Coming Through Slaughter: A Triptych of State Terror

Written by Chris Floyd 07 June 2012 5447 Hits

Arthur Silber is back, in a big way, with all guns blazing, in three new pieces that hit the boards this week.

First up is a blackly comic take on the mindless, fear-ridden conformity that permeates our political "debate" -- if one may so degrade the language by applying this term to the witless splutterings of the fourth-rate goobers and inch-deep intellects who prance across our various media stages these days. Silber then takes a quick, sharp look at a particularly egregious example of the sinister interpenetration of our media and political elite.

These were followed hard upon by a powerful and substantive analysis of the implications of the ice-cold killing machine being operated by the Obama White House -- or rather, openly celebrated by the Obama White House, as we saw in the remarkable piece of death porn in the NY Times last week. You should read the whole thing, but here is a brief excerpt:

I consider the reaction to [the NYT] article -- to be more precise, the non-reaction -- to be one of the worst signs we have yet seen concerning the collapse of this country into unrelenting, savage barbarism. … Given the subject matter, we can be certain that these "advisers" would not have provided numerous details about the "Kill List" unless the Obama administration wanted them to. In other words: this is the story the government wants to tell. This is the story the government wants Americans -- and the watching world -- to know. I state again that the central theme of the story is that Obama and his closest advisers are engaged in a systematic program of murder, targeting people about whom they know nothing in terms of the factors they themselves claim demand their urgent concern. That is to say: they murder anyone they wish, anywhere in the world, for any reason they choose -- or for no reason at all.

That is what they want you to know. And what is the reaction of almost everyone? The overwhelming majority of Americans haven't reacted at all. It is as if nothing whatsoever has been said. They simply don't care. Because this is the story the government wants to tell, we may properly regard it as being in the nature of a trial balloon. The U.S. government is saying to all of us, and to the entire world:

We can murder anyone we want, just because we feel like it. And guess what: we do! And we do it regularly and systematically. Because we want to!

Does anybody care? Does anyone give a damn?

Now they have their answer.

Read it, and tremble for the horror we have, and the horror that's yet to come.

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Birds of a Feather: The Hardcore Faith of the Ruling Clucks

Written by Chris Floyd 01 June 2012 6290 Hits

In honor of Mitt Romney's nomination victory this week, we reprise below our last look at the man who might very well be the next temporary manager of the domination-and-despoliation machine belching mephitically on the banks of the Potomac.

In this earlier glimpse, we saw in Romney the quintessence of the bipartisan ruling elite -- and an avatar of the rabid psychopathology that lurks always behind the bland facade of normality our masters try so frantically to project. Time has proved the observations below to apply equally to both wings of the big bloated chickenhawk of our ruling class, of course, although in this particular piece more attention is given to the right wing of the necrotic creature.

But it is interesting to note how so many of positions Romney staked out in this four-year old speech were promulgated by the man who eventually won the White House that year. Although Obama doesn't play so overtly on the Muslimphobia that Romney exhibits with such naked frenzy here, in one respect he has gone much further than Romney and his fellow sexual panickers. Obama doesn't waste his breath blathering about Muslim birthrates and what all: he goes straight to the source and kills Muslims directly -- indeed, making a special target of those Muslim males most likely to breed, as his minions revealed so gleefully in the New York Times this week. He has also followed Romney's adjuration to continue the Terror War and keep gorging the military-industrial complex with war pork. Romney even anticipates Obama's "pivot the China" and the resurrection of the Yellow Peril trope so beloved by American imperialists from days of yore. And they say bipartisanship is dead.

Anyway, here he is: Mitt Romney, same as he ever was. For despite all their brazen flip-flops, our rulers remain admirably consistent in their core -- indeed, their hardcore -- belief: the maintenance and expansion of elite power and privilege … by any means necessary.

American Psycho: An Elite Exposed in an Exit Speech
February 8, 2008

If you would like to see just how sick the American elite really is -- how morally depraved, how intellectually diseased, how addicted to the taste of human flesh, the scent of human blood, and the sight of human suffering -– then you need go no further than the speech given by Mitt Romney to the Conservative Political Action Conference on February 7, 2008.

Now you might say that Mitt Romney is old news. After all, this was the very speech where he declared he was quitting the presidential race. He's toast, he's over, the fork has been stuck into his well-roasted hide; who cares what he says? This is of course the witless "horse-race" view that dominates political discourse in America: who's up, who's down, who's getting the column inches, who's on TV? But in reality, the American elite – or the Establishment, or the power structure, call it what you will (as long as you don't call it what it really is: the ruling class) -- is like an iceberg: most of its vast bulk exists unseen, it plows on beneath the surface, unperturbed by the media storms that rage around the small bit of exposed material at the summit.

Mitt Romney is an immensely wealthy, well-connected man, a former governor of the state of Massachusetts, born and bred in an extensive web of privilege and power. His defeat in a presidential campaign changes none of that. He will simply submerge -- for a time -- back into those depths where the real business of the elite is largely done. Thus his words to the conservative activists remain a highly relevant indication of the mindset that holds sway over the world's most powerful nation. They show the barbarism, hatemongering and bloodlust that are considered perfectly acceptable in the polite company of our rulers and their sycophants.

Indeed, the most remarkable thing about Romney's speech is that there is nothing remarkable about it; it is entirely typical of the kind of red meat that many leading lights of American society routinely throw to the slavering rightwing faithful. It takes a strong effort to wrench your mind free from the media-besotted mentality that regards such a speech as "normal" (even if you disagree with it), and see it for the debased, bestial raving that it really is.

The smoldering core of Romney's vomitous offering can perhaps be found in his passing remarks on Europe. Again, in one sense, this was just a crowd-pleasing throwaway: a good Eurobash always gets the CPAC froth flowing. But in a deeper sense, it cuts right to the corroded heart of the matter, right down to the vicious, primitive, genocidal racism that has shaped and driven so many of  the policies of Western elites for centuries. In the midst of a long diatribe about liberal "attacks" on "American culture," Romney pauses for a glance across the Atlantic, to evoke a hideous nightmare that could soon be America's future:

Europe -- Europe is facing a demographic disaster. That's the inevitable product of weakened faith in the Creator, failed families, disrespect for the sanctity of human life, and eroded morality.

By "demographic disaster," Romney simply means that there are more non-white people in Europe than there used to be. To Romney and his fellow elites, this fact in itself constitutes a genuine "disaster." Although the population of Europe is still overwhelmingly white (much more so than the population of the United States), even the smallest dilution of racial purity across the continent is to be lamented, decried – and rolled back. Here of course Romney is channeling fearmongers like Martin Amis,  Mark Steyn, and Christopher Hitchens, whose trembly sexual panic in the face of hot-blooded, fast-breeding darkies would be comical, if it were not so sinister – and so useful to the warmakers and global dominationists in the ruling elite.

Romney makes the sexual and racial subtext abundantly clear in his remarks about Europe's loss of religious faith, eroded morality,  etc. The Euros are plainly too busy having abortions and watching porn to do their duty by the race and breed bigger families kept under strict religious discipline. And thus the shabby denizens of an alien faith are breeding like rats in the cellarage of Western Civilization, gnawing away at the foundations and conquering it from within. The fact that "Muslims" are substituted for "Jews" in these formulations and implications of Hitchens, Amis, Romney, et al, does not lessen the precision with which their diatribes mirror those that saturated Germany (and many other nations) in the first four decades of the 20th century. For the elites, there is always a dark, sexually potent "other" out there, whose overwhelming threat to white supremacy can only be overcome by….giving the elites more and more power.

Oddly enough, there has been a demographic disaster in Europe -- but it has nothing to do with virile Muslim men and their fertile females. It is never mentioned by Romney and his elitist ilk -- because it is the result of their own philosophy, their own policies, and their own desires. We speak of course of the demographic collapse in Russia, where the population is dwindling while death rates remain almost twice as high as in the United States and Western Europe. The Russian people are still reeling from the catastrophic "shock therapy" inflicted on them by Boris Yeltsin's "Chicago School" market fundamentalists. (The harrowing story is well-told in Naomi Klein's study of "disaster capitalism," The Shock Doctrine.)

The Western elites were very glad to watch the Russian people sink to their knees, die off in droves and suffer in poverty, chaos and fear -- as long as a juicy slice of Russia's oil, mineral and industrial wealth was in the offing. The West's sudden distaste for Kremlin strongman Vladimir Putin has nothing to do with his egregious crackdowns on civil freedoms. Putin's depredations are hardly less egregious than those of Yeltin, who actually sent in troops and tanks to destroy the democratically elected parliament 1993, then ran roughshod over every vestige of law in harnessing the entire power of the state -- and the private sector as well - to ensure a victory in his re-election bid in 1996. After that, he laid open the entire economy to the rapacious looting of his corporate cronies and their Western allies. It is the fact that Putin has taken much of this loot off the table for Westerners -- and given it to his own cronies -- that has provoked the West's new-found concern for the rights and well-being of the Russian people.

In his swan song, Romney makes it clear that he and his elites want to continue pressing their "shock therapy" on the American people as well, rolling back the very mild attempts in the past to ameliorate, slightly, some of the worst excesses and inequities of unhinged corporate greed. In fact, Romney identifies these tepid measures as dire threats to "American culture" itself:

The threat to our culture comes from within. In the 1960s, there were welfare programs that created a culture of poverty in our country. Now, some people think we won that battle when we reformed welfare. But the liberals haven't given up. At every turn, they tried to substitute government largess for individual responsibility. They fight to strip work requirements from welfare, to put more people on Medicaid, and remove more and more people from having to pay any income tax whatsoever. Dependency is death to initiative, risk-taking and opportunity. Dependency is culture killing. It's a drug. We've got to fight it like the poison it is.

The ignorance -- and inhumanity - of this statement is breathtaking. Think of it: there was no poverty in the United States until "liberals" came along in the 1960s and "created" it with their welfare programs. (Before this "culture of poverty" was created, apparently, the few poor people in America just died off discreetly, like Russians, instead of hanging around a bit longer on government handouts, the way they do now, the shiftless, no-good wretches. Oh yeah, and they breed a lot too, more than white folks.) And even though Bill Clinton (uncredited here, of course, but the elite are well aware of his sterling services) finally drove the stake through the welfare program, these evildoers will still not rest. Just look at what they want to do: "put more people on Medicaid," and "remove more and more people from having to pay any income tax whatsoever." (Wait a minute; I thought red-meat-chomping CPACkers were in favor of people paying no taxes. I guess that only applies to the right sort of people.)

All of this -- especially the stuff about "risk-taking" and "dependency" on government largess --  is pretty rich coming from an avatar of a ruling class that is glutted with pampered heirs of wealth and power who, like Romney, begin their totally risk-free careers at the very top of the ladder, and who are continually fattened with no-bid contracts, kickbacks, tax breaks, subsidies, war profits and myriad other forms of "government largess." But beyond the transparent hypocrisy – and the ludicrous pretense that the "liberals" in today's Democratic Party pose some kind of genuine threat to this cornucopia – Romney's blast is a perfect encapsulation of the elite's hatred for the rabble they use as cannon fodder and cash cows. Let them get sick, let them die, let them languish in poverty, let them lose their homes, let them work three jobs to make ends meet – but by God don't you ever do anything, anything at all, to change the system that produces these chronic inequities and keeps the pampered elite in clover. That's evil. That's "poison." And it won't be allowed.

The speech goes on and on in this way; reading it is like wading through the sewage pipe of an abattoir. China and India and other Asian nations pose a challenge that must be confronted and beaten down. Why? Because they may "pass us by as the economic superpower, just as we passed England and France during the last century." And we must stop the yellow devils, because "the prosperity and security of our children and grandchildren depend on us." Apparently, it is not possible for Asian nations and the United States to be secure and prosperous at the same time; "our children" can only prosper at the expense of others. This too is transparently ludicrous, even nonsensical, if taken literally. Of course, ordinary Asians and Americans could be prosperous at the same time. What Romney really means is that the American elite cannot exert dominance and gorge itself in the manner to which it has become accustomed if other nations are secure and prosperous in their own right.

And that is where the "War on Terror" – the linchpin of Romney's speech, and the justification he offers for folding his campaign – comes in. The Terror War is simply an extension of the long-held goal of the American elite (and their British "junior partners") to maintain and extend their dominion over the world's natural resources and political arrangements – and the exorbitant profits this dominion produces. There is ample evidence in the historical record of the Anglo-American elite's abiding – and quite open – anxieties on this score, going back for generations. Literally millions of people all over the world have been sacrificed to these ambitions and anxieties, which have not abated but grow more frantic and acute with each passing year.

And thus the climax of Romney's peroration: a frantic blithering about "evil and radical jihad" and "the inevitable military ambitions of China" and the burning need to "raise military spending to 4 percent of our GDP" and overriding imperative to keep the Terror War raging, particularly on its central front in Iraq. None of this is remotely connected to the actual wellbeing, security and prosperity of the American people; quite the opposite. It is, however, absolutely vital to the preservation of the elite's power, privilege, self-image and status. And as they demonstrate day after day, they don't care how many people must die or suffer for this.

This is moral psychosis on a monumental scale. It is the complete and utter repudiation of every civilized ideal, of every fragment of enlightenment wrenched from the blood-drenched slagheap of human history. Yet it passes for normality in our political discourse.

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Hymns to the Violence: The NYT’s Love Letter to Obama's Murder Racket

Written by Chris Floyd 29 May 2012 10989 Hits

I must, at last, admit defeat. I simply have no words, no rhetorical ammunition, no conceptual frameworks that could adequately address the total moral nullity exposed in Monday's New York Times article on the death squad that Barack Obama is personally directing from the White House.  (“Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will.”)

It is not so much a newspaper story as a love letter -- a love letter to death, to the awe-inspiring and fear-inducing power of death, as personified by Barack Obama in his temporary role as the manager of a ruthless, lawless imperial state. In the cringing obsequiousness of the multitude of insiders and sycophants who march in goose-step through the story, we can see the awe and fear -- indeed, the worship -- of death-dealing power. This enthrallment permeates the story, both in the words of the cringers and in the giddy thrill the writers display in gaining such delicious access to the inner sanctum.

In any other age -- including the last administration -- this story would have been presented as a scandalous exposé. The genuinely creepy scenes of the "nominating process" alone would have been seen as horrific revelations. Imagine the revulsion at the sight of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld sifting through PowerPoint slides on "suspected terrorists" all over the world, and giving their Neronic thumbs up or down as each swarthy face pops up on a screen in front of them. Imagine the tidal wave of moral outrage from the "Netroots Nation" and other progressive champions directed at Bush not only for operating a death squad (which he did), but then trotting out Condi and Colin and Bob Gates to brag about it openly, and to paint Bush as some kind of moral avatar for the careful consideration and philosophical rigor he applied to blowing human beings to bits in sneak attacks on faraway villages.

But the NYT piece is billed as just another "process story" about an interesting aspect of Obama's presidency, part of an election-year series assessing his record. It is based entirely on the viewpoints of Beltway insiders.  The very few dollops of mild criticism of the murder program are voiced by figures from deep within the imperial machine. And even these caveats are mostly tactical in nature, based on one question: "Does the program work, is it effective?" There is not a single line that ever suggests, even slightly, that the program might be morally wrong. There is not a single line in the story suggesting that such a program should up for debate or even examination by Congress. Nor is there even a perfunctory quote from mainstream organizations such as the ACLU or Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch -- or from anyone in Pakistan or Yemen or the other main targets of Obama's proudly proclaimed and personally approved death squad.

In other words, this portrait of an American president signing off -- week after week after week after week -- on the extrajudicial murder of people all over the world is presented as something completely uncontroversial. Indeed, the main thrust of the story is not the fact that human beings -- including many women, children and men who have no connection whatsoever to "terrorism," alleged or otherwise -- are being regularly killed by the United States government; no, the main focus is how this program illustrates Barack Obama's "evolving" style of leadership during the course of his presidency. That's what's really important. The murders -- the eviscerated bodies, the children with their skulls bashed in, the pregnant women burned alive in their own homes -- are just background. Unimportant. Non-controversial.

II.
Here's how it works:

“Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die.

“This secret “nominations” process is an invention of the Obama administration, a grim debating society that vets the PowerPoint slides bearing the names, aliases and life stories of suspected members of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen or its allies in Somalia’s Shabab militia. … A parallel, more cloistered selection process at the C.I.A. focuses largely on Pakistan, where that agency conducts strikes.

“The nominations go to the White House, where by his own insistence and guided by Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama must approve any name. He signs off on every strike in Yemen and Somalia and also on the more complex and risky strikes in Pakistan — about a third of the total.

“Aides say Mr. Obama has several reasons for becoming so immersed in lethal counterterrorism operations. A student of writings on war by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, he believes that he should take moral responsibility for such actions.

“He realizes this isn’t science, this is judgments made off of, most of the time, human intelligence,” said Mr. Daley, the former chief of staff. “The president accepts as a fact that a certain amount of screw-ups are going to happen, and to him, that calls for a more judicious process.”

Again, words fail. Aides pumping reporters with stories about the wise, judicious philosopher-king consulting Aquinas and Augustine before sending a drone missile on a "signature strike" on a group of picnickers in Yemen or farmers in Pakistan. The philosopher-king himself nobly taking on the "moral responsibility" for mass murder. And the cavalier assertion that "a certain amount of screw-ups are going to happen" -- a bland, blithe acceptance that you are in fact going to slaughter innocent human beings on a regular basis -- precisely as if you walked up to an innocent man on the street, put a gun to his head and blew his brains out all over the sidewalk …. then walked away, absolved, unconcerned, and free to kill again. And again. And again. This psychopathic serial killing is, evidently, what Augustine meant by "moral responsibility." Who knew?

Obama's deep concern for "moral responsibility" is also reflected in his decision to kill according to "signature strikes" -- that is, to kill people you don't know, who haven't even popped up on your PowerPoint slides, if you think they might possibly look or act like alleged potential "terrorists." (Or if you receive some "human intelligence" from an agent or an informer or someone with a grudge or someone seeking payment that a group of people doing something somewhere might be terrorists.) This "moral responsibility" is also seen in Obama's decision to count "all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants … unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent."

Guilty until proven posthumously innocent! How's that for "moral responsibility"? Here Obama has surpassed Augustine and Aquinas -- yea, even great Aristotle himself -- in this bold extension of the parameters of moral responsibility.

It is, I confess, beyond all my imagining that a national leader so deeply immersed in murdering people would trumpet his atrocity so openly, so gleefully -- and so deliberately, sending his top aides out to collude in a major story in the nation's leading newspaper, to ensure maximum exposure of his killing spree. Although many leaders have wielded such powers, they almost always seek to hide or obscure the reality of the operation. Even the Nazis took enormous pains to hide the true nature of their murder programs from the public. And one can scarcely conceive of Stalin inviting reporters from Pravda into the Politburo meetings where he and Molotov and Beria debated the lists of counterrevolutionary "terrorists" given to them by the KGB and ticked off those who would live and those who would die. Of course, those lists too were based on "intelligence reports," often gathered through "strenuous interrogation techniques" or the reports of informers. No doubt these reports were every bit as credible as the PowerPoint presentations reviewed each week by Obama and his team.

And no doubt Stalin and his team were just as sincerely concerned about "national security" as the Aquinas acolyte in the White House today -- and just as determined to do "whatever it takes" to preserve that security. As Stalin liked to say of the innocent people caught up in his national security efforts: "When wood is chopped, chips fly."

Of course, he was an evil man without any sense of moral responsibility at all. In our much more enlightened times, under the guidance of a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate in the White House, we are so much wiser, so much better. We say: "A certain amount of screw-ups are going to happen." Isn't that much more nuanced? Isn't that much more moral?

There is more, much more of this nullity -- and rotting hypocrisy and vapid sycophancy -- in the story. But I don't have the strength or the stomach to wade any further through this swamp. It stinks of death. It taints and stains us all.

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Goodbye to All That: Dispelling America's Memorial Myths

Written by Chris Floyd 25 May 2012 4858 Hits

Arthur Silber offers most appropriate observations for the solemn Memorial Day weekend: Against Annihilation of the Spirit: Let Us All Become Cowards.

The piece also makes reference to Paul Fussell, one of the clearest-eyed observers of the reality of war ever produced on American shores. Fussell died this week: a good strong light gone out.

No excerpts this time: just get over there and read Silber's piece.

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Seepage and Suffering: Obama's Civil War Scenario for Afghanistan

Written by Chris Floyd 22 May 2012 6877 Hits

(UPDATED BELOW)

 

"The winds in Chicago
Have torn me to shreds;

Reality has always

Had too many heads."

-- Bob Dylan, "Cold Irons Bound"

 

So now we know the grand plan of the Peace Laureate (and his wag-tail pack of lapdogs in NATO) for the people of Afghanistan: civil war.

 

As many have observed, the NATO summiteers sent out an array of mixed messages at their meeting this week in Chicago: the Afghan war is over, the Afghan war is going forward, NATO forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan, NATO forces are staying in Afghanistan for years to come. This confusion of tongues led some cynics to believe that the gilded gaggle of brilliant statespersons nabobbing together in the locked-down Windy City actually had no earthly idea what they were doing in Afghanistan and were saying whatever they thought might satisfy their paymasters and keep themselves perked and porked in power for as long as possible.

 

But in the end, the gaggle came up with a "unified vision" for their "irreversible course" in Afghanistan: facilitating an all-out, full-scale, never-ending, hydra-headed civil war to tear the country to shreds.

 

The "plan" (if one can dignify this stew of blind hormonal impulse, psychological wound seepage and wilful ignorance with that term) calls for the American-led NATO forces to hand over all "combat operations" to the Afghan Army in 2013 (except, of course, for the combat operations that US forces will continue to carry out, like night raids and drone strikes, as Gareth Porter points out). Then, we are told, the "bulk" of the 130,000 foreign troops now occupying Afghanistan will be withdrawn. Except, of course, for the unspecified number of foreign troops who will remain -- for more than a decade, at the very least -- to "train" and "assist" the "independent" Afghan forces. (John Glaser has a good round-up of the "plan" here.)

 

But here's a funny thing: The Afghan army has been given billions of dollars worth of American training and weaponry over the past decade; yet we're told that only 1 percent of these forces are now capable of undertaking operations on their own. But the opponents of the occupation -- without these billions, without a bristling international military alliance behind them -- have somehow managed to wield a military force that grows more effective with each passing year. Could it be possible -- just going way out on a limb here -- that people fighting to rid their native land of foreign invaders are more motivated, more dedicated and more effective that people who are being paid (usually a pittance) to fight for the foreign invaders?

 

It's obvious that the Afghan "national army" will not be able to stay in the field against the Taliban and its allies without the continuing and direct assistance of the American military. It is equally obvious that the Afghan army won't be able to defeat the Taliban in these conditions; indeed, the combined forces of NATO have been unable to defeat the Taliban in 10 years. So the upshot of Obama's "plan" will be an interminable civil war, with a weak and demoralized "national army" given just enough support to stave off total defeat, while the war profiteers on every side continue to gorge themselves sick.

 

Pretty much the status quo of the last decade, then, with some slight repackaging, and a lower profile for the American role.

 

However, it is unlikely that this "plan" will actually go according to, well, plan. At some point, the profit margins on corpse production in Afghanistan will fall too far due to the Taliban's intransigence, and the Potomac poobahs will finally pull the plug on the whole pointless endeavor. This will doubtless happen well before the 2024 mark bruited in the recent "agreement" (yes, we're running amok with quote marks here, but what else can you do when there's so much mendacity about?) between the kleptocracies in Washington and Kabul.

 

You remember that agreement, don't you? Signed a few weeks ago with much fanfare during Obama's furtive drop-in to the satapry, and pledging American support for Afghanistan for the next 12 years, with options to re-up. (In olden days, of course, these kinds of solemn pledges of alliance had to be affirmed by a treaty and ratified by the U.S. Senate, but in our bold new Commander-in-Chief state, the Leader can pledge America's blood and treasure wherever and for however long he or she sees fit.) The "agreement" was largely forgotten by the time of the Chicago summit, although its very notional, highly provisional time limit of 2024 still wafts faintly around the zeitgeist. But  again, we will likely see American forces doing the old Saigon Roof Dance long before that.

 

Meanwhile, the Afghan civil war which Nobel Peace Laureate Jimmy Carter helped facilitate by arming the uprising of jihadi extremists back in the 1970s will run on and on, given fresh impetus by the American invasion of 2001 and accelerated further by the "surge" of troops and brutal tactics by Nobel Peace Laureate Barack Obama. And further thousands upon thousands of Afghans will be slaughtered and ruined, their nation -- already cratered by the decades of Big Power gaming -- plunged deeper and deeper into suffering, for generations.

 

But our seepage-sodden NATO summiteers don't give a damn about any of that. Buried alive inside their security bubble, cut off from the world and common humanity, all they can see are their own reflections; all they can hear are their own lies.

 

 

UPDATE: Dave Lindorff has an excellent article laying out the inevitable end-game scenario in Afghanistan -- a debacle that could make the four-alarm FUBAR of the American exit from Vietnam look like an orderly and dignified retreat.

 

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Bringing It All Back Home: Occupied Chicago is America's New Normal

Written by Chris Floyd 21 May 2012 5764 Hits

Gary Younge and Bernard Harcourt have good pieces in the Guardian about the "new normal" of America's militarized society, as exemplified by armed occupation of Chicago by a staggering array of "security" forces.

Younge notes the bitter irony of the word "security" in a city where the poor are being subjected to ever-increasing levels of violence both from private predators and public "protectors":

The dissonance between the global pretensions of the summit this weekend and the local realities of Chicago could not be more striking. Nato claims its purpose is to secure peace through security; in much of Chicago neither exists.

… The murder rate in Chicago in the first three months of this year increased by more than 50% compared with the same period last year, giving it almost twice the murder rate of New York. And the manner in which the city is policed gives many as great a reason to fear those charged with protecting them as the criminals. By the end of July last year police were shooting people at the rate of six a month and killing one person a fortnight.

This violence, be it at the hands of the state or gangs, is both compounded and underpinned by racial and economic disadvantage. The poorer the neighbourhood the more violent, the wealthier the safer. This is no coincidence. Much like the Nato summit – and the G8 summit that preceded it – the system is set up not to spread wealth but to preserve and protect it, not to relieve chaos but to contain and punish it.

Younge then gives us a few of the local fruits of this global system:

Chicago illustrates how the developing world is everywhere, not least in the heart of the developed. The mortality rate for black infants in the city is on a par with the West Bank; black life expectancy in Illinois is just below Egypt and just above Uzbekistan. More than a quarter of Chicagoans have no health insurance, one in five black male Chicagoans are unemployed and one in three live in poverty. Latinos do not fare much better.

Harcourt, meanwhile, focuses on the mechanics of the lockdown imposed on Chicago:

As one commentator suggests, Chicagoans are experiencing the "New Military Urbanism in Nato-Occupied Chicago". The extensive nature of these security measures (as reported by the US secret service), road closures and pedestrian restrictions included dozens of road closures (at least 7.5 miles of closed roads, by my calculation) …

Eight-foot tall, anti-scale security fencing went up all over that perimeter and downtown, including Grant Park; and the Chicago police – as well as myriad other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI and the US secret service – were out in force on riot-geared horses, bikes, and patrols – batons at the ready. Philadelphia Police Department is sending over reinforcements to help out; Chicago has also asked for recruits from police departments in Milwaukee and Charlotte-Mecklenburg, NC. Meanwhile, F-16 warplanes "screamed through the skies as part of a pre-summit defense exercise" and helicopters hovered incessantly. ….

Plus, the Chicago Police Department will be deploying its two, new, expensive long-range acoustic device (LRAD) sound cannons – which it bought at $20,000 a pop. These are the type of devices that were used by the Pittsburgh police to deliver high-pitched alarm tones during the G20 summit meeting there in 2009.

Then, there is the "secret suburban Chicago" police control center where "officials from more than 40 different agencies sit side by side with a giant central screen before them," as reported by the Chicago Sun Times. From the multi-agency command center, all different types of federal, state and local law enforcement can "view live video feeds from security cameras that are already up and running throughout the city".

Harcourt makes the telling point that Mayor Rahm Emanuel denied numerous protest permits and imposed other restrictions on the grounds that the expression of free speech by demonstrators would cause "inconveniences to traffic and ordinary businesses" -- this, after closing off more than seven square miles of the city's commercial area himself. He makes the even more telling point that these hyper-draconian measures will, in many cases, stay in place once the power-players have finished their meaningless jaw-flapping and returned to their well-wadded entrenchments at home:

Third, and finally, all of this is, sadly, here to stay. Nato will come and go, but the new anti-protest laws, the new riot-gear, the two LRAD sound cannons, and all the normalization of this police state … that will be with us for a long time.

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Beyond Politics: An Affirming Flame in the Haunted Wood

Written by Chris Floyd 19 May 2012 4788 Hits

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.


-- W.H. Auden, "September 1, 1939"

This week has seen a most welcome return of Arthur Silber after yet another long absence due to abysmal health. In a brief but penetrating post, he manages to crystallize some penetrating insights on the nature of politics, and political writing -- bringing into sharp and eloquent focus some thoughts and ideas that have been sloshing around -- inchoately and intermittently -- in my own mind for some time.

You should read the whole piece -- and follow the links to earlier pieces that put the new post in context -- but below is an excerpt that makes a vital point:


We (and I) spend so much time on political matters because politics affects our lives so dramatically and with such immediacy. Because politics has the power to alter our lives so profoundly and, far too frequently, even to end them, some of us fiercely resist the especially destructive aspects of its operations. Yet this will never be enough by itself, as history, including our recent history and ongoing events, prove repeatedly ...

… It is not simply that politics is a symptom of more fundamental factors. Politics, in itself, is a sideshow, a distraction, a camouflage. Politics is the means by which power is wielded over human beings. That is all it signifies; that is all it has ever signified. A few of the critical questions are: Who wishes to wield such power? Why? To what ends? And, why are so many people willing to submit to the demands of power?

When we begin to understand the answers to those questions (and many related ones), we begin to see the outlines of what ought to concern us -- where, if you will, the real action is. Political developments are the final result of these underlying dynamics. To focus on politics alone is to engage in the futile rearrangement of derivative elements. This is also why politics is so endlessly repetitive and stultifying, and why a focus on politics alone is so sickeningly boring, when it is not horrifying. Today, it is usually both. "Oh, God! Another horror! How awful!" If you pay attention, you realize that all the horrors you note are the same horrors that occurred a year ago, half a century ago, 200 hundred years ago. This is true even in periods of tragically temporary revolutionary change; see "Concerning the American Change in Management" for an extended consideration of how the American "Revolution" quickly abandoned genuine revolutionary change and instead resurrected age-old patterns of exploitation and oppression. The American "Revolution" ended immediately after it had begun.

If by some series of miracles (none appear to be on offer), significant change were to occur in the American polity, there might be a short-lived victory -- but as with the original American "Revolution," the victory would vanish before it could be enjoyed. The underlying dynamics would reassert themselves once more; the specific forms of exploitation and oppression might be somewhat different, but exploitation, brutality, oppression and death are humanity's constant companions. To concern oneself with politics alone is to deaden one's soul, and to permit the horrors to continue beyond the horizon.

Yet it need not be so. So we must examine why it has been so in the past, and why it is so today. And then we must see how we can change it, finally.


These coming pieces are something to look forward to. Meanwhile, we'll let Auden have the last word for now:

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

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The Stations and the Streets: A Battered Coin for Many Realms

Written by Chris Floyd 15 May 2012 5718 Hits

This one goes out to John and Oksana and the many thousands now reclaiming the streets of Moscow: a song not meant for one realm only, but for those in every age grappling with the brute and fearful forces of power.

Not One Realm Only by Chris Floyd

It was somewhere here that Mandelshtam came walking
A gray and greasy Pravda in his hands
Where Stalin decreed an end to execution
Now that all was fair and cheerful in the land.

How may we die? he asked, but knew the answer:
The secret shot, the night-blow to the skull
Your Dante torn from you by confiscation
The stone gaze of the great Assyrian bull

Kievskaya, Savyolovskaya
Marking off the stations of the cross
Kurskaya, Lyubyanka
The gates swing open and the world is lost

We all know how to die, how should we live then?
He had this answer too, in a few clean lines:
Warm bread, sharp knife, some string to tie your bundles
When they make you drink down exile's bitter wine

This wisdom was not his, it was much older
From the Roman poet trapped on the Black Sea shore
Where a decree forged like a horseshoe out of iron
Had cast him down and chained him to the floor

Smolenskaya, Belorusskaya,
Marking off the stations of the cross
Taganskaya, Rimskaya
The gates swing open and the world is lost

It was somewhere here that Mandelshtam was walking
Pacing out the rhythm of a poem
To be handed down from one Rome to another
Like an ancient, broken, ever-golden coin

Barrikadnaya, Arbatskaya
Marking off the stations of the cross
Kitai-gorod, Oxotny Ryad,
The gates swing open and the world is lost


Music and lyrics © 2012 by Chris Floyd

(For more on the work of Osip Mandelshtam, see here, here, and here.)

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Historical Gestures: The Evolution of a President

Written by Chris Floyd 10 May 2012 6099 Hits

May 9, 1952

(WASHINGTON) -- President Strom Thurmond announced today that his thinking on race relations has "evolved," saying that he now favors equal rights for Negroes.

The president, a long-time supporter of segregation who broke with the Democratic Party over the issue and won the White House as a Dixiecrat in 1948, said his views had changed in part because of prodding by friends and family, and by his admiration for the "sacrifice and service" of Negro soldiers fighting in Korea.

"I had hesitated on racial equality in part because I thought that separate-but-equal laws would be sufficient," Mr. Thurmond said. "I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people, separation of the races was something that invokes very powerful traditions and religious beliefs."

The president made it clear that he was simply stating his personal view on race relations, and that he would respect the decisions of individual states on the issue. In most states, various levels of racial segregation are enforced by law. Particularly in the South, including Thurmond's native South Carolina, Negroes are not allowed to marry whites, live in white neighborhoods, attend school with whites, swim in public pools, eat in restaurants or stay in hotels frequented by whites, sit in the front of public buses, or drink out of water fountains used by whites, among many other legal strictures.

President Thurmond's statement, given in an interview with Edward R. Murrow on CBS, will have no effect on these measures. Many states have recently acted to strengthen their segregation laws.

Some civil rights activists lauded Thurmond's new thinking, calling it a powerful symbolic gesture that will boost the struggle for racial equality.

"I've been very critical of the president and his policies in many, many areas," said Thurgood Marshall, chief counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "But one must give credit where credit is due. Although it has no force of law, this statement will perhaps speak to hearts and minds in the years to come and help us move forward as a nation."

Others were more skeptical. "This statement changes nothing on the ground, nothing in the daily lives of our people," said T.R. Howard, chairman of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership. "The president does not recognize equality under the law as a constitutional right for all Americans, everywhere. So what is the point? He is happy to leave it up to the states: the same states that have passed and are passing law after law to keep Negroes in their place -- the lower place. We have had enough of fine words and empty gestures. Yet I fear this gesture will allow the president to buy political support at the expense of genuine action, and the injustice will go on."

 

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Poison, in Jest: Puncturing the Pretensions of Power

Written by Chris Floyd 08 May 2012 4776 Hits

We've been remiss here not to draw more attention to the incisive work being done by the legendary Vast Left in his series of "American Extremists" comics. VL's ability to distill the political poisons abroad in the land -- especially the "progressive" worship of the warmongering, Wall Street-coddling, liberty-choking, whistleblower-whipping, death squad honcho in the White House -- into the brief dialogues of his talking heads is truly remarkable. Day after day, the pointed insights come, puncturing the afflatus-gorged bubbles of the powerful -- and their treacly sycophants. He is a veritable Socrates of satire. If you are not already a regular reader, scoot on over there to sample the choice morsels on offer.

 

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Distant Drums Very Present: Misfits in the Shattered Mirror of a Nation

Written by Chris Floyd 03 May 2012 5662 Hits

it’s quiet now
And the silence is alone
except for the thunderous rumbling of things unknown
distant drums very present
but for the piercing of scream
and the whispers of things
sharp sounds and then suddenly hushed
to moans beyond sadness – terror beyond fear

-- Marilyn Monroe, Fragments

‘There was something wrong in our ends as well as in our beginnings, in what we are after as well as in what is after us.’
-- Lincoln Steffens

The Fifties, when they are thought of at all, are generally regarded in the popular imagination as little more than a dim precursor to the full-blown extravaganza of the Sixties -- gray flannel suit discarded for tie-dyed threads, Ozzie and Harriet off to the orgy. There are grains of truth to this conception, of course. Certainly, mainstream culture in the Fifties tried to maintain -- and impose -- an impossibly constricted image of "normality." But beneath the placid picture spread by television, advertising and other cultural and commercial redoubts, the Fifties were seething with crosscurrents and complexities that were no less turbulent and transformative than those of the Sixties. (And of course many of those Sixties tourbillions were simply continuances of currents that began or gathered force in the Fifties: the Civil Rights movement, the youth counterculture, etc.)

It's true that chopping the unceasing flow of time and reality into decades -- then giving these arbitrary slices a distinctive character -- is an exercise of somewhat limited value. Especially as our slicing is based solely on the Western calendar; lay down another grid on the quicksilver flow, and what we would call, for example, the years 1954 to 1964 or 1897 to 1907, etc., would then be its own rigidly defined "decade," set apart for us to analyze and characterize.  But it is also true that whatever 10-year delineation you wish to make will generally see a new generation coming into prominence, new technologies, cultural changes and so on (along with the vast array of continuities which also characterize human behavior going back to the start of our history).

So the "decade" prism is not wholly useless as a instrument for looking at the past to find some illumination of the present, of what we are, how we got here. Arbitrary as it is, the decade is one of the "distant mirrors" we can use to deepen our understanding of reality -- and, perhaps, to help us escape the tyranny of the Now, which screams its urgent demands into our ears, leading us so often into ignorant, unconsidered actions and reactions.

In any case, although the decade of the Sixties has hung over the collective consciousness like a heavy cloud for almost half a century, I often think the Fifties are a more accurate mirror for our times. Some of the parallels are striking: pointless wars; covert op and regime change operations; unrestrained surveillance of the population; hysterical fears of a bestial, implacable Enemy striking us from without and infecting us from within; a frantic, panicky religiosity obsessed with sexuality, among many others. Think of how Norman Rosten (in a quote from the article excerpted below) described the era: a time of "cowardice on a national scale," when "strong citizens fell before the rhetoric of pygmies." Can anything better describe America in the 21st century?

There is also a degree of deadening conformity in the land now that recalls those gray flannel days. Not so much in lifestyle (although there has been an astonishing amount of "backlash" and regression to more rigid gender roles and family structures in last two decades), but decidedly so in politics. For despite the frenzy and mouth-foaming fury of our political debates today, beneath the surface there is a remarkable consensus. Both parties support empire, militarism, corporatism, exceptionalism, oligarchy, executive tyranny, torture and the shielding of torturers, indefinite detention, extrajudicial killing, regime change (covert, overt, by proxy), special ops, black ops, rendition, the drug war, the terror war, undeclared war, war crimes, the relentless expansion of the "National Security" apparatus, the militarization of police powers, slashing the social safety net, serving the needs of Wall Street and the One Percent, and so on and on and on.

There is no disagreement whatsoever on any of the basic tenets of the current system, no attempt or desire within either party to make any kind of deep or serious changes in the increasingly corrupt, imbalanced and now almost totally dysfunctional structures of power. Neither party holds out any kind of alternative vision or ideal or aspiration, other than that what we have now should go on and on, and that their particular faction should be in control. There are of course some differences around the edges, mostly to do with cultural and social mores. (But even here, the differences are not always as sharp as many believe. To take one small example, Barack Obama -- who, as we recall, campaigned with anti-gay preachers and invited the anti-gay, pro-rich "megachurch" maven Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration-- is still burdening schoolchildren with the same kind of mendacious "abstinence education" programs beloved by George W. Bush and the panicky sex-obsessives on the Right.) But it is safe to say that, in many areas -- the relation between labor and capital, for example -- the politics of the Fifties sometimes saw more profound and considered alternatives in the direction and structure of the national system being put forth by the main parties than we see today. (Not there weren't also many areas of convergence and consensus. For example, both parties at that time fully supported "confiscatory" tax rates on the rich -- a policy which somehow did not prevent one of the greatest economic expansions in history during that era.)

These thoughts about the Fifties and its continuing significance were prompted by a recent article in the London Review of Books: a thoughtful essay by Jacqueline Rose on some of the deeper (and wider) meanings represented by the quintessential star of that decade: Marilyn Monroe. The piece is marked by unexpected angles and resonances that throw light on the present while helping deepen our understanding of the past. Below are just a few excerpts, but the full piece -- all 10,000 words of it -- is worth reading. Rose writes:

.... It is something of a truism for psychoanalysis that one member of a family can carry the unconscious secrets of a whole family, can fall sick, as it were, on their behalf. My question is: for whom or what in 1950s and early 1960s America was Marilyn Monroe carrying the can? This is not, I should stress, the same as asking: what or even who killed her? Or: did she commit suicide? These are questions that I see as a diversion and to which in any case I strongly believe we can offer no definitive reply. I am interested, rather, in what she, unknowingly, but also crucially for my argument knowingly, is enacting on behalf of postwar America. ‘Perhaps,’ Cecil Beaton wrote, ‘she was born just the postwar day we had need of her.’ He could be talking of the First World War: Monroe was born in 1926, an infancy scarred by the Depression along with everything else. But ‘postwar’ can also refer here to the Second World War, which comes to its end exactly as her star begins to rise. This is a moment when patriotism, to cite Weatherby, was ‘an excuse not to think’. He is alluding to McCarthyism and the Cold War. When another radical journalist, I.F. Stone, listened to Eisenhower’s inaugural address, what he heard behind its rhetoric of freedom was the drumbeat of war (although Eisenhower was reluctant to send troops to the region, the build-up to Vietnam would start on his watch). ... One of Eisenhower’s first moves as president was to appoint Charles Erwin Wilson, the head of General Motors, as secretary of defense. He is the man who said: ‘What is good for General Motors is good for the country and what is good for the country is good for General Motors.’ ‘No administration,’ Stone commented, ‘ever started with a bigger, more revealing or more resounding pratfall.’

[Shades of Obama's first appointments: Larry Summers and the Goldman Sachs gang in charge of economic policy, Bush holdover Robert Gates in charge of the war machine, etc.]

To say that Monroe was attuned to this is again an understatement. In 1950, a mere starlet with a walk-on part in Joseph Mankiewicz’s All about Eve, she took the autobiography of Lincoln Steffens, the original muck-raking journalist, onto the set. All about Eve is another of her films about the lengths to which an actress will go to make it. Steffens is famous for having taken the lid off city hall corruption (‘Hell with the Lid Lifted’ was the title of a famous dispatch from Pittsburgh). His heroes were beggars, prostitutes and thieves. …

Like Monroe, Steffens detested ignorance above all else. He preferred the honesty of crooks to that of good, ignorant men who ‘sincerely believe things are as they seem and truthfully repeat to you the current lies that make everything look all right’. The malaise went to the very heart of the nation: ‘There was something wrong in our ends as well as in our beginnings,’ he wrote, ‘in what we are after as well as in what is after us.’ He was writing in the 1930s but already for Steffens, the power of the moneyed oligarchy meant that democracy in America was effectively dead. He was one of the first American writers to expose the political dangers of a credit-driven economy: ‘There is indeed such a thing in America as sovereignty, a throne, which, as in Europe, had slipped from under the kings and the president and away from the people too. It was the unidentified seat of actual power, which, in the final analysis, was the absolute control of credit.’ When Weatherby interviewed the playwright Clifford Odets, in the throes of despair about what he saw as the collapse of political hope, Odets asked ‘What’s the problem?’ and then answered his own question: ‘In America – I won’t talk about the rest of the world – the problem is: “Are peace and plenty possible together with the democratic growth to use them?”’ Can you have democracy and growth or does a moneyed economy by definition wrest control from the people? Let’s just say that this problem has not gone away.

…According to Ben Hecht, Monroe said that Steffens’s autobiography excited her ‘more than any other book I had read’. She was excited by it at the exact moment when the world, for very different reasons, was about to be excited by her, when she was on the verge of gaining access to one of the citadels of American power. Mankiewicz spotted Monroe reading Steffens on his set, and warned her not to go around raving about him in case she was branded a radical; Fox removed his name when she put him first on a list (for a publicity stunt) of the ten greatest men in the world. She told Hecht that she carried on reading it in secret, hiding the second volume under her bed. ..

….In a black notebook dated around 1955, Monroe tells herself to ‘know reality (or things as they are … and to have as few illusions as possible – Train my will now.’ It would not be going too far to say that Monroe surrounded herself with people who saw it as their task to rip the cover off national self-deceit. Looking back, her friend the writer Norman Rosten defined the 1950s as a time of ‘cowardice on a national scale’, when ‘strong citizens fell before the rhetoric of pygmies.’ …

Writing of what McCarthyism had done to the spirit of freedom, I.F. Stone cites these lines from Pasternak:

The great majority of us are required to live a life of constant, systematic duplicity. Your health is bound to be affected if, day after day, you say the opposite of what you feel, if you grovel before what you dislike and rejoice at what brings you nothing but misfortune. Our nervous system isn’t just a fiction, it’s a part of our physical body and our soul exists in space and is inside us, like the teeth in our mouth. It can’t be forever violated with impunity.

There was a ‘numbness’ in the national air, Stone wrote. ‘It’s like you scream,’ Monroe’s character, Roslyn, says in The Misfits, ‘and there’s nothing coming out of your mouth, and everybody’s going around: “Hello, how are you, what a nice day” … and you’re dying.’

[Again, are these not apt descriptions of the numbness and duplicity of our day?]

…American culture, Miller wrote in his memoir Timebends, had ‘prised man’s sexuality from his social ideals and made one the contradiction of the other’ (he abandoned a play on the topic because he couldn’t bear the thought of the spiritual catastrophe it foretold). ‘We had come together,’ he wrote of himself and Monroe, ‘at a time when America was in yet another of her reactionary phases and social consciousness was a dying memory … As usual, America was denying its pain, and remembering was out.’ This is the frame of their marriage, the frame of her life. In this context, Hollywood escapism takes on a whole new gloss. Political hope fades and the unconscious of the nation goes into national receivership, with one woman above all others – hence, I would suggest, the frenzy she provokes – being asked to foot the bill, to make good the loss. …

What is being asked of Monroe? ‘Sex,’ Steffens said, ‘was the thing.’ Monroe’s desire to be educated, Trilling suggested, robbed us of a ‘prized illusion’: ‘that enough sexual possibility is enough everything’. Why should a woman with such sexual advantages want anything else? Precisely because she had been so poor, because there was a mental pain in her that no adulator could quite evade (as Trilling put it, the pain balanced out the ledger of her unique biological gift), Monroe pushed want to the very edge of wanting, to a form of wanting that seems to want nothing but itself. What thwarted dreams were poured into this woman’s body? You don’t have to be a Freudian to know that such idealisation punishes as much as it sets you free. …

Seen in this light, Monroe’s suffering becomes the tale America does not want to tell of itself: ‘America was denying its pain, remembering was out’ (anticipating Tony Judt, Miller sees a nation’s refusal to remember and its reactionary politics as deeply linked). Only in Don’t Bother to Knock (1952) and Niagara (1953) was Monroe given the chance to play a part that would expose the darker side of America, the pain it wanted to forget – for me, they are two of her best roles. Both turn on the Second World War. In the first, she is a woman driven to murderous hallucinations by the loss of her lover shot down in a plane; in the second, she is a woman who tries to pass her husband off as war-traumatised so his murder by her lover can be staged as suicide. As if in these early films, America could without inhibition offload onto a crazy and/or murderous woman’s sexuality the violence it couldn’t reckon with in itself. At the end of Niagara, the woman is strangled by her husband, who has managed to survive the attempted murder by killing her lover. But I count no fewer than five earlier images where she is lying prone, asleep or in a faint, splayed out, to all intents and purposes already dead (one stage instruction describes her as lying in ‘angelic peace’). It is as if the woman whose sexuality is meant to redeem the horrors of history – the woman who is being asked to repair a nation emerging from a war it already wants to forget – owes her nation a death. America was denying its own pain. Who paid the price? This is the classic role of the femme fatale who is always made to answer for the desire that she provokes.

... In The Misfits, Roslyn, the character played by Monroe, speaks the truth (although ‘speaks’ isn’t quite the right word) in a brute world of mustang hunters, lost men – the misfits of postwar America. Only she can see that their violence is not the antidote to the nation’s poison, but its restaging in the desert to which they wrongly believe they have escaped. She offers them two hundred dollars to set the mustangs free, and when Gay asks her to give him a reason to stop what he has been doing, she is enraged: ‘A reason! You! Sensitive fella? So full of feelings? So sad about your wife, and crying to me about the bombs you dropped and the people you killed … You could blow up the whole world, and all you’d ever feel is sorry for yourself!’ Then as they are tying up the trapped mustangs, she runs off and shouts at them from a distance:

Man! Big man! You’re only living when you can watch something die! Kill everything, that’s all you want! Why don’t you just kill yourselves and be happy?

In the screenplay she screams these lines from forty yards away (Miller’s directions are precise), then runs back towards them and speaks directly into Gay’s face:

You. With your god’s country. Freedom! I hate you! You know everything except what it feels like to be alive.

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The Way of the Drone: Emblem for an Empire of Cowards

Written by Chris Floyd 18 April 2012 10631 Hits

 

A few months back, I reposted here an article that I wrote 10 years ago, before the invasion of Iraq: a fictional scenario of how the Terror War would play out on the ground of the target nations -- and in the minds of those sent to wage these campaigns. I was reminded of that piece by a story in the latest Rolling Stone.

The RS story, by Michael Hastings, depicts the drone mentality now consuming the US military-security apparatus, a process which makes the endless slaughter of the endless Terror War cheaper, easier, quieter. I didn't anticipate the development in my proleptic piece; the first reported "kill" by American drones, in Yemen, had taken place just a few weeks before my article appeared in the Moscow Times.

(One of the victims of this historic first drawing of blood was an American citizen, by the way. Thus from the very beginning, the drone war -- presented as noble shield to defend American citizens from harm -- has been killing American citizens, along with the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of innocent men and women around the world being murdered without warning -- and without any chance to defend themselves or take shelter -- by cowards sitting in padded seats behind computer consoles thousands of miles away, following orders from the even greater cowards who strut around the Pentagon, CIA headquarters and the White House.)

But what brought my earlier piece to mind was a brief mention of the "military slang" now being used to designate the victims of the drones. Below are a few snippets from my 2002 post, a fictional email by an occupation soldier to a friend:

Yo, Ed! I’m looking out the window of Watchtower 19 in Force Zone Seven. They’re loading up the dead wagon. Three friendlies, two uncardeds, the usual collateral – and one bug. We zapped the market before the bug got his hard-on – another one of those Czech AK-47 knock-offs that our friendly neighborhood warlord keeps bringing in. He says he doesn’t know how the bugs get hold of them – they drop down from heaven, I guess …

… I’d just come off night patrol in Deep-City Zone, hardcore bugland, backing up some Special Ops doing a Guantanamo run on terrorperp suspects. Banging down doors, barrel in the face of some shrieking bug-woman in her black bag, children scuttling in the dark like rats, the perp calling down an airstrike from Allah on our heads. You know the drill. You know the jangle. Not even the new meds can keep you blanked out completely.

So there’s always the overstep somewhere. Woman’s cheekbone cracking from a backhand, some kid stomped or booted out of the way. Some perp putting his hand in one of those damned dresses they wear, going for who knows what – Koran? Mosquito bite? Scimitar? Czech special? – and you open up. More shrieking, more screaming – and then the splatter on the wall.

In the new Rolling Stone story, Hastings tells us how America's brave drone warriors view their victims:

For a new generation of young guns, the experience of piloting a drone is not unlike the video games they grew up on. Unlike traditional pilots, who physically fly their payloads to a target, drone operators kill at the touch of a button, without ever leaving their base – a remove that only serves to further desensitize the taking of human life. (The military slang for a man killed by a drone strike is "bug splat," since viewing the body through a grainy-green video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed.)

"Bugs" being "splattered." This is what Barack Obama -- who has expanded the drone death squads beyond the imaginings of George W. Bush -- and all of his brave button pushers and joystick riders think of the defenseless human beings they are killing (including 174 children by last count).

This has been the attitude underlying the Terror War since its beginnings. When I wrote my piece with its "bug" imagery, I was only reflecting what was already obvious and pervasive, both in the military-security war machine and in much of the general public. Anyone designated by those in power as an "enemy" -- for any reason, known or unknown, or for no reason at all -- is considered a subhuman, an insect, whose destruction is meaningless, without moral content, like swatting a fly on the wall. (As, for example, in this 2008 piece about a figure much lauded by progressives at the time: "Crushing the Ants.")

There is not only a tolerance for this official program of state murder; there is an absolute enthusiasm for it. Our rulers heartily enjoy ordering people to be killed. (And to be tortured, as we noted here last week.) It makes them feel good. It makes them feel "hard," in every sense of the word. As Hastings notes:

From the moment Obama took office, according to Washington insiders, the new commander in chief evinced a "love" of drones. "The drone program is something the executive branch is paying a lot of attention to," says Ken Gude, vice president of the Center for American Progress. "These weapons systems have become central to Obama." In the early days of the administration, then-chief of staff Rahm Emanuel would routinely arrive at the White House and demand, "Who did we get today?"

Here are some examples of what Rahm and his then-boss, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, were "getting" with their flying deaths squads:

But for every "high-value" target killed by drones, there's a civilian or other innocent victim who has paid the price. The first major success of drones – the 2002 strike that took out the leader of Al Qaeda in Yemen – also resulted in the death of a U.S. citizen. More recently, a drone strike by U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2010 targeted the wrong individual – killing a well-known human rights advocate named Zabet Amanullah who actually supported the U.S.-backed government. The U.S. military, it turned out, had tracked the wrong cellphone for months, mistaking Amanullah for a senior Taliban leader. A year earlier, a drone strike killed Baitullah Mehsud, the head of the Pakistani Taliban, while he was visiting his father-in-law; his wife was vaporized along with him. But the U.S. had already tried four times to assassinate Mehsud with drones, killing dozens of civilians in the failed attempts. One of the missed strikes, according to a human rights group, killed 35 people, including nine civilians, with reports that flying shrapnel killed an eight-year-old boy while he was sleeping. Another blown strike, in June 2009, took out 45 civilians, according to credible press reports.

And of course there is this, the follow-up to the "extrajudicial killing" of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki. After killing al-Awlaki -- without ever charging him with a single crime -- the Obama administration then murdered his 16-year-old son (as we noted here last year). Hastings writes:

In the days following the killing, Nasser and his wife received a call from Anwar's 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who had run away from home a few weeks earlier to try to find his now-deceased father in Yemen. "He called us and gave us his condolences," Nasser recalls. "We told him to come back, and he promised he would. We really pressed him, me and his grandmother."

The teenage boy never made it home. Two weeks after that final conversation, his grandparents got another phone call from a relative. Abdulrahman had been killed in a drone strike in the southern part of Yemen, his family's tribal homeland. The boy, who had no known role in Al Qaeda or any other terrorist operation, appears to have been another victim of Obama's drone war: Abdulrahman had been accompanying a cousin when a drone obliterated him and seven others. The suspected target of the killing – a member of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula – is reportedly still alive; it's unclear whether he was even there when the strike took place.

The news devastated the family. "My wife weeps every day and every morning for her grandson," says Nasser, a former high-ranking member of the Yemenite government. "He was a nice, gentle boy who liked to swim a lot. This is a boy who did nothing against America or against anything else. A boy. He is a citizen of the United States, and there are no reasons to kill him except that he is Anwar's son."

The boy was probably killed in a "signature strike," where bold and brave CIA analysts sit back in their chairs and observe people going about their business in a foreign country far away. If their activities look "suspicious" according to some arbitrary, secret criteria, then they can be slaughtered instantly by a drone missile -- even if the attackers have no idea whatsoever who the targets are or what they are actually doing. Plotting terrorism, or praying? Organizing jihad, or holding a wedding? Building bombs, or having lunch? The attackers don't know -- and can't know. They simply put down their Cheetohs and fire the missile. Who cares? It's just "bug splatter."

And the fact is, no one does care. As Hastings notes, this hideous program of murder and terror has been fully embraced by the political elite and by society at large. And our rulers are now bringing it back home with a vengeance, putting more and more Americans under the unsleeping eye of government drones watching their every move, looking for the "signature" of "suspicious" behaviour. Hastings notes:

In the end, it appears, the administration has little reason to worry about any backlash from its decision to kill an American citizen – one who had not even been charged with a crime. A recent poll shows that most Democrats overwhelmingly support the drone program, and Congress passed a law in February that calls for the Federal Aviation Administration to "accelerate the integration of unmanned aerial systems" in the skies over America. Drones, which are already used to fight wildfires out West and keep an eye on the Mexican border, may soon be used to spy on U.S. citizens at home: Police in Miami and Houston have reportedly tested them for domestic use, and their counterparts in New York are also eager to deploy them.

History affords few if any examples of a free people -- in such a powerful country, under no existential threat, undergoing no invasion, no armed insurrection, no natural disaster or epidemic or societal collapse -- giving up their own freedoms so meekly, so mutely. Most Americans like to boast of their love of freedom, their rock-ribbed independence and their fiercely-held moral principles: yet they are happy to see the government claim -- and use -- the power to murder innocent people whenever it pleases while imposing an ever-spreading police state regimen on their lives and liberties. Sheep doped with Rohypnol would put up a stronger fight than these doughty patriots.

Hasting's story should be read in full. In its straightforward marshalling of facts and refusal to simply parrot the spin of the powerful (something we used to call "journalism," kids; ask your grandparents about it, they might remember), it lays out the hideous reality of our times. I am tempted to call it an important story -- but I know that it will sink with scarcely a ripple into the abyss of our toxic self-regard. A few will read it and be horrified; the rest will stay riveted on the oh-so-exciting and oh-so-important race to see who will get to perpetuate this vile and murderous system for the next four years.

 

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