Empire Burlesque
Impossible Desire: Depthless Dreams, Tropes of Control
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 20 December 2013 11:33

You can’t leave the bones that you were born with
You’re trapped in the world that you’ve been torn with …


Middle-aged crazies, unrequited lovers, the repressed, the refused, the confused, the misplaced, living in dreams, personal, political … feeling the heat, never touching the fire …. For such as these, herewith the draft of a brief, syncopated essay.


*Artwork: Untitled, by Lonnie Atwood, 1962

 
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.
 
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?

 

 
Distant Mirror: A Nation of Patsies, 50 Years On
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Wednesday, 18 December 2013 10:52

*Below is a slightly revised version of my column in the latest print version of CounterPunch magazine.

Alex Cox was in full flow, holding forth across the candle-glittered wine glasses and fine china plates. The two of us had more or less gate-crashed High Table at an Oxford college. He had been artist-in-residence there for a year, but that year had passed and it was not entirely clear that he retained his dining privileges -- much less the right to invite a hick from the sticks for a free feed with the Fellows. But there we were.

He was in town trying to drum up money for a series of films based on Jacobean plays; I was, very briefly and completely ineffectually, helping him. Ignoring High Table protocol, which dictates a change of conversational partner with each new course, Alex kept up his passionate dialogue with me. He was talking of 9/11, then just a couple of years past, and how the official story was full of holes.

It’s still full of holes, of course. All the “official” stories -- 9/11, both Iraq Wars, Iran-Contra, Libya, Kosovo, the Osama rub-out, on and on -- are full of holes. Holes, evasions, misdirections, outright lies: black oil-smoke to hide the enormity and ubiquity of state crime, which each scandal and catastrophe threatens to expose, whether or not there is some direct official culpability in the particular matter at hand. The whole business of empire is carried out in a rolling, heaving hairball of infinitely tangled connections between the upperworld and the underworld, where ruthless factions use, betray, fight and ally with each other in ever-changing combinations. Any sliver of light falling anywhere on the hairball must be snuffed out immediately, lest it illuminate the true nature of the system.

I don’t remember us drawing any profound conclusions between the many courses that night. But the scorching skepticism we shared toward official stories had its origin in the same place, in the mother of all hole-ridden, oil-smoked hairballs: the Kennedy assassination.

As Cox notes in his new book, The President and the Provocateur, he was 8 years old when John Kennedy was killed. (I was five, but I remember it too; or rather, what I most remember was not Kennedy's assassination but Oswald's, being reported on our grainy black-and-white television as we came home from church.) Even then, Cox was struck by the strangeness of the event; shortly after reporting Kennedy was shot, he writes, the BBC suddenly went off the air for several hours -- an unprecedented event. Afterwards, the entire bipartisan British Establishment, mimicking its American counterpart, closed ranks around the official account, locking out the questions even of such redoubtable figures as Bertrand Russell. It was only a few years later that Cox ran across a pamphlet voicing the credible concerns that Russell and others had raised about the Warren Commission's obvious oil-smoke job -- a serendipitous find that set him off on the decades of diligent research summed up in the book. (And on its accompanying website here.)

Cox synthesizes a vast corpus of investigation into the hydra-headed morass of the Kennedy murder to succinct and powerful effect. With a director’s eye for cinematic jump cuts and well-paced narrative, Cox juxtaposes the parallel lives of Kennedy and Oswald as they race toward their joint rendezvous with death in Dallas in November 1963. Cox is especially good at laying out Oswald’s remarkable trajectory, which was surrounded in still-impenetrable murk even from his earliest years. (The “official story” has young Oswald attending two different junior highs in two different states at the same time, for example.)  Oswald’s innumerable contacts with the “National Security State” are laid bare – including the fact that this brazen ‘defector’ to the Soviets, who openly declared his intent to reveal state secrets (from his work in the U2 intelligence-gathering program), was not only allowed back into the United States, but was even given a loan by the government to cover the expenses of his return.

Meanwhile, Kennedy is shown dealing with open insubordination from the military-industrial-security complex, enduring a level of hatred and vitriol from these armed and dangerous factions that makes the Tea Party look like purring pussycats – even as he cravenly appeased them at nearly every turn. Cox is careful not to paint JFK in falsely heroic colors; his Kennedy is no liberal saint brought down by evildoers, but an active accomplice in imperial crime who, toward the end of his short life, was -- perhaps – just beginning to grasp the enormity of the devil’s bargain he had made to win power.

Cox comes to no ultimate conclusions. Among the many power factions that wanted Kennedy removed, Cox seems to incline toward his mentor Mark Lane’s view that the CIA was likely a prime mover. But whatever else the mysterious Oswald might have been (including, without doubt, an agent or asset of the security state), the book’s skillful mastering of the facts makes it clear that he was, in the end, exactly what he claimed to be after his arrest: a patsy.

And so are we all, fifty years on: a nation of patsies, still being played by the brutal power-gamers of our unlovely imperium.

 
Shackles and Chains: Detroit as a Template for Democracy's Destruction
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 18 November 2013 16:56

Glen Ford brings the heat, and the truth, about one of the most important -- and unreported -- stories of our day: the shackling of Detroit. Over the past year, we have seen the citizens of a major American city openly, 'legally' stripped of the right to govern themselves and forced into a form of indentured servitude in order to enrich a small predatory elite whose own machinations had driven the city to ruin.

It is an extraordinary -- and sickening -- spectacle. Detroit is now under the control of an unelected "Emergency Financial Manager," Kevyn Jones, forcibly imposed by the state governor, with all real power -- the power of the purse -- placed in his hands. And Jones is wielding this power with ruthless efficiency.

As Ford notes, Detroit is being looted and disenfranchised without the slightest peep from the great compassionate progressive community organizer in the White House. And 'white' is the operative word here; Detroit's population is more than 80 percent black, but the first African-American president will not lift a finger to help the city -- although he was more than happy to lavish trillions of dollars in bailouts on Wall Street (whose population is, shall we say, somewhat less than 80 percent black).

But Ford makes the salient point that Detroit's plight goes far beyond race. The city is in fact a test case, a template, a dry run for the extinguishing of any kind of genuine democracy across the land, and its replacement by overt corporate control. You should read the whole piece, but here are a few telling excerpts:

The “restructuring” of Detroit through bankruptcy is the model for drastically downsizing what’s left of democracy in all of urban America. Already, Black voting rights have been rendered null and void “on a scale not seen since the death of Reconstruction.” However, the legal precedents that are being established in mostly Black Detroit will obtain throughout the nation…..

The post-Civil Rights era vision to consolidate Black Power through purely electoral means in the major cities of the United States has all but evaporated. Wherever possible, capital has reclaimed the urban centers for upscale white habitation, most often with the active collaboration of a venal Black political class concerned primarily with its own upward mobility …

Some cities, including New Orleans and Detroit, were, in the words of Public Enemy, “too Black, too strong,” with African American majorities of 67 and 80-plus percent, respectively. Hurricane Katrina brought those numbers down to manageable size, creating the conditions for near-instantaneous Disaster Capitalist renaissance, in 2005. That same year, in Detroit, the so-called “Hip Hop Mayor,” Kwame Kilpatrick – actually the spoiled, morally degenerate spawn of the historical Black Misleadership Class – strapped the Black metropolis into a suicide vest wired with interest rate swap derivatives. Similar devices are embedded in the fiscal structures of cities around the country, ready to bring down what’s left of home rule so that capital can feast on the public space, unconstrained. …

The scheme is general, part of the worldwide offensive by Wall Street and its global annexes to absorb the public sphere wherever it exists, reducing humanity to total dependence on the dictatorship of money. In the United States, the finance bourgeoisie’s bacchanal is, like all American politics, organized along racial lines – the perfect, crowd-pleasing cover for the destruction of Black voting rights on a scale not seen since the death of Reconstruction. In place of an already straitjacketed, comprador-dominated home rule, Michigan’s Republican Gov. Rick Snyder governor imposed his own regent in the noxious form of Emergency Financial Manager Kevyn Orr, who was until this year a bankruptcy attorney from the multinational firm Jones Day, which is the mercenary legal arm for much of the Fortune 500, including most of the banks that have conspired to destroy Detroit’s tax base. …

Earlier in the week, Judge Rhodes rejected the NAACP’s challenge to Kevyn Orr’s Emergency Financial Manager powers on the grounds that they unconstitutionally disenfranchise a majority of Michigan’s African American citizens. The judge said the public has a more “substantial interest in the speedy and efficient resolution of a municipal bankruptcy case that affects as many people and institutions, and as much of the local, regional and national economy, as this case does.” He said the NAACP could continue its suit after the bankruptcy is done.

In other words, the people’s right to vote is secondary to working out the financial claims brought by derivatives-wielding bankers. If the people’s franchise stands in the way of the Lords of Capital’s right to “restructure” Detroit to their liking, then the franchise must be rendered inoperative, at least until the spoils have been divvyed up – that is, until all the issues that matter have been made moot.

A great deal has been mooted in Detroit, whose fate will become the model, the legal precedent, for the rest of the country. We are witnessing the death of, not just dreams of urban Black power, but of previous notions of American democracy, itself.

 
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