Two important speeches…

Putin’s speech at the Valdai Club

The Cold War ended, but it did not end with the signing of a peace treaty with clear and transparent agreements on respecting existing rules or creating new rules and standards. This created the impression that the so-called ‘victors’ in the Cold War had decided to pressure events and reshape the world to suit their own needs and interests. If the existing system of international relations, international law and the checks and balances in place got in the way of these aims, this system was declared worthless, outdated and in need of immediate demolition.

Pardon the analogy, but this is the way nouveaux riches behave when they suddenly end up with a great fortune, in this case, in the shape of world leadership and domination. Instead of managing their wealth wisely, for their own benefit too of course, I think they have committed many follies.

We have entered a period of differing interpretations and deliberate silences in world politics. International law has been forced to retreat over and over by the onslaught of legal nihilism. Objectivity and justice have been sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. Arbitrary interpretations and biased assessments have replaced legal norms. At the same time, total control of the global mass media has made it possible when desired to portray white as black and black as white.

In a situation where you had domination by one country and its allies, or its satellites rather, the search for global solutions often turned into an attempt to impose their own universal recipes. This group’s ambitions grew so big that they started presenting the policies they put together in their corridors of power as the view of the entire international community. But this is not the case.

Absolutely crucial statement by Foreign Minister Lavrov

In attempting to establish their pre-eminence at a time when new economic, financial and political power centres are emerging, the Americans provoke counteraction in keeping with Newton’s third law and contribute to the emergence of structures, mechanisms, and movements that seek alternatives to the American recipes for solving the pressing problems. I am not referring to anti-Americanism, still less about forming coalitions spearheaded against the United States, but only about the natural wish of a growing number of countries to secure their vital interests and do it the way they think right, and not what they are told “from across the pond.” Nobody is going to play anti-US games just to spite the United States. We face attempts and facts of extra-territorial use of US legislation, the kidnapping of our citizens in spite of existing treaties with Washington whereby these issues are to be resolved through law enforcement and judicial bodies.

According to its doctrine of national security, the United States has the right to use force anywhere, anytime without necessarily asking the UN Security Council for approval. A coalition against the Islamic State was formed unbeknownst to the Security Council. I asked Secretary of State John Kerry why have not they gone to the UN Security Council for this.

He told me that if they did, they would have to somehow designate the status of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. Of course, they had to because Syria is a sovereign state and still a member of the UN (no one excluded it from UN membership). The secretary of state said it was wrong because the United States is combating terrorism and the al-Assad regime is the most important factor that galvanises terrorists from around the world and acts as a magnet attracting them to this region in an attempt to overthrow the Syrian regime.

I believe this is perverse logic. If we are talking about precedents (the United States adheres to case law), it is worth remembering the chemical disarmament in Syria when the Assad regime was a completely legitimate partner of the United States, Russia, the OPCW and others. The Americans maintain talks with the Taliban as well. Whenever the United States has an opportunity to benefit from something, it acts quite pragmatically. I’m not sure why the ideologically-driven position took the upper hand this time and the United States chose to believe that Assad cannot be a partner. Perhaps, this is not so much an operation against the Islamic State as paving the way for toppling al-Assad under the guise of a counter-terrorist operation.

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After Ferguson: Not business as usual…

Darren Wilson not indicted: read the full grand jury report

From NYC to LA: Protesters flood streets in Ferguson verdict rage

The fallout from the Missouri grand jury’s decision to acquit the officer accused of killing Michael Brown. Demonstrations are taking place in a number of large cities across the country, including outside the White House in Washington, DC.

Ferguson in Context on the Eve of the Grand Jury Decision

In addition, we’ve got Ferguson, facing a revenue crisis as property taxes from the factories disappear, turning to the law enforcement system to raise revenue (a public policy approach suggested by an especially vile libertarian, Robert Poole). From Governing:

Ferguson’s budget relies heavily on public safety and court fines that have skyrocketed in recent years. A review of Ferguson’s financial statements indicates that court fine collections now account for one-fifth of total operating revenue. The St. Louis suburb of about 21,000 residents [like I said: small] took in more than $2.5 million in municipal court revenue last fiscal year, representing an 80 percent increase from only two years prior, when fines netted about $1.4 million.

[Brendan Roediger of the Saint Louis University School of Law] described a court system in Ferguson and select areas of St. Louis that function primarily as a revenue generator. “They don’t want to actually incarcerate people because it costs money, so they fine them,” he said. “It appears [because it is] to be a blatant money grab.”

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“outsourced imperialism”…

School of the Americas Morphs Into US Training Industrial Complex

With at least 1,000 “students” per year attending the School to learn the latest in counter-insurgency techniques, psychological warfare and US military doctrine, the SOA transformed two generations of Latin American soldiers into anticommunist “shock troops” manning the front lines of US “national interests” around Latin America. This growing cohort of graduates effectively became Washington’s outsourced army deployed throughout the Western Hemisphere.

But it was the Cold War. That was then. And this is now.

Now the Cold War has given way to wars on both drugs and terror. Now the School of the Americas has been rebranded as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). And now the United States has shifted away from the centralized models of the Cold War and the SOA by, in essence, opening up a vast satellite campus system of military training and client state development around the world.

Instead of training a hemispheric cohort of anticommunist armies and paramilitaries, the US increasingly trains a growing network of “counterterrorism” forces, drug warriors and security forces in pro-US regimes around the world: from the Philippines to the Horn of Africa, across the continent to West Africa and, of course, back in Central America. Ironically, troops on “training missions” have been rotating out of Ft. Benning to train forces inside Honduras – one of the deadliest nations on earth.

Communities in Resistance: Presentes!

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The human condition: fitting the facts (reasons) around an already-made decision?

Adventures In Flatland — Part III

If reality doesn’t matter to McKibben, Klein and others, we are entitled to ask: well, then, what does matter to them?

In the types of social groups we’re interested in, groups which determine or try to influence social and economic policy, what matters most is the existence and coherence of the group itself. I will quote the first paragraph of C. Fred Alford’s Group Psychology and Political Theory (Yale University Press, 1994, emphasis added).

In the beginning was the group. This is the fundamental truth about human nature and politics, and neither modern nor contemporary political theory has yet come to terms with it. It is an empirical truth. As far as we know, male and female humans have always lived together in groups. All the anthropological evidence supports this conclusion, and none refutes it, however much anthropologists differ on the details. The state of nature Hobbes and Rousseau write about, a bunch of isolated individuals running around either killing each other or ignoring each other, is pure fiction…

[My own work] is also a critique of ideology. The way in which the traditional state-of-nature theorists, as well as many contemporary political theorists, set aside the facts about man’s groupishness makes their theories ideologies: systems of ideas that defend against knowledge of social reality. Not empirical reality versus fiction, but whether one uses stories to get at the truth—or escape from it—is the issue.

In the beginning was the group … this is an empirical truth. It is not only political theorists who “set aside the facts about man’s groupishness,” for it is necessarily true that sociopolitical groups (like those climate activists) exemplify that very groupishness. Regardless of what sociopolitical group we are talking about, group leaders and followers are not consciously setting aside anything because their own groupishness (or groupiness) lies outside awareness.

Group belief systems—ideologies—are always secondary to groupishness itself. Experience tells us that group belief systems needn’t reflect social or physical reality. In fact, group belief systems seem to be arbitrary. Sometimes, they are bat-shit crazy (e.g., the climate views of conventional economists qua social group).

That sad observation follows from the fact that ideologies are merely the scaffolding holding social groups together, an arbitrary reflection of the underlying cognitive glue which allows those groups to exist. Paraphrasing Alford, group members do not use stories “to get at the truth,” as we’ve just seen in the climate activist example. It is far more important that those in the group all be on the same page, regardless of reality.

And if outsiders question these seemingly arbitrary belief systems, group members will defend to the death their truthfulness! As I noted, there is an existential threat in such criticisms—to the group, and thus its members, especially its leaders. In Flatland, intergroup conflict (politics) always appears to be a war of ideas, but the real underlying issue is always the legitimacy and coherence of the group itself.

And all this, ladies and gentlemen, is the source of much of the bullshit we encounter every single day in the 21st century. Those in sociopolitical (or socioeconomic) groups routinely distort or disregard reality to promote group objectives. It is normal for humans to do this; this is characteristic Flatland behavior. When such objectives are achieved, prestige and power accrue to the group. Otherwise, the group becomes marginalized and forlorn. There is some good new even in those cases—at least they have each other Smiley_glasses

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what is the moral choice?

Red Mist Rising: Inside the World’s Most Powerful Terrorist Organization

Parry believes he is preaching a tough, gritty doctrine of “moral ambiguity.” What he is in fact advocating is the bleakest moral nihilism. To Parry, the structure of American power — the corrupt, corporatized, militarized system built and sustained by both major parties — cannot be challenged. Not even passively, not even internally, for Parry scorns those who simply refuse to vote almost as harshly as those who commit the unpardonable sin: voting for a third party. No, if you do not take an active role in supporting this brutal engine of war and injustice by voting for a Democrat, then it is you who are immoral.

You must support this system. It is the only moral choice. What’s more, to be truly moral, to acquit yourself of the charge of vanity and frivolity, to escape complicity in government crimes, you must support the Democrat. If the Democratic president orders the “extrajudicial” murder of American citizens, you must support him. If he chairs death squad meetings in the White House every week, checking off names of men to be murdered without charge or trial, you must support him. If he commits mass murder with robot drones on defenseless villages around the world, you must support him. If he imprisons and prosecutes whistleblowers and investigative journalists more than any other president in history, you must support him. If he cages and abuses and tortures a young soldier who sought only to stop atrocities and save the nation’s honor, you must support him. If he “surges” a pointless war of aggression and occupation in a ravaged land and expands that war into the territory of a supposed ally, you must support him. If he sends troops and special ops and drones and assassins into country after country, fomenting wars, bankrolling militias, and engineering coups, you must support him. If he throws open the nation’s coastal waters to rampant drilling by the profiteers who are devouring and despoiling the earth, you must support him. If he declares his eagerness to do what no Republican president has ever dared to do — slash Social Security and Medicare — you must support him.

For Robert Parry, blinded by the red mist of partisanship, there is literally nothing — nothing — that a Democratic candidate can do to forfeit the support of “the left.” He can even kill a 16-year-old American boy — kill him, rip him to shreds with a missile fired by a coddled coward thousands of miles away — and you must support him. And, again, if you do not support him, if you do not support all this, then you are the problem. You are enabling evil.

Accomplices to Murder

“So what made you aware of me in particular?”

“Well, you left lots on comments on lots of websites. And you expressed a lot of worries and concerns — about Social Security and Medicare, about the treatment of women, about the environment, about the Supreme Court. A lot of concern, and a lot of comments. And a lot of emails, too. Of course, we agree with all your worries about what the other party might do, but we were upset to see that you were so worried about what the President would do. And you expressed so much concern about the President and his plans that we thought you were almost asking to be noticed, asking to be reassured. That’s why I’ve come to talk to you.”

She listened very intently. As he spoke, she was thinking, well, that’s true. She had left lots of comments about those subjects, she had written lots of emails. She did want her concerns to be noticed, to be understood. And she had seen and heard all those stories about the government’s surveillance programs. If she were honest with herself, she realized, she couldn’t say she was surprised.

“Yes. Yes, I see,” she said after a few moments had passed. “I would like to believe the President will make sure the policies he says he believes in are followed and protected. I guess … I just didn’t expect to be reassured in such a personal way.”

“It’s a new day, Mrs. Hamilton. A new time. We have dangerous enemies. Sometimes they turn up in unexpected places. We have to be vigilant. The President has talked a lot about all of that, too. I’m sure you’re aware of what he’s said about how committed he is to protecting innocent Americans, aren’t you?”

“Yes … yes, I suppose you’re right. I just hadn’t thought it through all the way.”

“Almost no one does. I have to admit that I find that very disappointing. I mean, I’d like to think people understand the meaning of what they say they support. On the other hand, it makes our job easier in many ways.” Mrs. Hamilton began to look worried again, even frightened. Damn, he said to himself. You always say too much in these meetings. This isn’t the time to question the complexities of what you do, what you have to do.

“But look,” he quickly went on. “As I said, I’m here to reassure you. You don’t need to worry anymore about Social Security or Medicare, or Supreme Court appointments, or any of the other things you’ve written about so often. So often.” He smiled at her, and quietly laughed. She finally offered a small laugh in return. “The President is fully committed to the policies he’s talked about, the policies you support. Of course, we never know how obstructionist the other party will be, or what difficulties they’ll cause. So there are some elements that aren’t within the President’s control. Still, to the greatest extent possible, the President will make sure all those things you’re so strongly committed to will be protected. We want to make sure you know that.”

“All right. But … but, couldn’t someone have just sent me a letter?” She looked at him with an amused expression.

“Sure, I suppose we could have done it that way. But everyone complains about how impersonal government has become, the curse of bureaucracy and all that. You’ve written about that, too.”

“Yes, yes, I have.” She laughed again.

“So we thought a personal visit would be much better. We want to emphasize how strongly we’re committed to the policies we all want. Much better to hear it from someone in person, don’t you think?”

“It is much more convincing than a form letter.” She smiled. After a moment, she asked, “And that’s it? That’s what you wanted to tell me?”

He extended his arms, palms turned upwards, as if to say, That’s all I’ve got. He still wasn’t able to lie about it right to someone’s face, especially to a lovely woman like Mrs. Hamilton. Not that it mattered at this point. But still.

“We should be going. Say goodbye to the nice man, Joanna.” They had stood up. Joanna turned to Maddox and said, “Bye!,” smiling radiantly. God damn it, he thought. He had stood, too. He raised his hand and gave a little wave.

They had taken just a couple of steps when he spoke again.

“Mrs. Hamilton.” She stopped; she and Joanna turned to him. “Yes?” She didn’t look at all frightened any longer. It usually happened that way. It always surprised him.

“I’m afraid there is one more thing. After we’d become aware of you because of all those comments and emails, we did some further checking. Just routine stuff. But it turned up some donations you’ve been making regularly to a few charities. Two of those charities appear on the list of organizations we’ve designated as terrorist groups.”

“What are you talking about? I don’t give money to terrorist groups.”

“I realize that. You thought you were donating to charities. But the charities are fronts for terrorist organizations. And you’ve made donations to them regularly for years. And it wouldn’t matter so much, except that we recently received intelligence indicating that one of those terrorist organizations is planning a major attack right here in the city. It’s something big, so stopping the attack has been given the highest priority. We have to do everything possible to stop it, and to stop everyone who has any connection to it. Any connection at all. I’ve checked and rechecked all of this with the main office. We have no choice, not if we want to protect innocent American lives.”

He said all this with great calm and deliberation. He wanted to be sure she understood. Not that it mattered, he told himself again. But still. He saw the color drain from her face. She gripped Joanna’s hand with all her strength. He saw that, too. She understood.

“To stop everyone …” Her voice trailed into nothingness.

“Yes. Everyone.”

“But … but we’re in the park. Someone could come by at any moment.”

“No one ever comes here, except you. And Joanna. I can’t tell you how sorry I am that Joanna is with you. There wasn’t any other way to do it. But Joanna … well. Unavoidable collateral damage. Awful.”

He looked genuinely pained. She thought, He still has a kind face. How can he have a kind face? In the next moment, he took his hand out of his pocket and raised the gun.

In the same moment, she started to scream, “Run, Joanna, r—.” There were two soft sounds, pock-pock. A small hole opened in Joanna’s forehead, followed a split second later by a hole in Mrs. Hamilton’s forehead. For a moment, both bodies remained frozen in place. Then they both slowly crumpled to the ground, and the blood began to pool around their heads.

He put the gun back in his pocket. He looked around to make certain no one else could be seen. That wasn’t actually a problem. The drones that regularly swept over the park would pick up anyone who might have witnessed the murders. If there were witnesses, they could be dealt with easily enough. But it was better not to have any loose ends.

He began to walk out of the glen. When he reached the turn in the path, he turned back to take one last look. The pools of blood continued to spread on the ground beneath the bodies. There was nothing else to see in this quiet corner of the park.

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