Written by Chris Floyd
Saturday, 22 March 2014 00:39
The "Global War on Terror" may have been semantically erased by the propagandists of the Obama Administration, but on the ground, it is still going on -- and still spawning a multititude of malevolent consequences, as Patrick Cockburn details in a powerful series of articles. Cockburn's look at the historical record doesn't begin with 9/11, of course; the fatal alliance between Washington and the most retrograde and repressive forms of Islam -- which gave rise to the Terror War and its present reality -- go back several decades. [The first three parts of the series are here, here and here.]
But as Cockburn rightly points out, the ostensible enemy that America's national security state is ostensibly fighting -- violent, hidebound, Sunni extremism -- is now more powerful and deadly than ever ... and has been made so at every turn by the actions of America's national security state.
Cockburn's series is a shattering read. Not much of it is new to anyone who has been paying the slightest attention to reality in the past 10 to 20 years, but it is still a very useful reiteration of what is really going on behind the torrent of blather and bullshit that constitutes our "public debate". Reading it, one can't help but think of those chilling lines from T.S. Eliot, which have echoed in my head for years as I've watched our bipartisan political (and imperial) elite lead us from disaster to disaster:
I think we are in rat's alley,
where dead men lost their bones.
Read it and weep -- if you have any tears left in you.
Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 19 March 2014 00:37
(This is an expanded version of my most recent column in CounterPunch’s print magazine.)
O the horror, the horror. To see the "shameless descent" of the "one-time countercultural figurehead" -- who had made his name as a bold stylistic innovator and powerful voice of authenticity -- now reduced to a corporate shill, parading himself, hussy-like, in a national advertisement.
How it had it happened? He had been a rawboned kid from the Midwest, a seeker and searcher who burst out of the stifling confines of bourgeois life and made his way to the very heart of the revolutionary artistic ferment raging in one of the world's great centers of countercultural bohemia. He had thrived there, magpie-like, picking up tricks of the trade, learning from mentors, stealing riffs from rivals; a little seedy, a little needy, passionate, faithless, bursting with talent. In the end, he forged an original voice that made him a towering figure in American culture and one of the most famous people on the planet, influencing generations of artists who came after him. Every year, there was serious talk of him winning the Nobel Prize -- and now this.
There he was -- posturing for the camera, an aging, taxidermy caricature of his dynamic younger self. There were his words -- his own words! -- once regarded as blazons of truth, now gummed into dim banality just to push some product to the rubes.
Sad, surreal, shameless -- yes, who can forget that awful moment when they first opened their new copy of Life magazine and saw Ernest Hemingway's ad for Ballantine Ale?
Surely, all right-thinking people condemned this act of crass hucksterism, an ugly spectacle that cast a tainted shadow over all his earlier achievements -- which could now be seen merely as sly ploys on the way to the inevitable sell-out …
In fact, literary history does not record any such reaction to the 1951 ad. Or indeed, any reaction at all. (Except perhaps from John Steinbeck, who obviously thought, "How can I land me one of them Ballantine ads?" -- and did so a couple of years later.) But such has been the blowback in many quarters to Bob Dylan’s recent Super Bowl ad for Chrysler. In some ways, it’s sort of sweet; who knew Dylan could still touch such a nerve? But mostly the imbroglio has itself been a “surreal tableau,” as one of its more scathing respondents called the ad. It’s as if an historical moment frozen in amber – the “Dylan/Judas sell-out to pop music” scandal of 1965 – has suddenly been melted by the Super Bowl klieg lights, releasing its undiluted fury into the present day.
Of course, people are free to despise Dylan for doing an ad, on whatever grounds they please: moral, political, philosophical, aesthetic. But reading the fresh shock and angry surprise of the denouncers, one has to wonder: where have they been for the past 50 years? For a full half a century, Dylan has been insisting that he is not a protest singer or a ‘countercultural figurehead’ or anything of the sort. And he has behaved accordingly. Where was the rage when he did a Cadillac commercial a couple of years ago? Or the lingerie ad before that? Or the Fender guitar ads he did at the height of his countercultural figureheadom in the mid-60s?
As a “Columbia recording artist” (which is how he is always introduced in concert), Dylan has been taking money from – and making money for – corporate interests since 1962. He is no more or less a “sell-out” in 2014 than he has been throughout his entire career, including his days as a folk singer. Again, dismiss him for that if you like. But why rage at his “betrayal” of a media-hyped, fantasized “countercultural figurehead role” that he has spent a long lifetime refusing? You’re not angry with Bob Dylan; you’re mad at an imaginary friend you’ve created in his image.
Dylan’s “shameful sell-out” has been contrasted with the moral integrity of Pete Seeger, who died just before the Chrysler commercial aired. Fair enough -- although Seeger himself didn’t mind appearing with Harry Belafonte last year after the latter’s “shameful descent” into corporate ads for Gap. Nor did Seeger scruple to sing for many years with Woody Guthrie, who lent his name and voice to many an advertisement – and once even let a tobacco company adapt one of his hard-travelin’ songs for a perky jingle. Nor did Seeger blanch at singing a song by Dylan – long after the little weasel had been hawking underwear and Cadillacs – in the only music video the folk patriarch ever made: a rendition of “Forever Young” for Amnesty International in 2012.
Maybe Seeger, in his wisdom, took a broader view of such matters than the angry Amberists. Perhaps he didn’t dismiss an artist’s output or idealism or authenticity just because they did the occasional spot for commercial sponsors – the way Dylan hero Hank Williams did throughout his career: for Mother’s Best biscuit flour, for Haldacol (a snake-oil “health” tonic he pitched in a traveling commercial “caravan” that also featured Milton Berle, Jack Dempsey, Chico Marx and James Cagney), and many other concerns. At one point, Hank even styled himself “the Ol’ Syrup Sopper” in a campaign for a Shreveport syrup company.
In 2008, yet another Dylan TV ad appeared across Europe, although it apparently escaped the notice of the Amberists. This time the shameless huckster was shilling for … an international mission to “make water safe and clean for every human being living in this world” and head off the looming conflicts over resource scarcity due to climate change. Then the next year saw ads for his much-hooted Christmas album, with all proceeds, in perpetuity, going to food banks in the US and Europe; in the first year alone, Dylan’s contribution fed an estimated 1.4 million people in the U.S, according to the American charity involved.
And of course, long after he abandoned the progressive purity of “protest” music, for decades the tainted figurehead has kept popping up to sing for (or give his music to or donate concert profits to) a plethora of causes: in aid of Salvador Allende in his struggle against CIA subversion; for Bangladeshi flood victims; against apartheid; for Hurricane Carter; for inner city children in California; for handicapped children; for nuclear disarmament; for starving people at Live Aid; for ruined farmers at Farm Aid (inspired by a remark he made at Live Aid); for Amnesty International; for gun victims in Scotland; for typhoon victims in the Philippines; for tsunami victims in Japan; for earthquake victims in Haiti; for cancer research in the US; for cancer research in the UK; for literacy in Canada; for skate-board parks in low-income communities; for children in war zones … and perhaps more out there beyond a 10-minute Google search.
But all of this is obliterated by a two-minute commercial focused almost entirely on factory workers in America’s most economically ravaged city. Yes, how the mighty have fallen. Thank god we don’t have to listen to this sullied ol’ syrup sopper anymore. We can stay pure in our amber ... while the old man keeps rolling on, neither a figurehead or a spearhead or paragon or a hero, but nothing more or less than what he's always claimed to be: a singer of songs.
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 28 July 2009 23:25
Arthur Silber has been silent for quite some time, and his last post spoke of horrific problems with his health -- which has been declining for a long time, and now seems to have taken a deep plunge.
I don't know his precise situation at the moment, but it is likely to be dire. I imagine too that in addition to the health problems, he is facing the usual crush of bills at the end of the month. He is one of our strongest and most thought-provoking voices, yet is forced to live at the margins of society, while witless poltroons and egregious time-servers swim in gravy.
I am not authorized to speak for him, and am not speaking for him -- but just on my own volition, I would urge you to go to his site and, if you have anything to give, give what you can to support Silber in this difficult time. We need his insight, we need his wit, we need the disturbing, productive fire in the mind that he can light.
And while you're there, avail yourself of some of the "Major Essays" listed on the side; this is powerful stuff, and you won't see anything like it anywhere else.
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 27 July 2009 20:16
While dozens of innocent people continue to die each week in the
political and sectarian violence unleashed in Iraq by America's
invasion and continuing occupation, the main attention of the
bipartisan Terror Warriors in Washington – and their sycophantic
outriders in the corporate media – continues to be what they call, in
the imperial jargonizing that lumps the vast complexities of myriad
human communities into reductive, thought-killing soundbites, the
This, as we all know, is the "good war," the one
that most "serious" progressives touted for years as the healthy
alternative to the "bad war" that George W. Bush got us into in Iraq,
where his "incompetence" and "failures" tarnished the exalted ideal of
"humanitarian intervention." (Known in the trade by the acronym
"KTC-STC" – "Kill the Children to Save the Children.") . If only we
could get out the quagmire in Iraq, cried the serious progs, and do the
Terror War "right" in Afghanistan! Well, their wish has come true
(except of course for the 130,000 American troops and equal number of
mercenaries still prowling around in Iraq; but that's OK, because Obama
is in charge now, and what ser-progs once vehemently denounced as a
blatant, bloody war crime can now be described, in the immortal words
of the president himself, as "an extraordinary achievement"). The Obama
Administration is throwing billions of new dollars and thousands of
more troops into the eight-year-old conflict, while greatly expanding
the cross-border attacks on the sovereign soil of America's ally,
Pakistan. And while Obama has retained the core of the Terror War
directorate that Bush installed – notably Pentagon warlord Robert Gates
and the surgin' general, David Petraeus – he has now put his own man in
charge of the "good war": longtime "dirty war" and death squad maven
Stanley McChrystal. (Expertise in rubouts, snatches and "strenuous
interrogation" is obviously what you need to win "hearts and minds" in
So here we are, with the imperial
mind bent at last on the "Af-Pak" front. But where, exactly, are we?
What is the real situation on the "Af-Pak" ground? Two natives of the
Terror War targets give us a view from the ground. First, Malalai Joya, from Afghanistan:
2005, I was the youngest person elected to the new Afghan parliament.
Women like me, running for office, were held up as an example of how
the war in Afghanistan had liberated women. But this democracy was a
facade, and the so-called liberation a big lie....
years after the Taliban regime was toppled, our hopes for a truly
democratic and independent Afghanistan have been betrayed by the
continued domination of fundamentalists and by a brutal occupation that
ultimately serves only American strategic interests in the region.
must understand that the government headed by Hamid Karzai is full of
warlords and extremists who are brothers in creed of the Taliban. Many
of these men committed terrible crimes against the Afghan people during
the civil war of the 1990s.
For expressing my views I have been
expelled from my seat in parliament, and I have survived numerous
assassination attempts. The fact that I was kicked out of office while
brutal warlords enjoyed immunity from prosecution for their crimes
should tell you all you need to know about the "democracy" backed by
So far, Obama has pursued the same policy as
Bush in Afghanistan. Sending more troops and expanding the war into
Pakistan will only add fuel to the fire. Like many other Afghans, I
risked my life during the dark years of Taliban rule to teach at
underground schools for girls. Today the situation of women is as bad
as ever. Victims of abuse and rape find no justice because the
judiciary is dominated by fundamentalists. A growing number of women,
seeing no way out of the suffering in their lives, have taken to
suicide by self-immolation.
This week, US vice-president Joe
Biden asserted that "more loss of life [is] inevitable" in Afghanistan,
and that the ongoing occupation is in the "national interests" of both
the US and the UK.
I have a different message to the people of
Britain. I don't believe it is in your interests to see more young
people sent off to war, and to have more of your taxpayers' money going
to fund an occupation that keeps a gang of corrupt warlords and drug
lords in power in Kabul.
What's more, I don't believe it is
inevitable that this bloodshed continues forever. Some say that if
foreign troops leave Afghanistan will descend into civil war. But what
about the civil war and catastrophe of today? The longer this
occupation continues, the worse the civil war will be.
Next, Tariq Ali reports from Pakistan:
is a country whose fate is no longer in its own hands. I have never
known things so bad. The chief problems are the United States and its
requirements, the religious extremists, the military high command, and
corruption, not just on the part of President Zardari and his main
rivals, but spreading well beyond them.
This is now Obama’s war.
He campaigned to send more troops into Afghanistan and to extend the
war, if necessary, into Pakistan. These pledges are now being
fulfilled. On the day he publicly expressed his sadness at the death of
a young Iranian woman caught up in the repression in Tehran, US drones
killed 60 people in Pakistan. The dead included women and children,
whom even the BBC would find it difficult to describe as ‘militants’.
Their names mean nothing to the world; their images will not be seen on
TV networks. Their deaths are in a ‘good cause’....
In May this
year, Graham Fuller, a former CIA station chief in Kabul, published an
assessment of the crisis in the region in the Huffington Post. Ignored
by the White House, since he was challenging most of the assumptions on
which the escalation of the war was based, Fuller was speaking for many
in the intelligence community in his own country as well as in Europe.
It’s not often that I can agree with a recently retired CIA man, but
not only did Fuller say that Obama was ‘pressing down the same path of
failure in Pakistan marked out by George Bush’ and that military force
would not win the day, he also explained to readers of the Huffington
Post that the Taliban are all ethnic Pashtuns, that the Pashtuns ‘are
among the most fiercely nationalist, tribalised and xenophobic peoples
of the world, united only against the foreign invader’ and ‘in the end
probably more Pashtun than they are Islamist’. ‘It is a fantasy,’ he
said, ‘to think of ever sealing the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.’ And I
don’t imagine he is the only retired CIA man to refer back to the days
when Cambodia was invaded ‘to save Vietnam’....
to Pakistan, Anne] Patterson can be disarmingly frank. Earlier this
year, she offered a mid-term assessment to a visiting Euro-intelligence
chief. While Musharraf had been unreliable, saying one thing in
Washington and doing its opposite back home, Zardari was perfect: ‘He
does everything we ask.’ What is disturbing here is not Patterson’s
candour, but her total lack of judgment. Zardari may be a willing
creature of Washington, but the intense hatred for him in Pakistan is
not confined to his political opponents. He is despised principally
because of his venality. He has carried on from where he left off as
minister of investment in his late wife’s second government. Within
weeks of occupying President’s House, his minions were ringing the
country’s top businessmen, demanding a share of their profits.
the case of Mr X, who owns one of the country’s largest banks. He got a
call. Apparently the president wanted to know why his bank had sacked a
PPP member soon after Benazir Bhutto’s fall in the late 1990s. X said
he would find out and let them know. It emerged that the sacked clerk
had been caught with his fingers literally in the till. President’s
House was informed. The explanation was rejected. The banker was told
that the clerk had been victimised for political reasons. The man had
to be reinstated and his salary over the last 18 years paid in full
together with the interest due. The PPP had also to be compensated and
would expect a cheque (the sum was specified) soon. Where the president
leads, his retainers follow. Many members of the cabinet and their
progeny are busy milking businessmen and foreign companies. ‘If they
can do it, so can we’ is a widely expressed view in Karachi, the
country’s largest city. Muggings, burglaries, murders, many of them
part of protection rackets linked to politicians, have made it the
Naples of the East....
These rumours came into the open at the
end of June, when the head of the Bhutto clan, Mumtaz Ali Bhutto,
chairman of the Sind National Front, publicly accused Zardari at a
press conference, alleging that ‘the killer of Murtaza Bhutto had also
murdered Benazir . . . Now I am his target. A hefty amount has been
paid to mercenaries to kill me.’ (Zardari is generally regarded as
having ordered his brother-in-law Murtaza’s death. Shoaib Suddle, the
police chief in Karachi, who organised the operation that led to
Murtaza Bhutto’s death, has now been promoted and is head of the
You should read both pieces in
their entirety to get the bigger, grimmer picture. So here we are -- in
bed with extremists, misogynists, kleptocrats and killers.
But wait a minute: isn't this where we came in?