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RUNAWAY TRAIN

America’s election and its inability to alter the nation’s deadly course

 

John Chuckman

 

America is engaged in another of its sprawling and costly national election campaigns. A few of the events, such as the New Hampshire primary or the Iowa Caucus, I’m sure have participants seeing themselves as Thomas Jefferson’s sturdy yeomen doing their civic duty. But such humble and misty-eyed tableaux can be deceiving for the big picture is quite disturbing, including, as it does, billions of dollars spent and a lot of noise generated about things which will not change in any outcome.

America is, despite all the noise and expense of its election campaigns, not a democracy, and, as the world’s greatest imperial power, it is not a place which genuinely honors human rights, either at home or abroad although its politicians never stop talking about them. It is a country controlled by wealth whose purpose is the acquisition of still more wealth, equipped with a military that in scores of wars and interventions has fought, arguably, precisely once for the country’s defense.

It marked a fateful time in the modern era when America, under Harry Truman, decided to partner with the emerging state of Israel, a very fateful time indeed. Today much of the Middle East is in ruins, whole states and societies have been destroyed, at least a million have died, and some of the world’s great archeological and historical treasures have been destroyed as though by a gang of gleeful wanton young men.

Accompanying America’s long march of destruction through the Middle East – the work both of its own armed forces and of various proxies – has been the rise of a phenomenon called international terrorism. Our newspapers and broadcasters all focus on this last, leaving the preceding great acts of destruction unquestioned. After all, America’s much-consolidated press is an industry like any other and is owned by a relatively small number of wealthy people, and it depends upon good relations with other great industries for its revenue and with the government for its operating environment. It never questions policies, no matter how brutal, and it never scrutinizes what those policies are doing to people. America’s major allies all carry on in exactly the same fashion for they have become highly dependent on America’s goodwill.

Day after day, our press gives horrifying accounts of events such as the bombing in Brussels or the attacks in Paris, and it has been doing so since 9/11, providing a relentless war chant of “See what these bastards do!” These horrors are always treated as though they had no context, having sprung full-blown from the minds of bizarre people who think nothing, for example, of blowing themselves up. But I’m pretty sure that virtually every person who does such things sees himself or herself in the same light as the Japanese Kamikazes everyone once fearfully admired.

When was the last time your newspaper or broadcaster featured life in Gaza or in Syria or in Iraq or in Libya or in Yemen? It simply does not happen, and except for the rare independent article or book, our information about these places and the terrible assaults they are under is deliberately constrained. I am convinced that the natural human sympathy of most people, including many residents of imperial America, would respond to such sights and reports, but you are simply not given the opportunity to do so.

For me, this subject is the pivotal matter in the upcoming American election. Donald Trump, despite many unpleasant views and much careless rhetoric, seemed to have a spark of something new, an independent mind not shaped by America’s political establishment, and he an extremely successful and self-confident man in business not beholden to the special interests which shape the insincere news and own the loyalty of a great many politicians. He has made a number of encouraging statements, saying America should get along with Russia and China, leave Syria for Russia to clean-up, and talked about making deals instead of conflicts, but, most remarkably, he said that Israel should pay for its own defense. That last, something most timorous American politicians wouldn’t dream of uttering, is an example of bravery under the threat of fire, a quality I admire and one sorely needed to ever have a hope of having America extricated from the its Middle East’s Gordian Knot.

But two things just recently have given me pause: Trump’s words about using torture and the recent appointment to his foreign relations team of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions. Torture is unacceptable, ever. Legally innocent people are kidnapped and hurt in the mere hope they know something of interest, and in the process many die, convicted of nothing. The CIA has killed a number of prisoners in its Rendition Gulag since 9/11, whether accidentally or deliberately almost doesn’t matter, but their filthy work violates every principle we hold dear.

Calls for more torture are not new thinking, and they are repulsive. They ignore the actual cause of terror, which is America’s treatment of countless people in societies swept aside and rudely rearranged as though their homes and places were toy living room furniture being tossed by an angry child giant. As for Senator Sessions, there is a man who gets along just fine with the bloodiest people in Washington doing the rearranging.

Perhaps I should not have allowed a glimmer of hope that at least in one part of America’s domain a few things might change for the better. After all, seven years ago, I had hopes for a young black man with a charming smile and a tendency to talk and act with more independence than we usually see in Washington, not afraid sometimes to wear sandals and do without the primordial totem of an American flag pin always fixed to his lapel, but look what happened to him. He joined the great game and became nothing less than a mass murderer. Oh, he had one or two modest successes, as in stopping Israel’s raging demands to attack Iran, a country which has attacked no one in its entire modern history, but otherwise his is a long and dreary tale.

He has America still killing in Iraq, still killing in Afghanistan, destroying a decent civilization in Libya, supporting destruction in beautiful Syria, re-inserting an absolute dictator into Egypt to keep its prickly neighbor Israel happy, and creating an armada of drones to assassinate people in far off places guilty of no crime, killing in the process many others besides the innocent targets. Oh, and there are many other Neanderthal stupidities, from creating a coup and ensuing civil war in Ukraine to demanding Europe join in destructive economic sanctions and a huge military build-ups tight on Russia’s borders. And then there are all the efforts to intimidate China in its own sphere of influence.

You see, these are all the brutal stupidities of America’s establishment which our press would have you ignore while it goes on and on with its war chant about mindless international terror, virtually all of which is simply a pathetic human response to the stupidities, a response likely as unavoidable as having accidents if you go around driving drunk.

I say unavoidable, but that is not absolutely true. If a society goes far enough into the suppression of rights, terrorism can be almost eliminated. Stalin’s Russia did not experience much in the way of terrorism. Neither does Netanyahu’s Israel. And there is no doubt that America’s huge effort to suppress traditional rights and freedoms since 9/11 reflects that understanding, and the effort at suppression is not over. New surprises await Americans and their allies without question. It is an interesting sidelight to this ongoing process of building a super-security state that it just happens also to leave the ruling establishment increasingly unchallenged and unchallengeable. It is, indeed, a very dark path America has taken.

Is it any wonder I would grab at straws to see some change, even a modest re-think about what is being done? But I do fear that’s just what it is, grabbing at straws. The only realistic alternative is Hillary Clinton, a proven killer and serial liar and someone who much resembles Tony Blair for repulsive insincerity and selling herself to wealthy interests.

Indeed just at this writing, Radovan Karadzic has been convicted of war crimes during the Serbian war. I think it would be impossible to convincingly distinguish a great deal of what he did to Muslims in Bosnia and what Hillary Clinton did in Libya, which included running a program to gather small armies of thugs and arm them for insertion into Syria where they helped kill more than a quarter of a million people and create devastation. Her satanic laughter over her own bizarre joke about the leader of Libya, “We came, we saw, he died,” speaks volumes about her. This was a leader who had for decades given his people enlightened state policies and who ended being murdered in an American-created chaos.

It has been interesting to see the reactions to organized opposition against Trump, opposition taking a form sadly resembling 1930’s German Brownshirts shoving, threatening, and shouting at political rallies. Trump’s base, which is not only part of the Right but includes people who decades ago would have been Democrat-voting union people before their jobs disappeared, has very confusingly attributed all the organized opposition to “liberals.” Well, George Soros and Hillary Clinton are not, by any stretch of the imagination, liberals. Soros is in the CIA’s pocket, as Russia well knew when it recently banned his NGOs from operating there, and Hillary is just a plain killer.  I’m pretty sure America has no liberals anymore, at least as an organized body. George Soros and Hillary Clinton and John Kerry are perhaps best described as neocon “fellow travellers.”

Now, in case you don’t know who the neocons are, they are a group of influential people in the Washington establishment and in Right-wing publishing who forcefully advocate that America use its full might to re-order the planet to its liking. Many of the best known of them are Jewish Americans who never have Israel far from their concerns. There was a natural meshing of interests in supposedly re-making and stabilizing the Middle East with support for Israel. All the countries flattened or decimated in recent years effectively represent a collective effort to make the Middle East safe for Israel, to surround it with a vast cordon sanitaire, eliminating virtually all independent-minded leaders in an almost continent-sized region, and assuring Israel’s hegemony as a kind of regional miniature replica of what the United States has become in the world.

The chief problem here has been the murder of huge numbers of people and the perfectly natural reactions of many to revenge what has happened to their families, friends, and lands. If that is to be called terror, so be it, but in other times we have called the same reaction everything from the resistance or national liberation to war by other means or simple vengeance. The most important thing to understand about it is that it is not some unnatural eruption of insane extremists as our press constantly makes every effort to impress upon us.

The only way to control terror is to stop your part in it. The biggest part of all modern terror is the work of the United States, unless you regard a family blown up in Damascus or Tripoli or Fallujah or Gaza City or Sana’a as being somehow different in kind to the victims in Brussels or Paris. America also pressures all its traditional allies to support the work with efforts of one kind or another, anything from arms to training, always maintaining the stance that it opposes terror and insisting they do the same. Well, it does oppose terror, but only the wrong kind of terror, the terror which does not support or advance America’s efforts. America’s destruction and mass killing in recent years are the great bulk of what any reasonable person, one not dedicated to the silly idea that America is a benign force, would call terror. Events in Brussels or Paris or even New York have been only the results of what America and its allies have been doing, the “blowback” as they quaintly put it in intelligence circles.

Well, it has been my faint hope that Trump might represent at least some progress in this horrible business, but I am growing to doubt that possibility. I do think for many reasons things are rather out of control, hence my reference to a runaway train. The American establishment of wealth along with its Praetorian Guard of military and security services is firmly in control and the ability of any elected individual to redirect things seems remote, as does the initial likelihood of such a person even being elected to office.

In my heart of hearts I do still believe that Obama was the kind of man who wanted things otherwise, but the realities of those meetings at huge conference tables surrounded by square-jawed generals in uniforms stiff and glittering with brass and medals and the sneering, elusive country-club types of the security services, impenetrably self-confident in all their secret operations and resources, many of which will never even be known to a president, made him what he has become. That and the pressing demands of hugely wealthy individuals and corporations, powerful lobby groups, and the virtually daily calls from people like Netanyahu (we do know that “daily calls” is no exaggeration from a slip of Obama’s tongue several years back) have given us this failed man who may well have had good intentions at the start.

The cause of so much of the war and terror in the world, the artificial re-creation of Israel and its endless demands for the re-ordering of its region, will likely just have to run its course. It is a state which, rather surprisingly, shares a great many features with the former Soviet Union. It is monstrously over-militarized, occupied by vast and invasive security services, with no guarantees of any rights, holding millions down who don’t want to be held, and boasts an inefficient economy only kept afloat by huge subsidies from outside. I do think, just like the Soviet Union, it eventually will collapse on its own weak foundations.

As for the United States, I have long believed that the era of its unquestioned authority in the world, which it has always greatly abused, is drawing to a close. The world is not only becoming multi-polar, the United States simply cannot govern itself in many of its activities, almost like a great spoiled child who cannot stop gobbling ice cream cones. It is always pushing to excesses. Its finances are in appalling shape and it can only be a matter of time before huge corrections occur with all the terrible consequences they entail for many. It is spending unconscionable amounts it doesn’t even have on its military and security, and the exaggerated, paranoid perceptions of need motivating these expenditures reflect all that we’ve discussed above. But perhaps most important of all, it has no effective leadership, and its absolutely corrupt political system is unable to provide any, allowing the inside ruling coterie to just keep stumbling along towards we don’t know quite what.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.