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Updated: 2 years 21 weeks ago

Obama's Finest Hour: Killing Innocent People For "Made-Up Crap"

Mon, 2010-10-18 10:03

 

If ever I am tempted by the siren songs of my tribal past as a deep-fried, yellow-dawg Democrat, and begin to feel any faint, atavistic stirrings of sympathy for the old gang, I simply think of things like the scenario below, sketched last week by Johann Hari, and those wispy ghosts of partisanship past go howling back to the depths:

Imagine if, an hour from now, a robot-plane swooped over your house and blasted it to pieces. The plane has no pilot. It is controlled with a joystick from 7,000 miles away, sent by the Pakistani military to kill you. It blows up all the houses in your street, and so barbecues your family and your neighbours until there is nothing left to bury but a few charred slops. Why? They refuse to comment. They don't even admit the robot-planes belong to them. But they tell the Pakistani newspapers back home it is because one of you was planning to attack Pakistan. How do they know? Somebody told them. Who? You don't know, and there are no appeals against the robot.

Now imagine it doesn't end there: these attacks are happening every week somewhere in your country. They blow up funerals and family dinners and children. The number of robot-planes in the sky is increasing every week. You discover they are named "Predators", or "Reapers" – after the Grim Reaper. No matter how much you plead, no matter how much you make it clear you are a peaceful civilian getting on with your life, it won't stop. What do you do? If there was a group arguing that Pakistan was an evil nation that deserved to be violently attacked, would you now start to listen?

...[This] is in fact an accurate description of life in much of Pakistan today, with the sides flipped. The Predators and Reapers are being sent by Barack Obama's CIA, with the support of other Western governments, and they killed more than 700 civilians in 2009 alone – 14 times the number killed in the 7/7 attacks in London. The floods were seen as an opportunity to increase the attacks, and last month saw the largest number of robot-plane bombings ever: 22. Over the next decade, spending on drones is set to increase by 700 per cent.


Friends, it's very simple: if you support Barack Obama and the Democrats -- even if reluctantly, even if you're just being all sophisticatedly super-savvy and blogospherically strategic about it, playing the "long game" or eleven-dimensional chess or what have you -- you are supporting the outright murder of innocent people who have never done anything against you or yours. You have walked into a house, battered down the bedroom door, put the barrel of a gun against the temple of a sleeping child, and pulled the trigger. That is what you are supporting, that is what you are complicit in, that is what you yourself are doing.

But hey, let's be all super-savvy and eleventh-dimensional ourselves here for a moment. Let's be pragmatic, and technocratic, let's be grown-ups, let's not get sidetracked by a bunch of jejune, dorm-room, hippy-dippy moralizing. No, let's concentrate on practicalities, let's get down to brass tacks, let's be serious and focus on "what works" to protect our national security. OK, so here's the practical result of the illegal campaign of mass murder that Obama is waging on the sovereign territory of one of America's allies:

... Drone technology was developed by the Israelis, who routinely use it to bomb the Gaza Strip. I've been in Gaza during some of these attacks. The people there were terrified – and radicalised. A young woman I know who had been averse to political violence and an advocate of peaceful protest saw a drone blow up a car full of people – and she started supporting Islamic Jihad and crying for the worst possible revenge against Israel. Robot-drones have successfully bombed much of Gaza, from secular Fatah to Islamist Hamas, to the brink of jihad.

Is the same thing happening in Pakistan? David Kilcullen is a counter-insurgency expert who worked for General Petraeus in Iraq and now advises the State Department. He has shown that two per cent of the people killed by the robot-planes in Pakistan are jihadis. The remaining 98 per cent are as innocent as the victims of 9/11. He says: "It's not moral." And it gets worse: "Every one of these dead non-combatants represents an alienated family, and more recruits for a militant movement that has grown exponentially as drone strikes have increased. ... It could be poised to get even worse: Bob Woodward's Obama's Wars says the US has an immediate plan to bomb 150 targets in Pakistan if there is a jihadi attack inside America.


Why, it's almost as if the drone campaign was designed to create more and more enemies -- and more and more contracts for war profiteers to build more and more drones, which can then be used to create more and more enemies, which means more and more contracts for .... say, it is a practical plan, after all! A practical plan to create terrorism, not quell it.

And what is the "evidence" used by the Administration militarists as they draw up their target lists for the defenseless villages in Pakistan? What is the "intelligence" produced by the $75 billion lavished on our 200,000 security apparatchiks every year? On what basis is Barack Obama killing people in Pakistan? Hari reports:

..[The] press releases uncritically repeated by the press after a bombing always brag about "senior al-Qa'ida commanders" killed – but some people within the CIA admit how arbitrary their choice of targets is. One of their senior figures told The New Yorker: "Sometimes you're dealing with tribal chiefs. Often they say an enemy of theirs is al-Qa'ida because they want to get rid of somebody, or they made crap up because they wanted to prove they were valuable so they could make money."


That's right: Barack Obama is killing hundreds of innocent civilians in Pakistan on the basis of crap made up for money. Made-up crap. For money. That's why a child who is just as precious as your child is to a parent who is just as real a person as you are was killed this week, by Barack Obama and the Democratic Party and the entire bipartisan foreign policy establishment of the United States of America: crap made up for money.

And of course, it's not just tribal chiefs making up crap for blood money: the entire aforementioned bipartisan foreign policy establishment is now and has for years been making up crap "so they could make money" -- for themselves, for their corporate patrons, for their government agencies, for their defense and "security" stockholdings, for the perpetuation of their bloated, belligerent, pig-ignorant domination of world affairs and American society -- by killing innocent people all over the world.

"But oh my gosh, oh my lord, we have to support Obama! What if those Tea Party Republicans get into power? What would happen then?" What would happen? The same goddamned thing that's happening right now, that's what. More and more war, more and more murder, more and more domination by a militarist kleptocracy. As Glenn Greenwald notes this week, Obama and the Tea Partiers (and the neocons, and the liberal hawks, and the Bush Regime war criminals) are in lockstep (even goosestep) on keeping the War Machine stoked and rolling.

That's why the opposition to the Tea Party Republicans has been so anemic, focused almost entirely on personality flaws or asinine comments or resume padding or stupid things they did in college. The Democrats can't possibly attack them on substance -- i.e., the fact that the Tea Partiers are rabid warmongers who delight in murder, torture and repression and believe that the poor, the sick, the old, the weak, the unlucky, and the vulnerable should just eat shit and die already -- because these are the same positions the Democrats hold! Who "reformed" health care into a gargantuan, guaranteed boondoggle for rapacious conglomerates? Who bailed out the bankers and left millions in the hands of savage "robo-signers?" Who set up the "Catfood Commission" and stocked it from top to bottom with long-time, deep-dyed haters of the poor and the weak? It wasn't Dick Cheney, bub.

I don't want to see the Tea Partiers in power. But I'm not going to support one faction of murderers and plunderers just to keep out another faction of murderers and plunderers. Hari makes this good analogy about the drone program:

Yet many people defend the drones by saying: "We have to do something." If your friend suffered terrible third-degree burns, would you urge her to set fire to her hair because "you have to do something"? Would you give a poisoning victim another, worse poison, on the grounds that any action is better than none?


Similarly, I say: would you support one murderer -- who likes to break into children's bedrooms and blow their brains out -- in order to stop another murderer, who would do the same thing, from taking over a vicious gang of murderers? What would be the basis, the reason for your support? That the first murderer wears nicer suits? Digs cooler music? Throws better street parties? Leaves a pretty little flower next to the blown-out brains?

For a system sunk so deeply in evil, there is no "lesser" evil to choose. The militarist kleptocracy itself is evil, and every political faction that does not denounce it and seek to dismantle it is complicit in this evil. The choice is to stand outside such factions; the choice is non-cooperation with evil, as advocated by Thoreau, Tolstoy, Gandhi, King. I'm not going to spend my brief time here on earth standing with blood-soaked killers, no matter what factional name they give themselves, or what loyalties they might claim on our myth-clouded memories of the past. I'm not going to teach my children that all we can do is to grovel before one child-murdering maniac or another, to keep quiet, to never speak the truth, to sell their votes, their dignity and their souls to murderers who would pervert every good instinct -- and every bad instinct -- every worthy hope and every nasty fear, to keep themselves in power.

Dead children. Made-up crap. For money. That's what our leading "dissidents" want us to support. There is much that could be said about the utterly puerile arguments being offered for this murder-abetting stance; but in the interests of brevity, and civility -- and my own sanity -- I will forbear, and simply say: no thanks.


Obama's Finest Hour: Killing Innocent People For "Made-Up Crap"

Mon, 2010-10-18 10:03

 

If ever I am tempted by the siren songs of my tribal past as a deep-fried, yellow-dawg Democrat, and begin to feel any faint, atavistic stirrings of sympathy for the old gang, I simply think of things like the scenario below, sketched last week by Johann Hari, and those wispy ghosts of partisanship past go howling back to the depths:

Imagine if, an hour from now, a robot-plane swooped over your house and blasted it to pieces. The plane has no pilot. It is controlled with a joystick from 7,000 miles away, sent by the Pakistani military to kill you. It blows up all the houses in your street, and so barbecues your family and your neighbours until there is nothing left to bury but a few charred slops. Why? They refuse to comment. They don't even admit the robot-planes belong to them. But they tell the Pakistani newspapers back home it is because one of you was planning to attack Pakistan. How do they know? Somebody told them. Who? You don't know, and there are no appeals against the robot.

Now imagine it doesn't end there: these attacks are happening every week somewhere in your country. They blow up funerals and family dinners and children. The number of robot-planes in the sky is increasing every week. You discover they are named "Predators", or "Reapers" – after the Grim Reaper. No matter how much you plead, no matter how much you make it clear you are a peaceful civilian getting on with your life, it won't stop. What do you do? If there was a group arguing that Pakistan was an evil nation that deserved to be violently attacked, would you now start to listen?

...[This] is in fact an accurate description of life in much of Pakistan today, with the sides flipped. The Predators and Reapers are being sent by Barack Obama's CIA, with the support of other Western governments, and they killed more than 700 civilians in 2009 alone – 14 times the number killed in the 7/7 attacks in London. The floods were seen as an opportunity to increase the attacks, and last month saw the largest number of robot-plane bombings ever: 22. Over the next decade, spending on drones is set to increase by 700 per cent.


Friends, it's very simple: if you support Barack Obama and the Democrats -- even if reluctantly, even if you're just being all sophisticatedly super-savvy and blogospherically strategic about it, playing the "long game" or eleven-dimensional chess or what have you -- you are supporting the outright murder of innocent people who have never done anything against you or yours. You have walked into a house, battered down the bedroom door, put the barrel of a gun against the temple of a sleeping child, and pulled the trigger. That is what you are supporting, that is what you are complicit in, that is what you yourself are doing.

But hey, let's be all super-savvy and eleventh-dimensional ourselves here for a moment. Let's be pragmatic, and technocratic, let's be grown-ups, let's not get sidetracked by a bunch of jejune, dorm-room, hippy-dippy moralizing. No, let's concentrate on practicalities, let's get down to brass tacks, let's be serious and focus on "what works" to protect our national security. OK, so here's the practical result of the illegal campaign of mass murder that Obama is waging on the sovereign territory of one of America's allies:

... Drone technology was developed by the Israelis, who routinely use it to bomb the Gaza Strip. I've been in Gaza during some of these attacks. The people there were terrified – and radicalised. A young woman I know who had been averse to political violence and an advocate of peaceful protest saw a drone blow up a car full of people – and she started supporting Islamic Jihad and crying for the worst possible revenge against Israel. Robot-drones have successfully bombed much of Gaza, from secular Fatah to Islamist Hamas, to the brink of jihad.

Is the same thing happening in Pakistan? David Kilcullen is a counter-insurgency expert who worked for General Petraeus in Iraq and now advises the State Department. He has shown that two per cent of the people killed by the robot-planes in Pakistan are jihadis. The remaining 98 per cent are as innocent as the victims of 9/11. He says: "It's not moral." And it gets worse: "Every one of these dead non-combatants represents an alienated family, and more recruits for a militant movement that has grown exponentially as drone strikes have increased. ... It could be poised to get even worse: Bob Woodward's Obama's Wars says the US has an immediate plan to bomb 150 targets in Pakistan if there is a jihadi attack inside America.


Why, it's almost as if the drone campaign was designed to create more and more enemies -- and more and more contracts for war profiteers to build more and more drones, which can then be used to create more and more enemies, which means more and more contracts for .... say, it is a practical plan, after all! A practical plan to create terrorism, not quell it.

And what is the "evidence" used by the Administration militarists as they draw up their target lists for the defenseless villages in Pakistan? What is the "intelligence" produced by the $75 billion lavished on our 200,000 security apparatchiks every year? On what basis is Barack Obama killing people in Pakistan? Hari reports:

..[The] press releases uncritically repeated by the press after a bombing always brag about "senior al-Qa'ida commanders" killed – but some people within the CIA admit how arbitrary their choice of targets is. One of their senior figures told The New Yorker: "Sometimes you're dealing with tribal chiefs. Often they say an enemy of theirs is al-Qa'ida because they want to get rid of somebody, or they made crap up because they wanted to prove they were valuable so they could make money."


That's right: Barack Obama is killing hundreds of innocent civilians in Pakistan on the basis of crap made up for money. Made-up crap. For money. That's why a child who is just as precious as your child is to a parent who is just as real a person as you are was killed this week, by Barack Obama and the Democratic Party and the entire bipartisan foreign policy establishment of the United States of America: crap made up for money.

And of course, it's not just tribal chiefs making up crap for blood money: the entire aforementioned bipartisan foreign policy establishment is now and has for years been making up crap "so they could make money" -- for themselves, for their corporate patrons, for their government agencies, for their defense and "security" stockholdings, for the perpetuation of their bloated, belligerent, pig-ignorant domination of world affairs and American society -- by killing innocent people all over the world.

"But oh my gosh, oh my lord, we have to support Obama! What if those Tea Party Republicans get into power? What would happen then?" What would happen? The same goddamned thing that's happening right now, that's what. More and more war, more and more murder, more and more domination by a militarist kleptocracy. As Glenn Greenwald notes this week, Obama and the Tea Partiers (and the neocons, and the liberal hawks, and the Bush Regime war criminals) are in lockstep (even goosestep) on keeping the War Machine stoked and rolling.

That's why the opposition to the Tea Party Republicans has been so anemic, focused almost entirely on personality flaws or asinine comments or resume padding or stupid things they did in college. The Democrats can't possibly attack them on substance -- i.e., the fact that the Tea Partiers are rabid warmongers who delight in murder, torture and repression and believe that the poor, the sick, the old, the weak, the unlucky, and the vulnerable should just eat shit and die already -- because these are the same positions the Democrats hold! Who "reformed" health care into a gargantuan, guaranteed boondoggle for rapacious conglomerates? Who bailed out the bankers and left millions in the hands of savage "robo-signers?" Who set up the "Catfood Commission" and stocked it from top to bottom with long-time, deep-dyed haters of the poor and the weak? It wasn't Dick Cheney, bub.

I don't want to see the Tea Partiers in power. But I'm not going to support one faction of murderers and plunderers just to keep out another faction of murderers and plunderers. Hari makes this good analogy about the drone program:

Yet many people defend the drones by saying: "We have to do something." If your friend suffered terrible third-degree burns, would you urge her to set fire to her hair because "you have to do something"? Would you give a poisoning victim another, worse poison, on the grounds that any action is better than none?


Similarly, I say: would you support one murderer -- who likes to break into children's bedrooms and blow their brains out -- in order to stop another murderer, who would do the same thing, from taking over a vicious gang of murderers? What would be the basis, the reason for your support? That the first murderer wears nicer suits? Digs cooler music? Throws better street parties? Leaves a pretty little flower next to the blown-out brains?

For a system sunk so deeply in evil, there is no "lesser" evil to choose. The militarist kleptocracy itself is evil, and every political faction that does not denounce it and seek to dismantle it is complicit in this evil. The choice is to stand outside such factions; the choice is non-cooperation with evil, as advocated by Thoreau, Tolstoy, Gandhi, King. I'm not going to spend my brief time here on earth standing with blood-soaked killers, no matter what factional name they give themselves, or what loyalties they might claim on our myth-clouded memories of the past. I'm not going to teach my children that all we can do is to grovel before one child-murdering maniac or another, to keep quiet, to never speak the truth, to sell their votes, their dignity and their souls to murderers who would pervert every good instinct -- and every bad instinct -- every worthy hope and every nasty fear, to keep themselves in power.

Dead children. Made-up crap. For money. That's what our leading "dissidents" want us to support. There is much that could be said about the utterly puerile arguments being offered for this murder-abetting stance; but in the interests of brevity, and civility -- and my own sanity -- I will forbear, and simply say: no thanks.


All Along the Watchtower

Thu, 2010-10-14 15:30

While circumstances prevent the completion of some longer pieces for the moment, here's a quick scan of the horizon:

Double Down, Triple Down, All the Way to Hell
Pentagon brass and their sycophants in mufti are now making the media rounds, laying the groundwork for the next great move by the world-historical military genius David Petraeus, the most-lauded general never to, er, actually win a war: moving ground troops into Pakistan. The Los Angeles Times has the story here.

First, of course, there will be the usual push to make the Pakistani military kill massive amounts of their own people. This will, as always, inflame the situation, exacerbate extremism and violent reaction, thus nicely setting the stage for American troops to step in -- oh, as a last resort, of course! -- and take control of the "deteriorating situation."

Obviously, given what happened to Stanley McChrystal when he let his aides wag their tongues a bit too much in Paris bistros, Pentagon staffers are not about to be caught "off message" these days. So the dispatch of anonymous briefers in this case can only be seen as a planned reconnaissance in force to "prepare the battlefield." Not the actual fields in Central Asia where Petraeus is now killing civilians (and throwing away American lives) at a rising clip, of course; no, we mean the battlegrounds of the Beltway, where the Pentagon bureaucrats like Winless Davy do their real fighting.

The move is being sold as a way to "show improvement" in the the war before Obama's re-election, but that's all a sham. Obama surely knows what is painfully obvious to any sentient being: an expansion of the ground war into Pakistan will result in a maelstrom of blood and hate that will extend and deepen the Central Asian quagmire for years, decades.

But of course, that is precisely what our war-profiteering, empire-addicted militarists want. As court stenographer Bob Woodward duly recorded, Petraeus himself told Obama: "You have to recognize also that I don't think you win this war. I think you keep fighting ... You have to stay after it. This is the kind of fight we're in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids' lives."

This the mindset that rules Washington now. From all the evidence, Obama fully shares this vision. Those who think otherwise must cling to the spin that Obama's aides propagated through the obliging stovepipe of Woodward: that the president is a limp rag who can easily be rolled by the boys in Hell's Bottom. (It is astounding that Obama's people, who have praised the book, think this is some kind of positive image of their boss.) But even in the highly unlikely case that Obama is some kind of "prisoner" of the Pentagon, with his peace-loving hands are tied by military meanies, it doesn't matter. Prisoner or willing participant, the result is the same: the militarists are in charge, and they will not stop, no matter how much death and ruin they wreak around the world -- and at home.

Across the Borderline
Want to cut down on crime? Then open your borders. That's the word from a new report that shows a deep drop in crime rates in California during an 18-year period that saw more than 3.6 million foreigners pouring into the state. Charles Davis has the stats:

If you listened to the professional demagogues on talk radio and, all too often, in public office, you might think the United States is beset by an immigration-induced crime wave, the country's border regions home to nothing but gun battles and sadness. But statistics, those damned things, suggest otherwise, with California actually experiencing a 55 percent drop in violent crime at the same time more than 3.6 million foreigners migrated to the state.

Serious property crime in California -- auto theft, burglary, arson -- also dropped 29 percent between 1991-2008, according to a new paper from the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice (via The Crime Report).

Crime also dropped in the state's border and major metropolitan regions, with San Diego's violent crime rate dropping 58 percent at the same time more than a quarter-million foreign-born persons moved to the county. Los Angeles County likewise experienced a 68 percent decline in violent crime and a 42 percent drop in property crime even as it added more than 1.3 million immigrants to its population.

"Non‐citizens are approximately 27 percent of California’s population," the paper reports, "however, data that tracks prison inmates who have immigration holds placed on them indicate that this group constitutes approximately 11 percent of the state prison population."


No doubt this is all a clever plan on the part of them damn Mescans to disguise themselves as law-abiding denizens for two decades to facilitate their long-term plan to take over the country and impose Latino Catholic sharia law on good white folk. Better have a pre-emptive deportation right now!

Dark as a Dungeon
While the media make endless hay with the rescue of the Chilean miners, Juan Cole plays Eeyore at the picnic by asking a few pertinent questions on how they came to be stuck down there in the first place. Astute observers of contemporary history will not be surprised to find that the ultimate culprits could well be that dynamic duo of yesteryear: Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger.

One Toke Over the Line
Glenn Greenwald has much to say on the sinister Drug War-Terror War symbiosis that has spawned so much death and corruption across the world for decades. This is a theme we've been banging on about for many years here as well. One of my first pieces on the hydra-headed Terror-Drug mutant was written for the Moscow Times back in November 2001 -- a little more than two months after the "Terror War" began. You can see that piece here. You can also see a harrowing illustration of the kind of Drug War-bred corruption that Greenwald describes, in this piece from 2006, which tells a sickening tale of complicity in state murder that went all the way to the top of the "shining city on the hill." A case now completely forgotten, needless to say.

The Hard Truth of Quantitative Easing

It was the work of Arthur Silber that first pointed me to two of the best guides through the economic morass that our betters have made for us: Mike Whitney and Michael Hudson. Writing separately, usually at Counterpunch, they provide a potent one-two punch that demolishes the conventional wisdom and willful ignorance that surrounds the relentless, bipartisan effort to drive the nation and the world into a state of neo-feudalism.

This week, both Whitney and Hudson addressed the scam of "quantitative easing." This stimulus programs are ostensibly designed to pump government money into the national economy during an economic crisis, priming the pump to keep businesses -- and their employees -- afloat in the choppy waters.

But somehow it doesn't work out that way. The low -- practically zero -- interest on the trillions pumped out by government "easing" is snapped up by a few big investors, who then immediately bank it and invest it overseas, where the interest rates are higher. They make huge profits, but the "stimulus" money doesn't stay in the local economy, and the economic problems don't get addressed. By putting no real restrictions on the use and flow of tax money given to banks, quantitative easers only enrich a small number of people immensely, while letting millions of people languish in economic doldrums.

But that's only the half of it. As Hudson points out, these programs are also a form of economic warfare on the rest of the world. Foreign nations are swamped by elite investors funneling American stimulus money into their economies, buying up "foreign resources, real estate, public and privatized instrastructure, bonds and corporate stock ownership." This influx forces up the price of the local currency, wreaking havoc on exchange rates, exports and employment. As Hudson notes:

Such inflows do not provide capital for tangible investment. They are predatory, and cause currency fluctuation that disrupts trade patterns while creating enormous trading profits for large financial institutions and their customers. Yet most discussions of exchange rate treat the balance of payments and exchange rates as if they were determined purely by commodity trade and “purchasing power parity,” not by the financial flows and military spending that actually dominate the balance of payments. The reality is that today’s financial interregnum – anarchic “free” markets prior to countries hurriedly putting up their own monetary defenses – provides the arbitrage opportunity of the century. This is what bank lobbyists have been pressing for. It has little to do with the welfare of workers.


Obama and the Fed are now gearing up to inject another $1 trillion into this profit funnel. And because they will refuse to take any responsibility for ensuring that the new stimulus is directed at addressing the nation's financial crisis, much if not most of that money will simply end up in the hand of a tiny sliver of elite investors, who will use it to enrich themselves, war economic war abroad -- and leave American workers and homeowners (and the long-forgotten poor) to sink further into the mire.

But then again, for the easers, as with the militarists, quagmire is a feature, not a bug.

**Photo © 2010 by Alexey Floyd


All Along the Watchtower

Thu, 2010-10-14 15:30

While circumstances prevent the completion of some longer pieces for the moment, here's a quick scan of the horizon:

Double Down, Triple Down, All the Way to Hell
Pentagon brass and their sycophants in mufti are now making the media rounds, laying the groundwork for the next great move by the world-historical military genius David Petraeus, the most-lauded general never to, er, actually win a war: moving ground troops into Pakistan. The Los Angeles Times has the story here.

First, of course, there will be the usual push to make the Pakistani military kill massive amounts of their own people. This will, as always, inflame the situation, exacerbate extremism and violent reaction, thus nicely setting the stage for American troops to step in -- oh, as a last resort, of course! -- and take control of the "deteriorating situation."

Obviously, given what happened to Stanley McChrystal when he let his aides wag their tongues a bit too much in Paris bistros, Pentagon staffers are not about to be caught "off message" these days. So the dispatch of anonymous briefers in this case can only be seen as a planned reconnaissance in force to "prepare the battlefield." Not the actual fields in Central Asia where Petraeus is now killing civilians (and throwing away American lives) at a rising clip, of course; no, we mean the battlegrounds of the Beltway, where the Pentagon bureaucrats like Winless Davy do their real fighting.

The move is being sold as a way to "show improvement" in the the war before Obama's re-election, but that's all a sham. Obama surely knows what is painfully obvious to any sentient being: an expansion of the ground war into Pakistan will result in a maelstrom of blood and hate that will extend and deepen the Central Asian quagmire for years, decades.

But of course, that is precisely what our war-profiteering, empire-addicted militarists want. As court stenographer Bob Woodward duly recorded, Petraeus himself told Obama: "You have to recognize also that I don't think you win this war. I think you keep fighting ... You have to stay after it. This is the kind of fight we're in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids' lives."

This the mindset that rules Washington now. From all the evidence, Obama fully shares this vision. Those who think otherwise must cling to the spin that Obama's aides propagated through the obliging stovepipe of Woodward: that the president is a limp rag who can easily be rolled by the boys in Hell's Bottom. (It is astounding that Obama's people, who have praised the book, think this is some kind of positive image of their boss.) But even in the highly unlikely case that Obama is some kind of "prisoner" of the Pentagon, with his peace-loving hands are tied by military meanies, it doesn't matter. Prisoner or willing participant, the result is the same: the militarists are in charge, and they will not stop, no matter how much death and ruin they wreak around the world -- and at home.

Across the Borderline
Want to cut down on crime? Then open your borders. That's the word from a new report that shows a deep drop in crime rates in California during an 18-year period that saw more than 3.6 million foreigners pouring into the state. Charles Davis has the stats:

If you listened to the professional demagogues on talk radio and, all too often, in public office, you might think the United States is beset by an immigration-induced crime wave, the country's border regions home to nothing but gun battles and sadness. But statistics, those damned things, suggest otherwise, with California actually experiencing a 55 percent drop in violent crime at the same time more than 3.6 million foreigners migrated to the state.

Serious property crime in California -- auto theft, burglary, arson -- also dropped 29 percent between 1991-2008, according to a new paper from the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice (via The Crime Report).

Crime also dropped in the state's border and major metropolitan regions, with San Diego's violent crime rate dropping 58 percent at the same time more than a quarter-million foreign-born persons moved to the county. Los Angeles County likewise experienced a 68 percent decline in violent crime and a 42 percent drop in property crime even as it added more than 1.3 million immigrants to its population.

"Non‐citizens are approximately 27 percent of California’s population," the paper reports, "however, data that tracks prison inmates who have immigration holds placed on them indicate that this group constitutes approximately 11 percent of the state prison population."


No doubt this is all a clever plan on the part of them damn Mescans to disguise themselves as law-abiding denizens for two decades to facilitate their long-term plan to take over the country and impose Latino Catholic sharia law on good white folk. Better have a pre-emptive deportation right now!

Dark as a Dungeon
While the media make endless hay with the rescue of the Chilean miners, Juan Cole plays Eeyore at the picnic by asking a few pertinent questions on how they came to be stuck down there in the first place. Astute observers of contemporary history will not be surprised to find that the ultimate culprits could well be that dynamic duo of yesteryear: Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger.

One Toke Over the Line
Glenn Greenwald has much to say on the sinister Drug War-Terror War symbiosis that has spawned so much death and corruption across the world for decades. This is a theme we've been banging on about for many years here as well. One of my first pieces on the hydra-headed Terror-Drug mutant was written for the Moscow Times back in November 2001 -- a little more than two months after the "Terror War" began. You can see that piece here. You can also see a harrowing illustration of the kind of Drug War-bred corruption that Greenwald describes, in this piece from 2006, which tells a sickening tale of complicity in state murder that went all the way to the top of the "shining city on the hill." A case now completely forgotten, needless to say.

The Hard Truth of Quantitative Easing

It was the work of Arthur Silber that first pointed me to two of the best guides through the economic morass that our betters have made for us: Mike Whitney and Michael Hudson. Writing separately, usually at Counterpunch, they provide a potent one-two punch that demolishes the conventional wisdom and willful ignorance that surrounds the relentless, bipartisan effort to drive the nation and the world into a state of neo-feudalism.

This week, both Whitney and Hudson addressed the scam of "quantitative easing." This stimulus programs are ostensibly designed to pump government money into the national economy during an economic crisis, priming the pump to keep businesses -- and their employees -- afloat in the choppy waters.

But somehow it doesn't work out that way. The low -- practically zero -- interest on the trillions pumped out by government "easing" is snapped up by a few big investors, who then immediately bank it and invest it overseas, where the interest rates are higher. They make huge profits, but the "stimulus" money doesn't stay in the local economy, and the economic problems don't get addressed. By putting no real restrictions on the use and flow of tax money given to banks, quantitative easers only enrich a small number of people immensely, while letting millions of people languish in economic doldrums.

But that's only the half of it. As Hudson points out, these programs are also a form of economic warfare on the rest of the world. Foreign nations are swamped by elite investors funneling American stimulus money into their economies, buying up "foreign resources, real estate, public and privatized instrastructure, bonds and corporate stock ownership." This influx forces up the price of the local currency, wreaking havoc on exchange rates, exports and employment. As Hudson notes:

Such inflows do not provide capital for tangible investment. They are predatory, and cause currency fluctuation that disrupts trade patterns while creating enormous trading profits for large financial institutions and their customers. Yet most discussions of exchange rate treat the balance of payments and exchange rates as if they were determined purely by commodity trade and “purchasing power parity,” not by the financial flows and military spending that actually dominate the balance of payments. The reality is that today’s financial interregnum – anarchic “free” markets prior to countries hurriedly putting up their own monetary defenses – provides the arbitrage opportunity of the century. This is what bank lobbyists have been pressing for. It has little to do with the welfare of workers.


Obama and the Fed are now gearing up to inject another $1 trillion into this profit funnel. And because they will refuse to take any responsibility for ensuring that the new stimulus is directed at addressing the nation's financial crisis, much if not most of that money will simply end up in the hand of a tiny sliver of elite investors, who will use it to enrich themselves, war economic war abroad -- and leave American workers and homeowners (and the long-forgotten poor) to sink further into the mire.

But then again, for the easers, as with the militarists, quagmire is a feature, not a bug.

**Photo © 2010 by Alexey Floyd


This Site Ain't Toxic, We've Just Been Hacked

Tue, 2010-10-12 13:42

Although Google has slapped a warning on this site, we just wanted to let you know that Empire Burlesque isn't poisonous. We've just been hit, once again, by malicious and relentless hackers, who infected the site and eventually took it down. But webmaster extraordinaire Rich Kastelein is on the case. As you can see, he's got the site back up and running, and is working on getting us off Google's blacklist.

This is probably a good time to remind readers that should the site go down for several days due to hacking -- as it has done in the past; the site is constantly under attack -- you can check the original site, which is still maintained for emergency situations, at www.empireburlesquenow.blogspot.com, to see if there are any new posts. I hope that won't be necessary, but you might keep it in mind for a worst case scenario.

 


This Site Ain't Toxic, We've Just Been Hacked

Tue, 2010-10-12 13:42

Although Google has slapped a warning on this site, we just wanted to let you know that Empire Burlesque isn't poisonous. We've just been hit, once again, by malicious and relentless hackers, who infected the site and eventually took it down. But webmaster extraordinaire Rich Kastelein is on the case. As you can see, he's got the site back up and running, and is working on getting us off Google's blacklist.

This is probably a good time to remind readers that should the site go down for several days due to hacking -- as it has done in the past; the site is constantly under attack -- you can check the original site, which is still maintained for emergency situations, at www.empireburlesquenow.blogspot.com, to see if there are any new posts. I hope that won't be necessary, but you might keep it in mind for a worst case scenario.

 


The Law is an Ass ... Armed with Rockets

Mon, 2010-10-11 13:57

 

Here's what they are saying about America's Terror Warriors in the UK's arch-conservative Daily Telegraph:

Since the beginning of September alone, President Obama has authorised at least 25 targeted killings. The total since he came to office is more than 100. These have certainly killed some of the senior operatives of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. They have also killed dozens of people, including a large number of women and children, who were not involved in terrorism.
 
And yet there has been very little protest, certainly compared to the storm of international criticism that greeted the decision to hold suspected terrorists at Guantanamo – a policy that didn't kill anyone, let alone any innocent women and children. The silence from human rights groups over the drone attacks is deafening. What has persuaded them that it is acceptable to kill people, including people who are not terrorists, but that it is inhumane to deprive them of a good night's sleep?

... No one knows exactly how many innocents have died as a result of drone attacks, but the total almost certainly runs to three figures. It is not easy to square that with President Obama's insistence that his administration is 'living by our values' -- unless American values now include the endorsement of indiscriminate killing. The President has also stressed that America now complies with international law. Remarkably, he seems to be right: the consensus is that drone attacks are indeed legal. The UN produced a report on the topic at the end of May, which concluded that the best way forward is for an international conference of states to review the guidelines for setting targets 'after a careful review of best practice'.

...The fact that targeted killing has been deemed 'legal' seems to have had the effect of making many people, including the President, think that it is morally justified. But that conclusion doesn't follow. There are plenty of things that are legal, but which you would not be morally justified in doing -- just as there are times when you are morally justified in doing things that are illegal.

Perhaps using drones to kill terrorists is a legitimate way of prosecuting the war against al- Qaeda and the Taliban. It may be that the women and children who get killed as a result don't matter -- although I would like to hear someone from the US government, or a human rights organisation, explain exactly why. But we -- and the Americans -- are deceiving ourselves if we think that something is OK just because international lawyers say it is.


Arthur Silber has written repeatedly, and with furious eloquence on this theme for many years. (See here, here, and here, among many others. And follow the links.) We direct to just two of his painfully apt pronouncements:

The law is not some Platonic Form plucked from the skies by the Pure in Heart. Laws are written by men, men who have particular interests, particular constituencies, particular donors, and particular friends. ... Laws are the particular means by which the state implements and executes its vast powers. When an increasingly authoritarian state passes a certain critical point in its development, the law is no longer the protector of individual rights and individual liberty. The law becomes the weapon of the state itself -- to protect, not you, but the state from threats to its own powers. We passed that critical point some decades ago. The law is the means by which the state corrals its subjects, keeps them under control, and forbids them from acting in ways that the overlords might perceive as threatening. In brief, today, in these glorious United States, the law is not your friend.

**

The law is not the only method by which the state controls us, and strips our national discussion of all meaning. There is another, less formal but no less constricting means, which is commonly identified by the phrase, "the rules." We must all follow "the rules." You cannot ever break "the rules." Be very, very clear on this point: the only way you can speak the truth on any subject of importance in this country today is BY BREAKING THE RULES.

That is what Andrew Meyer did in Florida. He broke the goddamned rules [by asking Senator John Kerry a question about impeaching George W. Bush for war crimes and stopping another war. For more, see this powerful series by Silber.] He did not do so in any way that merited his being arrested -- but HE BROKE THE RULES. This cannot be permitted, not if our meaningless, pointless national discussion devoid of all substance is to continue in its meaningless, pointless way. Breaking the rules cannot be allowed if the lies are to continue. So he was arrested.

And he was charged with a third-degree felony for resisting arrest with violence and a second-degree misdemeanor for disturbing the peace -- for asking the most urgent question of our time, the question that almost no one will ask. He was charged with resisting an arrest that should never have occurred -- and with "disturbing the peace."

Friends, if this country -- and if you individually -- are to have any kind of human future at all, and by "human," I mean a life with any genuine meaning and joy, a life not fatally compromised by ongoing murder, torture, and brutality -- you had better fucking disturb the peace every second of every day.


You couldn't say it better, and I won't even try.


The Law is an Ass ... Armed with Rockets

Mon, 2010-10-11 13:57

 

Here's what they are saying about America's Terror Warriors in the UK's arch-conservative Daily Telegraph:

Since the beginning of September alone, President Obama has authorised at least 25 targeted killings. The total since he came to office is more than 100. These have certainly killed some of the senior operatives of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. They have also killed dozens of people, including a large number of women and children, who were not involved in terrorism.
 
And yet there has been very little protest, certainly compared to the storm of international criticism that greeted the decision to hold suspected terrorists at Guantanamo – a policy that didn't kill anyone, let alone any innocent women and children. The silence from human rights groups over the drone attacks is deafening. What has persuaded them that it is acceptable to kill people, including people who are not terrorists, but that it is inhumane to deprive them of a good night's sleep?

... No one knows exactly how many innocents have died as a result of drone attacks, but the total almost certainly runs to three figures. It is not easy to square that with President Obama's insistence that his administration is 'living by our values' -- unless American values now include the endorsement of indiscriminate killing. The President has also stressed that America now complies with international law. Remarkably, he seems to be right: the consensus is that drone attacks are indeed legal. The UN produced a report on the topic at the end of May, which concluded that the best way forward is for an international conference of states to review the guidelines for setting targets 'after a careful review of best practice'.

...The fact that targeted killing has been deemed 'legal' seems to have had the effect of making many people, including the President, think that it is morally justified. But that conclusion doesn't follow. There are plenty of things that are legal, but which you would not be morally justified in doing -- just as there are times when you are morally justified in doing things that are illegal.

Perhaps using drones to kill terrorists is a legitimate way of prosecuting the war against al- Qaeda and the Taliban. It may be that the women and children who get killed as a result don't matter -- although I would like to hear someone from the US government, or a human rights organisation, explain exactly why. But we -- and the Americans -- are deceiving ourselves if we think that something is OK just because international lawyers say it is.


Arthur Silber has written repeatedly, and with furious eloquence on this theme for many years. (See here, here, and here, among many others. And follow the links.) We direct to just two of his painfully apt pronouncements:

The law is not some Platonic Form plucked from the skies by the Pure in Heart. Laws are written by men, men who have particular interests, particular constituencies, particular donors, and particular friends. ... Laws are the particular means by which the state implements and executes its vast powers. When an increasingly authoritarian state passes a certain critical point in its development, the law is no longer the protector of individual rights and individual liberty. The law becomes the weapon of the state itself -- to protect, not you, but the state from threats to its own powers. We passed that critical point some decades ago. The law is the means by which the state corrals its subjects, keeps them under control, and forbids them from acting in ways that the overlords might perceive as threatening. In brief, today, in these glorious United States, the law is not your friend.

**

The law is not the only method by which the state controls us, and strips our national discussion of all meaning. There is another, less formal but no less constricting means, which is commonly identified by the phrase, "the rules." We must all follow "the rules." You cannot ever break "the rules." Be very, very clear on this point: the only way you can speak the truth on any subject of importance in this country today is BY BREAKING THE RULES.

That is what Andrew Meyer did in Florida. He broke the goddamned rules [by asking Senator John Kerry a question about impeaching George W. Bush for war crimes and stopping another war. For more, see this powerful series by Silber.] He did not do so in any way that merited his being arrested -- but HE BROKE THE RULES. This cannot be permitted, not if our meaningless, pointless national discussion devoid of all substance is to continue in its meaningless, pointless way. Breaking the rules cannot be allowed if the lies are to continue. So he was arrested.

And he was charged with a third-degree felony for resisting arrest with violence and a second-degree misdemeanor for disturbing the peace -- for asking the most urgent question of our time, the question that almost no one will ask. He was charged with resisting an arrest that should never have occurred -- and with "disturbing the peace."

Friends, if this country -- and if you individually -- are to have any kind of human future at all, and by "human," I mean a life with any genuine meaning and joy, a life not fatally compromised by ongoing murder, torture, and brutality -- you had better fucking disturb the peace every second of every day.


You couldn't say it better, and I won't even try.


Timeless Conflicts

Fri, 2010-10-08 08:35

Our guest blogger today is Mr. Herman Melville.

"... And, doubtless, going on this whaling voyage, formed part of the grand programme of Providence that was drawn up a long time ago. It came in as a sort of brief interlude and solo between more extensive performances. I take it that this part of the bill must have run something like this:

Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States.
WHALING VOYAGE BY ONE ISHMAEL.
BLOODY BATTLE IN AFFGHANISTAN.”


Moby Dick, 1851


Timeless Conflicts

Fri, 2010-10-08 08:35

Our guest blogger today is Mr. Herman Melville.

"... And, doubtless, going on this whaling voyage, formed part of the grand programme of Providence that was drawn up a long time ago. It came in as a sort of brief interlude and solo between more extensive performances. I take it that this part of the bill must have run something like this:

Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States.
WHALING VOYAGE BY ONE ISHMAEL.
BLOODY BATTLE IN AFFGHANISTAN.”


Moby Dick, 1851


Can't You Feel That Freedom, As the Dreams Roll In

Wed, 2010-10-06 13:51

"On the backroom table, by the backroom couch.... "

Some oldish wine in a new video wineskin, from the album Wheel of Heaven, here featuring the poignant playing of Mr. Nick Kulukundis.

This one goes out to our old compadre Ken Jackson, who once paid the song the high compliment of calling it "chicken skin music." 

 

For more illustrated song-sketching, go down to the parish, take a vow, have some bread and a bitter laugh, then ride it on down the line



 


Can't You Feel That Freedom, As the Dreams Roll In

Wed, 2010-10-06 13:51

"On the backroom table, by the backroom couch.... "

Some oldish wine in a new video wineskin, from the album Wheel of Heaven, here featuring the poignant playing of Mr. Nick Kulukundis.

This one goes out to our old compadre Ken Jackson, who once paid the song the high compliment of calling it "chicken skin music." 

 

For more illustrated song-sketching, go down to the parish, take a vow, have some bread and a bitter laugh, then ride it on down the line



 


The Altars of Fear: Wrong Turns on a Long, Dark Road

Sat, 2010-10-02 14:19

(UPDATED BELOW)

All across Europe,  thousands of people have been taking to the streets in angry protests against the “austerity measures” being imposed upon them by their governments. A general strike in Spain. Mass protests in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, France, Lithuania, Belgium and several other nations. Legislators in Iceland had to literally run and hide from their own citizens at the opening of the nation’s parliament this week.

Why, ask the outraged crowds, should our lives be degraded in order to pay for the crimes and follies of the financial elite –- who are richer, more powerful and more arrogant than ever today, despite having plunged the world into economic catastrophe?

The Europeans, forever cast in American myth as fey, feckless, wine-sipping weaklings, have roused themselves to such an extent that the UN is now warning of years of "social unrest" due to the policies of the austerity zealots -- policies which are greatly exacerbating unemployment (with all the inevitable knock-on effects throughout the economy), while severely corroding the physical and social infrastructure of whole nations. Although the European public might be compelled to submit in the end -- by brute force, if necessary, as governments call out club-wielding cops to put down dissent -- at least they are not going quietly.

The same can't be said for the big, bold, burly American public, who for years have meekly submitted to the ever-accelerating deterioration of their lives and communities with nary a peep of protest. Trillions of their dollars are spent on murderous, pointless, wasteful rampages of war-profiteering in foreign lands, on obscene handouts and "guarantees" for the silk-suited scamsters of Wall Street, and on the monstrous expansion of a covert security apparatus that is seeking to invade and control every aspect of their lives -- but the American people say nothing and do nothing.

But perhaps we are being unfair in such a harsh judgment. After all, it's not entirely true that Americans have completely eschewed protest, is it? In fact, the news has been filled with stories of mass protests across the United States for months on end, with angry citizens taking to the streets -- and the ballot boxes -- to register their stern displeasure.

And what has displeased them so, what has moved them from the quiet simmering of discontent to explosions of public protest? Is it those trillions spent on pointless wars? Is it the coddling of the super-rich? Is it the degradation of their daily lives, and the darkening of their children's future by endless war and lost opportunities in a system skewed sharply -- and punitively -- toward the needs and greeds of powerful elites? Is it the runaway encroachment of civil liberties? Is it mass unemployment, and the relentless rollback of public services essential to a dignified and civilized life?

No, it is none of these. While the Europeans protest for jobs and dignity, Americans pour out into the streets in angry demonstrations against the very idea of helping the poor and the economically devastated, or putting the slightest restraint on the rapacious super-rich. The Europeans protest actual policies, while our American "dissidents" froth and rant about a fantasy world of "socialist" programs that only benefit shiftless darkies and sneaky, border-crossing 'Messicans -- and, of course, the devil-worshiping Muslims, who are plotting every hour to poison the precious bodily fluids of real Americans and take over the country from within.

The American protestors vociferously denounce the healthcare "reform" bill -- not because it is actually a gargantuan corporate boondoggle deliberately crafted to kill off the chance for any genuine reform of the system for generations, but because they believe it is communist Muslim atheist Nazi socialism, and because a few slivers of the boondoggle might possibly trickle down to help a few of those darkies and Messicans. (Although in fact it will imprison them in an inhumane system of corporate control.) They protest against the laughably anemic "financial regulations" that the Administration has meekly proposed for its masters on Wall Street -- PR measures, tissue-paper thin, that fall miles short of the kind of mild regulations that operated during America's greatest periods of growth and broad-based prosperity.

Fantasy is a key component of this elite-funded "protest" movement, which relies strongly on "Big Lies" to stoke the fires of racism, resentment, victimhood and self-righteousness at its proto-fascist core. The primary example of this is of course the entirely manufactured controversy over the "Ground Zero mosque." The element of complete fabrication in this case has been overlooked to some extent. I think it is more portentous, and dangerous, than many have realized. Obviously, there have been elements of fantasy and/or exaggeration in almost all of the shibboleths that have fueled these right-wing eruptions over the years (not to mention bipartisan state policy: e.g., the Gulf of Tonkin, Saddam's phantom WMD, etc.); but few have involved lies that can be easily disproved in an instant, with plain, simple, indisputable facts, by anyone, requiring no specialist knowledge, no whistleblown secrets, no expert interpretation.

There is, of course, no mosque being built at the site of the 9/11 attacks. To say otherwise is a complete falsehood; it is a statement without the slightest element of truth or fact in it. It is the precise equivalent of saying that the moon fell down last night and landed on the Washington Monument. Yet this Big Lie has reverberated across the country like few others in recent years. Millions of people believe it, believe it fervently, and what's more, also believe that the "mosque" is being built there by Islamic extremists as a "trophy" to celebrate the 9/11 attacks.

This radical lie -- eagerly propagated by corporate chieftains like Rupert Murdoch and allowed to fester unchallenged for weeks by the establishment media -- has roused multitudes to angry protests, to attacks on mosques and Islamic centers, and to outpourings of open, unabashed ethnic hatred against Muslims that, yes, echo the anti-Semitism of Nazi-era Germany. (See the much-feted establishment grandee Martin Peretz for a prime example.) Muslim Americans who have lived happily integrated with their communities for decades now feel cast out, threatened by nationally-amplified voices accusing them of disloyalty, of sinister conspiracies to enslave and oppress their fellow citizens, to destroy America and turn it over to its enemies, etc. -- again, tropes which are instantly and alarmingly familiar to anyone with a modicum of knowledge about the febrile hatreds that boiled and churned in Germany between the world wars.

Yet although the main engine currently stoking this hatred is a deliberate and transparent lie, there are people barreling into power on it. In North Carolina, the Republican candidate Ilario Pantano has made the lie a centerpiece of his campaign. As Justin Elliot reports at Salon.com, Pantano is a former Marine who became a "hero" to the militarist Right for killing two unarmed Iraqis in his charge, filling them with 60 rounds of lead. He boasted that he had intentionally shredded the unarmed men to pieces in order to terrorize Iraqis into compliance with the unprovoked American invasion and occupation of their country. Based on the testimony of other Marines who saw the incident and felt the slaughter was unjustified, Pantano faced murder charges. But the top brass came to his rescue and dropped the charges.

Now Patano has seized on the "Ground Zero mosque" to push his campaign against a "conservative" Democrat  -- the usual timeserver who is in thrall to the corporatism and militarism that his party fully shares with its opponents. In a conservative district, in an anti-incumbent year, Patano has a very good chance of riding the Big Lie -- and his thuggish rep for killing the unarmed -- into Congress.

These then are the issues -- or rather, the resentful fears and hateful fantasies -- that bring Americans out into the street these days. The wars that are devouring the lives of their children and the national treasury, and leading to an ever-more unstable world of violence and hatred -- such things don't move them. Torture, spying on citizens, death squads of American killers roaming the world, presidential assertions of  a universal license to kill and incarcerate without due process -- these provoke no anger, no protest. States shutting down or sharply curtailing schools, parks, road programs, electricity and sewer services, garbage pick-up, aid to the sick and elderly -- they don't care. Greedy corporations utterly befouling the water and the air, poisoning the earth for generations to come --  no problem; in fact, we should champion these planet-rapers and protect them from all restraint.

But which, in the end, is worse: proto-fascist fantasy, or the reality of "savvy" progressives in power? Or rather: what, in the end, is the difference? This site has catalogued innumerable crimes committed -- knowingly, deliberately, realistically -- by the "most progressive administration in a generation": crimes against humanity, crimes against liberty. Many other sites have done the same, far more comprehensively. To support this administration is to countenance and collude in those crimes. It is to reward those crimes, and guarantee their continuance, no matter which faction of corporate-sponsored militarists and moral lunatics take power.

II.
So what is the answer? I don't know if there is any "answer" to our plight. I have been following American politics for more than 40 years, and it has been a process of almost unremitting degeneration, punctuated by a very few isolated moments when it seemed a sliver of light was shining in the darkness, pointing toward the possibility of another, different path. But in truth, by the time I first became actively aware of the political process, in the presidential election of 1964, most of the bright, brief flashes had already come and gone, either killed outright or else deeply corrupted.

For example, one of brightest of those lights, the Civil Rights movement, had by then reached its high-water mark and was fragmenting under the covert assault of the national security apparatus, the intransigence of the power structure, the hostility of the white majority, and its own internal contradictions -- chiefly the attempt to find justice, equality and peace in a system that was inherently unjust, unequal and violent. Martin Luther King Jr. was coming to recognize those contradictions, broadening his critique of the system to include the elitist economic structure and the murderous violence of empire. He was also becoming a more and more isolated, death-haunted figure, as if he could see the cynosure closing -- although until the end he raged against the dying of the light.

The War on Poverty was another flash. Lyndon Johnson's speeches about lifting "our brothers and sisters" out of the endemic suffering of poverty sound today not only like oratory from another age but also from another planet. His rhetoric assumed a moral imperative of compassion toward our fellow human beings, a value to be placed at the very heart of our collective life and our instruments of governance. But Johnson, not only a product but the very quintessence of a deeply corrupt system of bribes, backroom deals and bullshit, never genuinely challenged the forces that engendered the suffering of poverty in the first place. And his total capitulation to the War Machine meant that even his weak and compromised stabs at building a "Great Society" were starved of funds, left to malfunction and deteriorate, tainting the ideals behind them in the minds of the public. He too ended his days isolated and death-haunted, with the blood of hundreds of thousands of people killed in an imperial war -- which he himself admitted to intimates was pointless and unwinnable -- hounding him like furies to his grave.

There were other moments -- such as the Church Committee hearings, which for a time held out the possibility of reining in the murderous, liberty-devouring "national security" apparatus. But this too was swiftly quashed, and that same apparatus has metastasized into a monstrous cancer that has completely devoured the state, which now serves merely as its withered appendage and dogsbody.  The impeachment of Richard Nixon -- for petty partisan sneakery, not the high war crimes of which he was manifestly, even proudly guilty -- seemed like another potential break in the gloom, but came to nothing; in just a few years time, he was a wealthy, respected elder statesman. And so it has gone with every such moment, although each has left some worthy fragments.

Now, I am no idealist. I don't long for cleansing fires to scour all evil from society, or for the imposition of grand schemes of human perfection or divine order. Like André Chénier, the poet-journalist who went down in the flood of the French Revolution, I aspire to be one of those "men upright and unvarying in their principles, who want to neither lead nor follow parties, and who abhor all intrigue." I would much rather not concern myself with politics at all. A well-turned phrase -- or a well-turned ankle -- holds immensely more meaning for me than the machinations of third-rate wretches splashing in the fetid pool of office-seeking. By "slivers of light" I mean only potential opportunities to arrest the pace of our degeneration, and get us to a place where the ordinary corruption endemic to human nature and every single political system devised by human nature operates on its usual vast scale.

In the face of the truly hideous reality of today, where murder, tyranny, war and injustice are the accepted, defended, lauded tools of the trade for "progressive" power-holders, and the only thing that rouses public outrage are proto-fascist fantasies, I don't see any glimpse of light anywhere. I can't even see a way to get to a place where we might see a glimpse of something that might point us to a path toward something different, something better. That could just be a failure of vision, and a lack of knowledge, on my part. I don't know. I hope so.

But for now, all I know to do is to fall back on the bedrock need to bear witness, to speak for the human and the humane in the midst of what seems to be implacable and unbreakable horror all around. To refuse cooperation with evil, in whatever partisan garb it wears. To shore one fragment after another against the ruins, and wait for a glint of broken light to appear.

 

UPDATE: A Saturday rally in Washington by unions and other groups did turn out several thousand people, calling for more jobs, tax hikes on the rich, immigration reform and defending public services. This, as they say, is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, although it falls far short of the angry, obstreperous crowds in Europe, who are not wanly supplicating their leaders for a few crumbs but demanding action to preserve their quality of life.

However, one's heart sinks to see the event's organizers, and some of the participants, describing it as a get-out-the-vote effort for the Democrats, and a show of support for Obama. Given the horrendous record of the president and his party in prosecuting savage and wasteful wars, overt and covert, all over the world; setting up unaccountable, "extrajudicial" death squads and hit lists; continuing and expanding Bush's assault on civil liberties; aiding and abetting the ever-widening disparity in wealth and opportunity between the sliverous elite and the collapsing middle class and the already poor -- not to mention the president's clear intent, with his stacked-deck "Catfood Commission," to gut Social Security, one of the last remaining shreds of America's never-robust or extensive "safety net," just as soon as the election is over -- what in God's name do they think the Democrats will actually do to advance the organizers' stated "core principles" of "jobs, justice and education," should the party  manage to cling  to Congressional power in November? There will be no money to support these principles, for one thing; it will all go to the wars, to the burgeoning security apparatus, and to the sacred goal of "deficit reduction." And Obama and the Democrats have already demonstrated, amply, that they have no will or desire to advance these principles or put them into action in any event.

I don't want to belittle the efforts and hopes of thousands of poor and working people who showed up at the rally to fight for a better life. In that, I wish them every success. And I'm glad to see some counterblast in the public square to the violent fantasies of the proto-fascists. But I believe that if your ultimate goal is simply to perpetuate the status quo of rule by two scarcely indistinguishable political factions, both deeply dedicated to militarist empire and the crushing dominance of financial elites, then you will not stop the accelerating degradation of American society or light a path to a genuinely new direction. Instead, the war, murder, chaos and decay will go on, breeding more blowback from abroad and instability at home, and thus giving more fuel to the proto-fascists and their paymasters. 


The Altars of Fear: Wrong Turns on a Long, Dark Road

Sat, 2010-10-02 14:19

(UPDATED BELOW)

All across Europe,  thousands of people have been taking to the streets in angry protests against the “austerity measures” being imposed upon them by their governments. A general strike in Spain. Mass protests in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, France, Lithuania, Belgium and several other nations. Legislators in Iceland had to literally run and hide from their own citizens at the opening of the nation’s parliament this week.

Why, ask the outraged crowds, should our lives be degraded in order to pay for the crimes and follies of the financial elite –- who are richer, more powerful and more arrogant than ever today, despite having plunged the world into economic catastrophe?

The Europeans, forever cast in American myth as fey, feckless, wine-sipping weaklings, have roused themselves to such an extent that the UN is now warning of years of "social unrest" due to the policies of the austerity zealots -- policies which are greatly exacerbating unemployment (with all the inevitable knock-on effects throughout the economy), while severely corroding the physical and social infrastructure of whole nations. Although the European public might be compelled to submit in the end -- by brute force, if necessary, as governments call out club-wielding cops to put down dissent -- at least they are not going quietly.

The same can't be said for the big, bold, burly American public, who for years have meekly submitted to the ever-accelerating deterioration of their lives and communities with nary a peep of protest. Trillions of their dollars are spent on murderous, pointless, wasteful rampages of war-profiteering in foreign lands, on obscene handouts and "guarantees" for the silk-suited scamsters of Wall Street, and on the monstrous expansion of a covert security apparatus that is seeking to invade and control every aspect of their lives -- but the American people say nothing and do nothing.

But perhaps we are being unfair in such a harsh judgment. After all, it's not entirely true that Americans have completely eschewed protest, is it? In fact, the news has been filled with stories of mass protests across the United States for months on end, with angry citizens taking to the streets -- and the ballot boxes -- to register their stern displeasure.

And what has displeased them so, what has moved them from the quiet simmering of discontent to explosions of public protest? Is it those trillions spent on pointless wars? Is it the coddling of the super-rich? Is it the degradation of their daily lives, and the darkening of their children's future by endless war and lost opportunities in a system skewed sharply -- and punitively -- toward the needs and greeds of powerful elites? Is it the runaway encroachment of civil liberties? Is it mass unemployment, and the relentless rollback of public services essential to a dignified and civilized life?

No, it is none of these. While the Europeans protest for jobs and dignity, Americans pour out into the streets in angry demonstrations against the very idea of helping the poor and the economically devastated, or putting the slightest restraint on the rapacious super-rich. The Europeans protest actual policies, while our American "dissidents" froth and rant about a fantasy world of "socialist" programs that only benefit shiftless darkies and sneaky, border-crossing 'Messicans -- and, of course, the devil-worshiping Muslims, who are plotting every hour to poison the precious bodily fluids of real Americans and take over the country from within.

The American protestors vociferously denounce the healthcare "reform" bill -- not because it is actually a gargantuan corporate boondoggle deliberately crafted to kill off the chance for any genuine reform of the system for generations, but because they believe it is communist Muslim atheist Nazi socialism, and because a few slivers of the boondoggle might possibly trickle down to help a few of those darkies and Messicans. (Although in fact it will imprison them in an inhumane system of corporate control.) They protest against the laughably anemic "financial regulations" that the Administration has meekly proposed for its masters on Wall Street -- PR measures, tissue-paper thin, that fall miles short of the kind of mild regulations that operated during America's greatest periods of growth and broad-based prosperity.

Fantasy is a key component of this elite-funded "protest" movement, which relies strongly on "Big Lies" to stoke the fires of racism, resentment, victimhood and self-righteousness at its proto-fascist core. The primary example of this is of course the entirely manufactured controversy over the "Ground Zero mosque." The element of complete fabrication in this case has been overlooked to some extent. I think it is more portentous, and dangerous, than many have realized. Obviously, there have been elements of fantasy and/or exaggeration in almost all of the shibboleths that have fueled these right-wing eruptions over the years (not to mention bipartisan state policy: e.g., the Gulf of Tonkin, Saddam's phantom WMD, etc.); but few have involved lies that can be easily disproved in an instant, with plain, simple, indisputable facts, by anyone, requiring no specialist knowledge, no whistleblown secrets, no expert interpretation.

There is, of course, no mosque being built at the site of the 9/11 attacks. To say otherwise is a complete falsehood; it is a statement without the slightest element of truth or fact in it. It is the precise equivalent of saying that the moon fell down last night and landed on the Washington Monument. Yet this Big Lie has reverberated across the country like few others in recent years. Millions of people believe it, believe it fervently, and what's more, also believe that the "mosque" is being built there by Islamic extremists as a "trophy" to celebrate the 9/11 attacks.

This radical lie -- eagerly propagated by corporate chieftains like Rupert Murdoch and allowed to fester unchallenged for weeks by the establishment media -- has roused multitudes to angry protests, to attacks on mosques and Islamic centers, and to outpourings of open, unabashed ethnic hatred against Muslims that, yes, echo the anti-Semitism of Nazi-era Germany. (See the much-feted establishment grandee Martin Peretz for a prime example.) Muslim Americans who have lived happily integrated with their communities for decades now feel cast out, threatened by nationally-amplified voices accusing them of disloyalty, of sinister conspiracies to enslave and oppress their fellow citizens, to destroy America and turn it over to its enemies, etc. -- again, tropes which are instantly and alarmingly familiar to anyone with a modicum of knowledge about the febrile hatreds that boiled and churned in Germany between the world wars.

Yet although the main engine currently stoking this hatred is a deliberate and transparent lie, there are people barreling into power on it. In North Carolina, the Republican candidate Ilario Pantano has made the lie a centerpiece of his campaign. As Justin Elliot reports at Salon.com, Pantano is a former Marine who became a "hero" to the militarist Right for killing two unarmed Iraqis in his charge, filling them with 60 rounds of lead. He boasted that he had intentionally shredded the unarmed men to pieces in order to terrorize Iraqis into compliance with the unprovoked American invasion and occupation of their country. Based on the testimony of other Marines who saw the incident and felt the slaughter was unjustified, Pantano faced murder charges. But the top brass came to his rescue and dropped the charges.

Now Patano has seized on the "Ground Zero mosque" to push his campaign against a "conservative" Democrat  -- the usual timeserver who is in thrall to the corporatism and militarism that his party fully shares with its opponents. In a conservative district, in an anti-incumbent year, Patano has a very good chance of riding the Big Lie -- and his thuggish rep for killing the unarmed -- into Congress.

These then are the issues -- or rather, the resentful fears and hateful fantasies -- that bring Americans out into the street these days. The wars that are devouring the lives of their children and the national treasury, and leading to an ever-more unstable world of violence and hatred -- such things don't move them. Torture, spying on citizens, death squads of American killers roaming the world, presidential assertions of  a universal license to kill and incarcerate without due process -- these provoke no anger, no protest. States shutting down or sharply curtailing schools, parks, road programs, electricity and sewer services, garbage pick-up, aid to the sick and elderly -- they don't care. Greedy corporations utterly befouling the water and the air, poisoning the earth for generations to come --  no problem; in fact, we should champion these planet-rapers and protect them from all restraint.

But which, in the end, is worse: proto-fascist fantasy, or the reality of "savvy" progressives in power? Or rather: what, in the end, is the difference? This site has catalogued innumerable crimes committed -- knowingly, deliberately, realistically -- by the "most progressive administration in a generation": crimes against humanity, crimes against liberty. Many other sites have done the same, far more comprehensively. To support this administration is to countenance and collude in those crimes. It is to reward those crimes, and guarantee their continuance, no matter which faction of corporate-sponsored militarists and moral lunatics take power.

II.
So what is the answer? I don't know if there is any "answer" to our plight. I have been following American politics for more than 40 years, and it has been a process of almost unremitting degeneration, punctuated by a very few isolated moments when it seemed a sliver of light was shining in the darkness, pointing toward the possibility of another, different path. But in truth, by the time I first became actively aware of the political process, in the presidential election of 1964, most of the bright, brief flashes had already come and gone, either killed outright or else deeply corrupted.

For example, one of brightest of those lights, the Civil Rights movement, had by then reached its high-water mark and was fragmenting under the covert assault of the national security apparatus, the intransigence of the power structure, the hostility of the white majority, and its own internal contradictions -- chiefly the attempt to find justice, equality and peace in a system that was inherently unjust, unequal and violent. Martin Luther King Jr. was coming to recognize those contradictions, broadening his critique of the system to include the elitist economic structure and the murderous violence of empire. He was also becoming a more and more isolated, death-haunted figure, as if he could see the cynosure closing -- although until the end he raged against the dying of the light.

The War on Poverty was another flash. Lyndon Johnson's speeches about lifting "our brothers and sisters" out of the endemic suffering of poverty sound today not only like oratory from another age but also from another planet. His rhetoric assumed a moral imperative of compassion toward our fellow human beings, a value to be placed at the very heart of our collective life and our instruments of governance. But Johnson, not only a product but the very quintessence of a deeply corrupt system of bribes, backroom deals and bullshit, never genuinely challenged the forces that engendered the suffering of poverty in the first place. And his total capitulation to the War Machine meant that even his weak and compromised stabs at building a "Great Society" were starved of funds, left to malfunction and deteriorate, tainting the ideals behind them in the minds of the public. He too ended his days isolated and death-haunted, with the blood of hundreds of thousands of people killed in an imperial war -- which he himself admitted to intimates was pointless and unwinnable -- hounding him like furies to his grave.

There were other moments -- such as the Church Committee hearings, which for a time held out the possibility of reining in the murderous, liberty-devouring "national security" apparatus. But this too was swiftly quashed, and that same apparatus has metastasized into a monstrous cancer that has completely devoured the state, which now serves merely as its withered appendage and dogsbody.  The impeachment of Richard Nixon -- for petty partisan sneakery, not the high war crimes of which he was manifestly, even proudly guilty -- seemed like another potential break in the gloom, but came to nothing; in just a few years time, he was a wealthy, respected elder statesman. And so it has gone with every such moment, although each has left some worthy fragments.

Now, I am no idealist. I don't long for cleansing fires to scour all evil from society, or for the imposition of grand schemes of human perfection or divine order. Like André Chénier, the poet-journalist who went down in the flood of the French Revolution, I aspire to be one of those "men upright and unvarying in their principles, who want to neither lead nor follow parties, and who abhor all intrigue." I would much rather not concern myself with politics at all. A well-turned phrase -- or a well-turned ankle -- holds immensely more meaning for me than the machinations of third-rate wretches splashing in the fetid pool of office-seeking. By "slivers of light" I mean only potential opportunities to arrest the pace of our degeneration, and get us to a place where the ordinary corruption endemic to human nature and every single political system devised by human nature operates on its usual vast scale.

In the face of the truly hideous reality of today, where murder, tyranny, war and injustice are the accepted, defended, lauded tools of the trade for "progressive" power-holders, and the only thing that rouses public outrage are proto-fascist fantasies, I don't see any glimpse of light anywhere. I can't even see a way to get to a place where we might see a glimpse of something that might point us to a path toward something different, something better. That could just be a failure of vision, and a lack of knowledge, on my part. I don't know. I hope so.

But for now, all I know to do is to fall back on the bedrock need to bear witness, to speak for the human and the humane in the midst of what seems to be implacable and unbreakable horror all around. To refuse cooperation with evil, in whatever partisan garb it wears. To shore one fragment after another against the ruins, and wait for a glint of broken light to appear.

 

UPDATE: A Saturday rally in Washington by unions and other groups did turn out several thousand people, calling for more jobs, tax hikes on the rich, immigration reform and defending public services. This, as they say, is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, although it falls far short of the angry, obstreperous crowds in Europe, who are not wanly supplicating their leaders for a few crumbs but demanding action to preserve their quality of life.

However, one's heart sinks to see the event's organizers, and some of the participants, describing it as a get-out-the-vote effort for the Democrats, and a show of support for Obama. Given the horrendous record of the president and his party in prosecuting savage and wasteful wars, overt and covert, all over the world; setting up unaccountable, "extrajudicial" death squads and hit lists; continuing and expanding Bush's assault on civil liberties; aiding and abetting the ever-widening disparity in wealth and opportunity between the sliverous elite and the collapsing middle class and the already poor -- not to mention the president's clear intent, with his stacked-deck "Catfood Commission," to gut Social Security, one of the last remaining shreds of America's never-robust or extensive "safety net," just as soon as the election is over -- what in God's name do they think the Democrats will actually do to advance the organizers' stated "core principles" of "jobs, justice and education," should the party  manage to cling  to Congressional power in November? There will be no money to support these principles, for one thing; it will all go to the wars, to the burgeoning security apparatus, and to the sacred goal of "deficit reduction." And Obama and the Democrats have already demonstrated, amply, that they have no will or desire to advance these principles or put them into action in any event.

I don't want to belittle the efforts and hopes of thousands of poor and working people who showed up at the rally to fight for a better life. In that, I wish them every success. And I'm glad to see some counterblast in the public square to the violent fantasies of the proto-fascists. But I believe that if your ultimate goal is simply to perpetuate the status quo of rule by two scarcely indistinguishable political factions, both deeply dedicated to militarist empire and the crushing dominance of financial elites, then you will not stop the accelerating degradation of American society or light a path to a genuinely new direction. Instead, the war, murder, chaos and decay will go on, breeding more blowback from abroad and instability at home, and thus giving more fuel to the proto-fascists and their paymasters. 


Friendly Fire: Whining Up Front, Warmongering in the Back

Thu, 2010-09-30 06:29

While Barack Obama busies himself in public with hectoring his "base" for not appreciating the super-progressive wonderfulness of his administration, behind the scenes he is rapidly escalating America's war on its own ally, Pakistan, with a series of deadly incursions that seemed designed to provoke the Pakistanis into a violent response -- which could then be used to "justify" a further escalation.

The new "surge" against Pakistan is not limited to attacks on "militants" (the description now given to any Pakistani -- man, woman or child -- who is killed by American ordnance) but is also being waged against the forces of the Pakistani government itself. After a weekend bombing blitzkrieg across Pakistan's supposedly sovereign border that left more than 50 people dead, American forces launched a pre-dawn helicopter raid on Thursday which hammered two posts of Pakistan's Frontier Corps, killing three soldiers. That is to say, three allied soldiers of an army that has lost hundreds of men fighting (and killing and displacing) its own people at the behest of Washington.

No explanation for the attacks on Pakistani forces has been offered yet. Perhaps they were launched to put a little muscle behind the visit of Obama's CIA chief, Leon "Let the Torturers Go Free" Panetta, who coincidentally, or not so coincidentally, was arriving in Pakistan for talks with the nation's military chiefs on Thursday. After all, shedding blood is an excellent way to concentrate the minds of one's counterparts in negotiation.

In response to the attack, Pakistan did close a transit point for supplies for the American-led occupation forces in Afghanistan; but this is doubtless a temporary measure -- and anyway, it's pretty weak beer compared to actually murdering your ally's soldiers.

It is almost certain that we will never learn the real reasons behind these particular attacks; the operations of the Terror War are obscured by so much deliberately fomented murk, so many factions with various covert agendas, and so much "plausible deniability" that specific events can rarely be discerned with any clarity. But the general fact of Obama's relentless escalation of military action in and against Pakistan cannot be denied. Likewise, the result of this surge, if it continues apace, is equally clear: the further destabilization of a nuclear-armed nation now suffering one the greatest humanitarian disasters in modern times, with a concomitant rise in extremism, desperation, violence, and the world-shaking destabilization of a region already long poised on the brink of nuclear war.

As I've said here before, you must forgive me for not being overly concerned about the political fortunes of a president and a party embarked on a course of such murderous lunacy. 


Friendly Fire: Whining Up Front, Warmongering in the Back

Thu, 2010-09-30 06:29

While Barack Obama busies himself in public with hectoring his "base" for not appreciating the super-progressive wonderfulness of his administration, behind the scenes he is rapidly escalating America's war on its own ally, Pakistan, with a series of deadly incursions that seemed designed to provoke the Pakistanis into a violent response -- which could then be used to "justify" a further escalation.

The new "surge" against Pakistan is not limited to attacks on "militants" (the description now given to any Pakistani -- man, woman or child -- who is killed by American ordnance) but is also being waged against the forces of the Pakistani government itself. After a weekend bombing blitzkrieg across Pakistan's supposedly sovereign border that left more than 50 people dead, American forces launched a pre-dawn helicopter raid on Thursday which hammered two posts of Pakistan's Frontier Corps, killing three soldiers. That is to say, three allied soldiers of an army that has lost hundreds of men fighting (and killing and displacing) its own people at the behest of Washington.

No explanation for the attacks on Pakistani forces has been offered yet. Perhaps they were launched to put a little muscle behind the visit of Obama's CIA chief, Leon "Let the Torturers Go Free" Panetta, who coincidentally, or not so coincidentally, was arriving in Pakistan for talks with the nation's military chiefs on Thursday. After all, shedding blood is an excellent way to concentrate the minds of one's counterparts in negotiation.

In response to the attack, Pakistan did close a transit point for supplies for the American-led occupation forces in Afghanistan; but this is doubtless a temporary measure -- and anyway, it's pretty weak beer compared to actually murdering your ally's soldiers.

It is almost certain that we will never learn the real reasons behind these particular attacks; the operations of the Terror War are obscured by so much deliberately fomented murk, so many factions with various covert agendas, and so much "plausible deniability" that specific events can rarely be discerned with any clarity. But the general fact of Obama's relentless escalation of military action in and against Pakistan cannot be denied. Likewise, the result of this surge, if it continues apace, is equally clear: the further destabilization of a nuclear-armed nation now suffering one the greatest humanitarian disasters in modern times, with a concomitant rise in extremism, desperation, violence, and the world-shaking destabilization of a region already long poised on the brink of nuclear war.

As I've said here before, you must forgive me for not being overly concerned about the political fortunes of a president and a party embarked on a course of such murderous lunacy. 


Cool Running: Preserving a Voice in the Inferno

Tue, 2010-09-28 04:28

 

Los Angeles is boiling in record-breaking heat, putting the lives and health of many people there at risk. One of these is Arthur Silber, whose chronic poor health is severely affected by the heat, as he explains in his most recent post. Silber is an extraordinary  writer and powerful analyst, and his blog is his only source of income. When his health prevents him from writing, contributions naturally drop off. But as he notes, he is still here, and will be writing again as soon as he can, and he still needs support to meet basic needs. (Yes, you may well be astonished to find that telling the truth about our imperial state -- which Silber does incomparably -- does not lead to wealth and comfort. Strange, but true.)

These are lean times all around -- except for the elite and their sycophants -- but if you've got any change to spare, you might consider throwing a bit Silber's way, and bring some cooling balm to help keep this vital voice going in the face of the inferno.


Cool Running: Preserving a Voice in the Inferno

Tue, 2010-09-28 04:28

 

Los Angeles is boiling in record-breaking heat, putting the lives and health of many people there at risk. One of these is Arthur Silber, whose chronic poor health is severely affected by the heat, as he explains in his most recent post. Silber is an extraordinary  writer and powerful analyst, and his blog is his only source of income. When his health prevents him from writing, contributions naturally drop off. But as he notes, he is still here, and will be writing again as soon as he can, and he still needs support to meet basic needs. (Yes, you may well be astonished to find that telling the truth about our imperial state -- which Silber does incomparably -- does not lead to wealth and comfort. Strange, but true.)

These are lean times all around -- except for the elite and their sycophants -- but if you've got any change to spare, you might consider throwing a bit Silber's way, and bring some cooling balm to help keep this vital voice going in the face of the inferno.


Domestic Disturbance: FBI Raids Bring the Terror War Home

Sat, 2010-09-25 16:40

I'm sure that if I had met Paul Craig Roberts 25 years ago -- or indeed, had even known of his existence -- I would have felt strongly antagonistic toward this Reagan Administration apparatchik and all that he stood for. And for all I know, if I met him today, I still might find that we were at loggerheads on some issues, maybe many issues.

But I must say there are few people out there today speaking truth about power with the unblinking, unvarnished ferocity of Roberts. (And as I've noted here before, it is speaking truth about power -- not the old cliché of "speaking truth to power" -- that we so desperately need. There's no point in speaking truth to power -- power already knows the truth of its monstrous crimes, and it doesn't give a damn.) Time and again, I've started to write a post about some outrage only to find that Roberts has already been there, laying into the issue with a flaming brand.

And so it was today, when I came in from a gorgeous autumn afternoon -- one of those bright, crisp, golden days that break through the English gloom like some rare flower -- and saw the stories about the FBI raids on antiwar activists across the United States. I know that domestic duties -- that is to say, the actual living of one's life, the common and deeply meaningful byt that lies far beyond the howling madness of power -- would as usual keep me from writing until the wee hours, but I thought: I'll have to take this up later, I think I have something to say about this.

But by the time that night had come, and duties were done, and loved ones were asleep, I found that, once again, Roberts was already on the case. He too had something to say -- everything that I was going to say, in fact, and more. So I'll just let Roberts speak the truth, beginning with his title: "It is Official: The US is a Police State":

Now we know what Homeland Security (sic) secretary Janet Napolitano meant when she said on September 10: "The old view that ‘if we fight the terrorists abroad, we won’t have to fight them here’  is just that — the old view."  The new view, Napolitano said, is "to counter violent extremism right here at home."

"Violent extremism" is one of those undefined police state terms that will mean whatever the government wants it to mean. In this morning’s FBI foray into the homes of American citizens of conscience, it means antiwar activists, whose activities are equated with "the material support of terrorism," just as conservatives equated Vietnam era antiwar protesters with giving material support to communism.

Antiwar activist Mick Kelly, whose home was raided, sees the FBI raids as harassment to intimidate those who organize war protests. I wonder if Kelly is underestimating the threat. The FBI’s own words clearly indicate that the federal police agency and the judges who signed the warrants do not regard antiwar protesters as Americans exercising their Constitutional rights, but as unpatriotic elements offering material support to terrorism.

"Material support" is another of those undefined police state terms. In this context the term means that Americans who fail to believe their government’s lies and instead protest its policies, are supporting their government’s declared enemies and, thus, are not exercising their civil liberties but committing treason.

I agree that the threat goes far beyond mere harassment. Roberts goes on to spell out one of the first thoughts I had on reading these stories: that those who are accused of the slightest association with "terrorism" -- on little evidence, on manufactured evidence, or no evidence whatsoever -- are now subject to the merciless, lawless mechanisms of the Terror War state:

As this initial FBI foray is a softening up move to get the public accustomed to the idea that the real terrorists are their fellow citizens here at home, Kelly will get off this time.  But next time the FBI will find emails on his computer from a "terrorist group" set up by the CIA that will incriminate him. Under the practices put in place by the Bush and Obama regimes, and approved by corrupt federal judges, protesters who have been compromised by fake terrorist groups can be declared "enemy combatants" and sent off to Egypt, Poland, or some other corrupt American puppet state — Canada perhaps — to be tortured until confession is forthcoming that antiwar protesters and, indeed, every critic of the US government, are on Osama bin Laden’s payroll.

Of course, they can also just be killed outright, without charges, without due process, at the lawless whim of the president or one of his designated minions -- or indeed, one of the literally thousands of people, many of them foreigners, that the United States government now pays to roam various regions of the earth killing people: blowing them up in their houses, murdering them in their beds, machine-gunning their children, drone-bombing their neighborhoods, knifing them on street corners, pushing them out of windows, poisoning them in restaurants, whatever. Just this week, the lawyers of the Peace Laureate were in federal court trying zealously to quash a civil lawsuit that would threaten the president's unrestricted power to kill American citizens without the slightest pretense of due process, if he feels like it.

(It is astonishing -- unbelievable -- that one could even write such a sentence, that this is the kind of state we live in. That is, it would be astonishing and unbelievable -- if I hadn't been writing sentences just like it for almost nine years, since my first piece on George Bush's  assertion of this universal power of life and death, back in November 2001.)

Roberts notes the deeper implications of the "terrorism" taint that the government of the Peace Laureate is now smearing across the antiwar movement:

Almost every Republican and conservative and, indeed, the majority of Americans will fall for this, only to find, later, that it is subversive to complain that their Social Security was cut in the interest of the war against Iran or some other demonized entity, or that they couldn’t have a Medicare operation because the wars in Central Asia and South America required the money.

Americans are the most gullible people who ever existed. They tend to support the government instead of the Constitution,  and almost every Republican and conservative regards civil liberty as a coddling device that encourages criminals and terrorists.

The US media, highly concentrated in violation of the American principle of a diverse and independent media, will lend its support to the witch hunts that will close down all protests and independent thought in the US over the next few years. As the Nazi leader Joseph Goebbels said, "think of the press as a great keyboard on which the Government can play."

But this is not all. Roberts had yet another piece out this weekend that also spoke to the accelerating corruption that seems to be raging through the American political system -- and the American populace -- like some vomitous fever that nothing can quell: "The Collapse of Western Morality." He begins, however, by setting the historical context:

Yes, I know, as many readers will be quick to inform me, the West never had any morality. Nevertheless things have gotten worse. In hopes that I will be permitted to make a point, permit me to acknowledge that the US dropped nuclear bombs on two Japanese cities, fire-bombed Tokyo, that Great Britain and the US fire-bombed Dresden and a number of other German cities, expending more destructive force, according to some historians, against the civilian German population than against the German armies, that President Grant and his Civil War war criminals, Generals Sherman and Sheridan, committed genocide against the Plains Indians, that the US today enables Israel’s genocidal policies against the Palestinians, policies that one Israeli official has compared to 19th century US genocidal policies against the American Indians, that the US in the new 21st century invaded Iraq and Afghanistan on contrived pretenses, murdering countless numbers of civilians, and that British prime minister Tony Blair lent the British army to his American masters, as did other NATO countries, all of whom find themselves committing war crimes under the Nuremberg standard in lands in which they have no national interests, but for which they receive an American pay check.

I don’t mean these few examples to be exhaustive. I know the list goes on and on. Still, despite the long list of horrors, moral degradation is reaching new lows. The US now routinely tortures prisoners, despite its strict illegality under US and international law, and a recent poll shows that the percentage of Americans who approve of torture is rising. Indeed, it is quite high, though still just below a majority.

And we have what appears to be a new thrill: American soldiers using the cover of war to murder civilians. Recently American troops were arrested for murdering Afghan civilians for fun and collecting trophies such as fingers and skulls.

This revelation came on the heels of Pfc. Bradley Manning’s alleged leak of a US Army video of US soldiers in helicopters and their controllers thousands of miles away having fun with joy sticks murdering members of the press and Afghan civilians. Manning is cursed with a moral conscience that has been discarded by his government and his military, and Manning has been arrested for obeying the law and reporting a war crime to the American people.

US Rep. Mike Rogers, a Republican, of course, from Michigan, who is on the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, has called for Manning’s execution. According to US Rep. Rogers it is an act of treason to report an American war crime.

In other words, to obey the law constitutes “treason to America.”

The US government, a font of imperial hubris, does not believe that any act it commits, no matter how vile, can possibly be a war crime. One million dead Iraqis, a ruined country, and four million displaced Iraqis are all justified, because the “threatened” US Superpower had to protect itself from nonexistent weapons of mass destruction that the US government knew for a fact were not in Iraq and could not have been a threat to the US if they were in Iraq.

Yes, in the transvaluation of all values that is the American power cult, this is where we are: genuine morality is illegal, compassion is outlawed, dissent is treason, and justice is a crime.

***

Midnight has come and gone. The golden day is a memory; they speak of rain tomorrow. In the face of all these mounting horrors, I keep thinking of byt, of Pasternak, and some words I wrote a few years ago. I think I'll end with them.

... Within his conventional narrative of shattering passions and historic upheavals, Pasternak subtly diffuses a deeply subversive philosophy that overthrows power structures and modes of thought that have dominated human life for thousands of years. Yet remarkably, this far-reaching, radical notion is based on one of the most humble concepts and lowly words in the Russian language: byt.

The word has no precise equivalent in English, but in general it means the ordinary "stuff" of life: the daily round, the chores, the cares and duties, the business and busyness that drives existence forward ...

In contrast to this mundane and deadening level stands the realm of the transcendent: the "great questions" of life, the grand abstractions – nation, faith, ideology, honor, prosperity, family, security, righteousness, glory – for which millions fight and die. It's the world of power, fueled by the dynamic of dominance and servitude – a dialectic that governs relationships in every realm: political, economic, religious, artistic, personal. Everywhere, hierarchies abound, even among the most professedly egalitarian groups, from monasteries to movie sets, from ashrams to activist collectives. Everywhere we find, in Leonard Cohen's witty take, "the homicidal bitchin'/That goes down in every kitchen/To determine who will serve and who will eat."

This, we are given to understand, is the real world, the important world, far above the tawdry, tedious humdrum that fills the dead hours between epiphanies and exaltations. The Russian Revolution is of course one of history's great manifestations of this dynamic, where the "transcendent," world-shaking abstractions of ideology and high politics (imperialism, capitalism, revolution, Bolshevism) uprooted whole nations and produced suffering and dehumanization on an almost unimaginable scale. The modern era's "War on Terror" bids fair to surpass the Revolution in this regard, with its wildly inflated rhetoric and grand abstractions, its epiphanies of violence and exaltations of terror – on both sides – inflaming a conflict that has already devoured nations and destabilized the entire globe. The dominance paradigm – so thoroughly worked into our consciousness, so ever-present in our interactions, large and small, public and private – is the engine driving this vast machinery of death and ruin.

But below this "higher plane" lies the reality of byt. Far from the soul-killing muck that Nabokov found so distasteful, in Pasternak's hands the true nature of byt is revealed: creative, sustaining, nurturing, an infinite source of meaning. For the most part, the novel conveys this indirectly, in passages where Pasternak shows us byt in action – people going about their work, having quiet conversations, preparing food, fixing stoves, tending gardens, washing floors – or in the richly detailed backgrounds and descriptions given for minor characters who pop up briefly in the narrative then are rarely, perhaps never, seen again.

Over the years, some critics have decried these passages as the clumsy strokes of a fictional amateur, a poet gamely trying and failing to match the rich plenitude of Tolstoy's novels. (And to be fair, the English translations of the novel, though serviceable, are hobbled by clunky prose that ill-serves the original Russian.) But surely Pasternak, a writer of immense talent and intelligence, knew exactly what he was doing with these portions of the novel. The "clumsy" strokes that brake and complicate the grand narrative are central to the book's meaning. "Zhivago" means "the living," its root word is "life." And life is immense, comprising every aspect, every atom of reality. "Life, always one and the same, always incomprehensibly keeping its identity, fills the universe and is renewed in every moment in innumerable combinations and metamorphoses," as Zhivago says at one point. It is in the careful observation and deeply felt experiencing of the details of daily life that the meaning of existence can be found – or rather, consciously created....

One last passage from Zhivago provides a striking encapsulation of this, although a word should be said about the Christian symbolism it employs – a symbolism worked deeply into the plan and language of the entire novel. As Pasternak told one interviewer, the religious symbols were "put into the book the way stoves go into a house – to warm it up. Now they would like me to commit myself and climb into the stove." Later he added: "The novel must not be judged on theological lines. Nothing is further removed from my understanding of the world. One must live and write restlessly, with the help of new reserves that life offers. I am weary of this notion of faithfulness to a point of view at all cost. The great heroic devotion to one point of view is very alien to me – it's a lack of humility. "

Here Pasternak, like his Zhivago, resists adherence to any party line, even one that he finds enormously congenial, like Christianity. It is not in pious certainties but in the humble, shifting, temporary coalescences of everyday existence, in byt, that some measure of always-imperfect, always-provisional meaning can be found.

But the languages of faith – structures that for centuries were the chief embodiment and expression of the human yearning for illumination, encounter and escape from the brutalities of dominance and servitude – can still serve as vehicles to convey a deeper reality, as Pasternak shows here, in the voice of one of his characters, the philosopher Nikolai Vendenyapin:

"I think that if the beast who sleeps in man could be held down by threats – any kind of threat, whether of jail or retribution after death – then the highest emblem of humanity would be the lion-tamer with his whip, not the preacher who sacrificed himself. But don't you see, this is just the point – what has for centuries raised man above the beast is not the cudgel but an inward music: the irresistible power of unarmed truth, the attraction of its example. It has always been assumed that the most important things in the Gospels are the ethical teaching and commandments. But for me the most important thing is the fact that Christ speaks in parables taken from daily life, that he explains the truth in terms of everyday reality. The idea that underlies this is that communion between mortals is immortal, and that the whole of life is symbolic because the whole of it has meaning."


Immortal communion, in the transient, private, churning flow of byt: this is what Pasternak offers as an alternative to the violent estrangement of the "overworld," to its violence and fear, its bombast and lies. This lowly word could bring down empires, and stands in defiance of death itself.

 


Domestic Disturbance: FBI Raids Bring the Terror War Home

Sat, 2010-09-25 16:40

I'm sure that if I had met Paul Craig Roberts 25 years ago -- or indeed, had even known of his existence -- I would have felt strongly antagonistic toward this Reagan Administration apparatchik and all that he stood for. And for all I know, if I met him today, I still might find that we were at loggerheads on some issues, maybe many issues.

But I must say there are few people out there today speaking truth about power with the unblinking, unvarnished ferocity of Roberts. (And as I've noted here before, it is speaking truth about power -- not the old cliché of "speaking truth to power" -- that we so desperately need. There's no point in speaking truth to power -- power already knows the truth of its monstrous crimes, and it doesn't give a damn.) Time and again, I've started to write a post about some outrage only to find that Roberts has already been there, laying into the issue with a flaming brand.

And so it was today, when I came in from a gorgeous autumn afternoon -- one of those bright, crisp, golden days that break through the English gloom like some rare flower -- and saw the stories about the FBI raids on antiwar activists across the United States. I know that domestic duties -- that is to say, the actual living of one's life, the common and deeply meaningful byt that lies far beyond the howling madness of power -- would as usual keep me from writing until the wee hours, but I thought: I'll have to take this up later, I think I have something to say about this.

But by the time that night had come, and duties were done, and loved ones were asleep, I found that, once again, Roberts was already on the case. He too had something to say -- everything that I was going to say, in fact, and more. So I'll just let Roberts speak the truth, beginning with his title: "It is Official: The US is a Police State":

Now we know what Homeland Security (sic) secretary Janet Napolitano meant when she said on September 10: "The old view that ‘if we fight the terrorists abroad, we won’t have to fight them here’  is just that — the old view."  The new view, Napolitano said, is "to counter violent extremism right here at home."

"Violent extremism" is one of those undefined police state terms that will mean whatever the government wants it to mean. In this morning’s FBI foray into the homes of American citizens of conscience, it means antiwar activists, whose activities are equated with "the material support of terrorism," just as conservatives equated Vietnam era antiwar protesters with giving material support to communism.

Antiwar activist Mick Kelly, whose home was raided, sees the FBI raids as harassment to intimidate those who organize war protests. I wonder if Kelly is underestimating the threat. The FBI’s own words clearly indicate that the federal police agency and the judges who signed the warrants do not regard antiwar protesters as Americans exercising their Constitutional rights, but as unpatriotic elements offering material support to terrorism.

"Material support" is another of those undefined police state terms. In this context the term means that Americans who fail to believe their government’s lies and instead protest its policies, are supporting their government’s declared enemies and, thus, are not exercising their civil liberties but committing treason.

I agree that the threat goes far beyond mere harassment. Roberts goes on to spell out one of the first thoughts I had on reading these stories: that those who are accused of the slightest association with "terrorism" -- on little evidence, on manufactured evidence, or no evidence whatsoever -- are now subject to the merciless, lawless mechanisms of the Terror War state:

As this initial FBI foray is a softening up move to get the public accustomed to the idea that the real terrorists are their fellow citizens here at home, Kelly will get off this time.  But next time the FBI will find emails on his computer from a "terrorist group" set up by the CIA that will incriminate him. Under the practices put in place by the Bush and Obama regimes, and approved by corrupt federal judges, protesters who have been compromised by fake terrorist groups can be declared "enemy combatants" and sent off to Egypt, Poland, or some other corrupt American puppet state — Canada perhaps — to be tortured until confession is forthcoming that antiwar protesters and, indeed, every critic of the US government, are on Osama bin Laden’s payroll.

Of course, they can also just be killed outright, without charges, without due process, at the lawless whim of the president or one of his designated minions -- or indeed, one of the literally thousands of people, many of them foreigners, that the United States government now pays to roam various regions of the earth killing people: blowing them up in their houses, murdering them in their beds, machine-gunning their children, drone-bombing their neighborhoods, knifing them on street corners, pushing them out of windows, poisoning them in restaurants, whatever. Just this week, the lawyers of the Peace Laureate were in federal court trying zealously to quash a civil lawsuit that would threaten the president's unrestricted power to kill American citizens without the slightest pretense of due process, if he feels like it.

(It is astonishing -- unbelievable -- that one could even write such a sentence, that this is the kind of state we live in. That is, it would be astonishing and unbelievable -- if I hadn't been writing sentences just like it for almost nine years, since my first piece on George Bush's  assertion of this universal power of life and death, back in November 2001.)

Roberts notes the deeper implications of the "terrorism" taint that the government of the Peace Laureate is now smearing across the antiwar movement:

Almost every Republican and conservative and, indeed, the majority of Americans will fall for this, only to find, later, that it is subversive to complain that their Social Security was cut in the interest of the war against Iran or some other demonized entity, or that they couldn’t have a Medicare operation because the wars in Central Asia and South America required the money.

Americans are the most gullible people who ever existed. They tend to support the government instead of the Constitution,  and almost every Republican and conservative regards civil liberty as a coddling device that encourages criminals and terrorists.

The US media, highly concentrated in violation of the American principle of a diverse and independent media, will lend its support to the witch hunts that will close down all protests and independent thought in the US over the next few years. As the Nazi leader Joseph Goebbels said, "think of the press as a great keyboard on which the Government can play."

But this is not all. Roberts had yet another piece out this weekend that also spoke to the accelerating corruption that seems to be raging through the American political system -- and the American populace -- like some vomitous fever that nothing can quell: "The Collapse of Western Morality." He begins, however, by setting the historical context:

Yes, I know, as many readers will be quick to inform me, the West never had any morality. Nevertheless things have gotten worse. In hopes that I will be permitted to make a point, permit me to acknowledge that the US dropped nuclear bombs on two Japanese cities, fire-bombed Tokyo, that Great Britain and the US fire-bombed Dresden and a number of other German cities, expending more destructive force, according to some historians, against the civilian German population than against the German armies, that President Grant and his Civil War war criminals, Generals Sherman and Sheridan, committed genocide against the Plains Indians, that the US today enables Israel’s genocidal policies against the Palestinians, policies that one Israeli official has compared to 19th century US genocidal policies against the American Indians, that the US in the new 21st century invaded Iraq and Afghanistan on contrived pretenses, murdering countless numbers of civilians, and that British prime minister Tony Blair lent the British army to his American masters, as did other NATO countries, all of whom find themselves committing war crimes under the Nuremberg standard in lands in which they have no national interests, but for which they receive an American pay check.

I don’t mean these few examples to be exhaustive. I know the list goes on and on. Still, despite the long list of horrors, moral degradation is reaching new lows. The US now routinely tortures prisoners, despite its strict illegality under US and international law, and a recent poll shows that the percentage of Americans who approve of torture is rising. Indeed, it is quite high, though still just below a majority.

And we have what appears to be a new thrill: American soldiers using the cover of war to murder civilians. Recently American troops were arrested for murdering Afghan civilians for fun and collecting trophies such as fingers and skulls.

This revelation came on the heels of Pfc. Bradley Manning’s alleged leak of a US Army video of US soldiers in helicopters and their controllers thousands of miles away having fun with joy sticks murdering members of the press and Afghan civilians. Manning is cursed with a moral conscience that has been discarded by his government and his military, and Manning has been arrested for obeying the law and reporting a war crime to the American people.

US Rep. Mike Rogers, a Republican, of course, from Michigan, who is on the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, has called for Manning’s execution. According to US Rep. Rogers it is an act of treason to report an American war crime.

In other words, to obey the law constitutes “treason to America.”

The US government, a font of imperial hubris, does not believe that any act it commits, no matter how vile, can possibly be a war crime. One million dead Iraqis, a ruined country, and four million displaced Iraqis are all justified, because the “threatened” US Superpower had to protect itself from nonexistent weapons of mass destruction that the US government knew for a fact were not in Iraq and could not have been a threat to the US if they were in Iraq.

Yes, in the transvaluation of all values that is the American power cult, this is where we are: genuine morality is illegal, compassion is outlawed, dissent is treason, and justice is a crime.

***

Midnight has come and gone. The golden day is a memory; they speak of rain tomorrow. In the face of all these mounting horrors, I keep thinking of byt, of Pasternak, and some words I wrote a few years ago. I think I'll end with them.

... Within his conventional narrative of shattering passions and historic upheavals, Pasternak subtly diffuses a deeply subversive philosophy that overthrows power structures and modes of thought that have dominated human life for thousands of years. Yet remarkably, this far-reaching, radical notion is based on one of the most humble concepts and lowly words in the Russian language: byt.

The word has no precise equivalent in English, but in general it means the ordinary "stuff" of life: the daily round, the chores, the cares and duties, the business and busyness that drives existence forward ...

In contrast to this mundane and deadening level stands the realm of the transcendent: the "great questions" of life, the grand abstractions – nation, faith, ideology, honor, prosperity, family, security, righteousness, glory – for which millions fight and die. It's the world of power, fueled by the dynamic of dominance and servitude – a dialectic that governs relationships in every realm: political, economic, religious, artistic, personal. Everywhere, hierarchies abound, even among the most professedly egalitarian groups, from monasteries to movie sets, from ashrams to activist collectives. Everywhere we find, in Leonard Cohen's witty take, "the homicidal bitchin'/That goes down in every kitchen/To determine who will serve and who will eat."

This, we are given to understand, is the real world, the important world, far above the tawdry, tedious humdrum that fills the dead hours between epiphanies and exaltations. The Russian Revolution is of course one of history's great manifestations of this dynamic, where the "transcendent," world-shaking abstractions of ideology and high politics (imperialism, capitalism, revolution, Bolshevism) uprooted whole nations and produced suffering and dehumanization on an almost unimaginable scale. The modern era's "War on Terror" bids fair to surpass the Revolution in this regard, with its wildly inflated rhetoric and grand abstractions, its epiphanies of violence and exaltations of terror – on both sides – inflaming a conflict that has already devoured nations and destabilized the entire globe. The dominance paradigm – so thoroughly worked into our consciousness, so ever-present in our interactions, large and small, public and private – is the engine driving this vast machinery of death and ruin.

But below this "higher plane" lies the reality of byt. Far from the soul-killing muck that Nabokov found so distasteful, in Pasternak's hands the true nature of byt is revealed: creative, sustaining, nurturing, an infinite source of meaning. For the most part, the novel conveys this indirectly, in passages where Pasternak shows us byt in action – people going about their work, having quiet conversations, preparing food, fixing stoves, tending gardens, washing floors – or in the richly detailed backgrounds and descriptions given for minor characters who pop up briefly in the narrative then are rarely, perhaps never, seen again.

Over the years, some critics have decried these passages as the clumsy strokes of a fictional amateur, a poet gamely trying and failing to match the rich plenitude of Tolstoy's novels. (And to be fair, the English translations of the novel, though serviceable, are hobbled by clunky prose that ill-serves the original Russian.) But surely Pasternak, a writer of immense talent and intelligence, knew exactly what he was doing with these portions of the novel. The "clumsy" strokes that brake and complicate the grand narrative are central to the book's meaning. "Zhivago" means "the living," its root word is "life." And life is immense, comprising every aspect, every atom of reality. "Life, always one and the same, always incomprehensibly keeping its identity, fills the universe and is renewed in every moment in innumerable combinations and metamorphoses," as Zhivago says at one point. It is in the careful observation and deeply felt experiencing of the details of daily life that the meaning of existence can be found – or rather, consciously created....

One last passage from Zhivago provides a striking encapsulation of this, although a word should be said about the Christian symbolism it employs – a symbolism worked deeply into the plan and language of the entire novel. As Pasternak told one interviewer, the religious symbols were "put into the book the way stoves go into a house – to warm it up. Now they would like me to commit myself and climb into the stove." Later he added: "The novel must not be judged on theological lines. Nothing is further removed from my understanding of the world. One must live and write restlessly, with the help of new reserves that life offers. I am weary of this notion of faithfulness to a point of view at all cost. The great heroic devotion to one point of view is very alien to me – it's a lack of humility. "

Here Pasternak, like his Zhivago, resists adherence to any party line, even one that he finds enormously congenial, like Christianity. It is not in pious certainties but in the humble, shifting, temporary coalescences of everyday existence, in byt, that some measure of always-imperfect, always-provisional meaning can be found.

But the languages of faith – structures that for centuries were the chief embodiment and expression of the human yearning for illumination, encounter and escape from the brutalities of dominance and servitude – can still serve as vehicles to convey a deeper reality, as Pasternak shows here, in the voice of one of his characters, the philosopher Nikolai Vendenyapin:

"I think that if the beast who sleeps in man could be held down by threats – any kind of threat, whether of jail or retribution after death – then the highest emblem of humanity would be the lion-tamer with his whip, not the preacher who sacrificed himself. But don't you see, this is just the point – what has for centuries raised man above the beast is not the cudgel but an inward music: the irresistible power of unarmed truth, the attraction of its example. It has always been assumed that the most important things in the Gospels are the ethical teaching and commandments. But for me the most important thing is the fact that Christ speaks in parables taken from daily life, that he explains the truth in terms of everyday reality. The idea that underlies this is that communion between mortals is immortal, and that the whole of life is symbolic because the whole of it has meaning."


Immortal communion, in the transient, private, churning flow of byt: this is what Pasternak offers as an alternative to the violent estrangement of the "overworld," to its violence and fear, its bombast and lies. This lowly word could bring down empires, and stands in defiance of death itself.