Thursday, December 16, 2010

Psst, Peace

President Chavez [of Venezuela] is my new best friend
--President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia

We occasionally hear scoops about secret wars, like the ones Washington is currently running from the Philippines to the Horn of Africa. But how often do we hear about something even more threatening to our empire: secret peace?
One just broke out in Latin America that must have Obama and Hillary gnashing their teeth. Colombia and Venezuela, historically one country but lately at each other’s throat, have kissed and made up. That’s been big news south of the border but remains all but classified in the U.S. because it’s bad news for Washington’s never-ending divide and conquer plans for the region. What’s more, it jars the propaganda assumptions of the media.
Colombia, which specializes in cocaine and conservative regimes, has long been Washington’s favorite in Latin America. It’s reputation on the continent is that of a “death squad democracy,” where political campaigns feature rightists gunning down leftists. This has occasioned surviving leftists to take up guerrilla war against the state and support themselves by coca dealing. Their 60 year insurgency has given Washington an ongoing opportunity to lavish billions on favored contractors and mercenaries by “aiding” and “advising” the Colombian military’s battle against blow and bolsheviki.
Colombia was also supposed to come in handy as a forward base in Washington’s continuing scheming to overthrow the leftist government that the neighboring Venezuelans have disobediently dared to elect and reelect. Obama pressed the Colombians to give over seven more bases to the Pentagon, with their personnel exempt from local law. In other words, Americans could “tune up” or “take out” any Colombians, not to mention Venezuelans, at their whim.
Under increased threat, Venezuela brought up troops to the border. It also broke diplomatic relations with Colombia and, more importantly, cut off billions in trade. Meanwhile, the Colombian supreme court declared the base deal unconstitutional, while the country elected a new president who, unlike his predecessor, paid more attention to the howls of businesses going broke because of the trade rupture than to the stratagems of the Pentagon and CIA.
Diplomats on both sides of the border went to work. Relations were reestablished, the trade ban lifted, and agreements were forged on a host of mutual issues. President Chavez of Venezuela and new President Santos of Colombia had a couple of friendly meetings. The talk turned from war to peace. And Santos even proclaimed Chavez his "new best friend."
Colombia is still right and Venezuela still left. But most importantly both are still offspring of Bolivar. Right and left, they have come to understand that they have more to gain by being good neighbors to each other than by beating each other up at the service of the expiring imperio yanqui.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

We Told You So
Two years ago, the Dems won the presidency and both houses of congress by big majorities. The result has been that the minority Reps remain in de facto control of Washington and have moved the country farther to the right while the Dems are dismissed left and right as wimps and woosies.
Presiding over this debacle is capitulator-in-chief Barack Obama. Lots of folks are disappointed in him. But not here at Karman Turn. We had him figured right from the git-go. So join us for a brief jaunt down memory lane back to June 2009 when our pres told us all about what he was all about.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Our Pecuniary Pecking Order
The other day President Obama announced a freeze on the salaries of fed workers. They’re lucky compared to the hundreds of thousands of state and local government workers getting the boot. At the same time, Wall Street reported record profits and rich bonuses.
Ive never been a fan of capitalism. But I have always believed that since it’s the prevailing system everyone should get to play by its first rule that you grab everything you can and the hell with everyone else. Certainly, that’s exactly what Wall Street and corporate America do. Hedge fund managers and insurance execs take home billions for not producing a single useful item or service. No one dares place a limit on their pelf. That would be un-American and socialistic. But that privilege of unlimited accretion is allowed to just a few. If organized workers used their solidarity to demand sky high wages, our rulers, as they have done countless times in the past, would sic the dogs on them.
In fact, we Americans have very strict, and often inane, notions about how much money different groups of us should be allowed to make. As noted, Wall Street and big business get the no-limit license. So do showbiz, sports and government contracting. When we hear about people in those ranks being preposterously paid, we envy them and take pride in a country that allows them such success. But when the poor and working classes manage to wangle a few extra bucks out of the system we turn spiteful and claim that their sloth and greed is what’s ruining America.
Take these two examples: A poor man scuffles by on Uncle Sam’s handouts. Since he appears able-bodied, we condemn him for sponging on us and demand the government stop the sops to him and his ilk. Now imagine a trust fund brat who's never worked a day in his life, but takes in millions of the Uncle Sam’s bucks in the form of interest on government bonds he’s inherited. At worst, we’ll call him a playboy. Few would resent the money he’s siphoning from Uncle Sam or fume that people like him were adding to the national debt.
These antic attitudes are part of what has given these United States the most extreme concentration of wealth anywhere outside of banana republics where a few families own entire countries. The numbers are staggering. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have more bucks than circulate in teeming continents. Yet this debilitating constipation of cash bothers just a few lefties and academics.
Tea Baggers, the noisiest political bunch at the moment, are running around bitching that there’s still too much “sharing of wealth,” meaning that ever more concentration is called for. This despite the fact that the estimable Messrs Gates and Buffet have repeatedly offered that they already stow more than enough swag and are even willing to pay higher taxes.
Out there in Christendom, a different view prevails. Many adhere to Anatole’s France’s view that behind every great fortune there is a crime. Therefore, the wealthy are not particularly admired or trusted, while the lesser classes have a greater sense of solidarity. They think the world would be a better place if the rich had less and the rest more. And even though more equitable societies boast happier people, that sort of talk is tantamount to treason on this the savage side of the Atlantic.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Detour To Dallas
Forty seven years back. A crisp autumn Friday. Just about one p.m. I was shaving. Getting ready to work the night trick across the Hudson at a paper in Bergen County. I covered four towns. My favorite was the sliver of grungy waterfront under the shadow of the George Washington Bridge called Edgewater. It was loaded with interesting insular characters who had never been across the half mile of river to Manhattan because they had no reason or desire to go there. So much for the lure of bright lights. Mounted on the wall behind the police chief’s desk was a tommy gun, a souvenir from Prohibition days when bootleggers stashed their goods in the caves tucked under the palisades in Edgewater.
Friday nights were easy because there were no town meetings to attend. I’d just copy the blotters at the four police headquarters. I’d write them up at the office and do a few obits, social notes and stuff. With luck, I was out of Jersey by eight or so and heading down to the Village in my zippy Corvair (the model later made notorious by Ralph Nader as a “one-car-accident”).
It was just about one, and me with my face foamed, when WINS delivered the bulletin: a shooting in Dallas involving the president! In no time, they were talking about a Cuban connection. A CBS reporter I knew called to ask if I had run across a certain Lee Oswald in Cuba? That September I had gotten back from a lefty student trip to the island that was supposed to last two weeks but had stretched out to two months. No. I never met any Oswalds, there or here.
I got to Jersey about dinner time and did my rounds. There was only one subject of conversation and one common mood: a bewildered sadness and uncertainty. Everyone was benumbed.
Along with the rest of the country, I spent the weekend in front of the tube. I had one eye on my Sunday Times and one eye on the set the morning Ruby shot Oswald. Looking back, I got exactly the same feeling as when the second World Trade tower was hit. Something big, hidden and awful was happening. There was obviously more to this than two discrete dementos.
But soon enough the media was pounding into us that Oswald had shot Kennedy for no good reason and Ruby had then shot Oswald for no bad one. We were told that the interesting, if not downright sinister, biographies and associations of those two characters, were unimportant to the case. The all but perfect incompetence of the Dallas cops (who never took down a statement from Oswald because it was Friday and the stenographer had gone home) was just another pointless coincidence. The non-stop message was trust the government, there was less here than meets the eye. Nothing to see, folks. Move along.
First, we got the FBI report from J. Edgar: No conspiracy, no magic bullet. Then the Warren Commission report: no conspiracy, but yes, a magic bullet. Finally in the 70s came the House Select Committee report: conspiracy likely, but forget about it. Ever since, the country has been divided between a large majority of citizens (now dying off) who still smell a rat, and a small but powerful government/media elite armed with spray cans of air freshener.
Just about all the principals in the JFK assassination are long gone. Some files have been thrown open but lots of secrets are still kept (about Lincoln’s assassination as well). This is not to cover anyone’s ass, but to maintain the myth that it’s not necessary in America to read Shakespeare or Acton or Gibbon or the chronicles of the Romans. That’s because we have nothing to learn from history. We are blessed in that our leaders, like our country, are exceptionally good, and therefore incapable of the crimes, conspiracies and cover ups that mark the power arrangements everywhere else on earth. Who would claim otherwise but some wacko conspiracy theorist?
In February of ‘64, just a couple of months after the assassination, I was driving across country with Bob Dylan, Victor Maimudes and Paul Clayton. Like morbid tourists, we detoured into Dallas looking for Dealey Plaza. We finally inquired of some passing duffer. “Oh, you mean where they shot that sonofabitch Kennedy?” he said with a big grin.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Mendacious Mavens of the Middle
When the McCain-Palin campaign was looking a for a “leftist terrorist” to pin on Obama, the best they could come up with was college professor Bill Ayers, a 66-year-old erstwhile extremist who’d been keeping his nose clean for the last 40 years.
Back in the 60’s I bopped off to Cuba and wore my larynx out yelling revolutionary slogans. I’m now 71 and would happily accept a return to the glory days of the People’s Republic of Eisenhower. I try to keep up with the left, or what’s left of it, and haven’t noticed any nutty notions in decades. The vast majority of my former comrades have either given up on politics or attend the occasional peace rally. Those who remain activists are overwhelmingly safe and sane social democrats just now figuring out that Barack Obama never was and never will be one of them.
That’s not to deny that a few tattered fringistas from the 3rd, 4th or Positively 4th Street Internationals don’t erupt on the scene now and again. Hey, Jerry Brown is back in Sacramento! My point is that America’s meager left, across the spectrum from Hubert Humphrey pro-war liberals to raging Maoists, has long since gone the way of the Whigs. And the movement hasn’t been refreshed by much new blood since Wall Street figured out how to make money and tamp down youthful dissent by putting all the college kids in permanent hock with tuition loans.
So when I hear anyone nowadays condemn “extremists of both left and right,” as Jon Stewart repeatedly did at his big rally about nothing much in Washington a couple of Saturdays ago, I know I’m dealing with the clueless and/or mendacious.
Who besides senior citizen Bill Ayers and the even older Noam Chomsky do they have in mind? What ultra outrage are they referencing? The Battle of Seattle was over a decade ago. The last really big peace march was back in 2002. No, I take back the clueless option. Those who pretend that America is somehow annoyed, let alone threatened by, leftist extremists on a par with Glenn Beck or the various gun-crazy militias running around in the woods are full of shit! And they know it.
Whether in politics or personal life, positioning oneself mid-way between two supposed extremes is usually a cheap ploy rather than a considered judgment. We even have a name for for it: playing both sides against the middle. Politicians, our lowest form of life, find it useful for conning the widest possible range of constituents. Newspeople, the next lowest, are forever trying to convince their audiences that truth lies in the middle for the same reason. I go along with Texas populist Jim Hightower, who likes to say, there's nothing in the middle of the road but a yellow stripe and dead armadillos.
For a hilarious but just as serious take on this issue, I commend you to Bill Maher's most recent New Rules video.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What the Electaprise Means
Whether under Reps or Dems, the American polity has been rolling rightwards for the last 30 years. That pilgrimage to penury continued last night. The reason for it is simple. The U.S., unlike other countries, does not have a left. It has a right wing party and one that believes in getting along by going along. So politically our country remains on a one-way trip. John Stewart, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow aren’t going to change that.
Maybe this is a good time to define our terms. There are millions of shapes and shades of politics. But they all boil down to two notions. Some believe that wealth and power should be concentrated amongst themselves. Others believe it should be spread around. Thanks to the seating arrangements in the French parliament two centuries ago, we call the former rightists and the latter leftists. We have the right to thank for palaces and plutocrats and the left for democracy and the middle class.
Moving to the right doesn’t just mean that conservative politicians run the government. That’s the least of it. Moving to the right in this day and age means the continuing replacement of what’s public by what’s private, meaning none of the public’s business. It means we take orders from corporate bosses--an increasing number not even Americans--instead of leaders we elect. It means that corporate profit rather than peace, prosperity or public benefit becomes the focal point of just about everything we do. It means we turn from a nation into a multinational.
The evidence of this swirls around us in the windblown posters from yesterday’s election. That event, formerly a civic duty and now a commercial enterprise, posted revenues in the five billion dollars range. Thanks to a Supreme Court ruling, anonymous investors the world over are now invited to get their bids in for the solon of their choice. The NY Times has called the endless attack ads that have become a staple of our electaprises “a goldmine” for local tv stations. By now, virtually all of us watch those stations over a cable network. Because we have a conservative polity in place, those cable companies are not constricted by the onerous regulations they have in other countries, like socialistic France.
For instance, the French have a law against cable monopolies. There are lots of competing companies and you can easily move from one to another. Costs for a package including highspeed internet, unlimited telephony to 60 countries, and 100 or so cable channels run to 40 Euros a month. We wouldn’t stand for that in conservative America. We make sure that every town has its own private monopoly cable company and are willing to pay for the privilege.
In any event, yesterday’s electaprise shouldn’t change much. The Obama administration was already aggressively following through on most Bush (meaning conservative) policies, particularly in re the economy and the empire. Expansionary policies and peace have been ruled out as too lefty. That means more war and more austerity. If your kid can’t get a job, there’s always the military. They will teach him or her that in conservative and corporate America, just as in the service, unquestioning obedience to authority is all.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Double Header
t’s campaign season, which means that the beast with two heads is out bestenching the ozone again. The fiercer head with the sharp fangs and empty eyes is called Rep and the confused, toothless one is Dem. The beast is always among us, but becomes particularly predatory at election time. That’s when the two heads pretend they have two minds and snap at each other like Jack Russell terriers. I’ve been watching this happen for most of my three score and ten. It’s not much of a spectacle, and is getting more penny dreadful with each rendition.
What’s new this time around is that the relentless transformation of our elections from public exercise to private initiative is now complete. Thanks to the infamous Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, anyone anywhere in the world with big bucks is allowed to anonymously invest in our government leaders. So now when we say we have the best congress money can buy, that means renminbi, rials and rupees as well as greenbacks.
Our conservative friends suffer hypocrisy on this score. For decades they portrayed themselves as super patriots and argued that good old business was more American than bad old government. Then globalism erased the distinctions between homegrown and foreign corporations. Would the yahoos follow the logic of their free enterprise faith and now argue that China National Oil Corp., Dubai World and Credit Suisse were also more patriotic than hapless and hated Uncle Sam?
The answer to that one came with the Gulf oil spill. The right took British Petroleum to its heart and stoutly defended BP against what it reviled as ruinous regulators and evil environmentalists from Washington. The fact that BP was UK did not stop Rand Paul, the Republican senate candidate in Kentucky, from calling criticism of it “un-American.” Neither did it discourage Newt Gingrich from offering that Obama’s treatment of poor BP made the U.S. a “Venezuela type” country.
The beast head named Dem is yapping at the Rep head for soliciting secret swag from foreigners. Of course, it’s not barking too loudly since it’s guilty of the same sin. The invitation for foreigners to join our highly profitable election enterprise is yet another sign of the demise of our empire. In the early stages of imperialism, the center rules its subject states; in the latter stages the subject states corrupt the center. Any day now, I can see a bipartisan bill offered up in congress providing that our votes be counted by Swiss bankers.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Debt Dodge

Unless politicians are prepared to dig into the pockets of middle- and upper-income families, experts say, the demands from bond market investors to get government finances under control can be satisfied only by cutting back even further on benefits for the poor and needy.

Nobody’s perfect. That’s why the truth accidentally pops out of our kept media from time to time. The truth revealed in the above quote from the NY Times is that bond investors own the world and that we are in their thrall.
The richies and the righties have successfully sold the stupidos on the notion that debt will be the death of us. Everyone and their tea-brained uncle is shrieking and hollering about how our engorging arrears means the ball and chain for future generations. Our kids’ kids and their kids will have to feed on gruel and sleep on stones, in the words of Emerson, “to pay every debt as if God wrote the bill.”
But, of course, the creator is not our creditor. Our debt is owed to bond investors. They trade in that debt in order to profit by it. Some hold it for years and some for months or days. Some hold it for mere microseconds. We no more know who owns our debt at any given moment than we know how many grains of sand our feet kick up when we walk on a beach.
What we should know, but are rarely told, is that credit and debt have replaced the mass production of goods as the chief means of taking money from everyone and giving it to the wealthy. In fact, we should no longer call ourselves capitalist because ever more of what we once called capital has been turned into debt. The French have a fine old word known to all economists for people who live off the interest from debt: they call them rentiers.
Our rentier, nee capitalist, class has two great fears common to its ilk everywhere. The first is inflation. Their ultimate nightmare is a repeat of Germany in the 1920s when people needed a wheel barrow full of bills to buy a crust of bread. If the value of the dollar falls to, say, a penny, debtors will pay off their loans with near worthless bucks. At that point, the creditor class will start driving their Maseratis into abutments.
Their other nightmare is repudiation. What if debtors just refused to pay up? It’s happened recently with sovereign debt. Argentina and Ecuador repudiated part of their paper, the latter when it was discovered by the new reform government that certain loans the country had taken out were illegally drawn. The Ecuadorans saved themselves $3 billion.
On the Daily Show the other night, Jon Stewart, a cretin when it comes to matters foreign, mocked Europeans for their massive demonstrations in opposition to government austerity programs. Why, he asked, weren’t those crazy furriners modeling themselves on the Tea Baggers and protesting public spending instead?
Despite being a smart as well as smart alecky bunch, it has apparently never occurred to Stewart and his writers that not every middle class in the world is as stupid and suicidal as ours. The millions who marched in Europe understand perfectly well that the debit crisis is really a trick to make the rich richer at our expense. Unlike us, they are prepared to repudiate the righties and the richies. They're already fighting back. Ten million marched in Spain the other day. In U.S. terms, that was 100 million people. If we could turn out one-tenth that number, the bond traders would go into another business.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Absolute in Moderation
uppose the Brits had won the Revolutionary War. Suppose King George III imposed one of his German cousins on us as monarch. Suppose that King Karl I of Upper and Lower Canada and the Royal Colonies of America spoke English with a Prussian accent and much preferred Berlin to his palace in Philadelphia. Suppose Karl appointed America’s government, including members of the legislature. Suppose even mentioning freedom of speech, let alone practicing it, got you into deep doodoo with the Royal Constabulary--chains and chopping blocks kind of doodoo.
This scenerio came to mind as I was watching several amiable interviews last week with the charming King Abdullah II of Jordan and his lovely consort, Queen Rania, who were in town for the General Assembly opening. Abdullah is a real favorite in America. He was schooled and militarized here and at Sandhurst in Britain and speaks in an attractive combination of colloquial American and polished British English. His dad, the late King Hussein, was likwise popular in in the states. Hussein even had an American wife whose good works and snazzy wardrobe were regularly publicized by Barbara Walters and such.
Though the Jordanian monarchy claims a line back to Mohammed himself, this particular branch was installed by the Brits to see to their interests in the territory of Trans Jordan, one of the countries they invented when the Ottoman Empire collapsed. If you recall your Lawrence of Arabia stuff, the Brits got the Arabs to fight against the Turks in World War I by promising them independence. They, of course, betrayed that promise and installed various puppet rulers around the Middle East whose glance turned more to Mayfair than Mecca.
Whenever members of the now pro-American Hashemite house appear before our politicians or on our media, it’s polite that a certain word never be mentioned. That also goes for the Saud family as well as the various emirs and sultans of the Gulf states. The word is democracy. Their nations don’t have it and they don't like to talk about the fact that they prefer absolute dynastic rule instead.
If we applied dictionary definitions to our usages, these royals would properly be termed despots. But then we supposedly freedom-loving Americans would be asking ourselves why we pal around with their like. To avoid such embarrassment, we abandon Funk & Wagnalls and call them moderates instead. Except to tea baggers and other yahoos, moderate is a nicely anodyne word. I mean, who’s opposed to moderation?
We constantly urge people in that part of the world to abandon extremism and model themselves on these moderates. They shrug, not particular caring whether moderates or fanatics stone the adulterers and lop off the limbs of thieves.
Meanwhile in the genuinely democratic nation of Venezuela they had genuinely free and fair elections on Sunday which handily returned the pro-government parties to power with a 70 percent turnout. Nevertheless, Washington labels Venezuela “extremist” and “undemocratic.” It accuses its president, who has twice the domestic popularily of Obama, of being a detested dictator who steals elections by buying the votes of the poor majority with jobs, schools, health care, housing and such.
It should be obvious that the reason that King Abdullah of Jordan is a “moderate” but President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is an "autocrat" is the the former accepts American “leadership” while the latter insists that Venezuelans lead Venezuela. Mr. Funk and Mr. Wagnalls must be spinning in their sarcophagi.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Virgin on the Absurd

Nine years ago today, we saw the world stand still. We saw the innocence of a nation crumble to the ground. We saw the face of evil form in plumes of smoke and ash. It was Sept. 11, 2001---NY Times columnist Charles M. Blow

A Jewish mother is sending her frail son off to war. “Don’t over exert,” she admonishes. “Kill an Arab and then take it easy." “But mom," he answers,“what if they kill me?" “Why should they,” she asks, “what have you done to them?”--from Uri Avnery, wise old Israeli politician and writer

One of the differences between human beings and the United States of America is that humans lose their innocence only once. America’s innocence, like the remote that falls between the sofa cushions, is forever getting lost and refound.
My father’s generation was taught that America lost its innocence when Prohibition engendered lawlessness and dissipation. My cohort was said to have misplaced its virginity in Dallas and Danang. Then, says Blow, it got misplaced yet again in the rubble of the Pentagon and World Trade Center.
I guess it’s marvelous that we Americans think so highly of ourselves that whatever screwing we give and get only temporarily deprives us of our purity. Now if we could only make the other 95 percent of the world who see us as Tony Sopranos only fatter rub their eyes and perceive Cinderella instead.
Were we a cosmopolitan and adult people, we would have treated 9/11 with the same stoicism with which the Brits suffered the Blitz or the IRA bombings. We would have calmly regarded that attack as yet another battle in our long see-saw war to control the Middle East and its resources. We might have remembered the USS New Jersey hurling 2,700 pound shells dubbed “flying Volkswagens” into the perched villages of the Levant. Or the tens of thousands killed by the chemical weapons we supplied to our then pal Saddam Hussein for our joint war on Iran. Or Israel’s wars of punitive annihilation that we provisioned.
We would have reckoned that we got in our shots, and with 9/11 they got in one of theirs. So let’s bind our wounds and head back into battle. If we Americans want global leadership and cheap gas we have to pay some price, don’t we? Instead, the politicians and the bullshit mills of the media churned out yet another version of the virgin being assailed. Evil ravaged goodness merely because it was good. “They hate us for our freedom,” as Bush endlessly intoned. So we must destroy evil lest it rob of our innocence yet again. And not just any evil, but the one that resides east of Suez, bows to Mecca, and sits on oil deposits.
Back in World War II, Harry Truman made a national reputation by heading a Senate investigation into war profiteering (it was considered a crime rather than a smart career choice back then). During Vietnam, Senator Fulbright held revelatory hearings on how we got into that war. Our Iran-Contra adventure raised questions for which congress sought answers. Interestingly, no one in power today seems interested in investigating the Allah awful mess we have gotten ourselves into between Baghdad and Kabul. Few even want to hear about the subject: Obama’s speech on replacing combat in Iraq with a euphemism for same was rated one of the dullest and least listened to of his presidency.
Ground Zero has become the cross on our shield and we are settling into a new round of crusades. The last series of such endeavors went on for two centuries. The fact that we're insolvent shouldn’t slow us down. After all, Peter the Hermit and Walter the Penniless led several thousand paupers in the first Crusade. They looted Belgrade as if they were CIA contractors in Kabul before the Seljuk Turks cut them to pieces.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Obama Drones On About
U.S. Global "Leadership"

afiosi refer to their organization as cosa nostra, our thing. Our politicians refer to our empire as ‘our leadership.’ By the third paragraph of his let's pretend we're leaving Iraq speech on Tuesday night, President Obama was warning “the world that the United States of America intends to sustain and strengthen our leadership in this young century.” In other words, that despite having gotten cuffed around in Iraq and Afghanistan (not to mention Latin America), he intends to beef up the empire. That's, of course, if China lends him more ducats for drones.
Since the most durable lesson of history is that people everywhere prefer their own kind rather than foreigners as leaders, Obama’s intention is a formula for endless conflict and war with one bunch or other of the 95 percent of human beings on earth who owe no allegiance to the United States and its succession of undressed emperors.
As that 95 percent has noticed, America has surrendered its manufacturing edge and frittered away its finances. That means its ‘leadership’ now consists mainly of a military power competent at dealing death and destruction, but utterly incompetent and corrupt when it comes to pacifying, governing and exploiting the survivors of its violence.
Ironically, this is an affirmation of the conservative belief that government just screws things up. The crazy contradiction here is that though the conservatives want to starve the government at home, they are ever eager to sprinkle endless billions on its ‘nation building’ efforts overseas. But that’s not actually a contradiction, since those billions are really being doled out by Uncle Sam to its contractors and mercenaries. In effect, the Pentagon and CIA have become little more than brokers for an increasingly corporate and private military. The right wingers love that. Meanwhile, Barack Obama has become to drones what Martha Stewart is to duvets.
The privatization of once public institutions like schools and armies relieves them of their original purpose, whether it be educating kids or winning wars. The new purpose becomes profit. From that perspective, Iraq and Afghanistan may be losers for the empire but are winners for their investors. But the war bubble is no more sustainable than the housing or stock bubbles. It’ll blow up one day, too. The only question is whether the explosion will be literal or figurative.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Playing Ball
As is my habit, I was avidly reading the business page when I came across this headline:
UBS? Hadn’t I read those initials in another story of a different sort just a day or so ago? Sure, UBS, or Union Banque Suisse. It’s one of those reclusive repositories where the really rich stash their spondulicks away from busybody tax collectors, divorce lawyers and such.
The story referred to earlier attempts by Uncle Sam to get the names of UBS’s American clients. Now Washington was backing off. “The statement by the I.R.S,” said the NY Times, “puts to rest a serious headache for UBS, the world’s largest private bank, and for Switzerland over offshore private banking services that enabled wealthy Americans to avoid taxes.” Phew, I felt relieved. Then I remembered that I didn't have a Swiss bank account.
I recalled that there was another story the same week mentioning UBS. What was it? Then, it came to me. It was raining on Martha’s Vineyard so the vacationing President Obama had to play basketball in the gym at the Oak Bluffs school because all the outdoor courts were being pelted. He went to shoot hoops with a couple of his buddies. One of them was Robert Wolf, a bond guy who must be sharp, having risen to the job of CEO of UBS Americas.
Later in the week, with the sun back out, Obama played golf at Mink Meadows. Along with the president, the foursome included Mike Bloomberg, mayor of New York City and a zillionaire financial news mogul, Vernon Jordan, the wealthy director of the Lazard global banking group and a longtime intimate of presidents, and, again, Robert Wolf of UBS. The stock market cheerleaders at CNBC were making jokes about the president having a new pal on Wall Street.
I assume that when our president gets together with the gods of finance, apart from the usual manly banter, sports talk and the occasional blue joke, the talk is about restoring the economy, putting the jobless back to work, and other serious and uplifting matters. I can't imagine that the conversation would drift to something like getting the I.R.S. to go soft on a company headed by a BOB (buddy of Barack). Even thinking such a thought would make me all but one of those crazy conspiracy theorists. You know, they’re the nuts who believe that when people of wealth and power meet in private, they sometimes advance their own selfish interests rather than strive for the common good.
No, I’m sure that the two stories about UBS are purely coincidental. And I'm sure that President Obama, Mr. Wolf, and all those folks in Washington and on Wall Street want you to be sure, too.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

9/11 Nine Years On
Charles Peguy, the French Catholic writer, said that things begin in mysticism and end in politics. Had he been an American, he might have written that things end in business.
It’s nine years since 9/11. No equivalent outrage has recurred. Amazingly, its principal progenitors are still on the loose. The CIA's "harsh interrogators" have turned those they have caught into such zombies that they dare not present them in court. Meanwhile, the CIA and Pentagon dispute whether Al Qaeda has been droned down to scores or mere dozens of effectives. In any case, an American has less chance of being killed by terrorists than of being run over by a Kaiser-Frazer or winning the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes.
While conundrums and conspiracies still becloud 9/11, what is clear is that the event has added a whole new profit sector to our economy. An extraordinary series in the Washington Post tells us that since 9/11:
  • Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.
  • An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.
  • In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings—about 17 million square feet of space.
  • Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste. For example, 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.
Those mind-blowing facts reminds us that our country fights its wars in an interesting way. Rather than adjusting our strategies to the nature and capabilities of our enemies, we align them with the business trends of the moment. Back when we were the world’s leading manufacturing power, we emphasized turning out endless quantities of tanks, planes, warships and such. By the height of the Cold War in the 1960s we had built enough nukes to zap mother earth into cosmic dust many times over. Those who suggested that too much was enough (remember the Nuclear Freeze Movement?) were branded enemy agents.
The computer revolution came along at roughly the same time that our capitalists figured they could make more money by sending manufacturing jobs overseas and speculating in paper assets instead. So our military started making fewer but more costly weapons stuffed with foreign-fashioned electronics. And just like private business, the Pentagon also began farming out jobs. The classic KP potato peelers disappeared, replaced by the civilian wage slaves of huge private contractors like Halliburton who charged the tax payer Maxim’s prices for serving up MRE chow.
9/11 brought an emphasis on intelligence. Not the human kind in which information is combined with judgment, but rather the military kind in which vast amounts of data are mined and refined into futuristic attacks on medieval tribes. So part of the the military was rejiggered to resemble Wall Street trading desks, with ranks of lap top commandos poring over the latest “secret intelligence” to provide targets for the old hat part of the military that still sallies forth to kill people and break things.
As we saw by the Wiki leaks, our wars by software appear no more able to produce coherent victories than our hardware ones like Vietnam. Imperial wars always run into the same problem: already being home and having nowhere else to go, the enemy usually outlast their more easily bored would-be conquerors. A greater worry is where Washington is going to direct this secret, massive and mushrooming "intelligence" behemoth after its finishes its polysci proctology of the Pushtuns. What more can Uncle Sam possibly want to know about us that we haven't already flashed on FaceBook and such?
(For a shorter version of the Washington Post series check this recent New Yorker piece)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Yawns of August
West Tisbury, Mass.
Big things are happening--but who cares? Our country is losing its economy and its empire. Few nations outside of the banana belt have managed to concentrate wealth and power so intensely. The time when one guy owns everything is a lot closer than the time when everyone owns something.
Our platinum-weighted military is unable to outfight feudal foes. Still, its bloated budget and pointless wars remain sacrosanct. There are 2.4 million of us in jail. That’s far more, in total and percentage wise, than any other nation, including China, a dictatorship with a population five times ours. If all those Americans belong in jail, we are the most criminal society in the universe. If they don’t, we’re a police state.
The fact that we have 16-17 percent real unemployment doesn’t stop us from shipping ever more jobs overseas. The increasing millions losing their homes doesn’t stop us from running the same old real estate scams. And, by the way, we’ve advanced from the fattest to the most obese of the human tribes.
The global economic mess has folks revolting from Thailand to Thessalonika. Europe is riotous. Fed up Latin Americans are opting out of our empire. Our former clients everywhere have turned surly and, worse, disobedient. The world out there is a
churning, bubbling maelstrom.
Here? Not so much. Despite all the strurm und drang across the planet, the USA remains the Alfred E. Newman of nations. Folks are taking insecurity and poverty in stride. A few weeks ago when the Reps blocked further unemployment insurance payments, outrage was limited to a couple of congressional liberals Where were the jobless themselves? God only knows.
Back in the Great Depression neighbors organized against evictions by surrounding foreclosed homes and moving furniture back in as quickly as the sheriffs dragged it out. I don’t see any of that, or of much other protest on the housing front.
Despite our endless and wasteful wars, the peace movement has peacefully gone to sleep. The people who were angry about such things as the Patriot Act and other attacks on civil liberties are nowhere to be seen now that Obama is enforcing the same Bush policies.
We’re told that lots of liberals are disillusioned by Obama’s failure to even attempt the change they imagined that he would bring. I don’t buy it. But even if it’s so, so what? Where do liberals have to go? They are self-declared serfs of the Democratic Party. And that means forever being terrorized by those to their right and terrorizing those on their left in the name of the “lesser evil.” Nothing new here.
The only interesting politics happening in the country are on the right. The Ron Paul Libertarians are terrific on ending our imperial wars and restoring constitutional rights. A few of the tea baggers are actually irked at rule by big banks and corporations. Unfortunately, they appear to be outnumbered by the knucklehead wing of conservatism, those who want to play with guns, not pay taxes, and vote Jefferson Davis back into office.
Right, left or whatever, none of these tendencies threaten business as usual, let alone promise change. The world may be interesting, but we’ll check it out on You Tube after our nap.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Great BS Machine
West Tisbury, Mass.
The business of public relations, an American invention, is about a century old. One of its earliest manifestations came when John D. Rockefeller hired Ivy Lee, one of the first flacks, to clean up his reputation after the notorious 1914 massacre at his coal mine in Ludlow, Colorado. Miners there went on strike. Rockefeller goons and troops burned them out of their encampment, killing women and children. Old man Rockefeller was already in bad cess because of his pitiless business practices. Roasting little kids made him the nation’s bogeyman. Ivy Lee changed that. Soon the papers and newsreels were filled with images of the sere, crow-beaked old John D. handing out shiny dimes to photogenic urchins.
About the same time newspaper owners were discovering that something called “objectivity” might make them richer. All through American history, blats and broadsheets had been the clarions of parties, pols and special pleaders. You bought the paper that reflected your opinions and dumped on others. With the rise of giant consumer industries, a need for mass advertising arose. The solution was mass publication newspapers that rose above favoritism by having their stories written by “professional” news people rather than partisan hacks. Naturally, these newspapers were never quite so “objective” as to bite the hands that fed them by getting tough on the sins of big business since they had become big businesses themselves.
Thus the great American bullshit business was born. Ever since, the national take on reality has been produced, edited, Photoshopped and cosmetized. Raw information is treated like uncooked chicken gizzards: something that will make you sick if you even touch it. The honchos at NPR, CNN and such regularly warn us that we need them as “responsible gatekeepers” to make the news digestible.
So complete was the government-corporate control of information, that it had become all but sacrilege to challenge it. The greatest sin, as Gore Vidal liked to say, was giving up the game. By which he meant revealing the truth to those who weren't supposed to know it.
I used the past tense because the net has changed all that--at least technically. Sitting at a laptop on my back porch on an island in the Atlantic I can potentially reach as many people with my take on the news as any media conglomerate. By the same token, I learn things about the world every day from the net that that no money media editor would dare to publish, lest it rile some pol or plutocrat.
So, thanks to the net, our gatekeepers have lost the lock and hinges to the gate, allowing naked reality to wander into the backyard and disport itself before our amazed eyes. The latest and most notorious intruders consist of the Afghan war reports revealed at,_2004-2010. Not to brag, but they confirm, underline and tie in pink ribbons the things I’ve been writing about the subject for the last couple of years.* Namely, that the culture and politics of that part of the world are beyond the ken, let alone the manipulation of our empire, and that therefore our designs on it are as doomed as Elphinstone's regiments of foot at the Khyber Pass in 1842.
I have enormous admiration for Specialist Bradley Manning and the crew at WikiLeaks who gave us reality instead of rhetoric on Afghanistan. I hope it will match the impact of the release of the Pentagon Papers that exposed the fraud of Vietnam. But it may be too late. I fear the great American bullshit machine has accustomed us to pointless wars, corruptly, criminally and incompetently fought. Proof of the same may merely produce more useless indifference rather than useful ire.

* War's Costly Toll (Booth), June 10, 2010
Traveling With Hillary, March 19, 2010
Keeping Score On Our Wars, December 3, 2010
Salong, It's Been Good To Know You, Oct 4,2009

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Two Scenarios
Two Years Later

I published the blog below on July 19, 2008. Unfortunately, Scenario 2 appears to have prevailed. I went astray in predicting protest (good) followed by repression (bad). The paucity of the former has so far obviated the latter. I was also amazed that, given the new political mood in Latin America, Obama was stupid enough to alienate a whole continent by signing off on the vicious coup in Honduras whose Washington-advised leaders are currently practicing old-fashioned death squad democracy in all of its grizzliness. Our media continue to ignore Honduras's growing list of victims on the well-established principle that it’s not newsworthy, let alone a violation of human rights, for rightists to kill and torture leftists. And, of course, no one could foresee environmental catastrophe on the scale of the Gulf kill. Apart from that, I think, unhappily, that Scenario 2 allows me to don the swami’s turban.

* * * * * *

Scenario 1. Obama wins. The landslide majority that elected him along with a lopsided Democratic congress demand the change he promised. They want immediate action on jobs and the economy. They want the troops out of Iraq and America out of the empire business. Their to-do list also includes energy, health care, the environment, schools, and infrastructure. Obama and the Dems respond positively. They signal their bona fides by initiating withdrawal, citing mounting Iraqi calls for us to clear out. Obama announces global base closings to save money and show foreigners we have no imperial designs on them. In what is called the Obama Overture, he assures democratic Latin leaders that efforts to overthrow their governments will cease to be replaced by cooperation on ending the poverty that drives millions north.
At home, Obama launches a Real Deal of fresh initiatives on the Four E’s--the economy, the environment, energy and education. He says it's time to catch up with the rest of the first world on health care. Some of his proposals seem more practical than others. But people are inspired and energized by the sense that Washington is finally on their side. Hard times gradually give way to a more rational and balanced prosperity that emphasizes broad well-being over personal consumption. The world seems a bit safer and Americans more hopeful. Obama and the Dems easily win reelection in 2012. We become Denmark with Rockies.

Scenario 2. Obama wins. The people who voted for him demand the change he promised. They expect things to happen, but nothing much does. It becomes more and more apparent that Obama, despite his brains, youth, cool and promise, is just another face for business as usual.
People feel betrayed. The angriest among them take to the streets. Obama quickly unleashes the repressive apparatus built up over the Bush years to punish the troublemakers. Mass roundups, disappearances and fear of torture or worse scare potential protesters into quiescence. The economy sinks further, imperial wars get nastier, the country grows dismal and surly. And, of course, the rich get richer. Comes the 2012 election and Obama is excoriated for the mess. An extreme right wing Republican (possibly an Alaskan yahoo) promising order and military victory, wallops him in the election. We enter a dark age of fascism.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Vergessene Helden
(Forgotten Heros)

Now that July 4th has become a barbeque bash and America a counter-revolutionary corporatocracy, it’s time to switch over from adulating the Minute Men to a celebration of the proud predecessors of our forces from the private for-profit security sector now standing terrorism alert from the savannahs of Somalia to the karsts of Kyrgyzstan.
They are our up-and-coming first line of offense against those who would keep their countries for themselves. When these Velcro-belted warriors delve into their scrapbooks and pause to reflect on the history of their profession, they too harken back to the fateful summer of 1776.
It was on August 15 on Staten Island that the Hessians first trooped onto our shores. They were immediately flung into combat at the Battle of Long Island and acquitted themselves with honor. The contract combatants were part of a larger force of Brits whose mission was to suppress terrorism and restore law and order. Insurgents had destroyed food stocks, even tossing tea into the sea in Boston. They were rampaging through the countryside and killing loyal troops.
Over the next seven years, nearly 30,0000 private enterprise fighters from Hesse would see battle in the war on terror from Trenton to Yorktown. Thousands would succumb to disease--more than died in combat. Upwards of six thousand would settle here and raise families. Thousands of others would return to their beloved Hesse.
In truth, not only Hessians but Russians, French, Poles and other Europeans served the cause of King George III, America’s sovereign. The colonial insurgents used the name Hessians to denote mercenaries of whatever provenance. People on both sides of the Atlantic had different values in those days and were appalled by the use of hired soldiers. The rebellious colonists were particularly outraged that their monarch was using foreign troops to restore order.
In Europe, “Frederick the Great, a man not over-scrupulous in his own measures, viewed it as an abominable traffic in human lives, and it is said that whenever any of these hirelings passed through his territory he levied on them the usual toll for cattle, saying that they had been sold as such.”
Attitudes are much changed today. We’ve gotten over that particular difference with the king. Not only have we Americans moved from a draft military to a paid one, but business interests have found it to their profit to increasingly substitute for the government when it comes to making war. Given the direction of events in Afghanistan and Iraq, it looks like our future wars will be purely entrepreneurial endeavors. So lets hoist a July 4th brewski to King George and his hired Hessians who paved the way.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Locals Win Again
The cashiering of Rambo McChrystal and his replacement by the bazaari Petraeus, announces that our Afghan adventure is no longer a war but has become, as is common in that part of the world, a haggle.
The collapse of the war part, like that in Iraq, marks yet another failure for the world’s most expensive murder machine. In both places, the conundrum was the same: kill abundantly and makes lots of new enemies or kill selectively and make fewer of them. A third option, making loyal compradors and satraps of the inhabitants, was no more possible than Salt Lake City accepting domination by an occupation army of Upper West Side atheists.
The great universal of human history is that people everywhere want to be ruled by their own kind. Interestingly, some are more or less admandant than others. My father came from Dubrovnik, the “pearl of the Adriatic.” It remains among the most perfectly preserved and gorgeous medieval towns in Europe. One reason, according to local folklore, is that its citizens kept siete bandiere in the attic. If the Venetian fleet appeared on the horizon, up went the Venetian flag. If it were the Turks or the Austrians, their respective banners soon carried on the mistral breeze. The burgers of Dubrovnik, known as the city-state of Ragusa in those days, waited on the dock, wearing smiles and bearing tribute. Thus, the town was never sacked, let alone having its cattle raped and its women rustled.
On the other extreme, the peoples of western and central Asia enjoy a multi-millenial rep for conquest and resistance to same. The clear lesson of history is don’t mess with them. But we Americans prefer not to mess with history. So we keep getting ourselves into easily avoidable disasters like Iraq and Afghanistan. When our imperial wars go bad, they occasion internal ones. The battle raging today in Washington is between those retaining enough sense to haggle our way out of Kabul and those who want to keep the highly profitable show on the road, even if we have to pay tribute to local warlords. The demission of McChrystal and the rerise of Petraeus signals that the sensibles have won, at least for the time being.
The winner of our Iraq war was Iran. Today’s Times tells me that Pakistan will be the winner of our Afghan war. This is for the obvious reason that those with the greatest incentive to provide advice and aid to war-shattered nations are their largest and closest neighbors.
For the last decade, a major goal of the Pentagon has been to prevent the rise of regional powers that might locally challenge the U.S. claim to total global domination. First under Bush and now with Obama, Washington has managed a perfect failure in this endeavor. We have entered the multipolar age. The proof is that regional powers like Iran, Pakistan, Turkey and Brazil, not to mention hemispheric hegemons like China and Russia, are not only growing in influence, but see no need to challenge us. They can simply ignore us while we self-destruct.

Note to my reader (not you, honey, the other one): I am running late on the blog owing to my continuing research into the American health care system. I spent the first half of this week checking on the cardiac services at Yale New Haven Hospital. I got two new stents as souvenirs of my visit. That’s a grand total of nine since 1998. I made sure to have my card punched so that the 10th one is free. With so much metal in my ticker, I plan to introduce myself at future formal events as Pierre Coeur de Fer.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Soon, The Triple A Threat
I thought we were stuck in a rut.
The last time I took a look, eighteen months ago, our “national security” threat board had turned senile. It was thirty years, for example, since our leaders first warned us that Iran was minutes away from getting a nuke and zapping Israel and Iceland to boot. Cuba’s “threat” to the hemisphere was fifty years old. Fidel Castro had long since emulated me by retiring to blogging. The North Korean “danger” had been around for 60 years, but it was hard to pin the aggressiveness rap on a country known to the world as a hermit kingdom. It looked like we’d be doing dotage with our same old enemies, glaring at each other from wheel chairs on the porch of the assisted living facility.
But never stumble in front of the wheels of history. We suddenly seem to be on the way to acquiring two new and rambunctious foes. Brazil, with nearly 200 million feisty Brazilians and a wealth of natural resources, is off the ranch and gone mustang. So is Turkey, which strategically straddles Europe and Asia and is home to 70 million hard-working and increasingly independent-minded Turks.
The Brazilians have been subverted by the dangerous notion that being the biggest and richest country on a huge continent means they don’t have to take orders from an insolvent empire so degenerate that has to pay protection to secure its gouty military from the depredations of feudal tribes.
As for the Turks, they were long considered “one of the United States’ most pliable allies” who “reliably followed American policy” in the Middle East. But that’s all changed. “Regional powers want to have a say in regional and global politics. “This is our neighborhood,” say the Turks, and we don’t want trouble. The Americans create havoc, and we are left holding the bag.”
This is a knee in the jewels to official Washington dorktrine which holds that “the US. must prevent “potential competitors from challenging our leadership” or “even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.”
If that’s not enough agita, there are increasing signs that China, our cosmic creditor, is moving beyond disobedience to defiance. The Obama administration’s efforts to “give Beijing a larger stake in solving international problems” is not working out. Instead, Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, charges that Beijing is pursuing polices “designed to protect China’s workers and firms at the expense of China’s trading partners” (that means us).
Putting your own country’s interests ahead of those of the American empire is, to be sure, the ultimate sin in Washington. Assassinations, coups and outright invasions are the usual penalty for such breaches. The trouble is that they’re easier to pull off in tiny Honduras than in big countries like Turkey and Brazil, let alone humongous ones like China.
Not yet overpowered by the stench of oil in the Gulf is the scent of blood in the water--this time from the imperial shark itself rather than from its prey. The great beast is old and wounded and the littler fishes are feeling more secure. The scariest word in Washington is “multipolar.” It means a world of many more or less equal players rather than one run by Goldman Sachs and such via their errand boys in the White House, Treasury and Pentagon.
Hard times are here and business and government are making drastic cuts. Thus far this trend has yet to reach the empire, whose budgets still soar no matter the diminishing return on investment it's suffering. Spending ever more spondulicks to boss around ever fewer subjects is not good business. This would then be a perfect time to discreetly step back from our declining global “interests.” Not capitulation, but starting with a little here, a little there. For instance, Obama could begin to make good on his fine words to the peoples of Latin America and the Middle East that the U.S. will actually respect their sovereignty. They’re in the process of sending us packing anyway. It would be dignified to gracefully heed their invitation to tend our own garden rather than be weeded out of one country after another.
Besides, not even I have a wacky enough sense of humor to start making fun of the threat notices the media are no doubt already preparing for us about the “evil Amazon-Anatolia Axis!”

Thursday, June 10, 2010

War's Costly Toll (Booth)

With consummate skill they [the Damascenes] proposed a variety of arguments to some of our princes and they promised and delivered a stupendous sum of money to them so that the princes would strive and labor to lift the siege--William of Tyre on the betrayal by the Christian princes at the Siege of Damascus, 1148.

One of my favorite old Monty Python bits has a couple of cheap crooks extorting the Colonel Blimpish commander of a British military base. “You don’t want anything to happen to your tanks and artillery, do you?”
Too absurd to really occur, right? Wrong!
In the last week the NY Times has devoted two full page stories to a swag bag of real life replays of that Monty Python sketch. The stage is Afghanistan. And the cockney crooks have been replaced a small army of Afghan and American miscreants.
Prominent among these, according to the Times, is an illiterate warlord named Matiullah Khan, who’s been raking in millions from the Pentagon for “protecting” American military convoys and bases. If you think the George Washington Bridge toll is a ripoff, consider that Mr. Matiullah charges the U.S. Treasury $1,800 bucks for every truck he allows to pass. Apparently that’s a bargain because other “security contractors” demand up to $2,500 per rig.
The payoffs flow from a $2.2 billion pot of our tax money dubbed Host Nation Trucking. “American officials award contracts to Afghan and American trucking companies”... “and leave it to the trucking companies to protect themselves.” “The money is so good, in fact, that the families of some of Afghanistan’s most powerful people have set up their own security companies to get in on the action.”
There’s nothing new here. When we first invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq, I advised folks to turn off CNN and delve into books about the Crusades. Not only are they fascinating and action-packed, but they reveal war-fighting techniques useful for us infidels to bone up on.
One is that your enemy doesn’t have to be your enemy all the time. He can casually change roles, from foe to friend to neutral middle man. One minute he’ll be trying to lop your noggin off and the next beseeching you about a good baksheesh on figs or eunuchs.
Pelf plays as prominent a part in warfare east of Suez as do weapons. “For months,” writes Times war correspondent Dexter Filkins, “reports have abounded here that the Afghan mercenaries who escort Americans and other NATO convoys through the badlands have been bribing Taliban insurgents to let them pass.”
“We’re funding both sides of the war,” a NATO official said. “People think that that the insurgency and the government are separate, and that is not always the case,” another NATO official in Kabul said.
Put another way, it looks like Uncle Sam is also bailing out the Talibank.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Israel at Sea

In that same day, the Lord made a covenant with Abraham, saying, unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt, unto the great river, the river Euphrates --Genesis, 15:18

Twice in official state documents David Ben Gurion [Israel’s first prime minister], announced that the state was created "in a part of our small country and "in only a portion of the Land of Israel." He later noted that "the creation of the new State by no means derogates from the scope of historic Eretz (Greater) Israel."

The headline above refers to something beyond last monday’s murderous maelstrom in the Mediterranean. Let’s begin with a commonplace. Israel’s acolytes never stop asking: doesn’t Israel have the right to exist? My answer is, “Sure, what are its borders?” They are certainly not fixed, like the line, say, between Vermont and Quebec. Rather, they are described by Zionists as "to be negotiated." In fact, Israel is an expansionist state both by aspiration and by action. Since its founding in 1948, it has invaded and seized land from all of its neighbors. Those additions are populated by five million people who are afforded no rights by their occupier. Israeli writer Yitzak Laor put the situation this way:
"We are the masters. We work and travel. They can make their living by policing their own people. We drive on the highways. They must live across the hills. The hills are ours. So are the fences. We control the roads and the checkpoints and the borders. We control their electricity, their water, their milk, their oil, their wheat and their gasoline. If they protest peacefully we fire tear gas at them. If they throw stones, we fire bullets. If they launch a rocket, we destroy a house and its inhabitants. If they launch a missile, we destroy families, neighborhoods, streets, towns."
Over the four decades of its existence, Israel has used the often vicious and self-defeating resistance of its captives as an excuse to portray itself as a victim while making their lives all the more miserable. There is a plan to this. After the 1967 Six Day War in which the Israelis conquered parts of Syria, Egypt and Jordan, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan offered a suggestion to the welter of Arabs that had come under its rule. “You can live like dogs,” he said, “or you can leave.” That plan has not changed in the last 43 years. “The message,” says Yitzak Laor, “is always the same: leave or remain in subjugation under our military dictatorship. We are a democracy. We have decided democratically that you will live like dogs.”
Israel is a settler nation, redolent of the United States in the early 19th century. The U.S. was able to destroy its indigenous population and overrun a continent because its numbers were huge compared to theirs. Israel lacks such advantages. Its indigenous people are almost equal in number to its Jewish settlers. What’s more, Israel is surrounded by tens of millions of the kith and kin of those its seeks to eliminate as part of its expansionism. Most of the world’s Jews choose not to live in Israel, meaning there are not enough potential settlers to populate the lands seized. Immigration by gentiles would dilute the requisite Jewish nature of the state. Finally, demographics are on the side of the conquered, who are multiplying at a greater rate than the Israelis.
As a result, Israel has been unable to digest its gains. It was obliged to return the Sinai with its oil resources to secure a fitful peace with Egypt, its biggest neighbor. Unable to defeat a tenacious 22-year resistance, it finally retreated from the ten percent of Lebanon it had grabbed. In 2005, it ended its costly ground occupation of Gaza. Instead, it sealed the territory from the outside, turning it into what the president of Turkey calls an “open-air prison.” Rather than its troops kicking in doors, Israel relies for control on what it calls keeping the Gazans “on a diet.” In other words, starving them into submission.
Thus Israel cannot recreate Eretz Israel, and, worse, has increasing difficulty in holding on to the territories it has already seized. Most vexing of all, its Jewish population is riven by bitter differences between the Haredi (orthodox) and secular communities. So antagonistic are these groups that Israel’s housing minister has proposed their physical separation. This would mean double apartheid: that between Jews and Arabs and that between Jews themselves.
After a succession of increasingly hard right governments and wars characterized by over-the-top violence and ruthlessness, Israel has been been losing friends in the world. Even old allies like Turkey are dropping away. An important article by Peter Beinart, a conservative American Jew, bemoans the failure of the pro-Israel lobby to prevent the serious erosion, particularly among young American Jews, of unquestioning support for Israel. Like its now departed close ally and role model, the Union of South Africa, Israel is becoming increasingly isolated in the world. Who knows whether it will react by loosening up or digging in its heels? All we do know for sure is that the "dogs" are not going away.

Monday, May 31, 2010

BP Bashing "Un-American"
f the oil kill in the Gulf was gushing from the site of a Venezuelan rig, we would already be bombing Caracas. If it came from Mexico’s Pemex or France’s Total, we’d be mocking their incompetence in quasi-racist terms. But since it is the dirty work of British Pollution, a premier UK multinational that we treat as one of our own, we get instead the usual tepidity from Barack Obama and no less than a defense of BP by Rand Paul, the Kentucky GOP’s Libertarian senate hope. Mr. Paul avers that the Obama administration’s underwhelming impatience with BP is “un-American.” Yes, to repeat, he says it is “un-American” to criticize a foreign conglomerate.
The pundits explain that, being new to politics, Paul has yet to master the requisite dexterity at dissembling and, on too many occasions, actually says what he means. And what he meant was that to be a patriotic American requires a forbearing attitude towards any outfit with Inc. (or the foreign equivalent of same) at the end of its name. Globalization and multinationals have been around long enough that even the most ardent yahoo's adoration of private enterprise now extends from Royal Ahold to Royal Saudi,
That’s because corporations of whatever provenance do wonderful things for America (with occasional mistakes, to be sure, like the rape and pillage of the financial system or the grand Gulf defecation) while government gets in the way and messes things up. Surely some hard-driving BP executive who was chosen CEO by a dozen or so fellow board members in a conference room in London deserves more respect and deference than a politician who was elected president with 60 million votes of mere citizens.
When conservatives make their pitch to the public, they posit a too big, bossy and bureaucratic government that stifles initiative and crushes the individual. The problem is that what they want to replace it with are too big, bossy and bureaucratic corporations that stifle initiative and crush the individual. It’s not a good trade off, if only because government is a national institution that flies our flag and whose leaders we vote for. Corporations have no nationality and are run as dictatorships--what the boss says, goes.
One wonders why intelligent people like Rand Paul haven’t figured this out? Then again, maybe they have. Maybe they are nothing more than corporate shills pretending to be be freedom-loving individualists. Why else would any real American worry about hurting the feelings of British corporate honchos?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Killing Through The Centuries
In Catch 22, General Dreedle, annoyed by Major Danby’s moaning, orders that he be taken out and shot. Dreedle’s son, Colonel Moodus, whispers to him and he replies in surprise: “‘You mean I can’t shoot anyone I want to?’ He pricked up his ears with interest as Colonel Moodus continued whispering. ‘Is that a fact?’ he inquired, his rage tamed by curiosity”
The reason General Dreedle couldn’t shoot anyone he wanted to has to do with western civilization. Once upon a time, kings and generals could kill people and start wars at their whim. Over centuries the rule of law and popular consent gradually replaced Caesar’s thumbs up or thumbs down. We in the west became civilized.
Nothing lasts forever. Back in June 2002, in a prep rally for the forthcoming Iraq war, President Bush declared that he could attack any country he felt like merely on his assertion that it might do us harm at some future time. This was enshrined in what is now known, and apparently accepted by Obama, as the Bush Doctrine.
George’s fiat pissed on the 1648 Peace of Westphalia. Considered one of the basic advances of western civ, it was an agreement by European powers, tuckered out after the Thirty Years War, to establish the principle of sovereignty and quit attacking each other over religion. So much for that notion--at least in the U.S.
Four hundred years before Westphalia, King John of England was forced by his barons in 1215 to sign a document stripping him of many of his ‘divine’ powers. Called the Magna Carta, it codified the notion of habeus corpus. It held that the king couldn’t just disappear you in the middle of the night on his say-so. If he thought you had committed some infraction, he had to produce you, bring charges and let a trial decide your guilt or innocence.
Barack Obama is currently micturating on that bedrock attribute of western civ. He has announced, more by deed than word, that he can Dreedle by drone anyone anywhere. This didn’t make much news because Bush had been doing the same thing on a lesser scale. It hit the headlines only when the Obama administration publicly targeted a U.S. citizen. Bit of a sticky wicket that.
The notion that the government can, in effect, execute one of its own citizens far from a combat zone, with no judicial process and based on secret intelligence, makes some legal authorities deeply uneasy,” said the NY Times. No doubt those uneasy legal authorities are afraid of losing their jobs. If the ruler can kill at will, courts and lawyers become irrelevent. So does western civ.
At the same time, we learned the Obummers have new weapons in the works “capable of reaching any corner of the earth from the U.S. in under an hour...with accuracy capable of picking off Osama bin Laden in a cave.” Or even, I might add, a passel of peaceniks in Berkeley.
Progressive Democrats, no less than conventional pundits like Thomas Friedman, are disappointed in Obama for his timidity. They see his promises of change dribbling down the drain of business as usual. Would that it were mere business as usual. Every day it gets to look more like Byzantium as usual.