Posts Tagged ‘United States’


The Democratic debate last night was a good reality check: given how openly authoritarian Trump-TV (Fox “News”) is — a combination of butt kissing (e.g., Jeanine Pirro calling Trump “almost superhuman”), goose-stepping “patriotism” that trashes almost everything America is supposed to stand for, and punching down (encouraging knuckle-draggers to blame immigrants — people even poorer and more powerless than they are — for their misfortunes), it’s easy to give CNN a pass, as CNN is at least openly hostile to Trump.

Last night provided a timely reminder that CNN, though not as awful as Fox, is still pretty damn bad. The moderators spent most of their time trying to provoke fights between the candidates, the low point being moderator Abby Phillip — after Bernie Sanders, in a he-said-she-said denied saying that a woman could never win the presidency, and offering corroborating evidence going back decades — immediately asking Warren, “Senator Warren, what did you think when Senator Sanders told you a woman could not win the election?” As if that was a fact, not a dispute about what was said in a conversation between two people, with no witnesses.

To call Philip’s question/accusation grossly unprofessional is an understatement. CNN should have fired her on the spot.

Beyond that, the moderators appeared entirely unconcerned with military spending taking up 53% of discretionary spending, and with the U.S. spending as much on “defense” (largely on weapons and overseas bases, not even counting military-incurred debt servicing) than the next eight countries combined. Nope. They were concerned with the cost of “Medicare for all” — universal healthcare coverage.

The moderators’ questions all concerned the cost of such coverage. Never mind that the U.S. is supposedly the richest country on the face of the Earth, that every other industrialized country already has universal, free healthcare, that 87 million Americans are uninsured or underinsured, that the U.S. has worse healthcare outcomes (e.g., infant mortality) than all of those other industrialized countries, and that U.S. per-capita spending on healthcare is at minimum twice what the other industrialized countries spend, sometimes considerably more.

No. The moderators’ concern was with the “cost” — never mind the potential savings to average Americans nor what the astronomical cost is now.

They didn’t ask a single question about how much average Americans would save under Medicare for all. Not one.

Nor did they ask what possible advantage there is in having a parasitic middle man (the insurance industry) that drains off $100 billion a year in profits, and that incurs vast administrative expenses for providers in dealing with the nightmarish tangle of private insurance coverage. (Tellingly, one of the questions was about what would happen to the “workers” in the “insurance town” of Des Moines if a single-payer plan eliminated their entirely parasitic jobs.)

As for CNN, the disgraceful performance of its moderators points toward this great advice: “Follow the money.” CNN is a corporate entity designed to maximize corporate profits. While there are some good reporters and editors at CNN, it’s utterly unrealistic to expect the network to act as anything other than a corporate tool designed to preserve the economic status quo and corporate profits.


Chris Hedges just put up a fantastic, fearless post on Truthout about the libeling of those of us who oppose Israeli brutalization and murder of Palestinians as “anti-semitic” (e.g., 200+ murders and thousands of deliberate maimings by Israeli snipers of protesters on the other side of the fence in Gaza during the ongoing “right of return” protests — and just ask yourself, how desperate must people be to deliberately expose themselves to murder and maiming, while the corporate press dishonestly excuses that slaughter — sniper shootings at hundreds of yards — as “clashes”? ). I just wish I could repost Chris’s piece here.

Hence an inadequate but claratory definition from The American Heretic’s Dictionary about what “anti-semitism” means currently in the U.S.:

Anti-Semitism, n. 1) A blind, unreasoning hatred of Jewish people by those who fear, with good reason, that they are inferior to Jews. (This is not to say that Jews are inherently superior to anyone else, even anti-Semites; rather, that Jewish culture encourages self-responsibility, social responsibility, learning, dedication to goals, and individual achievement—things sorely lacking in the mainstream of American culture. Hence Jews tend to be perceived as threatening “overachievers” in comparison with average, “fetch me another beer, Bubba” Americans.); 2) As defined in the United States for well over half a century, the unspeakable act of criticizing the oppression and murder of one Semitic people by another (Palestinians by Israelis). Needless to say, this leads to gross confusion of those who seek social justice with actual anti-Semites—which is precisely the intention of those who use the term in this manner. (Curiously, the ethnicity of all of these individuals is apparently Irish, as they invariably respond to the name “McCarthy.”)

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—from The American Heretic’s Dictionary (revised & expanded)

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TRADITIONAL VALUES, n. pl. The bedrock of the nation: fear of the unknown; hatred of the unorthodox; anti-intellectualism; racism; sexism; homophobia; sexual repression; fear and loathing of the human body; the morbid prurience of the “moral”; enjoyment of the sadistic infliction of pain; an ignorance-is-strength, faith-not-reason philosophy; a preference for “faith” over facts; blind belief in the tyranny of the majority; censorship; gullibility; mindless support of the government, especially in time of war; rejoicing over slaughter; a sheep-like longing for “strong leaders”; the desire to make a buck at any price to the environment or to other people; toadying behavior toward one’s bosses; bullying behavior toward one’s subordinates; intolerance of anyone who deviates one scintilla from a narrow, Christian “morality”; the desire to inflict pain on the “immoral”; and the desire to force them to be “moral” through the use of violence, coercion, torture, imprisonment, and execution. Without these Traditional Values, America would not be what it is today.

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–from the revised and expanded edition of The American Heretic’s Dictionary, the 21st-century successor to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary


For the last few months we’ve been running the best posts from years past, posts that will be new to most of our subscribers. This is a slightly revised and expanded post from January 2015.

Given the spate of near-daily Islamic-fanatic atrocities, and the wholesale pandering of the Trump administration to its deranged theofascist base, this post seems especially relevant now. Indeed, who today can’t be wondering, “Which is worse, Christianity or Islam?”

Let’s take a look at some of the worst structures and practices in both Islamic and Christian lands, both current and historic:

Slavery

Slavery is still practiced in many Islamic nations. The most notorious recent example is the enslavement of thousands of Yazidis by ISIS in Iraq. The Nigerian fundamentalist group Boko Haram is also notorious for enslavement of its victims.

At the same time, slavery persisted in widespread form in Christian lands until 1888 (Brazil) and in perhaps its most brutal form ever in the most religiously devout part of the United States until 1865. And enslavement of prisoners in the United States is still very widespread, currently involving at minimum hundreds of thousands of prisoners “paid” a few pennies per hour by for-profit corporations.

There is plenty of justification for slavery in both the Bible and the Koran, and not one word against it in either book.  (If you doubt this, run a search on Google or Bing. In fact, you’ll find justification for all of the horrors listed in this post.)

So, which is worse in regard to slavery, Christianity or Islam?

Islam “wins” this one based on the sheer brutality of some current Islamist groups.

Terrorism

At present, the most vicious and most active terrorist groups are Islamic (ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, Taliban, and MILF — this is for real: the acronym stands for Moro Islamic Liberation Front). These groups are responsible for the murder of uncounted thousands of innocent people across the globe in recent years.

But Christian terrorism also exists, though in more subdued form.  In the United States, the Ku Klux Klan is a proudly Christian organization. As well, “right to life” Christian fanatics occasionally murder abortion providers and bomb abortion clinics; and they routinely stalk and anonymously threaten abortion providers, providing a dictionary definition of terrorism: they’re trying to frighten and intimidate — terrorize — abortion providers into no longer providing this constitutionally protected medical procedure.

Still, there’s no question that at present Islam “wins” this one hands down.

Internecine Warfare

By far the worst current example of internecine warfare is the Sunni-Shia mass bloodletting in Syria and Yemen, with thousands of casualties every single month.

But historically, Islamic internecine warfare has nothing on Christian internecine warfare. Just go back a few hundred years. Consider the Beziers massacre of 10,000 to 20,000 Albigensian heretics in 1209 by a crusader army commanded by papal legate Arnaud Amalric. Justifying the mass murder of helpless prisoners, Amalric famously said, “Kill them all. God will recognize his own.”

Then go forward just over 400 years to the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) for religiously motivated (Catholic vs. Protestant)  murder and mayhem on a mass scale. Then if you add in all of the nonreligiously motivated internecine warfare between Christian nations (Hundred Years War, U.S. Civil War, World War I, World War II, etc.), Christianity “wins” this one going away.

Subjugation of Women

The situation of women is unquestionably worse in Islamic lands than Christian lands. In some Islamic countries, the barbaric practices of female genital mutilation and child marriage are still very common, with the number of victims up in the tens, probably hundreds of millions. In far more Islamic countries, women are still very much second class citizens. Their testimony in court is accorded less weight than that of men, Islamic fanatics seek (sometimes successfully) to deny them education, they’re forced to wear head-to-toe coverings, they’re forced into arranged marriages, and “honor” killings are common and culturally accepted.

In the West, women still earn less than men, face street harassment and domestic violence, face a glass ceiling in employment, and rape is still a major and under-acknowledged problem. Go back a few hundred years, and you’ll find religiously inspired witch burnings all over Europe. And nearer to the present, denial of property rights, denial of the rights to contraception and abortion, and systematic denial of employment in many, many professions.

But bad as all this is, the situation of women in Islamic countries has been and is far worse than in Western lands. Islam “wins” here.

Persecution of Nonbelievers

In Islamic countries, it is simply unsafe (often deathly unsafe) for Muslims to abandon Islam. Many of their fellow Muslims will feel completely justified in murdering those who abandon the faith, and far more will condone such killings. Going beyond this, as the Charlies Hebdo atrocity in Paris demonstrates, Islamists feel entirely justified in murdering nonbelievers who were never Muslims, simply for criticizing Islam. And it’s not just unofficial Islamic thugs doing the killing. In Saudi Arabia, it’s a capital offense to be an atheist or an apostate, and the Saudi authorities are notorious for imprisoning and brutally whipping atheists and apostates, and threatening them with execution.

In the Western countries, it’s been several hundred years since the torture and murder of apostates and heretics was commonplace. There are still unconstitutional laws on the books in several U.S. states denying atheists the right to hold elected office or serve on juries, and high-profile atheists are sometimes stalked and threatened, but the situation of nonbelievers in Muslim countries is undeniably far worse. Islam “wins” again.

In Sum

At present, there’s no denying that Islam, which Bill Maher calls “the mother lode of bad ideas,”  is worse than Christianity. But why should this be so? Consider the above: the worst examples of Islamic barbarism are current, and the worst examples of Christian barbarism are in the past, mostly centuries in the past.

What happened? In a word, science. In the West, science with its question-test-and-logically-analyze attitude has flourished and has eaten away at traditional religious beliefs. This has resulted in a good majority of “believers” being “cafeteria Christians” who pick and choose their “beliefs,” and reject those which are too ridiculous or too inhumane.  Hence the slow but fairly steady social progress over the last few centuries. This social evolution never happened in Muslim lands.

To put this another way, religions are toxic to the extent that their basic tents are toxic and to the extent that their members follow their teachings literally.

Many of the teachings in  the Bible are every bit as barbaric as those in the Koran. But a hell of a lot more Muslims than Christians take those teachings literally.

 


“Pity Canada. Its citizens watch the stages of U.S. decline and then, a few years later, inflict on themselves the same cruelties. . . .

“Canada is currently in the Barack Obama phase of self-immolation. Its prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is—as Obama was—a fresh face with no real political past or established beliefs, a brand. Trudeau excels, like Obama, French President Emmanuel Macron, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in empty symbolism. These ‘moderates’ spew progressive and inclusive rhetoric while facilitating social inequality, a loss of rights and the degradation of the environment by global corporations. They are actors in skillfully crafted corporate advertisements. . . .

“Lifestyle choices and expressions of personal identity are respected, even championed, while we are politically disempowered. The focus on multiculturalism and identity politics is anti-politics. It is accompanied by sterile reforms—such as more professionalized policing—that never challenge the underlying structures of corporate power . . .”

–Chris Hedges, “Behind the Mask of the ‘Moderates‘” on Truthdig


Arthur Schopenhauer

“Every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud, adopts as a last resource pride in the nation to which he belongs;  he is ready and happy to defend all its faults tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own inferiority.”

–Arthur Schopenhauer, Aphorisms


American War by Omar El Akkad front cover(American War, by Omar El Akkad. Knopf, 2017, $26.95, 333 pp.)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

 

In recent decades, dystopian novels have become nearly synonymous with science fiction. It´s easy enough to see why: climate change seems to be accelerating, some areas (e.g., the American Southwest, where I live) are already feeling severe effects from it, and the results worldwide in coming years promise to be catastrophic; we’re on the brink of a new dark age under the iron fist of religious totalitarians and their political co-conspirators; we’re well into a period of mass extinction; there’s runaway population growth actively encouraged by some of the “great” religions; modern weapons of mass destruction are far beyond “nightmarish”; technological advances are far outstripping social advances; and sadism and stupidity are running neck and neck as national hallmarks.

Given such conditions and such bleak prospects, it’s easy to see why dystopianism is the far-from-new normal in science fiction.

So, having heard next to nothing about American War, I was expecting a fairly standard take on the horrors to come, especially the ecological horrors. But  American War, which describes the “second civil war” (2074 – 2095), is a far from standard tale.

El Akkad deliberately (I’d bet the farm on this) sabotages the plausibility of his dystopia.

The first hint is the map in the front of the book showing the breakaway “Free Southern States” (FSS) of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi as opposed to the rest of the U.S., with the Southwest mostly part of the “Mexican Protectorate.”

My reaction to the map was, “What the hell? Three poor, backwards states standing against the rest of the country? Holding on for 21 years?”

Very shortly into the text, El Akkad makes it very plain that he’s not projecting possible future developments in the United States, but is up to something quite different.

The reason for the FSS rebellion is the prohibition of use of petroleum products as fuels. Again, what the hell? None of the three states are significant oil producers; we’re rapidly approaching peak oil production; most new production in North America (shale, tar sands) is much more expensive than pumping from the old, rapidly depleting oil fields; and the cost of renewables is falling like a rock. This almost certainly means that oil will go up in price and will be rapidly displaced by cheaper renewables. The underlying premise is barely plausible now and will become increasingly implausible as time passes; it will make no sense at all six decades from now. So, El Akkad deliberately chose an extremely improbable background premise.

Then there’s a glaring–and I mean glaring–absence in the social structure of the FSS: racism. Racism disappearing from the American South in a mere sixty years, and during a time of upheaval and economic desperation? What the hell?! Who, if they thought about it, could possibly buy this?

So, just what is Akkad up to?

The first clue is the title of the book, “American War.” That seems a bit ambiguous, and why isn’t there even a vague reference to the “second civil war”? (It would be quite easy to add such a reference in a subtitle.)

The second clue is provided by the book description on the inside of the dust jacket:

Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the war breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, her home state is half underwater, and the unmanned drones that fill the sky are not there to protect her. A stubborn, undaunted and thick-skinned tomboy, she is soon pulled into the heart of secessionist country when the war reaches Louisiana and her family is forced into Camp Patience, a sprawling tent city for refugees. There she is befriended by a mysterious man who opens her eyes to the injustices around her and under whose tutelage she is transformed into a deadly instrument of revenge.

Fair enough, but the final sentence of the second paragraph on the inside flap reads, “It’s a novel that considers what might happen if the United States were to turn its devastating weapons upon itself.”

Close, but not right.

Above all, American War is about the present. (Tellingly, there’s no mention of any technology whatsoever beyond what’s currently available.)

American War is not about the effects of developing technologies; it’s not about an even remotely plausible future in the U.S.

It’s about the psychological effects of the type of war the United States has been waging sporadically for decades, and nonstop for the last 15 years, in the Near East, Middle East and Northern and Eastern Africa. It’s about what happens to people who are torn from their homes, are forced into miserable refugee camps, are under constant deadly and random threat from above, and are kidnapped, imprisoned without charge, and brutally tortured.

Shortly into the narrative, El Akkad reveals that the U.S. unmanned drones are solar powered, can stay aloft indefinitely, rained down destruction during the entire two-decades-plus of the war, and are uncontrolled, because Southern “terrorists” destroyed the “server farms” controlling the drones. This is beyond ridiculous on several counts, and again points to the very high likelihood that El Akkad deliberately made his background — in this particular, the drones — implausible.

Why would he do that? (Such apparent sloppiness is in stark contrast with Akkad’s adroitly drawn and developed characters and his skillful rendering of both action sequences and physical background.)

The point is that the drones are simply there as a constant threat, maiming and killing the innocent, seemingly at random. The point is the constant, year-in-year-out state of fear and anger suffered by those under threat.

The same holds for all of the other horrors El Akkad describes, and their woeful, ever worsening effects on the personalities, outlooks, and consequent actions of his characters, especially Sarat.

This story could be set in virtually any combat zone in any Muslim country. El Akkad set it in the U.S., using American characters, disguising it as a run-of-the-mill sci-fi dystopian tale, simply so that American readers will be able to relate to it on an emotional level.

There’s little point in saying more, except that if you want to understand the psychological roots of the hate and terrorism engendered by America’s foreign wars, American War is a good place to start.

This book is a masterpiece.

Very highly recommended.

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(Reviewer Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia. He’s currently working on its sequel and an unrelated sci-fi novel. A large sample from Free Radicals, in pdf form, is available here.)

Free Radicals front cover