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A man’s duty to understand his world (Hemingway Poster)

Posted on 05/01/2012 by Juan

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Omar Khayyam (125)

Posted on 05/01/2012 by Juan

That lapis lazuli dome
and golden tray 
have turned time and again,
and will revolve yet more.
We, too, by the command of fate,
arrived and left again.

Translated by Juan Cole
from [pdf] Whinfield 125

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Israeli Security Elite Slams Netanyahu, sidetracks War on Iran

Posted on 04/30/2012 by Juan

Not only are high officials and former officials of the Israeli security establishment pushing hard back against Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s seeming rush to war with Iran, they appear actually to be attempting to unseat him, as it becomes possible that Israel may go to early elections in September.

Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert has become the latest former high-ranking figure to savage Netanyahu and his defense minister Ehud Barak, for their threats to attack Iran unilaterally and soon.

In contrast to Netanyahu’s circles, who have threatened a unilateral Israeli strike this summer, Olmert said categorically in a television interview that this is “definitely not to initiate an Israeli military strike.” Olmert, no dove, had himself launched the 2006 Lebanon and the 2008-9 Gaza Wars. But neither went well for Israel, and Olmert may have learned something from that.

On Friday, the former head of Israeli domestic intelligence, Yuval Diskin, warned that attacking Iran would likely impel it to begin a nuclear weapons program, which Israeli and US intelligence believe it does not now have.

Kadima Party leader Shaul Mofaz defended Diskin from criticism and said that Netanyahu is afraid to face him.

Former officials and opposition leaders have also been scathing about Netanyahu’s lack of interest in negotiating in good faith with Palestine Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, alleging that Netanyahu has zero interest in genuine peace talks.

Now that Netanyahu is talking about holding early parliamentary elections, it is particularly hard to see the rising chorus of attacks as anything but an attempt to convince the Israeli public that Netanyahu is a wild man who should not be re-elected. It may be that some of them are also close to the Obama administration position, which is that it is possible to deal effectively with Iran through sanctions and negotiations.

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He that would make his own liberty secure… (Tom Paine Poster)

Posted on 04/30/2012 by Juan

Tom Paine on Liberty

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Obama: Clark Kent at home, Imperial Superman Abroad (Engelhardt)

Posted on 04/30/2012 by Juan

Tom Engelhardt writes at Tomdispatch:

The Obama Contradiction
Weakling at Home, Imperial President Abroad
By Tom Engelhardt

He has few constraints (except those he’s internalized). No one can stop him or countermand his orders. He has a bevy of lawyers at his beck and call to explain the “legality” of his actions. And if he cares to, he can send a robot assassin to kill you, whoever you are, no matter where you may be on planet Earth.

He sounds like a typical villain from a James Bond novel. You know, the kind who captures Bond, tells him his fiendish plan for dominating the planet, ties him up for some no less fiendish torture, and then leaves him behind to gum up the works.

As it happens, though, he’s the president of the United State, a nice guy with a charismatic wife and two lovely kids.

How could this be?

Crash-and-Burn Dreams and One That Came to Be

Sometimes to understand where you are, you need to ransack the past. In this case, to grasp just how this country’s first African-American-constitutional-law-professor-liberal Oval Office holder became the most imperial of all recent imperial presidents, it’s necessary to look back to the early years of George W. Bush’s presidency. Who today even remembers that time, when it was common to speak of the U.S. as the globe’s “sole superpower” or even “hyperpower,” the only “sheriff” on planet Earth, and the neocons were boasting of an empire-to-come greater than the British and Roman ones rolled together?

In those first high-flying years after 9/11, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and their top officials held three dreams of power and dominance that they planned to make reality. The first was to loose the U.S. military — a force they fervently believed capable of bringing anybody or any state to heel — on the Greater Middle East. With it in the lead, they aimed to create a generations-long Pax Americana in the region.

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was to be only the initial “cakewalk” in a series of a shock-and-awe operations in which Washington would unilaterally rearrange the oil heartlands of the planet, toppling or cowing hostile regimes like the Syrians and the Iranians. (A neocon quip caught the spirit of that moment: “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.”) This, in turn, would position the U.S. to control the planet in a historically unique way, and so prevent the rise of any other great power or bloc of nations resistant to American desires.

Their second dream, linked at the hip to the first, was to create a generations-long Pax Republicana here at home. (“Everyone wants to go to Kansas, but real men want to go to New York and LA.”) In that dream, the Democratic Party, like the Iraqis or the Iranians, would be brought to heel, a new Republican majority funded by corporate America would rule the roost, and above it all would be perched a “unitary executive,” a president freed of domestic constraints and capable — by fiat, the signing statement, or simply expanded powers — of doing just about anything he wanted.

Though less than a decade has passed, both of those dreams already feel like ancient history. Both crashed and burned, leaving behind a Democrat in the White House, an Iraq without an American military garrison, and a still-un-regime-changed Iran. With the arrival on Bush’s watch of a global economic meltdown, those too-big-not-to-fail dreams were relabeled disasters, fed down the memory hole, and are today largely forgotten.

It’s easy, then, to forget that the Bush era wasn’t all crash-and-burn, that the third of their hubristic fantasies proved a remarkable, if barely noticed, success. Because that success never fully registered amid successive disasters and defeats, it’s been difficult for Americans to grasp the “imperial” part of the Obama presidency.

Remember that Cheney and his cohorts took power in 2001 convinced that, post-Watergate, post-Vietnam, American presidents had been placed in “chains.” As soon as 9/11 hit, they began, as they put it, to “take the gloves off.” Their deepest urge was to use “national security” to free George W. Bush and his Pax Americana successors of any constraints.

From this urge flowed the decision to launch a “Global War on Terror” — that is, a “wartime” with no possible end that would leave a commander-in-chief president in the White House till hell froze over. The construction of Guantanamo and the creation of “black sites” from Poland to Thailand, the president’s own private offshore prison system, followed naturally, as did the creation of his own privately sanctioned form of (in)justice and punishment, a torture regime.

At the same time, they began expanding the realm of presidentially ordered “covert” military operations (most of which were, in the end, well publicized) — from drone wars to the deployment of special operations forces. These were signposts indicating the power of an unchained president to act without constraint abroad. Similarly, at home, the Bush administration began expanding what would once have been illegal surveillance of citizens and other forms of presidentially inspired overreach. They began, in other words, treating the U.S. as if it were part of an alien planet, as if it were, in some sense, a foreign country and they the occupying power.

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