July 18, 2007


My health is very, very bad right now. I'm only able to get out of bed for an hour or two at a time, before I have to lie down again. And when I'm up, I can hardly do anything. Writing is out of the question at the moment.

I have several months' worth of essays already outlined, as I have for quite a while. I wish I could tell you when I'll be able to start actually writing them -- for my own sake more than for yours, frankly. But I can't. I'll probably rebound at some point; I have in the past. I suppose I should begin to acknowledge that the time will arrive when I won't, possibly sooner than I had hoped.

Hence my headline. Grim. Very grim.

July 14, 2007

Still Another Call to Activism: Prove Me Wrong, I Beg You

If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.

Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.

The loss of liberty at home is to be charged to the provisions against danger, real or imagined, from abroad. -- James Madison
Cowardice asks the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: is it political? Vanity asks the question: is it popular? But conscience asks the question: is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor political, nor popular – but one must take it simply because it is right. -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
This past week, the United States Senate passed unanimously -- 97 to 0 -- what amounted to a declaration of war against Iran. A few weeks ago, the House passed a resolution -- 411 to 2 -- that similarly provided an alleged rationale for war against Iran. In this manner, Congress, nominally controlled by the opposition party, has granted the Bush administration advance approval for the commencement of hostilities against Iran. Since the Senate has announced, with no dissenting votes at all, that Iran is itself responsible for acts of war against the United States, and the House has stated, with only two voices in opposition, that Iran is illegally and clandestinely developing nuclear weapons, no prominent Democrat will be able to offer any principled, significant policy objection when Bush announces that the bombs have already begun to fall.

These detestable actions by Congress represent the triumph of pure propaganda, and of warmongering fiction over reality. In fact, it has never been shown that Iran has violated even one provision of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, to which it is a signatory. Instead, the United States has deliberately engineered a situation whereby arbitrary, extra-legal demands are placed on Iran. Then, when Iran fails to comply with these nonbinding, illegitimate demands, Iran is declared to be the criminal -- when the "crime" has been created out of nothing. (See Gordon Prather's latest article on this subject, and read his many earlier articles, listed on the right side of that page, for a much fuller history.) In the same way, it is far from clear exactly what Iran's influence and actions in Iraq are. But even if it were true that Iran is aiding groups that attack U.S. forces in Iraq, the United States is in no position to complain -- since we have no right to be in Iraq in the first place. If we wish to take our personnel out of harm's way, leave Iraq. That is the right course of action, it is the only practical course of action, and it is the one thing we absolutely refuse to do. Even if our troop levels should be reduced over the next year or two, the plan is for the United States to remain in Iraq for decades to come.

The United States has already amassed a decades-long history of criminal interference in the Middle East, and of interference with Iran in particular. Among many other actions, we overthrew the Mossadegh government in 1953 and restored the shah to power, and we provided significant support to Hussein's Iraq in the devastating war with Iran in the 1980s (see Sheldon Richman's detailed article for a comprehensive review of our incessant interventions up to the time of its writing, all of which were uniformly disastrous in their ultimate results). On the other hand, Iran has invaded no one, and it is several years away from having even one nuclear weapon, if one assumes that is Iran's goal (which Iran denies). If the United States attacks Iran, it will be attacking a country that does not threaten it (again), and a country that cannot seriously threaten it (again).

This would be an indisputable example of criminal, aggressive war, a crime against peace condemned by the Nuremberg Principles -- those principles we ourselves devised after World War II to condemn the kind of horrors perpetrated by the Nazis. Now our governing class, with only two exceptions, has officially approved in advance a crime of the same exact kind. And if the United States were to use nuclear weapons of any kind, the crime would be ungraspably worse.

In half a century, the roles have been completely reversed, and the United States now assumes the part played by those we defeated in World War II. But the worst and most soul-shattering aspect of this development is the following: almost no one in the United States itself appears to have even noticed or begun to appreciate the nature of this profound shift -- although many people in the rest of world certainly understand it, and judge us accordingly. We have become the monsters, and we continue to insist that we represent the Good. We attack a comparatively defenseless nation like Iraq, and proclaim we are battling Evil. We murder a million people who never harmed us, and who never could have even had they wished to -- and our moral purity remains intact. We prepare to attack another country that does not threaten us, and we maintain that we are only "defending" ourselves, and even "civilization" itself.

The horrifying consequences of an unprovoked U.S. attack on Iran should be painfully obvious to everyone; over a year ago, I detailed those consequences at length. Possibly millions dead, chaos and war that spread across the globe, severe economic dislocation and possibly economic collapse, the complete isolation of the United States from the community of nations, and still more and still worse -- possibly including the imposition of martial law in the U.S. itself. The conclusion is stark and infinitely bleak: an attack on Iran would wipe every other issue and concern out of existence for the foreseeable future, probably for years to come if not much longer. Forget debates about global warming; nuclear clouds might be spreading across the globe. Never mind reforming our health care system; millions of people around the world, and possibly here at home, will be worried about survival of the most primitive kind. Nothing else will matter in the least.

Several days ago, I offered some harsh words about the lack of sustained protest to these developments on the part of those who say they are deeply opposed to the current administration. The truth appears to be still worse. In looking over some of the major liberal and progressive blogs last evening and this morning, I see that several of them have not even mentioned the Senate resolution from several days ago. Are these bloggers truly so unintelligent that they fail to see the significance of this action? I don't think so. So what explains this silence? Is it simply that they refuse to criticize the Democrats on a matter of such grave significance? Is their tribal loyalty the value of greatest importance to them?

In that severely critical post, I referred to the suggestions I offered almost half a year ago concerning a plan to build public resistance to an attack on Iran. I have no proprietary feelings about those ideas whatsoever, and I have often said that others can probably think of additional and better ones, if they only put their minds to it. I've also emphasized that writers and bloggers with huge audiences have an opportunity to galvanize action on the part of many people in a way that I myself, as just one example, do not. (My normal daily readership is well under a thousand unique visitors, in the absence of links from "big" bloggers.) I had hoped my suggestions might spur thought and discussion on this topic, and that they might indirectly help to at least try to avert catastrophe. Nothing remotely like that has occurred.

Perhaps people think that nothing they do at this point can alter what seems close to inevitable. It may be that even large-scale, continuing public protest would change nothing -- but we don't know that. Since it hasn't been tried, it is impossible to predict what the effects might be. And permit me to offer a recent example, an instance where activism on the part of a large number of "ordinary" Americans did in fact change an outcome of some significance.

In terms of substance, I view the example as a profoundly unfortunate one, for it has to do with the defeat of the immigration bill. I viewed that bill as a terrible one, but for reasons directly opposed to those offered by its loudest opponents -- for their opposition was obviously racist in nature. Of course, they denied their objections were racist, but they all finally resorted to discussions of "demographics," and what they viewed as terrifying changes in our "culture" and to "way of life." Such coded words fool no one, and this kind of viciously disapproving attitude toward immigrants has a long and awful history in the United States.

But with regard to the following observations, I am not concerned with why opponents of the immigration bill fought it so vehemently: I am focused only on the fact that they opposed it so strenuously, and that their opposition had the intended effect. I've mentioned that I listen to far too much talk radio, in part because I don't have television. I listened to a number of conservative talk radio shows during both recent periods when the immigration bill came up for consideration: Limbaugh, Hannity, Al Rantel here in Los Angeles, Mark Levin, and several others. On both occasions, all of the shows talked about the immigration bill all the time. They discussed what they viewed as its inevitable awful results, why it was "unAmerican," how it would destroy our country, and included the other standard rightwing talking points on this subject.

And they all did something else: they told their listeners to call and email people in Congress, and to call and email various Republican organizations, including the Republican National Committee, and to take all these actions repeatedly. They provided phone numbers and email addresses, and they indicated the general message that should be conveyed. They didn't do this only once in one show: they did it throughout their shows, on every show, for over a week both times. The message was unceasing and unrelenting. It was repeated over and over and over. You couldn't listen to one of the major conservative talk shows without hearing it within five minutes of tuning in. It went on all the time.

One part of the message deserves particular note, and all of the shows I heard made the same point: they condemned those Republicans, including Bush, who supported the bill without mercy. They told people to inform the RNC and all the appropriate Congressmen and Senators that they would receive no further support of any kind, including financial support, unless the bill was defeated. In their view, support of the bill was a betrayal of core conservative principles. They therefore maintained that any such alleged "conservatives" did not deserve to be in office. As one, they said that these betrayers of the conservative faith should not hold power any longer -- and that the principles they believed were imperiled were more important than the continuation in power by the Republican party.

As a result of all these shows hammering the identical theme without interruption, in every hour of every show on multiple shows for days at a time, Congress was inundated with calls and messages from deeply angry Republicans. And here is the point to take home: it worked. You can find many stories like this one:
Talk radio's role in killing immigration reform in Congress is spurring a backlash.

Some Democrats in Congress, maddened about radio attacks on the bill, would like to revive a federal rule that requires broadcasters to present opposing views on important issues.

Those on both sides of the issue agree talk radio played a major role in derailing the Senate immigration bill.

The constant drumbeat on talk radio stations across the country galvanized voters to jam the Senate's phone system with angry calls.

That helped persuade lawmakers to kill the bill, all but ensuring that comprehensive immigration reform is dead until after the 2008 election.

Talk show hosts say they merely gave voice to existing anger about legislation that would have given people who broke immigration laws a path to citizenship.

Critics say the hosts distorted a compromise bill and inflamed listeners actively to oppose it.
I repeat that my concern here is not whether conservatives' objections to the bill were valid (they weren't), or whether they "distorted" the bill's provisions (sometimes they did, sometimes they didn't). My point is the strategic one: they didn't want the bill passed, they mobilized massive, large-scale opposition, and their tactics worked.

I also listen to a number of liberal talk shows. Over the last few years, I have never heard anything similar on the liberal shows. Never. Not about the Military Commissions Act (see both "'Thus the World Was Lost'" and "America, Now Without the Revolution"), not about the Roberts, Alito or Gonzales nominations, not about ending the immoral and criminal occupation of Iraq -- and not about preventing an attack on Iran.

Not on any of these issues. Never. Nor have I ever seen a similar kind of effort on the liberal and progressive blogs. Never. Every once in a while, the liberal blogs will urge action on perhaps on a single day, maybe two -- and then the issue vanishes until some new development (not brought about by the bloggers themselves) might catapult it into public consciousness again. Such tactics are sporadic, severely limited in time and scope, very infrequent, and completely ineffective.

I hesitate to say that the conservatives who worked so hard to defeat the immigration bill are "serious" about their ideas. That word grants them a stature that is entirely undeserved, particularly since the reasons for their opposition are so viciously ignorant. But I will acknowledge that they care about their ideas and that they are committed to them, in a way that it appears liberals and progressives are not.

With the exception of Kucinich's proposal to defund the Iraq catastrophe entirely, not one of the Democrats' proposed plans for "redeployment" will end the occupation of Iraq: all of them allow for the presence of tens of thousands of American troops into the indefinite future. Do the liberals and progressives have any serious, sustained objection to that? Apparently not.

But much more significantly: do the liberals and progressives seriously object to an attack on Iran? The Congressional Democrats obviously don't. Do the liberal writers and bloggers? To judge from their actions, it doesn't appear they do either -- and certainly not when compared to the recent sustained assault mounted by conservatives.

I can only conclude that most liberals and progressives care only about maintaining and expanding their control and power, and that they are determined not to "rock the boat" too much before 2008. Never mind that the world may be entirely changed by that time, never mind that war may be spreading out of control and that our economy may be in free fall -- or that martial law may have been imposed. If we should survive until the fall of 2008 without the worst happening, it will not be because of anything the liberals have done, for they will have done nothing if they continue their current pattern of behavior. And if they win in 2008, that will only be a repeat of 2006: they will win because of the profound nausea and revulsion directed at the Republicans, and not because of a positive alternative offered by the Democrats. Certainly with regard to Iran, the Washington Democrats offer no alternative: they repeat the Republican propaganda in its entirety.

On this matter, I would be pleased and even thrilled, far beyond my capacity to express it, to be proven wrong. So go ahead, liberals and progressives: prove me wrong. Please.

Prove me wrong today. And tomorrow, and the next day. Prove me wrong for the coming 18 months, and even beyond that.

Prove me wrong. I beg you.

See also: It's Up to Us Now

July 13, 2007

The Terror Masters Have Won

What else can one conclude, if the forces fighting for Krispy Kreme, Beckham and Paris Hilton are reduced to this:
Police in Iran are reported to have taken 14 squirrels into custody - because they are suspected of spying.

The rodents were found near the Iranian border allegedly equipped with eavesdropping devices.

The reports have come from the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

When asked about the confiscation of the spy squirrels, the national police chief said: "I have heard about it, but I do not have precise information."

The IRNA said that the squirrels were kitted out by foreign intelligence services - but they were captured two weeks ago by police officers.
Now someone in the Foreign Office may have airily claimed, "The story is nuts," but the article seeks to disspell transparent denial and unwarranted cynicism. It recalls the fabled military use of pigeons, chickens and dolphins, and concludes with:
It is even claimed that M15 once planned to recruit a team of specially-trained gerbils as a secret weapon to sniff out spies.
Cut it out. We all know what you're thinking. Cut it out.

Just stop. Right now.


July 12, 2007

Bomb Bomb Bomb, Bomb Bomb Iran

That tune has been all the rage among our ruling class for quite a while now. Stephen Kinzer:
Why attack Iran? War hawks in Washington are having trouble answering that question. Even their dire warnings about Iran's nuclear program have not been enough to alarm Americans already weary of Middle East conflicts.

Now the war drums have taken on a different tone. The Bush administration is testing a new rationale for attacking Iran: We must strike because Iranians are killing our soldiers in Iraq.

This is not simply a charge made by one state against another in the hope that a misguided policy will be changed. It is also part of a calculated effort to find an argument for bombing Iran that Americans will accept.


The larger question is whether Iran's involvement in Iraq - even if Iran could be found directly responsible for the death of Americans - is so outrageously provocative that it justifies an American attack. History argues that it is not.

Most American soldiers killed in the Korean War fell victim to mines, bombs or bullets made in China. General Douglas MacArthur - sounding much like some in Washington today - wanted to carry the war into China itself. President Harry Truman wisely refused and, when MacArthur persisted, relieved him of his command.

During the Vietnam War, the Soviet Union supplied North Vietnam with weapons and ammunition that killed thousands of American soldiers. Yet no one in the Johnson or Nixon administrations ever considered attacking Moscow in retaliation.


Accusing Iran of deep involvement in the Iraq war is more than a way to lay the groundwork for a US attack. It also provides a scapegoat for America's looming defeat. By this rationale, the American occupation would have succeeded, and Iraq would now be blooming and tranquil, if only Iran had not interfered and ruined everything.

Not even Americans are likely to swallow that one. Most reject the various rationales the Bush administration has so far offered to justify a possible attack on Iran. If they remain hostile to the idea, President Bush will eventually have to ask himself a fateful question: Should I attack anyway?

Attacking Iran would accomplish at least one thing Bush must be seeking. It will assure that future historians will not remember the invasion of Iraq as his biggest blunder.
I deeply regret to note that I think Kinzer seriously overestimates Americans' intelligence and their ability to see through even the most blatant government propaganda. Our media convey the notion that Iran represents Evil Incarnate at least several times each day. Given the recent poll indicating that 41% of Americans still believe that "Saddam Hussein was involved in planning or carrying out" the 9/11 attacks -- a number that has risen over the past two years -- it pays Americans a compliment they plainly don't deserve to think most or even many Americans would be unduly upset if Bush announced one day soon that bombing runs over Iran had already begun. In addition, in light of the resurgence of the most appalling kind of racism in our national discourse, I doubt a sufficient number of Americans would be that concerned that we were killing Evil Ragheads -- and quite a lot of them would be positively delighted.

On the same subject, here is Chris Floyd:
As you may know -- unless you rely on the corporate media for your news, of course -- yesterday the U.S. Senate unanimously declared that Iran was committing acts of war against the United States: a 97-0 vote to give George W. Bush a clear and unmistakable casus belli for attacking Iran whenever Dick Cheney tells him to.

The bipartisan Senate resolution – the brainchild (or rather the bilechild) of Fightin' Joe Lieberman – affirmed as official fact all of the specious, unproven, ever-changing allegations of direct Iranian involvement in attacks on the American forces now occupying Iraq. ...

It goes without saying that all of this is a nightmarish replay of the run-up to the war of aggression against Iraq: The NYT funneling false flag stories from Bush insiders. Warmongers citing the NYT stories as "proof" justifying any and all action to "defend the Homeland." Credulous and craven Democratic politicians swallowing the Bush line hook and sinker.

To be sure, stout-hearted Dem tribunes like Dick Durbin insisted that their support for declaring that Iran is "committing acts of war" against the United States should not be taken as an "authorization of military action." This is shaky-knees mendacity at its finest. Having officially affirmed that Iran is waging war on American forces, how, pray tell, can you then deny the president when he asks (if he asks) for authorization to "defend our troops?" Answer: you can't. And you know it.

This vote is the clearest signal yet that there will be no real opposition to a Bush Administration attack on Iran. This is yet another blank check from these slavish, ignorant goons; Bush can cash it anytime.
Chris is just getting started.

And he concludes with this Update:
Jonathan Schwarz points out that all of the Senate's Democratic candidates for president voted for Lieberman's Iran War amendment: Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama, and Joe Biden. Just in case you were expecting a saner foreign policy after the 2008 election.
Pleasant dreams, my friends.

Massive, uninterrupted, ongoing public protest is the only hope to possibly avoid this catastrophic, hideous, criminal nightmare.

It's Up to Us Now

Dave Lindorff tells several amusing and gratifying anecdotes about the approval with which people greeted his "Impeach Bush and Cheney" T-shirt on a recent airplane trip (the pilot, flight attendant and TSA inspectors all liked it, a lot), and goes on to write:
It seems clear to me: Americans have had it with the Bush administration.

Unfortunately, this shift is not yet clear to the power elite.


On the political front, the Democratic leadership in Congress still hasn't budged on impeachment. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, cosseted in her wood-paneled Speaker's suite, a continent away from her angry constituents, still insists that impeachment is "a waste of time," while Rep. John Conyers, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, refuses to even discuss the Cheney impeachment bill that's been sitting on his desk for months awaiting action.

Despite this shameful silence and obstructionism, though, my experience with the T-shirt tells me that the impeachment movement is sweeping the country. Cindy Sheehan, the pioneer peace and impeachment activist, has aborted her brief retirement and is threatening to run against Pelosi in the Speaker's home district in San Francisco if she doesn't stop the war funding and let impeachment proceed in the House.

In the meantime, the circulation of the debased newspapers of the nation, and the viewership of the debased network news programs, continue to plummet, as Americans increasingly recognize that they are not doing their job of informing the public.

It seems clear to me that a tectonic shift has finally occurred in the nation's political mood. It wasn't the November election, though. It has been the continued war and occupation of Iraq, and the craven inaction of the Democratic leadership in Congress.

Now, finally, ordinary people are getting fed up. Iraq vets are acting up and joining Iraq Veterans Against the War. Active duty soldiers like Erin Watada and Rev. Lennox Yearwood are standing up. What does this all mean?

Bush and Cheney can be driven from office!

This criminal, bloody war in Iraq can be ended!
Unfortunately, while Bush and Cheney can be driven from office and the ongoing crime in Iraq can be ended, neither of those things will happen as long as the governing class remains absolute in its determination to protect itself and its prerogatives.

The Democrats could defund the Iraq occupation -- remember the filibuster -- but they won't. The plan always was and remains to stay in Iraq for the long haul. American world hegemony and global interventionism is the policy, and that policy requires bases around the world -- and especially in the Middle East, which has resources over which the U.S. government will never give up control. And unless genuinely massive public protest compels them to act otherwise, the Democrats will never initiate impeachment proceedings against the Bush administration. To do so would upset the balance by which the nominally "opposed" parties continue the charade that enables the elites to perpetuate their rule.

I think the Clinton impeachment must be regarded historically as a one-off, a unique occurrence that has almost no further application and meaning. It resulted from a combination of events and influences that are highly unlikely to be repeated; in largest part, the impeachment was made possible because of the hubris of a relatively small group of determined and extraordinarily manipulative political operatives (aided by the typically lazy and unintelligent national press), welded to the remarkable immaturity of the American public whenever the subject turns to sex, although it should be noted that the general public demonstrated considerably greater mental acumen on that score than did the media or the political class. That particular amalgam all but banished coherent thought from the dominant national conversation for several years.

But to impeach Bush and Cheney for actual constitutional crimes...well, that's an entirely different matter. That would be an occurrence of great moment: it would serve notice that Congress had drawn certain lines and had solemnly announced that certain actions are impermissible to government officials. That would constrain the governing class in its future behavior. Since the Democrats may control all the levers of power after the 2008 election, they themselves might be so constrained as a consequence. That would never do. As I have analyzed in some detail, it must always be remembered that the ruling elites are not like you and me, which is to say they are utterly unlike 99.9% of the Americans they claim to represent. They say they are devoted to fulfilling the wishes of "the people," but that is only the cover used to delude Americans into ceding them more and more power, so that the ruling elites may satisfy those special interests of greatest concern to them (and whose support makes their election possible in the first instance) and continue their own lives of immense privilege and comfort. The ruling elites live in a world entirely unlike ours, and their motivations bear no resemblance to the concerns that dominate the lives of most of us. As the earlier essay discussed, they could not care less about "the people" for the most part. They will only offer faint concessions to "the people's will" when expressions of that will become so overwhelming that the elites' hold on power is thought to be threatened.

So, barring further extraordinary events, I think Pelosi will be successful in her efforts to keep impeachment "off the table." What a pathetic comment on the state of American politics that is: the one constitutionally provided remedy that is unquestionably required, and for which a massive amount of evidence is already in the public record, is "off the table" -- while initiating yet another criminal war of aggression, perhaps even using nuclear weapons, remains "on the table." The moral inversion of our age is complete.

In this setting, Paul Craig Roberts offers an intriguing idea, but one which I also view as unworkable. After noting that "[t]he American political system has failed," Roberts writes:
Bush's and Cheney's lies and assaults on the US Constitution and American civil liberty, their plans to attack Iran, and the war crimes for which they are responsible provide an open and shut case for their impeachments. The latest polls show that 54% of Americans support impeachment of Vice President Cheney, with only 40% opposed. Bush hangs on by a hair with 45% favoring his impeachment and 46% opposed. But Democrats, like Republicans, have failed the electorate and refuse to do their duty. Congress is a creature of special interests and no longer represents the American people.

Obviously, some new method is needed for removing incompetent or dictatorial presidents and vice presidents.

Constitutional reform might be next to impossible, but before dismissing the possibility consider that according to British news reports, Britain's new prime minister, Gordon Brown, intends a wide-ranging program of constitutional reform, including giving up the prime minister's power to declare war.

The London Telegraph says: "The measures are intended to restore trust in politics after the by-passing of Parliament and the Cabinet, as well as the culture of spin and media manipulation, that characterized the Blair decade."

If America is to remain a democracy, the people need refurbished powers to hold "government of the people, by the people, for the people" accountable. One way of doing this would be a vote of confidence by the people. The question can be put to a national referendum: "Shall the President remain in office?" "Shall the Vice President remain in office?"

The state of Florida does this for judges, including Florida's Supreme Court, so there is precedent for allowing the people to decide whether officials may remain in office.

As the American people can no longer rely on elected officials to respond to public opinion, the people must do what they can to gather power back into their hands before they become the subjects of tyrants.
As I say, I find this somewhat intriguing -- but I also think Roberts' contemplation of this idea is born of desperation. Since the constitutionally provided remedy of impeachment will almost certainly not be exercised, Roberts understandably searches for another means of holding government officials accountable, particularly in the present dire circumstances.

As a practical matter, I don't see how a national referendum of this kind could be put in place in the next 18 months; in fact, it couldn't be. But leaving that aside and assuming a national referendum could be quickly actualized, would that even be a good idea? I am convinced it would not be. Consider just the most obvious objections. First, this would make unchecked majority rule dispositive on urgent national questions, including the continued tenure of primary government officlals. Please keep in mind that unchecked majority rule is not at all what the Constitution originally envisioned, and for very good reason. Unconstrained majority rule is one of the surest routes to the destruction of individual liberty and freedom.

Second, it is not at all difficult to imagine that the national referendum process would quickly be captured by those with enormous wealth and power to expend on such matters. Our national politics would quickly deteriorate into the clash of possibly numerous warring factions -- with national leaders being regularly thrown out of office, for perhaps no valid reason at all or for an entirely false reason. This appears to me to be an almost certain way of destroying the last vestiges of national stability and turning our politics into an officially farcical free-for-all (the farce has only unofficial status at the moment), until those politics collapse altogether, perhaps with attendant violence.

But this is a measure of how far we've traveled: the political class refuses to surrender its own prerogatives of power and privilege, and the rest of us are left to wonder if there is anyone at all in government, save for a handful of exceptions, who genuinely gives a damn about what is right. And not even what is right: is there anyone in government who will oppose a national course which embraces genocide and unending wars of aggression, and which embodies the behavior of nothing so much as a homicidal maniac? Again, with only two or three exceptions, no one in Washington will condemn our actions for what they are -- the actions of a murderous lunatic, for whom human life has no meaning whatsoever.

And so decent people desperately seek for solutions, however unlikely and however unworkable they may be. Aside from organizing public protest on a huge, unrelenting scale, including an uncompromising demand for impeachment proceedings to begin immediately and for the complete rejection of any attack on Iran in the present and foreseeable circumstances, I see no other possibilities at present.

Left to their own devices, the political class in Washington will do nothing to stop the gathering madness, and they will act only to spread the insanity further and make it significantly worse. It's up to us now, as it has been for some time.

P.S. In reflecting further on these matters, I realized I should briefly clarify two points. First, I would not want to leave the impression that I admired Clinton's presidency in any measurable degree, which I did not. True, he was not as unrelievedly awful as the current Bush, but that is faint praise indeed. The same could be said of almost every President, save two or three. Furthermore, I think a strong case could be made for having impeached Clinton -- but the grounds for impeachment would have been very different, beginning with the abomination at Waco and including the "humanitarian" interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo. Of course, those were precisely the grounds that were excluded from consideration, for the very reason that both political parties are determined to preserve the exercise of state power in those particular forms. As a result, Clinton was impeached for reasons that were comparatively trivial when set against his profound abuses of power.

Second, I am an admirer of Paul Craig Roberts' writing, and I agree with him much more often than not. Nevertheless, I consider this idea of national referenda to present several significant theoretical and practical problems. In an excerpt from Robert Higgs here, Higgs mentions the Ludlow Resolution, which was considered by Congress in the late 1930s. It "would have amended the Constitution to require approval in a national referendum before Congress could declare war, unless U.S. territory had been invaded." Needless to say, Franklin Roosevelt "vigorously opposed" it, and the resolution was defeated.

I would almost always support any mechanism that might throw a monkey-wrench into the machinations of our federal overlords, and I find a national war referendum to be an especially admirable concept. How novel it would be for the people who might actually die in a war to decide whether it should be fought. But I wonder how effective such a referendum might be in today's culture, given the relentless dumbing down of Americans generally and the incessant propaganda that sweeps over us hourly. If the information here is accurate, a majority of Americans would probably have approved the Iraq invasion in early 2003 -- just as I think a majority of Americans might well approve an attack on Iran, in light of the repeated demonization of that country by our government and media. The latter point would be doubly true in the event of a Gulf of Tonkin-style incident, an occurrence far from unimaginable in the current circumstances.

But a national referendum on a subject such as going to war is enormously different from "votes of confidence" about particular national leaders. For the reasons indicated above, I think it very likely that votes of confidence would quickly be manipulated and used by the worst kind of political con men (and women) and opportunists. I continue to think that national votes of confidence of this kind would represent an unwise precedent, one easily corrupted and possibly dangerously destabilizing.

We're the Government, and We Can't Protect a Damned Thing

Detailed schematics of a military detainee holding facility in southern Iraq. Geographical surveys and aerial photographs of two military airfields outside Baghdad. Plans for a new fuel farm at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

The military calls it "need-to-know" information that would pose a direct threat to U.S. troops if it were to fall into the hands of terrorists. It's material so sensitive that officials refused to release the documents when asked.

But it's already out there, posted carelessly to file servers by government agencies and contractors, accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.

In a survey of servers run by agencies or companies involved with the military and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, The Associated Press found dozens of documents that officials refused to release when asked directly, citing troop security.

Such material goes online all the time, posted most often by mistake. It's not in plain sight, unlike the plans for the new American embassy in Baghdad that appeared recently on the Web site of an architectural firm. But it is almost as easy to find.

And experts said foreign intelligence agencies and terrorists working with al-Qaida likely know where to look.

In one case, the Army Corps of Engineers asked the AP to promptly dispose of several documents found on a contractor's server that detailed a project to expand the fuel infrastructure at Bagram - including a map of the entry point to be used by fuel trucks and the location of pump houses and fuel tanks. The Corps of Engineers then changed its policies for storing material online following the AP's inquiry.

But a week later, the AP downloaded a new document directly from the agency's own server. The 61 pages of photos, graphics and charts map out the security features at Tallil Air Base, a compound outside of Nasiriyah in southeastern Iraq, and depict proposed upgrades to the facility's perimeter fencing.


[A]mong the documents the AP found were aerial photographs and detailed schematics of Camp Bucca, a U.S.-run facility for detainees in Iraq. One of the documents was password-protected, but the password was printed in an unsecure document stored on the same server. They showed where U.S. forces keep prisoners and fuel tanks, as well as the locations of security fences, guard towers and other security measures.

"It gets down to a level of detail that would assist insurgents in trying to free their members from the camp or overpower guards," said Loren Thompson, a military analyst with the Virginia-based Lexington Institute. "When you post ... the map of a high-security facility that houses insurgents, you're basically giving their allies on the outside information useful in freeing them."
The story has many more details.

The solution is blindingly obvious: take a lot more money from taxpayers and give it to the government, and provide the government with still more massive powers.

Wait. They've probably already done that. Well, then, more money and still more powers. And so on, right into economic collapse and dictatorship.

Finally, a problem with a straightforward answer.

July 11, 2007

The Bloodthirsty Murderers of a Million

[Also see: Still Another Call to Activism: Prove Me Wrong, I Beg You.]

[Please see the Update at the end, concerning two revealing new items.]

In the manner of a soulless ghoul without conscience, the United States government dispatches its lethal military to wreak death and destruction across the world. So convinced are we that we embody the Good, we believe we may invade anywhere and everywhere, whenever we declare our "national interests" are imperiled. Our "national interests" are intentionally and infinitely elastic: they enable us to "justify" any military incursion anywhere, at any time. Because we represent the Good, it is inconceivable that we would act in ways that are monstrous and criminal on a scale that defies comprehension.

In the winter and spring of 2002-2003, it was obvious to any basically well-informed lay person that Iraq constituted no serious threat to the United States, or to anyone else. An "ordinary" citizen had no need of "secret information" or government "intelligence" to reach the conclusion that was entirely accurate, a conclusion that over four years of futile, unforgivable havoc and death have proven over and over again to be true. Such "intelligence" is almost always wrong in any case; it is almost never relevant to foreign policy decisions at all.

Our unfounded and indefensible belief in our unquestionable moral purity thus renders us incapable of recognizing the most fundamental fact of the Iraq catastrophe: it is immoral and criminal in each and every respect. Because Iraq was no threat, the crime was committed when the first innocent Iraqi died as the result of the United States' invasion and occupation.

But we refuse to acknowledge the initial crime, the death of that single innocent Iraqi. So we are absolute in our refusal to acknowledge the inconceivable magnitude of what our government has done:
A key question is missing from this debate. How many Iraqis have died as a result of the U.S. invasion? The New York Times editorial is silent on this matter.

In a scientific study published last fall in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, researchers from Johns Hopkins estimated that 650,000 Iraqis had died because of our government's invasion of their country. The survey that produced that estimate was completed in July, 2006. That was a year ago.

Unfortunately, despite the calls of the Lancet authors for other studies, there has been no systematic effort to update these results.

Just Foreign Policy has attempted to update the Lancet estimate in the best way we know. We have extrapolated from the Lancet estimate, using the trend provided by the tally of Iraqi deaths reported in Western media compiled by Iraq Body Count. Our current estimate is that 974,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the U.S. invasion. The web counter and fuller explanation are here.

The Iraqi death toll resulting from the U.S. invasion is a key fact. We cannot make intelligent and moral choices about U.S. foreign policy while ignoring such a key fact. It has implications for our choices in Iraq, for our choices in dealing with Iran, for our choices about the size of the U.S. military (for why do our leaders want to expand the U.S. military, except to have the capacity to invade other countries?)

The exact toll will never be known. But this is no reason not to attempt to know what the best estimate is. We also don't know many other key facts with certainty. We don't know how many people live in the U.S. The census department creates an estimate, and this estimate is the basis of policy.

The Johns Hopkins researchers used the methods accepted all over the world to estimate deaths in the wake of war and natural disasters. The United Nations, for example, uses them to plan famine relief. Even the Bush administration relies on them when it accuses Sudan of genocide in Darfur. At present, this represents the best information we have.
Robert Naiman concludes his article by stating that, as we discuss ending the war, "best estimates of the Iraqi death toll must be part of the debate." Of course, they will not be.

They will not be, because our governing class and the foreign policy establishment have not begun to question seriously even one element of the bipartisan policy of American world hegemony. Everyone -- from Bush, to Congressional Democrats, to liberal bloggers -- supports a "bigger military," even when the United States already spends more on defense than the rest of the world combined. Leading Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, are more militant about imposing our arbitrary will on Iran than even Bush and many conservatives are.

We refuse to acknowledge the immorality of the Iraq invasion and occupation: it was a "blunder," it was "incompetently managed." And so Frank Rich describes, in a manner revealing that most liberals continue to share the identical worldview and have surrendered none of their belief in our unchallengeable "Goodness," "the avoidable bungling of Iraq." If only it hadn't been "bungled," murder would not be murder. And so Obama insists, as he simultaneously insists on a still more powerful American military and on our unilateral "right" to use it however we may see fit:
I reject the notion that the American moment has passed. I dismiss the cynics who say that this new century cannot be another when, in the words of President Franklin Roosevelt, we lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good.

I still believe that America is the last, best hope of Earth.
And so, when we attack Iran -- either at the command of Bush, or Clinton, or Obama -- and despite the fact that Iran also is no serious threat to us, we will refuse to see the monstrous nature of what we have done, even as millions of innocent people die and destruction spreads across the globe. We may indeed turn out to be the "last" agent of profound change on Earth -- but whether it will be "best" or represent a "hope" is left as an exercise for the reader. Let your concern and reverence for peace and the value of human life determine your answer.

Is there anything to be done? Yes. Almost no one is remotely interested in doing even part of that. Am I saying that the United States has already committed crimes that are identical in principle to those committed by Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia -- and that it might do so again, and in the near future? Yes.

Massive public protest of the kind I have described in some detail might help to prevent it. Impeachment proceedings against Bush and Cheney, if they were to begin this week, might prevent it. I consider it close to impossible that either of those possibilities will be actualized.

If we continue on our present course, and there is no reason whatsoever to think we won't, this is your future -- and the world's.

UPDATE: Some brief notes about two related items. First, following up on the drive to war with Iran recently detailed here, conjure this:
THE US Senate has unanimously backed a measure censuring Iran for what it said was complicity in the killing of US soldiers in Iraq, intending to send a stern warning to Tehran.

The chamber voted 97-0 in favor of the bill, making it one of the few areas of Iraq policy where all Democrats and all Republicans are in agreement, in a turbulent period of political recriminations over the war.

"Today's unanimous vote sends a strong, clear message from the entire Senate to the Iranians that we know what they are doing in Iraq, and they must stop," said Senator Joseph Lieberman, who framed the legislation.

"This is a warning to the Iranians that whatever differences divide us politically here in Washington, we stand united against these outrageous attacks."

The amendment laid out what it said was evidence about proxy attacks by Iranian forces on US soldiers in Iraq and called for a regular US government report to Congress on Tehran's role in the war-torn nation.

"The threat posed by Iran to our soldiers, to our allies, and to our national security is a truth that cannot be wished or waved away. Congress today began the process of confronting it," Mr Lieberman said.

The measure passed just over a week after the US military accused Iranian special forces of using Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah militiamen to train Iraqi extremists and of planning an attack that killed five US soldiers this year.
Please, please try to understand this:


They have told you so again and again over the last several years, Democrats and Republicans alike (including the detestable Obama, who's so "idealistic"). But the liberals and progressives (and especially the bloggers of the species) tell themselves: "Oh, they're just afraid of the media! They're afraid of the way their opposition will be spun. The Democrats really want peace, and love, and extra yummy chocolate cake for everyone!" Here's a clue for the brain-dead: the Democrats repeatedly continue to bring us closer to war with Iran BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT THEY WANT.

Second item: you people are laughingstocks. (Via IOZ.) I wouldn't mind so much that you're useful idiots, except for the fact that you make yourselves so endlessly useful, and that you're such unbelievable idiots.

You're GOING TO CALL THE SENATORS! On ONE occasion, for ONE DAY. And lo, the heavens themselves moved! Please, stop embarrassing yourselves.

There are some larger-scale, more ambitious ideas you might try. You can probably think of many others, and many that might be better and more effective. That is, you could if you actually gave a damn.

But you won't, because you don't. Within a few days, all this will be forgotten -- once again.

So I repeat: when we attack Iran, and I now consider that a foregone conclusion with only the timing to be determined, DON'T SAY A SINGLE GODDAMNED WORD.

Not one, or I will personally hunt you down and punch your fucking lights out.

P.S. For the thinking-impaired, I note that I abhor violence in any form, unless it is absolutely necessary in self-defense. So I won't punch your fucking lights out. But that will be the least that you deserve.

July 07, 2007

"Every Thing Secret Degenerates..."

Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives. -- James Madison
Every thing secret degenerates, even the administration of justice; nothing is safe that does not show it can bear discussion and publicity. -- Lord Acton
The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them. -- Patrick Henry
"Challenge to Secret Wiretaps Is Dismissed," The New York Times, July 7, 2007:
A divided federal appeals court yesterday dismissed a case challenging the National Security Agency’s program to wiretap without warrants the international communications of some Americans, reversing a trial judge’s order that the program be shut down.

The majority in a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, ruled on a narrow ground, saying the plaintiffs, including lawyers and journalists, could not show injury direct and concrete enough to allow them to have standing to sue.

Because it may be impossible for any plaintiff to demonstrate injury from the highly classified wiretapping program, the effect of the ruling was to insulate it from judicial scrutiny. Thus, the program’s secrecy is proving to be its best legal protection.

The majority did not rule on the merits of the case, though the appeals court judge who wrote the lead opinion, Judge Alice M. Batchelder, said the case had provoked "a cascade of serious questions." She listed five, including whether the program violated a 1978 law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, along with the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution.


A number of other challenges to the program have been consolidated before a federal judge in San Francisco, and the federal appeals court there, the Ninth Circuit, will hear an appeal from one of the [District Court] judge’s preliminary rulings next month.

Some of the plaintiffs in that case contend that they have been personally injured by the program, which if proved could give them standing to sue, even under yesterday’s ruling. Those plaintiffs, an Islamic charity and two of its lawyers, say they have seen a classified document confirming that their communications were actually intercepted.

A second Sixth Circuit judge, Judge Julia Smith Gibbons, concurred in the judgment dismissing the case yesterday but did not join in Judge Batchelder’s extensive and technical discussion of whether the plaintiffs had standing to sue. Judge Gibbons agreed, however, that the case turned "upon the single fact that the plaintiffs have failed to provide evidence that they are personally subject to the program."

She added that "the plaintiffs are ultimately prevented from establishing standing because of the state secrets privilege," a legal doctrine that requires courts to limit or dismiss cases when allowing them to proceed would disclose information harmful to national security. Judge Batchelder did not discuss the privilege.

In his dissent yesterday, Judge Ronald Lee Gilman wrote that the issue of the plaintiffs’ standing presented "the closest question in this case." But he wrote that at least the plaintiffs who were lawyers did have standing.

Those lawyers said they had had to change the way they communicated with clients in the Middle East because they feared that their discussions would not be confidential.


Judge Batchelder was appointed by the first President George Bush, Judge Gibbons by President George W. Bush and Judge Gilman by President Bill Clinton. Judge Taylor, the district court judge, was appointed by President Jimmy Carter.


The plaintiffs were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.

"We are deeply disappointed," the group’s legal director, Steven R. Shapiro, said in a statement, "by today’s decision that insulates the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance activities from judicial review and deprives Americans of any ability to challenge the illegal surveillance of their telephone calls and e-mails."