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Night of the Hunter: Family Values in American Foreign Policy
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 16 May 2014 00:25

The only article I ever had published in The Nation involved the offspring of a powerful politician trading on his White House connections to advance his private fortune. The piece was written 12 years ago, as the Enron scandal was breaking. (And boy, doesn't that seem several centuries ago now, looking back over the vast flooded plains of blood and ruin that our bipartisan elites have bequeathed us since then.)

It was a short article, dealing with the key role that the accounting firm Arthur Andersen had played both in the unfolding Enron morass in 2002 and the murky political machinations that kept George W. Bush from facing charges over what appeared to be a fairly flagrant -- and highly profitable -- bout of insider trading in 1990. That was when yet another Bush business was bailed out -- yet again -- by sugar daddies currying favor with his sour daddy in the White House; in this case, Harken Energy. Bush became a company director and member of the audit committee -- then cashed out just weeks before Harken's stock took a deep dive.

The deal netted L'il Dub a cool $800,000+, while ordinary investors in the company took an acid bath. The hijinks were so blatant the SEC was forced to investigate but in the end declined to take "enforcement action" against the president's son. However, as I noted in the article, the SEC made a point of declaring that

this [decision] "must in no way be construed as indicating that the party has been exonerated or that no action may ultimately result from the staff's investigation." (Of course, this has never stopped Bush from claiming that he was "exonerated" by the SEC.)

All in all, the Harken caper was pretty small beer when viewed against the Bush Family's mammoth record of corruption, going back many decades, mixing politics and private profit with a cheerful amorality that easily encompassed mobsters, tyrants, gun-runners, drug dealers, religious extremists, spies and, yes, the Nazis.

I wrote a lot about this interesting history (as did others, most notably Robert Parry), and always found a ready audience on the left eager to see, rightly, the true face of American power -- sleazy, greasy, brutal, cold -- in the machinations of this clan of ruthless clowns. But I don’t think we will see an equal eagerness to pursue a very similar story that broke this week about the offspring of a powerful politician trading on his White House connections to advance his private fortunes. And unlike the Harken deal (although not dissimilar from many other Bush Family deals, including the one with German fascists), this particular piece of elite corruption could have — or is already having — deadly international consequences.

We speak, of course, of the news that the son of the US Vice President, and the stepson of the US Secretary of State, have been given lucrative positions with a Ukrainian energy firm whose future fortunes depend on the Kyiv coup regime’s control of western Ukraine — where  pro-Russian forces are in the ascendant. As Yahoo News reports:

In the span of a few weeks, an energy firm little-known inside the United States added two members to its board of directors — scoring connections to Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden in the bargain.

On April 22, Cyprus-based Burisma announced that financier Devon Archer had joined its board. Archer, who shared a room in college with Kerry’s stepson, Christopher Heinz, served as national finance co-chair for the former senator’s 2004 presidential campaign.

Then, on Monday, the firm announced that Biden’s younger son, R. Hunter Biden, would join the board of directors.

Why would the company, which bills itself as Ukraine’s largest private gas producer, need such powerful friends in Washington?

The answer might be the company’s holdings in Ukraine. They include, according to the firm’s website, permits to explore in the Dnieper-Donets Basin in the country’s eastern regions, home to an armed pro-Russian separatist movement. They also include permits to explore in the Azov-Kuban Basin of the strategic Crimean peninsula, annexed earlier this year by Moscow.

So: a Ukrainian energy firm with holdings in pro-Russian Ukraine has just hired the son of the US Vice President — who has been Washington’s point man in supporting the coup regime in Kyiv — to a prominent and no doubt well-remunerated position. At the same time, Washington has been fierce and forceful in its support for the Kyiv regime’s violent efforts to quell the kind of opposition in Western Ukraine that it employed to take power in the capital; i.e., occupation of public spaces with the support of armed militias, with support from foreign entities (the Kremlin in eastern Ukraine; Washington (and US oligarchs) in Kyiv).

America policy in Ukraine — securing control of eastern Ukraine by the Kyiv regime, and, if possible, the rollback of Russia’s annexation of the Crimea — has now become directly tied to the personal family fortunes of the American Vice President and Secretary of State. In what way is this remotely differently from the corruption of the Bush Family that once stuck so painfully in “progressive” craws? And yet, is it even remotely conceivable that we will see the same angry attention to this blatant baksheesh that we saw back in those Bush Regime days of yore?

UPDATE: It looks like L’il Hunter and Devon might be in high cotton. On Thursday night, the New York Times reports that Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man and once a major backer of Ukraine’s ousted pro-Russian president, Victor Yanukovich, has now thrown his support and his money behind the American-backed Kyiv regime. According to the Times (which of course doesn’t breathe a word of Akhmetov’s unsavoury past), Akhmetov has ordered “his” workers onto the streets of Mariupol, Donetsk and other eastern Ukrainian cities to reassert the control of the Kyiv government. The pro-Russian forces have “melted away,” even in Donetsk, ground zero of the resistance, and oligarchical control is being re-established.

Of course, Akhmetov has long-standing ties to John McCain and his rightwing network, so it’s not surprising to see him turning his ermine coat this way and that as the prevailing winds blow across Ukraine. The oligarchs are banding together on every side of the ostensible conflict — Ukranian, Russian, Republican, Democrat — and the fix, as always, as ever, is in.

So good luck, Hunter! I expect we’ll see you on a national ticket someday — maybe with Chelsea Clinton — running against one Bush or another, with Ukrainian oil money (suitably laundered) pouring into your campaign coffers — and into that future Bush campaign as well.

 
Potomac Fever: Sleepwalking to the Brink in Ukraine
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 13 May 2014 23:34

The events unfolding in Ukraine are extraordinary, and extraordinarily dangerous. They are made even more dangerous by the unending slagheap of lies and propaganda being used to shape the shifting, chaotic situation on the ground into a narrative that serves the narrow and ruthless agenda of the Potomac Empire and its factotums in the European elite.

I've written here previously of the growing ugliness of the Putin regime in Russia. But what we are seeing played out among the knowing liars of the Washington power structure and their willing executioners in the Western press has nothing to do with the Kremlin's depredations against the Russian people. Nor does it have anything to do with the freedom, security or aspirations of the Ukrainian people. As always, there is a single, overarching aim behind Washington's maneuvering: the expansion of American dominance and the aggrandizement of its ruling elite. This is the abiding, bipartisan, overriding concern of all policy emanating from the corrupted corridors of power in Washington, and it is glaringly evident in the debacle now convulsing Ukraine.

At every turn in the Western press, Putin is being portrayed as the usual maniacal monster bent on world conquest, pushing his agenda forward with ruthless determination and consummate skill. The Potomac elite never tire of this trope. They pretend it's an echo of Hitler, and seek to draw on the deep wells of trauma and fear still lurking in the global psyche from the unbearable horrors of the Second World War -- but in truth, it is actually the projection of their own obvious agenda. An never-ending series of stock villains are painted with a Hitler moustache and brandished before the people, like some perversion of Christian doctrine of resurrection: He is risen, he is coming again, he is coming for your soul! It is now Putin's turn in this monstrous minstrel show.

But of course Putin is clearly on the back foot in this crisis. Acts portrayed as aggressive are in fact defensive, even desperate, and come in response to more than 20 years of remorseless military expansion by the West to Russia's borders. Western elites have not been coy about their intentions to keep Russia weak and quiescent, or even to smash it altogether. William Blum quotes an apposite passage from the memoirs of that quintessential imperial courtier, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who ran the Washington war machine for both George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

[Gates writes:]  “When the Soviet Union was collapsing in late 1991, [Defense Secretary Dick Cheney] wanted to see the dismemberment not only of the Soviet Union and the Russian empire but of Russia itself, so it could never again be a threat to the rest of the world.”

As Blum goes on to note: "Soon thereafter, NATO began to surround Russia with military bases, missile sites, and NATO members, while yearning for perhaps the most important part needed to complete the circle – Ukraine."

This is not ancient history. It has played out in front of our eyes over the past two decades. Yet Russian remarks about Western aggression -- and the repeatedly broken promise not to push NATO to Russia's borders -- are treated as a sign of "madness," of wild, specious propaganda by the wily wheeler-dealers in the Kremlin. Again, this characterization is a projection of what is actually happening on the Western side: wild, specious propaganda to press forward an act of madness -- risking world war, even nuclear war, to feed the psychosexual power fantasies and bottomless financial greed of a tiny imperial elite.

Let's be clear about what has happened. A corrupt but legitimately elected government (a phrase that could describe almost every government in the West, and certainly the ones in Washington, London and Paris) was overthrown in an action that was to a large extent funded and manipulated by Washington. American officials have publicly admitted spending up to $5 billion -- with their private partners among US oligarchs -- to fund the political opposition in Ukraine. They took advantage of the legimiate grievances of Ukranians against a government infected by the same oligarchism and market extremism that rules in the West to foment what, in the end, was an armed uprising led by unabashed, unashamed neo-fascists. This remains a fact, it remains the truth, even if Vladimir Putin and the ugly revanchists in his political faction say it.

It is also the truth that the Ukrainian "government" installed by the West -- a government led by the very people American officials were caught, on tape, conspiring to install -- is now relying on unabashed neo-fascist "paramilitaries" to put down uprisings by pro-Russian groups that exactly mirror what happened in Kyiv: the occupation of government buildings and public squares, the appearance of armed factions, the refusal to accept the legitimacy of the Ukrainian government. Although in the case of the protestors in eastern Ukraine, the government they are protesting was not legitimately elected; it has not been elected at all.

These neo-fascist militias in the service of the Kyiv regime have now killed far more Ukrainians than died in the Maidan uprising. In fact, they have adopted a horrific technique -- setting fire to buildings occupied by protesters, then killing the survivors as they plea. The world focuses -- rightly -- on the plight of the kidnapped Nigerian girls, but here is a nearly equivalent barbarism which is ignored, or even justified, by Western media. And why? Because in Ukraine, it is our extremists, our violent, murderous Boko Haram, who are doing the killing. As Robert Parry reports:

In Ukraine, a grisly new strategy – bringing in neo-Nazi paramilitary forces to set fire to occupied buildings in the country’s rebellious southeast – appears to be emerging as a favored tactic as the coup-installed regime in Kiev seeks to put down resistance from ethnic Russians and other opponents.

The technique first emerged on May 2 in the port city of Odessa when pro-regime militants chased dissidents into the Trade Unions Building and then set it on fire. As some 40 or more ethnic Russians were burned alive or died of smoke inhalation, the crowd outside mocked them as red-and-black Colorado potato beetles, with the chant of “Burn, Colorado, burn.” Afterwards, reporters spotted graffiti on the building’s walls containing Swastika-like symbols and honoring the “Galician SS,” the Ukrainian adjunct to the German SS in World War II.

This tactic of torching an occupied building occurred again on May 9 in Mariupol, another port city, as neo-Nazi paramilitaries – organized now as the regime’s “National Guard” – were dispatched to a police station that had been seized by dissidents, possibly including police officers who rejected a new Kiev-appointed chief. Again, the deployment of the “National Guard” was followed by burning the building and killing a significant but still-undetermined number of people inside. (Early estimates of the dead range from seven to 20.)

In the U.S. press, Ukraine’s “National Guard” is usually described as a new force derived from the Maidan’s “self-defense” units that spearheaded the Feb. 22 revolt in Kiev overthrowing elected President Viktor Yanukovych. But the Maidan’s “self-defense” units were drawn primarily from well-organized bands of neo-Nazi extremists from western Ukraine who hurled firebombs at police and fired weapons as the anti-Yanukovych protests turned increasingly violent.

I've written previously of these neo-Nazi groups and their brazen celebration of Ukrainian collaborators with Nazi genocidists. [See more detail from Max Blumenthal here.] The Kyiv government installed by the machinations of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Barack Obama is the first European regime since World War II to contain openly fascist factions in its cabinet. Indeed, the fascists are in control of such key posts as the Interior Ministry. And the government of the United States -- along with its favored oligarchs, like Pierre Omidyar -- spent $5 billion to make this happen.

But as Parry notes, this is not exactly news. It is, as I said, the long-running, bipartisan policy of the American elite. Parry writes:

In Central American conflicts that I covered for the Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s, some of the “death squads” associated with pro-U.S. regimes were drawn from neo-fascist movements allied with the far-right World Anti-Communist League. In Afghanistan, the CIA relied on Islamist extremists, including Saudi jihadist Osama bin Laden, to kill Russians and their Afghan government allies. Today, in Syria, many of the most aggressive fighters against Bashar al-Assad’s government are Arab jihadists recruited from across the region and armed by Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf oil sheikdoms. So, it fits with a pattern for the U.S. government to hold its nose and rely on neo-Nazis from western Ukraine to take the fight to rebellious ethnic Russians in the east and south.

The key to all these unsavory alliances is for the American people not to know about the real nature of these U.S. clients. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration advanced the concept of “public diplomacy” to intimidate journalists and human rights activists who dared report on the brutality of U.S.-backed forces in El Salvador and Guatemala and the CIA-trained Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

Thus, most Americans weren’t sure what to make of recurring reports about right-wing “death squads” killing priests and nuns and committing other massacres across Central America. Regarding Afghanistan, it took the American people until Sept. 11, 2001, to fully comprehend whom the Reagan administration had been working with in the 1980s. Similarly, the Obama administration has tried to maintain the fiction that the Syrian opposition is dominated by well-meaning “moderates.” However, as the brutal civil war has ground on, it gradually has become apparent that the most effective anti-Assad fighters are the Sunni extremists allied with al-Qaeda and determined to kill Shiites, Alawites and Christians.

So, it should come as no surprise that the Kiev regime would turn to its Maidan “self-defense” forces – formed around neo-Nazi militias – to go into southern and eastern Ukraine with the purpose of burning to death ethnic Russian “insects” occupying buildings. The key is not to let the American people in on the secret.

"Public diplomacy" is alive and well today. (I would demur from one of Parry's assertions, however; I don't think the U.S. government has to "hold its nose" in relying on neo-Nazis in Ukraine -- or on al Qaeda in Syria. Our Potomac imperialists are quite simpatico with those who share their belief in violent extremism.) Indeed, with the intensifications of social media and the internet at large, it is more effective than ever. Think of the storyline painted so starkly just a couple of weeks ago: Putin was 'obviously' controlling the anti-Kyiv uprising in eastern Ukraine. He was a wily puppetmaster, deliberately fomenting provocations so that the moment violence erupted, he could march in with his Hitlerian army and occupy eastern Ukraine.

But what happened in reality? Even when dozens of pro-Russians were literally burned to death and murdered by fascists, Putin ... called for restraint. He called for the pro-Russian referendums in eastern Ukraine to be called off. He was ignored, because, although the pro-Russians are evidently getting some material aid from Russia, they are not under the Kremlin's control. As Tony Wood notes in the London Review of Books:

Western governments decried these movements as mere puppets of the Kremlin, lacking any genuine popular support in the region – an ironic mirror-image of the Kremlin’s own claims about the Maidan groups being Western stooges and neo-Nazis. It certainly seems likely that the forces who have taken control of parts of Donetsk and Lugansk provinces benefited from logistical support from members of the Russian security services, who presumably wouldn’t have been involved without the Kremlin’s say-so. But to assume from this that Moscow has total control over events there is to overlook the complex reality on the ground, which seems to involve an often bizarre mix of personnel – local citizens, many with Soviet army training; nationalist ‘volunteers’ from across the former USSR; taciturn, mysteriously well-equipped Russians. It’s also not at all clear that the interests of eastern Ukraine’s pro-Russian groups are aligned with those of Russia itself.

Again, it is clear that Putin is playing with a weak hand, trying to make the best of a bad situation, not controlling events from afar like a cackling Fu Manchu. Indeed, Wood speculates, not implausibly, that Putin would be glad to see the Kyiv regime quell, or at least defang the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine -- precisely because they are uncontrollable, and may lead to dangerous precedents. Wood notes the dark irony of the fact that the oligarch that the Kyiv regime appointed to govern the rebellious province of Donetsk is himself a crony of Putin:

... Putin’s decision to distance himself from the 11 May referendums has been interpreted in the West as cynical double-dealing, on the assumption that he could have stopped them with no more than a phone call. But this underestimates the degree to which the Donetsk and Lugansk uprisings represent a serious strategic problem for Putin ... [Rather than annex part of Ukraine,] it’s much more in Russia’s interests to keep it fragmented and semi-sovereign within its present borders. This would, for example, allow the sizeable Russian-speaking population to inflect electoral outcomes in directions favourable to Moscow, whereas absorbing that part of the electorate into Russia would involve losing all say in Ukraine’s political set-up. ... It's possible that Putin was actually telling the truth on 18 March when he said: ‘We do not want a partition of Ukraine, we do not need this.’ ...

One of the most striking features of the pro-Russian movements in eastern Ukraine, in fact, has been the institutional vacuum in which they have operated. In the absence of recognisable political parties that might channel their demands – but also defang them – the rough-and-ready methods of popular assemblies have taken hold; hence, too, the improvised character of the 11 May referendums. Whatever their level of support in Ukraine, these movements, combining nationalist appeals to Russian ethnicity and tradition with rebellious impulses to self-organisation, set an example Putin has no more desire to see emulated in Russia than he did the Maidan. This is another reason why he sought to distance himself from the referendums, and why he might prefer to see Turchynov crush the ‘people’s militias’ than see them succeed: they are not the natural allies, but the enemies of an oligarchic order whose local representative is the billionaire industrialist Serhiy Taruta, appointed governor of Donetsk by Kiev in early March, and whose Russian champion is Putin himself. It seems significant that, according to the mid-April poll by the Kiev International Sociology Institute, close to 40 per cent of respondents in Donetsk and a quarter of those in Lugansk favoured nationalisation of all property belonging to the country’s oligarchs.

The latter is another reason why Washington is backing Kyiv's burning and killing of protestors so assiduously. They certainly didn't go to all the trouble and expense of empowering a fascist-backed regime in Ukraine just to see oligarchs lose their property! Neither Washington nor Moscow want to see that kind of precedent being set.

And so the game goes on, teetering on a knife's edge. There is no doubt a limit to what Putin can accept before the imperatives of saving his own system, his own power, drive him to a stronger reaction in Ukraine -- perhaps even the invasion that the Potomac imperialists seem so eager to provoke. As for Washington and the EU, Wood notes that they've "got what they wanted – an unequivocally pro-Western government in Kiev – and [have] little reason to back down."

But as we learned 100 years ago, these power games and cynical calculations can spiral out of control, with catastrophic, world-shattering results. If we avoid the abyss this time -- an abyss now bristling with nuclear weapons -- it will be sheer luck; certainly we cannot count on the vapid, power-crazed poltroons of the Potomac to pull back from the brink.

 
Sweet Discontent: The Story of a Different World
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Thursday, 08 May 2014 22:29

Crossing the tripwires, counting up the sins, standing in the midnight breeze ...

 

 

 
Smoke and Mirrors: The Roots of Russian Revanchism
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Thursday, 01 May 2014 16:20

Here is my latest column in CounterPunch Magazine.

The Shock Doctrine vultures are coming home to roost. The intensifying crisis in Ukraine is one of the many malign, long-reverberating consequences of the West's decision to bludgeon Russia when it was reeling from the crack-up of the Soviet Union. Instead of giving the country breathing space, helping it find its way from the shattered socialist past toward its own new forms of civic life and economic organization, the West rushed to impose a brutal "market fundamentalism": the now-familiar horror show of "austerity," privatization, ruinous debt, plunging life expectancy, and rising infant mortality -- the pitiless devouring of the common good by crony capitalism.

This dish was served up by willing Russian stooges -- dazed patsies like Boris Yeltsin and the wild-eyed market zealots, converts to "Chicago School" economics, who filled his first government and tried, in the space of a few months, to transform a land that had never known capitalism (except in a few slivers of the economy, for a few decades, a century before) into the wet dream of Margaret Thatcher and Milton Friedman. The country was turned over to gangsters and hucksters, and to murky operators in the bowels of the security apparat. These were adherents of a different "Chicago School" -- the school of Al Capone.

I lived in Moscow when the Shock Doctrine was reaching its full fury. Murder was rampant: high-flying businessmen were gunned down on the steps of the metro, reporters investigating corruption were blown up in their newspaper offices. Used car salesmen became nation-straddling oligarchs; nuclear engineers and factory managers became drivers and janitors for Western-owned businesses. Ordinary people in threadbare clothes lined the streets and train stations, hawking their few private possessions and family mementos for ever-more worthless rubles. Homeless children -- the besprizorniki -- roamed the city, in packs or alone, abandoned, dirty, feral, scared. Drunks killed by rotgut turned up in the snow beneath gleaming billboards for Revlon and Marlboro. Casinos proliferated, while local bakeries and health clinics disappeared.

Meanwhile, in the Kremlin, the jihad of the market extremists raged on. With the encouragement of Western governments and the assistance of Western privateers and consultants, the government "auctioned" off a trillion dollars’ worth of public assets to oligarchs and insiders -- for $5 billion. Much of this money -- up to $350 billion from 1992-2001 -- was stripped from the country in capital flight and parked safely and profitably in Western financial firms. It was the greatest fire sale in human history.

The death toll of the first 10 years of "demokratsia" in Russia is astounding: an in-depth study published in the British Medical Journal found that "an extra 2.5 million to 3 million Russian adults died in middle age in the period 1992-2001 than would have been expected based on 1991 mortality rates." Up to 3 million unnecessary deaths -- as many as were killed in the Vietnam War.

It's no wonder that while I was there, in the mid-1990s, the general public had already come to regard "demokratsia" as a dirty word, synonymous with the endemic corruption, ruin and violence that the Western-backed elites had visited upon the country. This cynicism was confirmed by the election of 1996 -- my last hurrah in Moscow -- when a half-dead Yeltsin, supported vigorously by the West, miraculously overcame a 2 percent popularity rating to win "re-election." The price of this pyrrhic victory was the final surrender of the state to the oligarchs and security apparatchiks who, along with their American campaign operatives, had engineered the outcome. Flush with victory, they proceeded to push the country into yet another major crash in 1998, when life expectancy rates plummeted to the lowest levels since the famine years of the 1930s.

This is the rotten foundation upon which the increasingly ugly regime of Vladimir Putin is built. A culture, a country, a people savaged over and over through a century of unprecedented upheaval and violence were once again subjected to a firestorm of chaos that killed 3 million innocent people and left millions more stripped of hope, of opportunity, of meaning. Now Putin, who emerged from the dark nexus of power blocs that saved Yeltsin, fills this moonscape with empty symbols that play upon the fears and resentments of a battered people: hysterical nationalism, cartoon history, blustering machismo, fake religiosity, and "traditional values" more aligned with American Tea Party tropes than anything that has actually existed in Russian culture. He rails against the West but he rules a mirror image of it: a violent, militarized crony-capitalist pigsty that degrades and deceives its own people while directing their anger and confusion toward outsiders. In many ways, it's the American Cold Warriors’ dream come true: we have finally turned the Russians into us.

The conflict in Ukraine has many causes -- not least the meddling of American apparatchiks and oligarchs to engineer the overthrow of the elected government and destabilize the region. But if Western governments find themselves puzzled by the motives and moves of the Russian regime that now vexes them, they need only look in the mirror, and it will all become clear.

 
Mad Men: The Lunatic Fringe That Leads the West
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 29 April 2014 12:32

I had in mind to write about Tony Blair's remarkable regurgitation of bloodlust and bile last week. The former British PM managed to tear himself away from his consulting work for dictatorships and other lucrative sidelines long enough to make a "major speech" calling for -- guess what? -- even more military intervention in the endless, global "War on Terror." The fact that this war on terror -- which he did so much to exacerbate during his time in power, not least in his mass-murder partnership with George W. Bush in  Iraq -- has actually spawned more terror, and left the primary 'enemy,' al Qaeda and its related groups, more powerful than ever, has obviously escaped the great global visionary. No doubt his mad, messianic glare -- coupled with the dazzling glow of self-love -- makes it hard for the poor wretch to see reality.

Anyway, I was going to take up Blair's genuinely lunatic barrage at some point, but I find that Patrick Cockburn, as you might expect, has covered it well in a new piece, quoted below. The idiocy and irrationality of Blair's speech are obvious, but they bear scrutiny because, unfortunately, they represent the dominant strain of thinking among Western leaders. We are led by people whose vision of reality is every bit as insane as those who think a suicide belt will send them to paradise: leaders who believe that all human activity, across the entire globe, must be bent to their will, and to their advantage -- and that they have the right, the duty, to kill or ruin anyone who stands in the way of this pathological obsession.

I'm not speaking metaphorically. The behavior exhibited by Western leaders, especially since the launching of the Terror War -- and especially in the Anglo-American alliance -- would be regarded as criminally insane by any dispassionate diagnosis. This is seen in large matters -- such as the hundreds of thousands of innocent people slaughtered in their criminal aggression in Iraq -- and in small matters. For example, a story in the Guardian this week related how the courageous statesfolk in the U.S. Senate once again kowtowed to their masters in the National Security apparat, and removed a very mild requirement that the United States government issue an annual report telling us how many civilians it killed with its drone-assassination programs the previous year. No dice, said the security archons -- and the Senate said, OK, boss!

But in the course of the story, the Guardian recalled how top Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein has been a staunch supporter of the remote-control assassination program, noting that "during a February 2013 confirmation hearing for CIA Director John Brennan, Feinstein stated that the CIA’s targeting procedures kills only “single digits” of civilians annually." Try to imagine an ordinary human being standing up in court to defend a serial killer by saying that he only kills single digits of people annually." Is that so wrong? Or hell, imagine your co-worker turning to you in the office and saying, "I ain't such a bad person, you know; I probably don't kill more than six or seven innocent people a year." Try to imagine what kind of mindset believes that as long you hold your murder rate of innocent people to "single digits," then that's OK. What would you say if someone talked to you in that way? You would say, quite rightly, that they were insane. Criminally insane, and very dangerous.

Yet this is precisely the kind of madness  that our leaders, across the political spectrum, exhibit day in, day out, year after year.  And today, that mindset -- a monomaniacal need for dominance coupled with  a pathological lack of empathy and a delusional view of reality -- is on the cusp of blundering us into some unimaginable conflagration with Russia, after bankrolling the armed overthrow of a democratically elected government in Ukraine. (More on this in an upcoming post.)

But perhaps no one exemplifies this madness better than Tony Blair. It seems to leap out from his unhinged face, you can see it in his frantic gestures and bulging eyes. Not for him the affectless cool of Barack Obama or the phlegmatic doddering of Dubya Bush; Blair foams with the fury of a desert zealot -- albeit a zealot in a thousand-dollar suit, not a hairshirt or sackcloth and ashes. Cockburn takes his mad measure and dices up his idiocies well. It bears reading in full, but here are some excerpts:

Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of the core group of al-Qa’ida, may well chortle in disbelief if he reads a translation of Tony Blair’s latest speech on the Middle East delivered last week. If Blair’s thoughts are used as a guide to action, then the main beneficiaries will be al-Qa’ida-type jihadist movements. Overall, his speech is so bizarre in its assertions that it should forever rule him out as a serious commentator on the Middle East. Reading it, I was reminded of a diplomat in Joseph Conrad’s Secret Agent called Mr Vladimir who fancies himself an expert on revolutionaries: “He confounded causes with effects; the most distinguished propagandists with impulsive bomb throwers; assumed organisation where in the nature of things it could not exist.”

The speech, entitled “Why the Middle East matters”, is about the threat from radical Islam, what it consists of and how it should be countered. Mr Blair says that “there is a titanic struggle going on within the region between those who want the region to embrace the modern world and those who, instead, want to create a politics of religious difference and exclusivity.” On one side stand those who want “pluralistic societies and open economies”, on the other those who want to impose an exclusive Islamic ideology.

Here the reader might suppose that Blair is building up towards some sharp criticism of Saudi Arabia and its fundamentalist Wahhabi creed. What could be more opposed to pluralism in politics and religion than a theocratic absolute monarchy such as Saudi Arabia which is so notoriously intolerant of other versions of Islam, such as Shi’ism, as well as Christianity and Judaism, and is, moreover, the only place in the world where women are not allowed to drive? Here is the home country of 15 out of 19 of the 9/11 hijackers and of the then leader of al-Qa’ida, Osama bin Laden, whose religious views are rooted in mainstream Wahhabism.

Blair denounces those who espouse an Islamist ideology in which the ultimate goal “is not a society which someone else can change after winning an election”. Surely he should be thinking here about King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, his namesake in Jordan and the Gulf royals who inherited their thrones. But Blair goes on to make the astonishing claim that the guilty party in fostering extreme jihadist Islam is none other than the Muslim Brotherhood which stood for and won an election in Egypt before it was overthrown by the military.

It is worth quoting Blair again to get the flavour of his thoughts about what happened in Egypt last year. “The Muslim Brotherhood was not simply a bad government,” he says. “It was systematically taking over the traditions and institutions of the country. The revolt of 30 June was not an ordinary protest. It was the absolutely necessary rescue of a nation.”

This is demented stuff. If the Muslim Brotherhood had indeed been taking over Egyptian institutions such as the army, police and judiciary, they would not have been so easily overthrown by the army on 3 July. And what great Egyptian traditions were being eliminated by the Brotherhood other than that of rule by unelected military governments? ... In reality, events in Egypt can only encourage recruitment by jihadi al-Qa’ida-type movements which will argue that the fate of the Brotherhood, which tried to take power democratically, shows that elections are a charade and the only way forward is through violence.

On Syria, Blair is a little more ambivalent about the future though he has no doubts what we should have done. He says that “in Syria, we call for the regime to change, we encourage the opposition to rise up, but when Iran activates Hezbollah on the side of Assad, we refrain even from air intervention to give the opposition a chance.” Presumably, by “air intervention” he means a Libya-style change of regime to put the opposition in power. But in Syria the armed opposition is dominated by the very jihadists – Jabhat al-Nusra, the official al-Qa’ida affiliate and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, formerly al-Qa’ida in Iraq – against whom Blair is warning the world. They now control an area the size of Britain in north and east Syria and north and west Iraq and can operate anywhere between Basra and the Mediterranean coast of Syria.

… As I read Blair’s speech I could not quite believe he was going to conclude by proposing the absolute monarchies of the Gulf, some of the most authoritarian and corrupt countries on earth, as suitable models for the rest of the Islamic world. But that is exactly what he does do, advising the West to stick by our allies “whether in Jordan or the Gulf where they’re promoting the values of religious tolerance and open, rule-based economies, or taking on the forces of reaction in the shape of Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, we should be assisting them”.

It is a curious fate for the man who claims to have tried as prime minister to modernise Britain and the Labour Party that he should end up lauding these ultra-reactionary states. In the past few months Saudi Arabia has criminalised almost all forms of dissent, the Sunni monarchy of Bahrain is crushing democratic protests by the Shia majority and Qatar last year sentenced a man to 15 years in jail for writing a poem critical of the emir.

As for combating jihadi Islam: nothing is more likely to encourage its spread than the policy supported by Blair of persecuting moderate Islamists, who did stand for election, while giving full backing to autocratic kings and generals.

 
Apt Pupils: Chicago Violence Reflects the Lessons of the Elite
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Wednesday, 23 April 2014 00:23

I wrote here Monday of an Easter weekend full of death in Yemen, ordered up hot and steaming by the progressive American president and his assassins. But death was feasting elsewhere too -- in the president's hometown of Chicago, as the Guardian reports:

A senior Chicago police officer said that parts of the city are being overwhelmed by gun violence, after a weekend in which nine people were shot dead and at least 36 – including six children – were wounded.

Ronald Holt, the commander of the Chicago police department’s special activities division, said that the city was witnessing “fratricide” among young men who had come to believe “that the only way to resolve a conflict is to get a gun and go shoot to kill”.

“To tackle gun violence where it is overwhelming communities with the extraordinary loss of lives at an alarming pace, we must deal with it as a social disease and health issue,” Holt, whose 17-year-old son Blair was shot dead on a bus in 2007, told the Guardian in an email.

His remarks came as Chicago suffered its bloodiest weekend of the year. Dozens of residents were shot in a series of separate incidents. On the city’s south side, five children aged between 11 and 15 were shot while walking home from a park on Sunday evening.

This outburst of violence and hopelessness is the "strange fruit" of the implacable, relentless hatred that American society has always felt toward its black citizens. Since the end of slavery -- which was only achieved by a Civil War that killed more than 600,000 people (in contrast to the peaceful end of serfdom, in the same period, achieved by the 'barbaric' Russians) -- African-Americans have been subjected to an unforgiving barrage of legal blockades and economic terrorism to keep them broken down, broken apart, struggling for crumbs of survival in the midst of affluence and opportunity for others.

For a few years, in the 1960s, a few very mild measures were adopted with the aim of beginning to address the ingrained injustice and inequality imposed on black people during a whole century of supposed "freedom." And even these few measures would almost certainly not have passed except for the national trauma of John Kennedy's assassination, which produced a powerful Democratic majority for his successor, Lyndon Johnson, and -- temporarily -- a national mood that major changes needed to be made in an obviously sick society.

But let us be clear: as momentous as they were in context, the Civil Rights laws of the 1960s were, again, very mild, preliminary measures in relation to the vast injustice and institutionalized hatred they were meant to address. I mean, think of it: how a nation celebrated the fact that after arduous political warfare, civil unrest, many deaths and much suffering, it managed to strike down some of the laws that prevented or hindered black citizens from voting. And this in the seventh decade of the 20th century. Any civilized nation would have been ashamed that it took so long to accomplish even this barest minimum of democratic rights for a substantial part of its population; but America has never stopped congratulating itself for its magnificent benevlolence in letting the darkies cast a ballot in the "world's greatest democracy."

This back-patting still goes on today, even among political factions -- such as those bankrolled by the Pulitzer-lauded friends of humanity, the Koch Brothers -- who are spending millions of dollars to turn blacks away from the voting booth ... by any means neccessary. Yet just five years after these mild measures were introduced, the government -- and its corporate allies -- were already working assiduously to undermine them. Who can forget the sage counsel of Patrick Moynihan, who urged his boss, Richard Nixon, to practice "benign neglect" toward "issues of race," letting "the Negroes" stew in their own "social pathologies." (Moynihan, of course, went on to become a famously "progressive" Democratic senator from New York, then handed off his seat to Hillary Clinton.)

No matter; most white Americans believe, firmly but vaguely, that "all that Civil Rights stuff" in the Sixties settled America's racial issues once and for all. So if "the Negroes" have any trouble these days, it's their own damn fault. It's their "social pathologies," as Moynihan said 45 years ago; or a problem of "inner city culture," as Paul Ryan put it this year. Hey, after all, there's a black president, right? What else do these damn people want?

This is all unspeakable, evil tripe. The American system has never, for a single instant, treated African-Americans as equal citizens, of equal worth to those with white skin. It has always practiced not benign but malign, malevolent neglect toward its black citizens. Prejudice and fear toward black people is deeply ingrained in white Americans, and not just in the South. It is there, it is part of white Americans' cultural heritage and psychology; it is a stain, a presence that for most white Americans must be consciously, effortfully overcome. And of course, in many, many cases, it is not overcome. It is surrendered to; it is simply accepted, without reflection, as the natural order of things. It is expressed in almost 150 years of organized economic deprviation and denial of opportunity, in social, economic and political policies aimed at destroying black families, black communities, leaving them at the mercy of gangs, hoods and criminal -- those perfect replicators of the ruling class ethos of unjust domination backed by violence.

Look at Detroit: a major city fallen into unprecedented ruin and abandonment, now in the hands of appointed managers, with all pretense of democracy stripped away. It is inconceivable that this would happen to any city with a white majority -- or any city in a genuinely civilized, democratic country. Detroit's fate is one of the scandals of the century -- yet is is completely ignored ... even by the "first black American president," who has joined with the rest of the power structure in letting "the Negroes" in Detroit stew in "their social pathologies." Trillions of dollars are spent to bail out financial criminals who wrecked the entire global economy; billions of dollars are being sent to aid the ailing economy of Ukraine. But bailing out Detroit, all those shiftless darkies? No chance, man.

Proportionally, more blacks are imprisoned than any other Americans; more blacks are executed than any other Americans. More blacks are denied loans and jobs, more blacks are relegated to substandard, underfunded schools. Subsequently, more blacks begin life several rungs down the ladder from their white compatriots. And on every rung of that ladder, there are powerful forces waiting to beat them down, repress them, belittle them -- then blame them for not rising higher, faster, for daring to complain about the hammers pounding down on their fingers as they try to grasp the rung above.

The election of the first black president (actually, a half-white president) has done little to alter this state of affairs -- except, as Glenn Ford at Black Agenda Report has pointed out, to disarm the resistance of African-American leaders to America's still horrific, still deeply racist system. The violence in Chicago -- and the nihilistic dearth of hope and opportunity and common human feeling it represents -- is just more evidence of a terrible reality that no one will acknowledge. Brutalized, abandoned, bludgeoned, hated and scorned, the gangs of black America are reflecting the lessons taught by our elites, from the gilded corporate boardrooms and the heights of geopolitics: Money is god; power is king; violence is the way; there is no such thing as the common good.

 
Maggie's Farm: The Roots and Fruits of Terror War
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 21 April 2014 12:50

Here's a video of a heinous "material supporter" of violent Islamist extremism, brazenly pledging to give millions of dollars to armed "holy warriors" fighting to overthrow a secular government. This shocking footage shows us some of the deepest roots of the sectarian violence raging across the globe today -- untold mountains of cash and arms shovelled to some of the most violent, retrograde religious gangs in the world by the leaders and war profiteers of the Western world and their economic cronies in Saudi Arabia. And this destructive dynamic is still going strong, still spreading death, destruction and hatred, most notably in Libya, Syria and Iraq. (Via the Angry Arab)

Or as Khurram Zaki, who posted the video, puts it:

Watch how the "free world" supported the same group of people (the "mujahideen") along with notorious dictators they are fighting with right now to "free the world". That is how they imposed the extremist ideology upon us in the name of "Jihad" only to later confront it with the name of war against "terror". Check how a so-called "secular", "liberal" state invoked the name of God and religion again and again only to further their strategic interests in the region.

"You left a godless country because you refused to live under a godless communist system which is trying to destroy your religion,; [know that] the hearts of the Free World are with you." -Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, on a visit to the border with Afghanistan, during a state visit to Pakistan, 1981

****

UPDATE: Meanwhile, the beat goes on. On Monday, the Peace Prize Laureate launched his third drone strike in Yemen in as many days. (It is of course superfluous to point out that the United States is not at war with Yemen.) The latest strike followed one on Easter Sunday, when Barack Obama celebrated the Resurrection of his Lord and Saviour by killing 30 people in Yemen, by the usual courageous method of having an underling in a padded chair somewhere thousands of miles away courageously push a button while courageously viewing a video screen.

This heroic action was preceded by a strike on Saturday, in which 13 people were killed, including at least three civilians. This was purportedly a "signature strike," a common practice in which the courageous Americans actually have no earthly idea who they are courageously killing from thousands of mile away -- they just push the button because a bunch of people they are tracking seem to be "acting like" terrorists in some way or another. For all we know, all 13 people killed that day were civilians, like the 15 people on their way to a wedding whom the Peace Laurate killed last December.

In fact, we have no way of knowing if any of the dozens of people killed by the Peace Laureate during his busy Easter holiday were civilians or militants. Or what "civilian" and "militant" even mean in the context of the Peace Laureate's never-ending violation of other nation's sovereignty to kill people, many if not most of whom are completely unknown to him and his assassins.

We are simply told that all the shredded corpses are "al Qaeda militants." Which of course leads to the question: Are these the same "al Qaeda militants" whom the United States is supporting in Syria, or the "al Qaeda militants" it supported in Libya, or are they some other kind of "al Qaeda" militants? If the "al Qaeda militants" in Yemen suddenly decided to aim their attacks on, say, Iran, would they suddenly become "good" or "moderate" al Qaeda militants, like we have in Syria? And are these Yemeni "al Qaeda militants" of a different stripe from the "al Qaeda militants" the West supported in, say, Bosnia, or Afghanistan?

Anyway, who cares? The point is that Obama's peaceful, progressive expansion of the drone bombing and death squads initiated by George Bush is obviously quelling the spread of violent extremism. Whereas "al Qaeda" was once a handful of militants concentrated largely in one corner of Afghanistan, it is now a large, loose, proliferating confederation of violent extremists operating over vast swaths of Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Mali, Somalia, Nigeria and other countries. As both an ideological brand and physical force, "al Qaeda" is more powerful today than ever before -- after 13 years of unrelenting "war on terror." Every drone strike -- and the deep, horrific, constant dread and fear instilled in the multitudes of innocent people who live under the dead eye of American drones, never knowing when and where the bolt may fall -- are all incomparable recruiting tools for "al Qaeda militiants" around the world.

Every step taken in the blind, brutal "war on terror" has been counterproductive. Every step has increased terrorism, exacerbated hatred for America and the West, destabilized vast regions of the earth, destroyed all vestiges of constitutional government in the United States, militarized and corrupted Western democracies and visited unspeakable horror and suffering on millions of innocent people.

Yet it never stops. It just goes on and on, plunging the world deeper into darkness day by day, year by year. It's done by icky conservatives like George Bush and Margaret Thatcher; it's done by cool progressives like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. No one, none of our leaders and would-be leaders, will call it off. They don't know how. And they don't want to. So they will go on bombing and killing -- thus making even more "militants" to bomb and kill. They will pursue this literally insane course while the world burns up around them and their own nations fall to pieces. It is an astounding situation.

 
Supper Time: Singing the Praises of Power
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Sunday, 20 April 2014 22:30

In any power structure, at any level, it's not enough -- it's never enough -- that you simply acquiesce to it, or grudgingly accept it, or silently go along with it, or even openly compromise with it. No, you must also sing its praises. It's never sufficient just to obey the system of power; you must love it, you must laud it -- and you must do this sincerely.

This is what power always demands. You must acknowledge that the system is essentially good, doing essentially good things. Of course, it might veer from its essential goodness now and then: mistakes are made, good intentions can go awry, and yes, sometimes bad people can abuse the system and do bad things. But that's when bold voices are needed to step up and spark debate, instigate reforms and return the system to its true moral equilibrium once more.

However, a lack of proper enthusiasm, a failure to appreciate the essential goodness of the system, can leave you under a cloud of suspicion: What are you, some kind of radical? A wrecker? Are you ungrateful, spiteful, envious? Some kind of purist, prig, holier-than-thou? You think you're above the rest of us, who love the system and work so hard to make it better?

You can see this process at work in institutions everywhere, throughout history. From family dynamics to office politics to military hierarchies to every kind of government. After all, what were Stalin's purges but "reforms" of a system whose unquestionable goodness had been traduced by the mistakes and crimes of a few bad apples (or a few million bad apples)? The system hadn't failed; no, it had been failed. The system itself remained inviolate -- and the imperative to praise it, loudly and long, was still in force. Indeed, it was more powerful than ever; the "mistakes" made it even more important to hymn the system, lest people get the idea that it was not good, that its power was not legitimate.

Another example -- on a considerably less draconian scale -- cropped up recently. As Tarzie notes, Glenn Greenwald has been spending some of his post-Pulitzer time tweeting plaudits to oligarchs for their laudable social activism. Glenn sent kudos to the Koch Brothers for "using social media to protest abuses and racism in the criminal justice system." He was referring to an April 16 panel discussion in Austin, Texas, that was sponsored by an institute set up by one of the Koch brothers, Charles. The topic was prison reform, and the Charles Koch Institute had put up a Facebook post about it.

Greenwald linked to a story by another new media outlet, Ezra Klein's Vox. The story itself doesn't say anything about the Koch Brothers "protesting abuses and racism" in the American gulag, nor does the blurb on the Charles Koch Institute website. Here we read about a rather staid panel discussing various options on prison reform. The Koch group does note the vast number of people incarcerated in the United States, and mentions the deleterious impacts of this on society at large. But nowhere does it mention racism or abuses.

However, these topics probably were mentioned at the forum, because of what Vox considered the most newsworthy aspect of the story: along with usual powerful white men, the Charles Koch group had invited an actual black man to speak -- the head of the Texas NAACP, no less. This was unusual, considering the fact that Charles Koch's father, Fred, had been a founder of the rightwing extremist group, the John Birch Society, and that his sons Charles and David have long used the unearned wealth they inherited to roll back civil rights laws at every opportunity.

So yes, I suppose it was unusual that the Koch group let the leader of an African-American institution have a microphone at one of its forums. And I suppose it is laudable that Charles Koch, the sixth richest man in the world, is on record advocating the end of the mandatory sentencing laws that have swelled the American gulag to bursting. I'm not sure what kind of prison "reform" Mr. Koch would support; given his virulent opposition to government activity in almost every form (save corporate welfare and tax breaks for the rich), I would venture to guess it would involve an even greater role for the "private prison industry" -- those profiteers of human misery.

But yes, let's grant that it's nice that the sixth richest man on the planet and one of the most powerful right-wing figures in the world since Franco died is interested in prison reform, and actually let a black men speak under his aegis. That's swell. It might be a little surprising that someone who'd just won a Pulitzer Prize would use his newly elevated platform to trumpet this somewhat underwhelming fact, but what the hey.

However, that tweet was coupled with second one lauding yet another oligarch, Michael Bloomberg, for planning to use $50 million of his money to ape the hardball tactics of the NRA and punish politicians who don't vote the way he wants them to. Here, however, Greenwald is more explicit in the point he's trying to make. Linking to the NY Times story on Bloomberg's initiative, he asks: "Is this bad because an oligarch is using his vast wealth to influence political outcomes or good because of the goal?"

Greenwald's answer is implied in the question; it's a rhetorical exercise, not a topic for debate. He now works for an oligarch, Pierre Omidyar, whose profit-driven philanthropy and government connections make him the very model of a modern oligarch. It's obvious that Greenwald approves of oligarchs "using vast wealth to influence political outcomes," if that influence-peddling accords with Greenwald's beliefs. He has no problem with this system of power.

But if his question had been genuine, then the short answer would be, of course: "Yes, Glenn, it's bad. It's another confirmation that we live in a system where a very few titanically rich people decide 'public' policy and control 'public' debate. That is not a democracy."

And what, ultimately, is the "goal" of Bloomberg's initiative? It is to set up a powerful political organization that is explicitly intended to make politicians beholden to the organization and jump to its tune, just as the NRA's political puppets do. And in this case, the organization will be funded and controlled by one man -- a man whose vaulting political ambitions have never been a secret. It's hard to believe that a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist cannot see the self-aggrandizing angle of Bloomberg's initiative.

What's more, Greenwald's tweets came in the same week that a Princeton University study confirmed what many people already know: "U.S. No Longer an Actual Democracy," as the headline on the very mainstream Talking Points Memo aptly put it. From TPM:

A new study from Princeton spells bad news for American democracy—namely, that it no longer exists.

Asking "[w]ho really rules?" researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page argue that over the past few decades America's political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield most power.

Using data drawn from over 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, the two conclude that rich, well-connected individuals on the political scene now steer the direction of the country, regardless of or even against the will of the majority of voters.

"The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy," they write, "while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence."

As one illustration, Gilens and Page compare the political preferences of Americans at the 50th income percentile to preferences of Americans at the 90th percentile as well as major lobbying or business groups. They find that the government—whether Republican or Democratic—more often follows the preferences of the latter group rather than the first.

There you have it, from the very bowels of the respectable Establishment: the United States is now, by any measure, an oligarchy. That is the system of power that controls the country. And, as we know, systems of power must always be praised. Our oligarchs must be praised: "Look, oh look, at their benevolence, look at their concern for us! Look how they let a black person speak in public! Look how they want to buy politicians for us! Look how they want to fund dissident journalism in the system that has made them wealthy and powerful! Are their goals not noble? Should we not encourage our overlords to be merciful toward us? Should we not work with them -- and for them -- to reform the system that they control and manipulate for their own benefit? Praise them, tweet them, for the system is good. Oligarchy is good."

This is what we are seeing now from Glenn Greenwald, with these tweets aimed at exalting the good works of oligarchs. He's not saying, "Well, it's a dirty world, it's a dirty system, but I'm making this compromise -- working for an oligarch -- because I believe it's the least worst option I have in the world I've been given. It's not what I would want to do, and I'm certainly keeping a wary eye on the Boss Man's hijinks -- but I honestly believe it's the most effective way I can try to do at least a small amount of good in the system we have." That's a legitimate position; some might argue against it, some might draw the line of compromise at different places, but it's a choice that people have always had to make in systems controlled by malevolent forces.

But he's not saying anything like that -- not even remotely. He's saying that the system itself is good. Our new, Princeton-recognized system of oligarchy is good; all power is out of our hands now, but the oligarchs can do good things, and we should encourage them to do more. If we can just reform this business of overactive surveillance by the state --- which impinges even on the activities of our oligarchs! -- then all will be right again. The fact that oligarchs control the political system, control the economy, bankroll the destabilization of foreign countries, monetize philanthropy and control the media -- even the "dissident" media -- this is of no concern. The idea that we are seeing this kind of overreaching by the state precisely because there is no longer even a pretense of democratic accountability to the citizenry by a government that is now wholly in the hands of a small, monied elite -- this doesn't even occur to our new-style, oligarch-funded dissidents. How can it? Such a viewpoint would undermine the legitimacy of the oligarchs who are now underwriting "dissent" and other noble goals like gun control and prison reform.

So it's not enough to work for an oligarch -- grudgingly, or warily, or quietly. It's not even enough to praise the particular oligarch who funds your own noble work. No, you must praise other oligarchs. You must laud their work without skepticism or suspicion -- even if they have spent decades funding virulent neo-fascism, racism and the degradation of the common good. You must not even check out their activities before accepting millions of dollars from them -- as Greenwald has proudly hailed his own willful ignorance of Pierre Omidyar's activities before signing on with his media venture.

Power demands your praises -- and it demands them sincerely. I have no doubt that Greenwald now sincerely believes that oligarchy is a force for good. (I'm not as sure that the Greenwald I used to know would have believed this -- but then again, perhaps he did.)  But what it is interesting here -- and chilling -- is to watch this age-old dynamic of power-praising being played out yet again, in the super-techno, hyper-modern world of "dissident media."

UPDATE:
While finishing up this piece, I ran across a new article by Thomas Franks on a similar theme, taking off from Bloomberg's new initiatives:  "Why Elite billionaire liberalism always backfires." Below are a few excerpts:


During the nineteenth century, a long string of saintly aristocrats fought to reform the state and also to adjust the habits and culture of working-class people. These two causes were the distinctive obsessions of the wealthy liberals of the day: government must be purified, and working people must learn to behave. They had to be coerced into giving up bad habits. They had to learn the ways of thrift and hard work. There had to be sin taxes. Temperance. Maybe even prohibition.

On the single greatest issue of the time, however, these sanctimonious reformers were of no use at all. They were in favor of clean government, to be sure, but when it came to organized money’s war on the world, which was then bringing impoverishment and industrial combat and dislocations of every description, they were indistinguishable from the most stalwart conservatives. Describing the patrician “Mugwump type,” the historian Richard Hofstadter writes,

[T]he most serious abuses of the unfolding economic order of the Gilded Age he either resolutely ignored or accepted complacently as an inevitable result of the struggle for existence or the improvidence and laziness of the masses. As a rule, he was dogmatically committed to the prevailing theoretical economics of laissez faire. . . . He imagined that most of the economic ills that were remediable at all could be remedied by free trade, just as he believed that the essence of government lay in honest dealing by honest and competent men.

If that description hits uncomfortably close to home, well, good. We’ve returned to the Gilded Age, laissez-faire is common sense again, and Victorian levels of inequality are back. The single greatest issue of then is the single greatest issue of now, and once again people like Bloomberg—a modern-day Mugwump if ever there was one—have nothing useful to say about it, other than to remind us when it’s time to bow before the mighty. Oh, Bloomberg could be relentless in his mayoral days in his quest for sin taxes, for random police authority, for campaigns against sugary soda and trans fats. But put a “living wage” proposal on his desk, and he would denounce it as a Soviet-style interference in private affairs.

During the Occupy Wall Street protests, he declared that we should stop criticizing investment banks; it would cost us jobs: “If you want jobs you have to assist companies and give them confidence to go and hire people.” Later on, when confronted with a successor who didn’t share his views, he graduated to straight-up trickle-down: “The way to help those who are less fortunate is, number one, to attract more very fortunate people.” Only by helping the rich, and helping them more, and then helping them even more, can we ever hope to do something for the poor. ...

To say that there is no solidarity in this form of liberalism is to state the obvious. This is not about standing with you, it is about disciplining you: moving you out of the desirable neighborhoods, stopping and frisking you, prodding you to study the right things. Or, at its very noblest, it is about enlisting you in some fake “grassroots” effort whose primary purpose is to demonstrate the supreme moral virtue of the neo-Mugwump who’s funding the thing—to foam the runway for him as he makes his final approach to Heaven International Airport.

 
Stone by Stone, From the Mouth of the Grave
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 18 April 2014 23:55

We knew peace, but we'll know peace no more.

We knew strife, and there is strife yet in store ....

We knew blood, that dread word, would find its way to our door...

We knew peace, but we'll know peace no more.

 
False Flags and Imperial Facades: Tales of 'Progressives' in Power
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 07 April 2014 21:02

Sy Hersh has a long piece in the London Review of Books detailing the strong evidence indicating that the Turkish government worked with Syrian rebels in a "false flag" operation of the worst sort: staging a chemical weapons attack near Damascus in August 2013. The intent was to throw blame for the attack on the Assad regime, thereby drawing the United States directly into the conflict; the use of chemical weapons against the rebels was a "red line" repeatedly laid down by Barack Obama as the trigger for an American intervention.

As we know, the gambit very nearly worked. In addition to the deep background behind the sarin attack, Hersh's story also reveals the extent of the military operation planned by Obama. Although at the time, administration officials were speaking of "surgical strikes" and a limited response, the White House was in fact planning a massive attack involving the armed forces of three Western powers (the U.S., Britain and France) that would devastate the entire country and topple the regime. As Hersh writes:

In the aftermath of the 21 August attack Obama ordered the Pentagon to draw up targets for bombing. Early in the process, the former intelligence official said, ‘the White House rejected 35 target sets provided by the joint chiefs of staff as being insufficiently “painful” to the Assad regime.’ The original targets included only military sites and nothing by way of civilian infrastructure. Under White House pressure, the US attack plan evolved into ‘a monster strike’: two wings of B-52 bombers were shifted to airbases close to Syria, and navy submarines and ships equipped with Tomahawk missiles were deployed. ‘Every day the target list was getting longer,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The Pentagon planners said we can’t use only Tomahawks to strike at Syria’s missile sites because their warheads are buried too far below ground, so the two B-52 air wings with two-thousand pound bombs were assigned to the mission. Then we’ll need standby search-and-rescue teams to recover downed pilots and drones for target selection. It became huge.’ The new target list was meant to ‘completely eradicate any military capabilities Assad had’, the former intelligence official said. The core targets included electric power grids, oil and gas depots, all known logistic and weapons depots, all known command and control facilities, and all known military and intelligence buildings.

Britain and France were both to play a part. On 29 August, the day Parliament voted against Cameron’s bid to join the intervention, the Guardian reported that he had already ordered six RAF Typhoon fighter jets to be deployed to Cyprus, and had volunteered a submarine capable of launching Tomahawk missiles. The French air force – a crucial player in the 2011 strikes on Libya – was deeply committed, according to an account in Le Nouvel Observateur; François Hollande had ordered several Rafale fighter-bombers to join the American assault. Their targets were reported to be in western Syria.

Yet even while the war plans kept racheting up to new levels of violence -- including the targeting of civilian infrastructure, a blatant war crime which the United States now routinely commits, even celebrates, in all of its major military operations -- the "intelligence" behind the loudly trumpeted charges of the Assad regime's guilt in the attack was rapidly unraveling. Hersh details this process at length, and I won't repeat it here. But no super-duper gazillion-dollar "intelligence" operation was needed to question the propaganda being catapulted about the attack at the time. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the situation knew that it made no sense for Assad to launch a small, strategically and tactically ineffective chemical weapons attack when he knew this was the one thing that would bring the full weight of the American military machine down on his head. Especially as his forces had clearly gained the upper hand in the civil war at that time. Indeed, his position of strength was the very thing that led the plotters to instigate a false flag attack; the only way to turn the losing tide, they reasoned, was to force an American military response.

In the end, at the last moment, when all signs were pointing to war with Syria, Obama called off the attack. It is not clear why, but several factors doubtless played a part. As Hersh describes, there was strong resistance to the attack from some segments of the military itself, which knew the ostensible casus belli was almost certainly false and feared the much larger, longer, debilitating conflagration that was certain to follow a massive American attack. More publicly, there was the remarkable vote in the UK parliament against military action against Syria -- even as the ever-slavish British government was already sending its planes to join their American masters in the attack. This was undoubtedly significant, but one wonders now if it was the actual tipping point against war that it seemed at the time. After all, the Americans didn't need their little dogsbody's handful of planes nor its ever-diminishing diplomatic muscle to go through with the strike. (And in any case they retained the far more substantial support of France.) If Washington had wanted to act unilaterally, it would have done so. (And had a wider war ensued, Britain would certainly have entered on the American side.) There was also considerable domestic unease at the idea of war with Syria, which was also important. Although, again, once "our boys" were "in the field," fighting for freedom against the new Hitler, no doubt there would have been a good deal of rallying around the flag.

But in the end, we can't say for sure what caused the reversal. There may have been other factors we have no inkling of. And that's another valuable aspect of the Hersh story: it shows, once again, how the world is really run -- in almost total secrecy, behind thin facades of hype, hypocrisy and auto-hypnosis that have little or no connection to the reality of power's operations. Almost nothing we are told is true; yet billions of words are poured out every year in earnest disquisitions on the meaning and import of the dumb shows and distractions our betters put on for us while they pick our pockets and set our world on fire.

There is much more in the Hersh piece, including more details on how the administration of the Peace Prize laureate has assiduously pushed policies that it knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, would result in deadly weapons getting into the hands of some of the most virulent religious extremists on earth. It's odd, isn't it? In order to overthrow a repressive regime in Syria, the Peace Laureate allies himself in clandestine gun-running and the fomenting of sectarian violence with a regime, the Saudis, whose repression makes Assad's Syria look like Haight-Ashbury in the Sixties. And while telling us that al Qaeda is such a deadly foe to all human values that our fight against it requires us to give up our own freedoms, violate our constitution, institute death squads, set up all-pervasive surveillance, and wage overt and covert wars all over the earth -- the same Laureate is ensuring that groups openly allied with al Qaeda are being crammed full of weapons so they can spread sectarian violence across the Middle East and Africa.

Here, as everywhere in the Berserker Imperium, the dichotomy between rhetoric and reality is immeasurably vast, and widening all the time.

***
Also worth reading, as always, is the latest Anti-Empire Report from Bill Blum. He takes up the astonishing lies and historical misrepresentations Obama made in his recent European trip to re-ignite the Cold War. It was a jaw-dropping performance, as the Peace Laureate heartily defended the Hitlerian war of aggression against Iraq, and the war crimes in Serbia of his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton. It was Clinton, you remember, who, before launching that splendid little war,  rejected a Serbian peace offer that would have given him everything he demanded to "protect" Kosovo -- save for a free pass for a complete military occupation of Serbia. Clinton then proceeded to pulverize Serbia's civilian infrastructure in a vicious bombing campaign that ended with an agreement which... gave Clinton everything he asked for except, er, a free pass for a complete military occupation of Serbia. In other words, Clinton took the original offer -- but only after killing hundreds of innocent people, just to show everybody's who's boss.

Here again we see the reality of the "progressive," "liberal," "centrist," "moderate" (or whatever) side of the American imperium: behind their noble words, their evocations of the "common good," of justice, freedom, and human rights, there is the same murderous, pointless quest for dominance.

 
On Data Dumps, Death States and "Respectable" Dissent
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Saturday, 05 April 2014 23:32

(UPDATED BELOW)

One last word on the recent contretemps here involving Glenn Greenwald. I want to own up to a misstatement I made in my reply to Glenn. It was, literally, a parenthetical comment made in passing, not a main part of the argument, but it did contain a misstatement of fact, for which I apologize, and which I can only ascribe to the failing memory of an aging brain. The comment was this:

... (I have never advocated a "total dump" of the data, by the way; in fact, I don't know anyone who has.) ...

This is not factual. A writer I've quoted very often here -- Arthur Silber, whose medical crisis was in fact the subject of the original post that sparked another post that eventually led to Greenwald's comment -- has indeed called for a "total data dump," and has done so for a long time. Being familiar with his work, I knew this, of course, but in writing my somewhat hurried reply to Glenn (hurried because, for god's sake, one can't spend untold hours chewing blogospherical cud when there is a real life to be lived out there in the real world), I forgot Silber's very powerful and penetrating arguments for, yes, opening all the secrets of the national security state -- or as he terms it, more accurately, the Death State -- to the eyes of the world.

Silber has usefully reminded us of this fact in a new post, which takes off from my erroneous statement and lays out once more his compelling case for exposing all of the corrupted innards of our national security apparat. In addition to his own arguments -- which directly address the various objections to this course -- he also brings in a searing quote from Hannah Arendt on the issue of "irresponsibility" when confronted with the implacable power of a state based on fear, violence, conformity and "projecting dominance." I recommend anyone interested in these issues to read Silber's piece in full.

Please keep in mind that we are dealing with a state that believes it has the arbitrary, unchallengeable right to kill any of its citizens, at any time, without any judicial process whatsoever, simply at the whim of the president -- or any of the innumerable agents he empowers to kill on his behalf as they see fit. This is the reality we live under -- a reality reconfirmed just this week by a federal judge, who ruled that the families of American citizens murdered by their own government have no standing to challenge this action in a court of law.  And of course, this system extends its arbitrary license to kill to every human being on earth. It claims the right to kill anyone, anywhere, at the order of the president -- who meets every week with his advisers to pore over hit lists, just as Stalin did with the Politburo, and decide which of the targets will live and which shall die.

Now, you may be happy with such a system policing itself with a few "reforms" which are devised and supervised by the system itself. A system which remains, at every point, completely hidden to the public that pays for it, and which at every turn, day after day, year after year, exacerbates the very extremism, violence, instability and chaos it purports to combat. (When it doesn't just fund it and arm it outright, as it is is doing in its backing of violent, head-chopping, heart-eating extremists in Syria, for example.) You may be comforted by the thought that a small number of legislators whose careers are funded by this system -- and very often directly by war profiteers and "security" profiteers -- will be "overseeing" whatever "reforms" of the system eventually become law (assuming that any of them actually do).

But some people aren't comforted by this. Some people continue to believe -- or hope against hope -- that we can do better than this. If such people see promising openings -- like the exposure of NSA documents -- falling short of the effect they could have, if they see these opportunities slowly being swallowed up in toothless "reforms" and "debates" by the very system they hope to break down and do away with, can they not question, criticize, even rail against this state of affairs, without being accused of envy, personal pique or irresponsibility? Why can't they, like Robert Kennedy,  "dream of things that never were, and ask, why not?"

***

UPDATE: Greenwald and Snowden appeared, via video link, at an Amnesty International conference in Chicago on Saturday. They rightly decried the weakness of the NSA "reforms" proposed by White House, pointing out that this pig-lipsticking exercise by the powers that be allows for -- among many other sinister activities -- the continued harvesting of meta-data. And meta-data, as the duo note, is actually more useful to the nefarious activities of the surveillance state than the content of individual phone calls. As Snowden put it: "Metadata is what allows an actual enumerated understanding, a precise record of all the private activities in all of our lives. It shows our associations, our political affiliations and our actual activities."

Greenwald also promised new dynamite revelations that will finally rouse the people to anger, as the Guardian reports:

Greenwald, who met with Snowden 10 months ago and wrote about the leaked documents in the Guardian and other media outlets, promised further revelations of government abuses of power at his new media venture The Intercept.

"My hope and my belief is that as we do more of that reporting and as people see the scope of the abuse as opposed to just the scope of the surveillance they will start to care more," he said.

"Mark my words. Put stars by it and in two months or so come back and tell me if I didn't make good on my word."

It's good to hear that we will eventually see more revelations -- especially ones that provide details on specific crimes and abuses being perpetrated by the USSA (United States Stasi Apparatus), as opposed to stories on, as Greenwald says, "just the scope of the surveillance," which most people already assumed was vast and pervasive. (Not that it isn't useful to have details on this as well -- which is sort of the whole point: the more we know, the better.) I don't know if questions were allowed or even technically possible at the Chicago link-up, but if they were, I would have been interested in hearing Greenwald's response to a few follow-up questions, such as:

1. If you have in hand revelations that you know will actually rouse people to anger and action, that will make them "start to care more" and demand genuine changes, not just the cosmetic efforts you have rightly criticized today, could you explain why you have waited 10 months -- and might wait a couple more -- before releasing these explosive revelations?

Obviously these stories lie within the agreement you and Snowden made on which parts of the truth that the public should be allowed to hear and which parts should be kept from them; otherwise you wouldn't be promising to publish the coming new material. So if your agreement with Snowden has not prevented the publication of these secrets, what is the reason for keeping back these shocking and galvanizing revelations for so long?

2. You and Snowden today forcefully pointed out the weakness of the "reforms" proposed by the White House and Congress. What does this situation say about the strategy of withholding the vast majority of the NSA secrets? If 10 months of the trickle-down strategy has produced nothing but these transparently cosmetic reforms (which, as you note, will actually further entrench and 'legitimize' many sinister practices), and what's more, has also left the public unmoved, is it unreasonable to consider reassessing the current strategy and consider other options that might prove more effective?

3. Finally, on a somewhat lesser matter: Given the reality that you have described today -- a public unroused, still needing "to care more" after 10 months of trickle-down, a government offering cynical jokes as "reform" etc. -- can it really be true that all questions or criticisms of the current strategy should be summarily dismissed as nothing more than "moral cowardice" and personal animus? Is it really impossible that there might be at least a modicum of objective substance to at least some questioning of the strategy thus far employed?

And do you honestly think that people who raise such questions -- because they would like to see even more damage done to the monstrous imperial machine of death squads, drone bombs, military aggression, oligarchy, lawlessness, intervention, subversion and "total information awareness" by predatory and clandestine security services -- can actually be equated morally with "neocon warmongers" who support all these things?

Then again, perhaps it wouldn't have been all that interesting to hear the response, because one can be fairly certain what it would be: a ripping attack and character assassination of anyone who dared raise even these very narrow and circumscribed questions. As for other issues, I think it would have been pointless to ask Greenwald about, say, any concerns he might have over his new system-challenging enterprise being funded solely by someone whom the system has made one of the richest people on the planet, and who has eagerly cooperated with the national security state, most recently in its interesting activities in Ukraine. Greenwald has made it clear that this does not trouble him at all.

 
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