Monday, September 01, 2014

IF YOU HATE HYPOCRISY AND POLITICAL STUPIDITY OF EVERY DESCRIPTION, THEN YOU'LL LOVE THIS SITE...



ABOUT JOHN CHUCKMAN

John Chuckman is former chief economist for a large Canadian oil company. He has many interests and is a lifelong student of history. He writes with a passionate desire for honesty, the rule of reason, and concern for human decency. John regards it as a badge of honor to have left the United States as a poor young man from the South Side of Chicago when the country embarked on the pointless murder of something like 3 million Vietnamese in their own land because they embraced the wrong economic loyalties. He lives in Canada, which he is fond of calling “the peaceable kingdom.”

John’s writing appears regularly on many Internet sites. He has been translated into at least ten languages and has been regularly translated into Italian and Spanish. Several of his essays have been published in book collections, including two college texts. He has published a book, The Decline of the American Empire and the Rise of China as a Global Power, published by Constable and Robinson, London. John also writes book reviews.

Apart from his writing since retiring from the oil industry, John has taught university courses in economics, done a good deal of private tutoring, served as a professional newspaper restaurant reviewer (he likes cooking), followed his favorite hobby of photography, and created a popular family of image blogs on the Internet.

John may be reached directly at:  jc60649@yahoo.com

SOME INTERNET SITES FROM JOHN CHUCKMAN:


CHUCKMAN'S MONTREAL
     http://chuckmanmontreal.wordpress.com/
CHUCKMAN'S ILES DE LA MADELEINE (MAGDALEN ISLANDS)
     http://chuckmanmagdalenislands.wordpress.com/
CHUCKMAN'S GODERICH
CHUCKMAN PHOTOS ON WORDPRESS: CHICAGO NOSTALGIA AND MEMORABLIA (SELECTED POSTCARDS AND RESTAURANT ITEMS)
 CHUCKMAN’S PLACES ON WORDPRESS
 CHUCKMAN’S PHOTOS ON WORDPRESS: TORONTO NOSTALGIA AND MEMORABLIA
 CHUCKMAN' S NON-SPORTS TRADING CARDS OF THE 1950s VOL.1/4
 CHUCKMAN’S ROBOTS
 CHUCKMAN’S ART
 CHUCKMAN’S GALLERY OF GROTESQUES
 CHUCKMAN’S CARTOON COMMENTS   
 CHUCKMAN'S MISCELLANEA OF WORDS
CHUCKMAN'S COMMENTS FROM THE WORLD PRESS
CHUCKMAN'S POLITICAL ESSAYS


ME, ROUGHLY: THE DECLINE IS RAPID NOW

THINGS MY MOTHER NEVER TOLD ME


THINGS MY MOTHER NEVER TOLD ME

John Chuckman

Despite my title, this is not a memoir, dealing as it does with some of the most deadly serious subjects on the planet.

I was brought up by a hard-working, fiercely honest woman. She was brave in the most profound way, not the momentary, over-hyped stuff of soldiers and sports stars, but the unsung stuff of facing great odds and painful situations and doing her duty, not for moments or days, but for year after year. She was unusual for the early 1950s, a time of great social conformity in America, for having left my father whose drunken abuse she refused to endure. She set off on her own with two very young boys and never looked back. She always set an example of high standards, expecting the same from my brother and me, made us regular church-goers, and generally bestowed a great deal of love on us.

For the greatest part of my life, I believed in the same values and precepts she taught although I parted with church-going before I was a man. I was not without cynicism about many things I observed through life, but now, in my old age, I realize forcefully how entirely different are the rules which actually govern human affairs, and especially those pertaining to international affairs. Virtually everything my mother taught me, and my church too, was mistaken.

We hear a good deal these days about the problem of bullying in schools, and my instincts always put me on the side of victims and make me question teachers and authorities who do not step in to protect the innocent. But just look at the major political and economic leaders of our time: virtually every one of them has been an unqualified bully. It appears that being a bully features prominently on the road to success.

And we all believed that the bad guys never won and that time would see victims receive justice. The painful truth is though that the bad guys, at least all the clever and well-connected ones, always win and their victims almost never receive justice.    

My mother had no tolerance for lying, and obvious lies still try my patience, but lying is in fact one of the chief occupations of those who govern us. Messrs. Obama, Netanyahu, Cameron, Harper are all the grossest liars, as were Sharon, Clinton, Blair, Bush, Cheney, and a very long list of others notable for their positions and the headlines they generated. Most of these individuals, along with a good many others, likely have never, in their entire careers, uttered a single truthful sentence, discounting the platitudes and bromides they are accustomed to delivering.

The issue of lying most comes into prominence in the case of war. I have seen so many wars in my lifetime, and it is painfully clear that every one of them was based on lies. The poor citizens of every land are never told why their lives are being snatched and their wealth squandered. They are certainly never consulted about whether so terribly serious a measure as war should be undertaken. Instead they are lied to. The ghastly horror of Vietnam, all that vast work of death and destruction on a genocidal scale – carpet bombing, napalm, and poisons dropped - was about nothing which mattered to almost all ordinary people, it was about blood-drenched lies their leaders told them.

And how can you possibly have meaningful democracy when the voters are lied to daily by those running for office and those holding office? You cannot, clearly.

And today, the whole Middle East is either in flames or has recently passed through war or revolution – Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, Lebanon, Libya, and still others. We are given many reasons for this phenomenon, but at the heart of the matter, there really is only one cause, and that cause is never mentioned in our press.

In all cases, American is found either covertly directing affairs or at least pouring money and weapons into countries to de-stabilize them. And why does it do this? It reflects a vast effort to mold the Middle East into a shape comfortable for the rather unusual requirements of its colony in the region, Israel. Why unusual requirements? What other small country in the world seems to need to control and dominate everything around it for at least a thousand miles? And this is only necessary because Israel refuses to obey almost any of the laws and customs of nations as we have grown to understand them in modern times. Israel continues to rule areas conquered in what itself was a fraudulent war, the Six Day War, nearly fifty years ago, and it doesn’t just rule these places against all international law and conventions, it treats their millions of residents as entitled to no law or justice, no hopes or aspirations, and not even entitled to hold the property they have because whenever a chunk of it appeals to Israelis, they simply take it.

Such is the behavior of the self-designated “only democracy in the Middle East,” a glib and meaningless phrase which completely ignores the fact that half the people ruled by Israel have no votes and no human rights. Actually, it is a good thing there are not more such “democracies,” or the region would be total hell on earth. Democracy for some is not democracy at all. Think of Orwell’s precept in Animal Farm, a book intended to satirize Stalin’s Soviet Union, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal.” That could have been just as well written about modern Israel. Israel’s embrace of neighbors who are virally anti-democratic – from Egypt to Saudi Arabia – again says something profound about the nature of Israeli “democracy.”

And the much bigger country which likes to style itself, the world’s oldest democracy and the land of the free, not only supports Israel in its disregard for law, customs, and international conventions, it finances a great deal of the tyrannous behavior. Where is the regard for democracy, rights, or even due process in that?

The always-tolerated violation of accepted principles by Israel which seems most remarkable to me is its regular theft of homes and farms. Americans are comfortable with bombings and assassinations and torture, at least judging from their national behavior over a good many decades in a number of countries, but when you consider how Americans revere property rights above all else in their society, it does seem it should be another matter when it comes to property being swiped in public. Property and profits are the truest guiding, long-term principles in American society. So you might think, despite the shower of lies in which Americans are immersed concerning Israel and its neighbors, public theft would stir something deep in their hearts. So why don’t we see American leaders, even if they can’t get worked up over endless occupation and abuse and killing and apartheid-like laws, at least strenuously objecting to Israel’s regular, high-handed thefts of property?

America’s politicians always back Israel because America’s government is constituted on the fallacious and unethical concept that money is free speech when it comes to political campaign contributions – fixed by a Supreme Court whose history includes vigorous support of such other glorious principles as slavery. When you allow such a political financing system to dominate your politics, it follows, ipso facto, that those able and willing to give very large sums as campaign contributions (as well as favorable press coverage, there not being a single major newspaper or network in America which does not play the game of boosting Israel) receive access and have their voices heard to the virtual exclusion of others.

What is certainly one of the most efficient and untiring lobbies, the Israel lobby, understands America’s system perfectly and has adapted over time to work it perfectly, resulting almost in a custom-designed, industrial-scale machine for turning out loyal and uncritical politicians in one country concerning the acts of a foreign country.  Again, there’s very little truth and even less democracy in that way of conducting politics.



Monday, July 28, 2014

CBC's MANAGEMENT TALKS ONLY OF TECHNICAL CHANGES TO COME, IGNORING THE VITAL MATTER OF DEGRADED CONTENT



CBC's MANAGEMENT TALKS ONLY OF TECHNICAL CHANGES TO COME, IGNORING THE VITAL MATTER OF DEGRADED CONTENT


JOHN CHUCKMAN


LETTER TO CBC MANAGEMENT AFTER ANNOUNCEMENT OF COMING CHANGES BY SENIOR MANAGEMENT

CBC’s President and its Vice-president for English Broadcasting spoke in radio interviews about technical matters, using words like “mobility” and almost not a word about content.

It is CBC’s degraded content that deeply concerns those concerned about CBC, not technical matters.

Of course the hope is that technology will reduce costs and that is good but far, far from sufficient. CBC today - and I speak to CBC Radio, the service I have long used - is fast approaching irrelevance. The emphasis on pop music, on being almost an amateur-tryout outlet for hopeful wannabes, has swamped everything.

Appointed new hosts over recent years are a collective disaster: Jian Ghomeshi, Gill Deacon, Brent Bambury, Matt Galloway, and one or two others are simply uninteresting minds, yet they dominate the schedule, people who talk in trivialities about celebrities and pop music and never utter an incisive word. Even guest hosts on shows now are often of the same poor quality, people who cannot conduct an interesting or informative interview, for example the “The Current”’s summer host, a person of minimal apparent talent.   

CBC Radio’s broadcast news is filled with trivialities, unexamined notions, pointless “soundbites,” even errors, and virtually no digging-in to anything, besides being annoyingly and infinitely repeated. I am amazed at times on hearing a story on so-called national news that no editor said before putting it on air, “Well, that raises more questions than it answers.”

There are only a few hosts left worth hearing: Anna Maria Tremonti, Bob McDonald, Eleanor Wachtel, Michael Enright, and one or two others. Considering the ages of these excellent few, what comes after them? More dull mediocrity, without a doubt.

Instead of a broadcast service featuring Canada’s best, something of which we can be proud, something which informs, you’ve been building an all-day Ed Sullivan Show.

Content is everything, no matter how you distribute it. And content IS CBC Radio’s crucial problem, and the people who created the situation remain blind to what they’ve done. A few more such changes, and I just won’t bother ever tuning in.

Monday, July 07, 2014

REFLECTIONS ON THE ORIGINS AND MEANING OF AMERICA’S INDEPENDENCE DAY - RE-POSTED FROM 6 YEARS AGO, NOTHING HAVING CHANGED



REFLECTIONS ON THE ORIGINS AND MEANING OF AMERICA’S INDEPENDENCE DAY

Why no on should be surprised when America behaves as an international bully

John Chuckman

If you relish myths and enjoy superstition, then the flatulent speeches of America’s Independence Day, July 4, were just the thing for you. No religion on earth has more to offer along these lines than America celebrating itself.

Some, believing the speeches but curious, ask how did a nation founded on supposedly the highest principles by high-minded men manage to become an ugly imperial power pushing aside international law and the interests of others? The answer is simple: the principles and high-mindedness are the same stuff as the loaves and the fishes.

The incomparable Doctor Johnson had it right when he called patriotism the last refuge of scoundrels and scoffed at what he called the "drivers of negroes" yelping about liberty.

Few Americans even understand that Johnson's first reference was to their sacred Founding Fathers (aka Patriots). I have seen a well known American columnist who attributed the pronouncement to Ben Franklin, a man who was otherwise admirable but nevertheless dabbled a few times in slave trading himself.

Johnson especially had in mind history’s supreme hypocrite, Jefferson, with his second reference. Again, few Americans know that Jefferson kept his better than two hundred slaves to his dying day. I know a well educated American who sincerely believed Jefferson had freed his slaves. Such is the power of the myths of the American Civic Religion.

Jefferson was incapable of supporting himself, living the life of a prince and being a ridiculous spendthrift who died bankrupt and still owing money to others, the man of honor being a trifle less than honorable in paying back the money he often borrowed. When a new silk frock or set of shoes with silver buckles was to be had, Jefferson never hesitated to buy them rather than pay his debts.

The date we now celebrate, July 4, is based on the Continental Congress's approval of the Declaration of Independence, but in fact the date is incorrect, the document was approved on July 2.

Jefferson wrote the first draft of the declaration, but it was edited by the redoubtable Benjamin Franklin, and later was heavily amended by the Continental Congress. Jefferson suffered great humiliation of his pride and anger at the editing and changes.

Despite the document's stirring opening words, if you actually read the whole thing, you will be highly disappointed.

The bulk of it has a whining tone in piling on complaint after complaint against the Crown. Some would say the whining set a standard for the next quarter millennium of American society.

In Jefferson’s draft it went on and on about Britain's slave trade. The 'slave trade' business was particularly hypocritical, trying to sound elevated while in fact reflecting something else altogether. At the time there was a surplus of human flesh in Virginia, and prices were soft.

The cause of the Revolution is also interesting and never emphasized in American texts. Britain's imposition of the Quebec Act created a firestorm of anti-Catholicism in the colonies. They were afraid of being ruled from a Catholic colony.

The speech and writing of American colonists of the time was filled with exactly the kind of ugly language one associates with extremist Ulstermen in recent years.

This combined with the sense of safety engendered from Britain's victory in the French and Indian War (the Seven Years War)and the unwillingness to pay taxes to help pay for that victory caused the colonial revolt.

Few Americans know it, but it was the practice for many, many decades to burn the Pope in effigy on Guy Fawkes Day along the Eastern Seaboard. Anti-Catholicism was quite virulent for a very long time.

The first phase of the revolt in and around Boston was actually something of a popular revolution, responding to Britain's blockading the harbor and quartering troops in Boston.

The colonial aristocrats were having none of that, and they appointed Washington commander over the heads of the Boston Militias who volunteered and actually elected their officers.

Washington, who had always wanted to be a British regular commander but never received the commission, imposed his will ferociously. He started flogging and hanging.
In his letters home, the men who actually started the revolution are described as filth and scum. He was a very arrogant aristocrat.

The American Revolution has been described by a European as home-grown aristocrats replacing foreign-born ones. It is an apt description.

Washington, Hamilton, Adams, and many other of the Fathers had no faith in democracy. About one percent of early Virginia could vote. The president was not elected by people but by elites in the Electoral College. The Senate, which even today is the power in the legislature, was appointed well into the 20th century.

The Supreme Court originally never dared interpret the Bill of Rights as determining what states should do. It sat on paper like an advertising brochure with no force. At one time, Jefferson seriously raised the specter of secession, half a century before the Civil War, over even the possibility of the Bill of Rights being interpreted by a national court and enforced.

The Founding Fathers saw popular voting as endangering property ownership. Democracy was viewed by most the same way Washington viewed the “scum” who started the Revolution around Boston. It took about two hundred years of gradual changes for America to become anything that seriously could be called democratic. Even now, what sensible person would call it anything but a rough work still in progress.

It is interesting to reflect on the fact that early America was ruled by a portion of the population no larger than what is represented today by the Chinese Communist Party as a portion of that country’s population.

Yet today we see little sign of patience or understanding in American arrogance about how quickly other states should become democratic. And we see in Abu Ghraib, in Guantanamo, and in the CIA’s International Torture Gulag that the principles and attitudes of the Bill of Rights still haven’t completely been embraced by America.

Contrary to all the posturing amongst the Patriots – who few were a minority at the time - about tyranny, the historical facts indicate that Britain on the whole actually had offered good government to its North American Colonies.

Everyone who visited the Colonies from Europe noted the exceptional health of residents.

They also noticed what seemed an extraordinary degree of freedom enjoyed by colonists. It was said to be amongst the freest place in the known world, likely owing in good part to its distance from the Mother Country. A favorite way to wealth was smuggling, especially with the Caribbean. John Hancock made his fortune that way.

Ben Franklin once wrote a little memo, having noted the health of Americans and their birth rates, predicting the future overtaking of Britain by America, an idea not at all common at the time.

Indeed, it was only the relative health and freedom which made the idea of separation at all realistic. Britain was, of course, at the time viewed much the way, with the same awe of power, people view America today. These well-known facts of essentially good government in the Colonies made the Declaration of Independence list of grievances sound exaggerated and melodramatic to outsiders even at the time.

The combination of the Quebec Act, anti-Catholicism, dislike of taxes, plus the desire to move West and plunder more Indian lands were the absolute causes of the Revolution.

Britain tried to recognize the rights of the aboriginals and had forbidden any movement west by the Colonies.

But people in the colonies were land-mad, all hoping to make a fortune staking out claims they would sell to later settlers. The map of Massachusetts, for example, showed the colony stretching like a band across the continent to the Pacific. Britain did not agree.

George Washington made a lot of money doing this very thing, more than any other enterprise of his except for marrying Martha Custis, the richest widow in the colonies.

The tax issue is interesting.

The French and Indian War (the Seven Years War) heavily benefited the Colonists by removing the threat of France in the West. Once the war was over, many colonists took the attitude that Britain could not take the benefits back, and they refused to pay the taxes largely imposed to pay the war's considerable cost.

And Americans have hated taxes since.

By the way, in the end, without the huge assistance of France, the Colonies would not have won the war. France played an important role in the two decisive victories, Saratoga and Yorktown. At Saratoga they had smuggled in the weapons the Americans used. At Yorktown, the final battle, the French were completely responsible for the victory and for even committing to the battle. Washington had wanted instead to attack New York – which would have been a disaster – but the French generals then assisting recognized a unique opportunity at Yorktown.

After the war, the United States never paid the huge French loans back. Some gratitude. Also the United States renounced the legitimate debts many citizens owed to British factors (merchant/shippers) for no good reason at all except not wanting to pay.

It was all a much less glorious beginning than you would ever know from the drum-beating, baton-twirling, sequined costumes, and noise today. And if you really want to understand why America has become the very thing it claimed it was fighting in 1776, then you only need a little solid history. 



Saturday, June 21, 2014

IRAQ, ISIS, AND INTERVENTION: JUST WHAT IS GOING ON?



IRAQ, ISIS, AND INTERVENTION: JUST WHAT IS GOING ON?

John Chuckman

As so often is the case in foreign affairs, we will never know with precision what is happening in Iraq. The governments involved have reasons to disguise what they are doing, and a number of governments are indeed at work there. The press doesn’t spend the resources needed to discover the facts, thus saving government considerable embarrassment and themselves a good deal of work.  But, if you look carefully, there are enough bits of information scattered around to gain an adequate picture of events, just as you might detect what people had been eating from the crumbs and splashes left on a dinner table.

From columnists and editorials, you can find almost any explanation of events in Iraq you care to find, all of them together yielding precisely a huge muddle. My favorite example of confusion is the story which made its way around about the way the United States and Iran were coming together to stop ISIS, each of them having their own reasons for doing so. As it turns out, nothing could be further from the truth. Iran, indeed, cares deeply about stopping ISIS. The United States makes a good deal of noise – what else can it do when pictures are published, intended to inflame public opinion, of prisoners being violently murdered? – but it does nothing of substance because it does not want to do anything.

The less-than 300 troops America sent to Iraq are only for embassy protection, not fighting, the monster embassy the United States forced on occupied Iraq being a private city of spies and communication and resources, totally out of proportion to a country the size of Iraq – if you will, a Middle East branch plant for CIA headquarters in Virginia. Now the United States talks of sending 300 advisers to Iraq’s army. Advisers? Since when does the United States send advisers to a besieged area where it has vital interests? So, too, the matter of air support: Prime Minister al-Maliki is reported to have asked for air support, and the United States is reported to have responded that it will be sent if he resigns. That is a very odd response for a government supposedly having common cause with Iran.

Yes, ships with planes have been sent to the region, but I think they may well be used in a different fashion than how the press speculates.

ISIS (aka ISIL) is often called a powerful and frightening force, but that is almost laughably inaccurate. All estimates of its manpower range from 7 to 15,000 – that is not a lot of soldiers by any standard and no larger than some American street gangs. The Iraq military, in the last numbers I saw, had approaching 300,000 on active service and more than half-a-million reserves. You can find pictures on the Internet of ISIS forces on the move, a rag-tag bunch with small arms riding around in Japanese pick-up trucks. They would be scary for any individual or village, but they wouldn’t stand a chance against even a single division of a modern army. Iraq’s government has many hundreds of armored combat vehicles, including more than 200 heavy tanks, a mix of American M1A1s and Russian T-72s, and several billion dollars’ worth of other high-end military equipment.

So why does Maliki seek American help? The Maliki government is not popular in Iraq, as proves the case so often with governments set up by the United States after its colonial wars. It has all the faults found throughout the Middle East of cronyism, nepotism, etc.  And in a country with great divides of ethnicity and religion – Arabs, Kurds and Sunni, Shia – plus still other regional divides – oil-producing, agricultural, plains and mountains, urban and rural - any central government is bound to suffer unpopularity. Democracy has no history here, so popularity is not necessarily even a relevant criterion. But Maliki also is not popular with his original benefactor, the United States, almost certainly a far more relevant fact.

On the other hand, the Maliki government has become quite well disposed towards Iran, far more so than the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel like. Some earlier observers of America’s handiwork in Iraq said that the ultimate beneficiary might just prove to be Iran. Israel, in one of the more informative statements made about the situation, said that Iran was far more a threat to the region than ISIS. Maliki’s government forms an important link in an arc of Shiite power through the region from Iran through Syria (Assad is Shia) to Hezbollah in Lebanon (also Shia). The Shia are viewed by many in the Muslim world, which is overwhelmingly Sunni, much the way Protestants in the 17th century were viewed by the Catholic Church, as a minority which has broken old traditions, cultural patterns, and loyalties. All of the great reformers of Protestantism were viewed by the Catholic Church as heretics, and as many Protestants as possible were disposed of in bloody persecutions like the Holy Inquisition or the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. It is actually  the politics and attitudes of the Shia, rather than this or that minor difference in theology, which makes them unwelcome to the folks running Saudi Arabia, much as was the case with the Reformation and Rome, the rulers of Saudi Arabia being in general about as genuinely religious as many of the old hedonistic popes in Rome.

Some observers, early in the American occupation, predicted that Iraq would crumble into three rump states, and to some extent their expectations have proved perceptive. It is not clear that America would have been entirely averse to that development since it would have eliminated a state which might one day again possess the strength to oppose Israel. Saddam Hussein held Iraq together through ruthlessness towards any who were opposed or questioned his central authority, but he did represent more than a simple bloody dictator. He was also building something of a modern secular society with public institutions serving welfare needs, more rights for women, and the advance of education and science – in many ways, his Iraq was the most advanced state in the Arab world, and undoubtedly the growing middle class his policies helped create would have brought democracy one day after his death. The American invasion smashed all of that, leaving little of which to be proud and three regions pulling in different directions. To the degree Maliki has again tried to impose a will on the situation, he naturally has not been popular. And his efforts to work with Iran, a natural and powerful regional ally for him to turn, have made him loathed in Israel and Saudi Arabia.      

ISIS, whatever the exact paths from its origins, represents just one more of the rag-tag groups that Saudi Arabia and Turkey, working under the close eye of the United States, introduced into Syria to topple Assad in an engineered civil war. We have many reports of ISIS members with British or American passports. The past Benghazi, Libya fiasco, never explained by Washington, was part of these efforts, the murdered American ambassador running a black operation to collect weapons and radical fighters to ship to Turkey for insertion into Syria when he was caught in what intelligence agencies call “blowback,” a group of those with whom he was dealing turning on him, viewing an available American ambassador as perhaps a more worthy target than Assad. ISIS has expanded its horizons to include Iraq, and it has been encouraged and assisted to do so by the Saudis.

Why do jihadist types hate Assad enough to go there risking their lives? Apart from the natural attractions for some young men of adventure, war, and escape from rules, it is because Assad, like Hussein, actually represents some progressive, modern developments in a large Arab state. He has at his disposal fewer resources, not being a major oil producer like Hussein’s Iraq, but, within the limits imposed on him, Syria exhibits secular tendencies and some openness to modern trends. The great irony of the region is that the very states with which Israel keeps the best relations are absolute ones doing all they can to dampen social progress, places like Saudi Arabia or Egypt.   

ISIS is a perfect mechanism for two American goals, the first being to assist in the disposal of Maliki, something which would make Israel very happy because it would cut the Iran connection. Second, ISIS can be used as an excuse for American air attacks into Syria, perhaps even the insertion of limited ground forces there. Assad and the Syrian army have foiled the elaborate secret effort to topple him, and a great opportunity, from America’s point of view, stands to be lost if some additional effort is not made. ISIS being chased into Syria by American jets and Special Forces may just be an opportunity not to be missed: attacks on Syrian forces staged as hot pursuit of repulsive ISIS fanatics. And the fanatics, having served their purpose from America’s point of view, will be slaughtered too. Of course, none of this has anything to do with the welfare of the Syrian people who have endured countless horrors as though their country were a dump site for the toxic wastes of some great corporation.

ISIS has been given waves of publicity for its ferocity and barbarism, but as with all such publicity, we must make allowances for inflated claims. We do have reports that in villages where residents ran from ISIS, they are returning and being treated decently. Would anyone return to place occupied by a wild band of cutthroats? If such a force shows up at a town or village where there is a great deal of dissatisfaction with the Maliki government, it is not hard to see how the locals might run, but how do we explain reports of those who ran away being welcomed back? 

The key factor as to whether Maliki can stop ISIS is the loyalty of the army as well as local populations, and that is not certain at all. It is extremely likely that strategic payments to soldiers and others are being made to secure results like those of the early ISIS victories, the funds coming from Saudi Arabia. Soldiers running and leaving behind modern tanks when confronted with a mob in Japanese pick-ups are not credible otherwise. Remember, Iraq is a place where pallet-loads of freshly-printed United States’ hundred dollar bills disappeared in countless payments and bribes to silence various groups active in the violent wake of America’s so-called victory. It is the way the place has worked for a decade of corrupt American influence.


A high Israeli official was quoted recently saying it was Iran’s influence that is most dangerous in the region, not that of ISIS. Of course, that should tell us a great deal. In this part of the world, Israel’s views count for far more than those of all the other countries put together, at least, so far as the United States’ government is concerned, the ridiculous lopsidedness in that reflecting the best Congress campaign funding can buy.  

Monday, June 16, 2014

GENOCIDE, GREAT WARS, AND OTHER HUMAN DEPRAVITY



GENOCIDE, GREAT WARS, AND OTHER HUMAN DEPRAVITY

John Chuckman

The word genocide, coined in 1944 in an effort to describe what the Nazis called “the final solution” and what today we call the Holocaust, attempted to distinguish the crime of killing people of a certain identity in such great numbers that you tried eliminating them as a group. Earlier in that century, there had been the mass murder of Armenians by the Turks, an event Hitler once cynically reminded associates was not even remembered only a few decades later.

Some would include in the category the terrible starvation induced in Ukraine by Soviet agricultural policies and ineptitude, an event which indeed killed millions, or the ruthless policies of Mao’s China which caused many millions of peasants to starve. But these events, utterly nightmarish as they were, begin to lose the legitimate sense of genocide. Although we cannot rightly call these genocides, they remain depravity on a colossal scale, but I am not sure the distinction is one with great meaning, and certainly not for any of the victims. After all, when nations go to war, the job defined for each soldier is to kill as many of the people from another land as possible. Our great wars now typically kill vast numbers, and it is just a fact of history that since the 19th century we have moved from killing mainly other soldiers to killing mainly civilians.   

I think it likely there were many genocides through early human history because humans are little more than chimps with large brains, and we know through long-term studies that chimps are quite murderous, making regular expeditions to slaughter neighboring tribes of their own kind. One of the theories for the extinction of the Neanderthals is that they were murdered off by our kind some thirty thousand years ago. Recorded human history, not counting archeological digs, goes back less than three thousand years of homo sapiens’ half million years or so, and even much of that small fraction of our history is poorly recorded by modern standards of scholarship, but we have so many dark legends which almost certainly point to horribly brutal unrecorded events: ghouls, vampires, monsters, cannibals, human sacrifice, and tales of savage hordes. The Old Testament, thought to have been written largely from 1000 to 600 BCE, itself is rich with tales of mass murder and killing determined by identity, rather disturbingly for a book embraced by so many as God’s own word.

There really are few limits to human depravity. The word genocide hadn’t been invented yet, but think of Columbus or the Conquistadors wiping out entire native populations regarded as savage. Or think of the centuries of Christianity in Europe in which countless people were garroted or burned at the stake over some turn of phrase in the liturgy. The Crusades over centuries killed whole populations owing solely to their religion, with Popes in Rome having been among their biggest organizers and supporters. The Hundred Years’ War, mid-14th to mid-15th centuries devastated Europe. In the 20th Century, Europe thought little of entering a conflict which would kill 20 million over which branch of the same royal family would dominate the continent. Having settled nothing by that carnage, much the same forces about twenty years later engaged in an even greater conflict which would destroy more than 50 million people.   

If words mean anything, you might think genocide is a word that would never be carelessly used, but it is, and quite regularly. Indeed, few words today are more abused than genocide. When relatively small groups of people are killed (“small” in the scheme of things - after all, we are discussing mass killings) in places of interest to the West (i.e., Serbia) where war or civil war is underway, the killings are frequently characterized as genocide by our politicians and their faithful echoes in the press, trying to squeeze out every last possible bit of dread and horror from audiences. There was a large effort in the early part of the last decade to sell the conflict at Darfur as genocide, but I suspect it actually closely resembled primitive wars from the early times of human history.

When a million or so people are killed in places of little interest to the West (i.e., Rwanda), it is ignored in all but words, the sensational stories used to sell newspapers and books and juice-up television’s talking-head shows after the fact.

Genocides do periodically still occur, but when has any powerful nation like the United States, or international organization like NATO, stood in the way of genocide in the post-war period? Has the United States or NATO ever opposed genocide other than with cheap words? In these matters, the United States’ government’s declarations so often resemble press releases from, say, the Vatican with ineffectual and wheezing platitudes about some horribly bloody war. It is the United States which holds political and economic sway over international organizations like the United Nations and NATO, and it is the United States which has the military power to do something when events require it.

We have had several unmistakable genocides in the last fifty years, and, regrettably, not once did America lift a finger to help. Indeed, the United States actually played a role in establishing or extending the circumstances for a couple of these ghastly events, but you’d never know that when American politicians rise to huff and puff about what is happening in a place far away or in a place not necessarily far away but whose government is intensely disliked. And, of course, you’d never know it from the pages of the mainline press, without doing more detective work than most people are willing to do.

We had what everyone agrees was genocide in Rwanda with around a million people killed simply for their tribal identity, with further destructive aftershocks in neighboring states for some while after. The United States’ government, immediately well aware of what was happening there, simply refused to allow the word to be used in its internal communications, and the cowardly Bill Clinton avoided the rhetoric he employed on Serbia, a place where mass murder came in at literally one percent the rate of Rwanda.

We had genocide in Cambodia with perhaps a million and a half killed, and it actually was precipitated by America's de-stabilizing of the once peaceful, but neutral, country with secret bombings and invasions during its Captain Ahab-like madness over “victory” in Vietnam. Neutrality, where America wants something, as it did in Vietnam, is simply not an option. When tough little Vietnam, despite the massive horrors it had just suffered at America’s hands, stepped in to do something about what was happening on its border, the United States’ government stood back and bellowed, “See, we told you, there’s the domino theory at work! We did have a reason to fight in Vietnam after all.”

We had a true genocide in Indonesia with the fall of Sukarno in 1965. Half a million people, vaguely identified as communists, had their throats slashed by machetes and their bodies dumped into rivers: it was said that the rivers ran red for a time. Not only did the United States’ government do nothing to halt the rampage, officials at the State Department busied themselves with phones late into the night, transmitting lists of persons suitable for the new government’s attention, the word “communist” then possessing for America’s government about the same power to dehumanize a victim as “heretic” did for The Holy Inquisition a few centuries earlier.

I would argue, too, that America's slaughter in Vietnam was a genuine genocide, the greatest of the post-war period, but even if you do not grant the word genocide in this case, it remains still the greatest mass murder since World War II. About three million were killed, mostly civilians, often in horrible fashion as with napalm, for no reason other than their embracing the wrong economic system and rejecting the artificial rump state America tried to impose. Hundreds of thousands more were crippled and poisoned, and a beautiful land was left strewn with land mines and noxious pools of Agent Orange to keep killing for decades more.

So when an American President speaks to stir his audience with ghost-written words from his teleprompter machine about some new outrage somewhere, trying to cast someone else in the role of demonic villain, we had better always be careful about taking him at his word. And it is a good practice to judge the words, weighing them against the United States’ own abysmal record over the last half century.    

It is one of the gravest of contemporary truths that the greatest modern historical sufferers of genocide, the Jewish people, should be found now treating millions of others in brutal and degrading fashion, something now continued for more than half a century. Israel hasn’t killed millions, but it has killed tens of thousands in its wars and suppressions and their aftermath, including necessarily thousands of children in Middle Eastern populations heavily skewed to youth, and it holds millions in a seemingly perpetual state of hopelessness and degradation and without any rights, a situation America’s government effectively has ignored, failing to use its power for good yet again.
  
It is a natural human tendency to try forgetting our terrifying experiences, and nature does seem to have constructed us with varying abilities to do so, being if you will an extension of “sleep that knits the ravelled sleeve of care.” But human perversity is intent on remembering many of our horrors, always citing the provably false slogan about those who forget history being condemned to relive it. Of course, such forced (and cleaned-up) memories have other purposes, as for example keeping each generation of young men ready to grab a gun at the beat of the drums. I feel this keenly every time poppies come up for sale again, much as I sympathize with the old men selling them and much as I’m aware of what occurred in Flanders Fields. It is time to stop sentimentalizing an event too ugly to accurately remember: the stench of the battlefields of 1914-8 and the endless screams of mangled men dying slowly in the mud and the rats eating corpses – these are things no one in their right mind wants to remember, and remembering anything else really isn’t remembering at all. 

As for the idea of “Never again!” when it comes to human depravity, it is best to remember that the words are just a slogan – as we've conclusively proved over fifty years - and, like all slogans, it is selectively applied to sell something.
________________________

Postscript:

Recently we saw some glamorous celebrities, as we have before from time to time, at a large, well-publicized gathering decrying the use of rape in war, and, after a moment’s curiosity as to whether they continued afterward over cocktails and nibbles, all I could do was wonder what it was they hoped to do and what audience they thought they were addressing? Armies have always raped, it is one more of the many ugly facts of war we keep out of school books and remembrance ceremonies. War is, quite simply, the end of the rule of law for a time, and because that is a set of circumstances especially attractive to the population of sociopaths and violence-prone people we have always among us, an inordinate number of men who enjoy killing and raping always will be attracted to war. Yes, armies have codes and courts martial, and I’m sure rape is technically illegal in any modern army, but those codes are mainly established for public consumption, being rarely enforced. When you are engaged in bloody war, there is almost no motivation for leaders to pause events for trials. Knowing that, soldiers so inclined will always feel free to rape. Even in peace, we see from the statistics in the contemporary United States’ military, rape is quite a problem right on bases and ships. How much more so in war? Why not decry the mass murder we call war in the first place? If there were no wars, there could be no mass rapes. Doing anything less seems a form of cowardice.



Thursday, June 05, 2014

UNDERSTANDING ISRAEL’S CORROSIVE INFLUENCE ON WESTERN DEMOCRACY



UNDERSTANDING ISRAEL’S CORROSIVE INFLUENCE ON WESTERN DEMOCRACY

John Chuckman

Something troubling is quietly underway in the Western world, that portion of the world’s governments who style themselves as liberal democracies and free societies. Through a number of avenues, people’s assumptions about the role of government are being undermined as their governments evolve towards a pattern established in the United States. No, I do not mean in building a neo-Roman marble repository of sacred founding writ and adopting three wrangling branches of government with empty slogans about freedom and justice for all. I do mean in the way governments, however elected and organized, regard their responsibilities towards their citizens and the world community.

Of course, the United States in many matters often prods, cajoles, or threatens other states to follow where it leads, such as with votes at the U. N. or whether a country should send at least token forces for one of America’s colonial wars to lend appearances of international effort. Despite America’s poor economy and declining relative future prospects, it still has many resources for pushing others, much like the profligate grandson of a magnate whose once great family fortune is in decline but still large. Still, a good deal of what is happening results from new forces which only reinforce America’s imperial tendencies.

People in the West often elect governments who turn around to do things voters did not want done, and they realize they being lied to by their governments and corporate press, but they pretty much feel helpless to remedy the situation. London saw the largest peace march in history just before Tony Blair secretly threw in his lot with the criminals who hit Iraq with the equivalent in deaths and destruction of a thermonuclear bomb on a large city. Special interests increasingly dominate the interests of government because they increasingly pay its campaign costs and extend other important favors. Citizens in many places feel the meaning of casting a ballot has been diminished as they watch their governments ignore extreme injustice, hear their governments make demands and threats over matters which do not warrant threats, see themselves become ensnared in wars and violence they never wanted, and generally feel their governments are concerned with matters of little concern to them. That, if it needs to be said, is not what democracy is about. And where do we see governments making reforms to remedy the situation threatening democracy? Almost nowhere.

It might at first seem an odd thing to write - considering the influence Israel exerts in the Western world (what other country of 7 million is in the press virtually each day?) and all the favorable press it receives (every major newspaper and broadcaster having several writers or commentators who see their duty as influencing public opinion on Israel’s behalf, and The New York Times submits all stories about Israel to Israeli censors before publishing) - but Israel is an inherently unstable state. No matter how much money is poured into it for arms and force-fed economic development, it cannot be otherwise. Its population is hostile to the people with whom it is surrounded and intermixed, living something of a fantasy which shares in equal parts ancient myths and superstitions and white-picket-fence notions of community with no neighbors who do not resemble each other. Its founding stories also have a fairy tale quality, heroic with a mythical division of good and evil, always ignoring the violence and brutality which cannot be forgotten so easily by its victims and the manipulation of imperial powers which defrauded others as surely as any phony mining stock promotion. Its official views and the very language in which they are expressed are artificial constructs which do not accurately describe what they name, words like “militant” or “terrorist” or “existential.” Its official policy towards neighbors and the people it displaced has been one of unrelenting hostility. Its leaders in business and government almost all securely hold dual passports, hedging their bets. Its average citizens face a hard time in an economy shaped, not for opportunity and economic freedom, but for war and the policing of millions of captives and unwelcome residents. None of this is indefinitely sustainable, and modern Israel is a highly artificial construct, one neither suited to its regional environment nor amenable to all the powerful trends shaping the modern world: globalization, free movement of peoples, multiculturalism in immigration, and genuine democratic principles, not the oxymoron of democracy for one group only.

It is the many desperate efforts to work against these hard realities, almost like someone screaming against a storm, which have unleashed the forces now at work on the Western world. Israel, as just one example, against the best judgment of many statesmen, was permitted and even assisted to become a nuclear power. The thinking being that only with such weapons can Israel feel secure and be ready to defend Jews abroad from a new Gotterdammerung. The truth is, as is the case with all nuclear weapons, Israel’s arsenal is virtually unusable, except, that is, as a powerful tool for blackmail. Israel has blackmailed the United States several times, the latest instance being over Iran’s nuclear program, a program which every reliable intelligence source agrees is not aimed at producing weapons. More than one Israeli source has suggested that low-yield nuclear weapons are the best way of destroying Iran’s technology, buried deeply underground, a suggestive whisper in American ears to do what Israel wants, or else.

Analysis suggests that what Israel truly wants is the suppression of Iran as a burgeoning regional power so that Israel can continue to perform the powerful and lucrative role as the United States’ surrogate in Western Asia along with its always-held-quiet, numerous dealings with that other great bastion of democracy and human rights, Saudi Arabia.

There have been many unanticipated, and extremely unpleasant, results from just this one matter of Israel’s nuclear weapons. Take Israel’s relationship with the former South African government and that country’s own drive decades ago to achieve status as a nuclear power. We do not know all the details, but we know from now-published documents that Israel once offered literally to sell nuclear warheads and compatible missiles to apartheid South Africa. We know further that South Africa did achieve its goal, there having been a rush, secret program to remove its weapons when the apartheid government fell, Britain’s late weapons expert, Dr. Kelly, possibly having been murdered for the detailed information he possessed on the disposition of South Africa’s fissile material. We know further that there was a nuclear device tested at sea, likely a joint Israeli-South African test, its unmistakable flash having been recorded by an American satellite. Just this one aspect of Israel’s behavior worked directly against the aims and wishes of many in the West, supporting both apartheid and proliferation of nuclear weapons. Further, in order to accomplish these things, large efforts had to be made at deception and secret dealing with a number of governments whose intelligence services would certainly have come across trails of evidence. Those are rather weighty matters for governments to decide without the knowledge of voters.   

Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons acts both as a threat and a stimulus to other states in the region to obtain their own. Iraq tried to do so and was stopped, twice. Finally, America used, as a pretext for a bloody invasion which killed at least half a million, Iraq’s nuclear weapons when it was clear to all experts by that time that Iraq no longer had any working facilities for producing them. It violently swept Iraq off the region’s chess board to please Israel, much as today Israel wants it to do with Iran. Countries which have seriously considered, or once actually started, working towards nuclear weapons in the region include Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, and Libya, and in all cases their motives involved, at least in part, Israel’s arsenal. The United States today is in the midst of a massive, years-long campaign to cleanse the Middle East of what its rulers regard as undesirable elements. What determined these undesirable elements? The chief characteristic was whether they respect the general foreign policy aims of the United States, including, importantly, the concept of Israel as favored son of the United States in the region with all the privileges and powers accorded that status.

Certainly the selection had nothing to do with whether the countries were democracies, and certainly it had nothing to do with whether the countries recognized and respected human rights, John Kerry’s pandering or Hillary Clinton’s histrionics to the contrary. America pays no attention to such niceties when it comes to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt, and many other places of strategic interest to it, including Israel. The values given lip service in the American Constitution and at Fourth of July picnics have as much to do with foreign policy as they do with the muffled screams from Guantanamo and the rest of the CIA’s torture gulag or the horrific invasion of Iraq and the systematic, large-scale use of extrajudicial killing.


There is elaborate machinery which has grown up around the relationship between America and Israel since 1948, when President Truman made the fateful decision, reportedly against his own best private judgement, to quickly recognize the government of Israel and extend to it the then-immense prestige of the United States in the immediate postwar period. That machinery – its chief features being highly-organized and well-funded special interest campaign financing, assays of every elected or appointed American official for his or her friendliness to Israel as with regular junkets for new Congressmen, and the most intimate and regular access by both lobbyists and Israeli officials to the highest officials in Washington - is now part of the political landscape of the United States, taken for granted as though it were the most natural thing in the world. But it is not natural, and, over the long term, it is not even in keeping with the interests of the United States.

Being enmeshed in that decision-distorting machinery, rather than simply demanding Israel return to the Green Line and support a reasonable settlement, is what ultimately produced 9/11, the war on terror, the invasion of Iraq, systematic extrajudicial killing, the consignment of tens of millions of people to tyranny, including the people of Egypt and Palestine, the dirty business of the engineered civil war inflicted upon Syria, and swallowing America’s national pride many times as with the Israeli attack on an American spy ship, Israel’s seizure of neighboring land, and Israel’s incessant espionage on its greatest benefactor. And some of these avoidable disasters had further internal effects in rationalizing the establishment of many elements of an American police state.      

The nature of this relationship itself demonstrates something about the unstable nature of Israel. America has many allies and friends who do not behave in these ways because it is simply not necessary, but Israel is constantly reaching, trying to improve or enhance or consolidate its situation, trying to seek some greater advantage. It assumes in its external affairs what appears a completely amoral, results-at-any-cost approach, from stealing farms and homes and water to stealing secrets, playing a long series of dirty tricks on the world along the way, as it did at Entebbe or in the Six Day War or in helping South Africa or in releasing horrible malware like Stuxnet or in abusing the passports of other nations to carry out ugly assassinations – all secure in the knowledge that the world’s most influential nation is captive to the machinery, unable to criticise or punish. The trouble is that such acts endlessly generate new hostilities every place they touch. It cannot be otherwise, yet Israel and its apologists speak only in terms of rising anti-Semitism to shut critics up, a practice which generates still more hostilities since most people don’t like being called names and the act of doing so only increases awareness of the many dishonesties employed to keep Israel afloat.

The nature of the American-relationship machinery has proved so successful in shaping policy towards Israel that it has been replicated in other Western countries. Only recently, we read the words of a former Australian Prime Minister warning his people of the machinery there now influencing government unduly. In Canada, traditionally one of the fairest-minded of nations towards the Middle East, our current, extremist prime minister (an unfortunate democratic deficit in Canada making it possible to win a majority government with 39% of the vote) has trashed Canada’s traditional and respected position and worked steadily towards establishing the same backroom-influence machinery. So now we experience such bizarre events as a federal Minister suddenly, much like Saul struck along the road to Damascus, blurting out some sentence about Israel, unrelated to anything else he was saying or being asked by reporters present. Our 39% Prime Minister himself has assumed the exalted role of Canada’s Don Quixote in the fight against Anti-Semitism, despite the fact that genuine anti-Semitism almost does not exist in our tolerant country. But prominent apologists for Israel have in the past complained of Canada’s balanced policies not favoring Israel enough, and our Don Quixote has ridden to their rescue. Of course, along the way, his party will enjoy a new source of campaign funding, adding yet a new burden to Canada’s existing democratic deficit.     

No one I think entirely planned from the beginning this set of outcomes. It really has been a matter of innumerable adjustments, accommodations, and opportunistic maneuvers which no one might have predicted in 1948, those days which were, at one and the same time, joyful for many Jews staring back into the utter darkness of the Holocaust and tragic to a people having nothing to do with those murderous events, who were stripped of property and rights and dignity, a situation which has only become worse since what they quite understandably call Nakba. But the corrosion of democracy in Western governments afraid of ever saying no to Israel and too willing to add to party political coffers in exchange for favorable words and acts is real and palpable, and it is going to do nothing but become worse. The situation is best characterized as a race for the bottom.


Monday, May 12, 2014

THE TWILIGHT ZONE OF AMERICAN POLITICAL LIFE WHERE ALMOST EVERY WORD OF NEWS ISN’T WHAT IT SEEMS




THE TWILIGHT ZONE OF AMERICAN POLITICAL LIFE WHERE ALMOST EVERY WORD OF NEWS ISN’T WHAT IT SEEMS

John Chuckman

I think a description of the political space in which we live as a kind of twilight reality is not an exaggeration. Not only is a great deal of the news about the world we read and hear manipulated and even manufactured, but a great deal of genuine news is simply missing. People often do not know what is happening in the world, although they generally believe they do know after reading their newspapers or listening to news broadcasts. People receive the lulling sounds or words of most of this kind of news almost unconsciously just as they do to the strains of piped-in “elevator music” in stores and offices.

There are several reasons why this is so. The consolidation of news media creates huge corporate industries whose interests are no different to those of other huge corporate industries. The ownership and control of these industries is not in the hands of people interested in finding out about things and helping others to understand: they are in the hands of people with political connections and goals. At the government level, those in power over the great agencies of the military and security also are not motivated by helping others to understand; indeed, they often are very much interested in hiding what they do.

With a large, complex, and powerful state like the United States these motivations become overwhelming in importance. The more the establishment’s national ambitions become interference in, and manipulation of, the world’s affairs - in effect, controlling the global environment in which it lives - the more it finds itself mired in acts and policies which cannot stand the light of day. Secrecy becomes a paramount goal of government, and all corporate news organizations - understanding their dependency upon government agencies for leaks and information to make them look good, for permissions and licences which allow them to survive and grow, and for advertising revenue from other great corporations involved with government – understand implicitly the permissible limits of investigation and news. And when they do forget, they are promptly reminded. Some of these giants – CNN and Fox News come to mind – make little pretence of genuine news or investigation, existing almost entirely as outlets for points of view, attitudes, and the odd tantalizing morsel of disinformation. They keep an audience because they offer what is best understood as either infotainment or soft propaganda which is expertly tuned to listeners’ and readers’ assumptions and preconceived ideas.

Size matters in all enterprises, economies of scale contributing to build powerful corporations with global influence. Size also matters to create what economists call “barriers to entry” in any industry, something which plays a major role in the evolution of many industries over time from fairly competitive ones to quasi-monopolistic ones. It is virtually impossible for a newcomer to enter an industry evolved to this latter state, including the news industry. It would be about as difficult to enter the American news industry as it would be to enter its soda pop, car manufacturing, household products, or hamburger restaurant industries. It is always possible to start a small niche, or boutique, operation, but it literally is not possible to compete with oligopolistic giants. So, necessarily, American news is under the control of a very few people, extremely wealthy people, who attend the same cocktail parties as senior people in government agencies and other great corporations.

The more powerful the great military-security-policing agencies in a society become, the more independent of public approval and scrutiny they grow. This is unavoidable without a sustained popular demand for public accountability and reasonable transparency, but such popular movements are difficult to start and even harder to maintain, and they are pretty much absent in America. Every once in a while we do get a movement in America popping up like spring dandelions on the lawn, almost always of the “back to basics” type, the Tea Party being the most recent manifestation, financed by some wealthy persons with their own goals and serving to titillate people for a short while that the dark monstrosity in Washington can be made to go away, but, as with the Tea Party, they always dry up and blow away.

The politicians who ostensibly oversee dark matters in special committees do not want public credit for what they approve. And I believe a point is reached, as it has been reached in the United States, where a great deal of the planning and decision-making in dirty affairs is left entirely in the hands of the great security agencies themselves, politicians not being in a position to interfere even if they wanted to do so. The sheer volume and complexity of such operations argues for this view, and the truth is most people and most politicians are comfortable with inertia.

If we go back about fifty years we have a complex and fascinating example of these forces and tendencies at work, and we can only be sure that matters have gone a great deal further since that time with the immense swelling of security budgets, open contempt for privacy and rights, and the dramatic advance of technological capabilities. On the matter of technology from the citizens’ point of view, the blithe pop notion of “social media,” so often talked up in the press as now working against concentrated power, ignores that “social media” too are just great corporations intimately linked to government. They not only send the security agencies a detailed flow of information about their subscribers, but they are all engineered to be switched off when government desires it. The Internet in general has provided an outlet for critical views, but the total exposure to the public is small in the scheme of things – a few channels, as it were, in a multi-trillion channel universe - and can mostly be ignored by authorities, and, in any event, the Internet is evolving quickly into something else far more dominated by commercial interests. The Golden Age of the Internet, so far as ideas are concerned, may well soon be over.  To return to our example, if we go back to America’s many attempts to topple or assassinate the leader of Cuba in the early 1960s, we have perhaps our best understood example of elaborate dark operations, unaccountable officials, murder, mayhem, and an utterly compliant press – all freely continuing for years. Although histories of the Kennedy presidency contain more than one version of some details of America’s vast, long-lasting terrorist plot, still, much of it is understood, at least better than is the case for many such matters.

John Kennedy may not have been quite the idealist some sentimentally view him today, but he was more thoughtful, independent, and tough-minded than many American Presidents of the 20th century. He learned nearly immediately after becoming President that the previous Eisenhower government had established a vast operation to eliminate Castro and his government. It was a terror operation whose size and complexity and resources made the later mountain redoubt of Osama bin Laden resemble a Boy Scout camp. Despite its size, this was an operation unknown to the press and public at the time, although there is an anecdote that The New York Times tripped over the plot and, in traditional Times’ fashion, suppressed it at the CIA’s request. The plans took many routes, including, as we learned later from the Church Committee in 1975 (an examination of some intelligence practices in the wake of the Watergate scandal), CIA representatives going to the bizarre lengths of approaching senior Mafia figures to discuss commissioning them for Castro’s assassination.

Kennedy came under great pressure from the CIA to approve the project for invading Cuba, a difficult position in which to put a young, inexperienced President. He decided to support the plan with important provisos. The Bay of Pigs invasion, by a CIA-trained, supplied, and paid private army of Cuban refugees, was directed by CIA personnel and supported by a huge propaganda apparatus, including a radio station, in Florida. There were also CIA assassination teams prepared to enter Cuba and kill certain people once the refugees were established. Many elements of the plan and the people running it had been involved in 1954 with the successful overthrow of the elected government of Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán in Guatemala. But Cuba was not Guatemala, and their plans proved a colossal and embarrassing failure which served only to increase Castro’s heroic, legendary stature in Cuba, a classic result of poorly-conceived black operations called “blowback” in the security establishment, and the reverberations of these events continued for more than a decade, claiming many lives and careers.

Following the failed invasion, CIA leaders, much resembling some “old boys” at an expensive men’s club where outsiders are resented, blamed the President for his scepticism and failure to extend what they regarded as adequate support, especially in the form of disguised American air support for the invading forces. The new President himself was furious at having been pressured into the fiasco at the start of his term. The truth is that the CIA’s plan was almost laughable, including the key assumption that great numbers of ordinary Cubans would rise against Castro, an extremely popular leader, once the invasion force appeared. It was a delusional sand castle built on a foundation of blind hatred for anything to do with communism, especially for a man as charismatic as Castro. The blindness extended to the CIA’s having selected a poor geographical location for forces to land.

It was all a tremendous example of the arrogance of power, secret men with unlimited resources making secret plans that reflected little reality. Kennedy fired some top CIA officials, including Director Allen Dulles, and is said to have privately sworn to tear the CIA apart. We can only imagine the self-righteous fury of the CIA’s Cold Warrior Mujahedeen at the time, their words, when recorded here or there, resembling tent preachers speaking about casting out devils. Kennedy, however, did not tear the CIA apart. Realistically, that would have been impossible with the men at the CIA knowing better than anyone how to capitalize on an attempt - blackmail, threats, ugly frat-boy jokes, and criminal activity being everyday tools they used. To be labelled “soft on communism” in the early 1960s was the political Mark of Beast, Richard Nixon having built an entire political career on it, and Kennedy’s personal life was subject to then-unpalatable revelations of extensive marital infidelity. So Kennedy continued to work with the CIA on a series of sabotage operations against Cuba and attempts on Castro’s life. Indeed, it is said that Kennedy put his brother, Robert, a sufficiently tough and ruthless man by all accounts, in charge of the plans, making senior CIA personnel answerable to the young Attorney General, itself the kind of act which would not endear him to the CIA’s old boys.

The secret matters around Cuba dominated events for years, again almost without any hard public information, leading to the Cuban Missile Crisis which President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev peacefully settled, a settlement importantly including an American pledge not to invade Cuba again. Ultimately this writer is convinced that it was events around Cuba that led directly to the assassination of John Kennedy, much evidence suggesting a false trail to Cuba being planted before the fateful day in Dallas, the very kind of trail that could be used by the Cold Warrior Mujahedeen to justify an invasion after all. With everything from a faked visit to Mexico City by someone posing as Lee Harvey Oswald (the poor man working in New Orleans as a paid FBI informer at the time - likely a low level part of a Kennedy-initiated FBI program to track and suppress the worst anti-Cuba excesses of the refugees and their handlers in keeping with the spirit of the Missile Crisis settlement – totally unaware he was being set up by those he fell in with), the one-man creation of a Fair Play to Cuba chapter in New Orleans, handing out Fair Play pamphlets (some of which were stamped with the address of an ex-senior FBI anti-communist fanatic, Guy Bannister, who ran a mysterious front operation in New Orleans with some very unsavory associates) at places including near a naval facility, the night visit to Sylvia Odio, daughter of a noted Cuban political figure, by a group of unidentified men who referred to a Leon Oswald, and many other such carefully placed little piles of breadcrumbs.     

Kennedy offended his Pentagon Joint Chiefs by not letting them immediately bomb and invade Cuba when offensive missiles were discovered there by U-2 photography, and of course anything of that nature offending the Pentagon offended also the CIA and those dependent upon it.  With his pledge not to invade Cuba again, Kennedy offended the violent Cuban refugee community, people who were armed to the teeth by the CIA and had killed and crippled opponents in Florida as well as in Cuba. And through the entire sequence of events from the Bay of Pigs to the Missile Crisis, Kennedy consistently offended the Cold Warrior Mujahedeen at the CIA. He added to that offence with acts like establishing secret backchannel communications with Khrushchev and preliminary efforts to establish the same communications with Castro. Such efforts were most unlikely to remain secret from the CIA when they involved such a high level and weighty matters. Remember, hatreds in the United States around Cuba remained so intense in the intelligence and refugee communities that as late as 1976, a CIA operative named Luis Posada Carriles planted two bombs on Cubana Airlines Flight 455, killing all 78 people aboard, and he was protected by the American government.  

The effect on the general public of accurate knowledge about dark matters in the rare instances when they become known can be glimpsed here or there. One of the best examples is the disappearance from politics, including credible presidential ambitions, of a seemingly attractive Vietnam veteran holding the Medal of Honor, former-Senator Bob Kerrey. When the public learned of a secret operation called Project Phoenix and later learned that Kerrey earned his medal through such work, his political career simply dissolved. Project Phoenix was a dark operation in Vietnam in which American Special Forces crept out, night after night, to assassinate villagers the CIA identified as targets. It is estimated that twenty thousand innocent villagers had their throats slashed in the night by Americans creeping into their homes. It would be hard to conceive of a more cowardly and grisly form of war, but it went on for a long time in complete secrecy. The operation burst upon public awareness only after a titanic internal struggle at the CIA over the authenticity of a Soviet defector named Yuri Nosenko ended with the dismissal of James Angleton in 1974, the paranoid Chief of CIA Counterintelligence (a man, incidentally, who unquestionably had special knowledge of the Kennedy assassination) by new CIA Director William Colby. Colby also revealed the Phoenix program for reasons not well understood and stated he had run it. (A retired Colby later had a mysterious fatal boating accident near his home.)    

People who want to discredit critics and sceptics of government today often use the term “conspiracy theorist,” almost as though there were ipso facto no such things as conspiracy or dishonesty in government. It is of course intended as a pejorative description. But the entire history of affairs around Cuba puts the lie to those using the term, and we know from many bits of information that Cuba is only one example of scores of genuine conspiracies.

Those with some history will know that secrecy and dishonesty have long served the interests of power. Why doesn’t the United States claim credit for overthrowing the democratic government of Guatemala, the democratic government of Iran which unleashed the filthy work of the Shah’s secret police, SAVAK, afterward, or the democratic government of Chile and the fifteen thousand or so state murders that followed? Why doesn’t it claim credit for the State Department’s teletyping lists of desired victims to a new government of Indonesia, after the fall of Sukarno in 1965, as its savage followers conducted a genocidal slaughter of suspected communists which saw half a million people thrown into rivers with their throats slashed? Why did it hide acts like the machine-gunning of hundreds of fleeing Korean civilians, including women and children, at the early stages of the Korean War? Or the hideous murder by suffocation in sealed trucks of about three thousand Taleban prisoners in the early stages of the Afghanistan War undertaken by one of America’s key Afghan allies shortly after Donald Rumsfeld publicly said they should be killed or walled away forever? Why doesn’t Israel just tell people it terrorized Palestinians, killing and raping, in 1948 to make as many as possible flee their homes? Or that it machine-gunned masses of Egyptian prisoners of war in the Sinai in a war that it engineered only for conquering more of Palestine?

Could it be that there are acts of which governments are ashamed? That there is reason to be ashamed of acts which they nevertheless continue to repeat? It does seem that government values its reputation enough to avoid taking credit for its ugliest acts. The terrible dilemma is that in a supposedly democratic state, these horrible acts are committed without either the knowledge or consent of the people and despite the fact that the results affect the public’s welfare and often international reputation. Now at just what point could the consent of the people in a democratic state be more important than committing organized murder on their behalf? I cannot imagine any. Yet that is a point at which states like America feel free to act, covering up what they do with masses of secrecy and lies.

Why would anyone deny the existence of conspiracies by America’s government? Regrettably, the only reason that some government behavior becomes known is the existence of whistleblowers. But how does government treat whistleblowers? Just ask Mordechai Vanunu or Daniel Ellsberg or Private Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning or Edward Snowden – truly brave and ethically-motivated individuals, treated like criminals by their governments.

Pervasive secrecy and truly democratic government are simply incompatible, and I think it fair to say that where we see monumental levels of secrecy, as we do in the United States with billions of classified documents and hundreds of past controversies dimly understood, it provides prima facie proof of a society tarted-up to resemble democracy but having few if any of the required internal organs functioning. A culture of secrecy and violence is the culture of a police state, full stop.   

Right now we have partial information about some recent American, or American-sponsored, terrorist programs. One such is the induced “civil war” in Syria which receives arms and assistance via Turkey, the same route used to inject a rag-tag army of extremists into Syria and to allow them to retreat periodically in escaping Syria’s army. The extremists even used some of the deadly nerve gas, Sarin, to kill masses of civilians in hopes of pushing the United States openly into the conflict, making the rebels surely the kind of people no sane person wants running a country. And who supplied them with Sarin, a manufactured substance available from only a few sources?  A related dark program occurred in Benghazi, Libya, where an American ambassador was killed in another instance of blowback: he had been running an operation to collect from Libya and export to Syria weapons and thugs when some the thugs turned and attacked him instead. Yet another dark operation has been the destabilization of Ukraine through a huge secret flow of money to right wing forces who shot hundreds of innocent people down on the streets of Kiev to instill general fear and terror to support a coup.

Now, you will not read one word from an American official acknowledging any of this grotesque behavior. Indeed, John Kerry has the unenviable job of publically lying about it, puffing and pontificating and self-righteously proclaiming America’s revulsion over others behaving like that. And in all this storm of murder and dishonesty, you will only find American journalism, that noble guardian of the public’s right to know, keeping its readers and listeners in complete ignorance.

This is how it is possible in what is often regarded a free and democratic state, the national government commits itself to murder and mayhem, using its people’s resources without informing them and without their consent, all the while vigorously lying to them. Can you really have democracy that way? I don’t think so. The power and resources that are in the hands of America’s great secret agencies are greater than those enjoyed by many of the world’s dictators. And the distortions of the American press surely are in keeping with the practices of places where the press is never regarded as free. Many Americans know that at the local town or city level, they do have democratic institutions and attitudes, a fact which reassures them against criticisms of their national system, but then so does China today, and no one calls China a democracy.