Sunday, March 01, 2015
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
SOME INTERNET SITES FROM JOHN CHUCKMAN:
CHUCKMAN'S PORT STANLEY
CHUCKMAN'S ILES DE LA MADELEINE (MAGDALEN ISLANDS)
CHUCKMAN'S PORT STANLEY
CHUCKMAN'S ILES DE LA MADELEINE (MAGDALEN ISLANDS)
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 GALLERY OF GROTESQUES
CHUCKMAN’S CARTOON COMMENTS
CHUCKMAN'S MISCELLANEA OF WORDS
CHUCKMAN'S COMMENTS FROM THE WORLD PRESS
CHUCKMAN'S POLITICAL ESSAYS
What’s really terrifying about this threat
ISIS certainly is not what a great many people think that it is, if you judge what they think by what our corporate press proclaims incessantly.
Judging by what ISIS actually does and whom its acts benefit, its clandestine associates, and the testimony of some witnesses, ISIS is a complex intelligence operation. Its complexity reflects at least in part the fact that it serves the interests of several countries and that it has more than one objective. Its complexity reflects also the large effort to reinforce a false image with disinformation and staged events such as a video of a beheading which could not have been a beheading unless they’ve discovered a bloodless method until now unknown to science.
The subject of ISIS is not without brief glimmers of humor. The image of bands of men, swathed in Arabic robes and bumping their way around the desert in Japanese pick-up trucks with Kalashnikovs raised in the air for every picture has elements of Monty Python. The idea of modern, trained and well-armed military units turning and running from them resembles a war scene in a Laurel and Hardy comedy such as the one with Hardy stuck upside down in a WWI tank turret kicking his legs the whole time Laurel drives towards the German positions managing accidentally to round-up a whole trench-full of prisoners with some wire fencing that becomes snagged on the tank.
Despite the tiresome stupidities we see and hear about it, ISIS unquestionably does kill people and destroy things, that being its purpose, and there is no humor in that.
ISIS appears to have served several tasks so far. First, it frightened Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, out of office in Iraq, a man America and Israel grew very much to dislike owing simply to his good relations with Iran, one of the unintended consequences of America’s invasion of Iraq being expanded Iranian influence in the region. No doubt al-Maliki was terrified not so much by ISIS approaching in their pick-up trucks as he was by his own military’s tendency, as if on cue, to turn and run from ISIS, often leaving weapons behind. The message was clear: you won’t be protected.
Second, America’s highly selective “air war” against ISIS somehow manages to attack infrastructure targets inside Syria with the feeble excuse that they are facilities helping ISIS. We’ve seen what American bombing can do when it’s undertaken seriously, and somehow I have a hard time imaging the men in Japanese pick-ups lasting long when faced with what hit the Taleban in Afghanistan or Gadhafi’s forces in Libya. The air strikes are partly a show for the world – after all, how can America be seen not to be fighting such extremely well-advertised, super-violent terrorists, guys putting out videos regularly from a studio trailer they must haul around with one of their pick-up trucks? The air strikes’ main purpose appears to be a way of hurting Assad and assisting those fighting Syria’s army without coming into conflict with Russia, as they would with a large, direct campaign. They likely also punish elements of ISIS which have exceeded their brief and serve as a reminder to the rest of what could happen to them if they stray too far from their subsidized purpose once the war comes to an end.
Three, in some of the ground fighting in Iraq where we’ve read of Iraqi units fighting ISIS, the units are often Kurdish, and sometimes the press uses expressions like “Iraqi and Kurdish troops.” But the Kurdish region is still part of Iraq legally, although it has been given a good deal of autonomy by the central government. The Kurdish region of Iraq is the country’s prime oil-producing area, and in the estimation of many observers, an area both the United States and Israel would very much like to see severed from Iraq in the way Kosovo was severed from Serbia after America’s devastating air war there. This would not only permanently assure Iraq’s weakness, it would create a rather grateful and more willing oil supplier.
Where does ISIS get its technical equipment and the know-how to produce videos and run Internet sites? These are not qualities commonly found among fanatical fundamentalists anywhere; indeed most true radical fundamentalists tend to eschew technology. A supply of advice, technical assistance, and equipment comes from somewhere. Where does ISIS get the money for food, gasoline, clothes, ammunition, and Japanese pick-up trucks? And I wonder, did one of those wild-looking jihadi types just show up one day at an Iraqi car dealership and order a fleet of Japanese pick-ups? Were they delivered out on the desert or did a gang of jihadists march in, waving their Kalashnikovs, to drive them away?
The effort to destroy the Syrian government, whether by means of ISIS or anyone else, is warmly and generously supported by Saudi Arabia and its buddy Qatar - another oil-rich, absolute monarchy where political parties are banned – both these counties’ primary interest being the defence of their immensely privileged situations against creeping threats of all progressive developments such as equal human rights or democracy or indeed against revolt led by external forces. The payments we now know the Saudi royal family long made to Osama bin Laden before 9/11 were simply bribes to keep him and his anti-establishment work out of the country. They really didn’t care a lot about what the money bought elsewhere, but since 9/11 and its many Saudi connections – 15 of the perpetrators plus the past financing plus the many members of the royal family and bin Laden family secretly flown out by American officials at the time – the Saudi authorities were genuinely fearful of how America might respond and have become far more responsive to what America wants in the Middle East and now apply their money to such projects. What America wants in the Middle East is, invariably, what Israel wants, so there is now extensive, secret cooperation where once there was complete official hostility.
We have reports from plane-spotters in the region of daily flights of mysterious planes from Israel to Qatar. We have several eye-witness reports and photographs of supply bundles dropped from unknown planes into ISIS territory. Maybe ISIS has its own air force now? We know Turkey has served both as an entry point for countless terrorists into Syria and as a place of retreat and refuge when fighting with the Syrian army becomes too hot for them, the volumes of such activity having been too great to keep secret. We have reports of Turkish supply flights. A Jordanian official recently told a reporter that ISIS members were trained in 2012 by American instructors working at a secret base in Jordan.
If ISIS is what our corporate news pretends that it is – a fanatical Muslim extremist group that sprang suddenly from the desert sands much like Jack’s bean stalk – one blindingly obvious question is, why does it not attack Israel or Israeli interest? Isn’t that what one would expect from such a cast of characters? But it has not done so, undoubtedly because Israel is an important covert benefactor and supplier.
We might equally ask why ISIS has not attacked Saudi Arabia or its interests, for although the Saudi royal family officially professes a strict and conservative form of Islam, Wahhabism, in fact many of them are very worldly people who spend a good deal of time and money at the world’s great pleasure palaces. Perhaps even more damning for a genuine fanatical fundamentalist, the Saudis now often secretly cooperate and make plans with Israel where mutual interests exist.
No, there is something highly suspicious about Islamic fundamentalist terrorists who avoid such interests while managing to brutally kill poor Syrian soldiers just doing their jobs along with the odd foreign journalist or aid worker who may just have seen something they shouldn’t have seen. Of course, we have Edward Snowden himself having described ISIS as an operation intended to protect Israel. Despite the fact that some news sources have said the interview in which this was revealed never took place, my instincts tell me it likely did. Snowden has never refuted it, and the news sources saying it did not are highly suspect on such a subject.
The way ISIS serves Israeli and American interests is by providing a focus point for extremists, attracting them from various parts of the world so that they can be recorded and kept track of. Also the tracks back to the various countries from which they come provide security services with leads to places where there might be some festering problems. In the meantime, ISIS serves the interest of helping to bring down President Assad, a goal dear to the hearts of Israelis. Please remember that black operations, even the ones about which we know, show little consideration for lives or property. Just think of Israel’s attack on an American spy ship in the Mediterranean during the Six Day War, its pilots knowingly shooting up and bombing for two hours the well-marked ship of its ally and benefactor, no explanation worth hearing ever having been offered.
Just read conservative mainline sources (pretty much a redundant pair of adjectives) about the harm Snowden has done: claims of everything from his revelations about American intelligence having served to help ISIS avoid detection (!) to his revelations having set up the United States for another 9/11! You might think intelligent people would be ashamed of making such asinine public statements, but, no, there are almost no limits to trying to discredit those revealing murderous, dark operations.
We’ve had many reports of officials in various countries, including Canada as I write, concerned about the odd individual or small group running off to join ISIS. Now why should that be a concern? A few flaky people going abroad just removes them from your country, something I should have thought was a complete gain from a security point of view. Even if they were ever to return in future, you would know exactly who they are. Where is the basis for serious concern? But the psychological advantages of noise and hype to scare people about obscure dangers and “lone wolves” and “home-grown terrorists” outweigh completely good sense and intelligence.
Finally, there are numerous reports that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (a nom de guerre, not his real name), the leader of ISIS, is a Western intelligence asset. What little we can learn about him makes that entirely plausible. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, has said that the man is a Mossad agent, a claim supported supposedly by documents revealed by Edward Snowden. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is by all accounts a secretive man who speaks directly with few people, and even his birth place, given as Samarra, Iraq, is not sure. Records of his past, as those from his period of American captivity (always a great opportunity to “turn” someone to serving two interests), are not available. He was once reported killed but is still alive. He is said to have received intensive training from Mossad and the CIA, and some sources give his real name as Simon Elliot (or, Elliot Shimon), but few details can ever be certain in such dark operations.
The truly terrifying aspect of ISIS and other forces fighting with it in Syria is that the United States and Israel have approved and supported such wanton destruction in so beautiful and formerly-peaceful a place as Syria. Millions of lives destroyed and countless historic places damaged as though they were all nothing more than a few pieces moved on a geopolitical chessboard. I think it fair to describe that as the work of psychopaths.
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
THE GRAND ILLUSION
The truth is that the risk of an American being killed by terrorism is close to zero, having been calculated at 1:20,000,000
In the years since 9/11, American police alone have killed at least twice as many Americans as died in that single large event, the annual toll of police killings being somewhere between 500 and 1,000, the variation owing to many such events going inaccurately reported by police.
Each year, somewhere between 30 and 40 thousand Americans are killed in automobiles, the level having declined in recent years. Each year about 15,000 Americans are murdered, down from about 25,000 not too many years ago. Each year about 100,000 Americans are killed by medical malpractice. About 40,000 Americans commit suicide annually. These are just a few causes of death in America, not the largest ones but some of the more interesting.
Let’s get a rough total estimate of what has happened to Americans from these causes in the time since 9/11. Just using the low number in each case for fourteen years, 7,000 Americans were killed by their own police, 420,000 were killed by something parked in their garage, 210,000 were murdered by fellow citizens, 1,400,000 were killed by friendly family doctors, and there were 560,000 who just decided to pack it in for one reason or another. The total of these various causes of death rounds to 2, 600,000 deaths, nearly 867 times the number of Americans killed in 9/11, 867 collapsed sets of twin towers, nearly 62 collapsed sets of towers per year.
So why are we spending countless billions of dollars fighting terror, an almost insignificant threat to our well-being? We spend a total by various estimates of between 1 and 5 trillion dollars (yes, that’s trillion with a “t”), although such totals can never accurately be given owing to secrecy, false accounting, and the immense waste that is an inherent part of all military and intelligence operations. Even in the crudest military terms of “bang for the buck,” ignoring all the death and destruction and ethical issues, just as the military routinely does in its grim work, the War on Terror has to be the greatest misdirection of resources in all of human history.
Or is it? Perhaps there are other reasons for the War on Terror, reasons never discussed in newspapers or on news broadcasts, reasons which make the expenditure of such colossal amounts against such an insignificant risk acceptable to those doing the spending? Unless American leaders are all lunatics, I think there must be.
Most people are aware that the War on Drugs has been a stupendous flop, with a great deal of resources having bought nothing except a general diminishment of personal freedoms, construction of new prisons, and make-work employment for many unnecessary police and prison guards. But each year the War on Terror spends many, many times the amount spent on the War on Drugs, and what has it bought us? A far greater debasement of freedoms, almost wiping clean parts of the Bill of Rights, raising to a high status in our society such dark and anti-democratic forces as security agents of every kind and the military, increasing exponentially the secrecy of government and thus giving voters no hope for an informed ballot, making countless future enemies in the world, and causing Americans willy-nilly to support filthy acts identical to the hateful work of military juntas who made tens of thousands of civilians disappear.
I think there are only a couple of explanations for this waste of resources which otherwise employed could have made the world an immeasurably better place. They are assisted greatly by what I’ll call the “crime in the news” effect, although I might just as well call it the “advertising effect,” because advertising works on people’s minds through its seeming omnipresence and repetition planting suggestions, suggestions not entirely different to those planted by the stage-performer hypnotist in the minds of his volunteers from the audience.
It has been demonstrated many times that daily reports of violent crime, even when the crimes occur outside a listening community, cause people to become apprehensive about many ordinary activities such as letting kids walk to school or go to the park to play. And no advertising campaign in history could begin to compare to the complete audience saturation of “terror this or that” in our newspapers, magazines, and on-air. Surely, no totalitarian government ever more completely blanketed its people with fearful suggestions than does America’s “free press” today. You literally cannot hear a news broadcast or read a newspaper with the word terror missing, a fact which keeps most people in an unquestioning frame of mind about what properly should be regarded as sinfully immense expenditures to no useful purpose, at the same time conditioning them to surrender precious freedoms. For most people, the fact is that fear overcomes both logic and courage.
Americans, along with people in other lands heavily under American influence, have voluntarily given up claims to what we believed were well-established rights. Yes, there is some controversy over the high-tech equivalent of Big Brother’s telescreens, over the construction of immense new or expanded agencies such as the TSA and NSA, and even some over a seemingly-endless set or wars, but much less than you might have expected. There has been relatively little controversy over America’s smashing its adherence to everything from the Geneva Conventions to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the complete disregard for established basic principles of common law in America’s international behavior goes largely unremarked, at least in America.
In a very real sense, America’s establishment, its government within the government consisting of leaders in security and the military and of its great corporations, has been given licence to create a kind of Frankenstein monster which now stands ready with terrible powers to do its bidding. It certainly isn’t just terrorists who need fear, it is every person with the impulse in his or her breast for justice, fairness, and human decency, and it is every country which has an impulse for independence from America’s imperious declarations of how they should carry on their affairs. I don’t like the expression New World Order, but it does in fact communicate something of what has been pursued relentlessly by America’s establishment since 9/11 with an unbounded sense of its entitlement and privilege. The awesome creature it has brought to life - which already runs secret prisons, tortures, conducts non-judicial killings, and supports horrible governments in many places - is no respecter of principles or human rights or even basic decency. We all know from history and common experience that over time any well-funded, established, and privileged institution grows, altering the terms of its charter and spreading its influence always farther, just as today American intelligence, bound by charter not to spy on Americans, spies on them all the time through various technical arrangements effectively going around its charter.
This monster serves ambitions abroad – crush democracy anywhere it proves inconvenient or a barrier to the interests of America’s establishment, as in Ukraine and in Egypt and as attempted in Venezuela, but also crush old arrangements which have produced advancing societies in other lands, even though they are not yet democratic, as in Syria, Iraq, or Libya.
In a relatively short time the monster has made a chaotic wasteland of such previously prosperous lands as Iraq and Libya, and it is now hard at work doing the same to the lovely, ancient land of Syria where it is allied in its efforts with some of the ugliest violent fanatics you could hope to find anywhere. Its acts have resulted in many hundreds of thousands of deaths in these places, countless refugees and injuries, the destruction of much precious infrastructure, and left people to wallow in chaos for years to come.
It created a coup, and thereby a civil war, in Ukraine, reducing that impoverished land still further, and it allied itself for the effort with the kind of stormfront militia trash that even the pathetic FBI surely would infiltrate and investigate were they active in the United States. It did all this just to gain temporary psychological advantages over Russia, a country whose leadership today far better represents principles of international peace and good order – not without some distant echo of irony for those of us raised on a steady diet of Cold War propaganda - than those in Washington who never stop mouthing slogans about rights and democracy which they routinely ignore. We all have an immense investment in America’s reckless game of “playing chicken” with Russia, the only country on the planet capable of obliterating most of Western civilization. I’ve never liked frat-boy pranks and humor, but in this case the overgrown frat-boys at the CIA are guffawing over stupidities which risk most of what we hold precious.
But the monster serves also to intimidate America’s own population. Don’t hold big or noisy demonstrations against injustice, don’t complain too much about authorities and truly abusive police, don’t communicate with others who may be viewed as undesirables for whatever reasons by the government, and don’t describe any group which has been arbitrarily-declared terrorist as being merely freedom fighters – any of these acts or many others risks arbitrary powers that never formally existed before.
Homeland Security has stocked huge amounts of crowd-control equipment and weapons, and it was a military general who quietly announced a few years back that the Pentagon was prepared should martial law became necessary in America. America’s local police forces, long ago having earned an international reputation for violent, militaristic behavior, have been given surplus military-grade crowd-control equipment. The FBI seeks new authorities and capabilities regularly, the same FBI with such a sorry record, going back to its origins, of abusing authority.
In my mind, and I think in the minds of many, America’s posture towards the world resembles a pug-ugly bully confronting you on the street, someone who just will not let you pass until you give him what he demands. The bully is the country’s immensely wealthy and influential privileged establishment, having the country’s general population now completely in tow, fearful and intimidated, quite apart from being in large part underemployed or unemployed. The bully naturally pays no attention to international organizations and agreements, believing himself above the rules and constraints to which others hold. The organizations are either simply ignored or, as in the case of the UN, coerced into behaving along acceptable lines, America having spent some years recently refusing to pay its legally-required dues just to prove a point as well as having been involved in more than one cabal to unseat a disliked Secretary General.
And I fear this gives us just a hint of what is likely to come because, as we should never stop reminding ourselves, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The world’s hope for relief from a form of international tyranny comes from the growth of countries like Russia, China, India, and Brazil. I wish I could add the EU to the list, but it seems almost as supine and voiceless as America’s own general population or Canada’s present government. Only forces capable of saying “no” to America’s establishment and building interest blocs to oppose its excesses offer redress and relief in future, and it is only through political contention that new international organizations are likely to emerge, ones with some power and effect. Americans all give lip service to competition in economics, but the concept applies no less to the spheres of politics and world affairs. And Americans all give lip service to democracy, not realizing that its governing elites represent the tiniest fraction of the world’s population and resemble in their acts abroad about as aristocratic a government as ever existed.
DAVID CAMERON'S FOOLISH DECISION TO SEND MILITARY ADVISERS TO UKRAINE - MORE ON WHO SHOT DOWN FLIGHT MH-17
POSTED COMMENTS TO A STORY IN THE GUARDIAN
David Cameron is America's biggest fool abroad.
This entire adventure, the CIA's causing a coup in Ukraine and precipitating a civil war, was a gigantic mistake, a mistake fraught with great risk from the beginning and serving no purpose but to gain a psychological advantage over Russia.
Not only that, but it has always involved the support of neo-Nazi and fascist-militia types, present in Ukraine in sizable numbers and heavily armed.
Russia could literally sweep Ukraine off the map in weeks, but it hasn't so and has shown not the least intention of doing so.
So leave the situation alone.
Ukraine's current government is so incompetent it will fall eventually anyway. It has thrown away a good part of its army to achieve nothing. It has shot down a civilian airliner without ever acknowledging the fact. It has thrown Ukraine's economy into turmoil. It has endangered its own energy supplies.
These are dangerous clowns, and the only people genuinely happy with them are frat-boys and plug-uglies guffawing in Langley, Virginia.
Of course, I realize Cameron is by this act genuflecting to Washington. Possibly even he realizes in private how stupid it is, but he is a card-carrying member of the cult worshipping American pre-eminence.
Response to a reader who took exception to my comment about shooting down Flight MH-17:
The simple fact that the investigators are silent tells you a great deal, silent under American influence.
Believe me, if any evidence showed the Russians responsible, we'd hear about it.
It is not that complex a job to determine what happened. It's been done many times in many places.
The key fact always left out of the story is that America has the world's most sophisticated spy satellites, called Keyhole Satellites. They cover the earth daily, and one of them was directly overhead the area at the time.
Where are the pictures? Where are the various data tracks?
Simple answer: hidden.
Also, as you should know, America has some of the world's most sophisticated radars, and believe me, some of them are always trained on the Russian border.
So where are the radar tracks, which absolutely must exist for this event?
And what is the only reasonable explanation for withholding all the evidence?
To prevent the West from being horrified by what the incompetent Ukrainian military has done.
After all, the mess in Ukraine is their baby, so to speak.
Saturday, February 21, 2015
THE TRIAL OF EDDIE RAY ROUTH WHO KILLED CHRIS KYLE, A.K.A. THE AMERICAN SNIPER - WHAT SUCH MEN REPRESENT - AMERICA AS A GREAT BULLY AND ITS DIRTY COLONIAL WARS
COMMENT POSTED IN THE GUARDIAN ABOUT A STORY ON THE TRIAL OF EDDIE RAY ROUTH WHO KILLED CHRIS KYLE, AMERICAN SNIPER
A sniper is not a soldier, any more than a drone operator is. He's a cowardly killer hiding in ambush.
This sniper was also, virtually certainly, a psychopath. He loved killing, and killed in record numbers.
The symptoms described for his killer suggest some degree of paranoid schizophrenia.
Of course, the military provides a welcome home for both types. It always has. Where else do you get to kill and commit acts of savagery in large numbers and be praised and even rewarded for it?
These recent American wars represent no principle, and they defend nothing but the self-assumed right of America's establishment to tell people around the planet how to order their lives.
These are some of the dirtiest colonial wars in history, the work of a great bully wrapped in a flag who spouts nonsense about rights and democracy he doesn't even understand.
Thursday, February 12, 2015
HOW AMERICA SCREWS UP THE WORLD WITHOUT EVER LETTING ITS OWN PEOPLE KNOW WHAT IS HAPPENING
Brian Williams, American television network anchor caught telling his audience a fantasy version of his experience on a foreign assignment, has unintentionally provided us with a near perfect allegory and tale of caution about American journalism and the role it plays in politics and foreign affairs.
I am not referring to the fact that a number of prominent Americans have done exactly the same thing Williams did making false public claims of risky deeds, this Münchausen-like condition being surprisingly common among American politicians. Hillary Clinton, in her 2008 nomination campaign, claimed she came under fire in Tuzla, Boznia in 1996, when her plane landed. Actual video of the harrowing event showed her being greeted peacefully by a young child with a welcoming poem. John Kerry, in his quick four-month “grab some glory for a future political career” stint in Vietnam made exaggerated claims of risk and bravery and certainly decency when indeed most of his activities involved shooting at peasant farmers working their fields from his heavily-armed patrol boat on a river, ferrying the odd cutthroat assassin for the CIA’s ghastly Operation Phoenix project, and killing a man, likely Viet Cong, who was lying on the ground badly wounded by the boat’s heavy machine gun fire. Rich men’s sons do get medals for rather hard to understand achievements.
The awful truth is, given the state of American journalism, stunts like that of Williams, despite their symbolism, are virtually without concrete importance. American network anchors like Williams are expected to have good looks, good voices, and sincere, home-townish demeanors while reading scripts. Beyond that, they have almost no connection with what most people understand as journalism. There is the odd effort by large American networks to make their handsome talking heads seem to be at the center of events, the most hilarious of which in my memory was CBS’s Dan Rather garbed in Afghan-style robes crawling around on the ground somewhere pretending to be secretly reporting something or other about Afghanistan, his soundman, lighting technician, cameraman, and make-up artist never making an appearance. Such absurdities lend theatrical flair to American news and probably help frustrated journalists stuck with million-dollar, talking-head jobs feel slightly useful, and you might say they are therapeutic, but they have nothing whatever to do with journalism.
Journalism, as it is taught in schools, is about discovering, or at least suggesting, through a series of well-defined techniques what is actually happening in events of interest and reporting the findings in a non-biased, almost scientific, way, but, remarkably, this is something which virtually never happens in American journalism. Truthfulness and journalistic principles simply have no place in the intensely politically-charged atmosphere of America where no event and no utterance is without political dimensions. Actually, this has been the case for a very long time, but it just hasn’t always been so starkly clear as it is now. The same Dan Rather mentioned above, rising star reporter back in 1963, shortly after the Kennedy assassination, told an audience of millions he had seen the legendary Zapruder film – an amateur 8mm film taken by a man named Zapruder which unintentionally recorded Kennedy’s death. Rather, in almost halting words and with eyes often turned downward suggesting the immensity of what he claimed to have seen, described to millions how the film showed Kennedy slumping forward after being hit in the back by a shot from the “sniper’s nest” with Governor John Connally then hit while turned around towards the President, coat open, widely exposing his white-shirted breast, and with a third shot causing the President “to move violently forward” as his head explodes. Except for the count of three shots striking the car’s occupants, Rather’s description was close to a complete fabrication, but the public didn’t know that until 1975, twelve years later, when the film was first broadcast. (There was actually at least one more on-target, non-lethal shot plus a missed shot hitting a street curb, but even Rather’s three shots, given before security officials had sorted out their story line, was ignored by the feebly-dishonest Warren Commission when it later told us there were only two shots plus a miss.) Even in the film’s almost-certainly doctored state – after all, it had been purchased immediately after the assassination, and held for years, by Life Magazine, a known cooperating resource for the CIA in its day - the film shows Kennedy in distress from a neck wound as he emerges from behind an expressway sign, almost certainly having been shot from the front owing to his body position and the motions of his hands. Connally does turn but his coat is not open exposing his shirt front, and, judging by the time interval involved, is hit by a separate bullet (something he himself maintained in all testimony). The film then shows Kennedy hurled backward as his head explodes, absolute proof by the laws of physics of a shot from the front.
American major news broadcasts and newspapers all have become hybrids of infotainment, leak-planting, suggestion-planting, disinformation, and other manipulative operations. Many of them, such as The New York Times or NBC, maintain a seemingly unassailable appearance of authority and majesty, but it is entirely a show much like a grand march being played as a Louis XIV sauntered into a room, at least when it comes to any important issue in foreign affairs and even most controversial matters in domestic affairs, as with the Kennedy assassination or a thousand other examples from election fraud to corporate bribery. Massive corporate media consolidation (six massive corporations supply virtually all the news Americans receive), the dropping of most foreign correspondent and investigative journalism efforts owing to high costs, the constant and ready compliance of the few remaining owners of news media to adhere to the government line no matter how far-fetched, plus America’s now non-stop interference into the affairs of other people, have made American television and newspapers into a kind of Bryan Williams Media Wonderland where no reported item of consequence can be accepted at face value.
The owners of America’s news media have every reason to comply with government wishes. Failure to do so would immediately cut them off from access to government officials and from the kind of juicy leaks that make journalists here and there look like they are doing their jobs. It would also be costly in the advertising department where the sale of expensive ads to other huge corporations is what pays the bills. And it would simply not be in keeping with the interests of the very people who own massive corporate news outlets. After all, it was an American, A. J. Leibling, who told us with precise accuracy, “Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one.”
Americans, the broad mass of them, simply do not know what is happening in Ukraine or in Syria or in Palestine or in a score of other places under assault by America’s establishment, its de facto, ongoing, non-elected government. Those place names are mentioned of course, and regularly, and various interviews are conducted, and maps and charts are shown, but the careful listener or reader will see that none of what is offered is genuinely informative, all of it serving to build one pre-determined idea of events, many of the words resembling the kind of one-liners politicians repeat over and over in America’s literally content-free political campaigns. We see many bits and pieces of seeming information, but they are all just pieces taken from the same jig-saw puzzle, capable only of being assembled in one way.
Americans also have very little idea of the nature of the men who are the actors in these various places, America’s press and networks virtually never granting or soliciting the insights of foreign leaders and representatives not already toeing the American line. Thoughtful foreign leaders generally are only seen through brief images and highly-colored descriptions.
Americans also are rarely informed of the consequences of their government’s acts, informed in hard facts and numbers such as the number of deaths and injuries and the extent of destruction. America’s press has covered up countless facts such as the number of Iraqis killed in the First Gulf War, the number of Iraqi children who perished under an American embargo so feverishly championed by Madeline Albright, or the number of Iraqis killed and crippled by the George Bush’s “I’ll go one better than Pappy” invasion. They never saw pictures of women and children torn up by cluster bombs unless they deliberately searched them out on the Internet. When Americans are given numbers, such as deaths and refugees, as in the American-induced Syrian conflict, it is only because the numbers are said to be the Syrian government’s responsibility, with no reference to the gangs of foreign mercenaries and thugs paid and armed by America or its associates in the region.
For Ukraine, any numbers and facts Americans receive are shaped to fit the construct of an aggrandizing Russia, led by a new Czar intent on upsetting the balance of Europe, opposing a now free and democratic government in Kiev. You can almost imagine the smiles and snickers of the good old boys gathered in planning meetings at Langley a few years ago when they realized how their scheme could both give them Ukraine and discredit Putin, the only reasonable actor in the whole dirty business. No images of Ukrainian militias and thugs displaying swastikas and other neo-Nazi symbols, no discussion of repressive measures taken by the new crowd at Kiev against Russian-speakers, no discussion of a country starting a war on its own people who stood up for their rights, and no discussion of an incompetent Ukrainian military shooting down a plane-load of civilians.
I don’t know whether Brian Williams just became so comfortable over his years of work broadcasting fantasies that he grew easy about adding a personal tall tale or whether he may suffer from some unfortunate disability, but his ridiculous affair does provide us reason to focus on contemporary American journalism’s real function, which is anything but journalism. I think it likely the reason corporate news executives were in a flap over the affair, having handed Williams a 6-month suspension, is not scrupulous concern for truth – there simply is no such thing in such organizations - but fear of having one of the chief presenters of so many other misrepresentations made a laughing-stock.
Monday, January 26, 2015
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
The Origin of Modern Terror and Crumbling Western Values
Do you ever solve problems by ignoring them? Most of us would say that is not possible, yet that is precisely what western governments do in their efforts to counteract what is called “Islamic terror.” Yes, there are vast and costly efforts to suppress the symptoms of what western governments regard as a modern plague, including killing many people presumed to be infected with it, fomenting rebellion and destruction in places presumed to be prone to it, secretly returning to barbaric practices such as torture, things we thought had been left behind centuries ago, to fight it, and violating rights of their own citizens we thought were as firmly established as the need for food and shelter. Governments ignore, in all these destructive efforts, what in private they know very well is the origin of the problem.
Have Islamic radicals always existed? Yes, we have records through the history of British and French empire-building of strange and fearsome groups. It appears every large religion has a spectrum of believers, always including at one end of the spectrum extreme fundamentalists. They are not a new phenomenon anywhere, so why has one group of them, in the sands of the Middle East, become part of our everyday awareness?
It is also nothing new that young men become hot-blooded and disturbed over what they regard as attacks upon their kind. Western society’s record of crusades, religious wars, colonial wars, and revolts, a total likely having no equal in the histories of the world’s peoples, offers countless examples of young men being angered by this or that circumstance and joining up or running off to fight.
George Bush told us today’s terrorists hate our freedom and democratic values, but like virtually every utterance of George Bush, that one was fatuous, explaining nothing. Nevertheless, his is the explanation pounded into public consciousness because governments and the corporate press never stop repeating versions of it, the Charlie Hebdo affair and its theatrical posturing over free speech being only the latest. Theatrical? Yes, when we know perfectly well that most of those who marched at the front of the parade in Paris are anything but friends of free speech.
All backward peoples are uncomfortable with certain western values, that being the nature of backwardness, and backwardness is a defining characteristic of all fundamentalist religious groups – Hasidic or ultra-Orthodox Jews, Mennonites, Roman Catholic Cardinals, cloistered nuns, Sikhs, and many others - who typically choose modes of dress, rules to obey, and even foods to eat having little or no relationship with the contemporary world and science. Of course, that is their right so long as they are peaceful and law-abiding.
Any fundamentalist group, pushed by more powerful people from outside their community, is entirely capable of, and even prone to, violence, and all human beings are capable of violence when faced with abuse and injustice. Centuries of religious wars and terrors in Europe about such matters as how the Mass is celebrated prove the proposition and should be held as a warning, but they are forgotten by most, if they were ever known. The tendency towards violence continues today amongst many fundamentalist faiths. In so relatively small and seemingly homogeneous a society as Israel, there are regular attacks from ultra-Orthodox Jews against the country’s worldly citizens or against fair-minded rules about such pedestrian matters as women riding buses or walking on a street. The attacks become quite violent – punching, spitting, burning down homes, and killing sometimes - and all go against what we call western values, but because the scale is fairly small, and our press also has a constant protective bias concerning all things Israeli, these events rarely make our mainline news. They must be found on the Internet.
It took Western Europe literally centuries to leave behind such recurrent and violent themes as witches and the need to burn them alive, the Evil Eye, casting out demons, execution for differences of belief, and countless other stupidities which characterized whole societies and destroyed lives. And if you want to go still further back, go to the Old Testament, a collection of ancient writing packed with violence, superstition, prejudice, and just plain ignorance, which Christians and others even today regard as containing important truths for contemporary life. Human progress, at least in some matters, takes a very long time indeed.
Our world has more backward people than most of us can imagine. The news does not feature their extremes and savageries because it serves no political purpose. In Africa, for example, we find practices and beliefs utterly repellent to modern minds: the practice of senior village men raping young girls as an accepted right, the genital mutilation of 3 million girls annually (an African, not an Islamic, practice), the hunting down and butchering such “strange” people as albinos, their parts to be eaten as medicine, and many others. In India, a country well on its way to becoming modern yet one with a huge backward population, we have practices such as marrying off mere girls to old men rich enough to pay dowries to poor parents. At one stroke this enriches the parents and relieves them of the burden of a child, a female child too, always viewed less favorably. The practice generates a large population of widows when the old husbands of girls married at, say, twelve die. These women are then condemned to entire lives as widows, never allowed to remarry, required to dress and eat in certain ways, and basically shunned to live in squalid equivalents of old folks homes., living entirely meaningless lives. India also has the practice of “bride burning” where new brides who are deemed unacceptable for various reasons become the prey of the groom’s family, literally being burned alive. There are many other barbarities in that society too, including “honor killing” and young women who are made inmates in certain temples to serve as glorified prostitutes.
Our press assiduously avoids much of the world’s horrors as it focuses on “Islamic extremism,” and politics are the only explanation for the bias. The press theme of Islamic terror and indeed real incidents of terror grow from a reality always taken for granted, never debated, and certainly never criticised: the elephant in the room, as it were, is Israel’s illegal and agonizingly long occupation of the Palestinians.
It may be not be important to our press and governments that Israel holds millions as prisoners, crippling the lives of generation after generation, or that Israel periodically strikes out in every direction – Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank – causing the deaths of many thousands, or that Israel is seen to bulldoze people’s homes and sacred monuments with complete impunity, but it very much matters to many millions of Muslims in the world, and some of them, fundamentalist men, strike out against it just as young men everywhere have sometimes struck out against keenly-felt hurts and injustice.
In western countries, under the hard influence of America, a country in turn under the hard influence of the world’s best organized and financed lobby, the Israel Lobby, we have come to regard Israel’s behavior as normal, but it is, of course, not normal, not in any detail. What is normal about holding several million people prisoner for half a century? What is normal about bulldozing homes and literally stealing the land upon which they stood? What is normal about declaring an honestly elected government as criminal and treating its people as though they were criminals? What is normal about limiting people’s opportunity to earn a living or to import some of the needs of life? What is normal about killing nearly a thousand children, as Israel has done just in Gaza, since 2008?
Pretending that Israel’s behavior is not the major cause of what screams from our headlines and news broadcasts has reached absurd levels. America has only vastly compounded the problem of Israel’s organized abuse of a people: it and its silent partners have destroyed Iraq, destroyed Libya, are working hard to destroy Syria, have seen to it that Egypt’s tens of millions again live under absolute government, ignore countless inequities and barbarities in secretly-helpful countries like Saudi Arabia, and carry out extra-judicial killings through much of the region. All of it is carried out on Israel’s behalf and with Israel’s cooperation. Can any reasonable person not see that this vast factory of death also manufactures countless grievances and vendettas? The stupidity is on a colossal scale, rooted in the notion that you can kill your way out of the terrible consequences of terrible policies.
In America, paid political shills (Newt Gingrich was one) have campaigned about there being no such thing as a Palestinian. Others (Dick Armey was one) have said that millions of Palestinians should be removed, all their land left conveniently to Israel. That last is an odd thing to say, isn’t it, considering there are supposed to be no such thing as Palestinians? And just what country would take millions of “non-existent” Palestinians? Obviously no politician with even pretence of integrity would say such things, and how can intelligent and successful people like America’s Jews take satisfaction in hearing politicians reciting such embarrassing scripts? But this is a good measure of the way intelligence and sound thinking are scorned in American politics. How can you achieve anything worth achieving without intelligence and sound thinking? You cannot, but that doesn’t stop American Presidents and Secretaries of State from carrying on the world’s longest-running dumb show, something called the “peace process.” The sombre, moose-like figure of John Kerry is photographed playacting at statesmanship while American-supplied arms just keep killing thousands of innocent people.
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
JE NE SUIS PAS CHARLIE
The Extremely Dark and Unexamined Underside of the Charlie Hebdo Affair
We hear much about bloody events in Paris being an attack upon western traditions and freedom of the press, and I am sorry but such claims are close to laughable, even though there is nothing remotely funny about mass murder. It certainly is not part of the best western tradition to insult the revered figures of major religions. You are, of course, technically free to do so in many western countries – always remembering that in many of them, a wrong target for your satire will get you a prison term for “hate crimes” - but it does represent little more than poor judgement and extremely bad taste to exercise that particular freedom. What Charlie Hebdo does is not journalism, it is sophomoric jokes and thinly disguised propaganda. Hebdo’s general tone and themes place it completely outside the mythic tableau of heroic defender of free speech or daring journalism, it being very much a vehicle for the interests of American imperialism through NATO.
Of course, the best western traditions don’t outlaw what garments or symbols people may wear for their beliefs, as France has done. Note also the history of some of the politicians making grandiose statements about freedom of the press. Nicolas Sarkozy was involved a number of times in suppressing stories in the press, even once getting a journalist fired. Sarkozy is a man, by the way, who took vast, illegal secret payments from the late Muammar Gaddafi and from France’s richest heiress to secure his election as president. David Cameron had police seize computers at Guardian offices and allows Julian Assange to remain cooped in the Embassy of Ecuador to avoid trumped-up charges in Sweden. Cameron is also best buddies with Rupert Murdoch, the man whose idea of journalism appears to be what he can dredge up to exchange for what he wants from government. His Fox News in the United States enjoys a reputation for telling the truth only by sheer accident. Barack Obama is a man transfixed by secrecy and ready to use all of his powers to punish those who tell the truth, a man who holds hundreds in secret prisons, and a man who regularly oversees the extrajudicial execution of hundreds and hundreds of people in a number of countries.
The parade celebrating the good things of western tradition - which Obama missed but which saw now-potential presidential candidate Sarkozy shove his way to the front - also included such luminaries as the Foreign Minister of Egypt’s extremely repressive government, which, even as the minister marched proudly, held innocent journalists in prison simply for writing the truth. The Prime Minister of Turkey was there celebrating, a man who has put a number of journalists in jail. Celebrating rights and freedoms also was King Abdullah of Jordan who once saw a Palestinian journalist sentenced to hard labor for writing so simple a truth as that the king was dependent upon Israel for power.
We shouldn’t forget, too, that Israel targeted and killed a number of journalists in its Gaza invasions, that the United States’ forces in Iraq targeted and killed a number of journalists, and that “NATO” deliberately targeted Serbia’s state television service with bombing, killing many civilians. Free speech and western traditions, indeed.
There are more doubts and questions in the Charlie Hebdo affair than there will ever be answers. In part this is because the French security forces silenced witnesses, killing three assumed perpetrators in a display which seems to say that Dirty Harry movies are now part of French training programs.
And then we have the sudden death by apparent suicide of a police commissioner in charge of the investigation just as he was writing his report alone at night, an event which received little mainline press coverage. A man in his forties in the midst of likely the biggest case of his career just decides to kill himself?
We should all be extremely suspicious of a trained killer, seen as being informed and exceedingly efficient at his work, leaving behind his identity card in an abandoned car. It really is a touch more serendipity than we would credit in a mystery story. We should all be extremely suspicious of men so obviously well trained in military techniques, about men who were well informed about schedules at the offices they attacked, and about men heavily armed in the center of Paris. People serving in notorious killer outfits like America’s SEALs or Britain’s SAS rarely achieve such complete success as twelve victims, all shot dead, and an easy get-away.
And just to add to the confusion we have the video of one of the armed men shooting a police officer lying on the sidewalk. The armed man, face covered, lowers his AK-47 to within a couple of feet of the victim’s head and fires. The head goes down, but we see no blood. Have you ever seen photos of someone shot in the head with a high velocity weapon? That’s what the Zapruder film is about, and the results are more like an exploding pumpkin than a death at the end of a stage play. Even the propaganda-ridden BBC now has expressed doubts about the video.
We need to be more than suspicious about anyone or any event which has any connection with ISIS. ISIS is one of the terror groups assembled, armed, and supplied by Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States for the deliberate and wanton destruction of Syria. The two brothers killed in Paris both fought in Syria. It certainly would be easy enough for someone to have obtained an ID card there from one of them. Remember, the excesses of ISIS we all read about - at least those that aren’t clearly staged propaganda stunts such as video of a hostage beheading - are the direct result of assembling large bands of cutthroats and fanatics, arming them, and setting them loose to terrorize someone else’s country.
It is the simplistic view of ISIS that the involved intelligence services want us to have that it is a spontaneous fanatical rebellion in favor of one extreme interpretation of Islam. Despite many recruits for ISIS holding what are undoubtedly genuine fanatical beliefs, they almost certainly have no idea who actually pays their salaries or provides their equipment – that is simply the way black intelligence operations work. And those participating in such operations are completely disposable in the eyes of those running them, as when the United States bombs some in ISIS who perhaps exceeded their brief.
Every society has some percentage of its population which is dangerously mad, and if such people are gathered together and given weapons, their beliefs are almost beside the point, except that they provide the targeting mechanism used by those doing the organizing.
We should all be extremely suspicious about any event when a man such as Rupert Murdoch is quoted afterward saying, “Muslims must be held responsible for jihadist cancer,” as he was in The Independent. In case you forgot, Murdoch is a man whose news organizations for years lied, stole, and violated a number of laws to obtain juicy tidbits for his chain of cheesy mass-circulation newspapers. Murdoch also is a man who has had the most intimate and influential relationships with several prime ministers including that smarmy criminal, Tony Blair, and that current mindless windbag and ethical nullity, David Cameron. Publicity from large circulation newspapers, which can swing at a moment’s notice from supporting to attacking you, plus campaign contributions buy a lot of government compliance. Murdoch also is one of the world’s most tireless supporters of Israel’s criminal excesses.
And speaking of David Cameron, Murdoch’s made man in Britain, David felt compelled to chime in on the Hebdo publicity extravaganza with, “Muslims face a special burden on extremism….” Now, why would that be? No less than Murdoch’s creepy words, Cameron’s statement is an indefensible thing to say.
Who has a special burden for the massacre of students at Columbine High school in Colorado? Who has a special burden for Israeli Baruch Goldstein who murdered 29 Palestinians as they worshipped? Do Noweigians bear a special burden for Anders Breivik, who shot 69 people, mostly children, perhaps the most bizarre mass murderer of our times? Does the American Army bear a special burden for Timothy McVeigh’s horrific bombing in Oklahoma City, killing 168, he and his associates having met in Fort Benning during basic training, two of them having been roommates? Perhaps, in both these latter cases, Christianity bears a special burden since these people were exposed to that religion early in life? As was Hitler, as was Stalin, as was Mussolini, as was Franco, as was Ceaușescu, as was Pinochet, and countless other blood-drenched villains?
The late Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, was responsible for a great many murders, including about a hundred people bombed in a terror attack on the King David Hotel. He also was responsible for the assassination of the distinguished Swedish diplomat, Count Folke Bernadotte, and he started the invasion of Lebanon which eventually left thousands dead, but you’ll have a hard time finding him described anywhere as a “Jewish terrorist” or finding prominent people asking who has a special responsibility for his extraordinarily bloody career.
There is something hateful and poisonous in conflating the religious background of a criminal or mentally unbalanced person and his violent crime. We seem to do this only in cases involving violent men with Muslim backgrounds. Why? How is it possible that even one decent Muslim in this world has any responsibility for the acts of madmen who happen to be Muslim? This gets at one of the deep veins of hate and prejudice in western society today, Islamophobia, a vein regularly mined by our “free” press and by our ‘democratic” governments. Our establishment having embraced Israel’s excesses and pretensions, we have been pushed into worshipping the mumbo-jumbo of Islamic terror, a phenomenon virtually invented in Israel and perpetuated by Israel’s apologists as a way of stopping anyone from asking why Israel does not make peace, stop abusing millions of people, and return to its recognized borders.
Well, we do have an entire industry exploiting every event which may be imagined as terror. I read an interview with the great cartoonist, Robert Crumb, who happens to live in France. When asked if any other journalists had approached him on the topic of controversial cartoons, he said that there weren’t any journalists in America anymore, just 250,000 public relations people. That is precisely the state of American journalism. It digs into nothing, at least nothing of consequence, working full time to manage the public’s perceptions of government and its dreadful policies, from murdering innocents with drones and remaining quiet on the many American and Israeli atrocities of recent decades to manipulating fears of “terrorism” and saying little about such domestic horrors as the many hundreds of citizens shot dead by American police every single year.
The French government is reported to have been quite concerned about Benjamin Netanyahu showing up at the Paris march and making volatile speeches, and they specifically asked him not to come. At first, Netanyahu’s own security service, Shin Bet, agreed that he should not go because the parade in the streets represented a difficult security situation. But neither the host government’s formal request nor the security service’s concerns can stop a man like Netanyahu. France was advised he would come, and the French made their displeasure clear by saying they would then also invite Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestine Authority to the parade, which they did.
Netanyahu not only marched for the cameras at the front rank of a parade where he had no business, he made arrangements with the families of four Jewish victims for an all-expense-paid showy funeral in Jerusalem. None of the victims was even an Israeli citizen, yet at this writing they have all been buried in there with pomp and plenty of publicity. But Netanyahu didn’t stop there, he went on to make speeches that the French and other European Jews should leave their countries riddled with anti-Semitism and come to Israel, their true homeland. In diplomatic terms, this was what is termed unacceptable behavior which in almost any other case would get you thrown out of a country. In ordinary terms, it was outrageous behavior, much like seeing a seriously drunken guest loudly insulting his host at a party to which he was not even invited.
The ineffectual current President of France, François Hollande, sent notice to Jerusalem that the four dead shop victims were being awarded the Légion d'Honneur, France’s highest honor. The nation’s highest honor, founded by Napoleon over two hundred years ago for exceptional contributions to the state, awarded for the act of being murdered by thugs? Simply bizarre.
I don’t pretend to understand everything involved in this complex set of events, but it is unmistakable that we are being manipulated by a number unscrupulous and unethical people who use murder victims and the public’s natural sympathies for them as board pieces in some much larger game.
There is even a trivial side to these bloody events with many Parisians carrying signs which read “Je suis Charlie,” surely the kind of asininity posing as deep feeling that long has been established in the United States where Walmart teddy bears and plastic flowers with cheap slogans are regularly tossed in piles here and there as memorials to this or that. Perhaps Euro-Disney has had a more devastating influence on French culture than I realized.
Tuesday, January 06, 2015
THIS IS WHAT WAR DOES
A Canadian photographer named Bryan Adams (yes, the rock singer) has done something extraordinary in publishing a book of photographs of what war does to soldiers. The wounds of his subjects are not covered with gore as they would be on the battlefield. His pictures are clean studio shots. The subjects sometimes even are smiling. Their wounds are healed, at least as much as such wounds can ever be called healed, but the surrealistic sense of the pictures says something profound story about our society. We’ve done these savage things to our own young, and then left them to spend the rest of their lives struggling with the results.
For an institution which quite literally dominates human history, it is a remarkable that the real face of war is never seen by most people. The press goes so far in avoiding it that it creates a fantasy picture, in many respects resembling those beautifully done dioramas of lead soldiers in famous battles. It’s the same psychology at work when caskets containing the blasted remains of soldiers are draped with bright, cheery flags. And when war is over, there’s the home town parade with flags and drums and high-stepping baton twirlers in cute little sequinned outfights, with no sign of death or gore to be seen.
A few times in my life a bit of the truth has leaked out. During Vietnam, the first major war in the mature television age, the public was exposed to some of it. Not a great deal, mind you, but it was enough to provide governments a harsh warning on the effects such images have upon the public’s support for war.
Fairly early, television showed us Marines dutifully torching the thatched homes of peasants, I’m sure never giving a thought to someone’s doing the same to Mom and Dad’s farmhouse back in Indiana. But still we never saw a hint of the wholesale slaughters of a war which extinguished three million lives. We saw the distant flashes and puffs of smoke of bombings, including the instantaneous infernos of that hellish stuff, napalm, ripping across a landscape, but never a single frame of the resulting incinerated bodies. No newsreel ever showed close-ups of a village or city after American carpet-bombing by B-52s. We did see the odd distant shot of a prisoner falling from a high-flying helicopter but never the preceding close-up scene of his being hurled out by American Special Forces or intelligence operatives unhappy with his answers to questions.
I recall an American deserter speaking at a public meeting in Toronto of his raping a young Vietnamese woman and then emptying his rifle into her, an atrocity which is reported to have been repeated many times over the years. After all, what do you think happens when young men, often from the most marginal backgrounds, are dumped in a foreign place they cannot understand and often hate, armed with powerful weapons and under no normal restraints? Young men, especially under stress, are capable of almost any savagery, and you do have a responsibility to consider that reality before sending them off to terrorize others.
Early during Vietnam I recall another young man briefly interviewed on television whose face had been turned into a molten-looking mass, perhaps from napalm, his mouth consisting of a hole into which a straw could be inserted. What purpose could possibly be worth that sacrifice? I’m not sure, but I know it wasn’t a dirty colonial war in Vietnam started by cheating and lying to the people who had to fight it.
When Britain went to war in the Falklands, the warning of Vietnam was heeded. All the British people saw were selected, cleaned-up images of another dirty colonial war, images like a stalwart Maggie Thatcher waving off the Falklands fleet, and who on this planet could better play the role of a stern and impressive god of war than Mrs. Thatcher? She gave Winston Churchill himself a run for his money.
I did read of one instance of a dead or dying invading British soldier having been photographed on the beach with bowels torn open and spilled out, but the image was suppressed.
Some very heroic cameramen from the Middle East did obtain shocking images of the savagery of America’s war in Iraq, a war in which cluster bombs were heavily used but also white phosphorus and depleted uranium shells. I recall images of horribly mangled children, burnt smudgy corpses, a woman virtually smashed into the ground, and others, but they were only a small sample of America’s destruction of a million or so souls.
The images were found on not-widely-known sites on the Internet, even Al-Jazeera itself being then not familiar to most Americans. The images never made their way onto the pages of The New York Times or the evening news on NBC where they would have been seen by the millions of ordinary Americans in whose name the atrocities were committed. The American military does appear to have made an effort to target foreign journalists trying to capture some truth, killing the messengers, as it were, in the spirit of vicious boys ripping the wings off butterflies.
There were still other images from Iraq on the Internet, and these came straight from America’s own dear “boys in harm’s way.” There was an Internet site, briefly, which provided young American soldiers with free access to raw pornographic sexual images in return for their submitting raw pornographic war images, as from cell phones and the like. There were reportedly large numbers of takers on the offer, sending in their snaps of things like bloody boots with bits of leg sticking out or of a human head half turned into beef tartar before Pentagon matrons dedicated to decency in war closed the operation down.
America’s horrors at Abu Ghraib were heavily censored. According to America’s best investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, we saw only the most innocuous images of degrading treatment, the frat-boy pranks with naked humans, dog leashes, and shit. We did not see the hard-core stuff of torture, rape, including of children, and death, pictures which did in fact exist but were suppressed. The stuff from Guantanamo was along the same lines, images of degrading treatment, men in jump suits and chains kneeling in tiny cells – just enough for the folks back home to say “Good, it’s what they deserve,” but not enough to shock or terrify Americans about what was being done in their name.
I recall an image from Israel’s first savage assault on Gaza, one killing several hundred children and more than a thousand others, an image of a narrow street running with a small river of blood and desperate people trying to pass without stepping into it. Such images are rare because Israel allows no one access to document its filthy work. Even after the savagery is over, various organizations and officials generally are refused entry even on humanitarian missions, as is the case today after a second mass murder in Gaza killing even more children than the first.
War is such a time of fearful darkness and chaos that great horrors can be hidden easily under its cover. In Afghanistan, three thousand American prisoners were “disappeared” by one of America’s war lord allies by being taken out in sealed trucks into the desert to suffocate, their bodies then dumped into mass graves. This occurred shortly after American Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made a shameful Nazi-like public statement that the large numbers of Taliban prisoners being held in Afghanistan should either be killed or walled away for the rest of their lives. This war crime was committed right under the noses of occupying American soldiers and clearly with Mr. Rumsfeld’s secret blessing, and it has never been featured or investigated except by a British documentary film maker.
It is invariably human nature to show others our work, of any kind, when we are proud of what it is that we have done. The great irony of war is that we invariably are ashamed of what we have done, and yet we repeat, some of us, the work again and again.
Another great irony of war is that it is almost never about defending ourselves, although that is what the propaganda never stops telling us that that is what it is about. That is why America uses the term Department of Defense, and Israel calls its army the Israeli Defense Force.
What was America defending in Vietnam, in Cambodia, in Serbia, in Afghanistan, or in Iraq? Only its right to tell others what to do, a right based solely on the concept of might makes right, the slogan of the bully. So too for its many violent and destructive interventions using hired thugs into the affairs of others, whether in Cuba, Chile, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Iran, Syria, Ukraine, or other places.
What does Israel defend in its endless assaults upon its neighbors, none of them remotely capable of seriously threatening Israel much less destroying it, and its ceaseless hectoring for even more war in the region? Again, nothing more than the right to tell others what to do, a right based only on might makes right. And what of its countless assassinations in half a dozen countries, of its interference into the affairs of Egypt, Iran, Syria, Iraq, and other countries?
I notice something in what I’ve written. While I started with war’s effect upon soldiers, almost all my words deal with civilians, and that brings us to the greatest irony of modern war: soldiers are just a tiny part of those killed and brutally injured. It cannot be otherwise with missiles, heavy bombing, and other indiscriminate weapons. Modern war is mass killing of civilians, always and everywhere, a practice which evolved in World War II and has done nothing but progress in that direction since. Even when they aren’t the actual targets, as in America’s nightmarish assassination-by-drone project, large numbers of dead or mangled civilians are the unavoidable consequence. Well, if you’re in for killing mere suspects as in the drone project, I guess extra civilians don’t mean much, do they? “In for penny, in for pound,” as they say.
We’ve even developed special language for the realities of indiscriminate killing. Israel, at the very least, always is said to be killing “militants.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve never met a “militant,” and I doubt I’d be able to recognize one walking down the street. But our clever press instantly recognizes them when they are shot full holes by Israeli soldiers. You see, Israel simply can never be wrong in our press, so if it hasn’t killed terrorists, it has to have killed “militants,” and that’s surely almost as good.
As for the tens of thousands maimed and slaughtered by America’s hideous bombings in many lands, well, they are called, right on the evening news by announcers in pancake makeup with blow-dried hair in momentarily subdued tones just before moving on to the sports scores, “collateral damage.”
Tuesday, December 30, 2014
AMERICA STUMBLES THROUGH ANOTHER YEAR, SPREADING CHAOS AND TRIVIA EVERYWHERE IN ITS PATH
The Palestinians are seeking a vote in the United Nations’ Security Council on a resolution favoring their statehood, unquestionably a reasonable proposal in the minds of most of the world’s people. Of course, the United States, a permanent member of the Security Council, would automatically veto such a resolution, as it vetoes all efforts to restore order to the chaos of the Middle East. And of course, were such a resolution somehow miraculously to pass, Israel would simply ignore it, as it has ignored a long list of binding UN resolutions. But a veto and certain contempt are not enough for an upright, God-fearing Southern gentleman like US Senator Lindsey Graham. He busied himself recently with threatening America’s withholding funds from a United Nations that gets involved in the “peace process.” Imagine, the United Nations getting involved in peace? That is a chilling thought. Since the United States has a history of withholding its UN dues against its solemn treaty obligations to bully its way to certain changes, such threats do carry weight.
Senator Graham, regarded neither as an idealist nor a voice for peace, is only doing what so many American politicians do under the unbelievably corrupt, money-drenched American election system, and that is to make ridiculous public statements about the Middle East in return for generous dollops of campaign funds from the world’s most tireless political lobby, that for Israel. You might think that the lobby itself would tire of funding backwater blowhards demanding the other ninety-five percent of humanity play the game by America’s rules or America is picking up its marbles or chips or whatever and going home, but clearly it does not.
“The peace process” is the longest running farce on the planet, continuing for nearly fifty years. It might have been funny in the vein of The Mouse That Roared, but there is nothing remotely funny in the killing of thousands of people and the extreme abuse and hopelessness of millions. You just could not make a worse hash of a diplomatic and human welfare situation than America has made in the Middle East. And the situation has only intensified in its cruelty and injustice. Today, Israel openly and regularly steals homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. It threatens ancient Muslim shrines and desecrates some of them. It has savaged Gaza, the world’s largest open-air prison camp, twice, killing close to four thousand including nearly a thousand children. It has attempted to starve Gaza’s people out with a years-long embargo, and is making ugly noises about still another invasion. It is about to steal Syrian oil on the occupied Golan Heights, drilling there illegally, and it is busy arranging the theft of offshore natural gas that belongs to Gaza and Lebanon. It does all of this with complete impunity and not even a cross word from the likes of Senator Graham. I do think the Middle East provides the strongest possible evidence of the complete unsuitability of the United States to play a dominant role in international affairs. It is genuinely a case of the inmates running the asylum.
In another example of chaos mixed with farce, the United States pretends to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and while that charade continues, planes loaded with American weapons keep flying out of Turkey to make the seeming lunatics even stronger. Indeed, the various ragtag factions trying to overthrow the Syrian government, cutthroats assembled by the US and its friends from all corners of the globe in a kind of hellish foreign legion, announced a new alliance, so telling Washington’s approved terrorists in the conflict from those who haven’t made the cut is more difficult than ever. Recently, one or another of the lunatic mobs shot down two fighter jets, and how do you think they managed that without American anti-aircraft missiles? Turkey’s certifiably unbalanced president, Tayyip Erdoğan, one day makes fiery speeches threatening Israel (to please the poor fools voting for him) and the next makes new secret deals with Israel. Remember, this is a man who just built a one-thousand room palace for himself – yes, that’s right, exactly one thousand rooms – and it is the ugliest, most pointless large structure built since the early Soviet era, a kind of gigantic sprawling warehouse incrusted with jewels and filled with porcelain.
Well, dippiness is no barrier to membership in a secret club in the region which includes the UAE, Saudia Arabia, and Israel, all lovingly assisted by the US. They are all governments who regard change as desirable only when it results in an even more rigid status quo, as in Egypt. Never mind the welfare of the region’s people or democracy or human rights or national boundaries. These guys resemble twelfth century lords seeing paupers cross their paths: they run them down and proceed to a rollicking good dinner in the great hall. The club is all about security for hereditary monarchs, security for America’s crusader fortress colony in the Middle East, and security for helper states in the American agenda. We’ve had many reports recently of secret air-freight flights between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi. We also have reports of flights out of Turkey into Syria. The never explained events at Benghazi were undoubtedly blowback from an operation collecting unemployed thugs and arms for secret shipment to Turkey and then into Syria. Saudi Arabia is voluntarily taking a bath by pushing oil prices down, a favor to the US and Israel and Turkey and a way of hurting Russia, Iran, Syria, and even Venezuela – all current members in good standing of Captain America’s ever-changing galaxy of villains – aka, the Axis of Evil. The US is willing to sacrifice for the time being its booming shale oil industry, whose more costly production requires higher prices than Saudi conventional crude, in return for the Saudi sacrifice.
Since both countries are desperate to hurt Russia, Iran, and Syria, the deal is a marriage made in Realpolitik heaven. Russia has helped Syria and does business with Iran, and Saudi Arabia and Israel hate Iran and Syria. The US has made a large investment in toppling Syria for Israel’s benefit, but the plan has been thwarted by Syrian endurance and Russian help. The plan also overlooked the loyalty of important Syrian societal groups to President Assad, but America often overlooks details as it attempts to reshape the world to its liking with bombs. Of course, there was also the precedent of Iraq, a bloody fiasco that achieved nothing but a million deaths and splintering a country into pieces. That splintering, by the way, continues with the ISIS fiasco: Iraq’s Kurds are being used against ISIS to strengthen their own region’s quasi-independence from Iraq.
The chaos the secret club-member countries have created in Syria – perhaps 200,000 killed and a couple of million refugees – appears not to bother them in the least, just so many paupers in the roadway when galloping home to dinner at the great hall. The victims do provide useful free material for the propaganda war being waged, the understanding implicit in America’s and Canada’s and Europe’s press being always that President Assad is responsible for the catastrophe. The US, and cheerleaders on the sidelines like Canada’s current dismal right-wing government, are doing virtually nothing for the refugees, or for the many civilians crippled or wounded. Ironically, Israel actually accepts for treatment in its northern medical facilities some of the very fanatics wounded in the dirty work. After all, it is ultimately Israel’s dirty work they do, regardless of their fanaticism. It’s a phenomenon we might call selective terrorism: fanatical killers who do America’s work, or Israel’s, are not treated as terrorists at all. No matter how many women and children you kill, no matter how many places you bomb, you only become a terrorist if you oppose the interests of America or Israel.
The toll in killed and wounded and homeless in Eastern Ukraine continues to mount. New punitive measures come regularly from Kiev, undoubtedly with American advice about possible vulnerabilities – after all, a top cabinet minister in the coup-created government is American. Only the other day we read reports of Ukrainian militia-types, the kind of right-wing thugs who helped the US overthrow an elected government in Kiev, blocking food traffic into the East. Attempting to starve people into submission is defined in international law as a war crime, but we hear no word of concern from America, just as we heard no word of concern for Israel’s original blockade of Gaza which actually included a calculated level of calories intended to just keep the population alive (since modified under intense secret international pressure).
In all these induced chaotic situations, we hear little or nothing from the UN, an institution which should be among the first condemning aggressive behavior. But the UN, despite the many differing private views of its members, is now in all official capacities under the thumb of the US. Its current Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, a candidate favored by America, is ineffectual and behaves at times almost as though he headed an organization having nothing to do with peace or human rights.
Well, there is some intimidating history. Boutros Boutros-Ghali was the only UN secretary-general not to be elected to a second term in office, and the reason was an American plan to be rid of him, one of Madeleine Albright’s glorious career achievements. America vetoed his second term because it was most unhappy when he did not embrace the bombing of Bosnia, and they disliked other of his views which tended to be thoughtful and compassionate. Earlier, Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, a much admired man, was assassinated in an engineered plane crash, said to have been the work of Belgian mining companies unhappy with the UN’s policies in Congo, a place the mining companies had drained of wealth for decades of brutal exploitation, but I think it unlikely anything of that nature happened without at least a nod of approval from Washington, which after all was a major customer for the products of Congo.
The evidence is piling up, despite delays and many irregularities in the official investigation into the crash of airline Flight MH-17 in Ukraine, that a Ukrainian pilot deliberately shot the plane down. His fighter is said to have been armed with air-to-air missiles on take-off, something completely out-of-the-ordinary in the conflict since Eastern Ukrainians have no air force. It returned, according to an eye-witness, with no missiles and the pilot’s muttering cryptic phrases. Of course, this would be the kind of act you might expect from people who used sniper rifles earlier this year to kill many hundreds of civilians in Maidan, the central square of Kiev, in order to terrorize the population and start the coup. But where is America’s voice in these grotesque doings? As Russia has patiently pointed out, an American spy satellite was virtually overhead at the time of the crash, so definitive evidence exists without a doubt but is not produced. But then neither is it produced for the destruction of Flight MH-370 in the Indian Ocean, an event it is virtually certain was the work of American forces at the secret Diego Garcia base as the plane came their way for whatever unknown reason.
The irregularities around Flight MH-17’s investigation include Malaysia, owners of the airline, being excluded from the group conducting the investigation and include the fact that segments of the wreckage were left behind at the crash site, and that after taking a very long time to get there in the first place, making manipulation of forensic evidence possible and even likely. We also have the absence of any American satellite or radar records, and we have not a word about the autopsy on the pilot, something which might solve the entire mystery, as from the discovery of Ukrainian missile fragments in his body.
What kind of world do we want to live in? One where coups and civil wars are engineered for the pleasure of others? One where airliners full of people are shot down deliberately? This is the chaos, and just part of it, America has bestowed upon us in the twenty-first century. I won’t even go into the financial tsunami it created in 2008 with the same lack of caution for others and concern about doing things correctly. The full impact of that has yet to strike us all.
But America brings laughable trivia, too. The President of the United States spending time and breath on the hacking of a private company’s web site? A Japanese company, no less? And turning the relatively trivial business of hacking, which happens every day now somewhere, into an international incident by blaming, almost certainly incorrectly, North Korea?
The President said the FBI had investigated and assured him that North Korea was responsible. What he didn’t tell us was that the FBI has a decades-long record of being wrong, seriously wrong, a great deal of the time. Given the FBI’s history, it certainly is in the running for the title of Most Incompetent Security Organization in the Western World, although, like other national security institutions in the United States, it is grossly over-funded with money gushing out like water from broken plumbing. Americans pay more per unit of misinformation than likely any other people on the planet.
Anyone familiar with the record of the FBI listens to assurances like the President’s with a sarcastic smile at best (see FOOTNOTE for a partial list of the FBI’s viciousness and incompetence over the years). Shortly after the president’s silly words, we had several world-class tech experts tell us why it could not have been North Korea, and I’ll take bets against the FBI on this one from anyone.
It likely was someone at Sony doing a publicity stunt to promote what by all reports is a dud of a film, but why should the man with the biggest job in the world join in? Consider also the fact that if you make what can be viewed as a threatening comment or presentation of any kind against the President of the United States, you will be visited and interviewed by the Secret Service, who will then keep you on file permanently. Why is it okay to make a movie about the assassination of North Korea’s president then, the subject of The Interview? Sony certainly has right to do stupidly foolish things, but it is more than a little muddled for the President eagerly to support it. Will he now address the rights of porn actors in California to work without condoms?
As I write this, a British newspaper reports that some Sony employees have been quietly dismissed. Reported also is the discovery of a web site strongly suggesting disgruntled employees. See what I mean about America overlooking the facts before it acts?
FOOTNOTE ON HOW WRONG AND DISHONEST THE FBI HAS BEEN: The FBI was wrong in claiming there was no such thing as the Mafia, something J. Edgar Hoover insisted for many years while he gambled at their racetracks and stayed at their resorts for free, some biographers believing Hoover had been compromised by the Mafia with photos of his secret gay, cross-dressing life. The FBI was wrong in focusing huge resources for many years on the pathetic American Communist Party, half of whose small membership is said to have consisted of FBI agents. The FBI was wrong about the threat of Albert Einstein, seeking his extradition for a time and checking the contents of his garbage to his dying day. The FBI was wrong about the danger of Dr. Martin Luther King, and it played judge and jury with his personal life. The FBI was wrong about Dr. Wen Ho Lee of Los Alamos being a spy, although it ruined his career. The FBI was wrong about the crash of TWA Flight 800, taking an inordinate amount of time trying to let public interest cool and avoid the obvious fact that the crash was an accidental shoot-down by the American military, there being a radar track showing something like a missile rising towards the plane. Despite its vast resources, the FBI never saw 9/11 coming. One of its own senior agents, Robert Hanssen, was one of the more damaging spies of modern times, a man whose carelessness in many details, classic indicators of a paid spy, went unnoticed for years. The FBI was wrong in the Atlanta Olympic bombing, ruining the life of another innocent man. It couldn’t have been more wrong in its handling of the sad kooks at Waco, effectively murdering them all. So, too, at the Ruby Ridge standoff where an FBI sniper killed a woman and her child needlessly. The FBI Crime Labs were cited in the 1990s by the Inspector General for misconduct and manipulating evidence, something many had suspected for years. The FBI specialized for years in hurting the reputations of those it didn’t like or those it merely suspected, as by asking questions at their place of work and neighborhood, not have any proof of wrong-doing. The FBI, at least under J. Edgar Hoover, held career-threatening information obtained by spying over the heads of many prominent congressmen and government leaders, effectively blackmailing them to do its bidding. It did the same with non-government officials where it felt so inclined. The FBI was wrong about the assassination of President Kennedy, it being the only investigative agency for the lamentable, embarrassing Warren Commission, thereby assuming at least equal responsibility for its inaccurate, dishonest report. Indeed, the FBI did not reveal at the time that Oswald secretly worked for them as a paid informant (since documented). It also lied about evidence a senior FBI agent destroyed after the assassination, a note Oswald had written.