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Exile and the Prophetic: Bought and sold

US Politics
on 11 Comments

This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

There’s that picture again, this time from the front, President Obama, Susan Rice and Samantha Power, their arms around each other, walking back to the White House after the announcement of their appointments in the Rose Garden.  I can’t get that picture out of my mind.  With the virtual world exploding, it will be somewhere forever.

Why does the photo bother me so much?  On the surface, it’s a lovely photo. Our first African American President with his new female African American National Security Advisor and an Irish-born female scholar, soon to be Ambassador to the United Nations, who believes that American power should be used to intervene to prevent genocide wherever it rears its ugly head in the world.  All for the good.

But, then, I experience a sinking feeling in my stomach.  What it represents beyond the surface is profoundly unsettling.  Is this where progress has led us?

Looking at the records of all three, I can’t help but feel profoundly disappointed.  Such is life.  We all disappoint others. Sometimes we disappoint ourselves.  Still, the sinking feeling is more than disappointment.  It’s about cultivating those who would deny our promotions to power.  It’s about sleeping to the top with or without sex being a component.  It’s about being bought. It’s about selling out. 

On the Israel – and Palestine, Obama, Rice and Power have been bought and sold.  It’s so obvious.  They’re having their records cleansed even at this late hour.  By straightening up on Israel, they think they’ll be free to do the right thing on other, more important, issues.  They’re wrong.

Anyone who thinks that cleansing one part of your politics has no effect on the other parts is living an illusion.  When you get right on one issue, you censor yourself on others.  Call it the political fear factor.  Once your opponent knows you’re afraid – and you know it too – you’re dead in the political waters.  Whatever good you could have done with your power is over.

It’s the political cycle we’re in.  How we’re going to break out of the cycle when people who should know better back down for personal ambition is difficult to imagine.  Each political figure you hope will be the exception isn’t. 

You can’t give up.  It’s irresponsible.  You can’t move ahead either.  Everyone’s selling out.

The other viral story of the week – the National Administration Agency snooping and the company that Edward Snowden worked for, Booz Allen Hamilton, the multi-billion dollar security firm – is equally depressing on a variety of levels.  Though seemingly quite different, there’s a connection to the photo I can’t get out of my mind.

One level which hasn’t had much play in the NSA story is about being bought and sold.  The New York Times ran an interesting article on the company’s economic size, links to government and the benefits companies like Booz Allen Hamilton bring to the extended Washington, D. C. area. The article reads like a celebration of government largesse. It treats the post-September 11th world as a giant pork barrel where everyone and their brother compete for national security dollars.  There isn’t a critical question raised in the entire article about the company or the intelligence industry itself except for how the leak scandal might affect the company’s future.     

What struck me was the amount of money the company brings in from the Federal government for surveillance – 1.3 billion dollars last year alone – and the number of people the company employs – almost 25,000 employees.  But other than Edward Snowden, few ask why the untold thousands of people employed in the intelligence industry throw their lot in with these kinds enterprise so willingly.   Don’t they think about what their work means to individual liberties and our society at large?  Aren’t they – like Obama, Rice and Power – selling their souls?

If you want to break the political cycle of injustice and war, you can’t focus only on the politically ambitious.  They’re just a mirror of our own condition.  If we’re willing to be bought and sold, why shouldn’t they enjoy their brief time at the top?

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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11 Responses

  1. Citizen
    Citizen
    June 17, 2013, 11:24 am

    This is the most astute article Mr. Ellis has penned in a long time in his series. He does get to the core of the politically ambitious, yet well-intended human’s problem in the current USA. Should I just add the obvious, that all American politics are pork-barrel politics? That Congress is most essentially Barterland? What do the described trio of individuals do with the most singularly focused and wealthiest lobby in the USA? There’s a caustic reason why, e.g., Allison Weir is not running for, or trying to keep a high slot in the US government. It is what it is. Donated Dollars.

    • American
      American
      June 17, 2013, 10:55 pm

      Ditto…very astute.
      Addresses the heart of the US problem……and our Israel problem.
      There is no US interest (or national principles for that matter) in our government…there’s only the political interest and self interest or narcissistic ideology of the people in it.

  2. seafoid
    seafoid
    June 17, 2013, 11:51 am

    “But other than Edward Snowden, few ask why the untold thousands of people employed in the intelligence industry throw their lot in with these kinds enterprise so willingly. ”

    http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article27919.htm

    “When Dante enters the “city of woes” in the Inferno he hears the cries of “those whose lives earned neither honor nor bad fame,” those rejected by Heaven and Hell, those who dedicated their lives solely to the pursuit of happiness. These are all the “good” people, the ones who never made a fuss, who filled their lives with vain and empty pursuits, harmless perhaps, to amuse themselves, who never took a stand for anything, never risked anything, who went along.”

  3. Donald
    Donald
    June 17, 2013, 5:03 pm

    ” Irish-born female scholar, soon to be Ambassador to the United Nations, who believes that American power should be used to intervene to prevent genocide wherever it rears its ugly head in the world. ”

    Except when we actively support the perpetrators. Power doesn’t say anything about mass murder and genocide in Central America in the 80’s, which we supported. She’s got about two or three sentences in her book, misleading ones at that, about East Timor. Nothing about Indonesia’s mass slaughter of alleged communists in the 60’s that totaled something like half a million people. Also supported by the US. I suppose she’d argue that wasn’t genocide, but wouldn’t an honest writer concerned with the subject of US foreign policymakers and how they ignore genocide want to look at the very closely related subject of policymakers supporting mass murder?

    I know Ellis knows this, but I wish he and others would stop repeating the conventional storyline about Samantha Power, that she’s this truth-telling idealist who fights against the realists and wants the US to do good in the world and is now folding under pressure. She folded a long time ago.

    • Keith
      Keith
      June 17, 2013, 6:57 pm

      DONALD- “I know Ellis knows this, but I wish he and others would stop repeating the conventional storyline about Samantha Power, that she’s this truth-telling idealist who fights against the realists and wants the US to do good in the world and is now folding under pressure. She folded a long time ago.”

      How do you know Ellis knows this? If true, that would make him an un-prophetic liar. Or, perhaps, a bender of truth creating a parable. Personally, I doubt that this rationalizer of imperial intervention has a humanitarian bone in her body. A power-seeker, pure and simple.

      Ellis also states that “By straightening up on Israel, they think they’ll be free to do the right thing on other, more important, issues.”

      Is he serious? Is it even conceivable that he is serious concerning these three power-seekers who have done so much to promote imperial aggression? The Obama administration is the more effective evil, smilingly misrepresenting the reality of actual policies. Policies which, as far as I know, they agree with. Endless war and global neoliberalism and omnipresent surveillance.

      • Donald
        Donald
        June 18, 2013, 6:30 pm

        “How do you know Ellis knows this? ”

        I don’t. I think I remember Ellis saying something about her in an earlier post that suggested that he knew she was a hypocrite, but I’m not going to look. Assuming he does know, what I think is going on in this post is not so much lying as it is simple writer’s laziness–it’s sometimes easier just to go with the widespread (false) belief on a given issue and make your point rather than straighten people out on everything. That said, I don’t think it’s a good idea to pander to this mythological idealization of the humanitarian liberal interventionist.

        OTOH, maybe Ellis doesn’t know any better and I misread or misremembered reading what he said earlier.

  4. Stephen Shenfield
    Stephen Shenfield
    June 17, 2013, 6:30 pm

    How do you know that the people selling their abilities to the intelligence industry are doing so willingly? Most of us lack access to the means of life, which are monopolized by the wealthy minority. Therefore we HAVE to sell our abilities in order to get what we need for ourselves and our children. If we are lucky we may be able to choose to whom we sell them and avoid selling them to immoral employers like intelligence, prisons, manufacturers of weapons, harmful drugs etc. But many people are unlucky and have no real choice for all sorts of reasons (what skills they have, where they live, how old they are, etc.). True, they can say no and end up hungry and homeless, together with their children, but is it fair to expect this of them? Is it fair to tell them off if they put the welfare of their families first? What would you do if you were in such a situation, Professor Ellis? I know that my willingness to reject immoral ways of earning a living has directly depended on my ability to earn a living by moral means.

  5. DICKERSON3870
    DICKERSON3870
    June 17, 2013, 6:33 pm

    RE: “The other viral story of the week – the National Administration Agency snooping and the company that Edward Snowden worked for, Booz Allen Hamilton, the multi-billion dollar security firm – is equally depressing on a variety of levels.” ~ Marc Ellis

    A GREAT COMMENTARY: “America at the Precipice; Can Fascism be Far Behind?” ~ by Norman Pollack, Counterpunch, 6/13/13

    [EXCERPTS] CP writers Sperber and Kampmark, among others, superbly discuss legal-moral-political implications, respectively, of the revelations of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden in their exposure of US government war crimes (Manning) and domestic spying on a comprehensive scale (Snowden) and, especially, where this leaves us a nation presumably under the rule of law. Let me add: No other country in the world presently stands out so nakedly—the Manning-Snowden symbolism—in clamping down hard on internal dissent, on erecting secrecy into a principle of the state (now capitalized in practice as the State, the National Security State), on developing the legal arguments and provisions which legitimate the suspension of the Constitution in the name of the law. Supplementary baggage doesn’t help: the Patriot Act, Guantanamo, targeted assassinations, illegal, unwarranted intervention, all of these, now under Obama, as the continuance and intensification of the work of his predecessors, for which he must therefore take full responsibility (even more so, since the previous contours of policy were well-known, and he willingly followed suit), places the US in the unenviable position of representing a society almost alone, by its action, in combining domestic repression and foreign aggression, becoming the more integrated the further each is pursued, in order to cover up the other.
    Manning-Snowden should be viewed as a unitary political-structural phenomenon, inseparable from the direction America is taking (a) as an historical process of the militarization and financialization of American capitalism, (b) necessitating that in this mature stage (of impending decline) drastic steps be taken to maintain what before had been unilateral dominance in economic and political affairs, and (c) among these is suffocating internal dissent for a course of permanent war and the violation of international law. . .
    . . . The assault on privacy, precisely like the wanton killing of civilians through drone strikes, a one-two punch of domination that is intended to put the world on notice of America’s capacity for acting unrestrained and with impunity, puts the raw component of power on display for others to see, appreciate, and submit to. Surveillance at home, under the spurious cover of counterterrorism, naturally a good idea, indeed brilliant in that using the hostility built up over decades (anticommunism) to tap into the latest manufactured scare, is an idea any self-respecting despot and his national-security advisers would approve.
    For in this way, the populace internalizes its own false consciousness and thereby affords the leadership free grace to pursue its military adventures. Surveillance and the commission of war crimes, these become the Patriotic Duo of US culture, ideology, and politics. With that becoming set in stone, can fascism be far behind?

    ENTIRE COMMENTARY – http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/06/13/america-at-the-precipice/

    • Citizen
      Citizen
      June 19, 2013, 9:04 am

      Thanks, DICKERSON3870, for the Counterpunch article link–a very timely assessment of the US macro trend in this “new American Century.” I think America became infected when the PNAC kids swarmed in around the fake cowboy president, Bush Jr. And the Democratic Messiah has extended a Rainbow Nation’s blessing on Imperial USA, otherwise known to us as the big dog that will hunt, wagged by #AIPAC’s tail. I believe that the US jobs will never return as our small ruling class enjoys more profit from the securitization of the US economy.

  6. Les
    Les
    June 17, 2013, 6:52 pm

    What would be controversial to Congress if those were government employees getting lower salaries rather than spending more money privatizing the Federal Government. More and more expensive contract employees is precisely what small government means to our Congress.

  7. Citizen
    Citizen
    June 17, 2013, 7:03 pm

    Obama and Rice folded a long time ago too, without even a whisper a la Power. Interesting how they all lost their presumed historical extended family memory once they got the power.

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