Written by Chris Floyd
Friday, 29 January 2010 15:33
Entertain conjecture of a remarkable scenario. An American president – born at the margins of society, raised by a pacifist mother – takes office at a time of national turmoil. He inherits a deeply unpopular, highly divisive war from his predecessor and must also deal with a burgeoning, worldwide financial crisis. Yet despite the fractured, fractious political atmosphere, he doesn't dither, doesn't waffle, but immediately launches the most far-reaching program of government activism in half a century.
He doesn't "freeze" domestic spending but greatly expands funding of government benefit programs, and even creates new ones, including direct payments from the general treasury to the poor and needy, in addition to the now-increased Social Security and Medicare funds. He creates new government agencies to rigorously enforce new, sweeping environmental measures. He oversees the most direct and extensive federal intervention in public education in the nation's history, forcibly moving millions of students to different schools in order to impose more equality in society. Denouncing the punitive criminal justice policies of the past, he initiates major prison reforms, creating and expanding rehabilitation programs, stating that "to reform our prisons, we need more teachers, parole officers, psychiatrists, social workers and dollars."
He increases direct government oversight of private businesses, with new agencies to ensure workplace health and safety. He proposes radical reforms in health care, including an initiative that would require employers to provide insurance for their workers while also creating a national insurance program that all could join at whatever level they could afford to pay. He supports "radical feminists" in their push for a constitutional amendment to enforce equal rights for women throughout society.
In response to the financial crisis, he doesn't seek to save the current order but takes unilateral action to completely revamp the global financial structure that had been in place for decades. Perhaps astonishing of all, he even takes direct control of the core operations of the nation's most powerful corporations, dictating the wages they can pay and the prices they can set. As one stunned commentator puts it, the president is carrying out "the largest peacetime intrusion of government in the economy in American history, surpassing even the dreams of the New Dealers."
In foreign policy, after launching several controversial "surges," he does, belatedly, end the unpopular war he inherited. What's more, despite virulent opposition from several quarters, including many in his own party, he astounds the world by openly seeking rapprochement with sworn enemies of the United States – forces dedicated to a fundamentalist ideology whose avowed goal is the destruction of the American way of life and the imposition of their ideology on the entire world. Yet the president not only calls for dialogue and negotiation with these enemies, he even goes to meet their leaders, treats them with respect and public honor, feasts with them, negotiates with them.
A strange, even hallucinatory scenario, to be sure. But we haven't even gotten to the weirdest part. Imagine a president who does all these things – surpassing Franklin Roosevelt in government activism; slapping restraints on major corporations; providing vast new funding for the poor, the sick, for prisoners, for the environment; imposing social equality by force; seeking to nationalize health care; meeting and treating with the nation's enemies – yet is not regarded as a commie, a radical, a socialist, a progressive, a liberal, or even a "centrist," but as one of the most rock-ribbed conservatives of his day. Indeed, for many people, he is the arch-conservative of the age, a retrograde, reactionary figure, the embodiment of all that stands in the way of progress.
Yes, the presidential history of Richard M. Nixon paints a striking, even shocking contrast to the prevailing political weather today. It shows, with stark power, how very far the center of political gravity has shifted in the past 36 years. For Nixon was a rock-ribbed conservative by the standards of his day; yet compared to the timorous, time-serving "progressive" now in the White House, Nixon looks like Eugene Debs.
Even Nixon's downfall provides an instructive – and dispiriting – contrast to our day. Done in for covering up a little break-in at his opponent's headquarters? For this the entire machinery of government was convulsed, great investigatory panels convoked, grand jury indictments handed down, a sitting president impeached by the House? It's like some tale from antiquity, or maybe a work of science fiction, especially in our modern world, where the most outrageous crimes – warrantless surveillance, torture, indefinite detention, assassinations – are carried out and countenanced by presidents in broad daylight, with barely a hint of controversy … and no thought whatsoever that they might be answerable for these misdeeds.
Of course Nixon was, despite his famous protestations, a "crook" (and war criminal) of the highest order. He was also very much one of the Founding Fathers of our modern American Post-Republic; indeed, it was Nixon who crafted the one-line constitution that now governs our state: "If the president does it, it's not illegal." I've dealt at length with his perfidy in these pages and elsewhere over the years. (See here, here, and here for examples.)
But looking back at some of the actual policies he had the brass to carry out and/or advocate, (whether from conviction or cynical opportunism doesn't matter; we're looking at deeds here, not intentions or style), many of which were actually designed to address genuine problems and imbalances in society and decrease tensions around the world, one cannot but conclude that, in some ways at least, we used to get a slightly higher grade of mass-murdering war criminal in office back in those long-departed days.
Written by Chris Floyd
Thursday, 28 January 2010 17:29
As the overflow of pundit effluent after the State of the Union speech continues to sulfurize the political air, Glenn Greenwald brings up a background point that we have been hammering on about here for years: i.e., the fact that the President of the United States claims the arbitrary right to kill anyone on earth -- including U.S. citizens -- without charges, without trial, without warning.
As I first wrote in November 2001, George W. Bush proclaimed this divine power shortly after 9/11. And as we have often noted (here, for example), Barack Obama has reaffirmed this megalomaniacal principle. Greenwald focuses on the latest, and one of the most brazen, assertions of the doctrine of presidential murder: the Obama Administration's casual compiling of "hit lists" of people in Yemen that it wants to assassinate, including at least three U.S. citizens. (Fittingly enough, one of the first people murdered by Bush's universal murder racket was an American citizen in Yemen. Continuity, continuity, in all things continuity!)
Greenwald notes the rather glaring fact that Obama's open embrace of this murderous principle has occasioned not the slightest protest, debate or even discussion amongst the political and media elite. He also points to rather different view of these matters: Abraham Lincoln's General Order 100, issued in the middle of an actual civil war on American soil, in which thousands of people were dying every week. This is what they thought of "extrajudicial assassination" in those days:
The law of war does not allow proclaiming either an individual belonging to the hostile army, or a citizen, or a subject of the hostile government, an outlaw, who may be slain without trial by any captor, any more than the modern law of peace allows such intentional outlawry; on the contrary, it abhors such outrage. The sternest retaliation should follow the murder committed in consequence of such proclamation, made by whatever authority. Civilized nations look with horror upon offers of rewards for the assassination of enemies as relapses into barbarism.
Thank god we live in modern times, eh? Can you imagine allowing our leaders to be hobbled by such hidebound notions as they carry out their sacred duty to keep us safe?
Greenwald is outraged by the lack of outrage that Obama's continuity of the presidential murder principle has evoked. And to be sure, it is outrageous. But there is of course absolutely nothing surprising about it. The use of murder as a bipartisan tool of national policy is a venerable, even celebrated American tradition. (For more, see "A Furnace Seal'd," "Making Their Bones," "Unreality Check" and many other pieces linked to in those posts.)
To illustrate the point, I'd like to bring out an excerpt from a piece I wrote in 2005. I've used it several times before (such as here, where you can find all the links), but I think it's worth revisiting. It is highly revealing of the depraved mindset of our rulers, and can perhaps help us understand why there is not -- and never will be -- any hue and cry from our great and good over Obama's use of the White House's self-bestowed license to kill:
On September 17, 2001, George W. Bush signed an executive order authorizing the use of "lethal measures" against anyone in the world whom he or his minions designated an "enemy combatant." This order remains in force today. No judicial evidence, no hearing, no charges are required for these killings; no law, no border, no oversight restrains them. Bush has also given agents in the field carte blanche to designate "enemies" on their own initiative and kill them as they see fit.
The existence of this universal death squad – and the total obliteration of human liberty it represents – has not provoked so much as a crumb, an atom, a quantum particle of controversy in the American Establishment, although it's no secret. The executive order was first bruited in the Washington Post in October 2001. I first wrote of it in my Moscow Times column in November 2001. The New York Times added further details in December 2002. That same month, Bush officials made clear that the dread edict also applied to American citizens, as the Associated Press reported.
The first officially confirmed use of this power was the killing of an American citizen in Yemen by a CIA drone missile on November 3, 2002. ... But most of the assassinations are carried out in secret, quietly, professionally, like a contract killing for the mob. As a Pentagon document unearthed by the New Yorker in December 2002 put it, the death squads must be "small and agile," and "able to operate clandestinely, using a full range of official and non-official cover arrangements to…enter countries surreptitiously."
The dangers of this policy are obvious, as a UN report on "extrajudicial killings" noted in December 2004: " Empowering governments to identify and kill 'known terrorists' places no verifiable obligation upon them to demonstrate in any way that those against whom lethal force is used are indeed terrorists… While it is portrayed as a limited 'exception' to international norms, it actually creates the potential for an endless expansion of the relevant category to include any enemies of the State, social misfits, political opponents, or others."
It's hard to believe that any genuine democracy would accept a claim by its leader that he could have anyone killed simply by labeling them an "enemy." It's hard to believe that any adult with even the slightest knowledge of history or human nature could countenance such unlimited, arbitrary power, knowing the evil it is bound to produce. Yet this is what the great and good in America have done. Like the boyars of old, they not only countenance but celebrate their enslavement to the ruler.
This was vividly demonstrated in one of the revolting scenes in recent American history: Bush's State of the Union address in January 2003, delivered to Congress and televised nationwide during the final frenzy of war-drum beating before the assault on Iraq. Trumpeting his successes in the Terror War, Bush claimed that "more than 3,000 suspected terrorists" had been arrested worldwide – "and many others have met a different fate." His face then took on the characteristic leer, the strange, sickly half-smile it acquires whenever he speaks of killing people: "Let's put it this way. They are no longer a problem."
In other words, the suspects – and even Bush acknowledged they were only suspects – had been murdered. Lynched. Killed by agents operating unsupervised in that shadow world where intelligence, terrorism, politics, finance and organized crime meld together in one amorphous, impenetrable mass. Killed on the word of a dubious informer, perhaps: a tortured captive willing to say anything to end his torment, a business rival, a personal foe, a bureaucrat looking to impress his superiors, a paid snitch in need of cash, a zealous crank pursuing ethnic, tribal or religious hatreds – or any other purveyor of the garbage data that is coin of the realm in the shadow world.
Bush proudly held up this hideous system as an example of what he called "the meaning of American justice." And the assembled legislators…applauded. Oh, how they applauded! They roared with glee at the leering little man's bloodthirsty, B-movie machismo. They shared his sneering contempt for law – our only shield, however imperfect, against the blind, brute, ignorant, ape-like force of raw power. Not a single voice among them was raised in protest against this tyrannical machtpolitik: not that night, not the next day, not ever.
As we noted here a few days ago, you should bear these realities in mind when wading through the endless pundit-parsing of the partisan circus, i.e., Did Obama hit a "home run" with his big speech, is the GOP on the comeback trail, is Harry Reid an effective quarterback for the Democratic agenda, is Sarah Palin a credible candidate, etc., etc., blah blah and blah. The political fortunes of these murder-applauding imperial marauders do not matter in the slightest. What's important is what they do, what they order, what they support, what they countenance, what they enable.
As the scripture says, by their fruits ye shall know them. All the rest -- as the scripture doesn't say but certainly implies -- is just pernicious bullshit.
Written by Chris Floyd
Thursday, 28 January 2010 13:05
America lost two distinctive and important voices this week, two writers whose works dealt with absolutely vital but virtually ignored elements of the nation's history and character: the 'marginal' classes and the ruling class. Without the histories of Howard Zinn and the fiction of Louis Auchincloss, we would have a poorer understanding of the forces that form and move our society, for good and ill.
The more well-known of the two departed, Howard Zinn, was of course the author of A People's History, which even though "it told an openly left-wing story" (as the New York Times notes, in mildly scandalized tones) sold more than a million copies, "was taught in high schools and colleges throughout the country," and spawned many off-shoots, by both Zinn and historians inspired by him. (Such as David Williams' remarkable People's History of the Civil War, among many others.)
The NYT obituary, while duly respectful in tone – our radical activists are always duly respected when they are safely dead (Martin Luther King, Woody Guthrie, etc., etc.) – also provides a bit of comedy in its attempt to let readers know that Zinn was not really "serious." To do this – and here's the comedy bit – they drag poor old Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. out of the grave. The Times exhumes a quote from Schlesinger – best known as one of John F. Kennedy's minor minions – to prove that "even liberal historians" rejected the silly, unserious Zinn, who, the Times sniffs, "accused Christopher Columbus and other explorers of committing genocide, picked apart presidents from Andrew Jackson to Franklin D. Roosevelt and celebrated workers, feminists and war resisters." Can you even imagine such a man being taken seriously in the drawing rooms of Georgetown? Schlesinger couldn't:
Even liberal historians were uneasy with Professor Zinn, who taught for many years at Boston University. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. once said: “I know he regards me as a dangerous reactionary. And I don’t take him very seriously. He’s a polemicist, not a historian.”
Coming from a courtier as ever-fawning toward power as Schlesinger – who among his many imperial services helped strangle the new democracy of Guyana in its cradle – this is pretty rich. But very much par for the Times' decorous course. In any event, Zinn's work – which he rightly called "the first chapter, not the last, of a new kind of history" – will continue to reverberate and inspire. (Schlesinger's, not so much.)
The NYT obit for Auchincloss is also riddled with respectful undermining. But in this case, it is the same kind of gentle dismissal that dogged Auchincloss throughout a half-century of writing novels and stories about his native milieu: the ruling class of the United States.
The obit, like decades of Auchincloss reviewers, brushes aside Auchincloss' "chronicles of Manhattan's old-money elite" as quaint and pretty evocations of a "vanished world." A vanished world! Here we see once more the Times' diligent adherence to one of the most enduring and pernicious American myths: that the nation has no ruling class. When pressed, our chewers and spewers of the cud of conventional wisdom will sometimes allow that there used to be a ruling class, way back in the bad old days; but they insist that this "old-money elite" has long since vanished from power and influence, having been largely dissolved into the great meritocracy of modern America.
In partial mitigation, however, the Times does grudgingly offer an opposing viewpoint from Gore Vidal [cribbed from his 1974 essay, "The Great World and Louis Auchincloss"]:
Like [Edith] Wharton, Mr. Auchincloss was interested in class and morality and in the corrosive effects of money on both. “Of all our novelists, Auchincloss is the only one who tells us how our rulers behave in their banks and their boardrooms, their law offices and their clubs,” Gore Vidal once wrote. “Not since Dreiser has an American writer had so much to tell us about the role of money in our lives.”
Vidal's essay (available in his remarkable compendium, United States) has much more to say about the reality of the ruling class – and the deadly myth of its non-existence. It is indeed astonishing that this deeply disinforming notion continues to be perpetrated even today – when a scion of that very same ruling class has only recently concluded an eight-year term in the White House, and when we have all witnessed, with our own eyes, the public treasury being raided to preserve these elites from the consequences of their own rapacity.
The Times, perhaps to its credit – or perhaps because the editors thought no one would be reading at this point – gives the last word to Auchincloss himself, and so will we:
Even near the end of his life, Mr. Auchincloss said the influence of his class had not waned. “I grew up in the 1920s and 1930s in a nouveau riche world, where money was spent wildly, and I’m still living in one!,” he told The Financial Times in 2007. “The private schools are all jammed with long waiting lists; the clubs — all the old clubs — are jammed with long waiting lists today; the harbors are clogged with yachts; there has never been a more material society than the one we live in today.”
“Where is this ‘vanished world’ they talk about?” he asked. “I don’t think the critics have looked out the window!”
Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 27 January 2010 00:56
Yet another day, yet another bout of liberal handwringing over yet another jilting by Barack Obama. This time, their hero has let them down with his planned freeze on "discretionary" spending. (Which doesn't include funding for the war machine and the security organs, of course; as always, that's "imperative" spending – we are allowed no "discretion" whatsoever when it comes to gorging our fat cats on blood money and fear-profiteering.)
Tuesday morning saw no less than five major pieces on Salon.com decrying Obama's "panic," his unworkable "gimmick" which will "doom the economic recovery," his "farce" in repeating Franklin Roosevelt's 1937 mistake of cutting spending too soon and prolonging the Great Depression, and Obama's "cynicism" in sending out his message-massagers to liberal outlets to assure the (dwindling) faithful that he's not really going to cut any worthy programs – assertions that Republican will eagerly seize upon, and which will boomerang as rank betrayals of his political base when they turn out to be false.
One can hardly take issue with the thrust of the Salon pieces (and others like them across the progressiverse): Obama's spending "freeze" is a disastrous, cynical farce whose only real result will be an increase of suffering and hardship for the most vulnerable in our society. It will certainly produce no real budget savings, given the voracious, ever-widening maw of the militarist apparatus. Obama claims his freeze on spending that might actually enhance the quality of life of the American people will "save" $250 billion over three years. But where will this money go? Straight into that militarist maw, which devours that amount of cash every few weeks, and is always demanding – and receiving – more, more, and still more.
The already-chintzy, misdirected "stimulus" spending will indeed grind to a halt, sending multitudes of people who had been temporarily shielded from the worst of the recession crashing headlong into the bitter reality of the economic rapine wrought by our elites. And speaking of that economic rapine, if Obama was really keen on saving $250 billion, perhaps he could have lopped a few hundred billion off the trillions of dollars in bailout baksheesh which his administration has doled out or guaranteed to the financial elite. Or perhaps he could fought for genuine health care reform, with the hundreds of billions that a single-payer plan would have saved, instead of swelling the profits of the insurance and drug conglomerates with public money and captive customers.
So yes, the spending "freeze" will be the usual bungling wheeze. It will not do what it is ostensibly designed to do ("signal seriousness about cutting the budget deficit"); it will not "foster bipartisanship" in the savage, petty factional infighting that characterizes our ruling establishment (which is actually entirely bipartisan when it comes to the essentials: making war on weak, broken nations, and making money for those already bloated to bursting with money). And yes, it is a panicky move meant to shore up Obama's sagging poll numbers -- and is also a craven sop to the financial elites who were miffed by his talk about "reining in the banks" a few days ago. And it may even be, as one Salon writer noted, a "Sister Souljah" moment, designed to slap down the "left" and show everybody what a big tough centrist hombre he really is.
But the shocked and injured tone with which this move has been greeted in some quarters seems entirely misplaced. Many of the writers seem to be operating on the assumption -- or under the delusion -- that Obama actually had some kind of political-economic-social agenda that he wanted to enact as president, and that he is now "failing" to enact it, "squandering" his opportunity. There still seems to be a belief that he ran for president because he wanted to do something with all that power.
But Obama is not "failing"; he is doing exactly what he set out to do: be the president. That's it. That's all he wanted to do. And he's doing it. The panic now emanating from the White House is not that of a man watching a chance to realize his deeply held ideals for a better world slipping away from him; it's just the flopsweat of a guy trying to stay perched on top of the greasy pole for another term. From his earliest days in office, it has been clear that Obama, like Clinton before him, had no real political program to enact; he was happy to do whatever it took to get enough votes to put him into office, while also assuring the real brokers of national power -- Big Money, Big War -- that he was a "safe pair of hands" who would never seriously disturb the blood-smeared operation of their giant sausage grinder.
The contrast to the Bush Regime is striking. While the front man himself was an empty suit of clothes, the operators at the core of the faction, led by Dick Cheney, had a very definite program they wanted to enact: a vastly accelerated militarism; ever-more rampant corporatism; the "hollowing out" of the state by selling off its public service functions to cronies and sycophants, while undermining and eviscerating its civic functions (its laws, courts, constitution, etc.) with egregious claims of unaccountable authoritarian power. This agenda was clear from the beginning. (See here for the Bushists' militarist blueprint; and here for its continuity in Obama's "safe pair of hands."). And it was followed through with relentless determination, with no quivering about "bipartisanship" with other factions, and with only the scantest regard for polls or public favor. It was a hideous agenda -- but by God, they had one, and they worked it with all their might.
Obama, on the other hand, stands for nothing; thus nothing he tries to do will stand. He was already hollowed out when he came into office, with a "brand" not an agenda, not a program -- and, as becomes increasingly apparent all the time, not a clue.
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 25 January 2010 10:48
Scott Horton draws tellingly on Auden and Homer in this follow-up to his remarkable piece, "The Guantanamo 'Suicides'," the story of three captives – all of them innocent men, cleared for later release – who were almost certainly murdered in a secret site in the American concentration camp in 2006, apparently for protesting prison conditions. (We examined Horton's story here.)
The men were evidently killed during "strenuous interrogation" -- i.e., they had rags stuffed down their throat while being beaten. When they died, a ludicrous story of a mutual suicide pact -- under impossible physical conditions -- was concocted by American authorities, complete with outright lies about the men being "hardcore" terrorists who killed themselves as an act of "asymmetrical warfare." The cover-up of these killings goes up to the highest levels of the U.S. government – and it continues most forcefully to this day under the Obama Administration. It is a sickening -- but most instructive -- story.
In his latest piece, Horton notes:
The three men who died in Guantánamo on the night of June 9, 2006 certainly had failings and foibles as all men do; no one will portray them as angels. To its credit, the Bush Administration even seems to have determined to set two of them free; the third had only to await resolution of diplomatic problems between the United States and his homeland. These men were not warriors engaged in some vicious military campaign against the United States, nor was there a scintilla of evidence linking them to any crime. “They were small/ And could not hope for help and no help came,” Auden writes. And what was the reaction of the world to their plight? Auden describes it perfectly, and indeed it was only to be expected: “A crowd of ordinary decent folk/ Watched from without and neither moved nor spoke.” The only difference here is the sentries, who at great risk to themselves and their families have stepped forward to place on the record exactly what they saw. They know it defies the official story; they know they may suffer retribution for it; and they know that what they saw is not conclusive in any event. It is only a fragment of the truth, which needs to be put forward and made a part of the historical record. It was offered out of respect for the dignity of the dead and out of conviction that the truth should not be suppressed, no matter how unpleasant. In the corridors of power, however, a river surges past, indifferent to all these questions, viewing them as an insignificant distraction from the troubles of a war.
Auden’s poem is a work of beauty and power. It has prophetic vision, but that vision is a nightmare. It is born from the horrors of World War II. The barbed wire of concentration camps and death camps brings the Homeric epoch up to date. Auden is not portraying the tragedies of the last war as such. He is warning of a world to come in which totalitarian societies dominate and the worth and dignity of the individual human being are lost. He warns those who stand by, decent though they may seemingly be, and say nothing–perhaps because political calculus or the chimera of national glory have blinded them to the greater moral imperatives against homicide, torture and the dissemination of lies in the cause of war.
You should read the whole piece -- and keep it constantly in mind when wading through all the earnest, endless disquisitions about the weighty affairs and political fortunes of our great and good, all of them written as if these people, our leaders, our bipartisan elites, are somehow normal, as if they are not brutally depraved and indifferent to the point of moral insanity.
Written by Chris Floyd
Friday, 22 January 2010 21:40
Barack Obama has come out swinging following his party's rout in Massachusetts, vowing to "fight Wall Street" with a "populist" proposal whose main thrust seems to be the reinstatement of some of the common-sense regulations imposed almost 80 years ago to separate banks and investment firms. (I say "seems to be," because one can only guess what, if anything, Obama really intends to do about the matter. For despite the usual elevated rhetoric, he is, as usual, "leaving crucial details to be hashed out by Congress," as the NY Times reports. And we know how populist those paladins can be when they get down to hashing out crucial details.)
Of course, those old regulations were repealed by the bipartisan free-market extremists of the Clinton Era -- many of whom are now once more in charge of national economic policy, such as Obama's main economic adviser, Larry Summers. And the fact that Obama is just now vaguely proposing such a move, a year after taking office -- and after engineering the transfer to trillions of dollars in cash, credit guarantees, bailouts and other forms of baksheesh to Wall Street -- cannot but evoke three little words that nonetheless speak volumes: horse, barn, door.
And even in the highly hypothetical likelihood that Obama was actually serious about "reining in the banks" -- that is, serious enough to actually have his staff draw up the crucial details themselves before handing the "fight" over to the banks' own bagmen in Congress -- it would be a moot point anyway, given the Supreme Court's promulgation of its Corporate Enabling Act this week. Although their ruling to remove the few existing -- and pathetic -- restraints on Big Money's domination of the electoral process is indeed bad news, one must also admire the Court's frankness in allowing this domination to step forth and stand out boldly, nakedly, no longer having to hide itself in dirty dodges and furtive tricks. (For more on the ramifications of the ruling, see this piece from Christopher Ketcham at Counterpunch.)
But even as the highways and byways and blogways of the Potomac power grid are all engrossed in the usual partisan navel-gazing, the hard, dirty work of empire goes on.* This week there was yet another killing of civilians in Afghanistan by the ever-surging NATO-led forces, including two boys, aged 11 and 15. As Reuters reports:
Over 100 people took to the streets of a small bazaar in Qarabagh district in Ghazni province, southwest of Kabul, to demonstrate, locals told Reuters by telephone.
Villagers who brought the bodies of four people to the hospital in the provincial capital of Ghazni city said three of the victims belonged to one family. Two were boys 11 and 15, villagers said.
Naturally, the American-led occupation forces said that no civilians were killed in what they called a raid "designed to capture a 'high-level Taliban commander known to direct attacks'. Unfortunately for the spinmeisters, an actual journalist, Nir Rosen, has been on the case. He provided this report to Professor As'ad AbuKhalil:
Nir Rosen sent me this from Kabul (I cite with his permission): "I met today with the parliament member from qara bagh district. He's not anti-occupation and even wants more operations but he confirmed that all the dead were innocent and were not fighters and two were quite young".
"All the dead were innocent." And two of them were children.
This is the reality when we should keep in mind as we wade through the endlessly chewed cud of petty partisan in-fighting among the court factions of our militarist empire. Every day, every night, someone's blood is being offered up on the imperial altars. That's what empire is. That's what empire does.
While you were dreaming
While you wrapped your mind in silks
Bronze Steel Stone
Did their work
While you breathed the fumes
Of the oracle's fissure
Deranged the senses
Settled in soft beds
Sent agents into the streets
Hard men pinched men
Bronze Steel Stone
To eliminate execute
Discredit and destroy
While you stood in the forum
Declaimed high words
Filled temples with fragrant smoke
Scrawled millions of learned disquisitions
Somewhere, in your name
Fired the village
In your name
Put steel to the belly
While you were wrapped in silks
While you grubbed
While you drank degraded waters
Drank dark, brilliant wine
While you sang, while you dreamed
Rome hammered the real
Written by Chris Floyd
Thursday, 21 January 2010 15:56
For years, the all-consuming international struggle against the scourge of terrorism has been hampered at times by the fact that no one has been able to provide us with a rock-solid, comprehensive definition of the term. What, exactly, is "terrorism?" Great minds have grappled with this question in learned journals, academic symposia, think-tank fora, government entmoots, and across the commanding heights of the media. The matter is of some moment, as any person or organization to whom this ill-defined label is applied automatically becomes a target for "the path of action," to borrow the stirring phraseology of former U.S. president George W. Bush.
Indeed, some cynics have advanced the notion that the definition of terrorism has been left vague deliberately, in order to retain the degree of elasticity necessary for the term's application where and when as needed to advance one's particular political or ideological agenda. Of course, those who lack the phrenological bump of cynicism would ascribe this confusion to the artless, inherent difficulties of semantic expression all too common to our human kind. In any case, there has been, as the saying goes, much throwing about of brains on the subject, and to little effect.
But now this intractable problem has been resolved at last. And as you might expect, the man who cut this Gordian knot is one of the towering and tireless intellects of our age: Bill Clinton. To my shame, I have only recently become acquainted with his breakthrough, which was published in the December 2009 issue of Foreign Policy magazine. The chagrin I feel at my ignorance is mitigated somewhat by the fact that Mr. Clinton's brilliant formulation seems to have been largely ignored. This is no doubt because it was embedded in the vast sea of verbal gems and dazzling aperçus that the former president poured forth in his charmingly voluble fashion.
(For instance, who could fail to be dazzled by this Clintonian insight: "Tom Friedman is our most gifted journalist at actually looking at what is happening in the world and figuring out its relevance to tomorrow and figuring out a clever way to say it that sticks in your mind -- like "real men raise the gas tax." You know what I mean?" For more on this gifted journalist and his remarkable turns of phrase, see here. Mr. Clinton also lauded "big thinkers on the question of identity" like "Samuel Huntingdon, who wrote the famous book, The Clash of Civilizations." Huntingdon's book has indeed been influential, perhaps decisive, in shaping the worldview of our leading statesmen and opinion-shapers – despite the petty quibbling from second-raters, like Nobelist Amartya Sen (author of Identity and Violence), who claim that Huntingdon's magisterial wisdom is in reality somewhat lacking in intellectual heft and moral substance; some go so far as to claim his work is actually shallow, reductive, highly toxic racist tripe. But of course Mr. Clinton and our great and good know better.)
Thus primed with these sprays and sprigs of genius from the emeritus statesman, it is no surprise when we stumble onto his definitive definition of terrorism, tossed off almost casually in the midst of a disquisition on just how long the clash of civilizations known as the War on Terror might last. Cutting to the chase, as is ever his wont, Clinton nails the truth about terrorism:
Terror mean[s] killing and robbery and coercion by people who do not have state authority and go beyond national borders.
Like a bolt of sunlight breaking through a lowering cloud, Clinton's formulation floods one's brain with sudden illumination. "Killing and robbery and coercion by people who do not have state authority" – that's terrorism. Killing and robbery and coercion by people who do have state authority is, obviously, something else altogether: humanitarian intervention, perhaps, or liberation, or preservation of national security, or maintaining great-power credibility, or restoring hope, or a pre-dawn vertical insertion.
In any case, and every case, if this border-transcending activity is done by people who have state authority, then it is legitimate, it is good, it is necessary, it is noble. And even if, sometimes, on rare occasions, mistakes are made during the killing, robbing and coercing done by people who have state authority, these mistakes are only ever the result of good intentions gone awry.
So there you have it: what terrorism is depends on who does it. Naturally, there are nuances and complexities that Mr. Clinton did not go into here; it was an interview, after all, not a scholarly monograph. Obviously, the legitimacy of killing, robbing and coercing by people who have state authority is entirely dependent on the state from which that authority derives. Only those states which by their cheerful acceptance of America's benevolent guidance and abiding friendship have proven themselves worthy can legitimately exercise their authority to kill, rob and coerce. All others must forbear – or else be branded "rogue states," purveyors of "state terror," which in turn makes them eligible for "the path of action."
We are all deeply indebted to former President Clinton for bringing his legendary acumen to bear on this perplexing problem. Not for the first time do we lament the passage of the 22nd Amendment, which has prevented this acolyte of Huntingdon and Friedman from continuing to guide the ship of state. We can, however, rejoice that his own acolytes, associates, aides and advisors – and even his marriage partner! – now gird the current administration with their wise counsel.
Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 20 January 2010 13:57
Democrats and progressives are crying doom over the party's defeat in Massachusetts. The loss, we're told, is a blow to Barack Obama's political agenda, and so it is. They say it's a shame that yet another rightwing zealot who advocates torture is now in the Senate, and so it is. But it is precisely that agenda that led to the loss, and the shame. It is that agenda which has resurrected a rightwing party that was dead in the water, and empowered its most extreme elements.
And what is Barack Obama's agenda? What is his political program? It breaks down into three main elements: unwinnable wars, unconscionable bailouts, and unworkable, unwanted health care "reform" that forces people to further enrich some of the most despised conglomerates in the land. It is, in every way, a recipe for moral, economic and political disaster. It is a gigantic anchor tied around the neck of the Democratic Party, and it will drag the whole lumbering wreck back to the bottom in short order.
It also provides a fertile breeding ground for the willful, belligerent ignorance of the Right to thrive. With such an egregiously stupid and destructive agenda at work in the White House, opponents need only say that they are against it, and they are guaranteed a wide following. Who would not be against unwinnable war, unconscionable bailouts and unworkable boondoggles serving rapacious elites? The actual positions held by these opponents – the actual policies they will pursue once in power – are given little scrutiny in such circumstances. The opponent represents change from a hated status quo – and that's enough. Later, when their odious positions come to light, it is too late.
Where have we seen this dynamic at work before? Oh yes, it was way back in November 2008. Barack Obama represented change from the hated status quo, from the agenda of the ruling Republican party. And what was that agenda? Why, unwinnable wars, unconscionable bailouts and the assiduous service of rapacious elites. The actual positions held by Obama – the actual policies that he would pursue once in power – were given little scrutiny. Except by a precious few – such as Arthur Silber, who long ago warned that Obama's election would be ruinous for genuine progressive change, that he would merely put a new gloss on the old corruption while disarming dissent from 'progressives,' who would feel bound to support the president against his rightwing enemies – even if it meant "holding their noses" and supporting bad policies like the health care reform bill or the Afghan surge.
Now it is obvious to all that Obama's core agenda is the same as Bush's: maintaining the elitist, militarist, corporatist system in all its essential elements. The "War on Terror" goes on, expanding into new lands. Torture and murder are still countenanced and concealed, in concentration camps and secret sites that are still in operation. All of Bush's most egregious assertions of authoritarian power are embraced and defended in court. Wall Street is rewarded, not regulated for its vast crimes. The legislative architect and champion of one of the most regressive, punitive, draconian acts of class war in our time – the Bankruptcy Bill, that atom bomb dropped on working people, the sick, the old and the young – has been plucked from deserved obscurity and made Vice President of the United States. A grotesquely expensive, unjust and dysfunctional health care system is not only left intact by "reform," it is given millions of new, captive customers, and more public money to guarantee its profits.
Once again, the question arises: Is this a winning agenda?
It is not just Obama's agenda, of course. It is the agenda of the Democratic Party: war, empire, and corporate profit über alles. Is this really worth defending, even with a held nose? Yet progressives and liberals will continue to insist that, bad as it is, we've got to keep supporting the Democratic Party – because there is no alternative, because otherwise, Tea Party torture mavens like Scott Brown or Sarah Palin will get elected.
But as we've already noted above, it is the Democratic agenda itself that is opening the door for extremist opponents, who then exploit the genuine dissatisfaction and genuine suffering caused by that agenda. The fact that these opponents also support the same core agenda means that the nation will keep ping-ponging back and forth, with an electorate hungry for change desperately chasing anyone who promises it – only to rush back in the other direction when the 'change agent' proves to be just another stooge of the status quo.
This destructive, corrosive dynamic – this ever-worsening death spiral – is what progressives are actually supporting and enabling when they "hold their noses" to support Democrats. The Republicans and Democrats are now simply two factions of the same party – the party of war and greed. To support one faction, no matter what, with held noses or open arms, in such a locked system only perpetuates and exacerbates its worst elements.
Oh, but there's no choice, we are told, with earnest handwringing, by our leading progressives. Third parties are not viable in our system, we are informed by our savvy progressive realists; there can be no effective political movement outside the two main parties. Indeed, no less than Digby herself has declared that the only alternative to working with this closed system (which means, in practice, supporting the Democratic Party) is violent revolution: "Pick up your muskets, kids, or STFU."
And so this is what we've come to. This is the "progressive" answer to any genuine, non-violent rejection of the Democratic faction's agenda of war and greed: "Shut the fuck up." My, wouldn't Martin Luther King Jr. be delighted with that? Wouldn't Thomas Jefferson revel in such delicious eloquence, such deep thought?
Look, I know it's not easy. I was born and raised a Yellow Dawg Democrat myself, and remained one for most of my life. I know what it's like to be hardwired for supporting Democrats, come hell or high water, giving them every benefit of the doubt, turning a blind eye here, making a furious rationalization there. These tribal loyalties are very difficult to lay down; it really can feel like turning your back on your family. And of course the belligerent, bellicose, willfully ignorant Republicans are loathsome and dangerous.
But there comes a time when you must face the truth – or be lost to truth forever. There comes a time to recognize that the Democratic Party and Republican Party are part of the same corrupted entity. There comes a time to recognize that the Democratic Party's agenda is not only ruinous in itself, unworthy of the support of anyone who cares about justice, peace, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – it is also empowering those very same loathsome and dangerous Republicans. There comes a time for even the most partisan tribalist (and I have been one) to accept the hard judgment of reality: that the Democratic Party is part of the problem, not the solution.
To say that there is no alternative to supporting this locked-in, closed-off, two-faction system of war and greed is an act of craven surrender to that system. To dismiss all hope for forging genuine alternatives to this system -- whether these be other political parties or more general movements aiming not for political power but for broader changes in social consciousness -- is a counsel of despair. It condemns us, and the world, to yet another generation of violence, chaos and corruption, another long, long journey away from the light. It is, as noted above, a recipe for disaster in every way.
But if you want more Scott Browns in power, then by all means, keep pushing that Democratic agenda. You'll soon have Scott Browns and Sarah Palins running out of your ears.
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 19 January 2010 23:34
With international turf battles and diplomatic spats slowing the distribution of food, water, medicine and security in Haiti, the stricken people are now fleeing to the countryside. This may actually help the situation in one sense, as it might be easier to get aid to more people in unruined areas; however, it will also put a great strain on regions which are themselves mired in poverty and deprivation, and lacking in infrastructure.
Meanwhile, in Port-au-Prince, as aid begins to trickle in, anguished medical professionals are lamenting the multitude of unnecessary deaths that the bureaucratic bottlenecks have caused. As the Guardian reports:
Médecins sans Frontières says confusion over who is running the relief effort – the US which controls the main airport, or the UN which says it is overseeing distribution – may have led to hundreds of avoidable deaths because it has not been able to get essential supplies in to the country. "The co-ordination ... is not existing or not functioning at this stage," said Benoit Leduc, MSF's operations manager in Port-au-Prince. "I don't really know who is in charge. Between the two systems (the US and the UN) I don't think there is smooth liaison [over] who decides what."
...There has been criticism from some aid agencies of the Americans for giving priority to military flights at the airport while planes carrying relief supplies are unable to land. MSF has had five planes turned back from the airport in recent days, three carrying essential medical supplies and two with expert surgical personnel.
"We lost 48 hours because of these access problems," said Leduc. "Of course it is a small airport, but this is clearly a matter of defining priorities."
Asked how many avoidable deaths had been caused by the delays, he said that hundreds of critical lifesaving operations had been delayed by two days.
"We are talking about septicaemia. The morgues in the hospitals are full," he said.
... John O'Shea, the head of the Irish medical charity, Goal, [said], "there is only one thing stopping a massive and prodigious aid effort being rolled out and that is leadership and co-ordination. You have neither in Haiti at the moment."
The American government response has largely been a militarized one. But the celebrated American war machine -- whose annual budgets could lift millions out of poverty, deprivation and lack of infrastructure every year -- seems too musclebound to respond with the precision and flexibility that the situation requires. No doubt most of the individuals involved in the effort are working tirelessly; but a system designed for war, for death, destruction and domination, will never be a fit instrument for humanitarian relief.
The chief face of the United States in Haiti right now are highly-armed veterans of imperial wars, trained for conquest and occupation -- and many of them strained by multiple tours. And while many Haitians will greet the sight of any organized force coming to help them, America's long and ugly history with Haiti is not forgotten either, as Ed Pilkington notes:
The Haitian in whose house in Port-au-Prince we are staying – a prominent businessman and generally very pro-America – keeps a cherished machete on his wall. It was used, he explained to me one night, by his grandfather to attack US soldiers during the 1915-1934 American occupation of his country.
Writing on Monday, Pilkington also detailed the fatal slowness of the musclebound relief effort:
Day seven of the catastrophe, yet wherever we go we are still surrounded by crowds of people living on the streets pleading with us for water. A few miles away at the airport huge quantities of supplies are stacked high in the sun. Under a deal finalised between the heads of relevant parties on Sunday night, US troops will be responsible for securing the incoming supplies at the airport, and then moving them to four central distribution hubs. One of those hubs is at the national football stadium in downtown Port-au-Prince and another at a golf course near the US embassy.
That will free up troops from the UN peacekeeping force in Haiti, so the official line goes, to take charge of the next stage of the process – getting the aid out of the central hubs and to the neighbourhoods. For that purpose the UN has pinpointed 14 distribution locations where it, together with aid groups, will hand out the goods.
The plan sounds neat, thoroughly thought-out, fool-proof. There is only one problem: it is several days late.
A vast, permanent, completely mobile, well-trained, civilian rescue and restoration corps could easily be maintained by the United States, at the merest fraction of what it now pays out for its regular "war supplements" -- never mind the obscenely bloated 'regular' Pentagon budget. (And yes, such a corps would have a security component, made up of officers who have been trained to deal with suffering people in extremity -- not those trained to inflict suffering and extremity on people.)
This seems like a somewhat better use of public money than, say, waging endless wars to "project dominance" to the four corners of the earth, or bailing out a kleptoplutocracy that has wrecked the global economy and ruined the lives of millions around the world -- or even enriching pharmaceutical and med-biz conglomerates beyond the dreams of avarice just to claim you have passed health care "reform" without actually reforming an insanely expensive and unjust system. But like Dennis Kuchinich's idea of a "Department of Peace," any notion of a full-scale rescue corps would be hooted off the national stage by the super-savvy serious "realists" who rule our discourse, and our lives.
So we will go on as we are now. When natural disasters strike -- and they will be striking more often, and with deadlier effect, on our crowded, corroded planet in the years to come -- we will simply follow the same old pattern: launching ad hoc, inept attempts to retool a few bits and pieces of the lumbering War Machine for temporary humanitarian service. And once again, hundreds, if not thousands, of stricken people will die needless deaths.
NOTE: As noted here the other day, two good venues for giving aid to Haiti are Partners in Health and the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund, both of whom have been working in Haiti for many years.
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 19 January 2010 01:08
If you really want to know the truth about the sickening wretches who run our country, if you want to know exactly what they will commit, what they will command, what they will countenance and conceal, all the way to the very top of the blood-greased pole of the Oval Office, then read every word of this astounding piece by Scott Horton in the new edition of Harper's: "The Guantanomo 'Suicides.'"
This is a full-length article which the magazine is making available for free on its website. In it, Horton unfolds the story of three men, almost certainly innocent, who were almost certainly murdered by American "interrogators" at a secret site in the American concentration camp in Guantanomo Bay, Cuba, on the night of June 9, 2006 -- an atrocity that set off a long, complex chain of deceit that continues to this day.
These killings were not only declared "suicides" by Washington; it was even claimed that the deaths were deliberate acts of "asymmetrical warfare" carried out by hardened terrorists -- "fanatics like the Nazis, Hitlerites, or the Ku Klux Klan, the people they tried at Nuremberg," as a Pentagon mouthpiece told the press. Yet as Horton notes, all three men had been put on "a list of prisoners to be sent home." One of them was only a few weeks away from his formal release. There was no credible evidence of terrorist connections against any of the men, two of whom had been sold into captivity by bounty hunters.
Yet these prisoners did have one black mark against them. They had been taking part in hunger strikes to protest conditions in the concentration camp. They were troublemakers, loudmouths. They wouldn't break. They had lawyers.
And so, according to a mass of credible evidence -- from heavily redacted official reports pieced together by the students and faculty at the law school of Seton Hall University, and from the courageous testimony of soldiers who had been on duty that night -- these three men, Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi and Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani, were taken to a "black site" at Gitmo known as "Camp No." All regular military personnel were forbidden to enter the site, or even acknowledge its existence -- although some soldiers later testified to hearing screams from behind Camp No's concertina wire. Eyewitnesses say that three prisoners were taken, one by one, in a white van to Camp No on the night of June 9; and later, just before the alarm went up about the "suicides," the van returned and unloaded a mysterious cargo.
As Horton notes, the official accounts of the "suicides" are risible:
According to the NCIS, each prisoner had fashioned a noose from torn sheets and T-shirts and tied it to the top of his cell’s eight-foot-high steel-mesh wall. Each prisoner was able somehow to bind his own hands, and, in at least one case, his own feet, then stuff more rags deep down into his own throat. We are then asked to believe that each prisoner, even as he was choking on those rags, climbed up on his washbasin, slipped his head through the noose, tightened it, and leapt from the washbasin to hang until he asphyxiated.
[Yes, that's the same NCIS that has its noble adventures in the pursuit of truth and justice celebrated each week in a top-rated TV show.]
What really happened to the men? One clue comes from yet another hunger striker, Shaker Aamer, who was "interrogated" that same night, but managed to survive:
He described the events in detail to his lawyer, Zachary Katznelson, who was permitted to speak to him several weeks later. Katznelson recorded every detail of Aamer’s account and filed an affidavit with the federal district court in Washington, setting it out:
On June 9th, 2006, [Aamer] was beaten for two and a half hours straight. Seven naval military police participated in his beating. Mr. Aamer stated he had refused to provide a retina scan and fingerprints. He reported to me that he was strapped to a chair, fully restrained at the head, arms and legs. The MPs inflicted so much pain, Mr. Aamer said he thought he was going to die. The MPs pressed on pressure points all over his body: his temples, just under his jawline, in the hollow beneath his ears. They choked him. They bent his nose repeatedly so hard to the side he thought it would break. They pinched his thighs and feet constantly. They gouged his eyes. They held his eyes open and shined a mag-lite in them for minutes on end, generating intense heat. They bent his fingers until he screamed. When he screamed, they cut off his airway, then put a mask on him so he could not cry out.
The treatment Aamer describes is noteworthy because it produces excruciating pain without leaving lasting marks. Still, the fact that Aamer had his airway cut off and a mask put over his face “so he could not cry out” is alarming. This is the same technique that appears to have been used on the three deceased prisoners.
Aamer, who wife is British, continues to be held in the concentration camp, despite the UK government's request for his release, and despite the fact that there is "no suggestion that the Americans intend to charge him before a military commission, or in a federal criminal court, [or] indeed, [that] they have [any] meaningful evidence linking him to any crime." The only dangerous thing about Aamer is what he knows, and what he can tell.
Horton examines the official cover-up of these deaths in great detail. The deliberate and systematic deceptions began in the first hours after the killings -- and are still going on, carried forward with great guile by the Obama Administration. All along the way, evidence was destroyed, records were falsified, eyewitnesses were ignored -- or threatened. When the whistleblowers took the case to the new Administration in early 2009, hoping for a fairer hearing from the progressive young president, they were fobbed off with earnest promises of a thorough investigation by a team which included a close crony and former law partner of new Attorney General Eric Holder. But after months of inaction, the probe was suddenly closed, with government officials refusing to explain the decision.
Perhaps the most gruesome act in this bipartisan cover-up was the mutilation of the dead men's bodies. All three of them had their neck organs removed by military pathologists in the earliest stages of the investigation. As Horton notes:
An odd admission, given that these are the very body parts—the larynx, the hyoid bone, and the thyroid cartilage—that would have been essential to determining whether death occurred from hanging, from strangulation, or from choking. These parts remained missing when the men’s families finally received their bodies.
This mutilation -- "the removal of the structure that would have been the natural focus of the autopsy" -- prevented the families from carrying out proper forensic examinations of their own. Their request for the return of their children's body parts went unanswered.
All they are left with -- all we are left with -- are mutilated corpses and lies.
There is much more in Horton's piece, and again, I urge you to read it in full. Hold it in your mind the next time some sanctimonious official begins extolling the exceptional virtues of our shining city on the hill. And remember -- always remember -- that this militarist system of lawless violence and brutal domination is what our greasy pole-climbers, of whatever political stripe, want to have; it is what they want to wield. It is precisely this kind of power -- of life and death, of sway and command -- that they yearn for, fight for, cheat for and lie for in the bizarre and hollow rituals that our empire stages every four years.