Empire Burlesque
The Downward Road is Crowded
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 23 November 2010 21:10

A few quick takes, as we dig out from the latest hack.

Money for Old Rope
This is what $70 billion a year in whiz-bang, top-shelf "intelligence" buys you: Taliban Leader in Secret Talks Was an Impostor.

The United States of Insouciance
Since his return from a self-imposed hiatus, Paul Craig Roberts has been a man on fire, penning a series of riveting, ravaging articles that speak hard truth to the imperial state -- and to a society seemingly content to countenance, if not cheer, that state's worst malefactions. Roberts has done it again with his latest piece: "Insouciant Americans." Get thee hence, and read.

Mission Accomplished
It's hard to understand why all our serious commentators are writing that Barack Obama's presidency is in trouble, and offering sage advice, from right, left, and center, on what he needs to do to "get back on track." The truth, of course, is that Barack Obama's presidency is a smashing success -- indeed, a record-breaking success -- and that he is accomplishing exactly what he was put into office to do, as the New York Times reports today: Corporate Profits Were the Highest on Record Last Quarter.

Chronicles of Corruption
My old Moscow Times comrade Matt Taibbi adds another chapter to his on-going -- and jaw-dropping -- series of stories on the deliberate evisceration of ordinary Americans by their monied and minatory betters. Taibbi has few equals when it comes to explaining the true depth and extent of American corruption -- and almost no equal when it comes to actually reporting on it from the front lines. He is creating a record of the reality of our times that future historians (yes, yes, if there are any) will find invaluable.

The Dissident Path
Chris Hedges is another incendiary voice, burning through the threadbare curtain of liberal piety and exceptionalist myth to expose the corroded heart of a nation sliding into barbarity. His latest piece at Truthdig is an excellent example, so we'll finish here with a few choice quotes:

There is no hope left for achieving significant reform or restoring our democracy through established mechanisms of power. The electoral process has been hijacked by corporations. The judiciary has been corrupted and bought. The press shuts out the most important voices in the country and feeds us the banal and the absurd. Universities prostitute themselves for corporate dollars. Labor unions are marginal and ineffectual forces. The economy is in the hands of corporate swindlers and speculators. And the public, enchanted by electronic hallucinations, remains passive and supine. We have no tools left within the power structure in our fight to halt unchecked corporate pillage.

The liberal class, which Barack Obama represents, was never endowed with much vision or courage, but it did occasionally respond when pressured by popular democratic movements. This was how we got the New Deal, civil rights legislation and the array of consumer legislation pushed through by Ralph Nader and his allies in the Democratic Party. The complete surrendering of power, however, to corporate interests means that those of us who seek nonviolent yet profound change have no one within the power elite we can trust for support. The corporate coup has ossified the structures of power. It has obliterated all checks on corporate malfeasance. It has left us stripped of the tools of mass organization that once nudged the system forward toward justice. ....

Our worst premonitions are becoming reality. Our intuition has proved correct. We are reaching the breaking point. An explosion, unless we halt the increased pressure, seems inevitable. And what is left for those of us who cannot embrace the contaminants of violence? If the system shuts us out how can we influence it through nonviolent mechanisms of popular protest? How can we restore a civil society? How can we battle back against those who will mobilize hatred to cement into place an American fascism?

I do not know if we can win this battle. I suspect we cannot. But I do know that if we stop resisting, if we stop rebelling, something fundamental will die within us. As the corporate vise tightens, as the vast corporate system begins to break down with fossil fuel decline, extreme climate change and the expansion of global poverty, even mundane and ordinary acts to assert our common humanity and justice will be condemned as subversive.

It is time to think of resistance in a new way, something that is no longer carried out to reform a system but as an end in itself. African-Americans understood this during the long night of slavery. German opposition leaders understood it under the Nazis. Dissidents in the former Soviet Union knew this during the nightmare of communism. Resistance in these closed systems was local and often solitary. It was done with the understanding that evil must always be defied. The tiny acts of rebellion—day after day, month after month, year after year and decade after decade—exposed to everyone who witnessed them the heartlessness, cruelty and inhumanity of the oppressor. They were acts of truth and beauty. We must take to the street. We must jam as many wrenches into the corporate system as we can. We must not make it easy for them. But we also must no longer live in self-delusion. This is a battle that will outlive us. And if we fight, even with this tragic vision, we will lead lives worth living and keep alive another way of being.

 

 
Storm Warning
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 22 November 2010 23:32

We are under hack attack again. Just wanted to remind you that if you ever find this site in some difficulty, you can always check the original site, Empire Burlesque 1.0, where any new posts will be published, until the storm blows over.

 
Grand Delusions: The Regressive Results of Progressive Markets
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Thursday, 18 November 2010 23:29

There are a number of basic facts that are largely ignored in today's world, at a great cost to a great many people. Here's one: Military forces are designed to carry out military operations. You cannot use them for nation-building or constructing a civic society; if you do, you will fail. This fact is so evident, so banal, that one is almost embarrassed to point it out. Yet apparently it remains a wonderment, an unfathomable conception, to the makers of state policy -- even those reportedly intelligent enough to play 11-dimensional chess.

Now here is another blatantly obvious, common-as-dirt fact: The market is designed to make money. If you rely on the market to achieve social goals -- such as the allieviation of poverty, or the provision of public services necessary for the common good -- then you will fail. And these failures, as with the military, will generally be catastrophic, exacerbating the problems they are intended (or purporting) to address.
 
A recent story in the New York Times about the crisis in the Indian microfinance industry is a case in point. Microcredit -- giving small loans to those in dire poverty to help them establish businesses, build homes, sustain farms, etc. -- has been much touted in recent years as a win-win situation: the poor get much-needed cash, while investors in micofinance reap socially acceptable profits. As the Times puts it:
 

In recent years, foundations, venture capitalists and the World Bank have used India as a petri dish for similar for-profit “social enterprises” that seek to make money while filling a social need. Like-minded industries have sprung up in Africa, Latin America and other parts of Asia.

 
But the flaw in this noble scheme is readily apparent: seeking to "make money while filling a social need." These are two entirely separate endeavors, with two entirely separate goals. Once a market is created, with whatever benign intentions, it is inevitable that it will be used, and eventually dominated, by those seeking to maximize their profits, regardless of social needs. There is no great scandal in this fact; that's what markets are for. And this inevitable heedless maximization is now happening in India, as the Times reports:
 

But microfinance in pursuit of profits has led some microcredit companies around the world to extend loans to poor villagers at exorbitant interest rates and without enough regard for their ability to repay. Some companies have more than doubled their revenues annually.
 
“These institutions are using quite coercive methods to collect,” said V. Vasant Kumar, the state’s minister for rural development. “They aren’t looking at sustainability or ensuring the money is going to income-generating activities. They are just making money.”
 
Reddy Subrahmanyam, a senior official who helped write the Andhra Pradesh legislation, accuses microfinance companies of making “hyperprofits off the poor,” and said the industry had become no better than the widely despised village loan sharks it was intended to replace.
 
“The money lender lives in the community,” he said. “At least you can burn down his house. With these companies, it is loot and scoot.”
 
...Vijay Mahajan, the chairman of Basix, an organization that provides loans and other services to the poor, acknowledged that many lenders grew too fast and lent too aggressively. Investments by private equity firms and the prospect of a stock market listing drove firms to increase lending as fast as they could, he said.
 
“In their quest to grow,” he said, “they kept piling on more loans in the same geographies.” He added, “That led to more indebtedness, and in some cases it led to suicides.”


You cannot fruitfully address social problems with a mechanism designed to create private profit -- just as you cannot build a peaceful, stable society with an organization designed to kill people and blow things up. Yet multitudes are suffering and dying all over the world from these delusions. And because they augment the wealth and dominance of the powerful, these corrosive myths will continue to be propagated with evangelical fervor by those same elites and their sycophants -- to the detriment of social needs, of national security, of the common good and the daily lives of countless individuals.

 
Heavy Metal: Obama Brings the 'Hard Edge' of Empire Down on Afghanistan
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Sunday, 21 November 2010 01:13

I had intended to write a piece about the Washington Post story on the American deployment of battle tanks to Afghanistan for the first time, and how this development is part of the "harder edge" that David Petraeus and Barack Obama are now applying to the people of Afghanistan -- increasing air strikes and night raids on villages, razing houses, and "blowing up stuff and killing people who need to be killed." Together, Obama and Petraeus are driving a savage "uptick" in violence, death and destruction in the occupied land -- a bloodthirsty process which has been almost universally ignored in the mainstream media, until the Post story by Rajiv Chandrasekaran.

But now I see that Arthur Silber  is already on the case, with an extraordinary post that hits much harder, deeper and wider than the one I had planned to write. So nothing remains for me to do except to point you toward Silber's remarkable essay. I'm not even going to excerpt it, because that would slow you down; just get over there now and read it without delay.

 
The Obscure Ruination of a Single Human Life
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 16 November 2010 22:19

Decades before you were born, an invading army occupied your native land. The army of occupation has blighted and repressed your people for generations. You have heard your parents and your grandparents talk of all that they have lost, all that was taken from them, the friends and relatives they have seen killed, how the brutal, stifling occupation has bred extremism (often funded and promoted by the occupiers) that has riven your society, and how all hope of an ordinary peaceful life has been taken from your family, and from you.

You are 13 years old. One day, you see some soldiers of the occupation army. They are bristling with weapons and body armor, they are protected by watchtowers, helicopters, they are equipped with radios that can call down a missile or an airplane to destroy your home in a matter of minutes. Their very presence is a harsh, mocking, inescapable emblem of your family's pain and degredation. And so, on this day, you pick up a stone -- a stone -- and throw it, in a weak and futile gesture, at these impregnable figures.

And for throwing this stone -- a stone, a small, hand-sized fragment of stone -- this is what happens to you. From Israel's ynetnews:

Karem, a 13-year-old boy from Hebron, was arrested in late September on suspicion of hurling stones at Israel Defense Forces soldiers. After spending six days in the Ofer Prison, he was placed under house arrest for five months in his uncle's home and can't even go to school.

The boy's relatives say he is in a serious emotional state and is finding it difficult to recover from his days in prison. All he told his family members was that he was handcuffed and chained, and was sometimes left alone in a room or in solitary ....

The boy himself refuses to talk. Asked what he went through during the interrogation and in jail, he responds, "I don't know, I don't know."

Karem's grandmother says his mental state has influenced his health. "You can tell that he is afraid and frightened from his days in jail. He has fungus on his body and his skin has peeled from all the pressure, fear, and nerves. He barely talks. Today we looked for him and found him hiding in the chicken coop because he didn't want to talk to anyone."


It's just a small story; what does it matter? It's just a tiny incident, far from the worst, in a vast, world-roiling conflict; what does it matter? It's just the scarcely noticed ruination of one obscure child's life; what does it matter? Only losers and lamesters, only those on the margins, only those who aren't serious, who aren't savvy -- only those who are struggling to keep hold of their humanity in the face of implacable systems of power, systems which seek at every turn to degrade and destroy what Arthur Silber calls "the sacred value of a single human life" -- would care about such discarded wretches. But it doesn't matter at all to anyone who "matters" in the small, gilded circles of domination and sycophancy that oversway our lives and our discourse. And so these little stories will keep on playing out, everywhere, all the time, in the monstrous waste we make of our common humanity -- and its brief, beautiful, absolutely unique individual expressions. 

 
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