions in the Hamptons for themselves and their wives bought $700 shoes. Filled with the need to be # 1 in the world, the US consumed 25% of the world’s resources despite having only 4% of its population. We gobbled up oil and consumer products until we hit peak oil and our deficit ballooned. Filled with the need to be # 1, we invaded Iraq and Afghanistan to prove that “terrorists” would pay for daring to attack us. 

I liked this quote, even though it is about US-Mexico trade relations. I think it illustrates some important points. 

Capital’s “creative destruction” has meant, among other things, that dynamic expansion has co-existed with social polarization—between capitalist and working classes; between core and peripheral states. US transnational interests dominate the US and the US dominates Latin America. Policymakers have little, if any, interest in debt relief, labor rights for workers, job retraining, or effective health, safety, and environmental standards. Trade agreements should, and could, contain such provisions. They will not so long as working classes remain subjectively divided—nationalistic, protectionistic, and xenophobic.


Maybe we just need to slow down. Instead of aiming ourselves at a steep and narrowly defined vision of success, we could learn to value other things, a more humane way of living. Instead of this arrogant posturing like a turkey ruffling its feathers, we need to realize our own absurdity and make choices that other nations have been making for decades. If we are not first in everything, the world will not end. Shocking, I know.

Continuing with this theme, this NYTimes article asks whether, in these dour economic times, it is better to spend or to save? I think the issue is not important. The real question is, are we going to let the government continue to bail out the banks, reinvest in science and technology and keep troops in Iraq and Afghanistan without engaging with and broadly reconsidering the economic and political philosophies that underpin them? 

The article worries about the waiters at fancy restaurants, the party planners and others who made their living catering to an elite used to elaborate celebration and indulgence. Don’t worry about them. They will adapt and find jobs with more dignity. We should not live “in sackcloth and ashes,” but we should reconsider just what is necessary to live well; friends, family, a sense of purpose, rather than tinsel and “sea trout fennel mousse.” 


Forced to Admit…

February 23, 2009


“The Obama administration should immediately suspend U.S. military aid to Israel,” Smart said.Much of the key equipment used by the IDF in the Gaza bombing campaign is produced in the United States, including the F-16 fighter and Apache AH-64 helicopter.

Many of the controversial weapons used in the campaign, such as white phosphorus shells and flechettes, also originate in the United States.


Even after the start of the current conflict and reports of serious violations of international humanitarian law by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in Gaza, U.S. authorities continued to authorize large shipments of U.S. munitions, including white phosphorus munitions, to Israel. 

Amnesty International researchers found fragments and components from munitions used by the Israeli Army — many U.S.-made — littering school playgrounds, in hospitals and in people’s homes. They included artillery and tank shells, mortar fins and remnants from Hellfire and other airborne missiles, large F-16 delivered bombs, and still-smoldering, highly incendiary white phosphorus remains.


According to Article 16 of the International Law Commission’s Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts, “A State which aids or assists another State in the commission of an internationally wrongful act by the latter is internationally responsible for doing so if: (a) that State does so with knowledge of the circumstances of the internationally wrongful act; and (b) the act would be internationally wrongful if committed by that State.”



Medea Benjamin, in this article for AlterNet, tells us that “Compassion, the greatest virtue in all major religions, is the basic human emotion prompted by the suffering of others, and it triggers a desire to alleviate that suffering.” After seeing the photo that accompanies this essay, after remembering the voices of the many, many apathetic, misguided or ideologically subservient members of the American Congress, the Israeli news network and our own president, I am not quite so sure. 

Visiting Gaza filled me with unbearable sadness. Unlike the primitive weapons of Hamas, the Israelis had so many sophisticated ways to murder, maim and destroy-unmanned drones, F-16s dropping “smart bombs” that miss, Apache helicopters launching missiles, tanks firing from the ground, ships shelling Gaza from the sea. So many horrific weapons stamped with Made in the USA. 



The line, “Who could describe, even in words set free? ” is from Dante’s The Inferno.

The Wheels of Justice…

February 20, 2009


This is so exciting! It seems that American public opinion is galvanizing support for the prosecution of members of the Bush administration for illegal wiretapping and use of torture in offshore detention centers. Support is coming from members of Congress and key figures in the Justice Department. Although Obama wants to push the investigations into his second term, the curiosity and anger of the public may not let him do so! 

Though the wheels of justice grind slowly, they grind exceeding small. One year from today, it is likely that a large number of the secret documents that form the backbone of Bush detention policy will be public and many of their authors will have been publicly interrogated about them. We will have a better sense of how torture crept into the American interrogations system and whose authority was invoked to ram it through in the face of legal hurdles once thought insurmountable.

Feb. 14th

February 18, 2009

Walid Jumblatt in interview:

“Because of the failure of the past president, George Bush. In Palestine – total failure – and now with the new realities on the ground – the Iranians here, the Persian Empire somewhere on the shores of the Mediterranean, in Gaza, in Lebanon, controlling Syria – well, Obama is going to have to engage them.

And also because of the total failure of Americans in the so-called nation building process in Afghanistan, the Iranians are going to be a key player everywhere and the Americans will have to abide by the new rules. “



Hariri Memorial Speeches:

“Parliamentary elections are fateful because they provide an opportunity to build a free state,” he said.

“Today we stand at the threshold of the international tribunal,” Hariri told the cheering crowd. “The hour of truth and justice has come and your voice will overcome that of the oppressors and we will know the truth.”


Hope, Change and Pessimism…

February 11, 2009



Egyptian writer Alaa Al-Aswany wrote this op-ed in the New York Times on Saturday:


His words, especially the lines,

” We had already begun to tune out. We were beginning to recognize how far the distance is between the great American values that Mr. Obama embodies, and what can actually be accomplished in a country where support for Israel seems to transcend human rights and international law.”

echo my own growing hesitance and disappointment with President Obama. Naturally skeptical by nature or perhaps by experience, I tried so hard to suspend my feelings of doubt in order to give this man, who embodied so many hopes and dreams of the American people, a fair chance. I didn’t forget that the Republicans, used to having things their own way, were not likely to disappear without a fight. Nor did I expect the change that he promised to appear overnight. But I did expect bolder gestures, a tougher stance on critics and a more forceful message of change.

Watching Barack Obama in last night’s Presidential News Conference, I felt like I was watching a man who, upon entering the machine, is about to become very bitter. It was hard for President Obama to conceal his frustration and exasperation with Republicans in the Senate who oppose relief for taxpayers when they are responsible for creating the economic mess that we are all in. But, while he expressed his frustration, he also came across as tired, long-winded, rambling and evasive. Trying to hard to be diplomatic, he ends up alienating everyone. As a friend told me, “Barack Obama is a nice guy in a world of not so nice guys.”

Perhaps this comes as a shock to Barack’s highly educated, liberal sensibilities, but no one likes the nice guy. Politics is a cutthroat game and the winners are those who can outmaneuver and intimidate others into going along with their agenda. As much as I wish we were not like this as a collective human race, this seems to be the way it is. If Barack Obama keeps hoping that the Republicans will eventually be won over by the superior moral and intellectual reasoning of his ideas, then he is in for a long, rude awakening. He needs to get tough, embrace real creative thinking and throw his moderate, temperate caution to the wind. 


A similar article appears here:


” I mean, Condoleeza Rice was black and poor, and she still invaded Iraq.”