Point Austin: In Memoriam

How can we best honor those who have died in our names?

Point Austin
My father, rest his soul, was fond of an ironic old saying that runs, "God sure must love poor people, because he made so many of them." By that same bitter logic, the U.S. government must love dead soldiers and bereaved families, because it continues to manufacture both in enormous quantities.

These dismal meditations are inspired by Monday's Memorial Day, during which our politicians and corporate media grandiloquently mourned our valiant departed soldiers, with as little acknowledgment as possible of how those brave men and women so often happen to find themselves in harm's way. Oh, there were ritual recitations of "defending our freedoms" and the like, although at least since Vietnam it has been difficult to pretend seriously that our military might and our enlisted men and women have been deployed in anything other than aggressive holding actions on the boundaries of the ever-embattled U.S. empire.

In that historical context, it's time to begin running out of patience with the Barack Obama administration. One very important argument for Obama's election was confirmed by Tuesday's Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor. Although Soto­mayor seems hardly the second coming of Thurgood Marshall, does anyone doubt that a John McCain replacement for David Souter would have indefinitely ensured an unbreachable conservative court majority, from Roberts through Scalia, for the next several decades?

This nomination needs to be celebrated and defended. So do Obama's steady-handed efforts to right the economy and avoid a catastrophic depression – however, such efforts might be criticized as still too careful and centrist, too attentive to the demands of the financial powers that got us into this mess in the first place, too cautious of the political costs of taking on the banks and the brokers directly.

Much more worrisome is Obama and the Democrats' willingness to engage in wider war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the administration's dragging its feet on withdrawal from Iraq, and most prominently, its uneven but increasingly undeniable embrace of Bush presidential policies that should instead be repudiated and overturned. First it was legal defense of illegal wiretapping of U.S. citizens; then it became continuation of executive secrecy and declared unwillingness to investigate thoroughly the unconstitutional violations of U.S. and international laws against indefinite detention, violations of due process, and abuse of prisoners held without charges. Most recently, it has been refusal to forgo the use of extraterritorial powers (i.e., "rendition") that will inevitably result in the continuation of Bush administration practices – most specifically, the extensive use of torture – that Obama claims to reject.

To put it quite bluntly, this shit has got to stop. We can grant that Obama has one eye on a Democratic Congress (especially some Democratic senators) de-termined to outdo the GOP in manufactured hysteria and fear-mongering of the worst sort, thereby ceding both the political high ground and the votes to defend it. Nevertheless, Obama was elected largely on the strength of a groundswell of public revulsion against the Bush wars, the Bush/Cheney monarchical mythology, the Bush/Cheney/Fox TV exultation in military might and absolute, patriarchal, executive power.

We don't need four years of Bush-Lite. As citizens who wish to honor the fallen, we need to create and sustain the political pressure that will force the Obama administration to live up to its promise of real change and that will establish and defend a cultural atmosphere within which the first option is always peace with justice, pre-emptive war is an international (and punishable) crime, and torture – no matter who's authorized or engaging in it – is everywhere and always wrong.

That's not all, by any means – but it's a good place to start.

Knee-Jerks and Jerks

It's always bracing to be mentored by one's social superiors.

So here at the Chronicle we were dutifully grateful to be subject to Austin American-Statesman Managing Editor Debbie Hiott's Sunday op-ed (under the characteristically illuminating headline, "Tracking problems for readers"). Hiott explained patiently that since she has available more reporters within her embracing wings than other local news sources – most especially the Chronicle – her reporters are able to develop "specialized beats" and "expertise" far beyond the capacities of less fortunate sources like the Chronicle, which are limited instead to "the ability to dip [our] toes in and out" of local agencies or ongoing stories "only sporadically."

Such acute insight, and so felicitously expressed. Hiott's essay also represents a curious social elevation of our humble rag in Statesman-World, since for many years the preferred perspective in the Bat Cave at Lady Bird Lake has been simply to pretend that the Chronicle doesn't exist.

The specific occasion for Hiott's sermon was a couple of recent stories on Capital Metro, one by the Statesman's Ben Wear ("Capital Metro battles debt load," March 15) and another by the Chronicle's Lee Nichols ("What's Wrong With Cap Metro ... and What's Right," April 24), reporting on the agency's current financial and other troubles. In part thanks to the daily's front-page and headline play of the Wear story, it was somewhat more alarmist than the Nichols story, which concluded overall that the condition of Cap Metro, in the midst of a deep national recession, is more mixed than Wear acknowledged. Wear and Nichols are both good and thorough reporters who need no defense here; readers can draw their own conclusions.

More striking about Hiott's piece was that she's apparently been nursing a grudge against the Chronicle since the Nineties, when she and a colleague wrote "story after story" about Cap Metro evils, and in response, Chronicle writers were insufficiently respectful (accusing her, as she puts it, of "just being mean"). Moreover, she notes parenthetically, we often fail to behave according to our station: "For an alternative weekly, [the Chronicle] sometimes surprises me with a knee-jerk defense of the establishment status quo."

Now that hurts. Especially coming from a daily newspaper of record that, over the years, has so stoutly fought the real estate and development interests strong-arming local governments and despoiling the countryside; that has firmly defended the local environment, community mass transit, and the public interest against the ever-powerful Texas highway lobby and the purveyors of poured concrete; that has so consistently promoted public participation in local government and heroically defended the rights of working people to organize and of unions to influence public policy. And most courageously, that spent eight years fearlessly criticizing the Bush administration and its pre-emptive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and its reckless promotion of presidential power to the point of explicit torture and outright tyranny.

Oh, wait. That must have been in another town. And another daily newspaper, one not quite so abjectly devoted to "the establishment status quo."

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Barack Obama, Iraq war, U.S. Supreme Court, Austin American-Statesman, Capital Metro

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