June 29, 2010

Yes, Rush, I Just Can't Imagine Why

I listen to Rush Limbaugh so you don't have to. You're welcome. Occasionally, he's funny because he intends to be. Many other times, he's a complete laff riot because, well, he's a nincompoop.

Today, Limbaugh is Outraged! that Russians are spying on us! Why, it's like 1952 all over again! (He was very particular about the year.) Russia is still evil! They never changed! How incomprehensibly malevolent that the evil Russians should be spying on the United States, which is solely and uniquely devoted to spreading happiness and joy all over the world. If you have a decent life at all, you can thank the United States for it.

Since the United States is inherently, unquestionably good, all good people can only react with slack-jawed amazement to the evil revealed by the fact that the Russians are spying on us. Why, in all the possibilities of all the universes that have ever existed or will ever exist, would the Russians need to spy on us?

Never fear, Rush has the answer. The commies were always maniacal about making the U.S. completely commie just like them. And they still are! But now, the U.S. has a president who is a commie himself! He'll do the work for them! So...

It must be a trick! It can't be true! The U.S. is up to something, or so the Russkies think. So they're spying on us, to find out what we're really doing.

Never mind that all the stories about this refer to "[a]n F.B.I. investigation that began at least seven years ago," or that the suspected spies "had lived for more than a decade in American cities and suburbs from Seattle to New York." Note: I'm not saying the reporting is accurate in any respect -- this is, after all, the story the government has chosen to tell us, so who the hell knows what the truth is -- but this is the story we have to work with, and that Limbaugh has to work with.

But just set all that aside. It's all because of the commie in the White House.

It remains somewhat amazing to me that so many radio gabbers of the conservative persuasion arrive at the same line of commentary at warp speed. Before Limbaugh came on, I heard the same general reaction from a local morning radio host in Los Angeles (minus the commie in the White House part, which is why this guy remains a local personality, but I'm sure he's working on that). I shouldn't be amazed in the least; the same phenomenon occurs on the liberal side of the spectrum. And this is precisely how tribes operate: all the members, especially those with any kind of public voice (or with ambitions for same), are exceedingly familiar with the major talking points, all of which they obediently apply to whatever story comes along. You can do it, too, if you want to make yourself superstupid. It's remarkably simple, and simpleminded.

The local L.A. guy was also Outraged! He talked about how "scary" and "creepy" it was, and how it was just like the 1950s. The level of detail in the identical reactions -- now that's creepy. But as I say, that's what makes tribes tribes, political or any other kind. The L.A. host couldn't get over the fact that these scary, creepy spies used names like "Richard" and "Cynthia Murphy." They seemed to be ordinary Americans, like you and me! Hello: they're spies.

On that same point, I seriously love this bit from the NYT story:
Jessie Gugig, 15, said she could not believe the charges, especially against Mrs. Murphy. “They couldn’t have been spies,” she said jokingly. “Look what she did with the hydrangeas.”
I mean it: I love Jessie Gugig. (A great name, too!) If Ms. Gugig doesn't use that line in her own fabulously successful and crappy spy novel (if it's as fabulously successful as I imagine, it's almost gotta be crappy), I'm gonna steal it. Hey, she's only 15. She has plenty of time left.

To return to Limbaugh's amazement that the evil Russians would feel a need to spy on the noble Americans: yeah, that's a tough one. It couldn't possibly have anything to do with the fact that by means of NATO expansion on one side, and permanent (or at least decades-long) occupations on another, the U.S. is intentionally engaged in an encirclement of Russia. An encirclement that happens to involve deployments of large numbers of troops, plus weapons of all kinds.

Moreover, as I recently discussed in "Evil in Broad Daylight," the United States is now systematically engaged in the following. And this is only what the government wants us to know. From a Washington Post story excerpted in the earlier post:
Beneath its commitment to soft-spoken diplomacy and beyond the combat zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Obama administration has significantly expanded a largely secret U.S. war against al-Qaeda and other radical groups, according to senior military and administration officials.

Special Operations forces have grown both in number and budget, and are deployed in 75 countries, compared with about 60 at the beginning of last year. In addition to units that have spent years in the Philippines and Colombia, teams are operating in Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia.

Commanders are developing plans for increasing the use of such forces in Somalia, where a Special Operations raid last year killed the alleged head of al-Qaeda in East Africa. Plans exist for preemptive or retaliatory strikes in numerous places around the world, meant to be put into action when a plot has been identified, or after an attack linked to a specific group.
Yes, it's entirely impossible to imagine why any of this might make other nations the slightest bit uneasy.

To put the actual point very bluntly: the Russians, along with the Iranians, along with everyone else in the world, are entirely justified in thinking that, if they are not on their guard and if they do not take all possible precautions, the United States will fuck up their shit. This is what it means to be devoted to a policy of American worldwide hegemony, enabled by, among other elements, a global empire of bases. The United States is intent, to the fullest extent it can, on fucking up everyone's shit. That's what the U.S. has been doing for more than a century. See, e.g., here, here and here.

I have never believed Limbaugh is as stupid as he pretends to be. He knows the Russians have very good reason for using every means available to determine the U.S.'s plans. Russian leaders, like leaders of any other nation, would be extraordinarily derelict in their responsibilities if they did not use spying and many other methods for trying to ascertain the next outrage planned by the U.S. And that's where the word "outrage" can be used with genuinely good reason. In fact, "outrage" barely begins to capture the nature of the evil involved.

But Limbaugh also knows the storyline demanded by his audience. In essence: the United States, always good and noble and uniquely so, always devoted to spreading freedom and prosperity. If the U.S. has to bomb you into Paradise, it will. The U.S. only does it "for your own good" (yet another example: "To conquer Mexico, in other words, would be to do it a favor"). And Russia, along with anyone else who dares to interfere with the U.S.'s plans to any degree at all, is necessarily evil. They're asking to be obliterated. "Obliterated," not coincidentally, is the word I heard another conservative talk show host (Mark Levin) use in connection with Iran. But I'll deal with the current nonstop barrage of lies about Iran another time. (Nothing of significance has changed since the time I wrote "The Worsening Nightmare," so you can take a look at that and the numerous other essays about Iran listed at the end for an extended preview. The basic dynamics remain precisely the same today.)

"Look what she did with the hydrangeas." Limbaugh (and Levin, too) provide their own version of this cover for other purposes: they are devoted to their pets, and they talk about them often. Aw, they love dogs and cats. They can't be evil. But given the role they play in American culture and politics, in view of the endlessly destructive and murderous ideas they continually reinforce and spread still further, they are.

Oh, yes. They are.

June 27, 2010

Why the Ruling Class Frequently Fills Me with Blinding Rage

Today's example:
In an EXCLUSIVE interview on “This Week,” CIA Director Leon Panetta said that making progress in Afghanistan is both "harder" and going more slowly than anticipated.


"Is the strategy the right strategy? We think so," he said. "I think…the key to success or failure is whether the Afghans accept responsibility, are able to deploy an effective army and police force to maintain stability. If they can do that, then I think we’re going to be able achieve the kind of progress and the kind of stability that the President is after," Panetta said.
Of course, the President knows best, for the Afghans, for those in Pakistan and Iraq and Iran, for you, for me, for everyone every goddamned where. Nothing could possibly be more important than making the President happy.

And: "whether the Afghans accept responsibility..." I suppose I shouldn't be too hard on Panetta. After all, truly educated and insightful people understand that the only reason blacks had to endure centuries of the immense evil of slavery, then a century of Jim Crow, and the continuation in many forms of institutional racism today (plus countless instances of individual racism) is that blacks won't accept responsibility. Well, fuck, I just remembered: Obama actually said that about black fathers. God damn.

Earlier examples of the same disgusting perspective, from Hillary Clinton:
Our troops did the job they were asked to do. They got rid of Saddam Hussein. They conducted the search for weapons of mass destruction. They gave the Iraqi people a chance for elections and to have a government. It is the Iraqis who have failed to take advantage of that opportunity.
And, natch, from Barack Obama:
It's not change when [McCain] promises to continue a policy in Iraq that asks everything of our brave men and women in uniform and nothing of Iraqi politicians..."
In response to Obama, and to Hillary Clinton and to almost every member of the national ruling class (and to more Americans than I care to think about), I wrote the following in, "The Triumph of the White, Male Ruling Class: One Fucking Great Country" (published in June 2008):
The condescending superiority of this perspective is unassailable and unchangeable. (In yet another loathsome example of the identical mentality, John Kerry has also said the same thing.)

Listen up, Obama, you cheap, lying fraud: the United States government launched a criminal war of aggression against a nation that never threatened us. It continues a bloody, murdering occupation which does nothing but worsen the agony of the Iraqi people. We have no right to be in Iraq at all. We never did. The actions of the United States government have led to a genocide of world historical proportions.

Genocidal murderers and those who support and enable them -- as you do, Obama, since you vote to fund this continuing crime -- do not get to "ask" one single goddamned fucking thing of their victims. Not. One. Single. Goddamned. Fucking. Thing.

Get it, you pathetic little asshole?

Ah, I must correct myself. Genocidal murderers and those who support and enable them do get to ask one thing: they can beg all the victims for their forgiveness. Otherwise, get out in a matter of months. Not just "combat troops," [or contractors, I now add] but every last American -- out. And, no: genocidal murderers and those who support and enable them do not get to decide how to "responsibly" leave the scene of their own crimes. What, exactly, do genocidal murderers and those who support and enable them know about behaving "responsibly"?
As my earlier title had it: One Fucking Great Country.

America, Fuck YEAH!

I can't find the words any longer to express my loathing for these people.

Concerning Open and Closed Lists, and the Claim to "Special" Knowledge

Part I: Yet Another Intensely Exciting Internecine Battle at Versailles!

I. Contrasting Open and "Restricted" Lists

Readers who have followed my winding journey here may recall that I mention an email discussion list to which I still happily belong from time to time. It's called Opera-L, and here's part of the website. It's a genuinely open list: anyone at all can join. You can loathe opera and consider it to be the decadent plaything of repellent aging queens (like me!, as Marc Ambinder might say [see the conclusion of the earlier post]), and you can still join. Hmm, I think some of those folk are already on the list.

The primary focus of Opera-L is what the name indicates, but the discussions of opera are very wide-ranging: current performances and artists, recordings (both commercial and pirated), historical traditions and practices, and virtually any and every aspect of opera that you can think of. Ambinder woozily waxes on about the "enormous resource" that Journolist represented in his view. With regard to opera in all its manifestations, Opera-L is a staggeringly monumental resource. If you want to know about the bald Latvian tenor who sang Radames in the third set of performances of Aida at the Imperial Inn and Hostelry (in the Performance Annex) in Prstblk in 1907, you can put the question to the list. You'll have the answer within hours -- with sources provided, along with the specific dates of the engagement. If there is conflicting information, you'll be informed about that, too. I don't exaggerate. Seriously: the information available from the roughly 4,000 list members is astounding.

Members of the list include lots of people who simply adore opera and who are not professional musicians of any kind. They also include well-known critics and musicologists, singers (often using pseudonyms, not only to protect their privacy but to allow the freewheeling discussions, including sometimes harsh criticism, to flourish), instrumentalists, artist representatives, and so forth.

To my knowledge, there is only one prohibition concerning subject matter: Opera-L may not be used to sell anything. (There is a Yahoo Group for selling and buying opera recordings, unsurprisingly named Opera-Sell, and a lot of that goes on at Ebay too, of course.) The list has a moderator (or two perhaps, it's never been entirely clear to me, and I think it may change over time), but his touch is wonderfully light and unobtrusive. His presence makes itself known only on very rare occasions.

Certainly, a lot of the posts are dross. But what's dross to me may be exactly what another list member wants. As some members will point out when others complain about tedious posts concerning this or that, you have a delete function on your computer for a reason. Use it as you wish. Others will use it in a different fashion. And the list exhibits personal animosities as any group will; sometimes the personal tone of specific posts will be a bit much (and once in a while, far too much). Again, you can simply ignore posts like that. The list offers the benefits and liabilities of any group enterprise. For me, the benefits outweigh the liabilities, usually by a wide margin. Others have made a different judgment and leave the list.

And there are times when the list offers messages that are treasurable gems. Because the list is entirely public, I've occasionally excerpted messages that I find especially meaningful and memorable. One example is Albert Innaurato's comments about the very sad death of John McGlinn. Innaurato periodically (and not nearly often enough for me) will offer messages that are wonders of musical and historical knowledge (sometimes with a specificity concerning details of opera scores that is a model of teaching and illumination), combined with a sensitivity and perceptiveness about artistic matters that is a source of astonishment to me. I would remain on the list if Innaurato's posts were the only benefit it offered.

I mention these details about Opera-L to show how an open list can function, and more particularly to demonstrate how individuals who are genuinely and deeply knowledgeable about a particular field can offer that asset to others in such a setting. There isn't a need for lists that are "private," "exclusive" and "restricted." So I offer this observation, and I offer it in the form of a principle with no exceptions, for I can't think of one: when people engage in an activity on the basis of membership in a group that is "private," "exclusive" and "restricted," they do so not for the benefits that specifically result from such restrictions, since there are none, but for reasons arising out of their own psychological demands. Their vanity and self-conception require that they view themselves as "special," and "smarter" and "better" than others. This is again the problem of "oversized vanity and preferred self-conception" that I mentioned in a recent post.

A distinction should be kept in mind here. I'm not referring to activities which, given their own nature, demand a minimal level of expertise -- e.g., a professional sports team. Insofar as listservs of the kind at issue here are concerned, such requirements are altogether irrelevant. But the self-designated "experts" want to view themselves as possessing information and insights unavailable to "ordinary" people -- and they also demand that "ordinary" people (that's you and me, my friend) view them as "special" and able to deal with issues that we lowly folk are too ignorant to comprehend.

Perhaps I should mention a further aspect of this in passing. Ambinder claims that one of the benefits of Journolist was that it provided a place where "extremely smart people" (like him!) "could test their own ideas before they refined and presented them to the public." It's certainly true that many writers want input from people they particularly respect with regard to works in progress. I will occasionally do this myself when I'm working on an essay I find especially tricky, or still earlier, when I'm thinking through a subject or issue I find very challenging. But, and I sadly suspect I need to state this painfully obvious point explicitly in this context, that's why we have friends, or if not friends who are suited to the task, at least colleagues and acquaintances who will generously offer their thoughts about our work prior to publication. You see acknowledgments for assistance of this kind in the notes at the beginning or end of many books. There's nothing mysterious or "special" about this process, and there is no need for "exclusive" and "restricted" private groups.

II. The Claim to "Special" Knowledge and Expertise

You see the claim to an utterly invalid kind of "expert" knowledge with unambiguous clarity in Ambinder's post discussed at the conclusion of my previous article. The members of the elite utilize this approach across a wide range of issues; in fact, they use it with regard to every issue of moment. Let me provide a few examples from earlier articles.

From "The Vampire, Struck by Sunlight":
Those people who have followed the foreign policy catastrophes of recent years are repeatedly struck by this phenomenon: all the "experts" who are supposedly so knowledgeable in this area -- that is, all the "experts" who led us into the catastrophes and who were grievously, bloodily, murderously wrong about every significant matter -- remain entrenched in the foreign policy establishment. Moreover, they are precisely the people to whom everyone turns for the "solution" to the disasters that engulf us, both now and the disasters likely to come. This is what it means to have a ruling class. As I have said, the ruling class rules. The ruling class exercises a lethal monopoly on the terms of public debate, just as it exercises a lethal monopoly on the uses of state power.

What you have seen over the last six months and more, and what you will see in the coming months and years, is the same phenomenon in the realm of economic policy. All of the solons who led us into this abyss of mounting debt, worthless securities, failing financial institutions, economic contraction and collapse, rising taxation, and all the rest, will now instruct us as to how we should "solve" the crisis that they have created. The crisis may be ameliorated to a degree, and the worst of the consequences may be postponed for a while. But whatever "solutions" are implemented, whatever reorganization and reregulation is imposed, it will all be done in accordance with the ruling class's desires and goals. It will all be to protect their own wealth and power to whatever extent is possible, and to expand their wealth and power still more...
It is the "lethal monopoly on the terms of public debate" that groups like Journolist are specifically designed to perpetuate. This is the kind of "expert" knowledge that Ambinder, Klein, et al. are so in love with: the claim to "special" insight and understanding that serves to consolidate and continue the power of the ruling class, and to keep all those "ordinary" people in willing submission. After all, we wouldn't want to challenge the wisdom of our "betters," especially when they are dedicated only to acting "for our own good."

Here's another example, one that is particularly heinous and systematically used for vile and destructive purposes. Almost everyone -- including, I'm certain, many of you reading this -- continues to believe that "intelligence" about other nations, their military capabilities and plans, etc. is a genuinely serious and grave matter. Almost everyone insists that we must have the "right" intelligence. We must know what our enemies (real or imagined, and they're almost always imagined as far as the United States is concerned) are planning, so that we can act accordingly. Note that how we "must" act almost always involves still another act of military aggression, overt or covert.

The central arguments regarding the crucial nature of "intelligence" constitute a prime exhibit of the claim to "special" knowledge and how profoundly damaging the claim is. From "Fools for Empire," here is what I consider a classic statement of the issue from Barbara Tuchman (in The March of Folly):
Acquiescence in Executive war, [Fulbright] wrote, comes from the belief that the government possesses secret information that gives it special insight in determining policy. Not only was this questionable, but major policy decisions turn "not upon available facts but upon judgment," with which policy-makers are no better endowed than the intelligent citizen. Congress and citizens can judge "whether the massive deployment and destruction of their men and wealth seem to serve the overall interests as a nation."


The belief that government knows best was voiced just at this time by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who said on resumption of the bombing, "We ought to all support the President. He is the man who has all the information and knowledge of what we are up against." This is a comforting assumption that relieves people from taking a stand. It is usually invalid, especially in foreign affairs. "Foreign policy decisions," concluded Gunnar Myrdal after two decades of study, "are in general much more influenced by irrational motives" than are domestic ones.
In the same essay, I quoted Gabriel Kolko to essentially identical effect (in The Age of War: The United States Confronts the World):
It is all too rare that states overcome illusions, and the United States is no more an exception than Germany, Italy, England, or France before it. The function of intelligence anywhere is far less to encourage rational behavior--although sometimes that occurs--than to justify a nation's illusions, and it is the false expectations that conventional wisdom encourages that make wars more likely, a pattern that has only increased since the early twentieth century. By and large, US, Soviet, and British strategic intelligence since 1945 has been inaccurate and often misleading, and although it accumulated pieces of information that were useful, the leaders of these nations failed to grasp the inherent dangers of their overall policies. When accurate, such intelligence has been ignored most of the time if there were overriding preconceptions or bureaucratic reasons for doing so.
And from "Played for Fools Yet Again," here is my own summary of the problem:
I therefore repeat my major admonition, and give it special emphasis:
It is always irrelevant to major policy decisions, and such decisions are reached for different reasons altogether. This is true whether the intelligence is correct or not, and it is almost always wrong. On those very rare occasions when intelligence is accurate, it is likely to be disregarded in any case. It will certainly be disregarded if it runs counter to a course to which policymakers are already committed.

The intelligence does not matter. It is primarily used as propaganda, to provide alleged justification to a public that still remains disturbingly gullible and pliable -- and it is used after the fact, to justify decisions that have already been made.
I've written numerous essays about this issue and its endless manifestations. If you follow the links above, you'll find them. I've gone through this exercise about "intelligence" and its uniformly disastrous effects many, many times (certainly well over ten individual articles). And still almost everyone insists on the critical, indispensable role of "intelligence" and how vital it is that we get it "right." And do not doubt that, should the Obama administration finally decide that a military attack on Iran (or another country not now the focus of news reports) is an absolute necessity, it will be the "intelligence" that "made them do it" -- just as it was the "intelligence" that "made" the Bush administration invade Iraq. That is always the claim.

But perhaps the example provided by the Weigel controversy, helpfully embellished by posts such as the one from Ambinder, will help people to see the claim to "special" knowledge for what it is. And that is simply another means by which the ruling class and its eager courtiers strengthen and expand their grip on power, and seek to keep all the rest of us in subservient roles -- and, to the degree we believe their claims, willingly so.

Keep in mind another effect of the claim to "special," "secret" knowledge. It is not an accident that such "secret" knowledge always serves to justify the exercise of power by those who already possess power beyond imagining, just as it is not an accident that the same "special" information frequently serves to justify the expansion of that power still more.

No, none of it is an accident. All of that is why the claim is made in the first place. To the extent you give credence to this dishonest and entirely invalid tactic, you permit the ruling class to continue to have its bloody way with you, both figuratively and, with ever greater frequency, literally. One would think that a few more people have by now had quite enough of that.

[While in the process of writing this article, I found that it developed in unexpected ways. I decided that the issue of "special" knowledge raised in Ambinder's post (and other posts on the Weigel affair made the same point in different ways) merited lengthier treatment, given that the claim arises so often. As a result, less critical points about the Weigel business, together with some additional posts about it from other writers, remain to be discussed. I plan to get to it soon, although I may deal with a few other subjects first.]

June 26, 2010

Yet Another Intensely Exciting Internecine Battle at Versailles!

I. Deprecatory Remarks by Way of Introduction

I try in vain to catch my breath and calm my racing heart. I remain intermittently immersed in a series of cooling showers to lower the reflected heat of the monumental struggle between competing factions of Versailles courtiers. The stakes are of incomprehensible significance! Passions are inflamed! Staggering intellectual powers have been focused like lasers on the most urgent issues of our time!

Most of us were already thoroughly exhausted by the immensity of the dilemma foisted upon Our Ultimate Leader by McChrystal's shocking comments concerning the true nature (in the view of The General and his followers) of O.U.L. and his team. And "immensity" was the word, buddy: Who did have the biggest dick? Why, O.U.L., of course. That post includes a discussion of why that controversy was close to entirely meaningless and didn't matter a damn, and also rudely analyzes actually crucial issues that no one in Versailles will ever mention.

Thus do I, lowly peasant well outside the palace walls, throw rocks at the (for now) impregnable facade. But those attending the festivities at Versailles hear the rising clamor beyond the barrier, and they know the walls steadily weaken now. The battles within the court therefore become that much more urgent. The power enjoyed by the royal toadies may be significantly diminished someday fairly soon. If they want power -- and oh, they do -- they need to grab it today.

So we have another round of charades. David Weigel had to resign from The Washington Post! C'mon, you miserable pissant, this is big stuff! Fascinating how size continually, ah, um, well, rears its head in business of this kind. (I wasn't even reaching for that one. It just popped out. "Reaching for that one." "Popped out." Dear, dear me. Okay, let's stop that.) And virtually all the participants are men! We shall have to defer consideration of the specifically psychosexual aspects of all this to another day. Drat and blast.

Here's a summary of the Weigel contretemps, with assorted links. Exceedingly condensed version: Weigel's assignment at WaPo was to write about "the conservative movement and the Republican Party" from "the inside." Turns out he offered a series of not-nice and distinctly unflattering comments about conservatives on Journolist, Ezra Klein's private and exclusive conclave for political chatterers and think-tank types. According to Klein himself, participation was restricted as follows: "The membership would range from nonpartisan to liberal, center to left." (The other restriction was: "No one who worked for the government in any capacity could join." No, being a member of the permanent D.C. Establishment, even a newly minted one, doesn't count, you silly billy.) "Private," "exclusive," and "restricted." Huh. Sounds like a liberal-progressive version of a Republican country club, don't it? Well, as some scrabbling peasant has observed, "The basic dynamics of all tribes are the same." Hey, that was me! Some of my scrabbling-scribbling comments have staying power! ("Staying power"! Oh, yeah, baby.)

In tiresomely predictable fashion, the revelation of Weigel's "private" comments (by someone on Journolist or who was at least given access to Journolist's archives/messages) was regarded by Some of Those Who Matter as calling into question Weigel's "seriousness," "impartiality" and "credibility," which in turn called into question the "seriousness," "impartiality" and "credibility" of WaPo itself.

I'll wait until you stop laughing. [Time goes by ... and by ... da da da da-dum ... and by ...] We shall continue, trying to make ourselves heard above the din of your guffaws.

The right-leaning blogs attached themselves like lampreys to this "scandal" in equally tiresome and predictable fashion. Instapundit reliably, and with exceeding tiresomeness, collected numerous links, all of which you can find on your own if your life has ceased to have meaning. I consider a few specific entries below on issues I find worthy of comment, and provide some links there. But I've built up a fierce tolerance for endless varieties of this crap, and you may not be so afflicted.

Instapundit & Co. consider Journolist to be another instance of the universe-encompassing stranglehold on intellectual discourse held by Evil Liberals. Weigel's first crime was to be on the list at all. And then, oh, my, what Weigel said! He's not any kind of journalist, impartial or otherwise. He's just another Evil Liberal! Writing about conservatives just the way Evil Liberals always do, to make conservatives look bad! And so on and so on and so fucking on.

I'm going to be rude again. I'll state the critical point briefly. Follow the links if you want the hideous details. Both liberals and conservatives stand for the identical fundamental propositions. They both support the authoritarian-corporatist-militarist State (what I now refer to as the "Death State"). Yes, they emphasize somewhat different aspects, and occasionally those differences are of some significance. But with regard to the most crucial issues, they are in full agreement. As a result, their problem is one of marketing. How do you convince the increasingly impoverished and brutalized peasants to support one side over the other, when both sides agree on the basics?

From, "Cui Bono? -- and Bush's Monstrous, Deadly Dare":
On the domestic front, because the Democrats and Republicans both want and enjoy the fruits of the corporatist, authoritarian state but still vie with each other for control over the mechanisms of power, the two parties have a problem. In terms of basic principles and the interests they serve, they are indistinguishable. The Republicans are primarily financed by and do the bidding of hugely wealthy corporate powers; so are the Democrats. The Republicans have numerous and intricate ties to the defense industry, which makes incalculable amounts of money from our perpetual war economy; the same is true for Democrats. The Republicans want an increasingly repressive surveillance state to ensure their rule and their own lives of comfort and privilege; so do the Democrats.

So why should any voter support one party over the other? This is not to say there are no differences at all between the parties, as we shall see in a moment. But when we consider the deeper level of analysis, we see that the problem is not one of fundamental political principles, since neither party is about to change those. We come back to marketing.
The factional battles within the courtier class at Versailles are another manifestation of the same dynamic. The major conflict involved in the Weigel controversy is that between the fraying remnants of the old mainstream media (including the major newspapers) and the more recent arrivals from outside the previous guild system, including bloggers, like Klein and Weigel themselves. It seems that Weigel got the WaPo gig largely as the result of Klein's recommendation. Ezra Klein, wunderkind and conferrer-of-titles! Heady stuff. Keep in mind the incommunicably astonishing quality of Klein's insights. Your media at work, old and new. Sincere regrets if you just had an unpleasant accident.

And that is precisely the stinking rotten heart of this remarkably poor joke: just as the conservatives and liberals (as institutions of power in our disintegrating and therefore increasingly murderous Death State) differ on not a single issue of consequence, neither do the "old" and "new" media -- certainly not if they rise to the level of national players in the media world. The monopoly of the ruling class on the character and content of our national debate has not been dislodged in even the slightest degree. For the details, see "'Regrettable Misjudgments': The Shocking Immorality of Our Constricted Thought." I will unashamedly tell you I find that to be a fine essay; interestingly, the final section discusses the deeply awful views of Walter Russell Mead, who is now a particular favorite of Instapundit's. Such a small and sometimes remarkably ugly world.

Let's consider a few more particular aspects of the Weigel controversy.

II. Concerning the Generally Odious Nature of "Private" Listservs, Including My Own Confession!

Weigel offered his own acknowledgment about his membership on Journolist. Here's mine, about a different "private" and "exclusive" list.

I began blogging in the fall of 2002. At that time, I called myself a "libertarian," although I very quickly and emphatically distanced myself from the self-designated libertarians that are so numerous on the internets. If you're interested, see this post about my intellectual journey to where I am now: a proud, contentious lefty-anarchist. Who is also unspeakably rude, and a faggot! I am truly, finally beyond all salvation. Thus you see that hope beckons to you all. "Evil liberals," my magnificent ass. I am EVIL. Yeah, all caps, baby. True evil is liberating!

I think it was in early 2003 that I was invited to become a participant in an oh-so-exclusive and oh-so-secret private email discussion group. Given what I recall, I'm now breaking the terms of my having joined: I had to swear never even to divulge that a private email list existed to which I belonged. So I suppose I need to apologize to the person who lobbied for my admittance, and I do: I'm sorry. But in all seriousness, what is this shabbily dishonest shit? It would disgrace snotty, pretentious teenagers. I won't tell you what the list is, or the basis for its formation (it wasn't political, although politics was frequently discussed), or who was on it, except to say that its members included some very well-known people (you'd know them, fer sher). In terms of what follows, the details of the particular listserv are irrelevant.

I took myself off the listserv's email distribution list about five years ago (I can't recall the date exactly). As far as I know, I can still access the list and its archives if I choose to, but I've never chosen to. But who knows, my membership may have long been revoked. Surely, my mention of the list here should get me bounced, if anyone notices my disclosure. I don't care in the least.

When I first joined the list, I was very flattered. I was still a new blogger, and I was kinda sorta "in." Whoop-ti-do! I was on a list with famous people! It was, like, totally cool, man. I'd be included in cutting-edge discussions! I'd see great, powerful new ideas being developed in real time! How fucking fantastic!

In less than a year, all that was gone. Here's what I learned, in brief. To begin with, 70% to 80% of the list messages were dull. Just dull. I had exchanges with a few treasured friends that were infinitely more interesting and provocative (and I still have those, thank God). Most of the messages offered views that I read in many other places -- and those sent by writers who also wrote for "the public" offered only variants of what they said in articles that anyone could read. Today, I can't think of even one exception that was sufficiently notable that I still remember it.

So a lot of it was simply boring. Beyond that was an element I found considerably worse, an element that I grew to dislike intensely. The toadying around the most famous members of the list was transparently obvious and frequently sickening. "Oh, your article about blah-blah-blah was magnificent!" "Oh, please, please write about X! You're the only one who could do justice to this urgent issue! And you'll treat it with your unique sensitivity and perceptiveness!" It was nauseating. Of course, the famous list members loved it. And sometimes they did write about subjects suggested to them on the list. Not that the "public" articles offered insights that were unique or arresting, which they didn't -- but the authors were certainly told they did, and often.

During the same period of time, I was developing my own ideas and my own approach, which you can see reflected in some of the archived entries here from those early years. (As I always have to mention in contexts like this, my blog archives got corrupted years ago and most of them were lost from the internet. I can manage to republish them, which I've done for some selected articles, but it takes a considerable amount of time to do that. I've only been able to republish a small fraction of them. I would personally prefer that all of my posts, including ones that horrify me now, were readily available: readers could then see for themselves in detail how my ideas have altered, sometimes very radically. I think how and why those changes occurred has some value, at least for some readers. Again, you'll find a comparatively brief overview of this process in this entry. If I manage to get to some long-planned essays concerning the process of thinking and analysis generally, I'll be republishing some of my earliest pieces. It remains to be seen whether time and my health will permit that.)

I soon discovered that the approach I was developing was of absolutely no interest to the private list. There were perhaps two or three people who liked and encouraged my still developing methods of analysis. Other than that, I was already far too outside "the mainstream." For the most part, the members of the list were completely, unalterably uninterested.

This serves to underscore a truth that I've been reminded of throughout my life. I grew up in a family with a couple of famous relatives (one uncle, one aunt, and a few others who were somewhat well-known, but less so). I've also known several famous people in the course of my life. None of them were close friends, but I had fairly regular contact with them for a time. For the most part, they were neither more nor less interesting than anyone else. The fact of their fame (and in some cases, the talent which led to their fame) was occasionally of interest in various ways -- but as people, I found other individuals, including some who did become close friends, far more stimulating and rewarding to know. And those individuals who became friends are people you've never heard of. My early exposure to fame (via that uncle and aunt especially) largely inoculated me against the lure of fame by itself, but that's not how it works for most people. As someone new to blogging, I was briefly pleased to be included in an "exclusive" group, but as I say, that wore off very quickly. And as I noted, the behavior of the "regular" members of the private listserv toward the famous members was genuinely sick-making.

In other words, what goes on in private listservs, at least judging from my own experience, is no different from what goes on in our culture generally. Most people get goggle-eyed and their brains take an extended vacation when they're in the proximity of famous or powerful people (here's a related example). "Oh, you're famous!" Which appears to mean, both in the public aspects of American culture and in private settings: "Oh, you're better than ordinary people! You're necessarily and inherently much more fascinating and worthwhile!"

If you think about it even for a moment, you will realize just how pathetic and awful that perspective is. It's also a complete crock of shit. I told you, sweetheart, I'm rude.

So in significant part, the listserv to which I belonged functioned as a private source of ego-bolstering for already famous people, so that these depressingly typical people could hear yet again how magnificently wonderful and brilliant they were. Kind of a private PR machine, if you will. Related to this was a more general perspective that most of the members of the private listserv exhibited (at least, those members who posted to the list): the sense that all the members of the list were unique and specially special, simply because they belonged to this private, exclusive and restricted list. This element seems to be inextricably linked to the nature of any private listserv (and probably to almost any private club or organization, for that matter), and you can see its operation in some posts about the Weigel business.

For example, here's part of what Marc Ambinder said about Weigel (note, too, that most of these people say they are very good friends with each other, which is, of course, another symptom of the Establishment at work). Ambinder noted at the outset of his comments that he also belonged to Journolist (as did many of those so eagerly commenting on this universe-shattering controversy), and he concludes with the following. I've inserted a few comments in brackets to stress the element of overweening self-regard and self-congratulation:
As for the Journolist project itself, I found it to be a great resource. Extremely smart people [like me!] engaging in policy debates on the stories of the day. There was no plotting and very little rah-rah rally-the-crowd cheerleading. Debate among members was often quite vigorous, and occasionally even personal. It was not a conspiracy. It was a forum. A members-only coffee shop where people who take ideas seriously [like me!], who want access to people who take ideas seriously [like me!], could test their own ideas before they refined and presented them to the public. As a reporter, I learned a lot about a lot of subjects. It was an enormous resource, and I'll miss it.
Yes, Marc, you are astonishingly, magnificently wonderful. We prostrate ourselves before your blinding incandescence.

Andrew Sullivan calls Ambinder's post "superb," and says that he "agree[s] with every word." How utterly unastonishing. So much blinding illumination!

I also draw your attention to the blatant, stomach-churning elitism of this phrase: "could test their own ideas before they refined and presented them to the public." That desultory, ignorant, uninformed "public," which is composed of those who are decidedly not "extremely smart people" who "take ideas seriously." Why, the elite wouldn't want to endanger the perfection of their brilliant insights by exposing them prematurely to such shabby riffraff. Oh, no: the elite will hone "their own ideas" only in the presence of other "extremely smart people" like them, that is, only in the presence of other members of the self-anointed elite. When the time is right, the elite will tell all those filthy ordinary people what the "right" ideas are, and the "right" ideas will be those endorsed by the elite and no others at all.

It is therefore equally unastonishing that, on every essential issue, the members of the Establishment all end up offering the same arguments from the same perspectives. Here's another example of how that works: "The Empty Establishment: No One's Home in an Intellectual Wasteland." Yes, they may differ on some details. But always keep in mind that with regard to the authoritarian-corporatist-militarist system itself and its central operations, they are all interchangeable.

This is far, far longer than I had anticipated, so I'll stop here for now. But I've collected some additional links about the Weigel affair, about which I want to make some further points. I'll do that next time.

June 23, 2010

Murder with Malice Aforethought, or: Screw You -- My Dick Is the Biggest!

So McChrystal is out.

As the murderous destructiveness of the Death State increases in every direction, nauseating charades of this kind will no doubt also occur with increasing frequency. I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in analyzing what so many others consider to be questions of significance: whether McChrystal violated the sacraments of the civilian-military command structure, what Obama had to do to maintain his authority as Commander-in-Chief, and so on. I would further suggest that, if you remain a civilized human being to any measurable degree, such questions should be of no concern to you. That these and similar issues of allegedly vital interest have dominated the national debate about McChrystal's "insubordination" tells you everything you need to know about how disgustingly uncivilized the United States government and its ancillary media culture are today.

Here, we will be astonishingly, unforgivably rude, and we will mention those issues which ought to be the focus of debate -- but again, this assumes that civilization and its foundational requirement, recognition of the sacred and irreplaceable value of a single human life, remain operative to a significant degree.

I don't give a glimmer of a shadow of the faintest damn about the outcome of incidents of this kind, because the major participants are all war criminals. I have been planning for some time an explanation of an especially unforgivable aspect of the entirely phony moral posturing engaged in by virtually all those who take part in our national discussion. The particular aspect to which I refer is this: almost no one takes the concepts of war crimes and war criminals seriously at all.

I've set out certain key provisions of the Nuremberg Principles before. Read the following again (or for the first time), and as you read it, think about the plain meaning of these words, especially the passages that I've highlighted:
Principle VI

The crimes hereinafter set out are punishable as crimes under international law:

1. Crimes against peace:
1. Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances;
2. Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i).

2. War crimes:
Violations of the laws or customs of war which include, but are not limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave-labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or illtreatment of prisoners of war, of persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity.

3. Crimes against humanity:
Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhuman acts done against any civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds, when such acts are done or such persecutions are carried on in execution of or in connection with any crime against peace or any war crime.

Principle VII

Complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity as set forth in Principles VI is a crime under international law.
Yes, I've highlighted all of it, because all of it is directly relevant to the war criminals now occupying the highest levels of the Obama administration, as it was directly relevant to the war criminals in the Bush administration.

Item: Obama and his administration claim the "right" to murder anyone in the world, wherever he or she may be, for whatever reason they choose -- or for no reason at all. Obama and his administration recognize no upper limit to the number of people they can murder in this manner: they can murder as many people as they wish. And they claim there is nothing at all that may impede their exercise of this "right."

This is the game entire. Understand this: once Obama and his administration have claimed this, there is nothing left to argue about. They can murder you -- and they can murder anyone else at all. What in the name of anything you hold holy remains to be "debated" once a vile, damnable "right" of this kind has been claimed?

This is a war crime: "murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave-labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory..."

It is also a crime against humanity: "Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhuman acts done against any civilian population..."

Under Principle VII, all those who are complicit in these crimes are also guilty.

Item: Ongoing drone attacks in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, which regularly and systematically kill large numbers of civilians. These murders, too, are war crimes and crimes against humanity; all those who are complicit in the crimes are also guilty.

Item: Obama has not "ended torture," and he never did. See here, here and here. Torture is a war crime and a crime against humanity. All those who are complicit in the crimes are also guilty.

There are many other specifics that could be added to these three items. But -- if you are honest about the plain meaning of these provisions of the Nuremberg Principles -- any one of the three items alone is sufficient to make the judgment. Put all three of them together, and add in just some of the further specifics that could be mentioned, and the conclusion is unavoidable.

Yet most people continue to avoid it. If you avoid it, do not expect to be viewed with any degree of seriousness or with even a minimal degree of respect by anyone who is genuinely civilized and who gives a damn.

In my earlier article discussing application of the Nuremberg Principles, I wrote:
So which individuals are guilty of the commission of crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity? Certainly all the major officials of the Bush administration during the period of the planning and implementation of the invasion of Iraq and during the subsequent occupation. [Al] Gore refers to "they," dishonestly attempting to place all responsibility with the Republicans. The facts and the historical record will not support flimsy strategems of this kind. So add to the list of criminals all those in Congress who voted for the Iraq AUMF, as well as all those who voted to fund the war and the continuing occupation. With regard to the Bush administration and Congress during the relevant time period, I think the list of those who are not guilty would be very short, indeed. To my knowledge, that list would include only Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich. (If there are one or two others, my apologies. But there are certainly not more than a few others.)

And who is one of the people who has repeatedly voted to fund the occupation of Iraq? That's right: Barack Obama. Obama, the Democratic nominee for President, is guilty of crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
You can apply the Nuremberg Principles in the same manner to the Obama administration and the current Congress. The specifics include the items listed above, and the ongoing criminal occupation of Iraq, together with the continuing criminal acts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Once again, the list of those who are not guilty would name, at most, four or five people (and probably less).

Given these facts and the indisputable meaning of the Nuremberg Principles, who gives a goddamn whether McChrystal remained in his job or not? His departure will not alter or even slow down the actions of the U.S. government in even one of the ways that matter.

But this kind of public performance is a testament to the deeply nauseating, destructive "games" that bullies play -- those bullies at the highest levels of government who claim for themselves the "right" to remake the world as they choose, and now the "right" to murder anyone they choose, simply because that is what they choose to do.

In an article about the disturbing frequency of bullying among children and young adults, I wrote, in "Bullied, Terrorized and Targeted for Destruction: Our Children Have Learned Well":
Our children are taught that we equate "manliness" and "strength" with close to complete disregard for other people, with emotional repression and insensitivity to the point of catatonia, and with a willingness to resort to physical violence at the slightest provocation, and even in the complete absence of any provocation at all. We tell those people who suffer great emotional pain and even agony, often when they contemplate the terrible suffering of others, to "suck it up" and to have "thicker skins." The greatest virtue is to feel nothing, or as close to nothing as possible. There is one exception: you can feel unreasoning, unfocused rage, and you are free to act on it. You may lash out in any direction you choose. The innocence of your victim is irrelevant.

Our government acts in this manner repeatedly. Our political leaders all applaud it, and offer a lengthy series of "justifications" for our unending national cruelty.


[These children] learned that cruelty and violence are not to be condemned, but constitute the coin of the nightmare realm of our culture: cruelty and violence are enacted many times every day in films, on television, in our personal lives, and by our government on a national and international scale. You will be rewarded for cruelty: the crueler you are, the greater the reward.


Our children learn all this, and many more lessons of the same kind. Of course, they are often vicious bullies. Our government is a murderous bully on a scale that beggars description; most politicians are bullies; the majority of adults are bullies to varying degrees. Why wouldn't these children be bullies? It's what they've been taught. In the most crucial ways, it's all they've been taught.

These children are the perfect embodiments of the central values of our culture. They have learned well.
So Obama is the biggest bully of all. Who knows, he might even have the biggest dick. He certainly is the cruelest of these murderous bullies and, as I noted in the earlier essay, his reward is therefore the greatest. He is, after all, the Commander-in-Chief of the Death State.

Let me offer a few concluding thoughts (for the moment) concerning how astonishingly unserious almost all commentators are in their discussion of war crimes.

In certain quarters, it remains fashionable to insist on the absolute necessity of prosecuting the leading war criminals of the Bush administration for their actions while in office. I have written extensively about why, in the context of the present political system, I would view all such prosecutions as the worst kind of show trials, the effect of which would be precisely the opposite of that which the advocates of such prosecutions claim to desire. You can consult "Obama and the Triumph of the American Myth" (and the two related essays linked at the beginning of that article) for the details. The briefest statement of my theme is this:
By seeking to localize the evil in only one aspect of the much broader and more fundamental evil involved and within a falsely delimited period of time, the torture obsessives would thus whitewash the American project as a whole.
The additional discussion above about the meaning and application of the Nuremberg Principles underscores my overall concern.

I obviously do not disagree with the proposition that Bush, Cheney and others committed abominable war crimes and crimes against humanity, and that they deserve the harshest of judgments and punishments. However, and it is a "however" of the most profound consequence, it is far, far more important to stop those who are committing war crimes and crimes against humanity today. Yes, we should punish those have committed unjustified murders in the past -- but how much more important and urgent is it to stop the known murderer who continues to commit his crimes in the present, especially when the murderer has made unmistakably clear that he will continue to commit similar crimes tomorrow and in the days to come?

If a person is at all serious about stopping crimes of this kind, he must be demanding impeachment and/or prosecution of Obama and the other war criminals in his administration today, without a moment's delay. I understand very well indeed that impeachment or prosecution of these individuals will not happen, but if you are genuinely committed to the moral principles involved and if you seek to vindicate them, you must make the demand. If you do not, your understanding of the Principles and their application is essentially amoral and unprincipled. You wish to apply the Principles only to those individuals you view with special disfavor, while you exempt from the Principles' operation those individuals you personally happen to view less negatively, or even positively. That is, you have transformed principles of profound, universal moral significance into tools of the most disgusting and most superficial politics.

We might adapt a statement from Lewis Carroll to make the point: "The rule is, war criminals tomorrow and war criminals yesterday, but never war criminals today."

If that is your stance, even if you do not have the honesty to admit it, then damn you to hell.

June 21, 2010

The Death State Brutalizes, Tortures and Murders Because It Can

The ascension of Obama, the Apotheosis of Marketing American-Style, has given rise to what appears to be a paradox. On one hand, Obama -- the first black president, who intentionally and with studied care adopted every policy and opinion of the white, male ruling class, since that remains the most certain path to power in the United States -- represents the triumph of public relations. What had been abhorrent and detestable under Bush becomes acceptable under Obama, at least to the extent that notable opposition has now absented itself altogether from the political scene. This was always the singular danger in Obama's candidacy, as a few of us had predicted. But almost no one heeded the warning. Americans simply and with immeasurable simple-mindedness adore the marketing. Throw an unending stream of shockingly empty, windy phrases at them, and they will collapse in paroxysms of self-induced ecstasy -- provided the person doing it is of a class they view with particular favor. They will be more than happy to supply the nonexistent content out of their own oversized vanity and preferred self-conception.

At the same time, as the Death State enters its late stages, the entire sphere of public relations steadily diminishes in significance to the ruling class. As I noted about the Gulf of Mexico catastrophe, the ruling class cannot now be troubled even to pretend to give a damn about the ungraspable degree of damage they cause to huge numbers of human beings and other living creatures, and to the planet generally. What is true of the Gulf crisis is true of the ruling class's other major projects. The U.S. government systematically murders innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Does anyone care? Not that you'd notice or, more importantly, that the ruling class would notice or have reason to be concerned about. They know most Americans won't do a damned thing about any of it. Are Americans in significant numbers going to say, "No"? Are they going to choose non-cooperation? No, they are not. Why expend any effort at all on marketing at this point? It's entirely unnecessary.

So these two facets of the problem might appear to be at odds with one another. But if you consider the matter a bit further, you'll appreciate how well they complement each other. Obama alone -- Obama as the symbol of "the end of racism" in America, as the transcendence of the American project over its longstanding defects and failures -- provides all the cover that is required. What were war crimes under Bush can't be war crimes under Obama. Why not? Because he's Obama! If you object that the explanation can't be that simple (and, yes, simple-minded), I will urge you to consult the news more regularly. I will urge you to revise downward your conception of just how deeply idiotic Americans will make themselves. This is especially true with certain segments of the political yammering class. Speaking of empty and enormously destructive symbolism...

Here is today's sign on the road down the slope toward the Valley of Ultimate Stupidity and Loathsomeness:
The Supreme Court has upheld a U.S. law that bars "material support" to foreign terrorist organizations, rejecting a free speech challenge from humanitarian aid groups.

The court ruled 6-3 Monday that the government may prohibit all forms of aid to designated terrorist groups, even if the support consists of training and advice about entirely peaceful and legal activities.
IOZ is certainly correct that, since the U.S. government now explicitly claims "the right to have you killed" -- and anyone else at all, I would add for clarity and emphasis -- "without any legal recourse or sanction and with no process of law or investigation necessary to legitimize your death," it would be passing strange to evince spluttering moral outrage about a comparatively minor procedural matter. If the Death State can murder anyone it chooses, whenever it chooses, simply because that is what it chooses to do, debates about what constitutes "material support" to what are allegedly "terrorist organizations" approach luxuries in which it is almost unseemly to indulge.

Still, the Supreme Court ruling is shockingly wrong. But this is hardly news for the Supreme Court today, or for the Supreme Court on many, many days in the past, let us not forget. I will offer a brief word, not about the "material support" aspect of this egregious error (as bad as that element is), but rather about the Death State's use of the "terrorist organization" designation.

One of the best examples of the entirely instrumental use of this term was recently discussed by Jim Bovard, in an article I excerpted in, "An Evil Monstrosity: Thoughts on the Death State." You will be hard-pressed to find more than a very few liberals or progressives today who will challenge the liberal orthodoxy about the nobility of the Clinton administration's war crimes in Yugoslavia. "The U.S. stopped a genocide!," scream the ignorant propagandists. That's a lie. But put "humanitarian" before "intervention," and liberals are stupider than a gnat. We're back to the problem of "oversized vanity and preferred self-conception."

But in the article that I excerpted, Bovard writes the following about Clinton's Yugoslavia policy. I've highlighted only the portion that concerns our subject here, but liberals and progressives in particular might consider permitting the truth of all these observations to penetrate their skulls just the tiniest bit:
Bill Clinton has often acted like his 78-day bombing assault on Serbia in 1999 was his finest hour. The State Department was referring to the Kosovo Liberation Army as a terrorist group until 1997. After Clinton decided to attack Serbia, the KLA officially became freedom fighters. The fact that both Serbs and ethnic Albanians were up to their elbows in atrocities was simply brushed aside or denied. After surviving a Senate impeachment trial, Clinton was hellbent on starring in an old-time morality play.

Clinton’s bombing campaign killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Serb civilians. From intentionally bombing a television station, Belgrade neighborhoods, power stations, bridges (regardless of the number of people on them at the time), to “accidentally” bombing a bus (killing 47 people), a passenger train, marketplaces, hospitals, apartment buildings, and the Chinese embassy, the rules of engagement for U.S. bombers guaranteed that many innocent people would be killed.

In his anniversary op-ed, Clinton declared that “without the law there is no freedom.” But the law did not stop, or even slow, Clinton from raining death on Belgrade. Clinton brazenly violated the War Powers Act, the 1973 law which required the president to get authorization from Congress for committing U.S. troops to any combat situation that lasted more than 60 days. The House of Representatives refused to endorse Clinton’s warring. But, on Serbia and many other issues, Clinton acted as if his moral mission exempted him from all restraints, legal and otherwise.
The shifting and even inversion of labels is a device the U.S. government uses whenever its goals change, and when the previous label would prove a hindrance to the policy it has decided upon most recently. What had been a "terrorist organization" is now a group of "freedom fighters," or vice versa as deemed advisable.

The truth of the label is of no moment whatsoever. When used by governments in this manner, labels are merely signifiers allowing pursuit of the chosen policy to proceed without objection. As in the case of Yugoslavia, almost no one objects or even notices the shift. Americans love the marketing. And then they pretend to react with wonder and astonishment when everything turns to blood-drenched shit. I say "pretend to react" because I find it hard to believe that large numbers of people are actually this profoundly dumb. On some level, they know they've been fooled again -- or, to be more accurate, that they've allowed themselves to be fooled again -- but they don't want to admit it. Better, they think, to sheepishly acknowledge stupidity than to confront the lies they so enthusiastically tell themselves.

The Death State uses the "terrorist organization" label today whenever it is convenient to do so: that is, when that usage makes it easier to pursue its chosen policy. But ultimately, it pursues that policy not because of facts or the truth of the situation, but because that is what it has chosen to do. In part, its policies are in the pursuit of greater power, control and wealth -- but of equal or even greater significance is that the State pursues the policies it does because it can. This underscores the unanswerable power of the State; from this perspective, which is the perspective of those deeply damaged people who seek political power on the national stage, power is the not the means to another end. Power is the end. The ruling class knows it, and they know you will do and believe anything to avoid this particular truth.

Here's another example. You might want to follow the argument preceding this short passage -- but, oh dear me, it's long and, still worse, complicated. So you probably won't want to follow it. Bye-bye!

From a lengthy essay about the immense evil of torture (all fully applicable to the current criminal administration), "Lies in the Service of Evil":
The crucial point is Foucault's. Let me rephrase it as follows, in connection with torture specifically.

Torture does not work. Its use permanently damages all those who are tortured, and those who administer the violence. Its "lawful" use profoundly undermines the broader society and democratic institutions in ways that are irreparable. But its persistent, ineradicable failure is entirely irrelevant for those who seek to consolidate and expand state power. Moreover, its inherent failure underscores their aim: it does not work, everyone knows it does not work, but the state does it because it can.

In this view, power is all, and power is its own justification. It is a simple truth, and a terrible one.
There is the terrible truth about the Death State, offered for your consideration.

Hey, that reminds me. Are there any good shows on TV tonight? Something fun, okay? Really stupid would be good, too.

June 18, 2010

Memo to the Victims: You Yourselves Will Pay for the Crimes of the Ruling Class

As more and more people are now acknowledging -- and I think they are entirely correct and, if anything, still underestimating what will be the ultimate costs of this calamity -- the damage caused by the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico will most likely be felt for several decades at least. The economic costs forbid accurate projection at this point; that might not be an altogether regrettable result, for a fuller version of the truth might well be so horrifying that it would induce paralysis of both thought and action. The human costs -- the livelihoods destroyed, the families subjected to unendurable stress and most probably similarly destroyed in very large numbers, the hopes and dreams put on indefinite hold, only to be surrendered in their totality in time -- prohibit contemplation.

One aspect of the profoundly evil system that has been destroying us for over a hundred years -- and make no mistake, it is deeply evil in design, intent and effect, if by evil we designate those actions which destroy the very possibility of thriving life -- is especially awful. The authoritarian-corporatist-militarist system victimizes untold millions of individual human beings, as well as many other forms of life as we see again today, both here and abroad. That would be a momentous evil in itself, but this particular evil is unsatisfied with only this first form of destruction.

Thus, the victims are targeted a second time, and they are forced to become collaborators in their own destruction. It is crucial to understand that these two forms of destruction are not separate manifestations of separate evils. They are the consequences of the same evil, and the two forms of lingering torture and death (psychologically at a minimum, and frequently existentially as well) are part of one overall design. I've discussed certain cultural-psychological manifestations of this dynamic in a number of essays. For an introduction to this analytic approach, I would recommend one article in particular: "Let the Victims Speak." As I stated at the outset of that essay, the nature and operation of this dynamic are very complex; it took me a few decades to appreciate its character. If the subject interests you, I therefore suggest a reading of the earlier article in its entirety.

These passages will provide a sense of the dynamic that concerns me, one that is so commonplace that most people don't even notice it:
Focus on the critical sentence: "Yet, when a victim explodes or acts out in unacceptable ways, these same officials are shocked and indignant."

What exactly are these "unacceptable ways" of exploding or acting out? Who decided they were "unacceptable"? Why is it that "reluctant school officials" will not "take definitive action" against the bullies -- thus tacitly conceding that the bullying itself is not all that "unacceptable" -- while the same officials are "shocked and indignant" when the victim protests too strongly?

This pattern, and certain of its origins, will be found throughout history, in every culture around the world. The pattern is a simple and deadly one: the oppressor -- that is, those who are in the superior position, whether they are parents, school officials, or the government, or in a superior position merely by virtue of physical strength -- may inflict bodily harm and/or grievous, lifelong emotional and psychological injury, but the victim may only protest within the limits set by the oppressor himself. The oppressor will determine those forms of protest by the victim that are "acceptable."

You see this pattern with regard to many helpless, lonely children in addition to Billy Wolfe...


Think about this very carefully for a moment. The oppressor may inflict unimaginable cruelties on innocent victims -- but the victims may only protest in ways which the oppressor deems "acceptable." The profound injustice is obvious, but not in itself remarkable or unexpected: this is how oppression operates. But ask yourself about the deeper reason for the prohibition. This is of the greatest importance: the victims may only protest within a constricted range of "permissible" behavior because, when they exceed the prescribed limits, they make the oppressors too uncomfortable. They force the oppressors to confront the nature of what they, the oppressors, have done in ways that the oppressors do not choose to face.

The fifth grader in the story would have been fully justified in screaming at his teachers for minutes, even hours. He would have been fully justified in demanding to know why his teachers humiliated him so mercilessly in front of his classmates, and why they exposed him to cruel scrutiny and mockery in this way. He had every right to ask why his teachers -- his teachers, who are supposed to protect him from gratuitous cruelty and who are supposed to be devoted to his well-being -- would so deeply betray their role. But what do you suppose would have happened to him if he had reacted in this way? As in the case of Billy Wolfe, his teachers would have been "shocked and indignant." The boy with Stahl's ear would almost certainly have been punished again -- for identifying the nature of the cruelty perpetrated against him and protesting against it.
Take some time to appreciate the unfathomable cruelty of this pattern. You may be grievously harmed and even permanently damaged by the actions of those who hold unanswerable power -- but you may only speak about this evil and its effects within the very narrow limits set by those who would destroy you. If you are killed, the identical prohibitions apply to those who still manage to survive and who would protest the unforgivable crime committed against you. In this manner, the complacency and comfort of those who possess immense power and wealth are underwritten by the silence forced upon their victims. The victims may speak and even protest, but only within severely circumscribed limits, and only so long as their rulers are not made to feel too uncomfortable, or too guilty. Anything which approaches too close to the truth is strictly forbidden.

This is the system of government carefully erected and fortified in the United States over the last century. In the last several decades, it has been made impregnable and unassailable. If you tell the full truth or even approach it, you are consigned to the void beyond the most distant borders of permissible debate.

I consider this only a start at the task of understanding this pattern and its operations; time and health permitting, I will address these complicated matters in more detail in the future. But I now want you to consider another aspect of this collaboration in their own destruction forced upon the victims.

The pattern is the same: the victims are forced to participate in their own destruction. If you participate in our authoritarian-corporatist-militarist system in any significant way, there is no way of escaping this dilemma. I repeat the point for emphasis: this is the way the system was designed. The events of the last decade in particular and the events of today -- the acceptance of torture as a "normal" method of state- and warcraft, endless criminal wars of aggression, genocide, the funneling of vast amounts of wealth from defenseless "ordinary" citizens to the already engorged ruling class, the destruction of the Gulf and a huge additional number of lives -- are not aberrations, the result of the system having gone awry. This is what the system is designed to do. Most people recoil from evil of this magnitude; they refuse to identify and accept the system for what it is. They still seek to "reform" or "save" it. In other words: they themselves seek rationalizations and justification for their continuing collaboration. The ruling class is many things: avaricious, consumed by lust for power and control, heedless and uncaring of the immense destruction they cause, provided the destruction never touches their lives. But the ruling class is emphatically not stupid. To state what would be painfully obvious, if only so many people were not so wedded to denial: they constitute the ruling class, and you do not. And they counted on your reluctance or outright refusal to identify their evil. They knew they could depend on your continued collaboration in your own drawn-out torture and death.

And they were entirely, completely right. This is hardly the first time history has proven this particular truth.

You can avoid the demand that you support your own destruction, but it is not an approach many people will choose: you can withdraw your support, in every way possible to you. Neither I nor anyone else can tell you how to effect that choice, should you wish to do so. The particulars of each person's life are unique, and the choice of non-cooperation presents itself in many forms. If you view the system as profoundly, irrevocably evil, and if you do not choose to support it any longer, only your own conscience can provide the necessary guidance. Only you can decide how much of your soul you are willing to surrender.

It may be somewhat easier to grasp and understand the nature of the further aspect of the enforced collaboration to which I refer. You will find the example set forth in appalling detail by Nick Turse: "Kick Ass or Buy Gas?" The relevance of the discussion above is made clear by the article's subtitle: "How Taxpayers Are Subsidizing BP's Disaster Through the Pentagon."

Here are several key passages:
Residents of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida are livid with BP in the wake of the massive, never-ending oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico -- and Barack Obama says they ought to be. But there’s one aspect of the BP story that most of those angry residents of the Gulf states aren’t aware of. And the president hasn’t had a thing to say about it.

Even as the tar balls hit Gulf beaches, their tax dollars are subsidizing BP and so far, President Obama has not shown the slightest indication that he plans to stop their flow into BP coffers, despite the recent call of Public Citizen, a watchdog group, to end the nation’s business dealings with company. In fact, the Department of Defense, which has a longstanding, multi-billion dollar business relationship with BP, tells TomDispatch that it has no plans to sever current business ties or curtail future contracts with the oil giant.


The Pentagon’s foreign wars have left it particularly heavily dependent on oil services, energy, and petroleum companies. An analysis published at Foreign Policy in Focus found that, in 2005, 145 such companies had contracts with the Pentagon. That year, the Department of Defense paid out more than $1.5 billion to BP alone and a total of $8 billion taxpayer dollars, in total, to energy-related firms on what is a far-from-complete list of companies.

In 2009, according to the Defense Energy Support Center, the military awarded $22.5 billion in energy contracts. More than $16 billion of that went to purchasing bulk fuel. Some 10 top petroleum suppliers got the lion’s share, more than $11.5 billion, among them big names like Shell, Exxon Mobil and Valero. The largest contractor, however, was BP, which received more than $2.2 billion -- almost 12% of all petroleum-contract dollars awarded by the Pentagon for the year.

While one exceptionally powerful department of the federal government has been feeding money into BP (and other oil giants) with abandon, BP has consistently run afoul of U.S. government regulators from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). According to the Center for Public Integrity, “BP account[ed] for 97 percent of all flagrant violations found in the [oil] refining industry by government safety inspectors over the past three years.” Records obtained by the Center demonstrate that between June 2007 and February 2010, BP received a total of 862 citations...


Over those same years, BP received around $5.7 billion in federal contracts, according to official government data. In fact, the $2.2 billion the Pentagon paid to the oil giant in 2009 accounted for almost 16% of the company’s nearly $14 billion in annual profits.

This fiscal year, the U.S. military has already awarded the company more than $837 million, inking its latest deal with BP in March.
Turse later notes that, "[i]n a June 5th email message to supporters, paid for by Organizing for America, a project of the Democratic National Committee," Obama states the government has "ordered BP to pay economic injury claims, and this week, the federal government sent BP a preliminary bill for $69 million to pay back American taxpayers for some of the costs of the response so far.” The amount of $69 million is a small fraction of the $837 million awarded by the U.S. military to BP just this fiscal year -- and that is not to even mention the huge amounts paid to BP in the past, or that will be paid to it in the future:
"I am not aware at this moment of any plans to curtail or cancel any DoD contracts that may exist at this time,” Department of Defense spokesperson Cheryl Irwin told TomDispatch. Irwin also stated that she knew of no plans to restrict the awarding of future contracts to BP.

The president has remained silent on the issue.
I'm forced to admit that, if one were to consider this system from the perspective of its greatest beneficiaries, it is a goddamned beautiful thing. It is elegant. The government takes gobs of money from taxpayers, it shovels huge amounts of that money to already enormously powerful companies, those companies then provide services essential to the government's unending campaigns of widespread destruction and death -- and in the necessary course of providing those services, the companies themselves commit numerous "egregious" and "willful" violations of health and safety requirements (all documented by Turse), and the companies thus inflict enormous suffering on some of the same taxpayers.

Then, in a display of our rulers' magnificently bountiful kindness and thoughtfulness, some of those injuries -- just some of them, for how can many of the victims ever be made close to whole again in any meaningful way? -- will be compensated, using a small portion of the huge wealth made possible by the taxpayers in the first instance.

As I say: elegant.

And this is merely one example, if an especially heinous one, from one industry. How many times in how many industries is this identical pattern repeated every single bloody and blood-filled day? Countless times, in countless industries.

This is what the system is designed to do. It does it with astonishing efficiency. Short of civil disobedience on a huge, unrelenting scale, that is, short of widespread, unceasing non-cooperation, the system will continue for the foreseeable future, probably in roughly its current form for the rest of your life. There is no sign that non-cooperation on the required scale will occur or is even being contemplated, except by a few outliers like me. And, possibly, like a few of you.

So what are you going to do? Scream at the injustice? Yell about the monstrous evil being committed every hour of every day? Write another blog post? I do not exempt myself from the all-encompassing irony which now consumes us, amidst the rising torrent of blood.

But: Withdraw your support, if you choose to. Disobey. Break the goddamned rules. Do not cooperate. If a sufficient number of people chose that course, change might begin.

Consider it. I suppose not all that much is at stake -- only your soul, and your happiness.

June 16, 2010

And the Gods Laughed

Barack Obama, just two years ago:
[I]f we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that, generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when [1] we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless [but]...


... this was the moment when [2] the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal...


... this was the moment when [3] we ended a war, and secured our nation, and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth. [but]
Oh for three. You're out!

That is, you are, assuming you're not a bona fide member of the ruling class or one of the ruling class's willing accommodationists (e.g., a successful commentator or blogger of left or right). But the ruling class, including its leading PR guy at present (that would be Mr. O.), is doing just fine. And you could have known this would be the case since before the beginning, if only you'd paid attention and put your brain in gear. Most people didn't. They knew you wouldn't. As they almost always are about such matters, the ruling class was right.

And concerning item 2 -- that would be the "healing planet" -- well, fuck. Obama made a few attempts to resuscitate the magic of his personal omnipotence. F'rinstance:
You know, for generations, men and women who call this region home have made their living from the water. That living is now in jeopardy. I've talked to shrimpers and fishermen who don't know how they're going to support their families this year. I've seen empty docks and restaurants with fewer customers -– even in areas where the beaches are not yet affected. I've talked to owners of shops and hotels who wonder when the tourists might start coming back. The sadness and the anger they feel is not just about the money they've lost. It's about a wrenching anxiety that their way of life may be lost.

I refuse to let that happen.
Obama refuses! He personally, in his own person, out of his own personhood, REFUSES!! The heavens, like, they did tremble, dude.

Actually, the gods can't stop fucking laughing.

Ever greater numbers of the lives of "ordinary" people, both here and abroad, are ground up, obliterated, slowly (or quickly) tortured to the point of death, and beyond. The lives of the ruling class and their willing accommodationists continue without noticeable change or even momentary disruption. Are they concerned in any measurable degree with the immense destruction visited on many of the rest of us? Why, no. There's lots more where you come from.

Obama and the ruling class now can barely stir themselves even to offer a convincing appearance of genuine concern for the huddled, oil-slicked masses. And honestly, why should they? Whatcha gonna do, baby? Most Americans sleepwalk through their days. To the extent they're awake, more and more they struggle merely for survival. That doesn't leave time for other activities. One notable exception to this somnolence can and will be made operational from time to time: many Americans will enthusiastically support another campaign of destruction against largely defenseless, usually much poorer (and usually darker-skinned) "Others," especially when they're five or eight thousand miles away (unless they're threatening the inviolable sanctity of our "borders" here at home). The ruling class, with the indispensable assistance of the media, including many blogs (both left and right), need only convince Americans of the "seriousness" of the danger those "Others" represent, and the next chapter in the neverending war will commence in earnest. Iran in particular is endlessly useful in this connection.

Should you succumb to despair? Hell, no, baby. Drop out to the extent you can. Build a radically different kind of life. Construct your own happiness.

And emulate the gods: laugh at the goddamned motherfuckers.