Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Senate Gone Mad

The Senate this week has voted positively, and bi-partisanly on two proposals which, taken together, suggest that a kind of insanity has taken over Congress.

First, it voted to uphold a resolution introduced by Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden, that would divide Iraq into three semi-autonomous regions. There would be a Shiite region, a Sunni region, and a Kurdish region. The measure passed by a whopping 75-23 vote. Thankfully, the resolution is nonbinding. This means it has no force, but the vote is such a capitulation to the ethnic/sectarian rivalry that has consumed Iraq since the United States invasion that it essentially says, ‘Fine, you guys want to fight, we’ll separate you.’ And it essentially means: ‘You are no longer a united nation. You are now three tribes who cannot be trusted to live together.’ Of course, the fact that Sunni and Shia lived side by side, intermingled and intermarried, and generally prided themselves on being simply Iraqis before the United States destroyed their country and created sectarianism, is not mentioned in the resolution.

Be that as it may, our first question should be, "Who benefits?" As far as I can see, the plan would benefit mainly Israel. For from the very beginning, the chief instigator of the American attack on Iraq, and its chief beneficiary, was Israel. This was because Israel feared Iraq more than any other neighbor as a powerful Arab nation. And Israel has made clear over many many years that the one thing it will not abide is a powerful nation, other than itself, in the Middle East. To split Iraq into three separate regions, therefore, fits Israel’s overall design perfectly. Divide and conquer is and always has been its chief strategy. And of course, dividing and conquering is also the classic strategy of every empire, including the current American one.

That Israel cannot abide a powerful neighbor is also behind the second move in this week’s Senatorial clown show—-the move on Wednesday approving the nonbinding resolution to make U.S. policy one that "combats, contains, and rolls back the violent activities and destabilizing influence inside Iraq of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its foreign facilitators such as Lebanese Hezbollah, and its indigenous Iraqi proxies." The measure was proposed by the reigning war mongers in the Senate, Jon Kyl of Arizona and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. The Senate approved the measure by an equally large 76-22 majority.

And again we must ask, are these people mad? This is precisely the type of resolution that can be interpreted by our current Bomber-in-Chief as the authority he needs to launch the pre-emptive attack on Iran that many have been predicting.

And again, it is Israel which stands to benefit—-at least in the short run. For once again, we have a nation, Iran, which has grown powerful because of the ongoing American fiasco in Iraq, and which now can be characterized as a direct threat to Israel’s existence (an Israel, it should be noted, armed to the teeth with hundreds of nuclear weapons and no inspections because it simply refused to sign the Non-proliferation Treaty). Democrat (at least putatively) Lieberman and Republican Kyl, and increasingly the Bush Administration, not to mention the Israeli government, have been propagandizing about that "growing nuclear threat" for months now. And the accusations resemble nothing so much as the similarly dire warnings about Iraqi nuclear threats to the U.S. and its "allies" (i.e. Israel) before the bloody American invasion in 2003.

The truth of the matter is that no one has yet produced a shred of actionable evidence that Iran is building nuclear weapons, or arming Iraqis, or planning to invade Israel. If anyone had such evidence, it surely would have been produced before now. The whole thing is preposterous. Not to mention dangerous. As Senator Jim Webb of Virginia said on Wednesday in his statement opposing the resolution:

"This proposal … is Dick Cheney’s fondest pipe dream. It’s not a prescription for success. At best, it’s a deliberate attempt to divert attention from a failed diplomatic policy. At worst, it could be read as a back-door method of … gaining congressional validation for action without one hearing or without serious debate."

In other words, another invasion, to divert attention from the first one, could seem reasonable to the madmen in the White House. Now, with the Senate unable to agree on any way forward in Iraq, it apparently seems reasonable to no less than 76 Senators as well. Nevermind that an attack on Iran could ignite a regional holocaust. Nevermind that Iran is a sovereign nation, with a democratically elected president (one more legitimately elected than our own.) Nevermind that Iranian forces have invaded no one, attacked no one, whereas the United States is knee-deep in an illegal invasion and occupation that has killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and destroyed a country. The Senate, including dozens of Democrats, overwhelmingly approved the measure.

A Senate gone mad. How else can one interpret such psychotic dithering while Rome burns?

Lawrence DiStasi

Monday, September 17, 2007

Monstrosity II

Though not exactly identical to what I had in mind with "Monstrosity I," the new book by Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine, also evokes the idea of the monstrous. This is especially true when one focuses on the source of the idea—-the shock treatments that were once the darling of the psychology establishment. The idea was simple: electroshocking a patient’s brain could so reconfigure the mental apparatus that whole areas of memory were wiped out. The intent was to regress the patient to a pre-verbal state where he or she might no longer control speech, or sometimes even excretory functions. The confused mental connections thought to be responsible for the mental illness were thereby wiped clean, and a new, better adaptation to the real world could take its place. This, at least, was the theory.

Even left to mental institutions, this was bad enough. The problem, as Klein points out, is that electroshock theory deeply impressed the dean of modern economics, Milton Friedman. Friedman’s economic vision, therefore, integrated the idea of shock treatment, only in this case, applied to whole economic systems. As Klein points out (see "The Shock Doctrine," London Guardian, 9/8/07, reprinted on, in one of his key essays Friedman noted that "only a crisis - actual or perceived - produces real change." The way to cure the economic system of its insane notions of state control and welfare, therefore, was through shocks, either natural or man-made. Hence, natural disasters like Katrina, wars, terror attacks like 9/11, and so on could so shock a population that it would regress to childlike dependency and be amenable to harsh economic manipulations it would otherwise reject. Though Friedman argued to President Nixon for the shock to be applied to the United States, the President knew that it would lose him elections. So Nixon outsourced the experimental treatment to Chile. Once the democratically-elected president, Salvador Allende, was overthrown, the coup-leader General Pinochet could administer the shock treatment. And he did. State-owned enterprises were privatized, American corporate giants were allowed to buy up the country’s assets, and Pinochet administered more persuasive shock via arrests, torture, and the wholesale murder of his opponents.

In more recent times, Klein argues, the shock treatment has formed the core of the George W. Bush presidency. The attack on the World Trade Center did the initial softening of the population. In its wake Bush was able to impose the type of draconian measures that Americans would have rejected in less terrifying times. More specifically, the unprovoked war on Iraq was to make that long-suffering nation the main demonstration project. ‘Shock and Awe’ terror bombing began the treatment. The looting of the country followed, with American troops simply standing by while a 4,000-year-old civlization was destroyed. This was quite OK for the Bushies: all that history was akin to the noxious delusions that schizophrenics carry in their brains, and which are better off being shocked away. Paul Bremer’s provisional authority then extended the process—-wiping out the entire civil service and military systems via de-Baathification, and ringing in the new free-market utopia with his announcement that Iraq was "open for business" to multinational corporations. The fact that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis would be killed in the process, that thousands of recalcitrants who objected would be subjected to even greater "shock treatment" in places like Abu Ghraib, that an entire national and cultural heritage would be burned and bombed out of existence, seemed not to matter.

Now we can see why, in their recent testimony before Congress, General Petraeus and especially Ambassador Crocker kept repeating the same mantra: this is a difficult and complex undertaking; we are bringing a new nation into being. This seemed, on the surface, just another instance of Bush Aministration hubris and propaganda, meant to blame everything wrong in Iraq on 35 years of Saddam Hussein. With Klein’s insight, however, as well as her further example of the ethnic cleansing going on in New Orleans after the "fortuitous" shock of Hurricane Katrina, we can see that it is much more. These zealots actually believe that they can wipe out an entire people’s way of life and being, and replace it with their beloved free-market (predicated, of course, on the notion that U.S. corporate insiders get special access in picking the new nation’s low-hanging economic fruit.) These boys in white coats actually believe they can remake the entire world if only the world can be sufficiently diverted with pap about democracy and freedom while the shocks are administered.

It is as monstrous an idea as any that economists and politicians have ever conceived—-and that includes the Nazis, the Soviets, the Khmer Rouge, and acknowledged monsters like Idi Amin. Moreso. Because in the past, the aim of monsters like Idi Amin was simply to intimidate those who might resist their control, or plunder. Now, with our modern monsters, the aim is to shock the world (or make use of natural shocks like Katrina) sufficiently to regress it to a drooling state of abject infantilism, and remake it as a globe full of mindless, manipulable consumers celebrating the bread and circuses that enslave them. Sadly, it seems that at least in the United States, the job is already well on its way.

Lawrence DiStasi

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Goodbye Alberto

When Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez resigned recently, he said something that may have endeared him, as usual, to his master—George W. Bush—but should go down in history as perhaps one of the cheapest shots ever taken by a disgraced public official. Trying to persuade us how proud he was to have risen so high, even in the face of his public fall, Gonzalez said something like:

"My worst day as Attorney General was better than my father’s best day."

We were to fill in the blanks. Gonzalez, a Hispanic American, had risen from the lower classes to emerge as trusted counselor and all-around gofer to George W. Bush, first in Texas when Bush was governor, and then in the White House where he served as general counsel to the President, and then as Attorney General.

It is a saga that rings with all the music of the great American success story. Anyone can rise from humble origins, and Gonzalez had been born in a town outside Houston actually called Humble, Texas. His father, whose best day, "Fredo" assured us, never even approached his son’s worst day, had been a construction worker. Somehow he managed to provide Alberto with a good enough life to send him to Harvard Law School (after a stint at the Air Force Academy, which, like his master, he left before incurring any serious service obligations.) From there, it was up up and away for the Hispanic lawyer.

But let’s go back to the comment. 'Even my worst day was better than any day my father ever had.' What are we to think of a man who says that? Does he mean that the work he did—being George W. Bush’s chief ass-kisser and enabler, the author of Bush policies legitimizing torture and the greatest curtailment of American civil liberties since the Civil War—was more noble and worthy than any construction work his father ever did or could do? Is this what he meant? Or that his work at the Department of Justice in politicizing the American system of justice to skew it towards U.S. Attorneys who could corrupt the voting system, was more noble than his father’s work with his hands?

It is actually a far more revealing comment than Alberto could have intended. For what it bares for the world to see are the smarmy morals and Snopes-like allegiances that motivate this man. Far from respecting a hard-working father, Alberto sneers at his entire life as a life without merit. A life whose best day couldn’t even approach the worst day the son ever had. And we must assume that the son meant to include the recent weeks and months of utter humiliation as he was forced to testify before Congress to his utter incompetence, his utter inability to run what is arguably the most crucial department in the entire government, his utter failure to understand that justice in America means more than fixing things so that the boss can spit upon, fart upon, trample upon justice if he so chooses. Because he is the boss. He is the kingpin. He is the President, and he can do no wrong. This is what Alberto Gonzalez means by the glory that attended to even his worst day. The glory that attends to being George W. Bush’s ass-sniffing lapdog.

And all we can say in response to his public slur upon his father’s memory is that the man is a traitor at heart. A traitor to his father. A traitor to his ethnicity. A traitor to his people. A traitor to his class. A traitor who saw, early on, the opportunity that could arise from the willingness to endure any shame, betray any relative, enact any charade to demonstrate undying loyalty to one’s betters. And to enact it right through some of the most shameful public humiliation in recent memory.

Alas, poor Alberto. The fall of a sycophant is always both delicious, and sad. And in your case and your poor father’s, it is doubly delicious, and doubly sad.

Lawrence DiStasi