Monday, November 30, 2009

Can they get any smarter?

Tim Geithner personifies a new phenomenon that is sweeping the financial world: intellectual retardation. This is a condition in which an individual’s thinking becomes so sophisticated and so immersed in detail that it becomes incapable of functioning in a sensible manner.

Geithner gave a dazzling display of his brilliant dumbness when he justified paying AIG one-hundred cents on the dollar when the Treasury Department bailed them out after the firm found itself drowning in the credit default swaps (CDS) it couldn’t honor.

Geithner’s justification for this largess?

The government could not unilaterally impose haircuts on creditors, and it would not have been appropriate for the government to pressure counterparties to accept haircuts by threatening to retaliate in some way through its regulatory power.

Now, if a company is “too big to fail,” and if it gets its pecker in a wringer and if my tax dollars go to bailout a bunch of financial retards, then I want some oversight. It’s a simple proposition—if a firm accepts public money then the public sets the terms and conditions.

Another government official spoke of “sophisticated financial institutions.”

It now appears that sophisticated is just another word for stupid.

The only question, now, is who is more sophisticated, finance corporatism or the government. Or, are they so joined at the hip that they are indistinguishable.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Youthful Thinking

Two events surfaced last week that reinforce my conviction that the Beltway is a sheltered workshop for arrested adolescents. The Obama administration announced it would not sign an international convention banning land mines, and it appears likely that Obama will ask for an additional 30,000 troops for his Afghan quagmire.

The treaty banning the production and use of antipersonnel landmines was signed in 1999 by 150 countries, including all of our NATO allies. The United States said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

The treaty was inked at a time when the millions of landmines scattered indiscriminately over the face of the earth (some dating back to WW II) were killing and maiming some 26,000 people a year. Because of the treaty, that number has dropped to 5,000 a year and some two million antipersonnel mines have been cleared.

The philosophy behind the antipersonnel mine is particularly onerous. The aim of the mine is to maim, not to kill. The thinking is that if an enemy combatant is killed, his buddies let him lstay where he fell. If, however, the mine maims, then two to four combatants will be tied up carrying him back to the nearest aid station.

The announcement that the administration would not sign the treaty was an exercise in adolescent thinking. The administration has promised to review the treaty with an eye to seeing if the United States would reverse itself and sign it.

State Department Ian Kelly said the review was completed and the decision made not to sign the treaty because Washington “would not be able to meet our national defense needs, nor our security commitments to our friends and allies if we sign the [landmine] convention.”

It’s the same old story: give a boy a toy and he’s loathe to give it up. Gotta strut your stuff, you know.

Well, all hell broke loose, so the next day, the selfsame Kelly, with a straight face, announced that, golly gee, the review was still ongoing.

Senator Patrick Leahy called the decision a “default of U.S. leadership.”

Hell! What cave have you been living in, Patrick? This is U.S. leadership at its finest. We are a militarized security state, and militarized security states leave all options on the table, no matter how many people they kill or maim.

And all options appear to be on the table when it comes to Afghanistan, said options being rumored to include an additional 30,000 troops to fight a war military experts agree cannot be won militarily.

Obama says it is a war we must win. Retired Army Col Andrew J. Bacevich says it’s a war we cannot win. “But for some reason, Obama views this remote, landlocked, primitive Central Asian country as a vital U.S. security interest.”

It’s the old Beltway philosophy that it is far better to lose than to cut your losses and withdraw.

Writer Ron Smith, who quoted Bacevich in his article, concludes that, “It seems insane, doesn’t it? We’re deep in a debt pit and digging our self even deeper, soothed by the conceit that America is too big to fail, even though all previous world hegemons have in the end failed. We think of ourselves as an exception to that historical record, but the chances are we’re not.”

True. How many adolescents have died doing something stupid?

America has to do something with her arrested adolescents, and the Beltway is as good a place as any to warehouse them. But someone should really take their toys away.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Perception Management

There was a time when vampires personified evil. They were creatures of the night who stalked their victims under the cover of darkness and had a marked preference for the blood of innocent virgins. A cross or a string of garlic bulbs protected you and the only way to put an end to them was with a stake through the heart.

Vampires belonging to the Bela Lugosi school of acting were suave, debonair and well mannered, unless a virgin bared her neck. They always ended up with a stake through their hearts.

Apparently, the Vampire trade association must have inked a contract with the PR firm of Hills and Knowlton, because all of a sudden they have been welcomed into polite society. Now they live next door, date our daughters and have traded the white tie and tails for jeans and T-shirts.

Vampires have always been a metaphor for something. In the Victorian age, they were a metaphor for repressed sexuality. In the twenty-first century, they have become a metaphor for either investment bankers or imperialism (a metaphore so patently obvious it gorans), which makes one wonder about their new respectability.

Could this be Hollywood’s attempt to make greed, slaughter and exploitation respectable? Dick Cheney certainly legitimized the Dark Side, so it should come as no surprise that his children of the dark should step out of the shadows and move into the nearest burb.

The vampire as matinee idol hints at a normalization of evil. That which once appalled now entertains. Because we feel helpless in the face of evil, we embrace it and invite it over for dinner. Instead of screaming when the vampire begins sucking our blood, we orgasm.

Hopefully, this will turn out to be a brief affair, and the day will come when the mob realizes it has been had, grabs stakes and torches and goes after the creature that so successfully seduced and abused it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

O, the burens of leadership!

Pity poor Nancy Pelosi. It’s hard work getting her spineless charges to vote against their principles. ‘Tis a task she describes as a “heavy lift.” But, by God, this true, blue liberal from San Francisco does her damndest to make sure House doves act like hawks whenever Pentagon brass come begging for more money to fund their Afghan enterprise.

Pelosi is who she is because she understands the key to acquiring power: follow the dictates of your handlers and contributors and not the dictates of your conscience. She even describes how this works:

You have to go to somebody who is totally, completely, entirely opposed to war funding, and you need to have them vote on it. And you don’t even want to vote for it yourself.”

O, the burdens of leadership! It’s hard work strong arming your underlings to violate their principles. But, Pelosi has always been a strong role model as she demonstrated when she informed the world that impeachment was off the table. In spite of this, the good liberals of San Francisco reelected her to another term in the House in a landslide victory.

It’s not many people who would be so willing to fight for a spineless stance. But Pelosi understands that the Democratic Party is basically a subsidiary of the Republican Party, which, in turn, is a subsidiary of K Street. And if K Street wants a war, there will be a war, and Congress’s battle cry will be, “Damn our principles! Full speed ahead.”

Rumor has it that Obama is going to ask for an additional 30,000 troops for Afghanistan. Senior aides say he will reassure the American people that the “end is in sight.” This is another way of saying he sees the light at the end of the tunnel, which he won’t say because to say it would be to stir up memories of the light at the end of the tunnel we saw in Vietnam just before we were booted out.

So, Pelosi will twist arms and make sure her underlings vote more money for another war we probably won’t win. But then, we must remember that the object of war is no longer victory. Rather, it is to continue to fund our corporate military machine because our economy is so addicted to military spending that it would go into a painful withdrawal were said spending to end. After all, we have to make up for the moribund consumer spending that once made up seventy percent of our GDP.

I mean, my God!, the “Vietnam syndrome” led to our wholesale slaughter of the people of Iraq. God knows what an “Afghanistan syndrome” would lead to.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Buy Nothing Day

Just a reminder that tomorrow is Buy Nothing Day, a day when we turn our backs on the rampant consumerism that has devastated households and driven many deeply into debt. It is a day when we stop and remember that the good life means more than having a lot of stuff, that there is more to a country and a community than feral economic growth. Today’s toys are tomorrow’s landfill. Their manufacture fouls our air and pollutes our water.

So, give the earth a break and stay home, and while you are doing so, have a most enjoyable day. Let us pray that next Thanksgiving we will have more to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A quick thought

America will not be free until the Pentagon is an indoor shopping mall and Goldman's CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, is sporting an orange jumpsuit.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The New Presidency

Those who excruciate Barack Obama for his betrayal of the progressive platform upon which he campaigned fail understand the new dynamics of contemporary presidents of the United States.

Presidents are no longer presidents who actually run the country. The last president who tried to do that was Jimmy Carter, and they destroyed him. When a president campaigns on a platform of “change,” his definition of change is to tweak the status quo.

In truth, the president, today, is little more than a media event. His primary function is to act as a spokesman and shill for K Street, which is where the real power resides. Ronnie was little more than a pitchman for the corporate state. His silken voice was the K-Y Jelly that greased up the public’s anus so it could be properly reamed. Both Bush the First and Clinton wasted three terms kissing K Street’s ass, GWB vacationed while K Street ran the country, and Obama is proving to be one of the Street’s more articulate spokesman.

Thanks to their cooperation and subservience, K Street has managed to reduce the American flag to a corporate logo. This is why every wannabe politician wears one in the lapel of his tailored suit coat. The pin is a coded message to let K Street know that the politician will stay on message. This is why there was such a flap during the 08 campaign when Obama showed up at a rally without a pin. This was a show of independence K Street couldn’t abide. Obama dutifully sported a pin at his next appearance.

Nor is our Congress any longer a Congress. It is a K Street working group that rubberstamps legislation drawn up by K Street’s minions. K Street funds congressional campaigns and Congress funds K Street in return.

The people seem to like the arrangement even though it is shipping their jobs overseas and turning them out of their homes. It saves them the trouble of participating in the political process and the inconvenience of voting. And should they get testy, they will find themselves confronting militarized police forces.

The Beltway is a 24/7 theater in which nothing of substance happens because K Street is content. Real change will only happen when K Street is stirred to action, and we can rest assured that any systemic change will be to their benefit and not ours.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Ancient Thought, Safe Thought

Ancient physicians had a lock on healing with a comprehensive theory that explained everything. The body was made up of four humors: yellow bile, black bile, phlegm and blood. The four humors matched the four seasons and the four elements that made up life—earth, air, fire and water.

When the humors were in balance, a person was healthy; when they were out of balance, a person was sick. There were four types of illness, each caused by a different humor. Illnesses caused by a surplus of black bile were cold and dry; illnesses of the blood were hot and moist; phlegm, cold and moist and yellow bile hot and dry.

It was a theory as elegant as it was comprehensive, until the physical scientists started messing with things. When these scientists first pointed out that germs might be the carrier of diseases, the physicians scoffed and refused to buy into this crackpot theory.

We have a similar situation today. Instead of ancient physicians, we have economists secure in their theories that explain everything, especially the theory that infinite growth is possible.

Once again, it is the physical scientists who are trying to upset their applecart. These Jeremiahs are suggesting that resource depletion will, at some point, make further economic growth impossible since the growth of the last two centuries has been propelled by an abundance of cheap oil. And as we drain more and more oil out of the earth, its extraction will become increasingly difficult and expensive.

Our economists scoff. The market will solve the problem, they argue. As oil becomes scarce net technologies will emerge to take its place. The scientists counter by pointing out that there is no technology that comes close to the energy efficiency of fossil fuels.

Besides, everyone knows that physical scientists are too hung up in the concrete and the real, both of which are difficult to manage. We are better off in the heady world of arcane theory, which is easily manipulated by spinning out a new set of mathematical formulae.

Corporate economies run on dreams, not reality. Just as the physicians of old, our economists are quite comfortable with their theories, thank you very much. Scientists should know better than to introduce the reality into the economists’ comfortable world.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Media America

Some readers of this blog may get the impression that I hate America. Nothing could be further from the truth. I love this country in all of it flawed and contradictory complexity. The America I have issues with is what I call Media America, which consist of three thorns our mainstream media would have us believe is the True America.

In the eyes of the media, America consists of three components: Wall Street, the Pentagon and the Beltway. My argument is that not only do the three fail to represent America, but they constitute a real threat to our democratic republic.

If we picture them as three moving circles in a Venn diagram, we see that they are slowly converging and will continue to do so until the three are one in a Holy Trinity of the damned. (Granted, there is a celebrity circle, but that stands off by itself as a generator of the Bread and Circuses that keep the masses distracted.)

Whenever pundits wax eloquently about the “American character,” they are usually speaking of the one-percent that clawed their ways to the top of their respective circles. This overlooks the fact that the majority of the country is made up of decent people who simply want to get on with their lives under increasingly difficult circumstances.

Given the diverse complexity of our country, it is impossible to speak of an “American” anything. We are not a melting pot, we are a hodgepodge of nonlinear contradictions, currents and countercurrents and diverse opinions and beliefs. Unlike Media America, it is real.

Media America is bent on self destruction. It rolls on; driven by a malignant energy that is slowly moving it towards the abyss. It cares little about the destruction and destitution created by its movement over earth’s landscape. And as it moves, the media sings its praises loudly enough to drown out the moans of its victims.

It is all an exercise in perception management. Pancake makeup is slathered on the beast’s face, the gore is wiped from its lips and its foul breath is sweetened with PR mouthwash. The beast smiles and speaks in measured and soothing tones as it calms and reassures. Its rhetoric soars as the disenfranchised are crushed beneath its wingtips. Bright lights hide the toxic shadow it casts.

The American Way is the product of madmen and bears no relationship to the real America that struggles to make it from one day to the next while its masters party on. This is the America that never reaches the surface of our media swamp.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The new prosperity

Let me see if I get this straight. Citibank is going to raise interest rates for all its credit cardholders. That’s the bad news.

But there’s a silver lining to this dark cloud. If a customer spends up to $750 per month (the amount varies according to the depth of the cardholder’s impoverishment) the bank will refund part, but not all, of the increase.

This is indeed good news for the household desparately trying to pay down its debt because its underwater mortgage is about to have its rates reset upward.

The bank figures this is a public service because not only are they helping their customers save money, but they’re stimulating our moribund economy by forcing its cardholders to plunge themselves further into debt.

Penury is the new prosperity.

Gosh, this sounds an awful lot like extortion.

But wait! Citibank is a too-big-to-fail bank. It, and its minions, are old pros at extortion. Look what they did to our treasury. It’s a basic law of the economy of scale that if you’re too big to fail, what would normally be considered a crime becomes a shrewd business practice.

It’s kind of like forcing an alcoholic to take another drink.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Letter from Joe

On Tuesday, Joe wrote Joe a letter. The recipient was Joe Bageant, author of Deer Hunting with Jesus. The writer was an anonymous Joe whose wisdom and insight will never rise to the surface of our media swamp.

The writer was concerned about the rabidity of the antismoking campaign that first raised its head in the nineties. He saw it as a process of “denormalizing” of an act that had, up until then, been socially acceptable. A friend of his called it the “largest social engineering project in the history of the world.”

The bottom line is that social engineering has no place in a democracy. It is an exercise in social fastidiousness, and fastidiousness is the midwife of oppression.

As a member of a community, it is a given that I will see things I don’t want to see, hear things I don’t want to hear and smell things I don’t want to smell. If I scrub my life clean of these unpleasant things, I no long have a community; I have a sterile and gated place in which I live in dread of some impurity invading the sanctity of my isolation.

Now I hear the cry, “But, smoking kills!” Sorry folks, but the leading cause of death is birth. It is incorrect to say that the antismoking movement saves lives. It doesn’t! It simply delays the inevitable. For that matter, getting behind the wheel kills, but there is no movement to ban the automobile. The same is true of mountain climbing and skydiving.

The truth is that the most sacred thing we do is die, and it’s so goddamn sacred that we want nothing to do with it. But then, that’s true of everything that is sacred.

There are some historical factors behind the antismoking movement. Cigarette smoking has always been looked on as smacking of sin. In the twenties Lucky Strike cigarettes created a stir when it urged women to, “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet.” Cigars and pipes were okay, capitalists and professors smoked them, but, as Joe pointed out, cigarettes were associated with loose women and the lower classes.

When prohibition went bust, the Puritans doffed their clerical robes and slipped into a white lab coat. Yesterday’s sin became today’s health problem.

A corporatized state seeks to condition its subjects. That is the purpose of social engineering. It normalizes behavior the state approves of and denormalizes behavior it doesn’t. The behavior isn’t important; the conditioning is. In time, its subjects become use to being conditioned; they even feel uncomfortable if they are forced to think for themselves.

If a free society a free citizen has the right to choose his or her death, whether it’s lighting up or packing a parachute.

There are two spurious arguments trotted out by the antismoking crowd. One is that smoking increases the cost of healthcare. Hell, life is expensive; dying is expensive. There’s no getting around that fact. If cigarettes don’t kill us, something else will. If the health care costs were a real concern, we’d ban the automobile.

Then there’s the second-hand smoke canard. Yea, if someone is locked in a sealed with a smoker eight hours a day, seven days a week, it could be an individual’s health. However, incidental exposure is unlikely to be a problem.

If the state wants its subjects to live in a state of constant anxiety, it needs real and imagined threats, and second-hand smoke works will do as well as anyother.

Freedom involves the acceptance of risk. If we make a fetish of avoiding it we are no longer free.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fictive Egos

When you get right down to it, the ego is simply the fiction we tell ourselves. It is an equal mixture of memories, emotions, dreams, aspirations and phobias. There is a certain utility to it in that it gives us a degree of continuity from day to day, but it is no more than a tiny boat that floats on the surface of our souls.

It is from the soul that the deeper emotions—grief, euphoria, terror—come. Emotions coming from the soul move; emotions coming from the ego flap in the breeze of the superficial.

When someone proclaims that they are going to “reinvent” themselves, they are committing an ontological fallacy, for a subject cannot be its own object, so whatever change is effected is shallow. Real change is possible, but that comes from the outside whenever trauma produces a fundamental change in our fiction.

The ego becomes problematic when it is given a reality it doesn’t deserve. Once the ego is reified it begins to erect thick walls with which to protect itself. The walls are especially thick because the ego is aware of just how ethereal it is. Everything outside the walls is seen as a threat to its fictive existence, so it is quick to lash out and inflict pain. It is an ego that clings to labels, both the labels it hangs on itself and those it hangs on the Other that it sees as a threat.

Reified egos thrive best in individuals with no core but the Self, where the soul has been lost down a nihilistic sinkhole. The Japanese philosopher Keiji Nishitani[1] points out that if we deconstruct everything except the ego, we are left with a crypto nihilism that can only be filled with noise and toys.

If the individual ego is problematic, the collective ego can be downright deadly. The collective ego is a product of the group. Nation states choke on them. The walls they construct are not only thick, they are armed as well. Most groups find it challenging to operate at an eighth-grade level. The nation feels more comfortable at a fourth or fifth grade level.

The deadliest national ego of them all is one that believes its ego is at the top of the food chain and that it has a moral obligation to convert all other national egos to its particular fiction. The most disruptive force on the face of the earth is national ego with a mission. Lesser egos are given a simple choice: convert or face the consequences, consequences that range from marginalization to death.

National egos produce toxic policies. The deadliest emerge from a roomful of old men (old refers not to age but to the strength of the steel in which the ego is trapped). Blood flows when the old men believe that this collective ego would be irreversibly damaged should it lose its “credibility” or appear “weak.” So, sabers are rattled, drones are put in the air and the fanged god of destruction stalks the earth.

All for a fiction.

[1] Religion and Nothingness

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Deep Thought

We like to believe that as a civilization, we are too advanced to buy into fairy tales and myths, that we are simply too intelligent to believe there is a place where there are mountains made of pickled kielbasa and hardboiled eggs down which torrents of draft beer pour to the music of naked nymphs dancing on dew drops.

Or so we think.

Yet, there is one myth our oligarchs cling to that is taking us down the tubes, and that is an irrational belief in the existence of a free market where rational players make decisions based on rational self interest and in doing so benefit not only themselves but society in general.

Mob psychology is not rational. And that is what rules the market, not rational self interest. The current economic debacle came about because of the irrational belief that computers and arcane mathematical formulae had neutralized the boom and bust of the marketplace.

Then there was the merger and acquisition mania in which companies plunged into debt to buy other companies in the belief that by tweaking the numbers on a computer screen it could turn their red ink into black.

Of course, we must not forget the bubble. That was back when it was gospel that online shopping marked the end of the brick and mortar store, a belief that overlooked the fact that brick and mortar stores had survived the introduction of catalog shopping quite well.

But, it’s more than mob psychology. It’s also a matter of dysfunctional interpersonal relationships. If a boss tells an underling to do something totally irrational and counterintuitive, the very same supervisor who controls the underling's promotion and pay, then it is likely the underling will find a way to rationalize the bosses irrationality.

Idiocy, once it has passed through the underling’s matrix, becomes rational policy, especially if it can be quantified.

In all fairness, this is not a phenomenon found only in the corporate world. We see the same phenomenon at work in Afghanistan and Congress.

Then there is the ultimate madness found in the shadow of an emerging bubble, and that is the death-dealing four words, “It’s different this time.”

Personally, I prefer naked nymphs dancing on dew drops.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

up and down, down and up

There was a time when the circle ruled life. Life was a cycle of seasons, of birth, growth and death in which life was returned to Mother Earth’s womb only to be born again.

Now, life is reduced to the straight line, the linear progression moved by the energy of its own momentum. At one time the line was called progress, and it was believed it was carrying us towards the heavens.

However, one can only have a destiny if one has a past. But, the further we move along the line, the more the past fades into the mist of oblivion. Life is reduced to a tiny laser dot whose linear movement lacks both a past and a future.

We mistake this movement for progress and believe that all change is good no matter how much destruction it leaves in its wake. As it moves, the dot believes that it is ascending when, in fact, it is descending.

Rather than a linear ascent, all historical and cultural movements inscribe a Bell curve, with an ascent, an apogee and a descent. Technological progress is no different, and we could well be riding the descent segment of the curve.

Initially, technology contributed to civilization, making life easier and more comfortable, conquering disease and lifting us out of the morass of superstition. But as with all other historical phenomena, technology peaked. Once this happened, technological innovation became destructive with the costs far outweighing the benefits. One could argue that we passed over the apogee with the splitting of the atom.

Many technologies that were benign at their inception have soured and threaten our quality of life. The internal combustion engine was great at first. Now it generates pollution and, instead of motoring pleasure, it is generating resource wars. Our dependency of plastics consumes too much oil. Petroleum based fertilizers have seen the rise of monoculture and the gradual depletion of our top soil.

Technology was a booster rocket that lifted us out of the quagmire of primitivism. But once spent, it becomes deadweight that must be jettisoned. Failure to do so will have us plunging back into the quagmire.

One could argue that the profound technological progress, the progress that made a real difference in our lives, happened between 1820 (railroads) and the 1940s (splitting the atom). Everything since then is simply the combining of existing technologies. A computer is simply a typewriter, a calculator and a television hooked up together.

New technologies do effect change, but the change is increasingly superficial. Will the fact that I can play videos on my cell phone really improve the quality of my life, especially if, thanks to the same cell phone, my boss has me on an electronic chain 24/7? Finding my way with a GPS instead of a map may be easier, but does it really contribute to my quality of life? No matter how many improvements are made to the television set, the content remains as bland as ever.

In the grand scheme of things, our technology will barely register as a cosmic fart.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Language is a whore willing to sell her services to the highest bidder. And like a whore, she stalks the corridors of power looking for well-heeled Johns. She is welcome there because the corridors of power have much to hide.

There, language glorifies violence, concealing the gore-drenched blade with the velvet prose of God, freedom and glory. She gives evil and corruption a moral veneer. She sees the glory of destiny in the running sores of society.

In her delicate fingers slime becomes a silver thread, evil becomes sophistication and stupidity becomes down-home earthiness.

Language is the duct tape that muffles the goddess; she is the venal methane that fills the air when policy farts.

But like any whore, language will be just as quick to slit power’s throat as to fuck it. Allow language to slip the collar of “That’s the way things are,” and she becomes a threat to the status quo. She creates manifestos that inflame the masses. She can loosen the tongue of the goddess and spread the contagion of love and compassion.

She can cast her burning spotlight on the suffering of strangers. Socrates knew what he was doing when he condemned poets and singers for they can destabilize a “just” society.

This is the subversive language that is marginalized and buried beneath the inarticulate shrieks of indy rock racket confined to sweaty clubs where the walls shake as they keep the music’s subversion confined and isolated from the masses less the masses join the shriek in a chorus of dissent and protest.

Outside the club there is only the silence of acquiescence. And it is in this silence that the power’s language sings her seductive song.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Unchanging Change

All is well in the kingdom. The nation’s CEOs, CFOs, defense contractors, homeland security contractors, hedge fund managers, investment bankers, developers, pharmaceuticals, lobbyists, big oil and all of the other pathologically driven power brokers riding America earthward need not fear.

Obama is turning out to be the Petri dish in which the toxins that are draining America of its vitality are cultured.

The triangulating centerism that believes in nothing and stands for nothing will continue in all its humdrum glory. Jobs will continue to be shipped overseas, unions will continue to be broken, the middleclass will continue to shrink, America will continue as the world’s only rogue state, the poor will be kept off the welfare rolls and capital will continue its upward movement towards the apex of the pyramid.

Best of all, the Beltway will continue to be a sewage processing plant as open trenches pump raw effluvia from the country’s power centers to the K Street processing plant where it is recycled into the sanitized campaign contributions that oil the corrupted gears and wheels of a government that is little more than a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Corporatist State.

Sure, we got our hopes up when Obama started preaching his Gospel of Hope during the campaign. For a brief moment it looked as if the fresh air of change was wafting over the country. Fortunately, there is an iron rule that governs politics: Bullshit’s stench trumps fresh air every time.

Now the stench is so pervasive that our media has the public convinced it is smelling perfume.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Other Shoe

The timing is precious. We are within days of learning the extent of Obama’s Afghan escalation; the banks are sitting on trillions in bailout money; more bailout money may be needed to continue the illusion of their solvency. Where, we ask, will the money for all this come from?

And, finally, the other shoe has dropped.

The Associated Press headline says it all: “Obama eyes domestic spending freeze.”

Well, not quite all. An across the board five percent reduction in domestic spending is waiting in the wings.

Note: there is no mention of cutting military spending. If anything, the domestic cuts and freezes are needed to help fund Obama’s Afghan escalation. However, no mention of this was made in the AP story. That is because our military budget resides in the Ark of the Covenant,, and a curse is laid on all who dare tamper with it.

The fear is that foreigners will stop financing our red ink, and this could prove detrimental to our statistical recovery. The 2009 budget year ended on Sept. 30 with a $1.42 trillion deficit. (Converting dollars to seconds of time, each trillion equals 37,000 years.)

There is some mumbling about raising taxes, but it’s just that. White House budget director Orszag said, “I’m not going to get into the mix between spending and revenues.” The golden rule for any politician who wants to stay in office is, “Cut; don’t tax.”

With every passing day, it is becoming more and more obvious that Obama is simply a Bush lite. The only change we’ve seen coming out of the White House is an increase in articulation.

Bush tried and failed to “reform” Social Security. Could it be…?

People are being turned out of their homes in droves. Unemployment is rising. Retail sales are down. The Fed’s bailouts are inflating another asset bubble. States are being forced to slash their budgets. And in the face of all this Obama has the balls to escalate an unnecessary war while the nation bleeds.

Shakespeare’s Puck said it all: “What fools these mortals be!” Especially if they hold elected office.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Hollow Men

“Americans on the right feel that America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to repossess it…
Richard Hofstadter
Quoted by Paul Krugman

Yes, the Whiteguys' club is unraveling and they’re pitching a hissy fit. Urged on by their demagogues, they are railing against healthcare reform, calling it a socialist plot, as once again they fight for a system that is screwing them to the wall. One wonders how many tea baggers are chained to their dreary jobs for fear of losing their benefits. How many are without coverage and yet are fighting tooth and nail against a bill that would make coverage available to them?

Here is a group whose emotional development stopped at V - J Day. Even if they were born after the war, it’s the same. There is a whole repository of Hollywood films to keep the glory alive for them. The Christians in their ranks have never gotten over the fact that from the 1820s to the 1960s, a male-dominated White Protestant church was the de facto state religion of America. They want it back.

They are men hollowed out by a life that has passed them by. Lost and confused, they are shells easily filled by rabid rightwing pundits who fill their emptiness with a bilious rage. Everything threatens them: liberated women, intelligent women, women who speak their minds, gays, teenagers, critical thinking, revisionist history, postmodernism, art, beauty, compassion, empathy or anything that does not express its patriotism in a spittle-spray of Christian rage.

They cling desperately to their every tax dollar, fearful that a single farthing might be spent on a sick child or an unemployed mother or a struggling student. Yet, they glow with pride as they contemplate the $931 billion that has been spent to date on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And they treat any suggestion that the money could be better spent as treason.

The Republican Party has degenerated into an asylum in which the mad think themselves sane.

But, by God, the sane will protect their precious tax dollars and make sure they are directed to the twin rat holes in the Middle East as they try desperately to revive a military prowess long since gone flaccid.

Maybe that’s why Viagra is such a bestseller.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Different dance; same floor.

The Afghan tap dance continues apace. Only now the tempo has eased; the wild clatter of taps on the dance floor is muted as the dance becomes a soft shoe and the clatter slows to a gentle scraping of taps being dragged across the same goddamn floor.

The headline looked great: “Official: Obama rejects war options.” Anyone scanning it would be forgiven for thinking that no more troops are heading for Afghanistan.

Not so fast, Charlie. Read the story.

What Obama is looking for is a tweak. He’s “pushing instead for revisions to clarify how and when U.S. troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government.” The number of additional troops needed for this “revised” policy is 30,000. However, only half of them would be combat troops. The rest would be trainers who would only see combat when they led their charges into battle.

It’s Vietnam redux when our goal was to train the Vietnamese army to take over the fighting. Of course, they never did and we just had to send in more troops to maintain our credibility. Reports indicate that the Afghan army is worse than the Vietnamese. So, it’s only a matter of time before Obama will have to send in even more troops to maintain our credibility. After all, what's a president to do?

Oh well. At least the headline looked good.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Some Intriguing Questions

One of my readers sent me in a list of five question the BBC had asked Noam Chomsky. Below are the questions and my response.


Thanks for sending along your thought provoking questions. I’ll answer them in the order in which you asked them.

1. Do I think the U.S. government and its institutions have always been wrong and with mala fide intentions?

Not always. Our history has been a struggle between a gradual movement towards decency and an aggressive hubris that has sought power for power’s sake. What we are seeing now is the death throes of a militarized era that began with World War II. That war morphed into the Cold War, which resulted in the establishment of a permanent military establishment and the gradual transformation of the country into a nuclearized security state. Militarism and democracy cannot coexist. Fortunately, like most empires, we are in the process of bankrupting ourselves both financially and morally. Whether the seeds of decency that have lain dormant for too long began to sprout again remains to be seen.

With the fall of the Soviet Union we found ourselves with a bloated military and no place to go. The warfare and aggression now coming from America is the frantic thrashing of an aged dinosaur fighting for survival.

2. Has there been any good coming out of them at all?

All too often the United States is identified with Wall Street, the Pentagon and our nation’s capital. It is my belief that neither of them represents our core values of freedom and democracy. Unfortunately, these are the institutions that have dominated our society since the dawn of the twenty-first century. Prior to the GWB administration, and especially in the sixties, there was an emergency of the above mentioned decency. Tragically, it is now dormant.

3. Did the US and its allies go into Iraq to satisfy some inner greed, prejudice and personal agendas of a few in the saddle?

I firmly believe they did. The rationales given for the invasion lacked credibility. It was an ugly, imperial invasion intent only on getting our hands on Iraq’s oil.

4. Are these Arabs goodies, have the good of their people at heart and have to wish to inflict death on the USA and its people?

No country or culture is purely good or purely evil. With the exception of a fringe group, I don’t believe the Arab world wishes to harm us. They are, however, intent on defending themselves from our aggression.

5. Do you subscribe to the view that the second Crusade has began as some Arab scholars claim?

I can well understand why they would believe this, but no, I don’t see another Crusade. The original Crusades were aimed at seizing Jerusalem so it would be in “Christian” hands. The current American aggression in the Middle East has to do with all the oil the region is sitting on. I’ve always contended that it would be a hell of a lot cheaper and burn less oil to fly a trade delegation over to cut the best deal we could instead of sending in an invading army.

I hope the above answers your questions. I don’t really think of myself as a cynic, but more as a skeptic who tries to cut through the fog of propaganda that issues forth from our mass media. If is the duty of every citizen in a democracy to cast a jaundiced eye on the machinations of its government.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Trying to win with a losing hand.

As Obama dithers in order to give his shrinking liberal base the impression that he’s really agonizing over a decision that’s already been made for him over escalating the war in Afghanistan, the right is trotting out the old argument to explain how we “lost” Vietnam.

The first flaw, here, is that you can’t lose something that was never yours to begin with. But then, a core delusion of imperial thinking is that the United States owns the world. Therefore, any country that doesn’t toe the line is “lost.”

According to the right, we lost Vietnam because the American people lost their will, and this loss of will was aided and abetted by a liberal press, all of which demoralized our citizen army that lost its stomach for a good fight.

The truth is that in a democratic society an administration cannot pursue a war once popular support is lost. That is the nature of a democracy.

However, we must be cautious before we draw a parallel between Afghanistan and Vietnam. There are some crucial differences. Back in the sixties we were still a democracy with a functioning and independent press that wasn’t embedded in Pentagon briefing rooms. This is no longer the case. Back then, we had a citizen army that had to believe in what it was fighting for. Alas, no more. A professional army fights because it is paid to do so.

Obama will escalate Afghanistan for two reasons. First, he is committed to the long war, also known as the Eternal War of the Empty Policy. Second, any democratic administration, no matter how liberal, lives in fear of the right’s pit bulls, and instead of tearing their throats out it moves as quietly and cautiously as possible less it awakens the sleeping dogs. The pack needs its wars and aggression to live out its macho fantasies of unbridled power.

I understand Obama is a poker player. It would be nice if he took the lessons he’s learned at the table and carried them into his policy making. With Afghanistan, he is like the player six cards into a game of seven-card stud who stays in a game with a jack-high hand even though his opponent across the table has two aces showing. A basic rule of poker is you don’t stay in a game with a bad hand simply because you have money in the pot.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Our Imperial Entitlement

So, the Rt. Rev. Timothy Geithner is out preaching the Doctrine of Frugality. His message is simple, “The country must live within its means.” “Deficits must be brought down.” This, of course, will “require hard choices.”

Now, logic and common sense would dictate that the most obvious place to start is our bloated military empire. We are mired in two wars that aren’t going anywhere. We are being dragged down by a military-industrial complex that is little more than a dinosaur. The Pentagon has morphed into a gargantuan leech that is sucking our economy dry even as it injects its toxin into our civil liberties in the name of peace and security.

But I forget: logic and common sense are anathema to the Beltway.

The truth is that our military-foreign policy is not ruled by a reasoned assessment of our goals and objectives; it is ruled by a small gaggle of key buzzwords. Our policymakers have made security© a fetish. We need a national defense© that is robust©. All options must “remain on the table”.© To withdraw from Afghanistan or Iraq would damage our credibility© The last thing any politician can afford is to be perceived as weak© on national defense©

So it is that we wantonly destroy countries and kill children all in the name of our sacred buzzwords. And this is why, when the time comes to “live within our means” our military empire will remain untouched.

Rev. Geithner’s acolyte, Barack Obama, has spelled out where the cuts will come. He has promised to shape a new Social Security and Medicare bargain with America because “we” must get control over our entitlements, and there is only one entitlement that counts—maintaining the health of America's defense contractors.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The House Trips the Light Fantastic

To be a player in the corporate state you’ve got to be fast on your feet. It takes moves worthy of an Astaire to appear as if you’re tossing gold coins to the starving masses when all you’re tossing is lead slugs.

Last night, the House passed the “Affordable Health Care for America Act,” a measure that gives much if you can afford to take advantage of it. It is a bill long on aspiration and painfully short on detail.

Yes, there is a public option and yes, the wingnuts denied federal funding for abortions.

It’s a boondoggle for private insurers because everyone has to have coverage. If a family can’t afford it, they’re hit with a fine equal to 2.5 percent of their gross income. For a family of four, the poverty level is $22,050. So if the family can’t afford the public option, they are fined $551 or 30% of a month’s salary. (No food on the table during that month.) Waivers are available, but details are short as to how they would be granted.

Medicaid is expanded from 100 percent to 150 percent of the poverty level. For our family of four, this would boost their eligibility to $33,075. The family making a dollar more than that would still be forced to purchase insurance. If they failed to do so, they would face a fine of $827, still 30% of a month’s salary.

The bill offers tax subsidies for individuals between 150 and 400 percent ($33,050-$88,200) of the poverty level. However, this provision overlooks the fact that poor families life hand-to-month and paycheck-to-paycheck. It’s not as if they have stock holdings that will compensate for the hold torn in their income by fines or premium payments until the tax subsidy kicks in. But, what the hell! Stale Cheerios still taste good even with water instead of milk.

With the abortion exclusion, Congress kicked a little more pork to the insurance industry. Women who want coverage for abortions will be able to purchase a rider from a private company.

What we have here is an irrational bill cobbled together to give as much to the proles as possible without unduly upsetting the House’s corporate handlers.

Now it goes to the Senate, then to a House/Senate conference.

The only sane approach to health coverage is a single payer pan. What will finally emerge is a bill that does its damndest to look sane, and is sane, as long as you ignore the straight jacket it is wearing.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Toxic Idealism

Noble ideals produce a fatal paradox. We all buy into them; who doesn’t believe in freedom, democracy, liberation and civil liberties? These are ideals that have taken centuries to evolve in the West and are currently under siege as the United States continues to evolve into a corporatized military state, which could be why we’re so hell-bent on spreading them to the Middle East.

And that is where the paradox turns fatal. Ideals have the habit of coalescing into absolutes, and absolutes have a habit of shedding blood when one nation attempts to impose them on another. Missionary zeal has a long and deadly history in the West that dates back to the days when the missionaries accompanied Spanish conquistadors as they savaged Latin America.

We now see this same missionary zeal at work in Afghanistan where we are told that ours is an effort to liberate Afghan women from the yoke of oppression that has been placed on their shoulders by a misogynist regime. It has appeal because in truth, women in that country are treated as if they’re chattel.

The paradox, here, is that women’s rights will never ride into Afghanistan astride a drone. In Vietnam we destroyed villages to save them; in Afghanistan, we destroy wedding parties to free them.

Two years ago, Malalai Joya was expelled from the Afghan parliament for denouncing corruption and the occupation. She sums up the paradox beautifully when she say, “The United States and NATO eight years ago occupied my country under the banner of woman’s rights and democracy. But they have only pushed us from the frying pan into the fire. They put into power men who are photocopies of the Taliban.”

Nothing corrupts a noble ideal like ignoble means. Yet, attempts to spread the ideal always become toxic because the ideal is seen as an absolute, and when implementing an absolute one must destroy all who oppose it. And in doing so, the ideal loses its nobility.

Missionary zeal is a product of western hubris. All too often it is assumed that the western worldview sits atop the Great Chain of Being as if we represent the end product of social evolution. After all, don’t we have more “stuff” that the rest of the world?

Because God has so blessed us, the thinking goes, we have a moral obligation to spread this lifestyle to the ignorant savages of the world and turn them all into middleclass consumers, whether they want to or not.

Progressives have been sucked into this argument. They are reluctant to oppose the slaughter in Afghanistan because they see it as a fight for women’s rights, even though our efforts are having the opposite effect.

The treatment of women in Afghanistan is abysmal. Both the Taliban and the Northern Alliance are little more than narco-thugs. However, the brutal truth is that our military occupation of the country is only making these conditions worse. An equally brutal truth is that change will only come to Afghanistan when all foreign troops leave and courageous Afghan women like Malalai Joya bring change to the country from the inside out.

Of course, the above argument has one fatal flaw: noble ideals are simply marketing gimmicks to sell a war that has an ulterior motive, be it expanding markets or securing a supply of natural resources. It is an unfortunate blind spot in the progressive vision that it doesn’t see this.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Secret Life of the Lie

As a work of art, the lie is perfection personified. It is a polished gem of intellectual brilliance that transcends the mundane world of cause and effect.

Lies always trump because lies scream while truth only stutters. Every lie files down the shards of complexity that stud the truth until only a smooth surface remains that reflects the vacuity of the lie. Thus, the lie is the most democratic of utterances because it simplifies intricate issues so they may be easily digested by the proles.

The lie functions best when it has a label it can wield like a cudgel. It needs an “other” upon whom this label can be hung, a label so crated that it turns the “other” into the personification of evil. For decades, “communist” served this purpose only to be replaced by “terrorist.”

What the lie wishes to accomplish is not fear of the evil the label represents, but fear of having the label hung on oneself.

The lie is its own justification and needs neither rational argument nor reality to breathe. That infamous profit of revelatory bullshit, E.A. Hayek, coined a succinct dingleberry when he wrote, “The issue of justification is indeed a red herring.”[1]

Without the lie, there could be no progress, for to proclaim all progress good is one of the central lies that have made the rise of corporatism such an irresistible force. The barren fact is that all progress is suffering, be it the destitution of its victims or the moral decay of its beneficiaries. The myth of progress succeeds because it is so internalized and ingrained into our psyches that those who dare question it are dismissed as wild-eyed radicals. It ranks right up there with the superstitious belief in the “Invisible Hand of the Market,” that precious rationale for enriching the few while impoverishing the many.

The lie simplifies and paints in broad strokes of darkness and light. The lie soothes and comforts. Its certainty puts the mind at ease. Wrapped in mendacity’s security blanket the prole’s misery becomes bearable because his anger is directed away from those who caused his misery and is focused on those who are blamed for his misery.

[1] E.A. Hayek. The Fatal Conceit: The Error of Socialism. Pg. 68

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Shuffle, Kick, Shuffle

Having paid its requisite lip service to the public option that probably won’t see the light of day in any recognizable form, the Obama administration is now genuflecting at the altar of financial regulation. Like most genuflects, it is a knee-jerk reaction devoid of meaning.

These theatrics are necessary to placate an increasingly restive public that is beginning to realize that it’s been scammed into believing that Wall Street, the Pentagon and the Beltway are America when, in fact, they are alien entities inimical to all we stand for. Their goal is to transform America into a country that is foreign unto herself.

The keystone of the reform proposal is to require banks deemed too big to fail to prepare living wills, which are action plans that will facilitate their winding down the next time they plunge us into another financial crisis. In theory, these plans are to list the amount and location of all the banks toxic assets that would be defaulted on in the event the bank went under.

That is: the plan would list the toxic assets except for those excluded under the various and assorted loopholes that would turn any reform bill into a slice of Swiss cheese. It’s kind of like letting a criminal sentence himself.

Financial reform is simply a Mother Goose story that is the product of a larger metanarrative. There will be no comprehensive financial regulatory legislation passed just as no meaningful healthcare reform is going to see the light of day because:

When the Soviet Union collapsed, our oligarchs formed a corporate conga line and started kick-shuffling themselves right back to the nineteenth century, choreographed by that master of empathy Bill “I feel your pain” Clinton to music scored and arranged by Ronald “Mourning in America” Regan.

Congress quickly joined the line as it shuffled, kicked and pocketed large checks at the same time in an amazing display of manual dexterity.

It’s tricky. Gotta keep the natives placated so our overlords can party on. Gotta get them to clap time to the music.

They’re getting restless, though, as they are forced out of their homes and into the backseats of the cars they’re hiding from the repo man.

Not a problem. Just launch another million-dollar media blitz convincing them the impoverishment is prosperity just as they’ve been taught war is security. Anything as long as we can keep that shuffle-kick in motion.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Deconstructing the GDP

There was a flicker of hope on Wall Street, last week, when the GDP grew at an annualized rate of 3.5 percent. Obama was quick to crow that the jump was, “[A]n affirmation that the recession is abating and the steps we’ve taken have made a difference.”

The Dow, that harbinger of mob psychology jumped 200 points pushing it over the mystical 10,000 mark. (Friday it plunged 250 points when it became obvious that public wasn’t impressed. Consumer confidence was still hiding in the basement and showed no inclination to come upstairs and join the celebration.)

Barry Grey did a masterful job of deconstructing the jump in the GDP. He points out that, “Sixty-three percent of the 3.5 percent increase in the GDP was due to temporary government tax credits to consumers that have either expired or are set to expire next month.”

Of course the GDP is going to jump when public funds to the tune of $11 trillion are pumped into the economy. Grey goes onto say, “The outcome is a short-term boost in growth—one that is still insufficient to bring down the jobless rate—which paves the way for even greater financial and economic convulsions in the coming months.”

There was one bright spot that did surface last week. We learned that economic inequality is no longer a problem. Lord Griffiths, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs proclaimed that “The public must learn to ‘tolerate the inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity for all.”

Just when you thought trickle-down economics had croaked it pulls a Jesus and rises from the dead. It’s the old story: liquefy the top and the liquid will flow down to the starving masses.

And it’s true; liquid is trickling down. Unfortunately, the liquid isn’t money.

It will be interesting to see what fantasies Wall Street chases this week.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Humanizing the Dehumanized

Empires need labels because they dehumanize so effectively. (Everyone labels, but empires thrive on them.) Our empire swarms with labels: Muslim, Islamofascist, terrorist, narcostate and illegal immigrant. The list goes on and on. Once a label is assigned, a human being is transformed into a subhuman “Other.”

The last thing we want to hear is the voice of the Other. We tolerate only two things from the Other: to frighten us and in doing to justify its death and destruction.

What follows is a voice of the Other speaking with power and eloquence. It is a voice that reclaims its humanity and shows it to us all.

Daring To Understand
By Maryam Sakeenah
31 October,
A Suicide bomber: A grotesque, bloodthirsty monster. And this haggard, greying old man with his vacant eyes and broken slipper, like the broken spirit within as the cameras stare into his face and the headlines are splashed across interfaces: Suicide Bomber. Caught in the Act. A thrilling, juicy piece of news. It will fly. And it will sell. Fast. Fast like the sleek and swanky black limousines that whoosh past you through the Main Boulevard making the dust fly off in all directions; the dust that finally settles on the dusty roadside beggar, adding another layer to shroud him into dusty oblivion; it settles slowly, holding out against the fast limousines, the fast traffic, the fast music and the fast food. Slowly, like death. Fast and slow, making the rhythm of the city_ the thoughtlessly fast, and the resiliently slow_ fighting life’s battle in the streets of my city.

The Monster returns. He’s unconventional, though. Not with the horns and the fangs and all. But with dark circles, the sunken, dimmed eyes, the creased-up face with his advancing years, the silver in his hair. Sun-beaten, sun-worn, threadbare_ my definition of the Monster. The definers have hammered the definition on me with authoritative finality. I succumb_ like everybody else. I ought to believe he is dangerous. I am supposed to condemn him, get frightened of him, loathe him, spit in his face, and righteously pronounce him horrendously sinful, perverted, hideous, damned, hell-bound, with all the wealth of jingoistic and religious rhetoric at my disposal. I cannot but obey. I join the chorus. Like everybody else.

And I kill me softly. I stifle the human essence, the still small voice that resists. The voice that questions. The militant voice_ always politically incorrect. It questions ‘why?’ It does not allow me the comfort of following the crowd and biding my time. It discomforts me with the instinct to seek out the answers for myself. It makes me wonder why I have to buy the definition and believe that the pathetic grey man was a vile monster. It makes me wonder why, after all, he was a monster, perhaps_ or so it seems?

I do not judge. I do not allow myself the terrible privilege. I just wonder, and want my right to ask questions. I want my right to feel, to understand. I want my right to be and stay human. And I simply wonder what went wrong...

In 2001, when the United States pounded Afghanistan with their firepower just across the border on a flimsy pretext, my people here in Pakistan were hurt too, because the national boundary running through the northern tribes does not cut across eon-old tribal affiliation. With the Pashtuns on the other side of the Durand Line under occupation, the Pashtuns on this side considered it a tribal obligation and religious duty to assist. That is the ethic running in the blood of the Pathans_ the ethic they grow up with, just as their fathers, grandfathers and greatgrandfathers had grown up with it. You cannot hope to extort it from the hearts of men. The freedom they prize is a treasure they would not give up for the world. This fierce defence of their freedom is something you simply cannot hope to extricate. Not with all your arsenal, your marines armed to the teeth.

The United States and its ‘non NATO ally’ failed to understand this simple truth. Afghanistan bled, and Pakistani tribesmen, those once-upon-a-time heroic sons of the soil suffered with it. Yet we did not fall to brutalizing each other. The myths, on the other hand_ Terrorism, Extremism, Fanaticism, Fundamentalism, Enlightened Moderation_ continued to proliferate, and the Great Fiction encroached upon sanities. Yet we did not fall to brutalizing each other.
Till, a couple of years down the line, the Former General imperiously ordered an operation in Waziristan. It came to pass. In the thick of the darkness, in the hush of the night. The country taken by surprise. In clandestine moves, the trigger-happy military men advanced and we waited with bated breath. The usual collateral damage. Men, women, children, masjids, madrassas, schools, earthen huts. With a fell sweep, on orders of a Dictator. We still did not fall to brutalizing each other.

Things took their logical course and the resistance began. A Pashtun resistance. Earlier, aggravated by their country’s alliance with the US and the establishment of American military bases in the north to assist the NATO-sponsored slaughter and occupation in Afghanistan, the Pashtuns had expressed resentment. Their government had refused to budge. Now, they were cannon fodder, officially. And for Somebody Else’s interests.

Faced with a guerrilla resistance in a rugged terrain by ruddy mountain dwellers imbued with the tribesman’s fighting spirit, the khakis were in a quagmire soon enough. To save face, and the little that was left, they sought reconciliation with the irate tribesmen. It materialized, with pledges on both sides_ the tribesmen agreeing to put down arms and let go the foreign militants (stationed in Pakistan ‘officially,’ and by Washington’s invitation, since the Soviet-Afghan war); and the Army agreeing to end the operation. We dared to hope.

Till the drone zeroed in on what we call Sovereignty. And on human lives_ madrassas, schools, wedding parties, followed by official apologies for ‘misguided missiles’ or ‘intelligence failure.’ Collateral Damage. Full Stop.

In 2006, before the TTP (Tehreek Taliban Pakistan) was ever heard of, right after a successful settlement between the government and the tribal leaders which promised a durable peace in the restive north, American UAV ‘drones’ battered a village searching ‘militants’, leading to several civilian deaths. And so the talks derailed, the guns were picked up again. With blessings from Washington. The TTP raised its head shortly afterwards_ a group much more militant and even violent in character than the original Afghan Taliban of yore who do not very proudly profess association with these Pakistani neo-Taliban. The TTP was a child begotten of the vicious cycle of violence and injustice.

The Pakistan govenment’s complicity in the intermittent and incessant drone attacks is poorly disguised by pathetic foreign office spokespeople. First there were the official apologies. Then, the flabbergasted attempts to explain the bloody ‘deal’. And soon enough there were none. Just the raining missiles and the human mincemeat. And handshakes and high-profile visits.
But the victims do not forget their dead. They are not taken in with prettily phrased official apologies which cannot bring their dead back. The hurt festers. It turns poison. It maddens. It dehumanizes. It turns men into suicide bombs. It makes life pointless, worthless. It makes the world a cruel, hateful place. It ignites the sense of honour and incites a burning revenge. And it makes my maddened countrymen, brutalized by unashamed tyrants, fall to brutalizing one another.

And it is as simple as that.

Blending into the chorus, soaking up the definitions, the headlines, the jingoism and the propaganda, the simple fact gets lost somewhere in the morass of our sensibilities. We righteously condemn, we judge, we toss our heads from side to side with disapproval and nod it up and down in assent. Just where and when we are wanted to. And we harden up to this simple fact, failing to understand. Failing to question. Dehumanizing ourselves.

Journalist Hamid Mir recounted his firsthand experience of visiting the injured in a primitive hospital in Waziristan after a US airstrike. A young boy, having lost his limbs, informed that his mother too had died in a similar attack, and that, in her dying moments, she had instructed him to avenge in Islamabad_ where the decisions to maim and kill are made_ what was done to her in Bajaur. Years later, his elder brother was caught in Islamabad attempting to blow himself up in a high-security area.

It is as simple as that. It is, plainly, human nature distorted brutally out of shape. It is, plainly, the work of our own hands. And it shall come to pass.

A ‘Winter Soldier’ working for the US Army in Iraq decided to quit the job, among several others like him. Addressing a meeting of the Iraq Veterans Against the War, he said: ‘Let me reverse the equation for a while. Let me ask you, that if a foreign force was to land in America on the excuse of democracy or freedom or whatever it may be, would not every patriotic American come out of his house with a shotgun? Would we not resist? What would you do?’ His voice trailed off in the midst of uproarious applause.

It is as simple as that. It is about being able to reverse the equation, and asking oneself ‘what would anyone do?’ It is about overturning the definitions and refusing to buy the propaganda. It is about refusing the official amnesia imposed on us all.

And it is not about Islam. It is not about an ‘Extremist Ideology’ out there to take you over by storm. It is not about monsters and demons. It is not about bloodthirsty suicide bombers with an inbuilt genetic drive to bomb the hell out of you. It is about human beings like you and me. It is about human beings horribly gone wrong. It is about the sinned-against who become sinning in this dreadful mire of poverty, disease, lawlessness, corruption. It is about naked, barbaric injustice and oppression. It is about human beings being made ‘as flies to the wanton boys.’
And it is as simple as that. As simple as Newton’s third law of motion. An equal and opposite reaction. To every action of ours.

So I refuse to sit in judgement. I refuse to self-righteously condemn. I refuse to sing along. And I demand my humanity, my right to think for myself, my right to question, my right to reclaim the Truth. ‘And if anyone of you would punish and lay the axe on the evil tree, let him see to its roots. What judgement would you pronounce on him who slays in the flesh and yet is slain in the spirit? And how persecute you him who is a deceiver and oppressor and yet in himself is aggrieved and outraged?’ (Kahlil Gibran).

I stand the risk of being misunderstood and misjudged. I do not condone the ongoing violent attacks in civilian areas all over Pakistan which victimize innocents. I cannot possibly justify them, nor can any human being in his right mind. But I think I can understand why. I can dare just that much.

And this understanding is important. Because it is through understanding that you reach the heart of the matter, and it is reaching the heart of the matter that you find the solution and begin the healing process. And the heart of the matter is the simple truth about human nature. The heart of the matter is to understand. The heart of the matter is looking to the roots. It is as simple as that.

To begin the healing, we need to set the record straight that this war never was ours, and that the critical transition from ‘theirs’ to ‘ours’ is the triumph of the mighty empire that seeks to export its wars to lands it can buy over with a few billion dollars. We need to face the wrongs we have done. We need to realize that there is no profit in the billions made out of the blood of innocents. We need to realize that violence begets violence. We need to realize that we willed this all, and that ending this vicious cycle of violence is our responsibility, because ‘a single leaf turns not yellow but with the silent assent of the whole tree. So the wrong-doer cannot do wrong but with the secret will of you all.’ (Kahlil Gibran).

We need to realize that armies and weaponry can never win this war_ just like it never could in Vietnam, or in Iraq, or even in Afghanistan. And we need to realize that it is never too late or too impossible to sit down and talk things out with your own people, no matter how alienated they are. The troops must be withdrawn, the operation must end and we must get talking. These aren’t monsters, these were my countrymen, and it is never too late to get talking_ only my enemy would tell me otherwise.

There isn’t another way. The other option is to let this madness go on, making madmen of us all. The other option is the madness turning visible in all the horrors of spiraling violence_ bombs going off in the midst of my thriving cities, the gored flesh and the pools of blood, the gripping fear, the haunted, deserted roads. Just like the death and destruction reigning the dirt-streets of some unnamed village in Waziristan. It comes full circle.

Every bomb going off adds to the horrible, crippling Terror that sinks into my bones. The fear and hysteria is of far more import than the death and destruction. When I am frightened to hell, I am easily manipulated, and when I am easily manipulated, I am owned, controlled, made to do what Somebody requires of me. I lose my sovereignty, my identity, my everything. I become the etherized patient spread over the operating table. Somebody Else’s operating table.
And every bomb going off strengthens the case of the Somebody Else who tries to tell us their war is ours, and that we must do their dirty work and shut up with the billions of dollars of aid doled out. Every bomb going off will be quoted in Somebody’s speeches, telling us with triumphalism and authority how terribly important it is for us to stay the course, to keep on this self-destructive path. It will keep us terrorized so Somebody can promise us security with his Blackwaters and Dynacores. It will keep us impoverished so Somebody can win us with promises of aid. It will keep us enslaved so Somebody can convince us only they can truly liberate. And it will keep us repeating the ancient refrain: ‘Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength, and War is Peace.’

It is as simple as that.