Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 08 December 2010 17:41
(A version of this article originally appeared at CounterPunch.)
Well, they got him at last. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the target of several of the world’s most powerful governments, turned himself into British authorities today and is now at the mercy of state authorities who have already shown their wolfish – and lawless – desire to destroy him and his organization.
It has been, by any standard, an extraordinary campaign of vilification and persecution, wholly comparable to the kind of treatment doled out to dissidents in China or Burma. Lest we forget, WikiLeaks is a journalistic outlet – just like The New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel, all of whom are even now publishing the very same material – leaked classified documents -- available on WikiLeaks. The website is also a journalistic outlet just like CNN, ABC, CBS, Fox and other mainstream media venues, where we have seen an endless parade of officials – and journalists! – calling for Assange to be prosecuted or killed outright. Every argument being made for shutting down WikiLeaks can – and doubtless will – be used against any journalistic enterprise that publishes material that powerful people do not like.
And the leading role in this persecution of truth-telling is being played by the administration of the great progressive agent of hope and change, the self-proclaimed heir of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Barack Obama. His attorney general, Eric Holder, is now making fierce noises about the “steps” he has already taken to bring down WikiLeaks and criminalize the leaking of embarrassing information. And listen to the ferocious reaction of that liberal lioness, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who took to the pages of Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal to call for Assange to be put in prison – for 2,500,000 years:
When WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange released his latest document trove—more than 250,000 secret State Department cables—he intentionally harmed the U.S. government. The release of these documents damages our national interests and puts innocent lives at risk. He should be vigorously prosecuted for espionage.
The law Mr. Assange continues to violate is the Espionage Act of 1917. That law makes it a felony for an unauthorized person to possess or transmit "information relating to the national defense which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation." ... Importantly, the courts have held that "information relating to the national defense" applies to both classified and unclassified material. Each violation is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
So there you have it. Ten years for each offense; 250,000 separate offenses; thus a prison term of 2.5 million years. Naturally, tomorrow the same newspaper will denounce Feinstein for being such a namby-pamby terrorist-coddling pinko: “Why didn’t she call for Assange to be torn from limb to limb by wild dogs, as any right-thinking red-blooded American would do!?”
Meanwhile, corporate America and its international allies continue to do their bit. Joining PayPal and Amazon, who had already cut off their services to WikiLeaks, most of the remaining venues through which the internet journal is funded are also freezing out the organization -- MasterCard, Visa, and a Swiss bank that WikiLeaks used to process donations. All of these organizations are obviously responding to government pressure.
As I noted earlier this week, what is perhaps most remarkable is that this joint action by the world elite to shut down WikiLeaks – which has been operating for four years – comes after the release of diplomatic cables, not in response to earlier leaks which provided detailed evidence of crimes and atrocities committed by the perpetrators and continuers of Washington’s Terror War. I suppose this is because the diplomatic cables have upset the smooth running of the corrupt and cynical backroom operations that actually govern our world, behind the ludicrous lies and self-righteous posturing that our great and good lay on for the public. They didn’t mind being unmasked as accomplices in mass murder and fomenters of suffering and hatred; in fact, they were rather proud of it. And they certainly knew that their fellow corruptocrats in foreign governments – not to mention the perpetually stunned and supine American people – wouldn’t give a toss about a bunch of worthless peons in Iraq and Afghanistan getting killed. But the diplomatic cables have caused an embarrassing stink among the closed little clique of the movers and shakers. And that is a crime deserving of vast eons in stir – or death.
But before Assange was taken into custody, he fired off one last message to the world, in The Australian, a newspaper in his native land. With supreme irony, he tied WikiLeaks’ operation to the roots of the Murdoch media empire, which began by speaking truth to murderous and wasteful power – and now, of course, is one of the most powerful and assiduous instruments of murderous and wasteful power itself. Assange writes:
IN 1958 a young Rupert Murdoch, then owner and editor of Adelaide’s The News, wrote: “In the race between secrecy and truth, it seems inevitable that truth will always win.” His observation perhaps reflected his father Keith Murdoch’s expose that Australian troops were being needlessly sacrificed by incompetent British commanders on the shores of Gallipoli. The British tried to shut him up but Keith Murdoch would not be silenced and his efforts led to the termination of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.
Nearly a century later, WikiLeaks is also fearlessly publishing facts that need to be made public. … Democratic societies need a strong media and WikiLeaks is part of that media. The media helps keep government honest. WikiLeaks has revealed some hard truths about the Iraq and Afghan wars, and broken stories about corporate corruption.
... WikiLeaks is not the only publisher of the US embassy cables. Other media outlets, including Britain ‘s The Guardian, The New York Times, El Pais in Spain and Der Spiegel in Germany have published the same redacted cables.
Yet it is WikiLeaks, as the co-ordinator of these other groups, that has copped the most vicious attacks and accusations from the US government and its acolytes. I have been accused of treason, even though I am an Australian, not a US citizen. There have been dozens of serious calls in the US for me to be “taken out” by US Special Forces. Sarah Palin says I should be “hunted down like Osama bin Laden”, a Republican bill sits before the US Senate seeking to have me declared a “transnational threat” and disposed of accordingly. An adviser to the Canadian Prime Minister’s office has called on national television for me to be assassinated. An American blogger has called for my 20-year-old son, here in Australia, to be kidnapped and harmed for no other reason than to get at me.
These, of course, are the defenders of Western Civilization, that pinnacle of human progress, that bulwark against savagery like murder and torture, that bastion of temperance and reason. But in his piece, Assange once more gives the lie to the ferocious canards of Feinstein, Holder, Obama and Palin about the “great harm” the leaks have done:
WikiLeaks has a four-year publishing history. During that time we have changed whole governments, but not a single person, as far as anyone is aware, has been harmed. But the US, with Australian government connivance, has killed thousands in the past few months alone.
US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates admitted in a letter to the US congress that no sensitive intelligence sources or methods had been compromised by the Afghan war logs disclosure. The Pentagon stated there was no evidence the WikiLeaks reports had led to anyone being harmed in Afghanistan. NATO in Kabul told CNN it couldn’t find a single person who needed protecting. The Australian Department of Defence said the same. No Australian troops or sources have been hurt by anything we have published.
Yes, how many thousands of people, how many tens of thousands, have been killed by our bipartisan Terror Warriors in the four years of WikiLeaks’ existence? How many millions have been “harmed” not only by the direct operations of the Terror War, but by the ever-widening, ever-deepening violence, hatred and turmoil it is spreading throughout the world? (Not to mention the accelerating collapse of American society, which has been financially, politically and morally bankrupted by the acceptance of aggressive war, torture, elite rapine and authoritarian rule.)
But none of the perpetrators of these acts, past or present, are in jail, or have even been prosecuted, or investigated, or inconvenienced in any way. Yet Assange is in a British prison tonight – and it is certainly not for the “sexual misconduct” charges that were filed against him in August, which then became the basis of an unprecedented worldwide arrest order of the type ordinarily reserved for war criminals – for those, in fact, accused of aggressive war, torture, elite rapine and authoritarian rule. The judge refused to grant bail, saying that Assange had “access to financial means” and could flee the country – perhaps a bitter joke on milord’s part, aimed at a man whose means of financial support are being systematically shut down by the most powerful government and corporate forces in the world. Journalist John Pilger and filmmaker Ken Loach were among those who appeared in court ready to stand surety for Assange, but to no avail.
WikiLeaks will doubtless try to struggle on. And Assange says he has given the entire diplomatic trove to 100,000 people. By dribs and drabs, shards of truth will get out. But the world’s journalists – and those persons of conscience working in the world’s governments – have been given a hard, harsh, unmistakable lesson in the new realities of our degraded time. Tell a truth that discomforts power, that challenges its domination over our lives, our discourse, our very thoughts, and you will be destroyed. No institution, public or private, will stand with you; the most powerful entities, public and private, will be arrayed against you, backed up by overwhelming violent force. This is where we are now. This is what we are now.
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 06 December 2010 23:30
Even as WikiLeaks fights for its life -- a phrase that becomes less metaphorical by the day, especially for Julian Assange, hounded and hunted by several governments -- its revelations continue to shake the world's power structures. Every day we are treated to the edifying spectacle of the most powerful and privileged people on earth scurrying around like panicked rats, trying to escape the streams of light pouring into their filthy backrooms, exposing their ruthless machtpolitik -- and their monumental incompetence at every level.
The trove of leaked diplomatic cables is too rich to encompass or fully process right away. Dip your hand into one batch and you come out with a whole handful of jewels, each one worthy of careful, in-depth analysis, buttressed with innumerable links to current events and detailed historical context. This is the work of months, even years. For now, we can only survey the highlights as they are released and draw some initial impressions.
Two things stand out immediately. First, the leaked cables reveal -- or rather, confirm -- that American "intelligence" on the activities of foreign nations is based almost totally on hearsay, rumor, gossip and fantasies brewed from a deadly mix of arrogance and ignorance. Second, they show that the overwhelming majority of the public statements made by top American officials about the nation's foreign policy are deliberate, knowing lies: the cheapest, most threadbare bromides about America's noble intentions coupled with cynical fear-mongering, which knowingly fans low-grade -- or non-existent -- threats into dire "emergencies" that somehow, always, fill the coffers of war-profiteers (and that new breed of gluttonous predator, the security-profiteers) and require ever-greater expansions of authoritarian power.
Or as Arthur Silber, who has explored these themes in depth for years, puts it: "They'll lie about everything."
Take for example a couple of the latest Guardian stories from the WikiLeaks trove: "Cables portray Saudi Arabia as cash machine for terrorists" and "Saudi Arabia rated a bigger threat to Iraqi stability than Iran." These are not particularly major revelations, but they are highly illustrative for our purposes. In them, we find American diplomats flinging accusations of extensive terrorist funding by powerful Saudis and, in particular, by Saudi-based charities which work around the world. Even as they report their assertions back to Washington, however, the diplomats admit that the "intelligence" they are relying upon is merely "suggestive," that it is based on "limited information," that confirmation of the charges and rumors is "hard to come by."
This is not to say that powerful Saudi interests -- that is, staunch political allies and business partners of the American elite -- are not helping finance extremist organisations around the world. This is hardly a secret: the Saudi Arabian monarchy itself is one of the most extremist organizations in the world, openly propagating a retrograde and repressive brand of Islam, even as its bloated ranks of royalty enjoy every possible secular indulgence in their Western pleasure palaces.
And the American government has often used the Saudis' extremist networks to advance its own agenda -- usually the undermining of any government or movement (secular or religious) that might offer a genuine alternative to thuggish American clients (such as the brutal dictatorship in Egypt) or simply to the general principle of rule by corrupt, rapacious elites (such as our own dear great and good in God's shining city on the hill). Must we bring up yet again the great US-Saudi alliance in building a worldwide network of armed Islamic extremists to fight the great Jesus-Mohammed-Allah-Jehovah crusade against the Commies in Afghanistan? (Well yes, we must, given the total amnesia that afflicts the American memory, where every new day is a fresh clean slate of goodness and righteousness.) And that, of course, just scratches the surface in the US-Saudi use of Sunni extremists over the years, in such places as Bosnia and more recently in Lebanon and Palestine, where, as Seymour Hersh reported, the Americans and Saudis were backing al Qaeda allies -- yes, yes, years after 9/11 -- to try to counteract Hizbollah and Hamas.
But are Saudi tycoons and Saudi charities specifically funding any extremist organizations that might not be serving American interests at this particular moment? No one knows -- certainly not American "intelligence," with its "limited information" and its boldly asserted unsupported suppositions. But what is interesting and revealing in this instance is that, in private, Washington evidently believes that powerful Saudis, with the knowledge if not the outright connivance of Saudi leaders, are financing America's enemies in the "War on Terror" -- but in public we hear nothing but high praise for our stalwart Saudi allies and their anti-terrorism efforts. Again, the Wikileaks revelations lay bare the ruthless power politics that actually govern world affairs, where murder, corruption, terror and war are simply the tools of the trade in a vicious, murky racket of ever-shifting alliances that have no rhyme or reason beyond a bestial urge for dominance.
The other story, about the jackal-fight over the carcass of Iraq after its American ravaging, is perhaps even more revealing -- and more sinister. Here we find American officials reporting back to the Potomac court that the imperial satraps in Baghdad are far more worried about meddling from the Saudis than from the Great Satanic Googily-Moogily of Iran. According to the dispatches, the Iraqi leaders are keen to assure their American patrons that they can easily "manage" the Iranians, who want stability; but the Saudis wanted a "weak and fractured" Iraq, and were even "fomenting terrorism that would destabilize the government."
Naturally, the 2009 report of the then US ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, is riddled with arrogant dismissal of the Iraqis' own assessment of their situation, and parrots back to Team Obama some of the usual evidence-free mind-reading of what the Great Googily-Moogily is really up to in Iraq -- which, even in Hill's most malign construction, is a level of "interference" several orders of magnitude less than, oh, say, invading the country, killing a million of its people, driving four million more from their homes and unleashing endless sectarian war.
But after tossing his bosses the ritual red meat, Hill gets down to the reality which, as our better know full well, lies behind their never-ending warmongering against Iran. He writes that the relation between Iran and Iraq is based on natural, "longstanding historical realities" that "should not lead to alarmist tendencies or reactions on our part." Iran's influence, he says, "should not be overestimated," and that the two countries will find many "points of divergence" on various issues, such as borders, water rights and ordinary political jockeying.
Again, the bipartisan American power structure knows very well that there is no great existential threat -- or even a minor military threat -- emanating from Iran. Yes, the Iranian government is a nasty, corrupt, amoral enterprise, blatantly violating its professed ideals and generally stinking up the joint. (Why, do you know they even execute women, and that their president believes that some kind of long-dead religious figure is going to come again at the end of time and take over the universe? What primitive barbarians, eh?) But so what? As the WikiLeaks cables have confirmed once again, all governments fall somewhere along this same inhumane spectrum. Readers can perhaps decide for themselves just where on that spectrum a nation that has engaged in the above-noted act of mass-murdering aggressive war in Iraq might fall.
But whatever they say amongst themselves, in public our bipartisan elites are eager to stoke fear and hatred of Iran among the populace, with the ever-present threat of war against the Persian demons held out continuously as an imminent, desirable prospect -- yea, verily, a moral good, done in the service of all humankind. Just as they knew all along that Iraq posed no threat yet spent years -- years -- wearing away all resistance to the act of aggression they craved, so too with Iran. It may appear at times that these homicidal cravings for violent domination have been put on the back burner, as we sometimes saw with Iraq; but rest assured -- that back burner is itself kept on high heat, and the stew of war is always boiling.
One final observation: it is remarkable that the WikiLeaks release of diplomatic cables has provoked a far more virulent and draconian reaction from government officials -- and from their craven sycophants in the mainstream media -- than we ever saw after the earlier releases about Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet many of those Terror War releases provided detailed, eyewitness accounts of horrific acts of murder, brutality, and depraved indifference toward the slaughter of innocent people. It seems the American elite are more outraged at being caught in various diplomatic faux pas than being shown to be perpetrators and facilitators of murder, repression and state terror. That's because they know that their cowed and passive subjects -- continually stoked with the hatred and fear of foreign demons -- don't care how many darkies get killed on the other side of the world. And so the Terror War leaks occasioned no more than a few days of Beltway bluster.
But the new releases put a bit of a crimp in business as usual for our backroom operators, exposing some of the rank hypocrisy and all-pervasive corruption of our great and good -- and of their clients and partners around the world. All this might -- just might -- give the rabble unseemly notions ... such as the idea that their interests are perhaps not being served all that well by a system run by and for a handful of liars, tyrants, killers and thieves. We can't have that.
And so Julian Assange is now being hounded -- perhaps to his eventual death -- not for revealing war crimes and atrocities, but for showing us a glimpse of our leaders as they really are: stupid, vain, petty and savage.
Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 19:09
One of the most important stories of the day continues to be almost universally ignored, both by the corporate media and most 'progressive' bloggers, eternally absorbed with the shallow and pointless factional foolery amongst the cliques at the imperial court. But Jason Ditz at Antiwar.com has continued to shine a high, harsh light on this sinister development, which is adding a vast storehouse of anguish, hatred and violence that will be the Peace Laureate's chief legacy to future generations.
We refer of course to the Obama Administration's escalation of air strikes in Afghanistan. As Ditz has been noting for some time, the coming of the media-sainted General David Petraeus to take direct command in the contentious satrapy has seen a spike in civilian deaths, as the vaunted "counterinsurgency" expert has "loosened the reins" that had temporarily curtailed the constant dropping of heavy ordnance on civilian residential areas.
Ditz has been doing an expert job of lacing together the few scattered mentions of the Obama-Petraeus Luftkrieg in the American press, along with the considerably more copious coverage in foreign papers. The picture emerging from this pointillist approach is grim: not only are American forces dropping more bombs and killing more civilians, they are increasingly dismissing all reports of collateral carnage as "Taliban trickery." As Ditz notes in his most recent report (see the original for links):
... the Obama Administration is said to be further escalating its air war in Afghanistan, and officials are confirming a “loosening of the reins” of the restrictions on air strikes. Officials warned that the McChrystal rules, aimed at reducing civilian deaths, meant “some officers were exerting excessive caution, fearing career damage if civilians were mistakenly killed.” With Petraeus now in charge, concerns about killing civilians have faded.
Isn't that wonderful? Isn't that a heartwarming indication of the deep humanitarianism that lies at the heart of America's ever-reluctant war machine (whose blood-greased gears are inscribed with the noble motto: "More in Sorrow Than in Anger")? It was the possibility of "career damage" that made American officers act with "excessive caution" with respect to civilian casualties -- not the horrific thought of taking an innocent human life, not an apprehension of the destructive, unbearable sorrow of the survivors, not even the savvy realpolitik notion that killing civilians only multiplies your enemies and makes them fight harder. No, it was terrifying idea that they might miss out on some of the lifelong perks and privileges of higher rank in our militarist state, if they overstepped the very minimal "restraints" put in place by Gen. Stanley McChrystal -- a former commander of death squads and torture centers in Iraq -- before his sacking.
Meanwhile, the lies about the level of civilian killing keep coming. As Ditz notes, even as Obama officials mouth drivel about the civilian death toll dropping, the Pentagon's own official statistics show that the Americans "are actually killing considerably more civilians than in 2009" -- 11 percent more, to be exact.
This is precisely the same kind of crude and blatant perversion of the truth that incenses our good progressives when it is churned out by the genuinely loathsome corporate toady, Glenn Beck. But it raises few hackles when it is employed by Obama and his minions -- who, unlike Beck, are not only regurgitating vicious nonsense but are also killing actual innocent human beings, right here and now, and not in some future "Republic of Gilead" under Mullah Beck and Prophetess Palin, or any other of the rightwing dystopias so feared (and promoted) by progressive fundraisers.
But lying about the death count is only part of the pernicious story. Even those Pentagon stats which belie Obama's Beckian propaganda only count the deaths that the American humanitarians are willing to admit to publicly. The earlier Wikileaks dump about Afghanistan detailed a number of cases of civilian killings that American forces catalogued -- and kept quiet. And of course, the Afghan survivors of bombing runs and night raids come forth in a steady stream to testify about the death and mutilation of their loved ones and the destruction of their homes.
But, as Ditz reported last week, many American officials are now systematically dismissing any testimony of Afghan civilians deaths that come from ... actual Afghan civilians. Indeed, the Marine commander of the violent Helmand district of Sangin says that "every single instance" of civilian deaths in his district is caused by the Taliban -- despite a flood of complaints from locals about American berserkery since taking over control of the district from the British.
The US denies the allegation of the killings, but admitted that they don’t both the investigate the vast majority of the complaints because they assume them to be “Taliban propaganda.” The commander of the Marines is the district says that the Taliban are to blame for “every single instance” of a civilian casualty in the district.
The US took over the district in September from British forces, who had been holding it for years and expressed concerns that any good will they built up with the locals would quickly be lost when the more aggressive US troops took over and started launching operations. It seems this fear is panning out.
Indeed, tribal elders regularly complain to the Marines about the killings. Officials said no investigations would be taken on the basis of the elders complaints, and said the fact that the elders haven’t been killed by the Taliban was “proof” that they were in league with the Taliban and the complaints were a trick.
So there you have it, the essence of humanitarian war as waged by Nobel Peace Laureates in the 21st century: The fact that you're not dead yet proves you are an enemy.
Is it any wonder that civilian casualties are soaring under the aegis of such an enlightened philosophy?
Written by Chris Floyd
Sunday, 28 November 2010 23:27
For approximately the ten thousandth time, let me say: go read this piece by Arthur Silber. Savor the savage wit he employs against the cretinous call by über-goober Glenn Reynolds for the United States to murder more than 23 million people on the Korean peninsula -- and spread death and disease to hundreds of millions more across Asia.
Silber gives us the money shot from Reynold's latest war porn:
JUST WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW: North Korea fires artillery barrage on South. If they start anything, I say nuke ‘em. And not with just a few bombs. They’ve caused enough trouble — and it would be a useful lesson for Iran, too.
As Silber's analysis reveals, Reynolds evidently feels his manhood is threatened by the possibility of a flare-up in the long-running border disputes between North and South Korea. Why these internal conflicts in a sadly divided but small and distant nation should give Reynolds the vapors is not clear; I suspect it is some sort of compensatory psychosexual fixation with the gigantic missiles and ever-ready payloads of America's nuclear arsenal. But I could be wrong, of course. Maybe he's just "sorry," as the home folks would say back in Tennessee (where we are all ashamed to claim Reynolds as one of our own).
In any case, Reynolds' astonishingly complacent contemplation of the immediate annihilation and incineration of millions upon millions of innocent human beings ("Not with just a few bombs") is nothing new for this witless boor, whose "writings" -- or perhaps "blog droppings" would be a better term -- have long been littered with similar berserkery. Nor are his homicidal proclivities at all unusual among the serious, savvy movers and shakers of our time. The American political and media establishments are chockful of respectable figures -- like Reynolds, a university law professor and contributor to worthy journals like the New York Times -- whose persistent, public calls for the extermination of innocent human beings by the thousands and the millions are on a par with any of the most maniacal utterances of the great mass murderers of the last century.
Silber, as you will expect, delves deeper into all of this -- and even ends with a heartwarming Christmas ditty for our times. Are you going to pass that up? Scoot on over there pronto.
Written by Chris Floyd
Thursday, 25 November 2010 22:26
Michael Hudson has consistently been one of the best guides
through the labyrinth of lies that surround the monumental act of elite
thievery known as the “economic crisis.” Patiently and perceptively, he applies his economic expertise to the
realities behind the blather, laying out – in grim, heart-sinking detail – how
our great and good are using the crisis they created to move in remorselessly
for the final kill on any dreams of a decent life for the rabble – that is, the
99 percent of us who fall outside the golden circle of the rentier class.
So when Hudson speaks, we should pay serious heed. And his
latest piece in CounterPunch is heedful – and heart-sinking – indeed. We are,
he says, entering the end-game of a decades-long process of wealth transference
in which the entire burden of sustaining society – a degraded, hollowed-out,
inhumane society – and a bloated, belligerent militarist oligarchy falls
entirely on working people and the poor, while the elite reap all the profit.
Hudson sees yet another manufactured crisis hitting the
battered system next spring: the “debt” crisis, when Republican legislators and
Blue Dog Democrats refuse to raise the federal debt ceiling, “forcing” a most
willing (yea, eager) Barack Obama to effect an “historic compromise” to “save”
the government from closure and collapse: a flat tax.
You should read Hudson’s entire analysis, which is set up
carefully with very pertinent historical background, but here are some
The danger the United States faces today
is that the government debt crisis scheduled to hit Congress next spring (when
Republicans are threatening to vote against raising the federal debt limit as
the government deficit soars) will provide an opportunity for the wealthy to
give a coup de grace on what is left of
progressive taxation in this country. A flat tax on wage income and consumer
sales would “free” the rentiers from taxes on their property. …
The flat tax actually would tax wage
earners much more steeply than the wealthy, whose income it would largely
exempt! … The tax does not fall on “empty” pricing in excess of value – what
the classical economists termed “economic rent,” that element of price (and
income) that has no counterpart in actual cost of production (ultimately
reducible to labor) but is a pure free lunch: land rent, monopoly rent,
interest and other financial fees, and insurance premiums. This economic rent
is the major return to wealth. It is grounded in the finance, insurance and
real estate (FIRE) sector.
The effect of untaxing the FIRE sector
is twofold. First, it increases the power of wealth, privilege, monopoly rights
and property over living labor – including the power of hereditary wealth over
the living. Second, it helps “post-industrialize” the economy, creating a
“service” economy. A service economy is mainly a FIRE-sector economy.
And now for the end-game, the kabuki
theater in which the FIRE-breathing – or rather, FIRE-bought -- politicians of
both parties finally give the One Percenters what they’ve always wanted: everything.
The wealthy want just what bankers want:
the entire economic surplus (followed by a foreclosure on property). They want
all the disposable income over and above basic subsistence – and then, when
this shrinks the economy, they want the government to sell off the public
domain in “privatization” giveaways, and they want people to turn over their
houses and any other property they have to the creditors. “Your money or your
life” is not only what bank robbers demand. It is what banks themselves demand,
and the wealthy 10 per cent of the population that owns most of the bank stock.
And of course, the wealthy classes want to free themselves
from the share of taxes that they have not already shed. The flat-tax ploy is
Here’s how I think the plan is intended
to work. Given the fact that voters have already rejected the flat tax in
principle, it can only be introduced by fiatunder crisis conditions. Alan
Simpson, President Obama’s designated co-chairman of the “Deficit Reduction
Commission” (the euphemistic title given to what is in reality a “Shift Taxes
Off Wealth Onto Labor” commission) already has suggested that Republicans close
down the government by refusing to increase the federal debt limit this spring.
This would create a fiscal crisis and threat of government shutdown. It would
be a fiscal 9/11, for the Republicans to trot out their “rescue plan” for the
emergency breakdown of government.
The result would cap the tax shift off finance and wealth onto
wage earners. Supported by Blue Dog Democrats, President Obama would shed
crocodile tears and sign off on the most right-wing, oligarchic, anti-labor,
anti-black and anti-minority, anti-industrial tax that anyone has yet been able
to think up. The notorious Flat Tax would fall only on wage income (paid by
employees and employers alike) and on consumer goods (the value-added tax,
VAT), while exempting returns that accrue to the wealthy in the form of
interest and dividend income, rent and capital gains.
Barack Obama is already one of the most right-wing
presidents we’ve ever had, building upon and expanding virtually every
pernicious policy of his oligarchic predecessor. But as Hudson warns us, we ain’t
seen nothin’ yet.
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 23 November 2010 21:10
A few quick takes, as we dig out from the latest hack.
Money for Old Rope
This is what $70 billion a year in whiz-bang, top-shelf "intelligence" buys you: Taliban Leader in Secret Talks Was an Impostor.
The United States of Insouciance
his return from a self-imposed hiatus, Paul Craig Roberts has been a
man on fire, penning a series of riveting, ravaging articles that speak
hard truth to the imperial state -- and to a society seemingly content
to countenance, if not cheer, that state's worst malefactions. Roberts
has done it again with his latest piece: "Insouciant Americans." Get thee hence, and read.
hard to understand why all our serious commentators are writing that
Barack Obama's presidency is in trouble, and offering sage advice, from
right, left, and center, on what he needs to do to "get back on track."
The truth, of course, is that Barack Obama's presidency is a smashing
success -- indeed, a record-breaking success -- and that he is accomplishing exactly what he was put into office to do, as the New York Times reports today: Corporate Profits Were the Highest on Record Last Quarter.
Chronicles of Corruption
My old Moscow Times comrade Matt Taibbi adds another chapter
to his on-going -- and jaw-dropping -- series of stories on the
deliberate evisceration of ordinary Americans by their monied and
minatory betters. Taibbi has few equals when it comes to explaining the
true depth and extent of American corruption -- and almost no equal when
it comes to actually reporting on it from the front lines. He is
creating a record of the reality of our times that future historians
(yes, yes, if there are any) will find invaluable.
The Dissident Path
Hedges is another incendiary voice, burning through the threadbare
curtain of liberal piety and exceptionalist myth to expose the corroded
heart of a nation sliding into barbarity. His latest piece at Truthdig is an excellent example, so we'll finish here with a few choice quotes:
is no hope left for achieving significant reform or restoring our
democracy through established mechanisms of power. The electoral process
has been hijacked by corporations. The judiciary has been corrupted and
bought. The press shuts out the most important voices in the country
and feeds us the banal and the absurd. Universities prostitute
themselves for corporate dollars. Labor unions are marginal and
ineffectual forces. The economy is in the hands of corporate swindlers
and speculators. And the public, enchanted by electronic hallucinations,
remains passive and supine. We have no tools left within the power
structure in our fight to halt unchecked corporate pillage.
liberal class, which Barack Obama represents, was never endowed with
much vision or courage, but it did occasionally respond when pressured
by popular democratic movements. This was how we got the New Deal, civil
rights legislation and the array of consumer legislation pushed through
by Ralph Nader and his allies in the Democratic Party. The complete
surrendering of power, however, to corporate interests means that those
of us who seek nonviolent yet profound change have no one within the
power elite we can trust for support. The corporate coup has ossified
the structures of power. It has obliterated all checks on corporate
malfeasance. It has left us stripped of the tools of mass organization
that once nudged the system forward toward justice. ....
worst premonitions are becoming reality. Our intuition has proved
correct. We are reaching the breaking point. An explosion, unless we
halt the increased pressure, seems inevitable. And what is left for
those of us who cannot embrace the contaminants of violence? If the
system shuts us out how can we influence it through nonviolent
mechanisms of popular protest? How can we restore a civil society? How
can we battle back against those who will mobilize hatred to cement into
place an American fascism?
I do not
know if we can win this battle. I suspect we cannot. But I do know that
if we stop resisting, if we stop rebelling, something fundamental will
die within us. As the corporate vise tightens, as the vast corporate
system begins to break down with fossil fuel decline, extreme climate
change and the expansion of global poverty, even mundane and ordinary
acts to assert our common humanity and justice will be condemned as
It is time to think of
resistance in a new way, something that is no longer carried out to
reform a system but as an end in itself. African-Americans understood
this during the long night of slavery. German opposition leaders
understood it under the Nazis. Dissidents in the former Soviet Union
knew this during the nightmare of communism. Resistance in these closed
systems was local and often solitary. It was done with the understanding
that evil must always be defied. The tiny acts of rebellion—day after
day, month after month, year after year and decade after decade—exposed
to everyone who witnessed them the heartlessness, cruelty and inhumanity
of the oppressor. They were acts of truth and beauty. We must take to
the street. We must jam as many wrenches into the corporate system as we
can. We must not make it easy for them. But we also must no longer live
in self-delusion. This is a battle that will outlive us. And if we
fight, even with this tragic vision, we will lead lives worth living and
keep alive another way of being.
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 22 November 2010 23:32
We are under hack attack again. Just wanted to remind you that if you ever find this site in some difficulty, you can always check the original site, Empire Burlesque 1.0, where any new posts will be published, until the storm blows over.
Written by Chris Floyd
Sunday, 21 November 2010 01:13
I had intended to write a piece about the Washington Post story on the American deployment of battle tanks to Afghanistan for the first time, and how this development is part of the "harder edge" that David Petraeus and Barack Obama are now applying to the people of Afghanistan -- increasing air strikes and night raids on villages, razing houses, and "blowing up stuff and killing people who need to be killed." Together, Obama and Petraeus are driving a savage "uptick" in violence, death and destruction in the occupied land -- a bloodthirsty process which has been almost universally ignored in the mainstream media, until the Post story by Rajiv Chandrasekaran.
But now I see that Arthur Silber is already on the case, with an extraordinary post that hits much harder, deeper and wider than the one I had planned to write. So nothing remains for me to do except to point you toward Silber's remarkable essay. I'm not even going to excerpt it, because that would slow you down; just get over there now and read it without delay.
Written by Chris Floyd
Thursday, 18 November 2010 23:29
There are a number of basic facts that are largely ignored in today's world, at a great cost to a great many people. Here's one: Military forces are designed to carry out military operations. You cannot use them for nation-building or constructing a civic society; if you do, you will fail. This fact is so evident, so banal, that one is almost embarrassed to point it out. Yet apparently it remains a wonderment, an unfathomable conception, to the makers of state policy -- even those reportedly intelligent enough to play 11-dimensional chess.
Now here is another blatantly obvious, common-as-dirt fact: The market is designed to make money. If you rely on the market to achieve social goals -- such as the allieviation of poverty, or the provision of public services necessary for the common good -- then you will fail. And these failures, as with the military, will generally be catastrophic, exacerbating the problems they are intended (or purporting) to address.
A recent story in the New York Times about the crisis in the Indian microfinance industry is a case in point. Microcredit -- giving small loans to those in dire poverty to help them establish businesses, build homes, sustain farms, etc. -- has been much touted in recent years as a win-win situation: the poor get much-needed cash, while investors in micofinance reap socially acceptable profits. As the Times puts it:
In recent years, foundations, venture capitalists and the World Bank have used India as a petri dish for similar for-profit “social enterprises” that seek to make money while filling a social need. Like-minded industries have sprung up in Africa, Latin America and other parts of Asia.
But the flaw in this noble scheme is readily apparent: seeking to "make money while filling a social need." These are two entirely separate endeavors, with two entirely separate goals. Once a market is created, with whatever benign intentions, it is inevitable that it will be used, and eventually dominated, by those seeking to maximize their profits, regardless of social needs. There is no great scandal in this fact; that's what markets are for. And this inevitable heedless maximization is now happening in India, as the Times reports:
But microfinance in pursuit of profits has led some microcredit companies around the world to extend loans to poor villagers at exorbitant interest rates and without enough regard for their ability to repay. Some companies have more than doubled their revenues annually.
“These institutions are using quite coercive methods to collect,” said V. Vasant Kumar, the state’s minister for rural development. “They aren’t looking at sustainability or ensuring the money is going to income-generating activities. They are just making money.”
Reddy Subrahmanyam, a senior official who helped write the Andhra Pradesh legislation, accuses microfinance companies of making “hyperprofits off the poor,” and said the industry had become no better than the widely despised village loan sharks it was intended to replace.
“The money lender lives in the community,” he said. “At least you can burn down his house. With these companies, it is loot and scoot.”
...Vijay Mahajan, the chairman of Basix, an organization that provides loans and other services to the poor, acknowledged that many lenders grew too fast and lent too aggressively. Investments by private equity firms and the prospect of a stock market listing drove firms to increase lending as fast as they could, he said.
“In their quest to grow,” he said, “they kept piling on more loans in the same geographies.” He added, “That led to more indebtedness, and in some cases it led to suicides.”
You cannot fruitfully address social problems with a mechanism designed to create private profit -- just as you cannot build a peaceful, stable society with an organization designed to kill people and blow things up. Yet multitudes are suffering and dying all over the world from these delusions. And because they augment the wealth and dominance of the powerful, these corrosive myths will continue to be propagated with evangelical fervor by those same elites and their sycophants -- to the detriment of social needs, of national security, of the common good and the daily lives of countless individuals.
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 16 November 2010 22:19
Decades before you were born, an invading army occupied your native land. The army of occupation has blighted and repressed your people for generations. You have heard your parents and your grandparents talk of all that they have lost, all that was taken from them, the friends and relatives they have seen killed, how the brutal, stifling occupation has bred extremism (often funded and promoted by the occupiers) that has riven your society, and how all hope of an ordinary peaceful life has been taken from your family, and from you.
You are 13 years old. One day, you see some soldiers of the occupation army. They are bristling with weapons and body armor, they are protected by watchtowers, helicopters, they are equipped with radios that can call down a missile or an airplane to destroy your home in a matter of minutes. Their very presence is a harsh, mocking, inescapable emblem of your family's pain and degredation. And so, on this day, you pick up a stone -- a stone -- and throw it, in a weak and futile gesture, at these impregnable figures.
And for throwing this stone -- a stone, a small, hand-sized fragment of stone -- this is what happens to you. From Israel's ynetnews:
Karem, a 13-year-old boy from Hebron, was arrested in late September on suspicion of hurling stones at Israel Defense Forces soldiers. After spending six days in the Ofer Prison, he was placed under house arrest for five months in his uncle's home and can't even go to school.
The boy's relatives say he is in a serious emotional state and is finding it difficult to recover from his days in prison. All he told his family members was that he was handcuffed and chained, and was sometimes left alone in a room or in solitary ....
The boy himself refuses to talk. Asked what he went through during the interrogation and in jail, he responds, "I don't know, I don't know."
Karem's grandmother says his mental state has influenced his health. "You can tell that he is afraid and frightened from his days in jail. He has fungus on his body and his skin has peeled from all the pressure, fear, and nerves. He barely talks. Today we looked for him and found him hiding in the chicken coop because he didn't want to talk to anyone."
It's just a small story; what does it matter? It's just a tiny incident, far from the worst, in a vast, world-roiling conflict; what does it matter? It's just the scarcely noticed ruination of one obscure child's life; what does it matter? Only losers and lamesters, only those on the margins, only those who aren't serious, who aren't savvy -- only those who are struggling to keep hold of their humanity in the face of implacable systems of power, systems which seek at every turn to degrade and destroy what Arthur Silber calls "the sacred value of a single human life" -- would care about such discarded wretches. But it doesn't matter at all to anyone who "matters" in the small, gilded circles of domination and sycophancy that oversway our lives and our discourse. And so these little stories will keep on playing out, everywhere, all the time, in the monstrous waste we make of our common humanity -- and its brief, beautiful, absolutely unique individual expressions.
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 15 November 2010 00:49
One hates to kick a man when he’s down – and Christopher Hitchens, facing an almost certain doom from cancer, is certainly down. But as he has lived his life pulling no punches against those whom he felt (by whatever standards he held at the time) to be spewing murderous bullshit, let us honor this cherished principle of his by applying it to his own words.
Hitchens was given a lavish and almost entirely adulatory spread in The Observer this weekend, holding forth in his usual “young trendy leftist turned aged imperial apologist” manner. There is not much of interest in the interview, and I would have passed over it in silence if not for one extraordinary passage, in which Hitchens demonstrates to perfection the wilful self-blindness of all those who end up worshipping at the altar of the militarist Moloch.
In defending his advocacy for the unprovoked, illegal invasion of Iraq – and reiterating his still-staunch support and glowing approval of this ongoing war crime, Hitchens makes this statement:
I'm glad we're not having an inquest now, as we would be [if there had been no invasion], into why we allowed a Rwanda or a Congo to develop on the Gulf, an imploding Iraq right in front of our eyes, a vortex of violence and meltdown, a whole society beggared and fractured and traumatised, waiting to fall to pieces.
Of course what Hitchens is doing here -- as even his sycophantic interviewer realizes -- is describing exactly what has happened in Iraq because of the invasion. It is in fact an excellent description of the conquered nation's fate at the hands of the monstrous assault that he has championed.
And yet he has somehow convinced himself that the rape of Iraq has prevented what he has seen happen right in front of his eyes, year after year after year. Obviously, somewhere in his mind, he dimly knows the truth; that is, his brain has registered the undeniable fact that that Iraq has indeed become a “vortex of violence and meltdown, a whole society beggared and fractured and traumatised.” But this present reality – which has come about precisely because and only because of the invasion and occupation which he still defends – has been transposed into what he now believes were his fears of what could happen if Iraq had not been invaded.
One could charitably attribute this befuddled backward projection to the wretched side effects of chemotherapy -- were it not for the fact that Hitchens has been demonstrating this same moral blindness for years, indeed since the days when he was openly exulting in the 9/11 attacks, seeing in those mass murders the glorious promise of a worldwide conflagration -- yea, verily, a Biblical Armageddon, "a war to the finish between everything I love and everything I hate." The thought of such a tsunami of blood and destruction, which would -- and is -- consuming the lives of thousands upon thousands of innocent people left him "exhilarated," Hitchens declared.
But it was ever thus with religious extremists. Hitchens may have shifted from from Marx to Moloch in his zealotry, but his blind and -- not to put too fine a point on it -- dimwitted adherence to the doctrine of sacred violence (whether it be Trotsky's "permanent revolution" or the American imperium's Terror War) has remained steadfast. And even as he stares into the last abyss, he is dosing himself with pure delusion to avoid the realization of his complicity with evil.