It’s Us, Too

Roger Ailes’s objections notwithstanding — I’ll come back to them in a minute — David Ignatius’s column in today’s Washington Post comes close to saying the same thing I said in the “Patriotism v. Paranoia” post below. I wrote,

In the past century or so our species, worldwide, has undergone some seismic social shifts. People no longer remain neatly sorted by skin color, language, and cultural history. All over the globe people of diverse ethnic and social backgrounds are having to learn to live together. Once upon a time “foreign” places were far, far away. But air travel has brought them closer in terms of travel time; now every foreign place on the globe is just over the horizon. Soon foreigners will be sitting in our laps.

I think nationalism arose and became dominant in the 20th century largely because of these seismic social shifts. People who can’t handle the shifts retreat into nationalism as a defense.

Ignatius describes what he calls the “connectedness to conflict” paradox, which says that more “connected” people become, the more conflicts seem to arise.

… as elites around the world become more connected with the global economy, they become more disconnected from their own cultures and political systems. The local elites “lose touch with what’s going on around them,” opening up a vacuum that is filled by religious parties and sectarian groups, Sidawi contends. The modernizers think they are plugging their nations into the global economy, but what’s also happening is that they are unplugging themselves politically at home.

In his column Ignatius quotes Francis Fukuyama and a couple of over over-educated ivory-tower types as they try to figure out why it is that the Middle East is in such turmoil because of its contacts with the West. And that’s the problem; these guys are all westerners trying to figure out what’s wrong with Middle Easterners and not noticing that a variation of the same thing is going on right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A., not to mention Europe and other western-type spots.

If by “elites” you substitute “people who aren’t afraid of other cultures and of social and cultural change” I think you get a clearer picture. I don’t think the not-afraid people are necessarily “elites.” Some of the most retrenched nationalists are wealthy, well-educated and well-connected. What they’re not, is modern.

And in a kind of double-paradox, many people who are working hard at “plugging their nations into the global economy” are some of the same people who exploit local nationalistic and xenophobic feelings to stay in political power. Think Republicans Party.

Ignatius, Fukuyama, et al. scratch their heads over democracy and alienation, and of “elites” becoming “disconnected” with their own cultures, and write up a lot of verbose papers expressing highfalutin’ theories. Look, guys, this isn’t difficult. People are afraid of change. They are especially afraid of change that seems to threaten their autonomy and self-identity. And if they think this change is being imported by odd-colored people with exotic accents, don’t expect ’em to roll out the welcome wagon.

This rebellion against change, this retreat into nationalism, is happening all over the globe. It’s happening in Europe, big-time. It’s in the Middle East. And it’s happening here, too, although we’re a bit more subdued about it. So far. But as I noted here, the ongoing Muslim cartoon crisis, for example, amounted to Middle Eastern anti-modernists and western right-wingers whipping each other into a mutual hate frenzy. Granted the western wingnuts haven’t resorted to riots and destruction; they’ve been content with escalating hate speech. But the distinction is merely one of degree, not of kind.

Here’s where Roger Ailes comes in — in the remainder of his column, Ignatius postulates that all these people around the world are going berserk because they have the internets. Ignatius writes,

McLean argues that the Internet is a “rage enabler.” By providing instant, persistent, real-time stimuli, the new technology takes anger to a higher level. “Rage needs to be fed or stimulated continually to build or maintain it,” he explains. The Internet provides that instantaneous, persistent poke in the eye. What’s more, it provides an environment in which enraged people can gather at cause-centered Web sites and make themselves even angrier. The technology, McLean notes, “eliminates the opportunity for filtering or rage-dissipating communications to intrude.” I think McLean is right. And you don’t have to travel to Cairo to see how the Internet fuels rage and poisons reasoned debate. Just take a tour of the American blogosphere.

The connected world is inescapable, like the global economy itself. But if we can begin to understand how it undermines political stability — how it can separate elites from masses, and how it can enhance rage rather than reason — then perhaps we will have a better chance of restabilizing a very disorderly world.

Oh, good. Just cut ’em off from the Web and the natives won’t be so restless. Roger Ailes writes,

Oh, for the good old days — pre-1990s — a time when our sectarian wars and riots and lynchings and genocides were civilized affairs, based on pure, sweet reason. Oh, paradise lost!

I’d like to apologize personally to David Ignatius and Tom Friedman and Francis Fukuyama and Thomas P.M. Barnett and, most of all, to Charles M. McLean, who runs a trend-analysis company called Denver Research Group Inc., for coarsening the discourse. It was wrong of me to think that my opinions might be worth consideration even though I knew I didn’t have a book contract. Clearly, it was my rage that blinded me to the fact that I was poisoning reasoned debate and undermining political stability and separating elites from masses.

And I was such a nice fellow before October 2002; really, I was.

Let the healing begin.


Hate Speech and Its Consequences

James Wolcott provides a good follow up to my “Patriotism v. Hate Speech” post.

The incredible shrinking Dennis the Peasant lets loose with a thumping j’accuse against fellow conservatives who use their blogs as bonfire sites to promote hate speech, demonize Muslims, and cheerlead for the “Clash of Civilizations.” …

    “So… when I see people yucking it up over at Little Green Footballs over the deaths of 300+ religious pilgrims – innocent human beings whose crime was, evidently, that they weren’t Christians and just like us… and whose deaths are therefore something to gloat over – and Charles Johnson [maitre’d of Little Green Footballs and co-founder, with Roger L. Simon, of Pajamas Media] doesn’t think it appropriate or necessary to remove those comments and ban those people from his site, then I’ve got one mother of a problem on my hands. …

    Does anyone want to argue that a collective lack of knowledge of, and a persistent misunderstanding of, of the religion, culture, politics and history of the Middle East didn’t play a huge part in facilitating the success of al-Qaeda on September 11? And if our ignorance of the peoples, religion, history and politics played into the hands of Osama bin Laden and his followers, just how do the actions of ‘thought leading, tipping point’ bloggers like Charles Johnson and columnists like Ann Coulter help to rectify that situation? How does the mocking of the faith of over a billion souls serve our interests in winning the War on Terror? How does the dehumanization of those same billion souls make us stronger – either materially or morally – in the fight against al Qaeda?

    “Answer? They Don’t.

It’s Mahablog policy not to link to Little Green Footballs even when I refer to it, because the site and its followers are so viciously hateful. And also because of an episode a couple of years ago in which LGF faithful tried to shut The Mahablog down with comment spam. Needless to say, I’m not exactly a fan. But there is a link to LGF buried in the “hate speech” post. If you find it, it will take you to a post yukking it up over the death of peace activist Rachel Corrie. Mr. Corrie died when she was crushed by a bulldozer, an episode that inspired a regular festival of humor on the Right. The nice doggie, for example, christened her “St. Pancake” and regailed his readers with song lyric spoofs. (Note that the doggie has removed these items from his web site; thank goodness for google cache.)

Of course, in Rightie World, this doesn’t qualify as hate speech.

A few days ago when Michelle Malkin went on her cartoon jihad I suggested that just maybe goading Muslims into hating us more is not the best way to win hearts and minds in Iraq. Not too many righties put those pieces together, though.

I will have more to say on this later.

And They Say It’s Not a Cult

Knee-slapper of the week — Mark Noonan of Blogs for Bush argues that the UAE port deal proves “President Bush over his time in office has earned the right to be trusted.”

You can’t make this shit up. I can’t, anyway. Apparently Mark Noonan can.

Also — I had tacked this onto the end of the last post, but I think I’ll move it up here — Dr. Atrios points to this news item from March 2004:

The Central Intelligence Agency did not target Al Qaeda chief Osama bin laden once as he had the royal family of the United Arab Emirates with him in Afghanistan, the agency’s director, George Tenet, told the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States on Thursday.

Had the CIA targeted bin Laden, half the royal family would have been wiped out as well, he said.

Was this one of the famous times that Bill Clinton could have “got” Osama that righties are always whining about? The article doesn’t say when this happened.

The Port Thing, Continued

Julia of Sisyphus Shrugged presents evidence that Treasury Secretary John Snow stands to make a great deal of money in the Dubai port deal (why am I not surprised?).

More on the port deal, from an editorial in today’s New York Times:

The Bush administration has followed a disturbing pattern in its approach to the war on terror. It has been perpetually willing to sacrifice individual rights in favor of security. But it has been loath to do the same thing when it comes to business interests. It has not imposed reasonable safety requirements on chemical plants, one of the nation’s greatest points of vulnerability, or on the transport of toxic materials. The ports deal is another decision that has made the corporations involved happy, and has made ordinary Americans worry about whether they are being adequately protected.

It is no secret that this administration has pursued an aggressive antiregulatory agenda, and it has elevated corporate leaders to its highest positions. Treasury Secretary John Snow, whose department convened the panel that approved the ports deal, came to government after serving as the chief executive of the CSX Corporation, which was a major port operator when he worked there. (After he left, CSX sold its port operations to Dubai Ports World.)

At the Washington Post, Harold Meyerson points out that allowing our ports to be run by a foreign government are just part of a pattern:

We’re selling our harbors to an Arab government. Our biggest Internet companies are complicit in the Chinese government’s censorship of information and suppression of dissidents. Welcome to American capitalism in the age of globalization.

Here the market rules. National security and freedom of speech are all well and good, but they are distinctly secondary concerns when they bump up against our highest national purpose, which is maximizing shareholder value.

Ooo, first-rate snark, Mr. Meyerson. You’d make a good blogger.

At Huffington Post, David Sirota writes,

The harsh reaction from the Bush administration to the proposal to rescind the deal should be a red flag. This administration is unquestionably the most corporate-controlled administration in recent history, meaning its reactions are usually tied directly to the reactions of Corporate America. And the fact that the White House is ignoring its own security experts and reacting so negatively to Congress’s opposition to the deal means this cuts to the much deeper issue of global trade policy – an issue that trumps all others for Big Money interests, even post-9/11 security.

In a previous post, I noted how the Bush administration is simultaneously negotiating a “free” trade agreement with the UAE – the country tied to the terrorists who attacked America on 9/11. The administration was negotiating this deal at the very same time it tried to quietly slip this port security deal under the radar. It’s not surprising few in the media or the political system have mentioned that simple fact – as I note in my upcoming book Hostile Takeover, the political/media Establishment’s devotion to “free” trade orthodoxy is well documented, and the Establishment’s desire in this current scandal to make sure a discussion of trade policy never happens is obvious.

Sirota quotes Michael Chertoff, among others: “We have to balance the paramount urgency of security against the fact that we still want to have a robust global trading system.” This is the bleeping Homeland Security Director saying this. Technically he may be right, but Chertoff is supposed to be focused on the security end of the equation. The fact that he’s defending the UAE deal and lecturing us about the global trading system shows us where the Bush Administration’s priorities lie. And they don’t lie with We, the People.

And so any attempt to stop the UAE port security deal fundamentally threatens the Tom-Friedman-style “free” trade orthodoxy that says we must eliminate all barriers to trade – even those that protect national security. When you realize that, President Bush’s threat to use the first veto of his presidency on the UAE port security issue suddenly becomes not so surprising. He is proudly defending what Jeff Faux calls “The Party of Davos” or John Perkins calls the “corporatocracy” – that is, the multinational interests who have bankrolled Bush’s entire political career, and who desperately rely on the American government preserving a “free” trade system that subverts all other concerns to the corporate profit motive.

Let’s go back to the Harold Meyerson column. Once upon a time, writes Meyerson, there really was such a thing as corporate responsibility. This existed back in the day when the (mostly unionized) labor force remained within U.S. borders. But no more. And other nations designate certain industries as being too sensitive or strategic to outsource to other countries or sell to foreign interests. But not the U.S.

And, increasingly, the “interests” of financial institutions and corporations have become the “nation’s” (i.e., government’s) interests. They’re the ones creating the nation’s wealth. But since more and more high-paying jobs are going overseas, that wealth is staying in the pockets of corporate top management and shareholders.

Further, since labor is being outsourced to countries with repressive governments, like China, it can be said that corporations are profiting from the suppression of rights.

After all, when American business goes to China to have a machine built or a shirt stitched or some research undertaken, it is in no small reason because the labor is dirt-cheap. This is partly the result of the nation’s history of poverty and partly the result of repressive state policy that views all efforts at worker organization — as it views all efforts at establishing autonomous centers of power — as criminal. Were the current labor strife in China to escalate, were the nation plunged into turmoil in an effort to create a more pluralistic society with actual rights for workers, what would the attitudes of the U.S. corporations in China be? Would Wal-Mart, which does more business with China than any other corporation, object if the Chinese government staged another Tiananmen-style crackdown? Would other American businesses? Would the current or a future administration levy any sanctions against China? Given the growing level of integration of the Chinese economy and ours, could it even afford to?

Put another way, we are all compromised by the way our corporations are making their profits. Meyerson continues,

To the extent that American business or our government even attempt to square this circle, the argument they most frequently adduce is that modernity — that is, the integration of a nation into the global economy — will transform that nation into a more pluralistic democracy. China, however, is determined to manage its integration on its own repressive terms. And, more broadly, modernity hasn’t always guaranteed the flourishing of democratic pluralism — a lesson you might think we’d learned after that nastiness with Germany in the middle of the past century.

Indeed, at the heart of the Bush administration’s theory of democratic transformation, we find two non sequiturs: that integration into the global marketplace leads to democratic pluralism, and that elections lead to democratic pluralism. Yet China and the Arab nations of the Middle East tend to refute, not confirm, these theories. Elections and economic integration are both good in themselves, of course, but absent a thriving civil society, they offer no guarantee of the kinds of transformation that these nations sorely need.

But outsourcing and other business practices may be compromising us. I have argued that much of our middle-class standard of living is being floated on the economy and policies of the past.

… a lot of us are still benefiting from The Way America Used to Be Before Reagan. Boomers like me are still benefiting from the fact that our fathers got free educations on the GI Bill and our newlywed parents got cheap housing and cut-rate mortgages from other government programs, for example. Our parents’ prosperity got us off to a good start and put us on the road to security, equity, and stock portfolios. In a very real sense, many of us today are living better lives because government in the 1940s and 1950s effectively responded to the needs of citizens.

But those days are long gone, and their effects are running out of steam. Many generations of Americans were more affluent than their parents. I think perhaps that pattern is about to be broken.

Well, I’ve wandered a bit afar from the UAE takeover of ports. I note there are some smart people here and there arguing that the deal wouldn’t really compromise port security. Maybe, maybe not. Even so, this episode is symptomatic of much that is wrong with our government today.