Further Thoughts on Politics and Despair

Written by Chris Floyd 19 March 2011 7142 Hits

I don't want to make a habit of using blog posts to respond to comments, but a reply to a recent piece in which I did just that seemed to me to call for a more substantial response than a comment thread can easily contain. So, begging your indulgence once again, here is the exchange: first the commenter's message, and then my answer.

From "Pjerome58:
As much as I admire, and regularly read, Chris Floyd's blog, this response to Pinquot was disturbing in itself.  Politics is more than a toxin to be flushed and "waste managed."  Although I can agree that "politics" in the sense of parliamentary shenanigans is mere shadow boxing, a ruse to make us think that our votes somehow affect the way a nation or state or city is governed, "politics" in the broader sense affects us all the time.  It is nice to contemplate astronomy and musical chords and the origins of cognition, but at the end (and beginning) of the day, everyone eats/works/lives in a world where wars are fought, people are imprisoned, children are deprived of food, women are not safe in their own homes, and on and on.  Particularly for Americans, there is an undeniable responsibility to try to counter the violence and militarism that is stampeding across the globe, to somehow take on the banksters robbing many of us blind, and to pierce the mythology of two-party "politics" in this country.

So what are we to do?  Mr. Floyd seems to be telling us to compartmentalize "politics," that cesspool of human behavior, and get on with life.  That's fine, but now that we know (via Mr. Floyd and many other commentators and some reporters, and through our daily experiences), do we ignore the dark side of life?  I work on behalf of incarcerated people, providing legal assistance and often relieving some of their daily suffering.  It is grueling, often demoralizing, but ultimately more satisfying for me than learning to play the piano or taking up watercolors.  In my spare hours, I often carry a sign in support of Bradley Manning or to end wars fought in my name, try to organize to combat FBI surveillance on my friends, and take up other "political" causes.   And here I can identify with Pinquot's plight in the sense that I often like to think I am making a difference in the bigger world, that my work is changing things, that my political work is important, but then I read about horrors going on in places I have never been and will never likely visit (Somalia, Pakistan, Iraq, Japan) and despair.  What's the use?  Why bother?  Sometimes, despair is overwhelming, although I have not yet considered heroin.

So Mr, Floyd, what to do?  Yes, there is much more to life than struggle, but I cannot turn away from it.  I won't turn away from it.  I read a novel every now and then, listen to music daily, try to exercise regularly and all that, but still, there is despair.  I would like a better answer than to simply "treat" the "waste product" that you call politics.

My reply:
First of all, your main objection or concern about my post seems to come down a matter of semantics. I described "politics" in terms of toxic waste; you read that, and said, "Hey, I consider my activist work a form of politics -- and I don't think it's a toxin." It's just a matter of how one defines the term "politics." In my post, I set out -- very early on, and very clearly -- what I meant by "politics." Here is what I said: "Politics -- the machinations of the stunted, damaged souls and third-rate minds who hanker for power."

Ironically, this is very close to your statement: "I can agree that "politics" in the sense of parliamentary shenanigans is mere shadow boxing, a ruse to make us think that our votes somehow affect the way a nation or state or city is governed." Right then, we are in perfect agreement. So what exactly is the problem? I defined "politics" -- a large, amorphous term -- in a specific way for the purposes of the blog post, and set out clearly what I meant by it. I'm surprised that anyone could construe this usage as some kind of devaluation or undermining of activism. 

In any case, here is how you yourself describe the political world, the 'world of power,' as I called it: "a world where wars are fought, people are imprisoned, children are deprived of food, women are not safe in their own homes .... [where] violence and militarism [are] stampeding across the globe ... banksters robbing many of us blind ...."

What is all that, then, if it is not toxic? And yes, we all have to deal with it, every day, in a myriad of ways, short-term and long-term -- and that 'dealing with it' is precisely the "waste management" I was talking about. We have to devise ways to deal with the sewage and trash our bodies and our behaviors produce as we live our daily lives; it is just the same with politics, as we deal with the toxins produced by those who pursue and wield power.

If you like, we can extend the metaphor and say that "politics" -- in the sense of those strange people who crave domination over others seeking office, and the policies and practices they carry out in power -- constitutes the rawest kind of sewage, the highly toxic, sick-making material that taints and degrades anyone who plunges into it and stays there, churning around in partisan fervor, etc. And the efforts that others make to alleviate or mitigate or, yes, even remove the sewage produced by power-seekers are what constitute the "waste management" of this toxic by-product. You might not find the term "waste management" noble enough, and that's a fair point. I think it's a pretty honorable profession myself, but again, this is just semantics. Call it anything you like, come up with some other metaphor. But the realities -- the toxic nature of domination over others and the necessity to deal with it -- remain the same.

You say that I call on people to "compartmentalize politics" and "get on with life." Then you seem to imply that I advocate "ignoring the dark side of life." But when I say clearly that "waste management" is an unavoidable part of life,  how is that "ignoring" the "dark side"? (And how do you square this criticism -- that I advocate ignoring the dark side of life -- with my observation that a sense of the tragic element in life is part of a deeper understanding of reality -- an understanding that "politics" lacks?)

As for "compartmentalizing" aspects of one's life -- so what? Everyone 'compartmentalizes' all manner of things, all day long, if only for moments at a time. That's just an ordinary function of consciousness. But of course our awareness of all the aspects of life permeates our consciousness as a whole; the "dark side" doesn't disappear when we concentrate on something else -- but neither do, say, the beauty and wonder and numinous qualities to be found in life, which I sketched briefly in the post in this way:

...Beyond the thunder and spectacle of this ape-roaring world is another state of reality, emerging from the murk of our baser functions. There is power here, too, but not the heavy, blood-sodden bulk of dominance. Instead, it's a power of radiance, of awareness, connection, breaking through in snaps of heightened perception, moments of encounter and illumination that lift us from the slime.

It takes ten million forms, could be in anything – a rustle of leaves, the tang of salt, a bending blues note, the sweep of shadows on a tin roof, the catch in a voice, the touch of a hand, a line from Sappho or John Clare. Any particular, specific combination of ever-shifting elements, always unrepeatable in its exact effect and always momentary....

And yes, you can add political moments in that catalogue of "moments of encounter and illumination," as I say very clearly in the post, noting that "the greatest moments, the epiphanies ... do happen in politics on rare occasions, one must admit."

So in the main, I have to say that I don't quite get the drift of your message. You seem to feel that I am advocating some kind of quietism, when that is demonstrably not true. You ask me to tell you "what are we to do," when, for what it's worth, I said exactly what I thought we are to do, as plainly as I could, in the very piece you are commenting upon. Such as here:

So do we counsel fatalism, a dark, defeated surrender, a retreat into bitter, curdled quietude? Not a whit. We advocate action, positive action, unstinting action, doing the only thing that human beings can do, ever: Try this, try that, try something else again; discard those approaches that don't work, that wreak havoc, that breed death and cruelty; fight against everything that would draw us down again into our own mud; expect no quarter, no lasting comfort, no true security; offer no last word, no eternal truth, but just keep stumbling, falling, careening, backsliding, crawling toward the broken light.

How much clearer do you want me to be? Should I draw up a list of specific actions we all should take, lay down some doctrinal line that should be enforced on everyone?

But here is the most ironic thing of all: You yourself are already doing exactly what I advocate doing. You say: "I work on behalf of incarcerated people, providing legal assistance and often relieving some of their daily suffering."

You spend your life relieving the daily suffering of human beings in distress -- I honestly believe this is a very noble, even heroic thing to do. It is precisely the kind of action I have advocated and praised and encouraged over and over and over again, year after year after year, in my writing.  You do it on a direct, individual basis -- you help mitigate the suffering of a fellow human being, and in doing so, you set an example for the rest of us on how to fight against those elements of reality -- and of our own psyches -- that would "draw us down again into our own mud."

So why on God's earth are you asking me to tell you what we should do? What I have already plainly said we should do, you are doing. You are doing it in the most real, concrete way possible. You help prisoners, you advocate for Bradley Manning, you march against war, you try to combat government encroachments on liberty, and so on. This is precisely, exactly the way I believe we should "treat" the "'waste product' that [I] call politics." This is precisely what I believe we should do to defy, resist and mitigate the cruelty and brutality and machinations of power.

Where -- in the post in question or throughout all of the millions of words I've blathered out in print and blogosphere -- can you find anything, even the slightest hint, that I advocate that people should "turn away from struggle," or that such activity is worthless, pointless, or that we should set it aside and "get on with life," ignoring the "dark side" in favor of (as you put it with what seems to be a bit of unfortunate sneering) "learning to play the piano or taking up watercolors"? (If you find activism more satisfying that playing the piano, that's fine; but of course, some people find both of them satisfying. So why sneer at them?)

So again, I don't really catch your drift. You say you don't turn away from struggle, but you do "read a novel every now and then, listen to music daily, try to exercise regularly and all that"; how is that any different from what I was writing about? Again, you ask me "what to do?" Well, you are doing all that I would advocate. I don't know what more you want me to tell you.

Unless you want me to tell you how not to despair about horrors going on in other parts of the world -- or somehow convince you that the work you do alleviating human suffering "makes a difference in the bigger world," that it "changes things" and that your "political work is important." I don't know how to answer that. If you don't find relieving some of the daily suffering of prisoners to have sufficient meaning in itself, to be of sufficient importance to do in its own right, then what can I say? I do find such things to have the most utmost importance, the most profound meaning -- whether they "change things" in some ultimate sense or lead to some kind of eventual transformation of society, or not.

"What's the use?" you say you sometimes feel. "Why bother?" Well, I guess the answer to these questions can be found in another question: "Why do you do these things in the first place?" Is it not precisely because you want to alleviate the suffering of individual human beings? Then what more "importance" do you need? Is it worthless or pointless to help someone even if it doesn't change the world, or even if someone else is suffering elsewhere? Should you stop doing it -- should you not help a prisoner, should you not try to stop a war or an atrocity -- just because it won't magically change human nature, and that wars and atrocities and the suffering of prisoners will still go on? Would you refrain from saving an individual child from drowning just because, well, children are always going to drown sometimes no matter what, and even if I save this kid here, some child in Somalia is drowning, so what's the point? Of course you wouldn't say that. But this is exactly the same logic that seems to be animating your despair.

Finally, why do you think you can or should live without despair? Are you really asking me to tell you how to do that? What do you want me to say? That God or Science or the dialectic will make it all work out in the long run? Would that give you comfort? Well, I can't say that, because I don't believe it. I don't believe that a thinking, feeling person can exist in the world as it is without knowing despair. That's part of the tragic element of existence that I was talking about.

But such despair doesn't "overwhelm" me, or make me think that efforts to alleviate the suffering of individual human beings are of no use. Despair exists, and I feel it often and deeply, but it doesn't make me think that those moments of connection, awareness, encounter, radiance and beauty I spoke of above are meaningless. I am not overwhelmed by despair because I believe that reality exists in moments and only in moments, and that at any given time, a moment can be redeemed, can be suffused with profound and, if you like, ultimate meaning, in and of itself. There are many ways of redeeming the moments of existence -- and one way, certainly, is by doing precisely what you are doing in your prison work and activism.

The moment of connection, the moment of helping, the moment of awareness -- each is important in and of itself. Now, it may be that these moments can build upon one another; that one moment of helping or awareness can lead to another. They might serve as an example to others to seek out such moments for themselves. I am sure this is true on an individual level. And I'm not saying that there cannot be, over vast stretches of time, an accumulation of such moments -- and the legacies they leave -- that could lead to greater changes in human nature and society. I don't know if that's true or not, if that's how reality works or not; but precisely because I don't know, I can't discount this latter possibility out of hand.

But again, whether this is possible or not doesn't really matter to me, or leave me overwhelmed. The moments of connection, awareness, numinosity, etc. that occur within Being -- within reality as it is now, as I can comprehend it with my limited understanding  -- these moments are enough for me, they hold sufficient meaning in themselves. I don't require them to be part of some grand cosmic scheme, or some greater march toward progress.

These are the apprehensions and comprehensions of reality that I have come to over many decades of thinking about such things -- and of dealing with the tragedies and joys of life. Of course, these understandings are constantly being refined -- and challenged -- by new knowledge, new experiences, new reflections on the past, and so on. But what I wrote in the post -- and especially in the older passages quoted in that post -- set out as clearly as possible the broad outlines of my thinking on these matters. If you want an "answer" from me, that's all I've got.

If you want a "better answer" -- as well you might -- then you'll need to ask someone else .... or even figure it out for yourself.

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Bloodbath in Yemen: No UN Action for the Peace Laureate's Pal

Written by Chris Floyd 18 March 2011 6688 Hits

(UPDATED BELOW)

(UPDATED AGAIN)

This just in: spurred on by the United States and Saudi Arabia, the UN Security Council has just authorized immediate military intervention in Yemen to stop the government's wanton slaughter of innocent civilians engaging in peaceful protest.

The vote came just hours after government security forces in Yemen opened fire on unarmed, peaceful protestors in the capital city of Sana. Tens of thousands of ordinary citizens had turned out for the demonstration, which was part of  an ongoing campaign of non-violent dissent against repression, injustice, inequality and deprivation in the nation, ruled by strongman President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that "we cannot stand by and watch authoritarian governments gun down their own unarmed citizens in the street."  The Security Council authorized a wide range of military actions against Yemen, although an outright military occupation was not authorized. "These creatures who do terrible things to their own people must know they will be held accountable by the world community," said Clinton, after arriving in Bahrain for what she called "friendly talks" with King Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa on "securing stability in the region."

Oh wait, that didn't happen. The regime in Yemen will not face military intervention by the UN to stop its slaughter of unarmed civilians. There will be, at most, a few stern words from the Obama Administration urging "restraint on both sides" -- even as the Peace Laureate carries on his secret bombing campaigns and covert military operations in Yemen, with the eager cooperation of Saleh. "Restraint," in the degraded imperial parlance of our day, means that unarmed people should allow themselves to be mowed down by American-backed governments without making a big fuss about it. In exchange, Washington will then publicly urge its local client tyrant to "move" on "the reform process" -- even as it sells him more weapons and kills more of his people in its covert ops.

But as the world's attention was drawn to Libya, here's what the Peace Laureate's good buddy in Yemen has been up to today. From the NYT:

Security forces and government supporters opened fire on demonstrators on Friday as the largest protest so far in Yemen came under violent and sustained attack in the center of the capital, Sana. At least 10 people were killed and more than 100 injured, according to a doctor at a makeshift hospital near the protest. ...

Government supporters in plain clothes fired down on the demonstration from rooftops and windows almost immediately after the protesters rose from their noon prayers, conducted en masse in the street on Friday. ...

A man walked through the crowd with a microphone yelling, “Peaceful, peaceful! Don’t be afraid of the bullets!”

At the same time, a large number of riot police officers massed at the south end of the protest, opening fire with guns and a water cannons in an effort to keep demonstrators from moving further into the center of the capital. ...

As the violence escalated, many in central Sana took cover. “Today is the worst day; this is a new Qaddafi,” said Khalil al-Zekry, who hunkered down in his video shop along the protest route.

But you will wait in vain to see a UN Security Council intervention directed at this new Gadafy. Instead, we will no doubt soon hear from the Peace Laureate's staunch ally in secret Terror War that the slaughter on Friday was "unauthorized," carried out by "rogue elements," and that -- wait for it -- "an investigation will immediately be launched."

That's how it's done when you're in good standing with the imperial bosses back on the Potomac -- and when there is no other potential client strongman waiting in the wings, as in Libya.

UPDATE: The death count in Yemen is now 30, and will almost certainly rise higher.

UPDATE 2: Well, just as we said, Yemen's "president" -- if that's what you call someone who has ruled a country for 32 years -- has denied that government forces were involved in the mass slaughter of unarmed protestors in the capital today. [The death toll has now risen to 40.] The NY Times reports:

At a news conference in Sana, Mr. Saleh claimed that the clashes on Friday were between “citizens and demonstrators” and that “the police were not present and did not open fire.”

The Peace Laureate finally managed to comment on the killings, sternly wagging his finger at his Terror War ally, telling him that he must live up the "set of universal rights" that "the United States stands for."

It is not known if the President then went down to the war room to watch video of the latest killing of young children and other unarmed civilians by his Predators and Reapers and helicopter gunships in Afghanistan, Pakistan -- and Yemen.

Meanwhile, here's a taste of what his pal was up to in Sana today. From the Guardian:

"They shot people in the back of the head as they were running away," said Mohammed al-Jamil, an Indian doctor treating the wounded. "Whoever did this wanted these people to die."

Children were also caught up in the violence.

"My brother is twelve years old, they shot him twice, once in the arm and once in the leg," shouted a young man through a crackling microphone to a roaring crowd of thousands outside the mosque. "Saleh would rather shoot us all before stepping down."

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A People Betrayed: West Launches New War for Oil in Libya

Written by Chris Floyd 18 March 2011 10946 Hits

And so now, another war. Led by the United States and the religious extremists in Saudi Arabia, the UN Security Council voted to intervene on behalf of one side in the Libyan civil war. Having already armed and trained Moamar Gadafy's armies and security forces, the Western war-profiteers have now decided to do the same for his opponents.

These opponents, it must be noted, are at present led by top players who only weeks ago were at the center of Gadafy's murderous, repressive regime -- which was itself, only weeks ago, considered a worthy partner by Western governments and business interests. As As'ad AbuKhalil -- a fierce critic of Gadafy for many years -- noted today, before the UN vote:

The Libyan people have been betrayed.  Their revolution against the Libyan tyrant has been hijacked by US and Saudi Arabia.  That lousy henchman for Qadhdhafi,  Mustafa Abd-Al-Jali [leader of the rebel's Libyan National Transition Council], is now a Saudi stooge who hijacked the uprising on behalf of a foreign agenda.  I mean, what do you expect from a man who until the other day held the position of Minister of Justice in Qadhdhafi's regime, for potato's sake? And don't you like it when Western media constantly refer to him as "the respected Libyan minister of Justice."  Respected by who?  By Western governments.

It should also be noted that the Saudis are even now staging a military intervention in Bahrain to help the autocratic regime there put down -- with deadly force and brutal repression -- a peaceful resistance movement seeking democracy and justice. "“We want to support the opposition who are standing against the dictator,” Hillary Clinton declared today. But she was talking about the dictator in Libya, not the dictator in Bahrain, who has willingly turned his country into a fueling station for the projection of American dominance in the Middle East.

Finally, it should be noted that the UN Resolution is not in any way restricted to establishing a "no-fly zone" to keep Gadafy from bombing Libyan cities. This has been the holy grail of our humanitarian interventionists who, despite the evidence of their own eyes over several decades, still seem to believe that military action -- the application of massive, violent force -- can be done without hurting anybody but the mean old bad guys whom we suddenly don't like anymore for whatever reason.

But this is no "light touch" intervention. The UN decree greenlights everything short of an outright land invasion of Libya. Indeed, within minutes of the resolution's passing, American officials were already talking about a "no-drive zone": direct attacks on Libyan tanks and artillery. What's more, US officials were already considering sending in "military personnel to advise and train the rebels."

AbuKhalil also points us to this article by Michael Brull of Independent Australian Jewish Voices. The piece, which also came out before the UN vote, is worth quoting at length:

When asking what should the West do, it seems to skirt over what it can and ought to do. A no-fly zone in Libya is a drastic step, with dubious popular support at best, and little evidence has been presented that it would help anyone in Libya. On the other hand, there are places where we could more easily impose a no-fly zone. For example, Hamid Karzai has been begging us to stop bombing Afghanistan for years. We could impose a no-fly zone by ending our bombardment, which would also stop us from killing more civilians.

We could also stop bombing Yemen, which WikiLeaks reveals we’d been doing, and lying about. We could end the drone attacks on Pakistan. WikiLeaks shows that president Zardari thinks “Collateral damage worries you Americans. It doesn’t worry me”. Plainly, it doesn’t worry us either. Over a thousand people have been killed, primarily civilians. Yet again, in this case, the evil isn’t so bad that the West is called upon to intervene. The reason is straightforward: intervening would mean stopping our crimes, and it is considered far more morally courageous in the West to call for an end to their crimes. ....

The point of all this: we in the West should not be wringing our hands over what to do. There is plenty of good we can do. We could withdraw support for dictatorships in the Middle East, end support for repression in Bahrain, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, end our occupation of Afghanistan, stop drone attacks in Pakistan, and withdraw military support from Israel, which is used to brutalise and oppress the Palestinians.

However, there are (as always) those who say what is happening in Libya is evil. We must do something. Surprisingly it has come most strongly from the Left, against the Left, in the form of Guy Rundle. He describes the request for a no-fly zone “from a legitimate revolutionary leadership”.

Who’s that? The Libyan National Transition Council. He admits its “composition of ex-Gaddafi ministers and others... But that's not important”. As’ad AbuKhalil, a columnist with the left-wing Lebanese paper Al-Akhbar, describes its leader Mustafa Abd-Al-Jalil as “a Gaddafi stooge”. He, along with other Gaddafi appointees leads “an Islamist tendency in the opposition movement which stands opposed to the more secular and radical trend represented by the professional association of the lawyers for example, and which-unlike Abdul-Al-Jalil refuses the secret messaging with the Gaddafi junta”.

What popular legitimacy does this Council have? It doesn’t matter to Rundle. Anyone who doesn’t support it doesn’t “have solidarity with the Libyans but will simply watch passively and let them be defeated, and then murdered”....

I guess we have no choice, right? After all, surely we in the West can’t just sit by and let evil happen. We have a responsibility to intervene. Anyone who cares will if necessary support an invasion of Libya, otherwise they don’t have solidarity with the Libyans but will simply watch passively and let them be defeated, and then murdered.

Just be sure to avert your gaze from Bahrain, Yemen, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, Palestine, Afghanistan, Honduras, Haiti and any other country where we are already intervening, but on the wrong side.

Today Hillary Clinton decried the "terrible things" that Gadafy will do "to Libya and its neighbors." And why will he do this? Because he is, of course, a monster: "It's just in his nature. There are some creatures that are like that."

But this creature has now spent the past several years as a staunch ally of the West, especially in the "counterterrorism" fight. The Americans and the British have given him arms, training, equipment, expertise and other support. (Just as they did, for years, with Saddam Hussein.) He was precisely the same "creature" then as he is now. Western elites knew that Gadafy had done "terrible things to Libya and its neighbors" for years before they embraced him -- and his oil money --- with open arms. None of this bothered them before.

But now that Gadafy is doing exactly what the United States government would do if an armed faction took over whole swathes of its territory -- respond with furious, murderous force -- he has suddenly become a monster again.

Luckily for Washington, the Libyan opposition -- "the more secular and radical trend represented by the professional associations" noted by AbuKhalil -- has, as he said, been hijacked by ex-Gadafy goons and Saudi tools who will now, with the West's military intervention, avidly seek to provide the same kind of profitable "stability" in Libya that we see in such wondrous beacons of democracy and enlightenment as Bahrain.

What forces will now be loosed in Libya in the chaos, corruption, hatred, fear and corruption that invariably attends these "humanitarian interventions"? Iraq and Afghanistan give us ample warning.

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The Peacenik's Payback: Obama Slaughters Pakistani Civilians to Revenge CIA Embarrassment

Written by Chris Floyd 18 March 2011 7749 Hits

Another day, another two dozen human beings blown to bits in a marketplace by the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. What was the occasion for this new bonanza of carnage? It was a release of pent-up fury at Pakistan for embarrassing the Potomac Poobah by actually arresting one of his hired guns for shooting people in the back in the street in broad daylight.

For weeks, Washington wiggled around in twisted knickers as the Pakistanis put CIA goon-squader Raymond Davis through the horrible, evil process of ... er ... Western jurisprudence, which Pakistan inherited from colonial times. They arrested Davis, charged him with a crime, allowed him to procure defense counsel and then instigated a series of open court proceedings leading to a trial. This was simply unbearable, insupportable, to the Universal Defenders of Human Rights and the Rule of Law who hold such benevolent sway in the American capital.

They demanded Davis be released. They declared that this secret agent had "diplomatic immunity," which meant that he was free to gun down Pakistanis, in Pakistan, without let or hindrance or consequences. All he need do was say he felt "threatened" -- and anything he did in response to this perceived or alleged or imagined or fabricated threat was justified.

And why not? This is the same logic that governs America's bipartisan foreign policy writ large; why should it not apply to its individual Glock-packing minions prowling foreign streets in search of prey? George Bush and Dick Cheney said they felt "threatened" by Iraq -- and they set loose a hellstorm that has now left more than a million innocent people dead. And they have certainly never been subjected to the processes of Western jurisprudence for that. Thus you can see why the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Barack Obama -- who has praised George W. Bush for his great service to the country, and who called Bush's "surge" in Iraq (that ferocious orgy of ethnic cleansing and death squad berserkery) an "extraordinary accomplishment" -- would find the Pakistani's treatment of Davis so objectionable.

But the process was the usual farce on all sides. The Pakistani system is notoriously corrupt - not quite as corrupt as the American system, of course, although the Pakistanis have not yet managed to lacquer over the murderous venality of its elites with the same degree of sophistication and 'legality' that our American lords have honed over the centuries -- and the backroom channels were busy trying to hammer out a deal with the Potomac paymasters. At last a couple of million dollars were skimmed from a slush fund somewhere and given as "blood money" to the families of Davis' targets, which allowed the court to free Davis. In an ironic twist, it was only the application of Islamic law -- the ancient practice of paying compensation for unlawful killing (which long predates Islam, of course; you can find it in the Bible as well) -- that brought about this face-saving deal for Washington.

But as soon as Davis was safely out of the country, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate unleashed one of the most violent drone barrages against Pakistan in many months. The Peacely one sent his courageous unmanned robot missiles -- fired by courageous warriors sitting in padded seats thousands of miles away -- to attack ... what else? ... a peace conference in northwest Pakistan.

Local tribal elders were meeting to settle a dispute over a mine in the area. The meeting was attended by members of the local Pakistani Taliban -- a group now at peace with the Pakistani government. Pakistan's military chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, issued what the NY Times called "an unusual and unusually strong condemnation" of the slaughter. The Guardian provided this quote:

"It is highly regrettable that a jirga of peaceful citizens including elders of the area was carelessly and callously targeted with complete disregard to human life," said Kayani. "In complete violation of human rights, such acts of violence take us away from our objective of elimination of terrorism."

The meeting was being held in an open marketplace. The attack killed 26 people, according to the latest count; more than half of them were elders and tribesmen who had no connection to the local Taliban.

But what of that? The fact that the meeting represented local people, from various conflicting factions, coming together to try to work out their differences peacefully among themselves was probably one of the most compelling reasons to our imperial overlords for launching the attack in the first place. For in the end, what they really object to, what they really despise, and fear, is not religious extremism or terrorism or "Islamofascism" -- all of which our bipartisan American elites have supported, in various guises in various places, for decades. No, what really sticks in their craw is the idea that anybody -- in any area that our witless leaders consider "strategic" for one reason or another -- should try to work out their own destiny, on their own terms, outside of the dictation and dominion of the militarist oligarchy that rules the United States.

So the jirga itself was objectionable, and had to be slapped down; just as Pakistan as a nation had to be slapped around for tweaking the Emperor's nose over the street-shooter Raymond Davis. The result was the same as always: the blood, bones and viscera of innocent people splattered across their home streets by death-technologies wielded by the utter, craven, quaking cowards who strut in the pomps of power back in Washington.

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Meanwhile, across the border from the ongoing slaughter of hundreds and hundreds of innocent people in a patently illegal "secret" war inside the sovereign territory of an American ally, the "good war" in Afghanistan continues its harvest of children chewed up by the Peace Laureate.

This week, two more youngsters were shredded into clumps of lifeless flesh by the occupation forces -- in the same province where the forces of the Peace Laureate killed nine children just weeks ago. Reuters reports:

An air strike by NATO-led forces killed two children as they were watering fields in Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province late on Monday, an Afghan official and lawmaker said. ...

Abdul Marjan, district chief of Chawki in Kunar where the two brothers, aged 10 and 15, where killed on Monday, said the boys had been working on irrigation channels before they were hit. ...

Shahzada Shahid, a lawmaker from Kunar, said the pair were students who had gone out to help work their father's fields. Irrigation agreements between villagers in the area mean the family's land gets access to river water only in the evening.

These boys were killed for the crime of going to get water for their families, on their own land, in their own country.

They were killed for this "crime" 10 years after an attack in the United States that the American government itself has declared was carried out by a gang based in Pakistan, Germany and the United States, without a single Afghan among them. There is not a single shred of legal or moral justification for this decade-long frenzy of murder and war-profiteering. It is just as illegal as the drone campaign in Pakistan, just as illegal as the invasion of Iraq.

But the Peace Laureate says that we must keep on killing unarmed, defenseless, unsuspecting 10-year-old boys on their own land in their own country. This, we are told, will keep us safe. This, we are told, will keep us great. This is what the glory and grandeur of the bipartisan American imperium rests upon: the murder of children in illegal wars.

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Across the Universe: The Power of Disillusionment and the Politics of Despair

Written by Chris Floyd 15 March 2011 9754 Hits

A comment appeared on the website the other day from someone who seemed driven to utter despair -- even to the consideration of suicide -- by the current state of our politics. This was disturbing enough, but I was also struck -- jarred -- by this remark: "Sharing Floyd's views and values is literally disabling."

I thought this warranted a more substantial reply than a quick riposte in a comment thread. So below is the original message from the reader, followed by my  response. (The post in question, by the way, was "Of Arms and the Man: War-Profiteers and Progressives Make Common Cause for Obama.")

From "Pinquot": Is there anything we can do? By which I mean, is there anything I can do?

I try to be noisy about this stuff. I incessantly remind my "progressive" friends what the leader most of them still embrace is doing -- and (if they're still listening) how this is merely the latest manifestation of the fact that our entire civilization is intractably toxic and unconscionable, past and present. I've lost friends. I've insulted my own family. The ones I keep have mostly learned to tune me out or shrug helplessly -- and indeed, what more can they do? I don't even have the heart to mouth off about this to my own mother (an Obama supporter) anymore -- God help me, I do so want her to be happy.

My best friend opined that what's so obnoxious about me is that everything I say is completely intellectually and philosophically valid -- it's just practically incompatible with any degree of social functionality. I do not disagree.

Of course, I realize doing nothing (assuming the "nothing" is going to involve continuing to live) necessarily amounts to complicity in abuse, oppression and exploitation on a thousand levels. I can't walk through the grocery store without seeing the systems of corruption and violence at work in my surroundings, and my own inescapable place within them; it is almost too ugly to bear. Sharing Floyd's views and values is literally disabling.

So, what? What then? Suicide? (The only legitimate question, as I think Descartes put it.) Heavy drinking? That's pretty much the only personal alternative I have come up with, but I hate the taste and threaten to graduate to heroin any day now (Mom rolls her eyes.) Are capitulation and self-destruction really the only options? What is there for us?

And here is my reply:

You have to remember that politics is a toxin. It will make you sick, taint your mind, poison your soul, blight your life if you let it. One has to deal with politics  as a form of waste management, just as you need to have some kind of sewage system in your home or community to prevent disease.

Politics -- the machinations of the stunted, damaged souls and third-rate minds who hanker for power -- is just a small part of life. It entirely lacks the tragic element; nothing tragic or depthful about politics and power, it's just brute force, greed, ignorance and spite. So there is no deep meaning to be found in it. No tragedy; no real joy either. Even the greatest moments, the epiphanies -- and they do happen in politics on rare occasions, one must admit -- will lead very quickly back into the sewage. And that's OK, that's the way it is; sewage, waste management -- it's part of life. But it's not where meaning, joy, tragedy, the salt and savor of existence can be found. So why let the evil done by third-rate goobers drive you to despair of life itself? By hook, crook, lies and murder they've already amassed all kinds of power; why give them power over your very soul?

It's sad to hear that you've been driven to the margins of your own life, mocked or marginalized by friends and family because of your political beliefs. I must confess I've never tried to press my beliefs on anyone close to me. I don't have political arguments with them, and I never try to convince anyone of anything. If someone asks me a political question, I'll answer honestly, and calmly, in an informational way, saying, Here's a little bit of what I think about that, and here's why I think it. If I'm with someone who seems vaguely simpatico, I might let a little more passion into it. But I've never felt the urge to bring politics into personal relationships. Of course, sometimes it can forced on you, I suppose; maybe your friends and family are in your face about it all the time. In that case, it would be harder to avoid conflict. But even when I find myself in that situation, most of the time I simply think: "Well, if you don't see it, you don't see it, and I'm not going to be able to make you see it; not in an argument, anyway."

Of course, the blog is a help in this regard. Maybe you should try writing one. It can serve as a release valve -- and you can make better, more coherent and informed arguments in a blog than in a personal argument. With the blog, I don't feel I have to push my views verbally on someone; I've already set it down, thought it through a bit, it's out there for anyone to see. I can always say to someone, "Well, I wrote something about this the other day. You can read it if you like."

One of the main reasons I write the blog now is to give myself this outlet, to have a place -- a pipeline -- where I can deal with the sewage and the toxins of politics, and get them out and away from the more meaningful aspects of my existence. And as I said, it helps me to work out what I actually do think about these issues. Having to put it down into coherent words, knowing that it must make sense to other people out there, is a tremendous impetus to clarifying thought, I find. It doesn't matter if only a few people read it; certainly only a few people read this blog, even on its very best days. What matters is that you've got it out, you've got it down, it's out there, you can point people to it if they want to see it, and you don't have to let it leech into the rest of your life and relationships.

I always keep coming back to the words of Italo Calvino, which I've used here many times. I found this passage years ago, quoted in an essay by Gore Vidal.I don't know if it's any help to you in your situation, but I believe there is genuine wisdom here, especially in a despairing time:

"The inferno…is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space."

For you see, I disagree with you, and others, who say that "doing nothing" amounts to "complicity in abuse, oppression and exploitation on a thousand levels." I don't think that's true in many respects; certainly not in every respect. There is a genuine, qualitative difference between someone who actually carries out (or commands) atrocities and crimes -- and someone who doesn't. It's ludicrous to say otherwise. Someone who puts a gun to a child's head and pulls the trigger is worse than someone who doesn't put a gun to a child's head and pull the trigger. Someone who leaps into the toxic swamp of politics in order to obtain power is worse than someone who doesn't. If more people "did nothing" in this regard, there would be far less suffering in the world. Yes, there are many other things a person can do; and yes, it is part of the tragic element of human existence that no one can completely escape levels of complicity with the evils of the systems they happen to be born into. But simply refraining from active evil can be a first step toward the light. It can also serve as an example to others.

And anyway, to "see the inferno" -- to look at reality clearly, to see what is actually being done behind all the political rhetoric and national mythology, to try to glean nuggets of genuine information from a mountain of bullshit -- that is not "doing nothing." That is the only way we can begin to see "what is not inferno," and begin to help it endure, to carve out space for it.

Are you really going to kill yourself, or nuke your brain with heroin, because you can't snap your fingers and make everyone see the world the way you see it, if you can't rag them into changing their minds -- or because you can't magically and instantly change a system that fills up grocery stores with the products of corruption and violence? This kind of feeling -- which I understand all too well -- is the result of sitting too long in the toxic swamp of politics yourself, of believing that's all there is to life.

What do you really know of the world, of reality -- of literature, history, science, thought, music, art? How deeply aware are you of the million daily interactions of your body and brain with the physical world, with nature, with other human beings? How much of the universe have you yet called into being by becoming conscious of it, by expanding your comprehension? I've been trying to do this -- oh, in a fitful, pathetic, half-assed way, of course -- for almost half a century,  and I've scarcely brought a grain, a molecule, a photon of the depth and vibrancy of Being into my comprehension. But even the small amount that I've been able to dimly discern shows how vastly, incomprehensibly more to life there is than the machinations of power-grubbers.

Perhaps one reason why they thrash about so violently and murderously and ruinously is because that somewhere deep inside they sense how petty and empty and meaningless their power-grubbing is. They are trying to build up their primitive, infantile obsession with shit -- with the toxic sludge of power and politics -- into some kind of grand design, something of world-historical importance.

But if you give yourself over to the uttermost despair -- the longing for self-obliteration -- because of their actions, because of their primitive, witless obsession with shit, then what a pointless waste you will make of your own, your only life. You will have thrown away the whole universe -- and for what? Because you have allowed your view of life to be circumscribed by the machinations of a bunch of third-rate goobers. You have let them -- these sinister, jabbering, blabbering fools -- convince you that their crimes and atrocities are all there is to life, that nothing worthwhile exists outside the narrow, blinkered inferno that they have made.

"What is there for us?" you ask. I'll tell what there is for us: the whole wide universe. And yes, it contains oceans of toxic political shit. And yes, it contains degrees of complicity, compromise, and moral failures for all of us, even the best of us, at every turn. But it contains so much more than this, so much more that we ourselves can bring into being by becoming aware of it. Each individual creates the entire universe -- creates all of the universe that he or she will ever know -- by what they bring into consciousness, both directly, with active reason, and indirectly, in the deeper, more diffuse and holistic intimations of meaning that an active, questing consciousness can begin to comprehend.

So the choice is yours, really. What would you rather do? Create the universe, accept its tragic dimension and the infinite moments of meaning it can supply -- or lie down in a ditch full of toxic shit and slurp the poison until you die? It doesn't seem like a tough call to me.

2.
Now about this business of "Floyd's views" being "literally disabling." As I said, I find this deeply disturbing. It plays into some very profound questions I have long had about the blog myself. Because the blog is, by design, set up to deal almost exclusively with the sewage of politics, I sometime wonder if it is not in danger of becoming too imbued with the very waste it is trying to manage. Is it part of the problem? Does it contribute to the idea -- the false, poisonous idea -- that politics and the machinations of power-grubbers are of supreme importance? That money, violence and power are the only things that matter? This is certainly not my intention; quite the opposite. But is this the actual message the blog conveys, regardless of my intentions? 

And by entering into the political debate -- even if your intention is not to push one faction or another but to "inoculate the world with disillusionment," as Henry Miller put it -- do you end up fighting on power's turf, speaking its language, having the argument defined in its terms? I don't know. These are questions I now grapple with on a daily basis. I generally end up believing that disillusion is a worthy goal and that waste management of this sort is a necessary task. But I also feel more strongly all the time that there must be a better way to break out of the sinister dynamic of politics, to reach people -- to alter consciousnesses -- in some more effective, profound manner, rather than simply adding another howl to the echo chamber.

In any case, if my views are "literally disabling," if utter despair is what my writing induces, then this blog has been an even greater, more egregious failure than I thought. I've always believed that disillusionment was bracing, invigorating, liberating, not a cause for suicidal despair. But at the risk of being tedious to regular readers, I'm going to repeat below a passage from the closest thing to a statement of purpose this blog has ever had.

I wrote part of it years ago, at the request of an editor at the St Petersburg Times (the one in Russia, not the Florida paper of the same name), who kept getting letters about my column asking, "Where is Floyd coming from with all his criticism of American policy?" (This was back in the high and palmy days of empire, just weeks after the "Mission Accomplished" moment in Iraq, when seldom was heard a discouraging word about the noble Defenders of Freedom in the White House -- and there I was writing about war crimes and war profiteers and torture and rendition and presidential death squads and what all. Most unseemly.)

Later, for the blog, I put this piece together with one I'd written much earlier. You can read the original St Petersburg piece here; the later combination piece can be found here. This is an excerpt from the latter:

....Is it not time to be done with lies at last? Especially the chief lie now running through the world like a plague, putrescent and vile: that we kill each other and hate each other and drive each other into desperation and fear for any other reason but that we are animals, forms of apes, driven by blind impulses to project our dominance, to strut and bellow and hoard the best goods for ourselves. Or else to lash back at the dominant beast in convulsions of humiliated rage. Or else cravenly to serve the dominant ones, to scurry about them like slaves, picking fleas from their fur, in hopes of procuring a few crumbs for ourselves.

That's the world of power – the "real world," as its flea-picking slaves and strutting dominants like to call it. It's the ape-world, driven by hormonal secretions and chemical mechanics, the endless replication of protein reactions, the unsifted agitations of nerve tissue, issuing their ignorant commands. There's no sense or reason or higher order of thought in it – except for that perversion of consciousness called justification, self-righteousness, which gussies up the breast-beating ape with fine words and grand abstractions.

...Beyond the thunder and spectacle of this ape-roaring world is another state of reality, emerging from the murk of our baser functions. There is power here, too, but not the heavy, blood-sodden bulk of dominance. Instead, it's a power of radiance, of awareness, connection, breaking through in snaps of heightened perception, moments of encounter and illumination that lift us from the slime.

It takes ten million forms, could be in anything – a rustle of leaves, the tang of salt, a bending blues note, the sweep of shadows on a tin roof, the catch in a voice, the touch of a hand, a line from Sappho or John Clare. Any particular, specific combination of ever-shifting elements, always unrepeatable in its exact effect and always momentary. Because that's all there is, that's all we have – the moments.

The moments, and their momentary power – a power without the power of resistance, defenseless, provisional, unarmed, imperfect, bold. The ape-world's cycle of war and retribution stands as the image of the world of power; what can serve as the emblem of this other reality? A kiss, perhaps: given to a lover, offered to a friend, bestowed on an enemy – or pressed to the brow of a murdered child.

Both worlds are within us, of course, like two quantum states of reality, awaiting our choice to determine which will be actuated, which will define the very nature of being – individually and in the aggregate, moment by moment. This is our constant task, for as long as the universe exists in the electrics of our brains: to redeem each moment or let it fall. Some moments will be won, many more lost; there is no final victory. There is only the task.

So do we counsel fatalism, a dark, defeated surrender, a retreat into bitter, curdled quietude? Not a whit. We advocate action, positive action, unstinting action, doing the only thing that human beings can do, ever: Try this, try that, try something else again; discard those approaches that don't work, that wreak havoc, that breed death and cruelty; fight against everything that would draw us down again into our own mud; expect no quarter, no lasting comfort, no true security; offer no last word, no eternal truth, but just keep stumbling, falling, careening, backsliding, crawling toward the broken light.

And what is this "broken light"? Nothing more than a metaphor for the patches of understanding – awareness, attention, knowledge, connection – that break through our darkness and stupidity for a moment now and then. A light always fractured, under threat, shifting, found then lost again, always lost. For we are creatures steeped in imperfection, in breakage and mutation, tossed up – very briefly – from the boiling, chaotic crucible of Being, itself a ragged work in progress toward unknown ends, or rather, toward no particular end at all. Why should there be an "answer" in such a reality?

This and this alone is the only "ideology" behind these writings, which try at all times to fight against the compelling but ignorant delusion that any single economic or political or religious system – indeed, any kind of system at all devised by the seething jumble of the human mind – can completely encompass the infinite variegations of existence. What matters is what works – what pulls us from our own darkness as far as possible, for as long as possible. Yet the truth remains that "what works" is always and forever only provisional – what works now, here, might not work there, then. What saves our soul today might make us sick tomorrow.

Thus all we can do is to keep looking, working, trying to clear a little more space for the light, to let it shine on our passions and our confusions, our anger and our hopes, informing and refining them, so that we can see each other better, for a moment – until death shutters all seeing forever.

If anyone is still reading at this point, a further elucidation of these themes can be found here: Immortal Communion: One Lowly Word and the Subversion of Power.

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Shoe Drops, Boot Comes Out for Crowley

Written by Chris Floyd 13 March 2011 6991 Hits

This was so obviously predictable that I didn't bother to predict it, but now we have it: "PJ Crowley resigns over Bradley Manning remarks." Crowley, as you recall, was the official spokesman at the State Department who dared utter a fragment of the truth last week when he said that the Obama Administration's torture of Bradley Manning is "counterproductive and stupid."

To be sure, Crowley hastened to assure his audience -- an MIT seminar -- that he thought Manning belonged behind bars for throwing some light on the violent, witless and criminal grindings of the American war machine. But his remarks did drag the Obama Administration's torture regimen into the light of day. Even the sainted Nobel Peace Prize Laureate his own self was forced to address the issue when he was asked in a press conference about Crowley's statement. Obama then issued his now-notorious defense of his torture of Manning, say that he had checked with the people who were torturing Manning and they said that their torture of Manning was OK. And that, said the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, was good enough for him.

After this, it was obvious that Crowley's days were numbered -- or rather, his hours were numbered, for he scarcely lasted more than a day before the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate forced him from office for the high crime of causing the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate to face the momentary discomfort of having to publicly address his torture of an Amerian soldier.

To his credit, Crowley did not go quietly, saying that he stood by his criticism of Manning's treatment -- which includes forced, public nakedness -- and adding that his MIT remarks "were intended to highlight the broader, even strategic impact of discreet actions undertaken by national security agencies every day and their impact on our global standing and leadership."

Of course, one should not now turn Crowley into some kind of moral exemplar. For the fact remains that he has faithfully and willingly served the Obama Administration as it has perpetrated a series of war crimes, eviscerations of constitutional liberties and abuses of human rights at home and around the world -- while protecting its predecessor from the slightest hint of investigation or prosecution for doing the same.

Crowley was proud to serve in an administration that is brazenly carrying out an illegal war of "extrajudicial killing" in the non-belligerent state of Pakistan -- a brutal blunderbuss of a campaign that has killed hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent civilians.

Crowley was proud to serve a president who sent his own national security honcho to Congress to affirm, under oath, that the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate has the power -- and the right -- to kill any human being on earth, at home or abroad, if he arbitrarily declares that his target is a "terrorist threat."

Crowley was proud to serve as a top spokesman for a government which has now far outstripped all of its predecessors as a money-grubbing merchant of death to some of the most odious regimes on the planet.

None of this prompted any resignation, or outcry, or pointed remarks to MIT seminars from Crowley. It was only when the torture of a white American soldier became so blatant that it could no longer be ignored that Crowley felt outraged enough to speak out. Manning's case is indeed outrageous, but as wise man Arthur Silber noted recently, "the horrifying case of Bradley Manning is an especially high profile one, but he is hardly the only victim of even this particular form of the U.S. government's monstrousness." Crowley was happy to ignore all the other victims while facilitating the monstrousness of American foreign policy by serving as its official spokesman.

Still, any little sliver of light that gets through the slagheap of lies that power heaps on our heads day after day, hour after hours, is welcome. And if the minor controversy over Crowley's resignation (which the NY Times and Washington Post buried deep in blog posts -- although people in the UK were allowed to read it on the front page of the Guardian site) results even in some minor mitigation of Manning's conditions, that will be all to the good.

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Of Arms and the Man: War-Profiteers and Progressives Make Common Cause for Obama

Written by Chris Floyd 12 March 2011 10442 Hits

Do you want to know why Barack Obama will be re-elected President of the United States?

It is not because he has signaled his willingness to eviscerate the last remaining shreds of the sparse "safety net" of social programs set in train by the New Deal.

It is not because he has shown which side he is on in the elite's war against workers who serve the public by freezing federal salaries.

It is not because he has appointed Wall Street insiders to guide not only his economic policies but the daily operations of the entire executive branch.

It is not because he has ordered the murder of hundreds of defenseless Pakistani civilians through sneak attacks by drone missiles on their homes.

It is not because he actually stands up in public and defends the torture of an American soldier incarcerated for releasing a few shards of truth about the war crimes committed by a previous administration.

Of course, all these desperate attempts to kowtow, bow, cringe and scurry before the vicious, ruthless, bloodsoaked, bloodthirsty elites of this howlingly dysfunctional society will indeed stand Barack Obama in good stead as he seeks another term as a "safe pair of hands" for the American Imperium. But the real clincher for our militarist Dominationists will be this (from Fortune):

Thanks to a surge in overseas demand, the F-15 and other aging U.S. weapons systems are hotter than they've been in years. The Department of Defense last year told Congress of plans to sell up to $103 billion in weapons to overseas buyers, a staggering rise from an average of $13 billion a year between 1995 and 2005 ...

As defense giants like Boeing, Raytheon  and Lockheed Martin increasingly seek to peddle their wares to well-financed (sometimes by the U.S.) international customers, they have a surprising ally: the President. "Obama is much more favorably disposed to arms exports than any of the previous Democratic administrations," says Loren Thompson, a veteran defense consultant. Or, as Jeff Abramson, deputy director of the Arms Control Association, puts it: "There's an Obama arms bazaar going on."

...the Obama team has hustled to pave the way for big sales like the Saudi deal; the President himself recently sought to secure a pending $4 billion aircraft deal with India. Obama is also backing a massive push to rewrite the rules that govern arms exports, a process that some say will reduce oversight of U.S. weapons sales.

Obama in his first term is peddling almost 10 times as many weapons of death, destruction, repression and suffering than George W. Bush in his second term at the helm of the world-engulfing American War Machine. This is the reason why our Masters of War gave more money to Obama than to John McCain in 2008. The historic agent of hope and change had obviously clued them in on how well he would serve their sinister interests.

And the bulk of the Obama arms bazaar is going to one of the most repressive, hidebound, extremist regimes on earth: Saudi Arabia. The Saudi royals make the odious Moammar Gaddafy look like Thomas Jefferson in comparison. Yet Obama has gifted them with one of the biggest arms deals in human history. What will the Saudis do with these weapons? They will, like Gaddafy, turn them against their own people should they dare rise up against the ethnic, religious, economic, gender and political repression that stifles them.

What can you say about this sort of thing? It is sickening beyond words. It is a total -- even gleeful -- abdication to the very worst instincts of our common human kind: grasping greed, domination, brutality, corruption, and a pervasive, corrosive nihilism drained of compassion, of empathy, of all but the most base, most bestial impulses.

Yet even now, the "progressive blogosphere" is ablaze with partisan fervor bent toward a single goal: the re-election of Barack Obama in 2012. Because if Obama is not re-elected, we might get a president who ... kowtows to Wall Street, tortures Americans, kills innocent people -- that is, who actually, literally, physically has children torn into splatters and shreds of viscera and bone -- and sells arms to tyrants. And if we don't support this, if we don't "stop bitching and get to work" making sure that this continues, then we could end up with a Republican president who kowtows to Wall Street, tortures Americans, shreds innocent children into viscera and sells arms to tyrants. And that would be just terrible.

(I must confess here a lamentable failure of imagination. I simply cannot get my mind around the concept of progressive lovers of humanity who support the shredding of innocent children into splatters of viscera and bone. I simply cannot fathom progressive defenders of freedom and human rights who pledge themselves to arms peddlers dealing weapons to brutal regimes that have a proven record of using them against the legitimate demands and aspirations of their people. No doubt I lack some genetic component or neuronal constellation that would make all of this clear to me. But, stunted as I am, it looks like the most blinkered, willfully ignorant, Tea Partyish partisan extremism to me.)

In any case, it is good to see the bipartisanship that has long been the Holy Grail of the Potomac political class now taking shape at last. With both progressives and war-profiteering plutocrats making common cause on his behalf, the re-election of Barack Obama looks more certain all the time.

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"Kingdom of Evil": Arthur Silber's Searing Wisdom on the Torture of Bradley Manning

Written by Chris Floyd 05 March 2011 8559 Hits

Arthur Silber rises from his sickbed to pen a powerful piece on the torture of Bradley Manning by the Nobel Peace Laureate in the White House -- torture which has only gotten worse since I wrote about it here yesterday. You should read the entire article by Silber (and give him some financial support in a grave hour of need while you are there, if you can); but here are a few excerpts:


A human being can be destroyed in a seemingly infinite number of ways, as history repeatedly demonstrates. Our capacity for cruelty is limitless. It would appear to defy gratification. We are all too familiar with the horrifying varieties of physical violence inflicted on the human body, but there is another method of seeking to destroy those whom we have designated as enemies to our own survival. In one critical respect, this method is worse than injuries that might be visited on our fragile corporeal form, for while the body may survive intact, the person -- that is, his mind and soul -- will never be made whole again.

This method of destruction throws the victim into a nightmare world, one which mocks every effort to comprehend it. Cruelty is presented as compassion and solicitude for the victim's well-being; the words of justification seek to convince those who suffer that their unbearable pain should be accepted for their own good. The victim knows that every utterance of his tormentors is a lie, and the more he attempts to understand why they act so monstrously, the greater his suffering grows. ...This is evil; those who seek to impose this fate on a human being are engaged in evil of an especially monstrous kind.

Read this New York Times story about the latest cruelties inflicted on Bradley Manning, and you will see the operation of these mechanisms. We must remember that Manning is, as the Times story states in its first sentence, the "accused." As of this date, Manning has been tried for nothing. As of this date, Manning has been convicted of nothing.

The story informs us that Manning "will be stripped of his clothing every night as a 'precautionary measure' to prevent him from injuring himself," and that he "will also be required to stand outside his cell naked during a morning inspection." A Marine spokesman says that "the underwear was taken away from him as a precaution to ensure that he did not injure himself."

But as the story goes on to tell us, Manning "has not been elevated to the more restrictive 'suicide watch' conditions." The same Marine spokesman also says that "the new rule on clothing ... would continue indefinitely," and that "he was not allowed to explain what prompted it 'because to discuss the details would be a violation of Manning’s privacy.'”

Thus, according to this spokesman, Manning is subjected to repeated humiliation and degradation -- for his own good. Moreover, the reason for the repeated humiliation and degradation cannot be provided because of the military's boundless concern for Manning's "privacy" -- that is, the military also refuses to explain the reason for its cruelty for Manning's own good.

...First, forcing a prisoner to remain naked for extended periods of time is not only a barbaric means of humiliating and degrading him: it necessarily includes a very significant element of specifically sexual humiliation and degradation. Add to this unforgivable atrocity the well-known fact that Manning is gay. Especially in the hypermasculinized world of the military, such sexual humiliation and degradation represents an intentional, additional cruelty. I can only say that the U.S. government and the military of which it is so proud put Torquemada to shame.

Second, these cruelties and the purported "justifications" offered by the military, all in a notably high profile case, definitively put the lie to the propaganda spewed by the U.S. government in response to the torture, including sexual humiliation, revealed at Abu Ghraib: that such incidents were an "aberration" perpetrated by a few "bad apples." (I emphasize that similar torture and humiliation occurred in other locations as well; Abu Ghraib is probably the best-known instance.) They also definitively put the lie to Obama's patently false claim that he has "ended torture," a point I have made repeatedly.

Now we have the U.S. military, with the full support of the U.S. government, openly engaging in repeated acts of cruelty, atrocity, humiliation and degradation -- acts which the military proclaims will "continue indefinitely" -- and offering nauseatingly ludicrous justifications which would not convince a minimally healthy ten-year-old child. No honest observer can regard these actions of the U.S. government and its military as "aberrations": these actions are brazenly offered as U.S. government policy. ...


Silber also very wisely bids us keep this important fact in mind: "...we must beware falling into the trap of selective outrage. The horrifying case of Bradley Manning is an especially high profile one, but he is hardly the only victim of even this particular form of the U.S. government's monstrousness."

Indeed. Similar -- and even worse -- treatment has been doled out to many thousands of people caught up in the American gulag (and its proxy operations) over the past decade. Many others are suffering this kind of torture, and worse, today, right now, at the hands of the Peace Laureate. And many more will be subjected to this evil in the future.

NOTE: Yesterday we pointed out here that the New York Times story first confirming that Manning had been subjected to forced nudity by the Peace Laureate appeared on Page 3 in the printed version of the "paper of record." The latest story, which Silber links to, and which confirms that Manning will now be subjected to this mind-breaking torture every single day, appeared on .... Page 8 of the "paper of record." The story -- only fitfully noted as it is -- is rapidly sinking out of sight.

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A Nation Stripped Bare: Fascism Has Come to America

Written by Chris Floyd 05 March 2011 19641 Hits

It is a question that has sparked much debate, at least in certain rare quadrants where the unvarnished reality of the American imperium is recognized. But surely now the debate is over. Question it no more; the supposition, the fear, the heartbreaking intimation is a fact. It is real. It is here.

Fascism has come to America.

And no, it didn't come in jackboots. It didn't come in massed, marching ranks. It didn't come in greasy-haired frothers ranting on a stage.

It came with cool. It came with savvy. It came wearing the mask of past evils redeemed by the image of a persecuted minority elevated to power. It came spouting scripture, hugging bright children, quoting pop music, sporting pricey leisure threads.

It came on Facebook, it came with 269 cable channels blazing, with I-Pad apps offering Catholic confession and YouTube porn. It came with the Super Bowl, with de la Renta gowns on the Oscar carpet, with 36 brands of dips and chips on the bulging shelves of your local Wal-Mart.

It came right in the midst of your ordinary life, as you went to work -- or looked for work -- as you partied, as you courted, as you watched TV, as you worshipped, as you studied, as you played, as you went about the business of being human.

As you went about the business of being human, this inhuman thing has come. It has come in your name, wrapped in your flag, claiming your security as its raison d'etre.

And in the guise of a young, hip, educated progressive, it has just now declared that anyone who reveals any hidden evil committed by the fascist state is subject to prosecution for a capital crime. That's right. It has revealed that you -- you American citizen, you patriot, you believer in goodness and justice and genuine democracy -- you can be killed by the government if you tell the truth.

This is what the administration of President Barack Obama has demonstrated -- indeed, has proudly proclaimed -- in its treatment of the young man it is avowedly, openly torturing for telling the truth about American war crimes, Bradley Manning. There can be no mistaking the meaning, implications and import of Barack Obama's actions.

Corporal Bradley Manning has been charged with leaking "classified material," including a video posted on WikiLeaks that showed American forces gleefully shooting up Iraqi civilians with helicopter gunships. Manning is also alleged to have obtained thousands of other files detailing crimes, corruption, cover-ups, lies and deceit by American forces and American diplomats around the world.

Although American officials have repeatedly said that none of leaks attributed to Manning and to WikiLeaks have caused any bodily harm to any agent of American imperial power around the world, Manning is being accused of "threatening national security" and "aiding the enemy."

And who, pray tell, is the "enemy" being aided by the expression of truth? On Thursday, the Pentagon very helpfully spelled it out to the New York Times:

The charge sheet did not explain who “the enemy” was, leading some to speculate that it was a reference to WikiLeaks. On Thursday, however, the military said that it instead referred to any hostile forces that could benefit from learning about classified military tactics and procedures.

It could not be clearer. The release of any information that the American government declares might be of any use whatsoever to any possible "hostile" force -- real, imagined, or possibly run by American provocateurs -- somewhere in the world at some point in time is a crime that can be punishable by death. Thus any person or any entity that reveals embarrassing or criminal facts that the government wishes to keep hidden now stands in the shadow of death.

If that is not fascism, there has never been such a thing on the face of the earth.

To be sure, American officials say that they will seek only life imprisonment for Manning -- who they are now subjecting to hours of forced nakedness in front of video cameras. But the military judge who will oversee Manning's court martial is entirely free to disregard the prosecutor's stated intention and impose the full penalty for aiding the "enemy."

But again, who is the "enemy"? You are the enemy -- if you speak a truth that the government does not want you to reveal. (Of course, if you are an approved and coddled courtier, an eager, scurrying scribe like Bob Woodward, for example, you can reveal all the most secret "classified material" that you like, as long as it comes from savvy insiders "authorized" to praise their bosses and make their rivals look bad.) If you speak this unwanted truth, the government, the president -- the cool, savvy, modern, hip, educated progressive president -- can throw you in jail, subject you to torture, deprive you of sleep, and finally strip you naked in front of cameras to break you down and humiliate you in their efforts to dehumanize you, to grind you down into a piece of meat.

2.
Here is the New York Times report on Manning's treatment -- a small, brief story which did not make the front page of the print edition and within a few hours disappeared from the dozens of stories on the front page of the on-line edition:

A lawyer for Pfc. Bradley Manning, [David E. Coombs], the Army intelligence analyst accused of leaking secret government files to WikiLeaks, has complained that his client was stripped and left naked in his cell for seven hours on Wednesday. ... The soldier’s clothing was returned to him Thursday morning, after he was required to stand naked outside his cell during an inspection, Mr. Coombs said in a posting on his Web site.

“This type of degrading treatment is inexcusable and without justification,” Mr. Coombs wrote. “It is an embarrassment to our military justice system and should not be tolerated. Pfc. Manning has been told that the same thing will happen to him again tonight. No other detainee at the brig is forced to endure this type of isolation and humiliation.”

First Lt. Brian Villiard, a Marine spokesman, said a brig duty supervisor had ordered Private Manning’s clothing taken from him. He said that the step was “not punitive” and that it was in accordance with brig rules, but he said that he was not allowed to say more. “It would be inappropriate for me to explain it,” Lieutenant Villiard said. “I can confirm that it did happen, but I can’t explain it to you without violating the detainee’s privacy.”

This is rich; this shows a devilish irony at work in the PR boiler rooms of our fascist state. Yes, we tortured Manning, but we can't tell you why -- because we want to protect his privacy! We are very concerned about his sacred right to privacy! "I'm sorry," said Sgt. Heinrich Schultz, spokesman for the Auschwitz-Birkenau detention facility. "I can confirm that Mr Shlomo Stern, formerly of Krakow, was indeed stripped naked by guards here, but it would be inappropriate for me to explain why, because it would violate the detainee's privacy."

And as Glenn Greenwald reports, Manning was indeed stripped naked again the following night. Coombs himself notes:

PFC Manning was forced to strip naked in his cell again last night.  As with the previous evening, Quantico Brig guards required him to surrender all of his clothing.  PFC Manning then walked back to his bed, and spent the next seven hours in humiliation.

The decision to require him to be stripped of all clothing was made by the Brig commander, Chief Warrant Officer-2 Denise Barnes.  According to First Lieutenant Brian Villard, a Marine spokesman, the decision was "not punitive" and done in accordance with Brig rules.  There can be no conceivable justification for requiring a soldier to surrender all his clothing, remain naked in his cell for seven hours, and then stand at attention the subsequent morning.  This treatment is even more degrading considering that PFC Manning is being monitored -- both by direct observation and by video -- at all times. The defense was informed by Brig officials that the decision to strip PFC Manning of all his clothing was made without consulting any of the Brig's mental health providers.

What is happening here -- as Arthur Silber foretold long ago -- is that Barack Obama is codifying the worst abuses of the Bush Administration (and its predecessors) --  which had usually been committed on the side, in the dark, in secret, behind many layers of "plausible deniability" -- into the open, declared law of the land. This too is facism in action. Indeed, rarely has there been a regime more legalistic than Nazi Germany, where jurists, legislators and civil servants adhered strenuously to the "law" as determined by the will of the ruling clique. And for all those who make a fetish of the "rule of law," here is the end result: law being used by brutal Power to "justify" inhuman treatment of truth-tellers. As we noted here some months ago:


A conversation during Civil War. (From work-in-progress Bright, Terrible Spirit):

"But in days past, I was a lawyer. Yes, a lawyer, can you believe it? It seems….ridiculous now, doesn't it? An orderly system meant to govern human society, to establish justice, to advance the progress and enlightenment of the human race. Yet that system, that civil cosmos – to which I was so passionately committed – embraced and protected the most wretched evils, entrenched the powerful in their unjust privilege, oppressed the poor and weak most relentlessly and wickedly, yet at every step – at every step – sang hosannas to itself as some kind of divinity. The "Law" – oh, what a hush of reverence surrounded that word, how deeply that reverence and respect penetrated the heart. Well, my heart, anyway. But in these last few years we have seen – in intense, concentrated, microscopic view – the truth about the law, a truth which too often escaped us in the slow unrolling of peacetime. The truth that there is no law, no Platonic Form out there to which we give paltry representation. There is only power: power in conflict with power, power seeking to drive out power, to establish its dominance, maintain its privilege. Power…acquiesces to law – sometimes – but it never, never bows to it. Power goes along with the law when it is convenient to do so, when it is not too restrictive, when it demands little more than the occasional sacrifice – for the powerful are certainly not above throwing one of their own to the mob when circumstances require. But when it comes to the crisis, power shreds the law like a filthy rag and has its own way. And then you see that the law is nothing but a rag, to be torn and patched and fitted to power's aims. The worst atrocities I have seen or heard of in this war have been committed wholly and completely under the law. This thing I held in such reverence was, is, nothing but a scrap soaked with blood and shit."

This is what the administration of President Barack Obama has brought to open fruition in the United States of America. The debate is over. The question is answered. Facism has come.

3.
A brief reprise of a recent tribute to Manning and other truth-tellers:

"Good corporal, good corporal, don't you know the fate
Of all those who speak the hard truth to the State
And all who trouble the people's sweet dreams?
They're mocked into scorn and torn apart at the seams
...."

 

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Taking the Cake: The Creeping Militarization of the Libyan Crisis

Written by Chris Floyd 03 March 2011 9408 Hits

The howling hypocrisy of the American response to the uprising in Libya has been so jaw-dropping and nauseating that I've hardly been able to address it. Fortunately, Seamus Milne is on the case, and voices much of my thinking about the matter:

The same western leaders who happily armed and did business with the Gaddafi regime until a fortnight ago have now slapped sanctions on the discarded autocrat and blithely referred him to the international criminal court the United States won't recognise.

Yes, does this not, as they say, take the cake ... and the plate and the forks and the napkins too? The United States pushing through a measure to refer Libyan leaders to an international court which the United States resolutely refuses to recognize -- lest its own leaders and their underlings find themselves in the dock for the most monstrous war crimes of this century? Yet even today, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate was sternly wagging his finger at Gaddafi and his underlings, telling them they "will be held accountable" for their actions before the august institutions of international justice, which weigh the whole world in the balance ... except for the Peace prize-winning drone assassin and Continuer-in-Chief of a worldwide campaign of state terror, that is. But now back to Milne:

With Colonel Gaddafi and his loyalists showing every sign of digging in, the likelihood must be of intensified conflict – with all the heightened pretexts that would offer for outside interference, from humanitarian crises to threats to oil supplies.

But any such intervention would risk disaster and be a knife at the heart of the revolutionary process now sweeping the Arab world. Military action is needed, US and British politicians claim, because Gaddafi is "killing his own people". Hundreds have certainly died, but that's hard to take seriously as the principal motivation.

When more than 300 people were killed by Hosni Mubarak's security forces in a couple of weeks, Washington initially called for "restraint on both sides". In Iraq, 50,000 US occupation troops protect a government which last Friday killed 29 peaceful demonstrators demanding reform. In Bahrain, home of the US fifth fleet, the regime has been shooting and gassing protesters with British-supplied equipment for weeks.

The "responsibility to protect" invoked by those demanding intervention in Libya is applied so selectively that the word hypocrisy doesn't do it justice. And the idea that states which are themselves responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands in illegal wars, occupations and interventions in the last decade, along with mass imprisonment without trial, torture and kidnapping, should be authorised by international institutions to prevent killings in other countries is simply preposterous.

One key point Milne makes here deserves underlining: Western military intervention would be "a knife at the heart of the revolutionary process now sweeping the Arab world." But of course, that's exactly what Peace prizeniks and Etonian schoolboys now leading the "Free World" would like to see happen. As Milne notes, the Arab Awakening is threatening some of the West's favorite dictators and tough guys, from the religious extremists in Saudi Arabia to the ever-complaisant corruptocrats in Bahrain to the client brutalists in Iraq and elsewhere.The dullards directing world affairs have been desperately casting about for a way to put the kibosh on the movement - and Libya might give them the opening they've been fumbling for. Milne again:

The reality is that the western powers which have backed authoritarian kleptocrats across the Middle East for decades now face a loss of power in the most strategically sensitive region of the world as a result of the Arab uprisings and the prospect of representative governments. They are evidently determined to appropriate the revolutionary process wherever possible, limiting it to cosmetic change that allows continued control of the region.

In Libya, the disintegration of the regime offers a crucial opening. Even more important, unlike Tunisia and Egypt, it has the strategic prize of the largest oil reserves in Africa. Of course the Gaddafi regime has moved a long way from the days when it took over the country's oil, kicked out foreign bases and funded the African National Congress at a time when the US and Britain branded Nelson Mandela a terrorist.
Along with repression, corruption and a failure to deliver to ordinary Libyans, the regime has long since bent the knee to western power, as Tony Blair and his friends were so keen to celebrate, ditching old allies and nuclear ambitions while offering privatised pickings and contracts to western banks, arms and oil corporations such as BP.

Now the prospect of the regime's fall offers the chance for much closer involvement – western intelligence has had its fingers in parts of the Libyan opposition for years – when other states seem in danger of spinning out of the imperial orbit. ... Military intervention wouldn't just be a threat to Libya and its people, but to the ownership of what has been until now an entirely organic, homegrown democratic movement across the region.

Again, that would be -- will be? -- the very point of any type of Western military intervention in Libya: to kill a popular, democratic movement that is at present beyond the control of the imperial militarists along the Potomac. Such an intervention would allow Gaddafi and other tyrants under threat to paint opponents to their rule as "tools of the imperialists," while rallying many who oppose them back to their side, to defend the nation against outsiders. This in turn would help "stabilize" the revolutionary situations -- and the leaders, now safe once more, could then turn back to their cynical backroom deals with the West, and hoarding the blood and toil of their people in the cool vaults of Swiss banks. Hey, it's a win-win situation all around.

Events are in free, chaotic flow right now. The Libyan opposition might be able to oust Gaddafi before President Peacey and Prime Minister Fauntleroy go in with guns blazing. And events elsewhere might suddenly erupt and draw off attention and resources. But we are certainly seeing a creeping militarization in the response to the Libyan uprising -- and behind the exigencies of this crisis, there is the deeper shadow that Milne discerns: the longer-range project to diffuse and destroy the Arab Awakening before it further spreads its genuine threat to the business-as-usual dominance of Western elites.

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Revealed! The Ancient Mystery at the Heart of the Worldwide Communist Conspiracy

Written by Chris Floyd 01 March 2011 7085 Hits

Here is the deep, dark secret at the heart of the socialistic Commie Red Pinko Conspiracy -- the esoteric doctrine kept hidden by hooded illuminati since time out of mind, revealed at last by Terry Eagelton in the London Review of Books:

Marx, too, was an artist of sorts. It is often forgotten how staggeringly well read he was, and what painstaking labour he invested in the literary style of his works. He was eager, he remarked, to get shot of the ‘economic crap’ of Capital and get down to his big book on Balzac. Marxism is about leisure, not labour. It is a project that should be eagerly supported by all those who dislike having to work. It holds that the most precious activities are those done simply for the hell of it, and that art is in this sense the paradigm of authentic human activity. It also holds that the material resources that would make such a society possible already exist in principle, but are generated in a way that compels the great majority to work as hard as our Neolithic ancestors did. We have thus made astounding progress, and no progress at all.

My god! Time for art, time for leisure, time for aimless noodling around?! Have you heard of such a hellish vision of society in all your born days? No nose to the grindstone, no pickaxe in the salt mine? "Leisure not labour?" Heaven forfend! You see now why our hip-joined bipartisan elites (the double-headed hydra known as Beckobama, or Barakobeck; depends on what faction you favor) are so fierce in their efforts to save us from Commie-ism and force us all to "have some skin in the game" by "sacrificing" little things like entitlements, bargaining rights, benefits, vacations, family life and personal freedoms to keep Wall Street living high on the hog.

Of course, there's nothing new about Marx's deeply buried notion (buried no less assiduously by most Marxists as well). The yearning for idleness -- that is, for a deeper, freer, more human life -- has been a revolutionary idea since the beginning of recorded history. The Babylonians encoded it in their myths about their ruling gods, who staged a heavenly uprising in order to set themselves up on easy street. Which brings to mind a few idle lines quickly scrabbled down in the back of a copy of Gilgamesh a few years ago:

Babylonian Theology

If the gods themselves grew tired of ceaseless labor
and rebelled, making the clay things that we are,
endowing us with sufficient mind and spirit
not only to do their work but also look and yearn beyond,
why shouldn't we in our turn overthrow divine order
in search of ease, rich pleasures and idleness?
Death, you say, will follow; but death is here already,
it waits on the good servant and the bad,
swallows both, swallows all. Why then blister
your hand with the heft of an axe
when you might instead lay it gently on some soft flesh?

But for god's sake, don't tell the children that's what it's all about. For who would serve as cannon fodder for plutocratic domination if this radical doctrine ever takes hold?

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The Village Canyon and the Country Hilltop

Written by Chris Floyd 28 February 2011 6087 Hits

There’s beauty in the silver, singin’ river
There’s beauty in the sunrise in the sky
But none of these and nothing else can touch the beauty
That I remember in my true love’s eyes

-- Bob Dylan, "Tomorrow is a Long Time"

Distant lives become entangled with our own when for some reason they cross the glowing synaptic web at a fateful moment, and take on emblematic power for inner constellations of need and desire that seek some form beyond their own chaos. And when death's darkness covers them, we might feel some ghostly trembling in that antique web, buried now under so many layers of years and changes, but still embered in the timeless now that saw it created. You might see, as in a dream, some near one's eyes, returned from darkness, for a moment, just a moment, perhaps no longer than the breathing of a song.

Suze Rotolo, 1943-2011

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