Thursday, January 28, 2016

NATO overplays its hand

You’d think the rulers of the Western World – the greatest Empire the world has ever seen – would be smart enough to realise when they’ve gone too far. Don’t they watch the World Series of Poker on the Fox channels? Professional card-players know that they must maintain a reputation for honesty and caution, before they can expect to get away with bluffs and other bullshit. Nobody wants to get called on a busted flush.

It’s card-games like bridge and whist that have given us the expression “overplaying one’s hand” to describe the situation where somebody pushes harder than he should prudently do.

The little boy who cried “Wolf!” is a classic example from children’s literature; Butch Cassidy and Sundance in Bolivia, from the movies; the German Army’s invasion of Russia in the winter of ’42, from real life. The rulers of the USA in the years following JFK’s assassination… Hmm. Up till then, we outsiders bought into the bullshit; afterwards, not so much. Today, too many of us are skeptical of the official versions of everything.

Gone are the days when we could be jeered into silence and acquiescence by being labelled “conspiracy theorists”. That just doesn’t work any more. Some of us can still be fooled by fake conspiracies invented by government agencies, but even those are failing these days.

Individual journalists can be suborned by bribes or threats, as can entire TV, radio and newspaper networks. The BBC and PBS, The Economist and the New York Times, Associated Press and Bloomberg – all are suspect. Independent researchers can be – and sometimes are – slandered as traitors (Snowden, Manning, Assange), and sometimes suicided. Their fates merely endorse their credibility, and destroy their accusers’.

The mainstream media organs (“MSM”) have lost their credibility. I can’t think of a single exception, off-hand. Either they don’t know that or (more likely) they don’t know how to change their reporting methods. They follow the Wikipedia model of simply not recognizing the new reality. The alternative media and the independent bloggers are dismissed as not substantial enough to deserve respect. As a result, Wikipedia today has minimal credibility on all matters political; it too has been suborned by government agencies.

There is a new word in the dictionaries: hasbara. It’s a Hebrew word that connotes what in essence is a fifth-column of individual propagandists engaged in rubbishing all opinions and arguments that oppose the official versions of events and situations. Originally the fifth-column was invented by the Israeli government to defend its anti-Palestinian activities; but its scope now extends to all doubt and criticism of official Western propaganda.

Its weapons range from blatant lies and childish personal insults to repeated obscenities that are so offensive as to make it unlikely that the piece under attack will be forwarded to others. It works well enough. I have seen several instances of excessively rough language used as an excuse to close down online discussions that threatened some official version of events.

Credibility is a tender flower. We tell our children: if you tell lies, people won’t know when you’re telling the truth and when not. Little kids understand the logic of that. Yet our rulers either don’t understand or don’t care that there are posses of vigilantes out there who will call them out on lies and unfair innuendoes.

Most of us remember the lies that began the savage war against the Arabs of the Middle East. The NATO nations had actual indisputable proof that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons already aimed at European cities and ready to fire on 45 minutes’ notice. “You want a smoking gun?” The US Secretary of State sneered. “Unless we invade immediately, the smoking gun will appear in the shape of a mushroom cloud!”

Yes, well… Today, we know it was a lie, and that the invasion had been planned for years. The doubters and vigilantes uncovered the lies; the liars kept their heads down and planned more lies.

Encouraged by their success in exposing that particular lie, the doubters and vigilantes started poking around to see what other lies our rulers might have gotten away with. The Kennedy assassination, of course, Pearl Harbor, the Lusitania… Afghanistan’s opium fields, Israel’s nuclear arsenal, NATO’s military alliance with ISIS… Even the Nazi Holocaust is suspect, at least in some of the specific numbers and other details claimed by authorities now known to be liars.

How do we decide who to believe, any more? As George Bush famously said, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice – er, um, oh shit, I forget how that’s supposed to end. Help me out, here, Dick.”

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Trump – President or Emperor?

The most interesting thing about Donald Trump is that he is genuinely running for the office of President of his nation. All his rivals – except Bernie Sanders, maybe – want to become Emperor of the World.
There’s a huge difference – huuuuge, as Trump himself would say. Trump wants to keep foreign Muslims out of the USA, or at least submit them to security clearance until he figures out what the hell is going on. The rivals want to slaughter foreign Muslims in huge numbers – wherever they live and for as long as the manufacturers keep the bombs and rockets coming off the production line. (Or until Israel is satisfied with its imperial borders. Whichever comes last.)

We don’t know the depth of Trump’s humanitarian feelings. Does he care if millions of civilians in foreign lands lose their homes and livelihoods, and if their children die of disease and malnutrition? Maybe, maybe not. But I don’t believe he wants to be the cause of it. His rivals are less squeamish. They do want to be the cause, and are set on continuing America’s long-term program of wars of aggression. As one Christian cleric ordered in an earlier Crusade, “Kill them all. God will know his own.”

Trump is not a psychopath. That alone makes him different from most of the candidates. Aspiring Emperors by their terms of reference are pretty much obliged to be psychopaths who happily engage in at mass murder on a Biblical scale. Witless cruelty is their stock in trade.

Unfortunately, the whole idea of Trump becoming President of the US is nonsense, based on a false premise. Neither he nor we will be called upon to judge his Presidential legacy, because he will never succeed, being dead. The Deep State will see to that.

He might, conceivably, overcome the obstacle of electronic voting-machines specially programmed to foil his supporters – first, in the race to become the Republican nominee, and later in the nationwide election. But the lone gunman will be a tougher proposition. Or gunmen plural, or remotely controlled cars or planes or whatever it takes. There are a thousand drugged-up patsies prepped to sacrifice their lives to maintain a puppet-Presidency of the kind the US has had since Kennedy.

We usually attribute the Kennedy assassinations to the CIA – although the guilty party is more likely to have been the FBI. Legally, it’s the FBI that is responsible for domestic issues, so Standard Operating Procedure would be for that organisation to remove designated domestic enemies who can’t be silenced by blackmail.

However, it really doesn’t matter which agency it was. All the official death squads are enforcement units of what’s now called “The Deep State” – the manipulators in the national and imperial bureaucracy who direct the business of the empire.

As much a patriot of the USA as Putin is of Russia, he has not sold his soul to The Deep State or any of its sponsors. I can’t see him ever selling the Palestinians down the river in exchange for the votes of AIPAC and the Israel-right-or-wrong lobby, or continuing the worldwide imperial rampage in exchange for the goodwill of the Military-Industrial-Security Complex. That moral stance is what will get him killed.

Of course the man is no fool. He is well aware that they (“They”) will either cheat him out of the Presidency or kill him out. Yet he carries on with his mission. For me, that pretty much proves his sincerity. I don’t particularly admire patriotism as a virtue. An excessive love of country gets in the way of a respect for mankind in general, as tribal loyalty beats out loyalty to the human species. But a truly patriotic Head of State does not jeopardise his people’s personal safety by making their nation hated by the rest of the world.

Trump’s patriotism stands apart from the imperial arrogance that really doesn’t care whether its citizens are hated or not by the rest of the world. Only military might is worth anything – and then only in the service of the self-defined aristocrats. And they are not about to make room for a genuine patriot.

Monday, December 7, 2015

In defence of free speech

One of Cayman’s local legislators (an elected member of our mini-parliament) is in hot water from the liberals among us for defending his selective Old Testament Christianity. His god disapproves of sodomy, and so does he. 

His chief critic is the expat Chairman of our government-appointed Human Rights Commission; he believes in equal rights for homosexuals. The politician says the Chairman should be replaced by a Christian, by which he means an Old Testament Christian of his own persuasion.

As a human-rights advocate myself, and a fairly devout heathen, I agree with the Chairman on the equal-rights issue. Also as a human rights advocate, though, I believe in free speech, and must defend the politician’s right to speak his mind on the issue.

He (the polly) has not called for violence, or the jailing of sodomites, or even (I think) the legal banning of homosexual acts of passion. To the best of my knowledge he has not joined in any of the public protests against the “gay cruises” that visit Cayman from time to time. This being Cayman, his words of disapproval don’t amount to an incitement to violence – though they do encourage discrimination. What to do?

In recent years, around the world, the right to free speech has taken a bit of a bashing. There are laws in some otherwise civilized European nations that actually prosecute and jail people for questioning any detail of the orthodox story of the Nazi holocaust. (As it relates to Jews, at least: I don’t know the position relating to Gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals and the rest. We never read about that.)

The iconic figure of six million dead Jews is legally sacrosanct, in those nations, and to question it is blasphemy. Doubts are classed as anti-Semitism, intrinsically likely to provoke a second holocaust of Jews. Since there is no equivalent stigma attached to details of other Nazi slaughters – or indeed other historical slaughters of any time and any peoples – can we shrug off the anti-Semitism focus as driven by tribal hyperbole? I think we can.

Doubting details doesn’t amount to denying the whole thing. The “denier/denial” label has been picked up by the AGW brigade, who are keen to imprison heretics who disbelieve the orthodoxy that Global Warming is all the fault of humankind.

By the same token, quoting a couple of isolated incidents from the Old Testament constitutes homophobia, according to Mr Eden’s critics, and makes him a “hater”. Surely that is grossly unfair. Surely he is entitled to his opinion that all queers will go to hell. It’s only his hell, after all.

At my boarding school we were told that our right to swing a fist stopped where somebody else’s nose began. Also, that freedom of speech did not extend to crying “FIRE!” in a crowded theatre, unless there really was a fire. All freedoms sometimes have to bow to other freedoms.

English common-law has always contained a prohibition against “disturbing the peace”. The prohibition is often abused by Police and Prosecutors, but its principle is sound enough. Disrespecting any shibboleth may be permitted by the human-rights canon; but broadcasting that disrespect in a manner or place that encourages violence, is not. That seems fair enough.

In The Gay Marriage Thing (Archives March 2014), I argued against the practice of national governments to license marriages. However, if they insist on retaining the practice, only minimal tweaking would be needed to extend the licences to same-sex marriages – and to same-family marriages too. Reproduction, or even sexual congress, is not an essential factor in any marriage.

Old Testament legends are actually much more tolerant of incest than of sodomy; some of the world’s most respected religions display a similar tolerance. And a few decades ago incest was relatively common in Cayman – as in many other isolated villages around the world. We encountered jokes about incest as soon as we arrived in Cayman. A father expresses disgust to learn that his son’s intended bride is a virgin. “If she’s not good enough for her own family,” he huffs, “she’s not good enough for ours.”

I don’t have much sympathy for Mr Eden as a person. He was silent during the most recent kerfuffle over free speech, involving our local newspaper’s Editor. He was silent when I was being persecuted for the same reason, nearly thirty years ago. He has been silent for forty years about the officially tolerated abuse of migrant domestics.

Nevertheless… he is entitled to maintain his personal prejudices, and to advertise them, even if he himself might not be as generous to others.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Slum-clearance on a massive scale

Huge fortunes are made out of slum-clearances. It’s an excellent way to make money, as long as it’s carefully planned. Think about what’s involved. The residents have to be moved out of their homes and into new accommodation, and fed and clothed until they have new jobs; schools have to be built and staffed for their children; social facilities have to be built and developed for the new communities.

All those things are fantastically expensive. Usually, it’s governments that order the clearances and relocations, which are usually farmed out to private contractors who – if they have their wits about them – will have bribed the politicians and bureaucrats for the privilege.

Security is a big factor, from start to finish. After all, evicted slum-dwellers aren’t moving to a new slum, but to a whole new community – designed by middle-class architects, and supervised by middle-class community-organisers. The new accommodation is not intended to be any kind of concentration-camps: quite the contrary. It's intended to upgrade the quality of life for the beneficiaries.

Of course it takes a lot of time – one generation, two, maybe longer – to persuade the newcomers to abandon their customary slum-habits. Until that happy day arrives, the inmates may pose a threat to their new neighbours and those neighbours’ possessions. So special policing is only common sense, employed either by the government or by experienced private security companies.

Progressively, the slums have to be physically destroyed, and that’s also costly. Specialised labour and equipment doesn’t come cheap. Special demolition machinery keeps specialist manufacturing companies paying generous dividends. When there’s no demolition in the offing, the companies’ dividends drop out of sight, and one wonders (a bit unkindly) if the companies don’t sometimes put political pressure on governments to hurry up and plan further demolitions. Or monetary pressure, in the form of bribery.

It crosses my mind, from time to time, that the gratuitous wars-of-choice waged against the people of the Middle East might be motivated for the specific purpose of making money. Apart from the obvious motive of access to the local nations’ oil revenues, there are boatloads of money to be made both in destroying the nations’ infrastructure and in replacing it when the dust clears. 

It’s slum-clearance on a massive scale. They may not have been slums before the bombs and drones hit them, but they certainly were afterwards.

Wars have always been fought for loot – land, persons, gold, and other assets with rich potential… What’s not to like about war, if you’re on the winning side? The soldiers – the cannon-fodder – don’t get all that much out of it. The pensions aren’t bad, although the medical care isn’t as good as advertised. But private contractors make out like bandits. The generals and colonels also do well, through consultancy deals with TV companies and the corporate members of the military-industrial complex.

Modern weapons cost billions of dollars, and so do security guards and caterers. There is only the faintest risk of being held accountable for unauthorised use, price-gouging and extortion. Families in defeated nations have always had to buy their freedom from imprisonment and torture; only rarely in history has that practice been frowned upon. It wasn’t supposed to happen in the enlightened age that began with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, but human rights have never been held in respect outside the Goody-Two-Shoes brigade.

The latest wheeze is the mass trafficking of the newly homeless and the soon-to-become homeless from their bombed neighbourhoods in the villages and towns of the Middle East to safer refuges in the destroyers’ European domiciles. It doesn’t take much of a leap of faith to recognize the standard slum-clearance pattern, exercised on a larger-than standard scale.

Destruction of homes – check. Temporary accommodation of the homeless in tents in the deserts – check. Transport to the vicinity of the greenfield site reserved for them – check. Temporary accommodation there, with the necessary policing – check. Constructing permanent accommodation there – check. Reconstructing the originally destroyed homes – check. Rinse and repeat.

Have I missed anything? Paying off all the nominal principals, of course, but that’s routine. Slotting the generals and senior politicians into the remunerative lecture-circuits, and arranging lesser rewards for lesser personalities. New Toyotas for the local sub-agency, that sort of thing…

But all that goes without saying. After all, you’ve got to spend money to make money, right? Everybody knows that.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Sometimes, you have to turn back

This is a belated addition to my series on our travels in 1964/65. Earlier reminiscences are identified in the Archives with the letter T, beginning with “Checkpoint Charlie” in December 2011.

My big adventure began after the Munich Oktoberfest in 1964, driving south in my Beetle into the unknown with a South African chap I’d met at a Youth Hostel. Somewhere in Yugoslavia our road suddenly ended at a river. Damn and blast! The nearest bridge was an hour away, back the way we’d just come. My map hadn’t actually promised a bridge, and it was a dirt road in the middle of nowhere; but I felt cheated, all the same.

Ah, but there was a ferry. Not a vehicle ferry as such, but one of those cable pontoon-things for pedestrians and animals. The villagers enthusiastically produced two planks, eight or ten feet long, and laid them from the ground up to the level of the deck. It was a fair gradient, and I started to drive slowly up the planks. Now… Those who have driven Beetles will know that they have virtually no weight in the front (the engine is in the rear), and are therefore very sensitive there. I felt the planks sag, and knew immediately that they wouldn’t take the weight of the whole car. 

I rolled back and asked for thicker planks, but there were none to be had. Perhaps I could take a run at the boards and get on deck before they cracked. “What do you reckon, Paul?” “Well, it’s your car”, Paul said. So, reluctantly, and to the villagers’ great disappointment, we retraced our tracks to the bridge. I wasn’t at all happy; I never liked having to retrace my steps. But, well, sigh… sometimes, you just have to turn back.

A couple of days later, we almost slipped off the side of a hill on another dirt road, with occasional patches of ice. Paul jumped up and down on the back bumper to give me just enough traction to get past the patch. A bit scary, but this time my stubbornness was rewarded.

Looking back, I must have had more confidence than it seemed at the time. Later in the adventure, Linda and I bluffed Bulgarian border-guards into letting us take contraband currency into Rumania, faced down Egyptian Customs officials who looked askance at some shoddily forged currency-exchange slips, and persuaded East German border-guards to let us pass through the Wall into West Berlin at a no-entry point. In my youthful arrogance I took it for granted that all those successes were simply my due. 

Budget travel demands confidence. You must believe in the mission. You’re taking on the whole world, with no backup except the nearest consulate, if you could reach it, and no security besides your American Express cheques if you weren’t robbed of them. So every minor victory is hard-won. How could the gods fail to be impressed with our innocent goodwill and delight in immersing ourselves in foreign cultures? And indeed they didn’t fail us – although they put a scare into us (mainly Linda) every so often, just to remind us (me) who were the gods and who weren’t.

One of my major regrets is that we never got to visit the Greek island of Rhodes. We had an opportunity, during that trip, but again I chickened out. At a village on the coast of Turkey, there was a man with a boat – and some decently thick planks – who offered to take us and the car the ten or fifteen miles across the water for about forty dollars. The ridiculous illegality of the challenge was tempting. 

Could I sweet-talk the Greek officials into letting us enter, assuming my little dictionary could supply me with the right words? Would the forty dollars include bribes? Would we ever be able to get to the Greek mainland, via other ferries and other islands? Mmm. Not easily. Maybe we could leave the car in the village and go across to Rhodes by ourselves for a couple of days. But that would bring a new risk.

Forty dollars was a huge amount of money for those villagers, and if the young foreigners could afford to pay that, maybe they could afford to pay handsomely to buy their car back when they returned. It wouldn’t have been fair to them to put such temptation in their way. (In some parts of Turkey, private cars were virtually unknown, to the extent that all cars were called “taxis”.)

In the end, common sense won out. We turned away and wended our way north to Istanbul and onward into the Soviet Empire. There were other challenges, and one notable failure to charm or bluster our illegal way through a border. That was disappointing, too; but you can’t win them all. Sometimes, you just have to turn back.