Empire Burlesque
Dear Landlord: A Message from the Zeitgeist
Share
Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 01 April 2014 00:22

Mr. Carl Kandutsch, a business lawyer down Plano way (and, it turns out, a fellow CounterPunch contributor), writes in to take issue with a recent post I put up here in these run-down precincts. I had written what I thought was a straightforward piece asking readers to consider giving some support to a writer I admire -- Arthur Silber -- who is going through a serious medical crisis. I must say I was a bit taken aback by some of the responses, which seemed to come from the Paul Ryan school of social compassion: "Losers who are sick and low on money don't deserve any help because they want to be sick and low on money. They're just ungrateful malingerers, fakers, takers, they like to beg." And so on. Pretty depressing stuff. But as I noted in the comments, this is just the zeitgeist of the age: a hard, mean spirit blowing through our times, where compassion has curdled and vulnerability is considered a cause for scorn and suspicion.

Mr. Kandutsch is not in the giving vein either -- but thankfully, his response is not decked out in Paul Ryan drag. He doesn't object to Mr. Silber being poor and sick as such. (Well, he does throw in a bit of Ryanish "snark" -- to use his own eloquent terminology -- about Mr. Silber "begging for money." You see, "begging" is what we call it nowadays when a writer asks readers if they would like to consider paying him for his work. I wonder if Mr. Kandutsch regards the fees that he receives from the landlords and cable companies he proudly represents as "begging." Somehow I think not.)  No, what gets Mr. Kandutsch's goat is the apparently disrespectful tone that Mr. Silber -- and I! -- have taken toward Glenn Greenwald. But let's let Mr. Kandutsch -- who, as his CounterPunch bio tells us, has a Ph.D in Comparative Literature from Yale -- speak eloquently for himself:

I can't help but notice the snide and snarky poke at Glenn Greenwald ("No oligarchs are paying his way...."), who (along with Edward Snowden) is repeatedly disparaged by Floyd and Silber for having co-founded a platform that will allow him to actually and effectively challenge the national security state -- i.e., for doing something more than writing an obscure, whiney blog that almost nobody reads while begging for money. Also hard not to notice that while Floyd and Silber criticize Greenwald and Snowden for not being sufficiently radical, it's the latter duo and not the former who are forced to live in exile abroad. ... Snowden's NSA leaks published, summarized and analyzed by Greenwald present an actual and effective challenge to the national security state, as demonstrated by the government's response to those revelations and by the fact that neither Snowden nor Greenwald may return to their country without great risk to their respective persons. None of this can be said of those who snipe at them from the safety of their living room bunkers concerning the methods used by those who bear all of the risk.

I for one consider myself well and truly pwnd. Of course, I could quibble over a small point here and there, such as the fact that Mr. Kandutsch's synataxical dexterity in his opening sentence seems to say either that Edward Snowden co-founded First Look Media or that Mr. Silber and I have "repeatedly disparaged" Edward Snowden. Neither of the implications that emerge from this rhetorical efflorescence are true. (I've taken issue with Mr. Snowden directly only once, for his recent statement to the EU that revelations such as his should only be "safely disclosed to responsible journalists in coordination with government stakeholders," i.e., the same government that is perpetrating the crimes being revealed.) But hey, a blog comment is not a comparative literature seminar, is it? We know, or sort of know, what Mr. Kandutsch means: Mr. Silber and I are disreputable characters who have disparaged better men than ourselves.

I could also point out that Mr. Kandutsch's characterization of Mr. Silber's platform as "an obscure, whiney blog that almost nobody reads" does not really partake of the kind of empathy for those in need -- and for those whose voices have been marginalized -- that one usually associates with writers who submit their work to CounterPunch, or indeed, those who align themselves with efforts to "challenge the national security state." Mr. Kandutsch seems to imply that Mr. Silber's lack of a mass audience is itself a sufficient cause to dismiss him with a rather crude scorn. But I'm so old I can remember when even Mr. Greenwald had an "obscure blog that almost nobody read." Did this fact vitiate any insights he had to offer in those days? Were his opinions only validated when he reached a certain level of popularity? Is popularity really to be regarded as a measure of worth for writers? Is Dan Brown a better writer than, say, Cormac McCarthy? Is that what they teach at Yale? Surely one cannot believe such a thing of a university that produced one of the great leaders and towering intellects of the 21st century, George Walker Bush.

What's more, I can even remember the many, many times that Mr. Greenwald himself used his blog to -- gasp! -- ask readers for contributions. He did it regularly, even when he had become successful and popular enough to earn the respect of people who have doctorates. Was this also some kind of disreputable "begging for money"? Or is it not simply a perfectly acceptable practice for any writer who puts an enormous amount of time and effort into the writing they publish on the internet, and who, as Mr. Greenwald did and Mr. Silber does, depend largely or solely on that writing to support themselves? Is this not the case for any writer who seeks payment for his or her work? When Cormac McCarthy asked Alfred A. Knopf to pay him for writing The Road, was he "begging"?

No, if I had not been properly chastised and humbled by Mr. Kandutsch's righteous rebuke, I would almost venture to say that his remark about "begging" on "an obscure, whiney blog that almost nobody reads" could possibly come across -- to an untutored, undoctorfied reader, of course -- as a haughty, sneering, elitist put-down of someone whose poverty and "obscurity" have rendered them déclassé, beneath notice. "You're a nobody; who are you to question your betters?" Doubtless that wasn't his intention; after all, his opening sentence showed that one must carefully tease out the meaning from Mr. Kandutsch's artful prose, as one would with a passage from Finnegan's Wake, for example, or Decision Points. So perhaps we should charitably ascribe what on the surface seems to be the obvious reading of Mr. Kandutsch's phrase to our own unenlightened misapprehension.

As for the meat of the matter, I take Mr. Kandutsch's point entirely. No one who is not facing "great risk to their person" should criticize in any way the methods or financial backing of anyone who is. I apologize for not realizing this before. You see, unfortunately I don't live in the Homeland these days, and I have forgotten one of the sacred tenets of our society, enunciated so memorably by the great Warren G. Harding: "Don't knock; boost!" And of course there is the absolute taboo against criticizing "our boys in the field" when they are facing danger. As we were told so many times during the Iraq War by our conservative bretheren, no one who is not a serving soldier can criticize the actions or methods of anyone who is.

And this is the lesson Mr. Kandutsch imparts: do not criticize anyone who might be in danger, if you yourself are not in danger. Whatever they do is beyond reproach, while the slightest demur you might make is just the whining of a snarker (or the snarking of a whiner) sitting in his bunker. Now I feel bad that I wrote all that stuff about the war crimes committed by US soldiers in Fallujah and elsewhere; after all, there I was criticizing them from the safety of my "bunker" when they were facing great risks to their persons. How can I have been so thoughtless?

I thank the counselor for this good advice. I will of course immediately repress my concerns that an enterprise which I have actually praised highly -- the revelation of nefarious state secrets by Edward Snowden -- is being rendered less effective than one hoped due to the way the data has thus far been controlled and disseminated. And by the fact that these revelations have now become tangled up in the affairs of a plutocrat who has hitherto used his charitable activities to pursue what I believe to be unseemly ends; i.e., the 'monetizing' of philanthropy (turning it into a source of rapacious profit for elites while hurting those it professes to help), and involving himself in dubious efforts at "regime change" in democratically elected governments overseas. In my ignorance, I thought these were reasonable questions to raise. But I can see now that to air one's opinions freely on these matters is no longer acceptable, even among savvy dissidents who laud challenges to the national security state.

So I will go and sin no more. Because I sure don't want to be left languishing in obscurity. I sure don't want to be a nobody. When I walk into a room full of landlords or Yale men, I want to hear them say, "We like the cut of your jib!" I want to be acceptable. Let those who are sick, those who are in need, look after themselves. After all, it's the spirit of the age, right?

 
Continuity in Kyrgyzstan: The Same Old Imperial Game Goes On
Share
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
Share
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.

 
Vision Quest: A Voice for Truth Needs Your Support
Share
Written by Chris Floyd   
Sunday, 23 March 2014 18:11

Arthur Silber continues to reel from crisis to crisis in his long battle with deteriorating health. Every few months, a new front opens, or else lingering ailments flair up with malevolent force. Right now, he is facing hundreds of dollars (at least) in bills to treat a serious eye ailment, while struggling to meet basic expenses for survival.

Silber, one of America's finest writers and political analysts, lives solely on contributions from readers of his blog. That he continues to write at all, through incessant physical pain and the many crushing burdens of life on the financial margins, is remarkable; that he writes at the level of excellence he constantly achieves, over and over, is genuinely mind-boggling. In a world drowning in tidal waves of falsehood pouring in from every side, we can ill afford to lose such a rare voice of living, human truth.

No oligarchs are paying his way, no parties, factions or foundations; Silber is sustained only by those who read and appreciate his work. If you are among that number -- and you certainly should be -- then please got to his site and give what you can, if you can.

 
Rat's Alley: The Deadly Dance of the "War on Terror"
Share
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.

 
<< Start < Prev 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Next > End >>

Page 5 of 118