Thursday, November 27, 2008

"Curiosity Did Not Kill This Cat!" Studs Terkel Kerneling Through This Husk of Light

Studs Terkel 1912–2008: A Democracy Now! Special Tribute to the Beloved Oral Historian and Broadcaster

The legendary radio broadcaster, writer, oral historian, raconteur and chronicler of our times, Studs Terkel, died last month at the age of ninety-six in his home town of Chicago. Today, a Democracy special tribute: we spend the hour on Studs Terkel. Over the years, Terkel has been a regular guest on Democracy Now! We play a wide-ranging interview we did with him in 2005. We also feature a rare recording of Terkel interviewing the Rev. Martin Luther King at the bedside of the gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. “My curiosity is what saw me through,” Terkel said in 2005. "What would the world be like, or will there be a world? And so, that’s my epitaph. I have it all set. Curiosity did not kill this cat. And it’s curiosity, I think, that has saved me thus far.”


[From an emailed, but otherwise unpublished essay I wrote last year: 11/14/2007 . ]

I've been researching empathy's role in altruism, from the naturalistic/physiological perspective of my alma mater, University of Washington, since the late 80s. I went looking for the line between one thing and another, you might say, and the next thing I know, I'm Zen. I'm excited by the work of two authors: Susan Faludi1 and Naomi Klein2.

Faludi is right: ever since 9/11, we've been living an overtly masculinized myth of making vengeful, defensive war against an evil Other. What were we living prior to that? I'm very thankful to her for focusing attention of the mythological context. But the roots of this process go back to ancient Sumer, if not further. And my ancestors of the Iroquois Confederation likely contributed more to American democracy than terrorizing the colonists. I’m sure it wasn’t her intention, but she defined us as terrorists, took the theft of our land for granted, and left us on the outside. I’d like to address that.

I’m more excited than I’ve been in years about Klein’s Shock Doctrine. It used to be thought that the human psyche didn't feature imprinting. It’s the Holy Grail of mind control. Why wash a brain when you can just blast it clean? And then you can build whatever you want on the cleared property. As you are painfully aware, not long ago, Americans mistook Giuliani and Bush for leaders. The spell is wearing off now.

ECT, torture, and economic shock therapy, all bundled into one doctrine. DAMN! If Prometheus has a sister, she's a lot like Naomi Klein.

As brilliantly elucidated by Klein, a devil’s bargain is presented to us when we’re most vulnerable, in a condition of shock.

The Shock Doctrine explains how, from electroconvulsive therapy to torture to economic shock therapy, the goal is the same: induce a state of complete openness to imprinting, just like a hatchling. This is the machining of the human psyche in the manufacture of our consent.

When they want our opinion, they’ll frighten and shock-and-awe it into us. They don’t intend to engage us as fellow citizens, they don’t intend to win hearts and minds, they don’t waste time with brainwashing: they just blast our minds and build what they want on the cleared property.

It’s a dictator’s fondest wish: a remote-control populace.

Rods from God, anybody? Our SPACECOM wants to be able to kill anybody anywhere anytime. They try to use their infernal machine to play god, and end up, as Oppenheimer said, becoming Death, destroyer of worlds. If we allow SPACECOM to succeed, we will have enslaved the whole world. That oughta make us REAL popular.

Look at our air force and the seeds of death we sow all over the planet.

Cluster bombs we dropped some 40 years ago will kill children in Cambodia today. Cluster bombs dropped by Israel in the last minutes of the US-sponsored war on Lebanon will likely go on killing for decades, too.

The nemesis of rational thought is the infamous Us Good\Them Bad false dichotomy. Look at our history. Look at your own habits of speech. Compare the positions of the other candidates. Look at how Kucinich has been treated for daring to call for impeachment, and tell me this isn’t true: Making war and enslaving others is what we do, even to our own.

Both Klein and UW professor Dr. Van Eenwyk, who treats torture victims and torturers, speak of the transitory state of complete openness brought about by overwhelming shock, physical or psychic. An experienced torturer, I'm told, recognizes this fleeting state.

That's what they're after. In that condition, normal humans faced with a binary choice presented in mythic narratives and symbols will eagerly do the formerly unthinkable. This is the machining of the human psyche in the manufacture of consent. How did the "good Germans" do it? Same way we're doing it. It's the most horrible realization I've ever realized.

We don't bother trying to win hearts and minds; we machine them.
I think the BushCo disregard for dissent is deeply alarming. They don't intend to engage us as even humans, let alone co-equal branches of government. They're using Shock and Awe, the age-old strategy famously described by Goerring, to get at our core brain itself.

As traumatic experiences can empower unconscious processes at the expense of ego consciousness (see "analysis." left), the International Trauma Treatment Program ( ) utilizes a Jungian approach to treat complex trauma.3

“Unconscious processes” is Dr. Van Eenwyk’s academic way of alluding to the mythic realm (Van Eenwyk, personal communication, July, 2007). Since I’m a poet, I can say that torturers become real demons. Genuine monsters. And their worst nightmare? Victims whom they put in the fire yet still don’t burn, victims who heal and return.

And with her "Rapture Rescue 911" concept, Klein shows how the coming model of society looks like an inverse concentration camp, with the good minority protected within blast walls from the evil majority. After all, the Oil Wars have begun, we're in WWIV, a fight to the death with Islamofacism (take your pick). If you take ordinary young men (not to worry, they're not people you know), turn them into dogs of war, then neglect them upon return, you won't want your children growing up on the same block with them, now will you?

Mythologically speaking, the Dems and Repubs are playing from the same playbook. I think Kucinich is the Other to these Dems, an existential threat to their presumptive power. The people see that the Dems stand for being played for fools by those who have no intention of abiding by rules they demand be obeyed by others.

The tip of this camel’s nose can be seen in Iowa. The Dems are employing a classic American strategy, albeit one I thought was only for export.

The Jefferson-Jackson charade reminds me of a comic of a hectored groom grudgingly allowed to choose the invitations from a set of three.4 "Except that one," the bride dismisses his first choice. "That one's ugly," she says to the second. "But you chose my choice!" the groom complains. "Good choice, hon. Now be a dear and leave the planning to me." It's the ol' Fake Election Regime Change ploy, as practiced so very well by us all over the world. We have the right to endorse the choice of the Party. When they want our opinion, they'll give it to us.

Many say, and I agree: this is the sentiment that motivates dictators. But to point to others is to imply Democrats are somehow not tainted by this fateful ideology. Tragically, both Left and Right believe in life as holy war. We need to lift up our eyes past election cycles, look deeply into our past and ask, as a people, what are we all about?

Making war and enslaving others is no aberration for us: it’s what we do. New Orleans should now be called New Israel. The hand of God cleared the heathen from the land for the chosen people, right? Isn’t that our MO?

Faludi has drawn much needed attention to the myth we’ve been living since 9/11. What were we living before that? Poetically speaking, this is what we do:

We send our machines out as our proxies into the fields of our lord to make war on our other half in an effort to impress an absentee-landlord/absolute tyrant of the universe we made up as a projection of our own mental line-making power. Strangely, we’ve turned into slaves of the corporations we invented in order to enslave others (the first colonies were administered by chartered corporations; see for more info).

Once upon a time, a Sumerian god, Aot by name, when faced with a famine brought about by the laziness of the gods, decided to create a race of slaves.

Then upon a later time, Zoroaster conceived of the universe as having once been pure good, but now as being corrupted by a dark and evil influence. You’re either making war on that corrupting influence, battling to return the cosmos to a pure state, or you are the corrupting influence.

And again upon a time, when the Habiru invaded Canaan, the priests inverted the endogenous myths of the goddess, perverting signs and symbols away from Mother and towards a bachelor Father with a very bad temper.

To this day, we live life as holy war waged upon our own shadow. That’s why the face of the Other terrifies us so: either we show this god how much we hate the Other, as measured by our violence against them, thus ensuring our own access to heaven, or we become the evil other. Extermination of the Other or corruption of our precious selves and eternal torment, that’s the devil’s bargain they use to march us of to war.

The global war on terror is the socio-political application of a myth of life as holy war. Much of public discourse amounts to, "Our holy war is the only holy holy war! All others are blasphemous heresy!" This is the subtext of even much liberal commentary. (Except my man Kucinich! I'm tellin' ya, he's got the heart of a poet.)

Joseph Campbell charged us all with being the heroes of our own lives. Especially the "poets and seers." Our assignment: "to render an experience of the transcendent in terms of the world in which we're living."

The power of myth is that it shapes the cosmos in which we act. (I sure would like to know what Phillip Zelikow has been up to over the last few years.)

Misconceiving our selves as Newtonian billiard balls in empty space does at least three tragic things to our psyches:

1) Cosmic Pinheads: Psychic implosion into a quantum singularity of pain; is this the source of the Buddha's First Noble Truth? (“Sitting astride the senses is a shadowy, phantomlike figure with insatiable desires and a lust for dominance. His name? Ego, Ego the Magician, and the deadly tricks he carries up his sleeve are delusive thinking, greed, and anger. Where he came from no one knows, but he has surely been around as long as the human mind.) 5

2) Cellf-Imprisonment: Atomized egos are cellves of our own making;

3) Mother-pimping vs. Husbanding: Mechanical Mind makes a Frankenstein's monster of our Mother that we pimp for all She's worth, then blame for the fouling of our nest, yet still we claim we can whip Her into shape so the monster we made can save us from our cellves.

The monstrous mechanical cosmos is powered by binary thinking. Disagreement and criticism, even among friends, is outright blasphemy to this binary frame of mind.

Binary thinking is composed of ratios. Witness Lynne Cheney on The Daily Show (10 October 07). She was claiming success for her husband's disastrous policies because "they" hadn't attacked "us" in 6 years. Jon gently reminded her of the anthrax attacks, the Madrid bombing, the London bombing. She said, "I'm talking about _American_ interests," leaning half way across the desk and glaring at her host over the dead bodies of the victims of those attacks. The audience let loose a rare boo as Jon said meekly, "I thought they were our allies." In binary thinking, there is no common ground.

Before you get to feeling all self-righteous, please note that we all share the assumption of an atomized self: we think we exist apart from that which gives rise to us. This is where research psychology meets Buddhism meets politics. One might even say, a moment of Zen. . . .


The binary, Divide-and-Conquer-ratio-making-mind is stringing out this line of words you are reading right here right now. Please note that, by the nature of drawing a line, 3 things seem to appear: Side A, a Line (of data, pixels, words, and reasoning), and Side B. They appear in a field that begins and remains _indivisible_.

[Side A] — [Side B]
[Good God Us Me] — [Evil Devil Them You]

That's us. That's We, the indivisible People. We find our common ground in the spaces in between.

Even a monkey can see that there are things spelled out on either sides of a line. But do you see the indivisible field around those things? The field in which we find our common ground? That indivisible field is We, the People (if you’ll pardon my grammar).
We stand united in divinity just exactly as these words right here are standing in this field right now. E pluribus, unum: Out of Many, Union.

On the Left, we call our binary mind Science. Have you heard Richard Dawkins or Bill Maher preach the gospel of rationalism lately? They have humans confused with androids.

On the Right, they call their binary mind God, or the Free Market. Obscene selfishness in amassing blood-drenched riches is taken as proof of their god's blessing no matter what that dirty hippy, Jesus, said, and especially despite what those loser Buddhists say. I mean, all they bring to a gunfight is an open heart.

But binary thinking doesn’t even imagine common ground, let alone see it. Growing up in this mythological context, we become invisible to ourselves. We are not seen for who and what we are, we are invested with the beliefs of our brothers and sisters.

JAMES BALDWIN: What they do see when they look at you is what they’ve invested you with. And what they’ve invested you with is all the agony and the pain and the danger and the passion and the torment, you know, sin, death and hell, at which everyone in this country is terrified. You represent a level of experience which Americans deny. And I think you can see in the life of the country, not only in the South, what a terrible price the country has paid for this effort to keep a distance between themselves and black people. And what Americans today don’t know about the rest of the world, like Cuba or Africa, is what they don’t know about me. An incoherent, totally incoherent foreign policy of this country is a reflection of the incoherence of the private lives here.
STUDS TERKEL: So we don’t even know our own names.
JAMES BALDWIN: No, we don’t. That’s the whole point. And I suggest this, I suggest this, that in order to learn your name, you're going to have to learn mine. You know, in a way, the key to this country -- the American Negro is the key figure in this country. And if we don’t face him, we will never face anything.6

Our psychophysiology and our mythology impose and exaggerate divisions in an essentially indivisible field. What Newton regarded as ‘things’ we now know are events. And the energy of one event flows freely in and out of all of its neighbors. The glass, therefore, is neither half full nor half empty: it is BOTH, it is self-filling and self-emptying.

I must mention my main guru: Alan Watts and the Electronic University. I'm too young to have studied with him in person, but I have been immeasurably enlightened by listening to his books and lectures. His philosophy was informed by the psychophysiology of Karl Pribram. I can take that to the next level by emphasizing Yevgeny Sokolov, the direct successor to Pavlov. Their lab came up the Neuronal Model of the Stimulus, which we now accept as the fundamental unit of minds.

Your heart, lungs, veins, and brains also work on the basis of a principle crucial to mysticism, the best single word for which is _sunyata_, which has recently been revised out of the static nominative tense, with the suffix -ness, thus: emptiness; into the present imperfect as a gerund, to which I add a reflexive property: self-emptying. The Greeks call it kenosis. Think of a coffee cup, especially if you drink it endlessly like I do:

Neuronal models of stimuli are the self-emptying vessels of Mind, into which experience is pouring; from which awareness is arising like steam; and out of which we are flowing like water.


Now think of a torture chamber. Think of the hyperpolarization of the energy in that chamber. See the showers of sparks and blood? The human psyche experiences quantum leaps of Being, into complete helplessness (rape victims experience tonic immobility, terror-induced paralysis) and complete power: real demons.

Can torture work? He said emphatically no, torture doesn't work. All the victim has to do is hold out long enough. "And they do," he said softly, "and they do." Prof. Van Eenwyk prefers the less colorful term "autonomous collective" to demons, but he does concur with my analysis. His approach reminds me of the old APA stance on homosexuality, but that's not why I'm writing.

How does one endure torture?

All we need are durable vessels
Vessels durable just long enough to
Keep the Flow going

The streams we call mysticism and physics converge in their common source. But the Newtonian ego has been used as a building block in a world of Darwinian competition. Once again, we see how the false dichotomy of binary thinking has cut off the mind that wields it from its own source.

In the West, one might answer a child’s question, what’s that?, with endless dissection and analysis, then leave the child in an utterly disintegrated, atomized cosmos, just for expressing innocent curiosity. The Upanishads have a different answer.

What is that? Thou art that. And guess what? That loves that! Compassion, empathic identity with the Other, is the proper basis for being human, not lifeless, soulless, mechanical competition.

MAHALIA JACKSON: I don’t know. This thing, it’s peculiar. When I’m on the stage and on television and working with white people, they just hug me and love me and say I’m so wonderful and I’m so great. And then, when I’m walking down the street like an ordinary citizen, they don’t recognize me. And when I go into the department store in the South, I can’t get a sandwich, I can’t get a bottle of pop. I gotta stay -- I can’t even get a cab. And I’m just the Mahalia Jackson that they got through saying how wonderful I am. What I don’t understand is what makes people act like that?
STUDS TERKEL: Well, this is the big question, Mahalia, this split in people.
MAHALIA JACKSON: I do want to -- I want to see my people be respected. You know, it’s the most distasteful thing to hear a white man call your man, your husband or your brother a "boy," like he’s -- he’s no boy; he’s a man like anybody. That’s disrespect. That’s the height of ignorance, complete ignorance, for people to treat people like that. It’s awful. It just hurts me. And I’m so hurt about it, it keeps me praying, you know, for the Lord not to let hate get in my heart. This world will make you think -- I tell ya -- it’ll make you think, because if you don’t, you’ll go down the drain in despair, and I don’t believe in letting nothing get down in my soul. I speak it out so I can be free, because if it stay inside, well, my god, I’ll become a hateful woman. And I don’t want to hate. I want to love.

Christians in general, especially our dearly beloved Evangelicals, believe in the exclusive sanctity of the Jews and, by extension, themselves. All Others can go to hell. No, make that WILL go to hell, and look how good we are at sending them there!

One needs only count the dead in Iraq on any given day, and ratio that with the living Iraqis allowed into our benighted land on that same ignoble day, to put the lie to our denial of practicing human sacrifice.

We believe in an absolute Away, in which things like human & radioactive waste and political malfeasance disappear when we make then go ‘away.’ We are shocked when our self-proclaimed demi-godlike efforts not to kill real people, just to collaterally damage things, end up with such horrific results.

This is unbalanced. This is koyaanisqatsi. This is our mythology. It’s no accident or disease or any such thing. It’s what we do.

In the East, they have their own reasons for the monstrous violence that keeps people in their cellves. But for all of us, it’s partially a result of binary thinking. It’s our brains playing tricks on our minds. Our belief in an absolute Other, our belief in our unique sanctity (for us, shared belief with Israel in our unique relationship with that Other as our creator god), and our shared assumption of atomized egos ruled by Newtonian mechanics in absolutely empty space, these have spawned the Frankenstein’s monster that now chases us as a global juggernaut.

We’re burning the black blood of Mother Earth to fuel this monstrous mechanical juggernaut we’ve sent as our proxy into the fields of our lords in an effort to make ourselves over in the image of the gods we make. The fumes from it promise to choke us to death. It crushes and grinds whole peoples under its wheels.

Binary thinking says: ‘C’mon, if our victims weren’t in the Holy Land, whether that be Rachel Corrie in Israel or the Nez Perce at Wounded Knee, then they wouldn’t get crushed under our Caterpillar tractor treads or gunned down en masse, now would they? They shouldn’t have been in front of our Gatling guns. It’s their fault for being,’ according to binary thinking.

MARIO LOZANO: I don’t blame her for being upset, but she has to take the focus off me a little bit and look at Sgrena, because if it wasn’t for Sgrena, this situation wouldn’t happen. You know, she went out there. She wanted to mingle with the terrorists and all that. And then she gets caught. Now we have to send -- now we have to send good men to go after this one person that knows that she put herself in the situation. You know, she knows that if she’s going to go talk to terrorists, she knows there’s a 99% chance she will get caught. So, why did she do that for? It’s beyond my -- you know, I don’t understand. So it’s her fault that this is happening, not my fault. It’s not my fault. It’s not America's fault. It’s Sgrena’s fault.8

Binary thinking is powering the juggernaut that chases us. Thing is, you don’t overpower juggernauts: the Lozano Strategy is shown to be a loser. There’s one simple solution to the existential threat posed by this planetary juggernaut.

You don’t outrun juggernauts. You _sidestep_ them! We’ve gone from thinking of the Universe as a machine to believing it to be so. We are machining our selves to death, including the planet which spawns us all, by imagining ourselves to be machines that operate in a cosmos where divinity is always somewhere else, thereby making the whole earth just god-forsaken dirt into which we can stuff whatever pollution we want.

The Manhattan Project put the toxic waste of our atomic genie in the ground at Hanford, WA (sure it’s poisoning our very own Mother, it’s jobs jobs jobs wage servitude for the people) and expected it to stay right where they put it. But of course, if you shove a poison stick in your arm, your circulatory system will notice. The Columbia River is now radioactive. On whose balance sheet do we account for that?

We agreed with the Tribes, when they reserved the right to fish where they had always fished. Now we dam and poison the river itself. A government accountants “externality” is somebody else’s carcinoma. What good is fishing for salmon “for as long as the rivers run and the grass grows” once they’ve both been made radioactive? It’s as if we atom-bombed the buffalo. And people wonder why the Tribes are so pissed.

We must bring to fruition a new, organic mythology (which won’t be anything new to the First Nations, now will it?) and midwife ourselves in giving birth to a new civilization, at the same time that we sidestep the mechanical monster we’re riding as it crashes to the ground.

1 Faludi on DN!

2 Naomi Klein on DN!

3 Dr. Van Eenwyk’s interview is archived audio at Hot Potato Media:

From his Web site:
Dialogues between the conscious ego and unconscious processes are essential for three main reasons:
Interactions between the two modify each
Unconscious processes are up and running long before ego consciousness forms
Life experiences that overwhelm the ego are dealt with by the unconscious
To understand the influence of unconscius processes on its perceptions and behavior, the ego must learn to interpret its manifestations. Affects, fantasies, and dreams can be very useful grounds for learning about the unconscious. Folktales, myths and popular culture can also be of use.

4 Candorville comic by Darren Bell

5 Tricycle's Daily Dharma: November 4, 2007
The "I" in Ego
Sitting astride the senses is a shadowy, phantomlike figure with insatiable desires and a lust for dominance. His name? Ego, Ego the Magician, and the deadly tricks he carries up his sleeve are delusive thinking, greed, and anger. Where he came from no one knows, but he has surely been around as long as the human mind. This wily and slippery conjurer deludes us into believing that we can only enjoy the delights of the senses without pain by delivering ourselves into his hands. Of the many devices employed by Ego to keep us in his power, none is more effective than language. The English language is so structured that it demands the repeated use of the personal pronoun "I" for grammatical nicety and presumed clarity. . . . All this plays into the hands of Ego, strengthening our servitude and enlarging our sufferings, for the more we postulate this I the more we are exposed to Ego's never-ending demands.
--Philip Kapleau, in Thich Nhat Hanh's Zen Keys
from Everyday Mind, edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book

6 Studs Terkel interviewing James Baldwin, Democracy Now! 13 Nov 07

7 Studs Terkel interviewing Mahalia Jackson, Democracy Now! 13 Nov 07

8 Mario Lozano clip, Democracy Now! 10 July 07

Monday, November 24, 2008

Chomsky Calls "Dictatorship" Wnat I Call "Feudalism:" Our Moribund Democratic Republic

Noam Chomsky: “What Next? The Elections, the Economy, and the World”

AMY GOODMAN: President-elect Obama and vice president-elect Joe Biden are holding a news conference in Chicago to formerly announce their team of economic advisers and their plans to rebuild the faltering economy. But as Obama assembles his cabinet and prepares to take over the reins from President Bush, more questions are being raised about the kind of change he will bring to Washington and the world.

Progressives who supported Obama’s candidacy and celebrated his historic victory are dismayed by his consideration of Clinton-era figures as his key advisors, many of whom championed financial deregulation and are hawkish on foreign policy.

World-renowned public intellectual Noam Chomsky discussed the meaning of Obama’s victory and the possibilities ahead for real democratic change at a recent address in Boston. Chomsky has been a professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for over a half-century and is the author of dozens of influential books on US foreign policy, the role of intellectuals, and the function of mass media. In his first public appearance since the election Professor Chomsky spoke last week to a packed audience in Boston at an event organized by “Encuentro 5.” His talk was titled “What Next? The Elections, the Economy, and the World.”

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, let’s begin with the elections. The word that the rolls off of everyone’s tongue is historic. Historic election. And I agree with it. It was a historic election. To have a black family in the white house is a momentous achievement. In fact, it’s historic in a broader sense. The two Democratic candidates were an African-American and a woman. Both remarkable achievements. We go back say 40 years, it would have been unthinkable. So something’s happened to the country in 40 years. And what’s happened to the country- which is we’re not supposed to mention- is that there was extensive and very constructive activism in the 1960s, which had an aftermath. So the feminist movement, mostly developed in the 70s-–the solidarity movements of the 80’s and on till today. And the activism did civilize the country. The country’s a lot more civilized than it was 40 years ago and the historic achievements illustrate it. That’s also a lesson for what’s next.

What’s next will depend on whether the same thing happens. Changes and progress very rarely are gifts from above. They come out of struggles from below. And the answer to what’s next depends on people like you. Nobody else can answer it. It’s not predictable. In some ways, the election—the election was surprising in some respects.

Going back to my bad prediction, If the financial crisis hadn’t taken place at the moment that it did, if it had been delayed a couple of months, I suspect that prediction would have been correct. But not speculating, one thing surprising about the election was that it wasn’t a landslide.

By the usual criteria, you would expect the opposition party to win in a landslide under conditions like the ones that exist today. The incumbent president for eight years was so unpopular that his own party couldn’t mention his name and had to pretend to be opposing his policies. He presided over the worst record for ordinary people in post-war history, in terms of job growth, real wealth and so on. Just about everything the administration has touched just turned into a disaster. [The] country has reached the lowest level of standing in the world that it’s ever had. The economy was tanking. Several recessions are going on. Not just the ones on the front pages, the financial recession. There’s also a recession in the real economy. The productive economy, under circumstances and people know it. So 80% of the population say that the country’s going in the wrong direction. About 80% say the government doesn’t work to the benefit of the people, it works for the few and the special interests. A startling 94% complain that the government doesn’t pay any attention to the public will, and on like that. Under conditions like that, you would expect a landslide to a opposition almost whoever they are. And there wasn’t one.

So one might ask why wasn’t there a landslide? That goes off in an interesting direction. And other respects the outcome was pretty familiar. So once again, the election was essentially bought. 9 out of 10 of the victors outspent their opponents. Obama of course outspent McCain. If you look at the—and we don’t have final records yet from the final results, but they’re probably going to be pretty much like the preliminaries a couple of months ago. Which showed that both Obama and McCain were getting the bulk of their financing from the financial institutions and for Obama, law firms which means essentially lobbyists. That was about over a third a few months ago. But the final results will probably be the same. And there is a—the distribution of funding has over time been a pretty good predictor of what policies will be like for those of you who are interested, there’s very good scholarly work on this by Tom Ferguson in Umass Boston, what he calls the investment theory of politics. Which argues essentially that elections are moments when groups of investors coalesce and invest to control the state and has quite the substantial predictive success. Gives some suggestion as to what’s likely to happen. So that part’s familiar. The—what the future is as I say, depends on people like you.

The response for the election was interesting and instructive. It kept pretty much to the soaring rhetoric, to borrow the cliché, that was the major theme of the election. The election was described as an extraordinary display of democracy, a miracle that could only happen in America and on and on. Much more extreme than Europe even than here. There’s some accuracy in that if we keep to the West. So if we keep to the West, yes, it’s probably true. That couldn’t have happened anywhere else. Europe was much more racist than the United States and you wouldn’t expect anything like that to happen.

On the other hand, if you look at the world, it’s not that remarkable. So let’s take the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. Haiti and Bolivia. In Haiti, there was an election in 1990 which really was an extraordinary display of democracy much more so than this.

In Haiti, there were grassroots movements, popular movements that developed in the slums and the hills, which nobody was paying any attention to. And they managed, even without any resources, to sweep into power their own candidate. A populist priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. That’s a victory for democracy when popular movements can organize and set programs and pick their candidate and put them into office, which is not what happened here, of course.

I mean, Obama did organize a large number of people and many enthusiastic people in what’s called in the press, Obama’s Army. But the army is supposed to take instructions, not to implement, introduce, develop programs and call on its own candidate to implement them. That’s critical. If the army keeps to that condition, nothing much will change. If it on the other hand goes away activists did in the sixties, a lot can change. That’s one of the choices that has to be made. That’s Haiti. Of course that didn’t last very long. A couple of months later, there was military coup, a period of terror, we won’t go through the whole record. Up the present, the traditional torturers of Haiti, France, and the United States have made sure that there won’t be a victory for democracy there. It’s a miserable story. Contrary to many illusions.

Take the second poorest country, Bolivia. They had an election in 2005 that’s almost unimaginable in the West. Certainly here, anywhere. The person elected into office was indigenous. That’s the most oppressed population in the hemisphere, those who survived. He’s is a poor peasant. How did he get in? Well, he got in because there were again, a mass popular movement, which elected their own representative. And they are the source of the programs, which are serious ones. There’s real issues, And people know them. Control over resources, cultural rights, social justice and so on.

Furthermore, the election was just an event that was particular stage in a long continuing struggle, a lot before and a lot after. There was day when people pushed the levers but that’s just an event in ongoing popular struggles, very serious ones. A couple of years ago, there was a major struggle over privatization of water. An effort which it would in effect deprive a good part of the population of water to drink. And it was a bitter struggle. A lot of people were killed, but they won it. Through international solidarity, in fact, which helped. And it continues. Now that’s a real election. Again, the plans, the programs are being developed, acted on constantly by mass popular movements, which then select their own representatives from their own ranks to carry out their programs. And that’s quite different from what happened here.

Actually what happened here is understood by elite elements. The public relations industry which runs elections here-quadrennial extravaganzas essentially- makes sure to keep issues in the margins and focus on personalities and character and so on–and-so forth. They do that for good reasons. They know- they look at public opinion studies and they know perfectly well that on a host of major issues both parties are well to the right of the population. That’s one good reason to keep issues off the table. And they recognize the success.

So, every year, the advertising industry gives a prize to, you know, to the best marketing campaign of the year. This year, Obama won the prize. Beat out Apple company. The best marketing campaign of 2008. Which is correct, it is essentially what happened. Now that’s quite different from what happens in a functioning democracy like say Bolivia or Haiti, except for the fact that it was crushed. And in the South, it’s not all that uncommon. Notice that each of these cases, there’s a much more extraordinary display of democracy in action than what we’ve seen–important as it was-here. And so the rhetoric, especially in Europe is correct if we maintain our own narrow racist perspective and say yeah, what happened was in the South didn’t happen or doesn’t matter. The only matters is what we do and by our standards, it was extraordinary miracle, but not by the standards of functioning democracy. In fact, there’s a distinction in democratic theory, which does separate say the United States from Bolivia or Haiti.

Question is what is a democracy supposed to be? That’s exactly a debate that goes back to the constitutional convention. But in recent years in the 20th century, it’s been pretty well articulated by important figures. So at the liberal end the progressive end, the leading public intellectual of the 20th century was Walter Lippman. A Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy progressive. And a lot of his work was on a democratic theory and he was pretty frank about it. If you took a position not all that different from James Madison’s. He said that in a democracy, the population has a function. Its function is to be spectators, not participants. He didn’t call it the population. He called it the ignorant and meddlesome outsiders. The ignorant and meddlesome outsiders have a function and namely to watch what’s going on. And to push a lever every once in a while and then go home. But, the participants are us, us privileged, smart guys. Well that’s one conception of democracy. And you know essentially we’ve seen an episode of it. The population very often doesn’t accept this. As I mentioned, just very recent polls, people overwhelmingly oppose it. But they’re atomized, separated. Many of them feel hopeless, unorganized, and don’t feel they can do anything about it. So they dislike it. But that’s where it ends.

In a functioning democracy like say Bolivia or the United States in earlier stages, they did something about it. That’s why we have the New Deal measures, the Great Society measures. In fact just about any step, you know, women’s rights, end of slavery, go back as far as you like, it doesn’t happen as a gift. And it’s not going to happen in the future. The commentators are pretty well aware of this. They don’t put it the way I’m going to, but if you read the press, it does come out. So take our local newspaper at the liberal end of the spectrum, “Boston Globe,” you probably saw right after the election, a front page story, the lead front page story was on how Obama developed this wonderful grassroots army but he doesn’t have any debts. Which supposed to be a good thing. So he’s free to do what he likes. Because he has no debts, the normal democratic constituency, labor, women, minorities and so on, they didn’t bring him into office. So he owes them nothing

AMY GOODMAN: M.I.T. professor, author, political dissident, Noam Chomsky. We’ll come back to this interview in a minute. You can get a copy of our show at Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman. As we return now to professor Noam Chomsky’s address in Boston. The election, the economy, and the world.

NOAM CHOMSKY: What he had was an army that he organized of people who got out the vote for Obama. For what the press calls, Brand Obama. They essentially agree with the advertisers, it’s brand Obama. That his army was mobilized to bring him to office. They regard that as a good thing, accepting the Lippman conception of democracy, the ignorant and meddlesome outsiders are supposed to do what they’re told and then go home. The Wall Street Journal, at the opposite end of the spectrum, also had an article about the same thing at roughly the same time. Talked about the tremendous grassroots army that has been developed, which is now waiting for instructions. What should they do next to press forward Obama’s agenda? Whatever that is. But whatever it is, the army’s supposed to be out there taking instructions, and press work. Los Angeles Times had similar articles, and there are others. What they don’t seem to realize is what they’re describing, the ideal of what they’re describing, is dictatorship, not democracy. Democracy, at least not in the Lippman sense, it proved- I pick him out because he’s so famous, but it’s a standard position. But in the sense of say, much of the south, where mass popular movements developed programs; organize to take part in elections but that’s one part of an ongoing process. And brings somebody from their own ranks to implement the programs that they develop, and if the person doesn’t they’re out. Ok, that’s another kind of democracy. So it’s up to us to choose which kind of democracy we want. And again, that will determine what comes next.

Well, what can we anticipate if the popular army, the grassroots army, decides to accept the function of spectators of action rather than participants? There’s two kinds of evidence. There’s rhetoric and there’s action. The rhetoric, you know, is very uplifting: change, hope, and so on. Change was kind of reflective any party manager this year who read the polls, including the ones I cited, would instantly conclude that our theme in the election has to be change. Because people hate what’s going on for good reasons. So the theme is change. In fact, both parties put both of them, the theme was change. So the theme is change. In fact both parties, both of them the theme was change. You know, break from the past, none of old politics, new things are going to happen. The Obama campaign did better so they won the marketing award, not the McCain campaign.

And notice incidentally on the side that the institutions that run the elections, public relations industry, advertisers, they have a role—their major role is commercial advertising. I mean, selling a candidate is kind of a side rule. In commercial advertising as everybody knows, everybody who has ever looked at a television program, the advertising is not intended to provide information about the product, all right? I don’t have to go on about that. It’s obvious. The point of the advertising is to delude people with the imagery and, you know, tales of a football player, sexy actress, who you know, drives to the moon in a car or something like that. But, that’s certainly not to inform people. In fact, it’s to keep people uninformed.

The goal of advertising is to create uninformed consumers who will make irrational choices. Those of you who suffered through an economics course know that markets are supposed to be based on informed consumers making rational choices. But industry spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year to undermine markets and to ensure, you know, to get uninformed consumers making irrational choices.

And when they turn to selling a candidate they do the same thing. They want uninformed consumers, you know, uninformed voters to make irrational choices based on the success of illusion, slander, and effective body language or whatever else is supposed to be significant. So you undermine democracy pretty much the same way you undermine markets. Well, that’s the nature of an election when it’s run by the business world, and you’d expect it to be like that. There should be no surprise there. And it should also turn out the elected candidate didn’t have any debts. So you can follow Brand Obama can be whatever they decide it to be, not what the population decides that it should be, as in the south, let’s say. I’m going to say on the side, this may be an actual instance of a familiar and unusually vacuous slogan about the clash of civilization. Maybe there really is one, but not the kind that’s usually touted.

So let’s go back to the evidence that we have, rhetoric and actions. Rhetoric we know, but what are the actions? So far the major actions are selections, in fact the only action, of personnel to implement Brand Obama. The first choice was the Vice President, Joe Biden, one of the strongest supporters of the war in Iraq in the Senate, a long time Washington insider rarely deviates from the party vote. In cases where he does deviate they’re not very uplifting. He did break from the party and voting for a Senate resolution that prevented people from getting rid of their debts by, individuals, that is, from getting rid of their debts by going into bankruptcy. It’s a blow against poor people who’ve caught in this immense debt that’s a large part of the basis for the economy these days. But usually, he’s a, kind of, straight party-liner with the democrats on the sort of ultra naturalist side. The choice of Biden was a, must have been a conscious attempt to show contempt for the base of people who were voting for Obama, or organizing for him as an anti-war candidate.

Well, the first post-election appointment was for Chief of Staff, which is a crucial appointment; determines a large part of the president’s agenda. That was Rahm Emanuel, one of the strongest supporters of the war in Iraq in the House. In fact, he was the only member of the Illinois delegation who voted for Bush’s effective declaration of war. And, again, a longtime Washington insider. Also, one of the leading recipients in congress of funding from the financial institutions hedge funds and so on. He himself was an investment banker. That’s his background. So, that’s the Chief of Staff.

The next group of appointments were the main problem, the primary issue that the governments’ going to have to face is what to do about the financial crisis. Obama’s choices to more or less run this were Robert Rubin and Larry Summers from the Clinton--Secretaries of Treasury under Clinton. They are among the people who are substantially responsible for the crisis. One leading economist, one of the few economists who has been right all along in predicting what’s happening, Dean Baker, pointed out that selecting them is like selecting Osama Bin Laden to run the war on terror.


Yeah, I’ll finish. This saves me the problem of what’s coming next, so I’ll finish with the elections. Let me make one final comment on this. There was meeting on November 7, I think of a group of couple, of a dozen advisers to deal with the financial crisis. Their careers were, records were reviewed in the business press, and Bloomberg News had an article reviewing their records and concluded that these people, most of these people shouldn’t be giving advice about the economy. They should be given subpoenas.


Because most of them were involved in one or other form of financial fraud, that includes Rahm Emanuel, for example. What reason is there to think that the people who brought this crisis about are some how going to fix it? Well, that’s a good indication of what’s likely to come next, at least if we look at actions. We couldn’t, but it won’t. You can bring this up. Ask what we expect to see in particular cases. And there’s evidence about that from statements from Obama’s website. I’ll mention just one thing about Obama’s website, which gives an indication of what’s happening. One of the major problems coming is Afghanistan and Pakistan. That’s pretty serious. Take a look at Obama’s website under issues, foreign policy issues. The names don’t even appear. I mean, we’re supposed to be ignorant and meddlesome outsiders. We’re not supposed to know what Brand Obama is. So you can’t find out that way. The statements that you hear are pretty hawkish. And it doesn’t change much as you go through the list. I’ll wrap up here. So it’s up to you to continue.

UNKNOWN: There you go.


AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, MIT. Professor, world-renowned linguist, author of more than 100 books, his first major address since the elections. He gave it last week in Boston.

You had me at " any nation." ;-] It's the attempt to overwhelm people with force and implant a machine in place of a natural political organ. We grow our democracies, all of us, from within.

On DN! today, I heard an answer to the question I've been asking here, and answering myself, a veritable echo of what I've been saying here for months: "The ideal of what they’re describing, is dictatorship, not democracy." YES! Damn, I thought to myself, am I sounding like Chomsky, or is he sounding like me?

Whatever. Feudalism the is the peculiar dictatorship of Medieval Europe.

It's the conversion of our Common Weal into private property in the context of a holy war.

Right now, we're under the dominance of the myth of the cosmos as a Newtonian machine: it's all about force and "leverage," especially.

"Walter Lippman... was pretty frank about it... He didn’t call it the population. He called it the ignorant and meddlesome outsiders. The ignorant and meddlesome outsiders have a function and namely to watch what’s going on. And to push a lever every once in a while and then go home. [End DN!]

Come in, line up, push a lever, go home. Are we Citizens, or rats in Skinner Boxes?

The "war on terror" is a bipartisan perpetual motion feudalistic holy war cash machine, i.e, our Crusades. Dear fellow Americans, we are Christian Imperialists. Holy War is what we do.

We need to 'Change' THAT. Or get used to the smell of burnt human flesh in the background of everything you do.

Brzezinski and Gates Are Accomplished War-Mongers

Cold War Hawks Hovering Around Obama

By Robert Scheer, Truthdig

Via posted November 12, 2008.

Why are Obama's closest advisers inveterate hawks who needlessly provoked tension with the Russians during the Cold War?

So, Vladimir Putin was right: It was Georgia that started the war with Russia, and once again it was President Bush who got caught in a lie. As the New York Times reported last week, "Newly available accounts by independent military observers of the beginning of the war between Georgia and Russia this summer call into question the long-standing Georgian assertion that it was acting defensively against separatist and Russian aggression."

The Bush White House knew -- but kept from the American public -- facts concerning provocation by Georgia's U.S.-trained forces, which killed civilians in the capital of South Ossetia before Russian troops crossed the border. The provocation has also been documented in a BBC investigative report and by a growing consensus of other reliable sources.

No surprise, but it is a reminder of just how eager some are for a new Cold War and how indifferent they are to the truth of the matter. The career hawks are influential in both political parties, as was evidenced by the knee-jerk response of both presidential candidates, who claimed that the Russians had launched a totally unprovoked attack.

Sen. John McCain, whose top foreign policy adviser had been a paid lobbyist for Georgia, was most eager to confront the Russians, while Sen. Barack Obama was a bit more cautious. But as recently as in his Oct. 29 infomercial, Obama promised to "curb Russian aggression," which hardly suggests the change we need from the unilateral belligerence of the Bush foreign policy.

The result of that policy has been increased estrangement from the one country whose cooperation is totally indispensable in the effort to control the spread of nuclear weapons, given that Russia possesses roughly half of the world's nuclear arsenal and the ready means to build more nuclear arms. Yet instead of putting up a common front against nuclear proliferation, and even before the Georgia fracas, the Bush administration insisted on placing missiles on Russia's borders in a deal-breaker with Putin, whom President George W. Bush had previously embraced.

Improved relations with Russia are critical to the change toward a more peaceful world that Obama has promised, but it is disquieting in the extreme that some of his closest advisers are inveterate hawks with a history of needlessly provoking tension with the Russians during the Cold War days. Key among them is Zbigniew Brzezinski, who, as President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, engineered the U.S. involvement on the side of Islamic fanatics in Afghanistan.

Of course, the official story line at the time was that the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan to support their ally, which happened to be the governing power in Kabul, against the fanatic mujahedeen rebels, whom President Ronald Reagan would later officially embrace as "freedom fighters." Those freedom fighters came to be united by our CIA with the likes of Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 attacks.

It was decades later that the truth came out that the Soviets invaded only after being deliberately provoked by U.S. hawks. One of them was Robert Gates, who worked for Brzezinski in the Carter administration and who is currently the secretary of defense; President-elect Obama is now reported to be considering retaining Gates in that position. A 1996 press release promoting Gates' memoir promised the revelation of "Carter's never-before-revealed covert support to Afghan mujahedeen -- six months before the Soviets invaded."

The Gates revelation prompted an interviewer for the French publication, Le Nouvel Observateur, to ask Brzezinski in a 1998 interview whether he regretted "having given arms and advice to future terrorists," and Brzezinski replied: "Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? ... What is most important to the history of the world? ... Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?"

That was three years before those "stirred-up Muslims" attacked us on 9/11, but Brzezinski has not lost his nerve for escalating wars. While advising Obama, he gave interviews hyping the Russian "invasion" of Georgia as the occasion for a new global conflict, telling journalist Nathan Gardels that Putin's action "was ominously similar to Stalin's and Hitler's in the late 1930s."

I know, Obama is not yet in office. I voted for him with enthusiasm in part because he does seem to have transcended the preoccupations of the Cold War. But as a buyer, I have to beware of those unrepentant Democratic hawks now hovering.

Seeing Through the NSA Masks

Gates and the Urge to Surge

By Ray McGovern

Originally published November 23, 2008 on

It may become a biennial ritual. Every two years, if the commander-in-chief (or the commander-in-chief-elect) says he wants to throw more troops into an unwinnable war for no clear reason other than his political advantage, panderer-in-chief Robert Gates will shout “Outstanding!”

Never mind what the commanders in the field are saying — much less the troops who will die.

After meeting in Canada on Friday with counterparts from countries with troops in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Gates emphasized to reporters there is a shared interest in “surging as many forces as we can” into Afghanistan before the elections there in late September 2009.

At the concluding news conference, Gates again drove home the point, “It’s important that we have a surge of forces.”

Basking in the alleged success of the Iraq “surge,” Gates knows a winning word when he hears one – whether the facts are with him or not.

Although the conventional wisdom in Washington credits the “surge” with reducing violence in Iraq, military analysts point to other reasons – including Sunni tribes repudiating al-Qaeda extremists before the “surge” and the de facto ethnic cleansing of Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods.

In Washington political circles, there’s also little concern about the 1,000 additional U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq since President George W. Bush started the “surge” early in 2007. The Americans killed during the “surge” represent roughly one-quarter of the total war dead whose numbers have reached the 4,200 mark.

Nor is there much Washington commentary about what Bush’s grotesque expenditure in blood and treasure will mean in the long term, even as the Iraqis put the finishing touches on a security pact that sets a firm deadline for a complete U.S. military withdrawal by the end of 2011, wording that may be Arabic for “thanks, but no thanks.”

Nor do most Americans know from reading the reports from their Fawning Corporate Media that the “surge” was such a “success” that the United States now has about 8,000 more troops in Iraq than were there before it began.

The real “success” of the Iraq “surge” is proving to be that it will let President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney leave office on Jan. 20, 2009, without having to admit that they were responsible for a strategic disaster. They can lay the blame for failure on their successors.

Gates a Winner?

Gates stands to be another beneficiary of the Iraq “surge.”

Already, he has the Defense Secretary job. In November 2006, he was plucked from the obscurity of his Texas A&M presidency and put back into the international spotlight that he has always craved because he was willing to front for the “surge” when even Donald Rumsfeld was urging Bush to start a troop drawdown.

Now, the perceived “success” of the “surge” is giving hawkish Washington Democrats an excuse to rally around Gates and urge President-elect Barack Obama to keep him on.

Ever an accomplished bureaucrat, Gates is doing what he can to strengthen his case.

On Friday, Gates seemed at pains to demonstrate that his approach to Afghanistan is identical to the one publicly espoused by his prospective new employer who is currently reviewing Gates’s job application.

As he did with the Iraq “surge” over the past two years, Gates now is talking up the prospects for an Afghan “surge.”

“The notion that things are out of control in Afghanistan or that we’re sliding toward a disaster, I think, is far too pessimistic,” Gates said.

Yet the argument that Gates used to support his relative optimism makes us veteran intelligence officers gag — at least those who remember the U.S. in Vietnam in the 1960s, the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s and other failed counterinsurgencies.

“The Taliban holds no land in Afghanistan, and loses every time it comes into contact with coalition forces,” Gates explained.

Our Secretary of Defense seemed to be insisting that U.S. troops have not lost one pitched battle with the Taliban or al-Qaeda.

Engagements like the one on July 13, 2008, in which “insurgents” attacked an outpost in Konar province, killing nine U.S. soldiers and wounding 15 others, apparently do not qualify as “contact,” but are merely “incidents.”

Gates ought to read up on Vietnam, for his words evoke a similarly benighted comment by U.S. Army Col. Harry Summers after that war had been lost.

In 1974, Summers was sent to Hanoi to try to resolve the status of Americans still listed as missing. To his North Vietnamese counterpart, Col. Tu, Summers made the mistake of bragging, “You know, you never beat us on the battlefield.” Colonel Tu responded, “That may be so, but it is also irrelevant.”

As Vietnamese Communist forces converged on Saigon in April 1975, the U.S. withdrew all remaining personnel. Summers was on the last Marine helicopter to fly off the roof of the American Embassy at 5:30 a.m. on April 30.

As he later recalled, "I was the second-to-the-last Army guy out of Vietnam -- quite a searing experience."

More Vietnams?

Why is this relevant? Because if Obama repeats the mistakes of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, U.S. Marine choppers may be plucking folks not only off the U.S. embassy roof in Baghdad, but also from the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan.

No ignoramus, Gates knows that his comment about the Taliban losing “every time” that there is contact with coalition forces is as irrelevant as those of Col. Summers 34 years ago.

Yet, it would be folly to expect Gates to give advice to a superior that challenges the policies that Gates thinks his superior favors. Gates has been a career careerist going back to his days as head of analysis at CIA in the 1980s when he fashioned intelligence reports that gave the policymakers what they wanted to hear.

Instead of the old-fashioned “bark-on” intelligence, the Gates variety was “apple-polished” intelligence.

Gates, who desperately wants to stay on as Defense Secretary, apparently thinks that his life-long strategy of telling his superiors what they want to hear will now work with Barack Obama.

Gates is nearing the end of a highly sophisticated campaign to convince Obama and his advisers that the current Defense Secretary is just who they need at the Pentagon to execute Obama’s policies – and look really bipartisan to boot.

The President-elect’s position has long been that we need to send “at least two additional brigades” (about 7,000 troops) to Afghanistan. So the Defense Secretary would have us believe, as he said Friday, that “surging as many forces as we can” is an outstanding idea.

And with troops having to leave Iraqi cities by next June, in the first stage of the U.S. withdrawal demanded by the draft status-of-forces agreement, there will be more soldiers available to send into the mountains of Afghanistan. Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?

Ironically, this resembles closely the policy of Sen. John McCain, who argued during the debate with Obama on Sept. 26 that “the same [surge] strategy” that Gen. David Petraeus implemented in Iraq is “going to have to be employed in Afghanistan.”

For good measure, Gov. Sarah Palin told Katie Couric “a surge in Afghanistan also will lead us to victory there, as it has proven to have done in Iraq.”

Reality Bites

Oops! Within a week, Gen. David McKiernan, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan undercut McCain and Palin, insisting emphatically that no Iraq-style “surge” of forces will end the conflict in Afghanistan.

Speaking in Washington on Oct. 1, McKiernan employed unusual candor in describing Afghanistan as “a far more complex environment than I ever found in Iraq.” The country’s mountainous terrain, rural population, poverty, illiteracy, 400 major tribal networks, and history of civil war make it a unique challenge, he said.

“The word I don’t use for Afghanistan is ‘surge,’ ” McKiernan continued, adding that what is required is a “sustained commitment” to a counterinsurgency effort that could last many years and would ultimately require a political, not military, solution.

McKiernan added that he doubts that “another facet of the Iraq strategy” — the U.S. military’s programs to recruit tribes to oppose insurgents — can be duplicated in Afghanistan. “I don’t want the military to be engaging the tribes,” said McKiernan.

Recently, President-elect Obama has been relatively quiet on Afghanistan, and one lives in hope that before he actually commits to sending more brigades to Afghanistan he will assemble a group of people who know something about that country, the forces at play in the region and insurgency.

If he gathers the right people, and if he listens, it seems a good bet that his campaign rhetoric about Afghanistan being the good war will remain just that, rhetoric. But that, apparently, is not yet.

Gates has only another week or so left to show the President-elect that he thinks the ideas reflected in Obama’s rhetoric are outstanding. And, as Gates’s predecessor Rumsfeld might have put it, you have to go with the rhetoric you’ve got. Right now, the word “surge” brings nods of approval at influential dinner parties in Washington.

What does Gen. McKiernan know, anyway? Gates’s Pentagon says that McKiernan now has requested three additional brigade combat teams and additional aviation assets. And yet, he says he’s allergic to a “surge”?

If past is precedent, Gen. McKiernan already realizes he has little choice but to salute smartly, do what he is told, and not diverge from what inexperienced civilians like Gates are promoting. After all, didn’t McNamara know best in the early days of Vietnam and didn’t Rumsfeld know best at the start of the Iraq War?

As the saying goes about the military, if you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If you are a general assigned a mission — though it appear to be Mission Impossible — you salute smartly and use those troops entrusted to you to do what armies do. At least that has been the tradition since Vietnam.

Ambitious, but Empty Suits

I’m all for civilian control of the military. But I see much more harm than good in political generals — like the anointed David Petraeus — who give ample evidence of being interested, first and foremost, in their own advancement.

Why do I say that? Because Petraeus, like McKiernan, knows Afghanistan is another quagmire. But he won’t say it.

Rather than do the right thing and brief his superiors on the realities of Afghanistan, Petraeus and the generals he has promoted seem likely to follow the time-honored practice of going along to get along.

In any event, none of them get killed or wounded. The vast majority get promoted, so long as they keep any dissenting thoughts to themselves.

It is the same pattern we witnessed regarding Vietnam. Although the most senior military brass knew, as the French learned before them, that the war/occupation could not be successful, no senior officer had the integrity and courage to speak out and try to halt the lunacy.

It will be interesting to see what McKiernan actually does, if and when more troops are surged down his throat. If he has the courage of his convictions, maybe he’ll quit.

As a former Army officer, I would love to see an Army general display the courage that one saw in Admiral William Fallon, former commander of CENTCOM, who openly refused to “do Iran” on his watch, and got cashiered for it.

Two years ago, Army Generals John Abizaid and George Casey, speaking on behalf of their senior commanders in the field, pushed back strongly against the idea of adding more U.S. troops to those already in Iraq. They finally succeeded in persuading former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld of the merits of their argument.

It was when Rumsfeld himself started to challenge Bush’s determination not to lose Iraq on his watch (by dispatching more troops) that Robert Gates was brought in to replace Rumsfeld, relieve Abizaid and Casey from command, and help anoint Gen. Petraeus as surge-savior. [For details on Rumsfeld’s break with Bush, see’s “Robert Gates: As Bad as Rumsfeld?”]

The temporary respite provided by 30,000 additional troops helped achieve the administration’s main purpose — deferring the inevitable U.S. troop withdrawal (not in “victory” as Bush liked to say, but by demand of the Iraqi government) until Bush and Cheney were safely out of office.

As for Gates, what he does not know about Afghanistan and insurgency could fill a medium-sized library. So could what Gates does know about how to ingratiate himself with the next level up.

If it is true that serious consideration is being given to keeping Gates on past January, it will be interesting to see if this kind of pandering eventually wins the day with the President-elect.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He also serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

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BRAVO! O brother! my Brother, how I love what you write. Only you, Mel Goodman, and few others are seeing through the megaphone-shaped masks, the personas, presented for public viewing like Hallowe'en masks worn year round.

Have NSA feudalists assumed total control of our Commons, abusing the power of myth by using it to power weapons-grade propaganda?

What is the true face of our government? Janus-faced: two faces, one common goal, namely "full-spectrum dominance."
"A senior Obama campaign official shared with The Washington Note and Huffington Post that In July 2008, the McCain and Obama camps began to work secretly behind the scenes to assemble large rosters of potential personnel for the administration that only one of the candidates would lead....

"This kind of out-of-sight coordination is rare between battling presidential camps ...[End]

Is it? Or the conversion of Our Common Weal into private property in the context of a feudal holy war, "the exchange of allegiance for a grant of land (fief) between two people, usually men, of noble status." [Ency Brit 2008]

[Obama is] either being, or about to be, run like any other asset by the same fiends who've been jacking us into this Waste Land, and sticking us with the bill, for centuries now." I, knowbuddhau, said that.

Ray McGovern has seen presidents be propagandized with "the particular brand of "shock and awe" that can be induced by ostensibly sexy intelligence to color reactions of briefees, including presidents. [He has] seen it happen."

Our mythos shapes the political-economic cosmos in which we enact the theater of life. Acting within the same mythos that intended the feudal Newtonian cosmos that grew the social Darwinian psychos who now confuse the Commons with fiefs won"t get us any nearer the Promised Land.

What are the true intentions of our next president: Change, or full-spectrum dominance? I suspect we'll be offered progressive crumbs from the Table, as Nancy "No Impeachment" Pelosi did, while ensuring no real challenges mount against our feudal lords and ladies.

My fervent hope is that Obama will cast away the vipers dripping "bipartisan" poison in his ears. Or is it too late already?