Below is a version of my most recent column for the print version of Counterpunch.
It is a commonplace of our commentariat to say that American society is deeply divided -- indeed, perhaps more polarized than it's ever been before. Of course, this leaves out any number of emblematic events that might possibly undermine their blazing insight -- like, say, the Civil War, Haymarket, Selma, Little Rock, Watts or Kent State, to name but a very few historical instances of “polarization." But then, willful ignorance has always been the coin of our realm, the golden ticket to the circles of power -- or, for the commentariat, the fearful, bootlicking fringes of power. For these sages, history begins and ends with whatever is gurgling in the unflushed toilet of Beltway politics right here and now.
So it should come as no surprise to find that the truth about American society today is the opposite of what these cud-dripping masticators of conventional wisdom are wont to opine. Far from being a house divided, America is actually in the midst of an era characterized by remarkable unanimity. In fact, I would go so far as to say that American society has never been so united and uniform than it is today.
Yes, "hot button" issues -- centered, as always, around genital activity and gender roles -- remain heatedly contentious. Yes, the chronic, virulent racism on which our society was (literally) built continues to sicken the body politic. And yes, Tea Party trogs and NetRootsy progs still hurl insults across an ever-widening cultural abyss, each side increasingly regarding the other more as separate species than political opponents. Who can deny that our public discourse grows ever more harsh, frenzied, aggressive and stupid?
And yet, the fact remains that on those issues which truly concern our elites -- the issues on which their continued (and expanding) dominance and privilege depend -- here we find remarkable (not to say alarming) agreement across a depressingly broad swath of American society.
The Obama years have given us an America that looks something like a bad Kurt Russell movie from the 80s: a weird, garish dystopia, where the president runs a death squad out of the White House, wages robot wars in foreign lands, operates a techno-panopticon sucking up every message, musing and secret desire of the populace, and lets tens of millions of citizens sink into poverty and despair in their gutted communities and crumbling infrastructure while he doles out trillions of dollars to rapacious elites gleefully bleeding the country dry. Actually, if you tried to run this scenario past a few coked-up studio execs in those halcyon years, they would have rejected it out of hand as too unrealistic, even for a bad Kurt Russell movie. Yet this is our reality.
Add to this such things as the corporate-backed ALEC movement stifling the ability of the people’s elected representatives to pass measures on matters of vital importance to their communities, such as gun violence, pollution, collective bargaining, etc; the return of Jim Crow laws openly designed to rob the dusky races (and poor white trash) of access to the ballot box; the incarceration of a greater percentage of its own population than any regime in human history; the reckless sell-off of public services, public lands and the environment itself to frackers, venture cap vultures and other corporate profiteers; and the relentless persecution of any government employee who dares to inform the people of even a few of the sickening crimes being done in their name.
This hardly exhausts the litany of abuses, punishments and humiliations to which Americans are subjected daily. They live in a pestilent swelter of authoritarianism and militarism, of fear and insecurity, of ugliness and hopelessness that few if any generations of Americans before them have ever known. And yet …
Where are our Selmas, our Haymarkets, our Marches on Washington? Where is the anger, the outrage, the action? True, the Occupy movement blossomed for a season, and the seeds it sowed may yet bear good fruit. But for the most part, most sectors of American society have remained notably quiescent, when they have not been downright supportive. (This includes the African-American community, which today, as always, is bearing the brunt of our elites’ depredations. For more on this tragic development, see Glen Ford and his indispensible Black Agenda Report.) Congressional and media ‘liberals’ take to the airwaves to defend Obama’s Stasi-like spy ops, his death squads, his drone wars, his force-feeding torture of Guantanamo prisoners long cleared for release. They hotly condemn the ‘narcissistic’ Edward Snowden for revealing state crimes – yet happily revel in leaks that depict our noble, thoughtful president consulting Thomas Aquinas before ordering American citizens (and countless, nameless others) to be murdered without charge, trial or defense.
Every day, all across the world – and in the holy-moley Homeland itself – Obama commits and countenances crimes beyond the wildest dreams of LBJ and Richard Nixon. Every day he helps tighten the stranglehold of rampant militarism and corporate power on the lives of the people. Yet there are no riots, no uprisings, no public or institutional dissent that might trouble the complacency of our overlords.
A “divided society?” Would to god we had one. For beneath the gaudy spectacle of hot button-pushing and the scattering of a few crumbs of cultural change, a drab, grim conformity to the overarching agenda of elite power reigns supreme.
Words strain, Crack and sometimes break, under the burden, Under the tension, slip, slide, perish, Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place.... -- T.S. Eliot, "Burnt Norton"
In a surprise move, Vice President Joe Biden signaled that the United States would not intervene to stop Iran from launching a "pre-emptive" attack on Israel. Biden's declaration came during an appearance on the ABC news-talk show, "This Week," with former Bill Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos. Here are Biden's exact words, as reported by the New York Times:
“Look, we cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do when they make a determination — if they make a determination — that they’re existentially threatened and their survival is threatened by another country.”
It is of course well known that Israel possesses a formidable nuclear arsenal -- which it developed illegally, in secret, "rogue-state" style. It is also well-known that an Israeli attack on Iran is a constant, open topic of discussion -- and advanced planning and war-gaming -- at the highest levels of the Israeli government and military.
Given the fact that a nuclear-armed nation is openly discussing and planning an attack on their country, the Iranians could quite logically "make a determination that they are existentially threatened and their survival is threatened by another country."
Thus, by Biden's logic, it would be quite legitimate for the Iranians to mount an attack to "take out the nuclear program" in Israel, given the ever-present existential threat this poses to their survival. And the United States, according to Biden, would not do anything to stop such an attack, because Washington "cannot dictate to another sovereign nation" what it can do when it feels threatened to such a degree.
This then is the actual, logical meaning of the actual words that Biden used on Sunday: If Iran's Supreme Leader "made a determination" that his nation's existence was in peril from attack by a very hostile nuclear-armed nation, then he would be justified in taking pre-emptive action to save his people.
This Hobbesian, dog-eat-dog logic could also apply to any other potential conflict in the world. Any nation whose leaders declare is under "existential threat" is thereby justified in any pre-emptive attack to quell the threat. That's it. That's all it takes. That is the quintessence of the philosophy of international statecraft voiced by Biden on Sunday.
But in practice, of course, this justification for military aggression is not meant to apply universally. It is reserved solely for the United States -- indeed, it is the very heart of the U.S. government's officially promulgated "National Security Doctrine"" -- and for any favored American clients and allies. Israel is the prime example of the latter category; any and all acts of aggression by its government are always justified -- and usually praised to high heaven -- by Washington. But this exception also applies to other nations whose aggression serves America's agenda at any given time: Ethiopia's American-aided invasion of Somalia, for example, a brutal act of aggression that killed thousands, displaced hundreds of thousands, radicalized thousands, exacerbated sectarian strife, and sparked off a new, vicious civil war -- all in service of America's Terror War "regime change" agenda.
The machtpolitik philosophy enunciated so clearly by Biden underlies the Terror War operations being continued -- and expanded -- by his boss, Barack Obama, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now, once more, in Somalia. Obama continually affirms that America is under an "existential threat" if Afghanistan is not conquered and the "recalcitrant tribes" of Pakistan not bombed and droned into submission.
But nations outside the golden circle of imperial favor are not allowed to make such claims -- even if nuclear weapons really are aimed at them, by governments who really do call for their destruction. Thus once again we see American leaders trying to justify their own (and their favorites') military aggression by referring to some grand, universal principle -- which they immediately subvert by failing to apply it universally.
Yet it is certain that no one in the upper reaches of the American power structure will note -- or even recognize -- the howling illogic of Biden's position. Why should they? It is their own underlying, animating principle, the very air they breathe: whatever We and Ours do is good, is true, is right, is righteous.
If We torture, it is good; in fact, it's not even torture. If We invade other countries without provocation, it's not aggression; it's liberation. If We kill innocent people to further Our political agenda, it's not terrorism; it's heroism, it's a "defense of the realm," of "our way of life." If We and Ours openly call and plan for "regime change" in other countries, those countries have no right to feel threatened; they should simply fall into line with Our wishes. This, again, is the unquestioned and apparently unquestionable core assumption of the American political, corporate and business classes.
This can be seen in the New York Times story on Biden's interview. Reporter Brian Knowlton makes what he believes is a telling point. After devoting a couple of paragraphs to some of the dangers of an attack on Iran that various American officials have expressed, Knowlton says:
Still, the disputed Iranian election result has raised concerns in Israel. Officials there say that the victory by Mr. Ahmadinejad, who has called for the destruction of Israel, underscored the Iranian threat and bolstered the argument for tough action.
Here of course, Knowlton repeats the blood libel that Ahmadinejad has "called for the destruction of Israel." As Juan Cole and many others have constantly pointed out, Ahmadinejad has done no such thing:
...the actual quote, which comes from an old speech of Khomeini, does not imply military action, or killing anyone at all. The second reason is that it is just an inexact translation. The phrase is almost metaphysical. He quoted Khomeini that "the occupation regime over Jerusalem should vanish from the page of time." It is in fact probably a reference to some phrase in a medieval Persian poem. It is not about tanks.
In other words, Ahmadinejad was indulging in the flatulent, high-falutin rhetorical bilgewater favored by politicians around the globe, from the dawn of time. In doing so, he expressed the same kind of hope that the American government and the United States government have formally expressed in the Iran Freedom Support Act, in which the nation's leaders committed $10 million of the public's money to support the removal of the current Iranian regime. Unlike Ahmadinejad's cloudy evocation, the Americans openly put cold hard cash on the line to help make the Iranian regime "vanish from the page of time." (All of this is in addition to the far larger covert efforts -- including terrorism, sabotage and other black ops -- also being carried out in Iran by the United States and local proxies.)
In any case, for all his manifold faults, Ahmadinejad did not and has not "called for the destruction of Israel," nor issued any "existential threat" against the people in Israel -- nor could he actually destroy Israel or even threaten its existence even he wanted to. Israel, on the other hand, has the aforementioned rogue nuclear arsenal, and a bipartisan leadership that constantly declares its strong intent to "eliminate the Iranian threat" -- and which is backed to the hilt by the most powerful military in the history of the world, whose vice president has just publicly affirmed that America will not stop any Israeli attack on Iran.
Who then, by Biden's own logic, is actually facing an existential threat which, by Biden's own logic, would justify a pre-emptive attack?
II. But the grim NYT story -- presaging, as it does, a monstrous act of folly and hubris that could kill thousands upon thousands of innocent human beings -- does end with a bit of comic relief. Dig this:
In May, Mr. Obama told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel during a meeting at the White House that “we’re not going to have talks forever” with Iran; in the absence of cooperation from Tehran, he said, the administration would not rule out “a range of steps.”
"We're not going to have talks forever"! That's a hoot, ain't it? These "talks," presumably, are the "talks" that "we" are not actually having at all. Obama appears to believe that talking about the possibility of having talks is the same thing as actually having talks -- and is eager to assure his warlike allies, at home and abroad, that he will not drag out these non-existent talks any longer than necessary.
And earlier in the story, Knowlton points out that Obama "has said that diplomatic efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program should be given to the end of the year." Please note well the usage here; in the midst of so much slipping, sliding and perishing of words, our leaders' imprecision is sometimes chillingly precise. Obama says that he is -- graciously, imperiously -- willing to give diplomacy a few more months to stop Iran's nuclear program. Not its nuclear weapons program, which, by all evidence, does not exist, but its nuclear energy program in general -- which by international treaty Iran has every right to pursue, and has pursued under the most stringent international supervision.
Obama is thus leaving open the possibility of overt American moves "beyond diplomacy" if Iran is still pursuing its perfectly legal, internationally sanctioned nuclear program next year -- that is, if Israel is not given the green light for a proxy shot first.
Certainly the trial balloons to habituate the public to the idea of a strike are going up again; on the very day that Biden was signalling American acquiescence to an Israeli strike on Iran, the Times of London -- a frequent stovepipe for the Anglo-American militarist elite -- headlines this little item: Saudis give nod to Israeli raid on Iran.
This in turn dovetails with news that Israel's much-preferred candidate, Japanese diplomat and sanctions maven, Yukiya Amano, has just been named director-general of the International Atomic Energy Association, which is overseeing the draconian strictures on Iran's nuclear program. It is thought that Amano will be much tougher on Iran than outgoing director Mohamed El Baradei, who occasionally committed the cardinal sin of adhering to law, and logic. There will no more of that nonsense from IAEA now. In fact, Amano is off to a flying start, as Gordon Prather notes at Antiwar.com, pointing us to this piece from Bloomberg: UN’s Amano Says Iran ‘Under Obligation’ to Suspend Nuclear Work.
The strenuous effort to get the pliable Amano in place -- as Bloomberg notes, he "previously failed to win majority support in three meetings of the IAEA board" -- eerily recall the machinations to oust the head of the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons as a prelude to the invasion of Iraq. As I noted in the Moscow Times in April 2002:
Jose Bustani is an accomplished Brazilian diplomat, a man of learning and enlightenment, with extensive experience in international affairs, including postings in Vienna, Montreal, the United Nations and Moscow. For decades, he has served as a high-level negotiator on a number of international treaties, hammering out agreements on disarmament, pollution, scientific research and maritime law. In 1997, he became director general of the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which enforces the international Chemical Weapons Convention.
In that post, as The Guardian reports, Bustani engineered the destruction of 2 million chemical weapons and the dismantling of two-thirds of the world's production facilities for biological mass murder. He was so well regarded by his colleagues that he was re-elected to a five-year term – unanimously – in May 2000. Just a few months ago, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell publicly lauded him for his "very impressive work."
There was one thing wrong with Jose Bustani, however. He was negotiating to bring Iraq into the Chemical Weapons Convention. That was his job, after all: to get as many nations as possible under the treaty's umbrella. So he was trying to persuade Iraq to accept the Convention and its strictures – including the destruction of chemical weapons stores and facilities, and constant independent monitoring to ensure compliance. If he had succeeded, the Middle East – and the world – would have been an immeasurably safer place.
But there were sinister forces – thugs – who didn't want Bustani to succeed. These thugs have big plans for Iraq, you see. They're going to puff up their chests, beat their hairy bellies and rape Iraq, force it down into the dirt and have their way with it. But they can only do that if Iraq remains a threat – or at least can be credibly framed as a threat to the little ones back home.
[Note: Yes, it was that obvious, that early, that the United States was going to invade Iraq. Although the Bush Regime did make a big show of insisting that "diplomatic efforts to [disarm Iraq] should be given to the end of the year," the fix was firmly in. Remember Iraq's frantic disclosures at the end of that year -- thousands of documents sent to the UN to prove the dismantling of its WMD programs, and Iraq's complete acquiescence to all UN inspections? Remember how much good it did them, responding to such "diplomatic efforts"? Well, of course no one in America remembers the pre-history of the act of aggression that Barack Obama now calls an "extraordinary achievement;" but you can be the Iranians do.]
And so George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and the rest of the pack started in on Bustani. First they softened him up with some bureaucratic brass knuckles: they illegally withheld U.S. funding for the Convention, leading to a cash crisis at the agency. Next came a boot in the groin: having themselves engineered the Convention's money troubles, they accused Bustani of "financial mismanagement" and demanded that Brazil recall him. The Brazilians refused.
Then the switchblades came out. Last month, the thugs called for a vote of "no confidence" in Bustani from the Convention's 145 member nations. This was foiled – like the gang's recent attempt to muscle in on Venezuela – by an unexpected show of nerve from the "little guys" who normally quake when the thugs start to bellow. The no-confidence vote failed.
Now the pack was in full cry. They called an unprecedented (and illegal) "special session" of the Convention to force Bustani's ouster. In good thug fashion, they put the squeeze on, threatening to bankrupt the agency or pull out of it altogether – a move that would have collapsed the treaty and set off a world-wide explosion in chemical weapons production. (Even as it is, the thugs have arbitrarily excluded themselves from most of the treaty's provisions – including the very same inspection programs that Iraq is condemned for rejecting.)
And this week, they finally unloaded with both barrels. At the "special session" in The Hague on Monday, the thugs strong-armed 47 of the little guys into voting against Bustani. Seven countries, including Russia, stood their ground for the man they had all unanimously elected less than two years before, while 43 other countries abstained. More than 50 countries boycotted the shameful spectacle altogether.
Just as in those heady days of yore, we can now see several dangerous ducks being put in a row. The process is being helped by the current election crisis in Iran, which has greatly exacerbated the ongoing, never-ending demonization of perfidious Persia. The hardliners' crackdown on dissent has been a particular godsend in this regard. Ahmadinejad, a loose-tongued, bellicose fundamentalist, has always been a most serviceable villain for Western militarists, who need easily caricatured hardliners in charge of their regime change targets. Which is why they stonewalled the Iranian reformists when they held the presidency, rejecting every opportunity to nurture a genuine, peaceful evolution of Iranian democracy, and were cock-a-hoop when a poltroon like Ahmadinejad took over. (As Muhammad Sahimi details here.) Now his goon squad tactics in the election aftermath are doing more to help the American militarists than a thousand warmongering Bill Kristol columns or whole boatload of screeching AEI forums could do.
(Isn't it marvelous how hardliners always buttress their counterparts among the "enemy"? Like the old "we will bury you" Commies providing endless ammo for American reactionaries -- and vice versa. Both sides strenuously fought reform of their systems and called for more repression -- pointing to the ravings of opposing hardliners as justification. The same dynamic is also at work in the Terror War's intimate dance between Western militarists and Islamic extremists, each pointing to the other's depredations as justification for....more depredations.)
Again, let us not forget that America's vast covert forces are sponsoring deadly terrorist attacks inside Iran -- an ongoing provocation that is guaranteed to rouse hardliner ire, undermine all genuine, independent reform movements, and make a mockery of Obama's ludicrous rhetoric about "dialogue." The Iranians -- scraping the bodies of their policemen, and the inevitable "collaterals," from the streets after yet another terrorist attack -- know full well that the Americans are not sincere about "dialogue" and "negotiations." They know the only negotiations the Americans are interested in are terms of surrender.
The Tehran regime's only hope is to make it clear that an attack on them would cost the West more than it is willing to pay, in terms of lives lost, heightened domestic insecurity from reprisal threats, and economic turmoil. This survival strategy inevitably leads to more militarism, the mentality of a fortress besieged: hardly a conducive atmosphere for peaceful reform and better lives for ordinary Iranians. But of course, none of the American militarists -- including, most emphatically, the "progressive" leaders now in charge of the ever-expanding war machine -- give a damn about that, despite the rivers of crocodile tears we've seen since the Iranian election.
At any rate, our new "Tail Gunner Joe" says it's A-OK for the Israelis to strike Iran whenever they feel like it. Looks like surf's up on the old blood-dimmed tide this summer.
While President Obama circumnavigates the globe, talking loftily of peace and engagement with the peoples of the world -- in language largely cribbed from old George Bush speeches, but presented in a far more photogenic, plausive package -- this is the real face that the United States is showing to the world. Chalmers Johnson writes:
The U.S. Empire of Bases — at $102 billion a year already the world’s costliest military enterprise — just got a good deal more expensive. As a start, on May 27th, we learned that the State Department will build a new "embassy" in Islamabad, Pakistan, which at $736 million will be the second priciest ever constructed, only $4 million less, if cost overruns don’t occur, than the Vatican-City-sized one the Bush administration put up in Baghdad...
Whatever the costs turn out to be, they will not be included in our already bloated military budget, even though none of these structures is designed to be a true embassy — a place, that is, where local people come for visas and American officials represent the commercial and diplomatic interests of their country. Instead these so-called embassies will actually be walled compounds, akin to medieval fortresses, where American spies, soldiers, intelligence officials, and diplomats try to keep an eye on hostile populations in a region at war. One can predict with certainty that they will house a large contingent of Marines and include roof-top helicopter pads for quick get-aways.
Strangely enough, this bristling musculature of imperial dominance doesn't sit well with the locals in the "garrisoned lands" -- an apt phrase used by Tom Englehardt in introducing Chalmer's piece. Englehardt also points us to this Christian Science Monitor story:
In Pakistan, however, large parts of the population are hostile to the US presence in the region – despite receiving billions of dollars in aid from Washington since 2001 – and anti-American groups and politicians are likely to seize on the expanded diplomatic presence in Islamabad as evidence of American "imperial designs."
"This is a replay of Baghdad," said Khurshid Ahmad, a member of Pakistan's upper house of parliament for Jamaat-e-Islami, one of the country's two main religious political parties. "This [Islamabad embassy] is more [space] than they should need. It's for the micro and macro management of Pakistan, and using Pakistan for pushing the American agenda in Central Asia."
While one has very little sympathy for religious parties anywhere (just look at the murderous, sanctimonious gits of the Republican and Democratic parties, all of them -- Obama included -- oozing Heepish piety as they rob the poor and wage ceaseless war all over the world), in this case Mr Ahmad hits ye old nail on the head. "Micro and macro management" of the imperial satrapies are indeed the feverish obsessions of our Potomac poobahs -- especially in a world which they darkly suspect is rapidly slipping from their accustomed control.
Chalmers also makes the vitally important -- hence universally ignored -- point that the American power structure, whether led by Neanderthal conservatives or ultramodern "progressives," has no intention of giving up the global archipelago of military bases that are the physical footprint of the American imperium:
And what is being done about those military bases anyway — now close to 800 of them dotted across the globe in other people’s countries? Even as Congress and the Obama administration wrangle over the cost of bank bailouts, a new health plan, pollution controls, and other much needed domestic expenditures, no one suggests that closing some of these unpopular, expensive imperial enclaves might be a good way to save some money.
Instead, they are evidently about to become even more expensive. On June 23rd, we learned that Kyrgyzstan, the former Central Asian Soviet Republic which, back in February 2009, announced that it was going to kick the U.S. military out of Manas Air Base (used since 2001 as a staging area for the Afghan War), has been persuaded to let us stay. But here’s the catch: In return for doing us that favor, the annual rent Washington pays for use of the base will more than triple from $17.4 million to $60 million, with millions more to go into promised improvements in airport facilities and other financial sweeteners. All this because the Obama administration, having committed itself to a widening war in the region, is convinced it needs this base to store and trans-ship supplies to Afghanistan.
Chalmers believes that the ring of iron that the United States has wrapped around the world will ultimately be the unmaking of the empire:
I have a suggestion for other countries that are getting a bit weary of the American military presence on their soil: cash in now, before it’s too late. Either up the ante or tell the Americans to go home. I encourage this behavior because I’m convinced that the U.S. Empire of Bases will soon enough bankrupt our country, and so — on the analogy of a financial bubble or a pyramid scheme — if you’re an investor, it’s better to get your money out while you still can.
This is, of course, something that has occurred to the Chinese and other financiers of the American national debt. Only they’re cashing in quietly and slowly in order not to tank the dollar while they’re still holding onto such a bundle of them. Make no mistake, though: whether we’re being bled rapidly or slowly, we are bleeding; and hanging onto our military empire and all the bases that go with it will ultimately spell the end of the United States as we know it.
While Chalmers is undoubtedly one of the wise men of our day, I am not so sure about this final point. Oh, it's true that the empire of bases is further bankrupting our already bankrupt country. And it's an indisputable fact that the fever-dream of dominance and militarism has already spelled the end of the United States as we knew it (or as we once perceived and hoped it to be). Yet it is hard for me to believe that if push really comes to shove for our imperial managers, they will simply stand by and watch their power and privilege melt away with nothing more than a wistful sigh for passing glories. Especially with a unfathomably vast military arsenal -- including thousands of nation-devouring nuclear weapons -- at their command.
In such a case, I strongly doubt they will show the wisdom and courage that unaccountably appeared among the party hacks of the late Soviet leadership, who had the guts to look reality in the face and realize they could not maintain their own militarist empire without a cataclysm of murder and violence that would have put the whole world in peril. They did something almost unthinkable for a political class -- especially those which, like the Communists (and the Democrats and Republicans), see themselves as the righteous vanguard of a uniquely blessed system beyond question or reproach: they admitted defeat, they let go -- not only of the Eastern bloc nations they had controlled since World War II, but also core territories that Russia had governed for centuries, such as Belarus, Georgia and Ukraine. They risked an internal breakdown of epic proportions -- a fate which did indeed come to pass -- but they did not make war to save their empire. They withdrew their troops, and their political control, from country after country after country.
It is one of the most extraordinary episodes in world history. But it will almost certainly not be mentioned next week when Barack Obama visits Moscow -- where, as the proud head of a war machine that has killed a million innocent people in Iraq and is killing thousands in Afghanistan, as the stout defender and expander of the authoritarian power grabs of his White House predecessor and a staunch shield for torturers and other war criminals, he will scold the Russians for their lack of liberty and scanting of human rights. The vast sacrifices that the Russian people have made in the peaceful surrender of their empire -- the shattering of their society by the foolish adoption of Western "shock doctrine" economics and the Western-backed oligarchism of the bufoonish Yeltsin, all of which opened the door to the thuggish authoritarianism of the current Kremlin regime -- will once again go unremarked.
(Just as little was said a few weeks ago in the outpouring of official ceremonies marking the 65th annivesary of D-Day, where endless press paeans and political rhetoric hymned the "decisive" invasion, in which Allied forces faced 14 German divisions -- no mean feat, to be sure, and worthy of remembrance. But at the very same time, the Soviet armies were fighting 163 German divisions, rolling them back in a series of monumental battles that dwarfed the Normandy invasion, in a campaign that cost the lives of 20 million Russians and other Soviet peoples -- and was, by any measurement, the decisive factor in destroying Nazi power. But this too is largely ignored in American re-tellings of how "we" won the war.]
Perhaps -- when the last T-bills are called in, when the gigantic Ponzi scheme of the bailout scam runs out of suckers, when thousands of angry 'natives' are beseiging the walls of the Crusader fortresses the empire has raised in the midst of the "garrison lands," when the whole, sky-blackening hoard of imperial chickens comes home to roost -- perhaps the American elite of the day will rise to the moral level of late-20th century Soviet hacks, and let go. The history of America's bipartisan, multi-generational elite does not exactly inspire confidence in this regard, of course -- although stranger things have happened, I suppose, so it remains at least an outside chance. But I fear that when and if the Iron Ring comes down, it will not be "without great fall of blood."
This week, super-compassionate, deeply caring progressive David Atkins (of Hullabaloo) read a story in the New York Times about farmers in the "Deep South" suffering from ruined crops after weeks of unusually heavy rains. The farmers face economic disaster not only from the loss of this summer's crops, but also from the effects that the swampy weather is likely to have on fall crops as well. This follows last year's ravaging droughts, which also left many farmers with ruinous losses.
But super-compassionate, deeply caring progressive David Atkins doesn't give a damn about these farmers, or their families, or their communities. Why? Because he doesn't believe they are fully human. He thinks that all the people in the "Deep South" are a single undifferentiated monolithic mass -- not individual human beings with their own particular thoughts, feelings, beliefs, concerns, interests and allegiances. And he believes that this blank, subhuman entity that he calls "the Deep South" deserves to suffer.
Why? Apparently because not enough of the individuals in these states vote the way David Atkins thinks they should vote. These states -- or rather, a subset of individuals in these states which sometimes accounts for a majority of those who bother to vote, but not the actual majority of the population -- keep electing cranks who deny the existence of global climate change. (As do subsets of populations in, say, the Southwest, the West, and the Midwest.) And because of these subsets and politicians in the "Deep South," it is not only fitting that the region's farmers should suffer, but, in Atkins' weighty thought, we are also intellectually justified in condemning the entire region, collectively, without the slightest nuance or differentiation.
Atkins reads the NYT story and writes: "I wish I could make myself feel more sympathy for the plight of farmers in the Deep South, but it's difficult." He then quotes 11 paragraphs from the story detailing said plight. He finishes with this biting rhetorical flourish:
One would hope that even the Deep South wakes up and realizes that whatever ideological reasons they might have to protect the oil industry, they're not worth the cost.
The entire NYT story has 24 paragraphs. In not a single one of them is there the slightest mention allusion to the issue of global climate change one way or another. Nor a single mention of the farmers' political beliefs or ideological inclinations or scientific knowledge. Nor how they voted in any election, local, state or national. Unless Atkins has carried out some hitherto undisclosed survey of all the farmers in the "Deep South," he has absolutely no way of knowing what the farmers quoted in the story -- or any single individual farmer in the entire region -- thinks about global climate change. He has no information on this. Zero. Yet to him, they are all either vicious Tea Party types or ignorant dupes of the oil industry.
Atkins' collective denigration rests on the entirely George Zimmerman-like assumption that certain kinds of people -- kinds of people "we" don't like -- must all think and act in the same way. "They" are all "like that." A black teenager in a hoodie is always a dangerous thug; a peach farmer in Georgia (of whatever race, creed, color, political affiliation, personal history, psychological makeup or national origin) is always a reactionary ignoramus.
But wait -- that's not an entirely accurate portrayal of Atkins' stance. He doesn't just believe that farmers in the "Deep South" are dangerous cretins who are killing the planet; he clearly believes that every single person in the "Deep South" is a dangerous cretin who is killing the planet. "They" are all "like that." That is the import of what he actually says.
Consider again that stirring flourish: "One would hope that ... the Deep South wakes up and realizes, etc., etc." Not "politicians in the Deep South." Not "the vested corporate interests who buy and sell politicians in the Deep South just like they do all over the country." Not even "the majority of voters in the Deep South who keep backing politicians who won't take action on climate change." No, there is not the slightest differentiation in Atkins' thought here: it is the "Deep South" as a whole, a single entity, that needs to wake up -- and is scorned for not doing so.
Perhaps we're being unfair here. After all, as Atkins never stops reminding us, he is himself an honest-to-God working politician, a middling muckety-muck in California's Democratic Party apparatus. And no one expects a politician to be accurate, or nuanced, or even humane when they are pouring out partisan bile. So in that sense, we are wrong to hold Atkins to any kind of journalistic -- or moral -- standard. He's a party hack; subsets of the various state populations in the South support his political enemies; therefore that whole region is "bad," and everyone who lives there must pay for their sins by suffering Biblical plagues of drought and rain. In this, he is no different than the partisan hacks on the other side who glory in the ruin of Detroit or New Orleans because they don't like the politics -- and the certain kind of people -- who live there.
Global climate change is a real threat. Many millions of people in the "Deep South" -- including some farmers! -- know this. Many of them are actively working to understand and address this threat. I have personally worked with many of these people, on the issue of climate change, right there in the "Deep South," as long as 25 years ago (when I doubt climate change was even a gleam in Atkins' eyes). But Atkins doesn't know or care about these many millions of people. Even though he has made himself an ardent champion of global climate change, and preaches often about how this universal threat transcends all borders and political ideologies, he still can't refrain from using it to score partisan points against his own ideological enemies, while denigrating entire populations who happen to live within the "wrong" borders.
This is modern "progressivism" in action: compassionate, caring, open, embracing -- unless you're the wrong kind of person, living in the wrong place. Then you are ripe for collective punishment. In Atkins' case, of course, this blind, blanket "signature strike" is merely rhetorical. But in the hands of the national leader of Atkins' party, the Peace Laureate himself, the modern "progressive" principle of undifferentiated dehumanization takes on a more literal -- and far more sinister -- cast.