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.

2.
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.

 
The Pistols are Popping and the Power is Down
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Sunday, 19 July 2009 00:05

Sorry that service continues to be interrupted, but the problems are being worked on, and I hope we will be able to be less intermittent in transmission soon.

As we have noted before, if you find the site down for a long period of time, you might check out our former stomping grounds, now known as Empire Burlesque 1.0.  If I have some burning word to say to the world but this site is down, I will post at the old homeplace.

Meanwhile, here's a glimpse of a man who sure enough has a burning word to say to the world -- and enough fire to keep saying it with power and moxie even in the lengthening shadows.

Shame on your greed, shame on your wicked schemes
I'll say this, I don't give a damn about your dreams 

 

 
Making Their Bones: The American Elite's Bi-Partisan Murder Racket
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Thursday, 16 July 2009 10:26

You want to climb to the top of this seething pit,
You got to walk and talk real nice.
But the secret price of power here is
Human sacrifice.


Yesterday we wrote about the sudden-onset amnesia of our media-political class concerning the officially confirmed operations of American death squads. As we noted, official Washington is in a minor flutter at the moment over reports that Dick Cheney ordered and then concealed the existence of a planned program of targeted assassinations -- a program which was supposedly never implemented and was then supposedly cancelled by Obama CIA chief Leon Panetta. We merely pointed out the well-known fact -- supported by copious reportage in mainstream journals in the past eight years, not to mention proud public admissions by top government officials, including the president -- that the CIA (and other agents of the United States government) had indeed been murdering people in "extrajudicial assassinations" throughout the Bush Administration.

I concentrated on state murder during the Bush years because that is the ostensible focus of the current, manufactured controversy over the alleged existence of one allegedly non-operational program. However, as Jeremy Scahill points out, the Bush-Cheney murder racket was not created ex nihilo, but was a continuation and refinement of murder programs initiated by Bill Clinton. Scahill also makes the pertinent observation that "extrajudicial assassination" -- known quaintly in the old days as murder most foul -- is continuing unabated under Barack Obama.

The deep-dyed complicity of Democratic leaders, executive and congressional, in official murder sprees is the main reason we will never see a genuine investigation of America's death squads, as Scahill points out. Imperial crime is thoroughly bipartisan; neither faction dares push too far in such matters, because both are smeared and caked with blood.

Scahill's piece should be read in its entirety, but here are a few choice bits:

The fact is that many of Bush’s worst policies (now being highlighted by leading Democrats) were based in some form or another in a Clinton-initiated policy or were supported by the Democrats in Congress with their votes. To name a few: the USA PATRIOT Act, the invasion of Iraq, the attack against Afghanistan, the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, the widespread use of mercenaries and other private contractors in US war zones and warrant-less wire-tapping...

As [the Democrats now pretending to be scandalized by the recent Cheney allegations] well know, President Obama has continued the Bush targeted assassination program using weaponized drones and special forces teams hunting "high value targets." As former CIA Counter-terrorism chief Vincent Cannistraro and others have pointed out, "The CIA runs drones and targets al-Qaeda safe houses all the time." Cannistraro told Talking Points Memo that there is no important difference between those kinds of attacks and "assassinations" with a gun or a knife.

...It is pretty clear that when the Bush administration took over, it picked up the Clinton administration’s policy on assassination and ran with it — albeit with more of a missionary zeal for killing and a removal of some of the layers of lawyering. In short, the Bush team expanded and streamlined the longstanding U.S. government assassination program.

Throughout the 1990s, the question of covert assassinations was a source of major discussion within the Clinton White House and it is clear assassinations were attempted with presidential approval. Newsweek magazine reported on how, in 1995, U.S. Special Forces facilitated the assassination of a Libyan "terrorist" in Bosnia, saying, "American authorities justified the assassination under a little-known 1993 ‘lethal finding’ signed by President Bill Clinton that gave permission to target terrorists." A former senior Clinton official speaking shortly after 9/11 called on the Bush administration not to escalate the U.S. assassination program, saying "We have a war on drugs, too, but we don’t kill drug lords." But then, with no apparent sense of contradiction, the official added, "we have proxies who do." 

...The truth is, under Clinton, it wasn’t just proxies authorized to do the assassinations. ... Clinton did authorize what amounted to assassination squads to hunt down and kill bin Laden and other "al-Qaeda leaders." That happened officially in 1998 with Clinton’s signing of a Memorandum of Notification authorizing the CIA to carry out covert assassinations. George W. Bush was not the president and Dick Cheney was not the vice president. Of course, current CIA Director Leon Panetta was Clinton’s chief of staff from 1994 to 1997 and would have been party to years worth of discussion on this issue when Clinton was president. Under Clinton, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel issued secret rulings stating that the Ford/Reagan ban on assassinations did not apply to "military targets" or "to attacks carried out in preemptive self-defense," according to Steve Coll, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of Ghost Wars.

Shortly after 9/11, Clinton stated this position publicly, supporting the Bush administration’s "war on terror" targeted assassination policy, saying on NBC News, "The ban that was put in effect under President Ford only applies to heads of state. It doesn’t apply to terrorists." That is a stunning statement that is a true legal stretch given the explicit language of the ban. Moreover, Clinton did, in fact, try to kill a head of state on April 22, 1999, when he ordered a NATO airstrike on the home of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Clinton and Gen. Wesley Clark also authorized an assassination attempt on Serbian Information Minister, Aleksander Vucic, bombing Radio Television Serbia when Vucic was scheduled to appear via satellite on CNN’s "Larry King Live." Vucic was not killed, but 16 media workers were.

Clinton also publicly acknowledged his own administration’s attempt to assassinate bin Laden. "I worked hard to try to kill him," Clinton said. "I authorized a finding for the CIA to kill him. We contracted with people to kill him. I got closer to killing him than anybody has gotten since." Clinton’s National Security Advisor Sandy Berger said after Clinton issued his 1998 "lethal finding," U.S. operatives worked with Afghan rebels for two years in an attempt to kill bin Laden. "There were a few points when the pulse quickened, when we thought we were close," Berger later recalled. Among the alleged attempts on bin Laden’s life taken by Clinton was the 1998 bombing of Afghanistan (which was coupled with a massive strike on the Al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan).

As Coll observed of the Clinton policy: "Clinton had demonstrated his willingness to kill bin Laden, without any pretense of seeking his arrest."

Scahill has much more on the macabre history -- and the reeking hypocrisy -- behind the current "controversy.

 
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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