Written by Chris Floyd
Friday, 22 January 2010 21:40
Barack Obama has come out swinging following his party's rout in Massachusetts, vowing to "fight Wall Street" with a "populist" proposal whose main thrust seems to be the reinstatement of some of the common-sense regulations imposed almost 80 years ago to separate banks and investment firms. (I say "seems to be," because one can only guess what, if anything, Obama really intends to do about the matter. For despite the usual elevated rhetoric, he is, as usual, "leaving crucial details to be hashed out by Congress," as the NY Times reports. And we know how populist those paladins can be when they get down to hashing out crucial details.)
Of course, those old regulations were repealed by the bipartisan free-market extremists of the Clinton Era -- many of whom are now once more in charge of national economic policy, such as Obama's main economic adviser, Larry Summers. And the fact that Obama is just now vaguely proposing such a move, a year after taking office -- and after engineering the transfer to trillions of dollars in cash, credit guarantees, bailouts and other forms of baksheesh to Wall Street -- cannot but evoke three little words that nonetheless speak volumes: horse, barn, door.
And even in the highly hypothetical likelihood that Obama was actually serious about "reining in the banks" -- that is, serious enough to actually have his staff draw up the crucial details themselves before handing the "fight" over to the banks' own bagmen in Congress -- it would be a moot point anyway, given the Supreme Court's promulgation of its Corporate Enabling Act this week. Although their ruling to remove the few existing -- and pathetic -- restraints on Big Money's domination of the electoral process is indeed bad news, one must also admire the Court's frankness in allowing this domination to step forth and stand out boldly, nakedly, no longer having to hide itself in dirty dodges and furtive tricks. (For more on the ramifications of the ruling, see this piece from Christopher Ketcham at Counterpunch.)
But even as the highways and byways and blogways of the Potomac power grid are all engrossed in the usual partisan navel-gazing, the hard, dirty work of empire goes on.* This week there was yet another killing of civilians in Afghanistan by the ever-surging NATO-led forces, including two boys, aged 11 and 15. As Reuters reports:
Over 100 people took to the streets of a small bazaar in Qarabagh district in Ghazni province, southwest of Kabul, to demonstrate, locals told Reuters by telephone.
Villagers who brought the bodies of four people to the hospital in the provincial capital of Ghazni city said three of the victims belonged to one family. Two were boys 11 and 15, villagers said.
Naturally, the American-led occupation forces said that no civilians were killed in what they called a raid "designed to capture a 'high-level Taliban commander known to direct attacks'. Unfortunately for the spinmeisters, an actual journalist, Nir Rosen, has been on the case. He provided this report to Professor As'ad AbuKhalil:
Nir Rosen sent me this from Kabul (I cite with his permission): "I met today with the parliament member from qara bagh district. He's not anti-occupation and even wants more operations but he confirmed that all the dead were innocent and were not fighters and two were quite young".
"All the dead were innocent." And two of them were children.
This is the reality when we should keep in mind as we wade through the endlessly chewed cud of petty partisan in-fighting among the court factions of our militarist empire. Every day, every night, someone's blood is being offered up on the imperial altars. That's what empire is. That's what empire does.
While you were dreaming
While you wrapped your mind in silks
Bronze Steel Stone
Did their work
While you breathed the fumes
Of the oracle's fissure
Deranged the senses
Settled in soft beds
Sent agents into the streets
Hard men pinched men
Bronze Steel Stone
To eliminate execute
Discredit and destroy
While you stood in the forum
Declaimed high words
Filled temples with fragrant smoke
Scrawled millions of learned disquisitions
Somewhere, in your name
Fired the village
In your name
Put steel to the belly
While you were wrapped in silks
While you grubbed
While you drank degraded waters
Drank dark, brilliant wine
While you sang, while you dreamed
Rome hammered the real
Written by Chris Floyd
Thursday, 21 January 2010 15:56
For years, the all-consuming international struggle against the scourge of terrorism has been hampered at times by the fact that no one has been able to provide us with a rock-solid, comprehensive definition of the term. What, exactly, is "terrorism?" Great minds have grappled with this question in learned journals, academic symposia, think-tank fora, government entmoots, and across the commanding heights of the media. The matter is of some moment, as any person or organization to whom this ill-defined label is applied automatically becomes a target for "the path of action," to borrow the stirring phraseology of former U.S. president George W. Bush.
Indeed, some cynics have advanced the notion that the definition of terrorism has been left vague deliberately, in order to retain the degree of elasticity necessary for the term's application where and when as needed to advance one's particular political or ideological agenda. Of course, those who lack the phrenological bump of cynicism would ascribe this confusion to the artless, inherent difficulties of semantic expression all too common to our human kind. In any case, there has been, as the saying goes, much throwing about of brains on the subject, and to little effect.
But now this intractable problem has been resolved at last. And as you might expect, the man who cut this Gordian knot is one of the towering and tireless intellects of our age: Bill Clinton. To my shame, I have only recently become acquainted with his breakthrough, which was published in the December 2009 issue of Foreign Policy magazine. The chagrin I feel at my ignorance is mitigated somewhat by the fact that Mr. Clinton's brilliant formulation seems to have been largely ignored. This is no doubt because it was embedded in the vast sea of verbal gems and dazzling aperçus that the former president poured forth in his charmingly voluble fashion.
(For instance, who could fail to be dazzled by this Clintonian insight: "Tom Friedman is our most gifted journalist at actually looking at what is happening in the world and figuring out its relevance to tomorrow and figuring out a clever way to say it that sticks in your mind -- like "real men raise the gas tax." You know what I mean?" For more on this gifted journalist and his remarkable turns of phrase, see here. Mr. Clinton also lauded "big thinkers on the question of identity" like "Samuel Huntingdon, who wrote the famous book, The Clash of Civilizations." Huntingdon's book has indeed been influential, perhaps decisive, in shaping the worldview of our leading statesmen and opinion-shapers – despite the petty quibbling from second-raters, like Nobelist Amartya Sen (author of Identity and Violence), who claim that Huntingdon's magisterial wisdom is in reality somewhat lacking in intellectual heft and moral substance; some go so far as to claim his work is actually shallow, reductive, highly toxic racist tripe. But of course Mr. Clinton and our great and good know better.)
Thus primed with these sprays and sprigs of genius from the emeritus statesman, it is no surprise when we stumble onto his definitive definition of terrorism, tossed off almost casually in the midst of a disquisition on just how long the clash of civilizations known as the War on Terror might last. Cutting to the chase, as is ever his wont, Clinton nails the truth about terrorism:
Terror mean[s] killing and robbery and coercion by people who do not have state authority and go beyond national borders.
Like a bolt of sunlight breaking through a lowering cloud, Clinton's formulation floods one's brain with sudden illumination. "Killing and robbery and coercion by people who do not have state authority" – that's terrorism. Killing and robbery and coercion by people who do have state authority is, obviously, something else altogether: humanitarian intervention, perhaps, or liberation, or preservation of national security, or maintaining great-power credibility, or restoring hope, or a pre-dawn vertical insertion.
In any case, and every case, if this border-transcending activity is done by people who have state authority, then it is legitimate, it is good, it is necessary, it is noble. And even if, sometimes, on rare occasions, mistakes are made during the killing, robbing and coercing done by people who have state authority, these mistakes are only ever the result of good intentions gone awry.
So there you have it: what terrorism is depends on who does it. Naturally, there are nuances and complexities that Mr. Clinton did not go into here; it was an interview, after all, not a scholarly monograph. Obviously, the legitimacy of killing, robbing and coercing by people who have state authority is entirely dependent on the state from which that authority derives. Only those states which by their cheerful acceptance of America's benevolent guidance and abiding friendship have proven themselves worthy can legitimately exercise their authority to kill, rob and coerce. All others must forbear – or else be branded "rogue states," purveyors of "state terror," which in turn makes them eligible for "the path of action."
We are all deeply indebted to former President Clinton for bringing his legendary acumen to bear on this perplexing problem. Not for the first time do we lament the passage of the 22nd Amendment, which has prevented this acolyte of Huntingdon and Friedman from continuing to guide the ship of state. We can, however, rejoice that his own acolytes, associates, aides and advisors – and even his marriage partner! – now gird the current administration with their wise counsel.
Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 20 January 2010 13:57
Democrats and progressives are crying doom over the party's defeat in Massachusetts. The loss, we're told, is a blow to Barack Obama's political agenda, and so it is. They say it's a shame that yet another rightwing zealot who advocates torture is now in the Senate, and so it is. But it is precisely that agenda that led to the loss, and the shame. It is that agenda which has resurrected a rightwing party that was dead in the water, and empowered its most extreme elements.
And what is Barack Obama's agenda? What is his political program? It breaks down into three main elements: unwinnable wars, unconscionable bailouts, and unworkable, unwanted health care "reform" that forces people to further enrich some of the most despised conglomerates in the land. It is, in every way, a recipe for moral, economic and political disaster. It is a gigantic anchor tied around the neck of the Democratic Party, and it will drag the whole lumbering wreck back to the bottom in short order.
It also provides a fertile breeding ground for the willful, belligerent ignorance of the Right to thrive. With such an egregiously stupid and destructive agenda at work in the White House, opponents need only say that they are against it, and they are guaranteed a wide following. Who would not be against unwinnable war, unconscionable bailouts and unworkable boondoggles serving rapacious elites? The actual positions held by these opponents – the actual policies they will pursue once in power – are given little scrutiny in such circumstances. The opponent represents change from a hated status quo – and that's enough. Later, when their odious positions come to light, it is too late.
Where have we seen this dynamic at work before? Oh yes, it was way back in November 2008. Barack Obama represented change from the hated status quo, from the agenda of the ruling Republican party. And what was that agenda? Why, unwinnable wars, unconscionable bailouts and the assiduous service of rapacious elites. The actual positions held by Obama – the actual policies that he would pursue once in power – were given little scrutiny. Except by a precious few – such as Arthur Silber, who long ago warned that Obama's election would be ruinous for genuine progressive change, that he would merely put a new gloss on the old corruption while disarming dissent from 'progressives,' who would feel bound to support the president against his rightwing enemies – even if it meant "holding their noses" and supporting bad policies like the health care reform bill or the Afghan surge.
Now it is obvious to all that Obama's core agenda is the same as Bush's: maintaining the elitist, militarist, corporatist system in all its essential elements. The "War on Terror" goes on, expanding into new lands. Torture and murder are still countenanced and concealed, in concentration camps and secret sites that are still in operation. All of Bush's most egregious assertions of authoritarian power are embraced and defended in court. Wall Street is rewarded, not regulated for its vast crimes. The legislative architect and champion of one of the most regressive, punitive, draconian acts of class war in our time – the Bankruptcy Bill, that atom bomb dropped on working people, the sick, the old and the young – has been plucked from deserved obscurity and made Vice President of the United States. A grotesquely expensive, unjust and dysfunctional health care system is not only left intact by "reform," it is given millions of new, captive customers, and more public money to guarantee its profits.
Once again, the question arises: Is this a winning agenda?
It is not just Obama's agenda, of course. It is the agenda of the Democratic Party: war, empire, and corporate profit über alles. Is this really worth defending, even with a held nose? Yet progressives and liberals will continue to insist that, bad as it is, we've got to keep supporting the Democratic Party – because there is no alternative, because otherwise, Tea Party torture mavens like Scott Brown or Sarah Palin will get elected.
But as we've already noted above, it is the Democratic agenda itself that is opening the door for extremist opponents, who then exploit the genuine dissatisfaction and genuine suffering caused by that agenda. The fact that these opponents also support the same core agenda means that the nation will keep ping-ponging back and forth, with an electorate hungry for change desperately chasing anyone who promises it – only to rush back in the other direction when the 'change agent' proves to be just another stooge of the status quo.
This destructive, corrosive dynamic – this ever-worsening death spiral – is what progressives are actually supporting and enabling when they "hold their noses" to support Democrats. The Republicans and Democrats are now simply two factions of the same party – the party of war and greed. To support one faction, no matter what, with held noses or open arms, in such a locked system only perpetuates and exacerbates its worst elements.
Oh, but there's no choice, we are told, with earnest handwringing, by our leading progressives. Third parties are not viable in our system, we are informed by our savvy progressive realists; there can be no effective political movement outside the two main parties. Indeed, no less than Digby herself has declared that the only alternative to working with this closed system (which means, in practice, supporting the Democratic Party) is violent revolution: "Pick up your muskets, kids, or STFU."
And so this is what we've come to. This is the "progressive" answer to any genuine, non-violent rejection of the Democratic faction's agenda of war and greed: "Shut the fuck up." My, wouldn't Martin Luther King Jr. be delighted with that? Wouldn't Thomas Jefferson revel in such delicious eloquence, such deep thought?
Look, I know it's not easy. I was born and raised a Yellow Dawg Democrat myself, and remained one for most of my life. I know what it's like to be hardwired for supporting Democrats, come hell or high water, giving them every benefit of the doubt, turning a blind eye here, making a furious rationalization there. These tribal loyalties are very difficult to lay down; it really can feel like turning your back on your family. And of course the belligerent, bellicose, willfully ignorant Republicans are loathsome and dangerous.
But there comes a time when you must face the truth – or be lost to truth forever. There comes a time to recognize that the Democratic Party and Republican Party are part of the same corrupted entity. There comes a time to recognize that the Democratic Party's agenda is not only ruinous in itself, unworthy of the support of anyone who cares about justice, peace, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – it is also empowering those very same loathsome and dangerous Republicans. There comes a time for even the most partisan tribalist (and I have been one) to accept the hard judgment of reality: that the Democratic Party is part of the problem, not the solution.
To say that there is no alternative to supporting this locked-in, closed-off, two-faction system of war and greed is an act of craven surrender to that system. To dismiss all hope for forging genuine alternatives to this system -- whether these be other political parties or more general movements aiming not for political power but for broader changes in social consciousness -- is a counsel of despair. It condemns us, and the world, to yet another generation of violence, chaos and corruption, another long, long journey away from the light. It is, as noted above, a recipe for disaster in every way.
But if you want more Scott Browns in power, then by all means, keep pushing that Democratic agenda. You'll soon have Scott Browns and Sarah Palins running out of your ears.
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 19 January 2010 23:34
With international turf battles and diplomatic spats slowing the distribution of food, water, medicine and security in Haiti, the stricken people are now fleeing to the countryside. This may actually help the situation in one sense, as it might be easier to get aid to more people in unruined areas; however, it will also put a great strain on regions which are themselves mired in poverty and deprivation, and lacking in infrastructure.
Meanwhile, in Port-au-Prince, as aid begins to trickle in, anguished medical professionals are lamenting the multitude of unnecessary deaths that the bureaucratic bottlenecks have caused. As the Guardian reports:
Médecins sans Frontières says confusion over who is running the relief effort – the US which controls the main airport, or the UN which says it is overseeing distribution – may have led to hundreds of avoidable deaths because it has not been able to get essential supplies in to the country. "The co-ordination ... is not existing or not functioning at this stage," said Benoit Leduc, MSF's operations manager in Port-au-Prince. "I don't really know who is in charge. Between the two systems (the US and the UN) I don't think there is smooth liaison [over] who decides what."
...There has been criticism from some aid agencies of the Americans for giving priority to military flights at the airport while planes carrying relief supplies are unable to land. MSF has had five planes turned back from the airport in recent days, three carrying essential medical supplies and two with expert surgical personnel.
"We lost 48 hours because of these access problems," said Leduc. "Of course it is a small airport, but this is clearly a matter of defining priorities."
Asked how many avoidable deaths had been caused by the delays, he said that hundreds of critical lifesaving operations had been delayed by two days.
"We are talking about septicaemia. The morgues in the hospitals are full," he said.
... John O'Shea, the head of the Irish medical charity, Goal, [said], "there is only one thing stopping a massive and prodigious aid effort being rolled out and that is leadership and co-ordination. You have neither in Haiti at the moment."
The American government response has largely been a militarized one. But the celebrated American war machine -- whose annual budgets could lift millions out of poverty, deprivation and lack of infrastructure every year -- seems too musclebound to respond with the precision and flexibility that the situation requires. No doubt most of the individuals involved in the effort are working tirelessly; but a system designed for war, for death, destruction and domination, will never be a fit instrument for humanitarian relief.
The chief face of the United States in Haiti right now are highly-armed veterans of imperial wars, trained for conquest and occupation -- and many of them strained by multiple tours. And while many Haitians will greet the sight of any organized force coming to help them, America's long and ugly history with Haiti is not forgotten either, as Ed Pilkington notes:
The Haitian in whose house in Port-au-Prince we are staying – a prominent businessman and generally very pro-America – keeps a cherished machete on his wall. It was used, he explained to me one night, by his grandfather to attack US soldiers during the 1915-1934 American occupation of his country.
Writing on Monday, Pilkington also detailed the fatal slowness of the musclebound relief effort:
Day seven of the catastrophe, yet wherever we go we are still surrounded by crowds of people living on the streets pleading with us for water. A few miles away at the airport huge quantities of supplies are stacked high in the sun. Under a deal finalised between the heads of relevant parties on Sunday night, US troops will be responsible for securing the incoming supplies at the airport, and then moving them to four central distribution hubs. One of those hubs is at the national football stadium in downtown Port-au-Prince and another at a golf course near the US embassy.
That will free up troops from the UN peacekeeping force in Haiti, so the official line goes, to take charge of the next stage of the process – getting the aid out of the central hubs and to the neighbourhoods. For that purpose the UN has pinpointed 14 distribution locations where it, together with aid groups, will hand out the goods.
The plan sounds neat, thoroughly thought-out, fool-proof. There is only one problem: it is several days late.
A vast, permanent, completely mobile, well-trained, civilian rescue and restoration corps could easily be maintained by the United States, at the merest fraction of what it now pays out for its regular "war supplements" -- never mind the obscenely bloated 'regular' Pentagon budget. (And yes, such a corps would have a security component, made up of officers who have been trained to deal with suffering people in extremity -- not those trained to inflict suffering and extremity on people.)
This seems like a somewhat better use of public money than, say, waging endless wars to "project dominance" to the four corners of the earth, or bailing out a kleptoplutocracy that has wrecked the global economy and ruined the lives of millions around the world -- or even enriching pharmaceutical and med-biz conglomerates beyond the dreams of avarice just to claim you have passed health care "reform" without actually reforming an insanely expensive and unjust system. But like Dennis Kuchinich's idea of a "Department of Peace," any notion of a full-scale rescue corps would be hooted off the national stage by the super-savvy serious "realists" who rule our discourse, and our lives.
So we will go on as we are now. When natural disasters strike -- and they will be striking more often, and with deadlier effect, on our crowded, corroded planet in the years to come -- we will simply follow the same old pattern: launching ad hoc, inept attempts to retool a few bits and pieces of the lumbering War Machine for temporary humanitarian service. And once again, hundreds, if not thousands, of stricken people will die needless deaths.
NOTE: As noted here the other day, two good venues for giving aid to Haiti are Partners in Health and the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund, both of whom have been working in Haiti for many years.
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 19 January 2010 01:08
If you really want to know the truth about the sickening wretches who run our country, if you want to know exactly what they will commit, what they will command, what they will countenance and conceal, all the way to the very top of the blood-greased pole of the Oval Office, then read every word of this astounding piece by Scott Horton in the new edition of Harper's: "The Guantanomo 'Suicides.'"
This is a full-length article which the magazine is making available for free on its website. In it, Horton unfolds the story of three men, almost certainly innocent, who were almost certainly murdered by American "interrogators" at a secret site in the American concentration camp in Guantanomo Bay, Cuba, on the night of June 9, 2006 -- an atrocity that set off a long, complex chain of deceit that continues to this day.
These killings were not only declared "suicides" by Washington; it was even claimed that the deaths were deliberate acts of "asymmetrical warfare" carried out by hardened terrorists -- "fanatics like the Nazis, Hitlerites, or the Ku Klux Klan, the people they tried at Nuremberg," as a Pentagon mouthpiece told the press. Yet as Horton notes, all three men had been put on "a list of prisoners to be sent home." One of them was only a few weeks away from his formal release. There was no credible evidence of terrorist connections against any of the men, two of whom had been sold into captivity by bounty hunters.
Yet these prisoners did have one black mark against them. They had been taking part in hunger strikes to protest conditions in the concentration camp. They were troublemakers, loudmouths. They wouldn't break. They had lawyers.
And so, according to a mass of credible evidence -- from heavily redacted official reports pieced together by the students and faculty at the law school of Seton Hall University, and from the courageous testimony of soldiers who had been on duty that night -- these three men, Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi and Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani, were taken to a "black site" at Gitmo known as "Camp No." All regular military personnel were forbidden to enter the site, or even acknowledge its existence -- although some soldiers later testified to hearing screams from behind Camp No's concertina wire. Eyewitnesses say that three prisoners were taken, one by one, in a white van to Camp No on the night of June 9; and later, just before the alarm went up about the "suicides," the van returned and unloaded a mysterious cargo.
As Horton notes, the official accounts of the "suicides" are risible:
According to the NCIS, each prisoner had fashioned a noose from torn sheets and T-shirts and tied it to the top of his cell’s eight-foot-high steel-mesh wall. Each prisoner was able somehow to bind his own hands, and, in at least one case, his own feet, then stuff more rags deep down into his own throat. We are then asked to believe that each prisoner, even as he was choking on those rags, climbed up on his washbasin, slipped his head through the noose, tightened it, and leapt from the washbasin to hang until he asphyxiated.
[Yes, that's the same NCIS that has its noble adventures in the pursuit of truth and justice celebrated each week in a top-rated TV show.]
What really happened to the men? One clue comes from yet another hunger striker, Shaker Aamer, who was "interrogated" that same night, but managed to survive:
He described the events in detail to his lawyer, Zachary Katznelson, who was permitted to speak to him several weeks later. Katznelson recorded every detail of Aamer’s account and filed an affidavit with the federal district court in Washington, setting it out:
On June 9th, 2006, [Aamer] was beaten for two and a half hours straight. Seven naval military police participated in his beating. Mr. Aamer stated he had refused to provide a retina scan and fingerprints. He reported to me that he was strapped to a chair, fully restrained at the head, arms and legs. The MPs inflicted so much pain, Mr. Aamer said he thought he was going to die. The MPs pressed on pressure points all over his body: his temples, just under his jawline, in the hollow beneath his ears. They choked him. They bent his nose repeatedly so hard to the side he thought it would break. They pinched his thighs and feet constantly. They gouged his eyes. They held his eyes open and shined a mag-lite in them for minutes on end, generating intense heat. They bent his fingers until he screamed. When he screamed, they cut off his airway, then put a mask on him so he could not cry out.
The treatment Aamer describes is noteworthy because it produces excruciating pain without leaving lasting marks. Still, the fact that Aamer had his airway cut off and a mask put over his face “so he could not cry out” is alarming. This is the same technique that appears to have been used on the three deceased prisoners.
Aamer, who wife is British, continues to be held in the concentration camp, despite the UK government's request for his release, and despite the fact that there is "no suggestion that the Americans intend to charge him before a military commission, or in a federal criminal court, [or] indeed, [that] they have [any] meaningful evidence linking him to any crime." The only dangerous thing about Aamer is what he knows, and what he can tell.
Horton examines the official cover-up of these deaths in great detail. The deliberate and systematic deceptions began in the first hours after the killings -- and are still going on, carried forward with great guile by the Obama Administration. All along the way, evidence was destroyed, records were falsified, eyewitnesses were ignored -- or threatened. When the whistleblowers took the case to the new Administration in early 2009, hoping for a fairer hearing from the progressive young president, they were fobbed off with earnest promises of a thorough investigation by a team which included a close crony and former law partner of new Attorney General Eric Holder. But after months of inaction, the probe was suddenly closed, with government officials refusing to explain the decision.
Perhaps the most gruesome act in this bipartisan cover-up was the mutilation of the dead men's bodies. All three of them had their neck organs removed by military pathologists in the earliest stages of the investigation. As Horton notes:
An odd admission, given that these are the very body parts—the larynx, the hyoid bone, and the thyroid cartilage—that would have been essential to determining whether death occurred from hanging, from strangulation, or from choking. These parts remained missing when the men’s families finally received their bodies.
This mutilation -- "the removal of the structure that would have been the natural focus of the autopsy" -- prevented the families from carrying out proper forensic examinations of their own. Their request for the return of their children's body parts went unanswered.
All they are left with -- all we are left with -- are mutilated corpses and lies.
There is much more in Horton's piece, and again, I urge you to read it in full. Hold it in your mind the next time some sanctimonious official begins extolling the exceptional virtues of our shining city on the hill. And remember -- always remember -- that this militarist system of lawless violence and brutal domination is what our greasy pole-climbers, of whatever political stripe, want to have; it is what they want to wield. It is precisely this kind of power -- of life and death, of sway and command -- that they yearn for, fight for, cheat for and lie for in the bizarre and hollow rituals that our empire stages every four years.
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 18 January 2010 17:36
One can almost feel the disappointment amongst Western media mavens that earthquake-stricken Haitians have not, in fact, degenerated into packs of feral animals tearing each other to pieces. Day after day, every single possible isolated incident of panic, anger, "looting" (as the removal of provisions from ruined stores by starving people is called) and vigilantism has been highlighted -- and often headlined -- by the most "respectable" news sources. [As you can imagine, Britain's truly vile -- but eminently "respectable" and politically pampered -- Daily Mail is a leader in this odious field, with stories about "slum warlords" leading gangs of violent "pillagers."]
And yet the prophesied riots never seem to materialize. Outlets such as the New York Times are moved to remark, with seeming wonder, "Amid Desperation, Mood Stays Calm," as the paper noted in one sub-headline on its website on Monday. Astonishingly, the Haitians are acting almost like real human beings in any vast disaster: trying to stay alive, trying to care for loved ones, trying to help strangers, trying to get through the worst and reach a place where they can begin to rebuild their lives and communities. The media have sought strenuously to revive the bogus narrative that they foisted on the destruction of New Orleans: "Black Folk Gone Wild!" But thus far, they have been palpably disappointed.
Of course, there is anger among the stricken populace. Anger at the slowness of relief efforts, and anger at the utter collapse of the "government" which was installed by the American-backed coup in 2004. The "president" of this regime has been conspicuous by his absence in the crisis, neither speaking to the people by radio nor appearing among them. This may change now that sufficient American troops have arrived to bolster his confidence, but it has been a striking example of the vast disconnection between the implanted government and the people. The anger now submerged by the need for immediate relief and recovery may emerge with strong force later -- especially if the American-led restoration efforts simply return the nation to the strangulation of the pre-quake status quo.
Barack Obama's cynicism in placing George W. Bush, of all people, as a figurehead of America's "abiding commitment" to Haiti is jaw-dropping. Not only did Bush preside over one of the most colossally inept and destructive responses to a natural disaster in modern times -- while also inflicting the unnatural disaster of mass murder in Iraq -- it was his administration that engineered the latest coup in Haiti, saddling it with an unpopular, powerless government that simply collapsed in the earthquake. Choosing Bush to spearhead relief for Haiti is like hiring Ted Bundy as a grief counselor for murder victims.
Bush's co-figurehead, Bill Clinton, is hardly a better choice, of course. As we noted here earlier this week, it was Clinton who imposed a brutal economic and political stranglehold on Haiti as his "condition" for restoring the democratically elected government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1996 -- after Aristide had been ousted earlier in a coup engineered by the first President George Bush.
Both of these ex-presidents bear great responsibility for creating the conditions of dire poverty, ill health, corruption and political instability that have made the effects of this natural disaster so much worse. Yet these are the men whom Obama has made the public face of America's humanitarian mission.
In the short run, I suppose it doesn't matter. Obama was bound to pick some hidebound Establishment figure anyway, so why not these two? Maybe Bush and Clinton can squeeze a few extra relief dollars out of the bloated plutocrats they run with -- and Clinton can also work the celebs who still like to bask in the afterglow of his former imperial power. If the prominence they have gained by immoral means can provide immediate relief to those whom they have so grievously afflicted, then so be it.
But in the long run, their selection as the symbols of America's altruistic concern for Haiti's wellbeing certainly does not augur well for any genuine reconfiguration of Haiti's crippling political and economic arrangements. On the contrary; it signals pretty clearly that the imperial gaming of Haiti will go on.
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 18 January 2010 17:32
To mark the day set aside to honor that cuddly, kindly American hero of yesteryear, we offer this paraphrase from Woody Allen:
"If Martin Luther King Jr. came back and saw the things being done in his name, he'd never stop throwing up."
Written by Chris Floyd
Sunday, 17 January 2010 00:59
Arthur Silber has surfaced again after a long silence due to chronic -- and worsening -- illness. As you can see from this post, his health remains precarious, and he is need of assistance -- not only for the bare modicum of health care that he might be able to eke out with a few extra dollars, but also just to survive on a daily basis: buying food, paying rent, etc.
Silber has no insurance, and no other means of support other than what he is given for the writing on his blog. And readers here know that his writing and insights are incomparable, and that Silber gives us a deep and bracing viewpoint that we sorely need. [Just check out the list of "Major Essays" on his site -- or take a random stroll through his archives -- and you will see what I mean.]
So if you have anything to give, please consider throwing a bit of it Silber's way, as soon as you can.
Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 13 January 2010 22:36
Via Mark Crispin Miller, the Center for Constitutional Rights points to some venues for getting help to the people of Haiti: Partners in Health and the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund. You can find several more in this listing from the New York Times.
The relentlessly maintained, deliberately inflicted political and economic ruin of Haiti has a direct bearing on the amount of death and devastation that the country is suffering today after the earthquake. It will also greatly cripple any recovery from this natural disaster. As detailed below, Washington's rapacious economic policies have destroyed all attempts to build a sustainable economy in Haiti, driving people off the land and from small communities into packed, dangerous, unhealthy shantytowns, to try to eke out a meager existence in the sweatshops owned by Western elites and their local cronies. All attempts at changing a manifestly unjust society have been ruthlessly suppressed by the direct or collateral hand of Western elites.
The result? Millions of people -- weakened by hunger, deprivation, malnutrition, disease -- living jammed together in precarious, substandard housing. A lack of the physical, financial and civic infrastructure needed to support a decent life in ordinary times -- and to provide proper assistance, and a strong framework for rebuilding, when disaster strikes. Even a far lesser earthquake than the one that struck this week would have caused an unconscionable amount of unnecessary suffering in a nation that has been as ruthlessly and deliberately throttled as Haiti.
With Hurricane Katrina, we saw how callously and unjustly America's elites reacted to the destruction of one of their own cities. Politically connected Mississippi millionaires got prompt and copious assistance -- while many New Orleans natives are still refugees, scattered across the country years after the flood. And this in a nation in which the infrastructures -- though rapidly rotting from the corruption of greed and militarism -- are still strong. What hope then for Haiti?
Yes, there will now be a great outpouring of immediate aid, as there always is after any spectacular disaster. And of course, this is laudable, and I encourage anyone who can to contribute what they can to these efforts. But unless there is a sea-change in American policy, unless there finally comes an end to the curse that has been laid on Haiti -- not by God, or by the Devil, but by the hard hearts of elites following blindly in the cruel traditions of their predecessors -- then this flurry of caring and attention will soon give way again, as it has always done, to callous disregard, brutal repression and inhumane exploitation.
The tale of these cruel traditions -- and the "continuity" with them that Obama has already displayed -- does not augur well for such a change. But as that wise man, Edsel Floyd, always says, we live in hope and die in despair. And such a hope for Haiti is worth holding onto, and working toward.
At the same time, hope must not be blind; you have to acknowledge the grim realities in order to know just what you're up against. So let's take a long, hard look.
Scant hours after the earthquake hit, televangelist Pat Robertson was on the air, declaiming to his millions of viewers that the reason Haiti was stricken by this disaster -- and has been suffering grievously for 200 years -- is because the Haitians "swore a pact with the devil" in order to win their freedom from their French colonial overlords the early 1800s.
And while such vomitious expulsions are to be expected from this well-wadded, politically-wired, virulently extremist mullah (once aptly described in these pages as a "dictator-coddler, blood diamond merchant, Jew-hater and milkshake shiller") this time there is a very tiny grain of truth to be found in the splattered mass of Robertson's upchucking. The Haitians have indeed been cursed for 200 years, and the curse does indeed go back to their liberation. But pace Robertson, the source of this curse is not metaphysical. As I noted in a piece written in 2004:
Exactly two hundred years ago, Haitian slaves overthrew their French masters -- the first successful national slave revolt in history. What Spartacus dreamed of doing, the Haitian slaves actually accomplished. It was a tremendous achievement -- and the white West has never forgiven them for it.
In order to win international recognition for their new country, Haiti was forced to pay "reparations" to the slaveowners -- a crushing burden of debt they were still paying off at the end of the 19th century. The United States, which refused to recognize the country for more than 60 years, invaded Haiti in 1915, primarily to open it up to "foreign ownership of local concerns." After 19 years of occupation, the Americans backed a series of bloodthirsty dictatorships to protect these "foreign owners." And still it goes on.
Indeed it does. The 2004 piece detailed Washington's latest long, bipartisan squeeze play on Haiti, which culminated in a coup engineered by the Bush Administration -- the second time in which a U.S. president named George Bush had ousted the democratically-elected Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from office. It is tale worth telling again:
Although the  Haiti coup was widely portrayed as an irresistible upsurge of popular discontent, it was of course the result of years of hard work by Bush's dedicated corrupters of democracy, as William Bowles of Information Clearinghouse reports. Bushist bagmen funded the political opposition to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, smuggled guns to exiled Haitian warlords, and carried out a relentless strangulation of the county, cutting off long-promised financial and structural aid to one of the poorest nations on earth until food prices were soaring, unemployment spiked to 70 percent, and the broken-backed government lost control of society to armed gangs of criminals, fanatics and the merely desperate. Meanwhile, Haiti was forced to pay $2 million a month on debts run up by the murderous (U.S.-backed) dictatorships that had ruled the island since the American military occupation of 1915-1934. ...
The ostensible reason for Bush's deadly squeeze play was Haiti's disputed elections in 2000. That vote, only the nation's third free election in 200 years, was indeed marred by reports of irregularities -- although these were not nearly as egregious as the well-documented hijinks which saw a certain runner-up candidate appointed to the White House that same year. There was no question that Aristide and his party received an overwhelming majority of legitimate votes; however, out of the 7,500 offices up for grabs, election observers did find that seven senate results seemed of dodgy provenance.
So what happened? The seven disputed senators resigned. New elections for the seats were called, but the opposition - two elitist factions financed by Washington's favorite engines of subversion, the Orwellian-monikered "National Endowment for Democracy" and "International Republican Institute" -- refused to take part. The government broke down because the legislature couldn't convene. When Bush came in, he tightened the screws of the international blockade of the island, insisting that $500 million in desperately needed aid could not be released unless the opposition participated in new elections - while he was simultaneously paying the opposition not to participate.
The ultimate aim of this brutal pretzel logic was to grind Haiti's destitute people further into the ground and destroy Aristide's ability to govern. His real crime, of course, was not the Florida-style election follies or the reported "tyranny." ... No, Aristide did something far worse than stuffing ballots or killing people -- he tried to raise the minimum wage, to the princely sum of two dollars a day. This move outraged the American corporations -- and their local lackeys -- who have for generations used Haiti as a pool of dirt-cheap labor and sky-high profits. It was the last straw for the elitist factions, one of which is actually led by an American citizen and former Reagan-Bush appointee, manufacturing tycoon Andy Apaid.
Apaid was the point man for the rapacious Reagan-Bush "market reform" drive in Haiti. Of course, "reform," in the degraded jargon of the privateers, means exposing even the very means of survival and sustenance to the ravages of powerful corporate interests. For example, the Reagan-Bush plan forced Haiti to lift import tariffs on rice, which had long been a locally-grown staple. Then they flooded Haiti with heavily subsidized American rice, destroying the local market and throwing thousands of self-sufficient farmers out of work. With a now-captive market, the American companies jacked up their prices, spreading ruin and hunger throughout Haitian society. The jobless farmers provided new fodder for the factories of Apaid and his cronies. Reagan and Bush chipped in by abolishing taxes for American corporations who set up Haitian sweatshops. The result was a precipitous drop in wages - and life expectancy. Aristide's first election in 1990 threatened these cozy arrangements, so he was duly ejected by a military coup, with Bush I's not-so-tacit connivance.
But as we said, the latest round of punishment for Haiti was a thoroughly bipartisan affair:
Bill Clinton restored Aristide to office in 1994 - but only after forcing him to agree to, yes, "market reforms." In fact, it was Clinton, the privateers' pal, who instigated the post-election aid embargo that Bush II used to such devastating effect. Aristide's chief failing as a leader was his attempt to live up to this bipartisan blackmail. As in every other nation that's come under the IMF whip, Haiti's already-fragile economy collapsed. Bush family retainers like Apaid then shoved the country into total chaos, making it easy prey for the warlords whom Bush operatives - many of them old Iran-Contra hands - supplied with arms through the Dominican Republic, the Boston Globe reports. ...
When Aristide agreed to a deal, brokered by his fellow leaders in the Caribbean, that would have effectively ceded power to the Bush-funded opposition but at least preserved the lineaments of Haitian democracy - Apaid and the boys turned down the offer, with the blessing of their paymasters in Washington, who suddenly claimed they had no influence over their recalcitrant hired hands. ...
Instead, Aristide was told by armed American gunmen that if he didn't resign, he would be left to die at the hands of the rebels. Then he was bundled onto a waiting plane and dumped in the middle of Africa. Within hours, the Bush-backed terrorists were marching openly through Port-au-Prince, executing Aristide's supporters.
Guess they won't be asking for two dollars a day now, eh? Mission accomplished!
Of course, all of that happened in the bad old days, before Barack Obama ushered us into a new, "post-racial" era. Surely this man of vision and compassion, himself a scion of Africa, would at last put an end to Haiti's punishment for rising up against its white masters.
But it was not to be. As noted here last year, in "Cry, the Unforgiven Country":
Obama and his "superstar" secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, are loudly championing the latest egregious, brutal farce that Washington and the West have foisted upon the uppity natives of Haiti.
Senatorial elections held this month by the government imposed on Haiti after the U.S.-backed coup of 2004 ... produced a turnout of less than 10 percent of eligible voters: a result that mocks any notion of a popular, legitimate democracy. But this is not because the Haitians are so lazy and disinterested that they couldn't be bothered to vote. Nor that they are so satisfied with the benevolent, paternal care of their American-appointed masters that they saw no need to let silly electoral contests trouble their bucolic life.
No, the 90 percent refusal rate was in fact a massive protest action, driven chiefly by the fact that the American-backed government would not allow the most popular party -- the party of the government ousted by the 2004 coup -- to run a slate of candidates in the election. By clerkly hook and bureaucratic crook, Haiti's election overseers banned the Fanmi Lavalas slate back in February. At that moment, the April elections became a dead letter, a meaningless farce -- yet another cruel joke played on the people of Haiti.
How did the enlightened progressives of the new American administration respond? John Caruso reports:
CLINTON: The U.S. removed a military dictatorship in 1995, clearing the way for democracy. And after several years of political disputes, common in any country making a transition, Haiti began to see progress. And the national and presidential elections in 2006 really moved Haiti’s democracy forward. What the president and the prime minister are seeking is to maintain a strong commitment to democratic governance which will take another step forward with elections for the senate on Sunday.
To translate from the vulgar Clintonian dialect: 1) "political disputes" refers to the overwhelmingly popular presidency of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, which was "disputed" (and continually undermined) by the U.S. and its fifth column in Haiti; 2) Haiti "began to see progress" thanks to the U.S.-backed coup of Aristide in 2004; and 3) the 2006 elections that "really moved Haiti's democracy forward" excluded both Aristide and FL's preferred candidate in his stead (Father Gerard Jean-Juste, thrown in prison on invented charges by the U.S.-backed government in order to prevent him from running), resulting in the ascension of Rene Preval—who understands clearly who's the boss, and therefore merits a pat on the head from Clinton.
Which brings us to today's senatorial elections, in which the U.S./Haitian "strong commitment to democratic governance...will take another step forward" via the calculated suppression of the majority party's ability to run a slate of candidates...
So the centuries-long U.S. project of democracy prevention in Haiti is still going swimmingly. And anyone who feared that our first black president might be less sympathetic to the need to smash the democratic aspirations of the first free black nation in the hemisphere can rest assured: Obama will never let race — or anything else — stop him from doing the empire's dirty work.
It is certain such dirty work will soon be afoot once more -- and we must fight it, call attention to it, and not let Haiti disappear in the imperial shadow yet again. But at this moment, the most pressing concern is the human suffering in Haiti. So again, do look into the relief efforts noted above, or any others you might prefer.
UPDATE: John Caruso has more background on one of the relief agencies recommended above, plus more historical context for Haiti's suffering, including this devastating piece by Noam Chomsky.
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 12 January 2010 16:39
In the latest London Review of Books, Neal Ascherson provides a revealing vignette of the machtpolitik that is the true guiding principle of the Potomac Empire -- despite all its never-ending evangelical cant about promoting "democracy" and "freedom" around the world. Ascherson shows American leaders confronting the collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1989 in "Gorbachev Betrayed." Here we see American elites scrambling to preserve the "stability" of Soviet rule across Eastern Europe -- even at one point signalling U.S. approval for armed intervention by the Soviets to control the situation.
But this should not be surprising. In an imperial system, power exists for its own sake; it is not an instrument for the advancement of principles or the public good. Its only true goal is self-perpetuation, and so it seeks to protect itself against any and all possible threats, however remote or minor. "Instability" is always one of the great bugbears of power-systems. Any movements that arise outside established norms are always highly suspect (even those in line with the system's professed ideals) -- and subject to the most strenuous attempts to bring them to heel as soon as possible. (Such as the murderous dose of economic "shock doctrine" that was administered to the former Soviet Union.)
Unfortunately, the LRB piece is subscription only; but here's the relevant excerpt:
Bush the Elder took over in 1989, suspicious of Gorbachev and determined to halt Reagan’s rush into arms reduction agreements, which Bush thought were destabilising the global balance. But he was far from being a passionate freedom fighter. As the year drew on, and widening cracks spread across the Cold War’s architecture, he was not so much happy about the new birth of liberty as worried about Europe’s growing unpredictability. All these books [under review] give examples of his exaggerated caution. He came to prefer reforming Communists, who at least had experience of managing things, to dissidents and opposition heroes. In Poland he urged General Jaruzelski to run for president, judging him a much safer pair of hands than Lech Walesa, and declined to pour aid money ‘down a Polish rat-hole’. In Hungary, he shocked opposition members by appealing to them to back the new Party leadership. He was dismayed by the enthusiasm of rebels like the bearded János Kis, who reminded him of a Woody Allen character: ‘They’re just not ready.’
His team shared his fear that the Cold War might end in chaos and local conflicts. At the start of the year, Bush had sent Henry Kissinger (codenamed ‘Kitty’) to Moscow on a secret mission to make contact with Gorbachev. Kissinger, going far beyond his brief, suggested that the United States and the Soviet Union set up a joint superpower condominium over Europe: ‘Let us make an agreement so that the Europeans do not misbehave.’ Bush later backed away from this appalling proposal, but Kissinger wasn’t wrong about his president’s instincts. At the end of 1989, as Ceausescu’s tyranny fell apart in wild bloodshed, Secretary of State James Baker sent a message to Gorbachev that the United States might not object if the Soviet Union intervened with armed force in Romania.
Ironically, the Soviets eschewed this proffered collusion for preserving their empire. As Ascherson notes:
All [of the authors under review] agree, because it’s inescapable, that none of these events [the liberations of 1989] would have taken place as they did without Gorbachev, and his decision that the Soviet Union would no longer use armed force to rescue Communist regimes from their internal problems.
Obviously Gorbachev believed, in his own naive and bumbling way, that the purpose of power was not simply its own perpetuation, that when you could no longer even pretend that it was serving a good purpose, when those under your dominion wished to order their own affairs, then you had to lay power down. Contrast this to the far more sophisticated viewpoint of America's bipartisan elite, who believe with evangelical fervor that you never take any option of "national power" off the table, and that armed intervention -- "humanitarian," "defensive," "pre-emptive" or otherwise -- in the affairs of other countries is a righteous doctrine to be applied liberally and continuously all over the world.
And what of the betrayal in the title of Ascherson's piece? This was of course the promise that the West would not extend NATO to the east, in exchange for Soviet approval for the reunification of Germany. This was no small concession for a nation that had lost more than 20 million people in a war against German aggressors less than 50 years before. But as Ascherson notes, the Western "promise" was nothing more than a "historic swindle":
On 9 February 1990, at the end of a visit to Moscow lasting several days, James Baker met Gorbachev. The previous day, with Shevardnadze, he had talked about conventional force reductions, and then about Germany. Baker’s handwritten notes read like this: ‘End result: Unified Ger. anchored in a changed (polit) Nato – whose juris. would not move eastward!’ In other words, the Soviet Union was agreeing to accept German unification in return for an assurance that Nato would stay where it was. Gorbachev’s notes of his meeting with Baker the next day say the same: ‘any extension of the zone of Nato would be unacceptable.’ Baker then explained his bargain with Gorbachev to Kohl. When Kohl met Gorbachev, the chancellor repeated that Nato ‘would not move an inch eastwards’. This was disingenuous. Two weeks later, in Washington, Kohl was saying that Nato should cover the whole of the new Germany.
This was the deal that unlocked the heart of Europe. The Soviet Union, overcoming all its doubts and memories, had consented to a united Germany. But, unfortunately for Gorbachev, he had not bothered to make Baker put the deal in writing. And the West cheated him. That September, it was agreed that Nato should include the whole of united Germany. Gorbachev protested. But he had been outsmarted, and that public humiliation contributed to his overthrow a year later. In 1999, Nato enlarged to cover Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. In another five years, Nato had reached Estonia, only 100 miles from St Petersburg.
And so died Gorbachev's idea of "a Common European Home": an "enormous association of independent states, socialist and capitalist, stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals," peacefully evolving, with a common security system, no NATO, no Warsaw Pact, no bristling "missile shields" massing on borders, no military encirclement and brutal exploitation threatening Russia and turning it inward toward nationalistic, "strongman" rule. Perhaps even no Yeltsin, no "shock doctrine," no oligarchs, no Chechen Wars, no societal and systemic collapse that led to the ruin and premature deaths of millions of people.
Naturally, there would have been many hurdles to overcome in this approach, as Ascherson rightly notes. But in any case, it was a viable alternative that was not even tried, or even seriously considered by the other power-players in the Soviet endgame.
Yet it does remind us that alternative visions to the grim self-perpetuations of deeply entrenched massive power systems do exist. We must of course deal with the world as we find it; but reality is not destiny. We do not have to accept that the world remains as we find it, that it cannot change, that no alternative is possible. We do not have to live forever in the stunted, blood-dimmed imaginations of power.