The moral insanity of the Terror War continues to spawn more violence, more extremism, more repression, more injustice, and the total subversion of the "Western values," all of which it is ostensibly designed to defend.
A new piece by Patrick Cockburn in the Independent provides a grimly illuminating look at this insanity in action on a specific front: Syria. It's worth reading in full, but here is an excerpt:
The Syrian war has turned into a Syrian version of the Thirty Years War in Germany four centuries ago. Too many conflicts and too many players have become involved for any peace terms to be acceptable to all.. … It has become increasingly obvious over the past year that al-Qa’ida type movements, notably Isis, Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, have come to dominate or can operate freely in a great swathe of territory across northern Iraq and northern Syria. This gives Isis a vast hinterland in which it can manoeuvre and fight on both sides of what is a largely nominal Syrian-Iraqi border. …
Europeans have not yet woken up to the significance of these anarchic zones opening up on the shores of the Mediterranean in Syria and Libya. This is because the threat has been largely abstract but it is getting less so with the attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels by a French jihadi who had been in Syria. US and European politicians do not want to explain why, 13 years after 9/11, when the “war on terror” was supposedly launched, thousands of al-Qa’ida militants have been able to carve out enclaves so close to Europe.
US and European politicians won't explain it because any honest explanation would expose the emptiness at the core of all their proffered reasons for the Terror War. They can't explain it because the Terror War system -- including the increasing militarization and repression in their own countries -- has now become organizing principle of Western society. Or rather, it is the latest incarnation of what has been the guiding principle of Western society since World War II: organizing society and the economy around war, either active war or the ever-present "threat" of war (assiduously exaggerated -- or even manufactured -- at every turn). For government and big business, the immense power and profit and control they inevitably accrued from conducting total war on a global basis was far too enticing to give up once the war was over. The full mobilization of society's resources for war simply carried on; indeed, was expanded and amplified.
However, the war also had a life-transforming impact on many of its survivors. The savagery and loss -- and the class-effacing comradeship -- they had experienced during the war imbued millions of people with a burning desire to change society for the better, to do away with the poverty and injustices of the past, and build a better, more decent, more peaceful world. This spirit is evoked with remarkable power in a new book, Harry's Last Stand, by Harry Leslie Smith, a 91-year-old WII veteran enraged to see the neoliberal extremists that have held sway in the US and Britain for more than 30 years sweeping away the progress toward a more just society that his generation tried to build on the ruins of the war. (Some of Smith's writing can be found here and here.)
The power structure was forced to deal with these aspirations. And, yes, some among the commanding heights shared these sentiments as well, to varying degrees. Thus for a a brief period -- scarcely more than two generations -- there was an attempt to balance two opposing organizing principles at once: war and human betterment. The presidency of Lyndon Johnson was perhaps the apex -- and tragic denouement -- of this conflict. Johnson's Great Society and War on Poverty programs, and his muscling through of the Civil Rights Act, were profoundly transformative for millions of people, and even with their limitations and compromises could have laid the groundwork for a continual refinement and recalibration of society in the general direction of justice, opportunity and social peace. But Johnson was also a product -- and propagator -- of the war system: a hawk, eager to "project dominance," subvert and overthrow "recalcitrant" states and employ violence on a massive, indiscriminate (and lucrative) scale. The Vietnam War destroyed his presidency, crippled the momentum of his social programs, and accelerated the triumph of the war principle.
Now those who remember what the world was like before the Second World War -- the ugly, despairing poverty and inequality that Smith writes about so movingly -- are almost gone. Even those of us who remember when the idea of human betterment seemed a realistic possibility for society, a practical goal to be pursued despite many difficulties, not a pipe dream scorned by the "savvy," are fading away. There are now generations well into adulthood who have never known anything but the war principle and the neoliberal ascendancy as "normality," the natural state of things. Indeed, in a very few years, we'll see the first generation of adults who will have lived their entire lives under the reign of the Terror War. The relentless assault of the elites who have thrived under the war principle, increasing the unequal proportion of their wealth and power to unimaginable levels, have left these new generations very little to build upon. On so many fronts, so many levels, they will essentially have to start from scratch, re-discover old skills and insights that have been lost, re-fight old battles, and of course, create new ways of trying to go forward (like the Occupy movement).
And they will have to do it against a power structure that is far more powerful, more pervasive and implacable than before. A power structure that every day is darkening the future of its own children, creating a dystopia of chaos and fear, of aggression and blowback, repression and revenge. No leader can "explain" what is happening because none of them can admit the truth: that the world they are making -- the world that has made them powerful, has lifted them up on a finely-meshed web of interlocking elite interests and will sustain them, and their families, among the elite for the rest of their lives -- is organized around violence and loot. Not security, not prosperity, not liberty, not democracy, not justice, not peace. These are not the aims of the system, these are not the products of the system.
The Terror War -- and the concomitant degradation of society and individual lives -- shows in stark relief that the system is producing exactly what it aims to produce: death, despair -- and record-breaking profits.
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
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
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.
Oh well, once more into the breach with matters Greenwaldian. Word comes that I've been subjected to a personal smear by Glenn. Some of this has played out in the comments on the previous post, but I thought I'd bring it out here for an airing, and to expand on a few points.
It began with this from a commenter, Semanticleo:
Chris; GG replied to you from the flank: "Of course, Chris spent years heaping praise on me and privately seeking opportunities to write in my space. He must have had a sudden epiphany that I’m really just a pro-imperial militarist. I wonder how he explains to himself how he remained fooled for so long."
This was my initial response (lightly edited here):
Did he really say that? How amusing. However, I'm afraid that young Glenn is being economical with the truth if he says I spent years "privately seeking opportunities to write in [his] space." This simply did not happen. It is true that he asked me (and others) to fill in him for a week at Salon in 2007 while he was off, which I did quite happily. He also asked me to participate in a Talking Points Memo Book Club discussion, based on his new book at the time, which I also did. This too was in 2007. In 2008, he asked me -- again, as before, on his own initiative -- to do a podcast discussion with him on his blog. (I wasn't able to do it due to scheduling problems.) But I cannot recall -- nor can I find any evidence in the still-extant record of our email contacts going back seven years -- any time when I asked Greenwald for an opportunity to "write in his space" or even hinted at such a thing.
And yes, I've praised many of Greenwald's pieces over the years (as he has done with mine); why not? I often found myself in agreement with him on many issues, found many of his insights and information useful, and linked and praised accordingly. We also disagreed at times, in a friendly way, sometimes in comments he contributed to my blog, or in blog posts.
I didn't have a "sudden epiphany" that Glenn is "just a pro-imperial militarist." In fact, I never said he WAS a pro-imperial militarist. What I have said is the simple truth: he seems very happy to WORK for an oligarch whose public activities clearly advance a harsh neoliberal, pro-imperial, militarist agenda. This troubles me. It troubles me precisely because I admired much of Glenn's work in past years. Just as it troubles me that other writers whose journalism I've admired and found useful have gone to work for an oligarch with such a disturbing record -- people like Jeremy Scahill and Matt Taibbi, with whom I worked almost 20 years ago in Moscow. I don't think this is a good development; I think it bodes ill for journalism, for effective dissent against an overbearing power structure. I think we should find some other model for investigative journalism, rather than partnering up with neoliberal oligarchs like Omidyar. Is this really such a controversial opinion, worthy of a personal smear?
And yes, I've also questioned the handling of the Snowden material, and what I believe are the troubling implications of how it has been handled. I've explained my reasoning behind these concerns at some length.
But all of these concerns are based on my observations of the facts at hand. My opinion on these matters are not "epiphanies;" they have developed over time, in response to events as they've happened. Glenn did go to work for Omidyar. This was troubling. The facts coming out about Omidyar's record are troubling. I found the handling of the Snowden material, as it has played out over the course of more than a year, to be troubling in various ways (while still being glad, as always, when any information about our malevolent power structure leaks out). If none of these things had happened, I would not have written any of the material that Glenn now finds so objectionable.
Obviously Glenn disagrees with my interpretation of these events. That's his right, of course. He can disagree vociferously, as he did in my comment section a few months ago. Why not? He can even attack me personally, as he seems to have done here, if this quote is accurate. But I don't think he should tell lies in an attempt to blacken my character, instead of engaging with the substance at hand -- Omidyar's record, and what it means for top dissident journalists to come under his financial umbrella.
I thought that was it, but it seems there was more, as Tarzie noted in a follow-up comment:
Chris: You were not furnished with the full quote. Glenn also called this statement of yours an out and out fabrication:
His most prominent employee, Greenwald, constantly affirms his belief that we should indeed have a powerful and far-reaching security state — it should just be “reformed” and “overseen” by people he approves of. (Snowden has voiced the same opinion.)
I left a reply to this on The Intercept, but they cherry pick comments, so there is no guarantee it will be published or answered. This was my direct reply to Greenwald's remark about your 'fabrication.'
Well then perhaps you should explicitly clarify what your position on the security apparatus is. Because I think Floyd's assessment is at least correct in regard to Snowden, who frequently touts the essential goodness of spying and whose only real objection seems to be bulk data collection. When people object to what they see in Snowden's remarks as a very subservient, conformist view of the security state -- that is the viewpoint of someone who has spent his entire working life inside it and still insists he's working for it -- you belittle and ridicule them for never having blown whistles. With smears like 'chicken pseudo radicals' you have worked very hard to prevent any discussion about the very thick layer of national security ideology that comes bundled with almost everything Snowden says. Until you explicitly contradict him and repudiate the security state in stronger and more explicit terms, I don't think you can, in good faith, call Floyd's assessment a fabrication.
So let's just clear the air: what is the proper role of the Intelligence Community? If Congress would make any adjustments you suggested, what would those adjustments be? It would be especially interesting and refreshing to learn your views on other agencies besides the NSA.
I think Tarzie's reply to The Intercept covers the matter well. As he points out, Greenwald has attacked anyone who questions Snowden's affirmation of the need for a powerful spy system, and has not, to my knowledge, ever differentiated himself from this position. If Greenwald is NOT in favor of a robust security apparatus (albeit one 'reformed' and 'regulated' as he would like it), then he has never made that clear. Instead, two seconds on the internet finds quotes like this on Al Jazeera in January, where he talks of the need for "a much more sensible surveillance system."
I don't understand who he thinks will run this "more sensible surveillance system" in a militarized state hellbent on "projecting dominance" in every part of the world, and protecting an economic-social system based on vast and brutal inequality. That is the ruling system we have now: so again, among those who rise to the top of such an unjust and morally skewed system, who will you trust to carry out "more sensible surveillance"? And of course, the problem is not just surveillance, but all the other depredations being committed by our "security" apparatchiks and political leaders on a daily basis, including running death squads out of the White House with the direct participation of the president.
There are already laws on the books prohibiting warrantless surveillance, torture -- and, indeed, "extrajudicial killing" (murder) and aggressive war. This has not stopped our bipartisan ruling class from carrying out these crimes and others, relentlessly, remorselessly and without the slightest accountability. Now, we can "engage in debate" about "reforms" for a "much more sensible surveillance system" until the cows come home -- but in the system of political and socioeconomic organization we have now, none of this will make any difference. You will still have the same kind of people running things, because the kind of people willing to commit or countenance such crimes are the only kind of people who will rise to the top of such a system.
And this system of power does not just include "the radically corrupted political class in DC," as Greenwald rightly describes it (in a quote one of the commenters here pointed out). It also, most emphatically, includes figures like Pierre Omidyar -- billionaires who use their money and power and connections to manipulate governments, society and events, as far they are able, toward the perpetuation and expansion of elite interests. Who does Greenwald think is corrupting the "radically corrupted political class?" Who is buying off the politicians? Who is influencing and sometimes even writing laws and policies for their own advantage? Who is partnering with the security state to destabilize and manipulate foreign goverments? Who is doing the corrupting? The oligarch class, and the corporations and financial interests they control and work with.
You can root out the entire "corrupted political class in DC" today, and you will still end up with another corrupted political class to take its place -- because that's the only kind of political class that will be produced by the wider system of power, which is dominated not by politicians but by corporate interests and oligarchs. If you support and celebrate the oligarchs who perpetuate this system, then you can be sure you will never see any genuine change or reform.
So yes, I believe that writers who call for "a more sensible surveillance system" in the current system of power do indeed hold that "we should have a powerful and far-reaching security state." I believe that is the logical conclusion and practical implication of such a stance. Any kind of effective surveillance system -- "sensible" or not -- will necessarily have to be powerful and far-reaching; otherwise, what's the point? So again, a belief in the need for an effective surveillance system means believing you need a state powerful and far-reaching enough to operate it.
I don't think it is a "fabrication" to draw such a conclusion from Greenwald's public positions, and his often heated, personal attacks on anyone who disagrees with Snowden's clear views on this question. If I've overstated the case, oversimplified his position, drawn the wrong implications from what Greenwald has said (and not said), if he has a different or more nuanced view, if he does not agree totally (or at all) with Snowden on this question, then I'd be glad to hear it.
But again, we are speaking here of opinions drawn from facts on the ground, not "fabrications." Greenwald states we need a surveillance system, albeit a "sensible" one. I observe this stance and make an observation about it, drawing on what knowledge I have of the sinister system of power we now have. Greenwald goes to work for an unsavory oligarch who is aiding and abetting political and social developments which I believe are harmful. I observe this, and state my concerns and opinions about it. I offer these as my personal opinion, in a blog read by a few hundred people. If there is new information, new facts on the ground that cause me to alter my opinion, then I will do so.
But as far as I can tell, Greenwald doesn't offer any new information to refute my opinions, any arguments against my conclusions, any new facts -- or even old facts or arguments that I might have missed. Instead, as he did earlier this year, he leaps straight to personal disparagement and, sad to say, out and out fabrications of his own. He says I'm a liar -- because I disagree with him. He says I bugged him privately for years to let me use his media platforms -- this is blatantly untrue, and Greenwald knows it to be untrue. He knows that the one time I used his media platform was when he invited me to do so, unbidden, out of the blue. I thought it was a kind gesture, and I thanked him kindly for it. It's sad that he now wants to take this act of kindness on his part and turn it into a nasty and mendacious personal smear against me. I hope he can find some better uses for his time and talents than indulging in this kind of petty business -- or serving oligarchs, for that matter.
*** (UPDATE) This is the last go-round on this particular brouhaha, offered here only because a recent comment provides such a sterling example of the kind of response any criticism of Greenwald or Omidyar provokes. This is from a commenter adopting the pseudonym "Lout" (although the person has previously commented here in their own name). I've lightly edited it because the original is ungrammatical at a couple of points:
Given that the only common threa[d] running through the various pretexts proffered for hating Greenwald has to do with Greenwald being successful, I suspect that the weird obsession [with] Greenwald is for the most part rooted in simple envy. It's as if the widely held perception of Greenwald as a formidable dissident has robbed some people of their sense of personal identity, and the thief must be made to pay.
My response: I don't "hate" Greenwald nor do I have a "weird obsession" with him. Nor have I told lies about him to blacken his character, as he has done to me. Greenwald had a reputation as a "formidable dissident" during the years we often linked to each other's work. He has the same reputation now. What does that have to do with anything?
I have offered my critical opinions on some aspects of how the Snowden revelations have been handled, without ever denying the courage and tribulations of those who've brought them (partially) to light. I've also expressed my deep concern at seeing indeed formidable dissidents like Greenwald, Taibbi, Scahill, etc., being employed by an oligarch whose own dubious and dangerous activities are the very things that formidable dissidents like Greenwald,Taibbi and Scahill would normally denounce and expose. What does it mean for investigative journalism and dissent to come under the financial umbrella of such a figure?
I think these are important questions to consider. Yet such concerns are immediately denounced as mere "jealousy" -- as if wealth and status are the only concerns, the only values that could possibly motivate anyone to criticize the public actions and positions of prominent people. (When Greenwald criticizes Obama, is it because he's jealous that Obama is more famous and powerful than he is? Or could it possibly be that Glenn has genuine motives, rooted in his own values and beliefs, that drive his concerns and spur him to write? If that's true for him, as I'm sure Citizen Lout would affirm, why can't it be true for others? Citizen Lout, like so many of Greenwald's fierce defenders, seems to have difficulty grasping this concept.)
The fatuous cod-psychology about people feeling "robbed of their sense of personal identity" is entirely characteristic of this whole ugly business. I write articles that say: I have concerns about the handling of the NSA revelations, and here are my reasons; I have concerns about dissident journalism getting into bed with unsavoury oligarchs, and here are my reasons. But what is the response to these concerns, which are based on public actions and positions? Not counterarguments but personal attacks: smears, lies aimed at denigrating personal character, sneering amateur psychology which attributes any criticism of these public issues to some kind of character flaw in the critic.
After many years of substantial agreement with Glenn on many public issues, I now have a substantial disagreement with him on these particular public issues. Is this so unusual? Especially among writers in such a volatile and contentious field as politics and public policy? I haven't attributed Glenn's actions and positions on these issues to some deep-seated character flaw or psychological imbalance in him; I think, on these issues, that he has made some wrong choices: choices which -- precisely because he is a formidable dissident with a high public profile -- could have an adverse effect on the course of investigative journalism and dissent in general. That's why I've spoken up about my concerns on these public issues, and why I've offered evidence and arguments to explain my concerns. This is not "hatred"; it's called debate.
But again, the response to this has been personal attacks, calumny, disparagement and, in Glenn's recent statement, lies against my character. And here, from Citizen Lout, insipid pop psychology instead of argument.
Mark Ames has a follow-up to his story on Pierre Omidyar's extensive links with the rightwing extremist Narendra Modi who now controls India. (I wrote about and excerpted Ames' original story here.) As Ames pointed out in the first story, Omidyar's support for Modi was rewarded with a vow by the candidate to open up India's lucrative e-commerce market to foreign corporations and techno-oligarchs -- like Omidyar.
Now, Ames reports, Modi has made good on his promise. One of his first acts in power has been an order to draw up guidelines for cracking open Indian e-commerce to Omidyar and others. This was a move long resisted by the previous Congress Party government -- which had also refused to register a supposedly non-partisan NGO supported by Omidyar, accusing the group of illegal lobbying for a bid to … open up India's e-commerce market to foreign companies.
Congress was also fiercely opposed to giving Omidyar and other foreign oligarchs unfettered access to the country's e-commerce market. As Ames notes, Omidyar's good friend in the White House, Barack Obama, brought heavy pressure to bear on India to reverse this stance -- but Congress resisted. Now the party has gone the way of all those who interfere with the divine right of well-connected oligarchs to grab as much loot as they want, wherever they want, however they want: they're out, and a much more amenable party is now in office.
This same dynamic was recently played out in Ukraine, with some similar elements: "non-partisan" NGOs backed by a partnership between 'philanthropists' like Omidyar and White House agents (who were lining up a "replacement" government in the back room). And no, this doesn't mean that this partnership of domination controlled every element in the crisis in Ukraine or the election in India, where millions of people had legitimate grievances against the parties in power. But it does mean that this Unholy Alliance of oligarchs and imperialists is expending enormous amounts of money, energy and skullduggery to steer highly complex political developments in foreign lands in the direction they want them to go: toward the installation of friendly governments that will put the interest of financial elites and American dominance ahead of the well-being of their own people.
And the Alliance is getting better and better at doing this. They seize upon -- and manipulate -- legitimate grievances, then exacerbate them, distort them, confuse them and re-direct them toward the service of the elite's domination agenda. The Tea Party movement is a perfect example. Here the elite -- using media networks under oligarch control -- took a groundswell of legitimate anger at how the political-financial class had blown up the economy and plunged millions into misery, ruin and insecurity, and converted it into a giant, gnarled hairball of bellicose nativism, ignorance, racism and division devoted to preserving and expanding the power and privilege of the wealthy elite.
What could have been a power countermovement to roll back the excesses of the corporatism, oligarchy and militarism that have held bipartisan sway in America for more than 30 years was twisted into a tool to enhance the power of the already powerful. The chaos this unruly hairball has brought to the political system is also a plus for the Unholy Alliance: the more unstable the country is, the more people will long for "strong" leaders, like Modi, for rich and powerful figures who seem "above the fray" of petty politics and can bring "unity" to a troubled polity -- like the oligarch recently elected as Ukraine's president, or, indeed, like Michael Bloomberg in New York City.
(Or even Putin in Russia, a "strong man" who stepped in to offer "order" and "unity" after the murderous chaos induced in Russia by the neoliberal "Shock Doctrine" agenda. His ascent was at first warmly welcomed by Western elites -- George W. Bush famously looked into Putin's "soul" and saw a kindred spirit. But then Putin went rogue -- he wanted to set up an Unholy Alliance of his own, with himself in charge; he was not nearly as pliable and compliant as his predecessor; he wanted to be a partner in plunder and power with Western elites, not just their errand boy. He actually saw himself as their equal. This was not to be borne. And so today he is -- what else? -- the new Hitler. And the obvious next target of the regime change machine -- a fact which is giving him even more 'justification' for the increasing repression he's imposing on the Russian people.)
The presence of the Tea Party (used here as shorthand for the broad range of far-right extremists now rampant in the land) is also convenient for the Democrats, giving them a convenient hate figure to stir up fear (and scoop up donations) and, more importantly, to use as an excuse, a cover for their own faithful service to the wealthy elite. "Hey, we would like a more just society, but darn it, darn it, darn it, those Tea Party kooks won't let us do anything!" "That's all right, Mr. President, we understand," say the earnest progressive liberals and the gritty savvy 'dissidents' on the left. "We understand, and we still love you. You're still 'two percent less evil' than the kooks!" The Democrats get to protect their "brand identity" as the more caring, progressive party -- while deliberately and willingly advancing the same neoliberal agenda of elite domination also being pushed by "mainstream Republicans" and the Tea Party.
With "austerity" degrading the nation's physical and social infrastructure, the political system reduced to sinister buffoonery and slick PR puffery, and the rich and powerful increasingly beyond all reach of the law (which bears down harder and harder on the rabble at every turn), our elites seem hellbent on making the country ungovernable, plunging it into fear-ridden chaos. Meanwhile, the militarization of police forces around the country continues apace, abetted at every turn by the latest technology (sold as toys and glitzy gizmos to consumers -- "Google Glasses! Cool! Big Data! Wow!" -- but actually serving as incredibly powerful tools of repression and surveillance by the state …and as incredibly lucrative sources of profit for the corporations and techno-oligarchs who happily supply the state with repressive instruments -- and even work with the government to refine and expand the tools' effectiveness).
And now techno-oligarchs -- beneficiaries of and/or active participants in the Unholy Alliance of domination -- are moving into the commanding heights of media and politics. Jeff Bezos -- destroyer of bookstores and blackmailer of publishers -- controls the Washington Post. Omidyar, of course, is bankrolling the creation of a "dissident" media conglomerate, which decries "excesses" in the system here and there but never challenges the legitimacy of the neoliberal cult of elite domination. Rupert Murdoch rules the rightwing media, Omidyar will now dominate the left, Bezos will command the overchewed cud that constitutes the "centrist" position in American politics today. All sides will be covered beneath the broader neoliberal umbrella. Our elites not only own the ball, and the playing field, and the stadium, and the parking lot; they own both teams as well.
A private correspondent pointed out that my last piece on Omidyar and Modi was "not cynical enough," and did not draw out the connection between what oligarchs such as Omidyar, in partnership with Washington, have done in Ukraine and India -- and what they are up to on the home front. I think this critique is right. A sinister game is afoot, and its aim is not a more just, open and free society, or even the maintenance of the status quo, but the destruction of the common good and the imposition of an ever-tightening domination by an alliance of private elites and repressive governments. There are too many developments on too many fronts for the obvious trends in this direction to be seen as nothing more than happy accidents for the elite. Again, political and social situations have many different causes, many different factors at work, and are never in the sole control of any single force. But it seems increasingly obvious that our neoliberal elites are using their immense power, public and private, to manipulate (or at times create) situations of conflict and instability that they then try to bend to the service of their agenda.
Yet revelations of these machinations, of government/corporate crime or "excesses," have made no difference -- from the exposure of the deliberate falsification of the case for war against Iraq to the revelations of systematic torture in Abu Ghraib to the confirmation that the President runs a death squad out of the White House to the continuing torture of force-fed captives in the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp to the selective revelations of some of the abuses committed by the NSA. Nothing changes, because the commanding heights of politics and media are in the hands of people deeply committed to preserving the system that gives them wealth and power.
We live in an age of revelation. There has never been era in which so much clear and glaring evidence of so many horrific crimes and abuses by state and private power has been so widely and freely available. Year after year, the revelations pile up. None of it makes any difference. Instead, power doubles down.
This week, the UK government -- which was supposedly "rocked" and "shaken" by the Snowden revelations in the Guardian -- announced it will hold its first completely secret trial for hundreds of years. (It is, of course, a trial of two "suspected terrorists.") This is how "rocked" the UK government has been by the "scandal" of its eager cooperation with the NSA's secret Stasi-like operations. This is how effective these world-changing revelations have been in forcing more "transparency" in government. The UK is about to step back into medieval times, violating the principles laid down in the Magna Carta -- 800 years ago.
But this is all of a piece with the general trend, the ever-more obvious agenda of the ruling elite. From neoliberalism to neofascism to, ultimately, neofeudalism: a new dark age, where the rabble live in fear and want, at the mercy of powerful, unaccountable elites locked away in gated splendor. (Though to be sure, they will sally forth now and then in squabbles amongst themselves for a bigger share of loot and power -- squabbles which inevitably involve the death and ruin of multitudes of innocent people.) As noted here the other day, old evils -- fascism, racism, nationalism, feudalism -- don't die. They return in new forms, and have to be fought again, over and over.
2. But to return to the particular case of Modi and Omidyar, once more Ames has the goods. Here is an excerpt:
Today, Reuters is reporting that Modi is planning to open India up to global e-commerce firms like eBay next month, and that Modi’s industry minister has been drawing up the new guidelines with input from top eBay officials, along with their e-commerce counterparts from Google, Amazon, Wal-Mart and others. …
As we reported, the longtime managing director and partner for Omidyar Network India Advisors, Jayant Sinha, began working to help elect Modi since at least 2012, while publicly doling out tens of millions of Omidyar’s money to for-profits and to non-profits, at least one of which was involved in an anti-corruption campaign that undermined the center-left ruling government, and benefited Modi’s far-right BJP party.
Omidyar’s top India man also concurrently served as a director in a powerful BJP think tank, the India Foundation, chaired by Modi’s hardline National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval — “a giant among spies” according to the Hindustan Times. After stepping down from Omidyar Network in February of this year, Sinha worked full-time for Modi, the India Foundation, and for his own successful run as a BJP candidate for parliament.
Another NGO that Omidyar invested in, the Institute for Policy Research Studies (IPRS), was accused of illegally trying to lobby India’s parliamentarians to vote for opening up India’s e-commerce market in late 2012. The IPRS nonprofit ran a program in which their staffers provided India MP staffers with “nonpartisan” research. In 2012, India’s intelligence bureau accused the IPRS of “compromising national security” and described it as “shrouded in mystery.”
Omidyar Network had pledged $1 million to the IPRS, and the Ford Foundation pledged half a million more — but the Indian government rejected the IPRS’s application to register as a foreign-funded NGO, deeming it a threat to India’s parliamentary integrity, and its national security. Google’s corporate philanthropic arm, Google.org, had previously given $880,000 to the same NGO program, under Sheryl Sandberg’s watch. The co-founder of this controversial never-registered NGO, CV Mudhakar, is now, you might not be shocked to learn, Omidyar Network India’s director of investments in “government transparency.”
The previous, center-left Indian government not only nixed the Omidyar-Ford Foundation NGO-slash-e-retailer-lobby front, it also announced last year that it did not plan to allow e-commerce firms like eBay open access into its markets. … The answer to that business problem, of course, was changing India’s government — even if that meant installing a brutal figure like Narendra Modi, who spent nearly a decade on the US State Department’s visa ban list for his role in the violent persecution of minority Muslims and Christians.
That’s terrible and all from a human rights perspective, but when you consider the interests of eBay’s shareholders — like its number one shareholder, Pierre Omidyar — India presents not so much a problem as an opportunity. The majority of eBay’s revenues come from its overseas operations, and eBay has made no secret that it sees its future growth coming from India and the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China).
UPDATE: A story published in the Guardian today provides yet another telling example of the mindset of the faction that Omidyar has helped to power in India:
A state minister from Indian prime minister Narendra Modi's ruling party has described rape as a "social crime", saying "sometimes it's right, sometimes it's wrong", in the latest controversial remarks by an Indian politician about rape.
The political leaders of Uttar Pradesh, the state where two cousins aged 12 and 14 were raped and hanged last week, have faced criticism for failing to visit the scene and for accusing the media of hyping the story. A regional politician from Modi's own Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), said that the crime of rape can only be considered to have been committed if it is reported to police.
"This is a social crime which depends on men and women. Sometimes it's right, sometimes it's wrong," said Babulal Gaur, the home minister responsible for law and order in the BJP-run central state of Madhya Pradesh.
…Modi, who was sworn in as prime minister last week after a landslide election victory, has so far remained silent over the double killing in the village of Katra Shahadatganj, around half a day's drive east of Delhi.
The father and uncle of one of the victims said they tried to report the crime to local police but were turned away. Three men have been arrested over the killings. Two policemen have been held on suspicion of trying to cover up the crime.