In the course of a massive clean-out the other day, I came upon a box of overstuffed folders and musty papers — copies of some of the first pieces I’d ever had published, going back 35 years. For almost two decades they’d lain unseen in the bottom of an old trunk in my parents’ basement, stored there during one of the several peripatetic upheavals that punctuated my early adulthood. Then a freak flood hit the town, and most of the papers were damaged beyond rescue, fused into bundles that couldn’t be prised apart without crumbling into pieces.
Only one small box made it through; it had been sitting on top of a cache of love letters and other tender memorabilia destroyed by the water. This survivor I duly carted back across the ocean, to my home in England, where my peripateticism had come to an end. There it was promptly relegated to a new dark corner, to molder and yellow for several years more — until last week’s day of cleaning.
Naturally, I took the opportunity to let nostalgia draw me away from my chores, and spent an hour or so leafing through the articles. But beyond the bemusement at my early style (an odd mix of hellfire preacher and Gore Vidal manqué), I was most struck by the grim continuity between then and now. The same themes, and in many cases virtually the same content, sounded over and over, like “an echo from the future,” as Pasternak put it. With only a slight shifting of names, those yellowed pieces of political commentary could have been written in our era.
It’s all there: illegal wars based on lies; escalating inequality and militarization; the growing lawlessness of the elite; the radicalization of the Right by theocrats and corporate Birchers; the anemia of a "Left" sinking into accommodation and careerism; the manufactured hysteria over "terrorism" to justify the unchecked expansion of state power; the ineradicable racism; and the sinister embrace of "American exceptionalism" to hide the hollowness of a society in deep moral and physical decay, rotting under the sway of neoliberal extremism, letting its communities and infrastructure collapse, scorning the very idea of a “common good.”
Even some of the names were the same. In the clips there were rants against a feckless warmonger named Bush, against sell-outs to empire and Big Money by Democratic pols named Clinton and Kerry. There were howls of disbelief as the nation was hustled into a baseless war in, yes, Iraq, attacking an “evil power” which had once been used as a convenient tool to advance Washington’s agenda but had gone off the reservation and was suddenly transformed into an existential threat to civilization, its long-ignored and oft-excused atrocities brandished like a bloody shirt to justify war (and war profiteering). This was in 1991; we saw the same scenario played out in 2003 — and once again this year, in the new war against the new “existential threat” of ISIS.
In fact, perhaps the best, most succinct piece of political writing I’ve ever done concerned that 1991 war crime, the invasion of Iraq on behalf of the Bush Senior’s old business partners, the Kuwaiti royals. Oddly enough, it was not a column in this case but a letter to the editor, published in that well-known bastion of radicalism — Knoxville, Tennessee. It read, in its entirety:
“Concerning the war, and all the noble-sounding reasons adduced for it, and brutal sentimentality of the propaganda and ‘reportage’ surrounding it, I can say only this: I think we are living in a world of lies — lies that don’t even know they are lies, because they are the children and grandchildren of lies.”
In some ways, that is the sum total of what I’ve been writing all these years, not just about war but other issues as well. There is a despair in it; a despair of ever being able to speak a simple word of truth and make it heard through the lies that have been heaped on our heads — and bred into our bones — since the day we were born. Especially if, as in my case, you were not preaching to the choir but writing for a general audience, hoping to make a difference, hoping to – in the now-discarded and derided parlance of old – raise consciousness. It was almost impossible to speak of the reality of any given situation without having to fill in whole volumes of history which our masters and their media scribes had rigorously suppressed. Most readers literally had no idea what you were talking about, they had no context for processing the information.
Things are worse today, of course. The rise of Fox News, Bush Junior’s war crimes, Barack Obama’s disastrous entrenchment and expansion of the Permanent War State, the now-total takeover of society by the 1-Percenter Kleptocracy, the utter degradation of the national ‘debate’ and democracy itself: the past's rough beasts have grown gargantuan, the lies are higher and wider, the rot is deeper. But in another sense, nothing had changed; and certainly, despite expending millions of furious words, I had changed nothing, nothing at all.
I sat there with the yellowed papers, my meager share of the “fragments shored against our ruins,” all that was left after the love letters were gone. And I thought of a song I heard an old man sing on a London stage last winter: "So much for tears -- so much for those long and wasted years."
Sorry that service continues to be interrupted, but the problems are being worked on, and I hope we will be able to be less intermittent in transmission soon.
As we have noted before, if you find the site down for a long period of time, you might check out our former stomping grounds, now known as Empire Burlesque 1.0. If I have some burning word to say to the world but this site is down, I will post at the old homeplace.
Meanwhile, here's a glimpse of a man who sure enough has a burning word to say to the world -- and enough fire to keep saying it with power and moxie even in the lengthening shadows.
Shame on your greed, shame on your wicked schemes
I'll say this, I don't give a damn about your dreams
You want to climb to the top of this seething pit,
You got to walk and talk real nice.
But the secret price of power here is
Yesterday we wrote about the sudden-onset amnesia of our media-political class concerning the officially confirmed operations of American death squads. As we noted, official Washington is in a minor flutter at the moment over reports that Dick Cheney ordered and then concealed the existence of a planned program of targeted assassinations -- a program which was supposedly never implemented and was then supposedly cancelled by Obama CIA chief Leon Panetta. We merely pointed out the well-known fact -- supported by copious reportage in mainstream journals in the past eight years, not to mention proud public admissions by top government officials, including the president -- that the CIA (and other agents of the United States government) had indeed been murdering people in "extrajudicial assassinations" throughout the Bush Administration.
I concentrated on state murder during the Bush years because that is the ostensible focus of the current, manufactured controversy over the alleged existence of one allegedly non-operational program. However, as Jeremy Scahill points out, the Bush-Cheney murder racket was not created ex nihilo, but was a continuation and refinement of murder programs initiated by Bill Clinton. Scahill also makes the pertinent observation that "extrajudicial assassination" -- known quaintly in the old days as murder most foul -- is continuing unabated under Barack Obama.
The deep-dyed complicity of Democratic leaders, executive and congressional, in official murder sprees is the main reason we will never see a genuine investigation of America's death squads, as Scahill points out. Imperial crime is thoroughly bipartisan; neither faction dares push too far in such matters, because both are smeared and caked with blood.
Scahill's piece should be read in its entirety, but here are a few choice bits:
The fact is that many of Bush’s worst policies (now being highlighted by leading Democrats) were based in some form or another in a Clinton-initiated policy or were supported by the Democrats in Congress with their votes. To name a few: the USA PATRIOT Act, the invasion of Iraq, the attack against Afghanistan, the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, the widespread use of mercenaries and other private contractors in US war zones and warrant-less wire-tapping...
As [the Democrats now pretending to be scandalized by the recent Cheney allegations] well know, President Obama has continued the Bush targeted assassination program using weaponized drones and special forces teams hunting "high value targets." As former CIA Counter-terrorism chief Vincent Cannistraro and others have pointed out, "The CIA runs drones and targets al-Qaeda safe houses all the time." Cannistraro told Talking Points Memo that there is no important difference between those kinds of attacks and "assassinations" with a gun or a knife.
...It is pretty clear that when the Bush administration took over, it picked up the Clinton administration’s policy on assassination and ran with it — albeit with more of a missionary zeal for killing and a removal of some of the layers of lawyering. In short, the Bush team expanded and streamlined the longstanding U.S. government assassination program.
Throughout the 1990s, the question of covert assassinations was a source of major discussion within the Clinton White House and it is clear assassinations were attempted with presidential approval. Newsweek magazine reported on how, in 1995, U.S. Special Forces facilitated the assassination of a Libyan "terrorist" in Bosnia, saying, "American authorities justified the assassination under a little-known 1993 ‘lethal finding’ signed by President Bill Clinton that gave permission to target terrorists." A former senior Clinton official speaking shortly after 9/11 called on the Bush administration not to escalate the U.S. assassination program, saying "We have a war on drugs, too, but we don’t kill drug lords." But then, with no apparent sense of contradiction, the official added, "we have proxies who do."
...The truth is, under Clinton, it wasn’t just proxies authorized to do the assassinations. ... Clinton did authorize what amounted to assassination squads to hunt down and kill bin Laden and other "al-Qaeda leaders." That happened officially in 1998 with Clinton’s signing of a Memorandum of Notification authorizing the CIA to carry out covert assassinations. George W. Bush was not the president and Dick Cheney was not the vice president. Of course, current CIA Director Leon Panetta was Clinton’s chief of staff from 1994 to 1997 and would have been party to years worth of discussion on this issue when Clinton was president. Under Clinton, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel issued secret rulings stating that the Ford/Reagan ban on assassinations did not apply to "military targets" or "to attacks carried out in preemptive self-defense," according to Steve Coll, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of Ghost Wars.
Shortly after 9/11, Clinton stated this position publicly, supporting the Bush administration’s "war on terror" targeted assassination policy, saying on NBC News, "The ban that was put in effect under President Ford only applies to heads of state. It doesn’t apply to terrorists." That is a stunning statement that is a true legal stretch given the explicit language of the ban. Moreover, Clinton did, in fact, try to kill a head of state on April 22, 1999, when he ordered a NATO airstrike on the home of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Clinton and Gen. Wesley Clark also authorized an assassination attempt on Serbian Information Minister, Aleksander Vucic, bombing Radio Television Serbia when Vucic was scheduled to appear via satellite on CNN’s "Larry King Live." Vucic was not killed, but 16 media workers were.
Clinton also publicly acknowledged his own administration’s attempt to assassinate bin Laden. "I worked hard to try to kill him," Clinton said. "I authorized a finding for the CIA to kill him. We contracted with people to kill him. I got closer to killing him than anybody has gotten since." Clinton’s National Security Advisor Sandy Berger said after Clinton issued his 1998 "lethal finding," U.S. operatives worked with Afghan rebels for two years in an attempt to kill bin Laden. "There were a few points when the pulse quickened, when we thought we were close," Berger later recalled. Among the alleged attempts on bin Laden’s life taken by Clinton was the 1998 bombing of Afghanistan (which was coupled with a massive strike on the Al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan).
As Coll observed of the Clinton policy: "Clinton had demonstrated his willingness to kill bin Laden, without any pretense of seeking his arrest."
Scahill has much more on the macabre history -- and the reeking hypocrisy -- behind the current "controversy.
Circumstances have prevented me from digging into the new Mark Ames article on the Omidyariazation of Ukrainian politics as I intended, so let me just point you to it again, with a few choice excerpts (see the original for copious links):
Ukraine just held its first post-revolution parliamentary elections, and amid all of the oligarchs, EU enthusiasts, neo-Nazis, nepotism babies, and death squad commanders, there is one newly-elected parliamentarian’s name that stands out for her connection to Silicon Valley: Svitlana Zalishchuk, from the billionaire president’s Poroshenko Bloc party.
Zalishchuk was given a choice spot on the president’s party list, at number 18, ensuring her a seat in the new Rada. And she owes her rise to power to another oligarch besides Ukraine’s president — Pierre Omidyar, whose funding with USAID helped topple the previous government. Zalishchuk’s pro-Maidan revolution outfits were directly funded by Omidyar.
Earlier this year, Pando exposed how eBay billionaire and Intercept publisher Pierre Omidyar co-funded with USAID Zalishchuk’s web of nongovernmental organizations — New Citizen, Chesno, Center UA. According to the Financial Times, New Citizen, which received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Omidyar, “played a big role in getting the [Maidan] protest up and running” in November 2013. Omidyar Network’s website features Zalishchuk’s photograph on its page describing its investment in New Citizen. …
The president’s party tasked Zalushchik with publicly selling the highly controversial new “lustration law” — essentially a legalized witch-hunt law first proposed by the neo-fascist Svoboda Party earlier this year, and subsequently denounced by Ukraine’s prosecutor general and by Human Rights Watch, which described a draft of the law as “arbitrary and overly broad and fail(s) to respect human rights principles,” warning it “may set the stage for unlawful mass arbitrary political exclusion.”
The lustration law was passed under a wave of neo-Nazi violence, in which members of parliament and others set to be targeted for purges were forcibly thrown into trash dumps.
…Shortly before the elections, on October 17, Zalishchuk used her Omidyar-funded outfit, “Chesno,” to organize a roundtable with leaders of pro-EU and neo-fascist parties. It was called “Parliament for Reform” and it brought together leaders from eight parties, including Zalishchuk’s “Poroshenko Bloc” (she served as both NGO organizer and as pro-Poroshenko party candidate), the prime minister’s “People’s Party” and leaders from two unabashedly neo-Nazi parties: Svoboda, and the Radical Party of Oleh Lyashko, who was denounced by Amnesty International for posting YouTube videos of himself interrogating naked and hooded pro-Russian separatist prisoners. Lyashko’s campaign posters featured him impaling a caricatured Jewish oligarch on a Ukrainian trident.
Meanwhile, Zalishchuk’s boss, President Petro Poroshenko, has led a bloody war against pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country that left at least 3700 dead in a half year of fighting. Human Rights Watch recently accused Poroshenko’s forces of “indiscriminate” use of cluster bombs in heavily populated areas, that “may amount to war crimes.” Poroshenko’s forces include neo-Nazi death squads like the notorious Azov battalion.
Last month, Poroshenko further cemented his ties to the extreme right by hailing Ukraine’s wartime Nazi collaborators, the violently anti-Semitic UPA, as “heroes.” The fascist UPA participated in the Holocaust, and were responsible for killing tens of thousands of Jews and ethnic Poles in their bid to create an ethnically pure Ukraine. Many UPA members filled the ranks of the Nazi SS “Galicia” Division. The neo-Nazi Right Sektor, which spearheaded the violent later stages of the Maidan revolution, sees itself as the UPA’s contemporary successors…
This latest twist in Omidyar Network’s murky, contradictory or two-faced roles raises more disturbing questions about what the tech billionaire is up to. On the one hand, Omidyar plays the “adversarial” watchdog of the US National Security State, having privatized Snowden’s NSA files, the largest national security secrets leak in history, for his startup publication The Intercept with Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, the only two people entrusted with the complete Snowden cache.
On the other hand, Omidyar and his wife have been among the most frequent visitors to the Obama White House, intermingling with members of his National Security Council and State Deptartment. Meanwhile, in just the past year Omidyar Network has co-funded Ukraine revolution groups in Ukraine with the US government, and directly financed far-right, pro-business political actors in both Ukraine and in India, where a former top figure in Omidyar Network, Jayant Sinha now serves in the ultranationalist BJP Party and as close advisor to its controversial far-right leader, Narendra Modi.
Meanwhile, Tarzie offers a scathing analysis of the New York magazine article about the bizarre billionaire who has effectively bought off -- and disarmed -- mainstream dissident journalism with his money.
II. One of the more important points that Ames has revealed in Omidyar's background -- a background that none of the "fiercely independent" dissident journalists who went to work for him, like Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill and the now outcast Matt Taibbi, bothered to check -- was his role as a prime mover in the monetization of philanthropy. Over the past decades, the whole world has been subjugated by the extremist doctrine of neoliberalism -- essentially, the monetization of every aspect of public and private life, turning every element of human reality into a source of profit for a very small, powerful elite.
Omidyar has been in the vanguard of this movement, as Ames reported, an article which we explored here: Omidyar and the Oligarch’s Code: Enabling Extremism, Monetizing Dissent. Ames alerts us to the ways that Omidyar's partnerships with foreign oligarchs have led not only to despoliation and destitution of those they are purporting to help, but also to mass suicides by people driven to the limits of desperation by our gilded, lauded philanthropists-for-profit.
Such horrific hijinks are not limited to Omidyar, of course. The Guardian reports today on how the world's most celebrated philanthropist, Bill Gates, has actually directed the vast majority of his 'philanthropy' not to the world regions ravaged for decades by colonialism and neoliberalism, but to -- surprise, surprise! -- the monied bosom of the West's richest powers. From the Guardian:
Most of the $3bn (£1.8bn) that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given to benefit hungry people in the world’s poorest countries has been spent in the US, Britain and other rich countries, with only around 10% spent in Africa, new research suggests.
Analysis of grants made by the foundation shows that nearly half the money awarded over the past decade went to global agriculture research networks, as well as organisations including the World Bank and UN agencies, and groups that work in Africa to promote hi-tech farming.
Note that last sentence: money is being given to groups that "promote hi-tech farming." Imagine that: a techno-billionaire's philanthropy for the world's hungry is directed mainly at …. the development of profitable technology. This is very much in keeping with Omidyar's "philanthropic" support of "dissident journalism," which, as Greenwald himself has admitted, is now aimed not at content but at "products": "new technologies for delivering and consuming news."
The Guardian has more on the report on Gates' largess:
“The north-south divide is most shocking, however, when we look at the $669m given to non-government groups for agriculture work. Africa-based groups received just 4%. Over 75% went to organisations based in the US,” says the report.
“When we examined the foundation’s grants database, we were amazed that they seem to want to fight hunger in the south by giving money to organisations in the north. The bulk of its grants for agriculture are given to organisations in the US and Europe,” said agronomist Henk Hobbelink, a co-founder of Grain.
“It also appeared that they’re not listening to farmers, despite their claims. The overwhelming majority of its funding goes to hi-tech scientific outfits, not to supporting the solutions that the farmers themselves are developing on the ground. Africa’s farmers are cast as recipients, mere consumers of knowledge and technology from others.”
What? The poor being treated as mere fodder for the personal profit (and public PR-preening) of the super-rich? How can this be? This dastardly situation obviously calls for "fiercely independent" journalists of a dissident ilk, unswayed by the power of Big Money. Where could we find a passel of those paragons? Oh, that's right: working for super-rich oligarchs, the ones out there monetizing philanthropy and "managing democracy" to their liking.
A few random thoughts on the imbroglio over Matt Taibbi leaving the media stable of oligarch Pierre Omidyar -- and the remarkable response to this by the oligarch's remaining celebs, led by Glenn Greenwald.
1. The Intercept article on Taibbi's departure -- bylined under the names of Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Jeremy Scahill, and John Cook, but almost certainly written mostly by Greenwald -- is, at its core, a scurrilous piece of work. Purporting to be a boldly transparent piece -- it even (lightly) criticizes the Boss! -- it is instead, transparently, an attempt by the oligarch's organization to get its side of the story out first before the famously acerbic Taibbi makes any statement.
2. It is also a means for the authors to laud themselves as "fiercely independent journalists" (yes, Greenwald actually wrote that about himself) who, despite being radical bohemians who "view corporate cultures and management-speak with disdain," were able to heroically grapple with their employer and procure for themselves "a sizable budget, operational autonomy, and a team of talented journalists, editors, research specialists, and technologists working collaboratively and freely in the manner its founders always envisioned" … unlike that loser Taibbi, who obviously lacked their moxie and got slapped around by the Big Boss Man.
3. The poison shiv of the article is buried deep in the acres of Greenwald's ever-deadening slabs of prose (as well as deep in Taibbi's back): the accusation of sexist behavior on Taibbi's part when he was upbraiding one of his staff. To be sure, the Interceptors make great show of saying that an internal investigation of the charge found that his action did not rise "to the level of legal liability" (libel-dodging weasel-wording at its best!) -- and added, as an appendix, an encomium from another Omidyar stablemate as to Taibbi's good character and lack of sexism. But the damage was done, as was obviously intended. The quick takeaway of anyone wondering about the situation will be: "What happened with Taibbi and First Look?" "Well, he was facing some kind of sex abuse charge or something, wasn't he? Abusing the women there, threatening or yelling at them, something." "What an asshole. They were right to get rid of him." Or maybe just a quick headline in the NY Post or Drudge Report: "Taibbi Leaves First Look After Sexism Row."
4. Anyone who has ever known or worked with Taibbi -- as I did in Moscow years ago -- knows that he is indeed a combative, abrasive personality. The Interceptors point this out repeatedly, ostensibly in his defense, as if to say, "Well, Taibbi's volatile ways were a known quality, part of what made his work so powerful; no wonder he clashed with the corporate structure of the organization." But this too is actually a subtle defense of the Big Boss Man, carrying a counter-implication: "Look, everybody knows Taibbi is an angry jerk; no wonder the Boss had to come down hard on him."
5. I have no way of knowing how Taibbi behaved toward the staff he hired with the "multimillions" Omidyar gave him to play with. I certainly don't know if he made a sexist remark to a staffer or not. I do know that when he and Mark Ames (whose work, like Taibbi's, I've frequently referenced here) edited The eXile magazine in Moscow, it was filled with relentless misogyny -- visceral, juvenile, contemptuous, and often highly personal, especially when directed at Taibbi's female former colleagues at the Moscow Times. But that was a long time ago, and I assume that both writers have grown up a bit since then in regards to their attitude toward women. I've certainly seen nothing of that sneering contempt in any of their work since their eXile days. If there was some blow-up with a staffer at Omidyar's shop, involving harsh and abrasive language, I would imagine it was more general then gendered. But in his editorship of The eXile, Taibbi did indeed give many hostages to fortune in terms of defending himself against later charges of sexism.
6. That's why bringing up already investigated and apparently dismissed sexism charges is a doubly effective technique for the Inteceptors: the insinuation poisons Taibbi's present reputation, while his past makes it harder for him to defend himself. "You say you aren't sexist? What about all that shit in The Exile?"
7. That said, I know for a fact that Greenwald will tell lies -- knowing, demonstrable falsehoods -- to blacken a person's reputation when it suits him. I know because he did it to me, just a few months ago. In response to some criticism of his journalistic methods, Greenwald spewed out a very nasty, petty, personal smear -- an outright lie which he had to know was a lie when he wrote it. [See here for details.] He was willing to do this in order to discredit criticism from what, in his position, could only be considered the most marginal of sources. How much more might he do to defend the billionaire oligarch who has given him "a sizable budget, operational autonomy, and a team of talented journalists, editors, research specialists, and technologists" from a high-profile PR threat like the renegade Taibbi? In any case, when it comes to discussing matters such as Taibbi's behavior, Greenwald has zero credibility.
8. As others have pointed out, the Interceptors' article actually confirms many of the suspicions and criticisms that have been voiced about the oligarch's media operation from the beginning. Contrary to the Interceptors' insistent denials, Omidyar obviously has been deeply involved in the editorial operations of his "fiercely independent" hirelings, exerting control over personnel decisions, management -- even the petty cash, such as taxi receipts. And now we learn from Greenwald's latest slab that Omidyar is no longer interested in journalism at all, but in "products" -- "new technologies for delivering and consuming news." A techno-billionaire more concerned with enriching himself with more techno-product than forging a powerhouse of dissident journalism -- wow, who could have seen that coming? Anyone and everyone -- except, of course, for our leading dissident journalists.
9. In the end, this particular imbroglio is just a minor tempest in a celebrity teapot. There are more important -- and more sinister -- aspects to the oligarch's growing empire of profit-seeking political influence. Mark Ames (as it happens) has just published a very important article on Omidyar's continuing machinations in Ukraine and his continuing collusion with neo-fascists there and in India. I hope to take a closer look at his article and its implications soon. It certainly puts the Interceptors' proud association with the oligarch -- demonstrated by their hatchet job on Taibbi -- in a new, darker light.
10. As for Taibbi himself, I can say only this: You lie down with dogs, Matt, you get up with fleas. What the hell else did you think would happen?