Empire Burlesque
Magnificent Valor
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Wednesday, 03 June 2009 21:33

As we prepare for an excursion beyond the reaches of Inner Blogolia, to strange realms and undiscovered countries from whose bourne no traveller returns -- for at least a few days -- we direct your attention to the musings of a youngish man known only as "The Grey Shield." Said Shield scampers in God's domain at the website Magnificent Valor, where lately he has entertained himself -- and, er, ourselves -- with an homage to the Master, S.J. Perelman.

So scoot on over there and give Mister Grey a gander. After all, in these petty, piping times, do we not need all the magnificent valor we can get?

 
Vision Quest: A Voice for Truth Needs Your Support
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Sunday, 23 March 2014 18:11

Arthur Silber continues to reel from crisis to crisis in his long battle with deteriorating health. Every few months, a new front opens, or else lingering ailments flair up with malevolent force. Right now, he is facing hundreds of dollars (at least) in bills to treat a serious eye ailment, while struggling to meet basic expenses for survival.

Silber, one of America's finest writers and political analysts, lives solely on contributions from readers of his blog. That he continues to write at all, through incessant physical pain and the many crushing burdens of life on the financial margins, is remarkable; that he writes at the level of excellence he constantly achieves, over and over, is genuinely mind-boggling. In a world drowning in tidal waves of falsehood pouring in from every side, we can ill afford to lose such a rare voice of living, human truth.

No oligarchs are paying his way, no parties, factions or foundations; Silber is sustained only by those who read and appreciate his work. If you are among that number -- and you certainly should be -- then please got to his site and give what you can, if you can.

 
Car Trouble: Tarnished Icons and Imaginary Friends
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Wednesday, 19 March 2014 00:37

(This is an expanded version of my most recent column in CounterPunch’s print magazine.)

O the horror, the horror. To see the "shameless descent" of the "one-time countercultural figurehead" -- who had made his name as a bold stylistic innovator and powerful voice of authenticity -- now reduced to a corporate shill, parading himself, hussy-like, in a national advertisement.

How it had it happened? He had been a rawboned kid from the Midwest, a seeker and searcher who burst out of the stifling confines of bourgeois life and made his way to the very heart of the revolutionary artistic ferment raging in one of the world's great centers of countercultural bohemia. He had thrived there, magpie-like, picking up tricks of the trade, learning from mentors, stealing riffs from rivals; a little seedy, a little needy, passionate, faithless, bursting with talent. In the end, he forged an original voice that made him a towering figure in American culture and one of the most famous people on the planet, influencing generations of artists who came after him. Every year, there was serious talk of him winning the Nobel Prize -- and now this.

There he was -- posturing for the camera, an aging, taxidermy caricature of his dynamic younger self. There were his words -- his own words! -- once regarded as blazons of truth, now gummed into dim banality just to push some product to the rubes.

Sad, surreal, shameless -- yes, who can forget that awful moment when they first opened their new copy of Life magazine and saw Ernest Hemingway's ad for Ballantine Ale?

Surely, all right-thinking people condemned this act of crass hucksterism, an ugly spectacle that cast a tainted shadow over all his earlier achievements -- which could now be seen merely as sly ploys on the way to the inevitable sell-out …



In fact, literary history does not record any such reaction to the 1951 ad. Or indeed, any reaction at all. (Except perhaps from John Steinbeck, who obviously thought, "How can I land me one of them Ballantine ads?" -- and did so a couple of years later.) But such has been the blowback in many quarters to Bob Dylan’s recent Super Bowl ad for Chrysler. In some ways, it’s sort of sweet; who knew Dylan could still touch such a nerve?  But mostly the imbroglio has itself been a “surreal tableau,” as one of its more scathing respondents called the ad. It’s as if an historical moment frozen in amber – the “Dylan/Judas sell-out to pop music” scandal of 1965 – has suddenly been melted by the Super Bowl klieg lights, releasing its undiluted fury into the present day.



Of course, people are free to despise Dylan for doing an ad, on whatever grounds they please: moral, political, philosophical, aesthetic. But reading the fresh shock and angry surprise of the denouncers, one has to wonder: where have they been for the past 50 years? For a full half a century, Dylan has been insisting that he is not a protest singer or a ‘countercultural figurehead’ or anything of the sort. And he has behaved accordingly. Where was the rage when he did a Cadillac commercial a couple of years ago? Or the lingerie ad before that? Or the Fender guitar ads he did at the height of his countercultural figureheadom in the mid-60s?



As a “Columbia recording artist” (which is how he is always introduced in concert), Dylan has been taking money from – and making money for – corporate interests since 1962. He is no more or less a “sell-out” in 2014 than he has been throughout his entire career, including his days as a folk singer. Again, dismiss him for that if you like. But why rage at his “betrayal” of a media-hyped, fantasized “countercultural figurehead role” that he has spent a long lifetime refusing? You’re not angry with Bob Dylan; you’re mad at an imaginary friend you’ve created in his image.



Dylan’s “shameful sell-out” has been contrasted with the moral integrity of Pete Seeger, who died just before the Chrysler commercial aired. Fair enough -- although Seeger himself didn’t mind appearing with Harry Belafonte last year after the latter’s “shameful descent” into corporate ads for Gap. Nor did Seeger scruple to sing for many years with Woody Guthrie, who lent his name and voice to many an advertisement – and once even let a tobacco company adapt one of his hard-travelin’ songs for a perky jingle. Nor did Seeger blanch at singing a song by Dylan – long after the little weasel had been hawking underwear and Cadillacs – in the only music video the folk patriarch ever made: a rendition of “Forever Young” for Amnesty International in 2012.

Maybe Seeger, in his wisdom, took a broader view of such matters than the angry Amberists.  Perhaps he didn’t dismiss an artist’s output or idealism or authenticity just because they did the occasional spot for commercial sponsors – the way Dylan hero Hank Williams did throughout his career: for Mother’s Best biscuit flour, for Haldacol (a snake-oil “health” tonic he pitched in a traveling commercial “caravan” that also featured Milton Berle, Jack Dempsey, Chico Marx and James Cagney), and many other concerns. At one point, Hank even styled himself “the Ol’ Syrup Sopper” in a campaign for a Shreveport syrup company.

In 2008, yet another Dylan TV ad appeared across Europe, although it apparently escaped the notice of the Amberists. This time the shameless huckster was shilling for … an international mission to “make water safe and clean for every human being living in this world” and head off the looming conflicts over resource scarcity due to climate change. Then the next year saw ads for his much-hooted Christmas album, with all proceeds, in perpetuity, going to food banks in the US and Europe; in the first year alone, Dylan’s contribution fed an estimated 1.4 million people in the U.S, according to the American charity involved.



And of course, long after he abandoned the progressive purity of “protest” music, for decades the tainted figurehead has kept popping up to sing for (or give his music to or donate concert profits to) a plethora of causes: in aid of Salvador Allende in his struggle against CIA subversion; for Bangladeshi flood victims; against apartheid; for Hurricane Carter; for inner city children in California; for handicapped children; for nuclear disarmament; for starving people at Live Aid; for ruined farmers at Farm Aid (inspired by a remark he made at Live Aid); for Amnesty International; for gun victims in Scotland; for typhoon victims in the Philippines; for tsunami victims in Japan; for earthquake victims in Haiti; for cancer research in the US; for cancer research in the UK; for literacy in Canada; for skate-board parks in low-income communities; for children in war zones … and perhaps more out there beyond a 10-minute Google search.



But all of this is obliterated by a two-minute commercial focused almost entirely on factory workers in America’s most economically ravaged city. Yes, how the mighty have fallen. Thank god we don’t have to listen to this sullied ol’ syrup sopper anymore. We can stay pure in our amber ... while the old man keeps rolling on, neither a figurehead or a spearhead or paragon or a hero, but nothing more or less than what he's always claimed to be: a singer of songs.

 
Rat's Alley: The Deadly Dance of the "War on Terror"
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Saturday, 22 March 2014 00:39

The "Global War on Terror" may have been semantically erased by the propagandists of the Obama Administration, but on the ground, it is still going on -- and still spawning a multititude of malevolent consequences, as Patrick Cockburn details in a powerful series of articles. Cockburn's look at the historical record doesn't begin with 9/11, of course; the fatal alliance between Washington and the most retrograde and repressive forms of Islam -- which gave rise to the Terror War and its present reality -- go back several decades. [The first three parts of the series are here, here and here.]

But as Cockburn rightly points out, the ostensible enemy that America's national security state is ostensibly fighting -- violent, hidebound, Sunni extremism -- is now more powerful and deadly than ever ... and has been made so at every turn by the actions of America's national security state.

Cockburn's series is a shattering read. Not much of it is new to anyone who has been paying the slightest attention to reality in the past 10 to 20 years, but it is still a very useful reiteration of what is really going on behind the torrent of blather and bullshit that constitutes our "public debate". Reading it, one can't help but think of those chilling lines from T.S. Eliot, which have echoed in my head for years as I've watched our bipartisan political (and imperial) elite lead us from disaster to disaster:

I think we are in rat's alley,
where dead men lost their bones.


Read it and weep -- if you have any tears left in you.

 
Change Agents: The Curious Case of the "Responsible" NSA Revelations
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 10 March 2014 00:54

Has it only been 10 months since Edward Snowden's NSA revelations changed the world? Can you even remember what the world was like, before he gave 50,000 -- no, 200,000 -- no, wait, 2 million-- secret documents to Glenn Greenwald: smoking guns that exposed Washington's global surveillance state, which far outstripped the wildest, wettest dreams of the Stasi, of Stalin, yea of Orwell himself?

Try to recall those dark days -- now long since banished, thank God! -- when the American imperium thrust its grubby hands and greedy eyes into every single digital pie available, scarfing up emails, URLs, locations, even webcam shots, of anybody and everybody, then storing them all in gargantuan data silos, to sift through and fondle for years on end. Remember that? Remember how this surveillance state, this über-Stasi, was put to the service of a regime that was actually going all over the world and murdering people -- without charges, without due process, without defense, without warning. Just circling the world, blowing up a wedding party here, a couple of teenagers there, a village, a funeral, a farm, an apartment block, day after day, week after week, year after year? Innocent people, "guilty" people; guilty of something or other, that is -- maybe just behaving in a "suspicious manner" in the eyes of unaccountable officials acting arbitrarily in secret, on the basis of screenshots sent by back by robots, and rumors and vendettas gathered, for pay, by secret agents.

Do you remember how this brutal, barbaric, ugly, inhuman regime would then go around the world condemning other nations for not being moral, holy, freedom-loving and strictly adherent to international law? Do you remember the base, sickening hypocrisy of it all? State murderers -- proud state murderers, murderers who would go before legislators and under oath to God Almighty swear how proud they were to be murdering people -- telling other nations how to order their affairs according to the principles of law and justice and human rights?

Isn't it wonderful how much has changed since those days, when we discovered the spine and musculature of the surveillance regime that undergirded this ghastly system of murder and corruption and domination?

What? What do you mean nothing's changed? What do you mean that this barbaric system is still firing on all cylinders? What do you mean that the surveillance state has not been crippled or even slowed for a single instant by all these world-changing revelations? What are you saying? That those who facilitated the exposure of the NSA documents, like Greenwald, are now working for techno-oligarchs who fund rapacious, elite-enriching, regime-changing "philanthropic" enterprises all over the world? Whose companies actually helped strangulate Wikileaks in its greatest hour of need by cutting off its venues of funding?

Are you trying to tell me that even Snowden himself -- who risked so much to bring these crimes to light -- now declares forthrightly "that spying serves a vital purpose and must continue"? That he has taken great pains to declare that his incendiary material should only be "safely disclosed to responsible journalists in coordination with government stakeholders," as Arthur Silber pointedly points out? In coordination with "government stakeholders?" The same "government stakeholders" who are murdering people around the world and sticking their webcams into our underwear? Is that what you're trying to tell me?

What next? Are you going to tell me that even Jeremy Scahill, Greenwald's partner in the oligarch-funded venture, First Look, which is going to transform journalism as we know it for all time to come, has also declared that their transformative operation will dutifully submit its work to government scrutiny -- with the caveat, of course, that they may not follow the government's advice on how 'dangerous' it might be to publish the dutifully submitted material? (Which is, of course, the same way that every other non-transformed journalistic entity in the Western world operates.)

Is that what you're trying to say? That the murder goes on, the surveillance goes on, the crime goes on, and that even our most cutting-edge, transformative, dangerous and subversive journalists and whistleblowers are committed to acting "responsibly" in "coordination with government stakeholders."

Well, if I may once again quote the great Mel Brooks quoting the great Joe Schrank: "I can hardly believe my hearing aid!"

Maybe I need new batteries for this thing. Everywhere I hear unstinting -- and unquestioning -- praise for these developments; but nowhere do I see any genuine effect. I mean, yes, of course, it's good to see "progressive" hero Rachel Maddow expressing umbrage at the revelations that Barack Obama's Stasi-State is now brazenly spying on their own putative Congressional overseers. Maddow even goes so far as to call this "End of the Republic stuff." But is this followed by a call for the impeachment of a president that is "ending the Republic" with a security apparat run amok? Of course not. The main progressive goal, as always, is to express a bit of marginal outrage while devoting one's main energies to ensuring that whatever "centrist" suit of clothes the bought-and-sold Democratic establishment puts up as a candidate is elected. (Next up: Hilary "Annihilate the Iranians" Clinton in 2016.)

But what of these 2 million documents that Snowden has bequeathed to a few chosen journalists who maintain their iron grip on the revelations, doling them out as they alone see fit - after, of course, submitting them to the scrutiny of "government stakeholders"? Let us return to a salient fact that Arthur Silber keeps pointing out: that only 1% to 2% of this vast trove has ever been seen:

Given all the publicly available evidence, when reporting on the Snowden documents is completed, the general public will have seen only 1% to 2% of all the documents involved. I've analyzed in detail how deeply problematic this is. That's putting it mildly, and with excessive politeness. In fact, this highly selective publishing of leaks is insulting, disgusting, and profoundly offensive ...

In short, the methodology adopted by Snowden and the favored journalists is leading straight to complete and utter disaster.

It is also necessary to mention that many of the published documents are offered only with redactions, which are sometimes substantial. Not only that but, as a rule, no explanation is offered as to why particular information has been redacted. Similarly, we are offered only the most general of explanations, if that, for why roughly 98% of the documents will never see the light of day. This presents the general public -- for whose benefit all this heroic work is allegedly undertaken -- with an insurmountable problem of evaluation and understanding.

Well, hold on there a minute, Arthur, you incorrigible skeptic you. What about the latest revelation from The Intercept, the flagship enterprise of First Look? Just last weekend, the Interceptors dug into this vast trove of criminality to inform us that ... the NSA's newsletter has its own Dear Abby column (or "agony aunt," as the Brits would say). Now how about that! The NSA has an internal advice column offering tidbits on personnel issues. Now that's transformative journalism with a vengeance!  Just think how many innocent lives now doomed to die from Washington's surveillance state-supported death squads will now be saved because of this revelation!

Back to Silber:

Snowden has always been at pains to assure everyone -- and most particularly, to assure the State -- that he doesn't want to threaten the State in any serious way. And even though his major concern is with mass surveillance, that, too, would be acceptable to him in general terms, provided it is sanctioned by "informed public consent," and even though he himself would choose differently.

But look again at those concluding remarks to the EU. "[T]here are many other undisclosed programs that would impact EU citizens' rights..." Many other undisclosed programs that affect tens of millions of people. Maybe they'll find out about them, maybe they won't. And Snowden himself won't make that decision. "Responsible journalists in coordination with government stakeholders" will decide. We've witnessed this game for nine months; we know how it's played. The "responsible journalists" and "government stakeholders" will allow us to see perhaps 2% of all the documents Snowden gathered up. With redactions, and without explanations of the redactions or explanations, even in general terms, of what we will never be told.

But honestly, it's more than slightly ridiculous to parse these statements further. Snowden's formulation, and the adoption of his methodology by the "responsible journalists" involved, mean only one thing: these are, ultimately, State-sanctioned leaks. This is State-sanctioned whistleblowing. Whatever dangers much wider, and much more rapid, disclosure might have carried have been entirely obliterated. What remains constitutes no threat of any remotely serious kind to the States implicated. Yes, there will be hearings, some "reforms," and life for the States will go almost exactly as before. Your life, on the other hand ... well, who gives a damn about your life.

Of course, we are glad to have any little fragment of truth we can get our hands on in these dystopian times. As T.S. Eliot said: "these fragments I have shored against my ruins." And most assuredly, we are in ruins. But I continue to be amazed at the nugatory effect of the Snowden revelations. I continue to be shocked at the way these revelations are being handled -- kept tightly under the control of a handful of responsible figures who happily submit them to "government stakeholders," while effectively repressing 98 percent of the evidence of criminality and moral turpitude on the part of those same "government stakeholders." So I agree with Silber's conclusion, with which I'll conclude here:

I have one request, in the nature of truth in advertising. I want to see all future stories relying on the Snowden documents accompanied by a stamp in which appear the following words. We are provided similar guarantees in connection with food and drugs, for example, and I see no reason not to adapt the practice to "journalism," given what that term now appears to mean. Each such story should carry this ironclad assurance:

This story contains those facts, and only those facts, that we and the State have determined it is safe for you to know. We will never tell you anything else, and we will most certainly never tell you anything more.

 
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