MINIPAX BULLETIN: EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN DEAD! MILLIONS CHEER!

7 05 2011

This just in from MiniPax:  Immanuel Goldstein is dead!  Goldstein was tracked to his lair in Pakistan, where he was living under the alias “Osama Bin Laden,” and died in a firefight with Oceania’s crack special forces troops, who had infiltrated Pakistan without its government’s permission to carry out the raid and assassination.

With Goldstein/Bin Laden gone, who will now be the focus of our “two minute hates”?  It’s a dirty job, as they say, but somebody will have to do it, even if we have to create them out whole cloth.

And now we will never know to what extent the “Osama Bin Laden” we have been encouraged to hate and fear was, like Emmanuel Goldstein, a creation of our own “Ministry of Peace.”  After all, Bin Laden did start out as a hero, even portrayed (in a manner of speaking) as an American in Idrees Shah’s thrilling 1986 novel Kara Kush, which describes how, with American help, the Taliban rallied the people of Afghanistan to push out the Soviet invaders and crush corrupt Afghan warlords.

Times change, don’t they?  Now the US is the invader in Afghanistan, and such corrupt warlords as remain there are our friends and allies in our attempt to crush the Taliban, who have been concealing Osama Bin Laden.  Remember?  The U.S. invaded Afghanistan to find Bin Laden?  Or has that gone down the Ministry of Truth’s memory hole along with so much of the rest of recent history?

So, now that we’ve found, and killed, bin Laden, will Obama wind down the war against Osama?  Or, in true 1984 fashion, will our “war on terror” prove to be an “endless war,” with new attacks and demons arising to replace the enemies we have killed and the acts we have avenged?

With Bin Laden conveniently dead, there are many questions that conveniently will never be answered, especially since U.S. troops had free run of his headquarters and were able to preserve–or destroy–what they found there, as they saw fit.  Likewise, what they found will be released at the discretion of the Ministry of Truth, and so we can only assume that there is much we will never know.

Here’s a few of the things we will probably never know:

Was the “Reichstag Fire” element of the attack on the World Trade Center really a coincidence?  The attacks came at a point when the Bush administration’s incompetence was about to make it the laughingstock of America, and the world.  Suddenly, it was all Americans’ patriotic duty to take the Cheney/Bush junta seriously.  The attack, if Bin Laden had anything to do with it, saved Cheneybush’s ass, ensured the passage of the Patriot Act, and gave us a sinister, dark-skinned, sneaky adversary to unite against.  Did the junta know of the plot and allow it to proceed?  Did they foment it?  Did they carry it out, with no help from the alleged perpetrators at all?  Bin Laden will never tell us.

After we spent all those years looking for him in Afghanistan, what was he doing in Pakistan, in a well-appointed villa, not a cave in the hills, and just a few miles from a major Pakistani military base?   Did they know he was there all along?  After all, “the search for Bin Laden” was a bit of a cash cow for the Pakis, and no doubt they, who know poverty far better than most Americans do so far, wanted to milk that (and their Uncle Sam) for all it was worth.

Was Bin Laden really “killed in a firefight” or was he executed?  (Since writing this, our government has admitted that he was unarmed when he was killed.)  Given the changes and uncertainties of his relationship with the U.S. government, Bin Laden’s side of the story might be quite different from our government’s version.  Making sure he’s dead is a good way to avoid embarrassment.  To bring up another example, the U.S.  invaded Iraq because, Cheneybush said, they had “weapons of mass destruction.”   After all, the U.S. had shipped them over there in the 80’s to help Iraq fight Iran–Saddam and Rumsfeld were buddies, remember?–how were we to know he’d actually used most of them against the Iranians as promised, and then dropped the rest on the Kurds?   Better to take the guy into custody and hang him than to exile or imprison him and give him the chance to write a tell-all memoir.  And since that trial and execution were kinda messy, just make sure Bin Laden is dead from the get-go, OK?

Finally,did this really happen?  There is no independent verification.  The body was “buried at sea.”  A government that has asked us to believe everything from Pat Tillman‘s heroic death at the hands of the Taliban to the guilt of everybody in Guantanamo (not to mention Bradley Manning) without the necessity of a trial, just to cite the most recent, glaring few incidents, going all the way back to the Gulf of Tonkin “attack,” and beyond, now wants us to believe they killed Osama Bin Laden and disposed of  his body, trust them.  Uh-huh.

Bin Laden has been widely reviled as a man with “the blood of thousands of innocents on his hands.”  Those who trumpet this viewpoint generally ignore the fact that the U.S. government, in avenging the deaths of thousands, has caused the deaths of millions of innocent Iraqi civilians and thousands of innocent Afghan citizens.  When will the Navy’s “Seals” drop in on Bush’s Texas compound and Chaney’s undisclosed location and exact frontier justice?  And why have we singled out Bin Laden and Muamar Qadhafi for rough treatment while we ignore the national tragedies taking place in North Korea, Burma, Saudi Arabia, and Central Asia, and encourage the repression of democracy advocates in Bahrain, for just one example?

Emmanuel Goldstein–I mean, Osama Bin Laden, is dead, we are told.  His was a dirty job, but somebody had to do it, and somebody will step–or be forced–into his shoes, one way or another.   How else can we continue to have our beloved two-minute hates?

music:  Bob Dylan, “Masters of War”





MILLION-DOLLAR SOLDIERS AND MISPLACED PRIORITIES

12 09 2010

Nine years ago yesterday, something awful happened in downtown Manhattan.  Whether it was the work of a small, dedicated group of terrorists who slipped through our defenses or a “Reichstag fire” has still not been settled.  While I find it hard to believe that the World Trade Center caught fire so readily and collapsed so neatly and completely without skilled assistance (including a building that did not get hit by an airplane but did contain surveillance equipment that could have told us who-knows-what), I also find it hard to believe that, in this Wikileaks age, nobody who’s in on the secret has spilled any beans so far.  Maybe it really was done by Israeli intelligence operatives.  They are some mean, dedicated mofos.

Speaking of mean, dedicated mofos, let’s give a shout-out to the US Congress for failing to pass a bill that would provide funds to help the thousands of people who are still sick today because they inhaled WTC dust.  Kudos to Bush’s EPA secretary, Christie Whitman, who announced that it was safe to work in the rubble without protective equipment. Kudos to the “support our heroes” Republicans who wouldn’t support the bill because it was  financed by closing a corporate tax loophole, and kudos to the Democrats who hobbled the bill by proposing it in a form that required a 2/3 majority to pass.  What a wonderful government we have, yessir.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.  The rubble from the World Trade Center has been consigned to the dust bin of history, and is unlikely to ever be exhumed and examined, to the great relief of whoever is keeping whatever secrets there may be about this event.  In response to the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, because a bunch of Saudi Arabians allegedly attacked us, and the Afghans were allegedly giving them shelter, aid and comfort.

We never have found that pesky Bin Laden, in spite of all our vaunted high-tech surveillance and the presence of around 160,000 US soldiers, over 100,000 mercenaries, aka “private contractors,”  and the deputization of around 200,000 Afghans as soldiers and policemen–although, given the shoddy state of record keeping in Afghanistan, one of those deputies could very well be Ben Laden…but, I digress.  The country is relatively small, about 250,000 square miles, which means that there are nearly two foreign or Afghan soldiers per square mile of Afghanistan.  Many of those square miles are incredibly rugged, but others are flat as a pancake, with nowhere to hide. That should be enough “boots on the ground” to find whatever’s there, but Bin Laden, that former CIA asset, still eludes us, as do thousands of his supporters, aka a sizable percentage of the people of Afghanistan.  Yet another batch of mean, dedicated mofos.

So, the U.S. has sent 160,000 soldiers to one of the most isolated, primitive places in the world, and is trying to make it comfy for them.  When my father fought in World War II, he was issued  a blanket to sleep in and a tent to put his blanket in.  The war was nearly over before he got a real sleeping bag.  In Afghanistan, Uncle Sam is providing air conditioning for tents in the desert.  That’ll boost your expenses.  In fact, the war is costing the U.S. a million dollars per soldier per year.  This comes to about six thousand dollars a year for each of the approximately twenty-five million citizens of Afghanistan, whose per capita annual income is estimated to be about $800.  Gee…might they become a lot more peaceful and open minded if we withdrew our soldiers and instituted a guaranteed annual income of $1600 per person?  We’d save a lot of money, too, which we could really use over here, dontcha know?

Meanwhile,just south of Afghanistan, Pakistan is suffering from devastating flooding.  The immediate cause of this is an unusually strong monsoon, but what has made this worse is that Pakistan’s hills have been denuded by firewood seekers and grazing animals, so there is nothing to catch the water as it falls on barren hillsides and swells the country’s rivers.  Over 800 million dollars has been raised for Pakistan so far for immediate relief; more would be necessary to actually fix the deeper problem.  Eight hundred million sounds like a lot of money–but it’s the cost of maintaining just eight hundred of the 160,000 American soldiers in the region.  That’s one-half of one percent of the troops and the budget.  But we can’t spare it–gotta make Afghanistan safe for democracy, or oil pipelines and mineral exploitation in any case.  The US has kicked in the equivalent of just 150 soldiers from our Afghan expedition–a tenth of one percent.  That’s seven and a half dollars per displaced person in Pakistan.  Pakistanis are dying from malnutrition and bad water while U.S. soldiers eat steak and sleep in air-conditioned tents.  What is wrong with this picture?

US soldiers in Afghanistan are making enemies just by being there.  Scrimping on aid to Pakistan because we’re fighting a war in Afghanistan is making enemies by not being there.  In the Middle East, this contributes to the perception that the US would rather shoot Muslims than save them.  Here at home, where mass demonstrations against mosques are all the rage from Murfreesboro to Manhattan, Americans are likewise pouring gasoline on the fire of Muslim anger at our arrogance in imposing our secular/Christian, commercial way of life on them.  Some Muslims are indeed violent and misogynistic, but we lack the moral authority to inspire them out of those bad habits.  Not only are we pretty violent and sexist ourselves, but our secular, commercial, “Christian” culture is revoltingly shallow compared to theirs, in which spiritual considerations take precedence over commercialism.

“Secular/Christian”?  How can our way of life be both?  OK, this is the “deep green” part.  One of the changes in thinking that marked the emergence of Protestantism from Catholicism was that Protestants viewed a person’s path through life, whatever it might be, as, at least potentially, a “calling,” a spiritual enterprise, and identified material success in the world as a sign of spiritual success.  That is, if God loves you, He will make you rich.   Therefore, if you profess Christianity, and you’re wealthy, God must love you.  That is how secularism and Christianity can reinforce each other.  If you want to learn more about this, read Max Weber‘s “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.”  Weber was a prophet.

At a still deeper level, we are falling victim to good, old-fashioned Christian dualism–good and evil, Devil and God.  “We who are saved are good, those who are not saved are evil.”  If we are saved/good, any “evil” must be “out there–our own mind is pure because we are saved, so somebody else is the problem.  This has been a consistent theme through American history–some group has always been demonized, starting with the Native Americans, then witches, Quakers, Irish, Germans, Italians, Eastern Europeans, Negroes, Chinese,  Jews, labor organizers, Communists, hippies, gays.  Now it’s Islam’s turn.

Nor can we ignore the fact that the real villains in American history–the ruling class–have distracted the masses into these foolish prejudices to preserve their own power. And no, I am not just pointing to another “enemy out there.”  We are all deeply enmeshed with those who rule us.  It’s called “the American way of life,” and the sooner we admit that it is, in fact, negotiable, the easier it will be  not just on  us, but on the whole planet.

music:  Jackson Browne, “Soldier of Plenty





THE EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES

7 08 2010

President Obama gets our truth in strange places award this month for his comment on Wikileaks’ release of tens of thousands of “secret” documents relating to the US war on Afghanistan:  “these documents don’t reveal any issues that haven’t already informed our public debate on Afghanistan.”

Unfortunately, that’s where his truth train left the track.   Well, not exactly…he also said the document release  “could potentially jeopardize individuals or operations,” and it could, but not because it released inside knowledge to the Taliban.  The information released by Wikileaks “jeopardizes” the war effort by revealing its rickety nature, and by  showing the American empire’s naked ass flapping in the Afghan breeze.  The emperor has no clothes.

One of the most embarrassing facts to be confirmed by the Wikileaks release is the level of co-operation between Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, and the Taliban.  This makes perfect sense, from the Pakistani point of view:  the US is just passing through, but the Taliban are going to be Pakistan’s neighbors for a long time to come.  Other embarrassments validated by the Wiki release are the total corruption of the Afghan “government” the US is trying to install, and the way US money keeps ending up in Taliban hands.

What the leak reveals is often evidence of war crimes:  civilian deaths,whether  by “accident” or by deliberate assassination of selected civilians, or, as with the Iraq helicopter video that prefaced the full release, the random, intentional slaughter of obviously unarmed civilians.

Considering the exposure of such tactics, it is hypocritical, if not downright schizophrenic, for various US government spokespeople and conservative talking heads to say that Wikileaks “has blood on its hands.”  Wikileaks did not set up the Taliban–America’s CIA and Pakistan’s ISI did that, to defeat the Soviets when they attempted to occupy Afghanistan.  Wikileaks does not conduct assassinations of reputed resistance leaders.  It has no drones, no jet fighters, no tanks, no artillery.  Wikileaks is not the source of hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In fact, Wikileaks has been careful to censor the documents it is releasing so that they do not give away the identities of any Afghans who might be put further in harm’s way by disclosure of their collaboration with US forces.

But the government spin machine, like the right-wing spin machine that hopes to replace it in the next couple of elections, has never let facts stand in the way of putting its point across, and the parrots are squawking “Arwak–blood on his hands–blood on his hands.”  The precedent has long been set in this administration, like the Bush administration before it:  whistle blowers will be punished, but the crimes they blow the whistle on will be ignored, or even rewarded.  You know, Tim Geithner….

Meanwhile, the right-wing spin machine is doing its best to out-spin the government with its storm of indignation.  GOP Congressman Mike Rogers, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, has called for execution of the alleged leaker, Bradley Manning, for “treason during time of war.”  One problem, Congressman:  the US never declared war on Afghanistan, and “The Global War on Terror” has no legal standing as a “declared war.”  Not that that will necessarily stop anybody.

Marc Thiessen, a former speech writer for George W. Bush, claimed recently in the Washington Post that Wikileaks is “a criminal enterprise” and said, further

the government has a wide range of options for dealing with him. It can employ not only law enforcement but also intelligence and military assets to bring Assange to justice and put his criminal syndicate out of business.

The first step is for the Justice Department to indict Assange. Such an indictment could be sealed to prevent him from knowing that the United States is seeking his arrest. The United States should then work with its international law enforcement partners to apprehend and extradite him.

In other words, “shoot the messenger.”

Talk about hypocrisy and schizophrenia…conservatives were not nearly so concerned when Dick Cheney and Karl Rove outed Valerie Plame, an “act of treason” that didn’t just confirm what everybody knew already, but destroyed the US’s clandestine efforts to keep tabs on nuclear weapons proliferation–how’s that for “treason,” Congressman Rogers and Mr. Thiessen?  Are you ready to hang Dick Cheney?

I didn’t think so.  Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, eh?

As our President said, Wikileaks publication of the US government’s “top-secret” Afghan war log didn’t really tell us anything we hadn’t suspected, but it certainly does confirm our worst suspicions.  The leak does make one thing very clear:   Afghanistan is just as much a “quagmire” as Vietnam ever was.  Attempts to “surge” and “win” will just kill more people, create more animosity, and waste more money and other resources that would be better spent fixing real problems like climate change, hunger, and the destruction of the natural world.  Bradley Manning deserves a medal, not a trial.  It’s time to grow up as a country, drop our fantasies of world domination,  and re-direct our national attention to what’s really important.

music:  Richard Thompson, “Dad’s Gonna Kill Me”





McCHRYSTAL FOR PRESIDENT?

11 07 2010

By now, Rolling Stone’s article about General McChrystal, and his consequent sacking, is old news.  Michael Hastings has been excoriated by the mainstream media for doing honest reporting, the military has announced that they will be a whole lot more careful about interviews, and the general mood seems to be that “we’re not going to let anything like this happen again–all puff pieces, all the time!”

In a similar vein, the government (or BP–it’s hard to tell them apart) has further restricted public and media access to the Gulf of Mexico, making it a federal crime to come close enough to the cleanup effort to report on what’s really going on unless you’ve got an official minder.  But that’s not what I’m going to talk about now.  There are important pieces of the McChrystal story that have been largely ignored, and another story that intersects with it in a surprising and radical way, and I want to bring those together for you.

One aspect of Michael Hasting’s profile of General McChrystal that has been widely overlooked is that  he actually paints a very positive picture of the General–who, by Hastings’ account, was well-liked by his subordinates, deeply concerned for the well-being of the troops in his command, personally courageous, and even tolerant of his own son’s decision to dye his hair blue and get a Mohawk.  For a hired killer in the service of an exploitive empire, he is not a bad guy.

Another aspect of the whole flap that I have not seen much mention of is that an awful lot of people in this country agree very strongly with McChrystal’s dismissive opinions of his Commander-in Chief and the other civilians who are technically his bosses.  My own view is that the US has no business in Afghanistan, but I can see that, if you accept the premise that it’s OK for us to be there, the Obama administration (following the precedent set by  the Bush administration) has bungled the situation just about every way it could, and those who are hung up on the concept of “victory” are understandably feeling very frustrated and wishing they/we were free to turn the military loose to “kill them all and let God sort ’em out,” as the old bumper sticker said.

So, McChrystal is out of a job, and a lot of people feel like he got a bum deal.  That’s where the next element enters.

A few months back, there was a brief flap when New York Congressman Eric Massa was forced to resign amid allegations of sexual harassment, which he claimed was really retaliation for his opposition to the health insurance industry bailout.   But, in Esquire Magazine, of all places,  Massa had another, stranger tale to tell.

According to Massa, General David Petraeus  met with Dick Cheney, who urged him to resign from the military and become the Republican candidate for President in 2012.  Petraeus’ problem, as Massa sees it, is that in order  to run successfully against his own commander, he would have to make sure the war in Afghanistan did not go well.  A military commander  plotting with the opposition party to throw a war so that he can replace the civilian commander as President is, in Massa’s view (and mine), essentially the opening move in a de facto military coup.

The tricky part of this scenario is “throwing” the war, although it has not been going well and probably won’t, no matter what strategy the US pursues, short of immediate and complete withdrawal. That, like most sensible solutions to the problems our culture faces, is “off the table.”  But now General McChrystal has “just happened” to make some–apparently–unguarded, highly critical remarks about the conduct of the war to a reporter from Rolling Stone, and they were printed. No matter what the job, who the employer or the employee, badmouthing your boss in print is reasonable grounds for dismissal.

To digress for a moment, it’s similar to the situation in which the Pentagon decided that they would really like to shut down Julian Assange’s Wikileaks site, and then somebody “just happened” to release “top-secret” diplomatic cables and a video of US troops gleefully killing innocent Iraqi civilians.  Now, the only reason such a video would be considered “top secret” is to conceal evidence of a shameful war crime, but that doesn’t matter–acquisition of these items hotted up Assange and he’s had to watch his back ever since.  The point of this digression is to raise the possibility that everything is not as simple as  it seems.  Now for another aside.

The US government recently announced the discovery of vast stores of minerals in Afghanistan–gold, iron, copper, cobalt, copper, lithium, and other  substances more important to highly industrialized societies than to Afghan peasants.  Actually, the existence of these deposits has been known for thirty years, but there was a need for good news, so “discovery of Afghan mineral wealth” was trumpeted.

Mining and extraction are water-intensive, ecologically destructive processes.   Traditonally, they produce wealth for a few and misery for many. There is little water in Afghanistan, most of it is claimed, and the ecosystem is fragile.  The Chinese, not noted for their sensitivity to either ecology or local needs, are moving in to exploit these resources.  Will we end up trying to kick the Chinese as well as the Taliban out of Afghanistan, so we can further destroy the ecology and what’s left of the local way of life in our own rush to suck up raw materials?  Stay tuned….

So, there are serious stakes to be gained by securing Afghanistan as a mining colony,there is a disgruntled, charismatic former General looking for a job, and there are a lot of  insecure people in this country psychologically inclined to accept a military man who will provide strong, disciplined leadership in a time of crisis, and the possibility that Dick Cheney is pulling strings from his undisclosed location.

“McChrystal for President?”  Don’t say you weren’t warned….

music:  Dr. Hook:  “The Cover of Rolling Stone





BUGSPLAT

12 03 2010

I learned a new word recently, but I kind of wish I hadn’t, because the more I consider its meaning, application, and implications, the sadder and angrier I feel.  It’s a word like “raghead”  “gook,”  “nappy-headed ho,” or the unspeakable n-word.  The word is “bugsplat,” which sounds like it’s just a way to refer to the unfortunate insects who end up pasted to your car’s windshield.  Not very appetizing, but what makes it really revolting for me is the fact that it is a word our government uses to refer to human beings.

Yes, our government refers to some human beings (dark-skinned ones, so far) as “bugsplat.”  How would you like it if the U.S. government’s official term for you was “bugsplat”?  I mean, would it piss you off, or what?  Wouldn’t you feel…dehumanized?

OK, you’re wondering, where did this designation come from,  what does it mean, and why should I care?

Here goes….”bugsplat” began as the name of a computer program the Pentagon has used since the Iraq invasion to calculate the effect bombs will have on their intended targets INC the number of “incidental” civilian deaths. aka “collateral damage,”  that will occur as a result.  For example,the Pentagon estimated that between six and seven hundred civilians would be killed on just the first day of the U.S. bombing campaign against Iraq–about a third of the number of Americans who died in the World Trade Center attack (or demolition). The name of the computer program has become a way to label these civilians–they are just “bugsplat.”  No big deal.

To answer my own question, you wouldn’t feel pissed off or dehumanized or anything if you were bugsplat, because you’d be dead.  But yes, you would have been dehumanized before you were killed, so your murderers wouldn’t need to get their undies in a bunch about offing you.  You were just bugsplat.  “Oops, sorry ’bout that.  Scrape it off the bottom of my shoe…”.

Our government and media have demonized the  “terrorists” who  flew airplanes into the Pentagon (maybe) and World Trade Center–but the government has had no hesitation, and the mainstream media have had no outrage, about U.S. air strikes that, through the years, have been responsible for the deaths of far more innocent civilians  than the September 11 attack.  Who’s the bigger terrorist?

Indeed, the complete illegitimacy of America’s war of aggression against Iraq and Afghanistan has been largely swept under the rug.  Hey, who wants to admit they’re a war criminal?  War crimes trials are for losers, right?  Besides, Obama and his legal crew know full well that any prosecution of John Yoo or any other high-ranking Bush juntoids will lead straight back to Dimocratic complicity in every criminal decision, and only underline the fact that, in essence, the Obama administration is following the same policies.  So, to” combat terrorism,”  the U.S. will to fight to the last angry Muslim, or the last dollar the Chinese will loan us,which ever comes first, in our attempt to prevail in this struggle against the enemy we have created for ourselves.

Yeah, just wade into a culture that’s big on family ties and avenging the wrongs done to members of your family, start killing people right and left, and wonder why they don’t like you.  Or maybe it’s “act like you wonder why they don’t like you.” Yeah, act innocent, but, not so very deep down, the corporate/military/government complex doesn’t care who or how many end up as “bugsplat.” It’s about the money.

I recently heard Medea Benjamin speak about her experiences in Afghanistan. (on Rose’s edition of this radio show, actually) Ms. Benjamin described meeting with Afghan women and asking them why they thought the U.S. was in their country.  “Because it’s making some people in the U.S. a lot of money” was their basic answer.  Smart enough, eh?

And, let’s face it, what enraged Muslims long before the U.S. invasion was the obvious lack of respect for their culture shown by the multinationals, to whom they were  just another market to be penetrated in the never-ending drive to concentrate the world’s wealth in a few corporate pockets.  When our government talks about “introducing freedom and democracy in the Middle East,” it’s just code for creating a market economy where Exxon, Monsanto,Walmart, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and their ilk are free to operate, an environment in which  “freedom of choice” ain’t about your culture or economic system, it’s about  “Coke or Pepsi?”

To date, the U.S. has spent about $711 billion on the war in Iraq, and about 258 billion on the war in Afghanistan.   That’s about $8,000 for every man, woman, and child in Afghanistan, and about $24,000 for every Iraqi.  These people would have been much better off, and much more kindly disposed to us, if we had just given them the money, or at least spent it on projects that benefitted them directly, like reforestation, water conservation, sustainable agriculture, sanitation, and health and education projects (and this is the most important part) driven by local input.

But NOOO….we spent it all on military hardware and private contractors and all kinds of things that make Americans rich, and who cares if we rip off the dark-skinned people–hey, it doesn’t matter, they’re not us…..they’re just “bugsplat” if they get in our way, so get out of our way, ’cause it’s our way or the highway, and we own the highway, so get out of our way there, too….as long as the gasoline lasts.  And when the gas runs dry and the lights flicker out, the remaining relatives of all that “bugsplat” our leaders so arrogantly dismissed will take to the newly level playing field and visit their long-awaited vengeance on whatever Westerners they can get their hands on, and it won’t be pretty….not that it’s pretty now.

“Bugsplat.”  Have mercy on them, Mother, for they are proud, greedy, and willfully ignorant, and they know all too well what they do….and have mercy, too, on those of us who see this but lack wit and wisdom to show them the error of their ways.

Jackson Browne, Soldier of Plenty





A KICK IN THE BALLS

13 09 2008

On June 16, 2001, in the palmy days before 9/11, George Bush famously said of Vladimir Putin,

“I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialog. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.”

On August 8, 2008, the man George Bush said he trusted gave George Bush, and the entire US government, a straightforward and much-deserved kick in the balls, as he sent his army rolling into Georgia, on the pretext of “protecting the rights” of the inhabitants of the tiny country of South Ossetia, most of whom would rather be Russian than Georgian.  Oh, and this move also placed Russian troops close to two of the three pipelines that cross Georgia.  That’s what the kick in the balls was about.

Well, Bush got it right about Putin’s commitment to the best interests of Russia, anyway.  Russia under Putin has repeatedly flexed its muscles and moved to return to a place on the world stage similar to the role played by the Soviet Union–a counterbalance to US hegemony.  One of the techniques they have used has been to manipulate other countries with Russian oil and gas, which largely supply Western Europe.  To work around this, the US and a number of other countries and oil companies (some oil companies are about the size of a country, y’know?) have built three oil pipelines across Azerbaijan and Georgia, to move fuel from central Asia to the west without passing through Russian territory.  Putin, by his moves into Georgia, gave notice that they were not far enough from Russia to make any difference.

In discussions prior to the conflict, Putin told Georgian prime minister Saakashvili that he could take NATO’s promises of support and stick them up his ass.  His assessment was correct; when push came to shove, the US and the EU were impotent to stop the Russians. Georgia’s entrance into NATO, which the US has been urging on the reluctant Europeans, is on hold for now, because NATO is a mutual defense pact, among other things, and NATO members were treated to the sobering realization that bringing Georgia into the fold could result in going to war with Russia, something nobody except maybe Dick Cheney is willing to countenance.

Now, obviously, I don’t think the Russians are the good guys in this high-stakes poker game.  There are no good guys in this game.  Based on the kind of saber-rattling he’s been doing, and the fact that Zbigniew Brezinski is one of  his chief foreign policy advisers, Obama’s election will not introduce a good guy into the game, nor will John McCain.  Both are pandering to the worst instincts of the US public by trying to out tough-guy each other.

Obama is being just as disingenuous as Bush and McCain, talking about the need to support the Georgians without mentioning supporting the people of South Ossetia or Abkazia, without mentioning that the Georgians were the aggressors–and certainly not mentioning oil pipelines or Kazakhstan, the source of the oil and gas that the west wants to siphon out without involving Russia.  Kazakhstan is a brutal one-party state.  The last opposition candidate for prime minister was murdered, and nobody has gone to trial for it.  But, because of the country’s vast petroleum and uranium reserves, and because of our societal addiction to these substances, western leaders from Bill Clinton to Angela Merkel to both Bushes have gritted their teeth and praised Kazakhstan’s “democracy,” honoring its president with awards and audiences, when in fact he is every bit as brutal a tyrant as Saddam Hussein. If Saddam deserved the treatment he got, then Nursultan Nazarbayev should have been hanging right beside him…but Nazarbyev, unlike Saddam and small-time players like Panama’s Noriega, has not yet committed the capital sin of opposing US hegemony.  (Just in case you forgot, Saddam was about to start asking for Euros instead of dollars when he sold oil, and Noriega was hooking up with Fidel.)  Nazarbayev is, however,  playing up the possibility of deals with his neighbor Russia in order to gain bargaining leverage with western governments and oil companies–but, again, nobody in their right mind wants to go to war with Russia over Kazakhstan–or anything else, for that matter. We can threaten smaller countries like Iran and Libya and North Korea, but we gonna be very diplomatic with the Russians, yes, sir.

Not that we won’t try and screw the Russians, in our very diplomatic way.  The big oil companies have been wary of Russia since they nationalized their oil industry, and the US government has shaped its mideast and central Asian policies to help these private corporations.   The invasion of Iraq (and consequent cancellation of Saddam’s oil contracts with Russia), our chummy relationship with the despotic governments of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, construction of the pipelines that circumvent Russia, and arming and training the Georgian military, all have been done for the benefit of big oil.

But Putin’s kick in the balls showed the world what an illusion US power really is.  Our country accounts for over half of the world’s military spending, and it gets us–zilch.  It takes us six years to begin to pin down one little country like Iraq, meanwhile chewing up a major portion of our troops and military hardware, and when Putin kicks us in the balls, we blink and sputter and do nothing, because there’s nothing we can do.  What, are we going to go to war with Russia?  Hey, if Afghanistan is the “graveyard of empires,” Russia is their black hole.  Napoleon, Hitler…you get the picture.  Only Dick Cheney–or maybe John McCain–is crazy enough to issue those kind of orders, but it was crazy to undertake a strategy based on brinksmanship in the first place.

What would a saner policy look like?

A saner policy would recognize the ultimate impotence of military power, and the ultimate futility of trying to secure oil supplies in faraway countries.  It would dismantle the US military, and redirect all that misused energy into building real global security by helping everyone get involved with their neighbors in regional mutual support networks of farms, local manufacturing, and energy production, promoting sustainability and interdependence, and recognizing the validity of small, local cultures such as Abkahzia, Ossetia, Georgia, and, yes Mr. Putin, Chechnya, too.  That’s the real route to global security.  Along with greater security, we need to spread education about birth control and population reduction, because, while it is barely possible to graciously support the number of people currently alive on the planet, it will become impossible if the number grows, and easier if the number of humans actually starts to shrink.

Meanwhile, the US has sent a naval squadron to Georgia, and the Russians have responded by conducting joint military exercises with the Venezuelan navy in the Caribbean.  Both of these moves are inexcusable wastes of fuel, material, and manpower.  We have only a limited amount of time left in which we will be able to maneuver, and every move needs to defuse tension and increase sustainability.  Neither Russian nor American policy in the Caucasus reflects this awareness, and if this ignorance continues, everybody will lose.

music:  James McMurtry, “God Bless America”








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