Empire Burlesque
Sign Language: Dazzled by Atrocity’s Distant Mirror
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 03 June 2014 15:42

Here's my latest column for CounterPunch magazine. I usually wait until it's been out for awhile to post it here, but as the story in question is already fading from public consciousness (as all blazingly important stories tend to do in a matter of days -- or hours, or minutes -- in what Gore Vidal aptly termed the United States of Amnesia), I thought I'd put it up a little earlier this time.

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Can you see me? Can you see me? I’m holding up a sign. It’s a sign expressing my outrage at an atrocious event in a country far away. It’s a sign showing my solidarity with the victims of violent extremism.

I took a picture of myself with this sign. I posted the picture on social media, so everyone can see it, so everyone can know how outraged I am at this thing that has happened that I heard about on the news. I want everyone to know that I am taking responsibility — no, I am taking ownership of this situation. It is happening to me just as certainly as it is happening to the victims. In fact, the victims actually belong to me. They are “ours” — that’s what my sign says.

“Bring back our girls!” The girls who were kidnapped from that place somewhere in Africa by that group I’d never heard of before the story about this thing was on the news and started trending on Twitter. They took “our girls,” the girls who belong to us — our girls, the girls we have cared about for so long, living there in that country in Africa where nothing has ever happened until this thing happened and got tweeted about the other night. And when I saw other people were taking pictures of themselves holding up a sign about “our girls” — including Michelle Obama; how cool was that! — I downloaded a sign from this website and printed it out and I made a picture of myself with it and put it on the internet to make that group give me back the girls who belong to me and the other people who made signs about this thing.

Then I saw somebody on Facebook said there was this rally for the girls who belong to us because we have always cared about people like them so deeply for so long — anyway, there was this rally down at the park to show that group that sounds like that Sixties band but of course is actually much worse than them that their evil will not stand. And they said that Anne Hathaway — from Les Mis! — was going to be at the rally with a megaphone and one of the signs like the one I’d made a picture of myself holding and put on the internet, where I hope you’ve seen it and retweeted it to all your friends.

And so I went down to the park and sure enough there was Anne, with a megaphone and this great Mexican-looking scarf and some really killer designer shades and she was standing next to her husband, who was holding a sign telling the Bokos to bring back our girls — because they are our girls just as much as they are the girls of that country where this thing happened — and Anne is shouting into the megaphone, asking all of us: “Do we agree with these cowards?”

And do you know what? There was not a single person in the whole crowd who agreed with raiding a school and kidnapping girls and holding them captive. Not even one person agreed. And so we shouted back to Anne: “No, Anne, we don’t agree!” And while we shouted we waved our signs about bringing back our girls, and took pictures of each other waving our signs and then posted those pictures on the internet. And that showed those Harum Scarum people that they cannot keep what belongs to us — those girls from that place — because we care so much and we do not accept violent extremism in any form.

But hey, L.A. was a great place to stand up for human rights that week. The night before the thing with Anne Hathaway and our girls, President Obama himself was in town, at the Hyatt in Century City. Some kind of Holocaust foundation thing was giving him an award as an “Ambassador for Humanity” for all his efforts to protect human rights. I wasn’t invited of course and anyway I was printing out my sign that night and taking my picture, but I saw on the internet that all kinds of important people were there, like Steven Spielberg and Liam Neeson (the German guy who saved all the Jews) and Kim Kardashian and also even Bruce Springsteen. And Obama gave a speech and got all choked up talking about our girls in Africa and in Syria, I think; or maybe it was Iraq, but I don’t think he mentioned Iraq. I did see way down in the Twitter feed about the story — people had been tweeting the jokes Conan O’Brien made at the award thing — somebody started talking about Yemen, I think it was, and droning on about drones and death squads or something but then they got blocked because the feed was meant to be honoring the president for protecting human rights, not ragging on the guy about every little thing.

I think it would have been cool if the President had held up a sign that night about our girls like Michelle did, but of course it was a solemn occasion — except for Conan’s funny bits! — about respecting the sacredness of all human life. But I know he was holding a sign in his heart and like Anne Hathaway was not agreeing with those cowards killing people and terrorizing innocent lives.

Can you see me? Should I post it again?

 
Can’t Slay the Serpent: Marching Backward Into Darkness
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Sunday, 01 June 2014 23:45

You thought that battle was in the past
Thought you’d left that carcass lying in the grass
You thought that fever had grown stone cold
You thought that dragon was weak and old
But uh-uh, honey: he’s got eternal youth.
No, you can’t slay the serpent, and that’s the truth...

In days that have seen unabashed religious fascists take control of the world’s largest democracy (with copious support from certain “dissident”-supporting oligarchs; more on this later), far-right parties making breakthroughs all across Europe (including the first postwar victory for a neo-Nazi party in Germany, of all places), the continuing backward march of America’s militarized, brutalizing, uncaring techno-feudalism, and many similar developments across the world — one is reminded again of the sad truth: you can’t slay the serpent. The evils that beset us, within and without, require eternal vigilance, battles to be fought and re-fought time and again. Here’s a brief assay upon this theme.

 
Posterity Will Hate Us: Building a Lasting Legacy of Death
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 27 May 2014 20:59

What do we aim at? Houses! Who do we kill? Everyone inside the houses! What are their names? We don’t know! What did they do? We don’t know! Are they civilians? We don’t care!

This could be the catechism of the America’s drone death squads that rain death and destruction on defenceless people from the skies of Pakistan, month in, month out, year after year. As the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports:

Domestic buildings have been hit by drone strikes more than any other type of target in the CIA’s 10-year campaign in the tribal regions of northern Pakistan, new research reveals. ... The project examines, for the first time, the types of target attacked in each drone strike – be they houses, vehicles or madrassas (religious schools) – and the time of day the attack took place.

It reveals:

Over three-fifths (61%) of all drone strikes in Pakistan targeted domestic buildings, with at least 132 houses destroyed, in more than 380 strikes.

At least 222 civilians are estimated to be among the 1,500 or more people killed in attacks on such buildings. In the past 18 months, reports of civilian casualties in attacks on any targets have almost completely vanished, but historically almost one civilian was killed, on average, in attacks on houses.

The CIA has consistently attacked houses have throughout the 10-year campaign in Pakistan.

The time of an attack affects how many people – and how many civilians – are likely to die. Houses are twice as likely to be attacked at night compared with in the afternoon. Strikes that took place in the evening, when families likely to be at home and gathered together, were particularly deadly.

Some of these operations are carried out at the direct order of the president of the United States, who meets with his advisors every Tuesday to draw up death lists of victims to be killed. Others are slaughtered by the innumerable officers and agents upon whom the White House has bestowed a license to kill as they see fit.

But as the Bureau points out, even when the name of the target is known — although of course there is no need for any proof to be offered as to the target’s ostensible death-deserving guilt — they are most often blown to pieces in domestic homes, along with family members, friends and, often, neighbors who live nearby.

— Sometimes when I write paragraphs like the one above — setting out undisputed facts; indeed, facts that are often celebrated in the highest reaches of the political and media elites — I find myself slack-jawed, drop-jawed to the floor with amazement. The bare, banal, widely accepted, shrugged-off realities of life in the American Imperium today would have been regarded, just a few years ago, as the wildest, most unbelievable fantasies of political paranoids. The president sits in the White House and draws up death lists. Robot-controlled missiles blow up people’s houses, killing hundreds of civilians each year. Not an eyelid is batted, scarcely a voice is raised in protest, except on the far-flung disregarded margins. This is the way the world is, and one must acknowledge that — but sometimes, the cognitive dissonance hits you like a two-by-four upside the head.

But this is where we are now. This is what we are now. Future generations will look back on us in horror. They won’t notice or care about the pointless, finely-meshed gradations of minute policy differences between the two parties, or between the two factions called “left” and “right”; they won’t care if Barack Obama was or wasn’t “two percent less evil” than George W. Bush, or any of the pitiful political molehills that entirely preoccupy our chattering classes. No; all they will see in a seamless record of murder, terror, tyranny and corruption inflicted by a militarist state on the world outside and on its own people within. They will look at us just as we look at the people in Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia and wonder, with revulsion and incomprehension, how such things happened, how whole societies could give themselves over to brutality and hate, how such vicious, vacuous, pathetic elites — and their wretched little followers and sycophants — were allowed to hold such sway for so long. 

They will be sickened by us. They will hate us for what we let happen. And they will be right to do so.

 
Cracking the Walnut: American Amnesia and the Libyan Aftermath
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Wednesday, 28 May 2014 15:04

In the crinkled, crumpled little walnut that constitutes America's political discourse, the question of Libya has been reduced to the petty, bitter political wranglings over "Benghazi," where American officials were killed in a FUBAR of covert ops and clueless incompetence. (Then again, covert ops and clueless incompetence are the M.O. of American foreign policy in general, so it's hard to see what's particularly 'scandalous' about the Benghazi incident. This deadly combination kills innocent people all over the world on an almost daily basis.)

Indeed, the hyper-partisan focus on Benghazi actually reflects the thoroughly bipartisan nature of America's fubarish foreign policy. We should be having long, heated, intense hearings on the US-NATO military intervention itself -- an illegal and utterly foolish assault which has plunged the country into violent chaos, empowered violent religious extremism and destabilized large swaths of Africa. It sparked violent civil war in Mali, for example; and even the dreaded Boko Haram in Nigeria have acquired copious arms from the flood of weaponry released by Western intervention, as well as funds and training from the extremist groups empowered by (and sometimes directly supported by) the Western powers in the regime change operation.

But we hear nothing of all this. It's just "Benghazi" -- a convenient 'controversy' for all involved, as it save them from any examination of the dirty reality of the intervention and its dirty aftermath. Fortunately, Patrick Cockburn is on the case, with an excellent article in CounterPunch detailing the "slow-motion coup" now being attempted in Libya by an American-backed general, and the larger context around it. The article is worth reading in full, but here are some excerpts:

The image of the Libyan revolution in 2011 was something of a fabrication in which the decisive role of Nato air power was understated. The same may be true of the counter-revolution in Libya that is being ushered in by ex-general Kalifa Hifter’s slow-motion coup which gathered support last week but without making a decisive breakthrough. …

Polarisation is happening throughout the country, but it has some way to go. Hifter’s support is stronger than expected but ramshackle, even if it is in keeping with the mood of much of the country. Thousands joined demonstrations across Libya on Friday in the biggest mass rallies since 2011 in support of Hifter, against the Islamic militias and in favour of the suspension of the Islamist-led parliament. The problem here is that Hifter may be able to tap mass resentment against the militias and in favour of a reconstituted police and national army, but his own Libyan National Army is itself a militia.

A crisis is clearly coming, but the Hifter coup still feels like the first act of a drama which will have more episodes, many of them violent, but without any final winner necessarily emerging. The present situation feels more like Lebanon, with its many power centres and no strong central state, than Egypt or Syria with their tradition of an all-powerful central authority. And in Libya, as in Lebanon during the civil war, it is foreign intervention that is likely to break the stalemate and determine the speed and direction of events as it did in 2011.

Foreign intervention is as likely to precipitate a civil war as prevent one. In Syria it led the opposition to imagine that they could win a military conflict. It is worth keeping in mind that, bad though the situation is in Libya, so far there is nothing like the violence of Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan or Lebanon during the civil war. Arbitrary and authoritarian though Gaddafi’s rule was, it was never as violent as that of the Baathist dictatorships in Baghdad and Damascus. With no tradition of extreme violence, up to now Libya’s road to ruin has been relatively low on casualties, but this could change very swiftly if present stand-offs switch to military confrontations.

In Libya, as in the other so-called Arab Spring states, hopes of a better tomorrow have melted away over the past three years. In the outside world, those who fully believed foreign media reports of the Libyan people’s uprising of 2011 as being primarily secular and democratic will have been dismayed and mystified. In reality, the Libyan revolution was rather different from the way it presented itself. From the beginning, the so-called Arab Spring revolts were a peculiar mix of revolution, counter-revolution and foreign intervention. It is worth recalling the shock felt by those who had lauded the Libyan revolt as progressive to discover that one of the first acts of Libya’s National Transitional Council in October 2011 was to lift the law banning polygamy, on the grounds that it was in conflict with sharia.

This should not have been quite so surprising, given that among the main backers of the rebels in Libya were Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states who saw the revolts of 2011 as a battle for their own survival. It was always absurd and hypocritical for the West to pretend that these absolute monarchies with extreme Islamic ideologies were interested in spreading secular democracy.

These are of course the same monarchies supporting the rebels in Syria (along with copious overt and covert support from the West). Here too we have seen massive propaganda efforts in the Western media to portray the Syrian uprising as "as being primarily secular and democratic." As'ad AbuKhalil, the "Angry Arab," does a good job of skewering this propaganda on a regular basis, particularly the Western media's unconscionable contortions to mitigate, justify or simply cover up atrocities committed by the rebels.

 
Skyrockets in Flight: The Profitable Spectacle of Stylized Dissent
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Wednesday, 21 May 2014 20:58

(Updated below)

As we all know, Glenn Greenwald recently revealed that he is saving the biggest revelations from the Snowden NSA archive until last, likening his journalistic process to a fireworks show a that builds up to a grand finale. This is, of course, the very opposite of any kind of actual journalism, which leads with the most important information first.

The traditional method would seem even more imperative in this case, as we are dealing with material which exposes vast crimes and deeply sinister actions by a tyrannical government. Greenwald himself has incessantly told us how important this material it is, how dangerous the government’s depredations have become, how urgent it is that we learn of this danger and do something about it. And yet he admits — no, he boasts — that he has been withholding information about the most dangerous activities, the greatest threats to liberty, for more than a year … solely in order to make a big splash, “where the sky is all covered in spectacular multicolored hues.”

If the threat is so great, should we not know the worst up front, in order to recognize the scale of the danger and take action more quickly? But if “the finale, a big missing piece” can wait for more than a year to be revealed, then how “big” can it be? Or turn the question around: if the finale really is that big and important, then what does it say about Greenwald’s constantly self-trumpeted concern for liberty that he would blithely wait more than a year before letting us know of this major threat — timing the sky-filling extravaganza with the release of his new book. A cynic might suspect that self-aggrandizement has trumped the love of freedom in this instance.

There is much to say about Greenwald’s astonishing admission, and I wanted to address a few more key points. But various matters have kept me away from the keyboard of late, and now I find that many if not most of the salient points I wanted to address are covered in a post at Rancid Honeytrap, especially in the long comment thread, where readers have unpacked the rest of the GQ story in which the fireworks impresario revealed his distorted vision of journalism.

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Of course, Arthur Silber has been delving into the more troubling aspects of the handling of the Snowden revelations from the very beginning. (See here for a good précis of his work on the subject, including many links to previous articles.) He continues to struggle through a particularly bad downturn in his health, and has not been able to write for some time. As his blog is his only means of support, a dearth of posts can leave him in very low water. As always, if you are able to help keep this important writer going, I urge you to do so.

**

UPDATE: Oh my word, the landlord lawyer Carl Kandutsch has returned to the comments to take me to task for … well, I’m not quite sure. His learned disquisition was too cunning to be understood, as they say. It was something along the lines of, ‘If you criticize Greenwald, then you are just like Michael Kinsley” or some such howlingly false equating of apples and oranges. The whole thing was so disconnected from anything I’ve ever written that I couldn’t really follow it. 

I think it boils down to Kandutsch’s delusion that I was trying to argue that Greenwald has no right to make decisions on how to release the NSA material. Well, some people construct little strawmen they can demolish in demonstrations of their mighty forensic skills; but here Kandutsch has fantasized not just a strawman but a humongous Transformer or Godzilla to whup up on. He expends a great deal of energy (if little wit) in hallucinating assumptions that I’ve never asserted, then expertly taking me apart for failing to support these non-existent positions. Maybe this kind of shadow-boxing is a big hit in the courtrooms of Plano, but it seems a bit fatuous to me.

The main point I was making in my very brief post was simple: in journalism, it is customary to lead with the most important material first -- not save it for a big slambang finale. Another point: if you are in possession of revelations about terrible crimes -- revelations which you have decided to publish -- it seems strange to hold back, for more than a year,  a vital piece of information which yourself have publicly proclaimed is the most important, the "biggest" one you have. If you stumbled onto a cache of letters proving that your neighbor was a tax cheat, a carjacker -- oh, and had also murdered several people and was planning to kill your mother next Tuesday -- would you spend a year telling people about his tax dodging and car thefts …or would you not urgently reveal his murders and rush to save your mother? 

The point is that Greenwald's own assertions of his methods and intentions in this case bespeak a mindset more attuned to show business than journalism. And I believe that this is unfortunate when we are dealing with such vital issues as the construction of a militarist Stasi state on the ruins of the Republic. So yes, I am sometimes moved to criticism of the methods being employed to disseminate — or not disseminate — this information. And since this information is being largely controlled by a single person, then criticism of its handling must inevitably involve some criticism of the handler. 

(Although here again, Kandutsch indulges in fantasy, making up things I didn’t say, then attacking me for it, writing that “Floyd is content to substitute innuendo for argument … 'Greenwald is not a nice person, he wrote a book, he is employed by an ‘oligarch’, he makes money, he’s not a real ‘leftist,’ he’s sneaky.'” Except for Greenwald’s employment by an oligarch (no scare quotes, just basic fact), I’m not aware of making any of the other criticisms in my posts. Here, just as Greenwald did in his long and frankly hysterical attack on me several weeks ago, Kandutsch seems to conflate the things that I have actually said with every single criticism of Greenwald he has ever read.)

The landlord lawyer seems to operate on the assumption that no one has any right to make such criticisms in the first place. But as far as I can tell, he has not presented any argument at all in support of this assumption.

 
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