A Tale of Two Stories


We have been frequently asked to comment on “the impeachment” and “Y2k.” Because Z prints articles that convey information, analysis, or vision largely unavailable elsewhere that can help people understand social systems and movement practices relevant to activist agendas, impeachment and Y2k aren’t top priorities. Still, a few useful points can be made. 


The Impeachment

Sexgate news and coverage is everywhere. We can’t usefully add to the facts or make better known obscure ones and none of the facts tell us anything of lasting importance, anyhow. Yes, Clinton’s stupidities and lies have led to a Republican-authored referendum on sex, and sex is consequential, for sure. But Puritan sexual McCarthyism is being soundly rejected. Far from advancing their political agendas, right-wing prudes in public (often seriously “perverse” in private) are torpedoing themselves. Other journalists (see Katha Pollitt’s essays in The Nation, for example) are doing very admirable writing on these fronts.

Sexgate isn’t a coup, nor even an assault on the presidency (regrettably). It is, instead, a well-accepted practice, political mud slinging, that has run wild via media madness. Mud-slinging is acceptable and ubiquitous because it is a way opposing candidates can “distinguish themselves” as superior to their “degenerate” opponents without attracting attention to their basic similarities in serving elites or other substantive issues. Adding to the cacophony of news about inconsequential details of private lives doesn’t seem too productive to us. The media runs with such private matters for the same reason, by the way: they are largely inconsequential to state policy and the workings of the broader political system. When the media runs too fast, sometimes a story gets wings of its own and the results escalate beyond anyone’s interests, as in this case.

As to the second point, the presidency being under seige and suffering—so? Is this a problem—morally, politically, or socially? Suppose Clinton was removed from office. It would be on the official grounds that he had violated the public trust, not served the public interest, and lied to the public. First, these are fine reasons to remove any president or other elected official from office. If it were to occur, this could actually legitimate the idea that elected officials are recallable and that they have to be honest and serve the public or suffer recall—an impossibly dangerous pair of notions so that even though the story has run wild, it will not happen. Second, it wouldn’t be a miscarriage of justice if it did occur. However opportunist his main critics are, Clinton did lie and he doesn’t and has never served “the public interest,” in this episode or any other. There is a misallocation of justice, yes, because, there are much better reasons to recall Bill Clinton. Even if we ignore the obvious overarching one, that he represents only the interests of elites, lies like a rug all the time, and presides over a massive apparatus of hate and destruction—there are in his case many specific violations as well. For example Clinton immorally attacked the compound of a religious sect in Waco killing eighty-one men, women, and children. He rejected a Canadian proposal to ban antipersonnel land mines for reasons of warfare, not the public good. He assaulted Somalia on behalf of elite policy-making, leaving human devastation as his service to the public, and he has embargoed Cuba and Iraq, causing untold unwarranted misery in Cuba and hundreds of thousands of deaths (social murders) in Iraq, all against international law. He gutted welfare aid to poor families with dependent children, causing a predictable escalation of poverty, hunger, drug-dealing, tuberculosis, and sexually transmitted diseases and even starvation and death for the many, and a storm of profits for the few. He maintains a $250 billion military budget to prime the corporate profits pump as against rebuilding infrastructure to enhance the lives of the populace. He allocated $8 billion dollars for new prisons and virtually nothing (other than police round ups) for millions of homeless people in need of aid, He bombed Afghanistan and the Sudan without evidence of his claims and violated the war powers act and international law when he pummeled Iraq, again, as a holiday gift to suffering humanity. Finally he abets the international multinational forces currently expropriating via IMF and World Bank policies means of production throughout the world to major U.S. and European corporatists in a vile legal “land grab” that before it is finished may actually outstrip more typical means of imperial robbery of past centuries. So we aren’t going to waste our time worrying about Bill Clinton’s fate or the sacrosanct piety of his office or even of the government per se. There are better things to focus on both for bringing news to our audience, for understanding recurring social patterns, and for providing analysis and vision that can fuel positive steps by responsible social actors, than Bill Clinton’s sex life or even his lies about that “life” or Republicans lip-smacking hypocrisies over both.



Y2K is a real issue. Lurking in billions of lines of computer code an infinitesimal fraction that is very hard to find refers to years by using two digits to denote them (58, 84, 00) rather than using four (1958, 1984, 2000). This seemingly trivial scheme, chosen to save computer memory back when chips were scarce, can cause immense systems or your little desktop to halt or to spit out meaningless or misleading results, in certain cases. But like impeachment, there is no shortage of commentary about the facts. Like impeachment, the source of the story isn’t the systemic characteristics of society but a kind of anomaly (yes, markets impose a short timeline and cost cutting attitude that contributed to not catching or paying attention to the problem at its inception, but even in a good society this error might well have occurred). More, those with the most resources and means to fix these coding problems now have a huge interest in doing so. Of course corporations, banks, governments, and similar institutions will focus first on problems they think impact them most (billing, keeping track of debtors, etc.), but basically, they have to try to get this whole thing gone. And they are trying to do that, in fact, applying to the problem huge outlays of time, energy, minds, and resources. As a result, it is reasonable to think that while they certainly won’t patch up or upgrade everything into Y2K readiness, they will get most of it, precisely because it is so overwhelmingly in their interests to do so.

No one knows what the impact of what they miss or botch will be, but the most plausible view is that it will be like a bunch of horrible weather systems hitting here and there rather indiscriminately over a period of a few weeks, with some straggler storms popping up over a few months, all around the world. And yes, that is certainly consequential. But why is it such a consuming focus for media and personal attention? Two reasons, it seems to us.

First, like sexgate, media can talk about it endlessly and never come near the elite workings of society—it is safe copy.  Second, while Y2K problems will hit the poor and weak hardest, it will hit the well off and even the rich as well. Thus, unlike most social problems, the media notice this one. What does it mean that educated and comfortable members of society are in a growing state of worry, even panic about Y2k failures—given that those failures will be temporary, affect a modest number, and be nowhere near as consequential to life, limb, or dignity as the normal everyday operations of corporations and governments that these same comfortable people and pundits routinely take for granted? The afflictions suffered in Hollywood Hills, Miami Beach, Scarsdale or wherever else due to Y2K won’t even make life in those places a fraction as constrained, limited, and curtailed as life (when it is liveable at all) is every single day in the slums of Calcutta or of New York City, for that matter, So whose priorities are off? Periodicals that are focusing on matters of income distribution, of sexual battering, or police brutality, of racial bigotry, and of systemic oppression and potentials for innovation more generally, or periodicals that are acting as though Y2K is the be-all, moral, social, and political phenomenon occurring in the world this year?

But, okay, if we must, here is some advice that is proportionate, we think, to the Y2K problem as we currently know it. (1) Read one sensible, informed source on dealing with your own computer, if you have one, and act on the advice you find. Don’t waste more time than that. We’ll put a single good link on our ZNet site sometime in the next few weeks for that purpose. (2) If you are really worried about societal impact impacting you, make believe that starting on January 1, 2000 some fraction of neighborhoods in your country are going to be in a very harsh (but certainly not tornado-level) weather system on and off for a few weeks. Prepare accordingly.

If impeachment or Y2k move into realms of important social implication or structural revelation or even needed self defense, we will provide more coverage. Otherwise, we think issues such as those covered in this issue—for example, the global economic crisis, its roots and meaning—are far better topics for Z. We hope you agree.