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Darkness at Noon: The Trap of 'Transparency'
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Sunday, 21 July 2013 00:49

Arthur Silber asks a very pertinent question: what is the worth of 'transparency'?

So many of our vaunted dissidents have made 'transparency' one of great goals of their unending agon with the imperial state. If only, they cry, we can let more daylight in on the crimes and atrocities of security apparat and the war machine, then …. well, it's not entirely clear what they believe will follow from this. Probably that 'the people,' now armed with the facts about the filth their rulers wallow in, will rise up and force our elites to sin no more.

But as Silber points out, the historical record belies this comforting little fantasy. Greater 'transparency' about government crime does not translate into mass opposition to these evils. Indeed, it almost always results in widespread indifference to state atrocities -- when it doesn't inspire enthusiastic embrace of them. Gitmo, aggressive war, Abu Ghraib, waterboarding, drone wars, Orwellian surveillance, White House death squads -- in none of these examples, drawn from just the past 10 years, has greater 'transparency' produced any kind of effective, widespread public opposition.

Quite the contrary. Torture, aggression, the rape of privacy and assassination are now widely accepted as ordinary tools of statecraft. The 'scandals' that sometimes surround the initial revelation of this or that course of imperial crime never do anything to alter the system itself. In fact, as Silber notes, once the our rulers sees that people don't really care about torture, surveillance or state-sanctioned murder, they are happy to be even more 'transparent' about their activities in these fields.

Silber cuts right to the heart of the matter. As he says, the point is not to be 'transparen't about these unspeakable evils, but to stop them:

The endless harrumphing about the critical importance of "transparency" is one of the more ridiculous fetishes on the part of many of the State's critics, and especially as voiced by many "dissidents." A monstrous criminal, who rapes, tortures and murders an endless number of people -- women, men and children -- tells us all about his crimes and how and why he commits them. He continually manages to elude the authorities, and he goes right on committing his heinous crimes. But we know every single detail about what he's doing and why. Explain to me why that represents some kind of moral improvement. …

Evil does not become less evil because people are "open" about it. It is not miraculously transformed into good through some mysterious process of alchemy. Evil becomes only worse, infinitely worse. ...

With regard to the State's Murder Program, its surveillance activities, and every other means by which the State seeks to subjugate and control all of us, I am not the least interested in oversight, accountability or transparency. I want all such programs and activities to stop. That's it. I want them to stop.

But you mark my words: the State will make additional, continuing efforts to be more "transparent." Many of the State's alleged "critics" will herald this important change in how the State functions. The "critics" will trumpet their victory, and talk endlessly about how this proves the importance of "constructive engagement" with the State.

And while the State is being so blessedly transparent, it will not only continue all its present programs: it will expand them -- but now with a touch of transparency added. The programs will expand and get progressively worse, and any criticisms that are still to be heard will steadily grow softer and more infrequent.

The State is far better at this game than its critics. The State knows all about providing a sufficient illusion of oversight and transparency to satisfy those critics -- while the State proceeds to do precisely what it wanted to do all along.

There is much more in Silber's piece, of course. So do yourself a favour, and get on over there to read the whole thing.

 
All Systems Go: The Core of the Acquittal
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 16 July 2013 00:35

The acquittal of George Zimmerman for his killing of Trayvon Martin has already sparked a torrent of fervid commentary -- millions of words -- and will no doubt produce many millions more in the days and weeks to come. But good sense and insight have been near-impossible to find in the roiling surges of this tsunami. One place where you can find these rare commodities is -- as you might expect -- Arthur Silber's blog. Silber has posted a powerful essay on the case and its implications, extending and deepening a likewise excellent piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic, which Silber builds upon to striking effect.

You should read the whole piece -- read the whole of both pieces -- but be prepared for some counter-intuitive conclusions, the chief of which is this: in the Trayvon Martin case, the system did not fail; the system worked, it did what it was supposed to do. The problem is that what it is supposed to do is to maintain and replicate the brutal, violent and, above all, dehumanizing injustice encoded in the core of the national culture.

Trayvon Martin's life was broken on the hard, metallic spikes of this core; an unspeakable personal loss. But the travesty was not the case itself -- an inevitably ambiguous affair (an unwitnessed encounter between two men, one of them left dead) hobbled with a daunting burden of legal proof required to produce a guilty verdict. No, the real travesty is the system that produced the volatile circumstances of that fateful night, and all of the seething, hateful, fearful, alienating currents that lay behind the encounter.

But read the eloquent insights of Silber and Coates for more.

 
A Conniption Amongst the Countenancers, or Popping the Tiny Bubble of Progressive Pwnage
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Sunday, 14 July 2013 23:41

Atrios, ever alert to any follies on the political landscape that might be worthy of one of his Instapunditish snippets, names Laura Rozen as his "Twit of the Day." (A lesser punishment, one supposes, than being labelled his "Wanker of the Day" or, dread fate, being placed in the fearsome stocks of his "Worst Person in the World" sobriquet). Rozen's crime, apparently, is voicing mild approval of the idea of appointing Joe Lieberman as the new head of the sinister bureaucratic boondoggle known as the Department of Homeland Security.

Rozen's comment came -- of course -- via Twitter. Our entire political discourse -- at least in the rarefied climes of media-world -- now seems to take place almost solely through this remarkable medium, where the instantaneous, scarcely masticated outpourings of third- and fourth-rate brains are offered up in dumbed-down tidbits, which appear as momentary blips in a long string of juvenile, even infantile formulations. As a prime example, see Rozen's own tweet, which, in making a case for Lieberman's nomination, says it would involve "easy confirmation, he's in charge when uhohs"

I actually went into the cacophony of baby talk and invective on Twitter to see if perhaps Rozen had inadvertently broken her tweet in half or mangled it somehow. But no, she really did mean to end with the idea of Lieberman being in charge "when uhohs." I assume the infantile rubric "uh ohs" is meant to represent domestic terror attacks -- death, destruction, maiming, disembowelment and all the other contingencies that the lard-dispensing, crony-fluffing DHS is ostensibly set up to deal with. All of this is reduced to "uhohs." And thus the Tellytubbyization of our political debate continues apace.

But Atrios -- and "Steve M." at No More Mister Nice Blog, whose blog post provides the substance of Atrios' brief snarkish link -- are not voicing objections to Rozen's goo-goo/ga-ga version of public communication. No, what really steams them, as "Steve M." makes clear, is the fact that a Lieberman nomination to this ludicrous, place-holding sinecure would -- wait for it -- alienate Obama's political base. No really, that's what bothers them. As "Steve M." notes:

And though it's a small step in the scale of things, it could also be the final straw, the act that finishes the job of alienating the liberal base that worked to elect Barack Obama twice. So we could just kick back and binge-watch SharkNado: The Series in 2014, secure in the knowledge that there's no need to pay attention to the midterms, because nobody's going to show up to vote Dem and Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell can start arranging their office swap now. Better to see that coming early, I suppose....

Man, is this bitter, savvy cynicism, or what? Watching 'SharkNado' instead of working the phones to bolster Barack? Get back, dude, that's some really heavy anarcho-bolshevik shit you got going on there.

But what is really being said here by our guardians of progressivism? They are saying that Obama's "liberal base" will swallow death squads, drone wars, Orwellian-level level illegal spying, prosecution for whistleblowers on torture but protection and promotion for the torturers themselves, etc. etc., etc. -- but they will finally balk at .... Joe Lieberman??? That's what will alienate them?

There are a multitude of responses one could make to this idea, but if we may riot in temperance, restraint and understatement, let us say simply that this feared "alienation" of Obama's "liberal base" is highly unlikely to happen -- even if Obama appoints Dick Cheney as head of the DHS. A "liberal base" that would countenance and champion a president who every week decides to kill people all over the world -- including their fellow citizens -- without trial, without charges, without judicial process, without defense -- as well as all the other manifest crimes being continued and expanded by this murderous militarist state, will not, in the end, be unduly put off by the appointment of this or that figure who once, long ago, fell outside the purview of respectable progressive opinion.

 
When the Man Comes Around: Saving a Voice of Integrity and Compassion
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Wednesday, 10 July 2013 22:53

Arthur Silber is in trouble. The IRS has targeted his sole source of income -- PayPal donations to his website -- and have taken everything that was in it. Now his PayPal account is unusable. His situation is dire.

Regular readers here will know that Silber -- a peerless, powerful voice on the many madnesses that beset our world today -- is dealing with catastrophic health issues and crippling poverty. Yet still he manages to produce an astonishing body of work -- important essays of original, astringent insight and raucous, penetrating wit. Quite simply, there is no one else like him writing in the political blogosphere (or elsewhere). His is a vital voice that we cannot afford to lose.

But in this, our low, dishonest century, we see that at every turn, great criminals are lauded, honored, protected and rewarded, while those who speak the truth to power -- and about power -- are crushed beneath the boot heels of the imperial machinery. This can take high-profile form -- as in the cases of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, for example -- but it also happens every day to countless people across the land, and across the world, who never make the headlines, who simply try their best to live their lives with integrity and compassion, yet fall into the maw of the machine. Such virtues have no place in the rapacious world constructed by, and for the benefit of, our gilded elites.

Silber's work blazes with integrity and compassion. He's not a hack chewing partisan cud or a guru belching dogma, but a thinker thinking thoughts that can grow, evolve, deepen and change. You will never come away from his essays without having your mind engaged, invigorated, spurred to further, fruitful reflection, even turned in new directions. What more can you ask of a writer? And how many writers do we have like that?

So I would urge you to get over to his site and read the recent posts (here and here) that outline his present situation. He needs, first of all, some legal help in treading the IRS labyrinth, and also your continued support to sustain his work, which benefits us all. (He gives an address where people can contact him regarding ways of donating despite the current blockages.) Again, do go there, and do whatever you can.

 
Eyes Scalded Red: Down There with the Devil and his Trash
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 05 July 2013 12:49

Here's another recently excavated piece, whose reverberations can be taken as privately or publicly or topically or timelessly as you wish -- if you wish to reverberate at all, that is.

 
Shamming into Syria
Written by Chris Floyd   
Wednesday, 03 July 2013 22:49

Here is my latest column for the print edition of Counterpunch.

Shamming into Syria

When I saw the news on June 13 that Bill Clinton had joined with John McCain in blasting Obama's "inaction" on Syria and calling for direct U.S. military intervention in the conflict, I knew we would soon hear the other shoe dropping. And lo, just hours later, pat it came, with that reliable old house organ of the power structure, the New York Times, portentously reporting that “intelligence” had “confirmed” the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government  -- the flashing "red line" that Obama had declared would be the trigger for more American intervention.

One day later, the New York Times reported that the White House will now supply the rebels with arms -- yet another loose, uncontrollable flood of weaponry washing through the most volatile region on earth, guaranteeing more death, more ruin, more terrorism, more needless suffering not only on the Syrian killing grounds, but far beyond as well -- exactly as we saw in the Libyan intervention. And no doubt the Sunni militants in Iraq -- currently killing dozens of people weekly in the sectarian hell created by the American invasion -- will love the U.S. ordnance they'll soon be getting from their al Qaeda allies in the forefront of the Syrian rebel campaign.

The move by Clinton, the progressive’s beloved “Big Dawg,” move was obviously part of a sham operation to "force" poor, peace-loving Obama into significantly ramping up American military involvement in Syria. (And the sight of this self-infatuated gasbag -- with the blood of half a million sanction-murdered Iraqi children on his hands – now demanding more bloodshed for innocent people was truly sickening. Especially the "reasoning" he gave for urging action, despite that fact that intervention is opposed by 85 percent of the American people: if Obama failed to help kill more people in Syria, Clinton said, he would end up "looking like a wuss." Yes, that really is the level of intellect that drives policy at the highest reaches of the American power structure. Yes, they really are juvenile neurotics with third-rate minds obsessed with their illusory "manhood," which can apparently be expressed only by the large-scale slaughter of human beings and military domination of the whole earth. Christ Jesus, boys -- ain't you ever heard of Viagra? Bob Dole can get it for you wholesale. You really don't have to kill people just to get it up.)

For months, Obama has been playing this rope-a-dope game, stringing along both the rabid interventionists and the remaining "progressives" who still believe, against all evidence, in the president's good intentions. But now the time has come to up the ante. Why?

One reason -- noted by the Times -- is the fact that the Syrian rebels are clearly in danger of losing, despite the best efforts of close American allies like the woman-hating, head-chopping, extremism-abetting religious tyrants in Saudi Arabia to keep the bloodshed going. Indeed, as As'ad AbuKhailil points out, the Saudi and Qatari gun-runners and paymasters of the predominantly Sunni rebels in Syria are increasingly using the conflict to foment a genocidal fury against Shiites and related sects across the Middle East. As in Iraq, Western intervention is fuelling a spiral of uncontrollable sectarian violence at a level unseen in the region for centuries, AbuKhalil notes. And American warmongers love to see Muslims killing each other, especially if it opens up new opportunities for war profiteering and oil deals, as in Libya and now in Syria. For example, just one day before the intelligence apparat “confirmed” chemical weapon use by Syria, the administration eased export restrictions to “help facilitate oil sales from rebel-controlled areas,” Reuters reports. One of life’s little coincidences, I reckon.

Equally coincidental, no doubt, is the fact that this intelligence “finding” comes just as Team Obama is reeling from revelations of the Orwell-surpassing cyber-panopticon it has imposed on the entire populace. What better distraction from domestic skullduggery than the ever-reliable foreign threat: “Look over yonder -- WMDs!” Time to rally round the flag – and fill airtime and newsprint with endless blather and Pentagon propaganda about the noble humanitarian “surge” against Syria.

This is a momentous move -- however juvenile and shallow and irredeemably stupid its perpetrators may be. Syria is not Iraq, Libya or Afghanistan, isolated regimes on the outskirts of the Middle East. It is in the very center of the powder keg. And it has powerful allies in Russia and Iran. Expanding the civil war there could draw those countries more directly into the conflict, as well as Israel, Iraq, Lebanon, even Turkey. The risk of a wider regional war -- even a world war -- is very real.

This is the reality we are now entering. It's not just blasts of point-scoring partisan rhetoric ricocheting around Capitol Hill, cable news and Twitter. There is a real world out there beyond the various screens that transfix us all, sealing us in an abstract, virtual space of light and pixels. Real people will die from this decision, and from the ludicrous, sinister games played by the stunted power-seekers on every side of the increasingly savage conflict.

 
Superiority Complex: The Reach and Roots of America's Stasi Regime
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 28 June 2013 11:48

David Bromwich has some pertinent thoughts on Edward Snowden and his revelations about our USA (Unrestrained Stasi of Authoritarianism). Note: Bromwich was writing, in the LRB, before Snowden left Hong Kong.

In ‘this our talking America’ (as Emerson called it), we prefer to talk about personalities. It could be anticipated that the ‘leaker’ of NSA secrets, and not the trespass by government against the people, would become the primary subject of discussion once the authorities produced a name and a face. He was destined to have his portrait fixed by the police and media, blurred and smeared to look, in some vague way, probably psychopathic, and once arrested to be dispatched to trial and prison. …

…The first wave of slanders broke as soon as the video interview was released. What was most strange – but predictable once you thought about it – was how far the reactions cut across political lines. This was not a test of Democrat against Republican, or welfare-state liberal versus big-business conservative. Rather it was an infallible marker of the anti-authoritarian instinct against the authoritarian. What was distressing and impossible to predict was the evidence of the way the last few years have worn deep channels of authoritarian acceptance in the mind of the liberal establishment. Every public figure who is psychologically identified with the ways of power in America has condemned Snowden as a traitor, or deplored his actions as merely those of a criminal, someone about whom the judgment ‘he must be prosecuted’ obviates any further judgment and any need for thought.

...Snowden’s profile differed from that of the spy or defector (which he was already charged with being) in one conspicuous way. He did not think in secret. In conversations with friends over the last few years, he made no effort to hide the trouble of conscience that gnawed at him. It also seems to be true – though in the interview he doesn’t clearly formulate the point – that even as he went to work and made use of his privileged access, he felt a degree of remorse at the superiority he enjoyed over ordinary citizens, any of whom might be subject to exposure at any moment by the eye of the government he worked for. The remorse (if this surmise is correct) came not from a suspicion that he didn’t deserve the privilege, but from the conviction that no one deserved it.

And yet, the drafters of the new laws, and the guardians of the secret interpretation of those laws, do feel that they deserve the privilege… We, in America, now support a class of guardians who pass unchallenged through a revolving door that at once separates and connects government and the vast security apparatus that has sprung up in the last 12 years. The cabinet officers and agency heads and company heads ‘move on’ but stay the same, from NSA to CIA or from NSA to Booz Allen Hamilton; and to the serious players, this seems a meritocracy without reproach and without peril. ...

Nothing like this system was anticipated or could possibly have been admired by the framers of the constitutional democracies of the United States and Europe. The system, as Snowden plainly recognised, is incompatible with ‘the democratic model,’ and can only be practised or accepted by people who have given up on every element of liberal democracy except the ideas of common defence and general welfare. A few hours after the 11 September bombings, Cheney told his associates that the US would have to become for a time a nation ruled by men and not laws. But his frankness on this point was exceptional. It may safely be assumed that most of the players go ahead in their work without realising how much they have surrendered. Those who are under thirty, and less persistent than Snowden in their efforts of self-education, can hardly remember a time when things were different.

…Of the public expressions of contempt for the man who opened the door, one deserves particular attention. The New Yorker legal journalist Jeffrey Toobin said that Snowden was a ‘narcissist’, and the word was repeated by the CBS news presenter Bob Schieffer. What were they thinking? ‘Narcissist’ is so far from capturing any interesting truth about Snowden that the slip invites analysis in its own right. In this twelfth year of our emergency, something has gone badly wrong with the national morale. There are cultured Americans who have lived so long in a privileged condition of dependence on the security state that they have lost control of the common meanings of words. A narcissist in Snowden’s position would have defected anonymously to Russia, sold his secrets for an excellent price, and cashed in by outing himself in a memoir published in 2018, studded with photographs of his dacha and his first two wives. Whatever else may be true of him, the actual Snowden seems the reverse of a narcissist. He made a lonely decision and sacrificed a prosperous career for the sake of principles that no one who values personal autonomy can be indifferent to. That is a significant part of what we know thus far.

Fear must have been among the strongest emotions that penetrated Snowden when he grasped the total meaning of the maps of the security state to which he was afforded a unique access. In one sort of mind, and it characterises the majority of those in power, the fear turns adaptive and changes slowly to compliance and even attachment. In a mind of a different sort, the fear leads to indignation and finally resistance. But we should not underestimate the element of physical fear that accompanies such a moral upheaval. Since the prosecutions of whistleblowers, the abusive treatment of Manning and the drone assassinations of American citizens have been justified by the president and his advisers, a dissident in the US may now think of his country the way the dissidents in East Germany under the Stasi thought of theirs. ‘The gloves are off.’ Nor should we doubt that a kindred fear is known even to the persons who control the apparatus.

This is the country that the progressive liberal good-guy Nobel Peace Laureate has given us, carrying on the work of Dick Cheney and entrenching it and expanding it even further.

***

But of course we do wrong to intimate that the rampant criminality being perpetrated by the current manager of our bright shining Stasiland has its roots in the sinister machinations of the literally machine-hearted Dick Cheney and his chump of a frontman, the noted naked self-portraitist, George W. Bush. For as Fred Branfman reminds us in a powerful new piece, the Executive Branch of the United States government has murdered, maimed and dispossessed many millions of innocent people in the past few decades alone in senseless, pointless, criminal actions. It is a long and richly detailed piece, and should be read in full, but here are just a very few excerpts (see original for links):

…. To the 430,000 to 2 million civilians killed in Vietnam must be added those killed in Laos, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iraq and many other nations, all those wounded and maimed for life, and the many millions more forced to leave villages in which their families had lived for centuries to become penniless refugees. All told, U.S. Executive Branch leaders – Democrat and Republicans, conservative and liberal—have killed wounded and made homeless well over 20 million human beings in the last 50 years, mostly civilians.

U.S. leaders have never acknowledged their responsibility for ruining so many lives, let alone apologized or made proper amends to the survivors. Those responsible have not been punished, but rewarded. The memory of it has been erased from national consciousness, as U.S. leaders endlessly declare their nation’s, and their own, goodness. Millions of civilian lives swept under the rug, forgotten, as if this mass murder and maiming, the destruction of countless homes and villages, this epic violation of basic human decency—and laws protecting civilians in time of war which U.S. leaders have promised to observe—never happened.

Americans keep this secret because facing it openly would upend our most basic understandings about our nation and its leaders. A serious public discussion of it would reveal, for example, that we cannot trust Executive Branch leaders’ human decency, words, or judgment. And more troubling, acknowledging it would mean admitting to ourselves that we have been misleading our own children, that our silence has robbed them of the truth of their history and made it more likely that future leaders will continue to commit acts that stain the very soul of America.

It is a matter of indisputable fact that the U.S. Executive Branch has over the past 50 years been responsible for bombing, shooting, burning alive with napalm, blowing up with cluster bombs, burying alive with 500-pound bombs, leveling homes and villages, torturing, assassinating and incarcerating without evidence more innocent civilians in more nations over a longer period of time than any other government on earth today ....  [Branfman then gives a detailed synopsis, with links  to supporting material, of the major murder campaigns waged by the U.S. Executive in the past 60 years.]

… One particular fact puzzled me during my investigations of the air war [working with refugees in Laos in 1969]. All the refugees said the worst bombing occurred from the end of 1968 until the summer of 1969. They were bombed daily, every village was leveled, thousands were murdered and maimed. But I knew from U.S. Embassy friends that there were no more than a few thousand North Vietnamese troops in Laos at the time, and that there was no military reason for the sudden and brutal increase in U.S. bombing. Why, then, had this aerial holocaust occurred?

And then, to my horror, I found out. At Senator Fulbright's hearing, he asked Deputy Chief of Mission Monteagle Stearns why the bombing of northern Laos had so intensified after Lyndon Johnson's bombing halt over North Vietnam. Stearns answered simply:

"Well, we had all those planes sitting around and couldn't just let them stay there with nothing to do."

U.S. officials had exterminated thousands of people of the Plain of Jars, destroying their entire civilization, because the U.S. Executive just couldn't let its planes sit around with nothing to do….

…Realizing that a handful of U.S. Executive Branch leaders had the power, all by themselves, to level the Plain of Jars shook me to my core. Every belief I had about America was upended. If a handful of Executive leaders could unilaterally and secretly destroy the 700-year-old civilization on the Plain of Jars, it meant that America was not a democracy, that the U.S. was a government of men, not laws. And it meant that these men were not good and decent human beings, but rather cold-blooded killers who showed neither pity nor mercy to those whose lives they so carelessly destroyed.

On a deeper level, it meant that even core beliefs I took for granted were untrue. Might did make right. Crime did pay. Suffering is not redemptive. Life looks very different in a Lao refugee camp looking up than in Washington, D.C. looking down. In those camps I realized that U.S. Executive Branch leaders lacked even a shred of simple human decency toward the people of the Plain.

I remember once laying in my bed late at night after returning from an interview with Thao Vong, a 38-year old Lao farmer who had been blinded in a U.S. bombing raid. Vong was a gentle soul, displayed no anger to those who had turned him from a provider of four into a helpless dependent. I contrasted him and the other Lao farmers who had been burned and buried alive by bombers dispatched by LBJ, McNamara, Nixon and Kissinger. The latter were ruthless, often angry and violent men, indifferent to non-American life—precisely the qualities threatening all life on earth. Thao Vong was gentle, kind and loving, and he and his fellow Lao wanted nothing more than to be left alone to raise their families, enjoy nature and practice Buddhism — precisely the qualities needed for humanity to survive.

I also thought of sweet-faced Sao Doumma, whose wedding photo had so struck me, and who was killed in a bombing raid executed by Henry Kissinger seven years later.

And I found myself wondering: by what right does a Henry Kissinger live and a Sao Doumma die? Who gave Kissinger and Richard Nixon the right to murder her? Who gave Lyndon Johnson the right to blind Thao Vong? I found myself asking, what just law or morality can justify these "killers in high places" who burned and buried alive countless Lao rice farmers who posed no threat whatsoever to their nation, solely because they could?...

 
Spandrels and Sparks: The Dream of Reconciliation
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 21 June 2013 22:06

Excerpt from a stream of consciousness....

… Let us be resolved, right here, right now, that this reconciliation will not come to pass. That the evil impulse that infects us all -- implanted by God only knows what profound and projected pain, inflicted and passed down through thousands of generations, from the very beginning, from the first standing-up on the savannah, to now, to us, to the present firing of the electrics of our brain -- that this evil impulse, these perverted lessons taught by millennia of ignorance and error, will not, in our lifetimes and for untold generations to come, be reconciled with and overcome by the tiny sparks of goodness that have appeared, like miracles, like spandrels, in these same tormented electrics we all share. We will not see justice, we will not see peace, we will not see loving-kindness spread to cover the earth and become the norm, the law of nature, the governing principle of Being. Let us be resolved that we will not see this.

But who would be so base, who would be so dead, that they would not, with all that is left of their corroded, damaged soul, wish to see this reconciliation, and pray for its consummation, sometime in the distant eons of the future? We shall not have it, but oh, that those who come after will know it -- is that not hope enough to live upon?

We live in degradation -- look around you, look within you, and try to deny it; if you are honest, you cannot. But if even a spark of something better has appeared among us (and, in fact, these sparks are legion, and have been, down through all the ages), then we cannot, we must not give up on ourselves, on each other, on the world.

 
Follow the Money: The Secret Heart of the Secret State
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 18 June 2013 23:53

No one, anywhere, has been writing about the deeper and wider implications of the Snowden revelations than Arthur Silber. (I hope you're not surprised by this.) In a series of powerful, insightful essays, Silber has, among other things, laid bare the dangers of the oddly circumscribed 'gatekeeper' approach of the journalistic guardians (at, ironically, the Guardian) of Snowden's secrets, particularly their slow drip-feed of carefully self-censored tidbits from the famous Powerpoint presentation that Snowden secreted from the bowels of the United Stasi of the American intelligent apparat. Eschewing the Wikileaks approach, the guardians at the Guardian have not let us judge the material for ourselves, opting instead to adopt, unwittingly, the same approach of the apparat: "we are the keepers of knowledge, we will decide what you need to know."

As Silber notes, this doesn't vitiate the worth of the revelations, but it does dilute their impact, leaving gaps that the apparat -- and its truly repulsive apologists all through the 'liberal media' -- can exploit to keep muddying the waters. He explores these ramifications, and others, in "In Praise of Mess, Chaos and Panic" and "Fed Up With All the Bullshit."

In his latest piece, "'Intelligence, Corporatism and the Dance of Death," he cuts to the corroded heart of the matter, the deep, dark not-so-secret secret that our secret-keepers are trying to obscure behind their blizzards of bullshit: it's all about the Benjamins.

After noting the gargantuan outsourcing of "intelligence" to private contractors like Booz Allen -- the very firm that employed Snowden -- Silber gives a quick precis of the essence of state-corporate capitalism (see the originals for links):

The biggest open secret all these creepy jerks are hiding is the secret of corporatism (or what Gabriel Kolko calls "political capitalism"):

There is nothing in the world that can't be turned into a huge moneymaker for the State and its favored friends in "private" business, at the same time it is used to amass still greater power. This is true in multiple forms for the fraud that is the "intelligence" industry.

The pattern is the same in every industry, from farming, to manufacturing, to every aspect of transportation, to the health insurance scam, to anything else you can name. In one common version, already vested interests go to the State demanding regulation and protection from "destabilizing" forces which, they claim, threaten the nation's well-being (by which, they mean competitors who threaten their profits). The State enthusiastically complies, the cooperative lawmakers enjoying rewards of many kinds and varieties. Then they'll have to enforce all those nifty regulations and controls. The State will do some of it but, heck, it's complicated and time-consuming, ya know? Besides, some of the State's good friends in "private" business can make a killing doing some of the enforcing. Give it to them! Etc. and so on.

Silber then goes on:

... But that's chump change. The real money is elsewhere -- in, for instance, foreign policy itself. You probably thought foreign policy was about dealing with threats to "national security," spreading democracy, ensuring peace, and whatever other lying slogans they throw around like a moldy, decaying, putrid corpse. The State's foreign policy efforts are unquestionably devoted to maintaining the U.S.'s advantages -- but the advantages they are most concerned about are access to markets and, that's right, making huge amounts of money. Despite the unending propaganda to the contrary, they aren't terribly concerned with dire threats to our national well-being, for the simple reason that there aren't any: "No nation would dare mount a serious attack on the U.S. precisely because they know how powerful the U.S. is -- because it is not secret."

How does the public-"private" intelligence industry make foreign policy? The NYT story offers an instructive example in its opening paragraphs:

When the United Arab Emirates wanted to create its own version of the National Security Agency, it turned to Booz Allen Hamilton to replicate the world’s largest and most powerful spy agency in the sands of Abu Dhabi.

It was a natural choice: The chief architect of Booz Allen’s cyberstrategy is Mike McConnell, who once led the N.S.A. and pushed the United States into a new era of big data espionage. It was Mr. McConnell who won the blessing of the American intelligence agencies to bolster the Persian Gulf sheikdom, which helps track the Iranians.

“They are teaching everything,” one Arab official familiar with the effort said. “Data mining, Web surveillance, all sorts of digital intelligence collection."

See how perfect this is? All the special people are making tons of money -- and, when the day arrives that the U.S. wants to ramp up its confrontational stance with Iran, well, there's the UAE helping to "track the Iranians" with all the tools that the U.S. has given them and taught them to use. And how easy would it be to get the UAE to provide the U.S. with just the right kind of new and disturbing "intelligence" that would get lots of people screaming about the "grave Iranian threat"? You know the answer to that: easy peasy. A wink and a nod -- and off the U.S. goes, with bombing runs or whatever it decides to do. But whatever it does will be determined in greatest part not by a genuine threat to U.S. national security (there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that Iran's leaders are all suicidal), but by what will make the most money for the State and its good friends.

Silber then underscores once more the highly instructive principle laid out by Robert Higgs:

I remind you once again of what I call The Higgs Principle. As I have emphasized, you can apply this principle to every significant policy in every area, including every aspect of foreign policy. Here is Robert Higgs explaining it:

As a general rule for understanding public policies, I insist that there are no persistent "failed" policies. Policies that do not achieve their desired outcomes for the actual powers-that-be are quickly changed. If you want to know why the U.S. policies have been what they have been for the past sixty years, you need only comply with that invaluable rule of inquiry in politics: follow the money.

When you do so, I believe you will find U.S. policies in the Middle East to have been wildly successful, so successful that the gains they have produced for the movers and shakers in the petrochemical, financial, and weapons industries (which is approximately to say, for those who have the greatest influence in determining U.S. foreign policies) must surely be counted in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

So U.S. soldiers get killed, so Palestinians get insulted, robbed, and confined to a set of squalid concentration areas, so the "peace process" never gets far from square one, etc., etc. – none of this makes the policies failures; these things are all surface froth, costs not borne by the policy makers themselves but by the cannon-fodder masses, the bovine taxpayers at large, and foreigners who count for nothing.

....It's all about wealth and power. Here and there, in episodes notable only for their rarity, "the intelligence world" might actually provide a small piece of information actually related to "national security." Again, I turn to Gabriel Kolko:

It is all too rare that states overcome illusions, and the United States is no more an exception than Germany, Italy, England, or France before it. The function of intelligence anywhere is far less to encourage rational behavior--although sometimes that occurs--than to justify a nation's illusions, and it is the false expectations that conventional wisdom encourages that make wars more likely, a pattern that has only increased since the early twentieth century. By and large, US, Soviet, and British strategic intelligence since 1945 has been inaccurate and often misleading, and although it accumulated pieces of information that were useful, the leaders of these nations failed to grasp the inherent dangers of their overall policies. When accurate, such intelligence has been ignored most of the time if there were overriding preconceptions or bureaucratic reasons for doing so.

Silber concludes:

...The intelligence-security industry isn't about protecting the United States or you, except for extraordinarily rare, virtually accidental occurrences. It's about wealth and power. Yet every politician and every government functionary speaks reverently of the sacred mission and crucial importance of "intelligence" in the manner of a syphilitic preacher who clutches a tatty, moth-eaten doll of the Madonna, which he digitally manipulates by sticking his fingers in its orifices. Most people would find his behavior shockingly obscene, if they noticed it. But they don't notice it, so mesmerized are they by the preacher with his phonily awestruck words about the holy of holies and the ungraspably noble purpose of his mission. Even as the suppurating sores on the preacher's face ooze blood and pus, his audience can only gasp, "We must pay attention to what he says! He wants only the best for us! He's trying to save us!"

What the preacher says -- what every politician and national security official says on this subject -- is a goddamned lie. The ruling class has figured out yet another way to make a killing, both figuratively and literally. They want wealth and power, and always more wealth and power. That's what "intelligence" and "national security" is about, and nothing else at all. When you hear Keith Alexander, or James Clapper, or Barack Obama talk about "intelligence" and surveillance, how your lives depend on them, and why you must trust them to protect you if you wish to continue existing at all, think of the preacher. Think of his open sores, of the blood and pus slowly dribbling down his face.

All of them are murdering crooks running a racket. They are intent on amassing wealth and power, and they've stumbled on a sure-fire way to win the acquiescence, and often the approval, of most people. They are driven by the worst of motives, including their maddened knowledge that there will always remain a few people and events that they will be unable to control absolutely. For the rest of us, their noxious games are a sickening display of power at its worst. For us, on a faster or slower schedule, in ways that are more or less extreme, their lies and machinations are only a Dance of Death.

There is much more in Silber's essays; go read them all now, if you haven't done already.

 
Skull and Bono: The Sound of ONE Hand Clapping
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 17 June 2013 22:24

As the G8 gathers here in my adopted homeland of Blighty to settle the world's hash with the great wisdom and gravitas of such world-historical figures as Barry Obama, Davy Cameron and Val Putin, George Monbiot reports on the sinister diversions of that perennial gate-crasher of the great and good at Davos, Bilderberg and wherever the masters of the universe gather behind their bristling security gates: none other than that globe-trotting friend to all humankind -- Bono.

It was bad enough in 2005. Then, at the G8 summit in Scotland, Bono and Bob Geldof heaped praise on Tony Blair and George Bush, who were still mired in the butchery they had initiated in Iraq. At one point Geldof appeared, literally and figuratively, to be sitting in Tony Blair's lap. African activists accused them of drowning out a campaign for global justice with a campaign for charity.

But this is worse. As the UK chairs the G8 summit again, a campaign that Bono founded, with which Geldof works closely, appears to be whitewashing the G8's policies in Africa.

Last week I drew attention to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, launched in the US when it chaired the G8 meeting last year. The alliance is pushing African countries into agreements that allow foreign companies to grab their land, patent their seeds and monopolise their food markets. Ignoring the voices of their own people, six African governments have struck deals with companies such as Monsanto, Cargill, Dupont, Syngenta, Nestlé and Unilever, in return for promises of aid by the UK and other G8 nations.

A wide range of activists, both African and European, is furious about the New Alliance. But the ONE campaign, co-founded by Bono, stepped up to defend it.

… I discovered is that Bono has also praised the New Alliance, in a speech just before last year's G8 summit in the US. The second thing I discovered is that much of the ONE campaign's primary funding was provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, two of whose executives sit on its board. The foundation has been working with the biotech company Monsanto and the grain trading giant Cargill, and has a large Monsanto shareholding. Bill Gates has responded to claims made about land grabbing in Africa, asserting, in the face of devastating evidence and massive resistance from African farmers, that "many of those land deals are beneficial, and it would be too bad if some were held back because of western groups' ways of looking at things". (Africans, you will note, keep getting written out of this story.)

The third thing I discovered is that there's a long history here. In his brilliant and blistering book The Frontman: Bono (in the Name of Power), just released in the UK, the Irish scholar Harry Browne maintains that "for nearly three decades as a public figure, Bono has been … amplifying elite discourses, advocating ineffective solutions, patronising the poor and kissing the arses of the rich and powerful". His approach to Africa is "a slick mix of traditional missionary and commercial colonialism, in which the poor world exists as a task for the rich world to complete".

…Bono claims to be "representing the poorest and most vulnerable people". But talking to a wide range of activists from both the poor and rich worlds since ONE published its article last week, I have heard the same complaint again and again: that Bono and others like him have seized the political space which might otherwise have been occupied by the Africans about whom they are talking. Because Bono is seen by world leaders as the representative of the poor, the poor are not invited to speak. This works very well for everyone – except them.

The ONE campaign looks to me like the sort of organisation that John le Carré or Robert Harris might have invented. It claims to work on behalf of the extremely poor. But its board is largely composed of multimillionaires, corporate aristocrats and US enforcers. Here you will find Condoleezza Rice, George W Bush's national security adviser and secretary of state, who aggressively promoted the Iraq war, instructed the CIA that it was authorised to use torture techniques and browbeat lesser nations into supporting a wide range of US aims.

Here too is Larry Summers, who was chief economist at the World Bank during the darkest days of structural adjustment and who, as US Treasury secretary, helped to deregulate Wall Street, with such happy consequences for the rest of us. Here's Howard Buffett, who has served on the boards of the global grain giant Archer Daniels Midland as well as Coca-Cola and the food corporations ConAgra and Agro Tech. Though the main focus of ONE is Africa, there are only two African members. One is a mobile phone baron, the other is the finance minister of Nigeria, who was formerly managing director of the World Bank. What better representatives of the extremely poor could there be?

This is actually the same vein that Obama himself has been mainlining for years: I'm cool, I'm hip, I'm down with the poor and downtrodden -- even as he rides shotgun for some of the most rapacious corporations and policies on the planet. One can only agree with Monbiot here:

I found the sight of Bono last week calling for "more progress on transparency" equally revolting. As Harry Browne reminds us, U2's complex web of companies, the financial arrangements of Bono's Product RED campaign and his investments through the private equity company he co-founded are all famously opaque ….

There is a well-known if dubious story that claims that at a concert in Glasgow Bono began a slow hand-clap. He is supposed to have announced: "Every time I clap my hands, a child in Africa dies." Whereupon someone in the audience shouted: "Well fucking stop doing it then." It's good advice, and I wish he'd take it.

 
Absolving Obama, or The Lamentable Sigh of the Depressed Progressive
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 17 June 2013 02:44

Something very, very bad happened over the weekend.

President Obama made Digby sigh.

What did President Obama do that made Digby sigh? Well, that thing about increasing American military involvement in Syria. Digby quotes, and agrees with, a piece by Mark Lynch which she calls "a deeply skeptical and very depressing assessment of the decision to intervene in Syria."

Digby -- like most other sentient beings on the planet, and at least 85 percent of all Americans in the most recent polls -- believes that intervening in Syria is a bad decision and will in all likelihood make the situation, already a vast cauldron of human suffering, worse.

So who is to blame for this terrible decision, this stupid decision, this bad decision that will almost certainly extend, expand and prolong the suffering of multitudes of innocent human beings?

Now you and I might think that the person responsible for the decision to send American weapons to the Syrian rebels rests with the commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces and the Chief Executive of the U.S. government, positions subsumed within the office of the President of the United States -- a post currently held by Barack Obama.

But it turns out that President Barack Obama is not responsible for the decision of the commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces and the Chief Executive of the U.S. government to send American arms to the Syrian rebels.

So who is responsible, if Obama is not? You'll never guess.

Circumstances.

Yes, apparently, once again our noble Nobelist has been torn away from his true intentions and, very reluctantly, with heavy heart -- indeed, with the kind of tragic grandeur that perhaps only President Daniel Day-Lewis might have known in the grimmest days of the Civil War -- been forced, forced against his will, against the very inclination of his soul, to send the American war machine into yet another country.

For who can forget his anguished reluctance to escalate the Afghan War with his Bush-like surge? Or the heart-tormented nights he spent before intervening illegally in Libya? Or the sweat-drops of blood he shed in fervent prayer before escalating the drone attacks on Pakistani villages? Or the spiritual torment he must go through each and every week before, sadly, reluctantly, he orders a new raft of "extrajudicial killings" by his globe-spanning death squads?

And now, once again, despite what we may be sure were weeks of fervent petition to the Lord to let this cup pass from him, the president has been forced to act against his will and make another bad, stupid, murderous decision. As Digby puts it:

Everything I read says that President Obama, unlike many in his cabinet (including his former Secretary of State) has been extremely reluctant to engage but finds himself hemmed in by the circumstances.

You see, he has been "hemmed in by circumstances." Despite his extreme reluctance to use the American military machine in dubious, sinister and counterproductive operations -- and despite his position as commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces, the most powerful military in the history of the world, and as Chief Executive of the U.S. government, likewise the most powerful state in human history, he has been "hemmed in by circumstances" and forced to make this bad decision.

Yes, he can order the assassination of anyone on earth. Yes, he can read the emails and web trails of anyone on earth. Yes, he can launch a nuclear war tomorrow and destroy the planet. But he cannot resist the "circumstances" that have compelled him to intervene in Syria. Poor man. Poor,  powerless, tragic man.

And what are those circumstances? Well, that is not crystal clear in Digby's lament, but apparently the main circumstance is the fact that a "red line" which Barack Obama himself freely decided would be the trigger for intervention has, apparently, according to assertions by his "intelligence" chiefs -- including many of the same people (such as his hand-picked Director of National Intelligence, James "Saddam moved his non-existent WMD to Syria" Clapper) who provided the "slam-dunk" intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

These are the "circumstances" that have "hemmed in" Obama. These are the iron chains which this poor man, who has no power -- not even the power to change his own mind about red lines and triggers -- is now bound with.

But it's not just Obama. Sadly, all our presidents are poor, powerless men, hemmed in by similar circumstances. As Digby tells us:

He certainly isn't the first president to find himself in that situation. America's military empire has perhaps been the most "exceptional" thing about us in recent decades.

Why, I suppose even poor, powerless George W. Bush found himself in such a hemming situation, forced by his own rhetoric and bullshit "red lines" to invade Iraq. And poor old Big Dawg Bill Clinton found himself forced to press the sanctions on Iraq that killed more than half a million children. And .....

It is all, as Digby says, very depressing. Depressing that America keeps going around the world fomenting war, chaos, bloodshed, instability and ruin, bankrupting its own people in the process while stuffing the pockets of war profiteers. And depressing too that none of our presidents apparently have the power to stop this from happening. They are all "hemmed in by circumstances," by the American military empire ... that same military empire that each one of them fought tooth and nail to get control of.

Digby concludes:

I hope he resists the pressures that Lynch illustrates above [i.e., sliding into ever-deeper involvement]. But the first step is always the hardest. The next ones will probably be easier which argues for not taking the step in the first place.

Sigh.

I must confess that my first reaction to the news that Obama is intervening militarily in Syria -- I'm sorry, that circumstances are intervening militarily in Syria -- was not exactly a sigh. But hey, maybe Digby's right. For really, what else can we do, but sigh and shrug and frown a little frown? He's "our guy" after all, right? Not perfect, but the best "we" can do for now, right? "We" fought like hell to re-elect him, so when he does something stupid, destructive, repressive or murderous, what else can you do? Turn on him? Leave the progressive "tribe"? God forbid! No, "we" can do so much more from inside the tent, bringing progressive pressure to bear by judicious but respectful criticism (and maybe some on-line petitions or something), tempered with "our" general support. Right? Right?

Sigh.

 
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