Friday, August 29, 2008

Bad Guys to the Left, Evildoers to the Right--What's a Godfearing Country to Do?

It's a classic antiauthoritarian trope that enemies don't really exist, therefore governments need to create them. The primary reason they must be created is so that governments can justify their existence. Whether or not governments would exist without the threat of a perceived enemy is up to challenge, but an argument that national militaries exist precisely because of perceived threats requires very little imagination. After all, what sane people would bankrupt their national treasury to maintain the world's largest warmaking capability unless they felt they were threatened? Of course, that perceived threat may or may not be real so, just in case, the role of the rest of the political wing and its media is to provide the perception that the threat is genuine. Which means it is worth bankrupting our treasury and our future. In fact, it is even worth sending our children off to kill and die.

Russia As Enemy

All that being said, the question arises: is Russia really an enemy? Or are the recent machinations by the US military and diplomatic corps merely the result of a desire by Washington's to have a really big enemy to justify its bloated military budget? After all, it seems that the occupation of Iraq has failed to maintain the support of the people in the the US and that the battle for Afghanistan will never be on a grand enough scale to continue justifying the massive expenditures the war industry demands. Russia, however, is not only a very big country that likes to use its military, it also has the historical role as an enemy of Washington. It doesn't matter that the previous Russian enemy was a vastly different government that not only opposed Washington's moves around the world but also claimed to be Washington's ideological opposite. No, the fact that the Russian government that sent its military into Georgia and warned Poland not to allow US missiles on its soil is not about ideology, it's about territory. Territory that Washington has been trying to make part of its sphere of influence since at least the end of World War Two. Stalin and his successors repelled Washington's designs for almost fifty years.

However, as soon as the government they built disintegrated after decades of cold war pressures, the politicians and generals inside the Beltway saw their moment and attacked. Global capitalist institutions demanded payments and starvation while their diplomatic and military protectors demanded territory and allegiance from Moscow's former states. NATO became a weapon in this crusade to remove Moscow's former allies from its enforced protection. Yugoslavia was plucked and deboned under NATO's warplanes. The US dollar and the Euro were waved in front of the new governments that accepted the demands of Wall Street and the European bourses. The former Stalinist leaders of the Soviet provinces were now venture capitalists beholden to the West and the occasional international gangster. Russia did its best to hold on to those regions it considered necessary for trade, launching a bloody war in Chechnya and creating havoc inside Georgia and other former republics whose ports and resources Russia wanted to keep out of the West's hands. Then energy costs went through the roof. Moscow began to see riches it could only have hoped for back in those dreadful days after Gorbachev. Europe needed oil and natural gas and Moscow was able to provide it. Washington was none too happy because this created a wild card that got in the way of its plans for a US/ Europe alliance under the NATO banner against Moscow and any hopes it might have for a new empire. Simultaneously, Moscow began to flex its new economic power, challenging the encroachment of NATO, opposing Washington's desire to isolate Iran, and ultimately responding militarily to the attack on South Ossetia and Abkhazia. If Washington was surprised by this move, they should not have been. It was as predictable as the gratuitous violence in a Dirty Harry movie.

Terrorism-The Other Enemy

The rising possibility of a Russian enemy does not preclude the fact of the existing enemy we are told Washington's military is fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of course, as long as the United States keeps up its killing and occupation of those countries, the elusive enemy known as "the terrorists" will exist. Despite the obvious semantic complications arising from doing battle with a strategy (terrorism), Washington has done an exceedingly good job convincing the world that the best way to deal with religiously inspired groups hoping to install a system of governance they consider to be more just than the planet's current regimes is to kill as many members of those groups and the people they live amongst. Naturally, this strategy convinced many of those who have lost loved ones to join the groups whose name their loved ones died in (even if their loved ones had nothing to do with said group). Furthermore, the ideology of such groups is now seen by many as an ideology of national liberation and anti-imperialism.

The convenience of a battle against "terrorism" is that one can make any group or nation part of the enemy. This is what George Bush knew when he told the world in 2001 that "you are either with us or you are against us." There is no room for neutrality in the eyes of this empire. Consequently, one is an enemy even if one has no opinion for or against. Indeed, sometimes one is an enemy even if one opposes the "terrorists." A recent example of this latter reality can be found in an August 28, 2008 news report from the Los Angeles Times about Venezuela and Hezbollah. Although Hezbollah is seen as a legitimate entity and not considered a "terrorist" group by many around the world, Washington and Tel Aviv (who seem to be the final arbiters of such things) differ with that opinion. Consequently, it is one as far as Washington and some other capitals are concerned.

Anyhow, back to the article. Its essence is that because of Venezuela's relations with Tehran, US and Israeli intelligence "worry that Venezuela is emerging as a base for anti-US militant groups and spy services." In what can only be described as a very poor attempt to link together a number of suppositions, rumors and statements by Tel Aviv, the article draws the conclusion that some Hezbollah supporters may be living in Venezuela. Since they may be living there, they may also be conducting fundraising and other operations from their residences there. Furthermore, the article continues, even though the Venezuelan government has tightened up its oversight of any possible fundraising activities by Hezbollah, the fact that there are various Iranian-Venezuelan joint business enterprises opens the possibility that Venezuela is still being used as a fundraising base.

Given that the United States is also the site of fundraising by various groups Washington considers enemies, this article can serve only one purpose--to create a link between "terrorists" and Hugo Chavez. It is a link that of course does not exist but, like the nonexistent link between Saddam Hussein and Al-Queda, if it is repeated enough there will be many people who accept it as fact. In addition, it may even be used as a basis for policy, much like nonexistent Hussein-Al-Queda link was. Despite the fact that Chavez's Bolivarian revolution has been proven to have no connection to terrorism of any kind, the intention of stories like this is to insinuate that it does. Furthermore, the intention of those insinuations is to isolate governments like Venezuela's that oppose the imperial designs of Washington by linking them to groups that no government would publicly claim as allies. By creating this imaginary link, an enemy of Washington is enhanced. By enhancing that enemy, the war industry enhances the perception that it is needed to protect us from those enemies our government has created. In turn, the war industry's profits are enhanced at our expense.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Jerry Garcia Meets Barack Obama

August 1st would have been Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia's 68th birthday. While not of the same importance as Christmas is to Christians, the date is a way for those who enjoyed the Grateful Dead's music and countercultural traveling medicine show to mark their time on earth since discovering the phenomenon the Dead represented. It is also a harsh reminder of how little some things change and how many hopes have been dashed since that moment of discovery. The counterculture of the 1960s and early 1970s is more historical artifact for most westerners nowadays. Indeed, those that imitate it today are few and, like other subcultures that return amongst certain members of western society, the current version is more about appearance than substance. Like virtually everything else under capitalism, the counterculture, which was packaged and sold almost as quickly as it made its appearance, is now available at almost any shopping mall. Naturally, it has been stripped of political meaning, yet it still continues to represent a certain type of freedom and is usually associated with a desire for peace and a hatred of war.

Nine or ten years ago a friend of mine whom I had not spoken to since 1982 called me. After a minute or two of establishing our current situations vis-a-vis our place of domicile, employment and family situation, my buddy (whom I'll call C) asked if I still imbibed in the cannabis. Despite my aversion to speaking of such things on the telephone, I answered yes. "Hard to believe," he responded. "We thought the stuff would be legal by now and look at it. People getting busted for it and seeing time like they did in the 1950s. That utopia we dreamed about and threw rocks at the cops for sure took a nosedive. Instead, we have a Brave New World drug scene where doctors pass out pills whose sole role is to homogenize our emotions and our essential beings." I listened and agreed. "Besides the weed thing," I said. "Look at the political spectrum. From authoritarian neoliberalism to authoritarian neoconservatism." The far left is microscopic and the so-called progressives are unable to move beyond their monied sponsors."

We continued on this track for about half an hour before bidding each other goodbye. Since then, C and I stay in touch via email and occasionally visit each other in person when I am in the DC area for a protest or family visit. His cynicism does not seem greater or lesser than mine and neither of us engage in political organizing as much as we did back in the early 1970s. Like many of our contemporaries who were engaged in left organizing back then, we are following the current US presidential campaign with a special interest in the Obama phenomenon. Being grounded in both leftist analysis and the aforementioned cynicism, Obama's rapid swerve to the right once it became apparent that he had clinched the votes necessary for the Democratic nomination did not surprise us. It did, however, make voting for him less likely.

The remaining members of the Grateful Dead regrouped before the California primary this year and endorsed Barack Obama's run for the presidency. In addition, they performed a benefit concert for his organization. The setlist was fantastic and recordings I have heard of the concert prove that the band still has the ability to turn in some good sets even with other guitarists playing in Garcia's place. However, the endorsement of a candidate by the group was uncharacteristic. Garcia once commented when asked about voting in the US elections: "Constantly choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil." He wanted no part of such a choice, preferring instead to put his money and energies towards grassroots causes. It seems he understood that once one makes an allegiance with evil--even the lesser one--they risk becoming part of that evil themselves. The more active the allegiance, the greater the risk. Just look at the major national antiwar organization United For Peace and Justice (UFPJ) and their public stance regarding the desire of organizers of the protests at the upcoming Democratic convention to stage a large antiwar march at the convention. According to a recent press release from some organizers of the march, Leslie Cagan of UFPJ told some Denver organizers, “We don't think it makes sense to plan for a mass march that might not end up being all that mass!” In other words, UFPJ is refusing to help build support for the march.

There can only be one reason for UFPJ's stance. That reason is UFPJ's allegiance to the Democratic Party. This allegiance is not an allegiance found among the grassroots of UFPJ but at the top. It involves a political misunderstanding of the Democrats' role in maintaining the US empire and a fear of losing funding from elements of UFPJ that are tied to the Democratic Party. Ignoring the fact that it is the Democratic Congress that has kept the Empire's wars going, UFPJ continues to call the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan "Bush's Wars." Besides the attempts to silence the antiwar voice in the streets, there are also ongoing attempts by Democratic Party manipulators to keep antiwar language out of the Party's platform. This is in spite of a statement signed by the progressive wing of the party demanding that the language be included. If 2004 is any indication, there will be no antiwar language in the 2008 Democratic Party platform. At least in 2004, there was a candidate (Kucinich) whose supporters struggled to get such language included until Kucinich rolled over and called off his supporters. It is unlikely that the battle to include such language will even make it to the convention this year. On top of that, one can expect some rather bellicose statements in support of Israel and against Iran. Not exactly the antiwar party you might have thought it was, huh?

I know Jerry Garcia was not a politician or even a politically inclined guy. Perhaps that was why he could see the bullshit that passes for representation in this country for what it is.