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JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: THE TWILIGHT ZONE OF AMERICAN POLITICAL LIFE WHERE ALMOST EVERY WORD OF NEWS ISN’T WHAT IT SEEMS   2 comments

 

THE TWILIGHT ZONE OF AMERICAN POLITICAL LIFE WHERE ALMOST EVERY WORD OF NEWS ISN’T WHAT IT SEEMS

 

John Chuckman

 

I think a description of the political space in which we live as a kind of twilight reality is not an exaggeration. Not only is a great deal of the news about the world we read and hear manipulated and even manufactured, but a great deal of genuine news is simply missing. People often do not know what is happening in the world, although they generally believe they do know after reading their newspapers or listening to news broadcasts. People receive the lulling sounds or words of most of this kind of news almost unconsciously just as they do to the strains of piped-in “elevator music” in stores and offices.

There are several reasons why this is so. The consolidation of news media creates huge corporate industries whose interests are no different to those of other huge corporate industries. The ownership and control of these industries is not in the hands of people interested in finding out about things and helping others to understand: they are in the hands of people with political connections and goals. At the government level, those in power over the great agencies of the military and security also are not motivated by helping others to understand; indeed, they often are very much interested in hiding what they do.

With a large, complex, and powerful state like the United States these motivations become overwhelming in importance. The more the establishment’s national ambitions become interference in, and manipulation of, the world’s affairs – in effect, controlling the global environment in which it lives – the more it finds itself mired in acts and policies which cannot stand the light of day. Secrecy becomes a paramount goal of government, and all corporate news organizations – understanding their dependency upon government agencies for leaks and information to make them look good, for permissions and licences which allow them to survive and grow, and for advertising revenue from other great corporations involved with government – understand implicitly the permissible limits of investigation and news. And when they do forget, they are promptly reminded. Some of these giants – CNN and Fox News come to mind – make little pretence of genuine news or investigation, existing almost entirely as outlets for points of view, attitudes, and the odd tantalizing morsel of disinformation. They keep an audience because they offer what is best understood as either infotainment or soft propaganda which is expertly tuned to listeners’ and readers’ assumptions and preconceived ideas.

Size matters in all enterprises, economies of scale contributing to build powerful corporations with global influence. Size also matters to create what economists call “barriers to entry” in any industry, something which plays a major role in the evolution of many industries over time from fairly competitive ones to quasi-monopolistic ones. It is virtually impossible for a newcomer to enter an industry evolved to this latter state, including the news industry. It would be about as difficult to enter the American news industry as it would be to enter its soda pop, car manufacturing, household products, or hamburger restaurant industries. It is always possible to start a small niche, or boutique, operation, but it literally is not possible to compete with oligopolistic giants. So, necessarily, American news is under the control of a very few people, extremely wealthy people, who attend the same cocktail parties as senior people in government agencies and other great corporations.

The more powerful the great military-security-policing agencies in a society become, the more independent of public approval and scrutiny they grow. This is unavoidable without a sustained popular demand for public accountability and reasonable transparency, but such popular movements are difficult to start and even harder to maintain, and they are pretty much absent in America. Every once in a while we do get a movement in America popping up like spring dandelions on the lawn, almost always of the “back to basics” type, the Tea Party being the most recent manifestation, financed by some wealthy persons with their own goals and serving to titillate people for a short while that the dark monstrosity in Washington can be made to go away, but, as with the Tea Party, they always dry up and blow away.

The politicians who ostensibly oversee dark matters in special committees do not want public credit for what they approve. And I believe a point is reached, as it has been reached in the United States, where a great deal of the planning and decision-making in dirty affairs is left entirely in the hands of the great security agencies themselves, politicians not being in a position to interfere even if they wanted to do so. The sheer volume and complexity of such operations argues for this view, and the truth is most people and most politicians are comfortable with inertia.

If we go back about fifty years we have a complex and fascinating example of these forces and tendencies at work, and we can only be sure that matters have gone a great deal further since that time with the immense swelling of security budgets, open contempt for privacy and rights, and the dramatic advance of technological capabilities. On the matter of technology from the citizens’ point of view, the blithe pop notion of “social media,” so often talked up in the press as now working against concentrated power, ignores that “social media” too are just great corporations intimately linked to government. They not only send the security agencies a detailed flow of information about their subscribers, but they are all engineered to be switched off when government desires it. The Internet in general has provided an outlet for critical views, but the total exposure to the public is small in the scheme of things – a few channels, as it were, in a multi-trillion channel universe – and can mostly be ignored by authorities, and, in any event, the Internet is evolving quickly into something else far more dominated by commercial interests. The Golden Age of the Internet, so far as ideas are concerned, may well soon be over.  To return to our example, if we go back to America’s many attempts to topple or assassinate the leader of Cuba in the early 1960s, we have perhaps our best understood example of elaborate dark operations, unaccountable officials, murder, mayhem, and an utterly compliant press – all freely continuing for years. Although histories of the Kennedy presidency contain more than one version of some details of America’s vast, long-lasting terrorist plot, still, much of it is understood, at least better than is the case for many such matters.

John Kennedy may not have been quite the idealist some sentimentally view him today, but he was more thoughtful, independent, and tough-minded than many American Presidents of the 20th century. He learned nearly immediately after becoming President that the previous Eisenhower government had established a vast operation to eliminate Castro and his government. It was a terror operation whose size and complexity and resources made the later mountain redoubt of Osama bin Laden resemble a Boy Scout camp. Despite its size, this was an operation unknown to the press and public at the time, although there is an anecdote that The New York Times tripped over the plot and, in traditional Times’ fashion, suppressed it at the CIA’s request. The plans took many routes, including, as we learned later from the Church Committee in 1975 (an examination of some intelligence practices in the wake of the Watergate scandal), CIA representatives going to the bizarre lengths of approaching senior Mafia figures to discuss commissioning them for Castro’s assassination.

Kennedy came under great pressure from the CIA to approve the project for invading Cuba, a difficult position in which to put a young, inexperienced President. He decided to support the plan with important provisos. The Bay of Pigs invasion, by a CIA-trained, supplied, and paid private army of Cuban refugees, was directed by CIA personnel and supported by a huge propaganda apparatus, including a radio station, in Florida. There were also CIA assassination teams prepared to enter Cuba and kill certain people once the refugees were established. Many elements of the plan and the people running it had been involved in 1954 with the successful overthrow of the elected government of Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán in Guatemala. But Cuba was not Guatemala, and their plans proved a colossal and embarrassing failure which served only to increase Castro’s heroic, legendary stature in Cuba, a classic result of poorly-conceived black operations called “blowback” in the security establishment, and the reverberations of these events continued for more than a decade, claiming many lives and careers.

Following the failed invasion, CIA leaders, much resembling some “old boys” at an expensive men’s club where outsiders are resented, blamed the President for his scepticism and failure to extend what they regarded as adequate support, especially in the form of disguised American air support for the invading forces. The new President himself was furious at having been pressured into the fiasco at the start of his term. The truth is that the CIA’s plan was almost laughable, including the key assumption that great numbers of ordinary Cubans would rise against Castro, an extremely popular leader, once the invasion force appeared. It was a delusional sand castle built on a foundation of blind hatred for anything to do with communism, especially for a man as charismatic as Castro. The blindness extended to the CIA’s having selected a poor geographical location for forces to land.

It was all a tremendous example of the arrogance of power, secret men with unlimited resources making secret plans that reflected little reality. Kennedy fired some top CIA officials, including Director Allen Dulles, and is said to have privately sworn to tear the CIA apart. We can only imagine the self-righteous fury of the CIA’s Cold Warrior Mujahedeen at the time, their words, when recorded here or there, resembling tent preachers speaking about casting out devils. Kennedy, however, did not tear the CIA apart. Realistically, that would have been impossible with the men at the CIA knowing better than anyone how to capitalize on an attempt – blackmail, threats, ugly frat-boy jokes, and criminal activity being everyday tools they used. To be labelled “soft on communism” in the early 1960s was the political Mark of Beast, Richard Nixon having built an entire political career on it, and Kennedy’s personal life was subject to then-unpalatable revelations of extensive marital infidelity. So Kennedy continued to work with the CIA on a series of sabotage operations against Cuba and attempts on Castro’s life. Indeed, it is said that Kennedy put his brother, Robert, a sufficiently tough and ruthless man by all accounts, in charge of the plans, making senior CIA personnel answerable to the young Attorney General, itself the kind of act which would not endear him to the CIA’s old boys.

The secret matters around Cuba dominated events for years, again almost without any hard public information, leading to the Cuban Missile Crisis which President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev peacefully settled, a settlement importantly including an American pledge not to invade Cuba again. Ultimately this writer is convinced that it was events around Cuba that led directly to the assassination of John Kennedy, much evidence suggesting a false trail to Cuba being planted before the fateful day in Dallas, the very kind of trail that could be used by the Cold Warrior Mujahedeen to justify an invasion after all. With everything from a faked visit to Mexico City by someone posing as Lee Harvey Oswald (the poor man working in New Orleans as a paid FBI informer at the time – likely a low level part of a Kennedy-initiated FBI program to track and suppress the worst anti-Cuba excesses of the refugees and their handlers in keeping with the spirit of the Missile Crisis settlement – totally unaware he was being set up by those he fell in with), the one-man creation of a Fair Play to Cuba chapter in New Orleans, handing out Fair Play pamphlets (some of which were stamped with the address of an ex-senior FBI anti-communist fanatic, Guy Bannister, who ran a mysterious front operation in New Orleans with some very unsavory associates) at places including near a naval facility, the night visit to Sylvia Odio, daughter of a noted Cuban political figure, by a group of unidentified men who referred to a Leon Oswald, and many other such carefully placed little piles of breadcrumbs.

Kennedy offended his Pentagon Joint Chiefs by not letting them immediately bomb and invade Cuba when offensive missiles were discovered there by U-2 photography, and of course anything of that nature offending the Pentagon offended also the CIA and those dependent upon it.  With his pledge not to invade Cuba again, Kennedy offended the violent Cuban refugee community, people who were armed to the teeth by the CIA and had killed and crippled opponents in Florida as well as in Cuba. And through the entire sequence of events from the Bay of Pigs to the Missile Crisis, Kennedy consistently offended the Cold Warrior Mujahedeen at the CIA. He added to that offence with acts like establishing secret backchannel communications with Khrushchev and preliminary efforts to establish the same communications with Castro. Such efforts were most unlikely to remain secret from the CIA when they involved such a high level and weighty matters. Remember, hatreds in the United States around Cuba remained so intense in the intelligence and refugee communities that as late as 1976, a CIA operative named Luis Posada Carriles planted two bombs on Cubana Airlines Flight 455, killing all 78 people aboard, and he was protected by the American government.

The effect on the general public of accurate knowledge about dark matters in the rare instances when they become known can be glimpsed here or there. One of the best examples is the disappearance from politics, including credible presidential ambitions, of a seemingly attractive Vietnam veteran holding the Medal of Honor, former-Senator Bob Kerrey. When the public learned of a secret operation called Project Phoenix and later learned that Kerrey earned his medal through such work, his political career simply dissolved. Project Phoenix was a dark operation in Vietnam in which American Special Forces crept out, night after night, to assassinate villagers the CIA identified as targets. It is estimated that twenty thousand innocent villagers had their throats slashed in the night by Americans creeping into their homes. It would be hard to conceive of a more cowardly and grisly form of war, but it went on for a long time in complete secrecy. The operation burst upon public awareness only after a titanic internal struggle at the CIA over the authenticity of a Soviet defector named Yuri Nosenko ended with the dismissal of James Angleton in 1974, the paranoid Chief of CIA Counterintelligence (a man, incidentally, who unquestionably had special knowledge of the Kennedy assassination) by new CIA Director William Colby. Colby also revealed the Phoenix program for reasons not well understood and stated he had run it. (A retired Colby later had a mysterious fatal boating accident near his home.)

People who want to discredit critics and sceptics of government today often use the term “conspiracy theorist,” almost as though there were ipso facto no such things as conspiracy or dishonesty in government. It is of course intended as a pejorative description. But the entire history of affairs around Cuba puts the lie to those using the term, and we know from many bits of information that Cuba is only one example of scores of genuine conspiracies.

Those with some history will know that secrecy and dishonesty have long served the interests of power. Why doesn’t the United States claim credit for overthrowing the democratic government of Guatemala, the democratic government of Iran which unleashed the filthy work of the Shah’s secret police, SAVAK, afterward, or the democratic government of Chile and the fifteen thousand or so state murders that followed? Why doesn’t it claim credit for the State Department’s teletyping lists of desired victims to a new government of Indonesia, after the fall of Sukarno in 1965, as its savage followers conducted a genocidal slaughter of suspected communists which saw half a million people thrown into rivers with their throats slashed? Why did it hide acts like the machine-gunning of hundreds of fleeing Korean civilians, including women and children, at the early stages of the Korean War? Or the hideous murder by suffocation in sealed trucks of about three thousand Taleban prisoners in the early stages of the Afghanistan War undertaken by one of America’s key Afghan allies shortly after Donald Rumsfeld publicly said they should be killed or walled away forever? Why doesn’t Israel just tell people it terrorized Palestinians, killing and raping, in 1948 to make as many as possible flee their homes? Or that it machine-gunned masses of Egyptian prisoners of war in the Sinai in a war that it engineered only for conquering more of Palestine?

Could it be that there are acts of which governments are ashamed? That there is reason to be ashamed of acts which they nevertheless continue to repeat? It does seem that government values its reputation enough to avoid taking credit for its ugliest acts. The terrible dilemma is that in a supposedly democratic state, these horrible acts are committed without either the knowledge or consent of the people and despite the fact that the results affect the public’s welfare and often international reputation. Now at just what point could the consent of the people in a democratic state be more important than committing organized murder on their behalf? I cannot imagine any. Yet that is a point at which states like America feel free to act, covering up what they do with masses of secrecy and lies.

Why would anyone deny the existence of conspiracies by America’s government? Regrettably, the only reason that some government behavior becomes known is the existence of whistleblowers. But how does government treat whistleblowers? Just ask Mordechai Vanunu or Daniel Ellsberg or Private Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning or Edward Snowden – truly brave and ethically-motivated individuals, treated like criminals by their governments.

Pervasive secrecy and truly democratic government are simply incompatible, and I think it fair to say that where we see monumental levels of secrecy, as we do in the United States with billions of classified documents and hundreds of past controversies dimly understood, it provides prima facie proof of a society tarted-up to resemble democracy but having few if any of the required internal organs functioning. A culture of secrecy and violence is the culture of a police state, full stop.

Right now we have partial information about some recent American, or American-sponsored, terrorist programs. One such is the induced “civil war” in Syria which receives arms and assistance via Turkey, the same route used to inject a rag-tag army of extremists into Syria and to allow them to retreat periodically in escaping Syria’s army. The extremists even used some of the deadly nerve gas, Sarin, to kill masses of civilians in hopes of pushing the United States openly into the conflict, making the rebels surely the kind of people no sane person wants running a country. And who supplied them with Sarin, a manufactured substance available from only a few sources?  A related dark program occurred in Benghazi, Libya, where an American ambassador was killed in another instance of blowback: he had been running an operation to collect from Libya and export to Syria weapons and thugs when some the thugs turned and attacked him instead. Yet another dark operation has been the destabilization of Ukraine through a huge secret flow of money to right wing forces who shot hundreds of innocent people down on the streets of Kiev to instill general fear and terror to support a coup.

Now, you will not read one word from an American official acknowledging any of this grotesque behavior. Indeed, John Kerry has the unenviable job of publically lying about it, puffing and pontificating and self-righteously proclaiming America’s revulsion over others behaving like that. And in all this storm of murder and dishonesty, you will only find American journalism, that noble guardian of the public’s right to know, keeping its readers and listeners in complete ignorance.

This is how it is possible in what is often regarded a free and democratic state, the national government commits itself to murder and mayhem, using its people’s resources without informing them and without their consent, all the while vigorously lying to them. Can you really have democracy that way? I don’t think so. The power and resources that are in the hands of America’s great secret agencies are greater than those enjoyed by many of the world’s dictators. And the distortions of the American press surely are in keeping with the practices of places where the press is never regarded as free. Many Americans know that at the local town or city level, they do have democratic institutions and attitudes, a fact which reassures them against criticisms of their national system, but then so does China today, and no one calls China a democracy.

 

 

 

 

 

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: THE SICKLY SMELL OF LIES AND DEATH   Leave a comment

THE SICKLY SMELL OF LIES AND DEATH

John Chuckman

Only the other day, Benjamin Netanyahu earned a small note of immortality when he said the peace talks were ended by the new arrangements between the Palestine Authority and Hamas: Netanyahu’s announcement bundled a record number of lies into one mouthful of words.  There, of course, never was anything properly called peace talks with Israel. There has been only a long series of closed-door personal, and security-scrambled telephonic, exchanges with America’s superbly ineffectual John Kerry, exchanges in which the Palestinians played virtually no role and in which Mr. Netanyahu had absolutely no interest, Netanyahu always setting an impossible set of conditions as prerequisites to anything happening precisely because he does not want anything to happen, while undoubtedly periodically raging with one of his mind-numbing harangues which are impossible to answer rationally for the simple reason they are not rational.

Netanyahu’s announcement is larded with layers of lies much like layers of rock in stratigraphic formations. Perhaps the chief of these being that Hamas – that democratically elected party led by middle-class professionals whose only concerns have been to obtain a fair deal for Palestinians and to provide clean government after the long-term corruption of Fatah – is a dreadful terrorist organization. Of course, you do have to say something along those lines to excuse your warring on civilians, blockading their needs (starting with a viciously-calculated minimal calorie allowance per person), cutting off services, piracy on the high seas, denying fishing rights, kidnapping and murdering politicians, and constant menaces. You wouldn’t do all that to people just trying to run a democratic, clean government, now would you? You might if you viewed the Palestinians in Gaza as a nightmare (a past Israeli prime minister’s actual word), as a source of constant fear, resembling fears in the Old South of revolt in the slave quarters some dark night, something which caused uneasy sleep for plantation families with pistols and knives tucked under their pillows.

Israel, despite the meaningless outpourings and rages of Netanyahu, is not looking for clean government and it certainly isn’t looking for democracy in any of its neighbors’ arrangements. Israel loved thirty years of corrupt and completely undemocratic government in Egypt, and it is Israel’s silent influence with the United States that has returned Egypt’s eighty million people, after one year of democratic government, to tyranny and openly corrupt arrangements. Israel also likes the absolute government of Saudi Arabia because it makes many secret deals with the Saudi princes, eager themselves to suppress democratic tendencies in the region. Saudi Arabia, with its Islamic fundamentalism, once was viewed as an implacable enemy of Israel, but the less-than-idealistic gritty interests of both states have nicely, quietly meshed in recent years with the fabulously wealthy aristocracy of Saudi Arabia viewing democracy and clean government through the same lens as the Middle East’s Crusader garrison state.

Israel is not even looking for peace, peace as any thoughtful, disinterested person in the world would define it. I believe Netanyahu has given new ferocity to an old strategy towards what every past leader of Israel regarded as the problem of the Palestinians, and that involves the goal either of making them so miserable that they will leave en masse or become so compliant they will agree to arrangements which assure their perpetual isolation, inferiority, and servitude. Either or any combination of those two outcomes is what Netanyahu understands as peace. I don’t see any other way of interpreting years of appallingly abusive behavior and law-breaking and injustice on a scale affecting millions. And there is no other way to interpret the American government’s tolerance for the abuse and law-breaking and injustice beyond its secretly sharing the same hopes as Israel’s malevolent leaders, being sick and tired of having to hear about and deal with a grotesque situation involving a few million people in a world where it tries to direct the destinies of billions.

Israel’s limited dealings with the Palestinian Authority – a kind of quasi-government formed out of the Oslo Accords of 1993 for the purpose of managing basic local services and negotiating with Israel – are themselves built on lies. The existing head of that quasi-government, Mahmoud Abbas, was last elected to serve as president until 2009, but with the connivance of the United States and Israel he regularly extends his term, never receiving the least recrimination for doing so, another demonstration of Israel’s love for democracy and clean government. His democratic credentials are further enhanced by the fact that he “governs” only in the West Bank – at least in those portions not yet seized by Israel – having been driven out of Gaza. Yet he is the only one of the Palestinians even admitted to symbolic membership in the “peace talks.” The reason for this is simple: up until very recently, Abbas has been a passive figure who offers Israel no open challenge to the huge injustices of the status quo, very much in contrast to the late Yasser Arafat, who is believed by many to have been assassinated by Israel after an extended period of abuse and threats including the shelling of his house and denying his even attending religious services. Netanyahu, by the way, is on record as having vigorously denounced as unworkable the now pretty much failed Oslo Accords, a case of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Analyzing “the peace talks,” discovering their rotten construction and the dishonest motives of those involved, yields unpleasant surprises much like those from stumbling accidentally upon a rotten timber and seeing a myriad of critters scrambling and flying off in all directions. John Kerry carries on his charade in the Middle East while at the same time lying about Russian news sources and threatening a red line for Russia to make it pay dearly for its “transgressions” in Ukraine. And there is still the hypocritical pretence about the induced horrors of Syria for which Mr. Kerry along with his boss bear direct responsibility.

Russia Today, the newspaper Kerry recently publicly criticized, can have nothing to its shame to compare with The New York Times which one day published images supposedly proving Russian soldiers were active in Eastern Ukraine and shortly after retracted when the lie was hurled in its face. The same New York Times, it was revealed, passes its reportage on Israel through Israeli censors before publication, providing a standard of journalistic integrity it would be hard to match. What Kerry and Company are actually upset about is Russia’s new, sophisticated use of the press and broadcasting. Gone are the not-believable voices of the Soviet era, words by apparatchiks featuring such colorful expressions as “running dogs.” Instead we find thoughtful reportage and analysis reaching out to people in the West, correcting misrepresentations imposed by their own leaders through outlets like The New York Times and America’s major networks. America’s Cold War era monopoly on “credible press” is gone (in fact, it never was that credible, only seeming so by contrast to the old Soviet efforts). With the monopoly’s disappearance, America’s unrestricted ability to “get a story out there,” as someone from the CIA might say, also has suffered, and Mr. Kerry clearly isn’t happy about the fact.

As for Kerry’s comments about red lines and making Russia pay, it would be difficult to come up with a poorer example of diplomacy from America’s supposed chief of diplomacy. Of course, the last time we heard the expression “red line” concerned the use of chemical weapons by Syria’s government, something that never happened, but the American official words about a red line served as a kind of segue to the actual, totally-immoral use of such chemicals by some of the fanatics America secretly supports. And just a short while before that use of “red line,” we had the world’s most predictable liar talking about red lines for Iran, a country he threatened and continues to threaten but which has never threatened him.

Kerry’s public face on the situation in Ukraine is just as rankly dishonest as his “peace talks” in the Middle East and his words about Syria. The fact is that Ukrainian groups America has supported secretly for years with almost unlimited amounts of CIA-infiltrated money overthrew an elected government, and they did so before previously-agreed arrangements for new elections which were intended to appease the divided factions in Ukraine. Part of the way these groups seized power was through the dirty work of right-wing thugs, who, among other acts, served as snipers shooting many hundreds of people dead in the streets of Kiev. Now, we see this self-proclaimed government receiving visits by America’s CIA Director and Vice President for unexplained reasons. Was there ever a less honest effort at pretending democratic forces are at work in a crisis? Please, Mr. Kerry, who is it that you think you are convincing of anything, beyond your own dishonesty and remarkably limited diplomatic skills?

Posted April 26, 2014 by JOHN CHUCKMAN in Uncategorized

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JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: A DEAFENING SILENCE OF MEANING   1 comment

A DEAFENING SILENCE OF MEANING

John Chuckman

Recently, John Kerry and his wife held a barbecue at the Pennsylvania White House. Never heard of the Pennsylvania White House? It’s actually the homestead of Kerry’s wife, a white-columned mansion on a tailored estate outside Pittsburgh built from the proceeds of a billion cans of spaghetti and bottles of ketchup. Kerry wants everyone to know he’s an ordinary guy so he’s holding barbecues these days instead of crystal-and-candlelight dinners. People who normally never would get past the front gate have now been allowed on the rolled greens to chomp hot dogs.

Those attending a down-home get-together recently were greeted with hay bales designed by a team of Neiman-Marcus window dressers; a custom-made silk flag, gigantic enough to use for hang-gliding, flapped over the mansion in breezes generated by rented Hollywood wind machines; a band subtly suggested the Marines Corps Band playing “Hail to the Chief”; and, as if in homage to Ronald Reagan, a rented soldier home from occupation-duty in Iraq led the crowd through a heart-rending Pledge of Allegiance. They may well have served jelly beans along with the tapioca pudding, but reports don’t tell us.

The new class of visitors to the estate was not allowed to enjoy the hot dogs without receiving a dose of inspiration from the campaign trail, almost the way poor men at a Salvation Army shelter get scripture between bites of doughnut. Kerry enjoined guests to leave the hallowed grounds “with the spirit in an uplifting sense that we’re going to change this country.” Yes, those were his very words, much as we might have received from that other source of constant inspiration, the President himself, down in Crawford, Texas, over some smoldering cows and cold root beer.

Guests apparently left with puzzled faces over what they were being asked, but they merely joined the swelling ranks of puzzled Americans who have attended Kerry’s rallies and speeches.

Kerry likes to say, “This is the most important election of our lifetime,” and his guests heard it again over dollops of tapioca in Dixie Cups. It’s his best line when he doesn’t muff it, although he never explains why the claim should be true. Its threadbare, re-tread quality begins to suggest Richard Nixon’s “It’s time for a change!” a line that got him elected in 1968 so he could vastly expand the pointless killing and destruction in Vietnam.

Everyone understands, though, that Kerry’s slogan is about “anyone but Bush,” exactly the kind of substitute for thinking that gave the world Bush in the first place. Anybody-but-Bush is about the only positive adjective you can apply to the candidacy of John Kerry.

If you want to read some indigestible stuff, finish whatever it is you’re eating and then go to John Kerry’s Town Hall Meeting Internet site. Other than a few slabs of party boilerplate, there is nothing there, absolutely nothing, to inspire Americans and others in the world about the future. On many of the site’s “on the issues” topics, when you go to subtopics, you find nothing of substance. The headlines themselves are the most encouraging words, and they do not even fairly describe what is contained under them. In several cases, there are statements that are positively depressing.

Here is Kerry’s summary statement on Iraq:

Winning the Peace in Iraq…A Strategy for Success

To establish security and move forward with the transition to Iraqi sovereignty, the President must show true leadership in going to the major powers to secure their support of Lakhdar Brahimi’s mission, the establishment of a high commissioner for governance and reconstruction, and the creation of a NATO mission for Iraq. These steps are critical to creating a stable Iraq with a representative government and secure in its borders. Meeting this objective is in the interests of NATO member states, Iraq’s neighbors and all members of the international community. True leadership means sharing authority and responsibility for Iraq with others who have an interest in Iraq’s success. Sharing responsibility is the only way to gain new military and financial commitments, allowing America to truly share the burden and the risk.

This is Kerry-speak for saying that NATO allies should pay part of the human and material cost for America’s mess in Iraq. Why? In case, Kerry hadn’t noticed, Bush has been trying to accomplish this very thing for some time, applying a good deal of nasty pressure to allies, but Iraq, as Bush was pointedly told recently by Europeans, has nothing whatever to do with NATO’s mandate.

I suspect the phrase “true leadership,” apart from being a totally unwarranted advertising claim about the Senator’s dreary career, means Kerry sees himself playing good cop in the old good cop-bad cop routine used by police to break down suspects, but friends and allies aren’t usually regarded as suspects.

Consider the words, “winning the peace.” At first glance, they suggest heroic purpose like that of World War Two, providing a gloss of worthiness to the utter human and material waste of Iraq. The words were undoubtedly selected also to suggest for some Americans, the Planet-of-the-Apes crowd, slogans like “winning in Vietnam.” The word “peace” was selected with entirely another group of Americans in mind, mostly wishful thinkers and harmless dreamers.

If putting together the words “winning” and “peace” suggests to you George Orwell’s “war is peace,” you are not alone, particularly when you consider that Iraq already had peace and was a genuine threat to no one before the United States smashed it.

Tucked under the topic on Iraq at Kerry’s site is an item “Protecting Our Military Families in Times of War: A Military Family Bill of Rights.” Here’s an advertising pitch for tossing a tiny packet of sugar at each military voter, recalling, at one and the same time, scenes in World War Two films where GIs toss sticks of gum to hungry refugees and microphone reminders to shoppers for today’s special at Wal-Mart – all with a suitably sentimental nod to all the Jimmy Stewarts serving at spots like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo’s human dog cages. Well, a packet of sugar is better than nothing, because God knows Kerry’s view of foreign policy promises a future with plenty of the same duty.

We could analyze the rest of the stuff on Kerry’s site – all of it trying to make it appear he has something new to say and all of it about as helpful and clear as the fine print on a prescription-drug brochure – but it just isn’t worth the effort. I’ll only note further that Kerry had a featured item there about China, accusing Bush of letting Americans down about China. Please, Senator, say that we are not being promised another years-long chorus of American hectoring and carping about a proud but poor people working hard to earn their place in sun. Good God, what hypocrisy that was under Clinton.

It is important to remember that George Bush, while a top contender for title of Biggest Flop in American History, is largely a spent force. It is difficult to see what else he could possibly do to damage the planet. Once, not very long ago, his presidential Brain Trust, the neo-con Nazis, advocated mopping up Syria, Iran, and other places whose names they couldn’t even pronounce as soon as they finished up in Iraq. Well, things are not going to finish up any time soon in Iraq. America has spent herself silly trying to stabilize Iraq after de-stabilizing it.

There is a distasteful quality about Bush that people all over the world instinctively feel, and Bush’s efforts, we may all be thankful, will continue being hindered by that perception. Kerry has the advantage of being utterly boring instead of distasteful, but his ideas about the world are remarkably similar to Bush’s. If Americans elect Kerry, they will get a fresh, new Bush who may actually be able to leverage some of the world’s recent weariness and desperate desire for change to carry right on with more destructive stupidity.

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: “THESE COLORS DON’T RUN”   Leave a comment

“THESE COLORS DON’T RUN”

John Chuckman

Given its strutting brownshirt quality, here is a slogan that might well have been coined by America’s most articulate political thug, Pat Buchanan.

But the slogan, with little waving-flag pictures, is being used for bumper stickers selling John Kerry. Good marketers know that you want an offering for every niche, so here’s Kerry for the belly-over-the-belt, beer-belching, walrus-mustache set.

Niche marketing also explains goofy pieces about Kerry’s military service versus that of Republican chicken hawks (for those unfamiliar, “chicken hawks” is an informal American political term for men who never fought yet advocate sending others off to war, a group largely, but not exclusively, consisting of Republicans). Never mind the moral obtuseness of opposing an armchair-psychopath like Bush with arguments in favor of a man who did his own killing, there’s a weird market niche out there to be reached.

They sell everything in America. I recall the many patriotic displays of flags, buttons, and sweats in parking lots, supermarkets, and doughnut shops – all for sale, day and night, right after 9/11. Many claimed to be at reduced prices or even offered at two-for-one in especially touching displays of national feeling.

I recognize that Kerry needs all the advertising and marketing he can get. Every niche counts for one of the most uninspiring candidates in memory, although competition for the distinction of “most uninspiring” is tight in America. The nation’s political system seems capable only of advancing con men, bumblers, and paste-board cutouts anymore, although, occasionally, as in the case of the late Great Communicator, a single man combines all three identities. A network of powerful interests much like rivers and tributaries running together to form one roaring cataract sweeps away any candidate in a major party who might actually stand for something other than the imperial ethos.

God knows Kerry never has never represented much of substance. Efforts to sell him are likely wasted. Ask any professional marketer whether he or she thinks Bud Lite, even with the best marketing effort, can outsell Bud. If there’s a better description of John Kerry than “Bush Lite,” it eludes me.

Kerry, the boring, monotone moose of American politics, has hung up his set of Senate-fundraising cummerbunds – or at least restricted photographers access to the galas when he still hitches them up – in favor of casual plaid shirts. Well, he isn’t completely consistent about the plaid shirts: it’s a matter of which group he’s addressing whether he wants to suggest being a regular guy or society swell. When he does wear the plaid – always immaculately pressed to make sure no one mistakes him for someone who actually works for a living – there is more than a passing nod to millionaire, perpetual candidate, Lamar Alexander, who made a hobby of running for the Republican nomination sporting custom-made red lumberjack shirts.

People in struggling or oppressed lands who dream of being able to vote freely will be distressed to learn that America squanders her national elections on such costumed silliness, but it really cannot be otherwise when candidates have almost nothing to say.

Kerry’s casual shirts are probably custom-made, too, with enough of them in each of his wardrobes to provide a fresh change three times a day. After all, Kerry is a very wealthy man, coming from a privileged background and having married the fabulously-rich heiress to the Heinz Pickle and Canned Spaghetti fortune (no, she has no connection to the company, now part of a monstrous agglomerate, she just sits on mountains of cash it generated). You can see where Kerry’s sympathy and understanding for the little guy might come from.

There are precedents. George Washington inherited wealth and also married a very wealthy lady, Martha Custis, probably the richest widow in the colonies. Washington was famous for his warm qualities, too. The icy, piercing stare given to anyone for so much as touching his sleeve unbidden was legendary. His private characterization of early militiamen in Massachusetts, the men who genuinely had risked everything to start the revolt against Britain that he and other aristocrats then took over, was along the lines of filthy rabble.

Kerry is not built of quite the same stern stuff as the Father of His Country. Washington would never have worn a plaid shirt, but a lot has changed since his day when maybe the wealthiest one-percent of Americans could vote. Now, most Americans can vote, so you can’t be standoffish and you must expose yourself to the mob if you want to become President. The wealthiest one-percent now are limited strictly to determining with their campaign contributions which candidates the rabble sees on its ballots.

But Washington did sometimes coyly draw his silk frock coat over his cummerbund for touching moments when he spoke to people who weren’t fellow aristocrats: he was skilled at acts like removing his glasses as his eyes went misty addressing the men, whose poor promises for pay he would in some cases later buy up at severe discount. You wouldn’t recognize his capacity for empathy with ordinary men, though, from the monstrous bill he submitted to Congress after the Revolution for everything you can imagine including the wagon trains of wine he consumed at table while the rabble often did without a decent meal.

It’s true that wealthy people sometimes make inspired leaders – F.D.R. comes to mind as does the greatest prince in Europe’s history, Elizabeth I – but such people give strong signs of their remarkable talents long before they’ve reached Kerry’s age. You don’t hide your light until the near approach of senility. More often than not, you get Bushes or Rockefellers from the likes of Kerry, people with no more motivation for serving than capping their family’s list of achievements with the nation’s highest office.

Kerry rarely speaks of working people or the poor, rather he speaks of “the middle class,” feel-good language adopted by contemporary politicians to cover just about everyone in the country down to McDonald’s employees with more than one-month’s service. You are not supposed to speak of class differences in America. Everyone there is middle-class, unless extremely wealthy like Mr. Kerry or Mr. Bush or Mr. Cheney or Mr. Rumsfeld, something not to be mentioned, or so poor as not to be worth mentioning. Economically-marginal Americans like to be called “middle class,” just as they like to brag about their kids “going to college,” even when the kids are working towards a degree in playground supervision or fast-food management in one of America’s countless sleazy, for-profit diploma mills.

Mr. Kerry, of course, didn’t attend a diploma mill. Only the best for him, the Yale of George and Daddy Bush. Incidentally, Bush’s graduating Yale is often advanced as an argument for his actual intelligence being higher than the public’s perception. But those old schools just love accepting the sons and daughters of rich patrons, and they manage to graduate them virtually always. You don’t build fat institutional endowments by flunking guys like Georgie Bush. Even Oxford and Cambridge in England follow the practice, accepting and graduating some of the most mediocre members of the Royal Family.

America’s love affair with everyone’s being middle class nicely serves the establishment’s belligerent foreign policy. It just doesn’t count for much when you kill peasants somewhere on the periphery of the empire, it’s a bit like stepping on ants while doing your gardening, and Kerry knows, firsthand, about killing peasants. He and his merry band of men buzzed up and down the rivers of Vietnam in a boat shooting people too poor and ignorant to understand the great blessings of liberty being offered them.

That experience may equip Kerry to handle the revolt of Iraqi peasants against American occupation. After all, in Vietnam they didn’t bother with stripping prisoners naked and smearing excrement on them. That was a war for real men. They took prisoners up in helicopters and threw them out from several thousand feet if they didn’t give the right response, and frequently even when they did give the right response. It just made for one less gook (the affectionate nickname American troops bestowed on the locals). When America’s good old boys tired of such vicious games, they just napalmed whole villages instead of bothering to find out what should or should not be attacked. That’s how you build a “body count” of about three million.

Kerry’s statements on foreign policy indicate, as they are intended to do, that he is ready and willing to kill and maim for whatever are America’s interests of the moment abroad. Of course, he doesn’t say just those words, but what he does say carries those implications. Never mind any emphasis on diplomacy, international institutions, or cooperation – that’s all sissy stuff. On the issue of Israel’s bloody occupation of the Palestinians, a dreary, deadening reality at the heart of much of America’s current trouble in the world, Kerry sounds even more fanatical than Bush.

Of course, the one comforting thought about an idiotic slogan like “These colors don’t run,” is that it is so plainly false. The colors ran like a cheap dye in Vietnam and Cambodia, leaving a trail of death, disillusionment, and broken promises. And the colors ran again in Somolia where an arrogant people busied themselves more with trying to shoot-up the bad guys than they did with feeding desperate people.

A stark summary of what actually has occurred over the last few years highlights the slogan’s goonish nature. The only attack on America was by nineteen fanatics with virtually no weapons who all died. It is positively inspiring that Old Glory, imperial symbol of the world’s mightiest country, didn’t run on such a challenging field of battle. Old Glory also withstood the heroic assault and occupation of two pathetically-poor countries whose combined capacity for defense was roughly comparable to the state of Missouri.

How could you lose with cruise missiles, stealth bombers, high-tech fragmentation bombs, the poison of depleted uranium, plus all the money and means imaginable to bribe officials and reward disloyalty? It was indeed a shining achievement, and if you recall John Kerry’s voice standing against any of it, you heard something the world missed.

The examples are countless of headstrong people like Americans learning hard lessons only by banging their heads into walls. A second dose of Bush’s truly destructive leadership will likely do more for America’s ailments than taking a placebo like John Kerry.

Posted June 1, 2009 by JOHN CHUCKMAN in Uncategorized

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JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: THE PERFUMED PRINCE AND OTHER POLITICAL TALES   1 comment

THE PERFUMED PRINCE AND OTHER POLITICAL TALES

John Chuckman

The Perfumed Prince declared himself a Democrat. Many Americans may not recognize the nickname bestowed upon Wesley Clark by British colleagues as he strutted around Serbia with his set of platinum-plated general’s stars carefully repositioned each day to a freshly-starched and ironed camouflage cap, wafting a thick vapor trail of cologne. His lack of judgment demonstrated in Serbia – including an order to clear out Russian forces that British general, Sir Michael Jackson, had to ignore for fear of starting World War III – should be enough to utterly disqualify him as a candidate for President. But this is America, land of opportunity.

The former general scents, through the mists of his musky cologne, an opportunity for service. Hell, we’re at war, and any real general is better than a former male cheerleader from Andover who cross-dresses as a combat pilot. Dreams of being the hero on a white horse beckon. A fatal attraction in the American people to used-up generals is how the country managed to elect some of its worst presidents – Grant, Jackson, and Garfield, for example.

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts announced that he wants the Democratic presidential nomination. He chose to ask for it from the deck of an aircraft carrier. I have no idea why he would repeat any part of Bush’s pathetic stunt, but to my mind it is an immediate strike against his competence. Perhaps he hoped for a promotional deal on a doll in combat gear to memorialize the occasion? That is, after all, a good deal of the country’s idea of war, limited-edition collector dolls with lots of cute little zippers, flaps, and pockets (all handsomely made in China or Indonesia). Never mind real war where pilots drop cluster bombs and napalm on tiny desperate figures far below, and the occupying troops slosh through the resulting human gore, a good deal of it belonging to children in Iraq.

Well, Kerry was awarded some medals during Vietnam, so that does set him apart from Bush. Kerry’s doll could feature cute little medals to set it apart, but then he threw the originals into a trash bin at a veterans’ demonstration in front of the Capitol in 1971. That’s not the kind of association that excites collectors of expensive kitsch in America’s better class of trailer parks.

By the way, does anyone know whether the Bush Elite Aviator doll wets? Perhaps you can change its undies as girls did with Betsy Wetsy decades ago? This would offer opportunities for different editions. Bush Original could chug little water-filled six-packs while Bush Holier-Than-Thou used a miniature pitcher of iced tea.

Senator Kerry’s involvement with Vietnam certainly reflected the war’s extremes. He earned his medals in questionable actions including the shooting of a man who was running away and the killing of a child by a member of his crew. Remember another Kerry, a former Senator, the boyish one from Nebraska who spells his name “Kerrey,” a Medal of Honor winner in Vietnam, much admired until it was learned that his grisly work there had been as a member of one of the night-crawling murder squads? If only Americans could once see what utterly filthy stuff war really is, the world might be spared a lot of needless horrors.

John Kerry, having become an opponent of the war in which he served, made a speech to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971, describing some of what he had witnessed in Vietnam. Americans had “raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephone to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.” I can only admire such truthfulness, but Kerry’s first instinct, years before, had been to contribute to the mayhem. Only when it was politically opportune did he oppose it. I get the same morally confused signals today with a speech delivered from an aircraft carrier while Iraqis suffer miserably from what such killing machines already have inflicted.

The Democrats held their first debate, hoping desperately to find an attractive candidate. Senator Joe Lieberman was there, but you have to wonder why anyone would vote to replace Bush with Lieberman. The pair remind me of one of those 1950’s cheap horror films about a monster with two heads lurching over the countryside.

Lieberman’s many pious-fraud battles over personal expression suggest that the Two Heads may actually have shared a single brain at birth. Just like his Twin Head, Lieberman avoided military service out of personal interests without hint of conscience or principle, and, just like his Twin Head, Lieberman always stands ready to see people blown up in foreign lands, just so it’s “our boyz” doing the blowing up. Capital punishment warms his heart, too, and he has organizational connections with Dick Cheney’s wife, America’s intellectual gorgon.

Even the Rev Al Sharpton, also a candidate, doesn’t bring quite the same rank smell to the nostrils.

Former general Powell, who once could have been President and have had his own fancy soldier doll, instead ends his career as a tiresome door-to-door salesman in shiny-bottomed pin-striped pants, pitching plans nobody wants to the United Nations. That “irrelevant” institution, as it was hotly described by Powell’s sales manager only a short while ago, now is being offered something called “a role” in Iraq. A role, in the weird idiom of Bush’s Washington, consists of sending vast quantities of money and troops to a reeling, miserable country Americans are already sick of hearing about without having anything to say about their use or the country’s fate. Say-so would stay in the Oval Office, the source of the vicious tantrums that created all the destruction. As of this writing, stubborn blockheads in Germany and France had rejected the attractive limited-time offer.