Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Syria, Sarin, and Obama's 'Red Line'

I assume most of my readers remember the phony “evidence” that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had stockpiled “weapons of mass destruction,” (WMDs can include nuclear weapons, biological weapons and chemical weapons) ready to be used at a moment’s notice, thus justifying an American attack in 2003 on this Hitlerian regime. The ‘shock and awe’ attack—and the years of mayhem that followed, still far from over—took place to the cheering of American news media, but somehow the WMD were never found. With the change of administrations, though, we went from Bush to Obama and, presumably, an end to such phony justifications for war. Now, however, Seymour Hersh, probably the premier investigative journalist of our time, has written a piece indicating that the era of the ‘phony’ casus belli is far from over. Rather, it seems to be part of America’s DNA.
            Recall the dire situation: Syria and its president, Bashar al Assad, were engaged in a life-or-death struggle with what American media called “freedom fighters,” and what Assad called “terrorists.” The United States, of course, took the side of the “freedom fighters,” even though numerous reports made clear that these were not exactly democracy lovers, or nonviolent activists, or even native adversaries of the devilish Assad, but rather a rag-tag grouping of fundamentalist groups, many of whom openly declared their adherence to Al-Qaeda. The al Nusra Front was only the most prominent of these fighting groups, and it was also clear that it was supported mostly by Saudi Arabia (which had long wanted to get rid of Assad as the main secular leader opposing their hegemony in the Arab world) and other Gulf oil emirates. Yet the public was told that despite the jihadist tendencies of these freedom fighters—which should have fixed them in the camp of our mortal enemies—the United States supported them as the lesser of two evils. The enemy of my enemy is my friend is the way realpolitik types put it. And so we heard congressional hawks urging the president to ramp up the military aid, up to and including a possible U.S. invasion against the Assad regime; and the president and his men explaining that the U.S. was doing all in its power to support the “freedom fighters” short of providing a no-fly zone as it had in Libya. And of course, flush with Israeli intelligence insisting that Assad had used chemical weapons already, the American president in 2012 announced that any use of his chemical stockpile in the conflict was a “red line” beyond which Assad must not go. If he crossed that dread red line, it was implied, the United States would have no choice but to attack and save the world from weapons that threatened all of civilization. 
            In August of 2013 came the terrible news that such an attack by Assad’s forces had occurred in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, and, as “proof,” we were treated to horrifying videos of children writhing in death agony and piles of bodies allegedly killed by Assad’s sarin gas. We were told repeatedly that only Assad and his government forces had the capability to mount such an attack. We were given proofs such as the direction of the missiles that had carried the chemicals, and further proofs alleging that Assad’s forces had been gathering in just the place from which such missiles could be fired, and even alleged recordings of Assad’s commanders ordering the attacks. And so it appeared that with such an airtight case, the U.S. had no choice but to, once again, go to war in the Middle East against this latest incarnation of Adolf Hitler, now disguised as Bashar al Assad of Syria. Air strikes were being readied, we were told, while counter-claims that the gas attack might actually have come from the rebels, were laughed away as so much Syrian propaganda. BUT THEN, with two days to go before the planned strike, the president suddenly announced that prior to ordering the attack he would go to Congress to get approval. And in another two days, as Congress was preparing long hearings, the president accepted a deal brokered by Russian president Putin for Assad to get rid of his chemical arsenal under international supervision. The compulsory air strike and another American war had been avoided.
            What Seymour Hersh addresses is, why? Why did the president suddenly shift from attack to compromise? And what Hersh has found is that it was British intelligence that did the job. At its defense lab in Wiltshire, the Brits had analyzed a sample of the sarin used in the August attack and found that the gas didn’t match what was known to be in Syria’s arsenal. Given that our most loyal ally had evidence that the Sarin attack hadn’t come from the Syrian regime after all, the Joint Chiefs—who had been alerted by British intelligence—urged the president to halt the air strike. And so we learn that, once again, an American administration, goaded by hawks and phony evidence, was on the brink of initiating a major conflict that could have ignited a new conflagration in the most volatile region on earth.
            But Hersh goes further. What he demonstrates is not only that the sarin attack came from the jihadis, most likely the al Nusra Front, but also from its staunch supporter in Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Erdogan. Hersh quotes a former senior US intelligence official with access to current intelligence:
We knew there were some in the Turkish government…who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria—and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat.
Furthermore, though the administration insisted repeatedly that only Assad’s forces had access to sarin gas, both American and British intelligence had known since early 2013 that some of the rebel groups were developing chemical weapons. In fact, analysts for the US Defense Intelligence Agency had issued a paper stating that al Nusra was engaged in a sarin production program that was ‘the most advanced sarin plot since al-Qaida’s pre-9/11 effort.’ Both Turkey and Saudi Arabia were providing sarin precursors in bulk, and several members of the al Nusra front were arrested in southern Turkey in May 2013 with two kilos of sarin. Though Turkish officials claimed the seized material was not sarin at all but ‘anti-freeze,’ the DIA believed the initial arrests were valid. Furthermore, a UN investigation in March and April of 2013 of a series of chemical attacks concluded that the evidence linked NOT the government but the opposition groups to the attack: “It was clear that the rebels used the gas,” said one investigator. “It did not come out in public because no one wanted to know.”
            In short, the general public, not just in America but throughout the western world, was once again duped by the “chemical-weapons-in-the-hands-of-a-monster ploy” and very nearly went to war on the basis of phony allegations of WMD. Not everyone of course. There were many in the alternative press who vehemently disputed the claims coming out of Washington. But in the lame-stream media, there was not a peep. And notably, there still isn’t (except of course to ridicule.) Seymour Hersh had to go to England to get this latest piece published in The London Review of Books, where, fortunately, you can read it online ( Then, the next time you hear about WMD in the hands of a new ‘Hitler,’ you can start singing that old song: It seems, “we’ve heard it all before.” 
Lawrence DiStasi

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Deep State and JFK

Since former Congressional staffer Mike Lofgren wrote his essay on the ‘deep state’ and talked about it on PBS’ Moyers and Co., I have been thinking about the notion more and more. Then I read Mary’s Mosaic, Peter Janney’s riveting book about the death of JFK’s lover, the brilliant socialite Mary Pinchot Meyer. The sickening truth began to sink in once again, 50 years after the Dallas assassination that everyone in my generation remembers, and remembers thinking was an inside job when, right on our television screens, the alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was shot to death smack in the middle of the Dallas police station by the allegedly grief-stricken Jack Ruby. Everyone, that is, immediately thought conspiracy: an assassin doesn’t just get gunned down in police custody by some fat, floozy of a strip-joint owner who, because he does favors for a lot of cops and can walk into the most heavily-guarded police station in the world, can kill the prime suspect of the crime of the century with less trouble than a teenager killing rats at the dump. No. If there ever was an inside job meant to silence a suspect, this had to be it. Until, that is, the Warren Commission deliberated and handed down its verdict: Oswald was a lone, very lucky gunman with some sort of grudge against the President, and Ruby also acted on his own to exact vengeance on the man who killed the President he loved. All other conclusion and speculations were the ravings of lunatic conspiracy theorists. End of story.
            Over the years, however, intrepid researchers and reporters such as Peter Dale Scott and Oliver Stone and Robert Parry have contested the received standard version of this and other stories. And in doing so, they have broached the subject of a secret government operating outside (or perhaps one should say ‘inside’) the boundaries of legitimate political contestation or government oversight. The idea that would not die was that the operation to kill the president was the work of so-called “rogue” elements in the CIA and other government agencies like the ones that nearly brought the world to nuclear Armageddon in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. They were the same or similar elements that have brought down countless foreign governments—as in Iran when they overthrew the democratically-elected Mohammad Mossadegh and brought back the Shah—and have really dictated the policies of one president after another to such an extent that even the tepid Dwight Eisenhower raised the alarm about the dangers of the “military-industrial complex.” And they were not “rogue” at all, but fully ensconced in all agencies of government as well as the major corporate and Wall Street power centers which ultimately call the shots. This is exactly what Mike Lofgren now has formally termed “the Deep State.” Here is how he defines it:
The Deep State does not consist of the entire government. It is a hybrid of national security and law enforcement agencies: the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Justice Department. I also include the Department of the Treasury because of its jurisdiction over financial flows, its enforcement of international sanctions and its organic symbiosis with Wall Street….
Lofgren then expands on that government-corporate connection by pointing out how mutually reinforcing are the connections between corporate America and the federal agencies in question, and the huge percentage of the national security apparatus that is contracted out to private companies such as Booz Allen Hamilton (Edward Snowden’s employer):
There are now 854,000 contract personnel with top-secret clearances — a number greater than that of top-secret-cleared civilian employees of the government. While they work throughout the country and the world, their heavy concentration in and around the Washington suburbs is unmistakable: Since 9/11, 33 facilities for top-secret intelligence have been built or are under construction. Combined, they occupy the floor space of almost three Pentagons — about 17 million square feet. Seventy percent of the intelligence community’s budget goes to paying contracts.
Is it any wonder that the federal government has been at such pains to track Snowden down, to silence Julian Assange and Bradley Manning and William Binney, to mount the most savage attack on government whistleblowers and leakers in U.S. history? There’s a lot of money at stake here, not to mention some very unsavory skeletons in America’s closet.
            But to return to JFK and Mary Meyer. Peter Janney, the writer, is a psychologist by profession and a CIA brat by birth: his father was Wistar Janney, a career CIA official. This gives Peter Janney some added credibility when he writes about CIA powers like James Jesus Angleton, head of CIA counterintelligence, and Cord Meyer (Mary Meyer’s husband before their divorce), head of the Directorate of Plans. The story Janney tells is both poignant and harrowing. Having known each other when they were young collegians (JFK at Harvard and Mary at Vassar), Meyer and JFK had flirted but never really consummated anything until the early 60s when she was divorced and he, as usual, was hopping from one bed to another. Contrary to his usual pattern of “love ‘em and leave ‘em,” however, JFK is said by Janney and others to have fallen heavily for Mary Meyer. More than that, he is said to have come under her influence, first by taking LSD with her at least once, and second by agreeing that the world, on the brink of annihilation from nuclear weapons, needed peacemakers more than anything else. Mary Meyer had long been an advocate for world peace: she and her husband, Cord Meyer, had been leaders of the United World Federalists (UWF) before Cord, needing money for his new family, succumbed to an offer from the CIA (talk about flipflops!). Now, with JFK and perhaps some emotional insights from LSD, she was allegedly steering him more and more towards détente with the Soviet Union. As evidence, Janney cites JFK’s stunning American University Commencement Speech of June 10, 1963, well worth reading in full ( In that speech, JFK talked about peace as more than necessary, especially given the weapons of mass destruction now in the hands of the two superpowers, the U.S. and the Soviet Union. But he spoke not the threatening language favored by the deep staters, nor a language of blame for a “godless” adversary, but the language of rational and sane men who know that only by examining one’s own attitudes could real peace ever have a chance:
Some say that it is useless to speak of peace or world law or world disarmament, and that it will be useless until the leaders of the Soviet Union adopt a more enlightened attitude. I hope they do. I believe we can help them do it. But I also believe that we must reexamine our own attitudes, as individuals and as a Nation, for our attitude is as essential as theirs. And every graduate of this school, every thoughtful citizen who despairs of war and wishes to bring peace, should begin by looking inward, by examining his own attitude towards the possibilities of peace, towards the Soviet Union, towards the course of the cold war and towards freedom and peace here at home.
Then the President went even farther. He announced that far from just indulging in rhetoric, he intended to back up his words with action, action to pursue the talks already started in Geneva in pursuit of a real nuclear test-ban treaty:
I'm taking this opportunity, therefore, to announce two important decisions in this regard. First, Chairman Khrushchev, Prime Minister Macmillan, and I have agreed that high-level discussions will shortly begin in Moscow looking towards early agreement on a comprehensive test ban treaty. Our hopes must be tempered with the caution of history; but with our hopes go the hopes of all mankind. Second, to make clear our good faith and solemn convictions on this matter, I now declare that the United States does not propose to conduct nuclear tests in the atmosphere so long as other states do not do so. We will not -- We will not be the first to resume. Such a declaration is no substitute for a formal binding treaty, but I hope it will help us achieve one. Nor would such a treaty be a substitute for disarmament, but I hope it will help us achieve it.
In short, President Kennedy announced that day that he was serious about proposing an end to the arms race, an end to the “strategy of annihilation,” and a beginning towards an era of full disarmament and peace. And that announcement may have been the final signal to those in the “deep state” that the President of the United States, already considered unreliable because of his refusal to “nuke” Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis and risk nuclear Armageddon, because of his indications of rapprochement with not just Russia but with China and Cuba too, with his reckless (in their eyes) moves toward a test-ban treaty (his successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson, refused to sign the treaty Kennedy had negotiated), could no longer be trusted or tolerated.
            Janney cites an entry Mary Meyer made in her diary just before she died to confirm this notion: “They couldn’t control him any more. He was changing too fast.” Whether or not this was true, it is quite clear that some ‘deep staters’—very powerful people within government who were able to bring about the assassination of a sitting president and then create a commission, the Warren Commission, to confirm the preposterous lone gunman theory that has stood till this very day—wanted the President out of the way. Janney cites the cases building against Lyndon Johnson (the scandals of Bobby Baker and Billie Sol Estes, about to appear on the cover of Life Magazine until they were replaced by the assassination photos from the Zapruder film, never to be heard from again) and the clear evidence that he would be dropped as Vice President in the 1964 election, as indications that LBJ at the least knew about the plot.
            One way or the other, though, Janney’s main story concerns Mary Meyer. She apparently had told friends and acquaintances, especially after the Warren Commission Report was made public, that it was all fiction, a cover story to hide the truth. Given her well-known intimacy with the assassinated President, and her equally well-known penchant for confronting people about uncomfortable truths, Mary Meyer was not about to be intimidated. Janney quotes liberally from lawyer Jimmy Smith’s notes with his client, writer Leo Damore, who claimed, before he committed suicide in 1995, that he (Damore) had put together the details of both Mary’s death and JFK’s assassination. And his research showed that
…it wasn’t Mary’s affair with Jack that had put her in jeopardy; it was what she had been able to put together…about the “murder of JFK.” Her indignation at the cover-up in the Warren Report pushed her to confront her ex-husband, Cord, and possibly Jim Angleton as well. Smith’s notes, however, indicated that it had to have been Cord who conveyed to Jim Angleton how infuriated Mary had become. Whether Mary subsequently had a separate confrontation with Jim Angleton alone, or with Cord present, wasn’t clear. But it was almost certain both men realized—knowing Mary as well as they did—that she wasn’t the kind of person who was going to keep quiet. (329)
In short, Mary Meyer had to be silenced. Given her habit of walking each day around noon on a towpath along an abandoned Chesapeake and Ohio canal, she was accosted there on October 12, 1964, and shot twice—once in the temple, and once from behind in the right chest above the wing bone. Both were up-close professional shots, the second one fatal. A witness called to tow a Nash automobile nearby heard shots, then moved to a wall from which he could see a Black man bending over a body, wearing a tan jacket and a plaid hat. The witness, Henry Wiggins Jr., identified the suspect as 5’8” tall, weighing somewhere around 180 lbs. Shortly thereafter, police arrested Ray Crump, Jr. (according to Damore, another fall guy like Lee Harvey Oswald), a Black man about 5’3” and weighing no more than 130 lbs. Having just had extra-marital sex with a girlfriend, he refused to explain why he was at the scene, and was charged with the murder. Fortunately for him, Crump was brilliantly defended by renowned attorney Dovey Johnson, who got him acquitted of all charges. The murder remains unsolved to this day.
            According to Janney, however, Leo Damore found that one of the witnesses that day, William L. Mitchell, who claimed he was running along the path, was the real assassin. A known CIA asset, and once part of an Army Special forces kill team, Mitchell, according to another researcher, Hank Albarelli, killed Mary Meyer “at the request of the Agency’s Domestic K [contracts] Office in D.C.” But not so strangely, all records about Mitchell seem to have disappeared. He originally gave his address to police as 1500 Arlington Boulevard in Arlington VA, said to be a known “CIA safe house.” He also claimed to be a math instructor at Georgetown University, but no such person was listed on the math faculty. Damore also asserted that Mitchell had actually admitted that he was the killer of Mary Meyer, but of course, Damore himself ‘committed suicide,’ so that evidence no longer exists.
            All that exists is Janney’s book putting together the assassinations of two lovers, one of whom was the president of the United States, the other a beautiful and powerful woman who had once been married to a high CIA official. And one more piece of evidence that a constantly changing core of powerful insiders in and out of government (today, many are known as neocons) manipulates government policy and our elected leaders to an extent that is frightening to contemplate. The latest instance of this known to me is Robert Parry’s exposure of the inside game with regard to Ukraine. Parry asserts that what’s really at play in Ukraine is the neocon attempt to control Barack Obama, to poison what had been a growing diplomatic partnership between the American President and Prime Minister Putin of Russia—first in solving the crisis over Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons, and then in helping to arrange a tentative deal with Iran over its alleged nuclear weapons program. By using the National Endowment for Democracy, among other agitprop organizations of the Right, to foment and bring to a violent boil the demonstrations in Kiev, the “deep state” has once again driven a stake into the heart of peace politics when a President appeared to be moving too close to accommodation rather than belligerence. What is involved for the deep state, of course, are billions in weapons contracts for arms manufacturers, endless jobs for high-tech warriors and propagandists and hit-men, and a zealous commitment to keeping the world terrified in order to shape policy towards the manufacture of fear and the weapons associated with it.
            Whether or not the fresh air of publicity can put a stop to such insider tactics remains an open question. But in a certain sense, it is all the rest of us have. The power seems to gravitate, as always, towards fear, and the insiders who stoke that fear. Until, of course, some brave naïf reveals that the emperor, the whole exceptionalist empire, is a mirage.

Lawrence DiStasi

Monday, February 3, 2014

Inside Israel: Closer to the Brink

We have heard much in the past year about Secretary of State John Kerry’s push to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and bring about a two-state solution. But aside from the fact that no progress whatever has been made, the situation within Israel itself suggests that even were Kerry able to bring off a miracle, the growing power of the radical right inside Israel would never allow it (Israeli officials have recently severely criticized Kerry for warning Israel about increasing pressure from the BDS, or boycott movement). For while most of the world has been focused on the violations inflicted by Israel on the Palestinian territories under occupation, i.e., in the West Bank and Gaza, the plight of Palestinians inside Israel—Israeli citizens all—has been largely ignored. Max Blumenthal’s recent book, Goliath: Life and Loathing Inside Greater Israel, goes a long way towards correcting that omission. What Blumenthal demonstrates, with scores of recorded interviews with Israeli politicians and activists, is that the current Israeli Knesset is controlled by right-wing racists and proto-fascists whose announced aim is to reduce even further the “rights” of Palestinians in Israel, forcing them into ever narrower and more hostile places to live and work, and finally to force them out of Israel altogether. While this has been the aim of Zionism from its founding—as Blumenthal demonstrates with his accounts of early massacres and forced evictions of Palestinians from land Israel wanted for itself: “95 percent of new Jewish communities were established on ‘absentee’ [i.e. confiscated] Palestinian land”—it has gained virulent strength in recent years due to the immigration into Israel of Russian Jews and the concomitant rise of Russian Jewish leaders like Avigdor Lieberman. These are the immigrants who are induced to live in the illegal settlements that have been condemned by the international community and the UN, and which form such a bone of contention in all “peace” talks, and who form the shock troops of the Israeli demonstrations against Arabs that are becoming more and more common in Israeli cities like Tel Aviv and Jaffa. It is the latter that are so shockingly portrayed in Blumenthal’s book.
Here is what Blumenthal writes about Lieberman and his fellow immigrants:
As the home of the world’s largest population of racist skinheads, Russia exported its neo-Nazi plague to the Jewish state. Starting in 2007, mobs of Russian teens who received automatic citizenship under Israel’s Law of Return began spray-painting swastikas on synagogue walls and attacking Holocaust survivors, reportedly screaming “Heil Hitler!” during several attacks. (24)

This is almost too shocking to believe, but Blumenthal’s statement is confirmed by his interview with Zalman Gilichenski, identified as “a Russian immigrant teacher who ran a hotline for victims of neo-Nazi attacks in Israel.” According to Gilichenski, “They distribute cassettes and written material. They began with graffiti and then graduated to beatings” (24). In the city of Jaffa—itself largely cleared in 1948 of Palestinians, many of them orange farmers whose farms were expropriated to become the source of Israel’s famous “Jaffa oranges”—these shock troops of the Israeli right wing began to attack the remaining Palestinians, confined, since 1951, to the “ghetto of Ajami”. Blumenthal calls them part of the right-wing’s “building in the heart” campaign,
which aimed to create a bloc of settlements in the center of mixed Arab-Jewish cities that would be impossible to dislodge, and to use them as citadels for the incitement of ethnic conflict…In the event of a two-state “solution” requiring the evacuation of ideological settlements in the West Bank, many of the most hardline settlers planned to relocate to mixed cities like Jaffa and Acre..(49).

In one Jaffa incident in 2010, Blumenthal tells us, these thugs entered the yard of Zeinab Rechayel, a local Palestinian woman, chanting “This is our land!” and “Yafo is just for Jews.” Not long after, another group attacked the Al Nozha Mosque with rocks, shouting “Death to Arabs!” Police standing by did nothing. Similar violence against Israeli Arabs followed the Mavi Marmara massacre, wherein Israeli commandos had boarded a ship from Turkey bringing relief supplies to the Gaza strip, killing nine unarmed peace activists. When Israeli peace activists demonstrated to protest the killings, the government-linked student group Im Tirtzu organized a counter-demonstration, with right-wing students screaming that peace demonstrators were terrorist lovers, Nazis, or smolinim (leftists.) At the same demonstration, another group of Im Tirtzu supporters attempted to drag famed Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery from his taxi. Moreover, the chant “Death to the Arabs!”, according to Ben Gurion professor of behavioral sciences and leading expert on racism in Israel, Amir Ben-Porat, “has become a common chant in almost every football stadium in Israel” and throughout the culture (247).
All this plays into the hands of, and is an expression of the right-wing politics that has taken over Israel and the Knesset under Benjamin Netanyahu. Laws, such as the Nakba Law, subject anyone (i.e. a Palestinian) participating in commemorating what Palestinians refer to as the Naqba or catastrophe (the 1948 founding of Israel and the resultant forcing of Palestinians out of their villages, lands, and homes) to criminal fines and imprisonment for up to three years. The law was meant to be part of Avigdor Lieberman’s larger program, “No loyalty, no citizenship.” In other words, if Arabs want to commemorate their catastrophe instead of what Israelis call Independence Day, according to Lieberman, then they are disloyal and should not have Israeli citizenship. According to his plan for ending the conflict,
Israel would unilaterally establish permanent borders along demographic lines, bringing the major settlement blocs into “Israel proper” while leaving remote settlements out…In turn, at least twenty-five thousand Arabs would be stripped of their citizenship and transferred into the hands of the Palestinian Authority (25).

Everything is being done to convince and coerce Israeli Palestinians into believing that this would be best for them. We have all heard of the bulldozing of Palestinian homes in the West Bank—indeed, since 1967, Israeli bulldozers have destroyed well over 26,000 Palestinian homes (and killed at least one American, activist Rachel Corrie). But now, with a state campaign of “Judaization,” such demolitions are taking place within Israel proper, for example, in the Lod ghetto 15 minutes to the east of Tel Aviv. There, on December 13, 2010, a 17-year-old named Hamza Abu Eid was told by his principal that bulldozers were destroying his home. He rushed home but was only in time to see that Israeli bulldozers had already demolished all seven homes belonging to his extended family, with 74 people, including 54 children, left homeless. The family—Israeli citizens all—had been trying for years to get permits to improve their land, but the state rejected all of them. It now plans to build a road through the one-time Lod ghetto, and add a yeshiva for good measure. And to deal with other communities where Israeli Arabs might want to live, the Knesset recently passed the “Acceptance to Communities Act.” This legally authorizes Israeli towns to reject Palestinian Israelis as residents for alleged “social unsuitability.” Does no one there remember? Well, there’s memory and there’s memory, or so one Rabbi Aviner would have us believe: according to the good rabbi, Israel is called “to be holy, not moral, and the general principles of morality, customary for all mankind, do not bind the people of Israel, because it has been chosen to be above them” (230). Very convenient.
There is much more in this shocking book, but it might best be summarized in the words of Lia Tarachansky, a Russian Israeli born in the (illegal) settlement of Ariel, and then educated in Canada. Blumenthal’s interview with this peace activist and reporter elicited this:
"To explain the fascism in Israel, it’s not that easy, because honestly I don’t let myself think about it that much. It’s so depressing and so terrifying that I usually repress my thoughts about it. But if you really want me to define it, then I’d tell you that it’s not just the anti-democratic laws, it’s not the consensus for occupation, it’s not the massive right-wing coalition government, it’s not watching the people who ask questions and think critically being interrogated by the Shabak [Shin Bet, Israel’s secret police]. What it really is, is a feeling that you have sitting on a bus being afraid to speak Arabic with your Palestinian friends. It’s a feeling when you are sitting there having dinner—what you feel when you’re alive here. It’s the essence of what this society is. And the closer we get to the brink—and everyone is feeling that we’re getting to the breaking point—the worse it gets." (120). 

In sum, we have a state claiming to be a democracy while it methodically bulldozes its way to racial/religious purity. Now haven’t we heard of that somewhere before?

Lawrence DiStasi

Monday, January 6, 2014

Unreal Reality

I know; it’s an oxymoron. But it’s no more oxymoronic than ‘virtual reality,’ and in our strange time may just be an accurate description of the world we now operate in. What I’m talking about is the feeling I’ve been having lately—perhaps stimulated most recently by the new Downton Abbey season which debuted last night—that most of what we now engage in somehow departs from what used to be called ‘reality.’ Like Downton Abbey’s new season, it all seems contrived. That word, ‘contrived,’ is usually applied to a work of literature or other art form that doesn’t have the authentic feel of reality or inevitability. The situations and the characters seem contrived to create a preconceived effect. In Downton Abbey’s case, this gradually dawned on me as I watched the writers deal with the death of a major character, Matthew Crawley, in a car accident—also a contrived way to dispatch a character—at the end of last season. The writers apparently also had to deal with the loss of the major villain in the series, O’Brien, Lady Cora’s personal maid. A new villain was needed, and so Thomas Barrow was recycled into his old role (he had been saved from doom and disgrace, as a homosexual, by the compassion of Mr. Bates and Anna, and seemed to have reformed.) In the new season, however, Barrow, now under-butler, goes back to his old ways of motiveless evil, destroying the new nanny for no apparent reason, and then seeking to repay Bates and Anna for their earlier kindness by informing on them as the despoilers of some prized item of clothing actually ruined by Lady Cora’s new maid (herself improbably recycled from her last season’s firing due to unprofessional flirting). Reflected on, it all seemed contrived. The writers seemed to be straining, and the sense we had earlier of inevitability, of something plausible and true to life as it might have been around the turn of the 20th century, seemed to be slipping away. The drama starts to seem more like what it is, a TV soap opera with the dramatic scaffolding showing through, rather than a glimpse of reality.
            Strangely enough, this is how life in our time begins to feel as well. The partisan fighting in the U.S. political system, especially Congress, seems contrived. Everyone appears to be playing a role with no relation to the reality that millions of Americans are unemployed and the economy has never quite recovered—except, that is, for the wealthiest Americans who do not have to work but grow richer and richer off their investments in a booming stock market. In an earlier era, this obscene transfer of wealth from the poorest Americans to the already wealthy—to the very Wall Streeters and banksters who brought about the economic crash in the first place—would have been greeted with protests at best and riots in the streets at worst. Not now. It all seems to be happening at some remove from reality. We see the numbers on our nightly business reports, we see film of and interviews with the unemployed, we feel it in our own inability to get ahead (or even have the chance to keep up), and yet it all seems to be happening elsewhere, on another level of reality. In a parallel way, we see the harrowing numbers confirming the reality of global warming—to wit, that the global carbon level in our atmosphere has now passed 400 parts per million, a number that at one time was almost inconceivable (350 ppm was considered the livable limit). And yet, we see it, it is recorded somewhere in our consciousness as a terrible warning siren, and yet we and most of the world go on burning fossil fuels as usual, even exulting in our new sources. The collapse of arctic ice, the warming and acidification of the oceans, the increasingly severe weather systems like the recent typhoon in the Philippines or hurricane Sandy on the east coast, all seem to be bothersome little news snippets that occupy us and our screens for a few days, and then fade to blankness. Even the diversions that occupy us—the world series, the current professional football playoffs, the upcoming winter Olympics—occur mainly as televised events that occur in TV sports time. Nothing is ever final. We are always waiting to “really” see them in instant replay; and then see them again and again. Real time hardly seems to count; slow motion is how we now judge everything.
Only that reality doesn’t occur in slow motion. Our reality occurs in human time and it requires attention. It requires that we understand what is happening, and that we pay attention to how it is happening and how it is affecting us, how we are reacting to it. It requires that we actually be there. Be with those who are our co-responders and co-creators. Those with whom we are having a conversation or a conflict. And increasingly, those co-responders and co-conversationalists are no longer present. They come to us on our screens (I find that something about skyping makes me very uncomfortable; unnatural; forced or contrived). They appear as disembodied words in our emails. As magically uploaded photos and commentaries on our facebook pages. As cryptic verbiage (I am assuming this, since I don’t text or tweet, thank god) in our text messages and tweets. And less frequently, now, as talking heads and brief filmed sequences on our TV screens. In the latter case, and in films, more and more often the “reality” we are presented with is digitized, computerized representations of animals and humans for whom there are no dramatic or earthly limits. This, I assume, is why advertisers use these computerized versions—plus it must be cheaper than paying actual actors. But it must also be the case that we have become so acclimated to computerized reality that many people feel more comfortable with the smooth, antiseptic reality of digitization, even in animations that urge us to buy another useless product. When the product is itself a fantasy promising that our lives will suddenly be peopled by beautiful people also seduced by our possession of the new product, then perhaps it makes sense to present it in a fantasy drama portrayed digitally and jerkily and virtually. On a screen. Where most of our lives now seem to take place. 
Indeed, I am at a screen right now. The letters forming this blog post appear as if by magic as I type them. It is a convenience I no longer think about and can no longer do without. And yet. I am completely divorced from any sensory input of paper or pencil or an actual text I used to have on my desk, or in my typewriter. There is no sensory product anymore. There is only this virtual text that is taking shape on my screen, and which I will, when finished (and easy editing is one of the great boons of computer composition), simply drag and click to upload to my blog page, and post on my facebook page, and paste to my email list, and then push a button to send out to the world where others like me will, perhaps, read it as computer text and perhaps respond in an email or a comment, and perhaps even say a word to someone else or more likely email this computerized message to someone else. And that will be the reality of this comment on the absence of reality, on the unreality of reality in our time.
I don’t know what to do about this. There may be nothing to be done. All I can do is comment on it, on the strangeness of it, on the weirdness of how “reality” or whatever this is, feels in our time. And wonder, again and again, what the effect of this ever-increasing estrangement from our actual lives, our natural lives, this apartness from what, at some deep level, I am convinced is necessary for human existence, will be. Because the truth is, we have never, most of us, ever quite figured out what we’re doing here, what our relationship in the most profound sense, to all else, consists of. And I can’t help feeling that these latest estrangements are removing us ever farther from that fundamental and necessary realization.

Lawrence DiStasi