Empire Burlesque
Traditional Values: Obama Backs Oligarchic 'Continuity' Down South
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Thursday, 01 July 2010 17:04

"In [the country] right now there is a military-business regime, with a little bit of democratic makeup."

This sounds like an excellent -- indeed, near-perfect -- description of the true state of the United States in these degraded days of ours. While the sinister comic opera of factional in-fighting amongst the elite provides an increasingly thin and cracked patina of democracy, the militarist-corporatist machines continue their ravenous devouring of the fat of the land and the flesh of the weak.

But, as it happens, the quote comes not from an observer of the American scene, but from a Honduran activist -- one of many trying to fight off the depredations being visited upon their land by the repressive, coup-born regime now backed to the hilt by the progressive champion of human rights and world peace in the White House.

Joseph Huff-Hannon tells the story in the Guardian:

The National Front of Popular Resistance, a coalition of hundreds of diverse civil society groups, was born out of last year's coup d'état – when the military kidnapped then president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales [whose heinous crimes included raising the pitiable minimum wage to a slightly less pitiable level], and forcibly exiled him and his family from the country. The rupture of the constitutional order in Honduras, Latin America's first and only 21st century coup, unleashed a violent campaign of repression across the country under the coup government of Roberto Micheletti. That wave of violence and generalised impunity, largely directed against opponents of the coup regime, continues to this day under the government of president Porfirio Lobo, elected last November while the country was under a state of siege, in an election to which the UN and the OAS didn't even bother to send observers, and which a plurality of Latin American governments have refused to acknowledge.

"In Honduras right now there is a military-business regime, with a little bit of democratic makeup," Gerardo Torres, a Honduran activist visiting the United States Social Forum last week, told me. "But what people need to know is that more assassinations are happening now during the 'democratic' rule of President Lobo than during the era of Micheletti. When Micheletti ran the coup government, killings of students or resistance members were at least controversial, they made the international news. But the international news media has moved on – which is sad since now they're killing journalists."

Indeed, in 2010 at least eight journalists have been killed in mysterious circumstances in Honduras, all of them critics of the coup and/or of powerful business interests in the country. None of those murders have been solved ... Dozens of anti-coup activists, members of the National Resistance Front, and union activists have also been murdered in the last year, often in broad daylight by men wearing masks or dressed in fatigues. The era of the death squad, that ignominious feature of Latin American state terrorism of the 70s and the 80s, appears to have made a come back in Honduras.


Yes, Barack Obama's famed "continuity" with his predecessors goes far beyond his avid, almost erotic embrace of George W. Bush's Terror War atrocities (foreign and domestic). In Latin America, it goes back to the glory days of Ronald Reagan, when American-backed, American-trained death squads and military juntas slaughtered thousands of people and stripped their people to the bone with the scorched-earth economics of oligarchy. (An ancient, barbaric system now being energetically imposed throughout the "developed" world, under the cover of "deficit reduction.") But of course, Reagan himself was standing on the shoulders of giants when it came to his Latin America policies, simply soldiering on in the proud tradition of Franklin and Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, James K. Polk and other paragons now chiseled in history's alabaster.

When the coup struck, the Obama Administration, in a passing nod to the progressive peanut gallery, made a few disapproving noises, and even went so far as to suspend overt military aid for awhile. But after the coupsters rigged up its Potemkin election, it was back to business as usual for the avatars of hope and change:

[S]adly, but predictably, the US appears to have sided with the death squads. "Now it's time for the hemisphere as a whole to move forward and welcome Honduras back into the inter-American community," the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said earlier this month, imploring other members of the Organisation of American States to re-admit Honduras to the organisation.

And while hypocrisy in foreign policy is hardly news, it's worth noting here that the US state department released a harshly worded statement earlier this month chastising the Venezuelan government's "continuing assault on the freedom of the press" following that country's issuance of an arrest warrant for a media tycoon. A week later, with no fanfare and not a word about press freedoms, the US resumed military aid to the pariah government of Honduras.


That aid will doubtless come in handy as the new, Obama-backed death squads face down a burgeoning resistance, which has moved beyond the single issue of Zelaya's overthrow:

"A lot of people can't quite understand a movement that doesn't revolve around a caudillo," Gerardo tells me. "This resistance movement is wide and complex. We have feminists working with Christian activists, who are working with labour activists. Zelaya is important, but the popular movement more so. And we think the repression has built up because those who have always run the country are scared, and this is their desperate response. Them with their arms, us with our ideas."


Desperate they may be; but with the full-throated support of the world-straddling military-business regime to the north, and its hoary tradition of throttling any ideas that might threaten the feudal privileges of oligarchy, the Honduran coup caudillos will likely have a good, long -- and bloody -- run.

 
Extreme Measures: Arming the Zealotocracy, Serving the Elite
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Saturday, 26 June 2010 23:19

One of the most significant developments in the modern world -- history may find it to be a decisive one -- has been the deliberate cultivation of religious extremism by ruling elites trying to sustain and expand their power.

The rise of virulent extremism in almost every major religion -- Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism -- has many other causes, of course. Chief among these is the turbulent encounter between modernity and tradition, a confrontation that has played out -- and is playing out -- in so many different ways both within and across various cultures.

Modernity encompasses not only the technologies and techniques of capitalism that in its many guises (including state capitalism) has plowed up so much ancient ground and overturned so many ancient certainties, but also the historic development of ideas and ideals based, ultimately, on the notion of the inherent (even inalienable) autonomy and worth of the individual. These ideas too have found expression in myriad -- and often conflicting -- forms. And of course, there has never been and can never be any kind of clear dividing line between all of these swirling currents, the multifaceted dimensions of modernity and tradition; like a jar of colored sands, they mix and meld in innumerable, unstable combinations as they are sifted and shaken through the course of time.

So it would be wrong to say that the rise of sectarian zeal can be ascribed solely to its manipulation by elites. But it would be equally wrong -- and dangerously blind -- to deny the fact of these manipulations, or to minimize in any way the pernicious, atrocious effect they have had -- and are having -- on human existence. They have placed a deep -- and entirely unnecessary -- shadow over humanity for generations: a shadow that only gets darker, and more poisonous, as time goes on.

For the last 50 years, in country after country, ruling elites -- those factions which hold a disproportionate and thus illegitimate sway over society -- have fostered the growth of religious extremism for two main reasons: to distract the populace from the way their lives are unjustly diminished by the elitist agenda -- and to throttle and demonize any popular movement that might threaten the elite's hegemony.

This happened throughout the Middle East, for example, as tyrants of every stripe (often clients of the West) turned to hitherto marginal fundamentalist religious groups to dilute and drive back secular challenges to their rule. These challenges were often, although not always, led by movements that could be characterized as "leftist" to one degree or another. (Although it is also true that any challenge whatsoever to elite rule is almost always categorized as some kind of dangerous, revolutionary "leftism," even if it has little or no socialist content at all -- and even if it is entirely non-violent, or gradualist, or merely mildly reformist.) Usually with Western help, the tyrants cultivated religious extremists both as shock troops and cultural warriors to attack and divide any opposition. As the London Review of Books noted recently (in a piece highlighted this weekend by As'ad AbuKhalil):

The Islamisation of Egyptian society deepened after the 1967 war; it became explicit government policy under Sadat, the self-styled ‘believer president’ who supported radical Islamists in his battles with the left, and who made the sharia ‘the principal source’ of law in 1980 – a year before his assassination by an Islamist. Under Mubarak, praying has become as popular as shopping or football and now serves a roughly similar function as a distraction from the innumerable frustrations of Egyptian life. Indeed, Islam as observed by Egyptians is increasingly an Islam that caters to consumerist needs. The popular televangelist Amr Khaled mixes Quranic citations with boosterish advice of a more general kind. This variety of Islam is no threat to the regime, but it has made life far less easy-going. ‘My neighbour used to water his plants in his pyjamas on the balcony, where he’d be joined by his wife in her nightie,’ a friend tells me. ‘They’d drink beer in the open, and then he’d go downstairs for the sunset prayers in the local mosque. Today he’d be killed for this, but at the time he would have seen no contradiction.’


Over the past half century, this same dynamic has played out in various ways, and to various degrees, in countries all over the world. It has happened in Iran, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Yugoslavia (Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo), and many others. It is happening at an astonishingly accelerated rate today in Israel, which has become by far the most religiously and ethnically intolerant of any nation considered part of "the West." And it is most palpably happening on many levels in the United States, as Chris Hedges and many others have documented.

In most cases, this dynamic involves a strong fusion of religious extremism with a strident, exclusionary nationalism. Indeed, religious nationalism is one of the hallmarks of our age. At various times, and in various quarters, one element -- the religious or the nationalist -- might predominate over the other. We can see this in, say, the Tea Party movement, where exclusionary nationalism -- the self-defined "Real Americans" vs. the strange, traitorous Others -- is now in ascendance, occluding somewhat the sex-obsessed, church-based "Focus on the Family"-style religious nationalism that was somewhat more prevalent earlier in the decade. The whole career of Sarah Palin exemplifies this oscillation, as she has tracked back and forth between the most virulent, primitive, casting-out-devils Christian fundamentalism and the bellicose, militarist nationalism she shares with the Beltway neo-cons, a number of whom are, of course, Jews and/or atheists whom Palin, like George W. Bush, believes will burn in eternal hellfire.

Although these kinds of contradictions demonstrate the utter incoherence and moral vacuity of religious nationalism, they rarely lessen the power of these movements, which -- once unleashed, encouraged (and heavily funded) -- feed on the nuclear fuel of raw, unexamined emotions, fears and needs: a fuel that is constantly replenished by the relentless propagation of artfully filtered (and often fabricated) outrages and threats.

Here's an example from personal experience. I came of age in the mid-70s, in the Bible Belt, in a family rooted in that old-time Southern Baptist religion. This was the era when the TV preachers -- Jim Bakker, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, and others -- first began flooding the late-night airwaves. These televangelists, just beginning the fusion of religion and nationalism noted above, were widely, almost universally, regarded by the good, God-fearing, church-going grownups of my acquaintance as extremely marginal, even comical figures, of little note and little worth.

Yet in just a few years' time, many of these figures, and others like them, would be trooping to the White House to be courted and honored; they were commanding vast media networks, college campuses and commercial empires. One of them, Robertson, even ran for president.  They had become an integral and important part of the nation's power structure,  pushing "hot button" issues, almost always related to sex -- homosexuality, abortion -- and "traditional values" (e.g., submission to authority: biblical authority, corporate authority, military authority, male authority, etc.). They constructed a false history of a paradisiacal past that had been "stolen" from "real" Americans by liberals, feminists, unions, queers, darkies, commies,  college professors, Mexicans, etc. etc. And all the while, the elite interests who helped bankroll and magnify these marginal movements into national juggernauts were in fact beggaring the believers themselves, destroying their communities -- indeed, their "traditional values," their family and social networks, and their quality of life -- by gutting their towns and cities, driving family farmers from their land, sending tens of millions of jobs to near-slave labor overseas, befouling the environment, degrading public amenities and vital infrastructure, relentlessly restricting legal recourse against corporate predation and depredation, and corrupting the democratic process to send a steady stream of spineless hacks and whores to Washington to perpetuate the bipartisan corporate-militarist agenda.

The result has been poisonous rancor, social division, economic ruin, vast anxiety, endless war and the relentless, systematic degradation of the quality of life for working people, the poor, the sick, the vulnerable -- indeed, for everyone outside the small circle of the elite, and their sycophants and servants in the media-political class.

And at every step of the way, this ever-growing dynamic of religious nationalism -- which has found its highest, most complete expression in the war-profiteering militarist empire of the Terror War and its attendant atrocities, foreign and domestic -- has been aided and abetted and strengthened and expanded by the so-called "liberals" and "progressives" of the Democratic Party (and their own innumerable outriders, servitors and sycophants) who have been and remain among the fiercest proponents of ... the war-profiteering militarist empire. ("Progressives," of course want to "reform" the empire -- that is, make its deadly operations more efficient and codify its most heinous atrocities into law -- but none of them, not one, call for it to be dismantled.)

Just as in Mubarak's Egypt or the Shah's Iran, any secular opposition to the thuggish (indeed criminal) American elites  has been effectively neutralized. The resultant anger and confusion of a people who are indeed being robbed and screwed over is thus diverted from its true perpetrators, and instead is channeled into one of few avenues of "protest" against the "system" allowed to operate freely and fully on a mass scale: religious nationalism in its various forms. Of course, this kind of "protest" only strengthens the genuine systems of rapacious power, and thus, ultimately, serves both sides of the partisan divide. (Or rather the factional divide between two groups of squabbling courtiers jockeying for the top perks of the imperial state they both avidly serve.) And, as we have seen in Iran and will likely see in Egypt, these movements, once unleashed and empowered, cannot be completely controlled by their elite patrons (as some Republican incumbents and insiders have already learned to their sorrow).  

On every side, in country after country, and at varying levels, life is being made "far less easy-going" by the unholy alliance of rapacious corporate-militarist elites and the Zealotocracy of religious nationalists they have helped propel to heights of power and influence.  And as long as the imperial system keeps churning its way around the globe, this murderous, retrograde, life-strangling dynamic will continue to accelerate.

 
Occupational Hazards: Praise the Warlord and Pass the Ammunition
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 22 June 2010 10:40

(UPDATED BELOW)

High comedy from the Gray Lady:

American taxpayers have inadvertently created a network of warlords across Afghanistan who are making millions of dollars escorting NATO convoys and operating outside the control of either the Afghan government or the American and NATO militaries, according to the results of a Congressional investigation released Monday.


"Inadvertently!" Really, what yocks!

Coincidentally, I am currently reading a new edition of Norman Stone's 1964 book, The Honoured Society, dealing with the great "surge" of Mafia power in Sicily in the post-WWII years. Stone, who was in Sicily at the time, tells an interesting story of how the American military government "inadvertently" restored the Mafia to feudal lordship over Sicily by "inadvertently" placing Mafia leaders and their associates in charge of towns and villages all over Sicily, "inadvertently" giving them carte blanche to create a vast black market, "inadvertently" allowing them to crush any movement toward land reform or unionized labor, and "inadvertently" putting the political process in their stranglehold, laying the foundation for generations of violence, terror, corruption, suffering and deprivation for ordinary people.

As Stone notes:

Don Caló received the loyalist cooperation in these [black market] manoeuvres from his friends in AMGOT [Allied Military Government for Occupied Territories], who supplied the passes necessary for his caravan of trucks to travel without impediment up and down the roads of Sicily. At about that time, AMGOT in Sicily had fallen under the sway of its unofficial adviser, Vito Genovese, an American gangster -- later named as head of the Mafia offshoot, Cosa Nostra -- who had disappeared after his indictment on a charge of murder and turned up in Italy. Don Caló found Genovese most accommodating. From AMGOT came all the petrol he required, and sometimes, when he was short of transport for an exceptionally large shipment, his friends helped out with a military vehicle or two.

In 1944 I happened to be in the town of Benevento through which Don Caló's black market caravans were obliged to pass on their way northward, and although at times there were more trucks loaded with Don Caló's [olive] oil on the roads of southern Italy than there were military vehicles, there was nothing to be done to put a stop to this situation. All papers were always in order.


And here we are again. From the NY Times' chuckle fest:

The 79-page report, entitled “Warlord Inc.,” paints an anarchic picture of contemporary Afghanistan, with the country’s major highways being controlled by groups of freelance gunmen who answer to no one — and who are being paid [billions of dollars] by the United States.

Afghanistan, the investigation found, plays host to hundreds of unregistered private security companies employing as many as 70,000 largely unsupervised gunmen. “The principal private security subcontractors,” the report said, “are warlords, strongmen, commanders and militia leaders who compete with the Afghan central government for power and authority."

...“Long after the United States leaves Afghanistan, and the convoy security business shuts down, these warlords will likely continue to play a major role as autonomous centers of political, economic and military power,” the report said.


Just like the "good war" way back when! Which is only fitting, for as we all know, the nine-year morass of loot and domination in Afghanistan is the "good war" of our latest Greatest Generation, now led by a wise and noble prince of progress and peace.

But here's something strange from the Times' story of the "inadvertent" program of warlord creation:

These subcontracts, the investigation found, are handed out without any oversight from the Department of Defense, despite clear instructions from Congress that the department provide such oversight.


Hmm; the Pentagon is deliberately ignoring clear instructions from Congress ... yet the result of this deliberate, knowing, wilful course of action is somehow "inadvertent." Yes, let's drag out the old courtroom trope once again, for, once again, it is all too apt: "Your honor, it's true that I picked up the gun, loaded the gun, pointed the gun, pulled the gun's trigger, and fired five shots into the head of the victim -- but the death itself was entirely inadvertent."

The Pentagon's creation of "a network of warlords" to do its donkey work -- and its dirty work -- in Afghanistan is no more "inadvertent" than the empowerment and entrenchment of the Mafia in Sicily in 1944, or the creation of a international network of armed Islamic extremists under the Carter and Reagan administrations, etc., etc., etc. Our imperial militarists are happy to empower ruthless thugs of every description to keep the Great Game of loot and domination going, without giving the slightest thought to the worthless rabble who will suffer the consequences -- sometimes for generations.

Gee, maybe it's not so funny after all.

UPDATE: If you want to know just why our masters and commanders are waging their profitable wars abroad and their relentless class wars at home, then check out Arthur Silber's latest. You'll find the answer there.

 
Termination Notice: McChrystal Sideshow Masks Murderous Reality
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Wednesday, 23 June 2010 12:20

(UPDATED)

(UPDATED AGAIN)

Some people seem to think that the question of which uniformed goober is in charge of the imperial bloodbath in Afghanistan is a vitally important issue, worthy of endless exegesis. It is not. It is a meaningless sideshow. What does matter, vitally, deeply, urgently, is the imperial bloodbath itself, and the fact that it will go on, and on, no matter what Barack Obama does or doesn't do about Stanley McChrystal. [*Now we know what Barry did about Stanley. See update below.]

What really matters is this:

Ten civilians, including at least five women and children, were killed in NATO airstrikes in Khost Province, the provincial police chief said Saturday.

And this:

“We have received five bodies of civilians in our provincial public hospital,” Khost provincial health director Amirbadshah Rahmatzai Mangal told AFP. “The dead include two female children of seven and eight years of age..."

McChrystal is in trouble for making disparaging remarks about fellow officers and civilian officials -- a military tradition that surely goes back to the armies of Hammurabi (and long before). Yet he faced no reprimand or remonstrance whatsoever for his admission, just a few months ago, that brazen war crimes were being carried out under his command:

“We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat,” said Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who became the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan last year. His comments came during a recent videoconference to answer questions from troops in the field about civilian casualties.


As I noted at the time:

Now, what would the authorities say if you or I shot "an amazing number of people who have never proven to be a threat?" Why, they would call us murderers -- even mass murderers. Yet this is precisely what "the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan" has just declared, on videotape. ...

Again, just think of it, let it sink in, attend to the word of the commander: “We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat." Again: “We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat." Again: “We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat."

Again: what do you call it when innocent, unarmed, defenseless people who "have never proven to be a threat" are gunned down in cold blood? What do you call such an act?


But such acts are not to be punished -- because they are an accepted part of the process of the military domination of foreign lands. Wanton murder of the innocent? No problem, no scandal, a one-day story. "Insubordination" toward a few imperial satraps whose hands are steeped in blood? Shock, horror, wall-to-wall coverage.

But again: McChrystal's fate does not matter. As Justin Raimondo notes (see the original for informative links):

Our empire of bases and global military presence has engendered a whole new subspecies of American, a class or caste that derives its income, its tradition, and in many cases its family history from the long record of US military intervention overseas. They are the knights of the American imperium, not only military but also civilians whose social, economic, and political interests are inextricably tied to the growth of the empire. This includes but is not limited to the military contractors, the administrators, the Washington policy wonks who come up with endless rationales for war – and, really, the entire political class in Washington, and their vassals among the coastal elites.


Indeed. If McChrystal goes, another bureaucrat of death will take his place. Until the militarist empire itself is rolled back and broken up, we will continue to see, month after month, year after year, "an amazing number of people who have never proven to be a threat" killed in cold blood -- such as the two little girls who were slaughtered last weekend in Khost.

There they are, their bodies torn, their slender limbs twisted and broken, their lifeless eyes staring into eternal nothingness ... and we're supposed to care about the professional fortunes and political fates of the depraved, power-drunk thugs who run this brutal war machine?

***

UPDATE: Keep the Change
"Another bureaucrat of death" indeed. Since the above post was written, Obama has appointed the top imperial proconsul of the age, bipartisan fave David Petraeus, to take direct control of the wars -- overt and covert -- in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Petraeus, as head of "Central Command" -- the core provinces of the eternal War of Terror -- is already in overall charge of the Af-Pak morass, having previously been in charge of the Iraq bloodbath.

This is No-Change with a vengeance -- as Obama himself made clear. The Washington Post reports:

[Obama] said [the move] should not be read by anyone as a change in the direction of the country's war effort.

"This is a change in personnel," Obama said, "but it is not a change in policy."

So the bitter harvest of dead children will go on. And on. And on. But the most important thing, of course, is that Obama looked "strong" in the savage squabbling for chunks of power amongst the jackals of the imperial court.

***

UPDATE II: As you might expect, Arthur Silber has some wise words to say about the deeper implications of these unseemly rumblings in the bowels of the War Machine -- including the rather pertinent (and universally ignored) fact that every single official involved in the McChrystal imbroglio is, literally and legally, a war criminal.

 
Only Connect: Searing Insights From Arthur Silber
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Sunday, 20 June 2010 22:45

As I've said here many times before, no one that I know writing today is making the kinds of profound connections that Arthur Silber makes, year after year: drawing out the deeper implications of the operations of power on every level of our lives, from the global scope of high politics to the still, dark night of the individual psyche.

His latest post is a masterpiece of his insightful art. He uncovers the (literally) deadly dynamic by which the ruling elites not only enforce their ravenous and ravaging will -- but also how they make their victims "become collaborators in their own destruction."

Go there now, or as soon as you can, and read the piece in its entirety. Don't cheat yourself of a rare draught of wisdom when it's offered.

 
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