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Artwork/Political Cartoons
Artwork/Political Cartoons

Democrats are getting excited about a fourth term for Bush, Cheney, Goldman Sachs, Bybee/Yoo...

Jonathan Turley’s recent column in the Washington Post and Matt Taibbi’s recent piece for Rolling Stone are pretty much on point, here.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, has been similarly clear, observing that “President Obama will go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in US law.”

All of the Democrats who spent Bush’s two terms in histrionics over Bush/Cheney’s assault on the rule of law and destruction of civil liberties apparently owe our 43rd president an apology for repeatedly comparing him to Hitler (as they are now — stupefyingly, and without explanation — rallying around his successor, President Obama, perhaps the all-time champion of the 1% and America’s greatest defender of torture and lawless authoritarianism… with the superior style and acceptable brand).

I understand why many people will find the title question offensive — indeed, any comparison of modern war crimes and morally atrocious state conduct to the quintessence of such behavior exemplified by the Nazis — but such concerns should never prevent us from having an intellectually honest discussion about our nation’s policies… not when so many lives depend on it.

Before proceeding to today’s blog, please read the following linked articles in their entirety:

1. John Tirman’s op-ed appearing in the Washington Post three days ago, “Why do we ignore the civilians killed in American wars?”

2. Lakhdar Boumediene’s op-ed appearing in yesterday’s New York Times, “My Guantanamo Nightmare”

3. And Glenn Greenwald’s blog from yesterday, “The Evil of Indefinite Detention and Those Wanting to De-prioritize It”

Now, I hope you will agree: The questions raised in these articles present a moral challenge to us — as Americans — which we must not shirk… lest we risk repeating the mistakes of the past.

*            *            *

In today’s America, there are many things that one is not permitted to say in polite company — and never in establishment circles — unless one wishes to be scorned, ridiculed, and permanently marginalized to the point where the vast majority of Americans will never hear your name (a la Noam Chomsky, America’s most internationally celebrated intellectual, Naomi Klein, author of the indispensable ‘The Shock Doctrine,” John Perkins, the former “Economic Hit Man,” whose story, along with Klein’s book, perhaps, tells us everything we need to know about global economics — and countless other heroes, including Amy Goodman, Jane Mayer, Glenn Greenwald, Mahmood Mamdani, Norm Finklestein, Arundhati Roy, Robert Scheer, Tariq Ali, Tom Tomorrow, Col. Ann Wright, Randall Robinson, Medea Benjamin, Bill McKibben, Ray McGovern, Chris Hedges, Antonia Juhasz…).

While most Americans (among those who pay any attention at all) are subjected to a “debate” between Establishment Brand A and Establishment Brand B — forced to slurp the very thin gruel of “intellectual” discourse between Chris Matthews and Sean Hannity (or, at best, between Jon Stewart and Bill Kristol) — the best and brightest commentators are banned from The Conversation entirely, simply because they’ve had the audacity to publicly observe — and worse, to chronicle — the pernicious official policies and disturbing societal shifts that have come to define America in recent decades.

Most of these forbidden observations have to do with recognizing and empathizing with the first victims (impoverished minorities and foreigners) of decades of policies that have transformed the character of the nation, under both Republicans and Democrats, into something the Founding Fathers would not recognize (or rather they would recognize it and give it its proper name: “Tyranny”).


* It is forbidden to say that our justice system is fundamentally broken, undemocratic, mightily skewed to the rich, and unambiguously racist in terms of how it is administered (devastating certain demographics — blacks and Latinos, chiefly — thanks primarily to the cruelly farcical Drug War, but also due to official reluctance to prosecute the crimes of powerful elites who customarily prey on those same disenfranchised populations);

* It is forbidden to say that “upward mobility” in America and the “level playing field” or “meritocracy” of the past are practically nonexistent today, due to the rise of a corrupt and untouchable American oligarchy that has sucked the life out of our economy and decimated the middle class (succeeding, at least in part, because everything that can be said about the flaws of our justice system also applies to our education, electoral, and healthcare systems: they are broken, stratified, glaringly unequal, and fundamentally bigoted);

* It is also forbidden to say that most of the “good” that America does in the world comes in the form of war-making and advancing our own — perceived — geopolitical and corporate interests (in addition to being the world’s leading incarcerator of human beings, we are the preeminent arms dealer, benefiting dictators, drug cartels, terrorists, and slavers alike).  The vast majority of aid that we deliver to disaster survivors and victims of droughts and famines goes straight into the coffers of favored corporations and NGOs, with only the crumbs reaching the suffering populations nominally slated to receive that aid (when we assist them at all — many of the victims of the 2004 tsunami, for instance, were “aided” right out of their villages and livelihoods, barred from returning to their homes and fishing grounds, in order to facilitate the building of resorts catering to wealthy tourists — our “aid,” in short, assisted developers and turned residents into economic refugees, rather than mere storm victims… much like most of the poor African-Americans temporarily displaced by Hurricane Katrina — they were permanently displaced by gentrification and the willful destruction/shuttering of structurally sound low-income housing and the vital public hospital that had served their community for decades).

* It is forbidden to say that the global economic system over which we largely preside is one that accepts — without apparent anguish or self-reflection — the deaths of NINE MILLION CHILDREN EVERY YEAR (nearly a Holocaust each and every year) simply as the cost of doing business (that figure is the estimate of the World Health Organization, which states that approximately 70% of those children’s deaths are preventable — and for a trifling cost, especially when compared to our enormous expenditures on war, surveillance, and the data-mining of biometric and other information pertaining to most human beings on Earth).

* But most of all in today’s America, it is forbidden to say that the United States is the very embodiment of an empire that, since the settling of this continent, has never truly renounced or repudiated genocide and colonialism, with a modern population that is largely indifferent to the countless millions of victims of our policies in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and beyond (including right here at home, where our prisons are brutal, profiteering testaments to cruelty, rape, captive labor, and torture).


WHAT COMPELS MOST AMERICANS TO ACTUALLY DEFEND THIS SYSTEM? (It’s not patriotism, because a patriot wouldn’t defend the shredding of our Constitution and the blatant corruption of our legal and other institutions.)

The answer to those questions is actually quite simple: It is no moral code but rather a potent combination of IGNORANCE, FEAR, and DESPAIR that allows us to continue in this fashion.

Many of the more informed and concerned fellow citizens with whom I’ve discussed these matters repeat some version of the following frustrated sentiment: “Most Americans simply don’t care.”

I disagree.

Most Americans are ignorant of these realities; they simply don’t know about our real policies and the abundant victims of those policies — or how inflated are the claims about our alleged enemies and threats.  To paraphrase one of America’s most notorious modern war criminals, they don’t even know how much they don’t know (the “unknown unknowns”), since they are unaware of the extent of media consolidation/control and the prevalence of propaganda (NPR through FOX).  They are both the victims and the unconscious avatars of the breathtaking myopia and narcissism of 21st-Century America — widely noted beyond our shores (with a mixture of bafflement and disgust).

Furthermore, most Americans are, in my opinion, afraid of what they might learn if they began to explore for themselves the more serious complaints of their less complacent (and/or more agitated) fellow citizens.  In their defense, it is a truly frightening prospect that one’s government may not be just inept and imperfect, but truly morally corrupt, and on a historical scale… but the more we turn away and fail to confront this reality, the more we become a reflection of our government’s values (the more we become the analogy that dare not speak its name…).

Deep down, I think, most Americans suspect the horrible truth, but are doubtful of the possibility of a brighter future.  Why bother to inform myself when there’s nothing I can do about it, they reason.  They despair of our ability to reverse course and make a better world than the currently terrifying one that has us hurtling, quite possibly, to the end of our civilization and the snuffing out of the lights of billions of living beings, human and otherwise (either that, or 98% of climate scientists are all huffing ether or stark raving mad — but if that’s the case, why are so many natural systems, oceanic and otherwise, producing so many troubling signs that they are foundering, if not failing outright?  Why are there so many “dead canaries?” we might reasonably ask — regardless of whether the “miners” toil on, refusing to acknowledge them.).

*            *            *

And that’s all it takes to make a society of (metaphorical) Good Germans: IGNORANCE, FEAR, and DESPAIR.  (Or do we really believe the Hollywood version of history, that post-WWI Germans became a nation of monsters, an entire country of sadistic racists incapable of conscience or human feeling?  That kind of moral reductivism ignores what political theorist Hannah Arendt brilliantly termed the “banality of evil,” describing a phenomenon that pertains not only to WWII-era Germans, but which is crucially relevant to people in all societies — including Americans today, unwilling to question authority.  And while a one-dimensional moral construct — “evil” Germans — is certainly an easy trope for hack screenwriters to employ, such notions are beyond dangerous in the real world, especially in the political realm, as they’re all-too-convenient for warmongers perversely seeking to replicate — and exceed — the “success” of the Third Reich; some highly regarded analysts have posited that such considerations may have helped determine the path that America’s leaders followed after World War II, explaining why our government elected to shield and relocate so many upper echelon Nazis from justice and indemnify Japanese practitioners of bio-warfare; it was in exchange for their secrets.  The Axis powers had, after all, come very close to winning control of the world with their methods — and what ambitious inheritor of a world in ruins wouldn’t seek to emulate that?)

Please understand that I am not trying to be glib or make facile comparisons for provocation’s sake; I believe the analogy (unfortunately) informs the present discussion and (fortunately) has unique potential to spur change — change that is desperately and urgently needed.

To be crystal clear, I vehemently denounce Nazism, fascism, and all who would adopt their methods — whatever their rhetoric, political stripe, or creed.  However, I make such judgments on the basis of SUBSTANCE, not exterior trappings (a swastika is one thing, but TORTURE is TORTURE; and INDEFINITE DETENTION WITHOUT CHARGES is, likewise, what it is; and PERSECUTION OF PEOPLE ON THE BASIS OF THEIR FAITH is always morally repugnant; and so on…)

Understand also that I realize that there are important differences between what the Nazis did and what America’s political leadership has done since the end of WWII:  The Nazis trumpeted their racism and world-storming ambitions to the world, vulgarly and brashly exulting in the ugliest of their ideas; whereas America’s leaders have wrapped their racism and quest for world domination in the language of liberation and liberalism.  Nazis, in far more straightforward — and unbelievably heinous — fashion, simply rounded up their victims, forced them into slave labor, and marched them to their deaths, Jews and Gypsies, Communists, labor leaders, artists and intellectuals, and homosexuals, too; whereas America’s leaders have utilized methods — sweeping sanctions regimes, poisoned environments, support for terrorists and dictators, covert wars, economics, etc. — that in most cases are indisputably less brutally efficient.  (Nonetheless, I can’t imagine it makes much difference to our victims… or that future generations will see anything but a tactical shift within the context of the same basic ethos.)

Realize also, however, that the Germans had one excuse that we do not; they had globally powerful enemies that had defeated them in a world war and, long after the war was over, endeavored, with considerable success, to reduce them to abject poverty and utter powerlessness; whereas all America has are a few, relatively powerless radical Islamists, discredited by their methods and politically isolated (reviled by mainstream Muslims from Indonesia to Iran — at least before we began making their case for them, killing hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Iraq and scores of thousands in Afghanistan, torturing countless thousands globally, and unambiguously announcing ourselves, via our ACTIONS, as the imperial enemy of both Islamic free expression and freedom, generally — hostile to the existence of free press, freedom of assembly, open societies, and the rule of law).

What it boils down to (for me) is that MORALITY IS MORALITY… and most people alive today recognize that America is on the wrong side of this ledger.  There’s simply no disguising the fact (with lofty rhetoric and message campaigns concocted by high-priced image makers) that the most powerful men in the world — chiefly Americans — are butchering millions so that a few may profit… and very likely damaging the world’s life-sustaining systems in the process, recklessly and callously endangering billions.

Whatever the Nazis did (which was plenty, I readily concede), the history books of the future — whether they’re written in electronic characters or once again on stone tablets — will record that WE were the ones in charge of the world, with more power by far than any other nation, when the rule of law and institutional concern for human rights cratered… when the human race, abjectly and without a hint of real effort, failed to take steps to prevent wholesale environmental collapse.

That all-too-possible catastrophe may well be something for which our generation of Americans must answer.  It may even birth, some day in the far future, a new unspeakable metaphor, a new analogy that dare not speak its name.

How’s this for an outrageous sounding non-whopper: BOTH Romney AND Obama are empty suits who believe virtually nothing they say and will vigorously defend the existing U.S. oligarchy with any and all powers we grant them — and many that we don’t.

After three years of Obama fulfilling the wildest dreams of Dick Cheney, the Heritage Foundation, and Grover Norquist while cementing the most radical aspects of GWB’s assault on our Constitution, I’m as disgusted with the nominal left as I am with alleged conservatives (whose appetite for red-meat soundbites has reduced them to a pack of animals, incapable of reason — Trump’s birtherism? Bachmann’s recklessness? Perry’s incoherence? Cain’s inanity? And now, Gingrich, an egomaniac who’s foibles and slipshod ethics are the quintessence of what’s wrong with Washington?) Conservatives, like progressives, have revealed themselves to be utterly without principles.

Obama had the best chance in generations to turn America around — and an overwhelming mandate to do exactly that. Instead, with huge majorities in Congress, he OPTED to continue the Reagan revolution and put the final nails in the coffin of democracy, the rule of law, and the middle class.

The biggest fallacy of this presidency is that Obama faced too many obstacles to accomplish his great progressive agenda. Nonsense! From the start, Obama has demonstrated a willingness to fight ONLY the people who broke their backs to elect him.

UPDATE: Mea culpa, the NYT eventually posted my comment — they just sat on it for over THIRTEEN hours first, before throwing it at the bottom of the heap.

The New York Times is at it again, defending the Neoconservative agenda and standing with a notorious old ally, William Kristol’s Weekly Standard:  The following is my response to this transparent hit piece, my comment to the NYT — whether they print it or not:

Ah, the NYT and Weekly Standard, together again (though usually it’s on the Neocon agenda, like when they sold WMD lies together).

The only reason for this recycled trash is that Rep. Paul is poised to win Iowa (the MSM’s attempts to erase him haven’t entirely succeeded) — and Ron Paul poses the last threat standing to the crooked establishment, its racist and genocidal, for-profit wars (GWoT-Drug) and the authoritarian state it has built.

Obama, a vigorous champion of that abhorrent agenda, helped craft the NDAA that passed last week, ENDING DUE PROCESS.

Among all 2012 presidential aspirants, ONLY Ron Paul has demonstrated some allegiance to our Constitution.

I’ve watched Paul for years (even spoke with him, once), and I do not believe the man is a racist. I DO believe that he should be ashamed of the fact that — 20-odd years ago — he allowed racist filth to be published on his newsletter… but he has repudiated these comments in no uncertain terms.

He is the ONLY candidate, including Obama, who has demonstrated any concern for civil liberties — by ending these imperialist, genocidal wars and fixing our broken justice system.

I worked very hard for Obama in 2008, primary through general, and I hate to say it, but in many ways he’s turned out to be worse than Bush… just smoother. Obama has cemented the POLICE STATE that Bush tried to foist on us.

ONLY Ron Paul holds out any promise of restoring our democracy — RON PAUL 2012.

UPDATE:  The above comment was blocked by the Times.  When it comes to censoring their readers, they’re getting awfully predictable.

Congress has just passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a military spending bill that, aside from the usual profligacy, puts the official stamp on THE END OF THE BILL OF RIGHTS, the coup de grace to habeas corpus and the Constitution.  And while that might sound melodramatic to some, it is the consensus of everyone from the usual libertarian suspects (from the ACLU to Rep. Ron Paul)… to the human rights crowd (Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch)… to the two four-star Marine generals, Krulak and Hoar, who earlier this week co-authored an op-ed in The New York Times asserting that, not only does this bill represent a “victory” for al Qaeda, but, with its passage, “Due process would be a thing of the past.”

(The NDAA has also elicited objections from the current Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, and our long-serving FBI director, Robert Mueller, in addition to the top intelligence official in the U.S., National Director of Intelligence, James Clapper — albeit on different grounds:  that it will complicate, confuse, and possibly even impede them in their efforts to combat terrorism.)

While civil liberties and the rule of law have been dramatically curtailed in the post-9/11 era, the relevant provisions of this act — which President Obama helped shape — mark a new and stunning blow to FREEDOM in America (increasingly a privilege held only by the 1% of Americans, who are not only freer than the rest of us — to speak their minds, assemble as they please, and pursue happiness — but who are also unambiguously untouchable, whatever crimes they commit, even when the evidence of their culpability is undeniable and their victims number in the millions).

Human Rights Watch executive director, Kenneth Roth:

“By signing this defense spending bill, President Obama will go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in US law.”

Amnesty International:

“…once the NDAA becomes law a US citizen on US soil can lawfully be killed by the US military if the military believes that citizen to be a terrorist affiliated with Al Qaeda or its allies… The key word in that last sentence was believes.’

Amnesty International then reminds us that more than two-thirds of the nearly 800 individuals the U.S. government has imprisoned at Guantanamo were later released, charged with no crimes whatsoever.  (And so far as the frequently touted claim that as many as “one in seven” GITMO detainees have “returned to the battlefield,” here is just one of several excellent analyses I’ve read debunking that little bit of propaganda.)


“…these provisions could be used by this and any future president to indefinitely detain people without charge or trial — even American citizens and others picked up within the borders of the United States.”

*          *          *

When I called her office to voice precisely these concerns, Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s staff assured me that her amendment to the NDAA meant that Americans would be exempted from this patently unconstitutional provision — but I have since learned that this claim is FALSE.  Sen. Feinstein’s amendment only means that military detention of Americans is not compulsory, as the original language required.  (Feinstein was merely acting to address President Obama’s concern that such a condition would encroach on the prerogatives of the executive branch.) 

In other words, the bill does, in fact, make it legal for American citizens to be detained indefinitely — or killed outright — by the U.S. military, even on U.S. soil (obliterating the Posse Comitatus Act, which is nearly as old as the Constitution and which prohibits the military from being deployed against the citizenry… or used to, anyway). 

Thanks to Sen. Feinstein’s heroic defense of the Constitution (not!) it is now permissible for the Commander in Chief to decide that the military should kidnap you and throw you in a dungeon for the rest of your life… or send a drone to fire a poison dart into your throat and murder you — all without a shred of due process, including any kind of judicial review — probably just because you’ve become a thorn in side of the powers that be… or because, like Anwar al-Awlaki, you’ve become a political liability (scrutinize these essays advocating, in May 2011, that the government murder this American; they’re filled with admissions that he had NO ROLE in any terrorist organization, and that the threat he posed was in his potential to “inspire”).  Maybe you once wrote something violent on your blog or made a donation to a charity that possibly had some murky connection (or not) to some organization or political party on the official enemies list — one that is not unofficially supported by our government, that is, such as the M.E.K. (a State Department designated terrorist outfit that is nonetheless openly supported by elite Americans, from former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge to former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani to screaming Howard Dean, all on the terrorists’ payroll — not that they have anything to fear from our double standard- riddled, legally and morally incoherent government; their class of Americans can advocate for terrorists, pal around with the mafia, whatever they please).

*          *          *

I’m going to leave the last word to Representative Ron Paul (my last, somewhat realistic, hope for a 2012 presidential candidate who has some actual loyalty to the nation and our Constitution).

Here’s Ron Paul speaking out this week on the NDAA (if you follow the link, begin at the 9 minute, 42 second mark):

“This, to me, is an extremely wrong way to go.  This is a giant step.  This should be the biggest news going right now, literally legalizing martial law… and yet in our debate, it didn’t come up at all.  

“…the arrogance of them trying to push through on a voice vote that if you go through a trial and are found innocent, the government wants the right to put you in prison for life anyway!” (This provision, at least, was defeated in the Senate.)

“…It’s up to so many of us, now, to wake the people up, because they don’t probably realize the significance of this, but this is BIG… This step, where they can literally arrest American people, American citizens, and put ‘em away without a trial, and you heard Lindsey Graham say, ‘well, if they ask for a lawyer, tell them, No lawyer for you!’ — I mean, THAT is arrogant and bold and dangerous… Let’s hope and pray that we can get that kind of stuff reversed.”

Earlier today, my wife and I visited the Occupy Berkeley encampment and strolled the grounds.  Like Occupy Oakland, the site was clean and organized, with receptacles for trash and recycling, as well as a kitchen providing food for the hungry. 

As others before me have noted, the OWS movement isn’t just complaining about social ills, it’s acting to REMEDY them: providing food, blankets, and other goods to those who sorely need them in our communities (until the authorities close those sites down, that is — in many cases with unnecessary violence, brutalizing campers, visitors, and journalists alike and needlessly destroying the occupants’ property, including hundreds of tents and thousands of books, thus far).

At the time of our visit, the Occupy Berkeley kitchen tent was being manned by a pleasant young man who, in a pronounced Irish brogue, introduced himself as Shamus (Shamus Collins, it turns out).  He was happily preparing food for the camp, constantly in motion, like a restaurant chef during the afternoon rush… except when he stopped to chat with us. 

Affable and engaging, Shamus told us that, in addition to Berkeley, he’s been to Occupy Wall Street sites in Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, San Francisco, and even Oakland where, whaddaya’ know, he was shot by an American police officer…

Welcome to America, Shamus!

The Oakland Police shot Shamus with a non-lethal projectile on October 25th, apprehending him (and others) in the act of helping an American Iraq War veteran, Scott Olsen… who, you’re probably aware, had also been shot by the Oakland Police (at close range with a tear gas canister, critically injuring him — an incident that made news all over the world).

When Shamus casually related his story, my wife immediately recognized him from reports she had seen following that notorious incident.  She recalled her dismay at the fact that police had assaulted people who were doing nothing more than attending to a young man lying on the ground, bleeding profusely from his skull, in obvious need of aid.

“How are you?” we asked Shamus, inquiring about his injury.  Not so good, it turns out. 

As a result of his injury, Shamus’s doctors tell him he is going to lose a kidney.  “Non-lethal” these police weapons may be, but that designation should, perhaps, only be applied when their victims have access to medical professionals (another U.S. military veteran, Kayvan Sabehgi, who also served in Iraq, received “non-lethal” treatment at the hands of the Oakland Police, the very same day that Mr. Olsen did, and ended up with a lacerated spleen — I suspect that, had Shamus and Kayvan not received medical attention, one or both of them might not be with us today).

And such is the state of the rule of law in America in 2011.  The police, illegally coordinating with the federal government, brutally assault peaceful protesters exercising their once-applicable First Amendment rights… plus any journalists, judges, and passers by who happen to get in the way.

…and the perpetrators of systemic fraud that nearly collapsed the world’s financial system — and which has devastated the global economy to the tune of $40 TRILLION (thanks to SOCIALIZED LOSSES and “leaders” who impose AUSTERITY on the 99%) — well, not a single one of those scumbags (who, despite gross incompetence, criminality, and mismanagement, have enriched themselves beyond Mammon’s wildest dreams) has even been charged with a crime.

But that’s okay; these “job-creating” Wall Street “whizzes” are just doing what comes naturally in the crony-capitalist, oligarchic, emerging police state they’ve helped build: They lie, cheat, bribe, and steal their way to the top (foreclosing on the folks they deceived just a few years earlier)… ultimately CREATING THE POVERTY that virtually guarantees the kinds of social ills — violent criminality, substance abuse, homelessness, etc. — that make America one of the most unequal nations there is… and the leading police- and prison- state in the world!

*          *          *

Still, sometimes I miss the old days — back when there was some semblance of democracy and the law applied to everyone… or we could at least pretend that it did.  I miss the days when Nixon would say “if the president does it, that means it’s not illegal” and everyone laughed and laughed.  (Versus 2011, when we’ve made everything Nixon did perfectly “LEGAL” — how ironic; “Tricky Dick” was just a few decades before his time!)

Oh, and before I forget…

Good luck with your one kidney, Shamus!  And chin up:  If you end up on Wall Street someday, or in Washington, you’ll be able to loot the public till, invade countries, hack phones, and torture (even bunga bunga with a minor, whatever you like) with total impunity — the police won’t even consider arresting you!

But until that day, I wouldn’t raise my voice much, peacefully assemble, or render aid to any injured, anti-establishment veterans — America’s new order doesn’t take kindly to that kind of bolshevism.