Some folk’s got a vision of a castle in the sky / And I’m left wonderin’ why

Seth Godin’s lecture, as caught here, entitled Broken, is worth a watch, even if it’s a little long. It’s a fairly humourous look at things we encounter day to day which are broken, and why they are broken. Here in Indonesia, the word is rusak. And the lecture is funny for rather different reasons. It’s funny, sitting in Indonesia, because so many of the things that raise a laugh in the lecture hall in the USA are rather normal here and would not, to the mass, be considered rusak. Take the line about the illogicality of getting around in the West Village. In Indonesia street numbers don’t run in sequence – that’s how rusak it is. I’d love to be able to navigate a map in Indonesia as easily as I could find an address on Carmine.

In fact, pretty much every thing in Indonesia is rusak. The police are completely rusak; the courts are rusak; the banks are rusak; the internet is rusak; the education system is rusak; the roads, rails and airways are rusak as are the air and sea ports; the waterways and air quality are rusak; the health system is rusak; the shops and supermarkets are empty and rusak (unless you head to the Jakarta mega malls for the wealthy of course). It’s pretty hard to think of many practical things here that are not rusak (okay – the food and the Bluebird Taxi company get a big tidak rusak tick)

The first round of the of the current election cycle was pretty much rusak, but given decades of massive and accepted corruption and fraud at every level, it’s hardly surprising that electoral cheating was endemic, and with that in mind it actually went quite well.

Round two is coming, and the whole point, at least for the educated middle class and many of the urban generation coming of age, is to elect a president who is going to solidly push ahead with the de-rusaking of Indonesia, thus realising it’s latent potential.

To that end, there are three contenders.

Two, Megawati and Kalla, representing the last gasp of the very bad old days when keeping Indonesia rusak was the key to the power elite they represent maintaining their grip on power – and the profits from one of the world’s biggest economies – at the expense of those that most need it.

But, unless we are somehow transported back to the parallel universe these people still live in, they all look likely to be trounced by the current incumbent, SBY, ironically a former Suharto General, albeit one who may be, at least as far as anyone can tell, less tainted and dirty than the others, and with a vision to make the nation kurang rusak, in a very slow and steady way.

Indonesia may still be thoroughly rusak but there are glimmers from down the end, around the curve, over the hill and via a long tainted tunnel, that there is some hope.

But before we westerners get too smug about this, look at the USA right now. Essentially, over the past decade or so the United States of America, at its core became more and more rusak. Sure, compared to Indonesia the infrastructure and the day to day life of the nation is infinitely less rusak, but the banks are rusak, the manufacturing base was and is rusak, the self-perception of its roll, rights and obligations to the world was rusak, and the moral core of the nation politik was utterly rusak, especially as defined by those it elected to defend that morality.

So, the people, like Indonesia, decided to elect a leader who promised to lead them down a jalan kurang rusak (a road less broken) and they, or at least 53% of the 60 odd percent who vote in these things, elected Barrack Obama. The world was overjoyed and a bright new future less broken than the previous eight (or one might reasonably argue the past 20 or more if you were so inclined) loomed,

Or so it seemed.

But are we really so surprised that, despite huge movements in the right direction with regard to the environment, relations in South and Central America and less confrontational, paranoid (although it’s hard to let that paranoia go) face to nations like China and Russia, the US still teeters on the edge of the wrong side of the precipice that leads to or from becoming a good global citizen.

For every handshake with Chavez there is a slip back towards the Bush-lite-isms that increasingly seem to define America’s utterly confused and mixed up, with disastrous and tragic results, War on Terror, or whatever it’s now been renamed.

The revival of the globally despised military tribunals, the massive civilian death toll in Afghanistan and Pakistan which the US military is still able to simply lie about, and the increasing slide into another quagmire in that part of the world which threatens to dwarf the mess in Iraq. Obama’s failure and unwillingness to date to define exactly why the USA is different from the bad guys underline just how completely rusak the USA’s world view has become.

The credit crisis will blow over, but how Obama handles these other factors will define both him and his nation in the years to come – right now he’s flagging an F.

To quote Glenn Greenwald :

We’re currently occupying two Muslim countries. We’re killing civilians regularly (as usual) — with airplanes and unmanned sky robots. We’re imprisoning tens of thousands of Muslims with no trial, for years. Our government continues to insist that it has the power to abduct people — virtually all Muslim — ship them to Bagram, put them in cages, and keep them there indefinitely with no charges of any kind. We’re denying our torture victims any ability to obtain justice for what was done to them by insisting that the way we tortured them is a “state secret” and that we need to “look to the future.” We provide Israel with the arms and money used to do things like devastate Gaza. Independent of whether any or all of these policies are justifiable, the extent to which those actions “inflame anti-American sentiment” is impossible to overstate.

Am I disappointed in Barack Hussein Obama? Yes. Am I surprised? No, not even slightly. Semua rusak … Let’s see what Cairo brings this week.

Right now Indonesia doesn’t seem quite so rusak.

Update: Obama said, when refusing to release the detainee torture images this week:

And I want to emphasize that these photos that were requested in this case are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib.

I’m not sure what his definition of sensational is, but these turn my stomach. Joan Walsh says:

For the first time in his presidency, I had the sick feeling that Obama was lying

It’s an ugly moment.

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