November 30, 2010

I Hate Authority -- Well, Except for My Authority!

I continue to be mesmerized by the number of liberals, progressives and libertarians (or perhaps "libertarians," who the hell knows any longer) who express extraordinarily negative views of WikiLeaks. My post yesterday revisited this general territory, examining one of the critics' oft-repeated complaints: that certain of WikiLeaks' revelations will lead to more war, not less. See yesterday's entry for my reasons for concluding that this argument is entirely without merit and completely irrelevant to an evaluation of WikiLeaks and its work.

Let's try a thought experiment. Imagine that WikiLeaks releases a cache of documents which conclusively establish that any attack on Iran by any country, but especially by the United States, would lead to the following results: the consolidation of power by the current Iranian regime, which power is now supported by almost all Iranians since they correctly perceive they are under attack by a common external enemy; the related dissolution of all those groups which had been opposed to Iran's government; Iran's absolute determination to have a nuclear arsenal as quickly as possible, which determination had not existed before; the explosion of Iraq into a nightmare of bloody destruction, as Iran sends troops into that country (I should properly say, more of a nightmare of bloody destruction); attacks on Israel which come close to destroying that nation utterly (some of the attacks come from Iran, others are of undetermined origin as more countries are drawn into the war); the complete collapse of Pakistan's government, with most of Pakistan's nuclear weapons falling into the hands of a terrorist group that had previously been unknown ... and on and on.

Some of these results are close to certain; all of them are possible, perhaps even probable. (That's true right now, and you don't need an imagined WikiLeaks release to understand it. Most people refuse to acknowledge it.) The WikiLeaks release includes internal (and top secret!) U.S. government reports which offer extensive evidence for all these conclusions and identify all these results -- and it's not just one U.S. government analysis saying this, but dozens of them from a variety of agencies.

The news is dominated by the Iran story for days and weeks. As one, every major media outlet declares that any attack on Iran must be viewed as unthinkable. The results would be catastrophic, on a scale that defies comprehension. Finally, every "responsible" voice states without reservation that an attack on Iran must irrevocably be taken off the table. Everyone waits for Obama to give a speech in which he will say that, under present and foreseeable circumstances, the U.S. will not attack Iran, for the consequences could not be countenanced. Everyone begins to consider such a speech all but inevitable.

Do you have any doubt -- any doubt at all -- that many or even most of the same people who criticize WikiLeaks for its "irresponsibility" in allegedly providing support for those who seek still more war would herald WikiLeaks for its heroism and history-changing courage? That the same people would ceaselessly praise WikiLeaks as a unique and uniquely far-seeing and groundbreaking force for peace? I certainly don't.

I intentionally cast my hypothetical in an extreme version in the opposite direction to highlight one particular issue. For all the reasons identified in my previous article, the position of the WikiLeaks' critics (those critics I've identified; I'm not referring here to conservative critics, who obviously have very different reasons) reduces to this: leaks that may lead to results I view negatively are irresponsible and organizations like WikiLeaks are merely "useful idiots" for Empire, while leaks that may lead to results I view positively are heroic and admirable, and those who make such material available to the world have done humanity an enduring and indispensable service. (You'll find some thoughts about "irresponsibility," including observations from Hannah Arendt on that topic, here.)

More briefly: leaks I like, good; leaks I don't like, bad. I've analyzed another instance of this same approach, in the area of "intelligence" and its uses. I preliminarily note that to argue in terms of intelligence at all is a grave mistake. I won't offer my arguments again; I've gone through them countless times and almost everyone continues to argue about intelligence constantly. So be it. If you're interested, you'll find the case set out in "Fools for Empire," -- in both Part I and Part II. (Very briefly: intelligence, which is almost always wrong, is irrelevant to major policy decisions. Even when it's correct, it will be disregarded when it runs counter to policy decisions that have already been made. The primary and usually the sole purpose of intelligence is as propaganda, and it is used after the fact to justify a course of action already decided upon.)

After discussing the erroneous treatment of "intelligence" by two writers in particular (which I did with some reluctance, since the writers in question are valuable antiwar voices), I identified the problem this way -- and it is the same problem that now afflicts many of the WikiLeaks critics:
In other words: when the intelligence community happens to agree with the policy Raimondo himself prefers (as I do, too), it is telling the truth and nothing but the truth. But when the intelligence community offers judgments that support the case for military confrontation, its assessment is determined by political pressure.

This is exactly the argument offered by Larry Johnson (as discussed in Part I), and by Ron Rosenbaum (as Raimondo discusses), with the polarities reversed: Johnson, Rosenbaum and many other advocates of aggressive interventionism contend that when the intelligence agencies state that Iran represents no threat whatsoever, they do so as the result of improper political pressure, but when the intelligence agencies judge that Iran constitutes a genuine threat, and perhaps a very dire one, they're telling the truth and nothing but.

Arguments in the form, "When you agree with me, you're telling the truth, and when you don't, you're lying," are singularly unconvincing. Moreover, this approach with regard to the intelligence community ignores the much more fundamental problems I've already identified.
Another significant similarity between the "intelligence" and WikiLeaks examples deserves to be highlighted. The continued insistence by virtually everyone on arguing about "intelligence" arises in large part from the reliance on authority that is drummed into all of us, usually beginning in early childhood. In Part II of "Fools for Empire," I set out several notable examples of what is wrong with relying on intelligence in the manner most people do. One of those examples is from Barbara Tuchman, and here's part of what she said (writing about Vietnam):
The belief that government knows best was voiced just at this time by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who said on resumption of the bombing, "We ought to all support the President. He is the man who has all the information and knowledge of what we are up against." This is a comforting assumption that relieves people from taking a stand. It is usually invalid, especially in foreign affairs. "Foreign policy decisions," concluded Gunnar Myrdal after two decades of study, "are in general much more influenced by irrational motives" than are domestic ones.
And in making the connection between that passage and how we are all taught to rely on authority and to obey, I wrote:
To connect Tuchman's argument to my ongoing discussion of the crucial significance of Alice Miller's work, I will rephrase Tuchman's statement, "This is a comforting assumption that relieves people from taking a stand...," as follows:
Mommy and Daddy [and usually, especially Daddy] have special, secret knowledge that I can't possibly have or understand, since I'm just a kid. So when it comes to most things, and particularly when really big questions are involved, I have to do what they say. Mommy and Daddy know best. I have to obey them.
With regard to WikiLeaks, you see the same issue, as I observed yesterday:
WikiLeaks' primary purpose is to make information available to everyone. Each one of us can make our own judgments as to what should be done with that information, if anything, and what course of action might be indicated or not. But the kind of complaint conveyed by this Corrente post is precisely the issue I previously addressed: the complaint is that providing vast amounts of information freely to everyone isn't a good idea and might even be a very bad idea -- unless a particular outcome can be assured.

Despite the poster's kind comments about me personally, I will state the conclusion plainly: this completely misses what is most fundamental about WikiLeaks and why its work challenges established authority so profoundly. This particular Corrente poster may want authority to prevent rather than enable further war -- but he still wants some authority to guarantee the result he prefers.
I realize that this is a complex issue, and that it can require a good deal of time to untangle it. I remarked in my series of articles on WikiLeaks last summer that I myself found many of these connections far from obvious.

In a conversation with a very dear friend yesterday, I phrased the underlying problem in a different way. I remarked that, for most people, the idea of living a fully autonomous life with no external authority whatsoever (either real, as in the case of the State, various designated "experts" and so on, or imagined, as in the case of God) is profoundly upsetting. In many cases, we should use a stronger word: the prospect is scary, even terrifying. The reliance on authority is instilled so deeply in most of us that it becomes central to our sense of personal identity. As I often remark, the struggle to identify the complex, intricate ways in which reliance on authority is embedded in our modes of thought and behavior is the most demanding struggle many of us will undertake. And please note: set aside here all practical problems, and standard contentions about the "necessity" for the State (as just one example). I'm not concerned with any of that at the moment. I'm talking about the psychological issue and how we experience it. To have no external authority to which to appeal or from which we seek guidance within the sacred space of our minds and souls -- that is the prospect that causes deep distress for most people.

Let me offer a few brief comments about some of the documents that the critics contend might support further war. With regard to the desire of Saudi Arabia's leaders that the U.S. should attack Iran, for example, it is altogether typical of our largely ignorant, slothful chattering classes that this is even considered "news." Imagine, one country (which happens to be overwhelmingly Sunni) wanting to see another country (which happens to be overwhelmingly Shia) reduced in power and influence, when both countries are located in the same region of the world and correctly view each other as rivals for regional power and influence. What a shocker, and how astonishingly unexpected.

Do people study history at all? Perhaps more to the point: do they think? Take the religious element out of the equation, and the brute fact remains: throughout all of history, countries have vied for power. The contest for power is often significantly heightened when countries are in close proximity to one another and vie for power in the same region. This isn't news: it's the way the world works and has always worked. So the Saudis would be delighted to see Iran attacked, especially if they can simply cheer from the sidelines. Win-win! Well, except for perhaps millions of dead Iranians (and perhaps Saudis as well, if the conflict spreads as it very well might).

With regard to this bit of "news" -- and with regard to every single document released by WikiLeaks -- we must evaluate it. Does this have anything to do with what the United States ought to do? Should it? Is it even true? I note that no U.S. official has offered anything approaching a serious case that these documents aren't what they purport to be: that is, that person A wrote to person B about subject C, and said X, Y and Z. But the more serious questions remain to be addressed.

What is the document's significance, if any? Is the content accurate, i.e., does it correspond to the facts as we can best ascertain them? (This is a different question from whether the document is what it seems to be.) In many cases, we'll never know whether the content is accurate. In any event, do we care? And so on.

Through its work, WikiLeaks seeks to place responsibility for answering all such questions not on "experts," or the media, or the State -- but on the only person who properly should be entrusted with these matters, you:
[T]he very purpose of Wikileaks is to challenge any and every authority of this kind. For Wikileaks, the only authority that matters -- the only person who is ultimately entitled to all available information and who properly should judge it -- is you. In this sense, which I submit is the highest and best sense of the term, Wikileaks is a genuine "leveller." It seeks to make each and every individual the ultimate judge of the truth, just as it seeks to empower all people to make the determination as to what course of action is indicated, if any. This, dear reader, is what a real revolution looks like.
And, to tie some of these elements together:
Given the unrelieved fraud that is "intelligence," and in light of the conclusively and repeatedly proven inability to trust any part of the Establishment to "filter" any of this or any other material whatsoever, including "raw data," I view it as a complete and shining triumph for Wikileaks and other organizations to release as much information, and as much "raw data," as they can get their hands on. Wikileaks thus increases what is in the public record, and thereby provides more information on the basis of which you can make your own judgment. We -- by which I mean you, me and everyone else -- certainly can't do any worse than the politicians and "experts" in trying to make sense of it. Moreover, I consider it much more likely that we will do a significantly better job. And even if we don't, we aren't the ones who will be ordering bombing runs, assassinations, or invasions.
Time moves on, and events press in upon us. Soon we will be able to travel beyond my hypothetical, for WikiLeaks has a different target in mind for early next year: a major American bank. From a just published interview with Julian Assange in Forbes:
You’ve been focused on the U.S. military mostly in the last year. Does that mean you have private sector-focused leaks in the works?

Yes. If you think about it, we have a publishing pipeline that’s increasing linearly, and an exponential number of leaks, so we’re in a position where we have to prioritize our resources so that the biggest impact stuff gets released first.

So do you have very high impact corporate stuff to release then?

Yes, but maybe not as high impact…I mean, it could take down a bank or two.

That sounds like high impact.

But not as big an impact as the history of a whole war. But it depends on how you measure these things.


When will it happen?

Early next year. I won’t say more.

What do you want to be the result of this release?

[Pauses] I’m not sure.

It will give a true and representative insight into how banks behave at the executive level in a way that will stimulate investigations and reforms, I presume.

Usually when you get leaks at this level, it’s about one particular case or one particular violation. For this, there’s only one similar example. It’s like the Enron emails. Why were these so valuable? When Enron collapsed, through court processes, thousands and thousands of emails came out that were internal, and it provided a window into how the whole company was managed. It was all the little decisions that supported the flagrant violations.

This will be like that. Yes, there will be some flagrant violations, unethical practices that will be revealed, but it will also be all the supporting decision-making structures and the internal executive ethos that cames out, and that’s tremendously valuable. Like the Iraq War Logs, yes there were mass casualty incidents that were very newsworthy, but the great value is seeing the full spectrum of the war.

You could call it the ecosystem of corruption. But it’s also all the regular decision making that turns a blind eye to and supports unethical practices: the oversight that’s not done, the priorities of executives, how they think they’re fulfilling their own self-interest. The way they talk about it.
When this release occurs, I will eagerly devour the denunciations of WikiLeaks and of Assange, especially from liberals, progressives and assorted "libertarians."

I am so deeply shocked by Assange's "irresponsibility" that I find myself unable to write another word. I therefore conclude here.

November 29, 2010

On WikiLeaks: You Force Me to Repeat Myself

I interrupt my work on a new article about WikiLeaks to address this, and especially the concluding paragraph (see links in the original):
Sometimes the enemy of my enemy is an even worse enemy. Anyway, with all respect to Arthur on this*, count me instead with Anglachel as describing this as a giant rat-fucking operation, designed to promote more war. If someone can find any evidence whatsoever that this actually damages the expansion of American imperialism, rather than enhances it, please wake me.

*Who I love and support (and you should too) even when we disagree.
I was going to be extremely pissed off about this, but that very nice note at the end makes it difficult. Drat. :>))

But I remain very annoyed -- because I've already addressed this exact argument in detail. It made up a significant part of my series of articles on WikiLeaks last summer.

Since people obviously don't follow links (and I increasingly doubt whether more than 10 or 20 people read any of my posts when they first appear), I'll repeat part of what I wrote in Part IV of that series:
Many examples make up the lesson, and the trail of murder and suffering crosses the globe, from the Philippines, to Southeast Asia, to Africa, to Central and South America, to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan today, to Iran tomorrow. The United States seeks global hegemony. To justify its quest, the United States invents a series of terrifying threats, all of which, in one way or another, are alleged to be "existential" threats to our very survival. With almost no exceptions at all, the leaders of the American Empire concoct these threats out of nothing.


Consider the fact with great care. With this momentous and endlessly horrifying fact in the forefront of your consciousness, ask yourself: What does it signify that those who seek still further war and conquest will use the Wikileaks material to provide more supposed justification for their murderous actions? To ask the question, to ask it with the nature and history of American Empire in mind, is to see how completely irrelevant it is when evaluating Wikileaks and its work.

Of course they'll use the Wikileaks material to justify their policies. That's what they do. They do it with everything -- and they do it with absolutely nothing. I repeat: That is what they do.

If you want to avoid their using the Wikileaks material, or anything else, to justify their policies, there is one course you can follow, and only one. Henceforth, you can say nothing whatsoever. But if you choose to resist the profound evil committed by the U.S. government, evil which it continues to commit today and will commit again tomorrow, you must reject that course.

To drive the point home, let me express it another way. As demonstrated repeatedly by the historical record and by events today, the leaders of American Empire use everything and even nothing to justify their actions and policies. In this sense, the leaders of American Empire are profoundly irrational and endlessly, murderously destructive. Their arguments are self-contradictory, massively inconsistent, and frequently incoherent. Yet today's leaders of American Empire also possess the most frighteningly powerful weaponry and military in all of history. From this perspective, the Empire has all the power.

In comparative terms (and even in absolute terms), Wikileaks has no capabilities or powers at all -- except for one. And that is the ability to make information available to everyone, information which the otherwise all-powerful leaders of Empire seek to keep secret from those they rule, and from those they seek to subjugate in the future. In this context, and especially when we keep in mind the gaping abyss between the powers of Empire and the single power of Wikileaks, to blame Wikileaks (or anyone similarly situated) for the improper use of the material they release is to blame Wikileaks for someone else's irrationality and immense destructiveness. It is to blame Wikileaks for actions over which Wikileaks has no control whatsoever.

Does that make any sense at all? No, it doesn't.

Beyond this, it is critical to appreciate the further implication. In effect, Forte and others who make the same criticism seek a mediating authority: that is, they seek some means to ensure that leaked material is used only for purposes they view as "good." But this represents a failure to understand the nature of the work to which Wikileaks is devoted, just as it represents a failure to escape the reliance on authority itself. Forte (and others) want authority to serve a purpose that is very different from that of the Empire -- but they still want an authority to make their desired outcome more likely.

But the very purpose of Wikileaks is to challenge any and every authority of this kind. For Wikileaks, the only authority that matters -- the only person who is ultimately entitled to all available information and who properly should judge it -- is you. In this sense, which I submit is the highest and best sense of the term, Wikileaks is a genuine "leveller." It seeks to make each and every individual the ultimate judge of the truth, just as it seeks to empower all people to make the determination as to what course of action is indicated, if any. This, dear reader, is what a real revolution looks like.
I developed these points still more in a subsequent essay.

As for the statement, "If someone can find any evidence whatsoever that this actually damages the expansion of American imperialism..." -- well, Christ, try the whole series (all the entries are linked at the conclusion of that essay). (Oh, links. Never mind.)

As I've been writing this entry, I was struck by one critical issue still another time. The return of this argument -- and, of singular importance, the implied continuing reliance on authority (and again, see this for further discussion on that point) -- demonstrates to me again the extent to which virtually all of us are trained to rely on authority and to obey. The hardest battle most of us will ever fight is to escape the effects of this training.

That, too, was a central theme in my WikiLeaks articles. WikiLeaks' primary purpose is to make information available to everyone. Each one of us can make our own judgments as to what should be done with that information, if anything, and what course of action might be indicated or not. But the kind of complaint conveyed by this Corrente post is precisely the issue I previously addressed: the complaint is that providing vast amounts of information freely to everyone isn't a good idea and might even be a very bad idea -- unless a particular outcome can be assured.

Despite the poster's kind comments about me personally, I will state the conclusion plainly: this completely misses what is most fundamental about WikiLeaks and why its work challenges established authority so profoundly. This particular Corrente poster may want authority to prevent rather than enable further war -- but he still wants some authority to guarantee the result he prefers.

But the WikiLeaks revolution goes far beyond that, and much deeper. The precision of its aim is revealed by the great discomfort experienced even by many of those one might have expected to be sympathetic to WikiLeaks' efforts. A closely related aspect of our training to rely on authority and obey is that we are taught to value control. The idea of losing control is deeply unnerving to many of us, which is why that became the title of a separate essay in the WikiLeaks series (and that's my personal favorite among those articles, for whatever that may be worth).

Still on the issue of how WikiLeaks' work "actually damages the expansion of American imperialism": in addition to much of the earlier series (and all of it, in a general sense), that is also a major subject of the new essay I'm working on. So I should get back to that...

November 28, 2010

Bring the Bastards to Their Knees

That's my basic initial reaction to the latest, huge document dump by Wikileaks. The Guardian has an excellent summary with lots of links.

I set out the reasons for that reaction a few days ago. I stand by everything I wrote, multiplied by a hundred or a thousand. And to Julian Assange and the others who played roles in this and other releases, I say again: Bless you, a million times.

It is marvelous to see various U.S. officials reacting like pathetic, cornered rats; the Guardian story provides several examples. If this Wikileaks release slows down the U.S. machinery of death and destruction to any appreciable extent, Assange and the others will be owed still another debt that can never be repaid. "A worldwide diplomatic crisis"! Fantastic.

Magnificently done.

A Festive Song for the Season

I am compelled to offer a few thoughts regarding an instance of casual monstrousness from last week:
JUST WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW: North Korea fires artillery barrage on South. If they start anything, I say nuke ‘em. And not with just a few bombs. They’ve caused enough trouble — and it would be a useful lesson for Iran, too. We can’t afford another Korean war, but hey, we’re already dismantling warheads. . . .
If you are inclined to put on extra-strength protective gear, you can slog through Reynolds' festering archives to find identical cries of Nuke 'em! when the subject of Iran's nuclear facilities has been in the news; I myself am dissuaded from doing so by the immediate onset of overpowering nausea when I contemplate further exposure to naked evil of this kind.

For the record: when launching a nuclear attack on Iran seemed all but inevitable, I offered a lengthy examination of the inescapable reasons why such an attack would be evil on a scale that all but forbids contemplation: from April 2006, "Morality, Humanity and Civilization: 'All that remains ... is memories.'" After I considered why any attack on Iran, even an attack limited to conventional weapons, would be "a blatant, naked act of aggression against a country that does not threaten us," I set out some estimates concerning the consequences of the "tactical" use of nuclear weapons. The details from an article I excerpted are worth repeating:
So let’s look at what the human costs of dropping a tactical nuclear weapon on Iran might entail.

They are astronomical.

"The number of deaths could exceed a million, and the number of people with increased cancer risks could exceed 10 million," according to a backgrounder by the Union of Concerned Scientists from May 2005.

The National Academy of Sciences studied these earth-penetrating nuclear weapons last year. They could "kill up to a million people or more if used in heavily populated areas," concluded the report, which was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Physicians for Social Responsibility examined the risks of a more advanced buster-bunker weapon, and it eerily tabulated the toll from an attack on the underground nuclear facility in Esfahan, Iran. "Three million people would be killed by radiation within two weeks of the explosion, and 35 million people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, would be exposed to increased levels of cancer-causing radiation," according to a summary of that study in the backgrounder by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
I then remarked: "Even if these estimates are off by a factor of two or three, I think we have unquestionably entered genocidal territory." (With regard to a comparatively very minor point: Reynolds may well be correct that certain Democratic loyalists would perform yet another turnabout and praise Obama for his "courage" were he to attack North Korea. But I am very far from resembling a Democratic apologist even remotely, and I most certainly would not. I've already explained why Obama is a war criminal, a charge that I prove repeatedly. If he were to attack North Korea -- or Iran -- he might well deserve to be called the worst American president to date, surpassing even Woodrow Wilson in terms of the far-reaching consequences of his calamitously awful policies.)

Needless to say, considerations of the kind set out above are of no concern to the warmongers, for they are genuine warriors and real men. I can only contemplate with admiration and envy such stunningly sophisticated expertise in the realm of foreign policy, which might best be summarized as: "America, FUCK YEAH!!"

Leaving aside the huge numbers of innocent people who would be murdered by the dropping of nuclear weapons on North Korea -- individuals whose primary and often sole concern is avoiding starvation, and who cannot reasonably be found guilty of any wrong against the United States under any analysis (and if you do leave this factor aside, may you be damned) -- it hardly requires world-shattering brilliance to acknowledge that widespread death and horrifying illness from radiation and nuclear fallout might be a concern to, say, China and Japan (among others). And then there are the tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers very nearby, in South Korea. What of them? And how difficult is it to imagine that a U.S. attack on North Korea could very quickly lead to escalation involving other countries? One lesson that history teaches repeatedly is the immense, incalculable danger of unforeseen consequences. Yet as I observed in the earlier essay: "We refuse to learn any lessons at all."

Once more, I note with deep regret that I remain so hopelessly transfixed by the possible, nay probable and in some respects certain, consequences of our actions. But I realize these are not issues for real men. So I deliver an emphatic Phooey! to all that.

Let us enter into the spirit of the season, and permit me to bring you tidings of great joy. I fear that certain readers may question my bona fides as a real American and a real man. You can now put your doubts firmly to the side, for I have written new lyrics to a seasonal song.

This is to be sung to the tune from A Charlie Brown Christmas (of course!), and it goes like this:
Nuking time is here
Spreading death and fear
Fun for all that real men call
Their favorite time of year

Peeling skin in air
Corpses everywhere
Cities razed and millions gone
Of screams and cries to share

Body parts in air
Puking everywhere
Yuletide by the mass graveside
And bloodlust memories there

Nuking time is here
From our blogs we'll cheer
Oh, that we could always see
Nukes flying through the year
Oh, that we could always see
Nukes flying through the year...
I'm convinced this will become a Christmas classic in time. I shall retire on the royalties.

If you want to prove that you are a real, patriotic American, you will write some additional verses. The possibilities are endless. In keeping with the subtle and complex approach consistently demonstrated by the eager warmongers among us, whenever a performance of this charming song is completed, everyone must stand up and yell as loudly as they can -- oh, you guessed:


God, I feel so manly and so bloody American.

To maintain my festive spirits, I will buy the largest Christmas tree I can find and decorate it with marvelously lifelike replicas of a variety of body parts. (Crap: just replicas. I'm so disgustingly, incurably weak.)

This will be the best Christmas ever.

November 25, 2010

Another Reason to Give Thanks

H.L. Mencken, writing in 1926:
I have alluded somewhat vaguely to the merits of democracy. One of them is quite obvious: it is, perhaps, the most charming form of government ever devised by man. The reason is not far to seek. It is based upon propositions that are palpably not true and what is not true, as everyone knows, is always immensely more fascinating and satisfying to the vast majority of men than what is true. Truth has a harshness that alarms them, and an air of finality that collides with their incurable romanticism. They turn, in all the great emergencies of life, to the ancient promises, transparently false but immensely comforting, and of all those ancient promises there is none more comforting than the one to the effect that the lowly shall inherit the earth. It is at the bottom of the dominant religious system of the modern world, and it is at the bottom of the dominant political system. The latter, which is democracy, gives it an even higher credit and authority than the former, which is Christianity. More, democracy gives it a certain appearance of objective and demonstrable truth. The mob man, functioning as citizen, gets a feeling that he is really important to the world - that he is genuinely running things. Out of his maudlin herding after rogues and mountebanks there comes to him a sense of vast and mysterious power—which is what makes archbishops, police sergeants, the grand goblins of the Ku Klux and other such magnificoes happy. And out of it there comes, too, a conviction that he is somehow wise, that his views are taken seriously by his betters - which is what makes United States Senators, fortune tellers and Young Intellectuals happy. Finally, there comes out of it a glowing consciousness of a high duty triumphantly done which is what makes hangmen and husbands happy.
There's more. (Via Strike the Root, which at the moment features a brief, eloquent quote from Thomas Jefferson in the upper lefthand corner.)

I especially note these two sentences from later in Mencken's piece:
I need not point to what happens invariably in democratic states when the national safety is menaced. All the great tribunes of democracy, on such occasions, convert themselves, by a process as simple as taking a deep breath, into despots of an almost fabulous ferocity.
An exceedingly wise and far-seeing man, that H.L. He names Lincoln, Roosevelt (that would be the ghastly Theodore), and Wilson as examples of this principle. I've written extensively about Wilson's profoundly repellent record; see "Blinded by the Story: Liberals and Progressives as Political Creationists," "Unwelcome History -- Religion, the Progressives, Empire and the Drug War," and from the ancient era of 2004, "Bush and the Legions of the Damned" (see the second half of that essay, which details only some of Wilson's loathsome record).

So why do I say that Mencken's unremittingly harsh, biting -- and accurate -- observations about democracy are a cause for gratitude?

You don't live in one.

And to think some readers criticize me for never looking on the bright side! How frightfully unfair.

November 24, 2010

A Cause for Genuine Thanksgiving

That would be Wikileaks and its continuing work:
The Pentagon warned the U.S. Senate and House Armed Services Committees that the website “intends to release several hundred thousand” classified U.S. State Department cables as soon as Nov. 26.

The documents “touch on an enormous range of very sensitive foreign policy issues,” Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs Elizabeth King wrote yesterday in an e-mail to the defense panels.

“We anticipate that the release could negatively impact U.S. foreign relations,” she wrote, telling committee staff members that “we will brief you once we have a better understanding of what documents the WikiLeaks publication contains.”
Since the overall purpose of U.S. foreign policy is American global hegemony, to be achieved by deadly sanctions, covert operations, overthrow, criminal wars of aggression, torture and the murder of huge numbers of innocent human beings, we can only fervently pray that this release will "negatively impact U.S. foreign relations."

The monumental lie at the heart of the government's ongoing demonization of Wikileaks becomes unmistakably clear later in the story:
When the Iraq documents were released, a Pentagon spokesman, Marine Colonel David Lapan, described them as “raw observations from the tactical level of combat operations” and said their publication posed a risk to national security. In her e-mail to lawmakers yesterday, King had similar comments about the State Department documents.

“State Department cables by their nature contain everyday analysis and candid assessments that any government engages in as part of effective foreign relations,” she wrote. “The publication of this classified information by WikiLeaks is an irresponsible attempt to wreak havoc and destabilize global security. It potentially jeopardizes lives.”
This is another instance of the fundamental reversal I've been writing about for years:
If you have ever wondered how a serial murderer -- a murderer who is sane and fully aware of the acts he has committed -- can remain steadfastly convinced of his own moral superiority and show not even the slightest glimmer of remorse, you should not wonder any longer.

The United States government is such a murderer. It conducts its murders in full view of the entire world. It even boasts of them. Our government, and all our leading commentators, still maintain that the end justifies the means -- and that even the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocents is of no moral consequence, provided a sufficient number of people can delude themselves into believing the final result is a "success."


We can appeal all we want to "American exceptionalism," but any "exceptionalism" that remains ours is that of a mass murderer without a soul, and without a conscience. ... It is useless to appeal to any "American" sense of morality: we have none. It does not matter how immense the pile of corpses grows: we will not surrender or even question our delusion that we are right, and that nothing we do can be profoundly, unforgivably wrong.
In light of the destruction caused by U.S. interventions across the globe for more than a hundred years, it is only a government "without a soul, and without a conscience" that could speak of information detailing the truth of the U.S.'s actions as "an irresponsible attempt to wreak havoc and destabilize global security" that could "potentially jeopardize[] lives.”

It must be noted that the U.S. government has yet to offer the smallest particle of evidence that any Wikileaks release has damaged "national security" or jeopardized even a single life. In starkly unforgiving and murderous contrast, the U.S. government and its military have unleashed an immense amount of suffering, brutality and widespread death in country after country over endless, blood-drenched decades. The constant, but for most people almost entirely muted, soundtrack of our existence is a howling scream of pain as countless lives are mutilated, deformed and ended. The overwhelming majority of Americans fail even to notice it. This is simply the way we live -- and die. When unbearable pain is the neverending theme, we learn to diminish it or ignore it altogether. For most people, the only "solution" is to deaden their souls more every day -- or to slowly go mad. Most Americans choose to murder themselves in slow motion. In this manner, the world -- your world -- becomes more brutal with every hour that passes.

The United States now unleashes hell on earth in Afghanistan. The U.S. has destroyed Iraq, murdered at least several hundred thousand innocent human beings in that tragic country -- and, which is far more likely, committed genocide on an historic scale. The U.S. broadens its attacks in Pakistan, wages war in Yemen, and has launched operations "in at least 75 countries, and made "[p]lans ... for preemptive or retaliatory strikes in numerous places around the world."

I described an earlier Pentagon attack on Wikileaks' work as follows, and this is also true of the current reaction:
If the Pentagon and its press secretary did not speak on behalf of a government that embodies unrelenting, world-historical evil, this would be merely funny. As it is, the amusement is that offered by especially vicious practitioners of Grand Guignol who are execrable farceurs. The laughter drips blood and suffering.
So to Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, and all those who seek only to bring the truth to light and to stop the murder and the torture, to stop the monstrous cruelty, and to protect innocent human life, I offer my profound gratitude. It is a paltry offering compared to what they do, for I can only say:

Bless you in your work. Take good care, and may you always be safe.

I will drink a toast to you tomorrow, and wish you well every day.

[Of course, Bradley Manning is not safe. In that post, I urged people to donate to his defense fund -- and I do so once more.]


Last summer, I wrote a series of essays about Wikileaks and its significance. You will find all the articles listed at the conclusion of Part VII. The major entries in that series are these:

Part II: The Role of Wikileaks in an Obedience Culture (and I draw your attention to the concluding section of that essay in particular: "The Profound Threat of Non-Cooperation")

Part IV: A World Without Obedience or Authority: Toward a Life of One's Own, and a Real Revolution

Part V: Losing Control

Part VI: Good-bye to All That

November 23, 2010

Hold Your Head High

Anyone who voted for Ralph Nader ever should be goddamned proud.

And so I say -- after emphasizing that I mean it with full and absolute sincerity, unlike the legions of morally and intellectually inert liberals and progressives who would have to examine their own miserable failings were it not for their fictitious Nader-devil:


November 22, 2010

A Friendly Note to Hugh (and a bit more)

Hugh is one of my favorite commenters at Corrente. I don't know him other than through the comments he leaves there. Much of the time I share his perspective and think he's largely spot on.

So I want to take this opportunity to give him a friendly nudge about this:
I'm pretty much at the point of just saying that Krugman is another corporatist hack. Much like Obama, he throws in a few progressive phrases to mask his overall conservatism and defense of the Establishment.
Go all the way, Hugh! Krugman is a corporatist hack in the end.

And to convince Hugh and as many others as possible, I suggest you give a close read to this Michael Hudson article. It's a long piece, and it's well worth taking the time for careful consideration. Here's one brief excerpt:
Enter Paul Krugman, one of the most progressive defenders of Democratic Party policy. His New York Times op-eds usually rebut Republican advocacy for Wall Street and corporate interests. But he also indulges in China bashing. To “blame the foreigner” rather than the system is normally a right-wing response, yet Krugman blames China simply for trying to save itself from being victimized by the Wall Street policies he normally criticizes when labor is the prey. By blaming China, he not only lets the Federal Reserve Board and its Wall Street constituency off the hook, he blames virtually the entire world that confronted Obama’s financial nationalism with a united front in Seoul two weeks ago when he and his entourage received an almost unanimous slap in the face at the Group of 20 meetings.

Sadly, Krugman’s “Axis of Depression” column on Friday, November 19, showed the extent to which his preferred solutions do not go beyond merely marginalist tinkering. His op-ed endorsed the Fed’s attempt at quantitative easing to re-inflate the real estate bubble by flooding the markets with enough credit to lower interest rates. He credits the Fed with seeking to “create jobs,” not mainly to bail out banks that hold mortgages on properties in negative equity.
Hudson has much more, and I suggest you read it.

Whenever I consider Krugman (not a favorite pastime), I always have this initial thought: "Why on earth would anyone expect Krugman to do anything other than ultimately defend the ruling regime? Since 1999, he's been a columnist for the fucking New York Times!" This is far from a trivial point. In many ways, it is the point. The NY Times is one of key pillars of the Establishment. No one who writes for it regularly is going to consistently challenge the Establishment in any serious way. To believe that he will is to engage in self-delusion on a huge scale. (When I refer to the "ruling regime" here, I don't mean the changing actors of the executive and legislative branches, who are ultimately of vanishingly minor importance. I refer to the corporatist-authoritarian-militarist system that's impoverishing, brutalizing and killing millions of people -- quickly abroad, and more slowly at home.)

Some months ago, I discussed Krugman's hackery in "Concerning Those Who Manufacture and Eat Shit." But my objection to Krugman is much broader and more fundamental than indicated in that article. My primary criticism of Krugman -- and why he is so perfectly suited to an odious embodiment of the Establishment such as the Times -- is that he completely accepts and embraces the mythological view of America and American history. One of the results of his acceptance and, very significantly, his propagation of this series of staggering lies is that he repeatedly abandons principles and uses issues of immense importance for shabby and disgraceful partisan purposes.

You'll find one repellent example of this pattern in Krugman's thought in "Obama and the Triumph of the American Myth." In that lengthy discussion, I set out the overwhelming evidence that establishes beyond doubt that torture has a long and nauseating history in the United States; indeed, that history of torture predates the formation of the U.S. as an independent political entity. Many Democratic apologists desperately cling to their belief that torture began with the hideous and unlamented Bush regime. That belief is entirely false. The fact that many people choose to credit it, and the fact that this false belief is most often used to prove that Democrats are purportedly marginally less ghastly than Republicans, testifies only to certain people's intellectual and moral bankruptcy.

After a detailed analysis of the history of torture in America, I excerpted a Krugman column. Because people tend not to follow links, I offer this passage from the concluding section of my essay (see the original for the numerous links):
Keep this history at the forefront of your mind, along with (as I wrote) "two of the most momentous aspects of those first years for America: the continuing genocide of the Native Americans, until finally almost all of them were slaughtered -- and the monstrous evil of slavery, the importation and brutal enslavement of millions of human beings, accompanied by an endless train of horrors that almost forbid contemplation."

Remember all this -- and also remember that the United States government and its military repeated all this in Vietnam, just as they have repeated much of this behavior in interminable interventions around the world ever since World War II, just as destruction, overthrow, mass murder and torture are inextricable parts of the U.S. ruling class's explicitly declared goal of American worldwide hegemony, just as oppression, institutionalized racism and unrelenting cruelties are constantly practiced against disfavored Americans here at home.

And then consider this paragraph, which comes from a fifth-grade civics lesson about the glories of America offered to not very bright young children -- and straight from the diseased heart of the torture obsessives:
America is more than a collection of policies. We are, or at least we used to be, a nation of moral ideals. In the past, our government has sometimes done an imperfect job of upholding those ideals. But never before have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for. "This government does not torture people," declared former President Bush, but it did, and all the world knows it.
Thus speaks the liberal-progressive God, Paul Krugman. "[N]ever before have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for."

The lie is breathtaking in its scope and comprehensiveness. The Native Americans, the millions of slaves and their millions of descendants, including all those Black Americans imprisoned in the disgusting "War on Drugs" yesterday, today and tomorrow, the slaughtered Iraqis, the tortured and murdered Filipinos, the murdered Vietnamese and other grievously unfortunate inhabitants of Southeast Asia, and all the many millions around the world who have suffered from America's unending drive to worldwide domination might be heard to protest that America has "betrayed everything [it] stands for" long before this latest descent into hell. But such objections, fully grounded in fact and supported by reams of evidence and mountains of broken, maimed bodies as they are, will never be heard or acknowledged by those who subscribe to the American myth.
I have one additional and very significant complaint to make about Krugman, one I've been intending to address for a couple of years. It concerns a monumental error that Krugman has repeated on numerous occasions, and one which leads to a nearly incomprehensible cost in human suffering and death. And it's an error that lies directly at the heart of Krugman's supposed expertise, for it concerns economics.

I will get to it soon. (Ah, you're curious now, aincha? Patience, my friends.)

November 21, 2010

Terrible News

Chalmers Johnson died yesterday. Tom Engelhardt offers some eloquent thoughts here.

Johnson was one of the very few contemporary writers who consistently commanded my deep admiration and broadened my understanding. Engelhardt lists Johnson's books. I recommend in the strongest terms that you read and study all of them.

I didn't know Johnson and never communicated with him. But I knew his work and its unique value.

His death is a very great loss.

Learning to Love Evil: Setting the Pattern of Contempt and Destruction

In the preceding post, I offered some general thoughts related to upcoming essays. My immediate focus here is on my observation that almost all of us are taught to love evil in varying degrees. Especially for those readers who aren't familiar with my numerous articles based on Alice Miller's work, this may sound very strange indeed.

For a listing and description of my Miller articles, I refer you to "Meaningful Connections." In this post, which is still in the nature of an introduction to future articles, I will provide a number of links and, as in the case of "Meaningful Connections," the linked posts offer still more links. I well understand that most readers don't have the time (and often not the inclination) to follow more than one or two of them, if that. You all have busy lives, and I hardly expect readers to spend several days reading dozens of essays. I only want to state that there is a great deal of background material, including detailed explanations of certain ongoing themes in my writing, available in the archives. It's there if you want to consult it. Once I get to the major new articles I've planned, I'll offer fuller arguments, but now I only want to indicate some relevant subjects, with links to lengthier earlier discussions where those provide more detail.

For almost all of us, the first relationships we have are with our immediate family. Because parents are the ultimate authority figures, the pattern of our relationship with our parents becomes the template for much of our future lives. (To be precise, I should say "parents or primary caregiver(s)," but I will use parents for the sake of convenience.)

In the first part of my tribalism series, I wrote:
This series will examine some of the many ways that love goes wrong, the ways in which love destroys the genuine vitality of another soul. All too often, which is to say in the case of almost every person, the pattern of this destruction is set in early childhood. Once the pattern has been embedded deeply enough, it will be dislodged later in life only in the rarest of circumstances. For the great majority of people, the destruction is carried from generation to generation.

The same pattern also becomes the basis of the political systems we establish, and of the specific manner in which those systems function. (See "When the Demons Come" for examples of how and why this happens.) Political systems are not devised or operated by individuals who supposedly manage, always by some unspecified means, to set aside or rise above those motives and concerns that dominate the lives of those they rule. In terms of certain underlying human dynamics, rulers and ruled are fundamentally alike, for better or worse. Throughout most of human history, it is almost always for worse; consult any one of numerous history books for the frequently terrifying evidence, and consider how rare the exceptions are and how briefly they lasted. (I should note that certain critical differences between the ruling class and those they rule can be identified; you will find some of those differences analyzed here.)

This is one of the great problems with political commentary: politics is only a symptom of a more fundamental condition. Unless we address these more fundamental concerns, the symptom will never be altered in a lasting way. Yet we (and I) spend so much time on political matters because politics affects our lives so dramatically and with such immediacy. Because politics has the power to alter our lives so profoundly and, far too frequently, even to end them, some of us fiercely resist the especially destructive aspects of its operations. Yet this will never be enough by itself, as history, including our recent history and ongoing events, prove repeatedly.
Much of my writing is concerned with going beneath the level of political analysis, since history demonstrates over and over that alleged political "solutions" are woefully inadequate, even when they are not deeply destructive (which they most frequently are). The problem, and possible means of correction, will be found in a very different direction.

The second and third of the tribalism articles (here and here) discuss in detail an ordinary, everyday example of parental manipulation and control. As I observed several times about that example, I chose it because it is so utterly ordinary. Many people will think the story is a trivial one, not even worthy of comment; indeed, the mother who happily told the story herself considers the story an instance of notably successful parenting. My view is radically different, for the reasons I explained. As I also said:
I repeat -- and consult my Alice Miller essays for very lengthy discussions of these questions -- the problem is not that this mother doesn't love her children. The problem is what she believes that love should properly consist of -- and the problem is that she is almost certainly reenacting what happened in her own childhood, with her own parents.


It is because this kind of incident is so utterly common and ordinary that it is of such immense significance. As I am trying to demonstrate, it is by such means that certain patterns of thought, feeling and behavior are instilled in young children -- and it is these same patterns that lead to enormous suffering as those children grow up, suffering which very often continues after they have become adults. These same patterns also underlie many of the horrors that we see in our world today, just as similar horrors have engulfed the world in the past more times than bears remembering.
After I had set out many reasons for my judgment (although far from all of them; upcoming essays will spell out yet more reasons), I characterized the mother's treatment of her young child as emotional manipulation and abuse, among other elements.

The fourth tribalism article offers some Miller excerpts to demonstrate how a parent will relate to a child when she views the child as a genuinely independent, autonomous human being, fully deserving of respect. A caution is immediately in order: don't fall into the trap of thinking this means the parent must allow the child to do whatever he wishes, or that the parent cannot provide guidance and even control, when necessary. Those issues are addressed in the earlier articles, and I'll have more to say on that subject. But guidance and control must never, ever mean physical violence (even by the "occasional" spanking, see here and here), just as they should never mean manipulation and emotional abuse. To the extent we fall into this trap -- as I did for much of my adult life (except for the element of physical violence, which I always rejected as barbaric, which it is) -- we have internalized the lessons we learned from our parents.

Now consider how these dynamics are revealed in political terms:
Last night Vice President Biden sat down for an interview with Larry King – his 49th appearance on the CNN host’s program.

The always-loquacious vice president had a colorful message for the Afghans regarding the timeline for transferring security by 2014, a plan that will be outlined here at the NATO summit in Lisbon.

“Daddy is going to start to take the training wheels off in October -- I mean in next July, so you'd better practice riding,” he said.
This is deeply sickening in multiple ways. Given the criminal U.S. occupation of Afghanistan -- and particularly in view of the U.S.'s monstrous actions in that profoundly unfortunate country at present -- to speak in such terms is worthy of a place in Hell.

But this is the way our leaders speak of "those" people all the time. They did it in the deliberately instigated war with Mexico in the mid-nineteenth century; they did it in the Philippines; they did it (and continue to do it) about the brutalized people of Iraq (see here and here, too).

Our leaders treat all those whom they seek to control, all those whom they want to force to obey, with absolute contempt -- and if their victims still refuse to obey, they visit destruction on them.

And if you read my analysis of the mother's story, you will see that there is another way to describe what I referred to as emotional manipulation and abuse. And that is simply to say that, in fact, the mother is treating her child with profound contempt -- not as an independent, autonomous human being who should be respected, but as an insensate object to be manipulated.

When we keep these connections in mind, we can also see the significance of Biden's manner of expression: “Daddy is going to start to take the training wheels off in October..." You might be tempted to regard Biden's use of "Daddy" as a coincidence and think I am attributing far too much significance to it. I emphatically disagree, in very large part because the identical contempt and the identical threat and actualization of destruction are embraced by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and virtually all members of our national political class. If you doubt that, follow some of the links provided above.

Biden might provide a strikingly unambiguous example of this pattern, but the same pattern is revealed in the words and actions of most American politicians, and of many "ordinary" Americans as well. And Biden loves this exercise of power; he revels in his contempt for those the United States subjugates, just as he revels in his ability to visit destruction on those who refuse to act as he demands. And where do you think he and all the others learned this behavior in the first instance? Where do you think he learned to love evil, believing that manipulation, control, abuse and even destruction are expressions of love?

I hope you begin to see what I mean when I say that almost all of us are taught to love evil. But I've barely begun...

November 20, 2010

Oh, for God's Sake. Just Stop.

Hey, whadda ya know. The God in my title isn't merely an empty locution. It's akshully relevant.

Obama as Job. Woe, for Obama was mighty, and now he is brought low! Yet hope survives: "endure in tribulation, and perhaps all may be well" -- for, as Ecclesiastes tells us, "The wise man has eyes in his head..." For the author of this piece, it appears Obama shall forever remain the "wise man."

All this from Jon Meacham, who becomes the executive editor at Random House in January. On the basis of the perspicacity evident in this li'l articull, I think God has thus delivered the final curse on major American publishing houses, or at least one of them. (And I am forced to acknowledge that, in this instance, God has done A Good Thing.)

Aw, poor Barack. My heart bleeds. Psst, Meacham: here's a superduper secret. Listening? Obama might have received a "midterm rebuke" (Meacham's phraseology), but:


He wanted that power, which includes the power to obliterate all of humanity many times over, and he still has it. Take your "Obama as Job" crap and ... dammit, I can't think of anything sufficiently crude and rude to complete that sentence.

Because Obama worked so diligently to acquire such astonishingly frightening power, and because he still has that power, I repeat the following, written in June 2008:
Reflect for just a moment about what it is they want to win so desperately. Each of these three persons [McCain, Obama and Hillary Clinton] wants to be the most powerful ruler in the world. Given the nature of the weapons that will be at their disposal, they want to be the most powerful ruler in all of history, with the power to fundamentally transform human history and perhaps even to end it in significant part. Even if you believed that you acted righteously, with justice and truth on your side (let us set aside for the moment how one can believe that the power to murder millions of innocent people can ever be thought to be right or just, although I do not believe such considerations should ever be set aside), would you want power of that kind? If you would, I hope never to meet you. For any person who actively seeks the power of life and death over just one other human being, let alone millions of people, is deeply, irrevocably damaged in psychological terms. If we use the term "normal" to designate those goals and motives that can generally be described as supportive of individual life and happiness, no one who wants to be president of the United States is remotely close to normal. When you consider the years of relentless, soul-destroying ambition that are required to approach the office of president, together with the indefensible compromises, the endless lies, and the constant exercise of power over others in less extreme forms, anyone who deeply desires to be president verges on a constant state of insanity.

Yet one of these terrifyingly deranged people will, in fact, be the next president. Many Americans are excited, even thrilled, about the prospect, which tells you a rather important fact about most Americans, actually many important facts.
The full essay has more on this and related issues: "The Triumph of the White, Male Ruling Class: One Fucking Great Country."

I do not want to be misunderstood on the central point in the above excerpt. I therefore repeat it for emphasis: "no one who wants to be president of the United States is remotely close to normal." I've already written numerous articles about the nature of power, and of political power in particular, and why the desire for power and its exercise are so profoundly damaging; in future, I shall be writing still more on this subject. I do not view my statement as at all arguable. I apply it to anyone who seeks the office of president. To a lesser degree, I apply it to anyone who wants to be a member of the national political class. To a still lesser degree, I also apply it to all those who service the national political class in various ways (including virtually all writers, commentators and bloggers who are at all well-known, and especially if they appear regularly on teevee and/or in the mainstream press).

As a preview of coming attractions here, I'll adapt and slightly rewrite one sentence from the above passage: If we use the term "good" to designate those goals and motives that can generally be described as supportive of individual life and happiness, anyone who seeks power or services those who possess power is evil; the degree of his evil is commensurate with the scope of the power he seeks (or of the power held by those he services). One fundamental and usually insurmountable problem faced by most people is the inability and/or refusal to identify evil as evil. Most people can't identify evil because the very first lessons they are taught involve misidentifying what is evil as good -- and then learning to love it. In varying degrees, almost all of us are taught to love evil; at the very least, we are taught that evil is necessary and unavoidable.

And who teaches us these lessons? Why, our parents, of course. That probably upsets many of you, even regular readers of this blog. It should upset you. I hope to trouble you much, much more before I'm done. As a general introduction to these issues, you can read my tribalism articles, especially parts two ("Creating the Next Generation") and three ("Learning to Hate 'The Other'"). Consider the numerous forms of damage that are inflicted on the young child in the story I discuss in detail (I'll be identifying many of these forms of damage with greater specificity in future articles) -- and remember that it's a true story, proudly offered by the mother. And ask yourself: is it good to damage a very young, defenseless child in that manner? If it is not, what is it? Ah, you see how you reject the implied answer. I did, too, for many years. As I said, it's usually a problem that forbids solution -- but not always.

I have much more to say about all this, probably a book's worth of essays if I manage to get to all of it. I very much doubt I'll come close to completing it given my health, but I'll do what I can.

For the moment, and to return to Mr. Obama (regrettable, but necessary), consider the following. I just recently discussed yet again Obama's claim that he has the "right" to murder anyone in the world for any reason whatsoever, whenever and wherever he chooses. As I observed, this is unquestionably absolute power. With not a single exception that I can recall, Obama's claim of absolute power was never discussed during the recent election season. If even one candidate ever said a word about it (and I don't know of one who did), it was so rare and regarded as so insignificant that almost everyone missed it entirely.

Think about that. Turn it over in your mind. The President of the United States now claims the power to murder any of us whenever he wants, for any reason he wishes. We just had what an endless stream of commentators repeatedly told us was an election of momentous importance. And the President's claim of absolute power -- the power to murder any of us whenever he wishes -- was never discussed. With very rare exceptions, no one ever discusses it, even now.

If a claim of ultimate, absolute power of that kind is not evil, the word evil has ceased to have any meaning at all. For us a country, that is exactly what has happened: the concept of evil means nothing to us, which is one crucial reason why greater and greater evil continues to be done every day.

If you can't or won't identify the nature of events accurately -- what once might have been described as "telling the truth" -- you will never alter them, even in the most minor of ways. In our culture today, we can't tell the truth about anything. If you want to stop evil, you must begin by naming it as evil.

In the future, I hope to upset you even more.

November 19, 2010

The Murderous U.S. Government Explained

There is one aspect of this Washington Post article that I fear will be appreciated by very few people. Before I get to that, let's set out the basic facts:
The U.S. military is sending a contingent of heavily armored battle tanks to Afghanistan for the first time in the nine-year war, defense officials said, a shift that signals a further escalation in the aggressive tactics that have been employed by American forces this fall to attack the Taliban.

The deployment of a company of M1 Abrams tanks, which will be fielded by the Marines in the country's southwest, will allow ground forces to target insurgents from a greater distance - and with more of a lethal punch - than is possible from any other U.S. military vehicle. The 68-ton tanks are propelled by a jet engine and equipped with a 120mm main gun that can destroy a house more than a mile away.

Despite an overall counterinsurgency strategy that emphasizes the use of troops to protect Afghan civilians from insurgents, statistics released by the NATO military command in Kabul and interviews with several senior commanders indicate that U.S. troop operations over the past two months have been more intense and have had a harder edge than at any point since the initial 2001 drive to oust the Taliban government.
I give Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the author of this article, tremendous credit for a masterful job of reporting. That is not intended to be in the least sarcastic; I genuinely mean it. You can already see how skillfully he conveys the monstrousness of the U.S. government's actions simply by reporting the facts and, of critical importance, describing them accurately.

Even in these opening paragraphs, note the descriptive phrases that economically convey the extraordinary bloodthirstiness of what the U.S. is doing: "more of a lethal punch," "destroy a house more than a mile away" (marvel at the wonder of it!), "have had a harder edge." The horrifying, sickening irony of the beginning of the third paragraph hits the attentive reader very hard: it's all very well to have an "overall counterinsurgency strategy" designed "to protect Afghan civilians from insurgents" -- but who is going to protect them from the U.S.?

Chandrasekaran carefully plants the seeds of doubt: "In the districts around the southern city of Kandahar, soldiers from the Army's 101st Airborne Division have demolished dozens of homes that were thought to be booby-trapped..." Formulations of that kind will pay off later.

Chandrasekaran reports the claims of conveniently anonymous U.S. military officials concerning the strategy's "success": that it has "dealt a staggering blow to the insurgency," and so on. And he then identifies the two major benefits of this "success" to the Obama Administration:
[This "success"], in turn, appears to have put U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top coalition commander, in a much stronger position heading into a Friday meeting of NATO heads of state in Lisbon, where Afghanistan will be a key topic of discussion. It also will help the general make his case that the military's strategy is working when President Obama and his advisers conduct a review of the war next month.
On the importance of the Afghanistan developments to NATO and the Lisbon meeting, you should read Diana Johnstone's recent article: "NATO's True Role in U.S. Grand Strategy." Johnstone's piece cries out for lengthier consideration, but this excerpt will have to suffice for the moment:
NATO as such has no strategy, and cannot have its own strategy. NATO is in reality an instrument of United States strategy. Its only operative Strategic Concept is the one put into practice by the United States. But even that is an elusive phantom. American leaders seem to prefer striking postures, “showing resolve”, to defining strategies.

One who does presume to define strategy is Zbigniew Brzezinski, godfather of the Afghan Mujahidin back when they could be used to destroy the Soviet Union. Brzezinski was not shy about bluntly stating the strategic objective of U.S. policy in his 1993 book The Grand Chessboard: “American primacy”. As for NATO, he described it as one of the institutions serving to perpetuate American hegemony, “making the United States a key participant even in intra-European affairs.” In its “global web of specialized institutions”, which of course includes NATO, the United States exercises power through “continuous bargaining, dialogue, diffusion, and quest for formal consensus, even though that power originates ultimately from a single source, namely, Washington, D.C.”

The description perfectly fits the Lisbon “Strategic Concept” conference.
Now the U.S. will claim that its strategy in Afghanistan is a great success, and it will be that much easier for the U.S. to make NATO do exactly what it wants.

Similarly, when Obama conducts his review of the war in Afghanistan, it will be that much easier for him to argue that the U.S. should continue and perhaps even intensify its current strategy. After all, nothing succeeds like "success." And Americans adore success, or anything they choose to describe as success. Why, the surge in Iraq was "an extraordinary success"; so saith Obama. That is why he chose to duplicate that strategy in Afghanistan, and that is precisely why he chose Petraeus to carry it out.

One of the best passages in Chandrasekaran's article is his description of how the selection of Petraeus made possible this latest exercise in murderous barbarism:
Although Petraeus is widely regarded as the father of the military's modern counterinsurgency doctrine, which emphasizes the role of governance, development and other forms of soft power in stabilization missions, he also believes in the use of intense force, at times, to wipe out opponents and create conditions for population-centric operations. A less-recognized aspect of the troop surge he commanded in Iraq in 2007 involved a significant increase in raids and airstrikes.

"Petraeus believes counterinsurgency does not mean just handing out sacks of wheat seed," said a senior officer in Afghanistan. Counterinsurgency "doesn't mean you don't blow up stuff or kill people who need to be killed."

Since his arrival in Kabul, Petraeus has permitted - and in some cases encouraged - the use of tougher measures than his predecessors, the officials said. Soon after taking charge, he revised a tactical directive issued by the commander he replaced, Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, to prohibit subordinate officers from placing additional restrictions on the use of air and artillery strikes.

"There is more top-cover support for appropriate aggression," said a civilian adviser to the NATO command in Kabul.


"Because Petraeus is the author of the COIN [counterinsurgency] manual, he can do whatever he wants. He can manage the optics better than McChrystal could," the adviser said. "If he wants to turn it up to 11, he feels he has the moral authority to do it."
The reader who actively thinks as he reads this article (as he should actively think when he reads anything at all) will realize that he is not likely to come across a better description of the operation of evil in a news article. Keep that in mind: this isn't an opinion piece. But Chandrasekaran provides all the facts you need to reach certain conclusions.

It is precisely Petraeus's reputation and status, together with the fact that he is "the author of the COIN manual," that make it possible for Petraeus to "do whatever he wants." What he wants includes bringing what he views as the required degree of "awe, shock and firepower" to Afghanistan. I repeat: that is why Obama chose him.

Brzezinski identifies "American primacy" and the perpetuation of American hegemony as the primary goals of American foreign policy. As I have discussed in detail, American global hegemony has been the purpose of American policy for over a hundred years (see my series "Dominion Over the World" for the details; all the installments are listed at the conclusion of that article). And Obama has long made clear beyond all question that this is the goal he fully shares.

I (exasperatedly) note that I analyzed this overwhelmingly significant aspect of Obama's belief system in May 2007, in "Songs of Death." As I said about Obama's paean to American exceptionalism and America's "right" to rule the world: "The ahistorical arrogance of this is breathtaking (or nauseating, take your pick). Obama's hegemonic ambitions are noteworthy in their scale: 'the American moment' is to extend for 'this new century.'" I said a lot more in the full essay. Anyone who followed politics to any measurable degree and who did not understand this about Obama long before the 2008 election did not want to understand it. Obama is the horrifyingly eager embodiment of American Empire. By definition, Empire is a bloody, barbaric, murderous, endlessly cruel business. That is the business Obama wanted to run, and now he does.

The final payoff of Chandrasekaran's extraordinary reporting comes in his concluding section. Chandrasekaran first offers further details of the military's claims about their recent "success," and follows this with sickeningly contradictory facts. And I draw your attention to the final, devastating paragraph in particular:
Despite Karzai's recent criticism of the raids and the overall posture of coalition forces - he said he wants military operations reduced - there have been relatively few reports of civilian casualties associated with the recent uptick in raids, airstrikes and explosive demolitions. Military officials said that is because of better intelligence, increased precautions to minimize collateral damage and the support of local leaders who might otherwise be complaining about the tactics. In Kandahar, local commanders have sought the support of the provincial governor and district leaders for the destruction of homes and fields to remove bombs and mines.

"The difference is that the Afghans are underwriting this," said the senior officer in Afghanistan.

But many residents near Kandahar do not share the view. They have lodged repeated complaints about the scope of the destruction with U.S. and Afghan officials. In one October operation near the city, U.S. aircraft dropped about two dozen 2,000-pound bombs.

In another recent operation in the Zhari district, U.S. soldiers fired more than a dozen mine-clearing line charges in a day. Each one creates a clear path that is 100 yards long and wide enough for a truck. Anything that is in the way - trees, crops, huts - is demolished.

"Why do you have to blow up so many of our fields and homes?" a farmer from the Arghandab district asked a top NATO general at a recent community meeting.

Although military officials are apologetic in public, they maintain privately that the tactic has a benefit beyond the elimination of insurgent bombs. By making people travel to the district governor's office to submit a claim for damaged property, "in effect, you're connecting the government to the people," the senior officer said.
In that last paragraph, Chandrasekaran manages to surpass his own earlier description of how evil operates. (I also note that it is just possible that "making people travel to the district governor's office" might have some bearing on the purported "relatively few reports of civilian casualties." And at this date in history, it should hardly be news that almost anything any military says about civilian casualties will be a lie.) Increasingly widespread destruction, including the ongoing murder of civilians, is merely a means of "connecting the government to the people."

Here is the additional connection I fear most readers will miss. I've described the nature and operation of U.S. foreign policy for over a hundred years as follows:
The fundamental lesson is unmistakable, and unmistakably evil in intent and execution (a word made horribly appropriate in more than one sense by our government's actions): you will do exactly as we say -- or else.
This is the lesson now being so hideously reenacted in Afghanistan.

That particular description comes from "Terrorist State, Abroad and At Home." In that essay, this passage immediately follows:
It is now critical to note a further implication of this murderous method of dealing with others. Just as it is not possible for an individual to restrict what constitutes a fundamental psychological methodology to only one area of his life, so a ruling class will not employ one approach in foreign policy while dealing with matters of domestic politics in a radically different manner. In any case, the U.S. ruling class never had such a desire: in one way or another, other nations would be made to submit to the demands of the U.S. government -- and the same is true for U.S. citizens. The citizens of America will do exactly as the ruling class demands -- or else. As far as the ruling class is concerned, you have as little reason to complain as the murdered Iraqis do: the ruling class only wishes to improve your life. The ruling class acts only on your behalf, and "for your own good."

You now witness these tactics of intimidation and of the most transparently, viciously manipulative fear-mongering deployed by almost every member of the ruling class in connection with the bailout bill. ...

The words speak for themselves, but the purpose of these pronouncements should be emphasized: our rulers do not want to scare you to death, although your death would hardly approach a matter of any serious concern for them. While your death is not (necessarily) required, your obedience is. You will obey them -- or else.
I wrote that over two years ago. The dynamics I described concerning the bailout bill have been repeated a number of times since, as they are repeated again today.

You will obey them -- or else. It is true for the brutalized inhabitants of Afghanistan, of Pakistan, of Iraq, of Yemen, of Somalia -- and now it is increasingly true for the inhabitants of the United States itself. If you read only one installment of my "Dominion Over the World" series, I would recommend the article concerning the abominable episode in the Philippines (you might also consider the preview of the coming horrors in the Philippines and in U.S. foreign policy generally, provided in the article about the annexation of Hawaii). What the U.S. now does in Afghanistan it has done repeatedly around the world for over a hundred years.

But not to worry. It's only "those" people over there. Nothing like that could ever happen in the United States, certainly not in the same manner or to the same degree. Could it? Of course not.

And hell, even if it did, having to beg your government not to destroy you -- and the methods of destruction at the State's disposal are so wonderfully varied! -- is a superlatively effective way of "connecting the government to the people." Surely, that is a goal toward which we can all happily work.

November 15, 2010

Some News: Show Trials Are Bad and Lead to Bad Results

I haven't addressed several key issues for close to a year. Since I tend to be somewhat, well, unconventional in my approach, perhaps I should indicate how I use certain terms. In this manner, those few people who read this might actually have some idea what the hell I'm talking about. The nerve of me!

In "Concerning the State, the Law, and Show Trials," I wrote:
From a broad, theoretical perspective, any trial in any State can be regarded as a show trial. In this discussion, I use "show trial" to refer to a trial in which the guilt or innocence of the defendant may be a concern to those dispensing justice (or what is designated as justice in that State), but that determination is not the primary concern. The primary objective is not answering the question of guilt or innocence in a strictly legal sense (applying the relevant law to the specific facts of the case), but political in nature. The major value of a show trial to the State is its usefulness as propaganda; more specifically, the major value is the utility of the proceeding to the enhancement of the perception of the State as legitimate and/or to the demonizing of the State's chosen enemies.
When a State announces in advance that, even if a defendant is found not guilty, he will nonetheless be imprisoned for the rest of his life, the trial is transformed from an inquiry into the question of individual guilt or innocence and the related question of whether punishment should be imposed, to an unalloyed exercise in the glorification of State power.

Moreover, it is an especially dangerous exercise of this kind: the State offers the pretense of a trial -- thus allowing the State's defenders to laud the State's fairness, impartiality and objectivity -- at the same time the State itself has made clear beyond all question that the State will punish the defendant in notably severe fashion regardless of the trial verdict. Thus, in terms of the result, the State's power is everything and the trial process itself is nothing.

This, in fact, is precisely what the Obama Administration had stated about the then-planned trials of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other alleged 9/11 co-conspirators. As I wrote a year ago in "Hey, I Know! Let's Put On a Show Trial!":
Obama and his administration may not be "pre-judging" this case, but that pathetic attempt at a save is entirely beside the point. For the truth is far worse. The outcome of these trials is completely irrelevant. They've already told us that:
Senators of both parties also pressed Mr. Holder to say what would happen if Mr. Mohammed or another detainee considered to be a dangerous terrorist was acquitted on a technicality or given a short sentence. Mr. Holder has said he will direct prosecutors to seek a death sentence in the Sept. 11 case.

Other Justice Department officials have said that even if Mr. Mohammed is acquitted, the Obama administration will keep him locked up forever as a “combatant” under the laws of war. But Mr. Holder largely sidestepped such questions, instead simply asserting that he was confident that Mr. Mohammed would be convicted.

“Failure is not an option,” Mr. Holder said.
Ponder that fact, the only one that matters: "even if Mr. Mohammed is acquitted, the Obama administration will keep him locked up forever as a 'combatant' under the laws of war." So he's acquitted -- declared not guilty -- and he's locked up forever.

Not guilty. And still locked up forever.

We can only hope that the United States is "unique."
I went on to note that, "Of course this will be a show trial," and referred readers to the earlier essay.

A year later, I must add that it is inconceivable to me that, if these trials were to take place, any of the defendants would be found not guilty regardless of what the evidence indicated. I say this because of the general cultural atmosphere in the United States of steadily increasing, generalized detestation and hatred of Muslims. As one symptom of this growing irrationality, I offer the hysteria about the "Ground Zero Mosque," which I wrote about here and here.

It is undeniably true (as I discussed) that the "mosque" controversy was an entirely phony one, in the sense that it relied on a central series of staggering lies and misrepresentations. But it was not an isolated instance of hatred for Muslims and Islam. You may have missed a bit of news from the recent election, concerning Oklahoma's "Save Our State" amendment. You can learn about it in this interesting article:
Oklahomans have a plan to save the country. It doesn't address the reverberations of the financial crisis or outline a way to pay for social services on a limited budget. Instead, they've fashioned a "pre-emptive strike" against Islamic law in the United States. Last week, 70 percent of Oklahoma's electorate approved this amendment to the state's Constitution: "The (Oklahoma) Courts ... when exercising their judicial authority ... shall not consider international law or Sharia Law."

Oklahoma isn't alone. Arizona is considering a bill that would prohibit state judges from "rely(ing) on any body of religious sectarian law or foreign law," and a similar bill has just been introduced in the South Carolina legislature. Whether more states will hop on the bandwagon may depend on the outcome of a lawsuit filed in Oklahoma federal district court that contends that the amendment violates the First Amendment. But the amendment is not just of dubious constitutionality; it's dangerous and unnecessary on the merits.
U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange has called a halt to this insanity for the moment, pending a hearing on November 22 about issuance of a preliminary injunction against certification of the amendment. (You can read the full text of the proposed amendment here.)

I repeat: 70 percent of those who voted on the measure approved this amendment, and two other states are already considering similar measures. Given this general atmosphere, imagine the courage that would be required for a juror to declare Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or one of the other co-defendants not guilty, even if she were convinced that was the correct verdict, and imagine the threats that might be directed against her if she did. But her courage, even if matched by similar courage on the part of the required number of other jurors, would be entirely irrelevant. The State already announced that it would imprison Mohammed forever even if he was found not guilty.

But the Obama Administration has now decided that all this folderol with show trials is simply too, too tiresome. Besides, since the Obama Administration can now murder anyone they want for whatever reason they invent, who needs trials? Trials are so twentieth century (not a century we would have supposed would be held up as a model in this regard, but the times advance!). So to hell with it: just lock 'em up!


Nonetheless, the lamentations arise. Oh, no! The rule of law has been abandoned! Again! (When did an odiously transparent show trial become synonymous with "the rule of law"? You must have dozed off for a year or two.) Civilization itself is imperiled!

Oh, please, please, please! Don't deprive us of our travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham!

It is bad enough when the hollow, empty forms of "justice" come to represent what is supposedly justice itself. It appears that one of the requirements of citizenship in the United States of Insanity is an eager willingness to support the vicious pretenses of civilized society in all their variations. (And never you mind that Obama & Friends can order any of us killed whenever they wish. I'm certain that doesn't imperil "the rule of law" or civilization in any conceivable manner.)

To the extent you support the fatal confusion of the mockery of justice with justice in any meaningful sense, you open the door to still worse outcomes. This was one of the major points of my earlier article about the Mohammed trial; too predictably, it was a point that very few people appeared to understand. This allows me the opportunity to emphasize it once again.

I excerpted an unusually valuable article by David Feige, and he made one argument that I considered to be of singular importance. Please consult my previous post for a lengthier excerpt from Feige. This is the critical passage from his piece:
Finally, the twisted logic required to disentangle KSM's initial torture from his subsequent "clean team" statements will provide a blueprint for the government, giving them the prize they've been after all this time—a legal way both to torture and to prosecute.

In the end, KSM will be convicted and America will declare the case a great victory for process, openness, and ordinary criminal procedure. Bringing KSM to trial in New York will still be far better than any of the available alternatives. But the toll his torture and imprisonment has already taken, and the price the bad law his defense will create will exact, will become part of the folly of our post-9/11 madness.
About this, I can do no better than to offer my earlier concluding paragraphs:
All of the very likely results set out by Feige are terrible, but probably the worst is the one concerning torture: that this process "will provide a blueprint for the government, giving them the prize they've been after all this time—a legal way both to torture and to prosecute."

This is the "triumph" of our judicial system, and of the greatness that is America, that is now being promised to the American people. You cannot "save" a structure built on a rotted foundation by making cosmetic improvements to a few of the upper floors. And you will not save our judicial system once you have corrupted the foundations on which it is erected.

This is another manifestation of a principle I've discussed before:
Thus, the lesson: when you choose to be a critical part of a system that has become this corrupt -- and the endless corruptions of our corporatist-authoritarian-militarist system have been documented at great length here and in other places -- you will not ameliorate or "save" it. The system will necessarily and inevitably corrupt you.
It is a profoundly terrible lesson -- and it is a lesson that we cannot afford ever to forget.
As far as I'm concerned, if it turns out that we will be spared an abominable show trial -- especially a nauseating show trial that "will provide a blueprint for the government, giving them the prize they've been after all this time—a legal way both to torture and to prosecute" -- I say: Thank God. It is not that I think for a moment that the Obama Administration (or any future administration) will abandon the ongoing use of torture (which Obama never "ended," despite all his claims and those of his apologists that he did) or their determination to more completely normalize torture, even making it a recognized and "legitimate" element of our legal system -- but at least they will not be able to achieve that goal by this particular route.

As for Feige's observation that a show trial of this kind "will still be far better than any of the available alternatives," I have to say that, when the "best" the system allows is an outcome this heinous, the only decent and genuinely civilized response is to refuse to have anything at all to do with it.

Personally, I prefer my murderous, bloody tyranny straight. Play your charades if you must. I shall not be participating.