Machine Dreams: Sleepwalking Into the Future

Written by Chris Floyd 28 April 2017 4471 Hits

From NBC: Weaponized Drones: Connecticut Bill Would Allow Police to Use Lethal Force From Above

It’s odd that we are sleepwalking into a world where our skies will soon be filled with swarms of giant metal bugs — delivery drones, commercial drones, surveillance drones, police drones (and criminal drones) — buzzing over us day and night. There’s very little debate over whether this is a good thing or not as a general development for our human community, whether the particular advantages provided by this technology will justify its effect on the quality of life in the world it will create.

The same applies the entire panoply of automation that’s encompassing more and more aspects of human life. Of course, there are many benefits to be gained from any specific technology — and not just practical or economic ones, but also in opening up new realms for creativity, beauty and knowledge. But it’s striking how little thought is being given to the kind of world being formed from the nearly unregulated development and application of various technologies in all walks of life — and to the fact that most of these developments and applications are being done either for private commercial purposes or by governments seeking ever-more powerful methods of control over the public.

Shouldn’t we have some kind of continual public adjudication of how and where and when we want these technologies to be applied? We often do this in our private lives. For example, a couple might decide they’d rather their children not have access to the undeniably impressive and effective technology of a chainsaw. (Or, more realistically, they decide their seven-year-old shouldn’t have unfettered access to the internet.) But there is nothing like this on the public scale. Yet we seem to be heading toward a world where not only our jobs (including white collar jobs) are replaced by robots & AI, but we will also be policed by robots, judged by robots, get medical treatment and legal counsel from robots, go around in driverless (and hackable) cars whose speed might be controlled by insurance companies (or by the computer monitors of insurance companies), read news reports “written” by computers (this is already happening with stock reports and sports stories), and so on. Is this really what we want? Are there other, better ways of incorporating these technologies into our societies, and dealing more productively and justly with the consequences and changes they will bring?

And who will control all of these controlling systems? Who will program the artificial intelligence systems - that is, whose beliefs and biases will inevitably and unavoidably influence this programming? Whose values will these automated programs reflect?

I have no beef with computerized technology at all — I write with it, stay in touch with family and friends with it, learn things from it, access marvellous works of art and entertainment with it, make music with it, take pictures and draw and paint with it, etc. But when dealing with the accelerating automation of human society in general, there are dozens, hundreds of concerns like the ones outlined above that cry out for debate and informed reflection. But there seems to be no venue, no way for us to determine — as a human community at large or in our national or local communities — the way in which we want these technologies to shape our world … and the ways in which we don’t want them to shape it. And I think this leaves us in the very real danger — and the very great likelihood — of ending up in a world that none of us would want to live in.

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Trump Hip-Deep in Indonesian Evil; “Resistance” Looks the Other Way, Again

Written by Chris Floyd 19 April 2017 5149 Hits

Try to imagine the media firestorm if a leader of an radical Islamic militia group — caught on video with a roomful of people swearing allegiance to al-Qaeda — had appeared with Barack Obama at a press conference during his 2012 election campaign. Try to imagine the ferocious uproar if Obama had a business partner who backed ISIS-linked Islamic militants trying to overthrow a democratically elected leader. The scandal would be off the scale: investigations, denunciations, impeachment hearings — 24/7 pandemonium. Yet as Allan Nairn reports, this is precisely, exactly the case with Donald Trump, and we hear — nothing.

Nothing from the Islamophobic zealots who condemn even the slightest connection to even the most moderate Islam as proof of “terrorism.” Nothing from the Congressional zealots who see Sharia law lurking behind every corner. No wall-to-wall thundering about the “Islamic menace” from FOX News or Breitbart. Nothing even from the “Resistance” — no fulminations from Keith Olbermann, no eyebrow-crooking from Rachel Maddow, nothing from the Democratic Party — and no reports by the Times or the Post or NBC or CNN. We have a president who is personally and financially connected to the most radical form of violent, terroristic extremism (as well as the cynical manipulation of state-backed extremist front groups to advance the personal profit of Trump business partners and allies)  — and nobody cares.

As with Trump’s bribes from China and the undeniable, rampant criminal corruption of the government by his family, nothing at all is made of this open scandal. If a scandal can’t be tied to Russia, it’s as if it doesn’t exist. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Everywhere you look, there are things right out in the open that could bring Trump down in the most straightforward way: bribery, corruption, terrorist links. (Just to start with.) They don’t require deep dives into the rabbit hole of espionage; you don’t have to rely on dubious, never-quite-confirmed leaks from the “intelligence community,” you don’t need super-elaborate, Glenn Beck-style flow charts tracing every possible (or wildly improbable) connection going back 30 years that “proves” (without tangible, usable evidence) that Vladimir Putin has been controlling Trump since he was born and is now in charge of every event on the planet. No; you have straightforward evidence of malfeasance, criminal activity and dangerous connections that could be used to launch very traditional journalistic, congressional and law-enforcement investigations through the most mainstream, establishment channels. Yet no one is taking any action on these fronts.

And yes, given the long-known fact that Trump is involved with criminals and corruption on an international scale, it is very likely that he does indeed have some connections to the murky miasma of state power and crime which characterizes the Russian system. (It also characterizes the American system; to take just one example, what happened to the $6.5 trillion that the Pentagon recently confessed it couldn’t account for among its myriad contracts with private firms, many of them politically connected corporate behemoths who profit directly from war and rumors of war?) And sure, these possible Russian connections should be investigated along with everything else. But even in the Russophobic frenzy that has gripped the “Resistance,” these kinds of links — business ties with a paper trial — are ignored or downplayed in the pursuit of some “smoking gun” that will show Putin stroking a hairless cat and muttering to his minions, “We will now hack the American election in favor of our agent, Comrade Trump. And in this way, we will RULE THE WORLD! Mwahahahaha!”

If you really want to get rid of Trump, there are clear, open — even easy — ways to do it. Since this is not being done by those in position to do it — or at least advocate it — one has to conclude they don’t want to do it. But why not?

On one level, it’s easy to see why big power players in the Democratic Party would be reluctant to do so; any probe into Trump’s connections to the State Power-Criminal World nexus could turn up unrelated connections exposing their own links to dubious players and backers and allies. Just as the intermittent investigations into the way our most respectable, eminent financial firms knowingly launder money for drug dealers, terrorists and corrupt state actors inevitably end with quick, clean plea agreements involving no admission of criminality and payment of “huge” fines that usually amount to, at most, one day’s rake-off for the giant firms. Still, as Watergate proved, it is possible to bring down a criminal president without giving the whole dirty shebang away. And Trump has even less backing among the Republican establishment than Nixon did.

But even more puzzling is the way our fightin’ progressives are ignoring the open crimes and scandals that could quickly and easily bring Trump down in favor of the Russian rabbit hole. Here, there seems to be some kind of magical thinking at work: “If we can prove Trump is an actual Russian spy, it will somehow undo the whole election we lost and we can go back to that happy place where we once were!’ (A place where it’s a “progressive” president who runs death squads, allies with religious extremists (Saudi Arabia) to wage aggressive war on innocent people, deports millions of immigrants, protects Wall Street, extends off-shore drilling, expands the nuclear arsenal, increases military budgets, backs corporate attacks on public education, supports right-wing coups in Latin America, etc. etc.)

Of course, almost all of the high-profile “Resistance” figures work for corporate behemoths who are deeply tied to the same State Power-Criminal World nexus noted above. This doesn’t necessarily mean that most of them aren’t sincere in their “progressive” beliefs, but it does mean there is only so far they would ever be allowed to go — even if they wanted to go there. (Those who would like to go further would never be given a slot in such venues in the first place. Only sincerely “moderate reformists” get selected. You don’t need overt censorship in such a system.)

But again, there is still  more than enough material to take down Trump, even on a surface level, without disturbing the roots of the corrupted system itself. The media heroes of the “Resistance” needn’t shake the foundations of their corporate bosses to do so. The power brokers of the Democratic Party establishment needn’t trouble their Wall Street backers to do so. The New York Times and Washington Post and CNN and CBS needn’t challenge the systemic, endemic corruption of the entire system in order to attack, investigate, prosecute and remove Trump for his very open, easily provable crimes and misdemeanors.

Yet they are not doing this. While Trump wheels and deals for his own private profit with ISIS-linked militants and murderous generals in Indonesia, the “Resistance” expends billions of pixels and hours of airtime on … Carter Page. This is a genuinely bizarre — and deeply perilous — situation.

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Idiot Wind: West Embraces al Qaeda (again) to Advance Agenda in Syria

Written by Chris Floyd 10 April 2017 6012 Hits

In this piece from Huffington Post, we find the views of an actual expert on WMD, someone who doesn't actually profit from war and weapons like the "experts" paraded across the media in the last week. It is interesting to note that 1) the initial eye-witness accounts of the victims of the attack do not correspond to the use of weaponized sarin gas, cited as the reason for directly attacking Syrian positions; and 2) the entire narrative has been driven by al Qaeda, whom the Western news media is now treating as the most credible source of information in Syria, while lauding them as valiant rebels -- even as they persecute the people under their control and continue to plot and push attacks against the West. There is also the fact that the main beneficiary of the attack has been ISIS, which immediately launched an offensive while Syrian forces were shut down or pulled back in the wake of the American assault.

Again, with no brief for Assad, whose regime (recently a US partner in torturing "War on Terror" captives) is capable of any evil, we are in a curious place: bombing people on the word of al Qaeda, to the benefit of ISIS. Why, you'd almost think that quelling terrorism was not, perhaps, the principal aim of the "War on Terror," but that it has more to do with old-fashioned hardball power games among amoral nation-states (and their various proxies), jockeying for domination and servicing their militarist elites.

But I suppose we mustn’t indulge in such cynical thoughts. Let’s get with the program instead: Trump done good! Al Qaeda speaks truth! Turn ISIS loose! It’s the best of all possible worlds! As always, Shakespeare put it so well: “Love be not love if left unparaded upon a social platform.” (Or was that Zuckerberg? I’m always getting those guys mixed up.)

Some excerpts from Scott Ritter's article:

Al Nusra has a long history of manufacturing and employing crude chemical weapons; the 2013 chemical attack on Ghouta made use of low-grade Sarin nerve agent locally synthesized, while attacks in and around Aleppo in 2016 made use of a chlorine/white phosphorous blend.  If the Russians are correct, and the building bombed in Khan Sheikhoun on the morning of April 4, 2017 was producing and/or storing chemical weapons, the probability that viable agent and other toxic contaminants were dispersed into the surrounding neighborhood, and further disseminated by the prevailing wind, is high.

The counter-narrative offered by the Russians and Syrians, however, has been minimized, mocked and ignored by both the American media and the Trump administration. So, too, has the very illogic of the premise being put forward to answer the question of why President Assad would risk everything by using chemical weapons against a target of zero military value, at a time when the strategic balance of power had shifted strongly in his favor. Likewise, why would Russia, which had invested considerable political capital in the disarmament of Syria’s chemical weapons capability after 2013, stand by idly while the Syrian air force carried out such an attack, especially when their was such a heavy Russian military presence at the base in question at the time of the attack? ...

Even slick media training, however, cannot gloss over basic factual inconsistencies. Early on, the anti-Assad opposition media outlets were labeling the Khan Sheikhoun incident as a “Sarin nerve agent” attack; one doctor affiliated with Al Qaeda sent out images and commentary via social media that documented symptoms, such as dilated pupils, that he diagnosed as stemming from exposure to Sarin nerve agent. Sarin, however, is an odorless, colorless material, dispersed as either a liquid or vapor; eyewitnesses speak of a “pungent odor” and “blue-yellow” clouds, more indicative of chlorine gas.

And while American media outlets, such as CNN, have spoken of munitions “filled to the brim” with Sarin nerve agent being used at Khan Sheikhoun, there is simply no evidence cited by any source that can sustain such an account.  Heartbreaking images of victims being treated by “White Helmet” rescuers have been cited as proof of Sarin-like symptoms, the medical viability of these images is in question; there are no images taken of victims at the scene of the attack. Instead, the video provided by the “White Helmets” is of decontamination and treatment carried out at a “White Helmet” base after the victims, either dead or injured, were transported there.

The lack of viable protective clothing worn by the “White Helmet” personnel while handling victims is another indication that the chemical in question was not military grade Sarin; if it were, the rescuers would themselves have become victims (some accounts speak of just this phenomena, but this occurred at the site of the attack, where the rescuers were overcome by a “pungent smelling” chemical – again, Sarin is odorless.)

Mainstream American media outlets have willingly and openly embraced a narrative provided by Al Qaeda affiliates whose record of using chemical weapons in Syria and distorting and manufacturing “evidence” to promote anti-Assad policies in the west, including regime change, is well documented.  These outlets have made a deliberate decision to endorse the view of Al Qaeda over a narrative provided by Russian and Syrian government authorities without any effort to fact check either position. These actions, however, do not seem to shock the conscience of the American public; when it comes to Syria, the mainstream American media and its audience has long ago ceded the narrative to Al Qaeda and other Islamist anti-regime elements. …

History will show that Donald Trump, his advisors and the American media were little more than willing dupes for Al Qaeda and its affiliates, whose manipulation of the Syrian narrative resulted in a major policy shift that furthers their objectives.

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The Quiet Whispers of our Masters

Written by Chris Floyd 08 April 2017 6691 Hits

"When we told you our boats were attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin, we were lying. When we told you Iraqis were throwing Kuwaiti babies out of incubators, we were lying. When we blew up a medicine factory and told you it was bin Laden's headquarters, we were lying. When we told you Iraq had WMD, we were lying. When we told you Gadafy was feeding his troops Viagra so they could rape protestors, we were lying. But we swear to God we are telling the absolute truth this time. Why would we lie?"

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Fortunes of War: Missile Launch Gives Grubby Groin-Grabber Instant Respectability

Written by Chris Floyd 07 April 2017 6144 Hits

Well, I reckon our bipartisan, war-loving political-media establishment won't let any Russkie connections bring Trump down now! He has suddenly become "presidential": the NYT story on the Syria strike was full of respectful, anonymous insider hagiography the like of which we haven't seen since the paper's reverent 2012 account of Obama's weekly "kill list" meetings, which evoked St Thomas Aquinas to describe a group of men checking off names of "suspects" to be assassinated in a secret, arbitrary, unaccountable "extrajudicial" process.

Of course, in his first days in office, Trump has already killed hundreds of civilians in Iraq and Syria and Yemen -- including an 8-year-old American girl shot dead through the neck by US Special Forces for the crime of being the child of an "enemy of the people." (Obama had earlier killed her brother for the same crime; neither child was involved with terrorism.) But these early Trump kills were just continuations of ongoing campaigns of human slaughter that no one noticed anymore. Now Trump has drawn new blood, striking directly at Syrian forces. (A country the U.S. is not actually at war with, but who bothers with that fusty old constitutional stuff in our go-go modern age?)

If Trump keeps it up, drawing the U.S. deeper into an intractable conflict (guaranteeing boffo box office for the war profiteering community), there's no way our betters will dump him. Groin-groping, nepotistic corruption, even Kremlin canoodling will be forgotten as, like Hillary and McCain, we rally round the great War Chief.

***
Below are a few quick Twitter takes on the dawning of our glorious new era of bipartisan comity sealed, as always, in the blood of faceless foreigners:

* Boy, I hope Trump didn't order the Syria strike just to divert attention from Bill O'Reilly's troubles!

* Liberal pundits are angry that US told Russian forces to stay out of harm's way. Guess they were hoping the raid would spark nuclear Armageddon.

* Trump, whose troops shot and killed an 8-yr-old girl in a civilian-killing raid in Yemen, now praised for 'emotion' over Syrian children.

* Assad shouldn't kill children with chemical weapons; he should shoot them in the neck, like an 'exceptional' nation did in Yemen.

* Assad shouldn't use chemical weapons to kill civilians; he should use depleted uranium to slaughter civilians, like moral nations do!

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Sympathy for the Devil: Liberal Love for the Donald When He Bangs War Drums

Written by Chris Floyd 06 April 2017 6737 Hits

So Donald Trump has finally found a way to make liberals like him: make noises about "doing something" in Syria. (“Something” aside from the past few years of US intervention: bombs, drones, troops on the ground, billions in arms and funds to the rebels, etc.)

After Trump said atrocity pictures “changed his mind” about Syria and he and his crew started talking tough, leading liberal blogger Digby said: "Somebody seems to have temporarily talked some sense into the administration." Maybe it was General McMasters. You know, the NatSec honcho (accused of war crimes in Iraq) praised on Wednesday for removing Steve Bannon from the National Security Council. After that, he's bound to join the new liberal pantheon, along with the CIA, George W. Bush and Louise Mensch.

Meanwhile, the same liberals now starting to toot Trump's war-horn ignored the horrific pictures of slaughtered children in Yemen for the last two years. Children ripped to shreds by US bombs dropped by US and UK planes on behalf of the radical Islamic extremists of Saudi Arabia. Also pictures of Yemeni children & babies starving to death from the ruin of war, and from a US-assisted blockade that has put millions at risk of starvation, says the UN. While these children were being killed by the US-Saudi-UK alliance, Digby and other liberals were posting cute pics of the Obamas' dogs.

Of course, the corporate media ignored the atrocities; and it goes without saying the Right didn't care about their bribe-spreading, terrorist-backing Saudi buddies killing a bunch of other Ay-rabs. That staunch bastion of moral scourgedom, Samantha Power, didn't appear before the UN with the shocking documentation of these sickening war crimes. Liberals didn't call for “something to be done" about the evil regimes who were committing these atrocities: Riyadh, Washington and London. No one called for "partitioning" the United States or breaking up Saudi Arabia or putting UN troops in Washington to stop the criminal regime.

Now, I'm so old that I remember when the US government told outrageous lies about WMD to push the nation into a war that murdered multitudes and destabilized the entire world for the sake of a few ideological cranks and cynical war profiteers. So I tend to be a bit skeptical when the same bloodstained con artists start peddling the same line again. But it may well be true that Assad is so stupid that he did the one thing that might save ISIS and al Qaeda from their impending defeat: launch a chemical weapons attack that would bring in (more) Western forces. After all, world leaders are, as a rule, capable of vast stupidity.

But even if this is true, and Assad is guilty as charged for this evil act, it sticks in the craw to see governments who've literally been murdering small children in Yemen for two years now preen with righteousness and moral outrage, as if their own hands weren't sodden and caked with innocent blood. And then to see our fine, moral Digbian liberals likewise quivering with righteous rage when the kinds of crimes they've been ignoring or excusing for years are committed by someone else.

Is it a crime for states to slaughter innocent, defenseless people with savage weaponry, or is it not? Then condemn it, no matter who does it. Or is it only a crime if one of our “designated enemies” does it? Are the murdered children in Yemen less precious -- or less dead -- than the children in Syria? Where are the calls to "do something" to stop the criminal states killing children in Yemen? Instead we see liberal praise for Trump for "finally talking sense" when he threatens to escalate a war that the US and other nations have been cynically stoking for years.

I was writing in condemnation of Assad years ago, back when he was torturing 'rendered' captives for Ellen’s good-time laff-riot buddy George W. Bush. Like Saddam & Gadafy, Assad’s depredations were overlooked when they served Washington's agenda. (As Bush Senior did with Saddam's chemical weapons attacks. Heck, I can even remember when Putin’s murderous atrocities in Chechnya were happily overlooked by the US media-political establishment, back when we were “looking into his soul” and he was still cutting sweetheart deals with Western investors.) This is not a matter of defending odious regimes. But the entire bipartisan, media-backed, liberal-approved militarized foreign policy system of the US is also an odious regime, and also requires condemnation, and also needs to have "something done" to stop it.

First it colludes with dictators and tyrants and terrorists, then it fights them, then it colludes with their corrupt successors and fights the forces that rise in the ruins made by these morally depraved policies. But none of this is known or noticed in the West, especially the murder wrought by our own governments. Instead, when some atrocity or terrorist attack appears "out of nowhere," there is a mad rush to "do something,” which always – always – turns out to be the same "something" that led to the atrocity and terrorism in the first place.

And it seems there is nothing that can stop this cycle. Driven by cranks and war profiteers on one side, and cheered on by liberals on the other side, the cycle goes on and on. Where will it end? In the apocalyptic war with Russia that our neocons and new McCarthyite liberals long for? Or just more of the same, more of our "new normality": more dead children (who are utterly ignored if WE kill them), more intractable conflict, more war profits, more lies, more hate, more fear, more terror, more violence, more ruin, more meaningless, pointless agonizing death.

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Long-Term Damage: Media-Made Trump’s Rot Will Outlast Him

Written by Chris Floyd 04 April 2017 6272 Hits

Even if they unearth videotape of Trump in bed with Putin – or with Putin's dog – and remove him from power, the vicious, nasty, little racist cretin Jeff Sessions will still be in office, doing untold damage. He is now leading an aggressive crusade to “untie the hands” of militarized, brutalizing police forces across the country — especially the ones who have been slapped with federal restrictions for their confirmed, egregious, endemic, systematic racism. Sessions wants to set them loose on the uppity darkies who stir up the ancestral ghosts in his slavers’ blood and trouble his dreams with quaking fears and forbidden desires.

Trump’s removal — as desirable as it is — will do nothing to rectify the damage he’s already done or stop the further wreckage that his regime will do for the next four years, whether he’s in the White House or not. It’s inconceivable that the genuinely weird and hateful Mike Pence would remove soulmates like Sessions from office should he take over from Trump. Pence could conceivably be even worse, as a relieved nation — and media/political establishment — give him a free ride (“The grown-ups are back in charge!”) while he accelerates the destructive policies of Trump and the radical extremists in Congress (and in state houses all over the country).

But the ascension of sinister little goobers like Session was always going to be the end result of the boundless free publicity the media gave Trump during the campaign, with even our lib-lauded "rock star" dissidents at SNL yukking it up with the Donald, normalizing him. As it happens, my first intimation of this involved Sessions.

I was in an airport on a visit to the US, with the ubiquitous TV screens hanging down everywhere, blaring the news, and the commercials. (God forbid anyone should be able to sit in a public place and think their own thoughts without constant bombardment by commercialized inanity.) During my long lay-over, I saw CNN showing an entire Trump rally -- the whole thing, unedited, uninterrupted, all the poison lies pouring out of his mouth and the nutball surrogates who preceded him on the stage. Then Trump introduced Sessions, who became the first US senator to endorse him. I kept thinking: What the hell is going on? I’d been following US politics since the LBJ-Goldwater race, and I’d never seen ANY political rally by ANY candidate given that kind of wall-to-wall coverage. I could understand cutting to the rally for a few minutes of the Sessions endorsement as breaking news, but that's not what was happening. I was in the waiting area for more than two hours, and the entire time was given over to Trump and his sick crew. Why? Even incumbent presidents running for re-election never got airplay like that. None of other GOP candidates were getting anything near that kind of coverage. Hillary Clinton got only a bit more than they did. It goes without saying that Sanders and his mass rallies of thousands of supporters where ignored almost entirely. But the cameras kept running for Trump.

We now know the president of CBS, Leslie Moonves, bragged about how good Trump was for the corporation's bottom line, even if he was "bad for the country." We also now know that the Clinton campaign itself had a deliberate, extensive strategy to push Trump to its many media contacts as a "serious" candidate, in order to undercut what they believed to be more credible threats to her chances. The media and political establishments — now so horrified by Trump that they’re begging the blood-soaked spies and covert operators of the “intelligence community” to save them from the big bad monster — were the chief engineers of his political rise.

They pushed him and promoted him, knowing full what he was — a dangerous ignorant demagogue with an openly authoritarian bent. They knew —CNN knew, CBS knew, Clinton knew — the risk such a figure posed to the nation should he get elected. They knew he was “bad for the country.” But their profits — and their personal ambitions — were more important to them. It was more important to Clinton to help elevate an existential threat to American society because she thought it would help her. It was more important to the networks to boost Trump because of the big bounce to their bottom line. (And if he won, his rapacious, pro-corporate economic policies would help them as well. With two eager pro-corporate candidates in play, the election was always going to be a win-win for them). They knew the risk — but they took it anyway. And why not? Neither the multimillionaire Clinton nor the multibillion-dollar corporations would suffer the consequences of a Trump presidency.

Now here we are, and here we will be for the next four years – or even eight years, given the current state of the Democratic Party, and inability of that gaggle of corporate sellouts, war-profiteering pimps and neo-McCarthyite nutcases to offer any genuine, hopeful alternative to Republican extremism, beyond more of the same callous, soulless neoliberalism that has decimated the party in the first place. The wall-to-wall coverage — and Clinton’s secret promotion — of Trump are not the sole factors in his disastrous victory, of course; but without them, we almost certainly not be in the ever-deepening hell where we are today.

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The Karamazov Question: From Iraq to a World in Hell

Written by Chris Floyd 20 March 2017 7386 Hits

To mark the anniversary of the onset of the launching of the horrific war crime against Iraq, I’m reprinting a piece I wrote a month after the invasion. The question examined here is still being asked of our leaders; and regardless of party or ideology – or even Nobel Peace Prizes – they all keep giving the same answer.

The Karamazov Question
Variation on a theme by Dostoevsky

“They have put too high a price on harmony; we can’t afford to pay so much for admission. And therefore I return my ticket.”
Ivan Karamazov, The Brothers Karamazov, Book Five, Chapter Four: “Rebellion.”

A man appeared in the doorway of the Oval Office. He wasn't noticed at first in the bustle around the desk of the president, where George W. Bush was preparing to announce to the world that the "decapitation raid" he had launched on Baghdad a few hours before was in fact the beginning of his long-planned, much-anticipated invasion of Iraq.

A woman fussed with the president's hair, which had been freshly cut for the television appearance. A make-up artist dabbed delicate touches of rouge on the president's cheeks. Another attendant fluttered in briefly to adjust the president's tie, which, like the $6,000 suit the president was wearing, had arrived that morning from a Chicago couturier. As for the president's $900 designer shoes – which, as a recent news story had pointed out playfully, were not only made by the same Italian craftsman who supplied Saddam Hussein with footwear, but were also the same size and make as those ordered by the Iraqi dictator – they had been carefully polished earlier by yet another aide, even though they would of course be out of sight during the broadcast.

In addition to all of this activity, the president's political advisors and speechwriters were also making last-minute adjustments to the brief speech, while giving the president pointers about his delivery: "Keep your gaze and your voice steady. Project firmness of purpose. Confidence, calmness, character. And short phrases, lightly punched. Don't worry, the breaks and stresses will be marked on the teleprompter."

It's little wonder that no one saw the man as he advanced slowly to the center of the room. He stood there silently, until the sense of his presence crept up on the others. One by one, they turned to look at him, this unauthorized figure, this living breach of protocol. He was, in almost every sense, non-descript. He wore a plain suit of indeterminate color; his features and his skin betrayed no particular race. He had no badge, no papers; how had he come to be here, where nothing is allowed that is not licensed by power?

Then, more astonishing, they saw his companion: a two-year-old girl standing by his side. A mass of tousled hair framed her face; a plain red dress covered her thin body. She too was silent, but not as still as the man. Instead, she turned her head this way and that, her eyes wide with curiosity, drawn especially by the bright television lights that shone on the president.

A Marine guard reached for his holster, but the man raised his hand, gently, and the guard's movement was arrested. The aides and attendants stepped back, then stood rooted, as if stupefied, their ranks forming a path from the man at the room's center to the president's desk. The president, brilliant in the light, alone retained the freedom to move and speak. "Who are you?" he asked, rising from his chair. "What do you want?"

The man put his hand tenderly on the back of the girl's head and came forward with her. "I have a question for you, and an opportunity," the man replied. "I've heard it said that you are righteous, and wish to do good for the world."

"I am," said the president. "I wish only to do God's will, as He in His wisdom reveals it to me. In His will is the whole good of the world. What is your question, what is your opportunity? Be quick; I have mighty business at hand."

The man nodded. "If tonight you could guarantee the good of the world – peace and freedom, democracy and prosperity, now and forever; if tonight, you could relieve the suffering of all those who labor under tyranny and persecution, all those who groan in poverty and disease; if tonight, you could redeem the anguish of creation, past and future, now and forever; if tonight, you could guarantee such a universal reconciliation, by the simple expedient of taking this" – here the man suddenly produced a black pistol and held it out to the president – "and putting a bullet through the brain of this little one here, just her, no one else: would you do it? That is my question, this is your opportunity."

With firmness of purpose, the president grasped the pistol and walked around the desk. With confidence, calmness, and steady hand, he pressed the barrel to the girl's head and pulled the trigger. Her eyes, which had grown even wider with her smile at the approach of the nicely dressed man and his rosy cheeks, went black with blood in the instant shattering of her skull. Her body spun round from the force of the shot – once, twice, three times in all – then fell, her mutilated head flailing wildly, in a heap on the floor of the Oval Office.

At that moment, the man faded, like a dream, into nothingness. The aides and attendants, unfrozen, stepped back into their tasks. The room was again a whirl of activity, like a hive. The president – the dematerialized gun no longer in his hand – strode confidently back to his chair. He winked at a nearby aide and pumped his fist: "Feel good!" he exulted.

The speech went off without a hitch. The hair was perfect, the voice steady, the phrases short and lightly punched. No one saw the blood and bits of brain that clung to the president's $900 designer shoes; they were, of course, out of sight during the broadcast.

First published in The Moscow Times on April 20, 2003.

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The ICEmen Cometh: Madness, Blindness and the Anti-Immigrant Cargo Cult

Written by Chris Floyd 27 February 2017 10874 Hits

The New York Times has a story about the consternation of a small town in rock-ribbed Trump country after one of its leading citizens, Mexican native Carlos Pacheo, was hauled off by armed immigration officers. The good townsfolk still “firmly believe” that “illegals” need to be deported, you understand, but it turns out that their long-time friend and public-spirited fellow citizen is one of the “good ones,” a special case for whom their hero in the White House should perhaps make a special exception.

(I’m not belittling their desire to save their friend from deportation — more power to them if they can keep him in the country with his wife and children. But seeing how this humane impulse exists simultaneously with their ardent desire to deport all the other “illegals,” I can’t help but be reminded of Josef Goebbel’s remark to Hitler about the difficulties he was encountering with the racist Nuremberg Laws. He said the policy itself was widely supported, but enforcement was hard because “every German has his favorite Jew” whom they think should be treated as an exception.)

Many Americans seem to believe that if you just got rid of Mexican restaurant owners and all the “illegals” who clean hotels and offices and do other grunt work for peanuts, then somehow, magically, a cornucopia of secure, high-paying jobs will suddenly appear. How this will happen is never made clear; undocumented immigrants aren’t holding such jobs, they never “took away” those jobs in the first place — and their absence won’t bring them back.

America’s working class (and middle class) communities have been devastated and undermined by the rapacious greed of rich white All-American elites, who’ve spent stripping the country’s assets — its land and its labor force — by sending away jobs to maximize their own profit, by hiding their own bloated profits in tax havens (or gaming the system like the mobbed-up casino boss in the White House), by gorging themselves on corporate welfare and “incentives” and tax cuts from the politicians they’ve bought, by draining the treasury with endless wars and military operations that destabilize the world, erode security but make huge profits for fat cats. They gutted thriving businesses and starved public bodies of funds, leading to a greatly diminished quality of life for millions of people. The “New Democrats” like Bill Clinton and his successors clearly aligned their party with these developments, meaning they could offer no real alternative, no good solutions when this inherently unstable, unjust system was hit by a reality bomb in 2008 and began to crumble.

And now a mobbed-up casino boss has stepped into the vacuum, promising to fix it but using hatred and chaos to distract from his real purpose: letting the same rich white All-American elites who created the situation to tear the remaining bits of meat from the American carcass to fill their own bellies while the country sinks further and world burns. But somehow, these Trump voters believe that sending armed goons into homes and restaurants — even hospitals — to drag immigrants away is going to solve all this. Meanwhile, those same New Democrats will tell you that it’s all Putin’s fault, and if only the good guys of the CIA will step in, we can get back to having leaders who make pretty speeches while drone-bombing weddings, bailing out Wall Street, overthrowing governments, raising military budgets and, er, deporting millions of people, and everything will be OK.

There is a kind of madness, and a kind of blindness, abroad in the land — and absolutely pervasive throughout both political parties — that I can’t recall seeing before, at least not at this level. It’s as if every political and institutional bulwark against authoritarianism and oligarchy has either been deliberately destroyed or has inexplicably disarmed itself. And here is Trump, whose administration embodies authoritarianism and oligarchy in their most naked, berserk forms. Yet Americans keep believing that “getting rid of illegals” — or, on the “left,” getting off some “really killer” satirical lines at the Oscars — will change things. And so the madness and the blindness go on.

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Message to the Alt-Right: A Lesson From History

Written by Chris Floyd 27 February 2017 9773 Hits

UPDATED BELOW: History teaches us that there is only one sure way to defeat fascism: put millions of fascists in the ground. Let us hope that today's "alt-righters" and "new nationalists" and all the seeping pustules of hatred -- from the White House down to the nastiest, cringing anonymous internet troll -- consider this historical lesson, so we don't have to go through it again. But let them also know that if we do have to go through it again, then by God, that's exactly where they're going: into the ground.

UPDATE: The reactions to this post — most of them coming elsewhere, not in the comments here — has been … instructive, let us say. Most of them have shown either an overwhelming historical ignorance or an astonishing lack of reading comprehension skills or just the usual hate-troll spinning to feed their own wounded sense of self-importance. There’s also the fact that some of the comments elsewhere were from self-declared “alt-righters” who also clearly stated that the war against Nazi Germany was “mass murder.” Make of that mindset what you will.

What caused the kerfuffle? A single paragraph stating a simple fact: that the last time fascism became a huge force in the world and began attacking people, it had to be put down through a massive world war, fought by millions of people of many nationalities, beliefs, ideologies. It required the defeat of the massive fascist army of Nazi Germany, which lost millions of men. This is a historical fact. In order to defeat armed and aggressive fascism back then, millions of fascists had to die. Of course, there were alternatives to this grim fate: they could have surrendered, or not become fascists at all or not attacked other countries and so on. But these were roads not taken.

Now, the second part of this single paragraph states another plain fact: that if the fascism which many alt-righters and “white nationalists” seem to be longing for rises again to the same degree, then there will again be millions of people of many nationalities, beliefs and ideologies who will rise up and fight to defeat them once more, just as in World War II.

How hard is that to understand? Is it even a controversial statement? We had to fight a war against an armed and aggressive fascism to defeat it once before; and if it happens again, we will fight it again in the same way. It’s a simple statement.

Again, there are plenty of alternatives to this terrible scenario. Here's one: don’t let your “alt-right” or racial prejudice or nationalist beliefs lead to armed and aggressive fascism. Don't take them to their extremes and then try to seize power to impose them by force. No one is REQUIRED to go out and become a full-blown Nazi and take over countries with ideologies of hate and exclusion and use your army to impose your beliefs on others at home and abroad. If that doesn’t happen — and pray god it doesn’t — then there will be no second war against armed and aggressive fascism. Would that really be so hard to do?

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