Every time Gazans sit down for a meal, they face a depressing reality. The selection of foods available to them is dictated almost entirely by a harsh policy imposed by the Israeli government, which, as of late, has even refused to allow such innocuous-seeming foods as pumpkins, pasta or beans to cross the border.
The goal behind Israel's tight control of Gazans' dietary regime is definitely not improving their health. Rather, the government argues that allowing "luxury" foods into Gaza would only add to the popularity of Hamas' leaders, enabling them to better feed their constituency. But, in the eyes of many observers, Israel's policy of limiting foods that enter the Strip is almost tantamount to starvation, and comes dangerously close to collective punishment, both of which are not only illegal and immoral methods to use in pursuit of Israeli security, but also do little to improve that security.
It is in fact, in law, in truth and in reality collective punishment, not just "dangerously close" to it. It is an all-out, astonishing brazen war crime -- a clear echo of Nazi policies on provisioning the Jewish ghettos in Poland after the Germans conquered the country. But let's move on:
Indeed, what long-term Israeli interest is served by having pregnant women and children suffer anemia, which causes well-documented damage to fetal and juvenile development? Limiting their access to iron does not improve Israeli security. Rather, it constitutes a gross violation of our own basic human values and the morality of Israeli society.
Can the experts please explain: Why does the Health Ministry recommendation for the diet of Israeli infants and toddlers - "soft fruit such as bananas and avocado, cooked chicken and beef, and cheese cubes" - not apply to Palestinian children? These particular items are all strictly forbidden from entering Gaza, while rice and a limited selection of meat and produce are the only food items in fact allowed to enter.
Several months ago, ministry officials approached the United Nations to consult with them about their dietary plan for the Gaza Strip. The UN officials - as one might guess - politely told them to go to hell, refusing to have anything to do with such a policy. The Israelis then turned to a Health Ministry dietician, whose advice might have led to the present policy according to which, as Israeli officials have stated, "the minimal requirements for the sustenance of Gaza Strip residents are being observed without inflicting a humanitarian disaster."
The participation of medical experts in drawing up the menus for Palestinians in Gaza - if they knew what policy their advice would help produce - is a grave violation of medical ethics.
What the Israelis are doing in Gaza is precisely what the Americans and British did for years in Iraq: not an open genocide, with machine-gun squads and extermination camps, but the deliberate degradation of a people, seeking to cripple not only their political, military and economic power, but also the physical, emotional, intellectual, and social development of future generations. Every expert in child development will tell you how vitally important proper nutrition -- not to mention a stable, secure environment -- is to the development of a child's body and personality. And Nazi experts of yore could have told us how the social, emotional and psychological functioning of adults can also be degraded and destroyed by prolonged captivity in harsh, humiliating conditions of constant fear and incessant hunger. The Nazis could tell us this because they practiced it against the Jews of Europe.
This kind of degradation is what the Anglo-American elites inflicted on Iraqis before the 2003 invasion-- and they are still inflicting on them each and every day of the continuing occupation of the broken land, as the Washington Post reports. Israel, having less ground to cover and fewer captives to degrade, are able to act with even greater intensity and deliberation in Gaza than their Western mentors' pre-war strangulation of Iraq.
And of course the United States is very much a full partner in the ghettoization of Gaza. The deliberate, scientific calibration of cruelty being applied there by the Israelis would not be taking place without the indispensible financial and material support -- and political cover -- that the United States provides to Israel. The degradation of the people of Gaza -- and above all, the children of Gaza -- goes on because the administration of President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress of the United States do not want to stop it.
It is no secret that Barack Obama is one of the supreme illusionists of modern times. The disconnect between his words and his deeds is so profound as to be almost sublime, far surpassing the crude obfuscations of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Their projections of unreality were more transparent, and in any case were merely designed to put a little lipstick on the pig of policies they were openly pushing. For example, they openly wanted to conquer Iraq and expand the militarist state, they openly wanted to redistribute national wealth to the elite, so they just gussied up this unhidden agenda with some fantasies about WMD and the occult magic of "tax cuts," whereby enriching the rich and degrading all notion of the common good would somehow create a utopia of prosperity (for deserving white folk, at least).
There was a disconnect between their rhetoric and reality, to be sure, but it was easily seen through (except, of course, by the highly-paid credulous cretins of our national media). Indeed, the Bushists seemed unconcerned by how threadbare their lies were; they delivered their lines like bored performers at the end of a long stage run, not caring whether they were believed or not -- just as long as they got to do what they wanted.
But Obama has taken all this to another level. He is a consummate performer, and strives to "inhabit" the role and mouth his lines as if they make sense and convey some sort of emotional truth. Also, most of the time his rhetoric, his role, his emotional stance are in stark opposition to his actual policies. He is not just gilding his open agenda with some slap-dash lies; he is masking a hidden agenda with a vast array of artifice, expending enormous effort not to prettify an ugly reality but to create an entire counter-reality, an alternate world that does not exist. Again, no one one was in any doubt about the Bushists' militarism, their dedication to the financial elite or their disdain for anyone who was not, in their view, a "normal American" (white, traditionalist, bellicose, greedy). In fact, that's exactly why millions of "normal Americans" voted for them. But Obama's image -- cool, compassionate, progressive, peace-seeking, non-traditionalist, anti-elitist -- is so far at odds with his actual policies, and with the world as it actually exists, that you can get severe whiplash turning from his rhetoric to reality.
Take his astonishing attack on Vladimir Putin for "interfering" in Ukraine. That Obama could make this charge with a straight face -- days after his own agents had been exposed (in the infamous "Fuck the EU" tape) nakedly interfering in Ukraine, trying to overthrow a democratically elected government and place their own favorites in charge -- was brazen enough. But in charging Putin with doing exactly what the Americans have been doing in Ukraine, Obama also fabricated yet another alternate world, turning reality on its head.
Speaking at a summit in Mexico, Obama unilaterally declared that Ukraine should overturn the results of its democratic election in 2010 (which most observers said was generally "fair and free" -- perhaps more "fair and free" than national elections in, say, the United States, where losing candidates are sometimes wont to take power anyway, and where whole states dispossess or actively discourage millions of free citizens from voting). Instead, the Ukrainians should install an unelected "transitional government" in Kiev. Why should they do this? Because, says Obama, now channeling all Ukrainians in his own person, "the people obviously have a very different view and vision for their country" from the government they democratically elected. All of the people of Ukraine have a different vision, you understand; every last one of them. And what is their vision, according to Obama the Ukrainian Avatar? To enjoy "freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, fair and free elections." Something you might think they had enjoyed by having fair and free elections in 2010, and exercising freedom of speech and assembly to such a degree that a vast opposition force had occupied much of the central government district for months. But the Avatar knows better, of course.
Now, this is not a defense of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's government. It is, by all accounts, a highly corrupt enterprise given to insider deals for well-connected elites who influence government policy for their own benefit. I guess this might be a reason for overthrowing a democratically elected government with an armed uprising supported by foreign countries, but I would be careful about espousing this as a general rule if I were an American president. The old saw about stones and glass houses comes to mind.
The reality (if anyone cares about such a thing) is that the situation in Ukraine is complex. Opposition forces have a legitimate beef against a corrupt and heavy-handed government. The Kremlin is obviously trying to manipulate events and policies in Ukraine, just the United States is doing. (Obama's remarks on this topic are comedy gold: "Our approach in the United States is not to see [this] as some cold war chessboard in which we’re in competition with Russia. Our goal is to make sure that the people of Ukraine are able to make decisions for themselves about their future." Yes, as long as they make the right decisions, unlike in 2010, when they voted for the wrong person.) Ukraine is polarized along several different lines -- political, ethnic, historical, religious, linguistic -- but these lines are not clear-cut, and often intersect, intermingle, are in flux. The pull away from Russia's orbit is strong in many people; the desire to retain close relations to Russia is equally strong in others. (Although any attempt by Russia to quash Ukraine's independence would likely unite all factions in resistance.) Many people look to the West as a model, even a saviour, although the EU deal that Yanukovych turned down, precipitating the outpouring of opposition, actually offered Ukraine very little other than Greek-style financial servitude, while the Kremlin, at least, proffered cash on the barrelhead. The opposition itself is not a monolith of moral rectitude; one of its driving forces is an ultra-nationalist faction that happily harks back to Ukraine's fascist collaborators with Nazi invaders and spouts vile anti-Semitic rhetoric. It is likely that the ultra-nationalists are chiefly behind the opposition's turn toward violent resistance, overshadowing the young, moderate, West-yearning, anti-corruption factions that have been the face of the uprising thus far.
And the fact is, not a single one of the Western governments now denouncing Ukraine for its repression would have tolerated a similar situation. Try to imagine thousands of, say, Tea Partiers, having declared that the elected government of Barack Obama was too corrupt and illegitimate to stand, setting up an armed camp in the middle of Washington, occupying the Treasury Building and Justice Department for months on end, while meeting with Chinese and Russian leaders, who then begin demanding a 'transitional government' be installed in the White House. What would be the government's reaction? There is no doubt that it would make even Yanukovych's brutal assault this week look like a Sunday School picnic.
So the situation in Ukraine is many-sided, complex, filled with ambiguity, change, nuance and chaos. Protest against a specific unpopular government policy first turned into a broader opposition to the government in general and is now threatening to turn into civil war. Such things do happen in the world, and yes, great powers do seek to influence and direct these events to their own advantage. It would be good if Ukraine could be rid of rule by corrupt elites; it is not all clear that a civil war led, at least in part, by racist nationalists, would lead to this happy outcome. But one thing that is not happening in Ukraine is Barack Obama's fantasy that the entire Ukrainian people is rising to rid themselves of a tyrant so they can hold fair and free elections. They had such elections in 2010; and if the entire Ukrainian people now wants to get rid of their president, there are free elections scheduled for 2015. It is highly likely that Yanukovych's corrupt and maladroit performance in office -- not least his reaction to the protest movement itself -- would have guaranteed his peaceful defeat at the ballot box next year. But it is also likely that these elections will not be held now. One way or another, Yanukovych will be forced out of office by the violent chaos that he, and sections of the opposition, and the machinations of Moscow and Washington have together produced. In any case, there is almost certainly more needless suffering in store for ordinary Ukrainians.
This is the reality, and tragedy, of the situation. But in the artfully hallucinated world of Barack Obama – a fantasy-land in which the entire American political and media elite also live – none of this matters. All that matters is the real agenda (which was also the agenda of George W. Bush, and Vladimir Putin for that matter): advancing the dominance of a brutal ruling class through manipulation, militarism, and deception, whenever the opportunity arises.
A little late with this, but I meant to mark Boris Pasternak's birthday this week (Feb. 10, 1890). It would be hard to express how much his work meant to me when I was first finding my way into the world. In later years, I had three brief, indirect contacts with Pasternak, beyond his work. In the mid-1990s, I went to his house in Peredelkino, remarkably preserved since his death in 1960, and got to spend a few minutes in his upstairs study, where he'd written his late verse and much of Doctor Zhivago. That same day, after a long, convoluted search, I found his grave nearby. Then a few years after that, in the downstairs den of a well-appointed house in Oxford, I came face to face with Pasternak's oldest son, Yevgeny -- by then an old man. He had come to Oxford for the opening of an exhibition of paintings and drawings by his grandfather, Leonid, Boris's father. They were to be shown at the Ashmolean Museum, but for now, before the opening, many of them had been hung throughout this private house, the home of the poet Craig Raine, who is married to Boris Pasternak's niece, Anne Pasternak Slater. It was some sort of open house for the paintings, I suppose; I don't remember how I heard about it, but I lived a couple of blocks away at that time, so I went over. I didn't expect to see Pasternak's son there. He was standing just across from me, chatting with someone; I thought I saw something of his father's face in him. I wanted to say something to him, shake his hand, but I hung back. I didn't know if he spoke English, and I knew my own poor Russian couldn't sustain even a light conversation very far; I was afraid of embarrassing myself, I suppose. I wouldn't hang back today, but it's too late. The moment has passed. (And Yevgeny Borisovich died in 2012, at the age 89.) But I was glad I saw him, glad for the other fleeting contacts.
Below are a couple of previously posted pieces on Pasternak, just to mark (belatedly) the occasion.
From February 2010:
From April 2008: Immortal Communion: One Lowly Word and the Subversion of Power
1. Boris Pasternak's novel, Doctor Zhivago, is best remembered for its star-crossed love story and its sweeping panorama of the Russian Revolution – themes amplified in David Lean's 1965 film version, a beautiful travesty which has largely supplanted the book in the public mind. But within his conventional narrative of shattering passions and historic upheavals, Pasternak subtly diffuses a deeply subversive philosophy that overthrows power structures and modes of thought that have dominated human life for thousands of years. Yet remarkably, this far-reaching, radical notion is based on one of the most humble concepts and lowly words in the Russian language: byt.
The word has no precise equivalent in English, but in general it means the ordinary "stuff" of life: the daily round, the chores, the cares and duties, the business and busyness that drives existence forward. The connotations of byt are not always positive; it is frequently associated with another Russian word, poshlost', a more pejorative term for the miserable muck of daily life that can trap a noble soul yearning for transcendent heights – for shattering passions and historic upheavals, perhaps. Benjamin Sutcliffe has described this association well in his extensive analysis of the notion of byt in Russian literature by women:
"The 'everyday' is a problematic concept that Russian culture consistently links with women. Byt is not only povsednevnaia zhizn' (daily life), but also a corrosive banality threatening higher, often intellectual aspirations…. Vladimir Nabokov connects byt to poshlost', the soul-killing realm of the crass and insensitive. In an even more sepulchral metaphor, Andrei Siniavskii compares Soviet culture to a pyramid: the grandiose grave of a hollow society whose time has passed. Byt is the sum of both those constituent parts, often seen as 'women’s work' (care for the self, care for others, maintaining a household) and the negative adjectives ascribed to them: petty, small-scale, mundane, exhausting, repetitive, and ultimately deadening."
In contrast to this mundane and deadening level stands the realm of the transcendent: the "great questions" of life, the grand abstractions – nation, faith, ideology, honor, prosperity, family, security, righteousness, glory – for which millions fight and die. It's the world of power, fuelled by the dynamic of dominance and servitude – a dialectic that governs relationships in every realm: political, economic, religious, artistic, personal. Everywhere, hierarchies abound, even among the most professedly egalitarian groups, from monasteries to movie sets, from ashrams to activist collectives. Everywhere we find, in Leonard Cohen's witty take, "the homicidal bitchin'/That goes down in every kitchen/To determine who will serve and who will eat."
This, we are given to understand, is the real world, the important world, far above the tawdry, tedious humdrum that fills the dead hours between epiphanies and exaltations. The Russian Revolution is of course one of history's great manifestations of this dynamic, where the "transcendent," world-shaking abstractions of ideology and high politics (imperialism, capitalism, revolution, Bolshevism) uprooted whole nations and produced suffering and dehumanization on an almost unimaginable scale. The modern era's "War on Terror" bids fair to surpass the Revolution in this regard, with its wildly inflated rhetoric and grand abstractions, its epiphanies of violence and exaltations of terror – on both sides – inflaming a conflict that has already devoured nations and destabilized the entire globe. The dominance paradigm – so thoroughly worked into our consciousness, so ever-present in our interactions, large and small, public and private – is the engine driving this vast machinery of death and ruin.
But below this "higher plane" lies the reality of byt. Far from the soul-killing muck that Nabokov found so distasteful, in Pasternak's hands the true nature of byt is revealed: creative, sustaining, nurturing, an infinite source of meaning. For the most part, the novel conveys this indirectly, in passages where Pasternak shows us byt in action – people going about their work, having quiet conversations, preparing food, fixing stoves, tending gardens, washing floors – or in the richly detailed backgrounds and descriptions given for minor characters who pop up briefly in the narrative then are rarely, perhaps never, seen again.
Over the years, some critics have decried these passages as the clumsy strokes of a fictional amateur, a poet gamely trying and failing to match the rich plenitude of Tolstoy's novels. (And to be fair, the English translations of the novel, though serviceable, are hobbled by clunky prose that ill-serves the original Russian.) But surely Pasternak, a writer of immense talent and intelligence, knew exactly what he was doing with these portions of the novel. The "clumsy" strokes that brake and complicate the grand narrative are central to the book's meaning. "Zhivago" means "the living," its root word is "life." And life is immense, comprising every aspect, every atom of reality. "Life, always one and the same, always incomprehensibly keeping its identity, fills the universe and is renewed in every moment in innumerable combinations and metamorphoses," as Zhivago says at one point. It is in the careful observation and deeply felt experiencing of the details of daily life that the meaning of existence can be found – or rather, consciously created.
Elsewhere in the novel, Pasternak deals with more openly with this theme, especially in one of the book's central chapters, made up of a diary that Zhivago keeps when his family have been driven from Moscow by the privations of the Revolution – and by Zhivago's own political unreliability, which stems from his refusal to hew to any party line and its grand, impersonal abstractions, its distorted caricatures of the infinite complexities of human reality. They are living off the land, deep in the countryside, their whole life taken up by the struggle to survive: byt in its starkest terms. Only at night, their work done, can they turn to their books, the handful of Russian classics they've taken with them into exile.
The whole chapter is like a marvelous concerto, blending and concentrating all of the novel's themes and variations in what appears to be the most artless of forms: the ramblings of a private journal. Among the many passages that illustrate the relation of byt to the "overworld," the realm of dominance and hierarchy, this one stands out:
"What I have come to like best in the whole of Russian literature is the childlike Russian quality of Pushkin and Chekhov, their shy unconcern with such high-sounding matters as the ultimate purpose of mankind or their own salvation. It isn't that they didn't think about these things, and to good effect, but they always felt that such important matters were not for them. While Gogol, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky worried and looked for the meaning of life and prepared for death and drew up balance-sheets, these two were distracted, right up to the end of their lives, by the current individual tasks imposed on them by their vocation as writers, and in the course of fulfilling these tasks they lived their lives quietly, treating both their lives and their work as private, individual matters, of no concern to anyone else. And these individual things have since become of concern to all; their work has ripened of itself, like apples picked green from the trees, and has increasingly matured in sense and sweetness."
2. Of course, the supreme irony of the relation between the humble, private, "pointless" world of byt and the "real world" of power and exaltation is that the former is actually where any genuine "transcendence" can be found, while the latter is the merely the outgrowth of our most primitive and meaningless urges.
For what is the desire to "project dominance," to erect hierarchies, but the elaboration of the same unconsidered instinctual drives that underlie the social structures of the animal world? You can see it in any colony of apes (although they too have their forms of sustaining, nurturing byt). I've written of this elsewhere, but I think it has some application in this context as well:
Is it not time to be done with lies at last? Especially the chief lie now running through the world like a plague, putrescent and vile: that we kill each other and hate each other and drive each other into desperation and fear for any other reason but that we are animals, forms of apes, driven by blind impulses to project our dominance, to strut and bellow and hoard the best goods for ourselves. Or else to lash back at the dominant beast in convulsions of humiliated rage. Or else cravenly to serve the dominant ones, to scurry about them like slaves, picking fleas from their fur, in hopes of procuring a few crumbs for ourselves.
That's the world of power – the "real world," as its flea-picking slaves and strutting dominants like to call it. It's the ape-world, driven by hormonal secretions and chemical mechanics, the endless replication of protein reactions, the unsifted agitations of nerve tissue, issuing their ignorant commands. There's no sense or reason or higher order of thought in it – except for that perversion of consciousness called justification, self-righteousness, which gussies up the breast-beating ape with fine words and grand abstractions…
Beyond the thunder and spectacle of this ape-roaring world is another state of reality, emerging from the murk of our baser functions. There is power here, too, but not the heavy, blood-sodden bulk of dominance. Instead, it's a power of radiance, of awareness, connection, breaking through in snaps of heightened perception, moments of encounter and illumination that lift us from the slime.
It takes ten million forms, could be in anything – a rustle of leaves, the tang of salt, a bending blues note, the sweep of shadows on a tin roof, the catch in a voice, the touch of a hand. Any particular, specific combination of ever-shifting elements, always unrepeatable in its exact effect and always momentary. Because that's all there is, that's all we have – the moments.
The moments, and their momentary power – a power without the power of resistance, defenseless, provisional, imperfect, bold. The ape-world's cycle of war and retribution stands as the image of the world of power; but what can serve as the emblem of this other reality? A kiss, perhaps: given to a lover, offered to a friend, bestowed on an enemy – or pressed to the brow of a child murdered by war.
Both worlds are within us, of course, like two quantum states of reality, awaiting our choice to determine which will be actuated, which will define the very nature of being – individually and in the aggregate, moment by moment. This is our constant task, for as long as the universe exists in the electrics of our brains: to redeem each moment or let it fall. Some moments will be won, many more lost; there is no final victory. There is only the task.
And of course, that's what byt entails, in both its literal sense and in the heightened, deepened understanding of Pasternak's art: the task, the work, the busyness of sustaining life.
One last passage from Zhivago provides a striking encapsulation of this, although a word should be said about the Christian symbolism it employs – a symbolism worked deeply into the plan and language of the entire novel. As Pasternak told one interviewer, the religious symbols were "put into the book the way stoves go into a house – to warm it up. Now they would like me to commit myself and climb into the stove." Later he added: "The novel must not be judged on theological lines. Nothing is further removed from my understanding of the world. One must live and write restlessly, with the help of new reserves that life offers. I am weary of this notion of faithfulness to a point of view at all cost. The great heroic devotion to one point of view is very alien to me – it's a lack of humility."
Here Pasternak, like his Zhivago, resists adherence to any party line, even one that he finds enormously congenial, like Christianity. It is not in pious certainties but in the humble, shifting, temporary coalescences of everyday existence, in byt, that some measure of always-imperfect, always-provisional meaning can be found.
But the languages of faith – structures that for centuries were the chief embodiment and expression of the human yearning for illumination, encounter and escape from the brutalities of dominance and servitude – can still serve as vehicles to convey a deeper reality, as Pasternak shows here, in the voice of one of his characters, the philosopher Nikolai Vendenyapin:
"I think that if the beast who sleeps in man could be held down by threats – any kind of threat, whether of jail or retribution after death – then the highest emblem of humanity would be the lion-tamer with his whip, not the preacher who sacrificed himself. But don't you see, this is just the point – what has for centuries raised man above the beast is not the cudgel but an inward music: the irresistible power of unarmed truth, the attraction of its example. It has always been assumed that the most important things in the Gospels are the ethical teaching and commandments. But for me the most important thing is the fact that Christ speaks in parables taken from daily life, that he explains the truth in terms of everyday reality. The idea that underlies this is that communion between mortals is immortal, and that the whole of life is symbolic because the whole of it has meaning."
Immortal communion, in the transient, private, churning flow of byt: this is what Pasternak offers as an alternative to the violent estrangement of the "overworld," to its violence and fear, its bombast and lies. This lowly word could bring down empires, and stands in defiance of death itself.
We all know about the vaunted -- not to mention shameless -- "continuity" between the Bush and Obama administrations in foreign policy and "national security," with Bush's generals, and even Bush's Pentagon honcho, still running -- and expanding -- the Terror War under Barack Obama's orders, while he also wages legal war in the courts to uphold Bush's authoritarian perversions of the Constitution, and defend the war criminals in Bush's gulag -- some of whom Obama has elevated to even greater heights of power.
But surely there is some real "change" going on elsewhere in government, isn't there? How about at the throughly rotted Justice Department, where Bush cronies turned federal law into a partisan weapon, even jailing opposition political figures on trumped-up charges, like the worst kind of third-rate, tinpot tyranny? Surely Obama and his highly progressive Attorney General, Eric Holder, are going to clean out the fetid swamp of lawlessness at Justice, aren't they?
As Scott Horton notes at Harper's, the Obama Justice Department has just fired a courageous federal attorney who had sent a letter to the highly progressive Holder detailing more of the unbelievably brazen machinations of Karl Rove's cronies who put former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman in prison on specious charges after a trial before a highly partisan, interest-conflicted judge. As Horton reports:
In a nine-page June 1, 2009 letter to her boss, Attorney General Eric Holder, Tamarah Grimes, a member of the Justice Department team that prosecuted former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, itemized an astonishing list of acts of misconduct by her colleagues as they developed what they called “the Big Case.”
[These included]: Two key witnesses were cajoled, coached, and pressured to change their testimony to better support the charges. This specifically included the key evidence given by one witness on which Siegelman was convicted. But, as Grimes notes, the witness in fact had no recollection of the events–he was pressured to recount them in a way that suited the prosecutors....
Members of the prosecution team communicated directly with a pro-prosecution juror while the case was pending and afterwards...
Every aspect of the case was overseen by U.S. Attorney Canary. She had nominally recused herself from the case because her husband, a friend of Karl Rove and the most prominent G.O.P. elections advisor in Alabama, was advising a campaign against Siegelman for which the prosecution provided essential grist.
Eight days after submitting these meticulously documented complaints, many of which echo concerns stated by others in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Montgomery, Grimes received a reply of sorts. She was fired. Grimes notes in a press release that she was informed of her dismissal in a letter from Terry Derden of the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys.
Read the whole post for more dirty details. Horton goes on to note that just as Obama has promoted top Bush officials intimately involved in CIA torture, he has also retained "the clever consigliere of the Bush Justice Department, who amazingly continue to control all aspects of the case involving Siegelman five months into a new Democratic administration (including Leura Canary, who is still on the job in Montgomery)." As Horton puts it: "The Justice Department’s conduct looks increasingly like a Sicilian mob group: you commit the crimes the bosses order and you keep quiet about it, or the consequences will be fearsome."
That's very true; but it doesn't just apply to the Justice Department. The whole imperial court is run more and more like a crime syndicate, with periodic battles to determine which faction will be in charge of divvying up the loot. The Chicago gang has temporarily supplanted the Texas boys, but both pay obesiance to the big bosses back East, with the Bush-Obama "bailout" plans funneling trillions of dollars of public money to the mob kings of Wall Street. And of course, in classic gangster fashion, our bipartisan foreign policy elite use murder, violence -- and the constant threat of murder and violence -- to impose their will on the global neighborhood.
In any case, Don Siegelman remains a political prisoner of the United States of America -- unlike former Republican senator Ted Stevens, whom the Obama Justice Department swiftly released due to prosecutorial misconduct that comes nowhere near the brazen fixing of Canary and her crew.
As it (almost) saith in the Scriptures: They cry 'change, change,' but there is no change.
We have passed the June 30 deadline that, according to a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) signed between US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari on November 17, 2008, was the date all US forces were to have been withdrawn from all of Iraq's cities. Today, however, there are at least 134,000 US soldiers in Iraq - a number barely lower than the number that were there in 2003. In addition, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates testified on June 9 that the United States would maintain an average of at least 100,000 troops in Iraq through fiscal year 2010.
The SOFA is a sieve, and the number of US military personnel in Iraq is remaining largely intact for now. Add to the 134,000 US soldiers almost the exact number of military contractors (132,610 and increasing), 36,061 of which, according to a recent Department of Defense report, are US citizens.
While the military and most corporate media would like you to believe that from now on no US soldiers will step foot in Iraqi cities, US military patrols in them are ongoing and will continue. In addition, there has been an assumption that all US military bases within Iraqi city limits would be moved. For example, US Army Forward Operating Base Falcon, home to 3,000 US troops, is clearly within the city limits of Baghdad. But US military officials, working with Iraqis in the US-supported Iraqi government, have other ideas. "We and the Iraqis decided it wasn't in the city," a military official told the Christian Science Monitor. Thus, city lines are redrawn, to the convenience of the US military, to render certain bases and forward operating bases "outside" of Iraqi cities.
While military commanders claim to have handed over 142 military outposts around Iraq to the Iraqis, US troops will continue to occupy 320 other outposts around Iraq. Meanwhile, the Democratically controlled Congress just passed a war-spending bill that allocated over $100 billion more for the ongoing occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the military (and military contractors) in Iraq is busily expanding and augmenting new bases in rural areas of Iraq. In fact, they are even building new bases in Iraq.
To recap: Invasion-level numbers of U.S. troops still in Iraq, along with an almost equal number of mercenaries -- who are not covered in the SOFA. U.S operations continuing in the cities; thousands of U.S. troops still stationed there. Hundreds of U.S. bases still covering the conquered land -- with plans and appropriations to build even more. Yes, that's the kind of "withdrawal" that only a militarist could love.
Jamail makes a further important point: the policies now being pushed by the Obama Administration and the American-backed Maliki regime are pointing in one direction: the balkanization of Iraq:
Regardless of the outcome, it is clear that Iraq is further down the road of Balkanization, a plan that Biden has supported for years -to have Iraq split into three rump states. There is already evidence for this - for as Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan have been forced to return home due to funding to support them having been cut due to the Maliki regime pressuring hosting countries, as well as the UN, to have them return. Those returning have been unable to return to their homes. Instead, they are being forced to relocate to either Sunni or Shia areas. Moreover, the Iraqi government has been making no effort to help them return to their original homes, which indicates the Maliki regime is interested in supporting the Balkanization of Iraq.
And so the strategy behind the "surge" becomes clear: A united, independent Iraq cannot be allowed to exist, because such a state would not permit a permanent American military presence nor sign away the nation's oil wealth. Therefore, Iraq must be torn apart -- by sectarian strife, ethnic cleansing, terrorism and "counterinsurgency" warfare. And violence must continue until this shake-out is completed, in order to justify the continuing American presence.
While Bush pursues ethnic cleansing by stealth in Iraq -- or rather, pursues it quite openly, but just doesn't call it ethnic cleansing -- the Democrats and their outriders, the "liberal hawks" (or "humanitarian interventionists" or "Wilsonian idealists" or whatever tag they're wearing these days) are championing the policy in the public sphere. The idea of a three-way split of Iraq between Sunnis, Shias and Kurds has long been mooted in some quarters -- Joe Biden and "liberal" intellectuals like Leslie Gelb and Peter Galbraith were early enthusiasts -- and it is now gaining force within the foreign policy "clerisy" that Glenn Greenwald and Arthur Silber have been dissecting in recent days. Firedoglake points us to the incisive commentaries of Reidar Visser, "an actual expert on the regional aspects of Iraq and its history," who has lately been debunking the deeply ignorant and murderously arrogant "partition" proposals of Galbraith and others.
Visser takes aim at one of the most hideous of these proposals: "The Case for Soft Partition in Iraq," by respected "scholars" Michael O'Hanlon and Edward Joseph. When I first read of these gentlemen's work, I thought it must surely be a parody, a take-off on the deadly serious, genocidal fantasies of Philip Atkinson, who, on a website hardwired to the rightwing power grid of Frank Gaffney, James Woolsey and Dick Cheney, called for Bush to nuke Iraq, repopulate it with Americans and declare himself President-for-Life. The O-Hanlon-Joseph piece for the highly respectable Brookings Institution partakes of that same kind of murderous fantasy. As Visser notes:
...using cool academic language, the authors review the nuts and bolts of relocating somewhere between 2 and 5 million Iraqis in order to create new ethnic federal entities. Snippets from this part of the report probably speak best for themselves: “we advocate where possible dividing major cities along natural boundaries” (p. 16); “on the actual day of the relocation operation, Iraqi and US-led coalition forces would deploy in sufficient numbers to look for snipers, cover the flanks of the civilian convoys, inspect suspicious vehicles for explosives and conduct similar tasks” (p. 17); and finally, on p. 24, “this [internal border] control system would place some burdens on Iraq’s internal trade and other aspects of its economy. It would complicate the efforts of individuals to cross from one region to another to visit family and friends. For the most part these burdens would be bearable. For individuals or businesses that need to make frequent crossings across Iraq’s new internal borders, or those willing to pay for the privilege, an EZ pass system [sic] might be developed to expedite movements for those with important and regular business to conduct.”
"On the actual day of the relocation operation...." Try to imagine such a day, when millions of Iraqis are uprooted and forced to move to other areas, all under guard by "Iraqi and US-led coalition forces." Actually it's not that hard to imagine, for we have seen it before: in faded photographs and newsreel footage and films like "The Sorrow and the Pity," "Shoah," and "Schindler's List." Less familiar in the popular imagination but perhaps even more apposite are the "relocations" of ethnic populations carried out by Josef Stalin, when whole peoples, such as the Chechens, were uprooted and transported by force to other regions. Or we could of course look closer to home, at the "Trail of Tears," the deadly removal of the Cherokee from their homelands to concentration camps in Oklahoma.
These kinds of scenes are precisely what the clean-limbed O'Hanlon and his partner envisage for Iraq, followed by a life ensnared by checkpoints and passes and internal border controls. It may sound harsh, brutal and inhuman, but not to worry: "For the most part these burdens would be bearable."
I have a suggestion for Mr. O'Hanlon. I propose that he subject himself to such a regimen, then come back and tell just us how "bearable" it is. He doesn't even have to move five million Iraqis under armed guard to participate in this experiment: he can go to Palestine right now, where the people already live under his kind of "soft partition." Let him try it on for himself, just for a few months -- not the lifelong sentence he proposes for the Iraqis. We can even give him an "EZ Pass" to expedite any "important business" he needs to do.
This is the brutal, arrogant, oblivious mindset that Barack Obama very deliberately brought into the inner circles of his White House, choosing Joe Biden as his vice president and giving him great influence in foreign policy. When it comes to the enduring bipartisan consensus in support of violent imperial domination, the only "change" Obama has wrought is the new decor in the Oval Office.