The death of Alexander Cockburn, columnist for the Nation and author of many books, is an irreplaceable loss not only personally, for those who knew him, but for the broad “progressive” movement, where his populist brand of anarcho-syndicalism — the leftist equivalent of “crunchy conservatism” — set him apart from the bullhorn-shouters and sloganeering ideologues of the haute cuisine Left. His passing, after a two-year battle against cancer, marks nearly the end of what remained vital and interesting about the American left in this country. There is simply no one even remotely like him. As Jesse Walker described his first encounter with Cockburn’s prose: “I had never read anything like this before.”
What’s particularly poignant about his passing is that we’ll never read anything even remotely like it again. With his death, a certain current in American politics, with its roots on the left, has lost its only remaining voice.
Accounts of Cockburn’s career in the obituaries describe him as a “radical leftist,” but this is only half-true. He was a radical, all right, but as for the “leftist” — I have my doubts. And so did his readers at the Nation, with whom he engaged in a long-running debate over what constituted proper left-wing orthodoxy. This debate included his editors: one “Beat the Devil” column in the Nation bears this footnote:
“The Nation’s editor, Katrina vanden Heuvel, wishes it to be on record that she takes exception to the description of Dissent as ‘obscure.’ I suggest a poll of the American people.”
There was a running tension between vanden Heuvel and Cockburn over the Obama Question, and his other “deviations” from the left’s party line: approached by his critics, vanden Heuvel averred “I don’t read Counterpunch” — Cockburn’s feisty newsletter which featured material far too radical for the Obama-worshipping “respectable” Nation. Then there was the “Bush/Hitler” debate, and the climate change controversy — the latter brouhaha the final straw for the kind of up-marketsandal-wearing lefties who still read the Nation. After all, Cockburn was a shameless recidivist: when Bill Clinton was targeting the alleged danger posed by the militia movement in the 1990s, Cockburn defended them, likened them to the Zapatistas, and described one militia rally he attended as “amiable”: he was also staunchly opposed to gun control, a classical leftist position long-forgotten by today’s paladins of political correctness and federal control of everything.
Perhaps one of my favorite Milton Friedman stories is when he was served on a presidential commission to look at military conscription. The Nobel Prize winning economist listened to General William Westmoreland, who was givening testimony before the commission. Here’s how it played out:
In his testimony before the commission, Mr. Westmoreland said he did not want to command an army of mercenaries. Mr. Friedman interrupted, “General, would you rather command an army of slaves?” Mr. Westmoreland replied, “I don’t like to hear our patriotic draftees referred to as slaves.” Mr. Friedman then retorted, “I don’t like to hear our patriotic volunteers referred to as mercenaries. If they are mercenaries, then I, sir, am a mercenary professor, and you, sir, are a mercenary general; we are served by mercenary physicians, we use a mercenary lawyer, and we get our meat from a mercenary butcher.”
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, former commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan, demands the re-instatement of conscription so that next time Washington commits itself to a needless foreign war “every town, every city [will be] at risk.”
“I think we ought to have a draft. I think if a nation goes to war, it shouldn’t be solely be represented by a profession-al force, because it gets to be unrepresentative of the population,”McChrystal during a session of the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival. “I think if a nation goes to war, every town, every city needs to be at risk. You make that decision and everybody has skin in the game.”
Of course, when those who presume to rule us decide to go to war, they don’t have any “skin” in the game; instead, they are gambling with the lives of other people.
“This was the first time in recent years that a high-profile officer has broken ranks to argue that the all-volunteer force is not necessarily good for the country or the military,” exulted Thomas Ricks of a neo-con think-tank called the Center for a New American Security in a New York Times op-ed column. “Unlike Europeans, Americans still seem determined to maintain a serious military force, so we need to think about how to pay for it and staff it by creating a draft that is better and more equitable than the Vietnam-era conscription system”:
“A revived draft, including both males and females, should include three options for new conscripts coming out of high school. Some could choose 18 months of military service with low pay but excellent post-service benefits, including free college tuition. These conscripts would not be deployed but could perform tasks currently outsourced a great cost to the Pentagon: paperwork, painting barracks, mowing lawns, driving generals around, and generally doing lower-skilled tasks so professional soldiers don’t have to. If they want to stay, they could move into the professional force and receive weapons training, higher pay and better benefits.
The Russian government has finally caught on that its political opposition is being financed by the US taxpayer-funded National Endowment for Democracy and other CIA/State Department fronts in an attempt to subvert the Russian government and install an American puppet state in the geographically largest country on earth, the one country with a nuclear arsenal sufficient to deter Washington’s aggression.
Way to go, Egyptians!!
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton landed at Ben-Gurion Airport Sunday night for a two day visit. During her stay, Clinton is expected to meet with top level officials. Clinton arrived on a flight from Egypt shortly along with US Middle East envoy David Hale and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, who represents Washington at the talks between world powers and Iran.
Imagine for a moment that China, in an effort to reduce cigarette smoking and associated health costs among its population, declared war on U.S. tobacco production. Imagine Chinese planes flying over American tobacco fields, spraying crop-killing poison that destroys not just tobacco, but all vegetation, wiping out farmers’ livelihoods, displacing millions of families, and contaminating the environment. Such an act of hostility and disregard for national sovereignty would provoke, at the very least, military aggression from the United States. Yet, unbeknownst to most Americans, for the past 20 years the U.S. has conducted just such a campaign against Colombian coca farmers.
Two years after he was sacked by President Obama as the top commander in Afghanistan for suggesting to Rolling Stone magazine that the real enemy were ”the wimps in the White House”, General Stanley A McChrystal has recycled a perennial chestnut: Bring back the draft – i.e. a conscripted army, not the volunteer army of today.
These days McChrystal teaches at Yale with what must be a protection unique in the annals of academic freedom. According to CounterPunch’s David Price, everything he tells his students is by contractual agreement off the record.
But he made his proposal about the draft in a public venue. McChrystal claimed:
“I think we ought to have a draft. I think if a nation goes to war, it shouldn’t be solely be represented by a professional force, because it gets to be unrepresentative of the population,” McChrystal said at a late-night event June 29 at the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival. “I think if a nation goes to war, every town, every city needs to be at risk. You make that decision and everybody has skin in the game.”
It’s certainly true that the volunteer army is a mess. Suicides are surging among the troops. According to AP, the 154 suicides for active duty troops in the first 155 days of the year far outdistance the US forces killed in Afghanistan. The volunteer army also struggles with increased sexual assaults, alcohol abuse, and domestic violence. Liberals like the idea of a draft army because they think it would curb any president’s eagerness to go to war. There are indeed sound arguments for a draft. They were put eloquently not so long ago by Bill Broyles, a Vietnam vet: “In spite of the president’s insistence that our very civilization is at stake, the privileged aren’t flocking to the flag.”
Sure, we as a nation have always killed people. A lot of people. But no president has ever waged war by killing enemies one by one, targeting them individually for execution, wherever they are. The Obama administration has taken pains to tell us, over and over again, that they are careful, scrupulous of our laws, and determined to avoid the loss of collateral, innocent lives. They’re careful because when it comes to waging war on individuals, the distinction between war and murder becomes a fine one. Especially when, on occasion, the individuals we target are Americans and when, in one instance, the collateral damage was an American boy.
We’ve seen another “patriotic” holiday come and go, and with it the same obligatory maudlin comments from local TV news anchors about troops overseas “defending our freedom.” Just like we saw on Memorial Day, and just like we’ll see again on Veterans’ Day.
Grade AAA, prime, unadulterated, 99 and 44/100% buncombe, of course. Soldiers don’t “defend our freedom.” They serve the state and fight its wars, and the state isn’t exactly interested — the understatement of a millennium — in our freedom.
Wars are started by states, in pursuit of their own agendas. War is simply another instrument of state policy, as Clausewitz noted 200 years ago. And the state’s policies are oriented toward serving the constellation of class interests that controls it. In case you didn’t notice, you and I don’t figure very prominently in that constellation. The Fortune 500, finance-capital and the military-industrial complex, yes. Us, no. As George Carlin put it, it’s a big club, and you and I are not in it.
So the wars the U.S. government fights overseas — and the soldiers who do the actual fighting, however sincere their motives may be — are fought mainly for the freedom of Boeing, Monsanto, Cargill, Blackwater, Halliburton, Exxon-Mobil, Sony, Disney and Microsoft. And to stamp out freedom wherever in the world it may threaten the profits of those companies.
While the elections for a 200-member National Congress is unlikely to grant a majority to any one faction, the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies are confident they can join their counterparts in Tunisia and Egypt at the helm of leadership.
I’m sure most Americans are mighty proud of the fact that Julian Assange is so frightened of falling into the custody of the United States that he had to seek sanctuary in the embassy of Ecuador, a tiny and poor Third World country, without any way of knowing how it would turn out. He might be forced to be there for years. “That’ll teach him to mess with the most powerful country in the world! All you other terrorists and anti-Americans out there — Take Note! When you fuck around with God’s country you pay a price!”
How true. You do pay a price. Ask the people of Cuba, Vietnam, Chile, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Iran, Haiti, etc., etc., etc. And ask the people of Guantánamo, Diego Garcia, Bagram, and a dozen other torture centers to which God’s country offers free transportation.
You think with the whole world watching, the United States would not be so obvious as to torture Assange if they got hold of him? Ask Bradley Manning. At a bare minimum, prolonged solitary confinement is torture. Before too long the world may ban it. Not that that would keep God’s country and other police states from using it.
You think with the whole world watching, the United States would not be so obvious as to target Assange with a drone? They’ve done it with American citizens. Assange is a mere Aussie.
And Ecuador and its president, Rafael Correa, will pay a price. You think with the whole world watching, the United States would not intervene in Ecuador? In Latin America, it comes very naturally for Washington. During the Cold War it was said that the United States could cause the downfall of a government south of the border … with a frown. The dissolution of the Soviet Union didn’t bring any change in that because it was never the Soviet Union per se that the United States was fighting. It was the threat of a good example of an alternative to the capitalist model.
Las Vegas Sands Chief Executive Officer Sheldon Adelson speaks during a media briefing in Singapore December 21, 2009. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash
If a Jew-hater somewhere, inspired perhaps by The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, sought to invent an individual who symbolizes almost all the anti-Semitic clichés that have dogged the Jewish people throughout history, he could hardly come up with a character more perfect than Sheldon Adelson.
An Israeli Border Police officer has been caught on video kicking a Palestinian child in the southern West Bank. The police have launched a probe into the incident, documented by an Israeli human rights organization.
The footage shows a 9-year-old boy walking down the road when a uniformed police officer runs up to him and grabs him by the arm, causing the boy to fall on the ground. Another policeman then walks up to them and kicks the screaming child.
After that, the soldiers let the child run away, and leave the site.
Sixteen months after the United States abandoned its loyal satrap of 30 years, President Hosni Mubarak, to champion democracy in Egypt, the returns are in.
Mohammed Morsi, candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, is president of Egypt, while the military has dissolved the elected parliament that was dominated by the Brotherhood, and curbed his powers.
The military and the mullahs will fight for the future of a country that is home to one in four Arabs. The soldiers who have dominated Egypt since the ouster of King Farouk in 1952 show no willingness to surrender what they have long controlled of the state and economy.
The Bolivian president and a Russian political leader have launched a joint effort to have President Barack Obama stripped of the Nobel Peace Prize.
As Forbes is reporting, Russian Liberal Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky released a statement Monday saying that the prize, awarded to Obama in 2009 for his work on nuclear non-proliferation, was hypocritical in light of recent missile attacks in Libya.