Empire Burlesque
Sacred Parishes: Draining the Poison Out of This Whole Land
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 14 October 2013 15:49

Just got back from an epic journey through the old Confederacy to carry out a final, filial duty, and I recollected this piece from days gone by, days before the filial became so final.

I want to revel with the dead and gone
Down there where life itself becomes a song....

 

 

 
Chemistry Equations: the Pious Virtuosos of Violence
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 11 October 2013 00:44

Here is my most recent column for the print version of CounterPunch, which was published last month.

***

As we all know, the use of chemical weapons is the most heinous crime that can be committed by a brutal, aggressive government: a brazen act of state terror, an offense against all humanity. Those who perpetrate such actions put themselves beyond the pale; indeed, they rank themselves with Hitler himself, as a succession of America’s highest officials has pointed out in recent weeks.

And that’s why the details of the infamous chemical attack in the Middle East resonate with stark moral horror. Especially chilling are the reports of some of the soldiers who actually took part in the chemical attacks, coming forward to offer evidence after the regime they served denied its obvious crime.  As one regime soldier noted, the chemical weapon involved in the attack “burns bodies; it melts the flesh all the way down to the bone. I saw the burned bodies of women and children. Anyone within a radius of 150 meters is done for.”

A document produced by the regime’s own military said the chemical weapon “proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions and as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents … We [were] using [chemical weapons] to flush them out and high explosives to take them out.” Another soldier involved in these chemical weapons attacks said: "There is no way you can use [it] without forming a deadly chemical cloud that kills everything within a tenth of a mile in all directions from where it hits. Obviously, the effect of such deadly clouds weren't just psychological in nature."

But of course, chemical weapons were only part of this attack on the rebel position – an attack absolutely replete with war crimes violations. Before assaulting the civilian quadrants with a barrage of chemical weapons, the regime cut off the city’s water and power supplies and food deliveries. One of the first moves in the attack was the destruction of medical centers; indeed, 20 doctors were killed, along with their patients – innocent women and children – in a savage blitz before the chemical weapons were unleashed. But why would even a regime full of rogue barbarians attack a hospital?  It’s simple, one of the regime’s “information warfare specialists” told the New York Times: hospitals can be used as “propaganda centers” by rebels trying to stir up sympathy for their cause.

Meanwhile, the BBC managed to penetrate the rebel-held areas and report on the results of the combined attack of chemical and conventional weapons:

“There are more and more dead bodies on the street, and the stench is unbearable … There are dead women and children lying on the streets. People are getting weaker from hunger. Many are dying from their injuries because there is no medical help left in the city whatsoever. Some families have started burying their dead in their gardens.”

By the end of the attack, vast areas lay in ruins. More than 36,000 homes were destroyed, along with 60 schools and 65 mosques and religious centers. Medical workers estimated the civilian death count at between 4,000 and 6,000, which, the Guardian noted, was “a proportionally higher death rate than in Coventry and London during the Blitz.”

As both President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have said so eloquently, those responsible for such a crime must be punished. To look away from such an atrocity, to fail to hold those responsible to account would be, as these eminent statesmen tell us, a crime in itself, tantamount to ignoring the Holocaust or the massacres in Rwanda …

But of course the crimes enumerated above did not take place in Syria in August of 2013. They were part of America’s Guernica-like destruction of the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004: one of the most egregious – and most sustained – war crimes since the Second World War. The widespread use of chemical weapons in the decimation of Fallujah – including the flesh-eating horror of white phosphorous, the future-maiming deployment of depleted uranium and other chemicals, which have led to an epidemic of birth defects in the region – is well-documented and, after years of outright lies and evasions, now cheerfully admitted by the United States government. Using these chemical weapons – along with good old-fashioned mass-murdering conventional munitions just like mother used to make – the United States government slaughtered thousands upon thousands of innocent people in its berserker outburst against Fallujah.

It goes without saying that the “international community” did not rise up in righteous indignation at this use of chemical weapons to slaughter far more civilians than even the Obama Administration’s wild exaggerations are claiming in Syria. It goes without saying that the drone-bombing Peace Laureate and his lantern-jawed patrician at Foggy Bottom have signally failed to criticize – much less prosecute! – the perpetrators of the Fallujah war crime, or make the slightest change in the system of military aggression that produced it. Instead they have expanded and entrenched this system at every turn, extending it far beyond the wildest dreams of Bush and Cheney.

Whatever his manifest crimes (and alleged exacerbations), Bashar Assad will remain a hapless piker next to these pious virtuosos of mass-murdering violence.

 
Ham and Iron: America's Middle East Policies in Action
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 20 September 2013 14:01

1.
As I've said many times before, anyone who wants trenchant insights into the realities of the Middle East -- including its ever-fraught interactions with the Potomac Imperium --  should be reading "the Angry Arab," As'ad AbuKhalil. Just today, AbuKhalil provides two telling examples of the Imperium's arrogance, indifference and -- in the case of John Kerry -- murderous ignorance in its ham-handed and iron-fisted attempts to bend the region and its peoples to the Domination Agenda of our American elites.

First, AbuKhalil passes along a report from a correspondent on the latest manifestation of our noble Nobel Peace Prize Laureate's attempts to foster democracy and freedom in Bahrain. As you might recall, the noble laureate's noble allies, the democratic, freedom-loving, head-chopping, woman-hating Saudi royals, sent troops into Bahrain in 2011 to help that nation's royal ruler -- a fellow sectarian -- put down an outbreak of Arab Spring fever and violently crush a popular movement that was seeking, well, more freedom and democracy and opportunity.

Once this uppityness had been squelched -- in the usual ham-handed, iron-fisted fashion -- the United States brokered a "national dialogue" between opposition leaders and the regime, which many promises of "reform" coming from the latter. It goes without saying that there has been precious little "reform" produced by this process, which has dragged on month after month. It has however produced the inevitable radicalization among some opposition groups who, seeing the continuing ineffectiveness of "working within the system" have turned increasingly to violent protest.

(Of course, one of the main features of US foreign policy in our Age of Terror has been its remarkable ability to foment radical extremism and violent retaliation to the machinations of the Imperium and its satraps. One might be even be tempted to call this a feature, not a bug, of the Terror War system, producing as it does copious amounts of fear and chaos to "justify" an ever-increasing -- and ever-more profitable -- aggrandizement of elite power.)

This week, the Laureate's friends in Bahrain arrested one of the leading opposition figures taking part in the "national dialogue," Khalil Al Marzooq. The charges were specious, to say the least. As the Washington Post reports,  Al Marzooq was charged with "inciting terrorism" for the heinous crime of waving the flag of a militant group -- in order to outline the difference between their violence and the peaceful approach of his party, Al-Wefaq. As the Post notes, Al Marzooq called on the crowd attending his speech to "persist with your nonviolence."

This then is the "terrorist" that Bahrain's leaders have arrested. In response -- as you might expect, if you were an ordinary person with common sense -- Al-Wefaq and other opposition parties have withdrawn from the "national dialogue" in protest at this repression. How can you have a good-faith dialogue when one side is arresting the very people it is meant to be in dialogue with? You can't, of course.

So who is to blame for stopping the "dialogue," and what needs to be done to restart it?  Well, if you were an ordinary person with common sense, the answer to these questions would be obvious. The Bahraini regime broke off the dialogue by arresting Al Marzooq on trumped-up charges; the way to resume the dialogue is to release him from prison.

But this has not been the response of the most enlightened and progressive Administration ever to grace the greensward of the White House. No, this is the response of Barack Obama (or rather, one of his mouthpieces): the Administration is "disappointed that opposition groups have suspended their involvement in the national dialogue" and urges them to sit back down with the regime that is arresting them. And in return … well, nothing.

AbuKhalil posts the long, surreal exchange between increasingly incredulous reporters and the Obama mouthpiece who adamantly refuses to express even the slightest tincture of disappointment with the Bahraini regime for arresting a non-violent opposition leader for advocating non-violence. Over and over, the reporters give her the opportunity to be "even-handed," to claim the vaunted "center ground" that is the holy grail of Washington PR imagery. But she will have none of it. All she will say is that the Administration will "raise the case" with its pals in Bahrain.

But the reporters spot a flaw in this empty phraseology: "It's important to know whether you're going to call on the Bahrainis to release this guy, or whether you think that this arrest was justified. … You could just go and say, 'Hey, good job, well done, we think that was a really good move.'"

But the mouthpiece will not be drawn. "I'm not going to preview that with you."

AbuKhalil's Bahraini correspondent sums it up well:

"The US strategy for dealing with Bahrain is quite clear: the goal is to keep the situation under control. So long as the opposition is taking part in some dialogue, it is under control. Withdrawing means that they are back on the streets. … Basically, as a people, we are not allowed to resist, in any way - whether it is by protesting, or boycotting a sham dialogue that is not even with the regime because of an arrest."

Yes, that is pretty much the point of the Imperium's policies across the board: "You are not allowed to resist." Even non-violently. Even in the name of freedom. "You are not allowed to resist."

2.
But for a chilling glimpse of the mindset of these Masters of the Universe, the dominance junkies who direct the affairs of the world's most armed and dangerous state, AbuKhalil points us to an overlooked remark buried deep beneath the slabs of dross dumped by John Kerry during a press appearance this week in Paris.

Kerry is asked by a French questioner about the risk to religious minorities -- particularly Christians -- from the American-backed rebels in Syria. The questioner notes that "two bishops of Aleppo … were kidnapped today [by a sectarian rebel group]" and "Maaoula, an all-Christian city without any strategic interest, has been invaded by Islamist rebels." The questioner then provides a striking larger context to the question, saying that "one of the main results, unfortunately, of seven years of American and English occupation of Iraq is the decimation and exile of most Christians in Iraq." Given all this, Kerry is asked what "strategic plan" the United States has for protecting religious minorities from the wrath of sectarian extremists it is now supporting in Syria.

Kerry unlimbers his lantern jaw to deny the undeniable historical fact that the American-led invasion of Iraq led directly to the near-total destruction of Iraq's Christian community. This is simply a plain, easily proven piece of objective data. There was a substantial Christian community before the war; there is not one now. Many Christians were killed by sectarian violence; many, many more have fled. But Kerry was long ago lost to truth and honor in his decades-long climb up the greasy pole, where he now wriggles, grease-smeared, regurgitating imperial spin. He replies: "I don’t agree with your premise that the Christian – what has happened to the Christians is the consequence of what happened by the events in Iraq."

This is as asinine and ignorant as declaring that the sun did not rise in the east this morning, or that, in fact, two and two do not make four. But this is the kind of witless drivel that our most honored and august leaders are forced to spew out when they are out on the circuit, peddling the lies of empire.

But Kerry is trying to make a larger point. He then launches what is in effect a defense of the Terror War in general, whose 'justification,' as we noted, is the threat of radical Islam (which, as noted, the Terror War itself foments with marvellous potency). The threat is not just to Christians in Syria, says Kerry -- burying in a blizzard of generality the specific question about specific people in a specific place; all religious minorities are being threatened by the rise of radical Islam, he says, with a shout-out to Afghanistan, where the noble Nobelist and his righteous forces are still fighting the good fight.

Kerry then goes on to say: "It is not just the Christians who have been impacted. It is the Druze, it is the Ismaili, it is all of the minorities. And the irony is the Alawi themselves are a minority doing this to these other people for control, for Assad’s control."

Here Kerry speaks precisely in the language used by the most radical Sunni extremists in the Syrian civil war -- extremists who are murdering people simply because they are Alawites, who continually call for the eradication of the Alawite 'infidels.' Here, Kerry identifies every Alawite in Syria as a brutal persecutor of religious minorities -- they are all evil, all supporting the evil Assad, all of them are "doing it" to other religious minorities, "for Assad's control"

What is the difference in this statement and that of some slobbering anti-Semite who points to some action by the Israeli government and condemns all Jews as evil? The violent extremists in Syria equate all Alawites with the regime, thereby justifying violence against them. And Kerry here aligns himself completely with this mindset.

It is of course a brazen, vicious, demonstrable lie to say that all Alawites are persecuting other religious minorities "for Assad's control." It is just as false as saying all Jews support the actions of the Israeli government -- or indeed, that all Christians supported the invasion of Iraq, because the regime that launched the regime was led and dominated by Christians. It's just as demonstrably false as denying that two plus two equals for, or that the American invasion of Iraq did not lead directly to the decimation of that country's Christian population.

But such is the quality of mind required to reach the top rungs of the Imperium: brutal, witless, dishonest, ignorant, lacking all nuance, all common sense, all human feeling. A mind that mindlessly disgorges murderous tropes and blatant nonsense in order to obscure, frantically, at any cost, the cynical intentions and the monstrous effects of the Imperium's Domination Machine.

 
Dead Zone: The Deeper Poison Beyond the NSA Revelations
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 01 October 2013 09:47

"Thanks for a nation of finks"
-- William Burroughs

As the days and weeks go crawling by, bringing now and then another little drib, another little drab of revelations from the storehouse of secrets that Edward Snowden pried loose from the National Security Agency, the story turns slowly but surely from one of scandal and outrage bidding fair to trouble the well-cushioned bottoms on the seat of power to a dimmed, drained subject of "debate" amongst powerful insiders.

Indeed, we are now told by the dolers of the dribs that "debate" was the sole purpose of the exercise in the first place. Snowden was driven into permanent exile, his life and liberty put at constant risk, solely to provoke a "debate" in the national power structure, a conversation among the cognoscenti of political and media elites that will lead, eventually, to the holy grail of "reform." Naturally, this debate -- and the revelations themselves -- must be kept within careful parameters; nothing that might actually damage the "national security" operations of the brutal, bristling, maniacally militarized, quasi-Stasi, Gorgon-staring imperial state is to be allowed into the "conversation" our betters are now having among themselves on how best to bring a modicum of restraint and oversight to the NSA's all-pervading surveillance. (For more on this, see 'Oligarchs Approve the NSA Debate.')

"Thanks for a country where
nobody's allowed to mind his
own business."


But put this aside for now. And put aside the fact that this slow drip-feed of carefully curated stories has come to seem more like an inoculation than a revelation, inurring people to the shock with small doses which, over time, simply fade into the background noise, become part of the new normal -- while allowing the Security Apparat itself plenty of time to develop antibodies -- defenses, diversions -- to diffuse the impact of what could have been a powerful, multi-sided shock to the system.

Put all that aside, and let us grant, for a moment, the premise that the "debate" provoked by the Snowden revelations will indeed lead not to the usual application of skin-deep PR cosmetics but to a true "reform" of NSA practices: a more careful delineation of the scope of the agency's activities, and more rigorous oversight by a few select members of Congress, who will, in this case, for the first time in many decades, actually carry out their responsibilities.

In other words, let us grant that every dream of the debate-provokers comes true and the NSA is genuinely "reformed." The question then follows: so what?

As Arthur Silber points out in a powerful new essay, the NSA is only one small cog in a vast machinery of repression that already, right now, possesses -- and exercises -- an overwhelming level of control over the liberties and lives of every US citizen (not to mention the billions of meaningless non-entities and pieces of drone fodder who live beyond the sacred bounds of the Homeland). What's more, a preponderance of this repressive machinery is already "transparent" -- openly acknowledged, even advertised by the ruling elite in many cases.

What's more, almost all of this machinery is "legal" in one way or another. As Silber noted years ago, when a very similar "debate" was being carried out by "serious" people seeking "reform" after another set of revelations about government spying emerged:

With regard to FISA and issues of liberty and privacy in general, let me now ask you a few questions. How long do you think it would take you to identify, read, and understand every provision in every statute, regulation and other authorization that gives surveillance powers to the government? Furthermore: Would you know each and every place to look, or how to determine what those places were? Additionally: With a staff of 20, or 50, could it be done, even if you were provided with limitless time and limitless funds?

I submit to you, without qualification or reservation, that you could not do it. No one could. Consider that most legislators in Washington aren't even aware of much of what's in the bills they so eagerly vote on. Consider the prohibitive length and complexity of legislation that comes before Congress. That's true of what is going on now. If you tried to track down every piece of legislation, every regulation, every administrative agency ruling, and every other pronouncement still in effect that allows the government to surveil and otherwise keep track of you, me, the guy down the street, the woman next door and the man in the moon, based on alleged concern with and the need to protect us all from the ravages of drugs, "illicit" sex, any and all other suspected criminal activity and, natch, terrorism, how on God's green earth would you do it? You couldn't.

As he concludes today:

Certainly with regard to surveillance, the State has already granted itself entirely comprehensive, indeed omnipotent, powers. I guarantee you that, buried in the hideous bowels of all the laws, regulations, agency rulings, etc. and so on unto the ends of time, that give the State surveillance powers, the State has the power to spy on anything, anywhere, anytime, for any reason it manufactures, or for no reason at all.

Yes, do you remember that controversial FISA bill noted above? Remember the fierce "debate" after the New York Times revealed the extent of the Bush Administration's warrantless surveillance programs? Remember the "reform" this debate led to, when crusading presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (breaking his solemn word) voted for a "reform" bill in 2008 that greatly expanded the reach of the surveillance system -- in effect, legalizing Bush's illegalities -- while absolving the telecom corporations of their illegal acquiescence to these crimes? Remember all that? How did that turn out, all that "debate" and "reform" and working within the system? Did it curtail in any way, did it slow to any degree, the relentless expansion of our Stasi-like security apparatus?

Are we really to believe that getting a "debate" going among these same people, and/or the same types of people (products and beneficiaries of our militarized, super-profitable, ego-inflating 'national security' system), will actually produce a different result?

As Silber says, the NSA revelations do have value, shining a light on a pernicious corner of the Security Apparat's sinister operation. But he goes on to note:

To focus on the NSA as if that agency is the only or even a major source of the problem is entirely wrong. The NSA is only one source of the rot that is spread across numerous agencies and programs, the rot that has infected our government at every level (federal, state, county, municipal, etc.) and in countless ways. But the unique and restricted focus on the NSA is also an enormous boon to the State; it is largely the result of our culture's idiotic and myopic focus on the "hot" story of the moment, devoid of history, of context, of everything that should inform our understanding of the issues involved. It creates and supports the view that, if only we "fix" the NSA, then a significant part of the problem will be solved. But that is flatly untrue. As I already noted, you could eliminate the NSA entirely this very minute, and it wouldn't make a damned bit of difference. But the heightened focus on the NSA, while ignoring all the other agencies and programs involved in similar and even identical activities, leads directly to the "solution" that will make the State writhe in ecstasy. Congress will have some hearings, and they will provide for some "oversight" and "accountability," and most people, including most of the State's critics, will herald the great triumph of "the people" and "democracy." Meanwhile, the State will continue doing exactly what it was doing before.

2.
"Thanks for the American dream,
To vulgarize and to falsify until
the bare lies shine through."


Silber's latest post gives a chilling example of just how meaningless even a genuine "reform" of the NSA would be. He sets down what could almost be a dystopian horror story from some adventure mag of the 1950s: the tale of an America under the boot of a tyrannical elite that lavishes its obedient insiders with perks and protection while abandoning the rest of the rabble to ravages of fate:

Imagine that there is a special class of American citizens. This special class is made up of individuals from private business, in fields such as agriculture, finance, the internet, academia, and utility companies. These people have certain responsibilities and, in exchange, they are granted certain privileges. These people are dedicated to providing information that, in their view, might be related in some way to possible threats to "national security." They are encouraged to report all such information they may come across, including information about their fellow employees. Imagine that there are tens of thousands of such "special" people, spread across the entire United States. ...

For their diligent work, members of the special class are given advance "secret" warnings about terrorist threats, before the general public learns of them (and sometimes even before elected officials). These special individuals receive "almost daily updates" on threats "emanating from both domestic sources and overseas." These special people enjoy being "special." They "are happy to be in the know." In the event that communications networks are seriously disrupted, this special class will be able to get phone calls and internet messages through when most people can't.

These special individuals also have specified roles when martial law is declared. That's what the State has communicated to them: when martial law is declared, not if. These people will be "expected to share all [their] resources," and to protect any parts of the "critical infrastructure" to which they have access. In return, they will have "the ability to travel in restricted areas and to get people out."

When martial law is declared, these special individuals are granted one further power. They will be expected "to protect [their] portion of the infrastructure." If necessary, the State expects them to use deadly force to do so. Because these are very special people, the State has told them that, should they use deadly force, they will not be prosecuted.

Imagine all that. Would such a state of affairs trouble you? Do you think it would be a cause for concern that the State employed an army of "private" Americans to be its spies in businesses of every kind, perhaps including the business where you work? Would it bother you that the State has deputized tens of thousands of otherwise "ordinary" Americans to be murderers when martial law is declared -- murderers who are given an advance blank check for their killings?

But you don't need to imagine any of this. All of this is true, and this program came into existence in 1996. The program is called InfraGard, and I wrote it about more than five years ago. As of February 2012, InfraGard had more than 45,000 members; roughly 7,000 new members join each year. There are at least 86 chapters spread across the United States.

Please note the following, as it is of special importance. Information about InfraGard has been easily available for years. ... The government isn't trying to keep InfraGard a secret. To the contrary, the State is enormously pleased with this program. It is more than happy to make its operations known -- and many Americans are very happy to join it. Most other Americans appear not to care about InfraGard at all -- for it is almost never talked or written about. You should find that profoundly disturbing. The State maintains a private army of tens of thousands of spies -- spies who are deputized to kill other people, possibly including you -- and no one seems to give a damn.

Here we come to the crux of the matter. The power of unlimited surveillance, as hideous and repulsive and inhuman as it is, still pales next to the greater power which our elites have granted to themselves: to kill -- without warning, without warrant, without trial, without mercy -- anyone they choose to kill. I have written about this astonishing situation reality many times (my first column on the subject appeared in November 2001), as has Silber, for years (and again, eloquently, in his latest piece). 

But let's set it out clearly again: the American government has already reserved the right to kill anyone on the planet, including American citizens, at the arbitrary order of the President -- or any one of the many people he has deputized to make such decisions on their own. We live -- literally, entirely -- at the pleasure of the state, which can kill us at any time it likes, for whatever reason it decides is sufficient.

This was "secret" during the Bush Administration, although it was deliberately made known through government leaks to mainstream media outlets. Under Obama, of course, the death squad operation has been openly acknowledged, with his own national security advisor cheerfully discussing it under oath before Congress. This "transparency" -- which, after all, is the goal of every "reformer" of the system -- came after the White House leaked details of the program for a very favorable story in the New York Times, which portrayed the president and his death squad henchmen as deeply moral men struggling mightily through dark nights of the soul before parking their asses on a couple of couches every Tuesday and going through lists of people to be murdered, like Stalin and Beria in the Kremlin.

This arbitrary power to murder is the central political reality of our time; it is the bedrock, the foundation, of the American state as it actually exists today. The NSA surveillance program is merely an outgrowth -- a natural product -- of this system. Even if by some miracle, you could nip this single bud, the tree will continue to bring forth an abundance of poisonous fruit.

"Thanks for the last and greatest
betrayal of the last and greatest
of human dreams."

 
The Dreams: Hidden Reefs and Sounding Brass
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 16 September 2013 00:20


An old, old story, and fresh as the day's news: "I knew a precious thing had cracked, and could not be put right": Sounding Brass.

Also, in light of the recent outpouring of NSA revelations, a reprise of a Cassandraish prevision penned some time ago:

We know your number/We read your mail/From outer space/We can follow your trail/But don't you worry/Don't you fret/Our social networks/Ain't hurt nobody yet....

 
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