Friday, August 25, 2006

This week they said...

"The lesson of every movement in US history is that being right is only half the battle; being loud helps, too."
---Bill McKibben

"The terrorists hate our freedom, so by eliminating the freedom, we can stop the terrorists from hating us."
---Boing Boing

"It's going to take so much more than talking to an opinion pollster or walking into a voting booth to punch the cards for a now opportunistically anti-war Democrat. The Cheney-Bush-Rumsfeld cabal should be removed before the next appointed quadrennial extravaganza and before the launching of at least an air war on Iran."
---Paul Street

"[According to the Center for Global Development] much of the US's aid . . . was contingent on the purchase of US goods, and so was in fact a 'backdoor subsidy for American interests.'"

"Are there words in the English language suitable for the impeachable serial war crimes you are intimately involved in committing not only in Iraq but also now through your encouragement and supplying of the once again invading Israeli government?"
---Ralph Nader [in an open letter to George W. Bush]

"More than anything else, the two most popular television shows [Big Brother and The Weakest Link] are public rehearsals of the disposability of humans. They carry an indulgence and a warning rolled into one story. No one is indispensable, no one has the right to his or her share in the fruits of the joint effort just because she or he has added at some point to their growth, let alone because of being, simply, a member of the team. Life is a hard game for hard people. Each game starts from scratch, past merits do not count, you are worth only as much as the results of your most recent duel. Each player at every moment is for herself or himself, and to progress, not to mention to reach the top, one must first cooperate in excluding the many who block the way, only to outwit in the end those with whom one cooperated. If you are not tougher and less scrupulous than all the others, you will be done by them -- swiftly and without remorse. It is the fittest (read: the least scrupulous) who survive."
---Zygmunt Bauman, Society Under Siege (2002)

"As force is always on side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. It is, therefore, on opinion only that government is founded and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments as well as to the most free and most popular."
---David Hume (1758), quoted today by Mickey Z.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Enlightened Despotism in the 21st Century

"Everything for the people, nothing by the people."
---attributed to Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor

I have had enough of people defending the big heart of billionaire Bill Gates. There is nothing special about criticizing the Bush Administration's woefully insufficient and damaging stance toward the AIDS crisis, and there should be nothing special about a person worth fifty billion dollars giving half of it away.

While people are quick to commend him for his philanthropy, nowhere that I have seen -- and readers, correct me if I'm wrong -- has Mr. Gates lashed out at the root causes of much of what is wrong in the world: the incredible and shameful accumulation of wealth in a world of deprivation (that Gates himself, as the richest individual on the planet, typifies).

The Bush Administration's juvenille and patronizing "ABC" policy (abstinence, be faithful, use a condom) is not difficult to criticize. From his position as a well-known business leader, Gates is correct to insist that women be empowered with the tools to protect themselves, and that research be shared and non-proprietary.

But Gates knows, like no other, that business is business. Since the beginning of his career, Gates has been a powerful advocate of proprietary software. That's how he made his billions. Another business leader -- beholden, as they all are, to the rising stock portfolios of their shareholders -- might be making billions in proprietary pharmaceuticals or agriculture. Business interests are also defended -- at the expense of human lives and the destruction of the environment, always at such expense -- by the essentially violent policies of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and the impossible demands they make on war-torn, disease stricken countries ravaged by resource extraction (read: theft) by the so-called developed world.

To put the lives of the people suffering the most in the hands of those suffering the least is to remake the model of the enlightened despot of an earlier age. Allowing anyone the power and influence that comes with the accumulation of wealth, and then hoping they will use it in generous and humane ways, is simply backwards and wrong. The emiseration of the Global South is not due to benign causes, whatever closet racists and apologists for predatory capitalism may suggest.

I would like to see Mr. Gates turn on himself, to point his finger not at intermediate causes of problems -- such as the horrendous but unsurprising stance of the anti-humanitarian Bush Administration on, well, anything -- but on root causes, such as the massive divide between rich and poor and the rich world's giving with one hand (when it so chooses) while always taking with two.

* * *

Related: must-see documentary The Corporation.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Weekend Quotes III

"They tell us that we live in a great free republic; that our institutions are democratic; that we are a free and self-governing people . . . Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder . . . And that is war in a nutshell. The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles."
---Eugene V. Debs, as quoted in Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States

"In skating over thin ice, our safety is in our speed."
---Ralph Waldo Emerson

"When first introduced into English vernacular, the concept of 'political' was a war cry and a call to arms. It has lost that meaning since . . . it was originally coined as critique of reality but later transformed into 'objective description' of reality as its heralds and missionaries turned into that reality's administrators."
---Zygmunt Bauman, Society Under Seige

"If you are not frightened yet, you have not been paying attention to recent world history . . . You better check out what happened to the people of Diego Garcia, when the U.S. military decided that it wanted their island as a military base."
---Rosemarie Jackowski, advocacy journalist and Vermont Attorney General candidate

"If this is the best god can do, I am not impressed. Results like these do not belong on the resume of a supreme being."
---George Carlin

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Had Enough Yet?

I just learned (reading the always stimulating weekly review at Harper's) that the US has now been occupying Iraq for as long as it was at war with Germany in the 1940's. Trivial though this piece of information may seem, it does beg some attention. Back then there were quantifiable successes to fight for in Europe, among them the liberation of the death camps (mainly accomplished by the Soviets) and the removal from power of a racist, supremely aggressive, militaristic regime hellbent on occupation and slaughter.

Fast forward to now. The US is uncontroversially (unless you are insane) guilty of the supreme crime of aggression. Its military prowess is beyond the wildest dreams of the German National Socialists. Instead of liberation, the US offers the people of Iraq a country poisoned by depleted uranium, littered with prisons and torture chambers -- call them concentration camps if you like -- and deprived of its archeological treasures. Entire cities have been filled up with gunfire and emptied of families, businesses, communities, and histories. Iraqi men are imprisoned and tortured seemingly for being Iraqi men. Back in the Homeland, media ownership rules have been modified substantially enough to squeeze out any legitimate public discourse about what is occurring; indeed, to squeeze out anything but corporate cheerleading for the imperial project, even as the White House has closed its press room for "renovations." The world's largest embassy is being built in Baghdad by utterly unaccountable contractors -- call them war profiteers if you like -- while recruitment efforts for the military in the US are stepped up, training is shortened, tours of duty get extended, and the dead are hidden from view.

This ends when you say it does.

The slogan had enough? will be used this fall by American Democrats (far too many of whom have spinelessly supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq at one point or another) preceding the November elections. I don't put much stock in the American political system, and I value the Democratic Party about as much as I value whiney dirt with a blue suit and hairspray, but the slogan is useful. Now that the US has been at war with an abstract noun in Iraq longer than it fought Nazi Germany, and is slowly but surely assuming its own fascist garb for the 21st Century, ask yourself if you've had enough. Start a conversation with someone, with anyone, anywhere. You don't need a pretext. Just ask them. Had enough? They will say yes. Ask yourself. You will say yes. Now what are you going to do about it?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Cheerleading for (Certain) Democracies

One bad thing about weekends is there's no Democracy Now! to download. This is one hour essential to each of my weekdays. To keep the rhythm going on Saturdays and Sundays I recently started listening again to NPR (American National Public Radio), however I can only handle a brief listen before getting thoroughly fed up with its news programming. I used to listen nonstop to the NPR member station in Ithaca, New York in the late 90's, so I got to hear fantastic programs like Alternative Radio along with what I believed then to be decidedly non-commercial radio programming.

So what a surprise it was to tune in Sunday morning and hear an NPR member station broadcasting a program called "Newsweek On Air". Produced by Newsweek itself, within seconds I felt that I was actually hearing something akin to a video news release, a faked news story produced by a corporation or the government for the purpose of deceiving the listener into believing the segment was actually journalism rather than propoganda.

The very obviously very scripted interview I listened to sounded like nothing more than outright cheering for the empire. (This may be nothing new for some readers, but for my girlfriend and I it's an intrusion; we have constructed a television-free world for ourselves in which corporate pap disguised as fair, accurate, balanced, or true must be actively sought out for criticism.) Newsweek's imbecile guest---one of its magazine commentators---was telling the inane co-hosts that "Muslim culture" was, in fact, amenable to "democracy" because of all the, you know, important facets the two have in common. Like what? asked the inane co-hosts. Says the imbecile guest: like private property.

Earth to planet Earth: private property is not a facet of democracy. People with imperial agendas are always confusing democracy and capitalism. That is why whenever a population makes a democratic choice to reject some aspect of capitalism or empire, the Empire always complains about "threats to democracy."

The Vietnamese want communism? Bomb them. The Palestinians want the right to self-determination? Bomb them. Iran wants to nationalize its oil? Sponsor a coup. Transparent, highly monitored elections have occurred recently in Venezuela, Lebanon, and Palestine, in which opposition to empire has been proclaimed loudly by voters. No wonder there is such hostility among defenders of imperialism to these governments.

But then, what did the imbecile Newsweek commentator have to say about democracy in the Middle East? He talked about "successful" new democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq, and about advances in the Gulf States, Jordan, and Morocco (which I sort of think of as being in northwest Africa, but whatever). Absent in the cheerleading of corrupt governments under American occupation or monarchies for chrissakes was any mention of the open democracies we are actively crushing in Palestine and Lebanon.

Why is an NPR station broadcasting insipid shit from Newsweek? They have their agenda. On mine is a daily dose of Democracy Now!.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

More Quotes at the Weekend

"There are crimes of passion and crimes of logic. The line that divides them is not clear. But the Penal Code distinguishes between them by the useful concept of premeditation. We are living in the era of premeditation and perfect crimes."
---Albert Camus (1913-1960), The Rebel

"As the physicists are busy engineering the world's annihilation, the social scientists can be entrusted with the smaller mission of engineering the world's consent."
---Peter Berger quoted in Noam Chomsky's Problems of Knowledge and Freedom

"The recent arrests that our fellow citizens are now learning about are a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists, who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom."
---George W. Bush, 10 August 2006

"Weeks before September 11th, this is going to play big."
---anonymous White House official, 11 August 2006

"[T]his culture's destructive urges can yoke all circumstances to its advantage."
---Derrick Jensen, A Language Older Than Words

"When a nation calling itself "the Jewish state" oppresses people, it is not surprising that the victims tend to develop a hatred of Jews. This equating of Israel's crimes and all Jews is of course unwarranted, and one way to mitigate this unfortunate association is for Jews to forthrightly criticize Israeli wrongdoing. Blanket endorsement of Israeli crimes by non-Israeli Jews just confirms the anti-Semites in their stereotypes. Anti-Semitism has become much more pronounced in the Middle East in recent years. But the solution is not to drop bombs on everyone. (Some will immediately reply, "so you want us to go quietly to the gas chambers?" as if the two choices in the world are behaving like sheep or behaving like ogres.) [...]

"When the director of Israeli military intelligence declared in 2003, "Better Palestinian mothers should cry and not Jewish mothers" he was expressing a view not only deeply immoral, but tragically ineffective, for the result of such brutal policies is likely to be weeping by Lebanese, Palestinians, and Israelis alike."
---Stephen R. Shalom, Lebanon War Q&A

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Quotes At The Weekend

[Note: I am attempting a regular feature for this space to encourage meaningful discussion leading to action. You may consider these brief passages in the context of the previous week's news if you like, or in context of the larger crisis of creativity.]

"Endless money forms the sinews of war."
---Cicero (106-46 b.c.e.), Philippics

"Speaking of costs and effects (the sole way of speaking that 'makes economic sense'), no other form of social control is more efficient than the spectre of insecurity hovering over the heads of the controlled."
---Zygmunt Bauman (1925-), Society Under Siege

"[W]e ourselves are no longer able to choose our problems. They choose us, one after the other."
---Albert Camus (1913-1960), The Rebel

"With all due respect for the undeniably pivotal role of corporate-imperial media mendacity and bias, I think Americans are running out of excuses for narcissistic and infantile indifference to the mass murder being carried out with their tax dollars and by their policy makers and allies. It strikes me that photographs, clips, and stories about the criminal carnage inflicted on Arab people and communities by the blood-soaked-butchers who rule the United States and its client state Israel are readily available to any moderately interested American who knows how to search the Internet, read a newspaper, or watch television."
---Paul Street

“American progressives need to wake up to the fact that they are just as big a part of the world’s problems as the Republicans, so long as they insist on living the American lifestyle. As long as they continue to thoughtlessly consume the world as if it were their birthright. All talk and no walk. Buying organic toilet paper and voting for evasive Democratic hacks just isn’t going to cut it, guys ... Here is what I consider the most important philosophical question anyone can ever ask themselves: ‘What is the question to which my life is the answer?’”
---Joe Bageant

“You want to know why we don’t rebel? We still think we have something to lose. That’s what’s stopping us. As soon as we realize we have nothing left to lose we’ll be dangerous.”
---Derrick Jensen

(Thanks to Mickey Z. for those last two.)

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

For-profit Racism

I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.
---Albert Einstein

Are we there yet? Below is an excerpt from Robert Fisk's most recent appearance on Democracy Now! Fisk has been reporting from Beirut for three decades.
On the ground, when you're here, when you see the wounded, see the dead, you realize the immorality, the obscenity, the atrocity of statesmen, as they think they are, claiming that, you know, it isn't yet time for a ceasefire. A hasty ceasefire would not be a good thing, as Condoleezza Rice said. 24 hours before, I saw a picture of her on a beach in Malaysia. And people remember this. People remember this. In the hospital it was a young man who said -- turned to me, he said, “Why have you done this to us? Why have you done this to us?” And the woman I was talking to said the same: “Why does the West want to do this to us?” [...]

What’s going on in southern Lebanon is an outrage. It’s an atrocity. [...] It’s against all morality to suggest that 600 innocent civilians must die for this. There is no other country in the world that could get away with this.

...I wrote in my paper last week, there were times when the IRA would cross from the Irish Republic into northern Ireland to kill British soldiers. And they did murder and kill British soldiers. But we, the British, didn’t hold the Irish government responsible. We didn't send the Royal Air Force to bomb Dublin power stations and Galway and Cork. We didn't send our tanks across the border to shell the hill villages of Cavan or Monaghan or Louth or Donegal. Blair wouldn't dream of doing that, because he believes he's a moral man, he’s a civilized man. He wouldn't treat another nation like that.

But when the Israelis treat Lebanon like that, it's okay, and Blair doesn't want a ceasefire. You can’t have a real ceasefire. In other words, we've got to have the Lebanese on their knees to sign the dotted line, before we give them a ceasefire.
Fisk's comments underline the inherent racism in what the world's pathetic political leaders are allowing to occur in Lebanon. If not racism, what else could it be? Surely no one wants to suggest that this war of aggression is actually collectively and personally profitable to people like Blair and Bush and other post-Enlightenment leaders who want this violence to continue. Behind their cowardly pseudo-diplomacy, there is the real sale of real weapons to real people. It is to the credit of Israel's neighbors and others who have called repeatedly for an immediate ceasefire that they do not bring it upon the aggressor nation in this conflict by force. That would be very bad. But someone is signing off on all those weapons being used. There are actually people out there who directly profited from the development, sale, and use of the weapons dropped on Qana and innumerable locations like it. Analogies to the crimes of German, British and American corporations during the Holocaust would be far to easy for me to make. So I'll let you make them yourself.