Monday, 30 September 2013

Syria, Sarin, and Casus Belli by Michael Parenti

Here is a new article I just finished writing. Feel free to post or share, giving due and proper attribution to the author.

Syria, Sarin, and Casus Belli by Michael Parenti

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced that on August 21 the Assad government slaughtered 1,429 people, including 426 children, in a sarin chemical attack in Ghouta, a Damascus suburb. (Doctors Without Borders put the total at about 300.) Secretary Kerry insisted that now the United States had no choice but to launch U.S. bombing attacks against President Bashar al-Assad, devolving into another of America's "humanitarian wars."

The Sarin Mysteries
Following Kerry, President Obama announced that the situation in Syria had changed irredeemably since August 21. The United States would have to attack. But, on second thought, Obama decided to leave the decision up to (a seemingly reluctant) Congress.
A few weeks later, Turkish prosecutors issued a lengthy court indictment charging the Syrian rebels with seeking to use chemical weapons. The indictment suggested that sarin gas and other "weapons for a terrorist organization" were utilized by the opposition and not by the Assad government.
The "Syrian freedom fighters" include men who are not even Syrian, much like the many mujahedeen who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan but who were not Afghani. As reported in the Wall Street Journal (September 19, 2013), the ISIS, an Iraqi al Qaeda outfit operating in Syria, "has become a magnet for foreign jihadists" who view the war in Syria not primarily as a means to overthrow Assad "but rather as a historic battleground for a larger Sunni holy war. According to centuries-old Islamic prophecy they espouse, they must establish an Islamic state in Syria as a step to achieving a global one."

Wrong Hands
Meanwhile, a Mint Press News story quoted residents in Ghouta who asserted that Saudi Arabia gave chemical weapons to an al Qaeda-linked group. Residents blamed this terrorist group for the deadly explosions of August 21. They claimed that some of the rebels handled the weapons improperly and thereby set off the explosions. Anti-government forces, interviewed in the article, said they had not been informed about the nature of the weapons nor how to use them. “When Saudi Prince Bandar gives such weapons to people, he must give them to those who know how to handle them,” complained one rebel militant.

At the same time, the Russian government submitted a 100-page report to the United Nations in early September, regarding an attack upon the Syrian city of Aleppo in March 2013. It concludes that the rebels---not the Syrian government---used the nerve agent sarin. According to a member of the U.N. independent commission of inquiry, Carla Del Ponte, there were "strong, concrete suspicions . . . of the use of sarin gas." Del Ponte added: "This was used on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not the government authorities." Many of those killed by the gas attack were Syrian soldiers, according to the report.

If true, then we might wonder why are chemical weapons and other weaponry and supplies being supplied to various al Qaeda-type groups? Is not al Qaeda a secret terrorist organization that delivers death and destruction upon people everywhere? Are we Americans not locked in a global struggle with the demonic jihadists who supposedly hate us because we are rich, successful, and secular, while they are impoverished failures? That certainly is the scenario the U.S. public has been fed for over a decade.

The United States claims it provides military assistance only to "vetted" rebel groups, "free ones" that are friendly toward America and are not Islamic fanatics. (Although, as Senator Croker, Republican from Tennessee, admitted: we sometimes make "mistakes" and give weapons to the wrong rebels.) On September 17, President Obama waived a provision in the federal law that prohibits supplying arms to terrorist groups. To many of us this was an unspoken admission that Washington was giving aid to extremist Islamic groups, of which al Qaeda was only the best advertised.

Remember the Casus Belli
It is difficult for me to accept the charge that on August 21 the Syrian government waged a chemical onslaught in Ghouta against its own people in a situation that was bound to backfire in the worst possible way---by handing over to the U.S. war hawks a casus belli, a perfect excuse to wreak retaliatory "humanitarian" death and destruction upon Syria. This is the last thing the Assad government wants.

Remember how the Spaniards asked the Americans not to send the USS Maine to Havana Harbor in 1898. They feared that something might happen to the ship and the U.S. would use that mishap as a casus belli, putting the blame on Spain. Sure enough, the Maine blew up while sitting in the harbor, sending U.S. public opinion into a jingoistic fury against the Spaniards. But why would Spaniards perpetrate the very act that would give the Americans an excuse and an inducement to wage a war that Spain most certainly did not want and could not win?

And let us not forget the hundreds of imaginary Kuwaiti babies torn from incubators and dashed upon hospital floors by snarling, maniacal Iraqi soldiers. And remember the never-to-be-found weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that Saddam supposedly was preparing to use but never got around to doing so. And then there's that Serbian general---never identified or located---who purportedly told his troops (also never identified) to "go forth and rape." And Qaddafi who reportedly handed out Viagra to his Libyan troops so they could go forth and rape with a drug-driven vigor, a story so obviously fabricated that it was dropped after two days.

Choice: Satellite or Enemy
Why do (some) U.S. leaders seek war against Syria? Like Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya and dozens of other countries that have felt America's terrible swift sword---Syria has been committing economic nationalism, trying to chart its own course rather than putting itself in service to the western plutocracy. Like Iran, China, Russia and some other nations, Syria has currency controls and other restrictions on foreign investments. Like those other nations, Syria lacks the proper submissiveness. It is not a satellite to the U.S. imperium. And any nation that is not under the politico-economic sway of the U.S. global plutocracy is considered an enemy or a potential enemy.

The Assad government had social programs for its people, far from perfect services but still better than what might be found in many U.S. satellite countries. When Iraqi refugees fled to Syria to escape U.S. military destruction, the Assad government gave them full benefits. So with the Libyan refugees who crossed over a few years later. Generally Damascus presided over a multi-ethnic society, relatively free of sectarian intolerance and violence.

Syria has been ruled by the Ba'ath Party which has dominated the country's parliament and military for half a century. The party's slogan is "Unity, Freedom, Socialism." Socialism? Now that gets us closer to why the trigger-happy boys in Washington will continue to pursue a "humanitarian war" of attrition and a prolonged campaign of demonization against Assad and his "regime."

Weapons of Mass Destruction Redux
On September 10, the Syrian government welcomed a Russian proposal calling for Syria to place all of its chemical weapons under international control and for the weapons to be destroyed. Here was a chance to avoid false charges of mass murder by sarin. If Assad no longer had such an arsenal, no one could accuse him of using it. (In any case, the Syrian government's campaign against the rebels was going well enough using just conventional weapons.)

Instead of winning approval from the humanitarian warriors of the West, Syria's eager agreement to surrender its chemical arsenal set off a newly framed barrage of threats from U.S. and French leaders, with the irrepressible Secretary Kerry leading the charge. Was this a ploy on Syria's part or a genuine offer? Kerry asked in a scoffing tone. How can we be certain that Assad would not sequester its enormous stock of chemical weapons? Kerry issued a whole barrage of tough-guy threats. Syria will be treated most harshly if it pursued a path of deception. French President François Hollande called for a United Nations Security resolution that would authorize the use of force if Syria failed to hand over its chemical weapons. One would think that Syria had refused to do so.

The August charge had been that Syria had used chemical weapons , a claim that might be refuted. Now the new charge was that Syria possessed such weapons---which was true. And possession itself was suddenly being treated as a crime deserving of swift and severe retaliation.

Now Assad would have to demonstrate the indemonstrable. He would have to convince the western aggressors that he has handed over his entire stockpile of chemical weapons. At the same time, he asserts that a thorough inspection must not come at the expense of disclosing Syrian military sites or causing a threat to its national security.

Recall how the Saddam government in Iraq, hoping to avoid war, cooperated fully with U.N. inspectors hunting for WMDs. Every facility in the country was opened to investigation. Even after all of Iraq was occupied, the hunt continued. We were told that the WMDs could be anywhere, maybe out in some remote part of the desert. It was impossible to be sure.

I fear that the Syrian population is facing more years of painful attrition. The one faintly positive development is that the FSA and the ISIS and all the murderous, Allah-is-great grouplets continue to attack not only the government forces but each other. Dozens of rebels have been killed in clashes with each other within the last few months.

Meanwhile young Syrian children, now living in refugee camps in Lebanon, go every morning to work long days in the fields, earning the few dollars a day upon which their families depend for survival. Some are as young as 5. When asked what they miss most about Syria, the children say, "school."
Michael Parenti is the author of "The Face of Imperialism" and "Waiting for Yesterday:Pages from a Street Kid's Life." See his website for more information:

Sunday, 1 September 2013

I Have a Dream, a Blurred Vision by Michael Parenti

Here is an article I wrote recently about MLK. Feel free to share.

The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington---in which Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. made his famed "I Have a Dream" speech---has recently won renewed attention from various print and electronic media in the United States. But the more attention given to King's extraordinary speech, the less we seem to know about King himself, the less aware we are about the serious challenges he was presenting, challenges that remain urgent and ignored to this very day.

The March on Washington took place on 28 August 1963. Despite repeated fear mongering by certain commentators and public officials who predicted there would be violence in the streets---over 250,000 people descended upon Washington D.C. in a massive show of unity and peaceful determination.

I was there. About two-thirds of the demonstrators were African-American, and about one-third were white. After all these years I still recall how gripped I was by the vast sweep of the crowd moving like democracy's infantry across the nation's capital, determined to awaken "our leaders" in Congress and the White House.

The high moment of the day was Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. It was a call to freedom and enfranchisement for a people who had endured centuries of slavery followed by segregation and lynch-mob rule. In his speech King reminded us that "the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land."

He went on: "The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom."

King continued to stoke the new militancy: "We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. . . . Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice."

Then came his smashing conclusion: "When we allow freedom to ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children," all colors and creeds "will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'"

At this, the crowd exploded with thunderous applause and wild cheers. Many of us were left overwhelmed and misty eyed. For all its clichés and overdone metaphors, King's "I Have a Dream" speech remains a truly great oration.

So impressive is the speech, however, that commentators and pundits to this day have found it easy to focus safely upon it to the neglect of other vital social issues that engaged King.

The opinion-makers prefer to treat Martin Luther King as an inspirational icon rather than a radical leader. He has been domesticated and sanitized. Today the real King probably would not be invited to the White House because he is too far left, too much the agitator.

In 1967, he was becoming an increasingly serious problem for the defenders of privilege and profit. King came out against the Vietnam War that year, a fact that is seldom mentioned today. His stance discomforted many liberals (black and white) who felt they should concentrate on civil rights and not alienate potential supporters with anti-war issues. But for King, the U.S. government had become "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world," spending far more on death and destruction than on vital social programs.

He differed with those who believed we could resist violence and cruelty at home while resorting to violence and cruelty abroad. He condemned "those who make peaceful revolution impossible," those who "refuse to give up the privileges and pleasures that come from the immense profits from overseas investments . . . the individual capitalists who extract wealth" at the expense of other peoples and places.

By 1967 King was treading on dangerous ground. He was connecting the issues. He condemned "the triple evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism." The same interests that brought us slums also brought us wars, he argued, and they were getting richer for the doing.
By 1968, the year he was assassinated, King was also waging war against poverty. Civil rights, he dared to say, were linked to economic rights. He was planning a national occupation of Washington D.C., called the Poor People's Campaign. Again he was treading on dangerous ground bringing together working-class people of various ethnic groups.

These class demands go unmentioned in the usual MLK commemorations. The "I Have a Dream" oration now overshadows the other less known messages that King was putting forth not long before he was killed, including the search for economic justice for all working people. The great "dream speech" of 1963 serves less as an inspiration and more as a cloak covering his latter-day radical views regarding class struggle and anti-imperialism.

In 1968, at the age of 39, Martin Luther King was killed by a sniper's bullet while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee. He was in Memphis to lend support to a sanitation workers strike, the very kind of thing his opponents were finding increasingly intolerable.

A penniless fugitive from the Missouri State Penitentiary, James Earl Ray, while being sought by the police, supposedly took it upon himself singlehandedly to make his way to Memphis where he somehow located King's motel balcony and shot him from a room across the courtyard.
Then entirely on his own, supposedly with no visible financial support, the fugitive convict and newly established assassin made his way to England. Arrested in London at Heathrow Airport with substantial sums of cash in his pocket, Ray was extradited to the United States and charged with the crime. He was strongly advised by his lawyer to enter a guilty plea (to avoid the death penalty) and was sentenced to 99 years. Three days later he recanted his confession. Over the ensuing decades he made repeatedly unsuccessful efforts to withdraw his guilty plea and be tried by a jury. Ray died in prison in 1998, still proclaiming his innocence.

In 1986 King's birthday was established as a national holiday. Hundreds of streets in America have been renamed in his honor. There are annual commemorations. His resonant voice, memorable words and gripping cadence are played and replayed. But the politco-economic issues he highlighted continue to be passed over by mainstream leaders and commentators.

In addition, the opinion-makers who celebrate King's birthday every year and hail him as a monumental figure have nothing to say about the many unresolved questions related to his assassination. No one openly entertains the question of whether there were powerful people (certainly more powerful than James Earl Ray) who thought it necessary to do away with this popular leader because he had moved too far beyond "I Have a Dream."
Michael Parenti is an award winning, internationally known author. His two most recent books are The Face of Imperialism (2011), and Waiting for Yesterday: Pages from a Street Kid's Life (2013), a memoir of his early life.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Requiem for a Dominatrix by Michael Parenti

On April 8, 2013, the western world lost a grand dame, an iconic figure, a woman admired by millions while dismissed by others as just another lady in a bouffant hairdo. She came from a modest social background yet she made her way to the top, a woman who could perform winningly in what is arguably the most competitive arena of life. I am, of course, speaking of Annette Funicello, singer and Hollywood actress.

Oh wait, some readers may have assumed I was pumping for Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of Great Britain, who also died on April 8, 2013. No, Thatcher and Funicello had nothing in common, save for the bouffant hairdo and date of death.

Annette Funicello was a child star in the late 1950s, one of the  Mouseketeers, complete with enormous Mickey Mouse ears, appearing on Walt Disney's "Mickey Mouse Club." As a teenager, she turned out hit tunes and captivated adolescent hearts in Beach Blanket movies.

How many hearts did Thatcher captivate in her teenage years? Did she even have teenage years? Or did she not vault directly from early childhood into late adulthood? In any case, she was no day at the beach.

The most memorable moment Thatcher ever provided for me was her adulatory spiel to the blood-drenched Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, as the two of them sat in a cozy room in Britain. Pinochet was resisting deportation to Spain to stand trial as a war criminal. He was rescued from justice by Prime Minister Tony Blair who regularly sucked up to reactionary war mongers especially those "friendly to the West."

Without stint Thatcher poured out her gratitude and admiration to a smiling Pinochet for "saving Chile from the communists," and restoring peace, liberty, and stability. She made no mention of the many thousands of Chileans whom Pinochet imprisoned, tortured, executed, or drove into exile. On that visit to Pinochet, Thatcher was wearing her fascism right under her makeup.

Would Annette Funicello ever kiss a dictator's butt the way Thatcher did? I  think not. During her stardom, Annette described herself as “the queen of teen,” and millions of fans close to her age agreed. As one critic put it, "Young audiences appreciated her sweet, forthright appeal, and parents saw her as the perfect daughter."  Here was the girl you might take home to meet and marry your son. Would you say the same about Lady Thatcher? Only if you really hated your kid.

Thatcher served for eleven years as Prime Minister, waging war upon the Irish, the Argentines, and the social democracy that existed in Britain. Be it health care, education, mining, transportation, housing, utilities or other public industries---many were privatized, deregulated, or cutback while customer rates and costs sharply increased. Corporate salaries rose to obscene heights while wages remained flat or declined. Labor unions were broken. Under Thatcher's reign, the free market was king, producing ever greater profits and lower taxes for the superrich and ever greater hardship for the populace. A poll tax was imposed upon the people, an equal sum to be paid by both the dustman and the duke.

Someone once said that Margaret Thatcher satisfied the average Englishman's longing for the perfect dominatrix. No doubt about it, she could deliver pain. The Iron Lady should best be remembered as the Leather Lady. Indeed, today Thatcherism leaves its dreary imprint not only on the Conservative Party but---thanks also to Tony Blair---on a Labor Party that accepts most of her regressive policies.

During her reign, Thatcher also pursued her "school-girl political crush for President Reagan" as one Labor MP pronounced during a parliamentary debate. Indeed, she and Reagan adored each other, politically speaking. With hands joined, as it were, they created in their respective countries more wealth for the few and more poverty for the many. They served as a free-market inspiration to one another as they advanced back into the dark ages.

President Barack Obama, who loves to grovel before rightwing leaders (note his adoring depiction of Reagan as a "transformative" president), issued a cloying statement following Thatcher's death:  "With the passing of Baroness Margaret Thatcher, the world has lost one of the great champions of freedom and liberty, and America has lost a true friend. . . . Here in America, many of us will never forget her standing shoulder to shoulder with President Reagan, reminding the world that we are not simply carried along by the currents of history—we can shape them with moral conviction, unyielding courage and iron will. "  Obama invites nausea.

If only for a brief moment, let us get back to our girl Annette Funicello, the only laudable personage in this sorry parade. While Thatcher was cutting health services, Annette was championing the campaign against multiple sclerosis, a disease she herself grappled with for more than 25 years, until death took her at age 70.

Speaking of disease: long after they left office, both Reagan and Thatcher were inundated with honors; their material lives groaned with abundance. But their respective mental lives ended in dismal poverty, that is, in dementia. Their brains had turned to porridge.

 There must be many reasons why people suffer dementia. But in regard to Reagan and Thatcher, I suspect it was a self-generated condition. When one tirelessly confects so many fictional representations and twisty untruths---all  in the cause of callous plunder and greater social inequality---it must put an inordinate strain on one's brain.

Meanwhile the anti-Thatcher theme song, "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead"  now enjoys a massive revival in Britain and retains a top slot on the charts. The people are dancing in the streets.

All I can say is "May she rest in peace." (I'm talking about Annette.)
Michael Parenti's most recent book is The Face of Imperialism. Soon to be published is his childhood memoir Waiting for Yesterday: Pages from a Street Kid's Life.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Eating Horses in Paris by Michael Parenti

Eating Horses In Paris     by    Michael Parenti

In 1951, only five years after World War II ended, I managed to make my way to Paris where I landed a job as a courier diplomatique (messenger boy) for the United Nations Sixth General Assembly. Despite the years of war and deprivation, Paris still was a special place with its history, its cafes, galleries, bridges, ornate edifices, and narrow winding cobblestone streets, some seemingly as old as the city itself.
Recent reports about how horsemeat has been smuggled into certain meat products in England, Sweden, and elsewhere remind me of one of Paris's unusual features of 1951: the numerous butcher shops that sold horsemeat. Such a shop usually sported a mounted life-sized horse head (made of metal or wood) above the store entrance to advertise unequivocally that the butcher specialized in the sale of horse flesh.
I ate horsemeat at a small neighborhood Parisian restaurant a number of times. It was smoothly textured and more gamy than beef. I wasn't particularly fond of it but it did have the virtue of being affordable. In those post-war days, low-income Parisians were more inclined to eat horses than ride them.
All the talk today about how undesirable it is to consume horses carries the implication that our immense ingestion of other livestock is perfectly acceptable. We are advised not to eat horses, nor dogs, rabbits, or cats---no matter how close to starvation we might be. But devouring limitless numbers of cattle, pigs, sheep, lambs, chickens, turkeys, and ducks is quite all right.
This causes us to overlook the real problem, which is not horsemeat but meat consumption in general. The world cannot feed itself if it continues to make meat a common staple. Millions upon millions of livestock require vast amounts of grain and water, ultimately far more than the environment will be able to provide.
Aside from the survival problems raised by the consumption of immense quantities of land, water, and grain in producing meat, there is another menacing aspect: all the poisons and torture that happen along the way from the feedlot to the supermarket. For the health of the planet and for our own health and for the sake of the livestock, we should stop eating animals. Rather than calling for more regulation of meat production, we need to move entirely away from meat meals.
Originating from the top of the food chain, all animal products menace our health. Pesticides and other toxic run-offs work their way into the food and water consumed by livestock. So with wild and farmed fish, and seafood. Finally, perched at the highest rung of the food chain, we humans feast on the accumulated toxins that concentrate further in our bodies.   

Many of us are unsettled about eating horses, dogs, cats, rabbits, snakes, monkeys, rodents, or alligators---which other people around the world do eat. Perhaps we should give more attention to the horrid mistreatment of domesticated livestock,  the mass produced cruelties of factory farms, the torturous stalls, the joyless overcrowded feedlots, the loads of antibiotic and hormone additives, the frequent sickness and fatal dismemberments, and the terrible toxic accumulations.
Save your health and your planet. May all animal consumption go the way of the Paris horsemeat butcher shops.
Michael Parenti's recent books include The Face of Imperialism and the forthcoming Waiting for Yesterday: Pages from a Street Kid's Life (a memoir of his early life).

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

A Terrible Normality by Michael Parenti

A Terrible Normality  by  Michael Parenti

Through much of history the abnormal has been the norm. This is a paradox to which we should attend. Aberrations, so plentiful as to form a terrible normality of their own, descend upon us with frightful consistency.

The number of massacres in history, for instance, are almost more than we can record.  There was the New World holocaust, consisting of the extermination of indigenous Native American peoples throughout the western hemisphere, extending over four centuries or more, continuing into recent times in the Amazon region.

There were the centuries of heartless slavery in the Americas and elsewhere, followed by a full century of lynch mob rule and Jim Crow segregation in the United States, and today the numerous killings and incarcerations of Black youth by law enforcement agencies.

Let us not forget the extermination of some 200,000 Filipinos by the U.S. military at the beginning of the twentieth century, the genocidal massacre of 1.5 million Armenians by the Turks in 1915, and the mass killings of African peoples by the western colonists, including the 63,000 Herero victims in German Southwest Africa in 1904, and the brutalization and enslavement of millions in the Belgian Congo from the late 1880s until emancipation in 1960---followed by years of neocolonial free-market exploitation and repression in what was Mobutu's Zaire.

French colonizers killed some 150,000 Algerians. Later on, several million souls perished in Angola and Mozambique along with an estimated five million in the merciless region now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The twentieth century gave us---among other horrors---more than sixteen million lost and twenty million wounded or mutilated in World War I, followed by the estimated 62 million to 78 million killed in World War II, including some 24 million Soviet military personnel and civilians, 5.8 million European Jews, and taken together:  several million Serbs, Poles, Roma, homosexuals, and a score of other nationalities.  

In the decades after World War II, many, if not most, massacres and wars have been openly or covertly sponsored by the U.S. national security state. This includes the two million or so left dead or missing in Vietnam, along with 650,000 Cambodians, 100,000 Laotians, and 58,000 Americans.

Today in much of Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East there are "smaller" wars, replete with atrocities of all sorts. Central America, Colombia, Rwanda and other places too numerous to list, suffered the massacres and death-squad exterminations of hundreds of thousands, a constancy of violent horrors. In Mexico a "war on drugs" has taken 70,000 lives with 8,000 missing.

There was the slaughter of more than half a million socialistic or democratic nationalist Indonesians by the U.S.-supported Indonesian military in 1965, eventually followed by the extermination of 100,000 East Timorese by that same U.S.-backed military.

Consider the 78-days of NATO's aerial destruction of Yugoslavia complete with depleted uranium, and the bombings and invasion of Panama, Grenada, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, Western Pakistan, Afghanistan, and now the devastating war of attrition brokered against Syria. And as I write (early 2013), the U.S.-sponsored sanctions against Iran are seeding severe hardship for the civilian population of that country.

All the above amounts to a very incomplete listing of the world's violent and ugly injustice. A comprehensive inventory would fill volumes. How do we record the countless other life-searing abuses: the many millions who survive wars and massacres but remain forever broken in body and spirit, left to a lifetime of suffering and pitiless privation, refugees without sufficient food or medical supplies or water and sanitation services in countries like Syria, Haiti, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Mali.  

Think of the millions of women and children around the world and across the centuries who have been trafficked in unspeakable ways, and the millions upon millions trapped in exploitative toil, be they slaves, indentured servants, or underpaid laborers. The number of impoverished is now growing at a faster rate than the world's population.  Add to that, the countless acts of repression, incarceration, torture, and other criminal abuses that beat upon the human spirit throughout the world day by day.

Let us not overlook the ubiquitous corporate corruption and massive financial swindles, the plundering of natural resources and industrial poisoning of whole regions, the forceful dislocation of entire populations, the continuing catastrophes of Chernobyl and Fukushima and other impending disasters awaiting numerous aging nuclear reactors.

The world's dreadful aberrations are so commonplace and unrelenting that they lose their edge and we become inured to the horror of it all. "Who today remembers the Armenians?" Hitler is quoted as having said while plotting his "final solution" for the Jews. Who today remembers the Iraqis and the death and destruction done to them on a grand scale by the U.S. invasion of their lands? William Blum reminds us that more than half the Iraq population is either dead, wounded, traumatized, imprisoned, displaced, or exiled, while their environment is saturated with depleted uranium (from U.S. weaponry) inflicting horrific birth defects.

What is to be made of all this? First, we must not ascribe these aberrations to happenstance, innocent confusion, and unintended consequences.  Nor should we believe the usual rationales about spreading democracy, fighting terrorism, providing humanitarian rescue, protecting U.S. national interests and other such rallying cries promulgated by ruling elites and their mouthpieces.
The repetitious patterns of atrocity and violence are so persistent as to invite the suspicion that they usually serve real interests; they are structural not incidental.  All this destruction and slaughter has greatly profited those plutocrats who pursue economic expansion, resource acquisition, territorial dominion, and financial accumulation.

Ruling interests are well served by their superiority in firepower and striking force. Violence is what we are talking about here, not just the wild and wanton type but the persistent and well-organized kind. As a political resource, violence is the instrument of ultimate authority. Violence allows for the conquest of entire lands and the riches they contain, while keeping displaced laborers and other slaves in harness.

The plutocratic rulers find it necessary to misuse or exterminate restive multitudes, to let them starve while the fruits of their land and the sweat of their labor enrich privileged coteries.  

Thus we had a profit-driven imperial rule that helped precipitate the great famine in northern China, 1876-1879, resulting in the death of some thirteen million. At about that same time the Madras famine in India took the lives of as many as twelve million while the colonial forces grew ever richer.  And thirty years earlier, the great potato famine in Ireland led to about one million deaths, with another desperate million emigrating from their homeland. Nothing accidental about this: while the Irish starved, their English landlords exported shiploads of Irish grain and livestock to England and elsewhere at considerable profit to themselves.

These occurrences must be seen as something more than just historic abnormalities floating aimlessly in time and space, driven only by overweening impulse or happenstance. It is not enough to condemn monstrous events and bad times, we also must try to understand them. They must be contextualized in the larger framework of historical social relations.

The dominant socio-economic system today is free-market capitalism (in all its variations). Along with its unrelenting imperial terrorism, free-market capitalism provides "normal abnormalities" from within its own dynamic, creating scarcity and maldistributed excess, filled with duplication, waste, overproduction, frightening environmental destruction, and varieties of financial crises, bringing swollen rewards to a select few and continual hardship to multitudes.

Economic crises are not exceptional; they are the standing operational mode of the capitalist system. Once again, the irrational is the norm. Consider U.S. free-market history: after the American Revolution, there were the debtor rebellions of the late 1780s, the panic of 1792, the recession of 1809 (lasting several years), the panics of 1819 and 1837, and recessions and crashes through much of the rest of that century. The serious recession of 1893 continued for more than a decade.

After the industrial underemployment of 1900 to 1915 came the agrarian depression of the 1920s---hidden behind what became known to us as "the Jazz Age," followed by a horrendous crash and the Great Depression of 1929-1942. All through the twentieth century we had wars, recessions, inflation, labor struggles, high unemployment---hardly a year that would be considered "normal" in any pleasant sense. An extended normal period would itself have been an abnormality. The free market is by design inherently unstable in every aspect other than wealth accumulation for the select few.

What we are witnessing is not an irrational output from a basically rational society but the converse: the "rational" (to be expected) output of a fundamentally irrational system. Does this mean these horrors are inescapable? No, they are not made of supernatural forces. They are produced by plutocratic greed and deception.

So, if the aberrant is the norm and the horrific is chronic, then we in our fightback should give less attention to the idiosyncratic and more to the systemic. Wars, massacres and recessions help to increase capital concentration, monopolize markets and natural resources, and destroy labor organizations and popular transformative resistance.

The brutish vagaries of plutocracy are not the product of particular personalities but of systemic interests. President George W. Bush was ridiculed for misusing words, but his empire-building and stripping of government services and regulations revealed a keen devotion to ruling-class interests. Likewise, President Barack Obama is not spineless. He is hypocritical but not confused. He is (by his own description) an erstwhile "liberal Republican," or as I would put it, a faithful servant of corporate America.

Our various leaders are well informed, not deluded. They come from different regions and different families, and have different personalities, yet they pursue pretty much the same policies on behalf of the same plutocracy.

So it is not enough to denounce atrocities and wars, we also must understand who propagates them and who benefits. We have to ask why violence and deception are constant ingredients.   

Unintended consequences and other oddities do arise in worldly affairs but we also must take account of interest-driven rational intentions. More often than not, the aberrations---be they wars, market crashes, famines, individual assassinations or mass killings---take shape because those at the top are pursuing gainful expropriation. Many may suffer and perish but somebody somewhere is benefiting boundlessly.

Knowing your enemies and what they are capable of doing is the first step toward effective opposition. The world becomes less of a horrific puzzlement.  We can only resist these global (and local) perpetrators when we see who they are and what they are doing to us and our sacred environment.

Democratic victories, however small and partial they be, must be embraced. But the people must not be satisfied with tinseled favors offered by smooth leaders. We need to strive in every way possible for the revolutionary unraveling, a revolution of organized consciousness striking at the empire's heart with the full force of democracy, the kind of irresistible upsurge that seems to come from nowhere while carrying everything before it.
Michael Parenti is the author of The Face of Imperialism and numerous other books. For further information, visit