Protection Racket: Why Our Leaders Shield Torturers

Written by Chris Floyd 16 May 2016 11864 Hits

Here’s a headline for you: “GOP Senator Wants to Make Sure the Full CIA Torture Report Never Sees the Light of Day.” And why does he want to do that? Because our sexually anxious overlords get off on torture. It makes them hard. It makes them feel tough. It makes them forget what cringing, servile ass-kissers they’ve had to be — for years on end — in order to slither and slime their way to the top.  That’s it. That’s all of it. All the other ‘reasons’ they adduce for protecting the practice — and practitioners — of torture are just bullshit. They love it because they are weak, sick, damaged wretches dead to their own humanity.

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A Picture of American Policy: Waking From the Fever Dream

Written by Chris Floyd 30 April 2016 15659 Hits

*My column in the latest CounterPunch Magazine.* Last month I saw a picture, a photograph that burned down the Potemkin village of American politics that tends to rise in even the most skeptical mind during the fever dream known as the presidential campaign. We all get caught up in it, especially those of us who've been following politics for decades, and were marinated for many years in a mainstream perspective. I myself was raised as a "yellow dawg" Democrat in the South. The idea, of course, was that no matter who the Democrats nominated -- even it was a yellow dog -- you voted for them. My father -- perhaps to his credit? -- carried on with this ideal long after almost all of his fellow white rural Southerners had abandoned the Democrats for the dog-whistle racism of the modern Republican Party.

I remember well one of his most abiding pieces of political wisdom. It was 1984, and a neighbor of ours -- a big, hulking, slightly backward country boy who'd been devoted to my father since their school days -- told him: "Chief, I'm thinkin' about votin' for Reagan this time. What do you think?" My father leaned against the back of his pickup truck and said in a cool, even tone: "Buford, a man who'd vote for Reagan would eat shit." Buford nodded his head vigorously. "You right about that, Chief!" (But I'm sure he voted for Reagan anyway.)

So I'm well aware that it's hard not to get caught up in the horse race of the Grand Quadrennial Derby: "Was this a good move for Bernie? Will HRC take a hit from Bill's gaffe? Is Trump faltering? Will the GOP elites come around to Cruz?" And so and so forth with the myriad other permutations and speculations that can dazzle the mind -- and numb the moral sense -- while watching the political circus.

But then something will shake you -- or slap you -- awake. And so one day I saw a photograph someone tweeted from the Yemen Post. It showed a young girl -- 12, 14, the age was hard to tell. She was on her hands and knees face down in the dirt, trying to suck water from a hole in a dirty rubber pipe. And in that instant, all the silly, stupid, evil folderol of the campaign circus, all the earnest bunting that adorns the Potemkin village, fell away.

I saw the picture, and I knew -- once again-- this is America in the modern world. This is American foreign policy. This is what it is, this is what it does. This is a war that our Peace Prize-winning president has been conducting with his Saudi allies for more than a year. It’s been responsible for the "excess deaths" of 10,000 children, according to UNICEF. (Let's repeat that: TEN THOUSAND CHILDREN.) It has driven millions to the brink of famine. It has destroyed schools, hospitals, infrastructure. It has been a gigantic boon for al Qaeda by attacking its deadliest foes in Yemen, the Houthis, and giving it scope to spread. It is a humanitarian disaster and a moral outrage of the highest order.

And yet ... there is no outrage. There is scarcely any notice, beyond a bare minimum of "marginal" websites and a few stories deeply buried, and stripped of context, in the bowels of the mainstream press. In the past year, a "progressive" administration -- whose policies will be continued by either of the Democratic nominees (yes, even Bernie says he wants to see more Saudi militarism in the region) -- has been directly complicit in the deaths of TEN THOUSAND CHILDREN. And no one involved in the presidential circus -- not the candidates, not the media, not the analysts, not the horse race afficianados -- gives the slightest damn.

None of them -- and nothing in the sinister clownery of his election -- deals with the reality of what we are doing in the world. No one will speak of its true, deeply criminal nature -- not even the "radical," "revolutionary" "Democratic Socialist" candidate. So what, in the end, are they really talking about? They’re talking about nothing. They’re talking about bullshit. They’re talking about anything on God’s green earth — or rather, God’s bloodstained, gouged-out, dying earth — but reality.

The reality is a young girl forced to go down on her hands and knees to pry a few drops of water from a broken pipe. She could be your daughter. She could be you. She is a human being who did nothing wrong but be born in a place where a few "progressive" American elites -- headed by the Peace Prize-winning president -- wanted to play with their head-chopping, woman-hating allies to achieve and maintain dominance over the oil lands and their strategic environs.

In the end, it comes down to that brief scene in Warren Beatty's film, "Reds," where a plump, patriotic burgomeister from Portland calls on Jack Reed to explain "just what this war [WWI] is all about!" Reed rises amongst the tuxedoes and pretty outfits at the gathering and says but a single word: "Profits."

That's why the Yemeni girl is face down in the dirt, scrambling desperately for water. That's all it's about, this "war on terror," that's the only thing it's ever been about: profits.

And whoever is elected, that's not going to change.

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Something for the Server: Keeping the Burlesque Kicking

Written by Chris Floyd 26 April 2016 14011 Hits

As long-time readers know, the Empire Burlesque website is a bespoke creation of our remarkable webmaster, Richard Kastelein. He approached me years ago and offered to build a website from scratch and host it on a private server, which would keep it free from  government or corporate interference. That’s just what he did, and he has kept it running in high gear for 11 years now. However, as we all know, freedom ain’t never free. The private server costs money to maintain (and defend from attacks), and for all these years this cost has been borne entirely by Rich, who also hosts a number of other important sites on it.

It’s a sacrifice he’s been glad to make — such is the measure of the man — but it is a sacrifice, a financial burden that continually mounts up. So the writers who benefit from all of his hard work and creativity are pitching in to try to ease that burden in a straitened time. In addition to our own contributions, we are inviting readers to show their appreciation for Rich’s work with a small contribution as well. It’s very simple. Just press the button, and any donation will go straight to the server costs.

Both Rich and I are always leery of asking readers for contributions. We know that the kind of people who read Empire Burlesque are not the ruthless profiteers of this world, with plenty of spare cash lying around to spend at a whim. So, as always, we ask you to consider giving only what you can give, without straining your own resources.

I am even more leery of asking for contributions, of course, because I’ve not been blogging very much, for quite some time. And once again, I apologize for the dearth of posts. There are personal reasons for this, but I do hope to start blogging on a more sustained basis again soon. (Although I know I’ve said that before, too!)  With current constraints on time and energy for full-scale blogging, I have been trying to keep my hand in with occasional short observations on Twitter (@empireburlesque). But that is not exactly a forum for working out one’s thoughts and ideas with any depth or nuance. So I hope to return to more regular blogging as soon as I can.

And that’s why I’m even more cognizant of the sacrifices Rich has made and is making for this blog. He continues to host and improve the blog even as I’ve provided precious little in the way of content. So I am very happy for this chance to help do whatever I can to ease some of the financial burden of the server costs.

So again, if you can — and if you take a notion — do think of pitching a few coins into the server bucket. Thanks.

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Stress Test: Childhood as a Raw Material for Investor Exploitation

Written by Chris Floyd 18 April 2016 13767 Hits

In the Guardian, Zoe Williams captures the test-obsessed, ranking-addled, childhood-destroying insanity of the UK education system very well. Who is telling the government that this ruthless quantification is good for children? Not teachers, not education experts, not academics; every study and measure shows how destructive and detrimental it is, to students, to teachers, to communities. So who are they listening to, our leaders who care so much about our Big Society? As in America, they're listening to the testing profiteers, to blinkered ideologues (who can forget Michael Gove's great plan to improve education by giving every school a brand new Bible -- with his own name in it?) and, above all, to predatory investors (like the Murdochs, among many) who see the lives of our children -- their minds, their education, their very childhood -- as nothing more than so much raw material to mine for their own profit.

Williams is particularly and painfully right about the ongoing struggle of parents to assure our children that their entire self-worth -- and their dreams and ambitions for the future -- are not dependent on their SAT scores or GSCE results, and the difficulty of trying to find the proper balance between encouraging them to work hard and do well -- for their own sakes, for the development of their own minds -- while trying to tamp down the high pressure and unnecessary anxiety induced by this irrational and inhumane testing regime.

I've had children in primary or high school for more than 30 years, in two countries; and throughout that time, in both the US and UK, I've been amazed at the vast disparity between the never-ending gush of sentimental pieties about "how much we care for our children" -- and the callous indifference shown in the actual practice of the actual systems in which we place them. That disparity seems to grow greater, and more pernicious, with each passing year.

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Dry Bones: Racist History Returns With a Vengeance

Written by Chris Floyd 06 April 2016 14303 Hits

When I was 18, I worked for the Tennessee Department of Conservation at the Cedars of Lebanon State Park, a summer job where a few teenagers helped the park’s permanent workers clean up the picnic areas and campgrounds and ball fields. I mostly helped two ageing characters who’d gotten their sinecures through political patronage. Both were near retirement, and were seeing out their working years with some easy work in pleasant surroundings. They had a black boss they didn’t much like — a park ranger — but they kept their racial sideswipes to a minimum, at least for those days.

Both were men of profound and “sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions,” as the saying goes. (Or rather, as the language of the new Jim Crow law in Mississippi goes.) They often held forth on weighty matters of faith and morals as we cruised the park in a truck, emptying trash cans and spending long (very long) breaks beside the big Cedar Park swimming pool, full to the brim of bikini-clad young women enjoying the fine Tennessee summer. Two expositions of their faith have long stood out in my memory.

One was the story of a fallen woman, a prostitute, who in her despair and moral anguish had turned to the church of one of my stalwart Christian colleagues. He told of how one Sunday, she came into the church after the service had started: shyly, hesitantly, seemingly ashamed of herself as she took a seat in a back pew, still wearing the clothes of her previous night’s labor: short skirt, tight top, platform heels. (He was particularly assiduous and copious in his description.) The startled congregation hardly knew what to make of her — and she hurried out quickly at the service’s end.

But she kept returning, for the next few weeks, always in the same fashion: coming in late, furtively, still in her Saturday clothes, keeping to herself in the back, hurrying out lest she scandalize the faithful by her very presence. Obviously she was yearning for the Lord to pull her from her life of sin. But no one in the church approached her, no one emulated the Saviour with the woman taken in adultery and said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

And so, said my colleague, he took it upon himself to rectify the situation. Seeing how the story was tending, I found myself revising my perhaps too-hasty opinion of him. Perhaps, I thought, he was a man of broader, deeper character than I had hitherto surmised.

Then he went on with his story.

His solution to the appearance of the prostitute in the church house was not to welcome her, speak to her, tell her of God’s grace and forgiveness. No, it was to step forth boldly before the congregation and declare that such a wanton creature should not darken the door of the Lord’s house; she should be barred from coming back ever again.

“We never saw that whore again.” This was told in tones of quiet satisfaction, the tones of a man who had humbly but bravely done his duty. To say that I was gobsmacked is to riot in understatement. I had a hard time believing he had read the same Gospels that had been read to me — and that I had of my own volition eagerly read — since my earliest childhood.

(This same colleague told another interesting — albeit more secular — story that has also stayed with me. In brief, it was how he had spent years in the service of the local political machine buying votes on election days: “Ten dollars each for whites, five dollars each for the niggers.”  He had worked his local district for decades like this. Oddly enough, the previous summer, I’d worked for another state agency, picking up trash on the highways, where another aged colleague told the same tale, although he worked a different district.)

The theological disquisition of my other colleague in the state park was not quite so vivid, although it too stayed through almost 40 years since those halcyon days. One day, while making our rounds, the talk turned for some reason to interracial marriage. Of course, it goes without saying that these two Christian gentlemen considered such a thing as completely and utterly retrograde to their “sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions.” There was not any question about it; anyone involved in such filth was bound for hell — as was any nation that countenanced such evil. This was standard fare for that time and place, a sentiment I had heard expressed by most people around me since I was first able to discern the meaning of human speech.

Given the ubiquity and all-pervasiveness of this sentiment, it’s not likely that it alone would have a lodged in my mind for long a time. But what I found curious was how this stalwart’s sincerely held convictions regarding the purity of marriage transcended ordinary notions of race altogether. To be sure, he strongly held forth that he didn’t believe in marriage between “white people and Mexicans;” that was, again, de rigueur for our milieu. No, what struck me was that he went on in his religious-nationalist fervor: “I don’t believe no white should marry no French, or Italian, or Russian, or English neither!”

I think it was this last that impressed me most deeply. Not even the English were white enough for this good white Christian American! Even the English — the very avatars of whiteness, who had carried their “white man’s burden” to the four corners of the earth in the god-ordained crusade of Empire — were not really white … because they weren’t American whites! Or, to be more specific, they were not Southern American white people, because doubtless this stalwart would have considered, say, Italian-Americans in New Jersey or Irish Catholics in Boston to be far less than white. (And don’t even get him started on the Jews!)

Many years later, I myself married one of these ungodly non-white people: an Englishwoman, no less! My colleague had long flown to mansions on high by that point, but I must admit he crossed my mind as my English bride and I plighted our troth in the ancient environs of Oxford.

I was reminded of these long-gone co-workers by today’s stories out of Mississippi: a state where I once worked in the piney swamps of Meridan, the city where they tried — and freed — the killers of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner. These were the civil rights workers who’d gone down to Mississippi in the Sixties to ensure that everyone had the right to vote — and the right to be served at businesses open to the public without being turned away because of someone’s “sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions” that certain kinds of people were beyond the pale.

Many people died and many more suffered to take us out of that pit of hate and despair. And by the time I was riding with the stalwarts — 13 years after those murders — their attitudes seemed quaint, outdated, broken vestiges of a vanished past. I laughed at them, and kept laughing for 40 years. But as that famous Southerner William Faulkner once said, the past is never dead; it’s not even past. And so the good stalwart white Southern Christians of modern-day Mississippi have reassembled the dry bones of hatred and prejudice and made them walk again. A whole new army of Jim Crow zombies.

The laugh was on me, on all of us. Despite all the deaths, all the suffering, here we are again: if not at the absolute beginning, then close — too Mississippi goddam close — to it. The old battles must be fought again. The self-righteous peddlers of prejudice, the hawkers of hatred, the weak and stunted souls who turn away the suffering, who cling belligerently to the accidents of their pigment and their national origin in a vain and pathetic attempt to keep their own terrors and chaos and shortcomings at bay — they are back with renewed vigor, and we must take them on again.

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The Devil Done Got Loose in Mississippi, Pulling Jim Crow From the Grave

Written by Chris Floyd 05 April 2016 13316 Hits

The Devil is loose in Mississippi, dressed up like a preacher and hollering God's name. The Guardian reports it here. Growing up in the South, I knew many people who felt that interracial marriage "conflicted with their sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions." Many also sincerely believed that ANY mixing of races -- at lunch counters, water fountains, hotels, churches, schools, toilets, etc. -- also conflicted with their "religious beliefs or moral convictions." That's why we had the Jim Crow laws. This new law in Mississippi makes ALL of that possble again, and more. If you can refuse service to same-sex couples on religious grounds, you can refuse it to interracial couples, mixed-religion couples, unmarried couples, divorcees -- to anyone doing ANYTHING that you believe is a sin and don't want to be associated with. There is serious evil afoot here, and it goes far beyond "political correctness." It is the re-introduction of state-backed hatred and bigotry, using an obscence perversion of the ideal of "religious liberty" to mask its true and deeply pernicious nature.

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Progressive "Triumph": Neofascist Message Pusher Disappointed in Messenger

Written by Chris Floyd 29 March 2016 13308 Hits

So one of Trump's "top strategists," Stephanie Cegielski, has resigned in protest over his recent tweet on the atrocity in Lahore, and written an open letter to his followers denouncing her boss. This has been seized upon by various "progressives" as a great cudgel with which to beat the Donald about his goodish head. One of his own inner circle, giving him a "brutal" beatdown! Surely that will shake the rabble to their senses!

Somehow I doubt if Trump supporters will be swayed by her message; they seem impervious to any punctures in their bubble of delusion. But frankly, why should we respect the "insights" of someone who was inane enough to "believe" in Trump in the first place? And not only that, but eager to work for him? Someone who was "excited" by his misogynist attacks on female reporters, excited by his "politically incorrect" statements -- Mexicans as murderers, barring Muslims, "bringing back waterboarding and worse," "too bad we can't beat up protestors anymore," tweeting false stats from racist websites to push "black on white crime" fearmongering, etc., etc. She was excited by all this, and helped propagate these messages for months on end.

And now, only now, with his ridiculous statement about Pakistan -- which was certainly no more ridiculous and megalomaniacal than many other statements she has been happy to promote -- she suddenly finds he has gone too far? This is hard to believe. She was very happy -- excited, eager -- to help Trump inject virulent poison into the political debate day after day. Even if, as she now claims, she did it only to help launch a "protest" campaign, not actually elect Trump, what does it say that she was happy to do such things -- under any circumstances, for whatever reason?

It's good, I guess, that she has stopped helping propagate the messages of hatred, ignorance, violence and division which she was "excited" about pushing until last week. But her evident lack of common sense, common decency, intellectual acumen or depth of insight -- as amply demonstrated by her ardent, "devoted" service to Trump in the first place -- certainly undermines her effectiveness as Trump critic, to say the least. For even now, she expresses not the slightest regret for the vicious tropes she helped propound. Obviously, she still believes that Mexican immigrants are murderers and rapists, that we should build a "Great Wall" and "make the Mexicans pay for it," that we should ban Muslims from entering the country, that we should target the families of suspected terrorists, that we should torture people and so on. There are no regrets at all about the neofascist message she's been pushing -- just disappointment in the messenger.

Well, don't worry, Ms. Cegielski. Thanks in no small part to your own efforts, you can be sure the next unvarnished neofascist to seek high office will display all the "serious" policy chops you require in a "strong leader" who will "make America great again." Trump is but a forerunner for the apotheosis to come. So keep the faith!

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Zero-Sum: The Savage Vision Driving a Terror-Ridden World

Written by Chris Floyd 22 March 2016 14229 Hits

The atrocities in Brussels -- and they are horrific, criminal atrocities -- are not occurring in a vacuum. They are not springing from some unfathomable abyss of motiveless malevolence. They are a response, in kind, to the atrocious violence being committed by Western powers on a regular basis in many countries around the world. And just as there is no justification for the acts of carnage in Brussels (and Paris and Turkey and elsewhere), there is likewise no justification for the much larger and more murderous acts of carnage being carried out by the most powerful and prosperous nations on earth, day after day, year after year.

The Western powers know this. For many years, their own intelligence agencies -- in study after study  -- have confirmed that the leading cause of violent "radicalization" among a small number of Muslims is the violent Western intervention in Muslim lands. These interventions are carried out for the purpose of securing the economic and political domination of Western interests over lands rich with energy resources, as well as their strategic surroundings. That they have not even the slightest connection to "liberating" people from religious or political persecution, or making the world "safer," is glaringly transparent. They are about domination, pure and simple.

Indeed, this point is scarcely disputed, although champions of domination claim it is a good thing. For decades, one has heard the argument from American exceptionalists that "if we don't do it" -- that is, if we don't dominate the world militarily and economically -- "then somebody else will." The implication, of course, is that such a "somebody else" will be far worse than our own divinely blessed, goodhearted selves.

There is a fiercely primitive worldview underlying this philosophy (which is held almost universally across the American political spectrum, and in those countries who cling to the coattails of American dominance). It says that violent domination is the only reality in human affairs: one must dominate, or be dominated. One must eat or be eaten. One must kill or be killed. There is no alternative. If "we" don't dominate -- by force if necessary, doing "whatever it takes" -- then it is a given that some other power will do so. Domination and power are all that exists; the only question is how they are distributed, and who controls that distribution. And there is no price too high to pay in order to gain -- or maintain -- that control.

You can see how this primitive belief plays out in domestic politics too. More and more, politics across the Western democracies (and other nations as well) are revolving around the question of who should dominate in a society -- or more specifically, who feels their domination over society is being threatened. This dynamic is driving nationalist movements across the board. In the United States, it is expressed in the panic and dismay felt by an increasing number of white people -- especially but by no means exclusively white males -- that their "natural" domination of American society is slipping away. They want to "take our country back," or else they'll be overwhelmed -- dominated -- by a flood of unworthy others: African-Americans, Mexicans, Muslims, homosexuals, women, etc. This self-pitying fear has been rife in right-wing discourse for decades, and has now burst into the open, and into the mainstream, with the likely nomination of Donald Trump as presidential candidate of a major party.  

Again, the dynamic of domination is key: since nothing exists outside this dynamic, since there is no other way, then one group MUST dominate the others. The idea of equal citizens working, living, and sharing together is a fantasy in this worldview. If blacks or immigrants or women or gays are perceived to have gained a small share in the national life, then that share must have been "taken" from the dominant group. And since, in this view, domination is the goal of all groups, since it is the organizing principle of human life, then those upstart groups are not just seeking a fair share of society's bounty and freedoms and opportunities; no, they are actually aiming to subjugate the dominant group. In this extremely limited worldview, life is always a zero-sum game. To give someone else more opportunity means less for yourself, and your kind. The freer someone else is, the less free you are. There is only so much to go around. You will find more sophisticated and empathetic worldviews on grade-school playgrounds, or in wolf packs.

And so we come to the foreign policies of Western nations today. They are all, without exception, built on the goal of securing effective control (in whatever form) of economic and strategic resources for the benefit of their own power structures. Again, it is beyond dispute that these policies do not involve trying to make the world a better, safer place so that their own citizens might pursue their lives in peace. These policies manifestly do not involve trying to achieve "security" for their own people. Those who advance these policies knowingly and deliberately accept the fact that they will invariably cause destruction abroad and "blowback" at home. They know and accept that these policies will destabilize the world, that they will radicalize some of those who suffer from them, that they will lead to less security at home, that they will drain public treasuries and leave their own people to sink in broken communities with decaying infrastructure, mounting debt, shrinking opportunities, bleak futures and despairing lives.

They know all of this is true -- not only because they can see it happening with their own eyes, as we all can, but also because their own experts tell them, time and time again, that this is so. But they accept all this as the price that must be paid to advance and maintain their dominance. In the words of Madeline Albright, when she was confronted with the fact that the US/UK sanctions on Iraq had at that time killed at least 500,000 children, our leaders believe this price "is worth it."

In private, they no doubt tell themselves that it is the domination of their good and "special" nation, or the domination of the worthy "values" of "Western civilization" that they are trying to secure with their policies, by doing "whatever it takes." But in practice, of course, the chief beneficiaries of these policies are invariably the ruling classes of the nations involved. This has become much more brazenly evident in recent years, as the conditions and prospects of even the middle classes are so clearly deteriorating. There is little room left to pretend that the "rising tide" of militarized hyper-capitalism is "lifting all boats" when even those who once benefitted from expanding opportunity (in the post-war boom) are now sinking. (The poor, of course, have almost always been invisible.)

The people in Brussels -- like the people in Paris, and like the far greater multitude of victims in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, etc -- are, yes, "reaping the whirlwind" of Western foreign policy. The criminals who carried out the most recent attacks have adopted the mindset of our Western elites, who teach the world, day after day, that the destruction of innocent lives is an acceptable price to pay in order to achieve your objectives. You can and must do "whatever it takes" -- even if whatever it takes is, say, the death of half a million innocent children. Or a war of aggression that leaves a million innocent people dead. Or drone-bombing a wedding party. Or sending missiles into a hospital. Or sitting in the Oval Office -- your Peace Prize gleaming on the mantelpiece -- while you tick off the names of victims on your weekly "Kill List."

We wonder how these terrorists can commit such barbarous atrocities as we see in Brussels -- even while most of us happily countenance, even celebrate, far more extensive and continuous atrocities committed by our leaders in pursuit of domination. Then we pretend that the former has no connection to the latter. Yet the targets of these foreign policies live through a hundred Brussels attacks, a dozen 9/11s every year. We teach violence to the world -- brutal destruction of individual lives, of societies and communities, of entire nations -- yet are shocked when the world responds in kind.

I will say it again: there is absolutely no justification for the murder of innocent people such as we saw in Brussels today. None. But crimes of equal horror -- killing innocent people, disrupting the lives of millions of others, and filling them with fear -- are being carried out, routinely, and on a much larger scale, by the leaders of our Western nations and their allies. This too is equally unjustifiable, and is worthy of the same level of rejection and outrage we rightly apply to the Brussels atrocity.

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Let us now praise those who helped make the world a better place in March 2003.

Written by Chris Floyd 20 March 2016 13256 Hits

March 20: 13 years to the day since the invasion of Iraq. Sure, people had their disagreements about it back then, but isn't the world a better, safer place these days? Look at how freedom and democracy are flourishing all over the Middle East! I think we should all take a moment and silently thank George Bush and Hillary Clinton and all the supporters of that glorious endeavor for ignoring the millions upon millions of us who said it was a criminal, immoral act of monstrous folly that would lead to years of ruin, chaos, death and destruction. Thanks, Dub! Thanks, HRC! Well done, guys!!!

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No Bern Notice: The Imperial Myopia of Candidate Sanders

Written by Chris Floyd 10 March 2016 15034 Hits

Does Bernie Sanders know what Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama did to Honduras? Does he care? Last week saw yet another savage murder of a Honduran activist for democracy -- one of hundreds such atrocities since Clinton and Obama blessed a brutal oligarchical coup there in 2009. But Sanders said nothing -- says nothing -- about this damning legacy of his opponent. It's an extraordinary omission by someone presenting himself as an alternative to the failed elitist policies of the past.

The only Sanders reference to Honduras that I've been able to find is some justified criticism of the draconian treatment of Honduran refugees by the Obama-Clinton team. But he never tied this back to why there has been a flood of Hondurans fleeing their country -- most of them children, sent on a perilous journey by desperate parents hoping to save them from the hellish conditions wrought by the coup. Political repression and rampant gangsterism -- including the abandonment of broad swathes of society to the ravages of poverty and gangs -- have driven the nation to its knees. Last week's murder of indigenous activist Berta Cáceres is but the latest bitter fruit of the Obama-Clinton betrayal of democracy.

Clinton -- with a heart as hard as that most adamantine of all elements, neoconium -- obviously doesn't care. (Although at least she has refrained from looking on the latest murder and crying, "We came, we couped, she died!") One assumes that Sanders, who over the years has opposed various American depredations in Latin America, might not be so sanguine. But as of this writing, a week has passed since Cáceres's murder without comment from Sanders. However, his Senate colleague from Vermont, Patrick Leahy, did condemn the killing -- and the wasteful, land-grab dam project that Cáceres opposed. Perhaps now that Leahy has provided some Establishment cover, Sanders could bestir himself for a word or two on the Cáceres case.

But the reticence to attack Clinton on the substance -- and the essence and the goals -- of American foreign policy is very much a hallmark of the Sanders campaign. For example,his only word about the American-backed campaign of slaughter, ruin and starvation being conducted by the Saudis against Yemen has been a lament that the Saudis are wasting good ammo in Yemen when they should be "getting their hands dirty" against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Yes, apparently the proper "democratic socialist" position is that the world needs more violent intervention by the greatest purveyors of Islamic extremism in the world. We need more killing -- and more military expansion -- by one of the most repressive regimes on the face of the planet. This is where the "progressive left" is at these days.

Again, this is an extraordinary position for someone who is calling for a "revolution" in American affairs. For although Sanders wants the Saudis to do more of the "dirty" work of killing people in the Middle East, there's no suggestion on this part that the United States won't continue to supply the weaponry and logistics and intelligence for the "Sanders Surrogate" wars he envisions, just as it is doing now in Yemen. This same resistance to any fundamental change in America's militarist imperium runs through all of Sanders' foreign policy stances. Which means that his plans for a "revolution" (really mild reform) in domestic affairs are doomed to failure, because the War Machine will continue to dictate policy -- and budget priorities. Dennis Riches put it well in this quote from MintPress News:

Although Sanders claims to seek a more democratic government and hopes to remove the influence of money from politics, Riches said he avoids talking much about this complex topic because doing so would involve admitting how much the U.S. national economy depends on a massive military and endless foreign wars.

“Doing the right thing would require a complete abdication of America’s self-assigned role as master of the global order, and this would also entail a re-imagining of the domestic economy,” Riches noted.

There will be no "revolution" -- there will not even be any genuine reform, beyond mild tinkering at the margins -- without such an abdication and re-imagining. But this is not on offer from any of the "major candidates" now vying to be the temporary manager of the corrupt and violent American imperium, including Sanders.  

2.
Meanwhile, the horror in Honduras goes on. As so often over the years, John Perry of the London Review of Books provides excellent background on the situation there. He notes that the Cáceres murder is part of an American-backed ethos that puts "business" before any and all other concerns -- community, environment, individual human lives.

In this case, even the decidedly unsentimental Chinese investors -- and the equally bottom-line World Bank as well -- concluded that the dam project opposed by Cáceres was not worth pursuing. But local oligarchs, backed by the coup regime, decided to plow ahead. Perry sets the scene:

After the 2009 military coup, Honduras was declared open for business. Utopian projects for charter cities to bring in foreign entrepreneurs are still on the drawing board, but Honduras’s mineral resources have already attracted investors. To serve hundreds of new mines, 47 new hydroelectric projects were given the go ahead two months after the coup, overriding the legal protection for indigenous lands. One of them, Agua Zarca on the Gualcarque River, with dams generating 22 megawatts of electricity, would destroy Lenca farmland and villages. The Lenca community of Rio Blanco and the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (COPINH), co-founded by Cáceres, were determined to stop the dams being built.

They blocked the access road for construction traffic for a whole year in 2013, eventually forcing the Chinese firm Sinohydro to give up its contract. The World Bank also withdrew funding. The community seemed to have won, at the cost of activists being killed or injured by soldiers guarding the construction site.

Then last July, DESA, the local firm that holds the concession to dam the river, decided to go ahead by itself. A new phase of struggle began, with peaceful protests met by violent repression and bulldozers demolishing settlements in the valley. Threats against the leaders, and Cáceres in particular, increased. She was granted special protective measures by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, but the Honduran government never properly implemented them.

So just two months after the coup, 47 dam projects got the green light, to serve hundreds of new mines. Yet Hillary's defenders (you can read their obsequious offerings by the yard at Daily Kos) now tell us that she and Obama only supported the ouster and exile of the democratically elected Honduran president in 2009 in order to "prevent a civil war" in the country. It was pure altruism, on the level of high statecraft. It had nothing to do with, say, grubby business interests and powerful investors (including the not-at-all Washington-connected World Bank) needing a "green light" to move the pesky redskins off their land and gut the earth for more extraction profiteering. Such considerations did not enter into the mix at all.

(Even if one takes the argument of the Clinton apologists at face value, it's still a remarkable scam: Rightwing oligarchs threaten civil war if they don't get what they want; you give them what they want; and hey presto -- you've "saved" a nation from civil war! Why didn't Abe Lincoln think of that?)

The violent repression took its accustomed course:

In the small hours of the morning on Thursday 3 March, armed men burst through the back door of Cáceres’s house and killed her in her bed. They also injured a visiting Mexican activist, Gustavo Castro. At around eight o’clock, police and army officers arrived, dealing aggressively with the family and community members who were waiting to speak to them. As they left the scene, they insinuated that the motive was robbery. Cáceres’s body was wrapped in plastic and thrown in the back of an unmarked truck. ...

It is all part of a sickening pattern, played out over and over in Honduras, as elsewhere in the American imperium. As I wrote back in 2010:

Since the installation of these throwbacks to the corrupt and brutal 'banana republics' of yore, Obama's secretary of state, the "progressive" Hillary Clinton, has spent a good deal of time and effort trying to coerce Honduras' outraged neighbors in Latin America to "welcome" the thug-clique, now led by Porfirio Lobo, back into the "community of nations." Let bygones be bygones, Clinton says, as Lobo's regime murders journalists (nine so far this year), political opponents and carries on the wholesale trashing of Honduran independence (such as sacking four Supreme Court justices who opposed the gutting of liberties and the overthrow of constitutional order). After all, isn't that Obama's own philosophy: always "look forward," forget the crimes of the past? Every day is a new day, a clean slate, a chance for a new beginning -- indeed, for "hope and change."

In other words: let the dead bury the dead -- and let the rich and powerful reap their rewards.

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