On three occasions in the past few days, I've been approached separately by three of my children, ranging in age from 9 to 28, each of whom asked in different ways, "What is this war with ISIS all about?" Adjusting my answer according to their age, understanding and education, I spoke of various factors behind the new war, trying to give more of the context, history and reality of what is going on, behind the blizzard of contradictory bull that surrounds the operation.
But later it occurred to me that the most direct -- and truest -- answer could be found in a short clip from an old film, made more than 30 years ago, in a scene set in the midst of a conflict now an entire century in the past. But the answer given then is most assuredly true now.
So here it is, delivered at a cozy black-tie dinner at the well-appointed Liberal Club of Portland, Oregon:
The murderous absurdity of the new American-led war in the Middle East almost defies commentary, although I'm currently working on a piece that tries to thread through the obfuscation. In the meantime, below is something I wrote about one of our earlier wars in the region — but as we now live in a state of permanent war, it remains sadly apt for today … and no doubt far into the future.
The questions in the lines are aimed chiefly at all those who give their support -- however grudgingly, reluctantly, with great sweatdrops of blood and wringing of hands -- to the continuing series of military attacks by Western powers in the Middle East, East Asia and Africa for the ostensible reason of quelling terrorism. For after each such incursion, the question comes again: are you free now? Is it better now? Are you free from the fear of terrorism (a fear so expertly and copiously stoked by our elites)? Is it better now? Is it over now? Have our violent attacks made us -- or the people in our target nations -- freer, safer, prosperous, at peace? Even when there is "victory" -- Saddam ousted, the Taliban ousted, Gadafy ousted -- has this brought peace and freedom to anyone ... or simply more and more and ever more conflict, extremism, chaos and blood.
And now the fear has come round again: another war, more mountains of dead, more cities in ruins, more hatred spread, more extremism created. Yet even if ISIS is forced back from the territory it now occupies in Syria and Iraq (thanks to the hellholes of chaos and instablity that Western actions have induced in both those countries), the question will be hanging in the blood-flecked mist: are we free now?
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Pippy and Poppy founded their Mental Ministry in 1995, after Poppy lost his job as an engineer for a machine-tool company in Cleveland and Pippy was “downsized” from her job as a county mental health professional. But like the perky, plucky couple they are, they kept on plugging, and now oversee a publishing/online/seminar/merchandising empire worth more than $2.5 billion.
Although some couples find it hard to work together, Pippy and Poppy have enjoyed every minute of the journey … even though, to hear them tell it, they’re just like chalk and cheese! “Poppy’s a Republican and I’m a Democrat,” Pippy confides. “But we both share the same love of our great country, the same belief in the values that make America great. As I told him just the other day, ‘You know, Poppy, no matter which way America votes, we still get the same benefits: a big, bristling military to protect us from all the evil ones abroad, a conscientious intelligence establishment that uses the latest technology (most of it made in America!) to keep us safe at home, bailouts for our hardworking banks, tax breaks for wealth creators (like us!) and the constant, comforting knowledge that we are citizens of the greatest country that has ever existed or ever will exist on the face of the earth!
“Of course, Poppy’s not that happy about gay marriage and I sometimes wonder if running death squads out of the White House and drone-bombing innocent people all over the world is perhaps maybe not the most excellent thing to do — but the important thing is that it all comes out in the wash! Whatever the vote, whoever wins, nothing ever changes in America … except to get better, of course!”
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At the London Review of Books blog, Omar Hamilton outlines the many confidence-building efforts being undertaken by Israel to construct a just and lasting peace in the Holy Land, following the recent spat in Gaza. Below is Hamilton's piece in full, but do see the original for links detailing the flowers of peace that Israel is planting amongst its Palestinian brothers and sisters.
On 26 August a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was agreed, bringing a fragile end to a war that killed 2150 Palestinians (mostly civilians) and 73 Israelis (mostly soldiers). Since then Hamas has not fired a single rocket, attacked an Israeli target, or done anything to break the terms of the ceasefire. Israel has done the following:
1. Annexed another 1500 acres of West Bank land 2. Seized $56 million of PA tax revenue 3. Not lifted the illegal blockade (as required by the ceasefire) 4. Broken the ceasefire by firing at fishermen on four separate occasions 5. Detained six fishermen 6. Killed a 22-year-old, Issa al Qatari, a week before his wedding 7. Killed 16-year-old Mohammed Sinokrot with a rubber bullet to the head 8. Tortured a prisoner to the point of hospitalisation 9. Refused 13 members of the European Parliament entry into Gaza 10. Detained at least 127 people across the West Bank, including a seven-year-old boy in Hebron and two children, aged seven and eight, taken from the courtyard of their house in Silwad – and tear-gassed their mother 11. Continued to hold 33 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council in prison 12. Continued to hold 500 prisoners in administrative detention without charge or trial 13. Destroyed Bedouin homes in Khan al Ahmar, near Jerusalem, leaving 14 people homeless, and unveiled a plan to forcibly move thousands of Bedouin away from Jerusalem into two purpose-built townships 14. Destroyed a dairy factory in Hebron whose profits supported an orphanage 15. Destroyed a family home in Silwan, making five children homeless 16. Destroyed a house in Jerusalem where aid supplies en route to Gaza were being stored 17. Destroyed a well near Hebron 18. Set fire to an olive grove near Hebron 19. Raided a health centre and a nursery school in Nablus, causing extensive damage 20. Destroyed a swathe of farmland in Rafah by driving tanks over it 21. Ordered the dismantling of a small monument in Jerusalem to Mohamed Abu Khdeir, murdered in July by an Israeli lynch mob 22. Continued building a vast tunnel network under Jerusalem 23. Stormed the al Aqsa mosque compound with a group of far right settlers 24. Assisted hundreds of settlers in storming Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus 25. Prevented students from entering al Quds University, firing stun grenades and rubber bullets at those who tried to go in 26. Earned unknown millions on reconstruction materials for Gaza, where 100,000 people need their destroyed homes rebuilt. The total bill is estimated at $7.8 billion
“And I was like, I killed 500,000 Iraqi children with my sanctions! And George here, yuk yuk, he was like — “
“And I was like, 500,000? Hellfire boy, I can do better than that! We bagged us more than a million of them ‘Rackies, har har har!”
“Yeah — haw haw haw — you bigged it up, Texas style! And now Obama’s gonna get him some of his own!”
“Well, there’s plenty to go around, hee hee hoo! Them folks breed like jackrabbits! Hey, Bill, you were a bit of a jackrabbit yourself in your day, weren’t you, ha ha ha?
“Now don’t start with that stuff, George, hee-haw, har-har! Hillary might be in the audience, yuckity yuk yuk!”
“Reckon how many ‘Rackies she’ll rack up when she’s Prez, Bill? — Did you see what I did there? ‘Rackies, rack up? Ho ho ho!”
“Yee hee hee! This old boy’s a card, ain’t he folks? Well, I imagine she’ll get a passel of ‘em, George, don’t you worry! Har har hee hee ho!”
“As long as she leaves a few for Chelsea in 20 years, ha ha ha ha ha! Say, Bill, I’m a bit thirsty. Could you pass me some of that water?”
“Sure, George! Just lean your head back and I’ll pour it right down your gullet, haw haw heee-haw!”
“You know, Bill, I sure am BOARD of that joke, snickety snicker guffaw guffaw!”
“You slay me, George, you really do, hur hur ha ha! But seriously folks …..
Certainly the one word that comes to mind when you think of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush is “leadership.” That’s why the world is so lucky that these two sages for the ages have joined together to teach the secrets of their success to a whole new generation of leaders, as the NY Times reports.
The “Presidential Leadership Scholars Program" is a combined effort of the two men’s Presidential Libraries (those marble mausoleums where history goes to die), plus the libraries of two other great, great leaders: one-term wash-outs George Herbie Walkies Bush and Lyndon Bellyflasher Johnson.
With all expenses paid by corporate donors, participation is restricted to “mid-career professionals who generally have at least 10 years of experience and a strong record of professional achievement”. (“Yeah, I used to run a Radio Shack store at the West End Mall, then I managed a couple of Chik-Fil-As in the greater Tuscaloosa area, but lately I’ve sort of branched out into the development and export of cutting-edge crowd-management technologies to police forces here in the Homeland and to our counterterrorism allies abroad, particularly in the volatile Middle East. Reckon I could sign up?” “Say, we like the cut of your jib! Just hold on a second while I write you a check!”)
In addition to offering these carefully selected mid-career professionals the unique “insights from how each president addressed pressing challenges” — including the thrilling “participation of President George W. Bush and President Bill Clinton” — the programme also places a “strong emphasis on cultivating a lifelong network of participants, faculty and staff.” In other words, yet another corporate-paid vehicle for wanna-be courtiers to schmooze their way into the blood-stained porticos of the Beltway elite.
And thus do our mediocre murderous masters replicate themselves, generation after generation ….
The same lies that were told the last time around ("Sleeper cells!" "Mass Destruction of our cities!" "Unprecedented evil!" "Imminent danger!") are being trotted out again, this time in Democratic drag. Cheney and Obama, Kissinger and Kerry, working together to beat the war drums --who says bipartisanship is dead? As in 2003 (and 1991, for that matter), facts are thin on the ground -- but the bull is flowing thick and fast. So it's once more into the breach, with a military intervention to solve the problems caused by the last military intervention -- which will no doubt cause problems which can only be addressed by a future military intervention. But hey, who cares? The new iPhone is here!!
Did you know that the US government’s counterterrorism chief Matthew Olson said last week that there’s no “there’s no credible information” that the Islamic State (Isis) is planning an attack on America and that there’s “no indication at this point of a cell of foreign fighters operating in the United States”? Or that, as the Associated Press reported, “The FBI and Homeland Security Department say there are no specific or credible terror threats to the US homeland from the Islamic State militant group”?
Probably not, because as the nation barrels towards yet another war in the Middle East and President Obama prepares to address that nation on the “offensive phase” of his military plan Wednesday night, mainstream media pundits and the usual uber-hawk politicians are busy trying to out-hyperbole each other over the threat Isis poses to Americans. In the process, they’re all but ignoring any evidence to the contrary and the potential hole of blood and treasure into which they’re ready to drive this country all over again.
Facts or consequences have never gotten in the way of Congress’ lust for war before … and this time it’s no different. Sen James Inhofe (R-OK) recently said Isis militants are “rapidly developing a method of blowing up a major US city and people just can’t believe that’s happening.” (Maybe because there’s no proof that they are?) Sen Bill Nelson (D-FL) said, “It ought to be pretty clear when they … say they’re going to fly the black flag of ISIS over the White House that Isis is a clear and present danger.” (Again, who cares if they’re not?)
… Thanks to this wall-to-wall fear mongering, a once war-weary public is now terrified. More than 60% of the public in a recent CNN poll now supports airstrikes against Isis. Two more polls came out on Tuesday, one from the Washington Post and the other from NBC New and the Wall Street Journal, essentially concluding the same thing. Most shocking, 71% think that Isis has terrorist sleeper cells in the United States, against all evidence to the contrary.
… And the president is said to favor a multi-pronged approach that also relies on our “partners” – like the repressive Saudi Arabia – to train and arm the “moderate” Syrian resistance army that is fighting both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Isis in Syria. (Yes, that’s the same Saudi Arabia which, as the Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin reported, have been accused of funding and supporting Isis, and the same Saudi Arabia that beheaded 19 people in just the first half of August, including eight for non-violent offenses.)
It’s also strange that we are unquestionably calling the Free Syrian Army (FSA) the “moderate” opposition and putting our faith in their abilities, despite many actual experts claiming they’re far from moderate and far from a cohesive army. As George Washington University’s Marc Lynch wrote in the Washington Post recently, “The FSA was always more fiction than reality, with a structure on paper masking the reality of highly localized and fragmented fighting groups on the ground.” The New York Times reported two weeks ago that FSA has a penchant for beheading its enemy captives as well, and now the family of Steven Sotloff, the courageous journalist who was barbarically beheaded by Isis, says that someone from the “moderate” opposition sold their son to Isis before he was killed....
I once saw the mighty Steel Pulse in concert. It was more than 20 years ago in, of all places, Knoxville. They were opening for Bob Dylan. They stepped onto the stage and proclaimed: "We are Steel Pulse, from Birmingham" -- and they didn't mean Alabama. They proceeded to fill the cavernous basketball arena with the most thunderous reggae I've ever heard -- exploding with boisterous joy, seething with a fierce thirst for justice. A night to remember.
In 2008, they covered one of Dylan's songs, a little-known single he released in 1971: "George Jackson." Jackson had been imprisoned at the age of 18 for a $70 robbery, sentenced to the maddening term of "one year to life." After a decade of self-education and principled defiance that led him to national prominence, he was killed by San Quentin prison guards during a disturbance in August 1971. Dylan recorded and rush-released the song a little over three months later. (Dylan's version is here.)
Following the police berzerkery in Ferguson, Missouri, America is going through one of its periodic -- but always brief and ineffectual -- moments of vague awareness about the virulent, brutal racism it carries in its body politic like an inoperable cancer. For a couple of weeks there, a few people in prominent positions mused in public about maybe taking a look at this race thing, just in case there might be a few little glitches in our glorious system. But that's about far as it went. And of course, most of our Prom-Peeps rushed to assure us, and themselves, that there are no racial problems in America -- except, of course, for the ones caused by the shiftless, grasping, ungrateful darkies themselves. (They've got a president, for Christ's sake! What more do these people want?)
In any event, our Prom-Peeps have now moved on to pants-wetting panic attacks about the Nazi Commie Russkies and the desert demons of Isis (aka "our former allies in the Syrian civil war"). But among those who live the American reality -- those who must live with the agonizing symptoms of the cancer -- the disease of racism continues its ravages. And as Berger shows, figures like George Jackson continue to exert a powerful symbolic relevance -- and a practical inspiration -- in the "lower depths" of the aptly-named prison-industrial complex, and beyond.
Below are a few excerpts from Berger's article. The whole thing is worth reading, and there are many links to further information.
A young black man gunned down by law enforcement. His body is then left outside for four hours. The shocking gore of the situation sparks countless protests around the country calling for an end to racism. Meanwhile, popular attention to the incident prompts investigations into the young man killed, leading some critics to suggest that his working-class background and alleged criminal activities somehow make his death justifiable.
It is not the last month in Ferguson, Missouri. It is not Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, Roshad McIntosh or any of the other unarmed black men killed by police in recent weeks — though it could be. It is San Quentin, California, in the year 1971. His name was George Jackson. Though more than four decades have gone by since he was killed, his life and death signal the ways in which this country’s macabre routine of police violence against young black men and women has become institutionalized throughout the criminal justice system.
...When George Jackson went to prison in 1960, there were 200,000 people in prisons around the country. When he published “Soledad Brother“ in 1970, the rate of imprisonment was the lowest it had been in 20 years, with 96 out of every 100,000 Americans in prison. When he was killed in San Quentin in 1971, there were 300,000 people incarcerated, a rate of about 200 per 100,000 people.
Three decades later, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to stay the execution of Stanley Tookie Williams because the Crips co-founder had dedicated one of his anti-violence books to George Jackson and other well-known black activists (proving, Schwarzenegger said in a statement at the time, that Williams had not been rehabilitated), one in 100 American adults is in prison — approximately 2.3 million people. As of 2011 one in 34 adults, more than 7 million people, is under some form of correctional supervision: prison, parole or probation. Five percent of the world’s population, the United States imprisons 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.
Such staggering and lopsided rates of incarceration devastate whole communities, as the families of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride and so many others can attest: Not only does mass incarceration break up families but it promotes punitive and preemptive policing of black life.
… Jackson and other dissident prisoners were the canaries in the coal mine of our prison nation: Their experience being aggressively policed, excessively sentenced and brutally treated in prison has become the norm. The elements that made his case so noteworthy in 1971 — the long sentence for a petty crime, the indefinite use of solitary confinement — are now almost too mundane to be newsworthy.
As long as the United States continues to police, imprison and kill so many young black men and women, George Jackson will remain a figure whose story needs to be told.
[Young Jesse and Frank James, riding with Jesse’s good friend, Archie Clement, under the command of the “bushwhacking” guerrilla leader, “Bloody” Bill Anderson. A fairly typical day for the band of irregulars as they moved back and forth across Missouri:]
“On October 17 (1864), the guerrillas stormed into the center of Carrollton, where the 160 men of the EMM garrison [local volunteer pro-Union militia] immediately surrendered. The guerrillas marched them toward the Missouri river, picking out a man to shoot here, another there, until half a dozen bodies marked the trail of the prisoners …. Later, they forced a German farmer to guide them west; when his knowledge ran out, Archie Clement shot him, sawed off his head, and placed it on the dead man’s chest, with his hands wrapped around it. Then they resumed their march.”
I hope to write more soon of this American folk hero and the milieu from which he emerged — a history which, as expertly mined by Stiles, has much to tell us: not only about the current turmoil in Jesse James’ home state of Missouri, but also about the nature of American politics in general. Meanwhile, here’s a brief piece about Stiles’ book which I wrote some time ago: Insurgent Son: Jesse James and the Crucible of American Character.