The 2016 US Presidential Election Will Not Take Place

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canned-life

From the beginning, we knew that this election would never happen. An election of representatives for any office involves the belief that they will represent the electorate. In the past, this system has been imperfect and undemocratic, but developing tools of mass persuasion have taken voting societies further and further away from democracy. In 2016 USA things have reached the logical conclusion wherein the public acts of voting are no longer related to a real act of election by an actual electorate.

I take my title and opening line from Jean Baudrillard who claimed the 1991 “Gulf War” was a literal “non-event”. The USA has now become the Disney version of 1984 and it seems right to draw on Baudrillard’s superposition of Disneyland fakery and the all-too-real atrocities that happened in Iraq and Kuwait. However, though Baudrillard leaves room for anger and anguish at the human suffering from the non-event, he indulges the avoidance of naming the real that hides behind the “hyperreal”. The non-event is an extension of the control of language in what Orwell described as “the defence of the indefensible”. Baudrillard was in some ways determined never to look behind the façade, and the non-event of this fake election of dead politics hides a real dynamic of empire which ordinary people would never countenance if it were shown to them as it truly is. I want to go beyond performing the autopsy of US politics, and find the events that do still take place, the ones that polite people don’t like to talk about.

The time also seems right to revisit some lines in a Yeats poem that was written in 1919: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” It describes people yearning for a “Second Coming”, and ends prophetically, on the dawn of Fascism and Nazism, with the lines:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

We have entered a fact-free zone. Sometimes it seems that the truth has entered a state of quantum indeterminacy where two contradictory things are simultaneously true until the waveform is collapsed by observations by political pollsters. For example, when the Clinton camp attributed their candidate’s 9/11 collapse to overheating, differing journalists and commentators simultaneously reported a that it was an unusually hot day or an unusually cold day. Another instance can be seen in these headlines from editions of the Wall St. Journal:

 

Events wildly plot a drunken careering narrative and each potential voter is forced into more and more speculative interpretation of what those events actually signify. People want to vote for a candidate according to their interests and principles, but those who still believe with “passionate intensity” that they can do so by voting for Trump or Clinton are dangerously deluded. As everything else about the year 2016 becomes muddier and weirder with each passing day, the only thing that is becoming more clear at every moment is that the 2016 election will not take place.

The Stinking Corpse of Democracy

From January to March 1991 the post-modernist Jean Baudrillard published 3 articles: “The Gulf War will not take place”; “The Gulf War is not really taking place?” and “The Gulf War did not take place”. Baudrillard was describing the war as a hyperreal simulation of something that has no origin in reality. “Hyperreal” refers to a situation where a simulation of a possible reality is indistinguishable from reality and is thus a type of reality itself. What happened in Kuwait and Iraq in 1991 was not war, however it was made into a simulation of war and it was experienced as being war by those watching it on CNN.

This is why the Gulf War will not take place. It is neither reassuring nor comforting that it has become bogged in interminable suspense. In this sense, the gravity of the non-event in the Gulf is even greater than the event of war: it corresponds to the highly toxic period which affects a rotting corpse and which can cause nausea and powerless stupor.”

Baudrillard put the basic case most succinctly when he wrote: “Since this war was won in advance, we will never know what it would have been like had it existed. We will never know what an Iraqi taking part with a chance of fighting would have been like. We will never know what an American taking part with a chance of being beaten would have been like.”

The Baudrillard articles drew attention to something important (the fact that there was no war) but they also drew attention away from the fact that the “Gulf War” was an act of genocide; a very concrete, banal and definitely not at all “hyperreal” act of co-ordinated mass violence and destruction aimed at the nation and the people of Iraq. Baudrillard may have missed the mark on the Iraq War, but his remarks could be very fittingly adapted to 2016. To paraphrase: “…here comes the dead election and the necessity of dealing with this decomposing corpse which nobody from Washington DC has managed to revive. Trump and Clinton are fighting over the corpse of an election.”

Let me be clear, the people of the US have not lost democracy. They never had it. No modern countries are democracies. In countries with elections undemocratic power is given to numerous people, some of whom are elected. The theory is that by vesting the highest authority in officials who are elected, this will create an electoral process of candidates who seek and receive a mandate. Thus, by acting as a mandated elected official even though the power of the office may be undemocratic, this will bring about democratic governance. This is all jolly good, except that it doesn’t work. Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page made news a couple of years ago by releasing a study in 2014. While they acknowledge that having free speech is an important democratic institution, in policy terms: “Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

One writer called the Page and Gillens paper “the ‘Duh’ report” because anyone paying attention should have already known the truth. It roughly confirms what C. Wright Mills had diagnosed nearly 60 years earlier in his book The Power Elite, which showed the oligarchic nature of US political governance. The US has long had issues of plutocratic corruption intervening in government but the 20th century saw a change from influencing government against the wishes of the electorate to consciously shaping the electorate in order to “engineer the consent” of the governed. Democracy had always been a unrealised promise in the US, shoehorned uncomfortably into the Constitution by anti-Federalists against the wishes of Federalists (like the puzzlingly celebrated Alexander Hamilton). The promise of democracy died with the advent of the Commission on Public Information in 1917 which began an era of “guided democracy” in the US. Oligarchs and bureaucrats turned their minds towards shaping and controlling public opinion while plutocrats still tried to ensure that governance was not overly influenced against the interests of capital by this already mediated public opinion.

We take it all for granted now, but suddenly many different entities wanted to adopt the purposes that had previously been those of politicians, impressarios and snake-oil salesmen. The FBI published heroic literature about “g-men”, and black propaganda smearing Black Power and left-wing movements. The CIA, still one of the biggest publishers in the world, promoted jazz, abstract art and the right sort of academic work. They established themselves in every major news media organ in the “free” world. Hollywood established a close working relationship with different parts of the US government, becoming a willing source of propaganda, and largely integrated into the military-industrial complex (through both ownership and the close working relationship with the Pentagon and CIA). Advertising agencies, over and above the immediate purpose of selling, were slavishly loyal promoters of “free enterprise”, the “American dream”, consumerism, and the values of gendered racialised class hierarchy. For evidence you need look no further than this extraordinary (and ballsy) meta-propaganda about advertising:

Throughout the 20th century, governance in the US also became ever more technocratic and removed from public sight at the same time as the more overt part of governance (elected administrations and legislators) became subject to ever more inescapable and sophisticated perception management. It is difficult to see past the projected self-image of the US as the sort of country that has a minimal government (even to the point of neglecting the vulnerable and allowing infrastructure to crumble) but the truth is that the US has a vast state sector. Combining all levels of government it spent $6.134 trillion in 2010. This is many times higher than China which seems to be a distant second in terms of state sector expenditure.

The machinery of government in the US is enormous and has a Byzantine bureaucratic complexity of overlapping jurisdictions. The documentary above gave an image of a society of free agents with a welfare oriented government. In reality under neoliberalism government, using the pretext of shrinking itself, reallocates resources to state coercion: military, intelligence, police and incarceration. What welfare remains becomes a tool of state control under an ideology that criminalises or pathologises neediness of any form. If you have no home, for example, the state feels it can dictate behavioural and moral codes that are the absolute antithesis of the proclaimed “liberty” that is considered the norm of society.

Meanwhile, the US government at various levels has control of the greatest machinery of state violence and oppression that has ever existed. Some people refer to these capabilities as a “turnkey tyranny” (the phrase existed long before Edward Snowden’s usage) but that creates the unfortunate sense that the entire apparatus is currently turned off (and that some people are conspiring to suddenly turn it on). In reality there is a continuum of state coercion. In the US case the capability for rounding people up and putting them in FEMA camps will probably never be more than a remote, but scary, potential. On the other hand, surveillance, intrusive policing and security, militarised policing, restrictions on liberties, and fear-mongering are already familiar parts of routine and banal oppression. These shape and control people in ways that don’t involve direct physical coercion, but are not merely brainwashing people into happy consumerist zombies either. There is a carrot laced with tranquillisers, but there is also a stick. Sheldon Wolin called the resulting system “inverted totalitarianism”.

The freedom enjoyed by Usanians is the contingent freedom enjoyed by the Eloi in H.G. Wells’ anti-capitalist allegory The Time Machine. They live lives of consumerist luxury right up until the point that some are abducted and eaten. The same is true of those who fall foul of the massive private or governmental bureaucracies that run the USA, and I think that it is good to set-aside our visions of a land with 48-flavours-of-ice-cream and look at the grim, grey inhuman machinery that coexists with consumerist pseudo-liberty.

We have found in all of the former “free world” that our sneers at communist bread queues were premature. We felt superior because capitalism seemed to be designed to meet our needs and desires efficiently, but now that it faces no ideological competition we find that it just wants to sell us barely functional goods and when we call for support or service, to place us on hold for hours. I guess it is better than being hungry waiting in the cold winter, but it is hard to deny that capitalist private bureaucracy is just as entitled and unhelpful as socialist government bureaucracy. In the US it can be deadly. For example, by denying insurance cover to people with life-threatening conditions pen-pushing penny-pinchers from Aetna and other such “providers” hand out death-sentences. The US has a corporatised health sector that is measurably more inefficient, more bureaucratic, more inhumane and much more expensive than actual “socialism”, and it forces people to buy private insurance or face a fine (or, as Forbes spins it, because of exemptions “only 4 million people” are expected to be subject to fines in 2016, and we all know that any law that only affects 4 million doesn’t really count). Employers can also simply garnish wages without permission to enrol workers in the employer’s chosen insurance plan.

Moreover, in this land of private/public dual tyranny, eminent domain laws in the US are often used to forcibly alienate property for the benefit of private capital (because individual states can determine what is “public use”) in the manner that does not happen in other countries.

Meanwhile those who fall into the gears of the “justice” system may find fates that seem akin to terrible stories of mediaeval cruelty, grim totalitarianism, or dystopian science-fiction nightmare. In a Milwaukee gaol, under the jurisdiction of Trump supporter David Clarke, an imprisoned suspect had his water shut off for 6 days. Witnesses heard him beg repeatedly for water as he slowly died of “profound dehydration”.

In many countries the rights of criminal suspects are minimal despite the supposed presumption of innocence, but in the US this can reach a soul-crushing extreme such as in the case of Kalief Browder. He refused to plead guilty to stealing a backpack and because the case against him was thin to non-existent, he spent 3 years, from age 16, enduring terrible conditions and violent abuse at Rykers Island prison. He killed himself 2 years after release. A different horror was endured by Roberta Blake. Not knowing that she had an arrest warrant for returning a rental car late, she was detained in California and spent two weeks in a cage in an overheated van being taken to Alabama to face “justice” for her heinous crime: “Lacking both privacy and sanitary napkins, she had to use a cup in front of the male guards and prisoners when she began menstruating. After another prisoner ripped off her shirt, she spent the rest of the trip in a sports bra.” In most developed countries it would be illegal to treat an animal that way.

Staying on the subject of the accused, I want to remind readers that a Pennsylvania judge received millions in kickbacks for sending thousands of children into institutions. Given the level of corruption victimising so many kids, some of them from white-collar households, is it any surprise that some claim similar corruption is part of the adult incarceration system?

I mention these things to show that “guided democracy” (which is not democratic) produces a tyranny with two faces. These things happen because the accused are unpeople and that itself is a product of an elite “guided democracy” culture in the US that is authoritarian, lacking in empathy, and phobic about poor people.

All I have detailed is just passive and reflexive brutality. It is incidental and can fall on any non-rich person unlucky enough to fall foul of a capricious state, but you will notice that I haven’t even mentioned racialised police violence, the school-to-prison pipeline, and mass incarceration. That is a more active aspect of tyranny that functions (like “anti-terrorism” or the “war” on any other internal or external threat) to normalise oppression and market it to a much wider demographic than that specifically targetted. I won’t waste anyone’s time by detailing the latest horrors of police violence in the US, nor the everyday obscenity of mass incarceration. Readers are probably familiar with the topic, and I just ask that they bear it in mind as being an important element of this story that I am consciously omitting.

The Stinking Corpse of Politics

When Sheldon Wolin wrote Democracy Inc. he was effectively writing the obituary of “guided democracy”. Guided democracy was beginning to give way to something new which Wolin likened to 20th century tyrannies, but characterised as “inverted”. A “new type of political system, seemingly one driven by abstract totalizing powers, not by personal rule, one that succeeds by encouraging political disengagement rather than mass mobilization, that relies more on “private” media than on public agencies to disseminate propaganda reinforcing the official version of events.”

Before continuing, I must clear up a problem I have with the terminology. I cannot endorse Wolin’s (or any) use of the term “totalitarianism” because it has no potential for judicious usage. It was coined to refer to Italian Fascism to refer to the totality of the purview of the state, but both that regime and the current US regime show that defining what is and is not the state is actually subjective. The very concept of “inverted totalitarianism” or “totalitarian democracy” along with new coinages like “globalitarian” show that the word itself is useless. In fact, totalitarianism has primarily been used to create a concept which suggests that Nazism and Communism are of the same essence, but Western liberalism existentially distinct (which, by the way, is why it was one of the academic notions promoted by the CIA). Both the Soviets and the Nazis did the same thing in their time, as Slavoj Žižek explains: “Thus Stalinism in the 1930s constructed the agency of Imperialist Monopoly Capital to prove that Fascists and Social Democrats (‘Social Fascists’) are ‘twin brothers’, the ‘left and right hand of monopoly capital’. Thus Nazism itself constructed the ‘plutocratic-Bolshevik plot’ as the common agent who threatens the welfare of the German nation.”

However, Wolin also referred to inverted totalitarianism as being “a kind of fascism”. “Fascism” is a much better term to use, as I have argued at great length (in two parts). Though “fascism” is clearly too common and low-rent a concept for some people (who maintain their status with claims to exclusive multisyllabic knowledge), it is perfect in conveying an apt historical comparison. Henceforth, therefore, I will use “fascism” because it may be subjective, but even people who disagree with the usage will know exactly what I am referring to and why.

Wolin’s annunciation of the conception of a new fascism should also have pointed to the immanence of a new “rough beast”. We have seen, in the last 14 years, that the “inverted” part of Wolin’s described fascism is unstable and contingent. Like the pluralism of Weimar Germany it could be replaced with leader worship and more conventionally oriented fascism in short order. Ann Coulter, (author of In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome) recently said: “I worship him like the North Koreans worship the ‘Dear Leaders’ — yes, I would die for him.” Coulter might seem to be a clown or a liar trying to flog a bad book, but we can no longer doubt that Trump does have a cult of personality and very dangerously deranged followers. For example there is this irrational rant from a Trump supporter:

Note that he is wrong in every aspect of what he accusers Shah of being: her candidate is running against Clinton; Shah is US born; and, as it happens, she is not Muslim. His passion for these lies, though, is about as real as anything gets in this time. The self-deception that is so widespread is part of this erosion of the “inverted” corporate and impersonal aspect of US fascism. Obama has very frequently evinced his Christian faith over the years, but millions think he is either Muslim or even the Antichrist. Trump, on the other hand, doesn’t make a big deal out of religion and yet he is still treated as the instrument of God. My argument would be that some feminists have exactly the same faith-based irrational and ironic view of Clinton that these “Christians” have of Trump. Both are equally unlikely avatars of the spirit of each faith and the blindness of the followers is very reminiscent of a fascist cult of personality.

The ever scary nationalist fervour in the US has also entered into the realms of mass hysteria. This year’s DNC and RNC showed plenty of evidence of violent irrationality. Only ten years ago neoconservatives were mocked by the “reality-based community” for saying things like: “That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” Now, their view of history and of the US role in it has gone mainstream. There is no escaping the conclusion politics are dead and the US is taking an extended holiday (or vacation) away from reality.

We have entered what people are calling the “age of post-truth politics”. Here in Aotearoa it happened very suddenly. We went from being very hard on politicians when they were caught lying, to having a Prime Minister who lies constantly and freely and who gets away with it because the media adopted the self-fulfilling prophecy of saying that people are not bothered by his lying and therefore there is little point in drawing their attention to it by making a big deal of it. In short, the media created a new post-truth norm overnight.

In contrast, the US journey towards this post-truth moment has been a long and well sign-posted journey. The practice of “plausible denial” over covert action that began 70 years ago almost immediately became a practice that should more truly be known as “implausible denial” and was extended to overt military action. The system is simple: an official tells a blatant and obvious lie, then reporters report the statement as having been stated. No matter how thin the lie, it is treated as weighty. It is not analysed or fact-checked, because that is reserved for domestic policies that are contended between the two major parties. It may or may not be noted that others dispute the lie, but the real Orwellian and twisted part that occurs is that the media will forever after treat the lie as unquestionably having been believed by the officials in question.

Thus when the US destroyed a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory in 1998, newspapers outside of the US reported that Bill Clinton knew that beforehand that it was a civilian factory, but inside the US the cruise missile attack, even after it was found that the target was not a chemical weapons plant, reported that the strike was “an effort to curb the activities of the Saudi exile Osama bin Laden”.

Hillary Clinton and Trump are the logical outcome of a combination of mainstream media permissiveness when it comes to politicians lies, and the existence of partisan spheres or “reference groups”. These spheres have two levels. The inner level is the “partisan echo chamber” where you will never be informed that your chosen candidate lies. Apparently the inhabitants of this bubble are a minority, but the outer sphere is may be more important. In the outer sphere people aren’t like Coulter; they aren’t uncritically loyal and they don’t think of themselves as belonging to the Great Leader; they just know that the lies of the candidate they support are regrettable but not outrageous, unacceptable and dangerous like those of the rival candidate. Clinton supporters know that their candidate has a few imperfections, but Trump threatens all life as we know it and they don’t seem to find it at all remarkable that their opponents feel exactly the same way in reverse. They do not recognise their mirror images because years of something called the “culture wars” (which I won’t get into here) have made them blind to similarities outside of that culture war framework. In fact each stance can be rationally argued and we once again see a kind of political quantum superposition where these contradictory stances are simultaneously true. Both of them are the greatest threat currently facing humanity and they must both be stopped.

That is why I say that this election shows the death of politics, rather then merely democracy. There is no longer a machinery to control public opinion, but rather opinions themselves are rendered meaningless. Only the delusional are still taking the rhetoric of Clinton and Trump as being an indication of ideology and policy intent. People are trying to discern their character, but if they juxtapose each against the other trying to make a relative judgement they get into trouble. Which one is the crook? Which one is the liar? Which one is the warmonger? Which one is pro-corporate? If you think that the answers to that are easy, then you aren’t really paying attention.

Things have gotten so bad that in South Park they clearly struggled to decide which candidate should be represented as a Shit Sandwich and which candidate is really a Giant Douche. The creators are lucky that their storyline depicts their own fictional character opposing Clinton, because otherwise they would have to admit that both candidates this year are Shit Sandwich. Their 12 year-old allegory for no meaningful electoral choice is now too mild for the circumstances. We now choose between a Shit Sandwich made with puffy white bread that has a tendency to go soggy with shit juice, and one made with a stale multigrain that is pretty similar but may or may not be a little bit healthier over time.

The Desert of the Real…

was a book by Slavoj Žižek published in the same year (2002) as Wolin’s Democracy Inc. It has its faults. Like Baudrillard on Iraq, Žižek imposes an inappropriate, if not offensive, semiotician’s interpretation of the bombing of Afghanistan. Instead of being a brutal act of imperialist aggression that can and should be compared with historical imperialism, Žižek asks if it isn’t “the ultimate case of impotent acting out?” In fact Žižek’s judgement in this ironically similar to the limitations he describes in others who cannot accept answers that fall outside of presupposed truth. As the old wisdom tells us, when you gaze long into Keanu, Keanu gazes also into you – to which I will add that Keanu knows fuck-all about geopolitics.

Another complaint, of a sort, is that reading The Desert of the Real today is somewhat like reading Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock in that events have so overtaken and exceeded the prophetic work that I tend to react by thinking: “You call that future shock? That is not even mild astonishment compared to what we have to cope with nowadays.” Žižek refers to Alan Badiou’s notion that the 20th century was dominated by “the passion for the real” which “was fake passion whose ruthless pursuit of the Real behind appearances was the ultimate stratagem to avoid confronting the Real.” With the benefit of the last 14 years of reality television informing us we can say back to 2002 Žižek: “No shit, Einstein.”

But Žižek was quite perceptive in seeing the beginnings of the regime that we now live in. The world of 2002 was one of “politics without politics” and Žižek saw the potential for a resurgent and dangerous right-wing. One passage should particularly resonate with those who are following the 2016 US presidential race: “A decade ago, in the State of Louisiana’s governor elections, when the only alternative to the ex-KKK David Duke was a corrupt Democrat, many cars displayed a sticker: ‘Vote for a crook – it’s important!’”

The 20th century “pursuit of the Real” may have chased reality away, but clearly Žižek understood early that this would take us back to the dangerous yearning for the authenticity of a Second Coming that Yeats perceived in 1919.

The Desert of the Real ends by asking “What if the true aim of this ‘war [on terror]’ is ourselves, our own ideological mobilization against the threat of the Act?” In many ways the war on terror has made people in Western countries accept discipline, control and surveillance that they would never have accepted otherwise, but in other ways there has been resistance. In some ways the things that are most obvious are the least significant because they are resisted and ultimately rejected. After 9/11 the US rounded up and detained hundreds of Muslims and foreigners. That practice ended. What stayed was the Department of Homeland Security, the Transport Safety Authority, and a new officially promoted “if you see something say something”. The most profound changes have come in those spaces of knowledge where people assent and accept subliminally because they feel no friction of resistance and they are anaesthetised. Some changes are too subtle, but others are too big. People stop thinking about them almost immediately because they become everyday normality very quickly.

As I alluded to earlier, the path to the current US post-truth post-politics moment follows through the territory of imperialist wars justified by a skein of lies that creates a pseudo-history. It is possible to discuss and dispute aspects of the pseudo-history in that same way that people can discuss and dispute aspects of Game of Thrones. It is still fiction.

Žižek described a dearth and death of reality that, to my prosaic mind, was the culmination of post-WWII US hypocrisy and exceptionalism. What is happening in the 2016 election is due to the fact that on September 11 2001, the US stopped merely stringing together lies and launched a “global” war that is framed within one giant fairytale. For 15 years it has been as if every day the US has destroyed another Sudanese factory, but the lies have become to large and too numerous. They penetrate everywhere and inter-penetrate each other so that they cannot be refuted singly.

The real is abolished, and no one really wants it any more. Trump recently rewrote history by saying that a “stop-and-frisk” policing policy worked wonders for New York. Some challenge that, but not because it is untrue, but because they are not on Trump’s side. Yet there is little objection when John Kerry spoke to the UN General assembly:

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The gall of the man is not merely from the inappropriate dismissiveness (compare this to attitude towards the attack on the USS Cole which killed 17 sailors), but also in brushing over the very obvious questions raised by claiming that this was an “accident”. It took me all of 5 minutes after putting in the search terms “syria deir ez-zor map forces” to find out that there is a prima facie case that the act must have been deliberate. I could easily just look at news reports from the past 6 months that make it hard to avoid the conclusion that the US-led attack must have been intended to aid the forces of the self-proclaimed “Islamic State”. Once you consider in addition that within minutes of the attack the self-proclaimed “IS” launched an attack that has halted or reversed 6 months of slow SAA progress towards lifting the siege of Deir ez-Zor, then the incident looks very much like air support for “IS” forces. I would defy anyone to give any other explanation as to why the US would suddenly decide to bomb in this area, where the only military forces are the Syrian Arab Army and the “IS”. At the very least every journalist should report that the circumstances suggest that until their actions are explained, US claims should not be seen as credible as they are not reconcilable with the facts as we currently understand them.

Down the Rabbit Hole

I am about to write something that may be the most controversial thing I have ever written. I realise that many people will hate me for this, and I fully expect to be hunted down and savaged by vicious sci-fi nerds. But there comes a time when destiny calls, and it is my destiny to say something heretical about The Matrix

Here is my testament: If someone called “Morpheus” (the Greek god of dreams) offers to take you “down the rabbit hole” (an allusion to entering “Wonderland”) and you then end up perceiving a new reality in which you are the messiah, but the most fundamental fact of human existence (that people are in a virtual world being used by a machine intelligence as a way of generating electricity) makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, then accepting Morpheus’ offer is choosing delusion over reality. That means that “taking the red pill” means indulging delusions, lies and fantasy.

To recap: 1) Morpheus = god of dreams; 2) “down the rabbit hole” = journey into fantasy; 3) world of people hooked up as batteries = self-evident nonsense; 4) messianic mission = attractive delusion satisfying to ego and superego (and id once you throw in the inevitable “love interest”).

Ironically people refer to “taking the red pill” as being a path to enlightenment. Even more ironically it is linked to “9/11 truth” activism. But the people who took the red pill on 9/11 were the people in the US government, the elected officials, the military personnel, the spooks, the cops, the administrators. They, along with much of the population of the Western world, entered a phantasmagorical parallel universe, the GWOT Wonderland, where the fundamental premise of the main fact shaping the world makes no sense.

The Matrix tricks its viewers in the same way that science fiction author Philip K. Dick would often trick his readers. But where Dick’s deception was either playful or served a serious purpose (or both), the Wachowskis were either more mean-spirited or simply underestimated the human capacity for self-deception. The desire for purpose and the need for meaningfulness in one’s life drives people to perceive Neo’s journey as a revelation of truth rather than a descent into madness despite the heavy-handed hints I mentioned. The messiah figure is enticing because it satisfies narcissism and altruism simultaneously in a way that real life does not offer. As it happens, Phil Dick also explored this desire with black humour in “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale” which formed the basis of the films Total Recall. The short story parallels the Total Recall film adaptations up to a point but has crucial further developments that we omitted from the films. When the protagonist’s belief that he is a secret agent becomes rationally unsustainable he “remembers” that he is actually an alien emissary sent to bring peace and enlightenment to humanity. When the alien emissary narrative is fatally challenged by its own irrational contradictions, then the protagonist “remembers” that even that was actually a cover identity for his real nature which is the actual messiah and saviour of all humankind.

There is a lot of power in the attractiveness of a sense of messianic purpose, but in The Matrix it is used to scam people. They overlook the obvious because that are deceived into doing so. I would even call it the “Neo con” (if I were cruel enough to inflict such a bad pun on readers) because it is a good model of the trickery that keeps people from seeing the obvious lies of the Global War on Terror.

The neocons themselves were and are a mix of scammers and scammed. Whether they believed the lies or not, they evinced a messianic purpose for the US. It is true that the fundamental benevolence of the enterprise did not bear much scrutiny, but then again the fundamental rationality did not bear scrutiny either. The point, like The Matrix, is not to conceal lies but to disincentivise the perception of unhidden lies. As the neocons’ direct influence seemed to fade, the fundamental parts of their worldview were left behind as mainstream political orthodoxy. The distinction between neocons and liberal interventionists (as I have repeatedly written) was never significant anyway and now we inhabit the world they created.

In The Matrix the whole purpose of the eponymous Matrix itself is explained as being a completely infeasible and physically impossible system of generating electricity. It is stated as quickly as possible, and the real trick is that those who do notice the impossibility will blame poor narrative construction and not suspect that it is key evidence of the real nature of what is happening. In the war on terror, Islamic terrorism is constantly highlighted but the connection with foreign policy is passed over very quickly, even though it is the central explanation for why the US needs to invade and bomb so widely. The US military still hands out medals for the GWOT so the basic premise is still that their far-flung interventions are a response to terrorism. The fall-back position is that even if it doesn’t make sense to attack other countries to stop terrorism, it is a real if mistaken belief on the part of officials.

Whether it is the Neocons or the Wachowskis, people never stop to consider whether it is reasonable to think that their unreasonableness is in earnest. Wolin, for example, keeps repeating that “inverted totalitarianism” came about without intention: “It has no Mein Kampf as an inspiration” he tells us in between quotes from various neocon equivalents. The ideology, the strategy, the intention and the foresight of consequences are all there to be seen, for those who will see them rather than asserting that they cannot be there. Once you figure out that the neocons and their allies must have deliberately crafted the terrorism lie, it puts quite a different spin on things.

15 years into this delusion we have seen military actions coalesce into a slow-motion World War. Without citing the threat of terrorism, the US could not have taken military action against Afghanistan or Iraq. Yet we shouldn’t forget that the threat of terrorism is still used to give people the impression that there is some natural and urgent reason for the US to be involved in Islamic countries. If we take the instances of Syria or Libya, they conflate concerns about the crimes of the dictatorial regime with concerns about terrorism. It makes no more sense than when the Nazis claimed that there was a single conspiracy of Communism and Western capitalism. Yet without being able to say the “IS” is a threat to the homeland, moves against regimes like Libya’s and Syria’s might be difficult to explain in light of, say, the ongoing support for Saudi Arabia or Egypt or any of the many brutal regimes that the US considers to be friendly and “moderate”. It makes no sense to attack regimes that oppose the alleged sources of terror, but that doesn’t really matter any more than it makes no sense to provide a massive life support and virtual reality infrastructure to billions of humans just so you can use them as energy cells. The senselessness is irrelevant.

We have gone down the rabbit hole, because even if we know that it is irrational to say that US interventions are against terror or because they oppose the oppression of dictators, we have no other coherent narrative. That is why I am constantly pushing for people to recognise that US interventions are genocides, attacks aimed at extending imperial power by committing violence and destruction against peoples and nations as such. It is that simple. It is also that banal. It is a grey world where even the most cruel of crimes are just another day at the office for some of the perpetrators. People prefer a dramatic fantasy narrative of anti-terror and humanitarian intervention to prevent the “next Rwanda”, yet most highly educated people would consider me a fantasist because suggesting a coherence in US foreign policy is a “conspiracy theory”.

Sauce for the Gander

In the end, if we have accepted irrationality and lies for so long; if we have for 15 years purged those who cannot live with cognitive dissonance from public and private areas of authority; should it surprise us that we have created the circumstances where truth is no longer relevant? Kerry, Clinton, Power and Obama are all capable at any day of the week of telling preposterous and monstrous lies. It is impossible to tell, for example, if Samantha Power is completely insane or not. Like Tony Blair she seems to be so deeply “in character” that the original human host, the once beloved daughter of Mr and Mrs Power, has been murdered by this bloodthirsty monster.

If you think Trump has gumption, think of the sheer chutzpah shown by Power when she turned the US massacre of Syrian personnel into an chance to attack Russia for daring to criticise the US: “even by Russia’s standards, tonight’s stunt – a stunt replete with moralism and grandstanding – is uniquely cynical and hypocritical.” As Gary Leupp writes, she is “condemning Russia for condemning a war crime”.

Our semiotician friends Baudrillard and Žižek like to condemn atrocious actions, but they avoid suggesting that there might be some premeditation and conscious shaping of the semantic. Žižek would probably consider me to be crude, primitive and jarring in my insistence on continually returning to a realist perspective. However Žižek has alienated many on the left with his comments on the European refugee crisis and I like to think that my more pointed view allows me to be honest about the refugee crisis without falling into disproportionate victim-blaming that amounts to xenophobia (regardless of whether it is literally true or not). On this subject Žižek is purely and smoothly in concord with the right. He is effectively like one of those second-degree racists who neatly substitute nurture for nature and justify fear and bigotry on the basis of “environment” instead of genetics. To my mind this is the logical outcome of never being brave enough to go out on a limb and say that there is a locus of power behind the events that shape our narrative perception. It may not be a literal Star Chamber of sinister conspirators, but power coalesces again and again in ways that form virtual Star Chambers and once you understand that mass transformations are often imposed from above then it makes little sense to fret about whether some refugees are rapists in the midst of a metastasising holocaust that has killed millions and threatens tens of millions.

Žižek wants to state a generality that is true and comforting (that the West is not responsible for every bad thing in the world) without testing whether it is actually applicable to the specific case he addresses. For example, Žižek says that the Rwanda genocide can’t be blamed on the West, because he is ignorant of the history. The US acted in co-ordination with Uganda and the Rwandan Patriotic Front to destabilise the country and provoke ethnic violence. Perhaps the resulting genocide was far beyond what they wished for, or perhaps not. It was not the end of US-backed ethnic violence in Rwanda and bordering areas of the DR Congo, so the provocateurs cannot have been too appalled at the violence. Nor does the US history of slaughter in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East allow us to take seriously the horror they evince at the Rwanda Genocide, nor the way they use the memory of it as a pretext for their own acts of genocide.

Likewise, Žižek says that the refugee crisis cannot be blamed entirely on the West because “ISIS” is an “active response”. The problem is that we either have to confront the fact that “IS” is a deliberate creation of the US empire, or we remain in Wonderland where magically, just when the US needs a new pretext to carry on the wars that it is already fighting, “IS” appears. Miraculously, because of “IS”, the US gets to continue the wars it was already fighting for other reasons even when the primary activity of this wars is to attack the enemies of “IS”.

We know that the US armed the “IS” forces, but we are meant to believe that they did it somehow by accident. A country suddenly appeared and found itself governing millions while simultaneously fighting a four-front war against established national armies and ethnic militias. Despite being land-locked and surrounded by putative enemies it has remained in play for 2 years. It is as if the Nazis had consolidated in Bavaria in 1945 and were still there in defiance of the Allies best effort in 1947. It simply makes no sense.

That is why a lying reality show personality and probable child rapist can make a credible run for the highest office in the US. It is because we have had 15 years of deluded and/or shameless US imperialists doubling down over and over and over again on their lies. We are trapped in Wonderland, because it hurts people to think of reality; because people want to believe Žižek’s announcement that not everything is the West’s fault; and they want to join in with his implied sneer at those who say otherwise.

The 2016 US election will not take place because reality is in abeyance. Young people might not even know what it is any more. They see all the shades of grey, but they can no longer conceptualise black or white, so it is hard to find meaning. The trivial and the profound are no longer distinguishable, not because of some general social evolution, but because managed democracy evolved as a system of political domination. This is the result of astroturfing, greenwashing, pinkwashing, native advertising, product placement, grey propaganda, and so forth. We did not just end up like this because we are spoilt and spend too much time on social media. This was done to us.

So there is Trump. He is a sick joke. His party, which he seems almost completely detached from, is like magician’s illusion: a giant edifice that seems to be levitating with no visible means of support. He has the endorsement of the patriarch of the “Duck Dynasty” Phil Robertson who offered to baptise him on camera to get “God on our side”. Apparently even God no longer believes in the Real until it is on reality television. But it takes two to tango; Hillary Clinton is no more real than Trump and the polls show that ordinary people know it.

The 2016 election will be a non-event. The way the votes are counted will shape the destiny of the world, but the voting itself will be an empty ritual. That is not a reason not to vote, it is actually a reason to reject the idea that your vote was wasted. The votes are not wasted, but even if they are counted they are stolen. Stolen by fictional candidates like Trump and Clinton and stolen by the death of politics. Vote your conscience and then live according to it. Let everyone know that your vote was stolen by a system that is fraudulent. Make sure that everyone remembers that it is a lie every time they tell you that you might not like what the President does but you have to accept it because that is the way democracy works.

One day they will push the lies too far and Wonderland will shatter, releasing us from this dark sphere back into the light.

It is Not “Ridiculous” to Reject Hillary; It is Not Undemocratic to Disrupt the DNC

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how-to-draw-alien-vs-predator_1_000000019036_5Image source: dragoart.com

In a post on Aotearoa’s The Daily Blog, a supposedly “leftist” blogger, Chris Trotter, took “Bernie’s die-hard supporters” to task for being “ridiculous”. He was endorsing Sarah Silverman’s words, but after some inconsequential waffle, he took it a bit further: “That makes the ‘Bernie or Bust’ crowd something much more than ridiculous, Sarah, it makes them dangerous.”

Trotter is not alone in this sentiment, but it is highly arrogant to presume to criticise without showing any insight or seeming to know much about the subject at all. Not only is the disruption and protest valid, the circumstances that lead them to it have a significance even broader than this US general election. Trump v. Clinton is the Alien vs. Predator election. Those who refuse to reject the two-party system agree that they prefer Predator, but they disagree about which candidate that is. Meanwhile a growing number of people, with varying levels of politeness, are trying to get them to realise that Alien and Predator are both aliens and both predators. But this predicament facing US voters is to some extent faced everywhere that neoliberalism holds sway, it is just more scary and funny when you put it in the deranged context of US electoral politics.

In my country, as fellow Kiwi Patrick Gower explained to Democracy Now!, we have a “morbid fascination” with the political rise of Donald Trump, but our media have been much kinder to Hillary Clinton. I can only liken the phenomenon to US news media reporting on Israel which is far more obsequious and uncritical than Israel’s own media. I don’t know why our media gloss over the faults, weaknesses, scandals and crimes of Clinton, but they do. They also followed a script in which Bernie Sanders was a wannabe spoiler, threatening to hand the USA over to Trump by prolonging his primary campaign and splitting the Democrats (a narrative similar to that in which Nader is blamed for giving the 2000 election to Bush).

In reality, if you look for them even from half a world away, there are clear reasons why Clinton is so unpopular with the people of the USA. In fact, she and Trump currently have equal pegging in dislike with both having “unfavourable” responses of 58% according to Gallup. No past Democrat or Republican candidate “comes close to Clinton, and especially Trump, in terms of engendering strong dislike.” In ordinary circumstances neither Clinton nor Trump would be electable with that level of public disdain. The very fact that either could become POTUS is purely because they face each other.

These are strange times. We should reflect on the fact that each party can afford to put forward such a loser of a candidate only because both parties are doing so at the same time. Polls clearly showed that Bernie Sanders would have been able to beat Trump overwhelmingly in the popular vote (despite the vagaries of the electoral college system, this is historically reliable as an indicator of who will win ). Even though they come many months before the election these polls are not just an irrelevance and they probably even understate the advantage Sanders would have had over Trump. Like Clinton, and unlike Sanders, Trump is embroiled in ongoing scandals (over taxes, business practices and child rape allegations) that would in ordinary circumstances have made a presidential campaign highly problematic. Moreover, his campaigning style is key to his base of supporters, but the same theatrics and incendiary rhetoric inevitably make most people dislike him all the more. The only thing that keeps Trump in the race is Clinton, and vice versa.

Instead of feeling entitled to lecture and scold from afar, Chris Trotter should have taken the time to engage with the substance behind the discontent of Sanders delegates (not to mention the masses of protesters on the streets of Philadelphia, far greater in number than those protesting the RNC in Cleveland). To be “ridiculous” or even “dangerous”, as Trotter claims, the dissident Democrats would have to have no grounds to contest the legitimacy of Clinton’s selection as Democratic presidential candidate, no grounds to contest the legitimacy of the dominance of the two main parties in the electoral process, and no grounds to reject Clinton as morally unacceptable and insupportable as an elected representative. On all three counts those who refuse to accept Clinton have very safe and justifiable grounds.

Clinton’s selection as candidate has been far from democratic. She did not, as Trotter claims, win “fair and square”. There is evidence of systematic fraud in the Democratic primaries (the source is not a peer-reviewed paper, but this Snopes article confirms that there is substance to the claims). Similar findings come from a more recent non-partisan report (written in collaboration with Fritz Scheuren, former President of the American Statistical Association). In addition there has been voter suppression, most significantly in the psychologically and politically important states of California and New York. Then there is the media bias against Sanders (not to mention CNN dramatically biasing the electorate on the eve of the California primary).

Moreover leaked DNC emails clearly show that the primary process was unfair. DNC officials on DNC time were conspiring against a candidate and, by extension, the democratic process itself. How could anyone in good conscience simply brush this off as unworthy of examination? How much these DNC officials biased the process may be up for debate, but the fact that they did cannot be questioned. They were acting in bad faith all along, and decisions such as when and where to debate seemed to favour the Clinton campaign throughout. Politifact fatuously claims that there is no evidence in the DNC emails that they set out to rig the debates, but it is clear that important DNC staffers were willing and able to work to get Clinton the nomination, and her weakness as an orator is well recognised. To ignore these impacts also reeks of bad faith.

Perhaps we should also consider the fact that one of the leaks from Guccifer 2.0 showed that DNC staffers were planning Clinton’s strategy against the GOP “field” of candidates in May of 2015. This means that as far as they were concerned Clinton was already the anointed presidential candidate of their party. They were right: even though Clinton is highly unpopular; had to fight off a Sanders insurgency; and has been plagued by scandals about DNC emails, her own emails, and an FBI investigation, they were right to presume that she would get the nomination. The implications of this are that democracy is not really a factor in Democratic primaries and that insiders do not expect it to be.

And then there is the role of money in US politics. In simple terms, Clinton was given a lot more money than Sanders. According to the BBC in March, Sanders had received large numbers of small donations, but Clinton’s money was mostly from large donations with the finance industry being a crucial source. I would call that undemocratic whichever way you cut it, and while money is so crucial to the US electoral process, it can never ever be called “fair and square”.

Even if the #NeverHillary people did not have every right to reject the Democratic primary process in itself, they would still have grounds to reject it as part of a greater undemocratic system that maintains a duopoly of political power. Third parties are systematically excluded from publicly visible politics by the corporate news media. Social media has allowed third parties make a small amount of headway, just as soapboxes and pamphlets once did for Populists and Socialists, but now, as then, it is far from a level playing field. There is a media “blackout” of third parties. This became an issue in 2012, and it will be an even bigger issue this time. Not only are they quantitatively biased, but there is a qualitative bias in the news media with mentions of third parties being dismissive, mocking or negative. If Trump wins, for example, you can be certain that they will use the spoiler argument about Jill Stein, even though the most clear and direct cause will be the alienation of voters by the DNC’s decision to put forward a right-wing corporate-linked hawkish Clinton-Kaine ticket. And then there is the money thing, because the big corporate interests and billionaire donors have a huge sway in US elections (because of “Citizens United”) and they don’t like independent parties.

Yet the two-party system has never looked more undemocratic, more ridiculous, nor more fragile. The Republican primaries have become some sort of freak show and the party itself seems to teeter on the edge of a descent into a comical mash-up where crass aspirational consumer capitalism collides with Fascism and Torquemada’s Spanish Inquisition. The Democrats, meanwhile, continue a process that dates back to 1968 (though it has changed somewhat) of carefully canvassing their support base to find who would best represent everything that epitomises Democrat ideals, and then trying their best to paint their pro-corporate elitist neoliberal candidate as being something like that person.

The chaos in both parties shows that the chronic malaise of democratic deficit that has been eating away at the US for decades, has entered a terminal phase. Chris Hedges, prophet of doom and hope par excellence, has changed his metaphorical placardbycrossing out “The End is Nigh!” and replacing it with “Told You So!”.

People have every right to reject Clinton’s selection and to disrupt this burlesque parody of a democratic process because it is demonstrably undemocratic and because their rights are being violated, but they also have a clear moral claim to reject and disrupt as a matter of conscience. Make no mistake that among other things Clinton is a grade A war criminal with the blood of thousands on her hands. Even as First Lady she took a key role in Operation Desert Fox (an air war, justified with blatant lies, which killed thousands of Iraqis). She was a key exponent of the Libya intervention which, after securing UNSC approval, immediately (and with clear premeditation) exceeded its legal mandate and became a regime change operation. That is the crime of waging aggressive war, the greatest war crime that there is. Libya has been turned into a nightmare that quite literally makes Ghadafi’s period of rule seem like a Golden Age of freedom and prosperity. As Eric Draitser reports, we can now confirm that accusations of atrocities against the Ghadafi regime were lies; that the US intent was always regime change; and that Libya is now a festering sore of instability, ethnic cleansing, terrorism, militia violence, political repression and economic disintegration.

Libya has also been used to ship arms and fighters to Syria, fuelling a civil war which has caused 250,000 deaths. Not only do these arms go to some very brutal people in their own right (from the FSA leader who bit into a dead enemy’s heart or lung in 2013 to the US-backed Islamists who posted video of themselves beheading a 12 year-old boy last week) but, predictably, they have also been a major source of arms for the self-proclaimed “Islamic State”. As for Clinton’s part, Jeffrey Sachs writes that “In 2012, Clinton was the obstacle, not the solution, to a ceasefire being negotiated by UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan. It was US intransigence – Clinton’s intransigence – that led to the failure of Annan’s peace efforts in the spring of 2012….” She supports current US airstrikes in Syria, such as that killed at least 28 civilians just this Thursday (only a week after a nearby strike killed at least 74 civilians). Because the Syrian government has not given permission, these airstrikes are themselves war crimes. Not only are acts such as this crimes, threatening such acts is itself a war crime. Therefore Clinton, who advocates imposing a no-fly zone on Syria, is both advocating and arguably committing a war crime as a central plank of her campaign. Given that military and diplomatic officials reject the plan as unworkable and irrational this is Clinton’s equivalent of Trumps’ wall except that it is also a war crime. She even has a bizarre “Mexico will pay” twist in that she has proposed “sharing” the no-fly zone with Russia. She should be pilloried, but she gets a free pass because people don’t understand what a no-fly zone is. This, in turn, is because they have intentionally been left in the dark in order that they think of a no-fly zone as a passive act, rather than what it is: a violent form of aggressive warfare that requires the destruction of all air defences on the ground as well as the destruction of aircraft.

Another country that owes much suffering and loss of life to Clinton is Honduras. After a coup there, as Adam Johnson of FAIR writes: “Fifteen House Democrats joined in, sending a letter to the Obama White House insisting that the State Department ‘fully acknowledge that a military coup has taken place and…follow through with the total suspension of non-humanitarian aid, as required by law.’ But Clinton’s State Department staunchly refused to do so, bucking the international community and implicitly recognizing the military takeover. Emails revealed last year by the State Department show that Clinton knew very well there was a military coup, but rejected cries by the international community to condemn it.”

Post-coup Honduras has seen the return of right-wing death squads and political murders such as that of Berta Caceres, an activist who, before her death, had herself singled out Clinton as responsible for the coup. Ironically, Clinton’s running mate Tim Kaine frequently refers to his time in Honduras in 1980, decrying the dictatorship without ever acknowledging that it was installed and supported by the US, and showing no shame over sharing a podium with someone who helped destroy democracy and unleash violence there 3 decades later.

But if there is a people that has suffered most at the hands of Hillary Rodham Clinton, it may actually be the people of Haiti. In January of 2011 Hillary Clinton flew into Port-au-Prince to resolve an electoral dispute in this manner: the person who came third in the first round of Presidential elections should be bumped up to 2nd place because the US thinks he should and he should then compete in the run-off election. That is how Michel Martelly came to be President of Haiti. After 3 years the terms of the parliament’s deputies all ended, with Martelly refusing to hold elections. He ruled for a year by decree (without the international news media seeming to care in the slightest) before holding elections that were so fraudulent that they were scrapped after 8 months (in June). New elections are set for October of this year.

All of this was happening in a country tortured by an earthquake in 2010 that killed 220,000; a UN “stabilisation” mission, MINUSTAH, that acts more like a hostile violent occupying force; a cholera epidemic brought by MINUSTAH that has killed thousands; rampant corruption; and brutal political violence against the poor and the left. Meanwhile, Bill Clinton was put in charge of a much of the overseas construction funds and Hillary announced that they would test “new approaches to development that could be applied more broadly around the world.”

Instead of rebuilding Haiti it was decided to “rebrand” Haiti. After 5 years $13.5 billion of aid had been spent with little or no assistance being given to those affected. The money is systematically disbursed in ways that make the poor poorer and the rich richer. It goes to line the pockets of US contractors. It maintains a privileged class of NGO executives who wield regnal rights (those usually reserved for the sovereign) as if they were feudal lords. It goes on constructing enterprises that destroy farms and small enterprises to return only a pittance in slave wages (incidentally, during Clinton’s time heading the State Department, US embassy staff opposed a minimum wage rise and cables released by Wikileaks in 2011 showthat they helped block a law passed unanimously in Haiti’s parliament raising minimum wage from $US0.24 to $US0.61).

“Reconstruction” money also gets spent on luxury facilities for the rich on the theory (or rather the pretext) that poor homeless people will be able to get jobs. The US Red Cross raised $500 million for Haiti and only built 6 permanent houses, (note: this is not the International Red Cross, but rather the US organisation which also gained notoriety and condemnation for their response to Hurricane Sandy).

Meanwhile connected people from the US have found that Haiti is “open for business” (the actual slogan promoted by Clinton), with natural wealth to plunder and cheap labour to exploit. Among them is Hillary Clinton’s brother Tony Rodham, whose company scored a “sweetheart” concession to mine gold that had not been given for 50 years. The mining threatens to inflict severe environmental and humanitarian consequences. So when Clinton castigates Trump for ripping-off small businesses and workers, as she did in her acceptance speech, just bear in mind that her corruption hits people who are even more vulnerable. Like the no-fly zone issue she gets away with it because nobody knows about Haiti.

These are just some of the moral grounds on which people can legitimately refuse to support Hillary Clinton. Others have been highlighted by Black Lives Matter, often dating back to Bill Clinton’s terms as President. She was supportive of welfare reform, the drug war, and justice reform which all led to the current neoliberal security state. Complementing this are her ties to Wall Street, her immense wealth, her obscene speaking fees, and her clear political expediency and flexibility on issues that should be matters of conscience. Any real leftist should loathe Clinton in the same way that they would loathe Tony Blair and George Bush. They are a new aristocracy that have proven that they will steal and kill. These are all warmongering neoliberal neoconservative neofeudalist neofascists and it is time we finally understood that none of those labels is in conflict with any other of those labels. People like Trotter have an authoritarian streak that makes him far more offended by those who try to make themselves heard by disruption from below, then he does by a stinkingly corrupt decadent system that is far more offensive. His tone suggests that he views himself as being well above the ill-behaved rabble as if, despite his evidently ignorant and vulgar apprehension of the issues, he has some paternal wisdom. It is not a good look, but he is hardly the only example of his species abroad. He also has prior form: in 2007 when armed police terrorised an entire rural community with “anti-terror” raids on Māori and anarchist activists, he wrote “it wasn’t the actions of the police that provoked my fury, but of those who’d forced their hand.”

And yet, Hillary Clinton and the undemocratic behaviour of the “Democratic” party are not the only things that make disobedience and disruption a legitimate response. The Democratic National Convention showed extremely disturbing signs of militarist nationalism and fanatical fervour. Eddie Glaude described it as “retooling Ronald Reagan’s morning in America, the shining city on the hill”. That day a 4-star General marched out to a military drum-roll proclaiming Clinton’s credentials as a war leader. He scowled and yelled, probably trying to look like Churchill, but actually ending up looking more authentically Mussoliniesque than Trump: “To our enemies; we will pursue you as only America can. You will fear us!”.

And then there was the unforgettable end of Joe Biden’s speech. Long considered a non-entity only distinguished by his blinding teeth, Biden became a man possessed: a fist-pumping spittle-flecked vessel for the spirit of GI Joe and John Wayne: “We are America! Second to none. And we own the finish line. Don’t forget it! God bless you all, and may god protect our troops. Come on. We’re America! Thank you.”

Most significant of allwasthe moment that many considered the highlight of the entire conference. The crowd erupted when Khizr Khan,the father of a GI who died in the illegal and immoral occupation of Iraq, rhetorically asked Trump: “Have you even read the US constitution?” And then proffered his own copy from the left-hand shirt pocket (next to the heart).

Judging from the response on twitter Khan’s act was adored by nearly everyone, and that itself should be frightening because the moment carried many implications, and not one of them is good. Firstly we need to recognise that this is a ritual gesture popularised by the nationalistic right-wing Tea Party movement and linked in the public mind to that ideology. Secondly, as the US-Iraqi activist and writer Dahlia Wasfi commented: “the message that a ‘good Muslim’ is one who kills for US empire, oil, and Israel is no less offensive to me than whatever Trump has to say about Muslims or Islam.” Thirdly this is a type of disingenuous appropriation of Islam equivalent to greenwashing, pinkwashing or femiwashing. Even Piers Morgan tweeted: “Something very distasteful about Hillary using Khans as political pawns vs Trump given she’s partly responsible for their son’s death”. Fourthly it signifies that in the space of just 8 years, the Democratic Party has gone from viewing the Iraq War as a “war of choice” (which has connotations, if noticeably inexplicit ones, of immorality and illegality) to viewing the Iraq War as a fight to protect US freedoms.

The entire DNC was so nationalistic and militaristic that the actor and activist Margot Kidder was evidently driven to publish a cri de coeur in Counterpunch: she begins “the words are gagging my throat and my stomach is twisted and sick and I have to vomit this out”, and ends: “And there you all are tonight, glued to your TVs and your computers, your hearts swelled with pride because you belong to the strongest country on Earth, cheering on your Murderer President. Ignorant of the entire world’s repulsion. You kill and you kill and you kill, and still you remain proud.” My question is this: if Margot Kidder can see this clearly from within the belly of the beast (well, Montana), how can Chris Trotter, an Aotearoan and putative leftist, be such a blithe apologist for a mass-murderer like Hillary Clinton.

In all I have written I have focussed on morals and reasons of principle. They alone should make it clear that only thing that is “ridiculous” is the conceit of loftily condemning those who refuse to be drawn by fear into supporting the insupportable. I am aware, however, that there are many practical issues I have not dealt with. I am aware that some people will think that US voters, facing the possibility of Trump, do not have the luxury of rejecting Clinton. These are very important issues, because time and again even those who refuse to be chained to the “lesser-of-two-evils” cede the realist high-ground to intellectually and morally compromised dullards; dullards who insist, like broken records stuck in the era of vinyl, that we must play the game and change it from the inside. I do not intend to leave such claims unchallenged, so check back here for Part 2 of this article in which, amongst other things, I will test how strong “chains of rhetorical steel” are (hint: about as strong as chains of rhetorical butter).

The decadence of American Sniper

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“Unhappy is the land that needs a hero” – Bertolt Brecht.

Bertolt-Brecht.jpg

The US had Audie Murphy for a hero once, but they never made the same frenetic screeching that they now do about Chris “American Sniper” Kyle. In Murphy’s time enough people were touched by the horrors of war to know that deep down the notion of a “war hero” is irreducibly oxymoronic. Our notion of a “hero” is stripped of complexity and it is cartoonish; applying it to war makes as much sense as having a heroic cancer.

Manufactured heroes like Kyle are symptomatic of deep social cultural and political decay. Delusional myths are becoming ever more central to the functioning of the US state. Those who are not blinded by ideological fervour are systematically excluded from positions of power and influence in the private and state sectors. Sane people may remain in office, but sane actions are blocked, twisted, co-opted, reversed and/or simply drowned in the wider context of decadent insanity.

In the Bush era some of history’s worst mass-murdering war criminals effectively disguised themselves as fanatical ideologues, but ironically they left an empire stripped of its ability to function rationally. At best they bought their empire 15 to 20 years more life at the cost of more than 1 million Iraqi lives. But this is far from over, and the whole world, including the US people, will suffer greatly because of their actions.

Systemic dysfunction has become a global norm in the Western world and in its enslaved neocolonies. We have to face the challenges of global warming and the end of the petrochemical underpinnings of our economies with a bunch of deluded freaks running the show. Those who try to maintain reasoned professional conduct are also living in a type of delusion. Where evil giants ravage the land, they see only benign windmills. Active dissent, active rejection existing power, and active resistance are the only sane options left.

An Open Letter to an IDF Apologist at the BBC

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Ironic pic of Orwell at Big Brother Corp

After 10 years as a business reporter, Anthony Reuben is now the BBC News inaugural “Head of Statistics”. True to the spirit of 1984 he seems to take his role as being to remind people of such numerical truths as “2 + 2 = 5 fanatical Islamist terrorist Hamas militants”. In a report on what the statistics tell us about the recent fatalities in Gaza, he highlights the fact that a disproportionate number of young men are being killed. Another BBC report on Gaza casualties is quite shocking, but its impact is diminished by a link to Reuben’s article with the words “If the Israeli attacks have been ‘indiscriminate’, as the UN Human Rights Council says, it is hard to work out why they have killed so many more civilian men than women”

Someone else has already written an email to Reuben which is posted at the Media Lens message board. It covers some of the territory that I have, but I felt that I needed to add a few things in a missive of my own. I got a little bit carried away, but the result is heartfelt…

To Anthony Reuben,

I have to ask, just what sort of statistician are you? Surely one of the fundamental tenets in statistical thought is that correlation does not imply causation, yet without the implicit unsupported claim that a gender imbalance in fatalities indicates IDF discrimination, your article has no purpose.

When I write “no purpose” I really mean “no legitimate purpose”. It is a great propaganda point for Israel to use the deaths of “military aged males” to imply military legitimacy in their violence. Your work certainly goes a long way to helping the IDF promote its narrative. This means that you are helping them, and I hope you realise that you are therefore complicit in their actions.

Need I remind you that Srebrenica was primarily a massacre of “military-aged males” and that those who committed that genocidal act used the same excuse as the IDF? By itself that destroys the tacit premise of your article unless you also consider Srebrenica to be a legitimate military action. The fact is that it is normal that adult male civilians are targeted and murdered at far higher rates than women and children. There are a number of reasons why this is the case, including the psychology of those committing the murders. Military personnel find it easier to kill adult male civilians than others. Additionally, apologists such as yourself find it easier to muddy the waters over war crimes.

You breezily dismiss the issue of gender disparity in war casualties from other conflicts: “There has been some research suggesting that men in general are more likely to die in conflict than women, although no typical ratio is given.” With a flourish of misdirection, which seems to come naturally to the hack and the junk-merchant, you induce the reader to think that nothing of relevance is contained in the paper which you link to. You let people know that you have read it, but it really has nothing to illuminate the issue. However, the paper does establish that although there is a great deal of variation between conflicts, there is undeniable precedent for far greater numbers of male than female civilians being killed directly in conflicts. In other words, if you were half the statistician you claim, you would recognise that a disproportionate death rate amongst Gazan men is no evidence that more armed militants have been killed than Hamas claims, is not evidence that the IDF is practicing discrimination, and is not evidence that the IDF does not target civilians.

Moreover, the paper you cite is in itself too narrow in scope for the purposes of your article. There is relevant historical evidence which is denied by no one. Not one person who knows anything about the subject denies that there is a long standing practice of killing adult male civilians. It seems to be as old as human mass violence, and it is certainly as old as the phenomena we understand as war and genocide. It is a practice which falls under the category now given as “gendercide”. Like mass rape, the tactic of the mass killing of men is not merely aimed at the immediate victims, but is a genocidal tactic aimed at social cohesion. In a patriarchal society and/or one with high numbers of dependent children, the impact of killing a “military age male” – which is to say a “working age male” – is multiplied.

But perhaps the most important propaganda role you are playing is to access that moral and emotional numbness with which we have all been induced to view violence against young men. I have read many accounts of violence, and I will admit that the images that haunt me are those of violence against children. Yet I can also say that those who are close to the violent deaths of men do not view it with the equanimity that our public discourse accords the subject. These are human beings who love and are loved. They feel as much fear, pain, grief and guilt as anyone other human being in their last moments, whether they carry a gun or not. We project on to these dying men a sense that they are agents in their own deaths, as if war were some sort of shoot-out at high noon where every male carries a sixgun. The emphasis on “women and children” is an impulse of armchair humanitarianism by the insipid and the self-righteous.

Perhaps, to understand my point, you could watch and rewatch the video posted here of a young man being murdered by an Israeli sniper. Watch it and ask yourself, “what does my article say about this man’s death”? This is the death of a 20-29 year-old male, so if your article isn’t about this, then what on Earth is it about? I mean that seriously. Your holier-than-thou detached statistical conceits actually say nothing at all about the horrible death of this man except to suggest that somehow it doesn’t really count.

You are also making a big straw man out of the UN accusation of indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force. The real question is the systematic targeting of non-combatants. To date, Israel has targeted 7 UN schools being used as shelters. Fleeing civilians have also been targeted, as have rescue workers and UN personnel. This is based on 3rd party evidence and, quite frankly, only an idiot would give any credence to the IDF’s response to these accusations unless they were subject to cross-examination or were able to provide substantive evidence to back their claims.

But not only do you give unwarranted credence to IDF distortions, you are too lazy, stupid or evil to even check on the veracity of blatant lies. You quote an IDF spokesperson on the subject of Operation Cast Lead: “Hamas and Gaza-based organisations claimed that only 50 combatants were killed, admitting years later the number was between 600-700, a figure nearly identical to the figure claimed by the IDF.” This is a double lie. Firstly, I wouldn’t think it would be too much to expect a BBC reporter to look up what the BBC itself reported about claimed casualties after OCL: “Hamas has said 48 of its fighters were killed. The Popular Resistance Committee says 34 died and Islamic Jihad said it lost 38 men.” Hamas not claiming only 50 combatants killed, it is claiming that only 50 of its combatants were killed. Lie number two, just as easy to sort out by an internet search, is that Hamas or “Gaza-based organisations” have “admitted” to a figure of 600-700. No they haven’t. You are either wilfully being played for a fool, or you are deliberately deceiving your readers.

You also repeat that Israeli claim given exposure by your colleague back in 2009 – that “when militants are brought to hospitals, they are brought in civilian clothing, obscuring terrorist affiliations”. I love this one because you have to be a moron to believe it, but also at least a bit of a racist. There are really two options here, one is that when combat breaks out Gazan militants change into civvies on the rather Pythonesque logic that they will make the evil Zionists pay by seeking matyrdom in mufti [sic]. The other possibility is that these hate-filled fanatic terrorists are so rabid, so irrationally rational, so innately cunning and conniving, that when their comrades are wounded or killed their first response is to give them a change of clothing – presumably remembering to tear, incise and or burn the clothing so that it matches the flesh beneath. Hamas probably has special units of crack combat-tailors giving makeovers to the dead and dying. While they are working I imagine that the legions of Pallywood specialists are digitally altering stock footage and stills so that every rabid mass-murdering terrorist arrives at the morgue with pictures and video of their tender family life of caring for young children and sickly elders.

Your fatuous hypothesis is that the disproportionate fatalities of young males suggests that Israel is only accidentally killing civilians in the legitimate pursuit of “terrorists”, and that the IDF, in fact, is practicing discrimination. This is based on four things – ignorance, stupidity, self-satisfied arrogance and the blatant lies of an IDF spokesperson. By privileging statistical evidence as being of a higher order than mere anecdote you manage to suggest that the evidence of our eyes themselves is somehow suspect. This is vulgar scientism. The fact is that a single anecdote can sometimes destroy a statistical hypothesis. The different sorts of evidence provide different sorts of information, one is not inherently better at revealing an objective truth. Statistical methods are frequently abused to create distorted pictures. Statistics provided by belligerents about their own actions are more or less worthless anyway, but sometimes it is perfectly valid to dismiss a statistical account on the basis that it diverges far too much from the collected reliable anecdotes. For example, US figures on civilian deaths in the second assault on Fallujah are risible. Anyone who actually followed the eyewitness accounts of what was occurring at the time knows that these “statistics” are worthless. We know from accounts of US personnel that dead civilians were simply labelled “insurgents”. It is an old practice, perhaps best known from Indochina where it was referred to as the “mere gook rule”.

The “mere gook rule” was elucidated as being “if it’s Vietnamese and dead, then its VC”. The reasons for this were many and varied. People often cleave to the cliché vision of ambitious officers trying to outdo each other by claiming everything conceivable as a kill. Behind that, however, were far more important systemic causes. We do not talk about such things in polite society, but the fact is that the US war machine systematically targeted civilians on the basis that being in a certain location made you a legitimate target deserving of death. They overtly wanted to attack the civilian population in NLF controlled areas on the basis that they were VC “infrastructure”. But to do so they actually redefined them as being combatants. Hence William Westmoreland, that charming man, was able to confidently proclaim that no civilian had ever been killed in a free-fire zone, because he had defined free-fire zones as places where no people were civilians. So when William Calley described his reason for killing women as being because they had “about a thousand little VC” in them, he was actually just expressing official US doctrine.

I feel that I must point out here, in case there is any confusion, that contrary to what seems to be broadly taken as true at the BBC, powerful officials do not actually define reality. I know that this is hard for you to understand, but just because a US General says that the victims of bombing and shelling were all combatants, including the children, it does not make it true. There is a legal definition of “combatant” and international humanitarian law doesn’t actually rely on an honour system where the perpetrator owns up for any acts of naughtiness (and that includes Israel’s activities in Gaza). The Nuremburg Trials, for example, did not consist of a series of cleverly posed questions designed to trap German leaders into admitting that they had started a war and killed civilians. But while we are on that subject, it is always important to remember that every act of mass violence by the Germans was defined by them as an act of war against the “enemy” who were sometimes defined as being a “terrorist population”.

If a normal conscientious human being wrote an article about the gender and age characteristics of fatalities in Gaza, they might at least mention the very prominent fact that the US is now applying a gender and age specific version of the “mere gook rule”. Perhaps you have been sequestered under a rock for the last few years, but there has been significant mention in the news that the US automatically defines anyone killed in their targeted killings who is a military age male as being a “militant” until proven otherwise. “Militant” is such a great word as well because it gives people the impression of legitimacy, but it does not actually specify that the targets were combatants. A study of Israeli targeted killings some years ago found not only that they killed four times as many bystanders as targets, but also that 50% of the “militants” they targeted weren’t actually part of any armed activities. These militants were community organisers, political organisers and union organisers – you know, “infrastructure”.

To recap, then: a military aged male is not necessarily a combatant, but they are frequently targeted as such. This is known as gendercide. Targeting civilians in this way is often accompanied with official semantic approaches which seek to legitimate the targeting of civilians, but by nature any repudiation of legal definitions is in itself a war crime constituted necessarily of the systematic targeting of civilians.

Given everything we see of IDF personnel murdering helpless civilians, what seem to be targeted attacks on medical and aid workers – including UN personnel – and what seem to be deliberate attacks on UN facilities being used as shelters by displaced people, only an Orwellian freak could possibly go along with the idea that the UNHRC’s accusation of indiscriminate use of force is the real issue. Nor is the systematic targeting of civilians even the worst crime on evidence here. Israel is quite blatantly committing genocide as it is defined in law in the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (UNCG), and under the UN Charter it is guilty of criminal aggression. Genocide is considered an “aggravated crime against humanity” which parties to the UNCG are obliged to act to end, whilst aggression was defined at Nuremburg as the “supreme crime”.

I bet you think you know what the word “genocide” means. I bet that deep down in your guts you know that it was never meant to describe the way Israel treats Palestinians. You probably can’t exactly say what genocide means, but you understand its essence and you know that it is offensive and obscene to cheapen the memory of the dead by debasing the coinage with such politicised accusations. Save your indignant spluttering. The legal definition of genocide is quite clear and taking actions aimed at destroying “in whole or in part” the Palestinian people is genocide by definition. The expectation that genocide should always be manifested as a discreet orgy of violence is a vulgar misapprehension. Genocide is frequently a long process of sporadic, chronic violence in the midst of ongoing persecution. In fact, the slow nature of the Israeli genocide is what makes it so much less ambiguous or uncertain than most other genocides. The rhetoric, the strategic imperatives, the tactic, the doctrines and the policies in this case all align to make this an open-and-shut case with none of the usual difficult issues of intentionality. The Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal not only found Israel guilty of the crime of genocide, but also found several named living Israeli officials guilty of genocide.

I know what you are thinking – you are thinking that the KLWCT is “political” and is motivated by “politics”. Let’s deconstruct that, shall we? In your twisted little world there is nothing “political” about the ICC which is an official body that just happens to spend almost all of its time prosecuting sub-Saharan African leaders who have angered the the US. Are these the worst war criminals in the world? No. Are they the worst war criminals in sub-Saharan Africa? No, not that either, certainly not on the basis of the numbers of victims killed. Apart from one token M-23 guy thrown to the dogs for the sake of appearances, the real crime of these people was that of defying Washington. The ICC, however, is “official”. In your grubby little corner of Oceania this means that it is not “political”. In the same idiom the US is an “honest broker” and John Kerry is a “credible authority”. In the real world, however, despite the involvement of Malaysian political figures, the KLWCT is constituted of independent scholarly and legal experts whose collective interest in the matter of Palestine is purely that of human beings who seek an end to injustice and suffering.

(Have you ever wondered about that? The way in which the pompous organs of the media reverse reality to say that the people who don’t have a vested interest are the suspect “political” voices, but the people who have immense power and money riding on the outcomes of events are considered at least respectable if not authoritative?)

The law may not be perfect, but often the fact that it is a codified standard which can be applied equally to each party is highly illuminating. Admittedly, by the time it reaches a court, international law is generally a selective disproportionate application of what amounts to victor’s justice. But we can independently examine issues in a legal light to get a good view of ethical dimensions of a situation. The question is this, in this instance who is the aggressor and who has the right of self-defence?

Israel claims the right of self-defence but what does Article 51 of the UN Charter actually authorise? “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.” Well, the UNSC has indeed been apprised of this situation and has passed resolutions to restore international peace and security, but Israel will not comply with those resolutions. In order to claim the right of self-defence Israel would first have to relinquish all occupied territories, among other things. And that is a normal established understanding. An occupying force does not have a right to self-defence. Nor is it permissible to blockade a country and then “defend” against their armed resistance to that blockade. If these things were not true then you would have a situation where both sides can claim self-defence with each supposedly defending against the other’s defence.

I know that it is heretical to even think such thoughts, but what if we spent as much time talking about Palestinian rights to self-defence as we do about the non-existent Israeli right to self-defence? When you actually apply international law, Palestinians have every right to use the arms that are available to them in resistance. They are the ones subject to occupation. Israel and its allies have used the statelessness of Palestinians to obfuscate their right to self-defence, but in law you cannot deny rights to individuals on the basis of statelessness which means that they have “the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence” until such time as the UNSC restores peace.

That brings me to something that I find almost as upsetting as seeing the bodies of children killed by “the most moral army in the world”. Those who take up arms against Israel are not legally or morally deserving of death. Most of them will have lost loved ones to Israeli violence. Every one of them suffers under the illegal oppression of the occupation. Deciding to fight back with arms is not some irrational fanatical decision. Yet in our media these men are treated as violent irrational ciphers in a way which both draws on and perpetuates a racist conception of Arab men. Nobody ever puts a human face on these fighters. They are tarred with the brush of Islamism, with its heavy freight of misogynistic savagery, but many of them aren’t even Islamists and those that are have not committed the sort of atrocities which Westerners claim come naturally to Islamists. We should at least remember who is and who isn’t killing babies here – that is not too much to ask is it? It is the IDF who are committing atrocities, and those who take up arms against them have the legal right to do so. They also have the right to life. They don’t enjoy dying, as the British used to claim about Arab tribesmen. They don’t eagerly seek martyrdom. Like isn’t “cheap” to them, as Westmoreland said of “Asiatics”. Those tropes are the worst kind of vicious racism. These fighters are human beings, and their deaths are legally and morally acts of murder.

Surely this doesn’t mean that Hamas can just fire thousands of rockets into Israel killing civilians, does it? Well, actually it does. Killing civilians is illegal, but the responsibility and culpability belongs with Israel’s leadership under the current circumstances. At Nuremburg it was adjudicated that Russian partisans could not be criminally responsible for atrocities carried out because they were in turn responding to the war crimes of the aggressor. Some argue that this Nuremburg precedent seems to give carte blanche to members of any attacked group. Perhaps jus in bello law must be equally applied to all parties no matter what, as a principle of equality under the law. But even if you take that position, was Kenneth Roth of HRW right to assiduously condemn Hamas’s indiscriminate rocket fire when he recently discussed war crimes in Gaza? No. Roth is just being a scumbag. He is either acting as a propaganda agent to deliberately build a false equivalence, or he cares more about pandering and sounding “credible” than he cares for truth and justice.

Let me put this into some sort of perspective. It is, quite frankly ridiculous and wildly disproportionate to even suggest that we need to take steps over the supposed illegality of using insufficiently discriminating arms by factions in a besieged population when the harm to civilians is so much less that that caused to the civilians of the besieged population. Gaza’s rockets and mortars have killed 28 civilians in the last 13 years. [And don’t give me any crap about the wondrous “Iron Dome” – it didn’t even exist for most of that time and Theodor Postol has calculated that it does not work. It is a horrendously expensive PR ploy to maintain the deception that there is some sort of parity between Israeli and Palestinian violence.] Not only would it be a de facto abrogation of the Palestinian right to self-defence to restrict the weapons allowed to those that can only reach the enemy when the enemy chooses to come within range. Moreover, it is another point of law that you cannot accuse someone of a crime when you are also guilty of that crime. If Palestinian rockets and mortars are illegal then so are Israeli rockets and mortars – which kill more people. They share exactly the same properties of being inherently indiscriminate, as do air and ground artillery munitions. There is no qualitative difference between these inaccurate primitive rockets and any other explosives used around civilian populations except that they are a lot less deadly than most. This twisted and sick idea shared between Israel an the US that they can effectively exculpate themselves by saying – “yes, we kill more civilians, but we do it more accurately” is appalling.

The point is, though, not to say that Israel can’t accuse militants in Gaza of war crimes, but to say that none of us can. How can we, in countries that have shelled and bombed and killed so many, accuse Palestinian militants of anything? How could anyone from the US claim that Palestinian munitions are insufficiently precise and discriminating when their own government uses depleted uranium, cluster munitions, napalm, fuel-air bombs, white phosphorous, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseam. The very idea that any Westerner can level war crimes accusations at an desperately poor and ill-armed besieged people for using the only primitive weapons with which they can reach their attacker is sickening and obscene.

I don’t like the rocket attacks. I don’t think Israeli civilians deserve death. But as Osama Hamdan pointed out, when they stop firing rockets, it doesn’t stop Israel from killing and blockading their people. How long do you sit doing nothing while people are killed and while the land, the little strip of a prison, gets ever closer to becoming irreversibly uninhabitable. (There is the Zionist genocidal intent – a realist’s Eretz Israel with a non-citizen Palestinian helots living in controlled West Bank enclaves, while Gaza is a post-apocalyptic pile of polluted rubble.)

If you have actually read this far, you might be marshalling answers with your little weasel brain. Please don’t bother. To put it politely, this letter is in the spirit of a condemnatory open letter. To put it more honestly, I don’t care what a toxic freak like you has to say in his defence. For forty years the dissident voices of our society have taken on this crippling notion that we should “engage” people in “dialogue”, as if our goal is to show people like you the error of your ways. But even engaging someone like you is to give validity to your insane world-view. What sort of callous freak actually goes out of their way to throw condemnations of IDF actions in Gaza into question? Do you wake up in the morning and think, “I know what the world needs, it needs more geeky smug reasons for not having to feel compassion and the desire to end suffering”?

So, frankly, I don’t care what you have to say for yourself. I just want you to know that you are hated. A person half a world away, who is very well educated about the issues involved, hates you for the simple reason that you are the enemy of humanity and your work promotes the suffering of innocents.

All the best for you and your hack friends in your future self-congratulatory endeavours,

Kieran Kelly

 

Why Blocking the Revolving Door Won’t Fix Human Rights Watch

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A recent open letter decrying the links between Human Rights Watch (HRW) Western powers was signed by two Nobel peace laureates and over 100 scholars. Belén Fernández wrote an outline of the problem – the “revolving door” which surely has a corrupting effect. However well-meaning most HRW employees are, and no matter how much of HRW’s work is well-meaning, the organisation is tainted and it is not independent. The same is true of Amnesty International(AI). However, preventing the continuation of relations between these organisations and the US State Department will not fix the greatest problems. It is a necessary but woefully insufficient measure. In order to become functioning independent human rights organisations both AI and HRW must actively oppose imperial power. They must reject all actions which facilitate attacks by powerful states on those less powerful. If they do not do that they are doomed to remain tools of empire, promoting interventions that do more harm than decades of good work can undo.
Selective AmplificationAs the US unleashed its military might on Viet Nam, it also unleashed charities. USAID provided funds for many and the US extended a paternal possessive wing over all. Helping the less fortunate, after all, is what the US is all about. By their own account that is why the US had troops in the country – to help those too weak to defend themselves. And USAID was part of the strategic approach in Viet Nam, and it remains so today. (NGOs were told by Andrew Natsios in 2003 that they were “an arm of the US government” and he threatened to rip up USAID contracts of any NGO that failed to act as such.)

The people of South Viet Nam needed charitable assistance. Many were orphaned, dispossessed, injured, diseased or impoverished. Yet many charity workers, singly or en masse, came to the conclusion that they could not, in conscience, continue rendering aid. The charities were doing the same work as that of the US military civic action programs. They weren’t winning the hearts and minds of Vietnamese, as much as they were providing public relations cover for the destruction being wrought by the full weight of US military might.

The problem is that by structural reflex a power as dominant as the US automatically co-opts all that can be co-opted. The vast majority of massacres by US troops – such as those documented by Nick Turse – were not reported by journalists. The vast majority of villages destroyed were not reported. But it almost seemed that every time a Westerner dug a well there were 30 cameras pointed at him. It was inevitable. The US government had the capability of promoting coverage of the one and suppressing coverage of the other.

There is a persistent myth that bold journalists spearheaded the growing opposition to the war in Indochina by fearless reporting, There is also a journalistic myth that reporting is shaped by “news values” which, for better or worse, are responsive to audience interests – “if it bleeds it leads” “man bites dog”. This is utterly wrong on both counts. Most reporting from the field in Viet Nam was coverage of those things that the US military arranged to be covered including huge amounts of coverage of civic action programs. Far from being sensational, these stories were as dull as dirty dishwater and just as good at obscuring the ugly truth that lay beneath.

There is the same inevitable selectivity with regard to the actions of human rights NGOs. Even without the corruption which has occurred in AI and HRW, the US will always be able to amplify any accusations levelled against its enemies and targets, while it also wields a great amount of power to deflect and diffuse criticism aimed at itself.

 

 

Promoting Slaughter

In October 1990 AI gave crucial support to the fraudulent claim that Iraqi personnel had murdered premature babies by removing them from incubators. They would later retract that support, but less than three weeks after the incubator lies Amnesty released a report on atrocities carried out by Iraqis in Kuwait. The report contained unconfirmed as well as independently verified reports of atrocities. Atrocities were definitely taking place, but why dramatise the report with unconfirmed allegations? Amnesty’s answer: to “raise awareness”? But, the entire world was already watching. Saddam Hussein was the most vilified person on the planet. George Bush had labelled him as worse than Hitler.

No one should underestimate AI’s impact in this instance. People were wary of US warmongering, but atrocity propaganda is a very powerful tool. It is one of the ironies of human existence that people are mobilised to commit atrocities by stories, true or false, of the atrocities of the targeted enemy. AI helped unleash a quarter century of insecurity, fear, death and grief on the Iraqi people. With those actions alone AI destroyed its value to humanity – taking all of the hard work of dedicated and sometimes brave and self-sacrificing individuals and converting that into a form of capital to be spent by murderous warmongers.

 

 

An Army of Straw Men “Marching in Lockstep”

Democracy Now! hosted a lively and enlightening debate between Keane Bhatt and Reed Brody of HRW.

I’m normally one to doubt the assumed goodwill of various people. I find it silly to say that “nobody doubts” or “nobody can doubt” the good intentions of people doing bad things. With any politician or bureaucrat there is always considerable grounds to doubt good intentions. Not only does power corrupt, but so does prestige and money. In our dysfunctional world, anyone who does achieve success should be viewed with the greatest suspicion. Orthodox thinking is far more ubiquitous now than, say, the mid-20th century in the West. It is very rare for anyone to achieve recognition without “drinking the Kool-aid”, which is often the elixir of self-satisfaction.

In the case of Reed Brody I am willing to concede, that he seems to be the genuine article – a humanitarian famed for taking on US-backed dictators. I don’t know how he has failed to notice the toxic nature of HRW, but I suspect that the nature of his responses to Bhatt provide some insight.

Keane Bhatt raised serious issues about HRW. Some of the issues were disputed. Brody rejected the characterisation of HRW as having a “revolving door”. But he also repeatedly said that Bhatt was wrong because HRW did not “march in lockstep” with the US State Department. This was one of a number of “straw man” arguments. Bhatt never claimed that HRW did “march in lockstep”, so Brody is creating a straw man to knock down in order to create the impression, for himself as much as for other people, that he has demolished one of Bhatt’s arguments.

Brody insisted that Bhatt and other critics of HRW were motivated by support for the Venezuelan government. This fallacy is called the “appeal to motive”. It isn’t just a tricky debater’s ploy, in fact in debates such as this one it tends to fail. It indicates the natural thought processes of Brody and others in that sort of position. Presumably Brody already knows that HRW are the good guys, so when serious accusations are levelled at HRW his mind does not focus on the validity of the arguments. He simply wants to know why people are attacking HRW. Once he has found what he thinks is the best answer, he must naturally believe that once he explains it to others they will all, like him, feel that the puzzle is resolved.

This is why delegitimisation is such an important tool. Those convinced of their own benevolence can only explain profound criticism by saying that the source itself is tainted. This is true of any White House or State Dept. spokesperson who knows that the US is a force for good in the world, but it is also true of any NGO or alternative media that have proven their goodness by criticising the US and Israel. The people who attack them are crackpots, malcontents and ideological zealots. Any substance in their criticisms is merely the substance of blemishes on the surface of the radiant sphere that describes the whole.

 

The Straw Giant

Brody’s most powerful counter to Bhatt’s claims, on the surface at least, was his invitation to everyone to visit the HRW website: “I think anyone who is familiar with our work, anyone who takes the time to look at our website, would see, first of all, that we routinely criticize the U.S. government.” It is true. Brody is trying to show us that glowing orb he sees as the truth – the real HRW which boldly takes on the crimes of the US and Israel. Once you embrace the underlying assumption of fundamental benevolence then you will see things the way that Brody and his colleagues see things. Collections of people like this are known as “reference groups”.

“Reference groups” share values and share assumptions. The problem with such groups is not that the assumptions are necessarily invalid, but rather that their validity is never tested. No one inside the group can originate challenges to assumption that they themselves hold, and when someone outside the group challenges them, they respond with the sort of delegitimising thought processes described above. Reference groups help to cause what is known as “groupthink” and also what is known as “confirmation bias”, when people focus on and give greater weight to evidence that fits preconceived conclusions.

There are two major problems with adopting the Brody’s view. One is that, even viewing HRW in isolation, it cannot explain the substance of those accusations of bias. These are real issues, and simply saying that HRW is often critical of the US doesn’t address the substance. The second is that, as mentioned, if HRW does not actively guard against co-optation, the nature of our society will ensure that any even-handed approach will become distorted in transmission to the public.

In the final analysis, the HRW website and the internal view of its activists and employees is another straw man. It is an impressive straw man – compelling and seemingly substantive. But it is not the internal functioning of HRW which is the final measure of its nature, and it is not the front it presents to those engaged enough to seek it out. HRW’s true nature is how it functions in our society.

 

Where There’s Smoke…

Humanity is complex, and its institutions equally so. But if you ascribe an essence to something there is a severe limit on how much of its character you can ascribe to asymptomatic products of human complexity. In other words, Human Rights Watch cannot be “independent” if it has any ties with regimes which commit human rights abuses. As Fernández writes:

“Javier Solana, for example, was NATO secretary general during the 1999 assault on Yugoslavia, an event HRW itself described as entailing “violations of international humanitarian law.” Solana is now on the group’s Board of Directors.”

So by HRW’s own lights, there is prima facie evidence that Solana is a war criminal – yet he is appointed to their board of directors. That is not a aberrant little matter that has no bearing on the otherwise independent nature of HRW, it is actually all the proof that is needed that HRW is not independent at all. Let’s not be stupid about this – if HRW’s employees and activists actually were independent of thought and action they would never have allowed someone suspected of war crimes to be appointed to their board.

If HRW workers were truly independent, they would not tolerate their bosses saying that there is “a legitimate place” for extraordinary renditions. If HRW workers were really independent they would revolt against executive director Kenneth Roth tweeting his support for military intervention in Syria.

Brody objected strongly to concept of HRW having a “revolving door” with the US government, but that is another straw man. “Revolving door” is a subjective usage. It is great for drawing attention to the issue, but easy for someone like Brody to dismiss. But you don’t need a “revolving door” to be compromised. Brody tried to talk down the numbers, but after the debate Bhatt tweeted showing an email from one of two HRW employees to join Samantha Power’s team.

This isn’t just about Washington D.C. political actors either. Along with even further ties to US government Bhatt has also revealed:

“To be sure, not all of the organization’s leadership has been so involved in dubious political activities. Many HRW board members are simply investment bankers, like board co-chairs Joel Motley of Public Capital Advisors, LLC, and Hassan Elmasry, of Independent Franchise Partners, LLP. HRW Vice Chair John Studzinski is a senior managing director at The Blackstone Group, a private equity firm founded by Peter G. Peterson, the billionaire who has passionately sought to eviscerate Social Security and Medicare. And although Julien J. Studley, the Vice Chair of the Americas advisory committee, once served in the U.S. Army’s psychological warfare unit, he is now just another wealthy real-estate tycoon in New York.”

 

Magnified Bias

People defend HRW on the basis of the undoubted good work they do, but that is beside the point. An academic engaged in human rights issues, such as Stephen Zunes here, may be in a situation any irregularities or biases seem of minor importance compared to their invaluable documentation of crimes by numerous regimes. However, as Bhatt points out: “documentation is different from advocacy and operationalizing that research.”

HRW, like AI, is biased in favour of Western interests. Here, for example, you can see some of the criticisms levelled at HRW over its disproportionate and inaccurate condemnation of human rights abuses in Venezuela. It is bad enough that HRW tried to create a sense of equivalence in human rights abuses and political repression between Venezuela and Colombia, but you would have to be very stupid indeed to be blind to the potential of such a report to be used for ill-purposes. Just like the AI report on Kuwait under Iraqi population, such a report his a negative impact out of all proportion with its significance. In private and public diplomacy this is ammunition for US interventionists.

Every time HRW condemns an enemy of the West, they themselves put greater energy into “awareness”; Western bureaucrats and politicians suddenly decide that they are, in this instance, an authoritative and independent voice; and, most of all, the media really report it. And when I write “really report” I mean that it enters the echo-chamber of the real media agenda. It is said that US media have perfected the art of lying “by only telling the truth once”. Something reported a dozen pages in to the NYT is simply not part of reality for the vast majority of people. If you want to understand what HRW is really about watch mainstream news and current affairs programming.

We who read the sort of articles you get on this website, such as the one you are reading now, form a minority reference group consisting of people who know a lot more detail about political events than most members of the public. We should not forget, however, that even watching the television news regularly is more than most people manage. Media analyst Andrew Tyndall, who compiles reports on network news broadcasts, points out in an interview with Danny Schechter that network news broadcasts have far greater viewer numbers than cable news – about 5 times as many. So the really real HRW, in practice, isn’t even what you would get from CNN, but rather that which is on the nightly news broadcasts.

 

“You Can’t be Neutral on a Moving Train”

Bhatt points out the double standard of HRW advocacy: “Let’s take the case of drone strikes in Yemen, for example. What Human Rights Watch is advocating is not for the immediate cessation of drone strikes, which have killed hundreds of civilians around the world. What they’re asking for is greater transparency on the legal rationale for continuation of those drone strikes. So, the idea that the United States can treat the entire planet as a legitimate battlefield is simply unquestioned.” In contrast we have seen Roth’s call for intervention in Syria, but even if this were not the case there is an unavoidable pitfall in criticising enemies of the West.

The fact is that when HRW condemns an enemy of the West, their own advocacy in terms of solutions is only part of the picture. By highlighting that there is a problem HRW effectively arms those in political power who seek to create a casus belli – a pretext for deadly intervention. They should also recognise that when the US seeks to intervene as a matter of course they will create disinformation through covert agencies which will inevitably target groups like HRW in just the same way that they target media outlets in order to propagate the disinformation.

Equally, any concession to the sensibilities of US leaders, any extra softness such as that displayed over the use of deadly drone programme, effectively means that HRW is acting as an agent in a “limited hangout” action. By soft-selling the criminality of US actions, they actually become part of a discourse which normalises those crimes, making them seem legitimately disputed actions rather than unambiguous crimes. The lack of urgency signals a lesser moral weighting while also allowing acclimatisation among a public who become like the proverbial boiling frogs.

Reforming groups like HRW is much more complicated than simply enacting rules about employing people who have previously worked in governments implicated in human rights abuses. Here is my three-step programme:

 

1) Disembed: Clearly HRW cannot legitimately hire people who have worked in policy related functions at the US government. It is sickening that they should think even one such person is acceptable. That goes equally for putting the former Secretary General of NATO on the board of directors. They should also have a ban on those from high-level military, police or intelligence backgrounds. These are the sort of organisations usually implicated in human rights abuses, and it should be as clear as day that they do not belong working in human rights organisations. They should also be wary of hiring those who have worked at low-levels in such organisations because they will be inclined to identify with potential human rights abusers and because their insider perspective will often be privileged as being “expertise”.

Reed Brody proudly embraces the idea that there is a “revolving door” between HRW and the United Nations secretariat. Given that much of the UN bureaucracy is devoted to ostensible human rights functions it may be hard to avoid interpenetration, but it is hardly something to tout as a source of credibility. Under a UN flag, millions of civilian casualties were caused in the bombing of Korea. Under a UN flag, an estimated 1 million Iraqis died due to genocidal sanctions, and in Haiti blue-helmeted troops have provided support for death squads and massacres. In addition, the UN is inevitably a corrupting hierarchy in which even those with the best intentions must become careerists in order to acquire the power and influence to effect positive change. This sort of relationship makes a hollow mockery of the notion of “independence”. Power structures such as that of the UN corrupt because they disproportionately favour those who are not burdened with unbending principles and thus tend to empower the self-deluding and the sociopathically dishonest.

Disembedding will require more than mere hiring policy changes, it will require a psychological negation of embeddedness. The rank and file of HRW will have to utterly reject the close identification of their superiors with those who wield state power.

It can be done. In 2012 people were naming Amnesty a “shill” or the “propaganda arm” of NATO or as an “imperialist tool”. Consternation has particularly been fueled by Amnesty USA’s crucial support for NATO’s ongoing occupation of Afghanistan. Ann Wright and Colleen Rowley wrote of “announcements posted online as well as billboard advertisements on Chicago bus stops, telling “NATO: Keep the Progress Going!’” The CEO of AIUSA at the time was Suzanne Nossel – former employee of HRW, the US State Department, the UN and the Wall Street Journal. If those aren’t insider credits enough, she is also a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Do you think that that qualifies her as part of the US political elite? I do. But AI members expressed their displeasure and Nossel resigned soon after. A small victory perhaps, but a sign that change is possible.

 

2. Say No to “Humanitarian Intervention”: In the debate on Democracy Now! Reed Brody cited R2P: “You know, the countries of the world, in 2005, all the countries at the General Assembly, agreed that there were certain circumstances that invoked what they called the right to protect, when it may be necessary for the international community even to use force. And that’s the lesson of Srebrenica. It’s the lesson of Rwanda.”

You should not trust anyone who is a professional human rights worker when they cite R2P and cannot even get the name right. “R2P” stands for “Responsibility to Protect”. Brody’s mistake, however, is perfectly symptomatic. For Western interventionists it is seen as a “right”, and indeed their discourse would have people believe that “R2P” was some sort of international enabling act. The way R2P is discussed creates an impression that if human rights abuses have been detected, the US or NATO can simply decide for themselves if they feel like abrogating the sovereignty of another country and using whatever force they claim to be necessary – as if they had never harmed people while claiming to be acting for their own good in the past.

This idea of R2P that is widely propounded in the public discourse is a complete distortion. The UN measure from 2005 is a norm which must be in compliance with international law. More specifically, it does not in any way supersede the UN Charter and licence any action outside of the normal framework for legal intervention. That means that, given that immediate self-defence is not an issue, no military action can be taken under R2P without UN Security Council authorisation.

On the subject of distortions and nonsense – I may not be an expert on Rwanda, but I have written on the subject and I know that people are hideously misled by the popular narrative. Not only was the US instrumental in creating the conditions which spiralled into a bloodbath, but the US also blocked others who wished to intervene to prevent the genocide. Even if they could not have foreseen the full extent of the horror that was to unfold, the US intervened recklessly without concern for innocent victims and now it has the gall to say that the resultant genocide shows that it should intervene more often. Brody citing Rwanda and Srebrenica is a facile cliché and it is manipulative. These events are simply meant to symbolise savage-horrors-that-the-West-should-have-prevented, provoking emotion without thought.

 

3. Do No Harm!: For organisations like HRW to ever become functional promoters of human rights they must actively ensure that none of their actions cause serious harm to people. That means that they cannot side with the powerful against the weak. People working in HRW must be alert to the actions of their leadership and be prepared to resist any distortions of emphasis liable to lead to co-optation by Western interventionists.

Reed Brody is quite right about one thing, the HRW website is full of criticisms of the US and its clients in poorer states. Anything that suggests that such a rampant human rights abuser has a role in preventing human rights abuses by weaker regimes must be viewed with suspicion.

When you consider the US role in human rights abuses in Chile, Indonesia, Argentina, Guatemala, Iran, South Africa and so forth; and then you add its interventions in Grenada, Panama, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and elsewhere; and then you add its wars in Indochina, Iraq and Afghanistan; you quickly see that the US is in a league of its own as a human rights abuser. Moreover, if you also consider that it played a crucial aggravating role in Rwanda and Cambodia and even the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, you begin to wonder about the schizophrenic nature of the discourse of human rights altogether. Every time a State Department official criticises human rights abuses in a poor unstable or destabilised country, or any other country, it should bring howls of condemnation for its hypocrisy. Even Iran has more authority to talk about human rights than the US and we would never let them condemn others without, quite rightly, including references to their own failings.

The US is a ruthless global hegemon. It is a prolific human rights abuser because of its global reach, but by the same token its global power is a function of an interventionism which is inevitably contrary to the human rights of those in targeted states. Even though other regimes share responsibility for some of its crimes, and others are guilty of their own, it has no real competition for title of greatest human rights abuser. This is an ever-present reality and unavoidably pertinent context of global human rights concerns. HRW must rid itself of the cognitive dissonance that it promotes by seemingly forgetting this whenever there is evidence that an enemy of the West has committed human rights abuses. It cannot ever, ever be seen to be in agreement with the US whatever the circumstances and should always make references to the human rights abuses of the US when the US government is a topic of discussion.

HRW must concentrate its efforts on the human rights abuses of the most powerful states, starting with the US. It must also exercise the greatest vigilance over intelligence claiming condemnable acts by weak and insecure states, especially where those states are governed by regimes considered inimical by the West.

Above all, HRW must reconcile itself to the limitations of its role. It is self-evidently seductive to take evidence of wrongdoing to powerful actors to get them to take robust immediate action. That way you might really feel that you are making a real difference. But people killed by hellfire missiles are just as dead as those killed by barrel bombs and anyone who acts to legitimise the former killings by condemning the latter is an accomplice in the crime.

HRW can record human rights abuses and raise awareness among populations who can oppose the actions of their own governments and render solidarity and support to victims and dissidents in other countries. At the same time, however, HRW must actively reject providing even tacit support for state actions outside of the framework of the UN Charter and must be extremely discriminating when supporting state intervention under the Charter. [Under the letter of the law the sanctions imposed on Iraq were according to the UN Charter, but they were also one of the most appalling and deadly criminal acts of our times and contravened the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention of the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and parts of International Humanitarian Law such as the prohibition on collective punishment in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.]

HRW must do more than simply reject the careerism of those who move in powerful circles, it must become an active and consistent opponent of empire. To be independent it must always, and at every opportunity, overtly reject working with Western state power. People within HRW must search within themselves. They must look at the greater picture of violence and suffering in the world and ask where the ultimate sources are. They must protest collaboration and demand change. If necessary, they must become like the IVS volunteers in Viet Nam who chose to stop doing good in order to stop promoting far greater harm.

Will There Be Another Deadly Assault on Fallujah?

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The Iraqi government has declared that Fallujah has fallen entirely into the hands of “Al Qaeda and Daash”. This follows over a month of US and Iraqi PR campaigning in the news media touting Al Qaeda’s ambitions to carve out an emirate in the region. It also comes just days after the revelation that the regime in Baghdad has received hellfire missiles and drones from the United States for the stated purpose of fighting Al Qaeda in the last month.

Behind the scenes, however, Shafaq News reports that some government sources admit that the claims are a deliberate deception. One source describes the government stance as: “Deliberate confusion in the information and attempts to create a dangerous atmosphere in the city to be dealt with in a militarily way in every way,” but in reality, “Fallujah and even other cities are still experiencing quieter days than before”. By citing Al Qaeda and linking it to the brutal terrorist mass-murder campaign as well as alleged ambitions to create an entire state, the Iraqi government may be working towards justifying unleashing high levels of military violence on Fallujah, but who really is controlling Fallujah?

Political revolutionaries affiliated with the protest movement in Iraq have been describing the anti-government forces in places such as Fallujah as “Tribal Rebels”. Many are from the “Awakening” who were originally opponents of the US occupation recruited and armed by the US to fight Al Qaeda. Clearly some in the protest movement are supportive of armed attacks against government forces, and that represents a large section of the Iraqi population. While Western media have been reporting the horrific and seemingly ever-increasing bombing campaign, they have neglected the massive peaceful protest movement that has been in action for a year. As The Common Ills reports, Iraqi reporters face death and serious government repression for reporting on such matters, but the Western media need only the will to write something that might contradict the official Western narrative on Iraq. Now it seems as if armed clashes between regime forces and militias are spreading and intensifying – perhaps enough to foreshadow bottom-up regime change in Iraq, but that too is not deemed newsworthy. Instead there is a deliberate and convenient conflation with the bombing campaign and the aforementioned supposed ambitions of Al Qaeda. One Washington blogger has already taken the opportunity provided by Baghdad’s claims about Fallujah: He rehabilitates George W. Bush and attacks Obama for letting Al Qaeda take over Fallujah again [sic] when Bush had done such a good job of eradicating them earlier.

However, far from being a threat such as presented by mass protests and armed insurgency, the principle Iraqi beneficiary of the terrorist bombing campaign is the regime of Nouri al-Maliki itself. It fuels and justifies government repression which includes disappearances, torture, unfair trials (in a court system created by the US) and many, many executions of “terrorists”. The regime’s political enemies are “terrorists” and rivals for power in place like Anbar province (where Fallujah is) are frequently assassinated or arrested. This too goes unreported in the Western media. The immediate trigger for this recent upsurge in armed militia violence was the arrest on December 28 of a Sunni member of parliament at his home ion Ramadi. The government claims that they were trying to arrest his brother for terrorism but were met with armed resistance (in which the brother was killed). The MP was thereafter arrested for attacking the security forces not as a terrorist as such

The principle overseas beneficiary of all of Iraq’s violence is the US. Unlike regional powers it is not threatened by the instability that it creates. In fact Middle Eastern instability maintains high oil prices which stabilise US global hegemony. (Admittedly this is at the expense of the “99%” in the US, but US foreign policy has never directed by concern for the US people and it is becoming ever less excusable to claim that it is.) Iraqis are ever more hostile to Iran, which a real rival/enemy of the US. The US officially supports the Maliki government and unofficially supports the Sunni Islamist militias who are part of the anti-government forces. Iran also supports the Maliki government, perhaps feeling they have no choice or perhaps not understanding how much this benefits the US. The repression they sponsor (in cooperation with the US) drives the extremism they fear. Iran would be better served by a democratic, tolerant and pluralistic Iraq (or, for that matter, a democratic tolerant and pluralistic Iran).

In Iraq the lines between “real” terrorism and “false flag” terrorism are blurred. Historically agents provocateurs have often blurred those lines, sometimes transforming revolutionaries into terrorists by their presence alone. In this instance we need no details of such infiltration to draw the same sort of conclusions. It is enough to know that the bombing helps maintain the power of the current government in Iraq and that their overseas backers are inevitably linked to the US which also backs their allies in Syria and simultaneously backs the Iraq government. Though it tries to maintain deniability (and apparently uses “a complex, shadowy system of weapons movement, with diverse, sometimes parallel, supply routes”) US involvement is too comprehensive to properly conceal. As with Syria, the US imperial interest is served by conflict and instability and the brutal truth is that US actions are crucial in creating and maintaining these conflicts.

Now, as it was in 2004, a whole city is being labelled “terrorist”, but it is first and foremost a city of resistance. In 1920, when it was only a small town, Fallujah was a centre of spreading resistance to British imperial rule and this seems to have been formative. In 2004, in response to the crimes of US personnel (including the murder of unarmed demonstrators) Fallujah rose in resistance to the US-led occupation. Any so-called “Al Qaeda” who entered the city thereafter were drawn by the strength of the resistance there, they were not the cause of the resistance nor were they the target of the US assaults. Now it seems that the current Iraqi government, a client of both the US and Iran, may be preparing to repeat the destruction and suffering wrought on the people of Fallujah in 2004.

The Numbers Game: New Research Shows that US has Saved Millions of Iraqi Lives.

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[Warning: this is satire. I apologise for any confusion. If I offend anyone I want to make absolutely certain that they are the right people.]

In 2006 The Lancet published the second of two ideologically driven mortality “surveys” which claimed that the US had caused over 600,000 deaths in Iraq. This was followed by other such “research” conducted by those who made no effort to conceal their own political bias against George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq. Some of these organizations claimed to have found astronomical numbers of fatalities, even over a million. One of those who has led the fight to correct these subjective and biased studies is Jim Slobberdrib. For eight years Slobberdrib headed Applied Research Science Enterprises prestigious Iraq Death List project. More recently Slobberdrib has overseen a new study which, by applying newer and even less biased techniques and standards, has found that US actions actually saved many thousands of Iraqis who would otherwise have perished. Since the release of these explosive findings Slobberdrib has been very busy promoting the work by granting interviews to the media. Fortunately, however, he was able to take time out from all of that in order to grant me an interview:

KK: If I could turn first to your work with the respected Iraq Death List project – how exactly did you get the inspiration to start the project, and what were its aims?

JS: Well, it is funny how inspiration can strike at any moment. I was working for Blush, McLieberger and Koch, the PR firm, and, I don’t know, I… I must have been quite dissatisfied with the meaninglessness of it. So much so, I think, that my boss could actually tell even before I really knew myself. He told me that I needed something more meaningful in my life, a chance to give back. As it happened, he said, our firm had a relationship Applied Research Science Enterprises…

KK: A relationship?

JS: Yes, I think they shared office space in Kuala Lumpur or something. And they shared other things – you know, photocopying costs, long-arm staplers and so forth. They also had the same Human Resources department, funnily enough. It worked out quite well for me in the end, because it meant that I could just stay on the payroll despite suddenly and drastically and ummm…

KK: Boldly?

JS: Yes, yes, boldly. Boldly changing my career completely. Of course, there was a significant pay rise and I think that this shows that being daring and taking risks can be quite rewarding in that sense. The rewards are more than merely material, they are also monetary.

Anyway, I am getting ahead of myself. Basically, I came up with the idea of doing a truly definitive body count in Iraq which would ensure that the Bush and Blair regimes were absolutely accountable for every single death of every single innocent but only if we could truly verify their innocence and their deadness. I believed utterly, then as now, that it would be wrong to hold someone accountable for abstract statistics, it is only when we can absolutely verify absolute innocence and absolute death that we can think of holding those in power accountable.

KK: So it was a sudden inspiration born out of an urgent humanitarian impulse?

JS: Exactly. They sent me along to meet the people at Applied Research Science Enterprises. They could also tell that I was stricken with a Humanitarian Impulse. They said it made me look troubled and intriguing. They mentioned that the main humanitarian concern in the world was probably the impact of the US invasion of Iraq and that people desperately needed reliable information to make judgements on the moral dimensions of the US action. I said something like: “Hey, wait a minute. If you guys are a research company, why not do some research about the effects of the invasion?” They were really impressed with my idea.

KK: So you didn’t have any directly training or experience as a statistician or epidemiologist or researcher of any sort did you?

JS: Yes, well, I think that this was the greatest strength that I brought to the job. I was an outsider, with a fresh perspective, not some stale old bean-crunching maths person. I wasn’t like The Count from Sesame Street being all mathematical about everything but losing sight of the human picture. I was there because of my Humanitarian Impulse and I could feel it getting stronger all of the time. Some people said I was becoming quite Bohemian. I even thought about writing a poem. I was the ideas man – the humanitarian ideas man. I could do the numbers too, if I wanted. I was used to it. In PR and marketing, we live by the numbers. I was never one of those people who actually makes the numbers, but I was around lots of numbers. Some of these numbers were really big numbers. I mean really big numbers, but they didn’t scare me. I can talk about infinity without getting scared.

KK: Walk us through what Iraq Death List actually did?

JS: Well, we collated reports of fatalities, but we would only actually include a reported fatality if it was independently verified by two Western media sources who had access to eyewitnesses of unimpeachable character. After that it was necessary for us to conduct our own independent verification to absolutely ensure that the eyewitnesses could be relied on.

KK: And then the first Lancet study came out in 2004. According to one of the researchers, they had initially expected that they might see an increase in mortality due to increased rates of disease or disruption to health and sanitation services, but instead they found that tens of thousands of people had been violently killed.

JS: Well, it just goes to show how political and unscientific they were. How are you going to show that someone died of disease because of the invasion? Did George W. Bush come up to them with a syringe full of dysentery or thyphus and inject them? A disease isn’t like a bullet. No one shoots someone with a disease. They were just going to count up some dead people and use some fancy number trick to say if was America’s fault. It’s like If I said that 78 percent of people who died of cancer died because they listened to rap music.

KK: But that wasn’t their main finding.

JS: Sure, but what they did was just as bad. They went around just asking Iraqis if anyone they knew had died and they just took their word for it that. These are Iraqis. They’re the ones who, I mean they’re practically the same people as… well, you know, they hate America. Of course they’re just going to say that the Americans killed my habeebi, or whatever. Hey, that reminds me of a joke a Marine told me: What did the Haji taxi driver say when he saw his child’s severed foot in the middle of the road?

KK: Umm, maybe just tell me later.

JS: Anyway, that wasn’t even the worst of it. They took those claims and then said that if these people said that their loved ones had died it must mean lots of other people had died well. They just made up all of these fictitious dead people. Completely made up. I don’t know how they thought they’d get away with this nonsense, but luckily we had our own definitive Iraq Death List and we could categorically refute their findings.

KK: So this is when you first began to clash with people like Gilbert Burnham and Les Roberts?

JS: Yeah.

KK: So, to set the scene, by this stage it is the end of 2004. A year and a half has passed since the invasion. What confirmed mortality figures did Iraq Death List have at this stage?


JS:
That’s the amazing thing, these jokers were claiming that 100,000 people had died but our confirmed fatalities were zero.

KK: Zero?

JS: Yeah.

KK: That’s quite conservative.

JS: Thanks. Well, anyway you can imagine how ridiculous these people looked, claiming that these nameless 100,000 people had died when we could show that there were no confirmed deaths at all.

KK: But surely some people must have died by this stage.

JS: People die all the time, but none of these deaths could be properly confirmed as being the result of US actions and confirmed as being real.

KK: Being real?

JS: Yeah. I guess one of the greatest challenges we faced at that point was the security situation. Our confirmation protocol is rigorous and we often found it impossible to deploy the hologram team to the areas in which fatalities were witnessed.

KK: Hologram team?

JS: It was vital that we assured ourselves that eyewitnesses had in fact witnessed real events, in those cases where eyewitnesses were considered sufficiently credible. We had to eliminate the most obvious possibility – that eyewitnesses had in fact witnessed only a clever projection made with hologram technology. But, there were often unacceptable risks in deploying the team.

KK: You mean that these alleged fatalities tended to occur in violent hotspots, in neighborhoods that were too dangerous to send a team into?

JS: I mean in deploying the team to Iraq. It was a very violent place…

KK: Despite having no actual confirmed fatalities?

JS: I know what I’m saying. Let’s not forget that American heroes were dying there every day. If we’d actually had a hologram team, we could never have risked sending them to the country.

KK: You didn’t even have a hologram team?

JS: Apparently it is difficult to find personnel who are appropriately trained and qualified to analyze this sort of technology.

KK: Because it doesn’t exist?

JS: Well, it is definitely cutting edge technology, maybe a bit beyond cutting edge. Anyway, one of our interns proposed a workaround and the “powers that be” decided that this was the way to go. It was decided that a quick trip to the morgue would serve to confirm that the dead were not holograms but in fact corporeal. I was against the decision. You know, I could understand the public relations aspect to it. People were thinking that zero fatalities was too low a figure. Edward Bernays understood this sort of thing. He invented public relations and he knew that ordinary people were very stupid. He called the average man “Dumb Jack” and he would have understood that “Dumb Jack” would never accept that the most scientific and objective measure of fatalities in Iraq was no fatalities at all. I understood the PR aspect of it, but by this time I had my scientist hat firmly on my head and my scientist hat told me it was all wrong.

KK: This was quite a dark time for you, wasn’t it?

JS: Yes, I did suffer from this sense of being conflicted. I was haunted by a recurrent nightmare. I would see “Dumb Jack” who looked just like my dad in his work coveralls. Then “Dumb Tariq” the suicide bomber would come along and decapitate my dad while singing “I Got You Under My Skin” in Frank Sinatra’s voice. Then me and “Dumb Tariq” would kick the head around like a soccer ball. Suddenly I’d realize that all along, every time I opened my mouth a stream of foul brown liquid would gush out, as if I was literally spouting liquid diarrhea. My therapist told me that it meant that when confronting trauma I became fecund with insight.

KK: “Fecund with insight”?

JS: Yeah, full of it apparently.

KK: But eventually you adjusted?

JS: Things got worse before they got better. My proposal that we initiate a capture and release program where Arabs would be banded and, if feasible, microchipped did not go down well. Detractors said that having such a program in the continental US would be of little use in determining death levels in Iraq. I tried to point out that this very same technique had been invaluable in studying declining numbers among Whooping Cranes and that the Arabs in question must themselves be migratory, otherwise they would not be in the continental US if the first place. I was widely pilloried for these ideas. I guess, in hindsight, that I should have talked them through with someone before calling a press conference.

KK: So if we move forward to 2006, and the release of the second Lancet study, widely referred to as “L2”. They estimated a very high mortality at this stage. In fact they estimated around 650,000 excess deaths, with 600,000 due to violence. What was the death toll according to IDL at this time?

JS: In approximate terms it was roughly around 3.

KK: Could you be more precise?

JS: It was 3.

KK: So there was an even bigger difference between your figures than there had been in 2004?

JS: In absolute terms, perhaps, but in percentage terms the gap had narrowed and I…

KK: Sorry, you say the gap had narrowed? What to?

JS: Well, a little over 20 million percent. That sounds a lot, but remember that in 2004 the percentage difference between our estimates was infinity. Infinity is much much larger than 20 million. 20 million is nothing compared to infinity. It’s like comparing, say, the size of a tennis ball with, umm, I don’t know, something infinitely bigger than a tennis ball.

KK: The universe?

JS: OK, maybe not that much bigger, but you get the point. I was very alarmed by the way politics had interfered with our science as if we should just compromise our methods in order to fit in with some antiwar malcontents and their made-up death study. Still, a difference of 20 million percent was just enough to show people once again that the Lancet study was dangerous nonsense.

KK: And now the Democrats in Washington started to take notice?

JS: Yes, they realized that our confirmed and undisputed body count was an invaluable weapon against the President. Of course, Republicans were not happy with me at that point. Senator Oren Stretchy (R-KY) physically threatened me with a yoghurt at a breakfast meeting. Bill O’Reilly said he wanted to chop me to pieces with his hedge-trimmer and feed me to his neighbor’s dachshund, but I think he might have mistaken me for Bernie Sanders’ cousin.

KK: And then, of course, that all changed when Bush actually admitted that your figures were correct.

JS: It was a great moment. Not just for me. Not just for IDL. But for the entire country. The President himself came out and admitted three innocent people had been killed due to his actions. He had saved us from Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction and from the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud. He had finally brought the justice that would give peace to the restless souls of those lost on 9/11, in the Maine and at the Alamo. He had saved the lives of millions of Americans and the price he paid was to carry the burden of guilt forever for those innocent lives lost because of his actions. It was a great moment from a great leader.

You know, people like to compare Bush to Reagan or to Teddy Roosevelt, but to me his greatness transcends the parochial confines of US politics. If the great Winston Churchill and the beloved Mahatma Gandhi had through some miracle conceived a love child, that love child would be George W. Bush.

KK: This was, indeed, a great moment. Bush showed a humble and saintly side to himself that clearly moved people. But there were still those who questioned the actual figure of 3 killed, suggesting that it was on the low side. Perhaps if you gave more detail about IDL‘s methods. I mean, surely there must have been a lot more than 3 people confirmed killed in nearly 4 years of occupation.

JS: More “people” maybe. If you could call them that. But “people” could mean anything. “People” could be insurgents, or terrorists, or militant Islamic extremist fundamentalist Muslim militants. If you think those people are actual “people” then you go ahead and call them that. But you’ll excuse us if we don’t take the same stance. IDL was created out of a Humanitarian Impulse to definitively document the deaths of innocents so that the powerful can be held to account. You can’t treat the good killing, where we kill the bad guys, as being like the bad killing. In fact it should really be set up so that each good killing is subtracted from the number of bad killings.

KK: That would be another reason for saying that the US has killed a negative number of people. Sorry, I guess that is getting a bit ahead of your narrative.

JS: No, you are right though. The US has probably negatively killed much higher numbers of people than we outlined in our latest study. We should maybe revise our findings to take into account the negative killing aspect of killing bad guys. Sorry, where was I?

KK: I think you were about to outline the methods you used to make sure that you only counted the bad killing and not the good killing that we want our politicians to carry out.

JS: Oh, yeah. Right, you see the way I saw it was that we needed unimpeachable character witnesses who could testify to the goodness and innocence of the stiff. You see, one of the problems America faces is that its enemies don’t fight fair. They don’t wear uniforms. They don’t carry weapons. And they aren’t all military age males. You can’t even trust the kids and the babies. These people are so fanatical and so full of hatred that they sew explosives up into their own babies and then fire them out of modified mortar tubes. It was just the same in Vietnam. As one soldier said: The old men, the women, the children – the babies – were all VC or would be VC in about three years. And inside of VC women, I guess there were about a thousand little VC now.”

KK: Who was that?

JS: That was Lieutenant William Calley. He had a breakdown, like combat fatigue, and then they just persecuted him because they needed some sort of scapegoat. Luckily President Nixon knew a thing or two about being the victim of a witch hunt, and he gave him a pardon.

Anyway, so we needed a way to tell who were the fanatic insurgent terrorist Islamists. In a real country we would ask the priest or the preacher, but obviously we couldn’t ask Muslim priests. We couldn’t say that they needed the testimony of a Christian priest either, because that might seem insensitive. I still thought that a respected religious figure was the right sort of person to give this testimony. It finally came to me that the ideal religious personage, who was not objectionable and who commanded very wide respect, was an ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk.

KK: So you would accept that someone who had been killed was, in fact, innocent if in life they had been known to an ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk who was prepared to vouch for their character?

JS: Obviously there is a fine balance that must be achieved here, but we thought that our approach was very reasonable.

KK: And do you still think it was a reasonable approach?

JS: Of course.

KK: Despite what occurred near Kut al-Farraj in mid-2008?

JS: I’m not sure what you are referring to.

KK: Perhaps I can refresh your memory. August the second? A village near Kut al-Farraj? An airstrike using multiple 500lb J-DAM against farm buildings which US personnel described as “hardened”? Surely you must remember that the official IDL mortality count jumped overnight from 4 to 179? Does it ring a bell yet? The airstrike at the village where the Venerable Abdallah al-Bakr happened to live?

JS: Yeah. I’ll never really get that. How can someone called Abdallah be ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist monk? Don’t you need to be Tibetan?

KK: No. Tibetan is also a type of Buddhism. Allen Ginsberg was an ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk.

JS: Wasn’t he some sort of Nazi or Communist or something?

KK: You’re thinking of someone else.

JS: Look, our results were sound and the Kut al-Farraj incident only strengthened the validity of our results. It showed that our method was flexible and responsive.

KK: “Strengthened the validity”? Are you really still defending this now? You had assured people for such a long time that the definitive and absolutely reliable death toll was 4 and suddenly almost in an instant it jumped by over 4000 per cent! How can you possibly justify that?

JS: Look, as a layman you might not understand that the best and most definitive figure isn’t some sort of happy medium that corresponds with common sense and accords with a full holistic picture of the context in which the events occur, it comes from taking the most narrow, restrictive and conservative approach possible. For a layman that might seem outwardly to throw up anomalies, like overnight jumps in the figures, but that is exactly how we ensure that our figures are utterly sound and definitive.

And anyway, a 4000 percent jump is tiny compared to a jump of infinity.

KK: This isn’t even particularly relevant because the percentage jump is actually the least of the problems with the new tally.

JS: I know where you are going with this. I just want to say that we had been using a set statistical method for years. We produced the definitive mortality data using that method and as I said before just because the method throws up results which, to a layman might seem really stupid, that does not invalidate the method.

KK: You know what I’m going to ask. The 175 killed Kut al-Farraj in 2008 – were they people?

JS: Look these were 175 certified innocent lives lost. I mean, the word “people” could, you know…

KK: Were they human?

JS: Not as such.

KK: They were…?

JS: OK, they were ducks.

KK: They were ducks. Innocent ducks maybe, but they weren’t people.

JS: Well, from the perspective of an ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk they actually are people.

KK: Alright, fine, they were innocent dead duck people. But that doesn’t alter the fact that after more than 5 years of brutal war, your official respected mortality figure was that 179 innocents had been killed of whom the vast majority, 175 out of 179, were, in fact, innocent ducks! 175 out of 179!

JS: Could you express that as a percentage?

KK: No.

JS: But you would agree that it is quite a lot less than infinity percent?

KK: If you keep this up, I am going to terminate this interview.

JS: Okay, alright. But you are really missing the most important aspect of this whole thing. The Venerable Abdallah al-Bakr had given names to every single one of the sadly departed innocent ducks, and we knew the names of the four humans. It is only because we know these names that we can honor these innocent lost lives. It is only because they are named and documented that we can give them a measure of justice. It is only because we know exactly who they are and the exact circumstances of their deaths that we can seek accountability or, at the very least, acknowledgement of wrongdoing. Those who die without us documenting and naming them died pointless deaths that made their whole lives totally futile and meaningless. They are nothings and nobodies.

KK: What about those people who have lost loved ones that you have not named? Aren’t they liable to think that you are a self-satisfied insensitive shithead who should have his face smashed in?

JS: Well, people do post that comment on my Facebook wall a lot, but really, I believe that in circumstances like these violence is not the answer.

KK: The whole “innocent ducks of Kut al-Farraj” incident caused quite a loss of confidence in IDL, didn’t it?

JS: We lost a lot of institutional support including that of some of the most prominent US lawmakers and congressional representatives.

KK: Isn’t that the same thing?

JS: No, I’m sure the lawmakers are the ones who write the laws, mostly lobbyists I think. Anyway, then they give the laws to the congress people who, I don’t know, I think they give it to the President to sign or something. Maybe they have to, you know, fight each other to get to the President with their favorite law. They must do something.

Anyway, the real loss, and it was a bitter blow, was the loss of support from some of the most respected foundations. Those guys have got real deep pockets. And do they know how to give a guy a good time? I did a dinner with Ford Foundation once – man, I was seeing double for a week afterwards. Oh God, yeah, I remember now – I had to go on a 4 week course of antibiotics and I had this discharge that I swear to God actually glowed in the dark. It really did!

KK: Right, umm, OK. I think we get the picture, although I am trying very hard not to get an actual mental picture. To get back to the loss of credibility, it must have caused a loss of confidence in the public also.

JS: I never had any confidence in the public.

KK: I mean, the other way around. The public lost confidence in you.

JS: Yeah, like we really cared. Look, I don’t think the public ever really supported our efforts. We took that as a good sign. Our work was clearly too scientifically valid for the layperson to grasp, but people in power could immediately see how useful it was. I think that this is the true test of rigor and validity. This is the way things are heading now. This is the future of science and research because it is usefulness to power that ultimately is the true measure of what is valid and true.

KK: OK. But regardless of that the “innocent ducks of Kut al-Farraj” did spell the end of the IDL project.

JS: Well, that was the foundations, like I said. Our parent company realized that the profits from IDL were on a death spiral downwards and decided to pull the plug before the rot set in. They told me that I felt like I needed a change and funnily enough they had this relationship with a publishing firm.

KK: And the resultant memoir was Slobberdrib: Saint or Savior? It did well?

JS: Yes it did extremely well. Incredibly well really. It was really really successful. Not so much in terms of sales. But it was an incredibly rewarding experience. It was really about the whole process, you know, like writing things and that sort of process stuff.

KK: There were also financial rewards. I believe that despite never having published a book before you were given a 2.8 million US dollar advance. How much of that advance have the publisher made back from sales of the book?

JS: As a percentage it would be about, umm…. Can you think of something that is 176 times as big as a tennis ball?

KK: And then things changed for you once again?

JS: Well I was in Jordan on location with the cast and crew of the new biopic Slobberdrib: Shake Hands with Satan – actually that’s coming out in the fall and it’s got George Clooney playing yours truly and that black guy from Homeland (did you know that he’s actually British?) Anyway, it’s got him playing my best buddy in military intelligence. It’s gonna be a hit movie. Anyway, so there’s me in Jordan, consulting for the film – telling Clooney how to be more, you know, like me, and I get this call…

KK: No, wait, wait, wait… I’m sorry to interrupt, but I need to clarify. You said Jordan, but you never actually went to the Middle East before?

JS: No this was my first visit. It’s pretty amazing, especially in the desert. It’s like, really sandy just like it is in the movies.

KK: The point I was trying to make, or ask maybe, is, why are they filming your life story in the Middle East when you were never in the Middle East?

JS: Oh yeah, I mean no. Yeah, no they decided that to make the story more accessible they would have my character as some sort of maverick humanitarian who struggles against the powers that be to save his buddies and to do the right thing. That’s basically me, but they gave me a slightly different back-story. In the movie I’m a bomb disposal expert who dedicates his life to protecting the innocent after the trauma of seeing a duck killed due to the callous indifference of a French rival bomb disposal guy. I kill the baddies and win the girl from the French baddy (who actually turns out to be Muqtada al-Sadr in a rubber mask – so I kill him too).

KK: So it’s more like some sort of fantasy version, not the humdrum reality of a guy working from an office in DC?

JS: I wouldn’t call it fantasy. There’s no dragons or orcs or whatever. They didn’t even use my idea about finding Aladdin’s lamp and rescuing the sexy Princess in those see-through culottes or whatever they’re called.

KK: OK, can we get back to the call you got in Jordan? Could I just guess that your employer had suddenly realized that you needed a drastic change in career?

JS: There’s no need to be facetious. It was actually the old crew from Applied Research Science Enterprises. New techniques and new approaches had been developed that virtually threw the whole issue of mortality in Iraq on its head. They needed me to come back to head a new study. This one would be far less restrictive than the last. It would be more of a totally inclusive survey of excess mortality.

KK: Like the Lancet surveys?

JS: No, not like those, obviously. They were political, we wanted to to do a survey that was purely scientific without all that politics. A recent study found that there were nearly 500,000 excess deaths in Iraq. As every reputable newspaper pointed out, this totally destroyed the findings of the Lancet studies. It absolutely blew those bastards out of the water.

KK: But surely these figures were much closer to the Lancet results than, say, your own results?

JS: Read the papers man! Don’t take my word for it. It just blew those bastards away. Totally discredited the washed up hacks. But we were still worried that there was some sort of political antiwar bias. Like I said, I don’t care if your politics are antiwar, but if you’re going to do science then, Brother, you gotta leave that shit at the door. You know what I’m saying? You can do science and say that lots of Iraqis died, but it becomes political when you say Americans killed them. That is just projecting your antiwar anti-America bias onto the figures. So even though some of the latest work to be done on Iraq suggests that lots of people died, over time we are seeing that less and less political bias is included in the figures.

KK: So it’s not political to say that Iraqis were killed by other Iraqis?

JS: No of course not. I like to explain it this way; back home we have a big problem with what we call black-on-black violence in the inner cities. Now, if you say a black man killed another black man that’s just saying something because it happened. It happens all the time. But if you say that a white cop killed a black man that’s political. You’re not describing a fact, you’re making a political statement. Now maybe if you’re wanting to run for mayor of, oh I don’t know, some black city, you might say a white cop killed a black guy. You might get lots of votes for saying that. But science isn’t about winning votes and there’s no room in science for politics like that.

KK: Reporters Without Borders put out a report about journalists killed in Iraq and it basically said that 83% of the killers of journalists were unidentified, but were enemies of the United States. Someone, someone who I actually know personally, criticized them for blithely characterizing unknown murderers this way without evidence. I think she even used the word “political”.

JS: Well, obviously that’s not political is it? Enemies of the USA hate our freedoms and hate our free press. My God, its the First Amendment – the First! Obviously our enemies kill journalists. Its dog-bites-man stuff. Perfectly non-political. Absolutely scientific. As for your friend – you know I think some people are so politicized they don’t even know what the word political actually means. Really, I could say some stuff myself about that Reporters Without Borders outfit and their so-called “report”. You know how they said that 9% of reporters were killed by US forces? Well, it turns out that two of those so-called “reporters” were insurgents on that film they put out with the helicopter shooting.

KK: You mean the Reuters employees whose deaths were shown in the Collateral Murder video?

JS: Buddy, they might have taken a paycheck from Reuters and done some journalism on the side, but those guys were fully-fledged one thousand percent insurgents. The Army even said they were insurgents. I’m pretty sure I saw that Collateral Damage thing and those guys were shooting rockets at our boys in the Apaches and then these reinforcements drive up using their own kids as human shields, and then they were just shooting off their AKs, a total killer frenzy. They were even shooting themselves just to make our boys look bad.

KK: Are you sure you actually watched Collateral Murder?

JS: I’m 98 percent certain. All I’m going to say is that if Reporters Without Borders researched those alleged Reuters employees they wouldn’t have found a single ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk who would testify that they definitely weren’t insurgents, and I bet the same is true of every one of those guys that our boys killed.

But going back to our new project, we saw our job as being to produce research a product that reflected a high mortality expectation, which we find a lot of the audience demands, but doesn’t have this distorted political component of US forces killing Iraqis. Our focus groups found that the best way to present the most credible results that the public would actually believe in (but were actually really really scientific and in no way political) was to have a very high mortality rate but to say that it was all brought about by Iraqi on Iraqi violence.

Things have changed a bit since the early days of IDL and that sort of approach wasn’t possible back then.

KK: Why is that, exactly?

JS: Well, you know, the whole invasion and occupation of Iraq was a very sensitive issue. There was a lot of misunderstanding. The President did his best to enlighten people. But even after Donald Rumsfeld explained all about “unknown unknowns”, a lot of people thought that Saddam’s WMD’s would either be found, or they didn’t exist. It’s just one of those “unknown unknowns”. He could have developed weaponized sand for all we know, and just left it in the desert to degrade into inert form. We will never ever know.

So the whole situation was very political, and I guess that is why the reporting was political too. For the first few years it was all about Coalition forces fighting against Iraqis. There was hardly anything about Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence. Maybe it’s not the journalists’ fault. They would wander along and than see a bunch of dead Iraqis and think: OK the US is fighting a war here, and war is hell, so they must have killed these guys. We now know, of course, that these Iraqis were almost certainly killed by other Iraqis. Iraqis kill each other all of the time, and the great irony of the situation was that it was only the mass-murdering genocidal maniac tyrant Saddam who, like Tito in Yugoslavia, stopped them from their traditional fratricidal violence. It’s like that British guy said a century ago, Iraqis “love fighting for fighting’s sake” and “they have no objection to being killed”.

I guess after that, you know from 2006 onwards, the news started to cover more and more Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence until that was all they covered. All of that political stuff about Americans killing Iraqis kind of faded away and we saw that it was all really about the same thing its always about – the same thing we see in movies and on TV – it was all about fanatical Islamists, terrorists, suicide bombers and cruel barbarians who chop people’s heads off.

KK: So the predictive programming of the entertainment media which unrelentingly pounds people with notions of Eastern barbarity and Western superiority made it natural for people to gravitate to this new narrative of incomprehensibly violent Iraqis who just kill each other for no reason that a civilized Westerner could ever really understand?

JS: Did you mean to say that?

KK: No, it just kind of slipped out. Do continue.

JS: Well, I guess I really have to confess now that I’d really got it all wrong earlier with the IDL. You see, you remember how I told you that there was good killing and bad killing? Well, that’s a perfectly good scientific way of understanding the difference between, well you know, the difference between good killing and bad killing. Anyway, it might be great science, but it’s not actually very mathematical. After talking it over with my people I came up with this great inspiration. Instead of good and bad killing, we should be talking about positive and negative killing in the mathematical sense. So when you positively kill someone there’s one less person in the world but when you negatively kill someone then there is one more person in the world. Now so there is no confusion let me make it absolutely clear that this is not about procreation. These are processes which we refer to as dekilling, or unkilling, or enlifing. This might be confusing initially, but when you enlife someone it means, well it doesn’t usually mean that there’s this person that you actually see that you’ve actually somehow enlifed. It’s more like say if there was a unit and at the end of a tour we calculated that they have killed negative 100 people, that means that by their actions there are 100 more people alive today than there would have been otherwise.

KK: Is that an indicative example. Would, say, a company have that sort of negative kill rate in a one year tour?

JS: Look, this is all new science and we really haven’t gone through the individual outfits completely yet, but our initial findings are phenomenal. We have some outfits that racked up huge negative kill rates. I even joked with a Sergeant from a mortar battalion that they should change their motto to “Life from Above”.

KK: Just so our audience understands, negative killing isn’t the same as killing bad guys? It’s not just another name for “good killing” is it?

JS: Oh no. Nothing could be further from the truth. No, negative killing is the sum total of all of those actions which are, in fact, life giving or life preserving. I need to emphasize again that this is not about procreation. The Pentagon would never countenance that sort of thing, not with Iraqi’s anyway. Like a lot of military outfits around the world they do have a long and proud tradition of having a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to sexual violence, but they really draw the line at fraternization. And they especially draw the line at there being a bunch of half-Iraqi half-White-Christian-American babies. I think you can see how that would not be in the interests of national security.

Negative killing is more about those things that save people from short or long term mortal threats. So, say, you might go into a house and in the confusion shoot dead one of the members of a family, but if by way of compensation you give the remaining family members a lifetime supply of chlorine tablets and that saves all eleven survivors from a deadly cholera outbreak, that means you’ve actually got a net negative kill rate of 10 people.

KK: So the negative killings come mainly from, say, civic action programs? From those outfits who build the wells and vaccinate the kids and have slogans like “we care, so you don’t have to”?

JS: Well, obviously that is a major part of the US military’s negative killing capacity. But our research has shown that often it in those activities that attract the most criticism from the bleeding-heart antiwar douchebags that actually have the greatest capacity to give life. Often people say our boys are trigger happy to the point of being a rampaging murdering horde. You have GIs just shooting up Iraqi cars just because they’re on the road, more or less, and people get wasted for almost any dumb reason. I mean, in 2005 we shot over one billion bullets during a period when our best estimates were that there were only 30,000 insurgents. That means we shot over 30,000 bullets for every insurgent in the whole country. That’s a lot of bullets, and those things are dangerous. It’s almost like you’d think that those guys who did the Lancet studies were on to something after all.

KK: Okay. I’m sure this is leading somewhere.

JS: Just hang on a sec, I’m getting there, but first you’ve got to think about the kind of firepower our grunts are packing these days. I mean a platoon of these guys could just about take out a city block as long as there weren’t any enemy soldiers or anything. Imagine you’ve got a mounted patrol. Every fourth GI has an M249 light machine gun. Every vehicle is mounted with maybe a .50 caliber machine gun or a Mk 19 grenade launcher which is like a sort of machine gun which fires 40mm grenades at a rate of about one every second. So, when this patrol hits an IED what they do is that they all just open up with all their weapons. Sounds like a recipe for a lot of dead civilians, right?

KK: If you say so.

JS: Well it’s true. Doing things like that does actually generate a positive kill rate, but have you thought about how much of a negative kill rate this could generate?

KK: Err…?

JS: Picture this: A cute little baby girl at home with mom. Mom’s proud of her beautiful first-born. Daddy’s out working his job at the office. It’s Friday, he’s planning on doing some renovations on the weekend and he’s going to drop by the Haji Home Depot after work. Mom’s feeding her beautiful baby girl from her firm young breast, little knowing that outside there creeps the dirty swarthy misshapen figure of an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist insurgent laying his filthy coward IED bomb. Mom puts baby down for an afternoon nap. Feeling good about herself she glances out through the window and waves to the friendly and handsome GI’s who wave back and make playful boyish remarks to each other about the beautiful young Haji woman. Then wham! The explosion throws mom back against the wall and she slumps unconscious. But oh no! What’s happened to baby girl? Unfortunately, Haji homes are flimsy, and Daddy hasn’t had the chance to fix up that sagging detached wall. The wall has fallen on baby’s crib! She has no air, and Mommy’s lying unconscious! Just then, like the ferocious thunder of freedom, the sound rings out of a couple of dozen really heavily armed red-blooded American boys letting loose with all they have. Just in the nick of time a .50 cal round punches a hole through the flimsy Haji wall and the baby is saved. What do ya think of that?

KK: It sounds a little umm… specific or, I don’t know, maybe a little unlikely.

LS: You might well think that. But remember just how many bullets we fired in Iraq – about a billion each year, right? Well if each bullet was the size of a tennis ball, then a billion bullets would be like infinity or even bigger.

KK: So, if you fire enough bullets at inhabited buildings you will save lots of lives by punching air holes in collapsed masonry?

LS: Well, were not completely stupid, you know. We do realize that there is a limited number of people who actually end up in the situation of being trapped under rubble without air, even during a US-led occupation. (We did actually offer an infantry regiment to China to shoot up the city where they had that last quake, but they declined due to security concerns.) Anyway, it’s not just about that, there are many other ways in which stray bullets can save lives. Picture now 36 year old Mohammed al-Derpderp. He’s just got that promotion he’s been after for years. He’s regional sales manager for the Haji vacuum-cleaner company. Finally, after all of those years of hard work he has his feet on the ladder. The only way is up. But, uh-oh! What is that on his neck? Could it be a pre-cancerous mole that is destined in ten years time to bring about poor Mohammed’s death in the most painful, degrading and lingeringly awful way possible? Why yes it is. Luckily he’s walking down the street one day and he’s coming up to where his uncouth Haji neighbours have left a pile of their shitty junk lying blocking a side road. Now, the nearby friendly US dismounted patrol heard AK’s firing earlier that day, so they know that the bad guys are around. They see the junk and they know it could have been put there by the bad guys. The leader decides that it’s time for some reconnaissance by fire. He tells his men to open up and they let loose steel hail like the volley of the titans! A round hits the wall near our friend Mohammed, it shatters and a searing fragment zips through the air slicing off the offending mole and cauterizing the wound to boot. Hey-presto and Allahu-fucking-akbar – 53 years later Mohammed al-Derpderp dies in bed surrounded by weeping relatives while from outside he can hear his great-grandkids laughing as they chase the Haji chickens around the dusty yard. Now that’s a happy ending.

KK: I see. So US forces have “enlifed” (if I have the terminology right) lots of Iraqis with stray bullets. Anything else?

JS: You bet there is. The list is as long as your arm. Airstrikes taking out dangerously substandard housing. White phosphorus sterilizing contaminated chicken. Fuel-air bombs taking out colonies of plague-bearing rats. We’ve found that people who have been exposed to toxins from our burn pits are significantly more likely to quit smoking, for example.

KK: So what does this all add up to, in terms of numbers of negative kills?

JS: Well, I haven’t even got to the best part yet. You see, we started thinking about what was the greatest threat to Iraqis, and you know what we came up with don’t you?

KK: Ummm.

JS: You’ll kick yourself. … Give up? Alright I’ll tell you – the biggest mortal threat to the life of an Iraqi is another Iraqi. You see now? That’s right, it’s just what we were talking about before. So we sat down and we calculated just how much risk Iraqis posed to other Iraqis. Are you ready for this? Yes? Alright. We calculated that over the average lifespan, taking all possible deadly acts and working out, conservatively, the likelihood that they would undertake such acts, we calculated that over the average lifespan the average Iraqi kills approximately 2.8 other Iraqis. You know what that means, don’t you?

KK: That means that every time you kill an Iraqi, you actually save Iraqi lives. Extraordinary.

JS: Well, once we realized that, it was a whole new ball game. We started looking way further back, right back to 1990. Do you know what we found? This will blow your freaking mind. We found that if you look at all the demographic data and look at the overall increased mortality form all causes there have been an excess of 4.6 million deaths. Because of our bombing and sanctions before our invasion and occupation, the good old US of A can take credit for nearly every single damn one of those Iraqi deaths! Conservatively, we can claim at least for at least 4 million of those deaths, which translates to us saving 11.2 million Iraqi lives. That means that we have saved the life of nearly half of every single Iraqi alive today by killing their neighbors and loved ones.

KK: Amazing. Well that seems as good a point as any to wrap this up. It just remains for me to thank my guest Jim Slobberdrib…

JS: My pleasure.


KK:
…and I’d also like to thank the National Security Agency for allowing us to publish their transcript of our conversation. Next week I will be discussing the issue of Palestine with a woman who sounds caring, but advocates genocide. Be sure to tune in.
Kieran Kelly blogs at On Genocide.