Days of Outrage

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

Will it ever end? Each day seems to bring another outrage.

Today I’m fuming over President Obama’s statement in last night’s speech to the nation that he has the prerogative of ordering air and sea action against any country where he thinks a government is dealing harshly with civilians. Humanitarian aid, he called it, in justifying the US air attack on Libya. As long as he doesn’t put military boots on the ground, apparently, Obama thinks it’s ok to bomb the residence of a dictator whose behavior he doesn’t like.

I’m fuming because at the same time he looked down his nose and (for the first time ever) straight into the camera lens insisting the invasion was not about regime change, at the same time his government is calling for the despotic Qaddafi to be overthrown if he won’t leave voluntarily. And no, Obama didn’t convince me that what he did was better than negotiations, sanctions against the Libyan regime, and the rest of the non-violent measures he could have taken.

There’s also a renegade governor in Wisconsin who has ignored a trial court judge’s temporary restraining order against the recently passed law stripping public workers of their collective bargaining rights. While the Wisconsin appeals court punted the question to the state Supreme Court, Republican tea partier Scott Walker ignored the TRO and put the law into effect anyway. How’s that for upholding the state’s laws and constitution?

On the brighter side, Walker’s attacks on public sector workers are a tonic for organized labor and its allies – increasingly, almost everyone who does real work for their living. The rallies and demonstrations go on. The next one is April 4, all over the country. Each public event is bigger than the last. And that’s the only good thing I can take out of all of this.

Then consider General Electric’s tax return for 2010. The company made a $5.1 billion profit in the U.S. alone, and $14.2 billion worldwide. So can you guess how much income tax it paid on its U.S. profits? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. In fact, the company claims the government (that’s us, folks) owes it a tax benefit of $3.2 billion. To accomplish this wonder, the megacompany filed a 237 megabyte electronic tax return – 24,000-pages, if it were printed. Meanwhile, the Republicans in the House of Representatives are trying to cut funding for the Internal Revenue Service, whose job it is to audit all 24,000 pages.

Eventually, GE and its ilk will give the lie to those in Washington who say they must cut funding that helps for poor and working class folks because we’re broke. We’re not. We’ve just turned over the keys to the treasury to the richest of the rich.

Finally, consider the plight of US Army Intelligence Analyst Pfc. Bradley Manning, accused of leaking the “Collateral Murder” video, the Iraq War logs, the Afghan War diaries, and a slew of U.S. State Department cables sufficiently embarrassing that certain officials would have long since resigned if they had any sense of honor. Manning has been held in the brig at Quantico under conditions that can only be understood as torture. The charges against him include “aiding the enemy,” which, if he is convicted, can yield the death penalty. One has to wonder, since neither Obama nor his predecessor, ever asked Congress for permission to declare war on Iraq or Afghanistan, who the “enemy” is. We are, we’re told, in a war on Terror, but since when can an abstract concept be considered the enemy?

The only evidence against Manning is a series of chat exchanges in which someone using his screen name said he’d provided material to WikiLeaks. If the US government torture and break Manning, could get him to say he provided the disk files with the encouragement of WikiLeaks leader, Julian Assange, then they could get Assange shipped to the states and charge him with conspiracy. The government would love to make the charge treason, but there must be someone in the Justice (so-called) Department that understands an Australian citizen can’t commit treason against America.

To get a sense of Manning’s motivation in spilling the beans, if it was really he who was using that screen name, read this excerpt from the online conversation:

God knows what happens now. Hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms—if not, we’re doomed as a species. I will officially give up on the society we have if nothing happens. I want people to see the truth… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.

Then consider the irony that the US State Department has its knickers in a twist over the release of cables that have contributed to the overthrow of dictators and moves toward democracy that the US itself encourages.

If you think I’m disgusted, you’re very perceptive. If you think I’m discouraged, you’re only partly right. It’s not necessary to be optimistic in order to keep on working to set things right. My struggle these days is to have the kind of mind the author F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about in The Crack-up, a collection of essays published the year I was born.

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

My ideas? Things suck and the American people are getting together to make them better. Good, even. This, I believe.

And, given Obama’s willingness to beat up on dictators who shoot their own people, we can be sure that when we grow strong enough to occupy Wall Street in New York and DuPont Circle in Washington, Obama won’t call out the Army, because he wouldn’t be a dictator who shot his own people, would he?

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