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A Matter of Principle: The True Aims of the Terror War
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 10 June 2014 16:29

The moral insanity of the Terror War continues to spawn more violence, more extremism, more repression, more injustice, and the total subversion of the "Western values," all of which it is ostensibly designed to defend.

A new piece by Patrick Cockburn in the Independent provides a grimly illuminating look at this insanity in action on a specific front: Syria. It's worth reading in full, but here is an excerpt:

The Syrian war has turned into a Syrian version of the Thirty Years War in Germany four centuries ago. Too many conflicts and too many players have become involved for any peace terms to be acceptable to all.. … It has become increasingly obvious over the past year that al-Qa’ida type movements, notably Isis, Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, have come to dominate or can operate freely in a great swathe of territory across northern Iraq and northern Syria. This gives Isis a vast hinterland in which it can manoeuvre and fight on both sides of what is a largely nominal Syrian-Iraqi border.  …

Europeans have not yet woken up to the significance of these anarchic zones opening up on the shores of the Mediterranean in Syria and Libya. This is because the threat has been largely abstract but it is getting less so with the attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels by a French jihadi who had been in Syria. US and European politicians do not want to explain why, 13 years after 9/11, when the “war on terror” was supposedly launched, thousands of al-Qa’ida militants have been able to carve out enclaves so close to Europe.

US and European politicians won't explain it because any honest explanation would expose the emptiness at the core of all their proffered reasons for the Terror War. They can't explain it because the Terror War system -- including the increasing militarization and repression in their own countries -- has now become organizing principle of Western society. Or rather, it is the latest incarnation of what has been the guiding principle of Western society since World War II: organizing society and the economy around war, either active war or the ever-present "threat" of war (assiduously exaggerated -- or even manufactured -- at every turn). For government and big business, the immense power and profit and control they inevitably accrued from conducting total war on a global basis was far too enticing to give up once the war was over. The full mobilization of society's resources for war simply carried on; indeed, was expanded and amplified.

However, the war also had a life-transforming impact on many of its survivors. The savagery and loss -- and the class-effacing comradeship -- they had experienced during the war imbued millions of people with a burning desire to change society for the better, to do away with the poverty and injustices of the past, and build a better, more decent, more peaceful world. This spirit is evoked with remarkable power in a new book, Harry's Last Stand, by Harry Leslie Smith, a 91-year-old WII veteran enraged to see the neoliberal extremists that have held sway in the US and Britain for more than 30 years sweeping away the progress toward a more just society that his generation tried to build on the ruins of the war. (Some of Smith's writing can be found here and here.)

The power structure was forced to deal with these aspirations. And, yes, some among the commanding heights shared these sentiments as well, to varying degrees. Thus for a a brief period -- scarcely more than two generations -- there was an attempt to balance two opposing organizing principles at once: war and human betterment. The presidency of Lyndon Johnson was perhaps the apex -- and tragic denouement -- of this conflict. Johnson's Great Society and War on Poverty programs, and his muscling through of the Civil Rights Act, were profoundly transformative for millions of people, and even with their limitations and compromises could have laid the groundwork for a continual refinement and recalibration of society in the general direction of justice, opportunity and social peace. But Johnson was also a product -- and propagator -- of the war system: a hawk, eager to "project dominance," subvert and overthrow "recalcitrant" states and employ violence on a massive, indiscriminate (and lucrative) scale. The Vietnam War destroyed his presidency, crippled the momentum of his social programs, and accelerated the triumph of the war principle.

Now those who remember what the world was like before the Second World War -- the ugly, despairing poverty and inequality that Smith writes about so movingly -- are almost gone. Even those of us who remember when the idea of human betterment seemed a realistic possibility for society, a practical goal to be pursued despite many difficulties, not a pipe dream scorned by the "savvy," are fading away. There are now generations well into adulthood who have never known anything but the war principle and the neoliberal ascendancy as "normality," the natural state of things. Indeed, in a very few years, we'll see the first generation of adults who will have lived their entire lives under the reign of the Terror War. The relentless assault of the elites who have thrived under the war principle, increasing the unequal proportion of their wealth and power to unimaginable levels, have left these new generations very little to build upon. On so many fronts, so many levels, they will essentially have to start from scratch, re-discover old skills and insights that have been lost, re-fight old battles,  and of course, create new ways of trying to go forward (like the Occupy movement).

And they will have to do it against a power structure that is far more powerful, more pervasive and implacable than before. A power structure that every day is darkening the future of its own children, creating a dystopia of chaos and fear, of aggression and blowback, repression and revenge. No leader can "explain" what is happening because none of them can admit the truth: that the world they are making -- the world that has made them powerful, has lifted them up on a finely-meshed web of interlocking elite interests and will sustain them, and their families, among the elite for the rest of their lives -- is organized around violence and loot. Not security, not prosperity, not liberty, not democracy, not justice, not peace. These are not the aims of the system, these are not the products of the system.

The Terror War -- and the concomitant degradation of society and individual lives -- shows in stark relief that the system is producing exactly what it aims to produce: death, despair -- and record-breaking profits.

 
Facts and Fabrications: Responding to a Greenwald Smear
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Saturday, 07 June 2014 10:58

(UPDATED BELOW)

Oh well, once more into the breach with matters Greenwaldian. Word comes that I've been subjected to a personal smear by Glenn. Some of this has played out in the comments on the previous post, but I thought I'd bring it out here for an airing, and to expand on a few points.

It began with this from a commenter, Semanticleo:

Chris; GG replied to you from the flank: "Of course, Chris spent years heaping praise on me and privately seeking opportunities to write in my space. He must have had a sudden epiphany that I’m really just a pro-imperial militarist. I wonder how he explains to himself how he remained fooled for so long."

This was my initial response (lightly edited here):

Did he really say that? How amusing. However, I'm afraid that young Glenn is being economical with the truth if he says I spent years "privately seeking opportunities to write in [his] space." This simply did not happen. It is true that he asked me (and others) to fill in him for a week at Salon in 2007 while he was off, which I did quite happily. He also asked me to participate in a Talking Points Memo Book Club discussion, based on his new book at the time, which I also did. This too was in 2007. In 2008, he asked me -- again, as before, on his own initiative -- to do a podcast discussion with him on his blog. (I wasn't able to do it due to scheduling problems.) But I cannot recall -- nor can I find any evidence in the still-extant record of our email contacts going back seven years -- any time when I asked Greenwald for an opportunity to "write in his space" or even hinted at such a thing.

And yes, I've praised many of Greenwald's pieces over the years (as he has done with mine); why not? I often found myself in agreement with him on many issues, found many of his insights and information useful, and linked and praised accordingly. We also disagreed at times, in a friendly way, sometimes in comments he contributed to my blog, or in blog posts.

I didn't have a "sudden epiphany" that Glenn is "just a pro-imperial militarist." In fact, I never said he WAS a pro-imperial militarist. What I have said is the simple truth: he seems very happy to WORK for an oligarch whose public activities clearly advance a harsh neoliberal, pro-imperial, militarist agenda. This troubles me. It troubles me precisely because I admired much of Glenn's work in past years. Just as it troubles me that other writers whose journalism I've admired and found useful have gone to work for an oligarch with such a disturbing record -- people like Jeremy Scahill and Matt Taibbi, with whom I worked almost 20 years ago in Moscow. I don't think this is a good development; I think it bodes ill for journalism, for effective dissent against an overbearing power structure. I think we should find some other model for investigative journalism, rather than partnering up with neoliberal oligarchs like Omidyar. Is this really such a controversial opinion, worthy of a personal smear?

And yes, I've also questioned the handling of the Snowden material, and what I believe are the troubling implications of how it has been handled. I've explained my reasoning behind these concerns at some length.

But all of these concerns are based on my observations of the facts at hand. My opinion on these matters are not "epiphanies;" they have developed over time, in response to events as they've happened. Glenn did go to work for Omidyar. This was troubling. The facts coming out about Omidyar's record are troubling. I found the handling of the Snowden material, as it has played out over the course of more than a year, to be troubling in various ways (while still being glad, as always, when any information about our malevolent power structure leaks out). If none of these things had happened, I would not have written any of the material that Glenn now finds so objectionable.

Obviously Glenn disagrees with my interpretation of these events. That's his right, of course. He can disagree vociferously, as he did in my comment section a few months ago. Why not? He can even attack me personally, as he seems to have done here, if this quote is accurate. But I don't think he should tell lies in an attempt to blacken my character, instead of engaging with the substance at hand -- Omidyar's record, and what it means for top dissident journalists to come under his financial umbrella.

***

I thought that was it, but it seems there was more, as Tarzie noted in a follow-up comment:

Chris: You were not furnished with the full quote. Glenn also called this statement of yours an out and out fabrication:

His most prominent employee, Greenwald, constantly affirms his belief
that we should indeed have a powerful and far-reaching security state —
it should just be “reformed” and “overseen” by people he approves of.
(Snowden has voiced the same opinion.)

I left a reply to this on The Intercept, but they cherry pick comments, so there is no guarantee it will be published or answered. This was my direct reply to Greenwald's remark about your 'fabrication.'

--------

Well then perhaps you should explicitly clarify what your position on the security apparatus is. Because I think Floyd's assessment is at least correct in regard to Snowden, who frequently touts the essential goodness of spying and whose only real objection seems to be bulk data collection. When people object to what they see in Snowden's remarks as a very subservient, conformist view of the security state -- that is the viewpoint of someone who has spent his entire working life inside it and still insists he's working for it -- you belittle and ridicule them for never having blown whistles. With smears like 'chicken pseudo radicals' you have worked very hard to prevent any discussion about the very thick layer of national security ideology that comes bundled with almost everything Snowden says. Until you explicitly contradict him and repudiate the security state in stronger and more explicit terms, I don't think you can, in good faith, call Floyd's assessment a fabrication.

So let's just clear the air: what is the proper role of the Intelligence Community? If Congress would make any adjustments you suggested, what would those adjustments be? It would be especially interesting and refreshing to learn your views on other agencies besides the NSA.

I think Tarzie's reply to The Intercept covers the matter well. As he points out, Greenwald has attacked anyone who questions Snowden's affirmation of the need for a powerful spy system, and has not, to my knowledge, ever differentiated himself from this position. If Greenwald is NOT in favor of a robust security apparatus (albeit one 'reformed' and 'regulated' as he would like it), then he has never made that clear. Instead, two seconds on the internet finds quotes like this on Al Jazeera in January, where he talks of the need for "a much more sensible surveillance system."

I don't understand who he thinks will run this "more sensible surveillance system" in a militarized state hellbent on "projecting dominance" in every part of the world, and protecting an economic-social system based on vast and brutal inequality. That is the ruling system we have now: so again, among those who rise to the top of such an unjust and morally skewed system, who will you trust to carry out "more sensible surveillance"? And of course, the problem is not just surveillance, but all the other depredations being committed by our "security" apparatchiks and political leaders on a daily basis, including running death squads out of the White House with the direct participation of the president.

There are already laws on the books prohibiting warrantless surveillance, torture  -- and, indeed, "extrajudicial killing" (murder) and aggressive war. This has not stopped our bipartisan ruling class from carrying out these crimes and others, relentlessly, remorselessly and without the slightest accountability. Now, we can "engage in debate" about "reforms" for a "much more sensible surveillance system" until the cows come home -- but in the system of political and socioeconomic organization we have now, none of this will make any difference. You will still have the same kind of people running things, because the kind of people willing to commit or countenance such crimes are the only kind of people who will rise to the top of such a system.

And this system of power does not just include "the radically corrupted political class in DC," as Greenwald rightly describes it (in a quote one of the commenters here pointed out). It also, most emphatically, includes figures like Pierre Omidyar -- billionaires who use their money and power and connections to manipulate governments, society and events, as far they are able, toward the perpetuation and expansion of elite interests. Who does Greenwald think is corrupting the "radically corrupted political class?" Who is buying off the politicians? Who is influencing and sometimes even writing laws and policies for their own advantage? Who is partnering with the security state to destabilize and manipulate foreign goverments? Who is doing the corrupting? The oligarch class, and the corporations and financial interests they control and work with.

You can root out the entire "corrupted political class in DC" today, and you will still end up with another corrupted political class to take its place -- because that's the only kind of political class that will be produced by the wider system of power, which is dominated not by politicians but by corporate interests and oligarchs. If you support and celebrate the oligarchs who perpetuate this system, then you can be sure you will never see any genuine change or reform.

So yes, I believe that writers who call for "a more sensible surveillance system" in the current system of power do indeed hold that "we should have a powerful and far-reaching security state." I believe that is the logical conclusion and practical implication of such a stance. Any kind of effective surveillance system -- "sensible" or not -- will necessarily have to be powerful and far-reaching; otherwise, what's the point? So again, a belief in the need for an effective surveillance system means believing you need a state powerful and far-reaching enough to operate it.

I don't think it is a "fabrication" to draw such a conclusion from Greenwald's public positions, and his often heated, personal attacks on anyone who disagrees with Snowden's clear views on this question. If I've overstated the case, oversimplified his position, drawn the wrong implications from what Greenwald has said (and not said), if he has a different or more nuanced view, if he does not agree totally (or at all) with Snowden on this question, then I'd be glad to hear it.

But again, we are speaking here of opinions drawn from facts on the ground, not "fabrications." Greenwald states we need a surveillance system, albeit a "sensible" one. I observe this stance and make an observation about it, drawing on what knowledge I have of the sinister system of power we now have. Greenwald goes to work for an unsavory oligarch who is aiding and abetting political and social developments which I believe are harmful. I observe this, and state my concerns and opinions about it. I offer these as my personal opinion, in a blog read by a few hundred people. If there is new information, new facts on the ground that cause me to alter my opinion, then I will do so.

But as far as I can tell, Greenwald doesn't offer any new information to refute my opinions, any arguments against my conclusions, any new facts -- or even old facts or arguments that I might have missed. Instead, as he did earlier this year, he leaps straight to personal disparagement and, sad to say, out and out fabrications of his own. He says I'm a liar -- because I disagree with him. He says I bugged him privately for years to let me use his media platforms -- this is blatantly untrue, and Greenwald knows it to be untrue. He knows that the one time I used his media platform was when he invited me to do so, unbidden, out of the blue. I thought it was a kind gesture, and I thanked him kindly for it. It's sad that he now wants to take this act of kindness on his part and turn it into a nasty and mendacious personal smear against me.  I hope he can find some better uses for his time and talents than indulging in this kind of petty business -- or serving oligarchs, for that matter.

***
(UPDATE)
This is the last go-round on this particular brouhaha, offered here only because a recent comment provides such a sterling example of the kind of response any criticism of Greenwald or Omidyar provokes. This is from a commenter adopting the pseudonym "Lout" (although the person has previously commented here in their own name). I've lightly edited it because the original is ungrammatical at a couple of points:

Given that the only common threa[d] running through the various pretexts proffered for hating Greenwald has to do with Greenwald being successful, I suspect that the weird obsession [with] Greenwald is for the most part rooted in simple envy. It's as if the widely held perception of Greenwald as a formidable dissident has robbed some people of their sense of personal identity, and the thief must be made to pay.

My response:
I don't "hate" Greenwald nor do I have a "weird obsession" with him. Nor have I told lies about him to blacken his character, as he has done to me. Greenwald had a reputation as a "formidable dissident" during the years we often linked to each other's work. He has the same reputation now. What does that have to do with anything?

I have offered my critical opinions on some aspects of how the Snowden revelations have been handled, without ever denying the courage and tribulations of those who've brought them (partially) to light. I've also expressed my deep concern at seeing indeed formidable dissidents like Greenwald, Taibbi, Scahill, etc., being employed by an oligarch whose own dubious and dangerous activities are the very things that formidable dissidents like Greenwald,Taibbi and Scahill would normally denounce and expose. What does it mean for investigative journalism and dissent to come under the financial umbrella of such a figure?

I think these are important questions to consider. Yet such concerns are immediately denounced as mere "jealousy" -- as if wealth and status are the only concerns, the only values that could possibly motivate anyone to criticize the public actions and positions of prominent people. (When Greenwald criticizes Obama, is it because he's jealous that Obama is more famous and powerful than he is? Or could it possibly be that Glenn has genuine motives, rooted in his own values and beliefs, that drive his concerns and spur him to write? If that's true for him, as I'm sure Citizen Lout would affirm, why can't it be true for others? Citizen Lout, like so many of Greenwald's fierce defenders, seems to have difficulty grasping this concept.)

The fatuous cod-psychology about people feeling "robbed of their sense of personal identity" is entirely characteristic of this whole ugly business. I write articles that say: I have concerns about the handling of the NSA revelations, and here are my reasons; I have concerns about dissident journalism getting into bed with unsavoury oligarchs, and here are my reasons. But what is the response to these concerns, which are based on public actions and positions? Not counterarguments but personal attacks: smears, lies aimed at denigrating personal character, sneering amateur psychology which attributes any criticism of these public issues to some kind of character flaw in the critic.

After many years of substantial agreement with Glenn on many public issues, I now have a substantial disagreement with him on these particular public issues. Is this so unusual? Especially among writers in such a volatile and contentious field as politics and public policy? I haven't attributed Glenn's actions and positions on these issues to some deep-seated character flaw or psychological imbalance in him; I think, on these issues, that he has made some wrong choices: choices which -- precisely because he is a formidable dissident with a high public profile -- could have an adverse effect on the course of investigative journalism and dissent in general. That's why I've spoken up about my concerns on these public issues, and why I've offered evidence and arguments to explain my concerns. This is not "hatred"; it's called debate.

But again, the response to this has been personal attacks, calumny, disparagement and, in Glenn's recent statement, lies against my character. And here, from Citizen Lout, insipid pop psychology instead of argument.

 
Pierre's Payday: Cashing In on a Sinister Agenda
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Thursday, 05 June 2014 16:35

(UPDATED BELOW)

Mark Ames has a follow-up to his story on Pierre Omidyar's extensive links with the rightwing extremist Narendra Modi who now controls India. (I wrote about and excerpted Ames' original story here.) As Ames pointed out in the first story, Omidyar's support for Modi was rewarded with a vow by the candidate to open up India's lucrative e-commerce market to foreign corporations and techno-oligarchs -- like Omidyar.

Now, Ames reports, Modi has made good on his promise. One of his first acts in power has been an order to draw up guidelines for cracking open Indian e-commerce to Omidyar and others. This was a move long resisted by the previous Congress Party government -- which had also refused to register a supposedly non-partisan NGO supported by Omidyar, accusing the group of illegal lobbying for a bid to … open up India's e-commerce market to foreign companies.

Congress was also fiercely opposed to giving Omidyar and other foreign oligarchs unfettered access to the country's e-commerce market. As Ames notes, Omidyar's good friend in the White House, Barack Obama, brought heavy pressure to bear on India to reverse this stance -- but Congress resisted. Now the party has gone the way of all those who interfere with the divine right of well-connected oligarchs to grab as much loot as they want, wherever they want, however they want: they're out, and a much more amenable party is now in office.

This same dynamic was recently played out in Ukraine, with some similar elements: "non-partisan" NGOs backed by a partnership between 'philanthropists' like Omidyar and White House agents (who were lining up a "replacement" government in the back room). And no, this doesn't mean that this partnership of domination controlled every element in the crisis in Ukraine or the election in India, where millions of people had legitimate grievances against the parties in power. But it does mean that this Unholy Alliance of oligarchs and imperialists is expending enormous amounts of money, energy and skullduggery to steer highly complex political developments in foreign lands in the direction they want them to go: toward the installation of friendly governments that will put the interest of financial elites and American dominance ahead of the well-being of their own people.

And the Alliance is getting better and better at doing this. They seize upon -- and manipulate -- legitimate grievances, then exacerbate them, distort them, confuse them and re-direct them toward the service of the elite's domination agenda. The Tea Party movement is a perfect example. Here the elite -- using media networks under oligarch control -- took a groundswell of legitimate anger at how the political-financial class had blown up the economy and plunged millions into misery, ruin and insecurity, and converted it into a giant, gnarled hairball of bellicose nativism, ignorance, racism and division devoted to preserving and expanding the power and privilege of the wealthy elite.

What could have been a power countermovement to roll back the excesses of the corporatism, oligarchy and militarism that have held bipartisan sway in America for more than 30 years was twisted into a tool to enhance the power of the already powerful. The chaos this unruly hairball has brought to the political system is also a plus for the Unholy Alliance: the more unstable the country is, the more people will long for "strong" leaders, like Modi, for rich and powerful figures who seem "above the fray" of petty politics and can bring "unity" to a troubled polity -- like the oligarch recently elected as Ukraine's president, or, indeed, like Michael Bloomberg in New York City.

(Or even Putin in Russia, a "strong man" who stepped in to offer "order" and "unity" after the murderous chaos induced in Russia by the neoliberal "Shock Doctrine" agenda. His ascent was at first warmly welcomed by Western elites -- George W. Bush famously looked into Putin's "soul" and saw a kindred spirit. But then Putin went rogue -- he wanted to set up an Unholy Alliance of his own, with himself in charge; he was not nearly as pliable and compliant as his predecessor; he wanted to be a partner in plunder and power with Western elites, not just their errand boy. He actually saw himself as their equal. This was not to be borne. And so today he is -- what else? -- the new Hitler. And the obvious next target of the regime change machine -- a fact which is giving him even more 'justification' for the increasing repression he's imposing on the Russian people.)

The presence of the Tea Party (used here as shorthand for the broad range of far-right extremists now rampant in the land) is also convenient for the Democrats, giving them a convenient hate figure to stir up fear (and scoop up donations) and, more importantly, to use as an excuse, a cover for their own faithful service to the wealthy elite. "Hey, we would like a more just society, but darn it, darn it, darn it, those Tea Party kooks won't let us do anything!" "That's all right, Mr. President, we understand," say the earnest progressive liberals and the gritty savvy 'dissidents' on the left. "We understand, and we still love you. You're still 'two percent less evil' than the kooks!" The Democrats get to protect their "brand identity" as the more caring, progressive party -- while deliberately and willingly advancing the same neoliberal agenda of elite domination also being pushed by "mainstream Republicans" and the Tea Party.

With "austerity" degrading the nation's physical and social infrastructure, the political system reduced to sinister buffoonery and slick PR puffery, and the rich and powerful increasingly beyond all reach of the law (which bears down harder and harder on the rabble at every turn), our elites seem hellbent on making the country ungovernable, plunging it into fear-ridden chaos. Meanwhile, the militarization of police forces around the country continues apace, abetted at every turn by the latest technology (sold as toys and glitzy gizmos to consumers -- "Google Glasses! Cool! Big Data! Wow!" -- but actually serving as incredibly powerful tools of repression and surveillance by the state …and as incredibly lucrative sources of profit for the corporations and techno-oligarchs who happily supply the state with repressive instruments -- and even work with the government to refine and expand the tools' effectiveness).

And now techno-oligarchs -- beneficiaries of and/or active participants in the Unholy Alliance of domination -- are moving into the commanding heights of media and politics. Jeff Bezos -- destroyer of bookstores and blackmailer of publishers -- controls the Washington Post. Omidyar, of course, is bankrolling the creation of a "dissident" media conglomerate, which decries "excesses" in the system here and there but never challenges the legitimacy of the neoliberal cult of elite domination. Rupert Murdoch rules the rightwing media, Omidyar will now dominate the left, Bezos will command the overchewed cud that constitutes the "centrist" position in American politics today. All sides will be covered beneath the broader neoliberal umbrella. Our elites not only own the ball, and the playing field, and the stadium, and the parking lot; they own both teams as well.

A private correspondent pointed out that my last piece on Omidyar and Modi was "not cynical enough," and did not draw out the connection between what oligarchs such as Omidyar, in partnership with Washington, have done in Ukraine and India -- and what they are up to on the home front. I think this critique is right. A sinister game is afoot, and its aim is not a more just, open and free society, or even the maintenance of the status quo, but the destruction of the common good and the imposition of an ever-tightening domination by an alliance of private elites and repressive governments. There are too many developments on too many fronts for the obvious trends in this direction to be seen as nothing more than happy accidents for the elite. Again, political and social situations have many different causes, many different factors at work, and are never in the sole control of any single force. But it seems increasingly obvious that our neoliberal elites are using their immense power, public and private, to manipulate (or at times create) situations of conflict and instability that they then try to bend to the service of their agenda.

Yet revelations of these machinations, of government/corporate crime or "excesses," have made no difference -- from the exposure of the deliberate falsification of the case for war against Iraq to the revelations of systematic torture in Abu Ghraib to the confirmation that the President runs a death squad out of the White House to the continuing torture of force-fed captives in the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp to the selective revelations of some of the abuses committed by the NSA. Nothing changes, because the commanding heights of politics and media are in the hands of people deeply committed to preserving the system that gives them wealth and power.

We live in an age of revelation. There has never been era in which so much clear and glaring evidence of so many horrific crimes and abuses by state and private power has been so widely and freely available. Year after year, the revelations pile up. None of it makes any difference. Instead, power doubles down.

This week, the UK government -- which was supposedly "rocked" and "shaken" by the Snowden revelations in the Guardian -- announced it will hold its first completely secret trial for hundreds of years. (It is, of course, a trial of two "suspected terrorists.") This is how "rocked" the UK government has been by the "scandal" of its eager cooperation with the NSA's secret Stasi-like operations. This is how effective these world-changing revelations have been in forcing more "transparency" in government. The UK is about to step back into medieval times, violating the principles laid down in the Magna Carta -- 800 years ago.

But this is all of a piece with the general trend, the ever-more obvious agenda of the ruling elite. From neoliberalism to neofascism to, ultimately, neofeudalism: a new dark age, where the rabble live in fear and want, at the mercy of powerful, unaccountable elites locked away in gated splendor. (Though to be sure, they will sally forth now and then in squabbles amongst themselves for a bigger share of loot and power -- squabbles which inevitably involve the death and ruin of multitudes of innocent people.) As noted here the other day, old evils -- fascism, racism, nationalism, feudalism -- don't die. They return in new forms, and have to be fought again, over and over.

2.
But to return to the particular case of Modi and Omidyar, once more Ames has the goods. Here is an excerpt:

Today, Reuters is reporting that Modi is planning to open India up to global e-commerce firms like eBay next month, and that Modi’s industry minister has been drawing up the new guidelines with input from top eBay officials, along with their e-commerce counterparts from Google, Amazon, Wal-Mart and others. …

As we reported, the longtime managing director and partner for Omidyar Network India Advisors, Jayant Sinha, began working to help elect Modi since at least 2012, while publicly doling out tens of millions of Omidyar’s money to for-profits and to non-profits, at least one of which was involved in an anti-corruption campaign that undermined the center-left ruling government, and benefited Modi’s far-right BJP party.

Omidyar’s top India man also concurrently served as a director in a powerful BJP think tank, the India Foundation, chaired by Modi’s hardline National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval — “a giant among spies” according to the Hindustan Times. After stepping down from Omidyar Network in February of this year, Sinha worked full-time for Modi, the India Foundation, and for his own successful run as a BJP candidate for parliament.

Another NGO that Omidyar invested in, the Institute for Policy Research Studies (IPRS), was accused of illegally trying to lobby India’s parliamentarians to vote for opening up India’s e-commerce market in late 2012. The IPRS nonprofit ran a program in which their staffers provided India MP staffers with “nonpartisan” research. In 2012, India’s intelligence bureau accused the IPRS of “compromising national security” and described it as “shrouded in mystery.”

Omidyar Network had pledged $1 million to the IPRS, and the Ford Foundation pledged half a million more — but the Indian government rejected the IPRS’s application to register as a foreign-funded NGO, deeming it a threat to India’s parliamentary integrity, and its national security. Google’s corporate philanthropic arm, Google.org, had previously given $880,000 to the same NGO program, under Sheryl Sandberg’s watch. The co-founder of this controversial never-registered NGO, CV Mudhakar, is now, you might not be shocked to learn, Omidyar Network India’s director of investments in “government transparency.”

The previous, center-left Indian government not only nixed the Omidyar-Ford Foundation NGO-slash-e-retailer-lobby front, it also announced last year that it did not plan to allow e-commerce firms like eBay open access into its markets. … The answer to that business problem, of course, was changing India’s government — even if that meant installing a brutal figure like Narendra Modi, who spent nearly a decade on the US State Department’s visa ban list for his role in the violent persecution of minority Muslims and Christians.

That’s terrible and all from a human rights perspective, but when you consider the interests of eBay’s shareholders — like its number one shareholder, Pierre Omidyar — India presents not so much a problem as an opportunity. The majority of eBay’s revenues come from its overseas operations, and eBay has made no secret that it sees its future growth coming from India and the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China).

UPDATE:
A story published in the Guardian today provides yet another telling example of the mindset of the faction that Omidyar has helped to power in India:

A state minister from Indian prime minister Narendra Modi's ruling party has described rape as a "social crime", saying "sometimes it's right, sometimes it's wrong", in the latest controversial remarks by an Indian politician about rape.

The political leaders of Uttar Pradesh, the state where two cousins aged 12 and 14 were raped and hanged last week, have faced criticism for failing to visit the scene and for accusing the media of hyping the story. A regional politician from Modi's own Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), said that the crime of rape can only be considered to have been committed if it is reported to police.

"This is a social crime which depends on men and women. Sometimes it's right, sometimes it's wrong," said Babulal Gaur, the home minister responsible for law and order in the BJP-run central state of Madhya Pradesh.

…Modi, who was sworn in as prime minister last week after a landslide election victory, has so far remained silent over the double killing in the village of Katra Shahadatganj, around half a day's drive east of Delhi.

The father and uncle of one of the victims said they tried to report the crime to local police but were turned away. Three men have been arrested over the killings. Two policemen have been held on suspicion of trying to cover up the crime.

 
Omidyar and the Oligarch’s Code: Enabling Extremism, Monetizing Dissent
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Wednesday, 04 June 2014 00:22

India is now in the hands of Narendra Modi — a lifelong member of an unabashedly neofascist paramilitary group. His chief claim to fame is presiding over the wanton slaughter of more than 2,000 Muslims as a provincial chief minister — and getting away with it. A staunch neoliberal as well as a neofascist, he is preparing to unleash the by-now standard “shock doctrine” tactics of the pernicious neoliberal cult on the whole country: unrestricted corporate rapine aided by a heavy-handed, all-surveilling militarist state, waging war on the poor — and the very notion of a common good.

What is surprising is that Modi’s rise to power has been aided for years by substantial support, direct and indirect, from an American billionaire widely regarded by the left as one of the world’s great champions of dissent: Pierre Omidyar. But perhaps this is not so surprising when you consider that Omidyar now stands to reap millions if not billions of dollars from Modi’s vow to open up India’s burgeoning e-commerce market to foreign companies — like Omidyar’s eBay, as Mark Ames reports at PandoDaily.

Ames provides a detailed look at Omidyar’s extensive involvement with Modi and his sinister movement. The story could serve as a companion piece to Ames’ earlier investigation into Omidyar’s relentless efforts to “monetize” philanthropy — turning it into a money-making tool for a small elite while wreaking havoc among those it is ostensibly trying to help. A key element in this monetization of human misery on the part of Omidyar and his cronies is the privatization of state services aimed at providing some measure of support, opportunity and social justice for ordinary people. In country after country, our neoliberal extremists are pushing policies to turn every aspect of human community into profitable enterprises under corporate control.

To do this, of course, one must also “monetize” democracy itself. Thus, as Ames and others have pointed out, Omidyar has also been active in “pro-democracy” NGOs and other organizations in foreign countries, working closely with Washington to bring down regimes considered insufficiently open to the strip-mining of national wealth and resources by Western elites. The aim, as in Ukraine, where Omidyar’s partnership with government was particularly active, is to replace the regimes with technocrats willing to stick the shock doctrine cattle prod to their own people.

The nature of the regime being overthrown doesn’t matter, by the way. It might be an ugly corruptocracy like the Yanukovich regime in Ukraine, or populist movements like the long-running attempts to overthrow Chavismo in Venezuela, or liberal democracies like the government overthrown in Honduras with Barack Obama’s collusion in the early days of his hope-and-change presidency.

Likewise, it doesn’t matter what kind of regime replaces the government targeted for overturning. Saddam Hussein’s brutal secular authoritarianism was replaced by brutal sectarian authoritarianism in Iraq (one closely allied to Iran, no less). Moamar Gadafy’s secular authoritarianism in Libya was supplanted, with NATO bombs, by religious radicals allied with al Qaeda, who are now apparently in the process of being overthrown in turn by American-backed military authoritarians. The secular authoritarianism in Syria is being attacked by Western-backed rebels led by perhaps the most vicious religious fanatics on earth. A Ukrainian government dominated by dodgy oligarchs has been replaced by … a Ukrainian government dominated by dodgy oligarchs. Washington and its billionaire buddies don’t care about the ideology or religion or representativeness of a client regime; they just want the leaders to play ball.

And now, a corruption-riddled secular government in India has been replaced by a religious extremist party led by a man unrepentant about the thousands killed under his watch, a staunch adherent to a group that praises Hitler. But Modi possesses the one all-important quality for acceptance by the Western elite: he’s a man “we can do business with.” (If Saddam Hussein had sold off Iraq’s oil industry to Chevron, BP and Halliburton in 1991, he would still be in power — and welcome in Washington — today, no matter how his own people were suffering.)

I’m sure Pierre Omidyar does not personally support Hindu nationalism or neo-nazi paramilitarism or the slaughter of thousands of innocent people in deliberately fomented religious rampages.  He’d probably rather not see such things in the world. But in the immortal words of The Godfather II’s Hyman Roth: “It has nothing to do with business.” If Modi is where the money is, that’s where you go.

And just as he is monetizing philanthropy and democracy, Omidyar is now monetizing dissent. He has laid out a quarter of a billion dollars to finance a “dissident” media empire, built on the cornerstone of the NSA documents Edward Snowden gave to Glenn Greenwald. Both Omidyar and Greenwald have been adamant that this is to be profit-making enterprise — like all of Omidyar’s philanthropy.

The revelations from the Snowden cache have indeed been shocking and important — but their effect has been curiously muted. The sound and fury provoked by the revelations among the political-media class have thus far signified … nothing. All we have seen are a few tepid “reform” proposals whose chief aim is to entrench the Stasi-state activities even further, giving them ‘legal’ form and fobbing off any lingering concerns with toothless ‘oversight’ schemes. (Along the model of the rubber-stamp secret FISA courts.) There is a credible school of thought that the revelations have actually been good for the National Security State: people now have the image of an all-pervasive, all-powerful government, able to watch them at all times, to come into their homes, their lives, their minds through their computers and phones. A government that could take them out — via the now openly acknowledged, even celebrated death squads run out of the White House — or take them away. (Who hasn’t made a joke about some untoward comment landing them in Gitmo — a gallows humor that both masks and bespeaks a genuine fear.)

For those in power, it’s good for people to be afraid — afraid of outsiders, of “terrorists” and “illegal aliens” and “Muslims”; and afraid of themselves, afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing under the all-seeing eye of the Potomac panopticon. People who are afraid are more obedient. They keep their heads down, they toe the line. They don’t challenge the system — because the system is too powerful. Oh, of course, you can let all kinds of Tea Party nuts run loose, denouncing “tyranny” in health care and carrying machine-guns into restaurants and standing their ground against uppity drakes and what all. They never challenge the real system — the unholy alliance of oligarchy and state power. Hell, they love it! They love the rich elite. They love state power as long as it’s not aimed at helping anybody (except people who look like them, of course).

This applies to dissent from the left as well. As in foreign policy, the elites don’t care what kind of ideology or “dissent” they face — as long as it poses no genuine threat to the Unholy Alliance. That’s always been the essence of the real “American exceptionalism,” the trick that other empires and dominators never quite learned: you can let people say anything they want, reveal anything they want — as long as it doesn’t actually change anything. Meanwhile, if you let people know how powerful you are, how all-pervasive you are — they will end up policing themselves.

So here we have Omidyar. He has close ties to the White House, has visited there often, works closely with Washington in “public-private partnerships for democracy” that, as in the Ukraine, sometimes somehow end up overthrowing democratic governments. At the same time, he now employs many of the most famous dissident journalists in America.

His most prominent employee, Greenwald, constantly affirms his belief that we should indeed have a powerful and far-reaching security state — it should just be “reformed” and “overseen” by people he approves of. (Snowden has voiced the same opinion.) Greenwald has also famously stated that he didn’t look into and doesn’t care about Omidyar’s other activities. Making loot off the poor by monetizing philanthropy? Supporting religious fascists, subverting foreign governments? So what? If he supports my project, my cause, that’s all that matters.

This is not a form of dissent that threatens any system of power.

The chief aim of Omidyar’s new media venture, it seems to me, is to domesticate dissent. There is virtually no chance that First Look Media will challenge the essence or legitimacy of the actual ruling system: oligarch-corporate dominance backed by a militarist state. No doubt it will tear the bark off a few wild outgrowths here and there — which can be a useful exercise for keeping various factions within the Security State in line, or allowing them to “let off steam” by taking down their internal rivals a peg or two. Fear is not just for foreigners and the home folks out there; every system of domination employs fear against its own agents as well. And certainly there will be genuinely spontaneous revelations too, not just strategic leaks by inside players jockeying for position.

But again, all this will take place in an arena controlled by one of the chief beneficiaries and big-time players in the system itself. It will take place in a domesticated setting. The powers that be will know that the system itself is not under threat. They will know that the only goal of any revelations will be “reform”— or sometimes not even reform, just “debate.” And “reform” and “debate” can always be managed by those who control the levers of power — and the media where the “debate” takes place.

Again, I think the NSA revelations from the Snowden cache are shocking and important. I’m glad that some of them have seen the light of day. But I believe the end result will be what we saw with the perhaps even more shocking revelations about torture at Abu Ghraib in 2004. Does anyone remember that? When the first horrific pictures leaked out (and there were even worse ones held back), one could see, for a moment, a genuine, palpable shock go through the system of power. I remember well the look on the faces of the panel of senators who had been shown the full range of pictures and heard some of the evidence of the systematic tortures inflicted by American soldiers and agents in the Iraqi prison. There was genuine consternation. There were trembling voices. There was talk of shame lasting for generations. There were murmurs that the government would fall, that a crisis was at hand.

And what happened? Nothing. Nothing happened. A few grunts were vilified and prosecuted, but those who had devised, directed and approved the systematic torture rolled on in power and privilege. A few months later, the very administration whose leaders were responsible for the torture — and for an illegal war of aggression that had killed tens of thousands of innocent people by that point — was re-elected to office.

I believe we will see the same end result from the Snowden revelations. Shock horror (and mock horror, in many cases), the deep-frying of millions of pixels on the subject, the windy suspiration of forced breath from dozens of gabbling gobs on television — then nothing.

2. Who is Modi?
But who is Modi? What sort of politician has America’s leading bankroller of dissent given his copious support to? Pankaj Mishra has written one of the best articles that I've seen on the situation. From the Guardian:

Modi is a lifelong member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a paramilitary Hindu nationalist organisation inspired by the fascist movements of Europe, whose founder's belief that Nazi Germany had manifested "race pride at its highest" by purging the Jews is by no means unexceptional among the votaries of Hindutva, or "Hinduness". In 1948, a former member of the RSS murdered Gandhi for being too soft on Muslims. The outfit, traditionally dominated by upper-caste Hindus, has led many vicious assaults on minorities. A notorious executioner of dozens of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 crowed that he had slashed open with his sword the womb of a heavily pregnant woman and extracted her foetus. Modi himself described the relief camps housing tens of thousands of displaced Muslims as "child-breeding centres".

…  His record as chief minister is predominantly distinguished by the transfer – through privatisation or outright gifts – of national resources to the country's biggest corporations. His closest allies – India's biggest businessmen – have accordingly enlisted their mainstream media outlets into the cult of Modi as decisive administrator; dissenting journalists have been removed or silenced.

India’s chattering — and ruling — classes now laud Modi for his “pro-business” reforms that promote “growth.” But as always in our global neoliberal utopia, “growth” has a rather narrow definition: it means big swag for the powerful and squat-all for everyone else. Mishra:

[India’s economic growth] turns out to have been based primarily on extraction of natural resources, cheap labour and foreign capital inflows rather than high productivity and innovation, or indeed the brick-and-mortar ventures that fuelled China's rise as a manufacturing powerhouse. "The bulk of India's aggregate growth," the World Bank's chief economist Kaushik Basu warns, "is occurring through a disproportionate rise in the incomes at the upper end of the income ladder." Thus, it has left largely undisturbed the country's shameful ratios – 43% of all Indian children below the age of five are undernourished, and 48% stunted; nearly half of Indian women of childbearing age are anaemic, and more than half of all Indians still defecate in the open.

Of course, Modi would not be in power today if not for the utter and complete moral  and political failure of the institutions of secular democracy. The spectacular corruption of the long-ruling Congress Party — which has also allied itself to the New Hyperfeudalists while also milking the state for private gain and the mindless, meaningless perpetuation of political power for its own sake — has opened the door for well-financed fanatics to step in and offer what seems to be an alternative to a system that everyone knows is broken. This is happening across the “democratic” world, where the willing surrender by “centrist” parties to hyperfeudalism has hollowed out the political core, leaving millions of people adrift in lives of decline, hopelessness, and slow degradation. Civic and social infrastructure have rotted (along with the physical infrastructure) — again, through the willing, at times gleeful choices of “centrist” elites: especially those, like Britain’s New Labour and America’s Clinton-Obama Democrats, who pretend to “progressive” ideals while whoring themselves to the gilded gangsters of the oligarchy.

These parties and their leaders stand for nothing, they stand up to no one, they have swallowed whole the poison of rapacious hyperfeudalism and murderous militarism. And they offer nothing to anyone but more of the same decline and degradation. And so everywhere, the far right is on the rise, stepping into the ruins with lies and ignorance that play on the worst elements of human nature, feeding on the fear of people losing hope and giving them simplistic excuses for their distress: “Blame it on the darkies, the immigrants, the heretics, on whatever group is the Other (or can be made to seem the Other) in an otherwise pure, special nation. Always, at every turn, the justified anger, fear and bewilderment of the people must be turned away from those who are actually responsible for it — their masters, their overlords — and projected onto the weakest, most vulnerable, least protected groups in the society.

Mishra’s article is an important, multi-leveled, in-depth look at what’s happening in India — and, by extension, in so many other parts of the world.  I highly recommend that you read it in full.

3. Omidyar’s Role
So that’s Modi. What exactly has Omidyar done for him? Ames has the details:

Omidyar Network, as Pando readers know, is the philanthropy arm of eBay billionaire Pierre Omidyar. Since 2009, Omidyar Network has made more investments in India than in any other country in its portfolio. These investments were largely thanks to Jayant Sinha, a former McKinsey partner and Harvard MBA, who was hired in October 2009 to establish and run Omidyar Network India Advisors.

During Sinha’s tenure, Omidyar Network steered a large portion of its investments into India, so that by 2013, India investments made up 18% of Omidyar Network’s committed funds of well over $600 million, and 36% of the total number of companies in its portfolio.

In February of this year, Sinha stepped down from Omidyar Network in order to advise Modi’s election campaign, and to run for a BJP parliamentary seat of his own. Sinha’s father, Yashwant Sinha, served as finance minister in the last BJP government from 1998 (when his government set off the nukes) through 2002. This year, Sinha’s father gave up his seat in parliament to allow Jayant Sinha to take his place.

…Shortly after Sinha left Omidyar Network to help Modi win, Modi gave a speech calling for opening India’s e-commerce market to foreign companies such as Ebay, whose largest shareholder is Pierre Omidyar. The message was clear: Modi is the candidate of hi-tech India, violent ultranationalism notwithstanding.

…To be clear, this isn’t just a case of an Omidyar staffer who just happened to become a supporter of Modi. In fact, Pando has learned that Sinha has a long history of working for Modi and his Hindu supremacist BJP party, starting before he joined Omidyar Network and continuing during his tenure as the organization’s managing director and partner in India, when Sinha oversaw tens of millions of the Redwood City-based fund’s investments in the country.

Just last month, senior BJP party leader Shiv Shankar Prasad Gupta told a news conference that Jayant Sinha “worked in Modi’s team for two years (2012 and 2013)” — while he was simultaneously leading Omidyar Network’s India branch. What Gupta didn’t do was explain the full extent the relationship between Sinha, Omidyar Networks, the BJP and the US Government. Here are the highlights:

• While still heading Omidyar Network India Advisors, Jayant Sinha simultaneously served as adirector in the BJP party’s main policy think tank, the India Foundation, founded by the hardline former director of India’s Intelligence Bureau, Ajit Doval. The India Foundation has been described as “doing all the backroom thinking on economy and security-related issues to prepare policy stances for the BJP”;

• The India Foundation, besides incubating Jayant Sinha’s pro-business agenda, also pushed hardline policies to target India’s peasant Naxalite insurgency, made up of India’s poor indigenous peoples. The India Foundation produced a propaganda film that pushed for “zero tolerance” against what it called “Red terror.” The India Foundation also argued that Christian missionaries allied with “Maoists” to forcibly convert Hindus to Christianity — a typical BJP slur that has incited countless Hindu lynch mob attacks on India’s Christians;

• While heading Omidyar Network India Advisors, Jayant Sinha repeatedly called for India’s government to allow foreign direct investment into e-commerce, a move that would directly benefit eBay, where Pierre Omidyar’s billions are tied up as the company’s largest single shareholder; an Omidyar Network-funded NGO was accused of using its access to Indian lawmakers to secretly lobby for a bill allowing foreign direct investment into India’s e-retail sector;

• In late February, just weeks after Sinha quit Omidyar Network to advise Modi’s campaign, Modi gave a speech in favor of allowing foreign e-commerce firms to enter India’s markets; eBay has been investing heavily into Indian e-commerce firms in hopes of entering the potentially lucrative market;

• Under Sinha’s guidance, in 2010 Omidyar Network gave its first grant to an Indian NGO,Janaagraha, for a well-publicized anti-corruption campaign coinciding with a larger, nationwide anti-corruption campaign that undermined support for the ruling center-left party, dovetailingwith the campaign of the ultranationalist BJP party and Modi as they plotted their return to power. (For more on this, read Arundhati Roy’s excellent piece on the right-wing Western-backed leader of India’s anti-corruption movement, Anna Hazare.) This year’s BJP election landslide victory over India’s ruling center-left government has been widely attributed to anti-corruption politics;

• The Omidyar Network-funded Janaagraha anti-corruption campaigns were enthusiastically supported by USAID officials like Sarah Mendelson, who described herself “a convert” in 2011 after hearing a Janaagraha official’s “spell-binding” speech describing the NGO’s work. The following year, 2012, Mendelson announced a new $55 million USAID program, “Making All Voices Count,” with Omidyar Network as one of its four principal partners, explaining to Congress the program’s larger political purpose: “The political trajectory of a country is ultimately a U.S. national security issue, and as such, we are intimately involved in advancing U.S. national security interests”;

• In 2005, Janaagraha was caught secretly participating in a World Bank-funded water privatization scheme in Bangalore, offering to provide “civil society participation” cover for a program to counter protests from Bangalore’s poor.

…In India, billionaire oligarchs and the business community overwhelmingly support Modi’s ultranationalist politics because Modi has been good for business. And Omidyar’s man has already been offering insight into how Modi will help big business even more.

In the days since India’s election, Sinha told CNBC that India needs “radical reforms” in line with classic neoliberal, pro-business prescriptions, including cutting government subsidies and “restructuring” India’s social welfare programs; “labor reforms”; and “land acquisition” laws. These reforms are a top priority for India’s mining industry giants, foreign investors… as well as USAID and their partners, Omidyar Network.

…What makes this story about Omidyar Network’s relationship to the ultranationalist BJP party important is what it reveals about the nature of Silicon Valley money and politics, and what it reveals about the role NGOs and corporate foundations play in advancing the interests of both US geopolitical power and US corporate profits, under the guise of charity.

A deeper look at Omidyar Network’s activities in India gives concrete insight into the meaning of Silicon Valley “enlightened self-interest.” For instance, many Omidyar Network’s India investments have a dual purpose that neatly coincide with eBay’s strategic agenda in India, a closed off but potentially huge e-commerce market that eBay has been trying to break into. As eBay has invested hundreds of millions in Indian e-commerce startups, Omidyar Network has been subtlety reshaping India’s “ecosystem” in ways that would benefit eBay’s bottom line — like bringing mobile technologyand access to microfinance loans into India’s rural villages and communities, investing in an online classifieds company, and others.

India has a lot of problems, not the least of which is its yawning inequality: On one end, India has the sixth largest number of billionaires in the world; on the other end, India has one-third of the world’s poor: 400 million Indians live on less than $1.25 a day, and half of India’s households have no access to a toilet. It’s hard to see how what they really need are solar-powered battery-operated mobile devices bought with microfinance loans — but easier to imagine how that fits into Omidyar’s agenda. (Let’s not forget that Omidyar-funded SKS Microfinance was implicated in a rash of gruesome suicides by indebted Indian villagers, mostly young women, some of whom drank bottles of pesticides or drowned themselves to avoid SKS Microfinance debt collectors.)

There is much more in Ames’ story as well, which also bears reading in full. Both his story and Mishra's have copious links to more details.

Ames ends with an apt quote from Arundhati Roy:

“As public money gets pulled out of health care and education and all of this, NGOs funded by these major financial corporations and other kinds of financial instruments move in, doing the work that missionaries used to do during colonialism—giving the impression of being charitable organizations, but actually preparing the world for the free markets of corporate capital.”

 
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.

***

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.

 
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.

 
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.

 
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.

**
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.

 
Night of the Hunter: Family Values in American Foreign Policy
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 16 May 2014 00:25

The only article I ever had published in The Nation involved the offspring of a powerful politician trading on his White House connections to advance his private fortune. The piece was written 12 years ago, as the Enron scandal was breaking. (And boy, doesn't that seem several centuries ago now, looking back over the vast flooded plains of blood and ruin that our bipartisan elites have bequeathed us since then.)

It was a short article, dealing with the key role that the accounting firm Arthur Andersen had played both in the unfolding Enron morass in 2002 and the murky political machinations that kept George W. Bush from facing charges over what appeared to be a fairly flagrant -- and highly profitable -- bout of insider trading in 1990. That was when yet another Bush business was bailed out -- yet again -- by sugar daddies currying favor with his sour daddy in the White House; in this case, Harken Energy. Bush became a company director and member of the audit committee -- then cashed out just weeks before Harken's stock took a deep dive.

The deal netted L'il Dub a cool $800,000+, while ordinary investors in the company took an acid bath. The hijinks were so blatant the SEC was forced to investigate but in the end declined to take "enforcement action" against the president's son. However, as I noted in the article, the SEC made a point of declaring that

this [decision] "must in no way be construed as indicating that the party has been exonerated or that no action may ultimately result from the staff's investigation." (Of course, this has never stopped Bush from claiming that he was "exonerated" by the SEC.)

All in all, the Harken caper was pretty small beer when viewed against the Bush Family's mammoth record of corruption, going back many decades, mixing politics and private profit with a cheerful amorality that easily encompassed mobsters, tyrants, gun-runners, drug dealers, religious extremists, spies and, yes, the Nazis.

I wrote a lot about this interesting history (as did others, most notably Robert Parry), and always found a ready audience on the left eager to see, rightly, the true face of American power -- sleazy, greasy, brutal, cold -- in the machinations of this clan of ruthless clowns. But I don’t think we will see an equal eagerness to pursue a very similar story that broke this week about the offspring of a powerful politician trading on his White House connections to advance his private fortunes. And unlike the Harken deal (although not dissimilar from many other Bush Family deals, including the one with German fascists), this particular piece of elite corruption could have — or is already having — deadly international consequences.

We speak, of course, of the news that the son of the US Vice President, and the stepson of the US Secretary of State, have been given lucrative positions with a Ukrainian energy firm whose future fortunes depend on the Kyiv coup regime’s control of western Ukraine — where  pro-Russian forces are in the ascendant. As Yahoo News reports:

In the span of a few weeks, an energy firm little-known inside the United States added two members to its board of directors — scoring connections to Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden in the bargain.

On April 22, Cyprus-based Burisma announced that financier Devon Archer had joined its board. Archer, who shared a room in college with Kerry’s stepson, Christopher Heinz, served as national finance co-chair for the former senator’s 2004 presidential campaign.

Then, on Monday, the firm announced that Biden’s younger son, R. Hunter Biden, would join the board of directors.

Why would the company, which bills itself as Ukraine’s largest private gas producer, need such powerful friends in Washington?

The answer might be the company’s holdings in Ukraine. They include, according to the firm’s website, permits to explore in the Dnieper-Donets Basin in the country’s eastern regions, home to an armed pro-Russian separatist movement. They also include permits to explore in the Azov-Kuban Basin of the strategic Crimean peninsula, annexed earlier this year by Moscow.

So: a Ukrainian energy firm with holdings in pro-Russian Ukraine has just hired the son of the US Vice President — who has been Washington’s point man in supporting the coup regime in Kyiv — to a prominent and no doubt well-remunerated position. At the same time, Washington has been fierce and forceful in its support for the Kyiv regime’s violent efforts to quell the kind of opposition in Western Ukraine that it employed to take power in the capital; i.e., occupation of public spaces with the support of armed militias, with support from foreign entities (the Kremlin in eastern Ukraine; Washington (and US oligarchs) in Kyiv).

America policy in Ukraine — securing control of eastern Ukraine by the Kyiv regime, and, if possible, the rollback of Russia’s annexation of the Crimea — has now become directly tied to the personal family fortunes of the American Vice President and Secretary of State. In what way is this remotely differently from the corruption of the Bush Family that once stuck so painfully in “progressive” craws? And yet, is it even remotely conceivable that we will see the same angry attention to this blatant baksheesh that we saw back in those Bush Regime days of yore?

UPDATE: It looks like L’il Hunter and Devon might be in high cotton. On Thursday night, the New York Times reports that Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man and once a major backer of Ukraine’s ousted pro-Russian president, Victor Yanukovich, has now thrown his support and his money behind the American-backed Kyiv regime. According to the Times (which of course doesn’t breathe a word of Akhmetov’s unsavoury past), Akhmetov has ordered “his” workers onto the streets of Mariupol, Donetsk and other eastern Ukrainian cities to reassert the control of the Kyiv government. The pro-Russian forces have “melted away,” even in Donetsk, ground zero of the resistance, and oligarchical control is being re-established.

Of course, Akhmetov has long-standing ties to John McCain and his rightwing network, so it’s not surprising to see him turning his ermine coat this way and that as the prevailing winds blow across Ukraine. The oligarchs are banding together on every side of the ostensible conflict — Ukranian, Russian, Republican, Democrat — and the fix, as always, as ever, is in.

So good luck, Hunter! I expect we’ll see you on a national ticket someday — maybe with Chelsea Clinton — running against one Bush or another, with Ukrainian oil money (suitably laundered) pouring into your campaign coffers — and into that future Bush campaign as well.

 
Potomac Fever: Sleepwalking to the Brink in Ukraine
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 13 May 2014 23:34

The events unfolding in Ukraine are extraordinary, and extraordinarily dangerous. They are made even more dangerous by the unending slagheap of lies and propaganda being used to shape the shifting, chaotic situation on the ground into a narrative that serves the narrow and ruthless agenda of the Potomac Empire and its factotums in the European elite.

I've written here previously of the growing ugliness of the Putin regime in Russia. But what we are seeing played out among the knowing liars of the Washington power structure and their willing executioners in the Western press has nothing to do with the Kremlin's depredations against the Russian people. Nor does it have anything to do with the freedom, security or aspirations of the Ukrainian people. As always, there is a single, overarching aim behind Washington's maneuvering: the expansion of American dominance and the aggrandizement of its ruling elite. This is the abiding, bipartisan, overriding concern of all policy emanating from the corrupted corridors of power in Washington, and it is glaringly evident in the debacle now convulsing Ukraine.

At every turn in the Western press, Putin is being portrayed as the usual maniacal monster bent on world conquest, pushing his agenda forward with ruthless determination and consummate skill. The Potomac elite never tire of this trope. They pretend it's an echo of Hitler, and seek to draw on the deep wells of trauma and fear still lurking in the global psyche from the unbearable horrors of the Second World War -- but in truth, it is actually the projection of their own obvious agenda. An never-ending series of stock villains are painted with a Hitler moustache and brandished before the people, like some perversion of Christian doctrine of resurrection: He is risen, he is coming again, he is coming for your soul! It is now Putin's turn in this monstrous minstrel show.

But of course Putin is clearly on the back foot in this crisis. Acts portrayed as aggressive are in fact defensive, even desperate, and come in response to more than 20 years of remorseless military expansion by the West to Russia's borders. Western elites have not been coy about their intentions to keep Russia weak and quiescent, or even to smash it altogether. William Blum quotes an apposite passage from the memoirs of that quintessential imperial courtier, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who ran the Washington war machine for both George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

[Gates writes:]  “When the Soviet Union was collapsing in late 1991, [Defense Secretary Dick Cheney] wanted to see the dismemberment not only of the Soviet Union and the Russian empire but of Russia itself, so it could never again be a threat to the rest of the world.”

As Blum goes on to note: "Soon thereafter, NATO began to surround Russia with military bases, missile sites, and NATO members, while yearning for perhaps the most important part needed to complete the circle – Ukraine."

This is not ancient history. It has played out in front of our eyes over the past two decades. Yet Russian remarks about Western aggression -- and the repeatedly broken promise not to push NATO to Russia's borders -- are treated as a sign of "madness," of wild, specious propaganda by the wily wheeler-dealers in the Kremlin. Again, this characterization is a projection of what is actually happening on the Western side: wild, specious propaganda to press forward an act of madness -- risking world war, even nuclear war, to feed the psychosexual power fantasies and bottomless financial greed of a tiny imperial elite.

Let's be clear about what has happened. A corrupt but legitimately elected government (a phrase that could describe almost every government in the West, and certainly the ones in Washington, London and Paris) was overthrown in an action that was to a large extent funded and manipulated by Washington. American officials have publicly admitted spending up to $5 billion -- with their private partners among US oligarchs -- to fund the political opposition in Ukraine. They took advantage of the legimiate grievances of Ukranians against a government infected by the same oligarchism and market extremism that rules in the West to foment what, in the end, was an armed uprising led by unabashed, unashamed neo-fascists. This remains a fact, it remains the truth, even if Vladimir Putin and the ugly revanchists in his political faction say it.

It is also the truth that the Ukrainian "government" installed by the West -- a government led by the very people American officials were caught, on tape, conspiring to install -- is now relying on unabashed neo-fascist "paramilitaries" to put down uprisings by pro-Russian groups that exactly mirror what happened in Kyiv: the occupation of government buildings and public squares, the appearance of armed factions, the refusal to accept the legitimacy of the Ukrainian government. Although in the case of the protestors in eastern Ukraine, the government they are protesting was not legitimately elected; it has not been elected at all.

These neo-fascist militias in the service of the Kyiv regime have now killed far more Ukrainians than died in the Maidan uprising. In fact, they have adopted a horrific technique -- setting fire to buildings occupied by protesters, then killing the survivors as they plea. The world focuses -- rightly -- on the plight of the kidnapped Nigerian girls, but here is a nearly equivalent barbarism which is ignored, or even justified, by Western media. And why? Because in Ukraine, it is our extremists, our violent, murderous Boko Haram, who are doing the killing. As Robert Parry reports:

In Ukraine, a grisly new strategy – bringing in neo-Nazi paramilitary forces to set fire to occupied buildings in the country’s rebellious southeast – appears to be emerging as a favored tactic as the coup-installed regime in Kiev seeks to put down resistance from ethnic Russians and other opponents.

The technique first emerged on May 2 in the port city of Odessa when pro-regime militants chased dissidents into the Trade Unions Building and then set it on fire. As some 40 or more ethnic Russians were burned alive or died of smoke inhalation, the crowd outside mocked them as red-and-black Colorado potato beetles, with the chant of “Burn, Colorado, burn.” Afterwards, reporters spotted graffiti on the building’s walls containing Swastika-like symbols and honoring the “Galician SS,” the Ukrainian adjunct to the German SS in World War II.

This tactic of torching an occupied building occurred again on May 9 in Mariupol, another port city, as neo-Nazi paramilitaries – organized now as the regime’s “National Guard” – were dispatched to a police station that had been seized by dissidents, possibly including police officers who rejected a new Kiev-appointed chief. Again, the deployment of the “National Guard” was followed by burning the building and killing a significant but still-undetermined number of people inside. (Early estimates of the dead range from seven to 20.)

In the U.S. press, Ukraine’s “National Guard” is usually described as a new force derived from the Maidan’s “self-defense” units that spearheaded the Feb. 22 revolt in Kiev overthrowing elected President Viktor Yanukovych. But the Maidan’s “self-defense” units were drawn primarily from well-organized bands of neo-Nazi extremists from western Ukraine who hurled firebombs at police and fired weapons as the anti-Yanukovych protests turned increasingly violent.

I've written previously of these neo-Nazi groups and their brazen celebration of Ukrainian collaborators with Nazi genocidists. [See more detail from Max Blumenthal here.] The Kyiv government installed by the machinations of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Barack Obama is the first European regime since World War II to contain openly fascist factions in its cabinet. Indeed, the fascists are in control of such key posts as the Interior Ministry. And the government of the United States -- along with its favored oligarchs, like Pierre Omidyar -- spent $5 billion to make this happen.

But as Parry notes, this is not exactly news. It is, as I said, the long-running, bipartisan policy of the American elite. Parry writes:

In Central American conflicts that I covered for the Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s, some of the “death squads” associated with pro-U.S. regimes were drawn from neo-fascist movements allied with the far-right World Anti-Communist League. In Afghanistan, the CIA relied on Islamist extremists, including Saudi jihadist Osama bin Laden, to kill Russians and their Afghan government allies. Today, in Syria, many of the most aggressive fighters against Bashar al-Assad’s government are Arab jihadists recruited from across the region and armed by Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf oil sheikdoms. So, it fits with a pattern for the U.S. government to hold its nose and rely on neo-Nazis from western Ukraine to take the fight to rebellious ethnic Russians in the east and south.

The key to all these unsavory alliances is for the American people not to know about the real nature of these U.S. clients. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration advanced the concept of “public diplomacy” to intimidate journalists and human rights activists who dared report on the brutality of U.S.-backed forces in El Salvador and Guatemala and the CIA-trained Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

Thus, most Americans weren’t sure what to make of recurring reports about right-wing “death squads” killing priests and nuns and committing other massacres across Central America. Regarding Afghanistan, it took the American people until Sept. 11, 2001, to fully comprehend whom the Reagan administration had been working with in the 1980s. Similarly, the Obama administration has tried to maintain the fiction that the Syrian opposition is dominated by well-meaning “moderates.” However, as the brutal civil war has ground on, it gradually has become apparent that the most effective anti-Assad fighters are the Sunni extremists allied with al-Qaeda and determined to kill Shiites, Alawites and Christians.

So, it should come as no surprise that the Kiev regime would turn to its Maidan “self-defense” forces – formed around neo-Nazi militias – to go into southern and eastern Ukraine with the purpose of burning to death ethnic Russian “insects” occupying buildings. The key is not to let the American people in on the secret.

"Public diplomacy" is alive and well today. (I would demur from one of Parry's assertions, however; I don't think the U.S. government has to "hold its nose" in relying on neo-Nazis in Ukraine -- or on al Qaeda in Syria. Our Potomac imperialists are quite simpatico with those who share their belief in violent extremism.) Indeed, with the intensifications of social media and the internet at large, it is more effective than ever. Think of the storyline painted so starkly just a couple of weeks ago: Putin was 'obviously' controlling the anti-Kyiv uprising in eastern Ukraine. He was a wily puppetmaster, deliberately fomenting provocations so that the moment violence erupted, he could march in with his Hitlerian army and occupy eastern Ukraine.

But what happened in reality? Even when dozens of pro-Russians were literally burned to death and murdered by fascists, Putin ... called for restraint. He called for the pro-Russian referendums in eastern Ukraine to be called off. He was ignored, because, although the pro-Russians are evidently getting some material aid from Russia, they are not under the Kremlin's control. As Tony Wood notes in the London Review of Books:

Western governments decried these movements as mere puppets of the Kremlin, lacking any genuine popular support in the region – an ironic mirror-image of the Kremlin’s own claims about the Maidan groups being Western stooges and neo-Nazis. It certainly seems likely that the forces who have taken control of parts of Donetsk and Lugansk provinces benefited from logistical support from members of the Russian security services, who presumably wouldn’t have been involved without the Kremlin’s say-so. But to assume from this that Moscow has total control over events there is to overlook the complex reality on the ground, which seems to involve an often bizarre mix of personnel – local citizens, many with Soviet army training; nationalist ‘volunteers’ from across the former USSR; taciturn, mysteriously well-equipped Russians. It’s also not at all clear that the interests of eastern Ukraine’s pro-Russian groups are aligned with those of Russia itself.

Again, it is clear that Putin is playing with a weak hand, trying to make the best of a bad situation, not controlling events from afar like a cackling Fu Manchu. Indeed, Wood speculates, not implausibly, that Putin would be glad to see the Kyiv regime quell, or at least defang the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine -- precisely because they are uncontrollable, and may lead to dangerous precedents. Wood notes the dark irony of the fact that the oligarch that the Kyiv regime appointed to govern the rebellious province of Donetsk is himself a crony of Putin:

... Putin’s decision to distance himself from the 11 May referendums has been interpreted in the West as cynical double-dealing, on the assumption that he could have stopped them with no more than a phone call. But this underestimates the degree to which the Donetsk and Lugansk uprisings represent a serious strategic problem for Putin ... [Rather than annex part of Ukraine,] it’s much more in Russia’s interests to keep it fragmented and semi-sovereign within its present borders. This would, for example, allow the sizeable Russian-speaking population to inflect electoral outcomes in directions favourable to Moscow, whereas absorbing that part of the electorate into Russia would involve losing all say in Ukraine’s political set-up. ... It's possible that Putin was actually telling the truth on 18 March when he said: ‘We do not want a partition of Ukraine, we do not need this.’ ...

One of the most striking features of the pro-Russian movements in eastern Ukraine, in fact, has been the institutional vacuum in which they have operated. In the absence of recognisable political parties that might channel their demands – but also defang them – the rough-and-ready methods of popular assemblies have taken hold; hence, too, the improvised character of the 11 May referendums. Whatever their level of support in Ukraine, these movements, combining nationalist appeals to Russian ethnicity and tradition with rebellious impulses to self-organisation, set an example Putin has no more desire to see emulated in Russia than he did the Maidan. This is another reason why he sought to distance himself from the referendums, and why he might prefer to see Turchynov crush the ‘people’s militias’ than see them succeed: they are not the natural allies, but the enemies of an oligarchic order whose local representative is the billionaire industrialist Serhiy Taruta, appointed governor of Donetsk by Kiev in early March, and whose Russian champion is Putin himself. It seems significant that, according to the mid-April poll by the Kiev International Sociology Institute, close to 40 per cent of respondents in Donetsk and a quarter of those in Lugansk favoured nationalisation of all property belonging to the country’s oligarchs.

The latter is another reason why Washington is backing Kyiv's burning and killing of protestors so assiduously. They certainly didn't go to all the trouble and expense of empowering a fascist-backed regime in Ukraine just to see oligarchs lose their property! Neither Washington nor Moscow want to see that kind of precedent being set.

And so the game goes on, teetering on a knife's edge. There is no doubt a limit to what Putin can accept before the imperatives of saving his own system, his own power, drive him to a stronger reaction in Ukraine -- perhaps even the invasion that the Potomac imperialists seem so eager to provoke. As for Washington and the EU, Wood notes that they've "got what they wanted – an unequivocally pro-Western government in Kiev – and [have] little reason to back down."

But as we learned 100 years ago, these power games and cynical calculations can spiral out of control, with catastrophic, world-shattering results. If we avoid the abyss this time -- an abyss now bristling with nuclear weapons -- it will be sheer luck; certainly we cannot count on the vapid, power-crazed poltroons of the Potomac to pull back from the brink.

 
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