Empire Burlesque
Great Moments in the History of Beheading
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 25 August 2014 00:36

From T.J. Stiles’ Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War:

[Young Jesse and Frank James, riding with Jesse’s good friend, Archie Clement, under the command of the “bushwhacking” guerrilla leader, “Bloody” Bill Anderson. A fairly typical day for the band of irregulars as they moved back and forth across Missouri:]

“On October 17 (1864), the guerrillas stormed into the center of Carrollton, where the 160 men of the EMM garrison [local volunteer pro-Union militia] immediately surrendered. The guerrillas marched them toward the Missouri river, picking out a man to shoot here, another there, until half a dozen bodies marked the trail of the prisoners …. Later, they forced a German farmer to guide them west; when his knowledge ran out, Archie Clement shot him, sawed off his head, and placed it on the dead man’s chest, with his hands wrapped around it. Then they resumed their march.”

I hope to write more soon of this American folk hero and the milieu from which he emerged — a history which, as expertly mined by Stiles, has much to tell us: not only about the current turmoil in Jesse James’ home state of Missouri, but also about the nature of American politics in general.

Meanwhile, here’s a brief piece about Stiles’ book which I wrote some time ago: Insurgent Son: Jesse James and the Crucible of American Character.

 
The Base Court: Another Fortress Rising in America's Ring of Iron
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 03 July 2009 13:45
While President Obama circumnavigates the globe, talking loftily of peace and engagement with the peoples of the world -- in language largely cribbed from old George Bush speeches, but presented in a far more photogenic, plausive package -- this is the real face that the United States is showing to the world. Chalmers Johnson writes:

The U.S. Empire of Bases — at $102 billion a year already the world’s costliest military enterprise — just got a good deal more expensive. As a start, on May 27th, we learned that the State Department will build a new "embassy" in Islamabad, Pakistan, which at $736 million will be the second priciest ever constructed, only $4 million less, if cost overruns don’t occur, than the Vatican-City-sized one the Bush administration put up in Baghdad...

Whatever the costs turn out to be, they will not be included in our already bloated military budget, even though none of these structures is designed to be a true embassy — a place, that is, where local people come for visas and American officials represent the commercial and diplomatic interests of their country. Instead these so-called embassies will actually be walled compounds, akin to medieval fortresses, where American spies, soldiers, intelligence officials, and diplomats try to keep an eye on hostile populations in a region at war. One can predict with certainty that they will house a large contingent of Marines and include roof-top helicopter pads for quick get-aways.

Strangely enough, this bristling musculature of imperial dominance doesn't sit well with the locals in the "garrisoned lands" -- an apt phrase used by Tom Englehardt in introducing Chalmer's piece. Englehardt also points us to this Christian Science Monitor story:

In Pakistan, however, large parts of the population are hostile to the US presence in the region – despite receiving billions of dollars in aid from Washington since 2001 – and anti-American groups and politicians are likely to seize on the expanded diplomatic presence in Islamabad as evidence of American "imperial designs."

"This is a replay of Baghdad," said Khurshid Ahmad, a member of Pakistan's upper house of parliament for Jamaat-e-Islami, one of the country's two main religious political parties. "This [Islamabad embassy] is more [space] than they should need. It's for the micro and macro management of Pakistan, and using Pakistan for pushing the American agenda in Central Asia."

While one has very little sympathy for religious parties anywhere (just look at the murderous, sanctimonious gits of the Republican and Democratic parties, all of them -- Obama included -- oozing Heepish piety as they rob the poor and wage ceaseless war all over the world), in this case Mr Ahmad hits ye old nail on the head. "Micro and macro management" of the imperial satrapies are indeed the feverish obsessions of our Potomac poobahs -- especially in a world which they darkly suspect is rapidly slipping from their accustomed control.

Chalmers also makes the vitally important -- hence universally ignored -- point that the American power structure, whether led by Neanderthal conservatives or ultramodern "progressives," has no intention of giving up the global archipelago of military bases that are the physical footprint of the American imperium:

And what is being done about those military bases anyway — now close to 800 of them dotted across the globe in other people’s countries? Even as Congress and the Obama administration wrangle over the cost of bank bailouts, a new health plan, pollution controls, and other much needed domestic expenditures, no one suggests that closing some of these unpopular, expensive imperial enclaves might be a good way to save some money.

Instead, they are evidently about to become even more expensive. On June 23rd, we learned that Kyrgyzstan, the former Central Asian Soviet Republic which, back in February 2009, announced that it was going to kick the U.S. military out of Manas Air Base (used since 2001 as a staging area for the Afghan War), has been persuaded to let us stay. But here’s the catch: In return for doing us that favor, the annual rent Washington pays for use of the base will more than triple from $17.4 million to $60 million, with millions more to go into promised improvements in airport facilities and other financial sweeteners. All this because the Obama administration, having committed itself to a widening war in the region, is convinced it needs this base to store and trans-ship supplies to Afghanistan.

Chalmers believes that the ring of iron that the United States has wrapped around the world will ultimately be the unmaking of the empire:

I have a suggestion for other countries that are getting a bit weary of the American military presence on their soil: cash in now, before it’s too late. Either up the ante or tell the Americans to go home. I encourage this behavior because I’m convinced that the U.S. Empire of Bases will soon enough bankrupt our country, and so — on the analogy of a financial bubble or a pyramid scheme — if you’re an investor, it’s better to get your money out while you still can.

This is, of course, something that has occurred to the Chinese and other financiers of the American national debt. Only they’re cashing in quietly and slowly in order not to tank the dollar while they’re still holding onto such a bundle of them. Make no mistake, though: whether we’re being bled rapidly or slowly, we are bleeding; and hanging onto our military empire and all the bases that go with it will ultimately spell the end of the United States as we know it.

While Chalmers is undoubtedly one of the wise men of our day, I am not so sure about this final point. Oh, it's true that the empire of bases is further bankrupting our already bankrupt country. And it's an indisputable fact that the fever-dream of dominance and militarism has already spelled the end of the United States as we knew it (or as we once perceived and hoped it to be). Yet it is hard for me to believe that if push really comes to shove for our imperial managers, they will simply stand by and watch their power and privilege melt away with nothing more than a wistful sigh for passing glories. Especially with a unfathomably vast military arsenal -- including thousands of nation-devouring nuclear weapons -- at their command.

In such a case, I strongly doubt they will show the wisdom and courage that unaccountably appeared among the party hacks of the late Soviet leadership, who had the guts to look reality in the face and realize they could not maintain their own militarist empire without a cataclysm of murder and violence that would have put the whole world in peril. They did something almost unthinkable for a political class -- especially those which, like the Communists (and the Democrats and Republicans), see themselves as the righteous vanguard of a uniquely blessed system beyond question or reproach: they admitted defeat, they let go -- not only of the Eastern bloc nations they had controlled since World War II, but also core territories that Russia had governed for centuries, such as Belarus, Georgia and Ukraine. They risked an internal breakdown of epic proportions -- a fate which did indeed come to pass -- but they did not make war to save their empire. They withdrew their troops, and their political control, from country after country after country.

It is one of the most extraordinary episodes in world history. But it will almost certainly not be mentioned next week when Barack Obama visits Moscow -- where, as the proud head of a war machine that has killed a million innocent people in Iraq and is killing thousands in Afghanistan, as the stout defender and expander of the authoritarian power grabs of his White House predecessor and a staunch shield for torturers and other war criminals, he will scold the Russians for their lack of liberty and scanting of human rights. The vast sacrifices that the Russian people have made in the peaceful surrender of their empire -- the shattering of their society by the foolish adoption of Western "shock doctrine" economics and the Western-backed oligarchism of the bufoonish Yeltsin, all of which opened the door to the thuggish authoritarianism of the current Kremlin regime -- will once again go unremarked.

(Just as little was said a few weeks ago in the outpouring of official ceremonies marking the 65th annivesary of D-Day, where endless press paeans and political rhetoric hymned the "decisive" invasion, in which Allied forces faced 14 German divisions -- no mean feat, to be sure, and worthy of remembrance. But at the very same time, the Soviet armies were fighting 163 German divisions, rolling them back in a series of monumental battles that dwarfed the Normandy invasion, in a campaign that cost the lives of 20 million Russians and other Soviet peoples -- and was, by any measurement, the decisive factor in destroying Nazi power. But this too is largely ignored in American re-tellings of how "we" won the war.]

Perhaps -- when the last T-bills are called in, when the gigantic Ponzi scheme of the bailout scam runs out of suckers, when thousands of angry 'natives' are beseiging the walls of the Crusader fortresses the empire has raised in the midst of the "garrison lands," when the whole, sky-blackening hoard of imperial chickens comes home to roost -- perhaps the American elite of the day will rise to the moral level of late-20th century Soviet hacks, and let go. The history of America's bipartisan, multi-generational elite does not exactly inspire confidence in this regard, of course -- although stranger things have happened, I suppose, so it remains at least an outside chance. But I fear that when and if the Iron Ring comes down, it will not be "without great fall of blood."
 
Lean Cuisine: Counting Calories On the Checkpoint Diet
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Wednesday, 01 July 2009 14:14
Remember, no matter what the facts say, just keep repeating to yourself: This is not a ghetto. This is not a ghetto. This is not a ghetto....

A West Bank checkpoint managed by a private security company is not allowing Palestinians to pass through with large water bottles and some food items, Haaretz has learned....

The private security company Modi'in Ezrahi...stops Palestinian workers from passing through the checkpoint with the following items: Large bottles of frozen water, large bottles of soft drinks, home-cooked food, coffee, tea and the spice zaatar. The security company also dictates the quantity of items allowed: Five pitas, one container of hummus and canned tuna, one small bottle or can of beverage, one or two slices of cheese, a few spoonfuls of sugar, and 5 to 10 olives. Workers are also not allowed to carry cooking utensils and work tools.

MachsomWatch told Haaretz that Sunday, a 32-year-old construction worker from Tul Karm, who is employed in Hadera, was not allowed to carry his lunch bag through the checkpoint. The bag contained six pitas, 2 cans of cream cheese, one kilogram of sugar in a plastic bag, and a salad, also in a plastic bag.

The typical Palestinian laborer in Israel has a 12-hour workday, including travel time and checkpoint delays. Many leave home as early as 2 A.M. in order to wait in line at the checkpoint; tardiness to work often results in immediate dismissal. Workers return home around 5 P.M. The wait at the checkpoint can take one to two hours in each direction, if not longer.

The food quantities allowed by Modi'in Ezrahi do not meet the daily dietary needs of the workers, and they prefer not to buy food at the considerably more expensive Israeli stores.

Two cans of cream cheese? Two? And we're supposed to feel sorry for these people? My god, they're living in the lap of luxury, just like those chicken-gobbling freeloaders down in Gitmo. Well, this is why the West is losing out to the Islamofascists, isn't it? We've grown too soft, we just mollycoddle these people, we really do.
 
A World Choking in the Blood-Red Dust
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Thursday, 14 August 2014 11:41

Blood-Red Dust

"In the Age of Terror
In the Age of Steel
They won't let you keep
A scrap of what's real
In the deepest core
Of your secret heart
They'll find you out
And blow you apart...."

"Above the village
You can hear the drone
Its lizard-eye looking
At your family home
Did you make a wrong move?
Did you wear the wrong coat?
A flick of the wrist
And that's all she wrote...."

"You can trace a line
From the Blombos Caves
Where they carved the ochre
And they killed the slaves
They thought there were gods
In that blood-red dust
The same blind fear
Is pulsing in us..."



"Who will ease the city's ills?
Who will love honor more than evil's frills?
In the last dim battle
On the once-pure snow
The blood-red dust
Pours out of your soul..."

 

© Chris Floyd 2014

 
This Wheel’s On Fire: The Terror War’s Disastrous Course
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 22 July 2014 12:24

Below is my column from the latest print version of CounterPunch Magazine. It was written back on June 10, and published a bit later. Much water has gone under the bridge since then – much fire too – but as the piece is on a more general theme, I thought I’d go ahead and put it up.

***

The red wheel of the "War on Terror" –  which under the guiding hand of the Nobel prince of peace has mutated into a hydra-headed War on Everything and Everybody Everywhere All the Time – continues on its reckless, destructive way, bringing ruin to the present and sowing disaster for the future.

The Middle East, home of four the world's most volatile religions –  Islam, Judaism, Christianity and Petrochemical Extremism –  is now more unstable and violent than it has been for decades, perhaps centuries. American-led military interventions have laid waste to two societies –  Iraq and Libya – and spread violent extremism throughout the region, and deep into Africa. Washington, working closely with its beloved ally – the repressive, head-chopping, woman-hating propagator of retrograde religious extremism, Saudi Arabia – is now working relentlessly to turn Syria into a hellhole of ungovernable chaos dominated by warlords, like Somalia or Afghanistan.

At every single turn, without exception, the "War on Terror" and its successor have exacerbated the problems they are ostensibly designed to quell. The depredations of these morally insane (but immensely profitable) enterprises have radicalized multitudes of people across the world, destroying whole nations, blighting the future of generations, driving many to outrage and despair, prey to ideologies that promise revenge, retribution, a new beginning. Al Qaeda –  the supposed Great Satan of our Terror Warriors – is now far more powerful than ever. Once a handful of cranks controlling a few compounds in remote Afghanistan, al Qaeda-associated groups now control vast swathes of territory in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. The Pakistani Taliban, once restricted to distant border regions, now launches attacks in the urban heart of the country. Groups like Boko Haram feast on the weapons unleashed by the West's destruction of the Libyan state, and on the despair engendered by the corruption, repression and hopelessness imposed on Nigeria by Petrochemical Extremism. There are many more examples of this pernicious dynamic.

We are told this War on Everything is a war to defend "our values": democracy, liberty, tolerance, justice. Yet at every single turn, without exception, every single day, day in, day out, year after year, our Terror Warriors show the world that their "values" –  which they claim are "our" values, the values of Western civilization – bring nothing but death, grief, corruption, repression, extremism, injustice. To those on the receiving end of the Terror War –  and we're talking of millions upon millions of people – "Western civilization" has become a thing of dread and loathing, a crazed predator who mouths pieties and prayers while he burns down your house and kills your children. Nothing has subverted and denigrated the image of "Western values" more than the bipartisan Terror War. It is itself the greatest sustained attack on "Western values," on "our way of life," that we have seen in generations.

And this is true not only in regard to the image of Western values that the Terror War has shown to the world, but also in the way that it has been brought home against the West's own populations, especially in the United States and Britain. It is an indisputable fact that Americans and Britons are less free than before, to a marked degree: more heavily policed in what they say and do, in what they can publish and read, where they can go and can’t go; subjected to a level of pervasive, invasive surveillance far beyond the dreams of the KGB or Gestapo; subject to arbitrary detention – or even, at the President's order, extrajudicial assassination, if accused in secret of some nebulous connection to terrorism. The physical and social infrastructure of their societies are crumbling, as massive resources are redirected to sustain the gargantuan military/security apparatus and "project dominance" around the world. (And of course, another aim of this unprecedented redistribution is to starve the welfare state in order to feed the rich, whose wealth grows ever greater in a system sustained by Terror War, thus ensuring their support for its continuance.)

Far from "draining the swamp" of extremist-spawning elements, the continual interventions and drone strikes and death squads and subversions of the West’s Terror War have toxified the "swamp" beyond all measuring. Whole generations are now being raised in these conditions of howling chaos, of death and ruin and rejection and despair, with violent extremism on all sides, teaching them every day that this is the way of the world, this is the only way of the world. As Hamlet said: it is not nor it cannot come to good.

Yet still the wheel rolls on – toward ever greater dangers. For the War on Everything and Everyone is just that; it’s not restricted to the Middle East, or to Africa, or to wherever Muslims dwell. Under the wise guidance of the Nobel-belaurelled One in the White House, the Red Wheel is now “pivoting” toward Asia, trying ever more frantically to thwart the threat to Western dominance posed by the rise of China. It’s “pivoting” toward the underbelly of Russia, and pressing Western military power right up to the Russian frontier. Western elites are playing with Promethean fire – and have demonstrated, over and over again, that they have no vision, no restraint, no thought for the consequences of their actions.

We have seen unbearable horrors so far; but we may yet see horrors beyond description, beyond all imagining.

 
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