8/19/04 somehow unfinished reverie to be continued, fixed and repaird. your commetns and editorial help are welcome

PS: Where is America?

I was born as Austrian, grow up as Austrian and lived half my life in Austria. Whenever I say a word – no matter in which language – I’m immediately identified as Austrian. Being Austrian has not been a very proud affair but national identification worked on me as well as on everybody else. Since 1990 I have been living in New York. By accident and necessity, I was lucky and won a pink green card. Given my slightly anxious personality, I always felt nervous passing US immigration. After I read in the New York Times about the deportation and the revocation of the permanent residence status of a middle aged Italian woman who immigrated to the USA at age 3 and doesn’t speak a word of Italian for the simple reason of having shop lifted lipsticks I got alarmed. Not that I wanted to indulge in the psychology of shoplifting; but any involvement of a crime could potentially terminate a permanent residency. This article coincided with the entry of Austrian Right wing politician Haider into the government and reinforced my decision to apply for US citizenship. I did it before the historical September of this new millennium. I did it even before a certain religiously fanatic politician illegally occupied the White House with the illegal help of his brother and his father’s supreme justices.

Since then, the world has changed, wars and destruction has come to cover the world even more so. But I am not going to address that history – actually this presence. I am sitting here and listen to the news and to the never-ending talk shows on National Public Radio and WBAI (www.wbai.org). And I ask myself the silly question: Where is America? Where is this America of the radio, this America of the news that drives me crazy and angry every day? Where are these hawks, these warmongers and neo-colonizers, these Bush-men and Bush-women who are hated by most of the people I know? I am trying to imagine how this current quasi-global Anti-Americanism would fuel me if I didn’t live here. I am realizing that I live this strange discrepancy between the regular New York life – that hasn’t really changed so much since 2001 – and the America of the news that distributes US justice across the world delivered with the US military and US companies. From this realization things don’t get easier. I am one of “them,” yet I am not.

Actual changes in security, people profiling and social paranoia are not at all unique to the United States. In fact, what outrageous the majority of people here in NYC is the attempt to implement security measures and civil policies that have been common in Europe at least since the time of Hitler and have never been abolished. In Austria – as well as everywhere in Europe as far as I know – people have to register. Even every hotel stay is demanding identification and registration. Where do you leave, what age, which profession, address and so on? So far, the only thing American hotels ask are credit cards. There is no national identification card system and no requirement for registration when living somewhere. In the United States, regular police officers are legally not allowed to ask people for their immigration status since this is only the job Homeland Security is allowed and to do. Racial profiling is a crime and when it happens it can cost police departments a lot of money as we have seen many cases that were settled in court with payments to people for police harassements. Things are now changing and provoking national discussions. Homeland Security with the help of the US Patriot Act are now trying to implement tactics that are unconstitutional but I grew up with and suffered from in Europe. How often did boarder controls in Switzerland, in Germany, in France and Italy literally undress me! How often did European highway patrols pick me up and harass me for hitch hiking! At one point, I was even cynically beaten up by several Italian police officers in Bologna for their pure amusement or for having long hair when I was a teenager and school holiday trump. Police abuse are being discussed here in the USA. It doesn’t mean they don’t exist. They unfortunately exist very much so, but racial as well as other profiling and police harassment are illegal so far. Again, I’m not saying that they don’t exist but America does not legally accept these things the way France or other European countries do where police forces legally are allowed to and widely practice systematic daily controls of “foreigners” for ID checks and more.

How much would I hate America would I not be living here? How much would I render it into an abject object would I not walk around in this “ordinary city” here? The despicable, the arrogant, the death bringing America for me exists only when I read or hear about the White House and the Pentagon, i.e. when I read the paper, or listen to the radio. The more I think about these distinctions, the more I get confused. What happens with my tax dollars? What happens daily “in my name as a US citizen” even if people think I just arrived at JFK? Would I not detest this current administration were it not for the news?

The towers are gone, but that is not the problem. Riding my bicycle nearly every day towards downtown, I have learned to orient myself on other visual markers. The missing of a landmark symbol isn’t really the damage. The first comment by major Giuliani at the time was that the towers would be rebuilt and the “skyline” restored. The death of nearly 3000 people was the individual catastrophe of the families that were left behind and was realized only a day later. At least, this was my experience. But of course, the real damage started weeks and months later with the consequences that followed in this “War on terror.” I try not to address the problem of an adequate reaction to these terror attacks, the Bush doctrine of preemptive war and other political changes that – for my understanding – have made the world less safe, less peaceful.

Everything that has followed in reaction to 911 made me even reevaluate the time before 911. I lost some naiveté and now see in the skyline of this great city the excesses of global capitalism. I can’t refrain myself from comparing these skyscrapers with skin deformations of some bad disease. I see these towers dip deep into a global network that sucks the life-blood of the world. But the world also pushes through New York’s rocky foundation high into high air. New complications arise for my understanding of where America is. It is not just America that “sucks” here on the straws of capitalism, there are many other actors and forces around the globe that are complicit with it. Again, my European identity – in America I became European and White and stay that way to the end of my days since I can’t get my tongue around English – is in conflict with this acknowledgement that Europe is complicit in the erection of these towers here in NYC. Europe and the richer parts of Asia are collaborating in providing the liquidity necessary to materialize in such anti-gravitational formations. We only have to take one single round of a World trade meeting to understand who is doing what kind of business with whom and who is excluded. I came to understand that just by simply reading newspapers, listening to the radio and reading some books the optics of this ordinary life shifts from positive to negative.

Of course, I am hyperbolic because my daily life here is a permanent hustle to stay on the rock. Like ice in a glass, this rocky ground here is melting constantly under my feet. Manhattan is pretty flat but it feels as if living on a mountain with extreme inclination. In New York, people better quickly learn to be suckers, experienced with tentacles for holding out under extreme situations. Compared to my previous economic life – and economic orientations from even childhood are unfortunately not completely fading out – I feel I am one zero or one decimal point removed. This is best expressed with the exchange rate Austrian Schilling – history as well - US dollar. The exchange rate fluctuated between 11 : 1 and 18 : 1 according the times. We used to pay 2 ATS for chocolate, now I pay 2 dollars for about the same. When I studied I had to come up with 2000 Ats for a room, now it is something like 2000 $ for running my monthly show here. But my pecuniary stress aside, what does it all mean given the miserable state of the world?

Right now, the talk should be the current genocide of people in Sudan. In Dafur peoplee are slaughtered. Where is America? What is it doing? How long does it take before the word genocide is officially applied and some measures put in place? Again, the news, again frustrations because this time, where the conflict is real but ideological, strategic and material interests are absent, the USA is not persueing enough to stop this systematic genocide of Africans. Bush doesn’t want to apply his leverage this way. It distresses me. For month now, dramatic reports are in the news and on the radio. And where is Europe? Where is the rest of the world? Where can I fit or do something?

It needs only little knowledge in political history – “Don’t know much about history …” - that the biggest guys are often the worst because they have the power to impose the rules. Since the USA are about to spend more money on the military than the entire rest of the world combined, the question is not really too complicated to answer who the “bad guy” is in these days – assuming one doesn’t read news papers, read books, watch TV or listen to radio. In today’s media dominated times, this assumption has to be put on its head: Is somebody, who consumes corporate news still able to understand the basics of justice and history since most corporate media are owned by only a handful of people who mostly share the interest of powerful and biased governments, if they are not even identical with them? For example, I’m quite surprised with what logic everybody assumes that country A, B and C are allowed to have the infamous weapons of mass destructions whereas country X is not allowed to have it. If they do, or suspected to do they are bombed and axed, or x-ed, added to the Axis of Evil. While I am writing, I can read on the internet that an Iraqi cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, is currently resisting American forces. For already some time, the news report on how many hundreds of al-Sadr fighters have been killed with US helicopters, missiles and tanks. Now, officially, they declare this man and this conflict an Iraqi internal affair. If Americans get involved – they now prefer to send Iraqis doing the dirty and dangerous jobs – they want to be depicted as helpers, as saviors, once again on the side of freedom and democracy. When I read or hear in these days “freedom and democracy” my blood pressure goes up and I know who speaks. Of course, from what I see and hear all day long, this is what I am supposed to believe. The real freedom is that of certain US companies “privatizing” Iraq. Where is America?

The rest of the powerful world is again in business with the Americans, and have adopted their usual quiet diplomacy playing by the rules. Where is America? It is on another page. American or not, we all should remember Martin Luther King’s saying that every bomb dropped in Vietnam explodes also in an American city.

rainer ganahl

8/19/04 somehow unfinished revereie to be continued, fixed and repaird. your commetns and editorial help are welcome


PS1: basically, I wanna say - and am not able to... - that the world is interconnected to such a degree that we can't really isolate one country or one group from the next. this is also why the alternative to Bush, John Kerry, for whom I am voting, sounds not much better (if not sometimes even worse since Kerry has to talk about "it" - Bush is just doing it). This is also why there can't be an intrinsically "good nation" - they all suck, they all suck in relationship to their power - some more, some less.

PS2: I didn't mention enough the problem of the neo-liberal capitalist system that is about to ruin all European socialist (European socialism, not Soviet Socialism) institutions that were the result of 150 years of social struggle. I almost wonder whether the disappearance of the spectrum of Soviet Socialism - even if it had no direct connections to the liberal, left leaning European Socialist parties - removed the last protection from being burned out. People also seem too accustomed to their living styles and forget about their own history -i.e. that they have to fight for it. The fact that the media is not any more in the hand of the middle class - or liberal upper class - but very much controlled by monopolized interest of transnational neo-liberal capitallism has a lot do do with this process of collective amnesia. The dismantling of social networks and modes of community oriented (versus profit oriented) functioning is now erasing even the very understanding of how these social organisms were supposed to work and worked. They are now made to look disfunct, corrupt, nonfunctioning and money-losing. This can only be said if profitable entities are spinned off, sold off and privatized and if others are seen isolated. For example: The Austrian rail way system was never making any all over profits, it might have made even some losses. But the true story was that it had a generous pension fund, it had a health care system and so on and distributed its funds across Austria in the same way it was providing services into the last corners: Today, profitable routes are supposed to be sold, others stopped, and the pension funds are breaking down and making the rest look really bad etc.. (please, verify it all yourself since I m not really totally familiar with the details but the general route is about that and replicated everywhere) And once, this process starts things are going down the drain very quickly. America has seen this process two decades earlier. Here no relevant politician even has any valid memory or remaining recollection on alternatives anymore - alternatives that once really worked - worked in the sense that the distribution of wealth was more equal and less injust (funny - my spell check put the word angst since I wasn't writing injustice correctly)