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Another Murderous Milestone: 60 Years of Carnage
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Saturday, 28 June 2014 16:15

This month, the world has marked significant historical milestones: the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landing (and unmarked, except in Russia, the 70th anniversary of the Red Army’s Operation Bagration, the largest battle in world history, in which the Soviets broke the back of the Nazi army); and the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, the spark that led to the First World War.

But this week saw the anniversary of another major turning point in modern history, a campaign that became — and remains — the enduring template of foreign policy for the world’s most powerful nation. We speak, of course, of the 60th anniversary of Washington’s “regime change” operation in Guatemala, overthrowing a democratically elected government.

It was not the first such American “intervention,” of course (and was preceded in the previous year by a more indirect role in overthrowing democracy in Iran), but it set in train more than six decades of violent attacks on democracy by the “leader of the free world.” (A fine tradition carried on by Barack Obama in Honduras.) In fact, a hatred of democracy — a genuine, visceral revulsion at the idea of people choosing their own leaders and their own form of society — has been a driving force in American foreign policy for generations. Democracy and freedom are only allowed if they lead to outcomes that advance whatever the agenda of the American elite happens to be at any given time. They hate democracy abroad; they hate it at home; they hate it everywhere, all the time. The historical record is remarkably consistent on this point.

The Guatemala regime change was noted at the London Review of Books, however, in a piece by John Perry. Below are some excerpts:

Over ten days in June 1954, a decade after the D-Day landings, the CIA sent twelve planes to drop bombs and propaganda on towns in Guatemala in support of a coup against the elected government of Jácobo Arbenz …. …

In the last raid on 27 June, the SS Springfjord, a British merchant ship that had survived capture by the Nazis in 1940, was attacked in the port of San Jose. It was alleged to be unloading arms. After a warning pass – the ship’s captain gave the pilot a friendly wave – a 500lb bomb was dropped down its chimney. It turned out to be loading coffee and cotton.

Guatemala was one of the first countries in the region to emerge from military dictatorship. Arbenz was the second democratic president, elected in 1951 with 65 per cent of the vote. A strongly nationalist military officer, he was convinced that the central problem in a mainly agricultural country was land: 70 per cent of it in the hands of only 2 per cent of the population, of which only a quarter was being cultivated. In 1953 he decreed the takeover of more than 200,000 acres of unused land belonging to the United Fruit Company. The company responded with a propaganda campaign to convince Eisenhower not to be ‘soft on communism’.

It worked. Arbenz, realising that a coup was being plotted, bought a secret shipment of arms from Czechoslovakia. Uncovered by the CIA, this enabled Eisenhower to warn of a possible ‘communist dictatorship’ and support Arbenz’s rival, Carlos Castillo Armas. His insurgents invaded on 18 June, but failed to take control of the towns they targeted. The coup could easily have been a flop. But the CIA raids that culminated in the bombing of the Springfjord unnerved the Guatemalan army command, who withdrew their support from Arbenz. By the evening of 27 June he’d resigned.

Within a month, military dictatorship had resumed under Castillo Armas, with a new government recognised by Eisenhower. After a visit in 1955, Vice-President Nixon said that Guatemala was the ‘first instance in history where a communist government has been replaced by a free one’. US-backed military regimes ruled until 1996. By then some 200,000 people had died in civil war, most at the hands of government forces.

Our 21st century intervention in Iraq has killed far more people much more quickly, of course. But as we gear up for yet another round of slaughter in the country we have recently demolished, it’s good to be reminded that none of this is new or unusual; it is, very simply — and quite horribly — the way the bipartisan American elite do business. Violence is their profession, their religion, their guiding light. They use violence to advance their agenda, then use more violence to deal with the inevitable horrific consequences spawned by their violence, on and on in an endless cycle.

 
Where the Shadows Yearn
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 23 June 2014 12:30

Cutting marks in a dark heart's wax: Low Warm Gold. (Or alternatively, here.)

In memoriam Marina Tsvetaeva

 
Back to the Future: A Voice of Sanity on Iraq
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 16 June 2014 21:37

Sami Ramadani, an Iraqi writer who fled persecution by Saddam’s regime but who was also a powerful voice against the Anglo-American aggression against his country in 2003, exposes one of the many lies about Iraq that have infected both sides of the interventionist argument: that it is a land seething with ancient, irrepressible sectarian hatreds that can only be put right by separation. It’s an important piece, worth reading in full, but here are some excerpts:

Tony Blair has been widely derided for his attempted justification of the 2003 Iraq invasion, and his claim last weekend that he's blameless over the current turmoil. Unfortunately, though, many of his critics have also bought into a central plank of his argument: that Iraqi society is no more than a motley collection of religions and ethnicities which have been waiting for decades, if not centuries, to slaughter each other and plunge the place into a bloodbath. 

Neither side, though, has yet produced historical evidence of significant communal fighting between Iraq's religions, sects, ethnicities or nationalities. … Despite popular myths, the majority of Ba'ath party founders were Shia. However, Iraqi Ba'athist ideology always had a racist dimension against the Kurdish people and non-Arabs – as well as a class orientation, when in power, that marginalised millions in the poorest sections of society, mostly in the south. Southern Iraq and some areas of Baghdad, populated by mostly Shia migrants from southern rural areas, have historically been home to the poorest people.

Iraq's biggest mass organisation from the 1940s to the 60s was the Iraqi Communist party, founded in 1934 by activists from all religious and ethnic backgrounds. It was the strongest party even in Iraqi Kurdistan, and remained a mass party until its leadership decided to join Saddam's regime in 1973 – against the wishes of most party members. Saddam launched a vicious campaign against the ICP in 1978-9, and the party lost its raison d'être after joining the Iraq Governing Council set up after the occupation in 2003….

One of the greatest testaments to the tolerance that exists between the various communities in Iraq is that Baghdad still has up to a million Kurds, who have never experienced communal violence by Arabs. Similarly, about 20% of Basra's population is Sunni. Samarra, a mostly Sunni city, is home to two of the most sacred Shia shrines. Its Sunni clergy have been the custodians of the shrines for centuries.

Every tribe in Iraq has Sunnis and Shia in its ranks. Every town and city has a mix of communities. My experience of Iraq, and that of all friends and relatives, is that of an amazing mix of coexisting communities, despite successive divide-and-rule regimes.

The most serious sectarian and ethnic tensions in Iraq's modern history followed the 2003 US-led occupation, which faced massive popular opposition and resistance. The US had its own divide-and-rule policy, promoting Iraqi organisations founded on religion, ethnicity, nationality or sect rather than politics. Many senior officers in the newly formed Iraqi army came from these organisations and Saddam's army. This was exacerbated three years ago, when sectarian groups in Syria were backed by the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. ….

Whether Iraq can survive this most serious threat to its existence remains to be seen. But those who claim it could only have peace if it is divided into three states do not appreciate the makeup of Iraqi society – the three regions would quickly fall under the rule of violent sectarians and chauvinists. Given how ethnically and religiously mixed Iraq's regions are, particularly in Baghdad and central Iraq, a three-way national breakup would be a recipe for permanent wars in which only the oil companies, the arms suppliers, and the warlords will be the winners.

Once again, it is clear: the moral insanity of the American-led aggression in 2003 is the fountainhead of the current crisis, while the moral insanity of fomenting sectarian war in Syria is the immediate spate that has brought it to floodtide. 

Yet it is also clear that many, if not most, in the Washington-London power elite are looking at the crisis as an opportunity to double down on the moral insanity of their militarism: an excuse to beef up support for the violent extremists in Syria, to “re-engage” militarily in Iraq — courses which will only lead to more insanity and bloodshed. Ramadani points to a better alternative — a “back to the future” scenario that draws on the more inclusive, secular nature of Iraq’s past. (The same past existed to a great degree in Afghanistan as well.) If we were not ruled by bipartisan war profiteers — if we only had ordinary, run-of-the-mill politicians trying gamely to muddle through to something better for their own people and others — we would find there are many, many positive elements that could be supported or encouraged in these “intractable, historic” conflicts. 

But given the sinister poltroons who direct our affairs, one can only fear that these better alternatives will be squashed or discarded once again.

 
Hell’s Gate: The Iraqi Blitzkrieg and the Cult of Violence
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Thursday, 12 June 2014 22:55

(UPDATE BELOW)

The bitter fruits of the monstrous evil the United States inflicted on Iraq are ripening before our eyes. The blitzkrieg by ISIS, a radical militia so extreme that even al Qaeda disowned it, has swept through large swaths of the country and laid bare the sham of the government system imposed by the American invaders. 

Having engineered the senseless slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent people and provoked a murderous sectarian war, the Americans installed a government based along strict sectarian lines -- a choice that was guaranteed to exacerbate internal strife and produce weak, ineffective, disunited governments. And so we have watched the government of would-be strongman Nouri al-Maliki wither away into corrupt factionalism and brutal repression in its frantic and failing efforts to impose its will on the inevitable chaos. This week we may be witnessing its total collapse, as its army -- built and funded by the American invaders -- is simply vanishing in the face of the onslaught by ISIS, which is itself funded, in part, by America's own staunch allies in the Gulf … and, via America's funding and arming of murky stew of Syrian rebel groups (which includes ISIS), indirectly by Washington itself.

Yes, it is madness. The US-UK act of unprovoked aggression in Iraq -- which in principle and illegality differs not one whit from the German invasion of Poland in 1939 -- has spread unimaginable ruin and destruction throughout the region, creating a Hobbesian nightmare of "each against all": of factions combining, breaking apart, recombining, fighting together, fighting each other, using each other, betraying each other, with no boundaries, no meaning, just a constant churning, chewing, gnashing of teeth, a vast, seething mass of death and brutality, held together, locked together, by a single, shared creed: the way of violence. Violence as a first principle, and the final solution; violence (and the ever-present, never-ceasing threat of violence) as the highest expression of human achievement, the physical embodiment of power, of domination over others -- which is the supreme value, the ultimate concern for all those who hold to this fanatical creed. It's the true religion of the American militarists, the Islamic extremists, the NATO nabobs, the authoritarian nationalists, the covert operators, the backroom financiers, and all the bit players and fellow travellers around the world who serve and support or profit from this ghastly faith.

There is a larger historical context to what's happening in Iraq today, which Juan Cole covers well here. But the immediate responsibility for the death and suffering we are witnessing in Iraq right now lies squarely on those who launched (and those who supported) a war of aggression that destroyed Iraqi society and -- just as was predicted -- "opened the gates of hell" to sectarian strife and world-rattling chaos. 

2.
Meanwhile, there are indications that the uprising is broader than the operations of ISIS, a group that with its al Qaeda-surpassing extremism is tailor-made to serve as a convenient devil. Just as one of their precursors, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, served as the Scarlet Pimpernel of much of the American occupation -- seemingly here, there and everywhere, and was blamed for every bit of unrest and resistance against the noble American and British liberators. It was Zarqawi's supposed presence in Fallujah that led to America's vicious destruction of that city; he was, of course, nowhere near the city, which the Americans well knew. In fact, Zarqawi too had once been an ally of Americans, at least indirectly; before the invasion, his terrorist group found safe haven in the Kurdish-controlled areas of Iraq, where Saddam's writ did not run, and where American officials moved freely. The Bush Administration vetoed several chances to capture or kill Zarqawi, preferring to let him attack the common enemy, Saddam. Later, as noted, he served as a convenient PR foil for the Americans during his rampages in the post-election landscape.

He was a loathsome character -- a fierce adherent of the cult of violence he shared with Saddam and America's bipartisan foreign policy elite. And ISIS is a malevolent faction of the same faith -- although of course they yet to kill even a fraction of the number of innocent civilians slaughtered in the region by the Defenders of Western Civilization and their clients. But as with Zarqawi, the focus on ISIS obscures the larger discontent and resistance to what it is still, essentially, an occupation regime in Baghdad. The Guardian has featured reports from the ground in the cities seized by ISIS; reports which paint a somewhat more complex picture than we are seeing in Washington, where the 'debate' has, as usual, congealed around partisan point-scoring -- and minute calibrations of just how much violence America should employ to exacerbate the chaos and ruin.

From the Guardian:

Among those who took control of Tikrit were large numbers of former Ba'ath party members. Ba'athists were the cornerstone of Saddam Hussein's regime and have been persecuted ever since. Residents of Tikrit said some insurgents were wearing the drab green military fatigues worn by Saddam's army. "There are no Isis flags in town," said one local woman. "They are playing Saddam and Ba'ath party songs."

…In nearby Samara, where insurgents have been negotiating with Iraqi army officials, car dealer Taher Hassan said militants had turned up on Sunday and quickly taken control of most of the city.

He said: "All the local police forces have pulled out of their bases in the city. … Everyone in Samara is happy with the fighters' management of the city. They have proved to be professional and competent. The fighters themselves did not harm or kill anyone as they swept forward. Any man who hands over his arm is safe, whatever his background. This attitude is giving a huge comfort to people here. We have lived enough years of injustice, revenge and tyranny and we can't stand any more. 

Four days ago, Maliki’s military dirty force raided Al-Razaq mosque in the city, brought a few locals whom they picked up from different parts in Samara and killed them in the mosque. What do you think the people feeling would be towards these military forces? We have lived enough years of injustice, revenge and tyranny and we can’t stand any more.”

Abu Riyad, 50 years old, tribal leader in Mosul city: “It seems the fighters have a good security plan for the city. They really know the nature of the city and have not made the same mistakes as the US forces, or Maliki’s forces, when they invaded Mosul. They are protecting all the governmental buildings in the city and have not destroyed or stolen anything. They haven’t harmed a person in the city.

[Isis] fighters have opened and cleared out all the bridges, roads and checkpoints set up by the army. Now, we can move easily. It is so quiet here – not a bullet has been fired so far. Most of the families who fled the city began to head back today. We have suffered a lot under Maliki’s unfair government. …We’ve had enough injustice and corruption and no longer accept Maliki’s army. Since the US invasion until now, an organised ethnic cleansing was taking place here. Maliki’s men would show up on TV revealing their love to peace and security but the reality is completely different. They are all killers, fanatic and sectarians….

Last Thursday, the fighters attacked the right bank of the Tigris river. The army used planes and mortars in the fight, in a crowded residential area. The bombardment cut the power and water supply and sparked panic among the locals. Many civilians were killed.”

As always, extremist elements thrive where the "legitimate" authority is repressive and corrupt. (And in this case, implanted by foreign aggression.) The same dynamic was played out by the Taliban in Afghanistan, after the withdrawal of the Soviet forces that had been supporting, brutally, the secular government. The Soviets were forced out by a resistance led by violent sectarian extremists -- armed and supported by the Americans and their Saudi allies (such as Osama bin Laden). This led to years of ruinous chaos as warlords tore apart what was left of the country after the Soviet departure; many who later had cause to regret the Taliban’s ascendancy at first applauded their highly disciplined restoration of order.

This is evident in the current situation in Iraq as well, as illustrated by the quotes above. The welcome relief from corruption and chaos now will likely give way to dread and repression as ISIS — adherents to the Cult of Violence — impose the same kind of forcible domination as Maliki and his American predecessors. As the Guardian reports:

Isis has been handing out flyers in the towns it has seized assuring residents who have remained that it is there to protect their interests. The campaign for hearts and minds is gaining some traction, with some residents railing against perceived injustices at the hands of the Shia majority government. But yesterday it said it would introduce sharia law in Mosul and other towns, warning women to stay indoors and threatening to cut off the hands of thieves. "People, you have tried secular regimes ... This is now the era of the Islamic State," it proclaimed.

In retrospect, the American intervention in Afghanistan in the late 70s looks more and more like the linchpin of the modern era, the decisive event that gave rise to a multitude of later evils (much like the mobilisations of 1914 -- the blind exacerbation and amplification of a local crisis -- was the fatal pivot of the 20th century, seeding the even greater horrors of World War II). Here too, as in so many situations in our time, a distorted story was invented to paint America’s dark and deadly realpolitik as a bright cartoon of the Shining City vs. Pure Motiveless Evil. Americans were sold the false story of Kremlin Hitlers swooping down for no reason on the simple rustics of Afghanistan — the opening salvo in what we were told was surely a diabolical campaign of world conquest. 

The truth was nothing like that. The Soviets were, of course, invited into Afghanistan by the Communist-run government in Kabul — a rather nasty and ineffective regime, to be sure — as it struggled with internal factional conflict and, more importantly, with a well-armed insurgency of Islamic fundamentalists opposed to the government’s modernization and secularization — including emancipation for women. The decision to accede to the Afghan government’s request and greatly increase the already existing number of Soviet military advisors was hotly debated in the Politburo. In the end, the reluctant decision was made to support the troublesome Afghan government. (The story is well told in Rodric Braithwaite’s book, Afgantsy.) 

America’s meddling pre-dated the Soviet “invasion” of 1979. In fact, the “invasion” was a response to America’s horrifically short-sighted fomenting of violent Islamic extremism. The saintly Jimmy Carter and his Kissinger manqué, Zbigniew Brzezinski, decided they could give the Soviet Union “its own Vietnam” by luring it into an intractable guerrilla conflict in Afghanistan — as Brzezinski has proudly confirmed many times. So they joined with Saudi Arabia and other allies to create a worldwide network of heavily armed, well-funded Islamic extremists: the ultimate seed-bed of groups like al Qaeda, the Taliban, Zarqawi’s faction and ISIS. 

These events don’t just arise, stir trouble for awhile, then go away. They have lasting effects, reverberating down through the years and bearing malignant fruit in a myriad of unexpected ways. We are all still paying the costs of Jimmy and Zbig’s murderously ignorant Great Gaming more than 30 years ago. Likewise, the Iraq War did not just go away when American forces finally pulled out  less than three years ago. Although the country disappeared from the American consciousness, the destructive forces inflicted and unleashed upon the conquered land continued to ravage the lives of ordinary, innocent people there (and in America), leaving them in chaos, bitterness, hopelessness and despair. What is happening now was inevitable, in one form or another.

But our rulers — these pathetic, third-rate minds (for all their elite educations), lacking the imagination or the will or the desire to look beyond the blinkered constrictions of their imperialist worldview — have learned nothing from the past three years, or the past 30 years. It’s unlikely that Barack Obama will send American troops back to Iraq, but he will almost certainly take some kind of action, in his desperation to look “tough” to his critics, and to stave off the accusation of “losing” Iraq to “the terrorists.” Already the Idiot Choir of the political-media class is placing the blame for the current turn of events on the fact that America did not retain a troop presence in Iraq — as if THIS was the great error, the great “failure” of American policy, instead of the decision to invade the country in the first place. 

(And also forgetting, as Cole points out, that the Iraqis themselves would not have accepted a continuing American presence; Maliki’s own hold on power depended on his image as a leader of a “sovereign,” independent nation, even as his power was entirely beholden to a political system set up by invaders. And of course, a continuing American presence during the past three years would have provoked even more resistance, more attacks on the American troops, more “force protection” by the occupiers, more raids, more atrocities, provoking more resistance — the same insane cycle we saw throughout the original occupation.)

But it’s pointless to dwell on the hair-splitting schisms of these fanatics of the Violence Cult. We already know that whatever response they come up with will adhere to the Cult’s orthodoxy: it will be violent, it will involve the death and suffering of innocent people, it will breed more chaos and extremism, and it will exacerbate the very problems it is ostensibly trying to resolve. These are the only results the Cult can produce; and there is no one in power — or even near power — in America who is not an adherent of the Cult. 

And so the suffering — the pointless anguish and ruin — will go on.


***
UPDATE: A new article out today by Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett underscores the insanity of the policies that have produced the situation in Iraq today. They pay special attention to the role of the Syrian conflict, which I only glanced at above. It is an important angle -- and one of the best illustrations of the madness now raging through the halls of power in the West. Once again, as in Afghanistan, Washington and its European and Saudi partners have poured massive amounts of money and weapons into an insurgency led by violent religious extremists -- and are now shocked to see this extremist insurgency spread throughout the region, particularly in Iraq, where a corrupt, crippled, invader-installed regime has led the country into further division and degradation.

Meanwhile, as I noted above and the Leveretts underscore here, in Washington the only response being offered is more of the same: more intervention to combat the extremists in Iraq, more funding and weapons for the extremists in Syria (and often the groups are the same), more war, more death, more violence. They literally do not know anything else.

Here's an excerpt from the article:

In Iraq, the resurgence of sectarian violence stems not from the 2011 American withdrawal. It is, rather, the fruit of America’s 2003 invasion of Iraq, the subsequent U.S. occupation, and the much vaunted “surge” of 2007-2008. The U.S. invasion and occupation destroyed the Iraqi state and ignited tensions among Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic communities. The surge sought to empower certain Sunni militias while paying them (temporarily) not to kill American soldiers; this ended up giving Sunni militants the means to press their grievances through escalating violence once U.S. forces were no longer around.

Unfortunately, Washington seems determined to compound its appalling policy choices in Iraq with equally grievous choices regarding Syria. For over three years, America has provided Syrian oppositionists with “nonlethal” aid, trained opposition fighters, coordinated with others openly providing lethal aid for U.S.-vetted recipients, and extended high-level political backing to the anti-Assad campaign – including serially reiterated public demands from Obama that Assad “must go.” Yet, from the conflict’s start it has been clear that opposition fighters would not dislodge Assad, no matter how much external help they received – because, from the beginning, the constituencies supporting Assad and his government have added up to well over half of Syrian society. …

These realities were readily observable in spring 2011; we have been writing and speaking about them for over three years. Yet the Obama administration decided, within weeks after the outbreak unrest in parts of Syria in March 2011, to support oppositionists seeking to overthrow Assad. It did so – as administration officials told the New York Times in April 2011 – because it calculated that destabilizing Assad’s government would undermine Iran’s regional position.

This was a colossally irresponsible exercise in policymaking-by-wishful-thinking, for two reasons. First, outside support for opposition fighters – a sizable percentage of whom are not even Syrian – has taken what began as small-scale, indigenously generated protests over particular grievances and turned them into a heavily militarized insurgency that could sustain high levels of violence but could not actually win. The Obama administration prides itself on overthrowing Libya’s Muammar al-Qadhafi in 2011 without putting U.S. boots on the ground (though the results are comparable to those in Iraq: the destruction of a functioning state and the arming of militias that kill with impunity – including the U.S. ambassador in 2012). Assad is a vastly tougher target. Stepped up support for anti-Assad fighters will not accomplish anything positive strategically; it will, however, perpetuate conditions in which even more Syrians die.

Second, it was utterly foreseeable that backing an armed challenge to Assad would worsen the threat of jihadi militancy – in Syria, in neighboring countries like Iraq, and beyond. Well before March 2011, it was evident that, among Syria’s Sunni Islamist constituencies, the Muslim Brotherhood – whose Syrian branch was historically more radical than most Brotherhood cells – was being displaced by more extreme, al Qaeda-like groups. External support for anti-Assad forces after March 2011 accelerated the trend and reinforced it with an infusion of foreign fighters, including organ-eating extremists. Many of these jihadis, according to the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, are now working not just to bring down Assad but also to mount attacks against the United States.

The Obama administration’s transformation of Syria into a magnet-cum-training ground for transnational jihadi fighters has directly fed the resurgence of jihadi extremism we are witnessing in Iraq. Three years ago, at the beginning of the Syrian conflict, the Islamic State of Iraq – formed in 2006 from Abu Musab Az-Zarqawi’s “Al-Qaeda in Iraq” movement – was on the ropes. Reinvigorated through the creation of an externally supported insurgency in Syria by the United States and America’s European and regional partners, it rebranded itself in 2013 as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and, like the Taliban in Afghanistan before 9/11, has taken over swaths of both Syria and Iraq with lightning speed.

Washington has only itself and its collaborators in the anti-Assad crusade to blame for such an outcome. As ISIS captures more cities and territory in Iraq, it is also capturing stockpiles of weapons and military equipment that America supplied to the post-Saddam government – weapons and equipment that will enable further gains by ISIS fighters. Against this backdrop, calls to increase the flow of weapons into neighboring Syria are a case study in Einstein’s (apocryphal) definition of insanity – “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Calls for the United States to “go back” to Iraq, to undo the horrific damage it has already done there, are equally delusional.

 
A Matter of Principle: The True Aims of the Terror War
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 10 June 2014 16:29

The moral insanity of the Terror War continues to spawn more violence, more extremism, more repression, more injustice, and the total subversion of the "Western values," all of which it is ostensibly designed to defend.

A new piece by Patrick Cockburn in the Independent provides a grimly illuminating look at this insanity in action on a specific front: Syria. It's worth reading in full, but here is an excerpt:

The Syrian war has turned into a Syrian version of the Thirty Years War in Germany four centuries ago. Too many conflicts and too many players have become involved for any peace terms to be acceptable to all.. … It has become increasingly obvious over the past year that al-Qa’ida type movements, notably Isis, Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, have come to dominate or can operate freely in a great swathe of territory across northern Iraq and northern Syria. This gives Isis a vast hinterland in which it can manoeuvre and fight on both sides of what is a largely nominal Syrian-Iraqi border.  …

Europeans have not yet woken up to the significance of these anarchic zones opening up on the shores of the Mediterranean in Syria and Libya. This is because the threat has been largely abstract but it is getting less so with the attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels by a French jihadi who had been in Syria. US and European politicians do not want to explain why, 13 years after 9/11, when the “war on terror” was supposedly launched, thousands of al-Qa’ida militants have been able to carve out enclaves so close to Europe.

US and European politicians won't explain it because any honest explanation would expose the emptiness at the core of all their proffered reasons for the Terror War. They can't explain it because the Terror War system -- including the increasing militarization and repression in their own countries -- has now become organizing principle of Western society. Or rather, it is the latest incarnation of what has been the guiding principle of Western society since World War II: organizing society and the economy around war, either active war or the ever-present "threat" of war (assiduously exaggerated -- or even manufactured -- at every turn). For government and big business, the immense power and profit and control they inevitably accrued from conducting total war on a global basis was far too enticing to give up once the war was over. The full mobilization of society's resources for war simply carried on; indeed, was expanded and amplified.

However, the war also had a life-transforming impact on many of its survivors. The savagery and loss -- and the class-effacing comradeship -- they had experienced during the war imbued millions of people with a burning desire to change society for the better, to do away with the poverty and injustices of the past, and build a better, more decent, more peaceful world. This spirit is evoked with remarkable power in a new book, Harry's Last Stand, by Harry Leslie Smith, a 91-year-old WII veteran enraged to see the neoliberal extremists that have held sway in the US and Britain for more than 30 years sweeping away the progress toward a more just society that his generation tried to build on the ruins of the war. (Some of Smith's writing can be found here and here.)

The power structure was forced to deal with these aspirations. And, yes, some among the commanding heights shared these sentiments as well, to varying degrees. Thus for a a brief period -- scarcely more than two generations -- there was an attempt to balance two opposing organizing principles at once: war and human betterment. The presidency of Lyndon Johnson was perhaps the apex -- and tragic denouement -- of this conflict. Johnson's Great Society and War on Poverty programs, and his muscling through of the Civil Rights Act, were profoundly transformative for millions of people, and even with their limitations and compromises could have laid the groundwork for a continual refinement and recalibration of society in the general direction of justice, opportunity and social peace. But Johnson was also a product -- and propagator -- of the war system: a hawk, eager to "project dominance," subvert and overthrow "recalcitrant" states and employ violence on a massive, indiscriminate (and lucrative) scale. The Vietnam War destroyed his presidency, crippled the momentum of his social programs, and accelerated the triumph of the war principle.

Now those who remember what the world was like before the Second World War -- the ugly, despairing poverty and inequality that Smith writes about so movingly -- are almost gone. Even those of us who remember when the idea of human betterment seemed a realistic possibility for society, a practical goal to be pursued despite many difficulties, not a pipe dream scorned by the "savvy," are fading away. There are now generations well into adulthood who have never known anything but the war principle and the neoliberal ascendancy as "normality," the natural state of things. Indeed, in a very few years, we'll see the first generation of adults who will have lived their entire lives under the reign of the Terror War. The relentless assault of the elites who have thrived under the war principle, increasing the unequal proportion of their wealth and power to unimaginable levels, have left these new generations very little to build upon. On so many fronts, so many levels, they will essentially have to start from scratch, re-discover old skills and insights that have been lost, re-fight old battles,  and of course, create new ways of trying to go forward (like the Occupy movement).

And they will have to do it against a power structure that is far more powerful, more pervasive and implacable than before. A power structure that every day is darkening the future of its own children, creating a dystopia of chaos and fear, of aggression and blowback, repression and revenge. No leader can "explain" what is happening because none of them can admit the truth: that the world they are making -- the world that has made them powerful, has lifted them up on a finely-meshed web of interlocking elite interests and will sustain them, and their families, among the elite for the rest of their lives -- is organized around violence and loot. Not security, not prosperity, not liberty, not democracy, not justice, not peace. These are not the aims of the system, these are not the products of the system.

The Terror War -- and the concomitant degradation of society and individual lives -- shows in stark relief that the system is producing exactly what it aims to produce: death, despair -- and record-breaking profits.

 
Facts and Fabrications: Responding to a Greenwald Smear
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Saturday, 07 June 2014 10:58

(UPDATED BELOW)

Oh well, once more into the breach with matters Greenwaldian. Word comes that I've been subjected to a personal smear by Glenn. Some of this has played out in the comments on the previous post, but I thought I'd bring it out here for an airing, and to expand on a few points.

It began with this from a commenter, Semanticleo:

Chris; GG replied to you from the flank: "Of course, Chris spent years heaping praise on me and privately seeking opportunities to write in my space. He must have had a sudden epiphany that I’m really just a pro-imperial militarist. I wonder how he explains to himself how he remained fooled for so long."

This was my initial response (lightly edited here):

Did he really say that? How amusing. However, I'm afraid that young Glenn is being economical with the truth if he says I spent years "privately seeking opportunities to write in [his] space." This simply did not happen. It is true that he asked me (and others) to fill in him for a week at Salon in 2007 while he was off, which I did quite happily. He also asked me to participate in a Talking Points Memo Book Club discussion, based on his new book at the time, which I also did. This too was in 2007. In 2008, he asked me -- again, as before, on his own initiative -- to do a podcast discussion with him on his blog. (I wasn't able to do it due to scheduling problems.) But I cannot recall -- nor can I find any evidence in the still-extant record of our email contacts going back seven years -- any time when I asked Greenwald for an opportunity to "write in his space" or even hinted at such a thing.

And yes, I've praised many of Greenwald's pieces over the years (as he has done with mine); why not? I often found myself in agreement with him on many issues, found many of his insights and information useful, and linked and praised accordingly. We also disagreed at times, in a friendly way, sometimes in comments he contributed to my blog, or in blog posts.

I didn't have a "sudden epiphany" that Glenn is "just a pro-imperial militarist." In fact, I never said he WAS a pro-imperial militarist. What I have said is the simple truth: he seems very happy to WORK for an oligarch whose public activities clearly advance a harsh neoliberal, pro-imperial, militarist agenda. This troubles me. It troubles me precisely because I admired much of Glenn's work in past years. Just as it troubles me that other writers whose journalism I've admired and found useful have gone to work for an oligarch with such a disturbing record -- people like Jeremy Scahill and Matt Taibbi, with whom I worked almost 20 years ago in Moscow. I don't think this is a good development; I think it bodes ill for journalism, for effective dissent against an overbearing power structure. I think we should find some other model for investigative journalism, rather than partnering up with neoliberal oligarchs like Omidyar. Is this really such a controversial opinion, worthy of a personal smear?

And yes, I've also questioned the handling of the Snowden material, and what I believe are the troubling implications of how it has been handled. I've explained my reasoning behind these concerns at some length.

But all of these concerns are based on my observations of the facts at hand. My opinion on these matters are not "epiphanies;" they have developed over time, in response to events as they've happened. Glenn did go to work for Omidyar. This was troubling. The facts coming out about Omidyar's record are troubling. I found the handling of the Snowden material, as it has played out over the course of more than a year, to be troubling in various ways (while still being glad, as always, when any information about our malevolent power structure leaks out). If none of these things had happened, I would not have written any of the material that Glenn now finds so objectionable.

Obviously Glenn disagrees with my interpretation of these events. That's his right, of course. He can disagree vociferously, as he did in my comment section a few months ago. Why not? He can even attack me personally, as he seems to have done here, if this quote is accurate. But I don't think he should tell lies in an attempt to blacken my character, instead of engaging with the substance at hand -- Omidyar's record, and what it means for top dissident journalists to come under his financial umbrella.

***

I thought that was it, but it seems there was more, as Tarzie noted in a follow-up comment:

Chris: You were not furnished with the full quote. Glenn also called this statement of yours an out and out fabrication:

His most prominent employee, Greenwald, constantly affirms his belief
that we should indeed have a powerful and far-reaching security state —
it should just be “reformed” and “overseen” by people he approves of.
(Snowden has voiced the same opinion.)

I left a reply to this on The Intercept, but they cherry pick comments, so there is no guarantee it will be published or answered. This was my direct reply to Greenwald's remark about your 'fabrication.'

--------

Well then perhaps you should explicitly clarify what your position on the security apparatus is. Because I think Floyd's assessment is at least correct in regard to Snowden, who frequently touts the essential goodness of spying and whose only real objection seems to be bulk data collection. When people object to what they see in Snowden's remarks as a very subservient, conformist view of the security state -- that is the viewpoint of someone who has spent his entire working life inside it and still insists he's working for it -- you belittle and ridicule them for never having blown whistles. With smears like 'chicken pseudo radicals' you have worked very hard to prevent any discussion about the very thick layer of national security ideology that comes bundled with almost everything Snowden says. Until you explicitly contradict him and repudiate the security state in stronger and more explicit terms, I don't think you can, in good faith, call Floyd's assessment a fabrication.

So let's just clear the air: what is the proper role of the Intelligence Community? If Congress would make any adjustments you suggested, what would those adjustments be? It would be especially interesting and refreshing to learn your views on other agencies besides the NSA.

I think Tarzie's reply to The Intercept covers the matter well. As he points out, Greenwald has attacked anyone who questions Snowden's affirmation of the need for a powerful spy system, and has not, to my knowledge, ever differentiated himself from this position. If Greenwald is NOT in favor of a robust security apparatus (albeit one 'reformed' and 'regulated' as he would like it), then he has never made that clear. Instead, two seconds on the internet finds quotes like this on Al Jazeera in January, where he talks of the need for "a much more sensible surveillance system."

I don't understand who he thinks will run this "more sensible surveillance system" in a militarized state hellbent on "projecting dominance" in every part of the world, and protecting an economic-social system based on vast and brutal inequality. That is the ruling system we have now: so again, among those who rise to the top of such an unjust and morally skewed system, who will you trust to carry out "more sensible surveillance"? And of course, the problem is not just surveillance, but all the other depredations being committed by our "security" apparatchiks and political leaders on a daily basis, including running death squads out of the White House with the direct participation of the president.

There are already laws on the books prohibiting warrantless surveillance, torture  -- and, indeed, "extrajudicial killing" (murder) and aggressive war. This has not stopped our bipartisan ruling class from carrying out these crimes and others, relentlessly, remorselessly and without the slightest accountability. Now, we can "engage in debate" about "reforms" for a "much more sensible surveillance system" until the cows come home -- but in the system of political and socioeconomic organization we have now, none of this will make any difference. You will still have the same kind of people running things, because the kind of people willing to commit or countenance such crimes are the only kind of people who will rise to the top of such a system.

And this system of power does not just include "the radically corrupted political class in DC," as Greenwald rightly describes it (in a quote one of the commenters here pointed out). It also, most emphatically, includes figures like Pierre Omidyar -- billionaires who use their money and power and connections to manipulate governments, society and events, as far they are able, toward the perpetuation and expansion of elite interests. Who does Greenwald think is corrupting the "radically corrupted political class?" Who is buying off the politicians? Who is influencing and sometimes even writing laws and policies for their own advantage? Who is partnering with the security state to destabilize and manipulate foreign goverments? Who is doing the corrupting? The oligarch class, and the corporations and financial interests they control and work with.

You can root out the entire "corrupted political class in DC" today, and you will still end up with another corrupted political class to take its place -- because that's the only kind of political class that will be produced by the wider system of power, which is dominated not by politicians but by corporate interests and oligarchs. If you support and celebrate the oligarchs who perpetuate this system, then you can be sure you will never see any genuine change or reform.

So yes, I believe that writers who call for "a more sensible surveillance system" in the current system of power do indeed hold that "we should have a powerful and far-reaching security state." I believe that is the logical conclusion and practical implication of such a stance. Any kind of effective surveillance system -- "sensible" or not -- will necessarily have to be powerful and far-reaching; otherwise, what's the point? So again, a belief in the need for an effective surveillance system means believing you need a state powerful and far-reaching enough to operate it.

I don't think it is a "fabrication" to draw such a conclusion from Greenwald's public positions, and his often heated, personal attacks on anyone who disagrees with Snowden's clear views on this question. If I've overstated the case, oversimplified his position, drawn the wrong implications from what Greenwald has said (and not said), if he has a different or more nuanced view, if he does not agree totally (or at all) with Snowden on this question, then I'd be glad to hear it.

But again, we are speaking here of opinions drawn from facts on the ground, not "fabrications." Greenwald states we need a surveillance system, albeit a "sensible" one. I observe this stance and make an observation about it, drawing on what knowledge I have of the sinister system of power we now have. Greenwald goes to work for an unsavory oligarch who is aiding and abetting political and social developments which I believe are harmful. I observe this, and state my concerns and opinions about it. I offer these as my personal opinion, in a blog read by a few hundred people. If there is new information, new facts on the ground that cause me to alter my opinion, then I will do so.

But as far as I can tell, Greenwald doesn't offer any new information to refute my opinions, any arguments against my conclusions, any new facts -- or even old facts or arguments that I might have missed. Instead, as he did earlier this year, he leaps straight to personal disparagement and, sad to say, out and out fabrications of his own. He says I'm a liar -- because I disagree with him. He says I bugged him privately for years to let me use his media platforms -- this is blatantly untrue, and Greenwald knows it to be untrue. He knows that the one time I used his media platform was when he invited me to do so, unbidden, out of the blue. I thought it was a kind gesture, and I thanked him kindly for it. It's sad that he now wants to take this act of kindness on his part and turn it into a nasty and mendacious personal smear against me.  I hope he can find some better uses for his time and talents than indulging in this kind of petty business -- or serving oligarchs, for that matter.

***
(UPDATE)
This is the last go-round on this particular brouhaha, offered here only because a recent comment provides such a sterling example of the kind of response any criticism of Greenwald or Omidyar provokes. This is from a commenter adopting the pseudonym "Lout" (although the person has previously commented here in their own name). I've lightly edited it because the original is ungrammatical at a couple of points:

Given that the only common threa[d] running through the various pretexts proffered for hating Greenwald has to do with Greenwald being successful, I suspect that the weird obsession [with] Greenwald is for the most part rooted in simple envy. It's as if the widely held perception of Greenwald as a formidable dissident has robbed some people of their sense of personal identity, and the thief must be made to pay.

My response:
I don't "hate" Greenwald nor do I have a "weird obsession" with him. Nor have I told lies about him to blacken his character, as he has done to me. Greenwald had a reputation as a "formidable dissident" during the years we often linked to each other's work. He has the same reputation now. What does that have to do with anything?

I have offered my critical opinions on some aspects of how the Snowden revelations have been handled, without ever denying the courage and tribulations of those who've brought them (partially) to light. I've also expressed my deep concern at seeing indeed formidable dissidents like Greenwald, Taibbi, Scahill, etc., being employed by an oligarch whose own dubious and dangerous activities are the very things that formidable dissidents like Greenwald,Taibbi and Scahill would normally denounce and expose. What does it mean for investigative journalism and dissent to come under the financial umbrella of such a figure?

I think these are important questions to consider. Yet such concerns are immediately denounced as mere "jealousy" -- as if wealth and status are the only concerns, the only values that could possibly motivate anyone to criticize the public actions and positions of prominent people. (When Greenwald criticizes Obama, is it because he's jealous that Obama is more famous and powerful than he is? Or could it possibly be that Glenn has genuine motives, rooted in his own values and beliefs, that drive his concerns and spur him to write? If that's true for him, as I'm sure Citizen Lout would affirm, why can't it be true for others? Citizen Lout, like so many of Greenwald's fierce defenders, seems to have difficulty grasping this concept.)

The fatuous cod-psychology about people feeling "robbed of their sense of personal identity" is entirely characteristic of this whole ugly business. I write articles that say: I have concerns about the handling of the NSA revelations, and here are my reasons; I have concerns about dissident journalism getting into bed with unsavoury oligarchs, and here are my reasons. But what is the response to these concerns, which are based on public actions and positions? Not counterarguments but personal attacks: smears, lies aimed at denigrating personal character, sneering amateur psychology which attributes any criticism of these public issues to some kind of character flaw in the critic.

After many years of substantial agreement with Glenn on many public issues, I now have a substantial disagreement with him on these particular public issues. Is this so unusual? Especially among writers in such a volatile and contentious field as politics and public policy? I haven't attributed Glenn's actions and positions on these issues to some deep-seated character flaw or psychological imbalance in him; I think, on these issues, that he has made some wrong choices: choices which -- precisely because he is a formidable dissident with a high public profile -- could have an adverse effect on the course of investigative journalism and dissent in general. That's why I've spoken up about my concerns on these public issues, and why I've offered evidence and arguments to explain my concerns. This is not "hatred"; it's called debate.

But again, the response to this has been personal attacks, calumny, disparagement and, in Glenn's recent statement, lies against my character. And here, from Citizen Lout, insipid pop psychology instead of argument.

 
Pierre's Payday: Cashing In on a Sinister Agenda
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Thursday, 05 June 2014 16:35

(UPDATED BELOW)

Mark Ames has a follow-up to his story on Pierre Omidyar's extensive links with the rightwing extremist Narendra Modi who now controls India. (I wrote about and excerpted Ames' original story here.) As Ames pointed out in the first story, Omidyar's support for Modi was rewarded with a vow by the candidate to open up India's lucrative e-commerce market to foreign corporations and techno-oligarchs -- like Omidyar.

Now, Ames reports, Modi has made good on his promise. One of his first acts in power has been an order to draw up guidelines for cracking open Indian e-commerce to Omidyar and others. This was a move long resisted by the previous Congress Party government -- which had also refused to register a supposedly non-partisan NGO supported by Omidyar, accusing the group of illegal lobbying for a bid to … open up India's e-commerce market to foreign companies.

Congress was also fiercely opposed to giving Omidyar and other foreign oligarchs unfettered access to the country's e-commerce market. As Ames notes, Omidyar's good friend in the White House, Barack Obama, brought heavy pressure to bear on India to reverse this stance -- but Congress resisted. Now the party has gone the way of all those who interfere with the divine right of well-connected oligarchs to grab as much loot as they want, wherever they want, however they want: they're out, and a much more amenable party is now in office.

This same dynamic was recently played out in Ukraine, with some similar elements: "non-partisan" NGOs backed by a partnership between 'philanthropists' like Omidyar and White House agents (who were lining up a "replacement" government in the back room). And no, this doesn't mean that this partnership of domination controlled every element in the crisis in Ukraine or the election in India, where millions of people had legitimate grievances against the parties in power. But it does mean that this Unholy Alliance of oligarchs and imperialists is expending enormous amounts of money, energy and skullduggery to steer highly complex political developments in foreign lands in the direction they want them to go: toward the installation of friendly governments that will put the interest of financial elites and American dominance ahead of the well-being of their own people.

And the Alliance is getting better and better at doing this. They seize upon -- and manipulate -- legitimate grievances, then exacerbate them, distort them, confuse them and re-direct them toward the service of the elite's domination agenda. The Tea Party movement is a perfect example. Here the elite -- using media networks under oligarch control -- took a groundswell of legitimate anger at how the political-financial class had blown up the economy and plunged millions into misery, ruin and insecurity, and converted it into a giant, gnarled hairball of bellicose nativism, ignorance, racism and division devoted to preserving and expanding the power and privilege of the wealthy elite.

What could have been a power countermovement to roll back the excesses of the corporatism, oligarchy and militarism that have held bipartisan sway in America for more than 30 years was twisted into a tool to enhance the power of the already powerful. The chaos this unruly hairball has brought to the political system is also a plus for the Unholy Alliance: the more unstable the country is, the more people will long for "strong" leaders, like Modi, for rich and powerful figures who seem "above the fray" of petty politics and can bring "unity" to a troubled polity -- like the oligarch recently elected as Ukraine's president, or, indeed, like Michael Bloomberg in New York City.

(Or even Putin in Russia, a "strong man" who stepped in to offer "order" and "unity" after the murderous chaos induced in Russia by the neoliberal "Shock Doctrine" agenda. His ascent was at first warmly welcomed by Western elites -- George W. Bush famously looked into Putin's "soul" and saw a kindred spirit. But then Putin went rogue -- he wanted to set up an Unholy Alliance of his own, with himself in charge; he was not nearly as pliable and compliant as his predecessor; he wanted to be a partner in plunder and power with Western elites, not just their errand boy. He actually saw himself as their equal. This was not to be borne. And so today he is -- what else? -- the new Hitler. And the obvious next target of the regime change machine -- a fact which is giving him even more 'justification' for the increasing repression he's imposing on the Russian people.)

The presence of the Tea Party (used here as shorthand for the broad range of far-right extremists now rampant in the land) is also convenient for the Democrats, giving them a convenient hate figure to stir up fear (and scoop up donations) and, more importantly, to use as an excuse, a cover for their own faithful service to the wealthy elite. "Hey, we would like a more just society, but darn it, darn it, darn it, those Tea Party kooks won't let us do anything!" "That's all right, Mr. President, we understand," say the earnest progressive liberals and the gritty savvy 'dissidents' on the left. "We understand, and we still love you. You're still 'two percent less evil' than the kooks!" The Democrats get to protect their "brand identity" as the more caring, progressive party -- while deliberately and willingly advancing the same neoliberal agenda of elite domination also being pushed by "mainstream Republicans" and the Tea Party.

With "austerity" degrading the nation's physical and social infrastructure, the political system reduced to sinister buffoonery and slick PR puffery, and the rich and powerful increasingly beyond all reach of the law (which bears down harder and harder on the rabble at every turn), our elites seem hellbent on making the country ungovernable, plunging it into fear-ridden chaos. Meanwhile, the militarization of police forces around the country continues apace, abetted at every turn by the latest technology (sold as toys and glitzy gizmos to consumers -- "Google Glasses! Cool! Big Data! Wow!" -- but actually serving as incredibly powerful tools of repression and surveillance by the state …and as incredibly lucrative sources of profit for the corporations and techno-oligarchs who happily supply the state with repressive instruments -- and even work with the government to refine and expand the tools' effectiveness).

And now techno-oligarchs -- beneficiaries of and/or active participants in the Unholy Alliance of domination -- are moving into the commanding heights of media and politics. Jeff Bezos -- destroyer of bookstores and blackmailer of publishers -- controls the Washington Post. Omidyar, of course, is bankrolling the creation of a "dissident" media conglomerate, which decries "excesses" in the system here and there but never challenges the legitimacy of the neoliberal cult of elite domination. Rupert Murdoch rules the rightwing media, Omidyar will now dominate the left, Bezos will command the overchewed cud that constitutes the "centrist" position in American politics today. All sides will be covered beneath the broader neoliberal umbrella. Our elites not only own the ball, and the playing field, and the stadium, and the parking lot; they own both teams as well.

A private correspondent pointed out that my last piece on Omidyar and Modi was "not cynical enough," and did not draw out the connection between what oligarchs such as Omidyar, in partnership with Washington, have done in Ukraine and India -- and what they are up to on the home front. I think this critique is right. A sinister game is afoot, and its aim is not a more just, open and free society, or even the maintenance of the status quo, but the destruction of the common good and the imposition of an ever-tightening domination by an alliance of private elites and repressive governments. There are too many developments on too many fronts for the obvious trends in this direction to be seen as nothing more than happy accidents for the elite. Again, political and social situations have many different causes, many different factors at work, and are never in the sole control of any single force. But it seems increasingly obvious that our neoliberal elites are using their immense power, public and private, to manipulate (or at times create) situations of conflict and instability that they then try to bend to the service of their agenda.

Yet revelations of these machinations, of government/corporate crime or "excesses," have made no difference -- from the exposure of the deliberate falsification of the case for war against Iraq to the revelations of systematic torture in Abu Ghraib to the confirmation that the President runs a death squad out of the White House to the continuing torture of force-fed captives in the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp to the selective revelations of some of the abuses committed by the NSA. Nothing changes, because the commanding heights of politics and media are in the hands of people deeply committed to preserving the system that gives them wealth and power.

We live in an age of revelation. There has never been era in which so much clear and glaring evidence of so many horrific crimes and abuses by state and private power has been so widely and freely available. Year after year, the revelations pile up. None of it makes any difference. Instead, power doubles down.

This week, the UK government -- which was supposedly "rocked" and "shaken" by the Snowden revelations in the Guardian -- announced it will hold its first completely secret trial for hundreds of years. (It is, of course, a trial of two "suspected terrorists.") This is how "rocked" the UK government has been by the "scandal" of its eager cooperation with the NSA's secret Stasi-like operations. This is how effective these world-changing revelations have been in forcing more "transparency" in government. The UK is about to step back into medieval times, violating the principles laid down in the Magna Carta -- 800 years ago.

But this is all of a piece with the general trend, the ever-more obvious agenda of the ruling elite. From neoliberalism to neofascism to, ultimately, neofeudalism: a new dark age, where the rabble live in fear and want, at the mercy of powerful, unaccountable elites locked away in gated splendor. (Though to be sure, they will sally forth now and then in squabbles amongst themselves for a bigger share of loot and power -- squabbles which inevitably involve the death and ruin of multitudes of innocent people.) As noted here the other day, old evils -- fascism, racism, nationalism, feudalism -- don't die. They return in new forms, and have to be fought again, over and over.

2.
But to return to the particular case of Modi and Omidyar, once more Ames has the goods. Here is an excerpt:

Today, Reuters is reporting that Modi is planning to open India up to global e-commerce firms like eBay next month, and that Modi’s industry minister has been drawing up the new guidelines with input from top eBay officials, along with their e-commerce counterparts from Google, Amazon, Wal-Mart and others. …

As we reported, the longtime managing director and partner for Omidyar Network India Advisors, Jayant Sinha, began working to help elect Modi since at least 2012, while publicly doling out tens of millions of Omidyar’s money to for-profits and to non-profits, at least one of which was involved in an anti-corruption campaign that undermined the center-left ruling government, and benefited Modi’s far-right BJP party.

Omidyar’s top India man also concurrently served as a director in a powerful BJP think tank, the India Foundation, chaired by Modi’s hardline National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval — “a giant among spies” according to the Hindustan Times. After stepping down from Omidyar Network in February of this year, Sinha worked full-time for Modi, the India Foundation, and for his own successful run as a BJP candidate for parliament.

Another NGO that Omidyar invested in, the Institute for Policy Research Studies (IPRS), was accused of illegally trying to lobby India’s parliamentarians to vote for opening up India’s e-commerce market in late 2012. The IPRS nonprofit ran a program in which their staffers provided India MP staffers with “nonpartisan” research. In 2012, India’s intelligence bureau accused the IPRS of “compromising national security” and described it as “shrouded in mystery.”

Omidyar Network had pledged $1 million to the IPRS, and the Ford Foundation pledged half a million more — but the Indian government rejected the IPRS’s application to register as a foreign-funded NGO, deeming it a threat to India’s parliamentary integrity, and its national security. Google’s corporate philanthropic arm, Google.org, had previously given $880,000 to the same NGO program, under Sheryl Sandberg’s watch. The co-founder of this controversial never-registered NGO, CV Mudhakar, is now, you might not be shocked to learn, Omidyar Network India’s director of investments in “government transparency.”

The previous, center-left Indian government not only nixed the Omidyar-Ford Foundation NGO-slash-e-retailer-lobby front, it also announced last year that it did not plan to allow e-commerce firms like eBay open access into its markets. … The answer to that business problem, of course, was changing India’s government — even if that meant installing a brutal figure like Narendra Modi, who spent nearly a decade on the US State Department’s visa ban list for his role in the violent persecution of minority Muslims and Christians.

That’s terrible and all from a human rights perspective, but when you consider the interests of eBay’s shareholders — like its number one shareholder, Pierre Omidyar — India presents not so much a problem as an opportunity. The majority of eBay’s revenues come from its overseas operations, and eBay has made no secret that it sees its future growth coming from India and the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China).

UPDATE:
A story published in the Guardian today provides yet another telling example of the mindset of the faction that Omidyar has helped to power in India:

A state minister from Indian prime minister Narendra Modi's ruling party has described rape as a "social crime", saying "sometimes it's right, sometimes it's wrong", in the latest controversial remarks by an Indian politician about rape.

The political leaders of Uttar Pradesh, the state where two cousins aged 12 and 14 were raped and hanged last week, have faced criticism for failing to visit the scene and for accusing the media of hyping the story. A regional politician from Modi's own Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), said that the crime of rape can only be considered to have been committed if it is reported to police.

"This is a social crime which depends on men and women. Sometimes it's right, sometimes it's wrong," said Babulal Gaur, the home minister responsible for law and order in the BJP-run central state of Madhya Pradesh.

…Modi, who was sworn in as prime minister last week after a landslide election victory, has so far remained silent over the double killing in the village of Katra Shahadatganj, around half a day's drive east of Delhi.

The father and uncle of one of the victims said they tried to report the crime to local police but were turned away. Three men have been arrested over the killings. Two policemen have been held on suspicion of trying to cover up the crime.

 
Omidyar and the Oligarch’s Code: Enabling Extremism, Monetizing Dissent
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Wednesday, 04 June 2014 00:22

India is now in the hands of Narendra Modi — a lifelong member of an unabashedly neofascist paramilitary group. His chief claim to fame is presiding over the wanton slaughter of more than 2,000 Muslims as a provincial chief minister — and getting away with it. A staunch neoliberal as well as a neofascist, he is preparing to unleash the by-now standard “shock doctrine” tactics of the pernicious neoliberal cult on the whole country: unrestricted corporate rapine aided by a heavy-handed, all-surveilling militarist state, waging war on the poor — and the very notion of a common good.

What is surprising is that Modi’s rise to power has been aided for years by substantial support, direct and indirect, from an American billionaire widely regarded by the left as one of the world’s great champions of dissent: Pierre Omidyar. But perhaps this is not so surprising when you consider that Omidyar now stands to reap millions if not billions of dollars from Modi’s vow to open up India’s burgeoning e-commerce market to foreign companies — like Omidyar’s eBay, as Mark Ames reports at PandoDaily.

Ames provides a detailed look at Omidyar’s extensive involvement with Modi and his sinister movement. The story could serve as a companion piece to Ames’ earlier investigation into Omidyar’s relentless efforts to “monetize” philanthropy — turning it into a money-making tool for a small elite while wreaking havoc among those it is ostensibly trying to help. A key element in this monetization of human misery on the part of Omidyar and his cronies is the privatization of state services aimed at providing some measure of support, opportunity and social justice for ordinary people. In country after country, our neoliberal extremists are pushing policies to turn every aspect of human community into profitable enterprises under corporate control.

To do this, of course, one must also “monetize” democracy itself. Thus, as Ames and others have pointed out, Omidyar has also been active in “pro-democracy” NGOs and other organizations in foreign countries, working closely with Washington to bring down regimes considered insufficiently open to the strip-mining of national wealth and resources by Western elites. The aim, as in Ukraine, where Omidyar’s partnership with government was particularly active, is to replace the regimes with technocrats willing to stick the shock doctrine cattle prod to their own people.

The nature of the regime being overthrown doesn’t matter, by the way. It might be an ugly corruptocracy like the Yanukovich regime in Ukraine, or populist movements like the long-running attempts to overthrow Chavismo in Venezuela, or liberal democracies like the government overthrown in Honduras with Barack Obama’s collusion in the early days of his hope-and-change presidency.

Likewise, it doesn’t matter what kind of regime replaces the government targeted for overturning. Saddam Hussein’s brutal secular authoritarianism was replaced by brutal sectarian authoritarianism in Iraq (one closely allied to Iran, no less). Moamar Gadafy’s secular authoritarianism in Libya was supplanted, with NATO bombs, by religious radicals allied with al Qaeda, who are now apparently in the process of being overthrown in turn by American-backed military authoritarians. The secular authoritarianism in Syria is being attacked by Western-backed rebels led by perhaps the most vicious religious fanatics on earth. A Ukrainian government dominated by dodgy oligarchs has been replaced by … a Ukrainian government dominated by dodgy oligarchs. Washington and its billionaire buddies don’t care about the ideology or religion or representativeness of a client regime; they just want the leaders to play ball.

And now, a corruption-riddled secular government in India has been replaced by a religious extremist party led by a man unrepentant about the thousands killed under his watch, a staunch adherent to a group that praises Hitler. But Modi possesses the one all-important quality for acceptance by the Western elite: he’s a man “we can do business with.” (If Saddam Hussein had sold off Iraq’s oil industry to Chevron, BP and Halliburton in 1991, he would still be in power — and welcome in Washington — today, no matter how his own people were suffering.)

I’m sure Pierre Omidyar does not personally support Hindu nationalism or neo-nazi paramilitarism or the slaughter of thousands of innocent people in deliberately fomented religious rampages.  He’d probably rather not see such things in the world. But in the immortal words of The Godfather II’s Hyman Roth: “It has nothing to do with business.” If Modi is where the money is, that’s where you go.

And just as he is monetizing philanthropy and democracy, Omidyar is now monetizing dissent. He has laid out a quarter of a billion dollars to finance a “dissident” media empire, built on the cornerstone of the NSA documents Edward Snowden gave to Glenn Greenwald. Both Omidyar and Greenwald have been adamant that this is to be profit-making enterprise — like all of Omidyar’s philanthropy.

The revelations from the Snowden cache have indeed been shocking and important — but their effect has been curiously muted. The sound and fury provoked by the revelations among the political-media class have thus far signified … nothing. All we have seen are a few tepid “reform” proposals whose chief aim is to entrench the Stasi-state activities even further, giving them ‘legal’ form and fobbing off any lingering concerns with toothless ‘oversight’ schemes. (Along the model of the rubber-stamp secret FISA courts.) There is a credible school of thought that the revelations have actually been good for the National Security State: people now have the image of an all-pervasive, all-powerful government, able to watch them at all times, to come into their homes, their lives, their minds through their computers and phones. A government that could take them out — via the now openly acknowledged, even celebrated death squads run out of the White House — or take them away. (Who hasn’t made a joke about some untoward comment landing them in Gitmo — a gallows humor that both masks and bespeaks a genuine fear.)

For those in power, it’s good for people to be afraid — afraid of outsiders, of “terrorists” and “illegal aliens” and “Muslims”; and afraid of themselves, afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing under the all-seeing eye of the Potomac panopticon. People who are afraid are more obedient. They keep their heads down, they toe the line. They don’t challenge the system — because the system is too powerful. Oh, of course, you can let all kinds of Tea Party nuts run loose, denouncing “tyranny” in health care and carrying machine-guns into restaurants and standing their ground against uppity drakes and what all. They never challenge the real system — the unholy alliance of oligarchy and state power. Hell, they love it! They love the rich elite. They love state power as long as it’s not aimed at helping anybody (except people who look like them, of course).

This applies to dissent from the left as well. As in foreign policy, the elites don’t care what kind of ideology or “dissent” they face — as long as it poses no genuine threat to the Unholy Alliance. That’s always been the essence of the real “American exceptionalism,” the trick that other empires and dominators never quite learned: you can let people say anything they want, reveal anything they want — as long as it doesn’t actually change anything. Meanwhile, if you let people know how powerful you are, how all-pervasive you are — they will end up policing themselves.

So here we have Omidyar. He has close ties to the White House, has visited there often, works closely with Washington in “public-private partnerships for democracy” that, as in the Ukraine, sometimes somehow end up overthrowing democratic governments. At the same time, he now employs many of the most famous dissident journalists in America.

His most prominent employee, Greenwald, constantly affirms his belief that we should indeed have a powerful and far-reaching security state — it should just be “reformed” and “overseen” by people he approves of. (Snowden has voiced the same opinion.) Greenwald has also famously stated that he didn’t look into and doesn’t care about Omidyar’s other activities. Making loot off the poor by monetizing philanthropy? Supporting religious fascists, subverting foreign governments? So what? If he supports my project, my cause, that’s all that matters.

This is not a form of dissent that threatens any system of power.

The chief aim of Omidyar’s new media venture, it seems to me, is to domesticate dissent. There is virtually no chance that First Look Media will challenge the essence or legitimacy of the actual ruling system: oligarch-corporate dominance backed by a militarist state. No doubt it will tear the bark off a few wild outgrowths here and there — which can be a useful exercise for keeping various factions within the Security State in line, or allowing them to “let off steam” by taking down their internal rivals a peg or two. Fear is not just for foreigners and the home folks out there; every system of domination employs fear against its own agents as well. And certainly there will be genuinely spontaneous revelations too, not just strategic leaks by inside players jockeying for position.

But again, all this will take place in an arena controlled by one of the chief beneficiaries and big-time players in the system itself. It will take place in a domesticated setting. The powers that be will know that the system itself is not under threat. They will know that the only goal of any revelations will be “reform”— or sometimes not even reform, just “debate.” And “reform” and “debate” can always be managed by those who control the levers of power — and the media where the “debate” takes place.

Again, I think the NSA revelations from the Snowden cache are shocking and important. I’m glad that some of them have seen the light of day. But I believe the end result will be what we saw with the perhaps even more shocking revelations about torture at Abu Ghraib in 2004. Does anyone remember that? When the first horrific pictures leaked out (and there were even worse ones held back), one could see, for a moment, a genuine, palpable shock go through the system of power. I remember well the look on the faces of the panel of senators who had been shown the full range of pictures and heard some of the evidence of the systematic tortures inflicted by American soldiers and agents in the Iraqi prison. There was genuine consternation. There were trembling voices. There was talk of shame lasting for generations. There were murmurs that the government would fall, that a crisis was at hand.

And what happened? Nothing. Nothing happened. A few grunts were vilified and prosecuted, but those who had devised, directed and approved the systematic torture rolled on in power and privilege. A few months later, the very administration whose leaders were responsible for the torture — and for an illegal war of aggression that had killed tens of thousands of innocent people by that point — was re-elected to office.

I believe we will see the same end result from the Snowden revelations. Shock horror (and mock horror, in many cases), the deep-frying of millions of pixels on the subject, the windy suspiration of forced breath from dozens of gabbling gobs on television — then nothing.

2. Who is Modi?
But who is Modi? What sort of politician has America’s leading bankroller of dissent given his copious support to? Pankaj Mishra has written one of the best articles that I've seen on the situation. From the Guardian:

Modi is a lifelong member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a paramilitary Hindu nationalist organisation inspired by the fascist movements of Europe, whose founder's belief that Nazi Germany had manifested "race pride at its highest" by purging the Jews is by no means unexceptional among the votaries of Hindutva, or "Hinduness". In 1948, a former member of the RSS murdered Gandhi for being too soft on Muslims. The outfit, traditionally dominated by upper-caste Hindus, has led many vicious assaults on minorities. A notorious executioner of dozens of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 crowed that he had slashed open with his sword the womb of a heavily pregnant woman and extracted her foetus. Modi himself described the relief camps housing tens of thousands of displaced Muslims as "child-breeding centres".

…  His record as chief minister is predominantly distinguished by the transfer – through privatisation or outright gifts – of national resources to the country's biggest corporations. His closest allies – India's biggest businessmen – have accordingly enlisted their mainstream media outlets into the cult of Modi as decisive administrator; dissenting journalists have been removed or silenced.

India’s chattering — and ruling — classes now laud Modi for his “pro-business” reforms that promote “growth.” But as always in our global neoliberal utopia, “growth” has a rather narrow definition: it means big swag for the powerful and squat-all for everyone else. Mishra:

[India’s economic growth] turns out to have been based primarily on extraction of natural resources, cheap labour and foreign capital inflows rather than high productivity and innovation, or indeed the brick-and-mortar ventures that fuelled China's rise as a manufacturing powerhouse. "The bulk of India's aggregate growth," the World Bank's chief economist Kaushik Basu warns, "is occurring through a disproportionate rise in the incomes at the upper end of the income ladder." Thus, it has left largely undisturbed the country's shameful ratios – 43% of all Indian children below the age of five are undernourished, and 48% stunted; nearly half of Indian women of childbearing age are anaemic, and more than half of all Indians still defecate in the open.

Of course, Modi would not be in power today if not for the utter and complete moral  and political failure of the institutions of secular democracy. The spectacular corruption of the long-ruling Congress Party — which has also allied itself to the New Hyperfeudalists while also milking the state for private gain and the mindless, meaningless perpetuation of political power for its own sake — has opened the door for well-financed fanatics to step in and offer what seems to be an alternative to a system that everyone knows is broken. This is happening across the “democratic” world, where the willing surrender by “centrist” parties to hyperfeudalism has hollowed out the political core, leaving millions of people adrift in lives of decline, hopelessness, and slow degradation. Civic and social infrastructure have rotted (along with the physical infrastructure) — again, through the willing, at times gleeful choices of “centrist” elites: especially those, like Britain’s New Labour and America’s Clinton-Obama Democrats, who pretend to “progressive” ideals while whoring themselves to the gilded gangsters of the oligarchy.

These parties and their leaders stand for nothing, they stand up to no one, they have swallowed whole the poison of rapacious hyperfeudalism and murderous militarism. And they offer nothing to anyone but more of the same decline and degradation. And so everywhere, the far right is on the rise, stepping into the ruins with lies and ignorance that play on the worst elements of human nature, feeding on the fear of people losing hope and giving them simplistic excuses for their distress: “Blame it on the darkies, the immigrants, the heretics, on whatever group is the Other (or can be made to seem the Other) in an otherwise pure, special nation. Always, at every turn, the justified anger, fear and bewilderment of the people must be turned away from those who are actually responsible for it — their masters, their overlords — and projected onto the weakest, most vulnerable, least protected groups in the society.

Mishra’s article is an important, multi-leveled, in-depth look at what’s happening in India — and, by extension, in so many other parts of the world.  I highly recommend that you read it in full.

3. Omidyar’s Role
So that’s Modi. What exactly has Omidyar done for him? Ames has the details:

Omidyar Network, as Pando readers know, is the philanthropy arm of eBay billionaire Pierre Omidyar. Since 2009, Omidyar Network has made more investments in India than in any other country in its portfolio. These investments were largely thanks to Jayant Sinha, a former McKinsey partner and Harvard MBA, who was hired in October 2009 to establish and run Omidyar Network India Advisors.

During Sinha’s tenure, Omidyar Network steered a large portion of its investments into India, so that by 2013, India investments made up 18% of Omidyar Network’s committed funds of well over $600 million, and 36% of the total number of companies in its portfolio.

In February of this year, Sinha stepped down from Omidyar Network in order to advise Modi’s election campaign, and to run for a BJP parliamentary seat of his own. Sinha’s father, Yashwant Sinha, served as finance minister in the last BJP government from 1998 (when his government set off the nukes) through 2002. This year, Sinha’s father gave up his seat in parliament to allow Jayant Sinha to take his place.

…Shortly after Sinha left Omidyar Network to help Modi win, Modi gave a speech calling for opening India’s e-commerce market to foreign companies such as Ebay, whose largest shareholder is Pierre Omidyar. The message was clear: Modi is the candidate of hi-tech India, violent ultranationalism notwithstanding.

…To be clear, this isn’t just a case of an Omidyar staffer who just happened to become a supporter of Modi. In fact, Pando has learned that Sinha has a long history of working for Modi and his Hindu supremacist BJP party, starting before he joined Omidyar Network and continuing during his tenure as the organization’s managing director and partner in India, when Sinha oversaw tens of millions of the Redwood City-based fund’s investments in the country.

Just last month, senior BJP party leader Shiv Shankar Prasad Gupta told a news conference that Jayant Sinha “worked in Modi’s team for two years (2012 and 2013)” — while he was simultaneously leading Omidyar Network’s India branch. What Gupta didn’t do was explain the full extent the relationship between Sinha, Omidyar Networks, the BJP and the US Government. Here are the highlights:

• While still heading Omidyar Network India Advisors, Jayant Sinha simultaneously served as adirector in the BJP party’s main policy think tank, the India Foundation, founded by the hardline former director of India’s Intelligence Bureau, Ajit Doval. The India Foundation has been described as “doing all the backroom thinking on economy and security-related issues to prepare policy stances for the BJP”;

• The India Foundation, besides incubating Jayant Sinha’s pro-business agenda, also pushed hardline policies to target India’s peasant Naxalite insurgency, made up of India’s poor indigenous peoples. The India Foundation produced a propaganda film that pushed for “zero tolerance” against what it called “Red terror.” The India Foundation also argued that Christian missionaries allied with “Maoists” to forcibly convert Hindus to Christianity — a typical BJP slur that has incited countless Hindu lynch mob attacks on India’s Christians;

• While heading Omidyar Network India Advisors, Jayant Sinha repeatedly called for India’s government to allow foreign direct investment into e-commerce, a move that would directly benefit eBay, where Pierre Omidyar’s billions are tied up as the company’s largest single shareholder; an Omidyar Network-funded NGO was accused of using its access to Indian lawmakers to secretly lobby for a bill allowing foreign direct investment into India’s e-retail sector;

• In late February, just weeks after Sinha quit Omidyar Network to advise Modi’s campaign, Modi gave a speech in favor of allowing foreign e-commerce firms to enter India’s markets; eBay has been investing heavily into Indian e-commerce firms in hopes of entering the potentially lucrative market;

• Under Sinha’s guidance, in 2010 Omidyar Network gave its first grant to an Indian NGO,Janaagraha, for a well-publicized anti-corruption campaign coinciding with a larger, nationwide anti-corruption campaign that undermined support for the ruling center-left party, dovetailingwith the campaign of the ultranationalist BJP party and Modi as they plotted their return to power. (For more on this, read Arundhati Roy’s excellent piece on the right-wing Western-backed leader of India’s anti-corruption movement, Anna Hazare.) This year’s BJP election landslide victory over India’s ruling center-left government has been widely attributed to anti-corruption politics;

• The Omidyar Network-funded Janaagraha anti-corruption campaigns were enthusiastically supported by USAID officials like Sarah Mendelson, who described herself “a convert” in 2011 after hearing a Janaagraha official’s “spell-binding” speech describing the NGO’s work. The following year, 2012, Mendelson announced a new $55 million USAID program, “Making All Voices Count,” with Omidyar Network as one of its four principal partners, explaining to Congress the program’s larger political purpose: “The political trajectory of a country is ultimately a U.S. national security issue, and as such, we are intimately involved in advancing U.S. national security interests”;

• In 2005, Janaagraha was caught secretly participating in a World Bank-funded water privatization scheme in Bangalore, offering to provide “civil society participation” cover for a program to counter protests from Bangalore’s poor.

…In India, billionaire oligarchs and the business community overwhelmingly support Modi’s ultranationalist politics because Modi has been good for business. And Omidyar’s man has already been offering insight into how Modi will help big business even more.

In the days since India’s election, Sinha told CNBC that India needs “radical reforms” in line with classic neoliberal, pro-business prescriptions, including cutting government subsidies and “restructuring” India’s social welfare programs; “labor reforms”; and “land acquisition” laws. These reforms are a top priority for India’s mining industry giants, foreign investors… as well as USAID and their partners, Omidyar Network.

…What makes this story about Omidyar Network’s relationship to the ultranationalist BJP party important is what it reveals about the nature of Silicon Valley money and politics, and what it reveals about the role NGOs and corporate foundations play in advancing the interests of both US geopolitical power and US corporate profits, under the guise of charity.

A deeper look at Omidyar Network’s activities in India gives concrete insight into the meaning of Silicon Valley “enlightened self-interest.” For instance, many Omidyar Network’s India investments have a dual purpose that neatly coincide with eBay’s strategic agenda in India, a closed off but potentially huge e-commerce market that eBay has been trying to break into. As eBay has invested hundreds of millions in Indian e-commerce startups, Omidyar Network has been subtlety reshaping India’s “ecosystem” in ways that would benefit eBay’s bottom line — like bringing mobile technologyand access to microfinance loans into India’s rural villages and communities, investing in an online classifieds company, and others.

India has a lot of problems, not the least of which is its yawning inequality: On one end, India has the sixth largest number of billionaires in the world; on the other end, India has one-third of the world’s poor: 400 million Indians live on less than $1.25 a day, and half of India’s households have no access to a toilet. It’s hard to see how what they really need are solar-powered battery-operated mobile devices bought with microfinance loans — but easier to imagine how that fits into Omidyar’s agenda. (Let’s not forget that Omidyar-funded SKS Microfinance was implicated in a rash of gruesome suicides by indebted Indian villagers, mostly young women, some of whom drank bottles of pesticides or drowned themselves to avoid SKS Microfinance debt collectors.)

There is much more in Ames’ story as well, which also bears reading in full. Both his story and Mishra's have copious links to more details.

Ames ends with an apt quote from Arundhati Roy:

“As public money gets pulled out of health care and education and all of this, NGOs funded by these major financial corporations and other kinds of financial instruments move in, doing the work that missionaries used to do during colonialism—giving the impression of being charitable organizations, but actually preparing the world for the free markets of corporate capital.”

 
Sign Language: Dazzled by Atrocity’s Distant Mirror
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 03 June 2014 15:42

Here's my latest column for CounterPunch magazine. I usually wait until it's been out for awhile to post it here, but as the story in question is already fading from public consciousness (as all blazingly important stories tend to do in a matter of days -- or hours, or minutes -- in what Gore Vidal aptly termed the United States of Amnesia), I thought I'd put it up a little earlier this time.

***

Can you see me? Can you see me? I’m holding up a sign. It’s a sign expressing my outrage at an atrocious event in a country far away. It’s a sign showing my solidarity with the victims of violent extremism.

I took a picture of myself with this sign. I posted the picture on social media, so everyone can see it, so everyone can know how outraged I am at this thing that has happened that I heard about on the news. I want everyone to know that I am taking responsibility — no, I am taking ownership of this situation. It is happening to me just as certainly as it is happening to the victims. In fact, the victims actually belong to me. They are “ours” — that’s what my sign says.

“Bring back our girls!” The girls who were kidnapped from that place somewhere in Africa by that group I’d never heard of before the story about this thing was on the news and started trending on Twitter. They took “our girls,” the girls who belong to us — our girls, the girls we have cared about for so long, living there in that country in Africa where nothing has ever happened until this thing happened and got tweeted about the other night. And when I saw other people were taking pictures of themselves holding up a sign about “our girls” — including Michelle Obama; how cool was that! — I downloaded a sign from this website and printed it out and I made a picture of myself with it and put it on the internet to make that group give me back the girls who belong to me and the other people who made signs about this thing.

Then I saw somebody on Facebook said there was this rally for the girls who belong to us because we have always cared about people like them so deeply for so long — anyway, there was this rally down at the park to show that group that sounds like that Sixties band but of course is actually much worse than them that their evil will not stand. And they said that Anne Hathaway — from Les Mis! — was going to be at the rally with a megaphone and one of the signs like the one I’d made a picture of myself holding and put on the internet, where I hope you’ve seen it and retweeted it to all your friends.

And so I went down to the park and sure enough there was Anne, with a megaphone and this great Mexican-looking scarf and some really killer designer shades and she was standing next to her husband, who was holding a sign telling the Bokos to bring back our girls — because they are our girls just as much as they are the girls of that country where this thing happened — and Anne is shouting into the megaphone, asking all of us: “Do we agree with these cowards?”

And do you know what? There was not a single person in the whole crowd who agreed with raiding a school and kidnapping girls and holding them captive. Not even one person agreed. And so we shouted back to Anne: “No, Anne, we don’t agree!” And while we shouted we waved our signs about bringing back our girls, and took pictures of each other waving our signs and then posted those pictures on the internet. And that showed those Harum Scarum people that they cannot keep what belongs to us — those girls from that place — because we care so much and we do not accept violent extremism in any form.

But hey, L.A. was a great place to stand up for human rights that week. The night before the thing with Anne Hathaway and our girls, President Obama himself was in town, at the Hyatt in Century City. Some kind of Holocaust foundation thing was giving him an award as an “Ambassador for Humanity” for all his efforts to protect human rights. I wasn’t invited of course and anyway I was printing out my sign that night and taking my picture, but I saw on the internet that all kinds of important people were there, like Steven Spielberg and Liam Neeson (the German guy who saved all the Jews) and Kim Kardashian and also even Bruce Springsteen. And Obama gave a speech and got all choked up talking about our girls in Africa and in Syria, I think; or maybe it was Iraq, but I don’t think he mentioned Iraq. I did see way down in the Twitter feed about the story — people had been tweeting the jokes Conan O’Brien made at the award thing — somebody started talking about Yemen, I think it was, and droning on about drones and death squads or something but then they got blocked because the feed was meant to be honoring the president for protecting human rights, not ragging on the guy about every little thing.

I think it would have been cool if the President had held up a sign that night about our girls like Michelle did, but of course it was a solemn occasion — except for Conan’s funny bits! — about respecting the sacredness of all human life. But I know he was holding a sign in his heart and like Anne Hathaway was not agreeing with those cowards killing people and terrorizing innocent lives.

Can you see me? Should I post it again?

 
Can’t Slay the Serpent: Marching Backward Into Darkness
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Sunday, 01 June 2014 23:45

You thought that battle was in the past
Thought you’d left that carcass lying in the grass
You thought that fever had grown stone cold
You thought that dragon was weak and old
But uh-uh, honey: he’s got eternal youth.
No, you can’t slay the serpent, and that’s the truth...

In days that have seen unabashed religious fascists take control of the world’s largest democracy (with copious support from certain “dissident”-supporting oligarchs; more on this later), far-right parties making breakthroughs all across Europe (including the first postwar victory for a neo-Nazi party in Germany, of all places), the continuing backward march of America’s militarized, brutalizing, uncaring techno-feudalism, and many similar developments across the world — one is reminded again of the sad truth: you can’t slay the serpent. The evils that beset us, within and without, require eternal vigilance, battles to be fought and re-fought time and again. Here’s a brief assay upon this theme.

 
Cracking the Walnut: American Amnesia and the Libyan Aftermath
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Wednesday, 28 May 2014 15:04

In the crinkled, crumpled little walnut that constitutes America's political discourse, the question of Libya has been reduced to the petty, bitter political wranglings over "Benghazi," where American officials were killed in a FUBAR of covert ops and clueless incompetence. (Then again, covert ops and clueless incompetence are the M.O. of American foreign policy in general, so it's hard to see what's particularly 'scandalous' about the Benghazi incident. This deadly combination kills innocent people all over the world on an almost daily basis.)

Indeed, the hyper-partisan focus on Benghazi actually reflects the thoroughly bipartisan nature of America's fubarish foreign policy. We should be having long, heated, intense hearings on the US-NATO military intervention itself -- an illegal and utterly foolish assault which has plunged the country into violent chaos, empowered violent religious extremism and destabilized large swaths of Africa. It sparked violent civil war in Mali, for example; and even the dreaded Boko Haram in Nigeria have acquired copious arms from the flood of weaponry released by Western intervention, as well as funds and training from the extremist groups empowered by (and sometimes directly supported by) the Western powers in the regime change operation.

But we hear nothing of all this. It's just "Benghazi" -- a convenient 'controversy' for all involved, as it save them from any examination of the dirty reality of the intervention and its dirty aftermath. Fortunately, Patrick Cockburn is on the case, with an excellent article in CounterPunch detailing the "slow-motion coup" now being attempted in Libya by an American-backed general, and the larger context around it. The article is worth reading in full, but here are some excerpts:

The image of the Libyan revolution in 2011 was something of a fabrication in which the decisive role of Nato air power was understated. The same may be true of the counter-revolution in Libya that is being ushered in by ex-general Kalifa Hifter’s slow-motion coup which gathered support last week but without making a decisive breakthrough. …

Polarisation is happening throughout the country, but it has some way to go. Hifter’s support is stronger than expected but ramshackle, even if it is in keeping with the mood of much of the country. Thousands joined demonstrations across Libya on Friday in the biggest mass rallies since 2011 in support of Hifter, against the Islamic militias and in favour of the suspension of the Islamist-led parliament. The problem here is that Hifter may be able to tap mass resentment against the militias and in favour of a reconstituted police and national army, but his own Libyan National Army is itself a militia.

A crisis is clearly coming, but the Hifter coup still feels like the first act of a drama which will have more episodes, many of them violent, but without any final winner necessarily emerging. The present situation feels more like Lebanon, with its many power centres and no strong central state, than Egypt or Syria with their tradition of an all-powerful central authority. And in Libya, as in Lebanon during the civil war, it is foreign intervention that is likely to break the stalemate and determine the speed and direction of events as it did in 2011.

Foreign intervention is as likely to precipitate a civil war as prevent one. In Syria it led the opposition to imagine that they could win a military conflict. It is worth keeping in mind that, bad though the situation is in Libya, so far there is nothing like the violence of Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan or Lebanon during the civil war. Arbitrary and authoritarian though Gaddafi’s rule was, it was never as violent as that of the Baathist dictatorships in Baghdad and Damascus. With no tradition of extreme violence, up to now Libya’s road to ruin has been relatively low on casualties, but this could change very swiftly if present stand-offs switch to military confrontations.

In Libya, as in the other so-called Arab Spring states, hopes of a better tomorrow have melted away over the past three years. In the outside world, those who fully believed foreign media reports of the Libyan people’s uprising of 2011 as being primarily secular and democratic will have been dismayed and mystified. In reality, the Libyan revolution was rather different from the way it presented itself. From the beginning, the so-called Arab Spring revolts were a peculiar mix of revolution, counter-revolution and foreign intervention. It is worth recalling the shock felt by those who had lauded the Libyan revolt as progressive to discover that one of the first acts of Libya’s National Transitional Council in October 2011 was to lift the law banning polygamy, on the grounds that it was in conflict with sharia.

This should not have been quite so surprising, given that among the main backers of the rebels in Libya were Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states who saw the revolts of 2011 as a battle for their own survival. It was always absurd and hypocritical for the West to pretend that these absolute monarchies with extreme Islamic ideologies were interested in spreading secular democracy.

These are of course the same monarchies supporting the rebels in Syria (along with copious overt and covert support from the West). Here too we have seen massive propaganda efforts in the Western media to portray the Syrian uprising as "as being primarily secular and democratic." As'ad AbuKhalil, the "Angry Arab," does a good job of skewering this propaganda on a regular basis, particularly the Western media's unconscionable contortions to mitigate, justify or simply cover up atrocities committed by the rebels.

 
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