Sunday, December 16, 2012

The United States of Torture

Here is an excellent segment featuring Glenn Greenwald on the latest US/Hollywood propaganda film Zero Dark Thirty and its glorification of torture. Via Al-Jazeera's Inside Story.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

OWS's Misreading of Gandhi in Gaza

A communiqué posted on website titled Occupy Wall Street, Not Palestine: OWS Says No To War, appears deliberately aimed at drawing a moral equivalence between Hamas and the Israeli government. But, upon careful reading, it is not difficult to see how one of the many public faces of OWS is actually leaning, ever so slightly, on the side of the aggressor, the IDF. This is a very disturbing development for OWS given its supposed stance as a champion of oppressed people everywhere. Yet, when it comes to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, OWS seems content to spread the blame of the Israeli assault onto its victims. This, in a way, shows a certain lack of coherent political vision within the Occupy movement which may also explain its apparent evanescence. In addition, this not-so-veiled exercise in political correctness by is a sign of how far has American culture veered out of the global political mainstream vis a vis the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.


The "blame Hamas first" posture is widespread within the US corporate establishment media (from the New York Times downward) and it has existed for quite some time. One only needs to look at every major newspaper to see how the US government’s line of blaming the Palestinians for their own predicament is passed down to the American populace without a glitch. The framing of the issue in favor of Israel by arbitrarily choosing the starting point of hostilities ­– in this case, the rockets which killed three Israeli citizens even though they were clearly in response to the extra-judicial assassination of Ahmed Jabari – or ignoring the causes altogether is also a favored propagandistic tactic of the American intelligentsia. In this regard, it was for example amusing to see Rachel Maddow, a journalist and a liberal one at that, state on Friday that “we don’t know what started this round of hostilities” (I am paraphrasing). In this regard, it is worth reading Greg Mitchell's piece in The Nation today titled MSNBC's Disgrace: In Five Hours of Prime Time, Fifteen Minutes on Israel-Gaza. Given such climate in the US media it is thus not surprising that a majority of Americans sided with Israel in a recent poll taken on the Gaza assault.

It is perhaps for this reason that decided to give the impression of not clearly taking sides in this situation. Yet, upon careful reading, it is also not difficult to detect a pro-Israeli slant at least as far as the overall narrative is concerned. This can be seen in the very first paragraph of the statement where, in the second sentence, it reads: “We completely condemn the Hamas rocket attacks on civilians, but we also know that retaliation will only beget further violence.” Here, without stating it directly, OWS is regurgitating the narrative of the US and Israeli governments according to which the rockets were the first salvo in the current conflagration. In addition, as a confirmation of this reading, the Israeli response is also carefully characterized as “retaliation.”

The attempt at balancing things out comes further down the paragraph where it says that “it is possible to support those in Israel [link via Occupy Judaism] without supporting the injustices perpetuated by the Israeli state.” Yet, there is no mention of what the Israeli injustices are. Could they perhaps be the murdering of over two dozens Palestinian children? We are not entitled to know.

The second paragraph is also interesting because, once again, it tries to convey criticism of Israel’s actions without actually saying so directly. Here, it is mentioned that “some Occupiers” have expressed solidarity with the people of Gaza and that “supporters of the #J14 social justice movement and many others have also demonstrated against the military actions of Israel.” This third person indirect criticism of Israel’s actions is then justified by clarifying that “OWS has always been a nonviolent movement,” as if to say that, because of its historical legacy, the movement has no choice but to criticize the armed assault. Such passive stance is confirmed in the third paragraph where it clarifies that “collectively punishing an entire population for the actions of a few is not justice,” thus reiterating the narrative according to which the Palestinians should blame Hamas for the current Israeli assault.

It is only in the fourth paragraph that we get a more accurate framing of the conflict:

Make no mistake: While we must stand against violence in all forms, this "war" is a one-sided conflict between a military which is one of the largest and best-equipped in the world, the Israeli Defense Forces, who enjoy widespread support from the U.S. military industrial complex, and a people whose lands have been steadily dwindling for decades.

Yet, to the question of why are the Palestinian lands dwindling, we get no answer. To underscore the lack of clarity of this passage it is also worth noting that the word “occupation” is perhaps the most conspicuous omission of the entire communiqué. In fact, it is conveniently delegated to piece that follows's statement, the Gazan Youth’s Manifesto for Change; sadly, one of the most nihilistic and disempowering statements or resistance I’ve read in a while.

But the icing on the cake (or should I say, political sausage?) can be found toward the end of the statement: “The bombs over Gaza and Tel Aviv are merely the most dramatic example of a global system that seeks to rob us all of our right to live peacefully.” For the sake of clarity, let’s take Gaza out of the picture for a moment: the bombs over Tel Aviv are merely the most dramatic example of a global system that seeks to rob us all of our right to live peacefully. Really OWS? Can we really take away the right to self-defense of the Palestinian people by explaining their understandable response, even though vain and perhaps counterproductive, in terms of the global military-industrial complex? Would OWS draw the same moral equivalence had the American people being subjected to even a sliver of the humiliation endured by the Palestinians in the past five decades? Did OWS equate the resistance of the Egyptian people in Tahrir square which, I am afraid to say, involved acts of violence as self-defense to the acts of the Egyptian military?

In order to strike a balance between Hamas and the IDF is invoking a notion of pacifism which is quite callous and unrealistic to say the least. While Gandhi was a pacifist, he did not try to take away the right to self-defense of the Indian people. In fact, he clearly understood the difference between aggression and self-defense. Something that OWS seems unable to do, at least when it comes to the Palestinians. In What Gandhi Says, a book incidentally dedicated to Occupy, Norman Finkelstein writes:

Gandhi has been reduced to a mantra equating his name with nonviolence. But his thought and practice are much more complex, and contradictory, than this formula suggests…. The real Gandhi did loathe violence but he loathed cowardice more than violence. If his constituents could not find the inner wherewithal to resist nonviolently, then he exhorted them to find the courage to hit back those who assaulted or demeaned them.” (11-12)

Yet, OWS, a movement which claims to be inspired by Gandhian principles, doesn’t seem to get what Gandhi says, at least when it comes to, one of its most prominent virtual incarnations. In fact, nowhere in the entire statement do the words "condemn" and "Israel" appear in the same sentence. Apparently, the best they could do was to use the generic “we condemn violence from all sides” formula. This is quite unfortunate because in order to accommodate the extremely distorted political landscape in the United States vis a vis the Palestinian issue OWS risks to lose its credibility as a global champion of the 99%.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Rolling Jubilee

From the Rolling Jubilee website:
Rolling Jubilee is a Strike Debt project that buys debt for pennies on the dollar, but instead of collecting it, abolishes it. Together we can liberate debtors at random through a campaign of mutual support, good will, and collective refusal. Debt resistance is just the beginning. Join us as we imagine and create a new world based on the common good, not Wall Street profits.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Imperial Realism and Its Liberal Advocates

It is a sad spectacle to see how many so-called liberals defend Obama's naked imperialistic policies in the Arab world on the grounds that they are simply being realistic. The charge of "realism," is a notorious propagandistic technique aimed to discredit those who have different views without dealing with the substance of their argument. Yet, the fact is that even a cursory perusal of the facts reveals how there is nothing realistic about supporting dictatorial, oppressive governments in the Arab world until it is simply no longer tenable.

Today, the failure of American self-interested foreign policy in the has been exposed for what it is in the Arab world. Obama was caught with his pants down when he supported Mubarak against the majority of the Egyptian people, up until it was crystal clear that his regime was not going to survive. The same is true for Hillary Clinton, who backed the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia until its fall. The point being that because of Wikileaks and the Arab spring, people all over the Arab world fully understand, in case they didn't do so before, that the U.S. is in the business of promoting policies which are antithetical to the interests of the vast majority of the people in the region. This, incidentally, is perfectly understandable, since if these people could have a say, they would throw us, and our invading armies out in a nanosecond.

In this regard, Jill Stein represents the very change that Obama promised and failed to deliver. It is my strong belief that we no longer have the luxury, if we ever did have it, to pretend that by voting for a different flavor of the same corporate brand we will bring about the change which is sorely needed in the United States and the world.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Rebecca Solnit: A Necrophile for Empire

Writer and activist Rebecca Solnit has recently penned an essay criticizing those on the left who have chosen not to support the re-election of Obama on moral groundsWhat else can one expect from someone who, just recently, praised the pornographic violence of The Hunger Games book trilogy – she found it "irresistible" – as some kind of radical anti-corporate message?

Faux liberals such as Solnit are so deeply embedded in the current corporate cultural system – from which, not surprisingly, she directly profits from – that they have lost touch with reality and, most importantly, with their own humanity. These are the morally corrupt American so-called liberals who choose to believe they are reading/watching an anti-corporate book/movie so that they can feel free to enjoy the ultimate necrophiliac pleasure of imagining/seeing children kill other children. Henry Giroux writes:

The film and its success are symptomatic of a society in which violence has become the new lingua franca. It portrays a society in which the privileged classes alleviate their boredom through satiating their lust for violent entertainment and, in this case, a brutalizing violence waged against children. While a generous reading might portray the film as a critique of class-based consumption and violence given its portrayal of a dystopian future society so willing to sacrifice its children, I think, in the end, the film more accurately should be read as depicting the terminal point of what I have called elsewhere the suicidal society (a suicide pact literally ends the narrative).
Given Hollywood's rush for ratings, the film gratuitously feeds enthralled audiences with voyeuristic images of children being killed for sport. In a very disturbing opening scene, the audience observes children killing each other within a visual framing that is as gratuitous as it is alarming. That such a film can be made for the purpose of attaining high ratings and big profits, while becoming overwhelming popular among young people and adults alike, says something profoundly disturbing about the cultural force of violence and the moral emptiness at work in American society. Of course, the meaning and relevance of "The Hunger Games" rest not simply with its production of violent imagery against children, but with the ways these images and the historical and contemporary meanings they carry are aligned and realigned with broader discourses, values and social relations. Within this network of alignments, risk and danger combine with myth and fantasy to stoke the seductions of sadomasochistic violence, echoing the fundamental values of the fascist state in which aesthetics dissolves into pathology and a carnival of cruelty.

Perhaps, this is the same type of hidden pleasure that Hillary Clinton and Obama (like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al) must feel as they rain drones over the heads of helpless children in the Arab world under the guise of humanitarian intervention – aptly renamed humanitarian imperialism by Jean Bricmont.

Sadly, Solnit and other supporters of the Obama imperial status-quo are the very product of the American corporate culture of violence, the subject of Chris Hedges's Death of the Liberal Class and Empire of Illusion and of many enlightening commentaries by Henry Giroux.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me

Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor of The Nation, has written an opinion piece in The Washington Post titled Progressives Must Work to Retake the Supreme Court.

After having read the piece, I must say that Katrina shows a clear lack of understanding of the U.S. constitutional system. The U.S. Supreme Court is, by design, a reactionary institution whose function is to limit the power of the most democratic branch of government (Congress). And while, historically, there are instances of socially progressive Court decisions, by and large, the institution's primary function is to protect and promote the interests of corporate America. Just look at the current composition of the court: eight out of nine justices are pro-corporate individuals. These include Obama's appointments.

Also, the right-wing nature of the institution notwithstanding, if Katrina vanden Heuvel wants to be taken seriously she needs to be more candid about who she wants to retake the Court from whom; advocating for Obama's re-elections implies the socially liberal corporatists (Dems) v. socially conservative corporatists (Reps) dichotomy. If, instead, she means that the People need to retake the Supreme Court, then she should advocate electing a president by the people rather than by the corporations such as Obama.

Only when we elect a president who truly represents the people, we can talk about retaking the Supreme Court. Until then, the cries by the likes of Katrina vanden Heuvel are simply scare tactics to make people vote for Obama and the corporate state. This is why in the current presidential election, I will vote for Jill Stein of the Green Party.

(To those who chastise voters who vote their conscience rather than voting  for the lesser-of-two-evils – itself an oxymoron, given Obama's pitiful record – I say this: if you vote Democratic thinking that the Democratic party is going to take your vote as anything other than a full endorsement of their policies, you clearly do not understand electoral politics. Because, make no mistake, after every election parties look at results very carefully, including those of smaller parties. Any spillover in any direction is assessed and, if considered worrisome, addressed by modifying the party's message to include those voters' concerns. If you don't believe me, just look at how much time both major parties spend courting the so-called independents.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Sunday, March 11, 2012

US Soldiers Kill Afghan Civilians in Rogue Attack

Up to three drunken soldiers took part in the attacks taking the lives of up to sixteen civilians including nine children. This is what war does to people. This is what those who vote for Democrats and Republicans vote for. We've lost our way. Somebody help us.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Elizabeth Warren for Imperial Senate

This week I was not terribly surprised to learn that Elizabeth Warren, one of the darlings of the progressive left, has capitulated to the needs of Empire in her race for the US Senate. At the bottom of the National Security / Foreign Policy page of her campaign website it reads:

Iran is a significant threat to the United States and our allies. Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, it is an active state sponsor of terrorism, and its leaders have consistently challenged Israel’s right to exist. Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons is unacceptable because a nuclear Iran would be a threat to the United States, our allies, the region, and the world. The United States must take the necessary steps to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. I support strong sanctions against Iran and believe that the United States must also continue to take a leadership role in pushing other countries to implement strong sanctions as well. Iran must not have an escape hatch.

Never mind that the consensus of the top US military and intelligence agencies is that Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons: United States Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said on Face the Nation: "[Is Iran] trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No." Voice of America wrote yesterday: "Secretary Clinton says the U.S. intelligence community believes Iran has not yet decided to produce a nuclear weapon." The New York Times of February 24 reports:

Recent assessments by American spy agencies are broadly consistent with a 2007 intelligence finding that concluded that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program years earlier, according to current and former American officials. The officials said that assessment was largely reaffirmed in a 2010 National Intelligence Estimate, and that it remains the consensus view of America’s 16 intelligence agencies.

Thus the questions arise: how can a champion of economic justice in the United States be so blatantly out of touch with reality when it comes to foreign policy? How can someone who fights against the big financial conglomerates support the big military/industrial conglomerates? Is there any integrity left in our political system? And finally, have we as a nation become so dependent on Empire that we really don't care about what our government does in our name as long as we have food on our table?

It is obvious that Warren is an extremely intelligent and knowledgeable person and for this reason we need to come to terms with the fact that her decision to go against the consensus on this issue is politically calculated. Warren and her advisors must believe they need to be hawkish on foreign policy in order to win the election. But to be hawkish doesn't mean to be foolish. When you blatantly go against the military and intelligence consensus of your own party's Administration because you believe that that would make you more electable you simply look foolish and opportunistic.

Since an image is worth a thousand words here is a map in response to Warren's preposterous claim that "Iran is a significant threat to the United States" and its allies which shows Iran almost completely encircled by US military bases:

Which begs the question: who is threatening whom Ms. Warren?

I am sure Warren and her handlers must have done their research, polling and focus groups, but does she really believe that people who support her on economic justice will feel energized by her belligerent imperial rhetoric against Iran? Or, as I postulated above, does she really think that we, the American people, are passively going to accept the faustian deal that in order to maintain our lifestyle we must subjugate the rest of the world?

I guess I have more questions than answers, but does Warren believe that the Occupy movement cannot or does not want to make the connection between militarism overseas and repression of first amendment rights at home? And on this topic, I'd like to take a moment to point out something that doesn't seem to get much airplay, at least so far. As a matter of fact, this really deserves its own diary (and I hope someone will pick it up before I do so) but I will put it here for the time being since I believe it is connected to the increased militarization of our national discourse.

Last night I learned of the Trespass Bill (H.R. 347), which was voted by the House of Representatives almost unanimously (388-to-3) and which gives the government the power to bring charges against Americans engaged in political protest under the guise of protecting government officials. There is almost complete silence in the US media about this bill which has passed both chambers of Congress, but RT reports:

United States Representative Justin Amash (MI-03) was one of only three lawmakers to vote against the act when it appeared in the House late Monday. Explaining his take on the act through his official Facebook account on Tuesday, Rep. Amash writes, “The bill expands current law to make it a crime to enter or remain in an area where an official is visiting even if the person does not know it's illegal to be in that area and has no reason to suspect it's illegal.

Some government officials may need extraordinary protection to ensure their safety. But criminalizing legitimate First Amendment activity — even if that activity is annoying to those government officials — violates our rights,” adds the representative.

Is this the country that we and Warren want to live in? Have we reached the point where our politicians believe that we are so selfish and greedy that as long as we have a job and money to shop we will relinquish all our responsibilities to a government that subjugates any country that does not fall in line with its interests or any American who happens to disagree with its policies?

The bright side is that the USSR has already fallen over the assumption that all that people want is a full belly and a roof over their head. And for this reason, I simply find it crude and narrow minded for a would be politician such as Warren to run on a platform that relies on the cognitive dissonance that we can be fair to each other as we bully everyone else in the world. As Occupy continues to show, love, compassion, empathy and solidarity - not just here but everywhere - are the ways of the future if the world is to have a future at all.

And so I will conclude this diary with the Occupy Wall St. video aptly titled The Revolution Is Love: