Written by Chris Floyd
Sunday, 05 January 2014 00:53
* Below is my most recent column for CounterPunch Magazine.
Last month, 500 famous authors signed a petition protesting the encroachments of the all-pervasive, techno-surveillance culture that is covering the earth with hidden eyes and ears, like a metastasized Stasi run amok. We’re talking heavy literary lumber here: Nobel Prize-winners, critic list-toppers, best-sellers – big names calling on the UN to create “an international bill of digital rights.”
The authors state the indisputable truth: the "fundamental human right" of personal privacy "has been rendered null and void through abuse of technological developments by states and corporations.” They rightly declare that “a person under surveillance is no longer free; a society under surveillance is no longer a democracy. To maintain any validity, our democratic rights must apply in virtual as in real space."
Of course, one might like to see those “democratic rights in real space” applied a bit more vigorously in these days of airport x-rays, mandatory drug tests, “indefinite detention,” “extrajudicial execution,” “free speech zones,” etc. The accelerating degradation of “real space” liberties hardly inspires hope for preserving freedom in the virtual realm. Still, no sensible person would dispute the very worthy goals espoused in the petition.
And yet, a cankerous old worm of skepticism keeps creeping in. Especially when the petitioners declare that this assemblage of Tolstoyan speakers of truth to power is not actually “against government.” Good gracious no! As Danish writer Janne Teller told the Guardian: "This initiative must be seen as helping governments, who like to preserve democracy in the western world."
Now, you rubes out there probably think that “governments” are actually prime culprits in the mass evisceration of privacy. But no; it seems our good-hearted, democracy-preserving leaders are victims: helpless babes manipulated by their sinister intelligence services, who, Teller tells us, "abuse power.” (Power that has been given to them by, er, governments.) Not to worry, though: a nice UN resolution -- and the stinging moral censure of petitioners like Iraq War supporter Ian McEwan, ethnic profiling enthusiast Martin Amis, and William Boyd, author of the latest “literary” sequel to the saga of James Bond, state assassin extraordinaire -- will doubtless bring these rogue services to heel. Then our noble rulers will be free at last to pursue their tragically frustrated dreams of peace, prosperity, equality and justice.
But wait; what about the literary luminaries' warning against "technological developments … by corporations" which suck up private data for profit? Oddly enough, the petition was coupled, as part of a one-two punch, with an "open letter" written by civic-minded corporate citizens such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook, demanding "sweeping changes in surveillance laws" to "restore confidence" in companies like, well, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook, whose sole reason for existence is to mine private data for corporate profit.
Here our earnest authors come up against a very 21st-century conundrum: the ever-widening notion that the fate of our liberties should be taken out of the hands of governments and given to … corporations and oligarchs. This is the logic behind the move by Glenn Greenwald and other dissident superstars to “partner” with hi-tech oligarch Pierre Omidyar, “leveraging” Greenwald’s control of Edward Snowden’s NSA documents to create a profitable new media venture. This would be the same Omidyar whose PayPal cut Wikileaks off at the financial knees in its hour of greatest peril, whose “microfinancing initiatives” have led to mass suicides among the debt-ridden poor in India and who now appears driven to monetize dissent in the same way he’s monetized poverty relief. It’s unlikely that hard-hitting exposes of hi-tech corporate chicanery will feature overmuch at Pierre’s new plaything.
But even the exposure of government misdeeds is to be kept within discreet limits by our new-style, media-savvy dissidents, who, like Greenwald, constantly assert they would never publish secrets that might “harm national security” or interfere with the “legitimate operations” of our neo-Stasis. Guardian editor and dissident hero Alan Rusbridger made that clear in his recent appearance before a Parliamentary committee investigating the Snowden revelations. As Arthur Silber, one of the most insightful political writers of our day, notes, the many press plaudits for Rusbridger's “bold” testimony overlooked the editor’s shocking admission that the Guardian has only published "one percent" of the Snowden material, while dutifully consulting "the FBI, the GCHQ, the White House and the Cabinet Office on more than 100 occasions before the publication of stories." Rusbridger also assured MPs that his paper will soon stop publishing stories from the Snowden cache.
Greenwald promises that his upcoming book on Snowden will provide a few more all-important revelations that the public absolutely must know (but which he must unfortunately withhold from us until the sale date). Yet as Silber points out, even with a few extra dollops of data here and there, it’s now obvious that only a tiny percentage of the massive Snowden archive of spy-state malfeasance will ever be revealed.
As always, our betters – in this case, not government apparatchiks but knee-capping oligarchs and government-consulting journalists – will let us know whatever modicum of truth they deem fit for our limited understanding. Or as another, long-dead literary luminary once said: four legs good, two legs better.
Written by Chris Floyd
Friday, 03 January 2014 13:37
At CounterPunch, Jason Hirthler identifies one of the most important dynamics in the modern political world: "For every social advance, an economic price paid."
Hirthler examines the real-life aftermath of the social breakthroughs and advances represented by the social justice campaigns of Martin Luther King, the ending of apartheid under the aegis of Nelson Mandela, and racial symbolism in the election of the first black American president, Barack Obama. In every case, Hirthler notes, genuine social achievements were followed by a brutal and ruthless expansion and entrenchment of 'neoliberal' economics -- that is, the aggrandisement of elite power and privilege.
One of the most glaring examples detailed by Hirthler is what happened after the genuinely astonishing and significant triumph of Mandela and the ANC: the share of South Africa's wealth owned by whites has actually increased since the ending of the apartheid, thanks to the ANC's betrayal of its own economic principles and its capitulation to the existing economic power structure.
This is the pattern that has been followed for decades: some social advances are accepted by the power structure -- as long as the economic dominance of the ruling elite is not challenged. In Obama's case, of course, this was a prerequisite, not a consequence, of his election. He would not have been allowed to be in the position of being elected president had he not clearly and continually signalled to the elite that he was in no way a threat to their power; in fact, as Hirthler notes, he went much further, and made it clear that he would be a more efficient and effective promoter of economic elite than cack-handed Republicans like George W. Bush, John McCain and Sarah Palin. And so it has proved. The nation's oligarchs, corporations and financial sectors have devoured ever greater proportions of the nation's wealth under Obama's rule, while chronic unemployment and underemployment grinds on, the nation's infrastructure rots, and the quality of life (and hopes for the future) of ordinary people continues to be degraded.
The case of King is somewhat different. Unlike Mandela, who acquiesced in the ANC sell-out to the elites (no doubt as a tactical decision; social freedom would be more likely to come sooner, and with less violence, than economic justice, which could remain a future goal), and Obama, who was a signed-up sell-out from the beginning, King was actually growing more radical as time went on, broadening his critique from racial oppression to the underlying, all-pervasive evils of militarism and elitist greed that shaped American foreign policy and its economic system. He was killed for this, of course, having already become increasingly marginalized by "serious" and "respectable" political opinion -- precisely because of his increasing radicalism.
This dynamic is not confined to Hirthler's three examples. It was also played out in the breakdown of the Soviet Union, where Mikhail Gorbachev's attempts at broad social reforms (and mild economic and political reforms) were met first with the backlash of an attempted coup by Soviet hardliners, and then, after the dissolution of the Union and the rise of Boris Yeltsin, by the imposition of "Shock Doctrine" economics. Here was the very apotheosis of neoliberalism -- unrestrained, unopposed, relentless. The result, as we know, was the beggaring of the nation, an unprecedented plunge in life expectancy, the collapse of society and the ascendancy of a rapacious elite. (Plus the loss of many of the political and social freedoms that had been genuine gains from the otherwise traumatic regime change.)
And so on it goes. In our day, social progress is a tool used deliberately by our leaders to extract more gains for the elite at the expense of the general public. Vast amounts of energy and attention, especially potentially dangerous progressive and/or populist energy, is expended on social gains -- on winning them, opposing them, maintaining them, trying to reverse them, etc. -- while the overall system of domination rolls on unopposed. Obama benefits from this on the left, where his cynical nods to social progress -- without actually doing anything very concrete about it with all the power he holds -- mutes 'progressive' criticism of his truly abominable foreign and economic policies, which include state murder, Stasi-like surveillance, the exaltation of the rich and the degradation of everyone else. In the same way, George W. Bush gave lip service to the opposition to social progress, on abortion, for example, while never really doing anything about it, which fired up his own political base even as he, like Obama, advanced economic and foreign policies that degraded the lives of ordinary people -- including his own fired-up followers. (Ironically, anti-abortion forces have made much greater strides during Obama's tenure, as the NY Times reported on Friday.)
None of this is to gainsay the great worth of those social freedoms we have managed to advance over the past decades. It is a great thing, a wonderful thing, that American and South African blacks have more political freedom than they once had. It is a great thing, a wonder, that people who love people of the same sex are no longer subjected to quite so many of the legal restrictions and cultural calumny that they have long endured.
But the dynamic -- social freedoms being 'allowed' or accepted only if the ever-increasing power of the economic elite is not threatened -- still holds. Hirthler's piece provides a good analysis of this phenomenon. Below are a few excerpts:
Almost as an antidote the onset of holiday cheer, the 2014 budget deal was released in December as a sort of deflationary tactic—lest the masses get their hopes too high … The 2014 budget strips away unemployment benefits, food stamp assistance, while doing nothing to shutter tax loopholes for the wealthy, all while proposed military cuts are essentially restored with some fantastic sleight of hand. This represents a continuation of the neoliberal austerity program implemented by bi-partisan consensus after the meltdown of 2008. And how nicely timed it was to follow on the heels of the global outpouring of feeling for the dearly departed Nelson Mandela.
…Alive, King was a provocation, and at the time of his assassination seemed to be turning toward racism’s companion grievances of poverty and war. How fortunate for the shadowy redoubts of wealth and militarism that he was slain. In death, his economic and foreign policy challenges were interred with his casket, and he was posthumously pedestaled for his commitments to civil rights alone—a cause that no right-thinking human could deny. Those companion causes, however, were bold and contentious critiques of power itself, and its capacities for self-enrichment. As such, the tidy janitors of historical revisionism swept them from sight.
How interesting that King died in 1968—just as he was shifting course, attacking the Vietnam War and the economics of poverty—and Lewis Powel’s rallying cry to the American Chamber of Commerce appeared in 1971, effectively launching the politicization of neoliberalism as a form of class war by elites against the disenfranchised, prioritizing the very evils—war and disenfranchisement—against which King fought.
…How curious that Barack Obama ascended to the throne of American power in 2008, just as the African-American populace found itself on the wrong end of one of the greatest transfer of wealth from one group to another—over half their wealth, mostly in the form of real estate, largely from black hands to white hands, from vulnerable families to faceless real estate trusts. One would think, by listening to the glistering orations of Mr. Obama, that he would have acted to instantly restore the wealth of an abused minority. But, of course, Obama would never have been handed the scepter of American power had he not first paid fealty to the embedded wealth of American society. Had he not assured real estate, finance, and insurance sectors he was “a free market guy”, capable of enabling corporatism like the best of Republicans. And that he could in fact do it better than his predecessor. Simply swap out the labels to suit the changing economic climate. Deregulation would be reconfigured as toothless regulation (with its overweening regard for the market). Privatization would be swabbed off as energy independence (using the American obsession with independence to undermine ecological mandates). Federal downsizing would be recast as deficit reduction (falsely conflating declining growth with social spending). But as he shouldered his way through the living rooms of silent power, he assured the assembled doyens of industry that it all came to the same. Thus, the downward spiral of blacks was simply accelerated, their claims denied, their houses foreclosed upon, their creditors enriched.
…How instructive that Nelson Mandela precipitated and oversaw the dismantling of the racist apartheid regime in South Africa, but his ascendancy to power corresponded with a fatal shift in the economic fortunes of black South Africans, who would watch manufacturing, employment, and wages all decline during Mandela’s prime (see Patrick Bond’s expert summary). Even as whites watched their share of South African wealth rise, as white-held corporations evacuated their money from the newly free state, and as all the best land, mines, manufacturing, and finance remained in the hands of white power.
…What can we surmise from these three paradoxes of justice? Namely, that social gains seem to happen only when they don’t threaten established wealth, which is ensured by a clandestine decoupling of social issues from economics. As society steps forward socially, it steps backward economically.
…In each instance—following King’s assassination, and Obama and Mandela’s election—the social gains made by the majestic courage of millions were balanced by a backdoor betrayal of their economic interests. … All of this is disguised by the clever machinations of the budget office, which is able to artificially create the impression of general growth and prosperity by masking the negative metrics with astonishing stock market growth. Rather than investing in more productive fixed assets in the real economy, from which it is harder to extract one’s capital, investors prefer the easy mobility of financial speculation. Preferably through the creation of a derivatives-based real estate bubble (see Japan, the U.S., and Ireland for instructive examples in this regard). The numbers from this stupendous growth for the few are conflated with the figures of stupefying decline for the majority to produce a perverted per capita profile—one that characterizes a nation in free fall as one in flight.
And that process leaves us with a picture that oddly resembles modern South Africa. Enfranchised blacks in dire straits, with no political party representing their interests. A well-tanned imperial elite doing fabulously well. The government doing little to help the poor, but plenty to enable the rich. And when the complicit politicians and court journalists get a free minute, they step forward with poetic odes to another fallen champion of the underclass—even as they quietly celebrate the renewal of mass delusion and the injustice of the status quo.
Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 24 June 2009 23:17
Jonathan Schwarz points out how that bastion of the "secular-humanist liberal media," CBS, edited the new release of Nixon tapes in order to protect the reputation of the national saint of Bible-believing conservatives, Billy Graham.
The latest release of White House conversations secretly taped by Richard Nixon shows the elite's favorite evangelist spewing venomous invective about Jews. Responding to Nixon's ostensible worry that America might be gripped by Nazi or Franco-style anti-semitism if Jews "don't start behaving," Graham replies with the time-honored wisdom that made him the confidant and confessor of presidents for generations:
Well, you know I told you one time that the bible talks about two kinds of Jews. One is called the Synagogue of Satan. They're the ones putting out the pornographic literature. They're the ones putting out these obscene films.
This is the bit that CBS snipped out of the conversation, leaving only an innocuous statement by Graham about Jews' "usefulness" to God. Schwarz also notes that Nixon's warning about Jewish behavior had nothing to do with Israeli militarism, as the CBS story claims; it was in fact a response to "Graham being angry about a rabbi criticizing a new attempt at widespread evangelism." Schwarz concludes:
The whole thing is well worth listening to if you're a connoisseur of the psychosis of the people who run this planet. My favorite part is the repeated tongue baths Graham bestows on Nixon, assuring him the country loves him and he may well be the greatest president in history.
There is of course nothing really new in the latest tapes. Nixon and Graham's fascinating dialogues about Jews have already entered the public record. I first wrote about this issue more than seven years ago, in The Moscow Times, showing also how Graham also helped sow the seeds of anti-semitism in yet another of his elite charges: George W. Bush.
Picture this: the skulking ruler of a corrupt and vicious regime, hunkered down in his palace, besieged by the forces of good as he plots to unleash weapons of mass destruction on his "satanic" foes across the sea. Accused of war crimes and military aggression, he cynically turns to religion, often calling in the leader of the country's largest fundamentalist sect to lend "moral" support to the criminal regime. Together, the ruler and the holy man engage in frenzied diatribes against the enemies of the state, especially that sinister conspiratorial power lurking behind every eruption of evil in the world – the Jews.
A portrait of Saddam Hussein, raging desperately as he braces for the final reckoning at the hands of history's avenging angel, George W. Bush? No, it's just our ole pal Tricky Dick – Nixon, that is, not Cheney – back from the dead in White House tapes released this week: yet another star turn from the Founding Father of modern U.S. politics.
In the tapes, recorded in early 1972, we find Nixon hankering to hurl his nuclear thunderbolts at Vietnam – standard Cold War ranting for the apostate Quaker, who first suggested nuking 'Nam back in 1954. More relevant to the current scene is the Jew-bashing duet Nixon shares with the American elite's favorite fire-breathing evangelical, the Reverend (sic) Billy Graham.
Graham has – not to put too fine a point on it – sucked from the teat of American power for more than 50 years, lending his "moral authority" to various presidents (usually when they're in political hot water) then leveraging the resultant publicity into boffo box office for his stadium harangues around the world. He is perhaps best known in recent years for a miracle that changed the course of human history – saving the soul of the aforementioned angel, G.W. Bush.
Bush credits Graham with "planting the seeds" of fundamentalist faith in his pre-presidential person during a family gathering in 1985. Graham was visiting the Bush clan's luxurious compound in Maine, mooching free meals and sucking up to the sitting vice president, Daddy Bush. (Well, what else should a disciple of Christ be doing? Breaking bread with the poor or something? Get real.)
At that time, of course, young George was in wastrel mode, boozing it up and losing millions of dollars of other people's money in the oil companies Daddy's friends gave him to play with. But the meeting with Graham struck a chord in the lost soul, as Bush himself (or rather his ghostwriter) tells it, in properly hagiographic tones: "[Graham] sat by the fire and talked. And what he said sparked a change in my heart. I don't remember the exact words. It was more the power of his example. The Lord was so clearly reflected in his gentle and loving demeanor."
That divine emanation was somewhat occluded in the Nixon meeting, where Graham heatedly denounced "satanic Jews" and warned Nixon that the "Jewish stranglehold" on the national media "has got to be broken or the country's going down the drain." The Lord-reflecting preacher then gently and lovingly described how he turned the Jews' two-faced perfidy against them with wily Christian deception of his own.
"A lot of Jews are great friends of mine," Graham begins with gentle, loving sarcasm. "They swarm around me and are friendly to me, because they know I am friendly to Israel and so forth. But they don't know how I really feel about what they're doing to this country, and I have no power and no way to handle them."
Graham chortles heartily when Nixon's toady and enforcer, H.R. Haldeman (the Karl Rove of his day) tells him to "wear a Jewish beanie" at an upcoming meeting with Time Magazine editors. And he yearns for a Nixon re-election later in the year: "Then we might be able to do something" about those nefarious Hebrews, says Graham.
As with Bush, Graham's potent spiritual seed found fertile ground in Nixon. "It's good we got this point about the Jews across," the president says after the meeting. "The Jews are an irreligious, atheistic, immoral bunch of bastards."
This week Graham issued a most Nixonian reply to the taped revelations, saying he had "no memory" of the occasion, but even so, he "deeply regretted" comments he "apparently made" during the meeting. "Apparently?" Perhaps those "satanic Jews" doctored the tape, eh, Billy? As it says in the Gospels: "When the sins of thy past confront thee, always use a weasel-word to squirm thy way out."
These days, the elderly Graham is too frail to whack the Bible leather on the road anymore. His place has been taken by his son, Franklin, who runs the racket along the same old lines: hell-fire for the common folk, political cover for the high and mighty. Indeed, Franklin was called upon by the skulking ruler of yet another corrupt and vicious regime in January 2001, when he showered the Lord's blessing on the illicit inauguration of the unelected wastrel whom Daddy Graham put on the road to glory all those years ago.
Meanwhile, Bush is still faithful to his Imam's teaching. He believes Jews are damned to eternal torment unless they adopt his own pinched and primitive fundamentalist faith -- an opinion that once landed him in hot water with his less jihadic mother. Alarmed at her son's ignorant intolerance, she called – who else? – Graham to set Junior straight. Graham's response? "I happen to agree with what George says."
Well, he would, wouldn't he?
Graham's janus-faced enmity -- supporting Israeli militarism while hiding what he "really feels" about Jews -- is still very much alive among the American elite. (And not just among the elite, of course.) The marriage of convenience -- or rather, the three-way orgy -- between Likudnik Jews and America's imperial militarists and Christian nationalists -- has obscured the fundamental hatred and distrust of Jews that underlies much of the nation's political discourse. For example, veteran cognoscenti have long known that "liberal media" is a code word for "the Jews" -- cast as wily, relentless corruptors of America's pure soul, with their promotion of immoral movies, jungle be-bop music, investigative journalism and what all. Indeed, in the subterranean American lexicon, the term "liberal" itself has long denoted a) Jews; b) uppity darkies duped by Jews, and c) white commies and race traitors in league with Jews to destroy America.
And if you think this template doesn't lie buried but percolating in the amygdala of America's cultural brain, then brother, you don't know these here United States at all. Of course, as with almost every anti-semitic elite down through the ages, there are also many "good Jews" around -- as Graham himself noted. In our day, these are the Jews who support America's imperial agenda and help keep down the "recalcitrant tribes" of the Middle East, in much the same manner as the American elite's illustrious forbears cleaned out those pesky redskins. In fact, with Israeli society now hurtling headlong into a quasi-fascist fortress state, there are probably more "good Jews" of this stripe than there have been in a long time -- perhaps ever.
But of course, most Jews are not imperial stooges or ethnic cleansers -- and these clearly belong to the "Synagogue of Satan" (with Noam Chomsky as High Priest, perhaps.) The American amygdala still pulses with a primitive fear response at the thought of these impure Others: Nixon's "irreligious, atheistic, immoral bunch of bastards," still potently evoked by the masking term "liberal."
NOTE: One should not be fooled by the manufactured "tussle" between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations over Israeli "settlements," by the way. The bipartisan foreign policy elite of the United States do not give a rat's damn about how many Palestinian Indians are forced from their land, or how many Warsaw Ghettos the Israelis construct for their captives. If they did, they would not have sat idly by and watched the "settlements" grow like topsy throughout the so-called "peace process." Such rote displays of displeasure are just part of the game. Israeli nationalists get to look tough for their domestic political audiences; the Americans get to appear "even-handed," which in turn provides some cover for the brutal dictatorships they support in the region. Israel can then make "concessions" (insincerely offered, never carried out), which makes the American president look effective -- and casts Israel in a better light for the American audience. ("See, they listen to reason, they want to work things out.") It's a game that everybody wins -- except ordinary Palestinians.
If the Americans were serious about influencing Israeli policy on the "settlements" -- or anything else -- then they would move to cut off the nearly $3 billion a year the United States provides to fund Israel's war machine -- and its settlements. In politics, as in so much else, you must follow the money. And in American-Israeli relations -- as in so much else -- the money is not where the mouth is.
P.S. If you want to hear what the "Synagogue of Satan" really sounds like in full flow, then attend the words of Sir Gerald Kaufman, standing up in Britain's House of Commons during Israel's brutal decimation of Gaza earlier this year. As the UK magazine Lobster notes, Kaufman "described the murder of his Polish grandmother by a German soldier and then said:
"My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza. The current Israeli Government ruthlessly and cynically exploits the continuing guilt among gentiles over the slaughter of Jews in the Holocaust as their justification for their murder of Palestinians. The implication is that Jewish lives are precious, but the lives of Palestinians do not count."
Compare that to the overwhelming pro-massacre majority in the U.S. Congress, which voted its "vigorous and unwavering commitment" to Israel during the slaughter. Or indeed, compare it to the eloquent response then-President-Elect Barack Obama made to the attack, which Israel conveniently ended just before his inauguration:
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 23 June 2009 22:04
Disturbing news of Barack Obama's embrace -- and extension -- of the Bush Regime's program to seed the nation's university classrooms with covert students being secretly groomed for service in the security apparat: "Obama's Classroom Spies" (David Price, Counterpunch).
Disturbing news of Barack Obama's embrace -- and extension -- of the Bush Regime's plutocratic economic policy in his latest "financial reform" plan: "Obama's (Latest) Surrender to Wall Street" (Michael Hudson, also Counterpunch).
Disturbing news of the true fruits of Barack Obama's embrace -- and extension -- of the Bush Regime's plutocratic economic policy: "Goldman Sachs to Make Record Bonus Payout" (Guardian). Quoth the paper: "The biggest bonus payouts in the firm's 140-year history."
Disturbing news of Barack Obama's embrace -- and extension -- of the Bush Regime's inhumanity in the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp: "Military Attorney Major Barry Wingard Reveals Injustices Continue at Gitmo" (Buzzflash).
Disturbing news of Barack Obama's embrace -- and extension -- of the Bush Regime's claims of authoritarian powers: "In Stark Legal Turnaround, Obama Now Resembles Bush" (McClatchy).