Empire Burlesque
Astringent Corrective: AbuKhalil on Iran's Turmoil
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 22 June 2009 09:42
Professor As'ad AbuKhalil rightly notes the rank hypocrisy of Barack Obama's statement on the turmoil in Iran:

Obama has spoken: "The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights." There is so much that you can do with this statement. The hypocrite in [chief] is invoking an argument that he himself so blatantly ignores and will continue to ignore to the last day of his presidency. Does he really believe in that right for peoples? Yes, but only in countries where governments are not clients of the US. Will he invoke that argument, say, in Saudi Arabia or Egypt or Morocco or Tunisia or Libya or Jordan or Oman, etc? Of course not. This is only an attempt to justify US imperial policies. And even in Iran, the Empire is nervous because it can't predict the outcome. But make no mistake about it: his earlier statement to the effect that the US can't for historical reasons "appear to be meddling" sets the difference between the Bush and the Obama administration. The Bush administration meddled blatantly and crudely and visibly, while the Obama administration meddles more discreetly and not-so-visibly. Tens of thousands of pens equipped with cameras have been smuggled into Iran: I only wish that the American regime would dare to smuggle them into Saudi Arabia so that the entire world can watch the ritual of public executions around the country.

I'd like to say an additional word about Obama's statement. When I saw that the president also invoked the words of Martin Luther King Jr. (“Martin Luther King once said, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice’”), I very nearly threw up. To quote an apostle of non-violence, who spent his last days standing with striking workers and railing against the American government as "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today" because of its murderous war machine, when you yourself are in command of that war machine, spewing out Vietnam-style death (and "targeted assassinations") in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan; when you are striving with all your might to defend, shield and in many cases continue the heinous torture atrocities of your predecessor; when you are pouring trillions of public dollars into the purses of the financial elite while letting millions of workers go hang; and when you yourself have made repeated statements that you will never take any options "off the table" when dealing with Tehran, including the nuclear destruction of the Iranian people for whose liberties and well-being you now profess such noble concern -- well, that seems a bit much, if I may riot in understatement.

In other posts, AbuKhalil offers more good sense on the Iranian situation:

The hypocrisy [of Western media coverage] is quite stunning. They are admiring the dare of the population when the Palestinian population shows more dare. They are outraged at the level of repressive crackdown by the regime when Israeli crackdowns on demonstrations are far more brutal and savage? They are admiring the participation of women in a national movement, when Palestinian women led the struggle from as far back as the 1930s (see the private papers of Akram Zu`aytir). They are outraged that the Iranian government is repressing media coverage, when the Israeli government is far more strict: when it was perpetrating slaughter in Gaza few months ago, the Western press was not allowed any freedom of movement except the hill of death where Michael Oren led reporters to watch Israeli brutal assualt on the Palestinian civilian population from a distance.

The media coverage in the US and UK proves beyond a doubt that increasingly the Western press has been serving as a tool for the various Western government. If the government cheers, the media cheer, if the government condemns, the media condemns, etc. And would the Western media ever be as unrestrained in its glamorization and glorfication of demonstrators and demonstrations in Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Jordan as they are now? There are no claims of even covering a story anymore: it is merely how can we best help the beautiful demonstrators who are not bearded and whose women are more loosely veiled. This is not to say that the Iranian regime is not repressive and needs to be overthrown: far from that. But it is to say that the Iranian regime is as bad (in fact Saudi Arabia and Egypt are probably worse) and as unjust as the various Middle East governments that are supported by the Western governments and Western media. When Western media sit with Saudi and Egyptian leaders, it is as if they are sitting with a friend...

And for those who see the union-busting, privatizing Ahmadinajad as some kind of leftist champion of the poor and the oppressed, AbuKhalil notes:

The rift I sense between Iranian left and Arab left is due to some admiration on the part of some in the Arab left for Ahmadinajad: that really angers people in the Iranian left. (And I am here with the latter group in that regard. I find Ahmadinajad's rhetoric of disservice to Palestine).

And for those who see the hidebound sectarian Moussavi as some kind of champion of "Western-style" pluralist democracy, AbuKhalil has these observations:

I am very proud to be writing in a paper (Al-Akhbar) that is the only Arabic newspaper in the world that advocates for gay and lesbian rights. But the Western media are more impressed with a lackey of Ayatullah Khomeini who led the purges against leftists, Baha'is, and Jews in Iranian universities in the 1980s....

I can't support a movement that writes its signs in English, in order to please the White Man, and I can't be in the same trench with Fox News. Yet, I support the overthrow of a regime that fed its people foreign policy slogans and religious jargon and (along with Saudi Arabia) fought all manifestations of secularism, leftism, and feminism in the Middle East since 1979 (much earlier in the case of Saudi Arabia).

Finally, AbuKhalil takes on the racist undertones that have crept into some Western championing of the Iranian uprising, particularly Andrew Sullivan's implication that the Iranians are more "capable" of democracy than Arabs:

Andrew Sullivan responds to my critique ("As'ad AbuKhalil doesn't appreciate Americans' double standards [when he declares "why do Western media express outrage over a stolen election in Iran but they don't even feign outrage over lack of elections in Saudi Arabia?") by saying this: "Because Iran actually has a population capable of sustaining democracy; and Mousavi is as good as we'll get."

Oh, you have to do better than this. What does these cliches mean? That the population "is capable of sustaining democracy"? Hardly the case if you measure it historically: I personally don't believe in the inequality of people as you seem to do; and I don't belive in those culural arguments that assumes one culture is hostile to democracy while others are not. It is fascinating that Iran is largly Islamic so they can't invoke the non-Islamic arugment, but Iran has produced two successive forms of dictatorships, so the attempt to separate the genetic makeup of Iranians from the Arabs is historically flawed.

And the argument that Mousavi is "as good as we'll get" can't be reconciled with the history and presence of the man. Just yesterday, he released a statement that was dripping with religious demagoguery and was argument that his mission is really to prove the compatibilty of Islam with the republic. Mousavi does not miss an opportunity to to invoke the memory and teachings of Khomeini. People are forgetting that when Mousavi was prime minister and was engaged in a conflict with the then president Khamenei, Khomeini was invariably siding with Mousavi. So there is a history of close association with this so-called democrat with the teachings of Khomeini. Let us not kid ourselves: it is not about the charactertics of the population and not about the "as good as it gets" bogus argument: it is about cheering for anybody who sides against a government that oppoes the US.

In a world riddled with journalistic cant -- and thought-killing political and religious tribalism of every stripe -- AbuKhalil's perspective remains a most useful and astringent corrective.
 
Pierre's Payday: Cashing In on a Sinister Agenda
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Thursday, 05 June 2014 16:35

(UPDATED BELOW)

Mark Ames has a follow-up to his story on Pierre Omidyar's extensive links with the rightwing extremist Narendra Modi who now controls India. (I wrote about and excerpted Ames' original story here.) As Ames pointed out in the first story, Omidyar's support for Modi was rewarded with a vow by the candidate to open up India's lucrative e-commerce market to foreign corporations and techno-oligarchs -- like Omidyar.

Now, Ames reports, Modi has made good on his promise. One of his first acts in power has been an order to draw up guidelines for cracking open Indian e-commerce to Omidyar and others. This was a move long resisted by the previous Congress Party government -- which had also refused to register a supposedly non-partisan NGO supported by Omidyar, accusing the group of illegal lobbying for a bid to … open up India's e-commerce market to foreign companies.

Congress was also fiercely opposed to giving Omidyar and other foreign oligarchs unfettered access to the country's e-commerce market. As Ames notes, Omidyar's good friend in the White House, Barack Obama, brought heavy pressure to bear on India to reverse this stance -- but Congress resisted. Now the party has gone the way of all those who interfere with the divine right of well-connected oligarchs to grab as much loot as they want, wherever they want, however they want: they're out, and a much more amenable party is now in office.

This same dynamic was recently played out in Ukraine, with some similar elements: "non-partisan" NGOs backed by a partnership between 'philanthropists' like Omidyar and White House agents (who were lining up a "replacement" government in the back room). And no, this doesn't mean that this partnership of domination controlled every element in the crisis in Ukraine or the election in India, where millions of people had legitimate grievances against the parties in power. But it does mean that this Unholy Alliance of oligarchs and imperialists is expending enormous amounts of money, energy and skullduggery to steer highly complex political developments in foreign lands in the direction they want them to go: toward the installation of friendly governments that will put the interest of financial elites and American dominance ahead of the well-being of their own people.

And the Alliance is getting better and better at doing this. They seize upon -- and manipulate -- legitimate grievances, then exacerbate them, distort them, confuse them and re-direct them toward the service of the elite's domination agenda. The Tea Party movement is a perfect example. Here the elite -- using media networks under oligarch control -- took a groundswell of legitimate anger at how the political-financial class had blown up the economy and plunged millions into misery, ruin and insecurity, and converted it into a giant, gnarled hairball of bellicose nativism, ignorance, racism and division devoted to preserving and expanding the power and privilege of the wealthy elite.

What could have been a power countermovement to roll back the excesses of the corporatism, oligarchy and militarism that have held bipartisan sway in America for more than 30 years was twisted into a tool to enhance the power of the already powerful. The chaos this unruly hairball has brought to the political system is also a plus for the Unholy Alliance: the more unstable the country is, the more people will long for "strong" leaders, like Modi, for rich and powerful figures who seem "above the fray" of petty politics and can bring "unity" to a troubled polity -- like the oligarch recently elected as Ukraine's president, or, indeed, like Michael Bloomberg in New York City.

(Or even Putin in Russia, a "strong man" who stepped in to offer "order" and "unity" after the murderous chaos induced in Russia by the neoliberal "Shock Doctrine" agenda. His ascent was at first warmly welcomed by Western elites -- George W. Bush famously looked into Putin's "soul" and saw a kindred spirit. But then Putin went rogue -- he wanted to set up an Unholy Alliance of his own, with himself in charge; he was not nearly as pliable and compliant as his predecessor; he wanted to be a partner in plunder and power with Western elites, not just their errand boy. He actually saw himself as their equal. This was not to be borne. And so today he is -- what else? -- the new Hitler. And the obvious next target of the regime change machine -- a fact which is giving him even more 'justification' for the increasing repression he's imposing on the Russian people.)

The presence of the Tea Party (used here as shorthand for the broad range of far-right extremists now rampant in the land) is also convenient for the Democrats, giving them a convenient hate figure to stir up fear (and scoop up donations) and, more importantly, to use as an excuse, a cover for their own faithful service to the wealthy elite. "Hey, we would like a more just society, but darn it, darn it, darn it, those Tea Party kooks won't let us do anything!" "That's all right, Mr. President, we understand," say the earnest progressive liberals and the gritty savvy 'dissidents' on the left. "We understand, and we still love you. You're still 'two percent less evil' than the kooks!" The Democrats get to protect their "brand identity" as the more caring, progressive party -- while deliberately and willingly advancing the same neoliberal agenda of elite domination also being pushed by "mainstream Republicans" and the Tea Party.

With "austerity" degrading the nation's physical and social infrastructure, the political system reduced to sinister buffoonery and slick PR puffery, and the rich and powerful increasingly beyond all reach of the law (which bears down harder and harder on the rabble at every turn), our elites seem hellbent on making the country ungovernable, plunging it into fear-ridden chaos. Meanwhile, the militarization of police forces around the country continues apace, abetted at every turn by the latest technology (sold as toys and glitzy gizmos to consumers -- "Google Glasses! Cool! Big Data! Wow!" -- but actually serving as incredibly powerful tools of repression and surveillance by the state …and as incredibly lucrative sources of profit for the corporations and techno-oligarchs who happily supply the state with repressive instruments -- and even work with the government to refine and expand the tools' effectiveness).

And now techno-oligarchs -- beneficiaries of and/or active participants in the Unholy Alliance of domination -- are moving into the commanding heights of media and politics. Jeff Bezos -- destroyer of bookstores and blackmailer of publishers -- controls the Washington Post. Omidyar, of course, is bankrolling the creation of a "dissident" media conglomerate, which decries "excesses" in the system here and there but never challenges the legitimacy of the neoliberal cult of elite domination. Rupert Murdoch rules the rightwing media, Omidyar will now dominate the left, Bezos will command the overchewed cud that constitutes the "centrist" position in American politics today. All sides will be covered beneath the broader neoliberal umbrella. Our elites not only own the ball, and the playing field, and the stadium, and the parking lot; they own both teams as well.

A private correspondent pointed out that my last piece on Omidyar and Modi was "not cynical enough," and did not draw out the connection between what oligarchs such as Omidyar, in partnership with Washington, have done in Ukraine and India -- and what they are up to on the home front. I think this critique is right. A sinister game is afoot, and its aim is not a more just, open and free society, or even the maintenance of the status quo, but the destruction of the common good and the imposition of an ever-tightening domination by an alliance of private elites and repressive governments. There are too many developments on too many fronts for the obvious trends in this direction to be seen as nothing more than happy accidents for the elite. Again, political and social situations have many different causes, many different factors at work, and are never in the sole control of any single force. But it seems increasingly obvious that our neoliberal elites are using their immense power, public and private, to manipulate (or at times create) situations of conflict and instability that they then try to bend to the service of their agenda.

Yet revelations of these machinations, of government/corporate crime or "excesses," have made no difference -- from the exposure of the deliberate falsification of the case for war against Iraq to the revelations of systematic torture in Abu Ghraib to the confirmation that the President runs a death squad out of the White House to the continuing torture of force-fed captives in the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp to the selective revelations of some of the abuses committed by the NSA. Nothing changes, because the commanding heights of politics and media are in the hands of people deeply committed to preserving the system that gives them wealth and power.

We live in an age of revelation. There has never been era in which so much clear and glaring evidence of so many horrific crimes and abuses by state and private power has been so widely and freely available. Year after year, the revelations pile up. None of it makes any difference. Instead, power doubles down.

This week, the UK government -- which was supposedly "rocked" and "shaken" by the Snowden revelations in the Guardian -- announced it will hold its first completely secret trial for hundreds of years. (It is, of course, a trial of two "suspected terrorists.") This is how "rocked" the UK government has been by the "scandal" of its eager cooperation with the NSA's secret Stasi-like operations. This is how effective these world-changing revelations have been in forcing more "transparency" in government. The UK is about to step back into medieval times, violating the principles laid down in the Magna Carta -- 800 years ago.

But this is all of a piece with the general trend, the ever-more obvious agenda of the ruling elite. From neoliberalism to neofascism to, ultimately, neofeudalism: a new dark age, where the rabble live in fear and want, at the mercy of powerful, unaccountable elites locked away in gated splendor. (Though to be sure, they will sally forth now and then in squabbles amongst themselves for a bigger share of loot and power -- squabbles which inevitably involve the death and ruin of multitudes of innocent people.) As noted here the other day, old evils -- fascism, racism, nationalism, feudalism -- don't die. They return in new forms, and have to be fought again, over and over.

2.
But to return to the particular case of Modi and Omidyar, once more Ames has the goods. Here is an excerpt:

Today, Reuters is reporting that Modi is planning to open India up to global e-commerce firms like eBay next month, and that Modi’s industry minister has been drawing up the new guidelines with input from top eBay officials, along with their e-commerce counterparts from Google, Amazon, Wal-Mart and others. …

As we reported, the longtime managing director and partner for Omidyar Network India Advisors, Jayant Sinha, began working to help elect Modi since at least 2012, while publicly doling out tens of millions of Omidyar’s money to for-profits and to non-profits, at least one of which was involved in an anti-corruption campaign that undermined the center-left ruling government, and benefited Modi’s far-right BJP party.

Omidyar’s top India man also concurrently served as a director in a powerful BJP think tank, the India Foundation, chaired by Modi’s hardline National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval — “a giant among spies” according to the Hindustan Times. After stepping down from Omidyar Network in February of this year, Sinha worked full-time for Modi, the India Foundation, and for his own successful run as a BJP candidate for parliament.

Another NGO that Omidyar invested in, the Institute for Policy Research Studies (IPRS), was accused of illegally trying to lobby India’s parliamentarians to vote for opening up India’s e-commerce market in late 2012. The IPRS nonprofit ran a program in which their staffers provided India MP staffers with “nonpartisan” research. In 2012, India’s intelligence bureau accused the IPRS of “compromising national security” and described it as “shrouded in mystery.”

Omidyar Network had pledged $1 million to the IPRS, and the Ford Foundation pledged half a million more — but the Indian government rejected the IPRS’s application to register as a foreign-funded NGO, deeming it a threat to India’s parliamentary integrity, and its national security. Google’s corporate philanthropic arm, Google.org, had previously given $880,000 to the same NGO program, under Sheryl Sandberg’s watch. The co-founder of this controversial never-registered NGO, CV Mudhakar, is now, you might not be shocked to learn, Omidyar Network India’s director of investments in “government transparency.”

The previous, center-left Indian government not only nixed the Omidyar-Ford Foundation NGO-slash-e-retailer-lobby front, it also announced last year that it did not plan to allow e-commerce firms like eBay open access into its markets. … The answer to that business problem, of course, was changing India’s government — even if that meant installing a brutal figure like Narendra Modi, who spent nearly a decade on the US State Department’s visa ban list for his role in the violent persecution of minority Muslims and Christians.

That’s terrible and all from a human rights perspective, but when you consider the interests of eBay’s shareholders — like its number one shareholder, Pierre Omidyar — India presents not so much a problem as an opportunity. The majority of eBay’s revenues come from its overseas operations, and eBay has made no secret that it sees its future growth coming from India and the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China).

UPDATE:
A story published in the Guardian today provides yet another telling example of the mindset of the faction that Omidyar has helped to power in India:

A state minister from Indian prime minister Narendra Modi's ruling party has described rape as a "social crime", saying "sometimes it's right, sometimes it's wrong", in the latest controversial remarks by an Indian politician about rape.

The political leaders of Uttar Pradesh, the state where two cousins aged 12 and 14 were raped and hanged last week, have faced criticism for failing to visit the scene and for accusing the media of hyping the story. A regional politician from Modi's own Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), said that the crime of rape can only be considered to have been committed if it is reported to police.

"This is a social crime which depends on men and women. Sometimes it's right, sometimes it's wrong," said Babulal Gaur, the home minister responsible for law and order in the BJP-run central state of Madhya Pradesh.

…Modi, who was sworn in as prime minister last week after a landslide election victory, has so far remained silent over the double killing in the village of Katra Shahadatganj, around half a day's drive east of Delhi.

The father and uncle of one of the victims said they tried to report the crime to local police but were turned away. Three men have been arrested over the killings. Two policemen have been held on suspicion of trying to cover up the crime.

 
Omidyar and the Oligarch’s Code: Enabling Extremism, Monetizing Dissent
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Wednesday, 04 June 2014 00:22

India is now in the hands of Narendra Modi — a lifelong member of an unabashedly neofascist paramilitary group. His chief claim to fame is presiding over the wanton slaughter of more than 2,000 Muslims as a provincial chief minister — and getting away with it. A staunch neoliberal as well as a neofascist, he is preparing to unleash the by-now standard “shock doctrine” tactics of the pernicious neoliberal cult on the whole country: unrestricted corporate rapine aided by a heavy-handed, all-surveilling militarist state, waging war on the poor — and the very notion of a common good.

What is surprising is that Modi’s rise to power has been aided for years by substantial support, direct and indirect, from an American billionaire widely regarded by the left as one of the world’s great champions of dissent: Pierre Omidyar. But perhaps this is not so surprising when you consider that Omidyar now stands to reap millions if not billions of dollars from Modi’s vow to open up India’s burgeoning e-commerce market to foreign companies — like Omidyar’s eBay, as Mark Ames reports at PandoDaily.

Ames provides a detailed look at Omidyar’s extensive involvement with Modi and his sinister movement. The story could serve as a companion piece to Ames’ earlier investigation into Omidyar’s relentless efforts to “monetize” philanthropy — turning it into a money-making tool for a small elite while wreaking havoc among those it is ostensibly trying to help. A key element in this monetization of human misery on the part of Omidyar and his cronies is the privatization of state services aimed at providing some measure of support, opportunity and social justice for ordinary people. In country after country, our neoliberal extremists are pushing policies to turn every aspect of human community into profitable enterprises under corporate control.

To do this, of course, one must also “monetize” democracy itself. Thus, as Ames and others have pointed out, Omidyar has also been active in “pro-democracy” NGOs and other organizations in foreign countries, working closely with Washington to bring down regimes considered insufficiently open to the strip-mining of national wealth and resources by Western elites. The aim, as in Ukraine, where Omidyar’s partnership with government was particularly active, is to replace the regimes with technocrats willing to stick the shock doctrine cattle prod to their own people.

The nature of the regime being overthrown doesn’t matter, by the way. It might be an ugly corruptocracy like the Yanukovich regime in Ukraine, or populist movements like the long-running attempts to overthrow Chavismo in Venezuela, or liberal democracies like the government overthrown in Honduras with Barack Obama’s collusion in the early days of his hope-and-change presidency.

Likewise, it doesn’t matter what kind of regime replaces the government targeted for overturning. Saddam Hussein’s brutal secular authoritarianism was replaced by brutal sectarian authoritarianism in Iraq (one closely allied to Iran, no less). Moamar Gadafy’s secular authoritarianism in Libya was supplanted, with NATO bombs, by religious radicals allied with al Qaeda, who are now apparently in the process of being overthrown in turn by American-backed military authoritarians. The secular authoritarianism in Syria is being attacked by Western-backed rebels led by perhaps the most vicious religious fanatics on earth. A Ukrainian government dominated by dodgy oligarchs has been replaced by … a Ukrainian government dominated by dodgy oligarchs. Washington and its billionaire buddies don’t care about the ideology or religion or representativeness of a client regime; they just want the leaders to play ball.

And now, a corruption-riddled secular government in India has been replaced by a religious extremist party led by a man unrepentant about the thousands killed under his watch, a staunch adherent to a group that praises Hitler. But Modi possesses the one all-important quality for acceptance by the Western elite: he’s a man “we can do business with.” (If Saddam Hussein had sold off Iraq’s oil industry to Chevron, BP and Halliburton in 1991, he would still be in power — and welcome in Washington — today, no matter how his own people were suffering.)

I’m sure Pierre Omidyar does not personally support Hindu nationalism or neo-nazi paramilitarism or the slaughter of thousands of innocent people in deliberately fomented religious rampages.  He’d probably rather not see such things in the world. But in the immortal words of The Godfather II’s Hyman Roth: “It has nothing to do with business.” If Modi is where the money is, that’s where you go.

And just as he is monetizing philanthropy and democracy, Omidyar is now monetizing dissent. He has laid out a quarter of a billion dollars to finance a “dissident” media empire, built on the cornerstone of the NSA documents Edward Snowden gave to Glenn Greenwald. Both Omidyar and Greenwald have been adamant that this is to be profit-making enterprise — like all of Omidyar’s philanthropy.

The revelations from the Snowden cache have indeed been shocking and important — but their effect has been curiously muted. The sound and fury provoked by the revelations among the political-media class have thus far signified … nothing. All we have seen are a few tepid “reform” proposals whose chief aim is to entrench the Stasi-state activities even further, giving them ‘legal’ form and fobbing off any lingering concerns with toothless ‘oversight’ schemes. (Along the model of the rubber-stamp secret FISA courts.) There is a credible school of thought that the revelations have actually been good for the National Security State: people now have the image of an all-pervasive, all-powerful government, able to watch them at all times, to come into their homes, their lives, their minds through their computers and phones. A government that could take them out — via the now openly acknowledged, even celebrated death squads run out of the White House — or take them away. (Who hasn’t made a joke about some untoward comment landing them in Gitmo — a gallows humor that both masks and bespeaks a genuine fear.)

For those in power, it’s good for people to be afraid — afraid of outsiders, of “terrorists” and “illegal aliens” and “Muslims”; and afraid of themselves, afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing under the all-seeing eye of the Potomac panopticon. People who are afraid are more obedient. They keep their heads down, they toe the line. They don’t challenge the system — because the system is too powerful. Oh, of course, you can let all kinds of Tea Party nuts run loose, denouncing “tyranny” in health care and carrying machine-guns into restaurants and standing their ground against uppity drakes and what all. They never challenge the real system — the unholy alliance of oligarchy and state power. Hell, they love it! They love the rich elite. They love state power as long as it’s not aimed at helping anybody (except people who look like them, of course).

This applies to dissent from the left as well. As in foreign policy, the elites don’t care what kind of ideology or “dissent” they face — as long as it poses no genuine threat to the Unholy Alliance. That’s always been the essence of the real “American exceptionalism,” the trick that other empires and dominators never quite learned: you can let people say anything they want, reveal anything they want — as long as it doesn’t actually change anything. Meanwhile, if you let people know how powerful you are, how all-pervasive you are — they will end up policing themselves.

So here we have Omidyar. He has close ties to the White House, has visited there often, works closely with Washington in “public-private partnerships for democracy” that, as in the Ukraine, sometimes somehow end up overthrowing democratic governments. At the same time, he now employs many of the most famous dissident journalists in America.

His most prominent employee, Greenwald, constantly affirms his belief that we should indeed have a powerful and far-reaching security state — it should just be “reformed” and “overseen” by people he approves of. (Snowden has voiced the same opinion.) Greenwald has also famously stated that he didn’t look into and doesn’t care about Omidyar’s other activities. Making loot off the poor by monetizing philanthropy? Supporting religious fascists, subverting foreign governments? So what? If he supports my project, my cause, that’s all that matters.

This is not a form of dissent that threatens any system of power.

The chief aim of Omidyar’s new media venture, it seems to me, is to domesticate dissent. There is virtually no chance that First Look Media will challenge the essence or legitimacy of the actual ruling system: oligarch-corporate dominance backed by a militarist state. No doubt it will tear the bark off a few wild outgrowths here and there — which can be a useful exercise for keeping various factions within the Security State in line, or allowing them to “let off steam” by taking down their internal rivals a peg or two. Fear is not just for foreigners and the home folks out there; every system of domination employs fear against its own agents as well. And certainly there will be genuinely spontaneous revelations too, not just strategic leaks by inside players jockeying for position.

But again, all this will take place in an arena controlled by one of the chief beneficiaries and big-time players in the system itself. It will take place in a domesticated setting. The powers that be will know that the system itself is not under threat. They will know that the only goal of any revelations will be “reform”— or sometimes not even reform, just “debate.” And “reform” and “debate” can always be managed by those who control the levers of power — and the media where the “debate” takes place.

Again, I think the NSA revelations from the Snowden cache are shocking and important. I’m glad that some of them have seen the light of day. But I believe the end result will be what we saw with the perhaps even more shocking revelations about torture at Abu Ghraib in 2004. Does anyone remember that? When the first horrific pictures leaked out (and there were even worse ones held back), one could see, for a moment, a genuine, palpable shock go through the system of power. I remember well the look on the faces of the panel of senators who had been shown the full range of pictures and heard some of the evidence of the systematic tortures inflicted by American soldiers and agents in the Iraqi prison. There was genuine consternation. There were trembling voices. There was talk of shame lasting for generations. There were murmurs that the government would fall, that a crisis was at hand.

And what happened? Nothing. Nothing happened. A few grunts were vilified and prosecuted, but those who had devised, directed and approved the systematic torture rolled on in power and privilege. A few months later, the very administration whose leaders were responsible for the torture — and for an illegal war of aggression that had killed tens of thousands of innocent people by that point — was re-elected to office.

I believe we will see the same end result from the Snowden revelations. Shock horror (and mock horror, in many cases), the deep-frying of millions of pixels on the subject, the windy suspiration of forced breath from dozens of gabbling gobs on television — then nothing.

2. Who is Modi?
But who is Modi? What sort of politician has America’s leading bankroller of dissent given his copious support to? Pankaj Mishra has written one of the best articles that I've seen on the situation. From the Guardian:

Modi is a lifelong member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a paramilitary Hindu nationalist organisation inspired by the fascist movements of Europe, whose founder's belief that Nazi Germany had manifested "race pride at its highest" by purging the Jews is by no means unexceptional among the votaries of Hindutva, or "Hinduness". In 1948, a former member of the RSS murdered Gandhi for being too soft on Muslims. The outfit, traditionally dominated by upper-caste Hindus, has led many vicious assaults on minorities. A notorious executioner of dozens of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 crowed that he had slashed open with his sword the womb of a heavily pregnant woman and extracted her foetus. Modi himself described the relief camps housing tens of thousands of displaced Muslims as "child-breeding centres".

…  His record as chief minister is predominantly distinguished by the transfer – through privatisation or outright gifts – of national resources to the country's biggest corporations. His closest allies – India's biggest businessmen – have accordingly enlisted their mainstream media outlets into the cult of Modi as decisive administrator; dissenting journalists have been removed or silenced.

India’s chattering — and ruling — classes now laud Modi for his “pro-business” reforms that promote “growth.” But as always in our global neoliberal utopia, “growth” has a rather narrow definition: it means big swag for the powerful and squat-all for everyone else. Mishra:

[India’s economic growth] turns out to have been based primarily on extraction of natural resources, cheap labour and foreign capital inflows rather than high productivity and innovation, or indeed the brick-and-mortar ventures that fuelled China's rise as a manufacturing powerhouse. "The bulk of India's aggregate growth," the World Bank's chief economist Kaushik Basu warns, "is occurring through a disproportionate rise in the incomes at the upper end of the income ladder." Thus, it has left largely undisturbed the country's shameful ratios – 43% of all Indian children below the age of five are undernourished, and 48% stunted; nearly half of Indian women of childbearing age are anaemic, and more than half of all Indians still defecate in the open.

Of course, Modi would not be in power today if not for the utter and complete moral  and political failure of the institutions of secular democracy. The spectacular corruption of the long-ruling Congress Party — which has also allied itself to the New Hyperfeudalists while also milking the state for private gain and the mindless, meaningless perpetuation of political power for its own sake — has opened the door for well-financed fanatics to step in and offer what seems to be an alternative to a system that everyone knows is broken. This is happening across the “democratic” world, where the willing surrender by “centrist” parties to hyperfeudalism has hollowed out the political core, leaving millions of people adrift in lives of decline, hopelessness, and slow degradation. Civic and social infrastructure have rotted (along with the physical infrastructure) — again, through the willing, at times gleeful choices of “centrist” elites: especially those, like Britain’s New Labour and America’s Clinton-Obama Democrats, who pretend to “progressive” ideals while whoring themselves to the gilded gangsters of the oligarchy.

These parties and their leaders stand for nothing, they stand up to no one, they have swallowed whole the poison of rapacious hyperfeudalism and murderous militarism. And they offer nothing to anyone but more of the same decline and degradation. And so everywhere, the far right is on the rise, stepping into the ruins with lies and ignorance that play on the worst elements of human nature, feeding on the fear of people losing hope and giving them simplistic excuses for their distress: “Blame it on the darkies, the immigrants, the heretics, on whatever group is the Other (or can be made to seem the Other) in an otherwise pure, special nation. Always, at every turn, the justified anger, fear and bewilderment of the people must be turned away from those who are actually responsible for it — their masters, their overlords — and projected onto the weakest, most vulnerable, least protected groups in the society.

Mishra’s article is an important, multi-leveled, in-depth look at what’s happening in India — and, by extension, in so many other parts of the world.  I highly recommend that you read it in full.

3. Omidyar’s Role
So that’s Modi. What exactly has Omidyar done for him? Ames has the details:

Omidyar Network, as Pando readers know, is the philanthropy arm of eBay billionaire Pierre Omidyar. Since 2009, Omidyar Network has made more investments in India than in any other country in its portfolio. These investments were largely thanks to Jayant Sinha, a former McKinsey partner and Harvard MBA, who was hired in October 2009 to establish and run Omidyar Network India Advisors.

During Sinha’s tenure, Omidyar Network steered a large portion of its investments into India, so that by 2013, India investments made up 18% of Omidyar Network’s committed funds of well over $600 million, and 36% of the total number of companies in its portfolio.

In February of this year, Sinha stepped down from Omidyar Network in order to advise Modi’s election campaign, and to run for a BJP parliamentary seat of his own. Sinha’s father, Yashwant Sinha, served as finance minister in the last BJP government from 1998 (when his government set off the nukes) through 2002. This year, Sinha’s father gave up his seat in parliament to allow Jayant Sinha to take his place.

…Shortly after Sinha left Omidyar Network to help Modi win, Modi gave a speech calling for opening India’s e-commerce market to foreign companies such as Ebay, whose largest shareholder is Pierre Omidyar. The message was clear: Modi is the candidate of hi-tech India, violent ultranationalism notwithstanding.

…To be clear, this isn’t just a case of an Omidyar staffer who just happened to become a supporter of Modi. In fact, Pando has learned that Sinha has a long history of working for Modi and his Hindu supremacist BJP party, starting before he joined Omidyar Network and continuing during his tenure as the organization’s managing director and partner in India, when Sinha oversaw tens of millions of the Redwood City-based fund’s investments in the country.

Just last month, senior BJP party leader Shiv Shankar Prasad Gupta told a news conference that Jayant Sinha “worked in Modi’s team for two years (2012 and 2013)” — while he was simultaneously leading Omidyar Network’s India branch. What Gupta didn’t do was explain the full extent the relationship between Sinha, Omidyar Networks, the BJP and the US Government. Here are the highlights:

• While still heading Omidyar Network India Advisors, Jayant Sinha simultaneously served as adirector in the BJP party’s main policy think tank, the India Foundation, founded by the hardline former director of India’s Intelligence Bureau, Ajit Doval. The India Foundation has been described as “doing all the backroom thinking on economy and security-related issues to prepare policy stances for the BJP”;

• The India Foundation, besides incubating Jayant Sinha’s pro-business agenda, also pushed hardline policies to target India’s peasant Naxalite insurgency, made up of India’s poor indigenous peoples. The India Foundation produced a propaganda film that pushed for “zero tolerance” against what it called “Red terror.” The India Foundation also argued that Christian missionaries allied with “Maoists” to forcibly convert Hindus to Christianity — a typical BJP slur that has incited countless Hindu lynch mob attacks on India’s Christians;

• While heading Omidyar Network India Advisors, Jayant Sinha repeatedly called for India’s government to allow foreign direct investment into e-commerce, a move that would directly benefit eBay, where Pierre Omidyar’s billions are tied up as the company’s largest single shareholder; an Omidyar Network-funded NGO was accused of using its access to Indian lawmakers to secretly lobby for a bill allowing foreign direct investment into India’s e-retail sector;

• In late February, just weeks after Sinha quit Omidyar Network to advise Modi’s campaign, Modi gave a speech in favor of allowing foreign e-commerce firms to enter India’s markets; eBay has been investing heavily into Indian e-commerce firms in hopes of entering the potentially lucrative market;

• Under Sinha’s guidance, in 2010 Omidyar Network gave its first grant to an Indian NGO,Janaagraha, for a well-publicized anti-corruption campaign coinciding with a larger, nationwide anti-corruption campaign that undermined support for the ruling center-left party, dovetailingwith the campaign of the ultranationalist BJP party and Modi as they plotted their return to power. (For more on this, read Arundhati Roy’s excellent piece on the right-wing Western-backed leader of India’s anti-corruption movement, Anna Hazare.) This year’s BJP election landslide victory over India’s ruling center-left government has been widely attributed to anti-corruption politics;

• The Omidyar Network-funded Janaagraha anti-corruption campaigns were enthusiastically supported by USAID officials like Sarah Mendelson, who described herself “a convert” in 2011 after hearing a Janaagraha official’s “spell-binding” speech describing the NGO’s work. The following year, 2012, Mendelson announced a new $55 million USAID program, “Making All Voices Count,” with Omidyar Network as one of its four principal partners, explaining to Congress the program’s larger political purpose: “The political trajectory of a country is ultimately a U.S. national security issue, and as such, we are intimately involved in advancing U.S. national security interests”;

• In 2005, Janaagraha was caught secretly participating in a World Bank-funded water privatization scheme in Bangalore, offering to provide “civil society participation” cover for a program to counter protests from Bangalore’s poor.

…In India, billionaire oligarchs and the business community overwhelmingly support Modi’s ultranationalist politics because Modi has been good for business. And Omidyar’s man has already been offering insight into how Modi will help big business even more.

In the days since India’s election, Sinha told CNBC that India needs “radical reforms” in line with classic neoliberal, pro-business prescriptions, including cutting government subsidies and “restructuring” India’s social welfare programs; “labor reforms”; and “land acquisition” laws. These reforms are a top priority for India’s mining industry giants, foreign investors… as well as USAID and their partners, Omidyar Network.

…What makes this story about Omidyar Network’s relationship to the ultranationalist BJP party important is what it reveals about the nature of Silicon Valley money and politics, and what it reveals about the role NGOs and corporate foundations play in advancing the interests of both US geopolitical power and US corporate profits, under the guise of charity.

A deeper look at Omidyar Network’s activities in India gives concrete insight into the meaning of Silicon Valley “enlightened self-interest.” For instance, many Omidyar Network’s India investments have a dual purpose that neatly coincide with eBay’s strategic agenda in India, a closed off but potentially huge e-commerce market that eBay has been trying to break into. As eBay has invested hundreds of millions in Indian e-commerce startups, Omidyar Network has been subtlety reshaping India’s “ecosystem” in ways that would benefit eBay’s bottom line — like bringing mobile technologyand access to microfinance loans into India’s rural villages and communities, investing in an online classifieds company, and others.

India has a lot of problems, not the least of which is its yawning inequality: On one end, India has the sixth largest number of billionaires in the world; on the other end, India has one-third of the world’s poor: 400 million Indians live on less than $1.25 a day, and half of India’s households have no access to a toilet. It’s hard to see how what they really need are solar-powered battery-operated mobile devices bought with microfinance loans — but easier to imagine how that fits into Omidyar’s agenda. (Let’s not forget that Omidyar-funded SKS Microfinance was implicated in a rash of gruesome suicides by indebted Indian villagers, mostly young women, some of whom drank bottles of pesticides or drowned themselves to avoid SKS Microfinance debt collectors.)

There is much more in Ames’ story as well, which also bears reading in full. Both his story and Mishra's have copious links to more details.

Ames ends with an apt quote from Arundhati Roy:

“As public money gets pulled out of health care and education and all of this, NGOs funded by these major financial corporations and other kinds of financial instruments move in, doing the work that missionaries used to do during colonialism—giving the impression of being charitable organizations, but actually preparing the world for the free markets of corporate capital.”

 
Dexter's Legions: The "Good" Killers of the "Good" War
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Sunday, 21 June 2009 00:23
Now, he's hell-bent for destruction, he's afraid and confused,
And his brain has been mismanaged with great skill.
All he believes are his eyes
And his eyes, they just tell him lies.
But there's a woman on my block,
She just sits there, facing the hill.
She says, Who's gonna take away his license to kill?

--Bob Dylan

There is, I understand, a popular cable television show featuring a "good" serial killer who has been taught by a kind mentor to channel his murderous psychosis toward socially worthy ends; i.e., killing scumbags who deserve to die but have somehow escaped the law. I often wonder if this show is actually a better mirror of the national psyche than "24," the "good torture" saga that in the Bush years was often cited by top administration officials, conservative pundits -- and Supreme Court justices -- as an insightful inspiration for national security policy.

Certainly it often seems that concept of "Dexter" has been writ large in what we are now pleased to call our "Overseas Contingency Operation" -- in preference to the old Bushist term, "War on Terror," or the admirably straightforward locution once favored by Donald Rumsfeld: "The Long War." (Couldn't we just combine the two and call it the "Long Overseas Contingency Operation" -- i.e., LOCO?) For whatever else LOCO might be -- sustained campaign of plunder and profiteering; reckless dice game for geopolitical domination; massive dose of Viagra for an ageing militarist/media elite -- it is, most assuredly, a license to kill: serially, savagely, and best of all -- the psycho-killer's dream -- without accountability.

On Friday, an internal investigation by the Pentagon into the American airstrike with B1 bombers on villages in Afghanistan's Farah province in May was released. [For more on the attack, which Afghan officials say killed more than 140 civilians, see "Tales of Yankee Power."] As McClatchy reports, the Pentagon -- which at first denied that any civilians were killed -- now admits outright that it sure enough killed 26 civilians...and might well have actually blown 86 hunks of collateral damage to smithereens.

This comes after weeks of high-octane weaseling from American officials -- including the grand LOCO warlord himself, General David Douglas MacArthur Petraeus, who at one point announced that he had video proof that our boys had only been killing dirty rotten terrorist ragheads hidden amongst so-called civilians who might have been giving the insurgents shelter and who anyway like to lie about how many of their family members get killed in these essential raids -- or words to that effect.

Needless to say, this documentary evidence has not been forthcoming: much like the documentary evidence that Colin Powell once promised would show the world that the 9/11 attacks had come from Afghanistan, with Taliban complicity. This dossier of "evidence" -- i.e., the supposed casus belli justifying the entire American military operation in Afghanistan -- has never seen the light of day, and never will. It was just like the murky photograpsh and sinister-looking vials that Powell later waved around the UN to "justify" the invasion of Iraq: a PR prop, part of "rolling out the product" to sell a war already planned.

In any case, the atrocity in Farah was so glaring, the death count was so high, and the eyewitness accounts of the true nature of the attack and its aftermath were so credible, plentiful and multi-sourced that the Pentagon was forced to concede at least some ground to reality -- even though our "Good War" leaders seem to think that "only" murdering 26 civilians is OK. Hey, it coulda been 146, they shrug, with a charming, aw-shucks Dexterish grin. And anyway, it's all in a good cause, right?

And although Afghan officials are standing by the higher death count, the American military brass has already decided that no one will be disciplined for killing the 26 and quite possibly 86 innocent human beings slaughtered in the operation. Hell, our boys actually did themselves proud! As Reuters reports:

The U.S. military is unlikely to discipline troops involved in a deadly air strike in Afghanistan that heightened tensions between Washington and Kabul, the top U.S. military official said on Thursday.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said U.S. troops handled themselves well during the battle last month against Taliban fighters in Afghanistan's western Farah province....

"At least in my review, I found nothing that would lead to any specific action along the lines of what you're asking," Mullen said at a Pentagon briefing when asked it disciplinary action might be considered.


"Civilian bloodbath? So what?" That pretty much says it all. So if you've got an insatiable lust for killing your fellow human beings, there's no need to get some dinky job in a stateside police department, confining yourself to a piecemeal, penny-ante kill-rate. No sir. Get with the LOCO program instead, and you can murder wholesale, worldwide, without fear of retribution -- indeed, with the praise and support of the highest authorities in the land. Hey, it's boffo box office in the Homeland. They can't get enough of that kind of stuff in the shining city on the hill.

Now he worships at an altar of a stagnant pool
And when he sees his reflection, he's fulfilled.
Oh, man is opposed to fair play,
He wants it all and he wants it his way.
But there's a woman on my block,
She just sits there, as the night grows still.
She says, who's gonna take away his license to kill?

 

 
Through a Glass Darkly: Sifting Myth and Fact on Iran
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 19 June 2009 23:32
Iranian academic Ali Alizadeh points out an important fact missed by many who see nothing but sinister American manipulation behind the post-election protests in Iran: that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's economic policies -- touted as a possible reason that he expanded his vote total by 10 million over the last election, a bounty ostensibly harvested from the grateful rural poor -- are actually much more in line with his old nemesis, George W. Bush. As Alizadeh notes (via the Angry Arab):

It needs to be emphasized that Ahmadinejad’s economic policies are to the right of the IMF: cutting subsidies in a radical way, more privatization than any other post-79 government (by selling the country to the Revolutionary Guards) and an inflation and unemployment rate which have brought the low-income sections of the society to their knees.

The trope of a singular American hand guiding a million-headed puppet in the streets of Iran seems a bit odd anyway. There is of course little doubt that the imperial security apparat will try to make hay from the turmoil; but the American militarists have already made it clear that they prefer a victory for the incumbent Ahmadinejad; after all, without a readily demonizable figure as the public face of Iran, their unquenchable lust for conquering Persia becomes that much harder to consummate. As Steven Zunes notes, the grim-visaged rightwing avenger Daniel Pipes spelled it out in a recent jowl-flapping at the Heritage Foundation, proclaiming that "he would vote for Ahmadinejad if he could, because he prefers 'an enemy who is forthright, blatant, obvious.'" (Well, don't we all? And as with so many other enemies of peace, liberty -- and sanity -- Pipes himself fits the bill quite admirably. One always knows exactly where that po-faced squeaker of pips is coming from.)

And as we noted here late last month, the American security apparat seemed to be intervening on Ahmadinejad's behalf, with a stepped-up terrorist campaign by the militant Sunni extremist group, Jundullah -- just one of the terrorist organizations inside Iran now on the American payroll:

...the attack on the Zahedan mosque serves a confluence of interests. For it comes not only at a strategic location but also at a strategic time: just two weeks before the Iranian presidential election, with the hardline incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, facing a strong challenge from two reformist candidates.

Of course, the very last thing that the militarists in Washington and Israel want to see is the election of a moderate in Iran. They want -- and need -- Ahmadinejad, or someone just like him, so they can keep stoking the fires for war. A moderate president, more open to genuine negotiations, and much cooler in rhetoric than the loose-lipped Ahmadinejad, would be yet another blow to their long-term plans. Because the ultimate aim -- the only aim, really -- of the militarists' policy toward Iran is regime change. They don't care about "national security" or the "threat" from Iran's non-existent nuclear arsenal; they know that there is no threat whatsoever that Iran will attack Israel -- or even more ludicrously, the United States -- even if Tehran did have nukes. They don't care about the suffering of the Iranian people under a draconian, repressive and corrupt regime. They are not worried about Iran's "sponsorship of terrorism," for, as we've seen, the militarists thrive on -- when they are not actively fomenting -- the fear and anguish caused by terrorism. This fear is the grease that drives the ever-expanding war machine and 'justifies' its own ever-increasing draconian powers and corruption.

No, in the end, the sole aim of the militarist policy is to overthrow Iran's current political system and replace it with a regime that will bow to the hegemony of the United States and its regional deputy, Israel. There is no essential difference in aim or method between today's policy and that of 1953. (Except that the regional deputy in those days was Britain, not Israel.) What they want is compliance, access to resources and another strategic stronghold in the heart of the oil lands -- precisely what they wanted, and got, with the installation of the Shah and his corruption-ridden police state more than a half-century ago.... To lose a fear-raising (and fundraising!) asset like Ahmadinejad now would be a bitter disappointment.

And what better way for an incumbent president to stand tall before the voters than to rally the nation around him in the face of a horrible terrorist attack? A mosque full of Shiite worshippers, blown to pieces, with photos showing the blood of the innocent martyrs splattered on the ruined walls? This serves the interests of all the major players in the great geopolitical game: the Iranian hardliners, the American and Israeli militarists, the Jundullah extremists.

Moussavi -- a long-time paladin of Iran's ruling establishment, a conservative who was once a hardline prime minister himself, closely aligned with the Ayatollah Khomeini (America's own "Great Satan" of yore) -- is hardly the pliable stooge sought by the Potomac plotters. Of course, as we noted earlier this week, this fact doesn't necessarily make him a Jeffersonian hero of human liberty, either -- an Aung San Suu Kyi of Iran. The corporate media's portrayal of the Iranian uprising is indeed a lazy slotting of chaotic reality into neatly defined, "color revolution" stereotypes; but their misjudgment needn't be compounded a comparable stereotyping the other way. (The corporate media's false depiction of Moussavi as a "liberal" has ironically been seized upon by some American dissidents as proof that he is a color-revolution cut-out for Western interests, even, as some have described him, an "Iranian Ahmad Chalabi." If he were a returned exile who had spent years in the pay of the CIA, that might be true. But that is not the case. Again, it is no endorsement of Moussavi to point out these facts.) As Alizadeh notes, the crowds appearing at the protest rallies are

made of religious women covered in chador walking hand in hand with westernized young women who are usually prosecuted for their appearance; veterans of war in wheelchairs next to young boys for whom the Iran-Iraq war is only an anecdote; and working class who have sacrificed their daily salary to participate in the rally next to the middle classes. This story is not limited to Tehran. Shiraz (two confirmed dead), Isfahan (one confirmed dead), Tabriz, Oroomiye are also part of this movement and other cities are joining with a predictable delay (as it was the case in 79 revolution).

As I noted the other day, no one knows how the current turmoil will turn out -- or how the various power-players, including the many elite factions inside Iran and the many vultures circling outside, will attempt to mold the chaotic reality to their own advantage. But it seems to me that the circumstances in Iran cannot be forced into any simplistic template. For while it is true that the American imperium does indeed seek to exert its influence everywhere and always, it does not and cannot engender and control every event on earth. We risk partaking of the courtiers' own hubris -- and their mythology of American exceptionalism -- if we make that automatic assumption.
 
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