December 20, 2017

Holidays, and the Bleak Mid-Winter

Only because of the help of wonderful donors, I finally managed to pay the December rent a couple of weeks ago. It was a few days late, and I only managed it by inches. But it was paid. In terms of finances, I've been surviving on fumes since then.

All that worsens my health woes. In the last two weeks and continuing now, I've been contending with a variety of physical ailments, some of which are enormously uncomfortable and occasionally quite painful. So I'm afraid my writing plans were once again derailed, for which my sincere and profuse apologies. At least half a dozen articles of varying length and complexity are partially completed. I can't focus sufficiently to get them into publishable form.

This morning, I also had to confront the fact that I have two bills to pay by the end of the week. Both are comparatively small; together, they total $90. I don't have it. And at the moment, it appears the food cupboard will be bare just in time for Christmas, with no means of replenishment currently available.

If you have a little excess holiday cheer that you would like to throw in this direction, it would be most gratefully and humbly received. If the ongoing tension over money were even partially and temporarily relieved, I think it possible that I might feel a small bit better, or at least not so utterly undone by stress. Many, many thanks for your kindness!

So as to avoid focusing solely on my personally bleak mid-winter in this post, here's a very beautiful version of the famous song performed by Chanticleer. Other essential holiday music must include this from Leontyne Price, and here's the entire Price-von Karajan Christmas album, which still ranks among the very best holiday albums from classical performers.

Although it has nothing to do with the holidays in particular, I need to point out that Claudio Abbado's magnificent reading of the Mahler Third Symphony is available on Youtube. The final movement (beginning at 1:12:30) is among the most breathtakingly glorious creations in any of the arts. You may need to listen to it several times to begin to appreciate it more fully, but you could spend your time in far worse ways. It is truly mind-expanding! Please give it a try if you're not familiar with it.

For the holidays, we can't forget the version of "A Christmas Carol" from 1951, with the staggeringly wonderful performance by Alastair Sim as Scrooge, also on Youtube. Some of the other versions of the classic story are very good, but none measures up to the totality of this version, now almost 70 years old. (I used to assume that everyone knew of this brilliant film, but I continue to find that some people aren't even aware of its existence.)

I'll try to complete a post or two before Christmas; if I'm unable to, I'll try again next week. Hopefully, my personal situation won't be quite so bleak then. Thank you again for your consideration.

December 04, 2017

Scrooge Is Knocking at the Door

Another new post is up, this one about sexual abuse and foreign policy. Oh, yes, they're related. And how.

Many, many thanks to the eight additional people who made donations after the most recent post about my woeful financial situation. Unfortunately, I remain about $500 away from what I need for rent and a few other bills that need to be paid this week (internet access among them). I would be terrifically grateful for any assistance you might be able to provide.

Thank you! And I'm writing again. Very happy about that. Let's try to keep it going!

Thank you thank you!!

The Sickeningly Narrow Focus of Our Outrage

One of the more striking aspects of the ongoing sexual harassment stories is the speed with which individuals are struck down. A new target is acquired and, within a matter of days, the target is eliminated, job and reputation utterly destroyed. I don't offer this observation as a criticism: thus far, the men dispatched in this manner appear to fully deserve their ignominious fates. Yet the warp speed at which these events unfold is breathtaking.

This past weekend, we were first offered this story:
The Metropolitan Opera announced Saturday night that it would open an investigation into its famed conductor, James Levine, based on a 2016 police report in which a man accused Mr. Levine of sexually abusing him three decades ago, beginning when the man was a teenager.

Met officials acknowledged they had been aware of the police report since last year, but said that Mr. Levine had denied the accusation and that they had heard nothing further from the police. They decided to begin an investigation after receiving media inquiries about Mr. Levine’s behavior.

The man’s accusation and the inquiry by the Met, one of the world’s most prestigious opera houses, showed that the national reckoning over claims of sexual misconduct had entered the world of classical music at its very highest echelons.
With regard to the highlighted paragraph, note what prompted the Met to action -- and what did not. The Met knew of the police report "since last year." Levine denied the accusation, and the Met did nothing. Then, "after receiving media inquiries about Mr. Levine's behavior," the Met "decided to begin an investigation."

A year or two ago, the matter might have ended there. The Met's investigation would probably have ended inconclusively, and life would have gone on as before. In the current climate, the fatal blow was delivered in less than 24 hours:
The Metropolitan Opera suspended James Levine, its revered conductor and former music director, on Sunday after three men came forward with accusations that Mr. Levine sexually abused them decades ago, when the men were teenagers.

Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Met, announced that the company was suspending its four-decade relationship with Mr. Levine, 74, and canceling his upcoming conducting engagements after learning from The New York Times on Sunday about the accounts of the three men, who described a series of similar sexual encounters beginning in the late 1960s. The Met has also asked an outside law firm to investigate Mr. Levine’s behavior.

“While we await the results of the investigation, based on these news reports the Met has made the decision to act now,” Mr. Gelb said in an interview, adding that the Met’s board supported his actions. “This is a tragedy for anyone whose life has been affected.”
Longtime readers here know that opera is one of the great passions of my life. I do not have close connections with anyone at the Met, but I am on an opera email list along with many people in the business, and I regularly visit sites devoted to opera. Some of those sites offer posts and comments from many people in the opera world and/or who are extremely knowledgeable about it. So I can confirm certain aspects of what many others are saying about these developments.

I myself heard rumors about Levine and his predilection for young boys (usually boys of color) as long ago as the 1980s. In the last day, some commenters have said that they often saw Levine in social settings (at parties and in restaurants, for example) accompanied by young boys. One of these commenters noted that it wasn't simply that Levine's behavior was an "open secret" (yet another "secret" that everyone knew, about which phenomenon more in another post, soon), but that he was so blatantly open about it -- and that he "got away with it" for so long.

The "worst kept secret in the business" isn't the only similarity the Levine case has to some others in recent weeks. Levine's days of glory at the Met were the 1980s and 1990s. He began having major health problems several years ago. As a result, he lost some high profile jobs (one was with the Boston Symphony Orchestra), and his importance at the Met had been steadily diminishing. He was on his way out.

That is: Levine was no longer protected by the immense power he had once wielded, and he was no longer a hugely valuable asset to the Met. From the Met's perspective, all the incentives were now on the side of dumping Levine, particularly in terms of general public relations concerns and with regard to fundraising, a vital issue for the Met and its future. Today, there are no downsides to the Met's cutting all ties to Levine; 20 years ago, the calculations would have been very different.

In this regard, Levine is much like Harvey Weinstein, another man who was on the downward slope of his career, with much of his previous power now dissipated. And in both cases, the sexual abuse and even criminal acts were known to many, many people. One of the questions I wonder about is what other "open secrets" have yet to be identified in the onslaught of coverage about Hollywood, the media, and other businesses. Claims that sexual abuse will no longer be tolerated by the culture at large would be far more convincing if the person accused of such abuse were in the position of a Levine or Weinstein at or near the height of their power -- if the person accused were, say, a Steven Spielberg. I hasten to add that I know nothing whatsoever to suggest that Spielberg has ever been guilty of odious behavior of this kind; I use him only as an example to make the point. It is one thing to take down a man whose career is winding down or almost over, however influential and powerful he might once have been. It is quite another to level accusations at a man who remains one of the most powerful people in his particular field. What are the stories, and who are the people, that we are not hearing about?

Sexual abuse, harassment and violence are deeply embedded in our institutions of power; indeed, they are deeply embedded in our culture. I refer you to an earlier essay of mine, "A Depraved, Violent and Indifferent Culture" for a fuller discussion of this subject. I greatly fear that the current obsession with sexual abuse will fade in the manner of all other "hot topics" which consume our attention for a comparatively very brief period, only to be discarded when another subject pushes it aside. (See my comments last week about how mass surveillance has all but vanished from our national "debate.") I will address these issues further in upcoming posts.

Tragically, and sickeningly, the claims that "we" are now alert to the significance of sexual abuse and will no longer tolerate it are also completely false. Change the identities of the victims and the context in which the abuse occurs, and make the perpetrator the U.S. government itself, and almost no one gives a damn. But the invaluable Jim Bovard thankfully does give a damn:
Americans are rightly outraged over revelations that Congress spent $17 million since 1997 to pay off and muzzle victims of congressional sexual misconduct and other abuses. But the U.S. government has spent vastly more effectively bankrolling far worse sexual atrocities in Afghanistan — in brazen violation of U.S. law.

Since 2002, the U.S. has spent more than $70 billion financing Afghan security forces, including the Afghan military and police. A law sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) prohibits the Pentagon from bankrolling any foreign military units if there is “credible information that the unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.”

The U.S. government has long known that U.S.-funded Afghan units routinely engage in "bacha bazi" — boy play. Afghan military commanders and police kidnap boys and use them as sex slaves. American troops have complained of seeing boys chained to beds and hearing their screams at night. ...

The Pentagon ignored the abuse until a 2015 New York Times expose of American soldiers who were punished for protesting atrocities against young boys. The Times reported that U.S. troops were confounded that “instead of weeding out pedophiles, the American military was arming them in some cases and placing them as the commanders of villages — and doing little when they began abusing children.” ...

After the Times’ report, 93 members of Congress requested that the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) investigate the problem. SIGAR finished and submitted its report early this year. In a brief section in its July 31 quarterly report, SIGAR noted, "Afghan officials remain complicit, especially in the sexual exploitation … of children by Afghan security forces." The Washington Post reported on November 26 that the Pentagon is blocking the release of the SIGAR report, instead releasing “its own report offering a far less authoritative review” of the abuses. ...

Americans would never tolerate federal funds paying for a notorious child rape regime in Cincinnati or Omaha. But your tax dollars are underwriting similar sordid abuses in Kandahar and Kabul. Doctors, teachers, and social workers can be jailed for failing to report child abuse here at home. But, six thousand miles away, U.S. troops risk their career for protesting pederasty.
Bovard has more, and I urge you to read it.

So, "we" will no longer tolerate sexual abuse? Please. The ongoing national paroxysm about sexual harassment and abuse is unjustifiably, illegitimately and sickeningly restricted in its scope. The patient -- our culture itself -- is dying of multiple stab wounds, and "we" have chosen to wipe its runny nose. I do not mean to minimize in any respect the seriousness of the crimes now finally receiving attention that is long overdue and fully merited. I mean the opposite: the problem is far worse, and far more complex, than most people are willing to countenance. And the horrors in Afghanistan -- horrors which only a few brave souls like Bovard will even discuss, and of which most people are not even aware -- are only one example of the panoply of horrors committed by our government, both abroad and at home.

If "we" keep this up, and "we" almost certainly will, this culture will finally be dead for good. And not a moment too soon.

December 02, 2017

"Eviction!" Scrooge Snarled

I just published a new post.

My deep thanks to the nine people who donated in response to my request of several days ago. I've collected a little less than $400.

This leaves me well short of what I need for rent, as well as for internet service and a couple of other bills that need to be paid during the coming week. If my rent isn't paid by Tuesday, it will officially be late. At that point, I will probably receive a three-day notice to pay rent or quit the premises. If I still can't pay the rent, we are then off to the eviction circus. Just in time for the holidays!

I'm getting my writing legs back. In addition to today's earlier post, I expect to publish one or two additional pieces over the weekend. And then I'll continue next week, unless I'm consumed with anxiety about the spectre of homelessness ...

This is grimly, horribly serious. I would be profoundly grateful for any assistance you may choose to provide.

Thank you.

The "Intelligence" Fraud (1)

In a post earlier this week, I remarked that I'm working on a new article about the monumental fraud represented by "intelligence," a fraud that includes "intelligence" itself -- that is, the supposedly vital need for "secret information" about everything under the sun, to hear the so-called "intelligence" experts tell this fable -- to every aspect of the State's insatiable appetite for "intelligence," including all the operations of the "intelligence community." I've decided to start a series of posts documenting the endless "intelligence" failures of the State. Stories about these failures appear with stunning regularity, even in our gutless, monochrome, propagandistic news media.

I included links to earlier essays that explore this issue in detail. The second half of this article offers a good summary of the argument I've developed over a number of years. Two other articles I mentioned were this one and this one. (There are many, many more posts about this issue in the archives.) I can state my theme very briefly. Insofar as "intelligence" is concerned, such "secret information" is almost always wrong; on the rare occasions when it is correct, it is likely to be disregarded, especially if it goes against a policy that has already been decided. "Intelligence" is most commonly used as propaganda, to justify policy decisions that have already been made to an alarmingly gullible public.

A year ago in The Nation, James Carden examined how the media drove "itself into a self-righteous frenzy over what it perceives to be President-elect Trump’s grave show of disrespect to the CIA." I noted the article at the time and jotted down some thoughts about it, because it was one of only a handful of pieces to approach the question sensibly, which included, not incidentally, looking at the CIA's actual record. Carden wrote:
A democracy, it is true, cannot function if its elections are the target of outside powers which seek to influence it. To see what a corrosive effect outside powers can have on democratic processes, one need look no further than the 1996 Russian presidential election, in which Americans like the regime-change theorist Michael McFaul (who was later to become US Ambassador to Russia from 2012–14) interfered in order to keep the widely unpopular Boris Yeltsin in power against the wishes of the Russian people.

For its part, the CIA has a long history of overthrowing sovereign governments the world over. According to the historian William Blum, the CIA has “(1) attempted to overthrow more than 50 governments, most of which were democratically-elected, (2) attempted to suppress a populist or nationalist movement in 20 countries, (3) grossly interfered in democratic elections in at least 30 countries, (4) dropped bombs on the people of more than 30 countries, (5) attempted to assassinate more than 50 foreign leaders."

Perhaps if it was doing the job of intelligence gathering rather than obsessively plotting regime change, the CIA would have amassed a record worthy of the establishment media’s incessant fawning.

But alas. Consulting the CIA’s historical record, one is confronted by a laundry list of failures, which includes missing both the break-up of the Soviet Union (during the 1980’s a CIA deputy director by the name of Bob Gates called the USSR “a despotism that works”) and the 9/11 attacks.

In the years following 9/11, the CIA has been caught flat-footed by, among other things, the lack of WMD in Iraq (2003); the Iraqi insurgency (2003); the Arab Spring (2010); the rise of ISIS (2013); and the Ukrainian civil war (2014).
An issue I will return to is whether the "failures" Carden lists are, in fact, failures. As but one example, "the lack of WMD in Iraq" was entirely clear to millions of people around the world before the invasion, including me and you (I hope). A great deal of evidence compels the conclusion that the Bush administration was also well aware of this fact. But the Bush administration was determined to have its war. It wanted a massive military presence in the Middle East for strategic reasons (including, but not limited to, access to natural resources), and nothing was going to stop it. This is a textbook example of the manner in which the "intelligence" does not matter. That is the central fact, which must never be forgotten:
You must never, ever argue in terms of "intelligence." That is playing the State's game, on the State's terms. Guess what: the State will win. You must always argue policy. That is all that matters. The Bush administration knew there were no WMD in Iraq. They didn't care. So much for the "vital need" for "secret information."

Here is Gabriel Kolko on this point:
The function of intelligence anywhere is far less to encourage rational behavior--although sometimes that occurs--than to justify a nation's illusions, and it is the false expectations that conventional wisdom encourages that make wars more likely, a pattern that has only increased since the early twentieth century. By and large, US, Soviet, and British strategic intelligence since 1945 has been inaccurate and often misleading, and although it accumulated pieces of information that were useful, the leaders of these nations failed to grasp the inherent dangers of their overall policies. When accurate, such intelligence has been ignored most of the time if there were overriding preconceptions or bureaucratic reasons for doing so.
Compared to these earlier "failures," today's example of the boondoggle that is "intelligence" seems almost minor. However, given the frenzied intensity with which the media has tried to convince us that hacking by "evildoers" will consume all the multiverses that exist, the advocates for massive "intelligence" gathering can hardly view it as minor themselves.

Consider this:
The FBI failed to notify scores of U.S. officials that Russian hackers were trying to break into their personal Gmail accounts despite having evidence for at least a year that the targets were in the Kremlin's crosshairs, The Associated Press has found.

Nearly 80 interviews with Americans targeted by Fancy Bear, a Russian government-aligned cyberespionage group, turned up only two cases in which the FBI had provided a heads-up. Even senior policymakers discovered they were targets only when the AP told them, a situation some described as bizarre and dispiriting.

"It's utterly confounding," said Philip Reiner, a former senior director at the National Security Council, who was notified by the AP that he was targeted in 2015. "You've got to tell your people. You've got to protect your people."

FBI policy calls for notifying victims, whether individuals or groups, to help thwart both ongoing and future hacking attempts. The policy, which was disclosed in a lawsuit filed earlier this year against the FBI by the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center, says that notification should be considered "even when it may interfere with another investigation or (intelligence) operation."
The full story offers many details about this "failure" to notify, but these opening paragraphs summarize the problem.

Not so by the way: "FBI spending in constant 2016 dollars has more than tripled since 1990, from $2.7 billion to $9.1 billion."

So what is the FBI spending all that money on? The basic answer lies in recognizing that the FBI's operations, as well as those of the CIA, the NSA, and any other agency you care to name, are directed toward what the State is doing to you, not what it claims to be doing for you.

And this is just the beginning ...