Tens of thousands of ordinary people pour into the streets in a desperate bid to stop yet another vicious assault on their human rights -- and their human dignity -- by an utterly corrupt political system run by callous, greedy elites. The factotums of the system -- the same kind of third-rate lackeys and shriveled-up souls found in the goon squads of governments since time immemorial -- mewl and bawl at the rabble's effrontery: how dare they challenge their "legitimate" rulers!
The goons spew the usual lies about the regrettable necessity of their repressive measures: there is, as always, a great crisis at hand which requires draconian sacrifices -- of liberty, opportunity, living standards -- from the common people. The elite, of course, are immune from such calls -- which is only fitting, for in this case, as in so many others, they have deliberately manufactured the "crisis" in the first place, in order to extend their dominance over society even further. They are deadly serious in this ambition; and thus the goons, despite the tender, paternalistic tones of their pronouncements, make it clear that they will bring in the military if the rabble continues to defy their masters' wishes. In the meantime, they bus in a handful of "supporters" who, despite being vastly outnumbered by the ranks of the protestors, are featured prominently in the reports of the elite-dominated national media.
These stirring scenes of mass dissent are not set in Egypt, Libya or Bahrain, but deep in the heart of the Homeland itself: Wisconsin. Governor Scott Walker, one of more indecorous bagmen of the corporate elite, is using a "budget crisis" that he himself created with tax favors for the wealthy in a bid to destroy the collective bargaining rights of working people. The immediate target is the public sector unions, but the ultimate goal is the destruction of the very principle of collective bargaining in every sector, as Craig Unger makes clear at Forbes.com.
Walker's class war blitzkrieg is part of a long-running campaign by the gluttonous Koch Brothers and other bloated multi-billionaires to remove the last, fraying restraints on their total control of society. They disguise their apish lust for dominance in libertarian drag, claiming to stand up for the "individual" against the socialistic "collectivism" of union power. But what they want is a world where isolated, atomized, ordinary individuals can offer no resistance whatsoever to the impositions of the moneyed elite. What single employee could stand alone against the Koch Brothers' billions of dollars in any workplace conflict or salary negotiation? What our elites want -- and what they are increasingly getting -- is a people reduced to helotry, to wage slavery, to feudal dependence on unaccountable, uncontrollable overlords.
While it is indeed heartening to see, at last, even the slightest pushback against America's forced march into peonage, no one should be deceived about the thoroughly bipartisan nature of the feudalization process. Walker -- a third-rate, bought-off Republican hack for billionaire string-pullers -- makes an easy target, and has perhaps been too blatant in going about his sugar daddies' business. But his elite entanglements are dwarfed -- like a molehill to Everest -- by those of the progressive Democrat now in the White House. No president in history -- not George Bush II, not George Bush I, not Richard Nixon -- has been more servile to Big Money than Barack Obama. (Although Bill Clinton -- who greenlighted the regulatory gutting that led to the current economic meltdown -- might run him a close second.)
As Matt Taibbi details in yet another remarkable article on the monumental corruption of the American system, Obama has not only made extraordinary efforts to shield Wall Street's criminal class from the slightest accountability for their vastly destructive atrocities, he has put that same criminal class in charge of his economic policy -- and of his literally laughable regulatory "reforms" as well. As Taibbi notes:
Over drinks at a bar on a dreary, snowy night in Washington this past month, a former Senate investigator laughed as he polished off his beer. "Everything's fucked up, and nobody goes to jail," he said. "That's your whole story right there. Hell, you don't even have to write the rest of it. Just write that."
...Nobody goes to jail. This is the mantra of the financial-crisis era, one that saw virtually every major bank and financial company on Wall Street embroiled in obscene criminal scandals that impoverished millions and collectively destroyed hundreds of billions, in fact, trillions of dollars of the world's wealth — and nobody went to jail. Nobody, that is, except Bernie Madoff, a flamboyant and pathological celebrity con artist, whose victims happened to be other rich and famous people. The rest of them, all of them, got off.
...Instead, federal regulators and prosecutors have let the banks and finance companies that tried to burn the world economy to the ground get off with carefully orchestrated settlements — whitewash jobs that involve the firms paying pathetically small fines without even being required to admit wrongdoing. To add insult to injury, the people who actually committed the crimes almost never pay the fines themselves; banks caught defrauding their shareholders often use shareholder money to foot the tab of justice.
... As for President Obama, what is there to be said? Goldman Sachs was his number-one private campaign contributor. He put a Citigroup executive in charge of his economic transition team, and he just named an executive of JP Morgan Chase, the proud owner of $7.7 million in Chase stock, his new chief of staff. "The betrayal that this represents by Obama to everybody is just — we're not ready to believe it," says [Wall Street whistleblower Oliver] Budde, a classmate of the president from their Columbia days. "He's really fucking us over like that? Really? That's really a JP Morgan guy, really?"
Which is not to say that the Obama era has meant an end to law enforcement. On the contrary: In the past few years, the administration has allocated massive amounts of federal resources to catching wrongdoers — of a certain type. Last year, the government deported 393,000 people, at a cost of $5 billion. ... In Ohio last month, a single mother was caught lying about where she lived to put her kids into a better school district; the judge in the case tried to sentence her to 10 days in jail for fraud, declaring that letting her go free would "demean the seriousness" of the offenses.
So there you have it. Illegal immigrants: 393,000. Lying moms: one. Bankers: zero. The math makes sense only because the politics are so obvious. You want to win elections, you bang on the jailable class. You build prisons and fill them with people for selling dime bags and stealing CD players. But for stealing a billion dollars? For fraud that puts a million people into foreclosure? Pass. It's not a crime. Prison is too harsh. Get them to say they're sorry, and move on. Oh, wait — let's not even make them say they're sorry. That's too mean; let's just give them a piece of paper with a government stamp on it, officially clearing them of the need to apologize, and make them pay a fine instead. But don't make them pay it out of their own pockets, and don't ask them to give back the money they stole. In fact, let them profit from their collective crimes, to the tune of a record $135 billion in pay and benefits last year. What's next? Taxpayer-funded massages for every Wall Street executive guilty of fraud?
This is the system -- the "utterly corrupt political system run by callous, greedy elites" -- that produced the egregious assault on our rights and liberties now roiling Wisconsin. And while you will always have factional infighting for the perks of power between various elite cliques, there is a seamless continuum running from the provincial twerp in Madison to the suave global statesman in Washington. They serve the same masters. They seek the same goals. May these first American ripples of the global surge of dissent against corrupt elites grow quickly into a flood.
Our guest blogger this evening is Mr Galileo Galilei:
"In the long run my observations have convinced me that some men, reasoning preposterously, first establish some conclusion in their minds which, either because of its being their own or because of their having received it from some person who has their entire confidence, impresses them so deeply that one finds it impossible ever to get it out of their heads. Such arguments in support of their fixed idea ... gain their instant acceptance and applause. On the other hand whatever is brought forward against it, however ingenious and conclusive, they receive with disdain or with hot rage - if indeed it does not make them ill. Beside themselves with passion, some of them would not be backward even about scheming to suppress and silence their adversaries. I have had some experience of this myself. ... No good can come of dealing with such people, especially to the extent that their company may be not only unpleasant but dangerous."
from Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1632)
In keeping with the spirit of the day, here’s a brief sketch of an historical love story, drawn in part from certain public events, private affairs and socioeconomic circumstances pertaining in the New Mexico Territory during the last quarter of the 19th century.
Mubarak is gone! Ordinary people took to the streets, in their hundreds of thousands, they stood their ground against state goons and hired thugs, they saw ordinary soldiers and many officers refuse to obey orders to repress them, and they have brought down a 30-year dictatorship supported by the full might of the American imperium.
Many, many things are still in play, many dangers abound, many uncertainties remain -- and many forms of retribution will no doubt be assayed by the powerful elites in both America and Egypt who have been humiliated by this uprising of the "rabble" against their "betters." But it is a great day, a day of rejoicing for all those who believe in the worth and dignity of individual human beings.
The Egyptians stood up, they asserted that worth, they embodied that dignity, and they have set themselves free. Long may they hold on to this liberation -- and long may it serve as an inspiration to everyone beset by the dead hand of elite domination.
I know one can never underestimate the impregnable insularity of the American commentariat, but even so, I still find my jaw dropping slightly at the weak, wan, shoulder-shrugging response of some our leading “progressives” toward the world-shaking events in Egypt.
We’re talking about people who consider themselves to be educated, informed individuals: alert, aware, engaged with the world. And as such, they feel able to opine on a broad range of topics: economics, culture, military operations, political campaigns, legislative processes, judicial rulings, infrastructure, transportation, energy, the environment, law enforcement, health care – and, decidedly, foreign policy. Yet when it comes to Egypt, we suddenly see a remarkable reticence to offer any analysis whatsoever. Indeed, there is even a cheerfully admitted cluelessness about the little snippets being offered by our progressive beacons.
Here is Atrios -- who for years has offered us his view on the war in Afghanistan, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the political machinations behind American foreign policy and so on – writing on a day when the Egyptian uprising was reaching a new crescendo, and a 30-year dictatorship in a major U.S. ally was tottering on the brink of the abyss:
On Egypt, I got nothin’.
A shrug of the shoulders, a dopey grin, and that’s it. To be sure, he does offer an explanation for displaying the kind of willful ignorance for which he routinely and rightly flays Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. But the explanation is actually worse than his Gomer Pyle schtick:
There are some subjects I know a few things about and can at least pretend to opine adequately, and there are some subjects I don't know much about but have a reasonable sense of people who do know about that subject and can use them as my filter. On Egypt, I got nothin’.
He got nothin’ on Egypt; nothin’ in his own noggin to say about this world-historical event that could change the nature of global politics. He don’t even got no experts to “filter” events for him and tell him what to think about it. Putting aside this confession of an inability to think for oneself (which, again, seems to apply only to this issue), the Egyptian uprising has been going on for 18 days. In 18 days, an educated, professional progressive commentator could not find even one person anywhere in the world who knows something about the situation in Egypt? Not a single one "to use as a filter"? Nope; he got nothin’.
No one is required to comment on the events in Egypt, of course. But why, if you are an informed, engaged commentator on a wide array of public events, and a purveyor of progressive views aimed at widening the circle of freedom and opportunity for all, would you go out of your way to make a great show of how ignorant you are about this vast upsurge of grassroots liberation – except to imply, perhaps unwittingly, that it’s really not all that important in the grand scheme of things? For as we all know, to most of our progressive champions, the “grand scheme of things” is a painfully constricted little circle centered almost entirely on the partisan squabbles between the two corrupted factions of the corporatist-militarist power structure in Washington.
Even Digby feels compelled to tell us that “I honestly don’t know what to say about Egypt.” You know what to say about UK politics, you know what to say about North Korea, you know what to say about China, you know what to say about Iran, you know what to say about Iraq – but you don’t know what to say about Egypt? Did Egypt fall into a big black hole? Is there some kind of cloaking device over that country that prevents progressives from looking at it and thinking about it? To her credit, Digby does at least bestir herself to find someone she "can use as a filter," and points readers to an analysis of Thursday’s wrenching turn of events. But why this strange shyness about the revolution in Egypt?
I understand that most progressive bloggers see themselves as operatives of the Democratic Party (albeit the eternally disappointed, abused and exploited “left wing” of the party), and thus are absorbed in the factional machinations on the margins of the bipartisan power structure (which never changes its core agenda of elite domination, no matter which gang of gasbags and grafters is in the managerial role). That's their ultimate concern, and their main focus. But it is still shocking to see how self-proclaimed progressives – who are, after all, meant to be devotees of human advancement – have treated the Egyptian uprising as a sideshow, scarcely worth more than an occasional passing glance. Again, what would they say if some talking head on CNN asked Sarah Palin her view on the situation in Egypt, and she replied: “On Egypt, I got nothin’.” Oh, the howls of derisive laughter we would hear about the ig-nor-ray-moose from Alaska! Yet this same moosiness has characterized much of the progressive response to the revolution.
This is admittedly a very, very minor issue, on a day when the Egyptians are surging forward once again with remarkable courage. But I thought it worth noting -- in a passing glance -- the willful, cheerful ignorance and unaccountable reticence being displayed by so many “informed” opinionists when it comes to Egypt.
I was among the million people who marched through London on February 15, 2003, to protest the imminent invasion of Iraq. I don't think anyone in the crowd thought a single march would stop the Anglo-American coalition from launching a war of aggression, but most felt it was important that the widespread anger and dismay at this murderous course of action be embodied, literally, on the streets, by a broad cross-section of the public.
This was done. And it was not totally unimportant, as an act of bearing witness. But now, years later, the people of Egypt -- especially the young people -- have shown us what a small, feeble act that 2003 march really was, and how we all let thuggish leaders play us for fools. We showed up, we marched, we massed -- then we quietly went home, back to our lives, and let the brutal machinery of aggressive war roll on.
What would have happened had we possessed the courage and commitment that the Egyptians are demonstrating today? What if we, like them, had refused to go home, and had stood our ground, thronged in the center of London, day after day, railing against a regime bent on aggressive war: "the supreme international crime, only different from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of all the others," as Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal put it. (It also added: "To initiate a war of aggression is a crime that no political or economic situation can justify.")
Day after day after day, the Egyptians have withstood the blows of a vicious police state, the savage attacks of paid goons, the strain, exhaustion and deprivation of constant vigil under threat of arrest or death -- and still they are standing there, more and more of them all the time, in a remarkable, near-miraculous display of moral courage that will undoubtedly topple the criminal regime, despite the desperate, clueless delaying tactics that Hosni Mubarak pulled on Thursday night.
But in London on that long-ago day, which now lies behind us across a surging river of blood choked with the bodies of a million innocent dead, we simply melted away in the course of an afternoon. A single day; a few hours; a few speeches -- then nothing. How Blair and Bush and all the militarist apparatchiks must have laughed at that! "Let them have their little march. Who gives a shit? Give them their permits, redirect the traffic for them, let them wave their signs. What does it matter? When it's over, they'll just go home, and we can get on with our business."
But what if we had stayed? By the tens of thousands if not the hundreds of thousands? What if we, like the Egyptians, had gotten in the way of business as usual, and brought more and more pressure to bear on the system, forcing the issue of aggressive war on the public consciousness, unavoidably, day after day -- and by this, as in Egypt, forcing officials of the system to declare where they stood? How badly would the power structure and its functionaries have been shaken? How many of the latter would have been emboldened to begin at least asking questions and demanding more information about the senseless rush to war? How many indeed might have voted "no confidence" in a government so deeply enmeshed in a scheme of deliberate deception aimed to perpetrate mass murder?
Maybe it would not have stopped the war. There's no way of knowing now. But we have seen in Egypt and Tunisia how an explosion of mass moral courage -- and physical courage -- can tear a hole in the zeitgeist and make a space for new realities, for transformations which seemed unthinkable only days before. Such kairotic moments (to borrow Tillich's phrase) are rare, and if they are not seized, the window closes. There we were, a million people in the center of London, of all classes, all races, all creeds, all professions, united against war. Kairos hung heavy in the air, like the invisible pressure before a thunderstorm.
But we turned away. We let it go. The moment passed. "And the war came."
That's why February 15 will remain nothing more than a brief footnote in a long, still-churning saga of atrocity and slaughter, while January 25, the day the Egyptians first took to the streets -- and stayed in the streets -- will be honored for generations as a landmark of human liberation.
"The American power structure has been set reeling by something that is simply outside the boundaries of their mental universe: a non-violent, non-sectarian, non-ideological, leaderless revolution by ordinary people."
For a few days, the imperial gang thought they had turned the tide -- and their stenographers in the mainstream media followed suit. The protests in Egypt were running out of gas, we were told; now the power players were coming to the fore, in Washington and Cairo, to take charge of the situation and move things along -- slowly, moderately -- down a path of gradual reform and stability.
Newspapers ran pictures of the "nearly empty" Tahrir Square, sometimes in tandem with pictures of last week's massive crowds. We saw shots of Egyptians "getting back to normal life" -- going to the bank, shopping for shoes, crossing the street in suit, tie and briefcase on the way to the office. Attention was turned to the "moderate" figure who had taken the reins in Cairo, the dictator-appointed security chief Omar Suleiman. He was strongly backed by the Obama Administration as just the kind of steady, moderate hand we needed to make judicious concessions to the opposition without allowing the country to slip beyond the control of Washington's foreign policy agenda. The general line among the imperial courtiers and their media sycophants was that the uprising had reached its peak and was now receding.
It was all a lie, part of the remarkably witless self-delusion that has afflicted the Washington-Cairo power structure from the beginning of the uprising: the illusion that they are still in control of events, that they can tinker a bit here, recalibrate a bit there, and still end up with the same system of elite domination and corruption basically in place.
But what we did see on Tuesday? The false reality painted for us by our betters simply melted away, and Cairo saw perhaps the largest protest yet, as hundreds of thousands of people filled Tahrir Square -- including multitudes who were joining the uprising for the first time. Thousands more were gathering in front of the Parliament building in what the Guardian rightly called "a second front" of the uprising. And the Cairo crowds were joined by thousands massing in Alexandria, Suez and other cities across the nation.
This was the answer of the Egyptian people to the limp package of worthless, stalling "concessions" cobbled together by the Nobel Peace Laureate in Washington and his proxy torturer in Egypt. The reply to the regime was simple, powerful, concise: "We want our freedom. You must go."
And oh, how that stung Washington's new lordling! Suleiman immediately resorted to the same bluster we have heard from America's henchmen since time out of mind. He put it plainly: "There will be no ending of the regime." He railed against the "presence of protestors in Tahrir Square and some satellite stations insulting Egypt and belittling it" -- obviously a reference to al-Jazeera -- and declared: "We can't put up with this for a long time." And he sounded the time-honored "more in sorrow than in anger" note of all two-bit tyrants, saying that he hoped the protests would end because "we don't want to deal with Egyptian society with police tools."
This is pretty rich coming from the man who has been directly in charge of doing just that to Egyptian society for many years. The only way the corrupt regime has kept itself in power is by "dealing with Egyptian society with police tools."
These be your gods, O Progressives! This is the man your champion had championed to "manage" the "transition" in Egypt from the dead hand of a discredited dictator to a backroom string-puller lacquered with a new coat of PR. Of course, when word of Suleiman's private temper tantrum leaked out, the Obama Administration began to backpedal on the firm support for Suleiman it had shown earlier in the day (which had come complete with a long phone call from Suleiman's long-time friend, Joe Biden). Now, the White House was troubled by these "unhelpful" remarks. Unhelpful indeed -- for they gave the game away too soon. Wrong-footed by this unforeseen outpouring of popular will, Washington has not been able to cobble together a proper storyline to justify a violent crackdown by the regime.
The American power structure has been set reeling by something that is simply outside the boundaries of their mental universe: a non-violent, non-sectarian, non-ideological, leaderless revolution by ordinary people. Our power structuralists know only one thing: violent domination. Since that is what they seek to impose, they believe that anyone who opposes them must seek the same. They cannot conceive of anything different. They don't know how to react to such an incomprehensible event. There's no one to demonize. There are no armed groups to flex their muscles against -- or to make a cynical deal with, if necessary. (Violent dominationists of every stripe have much in common; they know each other's minds, they can often come to terms, if only temporarily -- like Hitler and Stalin, or Reagan and Saddam.) The poltroons on the Potomac are dumbstruck as they look at these crowds of people who have freed themselves, who just walked out into the streets and claimed their human freedom -- on their own, individual by individual, with no "authority", no leader, no armies to "grant" them what is already theirs by their birthright, our birthright, on this our common planet.
It is now past midnight as I write. This has been a great day in Egypt -- a day when truth tore through the lies and made fools of the killers, thieves and torturers trying to impose their cankered will on free people. May we see more such great days ahead -- in Egypt and around the world.
Below is a piece that never got posted in all the hackfoonery that was going with the site recently. It was written in the first heat of Egypt's uprising, but in some ways, it is even more pertinent today, as the Obama Administration rallies around the suave and vicious torturer they have installed in Cairo, in a desperate attempt to produce the kind of "continuity" of militarist-elitist corruption in Egypt that Barack Obama has achieved so magnificently at home in his takeover from the Bush Regime.
This is when you know a regime is in on the ropes: when its security apparatchiks start the panicked, wholesale destruction of the evidence of their crimes. From the Economist:
I KNEW it was truly over when I came home to find a neighbour in a panic. He had smelled a fire nearby. We traced its source soon enough, after climbing to the roof of my building. Smoke drifted from the garden of the villa next door, where workers had recently been digging a peculiarly deep hole, as if for a swimming pool. In a far corner of the garden stood rows of cardboard boxes spilling over with freshly shredded paper, and next to them a smouldering fire.
More intriguingly, a group of ordinary looking young men sat on the lawn, next to the hole. More boxes surrounded them, and from these the men extracted, one by one, what looked like cassette tapes and compact discs. After carefully smashing each of these with hammers, they tossed them into the pit. Down at its bottom another man shovelled wet cement onto the broken bits of plastic. More boxes kept appearing, and their labours continued all afternoon.
The villa, surrounded by high walls, is always silent. Cars, mostly unobtrusive Fiats and Ladas, slip in and out of its automatic security gates at odd hours, and fluorescent light peeps through shuttered windows late in the night. This happens to be an unmarked branch office of one of the Mubarak regime's top security agencies. It seems that someone had given the order to destroy their records. Whatever secrets were on those tapes and in those papers are now gone forever.
There were of course no such scenes in the leafy suburbs surrounding Washington in the days after Barack Obama's election. Naturally, during the Bush years there had been the judicious destruction of particular pieces of evidence -- tapes of torture sessions, for instance -- that might have proved briefly embarrassing. (And embarrassment was really all that the Bushists had to worry about when they were still in power; they had seen that even the horrors of Abu Ghraib had scarcely troubled the public waters for more than a couple of news cycles.)
Meanwhile, the Guardian alerts us to a piece in Dissident Voice detailing "The Torture Career of Egypt’s New Vice President: Omar Suleiman and the Rendition to Torture Program." Suleiman was of course Cairo's longtime chief of intelligence -- and as such a willing proxy torturer for the bipartisan ruling elite in Washington. Bear in mind that the administration of the Nobel Peace Laureate worked closely with Suleiman in his intelligence role until his (doubtless temporary) elevation by Mubarak at the weekend. Stephen Soldz reports:
When Suleiman was first announced, Al-jazeera commentators were describing him as a “distinguished” and “respected ” man. It turns out, however, that he is distinguished for, among other things, his central role in Egyptian torture and in the US rendition-to-torture program. Further, he is “respected” by US officials for his cooperation with their torture plans, among other initiatives....Jane Mayer, in The Dark Side, pointed to Suleiman’s role in the rendition program:
Each rendition was authorized at the very top levels of both governments….The long-serving chief of the Egyptian central intelligence agency, Omar Suleiman, negotiated directly with top Agency officials. [Former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt] Walker described the Egyptian counterpart, Suleiman, as “very bright, very realistic,” adding that he was cognizant that there was a downside to “some of the negative things that the Egyptians engaged in, of torture and so on. But he was not squeamish, by the way” (pp. 113).
Suleiman wasn’t just the go-to bureaucrat for when the Americans wanted to arrange a little torture. This “urbane and sophisticated man” apparently enjoyed a little rough stuff himself. Shortly after 9/11, Australian citizen, Mamdouh Habib, was captured by Pakistani security forces and, under US pressure, tortured by Pakistanis. He was then rendered (with an Australian diplomats watching) by CIA operatives to Egypt, a not uncommon practice. In Egypt, Habib merited Suleiman’s personal attention. As related by Richard Neville, based on Habib’s memoir:
Habib was interrogated by the country’s Intelligence Director, General Omar Suleiman…. Suleiman took a personal interest in anyone suspected of links with Al Qaeda. As Habib had visited Afghanistan shortly before 9/11, he was under suspicion. Habib was repeatedly zapped with high-voltage electricity, immersed in water up to his nostrils, beaten, his fingers were broken and he was hung from metal hooks.
That treatment wasn’t enough for Suleiman, so:
To loosen Habib’s tongue, Suleiman ordered a guard to murder a gruesomely shackled Turkistan prisoner in front of Habib – and he did, with a vicious karate kick.
After Suleiman’s men extracted Habib’s confession, he was transferred back to US custody, where he eventually was imprisoned at Guantanamo. His “confession” was then used as evidence in his Guantanamo trial.
But we must give credit where it's due. Obama has wrought some changes in the imperial torture policies, making good on his campaign pledges to restore the American values that were lost or diminished under his odious predecessor. As Alfred McCoy -- the premier historian of the American elite's long, long love affair with torture -- points out, Obama has revived the venerable bipartisan practice of relying on client states to do the bulk of the dirty work for the U.S. security apparat. McCoy writes (at TomDispatch):
If, like me, you've been following America's torture policies not just for the last few years, but for decades, you can't help but experience that eerie feeling of déjà vu these days. With the departure of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney from Washington and the arrival of Barack Obama, it may just be back to the future when it comes to torture policy, a turn away from a dark, do-it-yourself ethos and a return to the outsourcing of torture that went on, with the support of both Democrats and Republicans, in the Cold War years....
Then, on April 16th, President Obama ... released the four Bush-era memos detailing CIA torture, insisting: "Nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past." During a visit to CIA headquarters four days later, Obama promised that there would be no prosecutions of Agency employees. "We've made some mistakes," he admitted, but urged Americans simply to "acknowledge them and then move forward." The president's statements were in such blatant defiance of international law that the U.N.'s chief official on torture, Manfred Nowak, reminded him that Washington was actually obliged to investigate possible violations of the Convention Against Torture.
That piece, by the way, was prompted by a story about a then-recent "suicide" at the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp, where the Peace Laureate was force-feeding captives being held in indefinite detention:
The recent, mysterious death of yet another captive in the Guantanamo concentration camp opens yet another door into the blood-caked labyrinth of the American gulag, where despite all the soaring rhetoric about "restoring the rule of law," torture is still very much the order of the day.
Scott Horton at Harper's provides this telling quote from an AP story on the death of Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh Al Hanashi, which gulag officials have classified as an "apparent suicide":
A Guantanamo Bay detainee who left his cell to meet with military commanders as prisoner representative never returned, and was instead sent to a psychiatric ward where he died five months later, a former detainee recalled…The U.S. military has refused to say how Saleh allegedly killed himself in the closely watched ward. But the former detainee, Binyam Mohamed, said it wasn’t like him to commit suicide. “He was patient and encouraged others to be the same,” Mohamed said. “He never viewed suicide as a means to end his despair.” Even if it was suicide, Mohamed still classifies the death as “murder, or unlawful killing, whichever way you look at it,” saying that the U.S. had caused Saleh to lose hope by locking him up indefinitely without charges.
They took him away, held him under the close supervision in a psychiatric ward -- and yet he still managed to magically kill himself by some as-yet undisclosed method. No doubt the "ongoing investigation" -- by the NCIS guys! just like on TV! -- will eventually manage to concoct an explanation plausible enough to satisfy our ever-incurious political and media elites.
But as Horton notes, Saleh was also a victim of an particularly sadistic form of torture that is still being practiced -- openly, unapologetically -- by the Obama Administration's agents in the Guantanamo concentration camp: force-feeding. Horton writes:
The techniques do not comply with the international standards for actual force-feeding, established in the World Medical Association’s Malta Declaration of 1991. Instead they have a darker and more distressing progeny. From the use of restraint chairs down to the specific brand of commercial diet supplement used by the doctors, the force-feeding techniques now in use at Guantanamo replicate the methods used by the CIA at black sites under Bush. At the black sites, those methods were not part of any medical regime. Instead, they were a part of a carefully designed torture regime, the very same regime that Obama claims to have abolished in his first executive order.
2. Meanwhile, as Egyptians rise up for freedom, the United States is forcing its puppet satrapy in Afghanistan to violate its own laws -- in order to keep the Peace Laureate's Bactrian gulag going. Clive Stafford Smith has the incredible story in the Guardian. (Yes, the British newspaper. What, you thought it would be leading the CBS Evening News?)
[As] the US looks to hand over responsibility for the prisoners in Parwan prison to the Karzai government ... hey have come face-to-face with an intractable problem: they are holding 1,400 prisoners without trial. Every week, the number grows; it is predicted to rise to 3,200. Some have been there for many years.Dare we allow them to face Afghan justice?
According to the US, few if any of these prisoners would be convicted at a fair trial. They have been detained as a result of intelligence tips – and hearsay is not admissible in court; and there is no forensic evidence that proves them guilty of any crime."Right now," one unnamed, but clearly unnerved, senior American official said this week, "if we turned them over to the Afghans tomorrow, they'd be in a position, under their laws and their constitution, that they may be released."
In other words, the Afghan legal system would respect their legal rights and, if they were not charged with a crime, they would have to be set free. Ten years ago, this would have been seen as a sign of great progress. Had the Taliban recognised the ancient writ of habeas corpus, and insisted on freedom or a fair trial, we would have been both surprised and delighted.Ten years on, we have taught the world a better way. Among the Afghan rules that concern the Americans is the requirement that a suspect be charged within 72 hours of arrest. He must also be granted a speedy trial – generally, within two months. The US also worries that a detainee must be tried in the province where he committed his crime.
Compare these "problems" with the rights ascribed to citizens under the US bill of rights, the paradigm that we once hoped to export to the lawless countries of the third world. The US constitution requires that the suspect be charged within 48 hours, and be allowed a speedy trial. The sixth amendment provides that he has a right to be tried "in the state and district" where the crime occurred.
He then tells of the case of yet another child prisoner of the American gulag:
...Hamidullah, a Pakistani kid who is in Parwan. He was just 14 years old when the Americans detained him, and he appears to be wholly innocent of any crime. After several years in which to gather evidence, his American captors recently conceded that they do not even know how old he is. Yet, they have successfully argued that he should be allowed no legal rights.
US officials will not speculate when a handover will occur, but say that a "detentions decree" from Karzai is a critical prerequisite. In other words, before he will be allowed to assume custody of Hamidullah and hundreds of other prisoners, Karzai must commit to dismantling the Afghan rule of law.
Thus is our civilisation exported to the world.
Do remember these stories the next time you are called upon by some earnest progressive to come to the aid of Barack Obama in his hour of political need. This is what they are asking you to support. And this is exactly what you will enable if you give that support.
Hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens rise up in protest against a long-entrenched dictatorship backed by the United States. The dictatorial regime warns of chaos and instability if the uprising is not suppressed; otherwise, they say, the country will fall into the hands of America's chief global enemy, the representatives of an extremist ideology that "hates us for our freedoms."
In the White House, the progressive Democratic president gathers with his foreign policy advisers to consider the American reaction. In the end, they opt -- of course -- for "stability." They back the installation of the client nation's intelligence chief -- one of the key perpetrators of the regime's repression -- as the new leader.
The main thing, say the progressive Democratic president's advisers, is to restore order in the short term while pressing the regime to institute some "political reforms" to ease public anger in the long term. This is considered an enlightened, "moderate" course of action.
The result, of course, is the crushing of the popular movement for democracy, and several more years of harsh repression by the regime -- again, with the full backing, economically and militarily, of the bipartisan political establishment in Washington.
Are we speaking of Egypt and Barack Obama in 2011? No; it is the story of Korea and Jimmy Carter, back in 1980. As'ad AbuKhalil points us to the remarkable historical account written in May 2010 by Tim Shorrock. One almost wants to say that the parallels between the two situations are uncanny; then one remembers the numbing sameness of the American power structure's reaction to any situation that might potentially threaten its golden applecart: secure "stability" for the client regime; make scary noises about the Great Enemy (Commies, Islamists, whatever) seizing control; keep grinding on with business as usual for as long as you can. The parallels only seem uncanny because the American elite always, without fail, act in the same dull-witted, brutal way, regardless of which imperial faction happens to be in the managerial slot at any given moment. And so we are bound to see historical correspondences again and again down through the years.
But Shorrock's story is an excellent example of how our good progressives -- even gentle little sunbeams of Jesus like Jimmy Carter -- eagerly carry out the empire's enduring agenda of violent domination once they have climbed to the top of that blood-greased pole. The whole story is worth reading, but below are some key excerpts:
[The late Richard Holbrooke -- a top adviser in the Obama Administration -- played a key role in the Korean crisis. Shorrock's story was written before Holbrooke's death, so I've amended the wording to reflect this.] From Tim Shorrock:
One of the most important documents I obtained in my 15-year quest to unearth the US role in South Korea in 1979 and 1980 were the minutes to a White House meeting that took place on May 22, 1980. At this meeting, the Carter administration made its critical decision to support the South Korean military as it moved to crush the Kwangju Uprising, the largest citizens’ rebellion in the south since the Korean War ended in 1953.
The document, which I first obtained in 1996, is significant for historical reasons. But it’s also important because two of the key players at that meeting were Richard Holbrooke and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Holbrooke, [who was] a perennial favorite in Democratic circles for the coveted job of secretary of state, [was] a high-ranking official in Hillary Clinton’s State Department. Brzezinski, who was Carter’s national security adviser, has won a certain claim to fame in fashionable Washington think-tanks (such as the New America Foundation) for his opposition to the war in Iraq and his biting critique of the Bush/neoconservative school of foreign policy.
In South Korea, however, both men showed an appalling disregard for democracy and human rights. Their actions should not be forgotten – particularly by progressives who like to champion Holbrooke and Brzezinski as men of honor who exemplify the conduct of US foreign policy.
On May 22, 1980, President Jimmy Carter’s national security team gathered at the White House for a high-level meeting on an unprecedented political crisis in South Korea.
The situation was dire. Twelve hours earlier in the city of Kwangju, hundreds of thousands of armed students, industrial workers, taxi drivers, students and citizens had gathered in a downtown plaza to celebrate the liberation of their city from two divisions of Army Special Forces troops who had been sent to quell anti-military protests throughout the country five days earlier.
The demonstrations had been called to denounce military intervention in Korean politics and the May 17 declaration of martial law by a Korean General and intelligence chief, Chun Doo Hwan, who later took power as president and ruled the country for eight years. ... In Kwangju ... students continued to defy the martial law edicts.
On May 18, apparently warned by their commanders that a communist revolution was unfolding in Kwangju that could infect the whole country and inspire North Korea to invade, Chun’s troops began a two-day rampage through the city. In broad daylight, they began beating, bayonetting and shooting anyone who dared to stand up to martial law. Bystanders too were attacked – some of them chased into their homes and killed. Horrified and angered by the actions of the storm troopers, the people of Kwangju – most of them skilled in firearms because of males’ mandatory stints in the army – formed a citizens’ militia and started shooting back. After two days of combat and hand-to-hand fighting in which dozens of people were killed and wounded, Chun’s Special Forces turned tail and pulled out of the city. It was the first armed insurrection in modern South Korean history.
Back in Washington, the events in Kwangju were viewed with fear and loathing. The United States had nearly 40,000 combat troops in South Korea, and these forward-based, nuclear-armed troops were key to the US Cold War strategy of encircling the Soviet Union and China with military bases. Indeed, just months before, Carter had agreed to reverse his 1976 campaign promise to withdraw US troops from Korea after enormous pressure from conservative lawmakers and the Pentagon concerned about upsetting the US military posture towards North Korea and East Asia. Moreover, South Korea was a symbol to US policy makers of an ideal ally that supported the US in unpopular wars like Vietnam; unlike in many countries, anti-Americanism was virtually unknown. In this context, the armed uprising by ordinary citizens with an unknown agenda was a frightening prospect.
..As Holbrooke and the rest of Carter’s national security team gathered at the White House that day, they knew much of the details of what had happened in Kwangju. The few foreign media in the city had managed to transmit stories of the savage brutality inflicted by the Special Forces on the city’s population, especially its youth. Secret cables from the US Embassy in Seoul to the State Department that I later obtained under the Freedom of Information Act confirmed that massacres had indeed taken place and were the primary cause of the uprising. The Defense Intelligence Agency, in other documents I obtained, warned that the Special Forces were fully capable of vicious cruelty and that Chun was secretly planning to seize power.
But none of that seemed to matter: what was important to Carter’s White House was the preservation of US national security interests – not the democratic impulses of a Korean population sick from 18 years of dictatorship. As the citizens of Kwangju waited for a sign of hope, Carter’s team made a fateful decision: to support Chun’s plan to put down the rebellion by force.
The participants in the May 22 meeting, according to the declassified minutes I later obtained from the National Security Council, included the Deputy Secretary of State, Warren Christopher; Holbrooke, assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific; Brzezinski, Carter’s National Security Adviser; CIA director Admiral Stansfield Turner; Donald Gregg, the NSC’s top intelligence official for Asia and a former CIA Station Chief in Seoul; and U.S. Defense Secretary Harold Brown.
This crack foreign policy team quickly came to a consensus. “The first priority is the restoration of order in Kwangju by the Korean authorities with the minimum use of force necessary without laying the seeds for wide disorders later,” the minutes stated. “Once order is restored, it was agreed we must press the Korean government, and the military in particular, to allow a greater degree of political freedom to evolve.” ... As for the situation in Kwangju, the group decided that “we have counseled moderation, but have not ruled out the use of force, should the Koreans need to employ it to restore order.” If there was “little loss of life” in the recapture of the city, “we can move quietly to apply pressure for more political evolution,” the officials decided. Once the situation was cleared up, the war cabinet agreed, normal economic ties could move forward – including an important $600 million Export-Import Bank loan to South Korea to buy American nuclear power equipment and engineering services.
Within hours of the meeting, the US commander in Korea gave formal approval to the Korean military to remove a division of Korean troops under the US-Korean Joint Command and deploy them to Kwangju. The city and its surrounding towns had already been cut off from all communications by a tight military cordon. Military helicopters began flying over the city urging the Kwangju urban army – which had taken up positions in the provincial capital building in the middle of the city – to surrender. At one point, a Kwangju citizens’ council asked the US ambassador, William Gleysteen, to intervene seek a negotiated truce; but the request was coldly rejected.
In the early morning of May 27, the Korean troops from the Joint Command shot their way into the provincial capital and quickly put an end to the resistance. The Kwangju Commune was shut down, and hundreds of people who had participated were rounded up and imprisoned. In early June, Carter’s team approved the Eximbank loan, and South Korea went ahead with its plan to buy US nuclear technology – a deal that went right into the pockets of Westinghouse and Bechtel corporations. By September 1980, Chun was president, and in January 1981 he was chosen by incoming President Reagan as the first foreign head of state to visit the White House. US-Korean ties were restored, and a crisis averted. But not for the people of South Korea. Partly because of the decisions made at that White House meeting, they endured eight more years of authoritarian rule.
...I asked Holbrooke once about his role in US diplomacy at the time, particularly the decision to allow the Korean military to use force to end the Kwangju Uprising. In a story that appeared in The Nation, he said this: “Kwangju was an explosively dangerous situation, the outcome was tragic, but the long-term results for Korea are democracy and economic stability". He added: “The idea that we would actively conspire with the Korean generals in a massacre of students is, frankly, bizarre; it’s obscene and counter to every political value we articulated.” When the Carter Administration heard Chun was sending Special Forces to Kwangju, “we made every effort to stop what was happening,” Holbrooke said.
That was a flat-out lie, as my documents attest. In fact, as I wrote in The Nation and the Journal of Commerce, Holbrooke took it upon himself to prevent the democratic Korean opposition from speaking out against military intervention, and then kept his mouth firmly shut when the Kwangju disaster struck. Later, after leaving the Clinton administration, Holbrooke went on to make a small fortune advising large corporations – including South Korea’s Hyundai Group.
Same as it ever was, as the saying goes. With hand on heart, the American elite profess their undying dedication to democracy and self-determination for all peoples; with the other hand, buried deep in their pockets, they jingle the blood-soaked coins they receive for serving the agenda of domination.
UPDATE: Speaking of the American elite's enduring agenda of war profiteering with repressive regimes, Pratap Chatterjee gives us a telling report on the highly profitable alliance between the American and Egyptian military-industrial complexes.
I received the following comment on my last post about the hacking of the website. I thought I would offer the exchange here, in hopes that it will clarify some things, not just about the hacking but about the website itself. And this is the last thing I'm writing about the current hack -- except to say, once again, a very heartfelt thanks to all the readers who expressed their support in so many ways.
A commenter writes:
I must preface this whole comment with a statement that I consistently enjoy reading this work. I am a college kid, who, perhaps in the spirit of college rails against everything - government, the Democratic Party, the press, University administration, the shoddy food etc. It's my role in society to be contrarian - because without advocates for such abstract concepts of human rights, democracy, liberty - perhaps they wouldn't exist as vigorously as they do now in the world. As an extension of my role is work as contrarian - Chris Floyd and Glen Greenwald as examples. I read these pieces, comment about them and raise discussion about Bradley Manning and drone attacks in my human rights class, and the world goes on. The work I cite is part of the discussion, and not necessarily the "truth." (As a side note, my course on human rights is taught by a former cabinet member under Bush I, and he is more an advocate of governments speaking out on human rights than I would expect).
As an Idealist now, I talk about these violations in the abstract, they don't affect me personally: I have never met an Afghani with an arm blown off because of drones, I have never had my parent's blog taken down, I am not living in Egypt. I talk about them nonetheless because I am compelled to do so - perhaps as Chris is compelled to as well; but most importantly there is still a hope that these things that occur do not really occur motivated by a supreme evil. I have always felt that in 30 years time, after I get a job, pay my taxes, I can begin to see the world in a more pragmatic grey and not a black and white. My experience with my professor in the human rights course has indicated that there are a basket of interests that must be balanced by every government, and the US government isn't as monolithic as people think - the state department is certainly fumbling around in the dark like much of the world as governments are fundamentally still made of people - and people are always prone to error.
So while I talk about human rights and democracy, and American Imperialism - it's always in the back of my mind that in some time I will come to accept the pragmatic rationale those in power use to justify bad things. I mean, from one point of view, we get "imperial masters" who bomb for fun and actually derive pleasure from it - do we really accept this? As (hopefully) still rational people, do we really think that those in Obama's administration really sit in dark rooms and concoct/hatch plans to murder thousands every day? We point to the official press releases that muddy the water as a m.o. of cover-up, but why can't it be like this: a bunch of people who get intelligence that al queda lives in house x, decide that they can't take a chance if osama is there - and pull the trigger because they have their pictures of their wives and daughters on their desks and genuinely are scared to fuck up? Does no one harbor even a small kernel of light for these people?
What's most scary is this constant takedown of the website. It indicates that perhaps that I am wrong, and that governments are monolithic and those controlling the strings actually would derive pleasure from suppressing the small sites. Even still, am I inclined to take this world-view as truth, as doctrine? I hesitate to actually believe it because I still have hope in this world! Damn it, I don't want to believe it - I am much more comfortable talking about it as a college kid, isolated by books and tuition in an abstract thinking-man's land. I love reading this work, Chris - it helps me fulfill my role, but I do not believe it. I love the words, the eloquence, the idealism that permeates these digital pages. But I cannot extinguish that small kernel of light I have for people. I won't extinguish it perhaps until it directly affects me, and the constant attack on your site - well, it could still be twerps (I am in college, and there are lots of people I know who have the mindset and skills to do these attacks).
Keep writing, but I will reserve my judgment.
If you think this site presents a "monolithic" understanding of human nature -- including the nature of those humans who operate in a brutal, inhumane system of power -- then you understand nothing of what I write. The whole point of power structures based on inequality and domination is that those who get caught up in them are not cackling, moustache-twirling cartoon villains -- they are ordinary human beings who end up degrading their own humanity because they put it to the service of a violent, brutal, unjust system. They do this for a thousand different reasons -- mostly because it's the system they were born in, the system that seems "normal," and a system that rewards those who accept it and serve it with honors, prosperity, respect, a sense of belonging, etc.
But who is claiming, or would ever claim, that governments are not "fundamentally made of people" prone to ignorance and error as we all are? You seem to feel that this site presents a cartoonish, "monolithic" view of reality -- but here you are fretting over straw men of your own devising, not anything I have ever claimed.
That said, do you really think that the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of innocent villagers killed in America's patently illegal drone attacks in Pakistan have been killed just because some tender-hearted soul was looking at pictures of his family on his desk and said: "Well, who the hell knows if this intelligence report we got from some unnamed source somewhere acting on motives totally unknown to us is accurate or not; gosh darn it, I just can't take the chance that Betty Lou and little Skipper might be slaughtered in their beds tonight by a big ole Muslim; better push the button anyway."
Do you really believe that's how it happens? Day after day after day after day, with the thousands of secret operatives and military personnel and government officials involved? Every one of them only thinking of Betty Lou? Every one them genuinely scared that if they don't blast a whole compound of Pakistani peasants to bits -- rip little children to shreds, turn mothers and grandfathers into piles of smoking goo -- then Osama will come and kill their families? None of them could possibly be acting from base or cynical motives? Or even more -- that these actions, and many others like them, could not possibly be the result of institutional processes and agendas that do not take individual human lives into account -- neither those of their victims or of their own agents -- but grind on regardless of Betty Lou, while sometimes, yes, trying to "muddy the waters" with lies and misrepresentations if their misdeeds (or "mistakes") come to light? Do you think this doesn't happen in our system on a regular basis -- as it does and always has in every other system?
Again, I say: Who has the cartoon viewpoint here? Who has the "monolithic" apprehension of reality?
You speak of how you will be in 30 years after your graduation. Well, it's been 30 years since I was in college. I have a job. I pay my taxes. I have a family. And yes, I do see the world in pragmatic gray, not through the prism of any kind of monolithic "idealism" whatsoever. Life is full of compromises on every level, many of them difficult. But what you don't seem to realize is how very radical, how very extreme our system is. You don't seem to realize how many innocent people have been killed by it, or with its full backing, in so many places for so many years. Of course there is "a basket of interests that must be balanced by every government." But one of the "baskets" of our current system includes the bipartisan determination to ensure -- by any means necessary -- the continuing domination of world affairs by the United States. Not to mention the continuing domination of the United States by those "baskets of interests" who have a vastly disproportionate amount of money and power, and want to keep it that way. And why do they want to keep it that way? Because they believe that it's the right thing to do, that they are serving a greater good in maintaining the proper order of society, etc. The fact that this greater good coincides with their own self-interest is just a happy coincidence -- and one of the most persistent and pernicious of the delusions that, yes, plague all of us kernels. Millions of people around the world have died, violently, and many millions more have had their lives blighted or degraded by the "balancing" of these particular "baskets". You have to know the true nature of the system you're dealing with in order to determine your stance toward it. That's not "idealism." That is true pragmatism.
And of course, there are good people trying to do the decent thing in this system. This is true of every system of human organization under the sun, throughout history. I have stated this plainly many times. And yes, of course, most of the people who end up doing evil in this system -- and all other systems -- are not cackling super-villains who love to murder, but are ordinary people who think that by serving the system they are doing good. The fact that this process is not "monolithic" is what is so terrible about it.
I don't know exactly what you mean by "harboring a kernel of light" for those who end up -- willingly, knowingly, unwittingly, ignorantly -- doing evil things on behalf of a power structure. You seem to be saying that you hope they really aren't willing evildoers but just ordinary human beings who perhaps don't realize the full moral consequences of their actions. Well, again, who is saying otherwise? And who says you have to "extinguish that small kernel of light" you have for people? If this is the message you are taking away from the website, then I cannot possibly possess the "eloquence" that you attribute to me, because I would have entirely failed to convey my understanding of the world.
But of course, any person, in any system, at any level, at any time, can bestir themselves and become more aware of what they are doing or facilitating through their involvement in the system -- and then disassociate themselves from it. And it is up to each individual to decide how far they are willing to compromise -- in the pragmatic gray area in which we all live -- with the system they find themselves in, and when they finally have finally reached a line they cannot cross. There is nothing "monolithic" or idealistic about it; it's a struggle that goes on inside us all every single day of our lives.
As for the website, I'm beginning to regret talking about the hack at all. Do you really think that I think that Barack Obama or "those controlling the strings" at the highest level personally shut down my website -- and did it just to get cackling, super-villain pleasure out of it? Is that really what you took away from my post? If so, again, I must be one of the worst writers in the world. I don't know exactly what happened with the hacking -- but I do know that in a system that now operates mind-boggling "security" technologies on a vast scale (and it's no secret, you know; you can read about it in the Washington Post if you like), all it takes is one person with the power to put a website, or an air traveler, on some minatory list somewhere, and that target is going to find their lives mucked up in various ways. And yes, maybe such a listmaker got some 'bad intelligence,' or maybe they made an unwitting mistake, or maybe they were thinking of Betty Lou and the kids and were scared of Al Qaeda, or maybe they didn't cackle but wept salt tears of regret at turning a website over to the teams of hackers which we know -- again, from mainstream media reporting -- that governments and corporations around the world employ to do their dirty work for them.
Or hell, maybe it was just some twerp -- even one of those people you know who has the mindset and skills to hack at a website 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for months on end, defeating some very sophisticated security measures and so on. All I was trying to do in the post was to tell readers what I thought had happened to the website -- especially after it had been hacked so badly, and after many of the recent posts had disappeared. And these surmises were based on new evidence that convinced me, for the first time, that the relentless series of hacks were, as I said, very likely to have been a deliberate targeting of the site. That seemed the most logical conclusion of the evidence; but if my interpretation of the evidence is wrong, so what? I'm not asking anyone to go out and, say, fire drone missiles at villagers in Pakistan on the basis of my interpretation. It's just my opinion.
Finally, I don't know what kind of "doctrine" you think I am pushing here. I'm not pushing any "doctrine" whatsoever. And certainly not one that is meant to cause anyone to "lose hope in this world." I honestly don't see how anyone could get such a thing from this website. And of course you should "reserve your judgment." What else would any thinking person do?
But if you do want to know my "world-view," below is a reprise of a piece I first wrote several years ago. It expresses as best I can the impetus behind the website. Perhaps this is a good time to bring it out again.
Broken Light: Work, for the Night is Coming
Black milk of daybreak, we drink it at evening – Paul Celan, "Deathfugue"
The children were walking to school. The young people were going out to a dance.
The children stepped on a booby trap planted by a soldier. The young people were shredded by the nails of a suicide bomb. They were all blown up, destroyed.
One moment, the force of life animated their biological matter, their brains seethed with billions of electrical impulses, the matrix of consciousness brought the entire universe into being, within them, within each of them, each solitary vessel of knowing.
The next moment, only the matter remained: inert, coagulated, decaying. There was no more knowing, no more being; the universe had come to an end.
We drink it at midday and morning; we drink it at night
They would have us believe it is because Ishmael warred with Jacob. They would have us believe it is because this or that Divine Will requires it. They would have us believe it is because ethnicity or nationality or religion or some other arbitrary accretion of history and happenstance must override both the innumerable commonalities of all human beings and the radical, irreplaceable uniqueness of each individual.
They would have us believe anything other than the truth: that everyone and everything will die; that all nations, ethnicities, religions and structures will fall away into rubble, into nothingness, and be forgotten; that even the planet itself will be reduced to atoms and melt away, like black milk, into the cold deeps of empty space. And in the face of this truth, nothing matters ultimately but each specific, fleeting instance of individual being, the shape we give to each momentary coalescence of atomic particles into a particular human situation.
That's all we have. That's all there is. That's what we kill when we murder someone. That's what we strangle when we keep them down with our boot on their throat.
We drink and we drink
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.
And so the fine words and breast-beating goes on and on – prosperity, freedom, holiness, security, justice, glory, our people, our homeland, God's will be done, we will prevail.
We shovel a grave in the air where you won't lie too cramped
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, a line from Sappho or John Clare. 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, unarmed, imperfect, bold. The ape-world's cycle of war and retribution stands as the image of the world of power; 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 murdered child.
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.
We drink you at morning and midday; we drink you at night
So do we counsel fatalism, a dark, defeated surrender, a retreat into bitter, curdled quietude? Not a whit. We advocate action, positive action, unstinting action, doing the only thing that human beings can do, ever: Try this, try that, try something else again; discard those approaches that don't work, that wreak havoc, that breed death and cruelty; fight against everything that would draw us down again into our own mud; expect no quarter, no lasting comfort, no true security; offer no last word, no eternal truth, but just keep stumbling, falling, careening, backsliding, crawling toward the broken light.
And what is this "broken light"? Nothing more than a metaphor for the patches of understanding – awareness, attention, knowledge, connection – that break through our darkness and stupidity for a moment now and then. A light always fractured, under threat, shifting, found then lost again, always lost. For we are creatures steeped in imperfection, in breakage and mutation, tossed up – very briefly – from the boiling, chaotic crucible of Being, itself a ragged work in progress toward unknown ends, or rather, toward no particular end at all. Why should there be an "answer" in such a reality?
This and this alone is the only "ideology" behind these writings, which try at all times to fight against the compelling but ignorant delusion that any single economic or political or religious system – indeed, any kind of system at all devised by the seething jumble of the human mind – can completely encompass the infinite variegations of existence. What matters is what works – what pulls us from our own darkness as far as possible, for as long as possible. Yet the truth remains that "what works" is always and forever only provisional – what works now, here, might not work there, then. What saves our soul today might make us sick tomorrow.
Thus all we can do is to keep looking, working, trying to clear a little more space for the light, to let it shine on our passions and our confusions, our anger and our hopes, informing and refining them, so that we can see each other better, for a moment – until death shutters all seeing forever.
Thanks very, very much to everyone for coming up with the lost texts of previous posts. I really appreciate all these efforts, and the very kind words of support as we sort through this latest bout of hacker wreckage.
For a long time, I resisted the idea that these hacks had some kind of political motivation. I thought they were probably the work of twerpish hooligans, the kind of nasty-minded little goobers who get their jollies from sticking gum in doorlocks, or else some trainee hackers trying to prove their mettle or make their bones for some more sophisticated network of takedown operators by picking out sites at random and showing how they could get into them and shut them down.
But the technical sophistication of the more recent hacks, and their unrelenting nature – the sheer amount of time and effort being expended to take down the site – have led me (and those whose technological knowledge cries far in the top of mine) to believe that the hacks are very likely to be the work of some organized entity which has deliberately targeted Empire Burlesque because of its content. These new hacks have been getting through a remarkable amount of security that should defeat any random twerp looking to cause mischief. This is not some goon throwing a brick through your window and running away; it’s someone with the capacity to enter your house surreptitiously, rearrange the furniture, rip up the floorboards and take away all your private papers without being seen or leaving a trace. That takes organization, expertise and a sense of purpose.
So I do think now it’s likely that agencies or entities unknown – whether directly or with hired proxies – are taking pains to stifle the website. Again, I’ve long resisted this idea, mostly because it seems unduly flattering. In the grand scheme of things in the political world, Empire Burlesque is virtually invisible: the readership – though greatly appreciated – is very small, and the website seems to have no resonance beyond this circle. It’s not informing or affecting the wider public debate in any way; it’s certainly not stirring millions of people – or even thousands of people – to enlightened dissent against the crimes and lies of the power structure. In real terms, it poses no threat to business as usual. So what’s the point of trying to silence it?
But of course, taking elaborate, expensive, destructive pains to demolish things which pose no actual threat is, as we know, the very modus operandi of our imperial masters. Indeed, they especially delight in attacking the powerless, in crushing those who have no capacity to strike back. As one of the chief imperial courtiers of our day, Thomas Friedman, once helpfully explained, our power structuralists “hit” Iraq "because we could." That is, because the broken, ineffectual regime there had no capacity to strike back – unlike, say, Iran or North Korea or China or Russia or other nations that might conceivably pose some threat or hindrance to the American elite’s agenda of domination over world affairs.
In like fashion, albeit on a far lesser level, crushing an obscure website that speaks against the empire – and might give even a handful of people the idea that there are alternatives to the hideous world that our elites have made – is entirely in keeping with the power structure’s ethos. And with the vast ‘data mining’ machinery now at the disposal of our ever-expanding security organs, it is probably very easy to rake through the web and pluck out obscure irritants to be targeted. Or it could even be the work of a single little government or corporate apparatchik somewhere who stumbled across the site somehow, took a dislike to it, and decided to put it on a list.
The point is, it does not require any self-flattering delusions about the world-historical importance of Empire Burlesque to believe, on credible evidence, that it has been deliberately targeted by the operatives or hirelings of some organized entity trying to stifle website’s content. That being the case, we are more determined than ever to keep the site going as we see fit, and to keep any decision about its ultimate fate in our hands, not those of the cringing little slaves of power, whoever and wherever they might be. We will continue to do what we’ve been trying to do at Empire Burlesque for years: tear down the lies of a brutal system, in hopes of helping, in some very small way, to clear the ground for the growth of something more holistic, more human, somewhere down the line.
Again, thank you very much for all your support, both in the current difficulties, and down through the years.