Twenty Fourteen

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Fahrenhet451SteveCrispBy Paul Street.

[Illustrator Steve Crisp.] [L]iving in the middle of the United States of America, I sometimes find myself wondering: is this nation a living version – a mélange perhaps – of the authoritarian dystopias that various novelists and others have tried to warn us about in the past? The once futuristic works that come to mind are Jack London’s Iron Heel, George Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano.

Oceana in Nineteen Eighty Four?  Take a look at the US in Twenty Fourteen.  Behold a vast and powerful nation – the world’s sole Superpower – where absurdity reigns with shockingly irrelevant transparency, where War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength and 2+2=5. A land where truth is orphaned and nothing matters, where the serial and monumental crimes of the rich and powerful are thrown down the “memory hole” even as they occur.  History is relentlessly obliterated and manipulated to serve the needs of the Masters, who know that “Those who control the present control the past. Those who control the past control the future.”

The future is now.

It stars at the nominal top. Look at Barack Obama, latest in a long line of US War Presidents.  He is an imperial and ecocidal corporatist, a mass surveillance agent and advocate, and a technically Black white-supremacist who was marketed and then elected in the names of peace, democracy, social (including racial) justice, and environmental healing.

Three weeks ago, Big Brother Obama went on national television to tell the subject US citizenry about his pre-existing decision to undertake a deadly new US war in the Middle East. While saying that “we can’t erase every trace of evil from the world” (Washington’s supposed ultimate goal) he condemned the Islamic State’s (IS) “killing of innocents” and noted that the IS “kill[s] children” and engages in “acts of barbarism.” Calling the IS “a cancer,” he described US missile and bombing strikes in Iraq and Syria as “American leadership at its best:  We stand with people who fight for their own freedom…”

Last week Obama spoke before the United Nations to “issue…a fervent call to arms against the Islamic State.” (New York Times, 9/25/2014). The only dialect the Islamic State terrorists and their “network of death” understand, Kill List Obama told UN delegates, his eyes flashing anger, is “the language of force.” The brutality of ISIS, Obama added, “forces us to look into the heart of darkness.” For good measure, Obama warned nuclear Russia that it “would pay for its bullying of Ukraine” (New York Times) and denounced Moscow for holding “a view of the world where might makes right.” He also suggested that the US stands in the vanguard of the global struggle against climate change.

The Orwellian audacity of the president’s recent oratory is breathtaking. Never mind US client Israel’s recurrent slaughter (with US weapons and ordnance) of hundreds of Palestinian children in Gaza.  Any “heart of darkness” there?

Never mind that the US bombs housefuls of civilians in pursuit of one presidentially targeted terrorist, killing dozens in pursuit of a single enemy.  How’s that for “the language of force” and “killing innocents.”

How about the public beheadings routinely carried out for even petty crimes by “our partner” (in the new Middle Eastern US war on/of terror) Saudi Arabia, the most reactionary government and society on Earth?

How about the death of more than 500,000 children thanks to US-led “economic sanctions” during the 1990s? That’s the number of dead Iraqi minors that CBS’s Leslie Stahl famously asked US Secretary of State Madeline Albright about in 1996. The Madame Secretary did not bother to dispute the terrible statistic. She said “we think the price [the giant juvenile death toll in Iraq] is worth it” – for the advance of inherently noble US foreign policy goals. How’s that for evil?

“Network of death”? Look at a map of US military bases and forces in the Middle East and around the world. The US maintains more than 1000 military installations across more than 120 “sovereign” nations, maintained by a Pentagon budget that accounts for nearly half the world’s military spending. US Special Forces under Obama operate in 134 countries.

By some estimates, the US Empire created more than 3 million unnatural deaths in Iraq alone since what US history texts call “The First Persian Gulf War” – a one-sided imperial slaughter that culminated in a mass-homicidal US aerial assault on tens of thousands of surrendered Iraqi conscripts. Then US President George H W Bush told the world what lesson to take from the terrible “turkey shoot”: “What We Say Goes.” Talk about “might makes right”!

The “heart of darkness” arguably finds its top global-arterial pumping station in the Pentagon, where post-9/11 planners came up years ago with an interesting term for “collaterally” killed Arab and Muslim victims of US military operations: “Bug-splat

Cancer? The US generated an epidemic of child cancers and birth defects in 2004 when it launched a devastating assault on the Iraqi city Fallujah.  The US Marines used radioactive ordnance, leaving the city with a toxic legacy worse than Hiroshima.

And never mind that US under Obama as under Bush has done everything it could to undermine international efforts to impose binding global carbon emission reductions. Or that the West, led by the US, has provoked the dangerous “new Cold War” crisis in Eastern Europe. It has done so by violating early pledges that NATO would not expand eastward and by making bids to recruit new NATO members among former members of the Warsaw Pact and former provinces of the former Soviet Union.

So what? As the great British playwright Harold Pinter said about the systematic deletion of US imperial crimes in the reigning Western intellectual and media cultures: “Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening, it never happened…It was of no interest.”

The US mass media isn’t about to blow the whistle on Washington’s imperial hypocrisy and transgression, that’s for sure. As the brilliant, left and (therefore) marginalized US political commentator Michael Parenti noted seven years ago in his book Contrary Notions:

“US military undertakings are portrayed [by US ‘mainstream’ media] as arising from noble if sometimes misplaced intentions. The media’s view of the world is much the same as the view from the State Department and Pentagon….US governmental and corporate leaders talk approvingly of ‘US world leadership,’ ‘American interests,’ ‘national security,’ ‘free markets,’ and ‘globalization.’ The media transmit these official images without any noticeable critical comment regarding their actual content… [This] face-value transmission…earn[s] it such scornful nicknames as ‘stenographer for power’ and ‘mouthpiece for officialdom.’”

Already, Syrian rebel commanders have reported dead women and children being hauled from the rubble of their homes in the wake of US missile attacks. The US-based Yahoo News nonchalantly reports that “The White House has acknowledged for the first time that strict standards President Obama imposed last year to prevent civilian deaths from U.S. drone strikes will not apply to U.S. military operations in Syria and Iraq.”

(The “strict standards” are news to those who have lost loved ones to the many hundreds of drone attacks that Kill List Obama has launched in the Muslim world.  Only a tiny percentage of those strikes’ victims are “high profile targets.” The rest are civilians, children, and merely alleged “combatants.”)

The US stands with “freedom”? Really? Washington’s “partners” against ISIS include some of the most reactionary and authoritarian governments – absolute monarchies – on the globe.

What about “the homeland” (a deeply imperial and militaristic term that has become a regular part of the US political lexicon since 9/11) itself? The US is an ever more openly oligarchic state where the top hundredth owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent and a probably comparable share of the nation’s “democratically elected” officials.  These and other terrible facts reflect more than three decades of deliberately engineered upward wealth and income distribution: a ruthless state-capitalist concentration of riches and power that has brought us to a New Gilded Age of abject plutocracy and the intimately related brink of environmental catastrophe.

Millions of US workers toil for low and ever declining wages and benefits in virtual “health care slavery” under increasingly ubiquitous employer surveillance and monitoring. One in seven Americans now rely on local food banks to survive. Half of those who do are employed.

Millions have been turned into “surplus Americans” by automation and/or the export of their jobs. Those lucky enough to remain employed commonly report have zero voice in the nation’s Brave New high-tech workplaces. Their thoughts and opinions are irrelevant on the job, where they spend the majority of their waking lives.

A large-scale practitioner of the death penalty, the US quietly holds the world’s highest rate of incarceration.  The planet’s top prison state keeps as many Black men behind bars today as were US slaves in 1860.

As Matt Taibbi shows in his latest book Divide, the US today deploys two very different systems of “justice”: one for “the untouchably wealthy” and another, draconian and shockingly intrusive one for “the criminalized poor.” The criminal justice-wealth gap “allows massively destructive fraud by the hyperwealthy to go unpunished, while turning poverty itself into a crime,” Taibbi notes.

The worst consequences of the nation’s vast repressive and ever more militarized police-state apparatus fall on the disproportionately nonwhite poor. But even children of relative privilege feel the iron heel of state capitalism when they question and confront the nation’s “unelected dictatorship of money.” (Ask the leading veterans of the Occupy Movement. Even Orwell might be chilled to learn that the NYPD used “retina scanning technology” to document the involvement of Occupy and other activists in recent civil disobedience actions for climate justice on Wall Street.)

None of this can receive serious attention in the reigning privately/corporate owned US media. As Parenti explained in Contrary Notions, “Many things are reported but few are explained.  Little is said about how the social order is organized and for what purposes…we are left to see the world as do mainstream pundits, as a scatter of events and personalities propelled by happenstance, circumstance, passing expediencies, confused intentions, bungled operations, and individual ambition – rarely a world influenced by powerful class interests”(emphasis added).

And it isn’t just the “news” and public affairs commentary wing of the dominant media that performs this dark consent-manufacturing magic on behalf of concentrated wealth and power. Corporate “entertainment” media performs much the same function in possibly more powerful ways.

Thought-control American-style operates in a dangerously stealth fashion, much less visible and overt than cruder, more classically “totalitarian” variants. In the old Soviet Union, everyone knew that their nation’s state-based communications system was/is elite-controlled. At the bottom of each day’s Pravda and Izvestia (the New York Times and Wall Street Journal of the Soviet state), you could see the “daily censors’” initials. In the US, the selective, propagandistic, and power-serving nature of the so-called mainstream media and the broader ideological system censorship is cloaked, hiding under the deceptive names of supposedly non-ideological “objectivity.” As Parenti noted 28 years ago:

“The sinister commandant who tortures Winston in Orwell’s 1984 lets us know he is an oppressor.  The vision of the future is of a boot pressing down on a human face, he tells his victim. The ideological control exercised in the U.S. today is far more insidious.  Power is always more secure when cooptive, covert, and manipulative than when nakedly brutish.  The support elicited through the control of minds is more durable than the support extracted at the point of a bayonet. The essentially undemocratic nature of the mainstream media, like the other business-dominated institutions of society [is]…hidden behind a neutralistic, voluntaristic, pluralist façade.”

All of which raises the critical question of what is to be done?  I will reflect on that question – and on Parenti’s answers to it – in my next TeleSur commentary.


Paul Street is an independent radical-democratic policy researcher, journalist, historian, author and speaker based in Iowa City, Iowa, and Chicago, Illinois.  He is the author of seven books to date: Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2004); Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era(New York: Routledge, 2005); Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: a Living Black Chicago History (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007); Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008); The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Paradigm, 2010); (with Anthony DiMaggio) Crashing the Tea Party: Mass Media and the Campaign to Remake American Politics (Paradigm, 2011); and They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)

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