Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Bombing of Hospitals is Not Self Defense

It seems that almost every US government official is proud of boasting that there is "no daylight" between the United States and Israel.  Meaning that, effectively, Israeli policy is US policy.  A sane, rational person might think that when such Israeli policy includes the massive, indiscriminate shelling and bombing of densely populated urban environments, such as Israel is now undertaking in the Gaza strip, that US officials might want to rethink their unquestioned support, and even more so when such brazen violations of international law are enabled and facilitated by massive US military and political aid. Perhaps when Israel repeatedly targets UN refugee shelters, killing children in their sleep amongst others, even after UN officials repeatedly inform the Israeli military of the precise GPS coordinates of these structures, surely then there must be some weakening of the almost fanatical US support?  Hospitals, what about the bombing of hospitals, surely that must induce at least the tiniest bit of self-reflection, maybe an iota of doubt then starts to creep into the mind?  Still nothing?  When Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu remarks about Palestinian's use of their "telegenically dead," to "attack" Israel, perhaps that might suggest to President Obama and other senior US officials that it would be worth considering putting some daylight between themselves and Israeli policy?  But apparently not. Official US support for Israel has now reached the level of idolatry. Consider the following question, is there any action or policy that Israel could carry out that would lead to a reconsideration of absolute US support?  Sadly, there does not seem to be any.  We would, rightly, consider such unthinking fanaticism problematic when exhibited by official enemies, but apparently for "exceptional" Americans it's just fine. To the extent that we do not find this shocking is a profound indictment of our moral and political culture. If the United States wants to maintain any legitimate moral standing in the world, then it needs to work to put an immediate end to the Israeli assault on Gaza.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Rule of Men

There is now a vast distance between the actions carried out by the United States government and the often ridiculous rhetoric spewed forth by its leaders to describe and justify these actions, and which is spoon-fed to the citizenry like so much pablum by a largely ignorant and subservient corporate press.  Call it a "reality gap."  There is, on the one hand, the real world of causes and effects that is readily evident to those who are more often than not on the receiving end of the actions of our government, and then there are the hollow, dissembling, ludicrous, deceitful, false "official pronouncements" from US government leaders and their spokes-people.  While it is true that such a dynamic is not new, the scale of the "gap" is at epic proportions, and perhaps accounts for a measure of the contempt with which US government officials are generally viewed by their own citizens these days.  As one gauge of this contempt consider these abysmal approval ratings!  Trust begins with the truth.

A major myth around which such rhetorical deceit orbits is the notion of the rule of law.   It goes something like this, the United States is the exemplar of a nation in which the rule of law operates.  It is the governments and systems of official enemies that are corrupt and problematic, and they should look to the US to see how it should be done. Indeed, this is one of the foundational myths of "American Exceptionalism," and is virtually axiomatic amongst officials at the higher levels of government and the corporate press as well.  The reality, when judged by deeds rather than words is, however, very different from such official myths.  Consider the recent example of Director of National Intelligence (try to suppress the oymoronic giggles) James Clapper's less than honest testimony before Congress. If Attorney General Eric Holder and indeed President Obama held even an inkling of a notion that the rule of law was vital to the proper functioning of a democracy, were truly committed to a fair and equitable enforcement of the law, and had any intention to actually honor their oaths to defend the Constitution and see that the laws are faithfully executed, then the Department of Justice would right now be investigating, and probably should already have indicted, Mr. Clapper for perjury before the United States Congress.  The evidence against Clapper is not only substantial (indeed, overwhelming), and public, but he has virtually admitted to it publicly as well.  Such perjury is a felony offense, and arguably should be since it strikes at the very heart of real democracy, as it is not possible for the people to know what their government is doing, and hence grant the consent of the governed, if its officials routinely lie to their elected representatives.

Not only does Clapper apparently not face any criminal prosecution, he has remarkably been allowed to "apologize" in written statements to Congressional officials, and seemingly is still strongly supported by his ultimate boss, President Obama.  Moreover, this story of evident perjury by a high national security official has gotten remarkably little press scrutiny.  Rather, our free, "adversarial" press appears much more interested in the whereabouts of courageous whistleblower Edward Snowden, or whether a conscientious, independent journalist like Glenn Greenwald should be investigated for "aiding and abetting" Snowden.  This latter charge is so preposterous, so ludicrous, that for the question to even be posed to Greenwald by a mainstream journalist does much to reveal the sorry state of the corporate US press.   If you haven't seen it, this video of "media star" David Gregory's accusatory questioning and Glenn Greenwald's devastating tear-down of Gregory reveals just about all you need to know about the current state of US journalism, and is well worth a look.

Contrast the treatment afforded "power-broker" Clapper to that served up to anyone of lowlier station who actually attempts to honor their oath to the Constitution and attempts to shine some light on administration wrong-doing and corruption.  Edward Snowden has virtually been tried and sentenced in the media, with senior Congressional officials calling him, ridiculously, a traitor, and his courageous whistle-blowing treason.  In further contempt for the rule of law, his asylum rights under international law have been severely curtailed by the United States and his passport was summarily revoked.  In an even more egregious display of lawlessness the lone superpower and "rule of law exemplar" conspired with its allies to have the plane of Bolivian President Evo Morales diverted and forced to land in Austria under the incorrect suspicion that Snowden was onboard.  Apparently, this was yet another "triumph" of US espionage.   I ask you to consider the response of the United States, the howls that would erupt from both government officials and their fawning press lackeys, if Air Force One were refused entry to some ostensibly friendly nation's airspace and required to land before proceeding onward.  It would be treated as nothing less than an act of war!  The shrieks of protest would be unrelenting.  But when the United States organizes nothing less than the air piracy of another nation's president, well, that's just fine and proper.  The double standard and imperial hubris is simply breathtaking!  But this is standard fare for American Exceptionalism.  Richard Nixon was famously chastised for arguing that, "if the President does it, then it's legal," however, this is one of the guiding premises of US officials on the world stage, if the United States does it, then, it has to be legal, by definition. 

An interesting, related behavior from US government officials is their categorical insistence that Snowden is not a dissident, or a political refugee, and that he thus has no valid asylum claims.  No specifics are discussed, no evidence given to support such vacuous assertions. But that's the beauty, none are required, you see, the United States is simply the best, at everything, and the moral leader amongst nations, so, again, by definition, there cannot be dissidents in the United States.  Most US officials internalize such attitudes, and so, they can repeat such absurdities without even batting an eye.  In the real world however, one need only consider the horrendous persecution and treatment of Private Bradley Manning to know that Snowden has extremely valid political asylum claims.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Guilty until proven innocent, posthumously

You might think you know what the word "militant" means. After all, US mainstream media outlets use this word with almost the same frequency as that now almost meaningless appellation "terrorist." But you would probably be wrong, because the Obama administration has thrown a little twist into the definition. Now we have learned that to be classified as a "militant," all you need to be is a "military age" male, and to be unfortunate enough to be blown-up in a US drone strike. You see, this is ostensibly why administration tallies of civilians killed in such strikes seem almost preposterously low. It's because the administration basically asserts that anyone (military-aged male) killed in a drone strike is a militant! The argument, such as it is, goes something like this, "... well, anyone in the vicinity of a place we are considering hitting must be up to no good..." It's ironic, deeply troubling, and sad all at the same time that this was also essentially the justification given by George Zimmerman for his stalking and eventual killing of Trayvon Martin. That these policies are being implemented by the administration of the first African American US President makes it even that much sadder.

Recall that it's not even required to know who is actually present when such a strike is conducted. So-called "signature" strikes just require there be some signature of terrorist activity. As for what that signature activity might actually be you would likely have to have access to the classified justifications and procedures. Good luck with that. So, the folks carrying out this policy likely don't even know the names and faces of who might be in the cross-hairs, but rest assured they are all "militants." Remember that these strikes are taking place far from what most of us would even remotely consider a conventional battlefield. It must be heady indeed to possess such god-like powers, to know exactly who the bad guys are, and that it's justifiable to kill them. No arrests, no interrogations, no criminal charges, no trials needed, just "administrative due process." But rest assured, apparently if some solid evidence appears after the fact, that is, posthumously, to demonstrate a victim's innocence then the "militant" appellation may be removed. Who could possibly claim that we are not a merciful people?

To my mind this was perhaps the most astonishing revelation brought to light by a recent New York Times piece whose primary story line concerned the existence of a "kill list" run right out of the White House, with Obama personally signing off on all such strikes. Again, you'll be comforted to know that a rigorous procedure is in place. First a "nomination" process is conducted where a potential target is put forward for possible addition to the list. Kind of gives a cruel twist to the term nomination! But then the torturing of language is a key symptom of the authoritarian mind at work. And of course we are told that the minimizing of civilian casualties is a paramount consideration. I guess it helps when you can simply redefine what it means to be a "militant" or "civilian," and you have a largely compliant media that will be more than happy to play along.

If you somehow think that the above is consistent with democratic governance in general and the US Constitution in particular, then perhaps it's time for a civics refresher course. The Obama administration has asserted that anyone, including American citizens, can be targeted for such extrajudicial killing. In a related expansion of such powers, indefinite detention by the military of designated persons, within the United States proper, was recently codified within the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) legislation passed by Congress. When challenged with a lawsuit in the name of a number of journalists and activists, and litigated with the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), at a hearing to establish standing of the plaintiffs, administration lawyers could not give assurances that even normal journalistic activities or straight political speech would not run afoul of the vague and overreaching language in the NDAA. If that is not thoroughly inconsistent with the 1st Amendment, then the Amendment has effectively been rendered worthless.

The way to highlight the extreme nature of these policies is to ask how US leaders would react if foreign governments or official enemies were to adopt similar policies vis a vis US civilians. Imagine the howls, the shrieks, the blood curdling screams if some other country were to treat US citizens in such a way! The criticisms and condemnations would be unrelenting. US leaders were quick, and correct, in absolutely condemning Al Qaeda suggestions that somehow US citizens killed in the 9/11 attacks were "not innocent," and in some way also militants. Why would US leaders even remotely consider adopting such an eerily similar policy, arguing that anyone in the vicinity of a strike is also "not innocent," a militant. It's very simple, if we wouldn't want our citizens so labelled, then we have no right to condemn others to such an immoral policy.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Enduring Power of Our Moral Example?

I suppose one should expect a certain level of nationalistic chest-beating and jingoism in your typical State of the Union address, and on that score President Obama certainly didn't disappoint in his recent speech. But really, "... the enduring power of our moral example.." Obama used this odious, over-the-top phrase of pure propaganda in his efforts to convince us that "America is back." Back from what, one is tempted to ask. Are you kidding me?

Now, when I was growing up one of the lessons I learned was that showing a bit of humility is always a better choice than outright bragging about ones perceived greatness, or even worse, ones perceived moral rectitude. Who ever brags about their moral rectitude?

These are the kinds of statements and thinking that enable the United States to routinely perpetrate on the global stage the same kind of destructive and immoral acts for which we regularly condemn other nations. So, what could Obama be referring to?

The moral example of a nation where upwards of 50 million of its citizens lack regular access to health care?

The moral example of a nation where many of its citizens must make the choice between getting access to health care or financial ruin?

The moral example of a nation with almost 1/4 of its children living in poverty or economic distress?

The moral example of a nation with the highest incarceration rate in the world?

The moral example of a nation that still routinely employs the death penalty?

The moral example of a nation that illegally invaded, occupied and destroyed a country (Iraq) on the basis of fabricated pretexts (weapons of mass destruction, and a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda)?

The moral example of a nation that has claimed the right to unilaterally kill virtually anyone, anywhere in the world, that it deems a "terrorist," including its own citizens, without judicial review?

The moral example of a nation that routinely kills innocent civilians in the exercise of the above claimed right?

The moral example of a nation that tortures, and has claimed the right to indefinitely detain essentially anyone, anywhere, including its own citizens, without judicial review?

The moral example of a nation that claims the right to unilaterally kidnap anyone, anywhere and "render" them to another country for torture and interrogation, again, without the possibility of judicial review or remedy?

Well, I could go on, but you get the idea. Now Obama and indeed many of our political leaders must know about at least some of these moral shortcomings, or you would think that they should, right? But that's the beauty of the myth of "American exceptionalism," it's axiomatic, evidence to the contrary is completely irrelevant. We are simply the best, at everything, period, by definition. So, this allows someone like President Obama to argue, when confronted with the evidence of, for example, our indiscriminate killing of civilians, that we really don't, that these drone programs are surgical and precise, and we're just getting the bad guys, and even if we do kill civilians, well, our intentions are noble and moral, so, well, it's OK. We're the best after all. That really is the level of the argument. This is an extremely dangerous, not to mention unhealthy, mindset because when you hold such views moral arguments essentially hold no weight. You are the best, you can't be wrong or immoral in your actions, by definition. This is the kind of thinking that, sadly, is far to evident in our political culture.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

In Search of Our Humanity

Never has that bumper sticker saying been more true, "If you're not upset, you're not paying attention." Those in the streets with the Occupy Movements have simply been paying attention. Our political and economic systems are corrupt, dysfunctional and imploding on themselves. Nowhere is the evidence of this more stark than in the virtually complete absence of ethics and morality in the actions of our political, economic and cultural institutions. Corruption? How did that whole financial meltdown treat you? Dysfunction? How is that Congressional "super-committee" working out for you? Implosion? Virtually half of the population of the United States, arguably the richest country on the planet, is now economically insecure, meaning that while technically above the so-called poverty level, they struggle to regularly find the resources for the basics of existence; food, housing and not to mention health care. This is beyond shocking. Yet, in the face of this evidence both major political parties are pushing austerity, a further cutting back of resources, as the solution, and one of these Parties is so corrupt, immoral and self serving that it wants to further reinforce the political priorities that brought about this state of affairs, ie., further slashing of spending, and cutting taxes on the wealthy even more.

The higher up the power ladder one goes the more widespread is the moral vacuum. There is a vast chasm between how I believe most of us act and wish to act in our private lives and how the institutions of power force and mold us to act. These are ostensibly our institutions but we have completely lost control of them. The priorities and values that they have set, that they continue to set, within our political and economic systems are completely at odds with those, for example, that the overwhelming majority of us would wish to pass on to our children. We want our children to be fed and clothed, educated and cared for. We want the sick treated. We want to live in a peaceful world, to see, in the words of Bob Dylan that the "cannonballs are forever banned." And we want to see this also for our neighbors. Yet these priorities are now almost completely absent within the institutions we have constructed, particularly at the highest levels.

The levers of power are now firmly in the control of those who view human existence as a struggle to amass ever more wealth, power and control, who view their fellow humans as simply means to the end of domination and control, and not ends in themselves. This is the culture of empire. It is rooted I believe ultimately in the psychology of fear. The access routes to its institutions are carefully guarded and there are powerful incentives to not "rock the boat," or upset the status quo. Only those who are properly conditioned before hand can reach the upper echelons. You must first demonstrate your "seriousness," your ability to cast aside the ethics that you were most likely raised with, and make the tough but "pragmatic" decisions in service of empire. If you can't, your conscience gets the best of you, or you decide to act on what Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature," then there is no shortage of remedies, from loss of your job, to a jail cell, or a shower of pepper spray to the face. You have to show the proper allegiance to the propagandistic symbols of control, wear your flag pin, beat your chest and rah-rah the troops, proclaim the greatness, indeed, the exceptionalism of your tribe, and never, ever, examine your own conduct and that of empire.

There is a long struggle ahead to reform our institutions and take back the levers of power to the service of humans as ends and not means. The Occupy Movement is an example of this struggle, but events over the last year have clearly shown that the struggle is indeed global. The dominant economic system of limitless capitalism has entrenched our culture of empire, and it is ultimately at the heart of our moral corruption. But so as its guiding principle is to consume, and then consume more, it will also eventually consume our own humanity, and we will have destroyed ourselves, or at least that which is best in ourselves, in the process. Redemption lies in freeing ourselves from this culture of empire, in reclaiming our collective humanity. The path has already been laid out, by those such as King and Ghandi, we simply need to find it again beneath the wreckage of our own fear. The Occupiers have found that path and we need to start walking it with them. It is the only way to a future with any real freedom.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Time is Nigh to Occupy

Even if your only news outlets are corporate megaphones Fox News and CNN you must still be aware of the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests, demonstrations and organizing taking place in lower Manhattan. Indeed, the spirit of resistance appears to be spreading faster than a Texas wildfire as similar encampments have sprung up all over the country. To gain a sense of the scale you can check out Occupy Together, which is providing a collection point for access to information on the various protests that have been created, and are being created, in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street.

What began as a modest sized gathering in "Liberty Plaza" in lower Manhattan has steadily grown to encompass large scale mobilizations in cities across the nation. We need to nurture and foster this growth, because such direct demonstrations of real democracy are the only way the majority, all of us, will be able to exert any kind of political and economic power in what now can only be described as the Corporate Oligarchy of the United States.

If pulling a voting booth lever every 2 or 4 years remains your only participation in what passes for our democracy, then it's time to switch the TV channel to something other than Fox News or CNN. If you still need convincing, still think that vote has meaning, just consider the shape that the 2012 presidential election (as an example) is taking. It is more than a year away from the elections and one can already describe the nature of the choice that one will be confronted with upon entering the voting both. If you remain committed to self destruction then you are likely to be tempted by one of these shining examples of human thought; Mitt (corporations are people, yes, really they are) Romney, Rick (let's just pray for rain) Perry, Herman (I will stand against Sharia Law) Cain, Michelle (minimum wage, we don't need no stinking minimum wage) Bachmann. That's not the full list of Republican candidates, and I didn't even get to Rick Santorum, or Newt Gingrich, but you get the point. So, if you can't find the intestinal fortitude to connect the arrow for one of these corporate clowns what other option do you have? Well, sadly, that "other" option is also largely a corporate clown, President Obama. Elected ostensibly to usher in "change," Obama has shown himself to be a staunch defender of the status quo. He has done more to foster cynicism and extinguish hope within his own political base than any Republican could have.

There is no meaningful choice here, "elections" in the US have largely become public relations exercises whose primary goal is a manipulation of voters so as to cynically ratify an intolerably unjust system that has abandoned the needs of the vast majority of the population in order to extract ever more profits for a privileged minority of super-rich and their lackeys.

As the election cycle gears up, billions of dollars will be spent--billions of overwhelmingly corporate dollars--to "purchase" candidates and influence the outcome. Endless hours of vacuous punditry will be spoon-fed to the population by the corporate media to convince us of the "excitement" and "importance" of the election. You see, when the outcome is so rigged in advance, the game at least has to look convincing or else too many might realize the true nature of the charade being perpetrated. And while at least theoretically a candidate might still be elected who would provide some challenge to the corporate oligarchs, their virtually bottomless electoral war chests serve to reduce those odds to a virtual impossibility. And as additional insurance against even marginally meaningful elections, those ostensible lovers of American democracy just can't wait to pass laws making it harder for people to vote.

The corporate media's response to all this has been anything if not predictable, and follows the standard playbook. First, attempt to ignore the protests. What, there are protestors? What, there are problems that might actually justify protests? Second, when it becomes impossible to ignore the situation, then attempt to criticize, denigrate and dismiss the protestors and distort their message and reasons for demonstrating. Typical of the latter tactic was the abysmal performance of CNN's newest "anchor" Erin Burnett in her debut show on the network where, rather than attempt to explore the issue in an objective way, she simply attempted to mock and dismiss the protestors as "...dancing...and bongo playing...hippies..." See also Glenn Greenwald's total evisceration of Burnett and with it the bulk of what passes for American journalism these days.

But of course the corporate media doesn't get it. Consolidation of media ownership has left a handful of large multinationals in control of the news outlets from which the majority of Americans regularly get their information. Any pretense of public service has long since been eroded with the effective sedation of the regulatory responsibility of government. After all, regulations are "job killers," if we are to believe the right wing meme that is repeated endlessly, and never challenged, in the mainstream press. Public service gets in the way of profits. Can't have that. So naturally these corporate media conglomerates are just another cog in the edifice of oligarchy, and an important cog at that.

If you're one of those still harping about "liberal media bias," then it's long past time you dusted off the remote and did what's left of your brain a favor and switched off Fox News. The only bias in the corporate media is that which slavishly supports their own corporate and economic interests, which, more often than not are in direct opposition to the interests of the vast majority of citizens. The media's "celebrity" and outrageously compensated anchors are for the most part members of the same economic and political cohort as the corporate CEOs and managers that finance them, so naturally they tend to identify with the same ideology.

With the ballot boxes bought and paid for the only way to halt the slide into further plutocracy and possibly fascism is direct democratic action, like the Occupy Together movements. It is a fundamental right of the people to peaceably assemble to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Corporate elites recognize this, hence the several decades long war against any avenue for collective democratic action, such as unions, fairer labor practices, and enforcement of workplace safety regulations.

It increasingly appears likely that our only route to a saner, more equitable and more sustainable future is via direct democratic actions. Occupy Wall Street is leading the way. Let's get behind them and push. We are the 99 percent.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Tribute to Lonnie Johnson

Here's some more guitar music. This is "Tribute to Lonnie Johnson," another arrangement from Stefan Grossman. Lonnie Johnson was an influential blues and jazz musician from New Orleans whose career spanned from the 1920's through the blues-folk revival of the 1960's. His guitar playing was extremely influential, and he is credited by some with pioneering the rock and blues solo guitar styles that are so common today, including a lot of string bending and vibrato. This is a multi-section instrumental played in dropped-D tuning, where the low E string is lowered a full step to D. I really like the lick which closes out each section.