April 29, 2007

Passing On the Sense of Wonder

Over the last few months, I've become aware that a certain detachment of spirit and perspective has come upon me. I don't mean "detachment" in the way people most often view it: a lessening of interest in our world and its multitude of activities, or a diminution of passion. I think my essays over the last several days reveal that such is not at all the case. And the stacks of books around my computer (some of which one of my cats, Cyrano, delights in toppling to the floor when I'm asleep and unavailable to amuse him in other ways), many of which concern subjects I'll be writing about it, others that simply interest me for a variety of reasons or represent gaps in my knowledge that I'm attempting to fill (which gaps are numerous and cause me considerable anxiety), attest to my curiosity about every subject under the sun. That curiosity seems more voracious than ever, and it appears to feed upon itself.

No, the detachment I'm referring to is a kind of pulling back, so as to take in the wider view, wider both in content and in time. In the sense I mean it, this broader perspective causes the details, and the often overwhelming, numerous minutiae of day-to-day events, to become more, not less, clear. In part, I'm sure this shift is the result of my sister's death and my own infirm health, particularly as another birthday rushes to overtake me. I'm about to be 59; while certainly not old these days, it is most definitely not young. Time does seem to pass more quickly as we age; that was one of those claims I used to deride when I was a few decades younger. Statements of the kind, "You'll see how true [observation 5,428] is when you're older, dear," always used to infuriate me. If used to obtain unfair advantage and offered without supporting evidence, younger people ought to be angry about such assertions. But with regard to the content itself of certain claims of this kind, they often damnably prove to be accurate. On my wonderful opera discussion list, there were recently a number of posts about the passing of Kitty Carlisle Hart. Some members recalled Hart's show about her own life and the endless parade of colorful, fascinating people she had known. (Among other things, it appears that more than a few famous men, including George Gershwin and Harpo Marx if I recall correctly, were determined to marry or at least bed her, often devising, ah, somewhat unusual and amusing strategems to achieve their objective.) One poster recalled that Hart remembered her mother saying that one of worst things about getting older is that you're having breakfast every 15 minutes. It's true, although I think five or 10 minutes might be more like it.

But the shift has occurred for another, much deeper reason. I know that some people view my writing as bleak and pessimistic; they think I approach events from a perspective that is despairing and fatalistic. Some believe my primary message is that we're headed into monumental catastrophe, and there is nothing to be done about it. In the most important sense, such a view of my work strikes me as surpassingly strange. It is absolutely not how I think about the world at all. To begin with, the fundamental fact of life itself, coupled with the further extraordinary fact that we are aware of it, is nothing less than miraculous to me. Many times a day, as I'm reading or listening to music, and once in a very, very great while when I'm writing and think I may have stumbled onto a particularly pleasing way of expressing some idea, I'll think: "Isn't this just the most amazing thing, that people can create in this manner!" I consider the supreme artistry of Maria Callas, and I am overwhelmed and inspired by the greatness of which human beings are capable. The breadth of that kind of vision, together with an exquisite sensitivity to the smallest detail and an unbreached dedication to settling for nothing less than the absolute best we can do, fills me with wonder. It makes my own soul sing, and I am determined to work harder than ever in my own small way.

If I had to select just a single word to express my deepest feeling about the world, and about humankind, it would be that one: wonder. I consider it a measure of how unevolved we are that so many people appear to be capable of that feeling only when they contemplate an imaginary, supernatural plane. It is hardly surprising that our world holds so much unnecessary suffering, when so many people are willing and eager to condemn it to second-rate status in favor of one they've made up out of whole cloth.

With regard to the view of some that I think catastrophe will overtake us and we are helpless before it: that is true in one sense, but it most definitely not true in another. In fact, much of my writing over the last several months (and far longer) has been largely concerned with my attempt to make clear the immense dangers that lie in wait, and to motivate people to do something about them. It is very obviously the case that I am convinced that certain courses of action are open to us, and that if a sufficient number of people pursued at least a few of them with the requisite commitment and on the indicated scale, some of the worst dangers on the road ahead might be avoided. I realized it would be an abandonment of my own position to simply declare that people ought to do "something" -- so I was very specific in the final part of my "Dispatch from Germany" series: "Building an Effective Resistance." I proposed a series of actions, and encouraged people to think about the many other possibilities. I've seen some people say that those who are deeply opposed to the Bush administration are already taking those actions -- but if you read or reread that entry, you will see that is just not true. I don't have a large readership myself, but a number of liberal-progressive blogs do. As just one example, if they wanted to, five or 10 of the leading blogs could probably raise enough money themselves to run some newspaper and TV ads of the kind I suggested, perhaps with relative ease and perhaps enough money to run a series of ads. The same is true in different ways of my other suggestions. I desperately hoped that at least a few of the leading bloggers might take my ideas, improve on them and/or add further ideas of their own, and then run with them.

Of course, none of that has happened, although some people have noted that post (and other similar ones). But in terms of my general purpose, my suggestions have fallen with a dull thud. In truth, and although I fervently hoped it might be otherwise, I didn't expect any other result. Still, I hoped, and I continue to hope even now, since we can always choose to alter our course, until incapacity, imprisonment, or death extinguish all possibilities for action. And my writing continues to point to alternative courses of action, as you will see in "Living Under the Guillotine's Blade" or "Theater of Death," for example. As I attempt to make clear the ultimate meaninglessness of the sad and pathetic pageant that passes for our political debates today, I am always saying, in effect: "It doesn't have to be this way. We could act otherwise."

I am enormously struck by the unnecessary and indefensible narrowness of action that most people, including almost all progressive bloggers (and certainly all national Democrats), view as feasible or "realistic." I will be discussing this in detail in a new essay I'm working on, and that I hope to complete by tomorrow; it will deal with a few political heroes on a grand scale, and how such people have vanished from our lives, to be replaced by two-bit charlatans for the most part. For the moment, I will simply observe that almost all people think only within the severely circumscribed limits of what others have already determined to be "acceptable" behavior. In connection with progressive writers especially, the irony is exceptionally heavy: these are people who endlessly rail against "conventional wisdom" and "inside the Beltway thinking," while they themselves vehemently reject the merest suggestion that anyone should break the accepted rules in any significant way, or refuse to play the game as it has always been played. In part, this is why my suggestions in "Dispatch from Germany" were almost universally ignored: I purposely insisted that the bounds of what is "acceptable" be expanded, and that the rules of the game be changed. For most people, this is unthinkable. They say such ideas are not "realistic"; what they mean is that they are not willing to take the necessary risks. But on rare occasions, a hero will come along who takes precisely those risks and completely rejects the conventional rules. Many progressives hail these heroes, and simultaneously prove entirely incapable of applying the indicated lessons to our situation today. All this will hopefully become clearer in the new piece.

But this brings us to the issue of catastrophe, and whether it is inevitable. If the great majority of people remain trapped by what is considered acceptable and refuse to significantly expand the boundaries of what kinds of political action and terms of debate they view as possible, then, yes, disaster is inevitable. But I repeat: it does not have to be this way. When I return to "Dominion Over the World" in the coming week or two, among other subjects I will be discussing the rise of corporatism (or what Gabriel Kolko refers to as "state capitalism") in the United States beginning in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. History provides numerous examples to prove that once a state begins to walk the path of corporatism, its final decline and collapse cannot be avoided, unless its direction is fundamentally altered. Government bureaucracies multiply without end; the state intrudes into more and more areas of what had once been private conduct; corruption expands exponentially; the likelihood of economic catastrophe greatly increases; and a host of other evils (including endless war) will inevitably doom the project. One further related disaster lies in wait: a dictatorship, in any one of its numerous forms, as I recently analyzed in some detail.

As I have observed before, this final collapse can take many forms, and its timetable is unpredictable. It may take decades, or centuries. This is why I will continue to encourage people to take action as I have before: in effect, we find ourselves in a race against time, much as we might prefer our situation to be otherwise. The longer we can avoid the worst of the dangers that lie in wait, the more time we have for people to consider new ideas and alternative courses of action. At a minimum, we must be resolute and undaunted in our commitment to the avoidance of even one more war of aggression, for war brings with it an endless number of associated evils, as the current regime has demonstrated with terrible variety. On this point, the Democrats at present offer no alternative at all, certainly not insofar as their remarks about the "intolerable" danger represented by an Iran with nuclear weapons are concerned, and even though an Iran so armed lies at least five to 10 years in the future. The monopoly in foreign policy of those who are determined to achieve and maintain global hegemony for the United States must be challenged at every point, and in every instance.

History provides scant support for the idea that a battle of this kind can ultimately be won -- but as long as the possibility for success remains, however unlikely and weak that possibility may be, how can we give up this fight? I certainly cannot, and I will not. This is why the possibility of widespread censorship must also be ferociously resisted; it is very likely that, in the wake of another terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11 or even worse, calls for censorship will be widespread. (Such calls have been made regularly, with a remarkable lack of subtlety and intellectual honesty, as I have noted for some time.) As long as we are essentially free to speak, hope remains and must not be abandoned. If censorship should come, a fundamental reassessment of required tactics will have to be made. But we are thankfully not yet at that point.

So this is where I am: I think it highly probable that our circumstances will continue to get significantly worse, although this deterioration may come quickly or comparatively slowly. You may live the rest of your life without seeing the worst of what will happen, or even anything close to the worst -- or you may not. There is no way to know, and the variables are close to infinite. But I say again: it does not have to be this way. Extraordinary events have transpired in history before, and they might again. We need a miracle, but not one delivered to us from a supernatural realm: we require a miracle that we create.

It can happen. Hold on to your sense of wonder; if you do not have a sufficiently strong one, then develop it. For me, it is the most precious resource in the world.

I began this essay talking about a certain sense of detachment, but one suffused with this sense of wonder. I recently came across several expressions of this idea. They all relate to the subjects I've discussed here, but from very different perspectives. Permit me to offer two of them to you.

I recently watched the film of The History Boys. I will have more to say about the film (and the play upon which it is based) in a future essay. This work from Alan Bennett is flawed and problematic in some ways, but it is hugely entertaining, often wonderfully written, and stupendously theatrical in the very best sense. I am very sad that I never saw it onstage. The acting is superlative across the board, including from the young men who play "The History Boys," students who are being prepared for examinations for admittance to the best colleges in Britain, such as Oxford. The central conflict in the play is between Hector, a teacher of about 60 who "merely" provides "inspiration," which the headmaster considers "unquantifiable" and therefore insufficient, and Irwin, a young man in his twenties, who views education as a "performance," where the primary goal is to satisfy the requirements of the system as it exists, solely so that one may be successful.

Hector instructs largely by subverting the accepted conventions of teaching; for example, in one game with his students, they try to stump him by acting out the final scenes of different films, including the wonderful Noel Coward-David Lean Brief Encounter (with a dizzyingly uncanny Celia Johnson recreation from the indecently talented Samuel Barnett), and the Bette Davis-Paul Henreid Now, Voyager (a title which comes from Walt Whitman, you will recall). In a key scene where we see Hector's methods at work, he and the young man played by Barnett discuss Thomas Hardy's "Drummer Hodge." Hector says:
The best moments in reading are when you come across something -- a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things -- which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.
As brilliantly acted by Richard Griffiths and Barnett, and in the context of who these people are and of their relationship, it's a wonderful moment. (The film is acted by the cast of the original production, which had played at the National Theatre in London for a year prior to the film being made.)

At the very end of the play (where the speech is just a bit longer than in the film), we again hear words spoken by Hector earlier:
Pass the parcel.
That's sometimes all you can do.
Take it, feel it and pass it on.
Not for me, not for you, but for someone, somewhere, one day.
Pass it on, boys.
That's the game I wanted you to learn.
Pass it on.
Toward the end of my essay, "The United States as Cho Seung-Hui: How the State Sanctifies Murder," I offered an excerpt from Albert Jay Nock's, Our Enemy, the State. In rereading Nock's remarkable book recently, I was deeply touched by the final passage of the book proper (which is followed by a brief Epilogue, an essay written some years earlier). As explained above, my sense of inevitability is not as committed and unmediated by hope as Nock's was; despite this difference, which I consider a significant one, Nock makes several crucial points that capture my own perspective:
But it may quite properly be asked, if we in common with the rest of the Western world are so far gone in Statism as to make this outcome inevitable, what is the use of a book which merely shows that it is inevitable? By its own hypothesis the book is useless. Upon the very evidence it offers, no one's political opinions are likely to be changed by it, no one's practical attitude towards the State will be modified by it; and if they were, according to the book's own premises, what good could it do?


There are two reasons, however, one general and one special, why the publication of such a book is admissible.

The general reason is that when in any department of thought a person has, or thinks he has, a view of the plain intelligible order of things, it is proper that he should record that view publicly, with no thought whatever of the practical consequences, or lack of consequences, likely to ensue upon his so doing. He might indeed by thought bound to do this as a matter of abstract duty; not to crusade or propagandize for his view or seek to impose it upon anyone -- far from that! -- not to concern himself at all with either its acceptance or its disallowance, but merely to record it. This, I say, might be thought his duty to the natural truth of things, but it is at all events his right; it is admissible.

The special reason has to do with the fact that in every civilization, however generally prosaic, however addicted to the short-time point of view on human affairs, there are always certain alien spirits who, while outwardly conforming to the requirements of the civilization around them, still keep a disinterested regard for the plain intelligible law of things, irrespective of any practical end. They have an intellectual curiosity, sometimes touched with emotion, concerning the august order of nature; they are impressed by the contemplation of it, and like to know as much about it as they can, even in circumstances where its operation is ever so manifestly unfavourable to their best hopes and wishes. For these, a work like this, however in the correct sense impractical, is not quite useless; and those of them it reaches will be aware that for such as themselves, and such only, it was written.
We should note the conclusion of Nock's Epilogue too, where Nock proposes "a violent frontal assault" on the "vocationalists" like Murdstone, who think "the world be merely a place to work in," a world where "nobody seems to be having a very good time," whether poor or rich:
All the physical apparatus of happiness is about us, and yet no one, apparently, is having a cent's worth of fun out of it. Well, here is the classicist's opportunity. He can throw his experienced eye, trained by his incessant commerce with the ages, over this anomaly and show cause for it. He can survey the life of our well-to-do and poor alike, and show that about the only fun to be had out of such a life is the search for fun, and show why the desire remains ungratified. He can show by practical example -- by horrible example -- where, in the preparation for life, certain essential values which have been disregarded by the vocationalist, come in. Thus he has now an advantage which he never had before, in the opportunity to appraise a whole society which represents quite fairly the finished work of his opponents. But we are convinced that he will once more merely fumble this advantage unless he stands immovable upon the bed-rock thesis that life is given to human beings for their enjoyment, that all its other purposes, if it have any, are incidental and ancillary to this one; that the human world by its original intention is not Murdstone's world, not a world of industry and efficiency, but a world of joy.
Just before Hector's final speech in The History Boys, Hector's rival, Irwin, says: "He was a good man but I do not think there is time for his kind of teaching any more." One of the students replies: "No. Love apart, it is the only education worth having."

Live in the sense of wonder, and in the world of joy. Take it, feel it and pass it on.

That's sometimes all you can do -- for someone, somewhere, one day. It's everything.

April 27, 2007

Just Plain Begging

This is excruciatingly awkward, since I've only been back to writing for a few days. As regular readers will know, I've been out of commission for much of the last two months because of the unexpectedly quick passing of my sister, followed by a succession of ailments that confined me to bed most of the time. I do feel better now, although my generally weak health prevents me from ever feeling truly well these days, as has been true for the last couple of years. But I think I'm at least getting my writing stride back, and the essays over the last several days have been...well, pretty good. I'm especially pleased with my latest piece, "Living Under the Guillotine's Blade." That has some decent writing in it.

Anyway, given my inability to post recently, I can't say: "Look at all the great writing I've done!," since I haven't done it. But I'm basically back to where I was when I wrote the post from hell several months ago. (I can't bear to read that entry, since the subject matter is so painful. But in one severely limited sense, I'm glad it's there, since I can now simply link to it when I must, without having to describe my circumstances all over again.) So, yes, I'm close to broke, with only about $70 to my name. If it weren't for the very kind people who have made donations over the last few weeks and months, the cats and I would have commenced starving several weeks ago. As always, I extend my deepest thanks to those generous donors, as I do to everyone who makes it possible for me to continue at this.

Unfortunately, the first of the month is next Tuesday, when my rent will be due. I obviously can't pay even part of it. My landlords extended limitless patience to me in the past, and occasionally allowed me to get dreadfully in arrears. But a new management company took over a few months ago, and they've made it clear that patience is not a word in their business vocabulary. Their right, certainly. But it puts me in rather a dreadful situation. So, I'm begging. If around a hundred of you had an extra $10 to spare, that would get me through. I could pay my rent and a long overdue electric bill (which can't be extended beyond May 9), and the kids and I could eat for a week or so.

Now that I'm able to write again, there is a great deal of material I want to cover. I need to complete the "Dominion Over the World" series; my outline at present indicates it will have five or six more installments, although it may expand still more. I also need to complete "The Personal Factor" essays, which will permit me to explore some further issues growing out of Alice Miller's work, ones that I haven't yet considered in detail. And as I indicated the other day, I've already begun outlining a new series that will focus on the tribalism that consumes most of our political system today, just as it consumes political writing, including that of the majority of bloggers. I have a lot to say on that subject; that, too, will take me back into Alice Miller territory in part, and I'll also be including some excerpts from and discussion about a very interesting (if flawed) book, Mistakes Were Made (but not by me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts. And as always, news of the day when it presents an angle that seems worthy of comment. I think I'll try to start putting up some articles about the arts, too: about opera, of course, and also about books and films. I've watched some good films recently, and some rotten ones, all courtesy of Netflix, the one luxury I've been able to manage. (Still no regular or cable TV, which I've concluded will forever remain beyond my grasp, and the cats always come first in any case.)

So there will be lots of writing to come over the next month or two, and it would be a great relief not to have to worry about eviction notices and related nightmares. Food would be nice, too. I'm very sorry for the begging, both for your sakes and for mine, but I have no other choice, unless I were to sell almost all my books and CDs, which would be...well, awful. Even though May 1 is only four days away now (gah), I felt I had to get at least some new writing done, before posting this. (That reminds me: my birthday is May 5, so if you wish, you can consider it a birthday gift. I know, that's shameless of me. But I'm truly feeling more than slightly desperate at the moment, so I'm reduced to using whatever I've got. In any event, it won't be a very happy birthday this year.)

Amazon and PayPal links are at the upper right. If you need my mailing address, just let me know: arthur4801 at yahoo dot com. As always, my profound gratitude to all of you who are so remarkably kind.

P.S. Speaking of cats! (And I did here.) Wendy continues to thrive, and is developing a lovely plump little belly. She is truly a sweetheart and sleeps with me every night, curled up in my arms at my side. Unfortunately, Fidele, who had waited nine years to become Top Cat (Elyot and Beanie, a heavensent pair of brothers who graced my life when Fidele first walked up to my door in 1993, died in 1997 and 2002, respectively), is determined to make life exceptionally difficult for any newcomer who dares to challenge her authority. Fidele periodically marches into the bedroom, where Wendy feels entirely safe and where she still spends most of her time, and noisily chases Wendy under the bed. It takes me several minutes to calm everyone down after these episodes. I think Cyrano and Wendy will become friends in time, but Fidele is also making that difficult at the moment. Patience, patience; all in good time.

Kids. What are you gonna do?

P.P.S. Please allow me to extend my most sincere apologies if you've written to me recently, and I haven't yet responded. I've barely begun to go through the email that has piled up in the last six weeks or so. I'll try to start reading it this weekend, but the first order of business for me has been to get back to writing. So if you've written, I'll get back to you soon. My apologies again in the meantime.

Living Under the Guillotine's Blade

Imagine you see a man on his knees, arms outstretched, with his head resting on a wooden block. Ten feet above his head, the sharp edge of a guillotine blade hangs suspended. The blade is held back by a rope that is visibly frayed and weak. It appears the rope might snap at any moment, and the blade will descend to plunge through the man's neck. Blood will spurt over the platform on which the guillotine sits, and the man's head, brutally shorn of the rest of his body, will thud onto the darkened platform below, onto the wood stained with the blood from earlier victims. This scene has been enacted many times before.

One aspect of the drama playing out before you is exceptionally strange. No one is forcing the man to remain on his knees, with his head calmly resting on the block. He could get up and walk off the platform at any moment. Yet he doesn't. He appears to be entirely unconcerned about the fatal danger above him, the blade that hangs there with infinite patience, silently waiting for its moment. There are others watching this scene with you. Some of them, like you, shout out warnings to the man. Still he does not get up. You and the others have been unable to move the man, or to disable the blade. Only the man on the platform can save himself. He won't. He stays on his knees, with his head on the block. With every moment that passes, the rope holding the blade back weakens. You know, as the man himself knows, that the rope will break eventually.

Yet he stays there. Warnings continue to be shouted; he continues to ignore them. The rope frays still more. Some people in the gathered crowd finally leave. The tension had become unbearable to them. But you and a few others remain. Surely, you think, the man will get up eventually, before the rope breaks. Why would he remain there, when he knows that will mean his certain death? And still he doesn't move.

The minutes pass, and turn into hours. Nothing changes. The man remains in position. The blade waits. The only unknown is the precise moment when the blood will begin to flow, the moment when another life will be brutally destroyed, as so many have been destroyed before.

You feel compelled to remain, and to watch. You are unable to turn away. Death hangs in the air.


This is how we live in America today. The final destruction of liberty, and of life itself, could begin at any moment. Yet we act like the man with his head resting on the block. We seem to believe there is nothing especially unusual in our circumstances, nothing that requires us to take action. Life goes on as it always did. Like the man under the blade, we could choose to alter our fate. We will not. We believe, as perhaps the man under the blade believes, that our situation isn't that bad; we'll be able to get through this, just as we always have. We forget all those who have gone before us, all those who have died bloody and painful deaths. But, we may tell ourselves, we are different from all those others. Their fate will not be ours, because we are special and unique. We forget that all the earlier victims thought the same.

Perhaps it is the case that the man with his head resting on the block isn't very intelligent. It is possible he doesn't understand that the rope holds the blade back, and that when the rope breaks, the blade will descend and cut through his flesh. At this moment in history, it is indisputably the case that Americans generally, and the political class and most of those who write about politics (including almost all bloggers), are not very intelligent. They appear to understand almost nothing about political principles, or how they operate. Gathering dangers hold no reality for such people. They will understand the guillotine's purpose only when the blade first touches their necks, and the blood finally gushes out. Yes, they will certainly comprehend the danger then, when all possibilities for action have been destroyed.

The man in my story has only one blade suspended above him; we have at least four blades hanging over us, any one of which could be fatal.

The first blade, probably the most dangerous one, is the Military Commissions Act. What is it that people fail to understand about this abomination? I know that I and others have explained its immense dangers and its fatal implications numerous times; perhaps we haven't explained it very well. But I don't know how to say it any more plainly than this:
There is no question that the Military Commissions Act, given the language it now contains, grants -- in principle -- full dictatorial powers to the executive. As I explained in the earlier essay, the executive and certain entities it controls can designate anyone, including any American citizen, as an "unlawful enemy combatant." That person can then be imprisoned for the rest of his life, with no recourse whatsoever. Period.


The critical point is what, in principle, the grant of power includes. As noted, the grant is absolute: it includes everything. As I have pointed out, the determination of the Bush administration to achieve absolute power has been indisputably clear since shortly after 9/11. And this is hardly the first time that I and others have noted that the mechanisms for a complete dictatorship have now been put in place.


With proper preparation, and with the requisite understanding that freedom itself was imperiled, the Democrats could have achieved these aims. All of us would be forever in their debt. Surely liberty itself is worth such a battle, isn't it? But the Democrats did none of these things, so the bill passed. Thus, they share in the guilt and responsibility. The guilt and responsibility that accrues to the Democrats is not as great as that of the Republicans, but it is surely great enough. And when your freedom, and that of your family and friends, and that of every single one of us, is destroyed in this manner, how do you even go about measuring degrees of guilt? How do you say this failure is worse than that one? The bill passed. They all failed, Republicans and Democrats alike. In principle, torture was enshrined and liberty was destroyed.


Some argue that the Supreme Court will find the act, or at least certain key provisions, unconstitutional. That, too, is a hope, but I myself am far from certain that the Court will rule in such a manner. In any event, we do not know what the ultimate outcome will be as far as the judicial system is concerned.

So we are confronted with one stark certainty, opposed by fragile and uncertain future hopes. We know the Military Commissions Act destroys liberty at its very foundation. We do not know if this fatal injury will ever be ameliorated. The Act should have been stalled at the very least. It was not.

Destroying the very basis of liberty is not an event that occurs every day. Mark the date. Historians may well have cause to note it.
The Democrats have proposed the "Restoring the Constitution Act," although its passage hardly appears to be a matter of great urgency to them. If they do not view the destruction of the foundation of liberty as a genuine emergency requiring almost instantaneous action, what would constitute an emergency? Beyond this, proposing new legislation to "fix" the original bill is precisely the wrong way to fight this battle, as I explained in "America, Now Without the Revolution":
If we genuinely seek to walk the long road back to a constitutional republic, the Act must be repealed. It must be wiped from the books completely. Instead, the Democrats propose to enact another bill, "correcting" the errors in the first. Inevitably, this will lead to endless debates, in Congress, in the courts and everywhere else, about how the two bills should be construed in relation to each other. These debates and confrontations will go on for years -- and all the while, the Military Commissions Act will remain the law of the land, a law that destroys the very concept of law in terms of what it had once meant.

You do not "fix" evils of this kind. You obliterate them as required. It is required here. At long last, let the Democrats understand the nature of this battle, as I discussed it in the earlier essay. Let them educate themselves, other members of Congress, and the American public. Let them attempt to mobilize Americans to demand that the Act be repealed, on a scale and in a manner that cannot be ignored. All our political leaders endlessly praise those who give their lives in defense of liberty, as they should when it is true. (It is not true in Iraq.) If they are sincere in that praise to any degree at all, can't they fight a legislative battle to restore the basis of liberty? They are being asked to take up only intellectual arms. For God's sake, they can do it sitting down the entire time.

But, you say, Bush will veto legislation repealing the Military Commissions Act. I initially note that Bush is equally likely to veto any attempt to "fix" that Act. But if the Democrats waged the necessary campaign and enlisted a significant part of the American public on their side, then let him. He will stand alone, revealed as the enemy of liberty and civilization that he is.
But here is where stupidity enters the picture. Just as the man does not grasp the operation of the guillotine or the fact that, if he does not move, the blade will kill him, our political class (and most writers and bloggers) appear not to understand the profound dangers of the Military Commissions Act because of only one fact: its full powers have not yet been implemented. In an earlier essay, I quoted Jacob Hornberger on this point. Hornberger deconstructs two common objections to the statement of fact that the Executive now possesses full dictatorial powers. With regard to the second objection, he writes:
"Well, then, where are the mass round-ups, and where are the concentration camps?"

Again, people who ask that type of question are missing the point. The point is not whether Bush is exercising his omnipotent, dictatorial power to the maximum extent. It's whether he now possesses omnipotent, dictatorial power, power that can be exercised whenever circumstances dictate it — for example, during another major terrorist attack on American soil, when Americans become overly frightened again.
I went on to note:
I've made this point repeatedly over the last several years, and it is only a measure of the remarkably primitive quality of our national conversation that so many Americans seem incapable of grasping it.

To put the point the other way, which will hopefully penetrate the wall of resistance erected by so many people: the only reason you aren't in a concentration camp right now is because Bush hasn't decided to send you to one -- yet. But he claims he has the power to do so -- and there are almost no voices of any prominence to dispute the contention. What is even worse than the loss of liberty is the fact that most Americans aren't even aware that the loss has occurred. If there are any national leaders who understand these issues and have the courage to fight for our freedom here at home, they ought to realize that the battle must be waged now. Given the hysteria that followed 9/11 -- and the hysteria that would certainly follow another terrorist attack in the U.S. of the same or even greater magnitude -- protesting against round-ups at that point would be entirely futile, and would come far too late.
Hornberger's comments and mine on this issue were written before passage of the Military Commissions Act. Bush had asserted these dictatorial powers earlier and utilized them, but only very selectively. The Military Commissions Act codified those powers, and made dictatorship and torture the law of the land.

But to watch the actions of our political class and to read most political writers, none of this requires urgent action. The guillotine has no reality for us; it will become solid only when we feel the touch of the blade. You may be certain of one fact: when powers of this kind are granted to political leaders, men and women prepared to use them in full will come along sooner or later, probably sooner in our case and almost certainly after another major terrorist attack within our own shores The round-ups will come, as will the concentration camps, as will comprehensive censorship. The executions without trial will come, as well. The torture is already here, and has been for some time.

The second blade is related to the first one; it could be fatal on its own, and it would certainly be fatal in conjunction with the Miitary Commissions Act. I will let one of the rare writers who grasps these dangers consistently, whether they are proposed and supported by Republicans or Democrats, explain it. In a new article, Jim Bovard writes:
The Defense Authorization Act of 2006, passed on Sept. 30, empowers President George W. Bush to impose martial law in the event of a terrorist “incident,” if he or other federal officials perceive a shortfall of "public order," or even in response to antiwar protests that get unruly as a result of government provocations.


It only took a few paragraphs in a $500 billion, 591-page bill to raze one of the most important limits on federal power. Congress passed the Insurrection Act in 1807 to severely restrict the president’s ability to deploy the military within the United States. The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 tightened these restrictions, imposing a two-year prison sentence on anyone who used the military within the U.S. without the express permission of Congress. But there is a loophole: Posse Comitatus is waived if the president invokes the Insurrection Act.

Section 1076 of the Defense Authorization Act of 2006 changed the name of the key provision in the statute book from "Insurrection Act" to "Enforcement of the Laws to Restore Public Order Act." The Insurrection Act of 1807 stated that the president could deploy troops within the United States only “to suppress, in a State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy.” The new law expands the list to include "natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition"—and such "condition" is not defined or limited.

These new pretexts are even more expansive than they appear. FEMA proclaims the equivalent of a natural disaster when bad snowstorms occur, and Congress routinely proclaims a natural disaster (and awards more farm subsidies) when there is a shortfall of rain in states with upcoming elections. A terrorist "incident" could be something as stupid as the flashing toys scattered around Boston last fall.

The new law also empowers the president to commandeer the National Guard of one state to send to another state for up to 365 days.


The story of how Section 1076 became law vivifies how expanding government power is almost always the correct answer in Washington. Some people have claimed the provision was slipped into the bill in the middle of the night. In reality, the administration clearly signaled its intent and almost no one in the media or Congress tried to stop it.


Section 1076 was supported by both conservatives and liberals. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the ranking Democratic member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, co-wrote the provision along with committee chairman Sen. John Warner (R-Va.). Sen. Ted Kennedy openly endorsed it, and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), then-chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, was an avid proponent.


This expansion of presidential prerogative illustrates how every federal failure redounds to the benefit of leviathan. FEMA was greatly expanded during the Clinton years for crises like the New Orleans flood. It, along with local and state agencies, floundered. Yet the federal belly flop on the Gulf Coast somehow anointed the president to send in troops where he sees fit.

"Martial law" is a euphemism for military dictatorship. When foreign democracies are overthrown and a junta establishes martial law, Americans usually recognize that a fundamental change has occurred. Perhaps some conservatives believe that the only change when martial law is declared is that people are no longer read their Miranda rights when they are locked away. "Martial law" means obey soldiers’ commands or be shot.


Some will consider concern about Bush or future presidents exploiting martial law to be alarmist. This is the same reflex many people have had to each administration proposal or power grab from the Patriot Act in October 2001 to the president’s enemy-combatant decree in November 2001 to the setting up the Guantanamo prison in early 2002 to the doctrine of preemptive war. The administration has perennially denied that its new powers pose any threat even after the evidence of abuses—illegal wiretapping, torture, a global network of secret prisons, Iraq in ruins—becomes overwhelming. If the administration does not hesitate to trample the First Amendment with "free speech zones," why expect it to be diffident about powers that could stifle protests en masse?
Note the crucial dynamic identified by Bovard, one I have noted on many occasions: the government is granted massive powers "for our own good," and to "protect us." An emergency arises, and the government abjectly fails to protect us. The failure is used to argue that the problem is that the government didn't have enough power, so it is granted still more expansive powers. Then the government fails again, at which point it is given still further powers. This has been the pattern in the United States since the late nineteenth century, as it has been the pattern in many other countries in the past. At every step, almost all politicians and writers cheer as the leviathan state grows, and as individual liberty is destroyed. The number of times this pattern can be successfully repeated depends upon how hungry for power the political class is, and how ignorant (or stupid, if you will) the public is. Our political class has a boundless hunger for power which will remain unsatisfied until its power is absolute, and the American public adamantly refuses to learn a single damned thing. Our road to Hell is open and unobstructed.

The reaction to the first two blades on the part of politicians and most political writers is also the same: there is next to response at all. As Bovard notes, the president can declare martial law because of "natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition" -- which means he can declare martial law whenever he wants. Since we have a press that primarily acts as a handmaiden to the powerful and which, with very rare exceptions, transmits government propaganda to a degree that effectively makes it another branch of government, who would challenge the president's assertion of such powers? And we have seen the public's ready acceptance of grievous restrictions of freedom in the hysteria following 9/11, and that acceptance continues today. When is the last time you heard of anyone seriously protesting the government's idiotic search protocols at an airport, or objecting to any of the much more serious incursions into what had once properly been regarded as a citizen's zone of privacy? We have become a nation of whining, sniveling cowards. When we are sufficiently scared, and when the government tells us it acts only to "make us safe," we will do whatever we are ordered to do. If we ask any questions at all, it will only be much later, when the liberties we have so blithely surrendered cannot be recovered.

That the president can declare martial law whenever he wishes, on a whim or to finally realize his dreams of absolute power (and I know this may shock you, but such dreams do not belong only to Republicans), causes virtually no one to think that action to prevent such a catastrophe must be taken -- and that it must be taken now. Many Americans don't even know this blade is there; most of those who do see it appear not to care at all that it exists. When the troops appear in your city and on your street, and when some of your neighbors and friends begin to disappear (remember the first blade), why, then you might care, when there is nothing whatsoever to be done about it, lest you too be spirited away in the dead of night.

The third and fourth blades are forged in the realm of foreign affairs, but their effects extend to the United States on the domestic front. Stupidity puts in another appearance here. Most Americans, including our governing class and our commentators, cannot grasp the operation of political principles when they are confined here at home. When connections must be made between events overseas and domestic politics, our brains are entirely incapable of making the integrations. In addition, our narcissism is almost perfect: when death and chaos are visited upon peoples abroad -- peoples who are almost without exception darker than we are (or at least, darker than most of our leaders are), poor, and largely defenseless -- we barely notice. It's not as if Americans were being killed; even then, as the death toll of Americans in Iraq continues to rise, we see no reason to bring matters to a quick conclusion. As long as it's over there, what do we care?

Every prominent politician, Democrat and Republican, agrees that we have the "right" to attack Iran if Iran does not conduct itself in accordance with our demands. The source of this "right" has never been explained, since it cannot be explained. This is an axiomatic truth for our governing class, and it applies to every country in the world that cannot respond to a U.S. attack in a serious, large-scale manner. Note Hillary Clinton's comments only a couple of days ago about Iran, and our "right" to take "offensive military action." I have explained in some detail why an attack on Iran in the current circumstances and in the foreseeable future would be a monstrous crime; see "Morality, Humanity and Civilization: 'All that remains...are memories.'" But keep the possible consequences in mind: many thousands dead, and millions dead if we were to use even "tactical" nuclear weapons; spreading chaos across the Middle East and very likely beyond; possible economic calamity, which could lead to a significant collapse of the U.S. economy, as well as the economies of many other nations, and on and on. The consequences would spread around the globe, and would be felt for decades to come.

There is still a further result, beyond the fact that an attack on Iran would make us the equivalent of Nazi Germany and its attack on Poland. I discussed it in the second part of my "Dispatch from Germany" series, where I again quoted Jim Bovard:
Attacking Iran will put American civilians in the terrorist crosshairs, with little or no federal Kevlar to protect them. The key question is not whether terrorists will attack but how the American people will likely respond and how politicians could exploit the situation.

There is no reason to expect the American people to be less docile than they were after 9/11. The percentage of Americans who trusted the government to do the right thing most of the time doubled in the week after 9/11. It became fashionable to accuse critics of Bush administration policies of being traitors or terrorist sympathizers. ...

The Bush administration has a record of exploiting terrorist attacks to seize nearly boundless power. After the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration effectively temporarily suspended habeas corpus, railroaded the Patriot Act through Congress, authorized warrantless domestic wiretaps, and nullified restrictions on torture by the CIA and U.S. Military. The Bush administration now claims that the Authorization to Use Military Force resolution passed by Congress in September 2001 raised the president’s power above the Bill of Rights.

If there are new terror attacks at home, how much more latent presidential power will administration lawyers claim to discover within the penumbra of the Constitution? How broad would the roundup of suspects be? How many years would it be until Americans learned of how much power the government had seized? Is there any reason to expect that a series of attacks would not quickly result in attempts to proclaim de facto martial law?


If Bush does bomb Iran, the chain reaction could wreck American democracy. The Bush administration shows no signs of developing either an allergy to power or an addiction to truth. The American republic cannot afford to permit a president to remain above the law and the Constitution indefinitely. Anything that raises the odds of a terror attack reduces the odds of reining in the government.
So you see how the third blade, an attack on Iran, ties into the second blade, the president's unlimited ability to impose martial law, which ties into the first blade, the Executive's ability to declare anyone an enemy of the state on any basis or no basis at all, and then to imprison and torture them for the rest of their lives.

I have suggested a number of actions that might be taken in an attempt to prevent an attack on Iran. A few people have noted that post, and some have followed through on some of those suggestions individually. But no one and no organization in this country is trying to motivate a sufficient number of people to take action on the scale required. Given the frequency with which our politicians announce that the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran is too great a danger to "civilization" to be "tolerated," most of us have to know this blade is there. We see it, and we don't care. The blade hangs over our heads, and over the entire world. We will not move.

If we are fortunate enough to make it through the remainder of Bush's term without a U.S. attack on Iran, it will not be because of anything anyone has done to prevent it. No one has done anything to prevent it. It will simply be because we were lucky. But as the remarks from Hillary Clinton and every other leading Democrat make clear, the danger will not pass away with Bush's exit from the national stage. As long as our governing class and the foreign policy establishment remain committed to American global hegemony as our foundational foreign policy goal (see "Dominion Over the World"), I consider it certain that the U.S. will attack Iran at some point, if not during this administration, then probably during the next one.

The fourth blade is, of course, the unending occupation of Iraq. As I explained yesterday, it will be unending, even if the number of American troops is reduced to 50,000 or 70,000 in the next few years. We will be there for decades into the future; no prominent politician, Democrat or Republican, opposes that plan, which was the plan from the outset. As a number of knowledgeable people predicted prior to the Iraq invasion, Iran has been the primary victor in this imperial disaster. The episode with the British sailors recently demonstrated, as have any number of other incidents, that the longer we remain in Iraq, the greater the likelihood that some incident, real or manufactured, will lead to open conflict with Iran, and to the attack on Iran that every leading politician seems to long for. Our ruling elites are determined to effect "regime change" in Iran in any case, but a border incident or one of some other kind might hasten the schedule, and make a U.S. attack easier to "sell" to a gullible American public.

So we see how the fourth blade connects to the third, and how all the blades interconnect and multiply the dangers. We have already destroyed Iraq, and we may yet destroy Iran and much of the Middle East. We may cause an international economic collapse, or severe economic dislocation at a minimum. We may see the final end of liberty here at home, and the installation of a dictatorship via a declaration of martial law.

And almost no one speaks of the incomprehensible catastrophes that lie in wait. Almost no one takes action to prevent even one of them. Our lives proceed as if nothing at all unusual is transpiring in our world, either abroad or at home. Occasionally, a few people shout warnings. They are almost entirely ignored.

The blade is suspended above us. With every moment that passes, the rope that holds it back frays and weakens still more.

Death hangs in the air.

We will not move.

Shattered Lives

I mentioned the infinitely sad, momentous and largely ignored refugee crisis created by our monstrously criminal invasion and occupation of Iraq just the other day (and see here).

I am deeply saddened, but tragically hardly surprised, to read the following at Baghdad Burning:
I remember Baghdad before the war- one could live anywhere. We didn't know what our neighbors were- we didn't care. No one asked about religion or sect. No one bothered with what was considered a trivial topic: are you Sunni or Shia? You only asked something like that if you were uncouth and backward. Our lives revolve around it now. Our existence depends on hiding it or highlighting it- depending on the group of masked men who stop you or raid your home in the middle of the night.

On a personal note, we've finally decided to leave. I guess I've known we would be leaving for a while now. We discussed it as a family dozens of times. At first, someone would suggest it tentatively because, it was just a preposterous idea- leaving ones home and extended family- leaving ones country- and to what? To where?

Since last summer, we had been discussing it more and more. It was only a matter of time before what began as a suggestion- a last case scenario- soon took on solidity and developed into a plan. For the last couple of months, it has only been a matter of logistics. Plane or car? Jordan or Syria? Will we all leave together as a family? Or will it be only my brother and I at first?

After Jordan or Syria- where then? Obviously, either of those countries is going to be a transit to something else. They are both overflowing with Iraqi refugees, and every single Iraqi living in either country is complaining of the fact that work is difficult to come by, and getting a residency is even more difficult. There is also the little problem of being turned back at the border. Thousands of Iraqis aren't being let into Syria or Jordan- and there are no definite criteria for entry, the decision is based on the whim of the border patrol guard checking your passport.

An airplane isn't necessarily safer, as the trip to Baghdad International Airport is in itself risky and travelers are just as likely to be refused permission to enter the country (Syria and Jordan) if they arrive by airplane. And if you're wondering why Syria or Jordan, because they are the only two countries that will let Iraqis in without a visa. Following up visa issues with the few functioning embassies or consulates in Baghdad is next to impossible.

So we've been busy. Busy trying to decide what part of our lives to leave behind. Which memories are dispensable? We, like many Iraqis, are not the classic refugees- the ones with only the clothes on their backs and no choice. We are choosing to leave because the other option is simply a continuation of what has been one long nightmare- stay and wait and try to survive.

On the one hand, I know that leaving the country and starting a new life somewhere else- as yet unknown- is such a huge thing that it should dwarf every trivial concern. The funny thing is that it’s the trivial that seems to occupy our lives. We discuss whether to take photo albums or leave them behind. Can I bring along a stuffed animal I've had since the age of four? Is there room for E.'s guitar? What clothes do we take? Summer clothes? The winter clothes too? What about my books? What about the CDs, the baby pictures?

The problem is that we don't even know if we'll ever see this stuff again. We don't know if whatever we leave, including the house, will be available when and if we come back. There are moments when the injustice of having to leave your country, simply because an imbecile got it into his head to invade it, is overwhelming. It is unfair that in order to survive and live normally, we have to leave our home and what remains of family and friends… And to what?

It's difficult to decide which is more frightening- car bombs and militias, or having to leave everything you know and love, to some unspecified place for a future where nothing is certain.
As I have noted before, even if we left Iraq within the next few months and made all those reparations that are possible, as we should and must, we must never think there will be forgiveness for what we have done.

Some acts are so terrible that they cannot be reversed, or repaired. The invasion and occupation of Iraq is such an act, indeed a long, horrifying series of such acts. We all prefer to believe in redemption, but there are times when redemption is no longer possible.

It is not possible here. We will not be forgiven, and we should not be. We have destroyed redemption for ourselves, as we have destroyed countless lives and an entire country.

Bless you and yours, River, and safe passage.

April 26, 2007

Torturing "Ali Baba" to Death

I excerpt the following article both because it is horrifyingly noteworthy in itself, and because it touches on a number of crucial issues, including some I have discussed in detail in my series "Dominion Over the World" and "On Torture." Of particular note is the thread of viciously barbaric racism that underlies the destructive imperial catastrophes so eagerly pursued by the United States and its junior partner in crime, Britain.

Because our fatally irresponsible major media are incapable of focusing on anything other than the Scandal of the Hour, and because U.S. media can't even begin to address the numerous crimes engaged in by the American government over the last several years (to say nothing of the last several decades), and since this concerns heinous crimes committed by the British military, it is sure to be completely ignored here. We are America the Good, and our soldiers are Heroic Nobility Itself. Never mind the confessions of American torturers, whose growing number we can only guess at. Keep in mind that at some point, all those Americans who have tortured and engaged in other acts of unforgivable and unjustified violence will return to civilian life. Cho Seung-Hui was an amateur; these will be professional killers who come to live and work among us.

Phil Shiner, a solicitor who acts for the family of Baha Mousa and in 40 other cases of torture, beatings and killings by UK forces in Iraq, writes in The Guardian:
Images of the battered, bloodied, bruised face of Baha Mousa, tortured to death while in detention with British troops under the Iraq occupation, should have shocked the nation when they appeared last week. Instead, most media outlets chose to ignore them. By comparison, when Canadian troops meted out similar treatment to a prisoner in Somalia in the 1990s, the result was a five-year public inquiry and spring-clean of the military justice system. What is going on?

To answer that question is to dig into what was described as a cover-up by the judge advocate at the conclusion of the court martial into the incident. What follows arises from publicly available material, most of it in the House of Lords case, which finishes tomorrow, into whether the Human Rights Act applied to protect Mousa and others. There are four clusters of issues we have to face.

First, the incident led to more than just a single death. Photographs and medical evidence show our troops nearly killed another civilian, and badly injured five others. The judge found that a group of soldiers had engaged in systematic torture and humiliation, but none had been charged because of an "obvious closing of ranks". Who were the torturers?

Second, the torture included the use of four techniques banned by the government in 1972: hooding, stressing and sleep and food deprivation. ...

Third, the facility where Mousa and others were tortured was small. The soldiers' shouting and detainees' screaming were audible to anyone on the site. So, who are those in command who knew, or ought to have known, what was going on in the critical 36 hours before Mousa's death? Even more potentially damning to the chain of command responsibility, who knew, or ought to have known, of the complete breakdown in the system of training troops? There was a failure to train troops to observe the law and also, it seems, to teach them the basic principles to enable them to fulfil their role.


The final cluster of issues is where it starts to get really ugly. What are we supposed to make of material that shows it was standard to refer to Iraqis as "Ali Babas"? Or of military operations that had similar racist connotations from an earlier era? Or material that indicates a remorseless disregard of Iraqis' human rights, which dehumanised them in the eyes of the troops who were supposed to protect them? When our troops were supposed to be exercising policing functions, we appear to have shot first and asked questions later.

Uncomfortable questions about our complicity in war crimes with the US also lurk beneath the surface. The evidence from prosecution witnesses in the court martial shows that the US was putting pressure on us to adopt its interrogation techniques.

Consider that the facility involved in the Mousa incident was in the middle of an urban area and the abuse occurred in broad daylight. By comparison, our theatre internment facility, Camp Bucca in southern Iraq, was in the middle of nowhere. But the government claims the US ran Camp Bucca. The evidence in the court martial is clear. We had two compounds for UK detainees, they had six. We had jurisdiction over UK detainees who were subject to questioning by our tactical questioners. So why the blatant denial of responsibility where it is obvious the UK did have jurisdiction? The MoD admitted in 2004 that six other Iraqis had died while in detention with British troops, and we know all British detainees were taken to Camp Bucca until Christmas 2003. We also know that US forces killed Iraqis during "riots" at the facility and that three US soldiers were discharged in 2004 after being found guilty of abusing prisoners. If Mousa died in our custody where he did, what was happening in the British section of Camp Bucca?
In some form, all these horrors, which have been repeated endless times in Iraq, which continue today and will continue for endless tomorrows, will eventually exact their vengeance on us. The only questions are when, and how bad it will be.

You should tremble for the future. We have unleashed Hell on earth, and we show no inclination whatsoever to stop it anytime soon. It will seek us out. Someday, it will find us.

Hegemony-Speak for, "I Love You"

At the beginning of Part VI of my "Dominion Over the World" series, I excerpted a notable article by William Pfaff:
[L]ittle sign exists of a challenge in American foreign policy debates to the principles and assumptions of an international interventionism motivated by belief in a special national mission. The country might find itself with a new administration in 2009 which provides a less abrasive and more courteous version of the American pursuit of world hegemony, but one still condemned by the inherent impossibility of success.

The intellectual and material commitments made during the past half-century of American military, bureaucratic, and intellectual investment in global interventionism will be hard to reverse. The Washington political class remains largely convinced that the United States supplies the essential structure of international security, and that a withdrawal of American forces from their expanding network of overseas military bases, or disengagement from present American interventions into the affairs of many dozens of countries, would destabilize the international system and produce unacceptable consequences for American security. Why this should be so is rarely explained.
-- William Pfaff, "Manifest Destiny: A New Direction for America"
Toward the end of that essay, which largely focuses on the uniformity of belief and purpose that unites all members of our governing class, Republican or Democrat, in the realm of foreign policy, I wrote:
As Pfaff notes, such a noninterventionist approach would have avoided Vietnam, and the related tragedies in Cambodia and Laos as well. And it would have avoided our endless interventions in the Middle East since World War II, and in Iraq today. I am pleased to note that, still later in his essay, Pfaff discusses "limits to the feasibility of humanitarian intervention," a subject I addressed in Part I of this series. He also notes the expansion of our interventionism into Africa, which I mentioned just the other day.

Tragically, both for us and for the world, adoption of a noninterventionist approach by the United States would appear impossible in the foreseeable future -- and we are left with the intractable and seemingly insurmountable problem set forth in Pfaff's observations at the opening of this essay. As Pfaff indicates, a new Democratic (or possibly even Republican) administration may "provide[] a less abrasive and more courteous version of the American pursuit of world hegemony" -- but hegemony will remain the goal. Every Democrat who has already announced his or her presidential ambitions has made numerous statements explicitly embracing this aim.
On that last point, see the references to the foreign policy prescriptions offered by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton that I noted earlier today. The uniformity of perspective on foreign affairs among our governing class and the foreign policy establishment cannot be overstated. As my "Dominion Over the World" series explores in detail, virtually every member of our governing elites is committed to the goal of American global hegemony. Their disagreements are rooted primarily in political tribalism: each party wants to be the one running the show, but the fundamental goals do not change no matter who is in charge.

It is true that the Democrats make more noises in the direction of "multilateralism" and "diplomacy" than do the Republicans -- but in light of the ultimate purposes that drive all of them, this finally reduces to a distinction without a difference. This is, in part, what Pfaff means by "a less abrasive and more courteous version of the American pursuit of hegemony." And as Hillary Clinton just announced (again), she'll be happy to try diplomacy with Iran to get what she and the foreign policy establishment demand, but if that doesn't work, bombs away. She thinks "it would be far better if the rest of the world saw [offensive military action against Iran] as a position of last resort," but if they don't (and it would appear, even if it actually isn't), to hell with them. It should also be noted that, from one perspective, an emphasis on "multilateralism" and numerous entangling alliances makes the prospect of war more likely, not less. The runup to World War I is highly instructive in this regard; see Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August and David Fromkin's Europe's Last Summer for numerous details. (A discussion of certain aspects of Fromkin's book, together with some excerpts, will be found in Part V of my first series of essays about Iran and foreign policy more generally: Endless War, and the Destructive Search for "Meaning".)

In this connection, and in between bouts of extended un- and semi-consciousness over the last month or so brought on by the deaths of two people close to me and a succession of health ailments of my own, I read Robert Charles Wilson's Spin. I don't read that much science fiction; I have a very low tolerance for highly geeky science fiction, filled with incomprehensible gadgets and often indecipherable and undefined, imagined terminology. About the only science fiction I read is much more akin to "regular" fiction, with its emphasis on recognizable human psychology and human dilemmas, spiced with but not overwhelmed by the futurist elements. In that respect, I enjoyed Spin a great deal, and it's very well done in many ways. And Wilson's imagined scenario is a highly intriguing one. Spin is certainly not memorable in the manner of Arthur Clarke's Childhood's End, for example, but then, not all that many books are, and it's probably an unfair comparison. Childhood's End remains a particular favorite of mine: it touches on important issues of psychology, cultural development and cultural mythology, in addition to which the final resolution is a genuine doozy. Still, Spin provided me with hours of pleasure, for which I am always tremendously grateful. (If you can recommend some good science fiction that I might enjoy along the lines I've indicated, please do let me know. Thanks.)

A propos the above discussion of foreign policy, I thought you might derive as much enjoyment from this brief passage from Spin as I did. As you'll see, you don't need to know about the story to appreciate it, and if you read Spin, the less you know about the story in advance, the better. A little more than halfway through the book, two of the main characters are discussing the questions raised by the appearance on Earth of Wun Ngo Wen, the man from Mars. The conversation goes like this:
"Would I be here talking to you if I thought this was an interesting analysis? Ask the appropriate questions, if you want to argue with me."

"Such as?"

"Such as, who exactly is Wun Ngo Wen? Who does he represent, and what does he really want? Because despite what they say on television, he's not Mahatma Gandhi in a Munchkin package. He's here because he wants something from us. He's wanted it from day one."

"The replicator launch."


"Is that a crime?"

"A better question would be, why don't the Martians do this launch themselves?"

"Because they can't presume to speak on behalf of the entire solar system. Because a work like this can't be undertaken unilaterally."

He rolled his eyes. "Those are things people say, Tyler. Talking about multilateralism and diplomacy is like saying, 'I love you' -- it serves to facilitate the fucking.
Unless, of course, the Martians really are angelic spirits descended from heaven to deliver us from evil. Which I presume you don't believe."
I so wish I had written that line about multilateralism and diplomacy. Well, Wilson did, and that's just fine.

Theater of Death

[Update added.]

Almost one month ago, I wrote about the elaborate, sickening, and sickeningly immoral charade that had gone on in Congress with regard to Iraq spending bills. I realize the central truth that I discussed in that essay is one that most people adamantly refuse to accept. Nonetheless, it remains indisputably true: for our ruling elites, the suffering and death of innocent people, American, Iraqi or of any other nationality, are not of primary importance. In the perverse scheme of their priorities, such matters appear well down on the list. Their major and often sole concern is political power: its acquisition, its maintenance and its expansion. Tactics of only one kind are their concern: the means by which their own power is maintained and enhanced.

It is deeply regrettable, and also inevitable -- since the world of political blogs cannot be other than a reflection of the larger culture -- that this same indifference to human pain and suffering infects the approach of the great majority of political bloggers. For all their ferocious opposition to the Bush administration and to Republicans generally, liberal and progressive bloggers act as if they are largely indifferent to bringing about a quick end to the incomprehensibly deadly Iraq occupation. They certainly demonstrate no sustained, serious effort to pressure Congressional Democrats into defunding the war -- or into acting to oppose an attack on Iran in every way possible. The concerns of these bloggers and the Washington Democrats are perfectly coextensive: they will condemn the Iraq war and act to block an attack on Iran only to the degree such actions will not endanger their perceived political opportunities in 2008. All of them are happy to follow in the wake of public opinion; genuine leadership and daring to educate and motivate the American public are out of the question. Profound courage and opposition to the "consensus" view in the manner that a Robert La Follette once demonstrated is inconceivable; these bloggers and their political representatives have no interest in such matters. They remember only that La Follette was viciously attacked and vilified in his lifetime; they forget (if they even know) that La Follette nonetheless saw a series of personal political triumphs. Most significantly, they forget (if they even understand) that history proved La Follette to have been entirely correct in his unrelenting opposition to the U.S. entrance into World War I. The verdict of history and the avoidance of unnecessary human suffering and death do not concern such people; only political power does. (In very large part, the conduct of our political class and of most bloggers is the consequence of the most barbaric and primitive kind of tribalism. Their goal is the elevation to power of their tribe, and the diminution of the power of the other tribe; almost all other matters are inconsequential details to this kind of psychology. I will be discussing tribalism, its roots, and its far-reaching, immensely destructive effects in a new series of essays, which I hope to begin in the next several days.)

The Washington charade continues without interruption, as the bloody slaughter in Iraq goes on every hour of every day. Proving still another time in an infinite series of such demonstrations that it has learned nothing over the last six years, the NYT plasters an entirely false headline on its story: "War Bill Passes House, Requiring an Iraq Pullout." In fact, the bill "requires" no such thing; it certainly does not require an "Iraq pullout." The charade goes on unchallenged only because our governing class and our major media institutions know they can count on the majority of Americans to be ignorant of the relevant facts and/or largely disinterested in acquiring them. Realizing that it is anathema to the manner in which political conversations are to be conducted, let's review some of the critical facts on this issue.

The Times story begins:
The House on Wednesday narrowly approved a $124 billion war spending bill that would require American troops to begin withdrawing from Iraq by Oct. 1, setting the stage for the first veto fight between President Bush and majority Democrats.

Only hours after Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander in Iraq, told lawmakers he needed more time to gauge the effectiveness of a troop buildup there, the House voted 218 to 208 to pass a measure that sought the removal of most combat forces by next spring. Mr. Bush has said unequivocally and repeatedly that he will veto it.

"Last fall, the American people voted for a new direction in Iraq," said Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California. "They made it clear that our troops must be given all they need to do their jobs, but that our troops must be brought home responsibly, safely, and soon."
You have to go on to the second page of the story (where most readers never go) to get a glimpse of the truth:
After the briefing, Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, disputed criticisms that Democrats were trying to end the war before giving the administration's plan a chance to succeed.

"Nobody is saying get out tomorrow," Mr. Hoyer said, noting that the legislation would allow American troops to stay in Iraq to battle terrorist groups.
Ah, yes. That little exception about "battl[ing] terrorist groups." Gareth Porter notes the following:
The language on a timetable for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq voted out of the House-Senate conference committee this week contains large loopholes that would apparently allow U.S. troops to continue carrying out military operations in Iraq's Sunni heartland indefinitely.

The plan, coming from the Democratic majority in Congress, makes an exemption from a 180-day timetable for completion of "redeployment" of U.S. troops from Iraq to allow "targeted special actions limited in duration and scope to killing or capturing members of al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations of global reach."

The al-Qaeda exemption, along with a second exemption allowing U.S. forces to re-enter Iraq to protect those remaining behind to train and equip Iraqi security forces and to protect other U.S. military forces, appears to approve the presence in Iraq of tens of thousands of U.S. occupation troops for many years to come.

The large loopholes in the Democratic withdrawal plan come against the background of the failure of the U.S. war against the insurgency – including al-Qaeda – in Anbar and other Sunni provinces and the emergence of a major war within the Sunni insurgency between non-jihadi resistance groups and al-Qaeda.

The Sunni resistance organizations represent a clear alternative to an endless U.S. occupation of hostile Sunni provinces that has driven many activists into the arms of al-Qaeda.

Although the wording in the House-Senate appropriations bill appears to suggest a very limited mandate for operations against al-Qaeda, at least one influential Democratic figure, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden, intends to interpret it broadly enough to allow the administration to continue at roughly the present level of U.S. military operations in Anbar province, even after the U.S. has withdrawn its troops from the Baghdad area.
The Democrats have been entirely consistent about these "loopholes." John Kerry specified the same exceptions in his NYT op-ed piece one year ago. As I commented at the time it appeared:
Everything that is wrong and destructive about United States foreign policy over the last century is reflected in John Kerry's op-ed article in the NYT last week. Furthermore, the overall tone and perspective that Kerry brings to the question of what we should now do in Iraq are deeply objectionable. In personal terms, I can only describe Kerry's approach as sickening in the extreme. What is additionally shocking to me is the extent to which almost no one has commented on exactly why it is so sickening; instead, the majority of Democrats and liberals, for example, praise Kerry for his "bravery" and "courage." But there is nothing in the least brave about Kerry's article, because of a huge dishonesty buried in the middle of his proposed strategy.


Of course, Kerry isn't proposing that we withdraw all American combat forces -- none of which, I repeat, are there for any legitimate reason. Oh, no: "Only troops essential to finishing the job of training Iraqi forces should remain." And: "To increase the pressure on Iraq's leaders, we must redeploy American forces to garrisoned status. Troops should be used for security backup, training and emergency response..."

That's a handy loophole -- one big enough to drive a decades-long occupation through, even if it is "only" an occupation confined to those "enduring bases" we're spending so much money on. In this manner, Iraq will remain our staging platform for our neverending efforts to control the future of the Middle East, just as we have attempted to do ever since World War I.
See the earlier post for further details.

Let's return to the contention that the Democrats are proposing a "troop withdrawal" (and I emphasize that it is, of course, non-binding). They are proposing only a withdrawal of "combat troops," and not even all of those. Here's a key fact about those combat troops, from the NYT last December:
Frontline combat troops in the 15 brigades carrying out the American fight in Iraq -- which the Iraq Study Group says could be largely withdrawn in just over a year -- represent about 23 percent of the 140,000 military personnel committed to the overall war effort there.

On any given day, according to military officers in Baghdad, only about 11 percent of the Army and Marine Corps personnel in Iraq are carrying out purely offensive operations. Even counting others, whose main job is defensive or who perform security missions to stabilize the country for economic reconstruction and political development, only half of the American force might be considered combat troops.

Even if all of the group's proposals were carried out, it is not possible to predict exactly how many Americans will stay, or for how long. Decisions will hinge on military conditions on the ground and political conditions in Washington.

But an analysis of the current numbers and tasks of American forces suggests that it will prove difficult to drop far below 100,000 by early 2008, and that 70,000 or more troops might have to stay for a considerable time.
Some "withdrawal." Some way to "end the war."

Since I am being unspeakably rude in my insistence that we state the relevant facts, let's also talk about those "enduring bases." In February 2006, Tom Engelhardt wrote:
Assuming, then, a near year to come of withdrawal buzz, speculation, and even a media blitz of withdrawal announcements, the question is: How can anybody tell if the Bush administration is actually withdrawing from Iraq or not? Sometimes, when trying to cut through a veritable fog of misinformation and disinformation, it helps to focus on something concrete. In the case of Iraq, nothing could be more concrete -- though less generally discussed in our media -- than the set of enormous bases the Pentagon has long been building in that country. Quite literally multi-billions of dollars have gone into them. In a prestigious engineering magazine in late 2003, Lt. Col. David Holt, the Army engineer "tasked with facilities development" in Iraq, was already speaking proudly of several billion dollars being sunk into base construction ("the numbers are staggering"). Since then, the base-building has been massive and ongoing.

In a country in such startling disarray, these bases, with some of the most expensive and advanced communications systems on the planet, are like vast spaceships that have landed from another solar system. Representing a staggering investment of resources, effort, and geostrategic dreaming, they are the unlikeliest places for the Bush administration to hand over willingly to even the friendliest of Iraqi governments.


There are at least four such "super-bases" in Iraq, none of which have anything to do with "withdrawal" from that country. Quite the contrary, these bases are being constructed as little American islands of eternal order in an anarchic sea. Whatever top administration officials and military commanders say -- and they always deny that we seek "permanent" bases in Iraq -– facts-on-the-ground speak with another voice entirely. These bases practically scream "permanency."

Unfortunately, there's a problem here. American reporters adhere to a simple rule: The words "permanent," "bases," and "Iraq" should never be placed in the same sentence, not even in the same paragraph; in fact, not even in the same news report. While a LexisNexis search of the last 90 days of press coverage of Iraq produced a number of examples of the use of those three words in the British press, the only U.S. examples that could be found occurred when 80% of Iraqis (obviously somewhat unhinged by their difficult lives) insisted in a poll that the United States might indeed desire to establish bases and remain permanently in their country; or when "no" or "not" was added to the mix via any American official denial. (It's strange, isn't it, that such bases, imposing as they are, generally only exist in our papers in the negative.)
As the American press goes, so go the Democrats. For all their phony talk about "withdrawal" and "ending the war," the Democrats have said next to nothing about these huge bases, their future, or their purpose.

Identical silence surrounds the U.S. embassy in Baghdad:
Among the many secrets the American government cannot keep, one of its biggest (104 acres) and most expensive ($592 million) is the American Embassy being built in Baghdad. Surrounded by fifteen-foot-thick walls, almost as large as the Vatican on a scale comparable to the Mall of America, to which it seems to have a certain spiritual affinity, this is no simple object to hide.

So you think the Bush Administration is planning on leaving Iraq? Read on.

The Chicago Tribune reports, "Trucks shuttle building materials to and fro. Cranes, at least a dozen of them, punch toward the sky. Concrete structures are beginning to take form. At a time when most Iraqis are enduring blackouts of up to 22 hours a day, the site is floodlighted by night so work can continue around the clock."


According to Knight Ridder, "US officials here [in Baghdad] greet questions about the site with a curtness that borders on hostility. Reporters are referred to the State Department in Washington, which declined to answer questions for security reasons." Photographers attempting to get pictures of what the locals call "George W's Palace" are confined to using telephoto lenses on this, the largest construction project undertaken by Iraq's American visitors.

Nonetheless, we know much of what is going on in the place, where there will soon be twenty-one buildings, 619 apartments with very fancy digs for the big shots, restaurants, shops, gym facilities, a swimming pool, a food court, a beauty salon, a movie theater (we can't say if it's a multiplex) and, as the Times of London reports, "a swish club for evening functions." This should be ideal for announcing the various new milestones marking the trudge of the Iraqi people toward democracy and freedom.

USA Today has learned that the "massive new embassy, being built on the banks of the Tigris River, is designed to be entirely self-sufficient and won't be dependent on Iraq's unreliable public utilities." Thus, there will be no reason or excuse for any of the thousands of Americans working in this space, which is about the size of eighty football fields, to share the daily life experience of an Iraqi or even come in accidental contact with one.


This gigantic complex does not square with the repeated assertions by the people who run the American government that the United States will not stay in the country after Iraq becomes a stand-alone, democratic entity. An "embassy" in which 8,000 people labor, along with the however many thousand military personnnel necessary to defend them, is not a diplomatic outpost. It is a base. A permanent base.
Is anyone, Republican or Democrat, talking about this embassy, its construction, or what it signifies about our government's plans? No.

I will make this point very slowly. I will use simple words. The Democrats and Republicans, the governing class, and the foreign policy establishment all agree that that our foreign policy should be directed to ensuring global hegemony for the United States. See my series "Dominion Over the World" for the details. They all agree that the United States is "entitled" to direct events around the world, and that we must have the most powerful military the world has ever seen to make certain that our will can never be thwarted. They all agree that we must always have our way. There is no country and no event around the world that is immune to our interference. With only a handful of exceptions, no one in government or in a position of significant influence thinks otherwise. Historically, the Democrats have been in the vanguard of this policy, and they have been its most vociferous advocates, beginning with Woodrow Wilson. The Democrats have initiated more overseas interventions, both covert and by means of outright war, than the Republicans, by far. If you have any remaining doubts on this score, read Barack Obama's recent foreign policy address. A more complete compendium of the vacuous but deadly phrases expressing belief in "American exceptionalism," our indisputable "right" to rule the world, and the religious belief in U.S. "indispensability" would be close to impossible to find. (See Max Sawicky and IOZ for more on Obama's awful utterances.)

Given the unbroken through-line of U.S. foreign policy going back to World War I (and to the Spanish-American War even earlier), and since this foreign policy is virtually entirely unchallenged by anyone among our governing elites, there is only one conclusion with regard to our presence in Iraq. No, we will not always be there in the current numbers. But as the above facts indicate -- and I said I will keep this simple --





At Unqualified Offerings, consistently refusing to vote in favor of funding for the immoral and criminal U.S. war on and occupation of Iraq results in condemnation from Thoreau:
I note that Rep. Ron Paul did not vote for the Iraq war funding bill. Now, I know that Paul always has perfectly good and principled reasons to vote against things, especially spending bills, but this funding bill contains timetables for withdrawal. To let the perfect be the enemy of the good weakens the hand of the people who have a real chance at ending our involvement in the Iraqi Civil War. If he were to vote with them, and perhaps provide cover for a few other Republican mavericks to join him, it would strengthen the hand of the Congressional leaders working to end this insanity. I have to say that I’m disappointed in him.
This is deeply regrettable, and in part barely coherent. According to Thoreau, "Paul always has perfectly good and principled reasons to vote against things," but he's "disappointed" in Paul precisely because Paul acts in accordance with his convictions. If only Paul had rotten, unprincipled reasons for agreeing to a meaningless compromise that will do nothing to end our occupation of Iraq -- SINCE WE ARE NOT LEAVING -- then he might garner Thoreau's approval. One fears the nature of Thoreau's response to La Follette's intransigent opposition to Wilson's vicious warmongering. Perhaps he would have joined those calling for La Follette's expulsion from the Senate and prosecution as a traitor.

My warning lights always begin to flash whenever I read or hear the phrase, "To let the perfect be the enemy of the good..." In political contexts, this cliche is almost always used to defend the indefensible, and to condemn those who dare to point out that it is indefensible. What is "good" about the Democrats' spending bill? It is utterly toothless and non-binding. It will fund the murder and devastation for at least another year, in a war that was a monstrous war crime from the moment it began. Even if the "guidelines" were to be followed, a minimum of 50,000 American troops will remain in Iraq for the foreseeable future, probably for decades to come. The enduring bases will remain, as will the Baghdad embassy.

I must note that, should the Bush administration launch an attack on Iran and the region erupts in widening war, possibly including nuclear weapons, then all bets are off. In such a case, it is possible no Americans will remain in the Middle East, since all of them will be fleeing in terror or dead, as will be true of most of the inhabitants of that region. But of course, the Democrats are doing nothing to try to prevent that eventuality, either. Following her usual path, Hillary Clinton has again announced a notably and criminally irresponsible hawkish line on Iran that concedes nothing to Bush:
Democratic presidential candidate and New York Senator Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that it might be necessary for America to confront Iran militarily, addressing that possibility more directly than any of the other presidential candidates who spoke this week to the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Clinton first said that the US should be engaging directly with Iran to foil any effort to gain nuclear weapons and faulted the Bush administration for "considerably narrowing" the options available to America in countering Iran.

Still, she said, all avenues should be explored, since "if we do have to take offensive military action against Iran, it would be far better if the rest of the world saw it as a position of last resort, not first resort, because the effect and consequences will be global."
"It would be far better if the rest of the world saw it as a position of last resort..." Not that it will stop a future Clinton administration if they don't. As a consequence of such statements, this is far from an unlikely scenario. As I said above, and as I here repeat: historically, the Democrats have engaged in more futile, destructive, pointless wars than the Republicans. Woodrow Wilson first dragged the U.S. onto the world stage to run events around the globe, and the Democrats have never questioned that policy since. The disagreements about Iraq are a detail in the context of the last century; keep the larger picture in mind at all times.

Nonetheless, I think Thoreau is providing a vitally needed service. We desperately need more defenses of the Democrats' ultimately meaningless political theater, all of which is constructed solely with the 2008 elections in mind. Never mind the chaos, death and suffering that continue from day to day, and minute to minute. Our politics is a show, where the warring Statist tribes fight for power. The tribes don't dispute that the State should be ever-more powerful, and that the State is entitled to run our lives and the world. They fight only about who gets to wield the power. But we assuredly need defenses of this theater of death; lord knows, we don't have enough bloggers on the right and the left defending it in almost every post, all day long.

I realize that sounds very bitter and angry. Hell, yes:
U.S. officials who say there has been a dramatic drop in sectarian violence in Iraq since President Bush began sending more American troops into Baghdad aren't counting one of the main killers of Iraqi civilians.

Car bombs and other explosive devices have killed thousands of Iraqis in the past three years, but the administration doesn't include them in the casualty counts it has been citing as evidence that the surge of additional U.S. forces is beginning to defuse tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

President Bush explained why in a television interview Tuesday. "If the standard of success is no car bombings or suicide bombings, we have just handed those who commit suicide bombings a huge victory," he told TV interviewer Charlie Rose.

Others, however, say that not counting bombing victims skews the evidence of how well the Baghdad security plan is protecting the civilian population -- one of the surge's main goals.

"Since the administration keeps saying that failure is not an option, they are redefining success in a way that suits them," said James Denselow, an Iraq specialist at London-based Chatham House, a foreign policy think tank.
Yes, I'm very angry:
Violence in Iraq was at a moderate level on Wednesday as the UN scolded the Iraqi government for holding back figures on civilian deaths. Overall, the media reported that 52 Iraqis were killed or found dead today and 80 were injured in violent attacks. The U.S. military reported that a GI was killed in a non-hostile incident. A British soldier was also killed.

Military sources reported on the death of a GI in Baghdad and on a British soldier who was killed in Basra yesterday. This death marks April as the bloodiest month for British soldiers since March of 2003. April has also been deadly for American troops with a daily average nearing four soldiers per day. The toll for April is at least 86 American deaths and 11 British.
Very angry indeed:
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq criticised Baghdad on Wednesday for concealing the casualty figures from its sectarian war and charged that many detainees have "disappeared".

While placing the blame for the majority of violent civilian deaths on the insurgents and illegal militias fighting in Iraq, UNAMI expressed concern about the human rights record of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government.

In its quarterly report on the human rights situation, the UN mission said the Iraqi government had stopped providing casualty figures and denied that its previous reports had exaggerated the death toll in the conflict.

In a report on January 16, UNAMI said more than 34,400 people had died in the daily acts of violence across the country in 2006.
But these stories only concern human beings who are ripped apart, lives being snuffed out, people's bodies and minds destroyed forever. No matter.

Let the show go on.

UPDATE: I should have noted the observations about the Iraq spending bill offered by Dennis Kucinich, one of the extraordinarily rare members of Congress who genuinely understands the matters of principle involved in our criminal occupation of Iraq. Here is the beginning of Kucinich's interview with Truthdig:
James Harris: This is Truthdig on the phone, Dennis Kucinich, representative from the state of Ohio since 1996. Today we have the honor of talking to you just after the bill that passed on the House floor, a bill that will require President Bush to oppose benchmarks for progress on the Iraqi government and link them to the continued presence of American combat troops. Dennis, is this bill a victory for Democrats?

Dennis Kucinich: It’s a disaster for the American people. The Democrats should have been voting—or come up with a plan to get out of Iraq. Not one that’s going to keep us there a year or two. It’s the same kind of thinking that led us into Iraq—that we didn’t have any alternatives. It’s the same thing that caused the Democrats to construct a plan that will keep us there at least for a year, and saying, well, we don’t have any other alternatives. I can tell you something, we could have come up with a plan that would have called for the troops to come home in the next few months. But we didn’t do that, so I, no one can tell me it’s a time for celebration. It’s a disaster.

Harris: What should we do instead, Dennis?

Kucinich: We should be listening to what the American people had to say last October, and that is taking steps to immediately end the war. And that means to set in motion a plan to end the occupation, close the bases, bring the troops home using money that’s already in the pipeline to do so. At the same time there’s a parallel process of bringing in international security and peacekeeping forces to stabilize Iraq. And we can get that help once we end the occupation. Then you have to have a number of other steps that are taken. Most people aren’t aware that this bill that Congress passed sets the stage for the privatization of Iraq’s oil, oil industry. To have the Democratic Party involved in something like that is outrageous. Furthermore, we should be pushing for the stabilization of Iraq’s food and energy crisis. There’s no talk about that. Basically we’re blaming Iraq for the disaster that the United States and this administration visited upon them. We’re telling them, either they’re going to get their house in order or we’re going to leave. Well, you know what, this approach is wrongheaded and the Democrats should have known better and they should have done better.

Harris: Nancy Pelosi, I think she’s partying right now. She feels like she’s done a good job. I’m going to say, Dennis, that I think she has done a good job if you follow the diplomatic line of things. She couldn’t go in with guns blazing and saying “get those troops out.” These benchmarks do mean something.

Kucinich: Why couldn’t she have said: “This war must end”? Congress has the power to cut off funds. Congress has the power to limit the funds. Congress could have taken a new direction. Let’s face it, Democrats are expected to do that. ... We need to go in a new direction. And that direction is out. And the fact that we gave the president money today to keep the war going through the end of his term constitutes a sellout of the interests of the American people. And a continuation of the war for another year at least, possibly two, and this is just wrong. Just totally wrong.
Here's the rest of the interview.

For more on the control of Iraq's oil industry by American and allied outsiders, the plan to which the Democrats have acceded, see here and here.