Saudi Crime for 20 June, 2006

The crime report from the Saudi Gazette today is full of automobiles — people stealing them or setting them on fire. Or being driven by 12-year-olds.

1) Police earlier this week foiled an early morning attempt in the Al-Khaladiah district to set fire to a late-model car in an insurance scam, the Arabic daily Okaz reported.

According to the report, the alleged arsonist was caught just moments before setting the car on fire, reportedly admitting that the car’s owner had paid him to douse the vehicle with gasoline and set it alight to claim the insurance money.

Okaz said the car’s owner, a teacher, had been having trouble with the vehicle and was not able to return it to the dealer and get the problem fixed. At that point, the owner decided to torch the vehicle and file a claim with his insurance company. The owner or the car, who was not named in the Okaz report, paid an acquaintance to destroy the car.

At around 3:00 a.m., the young man hired to burn the automobile arrived on a motorbike with a companion, opened the car’s unlocked door and drenched the inside of the vehicle with gasoline. Seconds before he struck a match, he was stopped by security patrols who had been tailing the two youths, alerted by what they believed was suspicious behavior.

Police are still looking for the other young man, who fled the scene on the motorbike

The owner of the car was arrested soon after, and initially denied all involvement in the plot. However, according to Okaz, he soon confessed.

In a separate series of incidents, Makkah police arrested one African youth suspected of participating in a gang that set fire to broken-down automobiles [I cannot speak to Makkah, but Jeddah was littered with abandoned cars, and for a time, the Gazette had a “Wreck of the Week” photo feature]. According to Okaz, police were monitoring the movements of three African youths who were wandering around Al-Mansoor District with a large can of kerosene. When the youths realized they were being followed, they started throwing stones at the officers. Two managed to escape.

2) The Criminal Investigations Department (CID) in Taif on Monday arrested the suspected leader of a car theft gang after monitoring his movements for an unspecified period of time, Okaz reported.

According to the report, the gang stole three cars – two of which were Toyota XVR sport utility vehicles – and then hide them in the rugged mountains of Al-Shafa. The suspect was arrested while driving one of the stolen vehicles, and handed over to police at the Al-Salaama station for further investigation.

Police are still looking for the remaining gang members.

3) Security men in Dammam on Monday arrested a thief who was suspected of robbing a businessman of SR240,000 at gunpoint last Saturday, Okaz reported.

The dawn arrest of the professional robber in District 8 brought to a successful conclusion an intense investigation by the city’s Criminal Investigations Department (CID), who also worked closely with security patrols over the past few days to apprehend the suspect after he initially escaping from police custody. [At least I think that’s what happened; the translation I got to edit was not clear.]

4) A special police task force arrested a number of people and seized weapons – including an AK-47 assault rifle and ammunition – sorcery objects and talismans, and a number of knives as part of an 18-hour sweep through through the eastern part of Riyadh and portions of Rimah Governate as far as 120 kilometers from the capital.

According to an Okaz reported embedded with the task force during the raids, one Saudi man was found in possession of an AK-47 rifle and 30 rounds of ammunition, another was caught with an unlicensed “Shozan” firearm. The talismans, rings and other sorcery objects were found in the possession of a Saudi driver, who believed they would allow him to pass through checkpoints with ease. Nine citizens were also caught with knives.

During the sweep, security men under the command of First Lt. Fahd Al-Mattrafi also arrested eight suspects and five citizens who were not holding identification papers. Police also seized SR33,000 of unknown origin from expatriate workers. A man who transported illegal expatriate workers was also arrested.

Police also noticed in Rimah that some children under 12 years old were driving cars.

In addition, Okaz said the police also seized 11 unregistered cars. Ten Iqama violators were arrested while several others were detained for holding forged resident permits. Six forged passports were seized. Police also closed down an unlicensed cafeteria and two groceries and seized an unlicensed ice cream van.

The special task force carried out raids and combing of a number of locations starting with Al-Nadheem District in the eastern part of Riyadh and ending with the villages of Al-Rumahia, Traiq Al-Samman, Shuwayyah in Rimah.

Oh, and there were accidents, fires, mishaps, and the occasional untimely death too.

1) A muezzin at a Taif mosque died while calling believers to noon (Dhuhr) prayer on Monday, Okaz reported.

After the call to prayer was suddenly disrupted, residents in the district believed a problem had arisen with the mosque’s loudspeakers. However, as the first worshipers entered the mosque, they were surprised to find the muezzin prostrate in the sujood position. On closer examination, they determined that he was already dead.

2) A Somali woman was killed and another injured when the two were hit by an automobile Monday evening while trying to cross Bahra Road [in Jeddah, I think], the Arabic daily Okaz reported.

The two woman were returning from a vegetable shop when they were struck. One of the two women died on the spot amidst scattered pieces of watermelon and burst tomatoes on the road while a Red Crescent ambulance rushed the second woman to King Khalid National Guard Hospital, where she remains in critical condition. Security patrols halted traffic and dispersed inquisitive on-lookers.

In a separate development, a private vehicle and a Traffic Police car were damaged in an accident at Khalid Bin Al-Waleed Bridge intersection in Taif.

3) A 40-year-old Saudi national died when the roof of his house in Madinah’s Al-Seeh District collapsed Monday afternoon, Okaz reported.

Col. Sulaiman Al-Raddadi, Director of Civil Defense in Madinah, said that the dead man, identified only as A.A., was an unmarried, 40-year- old former vegetable market worker and native of Khaybar Governorate. Civil Defense officials are currently investigating the cause of the collapse, but noted the house was old and run down.

Al-Raddadi said that Civil Defense responded immediately to reports of the collapse, and 20 Civil Defense officials rushed quickly to the scene. The man, however, was already dead.


Just finished watching Ukraine clobber Saudi Arabia 4-nil in a World Cup match. Bummer, I was rooting for the Saudis, but clearly their goalee (did I spell that right?) was not earning his paycheck today.

Didn’t intend to watch the game, just found myself quite by accident in a pub where it was being boradcast. On Univision, of course.

I especially liked the Saudi man who showed up to watch the game (at the stadium in Germany) with his ‘ud, a Saudi flag worn as a cape, and a big picture of King Abdullah on his hat. Geaux futbol patriotism!

Violence, “Tough Love,” Sadism and Government Policy

I have long been deeply troubled by how pervasive violence is in American society, by how many Americans believe that violence is the best way, the only realistic way, to deal with other people. Especially when those other people are in some “defiant” or “non-comformist” or allegedly a threat to stability or order.

It’s as if a meme was loosed in our society that has convinced too many Americans that the best way — the only way — to reform others is to beat them, to humiliate them, to degrade them. It’s about controlling and dominating people, and the only way to do that is to break them down.

It isn’t just our foreign policy, one championed by both Democrats and Republicans (bomb the wogs into submission! — I have no love for CommieNazi neoconservatives and their dreams of world conquest and domination, but I truly hate the Liberal internationalists/interventionists of places like Brookings, who are their intellectual and emotional enablers, the justifiers of state terror and murder, from Southeast Asia to Iraq!!), but the entire society. Our schools are simply, and have been tiny factories of inhumanity and terror, places where the sadists rule and the strong terrorize the weak. It’s the encroachment of the largely punitive regulatory state since the Reagan era, of the expanding reach of the cops (and their ability to do violence with impunity). It’s just everything. I know that doesn’t seem to explain much, but my sense is more incohate — that something is deeply wrong too many of my countrymen, that they cannot seem to see the humanity in others. It isn’t that they don’t want to, it’s that they can’t, as if we have become a nation with a large segment of sociopaths. They are obsessed with order and self-righteousness and cannot accept the complex and chaotic wonder and difference that is humanity.

Maybe such things are endemic to all of humanity. But Americans are, unfortunately, too powerful and thus are capable to far too much evil and destruction as they “do good.”

(Again, lest I come off as solely partisan, let us remember — Liberals and Democrats are not just the enablers of brutal imperialism, but often times its most vociferous advocates. When it comes to state power, there is precious little difference between Democrats and Republicans — both want the power to force others to obey, and believe it is right to make people obey.)

One of the ways this faith in violence manifests itself in our society is the phenomenon of tough love, an offshoot of the “personal empowerment” and “human potential” movements of the 1960s. Just to make it clear, I never spent time in or even got anywhere near such a place, so my opposition to such things is not vengeance — there was violence in my youth, but never as a matter some institution’s official policy; my experience with human cruelty in institutional contexts was mostly indifference and emotional cruelty, and not the physical kind. Not that I think there’s much difference. Anyone who believes that cruelty, physical or emotional, builds character and makes people stronger is a sadist, whether they lift a finger in violence.

Plus, I just think it sucks that so many mean people run the world.

I have considered trying to link things like war, prison abuse, government hectoring and nannying, with the horrible way we treat each other, treat our children, with the fact that so few of us have faith in love, compassion and empathy as a way of dealing with other human beings.

Maia Szalavitz, a sometimes writer for a host of vaguely “progressive” publications and author of Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids, did this job for me. It’s a frightening book, one that made me angry, one that I couldn’t put down (I read it inbetween the dense chapters of cranky English Catholic Michael Burleigh’s Earthly Powers, about the politicization of religion and the sanctification of politics in 19th century Europe). I am taking the liberty of putting a lengthy excerpt from the book here, but see what else you can see in this:

While there undoubtedly were some well-intentioned, idealistic, caring people who staff some tough love programs, the atmosphere of fear anjd the programs’ very structure continually discourages [sic] genuine affection and truly theraputic relationships. The setup genuinely encourages abusive use of power because there is no oversight, because inflicting pain is viewed as “helping,” and because the people at the top can never be wrong. As Philip Zimbardo found when he had volunteers play prisoners and guards in his famous Stanford prison experiment, those roles can become so powerful that they overcome individual values and common decency.

When love is commodified as it is in these programs, when it is treated as just another tool, it loses its essence. Though tough love providers claim to be fighting consumerism and modern decadence by putting kids through character-building ordeals, instrumentalizing love as a reward for the bell-behaved instead reinfroces a consumerist perspective. Here, love is something to be traded, something to be paid for, to be given for good performance. It becomes exchangeable, not something God-given or a blood tie that transcends immediate displeasure or conflict.

The extreme toughness of tough love also presents another major problem: its ideology is essentially antisocial. The message presented by every tough love program in this book is that hurting others “helps” them, and the empathy and sympathy are weakness. At Straight and KIDS, defending someone who was being confronted or confronting them afterwards was “enabling” them to stay “in denial” about their problems. At North Star, sharing food with a starving person was allowing them to avoid the “natural consequences” of his actions.

Further, in online dialogues between teens who believe the program have hleped them and those who found them hurtful, program supporters invariably blame the opponents for bringing pain on themselves by not complying or for exaggerating their hurt. They are also told to “get over it,” and are dismissed as whiners, losers, and complainers, who couldn’t cut it and now want to evade responsibility. The idea that some kinds could be naturally more sensitive than others and thus at greater risk from confrontational apporaches is rejected out of hand. If it didn’t help, it wasn’t the program’s fault; it was the kids’s fault. Individual differences are a problem to be solved with conformity, not something to celebrate or even accept.

Tough love’s embrace of a philsophy of “total personal responsibility” is ironically used by the programs as a way to avoid their own culpability in their brutal treatment of participants. Groups like WWASP claim that people are responsible for everything that ever happens to them. By extension, then, their teen victims have chosen to be in the program even if they were brought in and held by force. Whatever the program does to them is what they really wanted to happen. Every rape victim here is “asking for it” — and no perpetrator, conveniently, has any responsibility. In KIDS, Straight, and WWASP, rape victims and those who had been sexually abused were actually told that what happened to them was their fault.

And WWASP openly claims in its seminars that “there is no right or wrong, only what works and what doesn’t.” This is unquestionable a sociopathic ideology: it means that people are morally justified in doing whatever they believe “works” are that they aren’t responsible for the harm they may cause to others, because those others’ own choices put them in whatever situation they now find themselves. While many of the other programs are less obvious about presenting these ideas, they all treat that the ends justify the means and that altruism is foolish. This is not a lesson that most parents usually intend to impart.

The similarities between the exercises in sexual humiliation, food deprivation, sleep deprivation, and stress positions used by those programs and the American human rights abuses we are currently seeing in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and elsewhere are not coincidental, I believe. They derive from the same kind of morality, the same desensitization to the suffering of others, and the same belief that there is no possibility of error when the “good guys” have positive goals. [My italics — CHF] Of course, tough love programs don’t usually go to anywhere near such extremes — but do we really want to train potential antisocial kids to be less empathetic, to see altruism as despicable “enabling”? Do we really want to teach them how to find the emotional sore spots of others and poke them, “for their own good”? Can we really be surprised if people put through these kinds of ordeals grow up to believe that torture is an acceptable part of justice?

She makes the connection with Abu Ghuraib and Guantanamo Bay, a connection I made years ago in an essay for — had anyone who doubted that Americans were capable of this ever been to a public school? How can anyone believe in the goodness of having power over others, such absolute and unaccountable power, when it is conintuously used so badly?

What became clear to me as I finished this is that many people — the parents who send their kids to these programs, the people who run them, the politicians who shill for them, and oodles of others — believe in them, believe in the efficacy of violence, have so mixed up tough and love that they cannot see the difference. After years of “getting tough” as social, government and institutional policy, they may not understand there is a difference. That allows us to bomb people and think we’re doing right, to occupy nations, shoot people, arrest and incarcerate them, lecture them, belittle them, humiliate them, and think this is good for them, that it should be making them both better people and keeping them in line.

I’ve lived too long to believe that what goes around comes around. It doesn’t. But cruelty as policy has consequences. And I truly and fervently hope we eventually choke on ours.

It Pretends to be Deep Thinking

Well, my previous blog entry was a mess. I have read it over several times and realize that whatever point I was trying, I don’t think I made. I can’t really tell. Which, I’m guessing, means I didn’t make it.

Oh well. Happy Monday, everyone. Something long and tortured is coming later this morning…

Art Films

Jennifer and watched THE SQUID AND THE WHALE this week, the allegedly independent film based on one writer’s memories of his parents’ divorce. Or somesuch.

It was an unsatisfying film that seems too typical of a genre of American films that aspire to be art by combining angst and awkward sex with slightly nervous camera work and alt-pop soundtracks. I could add TADPOLE and THUMBSUCKER (a film Vincent D’Onofrio could not save) to this list (TADPOLE was an okay film, but I wouldn’t watch it again), both films Jen and I have seen. I have been intrigued by RUSHMORE but expect it is more of the same and so probably will not see it. ELECTION, which I’d also put in this category, worked because of of the writing and Matthew Broderick’s and Reese Witherspoon’s characters.

The whole genre is unsatisfying. I’m no great fan of good-versus-evil films, since the world I live in (and have always lived in) is so thoroughly dominated by evil that the eventual victory of the forces of good seems stupid and simplistic to me. The world doesn’t work that way, and such tales simply have no emotional resonance. I’m a great deal more interested in watching fairly complex and compelling characters — believable characters — deal with the world. That’s why I read fiction (I find a lot of 100-year-old novels very satisfying this way), and that’s why I watch movies. In fact, by watching well done films with well-developed characters, I have gained an additional appreciation for good fiction.

But back to the “angst and sex” films. What is it I find that is so unpleasant about them? Partly it’s their flatness, the fact that too many of the characters are written and acted without much affect. Life is something that happens to too many of these characters. I’m no great fan of the great, flat and “affectless” suburban wastelands that too many of these characters appear to reside in (granted, SQUID N’ WHALE takes place in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, and gets its name from a diorama at the New York City Museum of Natural History, and PIECES OF APRIL somewhere in Manhattan and along Long Island highways) but there has to be some kind of life in them somewhere. I suppose it is because the people who make those films are the people who fled the burbs (or Park Slope) looking for human life. Folks who stay in burbs tend not to make films. I’m not sure we’d want to watch those films anyway.

And then there’s the cliche — the camera angles and camera work all feels somewhat the same, the color has that (how can I put it?) sea foam green crayola feel, and then there’s the use of that juke box of lo-fi alt pop to create the same damn mood from film to film. Sullen seems to be the mood for the main adolescent character, detatched and clueless for male adults, and overprotective, indecisive and confused for the mothers. Maybe life is like that for lots of people, but I dunno. Is all sex that awkward and awful? (Mine isn’t…) Can it be that way for everyone? And why do we want to this stuff over and over again? And give the folks who make it awards?

As an aside, I have concluded that suburban life everywhere is about the same. I love Fountains of Wayne because the tawdry burbs of Long Island and the neighborhoods of far outer Queens — which I did not get the chance to explore when I was in NYC — sound an awful like lot the far distant burbs of Los Angeles I grew up in. They have done a fairly good job of created “the sound of the suburbs.” How long they can play that, write it, and make it interesting and compelling, I do not know.

(“Kid Gloves” is as beautiful a song about New York as Simon & Garfunkle’s “America,” and almost brings me to tears in the same way “America” does.)

Happy Saturday

Nothing really important to say this morning. Biked to “work” — St. Elmo’s Cafe, where I use the wi-fi to get my e-mail and edit Saudi Gazette copy, which is not very good this morning. A lot of stuff on tourism. Yes. Toursim. Saudi Arabia. Go there for your next vacation.

This afternoon Jennifer and I are hitting the bike path, going to visit friends, a shindig at their place in southern Alexandria. It will be crowded, since it is always crowded on weekends. Wish there were fewer cars on the street. My dream is to someday ride a bicycle on an empty US Interstate highway. Sigh….

On the iTunes this morning — Lenny Kravitz. This is music I could make myself, I like the simple way the first CD (Mama Said) is put together, and as soon as we are relocated to Chicago next month, I plan to set the PowerBook up and do just that. Also Abdul Majid Abdullah. Saudi Arabia’s biggest pop star. You heard me.

Stuck on Earth

The cover of the latest issue of Discover asks “Are We Trapped on Earth? Why Cosmic Rays Could Prevent Us From Leaving.” In a lengthy piece pegged to Bush Jong Il’s proposed mission to the Moon and Mars, the magazine looks into the risks cosmic radiation poses to astronauts on any long, interplanetary journey. The risk is uncertain, but could be huge to both health and life to anyone is space or on a planet not protected by a fairly strong magnetosphere or atmosphere.

But as I read it (not being a technophile anarchist/libertarian — I do not want to become borg or download myself into a clone any time soon, nor am I much interested in augmenting myself with technology or engineered biology either), a couple of questions come to mind:

  • What’s the hurry? Is there any pressing need to leave, oh say, tomorrow? Or even by 2020? Mars isn’t going anywhere, and neither is the moon. Aside from Bush Jong Il’s idiotic deadline, is there really any rush?
  • Suppose we are stuck on earth. Is that really so bad?

It may be that, someday, we will invent the kinds of technologies — Starfire’s drive fields or Star Trek’s warp drives or Battlestar Galactica’s FTL “jump” engines — that will allow human beings to build space ships that will travel hither and yon, to near stars and far, and protect them from solar wind and solar flares and all sorts of other nasty things besides. Then people can go wherever and not worry about it so much. The sun is supposed to be good another several billion years (though sometimes thinking about the ultimate demise of our solar system, in 5 or 6 billion years, fills me with dread and depresses me no end), and that will become a problem for any people around then.

In the meantime, we ought to remind ourselves that we live on earth, and perhaps content ourselves with admiring the sky and the objects in it, rather than fill it up with ourselves and our expensive, pointless government-made junk.

Editing Needed

Having just finished Robert Pape’s DYING TO WIN, his book on comparative suicide terrorism and the men and women who blow themselves up. (THESIS: Suicide bombers are generally well-educated and reasonably well-connected to the communities they fight to defend, and that religious differences are significant in constructing the “us” and the “them,” and that nearly all suicide attacks are part of nationalist campaigns for national independence or against a perceived occupation.) I think his thesis is generally correct, though he stretches it at some points and doesn’t really understand what Al-Qaeda is. Nationalist wars of resistance works for Hezbullah in Lebanon, the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, and Hamas in Palestine. Al-Qaeda shows signs of being an international insurgency against the United States, an international ideological movement, and a liberation organization fighting for the Muslim ummah, a transnational “nation-in-being.” Pape doesn’t really seem to understand this.

The recommendation, however, that the US invasions of conquests of Muslim countries to change their governments is foolish and won’t accomplish much but encourage more suicide terror, is spot on. Pape does understand that.

Onward. I’d like to nitpick Karen Armstrong’s latest, THE GREAT TRANSFORMATION: THE BEGINNING OF THE RELIGIOUS TRADITION, her exploration of the “Axial Age” of 900 B.C.E to about 200 B.C.E. I’m a big fan of Armstrong’s, and own and have read several of her books. This one is just as interesting and compelling. But it could have used some more attentive editing.

On page 6, for example, Armstrong writes:

At first the Aryans had entertained no hope of an afterlife, but by the end of the second millenium, some were beginning to believe that wealthy people who had commissioned a lot of sacrifices would be able to join the gods in paradise after their death.

And later, on page 19, she writes:

Ever since they had lived on the steppes, the Aryans had believed that the best and wealthiest among them would join the gods in heaven.

I’m confused. Since Armstrong says the Aryans began as “pastoralists living on the steppes of southern Russia,” I have a question. Okay Miz Armstrong, which is it? Did the Aryans always believe in an afterlife, or acquire it slowly over time?

Bush the Autocrat

George W. Bush may or may not be a dictator, but it’s clear he likes wielding power unopposed, as Elizabeth Drew (the name is familiar — wasn’t she a sometimes presence on the McGlaughlin Group some years ago? She was on some talking head show…) writes in the New York Review of Books:

Bush’s own overweening attitude toward the presidency is clear from his behavior. He bristles at being challenged. He told Bob Woodward, “I do not need to explain why I say things. That’s the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don’t feel I owe anybody an explanation.” His comment, “I’m the decider,” about not firing Rumsfeld, is in fact a phrase he has used often.

More Musings on Fascist America

A couple of weeks ago, not long after I had started reading R.J.B. Bosworth’s book on Mussolini’s Italy and the ways and means of Fascist rule in Italy, I speculated on whether or not the America of George W. Bush was “fascist” or not. And had concluded that it wasn’t, largely because there simply was not enough violence deployed by the state or party agents acting on behalf of the state.

Well, I have finished the book, and as I hadf hoped, the conclusion was much less muddled and messy than the rest of his narrative (I managed to stay away through the rest of it). Bosworth, in looking at some of the efforts to try and describe what Italian Fascism was, writes this:

[I]t might be argued that the quest for a definition of Fascism has become absurdly laboured. Why opt for a long list of factors or a paragraph of rococo ornateness when Mussolini, on a number of occasions, informed people he regarded as convertible to his cause that Fascism was a simple matter? All that was needed was a single party, a single youth organization, a single institution binding employers and their workforce, a dopolavoro, and, he did not have to add, a Duce (with a Bocchini to repress dissent) and a will to exclude the foe (somehow defined). To be still more succinct, as Mussolini told Franco in October 1936, what the Spaniard should aim at was a regime that was simultaneously “authoritarian,” “social” and “popular.” That amalgam, the Duce advised, was the basis of universal fascism.

Universal fascism. So, how does George W. Bush’s America stack up?

AUTHORITARIAN. Yes, the Bush regime is authoritarian, but excutive government and the regulatory state have been lurching toward authoritarianism for more than a century now, and the Bush regime is only the latest manifestation of the obsession on the part of some Americans with furthering executive power. The Clinton regime was authoritarian as well, as have all American presidents since at least Franklin Delano Roosevelt, with TR and Abraham Lincoln (and possibly Andrew Jackson and James Polk tossed in as well). Slowly, with the rise of executive orders, rule making, signing statements, the expansion of the “commander-in-chief” privilege, and power granted to deal with the nearly eternal states of emergencies of one kind or another, the executive has metastized into a kind-of imperator which can both make and enforce law. The constitution need never be suspended — Republican Rome’s never was — the dictatorship need merely be in substance and not in form. Creating a presidency that can rule without Congress, a president who is superior to Congress and who is never properly accountable to anyone, that can reach into just about every aspect of individual life to regulate, mandate and exercise authority, has been slow and steady work, the work of generations of people who thought they could do good with that power, or — as court historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. idiotically said — prevent “bad” people from having.

(I believe the argument is a simple tautology — bad people are, by definition, people who want power over others. Good people can never want or have that power because the moment they want it, they become bad people.)

Now, let me be clear: the Bush regime has used the powers its has gathered sparingly, just as past presidents were reasonably judicious in the exercise of about every power they grasped (save the power to murder large numbers of non-Americans, usually from high altitude, one of the few things Americans seem to be good at anymore). We have had few Wounded Knees or Wacos, and we could have had a lot more.

But someday, someone who is not judicious or restrained, someone much brighter and whole lot more ambitious than any of the idiot dim-bulbs in the Bush White House, will get their hands on that power. Cincinnatus made Sulla possible, and Sulla made Caesar possible, and Caesar made Augustus possible.

SOCIAL. This is a harder definition to work with. Mussolini’s Fascism claimed to create a social welfare state, especially geared toward making sure the poor could adequately contribute to Italian life (provide cannon fodder for both the party and the army). Bosworth, however, makes clear that the Italian social welfare state didn’t work very well and any “rights” one had to state support could easily be taken away if one was suddenly on the wrong side of the state or party. Welfare was conditional on loyalty to the state and party.

So, what do I mean by social? By welfare state? The basic assumption of the industrial welfare state is probably a commitment by the state to ensure a level of economic existence for some (or possibly most) members of a society in return for a commitment of loyalty and obedience to the state and the ruling party. This can be everything from direct state payments to individuals, indirect subsidies, controlled prices and material aid to guaranteed employment and contracts for businesses supportive of state policy and the party. Key to all of this, however, is the notion of political loyalty — an individual, a family, a company, a corporation, a church, cannot receive any state benefits unless it supports the state, the party, the policy, the leader. Anyone found not supporting risks being excluded.

One owes the state because the state has done for you. It hardly matters how poorly the state has done it.

Republicans long talked of the Democrat social welfare state as an attempt to buy political loyalties, especially among the poor, but most of the FDR and post-FDR social welfare state was universal, and loyalty to state, party was not a condition of receipt. Much of the post WWII welfare state — the G.I. Bill, FHA and VA home loans, Social Security, union contracts and wages, employer-sponsored health care — was given to all comers. Had these things been an exercise in buying loyalty, the Repugblican heirs of Barry Goldwater would never have gotten anywhere, as many of their strongest supporters were folks in the suburbs, recipients of all these goodies, who thought that somehow they made it “on their own.”

However, I think we’ve been trending toward a more “social” model (in fascist terms) for some time now, and much of the Bush “ownership society” (and the faith-based initiatives) are basede both on the misundestanding of Democrat social welfare as well a naked attempt to reroute the entire economy through the Republican-controlled executive and make sure folks understand and remember that when they vote. The most blatant of these was the desire to make churches the recipients of federal largesse, ensuring that politically conservative (and idolatrously nationalistic) chruches would take the most money to “do good.” But the attempt to “reform” Social Security was simply a desire to connect Wall Street even more closely to a Republican-run state (investment banks divide donations fairly evenly between Dems and the GOP) and give people the illusion they actually owned anything.

Team Bush’s “ownership society” has gone splat. Which is just as well, because it would eventually look more like a sharecropper society or some kind of modern serfdom/debt bondage. The only real ownership would be on the part of government-connected banks and the state itself.

But it was “social” in the context of fascism.

POPULAR. At first glance, it appears that the Bush administration is anything but popular. Classic fascism conflates party, state and leader, and aims at the creation of a mass society where the individual matters only in his or her relation to the greater whole — the race and/or nation. The GOP is not a mass party, Bush is not a Duce (except to his most brain-dead devotees; Clinton was a Duce to the empty-headed faithful as well), and there appear to be no efforts to create anything resembling a Republican mass-movement (aside from Karl Rove’s failed attempts to create a permanent GOP majority).

Yet, like the absence of mass state and para-statal violence, I think there is an element here which, if we live under fascism in the United States, is unique to us.

As Americans, we have actually lived under a soft-authoritarian government for more than a century, since the emerging industrial-academic elite decided that American society needed professional policy creation and management. What emerged, about the time of the McKinley/Roosevelt administrations, was a Fabian deal — popular participation in government would be restricted in exchange for the creation of a public/private welfare state (bigger companies begin offering pensions at this point, for example). The managerial elite was divided on some issues (and primarily by the Morgan/Rockefeller dispute that was not mended until the 1930s), but they were set on the notion that society needed to be professionally managed. That meant nationalistic propaganda, the organization of the masses, and the restriction of policy creation and governance to “professionals.”

It also meant that elections became meaningless.

With policies already decided, not by politicians but by a permanent group of professional managers and planners, and the various wings of the ruling elite more or less in agreement on things, what was there to vote on? So elections simply became plebiscites. More importantly, they became the regime’s most important sacrament, the act that made their authoritarian government morally and socially legitimate, that sanctified their rule. Elections are the mystical practice that link people to regime, that morally and emotionally invest people in the wellbeing and legitimacy of those that rule over them, and that — not the choice involved, which is pointless — is why they are so important.

One could no more vote for the welfare state, or imperialism, or war, than one could vote against it. These things were already decided by the professional managers of society, and media and intellectuals would be used to sell these ideas to people.

If America is a fascist state — I’m still not sure it is — then it is a different kind of fascism, a post-mass fascism that wants a passive and not active mass of people, one that invests the role Duce in a fictitious position, The President (and whoever occupies that positition), rather than a flesh and blood human being, casts as The Party the permanent group of people who run the state rather than a political organization, one with an almost perceptable universalism. That would also explain why little state violence (and no para-statal violence) is necessary, since both parties subscribe to nationalism, universalism, Americanism, Caesarism, imperialism, war and welfare. And the huge apparatus needed to sell, perpetuate and legitimize these things.

We get to pick the flavor, kind of, but not the meal.