Blaming the Sky: Postcards of the Homeland

Written by Chris Floyd 06 July 2012 5607 Hits

It’s become a sordid place, hollowed by money, by fear, by a meanness bred in the mud of lies, in fever-swamps of self-regard and relentless self-deception.

For a long, long time, the energy of beginning, like the flush and fire of youth, gave a glamour and a momentum that could mask the many toxins feeding on the flame of life to grow more virulent, more corrosive. But youth is gone now, energy spent; the mask is tattered and hides nothing.

Here the last extracted, blood-flecked exhalation of the slave and the native are hanging in the ashen mist of sundown. Here the busted, bloated progeny of all-devouring pioneers are gathered in the dwindled light of an abandoned strip-mall storefront, where they grunt old war-cries and chew sour rags.

Stewing in righteousness. Strangled by the spittle of their garbled prayers to the wilting god in their mirrors. Tearing the songlines out of their brains. Losing the knowledge of letters. Shaving off the mountaintops, then blaming the sky for being too far away.

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Scoundrel Time: Patriot Acts and Political Platforms

Written by Chris Floyd 04 July 2012 4898 Hits

Below are a couple of refrains to mark this the day when we remember our freedoms. (And we certainly do have to remember them, like mourners at a funeral; most of them aren't here any more.) First we have a brief precis on political platforms in this election year, then a song in honor of one the very few patriots who have actually acted on behalf of their country in recent years: Bradley Manning, who tried to end our nation's damnable atrocity in Iraq by exposing the reality of imperial war. Unfortunately, he overestimated the moral character of his countrymen, who by and large greeted his revelations with a shrug of the shoulders -- when they weren't actively cheering his imprisonment and/or calling for his execution. The last refuge of scoundrels, indeed. Happy Fourth!

Just One Plank
(lyrics and illustrations here)

Just One Plank by Chris Floyd

The Good Corporal
(lyrics here)

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Idle Pleasures: Rousing the Age-Old Dream of the Heavy-Laden

Written by Chris Floyd 01 July 2012 5566 Hits

When I was growing up, the "four-day work week" was considered a viable political and social goal: the next logical step after the long and often bloody struggle to win a five-day week for most working people. Like "full employment," this idea was sometimes actually built into the public platforms of serious, broad-based parties and political movements.

Yes, children, before "wealth creators" and other masters of the universe were held up as worthy models for their 80-hour weeks and unstinting dedication to squeezing every single minute ever more tightly for a few more bucks -- before those of us who serve the creators and masters were supposed to be supinely grateful for working ever harder and longer to swell the bosses' private coffers -- there once existed the notion that there might actually be more to human life than the treadmill and the ant hill. And that we might even use the amazing technological advances that our species has produced to make life easier, richer, deeper, more engaging and humane for all of us.

All of this is long gone now, of course. As Owen Hatherly notes in the Guardian, both Right and Left have combined, for many decades, to advance the idea that pointless labor is our lot, and that we should be happy with it:

... Conservatives have always loved to pontificate about the moral virtue of hard work and much of the left, focusing on the terrible effects of mass unemployment, understandably gives "more jobs" as its main solution to the crisis. Previous generations would have found this hopelessly disappointing.

In almost all cases, utopians, socialists and other futurologists believed that work would come near to being abolished for one reason above all – we could let the machines do it. The socialist thinker Paul Lafargue wrote in his pointedly titled tract The Right To Be Lazy (1883):

"Our machines, with breath of fire, with limbs of unwearying steel, with fruitfulness wonderful inexhaustible, accomplish by themselves with docility their sacred labour. And nevertheless the genius of the great philosophers of capitalism remains dominated by the prejudices of the wage system, worst of slaveries. They do not yet understand that the machine is the saviour of humanity, the god who shall redeem man from working for hire, the god who shall give him leisure and liberty."

Oscar Wilde evidently agreed – in his 1891 essay The Soul of Man Under Socialism, he scorns the "nonsense that is written and talked today about the dignity of manual labour", and insists that "man is made for something better than distributing dirt. All work of that kind should be done by a machine". He makes quite clear what he means:

"Machinery must work for us in coal mines, and do all sanitary services, and be the stoker of steamers, and clean the streets, and run messages on wet days, and do anything that is tedious or distressing".

Both Lafargue and Wilde would have been horrified if they'd realised that only 20 years later manual work itself would become an ideology in Labour and Communist parties, dedicating themselves to its glorification rather than abolition. ... American industrial theorists, strangely enough, seemed to share [these later] socialiists' views.

Of course, as Hatherly points out, in the hands of our wealth creators and universe masters, technology did eliminate a lot of work -- but not for those who labor and are heavy-laden. As with so much else in our system, the risks and downsides of technological development have been "socialized" -- borne solely by ordinary people -- while the profits and benefits are "privatized" into the coffers and control of the elite:

Yet the utopian vision of the elimination of industrial labour has in many ways come to pass. Over the past decade Sheffield steelworks produced more steel than ever before, with a tiny fraction of their former workforce; and the container ports of Avonmouth, Tilbury, Teesport and Southampton got rid of most of the dockers, but not the tonnage.

The result was not that dockers or steelworkers were free to, as Marx once put it, "hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon and criticise after dinner". Instead, they were subjected to shame, poverty, and the endless worry over finding another job, which, if it arrived, might be insecure, poorly paid, un-unionised work in the service industry. In the current era of casualisation, that's practically the norm, so the idea of skilled, secure labour and pride in work doesn't seem quite so awful. Nonetheless, the workers' movement was once dedicated to the eventual abolition of all menial, tedious, grinding work. We have the machines to make that a reality today – but none of the will.

Yes, in our ultramodern, technologically super-savvy 21st century, we all must be grateful -- yea, humble and worshipful -- if we are lucky enough to be vouchsafed the privilege of wage slavery by the masters and creators.

This is what is known as "progress."

II.
Hatherly's piece put me in mind of some scraps on this theme which I set down some time ago. These lines were initially prompted by some readings inBabylonian history, especially a passage about their belief that the gods, tired of working so hard themselves, made humankind to labor on their behalf.

Babylonian Theology
If the gods themselves grew tired of ceaseless labor
and rebelled, making the clay things that we are,
endowing us with sufficient mind and spirit
not only to do their work but also look and yearn beyond,
why shouldn't we in our turn overthrow divine order
in search of ease, rich pleasures and idleness?

Death, you say, will follow; but death is here already,
it waits on the good servant and the bad,
swallows both, swallows all. Why then blister
your hand with the heft of an axe
when you might instead lay it gently on some soft flesh?

No: proclaim yourself an enemy of all industry;
he who works for another man's bread is a slave.
Declare your fast devotion to the goddess of Joy:
serve her with song, and wine, and every kind of dream. 

Let no black hat or stiff collar come
to charge you with sin or sloth or crime:
if he'll crush no cup, then send him to the devil.
If he will not sing, then let him die
the blank white agonizing death in life
of a soul unrooted from the natural way.

***
A bit more on this theme here.

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The Naked and the Dead: Raw Hubris is Still the Rule

Written by Chris Floyd 30 June 2012 5586 Hits

Every few weeks, we hear another story on the great danger posed to the security of the Republic if there is even a miniscule reduction in the rate of growth in the Pentagon budget. With wringing hands and furrowed brow and tones of stern alarum, they say the spigot must remain at full spate -- must even be increased -- if the shining city on the hill is to have the slightest chance to hold off the Yellow Peril, the Persian Menace, the Muslim Horde and all the other unknown unknowns that threaten our sacred way of life.

This is currently pitched in the context of budget cuts and austerity measures which have sadly been enforced on us all by the moral imperative of saving our financial elites from bearing the slightest tincture of responsibility or discomfort for the global economic meltdown they inadvertently and accidentally caused by years of systematic, deliberate and well-documented fraud. But of course, the Pentagon has been crying poor for years -- and never more so than in the 21st century, when it has commanded budgets beyond all human comprehension: trillions piled upon trillions, a floodtide sluicing off in a myriad of rivulets, coursing in all directions.

But still they cry, and still they are given, and still they spend, then cry for more. No one challenges them. The microscopic "cuts" (again, never in the actual military budget but only in its galloping growth rate) that are sometimes offered, meekly, are painfully absurd: even if enacted, they would amount to no more than throwing a sponge at Hurricane Katrina as it drove in the waters to drown New Orleans.

Five years ago -- yes, before the financial crash and the budget crisis -- I wrote a piece on this same theme, after the generals had gone to Congress, yet again, with their alarm bells and their bluster. The post focused not so much on their insatiable need for cash but on the undisguised imperial mindset behind it all: the begging brass, their Congressional enablers, and the media establishment that never questioned the hideous system these rituals exemplified.

And although the dramatis personae have changed slightly since that time, the mindset is even more pervasive, more entrenched, more brazen than before. So I thought it might be worth a second look. Here it is:

***

Hubris and Obscenity: Imperial Ambition on Naked Display
Rarely has the imperial hubris that lies at the basis of U.S. foreign policy – the unspoken, unquestioned assumption of America's right to global domination by force – been so nakedly revealed than in the recent Washington Post story decrying the degraded state of the Pentagon's military preparedness. ("Military is Ill-Prepared for Other Conflicts") What makes the story so remarkable, and so valuable as a diagnostic tool for the health of the Republic (which could perhaps be most accurately described as "the sickness unto death") is that none of the generals or politicians quoted in the story – nor the writer herself – betray the slightest awareness of the moral obscenity upon which all their earnest concerns and diligent fact-finding are based.

On its surface, at the level of meaning it intends to convey to readers, the story is disturbing enough. The upshot is that Bush's reckless and stupid war of aggression in Iraq has plunged American military stocks and manpower reserves into a "death spiral" of depletion that will take years – and untold billions of dollars – to replenish. This in turn has put the United States in a horribly exposed strategic position, with the Pentagon incapable of responding "quickly and decisively to potential foreign crises," as the Post puts it. For example, the Army no longer has even a single brigade "ready to deploy within hours to an overseas hot spot," we're told. The highest brass – Joint Chief Chairman Gen. Peter Pace, Army chief of staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker, and his vice chief, Gen. Richard Cody – attest, under oath, to the woeful state of unreadiness. Anonymous "senior officers" interviewed by the reporter then make clear the implications of their bosses' plaintive but coded warnings: the Iraq War is bleeding us dry.

On the second level of meaning – which the reporter may or may not have consciously intended to put across – we find something equally disturbing. Note well what the nation's top military officer, General Pace, has to say about this state of unreadiness:

In earlier House testimony, Pace said the military, using the Navy, Air Force and reserves, could handle one of three major contingencies, involving North Korea or -- although he did not name them -- Iran or China. But, he said, "It will not be as precise as we would like, nor will it be on the timelines that we would prefer, because we would then, while engaged in one fight, have to reallocate resources and remobilize the Guard and reserves."

The true import here is not so much the casualness with which these Beltway players – the generals, the legislators and the reporters – regard the prospect of war with North Korea, Iran and China as an unavoidable natural fact, something that is bound to happen sooner or later, and for which we must be massively steeled. This attitude is troubling, of course, but it's hardly news. No, what gives cause for the greatest immediate concern in Pace's remarks is his observation that in a coming "major contingency" – such as the all-but-inevitable attack on Iran – the Pentagon's campaign "will not be as precise as we would like." What is this but a tacit admission that when push comes to shove with Tehran, the United States will have to go in with a sledgehammer, lashing out left and right – no "surgical strike" against alleged nuclear facilities, but a blunderbuss assault, with the attendant "collateral damage" and destruction of civilian infrastructure that we have seen in Iraq (twice), Kosovo, Panama, Vietnam and other "contingencies."

Again, all of this is bad enough in itself. But it is the third level of meaning – never expressed either directly or indirectly but embodied by the story as a whole -- that is the most profoundly disturbing. The present state of affairs leaves the nation at grave risk, we are told. Why? Because it leaves the United States somewhat hobbled in its ability to impose its will military on any nation or region it so chooses. Again, attend to General Pace as he tells Congress that he is "not comfortable" with the Army's readiness:

"You take a lap around the globe -- you could start any place: Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Venezuela, Colombia, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, North Korea, back around to Pakistan, and I probably missed a few. There's no dearth of challenges out there for our armed forces," Pace warned in his testimony.

This is not the statement of a military officer serving in the armed forces of a democratic republic devoted to the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of its citizens. This is the action list of a Roman general seeking more funds so that he might fulfill Caesar's commands for further conquests and punitive raids beyond the frontiers of the Empire. Nation after nation, in every corner of the globe, is laid out for possible military intervention – "and I probably missed a few." And the legislators – of both parties – who heard these dire warnings merely nodded their heads in solemn agreement: the United States must be ready at all times to strike with massive force at short notice anywhere and everywhere in the world.

Not as single Congressional official – or the reporter – ever asked the simple question: Why? Why must we be prepared to invade or intervene in Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan, Venezuela, Colombia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Pakistan at the drop of a hat, with at least an Army brigade's worth of troops backed up by air and naval power? In what way does the maintenance and expansion of a military establishment that has, as Chalmers Johnson notes, some "737 bases in more than 130 countries around the world" and the capacity for assaulting every other nation on earth advance the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of the American people? Because it "combats terrorism"? But the vast majority of the Pentagon's international empire was constructed long before this most elastic abstract noun became the bogeyman of America's night-mind. Most of it was built in the name of "fighting communism," that former all-devouring bogeyman who has now retired to shabby pensioner's digs in Havana.

But of course, these earlier outposts of empire were actually devoted to the same aim as the new imperial fortresses going up in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa: to assert American dominance of global political and economic affairs, to enrich politically connected American contractors (and the pols who grease them so diligently with public money), and to prevent the rise of any possible alternative systems in foreign countries that might adversely affect the power, privilege and profits of the American elite and their local collaborators. (And any such system, whether it was based on Marxism or – as was most often the case – not, was reflexively labeled "communism" and its adherents dehumanized, dispossessed, incarcerated or simply killed. The history of El Salvador during the Reagan-Bush administrations is but one example. And this demonization was the case even with the "liberation theology" advanced by anti-communist Catholic churchmen in Latin America – a movement so dangerous to the corrupt status quo that it is still being actively quashed today by the former head of the Inquisition, Pope Benedict.)

Here again, Chalmers Johnson is instructive. In a recent interview with Buzzflash.com, he notes:

…History tells us there’s no more unstable, critical configuration than the combination of domestic democracy and foreign empire. You can be one or the other. You can be a democratic country, as we have claimed in the past to be, based on our Constitution. Or you can be an empire. But you can’t be both.…The causative issue is militarism. Imperialism, by definition, requires military force. It requires huge standing armies. It requires a large military-industrial complex. It requires the willingness to use force regularly. Imperialism is a pure form of tyranny. It never rules through consent, any more than we do in Iraq today.

Imagine the uproar in Washington if the leading Chinese papers reported that the Red Army's top general had appeared before the Politburo and gave them a "trot around the globe," detailing, by name, the many nations that China must be able to attack at a moment's notice. Or asserted that China must be able to install and maintain hundreds of military bases all over the world to protect its interests. Or if Putin's top general told the Duma this. Or if Iran's military leaders declared that they too were going to place military bases in 130 countries and raise a military force capable of meeting "contingencies" in a range of specific countries – with the proviso, of course, that they "may have missed a few" potential targets for military action. And all of this, of course, cloaked in the rhetoric of justified defense, of helping others, of peace, prosperity and security for all humankind.

What an outcry we would hear from the White House, from Congress, from the media: "The arrogance of these foreign devils! The rank hypocrisy, gussying up their unbridled aggression, their naked greed, with flowery phrases! Why should they need such a vast military establishment – which goes far beyond the necessary requirements of defending their people – except to impose their will upon other nations? These ruthless military ambitions will destabilize the entire planet, set off frantic arms races, spark wars, sow mistrust, foment terrorism, drive millions into want and ruin. We won't stand for this kind of domination!"

Yet it was precisely this aggression, this greed, this ruthless ambition that was on full display in the generals' Congressional testimony, and the Washington Post article. And we wonder why the other nations of the world mistrust us. We wonder why they would even try – in their own small, pitiful ways – to arm themselves against us. We wonder why they denounce our policies, our benevolent interventions, our cruise missiles, our bombs, our checkpoints, our house raids, our renditions, our secret prisons, our unfortunate infliction of collateral damage – all of which are devoted solely to justified defense, to helping others, to the peace, prosperity and security of all humankind.

Gen. Pace is famously concerned with morality, as he demonstrated last week with his stern denunciation of homosexuality. The idea of two people of the same gender giving pleasure to one another outrages and sickens him. But the obscenity of visiting death and suffering on dozens of countries who have not attacked the United States; of killing, maiming and despoiling multitudes of innocent people who pose no threat to the United States; of bankrupting the people of the United States and utterly corrupting the Republic of the United States in the service of a rampant militarist empire – this doesn't trouble General Pace, or Congress, or the arbiters of our national discourse such as the Washington Post, in the least.

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Counting Coup: As Progressives Cheer, Hell Grows in Obama's Honduras

Written by Chris Floyd 29 June 2012 8594 Hits

While progressives pop firecrackers in celebration of the great victory for Barack Obama's ACA (Advancing Corporate Authority) program -- which forcibly delivers customers to some of the most horrendous and inhumane companies in the land and fills the coffers of these heartbreak cartels with public loot -- another one of the president's landmark achievements continues to build up an enduring legacy for his visionary leadership.

We refer, of course, to the living hell he has helped make in Honduras. In one of the early foreign policy successes of his illustrious administration, Obama helped midwife a brutal coup by Honduran oligarchs, who overthrew a democratically elected president, sent him into exile, then began jailing and murdering those who objected to this regime change. Although almost all of the nations of Latin America condemned the coup, Obama and his equally progressive Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, told the Hondurans to get over it, and embraced the murderous new government.

This despicable policy -- a throwback to the very worst of America's long and very dirty history in Latin America -- has not provoked the slightest ripple of concern from our earnest progressives. Of course it goes without saying that the earnest regressives on the Right have raised no objection either. (And they say bipartisanship is dead in Washington.)  But you would think that people who make a profession (not to say a fetish) of progressivism might be just the slightest bit wiggly at the sight of their champion channeling Nixon in Chile and Reagan in Guatemala. But no: the most important thing in the world is that Barack's corporate welfare scam has been validated by suddenly saintly John Roberts.

But in the real world, where the realities of power shred the ludicrous inanities of partisan hackery (for more on this, see Arthur Silber), the bodies are still falling as Obama "surges" the Drug War in his sinister satrapy. Following up from the fresh hell described here just the other day, John Perry has the latest in the London Review of Books -- one of the very, very few venues following the atrocities of the Peace Laureate in Honduras. Here are a few excerpts:

It’s three years since the coup in Honduras that sent President Manuel Zelaya into exile in his pyjamas. Porfirio Lobo, who took over as president in January 2010 following highly questionable elections, is more than halfway through his term. The only grounds for optimism are offered by the resistance movement that sprang up after the coup.

Much that’s wrong with Honduras is illustrated by a recent incident. In the small hours of 11 May, in the remote Moskitia region, there was a drugs bust led by helicopters from the United States Drugs Enforcement Administration. The facts are clouded, but an on-the-ground investigation appears to confirm that sacks of cocaine had been transferred from a small plane to a boat which – spotted by the DEA helicopter – was then abandoned, with the drug-runners escaping into the night. A nearby passenger boat, about to put into the small port of Paptalaya, was mistakenly fired on, and four people were killed and several injured. The DEA personnel prevented people from helping the victims, violently intimidated the local community and did nothing to secure medical assistance for the injured. No drug traffickers were arrested, though 400 kg of cocaine was recovered from the drifting boat. (According to the Honduran police, the four victims were in a boat that fired on the authorities; the DEA says that none of its agents shot at anyone.)

The incident is indicative of [several] characteristics of Honduras since the coup. The first is drugs. In a suspiciously precise assessment, the DEA says that 79 per cent of cocaine smuggling flights from South America land in Honduras. Drug-running makes money for some of the country’s most powerful people. Miguel Facussé, described by the New York Times as ‘the octogenarian patriarch of one of the handful of families controlling much of Honduras’s economy’, was a strong supporter of the coup.  He has been known to the US authorities as a drug-runner since 2004.

Second, violence is widespread. The murder rate in Honduras is four times Mexico’s, and it is now the world’s most dangerous country for journalists, with 23 assassinated since the coup. Four deaths in a remote region, especially in one of the country’s indigenous communities, are unremarkable. Last weekend, DEA agents killed another man in the same area.

Third, the peremptory official investigation into what happened in Moskitia in May is typical. Four months after the Comayagua prison fire in which 360 people died, no one has been charged. Police were implicated in the murder last October of the son of the rector of Honduras’s main university and, last month, of the journalist Alfredo Villatoro (an associate of President Lobo). No one has been charged in those cases either.

Violence, corruption and death for the truth. A marvelous legacy for our progressive commander -- one that even mean old Antonin Scalia can't threaten!

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Clash of Civilizations: The Great God Pan is Dead

Written by Chris Floyd 25 June 2012 7406 Hits

Plutarch writes that during the reign of Tiberius Caesar, an Egyptian pilot, Thamus, sailing to Italy, was called by a strange voice, which cried out to him: "Thamus, when you reach Palodes, tell them that the great god Pan is dead!" Following certain portents, Thamus did as he was told; Plutarch writes that a great lamentation rose from the shore at this news.

The story has long been seen as a symbolic representation of the death of the Classical world and its replacement by Christianity -- a process which actually occurred, with much strife and agony, over the next few centuries.

The piece below is a telescoped glimpse at this process, whose faint afterglow can still be seen, and felt, in our world today, in myriad forms.

 

End Times by Chris Floyd

 

Where were you when they raised the cry
That the great god Pan is dead?
The sailors hauled up near the shore
While the dawn was glowing red.
With a single voice, they made lament
So that all might hear and know
That a mighty force had left the world
And joined the shades below.

It echoed through the woods and hills,
And down every mountain stream.
The earth itself looked dazed and pale,
As if shaken from a dream.
The roaring sun turned dark at noon,
And a shiver split the ground.
And every beast of field and sky
Cried havoc all around.

Oh, yesterday the world was filled with the pulse of wild joy
Now we cower in the shadow of the all-devouring void

The murk is thick and every path we take is choked with thorns
And where the bride once stood arrayed, a lonely widow mourns

O darling, hold on tight to me,
A change is gonna come:
A different way to live and see –
No more the pipe and drum.
No more the trance in ivy-time,
No more the dance and flow.
The saints will ride with fire and sword
To strike the final blow.

Words and music © 2012 by Chris Floyd

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Grand Tradition: Obama Does it the Old-Fashioned Way in Honduras

Written by Chris Floyd 24 June 2012 6580 Hits

Overthrow the constitutionally elected democratic government. Install willing stooges, backed by local oligarchs, in its place. Send in your own troops to take part in the crusade du jour (anti-communism, anti-terrorism, the "War on Drugs") and establish your iron dominion over the lesser breeds south of the border. Repeat as often as necessary.

It's a tried-and-true formula, a traditional remedy, as American as apple pie, Chevrolet and murdering wedding guests and funeral-goers by remote control from a comfy chair in a secure fortress 10,000 miles away. And Barack Obama -- who is nothing if not a genuine American Traditionalist -- is carrying on the grand tradition of America's always extra-special relationship with the nations of Central America.

Last Saturday, the Obama Administration finally came clean on its "commando-style" operations in Honduras -- the country whose government Obama helped overthrow in the rosy dawn of his progressive presidency. A "commando" of the Drug Enforcement Agency shot and killed a man in a group of alleged drug smugglers who had surrendered after a raid. As the New York Times reports:

During the operation,[U.S. embassy spokesman Stephen] Posivak said, the government agents told a group suspected of smuggling to surrender. Four of the suspects did so and were arrested, but a fifth reached for a holstered weapon. The American agent shot him before he could fire.

“The suspect, instead of surrendering, reached for his firearm,” Mr. Posivak said. “The other suspects surrendered, but this guy went for his gun.”

Well, that's what Mr. Posivak said, so it must be true. It may even be as true as the story of Osama bin Laden going for his gun when he was shot down unarmed in his bed. Or maybe the "guy" in Honduras was reaching for his holstered weapon in order to surrender it, as ordered. Who knows? But if the story changes tomorrow or next week, we should not be surprised -- nor should it make us doubt the words of our leaders and their Posivaks as they try their darndest to give us the true facts through the ever-present "fog of war."

America's drug-warring commandos have been linked to a number of deaths in Honduras this year -- including a raid in which two pregnant women were killed, according to local eyewitnesses -- but the White House has always denied that our boys were actually pulling the triggers. But now, after the carefully orchestrated revelations by "administration insiders" about Obama's weekly Death Squad meetings -- and the near-universal non-reaction to this story by the media-political establishment and the general public -- there's no need to hide a little penny-ante wetwork down south. Now it's praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, the whole world is a "free-fire zone."

As the NYT noted in an earlier story about the spread of American "forward bases" in the client land, "government leaders in Honduras, who came to power in a controversial election a few months after a 2009 coup, have strongly supported assistance from the United States, but skeptics contend that enthusiasm is in part because the partnership bolsters their fragile hold on power."

Oh, those skeptics. Always pouring cold water on even the most altruistic operation. For everyone knows that the sole and only single purpose of the War on Drugs is to keep the pusherman away from little Sally's middle-school playground. Sure, the Drug War has given rise to the most powerful underworld organizations the world has ever seen; sure, it's corrupted governments and politics around the world on a staggering scale; sure, it's stuffed respectable banks with obscene profits from money-laundering; sure, it's led to the deaths of countless thousands of innocent people, fueled civil wars and insurgencies, served as an excuse for government repression and tyranny, and blighted the lives of millions of people who have been jailed and ruined for the crime of choosing the wrong kind of intoxicant. But despite this 40-year record of carnage and despair (which, oddly enough, has not curtailed the trafficking and use of drugs), we all know that the War on Drugs is a good thing. It has made the world a better place.

And that's why a good progressive like Barack Obama has embraced the War on Drugs with same avidity with which he has taken up -- and extended -- the War on Terror. That's why our boys are down in Honduras today, shooting "guys" with holstered weapons and helping our satraps keep their grip on the power we gave them.

II.
But just to give a little context to this noble crusade, we might look back at Obama's progressive dealing with Honduras since coming to power. As I wrote here last year, in a piece that came out as the White House was basking in the glow of the bin Laden killing:

One of President Barack Obama's most signal achievements in inter-American relations has been his countenancing of a brutal coup in Honduras and his avid embrace of the repressive regime produced by the elitist overthrow of the democratically elected government. As we noted here last year:

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

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

And even as Obama basks in the atavistic glow of the Warrior Prince (you would think he'd killed bin Laden in single combat on the field of battle instead of ordering 80 Navy Seals to storm a house filled with women and children and shoot an unarmed man), his favored elites in Honduras continue to hunt down and kill those who seek to shine the smallest light on their corrupt, repressive rule. As the Washington Post reported last week:

Two gunmen on a motorcycle shot and killed a journalist outside his home in a city in northern Honduras, officials said Wednesday. Francisco Medina, a 35-year-old television reporter, was ambushed Tuesday night in the city of Morazan, 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of Honduras’ capital, said Santos Galvez, a member of Honduras’ College of Journalists press group .....

In his reporting, Medina was critical of the Honduran national police and of private security firms contracted by ranchers in the area, where drug traffickers operate. Medina became the 11th journalist to be killed in the past 18 months in Honduras. ... A committee of missing persons in Honduras said Medina was followed by two men on a motorcycle after his evening show. They shot him three times in the back and once in his arm as he was about to enter his home. Relatives of Medina called an ambulance, which took him to a hospital. He later died. Medina’s brother, Carlos Medina, said police officers refused to escort the journalist in the ambulance.

This is a precise echo of the case noted here last year:

[From John Perry at the London Review of Books]: On the night of 14 June, Luis Arturo Mondragón was sitting with his son on the pavement outside his house in the city of El Paraíso in western Honduras. He had often criticised local politicians on his weekly radio programme, the latest edition of which had just been broadcast. He had received several death threats, but disregarded them. At 10 p.m. a car drew up and the driver fired four bullets, killing him instantly. Mondragón was the ninth journalist to be murdered so far this year. Honduras is now officially the most dangerous country in the world in which to work for the press.

The overthrow of President Zelaya last year was only the second military coup in Latin America since the end of the Cold War. The first, a US-backed attempt to overthrow Chávez in Venezuela in 2002, was a failure. The coup in Tegucigalpa shouldn’t have succeeded either: Obama had promised a new approach to US policy in the region, and there was strong popular resistance to the coup in Honduras itself. And yet, a year on, the coup’s plotters have got practically everything they wanted. ...

Perry notes that Roland Valenzuela, a former minister in Zelaya’s government, claimed in an interview that he had papers which named several American-connected business figures behind the coup plot, including "former members of the army death squad known as Battalion 316." Perry also notes that "in aseparate development, it has become known that the plane which flew Zelaya out of the country first called at the US airforce base Palmerola."

We'll close with an excerpt from another piece on Obama's regime change op in Honduras, which sums up the staunch traditionalism displayed by the President again this week:

Barack Obama's famed "continuity" with his predecessors goes far beyond his avid, almost erotic embrace of George W. Bush's Terror War atrocities (foreign and domestic). In Latin America, it goes back to the glory days of Ronald Reagan, when American-backed, American-trained death squads and military juntas slaughtered thousands of people and stripped their people to the bone with the scorched-earth economics of oligarchy. (An ancient, barbaric system now being energetically imposed throughout the "developed" world, under the cover of "deficit reduction.") But of course, Reagan himself was standing on the shoulders of giants when it came to his Latin America policies, simply soldiering on in the proud tradition of Franklin and Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, James K. Polk and other paragons now chiseled in history's alabaster.

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Echoes From the Future: Perspectives of Imperial Reality

Written by Chris Floyd 20 June 2012 5346 Hits

Below is a reprise of a piece I wrote some years ago: a work of "political fiction" (in the strict sense of the term -- not a euphemism for the slagheap of lies pouring out of Washington and other world capitals every day). In some respects, it chimes with themes currently being explored in a new series by Arthur Silber, who is using historical material to put our present day in a different, and disturbing, perspective. The piece below incorporates some direct quotes (with slight alterations) from our modern-day imperial apologists. As Faulkner once said: the past is never dead; it's not even past.

(P.S. While you're checking out Silber's series, consider dropping a few coins, if you've got them, in the contribution box there. Silber, driven to the margins of our benevolent society by ill health, depends on reader contributions to keep going. As we've noted often here, his is an important voice that we can ill afford to lose.)


The original version of this article appeared in the Feb. 22 2006 edition of The Moscow Times.


BERLIN, May 12, 2153 – Within the ivy-covered walls of Farben University, a great battle is now raging. But although the Reich's ancient capital has seen its share of warfare down through the centuries, today's combatants have no swords, no guns, no bio-disrupters – just words and pictures, marshalled on either side of a fierce debate that has split the staid academic world in two, and is beginning to spill over into national politics as well. It all revolves around a simple question: Was the German Empire a good thing or a bad thing?

At one time, the answer would have seemed clear. In the three decades since the last "Reich Protectorate" gained its independence (Ukraine, 2122), the liberal consensus among German historians has been that the Empire founded more than 200 years ago by Adolf Hitler was largely a malign development: "a system born in aggression and atrocity, which inflicted terrible suffering on the conquered lands for generations, and warped German society itself with its arrogance, brutality and corruption," as Germany's leading historian, Yuri Vinogradov, put it in his landmark 2128 work, Reich and Reality. That book set the tone for a flood of hard-hitting probes into Reich history that left almost no nationalist myth intact.


But in recent years, a group of conservative historians – dubbed the "Revisionists" – have sternly challenged this view. Led by the young Danzig firebrand, Gregor Metzger, the Revisionists argue that the achievements of the Empire – and the "Leader-State system" that was replaced by parliamentary democracy in 2120 – have been denigrated by, in Metzger's words, "liberal apologists picking at old scabs." 


"Everyone knows there were blots on the Empire's record," Metzger says. "No one today would countenance, say, the early Reich's treatment of the Jews or the excesses in putting down the Muslim Rebellions in the Caucasus, etc. But neither should we look back and impose our modern values on the people of those times. Rather, we should try to understand them in their own context – and appreciate their many accomplishments."

These accomplishments, say the Revisionists, include: the eradication of Communism in Europe; the establishment of a continent-wide free market for goods, labor and capital; the creation of a common legal system and government institutions now used by most of the old colonies; and the planting of large settler communities throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia that have evolved into thriving cities and "carried the values of Western Civilization deep into benighted and lawless lands," as Metzger writes in his best-selling new book, The End of Shame: German Power in Perspective.


The Revisionists' work has been taken up by conservative politicians seeking to roll back many of the democratic reforms and cultural freedoms instituted by what they scornfully call "the new Weimar Republic." Citing Metzger and others, they are advancing a "national greatness agenda" to foster pride in the Homeland, restore "traditional moral values" to society, and reassert German dominance in world affairs. The centrist government, put on the defensive by these attacks, has increasingly adopted more nationalist rhetoric, and last month cancelled a long-planned exhibition at the National Museum on "Hitler's Tainted Legacy," calling it "too biased."


Much of the academic debate turns on interpretations of the Speer Era (1947-81). After Hitler's death from cancer in 1947, Armaments Minister Albert Speer took power with the backing of intelligence chief Wilhelm Canaris in a brief but bloody coup against the Nazi old guard. He then negotiated an armistice, and the battle lines of the deadlocked armies became the boundaries of the new world order, leaving Germany in control of Europe from the Pyrenees to the Urals.


To the Revisionists, Speer and Canaris are heroes – pragmatic moderates who curbed the Regime's ugliest aspects while preserving its vast territorial gains and consolidating its power. "Although Leader Hitler's dream of a civilizing German empire in the East was somewhat skewed by his unfortunate adherence to the American pseudo-science of eugenics, it was still a noble vision," Metzger says. "Leader Speer purged this vision of its dross and made it the foundation of our modern world."


For the liberals, that is precisely the problem. "After the coup, Speer could have restored democracy," says Vinogradov. "He could have withdrawn from the conquered lands. He could have made reparations to Hitler's victims and confronted the nation's guilt. Instead he chose to assume Hitler's mantle, the semi-divine aura of the 'Leader,' exalting power above the law. Centuries of crime and tyranny flowed from that fatal choice. Yes, he closed the death-camps – but prosecuted no one for these atrocities. He accelerated the land-theft of the settlements, and drafted millions into forced labor to make up for the loss of native Germans to the colonies. Why pretend this was somehow noble or glorious? We should simply tell the truth about it."

Vinogradov is himself a product of the forced labor policy. When the Soviet state collapsed after Stalin's retreat to the Urals, European Russia was savagely reduced, and its territory parceled out to other Reich protectorates. Moscow was razed to the ground in 1944 and never rebuilt; its carefully preserved ruins are still a popular attraction for German tourists. Vinogradov's ancestors, native Muscovites, were shipped to Germany to work in the fields. 


The Revisionists say the "scab-picking" over the past is irrelevant in the modern world. "What's done is done," says Metzger. "The Romans have already conquered Carthage. Britain has already built its imperial wealth on slavery and colonial rule. The Americans have already slaughtered the Indians and chained the slaves. We can't unring the bell. Nor should we want to. What matters are the long-term benefits to civilization we have accrued from those who came before us, whatever their mistakes or misdeeds might have been. Which of these benefits would you give up to rectify some ancient historical wrong?"


Metzger, tipped by many as the likely replacement for Vinogradov when he retires as head of the Farben history faculty next year, can't resist a slight personal dig at his venerable rival.

"One wonders if Herr Professor Vinogradov would enjoy the same kind of prosperity – and freedom to criticize – he possesses today if the Communist evil had not been destroyed, at great sacrifice, by German power," Metzger says. "While one sincerely regrets the injuries to the professor's forbears, I think, on balance, we can say that the liberation of the East from Stalinist tyranny was a boon for all humanity."


Vinogradov shrugs off these "shallow" arguments. "The point of historical research is not to dispossess the present, but to disillusion it: to strip away self-serving myth and fatal ignorance, in order to see more clearly how we got here, and what it really cost, and how these costs shape – and distort – our responses to reality. Otherwise, we are blind – easy prey for the abusers of power and their murderous deceptions."

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Interpreting Progressive Militarism: An Exchange with David Atkins

Written by Chris Floyd 19 June 2012 5202 Hits

David Atkins, whose recent Hullaballoo post I discussed here, has written a succinct reply to my piece. (Please see my original post for context). Atkins writes:

A complete misinterpretation of my post. I'm advocating international consensus with credible enforcement as the means for resolving this problem. It's not as if there isn't a model for that: it's called a police force enforcing laws voted by consensus, and it's the model in every major world democracy.

The tendency of hairless monkeys in every community and nation state is restricted by the progressive power of the community to limit the private power to enforce injustice. My argument isn't a difference in kind, but only in degree. I do not see the nation-state as the pinnacle of human governmental organization.

My reply:

Thanks for the response. However I disagree with the notion that my piece distorted your views. It dealt entirely with your idea about an international police force (or multinational peacekeeping force, as you originally put it) to impose enlightened, civilized values on nations, societies and religious groups. You reiterate those views here with admirable clarity. Where then is the misinterpretation? I simply tried to apply the logic of the system you advocate to existing reality, and inquired how such a system would really work in practice.

But the questions I addressed in my piece remain unanswered: Who will control this force? Who will pay for it, equip it, command it, staff it? (I see in the comments to your original post that you actually want to impose conscription on the entire world to fill the ranks of your global army! This is world-ordering on a Shigalovian scale, beyond the wildest dreams of the most fervent neo-con.) But again, who makes the decisions for this international military force, which must of necessity be a gargantuan war machine, capable of invading nations and bending not just whole countries but, in your own words, whole civilizations to its will?

Or to use your latest terms, who will forge this "international consensus"? Who will define and decide precisely which values, beliefs, policies and practices of this or that "in-group" requires "credible enforcement" by armed force? How will these deciders and definers be chosen? By whom? By what mechanism? Who will validate this choice? If, as you clearly say, we are all "essentially hairless monkeys whose basic dispositions haven't evolved that much" and who will "fight each other for the stupidest reasons," which group of stupid, unevolved, violent hairless monkeys do you suggest take on this leadership role?

These are all your own words and concepts, by the way. They are not being "misinterpreted"; they are being carefully considered and taken seriously. And if one does you the honor of taking your proposal seriously, such questions about "command and control" of this international police force keep multiplying. And given the terms you lay out, there is no apparent answer as to who will make these decisions other than a self-appointed elite who have somehow evolved a higher understanding.

It is clear that you don't see the nation-state as "the pinnacle of governmental organization." That's fine. Only a fool would believe that any kind of organization devised by imperfect human beings is a "pinnacle" that cannot be bettered. But that is not the issue here. The issue is the kind of human governmental organization you are advocating, and if such an organization -- predicated on the power of implacable, irresistible violence -- would in fact produce a more peaceful, humane and happy world.

And no one denies that these matters involve "differences in degree." But that is true of almost everything. I have a small cut on my arm: one doctor prescribes a dab of alcohol to prevent infection; another doctor prescribes hacking the whole arm off with a machete. This isn't a difference in kind, but only in degree. It is the degree that is the whole question here. A local police force is entirely different, in degree, from a global military force capable of breaking whole nations and killing vast amounts of people to impose "the progressive power of the community" (as defined by unknown people according to unknown criteria.)

Again, I believe I have not misinterpreted your post at all. If anything, I have understood your post -- taken it more seriously, thought about it more carefully -- than you seem to have.  In the end, I think it comes down to the "Karamazov question":  which innocent child should we kill to ensure universal peace and harmony? And who will make that decision?

And yes, it is a difference in degree: in order to have a local police force, making arrests with warrants, writing tickets, etc., you don't necessarily have to rip the bodies of small children to shreds. But you cannot have a "international police force" capable of doing what you specifically advocate -- invading and "policing" whole nations and societies and civilizations and imposing your value system on them-- without killing many, many innocent people, over and over again.

Perhaps this doesn't trouble you. Perhaps this collateral damage is, in Madeline Albright's famous words, "worth it" to you in order that your idea of proper order be imposed across the world. But such considerations do trouble me. And that's why I addressed them in my piece.

***
NOTE: This post has been edited since its original appearance to clarify and amplify the passage about "international conscription."

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Intervention Uber Alles: A Forced March to Progressive Militarism

Written by Chris Floyd 15 June 2012 6826 Hits

I.
The quintessence of "humanitarian intervention" has rarely been displayed so completely than in a recent post by Hullabaloo contributor David Atkins: "The bloody work of hairless monkeys."

Much like Martin Amis -- who at some point in the early 21st century realized that Joe Stalin was one bad hombre and then wrote a book informing the world of this revelation -- Atkins has apparently just now discovered that human tribes and religious groups have been senselessly killing each other for, like, forever. Not only that: Atkins has also uncovered the hitherto unsuspected notion that "people everywhere are essentially hairless monkeys whose basic dispositions haven't evolved that much despite our larger brains and capacity for more moral decision making."

Indeed, the inescapable, inherent, endemic violence of human nature (or rather, hairless monkey nature) is so powerful and so overwhelming that "if the reasons to fight don't exist, they will be invented." Atkins couples this with yet another shocking discovery: "Human beings everywhere love to form in-groups and out-groups, and those groups will fight each other for the stupidest possible reasons." Not since stout Cortez stood amazed on that peak in Darien has there been such a wild surmise of illumination.

To recap, then, Atkins asserts that human beings are nothing more than beasts driven by primal instincts to band together in vicious in-groups and savagely attack any outsiders whom they perceive as a threat -- or even for no good reason at all. This is a most grim and gruesome vision of our common human fate, our existential reality. We are "stupid," "morally insane" hairless monkeys doomed to intractable violent conflict. Caught in a trap, can't walk out, as that venerable existentialist E.A. Presley once put it.

Or are we?  Perhaps not. For despite the fact that we are all unevolved hairless monkeys with a basic disposition to make up reasons to kill each other, it seems that there is at least one avenue of escape from our inherent nature, one way out of the eternal cycle of violent conflict. Guess what it is.

Military intervention.

I kid you not. After postulating that hairless monkeys cannot overcome their propensity for in-group/out-group violence, Atkins then proclaims that we need to form -- wait for it -- an incredibly powerful in-group capable of inflicting irresistible violence on any out-group that opposes the will of the in-group. Nation-states, and their hairless monkey populations, cannot be "left to their own devices," he says.

Minimization of war and human suffering will depend on tightly binding people and civilizations to one another, and on taking a dim view of the in-groups and out-groups that people use to separate themselves from one another. And that in turn will require a stronger multinational peacekeeping force, not a weaker one.

So we must "tightly bind" people together -- by force. We must enforce the unity of all humankind at gunpoint (and bombpoint and dronepoint). A "multinational force" is required -- is the only way -- to minimize the suffering from human conflict. And this multinational force must be so strong that it can oversway -- defeat, destroy, crush, humiliate -- the military forces of all nation-states and all other human monkey groupings outside the in-group behind the "stronger multinational peacekeeping force."

Unfortunately, having given us the answer to the age-old problem of human conflict, Atkins suddenly gets a bit coy on a key point. He doesn't address the question of who will control this all-powerful multinational force, which will require trillions of dollars and millions of soldiers to "tightly bind" the world together. Who will staff it, fund it, arm it, supply it, command its operations? Who will decide who commands it? Who will decide when it must be used to punish a recalcitrant tribe?

And these questions lead to another pertinent point: Surely whoever is in charge of this armed leviathan -- capable of bending whole nations, whole civilizations to its dominion -- will, in the end, be nothing more than a bunch of inherently violent, morally insane hairless monkeys themselves, won't they? Won't this in-group behave just as senselessly and stupidly as all the others?

Or can it be that Atkins believes that there are perhaps a few hairless monkeys out there who have evolved a bit further than the rest? And that perhaps these higher beings could be trusted to use an implacably powerful global war machine only for the greater good of the lesser breeds, only to "tightly bind" the insufficiently evolved masses and reduce their suffering? And might these wise guides be known as "humanitarian interventionists”?

II.
Atkins was prompted to write his piece by the sectarian violence that erupted across Iraq this week. The slaughter of Shi'ite worshippers is indeed an instance of our human propensity for senseless killing. But from this current event, he leaps immediately to instances from history, from all over the world, to further illustrate this propensity. The effect of this sudden leap is that the events in Iraq get lost in the general historical flood -- just one more piece of flotsam drifting by in the bloody current. Its context is lost, subsumed in general assertions about our intractable nature. Why did these Iraqi slaughters happen? There was no cause -- just our stupid violent monkey nature. Atrocities just ... happen.

Atkins says that when he read of Iraqi slaughter, he was reminded of the sack of Magdeburg during the European religious wars of the 17th century. That's a bit odd. The first thing I thought of when I read about the Iraqi slaughters was something a little nearer to us in history: the "humanitarian intervention" by American-led military forces into Iraq in 2003. It was the intervention of this "multinational peacekeeping force" that directly and explicitly created the conditions for the recent slaughters that so disturbed Atkins and made him think about the Holy Roman Empire, and then a story he heard one time in a college anthropology class about Amazonian tribes, and also about the "bloody and brutal" culture of the "native Hawaiian kingdoms."

Atkins seems keen to move on from Iraq as soon as possible and dissolve its true context in this vague anthro-philosophical goo. His anxiety on the subject is understandable. For of course Iraq is the great scandal of our earnest "humanitarian interventionists." It is the unfortunate outlier, the stumbling-block that gives holy (sorry, humanitarian) war a bad name. For the fact -- the incontrovertible, historical fact -- is that modern Iraq never suffered from the atrocious level of sectarian violence that we see there today -- until the intervention of the "Coalition of the Willing" plunged the country into death, fear, ruin and chaos. The mass-murdering intervention not only fertilized the ground for the rise of sectarian violence; its Anglo-American leaders funded and armed and empowered several of the violent extremist groups directly.

The sickening violence in Iraq this week did not spring from the intractable nature of hairless monkeys blindly following their unevolved hormonal surges. It didn't spring from Amazonian tribesmen killing a boy who was not their kinsmen. It didn't spring from the bloody and brutal culture of the native Hawaiian kingdoms. It didn't spring from Imperial Field Marshal Gottfried Heinrich Graf zu Pappenheim and the other hairless monkeys who plundered Magdeburg in 1631. It springs -- directly and unmistakably -- from the intervention of the multinational force that invaded the country in 2003 and then continued to kill, destroy, corrupt, and foment extremism there for many years afterwards.

Now it's true that I am not comprehensively au fait with oeuvre of Mr. Atkins. But having read some of his offerings since he began binding himself tightly to Hullabaloo, I think it is highly likely that he himself opposed the intervention in Iraq. I'm sure he feels that it was the wrong kind of intervention, not a real humanitarian intervention. (How could it have been? It was launched by a Republican.) Yet here he is advocating precisely the same thing -- an all-powerful military machine heedless of state sovereignty imposing its will by violent force -- as the way to "peace and the reduction of human misery." I must say such logic leaves me slack-jawed, like old Cortez. Here we see Orwell's hoary tropes come to life: War is Peace. Slavery (being tightly bound under threat of violence) is Freedom. Death and Ruin are the Reduction of Human Misery.

No doubt Atkins' bright vision is based on the wild surmise that this world-controlling "multinational peacekeeping force" will be led by "morally responsible" leaders (perhaps even by, say, Nobel Peace Prize laureates), and that the nation-crushing operations of this global army will be carefully targeted, limited in scope, minimizing collateral damage whenever possible, and accompanied by humanitarian relief and civics lessons for the survivors, etc., etc. But if, like Atkins, we make human history our argument, how likely is it that we would see a more peaceful, less miserable world under the iron rod of such a force? Perhaps in answer we should adapt his own shrugging dismissal of all other alternatives to armed interventionism, and say that, "sadly, a study of human nature from before civilization to the modern day tends to disprove the hypothesis that [this] will lead to world peace."

Atkins strains for grandeur in his big finish:

At this point in our evolution we're still as overgrown toddlers playing foolishly with loaded guns in a grand, modern technology version of Lord of the Flies. Turning an isolationist eye of indifference toward all of this will not prevent bloody conflict for stupid reasons from enveloping humanity. It will simply guarantee it.

Once more, I confess that my non-large brain cannot follow the logic here. In our present evolutionary state, we are as toddlers. Or hairless monkeys. Or lemurs with sideburns. Or something. In any case, we are physically, genetically incapable of stopping our primitive urges to form in-groups and engage in bloody conflicts for stupid reasons. This is our nature. We have not yet gone beyond this point in our evolution. But if this is so, then how can we possibly form an armed Super In-Group without collapsing into the same pre-determined pattern (again, unless some of us have somehow taken a step up the evolutionary ladder)? And how can questioning the notion of military intervention be seen as the equivalent of turning an "eye of indifference" to the problems of human conflict? Are there no other alternatives? Things less grand than a tightly-binding war machine, perhaps, but less destructive? Less tyrannical? More humane?

Atkins' contortions seemed design to obscure -- not only from the reader but (one hopes) from himself as well -- what he is really asserting: that, for our own good, we hairless monkeys should be ruled by a small, more evolved elite who will impose their benevolent dictatorship on the world by massive armed force. And that anyone who opposes this sacred, unchallengeable truth is an "isolationist," indifferent to human suffering. There is no alternative. It's his way -- the way of war, of enforced unity (and uniformity of belief; the war machine will "take a dim view" of people "separating themselves" according to their own ideas and inclinations) -- or the highway.

I must say that reading this has prompted me to my own historical recollection -- the famous passage from Tacitus: "They make a desolation, and call it peace."

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Unspeakable Things: The Liberals’ Clumsy Dance Across Obama's Killing Floor

Written by Chris Floyd 11 June 2012 9159 Hits

The turbulent ramifications of last week's New York Times story detailing the operations of Barack Obama's White House death squad continue to reverberate across the country today, sending shock waves through Washington and bringing crowds of outraged protestors to the ….

Just kidding! As we all know, there have been no "ramifications" at all from this shocking story, no scandal whatsoever surrounding the fact that the President of the United States and his aides meet every week to draw up lists of people to be killed all over the world -- even people who are completely unknown, who might simply be "behaving" in unspecified ways that some desk jockey somewhere has decided might possibly be indicative of malign intent. No scandal, no consequences, no imbroglio, no brouhaha; the caravan moved on -- and the dogs didn't even bark.

But wait, that's not quite true. There was one minor scandal issuing, in part, from the story. Republicans seized the opportunity to accuse Obama, again, of leaking classified matters for his own political gain. (Yes, they were shocked -- shocked! -- to find gambling going on in this establishment.) Obama was then forced to deny authorizing the leaks from his closest advisors and friends, and promised to investigate how in the world his closest advisors and friends happened to leak this top-secret information without his knowledge. This was followed by bipartisan Congressional calls to cloak the government's atrocities in even thicker clouds of murk.

Thus the only consequence from the revelation that the U.S. government not only asserts the arbitrary right to kill anyone on earth but actually has a formal process to carry out this serial murder is that it will now be harder than ever to expose any of the crimes and corruption and sinister follies of the vast national security apparat.

But as for the -- how to put it? Well, let's be quaint and old-fashioned, shall we? -- the "moral content" of the murder program, there has been no scandal at all. Yes, there have a few furrowed brows here and there from the progessosphere, some tsk-tsks, a few sad head-shakes -- before our Netroots nationalists plunge right back into campaign arcana, railing against some rightwing misinformation or partisan attack that might hurt the electoral chances of a man running a death squad that has killed hundreds of innocent civilians and fomented more terrorism, hatred, war and chaos. Because really, what is the shredded corpse of a drone-blasted child next to yet another birther outburst from that awful Donald Trump? Can you imagine the nerve of that guy?

Now to be fair, The Nation -- redoubtable flagship of American liberalism for yonks on end -- did sally forth with a bracing editorial against Obama's kill list. In no uncertain terms, it denounced the "corrupting logic" of the War on Terror, which leads "otherwise morally responsible leaders to do unspeakable things," such as Obama's "kill lists and drone assassinations."

This does, of course, lead one to wonder just who these "morally responsible leaders" are who are doing such unspeakable things. After all, there have been only two leaders during the War on Terror: Bush and Obama. No Nation reader (or any other sentient being) would ever consider the former to be a "morally responsible" leader.  But as Obama has been ordering "drone assassinations" from the very moment he took office -- while resolutely defending and extending his predecessor's other War on Terror policies -- it is hard to see how his moral responsibility has somehow been eroded by his season in power. Should we not say instead with Shakespeare: "Man, he did make love to this employment."

There is also the strange notion that the "War on Terror" itself is somehow an abstract, outside force or entity which compels these individuals to violate their free consciences and do "unspeakable things." This childish concept -- "The War on Terror made me do it!" -- is of course a surreptitious (or perhaps self-deceiving) way for the editors of The Nation to retain their support for Obama even while criticizing him. They know that, deep down, he really is morally responsible -- a good man who has been "led" by the "logic" of the Terror War to do "unspeakable things" against his will and certainly against his inclinations. The "things" he does might be "unspeakable" -- that is to say, evil -- but he himself is not evil. He has simply been led astray, and may one day be led back to the right path of peace-loving progressivism -- just as long as peace-loving progressives don't abandon him, and let those truly evil Republicans return to the White House. (Where they might do unspeakable things like drawing up kill lists and launching drone assassinations.)

But again, let's give credit where it is due. The Nation makes many good arguments against the murder program. (And they have published some excellent work on the actual, real-life effects of the Terror War, in the stories of Jeremy Scahill.) They lay out the heinous nature of this barbaric operation with admirable clarity. But what do they conclude from all this? That the program is … "troubling." And that since liberals "raised a ruckus" about Bush's -- crimes? atrocities? mass murder? -- no, his "abuses," they should not be "silent" now.

But what liberals should say when breaking their silence is not addressed. Should they say, "We will not support a man who commits mass murder"? (For as The Nation tells us, in Pakistan alone "witnesses have attested to hundreds of civilian deaths.") Or would The Nation have them say, "My word, these 'abuses' are troubling. I certainly will not feel the same enthusiasm when I vote for Obama this time around!" The latter seems far more likely.

But the restrained editorial positively blazes with Luther-like moral fury when compared to some of the reader comments. Here you will find self-proclaimed "good liberals" who, far from being "troubled" by Obama's killing spree, cheer it to the rafters as a mark of moral goodness. Consider the reaction of this "lifelong Democrat, lifelong liberal" to "signature strikes" -- the blind blunderbuss launched against unknown people doing unknown things for unknown purposes:

"When nameless individuals are assassinated over 'patterns of behaviour' that support terrorist enemy combatants, I cheer, since there is alive one less potential attacker of my country."

After all, our leaders would never lead us astray. And they know more than we do -- they even know more than, say, the grandmother holding the bloody corpse of her grandchild in her arms:

"Neither the Pakistani government nor the hundreds of witnesses to US strikes is privy to the US intelligence. How could either possibly know whether or not innocent civilians are included in the death toll? I, for one, put the burden of proof on the other side, and I further place faith in my country to minimize collateral damage as best they can in a combat situation."

Who are you going to believe, Granny? The PowerPoint presentations of the White House "Tuesday Terror" team -- or your own lying eyes? I mean, how could you possibly know little Hamza wasn't a terrorist? Do you have access to Washington's omniscient SIGNIT and HUMINT? I thought not. So shut up already.

Or how about the disquistion of this learned Theban:

"Of course it's immoral and against human dignity to have a 'kill' list.  On the other hand, times have changed … These days our enemies come as thieves in the night, stealthily and under pretense. They have no qualms about killing innocent people, including men, women and children. Their morals allow them to hijack and fly planes into office buildings killing thousands of innocent Americans, going about their capitalist business. I even understand their objection to our way of life.  Capitalism, democracy and freedom empower individual people till they no longer can be controlled under a rigid theocratic ideology. This is a threat to those who would hold absolute dominion over others.  These pathological radical religious and political dictators see the handwriting on the wall and are using every immoral and hateful means to hold out to the last insane mind.

“So yes, I believe 'kill' lists, drones, intense surveillance and every other means is available on a temporary basis to return to these maniacs the same punishment they meet [sic] out to others."

One might argue that there are other actors in the War on Terror who, as the NYT story shows, "come as thieves in the night" (with remote-control drones) and "have no qualms about killing innocent people, including men, women and children." And that they do this repeatedly, day after day, year after year. But of course, this doesn't matter. Because those we kill are, of necessity, insane maniacs trying to impose absolute dominion over others. Even the innocent men, women and children we kill. Even the people we kill whose names we don't know doing things we don't know for reasons we don't know.

And so it goes. For this Theban, and for so many other "good liberals" and staunch progressives, a five-year-old girl with her guts gouged out by some coward with a joystick 10,000 miles away is an "immoral and hateful maniac" who deserves to die, and whose very presence on the face of the earth justifies any and all repressive measures to keep "our way of life" intact. "On a temporary basis," of course. Just until all the maniacs have been killed. Just until we "exterminate all the brutes."

This is the spectrum of liberalism in 2012. On one end, "troubled" by state murder -- but not sickened, not outraged, not driven to furious rejection of those who perpetrate such "unspeakable things." On the other end, gleefully, joyfully accepting of the murder program, exulting even in the killing of absolute strangers. After all, every defenseless child eviscerated stealthily by a presidential drone is  "one less potential attacker of my country." The Leader protects us! The Leader knows best! You go, Barry!

II.
There is, of course, another view of these matters. You won't find it in the venerable journals of liberalism or amongst the fierce dissidents of the Netroots Nation. (As John Caruso points out, here is the rigorous moral compass of the founding father of the Netrooters in action: "’I’ll tell you what. If [Obama] shows that he’s going to fight for the things that I care about, I will fight twice as hard for him.’ And if he doesn’t? ‘Then I’ll vote for him,’ says Moulitsas.") It is apparent by now that for the vast bulk of the progressosphere, there is literally nothing that Obama can do to lose their support, however "troubled" or grudging that support might be.

No, for an alternative view, we must turn once again to Arthur Silber, who this week continues his examination of Obama's death squad. This piece begins to get at some of the deeper dynamics at work not only in the murder program itself but also in the mass indifference to its exposure in the Times story and elsewhere, the lack of outrage, the shrugging acceptance (or, as seen above, the wiggly, giddy embrace) of this "unspeakable thing."

Once again, you should read the whole of Silber's essay, but here are a few excerpts particularly pertinent to our theme:

It is one thing for the ruling class to target the general domestic population on economic matters, as it has by systematically squeezing every last bit of wealth and opportunity out of "ordinary" Americans and shoveling all of it into the drooling maw of the rulers (and for many Americans, these methods of brutalization are already catastrophic in the extreme). It is very different when the ruling class announces to the world that it considers every human being on Earth not favored by power and privilege to be fair game in a neverending campaign of slaughter.

Yet there are no crowds in the street. Forget howls of fury; you can listen with the greatest concentration of which you are capable, and you will detect barely a whimper. Life goes on precisely as before, as if nothing of great moment has happened. With very rare exceptions … even the harshest critics of the murder campaign so thoughtfully detailed in the NYT will not say:

These people are monsters. This is profoundly evil. All these people, all those who collaborate and assist in such a program, have placed themselves far beyond any limit of what can be designated as civilization.

… Be sure to understand this issue. The claim of absolute power -- the claim of dominion over all of human life itself, and the assertion of a damnable "right" to unleash death whenever and in whatever direction they wish -- is not remotely equivalent to any dispute over lowering Social Security benefits, raising the retirement age, or any similar question, at least it is not equivalent to any sane person. The claim of absolute power is sui generis; it is a claim unlike any other. It is not -- I repeat: it is not -- simply another "question of policy." It is certainly possible that, in particular cases, the deprivation of medical benefits (as just one example) may ultimately result in a person's death sooner than would have occurred otherwise. But for some period of time, however brief, the persons so affected are left with the possibility of action; they can still try to save themselves, even if those efforts are finally unsuccessful. But the claim of a "right" to dispense death arbitrarily -- the claim that the State may murder anyone it chooses, whenever it desires -- constitutes a separate category altogether, a category of which this particular claim is the sole unit. When death is unleashed, all possibility of action is ended forever.

Yet you can read various harsh denunciations of this policy, and you will almost never encounter language of the kind I employ here. Even for the most vehement of "dissenters," the assertion of absolute power is treated as another in a list of wrongs, perhaps an especially egregious wrong, but not a claim which demands a fundamentally different response. For such writers, it is certainly nothing to take to the streets about; it is no cause for withdrawing one's support in every way possible from a system of evil dedicated to death. This, too, is a measure of how profoundly damaged our culture is. With regard to almost all "dissenting" writers, and if I may express the point more personally and informally, I often think that I have never seen such a collection of gutless wonders. …

Not infrequently, I think that what may doom us is not the immense evil to which the State devotes itself, but the quality of the opposition -- those who are, in Thoreau's formulation, the State's "most conscientious supporters, and so frequently the most serious obstacles to reform." …

Although the NYT article did not disclose new information with regard to the essentials of the State's program of death, its length, detail and prominence constitute a significant ratcheting up of the State's claim of absolute power. Most crucial is the statement in the article that much of the content is derived from interviews with "three dozen of [Obama's] current and former advisers." As I pointed out in Part I, this in effect announces the identity of the article's true author: the author is the U.S. government, the State itself. Through these "advisers," the highest levels of the U.S. government have told the story they want to tell. And what is that story? It is simply this:

The State is become death. Our target can be anyone we choose. Yes, this means you. No, there is nowhere to run.

Here is no shuffling, no weasel-wording, no wiggle room for self-deception. Here we look at the mephitic heart of the matter, the burning, rotten core. In this political year, with an election looming, let no one be mistaken on this point: When you get down with Obama, however grudgingly or reluctantly, you are dancing on the killing floor. You are, to use The Nation's terms, following the logic of the Terror War into complicity and collusion with unspeakable things.

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