“Southern Trees Bear a Strange Fruit”

America is becoming sicker by the day. We really can’t mince words any longer without being dishonest.

We now have (7-10-2012), a few weeks before the Presidential election, the first sighting in several states of light plastic chairs, swaying in the wind, hanging from the trees, empty chairs labelled “No-Bama’ (remember Clint Eastwood’s ‘empty chair’ symbol at last week’s the Republican Nomination meeting).

“People kept stealing the chair; we just have to take extra precautions”, said one innocent owner of a swinging plastic chair. “There’s a constitution. Some people forget that” said another more defiant mum.

But we all know. A repetition of the past – not too distant a past. A lynching of a black. Traditions sometimes take a long time to die.


Two weeks ago it was the anniversary of the last hours of a sixteen year old black youth, charged and found guilty of the rape and murder of a white woman in Waco, Texas in 1916. Seized from the court room, castrated, fingers amputated, tied and burnt slowly for two hours over a fire until ‘he’ was reduced to charcoal.

Fifteen thousand locals watched, including the police and schoolchildren (during their lunch break).

It was said later than he was probably not guilty of either crime. He was, however, truly a black. (I quote Wikipedia).

“Southern Trees Bear a Strange Fruit
Blood on the Leaves and Blood at the Root

Don Miller


Taking Liberties

How dare some people! The liberties they take! Who do they think they are?

Most people have heard of the posters put up (in their hundreds?) throughout the New York subway network announcing “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.” Between two Stars of David it adds “Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” The authors were the Anti-Muslim American Freedom Defence Initiative.

The US court ruled that this was allowed under the First Amendment. (Technically correct, but perhaps debatable).

Egyptian-American writer, Mona Eltahawy, has been arrested in New York (28-9-2012) after spraying paint over one of the posters.

Michael Leunig, Melbourne cartoonist, in The Age (Melb) newspaper (29-9-2012) has a ten-line poem which begins
God in all his wisdom hates
Enemies of the United States
Enemies of the birds and bees
Are free to do just what they please

A drone hovers high above the poem. The duck turns its head.

Don Miller

You are/are not allowed to take liberties and reply.


Is that still democracy?

Most westerners have a general idea what a democracy entails: such as rule of law, free, regular elections, adult franchise, free press, government succession orderly and non-violent. That is, a government elected by and responsible to the people. Or, in other words, a relationship between state and people that is regulated, predictable and recognised as legitimate.

And the purpose, rarely articulated in any document, is to sustain the people’s wellbeing. The arrangement can take many forms. But people intuitively know when ‘democracy’ has been breached. The State is seen as acting too arbitrarily or too consistently against the people’s interests. It is considered undemocratic and illegitimate when it abuses its power.

It is a mistake however we were to assume that all world governments fit into one of those two types. Observers have in fact conceived of at least one other form of political rule, and they point to several African states they call ‘broken-backed’ states – those that are so wracked by opposition groups violently undermining them, by one means or another including violence, that they are incapable of pursuing normal state activities. They are made inoperative. In this situation people’s interests are harmed despite state efforts to the contrary.

But is there an unwitting ethnocentrism in finding broken-backed states only in ‘darkest’ Africa. None in the West?

Why, for example, does no American Federal government ever try to place some control on gun ownership despite the pleas to do so following every gun massacre around that country? I don’t know what percentage of members of Congress own one or more guns – it would be a significant number however. But we do know, anecdotally, the power of the NRA. One simple comparison is telling: during the American election of 2010 the anti-gun lobby collected $5 million to promote its cause. NRA raised $253 million for the same purpose. It has power.

Why has BP been given permission to drill for oil in the waters off the north-west coast despite what was said after the oil disaster BP was intimately involved in off the south-west coast last year? Check the size of political donations from the oil industry to all Presidential and Congress elections now and over the years. And we could go on. Banking? Finance? Who controls whom in actual practice?

The American government of Congress and Presidency is powerless to act against the interests of big corporations. No government runs the country; the Economy (for shorthand) does because it runs the Government. The situation has the hallmarks of certain African states: the state is not free to do what it would like to do, and the people suffer. It is a broken-backed state.

And if so should we continue to call America a democracy? Even to ask that question is disturbing. We may need to coin a new expression. America is no longer essentially a ‘political system’; it is now an ‘economic system’. Money rules – and it rules in its own interests only; not in the interest of the people. As for politicians and their offices? – mere foot-soldiers of the economy. Politics as we knew it no longer exists.

How about commenting on this blog – whether you like it or not.

Don Miller
Melbourne Centre or Ideas


America – its Ill-health

The Supreme Court has surprisingly ruled 5 to 4 (more on that another time) that the Obama Health scheme was generally but not totally unconstitutional. What sort of victory or defeat is that?

At the time of its Congress passing, after two years of bitter struggle, the bill had reached its most diluted form possible. Many argued it was a waste of time achieving such a pathetic effort, especially at such a political cost. There must now be some relief among the thirty millions Americans who for the first now have health coverage, but the rest of the population it seems maintains its bitterly help opposing opinions.

Republicans promise to repeal the entire bill once it wins the Presidency. The mood against ‘Obamacare’ is ugly, as Americans can do so easily, increasingly so. Listen to what The Age correspondent reports (June 30, 2012):
A young man sweating in a suit and tie in the 35-degree heat (of Washington) told The Saturday Age “To me, communism has now descended upon America. This allows the Government to do whatever they want whenever they want”.
This is not simply the sentiment of the odd paranoid freak; in more judicious, learned, rational language this is also the mood expressed in most of the articles published in The Washington Post today on this issue.

America has always prided itself on its ‘exceptionalism’. Its self-image is becoming an increasingly accurate portrayal of its reality – domestically and internationally. But that particular value can cast different shadows. A ‘rogue-state’ can never be a healthy state – for itself and the world.

Don Miller, Melbourne Centre for Ideas,
June 30, 2012


Words, Words, Words

Many people unintentionally allow themselves to be fooled. Perhaps the most common and traditional way is simply by holding the pervasive belief that words stand for precise things out there, and that the relationship between word and thing is eternally unambiguously clear if we use language ‘correctly’. —— -If it only were!

The Age newspaper (May 5) provides a sample problem when it announces the new trial in America of five terrorists who have been in custody for some time. Billed as the “trial of the century”.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the deemed master-mind behind 9/11, is the most notorious of the five – but for more than one reason. It has been officially confirmed that he was ‘water-boarded’ 183 times in the first four weeks of his capture.
No information has been made available on his carceration during the following several months.

This intensive treatment is but a tip of the iceberg. The article fails to remind readers that American authorities officially deny that ‘water-boarding’ is ‘torture’. So, to them, Khalid has never been tortured. He never will be – we will be officially reminded of this from time to time. He has experienced only “enhanced interrogation technique”.

The article also fails to tell its readers that American authorities remain unwilling, unlike most other countries, to officially define ‘torture’. This refusal extends as far as the special international committee commissioned to reach some universal consensus on the term. TheAmerican position is firm: ‘we would all recognise it if ‘torture’ was ever used anywhere; and we would all agree then to condemn it’.

[ This stand allows America the freedom to use any technique any time it wishes, and whatever that is, it can never be shown by others to be ‘torture’. By definition – permanently undefined.]

So a “reformed war crimes tribunal” is due to begin, after an earlier version had been found ‘unconstitutional’ by the US Supreme Court.

The new prosecutor, General Martin, is confident about the unblemished status of the upcoming trial. He insists that any army officer selected to serve on the jury from a pre-determined selection of 230,000 serving officers, will be ‘impartial’ even if that soldier had been fighting in Afghanistan for the last ten years. As he says, the military can be trusted to be “just”; it has “proven so in the past”.

So there we are. Officially, the five terrorists have never been tortured and, whatever the outcome, we are reassured the trail will be a just one. There is nothing to be concerned about; the entire process is one of trust. Everyone, even terrorists, will get a “fair-trial”. Someone like Khalid, however, will not be allowed to use the occasion “as an opportunity to grandstand; that would be too dangerous” it is said. [That is why the US Congress stopped the earlier New York Federal Court trial].

To many observers the process has been dismissed as a legal sham; any confession by Klalid, they argue, cannot be accepted as valid after the treatment he has received. A ‘second-tier justice’ normally associated with the ‘show-trials’ of China and North Korea is the harsh judgment of many legal observers.
Indeed this trial has been characterised by the previous chief prosecutor, Colonel Morris Davis, who resigned from the position in 2008, as the equivalent to “putting lipstick on a pig”.

But the public, anywhere, can be understandably confused about what to believe. Is ‘water-boarding’ torture of not? Would senior American officials lie about such a thing? What proof do critics have to support their accusations of torture?

Can we, late in the day, learn to realise that words are words are words – and can never become ‘facts’ even if they look as if they are? We know that in certain cases; just because someone says “I love you” it does not necessarily mean (s)he does, or if (s)he does mean it, what does ‘mean’ mean; and when (s)he acts in some way or other is it an act of love or not? These questions are unanswerable – because words can never be pinned down like that. There is no one meaning of ‘love’; there never can be and nothing can ever be proven one way or the other.

Most people probably realise that in some way, but they tend to forget that the same rule applies to any word we can utter – it cannot be otherwise. ‘Smart’ people knowingly exploit that reality; and innocent even reasonable people get fooled.

‘Terrorist’, ‘just’, ‘fair’, ‘impartial’, ‘torture’ are words. Language can only be language. We can say anything with words but as one leading philosopher of the twentieth century said: “A use of language is also an abuse of language”. We can’t do much without language, but it can never settle anything scientifically, rationality. It is always ambiguous – and that can’t be reformed.

Intellectual argument is of little value. We cannot prove the current American position on torture, terrorists, justice and fairness to be wrong and, likewise we cannot prove that we are right. It is in every case a matter of belief and moral intuition.
Which in every way, however, is both more important and more profound.

I believe water-boarding to be torture. I believe that the American government has with full awareness behaved reprehensively ever since 9/11 in the broad arena of terrorism, torture, justice, honesty, decency. What they do, and don’t do (cf refusal to concede any benchmark on ‘torture’) is utterly immoral and done in a conscious political process of immediate vindictive punishment of anything or anyone deemed an enemy – even though what they do clearly aggravates not ameliorates the international situation. And this is why they feel they have to deceive the world (as best they can) by linguistic chicanery.

Because a judgment like this, or any other, can never be proven right, it must not deter anyone from making a judgment. We should never let words, words deliberately chosen to politically deceive people, trick us into silence and confusion. That applies all the time – and everywhere.

Postscript: the trial has begun. But after one day of ‘mayhem’ it has been postponed. Justice, in this case injustice, may eventually be served by other means of current American-style
‘law and order’ – it seems pre-determined.

Don Miller

May 17, 2012