Searching for credibility

Quote of the day

As the United States lunges into another reckless, foolish war, we may wish to notice that:

Regardless of the trigger mechanism, the [Obama] administration seems intent on pushing through Donald Rumsfeld’s old madcap blueprint for the Middle East, which involved toppling the governments of seven consecutive countries on the way to unchallenged dominion over Arab and Persian fossil fuels. Their eyes are on the prize. The rest is detail. It seems to make little difference to the Americans what becomes of Syria, only that Assad is overthrown, and the warlord that plants his flag atop the wreckage is hostile to Tehran and is willing to viciously put down any foolhardy bids for self-determination that might emerge from the populace. After all, the U.S. has left a trash bin of fallen monuments and blown infrastructures in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. If the entire Arab world is a flaming midden whose only functional entities are oil derricks, what cause for concern is that to our imperial chieftains? Let the Islamists slaughter each other on the peripheries of the bonfire while we vacuum every ounce of natural gas and petroleum from the core of the earth. (One conjures visions of Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood, mocking his young evangelical rival and shouting, “I drink your milkshake!”)

Jason Hirthler, author of the above, continued by pointing out that America’s “Liberals stare blankly from the sidelines while their ‘lesser evil’ does another expert impression of the ‘greater evil’.” How much blood must their standard bearer shed before they break with him and the party duopoly which runs Uncle Sam’s empire? I would guess a lot of blood as long as they can put affordable gasoline in their cars.

Quote of the day

Norman Pollack accurately characterizes Barack Obama and the liberals who have lost their way while standing in his shadow:

Obama’s “Hidden Hand” political strategy in his second term (Peter Baker, in NYT, July 16) merits notice for its utter phoniness (and NYT/Baker gullibility), as though a low profile, designed to convey the velvet glove of measured yet steady reform, has changed anything in his presidency, which from the start has raised sophisticated corporatism, with its full antiradical implications, policies, consequences, to a high art. Obama’s legacy — it’s too late for him to worry about this now — will be defined by his treachery as a leader and putative tribune of the people. In retrospect, Nixon and Bush 2 appear as mere choirboys in comparison, not because of Obama’s “smarts” (he has the brashness of a hustler, which passes in our day for intelligence), but because he can use liberalism as a backdrop for the pursuit of consistently reactionary policies, domestic as well as foreign. Liberals and progressives, especially, have been taken in, the latest enormous crime being massive surveillance which, once revealed, is allowed to become yesterday’s news, attention shifting instead to Snowden’s apprehension — an example where the real criminal seeks to pin the label of “criminal” on the one who exposes the crime. Liberals/ progressives sit on their hands (perhaps that’s where Obama’s team got the idea of the “hidden hand” as the latest selling point to cover up a record which hardly needs covering up, so far has radicals’ rigor mortis set in) while data mining, Espionage Act prosecutions, the whole range of civil liberties made mincemeat of, all constitute only one area of manifold and fundamental abuses: the liberalization of cynicism, to render it palatable to the groupies, while the haute crowd of bankers, militarists, defense contractors, national-security advisors, DOJ apologists for international war crimes, and, as they say in the Shakespeare plays, diverse and assorted other characters, laugh in their teeth.

Warnings circulated during the 2007-8 election season. But they were unheeded by the ‘realistic left’ who was largely untroubled by the condition of the country he would co-govern. I suppose we can believe in the changes Obama has made or affirmed. These largely were changes which have already or will eventually make life worse for the 99%. We can believe in them because they are facts on the ground and not because they expressed the hopes many invested in the Nobel Laureate.

Quote of the day

Glenn Greenwald points out that:

That the Obama administration is now repeatedly declaring that the “war on terror” will last at least another decade (or two) is vastly more significant than all three of this week’s big media controversies (Benghazi, IRS, and AP/DOJ) combined. The military historian Andrew Bacevich has spent years warning that US policy planners have adopted an explicit doctrine of “endless war”. Obama officials, despite repeatedly boasting that they have delivered permanently crippling blows to al-Qaida, are now, as clearly as the English language permits, openly declaring this to be so.

It is hard to resist the conclusion that this war has no purpose other than its own eternal perpetuation. This war is not a means to any end but rather is the end in itself. Not only is it the end itself, but it is also its own fuel: it is precisely this endless war – justified in the name of stopping the threat of terrorism – that is the single greatest cause of that threat.

Naturally, war is peace.

George W. Bush inconvenienced

Dubya in jail

The problem for the ex-Decider, current fine arts painter is legal in nature:

Will George W. Bush set foot in Europe again in his lifetime?

A planned trip by Bush to speak at the Switzerland-based United Israel Appeal later this week has been canceled after several human rights groups called for Swiss authorities to arrest Bush and investigate him for authorizing torture. Bush has traveled widely since leaving office, but not to Europe, where there is a strong tradition of international prosecutions.

The Swiss group and Bush’s spokesman claim that it was threats of protest, not of legal action, that prompted the cancellation. But facing protests is nothing new for Bush. What was different about this trip was that groups including Amnesty International and the Center for Constitutional Rights argued that Switzerland, as a party to the UN Convention against Torture, is obligated to investigate Bush for potential prosecution.

Is it unsurprising that a Bush spokesman has a truth-telling problem? No, of course not. The word “Bush” could become a synonym for “liar.” Nor is it surprising that George W. Bush wants to avoid the legal problems generated by his criminal actions. There is nothing here which is at all surprising because he has evaded responsibility for his worst acts his whole life.

It just pleases me greatly that The Decider must avoid traveling to and around Europe lest he risk finding himself in prison for the rest of his life for the decisions he made while president! It would please me even more if he were to spend the rest of his life in prison for his crimes.

Quote of the day

Serge Halimi, editor of Le Monde Diplomatique, wrote:

Some revelations come as little surprise. It’s not really news that some politicians love money and like to spend time with those who have lots of it. Or that they sometimes behave like a caste that is above the law. Or that the tax system favours the affluent, and that the free circulation of capital enables them to stash their cash in tax havens.

The disclosure of individual transgressions should lead to scrutiny of the system that created them. But in recent decades, the world has been changing at such a pace that it has outstripped our analytical capacity. With each new event — the fall of the Berlin Wall, the emergence of the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), technological advances, financial crises, Arab revolutions, European decline — experts have fallen over themselves to announce the end of history or the birth of a new world order.

Beyond these premature birth and death notices, three main, more or less universal, tendencies have emerged which warrant initial exploration: the marked rise in social inequality, the disintegration of political democracy and the decline of national sovereignty. Every new scandal is like a pustule on a sickly body: it allows us to see each element of this trio re-emerge separately and operate together. The overall situation could be summed up thus: governments allow their political systems to drift towards oligarchy because they are so dependent on the mediation of an affluent minority (who invest, speculate, hire, fire and lend). If governments balk at this abandonment of the popular mandate, international pressure from concerted financial interest ensures they topple.

Oligarchy, Halimi suggests, is scarcely incompatible with a modern democracy. Both can coexist within a social system. This point, the uncomplicated compatibility of oligarchy and democracy, has slowly moved to the forefront since December, 1991, the moment at which Bush the Elder’s New World Order emerged in its purest form. Our modern oligarchs rule indirectly, by capturing a political elite which, although elected by the demos, depends on the former for resources and guidance. The oligarchs thus rule because of the political power generated by their enormous wealth.

The United States, of course, provides a special case of this general condition. Today it is the only global empire, an unmatched military colossus and a country which sits beyond the rule of law, according to its self-understanding. It also remains exceptionally wealthy and provides the world with its commonly used reserve currency. Sheldon Wolin depicted it as having an inverted totalitarian system, that is, as an ‘as if’ democracy embedded within an empire and a stagnant economy. Democracy in America today produces results that mostly affirm oligarchic demands, a system of markets strongly distorted by finance capital and the prerogative powers of the security-surveillance apparatus. A political commitment to economic austerity and massive wealth inequality, to the imprisonment of the poor as a means of social control and to imperial domination at home and abroad makes the United States a leader among the many countries committed to this kind of democracy. Democratic elections remain in effect. They are, however, ineffective mechanisms for holding the powerful accountable. They are, instead, noisy spectacles which generate a weak kind of political legitimacy for the governed and a politically effective legitimacy for the social system as a whole. This system legitimating originates in the common realization that little to nothing can be done to successfully resist the irresistible force which is society.

Americans ought to consider these points before they vote, whenever they listen to their political leaders and when they wonder how they can make it through the year.

Quote of the day

As a response to the post-Boston Lockdown euphoria, Andrew Levine writes:

For anyone who watched the World Trade Center collapse on television in the days after September 11, 2001, the repetitive display of pictures of the terror attack on the Boston Marathon was déja vu all over again.

Not having been there, I can’t judge the mood, but reports of the demonstrations after the capture of nineteen year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were disturbingly familiar too. The chant — “USA, USA” — recalled the reaction to the news that Barack Obama’s assassins had finally gotten to Osama Bin Laden and dumped his body into the sea — in time for the upcoming elections.

Perhaps the comparison is unfair. As in New York and Washington after 9/11, the crowd was surely expressing solidarity with the victims and also relief that the ordeal was finally over. Civic pride, an estimable virtue, was on display too.

And even if the demonstrations had a jingoistic tinge, people cooped up inside all day watching Wolff Blitzer can justifiably plead mitigating circumstances. It requires fortitude to endure mindless commentary masquerading as journalism — cable news, in other words — and not run amok.

Greek tragedies, those of Aeschylus especially, recount the (fragile) triumph of civilization over primitive longings for revenge. This is the basis for the rule of law and the monumental advances that follow from it.

Too bad for us, and for the world, that, under the leadership of our two twenty-first century Presidents, the Lesser Evil one especially, we Americans seem to be abandoning lessons learned nearly two and a half millennia ago.

It isn’t just the rule of law that George W. Bush and Barack Obama have put in jeopardy. Under their leadership, ours is becoming a “civilization” that, without shame, uses revenge as a pretext for war.

It would be wrong to claim that war-making is the only project at which the United States excels. The United States mostly loses the wars it fights. To be sure, the Pentagon can destroy states and societies. But it leaves wastelands ruled by militaristic kleptocracies in its wake.

And what of Boston today? Levine continues:

An entire metropolis in lockdown? Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of militarized police arrayed against a lone wounded kid who, it turns out, was bleeding almost to death under a tarp covering a boat in someone’s driveway?

Austerity got left behind. Millions for the illusion of “homeland security,” not one penny for anything that actually makes people better off!

Events like the Boston Marathon Bombing and its aftermath are as significant as they are bizarre. They point to a future wherein the security-surveillance apparatus often and openly impinges on America’s somewhat civil everyday life, that is, to a future moment when our inverted totalitarian system becomes an obvious dictatorship. This is one implication that can be identified in the massive official response to the wounded fugitive, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The Tsarnaev brothers were considered members of Boogey Man’s legion. Uncle Sam — Superpower! — had to take the revenge in order to cleanse himself of the stain generated by the bombing. The prodigious waste of money involved was as necessary as the initial dénouement, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s capture. There is always money ready at hand for such projects, even in an age of planned deprivation.

Quote of the day

Glenn Greenwald discussed the automatic other-blaming, other-bashing found in the American media after every ‘terrorist’ attack:

The rush, one might say the eagerness, to conclude that the attackers were Muslim was palpable and unseemly, even without any real evidence. The New York Post quickly claimed that the prime suspect was a Saudi national (while also inaccurately reporting that 12 people had been confirmed dead). The Post’s insinuation of responsibility was also suggested on CNN by Former Bush Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townsend (“We know that there is one Saudi national who was wounded in the leg who is being spoken to”). Former Democratic Rep. Jane Harman went on CNN to grossly speculate that Muslim groups were behind the attack. Anti-Muslim bigots like Pam Geller predictably announced that this was “Jihad in America”. Expressions of hatred for Muslims, and a desire to do violence, were then spewing forth all over Twitter (some particularly unscrupulous partisan Democrat types were identically suggesting with zero evidence that the attackers were right-wing extremists).

Obviously, it’s possible that the perpetrator(s) will turn out to be Muslim, just like it’s possible they will turn out to be extremist right-wing activists, or left-wing agitators, or Muslim-fearing Anders-Breivik types, or lone individuals driven by apolitical mental illness. But the rush to proclaim the guilty party to be Muslim is seen in particular over and over with such events.

Indeed. It is as though some — many! — Americans find solace in their belief that Muslims commit these atrocities. The belief, even when it produces false claims attributing blame to Muslims, orders the world, providing the believer with succinct categories which can be used to cleanse the world of ambiguity and doubt. It is the other who commits these crimes. ‘We’ do not. ‘We’ are innocent. ‘We’ are pure, good and suffer needlessly. Those others are pure, bad and cause us grief.

This ‘thinking’ reflects a Platonic ontology formed in Hell.

Quote of the day

Rob Urie, echoing Daniel Goldhagen, wrote:

Ten years after the invasion, occupation and widespread destruction of Iraq was set into motion the revisionist apologetics are flying fast and furious. These include the denial of culpability for crimes committed, the systematic undercounting of the innocents slaughtered and displaced and the conveniently forgotten hubris of empire in the high theater of technocratic carnage. They also wanly posit the historical epic is behind ‘us,’ the 75% of the populace reported in poll results to have supported the war before news began leaking that its murder and mayhem weren’t achieving their hypothesized results. So to this 75%, a/k/a the American people, is the problem that we murdered too many or not enough? Put another way, what number of murdered Iraqis would be too many if today there were a Starbucks on every corner in Baghdad and Payday Lenders to bridge the cash flow shortfalls of the citizenry that remains?

Those murdered cannot speak up in order to be counted as such. Nor can they retaliate, demand justice or ask for a do-over. They died in order to affirm the vanity of America’s Chicken-Hawks and to meet the national-security needs of Israel’s morally unhinged elite. There may be only outcome which could make their deaths meaningful as grand Historical facts — common American standing up to their ‘leaders’ and forcing them to make good on the demand, “Never Again.”

Empire before human needs

Brian McFadden