Empire Burlesque
Court and Caliphate: New SCOTUS Ruling Fuels Sectarian Rise
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 04 July 2014 01:23

On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that a sectarian college in Illinois, Wheaton College, did not have to fill in a federal form to claim its exemption from regulations providing contraception coverage in its employee insurance programs.

Note that the issue was not a question of whether the college was exempt from the regulation, as in the Hobby Lobby case. As a sectarian institution, it was already exempt. What the college objected to was simply sending a form to the government regarding the exemption. This, they said, would involve them in "a grave moral evil," because notifying the government would make the college complicit in some other organization providing the contraception coverage. (The law stipulates that if a sectarian employer does not provide the coverage, the government will ensure that it is provided by someone else, usually the insurance company involved or some other third-party administrator of the program.)

Just four days before, the Court majority on the Hobby Lobby case made specific mention of this government form as a justification for exempting commercial enterprises run by sectarians from providing contraception coverage for their employees. The Hobby Lobby decision cited the form as constituting "an alternative that achieves all of the Government's aims while providing greater respect for religious liberty," as Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted in her dissent against Thursday's decision.

In other words, according to Justice Samuel Alito and his fellow conservatives in the majority, the Hobby Lobby case was a "win-win" all around; sectarian business owners did not have to dirty themselves with concerns about their female employees' reproductive health, while the government was free to ensure that contraception coverage was provided from another source.

But just four days later, the conservative majority has reversed course, and finds that the alternative they lauded on Monday is no longer good enough. They agree with Wheaton College that the alternative itself violates religious liberty and can be ignored. Sectarian organizations can merely send a letter to the government opting out, without filling out the form -- because the form would notify the insurance program's third-party administrator that the female employee was no longer covered for contraception.

(It is not known at this point if Wheaton College, like Hobby Lobby, covers Viagra and vasectomies for its male employees. But it would certainly make sense. We all know that the male member is more pleasing to the Lord, for it points upward toward Heaven -- and if it doesn't, there's always Viagra -- while the female reproductive parts dwell in darkness.)

Coupled with the Hobby Lobby case, the Wheaton decision means that all sectarian-ruled organizations, whether they are commercial businesses or non-profits, can not only opt out of providing contraceptive coverage to their female employees, they can also refuse to submit the form that would expedite the provision of such coverage from elsewhere, in accordance with the law. The result, as Sotomayor notes, will be administrative chaos:

Is HHS to undertake the daunting—if not impossible—task of creating a database that tracks every employer’s insurer or third party administrator nationwide? ... In addition, because Wheaton is materially indistinguishable from other nonprofits that object to the Government’s accommodation, the issuance of an injunction in this case will presumably entitle hundreds or thousands of other objectors to the same remedy. The Court has no reason to think that the administrative scheme it foists on the Government today is workable or effective on a national scale. The Court’s actions in this case create unnecessary costs and layers of bureaucracy.

But of course, that is very much the point of the decision -- which the conservative majority considered so overwhelmingly important that they invoked the rarely-used All Writs Act, normally used in cases where it is "indisputably clear" that a law will substantially harm the appellant in some way, in order to make Thursday's ruling, thus by-passing the lower courts, where the legal arguments of this not-at-all-clear case could be thrashed out. The point is to gut the contraception coverage provision in any way possible. Immediately after the Hobby Lobby ruling, the Court majority made it clear that their ruling applied not only to so-called abortifacients, such as the morning-after pill -- which were the ostensible reason for the case -- but to all contraception. And now they have demolished the alternative to the system -- the very alternative, as noted above, that they cited on Monday as a linchpin of their decision.

The rulings by the conservative majority on the Court are part of a relentless, decades-long effort to reassert control of women's sexuality. In this, America's super-patriotic, politicized right-wing Christians share a common cause with the Islamic sectarians they hate so much (and are so scared of). Women's sexuality is apparently the most volatile, dangerous force in the world -- much, much more dangerous than, say, nuclear war or the heat-death of the planet, which concern them not at all. The amount of time, energy, money -- and frenzy -- spent on repressing and controlling women's sexuality is truly extraordinary. Or rather, it is, tragically, all too ordinary, part of an effort that has been going on since homo sapiens first emerged.

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It is also part of a larger agenda by our homegrown, well-heeled religious extremists to supplant secular government with sectarian rule. Their ludicrous public panic about the danger of "Sharia Law" being imposed on the country is a hysterical projection of their own desires -- and their own designs. A growing sectarian hardcore believes that secular government has no legitimacy whatsoever; a Bible-based "Dominion" is the only proper form of government. Wheaton College's objections to the government form likely have as much to do with this larger agenda as it does with the sectarian extremists' deep-seated, fear-ridden hatred of women.

I have seen this belief and this agenda in action. It was almost 30 years ago, when the sectarian extremism that is now rampant across the land, controlling one major political party, parts of the military and bankrolled with billions of dollars, was still, for most people, a distant sideshow confined to rural backwaters. I was working at a newspaper in one of those "backwaters," a rural country in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. A local fundamentalist sect was growing toward "mega-church" status. It had its own television facilities -- very much a rarity in those days. It had a huge new church complex. Then the church's pastor decided he wanted to have a school. He added on to part of the already existing complex to make room for a finely-appointed private Christian school. The state had no objection, of course. All they wanted was for him to allow the school building certified as safe, according to fire codes and structural regulations. It was all very routine; and had of course been done for the television studio and other structures in the complex.

But the new sectarianism was already growing more virulent. Not long before, in a neighboring county, a mother had sued the local school board -- because her daughter was being "forced" to use her imagination in class. There was an exercise in an English class where children were asked to shut their eyes and imagine any kind of scene they wanted. This, the mother said, was witchcraft -- imagining things that weren't there! And so, according to her understanding of the wishes of an invisible deity, she pulled her daughter out of class and filed a lawsuit that cost local taxpayers a great deal of money. (Her expenses, of course, were paid by outside sectarian organizations.)

Now the pastor in our county was taking a similar stand. He could not allow the State of Tennessee to issue a permit certifying that his school building was safe because this would be an unconscionable encroachment of secular government on religious liberty. Even though the state wasn't trying to tell him what to teach in the school. (Which would no doubt include anti-imagination exercises in English class.) It wasn't trying to dictate his beliefs or encroach on them in any way. There wasn't even any real question that the building was structurally safe and sound. He simply refused to have anything to do with the state.

The case came to court. The local sectarian extremists were in a state of high excitement. (The rest of the populace -- almost entirely Bible-believing conservative Christians -- thought the pastor's stance was ludicrous.) I remember sitting in the courtroom right behind the pastor's college-student son and his friends. (The son was attending a state university; perhaps he planned to refuse to accept his diploma upon graduation.) The young man was particularly hyped up, squirming in his chair, combative, ready for the fight. Suddenly he smacked his fist into his palm and said, seething, "Man, wouldn't it be great if the Lord struck down this courtroom right now!" His friends all agreed.

The pastor took the stand and under questioning from his lawyer delivered a long oration on religious liberty and the exaltation of sectarian belief over secular government. He could not accept -- would not accept -- that the state had the authority to regulate or license anything associated with his religious activities. There were cheers from the college contingent.

Then the state's attorney got up. He asked the pastor if he had a driver's license. The preacher said, yes, he did. He asked him to show the license to the court. The preacher did so. The attorney then asked what entity issued the license. The State of Tennessee, was the answer. Finally came this question: Do you ever use your car on church business? Yes, of course, said the pastor.

That was pretty much it. The church lost the case. The pastor appealed, of course, and succeeded in getting a change of venue to an even more conservative county, where the church won the case. Then the state appealed, and it eventually went to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which ruled against the church. Tens of thousands of dollars were spent. The school got certified, it opened, and I assume the preacher spent many happy years pouring bile and fear and ignorance into his young charges. I was already gone by then.

But I remember very well the gathering ferment of this sectarian darkness in those days. To these sectarians, "religious liberty" didn't just mean the liberty to practice their religion as they saw fit; it also meant liberty from any vestige of secular government. It meant, ultimately -- and in those more obscure days, many of them were open about this -- the liberty to impose their religious beliefs on others and to supplant the secular government with sectarian rule. They didn't expect it to happen right away. (The Lord refrained from striking down the courthouse that day). They weren't even sure it would happen in their lifetime. But it was their goal, their dream -- and they have moved relentlessly and remorselessly toward it year after year, on every possible front.

So yes, our sectarians hate women (along with many other classifications of human beings), and they will cheer these rulings by the Supreme Court's conservative majority (which is itself dominated by sectarians). But what we see in the Wheaton College ruling is a Court-blessed manifestation of a hatred that goes beyond misogyny: a hatred of democracy, a hatred of any kind of human community or culture or social organization that is not under the "dominion" of their own narrow, stunted sectarian beliefs. What they seek is their own "Caliphate." And they are taking it, bit by bit. The Supreme Court has just handed them a large chunk of territory.

 
Continuity in Kyrgyzstan: The Same Old Imperial Game Goes On
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 24 July 2009 13:18

The New York Times tells us that the ongoing political crackdown in America's Terror War ally Kyrgyzstan is an example of the difficult "challenge" faced by  the Obama administration as it seeks to "balance" its strategic needs with its "concerns" for human rights.

But of course this is not a "challenge" at all. It's remarkably simple. When you are conducting wars of imperial domination in far-flung, hard-to-access lands, you must keep the local satraps sweet -- unless or until you can replace them with your own hand-picked stooges. Everything else is just window dressing for the rubes back home.

In Kyrgyzstan, there is the added element of the local thug getting backing from another Great Gamester, the Kremlin. Theoretically, such a thing could complicate matters, but in this particular case, it does not, because Washington and Moscow are both backing the same side in Afghanistan's protracted civil war. Obama has already wrung new levels of cooperation from Russia's double-headed leadership in pushing his broad military escalation in Afghanistan. And in any case, the Kremlin is a hobbled gamester these days, concerned mostly with protecting its flanks against further encroachments on its historic hegemony – and protecting its own hand-picked stooges, such as the savage Chechen warlord, Ramzan Kadyrov, whose critics are being assassinated one by one. The Kremlin is also concerned with fending off the bristling missile bases the United States is installing around its frontiers, with the Obama Administration eagerly taking up and advancing the Bush Regime's aggressive provocation.

But back to Kyrgyzstan, where the oh-so-progressive peaceniks of Brand Obama have tossed that milksoppy 'human rights' jazz overboard and are lavishing love and largess on the increasingly brutal strongman, Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Shall we be dull and mention "continuity" yet again? I'm afraid we must. For here, as elsewhere – everywhere – imperial concerns (known as "strategic issues" in our ever-obfuscating Beltway jargon) trump all others. As Scott Horton notes at Harper's, referring to the Times' account of brutal beatings doled out to Bakiyev's opponents:

In a recent description of challenges to his administration, he put the word “freedom” in first place. Is he concerned that the Kyrgyz have too much of it? Accounts like the one above suggest that he’s out to give “freedom” a good, sound thrashing. So how does the United States react? Since early 2002, the Kyrgyz Republic has had an important position in Washington’s view—it is home to Ganci Air Force Base. And maintaining that military installation has been the alpha and omega of U.S.-Kyrgyz relations. The collapse of the nation’s nascent democracy hardly seems to be given a second thought.


To sum up, it seems the government of Kyrgyzstan is repressive, undemocratic and corrupt. But because it's willing to offer a plot of land for yet another outpost in America's empire of military domination, all is forgiven.

Which suggests that if Iran wants to get past its little spot of bother with Washington that keeps cropping up – you know, where America's "chief diplomat" constantly declares her doubts that, er,  diplomacy will resolve any of the Empire's problems with Iran, and warns that the "nuclear clock is ticking" toward some promised if unspecified unpleasantness if Tehran doesn't knuckle under – then the mullahs should consider hosting a couple of big ole American bases in the Persian hinterlands.

After that, the Iranians – like Iraq's Nouri al-Maliki, who is currently "hosting" more than a quarter of a million American forces (public and private) and signalling his willingness to keep them on indefinitely – could arrest, repress and torture who they please, without a discouraging word from Washington. A win-win situation all around!

 
Pay for Play: Brief Glimpses of the System at Work
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 24 July 2009 00:22

Many, many years ago, when I was a young pup of a reporter on a small rural paper in the foothills of the Appalachians in East Tennessee, one of my very first assignments was to attend a court hearing on a murder case, then meet afterwards with one of the most senior law enforcement officers in the county, who would be giving testimony in the case. This officer frequently provided the paper with photographs of the latest drug raid or big arrest his force had made.

I went to the hearing, then met the officer. He was, literally, a towering figure, topping six-foot-five, and sporting a thin Errol Flynn moustache, perhaps to offset his thinning hair. He was a powerful, popular figure, and one of the top leaders in a statewide law enforcement association; indeed, he spent several weeks a year training his colleagues in the latest modern methods of crime-fighting and professional law enforcement management.

I'd never met the man, but when I introduced myself as the reporter from the Herald, he gave me a big smile, took my hand with a crushing grip, and sat me down on a bench in the old, antebellum courtroom. He pulled out a roll of 35mm film in its plastic canister and handed it to me. As he handed it over, he clamped his massive hand down hard on my thigh and gripped it tight. "Here's your pictures," he said in a low voice. "If you do right by me, we'll get along just fine. But if you try to screw me, you're fucked."

Then he let go, stood up, and went off, smiling and back-slapping his way through the citizens milling in the hallway. Well, he got good coverage during the time that I was at the paper. He was very cooperative with the press; I went on several drug raids with his forces as they turned houses inside out -- the officers were particularly tickled when they found sex Polaroids the suspects had taken of themselves; although these were not germane to the charges at hand, they were examined far more closely than the actual evidence. I even went on what must surely have been one of the last moonshine raids in the Tennessee hills, after a long trek deep into the backwoods, where some nostalgic old-timer had set up a still -- even though the county, which was still nominally "dry," was ringed with numerous package liquor stores; you were never more than ten minutes' drive from all the hard liquor you could want.

But the "press" -- such as we were -- never had the time, or the resources, or the publishers' blessing to pursue the more troubling rumors that floated around the law enforcement star and several other bigwigs in the area. These chiefly involved cooperation between law enforcement, top financial entrepreneurs and criminal organizations to facilitate the transport of illegal drugs into the area, chiefly through private airstrips set up in far corners on palatial estates.

This was, oddly enough, the same basic set-up that I encountered, or heard credible tales of, in every American newspaper where I worked -- in East Tennessee, Middle Tennessee and down in Mississippi. In every case, there was prima facie evidence (and sometimes more than that) of a local worthy -- banker, music star, famous evangelical -- providing the facilities for drug-running while the law looked the other way. And in every case, there was a lack of resources -- and institutional will -- to pursue the allegations further. In the one instance where there was an effort to follow one of these trails, a top editor and I were set to drive to New Orleans, where a televangelist's planes were allegedly being used to fly in dope from Central America. But the night before we were to leave, I got a call at home from the editor: "Our sources tell us we'd better not meet with [the man who would corroborate the allegations.]" Why not, I asked. "They say we'll never make it out of New Orleans alive." So we didn't go.

I was reminded of all this ancient personal history by the recent story in the New York Times about the latest round of corruption arrests in New Jersey. Mayors, councilmen, city, county and state officials, rabbis -- all are alleged to be operating a crime network ranging from international money-laundering to good, old-fashioned cash in an envelope (or even a cereal box) in exchange for government favors. This was not the case of a "few bad eggs," but a veritable platoon of community leaders.

It was, in other words, another brief glimpse behind the curtain of how the world really works a good deal of time, at every level. There is always some powerful person somewhere clamping their hands down on somebody's thigh and muttering, "Play ball, and it's jake; screw me and you're fucked." Every now and then, someone will make a play too large for the pull they can muster to cover themselves; or maybe someone with bigger pull wants to muscle in on their patch, and brings the heat -- or, occasionally, a straight-up unit or prosecutor will get the goods and somehow run the gauntlet of protective barriers that hedge in the powerful.

But the fact is, many, many, many people in power whom we are incessantly told -- even ordered -- to respect and obey are dirty. They lie, they cheat, they steal, they commit or countenance heinous crimes. Sometimes the corruption comes in the form of a wad of cash passed under the table at a diner; sometimes it comes in the form of "bundled contributions" to a national campaign or arcane legal entity designed to receive, process -- and launder -- cash for politicians dripping with piety; or, even more often, in the form of the golden revolving door between government service and corporate sinecures. Sometimes the crime is looking the other way when a plane comes in loaded with dope; sometimes the crime is sending the planes in loaded with bombs.

A few years after I left the Appalachian foothills, my old thigh-clamping pal was convicted on felony gambling charges (as always, its the venial sins of the flesh that bring you down, not the pay-offs, strong-arming, commission of war crimes, etc.). But today he is once again a prominent, popular politician in the area. The evangelist whose drug-laden planes were allegedly landing in Louisiana is still a prominent, popular evangelist, despite a couple of highly publicized falls from grace with sultry jezebels. And the music star whose private airstrip on his vast rural manor was allegedly used to ferry dope is still a music star, noted now for his fierce Christian piety and rock-ribbed patriotism.

 
Inside Job: Ex-Power Player Pounds Imperial Poobah
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Thursday, 03 July 2014 09:40

Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell, delivers a blistering attack on his former Bush Regime colleague Dick Cheney -- and the idea of rapacious empire that Cheney serves and embodies -- in language rarely seen in the mainstream press from a thoroughly entrenched Establishment figure. A sample:

Whether murder and plunder in India, slaughter in Algeria, devastation in Cameroon, or torture and massacre in the Philippines, few western powers can rightfully claim innocence. And, perhaps most worrisome, their national myths mask or even convert most of the crimes, and what the myths don't eliminate or alter poor education and memory lapses do….

As has been the case since humankind began to organize itself, Dick Cheney believes that wealth and power -- his and his cronies wealth and power foremost -- are still the relevant strategic objectives of empire. King Leopold of Belgium is not dead, simply reincarnated in a more modern form. Torturing people is dependent on a nation's supposed needs, killing people on the expediency of policy, waging war on monetary and commercial gain, and lying to the people is a highly reputable tactic in pursuit of each. Leopold would love Dick Cheney.

Cheney even models Leopold: never in the dangerous fray himself (five draft deferments, e.g.), a master of bureaucratic manipulation and intrigue, in love to a fault with secrecy, willing to undertake any crime under the sun so long as it leads to profit, deeply relishing every moment of evil he is able to engineer, and a master of masking it all through adroit, politically-attuned public relations aimed at people too stupid to question him -- all while paying absolutely no attention to what his past clearly demonstrates he has done…

This modern man, Cheney, however needs no kingship, no ornate palaces, no personally-owned colony like the Congo; Cheney's writ is the world. It is all of humankind that Cheney would torture, enslave, murder, or plunder if it were required.

Of course, Wilkerson's boss, the lifelong imperial factotum Powell, was deeply complicit in the launching and administering of the vast war crime in Iraq. Indeed, it was largely Powell who sealed the deal for war, with his outrageously mendacious performance at the UN, using doctored testimony and ridiculous visual aids to convince the world of Iraq's non-existent WMD arsenal. Powell's "testimony" helped sway many of the still-wavering "liberal" figures in Establishment politics and media that the war was necessary and just. Most of these sad and spineless specimens were already keen to go with the militarist flow, and the cover from the sainted figure of Powell -- beloved icon of "bipartisan moderates" -- gave them enough "moral certainty" to assuage their liberal consciences.

[For more on Powell's remarkable history of imperial servitude, from the My Lai Massacre to Iran-Contra and beyond, see: "The Bagman Cometh: Obama Embraces War Criminal's Endorsement." For even more detail, see Robert Parry's excellent piece, "The Truth About Colin Powell."]

Still, whatever the source, it is  good to see some of our imperial criminals openly called murderers and plunderers in the public press. Wilkerson has been speaking candidly about the realities of empire since he left the Bush Regime in 2005. But as we noted in a previous piece on his revelations, one question remains: "…while we applaud Colonel Wilkerson's candor now, we also must ask: Where was he then? And why did he keep silent as his own boss helped facilitate the ultimate international crime of aggressive war?"

Well, better late than never and all that, I suppose. But wouldn't it be great if one of our highly-placed courtiers grew a conscience when they were still in power, when a revelation or resignation would have some actual effect?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
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