No Exit: A Grim Vision of the Post-Trump Future

Written by Chris Floyd 12 October 2017 1868 Hits

From Vanity Fair“I HATE EVERYONE IN THE WHITE HOUSE!”: TRUMP SEETHES AS ADVISERS FEAR THE PRESIDENT IS “UNRAVELING”

The best solution for Trump personally would be to resign now (citing 'deep state, fake news' persecution). He would immediately be hired by NBC (yes, the one he's threatening now) in a revival of "The Apprentice." He would go on being a big media noise, investigations of his manifest criminality would stop, his 'brand' would be more potent than ever. He'd play the martyr to right-wing crowds, while going on Kimmel, Colbert, even SNL to josh & joke with his fellow celebs, now treating him as a lovable rogue once again.

This is exactly what will happen if he leaves early enough, by his own choice. It's a win-win situation for him; he will probably figure this out soon enough. Meanwhile, the radical extremists in the GOP, Wall Street, Pentagon, the Koch-Mercer oligarchs, etc. will carry on their authoritarian agenda, with Trump still functioning as an effective diversion for them. People will be so glad he's gone they'll be even less inclined to see the reality of what's going on. The "Resistance," now "victorious," will go back to pushing neoliberal nostrums and centrist surrender as the radical extremists and corporate overlords rage on.

Even if Trump is too stupid to take this opportunity while he can, the scenario still might play out as above. An impeached Trump might be pardoned by Pres Pence, a la Ford and Nixon, as a way to bring "closure" to the crisis. Trump won't lay low for years like Nixon, but go off immediately to NBC (or FOX or Breitbart or even his own network) and keep making noise and fomenting strife and chaos.

What we are facing is not just the deadly, sinister antics of a clown but a vast system of oppression that has grown up around us, with bipartisan support, and now has us in a death grip. There are some hopeful counterforces in play, but they face a far more daunting challenge than merely removing Trump - and, as Stan Rogouski points out, with a far more deadened public, more atomized & cowed, less easy to rouse to fight for their own common good, than we saw in the 60s & 70s, and with institutional bulwarks far less powerful and much more compromised by the power system than before. There are long, hard, dark days ahead of us.

***

I wrote more on this systemic challenge in a Facebook post earlier this week, after Trump's tweet-threat against NBC:

It's way past time to stop treating Trump as a joke, and trying to "resist" him with talk show snark and Alec Baldwin imitations. It's time to take him very, very seriously, to not be distracted by his diversionary tactics but to look closely and carefully at what his administration is actually doing -- and at what he is actually proposing and promoting in tweets like this one. He's not a joke; he's a kleptocratic authoritarian who continues to be supported and excused and empowered by one of the main political parties, by the nation's most powerful financial center, Wall Street (whose denizens fill his cabinet), by the most powerful corporations and oligarchs (Kochs, Mercers) in the country, and by the most powerful military force and most pervasive intelligence apparatus in human history.

It's time to realize he's not just some "loose cannon" who will soon be swept away by "the grown-ups in the room." The so-called grown-ups in the room are the ones who are empowering him. He is working hard to give them everything they've ever dreamed of: unregulated corporate rapine; unlimited military spending; control of the media; control of education; unrestricted police powers to protect their wealth and power from any protest or resistance; restricting or eliminating the right to vote to all sorts of the "wrong" kind of people who might vote to advance the common good instead of elite interests; using ALEC and other far-right "legal" groups to pass laws restricting the rights of states and communities to make their own decisions and cut off the avenues of legal redress for ordinary people; constructing a new kind of society based on fearful obedience, draconian authority, elite control and the subjugation of individual citizens.

Although they may scoff at him behind his back, call him a "moron," sniffily recoil at his vulgarity, they know he's actually their Santa Claus, with a bottomless bag of goodies for them. They know his reality show schtick distracts us from what he is doing for them, makes us blind to the harsh new society rising all around us. They aren't going to get rid of him. We need to be more clear about what we're really facing. It's not just a stupid man-baby tweeting bellicose nonsense on his toilet; it's everything that he is doing and empowering -- and everyone who is empowering him.

***

A couple of days later, I saw this interview with Noam Chomsky, making many of the same points, with greater detail and scope. There is also much more on the foreign policy aspects. The whole thing is worth reading, but here are a few salient points:

The claims [of Trump’s tweets] themselves don’t really matter. It’s enough that attention is diverted from what is happening in the background. There, out of the spotlight, the most savage fringe of the Republican Party is carefully advancing policies designed to enrich their true constituency: the constituency of private power and wealth, “the masters of mankind,” to borrow Adam Smith’s phrase … Now, while attention is focused on Trump’s latest mad doings, the Ryan gang and the executive branch are ramming through legislation and orders that undermine workers’ rights, cripple consumer protections and severely harm rural communities. They seek to devastate health programs, revoking the taxes that pay for them in order to further enrich their constituency, and to eviscerate the Dodd-Frank Act, which imposed some much-needed constraints on the predatory financial system that grew during the neoliberal period.

… Not all of the damage can be blamed on the con man who is nominally in charge, on his outlandish appointments, or on the congressional forces he has unleashed. Some of the most dangerous developments under Trump trace back to Obama initiatives — initiatives passed, to be sure, under pressure from the Republican Congress.

The most dangerous of these has barely been reported. A very important study in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, published in March 2017, reveals that the Obama nuclear weapons modernization program has increased “the overall killing power of existing US ballistic missile forces by a factor of roughly three — and it creates exactly what one would expect to see, if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.” As the analysts point out, this new capacity undermines the strategic stability on which human survival depends.

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Dylan's Alembic: Against the Zeitgeist of Violence and Bluster

Written by Chris Floyd 05 October 2017 1986 Hits

(This is my column from the latest edition of CounterPunch Magazine.)

As the title of this column suggests, I’m an admirer of Bob Dylan’s work, from the world-shaking epics to the off-the-wall obscurities. But I admit that even I quailed this March when I heard he was about to release yet another collection of classic crooner covers — in a three-record set, no less!

I’d enjoyed his first couple of forays into this area, especially the moody “Shadows of the Night,” where he sang with more genuine emotion than he’d shown in years on record. But the thought of 30 more of these seemed a bit much. I’m not one of those fans who requires Dylan to redefine the zeitgeist or hale souls out of men’s bodies every time he strums a chord, but still, I would’ve preferred some new songs — or his long-threatened album of Charley Patton covers — to more mining of the Sinatra seam.

Naturally, I bought the record the day it came out.

And to my surprise, I found I couldn’t stop listening to it. I understood the criticisms of “Triplicate”: too much of a muchness, too creaky of a croakiness, too remote of a removeness from the contemporary world, etc. But the more I listened, the more I sensed something else going on. Not just a lightsome stroll through “the Great American Songbook." Not just an exercise in nostalgia, or a contrarian’s nose-thumbing at his audience’s expectations. Instead, what I heard was the careful construction of an alternative — even radical — worldview: a modern moral code masked (and anonymous) in archaic forms, a sharp counterpart and challenge to the prevailing zeitgeist.

The album concerns itself entirely with demotic themes, the stuff of life for ordinary people: lost love, unrequited love, unfulfilled yearnings, the looming shadows of mortality, with occasional bursts of joy and gentle swagger (“the best is yet to come"). The vocal delivery in most of the songs surpasses “Shadows” — and rivals anything in Dylan’s canon — for emotional depth, emotional reality.

But with the whole “American songbook” to draw from, the selection of cuts on “Triplicate” shows an obvious crafting of a particular vision. Dylan himself described the triple album as a story, beginning with a jaunty fellow lightly repining over a lost girlfriend (regretting the “new blue pajamas” he’d bought for the affair) and ending with a love-broken man wondering why he’d even been born.

At some point it occurred to me that the stories of the album, delivered by a male narrator, were describing — and enacting — nothing less than an alternative view of masculinity: a conception of manhood expressing itself in openness, tenderness and above all, vulnerability. Throughout the album, there is a courageous embrace of emotion and the possibility — and acceptance — of deep emotional pain. Indeed, in many of the songs, there is a sense of surrender: to fate, to time, to mortality, to the fragility of love, to the ending and rending of things. 

Here, across a full three albums, there are none of the withering put-downs that Dylan is famous for: no hoodoo women, no backstabbers, no soul-stealers, no Miss Lonely getting her righteous comeuppance from Napoleon in rags. There's just a series of ordinary men in ordinary life, hoping to be worthy of the woman they love or long for, or else ruminating — not raging, not ranting — about a wonderful, beguiling woman they’ve lost.

There’s no place in these songs for the triumph of the will, for braggadocio, for imposing one’s desires through bluster and violence. A greater contrast to the present zeitgeist — especially the imperial burlesque of our preening political, corporate and media elites — can hardly be imagined. In a world where war is the prevailing metaphor and mode of being, where manhood is measured by the throw-weight of missiles and chest-thumping displays of dominance, here comes an old man quietly asserting the primacy – and nobility – of the loving heart, of brokenness and gentleness, of fierce, enduring passions bounded by a respect for the beloved, whatever the outcome of the encounter.

In some ways, it reminded me of a phrase I once used – in my brief stint as a Russian literature teacher – to describe the not-dissimilar Weltanschauung found in the poetry of Boris Pasternak: "a power without the power of resistance" – which in Pasternak's case, as with Tolstoy before him, nonetheless came to stand as a stark rebuke to the powers of their day.

"Triplicate" is not on that level, of course, but it’s striking that Dylan crafted this alternative Weltanschauung from old songs largely written by immigrants or the children of immigrants: survivors of repression, violence, bigotry and persecution. This was not the lineage of the Indian-killers and slavers, the aristocrats and robber barons who gave us the bellowing hoo-rah of "American Exceptionalism," now swelling in a spectacular excrescence in Washington. This was something more universal, more subtle, a work of spiritual depth hidden in a popular song.

I think this is what Dylan meant when he said he wasn't covering the songs but uncovering them. He's brought back those depths in a kind of cultural alchemy, distilling a new sensibility through an old alembic. It's not likely to change the corrupted currents of this world, but it's an alternative worth attending to.

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Birchers in the Beer Joint: Trump “Resistance” Revives Old Slurs

Written by Chris Floyd 27 September 2017 2330 Hits

In recent days, a disturbing trope has appeared among the self-declared “Resistance” to Trump. Citing “research” that often has the scientific rigor of Donald’s Trump’s investigations of Barack Obama’s birthplace, they say that Russia is fanning the flames of the Black Lives Matter movement and the “Take a Knee” campaign. Some of these progressive Resisters are taking it a step further, tracing Kremlin perfidy in stirring up trouble in God’s perfect American heaven back to the Sixties. Yes, liberals are now aping the John Birchers and Klan goobers and American Nazi goons of old who claimed the Civil Rights movement was just a Commie plot. They really are going there, as Max Blumenthal has pointed out.

A couple of days ago, an Australian journalist named Chris Zappone tweeted a chart put out by the “Alliance for Securing Democracy,” a group of heartfelt patriots including Michael Chertoff, leading security apparatchik from the Bush Regime who cashed in to become the head of a highly profitable fear-mongering consultancy; Bill Kristol, a notorious lover of world peace through military aggression and mass murder; and Michael Morrell, former CIA apparatchik and stout defender of “extrajudicial killing” and torture, who, needless to say, is also now lapping at the “security consultant” gravy train. No one could possibly question the sincere devotion of these fine figures to truth, accuracy, morality and democracy. Together, they have helped bring freedom from all earthly cares to tens of thousands of innocent people all over the world.

They now provide a vital service in “tracking Russian influence on Twitter.” This is actually not as hard as it sounds. You might think it would require extensive technical know-how and spycraft to ferret out the Kremlin’s connection to this nefarious network. But no; all you have to do is find tweets with the theme of “anti-Americanism.” This includes any reference to the Syrian conflict that doesn’t follow Washington’s approved narrative; tweets criticizing Morgan Freeman; any support of secession movements in Catalonia or Kurdistan; and, perhaps most sinister of all, “a travel guide for Crimea.”

I myself was once accused (by association) of being a Kremlin Commie Putinist Right-Wing Bolshevik Fascist Godless Orthodox Pro-Trump dupe by no less than the Washington Post, which published a list from another similar (although more anonymous) group, denouncing a whole host of “pro-Kremlin” sites — including CounterPunch, where I write a monthly column for the print version. The Post was quickly forced to retract most of the story, but the pattern was clearly set: find something — anything, anywhere — that deviates one inch from whatever is the accepted line of conventional wisdom about America’s good greatness on any given day, then denounce the heretic as a Kremlin tool. The progressive world will beat a path to your door — even if, like the worthies above, you have the blood of innocent children and tortured captives on your hands. Sweet! 

As the Alliance of Torturers and Warmongers — sorry — for Securing Democracy puts it: “The charts and graphs here display hashtags, topics and URLs promoted by Russia-linked influence networks on Twitter. Content is not necessarily produced or created by Russian government operatives …Just because the Russia-aligned network monitored here tweets something, that doesn’t mean everyone who tweets the same content is aligned with Russia.” As I said: a veritable Trump-like level of analytic rigor.

Anyway, the Australian journalist tweeted a chart, with the ominous warning that “Pro-Russia social media” (that is, tweets by people “not necessarily…aligned with Russia”) was in “overdrive,” trying to “stoke outrage” about the “Bend a Knee” campaign which is protesting the wanton killing of unarmed people — primarily African-Americans — by unaccountable police departments. Obviously, no one would normally be outraged by this unless they were being “stoked” by Kremlin tricksters. Max Blumenthal jumped in to make this very point – “Yup, Putin is tricking us Americans into being outraged at racism. It's all a Russian op.” – to which Zappone riposted with this zinger:

“Yes, it's not like Russia doesn't have long history of making hay about US race issues.”

And presto, there we are, back in the beer joint with the John Birchers, growling about them Commies stirring up the coons. Now, it so happens I grew up in a time and place where such sentiments were readily heard — and not just from Birchers but from eminently respectable mainstream Republicans … and Democrats. In fact, given the partisan make-up of rural Tennessee at that time, almost ALL the people I heard voicing such notions were Democrats. 

Anyway, having stumbled across Mr. Zappone’s Bircher re-hash, I added my own brief contribution to the debate. (I will recast the Twitter breakage into solid text.)

“Oh be fair. Everyone knows there was no racism in the US until Lenin and Putin started tweeting about it in 1917. Growing up in rural TN in the 60s, I remember how Clem the Commissar would come by in his pick-up & force homefolk to protest integration. "Make hay, y'all, make hay!" he'd holler, passing out pointy hoods with the hammer & sickle on top. Then he'd force the aldermen to ban African-Americans from buying property or drinking out of public water fountains. "But we love our black bretheren," homefolk would cry. "No matter," Clem would say, whipping out his Kalashnikov. "Nikita wants y'all to stir up trouble, so get to it." And so, sorrowfully, under the Communist lash, good folks in a land that had never even heard a harsh racial word  had to build an entire system of racial bigotry affecting jobs, education, justice, civil rights, medical care, financial services and every other aspect of life. They didn't WANT to, but them damn socialist media Russkie agitators MADE 'em do it. Like Vietnam, it was just another tragedy that FOREIGNERS inflicted on us!”

I too oppose Trump — both for his unique awfulness and for the myriad ways he continues the heinous crimes and corrosive follies of his predecessors (including his immediate predecessor, who bequeathed to Trump a presidential assassination apparatus, numerous undeclared wars, an alliance with an increasingly genocidal Saudi onslaught against Yemen, a free pass for the rapacious corporations and oligarchs whose greed and fraud plunged the world into economic ruin, a free pass for torturers and torture apologists, and so on). But the “Resistance” — especially the part led by Establishment worthies and Hollywood celebrities who act as if Trump is some eruption of unprecedented evil in a previously pure system — is going to some very dark places. They are beginning to equate any criticism of American policy or American society with treasonous foreign influence. People who “stoke outrage” over police killings by supporting the entirely peaceful, silent protest of football players are now part of a Kremlin “network.” And the "Resisters" are working this trope backward into American history, trying to taint any protest movement or action for social change as “anti-Americanism” which was “stoked” by nefarious Russians.

I make this prediction, and it is not ironic or satirical: before the year is out, we will see some prominent “Resistance” figures directly denounce Martin Luther King Jr. as a Kremlin dupe. After all, the Russians “made hay” with the “anti-Americanism” of his Vietnam War protests and his denunciations of racial and economic injustice, didn’t they? Like Zappone, they won’t even think about the implications of what they’re saying; they’ll be too blinded by their need to find pernicious Russian influence everywhere, to “prove” that the Russians — who, as Resistance hero James Clapper (former head of the whole security apparat) said are “almost genetically driven” to deceive, infiltrate and subvert other nations — have always been “at war” with us by stirring up trouble. If they were doing it back then, they’re obviously doing it now. Ipso facto, Trump is a traitor and we can just cancel the results of the 2016 election. (This is another idea actually making the rounds these days, despite the fact that this would require destroying the constitutional system of government just as thoroughly as anything Trump hopes to do.)

The fact that they’re re-animating zombie lies and racist tropes that millions of people fought — and often died — to destroy will be lost on them. But it’s not just a blind hatred of Trump; it’s the even more compelling need to remain blind to the militarist, imperialist, oligarchic, inhumane, unjust, neoliberal horror show that gave rise to Trump in the first place: a show in which they have been willing players or happy cheerleaders for decades. They’ll bring back any lie, besmirch anyone — anything to keep from holding the mirror up to the nation, and seeing the truth. 

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"That Which Happened": 9/11 Revisited

Written by Chris Floyd 11 September 2017 3227 Hits

I wrote the column below on  Sept. 12, 2001; it was published in The Moscow Times on Sept. 14. As I noted a few years ago, a lot of water – and a lot of blood – have gone under the bridge since then, but I think most of the piece still holds true, unfortunately.

Perhaps their knives were made of stone – chipped flints, sharpened to a deadly point: the earliest human technology. Stone knives would have baffled the sleek security machines, scanning for metal, for iron and steel. Perhaps that's how the guardians of the world's greatest power were defeated by a handful of men.

A handful of men, dedicated to God, willing to die for their cause – virtues celebrated throughout the civilized world. Old-fashioned men, too: this was not push-button war, there were no guided missiles streaking across vast oceans, no bomb bays opening somewhere above the clouds. This was the real thing, the raw thing, fierce and elemental. They came to kill and they came to die. They killed; they died.

And so the unimaginable has come, at last, to America. Unimaginable, that the innocent could lie dead in their thousands, buried beneath the ruins of ordinary life. Unimaginable, that the destruction that has swept back and forth across the world in great waves, leaving the innocent lying dead in their millions, should have at last spilled over the strong sea-walls that preserved the nation's wealth and tranquility. Unimaginable, that Americans should know what so many, too many, have known before: the sudden, gutting horror of mass-murdering injustice.

How did it happen? America spends $30 billion a year, year after year after year, on "intelligence." Untold trillions have been spent on "defense." The nation bristles with powerful ordnance, it "projects dominance" (as the strategists like to say) all over the globe. And yet its leaders are like blind men, raging like Oedipus, unable to see their attackers or defend their people or understand what is happening to them.

Struck and wounded, they fall back on empty rhetoric: "an attack on democracy" – as if the suspected plotters, who spent years in a war to the death with the Soviet Union, give a damn what America's political system might be. Then come the metaphysical explanations: "A new evil has come upon us." "This is a war between good and evil."

Well yes, it's evil – as the killing of every innocent person is – but it isn't new. It's as old as the hills, as old as any chipped flint dug up from the ground. It's religious arrogance, tribalism, lust for power and – let's be honest about it – a falling-out among former allies, old comrades in undercover war. Each one of these is a powerful engine of hatred – churning in the dirt of the real world, in the mixed matter of the human brain, in the murk and folly of human history.

Religious arrogance: the implacable, impenetrable conviction that absolute truth is in your sole possession. You are good, favored by God; your enemies are evil, demonic. Tribalism (or in "civilized" terms, nationalism, patriotism): the belief that your country, your people, your grievances, your interests are above all others, that your values are so important that innocent people must sometimes be sacrificed to them. Lust for power: the burning desire to impose your will on the whole world – or failing that, to bring the whole world crumbling down around you.

And a falling-out. The White House points the finger of blame at Osama Bin Laden – a demon made to order, right out of central casting, remorseless, demented, crafty, rich. Like Saddam Hussein – another sinister figure suspected of collusion in the attack – Bin Laden was once empowered by America itself. The same intelligence services that now stand blind, struck and wounded, cynically embraced these brutal renegades as pawns in the Great Game of geopolitics; embraced them, armed them, paid them, built them up into autonomous powers – then, like Dr. Frankenstein, lost control of their creatures. The used became the users, and in Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Afghanistan – and now, New York and Washington – they have killed their thousands, and their tens of thousands.

In the name of religion. In the service of patriotism. In the lust for power – to project their dominance. This is not a new evil. It's as old as the hills, and is with us always.

But atrocity tends to raze the ground of history. In the aftermath, with the cries of lamentation rising over fresh graves, it is always Zero Hour. "That which happened" – to borrow the poet Paul Celan's phrase for the Nazis' unspeakable crimes – buries what came before, effaces the paths that led us to this place, strips away the cloak of reason (a thin rag in the best of times), and leaves nothing but the bare, anguished call for revenge.

So the leaders, the blind men, assemble. They call urgently for war – against someone, somewhere; they cannot say who, because they cannot see. The intelligence services are put to work – perhaps they will find a new pawn, someone to turn against the one who has turned against them; someone new to embrace, arm, pay, empower. Perhaps the missiles will streak and the bomb bays will open indiscriminately, as before. Or perhaps it will be left to assassins, surgeons of death who will use the terrorist's own weapons of treachery and surprise to destroy the culprits – and the inevitable "collaterals."

Blood will have blood; that's certain. But blood will not end it. For murder is fertile: it breeds more death, like a spider laden with a thousand eggs. And who now can break this cycle, which has been going on for generations? Past folly undoes us, but who, in the Zero Hour, can ignore the lamentations? Who can deny the ghosts, these loved ones gone, the red food demanded by the dead?

There is no answer. It will not stop. They say the world has now changed irreversibly, that nothing will ever be the same. But it will be the same. The same engines of hatred, the same murk, the same dirt, the same mixed matter in human brains.

This is not a new evil. It's as old as the hills, and it is with us always.

"Even unto the end of the world."

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End Games: The Apocalyptic Trope That Swallowed the World

Written by Chris Floyd 05 September 2017 3855 Hits

Everywhere you look these days, you see the trope: the "end of the world" is nigh from a nuclear war. It's there in somber headlines, in weighty punditry, even in throwaway jokes in the middle of, say, a TV review: "Looks like the BBC finally has a comedy hit -- just as the world is about to blow up!" Ha ha. The current situation with North Korea is being portrayed as if it's a reboot of the Cuban Missile Crisis, with two massively armed superpowers on the brink of all-out global conflagration.

But putting aside the entirely context-less hype and fear-mongering of our media and political elites, even if there were some kind of war between the US and North Korea, it would not remotely lead to anything like the "end of the world." The US has thousands of immediately launchable nuclear weapons; North Korea has, er, none. And even if you believe Pyongyang's propaganda (and if you swallow it about their nuclear weapons program, why not believe their BS about the happy workers' paradise they have there?), you’re still left with the fact that North Korea might be able to put a weapon on a missile at some point in the future. OK, then they could possibly lob this missile (or heck, two or three of them, maybe) in the direction of the United States – which, we assume, would just stand back and watch this happen, despite having North Korea absolutely blanketed with surveillance and having the ability to destroy any launcher the instant it reared skyward. And then North Korea would be obliterated by a US retaliation.

So even if this actually impossible worst-case scenario happened, where is the global nuclear conflagration that would destroy the entire world? Is Russia – the only other country actually capable of destroying a good bit of the world – going to launch a suicidal nuclear attack on the US because North Korea launched a sneak attack on the US and the US responded? Would China launch its handful of nukes at the US, knowing it would face instant annihilation? Gormless goobers like Donald Trump and John McCain might think so. But Russia and China have already said they themselves would punish North Korea if it launched an unprovoked attack on the US (or anyone else).

Thus, even if, God forbid, there was a nuclear exchange between the US and North Korea, the world would not end, human civilization would not collapse, etc, etc. Where would the other missiles, the ones that would destroy the whole world, come from? Are people assuming that if North Korea launched one of the nuclear-armed missiles it doesn't have at the US, the US would then launch its entire nuclear arsenal all over the world in a paroxysm of destruction? This fear-mongering trope makes no actual sense. But is certainly very useful in keeping people cringing and anxious – and looking to their "leaders" to save them from the weirdo insane crazy animal in North Korea who is somehow going to blow up the entire world all by himself! Oh, Mr. President, we forgive all that Nazi-coddling stuff; just save us from the monster!

II.
And what about the aforementioned context of the current crisis? The latest racheting up began, we’re told, when North Korea fired a missile over a Japanese island: an act of “unprovoked aggression,” it was said. But what else was going on at the same time? Well, a vast “war game” being carried out by the United States, Japan and South Korea right on North Korea’s doorstep (and on the Japanese island overflown by the missile). As Mike Whitney points out, these “provocative war games [were] designed to simulate an invasion of North Korea and a “decapitation” operation to remove (i.e., kill) the regime.” North Korea had asked the US not to begin the “decapitation” games, or else it would have to respond. Thus the launch of the unarmed missile. Then, as Whitney notes, a few days later US B-1 bombers conducted a “dummy” nuclear bombing run near Seoul. This was followed by North Korea’s claim of a successful H-bomb test, and the claim it could mount a nuke on a missile.

Now, North Korea is a loathsome, tyrannical regime. It is might even be somewhat worse than Saudi Arabia, the extremely close ally of the US and the UK. (Although women can drive in North Korea, and even hold office.) But you don’t have to defend the regime to see that the current crisis is not happening in a vacuum; it is not simply some mystical motiveless malignancy bubbling up from a cauldron of pure, senseless evil.

I’m so old I can remember — way back in the 1990s — when a landmark agreement was reached with North Korea. In exchange for giving up its nuclear program, the US and its allies would provide help with peaceful nuclear power, food, development — and would, finally, begin negotiations for a peace treaty that would at last bring the Korean War to an official end. This would allow something more like normal relations to go forward.

But in the time-honored Washington fashion (just ask the Native Americans), the US began almost immediately to undermine the agreement. Promised equipment, food and aid was not delivered. North Korea too was being cagey, and every hesitation or unseemly remark on its part was used as an excuse to further “delay” the agreement’s implementation. Needless to say, the peace talks — which were and still are the chief aim of North Korea — never took place. When George W. Bush took office, he expressed his personal contempt for the grubby little North Koreans and essentially said he wasn’t going to deal with such riff-raff anymore. So the agreement died — and North Korea re-started its nuclear weapons program.

III.
Now here we are. The tiny bankrupt, isolated nation of North Korea, with, perhaps, a handful of nuclear bombs which, perhaps, one day, might possibly be mounted on missiles which, perhaps, one day, could be launched —that is, if they weren’t first destroyed on the launching pad, which they would be (and which could be done without the use of nuclear weapons, by the way) — is facing the most powerful nation in the history of the world and its vast, hydra-headed nuclear arsenal. North Korea cannot “destroy” America, much less the world; at most, it could try to jab a pin-prick at the US — at the cost of its own immediate and total destruction. (Actually, as noted, it couldn’t even do that, but let’s play the scaremongering game for now.)

So again, the question arises: what is the basis of all this media jabber about “the end of the world”? Forget our noble leaders, who spend most of their time trying to scare us into unquestioning obedience while they pick our pockets; we know what they’re up to. But why this sudden and apparently universal adoption of a baseless, empty, dangerous notion by the media? Well, fear sells, of course; you wouldn’t get too many clicks with a headline saying “Korean Situation Calls for a Nuanced and Historically Informed Approach Leading to Fruitful and Realistic Negotiations.” But it’s odd to see the trope picked up and propagated not just by the media bosses but by writers and talkers across the board, even in non-political areas.

Who knows where the current crisis will end? Certainly, the bipartisan foreign policy establishment — which, yes, includes the Trump Administration, as well as the “liberal” media and vast chunks of the “Resistance” — seems keen on bloodshed in some form or other. Or if —particularly in the liberal quadrants — they blanche at that, they surely want to see North Korea crushed and humiliated into begging for mercy from the global hegemon.

My hunch is that we will see neither — no US attack on North Korea (and certainly not a nuclear one) and no capitulation by Pyongyang. Trump has no interest in peace, of course, nor in nuance or history, or anything else aside from his own aggrandizement. But he and his family do have lucrative business interests in China, which would be threatened by any overreaction against the thoroughly containable “threat” from North Korea. And at the moment, it seems that the military junta to which he’s given power over foreign policy also seems reluctant to start shooting — although naturally they are happy to keep goosing the fear of attack and the threat of war so the grease and graft will continue to flow into the militarist swamp.

But hell is murky, as that noted political strategist Lady Macbeth once said. And in the hell we’ve made with our — why not? — empire burlesque, the outcome of the current imbroglio remains unclear … except for one key point: it will not end, it cannot end, with the end of the world.

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Spinal Crap: NYT's Contortion to Obscure Obama's Origin of Trump's Nuke Plan

Written by Chris Floyd 27 August 2017 4235 Hits

Trump Forges Ahead on Costly Nuclear Overhaul, Sweeping Aside Doubts (NYT). This is a remarkable story. Its import is that Trump is plunging forward with a reckless overhaul and expansion of the nuclear arsenal. Then it notes that in doing so, he's continuing plans & contracts designed by Obama. Then it tells us, with a straight face, that Obama designed this $1 trillion "upgrade" of the nuclear arsenal ... because he thought Clinton would win in 2016 and "drastically cut back" the plans. The spin here is a brazen insult to the readers' intelligence.

Yes, the "updgrade" of the nuclear arsenal is a reckless, costly, unnecessary and dangerous boondoggle. Many of us wrote about it in these terms when Obama set it in motion. But the absurd lengths to which the Times goes here in order to obfuscate the fact that in this case Trump is merely implementing Obama's plan are breathtaking. We're asked to believe that the highly intelligent and competent Barack Obama spent months, years, putting together a $1 TRILLION upgrade of the nation's nuclear arsenal in the belief that his successor would then slice it to bits. This is Trump-level nonsense from the Times. Why not simply report the truth? Trump is continuing a reckless, risky boondoggle concocted by Obama. He's carrying out the planet-threatening, war-profiteering agenda of the "bipartisan foreign policy establishment" so beloved by our media mavens. I'm sure the "serious" and "savvy" General Kelly and General Mattis -- increasingly beloved by our mavens for bringing "order and structure" to the wild Trump White House -- were in full agreement with Trump's move to continue Obama's plan.

Of course, I'm glad to see the NYT drawing attention to this lunacy. And it's good to see that they didn't just ignore outright the origin of the plan. But the brazen BS of the spin -- "Oh, Obama didn't really MEAN to expand the nuclear arsenal with his plan to, uh, expand the nuclear arsenal; he was sure Hillary would stop his plan later" -- is staggering.

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Omission of Sins: NYT Turns Away From Deeper Truth on Yemen

Written by Chris Floyd 24 August 2017 4495 Hits

At last, the "paper of record" runs a long, detailed story about the death spiral in Yemen. However, it seems to be short a few details. It paints the Saudis as champions of freedom simply trying to restore a democratically elected leader to office. It neglects the detail that the leader was "elected" in a "vote" (backed by the US & Saudis) that allowed only one candidate: the one favored by the US & the Saudis. It is also scant of detail on the US involvement. A few short paragraphs from the very end, it allows that the US is "a primary supplier of arms to the members of the Saudi-led coalition" but reassuringly notes " the United States is not directly involved in the conflict," despite the fact that "it has provided military support to the Saudi-led coalition, and Yemenis have often found the remnants of American-made munitions in the ruins left by deadly airstrikes." Carefully omitted are details like US military intelligence providing targeting directions for the Saudis, US ships helping the Saudis' murderous blockade and other support which -- in throwaway paragraphs buried deep beneath layers of dutiful spin -- has been well-documented in the past two years by ... the New York Times.

It also leaves out the bombing raids and ground raids being carried out directly by US forces in Yemen, ostensibly against ISIS and al Qaeda. Here another fact is politely set aside: the fact that the US-Saudi war has vastly increased the power and reach of ISIS and al Qaeda in Yemen. The Yemen forces now under attack by the Saudis were sworn enemies of the extremists, and had pounded al Qaeda to a small remnant -- until the US/UK and the Saudis stepped in and drove them back. ISIS had almost no presence in Yemen before the war. Now, both groups are flourishing mightily in the chaos, with their enemies being devastated by the US/Saudi assault.

Two other details were lacking as well. You can read the whole long story and not see a single mention of Donald Trump or Barack Obama. The latter put the full weight of the US behind this war of aggression to install a puppet leader, while the former has expanded US involvement with more ground troops and many more air attacks, most of them blunderbuss bombings which have killed many civilians. So yes, the story does provide some moving detail about the human suffering being caused by the war; but the eminently savvy and well-informed readers of the New York Times could walk away from the story without the slightest clue of their own government's direct and deep complicity in this humanitarian crisis.

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American Carnage: White Punks on Parade

Written by Chris Floyd 12 August 2017 5704 Hits

(Written on Facebook early Saturday morning; updated below) (UPDATED AGAIN): American nazis (many of them no doubt radicalized by the self-proclaimed "godfather of the alt-right," Steve Bannon) were on the march Friday night, chanting the actual Nazi slogan, "Blood and Soil." Close-ups reveal most of them to be young white college-boy types, pudgy, coddled, comfortable, smug. They're not driven by, say, economic privation or lack of opportunity or lack of education or dire threat or any of the other reasons often adduced for people turning to extremism. No: these smug, well-wadded bastards are driven solely by cankered bigotry & their delusions of racial superiority. You can look in their faces and see what quivering cowards they all are, weak and stunted souls too stupid and too scared to see themselves for what they really are. It's like an oozing sludge of Stephen Miller clones.

This is actually the beating heart of Trumpism; both of the chief presidential advisers I've just named would fit seamlessly into this group and endorse their "blood and soil" bullshit. But of course “Trumpism” is just the latest embodiment of a deep and abiding element in America’s history, culture and politics. The liberal obsession with removing Trump “by any means necessary” (see below) simply obscures — and exacerbates — this fundamental fact. You can get rid of Trump (maybe); but as long as you keep concentrating on these rancid postules that keep erupting on the skin of the body politic — while ignoring the deeper disease within — we will all keep going from worse to worse.

UPDATE (Saturday night): As expected, many many hours after the "American carnage" set loose by his supporters erupted in Virginia, Trump issued a statement condemning ... not his white nationalist Bannonite supporters, not the rise of armed Nazi militias on American streets, not the vile racist hatred of the "alt-right" who deliberately fomented the violent chaos with their armed marches shouting actual Nazi slogans. No, he issued a boilerplate message condemning ... the "bigotry, hatred and violence" on "all sides." Which "side" was showing bigotry and hatred in Charlottesville? The armed whie nationalist thugs literally marching with Nazi flags and chanting hate slogans? Or the multiracial messangers of tolerance and the avowed opponents of hatred and bigotry who came out in large numbers to resist the Nazis?

With even hard-right nabobs like Paul Ryan condemning the sickening display of outright Nazism in Virginia, Trump had to say *something*. But he said the very least, the very minimum possible in this situation. The "both sides do it" trope is actually a clear absolution of his Nazi supporters; it seeks to muddy the waters by equating *resistance* to evil with the evil itself. To all this I can only say: Damn Trump. Damn the putrid thugs who bring out the flags of mass murderers to assert their own specious "superiority." And damn our bipartisan political/media elites for their brutalizing, dehumanizing economic and militarist policies that have fed the growth of every noxious element of American society while destroying the very notion of a greater common good. Damn them all.

(UPDATED AGAIN): In Charlottesville, a car drove into a group of counter-protestors who were cheering the retreat of the white nationalist thugs. One person was killed, many were injured. Let's remember that SEVERAL Republican-controlled states have introduced bills to make it legal to run over protestors who are "blocking traffic." Let's remember the "leaders" who have been actively abetting a culture of violence and bigotry for many years. Including the "progressive" leaders who have waged nation-destroying wars, child-killing drone raids and weekly meetings to sign off on death lists of people (including American citizens) to be killed outside any legal or constitutional process. Let's remember all those who for years have taught by example that violence and brutality are "legitimate" means of advancing your political/ideological agenda. The American fish has been rotting from the head for decades, and now we are seeing it stripped raw.

 

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Dark Matter: Surrendering our Secrets to Malevolent Forces

Written by Chris Floyd 12 August 2017 5215 Hits

(This is my latest column for the print version of CounterPunch, edited slightly.)

“And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They’d probably stick my head in a guillotine.”

Thus quoth the Bard, more than half a century ago. At the time, these lines were an electrifying insight into human nature, lighting up dark corners of the psyche not usually explored in popular music. They were also a jolting reversal of the usual protest song dynamic: a righteous hero denouncing evil from a position of moral purity. Here, at the end of a long, incandescent jeremiad against a sick society, we see the “prophet” suddenly subjecting himself to the harsh judgment he had just rendered. “Yeah, this place is Hieronymus Bosch on stilts — but you should see what’s howling in my head!’

We all have a night mind, we all have thought-dreams which, if exposed, perhaps might not get us guillotined but could well kill the image we present to others — and to ourselves. And this is true even for the most liberated, hip or “woke” among us. (Like Dylan’s own sheepish confession in his memoir, Chronicles, that back in the day he’d harbored a secret liking for Barry Goldwater because the politician reminded him of Tom Mix, the movie cowboy. Now that’s perverse!)

So imagine if there were a magic machine that let us explore our own guillotinable notions — or indeed, to range through the night-mind of the whole human race, encountering lurid thought-dreams beyond our previous imagining. A magic machine where every forbidden thought or fear or desire, even things abhorrent to our own daylight mind, could be approached, encountered, explored — and this in deepest privacy, in the safe confines of our homes, our normal daily reality. Who could resist dipping — or plunging — into such a dream-world? Yes, of course, we speak of the internet.

And these explorations need not be anything aberrant, illegal or immoral in themselves, but simply retrograde to what we think of as our truest, essential self. A gentle kindergarten teacher who finds herself looking with lurid fascination at beheadings on YouTube. A kind and loving social activist who is inexplicably drawn to the revolting racist bile she sees on Reddit. A married, smalltown bank manager who peruses gay porn or transgender websites, idly dreaming of alternative lives that in reality he would never pursue.  An obsessive haunted by irrational, humiliating fears who seeks comfort – or exacerbation – down the digital alleyways of half-baked data and feverish need. The permutations are endless. Every dark impulse, every passing fantasy, every perverse or unsettling notion thrown up by the imp of the mind: all of this available, in endless profusion, 24/7, all over the world.

Now imagine if all of these self-exposing thought-dreams were being recorded by the magic machine. Imagine if this compromising material could be made instantly available to the security organs of an overweening nation-state or the overlords of a rapacious corporate power. What you would have then is an apparatus of repression, blackmail and control beyond the wildest dreams of the most tyrannical regimes, religions and ideologies in all of human history. Any dissident, any heretic speaking out against the power structure could be undermined politically, if not destroyed psychologically, by the exposure of their night-mind, their guillotine-worthy thought-dreams, by those who hold the keys to the magic machine.

And this need not apply only to those who had roused themselves to denounce publicly the crimes and rapine of the powers that be. No, even that quiet bank manager, that suffering obsessive, might draw back from making waves – or supporting any wave-makers – in the knowledge that their personal strangeness could potentially be exposed. This fearful but not unreasonable assumption is, in part, the fruit of the many whistleblowing revelations about the surveillance state and the incredibly pervasive reach of our hi-tech behemoths (Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc.) in recent years. We have all been taught to assume that everything we do and say and show on-line is being watched, stored and laid open to state and corporate scrutiny. And we are right to do so.

Yet because this magic machine has tapped into our of most primal impulses, because it offers the ever-alluring but ever-elusive promise of filling the holes torn in our psyches by our individual upbringings and by the cruelties, chaos and contradictions in any and every social, political and cultural milieu we find ourselves caught up in, we keep exploring – and recording – our thought-dreams with it. We can't stop feeding it with kompromat against ourselves, can't stop giving malevolent forces – who care nothing for us beyond what they can wring from us for their own power and profit – the key to the inner sanctum of our souls.

There is also the fact these malevolent forces have made it virtually impossible to carry out your daily life without giving them access to your lives and thoughts. Increasingly, in  order simply to function in the modern world, you must tell them who you are, where you are, what you are buying, reading, watching, listening to.

So the Laureate's lyrics are no longer metaphorical lights cast into our secret darkness. They are now the literal truth: our thought-dreams can be seen. And they can be used, should the powerful wish it, to put our heads in a guillotine.

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“Moderates” Making Inevitable Pivot to Trump as the Money Rolls In at the Top

Written by Chris Floyd 24 June 2017 9475 Hits

I reckon Mike Bloomberg took a good long gander at that GOP "Massive Tax Cut for the Super-Rich Disguised as Healthcare" bill and liked what he saw. (Salon: Michael Bloomberg says Democrats should “get behind” President Trump) Pivoting on a dime -- or rather, on a gargantuan pile of extra loot for himself -- he dropped his opposition to the "dangerous demagogue" Trump and called on Democrats to stop opposing him too. One should recall, as the story notes, that Bloomberg owns "several media outlets." So it's a safe bet that this "get with the program and get behind the president" line will soon be trickling down throughout his various media ventures.

I've said from day one -- even before Trump began stocking his cabinet with Goldman-Sachs alumni -- that the Establishment would line up behind him because he was going to give them everything they'd ever wanted, turning the country into one big neo-feudal cash cow for oligarchs and corporations. Wall Street loves him. The war profiteers and Pentagon berserkers love him, because he's drowning them in money and letting them do what they want (the same goes for the so-called "Deep State" security agencies, who are now more funding and more free from control than ever). The Congressional extremists love him because he will sign whatever nation-destroying, citizen-killing bullshit they pass. Even the mainstream media love him, deep down, because his antics have given them their highest ratings and profit margins in years. The idea that he is some kind of "anti-Establishment" figure is just ludicrous, as is the idea that the "Establishment" is going to bring him down. He cannot be removed from office unless the Congressional extremists decide to impeach him, and they are not going to do that. It's just not going to happen. They don't want to do it, and anyway, their corporate overlords and paymasters wouldn't stand for it.

Yes, Mike Pence would faithfully serve the same agenda, but the gigantic disruption of impeaching a president would throw the whole political world into turmoil -- and uncertainty. It would be like Brexit on steroids, upending the political landscape and setting deep currents moving whose direction no one could predict. Following the earthquake of Brexit, the new shock to the system that Theresa May wrought with an unnecessary election has revived a genuine leftist alternative in Britain and sent the power structure into a dithering panic. The avowed and unrepentant socialist Jeremy Corbyn is now, astonishingly, beating May in new polls on who would be the best prime minister for the country. Bloomberg and his fellow billionaires and oligarchs certainly don't want to see anything like that happening in the US.

So it's time to line up behind the Donald and "make sure his presidency succeeds" -- succeeds in its mission to destroy the last few restraints on corporate, oligarchic and authoritarian state power. The Deathcare Bill is a big first step in that direction -- and "moderate" Mike Bloomberg is now on board. Look for other “moderates” and “centrists” to follow.

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FUBAR, FUBAR über alles: Careening Toward Chaos – or Conflagration

Written by Chris Floyd 20 June 2017 9110 Hits

Just days after President Trump came out firmly on the side of the Saudi Islamic extremists in their tiff with the Qatari Islamic extremists, his State Department, led by the rape-the-environment extremist Rexxon Tillerson, has denounced the Saudis for not coming up with a justification for their embargo of Qatar — a move that Trump himself took credit for. The story is here.

This is the FUBAR form of government. This is rule by SNAFU. It also shows in stark relief the reality of the US government today. Exxon man and the generals are in charge of foreign policy. The Congressional extremists led by Ryan and McConnell are in charge of domestic policy. Steve Bannon, as he openly declared last year, is using Trump as an "instrument" to push his vision of white nationalist authoritarianism. The ignorant, infantile president, Trump, is not in charge of anything at all beyond the promotion of his own brand and the aggrandizement of his sleazy, crime-ridden family and their cronies.

Sometimes these power centers converge, sometimes they contradict each other (Trump contradicts himself on a regular basis); all of them are using the immense power of the US government to advance their grubby agendas -- but none of them, not one, give even the slightest damn about the well-being of the American people. The chaos at the heart of the American power system today makes the wildly careening Yeltsin government I saw in action years ago look like a model of reasoned statecraft.

The generals are pushing -- and provoking -- war with Iran and Russia; their sometime ally, Tillerson, wants war with Iran but rapprochment with Russia to secure lucrative oil contracts; Trump backs any country that bribes him with business deals, like Saudi Arabia and China; and the Congressional extremists, along with their allies in the cabinet, continue their crusade to kill the sick, kill the old, rob the poor and the middle-class, poison the environment and leave the country a smoking, hollowed-out ruin, all to fill the coffers of their oligarch masters.

I have written -- for decades -- about the crimes and depredations of the American power elite (including the mass murders and assassinations and corporate servitude of the great progressive god Obama); but there has never been anything quite like the monstrous chaos we now see at the heart of the American power structure. Where this out-of-control FUBAR/SNAFU form of government will lead us -- world war? nuclear conflagration? societal colllapse? authoritarian rule? -- is anyone's guess. But we are certainly living in more "interesting times" the planet has seen since the 1930s; and I think we will all know how that turned out.

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Family Planning: Trump’s Trollish Housing Pick Part of Dystopian Plan

Written by Chris Floyd 16 June 2017 9301 Hits

So: Trump appoints his son's wedding planner to head NYC's massive federal housing agency. She has no experience in housing; she falsely claims to have a law degree; she falsely claims to have gone to Yale. This is very much in line with most of Trump's appointments. People look at the series of gormless courtiers and fox-in-henhouse given important posts and say, "What's going on?"

I think two things are happening. First, Trump is trying to turn the US into a thuggish authoritarian state run by a corrupt family (such as Kazakhstan), with incompetent kinfolk and sleazy cronies taking over government offices, while the ruling family milks the country like a cash cow. Second, his vizier Steve Bannon has been explicit about his intention to use Trump's presidency to destroy the state -- "dismantling the administrative state," as he puts it; that is, a state that administers the laws and regulations of a democratically elected government. Instead he wants to see a strongman government free from all restrictions of law and dedicated to the imposition of harsh, exclusionary nationalist ethos on the whole population. Again, he is very open about this, it's not some surmise or conspiracy theory.

This is also part of a broader GOP extremism that has been openly operating for years: the idea of deliberately causing governments to become dysfunctional -- as in Kansas, by starving it of even the minimum funding to perform its functions adequately while slashing taxes for the rich and powerful -- so that the very idea of a government that addresses the common good is discredited. (Indeed, you can even hear some of these rightists denounce the very notion of a "common good" as evil.) These GOP extremists now control Congress, the White House, most state governments and, by the time Trump (or Pence) is through, almost all of the federal judiciary.

So we will have the entire US governmental apparatus in the hands of people who hate the very idea of government; who despise the very notion of a common good; who relentlessly seek to restrict voting rights in order to thwart the will of the majority who oppose their policies; who are systematically criminalizing any kind of active protest and working to extend this repression to verbal dissent (as in Trump's repeated threats to "tighten libel laws"); who believe that only the very rich have the right to influence policy and receive government benefits; who champion and excuse the use of violent force against unarmed citizens; who are committed to a hyper-violent foreign policy run largely by the military without close civilian oversight, a policy that, as our own intelligence services tell us, destabilizes whole nations, exacerbates hatred and spreads terrorism at home and abroad.

The United States can probably survive a few years (or months, as the case may be) of Trump’s third-rate thugocracy. But it is the second point — the deliberate destruction of government by extremists fiercely dedicated to authoritarian/oligarch anti-democratic rule — that is far more dangerous. This far-right radicalism has been gathering power for years (yes, even before Putin came along!), like a tidal wave building far in the distance but moving inexorably toward the shore. Now it’s breaking upon us with tremendous force. And there is no guarantee that the structures of our government and civil society — already rotted by years of bipartisan corruption, warmongering, soulless neoliberalism and plutocratic rapine —  can survive the blow.

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