Empire Burlesque
Landmarks of Loss and Love: Being Human in Horrible Times
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 28 November 2014 00:42

Moscow-based American writer and critic John Freedman has penned a tremendously powerful piece on his blog, Russian Culture in Landmarks. Writing a response to an article by Russian-born writer Martha Gessen in the New York Times, Freedman has encapsulated, in so many ways, the experience of those of us who, in this grim and ugly century, have "lost" both our countries -- the America that gave us birth, and the Russia which, as with Rilke, became our "spiritual homeland" -- to bizarre, brutal, murderous, belligerent, xenophobic, mean-spirited, wilfully ignorant perversions of themselves. In America, in Russia, and in so many other places around the world, what is best in human nature has indeed been “captured by aliens and stuffed into a trunk” — to borrow Freedman’s chillingly apt evocation of the poem by Alexander Timofeevsky.

Freedman writes:

Russia has been my intellectual, emotional and aesthetic raison d’etre for many, many decades. I have lived in Moscow for many decades. I’ve published a lot of books about Russian culture. I have been followed by the KGB and the FSB. I have been, essentially, kidnapped and interrogated. My phones and my apartments have been tapped. My car has been stolen (probably by the authorities), I have been recruited openly and otherwise to be a snitch. I have lost most of what little money I had in various defaults, financial crashes and monetary reforms. I have been the victim of vandalism and slur campaigns. And through it all I didn’t give a damn. Because my love for Russia and its culture was that strong. It was that strong. All that other crap was just that, crap. All I cared about, figuratively speaking, was Pushkin. Erdman. Dostoevsky. Tolstoy. Gogol. Kurochkin. Korkia. Klavdiev. Mukhina. Ginkas. Bakshi. Krymov. Yukhananov. It’s unfair to begin a list because the list must stop somewhere and the riches of Russian culture, the riches that have fed me for most of my adult life are such that the list could damn near be endless.

So when Masha Gessen writes about love, I know what she means. I have lived that love. And that love has held me strong through trying times. And then “the present” came. I’m going to say “the present” came in late 2010. It’s an arbitrary choice, but it’s more or less when Vladimir Putin truly began pushing his people over the edge and some of them began pushing back. What we have witnessed since then is something akin to the mayhem of a slaughterhouse gone mad. The arrests, the harassment of peaceful citizens, the murders of journalists and lawyers attempting to do their job, the bizarre machine of lawmaking that seeks to ban the human being from thinking at all (outlawing curse words, outlawing the questioning of official history, outlawing “propaganda of a gay lifestyle”), the use of hatred to inspire love of country, the vilification of anyone daring to have his or her own opinion, the use of lies, lies, lies, bold, brazen lies as an excuse for anything the state wishes to do …

But the bigger point is this – as this tsunami of insanity has inundated those of us living in Russia, the worst, the most horrible, the most untenable, the most inexcusable aspect of it all has been the way the vast majority of Russians have either turned a blind eye – “Oh, I don’t know anything about it!” – or embraced it …

I have been accused – by former friends and by utter strangers – of being a spy, of being here to undermine Russia, of being one of those from the West who has destroyed Russian values.

As this cacophony of nonsense and words built up, I found myself drifting farther and farther from my love until we lost touch with one another. This was followed by despair and utter confusion fueled by outrage and deep, gnawing sorrow. One cannot live like that. One either loves or one dies.

Reading Freedman’s words, I was thinking, Yes, the same thing has happened in America too: the wilful, bellicose blindness, and the widespread embracing of horrors that in my own lifetime would have once been considered monstrously “un-American,” not to mention evil and inhumane by any moral standard. And of course, I’d spent the last 13 years — since my first columns questioning and denouncing the militarist American empire in the aftermath of 9/11 — being called a traitor, a subverter out to destroy America and its sacred values. etc.  Then, reading further, I saw that Freedman also recognized the similarities:

I am not setting myself up in opposition to [Gessen] at all … On the contrary, I share with her that love and loss of it. It’s traumatic, believe me. Moreover, Gessen is talking about losing her own native culture and a feeling for it. …  I also want to say that I, as an American, can fully share Gessen’s disillusionment with her own native culture. I mean, let’s be honest, I am writing this as streets in many U.S. cities are burning once again, because … yes, again, a young black man or boy has been shot by a white policeman who gets off scot-free. This is to say nothing of my disgust over the complete collapse of the American political system, which now has been simplified to this: He with the most dollars wins (notice I don’t bother to add “she” because it’s always a “he”). I, too, like Masha Gessen gazing upon a home culture that nurtured her and then scorned her, know that horrible feeling of realizing that my home is no longer my home. The shock of realizing that your home has been lost while you were making tea, flirting with the neighbor, or scrubbing the toilet, has never been described better than by the great poet Alexander Timofeevsky, who wrote in his long, narrative poem Tram Car No. 37:

Russia was pilfered by aliens.
In five minutes they beamed her up,

Squashed her down, and stuck her in a trunk.

Meanwhile, as you and I were busy dreaming,

Somebody replaced her with a counterfeit.

These are grim times. Monstrous, ugly, implacable — and seemingly immovable — systems of power hold increasingly brutal sway over vast areas of the earth`; a monstrous weight crushing hope and light out of the future. But as Freedman writes, you either love, or die.  One way Freedman combats our age’s despair and soul-death is through his blog, which focuses on the deepest currents of Russian culture, on what remains eternally true — worthy of love, expressing the always-provisional, eternally-failing but ever-striving desire to find and hold and nurture and enhance “the better angels of our nature.”

Although Freedman’s post is very personal, and deals mainly with Russia, it has an insight that reaches beyond the particulars of person and place and geopolitics. It calls us back from the pit of our despair, calls us back to the fight, the only fight that matters: the struggle to deepen the meaning of what it means to be human, in ourselves and in our relation to all others.

 
Slip Sliding Away: Joe Biden Gives Iran Green Light to Attack Israel
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 06 July 2009 10:23
Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place....

-- T.S. Eliot, "Burnt Norton"

In a surprise move, Vice President Joe Biden signaled that the United States would not intervene to stop Iran from launching a "pre-emptive" attack on Israel. Biden's declaration came during an appearance on the ABC news-talk show, "This Week," with former Bill Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos. Here are Biden's exact words, as reported by the New York Times:

“Look, we cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do when they make a determination — if they make a determination — that they’re existentially threatened and their survival is threatened by another country.”

It is of course well known that Israel possesses a formidable nuclear arsenal -- which it developed illegally, in secret, "rogue-state" style. It is also well-known that an Israeli attack on Iran is a constant, open topic of discussion -- and advanced planning and war-gaming -- at the highest levels of the Israeli government and military.

Given the fact that a nuclear-armed nation is openly discussing and planning an attack on their country, the Iranians could quite logically "make a determination that they are existentially threatened and their survival is threatened by another country."

Thus, by Biden's logic, it would be quite legitimate for the Iranians to mount an attack to "take out the nuclear program" in Israel, given the ever-present existential threat this poses to their survival. And the United States, according to Biden, would not do anything to stop such an attack, because Washington "cannot dictate to another sovereign nation" what it can do when it feels threatened to such a degree.

This then is the actual, logical meaning of the actual words that Biden used on Sunday: If Iran's Supreme Leader "made a determination" that his nation's existence was in peril from attack by a very hostile nuclear-armed nation, then he would be justified in taking pre-emptive action to save his people.

This Hobbesian, dog-eat-dog logic could also apply to any other potential conflict in the world. Any nation whose leaders declare is under "existential threat" is thereby justified in any pre-emptive attack to quell the threat. That's it. That's all it takes. That is the quintessence of the philosophy of international statecraft voiced by Biden on Sunday.

But in practice, of course, this justification for military aggression is not meant to apply universally. It is reserved solely for the United States -- indeed, it is the very heart of the U.S. government's officially promulgated "National Security Doctrine"" -- and for any favored American clients and allies. Israel is the prime example of the latter category; any and all acts of aggression by its government are always justified -- and usually praised to high heaven -- by Washington. But this exception also applies to other nations whose aggression serves America's agenda at any given time: Ethiopia's American-aided invasion of Somalia, for example, a brutal act of aggression that killed thousands, displaced hundreds of thousands, radicalized thousands, exacerbated sectarian strife, and sparked off a new, vicious civil war -- all in service of America's Terror War "regime change" agenda.

The machtpolitik philosophy enunciated so clearly by Biden underlies the Terror War operations being continued -- and expanded -- by his boss, Barack Obama, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now, once more, in Somalia. Obama continually affirms that America is under an "existential threat" if Afghanistan is not conquered and the "recalcitrant tribes" of Pakistan not bombed and droned into submission.

But nations outside the golden circle of imperial favor are not allowed to make such claims -- even if nuclear weapons really are aimed at them, by governments who really do call for their destruction. Thus once again we see American leaders trying to justify their own (and their favorites') military aggression by referring to some grand, universal principle -- which they immediately subvert by failing to apply it universally.

Yet it is certain that no one in the upper reaches of the American power structure will note -- or even recognize -- the howling illogic of Biden's position. Why should they? It is their own underlying, animating principle, the very air they breathe: whatever We and Ours do is good, is true, is right, is righteous.

If We torture, it is good; in fact, it's not even torture. If We invade other countries without provocation, it's not aggression; it's liberation. If We kill innocent people to further Our political agenda, it's not terrorism; it's heroism, it's a "defense of the realm," of "our way of life." If We and Ours openly call and plan for "regime change" in other countries, those countries have no right to feel threatened; they should simply fall into line with Our wishes. This, again, is the unquestioned and apparently unquestionable core assumption of the American political, corporate and business classes.

This can be seen in the New York Times story on Biden's interview. Reporter Brian Knowlton makes what he believes is a telling point. After devoting a couple of paragraphs to some of the dangers of an attack on Iran that various American officials have expressed, Knowlton says:

Still, the disputed Iranian election result has raised concerns in Israel. Officials there say that the victory by Mr. Ahmadinejad, who has called for the destruction of Israel, underscored the Iranian threat and bolstered the argument for tough action.

Here of course, Knowlton repeats the blood libel that Ahmadinejad has "called for the destruction of Israel." As Juan Cole and many others have constantly pointed out, Ahmadinejad has done no such thing:

...the actual quote, which comes from an old speech of Khomeini, does not imply military action, or killing anyone at all. The second reason is that it is just an inexact translation. The phrase is almost metaphysical. He quoted Khomeini that "the occupation regime over Jerusalem should vanish from the page of time." It is in fact probably a reference to some phrase in a medieval Persian poem. It is not about tanks.

In other words, Ahmadinejad was indulging in the flatulent, high-falutin rhetorical bilgewater favored by politicians around the globe, from the dawn of time. In doing so, he expressed the same kind of hope that the American government and the United States government have formally expressed in the Iran Freedom Support Act, in which the nation's leaders committed $10 million of the public's money to support the removal of the current Iranian regime. Unlike Ahmadinejad's cloudy evocation, the Americans openly put cold hard cash on the line to help make the Iranian regime "vanish from the page of time." (All of this is in addition to the far larger covert efforts -- including terrorism, sabotage and other black ops -- also being carried out in Iran by the United States and local proxies.)

In any case, for all his manifold faults, Ahmadinejad did not and has not "called for the destruction of Israel," nor issued any "existential threat" against the people in Israel -- nor could he actually destroy Israel or even threaten its existence even he wanted to. Israel, on the other hand, has the aforementioned rogue nuclear arsenal, and a bipartisan leadership that constantly declares its strong intent to "eliminate the Iranian threat" -- and which is backed to the hilt by the most powerful military in the history of the world, whose vice president has just publicly affirmed that America will not stop any Israeli attack on Iran.

Who then, by Biden's own logic, is actually facing an existential threat which, by Biden's own logic, would justify a pre-emptive attack?

II.
But the grim NYT story -- presaging, as it does, a monstrous act of folly and hubris that could kill thousands upon thousands of innocent human beings -- does end with a bit of comic relief. Dig this:

In May, Mr. Obama told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel during a meeting at the White House that “we’re not going to have talks forever” with Iran; in the absence of cooperation from Tehran, he said, the administration would not rule out “a range of steps.”

"We're not going to have talks forever"! That's a hoot, ain't it? These "talks," presumably, are the "talks" that "we" are not actually having at all. Obama appears to believe that talking about the possibility of having talks is the same thing as actually having talks -- and is eager to assure his warlike allies, at home and abroad, that he will not drag out these non-existent talks any longer than necessary.

And earlier in the story, Knowlton points out that Obama "has said that diplomatic efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program should be given to the end of the year." Please note well the usage here; in the midst of so much slipping, sliding and perishing of words, our leaders' imprecision is sometimes chillingly precise. Obama says that he is -- graciously, imperiously -- willing to give diplomacy a few more months to stop Iran's nuclear program. Not its nuclear weapons program, which, by all evidence, does not exist, but its nuclear energy program in general -- which by international treaty Iran has every right to pursue, and has pursued under the most stringent international supervision.

Obama is thus leaving open the possibility of overt American moves "beyond diplomacy" if Iran is still pursuing its perfectly legal, internationally sanctioned nuclear program next year -- that is, if Israel is not given the green light for a proxy shot first.

Certainly the trial balloons to habituate the public to the idea of a strike are going up again; on the very day that Biden was signalling American acquiescence to an Israeli strike on Iran, the Times of London -- a frequent stovepipe for the Anglo-American militarist elite -- headlines this little item: Saudis give nod to Israeli raid on Iran.

This in turn dovetails with news that Israel's much-preferred candidate, Japanese diplomat and sanctions maven, Yukiya Amano, has just been named director-general of the International Atomic Energy Association, which is overseeing the draconian strictures on Iran's nuclear program. It is thought that Amano will be much tougher on Iran than outgoing director Mohamed El Baradei, who occasionally committed the cardinal sin of adhering to law, and logic. There will no more of that nonsense from IAEA now. In fact, Amano is off to a flying start, as Gordon Prather notes at Antiwar.com, pointing us to this piece from Bloomberg: UN’s Amano Says Iran ‘Under Obligation’ to Suspend Nuclear Work.

The strenuous effort to get the pliable Amano in place -- as Bloomberg notes, he "previously failed to win majority support in three meetings of the IAEA board" -- eerily recall the machinations to oust the head of the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons as a prelude to the invasion of Iraq. As I noted in the Moscow Times in April 2002:

Jose Bustani is an accomplished Brazilian diplomat, a man of learning and enlightenment, with extensive experience in international affairs, including postings in Vienna, Montreal, the United Nations and Moscow. For decades, he has served as a high-level negotiator on a number of international treaties, hammering out agreements on disarmament, pollution, scientific research and maritime law. In 1997, he became director general of the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which enforces the international Chemical Weapons Convention.

In that post, as The Guardian reports, Bustani engineered the destruction of 2 million chemical weapons and the dismantling of two-thirds of the world's production facilities for biological mass murder. He was so well regarded by his colleagues that he was re-elected to a five-year term – unanimously – in May 2000. Just a few months ago, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell publicly lauded him for his "very impressive work."

There was one thing wrong with Jose Bustani, however. He was negotiating to bring Iraq into the Chemical Weapons Convention. That was his job, after all: to get as many nations as possible under the treaty's umbrella. So he was trying to persuade Iraq to accept the Convention and its strictures – including the destruction of chemical weapons stores and facilities, and constant independent monitoring to ensure compliance. If he had succeeded, the Middle East – and the world – would have been an immeasurably safer place.

But there were sinister forces – thugs – who didn't want Bustani to succeed. These thugs have big plans for Iraq, you see. They're going to puff up their chests, beat their hairy bellies and rape Iraq, force it down into the dirt and have their way with it. But they can only do that if Iraq remains a threat – or at least can be credibly framed as a threat to the little ones back home.

[Note: Yes, it was that obvious, that early, that the United States was going to invade Iraq. Although the Bush Regime did make a big show of insisting that "diplomatic efforts to [disarm Iraq] should be given to the end of the year," the fix was firmly in. Remember Iraq's frantic disclosures at the end of that year -- thousands of documents sent to the UN to prove the dismantling of its WMD programs, and Iraq's complete acquiescence to all UN inspections? Remember how much good it did them, responding to such "diplomatic efforts"? Well, of course no one in America remembers the pre-history of the act of aggression that Barack Obama now calls an "extraordinary achievement;" but you can be the Iranians do.]

And so George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and the rest of the pack started in on Bustani. First they softened him up with some bureaucratic brass knuckles: they illegally withheld U.S. funding for the Convention, leading to a cash crisis at the agency. Next came a boot in the groin: having themselves engineered the Convention's money troubles, they accused Bustani of "financial mismanagement" and demanded that Brazil recall him. The Brazilians refused.

Then the switchblades came out. Last month, the thugs called for a vote of "no confidence" in Bustani from the Convention's 145 member nations. This was foiled – like the gang's recent attempt to muscle in on Venezuela – by an unexpected show of nerve from the "little guys" who normally quake when the thugs start to bellow. The no-confidence vote failed.

Now the pack was in full cry. They called an unprecedented (and illegal) "special session" of the Convention to force Bustani's ouster. In good thug fashion, they put the squeeze on, threatening to bankrupt the agency or pull out of it altogether – a move that would have collapsed the treaty and set off a world-wide explosion in chemical weapons production. (Even as it is, the thugs have arbitrarily excluded themselves from most of the treaty's provisions – including the very same inspection programs that Iraq is condemned for rejecting.)

And this week, they finally unloaded with both barrels. At the "special session" in The Hague on Monday, the thugs strong-armed 47 of the little guys into voting against Bustani. Seven countries, including Russia, stood their ground for the man they had all unanimously elected less than two years before, while 43 other countries abstained. More than 50 countries boycotted the shameful spectacle altogether.


Just as in those heady days of yore, we can now see several dangerous ducks being put in a row. The process is being helped by the current election crisis in Iran, which has greatly exacerbated the ongoing, never-ending demonization of perfidious Persia. The hardliners' crackdown on dissent has been a particular godsend in this regard. Ahmadinejad, a loose-tongued, bellicose fundamentalist, has always been a most serviceable villain for Western militarists, who need easily caricatured hardliners in charge of their regime change targets. Which is why they stonewalled the Iranian reformists when they held the presidency, rejecting every opportunity to nurture a genuine, peaceful evolution of Iranian democracy, and were cock-a-hoop when a poltroon like Ahmadinejad took over. (As Muhammad Sahimi details here.) Now his goon squad tactics in the election aftermath are doing more to help the American militarists than a thousand warmongering Bill Kristol columns or whole boatload of screeching AEI forums could do.

(Isn't it marvelous how hardliners always buttress their counterparts among the "enemy"? Like the old "we will bury you" Commies providing endless ammo for American reactionaries -- and vice versa. Both sides strenuously fought reform of their systems and called for more repression -- pointing to the ravings of opposing hardliners as justification. The same dynamic is also at work in the Terror War's intimate dance between Western militarists and Islamic extremists, each pointing to the other's depredations as justification for....more depredations.)

Again, let us not forget that America's vast covert forces are sponsoring deadly terrorist attacks inside Iran -- an ongoing provocation that is guaranteed to rouse hardliner ire, undermine all genuine, independent reform movements, and make a mockery of Obama's ludicrous rhetoric about "dialogue." The Iranians -- scraping the bodies of their policemen, and the inevitable "collaterals," from the streets after yet another terrorist attack -- know full well that the Americans are not sincere about "dialogue" and "negotiations." They know the only negotiations the Americans are interested in are terms of surrender.

The Tehran regime's only hope is to make it clear that an attack on them would cost the West more than it is willing to pay, in terms of lives lost, heightened domestic insecurity from reprisal threats, and economic turmoil. This survival strategy inevitably leads to more militarism, the mentality of a fortress besieged: hardly a conducive atmosphere for peaceful reform and better lives for ordinary Iranians. But of course, none of the American militarists -- including, most emphatically, the "progressive" leaders now in charge of the ever-expanding war machine -- give a damn about that, despite the rivers of crocodile tears we've seen since the Iranian election.

At any rate, our new "Tail Gunner Joe" says it's A-OK for the Israelis to strike Iran whenever they feel like it. Looks like surf's up on the old blood-dimmed tide this summer.

 
The Base Court: Another Fortress Rising in America's Ring of Iron
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 03 July 2009 13:45
While President Obama circumnavigates the globe, talking loftily of peace and engagement with the peoples of the world -- in language largely cribbed from old George Bush speeches, but presented in a far more photogenic, plausive package -- this is the real face that the United States is showing to the world. Chalmers Johnson writes:

The U.S. Empire of Bases — at $102 billion a year already the world’s costliest military enterprise — just got a good deal more expensive. As a start, on May 27th, we learned that the State Department will build a new "embassy" in Islamabad, Pakistan, which at $736 million will be the second priciest ever constructed, only $4 million less, if cost overruns don’t occur, than the Vatican-City-sized one the Bush administration put up in Baghdad...

Whatever the costs turn out to be, they will not be included in our already bloated military budget, even though none of these structures is designed to be a true embassy — a place, that is, where local people come for visas and American officials represent the commercial and diplomatic interests of their country. Instead these so-called embassies will actually be walled compounds, akin to medieval fortresses, where American spies, soldiers, intelligence officials, and diplomats try to keep an eye on hostile populations in a region at war. One can predict with certainty that they will house a large contingent of Marines and include roof-top helicopter pads for quick get-aways.

Strangely enough, this bristling musculature of imperial dominance doesn't sit well with the locals in the "garrisoned lands" -- an apt phrase used by Tom Englehardt in introducing Chalmer's piece. Englehardt also points us to this Christian Science Monitor story:

In Pakistan, however, large parts of the population are hostile to the US presence in the region – despite receiving billions of dollars in aid from Washington since 2001 – and anti-American groups and politicians are likely to seize on the expanded diplomatic presence in Islamabad as evidence of American "imperial designs."

"This is a replay of Baghdad," said Khurshid Ahmad, a member of Pakistan's upper house of parliament for Jamaat-e-Islami, one of the country's two main religious political parties. "This [Islamabad embassy] is more [space] than they should need. It's for the micro and macro management of Pakistan, and using Pakistan for pushing the American agenda in Central Asia."

While one has very little sympathy for religious parties anywhere (just look at the murderous, sanctimonious gits of the Republican and Democratic parties, all of them -- Obama included -- oozing Heepish piety as they rob the poor and wage ceaseless war all over the world), in this case Mr Ahmad hits ye old nail on the head. "Micro and macro management" of the imperial satrapies are indeed the feverish obsessions of our Potomac poobahs -- especially in a world which they darkly suspect is rapidly slipping from their accustomed control.

Chalmers also makes the vitally important -- hence universally ignored -- point that the American power structure, whether led by Neanderthal conservatives or ultramodern "progressives," has no intention of giving up the global archipelago of military bases that are the physical footprint of the American imperium:

And what is being done about those military bases anyway — now close to 800 of them dotted across the globe in other people’s countries? Even as Congress and the Obama administration wrangle over the cost of bank bailouts, a new health plan, pollution controls, and other much needed domestic expenditures, no one suggests that closing some of these unpopular, expensive imperial enclaves might be a good way to save some money.

Instead, they are evidently about to become even more expensive. On June 23rd, we learned that Kyrgyzstan, the former Central Asian Soviet Republic which, back in February 2009, announced that it was going to kick the U.S. military out of Manas Air Base (used since 2001 as a staging area for the Afghan War), has been persuaded to let us stay. But here’s the catch: In return for doing us that favor, the annual rent Washington pays for use of the base will more than triple from $17.4 million to $60 million, with millions more to go into promised improvements in airport facilities and other financial sweeteners. All this because the Obama administration, having committed itself to a widening war in the region, is convinced it needs this base to store and trans-ship supplies to Afghanistan.

Chalmers believes that the ring of iron that the United States has wrapped around the world will ultimately be the unmaking of the empire:

I have a suggestion for other countries that are getting a bit weary of the American military presence on their soil: cash in now, before it’s too late. Either up the ante or tell the Americans to go home. I encourage this behavior because I’m convinced that the U.S. Empire of Bases will soon enough bankrupt our country, and so — on the analogy of a financial bubble or a pyramid scheme — if you’re an investor, it’s better to get your money out while you still can.

This is, of course, something that has occurred to the Chinese and other financiers of the American national debt. Only they’re cashing in quietly and slowly in order not to tank the dollar while they’re still holding onto such a bundle of them. Make no mistake, though: whether we’re being bled rapidly or slowly, we are bleeding; and hanging onto our military empire and all the bases that go with it will ultimately spell the end of the United States as we know it.

While Chalmers is undoubtedly one of the wise men of our day, I am not so sure about this final point. Oh, it's true that the empire of bases is further bankrupting our already bankrupt country. And it's an indisputable fact that the fever-dream of dominance and militarism has already spelled the end of the United States as we knew it (or as we once perceived and hoped it to be). Yet it is hard for me to believe that if push really comes to shove for our imperial managers, they will simply stand by and watch their power and privilege melt away with nothing more than a wistful sigh for passing glories. Especially with a unfathomably vast military arsenal -- including thousands of nation-devouring nuclear weapons -- at their command.

In such a case, I strongly doubt they will show the wisdom and courage that unaccountably appeared among the party hacks of the late Soviet leadership, who had the guts to look reality in the face and realize they could not maintain their own militarist empire without a cataclysm of murder and violence that would have put the whole world in peril. They did something almost unthinkable for a political class -- especially those which, like the Communists (and the Democrats and Republicans), see themselves as the righteous vanguard of a uniquely blessed system beyond question or reproach: they admitted defeat, they let go -- not only of the Eastern bloc nations they had controlled since World War II, but also core territories that Russia had governed for centuries, such as Belarus, Georgia and Ukraine. They risked an internal breakdown of epic proportions -- a fate which did indeed come to pass -- but they did not make war to save their empire. They withdrew their troops, and their political control, from country after country after country.

It is one of the most extraordinary episodes in world history. But it will almost certainly not be mentioned next week when Barack Obama visits Moscow -- where, as the proud head of a war machine that has killed a million innocent people in Iraq and is killing thousands in Afghanistan, as the stout defender and expander of the authoritarian power grabs of his White House predecessor and a staunch shield for torturers and other war criminals, he will scold the Russians for their lack of liberty and scanting of human rights. The vast sacrifices that the Russian people have made in the peaceful surrender of their empire -- the shattering of their society by the foolish adoption of Western "shock doctrine" economics and the Western-backed oligarchism of the bufoonish Yeltsin, all of which opened the door to the thuggish authoritarianism of the current Kremlin regime -- will once again go unremarked.

(Just as little was said a few weeks ago in the outpouring of official ceremonies marking the 65th annivesary of D-Day, where endless press paeans and political rhetoric hymned the "decisive" invasion, in which Allied forces faced 14 German divisions -- no mean feat, to be sure, and worthy of remembrance. But at the very same time, the Soviet armies were fighting 163 German divisions, rolling them back in a series of monumental battles that dwarfed the Normandy invasion, in a campaign that cost the lives of 20 million Russians and other Soviet peoples -- and was, by any measurement, the decisive factor in destroying Nazi power. But this too is largely ignored in American re-tellings of how "we" won the war.]

Perhaps -- when the last T-bills are called in, when the gigantic Ponzi scheme of the bailout scam runs out of suckers, when thousands of angry 'natives' are beseiging the walls of the Crusader fortresses the empire has raised in the midst of the "garrison lands," when the whole, sky-blackening hoard of imperial chickens comes home to roost -- perhaps the American elite of the day will rise to the moral level of late-20th century Soviet hacks, and let go. The history of America's bipartisan, multi-generational elite does not exactly inspire confidence in this regard, of course -- although stranger things have happened, I suppose, so it remains at least an outside chance. But I fear that when and if the Iron Ring comes down, it will not be "without great fall of blood."
 
Battle Cry: Candidate Paul Appeases the Masters of War
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 25 November 2014 17:07

Oh dear. Rand Paul, favorite candidate of those who dream of an anti-imperial coalition of hardcore libertarians and the antiwar left, has popped many a bubble this week with his proposed Senate bill to declare war on ISIS.

Supporters will doubtless say that Paul (like another young politician on the make who served as a blank screen for his followers' aspirations for genuine hope and change) is merely playing "11th dimensional chess" with the move, trying to put America's war machine back on a Constitutional footing, while outflanking potential rivals for the GOP nomination who might otherwise have painted him as "soft" on killing large amounts of people with massive amounts of expensive and profitable machinery.

But Paul is not simply calling the war machine's bluff. As Antiwar.com points out, he has already been supporting the American return to war in Iraq; he now wants to codify it, constitutionalize it -- and, remarkably, expand it beyond the admittedly porous "limitations" that the Warmonger-in-Chief has placed on the effort so far.

As with every other intervention in the West's great Terror War, even the militarists' own intelligence services are pointing out the obvious fact that the war on ISIS is actually strengthening extremism throughout the region and elsewhere. Yet Paul -- who has garnered broad national interest chiefly through his antiwar and anti-imperial rhetoric -- wants to double down on the new war. He could have moved to have Obama impeached for waging unconstitutional war -- but he chose instead to seek legitimization and expansion of America's decades-long atrocity in Iraq.

The war bill is yet another confirmation that Paul is damn sure running for president in 2016. More shrewd than his father, he knows that you must prove your bloody bona fides to the powers-that-be if you want a chance to take your turn at the top. No doubt the keepers of the coffers of our war profiteers are already looking favorably in young Rand's direction.

As so many have done before him, Paul has decided that state power -- so dreadsome elsewhere, especially if it threatens to restrict the rapacious greed of the powerful in any way or, god forbid, make the least effort at helping anybody -- is fine and dandy when it's used to slaughter people. Especially if you hope to have your own finger on the trigger.

 
Red Mist Rising: Inside the World's Most Powerful Terrorist Organization
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Wednesday, 19 November 2014 17:00

Glenn Greenwald notes the blizzard of bellicose propaganda pieces pouring from the High Media lately concerning the Peace Laureate's latest flurry of drone killings. In story after story, headline after headline, we hear of "militants" slaughtered by the dead-eyed machinery that floats above the distant villages of the "recalcitrant tribes" who bedevil the Empire with their disobedience -- or, in the case of the drone campaign, which overwhelmingly kills innocent civilians, with their mere existence.

Greenwald draws on a new article by Steve Coll in the New Yorker, which provides a detailed -- and damning -- look at the Progressive Way of State Terror as practiced by our noble Nobelist in the White House. Coll in turn draws on the remarkable efforts of photographer Noor Behram, who for years has been going to the actual sites of American drone strikes to record the truth behind the horseshit headlines. As Greenwald notes:

There’s simply no doubt that U.S. media outlets have continuously and repeatedly—and falsely—described innocent civilians killed by U.S. drone attacks as “militants.” Just last month, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism documented that “fewer than 4% of the people killed have been identified by available records as named members of al Qaeda,” directly contrary to “John Kerry’s claim last year that only ‘confirmed terrorist targets at the highest level’ were fired at.”

Coll's article also looks again at the devastating -- and universally ignored -- 2012 report by the Stanford and NYU law schools, "Living Under Drones." As that report pointed out, the drone campaign is terrorism -- unadulterated, unmitigated, plain, simple terrorism. What's more, it is terrorism on a scale, duration and scope that pipsqueak outfits like ISIS and al Qaeda can only dream of. Greenwald quotes Coll:

Being attacked by a drone is not the same as being bombed by a jet. With drones, there is typically a much longer prelude to violence. Above North Waziristan, drones circled for hours, or even days, before striking. People below looked up to watch the machines, hovering at about twenty thousand feet, capable of unleashing fire at any moment, like dragon’s breath. “Drones may kill relatively few, but they terrify many more,” Malik Jalal, a tribal leader in North Waziristan, told me. “They turned the people into psychiatric patients.”

These days there is an overwhelming amount of blather about the political machinations on Capitol Hill in the wake of the recent elections. Who's in, who's out, how will this player out-play that player, and -- most important of all -- how will these machinations affect the all-important, historically decisive 2106 presidential campaign? All this earnest speculation, all this avid interest, all this heartfelt ardor -- and for what? To figure out which blood-soaked poltroon will be the temporary head of this monstrous, murderous terrorist apparatus -- an empire that brazenly kills scores of innocent people, week in, week out, year after year, all the while celebrating its own rectitude and righteousness and "exceptional" virtue.

2.
I think it's worth re-visiting the "Living With Drones" in some detail. Below are some excerpts from a 2012 piece I wrote ("Blood is Their Argument: The Real Campaign Trail") not long after the report was released -- a post that coincided with the climax of the last all-important, historically decisive presidential campaign.

Even as the presidential candidates meet in ersatz agon to spew their self-serving lies and scripted zingers in a "debate" on foreign policy, the real campaign -- the campaign of blood and bone, of death and terror, being waged in Pakistan by the American government -- goes on it all its horror.

This week, the Mail on Sunday -- one of Britain's most conservative newspapers -- published a story outlining, in horrific detail, the true nature of the drone killing campaign begun by George W. Bush and vastly expanded by Barack Obama. …The story concerns legal action being taken in Pakistan on behalf of families of drone-murder victims by Pakistani lawyer and activist Shahzad Akbar and the UK-based human rights group, Reprieve. The MoS quotes the Living With Drones report to set the context:

…Between 2,562 and 3,325 people have been killed since the strikes in Pakistan began in 2004. The report said of those, up to  881 were civilians, including 176  children. Only 41 people who had  died had been confirmed as ‘high-value’ terrorist targets.

As the paper notes, full figures on the killings are hard to come by, due to the convenient fact that "the tribal regions along the frontier are closed to journalists." The true death count of civilians is almost certainly far higher….

One of the officials targeted in the lawsuit is former CIA general counsel John Rizzo. As the paper notes:

Mr Rizzo is named because of  an interview he gave to a US reporter after he retired as CIA General Counsel last year. In it, he boasted that he had personally authorised every drone strike in which America’s enemies were ‘hunted down and blown to bits’.

He added: ‘It’s basically a hit-list. The Predator is the weapon of choice, but it could also be someone putting a bullet in your head.’

That's nice, isn't it? Noble, worthy, honorable, isn't it? Again, these are the mafia thug values being embraced, lauded, supported and reinforced at every turn by the most respectable figures throughout American politics and media, including of course the popular media, where TV shows and movies abound with tough guys "doing whatever it takes" to kill the dehumanized "enemy" and "keep us safe." ...

The second case now before the Pakistani courts involves "signature strikes," the policy of killing unknown people simply because you don't like how they look or how they act. No evidence -- not even false evidence, not even the thin scraps of rumor and innuendo and ignorance that constitute the overwhelming majority of "intelligence reports" -- is required before the well-wadded Cheeto-chewer in Nevada crooks his finger and fires a drone. The MoS quotes a Pakistani official describing the signature strikes:

‘It could be a vehicle  containing armed men heading towards the border, and the operator thinks, “Let’s get them before they get there,” without any idea of who they are. It could also just be people sitting together. In the frontier region, every male is armed but it doesn’t mean they are militants.’

One such signature strike killed more than 40 people in Datta Khel in North Waziristan on March 17 last year. The victims, Mr Akbar’s dossier makes clear, had gathered for a jirga – a tribal meeting – in order to discuss a dispute between two clans over the division of royalties from a chromite mine.

Some of the most horrifying testimony comes from Khalil Khan, the son of Malik Haji Babat, a tribal leader and police officer. ‘My father was not a terrorist. He was not an enemy of the United States,’ Khalil’s legal statement says. ‘He was a hard-working and upstanding citizen, the type of person others looked up to and aspired to be like.

"What I saw when I got off the bus at Datta Khel was horrible,’ he said. ‘I immediately saw flames and women and children were saying there had been a drone strike. The fires spread after the strike. The tribal elders who had been killed could not be identified because there were body parts strewn about. The smell was awful. I just collected the pieces that I believed belonged to my father and placed them in a small coffin.’

...He added that schools in the area were empty because ‘parents are afraid their children will be hit by  a missile’.

This ... is not just an illegal military operation; it is -- and is designed to be -- a terrorist campaign. It is meant to terrorize the population of the targeted regions, to keep the people there enslaved to fear and uncertainty, never knowing if the buzzing drone flying high and unreachable above their heads will suddenly spew out a Hellfire missile on their house, their school, their farm, their hospital, and blow them or their loved ones into unidentifiable shreds. It is a terrorist campaign -- not a random attack here and there, not an isolated spasm of violence -- but a continual, relentless, death-dealing campaign of terror designed to poison the daily lives of innocent people and force their cowed acquiescence to the dictates of domination.

3.
My 2012 article went on to note the truly bizarre spectacle of rock-ribbed opponents of empire, like Daniel Ellsberg and estimable Robert Parry, who detailed the horrors of the Potomac Empire's murder campaign, took full cognizance of its irredeemable immorality, assigned the responsibility for its present crimes clearly where it belongs -- on the current president …. and then urged people to vote for him. [Arthur Silber dealt powerfully with this moral depravity at the time in this stunning piece, "Accomplices to Murder."]

Ellsberg's stance was the most bizarre of all. He urged people to vote for Obama -- and then to impeach him for his high crimes. I then quoted an early piece I'd written about Parry's stance, which applied then -- and applies now -- to "all good progressives who advocate a 'reluctant' but 'realistic' vote for Obama [and soon for Clinton, or any other Democratic upholder of empire -- and yes, that includes Elizabeth Warren]:

Parry believes he is preaching a tough, gritty doctrine of "moral ambiguity." What he is in fact advocating is the bleakest moral nihilism. To Parry, the structure of American power -- the corrupt, corporatized, militarized system built and sustained by both major parties -- cannot be challenged. Not even passively, not even internally, for Parry scorns those who simply refuse to vote almost as harshly as those who commit the unpardonable sin: voting for a third party. No, if you do not take an active role in supporting this brutal engine of war and injustice by voting for a Democrat, then it is you who are immoral.



You must support this system. It is the only moral choice. What’s more, to be truly moral, to acquit yourself of the charge of vanity and frivolity, to escape complicity in government crimes, you must support the Democrat. If the Democratic president orders the "extrajudicial" murder of American citizens, you must support him. If he chairs death squad meetings in the White House every week, checking off names of men to be murdered without charge or trial, you must support him. If he commits mass murder with robot drones on defenseless villages around the world, you must support him. If he imprisons and prosecutes whistleblowers and investigative journalists more than any other president in history, you must support him. If he cages and abuses and tortures a young soldier who sought only to stop atrocities and save the nation’s honor, you must support him. If he "surges" a pointless war of aggression and occupation in a ravaged land and expands that war into the territory of a supposed ally, you must support him. If he sends troops and special ops and drones and assassins into country after country, fomenting wars, bankrolling militias, and engineering coups, you must support him. If he throws open the nation's coastal waters to rampant drilling by the profiteers who are devouring and despoiling the earth, you must support him. If he declares his eagerness to do what no Republican president has ever dared to do -- slash Social Security and Medicare -- you must support him.

For Robert Parry, blinded by the red mist of partisanship, there is literally nothing -- nothing -- that a Democratic candidate can do to forfeit the support of "the left." He can even kill a 16-year-old American boy -- kill him, rip him to shreds with a missile fired by a coddled coward thousands of miles away -- and you must support him. And, again, if you do not support him, if you do not support all this, then you are the problem. You are enabling evil.

I confess I cannot follow such logic. But in his article, Ellsberg compounds the puzzlement when he tries to clinch his case by citing Henry David Thoreau, of all people. Ellsberg writes:

I often quote a line by Thoreau that had great impact for me: “Cast your whole vote: not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.”  He was referring, in that essay, to civil disobedience, or as he titled it himself, “Resistance to Civil Authority.”

In other words, Ellsberg is using a call for resistance to civil authority to justify supporting a civil authority which he himself acknowledges is committing war crimes and destroying American democracy. Again, I find this "reasoning" unfathomable.

But I too often quote a line by Thoreau that has had a great impact for me. In fact, I would say that it encapsulates my entire political philosophy in this dirty, degraded Age of Empire:

“How does it become a man to behave toward this American government today? I answer that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it.”

If only more of our compatriots would say the same.

 
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