America, The Slip Before the Quake

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Like Any Great Change It Started Little by Little

It’s undeniable that the United States is a right-wing country. It has long been the land of the robber baron. Then the issue was complicated by  their relentless tectonic slipping to the right. The geological analogy is apt because it occurred in an imperceptibly slow manner, like the slip fault before the earthquake. After a few brief eons the European continent drifted east, leaving North America stranded on the wrong side of the Atlantic. That’s where the US sits today, both geologically and ideologically, estranged from the civilized world.

After more than a century of ongoing slow creep American society finds itself at the end of its tether, remotely controlled by demented billionaires and reptilian politicians wielding frightening high-tech bludgeons. There is no justice, no equality, no decency, no hope. Giant American companies have more than enough money to go around, and it’s dished out liberally to pliant politicians via lobbyists and septic think tanks. The situation became evident in the seventies with the sinister Nixon/Kissinger regime. (See Seymour Hersh’s 1983 600-page book, Kissinger, the Price of Power which elegantly documents Kissinger’s years as Nixon’s National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. Not for the faint hearted.)  Events were turbocharged by 9/11 and from then on American governments have been busily curtailing citizens’ rights at home and devastating soverign countries abroad. This is especially the case in the Middle East. Though the Americans have yet to win a war there, they have wreaked biblical havoc on the people and set countries like Iraq and Afghanistan back a century. And the end is not in sight. What is in sight is Iran and Venezuela. 

The Benefits of Posturing

From the days of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC, 1997-2006) when the Republican right finally showed its jingoist face, this scorched-earth policy was in the hands of Republicans. Democrats pretended to be different but most of them weren’t very different at all. Today, in a country that reveres wealth, most of them are wealthy. (Here’s the Wikipedia list of United States members of Congress by wealth. It’s headed by Republican representative, Kelly Loeffler who, along with her husband,  chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, Jeffrey Sprecher, is currently under scrutiny for insider trading.) That makes perfect sense. The essence of American professional politics is to be in it for yourself but to pretend convincingly that you’re in it for others.

It’s not an easy assignment. The successful candidates must be bereft of scruples, morality, and simple decency–while projecting all the contrary. Like all liars they must be endowed with rich imaginations and prodigious memories. They must create their stories, live their lies and cover their tracks. Some manage it better than others. We can all recall the ones whose former slipups are coming back to haunt them: sexual harassment, racism, financial fraud, war mongering, gerrymandering, strange bedfellows. Some of the shrewder ones slather themselves in religion like predator species in the African savanna that roll in their would-be victims’ excrement to pass themselves off as friends. Anything goes.

What about the Honest Politicians?

Is this to suggest that there are no honest politicians. Of course not, to affirm that would be silly. There certainly remain some disinterested American politicians but they would all fit in a phone booth. Besides, they’re essentially boycotted by their right-wing colleagues of both parties. We must not forget that those who were once Democratic “moderates” by staying in the same place have been dragged inexorably to the right.

The rest can be bought. And the proof is there for anyone who has eyes to see. Look at the rock-solid support the state of Israel–the world’s smallest colonial country–enjoys in the US Congress. Is that based on solidarity or idealism? Don’t dream. Google it. It’s based on a complex honeycomb of backhanders and campaign donations engineered by the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and others of their ilk. What about the numbingly repetitive re-election of incumbent US Congress members. Sitting members of the House of Representatives, in the congressional elections between the years 1988 and 2018, were re-elected between 80 and 90% of the time. The figures for the Senate are substantially higher. (Source: OpenSecrets.org) Is that due to legislative excellence? Or does it have to do with a bag of electoral shell games and campaign financing generously provided by big-bucks interests?

It wasn’t quite so cut and dried before the Supreme Court’s 2010 finding in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case. That landmark decision concerning campaign finance freed corporations and labor unions to spend money on electioneering communications and to directly advocate for the election or defeat of candidates. The inclusion of labor unions in that decision was a public relations masterstroke. It suggests equanimity between owners and workers. But just try imagining the unions’ buying power compared to that of big industry. Now, 10 years later, the results are there for all to see. Big business has taken over the government and sucked it dry.

What little was left of American democracy has been gutted by powerful interests that want it all, without realizing that by impoverishing their base they’re shooting themselves in the foot. Capitalism without customers is doomed. Suddenly the rate of decline in everything starts multiplying by geometric progressions. American politics has been cannibalized. American manufacturing became rust. That left financial services, an inherently incestuous business, destined to reduce the United States to that little country where the citizens manage to eke out meager livings by taking in one another’s laundry.

Along Comes the Quake

The culmination of this fascinating process took almost everyone by surprise and that stupor is growing daily by graceful gazelle leaps. With half the country wondering how to get rid of Trump and trumpism, and the other half revelling in hillbilly heaven, along comes the quake, the coronavirus, “COVID-19.” This microscopic killer that found its happy home in New York, and the Trump administration’s pathetic response to it, may ultimately take trumpism to its end. Just when the country vitally needs a unified, coherent universal health system–anathema to the reigning Republican right–the American people wake up to find any kind of coherence conspicuously lacking.

It occurs to the most perceptive among them that a battle against a highly-contagious virus cannot be waged piecemeal. As long as pockets of the virus remain active among the substantial untreated, uninsured population of the country, no one is safe from contagion. It follows logically that the whole trumpian laissez-faire edifice will come tumbling down. Just as public health emergencies require coordinated public responses so do the rest of the critical issues faced by any American government: education, the environment, climate change, foreign policy, defense, the economy and all the rest. This is laid out in his usual informative and affable fashion by Michael Lewis in his 2018 book, The Fifth Risk. Lewis, after crossing the country interviewing affected high-level public servants from the previous administration, recounts their versions of how the Trump government systematically dismantled vital federal agencies and programs with untold damage to education, the environment, nuclear management, etc.

Does this mean that America is about to abjure President Donald J. Trump and his army of wreckers? After all is said and done it may well mean that. Even if it were to happen it would be a bitter victory for reality-based America. Because it would come at a cost of hundreds of thousands of American lives, according to President Trump’s own most-optimistic estimate. Definitely not one of his best deals.

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A Drone-Wars, Targeted-Killing Primer– 2/2

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A Drone Whistleblower’s Story

US Drone Whistleblower
Brandon Bryant, ex-US Air Force drone operator.

According to a report in The Independent on Feb. 8, 2020, Brandon Bryant signed up for a six-year enlistment as a Predator drone operator in the US Airforce. Since his discharge in 2011, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, he speaks out against the killer drone program and the atrocities he says he was forced to inflict during his time in the  American military which he says is “worse than the Nazis.”

This is the Independent‘s account of his testimony to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now.

Mr Bryant says he reached his breaking point with the US military after killing a child in Afghanistan that his superiors told him was “a dog.” Mr Bryant recalls the moment: After firing a Hellfire missile at a building containing his target, he saw a child exit the building just as the missile struck. When he alerted his superiors about the situation after reviewing the tape, he was told “it was a f***ing dog, drop it.”

Bryant describes another Afghan strike that he participated in from a bunker in Nevada:
The smoke clears, and there’s pieces of the two guys around the crater. And there’s this guy over here, and he’s missing his right leg above his knee. He’s holding it, and he’s rolling around, and the blood is squirting out of his leg … It took him a long time to die. I just watched him.
It’s all in a day’s work.

A Brief History of Military Drones

(Principal source: The Bureau of Investigative Journalism) Unmanned aerial attacks date from August 22, 1849, when Austria attacked the Italian city of Venice with unmanned balloons loaded with explosives. Development of remote-control flying machines began soon after the Wright brothers flew the first airplane a decade before the outbreak of the First World WarUnmanned flight technology advanced in the interwar period. The term “drone” was born when the UK developed the Queen Bee, a bi-plane controlled by radio. Like most military drones at that time, the Queen Bee was a remote controlled target for anti-aircraft gunners to use for target practice.

It was the pioneering work of Abraham Karem, an Iraqui-born Jewish aviation genius brought up in Israel from the age of 14, that began the serious development of the modern military drone. Karem graduated in aeronautical engineering from Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology, and built his first drone for the Israeli air force during the Yom Kippur war. He later immigrated to the US where he founded Leading Systems, Inc. in his garage. There he built the Albatross and then the more-sophisticated Amber drone, which was to evolve into today’s Predator. Karem has been described by The Economist as the man who “created the robotic plane that transformed the way modern warfare is waged and continues to pioneer other airborne innovations.” It is largely thanks to Karem that both Israel and the US are leading military drone producers and exporters.

In the late 1950s the US and others began to use unmanned, remotely-piloted aircraft as spy planes. Radio-controlled and fitted with film cameras, these primitive drones flew over China and North Vietnam gathering images without risking the lives of pilots. These early drones were unreliable and expensive, and their operators had to be within range of their analogue radio signals. Communications satellites changed all that. Drones can now be controlled from comfortable bunkers with ergonomic seats located halfway around the world.

The lightweight, long-slender-winged drones’ ability to “loiter” was invaluable in the 1990s, during the US campaign against the former Yugoslavia. There was a shortage of intelligence on Serbian tank and troop movements and US supersonic jets were struggling to spot the Serbian forces in the thick Balkan forests. But the drones could hover for 24 hours at a time, keeping Serbian units under constant surveillance. Combining this loitering with a second advance, the use of transmitters to send the intelligence straight back to battlefield officers and commanding generals, greatly increased battlefield efficiency and shortened that war.

The key to armed drone efficiency is in eliminating the pilots: the drones are subsequently lighter than manned aircraft and they don’t have to land when the operators get tired. A fresh crew just takes over in the comfortable bunker. In 2000 the US took the final leap forward when the Air Force and CIA became the first to successfully fit drones with missiles, as part of a failed CIA attempt to kill Osama bin Laden. These satellite-controlled hunter-killer drones allow pilots to fly their aircraft from half a world away and it allows generals, spies and politicians to watch the war they are waging on the other side of the world, live on TV.

Assassinations, Anyone?

America’s drones have been used as assassination weapons in at least seven countries throughout Washington’s 15-year war on terror. They have been vacuuming up information, feeding the military’s insatiable demand for battlefield intelligence, and finding and killing alleged terrorists and insurgents. Those operations inevitably killed more than their share of innocent civilians, as well.

The US drone war expanded dramatically under President Barack Obama. Responding to evolving militant threats and the greater availability of remote piloting technology, Over the course of his two terms in office Obama ordered ten times more counter-terror strikes than his predecessor, George W Bush. President Obama would sit down periodically with CIA dirty-tricks specialist, John Brennan, to select personally the candidates for drone assassination. According to Joanna Walters, the Guardian correspondent in New York, Barack Obama “has not had a second thought” about the drone strikes that are causing untold numbers of civilian casualties as the US tries to beat back terrorist insurgencies in the Middle East. Obama was so impressed by Brennan that he made him director of the CIA.

The low-footprint nature of drone strikes – which can be carried out without having personnel in the country being hit – made it politically easier for the US to mount operations in places in which it was not at war. Hundreds of CIA and Joint Special Operations Command strikes have been carried out in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia, killing hundreds–or thousands–of civilians, according to the NGO Airwars. Human rights organisations have criticizeded the targeted killing program for its “clear violations of international humanitarian law.” (Source: Redorbit.com)

Who Has Killer Drones Today?

Dronewars.net provides us with this table of countries (below) currently operating armed drones, either by developing their own models or acquiring them from other countries. They also include ‘non-state actors’ as operators of armed drones, as some groups have developed fairly sophisticated models.

States-Operating-Armed_drones-Jan2020

Lowering the Threshold for The Use of Killer Drones

The use of armed drones is touted as a ‘risk-free’ solution to security problems. By using remote-controlled aircraft to take out bad guys far away from our shores, we are told, we are keeping the public as well as our armed forces safe. The reality, however, is that drones are liable to increase insecurity, not reduce it.

Politicians know that the public does not like to see young men and women sent overseas to fight in wars with remote and unclear aims.  Potential TV footage of grieving families awaiting funeral corteges has been a restraint on political leaders weighing up military intervention. Take away that political cost by using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and it makes it much easier for politicians to opt for a quick, short-term ‘fix’ of ‘taking out the bad guys’ rather than engaging in the difficult and long-term work of solving the root causes of conflicts through diplomatic and political means.

Transferring the Risk and Cost of War from Soldiers to Civilians

Keeping ‘our boys’ safe through using remotely-controlled drones to launch air strikes comes at a price. Without ‘boots on the ground’ air strikes are inherently more dangerous for civilians on the ground. Despite claims of the defence industry and advocates of drone warfare, it is simply not possible to know precisely what is happening on the ground from thousands of miles away.  While the UK claims, for example, that only one civilian was killed in the thousands of British air and drone strikes in Iraq and Syria, journalist and casualty recording organisations have reported thousands of deaths in Coalition airstrikes.

Expanding the Use of ‘Targeted Killing’

Legal scholars define targeted killing as the deliberate, premeditated killing of selected individuals of a state that is not in  custody. This is, perhaps, the most controversial aspect of the use of armed drones by the United States, Israel and the UK.    Where International Humanitarian Law applies, targeted killing of combatants may be legal. Outside of IHL situations, International Human Rights Law applies and lethal force may only be used when absolutely necessary to save human life that is in imminent danger.  This does not appear to be the case for many of the drone targeted killing that have been carried out, for example, by the US in Pakistan and Yemen.

While some argue that it is the policy of targeted killing that is wrong, not the weapon used to carry out it out, it is very difficult to imagine that the wholesale expansion of targeted killing would have occurred without armed-drone technology.

Seducing Us with the Myth of ‘Precision’

Drones permit, we are told, pin-point accurate air strikes that kill the target while leaving the innocent untouched. Drone advocates seduce us with the notion that we can achieve control over the chaos of war through technology.  The reality is that there is no such thing as a guaranteed accurate airstrike  While laser-guided weapons are without doubt much more accurate than they were even 20 or 30 years ago, the myth of guaranteed precision is just that, a myth.  Even under test conditions, only 50% of weapons are expected to hit within their ‘circular error of probability’. Once the blast radius of weapons is taken into account and indeed how such systems can be affected by things such as the weather, it is clear that ‘precision’ cannot by any means be assured.

Politicians and defence officials too have been seduced by the myth of precision war and are opening up areas that would previously been out of bounds –- due to the presence of civilians –- to air strikes.  Perhaps most telling is the fact that internal military data which counters the prevailing narrative that drones are better than traditional piloted aircraft is simply classified.

Promoting Permanent War

Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of the rise of remote, drone warfare is that it is ushering in a state of forever war.  With no (or very few) troops deployed on the ground and when air strikes can be carried out with impunity by drone operators who then commute home at the end of the day, there is little public or political pressure to bring drone strikes to an end.

Drones are enabling states to carry out attacks with seemingly little reference to international law norms. US law professor Rosa Brooks argued in a disturbing article in Foreign Policy that ‘there’s no such thing as peacetime’ anymore. “Since 9/11,” she writes “it has become virtually impossible to draw a clear distinction between war and not-war.” Rather than challenging the erosion of the boundaries between crucially distinct legal frameworks, Brooks argues that we must simply accept that “the Forever War is here to stay.” To do otherwise she maintains is “largely a waste of time and energy. “Wartime is the only time we have” she insists.

Advocates say the drone programme has saved American lives and reduced the need for messy ground operations like the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But it has also killed hundreds, if not thousands of civilians, according to data collected by the Bureau and the NGO Airwars — a reality which experts have warned could have a radicalising effect on the very societies from which US drones are trying to eliminate extremists. Human rights organisations have lambasted the targeted killing programme for its “clear violations of international humanitarian law.”

Trump Intensified the Drone War in Afghanistan in 2019

Almost 40 strikes hit Afghanistan every day in September of 2019, new Pentagon figures show, working out as more than 1,100 over the month, a significant rise. The number of US strikes not only increased in September, but that jump was dramatic. There were 1,113 strikes compared with 810 strikes in August, and 537 in July. It follows the collapse of US and Taliban peace negotiations in early September. The talks were suspended by President Donald Trump after the killing of a US soldier in Kabul.

Since then, President Trump repeatedly stated he was hitting the Taliban harder. Mark Esper, the current US defence secretary, told reporters that they had “picked up the pace [of operations in Afghanistan] considerably” since the breakdown of the negotiations. “We did step up our attacks on the Taliban since the talks broke down,” Esper told reporters. “The president did want us to pick up in response to the heinous attacks that the Taliban and others conducted throughout Afghanistan.” (Source: Bureau of Investigative Journalism)

For civilians on the ground, the deepening conflict comes at great cost. Recent UN figures show there were over 650 civilian casualties from US strikes in the first nine months of 2019, nearly double the number injured or killed in the same period the previous year. The UN has said civilian casualties in general – not just from air strikes – reached “unprecedented” levels in the 2019 as violence across the country increased. “The harm caused to civilians by the fighting in Afghanistan signals the importance of peace talks leading to a ceasefire and a permanent political settlement to the conflict; there is no other way forward,” Yadamichi Yamamoto, the head of the UN’s mission in Afghanistan, said.

The Irony/Hypocrisy of “Heinous Attacks”

So, while the United States and their coalition of usual suspects hone their killer-drone effectiveness on hundreds or thousands of innocent civilians in Afghanistan and other places across the Middle East, not having declared war on any of them, Mr. Mark Esper permits himself the luxury of denouncing the “heinous attacks” of the Taliban. He would say that, wouldn’t he.

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Freedom from Religion

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Predatory Preachers Lead the Way

True freedom of religion implies freedom from religion. If it doesn’t it’s not freedom. That’s why an authentic democracy cannot exist under the influence of any religious sect. A religion that preaches that born-again believers will be “raptured” up to heaven while the rest of us go straight to hell is more necrophile hate doctrine than religion, and it has no place anywhere near government circles. Yet, these Evangelicals and Pentecostals are President Trump’s people and he has created posts in the White House for them and facilitated their influence on the government of the United States.

This is the President’s recently-appointed “spiritual advisor,” Paula White, an extravagant preacher who was one of six televangelists investigated in 2007 by the Senate Finance Committee in connection with their fortunes (running to private jets and multiple luxury residences) accrued through “prosperity gospel” practices.

Why would the President take such unseemly measures? Has he converted to the born-again persuasion? Does he “speak in tongues” when he’s among friends? Given his trajectory, it seems unlikely. What is more probable is that his affinity for magical religion has to do with political expediency. According to a Pew Research poll the religious right comprises more than a third of Republican voters, enough to swing a presidential election. Draw your own conclusion. (Source: Pewresearch.org)

Pew Research stats

Presidential Pandering to the Religious Right

The serious part of the story is that, in order to lock in their loyalty, President Trump is pandering to them in ways that are dangerous for American citizens at large. The born-again belief system requires a war in the Holy Land in order to precipitate the Apocalypse–and the consequent “Rapture.” This may sound like nonsense to you and me but, according to Pew Research, about 36% of American voters believe it and they are essentially calling the shots. My question is: Do they even remotely realize the implications of another war in the Middle East? It’s the equivalent of opening the door to World War III. That’s not a certainty, mind you, but it’s a very real possibility. Do we really want to confront it? What’s in it for us? I only foresee one benefit and that’s the re-election of President Donald J. Trump. Come to think of it, I’m not sure that’s a benefit. Are you a hard-core optimist? You might console youself by considering that, when the Third World War does come, it won’t last long.

There’s even more horror. The person that President Trump has appointed to guide America’s  foreign policy, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, is one of the born-again Rapture brigade. Does this mean that his–and your–foreign-policy agenda is driven by his sincere Evangelical beliefs regarding biblical end times and how to jump start them? Yes, that’s exactly what it means. Can you live with that?

Consider the Collateral Damage

There’s considerable collateral damage, as well.  What is going on between President Trump and the Evangelicals is a classic symbiotic relationship. Both sides get something they fervently desire. The Rapture sect gets a ticket to heaven. The President gets re-elected. But in order to do so he has to embrace–directly from the highest office in the land–the Evangelical doomsday agenda, to put the United States government’s seal of approval on it. This legitimizing of religious juju as government policy is a terrible step for an American president to take.

Are prayer meetings legitimate responses to the current corona virus emergency? Or are they just fiddling while the country burns? What comes next, ticket sales to the Apocalypse?  The spinoff of the President’s Rapture collaboration is the effect it could have on stability–or more likely instability–in the Middle East. Israel’s extreme-right-wing Likud party and their perrenial President Netanyahu are, of course, milking this geopolitical windfall to advance their own opportunism in the region. Their truculence vis a vis the Palestinians and the Iranians is actually subsidized with donations by Evangelical organizations in the US.

These miracle-religion-tinged policies are especially grave considering the intellectual and ideological vulnerability of America’s young people. Is this the sort of intellectual baggage that American parents want funneling into their children’s heads? Parents in the US are entitled to take that route. It’s a free country and freedom of religion is a laudable principle up to the point where it puts a majority of American citizens in harm’s way. It makes no difference whether that harm comes from a nuclear holocaust radiating from the Holy Land or from a global virus pandemic. Then a sane, responsible lay government must intervene in order to save the very country. The failure to do so would have consequences and they could well be catastrophic.

Are we already beginning to see the onset of that process? It’s March 25, 2020. In just a matter of weeks we should be able to discern the results of President Trump’s recent determination that the country should soon be “open for business.”  How can the President pretend to know at this point what the extension and gravity of the virus will be, even in the short term. Public health professionals and other scientists are admitting that they can’t make predictions without seeing the results of massive testing programs. Clearly, the President can’t, either. And, given his obligation to promote good health and wellbeing for all Americans, to pretend that he can foresee the future is so wittlessly irresponsible that we might consign it to the category of religion. Then it would be up to a second impeachment panel to decide whether the President should be tried for criminal wittless irresponsibility.

Where Do They Go from Here?

If the United States had a sane and responsible governing team with a vision that went beyond their own enrichment and re-election, at this point in contemporary history they would still be in deep trouble. There are just too many life and death issues on the table at this time: COVID-19, their overt and covert wars around the world, their apocalyptic economic situation, their penchant for cultivating enemies around the world and the meteoric rise of some of their adversary countries. Asia is beginning to look quite first world lately while the US is clearly slipping.

But, since the US conspicuously lacks the necessary sanity and responsibility in government where they are destined to go from here is anyone’s guess. The best we can do is just to lie down and enjoy the spectacle. Our current situation can best be summed up by a millenary Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times.

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What’s Wrong with America?

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The US Body Politic

Only Everything

That “What’s wrong” question is popular lately and the answer, in a word, is Everything. The US body politic is today like the body of a person who is afflicted by a whole series of mortal illnesses. It’s got everything and it’s all terminal:

  • underlying egotism and narcisism
  • obscene predatory capitalism
  • debilitating individualism
  • pervasive lying and misrepresentation everywhere
  • corruption as the order of the day on all fronts
  • deadly inequality and unfairness
  • abiding greed and cynicism
  • ruthlessly exporting dystopia
  • creeping inhumanity
  • loss of credibility abroad
  • repugnant hypocrisy
  • money and bling worship
  • alarming anti-intellectualism
  • rampant militarism and permanent war
  • sick nationalism
  • deterioration of the rule of law
  • toxic religions, opportunistic preachers speaking in tongues
  • unlettered, infirm, immoral leadership

What to Do About It?

What is to be done to remedy this cumulus of mortal ills? If this question had been asked a few decades ago and drastic steps had been taken to cure or even improve somewhat these dysfunctions, something might have been done. But now it’s too late for patches.

The Americans have pointed the pistol at their own temple and pulled the trigger. The round is now proceeding down the barrel at the standard muzzle velocity. Who’s going to stop it now?

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A Drone-Wars, Targeted-Killing Primer– 1/2

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Note: Most of the content of this piece is sourced from the site of an admirable British NGO called Dronewars.net.

A Drone-Wars, Targeted-Killing Glossary

DronesOr Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in military parlance, are pilotless aircraft, flown by remote control, frequently from bunkers halfway around the world by operators recruited from among some of America’s finest computer gamers. There are both unarmed surveillance drones and armed killers. Lethal UAV attacks can be launched from anywhere with a sufficiently powerful communications connections but the principal launch spot for “daily overseas contingency operations” is at Creech Air Force Base in Clark County, Nevada.

WarsWars are armed conflicts undertaken by nations at least theoretically to redress grievances against other nations. In the western world they are under the democratic control of elected representatives. This controlling body in America is the United States Congress. Military actions outside of this context are rogue actions (such as every war the US has launched since World War II) which are illegal under international law.

TargetedThat word gives one a calming sense of security. Ahh, these strikes are “targeted,” precise, controlled, not willfully random nor irresponsible nor out of control. As for civilian casualties, they are kept to the absolute minimum. America’s armed drones are virtually humanitarian. Their strikes are “targeted.” Ho, ho, ho, during the Vietnam War they were telling us that low-flying B-52 tactical close-air-support strikes, with a payload of 70,000 pounds, were “targeted.” Here’s one now, with its full complement of tricks:

B-52_complete

Eight AGM-84 Harpoon missiles, four AGM-142 Raptor missiles, 51 500-pound bombs, 30 1,000-pound bombs, 20 AGM-86C conventional air-launched cruise missiles (CALCM), 12 joint stand-off weapons (JSOW), 12 joint direct-attack munitions (JDAM), and 16 wind-corrected munitions dispensers (WCMD), according to Airforce-technology.com.

KillingKilling has a lot of modes, from eliminating noxious insects or slaughtering livestock for food, to school shootings in peaceful neighborhoods or the bombing of entire cities in wartime. This “carpet bombing” was seen as too horrendous even to consider in the early days of the Second World War, but that delicacy soon passed, just as all the unthinkable becomes ultimately thinkable. So where does “drone killing” fit into this continuum. Before deciding this question we must clarify the terms. “Drone killing” is actually a euphemism, employed to disguise the fact that American drone killing, often portrayed with the innocence and beneficence of crop spraying–is murder, the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another.

Netly outside the legitimizing context of declared war and unsanctioned by any democratic process, the American freelance killing of people from the air by remote control enjoys no legitimacy to distinguish it from murder, nor its perpetrators from murderers. One of its early practitioners was President Barack Obama, who would sit down periodically with his Deputy National Security Advisor, John Brennan, to personally select victims for “targeted killing.” Obama later elevated Brennan, longtime CIA dirty-tricks master, to director of the CIA.

In June of 2011, Brennan claimed that US counter-terrorism operations had not resulted in “a single collateral death” in the previous year because of the “precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop,” even though the Bureau of Investigative Jounalism discovered 76 innocent drone deaths, including eight children and two women.  Later the NY Times revealed the convoluted “reasoning” that permitted Brennan to exonerate himself, his operations and his country from a year’s drone murders. It seems that Washington ‘counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.’

No drone-casualty figures are actually trustworthy due to the secretive world they operate in.  One reliable source assures us that the percentage of innocent civilians among those killed by American combat drones may vary betwee one and 35%.

The American Drones Will Not Be Reined In

Despite the best efforts of activists like the Dronewars people in Britain, there is little room for optimism in the matter of banning killer drones. Fair enough, they’re unthinkably inhuman, brutal, illegal and immoral. Won’t that get them banned? No, actually. In its day the trebuchet, the ingenious medieval catapult used against fortified positions and capable of hurling a heavy stone more than 300 yards, was thought to be unholy. The same went for the longbow, used against the enemies of the English till the end of the 16th century. Its use was considered beyond the ken due to its range, punch and rate of fire, The same process of horror-acceptance-routine has continued until our own times. The machine gun was considered too much, not to mention the atomic bomb. Why should we suppose that killer drones might be any different?

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If you would like to know more about the US drone wars you can download this .pdf file of Dronewars’ 28-page “campaigners’ briefing.” The American drone think tank, the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, takes another–characteristically American–approach. According to their website they’re more interested in exploiting drones: “By conducting original, in-depth, and inquiry-driven projects, we seek to furnish stakeholders, policy-makers, and the public with the resources to engage in a robust public debate and develop policies that best address those opportunities and challenges.”
You might also like to know what Israel is up to on the drone front. The document, also from Dronewars.net, is called: Precise Strikes: Fractured Bodies, Fractured Lives. The Israelis are modern-day drone pioneers and major exporters along with the US and China. Their long-hovering armed drones keep people from all over the Middle East living on tenterhooks.

Coming Soon: Part 2/2, Thinking Drones

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You Made Your Bed, America…

Bed of Nails2

Who’s Responsible for the Mess the US Is In? It’s Possible That You Are.

Were you born into a single-parent family that hovered for long periods around the poverty line? Have you or members of your family had brushes with the law or even been to prison? Do you belong to a racial minority: black, Hispanic or Native American? Have you lived in more than one bad neighborhood? Did  you drop out of school so you could go to work and earn some money?  Do you belong to organizations advocating white supremacy or violent overthrow of the government? Do you read the newspaper? Do you read anything? Do you do drugs regularly? Do you sell them? Do you live in a tent or in a car? If many or most of these statements describe your life, you probably don’t carry much of the blame for the shape your country is in. You’re too busy just trying to get by to cause any serious problems at the national level. You couldn’t even if  you wanted to. You lack the technical knowledge, communications and organizational skills. You lack the contacts and the financing. So you can just keep on doing what you’re doing and you’ll probably never make a blip on your country’s big-issue radar. In all likelihood you remain just another victim of 21st century America.

Or are you from a solid middle-class family with a university education and a well-paying job? Did you go to a good school? Do you own your house? Can you boast never having been in prison? Do you travel abroad? Do you have the best health insurance money can buy? Are you a sharp dresser? Are you well read? Have you thus far avoided serious mental illness? Do you drive a prestige car, or more? Or do you travel by limousine? Do you have friends in high places? Are you horrified by the repugnant state of your nation and the people who are running it? Even so, do you shun “getting involved in politics?” Would you rather spend your spare time on your boat or playing golf, traveling abroad or just trying not to think about it? If you answered “yes” to enough of these questions it’s highly likely that you are to blame for America’s lamentable state of affairs, or at least your corresponding share of it.

President Donald Trump’s Responsibility

Not even Donald Trump is principally responsible for today’s America’s woes. He can only be blamed for aggravating them to a formerly-undreamed-of degree. Those woes have long roots. They were planted hundreds of years ago with the Pilgrims and their intolerant religion, genocidal racism and voracious territorial pretensions. And those “values” have been perversely extended, admired and cultivated ever since by their descendents. Donald Trump was just randomly cast ashore a few centuries down the line with other American floatsam like Billy Graham and the Unabomber. He won the presidency against all odds in a grotesque lottery propelled by circumstances seemingly tailored to his limited qualifications.

He was just lucky, though it’s still not clear whether his luck was good or bad, both for him and for you. What does seem to be clear is that he’s in way over his head. But none of this makes him unique. It makes him a normal American like so many others, just a product of a traditional American upbringing that, by the time he arrived, was fatally flawed. It was the classic me-first, get-rich-quick American way of life, already atypical on the world stage, already pathologically narcissistic (ultra-nationalism is just narcissism on a grand scale), tragically unequal, and homicidally competitive. President Donald J. Trump should be no surprise to anyone. He’s your bog-standard American boy: over sexed and under read, unintelligent and unlettered though shrewd, but certainly too incompetent to have mounted the social, political and economic brouhaha the Americans have on their hands today.

Trump Needed Some Help and He Got It

Donald Trump needed some help in becoming President of the United States. He got it from legally tilted campaign financing norms via Citizens United. He got it from an overreaching Republican Party. They were hoping against hope that they could control a totally new rogue phenomenon in American politics. He got it from manipulating America’s unusual and anti-democratic Electoral College election process. He got it from high-tech, big-data, big-bucks,  low-brow billionaires like Robert Mercer. Mercer, a big-data pioneer, founded Cambridge Analytics and sent teams of media meddlers and data analysts to tilt the Brexit referendum in Britain in favor of abandoning Europe. Last–and far from least–he got it from the American people on both sides, those who voted for him and those who abstained. It is entirely possible that one of those people was you and there were a lot of others like you.

Why Didn’t Some of You Do Something?

Ironically, there was a point where the Donald Trump initiative could have been stopped, peacefully and easily. Simply by voting. Why didn’t that happen? In the first place, the big half of America that should have blocked Trump’s ascension was blindsided. They weren’t expecting a lowbrow real-estate speculator/reality show host to have a ghost of a chance at becoming President of the United States. In the minds of sane Americans–and there are lots of them–a presidential candidate requires special qualities which are usually boiled down to “a presidential air.” He needs to be conspicuously intelligent and well-balanced, an excellent communicator, with some expertise and a certain gravitas. Barak Obama was a good example of this. You can’t have any old used-car salesman governing the greatest country in the world. (Conversely, a country with any old used-car salesman for president cannot be the greatest in the world.)

Those traditional high standards were smashed by George W. Bush in the 2000 elections. Bush, who was a lamentable candidate, went on to become a lamentable President, largely managed by his own personal Svengali, National Security Advisor and later Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. (See Seymour Hersh’s 1984 book: The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House.) It would seem that sane Americans should have seen Bush as a warning sign for the future, but not enough of them did.

Why not? This, I think, has to do with the continental divide between the two Americas, the ultra-nationalist, brainwashed, corporate duped, southernized half and the other half, which I refer to as “sane America.” The latter couldn’t perceive the former–or if they did they couldn’t believe it. Sane Americans couldn’t believe the numbers they were up against, nor the depth of ignorance, nor the vehemence. By the time they realized it fully it was too late.

Why Is This Geopolitical Juncture So Vital?

It’s vital because of the extraordinary instability of the moment, when the American vision of the future of the world, as defined baldly by the neoconservative think tank the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) in the late 1990s, in terms of “”American leadership is good both for America and for the world,” The 2001 attack on the World Trade Center gave wings to PNAC’s and the Pentagon’s “full-spectrum-dominance” solutions. But that was nearly 20 years ago and those “solutions” have proven to be less effective–and more expensive–than expected.

Today the United States finds itself reeling, a victim of its unfulfilled promises at home and abroad, a waning confidence of its own citizens and signs of distrust from its traditionally loyal allies and client states. That is, for example, all of Europe. Even Britain, a little country with seemingly all its eggs in America’s basket, has just expressed exasperation with President Trump’s threat to bomb 52 cultural sites in Iran. It’s not clear whether or not American foreign policy mavens have noticed, but Russia and China are gaining new friends and partners around the world. At least two of America’s traditional hard-core allies, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, are chatting with the Russians on the subject of their S-400 anti-aircraft missiles.

Of course, President Trump’s unilateral, apparently gratuitous murder of Iran’s iconic–to Iranians–Major General Qassem Soleimani has brought issues to a head. Coupled with Trump’s so-called “economic sanctions,” themselves another  act of war, that assassination has opened the door to a host of unforeseeable responses, ranging from merely testimonial to cataclysmic. It’s unclear whether the US deserves to be situated in this uncomfortable position, but there you are, sitting pretty. What comes next seems to depend upon President Trump’s next indigestion.

Where Do You Go From Here, America?

That is the geopolitical question of the moment–and perhaps the century. While the evolution of many of these momentous situations are foreseeable, at least to some degree, this one is shrouded in obscurity. Historically, critical geopolitical moments like this lend themselves to some sort of logical analysis based on historical antecedents, international agreements, studies of countries’ long-term policies, even game-theory analysis, but this case responds to none of these approaches. Thanks to one unpredictable factor that obeys none of the logical variables, we are left entirely in the dark. And that factor is as capricious as the flight of a butterfly on a windless day. President Donald J. Trump, the first American president to govern via Twitter, the narcissist in chief, and the first to explicitly discard all forms of truth and logic, is the most abnormal player in international relations since Hitler or Idi Amin.

Having dismissed or been abandoned by his best advisors (see Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig’s just-published book, A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump’s Testing of America), Trump is on his own with very light baggage. It’s as if he were setting off on an Antarctic expediton with just his golf bag, which, by the way, happens to contain the nuclear button. Unfortunately, America–and the rest of the world–is setting off with him. Will he now opt for another extreme move against the Iranians? Or someone else? There’s only one given when it comes to President Trump’s modus operandi: it’s erratic. The authors of A Very Stable Genius describe him as a “chaotic, undisciplined, impulsive leader.” So we don’t know what he will do at this point in American–and world–history, and we won’t know until it’s too late.

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American Anti-Communism: Fear and Opportunism

Captain_America
This 10-cent pitch to 10-year-olds exemplifies the crude campaign that conditioned more than a century of American foreign policy. And the end is not in sight.

Anti-Communism as Toxic American Apple Pie

Full disclosure: In the early fifties, when I was eight or ten years old I had a recurring fantasy that, if I could only meet and talk with a Russian boy, I could convince him that I didn’t hate him, and that might be the beginning of the end of the Cold War. My take on the subject today is essentially still the same.

As I was growing up in rural Michigan I never stopped wondering how the all-powerful American anti-communist obsession came about, what drove it and where was it taking us. One thing was clear to me: the whole issue was seriously instrumentalized by the American establishment, who converted the threat of communism into a blunt instrument for dominating the minds of the American people and physically bludgeoning the people of other lands utterly to death. It seemed then that everything evil or simply negative in the world could conveniently be explained away by blaming it on the “commies,” and not much has changed in that respect today. Even after the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union “the Russians” are still perceived as enemies, threats to the “free world” and are still held responsible for everything from those subversive little nested dolls to influencing American elections. Having heard that cry of “Wolf!” so many times already, I think I’m entitled to be a bit skeptical.

When I arrived in Spain in 1968 one of the first friends I made was Pablo, a Spanish TV correspondent who was a communist, the first one I ever met. They called them “Eurocomunistas” in those days to distinguish them from Soviet communists.Their program was just about constructing a more decent society in their own country, something they helped to do in the intervening years. During that time they were the only organization on the Spanish political scene to take any real risks in opposing the murderous Franco military regime. Franco, who was a smart, ruthless dictator, ultimately died in bed in 1975. In the meantime my friendship with Pablo developed and he introduced me to his friends, all committed, altruistic young people working towards a Spanish democracy. Today the majority of our Spanish friends are ex-eurocommunists, Spain’s finest folk. The geopolitical wisdom of Captain America was long forgotten until I ran across him on the web the other day.

Allies to Enemies, an Assisted Metamorphosis

A US Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing was already at work in early 1919 presenting “Bolshevik horror stories” which were picked up by the sensationalist press–including the New York Times–adorned with lurid headlines like “Reds Seek War With America” and sold to the American public. This introductory education on Russian communism lasted throughout the 20s and set the tone of what was to come during the rest of the century.

Ironically, America’s mortal enemies since the Second World War were their most-important allies during the war, not Britain and certainly not France. It was the Russians who defeated the most Nazis and paid the highest price in destruction and lives of both soldiers and civilians–more than 20 million. President Roosevelt was convinced that he could work with the Russians after the war. But Roosevelt died and the American right–including President Harry Truman, the know-nothing Democrat, turned on the Soviets. He famously said on the day after the Germans invaded the Soviet Union: “If we see that Germany is winning, we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning, we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible…” He and his British allies then proceeded to sit on their hands for three years, leaving the Russians to take on the Germans by themselves.

After the war the expert American propaganda machine saw to it that those Russians were metamorphosed from allies into adversaries and from there into enemies. The advantage of enemies is that you don’t have to play fair against them and you can kill them if you need to.

For decades the question lurked in the back of my mind: How the hell did that happen? Then I ran across a book by William Blum entitled, The CIA, a forgotten history. Released in 1986 by Zed, an independent non-fiction publishing company based in London, UK, the book’s introduction presents a brief and cogent history of American anticommunism. It occupies a scant 14 pages but it immediately cleared away all the cobwebs in my head on the subject of American anticommunism. Most of the facts in this article come from that introduction to Blum’s book.

Here’s How America’s Geopolitical Blood Feud Began

Soviet communism resulted from the Bolshevik revolution, the derrogation of the Tsar of all the Russias, which coincided with the end of the First World War. Communism experienced its greatest growth during the 1930s. While Western economies were muddling their way through the Great Depression, Russian industry boomed and technology advanced. One of Stalin’s pet projects was the formation of engineers. Communism was admired by working people from around the world, but not so much by the owners of the means of production. Thanks mainly to Stalin’s purges and gulags, that utopian mirage didn’t last long but it was long enough to throw a powerful scare into the world’s capitalist oligarchs, one they never recovered from. It didn’t take them long to mobilize.

As early as 1918 the United States launched two military attacks on Russia from the north, one (the Polar Bear Expedition) at Arkhangelsk  and another (the American Expeditionary Force, Siberia) at Vladivostak, Russia’s important Pacific port near the Chinese border. These initiatives, which coincided with the Russian civil war, were ill conceived and executed and allegedly gave rise to a mutiny among the 5,000 troops at Arkhangelsk–two thirds of which were from Michigan. The principal results of these senseless military missions were to terrorize the population of north Russia and cast a lasting shadow over relations between the US and the Soviet Union.

The inspiration for this attempt “to strangle at its birth” the Bolshevik state came from the British Minister for Air and War, the young Winston Churchill, who remained throughout his life a bitter enemy of Russia and one of the principal animators of the Cold War.

Blum asks, “What was there about this Bolshevik Revolution that so alarmed the most powerful nations in the world?” He relates how the Russians had dared to make a separate peace with Germany, abandoning the First World War after three years of bloody fighting. Graver still, they overthrew a capitalist-feudal regime and proclaimed the world’s first socialist state. Says Blum, “This was the crime the Allies had to punish, the virus which had to be eradicated lest it spread to their own people.”

The Dreaded Enemy Becomes a Useful Pawn in the Game

For years, numerous Americans, in high positions and obscure, sullenly harbored the conviction that World War II was “the wrong war against the wrong enemies.” Communism, they knew, was the only genuine enemy on America’s historical agenda. Was that not why Hitler had been ignoired/tolerated/appeased? So that the Nazi war machine would turn East and wipe Bolshevism off the face of the earth once and for all? It was just unfortunate that Adolf turned out be be such a megalomaniac and turned West as well. (William Blum, The CIA: A Forgotten History)

The shrewd American foreign-policy team, headed by Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, figured out by the 50s how to turn Soviet Communism to their advantage by casting the Russians as the quintessential enemy, responsible for misdeeds all over the world. There was nothing so far off nor so tenuous that it couldn’t be attributed to “the Russkies.” According to Wisconsin Senator Eugene McCarthy they had even deeply infiltrated the US government . The Americans continued beating the same tired drum during President Ronald Reagan’s Crusade Against the Evil Empire in the 80s.

One hundred years of  overt and covert hammering on the American subconscious has had a devastating effect on their perception of the world outside their own borders. Today the average American’s reaction to any mention of communists or communism is wholly Pavolvian. They immediately start to salivate.

William Blum, sums it up:

The American people have been subjected to a relentless anti-communist indoctrination. It is imbibed with their mother’s milk, pictured in their comic books, spelled out in their school books; their daily paper offfers them headlines that tell them all they need to know; ministers find sermons in it; politicians are elected with it and Reader’s Digest becomes rich on it.

Blum then goes on to elucidate in elaborate detail the pecadilloes of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the United States’s principal agency in the fight against communism (which incidentally can include socialism, liberalism and, at times, simple nationalism or self determination.) As Blum makes clear over more than 400 pages, the cure has been vastly more serious than the illness.

Meanwhile, the reality of US-Soviet relations since World War II was much more nuanced than Captain America would have us believe. The most outstanding example was during and after the Cuban missile crisis, 13 days in October, 1962, which was the closest humankind has ever come to total extermination. Both President Kennedy and Chairman Krushchev were acutely aware of the extreme gravity of what almost happened in Cuba and both were convinced that it was up to them to take measures to obviate the possibility of a catastrophic, world-ending “misunderstanding.” Both leaders faced bitter opposition to peace initiatives in their respective military establishments but Krushchev was determined and Kennedy seemed to be inclined. He was encouraged by Norman Cousins, his private envoy to Krushchev, who informed him that the Soviet leader sincerely sought “a new relationship with the United States…” Cousins suggested that Kennedy deliver an address offering “a breathtaking new approach toward the Russian people, calling for an end to the cold war and a fresh start in American-Russian relations.”

This new departure was suggested in Kennedy’s June, 1963, American University address, prepared by the President and his staff without the intervention of the Joint Chiefs, the CIA or the State Department. Stone and Kuznick, authors of The Untold History of the United States, consider this talk “the most enlightened speech made by any president in the twentieth century.” This is the version published in that history book. The President said:

I have…chosen this time and this place to discuss a topic on which ignorance too often abounds and the truth is too rarely perceived–yet it is the most important topic on earth: world peace. What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war… I am talking about genuine peace–the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living–the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children–not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women–not merely peace in our time but peace for all time. I speak of peace because of the new face of war. Total war makes no sense in an age when great powers can maintain large and largely invulnerable nuclear forces and refuse to surrender without resort to those forces. It makes no sense in an age when a single nuclear weapon contains almost ten times the explosive force delivered by all of the allied air forces in the Second World War. It makes no sense in an age when the deadly poisons produced by a nuclear exchange would be carried by the wind and water and soil and seed to the far corners of the globe and to generations unborn… Second: Let us re-examine our attitude toward the Soviet Union…it is sad to…realize the extent of the gulf between us. But it is also…a warning to the American people not to…see only a distorted and desperate view of the other side, not to see conflict as inevitable, accommodations as impossible and communication as nothing more than an exchange of threats… Today, should total war ever break out again…all we have built, all we have worked for, would be destroyed in the first 24 hours… In short, both the United States and its allies, and the Soviet Union and its allies, have a mutually deep interest in a just and genuine peace and in halting the arms race… And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal. Third: Let us re-examine our attitude toward the Cold War…we shall also do our part to build a world of peace where the weak are safe and the strong are just. We are not helpless before that task or hopeless of its success. Confident and unafraid, we labor on–not toward a strategy of annihilation but toward a strategy of peace.

Five short months later, on November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was murdered. Premier Krushchev was deposed in October of the following year, and the world returned to the status quo ante.

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