Obama and Pandora’s Box The trouble started when Prometheus stole fire from the Gods – more particularly, he stole it from the Forge of Hephaestus, the Smith of the Gods. Zeus was so angry he ordered Hephaestus to fashion a beautiful woman out of clay and water. This, the first woman, was named Pandora, and all the divinities gave her gifts. But Hermes, the Messenger of the Gods, gave her the gift of perfidy and Zeus sent her to the brother of Prometheus. She arrived holding a great vase – Pandora’s Box – and when she raised its lid all the afflictions it held escaped and spread over the earth. She put the lid back on in time to keep just one thing in the vase – Hope. ‘Thus, with the arrival of the first woman, misery made its appearance on 1 earth.’ We always misinterpret this story. We comfort ourselves by saying ‘At least we were left with hope.’ But Hope was in the vase, and what the vase held were ‘afflictions’, all those things that can bring misery to the earth. Why would the Greeks see Hope as an affliction? Because it lures us into focusing on and waiting for tomorrow, instead of acting in the present moment. We need do nothing now because tomorrow it will be alright. If, in the middle of a desperate, difficult or sad situation, something happens that we see as ‘hopeful’, there is a temptation to stop doing whatever we were doing to sort out the situation while we wait for….? Hope, and its close cousin optimism can be damaging, as damaging as despair in the way it can persuade us to stop acting for the greater good. The selection of Barack Obama as the Presidential candidate and his subsequent election gave rise to a huge, not to say worldwide surge of hope. At last, America has elected a black President – now everything will be alright. ‘Yes we can!’ he said, and ‘Yes we can!’ roared America in reply. But Obama’s ‘can’ doesn’t mean Obama ‘will’, and slowly the optimism is leaching away and world is learning just how proscribed ‘can’ is turning out to be. Take the fact of his colour. Did people, especially African Americans, really think that a black President, simply by his election, could cure the endemic racism in the country? Will he, can he, cure the jobs divide, the wages divide, the housed and homeless divide? Could his election bring to an end the 2 prejudice which sees an overwhelming proportion of the prison population being black? One in every 106 white American men is in prison, while the rate for black men is one in 15. The rates are as bad for 3 black women. Would it address the fact that 28% of young black men in the States are likely to go to prison, and that for young black men who have dropped out of school the figure rises to 50%? And what will happen to the hope when the effects of the financial crisis really begin to bite, and the optimists see that more black people than white lose their jobs, their homes and their futures? Because that’s when prejudice makes itself known – when folks are protecting their own at the expense of others. Can just one man cure decades of deeprooted prejudice? Should we hope – or continue to work without pause for an end to prejudice? But Obama, rather than tackling an old ulcerous sore, has something more pressing to address. Internally he has inherited one very big problem – the need to pump money into the system when the US is broke, in debt and needing to borrow more – when any such action will increase the indebtedness and the divide between rich and poor. And whatever he decides to do, almost half the country will be against him. People talk of his ‘landslide’ victory but the truth is that while he had a great result in the electoral votes (365 against McCain’s 173), the popular vote figures were Obama 52.9% over McCain 45.7% a majority but not a landslide. One proposed action by Obama is really positive – providing the money to create jobs for the unemployed, putting them to work on repairing and rebuilding the rotting infrastructure of this mighty country. For all the US love affair with the car, the roads are breaking up, the bridges collapsing. Such 1 Larrouse Encyclopedia of Mythology. It seems Pandora was the Greek version of Eve. If you care to look, many mythologies have a similar story that blames woman for the world’s ills. There is even a Medieval poem about the sister of Judas Iscariot, in which she is portrayed as the one who tempted Judas to betray Jesus, thus making woman, not man, to blame for the crucifixion! 2 Black males continue to be incarcerated at an extraordinary rate. Black males make up 35.4 percent of the jail and prison population, even though they make up less than 10 percent of the overall U.S population. Four percent of U.S. black males were in jail or prison last year, compared to 1.7 percent of Hispanic males and 0.7 percent of white males. In other words, black males were locked up at almost six times the rate of their white counterparts. ABC News 6 June 2008 3 PEW Centre report – One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008 things have been neglected for years while the money was spent on other things. The levees that gave way when hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans are a good example. For all the billions of dollars spent on Bush’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the home country was being starved of necessary funds, and what’s available (or being borrowed) now is being given to the banks and businesses such as the car industry, not to the people. And there is his very laudable desire to provide more accessible healthcare for all the citizens, not just those who can afford the medical insurance. But however powerful the President is, or is perceived to be, there are too many vested interests on his home front that can and will try to sabotage any positive ideas and actions he tries to implement. Americans should be out there, campaigning for his changes, not sitting at home comforting themselves with the hope he has brought into the White House. How much the Obama effect at home will change what happens in the greater world is an imponderable right now, but we should remember two things. First, the world is economically tied to the States, so how their financial crisis resolves itself, or not, will ripple out and touch all our lives. And second, Obama is a Democrat. While Democrats’ domestic policies can favour the wellbeing of those who live in the States, their foreign policy is almost indistinguishable from Republican policy. On that front so much of what Obama is doing, at least where the rest of the world is concerned, is simply ‘business as usual’. Many of his team, supposedly selected to cross the borders and be inclusive, are members of the old guard (from either party), supporters of policies that campaigners have been fighting against for years, if not generations. He vowed to withdraw from Iraq, yet the latest announcement states that, while some 90,000 troops will have left Iraq by the end of 2010, 50,000 combat troops will remain for some further time – as counterterrorism or training forces. From where the average Iraqi stands, 50,000 troops will still spell occupation. It is also a plan that apparently pleases the Republicans but not the Democrats, for whom it doesn’t go far enough. And there is the fact of the many military bases that America has built in Iraq (would you believe 55?) and that the US has made efforts to ensure that US servicemen and contractors still retain their immunity from Iraqi law. The US has also sought to keep 4 control of Iraqi airspace up to 30,000 feet. Although the US tries to avoid the designation ‘permanent’, 5 several bases have been greatly expanded, some of which are airbases (14 of them). Why expand the bases if the intention is to truly pull out of Iraq? They will surely not just be handed over to the Iraqis, not when they cost so much. Obama may say he’s pulling troops out of Iraq in order to surge into Afghanistan, but all of the above gives a very different message and it looks very much as though the USAF will be in Iraq for more than the foreseeable future. Barack Obama with the USAF at Bagram Airbase, Afghanistan 2008 But it is when you look at another of Obama’s announcements that the optimism dies. He wants the troops out of Iraq so he can surge into Afghanistan – the current plan is for 17,000 extra troops. He wants to shut down Guantanamo, but at the same time he will expand the ‘facility’ at Bagram Airbase, which will be just as unlawful as Guantanamo. ‘Terrorists’ held there will be denied the right to trial just as they were in Guantanamo. And in exchange for 250 men freed from Guantanamo, there will be room for over a thousand more in Bagram. Obama knows perfectly well what he’s dealing with there. Bagram was part of his world tour when he was campaigning to be selected as the Democratic presidential 4 5 ‘U.S. seeking 58 bases in Iraq, Shiite lawmakers say’ by Leila Fadel | McClatchy Newspapers 2008 If the U.S. is ultimately leaving Iraq, why is the military expanding its bases there? Friends Committee on National Legislation candidate. He knew then what he was getting into, and what he will be supporting now by unlawful detention of supposed ‘terrorists’. So, all of us who campaigned over Guantanamo cannot give up, just because it’s Obama in the White House, not Bush. And now we have the muchtrumpeted result of the G20 talks. But, despite Gordon Brown patting himself on the back and everyone pretending they’ve agreed, all they have done is ‘pledge’ money and (it slipped out inadvertently in one report) some of that money has been pledged before and not been forthcoming. We have, so we are told, to wait two years to see if the deal will work. And some of this ‘pledged’ money will be pumped into the IMF so that it can support poor countries. Do they ever look back to see that in the past such support brought countries to their knees? That the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation were part of the problem, and rarely the answer? th Also there’s NATO and its 60 birthday, with Obama asking (demanding?) that the other NATO countries provide troops to help the war in Afghanistan. Not even the UK is very willing on that one. Oh yes, we’ll send more, but only to help police the elections later this year. After that they come home. It was good to hear, however, from some of the other NATO partners that they were unwilling to help the US prop up an Afghan government that was allowing women’s rights to be eroded – yet again. It brought some sort of moral dimension to the discussions and horse trading. Ah, but here’s something to cheer about – the CIA have just announced that they are closing down 6 the secret prisons around the world where interrogation meant torture . (It also slipped out in this announcement that the ‘interrogation’ at some of these prisons had been contracted out, presumably 7 absolving the CIA of any complicity in the torture .) But I ask you – as the prisons were secret, and we don’t truly know where many of them are, how will we know if they’ve been shut down? And if they are, what will happen to all the poor souls who have been held there? Will they be tossed out on the streets, broken and damaged? Or will they take up the extra space in the facility (how I loathe that word) at Bagram airbase? Was that why the airbase was being expanded? None of this is cause for optimism. Let’s look at two other occasions of great optimism. One took place on Saturday, 15 February 2003. Can you remember? Were you there the day we gridlocked London, demonstrating against the possibility of an invasion of Iraq? For every person who took part in that massive march, that was the most positive, lifeaffirming and hopegiving action we had ever known. Or will know. To be part of humanity, all slowly moving in one direction, following one vision – it should have changed the world as much as it changed us. But what happened? Nothing, except that one month later Parliament voted to go to war. Yet every union, religion and organisation was signed up to that demonstration. Why did no one call for a general strike or nonviolent action? Why were we not there, storming Parliament the next week? We got optimistic; we thought a protest that overwhelming would do it, that so many voices could not be ignored. We went home trailing clouds of glory, expecting Blair to say he had listened to the country. He didn’t, and this country invaded Iraq anyway. And that brings me to the other time when this country rode on a wave of hope. And this occasion has much in common with the election of Obama. Remember when Blair and New Labour swept into power, the cheering, the dreams, the feeling of change for the better? Who’d have thought that in a short time so many of us would be campaigning to get Blair and his cronies prosecuted for war crimes? So, don’t be overoptimistic about Obama. Be grateful and supportive when he gets something right, knowing that inevitably there will be something he gets wrong, or that his own politicians will prevent. And never sit back, never give up, never expect it all to turn out right without you adding your bit of effort towards making a more peaceful world. Don’t despair because things look bad or hope because things look better – both will stop us from doing what needs to be done, and doing what needs to be done is all any of us can do. Lesley Docksey 11 April 2009 6 ‘CIA no longer operates detention facilities or black sites,’ CIA Director Leon Panetta announces in a letter to staff. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7993087.stm 7 He also announced that the CIA was no longer allowing outside ‘contractors’ to carry out interrogations. But the CIA retains the power to detain suspects ‘on a shortterm transitory basis’. Business as usual then.
Pages to are hidden for
"Obama and Pandora's Box"Please download to view full document