Empire Burlesque
I Never Heard Nobody Else Talk So Refined
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 21 July 2009 22:32

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To lift the immortal words of the Angry Arab, "for those who care and do not care," there are some new songs up at the MySpace site: rough sketches as usual, but there are some hopes of doing a few of them up right with some talented collaborators a little ways down the line. Anyway, they're there, if you care to bend an ear -- or even cut a rug.

 
Oligarchs Triumphant: Ukraine, Omidyar and the Neo-Liberal Agenda
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 03 March 2014 01:29

1.
The Western intervention in Ukraine has now led the region to the brink of war. Political opposition to government of President Viktor Yanukovych -- a corrupt and thuggish regime, but as with so many corrupt and thuggish regimes one sees these days, a democratically elected one -- was funded in substantial part by organizations of or affiliated with the U.S. government, such as the National Endowment for Democracy (a longtime vehicle for Washington-friendly coups), and USAID. It also received substantial financial backing from Western oligarchs, such as billionaire Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay and sole bankroller of the new venue for "adversarial" journalism, First Look, as Pandodaily reports.

Yanukovych sparked massive protests late last year when he turned down a financial deal from the European Union and chose a $15 billion aid package from Russia instead. The EU deal would have put cash-strapped Ukraine in a financial straitjacket, much like Greece, without actually promising any path for eventually joining the EU. There was one other stipulation in the EU's proffered agreement that was almost never reported: it would have also forbidden Ukraine to "accept further assistance from the Russians," as Patrick Smith notes in an important piece in Salon.com.  It was a ruthless take-it-or-leave-it deal, and would have left Ukraine without any leverage, unable to parlay its unique position between East and West to its own advantage in the future, or conduct its foreign and economic policies as it saw fit. Yanukovych took the Russian deal, which would have given Ukraine cash in hand immediately and did not come with the same draconian restrictions.

It was a policy decision. It might have been the wrong policy decision; millions of Ukrainians thought so. Yanukovych, already unpopular before the deal, would have almost certainly been ousted from office by democratic means in national elections scheduled for 2015. But the outpouring of displeasure at this policy decision grew into a call for the removal of the government. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Washington was maneuvering to put their preferred candidate, Arseniy Yatseniuk, in charge of the Ukrainian government, as a leaked tape of a conversation between Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state, and Geoffrey Pyatt, U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, clearly showed. It is worth noting that when Yanukovych was finally ousted from power -- after the opposition reneged on an EU-brokered deal for an interim unity government and new elections in December -- Arseniy Yatseniuk duly took charge of the Ukrainian government, as planned.

By all accounts, Viktor Yanukovych was an unsavoury character running an unsavoury government, backed by unsavoury oligarchs exploiting the country for their own benefit, and leaving it unnecessarily impoverished and chaotic. In this, he was not so different from his predecessors, or from many of those who have supplanted him, who also have oligarchic backing and dubious connections (see addendum below).  But in any case, the idea of supporting an unconstitutional overthrow of a freely elected Ukrainian government in an uprising based squarely on the volatile linguistic and cultural fault-lines that divide the country seems an obvious recipe for chaos and strife. It was also certain to provoke a severe response from Russia. It was, in other words, a monumentally stupid line of policy (as Mike Whitney outlines here).  Smith adds:

[U.S.] foreign policy cliques remain wholly committed to the spread of the neo-liberal order on a global scale, admitting of no exceptions. This is American policy in the 21st century. No one can entertain any illusion (as this columnist confesses to have done) that America’s conduct abroad stands any chance of changing of its own in response to an intelligent reading of the emerging post–Cold War order. Imposing “democracy,” the American kind, was the American story from the start, of course, and has been the mission since Wilson codified it even before he entered the White House. When the Cold War ended we began a decade of triumphalist bullying — economic warfare waged as “the Washington Consensus” — which came to the same thing.

American policy is based upon -- dependent upon -- a raging, willful, arrogant ignorance of other peoples, other cultures, history in general, and even the recent history of U.S. policy itself. The historical and cultural relationships between Ukraine and Russia are highly complex. Russia takes its national identity from the culture that grew up around what is now Kyiv; indeed, in many respects, Kyiv is where "Russia" was born.  Yet one of the first acts of the Western-backed revolutionaries was to pass a law declaring Ukrainian as the sole state language, although most of the country speaks Russian or Surzhyk, "a motley mix of Ukrainian and Russian (sometimes with bits of Hungarian, Romanian and Polish)," as the LRB's Peter Pomerantsev details in an excellent piece on Ukraine's rich cultural and linguistic complexity.  This is not to say that Ukrainians are not justified in being wary of Russia's embrace.  Millions of Ukrainians died in the 1930s from the famine caused by inhuman policies imposed by a Moscow government (although that government was itself headed by a Georgian, in the name of a trans-national ideology). The complexity and volatility is always there. Today, as Smith puts it, "many Ukrainians see room for closer relations with the West; the more sensible seem to favor a variant of “third way” thinking, no either/or frame. Many fewer desire a decisive break with Russia."

Yet at every turn, the new Western-backed government in Kyiv has stomped hard on these volatile fault-lines, pushing stringent anti-Russian policies, with Western governments pretending that this would have no consequences, no reverberations in Moscow. What's more, the neo-fascist factions that played a leading role in the uprising are now calling for Ukraine to become a nuclear power again, having given up the Soviet nuclear weaponry on its territory in 1994. Indeed, hard-right leader Oleh Tyahnybok made nuclear re-armament one of the planks of his presidential race a few years ago. Now the party is sharing power in the Western-brokered government; will we soon see Ukraine added to the ranks of nuclear nations? With a bristling nuclearized frontier with Russia -- like the hair-trigger holocaust flashpoint between India and Pakistan?

Again we see the blind stupidity of arrogance, of entitlement, as the "Washington consensus" of elitist neo-liberalism continues its blundering away around the world.

2.
Now we stand on the brink of war over Crimea. Here too there are historical complexities entirely ignored by the media narrative. The Crimea was not considered part of Ukraine until it was simply tranferred by administrative edict in 1954 by the Soviet government, removing it from the Russian "socialist republic"  to the jurisdiction of the Ukranian "socialist republic." When the Soviet Union collapsed, the Crimea became an autonomous republic operating under the constitution of Ukraine. Its population is about 60 percent Russian, yet this majority has had its language stripped of official status by the government in Kyiv which took power outside of constitutional means.

None of this justifies the heavy-handed muscle-flexing that Putin has been engaging in. But Russia, in post-Soviet times, with no trans-national ideology, has become a highly nationalist state.  Putin is an authoritarian leader who now bases his threadbare claims to "legitimacy" -- and the dominance of his brutal clique -- on his championing of Russian nationalism and "traditional values". It is inconceivable that he would not consider the West's blatant interference in Ukraine to be an act of provocation and brinkmanship aimed at him and his regime, and that he would react accordingly.

So here we are. Chaos, strife, the threat of war -- and the heavy smoke of ignorance covering it all. Sleepwalking once more toward disaster. Deliberately setting tumultuous events in motion without the slightest concern for their ultimate consequences, or the suffering they will cause, now and perhaps for generations to come. (Think of Iraq, for example, or the spread of violence and chaos that has already flowed to many countries from the intervention in Libya's internal affairs.)

But why are we here? Greed. Greed and the lust for dominance. Let's not say "power," for that word carries positive connotations, and can also include an element of responsibility.  But the oligarchs and ideologues, the militarists and ministers involved in this episode of Great Gamesmanship don't want power in any broader, deeper sense. What they want is dominance, to lord it over others -- physically, financially, psychologically. Among those at the top in this situation, on every side, there is not the slightest regard for the common good of their fellow human beings -- not even for those with whom they share some association by the accident of history or geography: language, nationality, ethnicity. The lust for loot and dominance outweighs all the rest, regardless of the heavy piety oozing from the rhetoric on all sides.

And if war is avoided, what is the likely outcome for Ukraine (aside from living in eternal tension with an enraged, threatened, authoritarian neighbor to the North)? Smith tells us: betrayal.

Instantly after Yanukovych was hounded from Kiev, seduction began its turn to betrayal. The Americans and Europeans started shuffling their feet as to what they would do for Ukrainians now that Russia has shut off the $15 billion tap. Nobody wants to pick up the bill, it turns out. Washington and the E.U. are now pushing the International Monetary Fund forward as the leader of a Western bailout.If the past is any guide, Ukrainians are now likely to get the "shock therapy" the economist Jeffrey Sachs urged in Russia, Poland and elsewhere after the Soviet Union's collapse. Sachs subsequently (and dishonestly) denied he played any such role -- understandable given the calamitous results, notably in Russia -- but the prescription called for off-the-shelf neoliberalism, applied without reference to any local realities, and Ukrainians are about to get their dosage.

It is wrong, as ahistorical thinking always is. Formerly communist societies, especially in the Eastern context, should logically advance first to some form of social democracy and then decide if they want to take things further rightward. Washington;s fear, evident throughout the Cold War, was that social democracies would demonstrate that they work -- so presenting a greater threat, paradoxically, than the Soviet model. Ukrainians favoring the Westward tilt, having idealized the E.U., appear to assume they are to evolve into some system roughly between the Scandinavians and Germany, as East Europeans earlier anticipated. They will thus find the I.M.F.'s deal shocking indeed. It will be bitter, after all the treacherous, carefully couched promises.

Whatever happens, it seems certain that oligarchs -- Western, Ukrainian, European or Russian, will continue to exercise dominance -- although some who backed the losing side too prominently may be cast down. Then again, most oligarchs, in every nation, are usually expert at playing both sides, or changing sides as necessary.

One is tempted to see this principle at work in the case of Pierre Omidyar, a prominent private backer of American efforts to fund and guide the Ukrainian opposition to power, as Pandodaily reported. Omidyar, who founded eBay and now owns PayPal, has recently become widely known -- and universally lauded -- for committing $250 million to fund First Look, a publishing group dedicated to adversarial journalism. He has assembled an all-star team for his venture, including Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, Jeremy Scahill, Marcy Wheeler and others of similar reputation. It is no exaggeration to say that he has become a bonafide hero of the left, which has tended to dismiss all criticism or questioning of his new enterprise, or his wider operations, as the grumbling of jealous losers -- or even as covert actions of the State, trying to derail this dangerous new threat to elite rule.

Yet the fact remains that Omidyar's wider operations -- including those in Ukraine -- sit uneasily with the image of an adversarial paragon and danger to the system. Putting aside the troubling circumstance of adversarial activism being dependent on the personal whims of a billionaire, there is the fact that Omidyar's philanthropic vision lies largely in the monetizing of poverty relief efforts -- of turning them from charitable or government-based programs into money-making enterprises which reward investors with high returns while often leaving the recipients worse off than before. As nsfwcorp.com reports, these include micro-financing initiatives in India that have led to mass suicides among the debt-ridden poor, and "entrepreneurial" programs which bestow property rights on the small plots of slum-dwellers -- who, still in dire straits, sell them, for a pittance, to large-scale operators who then clear the ghettos for profitable developments, leaving the poor to find another shanty-town elsewhere. In this, Omidyar has partnered with Hernando de Soto, a  right-wing "shock doctrinaire" and one-time advisor to former Peruvian dictator, Alberto Fujimori; de Soto is also an ally of the Koch Brothers. Omidyar has also poured millions of dollars into efforts to privatize, and profitize, public education in the United States and elsewhere, forcing children in some of the poorest parts of the world to pay for basic education -- or go without.

Thus Omidyar seems very much a part of the "neo-liberal order" which, as Patrick Smith noted above, the United States has been pushing "on a global scale, admitting of no exceptions." So it is not surprising to see him playing a role in trying to spread this order to Ukraine, in tandem with the overt efforts and backroom machinations of the U.S. government. Omidyar is, openly, a firm adherent of the neo-liberal order -- privitazing public assets for individual profit, converting charity and state aid to profitable enterprises for select investors, and working to elect or install governments that support these policies.

None of these activities are illegal. None of them necessarily preclude him also funding independent journalism. But I can't see that it is unreasonable to bring up these facts and point them out. I don't think it's unreasonable to apply the same kind of considered skepticism toward this billionaire oligarch that you would apply to any other. For instance, if one of First Look's websites publishes some blistering expose on the nasty machinations of some other oligarch or corporate figure, I don't think it will be unreasonable for people to look and see if the target happens to be a rival of Omidyar's in some way, or if his or her removal or humbling would benefit Omidyar's own business or political interests. One does the same with the New York Times and its obvious pro-Establishment agenda, or with Rupert Murdoch's newspapers, and so on; the wider context helps the reader put articles in perspective, and weigh them accordingly. It doesn't mean the facts of this or that particular story are untrue; it does mean they aren't swallowed whole, uncritically, without awareness of other agendas that might be in play.

This seems so elementary that it's almost embarrassing to point it out. Yet for the most part, anyone who raises these kinds of questions about Omidyar's media enterprise has been immediately shouted down, sometimes vociferously, by those who otherwise evince a savvy skepticism toward Big Money and its agendas. Many of those assailing the Pandodaily report about Omidyar and Ukraine pointed out that "this is the world we live in" -- a world dominated by Big Money -- and you have to make the best of a bad lot. And anyway, news outlets have always been owned by rich and powerful interests, and First Look is no different.

Well yes, exactly. And thus First Look -- owned solely by a neo-liberal billionaire, who, as Jeremy Scahill has pointed out, takes a very active interest in the daily workings of his news organization -- should be subject to the same standards of scrutiny as any other news outlet owned by the rich and powerful. But this doesn't seem to be happening; quite the opposite, in fact.

I think perhaps there might be a category mistake at work here. Because of the reputations of those who have signed up with Omidyar, the idea has taken hold that Omidyar is dedicated to throwing a broad light on the secret machinations of the national security state and its imperialist rampages around the world. But Scahill's statement intimates that Omidyar's "vision" is actually much more limited. The interview that Scahill gave to the Daily Beast, quoted by Pandodaily, is quite revealing. Below is an excerpt, somewhat longer than the Pando quote:

The whole venture will have a lower wall between owner and journalist than traditional media. Omidyar, he says, wanted to do the project because he was interested in Fourth Amendment issues, and they are hiring teams of lawyers, not just to keep the staff from getting sued, but to actively push courts on the First Amendment, to “force confrontation with the state on these issues.”

“[Omidyar] strikes me as always sort of political, but I think that the NSA story and the expanding wars put politics for him into a much more prominent place in his existence.  This is not a side project that he is doing. Pierre writes more on our internal messaging than anyone else. And he is not micromanaging. This guy has a vision. And his vision is to confront what he sees as an assault on the privacy of Americans.”

Omidyar is passionately concerned about government encroachments on privacy, Scahill says, while noting -- somewhat ominously -- that the enterprise will have "a lower wall between owner and journalist than traditional media." You might think this would set off alarm bells in a longtime adversarial journalist like Scahill, but apparently not. In any case, Omidyar's entire neo-liberal ideology is based on the ability of wealthy individuals to operate free from government control as they circle the world in search of profit. (And also, if it happens, some social benefits by the way; but if one's profit-making initiatives turn out to drive hundreds of people to suicide, well, c'est la vie, eh?) Naturally, wealthy individuals also want to be free from government spying as they go about their business. They are happy to cooperate with the National Security State when there is mutual benefit to be had, as with Omidyar and his government partners in Ukraine -- but they want it to be on their terms. They want their own information to remain within their control. The overthrow of foreign governments, the invasion of foreign lands, the extrajudicial murder of people around the world, the militarization of American policy and society -- this does not really concern them. In fact, it helps them expand the parameters of their business and extend their neoliberal ideology. But the idea that the government might also be spying on them -- well, this is intolerable. This must be resisted, there must be a "confrontation" about such behavior.

I'm sure the writers hired by Omidyar's quarter of a billion dollars will produce work of value, dig up some useful facts. So does the Times, so does the now oligarch-owned Washington Post, so do Murdoch's papers on occasion. But I don't think Omidyar's enterprise has been set up to challenge the status quo or pose the "threat" to the system that its hero-worshippers are looking for. Indeed, even Greenwald calls only for "reforms" of the system, for "real oversight" of the National Security State by legislators -- the same legislators bought, sold, cowed and dominated by Big Money. I honestly don't think that the powers-that-be feel threatened by an enterprise set up by one of their number that confines itself to calls for "reform" from "within" -- especially when its sole owner continues to cooperate with the Koch Brothers, hard-right ideologues like Hernando de Soto and indeed with the National Security State itself in subversive adventures overseas.

Omidyar's goals are limited: to protect the privacy of the individual from government. This is a noble, worthy aim. But based on his own actions, he is perfectly content for that privacy-protected individual to advance a punishing neo-liberal agenda on the rest of the world, and at home, in collusion with the National Security State if need be. Whether Greenwald, Scahill, Taibbi, Wheeler and the rest are equally content with this agenda is something we will find out in the months to come.


***
Addendum. Below is a passage cut out of the original text above, giving more detail on the opposition forces that the intervention by Omidyar and the U.S. government helped bring to power.

The occupation movement -- now the government -- is led by three main factions, one of which contains openly neo-fascist groups who -- while the protests were going on -- mounted a torchlight procession through the city of Lviv in honor of Stepan Bandera, the Ukrainian fascist leader who joined with Nazi invaders in World War II and took part in mass murders of Jews. As Max Blumenthal reports:

After participating in a campaign to assassinate Ukrainians who supported accommodation with the Polish during the 1930’s, Bandera’s forces set themselves to ethnically cleanse western Ukraine of Poles in 1943 and 1944. In the process, they killed over 90,000 Poles and many Jews, whom Bandera’s top deputy and acting “Prime Minister,” Yaroslav Stetsko, were determined to exterminate. ... Lviv has become the epicenter of neo-fascist activity in Ukraine, with elected Svoboda officials waging a campaign to rename its airport after Bandera and successfully changing the name of Peace Street to the name of the Nachtigall Battalion, an OUN-B wing that participated directly in the Holocaust. “’Peace’ is a holdover from Soviet stereotypes,” a Svoboda deputy explained. ...

After participating in a campaign to assassinate Ukrainians who supported accommodation with the Polish during the 1930’s, Bandera’s forces set themselves to ethnically cleanse western Ukraine of Poles in 1943 and 1944. In the process, they killed over 90,000 Poles and many Jews, whom Bandera’s top deputy and acting “Prime Minister,” Yaroslav Stetsko, were determined to exterminate.

Svoboda is the name of the top nationalist party. As Blumenthal notes:

Svoboda's leader, Oleh Tyahnybok, has called for the liberation of his country from the “Muscovite-Jewish mafia.” After the 2010 conviction of the Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk for his supporting role in the death of nearly 30,000 people at the Sobibor camp, Tyahnybok rushed to Germany to declare him a hero who was “fighting for truth.” In the Ukrainian parliament, where Svoboda holds an unprecedented 37 seats, Tyahnybok’s deputy Yuriy Mykhalchyshyn is fond of quoting Joseph Goebbels – he has even founded a think tank originally called “the Joseph Goebbels Political Research Center.” .... Svoboda’s openly pro-Nazi politics have not deterred Senator John McCain from addressing a EuroMaidan rally alongside Tyahnybok, nor did it prevent Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland from enjoying a friendly meeting with the Svoboda leader this February.

In a leaked phone conversation with Geoffrey Pyatt, the US ambassador to Ukraine, Nuland revealed her wish for Tyahnybok to remain “on the outside,” but to consult with the US’s replacement for Yanukovich, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, “four times a week.” At a December 5, 2013 US-Ukraine Foundation Conference, Nuland boasted that the US had invested $5 billion to "build democratic skills and institutions" in Ukraine ...

As Smith puts it, the "the Nuland tape is the Rosetta Stone of the Ukrainian riddle. It was an early advisory that we were about to watch Washington at work corrupting the affairs of another nation, exactly as it has for the past 60–odd years elsewhere. Nothing new under the American sun, even as the afternoon light starts to fade."

Blumenthal has much more on the history of Ukrainian fascism, including the extensive and highly connected network established in American politics after WWII, when many of Bandera's party members -- Nazi collaborators and killers of Jews and Poles -- were funneled to the US, often with the CIA's help. He also notes that former Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko, the Western-hailed hero of the "Orange Revolution" that brought regime change to Ukraine 10 years ago, had named Bandera "National Hero of Ukraine" in 2010.

 
"A Friend of Kafka": Sentimental Power and the Survival of the Spirit
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 28 February 2014 11:43

The title of Isaac Bashevis Singer's story came to mind when I read of the death of Alice Herz-Sommer, the oldest known survivor of the Holocaust. She was 110, and grown up in Prague, where both Kafka and Mahler had been friends of her family. Herz-Sommer had  gained some fame in her last years for her remarkable spirit, and her dedication to the music of Chopin, which helped sustain her during her time in a Nazi camp -- and probably saved her and her son from death.

She was in the "model" camp at Theresienstadt, used by the Nazis as a showcase for the Red Cross, to show their 'humane' treatment of prisoners. (Although the very fact of imprisoning, say, a young woman and her young child simply because they were Jewish perverts the very notion of "humane," however the prisoners might have been treated.) And of course,in reality, the regimen in Theresienstadt was harsh -- tens of thousands died there -- although it was lightened from time to time in preparation of a Red Cross visit.

Herz-Sommer was part of the camp orchestra. The New York Times recounts her experience with the orchestra, and how it saved her from the fate of many others in the camp, including her husband:

“These concerts, the people are sitting there — old people, desolated and ill — and they came to the concerts, and this music was for them our food,” she later said. “Through making music, we were kept alive.”

Terezin was a transit camp. From there, Jews were deported to forced-labor and death camps; of some 140,000 Jews who passed through Terezin, nearly 90,000 were deported to “almost certain death” at such camps, according to the website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Some 33,000 died in Terezin itself.

One of the prisoners transported from Terezin was Leopold Sommer, who in 1944 was sent to Auschwitz, and on to Dachau. He died there, probably of typhus, in 1945, a month before liberation.

Music spared Mrs. Herz-Sommer a similar fate. One night, after she had been in Terezin for more than a year, she was stopped by a young Nazi officer, as Ms. Stoessinger’s book recounts. “Do not be afraid,” he said. “I only want to thank you for your concerts. They have meant much to me.” He turned to leave before adding: “One more thing. You and your little son will not be on any deportation lists. You will stay in Theresienstadt until the war ends.”

Thus she survived, due to the sentimental caprice of a Nazi officer, who had doubtless facilitated (or even directed) the transport of thousands of others to death camps. This is always the face of power, of dominance and control: we give, or we take away, we spare, or kill, at our own whim; there is nothing you can do about it.

By a bitter irony, the story about Herz-Sommers' death appeared on the NYT website alongside a story about the Obama Administration wrestling with the "thorny question" of whether they should murder an American citizen in cold blood or not. It was the usual fluffy "process piece," where White House insiders relay the thoughtfulness and moral struggle of the noble president and his death advisers as they pore over their "kill lists" each week. The Times has become the primary 'normalizer" of this unbelievably hideous, barbaric and inhumane practice, which of course extends not only to named, specific targets like the American in question here, but to unnamed, unknown individuals who are murdered by the president and his agents in "signature strikes," attacks based on certain ill-defined "behaviors" recorded by robot drones.

The president and his  agents kill people -- or spare them -- without any due process of law, any oversight, without giving their victims a chance to defend themselves or even prepare themselves for death. They decide, they strike -- out of the blue, with drone missiles, inhuman, implacable, and very often killing other people in the vicinity of the impact. They kill in perfect safety, without the slightest threat to their own person, inviolable, completely dominant, striking down defenseless victims who have no power to strike back. In this they are no different from the officers in the Nazi camps.

It may be that on occasion President Obama is moved by a sentimental whim to spare some potential victim. Perhaps he's had a touching moment with one of his daughters at breakfast, or seen a photo that called up a piercing memory of his mother -- or perhaps he's just been listening to a piece of music that moved him. And so, on that particular "Terror Tuesday," when he sits down with advisers to go over the list of "extrajudicial killings" they should authorize that week, Obama hears the intelligence report on a target -- a young man, say, who had (allegedly) joined a jihadi group after his mother had died -- and, still under the influence of his sentimental mood, says, "Let's hold off on this one, fellas. Let's get a little more data on this." Thus the young man is spared, and they move on to other targets, most of whom are not so lucky, and are marked for death.

Obama and his advisors don't see themselves as monsters, any more than the Nazi officer who saved Herz-Sommer did. They see themselves, as he did, as moral men, carrying out difficult but necessary duties yet still retaining their humanity, their compassion, their capacity for kindness and empathy. But of course none of that matters. What matters is not how we regard ourselves, for good or ill, but how we actually treat others, the actuality of what we do.

History records saints of many religions who spent their entire lives in a paroxysm of self-hatred -- for their unseemly lusts, murderous rages, sickening thoughts and urges, their inner madness -- yet acted toward others with love and self-sacrifice, humility and service. If they acted with love, what did it matter what they might have felt or thought in the always-churning, flowing, passing mental and emotional streams that pass through our minds?  And similarly, what does it matter how righteous and self-regarding we feel, how deeply we might be touched by some affecting situation or work of art, if our actions lead to evil?

The sentimentality of brutal power spared Herz-Sommer, but the life of deep meaning she made in the aftermath stands as a stark rebuke to the very notion of domination.

***
While writing this, I thought of another piece I did a while back that touched briefly on some of these themes -- the dichotomy between inner life and outward action, malevolent currents and ordinary goodness, etc. It even mentioned a 'grand lady' of ancient age. Of course this wasn't a reference to Herz-Sommer, but the piece did seem somewhat apt in this context, so here's a link.

 
Family Planning: "Totalitarians for God" Spread Poison Web
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 21 July 2009 11:27

In a new piece for Salon.com, Jeff Sharlet has more on the domestic side of the militarist-fundamentalist drive to devour the state, which we wrote about here yesterday. Sharlet writes of "The Family" -- the self-described "Christian Mafia" centered on the "C Street House" in Washington -- which for decades has spread its invisible, insidious influence throughout the U.S. government, while supporting mass-murdering dictators, rapacious crony capitalism -- and providing convenient cover and absolution for the high crimes and sexual misdemeanors of its members.

Sharlet has written of The Family for years, in articles for Harper's and in his book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. He has described in great detail -- and from the inside -- a disturbing, decades-old network of big-time power players guided by cranks who push Pol Pot, Osama bin Laden, and Stalin as worthy role models in the pursuit of the Family's ultimate goal: a militarized, unfettered "totalitarianism of God." You would think that Sharlet's earlier revelations would have brought intensive, horrified scrutiny to bear on this nest of democracy-hating accomplices of atrocity and corruption -- but the stories never gained much traction in the corporate media. Who cares about all that boring stuff?

But now that several of The Family's members and associates have found themselves caught in good old juicy sex scandals, suddenly the media has "re-discovered" the C Street House, and shined at least a little more light on that dark corner. Because as we all know, the only offense that an American politician must ever pay for is a sexual indiscretion. When it comes to murder, torture, oppression, war crimes, military aggression, tyranny, etc -- well, it's always best to "move on" from such unseemly doings, and stay "focused on the future, not the past."

Although truth to tell, even sexual indiscretions are increasingly unpaid for by our coddled, unaccountable elites. Look at Bill Clinton, swanning around the world like a rock star, swimming in his millions. And of course, all rightwing pols caught with their pants down can always play the "fallen sinner redeemed by God" card, and start all over again. Clinton also played this card for all it was worth, of course; recall his hilarious "counseling sessions" with various high-profile religious leaders, who, we are to believe, sat down with the President of the United States and gave him earnest, prayerful counsel on how to keep his pecker in his pants.

Even so, messing around in the sexual cellarage still causes a politician more of a spot of bother than, say, authorizing a drone strike (i.e., "targeted assassination," i.e., "extrajudicial assassination," i.e., "act of mass murder") that kills dozens of innocent people. The irony, of course, as Magnificent Valor points out, is that these sexual indiscretions are often the only interesting and vaguely human thing these time-serving, box-ticking, elitist automatons have ever done.

In any case, the wanton willy-waggling of Mark Sanford, John Ensign, Chip Pickering and other "Family" stalwarts has provided us with yet another glimpse at the truly strange and deranged power structure that governs our lives. You should read Sharlet's piece in full, but here are a few choice bits:

The Family likes to call itself a "Christian Mafia," but it began 74 years ago as an anti-New Deal coalition of businessmen convinced that organized labor was under the sway of Satan. The Great Depression, they believed, was a punishment from God for what they viewed as FDR's socialism. The Family's goal was the "consecration" of America to God, first through the repeal of New Deal reforms, then through the aggressive expansion of American power during the Cold War...

Historically, the Family has been strongly Republican [Sharlet includes a copious list of current power-players in the Family ranks], but it includes Democrats, too. There's Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, for instance, a vocal defender of putting the Ten Commandments in public places, and Sen. Mark Pryor, the pro-war Arkansas Democrat responsible for scuttling Obama's labor agenda. Sen. Pryor explained to me the meaning of bipartisanship he'd learned through the Family: "Jesus didn't come to take sides. He came to take over." And by Jesus, the Family means the Family.

Family leaders consider their political network to be Christ's avant garde, an elite that transcends not just conventional morality but also earthly laws regulating lobbying. ... Founder Abraham Vereide decided that the group could be more effective by working personally with politicians. "The more invisible you can make your organization," Vereide's successor, current leader Doug Coe preaches, "the more influence you can have."

...I met [David Coe, Doug Coe's son and heir apparent], when I lived for several weeks as a member of the Family... Attempting to explain what it means to be chosen for leadership like King David was -- or Mark Sanford, according to his own estimate -- he asked a young man who'd put himself, body and soul, under the Family's authority, "Let's say I hear you raped three little girls. What would I think of you?" The man guessed that Coe would probably think that he was a monster. "No," answered Coe, "I wouldn't." Why? Because, as a member of the Family, he's among what Family leaders refer to as the "new chosen." If you're chosen, the normal rules don't apply.


If that doesn't tell you all you need to know about our nation's rulers, then I don't know what will. And of course, this "three rapes--so what?" philosophy of unaccountability is not confined to members of "The Family": it permeates the entire power structure.

And as we noted yesterday, this drive toward "Christian totalitarianism" seeks to use the military as one of its primary vehicles of subversion:

Christian right leader -- and Watergate felon -- Chuck Colson, converted through the efforts of the Family, has boasted of it as a "veritable underground of Christ's men all through government." What do they do? Rep. Zach Wamp, one of Ensign's fellow C Streeters who's been in the news for defending the Family's secrecy, has teamed up with Family-linked Reps. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., and John R. Carter, R-Texas, on an obscure appropriations committee to help greenlight tens of millions in federal funds for new megachurch-style chapels on military bases around the country.


But of course, one of the main thrusts of The Family's business has been succoring murderous dictators around the world:

One needn't be a Marxist to find fault with the Family's mash-up of New Testament and unfettered capitalism -- Adam Smith himself would have recognized that theology as a disingenuous form of self-interest by proxy. Such interests have led the Family into some strange alliances over the years. Seduced by the Indonesian dictator Suharto's militant anti-communism, they described the murder of hundreds of thousands that brought him to power as a "spiritual revolution," and sent delegations of congressmen and oil executives to pray to Jesus with the Muslim leader. In Africa, they anointed the Somali killer Siad Barre as God's man and sent Sen. Grassley and a defense contractor as emissaries. Barre described himself as a "Koranic Marxist," but he agreed to pray to Grassley's American Christ in return for American military aid, which he then used to wreak a biblical terror on his nation. It has not yet recovered.


Needless to say, while this group of gilded sectarians leave mounds of corpses in their political gaming around the world, their main business is -- what else? -- business:

[In their Family-paid junkets, members are] representing "Jesus plus nothing," as Doug Coe puts it, the "totalitarianism of God," in the words of an early Family leader, a vision that encompasses not just social issues but also the kind of free-market fundamentalism that is the real object of devotion for Ensign, Coburn, Pickering, Wamp and Sanford, along with Family insiders such as Sens. DeMint, Sam Brownback and Chuck Grassley. At the heart of the Family's spiritual advice for its proxies in Congress is the conviction that the market's invisible hand represents the guidance of God, and that God wants his "new chosen" to look out for one another.


As we all know, one of the most dangerous creatures on earth is the bullshitter who believes his own bullshit. There is absolutely no doubt that Adolf Hitler went to his death thinking he was a swell guy, a worthy, righteous man more sinned against than sinning. The self-absolution -- and self-hypnosis -- of fanatical certitude is a deadly toxin; not just for the individual, but for the world. We see the fruits of Family-style fundamentalism all around us today, in the blood-soaked ruin of the Terror Wars, in the collapse of communities, families, individuals -- and the world economy -- from the rapine of "godly" market extremism, even down to the rise in teen pregnancies and sexual disease, which are, of course, most prevalent and growing in the very areas dominated by the Dominationists' wilfully ignorant, sexually obsessed sectarianism, as the Guardian reports. These are real lives, of real people, blighted -- or blotted out -- by the divinely-robed barbarism of their leaders.

What the elites reserve for themselves -- security, assistance, wealth, power, personal license -- they deny to others. Indeed, this denial is essential to their identity as the "chosen;" if others have what they have, how can they be exalted, set apart, special? Thus they must be implacable enemies of the very idea of the common good -- at home, abroad, at every level of life. It is, at its heart, a sinister vision of life -- yet it has become the unspoken, unquestioned ruling assumption underlying our society today.

 
Hostile Takeover: Holy Warriors Peddle New 'Protocols,' Seek Military Dominion
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 20 July 2009 16:33

A remarkable story in Haaretz (via Antiwar.com) reveals that Orthodox Jewish extremists in the United States have, with the help of radical sectarians in Israel, distributed booklets to Israeli soldiers and officers claiming that the Vatican is organizing "tours of Auschwitz for Hezbollah members to teach them how to wipe out Jews."

As Haaretz notes, the booklets -- published by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America -- has been given to Israeli soldiers "for months." The booklet is purportedly written by a former Hezbollah insider who converted to Judaism. He writes of Pope Benedict XVI's personal direction of a wide-ranging program among "European elites" to train Hezbollah cadres in genocide, while also paying huge fees to journalists, academics and politicians who are critical of Israeli policies. What's more, the booklet asserts that Israeli critics of government policy are also funded by the Vatican-led effort to exterminate Jews. "Every real Arab, deep inside, is kind of a fan of the Nazis," the purported author declares.

The American extremists used the chief rabbi of Safed, Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu, to distribute the tracts to Israeli soldiers. Eliahu's spokesman, David Menahemov, defended the booklet -- which in its deranged orgasm of paranoid fear and racial hatred rivals the infamous "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," the Tsarist police concoction (taken from a 1864 satirical novel about French tyrant Louis Napoleon) about a Jewish conspiracy to rule the world. The Protocols were given worldwide prominence in the 20th century by Henry Ford and Adolf Hitler, then got a new boost in the 21st century by America's staunch allies (and Israel's silent partner in Middle East power-gaming), the Saudi royals, who produced a 30-part TV miniseries based on the Protocols in 2001.

[Iranian TV, of course, recently produced a wildly popular TV mini-series depicting an Iranian diplomat in Paris trying to save Jews from the Holocaust. But it is the Iranians who are depicted as maniacal, monolithic anti-Semites, not the Saudis. One might also note here that the West's new favorite Palestinian, Mahmoud Abbas -- the sort-of president of the Palestinian Authority whose term expired months ago but who still somehow remains in office with America and Israel's full backing  -- wrote a doctoral thesis declaring that the Holocaust was "a Zionist fantasy," a "fantastic lie", and that the "few hundred thousand" Jews who did die at Nazi hands were only killed because "Zionist" fanatics provoked the Germans: "The Zionist movement led a broad campaign of incitement against the Jews living under Nazi rule to arouse the government's hatred of them." But Abbas is a useful tool of Israeli domination, so his genuinely horrific revisionism is whitewashed, while outrageous falsehoods -- like a Vatican-Hezbollah genocide plan -- are used to stoke the hatred of soldiers sent to wage war on civilians in Gaza. Funny old world, ain't it?]

Like the defenders of the repeatedly and thoroughly debunked Protocols, Menahemov declared every word of the new hate booklet was true, and that the author is a real person. "I know the guy personally," he told Haaretz. "He's an Arab, who even though he converted still acts like an Arab." Still "acts like an Arab," does he? What, he swings from trees, grubs for roots, crawls on his belly like a reptile? No racism there then.

Israeli military brass say that although they had distributed the booklet "in good faith," they have since been "alerted to the sensitivity" of the document and stopped passing it out to their soldiers. (Didn't anyone read it before approving its distribution?) But of course the tract is still out there -- and the damage has already been done. As Haaretz notes:

"The book is distributed regularly and everyone reads it and believes it," said one soldier. "It's filled with made-up details but is presented as a true story. A whole company of soldiers, adults, told me: 'Read this and you'll understand who the Arabs are.'"


The savagery of the Israeli assault on Gaza becomes clearer all the time. The American-made booklet was just one part of a wide campaign among radical extremists to incite implacable hatred among the attacking forces -- much like American soldiers going into Iraq in 2003 were encouraged to believe that the act of aggression was "payback for 9/11" against those "who attacked our country."

II.
The Orthodox Union's new 'Protocols of the Elders of Palestine' is also part and parcel of a more widespread phenomenon: the attempted takeover of secular military forces by religious extremists. Like the general rise of militant, wilfully ignorant fundamentalism that swept several world religions -- Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism -- over the past few decades, the "holy warrior" movement crosses sectarian boundaries. It is not only rife in Israel, but is growing more and more powerful in the American military as well. This is outlined in stark and disturbing detail in Jeff Sharlet's report in Harper's earlier this year, "Jesus Kills Mohammed" -- taken from a logo painted on the front of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle by a group of Christian soldiers who, gung-ho with viewings of Mel Gibson's torture-porn, "The Passion," conducted scattershot armed raids through civilian areas in Baghdad. As Sharlet reports on the "small but powerful movement of Christian soldiers concentrated in the officer corps":

What men such as these have fomented is a quiet coup within the armed forces: not of generals encroaching on civilian rule but of religious authority displacing the military’s once staunchly secular code. Not a conspiracy but a cultural transformation, achieved gradually through promotions and prayer meetings, with personal faith replacing protocol according to the best intentions of commanders who conflate God with country. They see themselves not as subversives but as spiritual warriors—“ambassadors for Christ in uniform,” according to Officers’ Christian Fellowship; “government paid missionaries,” according to Campus Crusade’s Military Ministry.

...Within the fundamentalist front in the officer corps, the best organized group is Officers’ Christian Fellowship, with 15,000 members active at 80 percent of military bases... [An] OCF Bible study, “Mission Accomplished,” warns that victory abroad does not mean the war is won at home. “If Satan cannot succeed with threats from the outside, he will seek to destroy from within,” asserts the study, a reference to “fellow countrymen” both in biblical times and today who practice “spiritual adultery.” “Mission Accomplished” takes as its text Nehemiah 1–6, the story of the “wallbuilder” who rebuilt the fortifications around Jerusalem. An outsider might misinterpret the wall metaphor as a sign of respect for separation of church and state, but in contemporary fundamentalist thinking the story stands for just the opposite: a wall within which church and state are one. “With the wall completed the people could live an integrated life,” the study argues. “God was to be Lord of all or not Lord at all.” So it is today, “Mission Accomplished” continues, proposing that before military Christians can complete their wall, they must bring this “Lord of all” to the entire armed forces. “We will need to press ahead obediently,” the study concludes, “not allowing the opposition, all of which is spearheaded by Satan, to keep us from the mission of reclaiming territory for Christ in the military.”


Sharlet notes that the works of Rick Warren, the beefy, suburban Christianist whom Obama picked to bless his inauguration, is featured heavily by the military sectarians. For example:

In March 2008, a chaplain at Lakenheath, a U.S. Air Force–operated base in England, used a mandatory suicide-prevention assembly under Lieutenant General Rod Bishop as an opportunity to promote the principles of The Purpose-Driven Life to roughly 1,000 airmen. In a PowerPoint diagram depicting two family trees, the chaplain contrasted the likely future of a non-religious family, characterized by “Hopelessness” and “Death,” and that of a religious one. The secular family will, according to the diagram, spawn 300 convicts, 190 prostitutes, and 680 alcoholics. Purpose-driven breeding, meanwhile, will result in at least 430 ministers, seven congressmen, and one vice-president.


Sharlet ends with a chilling vignette of the fundamentalist (Christian, Jewish, Muslim) mindset in action -- a conversation he had with an Air Force cadet:

What if he was ordered to bomb a building in which terrorists were hiding, even though there were civilians in the way?

He shook his head. “Who are you to question why God builds up nations just to destroy them, so that those who are in grace can see that they’re in grace?” A smile lit up half his face, an expression that might be taken for sarcastic if Hrabak wasn’t a man committed to being in earnest at all times. What he’d just said—a paraphrase from Romans—might be something like a Word of Knowledge, a gift of wisdom from God. It blew his mind so much he had to repeat it, his voice picking up a speed and enthusiasm that bordered on joy. “He”—the Lord—“builds up an entire nation”—Iraq or Vietnam, Afghanistan or Pakistan, who are you to question why?—“just to destroy them! To show somebody else”—America, a young man guided to college by God, distrustful of his own choices—“that they’re in grace.”


In this, the cadet was echoing one of his comrades quoted earlier:

“How,” he asked, “in the midst of pulling a trigger and watching somebody die, in that instant are you going to be confident that that’s something God told you to do?” His answer was stark. “In this world, there are forces of good and evil. There’s angels and there’s demons, you know? And Satan hates what’s holy.”


The armies of the world are being filled up with soldiers -- and even more so, with officers -- on fire with the deranged certitudes of violent fundamentalism. Their enemies -- both heathenish foreigners and the "spiritual terrorists" among their own ranks, their own families and fellow citizens -- are agents of absolute evil. And there is no such thing as "collateral damage," no killing of innocents in their holy war -- for God Himself has targeted them for destruction, just to prove how righteous His warriors are.

Of course, militarism is itself a virulent cult; without any need for divine sanction, a vast war machine will seek to follow the logic of its construction and do what it was created for: make war. It takes a tremendous -- and ever-failing -- effort to restrain the machine even under the best circumstances. Stoking it with religious extremists committed to blind obedience and violence in the name of God is an unbelievably dangerous and stupid thing to do; yet, as Sharlet and others make clear, the Pentagon's top brass -- including the generals appointed or "continued" by Obama, such as David Petraeus, are deliberately choosing this course, giving their implicit -- and sometimes explicit -- approval to the growth of fanaticism in the ranks. Why not? It's easier to fight wars of imperial domination with soldiers who, in their slavish, unthinking submission, identify their superiors' agenda with God's will.

But our cynical generals are meddling with a volatile material that they cannot control in the long run -- just as they and our security apparatchiks did in cultivating violent Islamic extremists to fight the West's secular agenda in Afghanistan. The "blowback" from the unholy marriage of militarism and militant fundamentalism is certain to bring forth monstrous fruit.

 
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