Archive for the ‘BUSH’ Tag

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: A STRANGE, SOULLESS MAN AND HIS UTTERLY FAILED PRESIDENCY

A STRANGE, SOULLESS MAN AND HIS UTTERLY FAILED PRESIDENCY

 

John Chuckman

 

How vividly I remember the photos of Obama in Berlin during his campaign in 2008: streets literally flooded with people keen to get a glimpse of a promising young politician, expressing for us all how exhausted the world was with the most ignorant and contemptible man ever to have been a president. Reporters said a quarter of million turned out to see a man who was a junior senator and had no claim yet to being a world figure. It was intoxicating to think this bright, attractive figure might replace the murderous buffoon, George Bush, and his éminence grise, Dick Cheney, a man who might comfortably have served any of the 20th century’s great bloody dictators.

A few years later, in 2013, an estimated 4 to 6 thousand showed up for a major speech by then-President Obama, and one is surprised even that many showed, but then there is always a set of people who just want to be able to say they saw a celebrity. After all there are inexplicable people who travel to places associated with genuine monsters, notorious murderers and torturers, and have snapshots of themselves taken standing in front as though they were at the Grand Canyon or Disneyworld.

In 2009, the Norwegian Nobel Committee, excited at seeing Bush replaced with a promising man, just as the earlier crowd in Berlin, awarded President Obama its Peace Prize after he had been in office for less than year and had achieved nothing of substance towards peace or any other worthy goal. But the Peace Prize often is awarded in hopes of influencing and encouraging a leader rather than in recognition of genuine achievement.

In Obama’s case, the hopes and encouragement fell stillborn and lifeless, and he has proved himself one of the least worthy recipients, keeping historical company with killers like Kissinger or Begin, winners whose awards also were based on futile hopes and encouragement. Obama’s distinctions in the sphere of peace include abandoning the Palestinians to their tormenters, abandoning the Egyptians to a new tyranny, pitching the people of Syria into a bloody civil war, never speaking out about the suppression of people in places like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and Yemen, pitching the people of Ukraine into chaos, establishing a new hi-tech death-squad approach to the extrajudicial killing of people, not standing up to Israel over its unwarranted threats of war against Iran, and force-feeding the military-intelligence establishment so that it resembles a gigantic waddling Pâté de foie gras goose.

He has done nothing for his own people, signing not one worthy piece of legislation to better the lives of less fortunate Americans. His only major domestic legislation is a costly, almost unworkable compromise on health care that will enrich insurance companies in the only Western nation not having a form of national health insurance. He will also leave his country with an almost incomprehensible debt, a debt America’s people are not asked to pay down through taxes and other appropriate fiscal and budgetary measures, ultimately leaving all the world’s holders of dollars to be cheated through the dollar’s future decline, a scam that beggars the size of Bernie Madoff’s pyramid operation or the Nigerian industry in e-mail invitations to share in vast wealth just by providing your bank account. It is irresponsibility on a colossal scale, all of the gains from the scam having served American interests from investment bankers to the military and military contractors. Obama’s force-fed military will have all its stuffing supplied involuntarily by non-Americans who have no interest in what he has done. In truth, America doesn’t have a single honest dollar to spend on anything.

The sense of dignity Obama displayed in the early days is gone too, simply evaporated, although I am open to the suggestion that my judgment is affected by grim disappointment in his non-achievement and display of what I can only regard as a form of moral cowardice, not different in quality to that displayed by George Bush. He made some noises early on about closing America’s torture gulag, about ending its pointless wars, about pushing Israel into a decent settlement for millions of Palestinian captives, about new starts in general, but it has all blown away like so much dust on the wind. Now we have a man who almost never utters an inspiring or even meaningful word, never takes a risk to do anything worthwhile, and actually looks quite ineffectual at times. Imagine, the first black President of the United States at the funeral of a world-figure like Nelson Mandela, sitting next to his wife and flirting with the blond prime minister of Denmark, taking “selfies” during the service? It was contemptible behavior. It wasn’t the silly flirting that mattered: it was the complete lack of a statesman’s demeanor, communicating to millions of eyes the sense of a small man behaving like a hormonal teenager on a solemn international occasion.

I remember, too, another picture of Obama, taken in Hawaii where he had gone to visit during his campaign a gravely ill Madelyn Dunham, the grandmother who had raised him. The picture showed him walking profile in sandals, and the image immediately gave the impression of a self-confident, independent-minded man which I quite relished. But all sense of that image of Obama is gone, save the almost surrealistic right wing descriptions of him as a communist, a view whose origins it is difficult to imagine, although his wearing sandals a few times might qualify in the Palinesque world of American right wing politics.

Of course the American institution most accurately described as communistic is its massive military-security-police apparatus, a monstrosity whose scale and scope make the old East German Stasi seem almost quaintly amateur, although aspects of it would immediately bring a smile of recognition to the lips of retired Stasi agents: matters such as the soliciting of general public informers, the blackmailing or bribing of others to serve as informers inside groups and organizations, the interception of virtually all messages, or the scrutiny of what people are reading at the library and on-line. This all predates Obama, and he has done nothing but ardently support its growth. But I guess you just cannot do enough for these ghastly institutions to avoid being called a communist by people who share Sarah Palin’s intellectual gene pool.

During Obama’s first election campaign, there was a mindless controversy over his not wearing a flag pin on his lapel. That is the kind of seemingly insignificant detail which sets the “you can never have enough patriotism” mob to a fever pitch, bellowing voices about freedom from intolerant men with bellies sagging ponderously over their belts, comparable in intensity to prayer vigils over embryos or “support the troops” parades in small towns (who cares that they’ve invaded some unfortunate land no one ever heard of and are busy killing civilians?). Remember Jonathon Edwards, that syrupy-voiced wealthy tort lawyer running for Vice President in 2004, offering a homily in one of his speeches where he suggested American families should gather together each morning to discuss the blessings of America over their bowls of Coco Puffs? Presumably Papa Bear would lead the service before he and Mommy Bear and all the Baby Bears rushed off in gas-guzzling trucks and four-by-fours through a landscape of sprawl to their corporate cubicles and private schools.  And Edwards was regarded – ugh, foul word that it is considered in America – as a liberal.

How refreshing I thought Obama at the time of this nonsense over whether someone else’s patriotism was being adequately displayed, again a self-confident, independent-minded man who did not see the need to follow the herd of American politicians who resemble nothing so much as members of the old Soviet Politburo with red star pins on their lapels. He didn’t need to parade the obvious fact of an American running for office in America. He didn’t need to display what has become an American fetish, a voodoo charm, the totem of a secular religion, and, at the same time, a symbol, for a great many of the world’s people, of arrogant power and almost endless bloodshed. Of course, today Obama is never seen without a ridiculous flag pin. He probably has a drawer full of them in a bureau of his bedroom, a Secret Service man being solemnly tasked to keep it stocked and to drop a few (respectfully, mind you) into his pocket as back-ups for any trip. It must be the last thing Obama’s butler at the White House does each morning, too, making sure a pin is on the suit to be worn that day, the correct lapel, leveled properly, and polished. How very inspiring, like a Rotarian executive preparing for a club luncheon.

We perhaps can never know what has motivated Obama’s behavior as President. Certainly the memoirs of retired Presidents rarely enlighten us on anything of importance. Is he, as some in his own party have suggested, simply not up to the job? Of course, when they say that, they are not using the same criteria this writer does. In America, even the supposed left is never far from mounting a horse and charging up San Juan Hill. Is he merely responding to the fact of the awesome power of America’s unelected government? Is he satisfied to give them their way, enjoy the 8-year ride, and retire with full pension and benefits, avoiding that haunting nightmare of the last President who seriously challenged just a few of the establishment’s assumption, John Kennedy, in the streets of Dallas?

 

 

 

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: HURTLING INTO DARKNESS: AMERICA’S GREAT LEAP TOWARDS GLOBAL TYRANNY

 

HURTLING INTO DARKNESS: AMERICA’S GREAT LEAP TOWARDS GLOBAL TYRANNY

John Chuckman

 

The darkness to which I refer is something largely unanticipated in political studies and even in science fiction, a field which definitely enters this discussion, as readers will see. There have been many examples of national tyrannies and even stories of global autocracies, but the Hitler-Stalin-Mussolini type of tyranny is an antiquated model for advanced states despite its applying still to many third-world places. A unique set of circumstances now works towards a dystopian future in advanced states with no need for jackboots or brutal faces on posters.

Ironically, one of the key forces which brought Europe and North America over a few centuries to the kind of liberal democracies we know today is capable of delivering a new and unprecedented form of tyranny. That force is the body of interests of a nation’s middle class – the group of capable, ambitious, and rising people who were called a few centuries back by Europe’s landed old aristocracy “the new men.”

By “middle class,” I certainly do not mean what the average American Congressman encourages, in boiler-plate speeches, the average American to believe: that every family with steady work is middle class, all other classes having been eliminated from the American political lexicon. No, I mean the people of significant means – and, although not wealthy, of considerable talent and education – who hold as a group an important set of interests in society through their holdings and valued services. It was the gradual growth of this class of people over centuries of economic growth in Western societies that eventually made the position of monarchs and later aristocracies untenable: the middle class’s interests could no longer be represented by the old orders while their importance to burgeoning economies had become indispensable. They provided the indispensable force for what we now think of as democracy in their countless demands that their interests be represented.

But there is evidence, in America especially, that something altogether new is emerging in human affairs. The real middle class, at least a critical mass of it, has been folded into the interest of the modern elites, the relatively small number of people who own a great portion of all wealth just as they did in the 17th century, wealth today being generated by great global enterprises rather than the ownership of vast national estates. Great enterprises cannot be operated without much of the cream of the middle class: they serve in computer technology, finance, engineering, skilled management, the military officer class, and in intelligence. Their futures, interests, and prejudices have become locked-in with the interests of America’s corporate-military-intelligence establishment. They are indispensable to the establishment’s success, and they are accordingly rewarded in ways which bind their interests – health care, pension-type benefits, privileges, working conditions, opportunities for promotion, etc.

This marriage of interests between elites and the talented middle class effectively removes many of the best educated and most skilled people from being political opponents or becoming critics of the establishments for which they work. At the same time, America’s middle class in general – its small store owners, small factory owners, modest bankers, and even many professionals – has been under attack from economic competition in a globalized world for many years and has little to look forward to but more of the same. America’s legendary working class “middle class” – that brief postwar miracle of auto and steel workers and others who through unionized, unskilled labor earned long vacations, handsome pensions, home ownership, cars, and even small boats – has been battered beyond recognition, every year for decades seeing its real income fall and long-term having absolutely no prospects.

Despite the rise of a society much steeped in the illusions of advertising and marketing, most Americans likely still assume in their day-to-day affairs that their neighbors and business contacts do pretty much what they say they are doing, that while there may be an exaggeration or white lie here or there, most matters proceed according to understanding, laws, and ordinary civility. By and large for the present, they are still pretty much justified in their assumptions.

But when it comes to the level of the national government, and especially in matters of international affairs, these ordinary truths simply cease to hold, almost as though you had moved from the visible, work-a-day world to the quantum strangeness of the subatomic. Likely, it has always been the case to some degree, but the evidence mounts that we have entered a startling new reality, one which shares almost nothing with traditional civil society. America’s national government has become inured to lying and cheating the people whom it ostensibly serves, lying as consistently and thoroughly as would be the case with an occupying foreign power trying to keep a captive population pacified. Americans were lied to about Vietnam, lied to about Cambodia, lied to about the Gulf War, lied to about the invasion of Afghanistan, lied to about the invasion of Iraq, and lied to about a host of policies and interventions.

But we have reached a new level in these matters, a level where the extent of the misrepresentation almost severs the social contract between those governed and their government. America’s neo-con faction has had its agenda adopted over the last few decades, that of freely and happily using America’s great military and economic power to crush those abroad who disagree with America’s arbitrary pronouncements, creating a long crusade intended to re-order the affairs of others with no apologies to them and no honest explanation to America’s own people who pay the taxes and provide the lives of soldiers. While the neo-cons are a passing phenomenon, much as the Middle-eastern garrison state with which they are ferociously associated, the values and lessons they have successfully imparted will remain part of America’s ruling consciousness, serving yet other interests. A tool once successfully used is rarely abandoned.

Not only is there a quantitative difference now, there is a new qualitative difference. After the holocaust of Vietnam (3 million dead Vietnamese justify the term), the United States military realized that it could no longer depend upon citizen-soldiers in its colonial wars. It also realized that that it could no longer tolerate even a moderately free press nosing around its battlegrounds, thus was born the idea of an imbedded press in a professional army. Of course, in the intervening years, America’s press itself changed, becoming an intensely concentrated corporate industry whose editorial policies are invariably in lock-step over colonial wars and interventions and coups, almost as though it were an unofficial department of government. In addition, this corporatized press has abandoned traditional responsibilities of explaining even modestly world affairs, reportage resources having been slashed by merged corporate interests as well as by new economic pressures on advertising revenue, the result of changing technologies.

There is only one lens in America’s mainline journalistic kit, and that is one that filters everything through corporate American views, an automatic and invariable bias found in every image taken or written outside America’s borders. Now, some will say in response that a few newspapers like The New York Times or The Washington Post are exceptions here, but they couldn’t be more wrong. When a journalistic institution gains a reputation for thoroughness and detail in some of its operations, it becomes all the more able to powerfully leverage its reputation in matters which concern the establishment. If you examine the record of these newspapers for some decades, you will find absolutely without exception, their close support for every dirty war and intervention, as you will find their close support for the brutal, criminal behaviors of favored American satrapies like Israel. In a number of cases, CIA plants have worked directly for these papers as disinformation pipelines, but in all cases, reportage and editorial reflect nothing beyond what the publicity offices of the Pentagon and CIA would write themselves. It actually is a sign of how distorted American perceptions are that these papers are in any way regarded as independent, disinterested, or demonstrating consistent journalistic integrity.

The American political system at the national level makes these practices practicable. No one is genuinely responsible for anything in an open and direct fashion, secrecy is as much the norm in America as it is in any authoritarian government you care to mention, and money is the only governing principle in American politics. Openness or transparency simply does not exist, as one might expect it would, transparency being one of the hallmarks of responsible and democratic government. Without transparency, there can be no accounting for anything, and it is the sine qua non of democracy that politicians and officials be genuinely accountable to the electorate. Lastly, the things which tend to remain secret from the people today are far more likely to be pervasive, world-changing developments, far more so than in the past given powerful emerging technologies and the great concentration of power in American society. They are, in short, the very things citizens of a democracy should know about but don’t.

It has long been the case that dishonesty and secrecy have marked America’s foreign policy, as it invariably does with great imperial powers. After all, when Theodore Roosevelt, William Randolph Hearst, and others decided in private to arrange a nasty little war with the declining Spanish Empire, one to become known as the Spanish-American War, they were hardly being honest with Americans. “Remember the Maine” was a cheap, dishonest slogan while America’s brutal behavior in Cuba and the Philippines (the first place waterboarding is known to have been used by Americans) were raw truths. So it has been time after time, so that the national government has learned that dishonesty and secrecy are successful and virtually never questioned.

During the long Cold War, America’s government became inured to these practices with its dozens of interventions and coups and long wars of terror like that waged against Cuba from Florida and New Orleans, a terror operation whose extent made bin Laden’s later mountain training place resemble a boy scout camp. Now, at least two new developments have now influenced these practices, with a third just beginning to make itself felt.  One, America, under the influence of the insider group called neo-cons, has pretty much given up pretence in its aggressive foreign policies: it has come to believe that it is able and entitled to arrange the world according to its arbitrary desires. Two, under the pretext of a war on terror, the United States government has transferred the hubris and arrogance of its foreign affairs into domestic government, no one having voted for a Stasi-like secret surveillance state, one moreover where even local authorities are endowed with armored cars, drones, and abusive powers. Three, technology is genuinely revolutionizing the nature of war, putting immense new power into the hands of elites – power which, unlike the hydrogen bomb, can actually be used readily – and nowhere is this occurring at a more rapid pace than in the United States.

The approaching reality is America’s being able to kill, highly accurately, on a large scale without using thermo-nuclear weapons and almost without using armies. With no need to recruit and support vast armies of soldiers, no need for mess halls and sanitation, no need for px’s and pensions, costs can be slashed, and there is even less need to explain what you are doing or to account for your decisions, and secrecy is promoted even more perfectly.

Today, we see the American government sending killer drones to multiple parts of the world, having already killed several thousand innocent people, with absolutely no accounting of victims or purpose, beyond flannel-mouthed stuff about getting bad guys. But even more dramatic killing machines requiring no soldiers are well along in development. A robot soldier, something resembling Dr. Who’s dreaded delaks with machine guns, already exists, with various advanced models under development equipped with every form of artificial recognition and various means of killing. Eventually, such robots will be delivered to places America wishes to secure, unfortunately without any care for the mistakes and horrors they may inflict on civilians, but America’s establishment does not care about that now as people from Fallujah or Hanoi could readily testify. A hypersonic robot plane or missile, able one day to deliver conventional explosives with precision to almost any spot on earth within an hour or two of launch is well along. Intelligent torpedoes and underwater drones are also well along. Robot tanks and ships are being developed. America’s mysterious space-plane vehicle, resembling a scale-model space shuttle, just having been tested with 500 days in orbit without any crew, has many potential uses for killing and control from space, including the launch of missiles from a position above any target, putting the reach of a fleet of them within minutes of any target on earth, a kind of early prototype Death Star if you will. We also have the advent of extremely powerful new lasers and electric rail-guns, both of which can be completely computerized in their operation. Advances in software, especially in areas like facial and voice-recognition, will enable completely automated targeting of victims almost at the press of a button.

One day, victims may well include troublesome Americans, not just unwanted foreigners. After all, the components for slipping into such a practice are virtually in place, and we know there are no qualms on the part of many of the people leading America today. In a secrecy state, people disappearing would rarely be noticed and never explained. The NSA’s unblinking surveillance on all American citizens would provide targeting information on demand.

We are not quite there yet, but in the close future, less than twenty years, the United States will operate under a military system not unlike the automated, radar-operated machine-gun towers Israel uses to pen in the people of Gaza, only it will do so on a planetary scale. Such immense power in the hands of a relatively few people anywhere and always would be a threat, but in the hands of America’s corporate-military-intelligence elites, people who already are not held accountable for what they do and feel virtually no need to explain, it is a looming threat to the peace, decency, and political integrity of the entire world.

I have no idea how the relentless march towards this brave new world can be stopped. Indeed, I am almost sure that it cannot. Americans in general no longer have anything which could be termed control over the acts of their government, and their role in elections is nothing more than a formal choice between two establishment-loyal candidates heading two parties that differ on virtually no vital matter. George Bush’s time in office proved something profound generally not recognized in the press: America does not now need a president beyond the Constitutional formalities of signing documents and making speeches. Bush was an utterly incompetent fool, but America’s national government never skipped a beat during his eight years, never skipped a beat, that is, in matters important to the establishment, which of course excludes matters like a disaster in New Orleans, concern for the welfare of the American people having long ago faded away as one for the national government.

After all, when you have lied to and manipulated a people for a very long time, how can a growing contempt for them be avoided? It cannot, in much the way a heartless conman fools an old widow into giving up her life savings. Besides, the more government focuses on the kind of matters America’s government focuses on, running for office and government service almost certainly increasingly attracts and rewards narcissists and sociopaths and repels those with broader public interests. The lack of concern and empathy becomes a self-regulated mechanism.

Barack Obama’s tenure has only demonstrated the point made by George Bush further. He has signed off on many new ways of killing people, many secret and disturbing policies, continued to wage Bush’s pointless wars, supported anti-democratic forces taking power in a number of place, including importantly Ukraine and Egypt, reinforced anti-democratic forces in many places like Bahrain, Yemen, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, and not lifted a finger over Israel’s decades-long suppression of democracy and fundamental rights for millions. Obama’s only claim even to helping his own people is a pathetic, costly, unworkable health-care program in which the establishment has absolutely no interest.

The argument that there is an underlying concern for humanity and for rights in the American government couldn’t be more wrong, even though those are themes in the blubbering speeches of a George Bush, a Barrack Obama, a Hillary Clinton, or a John Kerry. America’s deeds abroad are without exception now to control, whether through wars and coups and assassinations or through the cajoling and threats that go on behind the scenes at every single vote by any international body, such as the United Nations.

I do not believe the citizens of the United States any longer possess the capacity to avoid these dark prospects. They are being swept along by forces they mostly do not understand, and most are unwilling to give up on the comfortable almost-religious myths of enforceable Constitutional rights and a benevolent national government.  The world’s hope of avoiding global tyranny now lies in the rapid advance of nations such as China, Russia, India, and Brazil to counterbalance America. Europe, an obvious possible candidate to oppose America’s more dangerous and obtuse efforts, appears in recent decades to have fallen completely under America’s direction in so many areas where it once showed independence, an increasing number having been bribed or seduced or threatened to join NATO and unwilling to use the limited international agencies we have, such as the United Nations, to oppose America’s disturbing tendencies.

 

Posted April 14, 2014 by JOHN CHUCKMAN in Uncategorized

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JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: WHAT AMERICA HAS BECOME

 

WHAT AMERICA HAS BECOME

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 ESSAY: AMERICA’S GULAG

AMERICA’S GULAG

John Chuckman

Often small things provide the most disturbing evidence for world-changing events, as when naturalists observe the quiet disappearance of some little known species. The CIA’s firing of senior officer Mary O. McCarthy is a political event of just this nature.

Ordinarily, the firing of some middling CIA officer is not an event to interest many other than John Le Carre fans and those who linger over cappuccino at the CIA’s Langely cafeteria. Not just conservative throw-backs recognize the need for secrecy in many intelligence matters.

Ordinarily, the fact that some CIA agent has broken his or her oath of secrecy would not cause much disturbance outside the unhinged James Angleton types who make up some portion of any intelligence community. Surely, out of tens of thousands of employees, this is something that happens with regularity.

But Ms. McCarthy’s case is different, and it is of interest to the world. She is responsible, reportedly by her own admission during a furious round of polygraph tests, for information supplied to The Washington Post concerning the CIA’s vast secret prison system.

This CIA-run gulag, and there is no name more fitting, does not resemble the case of a new secret weapon or of a mole planted somewhere abroad. The existence of a secret gulag goes to the heart of democratic values.

Is the population of any democratic country not entitled to be informed of so vast and creepy an enterprise? To exercise their franchise based on facts? At some point, any secret operation, if it becomes large enough and affects the lives of tens of thousands, risks undermining the very legitimacy of the government running it.

The reputation of the United States abroad has suffered perhaps irreparable damage from the excesses and stupidities of Bush’s War on Terror. So much so that Americans are now advised by their own State Department to guard their behavior and even identity when traveling abroad. Are Americans not entitled to be informed of what has caused this? Of what has been done in their name?

If you can keep tens of thousands secretly locked away and subject to torture, what prevents this number from becoming millions? Where are the limits without public information? The inherent integrity of American government officials, you say? Three-quarters of the world’s people today would laugh caustically at the suggestion.

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: BANGING YOUR HEAD INTO WALLS   Leave a comment

BANGING YOUR HEAD INTO WALLS

John Chuckman

We’ve all met them, people who stubbornly hurl themselves in the wrong direction, stopping only when they violently collide with reality. It is a painful way to learn, but those afflicted with the disability seem unable to learn in any other way.

This way of learning characterizes much of America’s effort at foreign policy since World War II. I was forcefully reminded of this by a news story with its searing memories of Vietnam.

It now appears that part of the 101st Airborne Division, members of a so-called Tiger Force unit, dropped grenades into bunkers where women and children hid and shot farmers without warning. They killed blind peasants and old men. These events happened in 1967, comparatively early in the war and about a year before the well-documented mass murder by members of the United States Army at the village of My Lai. No one knows how many innocent people the Airborne slaughtered. One surviving member of the unit is quoted saying he killed so many he lost count. Although investigations were conducted, they went nowhere, and it only now that we learn of the horror.

The full story of American savagery in Vietnam will perhaps never be told. We have had other glimpses of it, as for example when former CIA Director William Colby, responding to a titanic power struggle inside the CIA, revealed Project Phoenix, a secret program for the mass murder of civilian leaders regarded as sympathetic to the enemy. There were the revelations about a number of individuals engaging in barbarism, most notably, former Nebraska Senator and Medal of Honor winner Bob Kerrey having been part of a butcher-civilians operation.

The so-called Tail-Wind affair, whose discovery cost some very reputable journalists their jobs, is now consigned to the ever-handy conspiracy bin, but intelligent skeptics can hardly doubt that with all the other savageries of Vietnam, a secret operation to poison-gas American prisoners of war cooperating with the enemy is totally plausible.

To this day, thousands of American veterans attend meetings or counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder, the bureaucratic term for minds deranged by the horrors they saw or inflicted. War is always full of horror, but in the midst of the brutality in Vietnam, it dawned on many that the war served no good purpose and that most of its victims were civilians. The military draft sent a lot of people to Vietnam who weren’t suited to
the business of serious killing. And while the number of Americans killed was small for a long war, it still proved too many for people enjoying ice cream and beer at ballgames.

For years after Vietnam, Americans talked of the war’s lessons, but just what lessons were those? For a while, many believed the lessons might concern the values of the Bill of Rights, words so often abused as hollow marketing slogans. America’s armed forces would never again be sent to kill and torture for colonial interests.

But that was a hasty conclusion, as we see in Iraq. America perfected its technology for killing and terrifying so that at least for a small county, it is able to overwhelm fairly quickly. Relatively few American soldiers die, those that do are professionals, and the whole thing is quickly over.

Of course, there is a deep and jagged pit along this smooth-sounding path to military dominance, and it has to do with occupying and rebuilding a country, how you assume responsibility for tens of millions of new dependants. No people on earth today is less inclined or qualified for this task than Americans. You only have to look at the individualistic, selfish, and impatient nature of American society itself to understand why this should be so. The word dependant in America often is used as a term of abuse.

Recall Richard Nixon’s “madman theory” of the early 1970s. Nixon was trying to pressure the North Vietnamese in Paris for a settlement, and he deliberately spread the idea that he was a madman, quite capable of doing something irrational, and that it would be better for everyone to reach a settlement before he did so. The context that gave his suggestion force included his shattering bombardment of civilians in North Vietnam and Cambodia, as well as nightmarish programs like Project Phoenix, started under him.

I’ll set aside the fact that Nixon truly was something of a madman – for, apart from his lifelong career of promoting divisiveness, intense hatreds, and suspicions, who else but a genuine madman relishes being credited as one? In the end, Nixon was outfoxed by the Vietnamese, and America lost a major war. A decade of shameful destruction, vast resources consumed, rage, and riots were for nothing.

This did not go unnoticed by the American establishment – the Bushes, the Cheneys, the Rumsfelds, and all the other arrogant, insatiably-rapacious people who’ve given you war in Iraq. Their major lesson from Vietnam – apart from the unreliability of conscripts, the need for tight news control, and the need to improve the efficiency of killing with high-tech weapons – was that threats not acted upon were useless. This lesson comes packaged with a new release of the error-riddled Domino Theory: that a decisive demonstration of power in the Middle East would serve to stabilize the area. The Democrats’ regrettable Wesley Clark, among others, has pontificated along these very lines.

Lost in the armchair toying with other people’s lives and countries you might think is the fact that Nixon’s threat was nuclear, but actually it is not lost. Bush wants to develop and deploy a new generation of compact nuclear weapons, the implication being that these somehow would be useable, as for such wholesome crusade tasks as “bunker busting.” Please recall, the main bunker busted in the first Gulf War was the Al Firdos bunker in Baghdad packed with over four hundred civilians who were roasted alive by two “smart bomb” direct hits.

Vietnam truly was a twentieth-century version of burning witches, the witches in that case being communists rather than people who were either demented or senile as in the witch-burnings of a few centuries ago. Powerful people in the 17th century understood that witches were superstitious nonsense, but they used the phenomenon to their own purposes. We’ve almost run out of communist witches, so now the crusade has been redirected against evil spirits far less well defined, terrorists.

Not that there is no such thing as genuine terrorists. Of course, there are. Terrorism – from the Sons of Liberty and the Klu Klux Klan to black street gangs and camouflage-obsessed militia-nuts – is a rich part of American history. Please note that it has not been dealt with by blowing up whole neighborhoods of innocent people.

The communist-panic after World War II was promoted and manipulated by the America’s establishment, that ruthlessly ambitious segment of American society that does not consist solely of Republicans. American liberals today often seem unaware that Democrats like Robert Kennedy gladly played energetic and nasty roles. The establishment sought the immense bounty of new military contracts, forced access to other peoples’ resources and markets, and the swaggering sense of exercising vast power throughout the world. Note that the communist-panic began with the precipitous decline in military spending after the world war and with the opportunities for expansion represented by the sudden decline of former colonial powers.

At the end of the Cold War, there was a tendency for military expenditure to slide in real terms. America’s current terror-panic, manipulated and exploited relentlessly by Bush, and always echoed by Sharon for his own dark purposes, serves almost identical ends. The average American cannot even grasp the unholy amounts of money now changing hands to almost no good purpose.

I once described a scene in the wake of 9/11 where some Americans in a bar hooted and pumped their arms at the television image of ships equipped with cruise missiles, as though the ships or the missiles had the slightest relevance for individuals bent on killing others through their own suicides. That televised image comes pretty close to symbolizing Bush’s entire policy on terror. He has spent tens of billions of dollars, killed many thousands of innocent people, and made many Americans feel intimidated in their own country, but he has done little to end the threat of terrorism. He may even have increased its long-term prospects.

Terrorism predates modern history, and it generally comes as a result of great and oppressive injustice against a definable group of people. Short of ruthlessly repressing the group of people from whose ranks terrorists are drawn – something attempted many times, as, for example, by Cromwell in Ireland or Stalin in the Soviet Union – violence offers no effective solution.

Even Cromwellian repression fails over the long term, Ireland being a potent example. An oppressor eventually tires of repression. It may well have been some such dark thought that helped motivate Hitler in history’s greatest bloodbath, the invasion of the Soviet Union and the simultaneous start of the Holocaust (27 million and 6 million victims respectively). He demanded utter ruthlessness in these vast murderous enterprises. The people whose wealth and resources he was seizing, would not get the chance ever to become terrorists.

Bush’s policy is partway along the path of repression, a virtual copy of Sharon’s policy in Palestine, but has Sharon ended terror? Does Sharon not almost weekly become more violent and desperate, recognizing the futility of all he has done to date?

Bush’s prospects and opportunities are in some ways even more limited than Sharon’s, despite the immense and terrible power at his disposal. Although Al Qaeda was a relatively small organization – and nothing has come to light that contradicts an early conclusion that Al Qaeda, though dispersed and having some allies, was no bigger than a Chicago street gang – Bush’s tactics have created waves of sympathizers and new enemies, likely even more determined through their confrontation with such a bully. He is not opposed by a group of people confined to a tiny place like Palestine. Rather, he faces opposition in many forms in many countries with mobility across continents. You can’t just bomb it all.

The more verbal blunders Bush and his associates make – consider the idiotic statements made recently by Lt. Gen. William Boykin, a man associated directly with secret activities in places like Pakistan, to gatherings of American Christian fundamentalists – the more Bush’s efforts come to be viewed as broadly anti-Islamic. The word blunder here is only appropriate because such statements are errors in managing public affairs. They are not blunders in a more basic sense: these nasty, narrow people do believe what they are saying, and although that belief is not what launched Bush’s crusade, it undoubtedly motivates many along the way.

Terror is one response of those with terrible grievances who lack effective conventional means to fight for them, although if you listened to Bush you would think there were mobs of natural-born terrorists out there, ready to kill for no reason other than jealousy at America’s great good fortune and beneficence. As in the case of Northern Ireland, terror can only be ended by redressing the grievances, and even then, great patience and tenacity are required.

A general military action against terror is an insane concept, too destructive and unfocused to have predictable results. You cannot fight beliefs or grievances with armored divisions. You can only have vengeance that way, but vengeance can hardly be called policy and is unworthy of a great power claiming high ideals.

The example of Sharon’s brutality just couldn’t offer a clearer lesson. The Palestinians have immense grievances that virtually the entire world recognizes as legitimate. Assassinate all the leaders you please, bulldoze all the homes and shops and orchards you can, bomb and shoot civilians time after time as reprisals, the grievances not only remain, they are intensified. The ultimate danger in a situation like this is that Sharon’s frustration will drive him to move beyond Cromwell.

And so, too, Bush, but note that I use his name only as shorthand for that much bigger thing, the pitiless greed and arrogance of a large segment of America.

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: HOPE AGAINST HOPE   Leave a comment

HOPE AGAINST HOPE

John Chuckman

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen articles about Wesley Clark making a formidable opponent for George Bush. And I agree, he likely would, but so what?

I too am sick of the sound of Bush’s voice. My radio dial is turned five words into any sound clip from this dangerous half-wit with a speech impediment, but what can be gained by replacing him with Clark?

For people in high positions, criticizing Bush now on Iraq is cheap talk. The idiotic, destructive war is done. Americans must live with its consequences and responsibilities no matter who is President. A decent alternative to Bush demands more than a few cheap words of criticism.

You might think the people writing these pieces see Clark as the embodiment of America’s silly myths about citizen-soldiers, a kind of television-age Cincinnatus, who could defeat one of the most lamentable, wrong-headed President in American history.

Clark is not a citizen soldier. He is a professional, a lifetime paid killer. And he has done a good deal of killing. His record just in the very brief and relatively small conflict in Serbia is filled with dead non-combatants, from busloads of cremated civilians to people blown apart at a downtown television station. I understand his thinking in doing these things. I just totally disagree with it.

His record there is marked also with unbelievably poor judgment. The attack he ordered against a large Russian force was deranged. Thank God, a tough old British general dared to disobey the order. Even the bombing of the Chinese embassy was never satisfactorily explained. His documented fraternization with a vicious war criminal appalled many Europeans.

Generals of any kind rarely make good democratic leaders. They have lived their entire adult lives barking orders at folks trained to respond to barking, basic military training having great similarities to obedience school for dogs. The entire purpose of much of this training is to efface individual will and initiative.

That’s why generals come from places like West Point. They are imbued with an ideology not intended for enlisted men, an ideology of officers’ class, privilege, and authority.

Any military organization functions a great deal like a Soviet-style government. Direction comes from above, the Pentagon representing the quintessence of a centrally-planned economy. Waste and inefficiency come on a colossal scale. The waste goes largely unquestioned, because patriotism covers a many evils or, at any rate, intimidates a multitude of critics.

Civilian government simply does not work that way. There is more than a tinge of wishful thinking that people who bark orders can “make the trains run on time.” It rarely turns out that way.

General-President Eisenhower, one of the better of a bad lot in American history, despite his personal charm and common-sense words, displayed many dangerous qualities. He worked with the appalling Dulles brothers, gentlemen whose thinking perhaps more closely resembled their Soviet counterparts than any democratic officials. The Bay of Pigs invasion was planned and organized under Eisenhower’s stewardship. He took many risks with the Soviet Union, including the disastrous flight of a U-2, shot down just before an important summit. A number of democratically-elected governments were toppled by Eisenhower’s government. Men like the Shah of Iran, torturer of countless thousands, were put into power over democratically elected officials. He kept the eerie, pathological Richard Nixon on the ticket when there was a sound excuse to drop him.

What most Americans recall about Eisenhower was that the nation grew in the postwar period, that he was affable, and that he had a cute nickname. Some recall his powerful words on the military-industrial complex, a fair warning that has been utterly ignored.

What do we know about Clark? He discovered what party he belonged to in a kind of epiphany at about sixty years of age. This suggests either retardation or lying, and I’m pretty sure he is a bright fellow. What a silly nonsense to believe this. Has he never voted in elections or contributed to a party? Of course, what has really happened is that only the Democrats offer Clark the opportunity to rise to Commander-in-Chief.

Clark senses Bush is increasingly vulnerable, and I believe he is right. Bush’s vulnerability will increase as the staggering costs of invading and occupying Iraq become apparent and as months of melodramatic reports of ambushed Americans continue.

What will America get for its treasure and blood? A more stable Middle East? Look at the disastrous situation of the Palestinians today and say that with a straight face. Sharon has been supported through a relentless campaign of state-terror in the name of fighting terror. The very economy of Israel is at risk owing to its trying to behave like a world power on the pocket book of a moderate-size American state. And peace remains further away than at any time in recent memory, a new poll showing Israelis voicing despair, something the Palestinians have lived with for decades.

Consider the festering resentments of tens of thousands of Iraqis bitterly suffering for years under the impact of Bush’s delusions. Crime and murder have risen to unprecedented levels in Iraq, increased by thousands of percent over what they were before Bush smashed public order. Many discontents, uncertainties, and internal rivalries have been released, and new enemies are in the making.

In Afghanistan, a costly mess remains. The figurehead president of the country, who has little reason to cause Bush grief, himself admits it will take years to gain stability. The production of opium poppies has exploded since the Taliban were pushed aside. Perhaps, American soldiers will come home as they did from Vietnam, addicted to drugs. That was, after all, one of the hidden costs of America’s insane Vietnam crusade: farm boys from every corner of America returned home using drugs they never had heard of before.

On top of all this, the American economy is sour, and I don’t mean just current GDP growth. Longer-term matters are at stake. Clinton’s surpluses have been squandered, deficits in trade and expenditure have reached intimidating levels, and the economy is under the shadow of unknowably-vast obligations abroad, including everything from billions in bribes for foreign support in Iraq to open-ended contracts for associates of Bush and Cheney.

Bush officials are shown daily to be remarkably petty and corrupt. Imagine a neocon outing a CIA agent? It’s the kind of act for which they would have nailed Clinton to a cross. But these nasty people’s lust for vengeance and getting even drives them to do about anything.

The national-security apparatus they have put into place is horrible and dangerous and can only increasingly be seen to be so as it operates.

Yes, Bush will be vulnerable. So why waste the opportunity on Clark? There have to be better people.

Unfortunately, American national politics are about as agile as the Pentagon’s bloated bulk. An American presidential campaign takes forever, often coming to resemble in cost and duration preparations for the landing at Normandy. The actual conditions at the time of the election can only be guessed at in such a lengthy process. It is one of the more foolish and costly parts of American politics, but it is the reality people must work under. So, a handsome general with no political baggage who criticizes the President about Iraq a little bit looks like a good bet.

And that is how America is run, and those who dream of something else only hope against hope.

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: THE WORST KIND OF LIE   Leave a comment

THE WORST KIND OF LIE

John Chuckman

A few years sometimes make a big difference in human affairs. A few years ago an American President was put through the 18th century ordeal of impeachment, a vast, expensively-staged comic opera of white manes waving and grave baritones intoning, over a dribble on a dress and the lie he told to save himself embarrassment. Today we have a President who has hurled the world into two dirty, pointless wars after what undoubtedly qualifies as the longest sequence of public lies ever uttered in a free society, and yet in his homeland he remains popular and is collecting enough campaign cash to rival the Swiss bank balances of the Russian Mafia.

Leaders have always lied in times of war and when maneuvering for advantage in international affairs, American presidents, despite puffed-up claims to different moral standards, no less so than others. Usually the lies they tell are not understood until years later. The lies then often seem to become small, unimportant details in a history of big events. But Bush has lied daily, doing it so awkwardly at times that you might think everyone is aware of it, and it seems to make no difference to his political standing.

What will Bush do with all the cash he is hoarding for the next campaign? He will use it to practice the worst lying possible in a democratic society, lying that subverts the intent of democracy, replacing meaningful debate by the suggestions, half-truths, and staged images of advertising and marketing. Perhaps, I should correct that to the second-worst lying possible in a democratic society, for Bush, of course, entered office with the worst lying, claiming to have won an election he lost by any sensible reckoning.

Why are Americans not distressed at this? Because they live in an intense field, an electromagnetic haze, of marketing, advertising, and commercial propaganda twenty-four hours a day. Americans are so saturated with this stuff that they regard it as normal communication.

But it is not normal. It is deliberate and manipulative. At its very best, advertising is only ever half truth, telling a few favorable aspects of something that deserves greater scrutiny. At its worst, it is simply artful fraud and deception. But in no case is it truth or, perhaps better put since truth is a large and difficult idea, honest communication. Advertising, like its fraternal twin, propaganda, always has a purpose other than helping you understand something. This other purpose is its raison d’être. Advertising wants to separate you from your money or, in the case of politics, from your vote.

I’ve often chuckled over the way Americans used to get so upset over the idea of Communist propaganda. While Americans decried that propaganda, they themselves lived in a dense fog of advertising and propaganda. Only the American stuff isn’t quite so obvious as the ponderous old Soviet stuff, at least to anyone immersed in it. It is far more artful and effective. That friendly well-known face on TV is speaking to me, being a friend to me in my isolation and loneliness, cares about me, why he’s even recommending something good for me. What a nice man.

In America, wave on wave of these smiling frauds sell floor mops, breath mints, female hygiene, Christ, cancer treatment, hamburgers, and presidential candidates.

An interesting story from Maine, a place that prides itself on tourist billboards as having “Life the way it should be,” shows, in another sphere of life, how people, responding to the intense environment of advertising and marketing, sometimes act with no examination of their actions. An otherwise very nice person was vigorously preaching one day some years ago to an associate at work about his not using a paper-recycling container in his office, an oversight that may have involved a few dozen sheets of paper in a week.

Now this “environmentally-concerned” preacher with her spouse had just built a large, brand-new house, a five-bedroom monster for two people with no children. And where did they build it? On the fringes of a suburban area that was already suffering from exactly the kind of hopeless sprawl afflicting every other part of the United States where life is not advertised as being “the way it should be.” They built on a one-acre site along a tiny road on the edge of a forest. And how were they getting to work? Why, each drove his and her own gasoline-wasting, road-wasting, polluting SUV.

An acre of land, of course, required a large, polluting rider-mower just to keep the grass clipped. Their long driveway required lots of private plowing in the winter. The small road leading to it required the sprawled-out town to plow regularly for the benefit of a fairly small number of people. So too for garbage pick-up, and indeed for every other public service. And five bedrooms use a lot of heating oil and a lot of air-conditioning. If these people ever do have children, they will require bus service along thinly-populated roads.

But in their minds they are doing nothing irresponsible. It is that fellow at work who refuses to use a re-cycling box that is irresponsible. Of course the amount of environmental stress and strain caused by their choices is at least a hundred thousand times greater than that caused by the man without the box, but no real analysis takes place here. They are immersed in suggestions of their lifestyle having an almost quasi-sacred character to it, being fulfillment of that unexamined advertising slogan, “the American dream,” and they equally are immersed in suggestions that things like recycling boxes in every office are very good things indeed.

I said this example was from another sphere of life, but really it isn’t. The energy to do all the things necessary to support their sprawl-lifestyle, multiplied by tens of millions of other Americans just like them, has to come from somewhere. Like Iraq or Iran or Saudi Arabia. Pick your troubled part of the world and add the cost of America’s belligerent policies to keep it in line. But Americans rarely see the results of these abhorrent policies, the mutilated children, for instance, of Iraq.

And the immense pollution generated by this lifestyle has to go somewhere, but who cares just so long as you don’t see it piled up on your front lawn? It all gets taken away, to dumps, somewhere. And the smoke from the power generators? Well, they don’t build those in areas like this. The green-house gases from burning all that gasoline and fuel oil and diesel truck fuel? The wind takes it off somewhere. The road salt. The insecticide. The weed killer. Well, they do their job and you don’t see the mess.

And that is the answer that explains America’s system of paid political lies: it does its job and you don’t see the mess, at least if you are not looking, and most Americans aren’t looking.