Ben Ehrenreich at the London Review of Books has written one of the best articles on the current situation in Mexico that I have seen. Thousands of people are dying there, caught up in a sinister nexus where all the main players -- drug cartels, their officials backers (and servants), the various Drug Warriors on both sides of the border, the corporations profiteering from the Drug War, the august and respectable financial institutions who move the money for both the cartels and their official antagonists, and the American and Mexican politicians who happily game the murderous system for their own cynical advantage -- are reaping huge rewards, while a whole society is being destroyed.
As Ehrenreich points out in the succinct but detailed historical background he provides, the current Drug War-fueled destruction is just part and parcel of a larger assault on the underpinning of Mexican society -- a wider campaign that includes brutal economic war, and the relentless militarization of society on both sides of the border. On the U.S. side, it is again a thoroughly bipartisan affair, ranging from Richard Nixon to Clinton's NAFTA and beyond.
Unfortunately, the article is not one of those that LRB makes available to non-subscribers every month. Fortunately, your correspondent happens to be a subscriber, so below are some extensive excerpts from Ehreneich's superb piece.
There have been more than 2000 killings in Juárez so far this year. ... The violence is dizzying, all the more so because so little light has been shed on it by the press, either in Mexico or abroad. Most accounts stick to the official narrative: the bloodshed is simply the result of heightened competition between drug cartels for control of profitable smuggling routes, and of the military battling it out with the bad guys. The dead are generally identified only as ‘pistoleros’ or ‘sicarios’; their killers as ‘armed commandos’. The most basic facts are left unspecified: body counts, names, places, dates. ... The government, the opposition, the cartels and the various factions within all of them spread disinformation as a matter of policy, which means that political gossip tends to revolve around who stands to profit from which distortion. To make things more complicated, there is a great deal at stake for Mexico’s powerful neighbour to the north. The two most pernicious strands of contemporary American politics – nativism and the all-encompassing discourse of ‘security’ – feed into the notion that Mexico is slipping into anarchy.
Horrific though it is, the violence is neither inexplicable nor entirely senseless. It is the result of a struggle over drug distribution in which a remarkable number of players have come to have a deep investment: not only the narcos, but their ostensible opponents on both sides of the international border and of the hazier divide separating legality from criminality. Drugs are an old business in Mexico. Farmers in the remote high sierra of the western state of Sinaloa have been growing opium poppies since the late 19th century – and marijuana long before that – but smuggling did not become a viable enterprise until the US created an illicit market by regulating the use of opiates in 1914. Then, as now, drugs flowed one way: north. The American appetite for forbidden intoxicants grew quickly in the second half of the last century. As the US market expanded, so did the smuggling industry that serviced it. Until the early 1970s the smugglers were subordinate to the local politicians and military and police commanders under whose protection they were permitted to operate, and who in turn took their place in a chain of command that rose all the way to the presidency.
This arrangement ran smoothly until marijuana’s newfound popularity led Richard Nixon to declare a ‘war on drugs’ and to begin putting pressure on the Mexican government to staunch the flow. Even then, other motives were concealed beneath the American government’s apparent concern for the health of its citizens: Nixon’s chief of staff recorded in his diary that in the course of a briefing on drug enforcement in 1969, the president had ‘emphasised … that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognises this while not appearing to.’ That year, Nixon ordered a massive policing effort on the Mexican border called Operation Intercept. Relatively little contraband was found and Mexico was furious about the crackdown, but the US administration considered it a success. Gordon Liddy, then the co-chair of Nixon’s narcotics task force, would later write: ‘It was an exercise in international extortion, pure, simple and effective, designed to bend Mexico to our will.’ It worked: the next anti-drug effort was called Operation Co-operation. Seven years later, with logistical help from the US, Mexico launched its first major military operation against the drug trade. Operation Condor, led by a general who had taken part in the massacre of students at Tlatelolco in 1968 and the anti-guerrilla campaigns of the 1970s Dirty War, dislodged hundreds of peasants from the western sierras. Complaints of torture by federal troops abounded.
n the 1980s a massive expansion of the cocaine market in the States coincided with the growth of leftist guerrilla movements in Central and South America. Under the cover of the drug war, Reagan took on both at once. In 1986, he signed a directive that linked narco-trafficking to ‘insurgent groups’ and ‘terrorist cells’ abroad, and declared the narcotics trade a threat to national security. The effect was to militarise the war on drugs, converting what had once been a matter for domestic law enforcement into an instrument of foreign policy.
At the same time, and not coincidentally, Mexico was undergoing a shift to neoliberalism under the presidencies of Miguel de la Madrid and Carlos Salinas, both of whom were educated, or partially educated, in the US. The smuggling business, too, was about to take a neoliberal turn. It had consolidated in the 1980s under one man, Miguel Angel Félix Gallardo. Known as El Padrino, or the Godfather, Félix Gallardo emerged from the old system: he was a former policeman and chief bodyguard to the governor of Sinaloa. When a US Drug Enforcement Agency officer working undercover in Mexico was kidnapped and killed, the first Bush administration pushed hard for Félix Gallardo’s arrest. Negotiations for the trade pact that would later be known as the North American Free Trade Agreement were underway and Salinas wanted to keep the Americans happy, so in 1989, Félix Gallardo was arrested. But Félix Gallardo had seen what was coming and by then he had divided up his empire, distributing the most valued smuggling routes, or plazas, to trusted lieutenants. Just as Salinas was breaking up and privatising hundreds of state-owned industries, so Félix Gallardo was breaking up his domain, effectively creating what are now the Tijuana and Sinaloa cartels.
...In 1993 and 1994, US immigration officials began pouring resources into securing the border at two major urban crossing sites – between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, and between San Diego and Tijuana. Perversely, this helped the cartels seal their monopolies on the trade. ‘Borders breed smuggling,’ the sociologist Fernando Escalante explains: ‘A closed border breeds organised smuggling. It favours cartels, it favours organised crime.’
Now the Economic War experienced a great "surge" under those fightin' progressives, NAFTA-men Bill Clinton and Al Gore:
The broader effects of NAFTA and the reforms that accompanied it were more diffuse and far more destructive. A constitutional amendment passed as a precondition for the trade pact did away with the legislation that since the 1930s had forbidden the private sale of communally held farmland. Now cheap and highly subsidised American corn flooded the Mexican market. Local farmers were unable to compete: 1.1 million small farmers and 1.4 million others dependent on the agricultural sector lost their livelihoods. Campesinos left ancestral holdings, forced into the uncertainties of migrancy, both within Mexico and abroad. Villages were left almost abandoned. In a few short years, extraordinary wealth was concentrated in the hands of a tiny minority while the dream of an agrarian republic that had sustained the country for most of the 20th century collapsed. The anticipated shift to export-oriented manufacturing was a failure. Few of the promised jobs in the foreign-owned assembly plants known as maquiladoras materialised. The ones that did soon vanished as companies pursued still cheaper labour in China.
As a result of the "reforms" of the progressive duo, almost a third of the Mexican people have been forced into penurious, petty hustling and scrabbling to eke out an existence on the margins of modernity:
Nearly 30 per cent of the population now works in the informal economy – washing car windows on street corners, selling tacos, sodas, DVDs. Cuts to education have helped create a new class of young people: the 7.5 million so-called ninis who aren’t in school and don’t have jobs (‘ni estudian ni trabajan’). The minimum wage has lost two thirds of its buying power and nearly half the population lives in poverty. In his book on the epidemic of murders of young women in Ciudad Juárez, Huesos en el desierto (‘Bones in the Desert’, 2002), González Rodríguez wrote of the vast new class of the uprooted and excluded, poor migrants from the countryside who now find themselves wandering in a ‘vertiginous universe of technology and productivity, merchandise and calculation’.
In the 1990s, "neoliberals" -- i.e., ball-crushing boardroom Bolsheviks committed to the crony capitalism known laughingly as "free trade" -- took power in Mexico, with predictable 'shock doctrine' results:
Between 1989 and 1999, the National Action Party (the PAN), which represented the socially conservative transnational elite that had profited most from the PRI’s economic policies, won the governorships of eight states, including the border states in which the most important drug trafficking routes were situated. By 2000, when the PAN won the presidency with the election of the former Coca-Cola executive Vicente Fox, the old networks of political patronage that had contained and controlled the drug smuggling industry were in disarray. The cartel leaders broke free from the system that had kept them in check. The old arrangement was turned on its head. Traffickers had once worked for the police and the politicians: now the police and politicians were working for them.
The democratic renaissance prophesied by Fox’s allies delivered little. Corruption persisted. The transformation of the economy along neoliberal lines continued, but without even the tattered remnants of the PRI paternalism that had for almost a century redistributed some small portion of the nation’s wealth in exchange for votes and obedience. Now the market alone would rule, and the millions it left behind would have no option but to adjust to the new realities. ‘The campesinos,’ Fox’s finance secretary announced in 2003, ‘will have to transform themselves into industrial workers or true business people.’ Many have done precisely that – either in factories, fields and kitchens north of the border, or in the precarious employ of the drug cartels.
The current president, Felipe Calderon, took power in a disputed Bush-like election, with a similarly farcical "recount" process: "The electoral tribunal ordered a partial recount, declared Calderón the winner and promptly destroyed the ballots." Then, like Bush, he proceeded to seize upon a convenient "crisis" -- the post-NAFTA cartel conflicts -- to militarize the situation and shore up his own illegitimate power:
Less than a fortnight later, Calderón called on the military once again, this time ordering 6500 troops to his home state of Michoacán to stem the rising violence there. The drug war was for him what the war on terror had been for George W. Bush. Like Bush, he lacked legitimacy in the eyes of at least half the population: the drug war ‘allowed him the tools he needed in order to govern’. Over the next two years, he would send 45,000 troops – a quarter of Mexico’s armed forces – to the northern border, the south-western state of Guerrero, and the so-called Golden Triangle, the mountainous poppy-growing regions of Sinaloa, Durango and Chihuahua. For most of the last century, the Mexican military had been almost unique in Latin America in keeping a respectful distance from civil institutions and from the US. Calderón changed that. In 2008, the two countries launched the Merida Initiative: Mexico accepted $1.3 billion in counter-narcotics funding from the US and an unprecedented level of military co-operation was established.
Ehrenreich then makes a key point -- an insight that holds true not only for Mexico, but in virtually every case around the world where conflicts, disputes -- and political and corporate agendas -- have been militarized:
Everywhere the military has visited, the bloodshed has grown much worse.
Militarizing a situation guarantees there will be indiscriminate killing, enormous destruction, economic ruin, social collapse, degradation of infrastructure, the spread of disease, and massive, pervasive corruption. This is what you are knowingly perpetrating every time you militarize a situation. It invariably makes the situation worse -- unless, of course, bloodshed, ruin and corruption are, in fact, your goals.
Ehrenreich goes on:
Between December 2006 – when Calderón took office and sent out the first troops – and July 2010, more than 28,000 Mexicans were murdered. The president has insisted that 90 per cent of the victims were cartel members, although only 5 per cent of the murders have been investigated, much less solved. In the first four years of his term, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission received 4035 complaints alleging abuses by the armed forces – more than it had received in the previous 15 years – including allegations of murder, torture and rape. Because the military is charged with investigating itself, such abuses invariably go unpunished. And ‘because writing or saying what the military is up to could result in serious injury or death,’ the American journalist Charles Bowden notes in Murder City, his recent book about Juárez, few of the more serious abuses are ever reported.[*] At least 31 reporters have been killed or disappeared since 2006.
Ah, but of course now we have another progressive in the White House -- a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, no less, an heir to Martin Luther King and Aung San Suu Kyi. Surely now, things will change, we will take a new direction, away from the obviously failed policies of the past. Yes? No.
Calderón, unfazed, has promised to keep the troops on the streets until the end of his six-year term. His support from the north has been unflagging. Obama has proposed extending the Merida Initiative, and has requested an additional $310 million for 2011. His administration appears to situate Mexico within the discourse of failing states battling insurgencies and requiring American help. It’s a bad fit – the cartels are not revolutionary cells so much as organisations of global capital – but the rhetoric provides a domestic pretext for folding Mexico into US security protocols. Carlos Pascual, the new US ambassador to Mexico, last summer confidently proposed ‘a new role’ for the Mexican military in Juárez, one consistent with counter-insurgency tactics employed by the US across the globe: they would secure the perimeter of five-block-square ‘safe zones’, and push that perimeter outward block by block.
Ehrenreich's conclusion is bleak indeed -- worthy of Cormac McCarthy -- but, one fears, all too accurate:
Whatever shape it takes, the war on drugs continues to be even more profitable than the drug trade itself. All the killing keeps prices per gram high, so the cartels do fine, as do the legions of sicarios and the funeral directors they help to feed. The bankers who launder the money also win, as do the businessmen into whose enterprises the newly laundered funds are funnelled. The American weapons manufacturers stand to do nicely, as do the US security consultants and military contractors who will deposit almost all of the Merida funds into their own accounts, and who can expect to make billions more from the militarisation of the border on the American side: someone has to make the helicopters, the cameras, the night-vision goggles, the motion sensors, the unmanned drones, as well as build the private prisons that hold the migrants. Finally politicians too stand to gain, not only Calderón and the PRIistas who are likely to profit from his failure in 2012, but the Americans who have sponsored him: the agile ones who can leverage campaign contributions from the contractors, the populists who win votes by shouting about the barbarian hordes advancing through the Arizona desert, the moderates who get re-elected term after term by expounding in even tones about the need for something called ‘comprehensive border security’. The killing is therefore unlikely to stop.
In these last days before the massively important, world-historical off-year election, as all our good progressives are out there rallying the troops for the beleaguered Democrats, trying to hold the racist, tyrannical, warmongering Tea Party at bay, Scott Horton at Harper's provides us with yet another reminder of just what kind of governance these poor, beleaguered Democrats are delivering with the power they received in 2008.
Horton reports that Barack Obama has won a great victory for the power of the state to falsely imprison innocent citizens, subject them to repeated abuse, tell slanderous lies about them -- then absolve itself of any responsibility for this systematic series of crimes ... crimes committed in the name of racist, tyrannical warmongering.
Yes, Obama is back on the front lines in the legal battle to defend, uphold, entrench and expand the worst abuses of power carried out by his loathed predecessor. His Yoo-like legal minions have convinced the Supreme Court to consider quashing a case that has been upheld by several lower, conservative courts as one worthy to be heard in court. As Horton notes:
The case involves Lavni Kidd, a star football player at the University of Idaho who converted to Islam and changed his name to Abdullah al-Kidd. He was seized as he boarded a flight to pursue religious education in Saudi Arabia in 2003. Justice Department officials claimed that he was needed as a material witness in a case against another University of Idaho student, Sami Omar al-Hussayen, who was charged with visa fraud. It does not appear that Kidd knew anything relevant to the visa fraud case, federal authorities never called him to testify, and the prosecution of Hussayn, which rested on a feeble evidentiary case to start with, failed before an Idaho jury. The claim appears now to have been a shabby pretext for arresting Kidd, whose offense apparently consisted of converting to Islam and espousing views critical of the Bush Administration and its plans to invade Iraq under false pretenses.
Over a period of 16 days, Kidd was moved to three separate detention facilities in three different states. He was treated brutally, according to procedures that the Justice Department approved for use on terrorism suspects. He was subjected to a withering interrogation by FBI agents who demanded to know why he had converted to Islam. He was stripped naked, subjected to body cavity searches, shackled hand and foot, and incarcerated with violent convicts.
To secure Kidd’s detention as a material witness, the Justice Department made a series of false statements to the magistrate who issued a warrant—claiming that he had purchased a one-way, first-class ticket to Saudi Arabia, when in fact the Justice Department knew he had purchased a return economy class ticket, for instance. It also withheld such information as the fact that Kidd was a U.S. citizen who had cooperated with authorities. The record strongly suggests actual malice and bigotry. These facts no doubt played a strong role in persuading judges at the district court in Idaho and on the appeals court in California of the merits of the case. They therefore denied the Justice Department’s vigorously argued efforts to have it dismissed.
But Obama is tireless in his protection of tyranny. He seeks to defend it from any and all challenges, small or great. It would be the easiest thing in the world to simply step back and let this case be heard in court, let it be argued on its own merits and decided accordingly. It would not require some harsh denunciation of his predecessors, since he finds such things so distasteful. It would not require him to support his predecessors. It would not require the White House to do anything at all except to let justice takes its course.
But we know that our brave progressive paladin never takes the easy way. No, he will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with George Bush and John Ashcroft, he will stand up boldly, yea proudly, for jailing young students for voicing dissent, for rigging up false charges based on deliberate lies, for stripping innocent people and subjecting them to body cavity searches -- and for ensuring that no minion of the state who so abuses innocent citizens need ever face the slightest disturbance in his cushy, comfortable life. So he has fought it convince the Supreme Court to hear his earnest pleas for throwing out al-Kidd's case and protecting all those who abuse and pervert the power of the state.
This is what you support when you support Obama and the Democrats. And if we are about to get another gaggle of rapacious rightwing geese flapping into the corridors of power, it is precisely because the Democrats long ago sold out, lock, stock and millions of smoking barrels, to the corporate-militarist elite, leaving no genuine institutional outlets of opposition to corporate rapine, continual war and state tyranny within the American political system.
The liberal class, which once made piecemeal and incremental reform possible, functioned traditionally as a safety valve. During the Great Depression, with the collapse of capitalism, it made possible the New Deal. During the turmoil of the 1960s, it provided legitimate channels within the system to express the discontent of African-Americans and the anti-war movement. But the liberal class, in our age of neo-feudalism, is now powerless. It offers nothing but empty rhetoric. It refuses to concede that power has been wrested so efficiently from the hands of citizens by corporations that the Constitution and its guarantees of personal liberty are irrelevant. It does not act to mitigate the suffering of tens of millions of Americans who now make up a growing and desperate permanent underclass. And the disparity between the rhetoric of liberal values and the rapacious system of inverted totalitarianism the liberal class serves makes liberal elites, including Barack Obama, a legitimate source of public ridicule. The liberal class, whether in universities, the press or the Democratic Party, insists on clinging to its privileges and comforts even if this forces it to serve as an apologist for the expanding cruelty and exploitation carried out by the corporate state.
As long as the liberal class had even limited influence, whether through the press or the legislative process, liberals were tolerated and even respected. But once the liberal class lost all influence it became a class of parasites. The liberal class, like the déclassé French aristocracy, has no real function within the power elite. And the rising right-wing populists, correctly, ask why liberals should be tolerated when their rhetoric bears no relation to reality and their presence has no influence on power.
The death of the liberal class, however, is catastrophic for our democracy. It means there is no longer any check to a corporate apparatus designed to further enrich the power elite. It means we cannot halt the plundering of the nation by Wall Street speculators and corporations. An ineffectual liberal class, in short, means there is no hope, however remote, of a correction or a reversal through the political system and electoral politics. The liberals’ disintegration ensures that the frustration and anger among the working and the middle class will find expression in a rejection of traditional liberal institutions and the civilities of a liberal democracy. The very forces that co-opted the liberal class and are responsible for the impoverishment of the state will, ironically, reap benefits from the collapse. These corporate manipulators are busy channeling rage away from the corporate and military forces hollowing out the nation from the inside and are turning that anger toward the weak remnants of liberalism. It does not help our cause that liberals indeed turned their backs on the working and middle class. ...
The corporate state, by emasculating the liberal class, has opted for a closed system of polarization, gridlock and political theater in the name of governance. It has ensured a further destruction of state institutions so that government becomes even more ineffectual and despised. The collapse of the constitutional state, presaged by the death of the liberal class, has created a power vacuum that a new class of speculators, war profiteers, gangsters and killers, historically led by charismatic demagogues, will enthusiastically fill. It opens the door to overtly authoritarian and fascist movements. ....
The liberal class was permitted a place within a capitalist democracy because it also vigorously discredited radicals within American society who openly defied the excesses of corporate capitalism and who denounced a political system run by and on behalf of corporations. The real enemy of the liberal class has never been Glenn Beck, but Noam Chomsky.
The purging and silencing of independent and radical thinkers as well as iconoclasts have robbed the liberal class of vitality. The liberal class has cut itself off from the roots of creative and bold thought, from those forces and thinkers who could have prevented the liberal class from merging completely with the power elite. ...
Once the liberal class can no longer moderate the savage and greedy inclinations of the capitalist class, once, for example, labor unions are reduced to the role of bartering away wage increases and benefits, once public education is gutted and the press no longer gives a voice to the poor and the working class, liberals become as despised as the power elite they serve. The collapse of liberal institutions means those outside the circles of power are trapped, with no recourse, and this is why many Americans are turning in desperation toward idiotic right-wing populists who at least understand the power of hatred as a mobilizing force.
The liberal class no longer holds within its ranks those who have the moral autonomy or physical courage to defy the power elite. The rebels, from Chomsky to Sheldon Wolin to Ralph Nader, have been marginalized, shut out of the national debate and expelled from liberal institutions. The liberal class lacks members with the vision and fortitude to challenge dominant free market ideologies. It offers no ideological alternatives. It remains bound to a Democratic Party that has betrayed every basic liberal principle including universal healthcare, an end to our permanent war economy, a robust system of public education, a vigorous defense of civil liberties, job creation, the right to unionize and welfare for the poor.
... As Wall Street steals billions of taxpayer dollars, as it perpetrates massive fraud to throw people out of their homes, as the ecosystem that sustains the planet is polluted and destroyed, we do not know what to do or say. We have been robbed of a vocabulary to describe reality. We decry the excesses of capitalism without demanding a dismantling of the corporate state. Our pathetic response is to be herded to political rallies by skillful publicists to shout inanities like “Yes we can!”
The liberal class is finished. Neither it nor its representatives will provide the leadership or resistance to halt our slide toward despotism. The liberal class prefers comfort and privilege to confrontation. It will not halt the corporate assault or thwart the ascendancy of the corporate state. It will remain intolerant within its ranks of those who do. The liberal class now honors an unwritten quid pro quo, one set in place by Bill Clinton, to cravenly serve corporate interests in exchange for money, access and admittance into the halls of power.
The Democratic Party has become the enabler -- and the eager, avid enactor -- of the same sinister, inhumane, corrosive and murderous policies that liberals, progressives, dissenters, true patriots (call them what you will) once fought so hard to resist.
Now you can seek to close the "enthusiasm gap" ('Hey, did ya see that Big Dawg Bill is out there on the hustings for us again? Yeehaw!') for the Democrats, you can tremble in fear at the corporate-owned Tea Partiers (as if the Democrats are not also corporate-owned by war profiteers, community eviscerators and rapers of the land) -- but all you are doing is perpetuating the dynamic that has brought the Tea Partiers and their ilk to prominence. All you are doing is guaranteeing the further drift -- or rather, stampede -- of American politics toward the openly fascist, brutal, barbaric future that Hedges describes above.
You are standing with tyrants, with those who strip and abuse innocent citizens, with those who wage ceaseless, needless war, who kill the innocent, torture the captive, and drive millions of innocent people from their homes.
There will be no end to the horror, and not the slightest possibility of healing this broken society, and turning it, painfully, fitfully, toward something more holistic and humane, until you speak that word.
Many, many years ago, I noted in the Moscow Times that shortly after the 2003 invasion, the United States had begun hiring some of Saddam's old torturers as the invaders sought to quell the then-nascent "insurgency" -- i.e., the opposition to foreign occupation that when carried out by white men, such as the French during World War II, goes by the more ringing name of "resistance." Here's part of that report, from August 29, 2003:
Here's a headline you don't see every day: "War Criminals Hire War Criminals to Hunt Down War Criminals."
Perhaps that's not the precise wording used by the Washington Post this week, but it is the absolute essence of its story about the Bush Regime's new campaign to put Saddam's murderous security forces on America's payroll.
Yes, the sahibs in Bush's Iraqi Raj are now doling out American tax dollars to hire the murderers of the infamous Mukhabarat and other agents of the Baathist Gestapo – perhaps hundreds of them. The logic, if that's the word, seems to be that these bloodstained "insiders" will lead their new imperial masters to other bloodstained "insiders" responsible for bombing the UN headquarters in Baghdad – and killing another dozen American soldiers while Little George was playing with his putts during his month-long Texas siesta.
Naturally, the Iraqi people – even the Bush-appointed leaders of the Potemkin "Governing Council" – aren't exactly overjoyed at seeing Saddam's goons return, flush with American money and firepower. And they're certainly not reassured by the fact that the Bushists have also re-opened Saddam's most notorious prison, the dread Abu Ghraib, and are now, Mukhabarat-like, filling it with Iraqis – men, women and children as young as 11 – seized from their homes or plucked off the street to be held incommunicado, indefinitely, without due process, just like the old days. As The Times reports, weeping relatives who dare approach the gleaming American razor-wire in search of their "disappeared" loved ones are referred to a crude, hand-written sign pinned to a spike: "No visits are allowed, no information will be given and you must leave." Perhaps an Iraqi Akhmatova will do justice to these scenes one day.
One of the first stories out of the gate from the gigantic new release of classified documents on the Iraq War by Wikileaks details the willing connivance and cooperation between the American invaders and their Iraqi collaborators in perpetrating heinous tortures against Iraqis. As we know, the Americans themselves were not exactly averse to atrocious maltreatment of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis they have rounded up, overwhelmingly without charges or evidence, over the long, long years of this godforsaken enterprise. (As we've often noted here before, at one point early in the Iraq War, the Red Cross estimated that 70-90 percent of the more than 20,000 Iraqis then being held by the Americans as "suspected terrorists" were not guilty of any crime whatsoever. And of course many thousands more have been "churned" through the system since then. Which is doubtless one of the main reasons why there is still an active "insurgency" in Iraq after so many years of continuous "counter-insurgency." And yes, even after the "victorious" surge led by St. David Petraeus, and after the bogus "end of combat operations" declared by the Peace Laureate himself.)
But the Guardian story focuses on another key feature of the entire American Terror War -- indeed, of American foreign policy for a great many bipartisan decades: using proxies to do your dirty work. The Wikileaks documents spell out case after case of torture by the American-installed Iraqi lackeys -- often under the watchful eyes of American forces ... and countenanced, officially and formally, by the invaders. The Guardian reports:
This is the impact of Frago 242. A frago is a "fragmentary order" which summarises a complex requirement. This one, issued in June 2004, about a year after the invasion of Iraq, orders coalition troops not to investigate any breach of the laws of armed conflict, such as the abuse of detainees, unless it directly involves members of the coalition. Where the alleged abuse is committed by Iraqi on Iraqi, "only an initial report will be made … No further investigation will be required unless directed by HQ".
...Hundreds of the leaked war logs reflect the fertile imagination of the torturer faced with the entirely helpless victim – bound, gagged, blindfolded and isolated – who is whipped by men in uniforms using wire cables, metal rods, rubber hoses, wooden stakes, TV antennae, plastic water pipes, engine fan belts or chains. At the torturer's whim, the logs reveal, the victim can be hung by his wrists or by his ankles; knotted up in stress positions; sexually molested or raped; tormented with hot peppers, cigarettes, acid, pliers or boiling water – and always with little fear of retribution since, far more often than not, if the Iraqi official is assaulting an Iraqi civilian, no further investigation will be required.
Most of the victims are young men, but there are also logs which record serious and sexual assaults on women; on young people, including a boy of 16 who was hung from the ceiling and beaten; the old and vulnerable, including a disabled man whose damaged leg was deliberately attacked. The logs identify perpetrators from every corner of the Iraqi security apparatus – soldiers, police officers, prison guards, border enforcement patrols.
As the Guardian notes, the Americans were fully aware of what their charges were doing:
....There is no question of the coalition forces not knowing that their Iraqi comrades are doing this: the leaked war logs are the internal records of those forces. There is no question of the allegations all being false. Some clearly are, but most are supported by medical evidence and some involve incidents that were witnessed directly by coalition forces.
It should also be ntoed that many of the Iraqi "interrogation techniques" noted above have also featured systematically in the American gulag during the Bush-Obama years. In fact, we know that there is a trove of photographic evidence of rapes and tortures that have been seen by top American elected officials, including members of Congress, who talked openly of how sickening these documented atrocities were. Yet this evidence is still being withheld from the American people -- at the express order of Barack Obama, and the connivance of his fellow militarists in Congress.
Speaking of the Peace Laureate, the Wikileaks document show that these countenanced and/or winked-at atrocities by the American-installed structure in Iraq are still going on today. They are not just relics of the bad old Bush years:
And it does continue. With no effective constraint, the logs show, the use of violence has remained embedded in the everyday practice of Iraqi security, with recurrent incidents up to last December. Most often, the abuse is a standard operating procedure in search of a confession, whether true or false. One of the leaked logs has a detainee being beaten with chains, cables and fists and then confessing to involvement in killing six people because "the torture was too much for him to handle".
These are the direct fruits of the staggering act of evil that was -- and is -- the illegal, immoral invasion and occupation of Iraq. No, let's go further than that. These acts are just the latest fruits in an astonishingly brutal and coldly deliberate 20-year effort to destroy the Iraqi people: an effort carried out through four presidential administrations -- two Republicans, two Democrats -- with the complicity of successive British governments. It is a crusade that has involved two massively destructive major military campaigns and more than a decade of draconian sanctions, all of which have led to the needless deaths of more than one and a half million innocent people.
The Bush-Clinton sanction regime -- which also included a continual military component of bombing attacks -- is part and parcel of what has happened in Iraq during the past hellish decade ... and what is still happening there. As Joy Gordon notes in her landmark study of this cold-blooded berserkery, Invisible War, the sanctions regime:
caused hundreds of thousands of deaths; decimated the health of several million children; destroyed a whole economy; reduced a sophisticated country, in which much of the population lived as the middle class in a First World country, to the status of Fourth World countries -- the poorest of the poor, such as Rwanda, Somalia, Haiti; and in a society notable for its scientists, engineers and doctors, established an economy dominated by beggars, criminals and black marketeers.
Gordon's detailed, richly sourced and morally horrifying account of the sanctions era must be read to be believed. However bad you thought it was, the reality was much worse. I hope to be writing much more on this seminal work in the weeks to come. I strongly urge you to read it. But suffice to say for now that the manner in which Bush and Clinton officials used that dead hand of bureaucracy and cool, convoluted legalistic jargon to hide a crazed policy of murderous intent reminded me of nothing so much as the dealings of Nazi officials with the Jewish ghettos of Warsaw and Lodz before their final destruction.
We''ll have much more here on the Wikileaks release as people begin combing through the 400,000 documents. Wikileaks has done us all a great service by putting this vast war atrocity -- which is still going on -- back on the front pages, forcing the murderers and their accomplices and "continuers" in the halls of power to scurry around like rats caught in the light, twisting and squealing, trying to find some way to obscure the gobs of blood dripping from their hands and lips.
A Torch Unto the Nations
Religious extremists set fire to a girls' school and destroy crops -- but your terrorist-loving lamestream liberal media are too cowed to report it. Lamesters! Juan Cole busts through their cover-up.
Another Glittering Jewel for the D.C. Dream Team
Barack Obama appoints one of the key figures in the collapse of the American economy to be his new National Security Adviser -- an all-too-typical move which prompts this reaction from Robert Scheer:
Behind the wonderfully engaging smile of this president there is the increasingly disturbing suggestion of a cynical power-grabbing politician whose swift rise in power reflects less the earnestness of his message and far more the skills of a traditional political hack. If there was more of the sincere community organizer in the inner makings of this man, he would not have turned to one of the architects of a housing scam in filling a leadership position in his administration. Why assume that Donilon will now run our foreign policy, wrapped as it is in a secrecy that endangers so many, with any greater sense of moral integrity than he employed when he enriched himself by impoverishing so many ordinary Americans not blessed with his political connections?
The more one learns about the political roots of our economic meltdown, the more the Democratic Party stands revealed as an equal partner with the Republicans at the center of corruption. Donilon has worked for most of the party’s top dogs, including Walter Mondale, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Joe Biden. Surely the Republican ideologues who want to end all government consumer protections and are quite adroit at lining their own pockets are no better, but that is cold comfort. We are drowning in a bipartisan cesspool of corruption, and the sooner we grasp that fact the better.
Barack Obama as a cynical empty suit who sought power simply for power's sake, the commonwealth and the common good be damned? Who would have thought it?
Why Can't You See How Much I Love You As I Bash Your Stupid Head In?
Placeman Obama and President Petraeus practice tough love on their Afghan wards, who stubbornly refuse to get with the program. Jason Ditz reports:
September saw a massive increase in the number of US air strikes in Afghanistan, with at least 700 distinct strikes across the nation, up from 257 the year prior. The strikes saw a number of incidents of civilian deaths in the aerial campaign.
But the tactic may be even further on the rise in the future, as reports suggest that the Obama Administration has ordered the deployment of the USS Lincoln, another aircraft carrier, into the region, adding scores of additional warplanes to the theater of operations.
Well, who knows? Maybe the Afghans will get Stockholm Syndrome one of these days, and we'll have those hearts and minds yet. Ya never can tell, can ya, Dave? Keep pounding, boys!
If ever I am tempted by the siren songs of my tribal past as a deep-fried, yellow-dawg Democrat, and begin to feel any faint, atavistic stirrings of sympathy for the old gang, I simply think of things like the scenario below, sketched last week by Johann Hari, and those wispy ghosts of partisanship past go howling back to the depths:
Imagine if, an hour from now, a robot-plane swooped over your house and blasted it to pieces. The plane has no pilot. It is controlled with a joystick from 7,000 miles away, sent by the Pakistani military to kill you. It blows up all the houses in your street, and so barbecues your family and your neighbours until there is nothing left to bury but a few charred slops. Why? They refuse to comment. They don't even admit the robot-planes belong to them. But they tell the Pakistani newspapers back home it is because one of you was planning to attack Pakistan. How do they know? Somebody told them. Who? You don't know, and there are no appeals against the robot.
Now imagine it doesn't end there: these attacks are happening every week somewhere in your country. They blow up funerals and family dinners and children. The number of robot-planes in the sky is increasing every week. You discover they are named "Predators", or "Reapers" – after the Grim Reaper. No matter how much you plead, no matter how much you make it clear you are a peaceful civilian getting on with your life, it won't stop. What do you do? If there was a group arguing that Pakistan was an evil nation that deserved to be violently attacked, would you now start to listen?
...[This] is in fact an accurate description of life in much of Pakistan today, with the sides flipped. The Predators and Reapers are being sent by Barack Obama's CIA, with the support of other Western governments, and they killed more than 700 civilians in 2009 alone – 14 times the number killed in the 7/7 attacks in London. The floods were seen as an opportunity to increase the attacks, and last month saw the largest number of robot-plane bombings ever: 22. Over the next decade, spending on drones is set to increase by 700 per cent.
Friends, it's very simple: if you support Barack Obama and the Democrats -- even if reluctantly, even if you're just being all sophisticatedly super-savvy and blogospherically strategic about it, playing the "long game" or eleven-dimensional chess or what have you -- you are supporting the outright murder of innocent people who have never done anything against you or yours. You have walked into a house, battered down the bedroom door, put the barrel of a gun against the temple of a sleeping child, and pulled the trigger. That is what you are supporting, that is what you are complicit in, that is what you yourself are doing.
But hey, let's be all super-savvy and eleventh-dimensional ourselves here for a moment. Let's be pragmatic, and technocratic, let's be grown-ups, let's not get sidetracked by a bunch of jejune, dorm-room, hippy-dippy moralizing. No, let's concentrate on practicalities, let's get down to brass tacks, let's be serious and focus on "what works" to protect our national security. OK, so here's the practical result of the illegal campaign of mass murder that Obama is waging on the sovereign territory of one of America's allies:
... Drone technology was developed by the Israelis, who routinely use it to bomb the Gaza Strip. I've been in Gaza during some of these attacks. The people there were terrified – and radicalised. A young woman I know who had been averse to political violence and an advocate of peaceful protest saw a drone blow up a car full of people – and she started supporting Islamic Jihad and crying for the worst possible revenge against Israel. Robot-drones have successfully bombed much of Gaza, from secular Fatah to Islamist Hamas, to the brink of jihad.
Is the same thing happening in Pakistan? David Kilcullen is a counter-insurgency expert who worked for General Petraeus in Iraq and now advises the State Department. He has shown that two per cent of the people killed by the robot-planes in Pakistan are jihadis. The remaining 98 per cent are as innocent as the victims of 9/11. He says: "It's not moral." And it gets worse: "Every one of these dead non-combatants represents an alienated family, and more recruits for a militant movement that has grown exponentially as drone strikes have increased. ... It could be poised to get even worse: Bob Woodward's Obama's Wars says the US has an immediate plan to bomb 150 targets in Pakistan if there is a jihadi attack inside America.
Why, it's almost as if the drone campaign was designed to create more and more enemies -- and more and more contracts for war profiteers to build more and more drones, which can then be used to create more and more enemies, which means more and more contracts for .... say, it is a practical plan, after all! A practical plan to create terrorism, not quell it.
And what is the "evidence" used by the Administration militarists as they draw up their target lists for the defenseless villages in Pakistan? What is the "intelligence" produced by the $75 billion lavished on our 200,000 security apparatchiks every year? On what basis is Barack Obama killing people in Pakistan? Hari reports:
..[The] press releases uncritically repeated by the press after a bombing always brag about "senior al-Qa'ida commanders" killed – but some people within the CIA admit how arbitrary their choice of targets is. One of their senior figures told The New Yorker: "Sometimes you're dealing with tribal chiefs. Often they say an enemy of theirs is al-Qa'ida because they want to get rid of somebody, or they made crap up because they wanted to prove they were valuable so they could make money."
That's right: Barack Obama is killing hundreds of innocent civilians in Pakistan on the basis of crap made up for money. Made-up crap. For money. That's why a child who is just as precious as your child is to a parent who is just as real a person as you are was killed this week, by Barack Obama and the Democratic Party and the entire bipartisan foreign policy establishment of the United States of America: crap made up for money.
And of course, it's not just tribal chiefs making up crap for blood money: the entire aforementioned bipartisan foreign policy establishment is now and has for years been making up crap "so they could make money" -- for themselves, for their corporate patrons, for their government agencies, for their defense and "security" stockholdings, for the perpetuation of their bloated, belligerent, pig-ignorant domination of world affairs and American society -- by killing innocent people all over the world.
"But oh my gosh, oh my lord, we have to support Obama! What if those Tea Party Republicans get into power? What would happen then?" What would happen? The same goddamned thing that's happening right now, that's what. More and more war, more and more murder, more and more domination by a militarist kleptocracy. As Glenn Greenwald notes this week, Obama and the Tea Partiers (and the neocons, and the liberal hawks, and the Bush Regime war criminals) are in lockstep (even goosestep) on keeping the War Machine stoked and rolling.
That's why the opposition to the Tea Party Republicans has been so anemic, focused almost entirely on personality flaws or asinine comments or resume padding or stupid things they did in college. The Democrats can't possibly attack them on substance -- i.e., the fact that the Tea Partiers are rabid warmongers who delight in murder, torture and repression and believe that the poor, the sick, the old, the weak, the unlucky, and the vulnerable should just eat shit and die already -- because these are the same positions the Democrats hold! Who "reformed" health care into a gargantuan, guaranteed boondoggle for rapacious conglomerates? Who bailed out the bankers and left millions in the hands of savage "robo-signers?" Who set up the "Catfood Commission" and stocked it from top to bottom with long-time, deep-dyed haters of the poor and the weak? It wasn't Dick Cheney, bub.
I don't want to see the Tea Partiers in power. But I'm not going to support one faction of murderers and plunderers just to keep out another faction of murderers and plunderers. Hari makes this good analogy about the drone program:
Yet many people defend the drones by saying: "We have to do something." If your friend suffered terrible third-degree burns, would you urge her to set fire to her hair because "you have to do something"? Would you give a poisoning victim another, worse poison, on the grounds that any action is better than none?
Similarly, I say: would you support one murderer -- who likes to break into children's bedrooms and blow their brains out -- in order to stop another murderer, who would do the same thing, from taking over a vicious gang of murderers? What would be the basis, the reason for your support? That the first murderer wears nicer suits? Digs cooler music? Throws better street parties? Leaves a pretty little flower next to the blown-out brains?
For a system sunk so deeply in evil, there is no "lesser" evil to choose. The militarist kleptocracy itself is evil, and every political faction that does not denounce it and seek to dismantle it is complicit in this evil. The choice is to stand outside such factions; the choice is non-cooperation with evil, as advocated by Thoreau, Tolstoy, Gandhi, King. I'm not going to spend my brief time here on earth standing with blood-soaked killers, no matter what factional name they give themselves, or what loyalties they might claim on our myth-clouded memories of the past. I'm not going to teach my children that all we can do is to grovel before one child-murdering maniac or another, to keep quiet, to never speak the truth, to sell their votes, their dignity and their souls to murderers who would pervert every good instinct -- and every bad instinct -- every worthy hope and every nasty fear, to keep themselves in power.
Dead children. Made-up crap. For money. That's what our leading "dissidents" want us to support. There is much that could be said about the utterly puerile arguments being offered for this murder-abetting stance; but in the interests of brevity, and civility -- and my own sanity -- I will forbear, and simply say: no thanks.
While circumstances prevent the completion of some longer pieces for the moment, here's a quick scan of the horizon:
Double Down, Triple Down, All the Way to Hell
Pentagon brass and their sycophants in mufti are now making the media rounds, laying the groundwork for the next great move by the world-historical military genius David Petraeus, the most-lauded general never to, er, actually win a war: moving ground troops into Pakistan. The Los Angeles Times has the story here.
First, of course, there will be the usual push to make the Pakistani military kill massive amounts of their own people. This will, as always, inflame the situation, exacerbate extremism and violent reaction, thus nicely setting the stage for American troops to step in -- oh, as a last resort, of course! -- and take control of the "deteriorating situation."
Obviously, given what happened to Stanley McChrystal when he let his aides wag their tongues a bit too much in Paris bistros, Pentagon staffers are not about to be caught "off message" these days. So the dispatch of anonymous briefers in this case can only be seen as a planned reconnaissance in force to "prepare the battlefield." Not the actual fields in Central Asia where Petraeus is now killing civilians (and throwing away American lives) at a rising clip, of course; no, we mean the battlegrounds of the Beltway, where the Pentagon bureaucrats like Winless Davy do their real fighting.
The move is being sold as a way to "show improvement" in the the war before Obama's re-election, but that's all a sham. Obama surely knows what is painfully obvious to any sentient being: an expansion of the ground war into Pakistan will result in a maelstrom of blood and hate that will extend and deepen the Central Asian quagmire for years, decades.
But of course, that is precisely what our war-profiteering, empire-addicted militarists want. As court stenographer Bob Woodward duly recorded, Petraeus himself told Obama: "You have to recognize also that I don't think you win this war. I think you keep fighting ... You have to stay after it. This is the kind of fight we're in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids' lives."
This the mindset that rules Washington now. From all the evidence, Obama fully shares this vision. Those who think otherwise must cling to the spin that Obama's aides propagated through the obliging stovepipe of Woodward: that the president is a limp rag who can easily be rolled by the boys in Hell's Bottom. (It is astounding that Obama's people, who have praised the book, think this is some kind of positive image of their boss.) But even in the highly unlikely case that Obama is some kind of "prisoner" of the Pentagon, with his peace-loving hands are tied by military meanies, it doesn't matter. Prisoner or willing participant, the result is the same: the militarists are in charge, and they will not stop, no matter how much death and ruin they wreak around the world -- and at home.
Across the Borderline
Want to cut down on crime? Then open your borders. That's the word from a new report that shows a deep drop in crime rates in California during an 18-year period that saw more than 3.6 million foreigners pouring into the state. Charles Davis has the stats:
If you listened to the professional demagogues on talk radio and, all too often, in public office, you might think the United States is beset by an immigration-induced crime wave, the country's border regions home to nothing but gun battles and sadness. But statistics, those damned things, suggest otherwise, with California actually experiencing a 55 percent drop in violent crime at the same time more than 3.6 million foreigners migrated to the state.
Serious property crime in California -- auto theft, burglary, arson -- also dropped 29 percent between 1991-2008, according to a new paper from the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice (via The Crime Report).
Crime also dropped in the state's border and major metropolitan regions, with San Diego's violent crime rate dropping 58 percent at the same time more than a quarter-million foreign-born persons moved to the county. Los Angeles County likewise experienced a 68 percent decline in violent crime and a 42 percent drop in property crime even as it added more than 1.3 million immigrants to its population.
"Non‐citizens are approximately 27 percent of California’s population," the paper reports, "however, data that tracks prison inmates who have immigration holds placed on them indicate that this group constitutes approximately 11 percent of the state prison population."
No doubt this is all a clever plan on the part of them damn Mescans to disguise themselves as law-abiding denizens for two decades to facilitate their long-term plan to take over the country and impose Latino Catholic sharia law on good white folk. Better have a pre-emptive deportation right now!
Dark as a Dungeon
While the media make endless hay with the rescue of the Chilean miners, Juan Cole plays Eeyore at the picnic by asking a few pertinent questions on how they came to be stuck down there in the first place. Astute observers of contemporary history will not be surprised to find that the ultimate culprits could well be that dynamic duo of yesteryear: Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger.
One Toke Over the Line
Glenn Greenwald has much to say on the sinister Drug War-Terror War symbiosis that has spawned so much death and corruption across the world for decades. This is a theme we've been banging on about for many years here as well. One of my first pieces on the hydra-headed Terror-Drug mutant was written for the Moscow Times back in November 2001 -- a little more than two months after the "Terror War" began. You can see that piece here. You can also see a harrowing illustration of the kind of Drug War-bred corruption that Greenwald describes, in this piece from 2006, which tells a sickening tale of complicity in state murder that went all the way to the top of the "shining city on the hill." A case now completely forgotten, needless to say.
The Hard Truth of Quantitative Easing
It was the work of Arthur Silber that first pointed me to two of the best guides through the economic morass that our betters have made for us: Mike Whitney and Michael Hudson. Writing separately, usually at Counterpunch, they provide a potent one-two punch that demolishes the conventional wisdom and willful ignorance that surrounds the relentless, bipartisan effort to drive the nation and the world into a state of neo-feudalism.
This week, both Whitney and Hudson addressed the scam of "quantitative easing." This stimulus programs are ostensibly designed to pump government money into the national economy during an economic crisis, priming the pump to keep businesses -- and their employees -- afloat in the choppy waters.
But somehow it doesn't work out that way. The low -- practically zero -- interest on the trillions pumped out by government "easing" is snapped up by a few big investors, who then immediately bank it and invest it overseas, where the interest rates are higher. They make huge profits, but the "stimulus" money doesn't stay in the local economy, and the economic problems don't get addressed. By putting no real restrictions on the use and flow of tax money given to banks, quantitative easers only enrich a small number of people immensely, while letting millions of people languish in economic doldrums.
But that's only the half of it. As Hudson points out, these programs are also a form of economic warfare on the rest of the world. Foreign nations are swamped by elite investors funneling American stimulus money into their economies, buying up "foreign resources, real estate, public and privatized instrastructure, bonds and corporate stock ownership." This influx forces up the price of the local currency, wreaking havoc on exchange rates, exports and employment. As Hudson notes:
Such inflows do not provide capital for tangible investment. They are predatory, and cause currency fluctuation that disrupts trade patterns while creating enormous trading profits for large financial institutions and their customers. Yet most discussions of exchange rate treat the balance of payments and exchange rates as if they were determined purely by commodity trade and “purchasing power parity,” not by the financial flows and military spending that actually dominate the balance of payments. The reality is that today’s financial interregnum – anarchic “free” markets prior to countries hurriedly putting up their own monetary defenses – provides the arbitrage opportunity of the century. This is what bank lobbyists have been pressing for. It has little to do with the welfare of workers.
Obama and the Fed are now gearing up to inject another $1 trillion into this profit funnel. And because they will refuse to take any responsibility for ensuring that the new stimulus is directed at addressing the nation's financial crisis, much if not most of that money will simply end up in the hand of a tiny sliver of elite investors, who will use it to enrich themselves, war economic war abroad -- and leave American workers and homeowners (and the long-forgotten poor) to sink further into the mire.
But then again, for the easers, as with the militarists, quagmire is a feature, not a bug.
Although Google has slapped a warning on this site, we just wanted to let you know that Empire Burlesque isn't poisonous. We've just been hit, once again, by malicious and relentless hackers, who infected the site and eventually took it down. But webmaster extraordinaire Rich Kastelein is on the case. As you can see, he's got the site back up and running, and is working on getting us off Google's blacklist.
This is probably a good time to remind readers that should the site go down for several days due to hacking -- as it has done in the past; the site is constantly under attack -- you can check the original site, which is still maintained for emergency situations, at www.empireburlesquenow.blogspot.com, to see if there are any new posts. I hope that won't be necessary, but you might keep it in mind for a worst case scenario.
Since the beginning of September alone, President Obama has authorised at least 25 targeted killings. The total since he came to office is more than 100. These have certainly killed some of the senior operatives of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. They have also killed dozens of people, including a large number of women and children, who were not involved in terrorism.
And yet there has been very little protest, certainly compared to the storm of international criticism that greeted the decision to hold suspected terrorists at Guantanamo – a policy that didn't kill anyone, let alone any innocent women and children. The silence from human rights groups over the drone attacks is deafening. What has persuaded them that it is acceptable to kill people, including people who are not terrorists, but that it is inhumane to deprive them of a good night's sleep?
... No one knows exactly how many innocents have died as a result of drone attacks, but the total almost certainly runs to three figures. It is not easy to square that with President Obama's insistence that his administration is 'living by our values' -- unless American values now include the endorsement of indiscriminate killing. The President has also stressed that America now complies with international law. Remarkably, he seems to be right: the consensus is that drone attacks are indeed legal. The UN produced a report on the topic at the end of May, which concluded that the best way forward is for an international conference of states to review the guidelines for setting targets 'after a careful review of best practice'.
...The fact that targeted killing has been deemed 'legal' seems to have had the effect of making many people, including the President, think that it is morally justified. But that conclusion doesn't follow. There are plenty of things that are legal, but which you would not be morally justified in doing -- just as there are times when you are morally justified in doing things that are illegal.
Perhaps using drones to kill terrorists is a legitimate way of prosecuting the war against al- Qaeda and the Taliban. It may be that the women and children who get killed as a result don't matter -- although I would like to hear someone from the US government, or a human rights organisation, explain exactly why. But we -- and the Americans -- are deceiving ourselves if we think that something is OK just because international lawyers say it is.
Arthur Silber has written repeatedly, and with furious eloquence on this theme for many years. (See here, here, and here, among many others. And follow the links.) We direct to just two of his painfully apt pronouncements:
The law is not some Platonic Form plucked from the skies by the Pure in Heart. Laws are written by men, men who have particular interests, particular constituencies, particular donors, and particular friends. ... Laws are the particular means by which the state implements and executes its vast powers. When an increasingly authoritarian state passes a certain critical point in its development, the law is no longer the protector of individual rights and individual liberty. The law becomes the weapon of the state itself -- to protect, not you, but the state from threats to its own powers. We passed that critical point some decades ago. The law is the means by which the state corrals its subjects, keeps them under control, and forbids them from acting in ways that the overlords might perceive as threatening. In brief, today, in these glorious United States, the law is not your friend.
The law is not the only method by which the state controls us, and strips our national discussion of all meaning. There is another, less formal but no less constricting means, which is commonly identified by the phrase, "the rules." We must all follow "the rules." You cannot ever break "the rules." Be very, very clear on this point: the only way you can speak the truth on any subject of importance in this country today is BY BREAKING THE RULES.
That is what Andrew Meyer did in Florida. He broke the goddamned rules [by asking Senator John Kerry a question about impeaching George W. Bush for war crimes and stopping another war. For more, see this powerful series by Silber.] He did not do so in any way that merited his being arrested -- but HE BROKE THE RULES. This cannot be permitted, not if our meaningless, pointless national discussion devoid of all substance is to continue in its meaningless, pointless way. Breaking the rules cannot be allowed if the lies are to continue. So he was arrested.
And he was charged with a third-degree felony for resisting arrest with violence and a second-degree misdemeanor for disturbing the peace -- for asking the most urgent question of our time, the question that almost no one will ask. He was charged with resisting an arrest that should never have occurred -- and with "disturbing the peace."
Friends, if this country -- and if you individually -- are to have any kind of human future at all, and by "human," I mean a life with any genuine meaning and joy, a life not fatally compromised by ongoing murder, torture, and brutality -- you had better fucking disturb the peace every second of every day.
"... And, doubtless, going on this whaling voyage, formed part of the grand programme of Providence that was drawn up a long time ago. It came in as a sort of brief interlude and solo between more extensive performances. I take it that this part of the bill must have run something like this:
Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States.
WHALING VOYAGE BY ONE ISHMAEL.
BLOODY BATTLE IN AFFGHANISTAN.”
All across Europe, thousands of people have been taking to the streets in angry protests against the “austerity measures” being imposed upon them by their governments. A general strike in Spain. Mass protests in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, France, Lithuania, Belgium and several other nations. Legislators in Iceland had to literally run and hide from their own citizens at the opening of the nation’s parliament this week.
Why, ask the outraged crowds, should our lives be degraded in order to pay for the crimes and follies of the financial elite –- who are richer, more powerful and more arrogant than ever today, despite having plunged the world into economic catastrophe?
The Europeans, forever cast in American myth as fey, feckless, wine-sipping weaklings, have roused themselves to such an extent that the UN is now warning of years of "social unrest" due to the policies of the austerity zealots -- policies which are greatly exacerbating unemployment (with all the inevitable knock-on effects throughout the economy), while severely corroding the physical and social infrastructure of whole nations. Although the European public might be compelled to submit in the end -- by brute force, if necessary, as governments call out club-wielding cops to put down dissent -- at least they are not going quietly.
The same can't be said for the big, bold, burly American public, who for years have meekly submitted to the ever-accelerating deterioration of their lives and communities with nary a peep of protest. Trillions of their dollars are spent on murderous, pointless, wasteful rampages of war-profiteering in foreign lands, on obscene handouts and "guarantees" for the silk-suited scamsters of Wall Street, and on the monstrous expansion of a covert security apparatus that is seeking to invade and control every aspect of their lives -- but the American people say nothing and do nothing.
But perhaps we are being unfair in such a harsh judgment. After all, it's not entirely true that Americans have completely eschewed protest, is it? In fact, the news has been filled with stories of mass protests across the United States for months on end, with angry citizens taking to the streets -- and the ballot boxes -- to register their stern displeasure.
And what has displeased them so, what has moved them from the quiet simmering of discontent to explosions of public protest? Is it those trillions spent on pointless wars? Is it the coddling of the super-rich? Is it the degradation of their daily lives, and the darkening of their children's future by endless war and lost opportunities in a system skewed sharply -- and punitively -- toward the needs and greeds of powerful elites? Is it the runaway encroachment of civil liberties? Is it mass unemployment, and the relentless rollback of public services essential to a dignified and civilized life?
No, it is none of these. While the Europeans protest for jobs and dignity, Americans pour out into the streets in angry demonstrations against the very idea of helping the poor and the economically devastated, or putting the slightest restraint on the rapacious super-rich. The Europeans protest actual policies, while our American "dissidents" froth and rant about a fantasy world of "socialist" programs that only benefit shiftless darkies and sneaky, border-crossing 'Messicans -- and, of course, the devil-worshiping Muslims, who are plotting every hour to poison the precious bodily fluids of real Americans and take over the country from within.
The American protestors vociferously denounce the healthcare "reform" bill -- not because it is actually a gargantuan corporate boondoggle deliberately crafted to kill off the chance for any genuine reform of the system for generations, but because they believe it is communist Muslim atheist Nazi socialism, and because a few slivers of the boondoggle might possibly trickle down to help a few of those darkies and Messicans. (Although in fact it will imprison them in an inhumane system of corporate control.) They protest against the laughably anemic "financial regulations" that the Administration has meekly proposed for its masters on Wall Street -- PR measures, tissue-paper thin, that fall miles short of the kind of mild regulations that operated during America's greatest periods of growth and broad-based prosperity.
Fantasy is a key component of this elite-funded "protest" movement, which relies strongly on "Big Lies" to stoke the fires of racism, resentment, victimhood and self-righteousness at its proto-fascist core. The primary example of this is of course the entirely manufactured controversy over the "Ground Zero mosque." The element of complete fabrication in this case has been overlooked to some extent. I think it is more portentous, and dangerous, than many have realized. Obviously, there have been elements of fantasy and/or exaggeration in almost all of the shibboleths that have fueled these right-wing eruptions over the years (not to mention bipartisan state policy: e.g., the Gulf of Tonkin, Saddam's phantom WMD, etc.); but few have involved lies that can be easily disproved in an instant, with plain, simple, indisputable facts, by anyone, requiring no specialist knowledge, no whistleblown secrets, no expert interpretation.
There is, of course, no mosque being built at the site of the 9/11 attacks. To say otherwise is a complete falsehood; it is a statement without the slightest element of truth or fact in it. It is the precise equivalent of saying that the moon fell down last night and landed on the Washington Monument. Yet this Big Lie has reverberated across the country like few others in recent years. Millions of people believe it, believe it fervently, and what's more, also believe that the "mosque" is being built there by Islamic extremists as a "trophy" to celebrate the 9/11 attacks.
This radical lie -- eagerly propagated by corporate chieftains like Rupert Murdoch and allowed to fester unchallenged for weeks by the establishment media -- has roused multitudes to angry protests, to attacks on mosques and Islamic centers, and to outpourings of open, unabashed ethnic hatred against Muslims that, yes, echo the anti-Semitism of Nazi-era Germany. (See the much-feted establishment grandee Martin Peretz for a prime example.) Muslim Americans who have lived happily integrated with their communities for decades now feel cast out, threatened by nationally-amplified voices accusing them of disloyalty, of sinister conspiracies to enslave and oppress their fellow citizens, to destroy America and turn it over to its enemies, etc. -- again, tropes which are instantly and alarmingly familiar to anyone with a modicum of knowledge about the febrile hatreds that boiled and churned in Germany between the world wars.
Yet although the main engine currently stoking this hatred is a deliberate and transparent lie, there are people barreling into power on it. In North Carolina, the Republican candidate Ilario Pantano has made the lie a centerpiece of his campaign. As Justin Elliot reports at Salon.com, Pantano is a former Marine who became a "hero" to the militarist Right for killing two unarmed Iraqis in his charge, filling them with 60 rounds of lead. He boasted that he had intentionally shredded the unarmed men to pieces in order to terrorize Iraqis into compliance with the unprovoked American invasion and occupation of their country. Based on the testimony of other Marines who saw the incident and felt the slaughter was unjustified, Pantano faced murder charges. But the top brass came to his rescue and dropped the charges.
Now Patano has seized on the "Ground Zero mosque" to push his campaign against a "conservative" Democrat -- the usual timeserver who is in thrall to the corporatism and militarism that his party fully shares with its opponents. In a conservative district, in an anti-incumbent year, Patano has a very good chance of riding the Big Lie -- and his thuggish rep for killing the unarmed -- into Congress.
These then are the issues -- or rather, the resentful fears and hateful fantasies -- that bring Americans out into the street these days. The wars that are devouring the lives of their children and the national treasury, and leading to an ever-more unstable world of violence and hatred -- such things don't move them. Torture, spying on citizens, death squads of American killers roaming the world, presidential assertions of a universal license to kill and incarcerate without due process -- these provoke no anger, no protest. States shutting down or sharply curtailing schools, parks, road programs, electricity and sewer services, garbage pick-up, aid to the sick and elderly -- they don't care. Greedy corporations utterly befouling the water and the air, poisoning the earth for generations to come -- no problem; in fact, we should champion these planet-rapers and protect them from all restraint.
But which, in the end, is worse: proto-fascist fantasy, or the reality of "savvy" progressives in power? Or rather: what, in the end, is the difference? This site has catalogued innumerable crimes committed -- knowingly, deliberately, realistically -- by the "most progressive administration in a generation": crimes against humanity, crimes against liberty. Many other sites have done the same, far more comprehensively. To support this administration is to countenance and collude in those crimes. It is to reward those crimes, and guarantee their continuance, no matter which faction of corporate-sponsored militarists and moral lunatics take power.
So what is the answer? I don't know if there is any "answer" to our plight. I have been following American politics for more than 40 years, and it has been a process of almost unremitting degeneration, punctuated by a very few isolated moments when it seemed a sliver of light was shining in the darkness, pointing toward the possibility of another, different path. But in truth, by the time I first became actively aware of the political process, in the presidential election of 1964, most of the bright, brief flashes had already come and gone, either killed outright or else deeply corrupted.
For example, one of brightest of those lights, the Civil Rights movement, had by then reached its high-water mark and was fragmenting under the covert assault of the national security apparatus, the intransigence of the power structure, the hostility of the white majority, and its own internal contradictions -- chiefly the attempt to find justice, equality and peace in a system that was inherently unjust, unequal and violent. Martin Luther King Jr. was coming to recognize those contradictions, broadening his critique of the system to include the elitist economic structure and the murderous violence of empire. He was also becoming a more and more isolated, death-haunted figure, as if he could see the cynosure closing -- although until the end he raged against the dying of the light.
The War on Poverty was another flash. Lyndon Johnson's speeches about lifting "our brothers and sisters" out of the endemic suffering of poverty sound today not only like oratory from another age but also from another planet. His rhetoric assumed a moral imperative of compassion toward our fellow human beings, a value to be placed at the very heart of our collective life and our instruments of governance. But Johnson, not only a product but the very quintessence of a deeply corrupt system of bribes, backroom deals and bullshit, never genuinely challenged the forces that engendered the suffering of poverty in the first place. And his total capitulation to the War Machine meant that even his weak and compromised stabs at building a "Great Society" were starved of funds, left to malfunction and deteriorate, tainting the ideals behind them in the minds of the public. He too ended his days isolated and death-haunted, with the blood of hundreds of thousands of people killed in an imperial war -- which he himself admitted to intimates was pointless and unwinnable -- hounding him like furies to his grave.
There were other moments -- such as the Church Committee hearings, which for a time held out the possibility of reining in the murderous, liberty-devouring "national security" apparatus. But this too was swiftly quashed, and that same apparatus has metastasized into a monstrous cancer that has completely devoured the state, which now serves merely as its withered appendage and dogsbody. The impeachment of Richard Nixon -- for petty partisan sneakery, not the high war crimes of which he was manifestly, even proudly guilty -- seemed like another potential break in the gloom, but came to nothing; in just a few years time, he was a wealthy, respected elder statesman. And so it has gone with every such moment, although each has left some worthy fragments.
Now, I am no idealist. I don't long for cleansing fires to scour all evil from society, or for the imposition of grand schemes of human perfection or divine order. Like André Chénier, the poet-journalist who went down in the flood of the French Revolution, I aspire to be one of those "men upright and unvarying in their principles, who want to neither lead nor follow parties, and who abhor all intrigue." I would much rather not concern myself with politics at all. A well-turned phrase -- or a well-turned ankle -- holds immensely more meaning for me than the machinations of third-rate wretches splashing in the fetid pool of office-seeking. By "slivers of light" I mean only potential opportunities to arrest the pace of our degeneration, and get us to a place where the ordinary corruption endemic to human nature and every single political system devised by human nature operates on its usual vast scale.
In the face of the truly hideous reality of today, where murder, tyranny, war and injustice are the accepted, defended, lauded tools of the trade for "progressive" power-holders, and the only thing that rouses public outrage are proto-fascist fantasies, I don't see any glimpse of light anywhere. I can't even see a way to get to a place where we might see a glimpse of something that might point us to a path toward something different, something better. That could just be a failure of vision, and a lack of knowledge, on my part. I don't know. I hope so.
But for now, all I know to do is to fall back on the bedrock need to bear witness, to speak for the human and the humane in the midst of what seems to be implacable and unbreakable horror all around. To refuse cooperation with evil, in whatever partisan garb it wears. To shore one fragment after another against the ruins, and wait for a glint of broken light to appear.
UPDATE: A Saturday rally in Washington by unions and other groups did turn out several thousand people, calling for more jobs, tax hikes on the rich, immigration reform and defending public services. This, as they say, is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, although it falls far short of the angry, obstreperous crowds in Europe, who are not wanly supplicating their leaders for a few crumbs but demanding action to preserve their quality of life.
However, one's heart sinks to see the event's organizers, and some of the participants, describing it as a get-out-the-vote effort for the Democrats, and a show of support for Obama. Given the horrendous record of the president and his party in prosecuting savage and wasteful wars, overt and covert, all over the world; setting up unaccountable, "extrajudicial" death squads and hit lists; continuing and expanding Bush's assault on civil liberties; aiding and abetting the ever-widening disparity in wealth and opportunity between the sliverous elite and the collapsing middle class and the already poor -- not to mention the president's clear intent, with his stacked-deck "Catfood Commission," to gut Social Security, one of the last remaining shreds of America's never-robust or extensive "safety net," just as soon as the election is over -- what in God's name do they think the Democrats will actually do to advance the organizers' stated "core principles" of "jobs, justice and education," should the party manage to cling to Congressional power in November? There will be no money to support these principles, for one thing; it will all go to the wars, to the burgeoning security apparatus, and to the sacred goal of "deficit reduction." And Obama and the Democrats have already demonstrated, amply, that they have no will or desire to advance these principles or put them into action in any event.
I don't want to belittle the efforts and hopes of thousands of poor and working people who showed up at the rally to fight for a better life. In that, I wish them every success. And I'm glad to see some counterblast in the public square to the violent fantasies of the proto-fascists. But I believe that if your ultimate goal is simply to perpetuate the status quo of rule by two scarcely indistinguishable political factions, both deeply dedicated to militarist empire and the crushing dominance of financial elites, then you will not stop the accelerating degradation of American society or light a path to a genuinely new direction. Instead, the war, murder, chaos and decay will go on, breeding more blowback from abroad and instability at home, and thus giving more fuel to the proto-fascists and their paymasters.