David Bromwich has some pertinent thoughts on Edward Snowden and his revelations about our USA (Unrestrained Stasi of Authoritarianism). Note: Bromwich was writing, in the LRB, before Snowden left Hong Kong.
In ‘this our talking America’ (as Emerson called it), we prefer to talk about personalities. It could be anticipated that the ‘leaker’ of NSA secrets, and not the trespass by government against the people, would become the primary subject of discussion once the authorities produced a name and a face. He was destined to have his portrait fixed by the police and media, blurred and smeared to look, in some vague way, probably psychopathic, and once arrested to be dispatched to trial and prison. …
…The first wave of slanders broke as soon as the video interview was released. What was most strange – but predictable once you thought about it – was how far the reactions cut across political lines. This was not a test of Democrat against Republican, or welfare-state liberal versus big-business conservative. Rather it was an infallible marker of the anti-authoritarian instinct against the authoritarian. What was distressing and impossible to predict was the evidence of the way the last few years have worn deep channels of authoritarian acceptance in the mind of the liberal establishment. Every public figure who is psychologically identified with the ways of power in America has condemned Snowden as a traitor, or deplored his actions as merely those of a criminal, someone about whom the judgment ‘he must be prosecuted’ obviates any further judgment and any need for thought.
...Snowden’s profile differed from that of the spy or defector (which he was already charged with being) in one conspicuous way. He did not think in secret. In conversations with friends over the last few years, he made no effort to hide the trouble of conscience that gnawed at him. It also seems to be true – though in the interview he doesn’t clearly formulate the point – that even as he went to work and made use of his privileged access, he felt a degree of remorse at the superiority he enjoyed over ordinary citizens, any of whom might be subject to exposure at any moment by the eye of the government he worked for. The remorse (if this surmise is correct) came not from a suspicion that he didn’t deserve the privilege, but from the conviction that no one deserved it.
And yet, the drafters of the new laws, and the guardians of the secret interpretation of those laws, do feel that they deserve the privilege… We, in America, now support a class of guardians who pass unchallenged through a revolving door that at once separates and connects government and the vast security apparatus that has sprung up in the last 12 years. The cabinet officers and agency heads and company heads ‘move on’ but stay the same, from NSA to CIA or from NSA to Booz Allen Hamilton; and to the serious players, this seems a meritocracy without reproach and without peril. ...
Nothing like this system was anticipated or could possibly have been admired by the framers of the constitutional democracies of the United States and Europe. The system, as Snowden plainly recognised, is incompatible with ‘the democratic model,’ and can only be practised or accepted by people who have given up on every element of liberal democracy except the ideas of common defence and general welfare. A few hours after the 11 September bombings, Cheney told his associates that the US would have to become for a time a nation ruled by men and not laws. But his frankness on this point was exceptional. It may safely be assumed that most of the players go ahead in their work without realising how much they have surrendered. Those who are under thirty, and less persistent than Snowden in their efforts of self-education, can hardly remember a time when things were different.
…Of the public expressions of contempt for the man who opened the door, one deserves particular attention. The New Yorker legal journalist Jeffrey Toobin said that Snowden was a ‘narcissist’, and the word was repeated by the CBS news presenter Bob Schieffer. What were they thinking? ‘Narcissist’ is so far from capturing any interesting truth about Snowden that the slip invites analysis in its own right. In this twelfth year of our emergency, something has gone badly wrong with the national morale. There are cultured Americans who have lived so long in a privileged condition of dependence on the security state that they have lost control of the common meanings of words. A narcissist in Snowden’s position would have defected anonymously to Russia, sold his secrets for an excellent price, and cashed in by outing himself in a memoir published in 2018, studded with photographs of his dacha and his first two wives. Whatever else may be true of him, the actual Snowden seems the reverse of a narcissist. He made a lonely decision and sacrificed a prosperous career for the sake of principles that no one who values personal autonomy can be indifferent to. That is a significant part of what we know thus far.
Fear must have been among the strongest emotions that penetrated Snowden when he grasped the total meaning of the maps of the security state to which he was afforded a unique access. In one sort of mind, and it characterises the majority of those in power, the fear turns adaptive and changes slowly to compliance and even attachment. In a mind of a different sort, the fear leads to indignation and finally resistance. But we should not underestimate the element of physical fear that accompanies such a moral upheaval. Since the prosecutions of whistleblowers, the abusive treatment of Manning and the drone assassinations of American citizens have been justified by the president and his advisers, a dissident in the US may now think of his country the way the dissidents in East Germany under the Stasi thought of theirs. ‘The gloves are off.’ Nor should we doubt that a kindred fear is known even to the persons who control the apparatus.
This is the country that the progressive liberal good-guy Nobel Peace Laureate has given us, carrying on the work of Dick Cheney and entrenching it and expanding it even further.
But of course we do wrong to intimate that the rampant criminality being perpetrated by the current manager of our bright shining Stasiland has its roots in the sinister machinations of the literally machine-hearted Dick Cheney and his chump of a frontman, the noted naked self-portraitist, George W. Bush. For as Fred Branfman reminds us in a powerful new piece, the Executive Branch of the United States government has murdered, maimed and dispossessed many millions of innocent people in the past few decades alone in senseless, pointless, criminal actions. It is a long and richly detailed piece, and should be read in full, but here are just a very few excerpts (see original for links):
…. To the 430,000 to 2 million civilians killed in Vietnam must be added those killed in Laos, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iraq and many other nations, all those wounded and maimed for life, and the many millions more forced to leave villages in which their families had lived for centuries to become penniless refugees. All told, U.S. Executive Branch leaders – Democrat and Republicans, conservative and liberal—have killed wounded and made homeless well over 20 million human beings in the last 50 years, mostly civilians.
U.S. leaders have never acknowledged their responsibility for ruining so many lives, let alone apologized or made proper amends to the survivors. Those responsible have not been punished, but rewarded. The memory of it has been erased from national consciousness, as U.S. leaders endlessly declare their nation’s, and their own, goodness. Millions of civilian lives swept under the rug, forgotten, as if this mass murder and maiming, the destruction of countless homes and villages, this epic violation of basic human decency—and laws protecting civilians in time of war which U.S. leaders have promised to observe—never happened.
Americans keep this secret because facing it openly would upend our most basic understandings about our nation and its leaders. A serious public discussion of it would reveal, for example, that we cannot trust Executive Branch leaders’ human decency, words, or judgment. And more troubling, acknowledging it would mean admitting to ourselves that we have been misleading our own children, that our silence has robbed them of the truth of their history and made it more likely that future leaders will continue to commit acts that stain the very soul of America.
It is a matter of indisputable fact that the U.S. Executive Branch has over the past 50 years been responsible for bombing, shooting, burning alive with napalm, blowing up with cluster bombs, burying alive with 500-pound bombs, leveling homes and villages, torturing, assassinating and incarcerating without evidence more innocent civilians in more nations over a longer period of time than any other government on earth today .... [Branfman then gives a detailed synopsis, with links to supporting material, of the major murder campaigns waged by the U.S. Executive in the past 60 years.]
… One particular fact puzzled me during my investigations of the air war [working with refugees in Laos in 1969]. All the refugees said the worst bombing occurred from the end of 1968 until the summer of 1969. They were bombed daily, every village was leveled, thousands were murdered and maimed. But I knew from U.S. Embassy friends that there were no more than a few thousand North Vietnamese troops in Laos at the time, and that there was no military reason for the sudden and brutal increase in U.S. bombing. Why, then, had this aerial holocaust occurred?
And then, to my horror, I found out. At Senator Fulbright's hearing, he asked Deputy Chief of Mission Monteagle Stearns why the bombing of northern Laos had so intensified after Lyndon Johnson's bombing halt over North Vietnam. Stearns answered simply:
"Well, we had all those planes sitting around and couldn't just let them stay there with nothing to do."
U.S. officials had exterminated thousands of people of the Plain of Jars, destroying their entire civilization, because the U.S. Executive just couldn't let its planes sit around with nothing to do….
…Realizing that a handful of U.S. Executive Branch leaders had the power, all by themselves, to level the Plain of Jars shook me to my core. Every belief I had about America was upended. If a handful of Executive leaders could unilaterally and secretly destroy the 700-year-old civilization on the Plain of Jars, it meant that America was not a democracy, that the U.S. was a government of men, not laws. And it meant that these men were not good and decent human beings, but rather cold-blooded killers who showed neither pity nor mercy to those whose lives they so carelessly destroyed.
On a deeper level, it meant that even core beliefs I took for granted were untrue. Might did make right. Crime did pay. Suffering is not redemptive. Life looks very different in a Lao refugee camp looking up than in Washington, D.C. looking down. In those camps I realized that U.S. Executive Branch leaders lacked even a shred of simple human decency toward the people of the Plain.
I remember once laying in my bed late at night after returning from an interview with Thao Vong, a 38-year old Lao farmer who had been blinded in a U.S. bombing raid. Vong was a gentle soul, displayed no anger to those who had turned him from a provider of four into a helpless dependent. I contrasted him and the other Lao farmers who had been burned and buried alive by bombers dispatched by LBJ, McNamara, Nixon and Kissinger. The latter were ruthless, often angry and violent men, indifferent to non-American life—precisely the qualities threatening all life on earth. Thao Vong was gentle, kind and loving, and he and his fellow Lao wanted nothing more than to be left alone to raise their families, enjoy nature and practice Buddhism — precisely the qualities needed for humanity to survive.
I also thought of sweet-faced Sao Doumma, whose wedding photo had so struck me, and who was killed in a bombing raid executed by Henry Kissinger seven years later.
And I found myself wondering: by what right does a Henry Kissinger live and a Sao Doumma die? Who gave Kissinger and Richard Nixon the right to murder her? Who gave Lyndon Johnson the right to blind Thao Vong? I found myself asking, what just law or morality can justify these "killers in high places" who burned and buried alive countless Lao rice farmers who posed no threat whatsoever to their nation, solely because they could?...
… Let us be resolved, right here, right now, that this reconciliation will not come to pass. That the evil impulse that infects us all -- implanted by God only knows what profound and projected pain, inflicted and passed down through thousands of generations, from the very beginning, from the first standing-up on the savannah, to now, to us, to the present firing of the electrics of our brain -- that this evil impulse, these perverted lessons taught by millennia of ignorance and error, will not, in our lifetimes and for untold generations to come, be reconciled with and overcome by the tiny sparks of goodness that have appeared, like miracles, like spandrels, in these same tormented electrics we all share. We will not see justice, we will not see peace, we will not see loving-kindness spread to cover the earth and become the norm, the law of nature, the governing principle of Being. Let us be resolved that we will not see this.
But who would be so base, who would be so dead, that they would not, with all that is left of their corroded, damaged soul, wish to see this reconciliation, and pray for its consummation, sometime in the distant eons of the future? We shall not have it, but oh, that those who come after will know it -- is that not hope enough to live upon?
We live in degradation -- look around you, look within you, and try to deny it; if you are honest, you cannot. But if even a spark of something better has appeared among us (and, in fact, these sparks are legion, and have been, down through all the ages), then we cannot, we must not give up on ourselves, on each other, on the world.
No one, anywhere, has been writing about the deeper and wider implications of the Snowden revelations than Arthur Silber. (I hope you're not surprised by this.) In a series of powerful, insightful essays, Silber has, among other things, laid bare the dangers of the oddly circumscribed 'gatekeeper' approach of the journalistic guardians (at, ironically, the Guardian) of Snowden's secrets, particularly their slow drip-feed of carefully self-censored tidbits from the famous Powerpoint presentation that Snowden secreted from the bowels of the United Stasi of the American intelligent apparat. Eschewing the Wikileaks approach, the guardians at the Guardian have not let us judge the material for ourselves, opting instead to adopt, unwittingly, the same approach of the apparat: "we are the keepers of knowledge, we will decide what you need to know."
As Silber notes, this doesn't vitiate the worth of the revelations, but it does dilute their impact, leaving gaps that the apparat -- and its truly repulsive apologists all through the 'liberal media' -- can exploit to keep muddying the waters. He explores these ramifications, and others, in "In Praise of Mess, Chaos and Panic" and "Fed Up With All the Bullshit."
In his latest piece, "'Intelligence, Corporatism and the Dance of Death," he cuts to the corroded heart of the matter, the deep, dark not-so-secret secret that our secret-keepers are trying to obscure behind their blizzards of bullshit: it's all about the Benjamins.
After noting the gargantuan outsourcing of "intelligence" to private contractors like Booz Allen -- the very firm that employed Snowden -- Silber gives a quick precis of the essence of state-corporate capitalism (see the originals for links):
The biggest open secret all these creepy jerks are hiding is the secret of corporatism (or what Gabriel Kolko calls "political capitalism"):
There is nothing in the world that can't be turned into a huge moneymaker for the State and its favored friends in "private" business, at the same time it is used to amass still greater power. This is true in multiple forms for the fraud that is the "intelligence" industry.
The pattern is the same in every industry, from farming, to manufacturing, to every aspect of transportation, to the health insurance scam, to anything else you can name. In one common version, already vested interests go to the State demanding regulation and protection from "destabilizing" forces which, they claim, threaten the nation's well-being (by which, they mean competitors who threaten their profits). The State enthusiastically complies, the cooperative lawmakers enjoying rewards of many kinds and varieties. Then they'll have to enforce all those nifty regulations and controls. The State will do some of it but, heck, it's complicated and time-consuming, ya know? Besides, some of the State's good friends in "private" business can make a killing doing some of the enforcing. Give it to them! Etc. and so on.
Silber then goes on:
... But that's chump change. The real money is elsewhere -- in, for instance, foreign policy itself. You probably thought foreign policy was about dealing with threats to "national security," spreading democracy, ensuring peace, and whatever other lying slogans they throw around like a moldy, decaying, putrid corpse. The State's foreign policy efforts are unquestionably devoted to maintaining the U.S.'s advantages -- but the advantages they are most concerned about are access to markets and, that's right, making huge amounts of money. Despite the unending propaganda to the contrary, they aren't terribly concerned with dire threats to our national well-being, for the simple reason that there aren't any: "No nation would dare mount a serious attack on the U.S. precisely because they know how powerful the U.S. is -- because it is not secret."
How does the public-"private" intelligence industry make foreign policy? The NYT story offers an instructive example in its opening paragraphs:
When the United Arab Emirates wanted to create its own version of the National Security Agency, it turned to Booz Allen Hamilton to replicate the world’s largest and most powerful spy agency in the sands of Abu Dhabi.
It was a natural choice: The chief architect of Booz Allen’s cyberstrategy is Mike McConnell, who once led the N.S.A. and pushed the United States into a new era of big data espionage. It was Mr. McConnell who won the blessing of the American intelligence agencies to bolster the Persian Gulf sheikdom, which helps track the Iranians.
“They are teaching everything,” one Arab official familiar with the effort said. “Data mining, Web surveillance, all sorts of digital intelligence collection."
See how perfect this is? All the special people are making tons of money -- and, when the day arrives that the U.S. wants to ramp up its confrontational stance with Iran, well, there's the UAE helping to "track the Iranians" with all the tools that the U.S. has given them and taught them to use. And how easy would it be to get the UAE to provide the U.S. with just the right kind of new and disturbing "intelligence" that would get lots of people screaming about the "grave Iranian threat"? You know the answer to that: easy peasy. A wink and a nod -- and off the U.S. goes, with bombing runs or whatever it decides to do. But whatever it does will be determined in greatest part not by a genuine threat to U.S. national security (there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that Iran's leaders are all suicidal), but by what will make the most money for the State and its good friends.
Silber then underscores once more the highly instructive principle laid out by Robert Higgs:
I remind you once again of what I call The Higgs Principle. As I have emphasized, you can apply this principle to every significant policy in every area, including every aspect of foreign policy. Here is Robert Higgs explaining it:
As a general rule for understanding public policies, I insist that there are no persistent "failed" policies. Policies that do not achieve their desired outcomes for the actual powers-that-be are quickly changed. If you want to know why the U.S. policies have been what they have been for the past sixty years, you need only comply with that invaluable rule of inquiry in politics: follow the money.
When you do so, I believe you will find U.S. policies in the Middle East to have been wildly successful, so successful that the gains they have produced for the movers and shakers in the petrochemical, financial, and weapons industries (which is approximately to say, for those who have the greatest influence in determining U.S. foreign policies) must surely be counted in the hundreds of billions of dollars.
So U.S. soldiers get killed, so Palestinians get insulted, robbed, and confined to a set of squalid concentration areas, so the "peace process" never gets far from square one, etc., etc. – none of this makes the policies failures; these things are all surface froth, costs not borne by the policy makers themselves but by the cannon-fodder masses, the bovine taxpayers at large, and foreigners who count for nothing.
....It's all about wealth and power. Here and there, in episodes notable only for their rarity, "the intelligence world" might actually provide a small piece of information actually related to "national security." Again, I turn to Gabriel Kolko:
It is all too rare that states overcome illusions, and the United States is no more an exception than Germany, Italy, England, or France before it. The function of intelligence anywhere is far less to encourage rational behavior--although sometimes that occurs--than to justify a nation's illusions, and it is the false expectations that conventional wisdom encourages that make wars more likely, a pattern that has only increased since the early twentieth century. By and large, US, Soviet, and British strategic intelligence since 1945 has been inaccurate and often misleading, and although it accumulated pieces of information that were useful, the leaders of these nations failed to grasp the inherent dangers of their overall policies. When accurate, such intelligence has been ignored most of the time if there were overriding preconceptions or bureaucratic reasons for doing so.
...The intelligence-security industry isn't about protecting the United States or you, except for extraordinarily rare, virtually accidental occurrences. It's about wealth and power. Yet every politician and every government functionary speaks reverently of the sacred mission and crucial importance of "intelligence" in the manner of a syphilitic preacher who clutches a tatty, moth-eaten doll of the Madonna, which he digitally manipulates by sticking his fingers in its orifices. Most people would find his behavior shockingly obscene, if they noticed it. But they don't notice it, so mesmerized are they by the preacher with his phonily awestruck words about the holy of holies and the ungraspably noble purpose of his mission. Even as the suppurating sores on the preacher's face ooze blood and pus, his audience can only gasp, "We must pay attention to what he says! He wants only the best for us! He's trying to save us!"
What the preacher says -- what every politician and national security official says on this subject -- is a goddamned lie. The ruling class has figured out yet another way to make a killing, both figuratively and literally. They want wealth and power, and always more wealth and power. That's what "intelligence" and "national security" is about, and nothing else at all. When you hear Keith Alexander, or James Clapper, or Barack Obama talk about "intelligence" and surveillance, how your lives depend on them, and why you must trust them to protect you if you wish to continue existing at all, think of the preacher. Think of his open sores, of the blood and pus slowly dribbling down his face.
All of them are murdering crooks running a racket. They are intent on amassing wealth and power, and they've stumbled on a sure-fire way to win the acquiescence, and often the approval, of most people. They are driven by the worst of motives, including their maddened knowledge that there will always remain a few people and events that they will be unable to control absolutely. For the rest of us, their noxious games are a sickening display of power at its worst. For us, on a faster or slower schedule, in ways that are more or less extreme, their lies and machinations are only a Dance of Death.
There is much more in Silber's essays; go read them all now, if you haven't done already.
As the G8 gathers here in my adopted homeland of Blighty to settle the world's hash with the great wisdom and gravitas of such world-historical figures as Barry Obama, Davy Cameron and Val Putin, George Monbiot reports on the sinister diversions of that perennial gate-crasher of the great and good at Davos, Bilderberg and wherever the masters of the universe gather behind their bristling security gates: none other than that globe-trotting friend to all humankind -- Bono.
It was bad enough in 2005. Then, at the G8 summit in Scotland, Bono and Bob Geldof heaped praise on Tony Blair and George Bush, who were still mired in the butchery they had initiated in Iraq. At one point Geldof appeared, literally and figuratively, to be sitting in Tony Blair's lap. African activists accused them of drowning out a campaign for global justice with a campaign for charity.
But this is worse. As the UK chairs the G8 summit again, a campaign that Bono founded, with which Geldof works closely, appears to be whitewashing the G8's policies in Africa.
Last week I drew attention to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, launched in the US when it chaired the G8 meeting last year. The alliance is pushing African countries into agreements that allow foreign companies to grab their land, patent their seeds and monopolise their food markets. Ignoring the voices of their own people, six African governments have struck deals with companies such as Monsanto, Cargill, Dupont, Syngenta, Nestlé and Unilever, in return for promises of aid by the UK and other G8 nations.
A wide range of activists, both African and European, is furious about the New Alliance. But the ONE campaign, co-founded by Bono, stepped up to defend it.
… I discovered is that Bono has also praised the New Alliance, in a speech just before last year's G8 summit in the US. The second thing I discovered is that much of the ONE campaign's primary funding was provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, two of whose executives sit on its board. The foundation has been working with the biotech company Monsanto and the grain trading giant Cargill, and has a large Monsanto shareholding. Bill Gates has responded to claims made about land grabbing in Africa, asserting, in the face of devastating evidence and massive resistance from African farmers, that "many of those land deals are beneficial, and it would be too bad if some were held back because of western groups' ways of looking at things". (Africans, you will note, keep getting written out of this story.)
The third thing I discovered is that there's a long history here. In his brilliant and blistering book The Frontman: Bono (in the Name of Power), just released in the UK, the Irish scholar Harry Browne maintains that "for nearly three decades as a public figure, Bono has been … amplifying elite discourses, advocating ineffective solutions, patronising the poor and kissing the arses of the rich and powerful". His approach to Africa is "a slick mix of traditional missionary and commercial colonialism, in which the poor world exists as a task for the rich world to complete".
…Bono claims to be "representing the poorest and most vulnerable people". But talking to a wide range of activists from both the poor and rich worlds since ONE published its article last week, I have heard the same complaint again and again: that Bono and others like him have seized the political space which might otherwise have been occupied by the Africans about whom they are talking. Because Bono is seen by world leaders as the representative of the poor, the poor are not invited to speak. This works very well for everyone – except them.
The ONE campaign looks to me like the sort of organisation that John le Carré or Robert Harris might have invented. It claims to work on behalf of the extremely poor. But its board is largely composed of multimillionaires, corporate aristocrats and US enforcers. Here you will find Condoleezza Rice, George W Bush's national security adviser and secretary of state, who aggressively promoted the Iraq war, instructed the CIA that it was authorised to use torture techniques and browbeat lesser nations into supporting a wide range of US aims.
Here too is Larry Summers, who was chief economist at the World Bank during the darkest days of structural adjustment and who, as US Treasury secretary, helped to deregulate Wall Street, with such happy consequences for the rest of us. Here's Howard Buffett, who has served on the boards of the global grain giant Archer Daniels Midland as well as Coca-Cola and the food corporations ConAgra and Agro Tech. Though the main focus of ONE is Africa, there are only two African members. One is a mobile phone baron, the other is the finance minister of Nigeria, who was formerly managing director of the World Bank. What better representatives of the extremely poor could there be?
This is actually the same vein that Obama himself has been mainlining for years: I'm cool, I'm hip, I'm down with the poor and downtrodden -- even as he rides shotgun for some of the most rapacious corporations and policies on the planet. One can only agree with Monbiot here:
I found the sight of Bono last week calling for "more progress on transparency" equally revolting. As Harry Browne reminds us, U2's complex web of companies, the financial arrangements of Bono's Product RED campaign and his investments through the private equity company he co-founded are all famously opaque ….
There is a well-known if dubious story that claims that at a concert in Glasgow Bono began a slow hand-clap. He is supposed to have announced: "Every time I clap my hands, a child in Africa dies." Whereupon someone in the audience shouted: "Well fucking stop doing it then." It's good advice, and I wish he'd take it.
Something very, very bad happened over the weekend.
President Obama made Digby sigh.
What did President Obama do that made Digby sigh? Well, that thing about increasing American military involvement in Syria. Digby quotes, and agrees with, a piece by Mark Lynch which she calls "a deeply skeptical and very depressing assessment of the decision to intervene in Syria."
Digby -- like most other sentient beings on the planet, and at least 85 percent of all Americans in the most recent polls -- believes that intervening in Syria is a bad decision and will in all likelihood make the situation, already a vast cauldron of human suffering, worse.
So who is to blame for this terrible decision, this stupid decision, this bad decision that will almost certainly extend, expand and prolong the suffering of multitudes of innocent human beings?
Now you and I might think that the person responsible for the decision to send American weapons to the Syrian rebels rests with the commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces and the Chief Executive of the U.S. government, positions subsumed within the office of the President of the United States -- a post currently held by Barack Obama.
But it turns out that President Barack Obama is not responsible for the decision of the commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces and the Chief Executive of the U.S. government to send American arms to the Syrian rebels.
So who is responsible, if Obama is not? You'll never guess.
Yes, apparently, once again our noble Nobelist has been torn away from his true intentions and, very reluctantly, with heavy heart -- indeed, with the kind of tragic grandeur that perhaps only President Daniel Day-Lewis might have known in the grimmest days of the Civil War -- been forced, forced against his will, against the very inclination of his soul, to send the American war machine into yet another country.
For who can forget his anguished reluctance to escalate the Afghan War with his Bush-like surge? Or the heart-tormented nights he spent before intervening illegally in Libya? Or the sweat-drops of blood he shed in fervent prayer before escalating the drone attacks on Pakistani villages? Or the spiritual torment he must go through each and every week before, sadly, reluctantly, he orders a new raft of "extrajudicial killings" by his globe-spanning death squads?
And now, once again, despite what we may be sure were weeks of fervent petition to the Lord to let this cup pass from him, the president has been forced to act against his will and make another bad, stupid, murderous decision. As Digby puts it:
Everything I read says that President Obama, unlike many in his cabinet (including his former Secretary of State) has been extremely reluctant to engage but finds himself hemmed in by the circumstances.
You see, he has been "hemmed in by circumstances." Despite his extreme reluctance to use the American military machine in dubious, sinister and counterproductive operations -- and despite his position as commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces, the most powerful military in the history of the world, and as Chief Executive of the U.S. government, likewise the most powerful state in human history, he has been "hemmed in by circumstances" and forced to make this bad decision.
Yes, he can order the assassination of anyone on earth. Yes, he can read the emails and web trails of anyone on earth. Yes, he can launch a nuclear war tomorrow and destroy the planet. But he cannot resist the "circumstances" that have compelled him to intervene in Syria. Poor man. Poor, powerless, tragic man.
And what are those circumstances? Well, that is not crystal clear in Digby's lament, but apparently the main circumstance is the fact that a "red line" which Barack Obama himself freely decided would be the trigger for intervention has, apparently, according to assertions by his "intelligence" chiefs -- including many of the same people (such as his hand-picked Director of National Intelligence, James "Saddam moved his non-existent WMD to Syria" Clapper) who provided the "slam-dunk" intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people.
These are the "circumstances" that have "hemmed in" Obama. These are the iron chains which this poor man, who has no power -- not even the power to change his own mind about red lines and triggers -- is now bound with.
But it's not just Obama. Sadly, all our presidents are poor, powerless men, hemmed in by similar circumstances. As Digby tells us:
He certainly isn't the first president to find himself in that situation. America's military empire has perhaps been the most "exceptional" thing about us in recent decades.
Why, I suppose even poor, powerless George W. Bush found himself in such a hemming situation, forced by his own rhetoric and bullshit "red lines" to invade Iraq. And poor old Big Dawg Bill Clinton found himself forced to press the sanctions on Iraq that killed more than half a million children. And .....
It is all, as Digby says, very depressing. Depressing that America keeps going around the world fomenting war, chaos, bloodshed, instability and ruin, bankrupting its own people in the process while stuffing the pockets of war profiteers. And depressing too that none of our presidents apparently have the power to stop this from happening. They are all "hemmed in by circumstances," by the American military empire ... that same military empire that each one of them fought tooth and nail to get control of.
I hope he resists the pressures that Lynch illustrates above [i.e., sliding into ever-deeper involvement]. But the first step is always the hardest. The next ones will probably be easier which argues for not taking the step in the first place.
I must confess that my first reaction to the news that Obama is intervening militarily in Syria -- I'm sorry, that circumstances are intervening militarily in Syria -- was not exactly a sigh. But hey, maybe Digby's right. For really, what else can we do, but sigh and shrug and frown a little frown? He's "our guy" after all, right? Not perfect, but the best "we" can do for now, right? "We" fought like hell to re-elect him, so when he does something stupid, destructive, repressive or murderous, what else can you do? Turn on him? Leave the progressive "tribe"? God forbid! No, "we" can do so much more from inside the tent, bringing progressive pressure to bear by judicious but respectful criticism (and maybe some on-line petitions or something), tempered with "our" general support. Right? Right?
Who would have thought that oil barons -- of all people! -- would be involved in dirty back-room dealings to gorge their gobs with even more swill from the trough? From the Guardian:
The London offices of BP and Shell have been raided by European regulators investigating allegations they have "colluded" to rig oil prices for more than a decade. The European commission said its officers carried out "unannounced inspections" at several oil companies in London, the Netherlands and Norway to investigate claims they may have "colluded in reporting distorted prices to a price reporting agency [PRA] to manipulate the published prices for a number of oil and biofuel products" .. It warned: "Even small distortions of assessed prices may have a huge impact on the prices of crude oil, refined oil products and biofuels purchases and sales, potentially harming final consumers."
Of course, these manipulations of "self-policing" mechanisms for setting prices are endemic across the economic heights commanded by our most illustrious financial and industrial elites, as Matt Taibbi noted last month. And I'm sure the dastardly deeds of the oil companies in fixing prices will be dealt with just as harshly and thoroughly as the recent Libor scandal was: with a few chump-change fines that put not the slightest crimp in the criminals' operations nor impeded their ready access to the inner circles (and outer fundraisers) of government power.
So while continuing a fierce vigilance against the relentless encroachments of an unhinged, unrestrained and openly murderous government, let us also recognize that the "free market" -- often posited as some kind of purer alternative to the state, a mystic realm where the free play of individual desires and activities combine ineffably to produce the best of all possible worlds -- is, and always has been, a rigged game where vicious predators seek tyrannical control, by hook, crook and vast corruption, shackling the 'free play of individual desires and activities' in every way possible to squeeze out more unjust advantage for themselves.
Of course, the 'state' and the 'free market' are simply two halves of the same rough beast. The modern 'free market' is the result of massive, continual and pervasive state intervention on its behalf -- that is, on behalf of the vicious predators exercising tyrannical control of economic activity -- while the state is in practice little more than a vehicle for elite aggrandizement. (Yes, even in America, even from the very beginning. For more, see this piercing piece by Arthur Silber, in which he points us to the remarkable book by Terry Boulton, Taming Democracy: "The People," the Founders, and the Troubled Ending of the American Revolution, which I highly recommend.) If they don't get you with one head, they'll get you with the other.
UPDATE: We were remiss in omitting one of the most important benefits (or should that be 'entitlements') that the state provides to the 'free market': protection from the laws of, er, the state. Again,Taibbi points out a recent example.
The immigration reform measure the Senate began debating yesterday would create a national biometric database of virtually every adult in the U.S., in what privacy groups fear could be the first step to a ubiquitous national identification system.
Buried in the more than 800 pages of the bipartisan legislation is language mandating the creation of the innocuously-named “photo tool,” a massive federal database administered by the Department of Homeland Security and containing names, ages, Social Security numbers and photographs of everyone in the country with a driver’s license or other state-issued photo ID.
Employers would be obliged to look up every new hire in the database to verify that they match their photo …. Privacy advocates fear the inevitable mission creep, ending with the proof of self being required at polling places, to rent a house, buy a gun, open a bank account, acquire credit, board a plane or even attend a sporting event or log on the internet. Think of it as a government version of Foursquare, with Big Brother cataloging every check-in....
For now, the legislation allows the database to be used solely for employment purposes. But historically such limitations don’t last. The Social Security card, for example, was created to track your government retirement benefits. Now you need it to purchase health insurance.
David Bier, an analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, agrees with the ACLU’s fears. “The most worrying aspect is that this creates a principle of permission basically to do certain activities and it can be used to restrict activities,” he said. “It’s like a national ID system without the card.”
Once again, we see an all-too-common, sinister dynamic at work: even when our guardians appear to be at least attempting to do something worthwhile -- in this case, sorting out a few of the difficulties faced by millions of immigrants living in legal limbo -- their efforts turn out to be a Trojan Horse, hiding nefarious intentions.
John Knefel at Rolling Stone dispels the widespread belief in the security apparat that young Muslims are being "radicalized" into violence through exposure to extremist through a "funnel" of manipulation by media and mosque. Knefel writes:
That theory was set out in a 2007 NYPD report called Radicalization in the West, which focuses exclusively on Muslims, and describes a four-stage progression – a "funnel," the report says – in which each step towards violence is intrinsically linked with increased religiosity. … There's only one problem, according to critics: It's reductive and simplistic at best, and at worst is a thin justification for racial profiling of Muslims.
"Nobody watches YouTube or reads Inspire and becomes a terrorist. It's absurd to think so," says John Horgan, director of the International Center for the Study of Terrorism at Pennsylvania State University. "YouTube videos and reading Al Qaeda magazines tends to be far more relevant for sustaining commitment than inspiring it."
The mistaken belief that the earliest stages of terrorism can be seen at "radicalization incubators" – Muslim bookstores, hookah bars, mosques, virtually anywhere Muslims congregate in person or online – has resulted in a focus on so-called "preventive policing," a policy whose stated aim is to prevent a terrorist attack before one happens. Since the theory says adopting radical ideas is the first step toward someone becoming violent, officials say they're justified in surveilling places where "radical" ideas might take hold.
According to Horgan, though, that's just not how it works. "The idea that radicalization causes terrorism is perhaps the greatest myth alive today in terrorism research," he says. "[First], the overwhelming majority of people who hold radical beliefs do not engage in violence. And second, there is increasing evidence that people who engage in terrorism don't necessarily hold radical beliefs."
…Despite all this, law enforcement organizations have used the flawed logic of "radicalization" to justify investigating innocent Muslims in almost every part of their daily lives. Under "preventive policing," critics say cops and FBI agents aren't focusing on actual crime, but on protected first amendment activities – like the NYPD's surveillance of student and political groups, or reports "that the FBI has infiltrated mosques simply to learn about what was being said by the imam leading prayers and by those attending" – without a clear reason to suspect criminality.
The whole piece makes for interesting reading. But here's one further thought on the "counterterrorism" efforts of the ever-watchful Guardians Of Our Nation (GOONs).
If they really are so concerned about the 'radicalization' of young Muslims, then why do all the undercover agents they send into Muslim communities pose as extremists, sowing the most radical ideas possible, preying on any vulnerable or troubled soul they come across, egging them on to violence and hatred and often even arranging terrorists plots for them to take part in? If their real concern was to quell "radicalization," shouldn't they be sending in people to talk up peace, tolerance, non-violence, etc.? [Leaving aside the quaint, barnacle-encrusted notion that the state should not be infiltrating any groups at all; I mean, get with the 21st century already, grandpa!]
Indeed, it's almost as if they want to foment scarifying plots, keeping the public scared, obedient -- even slavishly grateful -- to their GOONs and (coincidentally, of course!) justifying an never-ending stream of loot and power flowing to their own noble selves and their institutions of domination, which have killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world in the last decade and stripped away the last vestiges of personal liberty (and prosperity) from those they are meant to be "guarding."
I wonder who radicalized them into such violent extremism?
Here's a really weird "alternative history" thought experiment on this day set aside to celebrate workers around the world. Try to imagine a President of the United States standing up before Congress and saying something like this:
"There is one point … to which I ask a brief attention. It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government. … Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration."
Isn't that wild? Of course, it's the kind of thing only some ignorant goober from the sticks -- or maybe even from some other century -- would come out with. Today, fortunately, we know that people who work for wages are just moochers and takers: parasites feeding on the noble blood of their bosses and betters. Being advanced, savvy and modern, we now know that Labor deserves no 'consideration' at all (much less a higher one!): no safe work places, no job security, no secured pensions, no bargaining rights, no privacy, no decency, no dignity. Labor should be glad and grateful to give whatever it takes (and take whatever they give) to serve the interests of our precious elites -- our crusading corporate chieftains, our visionary venture capitalists, our wise shepherds of inherited wealth -- who graciously provide their beasts of burden with store of provender.
Unless, of course, the provender provisioning threatens to cut into the nobles' bloated profit margins too much. In that case, of course, the higher considerations of capital must take precedence, and the jobs have to go. And when that happens, Labor should humbly bow its head, without complaint, without whining, and quietly, meekly, accept its fate, in accordance with the ruling principle that governs our glorious modern world.
And what is that principle? Well, it just so happens that I addressed this theme in my latest column for Counterpunch Magazine, now offered for your perusal below.
Pay in Blood: Modern Politics Made Simple Modern politics can be hard to fathom, a bizarre mix of mind-bending complexities and bone-stupid banalities coming at us in a howling sandstorm of chaotic noise. How to sift the relentless, contradictory arcana of current events and make sense of it all? I find that a simple phrase helps thread the labyrinth – four little words that capture the grand, overarching political philosophy of the age:
Fuck Off And Die.
This is the lodestar guiding leaders of every political stripe across the breadth of western civilization. If you want to make your way through their billows of bullshit, hold fast to this phrase. It’s what they’re really saying to you.
Of course, elite attitudes toward the lower orders have never been exactly tender; but in times past, a rather large number of sufficiently quiescent peasants and proles were required to create the wealth for plutocratic plundering and maintain the machinery of power and privilege. Thus some attention had to be paid to the rabble’s basic needs and even -- occasionally – their pitiful aspirations for a more meaningful, more humane life for themselves, their families and their communities. But now the means of production (to borrow a phrase) are largely mechanized and digitized; you don’t need many warm bodies -- and certainly not skilled or experienced or well-paid ones – to keep the money rolling in. And perhaps more importantly, the means of control -- the technologies of violence and surveillance -- are now vastly more powerful and pervasive and efficient than ever.
To put it plainly, the elites don’t need us anymore -- or not many of us, anyway. And thanks to runaway population growth -- and the greasy mobility of global capital -- those few of us they do still need to keep the machinery going can be easily replaced, at any moment, by some other desperate chump trying to avoid destitution. So there is no longer any reason for elites to concern themselves with the wearisome creatures out there beyond the mansion gates and the penthouse glass. No need to worry about workers’ rights: if they get out of line, sack them, or even better, send the whole operation overseas, where sweatshop fodder is thick on the ground and comes dirt cheap. No need to worry about communities, the personal, social, economic and physical structures that gave a richer embodiment to ordinary life: just strip them, gut them and leave them to die -- and when the rot gets bad enough, as in Detroit, send in an unelected “manager” to pick the carcass clean.
And no need to worry about mass uprisings of the dispossessed, debt-ridden, insecure, angry, overwhelmed, isolated, media-dazed rabble. With hyper-militarized police forces, cameras on every corner, spies and provocateurs infesting every possible base of dissent, and gargantuan data-harvesters mining every public move and private click of the populace, repression is a piece of cake. And if by chance some pocket of protest does reach critical mass somewhere, your hi-tech, heavily armored goons can easily beat it, tase it and pepper-spray it into submission.
So the elites no longer need us or fear us. We are superfluous to their requirements. And their policies are now ever more nakedly geared to hammering this truth home.
The Great Crash of ’08 gave them the excuse to rip off the mask at last. For five years now, the iron hand of “austerity” has been pressed down hard upon ordinary people. We had no part in the criminal folly that caused the disaster -- yet we are the ones left paying for it, in lost jobs, lost homes, lost services, lost freedoms, lost opportunities, and cramped, crippled, diminished lives. From the "progressive" Obama to the Tory toff Cameron to the pseudo-Socialist Hollande to the dour centrist Merkel -- and all the other clowns, clerks and ciphers turning their self-proclaimed “great democracies” into cash cows for their cronies and controllers -- the infliction of pain on ordinary people is the only game in town. ‘O my gosh,’ our leaders cry, throwing up their soft, unblemished hands, ‘there's just no more money left, no money for your schools, your roads, your jobs, your pensions, your rights, your benefits, your elderly, your sick, your poor, your vulnerable. The money's all gone, what can we do?’
But of course the money is not gone, not at all. A new study -- by an inside man, James Henry, former chief economist at McKinsey -- shows that up to $32 trillion has been stashed away by the world’s elites in offshore accounts and other hidey-holes. Even a modest portion of this mountain of swag would completely alleviate the draconian “budget crises” and ludicrous “sequesters” that have been artificially imposed on nation after nation. All of the suffering, chaos, ruin and degradation being caused by these policies -- all the “skin in the game” that’s being flayed from the backs of ordinary people -- all of it is unnecessary. The money is there to solve these problems -- if our leaders wanted to solve them.
But they don’t. For “austerity” isn’t designed to fix our problems; it is instead meant to be a permanent condition, a new normal, the endless, changeless natural order. (Just as the “emergency” of the “War on Terror” has now morphed into a permanent way of life.) It’s all out in the open. Obama is eagerly offering to slash the social compact to ribbons. Cameron is driving the poor and sick to their knees. The IMF is breeding Nazis in Greece. They’re not even pretending to care about anyone outside the golden circle anymore.
Fuck off and die: that’s it, that’s all they’ve got to say. The rest is show-biz -- strip-tease and shell games -- to fleece us of our last few coins as they shove us out the exit.