Friday, March 27, 2009

Didn’t We All See This Coming?

By Timothy V. Gatto

March 21, 2009 "Information Clearing House" -- The country is coming to conclusions that a year ago would be unthinkable. The current turmoil on Wall Street has convinced many Americans of something that has been said for years, but nobody really believed…entirely. That something was that lawyers and bankers cannot be trusted. The American people know by now that the advice is largely true, they can’t be trusted. Neither can politicians, stockbrokers and financial advisors. In fact, people are starting to realize the entire concept of capitalism can’t be trusted, not just for the average Joe, but for the entire country. Capitalism is not your friend; it never has been and will not be in the future. It will continue to feed the rich, in fact, more than just feed them, but it won’t help the average wage earner realize the American dream. That’s never what it was designed to do. It was put in place to insure that the rich got richer and that the not so rich would stay where they were and to be grateful they could feed their families.

This isn’t the first time that capitalism has failed. Every time it fails we use a form of temporary socialism to shore up the economy. When things start to return to normal, we give everything back to the capitalists. Why is that? Could it be that we have no choice?

Ever notice how people equate capitalism with belief in God and country? They defend capitalism as if any other kind of government will lead them into slavery. The truth is that capitalism is an express ticket into slavery. Still, for every worker that recites a story of abject horror, there is an example of how the shining example of individualism embodied in the dogma of “free enterprise” has lifted a poor person out of his or her misery into nirvana. Pulling yourself up from your bootstraps is another way of contributing to the myth that capitalism works for everyone. I would like to see the ratio of millionaires that inherited their wealth vs. those that made their own money. If it were true that people surmounted the difficulties of amassing wealth and that many had truly “made it on their own”, the empirical evidence would be touted from every capitalist media outlet to every citizen in the country, just to prove that “free enterprise” works, yet it just isn’t there.

We Americans watch as our leaders try every trick in the book to grease the skids of our languishing economic system. We watch as AIG and other parasitic financial institutions grasp at every stray dollar they can con out of the people in a vain attempt to shore up their crumbling empires. The Federal government has allocated another trillion dollars to shore up the secondary real estate market and attempt to get Americans to buy real estate again. Meanwhile, Richard Cook, an economist that worked on NASA’s budget proposes that instead of trying to ignite the fires of consumerism with money given directly to large capitalist financial markets, the government could better stimulate the economy by giving citizens $1,800.00 vouchers monthly to pay their utilities and mortgages and to buy food and other essentials. This he claims would stimulate the economy by putting hard cash in the hands of consumers. Wouldn’t this be the end result the government is trying to achieve? Yet nobody takes this proposal seriously, at least not the government or those failing institutions with their sweaty palms out. Seems as they believe that money would be better off left in the hands of those that have brought us to where we are today, to hoard it or to siphon it off in undeserved salaries or bonuses, anywhere but on the streets so that consumers could spend it.

If one were to look back and take an honest look at the economy, they would see that writers such as me and many others on both sides of the political spectrum were trying to capture the nation’s attention five years ago when the Middle Class was losing almost two thousand dollars a year. This was happening year after year. Not only was the median income slipping, but benefits were being cut, full time jobs were being outsourced overseas and many Americans found themselves working two part time jobs just to keep up their mortgage payments. Some writers and economists were using phrases such as “class warfare” to shock some sense into the political parties and the employers. Still the government did nothing to alleviate the suffering of the hourly wage earner. It wasn’t until the situation started to affect the affluent did the government start to heed the warning signs.

Now it is a common sight to see a politician on a news clip railing at the excesses of Wall Street. Where were these politicos when the average wage earner was being cut from the American dream? Were they still listening to the vermin that call themselves lobbyists telling them that all was well? We can see now that we had more than enough time to understand that everything wasn’t at all well. The people that believed in the fairy-tale of “trickle-down” economics should have been concerned when nothing at all was reaching the lower end of the economic spectrum. They should have started becoming concerned when more businesses were going under, when people were cutting back on their medications so that they could put food on their families table.

This should really erase any doubts about the myth of unfettered capitalism. Unregulated, gluttonous capitalism didn’t just “appear” when Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers started to cry “Uncle!”. The signs were there long before that. (Editor's emphasis throughout) This time when we finally realize that anything too big to fail should be nationalized, when we understand that government regulation should be mandatory when dealing with predators, let’s not take a giant step backwards and slide back into “free enterprise capitalism”, giving the reigns of financial power back to the people that only care about themselves.

Find Tim Gatto at:

Israel’s War Crimes

Israel blamed its earlier wars on the threat to its security, even that against Lebanon in 1982. However, its assault on Gaza was not justified and there are international calls for an investigation. But is there the political will to make Israel account for its war crimes?

By Richard Falk

March 21, 2009 "Le Monde diplomatique" -- -For the first time since the establishment of Israel in 1948 the government is facing serious allegations of war crimes from respected public figures throughout the world. Even the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, normally so cautious about offending sovereign states – especially those aligned with its most influential member, the United States – has joined the call for an investigation and potential accountability. To grasp the significance of these developments it is necessary to explain what made the 22 days of attacks in Gaza stand shockingly apart from the many prior recourse's to force by Israel to uphold its security and strategic interests.

In my view, what made the Gaza attacks launched on 27 December different from the main wars fought by Israel over the years was that the weapons and tactics used devastated an essentially defenceless civilian population. The one-sidedness of the encounter was so stark, as signalled by the relative casualties on both sides (more than 100 to 1; 1300-plus Palestinians killed compared with 13 Israelis, and several of these by friendly fire), that most commentators refrained from attaching the label “war”.

The Israelis and their friends talk of “retaliation” and “the right of Israel to defend itself”. Critics described the attacks as a “massacre” or relied on the language of war crimes and crimes against humanity. In the past Israeli uses of force were often widely condemned, especially by Arab governments, including charges that the UN Charter was being violated, but there was an implicit acknowledgment that Israel was using force in a war mode. War crimes charges (to the extent they were made) came only from radical governments and the extreme left.

The early Israeli wars were fought against Arab neighbours which were quite literally challenging Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign state. The outbreaks of force were of an inter-governmental nature; and even when Israel exhibited its military superiority in the June 1967 six day war, it was treated within the framework of normal world politics, and though it may have been unlawful, it was not criminal.

But from the 1982 Lebanon war this started to change. The main target then was the presence of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in southern Lebanon. But the war is now mainly remembered for its ending, with the slaughter of hundreds of unarmed Palestinian civilians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. Although this atrocity was the work of a Lebanese Christian militia, Israeli acquiescence, control and complicity were clearly part of the picture. Still, this was an incident which, though alarming, was not the whole of the military operation, which Israel justified as necessary due to the Lebanese government’s inability to prevent its territory from being used to threaten Israeli security.

The legacy of the 1982 war was Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon and the formation of Hizbullah in reaction, mounting an armed resistance that finally led to a shamefaced Israeli withdrawal in 1998. This set the stage for the 2006 Lebanon war in which the announced adversary was Hizbullah, and the combat zone inevitably merged portions of the Lebanese civilian population with the military campaign undertaken to destroy Hizbullah. Such a use of hi-tech Israeli force against Hizbullah raised the issue of fighting against a hostile society with no equivalent means of defending itself rather than against an enemy state. It also raised questions about whether reliance on a military option was even relevant to Israel’s political goals, as Hizbullah emerged from the war stronger, and the only real result was to damage the reputation of the IDF as a fighting force and to leave southern Lebanon devastated.

The Gaza operation brought these concerns to the fore as it dramatised this shift away from fighting states to struggles against armed resistance movements, and with a related shift from the language of “war” to “criminality”. In one important respect, Israel managed to skew perceptions and discourse by getting the media and diplomats to focus the basic international criminal law question on whether or not Israeli use of force was “disproportionate”.

This way of describing Israeli recourse to force ignores the foundational issue: were the attacks in any legal sense “defensive” in character in the first place? An inquiry into the surrounding circumstances shows an absence of any kind of defensive necessity: a temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that had been in effect since 19 July 2008 had succeeded in reducing cross-border violence virtually to zero; Hamas consistently offered to extend the ceasefire, even to a longer period of ten years; the breakdown of the ceasefire is not primarily the result of Hamas rocket fire, but came about mainly as a result of an Israeli air attack on 4 November that killed six Hamas fighters in Gaza.

Disproportionate force?

In other words, there were no grounds for claiming the right of self-defence as Israel was not the object of a Hamas attack, and diplomatic alternatives to force existed and seemed credible, and their good-faith reliance was legally obligatory. On this basis the focus of legal debate should not be upon whether Israeli force was disproportionate. Of course it was. The focus should be on whether the Israeli attacks were a prohibited, non-defensive use of force under the UN charter, amounting to an act of aggression, and as such constituting a crime against peace. At Nuremberg after the second world war, surviving Nazi leaders were charged with this crime, which was described in the judgment as “the supreme crime” encompassing the others.

The Gaza form of encounter almost by necessity blurs the line between war and crime, and when it occurs in a confined, densely populated area such as Gaza, necessarily intermingles the resistance fighters with the civilian population. It also induces the resistance effort to rely on criminal targeting of civilians as it has no military capacity directly to oppose state violence. In this respect, the Israeli attacks on Gaza and the Hamas resistance crossed the line between lawful combat and war crimes.

These two sides should not be viewed as equally responsible for the recent events. Israel initiated the Gaza campaign without adequate legal foundation or just cause, and was responsible for causing the overwhelming proportion of devastation and the entirety of civilian suffering. Israeli reliance on a military approach to defeat or punish Gaza was intrinsically “criminal”, and as such demonstrative of both violations of the law of war and the commission of crimes against humanity.

There is another element that strengthens the allegation of aggression. The population of Gaza had been subjected to a punitive blockade for 18 months when Israel launched its attacks. This blockade was widely, and correctly, viewed as collective punishment in a form that violated Articles 33 and 55 of the Fourth Geneva Convention governing the conduct of an occupying power in relation to the civilian population living under occupation. This policy was itself condemned as a crime against humanity, as well as a grave breach of international humanitarian law.

It also had resulted in serious nutritional deficiencies and widespread mental disorders on the part of the entire Gaza population, leaving it particularly vulnerable to the sort of “shock and awe” attack mounted by Israel from land, air and sea. This vulnerability was reinforced by Israel’s unwillingness to allow Gaza civilians to seek safety while the tiny Strip was under such intense combat pressure. Two hundred non-Palestinian wives were allowed to leave, which underscored the criminality of locking children, women, the sick, elderly and disabled into the war zone, and showed its ethnically discriminatory character. This appears to be the first time in wartime conditions that a civilian population was denied the possibility of becoming refugees.

In addition to these big picture issues, there are a variety of alleged war crimes associated with Israeli battlefield practices. These charges, based on evidence collected by human rights groups, include IDF firing at a variety of civilian targets, instances where Israeli military personnel denied medical aid to wounded Palestinians, and others where ambulances were prevented from reaching their destinations. There are also documented claims of 20 occasions on which Israeli soldiers were seen firing at women and children carrying white flags. And there are various allegations associated with the use of phosphorus bombs in residential areas of Gaza, as well as legal complaints about the use of a new cruel weapon, known as DIME, that explodes with such force that it rips body parts to pieces.

These war crimes concerns can only be resolved by factual clarifications as to whether a basis exists for possible prosecution of the perpetrators, and commanders and political leaders to the extent that criminal tactics and weaponry were authorised as matters of Israeli policy. In this vein too are the Israeli claims relating to rockets fired at civilian targets and to Hamas militants using “human shields” and deliberately attacking from non-military targets.

Even without further investigation, it is not too soon to raise questions about individual accountability for war crimes. The most serious allegations relate to the pre-existing blockade, the intrinsic criminality and non-defensiveness of the attack itself; and the official policies (eg confinement of civilian population in the war zone) have been acknowledged. The charges against Hamas require further investigation and legal assessment before it is appropriate to discuss possible arrangements for imposing accountability.

A question immediately arises as to whether talk of Israeli war crimes is nothing more than talk. Are there any prospects that the allegations will be followed up with effective procedures to establish accountability? There are a variety of potentially usable mechanisms to impose accountability, but will any of these be available in practice? This issue has been already raised by the Israeli government at the highest levels in the form of official commitments to shield Israeli soldiers from facing war crimes charges.

The most obvious path to address the broader questions of criminal accountability would be to invoke the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court established in 2002. Although the prosecutor has been asked to investigate the possibility of such a proceeding, it is highly unlikely to lead anywhere since Israel is not a member and, by most assessments, Palestine is not yet a state or party to the statute of the ICC. Belatedly, and somewhat surprisingly, the Palestinian Authority sought, after the 19 January ceasefire, to adhere to the Rome Treaty establishing the ICC. But even if its membership is accepted, which is unlikely, the date of adherence would probably rule out legal action based on prior events such as the Gaza military operation. And it is certain that Israel would not cooperate with the ICC with respect to evidence, witnesses or defendants, and this would make it very difficult to proceed even if the other hurdles could be overcome.

The next most obvious possibility would be to follow the path chosen in the 1990s by the UN Security Council, establishing ad hoc international criminal tribunals, as was done to address the crimes associated with the break-up of former Yugoslavia and with the Rwanda massacres of 1994. This path seems blocked in relation to Israel as the US, and likely other European permanent members, would veto any such proposal. In theory, the General Assembly could exercise parallel authority, as human rights are within its purview and it is authorised by Article 22 of the UN charter to “establish such subsidiary organs as it deems necessary for the performance of its function”. In 1950 it acted on this basis to establish the UN Administrative Tribunal, mandated to resolve employment disputes with UN staff members.

The geopolitical realities that exist within the UN make this an unlikely course of action (although it is under investigation). At present there does not seem to be sufficient inter-governmental political will to embark on such a controversial path, but civil society pressure may yet make this a plausible option, especially if Israel persists in maintaining its criminally unlawful blockade of Gaza, resisting widespread calls, including by President Obama, to open the crossings from Israel. Even in the unlikely event that it is established, such a tribunal could not function effectively without a high degree of cooperation with the government of the country whose leaders and soldiers are being accused. Unlike former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, Israel’s political leadership would certainly do its best to obstruct the activities of any international body charged with prosecuting Israeli war crimes.

Claims of universal jurisdiction

Perhaps the most plausible governmental path would be reliance on claims of universal jurisdiction (1) associated with the authority of national courts to prosecute certain categories of war crimes, depending on national legislation. Such legislation exists in varying forms in more than 12 countries, including Spain, Belgium, France, Germany, Britain and the US. Spain has already indicted several leading Israeli military officers, although there is political pressure on the Spanish government to alter its criminal law to disallow such an undertaking in the absence of those accused.

This path to criminal accountability was taken in 1998 when a Spanish high court indicted the former Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, and he was later detained in Britain where the legal duty to extradite was finally upheld on rather narrow grounds by a majority of the Law Lords, the highest court in the country. Pinochet was not extradited however, but returned to Chile on grounds of unfitness to stand trial, and died in Chile while criminal proceedings against him were under way.

Whether universal jurisdiction provides a practical means of responding to the war crimes charges arising out of the Gaza experience is doubtful. National procedures are likely to be swayed by political pressures, as were German courts, which a year ago declined to proceed against Donald Rumsfeld on torture charges despite a strong evidentiary basis and the near certainty that he would not be prosecuted in the US, which as his home state had the legally acknowledged prior jurisdictional claim. Also, universal jurisdictional proceedings are quite random, depending on either the cooperation of other governments by way of extradition or the happenchance of finding a potential defendant within the territory of the prosecuting state.

It is possible that a high profile proceeding could occur, and this would give great attention to the war crimes issue, and so universal jurisdiction is probably the most promising approach to Israeli accountability despite formidable obstacles. Even if no conviction results (and none exists for comparable allegations), the mere threat of detention and possible prosecution is likely to inhibit the travel plans of individuals likely to be detained on war crime charges; and has some political relevance with respect to the international reputation of a government.

There is, of course, the theoretical possibility that prosecutions, at least for battlefield practices such as shooting surrendering civilians, would be undertaken in Israeli criminal courts. Respected Israeli human rights organisations, including B’Tselem, are gathering evidence for such legal actions and advance the argument that an Israeli initiative has the national benefit of undermining the international calls for legal action.

This Israeli initiative, even if nothing follows in the way of legal action, as seems almost certain due to political constraints, has significance. It will lend credence to the controversial international contentions that criminal indictment and prosecution of Israeli political and military leaders and war crimes perpetrators should take place in some legal venue. If politics blocks legal action in Israel, then the implementation of international criminal law depends on taking whatever action is possible in either an international tribunal or foreign national courts, and if this proves impossible, then by convening a non-governmental civil society tribunal with symbolic legal authority.

What seems reasonably clear is that despite the clamour for war crimes investigations and accountability, the political will is lacking to proceed against Israel at the inter-governmental level, whether within the UN or outside. The realities of geopolitics are built around double standards when it comes to war crimes. It is one thing to proceed against Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic, but quite another to go against George W Bush or Ehud Olmert. Ever since the Nuremberg trials after the second world war, there exists impunity for those who act on behalf of powerful, undefeated states and nothing is likely to challenge this fact of international life in the near future, thus tarnishing the status of international law as a vehicle for global justice that is consistent in its enforcement efforts. When it comes to international criminal law, there continues to exist impunity for the strong and victorious, and potential accountability for the weak or defeated.

It does seem likely that civil society initiatives will lead to the establishment of one or more tribunals operating without the benefit of governmental authorisation. Such tribunals became prominent in the Vietnam war when Bertrand Russell took the lead in establishing the Russell Tribunal. Since then the Permanent Peoples Tribunal based in Rome has organised more than 20 sessions on a variety of international topics that neither the UN nor governments will touch.

In 2005 the World Tribunal on Iraq, held in Istanbul, heard evidence from 54 witnesses, and its jury, presided over by the Indian novelist Arundhati Roy, issued a Declaration of Conscience that condemned the US and Britain for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and named names of leaders in both countries who should be held criminally accountable.

The tribunal compiled an impressive documentary record as to criminal charges, and received considerable media attention, at least in the Middle East. Such an undertaking is attacked or ignored by the media because it is one-sided, and lacking in legal weight, but in the absence of formal action on accountability, such informal initiatives fill a legal vacuum, at least symbolically, and give legitimacy to non-violent anti-war undertakings.

The legitimacy war

In the end, the haunting question is whether the war crimes concerns raised by Israel’s behaviour in Gaza matters, and if so, how. I believe it matters greatly in what might be called “the second war” – the legitimacy war that often ends up shaping the political outcome more than battlefield results. The US won every battle in the Vietnam war and lost the war; the same with France in Indochina and Algeria, and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The Shah of Iran collapsed, as did the apartheid regime in South Africa, because of defeats in the legitimacy war.

It is my view that this surfacing of criminal charges against Israel during and after its attacks on Gaza resulted in major gains on the legitimacy front for the Palestinians. The widespread popular perceptions of Israeli criminality, especially the sense of waging war against a defenceless population with modern weaponry, has prompted people around the world to propose boycotts, divestments and sanctions. This mobilisation exerts pressure on governments and corporations to desist from relations with Israel, and is reminiscent of the worldwide anti-apartheid campaign that did so much to alter the political landscape in South Africa. Winning the legitimacy war is no guarantee that Palestinian self-determination will be achieved in the coming years. But it does change the political equation in ways that are not fully discernable at this time.

The global setup provides a legal framework capable of imposing international criminal law, but it will not be implemented unless the political will is present. Israel is likely to be insulated from formal judicial initiatives addressing war crimes charges, but will face the fallout arising from the credibility that these charges possess for world public opinion. This fallout is reshaping the underlying Israel/Palestine struggle, (Editor's emphasis throughout) and giving far greater salience to the legitimacy war (fought on a global political battlefield) than was previously the case.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

America Is in Need of a Moral Bailout

By Chris Hedges

March 23, 2009 "TruthDig" -- -In decaying societies, politics become theater. The elite, who have hollowed out the democratic system to serve the corporate state, rule through image and presentation. They express indignation at AIG bonuses and empathy with a working class they have spent the last few decades disenfranchising, and make promises to desperate families that they know will never be fulfilled. Once the spotlights go on they read their lines with appropriate emotion. Once the lights go off, they make sure Goldman Sachs and a host of other large corporations have the hundreds of billions of dollars in losses they incurred playing casino capitalism repaid with taxpayer money.

We live in an age of moral nihilism. We have trashed our universities, turning them into vocational factories that produce corporate drones and chase after defense-related grants and funding. The humanities, the discipline that forces us to stand back and ask the broad moral questions of meaning and purpose, that challenges the validity of structures, that trains us to be self-reflective and critical of all cultural assumptions, have withered. Our press, which should promote such intellectual and moral questioning, confuses bread and circus with news and refuses to give a voice to critics who challenge not this bonus payment or that bailout but the pernicious superstructure of the corporate state itself. We kneel before a cult of the self, elaborately constructed by the architects of our consumer society, which dismisses compassion, sacrifice for the less fortunate, and honesty. The methods used to attain what we want, we are told by reality television programs, business schools and self-help gurus, are irrelevant. Success, always defined in terms of money and power, is its own justification. The capacity for manipulation is what is most highly prized. And our moral collapse is as terrifying, and as dangerous, as our economic collapse.

Theodor Adorno in 1967 wrote an essay called "Education After Auschwitz." He argued that the moral corruption that made the Holocaust possible remained "largely unchanged." He wrote that "the mechanisms that render people capable of such deeds" must be made visible. Schools had to teach more than skills. They had to teach values. If they did not, another Auschwitz was always possible.

"All political instruction finally should be centered upon the idea that Auschwitz should never happen again," he wrote. "This would be possible only when it devotes itself openly, without fear of offending any authorities, to this most important of problems. To do this, education must transform itself into sociology, that is, it must teach about the societal play of forces that operates beneath the surface of political forms."

Our elites are imploding. Their fraud and corruption are slowly being exposed as the disparity between their words and our reality becomes wider and more apparent. The rage that is bubbling up across the country will have to be countered by the elite with less subtle forms of control. But unless we grasp the "societal play of forces that operates beneath the surface of political forms" we will be cursed with a more ruthless form of corporate power, one that does away with artifice and the seduction of a consumer society and instead wields power through naked repression.

I had lunch a few days ago in Toronto with Henry Giroux, professor of English and cultural studies at McMaster University in Canada and who for many years was the Waterbury Chair Professor at Penn State. Giroux, who has been one of the most prescient and vocal critics of the corporate state and the systematic destruction of American education, was driven to the margins of academia because he kept asking the uncomfortable questions Adorno knew should be asked by university professors. He left the United States in 2004 for Canada.

"The emergence of what Eisenhower had called the military-industrial-academic complex had secured a grip on higher education that may have exceeded even what he had anticipated and most feared," Giroux, who wrote "The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex," told me. "Universities, in general, especially following the events of 9/11, were under assault by Christian nationalists, reactionary neoconservatives and market fundamentalists for allegedly representing the weak link in the war on terrorism. Right-wing students were encouraged to spy on the classes of progressive professors, the corporate grip on the university was tightening as made clear not only in the emergence of business models of governance, but also in the money being pumped into research and programs that blatantly favored corporate interests. And at Penn State, where I was located at the time, the university had joined itself at the hip with corporate and military power. Put differently, corporate and Pentagon money was now funding research projects and increasingly knowledge was being militarized in the service of developing weapons of destruction, surveillance and death. Couple this assault with the fact that faculty were becoming irrelevant as an oppositional force. Many disappeared into discourses that threatened no one, some simply were too scared to raise critical issues in their classrooms for fear of being fired, and many simply no longer had the conviction to uphold the university as a democratic public sphere."

Frank Donoghue, the author of "The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities," details how liberal arts education has been dismantled. Any form of learning that is not strictly vocational has at best been marginalized and in many schools has been abolished. Students are steered away from asking the broad, disturbing questions that challenge the assumptions of the power elite or an economic system that serves the corporate state. This has led many bright graduates into the arms of corporate entities they do not examine morally or ethically. They accept the assumptions of corporate culture because they have never been taught to think.

Only 8 percent of U.S. college graduates now receive degrees in the humanities, about 110,000 students. Between 1970 and 2001, bachelor's degrees in English declined from 7.6 percent to 4 percent, as did degrees in foreign languages (2.4 percent to 1 percent), mathematics (3 percent to 1 percent), social science and history (18.4 percent to 10 percent). Bachelor's degrees in business, which promise the accumulation of wealth, have skyrocketed. Business majors since 1970-1971 have risen from 13.6 percent of the graduation population to 21.7 percent. Business has now replaced education, which has fallen from 21 percent to 8.2 percent, as the most popular major.

The values that sustain an open society have been crushed. A university, as John Ralston Saul writes, now "actively seeks students who suffer from the appropriate imbalance and then sets out to exaggerate it. Imagination, creativity, moral balance, knowledge, common sense, a social view-all these things wither. Competitiveness, having an ever-ready answer, a talent for manipulating situations-all these things are encouraged to grow. As a result amorality also grows; as does extreme aggressivity when they are questioned by outsiders; as does a confusion between the nature of good versus having a ready answer to all questions. Above all, what is encouraged is the growth of an undisciplined form of self-interest, in which winning is what counts."

This moral nihilism would have terrified Adorno. He knew that radical evil was possible only with the collaboration of a timid, cowed and confused population, a system of propaganda and a press that offered little more than spectacle and entertainment and an educational system that did not transmit transcendent values or nurture the capacity for individual conscience. He feared a culture that banished the anxieties and complexities of moral choice and embraced a childish hyper-masculinity, one championed by ruthless capitalists (think of the brutal backstabbing and deception cheered by TV shows like "Survivor") and Hollywood action heroes like the governor of California.

"This educational ideal of hardness, in which many may believe without reflecting about it, is utterly wrong," "The idea that virility consists in the maximum degree of endurance long ago became a screen-image for masochism that, as psychology has demonstrated, aligns itself all too easily with sadism."

Sadism is as much a part of popular culture as it is of corporate culture. It dominates pornography, runs like an electric current through reality television and trash-talk programs and is at the core of the compliant, corporate collective. Corporatism is about crushing the capacity for moral choice. And it has its logical fruition in Abu Ghraib, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and our lack of compassion for the homeless, our poor, the mentally ill, the unemployed and the sick.

"The political and economic forces fueling such crimes against humanity-whether they are unlawful wars, systemic torture, practiced indifference to chronic starvation and disease or genocidal acts-are always mediated by educational forces," Giroux said. "Resistance to such acts cannot take place without a degree of knowledge and self-reflection. We have to name these acts and transform moral outrage into concrete attempts to prevent such human violations from taking place in the first place." (Editor's note--Agreed, there is too little self-reflection in terms of our moral responsibilities and almost no resultant action).
The single most important quality needed to resist evil is moral autonomy. (Editor's note--not true, rather it is the cardinal virtues of justice, fortitude [courage], temperance [prudence] and wisdom). Moral autonomy, as Immanuel Kant wrote, is possible only through reflection, self-determination and the courage not to cooperate. (Editor's note--Kant was overly impressed with the notion of personal autonomy as is contemporary [secular] bioethics. Not enough attention is paid to the importance of enhancing the "common good").

Moral autonomy is what the corporate state, with all its attacks on liberal institutions and "leftist" professors, has really set out to destroy. The corporate state holds up as our ideal what Adorno called "the manipulative character." The manipulative character has superb organizational skills and the inability to have authentic human experiences. He or she is an emotional cripple and driven by an overvalued realism. The manipulative character is a systems manager. He or she exclusively trained to sustain the corporate structure, which is why our elites are wasting mind-blowing amounts of our money on corporations like Goldman Sachs and AIG. "He makes a cult of action, activity, of so-called efficiency as such which reappears in the advertising image of the active person," Adorno wrote of this personality type. These manipulative characters, people like Lawrence Summers, Henry Paulson, Robert Rubin, Ben Bernanke, Timothy Geithner, AIG's Edward Liddy and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, along with most of our ruling class, have used corporate money and power to determine the narrow parameters of the debate in our classrooms, on the airwaves and in the halls of Congress while they looted the country.

"It is especially difficult to fight against it," warned Adorno, "because those manipulative people, who actually are incapable of true experience, for that very reason manifest an unresponsiveness that associates them with certain mentally ill or psychotic characters, namely schizoids."


What the author of this piece terms the "manipulative character of systems managers" is nothing more than what the ancient Greeks recognized in the Sophists. They have reappeared as it were under the guise of "spinners" (purveyors of the post-modern sophistry) who assist corporate elites in maintaining the ruling structure of unregulated capitalism geared toward benefiting themselves at the expense of everyone else.

--Dr. J. P. Hubert

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Lobby Falters

By John Mearsheimer

March 22, 2009 "LRB" -- Many people in Washington were surprised when the Obama administration tapped Charles Freeman to chair the National Intelligence Council, the body that oversees the production of National Intelligence Estimates: Freeman had a distinguished 30-year career as a diplomat and Defense Department official, but he has publicly criticised Israeli policy and America’s special relationship with Israel, saying, for example, in a speech in 2005, that ‘as long as the United States continues unconditionally to provide the subsidies and political protection that make the Israeli occupation and the high-handed and self-defeating policies it engenders possible, there is little, if any, reason to hope that anything resembling the former peace process can be resurrected.’ Words like these are rarely spoken in public in Washington, and anyone who does use them is almost certain not to get a high-level government position. But Admiral Dennis Blair, the new director of national intelligence, greatly admires Freeman: just the sort of person, he thought, to revitalise the intelligence community, which had been very politicised in the Bush years.

Predictably alarmed, the Israel lobby launched a smear campaign against Freeman, hoping that he would either quit or be fired by Obama. The opening salvo came in a blog posting by Steven Rosen, a former official of Aipac, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, now under indictment for passing secrets to Israel. Freeman’s views of the Middle East, he said, ‘are what you would expect in the Saudi Foreign Ministry, with which he maintains an extremely close relationship’. Prominent pro-Israel journalists such as Jonathan Chait and Martin Peretz of the New Republic, and Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, quickly joined the fray and Freeman was hammered in publications that consistently defend Israel, such as the National Review, the Wall Street Journal and the Weekly Standard.

The real heat, however, came from Congress, where Aipac (which describes itself as ‘America’s Pro-Israel Lobby’) wields enormous power. All the Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee came out against Freeman, as did key Senate Democrats such as Joseph Lieberman and Charles Schumer. ‘I repeatedly urged the White House to reject him,’ Schumer said, ‘and I am glad they did the right thing.’ It was the same story in the House, where the charge was led by Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Steve Israel, who pushed Blair to initiate a formal investigation of Freeman’s finances. In the end, the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, declared the Freeman appointment ‘beyond the pale’. Freeman might have survived this onslaught had the White House stood by him. But Barack Obama’s pandering to the Israel lobby during the campaign and his silence during the Gaza War show that this is one opponent he is not willing to challenge. True to form, he remained silent and Freeman had little choice but to withdraw.

The lobby has since gone to great lengths to deny its role in Freeman’s resignation. The Aipac spokesman Josh Block said his organisation ‘took no position on this matter and did not lobby the Hill on it’. The Washington Post, whose editorial page is run by Fred Hiatt, a man staunchly committed to the special relationship, ran an editorial which claimed that blaming the lobby for Freeman’s resignation was something dreamed up by ‘Mr Freeman and like-minded conspiracy theorists’.

In fact, there is abundant evidence that Aipac and other hard-line supporters of Israel were deeply involved in the campaign. Block admitted that he had spoken to reporters and blogger's about Freeman and provided them with information, always on the understanding that his comments would not be attributed to him or to Aipac. Jonathan Chait, who denied that Israel was at the root of the controversy before Freeman was toppled, wrote afterwards: ‘Of course I recognise that the Israel lobby is powerful and was a key element in the pushback against Freeman, and that it is not always a force for good.’ Daniel Pipes, who runs the Middle East Forum, where Steven Rosen now works, quickly sent out an email newsletter boasting about Rosen’s role in bringing Freeman down.

On 12 March, the day the Washington Post ran its editorial railing against anyone who suggested that the Israel lobby had helped topple Freeman, the paper also published a front-page story describing the central role that the lobby had played in the affair. There was also a comment piece by the veteran journalist David Broder, which opened with the words: ‘The Obama administration has just suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the lobbyists the president vowed to keep in their place.’

Freeman’s critics maintain that his views on Israel were not his only problem. He is said to have especially close – maybe even improper – ties to Saudi Arabia, where he previously served as American ambassador. The charge hasn’t stuck, however, because there is no evidence for it. Israel’s supporters also said that he had made insensitive remarks about what happened to the Chinese protesters at Tiananmen Square, but that charge, which his defenders contest, only came up because Freeman’s pro-Israel critics were looking for any argument they could muster to damage his reputation.

Why does the lobby care so much about one appointment to an important, but not top leadership position? Here’s one reason: Freeman would have been responsible for the production of National Intelligence Estimates. Israel and its American supporters were outraged when the National Intelligence Council concluded in November 2007 that Iran was not building nuclear weapons, and they have worked assiduously to undermine that report ever since. The lobby wants to make sure that the next estimate of Iran’s nuclear capabilities reaches the opposite conclusion, and that would have been much less likely to happen with Freeman in charge. Better to have someone vetted by Aipac running the show.

An even more important reason for the lobby to drive Freeman out of his job is the weakness of the case for America’s present policy towards Israel, which makes it imperative to silence or marginalise anyone who criticises the special relationship. If Freeman hadn’t been punished, others would see that one could talk critically about Israel and still have a successful career in Washington. And once you get an open and free-wheeling discussion about Israel, the special relationship will be in serious trouble.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the Freeman affair was that the mainstream media paid it little attention – the New York Times, for example, did not run a single story dealing with Freeman until the day after he stepped down – while a fierce battle over the appointment took place in the blogosphere. Freeman’s opponents used the internet to their advantage; that is where Rosen launched the campaign. But something happened there that would never have happened in the mainstream media: the lobby faced real opposition. Indeed, a vigorous, well-informed and highly regarded array of blogger's defended Freeman at every turn and would probably have carried the day had Congress not tipped the scales against them. In short, the internet enabled a serious debate in the United States about an issue involving Israel. The lobby has never had much trouble keeping the New York Times and the Washington Post in line, but it has few ways to silence critics on the internet.

When pro-Israel forces clashed with a major political figure in the past, that person usually backed off. Jimmy Carter, who was smeared by the lobby after he published Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, was the first prominent American to stand his ground and fight back. The lobby has been unable to silence him, and it is not for lack of trying. Freeman is following in Carter’s footsteps, but with sharper elbows. After stepping down, he issued a blistering denunciation of ‘unscrupulous people with a passionate attachment to the views of a political faction in a foreign country’ whose aim is ‘to prevent any view other than its own from being aired’. ‘There is,’ he continued, ‘a special irony in having been accused of improper regard for the opinions of foreign governments and societies by a group so clearly intent on enforcing adherence to the policies of a foreign government.’

Freeman’s remarkable statement has shot all around the world and been read by countless individuals. This isn’t good for the lobby, which would have preferred to kill Freeman’s appointment without leaving any fingerprints. But Freeman will continue to speak out about Israel and the lobby, and maybe some of his natural allies inside the Beltway will eventually join him. Slowly but steadily, space is being opened up in the United States to talk honestly about Israel. (Editor's emphasis throughout).