Saturday, May 22, 2010

Imperial Brain Damage: They Still Hate Us, We Still Don't Get It

by Michael K. Smith

The New York Daily News' May 5 article on the Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad's "hatred" for the United States ("Confessed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad's hatred stemmed from personal failure, war on terror") provides a textbook case of imperial obtuseness guaranteed to keep conflict brewing between Washington and Islam for a long time to come.

The article opens with a claim by "law enforcement officials" that "Faisal Shahzad's descent from a suburban Connecticut family man to a wanna-be terrorist was fueled by a raft of grievances that built up over time." No evidence is offered for the view that Shahzad "wanted" to be a terrorist. (The cutesy-phrase 'wanna be' is grotesquely inappropriate, and the idea that Shahzad might have felt duty-bound to inflict bloodshed on the society wantonly slaughtering his fellow Muslims is apparently unthinkable.) This is followed up with the strange observation that "Shahzad, 30, a naturalized citizen from Pakistan, did not come to the U.S. 12 years ago bent on carrying out a spectacular terror attack."

Of course, he could not have arrived with such motivation, for as the article states, his main grievances (aside from his alleged "personal failure" to "make it" in the U.S.) were the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, which could not have provided a motivation for terrorist attack 12 years ago for the simple reason that the respective "wars" began nine and seven years ago.

"[He was] slowly radicalized as events piled up - the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, Muslim brothers being killed, innocent people being hit by drones from above," said an unnamed source. "He did a slow burn."

All well and good, but the writers of the article (Kevin Deutsch, Alison Gendar, Rocco Parascandola, Rich Schapiro), ignore this clear motive for revenge in favor of the nonsensical claim that "Shahzad, the son of a wealthy Pakistani family who earned a college degree and an M.B.A. in America, offered few clues of his growing resentment toward his adopted country." As though two imperial wars slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Shahzad's fellow Muslims weren't sufficient to provoke resentment.

By last year, the article goes on, Shahzad had developed a "fixation" on U.S. policy in the Middle East (normal people ignore taxpayer funded mass slaughters), which was "evident at a house party in leafy Shelton, Connecticut." Shahzad's neighbor Dennis Flanner, 18, is quoted saying that a "brooding" Shahzad was "staring at the TV news in a room packed with drunken partygoers."

"They were talking about those drones blowing things up in Afghanistan," Flanner went on. "He was the only one watching it. Everybody else was just having a good time." When someone told Shahzad to loosen up and enjoy himself, Shahzad replied: "They shouldn't be shooting people from the sky. You know, they should come down and fight."

"By that point," say the Daily Post writers, "Shahzad . . . was starting to shed his middle-class life."

Consider what is implied by these peculiar comments. Middle class people should properly ignore mass slaughters carried out by their government and with their tax dollars. A Muslim who identifies with the victims of the slaughter is a "brooding" oddball incapable of having a good time. His unnatural preoccupations lead him to forfeit an inherently wonderful middle-class American life that is beyond moral reproach.

Note that Shahzad implies he dislikes the drones because by raining death from the sky they don't give their victims a chance to engage in a fair fight. In other words, he indicts U.S. cowardice, not U.S. justifications for the war. This is more generous-minded than Americans have any right to expect him to be, but the Daily Post writers show no sympathy toward him and make no attempt to understand his plight. If they did, they'd have to find another profession, which is an interesting commentary on our "free press."

The article goes on to link the foreclosure on Shahzad's home and his quitting his marketing job to his attempted terrorist attack, quoting former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt on Shahzad's alleged motivation: "It looks like everything was tilting toward, 'I'm not succeeding in America. I'm going back to Pakistan, and I'm going to carry out an attack." The speculation of unnamed "experts" is also cited, the upshot being that Shahzad "may have felt the American Dream was passing him by."

The reader is left to conclude that had Shahzad been more materially successful, he would not have been bothered by television news reports of the mass killing of Afghan civilians, and thus would have been ready to join in drunken revelry with his adopted countrymen, oblivious of the horrendous pain and suffering Washington's policy is continually causing. This would have been normal, and therefore good.

Of course, in a perverse way this is indeed normal in the United States, thanks to overwhelming propaganda, but it is in no sense good. Shahzad's having been unable to tear himself away from scenes depicting destruction in a Muslim country right across the border from his own was doing what anyone in his circumstances would likely have been doing. If terrorists inflicted a 911 type attack on Toronto, would it be normal for Americans to be so engaged in drunken partying that they paid no attention to it? Would it be appropriate to tell an American disturbed by the attack that he ought to "lighten up" and join the party?

And let's recall that Washington has inflicted vastly more suffering on Afghanistan than was visited on the U.S. on 911.

Since Shahzad was not inclined to political violence when he lived in Pakistan, we can only conclude that the experience of living in the U.S. turned him towards it. Could it be that a relentlessly anti-Muslim mass media that smears Islam as a hatchery of bloody insanity drove him over the edge? Could it be that the sanitized Middle East coverage Americans receive - whitewashing Washington and Israel's mass killing of Arabs and Muslims - did so? Could it be that Americans' complete obliviousness of politics, in favor of sports and celebrity-worship and fashionable consumption, drove him mad?

Maybe. But with a mass media dedicated almost exclusively to distraction and distortion, a sensible answer to such questions will likely be a long time in coming. Pity that we can't say the same about the next terrorist attempt against us.


"Confessed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad's hatred stemmed from personal failure, war on terror," New York Daily News, May 5, 2010

Michael K. Smith is the author of "Portraits of Empire," and "The Madness of King George" from Common Courage Press. He can be reached at

Friday, May 21, 2010

Capitalism Denial ?

“What we are seeing is not just a climate , energy , food or financial crisis but the systemic crisis of capitalism itself, which is bringing about the destruction of humanity and nature. If the cause is systemic, then the solution must be systemic as well.”
Bolivian President Evo Morales

As the systemic crisis grows the mental state of its subjects often borders on the totally irrational. This isn’t surprising with conditions showing only cosmetic signs of recovery in America while several European nations are threatened with bankruptcy. And with increasing wars, coal mining and oil drilling tragedies that kill more innocents and threaten greater ecological destruction there is ample reason for people to be upset . But when fearful anger results in the demonizing of individuals, the seeking of minority scapegoats or the belief in what might as well be supernatural causes for our problem , we not only miss its substance but react exactly as authority desires.

Greece is accused of living beyond its means while the continent wallows in debt just as Americans are told that government spends too much on people while massive expenditures for war are unmentioned. Some near psycho-neurotic freak out over the alleged march to socialism under Obama, as others approach hysterical frenzy over the fascism seen imminent in Arizona. People reduced to finding fault with individuals or isolated groups are not likely to demand significant systemic reforms and this is exactly how corporate state power wishes its subjects to react.

Meaningful reform is what we were promised by the rhetorical massage therapist sent to the White House with nearly fifteen million dollars invested in his campaign by Wall Street. His devoted service to capital results in scores believing he is a socialist. And capital’s profit at throwing people off their land to become illegal cheap labor across borders and inflict the loss on the communities they crowd causes reactions labeled racist fascism by graduates of the same schools; those which teach nature by focusing on trees and denying the forest. As long as we’re driven apart as allegedly unique individuals with separate needs or as political minority groups with special needs we strengthen the system driving us all to ruin.

The present crisis began when the massive Ponzi Scheme that is our economy became overloaded with payments due and no funds available to meet them. Finance capital arranged a multi trillion dollar public bailout to save private profit and the market soon rose, but so did unemployment, homelessness and greater stress for many once considered a middle class but who only maintained that status by floating on a vast sea of debt. Is it any wonder they are close to mental as well as physical collapse?

The growing war on foreigners to preserve a crumbling empire is accompanied by attacks on freedom here at home and our environmental problems accelerate in the “ destruction of humanity and nature ”. The oil spill from the latest calamity in profit pursuit could be the worst ever, but just as in the financial area there will be some form of artificial remission in the disease and everything will seem back to normal. All we need are new laws to enforce old laws which weren't being enforced and once we make it illegal to behave illegally the civil rights of capital will be protected. But those of humans wandering in the divisive identity swamp will be driven further into oil slick, coal dust , bloody war and economic deprivation .

Morales represents a rising of those previously kept silent who now send a call for the rest of us to heed or become victims of the system long oppressing them for our alleged benefit. The cost of that system has now become so deadly that humanity needs to unite in transforming it before it destroys all of us. But if we still blame isolated people or groups for what is wrong we guarantee that the problem will get worse.

Capitalists are dragged before congress and berated by representatives of capital while capitalism itself goes unquestioned. This attention to persons at the exclusion of the system which they serve may soon bring a case before the Supreme Court for corporations to legally marry and adopt , whether gay or straight . And if a Latino Transvestite occupies the White House, a White Nationalist is Speaker of the House and a Catholic Zionist heads the Senate, will we be a morally healthier nation ? Not if we haven't dealt with the substance of our production and reproduction system which is leading to breakdowns that get worse the longer we blame them on bad guys or minor flaws of profit and loss economics that can easily be corrected with some new laws. Capitalism is creating greater losses and more devastation daily and no identity group or individual change will matter if the system is not transformed , completely, before it destroys everything , completely.

Suppressed and repressed by colonialism for nearly five hundred years, amid conditions of material hardship the indigenous people of Bolivia affected radical democratic change to elect Morales. If still relatively affluent Americans continue wringing their hands about the impossibility of change or calling for lynching of demons as a form of change, we will deserve the dreadful outcome that results. We are acting like a nation of mentally disabled spoiled brats who demand a scapegoat for every problem and a selfish outcome for every desire. We are more than capable of joining in the shaping of a better more democratic world but we’d better heed the advice of foreign leaders like Morales more than what passes for our own. The system of minority capitalism is the problem and the sooner we acknowledge that fact, the sooner we can create a majority solution .

Friday, May 7, 2010

Headlines From The Garlic

Terrorist Plots Uncovered by Dept. of Really Scary Things to Panic Public and Distract from Collapsing Capitalist System:

Oil Spills and Mining Disasters Caused By Taliban, Financed by Al Quaida and Applauded by Iran

Computer in Afghanistan Cave Causes Market Collapse

Ahmadinejad Behind Tea Parties, Arizona Law , Hezbollah, Hamas, Child Molesting and Puppy and Pussycat Torture

Osama Spits on Star of David, Defaces Crucifix, Threatens to Sodomize Dalai Lama

Terror Plan to Spread Chopped Beef on Veggies at Whole Foods

Late Breaking Bulletin!!!!

The Dept. of Really Really Serious Color Coded Threats at the Center for National Insecurity called for a Rainbow terrorist alert. An extremely very nervous spokesperson said:

“ There are so many threats at one time to so many Americans coming from so many terrorists using so many weapons that we haven't enough colors so we had to blend them together on this one. This is really really big folks. Turn off your tv or keep it on constantly, run your tap water and air conditioners and air purifiers and heating units and start praying even if you’re agnostic or atheist or pagan and prepare for something really devastating. Worse than any threat in the past that didn't happen. If this doesn't happen it will be even worse than the ones that didn’t happen before. Really. We’re not kidding this time. Really.”

stay tuned

Monday, May 3, 2010

Arizona, "Nazism," and Immigration Mythology

by Michael K. Smith

"German Nazi and Russian Communist techniques."

-----Los Angeles Archbishop Roger Mahony on Arizona SB 1070, which criminalizes illegal immigrants in the state

The panic signals are out again about Nazism taking over the United States. Nazism was allegedly on the verge of triumph when George W. Bush launched a frontal attack on the U.S. Constitution, when Arnold Schwarzenegger won the California recall election in 2003, and now again in the wake of Arizona passing a law that elevates illegal immigration from a civil violation to a criminal offense.

In spite of hysterical claims to the contrary, there is nothing racist in the law itself, though illegal immigrants are understandably alarmed that Arizona police are about to make their lives much more difficult. And lawyers will have a field day the first time a Hispanic professional is mistaken for a day laborer without documents. But the text of the law specifically rejects using race or ethnicity as the sole justification for a police contact.

Not that this will satisfy the open borders enthusiasts, who think being born in the U.S. shouldn't mean anything because everyone's ancestors came from somewhere else (even the Indians aren't really indigenous: their ancestors allegedly crossed the Bering Strait from Asia and therefore are immigrants, too). In other words, the U.S. as a "nation of immigrants" is obligated to honor its forebears by throwing open its borders to endless waves of immigrants, legal or not. Failure to do so is (1) racist, because today's immigrants are mostly non-white, and (2) hypocritical, because today's citizens are yesterday's immigrants, and denying to others what we insist on for ourselves is a double standard.

Of course, this is perfect nonsense. Even if Indians came from somewhere else in the remote past, they have been here for ten thousand years at least, and possibly as long as fifty thousand years, which gives them a standing newcomers can't match. Morever, letting the Europeans in unmolested is a policy they have regretted ever since. Finally, those Europeans were not immigrants, but colonists and religious fanatics, who dedicated themselves to settler colonialism, not assimilation to the norms established by North American indigenous nations, which they almost entirely wiped out. As for the "service sector" of that era, they were poor, indentured servants, convicted, criminalized, kidnapped from the working class, many of whom decided to join Indian communities. Finally, there were slaves, who arrived in chains and were not allowed to go back, which is quite a different matter from voluntarily emigrating. (Try telling black Americans today that they have been living the good life long enough and now must make room for tens of millions of illegal immigrants).

Only beginning in the 1840s, with the arrival of millions of Irish Catholics can the story of "immigration" in the U.S. be said to have begun. The Irish were despised cheap labor, not settlers. They were soon followed by millions of other poor workers from Scandinavia, Eastern and Southern Europe, more Irish, and Chinese and Japanese. Immigration laws were not passed until 1875 when the U.S. Supreme Court made immigration a federal responsibility. The Immigration Service came into being in 1891.

The rest is imperial propaganda. The landing of the Pilgrims refers to fanatical evangelicals eager to expand their persecution opportunities in the so-called New World. The spirit of the white settlers was captured well by James Fenimore Cooper's immensely popular "Last of the Mohicans," which asserted "natural rights" to indigenous lands as well as those claimed by rival European powers. The U.S. was not a refuge for humanity, but a division of the vast British empire, dedicated to profit and expansion. Thomas Jefferson called it the "new republic for empire," and his imperial designs required the conquering of what was called the "Northwest Territory," that is, the Ohio Valley and the Great Lakes region, which was then populated by indigenous farming communities.

Thanks to genocidal military campaigns, infectious disease, and settler colonialism, the rightful inhabitants of the land were driven south and north to seek protection in other indigenous communities. Meanwhile, the republic for empire annexed Spanish Florida, where escaped slaves and remnants of indigenous communities that had fled the Ohio butchery fought back for two decades in three major wars. In 1828, one of the generals in those wars, Andrew Jackson, forced (via the Indian Removal Act) all the indigenous farming nations of the Southeast to move to Oklahoma territory that had been gained from the "Louisiana Purchase" from France.

In the South, slaveowners seized the indigenous farmlands for use as plantations. Many moved into the Mexican province of Texas. The U.S. invaded Mexico in 1846, seizing Mexico City and forcing Mexico to surrender its northern half via the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Texas were opened up to "legal" Anglo settlement, while those who had earlier settled illegally were retrospectively legalized. The indigenous and poor Mexican communities resisted colonization for the next four decades, just as they had resisted the Spaniards.

These are the tragic consequences of the indigenous nations' failure to establish firm boundaries. While the present day U.S. is in no danger of being destroyed by illegal immigration, it does have a legitimate interest in legally controlling who comes in and out of the country and on what terms. In Arizona, drug trafficking and the violent crimes associated with it are a serious concern, especially kidnapping. It is understandable that it seeks a policy of tough border security and enforcement of established immigration law.

But getting this across to "globalization" enthusiasts can be a challenge. For example, Jorge Ramos, cheerleader for "the Latino wave" (the title of one of his books) on the Spanish language Univision network, is quick to accuse others of racism if they show the slightest misgiving about mass illegal immigration, even as he evidences palpable contempt for mixed-race Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, and Indian Evo Morales, the first indigenous president of Bolivia. These men are dedicated to putting an economic floor beneath the poor that will make it unnecessary for them to migrate thousands of miles from their homes in search of a menial job, but Ramos and other corporate globalization enthusiasts are harshly critical of just such efforts. Hypocrisy? You bet.

Likewise, Ramos and his ilk do not praise Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa, who has declared it a national tragedy that so many Ecuadorians can't find work at home and must migrate to Europe and America. Apparently, socialist presidents are beneath contempt, even though their efforts to create a decent life for all by abolishing poverty would appear to be the ideal solution to mass illegal immigration. After all, who would choose to travel thousands of miles and walk through a scorching desert for days with no food in order to find a job in a foreign land if he had food, housing, and medical care at home? But, as noted, Ramos is dedicated to denouncing Chavez and other advocates of "21st Century socialism" as "demagogues" for seeking to provide their people with precisely such an economic foundation.

In any case, antagonism to mass illegal immigration appears to be universal. Polls taken in Latin America show that negative attitudes about uncontrolled immigration are hardly confined to "racist" or "nativist" North Americans. Mexicans don't like the flood of Guatemalans in their midst, Chileans resent Peruvians sneaking in, and Costa Ricans have long been sick of Nicaraguans fleeing the wreckage the U.S. made of the Sandinista revolution. Just like in the U.S., opponents of unrestrained immigration in these countries are not, by and large, racist, they simply want immigration law to be respected.

Furthermore, in the wake of over three decades of stagnation or decline in average real wages for roughly eighty percent of the U.S. population, it is not really surprising that many Americans react with antagonism to the mass influx of Third World peoples pursuing the American Dream at the very moment the profit system can no longer sustain it. For those who are in a position to avail themselves of the cheap labor this influx provides (often while living in exclusive neighborhoods that leave the social costs of mass migration to fall on other people), this is a good deal. But for those of modest means who have been encouraged to "work hard and play by the rules," it is grating to see the rules set aside in order to accommodate a cheap labor force while their own living standards are in decline.

Having said that, there is no justification for treating illegal immigrants badly. As the government of Nicaragua said four days ago, immigrants are induced to flee to the United States because of "the difficult economic situation that the countries of the South are suffering," which is itself a product of the "prevailing unjust economic model."

Most discussions of immigration overlook this dimension of the problem altogether, saying nothing about how transnational finance capital impacts development and non-development around the world, and how this uproots hundreds of millions of people from their countries of origin.

One of the biggest factors in producing the mass exodus of Central Americans and Mexicans from their native countries are the "free trade" treaties that keep wages low and jobs scarce south of the border. NAFTA alone displaced about 1.4 million rural Mexican workers by undercutting Mexican corn and beans. Thanks in no small measure to much larger agricultural subsidies in the U.S., the American price of corn in 1994 was $95 a ton, whereas in Mexico it was $205 a ton. In the Zapatistas' first Declaration of the Zacandon Jungle they denounced NAFTA as "the death certificate for the ethnic people of Mexico," warning that privatization would destroy communal agriculture, while the flood of heavily subsidized U.S. corn would wipe out Indian farmers. When this prediction turned out to be correct, millions of rural Mexicans made their way to the United States.

Fulfilling the just demands of the Zapatistas could have spared us the last several waves of desperate illegal immigrants: "work, land, shelter, bread, health, education, democracy, liberty, peace, independence, and justice." If we don't strive to make life decent in the countries illegal immigrants are coming from, we shouldn't be too surprised to find ourselves swamped in economic refugees fleeing the neo-liberal disasters promoted by the U.S. government and U.S.-based transnational corporations.

Many illegal immigrants (and even some permanent residents and naturalized U.S. citizens) would return to Mexico and Central America immediately if there were an end to the violence in the region and an investment program to create employment opportunities. Arranging for this to be possible makes a lot more sense than declaring amnesty once a generation, which is not a policy but a capitulation. As a Honduran grandmother pointed out to journalist Sonia Nazario almost a decade ago, the mass exodus from her country is hardly inevitable. Asked what it would take to stop it, she said:

"There would have to be jobs. Jobs that pay okay. That's all."

But that's apparently asking the impossible of capitalism.


"Cardinal Mahony Criticizes Arizona Immigration Bill," Los Angeles Times, April 20, 2010

"The Legalization of Racism," Univision Online, April 27, 2010

"Who Left the Door Open?" Time Magazine, May 20, 2006

"Latin America Against SB 1070," Univision Online, April 30, 2010

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, "Comforting Lies of the Colonizers - Stop Saying This Is a Nation of Immigrants!" Counterpunch, May 31, 2006

"Nafta Should Have Stopped Illegal Immigration, Right?" New York Times, February 18, 2007

Henry K. Liu, "Militarism and the War on Drugs," Asia Times, May 18, 2005

Jorge Ramos, "The Latino Wave," (Harper Collins, 2005)

Sonia Nazario, "Enrique's Journey," (Random House, 2006)

--------Michael K. Smith is the author of "The Madness of King George," and "Portraits of Empire," both from Common Courage Press

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Americans Too Uneducated To Protest Washington's Wars?

"My feets is tired, but my soul is rested."

----- "Uneducated" Mother Pollard, rejecting suggestions that she go back to riding the bus before the end of the Montgomery bus boycott

The idea that Americans are too dumbed down to protest Washington's imperial wars enjoys considerable popularity among the cynical-minded, but there is no reason to regard it as true.

U.S. public support for imperial wars is probably at an all-time low. A mobilization of the country such as occurred in WWII is inconceivable today, and not because the Pentagon wouldn't like to see it.

Formal education and moral intelligence have little to do with one another. In the Vietnam years, the college educated supported the Indochina slaughter much more than did working class Americans without such credentials, with the honorable exception of student protest leaders, a small percentage of the university educated. And it is not hard to understand why: working class Americans disproportionately suffered the consequences of that war (and every war for that matter), so their moral judgment was correspondingly sharper. Intellectuals habitually can't see the moral forest for the trees.

Today, U.S. support for war is extremely shallow. With control of information, short blitzkrieg-like assaults can achieve the "rally around the flag" phenomenon for a while, but extended imperial wars face steady erosion of public support almost as a matter of course.

Protest can still be effective, but not if the underlying assumption is that people reluctant to join anti-war protests are intellectually deficient. Also, we have to face the fact that the 1960s generation - billed as the ultimate protest generation - obviously failed to achieve the cultural revolution it so glibly talked about. We should therefore expect that many people have concluded that protest doesn't work.

In short, the "ignorant" majority is smarter than we take ourselves to be.