Alchemical Reactions: Transmuting Death-Dealing Dung Into PR Gold

Written by Chris Floyd 14 April 2018 1436 Hits

One simple point: if the US/UK/France really believed the building they targeted (and hit) in a heavily populated civilian area of Damascus was actually making chemical weapons, what do they think would have happened if all that toxic material had been dispersed by explosions throughout the surrounding neighborhoods? Hundreds if not thousands of civilians would have died. So either the "Western powers" knowingly risked killing thousands of innocent people -- or else they knew the building was not actually a chemical weapons facility.

Thus we are left with two possible conclusions: either they are "gas-killing animals" happy to murder untold numbers of innocent people in a military action (the very crime of which they accuse Asad); or they are deeply cynical liars using entirely bogus "humanitarian" concerns to advance a geopolitical agenda of domination in the Middle East that has already killed more than a million innocent human beings, displaced millions more, destroyed several countries and destabilized the entire world. There really are no other options.

Again: either they genuinely believed it was a chemical weapons factory and they blew it to smithereens without the slightest regard for what would happen to those in the area; or they knew it wasn't a WMD site at all. Either option makes an utter mockery of their sickening false piety about their concern for "innocent Syrian victims."

And by the way, what DID happen after the strike? Nothing. There was no dispersal of deadly chemicals, not even in the ruins of the building itself, as AFP and the Times of India report. Foreign reporters toured the site, without protective gear, in perfect safety. Obviously, there had been no chemical weapons there. Of course, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has repeatedly verified that Syria has dismantled all its chemical weapons facilities and that its stocks of chemical weapons were destroyed years ago, under international supervision. That doesn't necessarily mean there might possibly be some secret government chemical weapon facilities somewhere in Syria, although there has not yet been any evidence of this. But it does mean that the "chemical weapons factory" that the Trump-May-Macron axis claims to have hit in Damascus was almost certainly nothing of the kind.

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Stumbling Blocks: Tim Kaine and the Bipartisan Abettors of Atrocity

Written by Chris Floyd 21 March 2018 2642 Hits

I've written a lot about Yemen over the past few years. And I knew the US Senate would never vote to end our direct participation in the Saudi war crime there that has led to the worst humanitarian crisis since WWII. I knew they – like 60 Minutes and the rest of the US -- would kowtow to the extremist religious autocrats who rule over the most repressive regime on the face of the earth (with the possible exception of North Korea). I knew our leaders were bought and sold by Saudi money, which has also helped finance and arm violent extremists all over the world, for years. I knew they wouldn't vote against America's bipartisan participation in this genocide – and they didn't.

But sickening as this was, it was the statement by one of the senators who did vote to end US involvement in Yemen that caused my gall to overflow: the sanctimonious prig Tim Kaine – the man who would've been vice president. After casting a vote that he knew wouldn't matter (many Democratic "leaders," like Chuck Schumer, didn't even vote until the 51-vote approval threshold was passed), Kaine put out a smarmy, pious statement lamenting the millions of Yemenis who may starve and the tens of thousands already killed in a war that, he says, the US "stumbled into."

It was this arrogant, arrant, brazen, soulless lie that outraged me to the top of my bent. Kaine knows — as does anyone who has simply read the news in the past few years — that it is an indisputable, established fact that the US did not “stumble” into the Yemen war. He knows the indisputable fact that the former leader of his party, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, very openly and deliberately and knowingly not only greenlighted the Saudi invasion but actively, openly and directly aided the slaughter in almost every way — with weapons, with bombs, with US forces helping aim and target the bombs, with US warships helping enforce a naval blockade against the desert country that has plunged millions of innocent people into famine … all to “restore” a “president” who was the hand-picked toady of the US and the Saudis in an “election” in which NO OTHER CANDIDATE WAS ALLOWED TO RUN.

Again, all of this was done openly, directly, unashamedly: you could read about it in the most respectable newspapers in the country. The Obama administration didn’t try to hide it. Indeed, in the last months of his presidency, Obama gave the Saudis a $115 million arms deal — the biggest in the 70 years of US-Saudi alliance — while Yemen was not only sinking into famine and ruin but also enduring one of the worst cholera epidemics in all of recorded human history.

So no, Senator Kaine, the United States did not “stumble” into the Yemen war. It plunged whole-heartedly into the putrid slaughter, under the direction of the progressive, scandal-free Democratic president, Barack Obama, with the full support of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment and the mainstream media. Building on Obama’s foundation, Trump has expanded the US involvement in Yemen, with more blunderbuss bombing and troops on the ground. But he is only carrying forward the policy that Tim Kaine knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, was willingly launched by his predecessor. Without, we should add, the slightest word of opposition from moral paragons like Sen. Tim Kaine — or Hillary Clinton, or, at the time, from Bernie Sanders, who said during his campaign that the Saudis should be more militarily involved in the region.

This is the tragic, sickening, indisputable fact: under the last two presidencies, Democratic and Republican, the United States has been directly, actively, openly complicit in a ghastly, ongoing atrocity in Yemen, an act of mass murder and deliberate savagery that has sent thousands and thousands of innocent human beings — including thousands of children — to their graves, and plunged millions more into suffering and chaos that almost none of us in the West could even remotely imagine.

Yes, I hate Trump and all he stands for, and yes, I think it is an unbearable abomination that this two-bit, pig-ignorant criminal is now the president. But these indisputable facts about Yemen are one of the many reasons that I cannot join some of my friends and loved ones in nostalgic yearnings and fond reminisces of his predecessor, or pretend that my government was not also involved in horrific crimes and unspeakable moral depravity under his rule as well.

And it’s also why I cannot sit back and let abettors and accomplices of war crime like Tim Kaine now step forth and preen like moral paragons after watching — with approval — the innocent people of Yemen being starved and slaughtered in my name.  When will we say enough is enough? When will we stop turning a blind eye to evil if it is committed by someone on “our” side, someone wearing the partisan livery of “our” team?

And when — in God’s holy name — will we quit pretending that “we are great because we are good,” that when we take a three-year-old child and rip her small, frail body into shreds of bloody goo with our missiles, we are noble, we are righteous, we are a light in the darkness? I’m sick of it. I’m sick of the sanctimony, sick of the self-righteousness, I’m sick of the pious bullshit from mouths that are dripping with blood. I’m sick of the whole ungodly freak show of murderers, and apologists and cheerleaders for murder, prancing around in their pomp and their power while they grind innocent people — children just as precious and valuable as your children and grandchildren, old folks just as loved and honored as your parents, men and women just as beloved as your spouses and partners and lovers and friends — into piles of rancid viscera, into skeletal, fly-ridden living cadavers, starving in shelterless ruins.

If you want to go on pretending that this is normal — or that it was all normal before, but has only become bad now that a garish mob goon is in the White House — then go ahead. I would love to live with such a comforting delusion myself. But it won’t change the facts, it won’t change the truth, it won’t bring back the innocent dead — or prevent the endless, continuing proliferation of death at the hands of the preening, lying, bipartisan murderers we keep supporting in the hellish kabuki of our politics.

This article also appears at CounterPunch.

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Unbrinkmanship: Even Dubious Chance of Peace Rattles Militarist Elites

Written by Chris Floyd 10 March 2018 3078 Hits

Compiling a few tweets (with an additional paragraph) on Trump’s announcement of his intention to meet Kim Jong-un:

It’s funny  to watch the Establishment freak-out about Trump's meeting with Kim (which might never actually take place, of course). For months, they've been saying we're on the edge of apocalypse; but when something happens that might move us back a few inches, they go nuts. 

I’m also enjoying the earnest, savvy analyses of Trump's decision, as if it were part of some considered strategy (either wise or foolish) which will result in some kind of predictable consequences (either good or bad), instead of a momentary impulse with no plan behind it.

Equally amusing is the the universal assumption that Trump will actually go through with the meeting, instead of finding some equally dramatic way of calling it off on one pretext or another. Especially after the bipartisan militarist heavyweights are through working on him.

Because it's all just a reality TV show to him. He doesn't care what actually happens one way or another — peace? war? — as long as he's the star of the show. If he feels he needs to goose his ratings to "win" the news on any given day, he'll cancel the meeting, get big headlines.

But in any case, isn’t it better to be talking, or at least talking about talking, instead of mongering and provoking war at every turn? The worst that can happen is that the talks won’t change anything and we’ll go back to the status quo. But shouldn’t we employ the incrementalism so beloved by our savvy centrists in this case, and say, “Even the smallest step — even by the most unworthy vessels, for even the briefest duration —  away from mass destruction is a welcome development”? 

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Tell Ol’ Bill: Conservative Goons Gunning for Student Survivors

Written by Chris Floyd 21 February 2018 4214 Hits

Noted sex pest Bill O’Reilly has now joined the chorus of conservative tongue-waggers denouncing the high school students who are seeking some mild gun control measures that might reduce in some small measure the likelihood of their being shot to death while going to class. Some conservatives, like Trump’s friend and adviser Alex Jones, are even claiming that the young people speaking out aren’t really survivors at all, but “crisis actors” hired by nefarious secret forces whose sole aim is to make soft and paunchy white guys like Alex Jones feel all wiggly and emasculated because they might not be able to wrap their fingers around every single piece of the big hard steely weaponry they need to fondle to make them feel like a man. (Of course, if they didn’t hate women so much, they might not need these machine-tooled allurements to get them juiced enough to feel all musky and masculine.)

But — so far — O’Reilly is taking the more “respectable” line of conservative attack against the students; i.e., that they’re just “kids,” hormone-addled whippersnappers who  jejunely believe that their elected officials should do something — anything, even the slightest action – to stem the blood-red tide of of senseless slaughter surging through their school halls. They’re simply too young to be “politicizing” the issue with their protests and petitions and marches and what all. They lack the calm and well-steeped wisdom of age, the time-leathered sagacity that knows that life is tragic, full of wrong and sorrows that cannot be wished away — and certainly not legislated against. Of course, some matters are more amenable to regulation — such as, say, a woman’s reproductive process or a a transgender person’s toilet needs or the use of a herb that grows in the ground. But the idea that a democratic government could actually follow the wishes of the majority of its citizens (66%) and ban the sale of — or at least restrict access to — rapid-fire weapons which serve no other purpose than the instant death of many human beings …. why, that is just a folly of youth. 

No, the wise person knows that evil is with us always, even unto the end of the world; you can’t stop it with a law. Now, it’s true that robbery is with us always, too, but that doesn’t stop any government from passing laws against it. Human beings are always going to commit murder — but conservatives don’t seek to repeal the murder laws. (Indeed, they want to make them even harsher.) There are always going to be reckless drivers, but we still have traffic laws. In fact, the ineradicable presence of evil in our tragic world is the very reason we have laws in the first place: to try to reduce it, mitigate it, lessen its impact as best we can.

But for some strange reason beyond the ken of mortal kind, none of this applies to guns. Here the stance is this: Since you cannot eliminate entirely the possibility that someone might use a gun for evil purposes, then you shouldn’t put restrictions their sale or use or availability. We can regulate cars, we can regulate truck tonnage, we can regulate drugs (banning some, restricting others), we can regulate which age group can see which kind of movie; we can regulate and pass laws on virtually every activity, object and substance under the sun, even if none of these laws can completely stop these elements from sometimes being misused for sinister purposes. But again, this universally applied principle seems to have only one exception in minds of our modern conservatives: guns.

And so the Parkland High students — almost all of whom are only months or weeks or days away from being old enough to go fight and die in one of the endless, winless wars and “interventions” their wise elders keep perpetrating — are being derided, mocked, undermined and insulted for trying to bring any change at all to our gun laws. They’re too young to be making these kinds of political choices, conservatives say. (And again, this applies only to guns. If these same students were agitating for greater restrictions against, say, drug abuse, or if they were holding rallies to back a war against North Korea or to support President Trump in his fight with federal investigators, conservatives would be lauding their precocious wisdom and praising their participation in political life.)

But back to the sex pest. As noted, O'Reilly is, for now, on the milder side of the student-bashing spectrum, the head-shaking, tut-tutting, more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger gang. (Although we should note that both the berserkers like Jones and the “Establishment” figures like O’Reilly have the same goal: throttling any move for more regulation of gun sales.) So today, Bill put down his loofah for a minute and gave us a tweet on the subject of the Parkland students’ activism:

“The big question is: should the media be promoting opinions by teenagers who are in an emotional state and facing extreme peer pressure in some cases?”

This is pretty rich coming from a man who built a multimillion-dollar career out being “in an emotional state” on a permanent basis, including years of red-faced rants about an imaginary “War on Christmas” being waged relentlessly by nefarious secret forces who were largely, as Bill always implied, adherents of a certain religion other than Christianity. In fact, given his uncontrollable emotionality and his crude sexual obsessions, there is almost no one in public life more like an adolescent than O’Reilly. (And no, the president doesn’t count; he’s more like an infant whose brain has been accidentally placed in a lumbering husk of a body: “Wrong one, Igor!!”)

Anyway, as is well known, the use of Twitter encourages calm and reasoned debate, an elevated level of political and philosophical discourse not seen on this benighted globe since the zenith of Ancient Greece or the high and palmy days of Rome. And so, striving mightily to maintain this noble tone, I answered O’Reilly’s question thusly:

“No, Bill, they should have more flabby grabby old guys flapping their jowls and dribbling bile in a cascade of bullshit that will ALWAYS end in a grubby ejaculation of NRA boilerplate aimed at continuing the slaughter of our children. That IS the answer you're looking for, right?”

OK, so it ain’t Cicero, but come on. You don’t use fine linen to wipe up muck; any handy rag will do.

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Return of the Repressed: The Roots of a Resurgent Racist Notion

Written by Chris Floyd 20 February 2018 4369 Hits

I.
In recent years, we have seen a resurgence — and great expansion — of a sinister trope that has always simmered near or just below the surface of many a Southerner’s thoughts: to wit, that slavery was not really all that bad for the slaves, that most enjoyed a decent enough life, supplied with food, shelter and security. Indeed, for the most part, black Americans lived better under slavery than they did after they were freed. To be sure, slavery had not been a good thing in itself, but its horrors had been exaggerated and its benefits neglected by most historians. 

Such was the general idea. Growing up in the rural South in the 1960s, I heard variations of this line of thought from many people. There were also books put out by Southern publishers that made this case, usually by reciting the testimonies of slaves themselves, talking of the good life they’d enjoyed under kindly masters and loving mistresses. Again, this was all done with a soft sell. There was no strident defense of slavery, there was always the acknowledgement that “of course, slavery was wrong” — but there was always a “but” to follow: “but it wasn’t as bad as they say, not for most people.” The ultimate aim of this trope was neither to defend or denounce slavery, but to make white Southerners feel better about themselves — not only about their past history, but about the injustices of the present. 

In this regard, I think it is almost impossible to overestimate the effect of the movie “Gone With the Wind.” With its romantic depiction of noble Southern aristocrats and their ever-loyal, well-beloved black servants, struggling to save a lost, enchanted way of life, the movie — epic in scope, rich in story, brilliantly acted, blazing in still-rare full color — imposed a powerful template for interpreting the Civil War. The “Lost Cause” idea had long been a feature of Southern culture, of course, but the movie gave it a new, overwhelming force — and a much wider national impact. Especially for a generation that was about to face the rise of the post-WWII civil rights movement, which would bring white Southerners — and Northerners — face to face with the living legacy of the national shame of slavery. 

In some ways, the brilliance of the movie — the hazy glow it cast over American slavery — helped make it possible for many white liberals to support the civil rights movement. One could look back and acknowledge the “great wrong” of slavery without ever truly reckoning with the full truth of its horrific reality. Yes, it was bad that such good folks as stalwart Big Sam (who rescued his former owner from being attacked by a pack of white trash after the war), earth mother Mammy and even silly little Prissy had not been free; but freedom did come, bestowed by white Americans (another self-congratulatory trope with a much-misunderstood history). The essential goodness of America — and white Americans — was still intact. Slavery was bad, but it wasn’t that bad; sure, there were a few bad apples who were cruel, but in the end, it was just an unfortunate phase that we had to go through and get beyond. In the immortal words of a later president, there were “good people on both sides.”

Preserving the idea of the quintessential — and unique — goodness of America is both an urgent and eternal task for Americans. It permeates every aspect of the culture and shapes the consciousness — and self-consciousness — of countless individuals. America must be unique, it must be uniquely good, more exceptional than all other nations. The existence of this inherent goodness cannot be questioned; there can only be fallings off from it (on occasion), or  rank betrayals of this ideal by people on the other side of the political fence, or by nefarious foreigners working to corrupt the nation’s Edenic essence. This anxiety to preserve the conception of inherent goodness cuts across ideological boundaries.

But if you look too closely at reality, the idea of this essential, inherent, unique American goodness becomes impossible to retain. That’s why American evils are quickly glossed over, downplayed, or placed in “context,” with many mitigating nuances and human complexities that are never applied to other nations and peoples. Or if the evils are too glaring, they are simply ignored. The psychic cost of seeing the reality is too high, especially since almost every American —every white American, that is— has had this exceptionalism mixed in with the very foundation of their own personal identity. Any American evil has to be identified with some “Other” — partisan extremists on the other side, who “hate what America really stands for” (equality, meritocracy, free enterprise, economic justice, family values, individual freedom, tradition, law and order, civil disobedience, etc.), or foreign devils meddling in God’s domain. Or else it must be relegated to the category of a badly executed but well-meaning “mistake,” as with Ken Burns’ framing of the Vietnam War.

And this is where the influence of  “Gone With the Wind” played such an important role in “framing” the evil of slavery. Frequently re-released, it remained for decades the most popular American movie of all time. But today its implicit message is now more and more explicit in conservative circles. You can hear mitigations of slavery’s evil on Fox News. You can see major party senatorial candidates like Roy Moore openly hearkening back to the “greater” America of antebellum days. You can read any number of articles or tweets or quotes by people who have the ear of the president — media figures, businessmen, politicians —talking of how “the blacks” had it better under slavery than they do now. Indeed, you don’t have to wade very deep into the fever swamps of the far-right (which also has the ear of the president) to find outright defenses of slavery and calls for its return.

There are many factors behind this new upsurge of filth from the national id, but one of the most crucial is surely the nation’s unassuageable anxiety about confronting the reality of slavery: a failure of nerve driven by the need (political and psychological) of both liberals and conservatives to preserve the idea of America’s essential and exceptional goodness. It’s far easier for the notion of slavery’s “benign” character to take hold in a society that has been conditioned, for generation after generation, to accept a gauzy, romanticized version of this fundamental, foundational evil.

II.
These thoughts were prompted by a book on the remarkable Gutenberg Project website. The site has digitized countless numbers of books — on almost every possible subject under the sun — going back to the early 1800s and continuing past the middle of the 20th century. (Newly digitized works are being added all the time.) Looking through the site for something else recently, I found an 1856 book by Austin Steward: Twenty-Two Years a Slave, and Forty Years a Freeman. It is in many ways a typical “slave narrative,” by a man whose owne was considered a “not very hard master, but generally kind and pleasant.” Yet the very “averageness” of the situation deepens its horror. This was not slavery at its very worst, some outlier of special depravity, but the typical experience of slave life under a typical owner, Virginia plantation owner Capt. William Helm. Below are just a few excerpts:

It was usual for men and women to work side by side on our plantation; and in many kinds of work, the women were compelled to do as much as the men. Capt. H. employed an overseer, whose business it was to look after each slave in the field, and see that he performed his task. The overseer always went around with a whip, about nine feet long, made of the toughest kind of cowhide, the but-end of which was loaded with lead, and was about four or five inches in circumference, running to a point at the opposite extremity. This made a dreadful instrument of torture, and, when in the hands of a cruel overseer, it was truly fearful. With it, the skin of an ox or a horse could be cut through. Hence, it was no uncommon thing to see the poor slaves with their backs mangled in a most horrible manner. Our overseer, thus armed with his cowhide, and with a large bull-dog behind him, followed the slaves all day; and, if one of them fell in the rear from any cause, this cruel weapon was plied with terrible force. He would strike the dog one blow and the slave another, in order to keep the former from tearing the delinquent slave in pieces,—such was the ferocity of his canine attendant.

It was the rule for the slaves to rise and be ready for their task by sun-rise, on the blowing of a horn or conch-shell; and woe be to the unfortunate, who was not in the field at the time appointed, which was in thirty minutes from the first sounding of the horn. I have heard the poor creatures beg as for their lives, of the inhuman overseer, to desist from his cruel punishment. Hence, they were usually found in the field "betimes in the morning," (to use an old Virginia phrase), where they worked until nine o'clock. They were then allowed thirty minutes to eat their morning meal, which consisted of a little bread. At a given signal, all hands were compelled to return to their work. They toiled until noon, when they were permitted to take their breakfast, which corresponds to our dinner.


The usual mode of punishing the poor slaves was, to make them take off their clothes to the bare back, and then tie their hands before them with a rope, pass the end of the rope over a beam, and draw them up till they stood on the tips of their toes. Sometimes they tied their legs together and placed a rail between. Thus prepared, the overseer proceeded to punish the poor, helpless victim. Thirty-nine was the number of lashes ordinarily inflicted for the most trifling offence.

Who can imagine a position more painful? Oh, who, with feelings of common humanity, could look quietly on such torture? Who could remain unmoved, to see a fellow-creature thus tied, unable to move or to raise a hand in his own defence; scourged on his bare back, with a cowhide, until the blood flows in streams from his quivering flesh? And for what? Often for the most trifling fault; and, as sometimes occurs, because a mere whim or caprice of his brutal overseer demands it. Pale with passion, his eyes flashing and his stalwart frame trembling with rage, like some volcano, just ready to belch forth its fiery contents, and, in all its might and fury, spread death and destruction all around, he continues to wield the bloody lash on the broken flesh of the poor, pleading slave, until his arm grows weary, or he sinks down, utterly exhausted, on the very spot where already stand the pools of blood which his cruelty has drawn from thee mangled body of his helpless victim, and within the hearing of those agonized groans and feeble cries of "Oh do, Massa! Oh do, Massa! Do, Lord, have mercy! Oh, Lord, have mercy!" &c.

Nor is this cruel punishment inflicted on the bare backs of the male portion of slaves only. Oh no! The slave husband must submit without a murmur, to see the form of his cherished, but wretched wife, not only exposed to the rude gaze of a beastly tyrant, but he must unresistingly see the heavy cowhide descend upon her shrinking flesh, and her manacled limbs writhe in inexpressible torture, while her piteous cries for help ring through his ears unanswered. The wild throbbing of his heart must be suppressed, and his righteous indignation find no voice, in the presence of the human monster who holds dominion over him.

After the infuriated and heartless overseer had satiated his thirst for vengeance, on the disobedient or delinquent slave, he was untied, and left to crawl away as best he could; sometimes on his hands and knees, to his lonely and dilapidated cabin, where, stretched upon the cold earth, he lay weak and bleeding and often faint from the loss of blood, without a friend who dare administer to his necessities, and groaning in the agony of his crushed spirit. In his cabin, which was not as good as many of our stables at the North, he might lie for weeks before recovering sufficient strength to resume the labor imposed upon him, and all this time without a bed or bed clothing, or any of the necessaries considered so essential to the sick.

Capt. Helm was not a very hard master; but generally was kind and pleasant. Indulgent when in good humor, but like many of the southerners, terrible when in a passion. He was a great sportsman, and very fond of company. He generally kept one or two race horses, and a pack of hounds for fox-hunting, which at that time, was a very common and fashionable diversion in that section of country. He was not only a sportsman, but a gamester, and was in the habit of playing cards, and sometimes betting very high and losing accordingly.

I well remember an instance of the kind: it was when he played cards with a Mr. W. Graham, who won from him in one sweep, two thousand and seven hundred dollars in all, in the form of a valuable horse, prized at sixteen hundred dollars, another saddle-horse of less value, one slave, and his wife's gold watch. The company decided that all this was fairly won, but Capt. Holm demurred, and refused to give up the property until an application was made to Gen. George Washington, ("the father of his country,") who decided that Capt. Helm had lost the game, and that Mr. Graham had fairly won the property, of which Mr. G. took immediate possession, and conveyed to his own plantation.

Mrs. Helm was a very industrious woman, and generally busy in her household affairs—sewing, knitting, and looking after the servants; but she was a great scold,—continually finding fault with some of the servants, and frequently punishing the young slaves herself, by striking them over the head with a heavy iron key, until the blood ran; or else whipping them with a cowhide, which she always kept by her side when sitting in her room. The older servants she would cause to be punished by having them severely whipped by a man, which she never failed to do for every trifling fault. I have felt the weight of some of her heaviest keys on my own head, and for the slightest offences. No slave could possibly escape being punished—I care not how attentive they might be, nor how industrious—punished they must be, and punished they certainly were. Mrs. Helm appeared to be uneasy unless some of the servants were under the lash. She came into the kitchen one morning and my mother, who was cook, had just put on the dinner. Mrs. Helm took out her white cambric handkerchief, and rubbed it on the inside of the pot, and it crocked it! That was enough to invoke the wrath of my master, who came forth immediately with his horse-whip, with which he whipped my poor mother most unmercifully—far more severely than I ever knew him to whip a horse.

I once had the misfortune to break the lock of master's shot gun, and when it came to his knowledge, he came to me in a towering passion, and charged me with what he considered the crime of carelessness. I denied it, and told him I knew nothing about it; but I was so terribly frightened that he saw I was guilty, and told me so, foaming with rage; and then I confessed the truth. But oh, there was no escaping the lash. Its recollection is still bitter, and ever will be. I was commanded to take off my clothes, which I did, and then master put me on the back of another slave, my arms hanging down before him and my hands clasped in his, where he was obliged to hold me with a vise-like grasp. Then master gave me the most severe flogging that I ever received, and I pray God that I may never again experience such torture. And yet Capt. Helm was not the worst of masters.

These cruelties are daily occurrences, and so degrading is the whole practice of Slavery, that it not only crushes and brutalizes the wretched slave, but it hardens the heart, benumbs all the fine feelings of humanity, and deteriorates from the character of the slaveholders themselves,—whether man or woman. Otherwise, how could a gentle, and in other respects, amiable woman, look on such scenes of cruelty, without a shudder of utter abhorrence? But slaveholding ladies, can not only look on quietly, but with approbation; and what is worse, though very common, they can and do use the lash and cowhide themselves, on the backs of their slaves, and that too on those of their own sex! Far rather would I spend my life in a State's Prison, than be the slave of the best slaveholder on the earth!

When I was not employed as an errand-boy, it was my duty to stand behind my master's chair, which was sometimes the whole day, never being allowed to sit in his presence. Indeed, no slave is ever allowed to sit down in the presence of their master or mistress. If a slave is addressed when sitting, he is required to spring to his feet, and instantly remove his hat, if he has one, and answer in the most humble manner, or lay the foundation for a flogging, which will not be long delayed.

I slept in the same room with my master and mistress. This room was elegantly furnished with damask curtains, mahogany bedstead of the most expensive kind, and every thing else about it was of the most costly kind. And while Mr. and Mrs. Helm reposed on their bed of down, with a cloud of lace floating over them, like some Eastern Prince, with their slaves to fan them while they slept, and to tremble when they awoke, I always slept upon the floor, without a pillow or even a blanket, but, like a dog, lay down anywhere I could find a place.

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Legends of the Fall:The Liberal Longing for a Lost Normality

Written by Chris Floyd 06 February 2018 5611 Hits

This week, liberal activist Amy Siskin tweeted this message of yearning nostalgia for the good old days before the Orange Ogre befouled the sacred temple of the Oval Office: “I miss our country. I miss normal and days of non-crisis. I will be so grateful when we take our country back, every single day. Future generations will read about this frightening and tragic time we are living now.”

I read that whilst drinking my morning coffee in a café (or was it my morning caffè in a covovfe?), and to quote Mel Brooks quoting Joe Schrank, I could hardly believe my hearing aid. (So to speak.) Quickly I fired up my Twitterator and dashed off a few lines in response, which I’ve threaded together below. Naturally, my listing of more than half a century of horrors omits much, but I hope you get the general drift.

When were those normal days? The first public event I remember was the JFK killing. Then war, riots, oil embargo, Watergate, Reagan's depredations: fuelling slaughter in CentAm, James Watt, corruption, Bitburg, Iran-Contra. Then Gulf War, hundreds of thousands killed by Clinton sanctions, impeachment, 2000 election crisis, Enron, 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq invasion, torture, death squads, drone wars, mass surveillance, Gitmo, Tea Party, continuing death lists & drone wars under "liberal" management, Wall St bailout, torturers and war criminals embraced, Honduras coup, Libya, Somalia, the US-backed atrocity in Yemen, militarization of police, rise of far-right violence & hatred, the brutality of bipartisan neoliberalism, mass deportations, corporate news media giving endless airtime to a fascist clown and admitting they did it for ratings and cash, etc etc.

I'll soon be in my seventh decade and I've never known any of these normal days you pine for. I do remember days when I didn't *notice*many of the evils being done in my name, often by people I fervently supported and defended. I remember days of willful blindness and selective outrage colored by partisanship. Is this the kind of nostalgia you're actually talking about?  

Even so, I can’t remember anything "normal" about any of it. I don't deny that Trump is a new level of threat, but our collective blindness to the bipartisan abnormality of our history is a key reason why an absurd monstrosity could rise to power in the first place.

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Least Resistance: No Liberal Outrage at New Regime Change Op

Written by Chris Floyd 19 January 2018 7427 Hits

The US has passed another historic week focused on some of the most burning issues of our time, complex and contentious matters that have rightfully provoked many hours of nuanced analysis and intellectual discussion throughout every form of news media: print, video and digital. We refer, of course, to those twin peaks of public concern, embodied in a pair of vital but mystery-shrouded questions that might never fully be resolved:

1. Is Trump fatter than he says he is?
2. Is Trump a foul-mouthed, knee-jerk racist?

Loath as I am to turn anyone’s attention away from these unfathomable enigmas, I would like, with your pardon, to point out a bit of news that is of course far less important than Trump’s pants size or the question of whether, after 40 years of repeatedly belching crude bigotry in public forums, he could perhaps be said to hold somewhat less than completely enlightened views on racial equality. But I do think it is worth noting, at least in passing, that this week also saw the United States commit itself to an open-ended military occupation of territory in a foreign country with which it is not at war — in a region which has been turned into a tinderbox of violence and extremism by open-ended US military invasion, occupation and intervention.

This week, Secretary of State Rex Ex-Exxon Tillerson made a formal announcement that the United States — which has several thousand troops on the ground in Syria — will keep its forces there until the government of President Bashar al-Assad is overthrown. In other words, the United States has now embarked on a military regime change operation in Syria — in flagrant contradiction of Donald Trump’s repeated promises not to do such a thing. (I’m sure you join me in astonishment at the idea that Donald Trump would ever lie or break his word about anything.) As Buzzfeed reports:

The speech represents the most comprehensive case Tillerson has ever made for a lasting US military presence in the war-torn country and marks a departure from language drafted between the US and Russian officials in Vietnam in November.

The remarks also are a significant departure from President Donald Trump's campaign rhetoric, which maintained that the only objective the US should have in Syria is fighting ISIS, and are likely to revive debates in Congress between staunch advocates of regime change and those who fear an open-ended commitment to a US presence in Syria.

‘What we should do is focus on ISIS. We should not be focusing on Syria,” Trump said in October 2016. ‘You’re going to end up in World War III over Syria if we listen to Hillary Clinton.”

Tillerson said this week that the “regime is corrupt, and its methods of governance and economic development have increasingly excluded certain ethnic and religious groups.” Well, he should know; he’s a leading player in just such a regime. And he and Trump work in close partnership with another such regime — Saudi Arabia — especially in their extensive collusion with the Saudis (first launched by Obama) to wage a war of berserking aggression against Yemen, killing many thousands of innocent people and plunging millions into starvation and famine. But in this case, Tillerson was apparently talking about the Syrian regime, which is indeed full of bad hombres, but is nowhere near as exclusionary and corrupt — and dangerous to the world — as our bipartisan elite’s buddies in Riyadh. 

Early on, we were told that US warplanes were attacking Syria to root out the ISIS forces trying to take over the country, but there would be no “boots on the ground.” Then we were told a small number of boots (and the soldiers wearing them) would be required to help target the air attacks. Then we were told, belatedly, that at least 2,000 (many put the figure as high as 5,000) pairs of US boots (with accompanying soldiers) had somehow been installed on Syrian territory while no one was looking. (Or rather, while everyone was looking at the latest emissions from Trump’s nightly sessions of playing with his Tweeter on the toilet.) But all of this, we were told — first by Obama, then by Trump — was simply in service of a single goal: defeating ISIS in Syria.

To accomplish this singular mission, the US supported rebel fighters made up largely of Islamic fundamentalists, some of whom were even from Syria. The US-backed militias often worked closely with another rebel group, Al-Nusra, a franchise of al-Qaeda. It’s undisputed that millions of dollars worth of US weaponry somehow ended up in the hands of al-Qaeda during the course of the war, most of it passed through or sold by the rebel groups backed directly by the US. This particular noble effort of aligning with al-Qaeda and other extremists to overthrow yet another secular government in the Muslim world (Iraq, Libya, and reaching back to the days of good old godly Jimmy Carter, Afghanistan) began under the noble administration of the entirely scandal-free Obama, and has been accelerated by Trump. 

Despite these efforts, ISIS (which also somehow ended up with scads of US weaponry) was not defeated until Russian forces combined with the Syrian army in a brutal, mass-slaughtering campaign very reminiscent of the US invasion of Iraq under the now-huggable George W. Bush. In any case, ISIS is pretty much gone — but Trump has planted his rump firmly on the Syrian sand irregardless. 

So indefinite intervention and occupation are now on the cards. I’m so old I can remember when cynical nay-sayers were taken fiercely to task by the most thoroughly vetted and verified true-blue liberals for suggesting that this was the intention all along — even during the days of Obama, who has such a nice family and loves dogs and who was (as the NYT solemnly told us) as prayerful and mindful and godly as St. Thomas Aquinas when he met with his security apparatchiks in the White House every blessed week to go over the lists of people to be assassinated around the world on the basis of secret “intelligence” whose provenance and credibility remains forever shrouded in mystery. (Although I think we can safely assume it was at least as credible as the “intelligence” that led to the aforementioned mass-slaughtering war of aggression launched by the noted portrait painter George Bush.)

I suppose it’s not really surprising that our vetted and verified professional progressive liberals were largely untroubled by the fact that their hero and champion was running a death squad out of the Oval Office; as we all know, partisanship is thicker than blood. (Although to be fair, our verified progressives weren’t really all that bothered even when Bush was running the presidential death squad.) But given such thick, oozing partisan gooeyness, I guess it’s no surprise they didn’t object to Obama’s ever-expanding intervention in Syria. (Just as they said doodly squat about Obama’s essential role in the Saudi assault on Yemen — the second greatest war crime of this atrocity-choked century.)

But given their revulsion to every aspect of Trump’s corporeal being, you’d think they would find — or at least fake — a modicum of outrage over Tillerson’s announcement of an armed regime change operation in the white-hot center of the Middle East cauldron, with the armies and militias of Russia, Syria,Turkey, Iran, the Kurds and various Saudi-backed extremists all thrashing around in the pot: a situation that some trenchant analysts say could easily “end up in World War III.”

Yet once again, it’s all quiet on the progressive front. Democratic leaders — I’m sorry, “Resistance” leaders – like Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, Dianne Feinstein, Mark Warner and newly minted progressive liberal hero Doug Jones have all found ample time to give Trump (and that cute-as-a-little-bug enforcer of his, Jeff Beauregard Yezhov Sessions) vastly expanded surveillance powers over American citizens. But thus far the Democratic resistance has not said one word about this new declaration of a permanent commitment to use US military power to force regime change on yet another nation.
 
Why, it’s almost as if their “Resistance” is mostly just for show, a profusion of poses and soundbites, signifying nothing. It’s almost as if they are trying to do the barest minimum possible to get back into power without really offending or threatening the elite interests — corporations, Wall Street and, above all, the ever-growing, all-devouring, insatiable maw of the War Profiteering Complex — in which the Democratic Party now lives and moves and has its being.

But I’ve taken up enough of your time with such minor concerns. Yes, the new Syrian policy will exacerbate and extend the continually widening circles of death, hatred, extremism, revenge and corruption that our bipartisan elites have set in motion — a horrific, ruinous legacy that will doubtless bring even more evil fruit to bear for ourselves, our children and grandchildren, and the unnumbered and ignored multitudes of our victims in shattered countries across the world … but forget all that! Did you hear the latest? It turns out that the porn star Trump paid to keep quiet about their affair said she used to spank him with a rolled-up copy of Forbes magazine! Now watch the mighty Resistance spring into action with outrage and umbrage and hilarious memes! That’ll show the Trumpster Dumpster!!

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A Liberal's Confession

Written by Chris Floyd 16 January 2018 6911 Hits

I'm ashamed, but I'll go ahead and admit it: For years, I thought Rupert Murdoch was the single worst poisoner of our political system. I thought the Civil Rights movement was a remarkable manifestation of the human spirit. But now, thanks to our sensible Democratic centrists, I know how wrong I was.

Over the course of the past year, I've finally seen the light. Now I know that Vladimir Putin is behind every malign element in today's political scene. What's more, I've finally realized that Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and all those other malcontents who moaned about social and economic and racial "injustice" in America were just dupes – or agents! – of the Russians, sowing dissent and disruption in our exceptional land.

With the Russians stirring up all that bother in the Fifties and Sixties, we forgot that we are great because we are good. Any "protest" about US society could only be caused by dezinformatsiya spread by wicked foreigners and their unwitting (or oh-so-witting!) tools. But now, praise God, I'm a good centrist again! If anyone challenges incremental, corporate-funded, hyper-militaristic neoliberalism in any way, I know what to do: Denounce them! And denounce their master, Putin.

I don't have to worry anymore about Murdoch or Mercers or Kochs, about religious cranks or Randian kooks. I don't have to worry anymore about centuries of endemic, deliberately fomented white supremacy used to divide working people from each other so the wealthy few can gorge their fill! I don't have to do the most painful thing of all: look at our actual history and see how Democratic support – and advancement – of a rapacious economic system and all-devouring war machine has been absolutely crucial to the decay and disintegration of US society, and the destabilization and impoverishment of the world at large.

No, I'm here to tell you that I have laid that burden down. Now I know that all our troubles, yesterday, today and tomorrow, are due to the eternal machinations of the Russians. (Why, I bet it was the Czar who baited Abe Lincoln and good ole Jeff Davis into the Civil War!) It was Putin who made Bush invade Iraq, establish death squads and institute systematic torture. It was Putin who tricked Bill Clinton into deregulating Wall Street, expanding the death penatly, gutting welfare and killing half a million Iraqi children with sanctions. It was Putin who cannily lured Obama into arming and supporting Saudi Arabia as it killed thousands of innocent people and caused starvation and deadly epidemics in Yemen. And today it's Putin who is behind BLM & NODAPL, behind antifa, the push for single payer and the Take a Knee campaign. It's Putin who's behind each and every election challenge to corporate-approved Democrats.

Now that I know this, a great weight has been lifted from me. The scales have fallen from my eyes. Now I can say with every decent liberal: Yes indeed, we are great because we are good! Yes, our goodness can never fail; it can only be foiled by our enemies! So no more guilt, no more doubts, no more badmouthing our blessed land! I have thrown off the Russian yoke and can finally sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Take that, Vladimir!

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Ruined Choir: Remnants in the Universal Thrum

Written by Chris Floyd 14 January 2018 6456 Hits

Remnant

I was dreaming of her offering
of the perfume on her wrist
the sweetness and the nearness
of her skin just like a kiss

The pang as it’s withdrawn and
disappears into the mist
the yearning and the burning
to be more, much more than this

The love that outlasts love’s withering away
The light that lives on when night swallows the day
The soul that remains when all faith in the soul is dead
The hope that's still there when all hope has fled

I was driving through the forest
where they made the atom bomb
out of clay and stone and timber
and the universal thrum

I heard my father singing
in the bare and ruined choir
the echoes of existence
in the ashes and the fire

The love that outlasts love’s withering away
The light that lives on when night swallows the day
The soul that remains when all faith in the soul is dead
The hope that's still there when all hope has fled

 

Lyrics ©2018 by Chris Floyd/Music ©2018 by Nick Kulukundis

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Opioids and Ashes: An American Ending

Written by Chris Floyd 30 December 2017 7949 Hits

(My latest column for CounterPunch Magazine.) 
Her spinal column was fusing. Arthritis was clutching at her joints, balking every movement, filling it with pain. Her insides were a wreck, and had been for 40 years, after an unnecessary hysterectomy in the days when that operation was ordered for every mild form of "women's troubles."

Pain filled her mind as well, the bitter, implacable anger at a life gone wrong and now slipping away. Her husband had died. One son had lost his mind then died. Her life had been lived in servitude to others, from her girlhood slopping hogs on sharecropper farms to the middle-class treadmill of office work and motherhood to this wretched curdling in a dark house in a backwater town she'd always hated.

She had no appetite. Some days she forgot to eat until late at night, when she'd spoon a few bites of ice cream while watching re-runs on the channel she never changed because she didn't know how to navigate the cable system with its myriad choices. Pain in the body, pain in the soul; the pain of the past, the pain of the now; the pain of the future in the endless dark.

People tried to help: they did chores, ran errands, made repairs on the failing house. But for the most part, she rebuffed them. Her mind had been addled by a series of mini-strokes – messing with her memory, confusing her checkbook – but she remained competent enough to resist any effort to take control of her life and get her into a better situation. She would remain alone, aloof, untended in her bitterness and sadness and self-torment and affliction. Except for one person.

She had been raised in an isolated rural hollow so racist that the boys would go down to the crossroads and throw rocks at the railroad trains rattling past because the train company employed black men. The black midwife who'd brought her and all her many siblings into the world of sharecropper penury had to leave their house before sundown every day lest she be caught out after dark, when she'd be fair game to be attacked or killed.

But now, in her long, slow lacerating crawl toward the end, there was only one person she'd allow to help her, one person she trusted, one person she would let herself love: the "colored woman" who had cleaned for her each week for decades. In the 21st century, they re-enacted the old template of faithful black servant and benevolent white mistress. There was sincerity in the feelings that ran both ways, but perhaps what sealed the relation most firmly was the fact that the cleaner could alleviate her pain: she could obtain the illegal opioids that her employer required in ever greater quantities to dull the anguish of her living death.

She had legal prescriptions for the bodily degeneration that was devouring her: but these were a paltry balm, used up within days each month. The cleaner knew how to get more. Doctors bribed and wooed by gilded, respectable Big Pharma firms were throwing out prescriptions like V-E Day confetti. Pills were flooding the streets; if you needed them, and could pay, you could get all you needed. And you always needed more.

Addiction took hold. Hallucinations followed. A spectral family had taken up residence in the basement , and beguiled her and bored her for hours on end with convoluted tales of their woes. Her grandson apparently came to visit on his way to Mexico, running from the law after beating up the senator he worked for in Wisconsin. Someone kept stealing her money. She was stuck on the roof and couldn't get down, and railed at anyone who told her she was safe in her bed.

Near-starved, undone, fallen on the floor, she refused to press the panic button she wore around her neck. Someone found her at last and took her to the hospital. She was de-toxed, came back to herself for a few brief weeks, pouring out the story of her painful life as she had never done before. She went out and had her hair done one last time – then died.

She was a staunch Southern Baptist and a fanatical Democrat. A proud Confederate descendant who loved Obama and Michelle. A Bible-believer who spent her last happy day on earth with her gay hairdresser and his transgender partner, admiring the drag queen friends her granddaughter showed her on her phone. ("Oh, how pretty! I wish I had those legs.") A woman of passion and ambition thwarted by religion and convention and her own personal damage, who lived the empty middle-class dream and died as a dope addict killed by corporate drug pushers. A sharecropper's daughter, a little girl rising in the pre-dawn darkness to break the ice on the trough so the hogs could drink.

Who can tell us what it means to be an American? Who can untangle all these threads that bind us without and strangle us within? I say damn to all savvy analysis, all reductive categories – and damn to every profiteer of blood and pain.

She refused to have a funeral. No service, no family, no goodbye. She told her two remaining sons to take her ashes to the ocean, to Myrtle Beach, where she'd been a newlywed. We took her miles out to sea and there we poured her out, in waters that belonged to the whole world.

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