Under a Blood Moon

U.S. imperial actions in Vietnam and elsewhere are often described as reflecting “national interests,” “national security,” or “national defense.” Endless U.S. wars and regime changes, however, actually represent the class interests of the powerful who own and govern the country.
— John Marciano, “Lessons from the Vietnam War,” Monthly Review, December 1, 2016

The Bretton Woods institutions are like arsonists, lighting new social fires, then waiting for the NGOs and local communities to play firefighter.
— Eric Toussaint, (Your Money or Your Life:
 The Tyranny of Global Finance, June 1, 2005)

We found the weapons of mass destruction [in Iraq]. We found biological laboratories.
— President George W. Bush, May 29, 2003

There is no evidence to confirm that [US-supported El Salvador] government forces systematically massacred civilians in the [El Mozote] operations zone.
— Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Enders, February 8, 1982

Today here in Norway, it is expected that this will go down as the hottest day in Norwegian history. It is also the day of the Blood Moon lunar eclipse. Somehow this seems fitting, in a sort of mytho-poetic way. For I can’t shake the sense of apocalyptic dread that permeates life everywhere today. I suppose it might have to do with the historic-level wild fires near the arctic circle, or the dozen major floods that are happening on every single continent, or the methane bubbles that are growing weekly across Siberia and the Arctic. Or just the drought that has hit my home state of California, as well as the previously inviolate countryside of Norway.

The U.S. government continues to occupy itself with the matters of Imperialist aggression (which, besides, you know, killing people, contributes something like 40% of the world’s pollution). And with the endless, necessary, selling of the mythology of freedom and democracy that is so important to sustain the fantasy lives of its citizens. So, to just sort of track semi randomly the madness that is gripping the Empire today, we can start with the fact that most of Trump’s cabinet are Dominionist Evangelical Christians. I don’t think most people, at least most of those not brainwashed by Christianity, realize just how barking mad the Dominionists are. Pence is one, Pompeo is one, DeVos and Kudlow and Carson are also such. Think about that. This label covers a variety of belief systems, but in the U.S. these are the legatees of the surge of Christian Nationalism that started in the 70s (really, there are two branches of Dominionism, that of the late R.J. Rushdoony, and the 7 Mountains brand favored by Ted Cruz and others).

Pompeo and John Bolton are the two most significant advisors to Donald Trump. Both men are what in conventional terms could be described as unstable and perhaps suffering from one or another personality disorder (antisocial personality disorder, or APD, is no doubt accurately assigned to Bolton). But these are the obvious examples. Trump is the cartoon bad guy writ large, in primary colors (including hair) and he invites such hatred because part of his schtick is to troll the public. And his own administration, for that matter. (And its funny how suddenly liberals are aghast because he insulted the Queen of England — or rather “broke protocal.” I mean seriously who gives a fuck. That old racist harpy long ago deserved to work stacking boxes in a WalMart warehouse, but I digress).

No, the deeper madness that has taken hold is found in the educated classes, actually. I wrote before about Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, and her rather obvious intellectual bankruptcy as well as her disingenuous presentation of self. And yet, leftists continue to defend her and plead to give her a chance and how she is part of some mythic insurgency in the Democratic Party. Now most of these writers, those I am thinking about, spent the last couple years deriding the DNC, attacking the criminal record of Hillary Clinton. And yet, now there is a sort of mushy appeal to consider the Democratic Party in any calculus for building a movement toward change. No longer do I hear the word communism, and I only hear socialism when it is hyphenated with Democratic (Democratic-Socialist). What happened? Well, part of what happened is the rise of the marketing left. The entrepreneur left. Or the branded left. The capitalist left. All of these terms apply. In other words, these people are no longer (and probably never were) in any way the opposition. The magazines of these entrepreneurs (Sunkara and Jacobin, which Nick Beams amusingly called the ‘the house journal for the middle class pseudo-left milieu, in particular the Democratic Socialists of America’) found a niche sort-of-left market demographic and capitalized (sic) on it. This is the place one reads of strategic alliances but never reads of the positives of communism. Or the likes of Charles Davis, a puerile fascist masquerading as pseudo left. I mean he is sort of the fake, fake left.

And invariably these new non-Marxist and anti-communist leftists will quote and include those western educated voices in matters of foreign policy ( on Syria in particular). They will claim these Syrian voices, who speak English with perfect vowels, are the voices of the people. And they will always find a way to damn with faint praise the Bolivarian Revolution, and they will be anti-Castro and anti-the late Colonel Gadaffi. Most take a mulligan on Milosevic, even at this late date when literally all the propaganda has been debunked. They will use the term thug for any number of revolutionary leaders in the 3rd world. Think Maduro or Kim Jong Un, or Mugabe or Ortega. They call it is realism or something. It is the illusion of fairness. It is the subject position of the educated bourgeoisie. Now, never mind the failings or not of these leaders, their real crimes in the eyes of the West (like Iran) is their independence. And rarely is much thought given to the forces assembled against these independent countries. (think the embargo of five or six decades against Cuba, or the what was done to crush the Sandinistas, the dismantling of the former Yugoslavia, the sanctions against Iran). Remember, too, the U.S. targeted Syria thirty some years ago and that hasn’t changed.

I think in earlier times, a time before the internet, when news was not nearly instantaneous, one relied on certain principles, a certain ideological experience (I was accused this week of being blinded by my ideology, when in fact I think my ideology allows me to see more clearly, but I digress) that meant one knew who had the power, one knew that such power is almost always used to preserve privilege, and hence one would be inclined to side with those who had no power. Regardless. But it is also the tendency, today, to imagine a level playing field – a field that exists in one’s own cultural landscape. And this is what I am coming to call the new Orientalism. When I think back to Vietnam and how those of us who resisted and protested that Imperialist war, there was no question of tweezing apart if Ho Chi Minh was nice. I suspect he kind, but not probably nice, but that was not the issue. The issue was the United States and its massive military killing machine against a largely peasant population. And the opposition to the war had deep working class roots, and it was a resistance that began with a refusal to support any U.S. Imperialist aggression.

The domestic antiwar movement was the largest in U.S. history, and the October 1969 Moratorium Against the War alone was the greatest single antiwar protest ever recorded in this country. The movement was deepened and strengthened by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), that in January 1966 issued a public statement against the war—a courageous dissent that nearly bankrupted it financially. SNCC called U.S. involvement “racist and imperialist.”
— John Marciano

Artists and poets travelled the country giving free readings and offering support for draft resisters. Robert Bly, Galway Kinnell, W.S. Merwin… even Robert Lowell, were creating work that was organically political, and not simply agit prop. They were doing what artists traditionally do, they were engaging in the world around them, and with the people around them, and with the life of planet. They weren’t selling anything. Not even a T-shirt.

Now, this branded left of today, or the anti-dialectical left, is also acutely anti-Maoist and anti-Stalinist. And again, my experience suggests the core of this ideological grouping are white men under or about 40, and University educated. And they are the exemplars, too, of this new Orientalism. And this Orientalism tends to enclose a particular strain of racism. Jay Tharappel wrote over at Big Russ News last week: “Racism is not just a tool of capital to divide labour (which is the dominant definition of the term among first–world Left); it is also an ideological weapon employed primarily by empires to shape how their citizens think about other nations in accordance with their geopolitical strategy.” These New Orientalist Leftists are also, as I say, rabidly anti-Stalinist and anti-Maoist; and this is less because they possess any real historical knowledge but because the caricature of the evil totalitarian despot is a necessary figure in their personal anti-communist imaginary.

President Barack Obama made his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa as president in July, 2009, speaking in Accra, Ghana. Despite a decades-long trail of broken promises to Africa on aid and development, Obama’s speech in Accra was marked by finger-wagging and reprimands, and an insistence that African nations’ own “mismanagement” and “lack of democracy” are to blame for their economic and social problems.
— Lee Wengref (International Socialist Review, #103)

Nations that establish their dominance can afford to be more liberal especially if they’re not threatened by more powerful enemies, whereas countries that find themselves actively fending off aggression by more powerful enemies do not have the luxury of adhering to ‘liberal’ standards premised on a privileged place in global affairs.
— Dan Tharappel

When liberals and New Orientalists (branded left, anti-communist left etc) look to find that neutrality of argument, the one that suggests just because I don’t like U.S. and NATO wars doesn’t mean I have to like Assad (Castro, Maduro, Ortega, Milosevic et al). They are assuming their privileged state of existence is outside all critiques. Any country colonized by one of the European powers automatically inherited bureaucratic and administrative structures and a political apparatus (including European policing). Syria inherited the French colonial structures for the most part. Such burdens constitute a psychic wound, a kind of mythic burden of both guilt and rage. But if those western educated sources with the posh vowels are consistent with NGO testimony and reports (western based and funded) such as Amnesty International, then this serves as evidence of third world savagery. The history of Hill & Knowlton, or any of the other Madison Avenue firms the State Department employs is simply ignored. It is literally tossed into the black hole of Western amnesia. If one cites the even very recent perfidy of western media and NGOs one is usually called a conspiracy theorist. I’ve been so called for citing things the CIA actually admits and brags about.

In 1998 the U.S. Air Force document, titled Information Operations, states that “Information Operations are applied across the range of military operations, from peacekeeping to full conflict … it is important to emphasize that the Information warfare is a formula that is implemented in all Air Force activities, from peace to war in order to enable the effective execution of all tasks.… The execution of information operations in the aeronautical, space and cyberspace across all aspects of the conflict “(note the use of” doublespeak “[or” dual language “, in the context of the terms” peace “and” military operations “). [sic]
— from the Yellow Brick Road Free Blog

And of course this leads to items such as this
… and this.

In a quite constant way, Orientalism depends for its strategy on this flexible positional superiority, which puts the Westerner in a whole series of possible relationships with the Orient without ever losing him the relative upper hand.
— Edward Said

The looming environmental catastrophe, or multiple catastrophes, are impossible to calculate in effect. But clearly there are going to be enormous changes to how the wasteful west, the privileged white world, lives. The current dementia or hallucinatory fever that is gripping the U.S. has far less to do with Donald Trump (though it does, in a sense, have to do with Putin and Russia, but I will return to that) than it does with the degraded state of daily life for nearly everyone that lives within it. And that includes the very wealthy, who I maintain are just as miserable, only they have far better coping mechanisms available to them. The sheer sense of despair that cuts across all western societies today is visible and palpable, and the new homeless camps on the edges of EVERY big city in America, are the symbol of the dying society. And yet, this predatory nation of slave owning Presidents, a nation that is the only in history to use nuclear weapons, this country of mass incarceration and provable indelible racism, still seems to attract those claiming they want to change it.

Liberals are, of course, always going to side with authority. Always will look to preserve the status quo. They are most comfortable, really, with open displays of fascist symbolism and style. I know few liberals who do not secretly admire or find Mussolini attractive. For such fascist leaders are very similar to the protagonists Hollywood turns out. Of late, I’ve noticed, a sharp uptick in heroes fashioned after Zuckerberg or Elon Musk, or Steve Jobs — the lone genius who goes off and discovers the solutions to everything. Never are they seen at work with countless colleagues, or vast armies of researchers working in near anonymity. No, it is the Zuck/Mussolini figure that does it alone. And these figures are always allowed to be vain, rude, selfish and destructive. And most often reactionary. Genius is forgiven. It is a very attractive fantasy for the western bourgeoisie today. It also suggests these figures are hard at work solving global warming for example. Solving all those things that can’t be faced. But this new ‘branded left’ — the New Orientalists, the anti-communists under the age of forty five, are also attracted to power. And they find positions that are not greatly different than an HRC supporter (or Bernie, or Elizabeth Warren et al). Its the old lets hold their feet to the fire fantasy. As I think on it, there is rather a lot of fantasy taking place on all levels and at all rungs of contemporary society. Which is probably why such emphasis is put on being realistic. Which reminds me that today the public intellectual is either a Jordan Peterson (for the Jr College student or under grad at some directional state University) or Stephen Pinker (for the post grad from more expensive schools). To think only a few decades back Gore Vidal and James Baldwin appeared with regularity on TV opinion shows. As an aside, there is so much ludicrously wrong with Pinker that time and space prevent a full listing. But one observation regarding his claim that violence is in decline and that mankind has never known such a sustained peace. Now he arrives at this absurdity by simply ignoring the violence visited upon the global south. Post-1945 he figures the big “civilized” states aren’t at war. And that’s all that counts. Pinker and Peterson both are new Orientalists.

As Ed Herman and David Peterson wrote,

Pinker completely ignores the phenomenon of structural violence, or the kind of violence that is ‘built into the structure’ of social relations, and ‘shows up as unequal power and consequently as unequal life chances,’ in Johan Galtung’s famous rendering. On a planet with more than 7 billion people facing mounting ecological pressures, the increasingly savage global class war of the 1% against the other 99, and the ‘endemic undernutrition and deprivation’ that afflicts billions of people even in ‘normal’ times—to extend Amartya Sen and Jean Drèze’s writings on India to the world as a whole—takes a toll every day that overshadows the violence of war.

Pinker, by the by, teaches at Harvard. Something I find rather fitting and revealing regards the state of intellectual discourse today.

Fanon, of course, said,  “…decolonization is always a violent phenomenon.”

And today the structural violence is finding new avenues of expression. I wrote a while back about the rise of a new antisemitism. In one way much of that antisemitism is found in structural relationships. Just as racism is, though perhaps to a lesser degree (for white black racism remains steadfastly overt and concrete). Those homeless encampments also are testimony to the alienation of modern western society. For these are the camps of the newly poor. And it has been an opening of the flood gates of penury for much of what was once working class America. And these are people without protection, either from government, unions (which largely dont exist anymore) or extended family.

When the USSR collapsed another sort of symbol disappeared. For it was the USSR that fought for the independence of African nations. They fought against colonial rule. The US fought for the colonizer. They supported the apartheid state. And they would today, too, which is what many Africans instinctively know. Across the poorest regions of the planet the figures of Mao and Fidel and Stalin are symbols of hope, not tyranny.

So the rabid insane demonizing of Putin is both an extension of a cold war comfort zone, and simply the furious irrational tantrum of the DNC. But to be clear, the Bush and Putin bromance came to an end when Obama took office. That was the real sea change in US-Russia relations. And it marked the serious infiltration of Hollywood by the Clinton mafia. Obama was the errand boy for the deep state, for the CIA and state department, but also the NSA, and certainly for Wall Street and the even bigger finance that controls Wall Street. Now, tracking the logic and movement of this change is too complex for this post, but what is germane here is that Obama’s pivot to Asia included a pivot against Russia. For no matter how one feels about Putin, the historic role of the Russian people matters greatly. It matters because Russia has always defied Western diktats, and because Russians themselves, as a culture, a society, tend toward a sensibility of independence. And because as Andre Vltchek pointed out, they look white, the look normal, but they are in fact different. And it feels as if they are closer to Roma than to Americans. They have the same streak of absolute indifference to our opinion of them. In a sense they are closer to much North African culture, too, funny as that sounds. One thing they are not is British or French or American. There is a real split in cultural character between the European colonizing culture and that of Russia, the Islamic world, and Africa.

So Putin becomes this, on the one hand, slightly camp figure, barechested on horseback, but also surgically intelligent former KGB agent. Putin feels too smart for Americans, I think. I mean what-the-fuck, who-the-fuck-does-he-think-he-is? Few world leaders project intelligence. Castro did, but he, alas, is gone now. Commandante Marcos is smart. And your average liberal will try to explain that Obama was smart, Harvard Law Review and whatever. (Harvard where that Pinker guy teaches, right?). But it’s not the same smart. It’s another varietal of smart, another sort that grows under other conditions. Obama did not project more than a kind of detached wonky intelligence. Intelligence but without a soul.

Meanwhile, I see where Tony Blair (speaking of not so smart) was just gifted with ten gajillion dollars or pounds or something by Mohammed Bin Salman, the presumptive next king of Saudi Arabia. Billions, as a gift, from the man who launched a merciless pointless genocide against Yemen. And Tony, ever the good Christian, accepted giddy with gratitude. The obscenity of the United States and UK today depresses me, I have to say. I see nothing good that comes out of trying to reform a ruthless profiteering death infected party of rich and the very rich and their courtiers. The Democratic Party should not even be mentioned when the discussion turns to change. Not even mentioned, let alone praised for anything. The Democratic Party, as noted before, are drawing candidates primarily from the intelligence community and the military. Remember that. For those erstwhile leftists, those who side with NATO and the U.S. against any third world ruler, ANY of them, are collaborators, really. That is how I look upon them. If, as an example, Lula da Silva functioned as a sort of ersatz collaborator, for a time, I tend to forgive him more than I would Angela Merkel. Or Theresa May. For da Silva was leader of the world’s largest former colony. And the scars of the colonial period are always visible even today. And besides that, those arraigned against him are the same neo aristocrat fascists massed against Maduro. Against Bolivia, too. The real threat to mankind is the American establishment.

The other thing worth asking is if, as we know, the U.S. CIA black budget is in excess of fifty billion dollars a year, what is that being spent on? And one has to wonder if infiltrating the left is not something of a priority. I would submit it is. So these publications of the pseudo left (now routinely mentioned in articles by CNN and at the NY Times) must have connections. And when other supposed radical voices take up the cause of the Democratic Party, one has to wonder. When they suddenly starting citing, as an authority, the findings of NGO reports or the data collected by front groups… it gives one pause.

Ben Rhodes (Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications under Obama) has a memoir out, and in it is a paragraph he wrote, regarding the speeches at Fidel Castro’s funeral. He writes, “For the next several hours the global left was heard from in speech after speech. The message was tired, out of date. Africans talking about the struggle to shake off colonialism. Latin Americans honouring the Cuban people and their resistance to Empire in the North.” So you see, this is the Democratic Party. Even mentioning colonialism is soooo five minutes ago.

The Soviet Union was the only Great Power whose stand conformed to our people’s will and desire. That is why the Soviet Union was the only Great Power which has all along been supporting the Congolese people’s struggle. I should like to convey the heartfelt gratitude of the entire Congolese people to the Soviet people and to Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchov personally for your country’s timely and great moral support to the young Republic of the Congo in its struggle against the imperialists and colonialists. I should also like to thank the Soviet Union for the assistance in food which it is extending to the Congo.
— Patrice Lumumba, July 28, 1960. (Interview).

John Steppling is an original founding member of the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival, a two-time NEA recipient, Rockefeller Fellow in theatre, and PEN-West winner for playwrighting. He's had plays produced in LA, NYC, SF, Louisville, and at universities across the US, as well in Warsaw, Lodz, Paris, London and Krakow. He has taught screenwriting and curated the cinematheque for five years at the Polish National Film School in Lodz, Poland. Plays include The Shaper, Dream Coast, Standard of the Breed, The Thrill, Wheel of Fortune, Dogmouth, and Phantom Luck, which won the 2010 LA Award for best play. Film credits include 52 Pick-up (directed by John Frankenheimer, 1985) and Animal Factory (directed by Steve Buscemi, 1999). A collection of his plays was published in 1999 by Sun & Moon Press as Sea of Cortez and Other Plays. He lives with wife Gunnhild Skrodal Steppling; they divide their time between Norway and the high desert of southern California. He is artistic director of the theatre collective Gunfighter Nation. Read other articles by John.