Monday, October 20, 2014
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
TRYING TO IMAGINE HELL
Christians have always had it wrong. Hell is not a place loaded with terrifyingly dramatic scenes and flaming Hollywood special effects. That not only seems improbable, it actually is rather unimaginative.
Hell must be a place where all the people you would hate spending five minutes with become your intimate neighbors for eternity. It would be filled with people who never had an interesting thought, who never cared about the beauties of the universe, who only ever grasped for more, and people who spewed hate and ignorance their entire lives.
Of course, it contains figures like Hitler, and the Fuhrer's closest associates sit gathered around to feel the mind-deadening, unremitting pain of hearing his views repeated in late evening monologues forever. Henry Kissinger will sit at Hitler’s feet, forced eternally to just listen, learning from the master as it were. One also finds the banalities and droning platitudes of George Bush. Imagine an eternal replay of his barely-literate mumbling, often stumbling over his own tongue while reciting his contributions to democracy and the goodness of America. Tony Blair will smirk, count his blood money, and display the smug stupidity of his smarmy smile forever. Madeleine Albright sits holding broken children’s bodies in her arms, an impious parody of Michelangelo’s Pieta.
But the halls of hell must also resonate with the sounds of lesser dark figures: the chirping vapidity of Sarah Palin pleading for campaign contributions over a bleeding moose carcass; the cowardly John McCain alternating between the black-faced rage of a world-class spoiled brat and his pose as the boyish hero who was shot down while bombing civilians in Hanoi; Bill Clinton’s syrupy Arkansas slop about integrity; Jonathon Edwards reciting his sugar-plum visions of America a million, million times; Newt Gingrich posed in a perpetual tableau telling his wife dying of cancer that he’s divorcing her for a hot babe; J.Edgar Hoover, cross-dressed as he was wont to do in his off-hours, shares an eternal loveseat embrace with his beloved Clyde Toland.
Folks who spent their entire lives grasping desperately for the substance of others fill the halls of hell with their moral emptiness, grasping still where there's nothing left to grasp. There are puffed-up philanthropists sitting eternally on corporate thrones in castle-like headquarters, one pretending to humility in turtleneck sweaters, offering dollops of tax-free interest earnings from their foundation-intact fortunes to humble petitioners. Phony pitchmen of every description spend eternity repeating and refining their insincere friendliness. You hear the words “folks” and “my friends” echoing frequently. An eternity of unwanted telephone calls, unwanted mail offers, and e-mail spam awaits everyone in hell.
The phony pitchmen of American think-tanks will be generously represented, still posing as genuine academics while regurgitating their paid propaganda eternally, much resembling actors in white lab coats pretending to be scientists in television headache commercials. Indeed, when you think about it, Americans seem very likely to fill a disproportionate space in hell.
The Jerry Falwells, Pat Robertsons, Franklin Grahams, and Jimmy Swaggarts thump their Bibles, sputter, gush theatrical tears, drop to their knees, and beg for money endlessly - all done to a background accompaniment of Tammy Faye Baker warbling hymns in a voice resembling a cat in heat at midnight in the backyard. Imagine, ten quadrillion years of that, and then in the words of the wonderful old hymn, "with no less time…than when we first began."
I suspect Hell actually looks a great deal like the world in which we live. It just excludes all the things that give us any hope and beauty and truth in life.
Friday, October 17, 2014
UNCANNY PARALLELS IN CHARACTER
I’m not one of those who scribble blunt little mustaches on pictures of politicians I dislike, but here I make some uncomfortable and I believe accurate observations comparing personality and character traits of a contemporary politician with one of history’s darkest figures.
I don’t know whether anyone else has noticed the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu and Adolph Hitler share uncomfortably similar personality and character traits. Certainly there are, and have been, other politicians who also share the same traits, but it is of particular concern today that a man of this nature dominates events in the Middle East. In the case of Hitler we can read about his personality and character in any of a number of scholarly biographies and histories of World War II. In the case of Netanyahu, we can see them displayed on the world stage despite an immense amount effort by public relations flaks and apologists to airbrush them. We have also, something we do not always have for contemporaries, the first-hand testimony of several world figures about key aspects of his behavior to which we wouldn’t otherwise be exposed.
One of Hitler’s most prominent traits was a driving will, really a consuming obsession, to re-build the world he inhabited into a place which conformed to his wishes, illusions, and prejudices. He was, if you will, the dangerous ideologue or dreamer par excellence. Several sweeping idees fixes dominated his thinking.
Identifying with Germany rather than the small country of his origin, Austria, he wanted to see that nation become as great and powerful as possible. Caught in the general blind enthusiasm when World War I was declared, he volunteered for service with Germany. He served with decorated bravery, receiving serious wounds, and ended with crushing disappointment over Germany’s defeat. Within a few years, if not earlier in private, he began thinking of himself as Germany’s man of destiny to lead the nation to future victory, making up for the humiliations of World War I. Undoubtedly, his own odd early life, full of humiliations for a man who always regarded himself as quite special, undoubtedly contributed force to his thinking.
Hitler was a supreme narcissist, one who came eventually around to regarding himself in messianic terms with regard to the German people and their future. As with all narcissists who gain authority through their skills and charm – yes, Hitler could be quite charming in private as many contemporaries have testified – it is easy for them to slip into sociopathic behavior. Lying and dissimulation were as natural as breathing for Hitler, and again as with all narcissists, there was no sense of wrong-doing but rather a sense of success in fooling others to serve his purposes. These qualities are not unknown in the politics of other democratic states, and we observe them in everyday life in fields such as finance or big-time selling.
Hitler was famous for the terrifying rages he could throw in private. Sometimes they were employed against generals or officials who raised objections to an idea or plan of his. It was a favorite method he used on the leaders of foreign states from whom he tried to extract concessions during a crisis negotiation. One can almost picture him sometime after the raging meeting, relaxing in private, laughing about the poor shocked witnesses. The rages were undoubtedly often genuine but they were also a part he played, and played quite convincingly.
Psychiatric studies of Hitler fail to find a psychotic mind. He was not mad, which of course makes his acts all the more frightening. It is easy to dismiss the violent acts of madmen, but the banality of evil is a far less predictable force in human society.
Hitler understood that America’s sheer size in population and resources made her very powerful through huge internal markets and economies of scale, and he wanted to achieve the same status for Germany. His central idea for doing so from his earliest days was the conquest of Russia, whose great resources and lands would be exploited by Germans and whose Slav population would be reduced to slavery. The world’s German people, according to his thinking, would then flourish and increase their numbers. His ideas about Russia had in part a fairly old lineage, there having been many past schemes and efforts to connect German know-how with Russian resources. Many thinkers in the world at the time saw Germany as the most important economic, scientific, and cultural force in Europe and saw Russia as an immense place inhabited by less enlightened people. All of his early victories in Europe were in preparation for the great Russian assault, many of them taken in reaction to those who sought to stop him.
Of course, Hitler’s thinking in such matters as the conquest of Russia was never just straightforward or analytical, being always blurred with a deep sense of values, almost a mysticism, related to early German mythology. Embracing the barbarism represented in these stories was his way of freeing himself of constraints he saw in German society holding back its progress, and embrace it he did.
Hitler had what all educated people today would regard as crackpot ideas about the nature of human biology, but they actually did not seem quite so far out in the 1920-30s when general understanding of such matters was rudimentary. Terms like race purification were not heard only from Hitler but from a surprising assortment of people in the West. The “land of the free,” for example, had government eugenics programs well before Nazi Germany, programs in which tens of thousands of American citizens were involuntarily sterilized, having been judged unfit for reproduction. Many famous American business barons supported these and other related views and policies, most notably Henry Ford who wrote openly, among other things, of the need for eugenics and of his visceral hatred of Jews. Hitler actually kept a photo of Ford in his Chancellery office. Other Americans who went out of their way to demonstrate sympathy with the Nazis included Prescott Bush, Randolph Hearst, Irénée Du Pont, Henry Luce, Joseph Kennedy, John Rockefeller, Thomas J. Watson, Charles Lindbergh, plus a host of executives in major American corporations who did business with the Nazis and generally regarded them exactly as Hitler regarded himself, as a bulwark against communism and social chaos.
Hitler’s views on race and people were twisted outgrowths of his brutal – he liked that term, considering it a compliment to his hard-nosed insight and rejection of sentimentality - views on the economy and the state. Despite using the word socialist as part of the name of his party, Hitler was a social Darwinist, a philosophy shared in one degree or another by many influential Americans even today from corporate leaders and “think tank” flaks to the Tea Party and many so-called libertarians. He used the term socialist as just one lure for support in the chaos of Germany from the 1920s into the early 1930s, a time when he tried fervently to be elected to office, something he never achieved (about 37% of the vote at his high-water mark, eventually being appointed as Chancellor by an aged President), but he used the term also because he felt always the state had the right and obligation to interfere in the economy to serve greater ends. Not a few Americans embrace the same view, so long as the areas of concern are limited to the military, the national security apparatus, or the well-being of huge corporations – with none of which Hitler would have disagreed.
He viewed the military as the supreme tool of the state, and he once said, when reminded many young men would die, that that was what they were for. Through the early- and mid-1930s, he built formidable new armed forces in Germany which put him in a position eventually to carry out his dream. In the end, Hitler did achieve something out of ancient Germanic mythology, not the part he wanted but something terrible which destroyed the lives of tens of millions, Gotterdammerung.
Netanyahu is also something of a transplant, having been born in Israel but having spent many years in the United States. His English has an American accent.
Netanyahu is notorious for his lying and his rages. While the general public often would not be able to detect all of the lies, those involving confidential or secret matters, we have the extraordinary testimony of former presidents Clinton and Sarkozy as well President Obama that you cannot believe one word that Netanyahu utters. He spins whole webs of lies to get what he wants or to avoid what he doesn’t want. I think it pretty clear that anytime he uses the words peace or a Palestinian state, he is lying. President Obama, in his earlier dealings with Netanyahu and before he was quite reduced to a spineless servant of powerful lobbyists, actually said he did not believe Netanyahu wanted peace. Certainly every step of Netanyahu’s political career supports the perception, from his early rejection of the Oslo Accords to his mass slaughter of fenced-in civilians in Gaza. Yes, he has made speeches about peace, but then so did Hitler who made a speech about peace in the 1930s, William Shirer called one of the greatest ever made.
His rages, at least some of them, are public knowledge. You may easily search for pictures on the Internet of Netanyahu shouting, finger pointing, red in the face, and virtually spitting with his eyes bulging like those of some ancient Asian warlord in a scroll painting. As was the case sometimes with Hitler, some of the rages may be deliberate acts but that does not make them any less frightening.
Netanyahu also adheres to a mythology, the biblical myths about the Promised Land and the narcissistic stuff about God’s chosen people, and that expression “God’s chosen people” is frightfully reminiscent of Hitler’s vision of the Germanic people. So far as I am aware, Netanyahu has not used that expression in public, but belief in it is implicit in so much that he does. It certainly is implicit in the very concept of claiming the ancient land of Israel as belonging to you and your people. People may be forgiven for believing such things in private as part of their religious faith, but when they provide templates for a state and its policies, they are utterly pernicious nonsense. Also, Netanyahu is known to have uttered in private and in not-so-private situations many contemptuous expressions describing Palestinians and Arabs.
There is a second layer of myth in Netanyahu’s thinking, one just as fantasy-like as Hitler’s Germanic myths, and that is the idea that he and his fellow countrymen are descended from the biblical Hebrews. The Ashkenazi Jews who are the bone and sinew of modern Israel are simply a European people, the name Ashkenazi meaning German. Recent DNA tests suggest the Ashkenazi trace to a woman from around Italy who migrated to Germany maybe a thousand years ago. Other tests suggest Ashkenazi origins as the Kazhars, a Caucasian tribe who were converted to Judaism and lived in and around modern Ukraine a thousand years ago, later migrating west, settling in a number of Eastern and Central lands. Some of the early Zionists and future Israeli politicians were well aware of this latter possibility, there being many suggestive clues in language and cultural artifacts, because they wrote and spoke of it. In all events, the native language of many Ashkenazi people is Yiddish, a hybrid of German evolved over a very long period. Hebrew has long been studied in the Hebrew schools associated with temples in many places as part of religious observance the same way many Muslims learn some Arabic and by biblical scholars in universities, but until it was artificially imposed on Israel, it was virtually a dead language spoken day-to-day by no one.
There is no record of the original Hebrew people of the Bible having been expelled en masse from Palestine, and such behavior was totally uncharacteristic of the Romans. The Romans faced many ferocious enemies in their conquests – the Celts, the Gauls, Germanic tribes, and others - as well as many people whose customs they regarded as barbarous, but they did not expel any of them en masse, or the Roman Empire would have been very thinly populated with no agricultural economic base to pay the taxes and tributes Rome always exacted. The stories of an expelled people wandering about here and there for ages are certainly as fanciful as the older Hebrew stories of Jonah or Lott’s wife or slavery in Egypt (which not one bit of archeological evidence has ever confirmed). All such stories are just as unsuitable to claiming territory as the Teutonic myths would be.
And they are particularly unsuitable to claiming a place already long populated by another group of people. In saying this, I do not question the existence of Israel, just its belligerent expansion. I do believe supporting its 1948 unilateral declaration was a matter of poor judgment and political skulduggery, particularly by the United States, because it created something completely not-in-keeping with its environment and a source of future ceaseless hostilities. But the mistake was made, and the world can accept an Israel which keeps to its early boundaries and behaves civilly to its neighbors – and that includes the Palestinians and even Hamas, it being a Netanyahu lie that Hamas will never do so since it has already said in private that it will. The problem is precisely that Netanyahu’s Israel does not want to keep those boundaries. The creation of Greater Israel is something we see underway year in and year out, slowly and brutally doing something not entirely different to what Hitler had dreamed of for Russia, taking the land and reducing its natives to slaves or people with no status and rights, untermensch, as he called them dismissively.
Some Israelis compare what they are doing to Palestinians with North America’s treatment of indigenous people, but that is an entirely false comparison. All indigenous people in Canada and America are citizens, and they may go to live and work where they wish. That is certainly not what Palestinians under Israeli control experience, nor is it what the Netanyahu-minded of Israel have in mind for the future, demanding always recognition as an exclusively Jewish state, a seemingly simple formulation which hides a multitude of potential evils. In any event, comparing the ethics of your behavior in the early 21st century to what others did in the 18th century - a time of general slavery, inferiority of women, and capital punishment for modest crimes - is a ridiculous proposition.
Although he has never declared so in public, judging by the totality of his aggressive acts and seizures with flimsy excuses, Netanyahu is dedicated to some form of Greater Israel, an Israel which includes the West Bank and Gaza and Jerusalem and even parts of Syria and Lebanon in most definitions. The Six Day war was deliberately engineered by like-minded Israelis earlier to lay the foundation of a future grander state. Netanyahu has never indicated disagreement with what was done. The millions of people who live in those places now are either to simply pick up and leave everything behind – going someplace, any place, Jordan or the Sinai having featured in Israel’s wishes at times - or accept perpetual existence as nonentities living in unconnected reservations behind walls and fences and earning their living as cheap temporary labor for Israel. If Netanyahu did not embrace this vision, he has had plenty of opportunity to end the nearly half century of repressive occupation but has never made the smallest effort to do so, only adding his own large-scale confiscation of more peoples’ homes and farms and a terrible, bloody investment and invasion of the open-air prison of Gaza. And when soldiers in the occupation zones kill innocent people, as they frequently do for slight provocations, they are never held to account, so too in the case of fanatical “settlers” who periodically swarm poor Palestinian farmers, chopping down or burning ancient olive trees or other property. Netanyahu’s voice is never once heard against outrages.
Netanyahu’s version of Greater Israel is a place that influences events and peoples around it for a thousand miles, as it already is doing in its early days, which is why the people of Egypt again live under American-influenced tyranny, the people of Syria are fighting armed madmen owing in part to Israel’s dark collusion, Iraq is left a broken and bleeding state, as is Libya, and Iran, which has started no wars and never threatened Israel, is threatened regularly in ugly rants from Netanyahu much resembling those of Hitler aimed at Czechoslovakia or other non-offending states he was eventually to destroy. It is of course to be a Greater Israel only for one kind of people. Those living in the occupied territories are kept miserably uncomfortable in hopes they will leave. Even the Arabs who are citizens of Israel – an unintended accident of events in 1948 and a purely technical status for them – are undoubtedly seen as leaving one day after living under the duress, as they do, of unequal laws and frequent attacks on their loyalty, especially once Israel has formal recognition as a Jewish state. Can you image a better formula for endless war and instability, a formula strongly resembling Hitler’s vision of Greater Germany, ending his rhetorical thousand year Reich in just twelve years?
Just as was the case for Hitler, Netanyahu is not a majority leader, his government depending on alliances with some even more unpleasant, extremist personalities, as for example his present Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who has made outrageously racist speeches and openly suggested pushing Israel’s non-Jewish citizens out of their homes. This sly pattern of underlings making distasteful suggestions represents a game Hitler, too, played. He did not always go on record himself saying the most terrible things. He often let lieutenants say them, observing to see the strength and direction of public reaction. All reasonable people will agree that the leader of a country must be held responsible for what his ministers say, unless the leader refutes the words in public and dismisses the offending minister, something we do not see from Netanyahu.
Again, looking for pictures on the Internet, it is not hard to find some of Netanyahu suggesting the ability sometimes to charm with a sly smile and inviting gestures. Here we also have the testimony of some world figures. He is apparently able to be quite charming in private, while at the same time lying through his teeth. The narcissism is clear.
The army too is the primary tool of state for Netanyahu. He himself served, was wounded, and he expects others to do so uncomplainingly, including those with religious objections. Israel spends an inordinate amount of money – its own and a great deal from others – on armed forces which are immensely out of proportion to its size and legitimate needs – that is, if you aren’t thinking in terms of conquest and occupation and arrogant demands, just exactly the terms which characterize Netanyahu’s entire career.
One of the interpretations of Hitler’s statesmanship and conquests, that of a modern biographer, Ian Kershaw, sees him as having been an obsessive high-rolling gambler who just kept raising the stakes until luck abandoned him. I actually cannot think of a better description of Netanyahu’s entire political career.
More than a few well known observers have said that Netanyahu quite possibly will end by destroying Israel, something I regard as distinctly possible, a parallel to Hitler’s Gotterdammerung for Germany. And in the meantime, countless people will be threatened, intimidated, imprisoned, tortured, or killed needlessly over a set of feverish, unrealistic obsessions.
Apologists for Israel often say that it acts with great restraint in its violence. Yes, Israel has not murdered the millions who live under its endless occupation, and in that limited sense only does Israel show restraint. Hitler murdered millions, but he did so largely in secret and under cover of the bloodiest war in all of human history, the invasion of Russia. The whole world watches Israel, even though Israel does a great deal to make observation and reportage difficult. But Israel works under conflicting impulses. It desperately wants to be considered as an open, modern, and democratic society, notions promoted in Netanyahu’s every speech aimed or delivered abroad and through truckloads of slick propaganda. It must be mindful of attracting immigrants and avoiding an exodus. It simply isn’t possible to completely shut the world out without Israel imploding, and it is hardly a merit not to have imitated Hitler.
But, remember, Israel has kept millions as prisoners for nearly half a century, depriving them of all rights, depriving them of property, offering them no hope, and terrorizing them with periodic home invasions, attacks, and atrocities. Freely-elected members of Palestinian governments have been arrested, leaders have been assassinated, and thousands of innocents at any given time languish in Israeli prisons where torture is common. The Palestinians have experienced such horrors as water wells poisoned, human waste dumped or sprayed, crops poisoned or otherwise destroyed, shops bulldozed, children shot for throwing rocks, and an entire police-state apparatus of check-points and identity papers and outrageous rules imposed twenty-four hours a day. There is nothing in Israel’s behavior resembling ethics or human values or even a genuine democratic impulse, and calling it restraint ranks as some of the world’s sickest humor.
Friday, October 10, 2014
THE TRAGEDY OF MODERN DEMOCRACY
I read and heard about Hong Kong’s students putting themselves at risk demonstrating for democracy, and my first instinct was sympathy, sympathy for their passionate idealism, but sympathy in another sense too, for their sad illusions. I ask myself, and it is not a trivial question, what is it exactly that they believe they fight for? Democracy has become such a totemic word, we all are trained to revere it, unquestioningly, almost the way 16th century people were expected to behave in the presence of the Host during Communion. But just where in the West do we see countries who call themselves democracies behaving in democratic ways, indeed where do we see genuine democracies? And if it is such an important concept, why should that be?
In Canada, to start where I live, we have a serious democratic deficit. A Conservative government today, elected to a parliamentary “majority” with about 39% of the national vote, behaves for all the world as an authoritarian government in many things at home and abroad. It turned its back completely on Canada’s historic support of green initiatives, embarrassing our people in international forums with blunderingly incompetent ministers of the environment. It has built a large new batch of prisons, completely against the general public’s sympathies and in contradiction to historically low and falling crime rates. It echoes the sentiments from Washington on almost anything you care to name and does so completely against Canada’s modern history and prevailing public opinion. It has lost the respect Canada once commanded in the United Nations. It has dropped Canada’s tradition of fairness in the Middle East, blindly supporting Israel’s periodic slaughters, ignoring the horrifying situation of the Palestinians. Only now the government decided to send fighter jets to support the American anti-ISIS farce, an act completely out of step with Canada’s long-term policy of using force only where there is a United Nations’ mandate.
But Canada still has a way to go to match the appalling modern record of Great Britain. Its recent prime ministers include Tony Blair and David Cameron – men, supposedly from separate parties, who both cringingly assent to America’s every wink or nod suggesting some policy, ever ready to throw armies, planes, money, and propaganda at questionable enterprises their people neither understand nor would be likely to support if they did. Promoting the mass deaths of innocents and the support of lies and great injustice are now fixtures in the mother of all parliaments. And, with all the scandals around Rupert Murdoch’s news empire, we got a breathtaking glimpse of how shabbily public policy is formulated behind the scenes, of how smarmy politicians like Blair and Cameron cater to unethical individuals of great wealth and influence.
Israel’s endless patter of propaganda always includes the refrain, “the Middle East’s only democracy.” The press does not think to ask how you can have a democracy with only one kind of person wanted as a voter and with only one kind of citizen enjoying full rights. Nor do they inquire about the millions who live under systematic oppression enforced by that “democracy.” Effectively, Israel rules millions of people who have no rights and no ability to change their status through any form of citizenship, not even the ability to keep their family home if Israel suddenly wants to take it. We have seen “democracies” like that before, as for example in South Africa or in the Confederate States of America, both places where people voted but only a specified portion of the people, millions of others being consigned to a netherworld existence maintained with a carefully designed structure of fraudulent legality. Ironically, viewed from the Middle East’s perspective, it is undoubtedly a good thing there are not more such democracies as Israel.
And the students should perhaps keep in mind the tragic example of Egypt. It too had huge demonstrations with thrilling moments like a dictator of thirty years fleeing and the nation assembling its first free election. But a brief spring garden of elected government was bulldozed after the government said and did things its small neighbor, Israel, did not like. There were more huge demonstrations and thousands of deaths and illegal arrests and the return to military dictatorship in a threadbare disguise of elected government. Eighty million people must now continue life under repressive government because seven million people with extraordinary influence in Washington can’t tolerate democracy next door.
As far as what Colin Powell once called, in a tit-for-tat with a French Foreign Minister, “the world’s oldest democracy,” well, he was just as inaccurate in that assertion as he was about hidden weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. America’s own founding documents do not proclaim a democracy but rather that most fuzzily-defined of all forms of government, a republic. It was a republic in which the President was not elected by the general population, where the Senate was appointed, where the Supreme Court had no authority to enforce the high-sounding phrases of the Bill of Rights, and where as little as one-percent of the population could even vote – it was, in sum, an aristocracy of wealthy and influential citizens dressed up in high-sounding phrases. The American Revolution was aptly summed up by a writer as “a homegrown aristocracy replacing one from abroad.”
And since America’s founding, while the voting franchise gradually has been extended to become nearly universal (prisoners and ex-convicts still often cannot vote in a nation with the world’s highest incarceration rate), equally gradual changes in the structure of America’s institutions pretty much keep that original form of government intact. At every level, barriers erected by the two ruling parties make it nearly impossible to establish an effective alternative party. Even getting listed on all the ballots was an immense task for a billionaire – Ross Perot - who in fact represented no substantive alternative by any measure. The two parties’ privileged position also is protected by the need for immense amounts of campaign funds, America’s regular election costs being in the billions, the Supreme Court having declared money as “free speech.” You do not get that kind of money from ordinary citizens, and you necessarily owe those who do supply it, and you simply cannot compete in American politics without it.
For major offices, the vetting of politicians is now so long and demanding that no candidate can possibly run who isn’t completely acceptable to the establishment. The campaign money simply will not appear otherwise. Such quiet political controls are now backed up by a gigantic military-intelligence establishment with such authorities and resources that it much resembles a government within the government. For example, with the NSA spying on every form of communication by every person around the clock, information about politicians is close to perfect. No undesirables can slip through and no undesirable policy can be enacted given the ability to threaten or blackmail every politician over his or her monitored personal and financial affairs. Nobody in his right mind calls that democracy.
The truth is that despite a long history of struggle, revolutions, and movements of various descriptions characterizing the West’s modern era, those with great wealth and influence still rule as effectively as they did centuries ago. Their rule is not as apparent and open to scrutiny as it once was, and there are many mechanisms in place to give the appearance of democracy, at least for those who do not examine closely. Modern elections require money and lots of it. Voters’ choices are limited as surely as they are in many authoritarian states. The ability of any elected officials to act in the public interest is curtailed by a powerful establishment and a number of special interests.
Once in power, modern democratic governments behave little differently than many authoritarian states do. Wars are started without consent and for purposes not in the public interest. Secret services carry out acts government would be ashamed to be seen openly doing. Armies for needless wars are conscripted or bribed into existence. Rights people regarded as basic may be suspended at any time. Injustices abound. Many “democratic” states practice illegal arrest, torture, assassination, and, above all, secrecy. Secrecy is so much a part of things today that when citizens do vote, they haven’t the least idea what they are voting for. Public education is generally poor, especially with regard to the real workings of government and the encouragement of critical thinking. The press has become nothing more than an informal extension of government, a volunteer cheering section, in many important matters. Voters go to the polls hardly understanding what is happening in the world.
So I praise the idealism and bravery of the Chinese students, but I know democracy everywhere remains only a small, hopeful glimmer in the eyes of people.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
THE CONQUEST OF EUROPE
Russia’s President Putin is reported to have said in a conversation a while back that he could be in Kiev in two weeks. In our press, this was reported as yet more evidence of aggressive intentions, but, given even a moment’s thought, that is a patently false interpretation. It is also further evidence, as if more were needed, of the level of desperation American propaganda around events in Ukraine has reached. It is almost as though America’s intelligence/news media alliance started mimicking the almost forgotten Soviet apparatchiks of decades ago.
Yes, undoubtedly, the Russian military could be in Kiev in a couple of weeks. The very fact that they are not only shows what nonsense we hear from America and the coup-installed government in Ukraine. Clearly, Putin’s words were to the effect, “I wouldn’t have to tolerate the mess on our borders in Ukraine if I truly had aggressive intentions. For goodness sakes, use your brains, I could be in Kiev in two weeks.”
This deliberate misinterpretation of a casual statement stands out for me as one of the most pathetic of many pathetic things coming from Western politicians and media. And it is deliberate, for if it were the truth that the intelligence service of a superpower could only interpret statements with such feeble understanding, the world would have entered a new era of extreme danger, with idiots advising the commander who has his finger on the launch button. But I know there’s no genuine danger of that. The interpretation is intended only to shape American public opinion, never very well informed at the best of times. It’s a sound bite not intended to provide real information, just a momentary association of something very negative with the name of Russia’s president, indeed one of a stream of sound bites broadcast recently as though they meant something, as though they were news.
It is a classic method of propaganda, closely related to the technique in advertising of repeating a phrase or slogan or jingle over and over, no matter how silly its actual content is on analysis, and like all the best propaganda, it starts with a truth no matter how insignificant, incompletely reported, and removed from context. But there are two deeply concerning aspects to what otherwise would just be garbage. First, it flows from the writers and editors of what is supposed to be a free and open press, not advertising agencies trying to sell personal hygiene products, and thus demonstrates once more how meaningless is the term, “free and open press.” When the American government has a point to make, even a point that is dishonest or silly, in supporting some ill-conceived and dangerous policy, the entire press instantly enlists to echo it across the land, offering saturation access to the public that could not be bought for millions of dollars. At least in matters of foreign affairs, American journalism does not exist outside the childish fantasies of young journalism students thinking they are going to dig for the truth and serve the right to know once they graduate. You know, the bilge about the press being the fourth branch of government, the tribune of the people, and keeping citizens informed.
But more worrying is why the government or the press in America wishes now to cast aspersions on one of the world’s most important leaders? It has been more than three decades since Russia and the United States were commonly understood as enemies, each capable of obliterating the other. Why would anyone want to look backward to that? And why would anyone deliberately attack a man who has proved himself a sophisticated statesman, one whose words and behaviors show more consistency than those of any of our Western leaders, and especially president Obama who has not spent a day of his time in the White House without killing someone somewhere and surely has matched George Bush for lack of character.
Such cheap propaganda is symptomatic of aggressive intent. I believe the United States’ establishment is starting to feel a new sense of its relative decline in the world, and it is desperate to shore things up by hurting new competitors. The so-called pivot towards China is one of its tactics, and the expansion of NATO right against the face of Russia is another. Both are provocative and risky. And I only wish the world could understand that the United States is not that far from being a de facto bankrupt. It has no money for anything except by the unsound and unethical practice of printing more of it, knowing its special position as a world reserve currency allows it to cheat holders of dollars around the entire planet with their devaluation. And devalue it will, sooner or later, effectively leaving most of the bill for its stupid wars to be paid by others.
Geography and many other factors, such as the distribution of energy and other natural resources, say that Russia and Europe are over the long term destined to be strong, natural economic partners. But the United States has been Europe’s partner – indeed, a good deal more than a mere partner since WWII - and it does not like the prospect of Russia in any way displacing it. It is utterly backward thinking, but we are discussing brains driven by hormones here, not by logic or good will. I recall at an energy conference I attended during the Reagan era meeting a representative from the American State Department whose main message was that we had to stop Russian gas pipelines into Europe. As a believer in people freely buying what they need from others freely selling what they have, I didn’t agree with him and said so, and the people of Europe clearly weren’t convinced because many pipelines exist and many billions of cubic feet of gas flow.
The United States has taken every effort to get some return for its costly investment in a half-failed scheme to destabilize Ukraine, and with each deft move of Russia, it has played the old “look out for the commies” theme, just tarted up a bit so it doesn’t seem laughably out of date. The combination of the expansion of NATO plus scare-mongering about Russia buys some time against what I believe is inevitable. And minds driven only by the hormonal impulse of being dominant – full-spectrum dominance is the grotesque Washington insider expression - are incapable of clearly analyzing a situation, regardless of their intelligence and technology and information resources. And they are certainly not capable of acting on behalf of the great basic principles of rights and freedoms with which they sloppily wallpaper their every public statement. They are blind to the chances they take, to the risks they expose all of us to, and to the damage they create for the happiness and prosperity of millions of people.
America’s elaborate dirty tricks in Ukraine were intended to make Russia considerably less secure. You can almost imagine the buzz-cut thugs at Langley having a good laugh over expense-account steaks and martinis when they first thought they had succeeded, the laughter one expects from sociopathic American frat-boys who’ve just played a very dirty joke on someone, as by drugging some poor girl’s drink at a party and raping her. Perhaps the intentions included a plan ultimately to base missiles in Ukraine near Russia’s border, which would be a tremendously provocative act. Certainly it was hoped that gradually Ukraine would become more western-oriented, although the prospect for a poor country like Ukraine, one with shaky democratic credentials and not a good record in human rights, becoming in our lifetime full members of Europe is simply not in the cards. After all, the U.S. keeps pushing for Israel to become part of major European organizations, but that is too much even for some of America’s yes-men in Europe to accept.
Accusing Russia of looking out for what’s happening on her borders isn’t an accusation, it’s what all states do everywhere. Goodness knows the case of Cuba should provide perspective and food for thought. The United States has needlessly hurt that country for half a century with its embargo, many of the chief traditional products of Cuba having been things to satisfy the American markets, such as sugar and tobacco. But an embargo alone was never enough to secure the desired dominance. The United States invaded Cuba with a proxy army of Cuban refugees it trained, supplied, and paid. It tried to assassinate Cuba’s leader, many, many times, and it periodically sent terrorist forces to blow or shoot up things in Cuba. Ships in ports were shot up, hotels were attacked, and an airliner full of people was bombed. When Cuba asked for the return of America’s base at Guantanamo, a base only leased from Cuba originally under duress, the United States simply refused and still illegally occupies the land half a century later.
Of course, America was quite ready to hurl the world into nuclear war when it discovered that the Soviet Union had placed missiles in Cuba as a way both of protecting its ally against new invasions and as increased leverage in dealing with an often inflexible and aggressive United States. The missiles were provocative, but most thinking people felt they were not adequate cause for nuclear war. Fortunately, President Kennedy was able to stand up against the terrible pressures of the military-intelligence establishment and reach a negotiated settlement with Premier Khrushchev, an act which many believe, including this author, later cost him his life in Dallas. Well, all that gives you just some idea of how America responds to what it considers trouble or meddling, even a hundred miles from its border.
We hear the accusation that Russia arms the rebels in Ukraine, as well as the Assad government in Syria. My answer is that America, which spends as much on its military as all others on the planet combined, is also the world’s largest arms dealer as well as a ready covert supplier to groups anywhere it deems as serving its interests, whether extremist groups, including ISIS, set up to destroy Syria or the Nazi-like groups affiliated with Ukraine’s new government and employed in its coup. America runs a virtual conveyor belt of death machines and munitions to Israel to keep it well supplied in upsetting peace throughout the Mideast and suppressing millions of people it took prisoner half a century ago, a situation which has ranked in my view as the world’s most dangerous until now. A great deal of the aggression and repression of Israel have to do with the fact that their best minds recognize the unfavorable situation into which they are locked: no population growth versus high population growth for Arabs, the most highly subsidized national economy in the world affording poorer prospects for most residents than their native places would, an interminable series of wars and repressions and acts which the world sees as atrocities, early dreams all soured by a sense of no way out, and perhaps a sense of having committed a colossal blunder in starting it all.
So in a very real sense, both America and Israel, unwilling or unable to deal with their tremendous problems in a statesmanlike, realistic, and enduring way, dance a hideous danse macabre, with the entire world forced to watch in fear and horror.
When you compare Europe today to, say, Europe of fifty years ago, something more than a little disturbing becomes apparent. Then, despite the height of the Cold War presumably giving reason for greater solidarity with America, there were many independent voices in Europe. France had a consistently strong and decisive voice, and it was determined not to be subservient to NATO. Britain, today perhaps the worst example of subservience to America in all things, also showed independence at critical points, as when it refused to send troops to the holocaust of Vietnam despite great pressure from President Johnson. Today, there are no independent voices, and despite the clear, long-term interests of Europeans in having good relations with Russia, we see country after country acquiesce to America’s demands for destructive sanctions. Even Holland, a country we think of as fair and tough-minded, issued an interim report on the destruction of Malaysian Airlines’ MH17 which told us nothing we already didn’t know. That was clearly at the insistence of the United States, unwilling to see its proxy government in Ukraine revealed for the violent and incompetent operation that it is. NATO, an obsolete organization by any measure, has been expanded, serving primarily the interest of continued American hegemony in Europe, and America pushes the idea of every member spending more on its military. The United States also has Europeans committing to plainly idiotic purchases, as in buying the F-35, a plane one great American fighter jet designer called the worst ever conceived. The plane cannot ever do what it was supposed to do because it was foolishly commissioned to do a bit of almost everything, and the Pentagon wants as many others chipping in to subsidize the immense cost of salvaging something from the wreck. Perhaps the F-35 is emblematic of a conquered Europe, throwing away money on junk because America expects them to do so.
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
FOREIGN AFFAIRS AS OPERA BUFFA: THE GLOBAL FIGHT AGAINST ISIS
There is a forgotten 1933 movie serial called The Three Musketeers in which three members of the French Foreign Legion are rescued by an American, a young John Wayne, using the machine gun on his biplane to mow down Arab bad guys threatening the Legionnaires in the Sahara. What was John Wayne doing flying around the French Sahara? He had flown over from France to visit his girlfriend. Why did he have a machine gun mounted on his plane? There wouldn’t be a story otherwise. Like all such series, it is silly, but it is notable for a plot which includes a secret organization called the Devil’s Circle led by a mysterious and evil figure called El Shaitan, someone who wants to destroy the Legion and, after many false leads, turns out in the last reel to be a western merchant rather than an Arab.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Substitute al-Qaeda for the Devil’s Circle, substitute Osama bin Laden for El Shaitan, and substitute the Mideast for North Africa. John Wayne remains John Wayne, symbol as they used to say on the voiceover for the 1950s Superman television show, “for the American way of life.” It does sound as though the script for al-Qaeda was lifted from the old serial. I’m sure someone at Langley would be able to confirm that. With all its twists and turns around the identity of El Shaitan, the story would make a great libretto for an extravagant opera buffa, or a Broadway comedy musical.
Of course, we had indisputable proof years ago, in the testimony of a former British Foreign Minister and several other significant world figures, that there was indeed no such organization as al-Qaeda, the Arab word commonly meaning “hole” or “toilet,” hardly the choice of cutthroats. The term was a convenient Washington insider shorthand to designate scattered, unrelated populations of Islamic bad guys, as Washington saw them, lurking in deserts and on mountain redoubts or maybe even hiding in Western cities, ready to spring into action at a signal from El Shaitan, I mean, Osama bin Laden. But the fact that al-Qaeda does not exist, as is the case so many times with facts, made no impression on Americans, and especially not on their ever-vigilant press, and certainly had no influence on a lunatic policy called the War on Terror.
Of course, the root cause of 9/11 and so many other acts of angry, frustrated, and powerless people is America’s embrace of the seemingly never-ending injustice and brutality of Israel towards millions of Arabs. But Washington doesn’t deal with hard realities; it is too busy always dealing with self-created fantasies like al-Qaeda. After all, it is the same in its own society. Police brutality, corrupt elections, massive abuses of lobbyists, crying need for reform of a truly sick democracy, massive urban poverty, poor public education, and a dark and overwhelming military-intelligence influence are not topics of discussion in America’s government. No, American politicians’ ideas of domestic issues are proposed flag-desecration amendments, The Star Spangled Banner being sung in Spanish, the role of drones in cities, supplying the nation’s police forces with surplus armored vehicles and gear from all the nation’s wars, stopping the flow of poor refuges, especially children, from all the horrors America has helped create in Central America and Mexico, maintaining the world’s largest prison population at minimum cost, and paying less taxes.
Well, as al-Qaeda fades into the sunset, we are suddenly flooded with media noise about an even more bizarre organization called ISIS (or ISIL) which honorable and honest Western leaders – try not laugh: Obama, Cameron, and Hollande - insist is ready to attack us in city streets, sabotage power grids, and poison water supplies if we don’t start bombing the crap out of them in Iraq and Syria. Some of America’s more bizarre congressmen are also blubbering about an ISIS invasion from Mexico, calculatingly dragging in paranoid fears over the widely disliked situation on America’s southern border concerning refugees. What’s that about Syria? Don’t all the chilling tales of ISIS come from Iraq? Well, pretty much so, but ISIS is said to be very ambitious. Tales of its growth and spread resemble lines from the script of a cheap 1950s science fiction film called The Blob. And besides, Syria is what the United States really cares about, now that Iraq drags itself around almost like a veteran with three limbs nearly severed.
We have indisputable proof in the testimony from a certain former NSA employee, that ISIS is the creation of Mossad and American intelligence. As with so many of America’s recent ghastly projects in the Middle East, financing comes from Saudi Arabia, the Saudis having spent the last 13 years desperately repenting their (still undefined) role in events around 9/11, even to the point of secretly embracing Israel in their regional plans and plots. The Saudis remain under great pressure to cough up wads of cash whenever America now beckons with a new bone-headed project. All the creeps - various collections of mindless fundamentalists, soldiers of fortune, just plain opportunists, and CIA thugs - working to overthrow Assad’s government in Syria also receive their bounty, just as they receive weapons and refuge in Turkey. ISIS first worked in Syria as just one of several rag-tag armies assembled by the United States and its helpers to destroy a peaceful nation which has had the temerity to oppose some of American policy, especially with regard to Israel. Again, to remind readers, the incident at Benghazi, Libya, involving the killing of an American ambassador and a great deal of embarrassment for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was precisely about gathering up violent people and arms in the wasteland created there and shipping them off to Turkey in order to create hell in Syria.
But ISIS is just too over-the-top even for opera buffa. Its creation served several dark aims. First, it serves as a lure for malcontents from many places, many of its recruits being American or English, drawing them together at one location. The leadership of ISIS, associated to a certainty with Israel and the United States, can gather information from these recruits about their associates or organizations in various countries. Effectively, after doing any dirty work assigned to them, the recruits are being set up to be killed, either by American air strikes or by the opponents they face in their work. Few in ISIS would know who the “undercover cops” are and who the bad guys are to be used and disposed of like so much toilet paper. The method reflects Israel’s secret services’ long, ugly use of Palestinians to undermine Palestinians.
Second, ISIS served as a mechanism to topple Nouri al-Maliki, recently prime minister of Iraq, a figure with whom Washington had become very unhappy, chiefly owing to his friendliness with Iran, yet another target of the American/Israeli Axis. Maliki proved lucky compared to most leaders Washington sets up and with whom it becomes disenchanted: they generally end up as the proverbial Mafia figures fitted with cement overshoes at the bottom of a river. Maliki was given a good scare with the advancing blood-curdling hordes of ISIS and wisely understood it as his cue to exit.
Third, ISIS has served as an excuse to work with the Kurdish population in Iraq, more or less separately from the national government. This involves giving weapons and intelligence to Kurds and furthering their de facto separation from Iraq, thus greatly weakening any future Iraq since the Kurdish areas have a great portion of the country’s crude oil. After all, the most basic reason for America’s invasion of Iraq was to eliminate it as even a potential enemy of Israel. There also have been some mysterious disappearances of Iraqi crude shipments, which may well have ended up in Israel.
Fourth, the ISIS move back into Syria provides the perfect excuse for American bombing there, something President Putin of Russia managed to prevent earlier with some deft statesmanship. America has already warned President Assad, busy fighting an engineered civil war created by the same folks who created ISIS, that they will attack his defences if he interferes with their bombing his country. Incidentally, no one consulted the Syrian government on any of this, America having already recognized the collection of rabble and criminals called the Free Syrian Army as legitimate.
American air power and perhaps ground troops, while using the excuse of fighting ISIS, will attempt to swing the engineered civil war back in favor of the “rebels,” Assad’s national forces having had considerable success in defeating them recently. The failure to achieve Assad’s overthrow is one of the more worrying developments in America’s bloody scheme for a re-birth of the Middle East, a plan which seeks to surround Israel with a giant cordon sanitaire, albeit at the cost of more than a million innocent lives. Never mind death or homelessness, such matters never are never concerns of American policy except where there is an advantage to be gained. Look at their filthy work in Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Egypt.
It is of course remotely possible that ISIS, in attempting to set up “an Islamic state” comprising parts of both Iraq and Syria, has gone rogue, out of the control of its handlers – that kind of event being called blowback in the dirty intelligence business – but I think likely it was always in the script. Most ISIS recruits are destined to die after doing what their handlers told them to do, and along the way President Assad’s country is to be further destroyed and if possible reduced to the kind of paraplegic-like nation Iraq has become.
ISIS started as no more than a couple of thousand guys in pick-up trucks with rifles and grenade launchers. It grew, drawing bizarre recruits from many countries, as its reputation for ferocity was artificially played up by the western press. There are after all always and everywhere a fair number of individuals drawn to violence and dangerous adventure. You might call its wonderings in Iraq a gestation period for bigger things, the ultimate goal being an acceptable way to help topple Assad while disposing of a collection of unwanted people. This all amounts to a giant-scale police entrapment scheme, something our courts consistently strike down, but this is entrapment played for keeps on a scale of thousands of lives.
The pick-up truck brigade proved enough to scare off group after group of well-armed units of the Iraqi army – especially with bags of loot from the Saudis tossed into tents at night. Of course, gradually, ISIS did manage to collect some vehicles and tanks left behind by Iraqi forces and present something more threatening. If you just think about it, how would unprofessional recruits have the least idea of how to operate sophisticated weapons? Imagine operating modern tanks or artillery without expert training? But ISIS has plenty of undercover experts to train them and make them seem more formidable. The head of ISIS is a man, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was an American prisoner for a time. He seems to know America’s greatest pug-ugly senator and roaming unofficial ambassador for killing, John McCain (judging from a number of photos on the Internet showing them together), and he is, according to a number of sources, actually a former Jewish actor named Elliot Shimon, trained by Mossad for a different kind of theater.
Now we’ve had a crescendo of beheadings supposedly captured live on video, only each of these is a patent fraud. Even the mainstream press, the last to discover almost anything worth knowing these days, have now admitted the first one was a fraud, although not before many columnists and commentators spewed great quantities of self-righteous outrage on the subject. Not that the victims probably haven’t died somehow or other, but they were not beheaded by a mysterious eight-foot British giant dressed in black and armed with a paring knife. Staged beheadings of course are intended to revolt people and rouse support for Western governments to act. The real beheadings which occur regularly in Saudi Arabia - there was a batch of 19 only recently - are never shown on American news, nor are they even discussed. But a single video of a fake terrorist beheading is played and replayed and commented on endlessly with indignation over such horror. And the hundreds of Palestinians, including children, whom Israel has beheaded with bombs and artillery never make an appearance on television or rate any commentary.
Sunday, September 14, 2014
NATION OF COWARDS
What else can you fairly call a people who attack a population of refugees confined to a small space surrounded on every side by fences and machine-gun towers, a population with nowhere to run? No, that is not put strongly enough. Not just attack, but use the latest and most ferocious weapons from the American arsenal to slaughter more than 2100 people, including more than 500 children, destroying along the way a major portion of the housing, businesses, and institutions of a poor people.
The definition of a coward is not the traditional military one of a soldier who won’t fight. No, that’s far too simplistic and self-serving. The genuine meaning of the word, the meaning that warrants our full sense of revulsion and contempt, is someone who attacks someone far weaker than themselves. A large man who beats a woman or a child with his fists or a policeman who clubs a handcuffed prisoner – that is the accurate and meaningful definition of the word. And the people of Israel responsible for Operation Protective Edge are as sadly perfect examples of genuine cowards as you can find in the world.
What remarkable courage it takes – outfitted as the IDF is with Kevlar armor, the latest intelligence gadgets, satellites, radios, support of every imaginable kind, and immensely powerful weapons (they even get hot pizzas delivered as they pause in their gruesome work) - to shoot people who cannot run away, are often poorly fed and clothed, and who mostly have no weapons. And the courage of the Israeli pilots who make bombing runs over homes, schools, apartments, and stores from the safety of their supersonic fighters is surely remarkable. They remind me of the American pilots who shot and incinerated countless retreating Iraqi soldiers in the (engineered) First Gulf War while the television broadcasts caught their gleeful shouts of “Wow, it’s just like shooting fish in a barrel!”
Yes, Americans are the only comparable example of Israel’s cowardice, the Americans who literally enable Israel’s savagery but also themselves have given the world the best part of half a century of savagery abroad, the deaths of literally millions of civilians in half a dozen countries – deaths by carpet bombing, napalm, missiles, white phosphorus, various poisons, and the razor-like shards of cluster bombs.
The United States, like Israel, is never called to account for the worst record on the planet of mass killing and destruction. You simply cannot name a contemporary criminal enterprise or a so-called terrorist organization which has a record so steeped in horrors as those two.
Wholesale death inflicted with utter disregard for international law and custom has become standard policy for both countries. Yes, there are always excuses for mass murder, the weasel words such as communists or terrorists or dictators and weapons of mass destruction (Americans ironically being the only people on earth who actually used them, twice, on civilians) – all of them having no more real meaning than Stalin’s chilling wreckers, a word he used to signal his creatures that it was time for a new bloody purge. In some cases those purged were simply people Stalin did not like or of whom he felt jealous, but in most cases of the millions smashed or consigned to hell on earth, the only motive was to terrify a population into submission, and that is exactly what Israel’s motive is for its periodic massacres of Palestinians and Lebanese.
Anyone of moderate intelligence who reads and thinks must know Israel is in no danger from anyone, least of all the Palestinians who have no organized army, no navy, and no air force, not to mention very little of anything else. Israel is armed to the teeth with conventional and non-conventional weapons, it leans back arrogantly into the arms of super-power America and plays the victim in a land it victimizes, and it functions as a garrison state whose major purpose is to hold down and make miserable millions of people who happen not to be Jewish, all the while hoping they will one day pick up and leave. It is absurd to say Israel’s security is endangered by anyone, and especially by the hopeless, lifetime prisoners of Palestine.
Turning a blind eye to the Holocaust three-quarters of a century ago was an unforgivable thing, but in at least one very real sense, it is now even more culpable the way the West turns a blind eye to Israel’s horrors. The Holocaust was perpetrated in great secrecy, and there was no Internet or international media equipped with satellites to tell the world what was happening. There was no United Nations or other international organizations watching. Today, what Israel does is everywhere to be seen. People in America eat their suppers watching Israeli jets bombing homes. Without much effort you can find images of Palestinian children with portions of their heads missing. And we all saw the Israelis from Sderot sit in lawn chairs on a bluff in the evening breeze laughing and applauding as women and children writhed in agony far below much like ants being stepped on.
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
MODERN CIVILIZATION AND RELIGION
“I, at any rate, am convinced that He [God] does not throw dice.” Albert Einstein
Even the greatest minds sometimes are befuddled by emotional preconceptions, as this famous quote shows Einstein was by his rejection of randomness implicit in quantum mechanics. Ironically, Einstein himself was one of the founders of quantum theory with his work on black-body radiation.
Nothing is more befuddling than the topic of religion because it consists of nothing but preconceptions, veiled under the more seemingly-weighty word, faith. The topic destroys friendships, has caused immense oppression, and has started many bloody wars. These facts alone should provide strong warning against bringing it into public political discourse.
Not everything an individual deems as good for himself is good for society. This touches one of the basic flaws in Christian thinking which can so destructive to civil society. Christians regard all people as being essentially the same in the sense that they all are expected to be nearly identical over a wide range of human behaviors. It is departure from this set of expected behaviors that marks a person as a sinner. But it is easy to see that people are not the same in almost any physical and mental characteristic you care to measure: they in fact represent a spectrum of differences in each category of human behavior and thought, the mix being never quite the same twice.
The Christian way of looking at people is just another, older stream of 1950s’ thinking about what is normal. In those days, it was easy to be classed as deviant or abnormal just on the basis of dress or behavior which did not fit into society’s fairly narrow expectations for normality. Those were the days when the FBI busied itself with matters like garbage checks on people such as Einstein himself. Those were the days when a boy could become a Junior G-Man for snitching on someone. Those were also the days when people with mental illnesses could be involuntarily institutionalized and even lobotomized. Government took full advantage of the 1950s’ frame of mind, indeed it helped create it, encouraging the idea that those looking or acting different are potentially dangerous. The naturally-occurring paranoia which has always been a feature of American society (a genetic heritage from the Puritans perhaps) just needs a framework like that to kick into high gear with witch hunts and citizens snitching on their neighbors. In both cases – Christianity and secret police - there is an underlying impulse to regiment and classify a population, much as every army recruit receives a buzz-cut, dog tags, and standard issue underwear.
The people who classify others as sinners or deviants, of course, believe they are promoting good behavior, but the idea of good in both cases is not a standard set by anyone but themselves in their interpretations of ancient texts, often corrupt from generations of copyists, always inaccurately translated, censored and picked through by the Church ages ago for what is acceptable and what is not, and readily misunderstood in the ambiguity or even nonsense of various passages. Even with such specific and generally accepted ideas as “Thou shalt not kill,” we know modern courts recognize many kinds of killing, not all carrying the same blameworthiness and penalty. Remember the famous line by Hannah Arendt about “the banality of evil”? That is a perfect description for both the Stasi/FBI-friendly citizen and a good many Christians: in being repressive, they think they are doing good by the accepted norms of their society.
At least general thinking in our society has progressed somewhat beyond that of the 1950s, although the FBI carries on in its frat-boy-with-a-badge stupidities, just having new targets. The fundamentalist Christians also carry on with hell-fire sermons, often invoking intense and mindless hatreds, as of homosexuals or foreigners. One well known preacher, Franklin Graham, invoked the use of atomic weapons after 9/11. Another, Pat Robertson, blamed destructive hurricanes on homosexuals and advocated assassinations. Then there are the folks who writhe on the church floor blubbering incoherent grunts and shouts, calling it “speaking in tongues,” those who insist on poisonous snake-handling as part of worship, and many, many who practice prayer for winning football games, particularly homecoming games when grateful alumni can fill the institution’s coffers in their delirious happiness over victory . Hard to see anything of what we know of Jesus in any of that, yet it all has legions of eager American consumers.
Apart from such carnival side-show excesses, all Christians believe they have a set of received truths and that everyone should be brought to hear them, rejecting them at their peril. These truths include the odd conception that all men are hopeless sinners without Christianity. This very urge to convert others, this belief in a single, unchangeable truth, and, importantly, the implicit idea that all people are somehow just alike is destructive to democratic thinking and the values of modern free society.
The very sins of the sinners tend to be defined by criteria that science daily reduces to nonsense. Many differences among individuals - from sexual behavior to truthfulness, from propensity to violence to compassion, from ability to understand to various mental illnesses - reflect nothing more than differences in the make-up of individuals, differences largely in genetic endowments but also to a lesser degree in environmental experiences. Even the tendency to embrace certain religions and political parties as opposed to others almost certainly is shaped by these fundamental differences in make-up. The genuine acceptance of differences is a key to a modern democratic society.
And if there is one country in the advanced world that often does not accept this principle, it is the United States. In its foreign affairs, it is guided by what often are called Christian principles - a rather fuzzily defined and selective set of them and certainly not the rigorous precepts of historical Jesus so far as we know them. These principles are not written down, codified, or officially announced, but casual discussion and the words of innumerable private and religious organizations confirm the widely-held view. This explains in part the embrace of modern Israel, a relationship as destructive to civil society in its nature as the two-thousand year-old, frightening hallucinations of the Book of Revelations upon which it is partly based. Well, the conflation of ancient rubbish and modern society’s needs doesn't work well even within the United States - that is why it is such a divided and angry society - and it certainly doesn’t work for the world in general.
And the United States is a divided and angry society. It is revealed in the rhetoric of many politicians, it is revealed in the sermons of many extreme preachers, it is evident in the extreme violence and lack of regard for citizens of police forces all over the country, it is revealed in the countless schemes to defraud ordinary people, it is revealed in the intolerance for so insignificant a difference as a politician not wearing an American flag lapel pin, it is felt in the embrace of utterly ignorant political figures (Sarah Palin, George Bush, Newt Gingrich, John McCain) by large factions, and its pulse can be felt in many television shows such as the ones showing police doing their worst nasty work on citizens.
Once admitted to public institutions and policy, religion, in any form, leaves little room for rationality or criticism or individuality, which is almost identical to saying, it leaves little room for thought. You are not supposed to criticize someone’s religion – it tends to create anger and aggression - so what do you do when people bring their religion into public institutions with which you must deal? The human race has terrible, bitter experience with this conflict in everything from the long creaking span of the Dark Ages to countless murderous, meaningless wars. And it is important to understand that religions are not always about a god. They may equally be about an ideology or cult of personality. Communism and fascism were both modern religions in every sense of the word, as is every form of inflexible political ideology.
But the human race learns only very, very slowly from its own history. Why else do we keep commemorating the horrors of World War I? Why else do people feel it necessary to build things like Holocaust museums? You might think such titanic murderous events could no more be forgotten than a natural disaster, but then natural disasters are forgotten regularly. The human brain does not want to dwell on past pain. It is a survival mechanism. And likewise each generation wants to create and experience new dreams and hopes. Too often, though, sweeping dreams and hopes are dangerous fantasies which threaten, perhaps unintentionally, to repeat forgotten horrors. Dreams and hopes, especially sweeping ones, are often the begetters of new and dangerous religions.
The continued commemoration of past horrors is itself a religious rite, one not useful for any good social purpose. World War I, for example, was little more than a gigantic blunder made by men bristling with pride and religious-like patriotism. Twenty million died horribly just so one branch of a royal family could not dominate in Europe at the expense of another. It achieved nothing, and indeed set the stage for the even worse terrors of World War II, including the Holocaust. We commemorate World War I largely to keep young men inspired enough to go off to the next useless war their shabby political leaders decide to fight. The constant commemoration of the Holocaust also is a religious rite using guilt and fear to manipulate support for Israel in the face of what is plainly its own savagery towards neighbors.
For as little as we might like it, it is a fact that all of humanity's great horrors grew out of sweeping dreams and hopes taken to extremes, from the Crusades and the Hundred Years War to the Holy Inquisition and the great world wars. Catholicism, for example, provided and helped enforce for centuries the dangerous and delusional idea of the divine rights of kings. It blessed the conquest and slaughter of great Indian civilizations in the Americas. One Pope even issued a special gold medal commemorating Catherine de Medici’s work for the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in which thousands of French Protestants were slaughtered in their beds or on the streets. And through the centuries of the Church’s dominance in society, its followers believed they were doing what is right because a respected authority told them it was.
Fascism and Communism were only the Twentieth Century's contributions to religion in politics. Wisdom from the writings and speeches of a few men with either messianic claims for themselves or claims for great sweeping changes in society were received by millions who had suffered bad times. It might not be bad to reflect on the fact that Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin were all raised in the Church.
In America, fundamentalist Christianity was the main pillar of slavery for centuries. Christianity, from the early Great Awakenings (a series of mass, semi-hysterical back-to-Christian-basics movements in early America) to the Scopes Monkey trial in the 1920s, has always been in the forefront of rejecting new ideas and supporting human oppression in one form or another. Missionaries have gone hand-in-hand with the military seizure of other people's lands time and time again, the case of the Hawaiian Islands being only one of the most egregious. The only time these people served a progressive influence in their long history was a period of advocacy for public education – something many have turned their backs on now – which had the motive of exposing all to the Gospels. A small portion of them also spoke out against slavery in its last days.
Christianity appears to have arisen as a sect or sects of Judaism. Look at the bloody turmoil of the Old Testament. Murder, war, rapine, slavery are just a few of its delightful themes. That is why the most bloody-minded Israelis or Christian fundamentalist supporters of Israel can cite scripture to support almost any excess that appeals to them. 19th Century Zionism also was one of the modern forms of fanatical political religion, and the damage it has done is there for all to see. In its early days, it never went beyond being a narrow cult rejected overwhelmingly by Jews, but the fears and guilt around the horrors of World War II enabled it to gain a serious foothold and begin its own horrors inflicted on innocents.
We now regularly make new discoveries in almost every branch of science, and, with each advance in rapidly-changing technology, we acquire still more able tools with which to make still more discoveries. This process is only going to accelerate to rates we cannot imagine, and, indeed, with which much of humanity may have great difficulty coping. The received popular wisdom about things changing so rapidly now is close to meaningless small talk: things began to change rapidly at the dawn of the modern era, five or six centuries ago, the change gaining in rapidity with each significant increment of time, and there is nothing to say the established pattern should not continue. Coming, just over the horizon, are the assembly of synthetic life forms, robots that can do almost anything, and machines that will replace the experts in every profession, but even those coming “scary” realities are only the beginning of a journey whose end, if it ever has an end, none can imagine. Any trouble in our coping along the way may well be met with new intrusions of religion into public life, either from traditional faiths feeling oppressed or new secular ones having sprung into being, a disturbing possibility.
All discoveries in science tend to confirm and reinforce the concept of randomness and such fundamental ideas as evolution and quantum theory. Remarkable new fossils are discovered and dated almost weekly, pointing to the rise and fall of innumerable species over time as well the interrelated nature of all life. At the microscopic level, studies of human and animal DNA point in the same direction, that is, to the interrelated nature of all life. In astronomy, the strange nature of the cosmos comes to us in wave after wave of discovery from black holes and dark matter to the very chemical building blocks of life being randomly created in the turmoil of galactic clouds, perhaps to be randomly rained down on countless passing planets with only those randomly possessing the suitable physical conditions becoming the incubators of life.
It is more than a little odd that the only source, regarded by Christians and other faiths as authentic, for the idea of intelligent design has not been supplemented in two thousand years, since the time when some religious eccentrics living in caves scribbled their dreams, hopes, and poetic fantasies on papyruses, giving their work the most sweeping publisher's blurb of all time, that of being authorized by the Creator Himself.
Society’s needs through politics, government, and public institutions can hardly benefit from concepts unchanged in two thousand years. Saying otherwise really is a bit like saying we should still use chariots and papyrus and oxen in the fields, but then there are religious groups who do pretty much that. Amish, Mennonites, strict Catholic religious orders, and ultra-Orthodox Jews all live as if it were another century. Just why each of them settles on a particular era’s set of conveniences and dress is rather a mystery. Why the 18th or 19th century rather than, say, 50 BCE or the Stone Age? The choices are just a few of the countless irrationalities displayed by religions, with the intensity of the irrationality being greater the more extreme the faith. And this is no less true of the political religions, from those who insisted on an ancient Indian symbol on armbands to those insisting on little enameled flag pins on lapels.
As someone who cherishes human freedom and democratic values, I certainly don’t oppose the practice of religion, but I very much oppose any of those practices being imposed on public institutions or manipulated for political purposes. As someone wisely observed, freedom of religion means also freedom from religion. Jesus himself said that prayer was for your private closet, not for exhibition as practiced by the publicans of his day. Remember, as soon as any politician or public official flaunts any kind of religiosity – from public prayer to the display of giant flags, you are being emotionally manipulated by the suggested support of higher powers for particular policies and acts, much as the Catholic Church once crowned and blessed the acts countless bloody kings and tyrants.