Below is a reprise from June 2003, which appeared on CounterPunch and in my Moscow Times column, a piece that was not included in the Empire Burlesque book. It is a general argument that tries, briefly, to get at some of the deeper issues underlying the bedevilments of the age, which, as noted below, are by no means exclusive to our modern times.
We meant no offense to any Christian readers with our recent blast at the crude fundamentalism now riding herd on the American government and large swathes of American society as well ("Devil's Advocate," Counterpunch, May 31, 2003). We realize that it is not the fault of Jesus Christ or even the Apostle Paul â€“ that seminal master of marketing who repackaged Jesus' harsh and quirky parochial ascetism into a handy one-size-fits-all panacea for existential ills â€“ that fanatics like Bush and Company believe there is only one immutable Truth about reality, which they just happen to possess.
It is, of course, the fault of Plato, whose poetic fantasy of a changeless Perfection behind the messiness of physical existence infected the Western mind with the germ of ideological intolerance. For if Perfect Truth exists, then it can be known, and once known, it must necessarily be acknowledged as the sole measure, explanation and arbiter of "all of life and all of history," as Mr. Bush likes to say.
With Plato begins the slow death of the old gods: those powerful evocations who in their conflicts and contradictions, their lusts and doubts, their recklessness, sorrows, tempers â€“ and manifold imperfections â€“ surely embodied the seething chaos of human reality far better than the degraded Platonic idealism adopted by the Pauline Christians. We leave aside here Jesus' ethical teachings, which despite millennia of lip service have never been adopted or even taken seriously by any society throughout history â€“ although a few of Paul's more cranky notions about sex and obedience (especially his ever-popular injunction, "Slaves, obey your masters!") have been enthusiastically embraced by Western rulers since the days of the murderous Constantine the Great down to our present age, presided over by the warmongering Christian Coalition of Bush and Blair. Add a comment
It's been 25 years now since Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner was shot dead in a Center City, Philadelphia red-light district. Since then, Faulkner has become a rallying point for the nation's death penalty advocates. It's been 25 years, too, since the man convicted of killing Faulkner, Philadelphia radio journalist and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal, was arrested for the crime at the scene. Since July 1982, Abu-Jamal has been in solitary confinement on Philadelphia's death row, from hich lonely spot he has become a world-famous prison journalist, and a rallying point for those opposed to capital punishment.
The debates over Abu-Jamal's guilt or innocence have raged now for an astonishing quarter of a century, through the presidencies of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Battles have raged, too, within the loose-knit group of people who have backed Abu-Jamal, between those who argue that he is an innocent man, a political prisoner condemned for his politics, and those who simply argue that he never received a fair trial. Politicians at the local, state and even federal level, many without any real knowledge about this complex case, have prostituted themselves by pressing for Abu-Jamal's execution, while others, sometimes equally ignorant of the facts, have lionized him and honored him with honorary citizenships and street names.
Whatever one's views on this case, however, the reality is that it for the first time in 25 years, Abu-Jamal is finally going to get a chance in the second highest court in the land to make the case that his 1982 trial was fatally tainted by unconstitutional error, judicial bias, race-based jury selection and prosecutorial misconduct. The reality also is that the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which will be hearing arguments on Abu-Jamal's appeal early next year (barring any unanticipated delays), could conceivably end up ordering a new trial for Abu-Jamal--a trial that, because of better defense counsel, a changed political climate, shifting demographics, the deaths of some witnesses, and the likelihood of new defense witnesses, would most likely end up setting him free, or having him released for time served. At the same time, the same three-judge panel hearing this appeal will also be considering a counter appeal by the Philadelphia District Attorney's office, which seeks to overturn a lower Federal District Court decision which five years ago tossed out Abu-Jamal's death sentence. So at the same time that the Third Circuit could end up giving Abu-Jamal a new chance to prove his innocence, or at least to leave prison a free man, it could ironically also end up sending him back onto death row and to a date with the needle.
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It would be nice to believe that the U.S./British invasion of Iraq may have been horribly mishandled but the motivation behind it was sincere. After all, it's a timeless classic: toss out a depot and introduce democracy. However, even the most perfunctory glance at previous U.S./British ventures would promptly expose the lies. An excellent example is post-WWII Greece.
Before the (so-called) Good War, Greece was a right-wing monarchy and dictatorship, but German occupation gave birth to a civil war. The National Liberation Front (EAM), an extremely popular left-wing group, and the People's Liberation Army, the guerilla resistance wing of EAM, gained the support of the masses and were largely responsible for Greece being relatively Nazi-free by the time the British army arrived in late 1944. Viewing EAM's early support by the Greek Communist Party and its tendency towards unrealistic slogans like education for the illiterate and welcoming women as soldiers as a precursor of what post-war Greece may be like, a British army of intervention promptly stepped in to restore the right-wing dictatorship.
In response to the inevitable jailing and repression of regime opponents and trade union leaders, a left-wing guerilla movement sprang forth. By the fall of 1946, this friction led to civil war. Great Britain, no longer able to extend itself globally, was unable to handle the rebellion and called on the U.S. for help. "Thus it was," explains author William Blum, "that the historic task of preserving all that is decent and good in Western Civilization passed into the hands of the United States."
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â€œ[It] is wrong to suggest that the Jewish people would support a government in Israel or anywhere else that institutionalizes ethnically based suppression, and Democrats reject that allegation vigorously.â€
One might hope that the newly elected Democrats that constitute the majority in both houses would be able to think for themselves on the issue of Israeli apartheid and not be led by the prejudicial opinion of their presumed House leader. Pelosiâ€™s statement denies the reality that exists in Israel now on two counts: first, she denies the reality of the present government in Israel because with Olmertâ€™s acceptance of Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu party into his government, he, and therefore his government, has acknowledged what this man and his party endorse, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their land and the denial of citizenship of Palestinians living in Israel; secondly, she denies the reality of the Jewish stateâ€™s â€œDeclaration of Independence,â€ as noted by Dr. Uri Davis in his work, Apartheid Israel, â€œThe Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel â€“ known as Israelâ€™s Declaration of Independence â€“ does not declare Israel an independent State, nor does it declare Israel a sovereign State, it rather declares Israel a Jewish State â€¦ the Jewish State in the political Zionist sense of the term was to be an apartheid state.â€ Dr. Davisâ€™ work records the acts of â€œethnic cleansing of the majority of the native indigenous Palestinian Arab people from the territories that came under the control of the Israeli army and razing some 400 Palestinian rural and urban localities to the ground â€¦â€ and the plantation of Jewish settlements and subsequent annexation by the State in â€œviolation of both the UN Charter and of international law.â€ Add a comment
Last week, someone slipped New York Times reporters Michael R. Gordon and David S. Cloud the secret memo finished by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld just two days before he "resigned." It was the last in a flurry of famed Rumsfeldian "snowflakes" that have fluttered down upon the Pentagon these past years. This one, though, was "submitted" to the White House and clearly meant for the President's eyes. In it, the Secretary of Defense offered a veritable laundry list of possible policy adjustments in Iraq, adding up to what, according to Gordon and Cloud, is both an acknowledgement of failure and "a major course correction."
Think of this last zany, only semi-coherent Rumsfeldian document -- part of Washington's grim ongoing silly season over Iraq -- as Rumsfeld's last stand. In it, he quite literally cycles (as in bicycles) back to the origins of the Bush administration's shredded Iraq policy. It is, in a pathetic sense, that policy stripped bare.
Here are just three last-stand aspects of the memo that have been largely or totally overlooked in most reporting:
1. "Begin modest withdrawals of U.S. and Coalition forces (start â€˜taking our hand off the bicycle seat'), so Iraqis know they have to pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country."
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I think it should be pretty clear to all by now that regardless that the ruling elites of the planet know whatâ€™s in store for humanity, they do not intend to take the necessary steps to reverse the slide toward chaos. Yeah sure, lots of hot air to add to an already over-heated atmosphere but no steps of any consequence.
In fact, the actions of our ruling elites over the past decades have been the major contributor to the increasing immiseration and desperation of much of the worldâ€™s population, let alone the on-going destruction of our ecosphere. And the two conditions are inextricably intertwined, for it is only because of the increased exploitation of people and planet through the misnamed globalisation that we have arrived at our current predicament.
Yet in spite of what we now know is the inevitable end-product of out-of-control production and consumption, they still maintain that we can have our cake and eat it, or more precisely, that they can.
So what does this tell us about the gangsters who control our economies? There are only two conclusions one can come to:
One, they think they can survive using their wealth and technological power to survive relatively intact as a class or two, they donâ€™t give a damn as long as they can continue to make a profit, today.
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As predictions go, it wasn't exactly Broadway Joe Namath guaranteeing victory before Super Bowl III. Vice President Dick Cheney, on the March 16, 2003 edition of Meet the Press, famously declared:
"From the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators."
Earlier this year, Cheney announced on Face the Nation:
"I'm not in the business of making predictions,"
but the Veep was once again showing off his problematic prognostication skills on Meet the Press by September.
"I don't expect that Nancy Pelosi will be speaker," he prophesied. "I think we're doing very well out there. I feel better about the election now than I did three months ago ... I-if I had to bet today, I'd bet that-well, I can bet you a dinner that we hold both houses."Add a comment
The lead-up to the invasion of Iraq has become notorious in the annals of American journalism. Even many reporters, editors and commentators who fueled the drive to war in 2002 and early 2003 now acknowledge that major media routinely tossed real journalism out the window in favor of boosting war.
But itâ€™s happening again.
The current media travesty is a drumbeat for the idea that the U.S. war effort must keep going. And again, in its news coverage, the New York Times is a bellwether for the latest media parade to the cadence of the warfare state.
During the run-up to the invasion, news stories repeatedly told about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction while the Times and other key media outlets insisted that their coverage was factually reliable. Now the same media outlets insist that their coverage is analytically reliable.
Instead of authoritative media information about aluminum tubes and mobile weapons labs, weâ€™re now getting authoritative media illumination of why a swift pullout of U.S. troops isnâ€™t realistic or desirable. The result is similar to what was happening four years ago -- a huge betrayal of journalistic responsibility.
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â€œThe Lebanese government has nearly doubled the size of its security forces in recent months by adding about 11,000 mostly Sunnis and Christian troops, and has armed them with weapons and vehicles donated by the UAE, a Sunni state.â€
(Lebanon Builds Up Security Forces, Megan Stack, LA Times)
â€œThe armyâ€™s conclusion is that a war in the near future is a reasonable possibilityâ€¦.the IDFâ€™s operative assumption is that during the coming summer months, a war will break out against Hezbollah and perhaps against Syria as well.â€ Haâ€™aretz editorial
When Hezbollah puts a million people on the streets of Beirut, it doesnâ€™t appear on the front page of the New York Times. That spot is reserved for Bushâ€™s â€œmade-in-Washingtonâ€ extravaganzas like the Cedar, Orange or Rose revolutions. Those bogus revolutions were cooked up in American think tanks and engineered by US NGOs; thatâ€™s why they got headline coverage in the Times. The Beirut demonstrations donâ€™t promote the political agenda of the Americaâ€™s ruling elite, so theyâ€™re stuck on page 8 where theyâ€™ll be ignored.
Some things never change. Add a comment
The most important task facing America now, after the election, is the same as it was before the election: it is to discredit the Bushite forces in the eyes of the American people, to drive the Bushites from power, and to repair the damage that those dark forces have done to America and to the world.
For the achievement of these goals, the Democrats in Congress and the anti-Bushite movement are natural allies. And how well both sides of this alliance manage their relationship, and perform their complementary roles, will be one important determinant of how successfully this task is accomplished. Add a comment
The United States has lost its center through destructive centrifugal politics. America seems spinning out of control. It has become a non-populist, dollar-driven, elitist democracy. Centrism can be a powerful metaphor and tool for national renewal, if it is also populist. In the world of politics, language is used to deceive, distract and divide. Some words become so abused that they lose meaning. In recent years, enormous numbers of liberals and Democrats decided to hide under the label of â€œprogressive.â€ Many politicians want to be seen as â€œmoderates.â€ A newer subterfuge is â€œcentrist.â€
Someone wrote this on a blog discussion: â€œCentrism is an empty, contentless label that by its very nature is without substance or ideology. What is the centrist position on heathcare reform, half way between the left and right? What is its position on defense spending, ditto? Someone, please, tell me what centrism is?â€ It was a good point and question.
Centrism sounds reasonable. But it has been abused. Many people see centrism as some middle ground between the liberal-Democratic and conservative-Republican ends of the political spectrum, some way to achieve balance and avoid extremes. By shunning these polarizing positions it is hoped that a moderate, middle of the road or â€œthird wayâ€ stance is created. But centrism may be nothing more than empty compromises of positions from each of the two major parties. It too easily becomes a diffuse, ambiguous mishmash of positions that say little about where someone stands in terms of absolute principles. Indeed, many find centrism attractive because it is malleable and flexible, allowing whatever seems pragmatic at the time. This makes centrism vulnerable to abuse by those seeking a popular political brand that is not burdened by adherence to clear principles. For the most part, centrism has been empty political rhetoric, but it can be re-powered. Add a comment
Philippe Diaz's "The Empire in Africa" (trailer), which premieres in theatres across in the United States on 8 December, is a troubling, highly graphic and enlightening film about the civil wars that ravaged Sierra Leone for over a decade. "The Empire in Africa" serves as a poignant counterpoint to the Hollywood vehicle "Blood Diamond" which will be released in US theatres the same day. Diaz's film, a documentary, is so powerful that after its French language version was played during Critic's Week at the Cannes Film Festival, India - the country contributing the second largest contingent of "peace-keeping" forces in Sierra Leone â€“ withdrew its participation in the effort.
Unlike "Blood Diamond," an action film and garnering Oscar buzz because it features Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Empire in Africa" puts the onus for the bloodletting, the near-genocide, in Sierra Leone squarely at the feet of the United Nations and the "international community" led by the United States and the United Kingdom. The film is a co-production of Sceneries Europe Production in association with Action Against Hunger and Cinema Libre Studio. It is produced, directed and edited by Philippe Diaz and narrated by musician and activist Richie Havens. Among the awards already received by the film are:
- Grand Jury Prize, Best Documentary â€“ Slamdance Film Festival, Park City, Utah, USA
- Grand Prize â€“ African Film Festival, Montreal, CANADA
- Most Powerful Film â€“ One World Film Festival, CZECHOSLOVAKIA
- Best Documentary â€“ Hollywood Film Festival, Los Angeles, CA, USA
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