Wednesday, January 30, 2008

"I Hate Rude Behavior In a Man"

By the time they reached Ogallala, both the cowboys and the stock from the Hat Creek Cattle Company were utterly depleted. Their journey, which began on the banks of the Rio Grande, had already claimed the life of one of their number. And their destination – Montana – was hundreds of daunting, desolate miles away.

So once the Company reached Ogallala, the herd was allowed to graze outside the city limits while the men went in to purchase supplies and, ah, contract services from certain carnal entrepreneurs of the distaff variety.

The heroic Red Cloud: Lakota patriot, bold warrior, wily field commander, scourge of Leviathan's blue-bellied enforcers.

Dish Boggett, an honest and capable if unremarkable cowboy, was grooming his horse when a small company of soldiers, under the command of a Captain Weaver, suddenly materialized. Each of the dusty soldiers wore an impressive portion of the Nebraska prarie; their eyes displayed the weary, angry frustration of proud men who were badly over-matched by a wily opponent – the heroic Lakota war chief Red Cloud.

Captain Weaver's men and their mounts were just as depleted as those of the Hatcreek Company. There the resemblance ended: The soldiers were engaged in Washington's war to expropriate – and exterminate, if necessary – the Sioux. To that end Weaver decided it would be necessary to confiscate at least some of the property the Texans had brought with them, beginning with Dish's beautiful buckskin gelding.

Dish politely but firmly informed Captain Weaver that the horse was not for sale.

I ain't askin',” Weaver said, dispensing with the pretense of civility and allowing an arrogant sneer to crease his ugly features. “I'm telling you. I'm” -- Weaver's unexceptional mind groped ineptly for the appropriate official euphemism -- “requisitioning that horse. For the government.” He settled back in his saddle with a satisfied smirk, expecting this conjuration, through which theft is transmuted into “policy,” to do its work. It didn't.

I'm tellin' you,” Dish repeated, “he's not for sale.”

You defy the United States Government?” Weaver said in a tone of offended piety that underscored the implicit threat. “That's treason,” he hissed. “You cow-boys could be hung – for treason.” Having unsheathed the threat of lethal violence that resides within all government action, Weaver allowed himself a sadistic chuckle.

When Dish reiterated once more that his horse wasn't for sale, Weaver's Scout, Dixon, decided to escalate the conflict by spitting a glob of tobacco juice on Dish's back. A brief scuffle ensued between Dish and the mounted scout, with Dish getting the worst of it.

Before the malodorous government contractor could steal the horse, however, the youngest member of the Hat Creek Outfit – 17-year-old Newt Dobbs – grabbed the reins and reminded Dixon that the animal wasn't for sale. With the insensate fury of a bully used to getting his way, the scout began to lay into the terrified but resolute youngster with his quirt.

Down the street, the leader of the cattle drive (and Newt's unacknowledged father) Woodrow Call was walking out of a store with his arms full of packages. Though well into middle age, Call had the wiry build of a man who worked as hard as he could as long as he had to each day, and knew no other way to live.

Taciturn and stoic, Call had the eyes of a man who had fought more battles than he could count. A legendary Texas Ranger in his younger years, Call was creaky in the joints but still quick on the draw and good with his fists. He also had the slow-burning fuse and high-yield temper of the proverbial patient man. When those eyes caught the sight of Newt being whipped, the fuse was expended in an instant.

Call quickly saddled his horse and tore across the town at full gallop. Reaching the still-mounted Dixon, Call violently unhorsed him with a blow, dismounted, and kicked him full in the face before he could recover. Dixon wound up near a stable, and soon found several tools deployed against him. Call seized a branding iron and used it to hit Dixon – first in the abdomen, and then across the face, then across the skull. He then picked up the dazed and bleeding scout and hurled him face-first into an anvil.

By this time, Dixon's face looked like a strawberry pie after it had been trodden on by a horse. After being fed a face-full of pig iron, Dixon's mouth was full of shattered teeth. He had endured at least two concussions, and was limp as a dishrag. But for all this, Call's anger was not turned away, and his hand was stretched out still.

Call grabbed a pair of tongs and -- his eyes narrowed in diabolical invention -- was about to apply them to do heaven-knows-what to Dixon when his best friend, Gus McRae (like Woodrow, a living legend as a former Texas Ranger), lassoed him and dragged him off of the Army scout.

It took several seconds for Call's rage to subside and for him to recognize Gus, his friend for several decades. As his self-control returned, Call assured himself that Newt was all right. By the time he remounted his horse, Call's self-control had reasserted himself. He spied a small group of settlers who had witnessed the entire incident – which only took a minute or so – frozen in astonishment. And, gentleman that he was, Call felt he owed those good people an explanation.

I hate rude behavior in a man,” he explained in his quiet, unassuming drawl. “I won't tolerate it.” He politely tipped his hat, and rode away.

This vignette from the splendid novel (and equally fine television mini-series) Lonesome Dove is the most beautiful scene in American literature. I have no idea what author Larry McMurtry's politics might be. I don't care to find out, either.

In creating this moment – which was a pivotal, character-defining moment for Newt, and nearly as crucial for Woodrow Call -- McMurtry offered a vivid illustration of the omnivorous corruption of government in general, and militarism in particular. He also underscored the primacy of private property and portrayed the courageous defense of one's rights in the face of government aggression, as well as the righteous use of violence in defending one's family and fellows. Gus's intervention vivified the Just War principle of proportionality (yes, Dixon deserved to have the hell beaten out of him, but straight-up killing him would have been disproportionate). And Dixon's threat to murder Dish and his friends for the supposed crime of protecting their property lays bare the true nature of all government everywhere at all times.

The story told in that scene from Lonesome Dove -- at least regarding the behavior of Weaver and Dixon -- is true in everything but its details.

Somewhere today some government functionary is doing to someone in this country exactly the same thing that Weaver attempted to do to Dish: Stealing his property through the threat, or use, of lethal violence. Yes, Weaver offered to pay Dish for the horse, but forcing an unwilling seller into taking money for something he wants to keep is just another species of theft; it's usually called “eminent domain.”

Today's Dish Boggetts could be property owners in Texas along the Mexican border who are being forced to sell their property to accommodate the government contractors building the most useless artifact in American history, the “border fence.”

If the border hamlet of Lonesome Dove had really existed, its current residents would probably be among those under siege by land-snatchers working for the Department of Homeland Security.

But this is hardly the only example. The arrogant sadism and official lawlessness displayed by Weaver and Dixon are rapidly becoming the norm.

In the mid-1800s as depicted in Lonesome Dove, an Army scout would use his quirt to punish a civilian who wasn't adequately broken to the saddle of the state; today, the paramilitary goons we call police quickly resort to the Taser in such situations, giving non-violent -- and often non-resisting -- civilians a brief taste of electrocution torture.

The odds are steadily growing shorter that sometime in the life of each of us we'll run into some state functionary as arrogant, violent, and despicable as Dixon. When assaulted by such a specimen -- or, more importantly, when someone we love comes under such an attack -- we would be morally entitled, if not morally required, to go "Woodrow Call" on his a**.

The key question is: Would we be ready -- mentally, emotionally, and physically -- to do so, knowing the possible consequences?

For news and commentary, and to purchase my new book, please visit The Right Source.

Dum spiro, pugno!

Monday, January 28, 2008

My President Is Nobody

Samuel warned them, but they didn't listen: Saul is anointed king over the Israelites.

`... you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves [warned the prophet Samuel], and the Lord will not hear you in that day.'

Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, `No, but we will have a king over us, that we may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.'”

I Samuel 8:18-19

Voltaire once said something to the effect that an artist will sacrifice fame, money, and the company of beautiful women, in the hopes of refining his craft ... and thereby obtaining fame, money, and the company of beautiful women.

Those who aspire to become President of the United States follow a somewhat similar course.

With exceptions that are genuinely exceptional, presidential candidates abase themselves shamelessly, their indecent eagerness to pander for votes making them the targets of public ridicule. Indeed, the typical presidential aspirant brings to mind an aging streetwalker driven to pathetic desperation by the knowledge that her merchandise is on the wrong side of the sell-by date. (To visualize what I'm referring to, think of Faith Hill's performance at the 2003 Grammy Awards, and you'll get the basic idea.)

That's just sad: Faith Hill, mother of three daughters, a married woman on the cusp of middle age, debases herself at the 2003 Grammy Awards. The spectacle of pathetic pandering she offered was almost half as sad as that provided by the typical presidential candidate.

That comparison, I'll admit, is grossly unfair: A prostitute only peddles her own flesh, where a president is in the business of stealing the property, and wasting the lives, of others. And a presidential candidate is in the business of buying the votes of some by promising to make war on the rights of others.

The prolonged exercise in self-denigration called a presidential campaign is made bearable by the prospect of personal exaltation that is the nearest thing to apotheosis one can experience in the flesh.

After the most successful of the panderers places his hand on the Bible and perjures himself by promising to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution,” he is presented to the public as a figure shrouded in sanctity and wreathed with wisdom. His touch can heal, his words can conjure miracles, and – more to the point – his will is the supreme law (at least until his second term). That last provision reflects the most significant innovation from the reign of Bush the Dumber, the dogma of the “unitary executive,” crafted by John C. Yoo and other proponents of executive dictatorship.

"To John Yoo, thanks for everything! -- Adolph Hitler."

The modern American presidency is a moveable feast calculated to sate every appetite whetted to a fine edge by the libido dominandi. Whoever he – or she – is, the US President immediately becomes the most powerful mammal on the planet. This is why anybody seeking the office (unless he emphatically and credibly seeks to reduce it to something like its constitutionally appropriate size) should be considered unworthy of holding any office of public trust. No, that's not enough: Such people should be regarded as enemies of all that is decent and worthy of preservation.

Ah, but you miss the point,” comes the soothing voice of official sanctimony, threatening to leave the discussion mired in the boggy soil of soggy statist platitudes. “Whatever you think of the [wo]man, you have to respect the office.”

Oh, like hell I do.

To understand just how absurd that commonplace utterance is, try transposing it from the imperial realm to your local municipal government:

You may not like or respect the County Weed Control supervisor, but you have to respect the office.”

I'm not kidding, or at least not entirely so.

Really, if one pays careful attention to the Constitution's assignment of delegated powers, the office of the presidency is significant, but hardly awe-inspiring. In domestic matters, the president is an executive with modest (and qualified) powers of appointment; in diplomatic affairs, he's the country's official greeter, with some carefully hedged powers to make agreements. The presidential war powers are contingent, derivative, and limited, as defined by the Constitution.

So in a very real sense, if reason were restored to her throne and we lived under the system authorized by the Constitution, the County Weed Control supervisor would have a greater impact on your life than the President of the United States. Such was the happy state of affairs in the United States prior to the advent of Abraham the Awful, Destroyer of Our Republic, in 1861.

The modern cult of the presidency (no other expression will suffice) owes a great deal to the immediate deification of Lincoln following his assassination. Since that time, the presidency has come to be seen as a quasi-divine institution, having been hallowed by the shed blood of Abe the (putative) Savior of the Union, rather than being a constitutionally modest office that should be peripheral to our daily concerns.

"Satan Tempting Booth To The Murder Of The President": This painting depicts the assassination of Lincoln in terms akin to the Passion of Christ.

Alas, we confront in the presidency an office endowed with powers grander than the most emancipated dreams of Caesars, Tsars, Shahs and Kaisers. And at least one of the reasons why people approach that office with chastely downcast eyes, hands dutifully tugging the forelock, is because its extra-constitutional powers make that office so dangerous.

We have to “respect” the office of president because, unlike the County Weed Control supervisor, the president can kill huge numbers of people on a whim. Indeed, presidents aren't truly seen as “presidential” until they have killed someone (or, as official sycophants would put it, they have “displayed leadership in an international crisis”).

"Transfiguration": Here we see the murdered Lincoln portrayed as a literal "Christ" figure, ascending to heaven to be exalted next to the similarly deified Washington.

So obviously the office generally appeals to exactly the sort of people who should be kept as far as possible from power of any kind. I can understand – if only in an anthropological sense – why such people are willing to carry out their half of the transaction through which presidents are made by humiliating themselves for months or years.

What I cannot understand is why we play along by treating presidents as demi-gods, forgetting the myriad acts of conspicuous self-denigration that characterize the typical presidential campaign. Too many Americans – that is, too many of the minority who bother themselves to take part in politics – buy into the official myth that once the typical politician, reeking of corruption and disfigured with his lust to power, becomes president, he somehow becomes a sanctified being.

"The Apotheosis of Washington," a blasphemous rendering of the admittedly noble Washington's supposed ascent to godhood, displayed on the ceiling of the Capitol rotunda. A man who typically left the room rather than be exposed to flattery, Washington would be disgusted.

Thomas Paine, who was wrong about the French Revolution and other, more important things, got this principle exactly right. Writing of the British Monarchy – an executive institution much less corrupt, tyrannical, or murderous than the contemporary American presidency – Paine lamented that “it is one of those evils, which when once established is not easily removed; many submit from fear, others from superstition, and the more powerful part shares with the king the plunder of the rest.”

Paine's most important achievement, as I've pointed out before, was to persuade a substantial portion of the American colonists to abandon the idea that the King was, in some sense, a sanctified and benevolent figure, rather than a spectacularly successful “ruffian.” A similarly useful change in perspective would occur if Americans would stop referring to the occupant of the Oval Office – whoever that person may be – as “my president.”

The Cult of the Presidency, "Christian Right" Version: His Imperial Holiness George II finds solace in his burdens with the help of ascended Jedi Masters Lincoln and Washington, or something. Now let's go kill us some Mooo-slums!

Unless employed by the executive branch of the federal government, or serving in the armed forces when they are called into the service of the united States by Congress, Americans do not have a president – much less a “Commander-in-Chief.” George Bush doesn't preside over me in any sense I can recognize.

A common sight in recent years has been the random “My President is [fill-in-the-blank]” bumper sticker or protest sign displayed by some heretic unsatisfied with the incumbent short-term deity in Washington. That blank has been filled with the names of such dubious worthies as Charlton Heston and (I'm not kidding) former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. I always wonder why people bother to fill in that blank.

My president, I'm proud to say, is Nobody.

Please be sure to visit The Right Source for news, commentaries, and to buy my book!

Dum spiro, pugno!

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Snitch In Time

You ... agreed to become an informant for the government.”

Yes, sir.”

To do whatever they wanted you to do.”

Yes, sir.

To tell on whoever they wanted you to tell on.”

Yes, sir.”

-- Key exchange between defense attorney Leonard Goodman and Sherman Bell, a convicted drug dealer-turned- “cooperating” witness in the 1999 trial of nightclub entrepreneur Euka Wadlington.

Geneva France of Mansfield, Ohio was a 22-year-old single mother of three small children when she met Jerrell Bray. At the time, Bray was dating one of France's friends.

Perhaps in the interest of impressing France, Bray boasted that he could stuff her in the trunk of his car and take her to Cleveland – and she'd never be heard from again. He then immediately asked France out, an invitation she quite sensibly – and predictably – declined.

Using a thinly veiled murder threat is an odd come-on of the sort that would occur only to a psychopath, or perhaps to a government employee (or do I repeat myself?). Mr. Bray, a veteran drug dealer, may have been the former. He was definitely the latter, after a fashion: He was an informant working under the supervision of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Lee Lucas. On the basis of Bray's unreliable word alone, Geneva France and dozens of others were convicted on drug-related charges.

Last May, Bray – who was still selling marijuana while working as a DEA asset -- shot a man in Cleveland during a drug deal. After being sent to jail, Bray admitted that he had lied when he claimed that he had seen Geneva work as a drug courier. After sixteen months in prisons in West Virginia and Kentucky, Geneva was given $68 and a bus ticket.

Geneva has yet to receive an apology from the federal prosecutors who stole a year and a half of her life. During that time her children were deprived of their mother; her youngest daughter, Leelasha, was 18 months old when Geneva was incarcerated, and didn't recognize her mother when she returned. The family was evicted from its home after Geneva was sent to prison. Had an aunt not been available to care for the daughters, they would have been broken up and taken into the Foster Care system.

This week, fifteen innocent men from Mansfield who were convicted on the strength of Bray's federally suborned perjury were released from prison. Their aggregate prison sentence was 86 years. Even after Bray – whose testimony was the only “evidence” against these men – has been exposed as a liar, notes the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “Prosecutors refused to characterize the men as innocent.” This is common behavior on the part of the anthropomorphic colostomy bags called federal prosecutors.

Geneva's case is particularly egregious, in that Bray's accusations most likely were retaliation for turning down the degenerate federal informant's request for a date.

Why me?” Geneva commented to the Plain Dealer. “Why should anyone be so mad at me? Of all the women in Mansfield, why me? Because I didn't go out on a date? Why do that to me over something so dumb?”

At the time Bray sicced the police on her, Geneva was struggling to pay the rent and keep the refrigerator stocked on a minimum wage job at a nursing home. She was getting her older daughters ready for school on the morning in November 2005 when Federal agents raided her home. They found not a particle of evidence that Geneva either dealt or used drugs.

Nonetheless, Geneva was arraigned on charges of selling more than 50 grams of crack cocaine to Bray. In court, Geneva, with a winsome and wholly misplaced confidence that justice is the objective of the “justice” system, refused a plea bargain agreement that offered her 3-4 years in prison for a crime she didn't commit; she was warned that she could be given a life sentence and never see her daughters again unless she took the deal.

The prosecution had no case; it had the unsubstantiated word of a single accuser, a paid government informant who was also an active drug dealer. Yet the federal jury convicted Geneva. This is a typical outcome, since the conviction rate for federal juries is higher than ninety percent.

Accordingly, Geneva went from earning minimum wage at a nursing home to earning 12 cents an hour for cleaning the prisons that confined her. Every penny she scraped together went to purchasing phone cards so she could talk to her daughters.

Now that their mother is free, Geneva's daughters react with acute anxiety every time she leaves, no matter how briefly. The family was evicted from its apartment when Geneva was incarcerated, and now lives in a smaller rent-subsidized apartment. Despite her innocence, Geneva is finding it difficult to get work, on account of the 16-month gap in her work history and a prison stint for which she still hasn't received complete exoneration.

For his part, Bray faces 15 years in prison for perjury and civil rights violations. Fret not for Jerrell Bray, however: He is “cooperating” with the Justice Department's inquiry into the Mansfield scandal, which probably means he will be able to arrange yet another deal. His erstwhile co-conspirator, Lee Lucas, is still on the job and thus far faces no repercussions of any kind for sending at least 16, and as many as a few dozen, innocent people to prison.

This outrage is not an anomaly. It is perfectly typical of the way the federal government and its local affiliates build drug cases and create statistical “successes.” And this helps explain the sometimes murderous “Don't snitch” ethic that has taken root in some urban black communities, which is a predictable and even, in some ways, healthy blowback from the exercise in state terrorism called the War on Drugs.

(Continues after jump)

Investigative author Ethan Brown explains that dynamic in his infuriating new book Snitch: Informants, Cooperators & the Corruption of Justice:

“The rise in anti-informant sentiment – and the government's increasing reliance on cooperators to make cases – can be directly traced to a series of anticrime bills passed by Congress in the mid-1980s and early 1990s that established severe mandatory minimums for drug offenders while offering the promise of drastic reductions in prison sentences for cooperators. Because the anti-crime bills established significant jail time for even low-level drug game players ... entering into cooperation agreements with federal prosecutors because a near necessity for many defendants.”

The key provision is section 5K1.1 of the federal sentencing guidelines, which permits “downward departure” from mandatory sentences to defendants who agree to testify against others. Andrew C. White, a former prosecutor for the Maryland US Attorney's office who is now doing penance as a defense attorney, describes the “5K” option as the “nuclear weapon” in the federal arsenal. It's also a handy time-saver for work- and risk-averse law enforcement officers and DEA agents: Rather than building cases based on shoe-leather investigative work, they can simply create a stable of informants and “cooperators” and manufacture drug cases ex nihilo using their “witnesses” as ventriloquist's dummies.

The attitude is, `We have ten informants; that's good enough; let's indict,” explains New York defense attorney Robert Simels. “Then, just before trial, they prep the witnesses. Very little investigative work is done.”

The Federal Rules of Evidence have been modified to facilitate bad convictions. Rule 404(b) of the Rules of Evidence permits trial prosecutors to introduce evidence relating to “other crimes, wrongs or acts” for which the defendant has not been convicted or even criminally charged; this is permitted in order to prove “motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident” behind an alleged crime. In practice this nullifies the Fifth Amendment prohibition against double jeopardy.

Former federal attorney Andrew White observes that this gives unscrupulous prosecutors (once again, forgive the redundancy) another huge advantage over defendants: “When I was a prosecutor, I had a defendant who was previously charged with a drug dealing crime in which he was found not guilty. Not only was I allowed to introduce evidence relating to that crime, I was also able to prevent the jury from hearing about the acquittal.”

But the whole process usually begins with an informant, aka “cooperator,” alias “incentivized witness.” This racket is well-known to both prosecutors and defense attorneys, and almost always described to juries in some detail. As the quote above illustrates, many informants blithely admit on the witness stand that they are offering testimony in exchange for “special consideration.” Some even admit that they're willing to perjure themselves in the service of the prosecution.

These people have a point: Yes, some urban criminals are drawn into the "Stop Snitchin'" movement for corrupt and self-interested reasons. But the really dangerous criminals are those protected by, and cooperating with, the Feds.

During the November 2005 trial of “Hip-Hop” impressario Irv Lorenzo on drug money laundering charges, defense attorney Gerald Shargel asked “cooperating witness” Philip Banks: “If telling a lie about Irv Lorenzo could get you out of jail and prevent you from facing the sentencing you're facing, you would do it?”

Yes, sir,” Banks admitted.

Lorenzo was acquitted. Chicago nightclub owner Euka Wadlington wasn't so fortunate. He was convicted by a federal jury and given two concurrent life terms in prison as a drug dealer despite the complete absence of physical or surveillance evidence, and a case that was built entirely on the word of compensated informants and other “cooperators.”

Among the witnesses who “cooperated” was a troubled young man named Terrance Hood who originally told investigators that Wadlington “nagged him about staying in school and even told drug dealers to stay away from him,” recounts Brown in Snitch. “Hood then went on to describe players in the [drug] scene in great detail – without once implicating Wadlington.” But Hood's memory changed dramatically after he went to prison and was offered a “downside departure” in exchange for testimony against Wadlington: Suddenly Hood remembered the much-loved businessman as a vicious drug lord who would torture inept subordinates by hitting them with minute-long Taser blasts (which is actually the conduct one expects from a police officer, not a drug dealer).

Federal prosecutors went to the trouble of subpoenaing two of Wadlington's old girlfriends, pressuring them to implicate him as a drug dealer, and then terrorizing them with threats of long prison sentences if they didn't “cooperate.”

If I were you,” federal prosecutor Clifford Cronk told one of them, “I'd be afraid.” They eventually broke and gave the Cronkster and his cohorts what they wanted, and Wadlington – whose petition to the Supreme Court was denied – now sits in a federal prison.

Many victims of the Federal snitching apparatus are dead. Some of the victims perished in paramilitary police raids authorized by warrants obtained on the basis of informant testimony. Other victims are “dead men walking” -- death row inmates. Brown points out that “a 1997 study by the Northwestern University Law School's Center on Wrongful Convictions found that 46 percent of wrongful death penalty convictions can be attributed to false information provided by `incentivized witnesses.'”

Today he'd wear a wire: Judas Iscariot, "cooperating witness," helps Roman officials arrest a known radical.

Brown writes that the “Stop Snitchin'” movement – death threats and other forms of intimidation included – is propelled “not by a reflexive anti-law enforcement mentality” or simple thuggishness, but rather a “real sense that the federal system is out of whack and that people are being put away for the rest of their lives” based on the purchased perjury of informants and other “cooperators.”

An increasing reliance on state informants is a reliable symptom of tyranny. Imperial Rome, like imperial America, was lousy with delatores (or informants) who collaborated with accusatores

(corrupt, malicious prosecutors), and wretched individuals of both types disfigure much of medieval history. Informants played an indispensable role in modern totalitarian states.

But the archetype paid informant was probably Judas Iscariot, who – like most “cooperators,” was eager to tell State authorities exactly what they wanted to hear, for a price. There's never been another defendant as innocent as Iscariot's Victim, but most informants are probably at least as craven as Judas.

Department of shameless self-promotion

My new book, Liberty in Eclipse: The War on Terror and the Rise of the Homeland Security State, is now available for sale on-line through The Right Source -- and will soon be available at a bookstore near you (I promise!).

Dum spiro, pugno!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

"Pre-emptive" Nuclear War: The Safeties Are Off

99 [her luminous eyes distended in horror at the spectacle of a nuclear mushroom cloud]

Oh, Max -- what a terrible weapon of destruction.

Max: Yes. You know, China, Russia, and France should outlaw all nuclear weapons. We should insist upon it.

99: What if they don't Max?

Max: Then we may have to blast them. It's the only way to keep peace in the world.

From the Get Smart Episode "Appointment in Sahara," 1967.

We live in a trans-parodic age. The imagination of the most gifted satirist fails when trying to keep ahead of our descent into surrealistic lunacy.

Witness the fact that what was parody 41 years ago on Get Smart – the idea of nuclear non-proliferation through pre-emptive nuclear genocide – is now the established doctrine of the Bush Regime. Within a few weeks, it could be the official policy of the NATO pact, as well. And Russia, which in defiance of most expectations may soon be a more prosperous nation than the Bushified United States, has openly embraced the lethal logic of nuclear pre-emption as well.

For several years, the Bush White House, its political allies, and its media courtesans have openly and blatantly threatened Iran with a pre-emptive nuclear attack if Tehran doesn't abandon its nuclear program. The threats have generally come in the form of a warning that no “option” will be left “off the table,” which clearly means that the prospect of nuclear aggression is in play.

George Bush and his adult handler have been studiously coy about spelling out what is meant by “all options.” Five Republican presidential contenders have echoed that view. One of them, Duncan Hunter (who has withdrawn from the race) was too thick to understand the need for euphemism, and spelled out his willingness to use tactical nuclear weapons in a first strike against a recalcitrant Iran. In this respect, as in so many others, Ron Paul -- who has condemned Washington's embrace of pre-emptive war -- has distinguished himself as the only truly sane individual seeking the White House.

The nuclear threats grow less subtle the lower we go in the GOP's hierarchy of social control. Take the case of radio host and purported comic Dennis Miller, who just yesterday (January 21) spoke of using strategic weapons, including neutron bombs to “back Israel's play” when it comes time to “kill Ahmadenijad” and any successor to the Iranian president who might be considered unacceptable.

What can I tell ya, it's great to be here in Nuremberg. Like I always say, nobody throws a party like the Nazi Party! Why don't you give yourselves a hand -- oh, yeah, sorta difficult to do while doing that salute; it's a bit like trying to parse Wittgenstein while keeping stride with your Wandervogel group....

Miller, it must be said, is literate and blessed with a certain wit, and is entirely unburdened by ethics. Had his career begun in the demimonde of Weimar Germany, rather than its 1980s equivalent, Miller would have bobbed to the surface at a Nuremberg Rally, warming up the crowd with snarky jokes about the menace of International Jewry.

It's to be expected that the cultists, catamites and knob-polishers who make up the Republican Right would faithfully echo the demented pronouncements of their Dear Leader, even to the point of endorsing nuclear aggression. It is a little unexpected to see the same position being codified as official policy for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the bastard regional offspring of the United Nations and the world body's unofficial military arm.*

A committee composed of “five of the West's most senior military officers and strategists,” including former joint chiefs chairman John Shalikashvili, has endorsed the idea that the threat of a nuclear first strike must be used “to try to halt the `imminent' spread of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction,” reports the London Guardian.

This proposal comes as part of a “radical manifesto” for a “root and branch reform of NATO and a new pact drawing the US, NATO and the European Union together in a `grand strategy' to tackle the challenges of an increasingly brutal world....” It transliterates the Get Smart doctrine of containing nuclear proliferation through nuclear genocide from parody into policy. My first impression on reading about that proposal was to wonder if Mel Brooks, Buck Henry, Arne Sultan, and the rest of the comic brain trust responsible for Get Smart had covertly drafted the NATO reform proposal.

The NATO alliance is one of the most misunderstood political entities in human history. For decades it was perceived as a defensive bulwark against the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact. Yet the dissolution of the eastern Pact didn't result in the dismantling of NATO. Instead, those in charge of the alliance set out in search of new threats to justify its continued existence, while beginning to absorb the military assets of countries that had once been part of Warsaw Pact, and moving its “defensive” perimeter right up into Moscow's grille.

The NATO Blob: All of the countries colored anything but blue are members of the alliance, with more to come. Some neo-"Conservatives" have suggested that membership should be extended to Israel.

After half a century in which it never fired a shot, NATO celebrated its 50th anniversary by conducting its first military exercise – the 78-day terror bombing of Yugoslavia, for the purpose of ending an anti-Albanian “genocide” that was as phony as the Iraqi WMD arsenal. Rather than repelling Soviet armor, NATO was attacking Serbian bridges, hospitals, power plants, and television stations -- even the occasional column of Albanian refugees displaced by NATO's attacks on the Serbs. Eventually the Serbs were forced to concede control over Kosovo to a radical Muslim terrorist group that was chummy with both Osama bin Laden and the Albanian mafia, and – of course – the CIA.

Now we're told by the authors of the NATO “reform” blueprint that the option of a nuclear first strike is justified because the alliance has to gird its loins to confront “political fanaticism and religious fundamentalism ... [as well as] international terrorism [and] organized crime....” The so-called Kosovo Liberation Army, the beneficiary of NATO's terror bombing of Serbia, embodies all of those attributes.

NATO's attack on Serbia, a nation with religious and cultural ties to Russia, nearly led to the shooting war with Russia we've thus far avoided. That war could easily have erupted had Sir Michael Jackson, the unfortunately named British General in charge of securing the Pristina airport, been as short-tempered as NATO Supreme Commander Wesley Clarke in dealing with the 206 Russian paratroopers who “secured” that facility. Clarke wanted Jackson to remove the Russian troops forcibly; Jackson agreed that the Russians had to leave, but he preferred to negotiate their exit rather than “starting World War III.”

General Jackson, whose troops would have been the ones exchanging fire with the Russians, exercised a field veto over the orders he received from Wesley Clarke. The NATO “reform” proposal, which envisions “faster action through an end to national vetoes” and an “end to national caveats,” would probably foreclose the similar exercise of discretion by field commanders in the future. This isn't a comforting thought when coupled with the idea that NATO will probably get into the business of counter-proliferation through nuclear aggression.

As mentioned above, NATO has moved its sphere of operations into Russia's “near abroad,” a development that must be looked upon with both frustration and anger by Moscow. Putin's regime has a decent intelligence capacity (which we'd expect with a “former” KGB officer and his cadre of siloviki in charge).

Oh, great: As if we didn't have enough to worry about, Russia has apparently entered an alliance with the Spaceballs.

So it's not a surprise that Moscow apparently scooped the western press on the new NATO “reform” document, and wanted to fire a rhetorical warning shot at the western Alliance. At least that's how I read last week's announcement by Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky, Russia's military chief of staff, that in defense of “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Russia and its allies,” military force would be used “preventively, including with the use of nuclear weapons.”

Accordingly, Russia has the nuclear safeties off and is prepared to throw down in order to defend the “territorial integrity” of its allies – a category that might include Iran.

For its part, NATO has the safeties off and is prepared to go nuclear against “rogue states,” a category that, in practice, refers to countries that don't bend to Washington's will – like Iran. NATO is already involved in "out-of-area" action in Afghanistan, and there have been serious discussions about deploying NATO forces in Lebanon or even the West Bank, venues that would offer plentiful opportunities for "pre-emptive" action of all kinds.

So the odds of a nuclear exchange in the not-distant future are growing shorter -- and the incineration of millions would be treated as a grim necessity -- in the words of the NATO reform proposal -- "to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction."

Yes, that's what the document actually says. So George Orwell shakes hands with Maxwell Smart, and I'm starting to contemplate the wisdom of building a backyard fallout shelter.


*NATO was designed as a political and military subsidiary of the UN. Foreign Affairs Outlines: Building the Peace, a State Department document published in Spring 1949 explained that NATO was designed to "bring about world conditions which will permit the United Nations to function more efficiently." Secretary of State Dean Acheson (CFR) elaborated on that view in a March 1949 speech in Washington: “[NATO] is designed to fit precisely into the framework of the United Nations and to assure practical measures for maintaining peace and security in harmony with the Charter.... The United States government and the governments with which we are associated in this [NATO] treaty are convinced that it is an essential measure for strengthening the United Nations....”

Dum spiro, pugno!