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The Law is an Ass ... Armed with Rockets
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 11 October 2010 20:57

 

Here's what they are saying about America's Terror Warriors in the UK's arch-conservative Daily Telegraph:

Since the beginning of September alone, President Obama has authorised at least 25 targeted killings. The total since he came to office is more than 100. These have certainly killed some of the senior operatives of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. They have also killed dozens of people, including a large number of women and children, who were not involved in terrorism.
 
And yet there has been very little protest, certainly compared to the storm of international criticism that greeted the decision to hold suspected terrorists at Guantanamo – a policy that didn't kill anyone, let alone any innocent women and children. The silence from human rights groups over the drone attacks is deafening. What has persuaded them that it is acceptable to kill people, including people who are not terrorists, but that it is inhumane to deprive them of a good night's sleep?

... No one knows exactly how many innocents have died as a result of drone attacks, but the total almost certainly runs to three figures. It is not easy to square that with President Obama's insistence that his administration is 'living by our values' -- unless American values now include the endorsement of indiscriminate killing. The President has also stressed that America now complies with international law. Remarkably, he seems to be right: the consensus is that drone attacks are indeed legal. The UN produced a report on the topic at the end of May, which concluded that the best way forward is for an international conference of states to review the guidelines for setting targets 'after a careful review of best practice'.

...The fact that targeted killing has been deemed 'legal' seems to have had the effect of making many people, including the President, think that it is morally justified. But that conclusion doesn't follow. There are plenty of things that are legal, but which you would not be morally justified in doing -- just as there are times when you are morally justified in doing things that are illegal.

Perhaps using drones to kill terrorists is a legitimate way of prosecuting the war against al- Qaeda and the Taliban. It may be that the women and children who get killed as a result don't matter -- although I would like to hear someone from the US government, or a human rights organisation, explain exactly why. But we -- and the Americans -- are deceiving ourselves if we think that something is OK just because international lawyers say it is.


Arthur Silber has written repeatedly, and with furious eloquence on this theme for many years. (See here, here, and here, among many others. And follow the links.) We direct to just two of his painfully apt pronouncements:

The law is not some Platonic Form plucked from the skies by the Pure in Heart. Laws are written by men, men who have particular interests, particular constituencies, particular donors, and particular friends. ... Laws are the particular means by which the state implements and executes its vast powers. When an increasingly authoritarian state passes a certain critical point in its development, the law is no longer the protector of individual rights and individual liberty. The law becomes the weapon of the state itself -- to protect, not you, but the state from threats to its own powers. We passed that critical point some decades ago. The law is the means by which the state corrals its subjects, keeps them under control, and forbids them from acting in ways that the overlords might perceive as threatening. In brief, today, in these glorious United States, the law is not your friend.

**

The law is not the only method by which the state controls us, and strips our national discussion of all meaning. There is another, less formal but no less constricting means, which is commonly identified by the phrase, "the rules." We must all follow "the rules." You cannot ever break "the rules." Be very, very clear on this point: the only way you can speak the truth on any subject of importance in this country today is BY BREAKING THE RULES.

That is what Andrew Meyer did in Florida. He broke the goddamned rules [by asking Senator John Kerry a question about impeaching George W. Bush for war crimes and stopping another war. For more, see this powerful series by Silber.] He did not do so in any way that merited his being arrested -- but HE BROKE THE RULES. This cannot be permitted, not if our meaningless, pointless national discussion devoid of all substance is to continue in its meaningless, pointless way. Breaking the rules cannot be allowed if the lies are to continue. So he was arrested.

And he was charged with a third-degree felony for resisting arrest with violence and a second-degree misdemeanor for disturbing the peace -- for asking the most urgent question of our time, the question that almost no one will ask. He was charged with resisting an arrest that should never have occurred -- and with "disturbing the peace."

Friends, if this country -- and if you individually -- are to have any kind of human future at all, and by "human," I mean a life with any genuine meaning and joy, a life not fatally compromised by ongoing murder, torture, and brutality -- you had better fucking disturb the peace every second of every day.


You couldn't say it better, and I won't even try.

 
Timeless Conflicts
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 08 October 2010 15:35

Our guest blogger today is Mr. Herman Melville.

"... And, doubtless, going on this whaling voyage, formed part of the grand programme of Providence that was drawn up a long time ago. It came in as a sort of brief interlude and solo between more extensive performances. I take it that this part of the bill must have run something like this:

Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States.
WHALING VOYAGE BY ONE ISHMAEL.
BLOODY BATTLE IN AFFGHANISTAN.”


Moby Dick, 1851

 
Can't You Feel That Freedom, As the Dreams Roll In
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Wednesday, 06 October 2010 20:51

"On the backroom table, by the backroom couch.... "

Some oldish wine in a new video wineskin, from the album Wheel of Heaven, here featuring the poignant playing of Mr. Nick Kulukundis.

This one goes out to our old compadre Ken Jackson, who once paid the song the high compliment of calling it "chicken skin music." 

 

For more illustrated song-sketching, go down to the parish, take a vow, have some bread and a bitter laugh, then ride it on down the line



 

 
The Altars of Fear: Wrong Turns on a Long, Dark Road
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Saturday, 02 October 2010 21:19

(UPDATED BELOW)

All across Europe,  thousands of people have been taking to the streets in angry protests against the “austerity measures” being imposed upon them by their governments. A general strike in Spain. Mass protests in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, France, Lithuania, Belgium and several other nations. Legislators in Iceland had to literally run and hide from their own citizens at the opening of the nation’s parliament this week.

Why, ask the outraged crowds, should our lives be degraded in order to pay for the crimes and follies of the financial elite –- who are richer, more powerful and more arrogant than ever today, despite having plunged the world into economic catastrophe?

The Europeans, forever cast in American myth as fey, feckless, wine-sipping weaklings, have roused themselves to such an extent that the UN is now warning of years of "social unrest" due to the policies of the austerity zealots -- policies which are greatly exacerbating unemployment (with all the inevitable knock-on effects throughout the economy), while severely corroding the physical and social infrastructure of whole nations. Although the European public might be compelled to submit in the end -- by brute force, if necessary, as governments call out club-wielding cops to put down dissent -- at least they are not going quietly.

The same can't be said for the big, bold, burly American public, who for years have meekly submitted to the ever-accelerating deterioration of their lives and communities with nary a peep of protest. Trillions of their dollars are spent on murderous, pointless, wasteful rampages of war-profiteering in foreign lands, on obscene handouts and "guarantees" for the silk-suited scamsters of Wall Street, and on the monstrous expansion of a covert security apparatus that is seeking to invade and control every aspect of their lives -- but the American people say nothing and do nothing.

But perhaps we are being unfair in such a harsh judgment. After all, it's not entirely true that Americans have completely eschewed protest, is it? In fact, the news has been filled with stories of mass protests across the United States for months on end, with angry citizens taking to the streets -- and the ballot boxes -- to register their stern displeasure.

And what has displeased them so, what has moved them from the quiet simmering of discontent to explosions of public protest? Is it those trillions spent on pointless wars? Is it the coddling of the super-rich? Is it the degradation of their daily lives, and the darkening of their children's future by endless war and lost opportunities in a system skewed sharply -- and punitively -- toward the needs and greeds of powerful elites? Is it the runaway encroachment of civil liberties? Is it mass unemployment, and the relentless rollback of public services essential to a dignified and civilized life?

No, it is none of these. While the Europeans protest for jobs and dignity, Americans pour out into the streets in angry demonstrations against the very idea of helping the poor and the economically devastated, or putting the slightest restraint on the rapacious super-rich. The Europeans protest actual policies, while our American "dissidents" froth and rant about a fantasy world of "socialist" programs that only benefit shiftless darkies and sneaky, border-crossing 'Messicans -- and, of course, the devil-worshiping Muslims, who are plotting every hour to poison the precious bodily fluids of real Americans and take over the country from within.

The American protestors vociferously denounce the healthcare "reform" bill -- not because it is actually a gargantuan corporate boondoggle deliberately crafted to kill off the chance for any genuine reform of the system for generations, but because they believe it is communist Muslim atheist Nazi socialism, and because a few slivers of the boondoggle might possibly trickle down to help a few of those darkies and Messicans. (Although in fact it will imprison them in an inhumane system of corporate control.) They protest against the laughably anemic "financial regulations" that the Administration has meekly proposed for its masters on Wall Street -- PR measures, tissue-paper thin, that fall miles short of the kind of mild regulations that operated during America's greatest periods of growth and broad-based prosperity.

Fantasy is a key component of this elite-funded "protest" movement, which relies strongly on "Big Lies" to stoke the fires of racism, resentment, victimhood and self-righteousness at its proto-fascist core. The primary example of this is of course the entirely manufactured controversy over the "Ground Zero mosque." The element of complete fabrication in this case has been overlooked to some extent. I think it is more portentous, and dangerous, than many have realized. Obviously, there have been elements of fantasy and/or exaggeration in almost all of the shibboleths that have fueled these right-wing eruptions over the years (not to mention bipartisan state policy: e.g., the Gulf of Tonkin, Saddam's phantom WMD, etc.); but few have involved lies that can be easily disproved in an instant, with plain, simple, indisputable facts, by anyone, requiring no specialist knowledge, no whistleblown secrets, no expert interpretation.

There is, of course, no mosque being built at the site of the 9/11 attacks. To say otherwise is a complete falsehood; it is a statement without the slightest element of truth or fact in it. It is the precise equivalent of saying that the moon fell down last night and landed on the Washington Monument. Yet this Big Lie has reverberated across the country like few others in recent years. Millions of people believe it, believe it fervently, and what's more, also believe that the "mosque" is being built there by Islamic extremists as a "trophy" to celebrate the 9/11 attacks.

This radical lie -- eagerly propagated by corporate chieftains like Rupert Murdoch and allowed to fester unchallenged for weeks by the establishment media -- has roused multitudes to angry protests, to attacks on mosques and Islamic centers, and to outpourings of open, unabashed ethnic hatred against Muslims that, yes, echo the anti-Semitism of Nazi-era Germany. (See the much-feted establishment grandee Martin Peretz for a prime example.) Muslim Americans who have lived happily integrated with their communities for decades now feel cast out, threatened by nationally-amplified voices accusing them of disloyalty, of sinister conspiracies to enslave and oppress their fellow citizens, to destroy America and turn it over to its enemies, etc. -- again, tropes which are instantly and alarmingly familiar to anyone with a modicum of knowledge about the febrile hatreds that boiled and churned in Germany between the world wars.

Yet although the main engine currently stoking this hatred is a deliberate and transparent lie, there are people barreling into power on it. In North Carolina, the Republican candidate Ilario Pantano has made the lie a centerpiece of his campaign. As Justin Elliot reports at Salon.com, Pantano is a former Marine who became a "hero" to the militarist Right for killing two unarmed Iraqis in his charge, filling them with 60 rounds of lead. He boasted that he had intentionally shredded the unarmed men to pieces in order to terrorize Iraqis into compliance with the unprovoked American invasion and occupation of their country. Based on the testimony of other Marines who saw the incident and felt the slaughter was unjustified, Pantano faced murder charges. But the top brass came to his rescue and dropped the charges.

Now Patano has seized on the "Ground Zero mosque" to push his campaign against a "conservative" Democrat  -- the usual timeserver who is in thrall to the corporatism and militarism that his party fully shares with its opponents. In a conservative district, in an anti-incumbent year, Patano has a very good chance of riding the Big Lie -- and his thuggish rep for killing the unarmed -- into Congress.

These then are the issues -- or rather, the resentful fears and hateful fantasies -- that bring Americans out into the street these days. The wars that are devouring the lives of their children and the national treasury, and leading to an ever-more unstable world of violence and hatred -- such things don't move them. Torture, spying on citizens, death squads of American killers roaming the world, presidential assertions of  a universal license to kill and incarcerate without due process -- these provoke no anger, no protest. States shutting down or sharply curtailing schools, parks, road programs, electricity and sewer services, garbage pick-up, aid to the sick and elderly -- they don't care. Greedy corporations utterly befouling the water and the air, poisoning the earth for generations to come --  no problem; in fact, we should champion these planet-rapers and protect them from all restraint.

But which, in the end, is worse: proto-fascist fantasy, or the reality of "savvy" progressives in power? Or rather: what, in the end, is the difference? This site has catalogued innumerable crimes committed -- knowingly, deliberately, realistically -- by the "most progressive administration in a generation": crimes against humanity, crimes against liberty. Many other sites have done the same, far more comprehensively. To support this administration is to countenance and collude in those crimes. It is to reward those crimes, and guarantee their continuance, no matter which faction of corporate-sponsored militarists and moral lunatics take power.

II.
So what is the answer? I don't know if there is any "answer" to our plight. I have been following American politics for more than 40 years, and it has been a process of almost unremitting degeneration, punctuated by a very few isolated moments when it seemed a sliver of light was shining in the darkness, pointing toward the possibility of another, different path. But in truth, by the time I first became actively aware of the political process, in the presidential election of 1964, most of the bright, brief flashes had already come and gone, either killed outright or else deeply corrupted.

For example, one of brightest of those lights, the Civil Rights movement, had by then reached its high-water mark and was fragmenting under the covert assault of the national security apparatus, the intransigence of the power structure, the hostility of the white majority, and its own internal contradictions -- chiefly the attempt to find justice, equality and peace in a system that was inherently unjust, unequal and violent. Martin Luther King Jr. was coming to recognize those contradictions, broadening his critique of the system to include the elitist economic structure and the murderous violence of empire. He was also becoming a more and more isolated, death-haunted figure, as if he could see the cynosure closing -- although until the end he raged against the dying of the light.

The War on Poverty was another flash. Lyndon Johnson's speeches about lifting "our brothers and sisters" out of the endemic suffering of poverty sound today not only like oratory from another age but also from another planet. His rhetoric assumed a moral imperative of compassion toward our fellow human beings, a value to be placed at the very heart of our collective life and our instruments of governance. But Johnson, not only a product but the very quintessence of a deeply corrupt system of bribes, backroom deals and bullshit, never genuinely challenged the forces that engendered the suffering of poverty in the first place. And his total capitulation to the War Machine meant that even his weak and compromised stabs at building a "Great Society" were starved of funds, left to malfunction and deteriorate, tainting the ideals behind them in the minds of the public. He too ended his days isolated and death-haunted, with the blood of hundreds of thousands of people killed in an imperial war -- which he himself admitted to intimates was pointless and unwinnable -- hounding him like furies to his grave.

There were other moments -- such as the Church Committee hearings, which for a time held out the possibility of reining in the murderous, liberty-devouring "national security" apparatus. But this too was swiftly quashed, and that same apparatus has metastasized into a monstrous cancer that has completely devoured the state, which now serves merely as its withered appendage and dogsbody.  The impeachment of Richard Nixon -- for petty partisan sneakery, not the high war crimes of which he was manifestly, even proudly guilty -- seemed like another potential break in the gloom, but came to nothing; in just a few years time, he was a wealthy, respected elder statesman. And so it has gone with every such moment, although each has left some worthy fragments.

Now, I am no idealist. I don't long for cleansing fires to scour all evil from society, or for the imposition of grand schemes of human perfection or divine order. Like André Chénier
, the poet-journalist who went down in the flood of the French Revolution, I aspire to be one of those "men upright and unvarying in their principles, who want to neither lead nor follow parties, and who abhor all intrigue." I would much rather not concern myself with politics at all. A well-turned phrase -- or a well-turned ankle -- holds immensely more meaning for me than the machinations of third-rate wretches splashing in the fetid pool of office-seeking. By "slivers of light" I mean only potential opportunities to arrest the pace of our degeneration, and get us to a place where the ordinary corruption endemic to human nature and every single political system devised by human nature operates on its usual vast scale.

In the face of the truly hideous reality of today, where murder, tyranny, war and injustice are the accepted, defended, lauded tools of the trade for "progressive" power-holders, and the only thing that rouses public outrage are proto-fascist fantasies, I don't see any glimpse of light anywhere. I can't even see a way to get to a place where we might see a glimpse of something that might point us to a path toward something different, something better. That could just be a failure of vision, and a lack of knowledge, on my part. I don't know. I hope so.

But for now, all I know to do is to fall back on the bedrock need to bear witness, to speak for the human and the humane in the midst of what seems to be implacable and unbreakable horror all around. To refuse cooperation with evil, in whatever partisan garb it wears. To shore one fragment after another against the ruins, and wait for a glint of broken light to appear.

alt 

UPDATE: A Saturday rally in Washington by unions and other groups did turn out several thousand people, calling for more jobs, tax hikes on the rich, immigration reform and defending public services. This, as they say, is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, although it falls far short of the angry, obstreperous crowds in Europe, who are not wanly supplicating their leaders for a few crumbs but demanding action to preserve their quality of life.

However, one's heart sinks to see the event's organizers, and some of the participants, describing it as a get-out-the-vote effort for the Democrats, and a show of support for Obama. Given the horrendous record of the president and his party in prosecuting savage and wasteful wars, overt and covert, all over the world; setting up unaccountable, "extrajudicial" death squads and hit lists; continuing and expanding Bush's assault on civil liberties; aiding and abetting the ever-widening disparity in wealth and opportunity between the sliverous elite and the collapsing middle class and the already poor -- not to mention the president's clear intent, with his stacked-deck "Catfood Commission," to gut Social Security, one of the last remaining shreds of America's never-robust or extensive "safety net," just as soon as the election is over -- what in God's name do they think the Democrats will actually do to advance the organizers' stated "core principles" of "jobs, justice and education," should the party  manage to cling  to Congressional power in November? There will be no money to support these principles, for one thing; it will all go to the wars, to the burgeoning security apparatus, and to the sacred goal of "deficit reduction." And Obama and the Democrats have already demonstrated, amply, that they have no will or desire to advance these principles or put them into action in any event.

I don't want to belittle the efforts and hopes of thousands of poor and working people who showed up at the rally to fight for a better life. In that, I wish them every success. And I'm glad to see some counterblast in the public square to the violent fantasies of the proto-fascists. But I believe that if your ultimate goal is simply to perpetuate the status quo of rule by two scarcely indistinguishable political factions, both deeply dedicated to militarist empire and the crushing dominance of financial elites, then you will not stop the accelerating degradation of American society or light a path to a genuinely new direction. Instead, the war, murder, chaos and decay will go on, breeding more blowback from abroad and instability at home, and thus giving more fuel to the proto-fascists and their paymasters. 

 
Friendly Fire: Whining Up Front, Warmongering in the Back
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Thursday, 30 September 2010 13:29

While Barack Obama busies himself in public with hectoring his "base" for not appreciating the super-progressive wonderfulness of his administration, behind the scenes he is rapidly escalating America's war on its own ally, Pakistan, with a series of deadly incursions that seemed designed to provoke the Pakistanis into a violent response -- which could then be used to "justify" a further escalation.

The new "surge" against Pakistan is not limited to attacks on "militants" (the description now given to any Pakistani -- man, woman or child -- who is killed by American ordnance) but is also being waged against the forces of the Pakistani government itself. After a weekend bombing blitzkrieg across Pakistan's supposedly sovereign border that left more than 50 people dead, American forces launched a pre-dawn helicopter raid on Thursday which hammered two posts of Pakistan's Frontier Corps, killing three soldiers. That is to say, three allied soldiers of an army that has lost hundreds of men fighting (and killing and displacing) its own people at the behest of Washington.

No explanation for the attacks on Pakistani forces has been offered yet. Perhaps they were launched to put a little muscle behind the visit of Obama's CIA chief, Leon "Let the Torturers Go Free" Panetta, who coincidentally, or not so coincidentally, was arriving in Pakistan for talks with the nation's military chiefs on Thursday. After all, shedding blood is an excellent way to concentrate the minds of one's counterparts in negotiation.

In response to the attack, Pakistan did close a transit point for supplies for the American-led occupation forces in Afghanistan; but this is doubtless a temporary measure -- and anyway, it's pretty weak beer compared to actually murdering your ally's soldiers.

It is almost certain that we will never learn the real reasons behind these particular attacks; the operations of the Terror War are obscured by so much deliberately fomented murk, so many factions with various covert agendas, and so much "plausible deniability" that specific events can rarely be discerned with any clarity. But the general fact of Obama's relentless escalation of military action in and against Pakistan cannot be denied. Likewise, the result of this surge, if it continues apace, is equally clear: the further destabilization of a nuclear-armed nation now suffering one the greatest humanitarian disasters in modern times, with a concomitant rise in extremism, desperation, violence, and the world-shaking destabilization of a region already long poised on the brink of nuclear war.

As I've said here before, you must forgive me for not being overly concerned about the political fortunes of a president and a party embarked on a course of such murderous lunacy. 

 
Cool Running: Preserving a Voice in the Inferno
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 28 September 2010 11:28

 

Los Angeles is boiling in record-breaking heat, putting the lives and health of many people there at risk. One of these is Arthur Silber, whose chronic poor health is severely affected by the heat, as he explains in his most recent post. Silber is an extraordinary  writer and powerful analyst, and his blog is his only source of income. When his health prevents him from writing, contributions naturally drop off. But as he notes, he is still here, and will be writing again as soon as he can, and he still needs support to meet basic needs. (Yes, you may well be astonished to find that telling the truth about our imperial state -- which Silber does incomparably -- does not lead to wealth and comfort. Strange, but true.)

These are lean times all around -- except for the elite and their sycophants -- but if you've got any change to spare, you might consider throwing a bit Silber's way, and bring some cooling balm to help keep this vital voice going in the face of the inferno.

 
Domestic Disturbance: FBI Raids Bring the Terror War Home
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Saturday, 25 September 2010 23:40

I'm sure that if I had met Paul Craig Roberts 25 years ago -- or indeed, had even known of his existence -- I would have felt strongly antagonistic toward this Reagan Administration apparatchik and all that he stood for. And for all I know, if I met him today, I still might find that we were at loggerheads on some issues, maybe many issues.

But I must say there are few people out there today speaking truth about power with the unblinking, unvarnished ferocity of Roberts. (And as I've noted here before, it is speaking truth about power -- not the old cliché of "speaking truth to power" -- that we so desperately need. There's no point in speaking truth to power -- power already knows the truth of its monstrous crimes, and it doesn't give a damn.) Time and again, I've started to write a post about some outrage only to find that Roberts has already been there, laying into the issue with a flaming brand.

And so it was today, when I came in from a gorgeous autumn afternoon -- one of those bright, crisp, golden days that break through the English gloom like some rare flower -- and saw the stories about the FBI raids on antiwar activists across the United States. I know that domestic duties -- that is to say, the actual living of one's life, the common and deeply meaningful byt that lies far beyond the howling madness of power -- would as usual keep me from writing until the wee hours, but I thought: I'll have to take this up later, I think I have something to say about this.

But by the time that night had come, and duties were done, and loved ones were asleep, I found that, once again, Roberts was already on the case. He too had something to say -- everything that I was going to say, in fact, and more. So I'll just let Roberts speak the truth, beginning with his title: "It is Official: The US is a Police State":

Now we know what Homeland Security (sic) secretary Janet Napolitano meant when she said on September 10: "The old view that ‘if we fight the terrorists abroad, we won’t have to fight them here’  is just that — the old view."  The new view, Napolitano said, is "to counter violent extremism right here at home."

"Violent extremism" is one of those undefined police state terms that will mean whatever the government wants it to mean. In this morning’s FBI foray into the homes of American citizens of conscience, it means antiwar activists, whose activities are equated with "the material support of terrorism," just as conservatives equated Vietnam era antiwar protesters with giving material support to communism.

Antiwar activist Mick Kelly, whose home was raided, sees the FBI raids as harassment to intimidate those who organize war protests. I wonder if Kelly is underestimating the threat. The FBI’s own words clearly indicate that the federal police agency and the judges who signed the warrants do not regard antiwar protesters as Americans exercising their Constitutional rights, but as unpatriotic elements offering material support to terrorism.

"Material support" is another of those undefined police state terms. In this context the term means that Americans who fail to believe their government’s lies and instead protest its policies, are supporting their government’s declared enemies and, thus, are not exercising their civil liberties but committing treason.

I agree that the threat goes far beyond mere harassment. Roberts goes on to spell out one of the first thoughts I had on reading these stories: that those who are accused of the slightest association with "terrorism" -- on little evidence, on manufactured evidence, or no evidence whatsoever -- are now subject to the merciless, lawless mechanisms of the Terror War state:

As this initial FBI foray is a softening up move to get the public accustomed to the idea that the real terrorists are their fellow citizens here at home, Kelly will get off this time.  But next time the FBI will find emails on his computer from a "terrorist group" set up by the CIA that will incriminate him. Under the practices put in place by the Bush and Obama regimes, and approved by corrupt federal judges, protesters who have been compromised by fake terrorist groups can be declared "enemy combatants" and sent off to Egypt, Poland, or some other corrupt American puppet state — Canada perhaps — to be tortured until confession is forthcoming that antiwar protesters and, indeed, every critic of the US government, are on Osama bin Laden’s payroll.

Of course, they can also just be killed outright, without charges, without due process, at the lawless whim of the president or one of his designated minions -- or indeed, one of the literally thousands of people, many of them foreigners, that the United States government now pays to roam various regions of the earth killing people: blowing them up in their houses, murdering them in their beds, machine-gunning their children, drone-bombing their neighborhoods, knifing them on street corners, pushing them out of windows, poisoning them in restaurants, whatever. Just this week, the lawyers of the Peace Laureate were in federal court trying zealously to quash a civil lawsuit that would threaten the president's unrestricted power to kill American citizens without the slightest pretense of due process, if he feels like it.

(It is astonishing -- unbelievable -- that one could even write such a sentence, that this is the kind of state we live in. That is, it would be astonishing and unbelievable -- if I hadn't been writing sentences just like it for almost nine years, since my first piece on George Bush's  assertion of this universal power of life and death, back in November 2001.)

Roberts notes the deeper implications of the "terrorism" taint that the government of the Peace Laureate is now smearing across the antiwar movement:

Almost every Republican and conservative and, indeed, the majority of Americans will fall for this, only to find, later, that it is subversive to complain that their Social Security was cut in the interest of the war against Iran or some other demonized entity, or that they couldn’t have a Medicare operation because the wars in Central Asia and South America required the money.

Americans are the most gullible people who ever existed. They tend to support the government instead of the Constitution,  and almost every Republican and conservative regards civil liberty as a coddling device that encourages criminals and terrorists.

The US media, highly concentrated in violation of the American principle of a diverse and independent media, will lend its support to the witch hunts that will close down all protests and independent thought in the US over the next few years. As the Nazi leader Joseph Goebbels said, "think of the press as a great keyboard on which the Government can play."

But this is not all. Roberts had yet another piece out this weekend that also spoke to the accelerating corruption that seems to be raging through the American political system -- and the American populace -- like some vomitous fever that nothing can quell: "The Collapse of Western Morality." He begins, however, by setting the historical context:

Yes, I know, as many readers will be quick to inform me, the West never had any morality. Nevertheless things have gotten worse. In hopes that I will be permitted to make a point, permit me to acknowledge that the US dropped nuclear bombs on two Japanese cities, fire-bombed Tokyo, that Great Britain and the US fire-bombed Dresden and a number of other German cities, expending more destructive force, according to some historians, against the civilian German population than against the German armies, that President Grant and his Civil War war criminals, Generals Sherman and Sheridan, committed genocide against the Plains Indians, that the US today enables Israel’s genocidal policies against the Palestinians, policies that one Israeli official has compared to 19th century US genocidal policies against the American Indians, that the US in the new 21st century invaded Iraq and Afghanistan on contrived pretenses, murdering countless numbers of civilians, and that British prime minister Tony Blair lent the British army to his American masters, as did other NATO countries, all of whom find themselves committing war crimes under the Nuremberg standard in lands in which they have no national interests, but for which they receive an American pay check.

I don’t mean these few examples to be exhaustive. I know the list goes on and on. Still, despite the long list of horrors, moral degradation is reaching new lows. The US now routinely tortures prisoners, despite its strict illegality under US and international law, and a recent poll shows that the percentage of Americans who approve of torture is rising. Indeed, it is quite high, though still just below a majority.

And we have what appears to be a new thrill: American soldiers using the cover of war to murder civilians. Recently American troops were arrested for murdering Afghan civilians for fun and collecting trophies such as fingers and skulls.

This revelation came on the heels of Pfc. Bradley Manning’s alleged leak of a US Army video of US soldiers in helicopters and their controllers thousands of miles away having fun with joy sticks murdering members of the press and Afghan civilians. Manning is cursed with a moral conscience that has been discarded by his government and his military, and Manning has been arrested for obeying the law and reporting a war crime to the American people.

US Rep. Mike Rogers, a Republican, of course, from Michigan, who is on the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, has called for Manning’s execution. According to US Rep. Rogers it is an act of treason to report an American war crime.

In other words, to obey the law constitutes “treason to America.”

The US government, a font of imperial hubris, does not believe that any act it commits, no matter how vile, can possibly be a war crime. One million dead Iraqis, a ruined country, and four million displaced Iraqis are all justified, because the “threatened” US Superpower had to protect itself from nonexistent weapons of mass destruction that the US government knew for a fact were not in Iraq and could not have been a threat to the US if they were in Iraq.

Yes, in the transvaluation of all values that is the American power cult, this is where we are: genuine morality is illegal, compassion is outlawed, dissent is treason, and justice is a crime.

***

Midnight has come and gone. The golden day is a memory; they speak of rain tomorrow. In the face of all these mounting horrors, I keep thinking of byt, of Pasternak, and some words I wrote a few years ago. I think I'll end with them.

... Within his conventional narrative of shattering passions and historic upheavals, Pasternak subtly diffuses a deeply subversive philosophy that overthrows power structures and modes of thought that have dominated human life for thousands of years. Yet remarkably, this far-reaching, radical notion is based on one of the most humble concepts and lowly words in the Russian language: byt.

The word has no precise equivalent in English, but in general it means the ordinary "stuff" of life: the daily round, the chores, the cares and duties, the business and busyness that drives existence forward ...

In contrast to this mundane and deadening level stands the realm of the transcendent: the "great questions" of life, the grand abstractions – nation, faith, ideology, honor, prosperity, family, security, righteousness, glory – for which millions fight and die. It's the world of power, fueled by the dynamic of dominance and servitude – a dialectic that governs relationships in every realm: political, economic, religious, artistic, personal. Everywhere, hierarchies abound, even among the most professedly egalitarian groups, from monasteries to movie sets, from ashrams to activist collectives. Everywhere we find, in Leonard Cohen's witty take, "the homicidal bitchin'/That goes down in every kitchen/To determine who will serve and who will eat."

This, we are given to understand, is the real world, the important world, far above the tawdry, tedious humdrum that fills the dead hours between epiphanies and exaltations. The Russian Revolution is of course one of history's great manifestations of this dynamic, where the "transcendent," world-shaking abstractions of ideology and high politics (imperialism, capitalism, revolution, Bolshevism) uprooted whole nations and produced suffering and dehumanization on an almost unimaginable scale. The modern era's "War on Terror" bids fair to surpass the Revolution in this regard, with its wildly inflated rhetoric and grand abstractions, its epiphanies of violence and exaltations of terror – on both sides – inflaming a conflict that has already devoured nations and destabilized the entire globe. The dominance paradigm – so thoroughly worked into our consciousness, so ever-present in our interactions, large and small, public and private – is the engine driving this vast machinery of death and ruin.

But below this "higher plane" lies the reality of byt. Far from the soul-killing muck that Nabokov found so distasteful, in Pasternak's hands the true nature of byt is revealed: creative, sustaining, nurturing, an infinite source of meaning. For the most part, the novel conveys this indirectly, in passages where Pasternak shows us byt in action – people going about their work, having quiet conversations, preparing food, fixing stoves, tending gardens, washing floors – or in the richly detailed backgrounds and descriptions given for minor characters who pop up briefly in the narrative then are rarely, perhaps never, seen again.

Over the years, some critics have decried these passages as the clumsy strokes of a fictional amateur, a poet gamely trying and failing to match the rich plenitude of Tolstoy's novels. (And to be fair, the English translations of the novel, though serviceable, are hobbled by clunky prose that ill-serves the original Russian.) But surely Pasternak, a writer of immense talent and intelligence, knew exactly what he was doing with these portions of the novel. The "clumsy" strokes that brake and complicate the grand narrative are central to the book's meaning. "Zhivago" means "the living," its root word is "life." And life is immense, comprising every aspect, every atom of reality. "Life, always one and the same, always incomprehensibly keeping its identity, fills the universe and is renewed in every moment in innumerable combinations and metamorphoses," as Zhivago says at one point. It is in the careful observation and deeply felt experiencing of the details of daily life that the meaning of existence can be found – or rather, consciously created....

One last passage from Zhivago provides a striking encapsulation of this, although a word should be said about the Christian symbolism it employs – a symbolism worked deeply into the plan and language of the entire novel. As Pasternak told one interviewer, the religious symbols were "put into the book the way stoves go into a house – to warm it up. Now they would like me to commit myself and climb into the stove." Later he added: "The novel must not be judged on theological lines. Nothing is further removed from my understanding of the world. One must live and write restlessly, with the help of new reserves that life offers. I am weary of this notion of faithfulness to a point of view at all cost. The great heroic devotion to one point of view is very alien to me – it's a lack of humility. "

Here Pasternak, like his Zhivago, resists adherence to any party line, even one that he finds enormously congenial, like Christianity. It is not in pious certainties but in the humble, shifting, temporary coalescences of everyday existence, in byt, that some measure of always-imperfect, always-provisional meaning can be found.

But the languages of faith – structures that for centuries were the chief embodiment and expression of the human yearning for illumination, encounter and escape from the brutalities of dominance and servitude – can still serve as vehicles to convey a deeper reality, as Pasternak shows here, in the voice of one of his characters, the philosopher Nikolai Vendenyapin:

"I think that if the beast who sleeps in man could be held down by threats – any kind of threat, whether of jail or retribution after death – then the highest emblem of humanity would be the lion-tamer with his whip, not the preacher who sacrificed himself. But don't you see, this is just the point – what has for centuries raised man above the beast is not the cudgel but an inward music: the irresistible power of unarmed truth, the attraction of its example. It has always been assumed that the most important things in the Gospels are the ethical teaching and commandments. But for me the most important thing is the fact that Christ speaks in parables taken from daily life, that he explains the truth in terms of everyday reality. The idea that underlies this is that communion between mortals is immortal, and that the whole of life is symbolic because the whole of it has meaning."


Immortal communion, in the transient, private, churning flow of byt: this is what Pasternak offers as an alternative to the violent estrangement of the "overworld," to its violence and fear, its bombast and lies. This lowly word could bring down empires, and stands in defiance of death itself.

 

 
Murderers, Cowards, Morons and Thieves: Portrait of an Empire in a Political Season
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Wednesday, 22 September 2010 15:42

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Jason Ditz at Antiwar.com continues his lonely vigil of documenting the carnage being inflicted upon civilians in Pakistan by the increasingly frenzied drone missile attacks ordered by the Peace Laureate in the White House.

Almost every day, Ditz has fresh hell to offer up on the story of this remarkably brazen campaign of outright war crimes. Most of his pieces draw on foreign sources; there is almost nothing in the American press about this literally inhuman invasion of the sovereign territory of a nation allied to the United States. It is truly a bizarre situation; then again, in a militarist system whose pervasive moral depravity has long reached lunatic proportions, murdering the children of your allies is perhaps not so unusual. Certainly, the guardians of our public discourse don’t consider it newsworthy in any way.

The latest update from Ditz captures many of the main features of Barack Obama’s ruthless robot war on Pakistan: mass killings, murky motives and missed targets:

Pakistan’s remote tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan are in a state of virtual panic tonight as US drones continue to loom in the air and three attacks against separate towns across the region killed at least 28 people and wounded an unknown number of others.


The Daily Times story that Ditz links to goes on to describe the “great panic among the locals” as the American drones continued to hover over the defenseless towns even after the attack. No one could be sure when or if the robots would fire again. There was no way to stop the machines; they were impervious, implacable, just floating there, groaning in the sky, their “pilots” sitting safely and comfortably before computer screens thousands of miles away. You couldn’t get away, you couldn’t hide, you couldn’t protect your children.

This is raw terrorism, pure and simple, nothing but terrorism, terrorism on the grandest of scales, terrorism without end – no one-time “spectacle,” but a grim, steady, relentless, mechanical process. It is also the terrorism of cowards, murdering at a vast distance, by remote control, in sneak attacks against defenseless people.

Ditz's story also includes what has become a familiar motif in the American way of Terror War: attacking communal gathering of civilians – weddings, funerals – and slaughtering the participants.

Officials have so far failed to identify any of the targets of the attacks, but reports from the ground suggest that one of the US drones attacked a funeral procession that was carried out for people killed in a previous attack.


Nor was this the only Standard Operating Procedure at play in the latest raid. There was also the familiar “provocative attacks which destroy local peace-making efforts and ensure the continuation of violent conflict” scenario, coupled with one of the overarching themes of the entire Terror War: missing the ostensible targets of a raid and killing civilians instead.

Reports suggested that the targets hit were related to one of the militant factions which has an existing ceasefire with the Pakistani government, and it does not appear that any of the victims of the attacks were “high value” targets.


This is in so many ways a portrait in miniature of the entire bloody and misbegotten enterprise in Central Asia. For viewed in this light – that is, by the declared aims of the American-led coalition of occupation -- what is the entire “Af-Pak” war but a gargantuan failure to capture or kill a handful of “high value” targets, who somehow, miraculously, always manage to escape, while civilians are killed by the thousands?

But of course these “high value targets” are not the true aim of the war. The war itself is the aim of the war: the continuation of perpetual – and profitable – conflict, and the expansion of the power and privilege and corrupted wealth that accrues to the bipartisan operators (and lickspittle apologists) of a militarist empire.

Even the perpetrators of these war crimes no longer pretend that these conflicts have any real purpose; the War Machine’s own “intelligence analysts” regularly report that the wars are exacerbating the very problems they are ostensibly designed to quell: violent extremism, divisive tribalism, ignorance and poverty, repression of women, political instability in strategic regions, fear and insecurity at home, etc. But none of this matters – not to the Peace Laureate and his party of spineless corporate servitors, nor to the Republicans and their cretinous Tea Partiers, nor, it seems, to the vast majority of the American public who follow these blood-soaked factions of ruthless, third-rate gangsters, bagmen, morons and courtiers.

And now another election season is upon us. The massive acts of state terrorism committed by the United States will fall even further beneath the media radar (if that’s possible). “Progressive” forces will furiously debate the best way to rouse the “base” to support their admittedly disappointing champion, if only to keep the drooling hordes of zealous Know-Nothings at bay. They will put aside the daily murder of innocent people by their champion in order to play a few “savvy” hands of partisan politics – as if they were living in some kind of ordinary, open political system, instead of a phantasmagorical Grand Guignol of state terror, state murder and corporate rapine, a rigged game where the only outcome is more and more and more of the same.

As for me, I am long past caring about the political fortunes of murderers and cowards – and of those who want to take their places and be murderers and cowards too. I can only repeat – for the nth time – the words of Henry David Thoreau:

"How does it become a man to behave toward this American government to-day? I answer that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it."

 
Circle Jerks: Delaware Distraction Obscures Oval Office Atrocities
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 17 September 2010 12:59

 

I.
The political-media-blogospherical establishment is currently working itself into a lather over the elevation of a "nutty" Tea Party woman to the Republican nomination for a Senate seat in Delaware. The selection of Christine O'Donnell by a tiny sliver of voters in a closed primary in a tiny state whose main claim to fame is its decades of whorish service as a protective front for rapacious corporations is, we are told, an event of world-shaking proportions fit for endless analysis and scary headlines all over the world.

It's true that O'Donnell has taken the politically risky step of denouncing America's national pastime -- masturbation -- and has, over the years, supported any number of positions that put her on the far side of common sense. But one struggles in vain to find that she has advanced anything remotely as radical -- or lunatic -- as the idea that the President of the United States is some kind of intergalactic emperor who holds the power of life and death over every living being on earth in his autocratic hands. Yet this is precisely the position proclaimed -- openly, before Congress, God and everybody -- by the highly educated, intellectually sophisticated, super-savvy Laureate of Peace currently residing in the White House.

This same president has also fought tooth and nail -- often in open court -- to shield torturers, escalate pointless wars of aggression, relentlessly expand a liberty-stripping Stasi-style security apparatus, give trillions of tax dollars to rapacious financiers, health-care corporations, insurance companies and bloodstained war profiteers, while launching cowardly drone missile attacks on the sovereign territory of close ally, killing hundreds of civilians in the process - and has just signed off on the biggest arms deal in history with one of the most viciously repressive tyrannies on earth.

So I'm sorry, but I just don't see how a putzy, klutzy, wilfully ignorant Tea Partier from perhaps the most corrupt state in the Union is somehow more dangerous than the people we have in power now -- including a Vice-President who for decades was the senator (and corporate bagman) from this very same most corrupt state in the Union, and used his power to advance a "Bankruptcy Bill" that was one of the most savage class-war attacks on working people -- and the poor, and the sick, and the vulnerable -- that we have seen in many a year. Then again, as far as I know, Joe "Bankruptcy Bill" Biden has never publicly condemned the practice of masturbation.

Do I want to see Christine O'Donnell in the Senate? No, of course not. Not only because in her freely chosen ignorance she has embraced the most primitive, bleakly reductive understandings of religion, politics, power, sexuality and human reality in general, but also -- and mainly -- because she will support all of the policies delineated above: the imperial wars for loot and domination, the presidential power to kill and incarcerate at will, the slavish support for Big Money in all of its destructive manifestations, the perversion of every single public program into an engine of private profit for the elite, and so on down the line. But as her Democratic opponent will do the same thing if he is elected, I don't see why we should be all het up about O'Donnell's corporate-funded victory in the teeny-tiny Republican primary in little bitty Delaware.

But hey, it's all good fun, right? The tribal partisans get to jerk their knees in orgiastic spasms, drawing oceans of newsprint and TV airtime, while the real business of empire -- slaughtering, torturing and repressing human beings -- goes on unnoticed and unabated.

II.
But a hardy few out there are still trying to draw attention to the actual crimes and moral atrocities being committed by the actual holders of actual power. One of these is Andy Worthington, who is beginning an eight-part series on the remaining prisoners still being held in the still-unclosed American concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay. As Worthington says, the series will

help explain how few of the remaining prisoners have any connection to terrorism, how some are civilians, and how others were foot soldiers for the Taliban, in an inter-Muslim civil war in Afghanistan that had nothing to do with 9/11, and very little to do with al-Qaeda. I also hope that it may contribute to the almost non-existent debate regarding the Authorization for Use of Military Force, and the administration's misplaced use of it to hold foot soldiers in Guantanamo, as well as highlighting other aspects of the habeas litigation, the military commissions, the moratorium on releasing Yemenis, and the decision to hold 48 of the prisoners indefinitely without charge or trial.


Hey, but you know what's more important than that, Andy? The fact that someone who won the votes of a sliver of the electorate in a tiny state doesn't think people should masturbate! Let's get our priorities straight here.

Another campaign now underway is a major effort to free Bradley Manning, the young soldier who committed the cardinal sin of trying to unearth a few nuggets of truth about the murderous reality of the American Terror War, now being prosecuted and expanded so assiduously by the Continuer-in-Chief. On Thursday, filmmaker Michael Moore and Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg launched "The Campaign to Free Manning" in Oakland. The Guardian reports:

Demonstrations are planned in the US, Canada and Australia over the next three days in support of Manning, an army intelligence analyst who is being held at a military prison in Virginia ...Manning, 23, is also accused of involvement in WikiLeaks' exposure of a video of a US helicopter attack on apparently unarmed Iraqis in a Baghdad street. Two Reuters employees were among those killed.

Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon papers to the New York Times that laid bare the extent of US government duplicity in its claims to be winning the Vietnam War, said Manning was defending the constitution in revealing the truth about the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Soldiers' sworn oath is to defend and support the constitution. Bradley Manning has been defending and supporting our constitution," he said.

Moore ... said the US military was being hypocritical in its attempts to discredit Manning and accuse WikiLeaks by asserting that making the secret documents public endangered the lives of Afghans collaborating with coalition forces.

"To suggest that lives were put in danger by the release of the WikiLeaks documents is the most cynical of statements," Moore said. "Lives were put in danger the night we invaded the sovereign nation of Iraq, an act that had nothing to do with what the Bradley Mannings of this country signed up for: to defend our people from attack. It was a war based on a complete lie and lives were not only put in danger, hundreds of thousands of them were exterminated. For those who organised this massacre to point a finger at Bradley Manning is the ultimate example of Orwellian hypocrisy."


Below is a quick roundup of a few other recent stories that aren't nearly as important as the selection by a minority party of a candidate who doesn't approve of masturbation.

1. Seven Civilians Killed in US-Iraqi Raid
That was the original headline for the New York Times story about the raid in Fallujah; within a few hours, however, the Pentagon PR units had rolled into action, and the seven civilians killed at the site of perhaps the most savage American campaign of the war had suddenly morphed into figures of vague menace. The story did note that of the dead, four were brothers "between the ages of 10 and 18." So America's non-combat soldiers killed a 10-year-old boy in a non-combat raid in the brave new era of non-combat service that has opened for the 50,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq.

But what is the life of that boy compared to the sliver of voters in a tiny state who voted in a closed, partisan primary for some gushing goober who doesn't like masturbation?

2. US Drone Strikes Kill 15 in N. Waziristan
Juan Cole reports:

The Associated Press does an important story about an intensive drone strike campaign by the US military since September 2 in southern Afghanistan and in Pakistan’s North Waziristan that has left 60 persons dead, among them innocent civilians.

On Tuesday alone, US drone attacks targeted suspected militants killed some 15 persons in the village of Dargah Mandi village on the outskirts of Miranshah, N. Waziristan’s main city.

The drone strikes have targeted fighters of the Haqqani network, one of five or so major insurgent groups fighting against the US & NATO presence in Afghanistan and against the Karzai government. Jalaluddin Haqqani is one of Ronald Reagan’s “Freedom Fighters,” who battled the Soviet occupiers of Afghanistan in the 1980s with American aid. He could not accept the US invasion and occupation of his country, either, and organized an insurgency now mainly led by his son Siraj. The Haqqani group is not Taliban but rather Mujahidin and has only a vague tactical alliance with Mulla Omar’s Taliban and similar groups.


Cole also notes that protests against these continuing deadly incursions into Pakistan have been muted -- because the Pakistanis are still dying in floodwaters, and in the water's pestiferous wake. Millions are living in deadly deprivation. But look over there -- somebody's masturbating, or not masturbating, or something! Who cares about the drowned and drone-bombed dead?

3. Obama's Thatcherite Gift to the Banks
OK, the Terror War goes on -- but at least Obama's finally waking up to the need for more FDR-like stimulus for the economy -- and more FDR-style war on the fat cats who are strangling us, right? What about that big $50 billion infrastructure plan he announced on Labor Day?

Well, as Michael Hudson explains, the plan is yet another giveaway of billions of tax dollars to rapacious financial interests:

The Obama transport plan is like a Fannie Mae for bankers, based on the President’s guiding mantra: “Let’s help Wall Street put Americans back to work.” The theory is that giving public guarantees and bailouts will enable financial managers to use some of the money to fund some projects that employ people – with newly created, non-unionized companies, presumably.

Here’s the problem. Transportation projects will make real estate speculators, the construction industry and their bankers very rich unless the government recovers its public spending through windfall site-value gains on property along the right-of-way ...  But Obama’s infrastructure plan is for Wall Street investors to get the windfall – as property owners or as mortgage lenders making much larger loans against the enhanced site value.

The plan would not add to the government deficit,  Obama promised. Unfortunately, in place of government taking more revenue, it will be the finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE) sector that does the taking. The banking system will now do what government was supposed to do back in the Progressive Era: finance infrastructure. The difference today is that instead of funding transportation out of tax proceeds (levied progressively on the wealthy) or by the central bank monetizing public debt, the Obama plan calls for borrowing $50 billion at interest from banks.

The problem is that this will build in high interest charges, high private management charges, underwriting fees – and government guarantees. User fees will need to cover these financial and other privatization costs “freed” from the government budget. This will build about $2 billion a year into the cost of providing the transport services.

This threatens to be the kind of tollbooth program that the World Bank and IMF have been foisting on hapless Third World populations for the past half-century. ... It looks like President Obama sat down with Larry Summers, Tim Geithner and his other Rubinomics holdovers from the Clinton/Goldman-Sachs Administration and asked what policies can be funded without taxing the wealthy, but by borrowing via a separate entity – with a government guarantee like the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac gravy train for Wall Street.


Well, yeah, but at least you don't hear him talking trash about masturbation, do you? That's why we must support him. If we don't, a bunch of kooks who just want serve corporate interests will get into power! Then what will happen?

4. State Secrecy and Official Criminality
Scott Horton at Harper's tells us how Barack Obama -- whom we have every reason to believe is a modern, rational man who has no problem with masturbation -- is diligently, doggedly working to protect not only the torturers of the Bush Administration (and his own) from the legal process, but also any and every kind of state criminality.

Obama has just won a great court victory for state torturers, state murderers, state terrorists -- and good old-fashioned grafters pigging out in the public trough -- when an appeals court voted narrowly to uphold Obama's contention that the government can shield any criminality from justice by crying "state secrets."

Horton quotes the LA Times' description of just what Obama wanted to cover up by killing a civil suit filed by an innocent victim of America's gulag. The victim was suing the CIA agent who had "rendered" him over to America's terror war allies, knowing he would be tortured:

The decision to short-circuit the trial process is more than a misreading of the law; it’s an egregious miscarriage of justice. That’s obvious from a perusal of the plaintiffs’ complaint. One said that while he was imprisoned in Egypt, electrodes were attached to his earlobes, nipples and genitals. A second, held in Morocco, said he was beaten, denied food and threatened with sexual torture and castration. A third claimed that his Moroccan captors broke his bones and cut him with a scalpel all over his body, and poured hot, stinging liquid into his open wounds.


There were no "state secrets," real or otherwise, involved in the case. The details were already known, around the world, from legal proceeding in the UK and elsewhere. But for Obama -- imperial militarist to the core -- there was a matter of principle at stake; i.e., the principle that the imperial court can shield the minions who carry out its ordered atrocities behind the unpassable gates of "state secrets."

Truth? No. Justice? Out. Compassion? Nix. Peace? Never. But masturbation -- sure, why not? We're not kooks like that Christine O'Donnell!

Now that's "progressivism."

 
"Dizzy With Success": The Accelerating Degeneration of Life in America's Afghanistan
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 14 September 2010 13:51

"Dizzy With Success." That was the phrase used by Stalin to describe the "few excesses" that had taken place in the "historic drive to collectivization," i.e., the Bolshevik war on the rural poor that had led to massive famine and the deaths and uprooting of millions of people. The campaign had left such a swathe of ruin that some of those who saw its effects went mad, or turned dissident, or subsided into horrified, soul-drained silence.

"Dizzy With Success" would be also be an apt description for the epochal ruin that has been visited on the people of Afghanistan in nine years of military occupation by the United States and its European allies. Or as Nick Turse puts it in a searing new article at TomDispatch, "How Much 'Success' Can Afghanistan Stand?"

With the arrival of General David Petraeus as Afghan War commander, there has been ever more talk about the meaning of “success” in Afghanistan.  At the end of July, USA Today ran an article titled, “In Afghanistan, Success Measured a Step at a Time.” ... A mid-August editorial in the Washington Post was titled: “Making the Case for Success in Afghanistan.”  And earlier this month, an Associated Press article appeared under the headline, “Petraeus Talks Up Success in Afghan War.”


As Turse astutely notes, all this talk of "success" centers on what the term might or might not mean for the bipartisan Potomac poobahs who take turns running America's militarist empire. But the "meaning" of the American occupation for ordinary Afghans is a topic of little note among the talking heads who steer the national "discourse" ... except of course for the occasional propaganda excursion pointing out the inestimable benefits the empire has bestowed upon the poor benighted denizens of Bactria -- and how infinitely worse it will be for them should Washington shirk its paternal obligations.

But the reality, of course, is that the lives of ordinary Afghans has, by almost every measure, been sent hurtling backwards and spiraling downwards at the hands of the Americans and the client state they have installed.

Between 2001 and 2009, according to the Afghan government, the country has received $36 billion in grants and loans from donor nations, with the United States disbursing some $23 billion of it.  U.S. taxpayers have anted up another $338 billion to fund the war and occupation.  Yet from poverty indexes to risk-of-rape assessments, from childhood mortality figures to drug-use stats, just about every available measure of Afghan wellbeing paints a grim picture of a country in a persistent state of humanitarian crisis, often involving reconstruction and military failures on an epic scale.  Pick a measurement affecting ordinary Afghans and the record since November 2001 when Kabul fell to Allied forces is likely to show stagnation or setbacks and, almost invariably, suffering....

In October 2001, the BBC reported that more than seven million people were "at risk of malnutrition or food shortages across Afghanistan.”  In an email, McDonough updated that estimate:  “The most recent data on food insecurity comes from the last National Risk and Vulnerability Assessment (NRVA), which was conducted in 2007/2008 and released in late October 2009.  It found that about 7.4 million people are food-insecure, roughly 31 percent of the estimated population.  ... Food insecurity indicators, McDonough pointed out, are heading in the wrong direction.  “The NRVA of 2007/08 showed that the food security had deteriorated in 25 out of the 34 provinces compared to the 2005 NRVA.


In other words, after a near-decade of American occupation -- and hundreds of billions of dollars ostensibly poured into the country in the form of "aid" that mysteriously ends up almost entirely back in American pockets -- there are more hungry people in Afghanistan than before the invasion, with the situation worsening all the time.

But of course the Terror War is "all about the children," isn't it? Liberating them, protecting them, building them a brighter future.

In 2000, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), mortality for children under five years of age stood at 257 per 1,000.  In 2008, the last year for which data was available, that number had not budged.  It had, in fact, only slightly improved since 1990, when after almost a decade of Soviet occupation and brutal warfare, the numbers stood at 260 per 1,000.  The figures were similar for infant mortality -- 168 per 1,000 in 1990, 165 per 1,000 in 2008.

In 2002, according to the U.N., about 50% of Afghan children were chronically malnourished.  The most recent comprehensive national survey, done two years into the U.S. occupation, found (according to the World Food Program’s McDonough) about 60% of children under five chronically malnourished ...


OK, so the kids aren't doing so good -- but how about the women, eh? We know that the "good war" in Afghanistan has freed millions of women from the yoke of repression, right? Turse:

Life for women in Afghanistan has not been the bed of roses promised by Bush nor typified by the basic rights proffered by Obama, as Jones noted:

“Consider the creeping Talibanization of Afghan life under the Karzai government. Restrictions on women's freedom of movement, access to work and rights within the family have steadily tightened as the result of a confluence of factors, including the neglect of legal and judicial reform and the obligations of international human rights conventions; legislation typified by the infamous Shia Personal Status Law (SPSL), gazetted in 2009 by President Karzai himself despite women's protests and international furor; intimidation; and violence."

Her observations are echoed in a recent report by Medica Mondiale, a German non-governmental organization that advocates for the rights of women and girls in war and crisis zones around the world.  As its blunt briefing began, “Nine years after 11 September and the start of the operation ‘Enduring Freedom,’ which justified its commitment not only with the hunt for terrorists, but also with the fight for women’s rights, the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan still is catastrophic.”  Medica Mondiale reported that 80% of all Afghan marriages are still “concluded under compulsion.” ...

A June report by Sudabah Afzali of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting noted that, according to officials in Herat Province, “cases of suicide amongst women… have increased by 50 per cent over the last year.”  Sayed Naim Alemi, the director of the regional hospital in Herat, noted that 85 cases of attempted suicide recorded in the previous six months had involved women setting themselves on fire or ingesting poison.  In 57 of the cases, the women had died.

A study conducted by former Afghan Deputy Health Minister Faizullah Kakar and released in August gave a sense of the breadth of the problem.  Using Afghan Health Ministry records and hospital reports, Kakar found that an estimated 2,300 women or girls were attempting suicide each year.  Domestic violence, bitter hardships, and mental illness were the leading factors in their decisions. “This is a several-fold increase on three decades ago,” said Kakar.  In addition, he found that about 1.8 million Afghan women and girls between the ages of 15 and 40 are suffering from “severe depression.”

Most of these statistics on the deteriorating situation of Afghan relate to the darkest periods of Taliban rule; that is, the life of women in Afghanistan is steadily become worse than it was even under the obscurantist clerics of the Taliban. We noted this here last month, when highlighting an important article by Bretigne Shaffer:

But yes, there is violence against women in Afghanistan -- great violence. But this has only increased, not decreased, as the American military presence drags on, as Shaffer notes (see original for links):

Says Ann Jones, journalist and author of Kabul in Winter, "For most Afghan women, life has stayed the same. And for a great number, life has gotten much worse."

Sonali Kolhatkar, co-director of the Afghan Women’s Mission, says "the attacks against women both external and within the family have gone up. Domestic violence has increased. (The current) judiciary is imprisoning more women than ever before in Afghanistan. And they are imprisoning them for running away from their homes, for refusing to marry the man that their family picked for them, for even being a victim of rape."

Anand Gopal, Afghanistan correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, says "The situation for women in the Pashtun area is actually worse than it was during the Taliban time. ...(U)nder the Taliban, women were kept in burqas and in their homes, away from education. Today, the same situation persists. They’re kept in burqas, in homes, away from education, but on top of that they are also living in a war zone."


Note again Kolhatkar's remark: the Afghan government installed and maintained in power by the United States is now "imprisoning more women than ever before in Afghanistan." This is a stunning fact, a glaring example of the relentless degradation that the American war has brought to Afghanistan. Yet this fact is universally ignored by the American media, the American power structure -- and the American people, the latter of whom seem incurably, and disastrously, wed to the myth of the nation's inherent, ineradicable goodness, which imbues its every action and policy abroad.

Oh sure, sometimes "mistakes" are made, sometimes there are "a few excesses," and yes, sometimes, we "fight the wrong war at the wrong time" and can be a bit ham-handed, even "incompetent" in our military operations, but gosh darn it, our intentions are always good (because we are good and cannot be otherwise), and however much we might "blunder" from time to time, we do make things better for those we are trying -- selflessly, altruistically -- to help. It is hard, perhaps impossible to overestimate how deeply ingrained this belief is in the overwhelming majority of Americans. They simply will not give it up, no matter how much evidence of atrocity, ruin and degeneration caused by American policy is laid before them. So there is little hope of any kind of massive public pressure to change America's destructive imperialism ever being brought to bear on the elites who reap so much power and profit from the never-ending carnage.

And power and profit is definitely the name of this not-so-great game. As we noted here a few weeks ago:

[Frida] Berrigan notes the naked profit motive underlying Obama's grand strategy of "Afghanistanization" -- i.e., building up the military and security forces of the American-implanted Afghan government. As in Iraq, the aim is not so much "nation building" as "market building": setting up yet another conduit to pass American taxpayer money directly to weapons dealers:

"What’s Hot?" is the title of Vice Adm. Jeffrey Wieranga’s blog entry for Jan. 4, 2010. Wieranga is the director of the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which is charged with overseeing weapons exports, and such pillow talk is evidently more than acceptable – at least when it’s about weapons sales. In fact, Wieranga could barely restrain himself that day, adding: "Afghanistan is really HOT!" Admittedly, on that day the temperature in Kabul was just above freezing, but not at the Pentagon, where arms sales to Afghanistan evidently create a lot of heat.

As Wieranga went on to write, the Obama administration’s new 2010/2011 budget allocates $6 billion in weaponry for Afghan Security Forces. The Afghans will actually get those weapons for free, but U.S. weapons makers will make real money delivering them at taxpayers’ expense and, as the vice admiral pointed out, that "means there is a staggering amount of acquisition work to do."

You ain't just whistlin' Dixie, Vice Admiral. There will be "acquisition work" out the wazoo as the war goes on -- and for decades afterward. But of course, these "free" arms sales are just like the samplings that pushers pass around outside the high school gates. Because once the mark is hooked, once the native military and security forces are thoroughly entrenched, they will need constant replenishment with more weapons, new technologies, and more lucrative "training" from American sources, both public and private. This in turn will leave the client state saddled with crippling public debt -- necessitating the usual "shock therapy" of "economic reform," i.e., shredding "inefficient" social programs -- like, education, sanitation, health care, etc. -- and turning the material wealth and natural resources of the country over to a few select private investors, foreign and domestic.


Meanwhile, the ruin of human lives goes on and on, as Turse details:

Rampant depression, among both men and women, has led to self-medication.  While opium-poppy cultivation on an almost unimaginable scale in the planet’s leading narco-state has garnered headlines since 2001, little attention has been paid to drug use by ordinary Afghans, even though it has been on a steep upward trajectory. ...

"Three decades of war-related trauma, unlimited availability of cheap narcotics, and limited access to treatment have created a major, and growing, addiction problem in Afghanistan," says Antonio Maria Costa, the Executive Director of UNDOC.  Since 2005, the number of Afghan opium users nationwide has jumped by 53%, while heroin users have skyrocketed by 140%.  According to UNODC’s survey, Drug Use in Afghanistan, approximately one million Afghans between the ages of 15 and 64 are addicted to drugs.  That adds up to about 8% of the population and twice the global average.


There is much more in Turse's grim catalogue, so you should read the whole thing, if you can stomach it. But I want to point out one more startling fact he has unearthed: After nine years of America's benign and benevolent care, Afghanistan is now, officially, the worst place on earth to live.

In the near-decade since Kabul fell in November 2001, a sizeable majority of Afghans have continued to live in poverty and privation.  Measuring such misery may be impossible, but the United Nations has tried to find a comprehensive way to do so nonetheless.  Using a Human Poverty Index which “focuses on the proportion of people below certain threshold[s] in regard to a long and healthy life, having access to education, and a decent standard of living,” the U.N. found that, comparatively speaking, it doesn’t get worse than life in Afghanistan.  The nation ranks dead last in its listing, number 135 out of 135 countries. This is what “success” means today in Afghanistan.


The two major military escalations launched by the Peace Laureate have only worsened the security situation, which has lead, inexorably, inevitably, to more and more degradation of life in Afghanistan. But in this, the Great Continuer is only following in the footsteps of his predecessors. Not just his shout-out buddy George W. Bush -- whose Terror War policies he has faithfully replicated and expanded -- but a whole string of temporary imperial managers, going back to Jimmy Carter: the pious, peace-loving Democrat who actually launched the rise of an armed, extremist international "jihad" movement in order to hamstring the Soviets. American presidents poured tens of billions of dollars into arming and funding fringe groups of rabid extremists, training them in terrorist tactics and diligently expanding their organizations.

As we noted here a few weeks ago, quoting an article in Foreign Policy by Mohammad Qayoumi, Afghanistan was not always a land mired in tribalism and obscurantism. Half a century ago, much of the country was striving toward its own form of modernity, where men and women freely mixed, pursued their educations, practiced their professions, even went to the movies, danced to rock-and-roll. It was not a perfect state by any remote stretch of the imagination -- yet compared to the utter hell-hole that we have made out of it over the past few decades, the Afghanistan that Qayoumi once knew was a paradise lost.

 

 

 
The Template Emerges and Tears Through the Flesh
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Saturday, 11 September 2010 10:43

 Our guest blogger today is Dr. Robert Dylan (Princeton, St Andrews) who in a passage written a few years ago, about another historical epoch (viz., the antebellum and Civil War eras), expresses what we believe are some pertinent, prescient observations about the contemporary scene:

After awhile, you become aware of nothing but a culture of feeling, of black days, of schism, evil for evil, the common destiny of the human being getting thrown off course."

 
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