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Tag Archives: 9/11

FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH IN PARIS AND THE UGLY TRUTH OF STATE TERROR

John Chuckman

Mass murder, as that which just occurred in Paris, is always distressing, but that does not mean we should stop thinking.

Isn’t it rather remarkable that President Hollande, immediately after the event, declared ISIS responsible? How did he know that? And if he was aware of a serious threat from ISIS, why did he not take serious measures in advance?

Within days of Friday 13, French forces assaulted an apartment with literally thousands of bullets being fired, killing a so-called mastermind, Abdelhamid Abaaoud. Just how are you instantly elevated to the rank of “mastermind”? And if security people were previously aware of his exalted status, why did they wait until after a disaster to go after him?

Well, the ugly underlying truth is that, willy-nilly, France for years has been a supporter of ISIS, even while claiming to be fighting it. How do I know that? Because France’s foreign policy has virtually no independence from America’s. It could be described as a subset of American foreign policy. Hollande marches around with his head held stiffly up after getting off the phone at the Élysée Palace, having received the day’s expectations from Washington. He has been a rather pathetic figure.

So long as it is doing work the United States wishes done, ISIS remains an American protectorate, and regardless of Hollande’s past rhetoric, he has acted according to that reality. But something may just have changed now.

It is important to note the disproportionate attention in the West to events in Paris. I say disproportionate because there are equally ugly things going on in a number of places in the Middle East, but we do not see the coverage given to Paris. We have bombs in Lebanon and Iraq. We have daily bombings and shootings in Syria. We have cluster bombs and other horrors being used by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. And of course, there are the ongoing horrors of Israel against Palestinians.

We have endless interviews with ordinary people in Paris, people who know nothing factual to help our understanding, about their reaction to the terror, but when was the last time you saw personal reactions broadcast from Gaza City or Damascus? It just does not happen, and it does raise the suspicion that the press’s concern with Paris is deliberately out of proportion. After all, Israel killed about twenty times as many people in Gaza not very long ago, and the toll was heavily weighted with children, many hundreds of them. Events in Paris clearly are being exploited for highly emotional leverage.

Leverage against what? Arabs in general and Muslims in particular, just part of the continuing saga of deliberately-channeled hate we have experienced since a group of what proved (after their arrest) to be Israeli spies were reported on top of a truck, snapping pictures and high-fiving each other as the planes hit the World Trade Center in 2001. What those spies were doing has never been explained to the public. I’m not saying Israel is responsible for 9/11, but clearly some Israeli government interests were extremely happy about events, and we have been bombarded ever since with hate propaganda about Muslims, serving as a kind of constant noise covering the crimes Israel does commit against Palestinians and other neighbors.

It is impossible to know whether the attack in Paris was actually the work of ISIS or a covert operation by the secret service of an ISIS supporter. The point is a bit like arguing over angels on a pinhead. When you are dealing with this kind of warfare – thugs and lunatics of every description lured into service and given deadly toys and lots of encouragement to use them – things can and do go wrong. But even when nothing goes wrong in the eyes of sponsors for an outfit like ISIS, terrible things are still happening. It’s just that they’re happening where the sponsors want them to happen and in places from which our press carefully excludes itself. Terrible things, for example, have been happening in the beautiful land of Syria for four or five years, violence equivalent to about two hundred Paris attacks, causing immense damage, the entire point of which is to topple a popularly-supported president and turn Syria into the kind of rump states we see now in Iraq.

A covert operation in the name of ISIS is at least as likely as an attack by ISIS. The United States, Israel, Turkey, and France are none of them strangers to violent covert activities, and, yes, there have been instances before when a country’s own citizens were murdered by its secret services to achieve a goal. The CIA pushed Italian secret services into undertaking a series of murderous attacks on their own people during the 1960s in order to shake up Italy’s “threatening” left-wing politics. It was part of something called Operation Gladio. Operation Northwoods, in the early 1960s, was a CIA-planned series of terrorist acts on American civilians to be blamed on Cuba, providing an excuse for another invasion. It was not carried out, but that was not owing to any qualms in the CIA about murdering their own, otherwise no plan would have ever existed. The CIA was involved in many other operations inside the United States, from experiments with drugs to ones with disease, using innocent people as its subject-victims.

There have been no differences worth mentioning between Hollande’s France and America concerning the Middle East. Whatever America wants, America gets, unlike the days when Jacques Chirac opposed the invasion of Iraq, or earlier, when de Gaulle removed France’s armed forces from integration within NATO or bravely faced immense hostility, including a coup attempt undertaken by French military with CIA cooperation, when he abandoned colonialism in Algeria.

If anything, Hollande has been as cloyingly obsequious towards America’s chief interest in the Middle East, Israel, as a group of Republican Party hopefuls at a Texas barbecue fund-raiser sniffing out campaign contributions. After the Charlie Hebdo attack, Hollande honored four Jewish victims of the thugs who attacked a neighborhood grocery store with France’s highest honor, the Legion of Honor. I don’t recall the mere fact of being murdered by thugs ever before being regarded as a heroic distinction. After all, in the United States more than twenty thousand a year suffer that fate without recognition.

Israel’s Netanyahu at the time of the Charlie Hebdo attack actually outdid himself in manic behavior. He barged into France against a specific request that he stay home and pushed himself, uninvited, to the front row of the big parade down the Champs-Élysées which was supposed to honor free speech. He wanted those cameras to be on him for voters back home watching.

Free speech, you might ask, from the leaders of Egypt, Turkey, the UAE, and Israel, who all marched in front?  Well, after the free-speech parody parade, the Madman of Tel Aviv raced around someone else’s country making calls and speeches for Jewish Frenchmen to leave “dangerous” France and migrate “home” to Israel. It would in fact be illegal in Israel for someone to speak that way in Israel to Israelis, but illegality has never bothered Netanyahu. Was he in any way corrected for this world-class asinine behavior? No, Hollande just kept marching around with his head stiffly up. I guess he was trying to prove just how free “free speech” is in France.

But speech really isn’t all that free in France, and the marching about free speech was a fraud. Not only is Charlie Hebdo, the publication in whose honor all the tramping around was done, not an outlet for free speech, being highly selective in choosing targets for its obscene attacks, but many of the people marching at the head of the parade were hardly representatives of the general principle.

France itself has outlawed many kinds of free speech. Speech and peaceful demonstrations which advocate a boycott of Israel are illegal in France. So a French citizen today cannot advocate peacefully against a repressive state which regularly abuses, arrests, and kills some of the millions it holds in a form of bondage. And Hollande’s France enforces this repressive law with at least as much vigor as Israel does with its own version, in a kind of “Look, me too,” spirit. France also has a law which is the exactly the equivalent of a law against anyone’s saying the earth is flat: a law against denying or questioning the Holocaust. France also is a country, quite disgracefully, which has banned the niqab.

Now, America’s policy in the Mideast is pretty straightforward: subsidize and protect its colony Israel and never criticize it even on the many occasions when it has committed genuine atrocities.  American campaign finance laws being what they, politics back home simply permits no other policy. The invasion of Iraq, which largely was intended to benefit Israel through the elimination of a major and implacable opponent, has like so many dark operations backfired. I call the invasion a dark operation because although the war was as public as could be, all of America’s, and Britain’s, supposed intelligence about Iraq was crudely manufactured and the reasons for undertaking an act which would kill a million people and cripple an entire country were complete lies.

America’s stupid invasion created new room for Iran to exert its influence in the region – hence, the endless noise in Israel and Saudi Arabia about Iran – and it led directly to the growth of armed rabble groups like ISIS. There were no terrorists of any description in Saddam’s Iraq, just as there were no terrorists in Gadhafi’s Libya, a place now so infested with them that even an American ambassador is not safe.

Some Americans assert that ISIS happened almost accidentally, popping out of the dessert when no one was looking, a bit like Athena from the head of Zeus, arising from the bitterness and discontents of a splintered society, but that view is fatuous. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens by accident in this part of the world. Israel’s spies keep informed of every shadowy movement, and America always listens closely to what they say.

It is silly to believe ISIS just crept up on America, suddenly a huge and powerful force, because ISIS was easy for any military to stop at its early stages, as when it was a couple of thousand men waving AK-47s from the backs of Japanese pick-up trucks tearing around Iraq. Those pick-up trucks and those AK-47s and the gasoline and the ammunition and the food and the pay required for a bunch of goons came from somewhere, and it wasn’t from Allah.

A corollary to America’s first principle about protecting Israel is that nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in Israel’s neighborhood that is not approved, at least tacitly, by the United States. So whether, in any given instance of supply and support for ISIS, it was Israel or Saudi Arabia or Turkey or America – all involved in this ugly business – is almost immaterial. It all had to happen with American approval. Quite simply, there would be hell to pay otherwise.

As usual in the region, Saudi Arabia’s role was to supply money, buying weapons from America and others and transshipping them to ISIS. Ever since 9/11, Saudi Arabia has been an almost pathetically loyal supporter of America, even to the extent now of often cooperating with Israel. That couldn’t happen before an event in which the majority of perpetrators proved to be Saudi citizens and which led to the discovery that large amounts of Saudi “go away” money had been paid to Osama bin Laden for years. But after 9/11, the Saudis feared for the continuation of their regime and now do what they are told.  They are assisted in performing the banking function by Qatar, another wealthy, absolute state aligned with the United States and opposing the rise of any possibly threatening new forces in its region.

Of course, it wasn’t just the discoveries of 9/11 that motivated Saudi Arabia. It intensely dislikes the growing influence of Iran, and Iran’s Shia Muslim identity is regarded by Sunni sects in Saudi Arabia in much the way 17th century Protestantism was viewed by an ultramontane Catholic state like Spain. The mass of genuine jihadists fighting in Syria – those who are not just mercenaries and adventurers or agents of Israel or Turkey or the Saudis – are mentally-unbalanced Sunni who believe they are fighting godlessness. The fact that Assad keeps a secular state with religious freedom for all just adds to their motivation.

ISIS first achievement was toppling an Iraqi government which had been excessively friendly to Iran in the view of Israel, and thereby the United States. Iraq’s army could have stopped them easily early on but was bribed to run away, leaving weapons such as tanks behind. Just two heavy tanks could have crushed all the loons in pick-up trucks. That’s why there was all the grotesque propaganda about beheadings and extreme cruelty to cover the fact of modern soldiers running from a mob. ISIS gathered weapons, territory, and a fierce reputation in an operation which saw President al-Maliki – a man disliked by the United States for his associations with Iran and his criticism of American atrocities – hurriedly leave office.

From that base, ISIS was able to gain sufficient foothold to begin financing itself through, for example, stolen crude sold at a discount or stolen antiquities. The effective splitting up of Iraq meant that its Kurdish population in the north could sell, as it does today, large volumes of oil to Israel, an unheard of arrangement in Iraq’s past. ISIS then crossed into Syria in some force to go after Assad. The reasons for this attack were several: Assad runs a secular state and defends religious minorities but mainly because the paymasters of ISIS wanted Assad destroyed and Syria reduced in the fashion of Iraq.

Few people in the press seem to have noted that ISIS never attacks Israel or Israeli interests. Neither does it attack the wheezingly-corrupt rulers of Saudi Arabia, the Islamic equivalent of ancient Rome’s Emperor Nero. Yet those are the very targets a group of genuine, independent warrior-fundamentalists would attack. But ISIS is not genuine, being supplied and bankrolled by people who do not want to see attacks on Israel or Saudi Arabia, including, notably, Israel and Saudi Arabia. ISIS also is assisted, and in some cases led, by foreign covert operators and special forces.

There does seem to be a good deal of news around the idea of France becoming serious in fighting ISIS, but I think we must be cautious about accepting it at face value. Putin is reported as telling ship commanders in the Mediterranean to cooperate and help cover the French aircraft carrier approaching. Hollande keeps calling for American cooperation too, as Putin has done for a very long time, but America’s position remains deliberately ambiguous. A new American announcement of cooperation with Turkey in creating a “safe zone” across the border with northern Syria is a development with unclear intentions. Is this to stop the Kurds Erdogan so despises fighting in the north of Syria from establishing themselves and controlling the border or is it a method for continued support of ISIS along the that border? Only time will tell.

I do think it at least possible Hollande may have come around to Putin’s view of ISIS, but America has not, and the situation only grows more fraught with dangerous possibilities. I’ve long believed that likely America, in its typically cynical fashion, planned to destroy ISIS, along with others like al-Nusra, once they had finished the dirty work of destroying Syria’s government and Balkanizing the country. In any event, Israel – and therefore, automatically, America – wants Assad destroyed, so it would be surprising to see America at this point join honestly with Putin and Hollande.

America has until now refused Russia any real support, including such basic stuff as sharing intelligence. It cooperates only in the most essential matters such avoiding attacks on each other’s planes. It also has made some very belligerent statements about what Russia has been doing, some from the America’s Secretary of Defense sounding a lot like threats. Just the American establishment’s bully-boy attitude about doing anything which resembles joining a Russian initiative does not bode well.

After all, Putin has been portrayed as a kind of Slavic Satan by American propaganda cranking stuff out overtime in support of Ukraine’s incompetent coup-government and with the aim of terrifying Eastern Europe into accepting more American weapons and troops near Russia’s border, this last having nothing to do with any Russian threat and everything to do with America’s aggressive desire to shift the balance of power. How do you turn on a dime and admit Putin is right about Syria and follow his lead?

And there are still the daily unpleasant telephone calls from Israel about Assad. How do you manoeuvre around that when most independent observers today recognize Assad as the best alternative to any other possible government. He has the army’s trust, and in the end it is the Syrian army which is going to destroy ISIS and the other psychopaths. Air strikes alone can never do that. The same great difficulty for Hollande leaves much ambiguity around what he truly means by “going to war against ISIS.”

It is an extremely complicated world in which we live with great powers putting vast resources towards destroying the lives of others, almost killing thousands on a whim, while pretending not to be doing so. We live in an era shaped by former CIA Director Allen Dulles, a quiet psychopath who never saw an opportunity for chaos he did not embrace.

The only way to end terror is to stop playing with the lives of tens of millions in the Middle East, as America has done for so long, and stop supporting the behaviors of a repressive state which has killed far greater numbers than the madmen of ISIS could dream of doing, demanding instead that that state make peace and live within its borders. But, at least at this stage, that is all the stuff of dreams.

 

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LIVING WITH INSANITY

Harper, Abbott, and Cameron at the Brisbane G-20

 

John Chuckman

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 willful 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.

 

 

 

 

 

POLITICAL BUNRAKU

John Chuckman

 

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.

 

 

 

 

HOW AMERICA LEARNED TO PLAY GOD

The Aftermath of 9/11: America’s Second Great Transformation and the Emergence of a Brave New World

John Chuckman

I call America’s pattern of behavior since 9/11 a “great transformation” because it involves revolutionary changes for the country and, unavoidably, the entire world. In its internal affairs, America has effectively weakened the protections of the Bill of Rights and instituted many of the practices of police states – all under the insidious rationale of “protection from terrorists,” a subject heading which incapacitates the courts and serves to draw a great dark cloak over matters vital to all. Secrecy, always a favorite tool of cowardly politicians, now has assumed an enormous, central position in America. Spying, both on your own people and on those abroad, has become pervasive.

America has increased spending on military and intelligence to levels dangerously high both for the stability of the world and the future integrity of its own society. These resource-wasting establishments also will entangle any state in all sorts of costly unanticipated difficulties over time. Foreign policy has shifted to adopt the once-laughable, malevolent fantasies of the Neocons as official America policy, including an unapologetic and unprincipled use of America’s military strength around the world and a savage effort to remake the entire Middle East to its own liking, ignoring the region’s acute problems and treating the hopes of tens of millions for better lives as so much collateral damage from a bombing run.

These massive changes add to a social and governing structure which already had grown far away from the people, a structure which in many ways resembles that of pre-revolutionary, 18th century France, a state ruled by and for a class of landed aristocrats, a class of church aristocrats, and a ruling family and its armies. In contemporary America, the great hierarchies are the Pentagon, a web of sixteen intelligence agencies, and the great corporations with their immensely wealthy owners.

America’s first great transformation was the Civil War, a war which was not about slavery as is commonly believed and generally taught in public schools but about the division of powers between states and the federal government, affecting the very economic and political structure of the nation. The United States under the original Constitution was a very different place than we have come to know it. The Civil War reduced authorities of the states, demolished many formidable internal barriers to trade and to federal political power, and elevated the federal government from a mere debating forum between states into a powerful central authority. The Civil War transformed, too, the United States into a world-class industrial nation and military power which would in coming decades embark on new colonial wars and adventures. The Civil War made possible the growth of mighty national industries and the coming Age of Robber Barons and was a necessary precursor to the changes now underway.

For a good deal of time, America grew a healthy middle class, and for a brief golden era even industrial workers in America prospered remarkably. Political rights and freedoms tended to expand with that growth. But real per capita income of middle to lower-middle class Americans has dropped for many years now, a result in great part of globalization and new competitors coming up in the world. That has been a major impetus for social change as American middle class families attempt to hold their positions with incomes from two careers and lower costs in a seemingly infinite sprawl of cheap hinterland suburbs. And for years now, the American establishment has made the keenest political issue of taxes, but an issue only in the sense of by just how much to lower them, most particularly those affecting the wealthy.

To some extent a fortress-like mentality had taken hold of the middle class for years as they saw themselves on their way to work passing parts of rotting cities – doors always locked on their tank-like SUVs and vans – struggling to raise their position in the world by fending off taxes as much as possible, and, even, in a growing number of instances, living in “gated communities” out of fear of crime spreading from rotted cities. I think that kind of prevailing mentality helps greatly for accepting America’s new, more oppressive measures.

One might think the United States would have learned from the country it now copies closely: Israel has had a paralyzing web of secret police, border restrictions, secret prisons, and a massive military establishment for 65 years, yet it has never enjoyed genuine peace and lives in a chilling, unpleasant relationship with all of its neighbors. The average Israeli too does not enjoy a great life in an economically-inefficient society (whose interests, moreover, are heavily tilted towards those of its privileged groups), and then there’s that “great mob of Arabs out there” regarded in much the same way America regards its poor blacks. And were it not for immense subsidies and special favors keeping Israel afloat, that security state likely would collapse under the weight of its economic inefficiency. When any state puts absolute security above everything else, much of what it achieves is not worth having. Stalin perhaps provides history’s bleakest, most extreme example of running an absolute security state.

Of course, security, as understood by what Stalin called “wreckers of the revolution” and what Israel and the United States call “terrorism,” is not the complete reason for secret prisons and building walls and networks and police forces and spy systems. Those with great power and wealth and special interests have always had an instinctive impulse to control their environment, including the other people who inhabit it. Vast guarded estates and fences and bodyguards and summary justice for those trespassing have always been features of life for the great and powerful, and the same impulses exist for powerful organizations within a state, especially militarized states. Close control over behavior unacceptable to an establishment – including behavior that is merely different or dissident or embarrassing or slightly shady or emotionally off-balance or politically threatening – is at the heart of the matter. A gigantic network has been created in the United States which will detect, track, and file away information on these behaviors in perpetuity. The potential for blackmail and intimidation of political opponents or NGO leaders or writers or the press is enormous. While this may not be the case at first, over time, can you think of any apparatus that has gone unused by those with power, any apparatus which has not been abused? We should not forget that as recently as the 1960s, the FBI was actively trying to get Martin Luther King to commit suicide with anonymous letters threatening to reveal secret recordings. America is, after all, a country that has used atomic weapons, twice, and both times on civilian targets.

America is now also doing something no other country is in a position to do: it is exploiting the dollar’s privileged position as the world’s reserve currency to pay for much of its gigantic waste through massive future devaluation of an asset held by millions around the world. Unconscionable? Arrogant? Bullying? Those words I think are fairly applied to the changes. It may be no consolation for those being steamrolled by America that its behavior is unavoidably weakening its position in the world, but that is a fact. The bullying will prevail for a time, but it does speed the day when world leadership shifts to new hands, not necessarily to any single country like China but possibly to a consortium of rapidly-growing large states – India, Russia, Brazil, and China – with interests of their own.

It is no wonder that the conspiracy-oriented regard 9/11 as some kind of black operation used to shift the direction of the country towards a brave new world. The only conspiracy I see in the events around 9/11, though, are the American government’s refusal to explain to its own people what happened while exploiting events to its benefit, doing things it likely long has wanted to do. It is covering up both the incompetence and destructiveness of the operations of its own intelligence and military establishments as well as the deadly stupidity of some of its foreign policies, policies which seem fixed in amber through the tireless work of special interests. Dishonesty now has become a hallmark of American government. Those with power feel no obligation to explain to the people they nominally serve what happened in almost any event of genuine importance, and a long-term practice has only become more intense and pervasive.

America’s press, still sometimes is heard patting itself on the back as the “fourth estate” protecting peoples’ interests and handing out meaningless journalism awards to itself, actually works as a silent partner with government, never once investigating the genuinely important stuff. A merged, corporate press has no interest in investigating a corporate government, indeed it depends on government agencies for the leaks and interviews and data access which make it appear as though it is investigating and reporting day-in, day-out. It often provides the security agencies with cover for their overseas operations, it frequently has hired them, sometimes unwittingly, onto its staff, and it provides an outlet for the agencies’ disinformation, again sometimes unwittingly. And of course the corporate advertising which sustains the press puts the scrutiny of many corporate matters out of bounds, including many cozy and anti-democratic relationships with government and its major agencies.

Just as there is a natural cycle in the life of great industries – the scores of early American car manufacturers are now reduced to a few functioning as an oligopoly, an historical pattern repeated in industry after industry  – there appears to be a life cycle for a government organized like that of the United States. The duopoly which runs the American government consists of two parties which differ in almost no particulars except some social issues, but even that difference is rather a sham because the American government no longer has any interest in social issues. It is concerned overwhelmingly with representing and furthering the interests of the nation’s three great power centers of the military-industrial-intelligence complex. Social issues now are soap-box stuff for street-corner politicians and members of NGOs.

But in any case, all players in this political duopoly, no matter to which office they may be elected, know they can never challenge the immense authority and virtual omnipresence of America’s military, intelligence, corporate hierarchies and special interests like the Israel Lobby, powerful anti-democratic institutions which literally shape the space America’s politicians must inhabit.

Americans today quite simply could not vote in an informed manner if they wanted to do so (and many are not interested in voting at all, as we shall see): they are completely in the dark as to what happens inside their government, both its operations within the country and in international affairs. No one knows the full extent of spending on intelligence, nor do they know what dark programs are underway. No one knows the full extent of spending on the military, nor do they know to what questionable tasks it is being put around the world. No one knows the immense extent and complexity of lobbying and special interests in the American government. And of course no one is privy to the planning and operations of the great corporations, nor do they know anything of the dealings and financing arrangements between those corporations (or the wealthy individuals who own and run them) and the people’s supposed representatives, who all must spend a substantial part of their time just raising money for the next election (the average American Senator is said to spend two-thirds of his or her time doing just that).

Americans’ votes in elections have become to a remarkable extent meaningless, although an elaborate political stage play keeps the appearance of meaning and keeps those interested in politics involved and entertained. Almost certainly as a result of sensing how little their votes count, Americans often simply do not vote and do so in increasing numbers. The further down the political totem pole you go from the presidential elections which generate the most noise owing to the obscene amounts of money spent on marketing and advertising, the greater is this truth. Maybe 60% vote for president, a minority vote in other national elections, and a tiny fraction vote in state and local elections.

For those who cherish rights and values won since the Enlightenment, it is a disheartening prospect we face. A nasty bully, armed to the teeth and endowed with a profound sense of entitlement and scant regard for the other 95% of humanity, casts a long shadow over the entire planet. Not so terrifying a figure as a Stalin or a Hitler, he is frightening enough, and his insincere words about rights and values and fairness fool many as he proceeds to do just as he pleases, including killing any individual on the planet he decides in secret to be an opponent. It is indeed a brave new world, not Shakespeare’s and something far grimmer than Huxley’s.

 

 

 

 

 

John Chuckman

Of course, the cozy popular myth of America’s Founding Fathers as an earnest, civic-minded group gathered in an ornate hall, writing with quill pens, reading from leather-bound tomes, and offering heroic speeches in classical poses – all resembling Greek philosophers in wigs and spectacles and frock coats – was always that, a myth. They were in more than a few cases narrow, acquisitive men, ambitious for their personal interests which were considerable, and even the more philosophic types among them were well-read but largely unoriginal men who cribbed ideas and concepts and even whole phrases from European Enlightenment writers and British parliamentary traditions.

And much of what they wrote and agreed upon involved what would prove mistaken ideas, with a lack of foresight into what the almost unchangeable concrete their words would shape. Americans today often are not aware that the word “democracy” for many of the Founders was an unpleasant one, carrying just about the same connotations that “communist” would a century and a half later. Men of the world of privilege and comparative wealth – Washington, Morris, and many others – were having nothing to do with ideas which rendered unimportant men important. That is why the country was styled as a “republic” – that most undefined term in the political lexicon, which then meant only the absence of a king with decisions made by a tight group of propertied elites.

False as they are, the very fact that there are such pleasant myths does tell us something about past popular ideals informing their creation. Now, how would any future Americans manage to weave attractive myths about a president who sits in the Oval Office signing authorizations for teams of young buzz-cut psychopaths in secret locked rooms to guide killing machines against mere suspects and innocent bystanders, often adopting the tactics of America’s lunatic anti-abortion assassins, sending a second hellish missile into the crowd of neighbors who come to the assistance of the victims of the first?

How would they weave attractive myths around the CIA’s International Torture Gulag, including that hellhole, Guantanamo, where kidnapped, legally-innocent people are imprisoned and tortured and given absolutely no rights or ethical treatment under international laws and conventions?

During the Revolutionary War, the battles were between armies, and captured soldiers were frequently granted their freedom upon their paroles, pledges of not returning to the fight. Spies were thought poorly of and often hung. Torture was uncommon and certainly not embraced as policy.

What myths can be written of two wars involving the deaths of a million or so people, the creation of millions of refugees, and the needless destruction of huge amounts of other peoples’ property, and all to achieve nothing but a change of government? Or about massive armed forces and secret security agencies which squander hundreds of billions in resources year after year, spreading their dark influence to all corners of the globe, and offering an insurmountable obstacle to America’s own citizens who might imagine they ever can rise against a government grown tyrannous? After all, polls in America show that its Congress is held in contempt by the overwhelming majority of its people, with percentages of disapproval rivaling those held for communism or Satanic rituals.

There are no myths about today’s Congressional figures. Everyone understands they are often to be found bellowing in ornate halls about points most Americans couldn’t care less about. Everyone understands that they are ready to go anywhere and say almost anything for large enough campaign contributions. That they take off on junkets paid for by groups hoping to influence votes and put faces to the exercise of future influence, trips commonly involving a foreign power trying to shape American policy. That their work is often steeped in secrecy from the voters, secrecy not governed by genuine national security concerns but by the often shameful nature of their work. That a good deal of the legislation and rules they create repress their own people’s interests and favor only special interests.

That their government regularly suppresses inconvenient truths and labels those who raise questions as foolishly addicted to conspiracy or even as treacherous. What are just a few of the events which have been treated in this fashion? The assassination of a President. The accidental or deliberate downing of at least three civilian aircraft by America’s military in recent years – an Iranian airliner, TWA Flight 800 on the East Coast, and the fourth plane of the 9/11 plot over Pennsylvania. The CIA’s past cooperation and engagement with the American Mafia during its anti-Castro terror campaign. The CIA’s use of drug trafficking to raise off-the-books income. The military’s assassination of American prisoners of war cooperating with their Vietnamese captors. Obfuscating Israel’s deliberate attack on an American intelligence-gathering ship during its engineered 1967 War. The huge death toll of locals, civilian and military, in America’s grisly imperial wars, from Vietnam to Iraq. 9/11.

I do not believe in 9/11 insider plots, but I know there has been strenuous official effort to disguise that event’s full nature. The motives? One suspects a great deal of embarrassment at demonstrated incompetence has been at work. Blowback from CIA operations in the Middle East seems more than likely. The documented involvement of Mossad in following and recording the plotters inside the United States leaves disturbing unanswered questions. One also knows that America’s establishment discovered in the wake of 9/11 the perfect opportunity for doing a great many nasty things it had always wanted to do anyway. You might say the terrorists did the military-industrial-intelligence complex a big favor. Anti-democratic measures involving surveillance, privacy in communications, secret prisons, torture, and effective suspension of some of the Constitution are all parts of the new American reality.

The FBI can record what you borrow from the public library. The NSA captures your every phone call, text message, and e-mail. The TSA can strip search you for taking an inter-city bus. Drones are being used for surveillance, and the TSA actually has a program of agents traveling along some highways ready to stop those regarded as suspicious. Portable units for seeing through clothes and baggage, similar to those used at airports, are to tour urban streets in vans randomly. Agencies of the government, much in the style of the former Stasi, encourage reports from citizens about suspicious behavior. Now, you can just imagine what might be called “suspicious” in a society which has always had a tendency towards witch-hunts and fears of such harmless things as Harry Potter books or the charming old Procter and Gambel symbol on soapboxes.

America has become in many ways a police state, albeit one where a kind of decency veil is left draped over the crude government machinery. How can a place which has elections and many of the trappings of a free society be a police state? Well, it can because power, however conferred, can be, and will be, abused. And the majority in any democratic government can impose terrible burdens on the minority. That’s how the American Confederacy worked, how apartheid South Africa worked, and that’s how Israel works today. Prevention of those inevitable abuses is the entire reason for a Bill of Rights, but if you suspend or weaken its protections, anything becomes possible.

American police forces have long enjoyed a reputation for brutal and criminal behavior – using illegal-gains seizure laws for profit, beating up suspects, conducting unnecessary military-style raids on homes, killing people sometimes on the flimsiest of excuses – having earned international recognition from organizations such as Amnesty International. The reasons for this are complex but include the military model of organization adopted by American policing, the common practice of hiring ex-soldiers as police, the phenomenon of uncontrolled urban sprawl creating new towns whose tiny police forces have poor practices and training, and, in many jurisdictions, a long and rich history of police corruption. Now, those often poor-quality American police have unprecedented discretion and powers of abuse.

Further, according to the words of one high-ranking general a few years back, the American military is prepared to impose martial law in the event of another great act of terror. Certainly that is an encouraging and uplifting thought considering all the blunders and waste and murder and rape the American military has inflicted upon countries from Vietnam to Iraq.

Where it is possible, power prefers to know about and even to control what is going on at the most humble level of its society, and the greater the power, the more irresistible the drive to know and control. It is essential to appreciate that whether you are talking about the military or huge corporations or the security apparatus, you are not talking about institutions which are democratic in nature. Quite the opposite, these institutions are run along much the same lines as all traditional forms of undemocratic government, from monarchs to dictators. Leadership and goals and methods are not subject to a vote and orders given are only to be obeyed, and there is no reason to believe that any of these institutions cherishes or promotes democratic values or principles of human rights. Of course, corporations, in order to attract talent, must publicly present a friendly face towards those principles, but that necessary charade reflects their future behavior about as much as campaign promises reflect future acts of an American politician.

Those at the top of all powerful and hierarchical institutions inevitably come to believe that they know better than most people, and those with any hope of gaining top positions must adopt the same view. For centuries we saw the great landed gentry and church patriarchs of pre-democratic societies regard themselves as inherently different from the population. It is no different with the psychology of people who enjoy their wealth and influence through positions in these great modern, un-democratic institutions. The larger and more pervasive these institutions become in society – and they have become truly bloated in America – the more will their narcissistic, privileged views prevail. Also, it is axiomatic that where great power exists, it never goes unused. Large standing armies are the proximate cause of many of history’s wars. And just so, the power of corporations to expand through illegality of every description, this being the source of the many controversies about failing to pay taxes in countries where they operate or the widespread practice of bribery in landing large contracts with national governments.

So far as security services go (the United States, at last count, having sixteen different ones), they may well be the worst of all these modern, massive anti-democratic institutions. Their lines of responsibility to government are often weak, and citizens in general are often regarded as things with which to experiment or play. Their leaders and agents are freely permitted to perjure themselves in courts. The organizations possess vast budgets with little need to account for the spending. They can even create their own funds through everything from drug and weapons trading to counterfeiting currency, all of it not accounted for and subject to no proper authority. And their entire work is secret, whether that work involves legitimate national security or not. The nature of their work breeds a secret-fraternity mindset of superiority and cynicism. They start wars and coups, including against democratic governments sometimes, they pay off rising politicians even in allied countries, they use money and disinformation to manipulate elections even in friendly governments, and of course they kill people and leaders they seriously disapprove of. Now, does any thinking person believe that they simply forget these mindsets and practices when it comes to what they regard as serious problems in their own country?

The record of arrogance and abuse by security organizations, such as CIA or the FBI, is long and costly, filled with errors in judgment, abuse of power, incompetence, and immense dishonesty. Owing to the black magic of classified secrecy, much of the record involves projects about which we will never know, but even what we do know about is distressing enough. And I’m not sure that it can be any other way so long as you have Big Intelligence. Apart from Big Intelligence’s own propensity towards criminal or psychopathic behavior, one of the great ironies of Big Intelligence is that it will always agree to bend, to provide whatever suppressions and fabrications are requested by political leaders working towards the aims of the other great anti-democratic institutions, the military and the corporations. This became blindingly clear in the invasion of Iraq and, even before that, in the first Gulf War.

America’s political system, honed and shaped over many decades, fits comfortably with these institutions. National elections are dominated by a two-party duopoly (being kept that way through countless institutional barriers deliberately created to maintain the status quo) , both these parties are dominated by huge flows of campaign contributions (contributions which form what economists call an effective barrier to entry against any third party seriously being able to compete), both parties embrace much the same policies except for some social issues of little interest to the establishment, and election campaigns are reduced to nothing more than gigantic advertising and marketing operations no different in nature to campaigns for two national brands of fast food or pop. It takes an extremely long time for a candidate to rise and be tested before being trusted with the huge amounts of money invested in an important campaign, and by that time he or she is a well-read book with no surprising chapters.

If for any reason this political filtering system fails, and someone slips through to an important office without having spent enough time to make them perfectly predictable, there still remains little chance of serious change on any important matter. The military-industrial-intelligence complex provides a molded space into which any newcomer absolutely must fit. Just imagine the immense pressures exerted by the mere presence of senior Pentagon brass gathered around a long polished oak table or a table surrounded by top corporate figures representing hundreds of billions in sales or representatives or a major lobbying group (and multi-million dollar financing source for the party). We see the recent example of popular hopes being crushed after the election of Obama, a man everyone on the planet hoped to see mend some of the ravages of George Bush and Dick Cheney. But the man who once sometimes wore sandals and bravely avoided a superfluous and rather silly flag pin on his lapel quickly was made to feel the crushing weight of institutional power, and he bent to every demand made on him, becoming indistinguishable from Bush. Of course, the last president who genuinely did challenge at least some of the great institutional powers, even to a modest extent, died in an ambush in Dallas.

JOHN CHUCKMAN

A note to readers: Normally, I post my book reviews only on another site of mine, Chuckman’s Miscellanea of Words, but because of the nature of this book and its being the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I am also posting on this site.

I have long been an admirer of the work of Anthony Summers, one of the world’s great investigative journalists.

His biographical notes on J. Edgar Hoover, Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover are required reading for an understanding of how the center of American power operated for a major portion of the 20th century.

His first book on the Kennedy assassination, Conspiracy, is the greatest book ever written on that event, and it has never been surpassed for the depth of its analysis and gripping nature of its writing. Indeed, because so little new evidence of any importance has emerged since that time, it remains the definitive study.

When I read that he was publishing a book on 9/11 – an event around which swirl clouds of doubt and mystery as great as the ferocious storm of dust which swept through lower Manhattan when the World Trade Center collapsed – I was ready to devour it.

And while there is a good deal to admire in the new book, my lasting impression is one of disappointment. It simply does not measure up to what I think of as the standard of excellence set previously by Mr. Summers.

There are assumptions here I cannot accept without better evidence, much of the main thread of detailed facts contained come ultimately from American torture of countless people in the CIA’s “rendition program,” a bureaucratic euphemism for an international torture gulag, and there are important facts not even touched on.

I have never accepted notions like insider plots and false flag operations pertaining to this event, but anyone who has followed matters over the last decade knows that a great deal remains obscured and unexplained, almost certainly deliberately so by the American government.

Mr. Summers believes it is essentially for several reasons: one is to cover up the close to utter incompetence of the CIA and other agencies leading up to the event. Another is to cover up the almost criminal incompetence of the Bush administration both before and after the event. And another is to guard the long and deep and fairly secret intimate relationship America has with Saudi Arabia.

I accept all of these, but none of them comes as news to critical observers over the years, and I do not believe they add up to an explanation of what happened on 9/11.

The CIA has flopped countless times – failing to correctly read the Soviet Union’s economic and military power, failing even to predict its collapse, failing completely in either preventing or investigating Kennedy’s assassination, and being the author of countless lunatic plots like the Bay of Pigs Invasion. The agency has squandered vast amounts of money in often counterproductive schemes since its creation following World War II, so its failure with regard to 9/11 was for me the expected norm.

The same Bush administration, which gave us a world record limp and pathetic performance for a government during Hurricane Katrina, could not be expected to operate in an entirely different mode around 9/11, and it most certainly did not.

The relationship with Saudi Arabia is one of those not-much-discussed matters in America, but it is a necessity so long as America keeps building three-car garages out into the desert of the Southwest.

New facts Summers presents us with are interesting and not contemptible, but they are inadequate to our curiosity. Some of those involved in 9/11 from Saudi Arabia may well have been double or triple agents for Saudi intelligence. Osama bin Laden was paid handsomely by Saudi princes to keep his various operations off Saudi soil, thus indirectly funding 9/11. After dumbly dawdling at a school-reading photo-op, Bush was finally whisked away in Air Force One where the commander-in-chief was virtually out of the loop with remarkably faulty communications. His Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, the number two man in a wartime chain of command, was for some time wondering around the Pentagon unavailable to military commanders needing his authority.

Summers pretty well accepts the official version of 9/11, with the important proviso that the official version, the commission report, includes such matters as the fact that there was little cooperation from Bush officials during the investigation, and the CIA certainly did not explain itself adequately.

The collapse of building 7, which was not hit by an airplane and which occurred after the collapse of the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center, is attributed to debris falling from the other towers. I just don’t know, but it did bother me that Mr. Summers seemed to go out of his way to poke fun at some of the scientists or engineers who doubt that.

The large effort of Israeli spies around 9/11 is not even mentioned in the book, and I found that a disturbing omission.

There was a group of five Israeli spies who were seen on the roof of their truck taking pictures of the explosions and then behaving in a raucous congratulatory manner, yelling and high-fiving. The police were called and they were arrested, but we know nothing of their purpose or achievements. There was another large group of Mossad agents posing as art students who travelled around the country apparently following some or all of the 9/11 plotters. They, too, were arrested and later deported, but we know nothing of them.

Summers accepts the “let’s roll” scenario for the fourth high-jacked plane which crashed in Pennsylvania, but I have always doubted it. First, the photos of the debris field certainly suggest to a non-technical person that it may have been shot down. Second, after three deliberate crashes into buildings, it seems almost unbelievable that the huge air defenses of the United States had not finally taken action. Third, on at least one occasion, Donald Rumsfeld spoke to the press inadvertently using the expression “shooting down” the plane over Pennsylvania in discussing the high-jackings. Fourth, only naturally, the United States’ government would not publicize the shooting-down of a civilian airliner because the resulting lawsuits would be colossal. I am willing to be convinced otherwise, but Mr. Summers does not succeed in doing it for me.

Another important fact is not mentioned in the book. An American consular official at the time was complaining in public about all the visas they were issuing in the Middle East owing to pressure from the CIA. It was not a headline story, but it was an important clue to something unusual going on.

I have always regarded it as a strong hypothesis that the high-jackers were part of a secret CIA operation which badly backfired, an operation which saw many questionable people receiving visas and being allowed to do some pilot training. Risky CIA operations have a number of times backfired, and they even have nickname for that happening, blowback.

Of course, we could see the entire matter also as blowback from the CIA’s secret war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Fundamentalist Muslims in Afghanistan, Mujahideen, were recruited, provided training and money and sophisticated weapons to fight the Soviets. Several billion dollars were poured in. Osama bin Laden was himself part of the business, but, as Mr. Summers agrees, he later did not see the United States as any different to the Soviets when they sent troops onto the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Summers is trying to place a good deal of blame on the Saudis for their funding and secret operations, and while I regard it as an interesting observation that certain members of the royal family paid Osama, I do not regard that as a stunning fact. After all, Saudi Arabia’s countless billions come in good part either directly or indirectly from the United States and Osama bin Laden’s family was a very successful wealthy contractor there, so you could say in the same sense that the United States subsidized Osama’s operations. And it goes deeper than that, for Saudi business connections in the United States, including connections directly with the Bush family, go back many years.

This reader for one would like to see some hard proof of some things that Mr. Summers takes as fact. First, that bin Laden even was responsible for 9/11: the public has never been provided a shred of good evidence. Second, that bin Laden was not in fact killed in the unbelievable bombardment at Tora Bora, his death being kept hidden to prevent martyrdom. Third, that the recent assassination in Pakistan was genuine, not the effort of a president down in the polls and feeling that after ten years he could afford to make the claim.

Fourth, that there ever was an organization called al Qaeda. I know that sounds odd to people who assume everything they hear on television is true, but there are good reasons for doubting it. While Mr. Summers gives one translation for the Arabic word, people who speak Arabic have said it commonly means toilet, and surely no one running a terror organization would use such a name. Indeed, we have several very prominent people quoted in the past, including former British Foreign Minister Robin Cook, saying that al Qaeda was just a derogatory catch-all term used for various “bad guys” out there. That is a tremendously meaningful difference between the two things, but Mr. Summers does not touch the issue.

Again, I cannot stress how important it is for all decent-minded people holding to democratic values to accept neither the CIA’s international torture gulag nor the results of its dark work. Yet the bulk of Mr. Summers’ idea of events is based on evidence deriving ultimately from torture, the people being tortured never receiving the benefits of counsel, fair trial, or even opportunity to rebut.

In summary, a book worth reading, if only to get mad at, but it hardly represents a definitive effort on its subject.

A RESPONSE TO HILLARY CLINTON’S ASSERTION THAT ALL NATIONS SHOULD PLAY A PART IN THE AFGHANISTAN MISSION

John Chuckman

Hillary Clinton, in a just-published piece on the Afghanistan mission (see note at bottom), offers us nothing helpful or enlightening, only boiler-plate American slogans, the kind of stuff you’d hear from some provincial Congressman giving a Fourth of July speech in a place like Muncie, Indiana.

Indeed, her use of the question-begging word “mission” in the title to describe what has been the pointless conquest and occupation of a people signals the vacuity of the words that follow.

“The violent extremism that threatens the people and governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan also undermines the stability of the wider region and threatens the security of our friends, allies and interests around the world.”

No government in Afghanistan or Pakistan was threatened until the U.S. became involved. Yes, they are poor regions with much backward fundamentalism, but those governments knew how to handle the difficulties of their own affairs before the U.S. bombed and machine-gunned its way in.

No matter what the U.S. does, short of exterminating an entire class of people (for the Taleban is not an invading guerilla force but a substantial portion of the population), the fundamentalism is not going to go away in our lifetimes.

It would take decades of very healthy economic growth to bring these places forward, and so far America’s only contribution has been to kill tens of thousands of people and destroy a great deal of the meager physical assets in these places.

I would remind Ms. Clinton that it was only as recently as the 1930s, and into the 1940s, that families in the American South, likely considering themselves good Christians all, would attend picnics to watch the lynching of some black men. I am not exaggerating: such events were common even in Franklin Roosevelt’s day, and he never spoke out against them, despite prodding from Eleanor, for fear of losing his political support in the South.

Yet that grotesque horror has come to an end. How did it happen? The answer is decades of strong economic growth bringing jobs, wealth, and fresh air to America’s once-fetid South.

How much larger is the problem in a land that lives, to a considerable extent, in the 17th century? Immensely larger.

How is the security of the world threatened by these people? It’s not and never has been. The very fact that NATO countries have made such almost laughably small contributions is the strongest possible evidence that Ms. Clinton is not believed by any of them.

Imagine a genuine world threat in which the many countries of NATO each sent the troop equivalent of the police force of very modest-sized cities?

They have only indeed sent those owing to constant American browbeating, cajoling, and, in some cases, threats: the U.S. colossus can summon a great deal of economic and political force in getting its way.

Which fact brings us to the question of why the U.S. did not use those great non-lethal powers in Afghanistan after 9/11.

It simply demanded the extradition of people without supplying a shred of proof to the Afghan government, the Afghan request being the normal procedure for extradition anywhere.

Then the U.S. invaded while lining up a façade of support from the U.N. and NATO, everyone at that time being under both pressure from the U.S. and only naturally feeling sympathy over 9/11 .

What was America’s purpose? No person in the American government today, not Clinton and not even Obama, can give you a lucid and reasonable answer, because the truth was that there was nothing lucid or reasonable about the invasion. The purpose was blinding white-hot rage for revenge.

Once the U.S.got there, beyond its early cheap victory over 17th century people, it did not know what to do, and it still does not know what to do. Its victory consisted of displacing the Taleban with warlords of the Northern Alliance, supported by a level of horrific bombing perhaps not seen since America’s holocaust in Vietnam.

Eight years later, there is no democracy in Afghanistan, elections being pretty much a sham. The burka is still worn by most of the women in Afghanistan: after all, many members of the Northern Alliance are just as backward and vicious as the Taleban. General Dostum, for example, is a certified mass murderer, a man whose ghastly, brutal excesses were winked at by Bush and Rumsfeld, if indeed not quietly encouraged.

I heard an interview recently with the only woman elected to the Afghan legislature – since tossed out by the warlords – who says that nothing really has changed and, indeed, some things are even worse than they were under the Taleban.

I have heard from other sources that schools for girls are closed almost as soon as they are opened because no money flows to pay salaries and because of the threats from local authorities. The openings of such institutions are often little more than Potemkin village photo-ops. The Bush people used women’s rights as a propaganda tool to gain domestic support for their invasion, and, like all good propaganda, it worked because it was based on truth.

The truth is that Afghanistan is not even a country in the sense that we understand it. It is a remote, impoverished land of about 30 million where tribes live hardscrabble lives with almost no economic progress, steeped in superstitions having the same force they did in 17th century Spain with its Holy Inquisition. Even its border with Pakistan is artificial, never properly defined with the same tribes living on both sides.

You simply cannot change these realities, and certainly not with bombs.

The world is full of awful places. They burn brides in India, force child marriages, and treat young widows who were married to old men in horrible fashion.

The great irony is that the Taleban need never have been an enemy. No Taleban invaded anyone. No Taleban was involved in 9/11. That atrocity was committed by a group largely of Saudis. Importantly, they virtually all held valid American visas and were almost certainly part of secret CIA training program that failed terribly.

By the way, to this day, there is not one shred of valid evidence that Osama bin Laden did anything like the U.S. claims he did. Yes, he was a guest of the Taleban, but then he also was a past CIA operative, something that only enhanced his status for many in the region. Does that mean the CIA is responsible?

The entire Afghanistan invasion and occupation is an unqualified disaster.

One can only hope that Obama intends to use the next year or two to come to a reasonable modus Vivendi with the Taleban and then to withdraw.
________________________________

Note: Ms. Clinton’s piece may be read at:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/6722751/Hillary-Clinton-All-nations-must-play-a-part-in-Afghanistan-mission.html

LINCOLN WAS WRONG: THE EASE OF FOOLING MOST OF THE PEOPLE MOST OF THE TIME

JOHN CHUCKMAN

This year marks the forty-fourth anniversary of John Kennedy’s assassination. What is most remarkable about this is the stunningly simple fact that, despite innumerable books and several official investigations, we still do not know what happened in 1963.

Not understanding what happened is no mere curiosity of history. It tells us something profound about the nature of government in America today, all of it running against the received notion of a free and open society.

I might not say that were the assassination a simple, straightforward matter that had occurred with few witnesses, but it was an event with many witnesses, many of whom were ignored by the Warren Commission with some of the most credible discounted. And it was anything but simple, although the conclusions of the Warren Commission are just that, simple.

At least some of the key parties involved – Lee Oswald, Jack Ruby, and David Ferrie, for example – are subjects of voluminous government records about their bizarre or criminal activities, and forty-four years later, parts of these essential records remain secret.

I might not say that about the free and open society also, were there not a long history of government secrecy around the event, and at times deliberate misrepresentation. Yes, there was finally in the 1990s a big opening of files held secret for decades, but these files – at least the parts not blacked-out – tell us little of importance that is new. Indeed, to the thoughtful inquirer they only raise the issue of why most of them were ever considered worthy of being labeled secret in the first place.

Most importantly, though, a good many files still have not been released, a critical point not treated carefully by many writers on the subject. Certain CIA and FBI files on Oswald are key examples.

You must ask yourself, why, if the assassination is just a simple murder by one misfit, has there been so much secrecy? Indeed, why, if it was a simple murder, was the President’s murder not investigated in Dallas, the scene of the crime, instead of from Washington? All the evidence and most witnesses were located in Dallas. Federal agents at the hospital actually drew their guns against local police and officials to seize the President’s body for shipment to Washington, instead of allowing the perfectly normal procedure of the local jurisdiction autopsying the body. Why? Why was the autopsy conducted by the military with military doctors who were rank amateurs at shooting investigations?

There is no such thing as a free and open society where great matters of empire are concerned, and this is something no less true of the United States than any past imperial power. The people are never consulted on imperial matters, whether war, assassination, or overthrowing other governments, and they are, sadly, frequently deliberately misinformed about them, their own resources being used against them, just the latest examples being around the invasion of Iraq.

Although elements of the CIA truly hated Kennedy, and J. Edgar Hoover would have spat upon his grave given an unobserved opportunity, I do not subscribe, for many reasons, to the idea that an arm of the American government killed Kennedy. It is highly probable that individuals in some government agencies did understand what had happened and worked to blur and confuse the investigation afterwards. I also consider it possible that, owing to these intense hatreds, glimmers of intelligence in advance of the assassination were deliberately ignored or buried. This seems most likely in Hoover’s case.

Motives for hiding any knowledge of events are unknown, but almost certainly they have to do with hiding genuinely embarrassing or compromising information concerning secret operations and relationships. Embarrassment is more often than not, certainly more often than genuine national security, the reason for imposing secrecy in the American government.

Assassinations at this level in a large advanced society are always the result of conspiracies and complex plans, the plans providing for the certainty of success and the safe distancing of conspirators.

There are, I believe, three plausible candidates for organizing the assassination, all quite powerful groups, all selected for their extreme motives, resources, and opportunity.

The first candidate is a branch of the American mafia, a number of whose members had been deeply hurt by the Attorney General’s aggressive organized crime-fighting activities. After all, Kennedy had received handsome secret contributions in cash from the organization when he ran for office. He had also had at least the seeming cooperation of some senior mafia leaders in his efforts to assassinate Castro, and here he was letting his brother conduct a ruthless campaign against the interests of some families. A mafia family leader and the leader of the Teamsters Union at the time, a known mafia associate, are on record as having made threats against Kennedy. Some members of the Congressional investigations came to favor this candidate although they failed to prove it.

The second candidate is one of the many Cuban refugee groups armed, trained, and paid by the CIA in hopes of invading Cuba again, hurting its economy through terrorist activities, and assassinating any of its leaders. Few Americans today appreciate the extent of these government-subsidized terrorist camps then, operations that make Osama’s camp in the mountains look insignificant.

Kennedy was loathed by the most violent of these groups in his last days because he agreed not to invade Cuba as part of his settlement with the Soviet Union over missiles in Cuba. After that pledge, Kennedy had the FBI raiding the operations of some of these previously catered-to groups as a show of good will towards the Soviets. It is in connection with these very raids that Oswald had some not-well-understood but certain connection with the FBI. These refugee groups were ruthless, angry men who didn’t hesitate to kill or cripple those in their way. They had even conducted a number of terrorist attacks in Miami.

The third candidate is Israel, whose secret efforts at developing nuclear weapons were underway at the time and had become known to Kennedy. He made it unpleasantly clear in private communications that he would not allow Israel to go nuclear, something not widely known in America. But the people running Israel considered it essential that the country become a nuclear power, and we have all seen over many decades how Israel has not hesitated to assassinate or attack where it regards its interests are involved.

Just a few years after Kennedy’s assassination, during the Six Day War, Israeli planes made a two-hour attack on the U.S.S. Liberty, a spy ship operating in the Eastern Mediterranean, killing many of its crew. Israel’s motives have never been explained adequately or investigated openly, but likely had to do either with suppressing information of atrocities in the Sinai – the Liberty being an intelligence-gathering ship – or with trying to trick the United States into entering its war against Egypt. In either case, we see ruthlessness compatible with eliminating a hostile, powerful leader.

I don’t claim to know the truth because the truth would require new evidence. And the candidates are not all mutually exclusive. One might well expect the mafia or Mossad to manipulate and use people like the violent Cuban refugees.

Each of these groups had great motives, more than adequate means, and ample opportunity. By comparison, Oswald stands out as a ridiculous figure with no motive, virtually no means, but a seeming opportunity arranged for him by others at the Texas Book Depository. He was, almost certainly, the patsy he said he was in police custody shortly before his death, having been duped by forces he didn’t understand into certain activities that would mark him before the assassination. We have ample evidence of Oswald’s lack of serious interest in things military, his having been pretty much a flop at being a Marine, and of his temperamental inclination in other directions. While he had a temper (who doesn’t?), he was not a violent man, indeed Russian observers who recalled his years in Russia said he was temperamentally incapable of murder.

If you want to understand why the Warren Commission Report is so wrong, just spend some time yourself reading it with a critical eye. You can find an old copy at a used bookstore for a dollar or two. Parts of it are laughable, much of it is fragmentary, and all of it is a prosecutor’s brief. There is no voice for the defense. Our Western traditions of law require the clash of defense and prosecution before a jury can arrive at guilt. There is no other way, although so much of the public is today conditioned by mystery books and television shows where a detective wraps everything up neatly by the end of the book or show.

Perhaps even more importantly, as few younger readers will know, the Warren Commission did no investigation. Its investigative arm was J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. He personally kept tight control of these investigations day by day. Hoover’s FBI committed many blunders and genuine crimes over the years of his being director, from trying to send Einstein, a Jewish refugee from Nazism, back to Germany (he hated Einstein’s free thinking) to carrying out an elaborate plan to discredit Martin Luther King with secretly recorded tapes in the hope he would commit suicide. These great men, and many other notable figures, Hoover privately regarded as dangerous communists.

Hoover more or less blackmailed many members of Congress and several presidents with his secret files obtained by spying on their private lives. After his death these files were whisked away never to be seen again. As I said, Hoover hated the Kennedy brothers, surely giving him a total lack of impartiality as an investigator. Hoover, too, spent many days at resorts and racetracks over his career paid for by mafia figures he should have been investigating. Communism, even though it never had any large presence in the United States, was always Hoover’s obsession, and Oswald had the (false) reputation of being a communist. It was not a promising arrangement for the Warren Commission from the beginning, and the poor results show.

With a few special exceptions of genuine investigative journalism and analysis, there are two general categories of books about the Kennedy assassination, both biased in their information. There are the various “theory” books which do not accept the Warren Commission and attempt to promote some particular theory of the crime based on (necessarily) incomplete evidence. Examples of these include a book on Hoover himself as suspect, one on the Secret Service having an accident with automatic weapons, and a number on various CIA figures such as Howard Hunt.

Some of these “theory” books suggest almost paranoid fantasies and have given Kennedy assassination books a bad name in general, making easy targets for those wishing to support the Warren Commission. But we must not conflate honest skepticism and lack of belief in the Warren Commission with the theories of people who promote specific concepts of how things were done. This is a trick, conflating honest doubt with unsubstantiated or far-out theories, used over and over again by those promoting our second category of Kennedy assassination books.

The second category includes books that work towards showing the Warren Commission was right, at least in its major conclusions, attempting to restate old material in new words, neglecting to tell readers clearly that they have no new evidence of any great significance with which to work their glib magic. There is an equally long series of these with some of the notable ones along the way being Edward Epstein, Gerald Posner, and, very recently, Vincent Buglosi.

In general, if you go back to examine press reviews at the time of the release of each of these books, you will find a large consensus buzz in the mainstream press about how we finally have the case resolved. That very statement has been made time and time again. This was almost embarrassingly true of Gerald Posner’s book some years ago, a book that added nothing of consequence to our understanding of the crime but used aggressive new language to restate old stuff. It is now being said of Vincent Bugliosi.

People impressed by big fat books will be impressed by Vincent Bugliosi’s recent book on the Kennedy assassination, Reclaiming History, but in a sense its very size is a judgment against it. It is no great feat for an experienced court prosecutor to churn out a voluminous document. They do it all the time in their court briefs, taking pages of legalese to say what should take paragraphs of good, clear English.

It is fitting in more than one way that Bugliosi is a prosecutor, for his book is a prosecutor’s brief, just a fatter one than the ones produced by Bugliosi’s predecessors.

But size here serves another purpose, what I would call intimidation. How could you possibly argue with this massive pile (1,600 pages) of evidence and argument? The truth is that it is not hard at all to argue with it.

Bugliosi follows his predecessors who used pretty much the same evidence to reach the same conclusions which any independent-minded student of the assassination understands is impossible, that is, that Oswald killed Kennedy and acted alone. Bugliosi had no new evidence of any significance with which to work. He simply looks at the same old stuff ad nauseam, coming up here and there with prosecution tricks to make old stuff seem fresh or different.

But a key fact of the assassination is that the existing evidence is not adequate to convict anyone, and certainly not Oswald. There is, of course, other evidence in existence which has never been released. The CIA and the FBI have files they have never opened.

We know this from many bits of evidence, including references in documents we do have and from situations about which we can positively conclude evidence must exist by the nature of things. A good example of the last is the CIA surveillance photos and recordings of Oswald, or someone pretending to be Oswald, in Mexico City. An obviously incorrect photo was released and the claim was made recordings were erased.

Oswald’s connections with the FBI have never been satisfactorily examined. There are many circumstances suggesting his being a paid informant for the FBI, especially during his time in New Orleans. A letter Oswald wrote to a Dallas agent just before the assassination was deliberately and recklessly destroyed by order of the office’s senior agent immediately after the assassination with no reasonable explanation.

Oswald had no motive for killing Kennedy, having expressed admiration for the President. Bugliosi cannot get around this fact, only pursuing the typical path of all his forerunners in attacking Oswald’s character. There has been another series of books over the years, pretending to be biographies of Oswald but only serving to attack his character, giving assassination writers material to cite. These include works by writers who clearly had CIA connections: notably Priscilla Johnson, someone all students of the assassination know was conveniently in Moscow when Oswald was there, and the late Norman Mailer, a man who could not have written his own big, fat book on the CIA without agency cooperation.

Oswald’s being promptly assassinated himself by Jack Ruby, a man associated with the murky world of anti-Castro violence, someone whose past included gun-running to Cuba and enforcer-violence in the Chicago mafia, is a gigantic fact that sticks in the throat of any author. It has never been explained satisfactorily and is not by Bugliosi.

One trouble with all such books is that we have every two decades a new generation of people, most of whom do not know enough about the case to begin to argue with such an exposition. One cannot help but believe that those who prompt the periodic publication of these books have just this fact in mind. Posner is old, stale, and forgotten. This generation gets Bugliosi.

We must always remember Bertrand Russell’s profound, unanswered question after he had reviewed an advanced copy of the Warren Report: “If, as we are told, Oswald was the lone assassin, where is the issue of national security?” Russell’s question goes to the heart of the matter, as you would expect from one of the greatest mathematical minds of the 20th century. It has never been answered, and certainly not by Bugliosi.

It must be at least somewhat embarrassing for Bugliosi that Italian authorities recently, near the release of his book, conducted a series of tests with Oswald’s ridiculous choice of weapons, a 1940 Mannlicher-Carcano, one of the last rifles in the world a determined assassin would choose. Italian Army sharpshooters could not come close to Oswald’s supposed feat of loading the crude bolt-action rifle and firing it three times, let alone hitting anything while doing so.

Moreover, in other tests conducted by the Italian Army using animal parts, it was shown impossible for a bullet to emerge from Kennedy virtually intact as the Warren Commission claimed “the magic bullet” did. One thinks of the lost opportunity in 1993 to discover something new when permission was refused by the widow of the dead John Connally to extract known bullet fragments from his wrist, fragments supposedly from “the magic bullet.” The evidence was buried, literally.

Of course, when we limit ourselves to three times loading and shooting for the rifle, we are already playing the Warren Commission’s own game. There were in fact at least four shots as a closely-analyzed recording clearly showed. Recent analysis at Texas A&M University showed that the ballistics evidence used to rule out a second gunman later had been misinterpreted.

The Kennedy assassination and its inadequate investigation and secrecy mark an important turning point in modern American history. Elections are still held, and more groups of people can vote today than over most of the country’s not particularly democratic history, but government in the dark world of international affairs behaves often as though there were no electorate to which it is responsible. This seems a paradox, but if you think about it, you will see its truth.

You don’t have to be an obsessive, conspiracy-minded person to be concerned about the state of affairs in America. Have Americans been told the truth about the CIA’s great failures leading up to 9/11? Have they been told about the abuse of the CIA leading up to the Iraqi invasion, including what really happened in the Plame affair? Have Americans been told the truth about 9/11 itself, including the virtual certainty that the fourth flight over Pennsylvania was shot down by the military? Have Americans been told the simple truth about the invasion of Iraq? Have all the lies that were told, including rubbish about terror and weapons of mass destruction, been corrected? Have they learned how many Iraqis their government has killed and crippled?

No, not at all, not any more than they have been told who killed Kennedy and why.

So how is this great democracy different in the dark business of international affairs compared to the autocrats with whom it so often allies itself? Not at all.

HOW TERROR HAS LOST ITS MEANING

John Chuckman
Why does terror dominate our headlines and the attention of our governments going on six years after 9/11? The answer cannot be what George Bush says that it is: it is not the fault of people who hate democracy and freedom.

We know this for a great many reasons. One of the world’s oldest terrorist organizations, the IRA, had no interest in British government and society. It was interested only in being free of their control.

We know Bush is wrong also because the people who genuinely hate democracy and freedom – the world’s oligarchs, dictators, and strongmen – are people who hate terror themselves because it threatens their security.

Strong absolute states have no tolerance for terror. The Soviet Union never had a serious problem with terror, neither did East Germany, nor did Hussein’s Iraq.

Absolute states are also frequently supported by, or allied to, the United States, presumably for reasons other than promoting terror. We don’t need to go into the long history of the Cold War to find this. It remains true following 9/11. Contemporary examples include Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Egypt.

Bush is wrong, too, because all evidence, whether from polls or interviews or writing, shows that people living in lands without democracy overwhelmingly would embrace freedom were it available to them.

Of course, all such generalizations are statistical in nature. That is, they are about trends or tendencies that reasonably describe the overwhelming bulk of specific examples. There are always exceptions, extreme examples, what statisticians call outliers, but you cannot talk about any subject sensibly when you talk about only exceptions.

We also know, despite truckloads of publicity saying otherwise, that terror is not by any measure one of the world’s great problems. The number of people killed in the World Trade Center, the largest terrorist attack by far, was less than one month’s carnage on America’s highways. It was equivalent of about two months of America’s murdering Americans on the nation’s streets.

Terror is intended to frighten and intimidate people, its secrecy and methods calculated to make deaths, even a small number of them, more shocking than everyday deaths. But if we look at societies that have undergone horrors beyond most people’s ability to imagine, horrors greater than any modern terror, we find something very interesting.

Life in London carried on during the Blitz. Germany maintained a huge armaments production despite thousand-plane raids day and night. The people of Leningrad, despite 800,000 deaths from being shelled and starved during the German siege, managed to carry on a kind of society. People in Sarajevo made do through a long and agonizing terror. Even the seemingly-hopeless inmates of death camps often made remarkable efforts to maintain some semblance of normality.

Perhaps the greatest terror experience in modern history was American carpet-bombing in Vietnam. We know from Vietnamese war veterans that these were their most feared events. They were horrific, and the United States left Vietnam having killed something like 3 million people, mostly civilians. But it did leave, and the people it bombed so horribly won a terrible war.

Now all of these experiences, plus many more we could cite, have the elements of randomness for victims and methods that just could not be much more horrible. They all are experiences in terror in the broadest sense. What they tell us is that terror does not work, despite its ability to make people miserable.

I like the anecdote that following the atomic-bombing of Hiroshima, within weeks, wild flowers were spotted growing in the cracks of the pavement. I very much like to think of that as representing the human spirit.

Terror as we traditionally think of it is a method of redress or vengeance for those without great armies or powerful weapons, those at a great disadvantage vis-à-vis some powerful oppressor or opponent. Generally the grievances behind terrorist acts are reasonable demands that have been ignored or have even been suppressed for long periods of time.

Although sometimes, they are unreasonable demands, but in this they are no different than the grievances that often lead to wars or invasions or occupations by powerful states.

Terror generally kills innocent people, something no decent-minded person can accept, but what is always forgotten in the press and government treatment of terror as something alien and unimaginably bad is that war in the contemporary world does precisely the same thing.

We have a powerful trend over the last century shifting the victims of war from armed forces to civilians. In World War I, there were many civilian deaths, but most of went on at the front was the killing of soldiers. By the time of Vietnam, and even more so Iraq, literally most of the deaths are civilians, overwhelmingly so. The fire-bombing and nuclear-bombing of cities during World War II marked the first great shift, returning military operations effectively to the world Before the Common Era when sacking and raping cities was ordinary.

Why has this happened? The chief reason is increasingly destructive weapons capable of being used from a great distance. Those pressing the buttons not only don’t see what they are doing in any detail, but the damage of which they are capable increases every year. A single plane today can drop enough munitions to destroy utterly a small town. In 1917, a plane could carry enough munitions to destroy a small house, if the pilot were lucky about air currents and other variables.

America makes claims about using ‘smart’ weapons, but these claims are highly deceptive. First, smart weapons are costly, and most bombs dropped are still ‘dumb’ ones. The percentage used in the first Gulf War, a time when there were many press conferences glorifying precision weapons, was on the order of five percent smart weapons.

Second, smart weapons require excellent intelligence, something you cannot have under many circumstances. The infamous bomb-shelter event in Baghdad during the first Gulf War, which incinerated four hundred civilians in an instant, happened because American officials thought there were party officials hiding there, but they were wrong.

Third, even with intelligence, decisions are made which are poor ones. The Baghdad bomb shelter is an example here, too. Even were there some party officials there, killing nearly four hundred others to get them was the kind of savage decision Israel so often makes to its shame.

Fourth, smart weapons do make mistakes with chips or programming or flight controls that are faulty.

Fifth, the better the weapons get, the more the temptation to use them, and the more they will be misused by poor judgment and poor intelligence.

There is no prospect in our lifetime that so-called precision weapons can change the tendency towards killing civilians rather than soldiers.

Terrible weapons are under constant research efforts at ‘improvement.’ The United States has developed gigantic flammable-liquid bombs, the size and weight of trucks. It is busy developing compact nuclear warheads that are, in the view of the kind of people associated with George Bush, both useable and practical.

The problem with modern weapons is not only their great power and complete removal of users from ghastly results, it is their capacity to alter the psychology and morality of those possessing them.

Where great power exists, it tends to be used, sooner or later. This intuitive idea was part of the reason in the eighteenth century for opposing large standing armies. Expert historians have attributed at least part of the cause of World War I to huge standing armies and a ferocious arms race.

It is hard to think of a horrible weapon that has not been used fairly soon after its development: the flame thrower, poison gas, germ warfare, machine guns, landmines, cluster bombs, napalm, and nuclear weapons.

Imagine the psychology of politicians and war planners in Washington, sitting in air-conditioned offices, perhaps just returned from expense-account lunches, discussing developments in, say, Iraq. They don’t see or hear or smell the misery of a people without sanitation or electricity – these having been deliberately destroyed by the United States in the previous Gulf War and never repaired. These planners, looking at charts on their expensive laptops, only know from certain graphs that they have what they see as a problem and that they have the ability to reduce it or make it go away, almost like wishing away something you don’t like.

The solution comes down to such pragmatic considerations as to whether Tomahawks or B-52s or a wing of fighter-bombers will best meet the ‘need,’ and perhaps the availability of each, and perhaps even comparative benefit-cost ratios (kills per buck), also charted on their laptops.

If this isn’t the banality of evil, I don’t know what is. And when the planners decide which weapon or combination of weapons will best alter the graph, the orders go out, the buttons are pressed, and no one but the poor half-starved people living in dust and squalor have any idea of what actually happens, which people in the neighborhood have their bodies torn apart or incinerated, which houses are destroyed, which children mutilated. The people who carry out these acts see only puffs of distant smoke.

This is modern war as practiced by an advanced society.

On a smaller scale than Iraq, we’ve all read the endless reports of Israeli incursions and assassinations: an entire family wiped out on a beach by distant shelling, an apartment building full of families hit by a missile intended for one resident, pedestrians cut into pieces as a missile hits a targeted car on a crowded street. All of it is put down to stopping terror, all of it is done from a safe distance, all of it kills mainly civilians, and all of it is indistinguishable from terror.

If challenged today for a definition of terror, I doubt anyone could produce a sound one that limits the meaning to the acts of those constantly in our headlines. Rather those acts are now reduced to special cases of something a great deal larger.

Which was the more ghastly act of terror, 9/11 or the invasion of Iraq? 9/11 killed about 3,000 people and destroyed a building. The invasion of Iraq killed more than 600,000, destroyed the irreplaceable records and artefacts of an ancient civilization, and left a nation of more than 20 million desperate for work, clean water, and electricity. And it should be stressed that although 9/11 came first, there were no connections between these events, except that the one was used as an excuse for the other.

When we hear the word terror in the news, we are conditioned to think that only civilians have died, but how is it different now for news of an attack by American forces or a reprisal raid from the Israeli army? It isn’t. We know immediately that civilians die every single time. Indeed, what we often do not know is whether any “bad guys” were killed.

9/11: THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED, THREE YEARS ON

John Chuckman

A lot can happen in three years.

In the United States since 9/11, about 4,000 children died from child abuse and neglect; in more than 80 percent of cases, parents were the perpetrators. About 36,000 Americans died from unnecessary surgery. Another 21,000 died from medication errors in hospitals, along with another 60,000 from other errors in hospitals. Adverse reactions to prescription drugs killed about 100,000. Roughly 10,000 Americans died from accidental drowning. About 2,100 died from bicycle accidents. Homicidal Americans killing other Americans took another roughly 60,000 lives. Suicide took more than 90,000. Traffic deaths amounted to well over 120,000.

Despite all of America’s mayhem and death (more than 7,000,000 Americans died in the last three years, including the clearly avoidable ones listed above plus hundreds of thousands not listed that were at least in part avoidable), the subject of 9/11 is never allowed to rest. About 3,000 Americans died on 9/11 in a spectacular act of hatred and vengeance, carried out, so far as we know, by 19 men, all of whom were themselves consumed.

Those who attacked America certainly did not do so because they hated democracy or rights, no matter what President Muffinmouth keeps deliriously muttering. Likely, they would not even have understood such concepts, coming as they did from cultures where conditions prevail comparable to those of centuries ago in Europe. But anyone understands abuse and bullying, and it is America’s terrible, careless abuse of its wealth and power to which they were violently responding.

In a Congress which consistently fails to remedy America’s social ills, its members always disparaging sensible regulation and rules to cover their abject political cowardice and bought-and-paid-for status, it took no time to start a war, even though it was clear that no nation had attacked the United States, and to pass legislation more repressive than any possible regulation. Scene after scene of America’s grunting, spewing legislators resembled life imitating art in the form of a movie for teen-agers, The Planet of Apes.

Whoever was responsible for 9/11 beyond those who killed themselves (America’s press automatically attributes the act to al Qaeda, a shadowy and rather small organization at best, although still no proof has been offered), the U.S. responded by spending tens of billions of dollars to invade two nations. Billions more were spent stuffing already-bloated intelligence agencies like geese being prepared for pâté de foie gras and cranking up the megawatts snapping and crackling through the wires to the nation’s military Frankenstein.

The money wasted on killing and maiming in Iraq might have done many fine things for the world. It might have built new schools in every wretched ghetto and backwater across the United States. It might have been used to launch an historic alternate-energy program, bringing down costs dramatically for technologies such as solar cells, contributing to the future well-being of all of humanity. Even a small portion of it could have done some spectacular things for fundamental science or medicine. Another small portion would have generously funded the simple technologies used for bringing clean drinking water to parts of the Indian subcontinent where arsenic and other compounds slowly poison millions year after year. The possibilities are almost endless.

But no, it all went to a destructive, psychotic fantasy called the war on terror (and more specifically to invade a place where, much as in the old Soviet Union, terror was never tolerated for a second). It should be clear, there can be no such thing as a war on terror, because terror is not a society or a regime or an army or even an ideology. Terror is a violent response to severe grievances. You can work hard to track down specific law-breakers and you can enhance security measures and you can work to redress grievances – all these are reasonable and fitting things to do – but there is no place or army that you can attack with any meaningful purpose. Of course, that simple fact hasn’t stopped America from instituting vast new abuses in the name of fighting a war on terror. As with the country’s crusade against communism, the pointless violence reflects America’s own shibboleths, fears, and internal politics rather than meaningful policy. American politics are so utterly poisonous and corrupted that the failure of one party to commit some barbarism abroad automatically is used by the other party as a visceral issue. When Bush speaks of a long-haul war against terror, he really means a renewal of the same cycle of vicious domestic politics with a new foreign bogeyman and new foreign victims.

Estimates of civilians killed by American forces in Iraq have been slow in coming. America’s press shows almost no interest, perhaps taking its lead from a government which doesn’t want the subject mentioned. But then, Daddy Bush never advertised how many he slaughtered in the brief, first Gulf War he started with subtle winks and suggestions to Hussein. It is certain that tens of thousands of pathetically-equipped conscripts died under waves of B-52s whose carpet bombing on the desert sealed the men in their own graves: cooked and packed underground by millions of pounds of high explosive.

Quite recently, an Iraqi group announced what may be the best count in view of its language and network of contacts in every part of the country. It spent months talking to everyone from gravediggers to doctors, deliberately avoided counting military deaths, and came up with 37,000 civilian killed.

The immense suffering of a major part of the population who, overnight, lost the means to earn a living must be added to America’s achievement, as well as the birth of violent resistance to occupation, an excellent laboratory for developing future generations of terrorists, and tidal waves of violent crime (things consistently under-reported in the U.S. press). Independent observers in Europe, including many British soldiers, have been taken aback by the violence and heavy-handedness of America’s occupation. The abuses documented in the published photos from Abu Ghraib prison (and there are many others not published) show a small part of what American soldiers have done. Consider one clear instance, fairly typical according to witnesses in Iraq brave enough to speak up and at least one Marine non-commissioned officer who has left the service, the Pentagon-invented Battle of Samara. Headlined in America’s press as a remarkable American victory, it was actually a slaughter of scores of civilians by sweltering, disgruntled, trigger-happy soldiers.

Only devotees of the Orwellian fantasies of Fox News and CNN and those who depend on Defense Department contracts for a living (and, sadly, that is now a truly gigantic number in the U.S.) ever accepted Bush’s claims about Iraq. Recent American stories about “they knew,” referring to the fact that Bush was informed by outsiders of the weak nature of his claims, are bitterly amusing. The world was awash in good information that told us Bush was lying before the invasion. It came from past weapons inspectors, current weapons inspectors, Iraqi refugees, diplomats, national leaders, and scrupulous journalists (a category that notably excluded employees of the New York Times and Washington Post). As it always does, understanding the truth required that essential skill, prized by courts everywhere, of evaluating the credibility of each witness. In Bush’s case, this was an open-and-shut judgment for anyone with powers of observation. The man’s every word is shrill and hollow.

America’s stubborn refusal to think was broadcast to the world in childish demonstrations of antipathy towards France – restaurant owners pouring vintage wines down the drain – and, to a lesser extent, Canada. Had Americans just listened to sane voices coming from outside their nearly hermetically-sealed society, about 1,000 of their soldiers now dead would be alive, taxpayers would be at least 100,000,000,000 dollars richer, oil prices wouldn’t be setting record highs, and the country would not be facing a years-long burden in Iraq, something, by the way, that is not going to change in the slightest if John Kerry is elected. (No one should forget, although the Democratic candidate strains the meaning of words to maintain otherwise, Kerry voted with the thumping, spewing gorillas to launch the war).

Of course, more Americans and others working for Americans have died than the 1,000 or so soldiers. For in this disgraceful war, America farmed-out substantial occupation duties to richly-paid private contractors – people once known, before the dawn of political correctness, as mercenaries or assassins. No effort is even made to keep track of how many of these are killed although I doubt many people much care.

Many small stories of 9/11 remain untold. I do not mean the kind of mawkish-tabloid stories that will be featured on the anniversary, but stories that help explain what happened afterward. One of mine concerns an American woman I know who left her job that morning and frantically raced around to gather her three children from schools and daycare and take them home, just in case, any terrorists were going to sacrifice their lives to send airliners hurling into rural Maine. Of course, the odds – infinitesimally small as they were – were at least the same that any airliners would crash near her house located in a more populated area. A deadly road accident during her frenetic car trip was a far more likely outcome than avoiding another hijacked plane crashing.

The point of the story was repeated only recently in testimony at Congressional hearings by members of “9/11 families,” an American lobby group of professional victims, some of whom made flatly ridiculous statements about the country being unprepared for another attack, including Twilight Zone stuff about little Elizabeth or Kyle not being able to play outside safely (Good God, one wishes such people could spend one day with a miserable Iraqi family cooped up in a shattered apartment surrounded by violence and ruin so that they truly understood what terror is). Well, I do suppose a twenty-foot wall could be built around America and all of its possessions and embassies abroad with all planes and boats being required to stop outside for complete inspection, but in an age of globalization and the huge economic gains being made from it, it does seem an unpromising idea.

Both stories are measures of the terrible job America’s press does informing people on politically-sensitive matters and of the irrationality so commonly observed in American society. Americans behave this way partly because they have so little understanding of the world and live in a fantasy concerning even the realities of their own country. American television doesn’t ever show pictures of the country’s dead, abused or murdered children although there are plenty of them (anymore than it showed the pictures of piteous Iraqi children mangled by bombs), but for videos of the planes striking the World Trade Center, networks left the replay switch in the “on” position for weeks. The flashing-message signs at service-station gas pumps are not used to remind motorists of dead kids in their neighborhood, but they sure were used to blink out idiotic slogans like “Never Forget!” over and over after 9/11. It all became something of a national computer game with life-like graphics, frightening and titillating Americans, reinforcing paranoid conceptions.

So far as the world is concerned, it might be fine were Americans to remain happily cocooned in their fantasies, if only they didn’t leave their bloody set of butcher’s tools in the hands of some of the world’s most ignorant and dreadful elected leaders. These armies and weapons are never used to defend democracy or freedom or human rights (or even to stop the several horrifying genocides that have taken place in recent decades) – in fact, there exists no threat to America requiring such huge armies and dreadfully destructive machines – they exist solely to bully and intimidate and overthrow.

Can you think of one example of America displaying behavior that might be regarded as that of a human rights-respecting democracy towards Iraq and its neighborhood? Would you include actively supporting the tyrant Hussein for many years? Supplying him the means to wage chemical warfare during the Iran-Iraq war? Supporting the tyrant Shah in neighboring Iran for decades, right down to the day of his death in exile? Shooting down an Iranian airliner full of civilians with no apologies or proper compensation? Kissinger’s duplicitous promises to the Kurds when they proved briefly useful? Pushing American forces into view near the holy places of Saudi Arabia after the first Gulf War?

Doing decades of Enron-style business with Saudi Arabia’s feudal ruling family? Supporting, against all reason and decency, the violent apartheid policies of Israel? Putting a leader like Musharraf of Pakistan, elected by coup, on the regular payroll? Invading Afghanistan and making cozy deals with psychopathic warlords? Keeping an embargo on Iraq for a decade in the face of overwhelming proof that it was killing hundreds of thousands of innocents? Invading and occupying Iraq?

Please, is there a even hint in any of that about democracy and concern for human rights? No, there is only the ruthless manipulation and menacing displays of an imperial power using its might to get what it wants. Observed from the receiving end, in no case could you distinguish an enlightened nation at work. At the same time, on the sending end of things, America’s cowardly politicians flatter constituents’ vanity about having done brave and heroic deeds in the cause of freedom, and, truth be told, they get away with it, every time.

I wish Americans had the least spark of imagination and will to compare their almost delusional fears with the colossal human misery they have inflicted on the world. I wish, too, they had the imagination and will to understand that nothing has changed with American policies which literally assembled the forms and poured the concrete foundation for 9/11. All that has changed is that America has spent immense resources to pitch the world into more violence and lunacy.

Osama bin Laden or whoever was responsible for 9/11 must sit back on the anniversary date quietly chuckling as he reflects on his achievement, not only because he was able to see all of this happen at the mere cost of 19 followers, but because it is so stunningly clear that America still doesn’t get it.

FOOTPRINTS IN THE DUST
Signs of Connections between the CIA and the WTC Attack

John Chuckman

One of the most fascinating snippets on the latest Nixon Watergate-era tape to be released to the public, the same tape that contains an 18-minute erasure and anti-Semitic remarks, was a brief, unexplained comment by Nixon on what a fraud the Warren Commission had been (http://www.radioleft.com/article.php?sid=318&mode=nocomments&order=0 ).

I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but as part of a lifelong interest in history, I’ve read most of the worthwhile books analyzing Kennedy’s assassination, and I am left only with the certainty that we’ve never been told the whole truth.

I’ve always believed it to be a ridiculous idea that the CIA had a direct role in killing President Kennedy. No more ridiculous, mind you, than the story that gets floated every few years about Castro having been involved, a story that has the distinct odor of disinformation, and where disinformation exists, so do motives for generating it.

And of course, Bertrand Russell’s famous question has never been answered. It remains as a powerful indictment of the secrecy that yet surrounds the case (See my earlier article at http://www.amliberals.com/article1100.html ). Lord Russell asked, “If, as we are told, Oswald was the lone assassin, where is the issue of national security?” In other words, on the Warren Commission’s own premise, the assassination reduces to an ordinary murder, and the facts of a murder case are supposed to be a matter of public record.

For those who bother plowing through the literature, the conclusion that the CIA knows far more than it ever has revealed is inescapable. There are too many suggestive trails and tantalizing bits of evidence. Too many stories put out. Too few questions answered. Too many important documents missing.

One of the most potentially explosive is the CIA’s photograph of whoever it was that went to the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City shortly before the assassination claiming to be Oswald – of course, every person entering or leaving that embassy was routinely photographed. The photograph the CIA did submit was obviously incorrect since the person in it could never be confused with Oswald by anyone. And then there are the recordings of phone calls supposedly made by Oswald at that time. Again, these phone calls, since they involved the Soviet embassy, certainly would have been recorded, but the CIA claimed the tapes had been destroyed.

I’ve always believed that some CIA operation, likely involving one of the many unsavory groups it financed in those days trying to topple Castro, went very sour right under its nose. What other likely explanation is there for claims of national security over the years? Had something like this been revealed in the 1960s, the CIA might well have been destroyed in the middle of the Cold War. It already had been badly hurt owing to its gross negligence in the Bay of Pigs. Here indeed was a reason important enough for some very important people to lie.

Anyway, it is beginning to look like events around September 11 may well offer this generation of Americans a repeat performance. Recent discoveries concerning those events bring that same sure but murky sense of the CIA’s presence leading up to the attack. Perhaps another operation gone very sour.

First, there is the former American diplomat’s story about the issuing of visas almost without question to many very questionable people (www.straightgoods.ca /ViewNote.cfm?REF=1267 19/1/02).

Then, there is the strong suspicion that the flight school in Florida where one of the terrorists, Mr. Mohamed Atta, trained likely had connections to the CIA (http://www.madcowprod.com/index19.html 25/2/02 and http://www.madcowprod.com/index7.html 19/10/01) .

And then, there is the Saudi connection. As is well known, the Saudis were important financial contributors to Al Qaida. The use of a country like Saudi Arabia, that would be credited by others as having its own motives for contributing, represents the kind of arrangement the CIA likes to use in channeling financial support abroad. And even were the CIA not involved in this activity, it is almost impossible that it would have been unaware of it.

As is also well known, the Saudis have received almost no seriously hostile attention over this connection. This at a time when the junior partners of Bush, Ashcroft, von Rumsfeld & Co. stay up late into the night looking to prosecute the most inconsequential people involved in sending any money to the Middle East.

And, of course, many of the nineteen who died in the attacks were from Saudi Arabia, including Mr. Atta. There is even some indication that Mr. Atta may have been related to the royal family (www.madcowprod.com 8/3/02)

We also have the recent arrest and expulsion, although this is officially denied in Washington, of a large Israeli spy ring (www.intelligenceonline.com 28/2/02), many of whose members worked out of Florida, the same state as Mr. Atta’s flight school.

Spy rings as large as this one simply do not operate in a place like the United States without the CIA being aware of them. Apparently, there is a serious question whether Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, told the US what it knew before September 11. At any rate, we know the aftermath of the attack certainly has tipped the balance to favor Mr. Sharon’s bloody-minded way of seeing the world.

All in all, there are some very suggestive footprints in the settled dust of the World Trade Center, and they tend to point towards Langely, Virginia. Americans, for a second time, may have been the unintended victims of their own agency’s dirty work.

DISTURBING THE PLANET AND BLAMING THE MESS ON OTHERS

John Chuckman

I received a letter from a reader recently asking me what it is about America that I hated so much. Since its tone was polite, I replied at length. I don’t hate anything – ‘hate’ is an awfully strong word – but there are things I find disturbing about America, and, as it happens, these are things many others also find disturbing.

There’s certainly no need for my services in the 24-hour-a-day orgy of noisy, self-praise that pours from television, radio, magazines, movies, sporting events, and even sermons in the home of brave. This non-stop, drum-beating, national revival meeting has become the background noise of everyday American life, so much so that many are not aware that there is anything unusual about it.

There is a wonderful scene in “The Gulag Archipelago.” After a speech by Stalin, the audience applauds and applauds and cannot stop applauding. Everyone waits for his or her neighbors to stop before stopping, only the neighbors also do not stop. The applause threatens to continue forever. Why? Because NKVD men prowl the aisles, looking for anyone who stops applauding.

Without making any outlandish, inappropriate comparisons between Bush’s America and Stalin’s Russia, there is still a very uncomfortable parallel between that frightening historical scene and recent events in the US, especially the State of the Union address.

Even though the President said nothing demonstrating statesmanship or imagination or even compassion, everyone applauded and applauded and kept applauding. Some media commentators actually compared his feeble recitation of platitudes with the thrilling cadence and brilliant words of Franklin Roosevelt at a time of true darkness. Several well-known television news personalities felt called upon to make odd, jingoistic personal statements as though they felt the need to prove their patriotic bona fides.

What a big fat disappointment America is today. An affluent, noisy, moral netherworld. A place where fundamentalist pitchmen in blow-dried coifs and Pan-Cake makeup plead to fill the moral void, but only add to the noise.

A place where jingoism and mediocrity are lavishly praised. A people bristling with demands about their rights and redress of grievances, but with no thought about their responsibilities. A people who brag of being freer than any other people without knowing anything about other people.

An insatiably-consuming engine of a country whose national dream has been reduced to consuming more of everything without a care for anyone else on the planet. A people without grace who always blame others for what goes wrong.

Americans, roughly 4% of the planet by numbers, gulp down more than half the world’s illegal drugs, but in all the strident speeches and in all the poorly-conceived foreign policy measures, it is always the fault of Mexico or Colombia or Vietnam or Panama or the French Connection or someone else out there. Anyone, that is, but the people who keep gulping and snorting the stuff down, and all the shady American officials who are so clearly necessary to keep the merchandise widely available.

One of history’s great moments of insufferable posturing came with the creation of annual “report cards” on how well various nations were doing at controlling drugs, as though these other countries were unreliable children being assessed by their wise Auntie America, the same wise Auntie zonked out on a million pounds of chemicals at any given moment.

America has a long history of vote tampering and rigged elections in many local jurisdictions. It is widely understood that vote tampering, especially in Chicago, gave John Kennedy a victory he did not win in the 1960 election. Biographer Robert Caro has revealed how Lyndon Johnson’s political career in Texas had the way smoothed by vote fraud. And now, two and a quarter centuries after the great republic’s founding, she still cannot run a clean election for president.

On top of fraud and unwillingness to spend enough to assure proper ballots, America clings to the most corrupt method possible to finance election campaigns, defining private money as free speech. The more of it, the better. One would almost think that all the billions in bribes paid out by the CIA over the decades to corrupt other governments had influenced thinking about how things should be done at home.

Yet with a record like this, the State Department never stops passing public judgement on the inadequacies of democracy in other places. The State Department’s views on democracy, about as deserving of serious consideration as the last Congress’s idea of why you impeach an elected president, reduce to the same tacky business as the drug report cards: it’s always someone else who’s wrong. Even worse, the sermons on democracy and rights frequently are used as wedges for trade concessions. It just doesn’t get more hypocritical than that.

Having mentioned the CIA’s bribery over the decades, its interference in the internal affairs of so many countries, I recall the reaction of American legislators a few years ago when it was thought possible, though never proved, that Chinese money had been funneled into an American election. Heavens, how dare they do an underhanded thing like that! Sully an American election! The same legislators never considered that they themselves, in tolerating a corrupt system of election finance, were responsible for such activity’s even being possible.

Consider Mr. Bush’s lurid fantasy about an “axis of evil.” One almost wants to ask whether the choice of words reflects long-term deleterious effects of the cocaine he reportedly used when he was sowing oats instead of bombs. The fact is that much of the world’s terror is a direct response to American foreign policy that reflects daydreams and wishes in Georgia and Iowa rather than actual conditions abroad.

The CIA’s three billion-dollar fraternity prank with other people’s lives during the 1980s in Afghanistan was great fun while it lasted, and there was no concern about Osama and the boys until they decided that the U.S. was just as unwelcome as the U.S.S.R.

But it must be someone else’s fault, so we’ll topple the entire national structure of Afghanistan, destroy much of its infrastructure, kill thousands of innocent people, hold thousands more as illegal prisoners, and maybe go on to attack other places that never heard of Osama bin Laden just in case they’re thinking about anything underhanded.

A former American diplomat has revealed how hundreds of visas were rubber-stamped for Afghan fighters. How else was it possible for 19 suspicious people to enter the U.S., some working away for months, with no attention paid by those immense, highly intrusive agencies, the CIA, FBI, and NSA, whose snooping costs tens of billions of dollars every year? Every phone call, fax, and e-mail in America, and a lot of other places, is vetted daily by these agencies’ batteries of super-computers.

After the attack on the World Trade Center, there were many American news stories about two of these nineteen people who possibly entered the U.S. by way of Canada – stories that proved utterly false as it turned out. But huge pressures were, and still are being, put on the Canadian government over this concern. America simply blames someone else rather than cleaning up its own house.

A few years ago, the world’s richest country suddenly decided to stop paying U. N. dues, ignoring its long-standing treaty obligations. With an arrogant wave of the hand, it dismissed its responsibilities and blamed the U. N. for waste and bureaucracy. The “waste and bureaucracy” stuff came from American legislators who spent years investigating an insignificant, sour real estate deal and put on a colossal, lunatic, government-stopping, impeachment-as-passion play spectacle. The same folks now prepare to squander tens of billions on useless new defense schemes and on measures to curtail American freedoms. But the U. N. has to lobby and wheedle in hopes of receiving its meager portion.

American technical experts analyzing data from a Chinese thermonuclear test some years ago were stunned to realize that the blast had a radiation “signature” similar to that of America’s most advanced warhead. Espionage was immediately suspected, and the long, painful ordeal of Wen Ho Lee, an American scientist born in Taiwan, began. While investigation was reasonable, it was not reasonable to target Wen Ho Lee. His career was ruined even though not a shred of clear evidence was ever produced. The more rational conclusion that the Chinese, a clever and resourceful people, had managed the feat themselves stood little chance when someone from “there” was there to blame.

The case of the Cuban boy Elian provided what may be the most remarkable example of this kind of obtuse and arrogant behavior. An ill-considered policy of granting automatic refugee status to all Cubans who made it in flimsy boats to American shores, part of an incessant campaign of hatred against Castro, lured the boy’s mother to her death, as it had lured many others. The boy still had a loving father, other family, and friends, but they just happened to live in the wrong country. So an already-injured child was put through months of hell in Miami, a hostage to ideology as surely as American diplomats in Iran, his father, family, and home repeatedly ridiculed and insulted, and it was all someone else’s fault, Castro’s in this case.

I closed by telling my reader that I never object to letters that disagree with me, only to those that are rude or insistent or obscene. And, I have to say, America does generate an awful lot of those.