"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Death of Law

In the words of Brecht's Galileo, "Happy the land that has the rule of law, but sad the land that needs it." And few nations have starved for it more that the U.S. does at present. Barbaric as are Cheney's ideas about the necessity for torture, he is at least correct in declaring that there can be no middle ground regarding political commitment to the security state. Either one believes that national security is more important than the rule of law, as does Cheney, or one believes that the loss of the rule of law is a disaster beside which a dozen 9/11s pale into insignificance. Obama seeks a "centrist" path in this debate. This choice involves treating some people as without legal rights, specifically, "...even as he paid repeated homage to 'our values' and 'our timeless ideals,' he demanded the power (albeit with unspecified judicial and Congressional oversight) to keep people in prison with no charges or proof of any crime having been committed".

But there is no centrist path in this debate or rather moral crisis. Either one believes that all human beings have essential rights, no matter how "evil" they might be or one believes that national security concerns trump such legal rights. The centrist strategy results in focusing on the job of deciding who is "evil" enough to lose all their human rights. In time, legal ethicists will weigh in on the question and precise degrees of threat will be defined beyond which persons will lose all their humanity, and with it, our obligation to refrain from torturing, starving, or murdering them.

Much as I regret the conclusion, the "centrist" path of Obama may turn out to be far more degrading to our humanity that the open brutalism of Cheney. While the former vice president prioritizes the physical security of our citizens over human dignity, Obama exalts these values rhetorically while degrading them in practice in a way far more insidious, but probably much more to the purpose.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Capitalism - a Failed System

"Capitalism, in many respects, has become a failed system in terms of the ecology, economy, and world stability. It can hardly be said to deliver the goods in any substantive sense, and yet in its process of unrestrained acquisition it is undermining the long-term prospects of humanity and the earth." - "Capitalism in Wonderland", Monthly Review, April 2009.

""The world is suffering from a fever due to climate change, and the disease is the capitalist development model.”

— Evo Morales, president of Bolivia, September 2007

Humanity’s Choice

by Ian Angus

"Humanity today faces a stark choice: ecosocialism or barbarism.

We need no more proof of the barbarity of capitalism, the parasitical system that exploits humanity and nature alike. Its sole motor is the imperative toward profit and thus the need for constant growth. It wastefully creates unnecessary products, squandering the environment’s limited resources and returning to it only toxins and pollutants. Under capitalism, the only measure of success is how much more is sold every day, every week, every year – involving the creation of vast quantities of products that are directly harmful to both humans and nature, commodities that cannot be produced without spreading disease, destroying the forests that produce the oxygen we breathe, demolishing ecosystems, and treating our water, air and soil like sewers for the disposal of industrial waste.

Capitalism’s need for growth exists on every level, from the individual enterprise to the system as a whole. The insatiable hunger of corporations is facilitated by imperialist expansion in search of ever greater access to natural resources, cheap labor and new markets. Capitalism has always been ecologically destructive, but in our lifetimes these assaults on the earth have accelerated. Quantitative change is giving way to qualitative transformation, bringing the world to a tipping point, to the edge of disaster. A growing body of scientific research has identified many ways in which small temperature increases could trigger irreversible, runaway effects – such as rapid melting of the Greenland ice sheet or the release of methane buried in permafrost and beneath the ocean – that would make catastrophic climate change inevitable.

Left unchecked, global warming will have devastating effects on human, animal and plant life. Crop yields will drop drastically, leading to famine on a broad scale. Hundreds of millions of people will be displaced by droughts in some areas and by rising ocean levels in others. Chaotic, unpredictable weather will become the norm. Air, water and soil will be poisoned. Epidemics of malaria, cholera and even deadlier diseases will hit the poorest and most vulnerable members of every society.

The impact of the ecological crisis is felt most severely by those whose lives have already been ravaged by imperialism in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and indigenous peoples everywhere are especially vulnerable. Environmental destruction and climate change constitute an act of aggression by the rich against the poor.

Ecological devastation, resulting from the insatiable need to increase profits, is not an accidental feature of capitalism: it is built into the system’s DNA and cannot be reformed away. Profit-oriented production only considers a short-term horizon in its investment decisions, and cannot take into account the long-term health and stability of the environment. Infinite economic expansion is incompatible with finite and fragile ecosystems, but the capitalist economic system cannot tolerate limits on growth; its constant need to expand will subvert any limits that might be imposed in the name of “sustainable development.” Thus the inherently unstable capitalist system cannot regulate its own activity, much less overcome the crises caused by its chaotic and parasitical growth, because to do so would require setting limits upon accumulation – an unacceptable option for a system predicated upon the rule: Grow or Die!"

Friday, May 15, 2009


"Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the former Special Operations chief who is President Obama's new choice to lead the war in Afghanistan, rose to military prominence because of his single-minded success in a narrow but critical mission: manhunting. As commander of the military's secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) for nearly five years starting in 2003, McChrystal masterminded a campaign to perfect the art of tracking down enemies, and then capturing or killing them. He built a sophisticated network of soldiers and intelligence operatives who proceeded to decapitate the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq and kill its most notorious leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi." - "High-value-target hunter takes on Afghan war" Washington Post

The appointment of McChrystal puts the final nail in the coffin of Obama-branded "hope". Obama's principle foreign policy objective has been decisively revealed as the reinforcement of empire through the projection of massive military power, "A systematic analysis of the Obama regime’s policies reveals the overriding emphasis on projecting military power as the main instrument for sustaining the empire throughout the world." - James Petras, "US-Latin American Relations in a Time of Rising Militarism, Protectionism and Pillage", May 15, 2009

It would appear that we can no longer afford the luxuries of liberal pretense. We must kill and kill again until the Middle East submits unconditionally to our dominance. Only an unobstructed pathway for the massive pipelines through Afghanistan and dozens of permanent military bases to protect them is sufficient for those whose interests Obama was hired to implement. At last the real motivations behind Obama's refusal to release the new Abu Ghraib photos and his unprecedented blanket immunity for torturers becomes clear. We are about to take several new steps into hell.

Obama is also pleased by two other exploits by McChrystal: The prisoner abuse scandal at Baghdad's Camp Nama, and his role in the cover-up in the friendly-fire death of ex-NFL star and Army Ranger Pat Tillman.

McChrystal knows how to handle insurgents. "An interrogator at Camp Nama described locking prisoners in shipping containers for 24 hours at a time in extreme heat; exposing them to extreme cold with periodic soaking in cold water; bombardment with bright lights and loud music; sleep deprivation; and severe beatings. When he and other interrogators went to the colonel in charge and expressed concern that this kind of treatment was not legal, and that they might be investigated by the military’s Criminal Investigation Division or the International Committee of the Red Cross, the colonel told them he had 'this directly from General McChrystal and the Pentagon that there’s no way that the Red Cross could get in.'" Just as Obama doesn't want the CIA torturers prosecuted for violations of U.S. laws, he doesn't want the Geneva Conventions interfering with "what needs to be done."

Likewise, McChrystal knows how to handle the media. "When NFL player-turned-Army Ranger Pat Tillman died at the hands of US troops in a case of 'friendly fire,' the spin machine at the Pentagon went into overdrive. Rumsfeld and company couldn’t have their most high-profile soldier dying in such an inelegant fashion, especially with the release of those pesky photos from Abu Ghraib hitting the airwaves. So an obscene lie was told to Tillman’s family, his friends and the American public. The chicken-hawks in charge, whose only exposure to war was watching John Wayne movies, claimed that he died charging a hill and was cut down by the radical Islamic enemies of freedom...Now the man who greased the chain of command that orchestrated this great deception is prepared to assume total control of US operations in Afghanistan: Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal. It was McChrystal who approved Tillman’s posthumous Silver Star, a medal given explicitly for combat, even though he later testified that he “suspected” friendly fire." - Dave Zirin, "Tillman Family is McChrystal-Clear", May 16, 2009.

And the Guantanamo brigade plays on in this article documenting continuing torture at Guantanamo under Obama: "IRF teams in effect operate at Guantánamo as an extrajudicial terror squad that has regularly brutalized prisoners outside of the interrogation room, gang beating them, forcing their heads into toilets, breaking bones, gouging their eyes, squeezing their testicles, urinating on a prisoner's head, banging their heads on concrete floors and hog-tying them -- sometimes leaving prisoners tied in excruciating positions for hours on end."

Indeed, under Obama the torture has intensified, "... one Guantanamo lawyer, Ahmed Ghappour, said that his clients were reporting 'a ramping up in abuse' since Obama was elected, including 'beatings, the dislocation of limbs, spraying of pepper spray into closed cells, applying pepper spray to toilet paper and over-force feeding detainees who are on hunger strike,' according to Reuters." - "Little Known Military Thug Squad Still Brutalizing Prisoners at Gitmo Under Obama", May 15, 2009, Alternet

Hope and change = torture and assassination. Now the coup is complete. Bush established the foundation and Obama will build on that foundation with far more intelligence and dexterity, marshaling the full intellectual resources of the ruling elite. That was the purpose of his election. Promises were made, but none will be fulfilled - no withdrawal from Iraq, no end of Guantanamo, no universal health care, nothing will be given to those whose voice is of no importance. Military commission trials, now reauthorized by Obama, will not be confined to the inhabitants of Guantanamo:

"Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, has said that White House Counsel Greg Craig is considering changes to the tribunal system in conjunction with the establishment of a 'National Security Court' that could authorize indefinite detention for prisoners the executive branch or military declares “dangerous,” but against whom evidence is too scant to try in court. This is the prototype of a permanent 'Star Chamber' instrument in the hands of the executive, which would ultimately be used against its domestic political opponents." - "Obama restarts military commission trials", wsws.org, May 16, 2009.


Every week I read Greenwald's columns with pleasure and outrage, but also with a growing sense of amazement. I'm befuddled at how he can pierce through Obama's policies and practices so surely without drawing the obvious conclusion. Look at the succession of "And this" phrases in this article. Do they not aim at an unmistakable target?

How right he is that "...the notion that releasing or concealing these photos would make an appreciable difference in terms of how we're perceived in the Muslim world is laughable on its face." Therefore there must be another reason why this decision was made.

Indeed, "What do you think the impact is when we announce to the world: 'What we did is so heinous that we're going to suppress the evidence?'" Muslim imaginations, already inflamed, will surge with hatred. The ability of the U.S. to torture, imprison and murder its enemies without fear of retaliation will be denounced from mosques everywhere. This outrage will quickly turn to acts of violence against U.S. targets that will compel us, reluctant as we might be, to continue our occupation in the Middle East. What a tremendous burden it is to be the keeper of peace in the world.

The underlying assumption of Greenwald, Maddow, and others (and believe me, I admire their courage and moral persistence more than I can say), is to presume innocence in the pronouncements of this administration. The story line seems to be that Obama is foolishly caving in to the right-wing of his party in the mistaken attempt to be "bi-partisan". I think we need to dig a little deeper.

Why is Obama so determined to maintain and extend the policy of holding "terror suspects" indefinitely without charges in the US itself? What would be the purpose of guaranteeing immunity to those who committed these crimes, then letting the imagination play with the unseen images?

Could it be that torture is integral to imperial policy? That counterinsurgency campaigns depend on the terror spread through images of torture, rape, and murder? That the more ruthless we seem, the more powerful we appear to our "enemies"? Fascist psychology is not hard to penetrate, yet it is infinitely sad to see a non-fascist like Obama twisted into the image of what he has fought against for most of his life.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Obama's Contribution to Peace

Obama's contribution to Middle East peace is etched on the face of the boy in this picture. He continues to etch U.S. imperialist policy on the face of every Afghan and Iraqi just as the Israeli boot has printed its face on Palestinians for 60 years. Utterly devoid of the moral core of the man he most frequently imitates, Dr. Martin Luther King, Obama is incapable of understanding the root of the current crisis.

"For what it's worth, the Democrats are best exposed as agents of empire, inequality, and "corporate-managed democracy" (Alex Carey's useful term) when they hold top offices. That's when their populist and peaceful sounding campaign rhetoric hits the cold pavement of corporate imperial governance." - "Obama's Violin
Populist rage and the uncertain containment of change", Paul Street, May, 2009

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Socialism Defined

Who owns the means of production will always be the critical issue. If you own my means of livelihood, my ability to feed my family, then you will control much about how I look at the world. If identifying with your interests is the difference between advancing in my career and losing my income, then your view of the world will pervade my thoughts, whether I like it or not. If, on the other hand, I and my fellow workers own the means of production, then the whole picture changes. Then how I perceive the world and what I need becomes a factor that you have to deal with. Then we have to negotiate with each other, give a little and take a little until we come to a common agreement. From this viewpoint, simply ensuring that "the business does not pick up and move" is insufficient. What is important is that I have a voice, that my contribution and humanity are not merely a means to someone else's profit, be they local or distant, but an essential element of the business.

I agree with you that what we have in the U.S today is predatory economics, but I don't see this as an aberration from a previous non-predatory economics. Fraud and exploitation are essential features of an economy based on capital accumulation, not aberrations practiced by a greedy few. The reason quantity is dominant over quality is not due to the personal preference of the current President, but because the economic system always privileges quantity because it is measurable. Measurable means that it supports capital accumulation which is the goal of every corporation.

A pathology can also be a system, or, rather, a system can express a pathology which is inherent in what the system privileges. As a socialist, I find your description of human change, "Human systems emerge from human interaction, through various forms of communication and communities" exactly apropos. That is precisely what Marx was talking about when he talked about the "self-emancipation of the worker." We change ourselves through our activity. We transform ourselves in the process of production. "In production, the producers change, too, in that they bring out new qualities in themselves, develop themselves in production, transform themselves, develop new powers and ideas... new needs and a new language." - Karl Marx.

According to Marx, socialism is not a static set of dogmatic intellectual principles, but a method of transformation through productive action. It is inherently transformative and refers to our ability to take responsibility for our own humanity.

The Fundamental Question

We need to start with a fundamental question, "Why do the actions of our leaders contradict their words, particularly their words about the seriousness of global warming?" Why do they seem so determined to abandon their children and grandchildren to a world of floods and droughts and escalating climate disasters? Why do they continually sabotage efforts to create sustainable energy sources?

Because they cannot act in the interests of humanity as a whole without calling the entire system into question. They realize that the changes needed to halt climate decay are directly contrary to the needs of capital, so their only choice is to fund illusions - that climate change is not real or could be beneficial or can be addressed with market incentives, in descending order.

Corporate interest has only one imperative: it has to grow. If capital stops growing, the system collapses. As Joel Kovel says, "Capitalism can no more survive limits on growth than a person can live without breathing."

Break the Power of the Wicked

"'Obama,' [Robert Sheer] writes 'seems depressingly reliant on the same-old, same old cast of self-serving house wreckers who act as if government exists for the sole benefit of corporations and executives.'" "As if"? Is there any shadow of a doubt here? The election of Barack Obama was one of the most effective marketing campaigns in recent history and has many lessons for activists. The first is the longing people have to subordinate their personal interests to an extra-personal cause. Trained by decades of subordinating our interests as workers to those of the employing class, we instinctively see their interests as our own. Notice how closely rage tracks the health of the stock market, though most workers benefit very little from such fluctuations.

We see ourselves as means to ends that are determined by experts and owners. Our neglect of our own interests is determined by the conditions of our employment. Those who identify most closely with the interests of their company advance the fastest. Obama and his administration know exactly who their employers are.

How can we arouse effective resistance? Though I believe we are in a pre-revolutionary situation, I see the proliferation of calls to violence as playing directly into the hands of the financial elite. Violence tracks their interests so closely that I suspect their minions behind much of the vitriol.

As always, their purpose is increased profits and faster accumulation of capital. The current Western democracies with their social supports and environmental protections, however anemic, have become inadequate profit vehicles. Bank bailouts have several beneficial effects for the elite. Beside direct access to Treasury funds, they can extend their long-term domination by imposing unsupportable debts on the majority of the U.S. population, using access to credit as an irresistible means of political control.

We may be a long way from violent revolution, but notice how the possibility is constantly hyped in the right-wing press. An excellent example is the coverage of the G20 summit during which the demonstrators were constantly referred to as "anarchists" and a loop of a demonstrator smashing a bank window was played over and over to the practical exclusion of any other demonstration image.

Gandhi showed that one who truly practices nonviolence has the world at his feet. While hatred binds us tightly to our exploiters, nonviolence can break both their bonds and our own. "In its positive form, ahimsa means the largest love, the greatest charity. If I am a follower of ahimsa, I must love my enemy." - Gandhi. This attitude must be coupled with total clarity regarding how opposed our interests are to those of the ruling elite if our tactics are to be effective.

Friday, May 01, 2009

The Absolute Minimum

Let's reduce it basics. Christians cannot approve torture - ever. Our souls are protected by God, not by the CIA. Human harm is the essence of sin because sin is an offense against God, whose image is humanity. Christians who approve of torture have renounced the faith - root and branch. Christ was tortured for their salvation - to approve of torture is to renounce salvation.

Yet Obama and most other Christians approve of torture, On Feb. 9, days after his inauguration, at the height of his popularity, when he had overwhelming public support to end torture, he endorsed the worst extreme of the Bush policy - kidnapping "enemy combatants" and rendering them to foreign prisons to be tortured "The Obama Administration today announced that it would keep the same position as the Bush Administration in the lawsuit Mohamed et al v Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc. A source inside of the Ninth U.S. District Court tells ABC News that a representative of the Justice Department stood up to say that its position hasn't changed, that new administration stands behind arguments that previous administration made, with no ambiguity at all. The DOJ lawyer said the entire subject matter remains a state secret. This is not going to please civil libertarians and human rights activists who had hoped the Obama administration would allow the lawsuit to proceed." - Glenn Greenwald, "Obama fails his first test on civil liberties and accountability -- resoundingly and disgracefully", Feb. 9, 2009

The complete silence or active approval of the vast majority of the Christian communities in the face of this endorsement of torture raises an interesting question, "If Christianity lacks any pragmatic commitment to human rights, then who is the God that it worships?" If years of Bible reading and listening to sermons about sin and salvation do no lead to respect for our fellow human beings, then what is the practical effect of this religion?

The spirit of Christ can be found in this passage, "Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of humanity. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of humanity. Destruction is not the law of humans. Humans live freely by their readiness to die, if need be, at the hands of a brother, never by killing another. Every murder or injury no matter for what cause, committed or inflicted on another, is a crime against humanity." - Mohandas Gandhi.