History never repeats itself, of course. But human nature being what it is -- and the tropes of power and dominance being what they are -- there is a great deal of assonance in history: near-rhymes, recurring echoes in the present which do not chime exactly with the past but fall closely enough to resonate with meaning.
Reading Timothy Synder's account of the genocidal famine in Soviet Ukraine in the early 1930s (in his new book, Bloodlands), I ran across the following passage. In it, Snyder describes how Stalin sought to explain away the manifest, catastrophic failure of his policy of forced collectivization, which had led to millions of deaths by starvation:
Stalin had developed an interesting new theory: that resistance to socialism increases as its successes mount, because its foes resist with greater desperation as they contemplate their final defeat. Thus any problem in the Soviet Union could be defined as an example of enemy action, and enemy action could be defined as evidence of progress.
This passage leapt immediately to mind while reading accounts of Barack Obama's vaunted "review" of his ever-intensifying, ever more catastrophic war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The results of this "review" were a foregone conclusion, of course: the President would decide that his policy was the right one and should continue. The only "change" would be a surge in "kinetic activity" along the Pakistan border, with increased drone bombings of Pakistan villages (which have already killed many hundreds of innocent civilians) and more Special Forces operations "along the border" (i.e., inside Pakistani territory). There will also be greatly increased pressure on the Pakistani government to "invade" its own territory and slaughter thousands of its own people in the border regions to relieve the pressure on their American masters in Afghanistan.
In other words, American policy in Afghanistan is failing so badly that Obama is about to engulf a volatile, unstable, nuclear-armed nation in a vast, divisive, violent upheaval led by an utterly corrupt and unpopular government. The result will be the deaths of thousands upon thousands of innocent people, the displacement of millions more -- in a land still reeling from one of the worst natural disasters the world has seen in modern times -- and, of course, the spread of extremism, hatred, instability and chaos.
But for Obama, this highway to hell is actually an indication of "considerable gains toward our military objectives." The ever-spreading insurgency in Afghanistan, which now controls or has strong footholds even in northern regions which the Taliban never controlled before the war, is not, as you might think, a glaring indication of the catastrophic failure of the militarist agenda; on the contrary, it is, Obama says, a sign of "significant progress." This has been the argument of our bipartisan militarists since the very beginning, in Afghanistan and Iraq: any problems in our violent occupations of these foreign lands is caused by enemy action -- and all enemy actions, including the control of more and more territory, can be defined as evidence of progress. The very success of the enemy, the fierceness of their resistance, is evidence of their desperation, their ultimate and imminent collapse.
Thus Stalin on the deaths of millions of innocent people at the hands of his policies. And thus Obama, and the entire bipartisan political establishment, on the bloodbath in the bloodlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
We are speaking of echoes and assonance, of course, not exact parallels. The death tolls in the Af-Pak catastrophe has not reached Stalinist proportions -- yet. But the prospects for the widening war in Pakistan are almost unbearable to contemplate. What might a nuclear-armed state, controlled largely by its military, do in the event an imminent collapse brought on by the launching of a civil war at the behest of a foreign power? What if it decided the only way to bring the nation back together was a war against the hated common enemy in India? We have already been to the brink of a nuclear war between Pakistan and India within the last decade. And even a non-nuclear war between the two would result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions.
And that is only one entirely plausible scenario if the Pakistanis knuckle under to the wishes of their imperial patrons -- the "progressive" Peace Laureate and the Bush Family apparatchik he has retained as his warlord -- and launch the all-out assault on their own people that Washington demands. As Hamlet said: It cannot, and it will not, come to good.
Meanwhile, the present reality of the situation is bad enough, and worsening. Even as the Obama Administration was trumpeting its "progress" and "success" in the nine-year war on one the most blasted, broken-down, defenseless places on earth, Patrick Cockburn, on the ground in Afghanistan, was recording the evidence of growing hunger among the "liberated" people, due largely to the utter corruption at the heart of American policy:
But the most extraordinary failure of the US-led coalition in Afghanistan is that the expenditure of tens of billions of dollars has had so little impact on the misery in which 30 million Afghans live. Since 2001 the US alone has provided $52 billion in aid, two thirds for security and one third for economic, social and political development.
Despite this some nine million Afghans live in absolute poverty while a further five million, considered ‘not poor’, try to survive on $43 a month.“Things look alright to foreigners but in fact people are dying of starvation in Kabul,” says Abdul Qudus, a man with a deeply lined face in his forties, who sells second-hand clothes and shoes on a street corner in the capital. They are little more than rags, lying on display on the half frozen mud.
“I buy and sell clothes for between 10 and 30 Afghanis (two to six cents) and even then there are people who are too poor to buy them, “ says Mr Qudus. “I myself am very poor and sometimes I don’t eat so I can feed my children.” He says he started selling second hand clothes two years ago when he lost his job washing carpets.
US officials admit privately that the torrent of aid money that has poured into Afghanistan has stoked corruption and done ordinary Afghans little good. Aimed at improving economic and social conditions in order to reduce support for the Taliban it is having the reverse effect of destabilizing the country. Afghanistan was identified as the third most corrupt country out of 178 in the world in a report released yesterday by Transparency International.
...The US government policy of providing aid through large American private companies, whose interest lies in making a profit rather than improving the life of Afghans, is proving a failure in Afghanistan as it did previously in Iraq. As winter approaches half of Afghans face the prospect of ‘food insecurity’, or not getting enough to eat in the next three months, according to the US Famine Early Warning System.
This is the reality behind the "considerable progress" proclaimed by Barack Obama this week -- as willfully blind to the truth in his cozy Oval Office as Stalin in the halls of the Kremlin.
The career of the late imperial courtier par excellence Richard Holbrooke is summed up well here by Diane Johnstone. As she notes:
The Dayton Peace Accords were presented as a heroic victory for peace extracted by the brilliant Holbrooke from a reluctant Milosevic, who had to be "bombed to the negotiating table" by the United States. In reality, the U.S. government was fully aware that Milosevic was eager for peace in Bosnia to free Serbia from crippling economic sanctions. It was the Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic who wanted to keep the war going, with U.S. military help.
In reality, the U.S. bombed the Serbs in order to get Izetbegovic to the negotiating table. And the agreement reached in the autumn of 1995 was not very different from the agreement reached in March 1992 by the three ethnic groups under European Community auspices, which could have prevented the entire civil war, if it had not been sabotaged by Izetbegovic, who withdrew his agreement with the encouragement of the then U.S. ambassador Warren Zimmermann. In short, far from being the great peacemaker in the Balkans, the United States first encouraged the Muslim side to fight for its goal of a centralized Bosnia, and then sponsored a weakened federated Bosnia – after nearly four years of bloodshed which left the populations bereft and embittered.
The real purpose of all this, as Holbrooke made quite clear in To End a War, was to demonstrate that Europeans could not manage their own vital affairs and that the United States remained the "indispensable nation". ... His victory was a defeat for diplomacy. The spectacle of bombing plus Dayton was designed to show that only the threat or application of U.S. military might could end conflicts.
Holbrooke's death this week was capped by sinister, cynical comedy from the White House, which sought to turn his dying refutation of the murderous Af-Pak policy he pushed so assiduously into a bit of manly joshing with doctors before going under the knife. Well, maybe that's how it was; maybe he stayed in character, the eager, hearty, shallow courtier, even as death was staring him in the face. In any case, whether Holbrooke saw the light -- or rather, saw the darkness he had served his whole life -- before he died or not, his demise brings to mind a point we were making here just a few days ago.
What I like best about the the health care drama in the US right now is how nearly everyone is fighting on the other side, unwittingly or otherwise. We've got Democrats working to save Obama's nationalized version of Romneycare, while Republicans are doing everything possible to defeat insurance-purchasing mandates that would give even greater power and wealth to their corporate patrons in the health insurance industry. I haven't had this much fun (politically, anyway) since the waning days of the Clinton administration, when give-peace-a-chance Republicans were trying to undermine Clinton's determined efforts to kill Yugoslavs and Iraqis, and Democrats and their "progressive" enablers were clamoring for more more more smart bombs.
Will Republicans be able to rescue universal health care in the US from the seemingly mortal blow it took from Obama and the Democrats? Time will tell.
2. Robert Scheer is excellent in this piece on the true implications of Bill Clinton's recent appearance at the White House: a spectacle that revealed the utter political bankruptcy of the Obama regime; its moral bankruptcy has been evident from the beginning; indeed, from before the beginning. As Scheer puts it: the "sight of Bill Clinton back on the White House podium defending tax cuts for the super-rich was more a sick joke than a serious amplification of economic policy."
5. Speaking of utter shams, Patrick Cockburn follows billions of dollars down the war profiteering hole in Afghanistan, where millions face "food insecurity" this winter -- a full nine years after their "liberation."
At 3:25 p.m. on Tuesday, a UK judge reverses an earlier court decision and granted bail to Julian Assange, who is being held in a British prison on a warrant for "sexual misconduct" charges in Sweden. The bail is attached with heavy conditions, including the demand for a large wad of cash upfront, a daily curfew (which will keep Assange off the prime-time news), and the requirement of wearing an electric tag.
The ruling does not free Assange, however; he is sent back to jail pending the gathering of the cash, and pending a decision by Swedish authorities to appeal the bail ruling.
At 4:18 p.m., outside the courtroom, film director Ken Loach, one of the many people putting up money for Assange's case, makes this comment:
Clearly, if the Swedish government opposes bail it will show there is some vindictiveness beyond this case. It will show there is some political element that goes beyond the case.
Indeed. At this writing, it is not believed that Sweden has never pursued anyone so zealously (if at all) through the international criminal justice system on a charge of 'sexual misconduct' (not rape).
At 5:26 p.m., it is announced that Swedish authorities are indeed challenging the decision. Assange, although granted bail, will remain in prison until the appeal is heard -- at some point in the next 48 hours.
The Guardian's legal affairs editor, Afua Hirsch, explains the draconian laws -- enacted post-9/11, natch -- that allow government authorities across Europe to amplify their reach across several borders:
Followers of the WikiLeaks story wonder how Assange could be extradited with so few questions asked. Why, for example, can our prisons detain someone (Assange is currently on remand in Wandsworth prison) for an offence under Swedish law that does not exist in British law? And how can a judge agree to an extradition without having seen enough evidence to make out a prima facie case?
The 2003 Extradition Act originated in an EU decision agreed just one week after 9/11. It was sold to voters as a way of ensuring cross-border cohesion in prosecuting suspects wanted across Europe for terrorism and serious crime. ... It's been downhill from there. Around three people per day are now extradited from the UK, and there is little to suggest that the majority are terrorists or serious criminals. In fact those involved in the process agree that many of the cases are "trivial".
This month I watched proceedings in Westminster magistrates' court as Jacek Jaskolski, a disabled 58-year-old science teacher, fought an EAW issued against him by his native Poland. Jaskolski – also the primary carer for his disabled wife – has been in the UK since 2004. His crime? Ten years ago, when he still lived in Poland, Jaskolski went over his bank overdraft limit. There are instances when unauthorised bank borrowing can have criminal elements, but this is not one of them. The bank recovered the money, and there is no allegation of dishonesty. A similar case in Britain would be a civil, not a criminal, matter.
But it is a criminal offence in Poland, where every criminal offence has to be investigated and prosecuted, no matter how trivial. As a result Poland requested 5,000 extraditions last year alone, accounting for 40% of all those dealt with by Britain. By contrast the UK made just 220 requests.
In 2008 a Polish man was extradited for theft of a dessert from a restaurant, using a European arrest warrant containing a list of the ingredients. People are being flown to Poland in specially chartered planes to answer charges that would not be thought worthy of an arrest in the UK, while we pick up the tab for police, court, experts' and lawyers' time to process a thousand cases a year.
That's right; they'll track you down and jail you for an old, repaid overdraft; they'll track you down and jail you for a dessert you didn't pay for. They'll track down across the face of the earth and jail you for things that aren't a crime in the country where they've jailed you -- if you happen to have put powerful people in a bad light; i.e., shown them as they really are.
But tell the truth about power? Or just try to live your ordinary life, care for your loved ones, go to work, harm no one, pose no threat, make no provocation -- other than being an attractive, and defenseless, piece of fodder for petty power to glut itself upon? Oh then, my friend, you can be stitched up, put in the frame anytime they damn well please.
What kind of world do you think you're living in? Well, the Old Man said it years ago:
"Democracy don't rule the world;
Better get that through your head.
This world is ruled by violence:
But that's better left unsaid."
And if the strangulators of truth who are pulling the strings against Assange and WikiLeaks have their way, it's going to remain unsaid.
It has always seemed the strangest thing to me, the way that people will lacerate others -- with cruelty, with lies, with dirty dealing, with petty spite, with cold neglect, with violence, violence on the body and the soul -- just to gain, for just a moment, some bestial sense of dominance, on one level or another, from the highest to the lowest, turning the inexpressible miracle of existence, this paradise of consciousness and sensation we've been given, into a stinking, churned-up living hell.
I look at all this, and I think: These people don't know they're going to die. They don't believe the blow will come. They think they've got all the time in the world to churn in the filth and make themselves "important" -- an importance that will be ripped out of them like a disemboweled gut the instant death closes their eyes ....
I keep looking at the face
That keeps staring back at me
The hard and haunted visage
Of my mortality
(A version of this article originally appeared at CounterPunch.)
Well, they got him at last. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the target of several of the world’s most powerful governments, turned himself into British authorities today and is now at the mercy of state authorities who have already shown their wolfish – and lawless – desire to destroy him and his organization.
It has been, by any standard, an extraordinary campaign of vilification and persecution, wholly comparable to the kind of treatment doled out to dissidents in China or Burma. Lest we forget, WikiLeaks is a journalistic outlet – just like The New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel, all of whom are even now publishing the very same material – leaked classified documents -- available on WikiLeaks. The website is also a journalistic outlet just like CNN, ABC, CBS, Fox and other mainstream media venues, where we have seen an endless parade of officials – and journalists! – calling for Assange to be prosecuted or killed outright. Every argument being made for shutting down WikiLeaks can – and doubtless will – be used against any journalistic enterprise that publishes material that powerful people do not like.
And the leading role in this persecution of truth-telling is being played by the administration of the great progressive agent of hope and change, the self-proclaimed heir of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Barack Obama. His attorney general, Eric Holder, is now making fierce noises about the “steps” he has already taken to bring down WikiLeaks and criminalize the leaking of embarrassing information. And listen to the ferocious reaction of that liberal lioness, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who took to the pages of Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal to call for Assange to be put in prison – for 2,500,000 years:
When WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange released his latest document trove—more than 250,000 secret State Department cables—he intentionally harmed the U.S. government. The release of these documents damages our national interests and puts innocent lives at risk. He should be vigorously prosecuted for espionage.
The law Mr. Assange continues to violate is the Espionage Act of 1917. That law makes it a felony for an unauthorized person to possess or transmit "information relating to the national defense which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation." ... Importantly, the courts have held that "information relating to the national defense" applies to both classified and unclassified material. Each violation is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
So there you have it. Ten years for each offense; 250,000 separate offenses; thus a prison term of 2.5 million years. Naturally, tomorrow the same newspaper will denounce Feinstein for being such a namby-pamby terrorist-coddling pinko: “Why didn’t she call for Assange to be torn from limb to limb by wild dogs, as any right-thinking red-blooded American would do!?”
Meanwhile, corporate America and its international allies continue to do their bit. Joining PayPal and Amazon, who had already cut off their services to WikiLeaks, most of the remaining venues through which the internet journal is funded are also freezing out the organization -- MasterCard, Visa, and a Swiss bank that WikiLeaks used to process donations. All of these organizations are obviously responding to government pressure.
As I noted earlier this week, what is perhaps most remarkable is that this joint action by the world elite to shut down WikiLeaks – which has been operating for four years – comes after the release of diplomatic cables, not in response to earlier leaks which provided detailed evidence of crimes and atrocities committed by the perpetrators and continuers of Washington’s Terror War. I suppose this is because the diplomatic cables have upset the smooth running of the corrupt and cynical backroom operations that actually govern our world, behind the ludicrous lies and self-righteous posturing that our great and good lay on for the public. They didn’t mind being unmasked as accomplices in mass murder and fomenters of suffering and hatred; in fact, they were rather proud of it. And they certainly knew that their fellow corruptocrats in foreign governments – not to mention the perpetually stunned and supine American people – wouldn’t give a toss about a bunch of worthless peons in Iraq and Afghanistan getting killed. But the diplomatic cables have caused an embarrassing stink among the closed little clique of the movers and shakers. And that is a crime deserving of vast eons in stir – or death.
But before Assange was taken into custody, he fired off one last message to the world, in The Australian, a newspaper in his native land. With supreme irony, he tied WikiLeaks’ operation to the roots of the Murdoch media empire, which began by speaking truth to murderous and wasteful power – and now, of course, is one of the most powerful and assiduous instruments of murderous and wasteful power itself. Assange writes:
IN 1958 a young Rupert Murdoch, then owner and editor of Adelaide’s The News, wrote: “In the race between secrecy and truth, it seems inevitable that truth will always win.” His observation perhaps reflected his father Keith Murdoch’s expose that Australian troops were being needlessly sacrificed by incompetent British commanders on the shores of Gallipoli. The British tried to shut him up but Keith Murdoch would not be silenced and his efforts led to the termination of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.
Nearly a century later, WikiLeaks is also fearlessly publishing facts that need to be made public. … Democratic societies need a strong media and WikiLeaks is part of that media. The media helps keep government honest. WikiLeaks has revealed some hard truths about the Iraq and Afghan wars, and broken stories about corporate corruption.
... WikiLeaks is not the only publisher of the US embassy cables. Other media outlets, including Britain ‘s The Guardian, The New York Times, El Pais in Spain and Der Spiegel in Germany have published the same redacted cables.
Yet it is WikiLeaks, as the co-ordinator of these other groups, that has copped the most vicious attacks and accusations from the US government and its acolytes. I have been accused of treason, even though I am an Australian, not a US citizen. There have been dozens of serious calls in the US for me to be “taken out” by US Special Forces. Sarah Palin says I should be “hunted down like Osama bin Laden”, a Republican bill sits before the US Senate seeking to have me declared a “transnational threat” and disposed of accordingly. An adviser to the Canadian Prime Minister’s office has called on national television for me to be assassinated. An American blogger has called for my 20-year-old son, here in Australia, to be kidnapped and harmed for no other reason than to get at me.
These, of course, are the defenders of Western Civilization, that pinnacle of human progress, that bulwark against savagery like murder and torture, that bastion of temperance and reason. But in his piece, Assange once more gives the lie to the ferocious canards of Feinstein, Holder, Obama and Palin about the “great harm” the leaks have done:
WikiLeaks has a four-year publishing history. During that time we have changed whole governments, but not a single person, as far as anyone is aware, has been harmed. But the US, with Australian government connivance, has killed thousands in the past few months alone.
US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates admitted in a letter to the US congress that no sensitive intelligence sources or methods had been compromised by the Afghan war logs disclosure. The Pentagon stated there was no evidence the WikiLeaks reports had led to anyone being harmed in Afghanistan. NATO in Kabul told CNN it couldn’t find a single person who needed protecting. The Australian Department of Defence said the same. No Australian troops or sources have been hurt by anything we have published.
Yes, how many thousands of people, how many tens of thousands, have been killed by our bipartisan Terror Warriors in the four years of WikiLeaks’ existence? How many millions have been “harmed” not only by the direct operations of the Terror War, but by the ever-widening, ever-deepening violence, hatred and turmoil it is spreading throughout the world? (Not to mention the accelerating collapse of American society, which has been financially, politically and morally bankrupted by the acceptance of aggressive war, torture, elite rapine and authoritarian rule.)
But none of the perpetrators of these acts, past or present, are in jail, or have even been prosecuted, or investigated, or inconvenienced in any way. Yet Assange is in a British prison tonight – and it is certainly not for the “sexual misconduct” charges that were filed against him in August, which then became the basis of an unprecedented worldwide arrest order of the type ordinarily reserved for war criminals – for those, in fact, accused of aggressive war, torture, elite rapine and authoritarian rule. The judge refused to grant bail, saying that Assange had “access to financial means” and could flee the country – perhaps a bitter joke on milord’s part, aimed at a man whose means of financial support are being systematically shut down by the most powerful government and corporate forces in the world. Journalist John Pilger and filmmaker Ken Loach were among those who appeared in court ready to stand surety for Assange, but to no avail.
WikiLeaks will doubtless try to struggle on. And Assange says he has given the entire diplomatic trove to 100,000 people. By dribs and drabs, shards of truth will get out. But the world’s journalists – and those persons of conscience working in the world’s governments – have been given a hard, harsh, unmistakable lesson in the new realities of our degraded time. Tell a truth that discomforts power, that challenges its domination over our lives, our discourse, our very thoughts, and you will be destroyed. No institution, public or private, will stand with you; the most powerful entities, public and private, will be arrayed against you, backed up by overwhelming violent force. This is where we are now. This is what we are now.
Even as WikiLeaks fights for its life -- a phrase that becomes less metaphorical by the day, especially for Julian Assange, hounded and hunted by several governments -- its revelations continue to shake the world's power structures. Every day we are treated to the edifying spectacle of the most powerful and privileged people on earth scurrying around like panicked rats, trying to escape the streams of light pouring into their filthy backrooms, exposing their ruthless machtpolitik -- and their monumental incompetence at every level.
The trove of leaked diplomatic cables is too rich to encompass or fully process right away. Dip your hand into one batch and you come out with a whole handful of jewels, each one worthy of careful, in-depth analysis, buttressed with innumerable links to current events and detailed historical context. This is the work of months, even years. For now, we can only survey the highlights as they are released and draw some initial impressions.
Two things stand out immediately. First, the leaked cables reveal -- or rather, confirm -- that American "intelligence" on the activities of foreign nations is based almost totally on hearsay, rumor, gossip and fantasies brewed from a deadly mix of arrogance and ignorance. Second, they show that the overwhelming majority of the public statements made by top American officials about the nation's foreign policy are deliberate, knowing lies: the cheapest, most threadbare bromides about America's noble intentions coupled with cynical fear-mongering, which knowingly fans low-grade -- or non-existent -- threats into dire "emergencies" that somehow, always, fill the coffers of war-profiteers (and that new breed of gluttonous predator, the security-profiteers) and require ever-greater expansions of authoritarian power.
Take for example a couple of the latest Guardian stories from the WikiLeaks trove: "Cables portray Saudi Arabia as cash machine for terrorists" and "Saudi Arabia rated a bigger threat to Iraqi stability than Iran." These are not particularly major revelations, but they are highly illustrative for our purposes. In them, we find American diplomats flinging accusations of extensive terrorist funding by powerful Saudis and, in particular, by Saudi-based charities which work around the world. Even as they report their assertions back to Washington, however, the diplomats admit that the "intelligence" they are relying upon is merely "suggestive," that it is based on "limited information," that confirmation of the charges and rumors is "hard to come by."
This is not to say that powerful Saudi interests -- that is, staunch political allies and business partners of the American elite -- are not helping finance extremist organisations around the world. This is hardly a secret: the Saudi Arabian monarchy itself is one of the most extremist organizations in the world, openly propagating a retrograde and repressive brand of Islam, even as its bloated ranks of royalty enjoy every possible secular indulgence in their Western pleasure palaces.
And the American government has often used the Saudis' extremist networks to advance its own agenda -- usually the undermining of any government or movement (secular or religious) that might offer a genuine alternative to thuggish American clients (such as the brutal dictatorship in Egypt) or simply to the general principle of rule by corrupt, rapacious elites (such as our own dear great and good in God's shining city on the hill). Must we bring up yet again the great US-Saudi alliance in building a worldwide network of armed Islamic extremists to fight the great Jesus-Mohammed-Allah-Jehovah crusade against the Commies in Afghanistan? (Well yes, we must, given the total amnesia that afflicts the American memory, where every new day is a fresh clean slate of goodness and righteousness.) And that, of course, just scratches the surface in the US-Saudi use of Sunni extremists over the years, in such places as Bosnia and more recently in Lebanon and Palestine, where, as Seymour Hersh reported, the Americans and Saudis were backing al Qaeda allies -- yes, yes, years after 9/11 -- to try to counteract Hizbollah and Hamas.
But are Saudi tycoons and Saudi charities specifically funding any extremist organizations that might not be serving American interests at this particular moment? No one knows -- certainly not American "intelligence," with its "limited information" and its boldly asserted unsupported suppositions. But what is interesting and revealing in this instance is that, in private, Washington evidently believes that powerful Saudis, with the knowledge if not the outright connivance of Saudi leaders, are financing America's enemies in the "War on Terror" -- but in public we hear nothing but high praise for our stalwart Saudi allies and their anti-terrorism efforts. Again, the Wikileaks revelations lay bare the ruthless power politics that actually govern world affairs, where murder, corruption, terror and war are simply the tools of the trade in a vicious, murky racket of ever-shifting alliances that have no rhyme or reason beyond a bestial urge for dominance.
The other story, about the jackal-fight over the carcass of Iraq after its American ravaging, is perhaps even more revealing -- and more sinister. Here we find American officials reporting back to the Potomac court that the imperial satraps in Baghdad are far more worried about meddling from the Saudis than from the Great Satanic Googily-Moogily of Iran. According to the dispatches, the Iraqi leaders are keen to assure their American patrons that they can easily "manage" the Iranians, who want stability; but the Saudis wanted a "weak and fractured" Iraq, and were even "fomenting terrorism that would destabilize the government."
Naturally, the 2009 report of the then US ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, is riddled with arrogant dismissal of the Iraqis' own assessment of their situation, and parrots back to Team Obama some of the usual evidence-free mind-reading of what the Great Googily-Moogily is really up to in Iraq -- which, even in Hill's most malign construction, is a level of "interference" several orders of magnitude less than, oh, say, invading the country, killing a million of its people, driving four million more from their homes and unleashing endless sectarian war.
But after tossing his bosses the ritual red meat, Hill gets down to the reality which, as our better know full well, lies behind their never-ending warmongering against Iran. He writes that the relation between Iran and Iraq is based on natural, "longstanding historical realities" that "should not lead to alarmist tendencies or reactions on our part." Iran's influence, he says, "should not be overestimated," and that the two countries will find many "points of divergence" on various issues, such as borders, water rights and ordinary political jockeying.
Again, the bipartisan American power structure knows very well that there is no great existential threat -- or even a minor military threat -- emanating from Iran. Yes, the Iranian government is a nasty, corrupt, amoral enterprise, blatantly violating its professed ideals and generally stinking up the joint. (Why, do you know they even execute women, and that their president believes that some kind of long-dead religious figure is going to come again at the end of time and take over the universe? What primitive barbarians, eh?) But so what? As the WikiLeaks cables have confirmed once again, all governments fall somewhere along this same inhumane spectrum. Readers can perhaps decide for themselves just where on that spectrum a nation that has engaged in the above-noted act of mass-murdering aggressive war in Iraq might fall.
But whatever they say amongst themselves, in public our bipartisan elites are eager to stoke fear and hatred of Iran among the populace, with the ever-present threat of war against the Persian demons held out continuously as an imminent, desirable prospect -- yea, verily, a moral good, done in the service of all humankind. Just as they knew all along that Iraq posed no threat yet spent years -- years -- wearing away all resistance to the act of aggression they craved, so too with Iran. It may appear at times that these homicidal cravings for violent domination have been put on the back burner, as we sometimes saw with Iraq; but rest assured -- that back burner is itself kept on high heat, and the stew of war is always boiling.
One final observation: it is remarkable that the WikiLeaks release of diplomatic cables has provoked a far more virulent and draconian reaction from government officials -- and from their craven sycophants in the mainstream media -- than we ever saw after the earlier releases about Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet many of those Terror War releases provided detailed, eyewitness accounts of horrific acts of murder, brutality, and depraved indifference toward the slaughter of innocent people. It seems the American elite are more outraged at being caught in various diplomatic faux pas than being shown to be perpetrators and facilitators of murder, repression and state terror. That's because they know that their cowed and passive subjects -- continually stoked with the hatred and fear of foreign demons -- don't care how many darkies get killed on the other side of the world. And so the Terror War leaks occasioned no more than a few days of Beltway bluster.
But the new releases put a bit of a crimp in business as usual for our backroom operators, exposing some of the rank hypocrisy and all-pervasive corruption of our great and good -- and of their clients and partners around the world. All this might -- just might -- give the rabble unseemly notions ... such as the idea that their interests are perhaps not being served all that well by a system run by and for a handful of liars, tyrants, killers and thieves. We can't have that.
And so Julian Assange is now being hounded -- perhaps to his eventual death -- not for revealing war crimes and atrocities, but for showing us a glimpse of our leaders as they really are: stupid, vain, petty and savage.
One of the most important stories of the day continues to be almost universally ignored, both by the corporate media and most 'progressive' bloggers, eternally absorbed with the shallow and pointless factional foolery amongst the cliques at the imperial court. But Jason Ditz at Antiwar.com has continued to shine a high, harsh light on this sinister development, which is adding a vast storehouse of anguish, hatred and violence that will be the Peace Laureate's chief legacy to future generations.
We refer of course to the Obama Administration's escalation of air strikes in Afghanistan. As Ditz has been noting for some time, the coming of the media-sainted General David Petraeus to take direct command in the contentious satrapy has seen a spike in civilian deaths, as the vaunted "counterinsurgency" expert has "loosened the reins" that had temporarily curtailed the constant dropping of heavy ordnance on civilian residential areas.
Ditz has been doing an expert job of lacing together the few scattered mentions of the Obama-Petraeus Luftkrieg in the American press, along with the considerably more copious coverage in foreign papers. The picture emerging from this pointillist approach is grim: not only are American forces dropping more bombs and killing more civilians, they are increasingly dismissing all reports of collateral carnage as "Taliban trickery." As Ditz notes in his most recent report (see the original for links):
... the Obama Administration is said to be further escalating its air war in Afghanistan, and officials are confirming a “loosening of the reins” of the restrictions on air strikes. Officials warned that the McChrystal rules, aimed at reducing civilian deaths, meant “some officers were exerting excessive caution, fearing career damage if civilians were mistakenly killed.” With Petraeus now in charge, concerns about killing civilians have faded.
Isn't that wonderful? Isn't that a heartwarming indication of the deep humanitarianism that lies at the heart of America's ever-reluctant war machine (whose blood-greased gears are inscribed with the noble motto: "More in Sorrow Than in Anger")? It was the possibility of "career damage" that made American officers act with "excessive caution" with respect to civilian casualties -- not the horrific thought of taking an innocent human life, not an apprehension of the destructive, unbearable sorrow of the survivors, not even the savvy realpolitik notion that killing civilians only multiplies your enemies and makes them fight harder. No, it was terrifying idea that they might miss out on some of the lifelong perks and privileges of higher rank in our militarist state, if they overstepped the very minimal "restraints" put in place by Gen. Stanley McChrystal -- a former commander of death squads and torture centers in Iraq -- before his sacking.
Meanwhile, the lies about the level of civilian killing keep coming. As Ditz notes, even as Obama officials mouth drivel about the civilian death toll dropping, the Pentagon's own official statistics show that the Americans "are actually killing considerably more civilians than in 2009" -- 11 percent more, to be exact.
This is precisely the same kind of crude and blatant perversion of the truth that incenses our good progressives when it is churned out by the genuinely loathsome corporate toady, Glenn Beck. But it raises few hackles when it is employed by Obama and his minions -- who, unlike Beck, are not only regurgitating vicious nonsense but are also killing actual innocent human beings, right here and now, and not in some future "Republic of Gilead" under Mullah Beck and Prophetess Palin, or any other of the rightwing dystopias so feared (and promoted) by progressive fundraisers.
But lying about the death count is only part of the pernicious story. Even those Pentagon stats which belie Obama's Beckian propaganda only count the deaths that the American humanitarians are willing to admit to publicly. The earlier Wikileaks dump about Afghanistan detailed a number of cases of civilian killings that American forces catalogued -- and kept quiet. And of course, the Afghan survivors of bombing runs and night raids come forth in a steady stream to testify about the death and mutilation of their loved ones and the destruction of their homes.
But, as Ditz reported last week, many American officials are now systematically dismissing any testimony of Afghan civilians deaths that come from ... actual Afghan civilians. Indeed, the Marine commander of the violent Helmand district of Sangin says that "every single instance" of civilian deaths in his district is caused by the Taliban -- despite a flood of complaints from locals about American berserkery since taking over control of the district from the British.
The US denies the allegation of the killings, but admitted that they don’t both the investigate the vast majority of the complaints because they assume them to be “Taliban propaganda.” The commander of the Marines is the district says that the Taliban are to blame for “every single instance” of a civilian casualty in the district.
The US took over the district in September from British forces, who had been holding it for years and expressed concerns that any good will they built up with the locals would quickly be lost when the more aggressive US troops took over and started launching operations. It seems this fear is panning out.
Indeed, tribal elders regularly complain to the Marines about the killings. Officials said no investigations would be taken on the basis of the elders complaints, and said the fact that the elders haven’t been killed by the Taliban was “proof” that they were in league with the Taliban and the complaints were a trick.
So there you have it, the essence of humanitarian war as waged by Nobel Peace Laureates in the 21st century: The fact that you're not dead yet proves you are an enemy.
Is it any wonder that civilian casualties are soaring under the aegis of such an enlightened philosophy?
For approximately the ten thousandth time, let me say: go read this piece by Arthur Silber. Savor the savage wit he employs against the cretinous call by über-goober Glenn Reynolds for the United States to murder more than 23 million people on the Korean peninsula -- and spread death and disease to hundreds of millions more across Asia.
JUST WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW: North Korea fires artillery barrage on South. If they start anything, I say nuke ‘em. And not with just a few bombs. They’ve caused enough trouble — and it would be a useful lesson for Iran, too.
As Silber's analysis reveals, Reynolds evidently feels his manhood is threatened by the possibility of a flare-up in the long-running border disputes between North and South Korea. Why these internal conflicts in a sadly divided but small and distant nation should give Reynolds the vapors is not clear; I suspect it is some sort of compensatory psychosexual fixation with the gigantic missiles and ever-ready payloads of America's nuclear arsenal. But I could be wrong, of course. Maybe he's just "sorry," as the home folks would say back in Tennessee (where we are all ashamed to claim Reynolds as one of our own).
In any case, Reynolds' astonishingly complacent contemplation of the immediate annihilation and incineration of millions upon millions of innocent human beings ("Not with just a few bombs") is nothing new for this witless boor, whose "writings" -- or perhaps "blog droppings" would be a better term -- have long been littered with similar berserkery. Nor are his homicidal proclivities at all unusual among the serious, savvy movers and shakers of our time. The American political and media establishments are chockful of respectable figures -- like Reynolds, a university law professor and contributor to worthy journals like the New York Times -- whose persistent, public calls for the extermination of innocent human beings by the thousands and the millions are on a par with any of the most maniacal utterances of the great mass murderers of the last century.
Silber, as you will expect, delves deeper into all of this -- and even ends with a heartwarming Christmas ditty for our times. Are you going to pass that up? Scoot on over there pronto.
Michael Hudson has consistently been one of the best guides
through the labyrinth of lies that surround the monumental act of elite
thievery known as the “economic crisis.”Patiently and perceptively, he applies his economic expertise to the
realities behind the blather, laying out – in grim, heart-sinking detail – how
our great and good are using the crisis they created to move in remorselessly
for the final kill on any dreams of a decent life for the rabble – that is, the
99 percent of us who fall outside the golden circle of the rentier class.
So when Hudson speaks, we should pay serious heed. And his
latest piece in CounterPunch is heedful – and heart-sinking – indeed. We are,
he says, entering the end-game of a decades-long process of wealth transference
in which the entire burden of sustaining society – a degraded, hollowed-out,
inhumane society – and a bloated, belligerent militarist oligarchy falls
entirely on working people and the poor, while the elite reap all the profit.
Hudson sees yet another manufactured crisis hitting the
battered system next spring: the “debt” crisis, when Republican legislators and
Blue Dog Democrats refuse to raise the federal debt ceiling, “forcing” a most
willing (yea, eager) Barack Obama to effect an “historic compromise” to “save”
the government from closure and collapse: a flat tax.
You should read Hudson’s entire analysis, which is set up
carefully with very pertinent historical background, but here are some
The danger the United States faces today
is that the government debt crisis scheduled to hit Congress next spring (when
Republicans are threatening to vote against raising the federal debt limit as
the government deficit soars) will provide an opportunity for the wealthy to
give a coup de grace on what is left of
progressive taxation in this country. A flat tax on wage income and consumer
sales would “free” the rentiers from taxes on their property. … The flat tax actually would tax wage
earners much more steeply than the wealthy, whose income it would largely
exempt! … The tax does not fall on “empty” pricing in excess of value – what
the classical economists termed “economic rent,” that element of price (and
income) that has no counterpart in actual cost of production (ultimately
reducible to labor) but is a pure free lunch: land rent, monopoly rent,
interest and other financial fees, and insurance premiums. This economic rent
is the major return to wealth. It is grounded in the finance, insurance and
real estate (FIRE) sector. The effect of untaxing the FIRE sector
is twofold. First, it increases the power of wealth, privilege, monopoly rights
and property over living labor – including the power of hereditary wealth over
the living. Second, it helps “post-industrialize” the economy, creating a
“service” economy. A service economy is mainly a FIRE-sector economy.
And now for the end-game, the kabuki
theater in which the FIRE-breathing – or rather, FIRE-bought -- politicians of
both parties finally give the One Percenters what they’ve always wanted: everything.
The wealthy want just what bankers want:
the entire economic surplus (followed by a foreclosure on property). They want
all the disposable income over and above basic subsistence – and then, when
this shrinks the economy, they want the government to sell off the public
domain in “privatization” giveaways, and they want people to turn over their
houses and any other property they have to the creditors. “Your money or your
life” is not only what bank robbers demand. It is what banks themselves demand,
and the wealthy 10 per cent of the population that owns most of the bank stock. And of course, the wealthy classes want to free themselves
from the share of taxes that they have not already shed. The flat-tax ploy is
their godsend. Here’s how I think the plan is intended
to work. Given the fact that voters have already rejected the flat tax in
principle, it can only be introduced by fiatunder crisis conditions. Alan
Simpson, President Obama’s designated co-chairman of the “Deficit Reduction
Commission” (the euphemistic title given to what is in reality a “Shift Taxes
Off Wealth Onto Labor” commission) already has suggested that Republicans close
down the government by refusing to increase the federal debt limit this spring.
This would create a fiscal crisis and threat of government shutdown. It would
be a fiscal 9/11, for the Republicans to trot out their “rescue plan” for the
emergency breakdown of government.
The result would cap the tax shift off finance and wealth onto
wage earners. Supported by Blue Dog Democrats, President Obama would shed
crocodile tears and sign off on the most right-wing, oligarchic, anti-labor,
anti-black and anti-minority, anti-industrial tax that anyone has yet been able
to think up. The notorious Flat Tax would fall only on wage income (paid by
employees and employers alike) and on consumer goods (the value-added tax,
VAT), while exempting returns that accrue to the wealthy in the form of
interest and dividend income, rent and capital gains.
Barack Obama is already one of the most right-wing
presidents we’ve ever had, building upon and expanding virtually every
pernicious policy of his oligarchic predecessor. But as Hudson warns us, we ain’t
seen nothin’ yet.
The United States of Insouciance
his return from a self-imposed hiatus, Paul Craig Roberts has been a
man on fire, penning a series of riveting, ravaging articles that speak
hard truth to the imperial state -- and to a society seemingly content
to countenance, if not cheer, that state's worst malefactions. Roberts
has done it again with his latest piece: "Insouciant Americans." Get thee hence, and read.
hard to understand why all our serious commentators are writing that
Barack Obama's presidency is in trouble, and offering sage advice, from
right, left, and center, on what he needs to do to "get back on track."
The truth, of course, is that Barack Obama's presidency is a smashing
success -- indeed, a record-breaking success -- and that he is accomplishing exactly what he was put into office to do, as the New York Times reports today: Corporate Profits Were the Highest on Record Last Quarter.
Chronicles of Corruption
My old Moscow Times comrade Matt Taibbi adds another chapter
to his on-going -- and jaw-dropping -- series of stories on the
deliberate evisceration of ordinary Americans by their monied and
minatory betters. Taibbi has few equals when it comes to explaining the
true depth and extent of American corruption -- and almost no equal when
it comes to actually reporting on it from the front lines. He is
creating a record of the reality of our times that future historians
(yes, yes, if there are any) will find invaluable.
The Dissident Path
Hedges is another incendiary voice, burning through the threadbare
curtain of liberal piety and exceptionalist myth to expose the corroded
heart of a nation sliding into barbarity. His latest piece at Truthdig is an excellent example, so we'll finish here with a few choice quotes:
is no hope left for achieving significant reform or restoring our
democracy through established mechanisms of power. The electoral process
has been hijacked by corporations. The judiciary has been corrupted and
bought. The press shuts out the most important voices in the country
and feeds us the banal and the absurd. Universities prostitute
themselves for corporate dollars. Labor unions are marginal and
ineffectual forces. The economy is in the hands of corporate swindlers
and speculators. And the public, enchanted by electronic hallucinations,
remains passive and supine. We have no tools left within the power
structure in our fight to halt unchecked corporate pillage.
liberal class, which Barack Obama represents, was never endowed with
much vision or courage, but it did occasionally respond when pressured
by popular democratic movements. This was how we got the New Deal, civil
rights legislation and the array of consumer legislation pushed through
by Ralph Nader and his allies in the Democratic Party. The complete
surrendering of power, however, to corporate interests means that those
of us who seek nonviolent yet profound change have no one within the
power elite we can trust for support. The corporate coup has ossified
the structures of power. It has obliterated all checks on corporate
malfeasance. It has left us stripped of the tools of mass organization
that once nudged the system forward toward justice. ....
worst premonitions are becoming reality. Our intuition has proved
correct. We are reaching the breaking point. An explosion, unless we
halt the increased pressure, seems inevitable. And what is left for
those of us who cannot embrace the contaminants of violence? If the
system shuts us out how can we influence it through nonviolent
mechanisms of popular protest? How can we restore a civil society? How
can we battle back against those who will mobilize hatred to cement into
place an American fascism?
I do not
know if we can win this battle. I suspect we cannot. But I do know that
if we stop resisting, if we stop rebelling, something fundamental will
die within us. As the corporate vise tightens, as the vast corporate
system begins to break down with fossil fuel decline, extreme climate
change and the expansion of global poverty, even mundane and ordinary
acts to assert our common humanity and justice will be condemned as
It is time to think of
resistance in a new way, something that is no longer carried out to
reform a system but as an end in itself. African-Americans understood
this during the long night of slavery. German opposition leaders
understood it under the Nazis. Dissidents in the former Soviet Union
knew this during the nightmare of communism. Resistance in these closed
systems was local and often solitary. It was done with the understanding
that evil must always be defied. The tiny acts of rebellion—day after
day, month after month, year after year and decade after decade—exposed
to everyone who witnessed them the heartlessness, cruelty and inhumanity
of the oppressor. They were acts of truth and beauty. We must take to
the street. We must jam as many wrenches into the corporate system as we
can. We must not make it easy for them. But we also must no longer live
in self-delusion. This is a battle that will outlive us. And if we
fight, even with this tragic vision, we will lead lives worth living and
keep alive another way of being.
We are under hack attack again. Just wanted to remind you that if you ever find this site in some difficulty, you can always check the original site, Empire Burlesque 1.0, where any new posts will be published, until the storm blows over.