HAGELIAN LOGIC

23 02 2013

If you want an example of both the short, selective memory of the mainstream media in the U.S., and a mark of how far to the right corporatism has pulled this country, there is no better example than the controversy surrounding Obama’s nomination of former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense.

Hagel was an enlisted man in Vietnam, who rose through the ranks to become a squad leader, making him one of the few upper-level members of our government who has actually been under fire.  I think that is a vital experience for anybody who is going to send others into harm’s way, just as spending at least a week in jail should be required of anybody who is going to pass laws that will put others behind bars.  Hagel hasn’t been there and done that, but pretty much nobody in the law-making business in this country has, so I can’t really hold that lack against him.

I think it’s worth noting that he was well enough regarded by the soldiers under his command that he did not get “fragged,” i.e., killed by his own troops for being an a-hole, which was the fate of at least six hundred and possibly as many as a two thousand U.S. officers in Vietnam.  His mere survival is thus another mark in his favor.  On the other hand, the military’s job is to intimidate or murder people they don’t know personally, and, divorced from the military context, that is a sign of psychopathy.  Mark against. Read the rest of this entry »

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A NATION OF (ILLEGAL) IMMIGRANTS

24 11 2012

music:  Buffy Ste. Marie, “Universal Soldier

Two weeks ago, I was talking to you on “Veterans’ Day,” and, uncharacteristically, one might think, had nothing to say about it.  Truth be told, it’s one of my least favorite national holidays.  Kill people you don’t know because your own private voice in your head tells you to, and you’re a psychopath.  Kill people you don’t know because the government’s voice in your head tells you to, and you’re a hero.  I fail to see a significant difference.  No matter why you kill other people, or aid and abet their murder even if you’re not the one pulling the trigger or pushing the button, it scars your soul, or your psyche, if you’d prefer a more concrete way of thinking about it.  Or, how about this:  killing people, for any reason, wounds the murderer.

Not that I blame “our troops.”  Those who end up herded into the military, whether out of a misplaced sense of duty or a psychopathic desire to kill people they don’t know, or simply because it’s one of the few places that offers a steady paycheck and halfway decent benefits any more, are, as the old song went, “more to be pitied than censured.”  Certainly, these veterans deserve all the help we can give them–far more than is available today, since our current frame of reference in regard to American former child soldiers (No matter what the law says, 18- and 19-year olds are, in many ways, still children.) makes no recognition of the enormity of what happens to the minds of those who kill for their country.  Society pays a huge price, in the form of an epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorder, millions conditioned into a very undemocratic attitude of blind obedience to authority, and denial.

And those are only the psycho-spiritual costs of our militaristic approach to the world.  There’s also the huge waste of material resources, as our limited supplies of  all the things that make a complex technical civilization possible on this small planet are, essentially, raked into a pile and burned in the process of warfare.

But denial is what I want to focus on tonight, denial of another sort.  Read the rest of this entry »





The Sun’s interview with Michael Lerner

26 08 2012

I don’t usually post between radio shows, but a blog post seems like the easiest way to propagate this extensive (nearly 900 word) excerpt  from a much longer interview with Michael Lerner, founder of Tikkun, in the new issue of The Sun.  It’s not available online, and probably won’t be for quite some time.  Go buy it.  It’s a magazine worth supporting!  I may turn this into part of the September radio show, which will air  Sept. 9, or it may remain a stand-alone.  Lerner’s remarks are remarkably sensible, at least to me, and I want to make sure his ideas resonate with as many people as possible–although I do think he’s a bit too easy on President Obama.  On the other hand, his discussion of the Israel-Palestine debacle is one of the most nuanced, deeply contextualized, points of view I’ve ever encountered on the subject–and very hard to cut a few good paragraphs out of for this “Readers’ Digest edition.”

Leviton: So, the realists are actually blind to what’s happening, and you, a utopian dreamer, have a more “realistic” grasp on the situation?

Lerner: Realism has been defined by the powerful and the media they control to mean any policy that does not significantly challenge the current distribution of power and wealth. So I say, “Don’t be realistic.” The God revealed to the Jewish people is a God that makes it possible to overcome systems of power and domination, starting with the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. All people, who are created in God’s image, can aspire to transcend the constant voices from outside and from inside our own heads that insist we accommodate ourselves to the existing reality rather than change it. Read the rest of this entry »





SYRIA–6,000 DEATHS AND (NOT) COUNTING

11 02 2012

Bertolt Brecht reputedly asked,”If the government doesn’t trust the people, why doesn’t it dissolve them and elect a new people?” While Robert Anton Wilson may have been the only person who knows where and under what circumstances Brecht coined this cynical bon mot, and Brecht certainly saw plenty of efforts by Nazi and Communist governments alike to put it into practice, word that a government is undertaking this program never loses its appall, and the latest place where this practice appalls me is Syria, where the government has so far killed around 6,000 people in an attempt to “continue the beatings until morale improves,” and the UN has said things are so chaotic that it is not going to even attempt to keep track of the number of dead.

Syria, like the rest of the Middle East, is no stranger to such campaigns.  When the Ottomans wanted to kill mass numbers of Armenians without having to work too hard, they just sent them out into the Syrian desert to starve.  The population of Syria’s neighbor, Palestine, has been the subject of slow-motion strangulation by the Israelis for over sixty years, and plenty of Middle Easterners would be only too happy to see that karma rebound onto the Israelis.   In classical times, the Romans crucified Maccabean rebels by the thousands, ultimately killing somewhere between a quarter-million and a million Jewish Palestinians–and now the survivors’ descendants, osmosed into Muslims through the years, are now under the heel of their brethren who remained Jewish.  But that’s not what I’m here to talk about today.

More recently, in Syria’s neighbor Iraq,  ten years of American sanctions in the 90’s resulted in the deaths of over half a million Iraqis, mostly children, termed “an acceptable cost” by Democrat Secretary of State Madeline Albright, whose own children were not among the victims.  Our government’s 2003 invasion is responsible for the deaths of a million and a quarter more Iraqi civilians.   So, from a certain perspective, a mere six thousand casualties is chump change.   Meanwhile, the U.S. won’t fund abortions because so many people in our Congress and our country profess a “respect for life.”  Do I detect a disconnect here?  “Protect the unborn, but once you’re out of your momma, tough nuggies”?  But that’s not what I’m here to talk about today, either.

Perhaps a more apt comparison, at least for the time being, can be found in the situation in Libya last Spring, when rebels there, with the eventual help of NATO, threw out Col. Qadhafi, at the cost of  5-10,000 lives.  By that standard, the six thousand known deaths in Syria could almost be called par for the course, but there are important internal and external differences between the two situations. There are four times more Syrians than Libyans, in a country only 1/9 the size of Libya.  The populated part of Libya is the long, narrow coastal strip, which made it easier for the initial protesters to have some territorial integrity and create an alternative government in the far east of the country right from the beginning.  The Libyan rebels were able, in effect, to barricade one end of the hall and fight with their backs to the wall of the Egyptian border.  In little, triangular Syria, the population is in the situation of a hapless amateur trapped in the wrestling ring with Hulk Hogan, who keeps attacking again and again, from any and all angles, at any time. It’s enough to get a person nervous, ya know?

Another big difference is the two countries’ standing in the international community.  Qadhafi had gone his own way, using Libya’s oil wealth to maintain its political independence.  For this reason, and because he did in fact spend a fair amount of money on social programs that actually did improve the lives of most Libyans, as long as they were willing to kowtow to him, Qadhafi had a certain cachet in international radical political circles, especially when he proposed to start asking for gold, rather than dollars, as payment for his country’s oil.  But that made him a major pariah in the West.  Threatening to deny the dollar was a far more unforgivable sin than the Lockerbie bombing or murdering his own people, and with no major power to watch his back, his fall was inevitable.

Syria, on the other hand, enjoys a fairly close relationship with several world powers.  Its relationship with Russia dates back to Soviet days, when the current dictator’s father cultivated close ties.  Many Syrians go to Russia for advanced studies, but most importantly, the Syrian army uses Russian-made weapons, purchased with their oil cash, and Russia has continued to supply Syria with killing devices even as the rest of the civilized world has attempted an arms embargo on Syria.   (Just for the record, Syria’s oil production is declining sharply.) Russia’s only military base outside the borders of the former Soviet Union is on the Syrian coast.  The Russians do not want to see this relationship upset, if at all possible, especially since they gave their Chechen population similar treatment.  If they have to do something similar to some other would-be breakaway republic, they don’t want to help set the precedent of international intervention.

China, too, is more inclined to support Syria, where it has major oil interests.  Like Russia, China also has a strong interest in discouraging internal revolts in China, where the Uyghurs and Tibetans have suffered fates similar to what Russia visited on the Chechens.  Like Russia, China does not want to give the U.N. any precedent for poking around in what it regards as its internal business, nossir.

Iran is yet a third country that is watching Assad’s back.  Iran and Syria have a longstanding close relationship, going back to Biblical days, really, but most lately renewed over the Iran-Iraq war, and Syria’s provision of a refuge for Hezbollah, which both countries employ as a proxy to keep pressure on Israel.  While the Russians provide diplomatic support, the Iranians have “boots on the ground,” providing support, training, and reputedly troops to help the Assad government kill dissenters, or anybody who lives in the same neighborhood as somebody who might be a dissenter.

Add to this the fact that Russia is the source of much of Western Europe’s fuel supply, and that China is a source of just about everything for everybody, and that makes the Europeans (and Americans) shy about jumping into a situation that might turn out to involve tightening a noose around their own necks.  Now, throw in the many similar pogroms the U.S. has countenanced–the slaughter of half a million alleged “communists” in Indonesia in the mid-sixties and the elimination of around a hundred thousand citizens of East Timor who happened to object to the seizure of their country by Indonesia are just two further examples of U.S. government-approved mass murder, in addition to the ones I mentioned above, that deny our leaders any ability to claim the moral high ground on this issue.  There are many, many more.  There is blood on Uncle Sam’s hands, and it ain’t “the blood of the lamb.”

OK, just one more example of mass deaths caused by U.S. government policy–it is now estimated that about thirty thousand Mexicans have been killed in just the last four years due to the “war on drugs” (or, in this case, the war over drug profits)–that’s a kill rate similar to what we are seeing in Syria, albeit in a country with five times Syria’s population.  The war over drug profits would be over tomorrow if marijuana were legalized and thus inexpensive enough to out-compete crack and meth.  Coca?  Talk to the Bolivians–they’ve got a plan.  But, I digress.

What the Syrian situation adds up to is a dangerous pile of kindling with the potential to spark something like World War III if it is dealt with crudely.  It looks to me like the U.S. couldn’t go in there with guns blazing to protect the civilian population without our blazing guns setting fires that cause far more damage than the intervention might prevent.  Mere hand wringing is not an acceptable alternative, either.  What would a Green foreign policy on this issue look like?

I need to preface what I am about to say by remarking that it is a  very easy for me, sitting here in the safety of America, to proclaim, and not necessarily so easy for a citizen of Homs or Damascus.

First and foremost, I believe, a Green foreign policy would support the essential nonviolence of the Syrian movement.  Bashir Assad’s brutal response to his people’s peaceful protests will, ultimately, undermine him,  but only if the protestors can maintain the moral high ground.  This is where the rubber meets the road for nonviolent resistance, the place where the bombs and artillery shells start to fall–and yet fail to instill fear in the people at whom they are aimed.  Non-violent resistance is not easy, and it is carried out with no guarantee of the personal safety, much less the success, of those who undertake it.   But if we are going to create an alternative to mass murder as a government policy, we have got to start by rejecting mass murder as a way to change governments.  That is the great challenge, and the great hope, of the situation in Syria.  A non-violent revolution there will take the wind out of the sails of Russian, Chinese, Iranian, American, Israeli and Palestinian peddlers of repression alike, and mark a new, peaceful direction for unraveling the tangled knot of Mideast tension.  Violent intervention, at best, will fuel more old scores than it settles, and at worst create a regional or even global conflagration that we can ill afford at this time of planetary environmental peril.  If the essence of the Syrian uprising can remain nonviolent, and replace Assad with a truly populist movement, it would mark a major turning point in world politics.  We need a major turning point much more than we need more violence.  It’s time for a change.

music:  Judy Collins, “Carry It On”





“LET FACTS BE SUBMITTED TO A CANDID WORLD”

12 11 2011

So, let’s revisit that American foundation document, “The Declaration of Independence.”

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

OK, first of all, nobody in the Occupy movement is calling for overthrow of the government.  For one thing, that’s a certain route to violent suppression .  But–“Governments…deriv(e) their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.”  What we who are in the 99% are saying is that the current government of the United States, whether “Republican” or “Democrat,” is not pursuing policies that are conducive to our “Life,Liberty, and pursuit of Happiness.”There has, once again, been “a long train of abuses and usurpations.”  That would seem to indicate that it is, once again, our “right and duty” to “throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for (our) future security.”

Next in the Declaration come the “Facts submitted to a candid world,” a detailing of the “repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny.”  Let’s read through them and see to what extent they still, or once again, apply.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

OK….I could spend the whole hour talking about that item alone.  The only difference is that, instead of a single, mad monarch sitting on the throne England, our modern “he” is our Congress, which is held in thrall to special interests, and does their bidding rather than doing what is “wholesome and necessary for the public good.”  Let’s see–universal single-payer health care, serious regulation of our banking and financial sector, meaningful environmental legislation, the legalization of at least medical marijuana–these and many more causes enjoy widespread public support and would bring widespread public benefit, but are not “politically possible” because they would reduce or eliminate the profits of certain corporate “persons” who are, apparently, more equal than us mere flesh and blood persons.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

The most outstanding current example of this is how the federal government is interfering with state medical marijuana programs, from the ruling in Raich vs. Ashcroft in which the Supreme Court held that marijuana grown in somebody’s back yard for their personal consumption was somehow covered by the interstate commerce clause and thus subject to federal law, to the current DOJ campaign against any kind of business providing marijuana to people with medical needs.  Other examples:  the not-so-strict federal “do not call” law superseded Wisconsin’s stricter statute, and a wide array of local environmental regulations.

”It is the 1970s in reverse. Then, the feds stepped in with more stringent standards than the states to ensure that the environment was protected,” said Steve Hinchman, a staff attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation in Maine. ”Now, as states get ahead of the federal government, they’re stepping in to protect industry at the expense of people who are forced to breathe this air.”

That was said of the Cheney administration, but Obama has, according to many observers, been no great improvement on Cheney.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

Nothing domestic here–but look at the role the U.S. has played in supporting dictators and repressing popular movements around the world–think Palestine, think Pakistan, Indonesia, fill in the blank.  Sure, we helped topple Qadhafi, but he was not only repressing dissent in Libya, he was about to ask to be paid for his oil in gold, rather than U.S. dollars.  That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  The Syrian government can shoot or torture anyone it wants, apparently, as long as they don’t challenge U.S. hegemony.  The Occupy Declaration echoes this:

  • They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.
  • They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.

OK, back to the Declaration of Independence:

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

Two hundred years ago, the speediest land transportation was a fast horse.  Today, the ruling class has made legislative bodies “uncomfortable and distant”  by raising the cost of campaigning so high that the only way to run for office with any hope of success is to be independently wealthy, or to be dependent on contributions from the ruling class–who will not support anyone who does not support them.  As a result, our state and national governments are primarily concerned with maintaining the privileged position of those who have bought them, leaving the rest of us  exposed to various economic and social “convulsions within,” all the while scaring everyone they can with the danger of “invasion from without.”  Again, the Occupy Declaration touches on this point:

  • They have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them.

The D of I, again:

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

This is one of the few issues where I have some sympathy for the English position.  One of the complaints of the Europeans who settled what is now the USA was that the English wanted to keep them east of the Appalachians, and reserve the territory west of the mountains for the original inhabitants.  Because of that, and because the English were concerned about their colonies being subverted by too many non-English immigrants,  Crown policy attempted to limit the number of Europeans who invaded Turtle Island. Those doing the invading, on the other hand, sought safety in numbers.  To me, it is one of the great ironies of US immigration policy that a bunch of people of European descent are trying to stop native people from Mexico and Central America from entering this country–a trade and migration route that predates European arrival by thousands of years.  And, of course, there’s the further irony that it is US foreign trade policy that has destroyed the economies of these people’s native countries, pushing them to come here because, as Willie Sutton said, “it’s where the money is.”  The Occupy Declaration touches on immigration only obliquely, saying

  • They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.

Back to the Declaration of Independence:

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

These three provisions are all about the proliferation of bureaucracy and the perversion of civil government by money and power, which is at the heart of the complaint of the Occupy movement.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

Hey, no problem!  We’ll just buy the legislators and get them to approve the maintenance of a large standing army–and make sure it looks like it’s never  a time of peace!  And that bought legislature will never question the importance of military appropriations, making our military effectively “independent of and superior to the Civil power.”  Quoth the Occupiers:

  • They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.
  • They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
  • They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

If I were a right-winger, I’d start raving about U.N. black helicopters at this point, but that, in my opinion, is pure paranoia.  The real way in which America has been “subject(ed) to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws,” has been U.S. participation in NAFTA and the WTO, both of which subordinate local environmental and labor safeguards to the profit motives of transnational corporations.

music:  REM, “Cuyahoga

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

The U.S.A. accounts for nearly half of the world’s military spending, but it’s invisible to most of us:  our armies are spread across over 700 overseas military bases.  The Americans to whom this is not invisible are the families of our soldiers, often from small towns where U.S. government/corporate policy destroyed the local economy and job market, leaving many young people with no choice but the military.  And the second point, “protecting (military personnel) from punishment for any Murders which they should commit”?  That’s why we have (kind of) withdrawn our armies from Iraq–the government we installed refused to give us carte blanche to go on killing civilians and getting away with it.  Gee, the U.S. has been murdering civilians in Iraq with impunity ever since the invasion–What’s the big deal?  Oh, well, we can keep on killing civilians–even American citizens–in Pakistan and Yemen, and probably some other place we haven’t heard of yet.  All is not lost.

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

As The Living Theater used to exclaim, “I cannot travel without a passport!”  Nowadays, the problem is not the “cutting off of Trade,” but the opening up of trade:  Chinese imports have destroyed US manufacturing capacity, and US grain exports have destroyed Latin American agriculture.  In both cases, the people lose and the corporations win.  On the other hand, in the 18th century, individuals could travel without passports, in most places.  Nowadays, governments use their passport authority to keep people out of their countries:  here in the U.S., Palestinian Fulbright scholars, German publishers, Afghani women’s rights activists, and English environmental activists, among others, have been excluded so that they will not infect the American public with their subversive ideas.

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

Since our government has been taken over by corporate interests, our tax system has, in essence, been changed without our consent:  the share of government revenue that comes from corporate taxes has shrunk, so that the burden of supporting corporate government falls predominantly on the shoulders of individuals of modest means, who have to deal with not only income taxes and sales taxes, but property taxes, which keep rising as municipalities receive less money from state and national government coffers.

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

This issue is not on Occupy’s radar, but it is a serious one.  According to PBS, 95% of all criminal cases never go to a jury; they are decided by what is called “plea bargain,” but should more properly be termed “blackmail.”  What happens is this:  prosecutors charge a defendant with everything they can possibly think of, a laundry list that will likely result in decades of prison time, but then inform their victim that if he or she will plead guilty to just one of the charges, or, in the case of drug busts, turn someone else in, they will avoid the expense of a jury trial and, the likelihood of much longer incarceration.  Maybe the defendant is innocent, or was acting on principle, but the pressure to agree to a plea bargain is overwhelming, 95% of the time, it seems.  Deprived, indeed, of the “benefits of Trial by Jury.”

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

Uuhh…ever heard of “extraordinary rendition”?

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

Several claims in this section of  the “facts submitted to a candid world” seem to me to duplicate ones that have already been stated, but the last one, about plundering the seas, and so on, while it was set in a military context at the time, is true today in a corporate framework.  Corporate fishing has plundered our seas, and globalization has “burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.”

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

BlackwaterWackenhut.  Corrections Corporation of America.  ‘Nuff said.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

The modern parallel of this charge is, again, the way exploitive corporations have destroyed communities.  For example, in the Appalachian coal fields, mountaintop removal provides a very few people with good-paying jobs–destroying the country and culture they live in.  And, lastly…

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

Again, my sympathies lie with the Native Americans, who only subjected us  undocumented European immigrants to “undistinguished destruction” after we did the same to them.  When all is said and done, all of us who are not of Native American descent are trespassers on this continent.  In the 21st century, we’re just accessories after the fact, so to speak, but many of the framers of the Declaration of Independence actually killed Native Americans in order to steal their land.  This theft kind of erodes the “sacred honor” of our nation’s founders, but, at this point, hey–it is what it is.  Nowadays in America, we don’t get real politically-inspired mayhem–just the threat of it, trumpeted by our national insecurity apparatus.  And, finally….

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

We, too, have “Petitioned for Redress in humble terms…have appealed to (the) native justice and magnanimity” of our allegedly representative government, decade after decade, issue after issue.  How many on-line petitions did you sign today? At this point I am reminded of the words of a populist activist who was active about halfway between the time of the Declaration of Independence and the present day, William Jennings Bryan:

We do not come as aggressors. Our war is not a war of conquest. We are fighting in the defense of our homes, our families, and posterity. We have petitioned, and our petitions have been scorned. We have entreated, and our entreaties have been disregarded. We have begged, and they have mocked when our calamity came.

We beg no longer; we entreat no more; we petition no more. We defy them!

For all his fervor and popular appeal, Bryan went down to defeat, at the hands of the same forces we face today.  He, a very Jeffersonian Democrat, was overwhelmed by Republican promises of growth and prosperity, and slurs that associated him with “anarchists,” who were to voters of that day what “socialists” are to modern American voters–boogeymen.  Some things don’t change much, it seems.

But some things have changed.  Unlike the eighteenth and early twentieth centuries, we no longer live in an era when resources and possibilities seem unlimited.  Promises of future growth and prosperity now ring hollow, and only the delusionaries in the Tea Party retain their faith in the Corporate American Dream.   We have, in the words of the Declaration, endured “a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny.”  It is, indeed, time to “alter our former system of government.”  If we don’t, we will fall even further under the power of sociopathic corporate “persons,” who, like vampires, have no thought of altruism, only self-aggrandizement.

To borrow the words of the chief writer of The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, we must “swear upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

music:  Patti Smith, “People Got the Power





IT’S THE OIL, STUPID!

16 04 2011

Once upon a time, I thought Moammar Qadhafi was cool, a twentieth century Barbary pirate who gleefully steered an independent course, used his country’s oil money to benefit the Libyan people, and thumbed his nose at Moscow and Washington alike.  I soured on him a long time ago, though, as it became apparent that he was pocketing most of the oil money himself, and his regime was blowing up airliners and assassinating exiled Libyan dissidents.  His visit to Rome in February was little short of bizarre, as he suggested that Europeans should convert en masse to Islam, abolish all political parties, and that the etymology of the word “democracy” had to do with people sitting on chairs, not to mention quotes like these:

I am not a dictator to close facebook… But I will be arresting anyone who enters it!

Demonstrate all you want, but do not go to the streets and squares!!

So, I was thrilled when a revolt broke out in Libya that seemed to have the strength to kick his crazy ass out of the country.  I mean, the guy reminds me of Michael Jackson–way cool in the eighties, nuts in the twenty-first century.  But Qadhafi, while he may be as crazy as Michael Jackson, is a lot less musically talented and a lot more dangerous.  It became obvious that he was going to use every means at his disposal to destroy the rebellion, and he definitely had the resources to do it:  modern weaponry, 6.5 billion dollars worth of gold to buy supplies, and a porous southern border with sub-Saharan Africa, a region where money talks and anything goes.  It looked like ol’ Qadhafi Duck was gonna crush the rebellion and give any rebels who survived reason to envy the dead.  But then, but then–instead of hanging these rebels out to dry, as the West has almost invariably done, NATO came to their aid.  Wow!   The empire was doing the right thing for a change!

So why, I wondered, were Cindy Sheehan and the Green Party and a lot of my usual cohorts going ape about this?  Did they actually support Qadhafi?  Did they know something I didn’t?

It didn’t take long for the truth to come out.  First came the disclosure that there had been a quid pro quo to gain Arab support for the intervention:   the U.S. agreed not to squawk about suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations in Bahrain in exchange for co-operation.  It was fine with the Saudis–Qadhafi Duck has long been a loose cannon in the Middle East, and they would be happy to see him replaced with someone more tractable.  Second, I found out that Qadhafi had recently decided to start selling Libya’s oil to India and China, rather than the West.  As Saddam Hussein found out when he tried to ask for Euros instead of dollars for his oil, defections will not be tolerated.

Think of all the oppressive situations the Empire has ignored.  Repression in Iran, Syria, Turkish actions against the Kurds, the civil wars in Sudan and the Congo, the genocide in Rwanda, brutal regimes in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Israel’s persecution of the Palestinians, the concentration camps known as North Korea and Burma, China’s crushing of Tibet and Tiananmen Square, “dirty wars” in Chile and Argentina–the list goes on and on.  The US has tsk-tsked, turned a blind eye to, or actively assisted in the crushing of one popular revolt after another–but Libya–Libya we can, and will, do something about–and why?  It’s small enough to beat and rich enough to be worth taking.  This is not about freedom and democracy, it’s about greed and hypocrisy, about getting our people in there and taking over from the amateurs who started the revolt. I would like to see those amateurs succeed, but it’s not about freedom any more, it’s about their blood for our oil–again.

My bad, Ms. Sheehan.  You called it right.

The Clash:  “Rock the Casbah





“OUR S.O.B.” GOES DOWN

12 02 2011
vegyptian

remember, remember....

It was Franklin Roosevelt, speaking of Nicaraguan dictator Somoza Garcia, who said “He may be an S.O.B., but he’s our S.O.B.”  And Hosni Mubarak has been our son of a bitch, or maybe just our bitch, in Egypt for thirty years.  As of this writing, he may still be America’s S.O.B., but he is apparently no longer Egypt’s dictator, and it appears that his designated successor, Omar Suleiman, is only passing through.

There are a lot of angles to this story.  First and foremost, obviously, is how the massive frustration of the Egyptian people bred collective courage and determination and a largely non-violent, decentralized popular revolution.  If only it would happen here!

There’s the question of why the Egyptian people feel so frustrated, what it will take to satisfy their demands, and how or even whether it is possible to meet those needs and aspirations.

There’s the question of how this may affect the situation with and within Palestine and Israel.

There’s the role of the Egyptian Army in the transfer of power.

There’s the invariably lame and sometimes downright bizarre responses of American politicians to this movement.

There’s the angle of American (as well as Egyptian) so-called “intelligence services” completely getting this wrong.

There’s the angle of the depth of support the U.S. government has consistently shown for Mubarak’s notoriously repressive rule in Egypt.

And there’s the question of who’s next.  Saudi Arabia?  Algeria?  Mexico?  The United States?

Let’s start with U.S. involvement and work more or less back up the list, but save “who’s next?” for last.

Thanks to WIkileaks, we know that America’s FBI schooled Egypt’s police in torture techniques at a Quantico, Virginia, training center–interestingly enough, the same one where Bradley Manning, of Wikileaks fame, is being held–but not tortured!  Oh, no, no no!  Verry interesting.  But I want to focus on Egypt.  Most of the weapons, from tear gas canisters to…let’s not go there, have “made in U.S.A.” stamped on them somewhere, and even the ones that don’t were mostly paid for by Hosni’s Uncle Sam.  However President Obama tries to position himself now, it is clear that the U.S. has long known about and been a willing accomplice in Mubarak’s repression of the Egyptian people.

Obama’s approval of Suleiman is a case in point.  Suleiman is widely known as “the CIA‘s man in Egypt.”  He is head of the secret police.  He’s co-operated with the U.S. to carry out kidnappings and torture, and to suppress Hamas, which has been labeled a terrorist organization by the US because it is willing to use violence to resist violently enforced US/Israeli hegemony.  I’m opposed to the use of violence, but I’m opposed to hypocrisy as well.  Hypocrisy is just a subtle form of violence.  Wikileaks has revealed that Suleiman’s attitude towards the Gaza Ghetto is that it’s OK for people there to “go hungry but not starve.”  How compassionate!   Considering Suleiman’s position in Mubarak’s government and the overwhelming popular support for the Palestinians around the Middle East, Obama’s endorsement of Suleiman is hardly a “change we can believe in.”

The problem for repressive regimes, in Egypt or the U.S., is that they grow increasingly out of touch with reality because, due to the fear factor, nobody is going to tell them anything they don’t want to hear.  That’s why torture doesn’t work–people will tell their torturer anything just to stop the pain.  It doesn’t have to be thumbscrews, either.  Any kind of power over another person’s life will do. Can you say “paycheck,” boys and girls?  How about “membership in the American upper class”?

Mubarak’s own “intelligence service” seemed bent on pinning the unrest on “outside agitators.” (ah, the “song of the South!), which would have been laughable if not for the number of people who were beaten, imprisoned, and outright killed due to this rhetoric.  Our own so-called intelligence services seem to have been surprised by these events, just as they have failed, or simply refused,  to foresee many major shifts in the currents of history–Pearl Harbor, Mao’s triumph in China, the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, the end of the Soviet Union and of so-called “Communist” hegemony over eastern Europe, the destruction of the World Trade Center.  The Bush administration, in particular, was famous for fabricating “facts” that bolstered what it wanted to hear.  Ah, the burdens of empire!

(Yes, I am quite open to the likelihood that the CIA, et al.,  neither failed nor ignored, but actively fomented some of the above events…but that’s another subject!)

Yes, the burden of empire will drive any country crazy.  We have been treated to the ironic spectacle of Republican “populists,” frightened out of their tunnel-vision wits at the involvement of radical Islamist organizations like The Muslim Brotherhood in this revolution. throwing their support to Mubarak, who is exactly the kind of strongman they claim to see in Obama.

Ah, the tangled webs we weave, eh?

I mentioned the Egyptian Army, which is a very peculiar institution, as armies go. Last month I said that the U.S. military is one of the best examples of state socialism in the world today, but the Egyptian have us beat.  Since the cessation of hostilities with Israel, they haven’t had a lot to do, militarily.  Instead, they have turned their manpower and resources into an enormous business conglomerate that is involved with everything from resort hotels to agriculture to appliance manufacture to road building.  They don’t want a protracted power struggle.  When it comes to a choice between a stable, happy Egypt without Mubarak or a grim, sullen country with him, the army’s preference is obvious–and that is the choice they have made.  Mubarak is out.

Whether Egyptians will find more happiness without Mubarak may depend on how philosophical the people can be.   From a materialist standpoint, the numbers are not good.  The population has tripled in the last fifty years and at current rates will double again in the next twenty.  Most of the country is virtually uninhabitable desert.  The Aswan dam has proved to be a trade-off:  the country has more electricity, but soil fertility is slipping without the annual Nile floods, and, unreplenished by silt from those floods, the Nile delta, the largest concentration of both population and arable land in the country, is washing away into the Mediterranean Sea.  The country’s oil production peaked fifteen years ago and has fallen 30% since, so it needs to import an increasing amount of its fuel as well as its food. The prices of both oil and food are rising.

What this boils down to is that the Egyptian standard of living is unlikely to improve. As long as the Egyptian people are glad to have more freedom to chart their own destiny in a world of diminished expectations, there is a chance that the country’s gross national happiness index will rise.  If they were expecting a chicken in every pot and a car in every driveway once Mubarak left, they will be sorely disappointed.

A change to a more sympathetic government in Egypt could be very good news for the people of Palestine.  If Egypt opens its border with Gaza and becomes more proactive in offering aid, the Israelis will have a much more difficult time keeping the screws tight on that unfortunate ghetto, and will have less energy and for making trouble elsewhere in the Middle East.  Maybe it’s time they started checking out real estate in Nevada?  Nevada, Negev, sounds a lot alike, nu? But I digress….

It’s that famous “butterfly effect.” An oppressed, underemployed fruit vendor immolated himself in Tunisia, and not long after that, the government of Tunisia fell.  To the surprise of everyone and the delight of some, that energy bounced into Egypt and dislodged a long-established,seemingly intransigent regime there in a matter of weeks.  The world is far too complex a system to predict where the next strand in the world-wide web will unravel, or when.  But we seem to have reached a tipping point.  In world politics as with the climate, bigger and bigger things are shifting faster and faster.  It’s no longer “After us, the deluge.”  The deluge is happening.

music:  John Lennon, “Power

vegyptian

remember, remember....

to the People”








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