Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Banker's Christmas - Bleed the World

A Battle to Redefine Humanity

This is Bigger than Climate Change. It is a Battle to Redefine Humanity

It's hard for a species used to ever-expanding frontiers, but survival depends on accepting we live within limits

By George Monbiot

December 16, 2009 "The Guardian" Dec. 15, 2009 -- This is the moment at which we turn and face ourselves. Here, in the plastic corridors and crowded stalls, among impenetrable texts and withering procedures, humankind decides what it is and what it will become. It chooses whether to continue living as it has done, until it must make a wasteland of its home, or to stop and redefine itself. This is about much more than climate change. This is about us.

The meeting at Copenhagen confronts us with our primal tragedy. We are the universal ape, equipped with the ingenuity and aggression to bring down prey much larger than itself, break into new lands, roar its defiance of natural constraints. Now we find ourselves hedged in by the consequences of our nature, living meekly on this crowded planet for fear of provoking or damaging others. We have the hearts of lions and live the lives of clerks.

The summit's premise is that the age of heroism is over. We have entered the age of accommodation. No longer may we live without restraint. No longer may we swing our fists regardless of whose nose might be in the way. In everything we do we must now be mindful of the lives of others, cautious, constrained, meticulous. We may no longer live in the moment, as if there were no tomorrow.

This is a meeting about chemicals: the greenhouse gases insulating the atmosphere. But it is also a battle between two world views. The angry men who seek to derail this agreement, and all such limits on their self-fulfilment, have understood this better than we have. A new movement, most visible in North America and Australia, but now apparent everywhere, demands to trample on the lives of others as if this were a human right. It will not be constrained by taxes, gun laws, regulations, health and safety, especially by environmental restraints. It knows that fossil fuels have granted the universal ape amplification beyond its Palaeolithic dreams. For a moment, a marvellous, frontier moment, they allowed us to live in blissful mindlessness.

The angry men know that this golden age has gone; but they cannot find the words for the constraints they hate. Clutching their copies of Atlas Shrugged, they flail around, accusing those who would impede them of communism, fascism, religiosity, misanthropy, but knowing at heart that these restrictions are driven by something far more repulsive to the unrestrained man: the decencies we owe to other human beings.

I fear this chorus of bullies, but I also sympathise. I lead a mostly peaceful life, but my dreams are haunted by giant aurochs. All those of us whose blood still races are forced to sublimate, to fantasise. In daydreams and video games we find the lives that ecological limits and other people's interests forbid us to live.

Humanity is no longer split between conservatives and liberals, reactionaries and progressives, though both sides are informed by the older politics. Today the battle lines are drawn between expanders and restrainers; those who believe that there should be no impediments and those who believe that we must live within limits. The vicious battles we have seen so far between greens and climate change deniers, road safety campaigners and speed freaks, real grassroots groups and corporate-sponsored astroturfers are just the beginning. This war will become much uglier as people kick against the limits that decency demands.

So here we are, in the land of Beowulf's heroics, lost in a fog of acronyms and euphemisms, parentheses and exemptions, the deathly diplomacy required to accommodate everyone's demands. There is no space for heroism here; all passion and power breaks against the needs of others. This is how it should be, though every neurone revolts against it.

Although the delegates are waking up to the scale of their responsibility, I still believe they will sell us out. Everyone wants his last adventure. Hardly anyone among the official parties can accept the implications of living within our means, of living with tomorrow in mind. There will, they tell themselves, always be another frontier, another means to escape our constraints, to dump our dissatisfactions on other places and other people. Hanging over everything discussed here is the theme that dare not speak its name, always present but never mentioned. Economic growth is the magic formula which allows our conflicts to remain unresolved.

While economies grow, social justice is unnecessary, as lives can be improved without redistribution. While economies grow, people need not confront their elites. While economies grow, we can keep buying our way out of trouble. But, like the bankers, we stave off trouble today only by multiplying it tomorrow. Through economic growth we are borrowing time at punitive rates of interest. It ensures that any cuts agreed at Copenhagen will eventually be outstripped. Even if we manage to prevent climate breakdown, growth means that it's only a matter of time before we hit a new constraint, which demands a new global response: oil, water, phosphate, soil. We will lurch from crisis to existential crisis unless we address the underlying cause: perpetual growth cannot be accommodated on a finite planet.

For all their earnest self-restraint, the negotiators in the plastic city are still not serious, even about climate change. There's another great unmentionable here: supply. Most of the nation states tussling at Copenhagen have two fossil fuel policies. One is to minimise demand, by encouraging us to reduce our consumption. The other is to maximise supply, by encouraging companies to extract as much from the ground as they can.

We know, from the papers published in Nature in April, that we can use a maximum of 60% of current reserves of coal, oil and gas if the average global temperature is not to rise by more than two degrees. We can burn much less if, as many poorer countries now insist, we seek to prevent the temperature from rising by more than 1.5C. We know that capture and storage will dispose of just a small fraction of the carbon in these fuels. There are two obvious conclusions: governments must decide which existing reserves of fossil fuel are to be left in the ground, and they must introduce a global moratorium on prospecting for new reserves. Neither of these proposals has even been mooted for discussion.

But somehow this first great global battle between expanders and restrainers must be won and then the battles that lie beyond it – rising consumption, corporate power, economic growth – must begin. If governments don't show some resolve on climate change, the expanders will seize on the restrainers' weakness. They will attack – using the same tactics of denial, obfuscation and appeals to self-interest – the other measures that protect people from each other, or which prevent the world's ecosystems from being destroyed. There is no end to this fight, no line these people will not cross. They too are aware that this a battle to redefine humanity, and they wish to redefine it as a species even more rapacious than it is today.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Jewish Panels Vet U.S. Government Appointees

American Jews eye Obama's 'anti-Israel' appointees
By Natasha Mozgovaya

Morton A. Klein - Who voted for this guy!?

Every appointee to the American government must endure a thorough background check by the American Jewish community.

In the case of Obama's government in particular, every criticism against Israel made by a potential government appointee has become a catalyst for debate about whether appointing "another leftist" offers proof that Obama does not truly support Israel.

A few months ago, boisterous protests by the American Jewish community helped foil the appointment of Chaz Freeman to chair the National Intelligence Council, citing his "anti-Israel leaning."

The next attempt to appoint an intelligence aide, in this case, former Republican senator Chuck Hagel, also resulted in vast criticism over his not having a pro-Israel record.

American Zionists are urging Obama to cancel Hagel's appointment because of what they call a long and problematic record of hostility toward Israel.

The president of the Zionist Organization of America, Morton A. Klein, described Hagel's nomination as such: "Any American who is concerned about Iran's drive to obtain nuclear weapons, maintaining the Israeli-U.S. relationship and supporting Israel in its legitimate fight to protect her citizens from terrorism should oppose this appointment."

Republican Jews have also protested Hagel's appointment, citing an incident in 2004 when Hagel refused to sign a letter calling on then-president George Bush to speak about Iran's nuclear program at the G8 summit that year.

In August of 2006, Hagel refused to sign a letter requesting the UN declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

In a speech at the conference of self-declared "pro-peace, pro-Israel" lobby J Street, Hagel spoke about his views on the issue of Israel and the Middle East.

"The United States' support for Israel need not be - nor should it be - an either-or proposition that dictates our relationships with our Arab allies and friends. The U.S. has a long and special relationship with Israel, but it must not come at the expense of our Arab relationships," Hagel said.

The latest round of heated debate has been over the nomination of Hannah Rosenthal to head the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism in the Obama administration.

Rosenthal, who is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, served as a Health Department regional director under the Clinton administration, and held positions in different left-leaning Jewish organizations.

Between 2000 and 2005, Rosenthal was the head of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; she was also the executive director of the Chicago Foundation for Women. In recent years, she has served on the advisory board of the J Street lobby.

The president of Americans for Peace Now lauded Obama's appointment of Rosenthal. Even Anti-Defamation League chairman Abraham Foxman came out in support of Rosenthal's appointment.

"This appointment signals the continued seriousness of America?s resolve to fight anti-Semitism," Foxman said in a statement.

Shortly after the announcement of Rosenthal's nomination, conservative Jewish web sites began to attack her, some of them declaring that Obama appointed an anti-Israeli to fight anti-Semitism.

Rumors brewed that she had accused Israel of systemically strengthening anti-Semitism. Bloggers argued that her appointment would cause Jews and Israelis to cast doubt on Obama and his relationship with Israel.

In one of her articles, Rosenthal criticized conservative voices in the Jewish community who she accused of taking over the discourse regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"It's a scary time, with people losing the ability to differentiate between a Jew, any Jew, and what's going on in Israel," Rosenthal said.

In an interview with the new online Jewish magazine, Tablet, Rosenthal said that she loves Israel.

"I have lived in Israel. I go back and visit every chance I can. I consider it part of my heart. And because I love it so much, I want to see it safe and secure and free and democratic and living safely," Rosenthal said.

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Blair, Obama and the Narcissist's Defense

Miraculous Organ: Blair, Obama
and the Narcissist's Defense
by Chris Floyd


In recent days we have all witnessed two vomitous eruptions of moral nullity that would tax the powers of a Voltaire or a Vidal to do them proper justice; they quite o'er-crow the meager gifts of a hack like me. But I will sketch a few observations here nonetheless, if only to add one more small voice to those few who bear witness to the evils perpetrated by our unaccountable leaders.

We speak of course of Barack Obama's Nobel speech and Tony Blair's recent comments on the Iraq War. Let's take the lesser figure first.

Since leaving office, Tony Blair has dipped his blood-smeared snout into various corporate troughs, amassing millions, while simultaneously becoming one of the great whited sepulchres of our day, making a great show of his conversion to Catholicism, his "faith foundation," and so on. He has even lectured at Yale Divinity School. But this holy huckster looks more haunted every day. The glaring, bulging eyes, the frantic rictus of his grin – indistinguishable from the grimace of a man in gut-clenching pain --- and the ever-more strident, maniacal defense of his war crimes give compelling testimony to the hellish fires consuming his psyche.

Next month, Blair will go before the Chilcot Inquiry, a panel of UK Establishment worthies charged with investigating the origins of Britain's role in the invasion of Iraq. Although the worthies have been remarkably toothless in their questioning of the great and good so far – the smell of whitewash is definitely in the air – the inquiry has at least performed the useful function of bringing the forgotten subject of Iraq back into the public eye, while collating and confirming, with sworn testimony, much of what we have learned in dribs and drabs over the years about the rank, deliberate deceit behind this murderous catastrophe. One choice bit that has emerged from the inquiry is the revelation that the centerpiece of Blair's case for immediate war – the claim that Saddam Hussein could hit Europe with WMD-loaded missiles on just 45 minutes' notice – came from unconfirmed, third-hand gossip passed along by an Iraqi taxi driver.

As Blair's turn on the well-padded Chilcot cushion draws near, he has launched frantic efforts to keep his testimony secret while at the same time trying to undercut the rationale for the whole war origins inquiry, which has focused on the professed justification for the invasion: disarming Iraq's (non-existent) WMD. So last week, Blair gave an interview to a friendly, timorous chat-show host in which he made the brazen admission – no, the proud boast – that he would have found a way to drive Britain into war with Iraq even if he had known for certain that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction. (And of course, given the nature of the "'intelligence" that Blair used in his pre-war WMD claims it is certain that Blair was indeed certain that Saddam had no such weapons when the invasion was launched).

Thus it is now Blair's contention that there is no charge to answer concerning the origins of the war; all this WMD guff is meaningless. He would have found "other arguments" to persuade Britons to follow George W. Bush into the war that American militarists had long been planning.

Blair's admission has drawn a remarkable response from another Establishment mandarin, Sir Ken Macdonald, who served for five years as Director of Public Prosecutions under Blair's government – and now works in private practice at a major law firm…alongside Tony Blair's wife, Cherie. The headline in The Times puts it plainly: "Intoxicated by power, Blair tricked us into war." In his column, Macdonald writes:

"The degree of deceit involved in our decision to go to war on Iraq becomes steadily clearer. This was a foreign policy disgrace of epic proportions and playing footsie on Sunday morning television does nothing to repair the damage. It is now very difficult to avoid the conclusion that Tony Blair engaged in an alarming subterfuge with his partner George Bush and went on to mislead and cajole the British people into a deadly war they had made perfectly clear they didn’t want, and on a basis that it’s increasingly hard to believe even he found truly credible.

"...Mr Blair’s fundamental flaw was his sycophancy towards power. Perhaps this seems odd in a man who drank so much of that mind-altering brew at home. But Washington turned his head and he couldn’t resist the stage or the glamour that it gave him. In this sense he was weak and, as we can see, he remains so. Since those sorry days we have frequently heard him repeating the self-regarding mantra that “hand on heart, I only did what I thought was right”. But this is a narcissist’s defence and self-belief is no answer to misjudgment: it is certainly no answer to death. “Yo, Blair”, perhaps, was his truest measure."

Macdonald also gives us a sneak peek inside the workings of the elite, with observations that doubtless apply equally well across the ocean:

"In British public life, loyalty and service to power can sometimes count for more to insiders than any tricky questions of wider reputation. It’s the regard you are held in by your peers that really counts, so that steadfastness in the face of attack and threatened exposure brings its own rich hierarchy of honour and reward. Disloyalty, on the other hand, means a terrible casting out, a rocky and barren Roman exile that few have the courage to endure. So which way will our heroes jump?

"We must hope in the right direction — for it is precisely this privately arranged nature of British Establishment power, stubborn beyond sympathy for years in the face of the modern world, that has brought our politics so low. If Chilcot fails to reveal the truth without fear in this Middle Eastern story of violence and destruction, the inquiry will be held in deserved and withering contempt."

It is almost certain that the Chilcot inquiry will produce little more than the usual blood-flecked whitewash. Certainly, Tony Blair will face no official action for his crimes; he will not even lose any of his corporate sponsors, unlike the heinous Tiger Woods, whose sexual intimacy with consenting adults is obviously far worse than the murder of more than one million innocent people. (We'll never see Woods lecturing at Yale Divinity School now!)

But keep looking at Blair's face; watch, year by year, as it brings forth the hideous fruits of the inferno within. For as one of his illustrious countrymen once put it: "Murder, though it have no tongue, will speak with most miraculous organ."

"A narcissist's defense." As a description of Obama's Peace Prize speech, Macdonald's phrase could hardly be bettered. But the intense, near-pathological self-regard in the speech was not Obama's alone, of course; we must do him the credit of acknowledging that in this regard, at least, he was what we so often proclaim our leaders to be: the embodiment of the nation. His soaring proclamation of American exceptionalism, in a setting supposedly devoted to universal principles of peace, was breathtaking in its chutzpah – but entirely in keeping with the feelings of the vast majority of his countrymen, and the ruling elite above all.

Many have already remarked on Obama's adoption in the speech of Bush's principle of unilateral, "pre-emptive" military action, anytime, anywhere, whenever a leader declares his nation is under threat. This approach -- which Bush called "the path of action" -- was roundly scorned by critics of the former regime, many of whom now scramble to praise Obama's "nuanced" embrace of aggression. But again, let us give credit where it is due; in this aspect of the speech, Obama did in fact go beyond Bush's more narrowly nationalist conception, saying: "I — like any head of state — reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation."

Thus Obama would, apparently, extend the right of unilateral military action to "any head of state" that feels the necessity of defending his or her nation. But of course this is just empty verbiage, a pointless, bald-faced lie that not even Bush would have tried to get away with. Would Obama accept a unilateral, pre-emptive strike by Tehran against Israel, where legislators and government officials routinely talk of attacking Iran? Would Obama cheer the "right" of Russia to strike unilaterally at Poland if the U.S. "missile shield" deal, now on hold, was suddenly consummated? Would Obama support a unilateral strike by India at Pakistan -- or vice versa -- in the still-seething cauldron of tensions on the subcontinent, where both nations legitimately feel threatened by the other? Would he support the right of Kim Jong-il to "defend his nation" by attacking South Korea the next time there is a threatening border incident there?

No, it is clear that only the United States -- and its allies, like Israel -- are to be allowed the supreme privilege of unilateral war. The line was inserted in the speech simply because it would sound good in the moment, and create a temporary emotional reaction that might carry listeners past the macabre incongruity underlying the entire event: giving a peace award to the bloodstained leader of a military machine hip-deep in the coagulate gore of two, vast, civilian-slaughtering wars.

Obama staked his boldest claim to American exceptionalism with a passage that he lifted, almost verbatim, from his West Point speech just a few days before (see here and especially here), when he announced his second massive escalation of the war in Afghanistan:

"Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest — because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other people's children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity."

Here is chutzpah -- and hubris -- raised to the level of the sublime. Obama has taken the words he used to instigate the certain death of thousands of human beings and the acceleration of hatred, extremism, chaos and brutal corruption around the world -- and offered them as justification for the hideous, unabashedly Orwellian doctrine at the core of his speech: War is Peace. In this perverse inversion of values, Obama, as a warmaker, is actually a peacemaker, you see -- and thus a legitimate heir to the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., who was evoked at several points in the speech.

And here we come to what was for me the most revolting part of the speech. And perhaps the most significant too. All the cant about America's altruism and "enlightened self-interest" in killing millions of people -- Indochina was one of many convenient blank spots in Obama's historical survey-- for the sake of all the children of the world (red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in our sight) was just par for the rhetorical course. It was nothing that had not been said many times before, including the references -- so lauded by Obama's liberal apologists -- to those inadvertent "mistakes" America seems to keep making; out of a surfeit of good intentions, no doubt. But I don't think an American president has so openly and directly traduced the work of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi before. (And to do it while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, no less! Oh, that sublime brass....)

Although larded with usual hyper-yet-flaccid, florid-yet-false oratorical stylings that have become Obama's trademark, his words about King and Gandhi drip with scorn and condescension. I was actually taken aback when I read these passages:

"I make this statement [about the moral justification for war] mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: It merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life's work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak, nothing passive, nothing naive in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King."

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms.

The intellectual incoherence and arrogant sneering behind this supposedly laudatory passage is staggering. After claiming to be the personal embodiment of King and Gandhi's philosophy of non-violent action, Obama gives the game away with this line: "I face the world as it is." Those other two guys, they were just dreamers, they were unrealistic, they were unserious; they didn't "face the world as it is," they weren't savvy and pragmatic, like me. I have to go to war because I'm a head of state "sworn to protect and defend my nation."

[Here, Obama indulges in a trope that is pandemic among his apologists: the idea that he was somehow forced to become the head of a militarist state waging endless war around the world, that he has somehow woken up and found himself "the Commander-in-Chief of a nation in the midst of two wars." But of course he chose to pursue this kind of power in this kind of system -- chose it, pursued it, fought like hell to win it. It's what he wanted. Yet still this notion of Obama as a helpless victim of fate -- lost in a world he never made -- persists.]

He then goes on to give the lie to his previously stated admiration for Gandhi and King: "A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms." Thus, King, Gandhi and any practitioner of non-violent resistance to evil are, ultimately, naive, ineffectual -- weak.

Notice the incoherence – or perhaps deliberate elision – at work here. Obama says he must face down "threats to the American people" -- and then talks about Hitler's armies, immediately coupling, and rhetorically equating them, with al-Qaeda's scattered handful of hidden fugitives. Are the American people now threatened by Hitler's armies? Are al-Qaeda's paltry forces -- less than 100 of them in Afghanistan, according to Obama's own war-wagers -- the equal of Hitler's armies of millions of men?

But there is a deeper untruth beyond these cheap rhetorical tricks. For it is blatantly untrue to say that "a nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies." First of all, one cannot make that statement because this approach was never tried. Therefore you cannot say categorically that it would not have worked. Doubtless it would have cost millions of lives; but as Gandhi himself pointed out, the violent resistance to Hitler's armies also cost tens of millions of lives. But Obama's formulation -- which is a hackneyed one indeed -- only deals with one view of non-violent resistance to Hitler: i.e., from the outside, resisting his armies as they poured across the borders. There is another way in which a non-violent resistance movement without any doubt could have "halted Hitler's armies": if it had taken root and spread throughout Germany itself, including among the armed forces and its supporting industries.

In the event, this did not happen. But it was not, and is not, an impossibility for humankind to pursue such an approach. Therefore it is fatuous and false to state what cannot possibly be known: whether non-violent resistance would have thwarted Nazism, and whether this would have been more or less costly than the way of violence.

Similarly, it is false to say that "negotiations cannot convince al-Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms." The only response to this bald statement is: How do you know? Has anybody tried it? No. Therefore you cannot call it an impossibility -- and then use this supposed, untested "impossibility" as your justification for laying waste to whole nations. You may say that it would be unjust to negotiate with al-Qaeda, that those who use murderous violence to achieve their ends should simply be killed or prosecuted. (Although where would that leave the leaders of the exalted, exceptional, unilateral United States?) But of course this is precisely what Gandhi did: he sat down and negotiated with the representatives of an empire that had caused the deaths of millions of his own people. He negotiated with them in good faith, with good will, despite what they had done and were doing to his people -- and despite the fact that many of his interlocutors, such as Winston Churchill, hated him with a blind, racist fury. And he was successful -- although again, not without cost, both before and after the liberation. But Gandhi, and King, knew the costs of non-violence – because they were genuinely savvy, and genuinely realistic about the nature of evil.

In any case, aside from the particulars of any real situation or hypothetical scenario, the speech is a glaring example of Obama's deep-seated (and perhaps unconscious) contempt for the path of peace, and its practitioners. It is also a manifestation of his own inferno, of his desperate need to justify -- to himself and to the world -- his free, deliberate choice to follow the blood-choked "path of action" as the commander-in-chief of a bloated, brutal war machine.

No one forced any of these decisions – or these specious, obscene justifications – on Obama or Blair. It is their own narcissism -- their own lust for power, and their love for the system that gave them that power – has covered them with the blood and shame that now taint their every word and deed.