The New York Times reports on the discovery by American geologists that Afghanistan contains "vast riches" in untapped mineral deposits: at least $1 trillion worth -- including huge troves of lithium, "a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys," as the paper breathlessly relates.
Unfortunately, given the realities of our world, one's first reaction to such news is not a cheery "How nice for the Afghan people!" but rather a heart-sinking, dread-clammy "Uh oh." For what this discovery almost certainly portends are many more decades of war, warlordism and foreign intervention, as the forces of greed and power fight like hyenas to tear off the juiciest chunks of this windfall.
It also guarantees many more years of American military occupation (in one guise or another); there is absolutely no chance that our Beltway banditti (and their corporate cronies) are simply going to walk away from a stash like this, not when they've already got "boots on the ground" -- and billions of dollars in war pork invested in the place. It's payback time, baby! (Or rather, double-dip time, as most these "investments" are just pass-throughs of public money to private profiteers). And hey, finder's keepers and all that, right?
The Times story is the usual splattered mess of regurgitated Pentagon PR and imperial spin, with a few small bits of pertinent information here and there.
The story first displays its "savvy" cred by noting the possible downsides of the find. ("Hey, we're not just cheerleaders, you know!") It could make the Taliban fight even harder. It could exacerbate the corruption of the American-installed Afghan government. It could set off conflicts between Afghan tribes and warlord factions to control the mining. It could wreak environmental ruin. And it seems it could tempt grasping greedy foreigners to prey upon the war-ravaged Afghans and steal their wealth:
At the same time, American officials fear resource-hungry China will try to dominate the development of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth, which could upset the United States, given its heavy investment in the region. After winning the bid for its Aynak copper mine in Logar Province, China clearly wants more, American officials said.
Oh yes, the great danger is that China will try to dominate the development of Afghanistan's mineral wealth! They've already got one copper mine and they want more, the greedy bastards!
This passage gives us a vivid display of the quintessential NYT stew of PR, spin and tiny fragments of reality. First comes the head fake toward the Yellow Peril, then we get a bit of truth: the Washington believes the United States should dominate the development of Afghanistan's mineral wealth, "given its heavy investment in the region." China can't have it, because we've got it. We've spent a lot of money and we've killed a lot of people to get it (including wads of our own cannon fodder) -- and by God, we're going to keep it!
Of course, the Times accepts this as the natural state of affairs. The possibility that the mineral find might exacerbate the rampant American corruption in the Afghan war is not mentioned, or even hinted at. The idea that it will make the Pentagon fight harder -- and nastier -- to secure control over the stash is not even considered.
Instead, we get another bashing of the Afghan government for its corruption -- as if this is occurring in some kind of vacuum, as if the billions of dollars being siphoned off, socked away or spread around to cronies by the American-appointed, American-backed, American-supplied Afghan officials were not being doled out to them by .... the Americans, who are happily kicking back billions more to their own cronies, contractors and profiteers.
We also get -- yet again -- the myth that the American empire acts solely out of altruism. American officials, we are told, are gearing up to help the Afghans exploit the find with technical expertise, business plans and industry contacts. But strangely enough, this kindness is not being provided by, say, the State Department or some aid agency; it is being carried out by ... the Pentagon. It is the Pentagon that is "helping Afghan officials arrange to start seeking bids on mineral rights by next fall" and facilitating the development of the trillion-dollar cache.
In other words, the warlords of a foreign power will develop the mining operations in order to keep them out of the hands of, er, foreign powers and warlords.
Another nugget of truth buried deep in the story is the fact that the "discovery" of the huge trove of mineral deposits was actually made a few years ago. It is being trotted out now because the Obama Administration needs some good news about its ever-expanding quagmire in Central Asia -- and perhaps also to send a signal to its corporate backers and foreign allies (such as Britain, now making noises about possibly winding down its Afghan involvement) that the game is most definitely worth the candle.
And worth the lives of thousands and thousands of more Afghans -- and Pakistanis, Americans, Britons and others -- in a mad, murderous mineral scramble. The Pentagon businessmen say that Afghanistan could become "the Saudi Arabia of lithium" -- but it is far more likely to become "the Congo of Central Asia": a zone of decades-long, hydra-headed, multi-sided, society-gutting, atrocity-producing, money-grubbing war over "vast riches" of mineral deposits.
But hey: as long as the BlackBerries and laptops keep rolling in, who cares, right? Those things are just so darn cool.
Welcome to Wal-Mart!
Just a reminder: this is what our ease and comfort are based on -- someone doing work like this:
From the Guardian: A worker prepares a cotton gin in Mumbai. India is the second largest exporter of the ﬁbre after China, the recipient of around 60% of India’s cotton exports.
A Worker Writes
Roy Mayall spotlights the ever-growing inequalities in our best of all possible worlds -- disparities that will only grow vastly greater as the world's elites stoke bogus deficit panics to "justify" their shredding of the last remaining tiny mitigations against their brute power. From the London Review of Books:
Adam Crozier, the retiring chief executive [of Royal Mail], received more than £2.4m in the year 2009-10. With bonuses and pensions that figure rises to £3.5 million. ... I earn £8.98 an hour. I work a 20-hour week. I’d like to work more but there are no full-time jobs available. My basic pay is £177.28 a week, before deductions. That’s about £9200 a year. That means that I would have to work for nearly 380 years to earn as much as Adam Crozier earned last year.
Fair enough. Adam Crozier obviously has 380 times my needs. He must have a house that is 380 times the size of mine. He is 380 times taller. Maybe he has 380 stomachs to fill. Perhaps his dick is 380 times bigger than mine and he needs 380 partners to service it. He must have 380 times the intellectual capacity as his brain is clearly 380 times more developed than mine. His value to the world is 380 times greater.
Of course, the truth of the matter is that our elites really do think like this. They really believe their value to the world is immeasurably greater than any memeber of the common rabble -- or indeed, the common rabble as a whole. (And this case only deals with an executive in the UK; the disparities in the United States are much greater.) That's why they find it so very easy to kill vast numbers of people and grind others into the dirt. The rabble is just a herd, whose individual lives have no value, except as they can be exploited by those who really matter.
An Attack of Giantism
Not that anyone cares, but more evidence has been found to refute the Obama Administration's farcical claim that it was uninvolved in a cruise missile attack that killed 52 people in Yemen last year, more than half of them women and children. The Independent reports:
A US cruise missile armed with cluster ammunition was used in an attack in Yemen in December which resulted in the deaths of 52 people, more than half of them women and children, according to a human rights watchdog.
The Yemeni government insisted their forces alone carried out the strike on an al-Qa'ida training camp in the Abyan region. US authorities backed the claim that insurgents had been attacked but officially denied direct involvement in the attack.
However, Amnesty International has now released photographs of missile parts from the attack which appear to show that it was a BGM-109D Tomahawk cruise missile designed to be launched from a warship or submarine. Further images reveal BLU 97 A/B cluster munitions which spray steel fragments for 150 meters along with burning zirconium for igniting buildings. The Yemeni government does not possess cruise missiles, which are part of the arsenal of US Navy vessels patrolling off the Horn of Africa and in the Arabian Sea.
...A Yemeni parliamentary committee investigating the raid at al-Ma'jalah concluded that 41 of the dead were civilians, 21 of them children and 14 women. Survivors denied any links with insurgents.
Again, what does it matter? The real people, the 380-foot giants, kicked over an anthill, and a few ants died. Boo hoo. Big whoop. Is our giant Peace Laureate supposed to concern himself with trivia like that? Of course, such actions only stir up a few ants here and there to try to nip at the giants' heels -- but so what? The worst they might do is kill a few of our ants now and then; meanwhile, the giants can hype the threat to fill their pockets with more war loot and expand their power and privilege.
As you might imagine, Arthur Silber has one of the most cogent observations on the "Helen Thomas affair." I won't excerpt it here, because that would dilute the unfolding of his sharp, satirical take; however, I will offer just one, more general comment from his conclusion, for it sums up quite well the essence of the above items, and much else about our modern world:
For me, one of the more gut-wrenching aspects of today's monstrous culture, a culture that kills each and every manifestation of empathy, understanding and compassion with relentlessly systematic determination, is the combination of unending destruction, cruelty, violence and murder with the most abysmally wretched depths of stupidity.
This is the language of power – unfiltered, unadorned, dispassionate, professional – discussing how best to inflict tortures on helpless captives without causing "long-term" damage that might be visible later:
But as we understand the experience involving the combination of various techniques, the OMS medical and psychological personnel have not observed any such increase in susceptibility. Other than the waterboard, the specific techniques under consideration in this memorandum— including sleep deprivation—have been applied to more than 25 detainees.… No apparent increase in susceptibility to severe pain has been observed either when techniques are used sequentially or when they are used simultaneously—for example, when an insult slap is simultaneously combined with water dousing or a kneeling stress position, or when wall standing is simultaneously combined with an abdominal slap and water dousing. Nor does experience show that, even apart from changes in susceptibility to pain, combinations of these techniques cause the techniques to operate differently so as to cause severe pain. OMS doctors and psychologists, moreover, confirm that they expect that the techniques, when combined… would not operate in a different manner from the way they do individually, so as to cause severe pain.
This is taken from a memo written in 2005 by Justice Department lawyer Steven Bradbury to a legal officer at the CIA. It comes from a new report from Physicians for Human Rights, outlining the mass of evidence that the Bush Administration used its Terror War captives for medical experiments. Mother Jones has the story:
The watchdog group claims that in an attempt to establish that brutal interrogation tactics did not constitute torture, the administration ended up effectively experimenting on terrorism detainees. This research, PHR alleges, violated an array of regulations and treaties, including international guidelines on human testing put in place after the Holocaust.
According to the report, which draws on numerous declassified government documents, "medical professionals working for and on behalf of the CIA" frequently monitored detainee interrogations, gathering data on the effectiveness of various interrogation techniques and the pain threshholds of detainees. This information was then used to "enhance" future interrogations, PHR contends.
...Physicians for Human Rights makes the case that since human subject research is defined as the "systematic collection of data and/or identifiable personal information for the purpose of drawing generalizable inferences," what the Bush administration was doing amounted to human experimentation:
...Ironically, one goal of the "experimentation" seems to have been to immunize Bush administration officials and CIA interrogators from potential prosecution for torture. ... In a memo drafted on March 14, 2003, John Yoo, a primary author of the torture memos, defined that boundary [that could trigger prosecution] as treatment leading to "long-term" mental harm or pain and suffering equal to or greater than that caused by organ failure or death. So one purpose of the medical monitoring project was to insure that the techniques interrogators were using did not breach that bright line.
One document cited in the PHR report highlights this practice especially well. On May 10, 2005, then-OLC head Steven Bradbury wrote to then-CIA acting general counsel John Rizzo about the legality of using multiple interrogation techniques simultaneously, as opposed to one by one. Referring directly to data gathered by the CIA's Office of Medical Services, Bradbury decided that both methods were okay.
Sure, why not? So if you tie someone up in a "stress position," force them to their knees and slap them around while dousing them with cold water, it's not torture. Especially if you have some modern Mengeles there with you, monitoring and measuring the degree of despair so they can use the data to "enhance" future interrogations.
And as always, the perpetrators of this system were well aware they were breaking the United States' clear and ironclad laws prohibiting torture. That's why they went to Congress to get some additional cover – with an extraordinary legal provision that essentially authorizes medical experiments on captives:
There is some evidence to suggest that someone in the Bush administration may have realized they could be vulnerable to charges of illegal experimentation. The Military Commissions Act, passed by Congress in 2006, amended the 1996 War Crimes Act, a law that imposes criminal penalties for "grave breaches" of the Geneva Conventions. Specifically, the language on illegal "biological experiments" was weakened. The new law no longer requires that an experiment be carried out in the interest of the subject in order to be legal. (Research on how to make torture more effective is clearly not in the interest of the person who is going to be tortured.) In addition, it allows experiments that do not "endanger" the subject—rather than simply prohibiting all experiments that "are not justified by the medical, dental, or hospital treatment of the prisoner concerned and carried out in his interest," as the previous version did.
The infamous Military Commissions Act was one of the more heinous legislative actions in last 25 years or more. When it passed, with the help of a dozen Democrats, one senator rose to make an impassioned protest against the measure. He railed against the draconian nature of the bill, which he said eliminated the ancient right of habeas corpus. He denounced the bill for "allowing this President - or any President - to decide what does and does not constitute torture." He lamented "the innocent people we may have accidentally rounded up and mistaken for terrorists - people who may stay in prison for the rest of their lives." He pointed to "a report authored by sixteen of our own government's intelligence agencies, a previous draft of which described, and I quote, "...actions by the United States government that were determined to have stoked the jihad movement, like the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay..." He summed up with a damning appraisal: "This is NOT how a serious Administration would approach the problem of terrorism."
Yes, as you've already guessed, that passionate dissenter was Senator Barack Obama. Yet you will notice that the Military Commissions Act is still in force; it received a few cosmetic changes in 2009, but it remains essentially intact, including the authoritarian powers of the president decried by the senator. Multitudes of captives remain locked up in the ever-swelling American gulag, which, although it has shifted its focus to Afghanistan, continues to include the still-unclosed, jihadi-stoking prison at Guantanamo Bay. The indefinite detention of prisoners has been eagerly championed by the senator turned president, who is seeking to entrench the practice deeply into American law. And once the young denouncer of the Bush approach to terrorism took power for himself, he quickly embraced that same approach almost in its entirety, defending its most egregious depredations – indefinite detention, illegal wiretapping, etc. – against all legal challenges, and even making personal assurances that no one from the previous administration would ever be prosecuted for instituting a vast apparatus of torture.
Indeed, aside from waterboarding – which had already been abandoned by the Bush Administration – it is unclear if any of the Bush torture techniques have been discontinued. As Andy Worthington notes, for example:
For eight and a half years, the US prison at Bagram airbase has been the site of a disturbing number of experiments in detention and interrogation, where murders have taken place, the Geneva Conventions have been shredded and the encroachment of the US courts — unlike at Guantánamo — has been thoroughly resisted.
In the last few months, there have been a few improvements — hearings, releases, even the promise of imminent trials — but behind this veneer of respectability, the US government’s unilateral reworking of the Geneva Conventions continues unabated, and evidence has recently surfaced of a secret prison within Bagram, where a torture program that could have been lifted straight from the Bush administration’s rule book is still underway.
And as Jason Leopold notes – in an excellent story which gives extensive background and context for the PHR report – the use of captives as guinea pigs for "enhancing interrogation techniques" is still going on under Obama:
Meanwhile, Obama's presence in the White House has not resulted in an abandonment of the research side of the interrogation program. Last March, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, who recently resigned, disclosed that the Obama administration's High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG), planned on conducting "scientific research" to determine "if there are better way to get information from people that are consistent with our values."
"It is going to do scientific research on that long-neglected area," Blair said during testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. He did not provide additional details as to what the "scientific research" entailed.
This would be the same Dennis Blair who also announced Obama's embrace – and entrenchment – of the universal murder principle claimed by Bush, whereby the American president can kill any person on earth by the simple expedient of dubbing his victim a "terrorist" or even a "suspected terrorist." As Leopold notes, Blair has now been ash-canned – apparently for insufficient sycophancy, or perhaps he was simply ousted in one of the grim power struggles that forever rage among the factions at the imperial court.
His replacement is yet another dim apparatchik from the bowels of the military-security complex, ex-general, ex-spy-eye-in-the-sky guy James Clapper. This "intelligence expert's" chief claim to fame is his earnest insistence that Saddam Hussein had transferred his bristling arsenal of non-existent weapons of mass destruction to Syria right before the American war of aggression in 2003 – a fairy story long touted by the defenders of that mass slaughter, even after Bush's own investigators confirmed the truth of what the Anglo-American intelligence agencies had known for many years (because Saddam's own son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, head of the WMD programs, had told them back in 1995): that Iraq's WMD programs had been dismantled just after the Gulf War – 12 years before the 2003 attack. Still, Clapper persisted in his propagation of this myth, as the Washington Times reports.
Of course, the Times, being the Times – the creation of a maniacal Korean arms peddler who pretends to be divine -- also says that the Syria-WMD story still "remains a matter of dispute." Well, yes it does – to the same degree that the spheroidicity of the earth remains "a matter of dispute" for handful of cranks. In any case, a crank of this order will shortly be guiding the nation's intelligence apparatus, thanks to the abiding progressive wisdom of the president.
And so on and on it goes. The horrors of the past keep belching up from the sulfurous deeps, only to be subsumed in the noxious "continuity" that engulfs the present.
Most sentient beings have long recognized that murdering civilians in foreign countries -- especially through the cowardly methods of "secret war" -- is entirely counterproductive ... ifyour actual aim is to enhance America's national security by reducing violent extremism and hatred for the United States, that is. However, if your aim is to perpetuate and expand a militarist empire and the bloated, brutal, corrupt, war-profiteering system that supports it, why then, secret war and civilian slaughter are perfectly logical and remarkably effective methods.
And that is why our highly intelligent and cool, pragmatic president is now vastly expanding the use of secret war, subversion, sabotage and murder into even more countries around the world, and giving America's secret, unaccountable death squads and covert operators even more power to carry out their lawless operations. As one Pentagon mandarin gushed, Obama is allowing "things that the previous administration did not."
That quote comes from a remarkably candid story in the Washington Post on Obama's "surge" in America's secret war on the world, which now encompasses no fewer than 75 countries.
(By the way, the Post is often a very good source of information about the operations and machinations of the militarist empire -- not because its editors are seeking to expose the empire's crimes and atrocities, but because they approve of them. And thus they will often write about them, in detail, in the most straightforward manner: "Hey, look at the cool stuff our boys are doing now!")
As the story notes:
The Obama administration has significantly expanded a largely secret U.S. war against al-Qaeda and other radical groups, according to senior military and administration officials.
Special Operations forces have grown both in number and budget, and are deployed in 75 countries, compared with about 60 at the beginning of last year. ... Plans exist for pre-emptive or retaliatory strikes in numerous places around the world ...
What's more, Obama has brought the covert operators and death squad leaders into the inner circle at the White House:
Special Operations commanders have also become a far more regular presence at the White House than they were under George W. Bush's administration, when most briefings on potential future operations were run through the Pentagon chain of command and were conducted by the defense secretary or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"We have a lot more access," a second military official said. "They are talking publicly much less but they are acting more. They are willing to get aggressive much more quickly."
The White House, he said, is "asking for ideas and plans . . . calling us in and saying, 'Tell me what you can do. Tell me how you do these things.' "
... Obama has made such forces a far more integrated part of his global security strategy [than Bush]. He has asked for a 5.7 percent increase in the Special Operations budget for fiscal 2011, for a total of $6.3 billion, plus an additional $3.5 billion in 2010 contingency funding.
The story notes that the bureaucratic turf wars between the Pentagon and State Department that had hindered some covert operations under the cantankerous Donald Rumsfeld have now disappeared with the smooth comity between Obama's team of Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates, the long-time Bush Family factotum who now mentors the eager young Democratic president in the ancient ways of oligarchy and militarist empire. And of course, Obama hand-picked Stanley McChrystal -- master of America's darkest arts in the war of aggression in Iraq -- to lead his "surge" in Afghanistan.
Indeed, Obama has been so lavish and relaxed in his use of death squads and secret war that the only complaint voiced these days by our Special Oppers -- who, the Post notes, "consider themselves a breed apart" -- is that they have to spend too much time in current war zones, and not enough plying their wares in new territory:
Although pleased with their expanded numbers and funding, Special Operations commanders would like to devote more of their force to global missions outside war zones. Of about 13,000 Special Operations forces deployed overseas, about 9,000 are evenly divided between Iraq and Afghanistan.
Yes, it's a lot more fun to skulk around in unsuspecting foreign nations, "taking out" a suspect here, "renditioning" another to some secret hellhole there, arming and funding local terrorist groups to kill, maim and destroy, or paying off sleazy local informants who happily sell their business rivals or personal enemies into captivity. It is indeed a noble calling, requiring "a breed apart" from the common herd.
But oddly enough, some of the Pentagon's compadres in covert war are discovering that the practice is not achieving its publicly stated objectives. As Gareth Porter at Antiwar.com reports, even the push-button killers of the CIA are waking up to the fact that their remote-control slaughter of Pakistanis with drone-fired missiles is creating more hatred and more enemies for the United States:
Some CIA officers involved in the agency’s drone strikes program in Pakistan and elsewhere are privately expressing their opposition to the program within the agency, because it is helping al-Qaeda and its allies recruit, according to a retired military officer in contact with them.
"Some of the CIA operators are concerned that, because of its blowback effect, it is doing more harm than good," said Jeffrey Addicott, former legal adviser to U.S. Special Forces and director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, in an interview with IPS.
Addicott said the CIA operatives he knows have told him the drone strikes are being used effectively by al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders to recruit more militants. ...
Because the drone strikes kill innocent civilians and bystanders along with leaders from far away, they "infuriate the Muslim male," said Addicott, thus making them more willing to join the movement. The men in Pakistan’s tribal region "view Americans as cowards and weasels," he added.
Weasels? Well, that is a "breed apart," I guess, so perhaps the covert warriors should be proud of the sobriquet. (And of course it is not just the Muslim male who is infuriated by the civilian slaughter and turning to violent reaction, as evidenced by the growing number of female suicide bombers.)
But these inklings of CIA sentiency -- and perhaps the first stirrings of awareness that the stated objectives are not the real aim of the program -- have not prevented our stalwarts from continuing to push their murderous buttons (or is it click their murderous mouses?):
CIA officers "are very upset" with the drone strike policy, Addicott said. "They’ll do what the boss says, but they view it as a harmful exercise." ... Addicott said the drone program has been driven by President Barack Obama, rather than by the CIA. "Obama’s trying to show people that we’re winning," he added.
Addicott then makes this telling observation:
They have informed high-level CIA officials about their concerns that the program is backfiring, Addicott told IPS.
"The people at the top are not believers," said Addicott, referring to the CIA. "They know that the objective is not going to be achieved."
And there you have it. The "people at the top" are indeed well aware that the stated objectives of the ever-expanding drone program -- and the ever-expanding Terror War -- are not going to be achieved. They are not meant to be achieved. They are meant only to give the illusion "that we're winning," to keep the great game going, to keep the money and the power rolling in.
Israel's deadly attack on the relief boat bound for Gaza almost defies comment. Its wanton criminality is so blatant and its "justifications" so transparently false that condemnation seems almost superfluous; the evil of the action is self-evident. Likewise, the reactions of the American power structure – timorous appeasement from the White House, unhinged bloodthirstiness from Congress – have been so wildly inappropriate and utterly divorced from reality that they can scarcely bear any serious consideration; they are simply roars of meaningless noise, set loose in hopes of drowning out the truth.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the incident (beside the loss of innocent life) is its glaring confirmation of this long-established, deeply destructive fact: there is no outrage that Israel can commit that the United States government will not countenance.
Of course, this has been true for decades, encompassing everything from the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty, its illegal development of a nuclear arsenal, its decades of relentless espionage in the United States, its atrocities in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, its state-terror, collateral-damaging "targeted assassinations" around the world, its heinous apartheid wall, the open, often genocidal racism of many of its political and government leaders, its mass cluster-bombing at the end of its latest military aggression in Lebanon, its horrific civilian slaughter in its latest full-scale assault on Gaza, and the subsequent strangulation of Gaza, a war crime of collective punishment that resembles nothing so much as the Nazi ghettoization of Jews in Warsaw. And throughout all of this, the United States has given billions of dollars to Israel, year in, year out, decade after decade, to support its war machine and its structures of repression.
So in a very real sense, the current situation is nothing new at all. But it is also true that this atrocity-producing dynamic has become ever more frenzied since the launching of the bi-partisan, world-wide, multi-generational "War on Terror." There is no longer even any pretense of any red lines that Israel might cross that would lead to even the slightest diminution of American support. In any case, as Glenn Greenwald (among others) points out, the two nations now share fully and openly the same policies of torture, lawlessness, state terror (including assassination), military aggression, war profiteering and extremist, demonizing rhetoric aimed at keeping their populations roiled with fear, anger and confusion.
(In fact, the Americans kill far more innocent civilians in predominantly Muslim lands each year than the Israelis -- who, if only in this, might feel justifiably wronged in being singled out for international condemnation when their mentors and paymasters in Washington commit the same depredations on a much larger scale.)
It's true that part of the American elite's indulgence of Israel stems from the political clout of the "Jewish Lobby." And this influence, which traditionally weighed most heavily on the Democratic Party, has now been joined by the even more zealous -- not to say maniacal and mindless -- support for Israel from America's religious Right, which has almost entirely subsumed the Republican Party. Just as elite bipartisan consensus on military empire and unrestrained corporate oligarchy have eliminated institutional barriers to vast atrocities, crimes and follies in these areas, so too has the convergence of traditional Lobby clout and empowered religious extremism eliminated any real opposition in Washington to any Israeli policy or action.
But I believe there is an even deeper root to this "special relationship" -- and that's the process of "ethnic cleansing" and violent land-grabbing which is absolutely foundational to both nations. What the Americans did long ago -- drive the natives from the land by force, steal their territory and plant a new state there, reserved for the benefit of the "right" sort of people -- the Israelis are now trying to do in the Middle East. Even the same false tropes of justification are used: the natives were lazy and shiftless, they had not "improved" and exploited the land, and therefore had no legal or moral title to it. Then comes the fact-free claim that there weren't even many of these lower creatures to begin with: "a land without people for a people without land," the "virgin continent," just waiting to be populated. And finally, the land-grabbing and ethnic cleansing are hailed as part of a divine plan for God's chosen people, who by conquest, extermination and theft are to become "a light unto the nations," "the shining city on a hill."
This shared ethos is probably another reason why Israel continues its subjugation of the Palestinians with such relentless fervor -- because they know it can work. If you press the natives hard enough, for long enough, if you have the steel to "do whatever it takes" to crush their resistance -- as the Americans did with the Indians -- then you too might win out in the end. It can be done, because it has been done in history (and not just by the Americans, of course); it's a risky business, but for the Israeli elites, as for their American role models, the game is worth the candle.
At any rate, the latest incident will only embolden the Israelis to further atrocities, with the backing -- and often the weapons -- of the United States. Where this process will end is almost too harrowing to contemplate. I honestly believe that if the Israelis decided to "liquidate the ghetto" in Gaza, as was done in Warsaw, then you would see the American elite contorting themselves -- and the truth -- this way and that in order to justify the carnage.
And why not? An elite which has instigated the murder of more than a million people in Iraq -- in a ghastly operation hailed as "an extraordinary achievement" by the progressive peace laureate now in charge of the American war machine -- would certainly not blanch at a little liquidation by their protégés.
Hey man, it's all just payback for 9/11, right? And maybe for Custer as well.
Zachary Mason's remarkable new novel, The Lost Books of the Odyssey, is based on a grain of fact. Before the stories of the Iliad and the Odyssey were crystallized and canonized in the books of Homer sometime in the 8th century B.C., various (and often conflicting) tales of the Trojan War and its heroes had floated around in various forms for hundreds of years. Some of these variants survive in fragments of other ancient works, like ghostly echoes of alternative universes. Mason's intriguing fictional conceit is that he is translating one of these: a "pre-Ptolemaic papyrus excavated from the desiccated rubbish mounds of Oxyrhynchus" which "contains forty-four concise variations on Odysseus's story."
And that is what he proceeds to offer us: 44 chapters, 44 alternative (and conflicting) universes, where some tale of Odysseus -- or, occasionally, the whole arc of his life -- is presented in sharply etched, psychologically penetrating modern prose. (No faux-epic stylizations.) Sometimes there are gods and magic; sometimes Odysseus lives in a world of the grimmest realism.
It's not my intention here to give a literary review of the book. I just wanted to highlight two passages which seem to me to have some particular relevance for our current political situation. Both come from a chapter called "The Iliad of Odysseus." This is the longest chapter in the book, and one of the most "realistic." As Odysseus puts it toward the end of the section: "There are, as far as I have seen, and I have seen much, no gods, no spirits and no such thing as witches, but I seem to be the only one who knows it."
In this chapter, Odysseus begins as a rather soft, dreamy young prince, more given to the songs and stories of the bards than to the role of warrior-king for which his father is rigorously -- and violently -- molding him. In time, the young man learns to fake his way through the role, and when Agamemnon comes calling for troops to take to Troy, Odysseus is given command of Ithaca's armies. An attempt to get out of the war by faking an epileptic fit fails; instead of being rejected as sickly, Odysseus is now considered touched by the gods.
In any case, he goes to war. He avoids combat whenever he can, without losing face, often by following in the wake of the berserking Achilles, and picking off his wounded victims. Achilles is killed after five years, and Odysseus, desperate to end the war, bribes a maid to kill Helen of Troy, in the hope that scotching the cause of the war will bring it to a close. It doesn't; a massive battle ensues in which both sides are almost completely destroyed, Troy is sacked, and only a few Greeks manage to slink away in their boats.
But Odysseus has already walked away in the midst of the battle, and begins wandering down the Ionian coast. He takes on the persona of a bard, singing for his supper. He is skillful, becomes popular, well-paid -- and begins to incorporate tales of the Trojan War into his repertoire: fanciful stories filled with the gods and spirits that he has never seen, with many passages celebrating the great cunning and courage of the warrior Odysseus. After 10 years of enriching himself, he goes home, is greeted with amazement and celebration -- which he finds tedious: "I just wanted it to end so I could spend my remaining years with sword and harp on the wall, making loans at high interest and fathering sons."
The first relevant passage comes early in the chapter, when young Odysseus is still hoping to become a bard, only to be slapped down by his father, who scorned such a lowly fate for his son, insisting instead that he become a warrior:
[My father] and his men would say things like, 'We are here to live the stories, not compose them!' Sing, Muses, of the wrath of god-like shit-for-brains, hereditary lord of the mighty Coprophagoi, who skewered a number of other men with his pig-sticker and valued himself highly for so doing.
(In a handy footnote, Mason reminds us that "Coprophagoi" means "excrement eaters.")
Here we have the essential foundations of militarism, which, along with greed and fearmongering, has become the organizing principle of modern American society. (And innumerable other societies since the days of Troy.) Another passage in the chapter speaks to the guiding mindset of our ruling elites, and their forbears down through the ages:
Many times I was on the verge of just leaving and sailing back to Ithaca. I did not flee only because I would have lost all face with my father and our subjects. As Father and I know, and as we try not to remind them, there is no good reason for our subjects to pay their taxes, row our ships, fight our battles or tip their caps to us other than tradition and the threat of violence (which is implicit, nicely civilised and glossed over in the older, better families like mine). Much as I loathed the war, there was at least the prospect of a tolerable life afterward ... I would rather have died than come down in the world.
And here we have our elites in a nutshell. Their power and privilege -- though real enough in their deadly application-- are, at their core, empty shams, and entirely illegitimate. Arthur Silber wrote eloquently on this theme just a few days ago, in a piece outlining the need -- and great effectiveness -- of non-violent non-cooperation with evil. You should read the whole piece, and follow the links, to get the full scope of the piece, but here is an excerpt:
It is only the slavish obedience to authority, the reluctance and refusal to break the goddamned rules and "cause trouble," that makes the elites and their hold on power possible. Take away that obedience, take away the refusal to deny the legitimacy of the ruling elites and their demands that all the rest of us support them in their rule, and they have nothing. The elites know that; most Americans don't ...
The ruling class is corrupt, immoral, deadly, and entirely illegitimate. Their greatest fear is that you will realize it.My statement that the ruling class has "nothing" if and when a critical number of people refuse to obey (i.e., when they choose non-cooperation) doesn't contradict my observations concerning the weapons our rulers could use against those who don't obey. The "nothing" refers to the ultimate foundation of the elites' power; the weapons they possess represent only one aspect of the day-to-day operations of that power, as terrible as that particular aspect is.
And it cannot be overemphasized that peaceful non-cooperation can be enormously effective against even the most vicious of totalitarian regimes: see here and here for some astonishing and inspiring examples of that effectiveness from fairly recent history. From the first of those links, carefully note this: "[I]n the end almost all Danish Jews escaped unharmed.
"The power of "No" is far, far greater than most people ever permit themselves to understand.
Of course, the matrix of myth, legend and history from which the stories of Odysseus arose has much deeper resonance than the political exigencies -- now lost to us forever -- surrounding the Trojan War. Even at a remove of thousands of years, these tales are still imbued with numinous power, conveying and representing a heightened awareness of many aspects of human reality, states of being by which we are seized, or enlightened, or harrowed, or destroyed, as the ancient heroes were possessed and guided, and often ruined, by the gods.
Odysseus is one of the best representatives of human consciousness, that strange spirit of knowing and confusion that arises from the ever-churning matrix of biological and neurological activity that makes up our physical being. Odysseus the wanderer is a man of many identities, a man of deception and self-deception, of keen insight and rash impulse. Perhaps the most telling of his false personae is the one he used in talking and scheming his way past the Cyclops. My name, he tells the giant, is Nobody (or No Man). He hopes by this to forestall any revenge for blinding the creature, who, when asked who has wounded him so grievously, can only cry, "Nobody! Nobody did this to me!"
Here Odysseus is true to his role as an avatar of consciousness -- both in his attempt to escape responsibility for his actions, and, inadvertently, in revealing the empty core at the center of that furiously firing neurological matrix. Who are you, really? Are you Odysseus, a king, a warrior, an ally, a husband, a son, a wanderer, a killer, a hero? Lay each torn scrap of defining -- and reductive -- identity aside, or have them torn from you by fate, and who are you? "I am Nobody," says the man; I am just this "I am," making himself up as he goes along, in a world of chaos and danger, with the eternal night of death looming at every turn.
All share this condition; there are no elites. No amount of power or privilege can lift you above it, or above another single living soul. We are all wanderers, bound in a universal union of separateness, made bearable and given meaning only by the moments, the numinous moments -- of genuine connection with our fellow wanderers (each locked in the mystery of their own unique, ever-shifting coalescence of neural networks, hormonal flows, memory and perception), of insights and flashes of awareness into some aspect of reality that seize us (through nature, art, books, thought and many other venues) and carry us, for a moment, into a higher, deeper apprehension of being.
As Odysseus learned, you cannot force the gods to give you these moments, you can't call them forth at will. But you can stand ready for them, you can try to stay open to them, to recognize them when they come, and feel their quickening power. And you can strive to make the networks of association that we wanderers form, on large scales and small, to be more conducive to these connections, to foster their occurrence and their recognition, to remember and honor them, and pass on their good effects -- to enhance whatever good that has emerged from the countless millennia of breakage and mutation that have molded, so imperfectly, our human kind.
But we live today in networks given over to death and domination -- rapacious, aggressive, degraded and degrading. Networks which actively, at times gleefully destroy the moments of connection and awareness, and instead seek to impose ever-more reductive and false definitions of reality, which then must be defended with manic ferocity against the mysterious flows and eruptions of being. We are now hurtling a thousand miles an hour in the wrong direction, deeper into death and degradation, which are no longer resisted, or lamented, or regretted, or even debated, but embraced and celebrated, in a sickening inversion of the "civilized values" that our degraded, militarist-corporatist system purports to defend.
Nowhere is this better exemplified than in America's current political state, where a warmongering, corporate-coddling political hack who claims the tyrannical power to assassinate anyone on earth or imprison them for life without charges or trial is somehow considered a "progressive," a "liberal," or, god help us, a "socialist" ... while his most vocal and powerful opponents rail against him for not being even more degraded, elitist and death-ridden.
Like Mason's Odysseus, we live in an age where murderous pig-stickers and corporate Coprophagoi demand that we tip our caps to them, sing songs of their goodness and glory, and praise the hideous system they have made. For generations now, we have taught our children that this is the way the world should be, this is the only form of reality -- this crabbed, cruel, diminished, hollowed-out travesty.
The power of "No" that Silber speaks of is the most positive, productive response you can make to such insanity. Saying no to cooperation with evil, in whatever form it takes, on whatever scale -- including the scale of our own chaotic, wandering, mysterious psyches. What we need, desperately, is more and more of the power of No -- and the determination in live in -- and live for -- those moments of connection and awareness that the free flow of being can provide.
While Chris has been away, I went through the latest brouhaha with the Wiki Police over at Wikipedia - there seems to be a right wing contingent there that doesn't like Chris and they finally deleted his Wikipedia entry completely last week citing there was not enough proof and he was a 'nobody' - which enraged me. So I simply built another Wikipedia page today with 30 citations and references. I look forward to see their new arguments.
I have almost been working with Chris for five years now - we started this site in July 2005. But I have been busy over at Atlantic Free Press since 2006 - when I decided that I needed a place to call my own and felt more comfortable in an editorial role rather than a writing one. Chris is such a powerful writer - as many of you members know and he really needs his own space. We have been through many server crashes, hacks, DOS attacks, sql injections etc. over the years. But things seem to have smoothed out a lot in 2010.
Atlantic Free Press now has over 300 writers and over 13,000 articles - and a sister site started in 2007 at Pacific Free Press run by Chris Cook who also run Gorilla Radio.
I have never met Chris Floyd in real life - though I hope to one of these days as my 'day job' takes me from Holland to the UK more often this year.
Please note - the donation button money is for Chris - feel free to use it and help him out - he really deserves it. I am now using some google ads and other links to generate revenue for the servers - apologies for the advertising - but server bills are a reality.
Thank you all for using the new social media viral features - Digg.com, Facebook etc. It's really improving traffic to the site!
Keep your eye out for a new book from Chris... we have been talking about publishing another one.
I'm heading out for a few days, with connectivity and opportunity for posting still unknown. Meanwhile, here's a very rough piece of lumber to keep the fire crackling until I get wired up again. (Lyrics here.)
The American way of war is a marvelously ingenious thing. And thoroughly modern too. No more of that "don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes" jazz; your modern "warfighter" (they aren't called "soldiers" anymore, you know) prefers to view his targets through, say, a computer screen safely ensconced back in the Homeland or thousands of feet in the sky, or else through the unearthly greenish glow of night-vision scopes. And open combat? Forget it. The new American way is the sneak attack on civilian homes in the dead of night. You creep up, you break in, you cap a few ragheads, then you run away. What glory! What magnificent valor!
The Washington Post reports on yet another glorious page in the annals of the exceptional nation "intended by God to be a light set on a hill to serve as a beacon of hope and Christian charity to a lost and dying world." It's the usual story. Secret "warfighters" suddenly attack a civilian compound in the middle of the night. This, not surprisingly, provokes a few shots from some of the inhabitants, who have no idea who is attacking their home. The superior firepower of the beacons of hope and Christian charity quickly overcome the piddling arms of the demonic heathens, however, and in a trice, there are dead gook – sorry, raghead – bodies all around. Including children – you've got to have children in your body count these days, if you want to be a thoroughly modern Christian beacon warfighter. Then you and your brave band of secret warriors run away and prepare for the next bold raid.
Naturally, the local losers come out and boo-hoo-hoo over their dead relatives, as if no one had ever seen their son shot to death in front of their eyes before. They trot out all their evidence that the victims had nothing to do with the "insurgents" (which is what your modern warfighter calls anyone who objects to the presence of armed foreigners prowling all over their land), they keen and wail and do all the other animalistic stuff that primitives do when one of the pack snuffs it. "Oh, I lost my son, oh my son, my precious son," etc., etc. – as if there's not a dozen more when he came from; you know how those people breed.
But anyway, here's the beauty part: if the local dorky darkies start to complain, you just say, "Hey man, we came under fire! Those monkeys shot at us when we came sneaking up on their house in the middle of the night with our guns drawn. That proves they were bad guys. We had to take them out."
That's it. That's the drill. It happens virtually every week now in Afghanistan – just as it happened time and again in Iraq, back when some guy named Stanley McChrystal was in charge of covert ops for that evil, reactionary throwback, George W. Bush. Whatever happened to old Stan anyway? Oh yeah; the nice, progressive, thoroughly modern Barack Obama put him in charge of the whole shooting match in Afghanistan, as well as the not-so-secret war of assassination in Pakistan. And oddly enough, the slaughter of civilians in both of these target countries has been rising ever since.
But hey, that's just how we roll nowadays. That's the American way of war. Creep, sneak, kill, run, lie – repeat. Sure, it only makes things worse, creates more enemies, keeps the wars going. But isn't that the point? Check it out, baby: they're piling an extra $33.5 billion of prime war pork on top of the mountain of Terror War funding already laid out for this year! And you need a whole lot of blood to wash down that meat – and a whole lot of new enemies to make sure the feast never ends.
Arthur Silber outdoes himself with this one-two punch of an essay. It begins with a tale that pierces to the essence of what we are -- and what we are becoming -- under our murderous imperium. The second half unfolds some of the implications of the fable in the hard facts of the present day, taking off from the almost indescribable depravity of the current "debate" over Barack Obama's open assertion of the power to assassinate anyone on earth at his arbitrary order, and the continuation of torture under the current administration, despite all the bright shining lies to the contrary.
Silber ends with an adjuration that encapsulates, with searing clarity, something I have been trying to say for a long time:
Consider again the nature of the subjects under discussion: the immense evil of torture ... and Obama's claim that he has the "right" to assassinate anyone without judicial process or evidence of any kind whatsoever, simply because he says so. Reread the little story offered above. And then be brave enough finally to state the truth, at least in what should be the sacred space of your own mind:
This is insane.
This is monstrous.
This is deeply, unforgivably, irredeemably evil.
Here is a note for those who write and talk about these issues. If you write on these subjects and if you talk about them regularly on radio and television, and if you do not state -- repeatedly, with all the conviction and passion that you can command -- that actions of this kind are insane, monstrous and deeply evil, you are not opposing the monstrousnessness. You are accommodating it, seeking excuses for it, trying to minimize it -- or, to use the phrase I often employ in my own notes -- you are "making friends with evil."
If you do this, you are not fighting against the monstrousness. You are part of it.
But don't be content with just an excerpt. Go read the whole piece, and the links.
The fact that the Obama Administration is operating a secret prison in Afghanistan in which captives rounded up on the usual little or no evidence are being tortured even as we speak -- and even as the president was making his funny-haha jokes about predator drones -- does not come as any surprise. The horror of this reality is by now so routine that it almost defies comment. Or as Arthur Silber puts it in a powerful new essay:
The concept of "depravity" has been rendered close to meaningless. When so much of what happens every day, here and abroad, is so unfathomably depraved, what does it signify to state that another 40 murders of innocent human beings represent still one more monstrous act, or that the torture of another dozen or three dozen or a hundred innocent human beings is unforgivably evil, or that the rape of another 10 or 30 or 50 girls and women constitutes a crime so immense in its magnitude that it makes all commentary completely beside the point, and even itself obscene?
None of it is fully real. Most of it is never even noticed. None of it appears to matter, not in ways which cause a critical number of people to resist in ways which might momentarily slow down the machinery of cruelty and death.
So today I am not going to go through blood-soaked chapter and shit-smeared verse on this latest continuous atrocity, nor dissect the howling, puke-evoking hypocrisy of the Comedian-in-Chief of the War Machine. Instead, I just want to note one comment I ran across in reading about the story. It's from a leading progressive voice, Digby, who does, to her credit, go through chapter-and-verse on the gulag hell-hole.
Citing several sources, she notes that this week's Red Cross confirmation of the secret prison's existence was preceded by extensive reporting on the prison -- and the atrocities carried out there -- by well-known media outlets with impeccable Establishment credentials: the BBC, the New York Times and the Washington Post. None of these institutions can remotely be suspected of taking a radical -- or even skeptical -- line when it comes to the operations of state power. It takes a mountain of proof to move them to the slightest criticism of the operations of empire (as opposed to the petty machinations of our scheming courtiers). Thus when they do report extensively on a particular government depredation, citing eyewitness accounts and other evidence, you can be sure these Establishment paladins have already shaved away any taint of advocacy and triple-plated themselves with fact-checking to rebut assaults from their friends and contacts in the circles of power. Indeed, nine times out of ten, their revelations come from the circles of power, with one faction leaking damning facts to undermine a rival gang.
Yet after her admirable recitation of the facts, and their dire implications, Digby comes out with this surprising confession:
I've held off on this issue because of the unequivocal denial by the military that the prison existed and I was willing to give the new administration the benefit of the doubt. Now that the Red Cross has confirmed that the prison does exist, we know for sure that the military was lying --- and the benefit of the doubt goes to the former prisoners.
She "held off" on the matter, which had been thoroughly reported by the BBC, NYT, WP ... because the Pentagon had denied it. And why would she do such a thing, given the ceaseless flow of lies that has issued forth from that many-sided militarist monument squatting out in the swamplands of Hell's Bottom? Because she wanted to "give the new administration the benefit of the doubt."
The benefit of what doubt? Did she really believe that the Pentagon had somehow been born again through the soul-cleansing election of Barack Obama? The man who, er, retained the leadership of the Pentagon that George W. Bush had put in place? The man who placed a master of black ops and dirty war in charge of the entire "Af-Pak" campaign? A man whose military machine has been caught lying over and over and over and over again about a ceaseless flow of atrocities it has committed -- under his command?
And what is this "new administration" she speaks of? Obama will soon have been in power for 17 months. (He had been in power for 16 months when the BBC issued its first report on the prison). When does an administration cease being "new," with its leaders and agents regarded as genial greenhorns, fumbling their way, learning as they go -- "ya really gotta cut 'em slack on this, they haven't hit their stride yet." In any case, Obama has been intensely involved in the Afghanistan war since the very beginning of his term. Indeed, he has already masterminded not one but two "surges" of the conflict, as well as greatly expanding the murderous campaign of assassinations in Pakistan, killing hundreds of people, terrorizing hundreds of thousands, and exacerbating hatred and extremism at every turn. Afghanistan is Obama's war -- he asked for it during the campaign, and he has willingly made it his own. He has his own hand-picked commander in charge (plucked from the pool of Bushist brass, of course), and he -- he alone -- made the decision not only to keep Bush's Pentagon warlord, but to make him one of his closest advisers.
So I ask again: why would anyone feel compelled to give the Obama Administration the "benefit of the doubt" when it comes to atrocities in Afghanistan -- especially those reported by "respectable," mainstream media institutions?
Digby goes on to make what is, in some ways, an even more surprising statement:
I should have known better. Any administration which declares that it has the right to unilaterally order American citizens to be assassinated obviously isn't going to be squeamish about a little torture, is it?
Yes, exactly. How on earth could someone be cognizant of this universal murder program -- openly announced by Obama's security chief -- and still think that this "new administration" deserves the benefit of the doubt when mainstream media outlets release highly credible stories detailing the continuing atrocities of America's bipartisan gulag? As I wrote here last month:
Let us hear no more excuses for Barack Obama. Let us hear no more defenses, no more special pleading, no more extenuations. Let us have no more reciting of the "pressures" he is under, of the "many obstacles" that balk him in his quest to do us good, of the "bad advisors" who are swaying him to unworthy acts against his will. Let us be done at last with all these wretched lies, these complicitous self-deceptions that are facilitating atrocity and tyranny on a monstrous scale.
Barack Obama has ordered the murder of an American citizen, without trial, without due process, without the production of any evidence. All it takes to kill any American citizen in this way is Barack Obama's signature on a piece of paper, his arbitrary designation of the target as a "suspected terrorist." In precisely the same way -- precisely the same way -- Josef Stalin would place a mark by a name in a list of "suspected terrorists" or "counterrevolutionaries," and the bearer of that name would die. This is the system we have now, the same as the Soviets had then: a leader with the unchallengeable power to kill citizens without due process.
That this power has not been used on the same scale in the American system as in the Stalinist state -- yet -- does not alter the equivalence of this governing principle. In both cases, the leader signs arbitrary death warrants; the security services carry out the task; and the 'great and good' of society accept this draconian power as necessary and right.
This is what you support when you support Barack Obama. It does not matter if you think his opponents in the factional infighting to control a blood-soaked empire and its war machine are "worse" than he is in some measure. When you support him, when you defend him, when you excuse him, it is arbitrary murder that you are supporting. It is the absolute negation of every single principle of enlightenment and human rights professed by liberals, progressives -- indeed, by honorable people of every political stripe -- for centuries.
Yet still, after this, leading liberal voices can say, "Well, the Pentagon says that the BBC, the NYT and WP are all wrong about this nasty secret prison thing. And this new administration -- which I know full well is committed to killing people, even my fellow citizens, without the slightest pretense of due process, and which I know full well still has the proven liars of the Bush War Machine in charge of its operation -- deserves the benefit of the doubt." It boggles, as they say, the mind.
This is not a personal slam at Digby, whose diligent work in continuing to expose the creeping "taserization" of American society I find particularly valuable. Nor am I entirely without understanding of the way that tribal political loyalties can pull strongly on one's reasoning, like the moon working its power on the tides. But at this late date, for this in-no-way new administration, which has laid out its true corporatist-militarist-imperial nature with glaring, painful clarity, it is still striking, even shocking, to see the contortions of accommodation that so many are still willing to put themselves through, in the hope of keeping at least a scrap of obscuring cloth over at least a portion of the naked horror that confronts us.