Sunday, February 27, 2011

The War Party's Atrocity Porn

"This is a massacre," the frantic Libyan woman, speaking by telephone while cowering in her apartment in Tripoli, told CNN's Anderson Cooper.

"I hope you know that people around the world are watching and praying and wanting to do something," Anderson told her, as if he were a stage prompter hinting at a performer's next line. Whether or not she had been given a copy of the script, the caller performed as expected: "[T]he first step [is to] make Libya a no-fly zone. If you make Libya a no-fly zone, no more mercenaries can come in.... There needs to be action. How much more waiting, how much more watching, how much more people dying?"

It's entirely possible, perhaps even likely, that the subject of Cooper's interview was simply a terrified but resolute woman who risked her life to describe the violence devouring her country amid the death throes of Khadafi's police state.

It's likewise possible that her call for international action to impose a no-fly zone was a desperate plea from a victim, rather than an act of media ventriloquism in which an anonymous figure endorsed the first plank of a military campaign proposed by the same neo-conservative kriegsbund that manipulated us into Iraq.

 Surely it was a coincidence that the "Cry in the Night" from Libya was echoed on the same network a few nights later by Iraq war architect, former World Bank president, and accused war criminal Paul Wolfowitz, who several days prior to Cooper's dramatic broadcast called for a NATO-enforced "no fly zone" over Libya.

In fact, the day following that interview, an ad hoc group calling itself the Foreign Policy Initiative, which coalesced from the remnants of the Project for a New American Century, published an "open letter" to Mr. Obama demanding military intervention -- beginning with a no-fly zone -- in Libya.  The neo-con framework for managing the Libyan crisis would create a regional protectorate administered by NATO on behalf of the "international community." This would nullify any effort on the part of Libyans, Egyptians, Tunisians, and others to achieve true independence.

On previous experience with media campaigns on behalf of humanitarian conquest, my incurable cynicism leads me to hear in Cooper's "Cry in the Night" a faint but unmistakable echo of the tearful, palpably earnest testimony of "Nayirah" --  the wide-eyed Kuwaiti girl who, using an assumed name to "protect her family," described what had befallen her country in the wake of the Iraqi invasion.

Bravely composing herself as she recounted horrors no human eyes should behold, the precociously self-possessed 15-year-old volunteer nurse related to the Congressional Human Rights Caucus how Iraqi soldiers stormed into the al-Addan Hospital, tore newborn infants from incubators, and hurled them to the floor. A short time later this testimony was "confirmed" by others who offered similarly anguished testimony before the UN Security Council.

During the three-month build-up to the January 1991 attack on Baghdad, the image of Kuwaiti "incubator babies" was endlessly recycled as a talking point in media interviews, presidential speeches, and debates in Congress and the UN. A post-war opinion survey found that the story of the "incubator babies" was the single most potent weapon deployed by the Bush administration in its campaign to build public support for the attack on Iraq.

This atrocity account was particularly effective in overcoming the skepticism of people espousing a progressive point of view.

"A pacifist by nature, my brother was not in a peaceful mood that day," recalled Christian Science Monitor columnist Tom Regan, describing his sibling's reaction to "Nayirah's" testimony. "We've got to go and get Saddam Hussein -- now," Regan's brother insisted.

"I completely understood his feelings," Regan pointed out. After all, "who could countenance such brutality? The news of the slaughter had come at a key moment in the deliberations about whether the U.S. would invade Iraq. Those who watched the non-stop debates on TV saw that many of those who had previously wavered on the issue had been turned into warriors by this shocking incident. Too bad it never happened."

"Nayirah" was not a traumatized ingenue who had witnessed an act of barbarism worthy of the Einsatzgruppen; she was actually the daughter of Saud Nasi al-Sabah, Kuwait's ambassador to the United States (and a member of the emirate's royal family). Her script had been written by the Washington-based PR firm Hill & Knowlton, which -- under the supervision of former Bush administration Chief of Staff Craig Fuller -- had put together a campaign to build public support for the impending war.

It wasn't difficult to convince the public that Saddam was a hideous thug. Selling the idea of a major war in the Middle East was a more daunting proposition. In late 1990, Hal Steward, a retired Army propaganda officer, defined the problem for the administration: "If and when the shooting starts, reporters will begin to wonder why American soldiers are dying for oil-rich sheiks. The U.S. military had better get cracking to come up with a public relations plan that will supply the answers the public can accept."

The image of newborn Kuwaiti infants being ripped from incubators was an updated riff on a classic war propaganda theme performed by British intelligence -- and its American fellow travelers -- in their efforts to provoke U.S. intervention in World War I.

That era's equivalent of the Kuwaiti "incubator babies" were the Belgian infants who were supposedly spitted on bayonets by hairy-knuckled Huns in pickelhaube helmets. German soldiers did this to amuse themselves once they could no longer sate their prurient interests by raping Belgian women and then amputating their breasts. So the American public was told, in all seriousness, by people working on behalf of a secretive British propaganda committee headed by Charles Masterman.

In 1915, a official Commission headed by Viscount James Bryce, a notable British historian, "verified" those atrocity stories without naming a specific witness or victim. This didn't satisfy Clarence Darrow, who offered a reward of $1,000 to anyone who could produce a Belgian or French victim who had been mutilated by German troops. That bounty went unclaimed.

"After the war," recounts Thomas Fleming in his book Illusion of Victory, "historians who sought to examine the documentation for Bryce's stories were told that the files had mysteriously disappeared. This blatant evasion prompted most historians to dismiss 99 percent of Bryce's atrocities as fabrications."

War emancipates every base and repulsive impulse to which fallen man is susceptible. So it's certain that some German troops (like their French, Belgian, British, and American counterparts) exploited opportunities to commit individual acts of depraved cruelty. But the purpose of the war propaganda peddled by the Anglo-American elite, as Fleming observes, was to create a widespread public image of Germans as "monsters capable of appalling sadism" -- thereby coating an appeal to murderous collective hatred with a lacquer of sanctimony.

I've described agitprop of this variety as "atrocity porn." It is designed to appeal to prurient interests and manipulate a dangerous appetite -- in this case, what Augustine calls the libido domimandi, or the lust to rule over others.

The trick is to leave the target audience at once shivering in horror at a spectacle of sub-human depravity, panting with a visceral desire for vengeance, and rapturously self-righteous about the purity of its humane motives. People who succumb to it are easily subsumed into a hive mind of officially sanctioned hatred, and prepared to perpetrate crimes even more hideous than those that they believe typify the enemy.

Rhetoric of that kind abounded during the French Revolution, particularly the Jacobin regime's war to annihilate the rebellious Vendee. It also figured prominently in the Lincoln regime's war to conquer the newly independent southern states. However, it's difficult to find a better expression of that mindset than the one offered in an editorial published in 1920 by Krasni Mech (The Red Sword), a publication of the Soviet Cheka secret police:

"Our morality has no precedent, and our humanity is absolute, because it rests on a new ideal. Our aim is to destroy all forms of oppression and violence. To us, everything is permitted, for we are the first to raise the sword not to oppress races and reduce them to slavery, but to liberate humanity from its shackles .... Blood? Let blood flow like water . .. for only through the death of the old world can we liberate ourselves forever." (Emphasis added.)

In pursuing his  Grand Crusade for Democracy, Woodrow Wilson was squarely in that tradition, extolling the supposed virtue of "Force without stint or limit ... the righteous and triumphant Force which shall make Right the law of the world and cast every selfish dominion in the dust." To fortify the American "war will" through a steady diet of atrocity porn, the Wilson administration created a Department of Public Information that liaised with its British equivalent, as well as quasi-private British propaganda fronts such as the Navy League. That organization, Fleming points out, included "dozens of major bankers and corporate executives, from J.P. Morgan Jr. to Cornelius Vanderbilt."

Through absolutely no fault of his own, Anderson Cooper is a great-great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Of considerably greater interest is the fact that as a student at Yale, Cooper spent two summers as an intern at Langley in a CIA program designed to cultivate future intelligence operatives.

When asked about Cooper's background with the CIA, a CNN spokeswoman insisted that he chose not to pursue a job with the Agency after graduating from Yale. The same can be said, however, of many of the CIA's most valuable media assets. 

As Carl Bernstein documented decades ago, the CIA "ran a formal training program in the 1950s to teach its agents to be journalists. Intelligence officers were `taught how to make noises like reporters,' explained a high CIA official, and were then placed in  major news organizations with help from management. `These were the guys who went through the ranks and were told, `You're going to be a journalist,' the CIA official said. Relatively few of the 400-some [media] relationships described in Agency files followed that pattern, however; most involved persons who were already bona fide journalists when they began undertaking tasks for the Agency."

By way of an initiative called "Operation Mockingbird," the CIA built a large seraglio of paid media courtesans. This was carried out through the Office of Policy Coordination, which was created by Allen Dulles and Frank Wisner  -- the latter being the official who went on to organize coups (and the attendant propaganda campaigns) against governments in Iran and Guatemala. (Wisner's son and namesake, incidentally, was a vice chairman at AIG -- the CIA's favorite global insurance conglomerate -- until 2009; more recently he was tapped by the Obama administration to serve as a back-channel contact with Hosni Mubarak and Omar Suleiman.)

The tendrils of "Operation Mockingbird" extended through every significant national media organ, from the Washington Post and Newsweek to the Time-Life conglomerate, from the New York Times to CBS. As a result, according to former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, the Fourth Estate "has been captured by government and corporations, the military-industrial complex, the intelligence apparatus." It is, in everything but name, an appendage of the Regime. This is clearly seen every time the Regime decides the time has come to mount another campaign of humanitarian bloodshed abroad.

Having "learned nothing from the horrors that they cheer-led like excitable teenage girls over the past 15 years, these bohemian bombers, these latte-sipping lieutenants, these iPad imperialists are back," sighs a wearily disgusted Brendan O'Neill in the London Telegraph. "This time they're demanding the invasion of Libya."

On O'Neill's side of the Atlantic, the Fleet Street Samurai are peddling "rumors of systematic male rape" in Libya . Others insist that the prospective war in Libya would in no way resemble "the foolishness of the Iraq invasion" -- just as similar self-appointed sages promised that the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, each of which has lasted at least as long as the Vietnam War, would not be "another Vietnam."

For some reason, this brings to mind the image of Bullwinkle repeatedly trying to pull a rabbit from his hat, blithely batting aside Rocky's complaint that the trick "never works" by exclaiming, "This time for sure!" This time, we're supposed to believe -- or at least, pretend to believe -- that the atrocity accounts are true, that military action sanctified by the "international community" is a moral obligation, that warlust and hatred are virtuous, and that the impending bloodshed will be a cleansing stream.

As is the case, one supposes, with any other variety, war pornography is nothing if not predictable. However, unlike Bullwinkle's inept attempts at thaumaturgy, war porn is a trick that seems to work every time.

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Dum spiro, pugno!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

When Tax-Feeders Revolt

What would happen if tax victims, rather than tax-feeders, were to go on strike?
If Madison -- or the capital city of any of Leviathan's other 49 regional administrative units -- were over-run by thousands of productive people who decided that they would no longer consent to be plundered on behalf of unionized government employees, would their revolt be promoted by sympathetic media outlets, and supported by the president and his political machine?

Would self-described populist cable pundit Ed Schultz  be there in person to confer an on-camera benediction to the rebels, describing them as people standing in "solidarity to fight for the middle class"? Would the state governor display restraint and forebearance in dealing with a malodorous mob that laid siege to the capitol for a week, if the throng were composed of people who withheld their taxes, rather government employees withholding their tax-subsidized services (such as they are)?

If this were to happen anywhere in the soyuz, every element of the Regime's punitive apparatus would be mobilized to put down the rebellion, hard and fast. Riot police and National Guard units would be deployed to beat and round up the rebels. I suspect that serious consideration would be made to the use of Predator drones to target those identified as "ringleaders" of the uprising.

If that scenario seems unlikely, consider the action taken by President Washington, at the behest of his despicable Treasury Secretary, to suppress the original taxpayer strike, the Whiskey Rebellion.
As James Madison sardonically pointed out, Alexander Hamilton's vision for America was that of a mercantilist state "woven together by tax collectors." His program envisioned creating an alliance between the central government and the bond-holding class, which would create a permanent constituency for ever-higher taxes and ever-increasing government. (In recent decades, unionized government employees have become a huge and powerful element of that constituency as well.)
Hamilton's scheme required the imposition of various excise taxes on the productive population. This in turn led to the rebellion of farmers in western Pennsylvania, who used whiskey as a form of currency. They quite sensibly refused to pay the tax. When Washington dispatched tax collectors to the region, the rebels helpfully outfitted them in the appropriate hot tar and goose feather ensemble. 
 A little more than a decade after Yorktown, George Washington assembled an army to set down the rebellion. 
As Thomas DiLorenzo observes in his valuable book Hamilton's Curse: "The rank-and-file soldiers may have been mostly conscripts, but many of the officers who accompanied Hamilton and Washington to Pennsylvania were from the ranks of the creditor aristocracy in the seaboard cities.... These officers were eager to enforce collection of the whiskey tax so that the value of their government bond holdings could be enhanced and secured."  

The revolt was put down without a shot being fired, and Washington -- who wasn't terribly enthusiastic about the campaign -- left Hamilton in charge, unsupervised. As DiLorenzo observes, this permitted Hamilton to play "the role of Grand Inquisitor" with those who had been taken prisoner. 

The captives, who included elderly veterans of the War for Independence, were dragged through the snow in chains to Philadelphia, where they were confined in jails, stables, and cattle pens to be interrogated by Hamilton and his underlings. The plan was to use what are now called "enhanced interrogation" techniques to compel accusations from some of the Rebels, and confessions from others, thereby building a large show trial that would end in the edifying spectacle of mass executions. 

One of the Treasury Secretary's assistants, a wretch known to history only as General White,  gave standing orders that any prisoner who attempted to escape was subject to summary execution by beheading. 

That order, DiLorenzo points out, "was not overruled by the treasury secretary, who was apparently willing to play judge, jury, and executioner. Indeed, Hamilton ordered local judges to render guilty verdicts against the twenty men who were eventually imprisoned, and he wanted all guilty parties to be hanged." This prompted Washington's intervention. Twelve Whiskey Rebels were prosecuted; two were convicted, and then pardoned. 

All of this happened long before the advent of the Federal Reserve and its terrorist arm, the IRS. Just as significantly, it happened long before the "Bonus Army" was cleared from Washington, D.C. by the U.S. military -- an incident from the last Great Depression that may provide a useful template for dealing with citizen uprisings that will come as the current Greater Depression deepens. 

The peaceful "Bonus Army" protesters were desperate, hungry veterans who had been promised compensation for wages they had lost while serving as conscripts in Wilson's evil and idiotic war. They had suffered the most onerous tax imaginable in the form of state-inflicted servitude. In 1924, Congress had approved a "Bonus" measure to compensate the former draft slaves, but the promised pittance was to be deferred until 1945, by which time it would  have been rendered worthless through inflation. 

As a protest handbill pointed out, "The Republican, Democratic, and Socialist Parties are all united in the fight against payment of the balance due to the veterans of the Bonus." This was hardly the first, or last, time that "Takers" would set aside their party differences to form a united front in a war against the "makers."

Commanding the cavalry that day was Major George S. Patton, who had no compunctions against using the military against civilians involved in "domestic disturbances." In a guide to "Riot Duty" he published a few months later, Patton offered some practical advice to future field commanders called on to put down citizen uprisings. 

 Patton was enthusiastic about the domestic applications of chemical warfare: "The use of gas is paramount…. While tear gas is effective, it should be backed up with vomiting gas.... Although white phosphorous is incendiary, it is useful in forming a screen for the attack of barricades and defended houses."

“Warn newspapers, theaters, and churches that if they encourage the mob, they are guilty of aiding them and that their leaders will be held personally accountable," Patton continued. "Freedom of the press cannot be construed as `license to encourage’ the armed enemies of the United States of America. An armed mob resisting federal troops is an armed enemy. To aid an enemy is TREASON. This may not be the `law,’ but it is fact. When blood starts running, the law stops.”

Perhaps thinking of Andrew Jackson's behavior as self-appointed military dictator of New Orleans during (and, for a while, after) the War of 1812, and anticipating the Cheney-era invention of the concept of "unlawful enemy combatant," Patton urged future military governors to dispose of the nuisance called habeas corpus -- and likewise to dispose of any particularly troublesome "agitator" with extreme prejudice:

“If you have captured a dangerous agitator and some `misguided’ federal judge issues a writ of Habeas Corpus for him, try to see the judge to find out what he is liable to do…. There’s always the danger that the man might attempt to escape. If he does, see that he at least falls out of ranks before you shoot him. To be soft hearted might mean death to your men. After all, WAR IS WAR.”

Patton's instructions are being carried out -- with murderous impact -- by the U.S.-supported and Pentagon-equipped security forces in Bahrain, which hosts the imperial Fifth Fleet. 

 "We are getting shot by American weapons fired by American-trained Bahraini soldiers with American-made tanks,"a medical orderly in Bahrain told Robert Fisk of The Independent of London. The same was true in Egypt prior to Mubarak's belated abdication. Both of those countries have been convulsed by uprisings against deeply corrupt, well-entrenched elites. People throughout that region have endured decades of government-abetted plunder, and endless abuse at the hands of the police states that protect the plunderers. 

The needs of the Empire's global plunderbund prompted the Federal Reserve to engage in a hugely destructive round of "Quantitative Easing" -- that is, officially sanctioned counterfeiting. This has preserved the comforts of corporatist elite, while triggering a food price shock that literally threatened the lives of millions at the periphery of the Empire.

Americans are just now starting to feel price inflation nibbling at their household finances; in places like Egypt, the same inflationary wave is devouring people alive. As I've said before, this is the kind of thing that turns "Mr. Hand" into "Mr. Fist" -- and sends people into the streets. 

When -- not "if," mind you -- similar uprisings occur here in the United States, we will find the "takers" united in solidarity against the "makers." This is not what is happening in Wisconsin, where the tax parasite cartel is tearing the state apart in an effort to preserve its privileged status, at whatever expense to the productive element of the state's population. 

The tax-devouring thugs who have converged on the state capitol in Madison are trying to wrap themselves in the mantle of the hungry, desperate people who defied Mubarak's torturers, and the imponderably courageous people in Bahrain who walked, unarmed and unflinching, into gunfire. Ditching work and pitching a tantrum to demand the preservation of "collective bargaining rights" for over-paid, tax-subsidized functionaries simply isn't the same thing as facing down the pitiless cadres of a quasi-totalitarian police state.

Freedom activists in Cairo demanded an end to martial law, torture, and a one-party dictatorship. Government employees in Wisconsin insist that it's a species of human rights abuse to withhold tax subsidies for Viagra prescriptions -- an actual demand from the teachers' union, which obviously includes more than a few members who have a hard time keeping the lead in the ol' pencil. 

Here are two critical and little-appreciated facts about the tax-feeder revolt in Wisconsin. First: In framing the proposed legislation to eliminate collective bargaining for government employee unions (which shouldn't exist to begin with), Republican Governor Scott Walker carefully exempted unions representing firefighters, police, and the state troopers. Second: Those unions have united in "solidarity" with their comrades in the tax-consuming class. This illustrates that in Wisconsin, as elsewhere, the police consider themselves part of the "who" rather than the "whom" in the "who does what to whom" formula that defines statist politics.
This will likely set the pattern for future episodes of this kind: "Conservative" executives will preserve the perquisites of the government functionaries directly involved in official coercion. In Wisconsin, as is the case everywhere else, the miracle of "collective bargaining" has conferred extravagant perks  on the uniformed bullies on which the State's wealth extraction mechanism depends. 

They supplied Mubarak's police; they still supply our own. 
 While police in Madison storm the barricades alongside their fellow revenue hogs, one of their number -- drug enforcement Officer Denise Markham -- is in the fourteenth month of what will eventually be a nearly two-and-a-half-year-long paid vacation. 

 Markham was suspended in June 2009 while the department conducted a leisurely and stressless "internal investigation" which eventually ruled that she had engaged in "overbearing, oppressive or tyrannical conduct," "improper searches," improper handling of "controlled substances," and unlawful seizure of private property (that is, theft).

Instead of facing criminal charges, Markham was allowed to resign on December 31 -- but she will continue to receive "sick leave," vacation, and comp time that continued to accumulate even while she was on paid suspension. According to Madison Police Chief Noble Wray, "this is really the best deal for all parties concerned," given the union-negotiated contract provisions dealing with circumstances of this kind. 

Indeed, the deal cut with Denise Markham is miserly compared to the treatment lavished on Michael Grogan, another Madison cop who was fired after being convicted of disorderly conduct for a December 2004 DUI-related incident. After wrecking his car, Grogan -- who was pants-pissing drunk -- kicked in the door of the first house he found and collapsed in a reeking puddle on the floor. After being shaken awake by strangers the following morning, Grogan drooled out a few incoherent syllables and then staggered out. 

A few weeks later, Grogan was put on a paid vacation that would last for three years. During that time, he would collect nearly $250,000 while he and his police union-provided attorney used every dilatory tactic in their arsenal to forestall final termination until they had wrung every possible penny from the productive public. 

These are typical examples of the kind of "public service" made possible through "collective bargaining." And they are very suitable illustrations of the mind-set of those who wouldn't hesitate to irrigate the gutters with blood in the event that Mundanes ever decide to stage a tax strike.

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 Dum spiro, pugno!

Monday, February 14, 2011

"Don't Resist": The Refrain of Rapists, Police, and Other Degenerates

A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothes and wounded him....

Now by chance three men -- a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan -- came down that same road, and, seeing the man being beaten, joined in on the side of the assailants, for they were emissaries of the divine State. 

The Parable of the Statist Samaritan (offered with the sincerest apologies to the Author of the genuine article). 

Three times each week, 36-year-old Keith Briscoe of Winslow Township, New Jersey would begin his day by going to a nearby Wawa convenience store for soda and cigarettes. Briscoe, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and lived with his parents, went to the local Steininger Behavior Services clinic for treatment, and he would have a smoke outside the store while waiting for the office to open.

As far as anyone in the neighborhood could recall, Briscoe had never bothered anybody. He wasn’t causing trouble on the morning of May 3, 2010, when he had the lethal misfortune of attracting the attention of Winslow Township Police Officer Sean Richards. When Richards demanded to know who he was and what he was doing, Briscoe was cooperative, telling the officer — who had no business bothering one of his betters anyway — that he was waiting to go to the clinic.

"Patients often go up to the Wawa before their sessions to buy coffee [or] cigarettes," a medical professional who worked at the clinic informs Pro Libertate. "The local businesses and police are aware that there are psychiatric patients in the area and know to call Steininger in the event that one of them gets lost or is getting into trouble.  This cop took it upon himself to do what he did without asking anyone in Wawa if there was any problem.  Wawa hadn't called the police to intervene because Mr. Briscoe would frequently go there."

Richards should have left well enough alone, but since he had a gun,  a piece of government-provided jewelry, and an unearned sense of superiority, he didn’t. He demanded that Briscoe get into his police cruiser, supposedly to be given a ride to the clinic. Briscoe wisely turned down the offer.

Richards later admitted that he hadn’t received any complaints about Briscoe’s behavior, and that he did nothing that warranted an arrest. According to the former clinic staffer, Briscoe was known to be "very kind and gentle [and] would never be aggressive." Yet when the harmless and intimidated man refused to get into the police car, Richards committed an act of criminal assault by seizing and attempting to handcuff him.

As Briscoe tried to escape, Richards called for “backup.” He also attacked Briscoe with his Oleoresin Casicum spray, a “non-lethal” chemical weapon that left the victim choking and struggling for breath. 

At this point, three bystanders saw Briscoe struggling with a uniformed assailant, a situation that presented them with the “Tom Joad Test,” which I’ve previously described thus:

“When you see a cop — or, more likely, several of them — beating up on a prone individual, do you instinctively sympathize with the assailant(s) or the victim? Do you assume that the state is entitled to the benefit of the doubt whenever its agents inflict violence on somebody, or do you believe that the individual — any individual — is innocent of wrongdoing until his guilt has been proven?”

The bystanders failed the test. Rather than intervening on behalf of the victim, or simply butting out, these statist Samaritans reflexively gave the uniformed assailant the benefit of the doubt, and joined in the beating. Five more armed tax-feeders, summoned by Richards’s frantic call for “backup,” then arrived to pile on. A few minutes later, Briscoe was dead as a result of “traumatic asphyxia” — that is, he suffocated at the bottom of a thugscrum. The Camden County Medical Examiner ruled the death a homicide. But the chief assailant was not charged with a homicide-related offense.

According to the Camden County prosecutor’s office, although Richards had committed an illegal arrest, he couldn’t be prosecuted for homicide because New Jersey “law” doesn’t recognize the unalienable right of innocent people to resist unlawful arrest. This supposedly means that once Briscoe “resisted being taken into custody, police had the right to take actions necessary to restrain him” — up to and including the use of lethal force.

What this means is that in New Jersey -- a state afflicted with some of the most corrupt and abusive police officers this side of Tahrir Square -- someone who survives a murder attempt by a uniformed thug can be prosecuted for "resisting arrest" even if it is proven that the police assault was a criminal act.

In fact, according to one recent ruling from the state Superior Court (State of New Jersey v. Craig Byron Joseph Martin), it is a crime to resist even when a police offer specifically and repeatedly states that the subject is not under arrest. The police officer in that case testified: "I said, `Sir, you're not under arrest. I'm just patting you down for my safety."

The subject was instructed to place his hands on his car. When he removed his hands from the vehicle, the officer told him, "I'm going to handcuff you. You're not under arrest." Eventually the incident degenerated into a "scuffle," in which the officer -- once again, by his own account -- exclaimed: "You're not under arrest; stop resisting arrest!"

Ah, yes: "Stop resisting" -- the refrain of rapists, police, and other violent degenerates.

Richards, who murdered Briscoe for the supposed crime of resisting an illegal arrest, was charged with simple assault and as a result was sentenced to a year on probation and the loss of his job. He also agreed that he would never seek to expunge his record, although it’s not clear how that provision could be enforced.

“This plea ensures that Richards will be forever barred from holding such a position of authority again,” insisted Camden County Prosecutor Warren W. Faulk. Actually, it’s entirely possible that Richards will join the ranks of corrupt, disgraced  “gypsy cops” who invariably find employment elsewhere as members of the coercive caste.

None of the other four police officers who collaborated in the crime has been punished at all. However, all five officers, along with the “Samaritans” who collaborated in the murder of Keith Briscoe, are the subjects of a $25 million civil lawsuit filed on behalf of the victim’s family.

Legal commentator Elie Mystal points out that the “Good Samaritans” in this matter had no reason — apart from a “reflexive trust of police” — to assume that Sean Richards was justified in using force to subdue Briscoe. “They chose the wrong side, and now a man is dead,” Mystal observes. “There should be some kind of punishment for that.”

“And don’t tell me that holding these people accountable will have some kind of  ‘chilling effect’ on the willingness of citizens to help their fellow man,” Mystal continues. “This is America! We are founded on a skepticism of authority. We believe that a person is innocent until proven guilty. It’s entirely consistent with the American experience … [not to assume] that police officers are always right or on the side of good.”

The Mundanes who joined in the assault will most likely end up ruined financially. The same is true of Sean Richards, now that he’s no longer wearing the habiliments of the State’s punitive priesthood. But the others still employed as agents of coercion will probably be spared similar hardship through a settlement worked out in collaboration with the local armed tax-feeders’ union.

And still, somehow we’re supposed to believe that the take-away here is that the lawsuit poses a new threat to “officer safety,” because it will discourage Mundanes from coming to the aid of police next time they assault a helpless individual.

“They saw a cop struggling and they jumped into action,” says Tim Quinlan, the attorney representing Sean Richards, of the Mundanes who helped murder Keith Briscoe. “Now you’re going to have cops getting killed because people are afraid to get involved.”

Somehow that unlikely prospect fails to send a chill down my spine, or leave me prostrate with inconsolable grief.

New Jersey cops appear to specialize in unprovoked assaults on harmless people who suffer from mental illness.

On May 29, 2009, Ronnie Holloway was standing on a street corner near a restaurant when Officers Joseph Rios III and Erica Rivera pulled up in a cop car and berated the 49-year-old man for having his jacket unzipped. As is usually the case in such encounters, things went dramatically downhill in a hurry.

Rios, an Iraq combat veteran, appeared to be on "contact patrol" -- that is, prowling the neighborhood looking for an excuse to throw somebody to the ground. Holloway, an unassuming man on medication for schizophrenia, presented a perfect target of opportunity.

A video recording of the event shows  Holloway meekly zipping up his jacket. As he did so, Rivera exits the vehicle and distracts Holloway while Rios blind-sides him, slamming him to the ground and beating him repeatedly with his fists and baton. After a brief pause, Holloway -- who is clearly terrified, but not putting up any physical resistance -- is able to rise to his feet before being slammed onto the hood of the police car.
Joseph Rios in Tirkit, Iraq.

"I didn't know if I was going to see tomorrow at that point," Holloway later said of the assault, which left him battered and bloody and with a serious injury to one of his eyes.

The beating continued until backup -- in the form of two additional police cars -- arrived to help drag Holloway off to jail.

Despite the fact that he had behaved like a properly docile Mundane, absorbing an unprovoked beating without making any effort to flee or fight back, Holloway was charged with resisting arrest and "wandering," supposedly in search of narcotics.

In filing their official report of the incident, Rios and his partner did what police in such circumstances always do: They committed perjury in the form of "creative writing." Rios claimed that when he and Rivera told Holloway to leave the corner, Holloway "verbally challenged" them. "Step on the sidewalk, you'll see," Holloway supposedly said to Rios, assuming a "fighting stance" as he did so.

Rios had no right or authority to demand that Holloway -- who had done nothing to anybody -- leave the street corner. It's also clear from the video that the beating began before Holloway would have had an opportunity to fling a verbal "challenge" at Rios. Some measure of Rios's reliability as a witness is found in the fact that his Use of Force Report claims that Holloway wasn't injured in the attack.

After the May 29 assault was publicized, the Passaic Police Department "pulled a Mubarak," as it were: They defied public outrage for as long as possible, keeping Rios on active duty, and then suspending both Rios and Rivera (the latter for failing a fraudulent claim of a job-related injury during the incident) when the outrage failed to dissipate.

Owing entirely to public pressure put on the Passaic municipal government, Rios has been charged with aggravated assault and official misconduct. He has entered a plea of "not guilty by virtue of a government-provided wardrobe."

"I did what was proper," lied Rios in a June 2009 press conference. "I did what I was trained to do under circumstances that existed at that time. I stand by my actions."

His attorney, Anthony J. Iacullo, defended the assault as a pre-emptive strike against some unspecified threat posed by an uppity Mundane: "Based upon what Officer Rios feared might happen, and based upon his not submitting to arrest, the actions were taken."

Holloway's "resistance" consisted of cringing and covering up in confusion and terror as Rios rained down punches and baton strikes. In New Jersey -- as is the case elsewhere in the Soyuz -- even such minimal and reflexive attempts to protect one's self from State-sanctified violence is treated as a criminal offense.

Incidentally --

The indispensable news aggregator Cop Block, citing a recent nationwide survey on police misconduct, points out that during the past year "police officers committed sexual assaults at a rate of 79 per 100,000 law enforcement personnel.  That rate is over two times the rate of the general public (28.7 per 100,000)."

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Let's Play "Name That Arab Despotism"!

There is a large and powerful Arab state ruled by a Soviet-trained military dictator. The figure he has chosen as a successor, the head of the secret police, was also trained in the Soviet Union, and the apparatus of terror and repression he supervises was created with valuable input from the KGB. Thus it's not surprising to learn that he is one of the most notorious torturers in a region where that occupation is common. During one torture session he supervised, that thug actually offered to cut off the arm of a prisoner in order to please representatives of his regime’s chief foreign sponsor.

Despite the fact that this country has seen its gross domestic product grow consistently for the past thirty years, the percentage of its population in poverty has grown even faster.  The entrenched socialist oligarchy devours practically all of the wealth created in the country, and is also sustained by lavish foreign subsidies. 

The Dear Leader portrays himself as a humble old soldier, a self-abnegating servant of the country. It's entirely possible that he actually believes his own propaganda; this would explain why that simple son of toil has amassed a fortune estimated in the billions. Meanwhile, at least a million residents of the capital city are permanently homeless and can be found sleeping in cemeteries. 

The existing economic and political cartel in the country we're discussing is quite similar to the one in charge of post-Soviet Russia. Shortly before relinquishing its monopoly on political power, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union apportioned its membership among several "contending" parties. At the same time, the Party deeded to itself everything of value in the country in anticipation of "privatizing" the economy. In this way, the Nomenklatura protected its power and perquisites against the vagaries of electoral politics.
The controlled implosion of the Soviet Communist Party in 1991 was a neat trick -- but the ruling elite of the Arab state we're discussing actually did the same thing decades earlier. In 1974, its ruling Arab Socialist Union calved off two "contending" parties -- one on the "right" and another on the "left" -- while re-naming itself the National Democratic Party (NDP) and laying claim to the "moderate center." 

Until very recently, the NDP -- which remains ensconced as the ruling party -- was a member in good standing of the Socialist International, which was founded by Karl Marx.

Given the pedigree of this junta, we shouldn't be surprised to learn that it has a long and amicable relationship with the despotic dynasty ruling North Korea. Decades ago, as head of the air force, the future Arab dictator arranged for his pilots to receive training from North Korean advisers in preparation for a war against Israel. Pyongyang also supplied the country with Soviet-produced missiles and the know-how to produce its own. 

We're not discussing Syria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, or Iran  (which isn't an Arab country, of course). This is portrait of the Egyptian government headed by Hosni Mubarak and his hand-picked successor Omar Suleiman. That Arab socialist regime, we are insistently told by the Obama administration and various retread Cold War conservatives, is a flawed but valuable ally of the United States. 

Some of those singing that refrain has been performing cadenzas of alarm over the prospect of Cairo falling into the clutches of a dreadful "Islamo-Communist" alliance bent on creating a global Caliphate. The operatic variations on that theme performed by Glenn Beck have been worthy of  a coloratura soprano

By this reading, the uprising in Cairo is not a tribute to the irrepressible human desire for freedom. Instead, the brave defiance offered by hundreds of thousands of Egyptians was orchestrated as part of an elaborate plot to undermine the "stability" provided by Mubarak's U.S.-subsidized torture state.

Difficult as it may be to believe, Glenn Beck's take on this issue qualifies only for a silver medal in the silliness sweepstakes. First place goes to this unfathomably foolish essay, with shares equally apportioned to the young man who wrote it and the purported adults on the editorial staff of the journal that published it.
Exporting repression: An American-made tear gas grenade in Cairo.
Elaborating on Beck's rococo conspiracy theory, the author insists that the uprising against Mubarak is the work of an "Islamo-Leninist" alliance that he describes as the modern successor to "the Soviet-backed Nasser."

Actually, Nasser's successor is the Soviet-trained Hosni Mubarak, who heads a party that grew directly out of Nasser's Arab Socialist Union. It should also be pointed out that the Muslim Brotherhood was a CIA-supported enemy of Nasser

"While Hosni Mubarak may not share American hopes and conceptions of what constitutes a democratic government," the author continues, "he has been an ally of the United States and Israel, and has attempted to institute as many free-market reforms as possible...." For this reason, "our government understands the necessity of supporting Mubarak, whom even Former Vice President Dick Cheney has identified as an ally."

Oh, you mean Mubarak and his torturers have earned the Darth Cheney Seal of Approval? I guess that settles it, then. 

For those who stubbornly remain unpersuaded, the writer deploys the heaviest artillery at his disposal:

It's a Communist plot! Egyptian Muslims and Christians unite against tyranny.
"Our support for Mubarak is a direct application of the Kirkpatrick Doctrine, named after Reagan advisor Jeanne Kirkpatrick, who differentiated authoritarian governments (such as Mubarak’s Egypt and Pinochet’s Chile) from totalitarian regimes, such as the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany, and stressed the need to support authoritarian governments as strategic partners against hostile regimes and movements, such as Islamism and Communism."

Referring to criticism of Glenn Beck by Weekly Standard publisher William Kristol, the author laments:  "It is a sad and shameful day when a self-identified `conservative' betrays the Kirkpatrick Doctrine and the long-term strategic interests of the United States in favor of what most likely amounts to a desperate attempt for publicity and attention from a political movement in which he is now obsolete."
Apparently we are to believe that the Kirkpatrick Doctrine was a divinely revealed codicil to the Decalogue, or at least a secret annex to the U.S. Constitution authorizing open-ended military and economic support for any despot who is baptized a "strategic partner" by our rulers.

Actually, that doctrine was actually spawned in the Trotskyite slums of academia in the late 1960s, before being articulated by Kirkpatrick in an essay that could be considered an Ur-text of neo-con imperialism. It is treated as holy writ by those who believe America has been anointed by History to propagate democracy at gunpoint throughout the globe. Those on the receiving end of the Empire's ministrations understandable consider it to be demonic rather than divine. 
The "Kirkpatrick Doctrine" as practiced in Cairo.
 The Kirkpatrick Doctrine was the direct mirror image of the Brezhnev Doctrine, under which Moscow claimed the supposed right to prop up and defend its own satrapies wherever they were threatened by "instability."

During the second Reagan term, Secretary of State George Schulz pronounced a corollary to the Kirkpatrick Doctrine under which Washington would actively promote anti-Soviet insurgencies in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In other words, the U.S. would emulate another Soviet strategy by promoting "wars of national liberation."

Among the despots supported by Washington under the Kirkpatrick Doctrine was Saddam Hussein. Among the insurgents who received American help pursuant to the Schulz Corollary were the Afghan Mujahadeen -- the direct progenitors of the Afghan insurgents currently doing battle with American occupation troops. For the past decade, U.S. foreign policy has been an exercise in dealing with Kirkpatrick Doctrine-related blowback.

Defenders of the Kirkpatrick Doctrine will indignantly insist that I am guilty of "moral equivalence" by comparing it to the Brezhnev Doctrine. A good and sufficient reply is to point out that those doctrines directly intersect in Egypt, where -- according to the author quoted above, and many others of his ilk -- America has a moral duty and strategic imperative to support the socialist torture regime of Soviet-trained, North Korean-allied Hosni Mubarak and Omar Suleiman.

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Monday, February 7, 2011

Ave, Imperium!

Officer Dianobol, I presume? Yes, this pic (from the 2010 Super Bowl) just screams "Freedom!"

 Superbowl Sunday, the High Holy Day of our de facto state religion, has become such a brobdingnagian spectacle of militarist self-worship that Leni Riefenstahl would probably find the proceedings a bit excessive. The Caligulan feast in Dallas did offer one small source of consolation: Contrary to what compulsive mosque-baiters would have us believe, the culture on display is not haunted by the specter of impending Sharia rule. 

Hail the Empire! Superbowl Sunday, 2011
Christina Aguilera, selected to perform the role of Vestal in yesterday's Ludus Gladitorius, is in no peril of being stuffed into a burqa, much as that development would benefit the public. She may have fatally injured her career, however, by her inept recitation of the Regime's official hymn

Aguilera's celebrity will suffer, but she won't endure the hardships inflicted on dissidents -- many of them belonging to a sect founded in her home town of Pittsburgh -- who refused to offer ritual public submission to the State during the Holy Crusade to Save Stalin. 

During World War II, recalls Molly Worthen of The New Republic, those who refused to recognize the State as their liege attracted the eager attention of pious souls willing to correct their thinking:

Hail the Reich! Anschluss Saturday, March 12, 1938.
"Violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses [who reject oaths of allegiance to any government] erupted in hundreds of towns across the nation. In Wyoming, a mob tarred and feathered a Witness. Public officials permitted beatings in Texas and Illinois; in Nebraska, self-appointed patriots castrated another."

The Jehovah's Witnesses had a long-established and well-earned reputation for being insular, authoritarian, and confrontational. In matters of religious controversy they were strangers in the house of subtlety and given to exercise what one legal analyst called "astonishing powers of annoyance." 

What precipitated public persecution of the Witnesses, however, was not their sectarianism but their commendable loathing for the State. As Sarah Barringer Gordon of  American History magazine summarizes, Witnesses were taught to display "open disdain" toward "all forms of government," both in the United States and abroad. This included a "refusal to serve in the military or to support America's war effort in any way."

Painful to watch, more painful to hear.

In a 1940 Supreme Court ruling that upheld state laws mandating recitation of the Pledge (Minersville School District v. Gobitis), Felix Frankfurter asserted that "Conscientious scruples have not, in the course of the long struggle for toleration, relieved the individual from obedience to a general law."

"Some vigilantes interpreted the Supreme Court's decision as a signal that Jehovah's Witnesses were traitors who might be linked to a network of Nazi spies and saboteurs," notes American History. In the service of that grand deception, the Witnesses -- whose deviousness apparently knew no bounds -- arranged to have thousands of their co-religionists imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps, and hundreds more executed for refusing to serve in the armed forces of the Reich. While officially sanctioned persecution of Witnesses by FDR's corporatist state wasn't nearly as intense, at least 1,500 members of the sect were assaulted in more than 300 separate attacks following the Gobitis ruling.

"In Imperial, a town outside Pittsburgh, a mob descended on a small group of Witnesses and pummeled them mercilessly," recounts Gordon. "One Witness was beaten unconscious, and those who fled were cornered by ax- and knife-wielding men riding the town's fire truck as someone yelled, `Get the ropes! Bring the flag!'"

Another patriotic mob in Kennebunk, Maine laid waste to the local Kingdom Hall. Jehovah's Witnesses in Rockville, Maryland were beaten by a mob across the street from a police station while officers looked on in contemptuous amusement.  In Litchfield, Illinois, "an angry crowd spread an American flag on the hood of a car and watched while a man repeatedly smashed the head of a Witness upon it."

"I hoped to beat up these people," one enforcer of patriotic virtue said after he and other members of the Greatest Generation took part in the Litchfield pogrom. "Why, they wouldn't even salute the flag! We almost beat one guy to death to make him kiss the flag."
Those were extreme measures, of course, but they were tragically necessary in order to make the infidel make Islam (submission) to the divine State and its sacred totem.

In 1940, shortly before the Supreme Court authorized violent enforcement of collectivist piety, the FDR administration was shamed into modifying the flag salute, which was identical to the notorious stiff-armed fascist salute. Three years later, the Court itself was shamed into revisiting its ruling in the case Barnette v. West Virginia Board of Education

During oral arguments, the counsel for the state Board of Education insisted that "permitting Jehovah's Witnesses to abstain from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and saluting the flag leads to more violence" from those zealous to punish the infidels, who (in the mind of this State functionary) had it coming to them.

"To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous instead of a compulsory routine is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds," wrote Justice Jackson in a welcome repudiation of the earlier decision. 

Although nationalist violence against those who abstain from displays of nationalist piety fell out of fashion following Barnette ruling, there is an occasional relapse. For example, Brad Compeau-Laurion was assaulted and thrown out of Yankee Stadium by police officers during a 2008 baseball game for the supposed offense of using the restroom rather than participating in the mandatory singing of "God Bless America." 

Compeau-Laurion -- who eventually won a nominal settlement from New York City -- was not intoxicated, nor was he misbehaving in any way. Yet two tax-engorged bullies seized him, wrenched his arms behind his back, and dragged him out in humiliating fashion in front of a huge crowd. When he pointed out that it wasn’t necessary to hurt him because he was offering no resistance, one of his assailants belched something to the effect that things would get worse for him if he didn't shut up. 

“Get the hell out of my country if you don’t like it," one of the thugs sneered at Compeau-Laurion as he was kicked out of the stadium. The goons then returned to the section where Campeau-Laurion’s friend was still sitting and defamed Campeau-Laurion, informing spectators that he had been intoxicated and had told them, “This country sucks.” Compeau-Laurion said nothing of the kind, of course, but in light of the way he was treated he was certainly entitled to. 

America has never been plagued by the kind of fanaticism that led to people being harassed, beaten, mutilated, or murdered because they refused to profess allegiance to Mohammed and his religion, nor are we going to see this happen in the future. Crimes of that kind inspired by intolerant nationalism, however, are disturbingly commonplace. Any moral or material distinction between those varieties of fanaticism is too small to be measured by any instrument of which I'm aware.

War tends to destroy the critical distinctions between "country" and "government"; that's one reason why rulers are incessantly cultivating wars and similar crises. James Madison famously warned that no nation can retain its freedom in the midst of perpetual warfare. 

When the artlessly misnamed USA PATRIOT act was inflicted on our country in 2001, the legislators who enacted that measure before it was written insisted that it would be a temporary measure, subject to renewal at regular intervals. Congress is now poised to make that act as immutable as the laws of the Medes and Persians -- thereby formalizing the state of perpetual warfare Madison warned against.

Mubarak's Egyptian torture state, one of the Empire's most lavishly compensated regional affiliates, has operated under an "emergency powers" decree for more than three decades. 

Whatever results from the turmoil in Cairo, it is immensely significant -- and more than a little inspiring -- to see hundreds of thousands of Egyptians loudly and defiantly insist that their country doesn't belong to the government ruling it. That defiance hasn't been limited to large public displays. 

As they were taken to a nearby secret police headquarters, one reporter asked a soldier: “Where are you taking us?” 

"My heart goes out to you," replied the soldier. "I’m sorry.”

The reporters saw dozens of people, both Egyptian and westerners, handcuffed and blindfolded. The interrogator who subjected them to the display told them: “We could be treating you a lot worse.” 

Egyptian Christians shield Muslims at prayer in Cairo.
The sounds the reporters heard during their confinement underscored that warning. From a nearby cell, they could hear a series of dull whacks -- the soft, percussive noise of human flesh being beaten --  followed by screams of pain. 

They also caught snippets of a remarkable conversation:

“You are talking to journalists?” demanded the torturer.“You are talking badly about your country?” 

The victim defiantly rebuked his tormentor: “You are committing a sin. You are committing a sin.”

How many Americans – of any religious background – would display such self-possession, such principled defiance, in similar circumstances?

On "Superbowl Sunday," as millions of Americans celebrated the unsustainable debt-fueled opulence of our consumer culture and the decaying might of an imperial Regime in steep decline, Christians and Muslims living at the periphery of the empire united in a peaceful rebellion rooted in a shared rejection of the supposed divinity of the State. While Egypt certainly isn't the land of the free, it has a far better claim than we do to call itself the home of the brave.

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