Friday, April 13, 2007

Surviving the Epilogue: A Farewell to Vonnegut

The world remembers Kurt Vonnegut whose passing this week is a painful reminder that the world my generation tried to create may have been stillborn with the dawning of this new millennium. Even as a rabid, paranoid GOP tried to impeach the best President in a generation, there were, amid progress in Palestine, real hopes for lasting peace.

It was a time when Bush had not yet stolen the American presidency. Paul Gigot of the Wall St. Journal had not yet gloated of a GOP coup d'etat. Where are those hopes now? Did my generation fail its ideals? Do those hopes lie bleached on the deserts of Iraq -or awash in Gigot's amoral cynicism and his utter lack of intellectual integrity. As Vonnegut himself asks in the following video - is the story over?

Harvey Wasserman of the Free Press wrote "...lets not forget one of the great engines driving this wonderful man - he hated war." Most recently, Vonnegut hated the war in Iraq and the men who planned it and started it. Those men survive to threaten our future, to start another war. Meanwhile, a lonely voice of sanity is gone. Vonnegut is already missed.

This plot has a long back-story - some 1000 years. In 1066, William, Duke of Normandy, crossed the English Channel, conquered the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Harold, and asserted his claim to the English throne. Though he ruled by force and forts, William stayed, imposing his rule upon an unwilling population that absorbed his native language of French but would not cease to be "English". Incidentally, it is almost possible to date the assimilation of a French word by its English pronunciation. Beef, for example, most certainly dates back to the invasion. Rendezous, litle changed from the original French, was not assimilated until much, much later. I wouldn't want to hazard a guess.

In a little more than two centuries hence, Norman "Kings" would be referred to as "English" and would assert their right to rule over Normandy – now thought of as "foreign". Still, William’s crossing of the English Channel, a feat never again equaled, has become a bookend for a millennium only recently ended.

It seems like yesterday that the world celebrated the end of a millennium. But historians will most probably mark the end of that era with another event. Nearly one thousand years after William’s daring channel crossing, American, British and allied soldiers mirrored his feat by invading Normandy, an event that may yet prove to be of equal historical importance. It may be tempting to think of William’s invasion as the beginning of an era and the conclusion of World War II as its end.

World War II changed the world in profound ways. It was a dramatic culmination of issues that are easily traced to 1066. Secondly, World War II defined the Twentieth Century even as it summed up the millennium. It was an event that shaped the lives of Vonnegut's generation.

First of all, World War II sobered the world. When the Americans exploded the first Atomic Bomb in the desert of Alamogordo in July, 1945, American scientist, Robert Oppenheimer was inspired to quote an old Hindu poem:
"I have become death, the destroyer of worlds".
That blinding flash in the desert was the reductio ad absurdum of a process of technological warfare that began with William’s victory over the English at Hastings, the English victory over the French at Agincourt, and the American victory over the Lakota Sioux in the Black Hills, the American genocide throughout the horrific trail of tears, an event my own ancestors barely survived. Warfare became unthinkable and in becoming unthinkable became never-ending: a cold war of fifty years followed now by the unceasing struggle against world terrorism. George Orwell's perpetual war.

Secondly, the computer, itself a product of World War II, has changed the way we think about the universe. Information is seen to be the very warp and weave of space-time. Not Eniac - but Colossus - was the first electronic computer. Colossus was the product of English and American code-breakers, the team headquartered at Bletchly Park. They cracked the Nazi enigma machine but would not reveal the eastern Nazi troop build-up to Russian allies. It would have blown the Enigma advantage but the Russian people would pay with their millions of lives.

Inspired by Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead who had sought, in Principia Mathmematica, to ground Mathematics upon a foundation of pure logic, Alan Turing envisioned a machine that could write symbolic theorems derived from symbolic axioms. Such a machine could, and did, automate the code-breaking process. Turing has forever established the criterion by which we may judge artificial intelligence, i.e. if a computer’s responses to our queries cannot be distinguished from those of a human being, then that computer may be said to be "thinking." Mankind will have created "consciousness" in a machine.

Some thinkers have put forward the idea that at the end of the first millennium – the year 1000 - human consciousness was raised. In fact, the first stirrings of a Renaissance are in evidence in a mere two centuries hence. It’s full flowering, of course, came in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth centuries.

Arguably, the 20th was the bloodiest of centuries, and, until Iraq descended into chaos, it had been said, erroneously, that we had been at peace for over 50 years. That was not so, course. What are called "isolated" conflicts –Korea, Viet Nam, Persian Gulf War I –were but continuations and aftershocks of a conflagration that engulfed the world. Can it be said that the legacy of that conflagration will raise human consciousness yet again as it had been some one thousand years earlier? We must hope. There is no alternative. Perhaps humankind, surviving yet another one thousand years under the threat of nuclear annihilation, will so conclude. Bluntly, however, unless men like Bush are forever forbidden any power at all, mankind will be fortunate to survive another 50 or 100 years, let alone a millennium.

Lest we despair Wasserman adds:
Now he's (Vonnegut) having dinner with our beloved siren of social justice, Molly Ivins, sharing a Manhattan, scorching this goddam war and this latest batch of fucking idiots.
Vonnegut lives and rocks on. You can find a good list of his major works at the usual reference sites: Wikipedia and at the Harold Tribune.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

How Really Stupid People Threaten the World

An entire class of people have mistaken machismo for manliness, murder for war, mindless obeisance for intellect. These people are called NEOCONS. They existed as a mentality long before before Wolfowitz, Cheney, Kristol et al would appropriate the acronym. NEOCONS can be found in any cult which celebrates mindless nationalism for patriotism, self-deception for loyalty, nukes for courage. NEOCONS will never change course, will never learn from mistakes, especially those of the Bush regime for whom they puke up an endless string of excuses. NEOCONS will never change their strategy, their billigerant tone, their hard on for the world outside US bounderies. They will never adapt but we must always hope they fail. Their vision of success is much too horrific to contemplate or endure.

Idiots do not learn from their mistakes. Morons repeat failed strategies hoping for different results. Being stupid means never having to say you're sorry. Some specific "cons" come to mind. Newt Gingrich, FOX News, Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, and a gaggle of run of the mill conservatives who lack a fancy label to distinguish their own idiocy.

What are "they" wrong about this time? This is too easy. I could just pick a topic at random. However, I have in the mind the recent capture and release of British sailors. Why was I surprised that FOX News shill, William Kristol, would wring his hands about "U. S. passivity"? Kristol wanted to bomb Tehran. Like bombing Baghdad did any good. Like bombing has historically had any effect other than the wanton murder of civilians. Perhaps, Kristol had managed to convince himself that Hitler won World War II by bombing London. Perhaps the US really won Viet Nam by bombing Hanoi. Perhaps the US won Iraq because we bombed hell out of Baghdad several years ago. NEOCONS have an unhappy relationship with reality. Perhaps the American right wing has become the wrong wing:

Nor am I surprised to learn that the slimy Newt Gingrich would outline nothing less than war with Iran. On an equally deluded, right-wing talk radio show, Newt called for the bombing destruction of Iranian oil refineries and a blockade of the Persian Gulf. Nevermind that that would have hardened the Iranian position. Nevermind that it would have doubled the price of oil. Nevermind that it would have thrown the world economy into recession. Gingrich said it: “Show the planet that you’re tiny and we’re not.” Newt's comments are merely psychosis parading as commentary. Newt's commentary is symptomatic of increasing US impotence born of its dependance on foreign oil.

For the rest of us, the outcome was a good one. No one got killed or murdered. Neither side budged with regard to where the sailors had been captured. The sailors went home with some goodies. They had NOT been tortured. It was a good thing, therefore, that they had not been captured in US territorials waters by American perverts and torture advocates.

Ahmadinejad is a loudmouthed jerk even by American standards. Sure --he used the incident to score propaganda points. So what? What is important is that amid howls from the dogs of war, Iran didn't do a lot of things that the US might have done had it been in the same position. Iran did not torture the British soldiers. None of them were stripped naked. None were waterboarded. None were stacked in pyramids. None were attacked by rabid dogs.

But, for right wing perverts and paid shills, it was coitus interruptus. They didn't get to feel virile. They didn't get off. They didn't get the screamin' big "O" that only comes with the vaporization of Tehran.

Pogo said it best. We have met the enemy and it is us. As Keith Olbermann and law expert Jonathan Turley explain in the following video, the Bush regime has turned out to be subversive of American ideals, indeed, our very founding. Nothing stands between any US citizen and torture at GITMO but the sanity of the President of the United States. We are sooo screwed.

Tragically, the US helped Europe defeat a Nazi foe only to become one under the illegitimate regime of George W. Bush.

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Above the Law: How Bush Became the Torture President

Thanks, Ted Rall

Bush pokes fun at the concept of international law in those instances in which he is in clear violation of it but supports it when it suits his own malevolent, imperial purposes. Bush was outraged recently when Iran took British sailors into custody. This is the same Bush who pokes fun at those laws that clearly apply to him.

“International law? I better call my lawyer.”

Who is the bigger hypocrite -Bush or his poodle, Tony Blair? Bush regards the UN Charter ban on aggressive war a "...goofy experiment". Multilateralism, he calls it. But Blair, who should have known better, bowed low to help Bush attack and invade Iraq. Blair knew that there were no WMD to be found. He knew that Bush was lying. Blair knew that the war against Iraq is and remains a war crime under Nuremberg, US Codes, and Geneva. So disdainful of any principle of justice that might apply to Der Führer, Bush insisted that the US Congress exempt him from US laws.

It is not only the war of aggression against Iraq that dogs Bush, it is US torture at Abu Ghraib, GITMO, and throughout the "secret" Eastern European archipelago.
Every single underpinning of law that restrains the conduct of the government in dealing with detainees, they are destroying. And what are they leaving in its place? Chaos. They're looking for a way to justify torture.

-Scott Horton, a New York City bar association expert
It's hard to tell just how long Bush has been trying to put himself above the law, to exempt himself and his evil henchmen from torture charges. The year 2004 -a geological age in this nightmare administration that simply will not end -the Bush cabal of gangsters, liars, crooks, henchman and toadies were before the nation's high court, trying to make the case that Bush was above the law, specifically, he could not be prosecuted for war crimes if he should order torture. Was he planning to? Had he, in fact, already done so and sought to cover his ass ex post facto?

At that hearing, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked:
Suppose the executive says, 'Mild torture we think will help get this information.' ... Some systems do that to get information."
The answer from government lawyer, Paul Clement, was most surely disingenuous: Declaring that Bush would not, he insisted that the US would stand by its international commitments. In other words, the known liars would have the high court believe them when they had lied so many times before. It had been over a year that Justice Department and Pentagon lawyers crafted, nay, conspired to get around the international prohibitions against torture. Bluntly, they conspired to put Bush above the law. George W. Bush, they said, could legally authorize torture.

In December 2005 the U.S. Congress passed the McCain amendment to the Detainee Treatment Act, a result of an admission by Alberto Gonzales that the Bush administration did not regard laws and treaties prohibiting cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment to be applicable to prisoners in U.S. custody outside the United States. Aside from the fact that the admission reeks of "loophole", it led to additional disclosures about a secret gulag archipelego of US torture and detentions centers. The McCain amendment was meant to close this loophole, explicitly stating that “no individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.”

But, Bush made a preemptive move to pardon himself, issuing a "signing statement" indicating that interrogation restrictions could be waived ".. if the president, as commander-in-chief, thought the waiver would assist in preventing terrorist attacks." I submit that legalizing torture, placing a dictator wannabe above laws applicable to everyone else, guarantees that terrorism will increase. Throughout his incompetent and criminal administration, George W. Bush has handed terrorists a cause on a plate. Just as terrorism against the United States increased exponentially under Ronald Reagan, the final numbers will prove that, once again, terrorism has gotten worse under the GOP.

By September 2006, the Defense Department issued a new Army Field Manual that applied the Geneva Conventions to all detainees, not just those classified as prisoners of war. The new manual also banned specific interrogation techniques or other controversial methods, such as using dogs to threaten detainees, placing prisoners in solitary confinement for long periods, and waterboarding, a technique that simulates drowning.

But the following month, Bush struck again. He signed into law the Military Commissions Act of 2006, granting immunity to any U.S. officials accused of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of detainees during the period prior to passage of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005. That just happened to have been the period in which the very worst abuses took place. How bloody convenient that criminals and perverts can get the law changed to excuse them, after the fact, for knowingly committing crimes that were known to be crimes at the time they commit them.

And, as if to ensure that torture will continue, this draconian measure allows evidence obtained through coercion prior to 2005 to be be admitted into trial if a military judge finds it "reliable and serving the interests of justice". The words "justice" and "torture" in the same sentence makes this "law" bogus on its face. Besides -torture does not serve the interests of justice. It subverts them. My head swims.

What has America become? A rogue nation. A criminal enterprise. A poke in the eye to anyone who might, in these most horrible of times, revere the principles of justice. Bush has plunged the world into a new dark age of religious superstition, hate, torture, and endless war.

In any case, there is absolutely no credible evidence that torture works. None! Moreover, the most prominent practitioners of torture, Torquemada and Richard Topcliffe, were perverts whose methods were chosen for purposes of personal gratification. Torture opponents argue persuasively that throughout history torture has proven itself ineffective as a means by which reliable information is derived. The Nazi Gestapo discovered that tortured resistance fighters rarely gave accurate information under torture. Anyone who is tortured will simply tell his/her tormentor whatever they want to hear. Would you want to be convicted upon a tale exacted under such duress? Would Bush himself support torture if, under torture, Dick Cheney spilled the beans about 911?

Besides, even information obtained through torture must be verified. A time consuming task. What is gained but perverted gratification? The U.S. Army’s Field Manual notes:
Experience indicates that the use of force is not necessary to gain the cooperation of sources for interrogation. Therefore, the use of force is a poor technique, as it yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.
Even the FBI favors a more effective technique, that of eliciting a suspect’s cooperation.

Critics have said that torture is a "...slippery slope" which opens the door to worse abuses. But, the issue here is greater even than torture. The methods by which torture has become the law of the land typify a lawless and illegitimate administration. At last, torture, in this context, is but one of many abuses when a regime runs amok, when the government rides roughshod over the rule of law. Bush has become a rogue "President", an illegitimate and unaccountable regime.


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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Why Bush Cannot Leave Iraq

Sadly, America tasted victory in 1945 and has been fascinated since by war. The US won World War II but failed to learn the lessons of victory. And, again, in 1975, the US lost Viet Nam but failed to the learn the lessons of defeat.

We must not forget Korea, officially ending in stalemate in 1953. Since WWII, then, the US has played at war - Grenada, Panama - hoping recently to undo Viet Nam, hoping to recapture the magic of VE Day. Thomas Wolfe said it best: you can't go home again.

Wouldn't it be easier if Bush suddenly went sane and withdrew from Iraq? He cannot. He cannot do so for several reasons: his metastized ego and effeminate machismo among them. Most importantly, Bush cannot leave because he has not won. Bush cannot leave because the US cannot live with the political vacuum that will be left in its wake. For the same reasons, the US cannot stay.

Let's set the scene. In those halcyon days just prior to the collapse of the Third Reich, it was clear that victory would be complete if shared with Britain and the Soviet Union. The end of Hitler's Reich topped even Wagnerian opera for its Sturm und Drang. As a novel, it would have been over the top. As opera, it is tolerated. We might even have tolerated a thickly orchestrated score. But what of the libretto: a mad dictator holes up to commit suicide after having murdered several million people. What a log line! Who but a opera fan could believe it?

Like a noble Collie that develops a taste for sheep, America got a whiff of blood, a taste of war and liked it. Tragically, nothing since that time has bothered to follow script. Nothing about World War II prepared the US for Viet Nam. Nothing about Viet Nam prepared the US for Iraq.

Having supposedly learned the lessons of Viet Nam, the US would not repeat the mistakes. Bushies assured us that a civil war was unlikely, the US would be greeted as liberators, and, after drafting a Constitution, all would be well. Emperor Bush would wear an embarassingly ill-fitting flight suit.

But the real story in Iraq is one of Bush ineptitude and delusion. The Civil War did break out. We were greeted, eventually, by a resistance not as liberators but as occupiers. The drafting of a Constitution excluded the Sunnis and hardened the resistance. Moreover, if there were no terrorists in Iraq prior to the US invasion, Iraq is now a breeding ground for terrorists:

As the war against Iraq created a political vacuum, the nation has been busy sorting itself out along sectarian lines. Bush had not wanted to take sides but is, in fact, defending with his "surge" a Shi'ite regime against a Sunni insurgency. Thus, Bush has committed the biggest, the worst blunder that he could have made. A regional proxy war is not only a very real possibility, it is extremely likely.

Civil wars are hard to end. In my lifetime, the average length of a civil war has been some 10 years. Civil wars are primarily guerrilla wars or, in the lexicon of Viet Nam, asymetrical conflicts. They are fought by loosely organized resistance groups using tactics best described by Che Guevara (See: Fundamentals of Guerrilla Warfare). The US Civil war was a prominent exception consisting, as it did, of conventional armies and well-defined fronts. Modern conflicts resemble the more recent wars in Algeria, Viet Nam, Colombia, Sri Lanka, and Sudan.

It seems unavoidable at this point. As Juan Cole reports, a Saudi official recently admitted that Riyadh will intervene in Iraq if the US withdraws its troops. This will be the case if Sunnies believe themselves threatened by a US puppet, Shi'ite regime. But that's only part of the story. Iraqi Kurds have all but declared their independence. It is prudent to ask whether Turkey will invade what is now Kurdish territory. And what of Iran? It will most certainly ally with Iraqi Shi'ites.

I am inclined to say that Bush has no options. Events on the ground are completely out of his control. Anything done by Bush now will only confirm the disastrous nature of his decision to go to war. It illustrates the moral value of truth itself. Bush could only have gone to war, as he did, upon a pack of malicious, blackhearted, treasonous lies. A single truth would have prevented a human tragedy of biblical proportions.

But faced with ignominious and humiliating defeat, Bush will try to force the various parties to reach an accommodation. How is he to do this, having lost all credibility? In the weeks ahead, however, you can expect the Bush gang of liars to come up with yet another novel rationale for "staying the course". Withdrawing now, they will say, will divide Iraq. That is GOP-speak for we will have to negotiate with whomever gets the oil. The better alternative is an honest broker negotiating a peace along the lines of Northern Ireland or Lebanon. But it would require a statesman in the White House to pull that off. We haven't had such a man since Jimmy Carter.

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