Wednesday, November 19, 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
LIVING WITH INSANITY
Harper, Abbott, and Cameron at the Brisbane G-20
Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, is reported by a spokesman, to have had the following exchange with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin during the Brisbane G-20 summit: “Well, I guess I’ll shake your hand, but I only have one thing to say to you: you need to get out of Ukraine.” Putin is said to have replied, “Impossible. Since we are not there.”
A graceless bit of diplomatic crudity from a truly graceless man, Stephen Harper, someone Canadians know has a history of underhanded practices at home, from introducing ugly personal-attack campaign advertising, using secretive and bullying tactics in parliament, failing to deal with corrupt practices by subordinates especially an American-style election scandal of robo-calls which sent some voters to the wrong polls, to having appointed several unbelievably incompetent and corrupt ministers. He is known for a ferocious temper in private, a very controlling man who grants his political associates absolutely no freedom of expression, and is reported by insiders as having on at least one occasion thrown a chair in a meeting. His silencing of Canadian government scientists from offering their opinions on issues in areas of expertise has been a simmering international scandal, as has his complete suppression of environmental issues.
Before Harper, Canada enjoyed for many decades a reputation for fairness and decency and intelligence in international affair with statesmanship and openness exhibited by figures like Lester Pearson or Jean Chretien or Paul Martin. Harper has destroyed a great deal of that as he pursues a single-minded role as American junior partner in almost all things.
He completely abandoned Canada’s traditional policies of fairness and balance in the Middle East, literally shocking many Canadians at times with fervent outbursts about Israel, including suggestions that Canadian critics of Israel are anti-Semitic. He does this, as any astute political observer recognizes, to solicit increased campaign funds from Canada’s financially successful Jewish community, taking his cue from Republicans in the United States such as Newt Gingrich who alone received $18 million dollars from one wealthy supporter of Israel for his last nomination campaign in exchange for inserting into his speeches that there was no such thing as a Palestinian, an utterly insincere and ridiculous statement. Since Israel is no admirer of President Putin’s, he being too independent-minded and opposed to the American exceptionalism Israel tightly embraces and by which it prospers, this activity of Harper’s puts him in an anti-Russian frame of mind from the start.
Harper has made an annual photo-op journey to Canada’s North, always trying to appear to voters as the man most concerned with a future there of melting ice creating free access through the Northwest Passage. Ironically, he periodically mentions Russia as the nation he is most concerned about, but Canada’s recent history couldn’t make it clearer that it is the United States which represents the great threat to our Northern waters and shore. Everything from unauthorized American atomic submarine prowling to a giant American oil tanker passing to published American charts showing this future open water as international tells a pretty harsh story. But in every detail, Harper only pretends America is a great and non-threatening friend.
Harper is the single most obsessed leader in Canada’s history with pleasing, almost fawning over, the United States. Had the history of Canada, which included a great deal of disagreement and contention with the United States over its many imperialistic behaviors, included many leaders of Harper’s character, there quite likely would not be a county called Canada today.
So here are the demonstrated qualities of the man performing as Canada’s diplomatic ass at the G-20 in Brisbane. He demonstrates a genuinely anal-retentive temperament, is intolerant of differences of opinion, and embraces a wilful blindness to the world’s greatest threat to peace, the United States in its self-appointed role as imperial arbiter among nations.
In case you wonder why a man like Harper even holds office in Canada, it is because the effective opposition was split with internal battles and because the last leader they selected in desperation following those battles was a man of no political intelligence or even experience and a totally unattractive personality to the public, Michael Ignatieff, someone who managed to do almost everything wrong. It also reflects a democratic deficit in our parliamentary structure where a party with just over 39% of the vote can be a parliamentary majority. So despite Canadians consistently being about 60% or higher inclined to somewhat progressive parties, Harper has had a free run at pole-axing the country’s traditional international reputation. Every day we come to be seen as a bit more like the deceptive and brutal American colony in the Middle East he embraces so closely.
We unfortunately live in a time utterly lacking statesmen in the West. I don’t know the detailed backgrounds of those other aggressive fools at the G-20, Abbott of Australia and Cameron of Britain, but I know they are both men who have lied exceedingly and been intimately involved with such nasty business as favors for the unsavory Rupert Murdoch empire. I can think of nothing which recommends either of them as statesmen. Indeed, they both, quite literally, kowtow to America.
Putin is head and shoulders above these men in intellect and focus, readiness to communicate clear views to the world, someone demonstrating considerable patience, and, from all evidence, someone notably free of the blowhard ideology which virtually characterizes Harper, Abbott, and Cameron.
Putin’s moves in Ukraine seem to me appropriate for dealing with a deliberately-induced crisis in an important neighboring country, and one with a long history of connections and associations. He has not invaded Ukraine, something which he could easily do were he so inclined. I suspect he has supplied weapons to East Ukraine, but that is something the United States does all the time, including supplying weapons to some of the most brutal groups and governments on earth, as it is right now doing in Syria, with secret night cargo flights out of Turkey to terrorist cutthroats. Just ask yourself what America would do about a comparable situation in Mexico: patience simply would not exist, and Mexico City would be quickly overrun by tanks.
The people of East Ukraine, Russian in background and sympathies, deserve protection as much as they deserve the huge amounts of emergency supplies Russia has supplied in a conflict owing its origin entirely to the covert acts of America. Had the coup-established government of Ukraine originally offered protection of Eastern interests, including language rights they openly tried suppressing, the story might have been different, but they did precisely the opposite, passing unfair laws, making threat after threat, and attacking their own citizens. Who wouldn’t rebel in that environment, including any of the states of the United States? How easily people forget past rebellions in the United States, the greatest of which was the Civil War, still the bloodiest war Americans ever experienced.
It is quite clear that the United States is responsible for destabilizing Ukraine. Its CIA funds have been invested into many unsavoury projects, perhaps most disturbing is its paying support to a collection of neo-Nazi groups ranging from extremist parties to violent militia forces, some of the very groups who have committed atrocities such as murdering many hundreds of civilians and some of whom actually march under swastika-like flags. It does seem more than a bit strange that men like Harper, Abbott, and Cameron implicitly support that kind of filthy work while charging Putin with dark acts, dark acts which are stated ambiguously and certainly never proved.
It is also clear that the United States has pressured all authorities involved to delay and obscure the investigation into the destruction of Flight MH17, and the only explanation for that can be America’s preventing, for as long as possible while the new coup-created government of Ukraine consolidates its position, the highly embarrassing finding that Ukraine in fact shot it down. The United States has said over and over it has evidence about the crash, yet it has never produced a scrap of it. Just as it never produced evidence for so many past claims from what actually happened on 9/11 to the assassination of a President.
The great irony of the G-20 summit in Brisbane is that its only substantial agreement concerned doing everything possible to promote growth in a world whose economy is dangerously stagnating, yet it wasted time and energy on America’s fantasy stories about Russia and Ukraine, insulted Russia’s President, and threatened in some cases further growth-suppressing sanctions. Nothing could be more contradictory and unproductive or, frankly, just plain stupid.
Friday, November 14, 2014
WHAT WE TRULY LEARNED FROM THE GREAT WAR AND THE ABSURDITY OF REMEMBRANCE DAY
No matter what high-blown claims the politicians make each year on Remembrance Day, The Great War was essentially a fight between two branches of a single royal family over the balance of power on the continent of Europe, British foreign policy holding to a longstanding principle that no one nation should ever be permitted to dominate the continent.
It was also a war between the world’s greatest existing imperial power, Britain, and another state, Germany, which aspired to become a greater imperial power than it was.
To a considerable extent, it was a war resulting from large standing armies and great arms races, a telling indictment of those who preach the false gospel of ever-greater military strength to defend freedom. As with any huge, shiny new investment, great armies will always be used, and the results are almost invariably great misery.
The First World War was not a war to end all wars, as a slogan of the time claimed. If anything, it was a precursor for a great many wars to follow, and, most importantly, it was a powerful and important cause of World War II.
It also was not a war about democracy since none of the participants, including Britain, would qualify as democracies by any reasonable reckoning with their heavily limited voting franchise and government structures stacked in the interests of old and privileged orders, quite apart from their holding empires whose populations enjoyed no franchise at all.
The war was also one of history’s great instances of mass hysteria, particularly among the young men of several countries. In Britain, there have been many laments over the loss of some fine and promising young men who rushed to join up. In Germany, it was no different, and we note one young man, then of no importance, by the name of Adolph Hitler rushing to join up, much as his British contemporaries, to share in the “glory.”
Today, we pretend shock that young men sometimes go abroad to fight for a cause, religious or otherwise, but compared to the mass insanity of World War I, what we see today is truly petty. The authorities everywhere then made great efforts to push young men, using songs, marching bands, slogans, shame and social pressure in many forms, and countless lies. The nonsense about the Kaiser’s troops bayonetting babies was one example, a lie served up again decades later with a slight twist by George Bush the Elder’s government as it desperately wanted support to invade Iraq, the babies the second time around supposedly being ripped from respirators.
World War I made absolutely no sense. It achieved nothing worth achieving, and it did so at immense cost. Apart from killing about 20,000,000 people, the war left countless crippled and disabled and created a great swathe of destruction across Europe.
If Germany had been allowed to dominate Europe for a time, it would have made comparatively little difference to the lives of most people. Indeed, today, that is the situation we find in the European Union.
It is important to realize that large wars are always revolutionary in nature, and no one at the outset can possibly predict the outcomes of such chaotic storms in terms of social, economic, and political change. World War I very much set the stage, with huge losses of men and the incompetence demonstrated by Imperial commanders, for the Communists to take power in Russia, a development which led ultimately to the Cold War.
The War’s immense costs and the realization by millions of soldiers from abroad that they fought for a nation which gave them no rights provided the great first blow towards ending the British Empire. The approaching World War II would finish the work of imperial rot and collapse.
The First World War set the stage for the rise of Hitler less than two decades later and made inevitable the catastrophe of World War II, which would inflict at least two and a half times as many deaths again and would see such horrors as the Holocaust and the use of atomic bombs.
So why, about a century later, do we still treat The Great War with reverence and sentimental remembrance?
The act of remembrance actually contradicts the sound human tendency to forget terrible experiences. Of course, we hear repeated countless times the words of George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” one of those glib and catchy sayings which seem at first hearing to carry some deep truth. Just the consideration that in real life no two events ever can be identical makes the saying a pleasantly-phrased nonsense, resembling the aphorisms on far lighter subjects from Oscar Wilde.
Those repeating the glib phrase as received wisdom from an unimpeachable prophet always neglect to remind us of the importance of scrupulously defining what it is that you are remembering. If we remember World War One for exactly what it was, and not for what we wish it had been, we see a vast, pointless slaughter that succeeded in setting conditions for still more slaughter. Never repeating it would be a blessing indeed.
But if we see it as moving and inspirational, if we associate its name with thoughts of ending war or protecting democracy or of great camaraderie and shared hardship, if we are emotionally moved by troops in uniforms and flags flying and bugles and drumbeats, then we most assuredly will repeat it, as we have already done more than once, and I’m pretty sure that’s what the arrogant politicians and jingoes want us ready to do.
Remembrance Day surely is not about the loss of life, as we pretend it is, because the only way to hold those or any lives sacred is not to send them off to war in the first place. The ugly truth is that governments, run by men with great egos – likely more often than not, actual narcissists – who are supported by privileged wealth wanting to keep or expand its privilege, make the decision for wars largely on the basis of fairly primitive instincts, instincts about being first or not letting a competitor gain an advantage, or just vague and meaningless stuff about being manly or resolute – standing your ground, keeping a stiff upper lip, putting up with no nonsense, showing your manhood, and so on and so forth.
One American politician, in a play on an infamous quote by George Wallace, said no one would ever “out-commie” him again in an election. Such was the thinking of Lyndon Johnson in making the fatal decision to start a major war in Southeast Asia. On just such hormone-laden considerations hung a decade’s brutal fighting and the deaths of 3 million Vietnamese.
The real reason for the ceremonies and parades and speeches is to keep young men keen to go and kill and die, there being no group of humans more subject to cheap emotional appeals about glory and heroism than young men, as we see, ad nauseam, generation after generation.
As I’ve written before, humans are little more than chimpanzees with larger brains, those larger brains enabling us to magnify immensely the power of our murderous instincts, a fact we seem determined proudly to display every Remembrance Day.
Sunday, November 09, 2014
For those who are not familiar, Bunraku is an old form of Japanese puppet theater, its distinctive characteristic being that the puppeteers are on the stage with their puppets, dressed in black so that the audience can pretend not to see them.
While many old art forms have conventions that are unrealistic by modern standards, there is something particularly unsatisfying about bunraku: you can pretend not to see the puppeteers but you cannot fail to see them.
Bunraku, as it happens, offers a remarkable metaphor for some contemporary operations of American foreign policy. So many times – in Syria, Ukraine, Libya, Venezuela, Egypt - we see dimly the actors on stage, yet we are supposed to pretend they are not there. We can’t identify them with precision, but we know they are there. Most oddly, the press in the United States, and to a lesser extent that of its various allies and dependents, pretends to report what is happening without ever mentioning the actors. They report only the movements of the puppets.
One of the consequences of this kind of activity is that many people, including many of your own, come simply not to believe you, no matter what newspapers and government spokespersons keep saying. Another consequence is that because many knowledgeable people no longer believe you, when it comes time to enlist the support of other nations for your activities, you must use behind-the-scenes pressure and threats, stretching the boundaries of alliance and friendship. After all, your major government friends and allies have sophisticated intelligence services themselves and are often aware of what you are trying to do.
Still another consequence is that many people start doubting what you are saying concerning other topics. In the United States, a fairly large segment of the population does not believe the official version of a great deal of comparatively-recent American history, including explanations of John Kennedy’s assassination, of events around 9/11, of the downing of TWA Flight 800, of what Israel was doing when it attacked an American spy ship in 1967, and of the CIA’s past heavy connections with cocaine trafficking – just to name a few outstanding examples.
Government in America feels the need only to go so far in its efforts to explain such matters because the doubters and skeptics, though many, are not a big enough segment of the population to matter greatly in political terms, and it is simply brutally true that the great passive mass of people are never well informed about anything outside their own lives. America is a place, as relatively few people abroad understand, where people must work very hard. Its industrial working class went through a great depression since, say, 1960, many of them now holding low-paid service jobs. Its middle-class workers have seen real incomes decline for decades, something providing part of the incentive for both parents in a family to work and for them to move into America’s great suburban sprawl of lower land costs as well as to embrace stores such as Wal-Mart with their bare-bones costs. Many Americans work so hard, they have little time to be concerned or informed about government, satisfying themselves that a few minutes with corporate television news is adequate, a phenomenon favoring the government’s interests since on any important and controversial subject the television networks (and the major newspapers) do the government’s bidding, mostly without being asked. American corporate news, especially in matters of foreign affairs, resembles nothing so much as nightly coverage of a banraku performance.
Selling stuff, whether it’s widgets or religion or political ideas, is at the core of American life, and America’s one unquestionably original creation in the modern world involves the disciplines of marketing, advertising, and public relations – all highly artful aspects of selling stuff. The success of these methods has long been proved in American commerce, but they are no less effective when applied to other areas. So, it should hardly surprise that the same “arts” are heavily employed by and on behalf of government in propaganda and opinion-manipulation around its acts and policies. Indeed, we see America’s entire election system today having been reduced to little more than a costly, massive application of these crafty skills, and no department or agency of government is ever without its professional, full-time spokespeople and creative back-up staff, making sure that whatever words or numbers are spoken or printed never slip beyond what those arts have conjured up. Unacceptable photos, say those of women and children smashed by bombs or missiles hurled into the Mideast, are made simply to disappear much as they were in 1984.
Government knows, too, that the American political system is heavily stacked against people with doubts ever gaining serious influence. Ninety-five percent of Senate elections go to incumbents, and because only one-third of the Senate faces re-election at any given election, a majority on some new matter is virtually impossible to build. The presidential candidates of the only two parties with a hope of being elected are almost as carefully groomed and selected as the party chairman of a former communist-bloc country, and generally about as surprising in their views.
And always, time makes people forget, even with the most terrible issues. After a generation or two, there are relatively few people who are even aware there was an issue. In the case of the most overwhelming and terrifying event of my life, the Vietnam War, polls show a huge number of young Americans today don’t know what it was or when it occurred.
These are the key factors permitting an American government to commission horrific acts abroad resembling those of the bloodiest tyrant, all while it smilingly prances across the international stage as democracy’s self-designated chief representative and advocate. As for the great mass of people, the 95% of humanity living outside the United States, no one in America’s government ever gives them a moment’s thought, unless they step out of line.
Saturday, November 08, 2014
ON THE JIAN GHOMESHI SQUALOR AND CBC RADIO'S COWARDLY BEHAVIOR CONCERNING HIS ABUSE AS WELL AS ITS IGNORING ROB FORD'S PUBLIC ABUSE OF WOMEN AND ITS POOR HANDLING OF JUSTIN TRUDEAU'S TOTALLY CORRECT BEHAVIOR IN SUSPENDING TWO M.P.s OVER SEXUAL HARRASSMENT
LETTER TO CBC RADIO
Many on CBC Radio have commented on the Ghomeshi squalor. Anna Maria Tremonti, your finest interviewer when she’s in top form, joined with three guests recently discussing whether these events represented a watershed for women.
The discussion proved pretty insipid, but there was truth in the notion of a watershed, not however the watershed discussed, that of a turn in male-female social relations, but one quite different.
CBC Radio, on all programs, has always paid lip service to female equality, just as it does so many progressive concepts. But the reality behind the words we now know is something quite different, and it wasn’t just Ghomeshi’s behavior which revealed it.
I cannot accept that other staff and CBC management were not aware of Ghomeshi’s reputation and office behavior for years. That kind of stink cannot be hidden. It reached even outsiders with one professor at Western reported as having advised students to avoid interning at Q. I certainly didn’t know the extent of things, but in Ghomeshi’s early broadcasting, I clearly heard stuff I would call “smarmy” in his references and emphases, something entirely alien to the sound of CBC, and I wrote CBC several times and ceased listening.
For his behavior to be tolerated so very long means only that CBC management deliberately chose ratings over ethics, making the network not a bit different to the ruthless enterprises most hosts on CBC would decry.
But there is a long thread to this theme. Toronto just had four years of a disgraceful man as Mayor. CBC typically, once the stories broke elsewhere, reported on his drunkenness and some other shameful behavior, but it always, always avoided the elephant in the room, his abuse of women. A while before he was elected, Ford had been arrested and taken away in handcuffs while his wife displayed a discolored face. She never pressed charges, as we can well imagine why. Other news sources reported that, not you.
The most shocking display of his abuse was his frenetic sudden “press conference” after making insane public comments earlier about “eating pussy” (his very words). He literally dragged his shy wife before the cameras after fetching her from home. She stood as she was directed, but took a couple of steps away and looked down, resembling a brow-beaten prisoner. Sometimes she looked up, and she fiddled with her ring finger, but did not perform the “dutiful wife smiles as her husband speaks“ routine. Her body language spoke volumes. No one on CBC Radio ever dealt with this public, virtually criminal behavior so far as I’m aware.
Ford also was reported by a woman Toronto politician as having touched her and spoken lewdly, and what did CBC Radio do with that? Or the several times he took prostitutes to his office, something we only learned from others.
Now, just a short time before writing this, CBC Radio news reported on controversy swirling around Justin Trudeau’s decisive act of suspending two MPs over sexual harassment of others. Controversy? Trudeau acted perfectly after one of the women involved herself came to him complaining. His was a high standard of behavior, the only one. Only the National Post and the NDP’s leader, both ever hopeful for a point to score against Trudeau, see controversy here.
I think it clear CBC has consistently failed for years to act – in its reporting, discussions, and in not conducting any investigative journalism around such matters - on the principles to which it gives endless lip service. That is the real watershed: the discovery that CBC’s conduct is hardly different from the gorillas it’s always decrying.
Sunday, November 02, 2014
GEORGE BUSH IN HELL
Opening Scene: Entrance hall in the Bush mansion in
where George and Laura have retired after leaving the White House. Houston
There is grand staircase in the center, an elaborate chandelier hanging down from the ceiling, a half-table with a vase along the wall to the right, and a federal-style entrance door with brass fittings and a fan-window above on the far right.
A clicking noise is heard and the door swings open. The silhouette of George Bush is seen against dim bluish lights from the street. He pauses a few seconds and reaches for a switch on the wall, not finding it easily. When he does, sconces on the same wall as the table and vase come on, casting a warm, soft light on the scene. He awkwardly turns and closes the door quietly.
The figure starts to move forward, and it is immediately apparent from his lurching motion that he is drunk. He moves slowly, trying to prevent any noise or accidents. Nevertheless, after a few steps, he collides with the table, knocking the vase over to smash noisily on the floor.
At the top of the stairs, Laura appears in a rather elegant, flowing nightgown. She places her hands on her hips and glares hard towards George.
GEORGE: “Hi, Honey. Didn’t know ya’d still be up.”
LAURA: “I wasn’t up. You smashing the furniture woke me up.
“And don’t you ‘Honey’ me, you bastard! You’re drunk again.”
GEORGE: Moving awkwardly toward the stairs, “Aw, Laura darlin’, I jus’ had a li’le too much,” making an exaggerated measurement sign towards Laura with his finger and thumb as he speaks.
Laura doesn’t move, just glaring as George works his way slowly up the stairs, huffing and puffing and swaying as he goes.
GEORGE: “See, I’m okay, I’m getting’ up the stairs myself.”
LAURA: “You shit, you promised, not once but dozens of times.”
GEORGE: “Yah, Honey, I know, but I’m tryin’.”
LAURA: “You son of a bitch, you haven’t tried at all. You’ve embarrassed everyone in the family.
GEORGE: “Won’t happen ag’in, Hon, I promise.”
LAURA: “You’re damned right about that. It won’t happen again!” she screams. She suddenly swings her arms out violently, striking George as he nears her, sending him tumbling down the stairs
George’s body comes to a stop at the bottom of the stairs, limp and broken-looking.
Suddenly from the left comes a Secret Service agent, aroused by all the noise. He kneels at the body and checks for vital signs.
SECRET SERVICE AGENT: Looking up towards Laura, “Mrs. Bush, I’m sorry, the President is dead!”
He immediately reaches for his Blackberry and places a call for emergency services. Laura walks offstage in the direction she first came from.
We see a striking, elaborate gate, as we might expect to see at the front of a great mansion. Behind the gate is the suggestion of a lush, sunlit garden complete with the beautiful singing of birds. Despite the brilliant sunlight, the floor of the stage is covered with a thick white mist, which represents clouds scudding along. At the gate, a tall dignified figure stands holding a staff in his right hand and a book in his left.
From the right side, the figure of George appears. He isn’t drunk now, but he appears mystified by his location.
GEORGE: As he approaches the gate, “Hi, I got no idea where I am. Maybe y’all kin help?”
GEORGE: “Jeez, ya’ll know me. That’s great. I got no idea what’s goin’ on. I was comin’ home, an’ suddenly I wake up here.
“Hey, an’ I ain’t got no hangover neither.”
GEORGE: “Dead? How the hell kin that be?”
ST. PETER: “You came home drunk, and Laura was so furious she pushed you down the stairs.”
GEORGE: “I’ll be damned, Laura killed me?”
ST. PETER: “That’s right, Mr. President. She’s now being treated for shock, and you’re here at the gates of Heaven. I’m St. Peter.”
GEORGE: “Well, Pete, open ‘er up. Guess there’s gonna be some good times here. I gotta tell ya, I was gettin’ mighty tired of Laura naggin’ all the time.”
GEORGE: “Y’all know I’m born agi’n. Don’t ‘spect no problem.
“Well, fire away, as I used to say there in the White House. Haw, haw. Jus’ a li’le joke there, Pete. Guess ya know I ain’t one to stand around jawin.’ Let’s get her done.”
St Peter opens his book, and a picture appears, cast like a slide in the white mist. It is of a child whose face is torn, horribly clotted with blood.
GEORGE: “Hell no – oops, sorry there! No, I never seen him, Pete, honest.”
ST. PETER: “That is correct, Mr. President, you never saw him, but nevertheless you did this to him, and many thousands of others in the bombing of Iraq.”
GEORGE: “I’m tellin’ ya, Pete, I di’n’t know. I’d never do somethin’ like that.”
Another picture appears, this one of a woman’s body smashed into the ground.
ST. PETER: “What about this one, Mr. President?”
GEORGE: “Promise I never saw nothin’ like that. God dang, who’d go ‘n’ do somethin’ like that?”
GEORGE: “Well, I gotta say, I don’t think it’s fair bringin’ up this kinda ol’ stuff, Pete.”
Another picture appears. It’s Laura with a black eye and a swollen lip.
GEORGE: “God darn if I wasn’t drunk that night. Didn’t mean it at all.”
George finds himself in a dark, gloomy place, with only hints of its being a room. He suddenly becomes aware of a series of sounds, a mixture of singing and shouting and George starts walking towards them. The sounds become louder. Soon we realize that they are people talking and shouting and singing, many of them, all at once. George tries covering his ears, the sound becomes so loud and unpleasant.
Finally, a figure appears in the gloom. It’s a tremendously fat Jerry Falwell looking for all the world like Jabba the Hutt waddling.
JERRY: “Well, now I kin hardly believe my eyes, welcome home, Mr. President!”
GEORGE: “Jeez, gotta say this place don’t look much like what I figured.”
JERRY: “Hell ain’t such a bad place. Ya pretty much get to do what ya always liked doin’ forever.”
GEORGE: “Hell? Whoa there, now, what’s goin’ on? I ain’t sposed to be in no Hell!
“I was jus’ talkin’ to Pete couple a minute ago, remindin’ him how I was saved an’ all.”
JERRY: “Well, I’m right sorry to disappoint you, Mr. President, ‘cause ya’ll was always a favorite.
“But we all knew you was on your way here, an’, like I was sayin’, it ain’t such a bad place an’ all.
“Ya’ll get to do pretty much what ya always did. Ya kin sure see I’m enjoyin’ the brunches, all laid out real nice, any time night or day, jus’ like a big cruise ship.
“An’ jus’ listen to that singin’ ! It don’t never stop. Gospel selections for the next trillion years!
“Some nice ol’ friends down here too, Mr. President. I reckon ya’ll know half of ‘em. Dick an’ Lynn. Your Pappy’s here, an’ your Grandpappy.”
GEORGE: “Ain’t ya sufferin’ with everlastin’ fires or nothin’ like that?”
JERRY: “Shucks, no, Mr. President. That jus’ ain’t the way it is.
“I know, I know, I was preachin’ kind of regular ‘bout that kinda stuff, but ya gotta figure, I was earnin’ a livin’ an’ all, an’ there jus’ ain’t no topic better ‘an damnation for gettin’ that there offerin’ plate full to overflowin’.”
GEORGE: “Well, I’ll be damned.”
JERRY: “Ya’ll are, Mr. President, that’s for sure.
“They got a copy of your ol’ office all set up for ya. Ya’ll gonna be able to go on bein’ President for millions an’ millions of years.
With a wink and a chuckle, “Snort a little coke now an’ then. All the damn mint juleps ya’ll can swaller. Go huntin’ with Dick.
“Give your Ol’ Man a good right now an’ then…as many times as ya’d like. An’ if that li’l’ woman of yours – jus’ sose ya know, she’ll be joinin’ up with ya before too long - goes mouthin’ off any, jus’ give her a smack in the gob the way ya’ll used to. Ain’t no cops here for her to call, embarrassin’ ya an’ all.
“Ya’ll be runnin’ that there war forever, seein’ every damned heathen an’ troublemaker blowed up jus’ like ya was there.”
GEORGE: “Well I gotta say that don’t sound none too bad. Ever get any vacation?”
JERRY: “Well, I gotta tell ya honest-like now, Mr. President, ya don’t get no vacation ‘roun’ here.
“Ya gonna do all them things ya always liked doin’, but ya gotta keep doin’ ‘em over and over, forever.”
“It might get a li’l’ tiresome-like after a while, but I sure ‘nough ain’t found that to be the case yet.”
GEORGE: “Ya, I kin see that right ‘nough. If ya’ll can’t stop packin’ down all the grub, ya gonna have a mighty sorry time draggin’ that fat gut of yours aroun’.
“Ya already startin’ to look like one them damned ol’ frogs I useta stuff with firecrackers. Damned, if I didn’t enjoy watchin’ ‘em gettin’ blowed up!
“Maybe ya’ll gonna blow up someday without any damned firecrackers in your mouth!”
George bends over, cracked up with uncontrollable laughter, tears running down his cheeks.
JERRY: Chuckling heartily, “Ah shucks, Mr. President, mighty nice to hear ya ain’t lost your ol’ boyish charm an’ sense of humor. Ya’ll gonna fit in jus’ fine here.”
George and Jerry, chuckling and laughing, walk slowly off into the gloom towards ear-splitting sounds of laughs and screams and screeching gospel music.
Monday, October 27, 2014
SOME HARD FACTS ABOUT TERROR
We are having an outbreak of reports in the Canadian press about “home grown” terrorists, “radicalized” young men of Muslim faith traveling out of the country to participate in extremist groups abroad, a relatively insignificant phenomenon which has received inordinate publicity. In any event, if you give the matter some thought, you realize that this “news” is a kind of empty publicity, noise about something as old and familiar as human life itself, although it has been bestowed with a new name intended to frighten us into supporting measures outside the framework of a society of laws.
The truth is that young men, at least a certain portion of them, have always traveled abroad to join causes and wars. It’s about as ordinary a phenomenon as playing team sports or joining clubs. In many cases, we end up praising them for their bravery and idealism, as was certainly the case with the many thousands of Europeans, Americans, and Canadians who traveled to Spain in the 1930s to volunteer in the civil war against General Franco. In other cases, we condemn and imprison them and sometimes even execute them as part of the losing side, as America has been doing in its rampage through the Middle East.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the emergence of new, independent nations from the British Empire drew thousands of young men to Africa to fight as mercenaries or volunteers. Apartheid South Africa used to run classified ads in newspapers abroad to attract young men in its battle against the African National Congress. Young Jewish men in the past went to Israel to join the IDF out of some sense of brotherhood, and they do so still. The French Foreign Legion gained almost mythical status as a place for young men to leave things behind, embracing an undefined sense of purpose and brotherhood. Young European adventurers, often young noblemen with hopes of gaining glory, sailed across the Atlantic in the 1770s to volunteer in the American colonies’ revolt against the British Empire, far more of them than Washington’s meagre army could use.
Magnetic leaders like Napoleon or Castro or Nasser attracted countless volunteers from abroad in their heyday. Our history books don’t dwell on the fact but large numbers of young men from many countries volunteered for Hitler’s invading legions. The phenomenon does not depend on the high or noble nature of the cause, although the luster and publicity around grand causes undoubtedly attracts a still wider range of young men.
Young men often just want to escape from every-day, humdrum life, a boring marriage, a nothing job, or, as in the case of the Foreign Legion, to leave a criminal or failed past behind in hopes of high adventure, a new identity, and a fresh start in life. The genuine nature of a cause often matters little because young men’s fantasies convert grubby deeds into mythic stuff at least for a time. Young men in the Foreign Legion were actually fighting for a brutal imperialism in North Africa. Volunteers to the IDF only assist in the oppression of an abused people, not in the protection of the Jewish people. Those who joined Napoleon thought they were spreading liberté, égalité et fraternité across a mummified old-order Europe, but they were helping one of history’s great bloody soldier-conquerors glorify himself and do what it was he lusted after doing.
Mental illness also intrudes into terrorist matters, all things unusual or different being grist for the big dumb mill of the press. In Canada, during the wave of empty chatter about “home-grown terrorists,” there were two isolated incidents of murder in different parts of the country, one of a policeman and one of a reservist in the military. Immediately the press began a completely uninformative and patience-exhausting round of speculation about the dark nature of the perpetrators, complete with interviews of various self-proclaimed “terrorism experts,” men, as it generally turns out, who run security firms and are out drumming up business. In both cases, we finally learned through the fog of misinformation generated by the press, that the young dead men were deeply mentally disturbed, their acts having no more political significance than the crazed men set on suicide who first kill their wives or children or the boys who periodically show up heavily armed at school, shooting their way through classmates.
And of course, it is almost invariably males who do these things, our prisons containing about ten men for every woman. The violence we see in professional football, hockey, or boxing being almost an exclusive male domain. Woman rarely commit murder, males being responsible for almost all of it, with young males being responsible for an extraordinarily disproportionate share.
Aside from the psychotic and deeply depressed, there is a certain segment of young men in every society who are simply attracted to opportunities for legal killing, rape, and mayhem – this being the truly ugly side of every war and conflict that we never mention in our sentimental world-war memorial services or high school textbooks. These men are variously termed sociopaths or psychopaths, and they appear to exist naturally in some proportion in any population. They enjoy killing, inflicting pain, and the sense of supreme power over the lives of others, and they are incapable of sympathy for their victims or remorse for their acts. They only fear being caught, and war provides a wonderful legal playground for them.
The bloodiest, most brutal and pointless war of the last half century, America’s grotesque slaughter in Vietnam, attracted thousands of volunteers from other countries to join in the gruesome fun – acts which included everything from raping girls and then shooting them to throwing men out of helicopters. Even then-peaceful Canada, whose prime minister, Lester Pearson, bravely turned down Lyndon Johnson’s bullying demands to send troops (charmer that Johnson was, he is said to have grabbed our Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader by the lapels during a meeting and pushed him against a wall), saw hundreds of adventure-seeking young men, on their own, join the American holocaust, which would see three million horribly slaughtered, countless wounded, and an ancient agricultural land overwhelmed with America’s landmines, cluster bombs, and poisons.
Today we call people terrorists as easily as we more accurately might have called them reckless or mad. The word terrorist has been given an almost frightening, superstitious connotation much resembling the word witch in the seventeenth century when any poor old soul who suffered from a mental illness like schizophrenia might be burnt alive for her mumblings and delusions. Today, the same people we once burnt would be sent to a homeless shelter or a psychiatric hospital. Another aspect of the word terrorist is related to what Stalin used to say when he expected his officials to launch a new purge to keep the country terrorized into submission. The Vozhd would say something about “wreckers” or “wreckers of the revolution” and his minions would busy themselves demonstrating alacrity in finding large numbers to consign to prison or death. All of our press and government spokespeople now use terrorist with those two meanings, and to the extent that they do, we should recognize the foolishness of their speech and its danger to a free society.
Of course, anyone who commits violent crime needs dealing with, and we do have laws covering every form of violent crime and what is judged the degree of culpability. But creating a special class or type of crime, somehow understood to be different in nature from other crimes, and thereby requiring extraordinary measures of espionage and policing and imprisonment and standards of evidence, is a shabby, dishonest, and cowardly political act. It is a political act in exactly the sense best explained by George Orwell.
The template for this kind of state activity comes directly from Israel. It long ago succeeded in changing the outside perception of events since 1948 from that of a relatively powerless people having their homes and lands taken with great brutality. Everyone knows instinctively that people treated in that fashion have every right in international law and custom to fight their oppressors. We call them at various times and circumstances freedom fighters, guerillas, resistance fighters, or irregulars. But in this case, they were transformed into terrorists who seek only to destroy law-abiding, democratic Israel – unspeakably evil beings intent on attacking the imported Ozzie-and-Harriet peacefulness of white-picket fence neighborhoods constructed on other people’s property. It truly is a case of the world turned on its head.
It does make things so much easier when you shoot someone or bulldoze their home or send them to prison indefinitely with no trial and subject to torture, if you first have demonized them, much as in the case of witches or wreckers, with terrorist being this generation’s choice demonizing word. And when Israel kills some people whose identity as “terrorists” might be seen as very doubtful, the victims magically become militants, a Newspeak word which strives to make the killing of anyone from boys to grandfathers palatable, our shabby press in the West having adopted the word in its reportage without so much as blinking an eye, much less asking a question. This has been Israel’s day-in, day-out pattern of government for decades, but now it has managed to export to the United States the same pattern of behavior. The United States, after all, is a nation given to Captain Ahab-like obsessions, as it has demonstrated many times in its history, Muslims now having displaced the Communists it pursued with relentless fury for decades at home and abroad. And when the United States embraces a new obsession, its dependants in Europe, Canada, Australia, and other places are bullied into embracing it too. America has many avenues for pressuring the acceptance and recognition of its latest craze or special interest or dark operation and to quiet the criticism which would naturally flow from those who disagree and think for themselves.
Were America not enthralled with this voodoo about terror, Europe and others would quickly fall away, and Israel’s ugly behavior would be left in a glaring spotlight, much as South Africa’s once was.
It is the force of these considerations in part which leads so many to question the true nature of what happened on 9/11, for that set of events was pivotal in having American public opinion embrace extraordinary, anti-democratic, and anti-human rights measures. I do not subscribe to the (not-uncommon) conspiracy notion that the American government was complicit in 9/11, using it as a kind of Nazi Reichstag Fire to ignite the mindless war on terror and a crusade through the Middle East to overturn governments unfriendly to Israel. I do very much believe though that the full story of that event has never been told, and, as always, that can only mean highly embarrassing or compromising facts are being suppressed. The immense body of confidential information in Washington on all matters of state – literally tens of billions of documents - would largely disappear if it weren’t for considerations of embarrassment and compromise, the need for genuine government secrecy being much rarer than many assume.
A free society does not recognize crimes deemed in some way to be different or more heinous or extraordinary: it maintains and enforces sensible, well-reasoned laws which apply equally to all. It does not create criminal laws which reflect political pressure or special interests. The United States, now on a new hunt for a great white whale, has virtually re-created East Germany’s dreaded Stasi, only in a much more sophisticated and far-reaching form. It meshes with the all-pervasive secret state police apparatus Israel has constructed in the Middle East with infinite care since 1948. Now, over all our lives there is something, not answerable to any electorate, working to dissimulate, to intimidate, and to generate fear as nothing of which the Soviet Union was remotely capable. It influences all of our laws and customs, even attempting to shape the way we speak and think.
Monday, October 20, 2014
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.