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Monthly Archives: May 2011

Scenes from Oklahoma, Missouri and Mississippi in the last weeks

As images of Apocalypse seem to flow from the broad swath of America’s great plains and down through the realm called The Bible Belt, the recent radio pastor’s May 21 End Times prediction seems not so far off the mark.  Certainly the Senator from Oklahoma, Mr Inhofe, famously quoted as saying that the theories of global warming were “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” would prefer to think his State was smote for Biblical errancies rather than as a confirmation of those pin-head scientists whose computer models suggested exactly the kind of weather now afflicting America and the world.   I do not know what sins his fellow Oklahomans and the next door Show Me folks committed, though I suspect they are little different than those of the rest of humanity, but the calamity being visited on them is perhaps a twisted justice for the politicians and preachers whom they seem to follow, and the choices made for them by a misguided economics.

Senator Inhofe, from Oklahoma

Mr Inhofe, long in the pocket of the regional oil business, can be heard saying many things regarding oil or hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, always in support of the industry.   Surely he will soon say that the ravages inflicted on his State in the last days is solely the work of God, and we better get praying.  And it’s all the fault of people clamoring for non-hetero marriages, and has nothing whatsoever to do with human use of oil and energy !

Polar Ice cap then and recently

While local meteorological observations often seem to counter-indicate global warming, and spring might be cooler than usual – as it has been here in Korea, and for my friends in Italy – or the heavy snow-pack in the American Rockies and Sierra-Cascades would indicate colder winters, these are often intuitively misleading, and in fact merely confirm the expected consequences anticipated by computer models.   “Globally” as it were, the temperature of the earth has been steadily rising for a hundred years.  So has the number of humans and their use of carbon-based energy.   The rises are annually small, and people tend not to notice it.  Cumulatively though it becomes very evident as plants and animals long adapted to one range of temperatures confront a change sufficient enough to kill them, or force them to move northward to climates they can function in.   The arrival of semi-tropical birds in once temperate zones is an example.

The weather patterns we have seen of late in North America perfectly fit the model of a warming earth.  Warmer air carries more moisture, as anyone who has visited a tropical area would know.  The cycle is simple: warmer water bodies – seas, oceans – evaporate, their moisture becomes airborne, and we get a nice hot sticky tropical air.   This results, typically in such areas, in monsoons and typhoons – massive rain storms.   As this expands its geographic reach owing to a cumulative global warming, these wet air masses move into new areas, and the kind of rains which the Mississippi and Ohio river valley areas experienced becomes a new “normal.”  The massive record snow packs of the western mountains – quite likely soon to become flash flooding in the areas west of the Rockies, and in the Sacramento Valley in California – are another to-be-expected consequence of global warming.  Essentially the land-mass of North America may begin to expect weather conditions more like that of India – a huge wet season, followed with a long dry one.   The consequence will be a severe strain on systems which were designed to cope with quite another range of probable weather: the hundred year flood plain will become an annual one; the levee systems of the Mississippi and Sacramento River delta areas will become utterly inadequate and towns and cities built along them will probably have to be abandoned.    The American mid-west – tornado alley – will be subjected regularly to the kinds of massive mile-wide systems that have ravaged Joplin and Tuscalosa in the last month.  The flimsy architecture of this region – mostly wood frame or brick – will largely prove itself insufficient to withstand a new weather pattern of massive seasonal storms with winds of 100 to 150 miles an hour.    A glance at the pictures from these events shows that such architecture is as flimsy as a trailer home in such events.   If, as can be expected, such weather becomes a real norm, it would likely mean mass migration from the area.  River areas would become too dangerous to live near; the vast unbroken and open interior – ideal for the generating of twisters – could become too volatile for many to tolerate.   And along the coasts, particularly the gulf and east coasts, the probable oceanic storms – hurricanes – would likely chew up coastal towns and housing, not to mention snatching the beaches away.

Apocalyptic enough?  I am sure Mr Inhofe will be praying mightily while pocketing those oil industry coins.   Meanwhile one of his peers, who perhaps is running for President, the thrice-married “family values” man, Mr. Gingrich, will be there with him.

Mr Gingrich and his 3rd wifeJoplin, Mo., after the storm

While there is little here which is new, I print below in full an editorial from the New York Times, printed today, which merely underlines that the United States of America has devolved into a full-fledged “legal” police-state.  To say, as described below, the President of the Nation may, on whatever evidence, however flimsy and false, declare some person a terrorist, or some other word, and on this assertion that person may be kidnapped by agents of the State, deposited in some secret place, tortured (or killed) and gosh darn, it’s all OK, legal, and the Supreme Court says that’s the way it is.  The cover for this is “state secrets” and of course anything illegal/horrendous/criminal which the State does falls under this curtain.  So it’s official, out-in-the-open, and declared by the Supreme Court of America, one of the alleged institutionalized systems of  “checks and balances” which we claim is a hallmark of our “democracy.”   America, beacon to the world, shining city on a hill, “the beautiful”, is a police-state, no different than Stalin’s Russia or Hitler’s Third Reich, or any other tin-pot dictatorship where your life is tolerated on the whim of a bureaucrat and a “leader,” whichever title they are accorded.   That it hasn’t reached you just yet is your luck or acquiescence or participation.

Malign Neglect

Published: May 21, 2011

President Obama has adopted the same legal tactic of using the secrecy privilege to kill lawsuits. So the only hope was that the courts would not permit these widely known abuses of power to go unchecked.

Last Monday, the Supreme Court abdicated that duty. It declined to review a case brought by five individuals who say — credibly — that they were kidnapped and tortured in overseas prisons. The question was whether people injured by illegal interrogation and detention should be allowed their day in court or summarily tossed out.

The court’s choice is a major stain on American justice. By slamming its door on these victims without explanation, it removed the essential judicial block against the executive branch’s use of claims of secrecy to cover up misconduct that shocks the conscience. It has further diminished any hope of obtaining a definitive ruling that the government’s conduct was illegal — a vital step for repairing damage and preventing future abuses.

The lead plaintiff, an Ethiopian citizen and resident of Britain named Binyam Mohamed, was arrested in Pakistan in 2002. The C.I.A. turned him over to Moroccan interrogators, who subjected him to brutal treatment that he says included cutting his penis with a scalpel and then pouring a hot, stinging liquid on the open wound.

After the trial court gave in to the secrecy argument, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the case should proceed. It said the idea that the executive branch was entitled to have lawsuits shut down with a blanket claim of national security would “effectively cordon off all secret actions from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the C.I.A. and its partners from the demands and limits of the law.”

Last September, the full appeals court, ruling en banc, reversed that decision by a 6-to-5 vote. The dissenters noted that the basic facts of the plaintiffs’ renditions were already public knowledge. But the majority gave in to the pretzel logic shaped by the Bush administration that allowing the torture victims a chance to make their case in court using nonsecret evidence would risk divulging state secrets.

The Supreme Court allowed that nonsense to stand.

It is difficult to believe there are legitimate secrets regarding the plaintiffs’ ill treatment at this late date. Last year, a British court released secret files containing the assessment of British intelligence that the detention of Mr. Mohamed violated legal prohibitions against torture and cruel and degrading treatment.

The Supreme Court should have grabbed the case and used it to rein in the distorted use of the state secrets privilege, a court-created doctrine meant to shield sensitive evidence in actions against the government, not to dismiss cases before evidence is produced.

But this is not the first time the Supreme Court has abdicated its responsibility to hear cases involving national security questions of this sort. A year ago, the Supreme Court refused to consider the claims of Maher Arar, an innocent Canadian whom the Bush administration sent to Syria to be tortured. In 2007, the court could not muster the four votes needed to grant review in the case of Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen subjected to torture in a secret overseas prison.

As President Obama’s first solicitor general, Justice Elena Kagan was in on the benighted decision to use overwrought secrecy claims to stop any hearing for torture victims. She properly recused herself from voting on the case. Surely among the eight remaining judges there was at least one sensitive to the gross violation of rights, and apparently law. We wish they would have at least offered a dissent or comment to let the world know that the court’s indifference was not unanimous.

Instead, what the world sees is rendition victims blocked from American courts while architects of their torment write books bragging about their role in this legal and moral travesty. Some torture victims bounced from American courts, including Mr. Mohamed and Mr. Arar, have received money from nations with comparatively minor involvement in their ordeals.

The Supreme Court’s action ends an important legal case, but not President Obama’s duty to acknowledge what occurred, and to come up with ways to compensate torture victims and advance accountability. It is hard, right now, to be optimistic.

And so, as America goes about the world loudly preaching “freedom” and “democracy” its Executive and Legislative bodies, along with its final Judicial organ, all accept and authorize what is nothing but a police-state.   This once was done somewhat covertly, in “black sites” and hidden behind euphemisms such as “state secrets.”   It is now done openly, with the judiciary behaving like good Nazi judges, doing what was “legal.”  Under Obama’s administration this continues and is amplified:  Guantanamo remains open for business;  Bradley Manning, alleged source of Wikileaks State Department cables, is kept in inhumane conditions clearly designed to break him and the President signs off on it as “proper.”  Whistle-blowers are imprisoned.

Of course it is difficult for most Americans to believe and accept that their “shining city on a hill” and “land of the free, home of the brave” is in fact a police-state, though getting on a flight in the US should serve as a firm hint.  But it is.  Domestically it incarcerates its own citizens (admittedly with a distinct racial bias) in numbers far higher than other nations; it subjects its citizens to endless forms of control and surveillance; abroad it flies robot drones to kill at will, it invades countries on false pretexts, and stations its armed forces around the world.   This is the reality of the United States of America.  It is a militarized police-state acting at the behest of its corporate controllers, internally and externally.

If he had not been joking, Lars von Trier would feel quite at home here, in a country he has always refused to visit.

Randy Savage, dead professional wrestler

Addendum, May 23:  Quoted in the same paper of record, the retiring Secretary of Defense, reiterating that America’s ruling elite is intent on remaining the dominant imperial power for the foreseeable future, all of course, in the name of “national interests.”

“More than any other secretary of defense, I have been a strong advocate of soft power — of the critical importance of diplomacy and development as fundamental components of our foreign policy and national security,” Mr. Gates said. “But make no mistake, the ultimate guarantee against the success of aggressors, dictators and terrorists in the 21st century, as in the 20th, is hard power — the size, strength and global reach of the United States military.”

He warned, “the lessons of history tell us we must not diminish our ability or our determination to deal with the threats and challenges on the horizon, because ultimately they will need to be confronted.”

The US maintains 700 listed military bases throughout the world; “black” sites are of course a “state secret.”    Military spending as accounted (falsely) by the government consumes about 50 percent of annual expenditures.  I write “falsely” as budgeting deliberately tries to mask some military costs, for example putting our nuclear arsenal – very costly – largely under the Department of Energy budget.  Similarly other such expenses are not placed under the Pentagon’s budget, and of course the burgeoning systems of the Department of Homeland Security and the CIA are separate accounts.  The police-state imperial-minded military-industrial-media complex is alive and well in the America of the 21st century.

New York Times Logo inverted flipped

In response to an Editorial page item on the failure of communications during 9/11, and in their view the failure to fix that since, I wrote this which they declined to print:

The real communications failure of 9/11 was the curious failure of the defense system in the most highly-defended air corridor in the country. Curiously on that very same day it was conducting, under VP Cheney, an exercise in which fictional hi-jacked civilian aircraft were supposedly attacking. The Air Force was busy playing games, and had sent most of its planes far to the North. Confusion reigns. Indeed. Deliberate? The behavior of the government immediately after suggests something: they did not want an investigation; they stone-walled and testified not under oath when forced; they produced a white-wash of a paper that didn’t take testimony from inconvenient people who as engineers and architects questioned the official explanation for the collapse of WTC 1 and 2, and the curious demise of sensitive-office holding WTC 7, only very modestly damaged from the debris of the WTC towers.

This is the communications failure most pertinent to 9/11 and it should be fully and independently investigated so that the full truth of that event is told to the American people.

And another response, which unfortunately I did not save, regarding Israel’s position in current supposed peace efforts was also not printed.  I wrote that Israel exists as a consequence of European maltreatment of the Jewish people for several thousand years, based on Christian mythologies.   After WW2 and exposure of the Holocaust, the bad conscience of Europe off-shored the “problem” to the so-called Holy Lands, dispossessing the inhabitants – Palestinians – of their land and homes to do so.  Resolving this conundrum is really largely the responsibility of Europe and the US which were primarily responsible for inventing Israel as a concrete matter, at the cost of another people’s home.   Evidently for the Times such thoughts are impermissible.

Lars von Trier

As if to demonstrate a certain French flair for convolution, the Board of Directors of the Cannes film festival yesterday evicted Lars von Trier from their affair for words uttered during a press conference for his newest film, Melancholia. Famed as a bad boy of the present-day cinema circus, Mr von Trier, whose film evidences an acquaintance with German Romanticism, said predictably bad things, as is expected (and even desired) of him.   The bad things had to do with Jews, Hitler, Nazism.  They were said with a kind of smirk, and clearly not very seriously.  However, in a fit of transparently bad conscience, the mandarins of Cannes gathered and declared the Dane persona non grata, revoking his accreditation, and sending him into exile from the august and always ever so serious world of cinema.   Part of the bad conscience comes from a now-aging internal conflict in France regarding collaboration with the Nazi’s, the Vichy regime, and the numerous instances of famed French cultural and political figures, as well as common “people”, who claimed to have resisted, or such, and were found not only to have not resisted, but to having partook and then lied about it.  The political atmosphere of France has been poisoned by this reality ever since the close of World War Two.  As noted by the Cannes eviction notice, in the land of  liberté, égalité, fraternité, it is illegal to utter words which are “anti-Semitic.”  This illegality again suggests that old bad conscience, and perhaps a consciousness that such an inclination still runs rampant through French culture.  These days it is often filtered through sentiments against other “outsiders” such as the colonial natives who have moved to the “motherland.”  Curiously many of them are…. Semitic.   Not that it matters.  Let people legally speak their prejudices and who knows what might come out!

Curiously while the Very Important People who run the Cannes Festival have seen fit to cast the gloomy Dane into the purgatory of exile, I’d take a side-bet on their attitudes regarding another current French matter of deep concern – the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in America – would be one of horror at his treatment at the hands of the NYPD, perp walk, and, well, actual arrest.    Not too long ago, after long years sheltered by France, Roman Polanski, accused of rape, sodomy etc. of a 13 year old girl long ago in sordid Hollywood, walked the red-carpet at Cannes to great applause.   And then there’s that Cannes (and Venice) favorite, America’s own Woody Allen who …  well, let’s not get into that story.   It would seem Gallic morality has some cosmic wormholes that permit certain things, but not others.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn in the dock looking nervous in New York

Back in New York, the drama of the moment continued with Dominique Strauss-Kahn in court for a get-out-on-bail hearing which after a fashion went his way:  basically a house-arrest with electronic anklet, armed security at the door, and perhaps a bit oddly, a contractual paper saying that should he just happen to be in France or elsewhere, he’d waive extradition rights.  Hmmmm….

Back on the Croisette, where starlets, lurkers, critics and others gather in May to make their genuflections to the altar of the 7th art, the thundering shallowness of the wonderful world of cinema was in full display.   The grand names, and lesser, rolled out their wares, from Pirates to porn to sometimes serious art unfortunately shown in the same context.  Critics – seldom able to restrain themselves – boo and hiss, or applaud rapturously, and wield their pens as stilettoes, ever eager to slip one in.   Here for example is the New York Times critic Manohla Dargis today, doing a nasty aside while lauding Jafar Panahi, in a note on his This Is Not A Film:

“He also describes a movie that he wasn’t allowed to make, about a young woman who hopes to attend university, using masking tape to illustrate the planned set. These lines of tape on the floor echo the sets Mr. von Trier used in “Dogville,” a Brechtian look at terror that was here in 2003 and now rings even more hollowly next to Mr. Panahi’s anguished movie.”

Jafar Panahi in This Is Not A Film, apparently done on cell-phone

Well, take that Lars, and stick it in your ear !   I am not, myself, a von Trier fan, finding his films rather over-worked and their “provocations” a bit too obvious, nor do his antics amuse me.  But Manohla’s kicking-a-man-while-down is, well, unseemly, but to my passing acquaintance, all too typical of most critics.

Von Trier goes Germanic Romantic

Caspar David Friederick

On a happier note vis a vis Cannes, some weeks ago I saw a short film by a quite young Korean filmmaker who had contacted me not long after I arrived here, 4 years ago.  I don’t know why she did so, but I got these DVDs in the post, and gritting my teeth in anticipation of the usual, I found myself happily surprised at the film  sent, a 10 minute short, Mysteries of Nature, which unfolded.  When I found out it had been made by someone 19 years old I was rather blown away.   Seeing other films of hers only confirmed this sense.   So seeing her newest film about 6 weeks ago, another short, again very good, Ghost by title, I promptly contacted someone in the Cannes hierarchy, asking if they could overlook the long passed deadline, waive the submission fee, and take a look.   They said yes, and yesterday it showed in the official short film competition.    As she had been having a hard time getting anyone in Korea to give her the time of day, I thought a little catapult into the glitz of Cannes would turn some heads – which it did even before she’d left for the festival.  Now if she wins something all the better, though I suspect just being there will go a long way to getting her some support in the form of money and interest.  I hope so.  She deserves it.

From Dahci Ma’s Ghost

I have another story about this year’s Cannes, but to spare someone a bit of something, I’ll keep it to myself.

Lightening strike in Paris

The news Twittered across the Atlantic before the press had a chance and the Parisian public awoke to find their most likely predicted next President locked up in a New York slammer, charged with attempted rape.  Dominique Strauss-Kahn, President of the IMF, was the Socialist party’s most probable candidate for the upcoming elections in France, and led by wide margins in polls pitting him against President Sarkozy.   Today his chances look dim, and France is abuzz with rumors and speculations, political and otherwise.  While those in power in France are famed for that particular savoir faire regarding sexual mores and behaviors, even in the highest offices (or perhaps especially there), and perhaps in Paris the accusation by a recent African immigrant would have been summarily swept under the rug, in the New York of WeeGee, it was another story:

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, President IMF, cools his heels in NY court

While some quickly suggested a set-up to bring down a rival, and the propaganda arm of the Sarkozy forces was rather quick on the draw, Mr Strauss-Kahn does have a history of sexual predatory behavior, and no sooner than this incident lit up the headlines, than other victims have begun to sing.   The IMF promptly installed a new temporary director, and the judge in New York declined Kahn bail, citing him as an escape risk.

In France it is the custom that those in the highest offices are protected from press scrutiny, the law, or other such annoyances.   Having mistresses is rather a given for those in high places, as well as is corruption.  Thus the French have recoiled in surprise and disdain at the crude American way of dealing with such things.  The maid should have been silenced with a payment, the police and judges should have squelched it all, and Dominique, man of the world, should have been let go.  After all, power has its privileges and African immigrant maids should have none.  Or they should perhaps even be thankful for the privilege of sucking-on-command the man’s organ.

Sarkozy and his wife, super-slut Carla Bruni, who famously slept around

The tip of the iceberg

And so while the ex-President of the IMF studies philosophy in a New York jail cell, rather than cavorting in his $3000 a day Sofitel hotel suite,  others, squeezed by the draconian forces of “austerity” close shop – in Ireland, Greece and Portugal.   Elsewhere, including naturally in the USA, the same fiscal pressures applied in the name of “the Free Market” mantra, bend and twist lives, allegedly as if by nature. 

Lisbon, closed shop

Of course, if our police could move only so swiftly to act on the pecadillos and major crimes of those who work about five miles south of Harlem, it might seem more understandable.  As it is, our biggest criminals not only go free, but they get to run the whole show:  Wall Street has bought the entire government, including the judiciary, and has a free hand to do as it pleases.  Certainly Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s sexual urges, demonstrative of the corruptions of power, remain as small as the fellow in the car’s, relative to the predatory practices of our “financial” industry. 

WeeGee foto of the way gangsters end

President Assad and supporters

With his troops busy occupying various cities, his snipers randomly killing, and mass arrests being made by his secret services, President Bashar al-Assad, son of the former President, is apparently out to follow in his father’s foot-steps by becoming another mass killer.   Above, in what appears to be a sumptuous place, a crisply white-uniformed military guard in the distance, Assad is surrounded by his rather obviously high-class admirers and supporters.  Part of the regional oligarchy we must assume.   The Syrian government is a – yet another – kleptocracy, in which a tiny minority skims off the national wealth, backed by a military, secret service, all of whom are kept relatively well-off while…*

Non-supporters of Assad, evidently of another “class of people”

“We will not go out, leave on our boat, go gambling, you know,” he said at his plush, wood-paneled headquarters in Damascus. “We will sit here. We call it a fight until the end.” He added later, “They should know when we suffer, we will not suffer alone.”

So was quoted Rami Makhlouf, giving the customary explanation – as given by elites the world round – that without the ruling regime of which he, (aged 41, the richest businessman of Syria, cousin of the President), is a major part, the country would fall apart.  That for most of its citizens it has long since fallen apart seems never to occur to the likes of Mr Makhlouf, of Mubarack, or their crazed kin, Gaddafi.  Living within the cushioned cocoon of wealth, surrounded with adulators, such people seem ever to stumble blindly to their own guillotine, never understanding why, until far too late.  But, as the quote above suggests, in going they will make sure to take many with them.  Noblesse oblige.

In the middle-east these are an old stories, in many of which the US, or some other once colonial power, has a hand in writing.  Today, as a consequence of this history, ignited symbolically by the self-immolation of a simple street peddler,  Mohamed Bouazizi  in Tunisia, the region is – thanks in part to those western inventions of the internet and social networking pages – aflame.  Able to see the wider world, mired in a suffocating dead-end of economic, political and social tyranny, the younger people have risen up, voting often with their feet and fleeing to Europe and America, and now with mass demonstrations, and more recently, armed rebellion.  Bouazizi’s was an act of despair, provoked (it is said) by the slap of a police-woman who was confiscating his street cart – again.  He could not know his gesture would act, in concert with the long-forming political climate of the region, to ignite a regional uprising.

Mohamed BouaziziFuneral of Mohamed BouaziziEgyptian police before Mubarack’s departure

While Tunisia and Egypt sort out the aftermath of the symbolic collapse – if not the real collapse – of the previous regimes, neighboring countries  (potentates or whatever scrambled agglomerations Western powers drew in the sands of Arabia) now shudder under the impact of this new-found capacity for ordinary people to share their views, and unite to make those views into action.  In Libya it is being costly, and Gaddafi, the mad-hatter of Tripoli, is clearly intending to do whatever is needed to stay in power.  In turn the country is being dragged into a civil/tribal war, though assisted now by Nato on the  side of the anti-Gaddafi forces.  Nothing like some oil or other interests to draw in the Big Powers.  The battle in Libya seems slowly to be tilting towards the rebels, mostly courtesy of Nato air-power being applied in large doses against Gaddafi’s hired guns.  The brutish nature of the fight has seen the chants of “peaceful, peaceful,” which signaled the new nature of the Arabic uprisings, degenerate into killing squads for evening up old scores.  The longer it carries on, the uglier it is likely to get.

Muammar, the couturier of Tripoli

Meantime, to the other side of the region, east of Egypt, the situation in Syria seems to worsen, as the government of Bashar Assad clearly takes father’s path and comes down hard on the rebellion under way.   Similar toughness bought the Assad family some 30 years in power, following the crushing of  Hama in 1982 by Hafez al-Assad.   His son Bashar was thought to be a “reformer” and coddled by the west, in part in an attempt to mollify Israel.   However, it appears when backed into a corner, like father like son.   Also he is closely allied to Iran, and one must presume they consented and encouraged this response.  However, in the current era of the internet, cell-phones, al Jazeera, and with a majority population of testosterone energized youth with no jobs and little future to look forward to, it seems doubtful that even a brutal crackdown such as that going on now will work.  Perhaps for some months, or even a few years.  But if anything it is likely to add to the pressure and assure an even more explosive denouement for the House of Assad and hangers-on.

Bashar al-Assad Official Web Page

Troubles in the House of Bashar “Modigliani”: Bashar, his wife, his friend

While it seems now a pundit’s commonplace to cite the immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi as the trigger for the present events, it would seem to me that a better case can be made for a much broader mixture of elements, and that if a single iconic figure must be given the titular role, it should be that of  Neda Agha-Soltan, the young Iranian woman killed on June 20, 2009.    The Iranian Green revolution, which failed, or at least has done so thus far, provided the example of how the internet and social media could be utilized, and I am sure all around the middle-east the events in Iran provided lesson, hopeful and sobering, of the new realities in which their world finds itself.

Neda Agha-Soltan

What unites all of these revolts, aside from geography and a cultural commonality, is that in each case the ruling elite constituted or constitutes also an economic elite – whether as in Egypt or Iran, with the military functioning as a de facto corporate entity, with its own self-interests qua business, and the typical corruptions that ensue and/or that the government itself operated in such a manner.  In both cases those in the elite completely lost touch with the general populace, and for varying reasons applied state terror to quash public opinion, whether allegedly to suppress religious fundamentalism as in Egypt or Algeria (currently out of the equation of uprisings) or in the case of Iran, to support State Islamic fundamentalism.   Operating in a cocoon of blind self-interest, engaging in highly alienating police-state behaviors, and dispersing wealth to themselves at the cost of the general public, these governments laid the groundwork for the present situation.  They did so seemingly unaware of the powers of internet communications, social networking tools, and the presence of al-Jazeera, a non-State-run broadcast system run by and for Arabic people.   This combination has proven to be a toxic brew for the entrenched, often US and Western supported, dictatorships which fill the region.

I have little doubt that over the longer run all those oligarchic police-state systems will be overturned, and that the viral nature of this regional revolution will go full circle and engulf Iran again.   What these countries will become will largely be a function of how brutally these regimes act in attempting to survive.

As-Salāmu `Alaykum

*  sound vaguely familiar?

Osama and Obama, dead man, happy man

Seizing the headlines, the announcement of Osama bin Laden’s demise, pre-Twittered into the cyber-sphere, beating the official corporate news by some tens of minutes, and the authorized official Obama statement by an hour or more, has thrown the nation into a tizzy of patriotic gore, with crowds waving flags and chanting USA! USA!  This will be a momentary bit of euphoria, and then once again the steady downward grind of American wealth and its vastly unequal distribution will resume.  However, for the moment Obama has his dim-wit political opposition snookered, with the strident right suddenly stripped of one of their usual bats, unable for the moment to huff and puff about weakness, national defense, and the rest of their usual rhetorical garbage.  Obama clearly knows this, and is doubtless looking forward to the 1012 elections, thinking, “Let the best Republican win!”   He is quite aware that he is the best Republican.  And so our Kabuki politics go.

Bringing out the blood-lust element in American society, we take on the characteristics of those tribal societies we’re inclined to say aren’t up to “democracy,” societies in which honor, revenge and such things take on such dominant qualities.  Of course when one thinks of what America has done while single-mindedly tracking down the master-mind of 9/11 (or at least that’s the story we’ve been told) one has to wonder just which culture is fixated on revenge, or as some of our pundits have pondered, just who has won and who has lost?  Certainly if we add up the real costs which have been inflicted on America and the world in general it must be conceded that Osama bin Laden’s September attack has run up a bill wildly out of proportion to the costs which al Qaeda has shelled out.  Our costs are in the trillion dollar range, and include daily submissions to governmental intrusions on all communications, being manhandled and x-rayed for any flight, and myriad other assaults-by-authority on one’s person, all in the name of  “security.”  Whatever Constitutional rights Americans once imagined themselves to possess, they were shredded promptly in our hot-blooded pursuit of Osama and “safety.”  I won’t here go into the seemingly endless list of affronts which have been “legally” jammed down the throats of American citizens in this endeavor.

Once this testosterone jag subsides, the sad truth is that Americans, and for sure with Mr Obama taking the lead in it, will begin to see fit to truly put 9/11 behind them.  Which is only natural psychologically, but politically it is toxic.  The real story of September 11, 2001, has never been told, or even remotely investigated as it should.  Instead it was immediately subject to a white-wash and to the curious and indicative behavior of the Bush administration.  Subject to the first real attack on American soil in several centuries, the government insisted no investigation should be done at all!  When it was unable to get away with that it stone-walled, and when finally forced into some kind of inquiry and interviews of itself, Bush-Cheney were only interrogated, at their insistence, together, and not under oath.  The 9/11 commission ended issuing a white-wash which posited a transparently fake theory on how the WTC buildings 1 and 2 fell, and ignored the non-impacted, scarcely damaged WTC7 and its curious into-its-footprint collapse.  The list of other strange omissions, willful denial of certain contradicting experts, and all the rest of the Bush administration’s actions point to a very different story than that which the public was asked to swallow.

Bush, in class on 9/11

Look at this video of President Bush when being informed of the attack, and does it not look like a little boy who has been told his deepest evil wish just came true?   All the publicly available information on the events of 9/11, points directly to some kind of collusion and a priori knowledge of the attack.  The government’s behavior immediately after suggests an intention to hide, cover-up and use the event for ulterior political purposes, specifically to attack Iraq in keeping with the plans of he Neo-con group The New American Century, which included Vice-President Cheney, and proposed that America should unashamedly commence acting like an Empire, and do so using a major provocation as the excuse. (Note: the link is to a cached version of the website which the organization took down some time after 9/11 occurred and it had been noted that their program appeared to call for something like that very event as a trigger for their policies to commence.)

And President Obama, as with everything else, doubtless would like us all to put it all behind us.  Because he is part of the same system which runs America, and there are certain things it is better we do not know.  So we are supposed to think.

[Update, May 4, 2011.]

White House spokesperson Mr. Carney, backtracking

The crowds waving flags haven’t yet withdrawn and the White House is already altering its “narrative” of the capture, killing, execution, murder, or whatever the appropriate word is for the demise of Osama bin Laden.  As usual “the fog of war” occludes, even for, and perhaps especially for, those in its midst.   From the more heroic tale of yesterday in which an armed Osama resisted capture though using a woman, his wife, as a “human shield,” and his body duly washed and wrapped in white, per Muslim custom, and then “tipped” into the Arabian sea, today’s news yields another Rashomon-style version.  Now it is said Osama was unarmed but “resisted” and that the wife in question was wounded in the leg, while another woman, unrelated, was killed along with two “couriers.”  And the crucial missing evidence, like Obama’s birth certificate was until recently, remains unseen, doubtless awaiting an opportune moment for unveiling, certainly to be accompanied with some mealy-mouthed net-style words about how distasteful it is to be forced to show “the image.”  Certainly many hours and days of government minds calculating the damage, PR value, political effects, etc. will have gone into the equation before that photo is displayed.  In the meantime the US military or whomever was responsible shows its historical consistency in this little bit, tacked on at the end of a NY Times article today:

“But finally,” Mr. Panetta said, “Admiral McRaven came back and said that he had picked up the word ‘Geronimo,’ which was the code word that represented that they got Bin Laden.”

Apache Chief GeronimoGeronimo, right, with his warriors

There is an anecdote told concerning Sheridan during his campaign against the Indians. Comanche Chief Tosawi, or Silver Knife, reputedly told Sheridan in 1869, “Me Tosawi. Me good Indian,” to which Sheridan is said to have replied, “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.” This was then misquoted as “The only good Indian is a dead Indian”. Sheridan later denied he had made the statement to Tosawi. Earlier that year, on May 28, Rep. James M. Cavanaugh said in the House, “I have never seen in my life a good Indian … except when I have seen a dead Indian.” That remark may have been mistakenly attributed to Sheridan.  (From Wikipedia.)

As indicated here, the United States Government, and its agencies, have had a long history of wrong-footing themselves in the communications realm.

Geronimo with General Crook

General Phillip Sheridan

Still playing cowboys and Indians.

Jeff Koons, 20-30 millionRobert Rauschenberg, 12-18 millionAndy Warhol, 20-30 millionPablo Picasso, 25-30 millionMark Rothko, 18-22 millionWayne Thiebaud, 2.5-3.5 million

[Estimated sales prices for upcoming Sotheby’s auction, quote from NY Times.]

Often these trophy purchases are flaunted in the entrance of a McMansion or over a living-room fireplace or in an office-building lobby. Sometimes, however, prized art will disappear into private collections where their superrich owners show them off to only their superrich friends.  “In order to appeal to today’s global marketplace you have to have iconic art that translates in every culture,” said Tobias Meyer, who runs Sotheby’s contemporary art worldwide.

Or as Brett Gorvy, Mr. Meyer’s counterpart at Christie’s, explains, “It’s got to be something with high impact, a wham-bang painting with everything in front of you.”

As America slides deeper into oligarchy, in which 80 percent of the population treads water trying to survive, or slips deeper into debt, poverty and despair, and 18 or so percent live a comfortable upper-middle class professional life and 2% live in obscene wealth, the arts market acts as a kind of barometer of our descent into terminal corruption.  While Republican politicians – who essentially are at the service of the hyper-wealthy – call for shredding the minimal social safety net established since the Great Depression, leaving those in the lower 80 percentile of Americans in greater risk, those who are among the 2% flaunt their wealth by buying art trophies.   On one hand they do so cynically, as an investment (just as those who bought houses not so long ago did), something they imagine sure to increase in financial value.   On the other hand they do so to display, conspicuously, their wealth.   Inadvertently they also display their utter gullibility and lack of any real sensibility about art.  The Picasso above is really a bad Picasso, and a bad painting.  He did many really bad paintings.  This one qualifies as a slap-dash quickie, something appropriate as a lousy magazine illustration.  Ah, but it has his name, and so….

Jeff Koons is little more than a whore for the rich, cranking out kitsch and porn for big bucks.  The kind of thing a Donald Trump would like.  The Rauschenberg above is 3rd rate for him, and while he did some very interesting silk-screen work, he’s over-rated.   Warhol originally was a commercial artist, doing graphics for catalogs, and he smelled a winner and cranked out silk-screen multiples of “wham-bang” magazine graphics blown up big and called it art, as did his dealers.   Thiebaud is a very third tier painter who does “cute” and has a sizable California following.  Rothko, were he alive to see how his work has become a very valuable commercial commodity, would probably commit suicide again on seeing how far his intentions were warped by the sickness of the capitalist take-over of the arts world, or the whole damned world.

Donald Trump, a man whose soul is doubtless as real as his teeth and hair

We clearly live in a time of deep decadence and corruption, qualities which reach through our society from the highest reaches of power, down into each of us who live inside this cultural envelope.   It is normal that those inside any given system cannot really perceive its nature in so far as their vision is invariably warped by the realities which surround them.  In a culture in which corruption has become the norm, it is natural that one doesn’t notice it in one’s self, or in those who surround one.  We tend only to notice it in scales greater than our own – we see the obvious corruptions of a Berlusconi, or a Wall Street titan, or a superannuated sports star.   But in reality the corruption is pervasive and touches everything and everyone as it is the fluid in which one lives.  It is inescapable.  

Equally is the reality that everyone must pay the price of these corruptions, whether, as in America in these days it is in the accelerating decline of the standard of living for the majority, or in the opulent display of the peddlers of art who show the deeply decadent other end of the spectrum.   In the end, we all pay.   The payment can be in a predictable violence, a social denouement common in history, and it can be in the spiritual degradation of a life lived falsely – as those who passed through the Soviet era of Russia and its eastern European satellites can attest.  Or as our frenetic consumer society shows with its empty wares and fake promises, piling ever more “product” onto an ever more impoverished “culture.”

The men and women at Sotheby’s or Christie’s will be happy to sell you a slice if you have the money to pay for it.

Long ago, perhaps 12 or 15 years back, I wrote to the Herald Tribune a letter to the editor, commenting on how the arts pages column written by Souren Melikan no longer discussed the actual art, but dwelt in an almost fetishistic manner on how much a given piece of art had sold for.  I suggested he should be shifted to the financial pages since there was little about art in his columns aside from names – the rest was about money.  Naturally they did not print the letter, the column stayed on the “arts” page,  and naturally things are 100 times worse today.