After the Letters, Under the Shadow, Before the Fire

Written by Chris Floyd 23 December 2011 6127 Hits

In the end, it doesn’t matter if love comes to you or not, or if doesn’t come to you in the form or with the force you may have wanted.

All that matters is that love exists somewhere in the world, and that we strive to make a world where this astonishing fact — which alone gives meaning to life, and is itself immortal — can flourish in all of its manifestations.

***

Illustration: Music,  1894, George James Frampton; wooden model for a silver relief. Ashmolean Museum. Personal photo. The letters.

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Brief technical note

Written by Chris Floyd 19 December 2011 5351 Hits

Apologies for the duplicate posts, and for the fact that in trying to fix it, I seem to have eliminated the copy that had comments on it. We may possibly be having some hack attacks, but it's being looked into, and we crave your patience. Thanks.

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War Without End, Amen: The Reality of America's Aggression Against Iraq

Written by Chris Floyd 16 December 2011 11493 Hits

In March 2003, the United States of America launched an entirely unprovoked act of military aggression against a nation which had not attacked it and posed no threat to it. This act led directly to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. It drove millions more from their homes, and plunged the entire conquered nation into suffering, fear, hatred and deprivation.

This is the reality of what actually happened in Iraq: aggression, slaughter, atrocity, ruin. It is the only reality; there is no other. And it was done deliberately, knowingly, willingly. Indeed, the bipartisan American power structure spent more than $1 trillion to make it happen. It is a record of unspeakable savagery, an abomination, an outpouring of the most profound and filthy moral evil.

Line up the bodies of the children, the thousands of children --  the infants, the toddlers, the schoolkids -- whose bodies were torn to pieces, burned alive or riddled with bullets during the American invasion and occupation of Iraq. Line them up in the desert sand, walk past them, mile after mile, all those twisted corpses, those scraps of torn flesh and seeping viscera, those blank faces, those staring eyes fixed forever on nothingness.

This is the reality of what happened in Iraq; there is no other reality.

These children -- these thousands of children -- are dead, and will always be dead, as a direct result of the unprovoked act of military aggression launched and sustained by the American power structure. Killing these children, creating and maintaining the conditions that led to the slaughter of these children, was precisely what the armed forces of the United States were doing in Iraq. Without the invasion, without the occupation, without the 1.5 million members of the American volunteer army who surrendered their moral agency to "just follow orders" and carry out their leaders' agenda of aggression, those children would not have died -- would not have been torn, eviscerated, shot, burned and destroyed.

This is the reality of what happened in Iraq; you cannot make it otherwise. It has already happened; it always will have happened. You cannot undo it.

But you can, of course, ignore it. This is the path chosen by the overwhelming majority of Americans, and by the entirety of the bipartisan elite. This involves a pathological degree of disassociation from reality. What is plainly there -- the evil, the depravity, the guilt -- cannot be accepted, and so it is converted into its opposite: goodness, triumph, righteousness. The moral structures of the psyche are eaten away by this malignant dynamic, as are the mind's powers of perception and judgment. Thus depravity and evil come to seem more and more normal; it becomes more and more difficult to focus on what is really in front of you, to perceive, judge and care about the actual consequences of what you've done or what is being done in your name. Unmoored from reality, you become lost in a savage nihilism that cloaks its unsifted rage and fear and chaos in the most threadbare pieties. And thus you drift deeper and deeper into evil and meaninglessness, singing hosannas to yourself as you go.

And so Barack Obama, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, the self-proclaimed inheritor of the mantle of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, went to North Carolina this week to declare the act of aggression in Iraq "an extraordinary achievement." He lauded the soldiers gathered before him for their "commitment to fulfil your mission": the mission of carrying out an unprovoked war of aggression and imposing a society-destroying occupation that led directly to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. These activities -- "everything that American troops have done in Iraq" -- led to "this moment of success," he proclaimed.

He spoke of suffering, he spoke of sacrifice, he spoke of loss and enduring pain -- but only for the Americans involved in the unprovoked war of aggression, and their families. He did not say a single word -- not one -- about the thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of Iraqis killed by this "fulfilled mission," this "extraordinary achievement," this" success." These human beings -- these sons and daughters, fathers, mothers, kinfolk, lovers, friends -- cannot be acknowledged. They cannot be perceived. It must be as if they had never existed. It must be as if they are not dead now.

The divorce from reality here is beyond description. It is only the all-pervasiveness of the disassociation that obscures its utter and obvious insanity. There is something intensely primitive and infantile in the reductive, navel-gazing, self-blinding monomania of the American psyche today. Think of the ancient Greeks, who constructed their psyches and their worldview around an epic poem, the Iliad, that depicted their enemies, the Trojans, with remarkable sympathy, understanding and insight -- while depicting their own leaders as a band of shallow, squabbling, murderous fools. Here was a moral sophistication, a cold-eyed grasp of reality -- and a level of empathy for one's fellow human beings -- far beyond the capacity of modern American society, and infinitely beyond the reach of the murderous fools who seek to lead it.

The Iraq War has not ended. Not for the dead, not for their survivors, not for the displaced, the maimed, the lost, the suffering, not for all of us who live in the degraded, destabilised, impoverished world it has spawned, and not for the future generations who will live with the ever-widening, ever-deepening consequences of this irrevocable evil.

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Grand Delusion: Resisting the Siren Song of Specialness

Written by Chris Floyd 12 December 2011 10501 Hits

The U.S. presidential campaign is now in full swing. (In truth, it never actually ends; the savage grasping and grappling among damaged souls seeking their brief season of domination and death-dealing goes on daily without respite.) In the months to come, we will be subjected to an ever-growing, ever-roaring flood of rhetoric about the unique, unquestionable, divinely ordained goodness of America. (And how the "other side" would destroy or demean this precious moral specialness.)

This rhetoric will come both from the radical, society-shaking extremists laughingly called "conservatives" in our fun-house political system, and from the reactionary defenders of elite wealth and murderous militarism laughingly known as "progressives." (And, of course, from the well-fed, milky mannered, comfortably numb burghers known as "centrists.")

All Americans are marianated in this mindset from birth, and it is reinforced in them, every day, by the most powerful and pervasive media machinery in history, by enormous societal pressure, and by the dead heavy weight of tradition. Even the most hardened cynics might feel the stirrings of atavastic response to these siren songs woven into the fabric of the American psyche.

In such cases, I recommend a reading of the following two articles. They will help remind you of the reality being cloaked by the psyche-stirring, button-pushing bullshit of the grasping wretches seeking power.

First, a remarkable piece in the London Review of Books, detailing the personal testimony of a child -- a child -- sold into years of captivity and torture at the hands of the proud, always-to-be-honored defenders of American values. It's the story of Mohammed el Gorani, a Saudi-born teenager from Chad, whose black skin made him a special target for his captors in the gulag hellholes of Kandahar and Guantanamo.

Blocked from acquiring professional training or higher education by the virulent prejudice in America's stalwart ally, at age 14 el Gorani to Pakistan to learn computer skills and English. Two months into his course, he was grabbed by Pakistani security goons and bundled off to their American masters, eager for warm bodies to fill the new gulag:

They took me to a prison, and they started questioning me about al-Qaida and the Talibans. I had never heard those words. ‘What are you talking about?’ I said. ‘Listen, Americans are going to interrogate you. Just say you’re from al-Qaida, you went with al-Qaida in Afghanistan, and they’ll send you home with some money.’ ... One Pakistani officer was a good guy. He said: ‘The Pakistani government just want to sell you to the Americans.’ ... The Pakistanis took away our chains and gave us handcuffs ‘made in the USA’. I told the other detainees: ‘Look, we’re going to the US!’ I thought the Americans would understand that the Pakistanis had cheated them, and send me back to Saudi.

... When they took off our masks, we were at an airport, with big helicopters. Americans shouted: ‘You’re under arrest, UNDER CUSTODY OF THE US ARMY! DON’T TALK, DON’T MOVE OR WE’LL SHOOT YOU!’ An interpreter was translating into Arabic. Then they started beating us – I couldn’t see with what but something hard. People were bleeding and crying. We had almost passed out when they put us in a helicopter.

We landed at another airstrip. It was night. Americans shouted: ‘Terrorists, criminals, we’re going to kill you!’ Two soldiers took me by my arms and started running. My legs were dragging on the ground. They were laughing, telling me: ‘Fucking nigger!’ I didn’t know what that meant, I learned it later. ... There was an Egyptian (I recognised his Arabic) wearing a US uniform. He started by asking me: ‘When was the last time you saw Osama bin Laden?’ ‘Who?’ He took me by my shirt collar and they beat me again. ...

One day they started moving prisoners again. ‘You guys are going to a place where there is no sun, no moon, no freedom, and you’re going to live there for ever,’ the guards told us, and laughed. ... In the beginning there were interrogations every night. They tortured me with electricity, mostly on the toes. The nails of my big toes fell off. Sometimes they hung you up like a chicken and hit your back. Sometimes they chained you, with your head on the ground. You couldn’t move for 16 or 17 hours. You peed on yourself.’

... Sometimes they showed you the ugly face: torturing, torturing without asking questions. Sometimes I said, ‘Yes, whatever you ask, I’ll say yes,’ because I just wanted torture to stop. But the next day, I said: ‘No, I said yes yesterday because of torture.’ My first or second interrogator said to me: ‘Mohammed, I know you’re innocent but I’m doing my job. I have children to feed. I don’t want to lose my job.’

‘This is no job,’ I said, ‘this is criminal. Sooner or later you’re going to pay for this. Even in afterlife.’

‘I’m a machine – I ask you the questions they told me to ask, I bring them your answers. Whatever they are, I don’t care.’

Mohammed el Gorani spent almost eight years in Guantanamo. His captors knew very early on that he was an innocent child, not a terrorist. The one piece of "evidence" they showed him was a paper "proving" he had been involved with al Qaeda in London -- in 1993, when he had been a six-year-old boy cleaning car windshields in Saudi Arabia. But what did that matter? His captors were "machines": they were just following orders, just doing their jobs -- just like every factotum of every brutal system in history.

Oh, but those are the bad old days, some might say. (Despite the fact that the Guantanamo gulag is still operating, alongside other similar facilities  -- known and unknown -- around the world.) Today, we're told, we are lucky to be ruled by a kinder, wiser, more humane leader. Sure, he's not perfect -- who is? And OK, maybe, in the end, he's the lesser of two evils. But certainly any serious, savvy person knows there is a profound, qualitative difference between Barack Obama and his predecessor -- and those who would supplant him. Right?

For those whose partisan atavism -- or nostalgia -- might be stirred by such arguments, I urge you to read this piercing  and powerful essay by Arthur Silber. It is one of the best summations of the moral horror that permeates our political system -- and the wretched grasper now in charge of it -- that I've ever seen. Here are a few excerpts, but don't cheat yourself: go read the entire piece:

The killer said:

“Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top al-Qaeda leaders who’ve been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement,” the president fired back at an impromptu news conference at the White House.

“Or whoever’s left out there,” he added. “Ask them about that.”

Watch the video at the link provided above. It's instructive, particularly Obama's expression when he adds, "Or whoever's left out there." He speaks of murder, yet the words are breezy and casual: this is a murderer so used to killing that he talks of his past and future victims interchangeably, and in terms of approximation. Just "whoever's left out there." He wants to be sure you know he'll order all of them killed in time. His face is expressionless, the eyes dead. This is a man without a soul in any healthy, positive sense. He murders -- and he's proud of it.

More than a million innocent Iraqis were murdered as the result of the United States' criminal war of aggression on that country. Obama has heralded America's "success" in Iraq as "an extraordinary achievement."

The continuing murders in Pakistan and Afghanistan are so numerous and so regular that they barely merit notice for more than a few days, at least as far as the United States government and most Americans are concerned. Over the recent Thanksgiving weekend, the United States government murdered at least 25 Pakistanis .... On the same weekend: "Six children were among seven civilians killed in a NATO airstrike in southern Afghanistan, Afghan officials said Thursday." The story has already fallen into the well of forgetfulness. It must be the case that incidents like this occur at least once a day given the number of military operations ordered by the Murderer-in-Chief and carried out by those who follow his orders. ...

These are only a few of the stories we know about, and only from a very brief period of time. Countless other murders take place all over the world, and we can only gather the dim outlines of what is occurring. This is not to mention numerous lesser acts of cruelty and violence, many of which will alter lives in searing ways, for all the desolate years to follow.

Consider [this passage from Nick Turse]:

... Last year, Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post reported that U.S. Special Operations forces were deployed in 75 countries, up from 60 at the end of the Bush presidency. By the end of this year, U.S. Special Operations Command [SOCOM] spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told me, that number will likely reach 120. "We do a lot of traveling -- a lot more than Afghanistan or Iraq," he said recently. This global presence -- in about 60% of the world's nations and far larger than previously acknowledged -- provides striking new evidence of a rising clandestine Pentagon power elite waging a secret war in all corners of the world.

...In 120 countries across the globe, troops from Special Operations Command carry out their secret war of high-profile assassinations, low-level targeted killings, capture/kidnap operations, kick-down-the-door night raids, joint operations with foreign forces, and training missions with indigenous partners as part of a shadowy conflict unknown to most Americans. Once "special" for being small, lean, outsider outfits, today they are special for their power, access, influence, and aura.

No minimally decent human being would choose to have anything whatsoever to do with a government which systematically engages in acts of this kind. This is true of anyone who is part of the national governing apparatus, or wishes to be. It is most especially true of anyone who wishes to become president.

... [A] reverence for life demands that we see the Death State exactly for what it is -- and walk away to the fullest extent we can. That is not the course Barack Obama chose. He wanted to be, he now is the Murderer-in-Chief. He is proud of his achievement.

Silber concludes with a look back to a post he wrote five years ago -- a piece even more true today, and one which shows the horrific continuity between the "bad old days" and our enlightened, peace-laureled progressive era:

If you have ever wondered how a serial murderer -- a murderer who is sane and fully aware of the acts he has committed -- can remain steadfastly convinced of his own moral superiority and show not even the slightest glimmer of remorse, you should not wonder any longer.

The United States government is such a murderer. It conducts its murders in full view of the entire world. It even boasts of them. Our government, and all our leading commentators, still maintain that the end justifies the means -- and that even the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocents is of no moral consequence, provided a sufficient number of people can delude themselves into believing the final result is a "success."

...We can appeal all we want to "American exceptionalism," but any "exceptionalism" that remains ours is that of a mass murderer without a soul, and without a conscience. ... It is useless to appeal to any "American" sense of morality: we have none. It does not matter how immense the pile of corpses grows: we will not surrender or even question our delusion that we are right, and that nothing we do can be profoundly, unforgivably wrong.

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If the Republic Had Not Died a Long Time Ago, This Would Indeed Be the Death of the Republic, Chapter XLVII; or, That's the Way the Cornbread Crumbles, That's the Way the Whole Thing Ends

Written by Chris Floyd 03 December 2011 13199 Hits

Now what's that little baby doing
Dressing up in banker's clothes?

-- Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings

Many people have commented on the Congressional vote to codify the authoritarian powers asserted by George W. Bush and Barack Obama, i.e., the arbitrary, unchallengeable power to declare anyone on earth -- including American citizens -- an "enemy of the state" and incarcerate them, indefinitely, outside of due process, in military custody.

There is, at this writing, an outside chance that Barack Obama might possibly veto this "enabling decree" -- but only on the grounds that to accept Congressional approval of these tyrannical powers might encroach upon the presidential autocrat's authority to do whatever he or she damn well pleases to anyone he or she wants to destroy. But in any case and every case, the bipartisan political ruling class is united in its steadfast determination to eliminate any last vestige of constitutional liberty or rule of law in the United States.

And whatever the outcome of this particular bill, the reality will remain the same: the President of the United States will continue to claim -- and exercise -- absolute arbitrary power over the life and liberty of every person on earth. As we've said here before, not even Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin at their most megalomaniacal ever dreamed of asserting the kind of universal power now asserted by American presidents and the lickspittlish lackeys in the United States Congress.

There is, alas, no "news" in this. I wrote my first "If the Republic Had Not Died a Long Time Ago" piece several years ago. And Arthur Silber was one of the first (and one of the very few) to point out that the election of then-candidate Barack Obama would only bring  the retrenchment, expansion -- and codification -- of George W. Bush's worst constitutional depredations. So it has proven, over and over and over.

But as the Congressional vote shows, one shouldn't fetishize Obama (or Bush, as I was often guilty of doing in the past) as some kind of unique locus for the authoritarianism that is now, beyond all doubt, the essence and practice of the "American way" in the modern world. Both Bush and now Obama have, in many ways, only exemplified and made manifest the zeitgeist of the ruling elite. This is what they believe: the Constitution is a dead letter. The Republic is a dead letter. Might makes right. Mammon is God. Liberty is inconvenient. And any human being who does not belong to the elite or serve it with dog-like devotion is a piece of shit who can be abused, neglected, discarded or eliminated without the slightest shame or consequence. This is the mindset of our elites and their servitors.

But I want to say one further thing. Every one of these elites, every one of these bowing, scraping, enabling courtiers, is also a individual human being, born with the same inestimable worth and capacity for the same astonishing feats of love and comity that all individuals have in potentia. But they have given themselves over to systems and mindsets that are implacably inhuman. They are all in the process of self-murdering their own souls. It's a horrible, sickening sight. And although I condemn their crimes and tainted minds with all the fury and outrage and scorn they deserve, I take no pleasure in this rage. I am heartsick, truly, at every soul lost to the machines -- the War Machine, the Money Machine, the Power Machine -- that rule our world.

But nu, what can you do? That's the way the cornbread crumbles; that's the way the whole thing ends.

 

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The Age of Extremism: Mammon Worshippers Launch All-Out War

Written by Chris Floyd 30 November 2011 10761 Hits

On Wednesday -- the day before Britain's unions launched the largest strike the country has seen in almost 90 years -- the UK's coalition government finally removed its mask of 'moderation' and showed its true, ravenous face. The government's economic honcho, George Osborne -- a young, smirking, smarmy upper class twit who makes George Bush look like Will Rogers -- announced yet another round of savage cuts that will batter and cripple the lives of the poor, the vulnerable, the young, the sick, and ordinary working people.

It is all part of a relentless program of "austerity" that is ostensibly designed to "cut the deficit" but is actually a ruthless, draconian -- and very deliberate -- attempt to radically remake society for the benefit of the wealthy few. (And considering how elitist British society has always been, this is ideological extremism at it most fanatic and frothing.)

But it's important to remember that this is not just a Conservative government. It is a full and formal coalition with the Liberal Democrats -- precisely the kind of "moderate centrists" and "serious, savvy progressives" so highly praised by the American commentariat. The LibDems are, in essence and practice, "Blue America":  the goodhearted liberal folks who know "the perfect is the enemy of the good" and are willing "to work within the system," making the "tough choices" and sausage-grinding compromises necessary to mitigate the system's worst elements and maybe, just maybe, make things a little better.

But here is the result of all this serious savviness on behalf of progressive ideals: the LibDems are now helping implement the most regressive policies that Britain has seen since the Victorian era. They are presiding -- happily, even giddily -- over the wanton ravaging of a society already brought low by the brutal, bipartisan religious extremists -- blind, fanatic worshippers of Mammon -- who have held sway in Britain, America and Europe for more than 30 years. The LibDems are Obama: socially liberal, fiscally conservative, willing to sacrifice the wellbeing of millions of innocent people to save a thuggish elite from facing the slightest consequence of their own criminal greed and stupidity.

Still, today's strike is a hopeful sign -- a one-day "Occupy Everything" movement that is clearly just the beginning of a long, fierce pushback against the Mammonists. Even so, things are going to get much darker as the extremists fight with equal fierceness to preserve their feudal privileges. Polly Toynbee details the impact of the latest barrage from Osborne and his savvy, progressive enablers:

Class war, generation war, war against women, war between the regions: George Osborne's autumn statement blatantly declares itself for the few against the many. Gloves are off and gauntlets down, and the nasty party bares its teeth. …

Exposed was the extent of pain for no gain, exactly as Keynesian economists predicted, a textbook case. Things are "proving harder than anyone envisaged", says Cameron. But precisely this was envisaged by Nobel-winning economists. Extreme austerity is causing £100bn extra borrowing, not less, while everything else shrinks – most incomes (the poorest most of all), employment, order books and exports. …

What was missing from his list? Not one penny more was taken from the top 10% of earners. Every hit fell upon those with less not more. Fat plums ripe for the plucking stayed on the tree as the poorest bore 16% of the brunt of new cuts and the richest only 3%, according to the Resolution Foundation. … But not a word passed Osborne's lips on tax avoidance and evasion .. while some £25 billion is evaded and £70 billion avoided. In a time of national emergency, Osborne had no breath of rebuke about the responsibility of the rich not to dodge taxes, no threat to curb the culture of avoidance. Despite the High Pay Commission report on out-of-control boardroom pay – which even the Institute of Directors has called "unsustainable" – the chancellor said nothing. How adamantly he ruled out the Tobin tax on financial transactions, called for by those dangerous lefties Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel.

Instead came the great attack on public sector employees on the eve of the biggest strike in memory. This was a declaration of open class war – and war on the pay of women, 73% of the public workforce. After a three-year freeze, public pay rises are pegged at 1% for two years, whatever the inflation rate. That means this government will take at least 16% from their incomes overall. …

But the direct assault on the poor is almost beyond belief. Watch how the big, powerful charities on Tuesday expressed uncharacteristic outrage. Along with the Children's Society, Save the Children is fiercer than I can ever recall, calling this "dire news for the poorest families – both in and out of work"; "A major blow", says 4Children; while Barnardo's calls it "a desperate state of affairs when the government's own analysis shows that a further 100,000 children will be pushed into poverty as a result of tax and benefits changes announced today".

That 100,000 is added to the 300,000 that the Institute for Fiscal Studies already expected to join the numbers of poor children from Osborne's previous cuts. ….

100,000 children crushed with a single stroke of a pen! That's class war with a vengeance. Not nearly as many children as our Anglo-American elite have killed outright in, say, Iraq, of course -- but still, pretty good work for one day. And the little twit says there will be at least "six more years" of austerity to come before his sacrifices to Mammon -- sorry, I mean his deficit reduction plan -- is complete.

Looks like I'll be trotting out this old chestnut for years to come.

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Over a Barrel: The Enduring Idiocies of Empire

Written by Chris Floyd 26 November 2011 6800 Hits

Taking down the dribbling idiocies of Thomas Friedman is, of course, like shooting dead, bloated fish mired in utter, immovable stillness on the surface of a barrel full of thick, congealed liquid. Even so, as this gormless goober continues to serve as one of the most respected and representative voices of our gooberish overlords, it remains a salutatory exercise to pull out the shotgun now and again and point it, once more, into the festering barrel.

Belen Fernandez at the LRB blog performed this yeoman service for us this week, in a short piece reprising some of Friedman's latest and greatest hits. Well worth a quick read.

And just for the hell of it, why not take a gander of my own blunderbuss outing at Friedman's stinking fish, way back in the day: Hideous Kinky: The Genocidal Fury of Thomas Friedman. Here are a few clips:

You would think that by now we would have "supp'd full with horrors" on the New York Times op-ed pages. What could be worse than the atrocities that have filled those gray columns in the past few years, the loud brays for war, the convoluted excuses for presidential tyranny, the steady murmur of chin-stroking bullshit meant to comfort the comfortable elite and confirm them -- at all times, at any cost -- in their well-wadded self-righteousness? Surely, you would think, we have seen the worst.

If this was your thought, then alas, alas, alack the day, you were bitterly mistaken, my friend. Comes now before us the portly, fur-lipped figure of Thomas Friedman, Esq., who today has penned what must be the most morally hideous and deeply racist column ever to appear in those rarefied journalistic precincts: "Ten Months or Ten Years."

It seems that this very enthusiastic promoter of the unprovoked war of aggression against Iraq .. has now discovered that Iraqi Arabs are hopeless, worthless barbarians, broken by "1,000 years of Arab-Muslim authoritarianism" and can only be held together by an "iron fist." (He got all this from reading a new book, apparently. Well, a little literacy, like a little learning, is a dangerous thing, I reckon -- and as anyone who has ever exposed themselves to the dull, flat buzz of Friedman's prose can attest, his literacy is little indeed.)

In fact, the only thing America did wrong in its "effort to bring progressive politics or democracy to this region" was not coming down hard enough on this darky riff-raff: "Had we properly occupied the country, and begun political therapy, it is possible an American iron fist could have held Iraq together long enough to put it on a new course. But instead we created a vacuum by not deploying enough troops." Instead, we took it easy on them -- I mean, Jesus H. Jiminy Cricket Walker Christ, we only killed 600,000 of them; what kind of pussyfooting around is that? -- and look what happened.  ....

Here we come to the corroded heart of the matter. Friedman, like all the pro-war "liberal hawks" who see aggressive war as the very best method of implanting "progressive politics or democracy" in benighted lands, is personally affronted by the Iraqis' ingratitude. They will not and cannot accept even the slightest implication that there was ever any flaw in their philosophy of benign bloodlust. (Bloodlust by proxy, of course, always by proxy! Goodness gracious granny me, you'd never see one of these paladins so much as muss their cuticles in the service of their noble ideals. That's what God made Mexicans and Salvadorans and white trash crackers for.) ...

They didn't want the "progressive politics or democracy" that I wanted to give them at gunpoint -- or with an "iron fist" -- and now the whole thing's just a hopeless mess. Hell, the Arabs are so goddamned stupid, says Tom, that they "can't even have a proper civil war. There are so many people killing so many other people for so many different reasons — religion, crime, politics — that all the proposals for how to settle this problem seem laughable."

...Ah, but wise old Tom has a proposal to settle this problem -- a most condign punishment for the Arab trash who have so bitterly disappointed him. Friedman proposes -- seriously, one assumes, for surely nothing is more serious than Tom Friedman in full cry -- that we "re-invade" Iraq with 150,000 more troops...and this time really do a number on those recalcitrant tribes, do whatever "is necessary to crush the dark forces in Iraq" and pound some sense into them, or at least some obedience, with our big "iron fist."

.... Whatever is necessary. Whatever it takes. This is, I believe, what is technically known as the "Close Your Hearts to Pity" strategy, in honor of that great war-of-choicer who thus exhorted his officers as they stood poised on the Polish frontier back in the glorious days when men were men and an iron fist was an iron fist.

... [And] who can forget Tom's giddy cheerleading for the Clinton-Blair air war against the civilian population of Serbia? Who can forget his bone-chilling warning to the unruly Slavs in his classic 1999 column, "Give War a Chance," when he wrote: "Let's at least have a real war. It should be lights out in Belgrade: every power grid, water pipe, bridge, road and war-related factory has to be targeted...Every week you ravage Kosovo is another decade we will set your country back by pulverizing you. You want 1950? We can do 1950. You want 1389? We can do 1389 too."

...This, ladies and gentleman, is what passes for Establishment thought on the most respected newspaper in the land. This complete and utter moral perversion -- like unto an act of sexual congress with the beasts of the field -- is now the conventional wisdom of the chattering classes, the "public intellectuals," and the powerful elites whom they so cravenly serve. This blood-flecked drivel -- a precise echo of the genocidal fury being voiced on what once was once considered the lunatic fringes of the far right -- is now at the heart of American political life.

How many more people will have to die to keep the warmongers from colliding with the enormity of their crimes? What child will be ripped to shreds tonight -- and tomorrow night -- and every night afterward, for "ten months or ten years," to keep Thomas Friedman snug and cozy in the gilded palace of his endless self-regard?

Well, the answer to this, my friend, is not blowing in the wind: it's on the front page of the newspapers -- in fact, the New York Times -- every single day in this our most blessed progressive Peace Laureated era. In stories like this and this, and so many, many others.

Every day, every night, more human beings ripped to shreds to keep little Tommy and way-cool Barry and weird Uncle Newtie and all the rest snug and cozy in their pampered splendor.

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Imp of the Perverse: Obama's Bellicose China Syndrome

Written by Chris Floyd 24 November 2011 7646 Hits

William Pfaff casts a cold eye on the Peace Laureate's latest tinpot strutting in Australia:

One might think that a bitter Central Asian war in Afghanistan, spilling into Pakistan, with no sign of ending, and an as yet ambiguous military commitment to a defeated and incompletely reconstituted Iraq, now overshadowed by Iran and the Arab Awakening across the Middle East, would be enough for President Barack Obama to cope with.

Why then does he now want a war with China? No one seems to have made much of this in American press reports and comment, but others have noticed, most of all in China. His journey to Asia this month proclaimed a Pax Americana for Asia -- which as such is absurd. The effort is likely to become just the opposite: a steadily deepening and costly engagement in suppressing China's attempt to reclaim the Asian preeminence it held for more than a thousand years.

This is the sort of thing that starts world wars. Think of Hohenzollern, Germany, challenging British sea power before 1914. Think of Japan's long and bloody effort to make itself Asia's imperial power. Think of what it took for Napoleon to conquer Europe and much of the Mediterranean, and then what it took Britain, Russia, Spanish guerrilla-peasants, and assorted others to wear down and defeat Napoleon. The lesson is: Don't start wars with powers being driven by revolutionary enthusiasm or nationalism to claim -- or reclaim -- a place in the sun.

What is at stake between China and the United States? We are on the opposite sides of the world with next to nothing to fight about, except raw materials -- of which there still is a good deal available for all. Industrial domination of the world? What does that actually mean, and what is it worth? Bragging rights about who is top nation? That's what Washington seems to care about. If American leaders push that too far, they could end in a war that eliminates both from the competition ....

The president then went on to Canberra and signed an agreement with Australia to station 2,500 U.S. Marines in Australia's Northern Territory (closest to mainland Asia). He said to the Australian Parliament that the United States is shifting its military weight from the Middle East to the Pacific, declaring in one of those "Let there be no doubt" phrases habitual to American presidents that "in the Asia Pacific in the 21st century, the United States of America is all in."

Are we Americans really sure that we want to be "all in"? All in what? A war over China's claims on Taiwan and the South China Sea? Or over access to "rare earths"? Or over -- as just might happen -- a China reduced to ruins by revolutionary upheaval? Or, are Mr. Obama and the Washington elite looking for distraction from our own revolutionary unrest?

Pfaff's question is apt indeed: What is at stake between China and the United States? This could be asked about any aspect of America's aggressive and -- in Pfaff's apt phrase -- absurd foreign policy. And the answer would be the same: bragging rights and an utterly meaningless sense of "domination" -- a frantic, compulsive gnawing on tattered, bloodsoaked rags.

This is the squalid little madness that sits -- like a lonely, naked, fear-crazed imp -- at the hollow center of the vast machinery of empire. And the same imp squats in the souls of all our blustering, strutting elites. See through them; see through the bristling machinery, see through the self-regarding bluster, and see the crippled imp inside them, cringing and stupid, gnawing on rags.

The machinery is indeed formidable, murderous, and will yet inflict untold harm in many directions. But keep looking at the weak, curdled, blinded wretchedness in its center: that's the only thing holding the machinery together. That's the thing we have to overcome -- in the machine, in others, and in ourselves.

***
NOTE: How are these curdled wretches created? Arthur Silber has some insights: see this recent piece -- and follow the links! You might learn something.

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Down by Law: Vulture Funds Feeding on the Dispossessed

Written by Chris Floyd 18 November 2011 7061 Hits

I am glad to see the renewal of interest in "vulture funds," where predatory elites buy up bits of the debt of impoverished nations from various creditors – at pennies on the dollar – then use the courts of the 'developed,' 'civilised' world to force the debtor to cough up the full amount, plus punitive interest payments. The Guardian is running a series of articles on this heinous practice (here, here, here, here, here, here and here), and CounterPunch has a good piece as well.

I wrote about vulture funds back in 2007. This was one of the many posts which were destroyed in the many hack attacks on the website. So I'm taking the opportunity to re-post it full here, as background to the new push to combat these avid feasters on human misery.


Down By Law: Vulture Funds Feeding on the Dispossessed

(March 2007)

I. The Lessons of Civilization

Every day, millions of people around the world are taught hard truths about how the instruments of "civilization" are used to help the powerful at the expense of the deprived. They see the brutal hypocrisy behind the soaring rhetoric of noblesse oblige that issues from the citadels of wealth and privilege. They see, and learn, that raw self-interest is the true coin of the global realm; they see it in the ruins of their own lives and in the blighted futures of their children. Is it any wonder, then, that many of them come to reject the putative offerings of civilization and embrace extremist or nihilistic or "asymmetrical" responses to their distress?

Every instance of systemic or institutional injustice contributes to the growing instability of the world community, to the violence and corruption and despair that howl outside the shrinking "Green Zones" of prosperity and security in the developed nations. This holds true at every level, from the vast and glaring crime of aggressive war, as in Iraq, to obscure rulings on arcane points of international finance – as in a London courtroom last month, when the British High Court upheld the right of a well-connected financial predator to feast on one of the world's poorest nations.

The case involved the little-known but highly lucrative world of "vulture funds" – or as its practitioners prefer to call it, the "secondary market in sovereign debt." It works like this: private investors buy up bits of the debt of impoverished nations from various creditors – at pennies on the dollar – then go to court to force the debtor to cough up the full amount, plus punitive interest payments. In the London case, a New York vulture named Michael Sheehan and his off-shore, UK-registered front company, Donegal International, were trying to turn a $.3.3 million debt purchase into a $55 million profit bonanza squeezed out of the Zambian people, some of the poorest on earth. Donegal won the case, even though Justice Andrew Smith ruled that Sheehan and one of his associates "were at times being deliberately evasive and even dishonest" in their testimony, as the Financial Times reports.

The amount Donegal is asking for would effectively wipe out the debt relief Zambia would have received this year from the deal signed at the famous "Live 8" summit in Scotland in 2005, when the G-8 nations agreed – amidst much harrumphing self-congratulation – to a large-scale debt relief and restructuring program for poorer countries. Zambia had earmarked the relief money for health programs and education, in a country where the life expectancy is 37, more than half a million children have been orphaned, and 1 in 5 adults have HIV, as Oxfam reports.

Justice Smith indicated that it is unlikely he will grant the company the full whack of $55 million when he makes his final ruling later this month; indeed, Smith made clear his distaste for the enterprise, but said current law compelled a ruling on behalf of the vultures. Even so, Sheehan and the boys will still walk away with a hefty profit – and many Zambians will die of disease or sink further into poverty and ignorance as a result. Meanwhile, some of Zambia's assets have been frozen until the final amount is set and the payoff to Donegal discharged, causing further financial distress to the poverty-wracked country, which is trying to emerge from the shadow of the corrupt and undemocratic regime that took on many of the onerous debts.

Although there are some novel elements to the Donegal-Zambia case, in many respects it is a typical example of how vulture funds use legal back alleys to profit from human misery. Donegal – a British Virgin Islands incorporation of Sheehan's U.S.-based firm, Debt Advisory International – uses all the tricks of the trade, including highly-placed political influence. For years, DAI paid huge fees to the lobbying firm of Jack Abramoff – the convicted wheeler-dealer at the center of the Republican Party's fund-raising (and fund-shuffling) apparatus, a man who had direct entrée to the White House before his current turn in prison stripes took him out of Beltway circulation.

And Donegal, like all vulture funds, preys on poor nations that are undergoing restructuring or forgiveness of debt. They pluck off small chunks of outstanding debt here and there – the Zambia case stemmed from Donegal's purchase of a 1979 loan from then-Communist Romania to Zambia to buy tractors – then, through the vagaries of financial law, they can hold up major debt relief until they reap vast profits from their miniscule share. Debtor nations are thus blackmailed into settling with the vultures in order to clear the way for large-scale initiatives like the G8 measures to take effect.

But Donegal's squeeze play on Zambia is actually rather mild compared to the operations of one of the giants in the field, a pioneer in global vulturing: Elliott Associates L.P., a New York-based hedge fund established by Paul Singer. In addition to managing $6 billion in assets for Elliott, Singer doubles as a major moneybags for the Republican Party. As Greg Palast reported last month on BBC's Newsnight, Singer has been George W. Bush's biggest donor in New York City – no mean feat among the Wall Street kingpins of whom Bush said in 2000: "Some people call you the elites; I call you my base." Singer has given Bush and the Republicans more than $1.7 million since that disputed 2000 race – and is now a top fundraiser for GOP presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, promising to raise $15 million to put all of America on "Giuliani Time," as Palast reports.

Currently, Singer is hoping to litigate a $10 million purchase of Congo-Brazzaville debt into a $400 million payday – a magnificent profit to be wrung from the populace of yet another of the poorest nations on earth. And this latter point – the real targets of vulture funds – should be kept in mind For although it's true that the debts of these distressed nations are often run up by corrupt regimes – often in collusion with the lofty financial institutions of the civilized world, or with governments of the "developed" nations seeking political advantages for themselves or financial gain for their cronies – it is the ordinary people who pay the price when these bad debts come due.

But it was Singer's assault on Peru in 2000, with its hardball tactics of legally sanctioned extortion, that has proven to be the classic of the genre, clearing the path for a flock of vultures to swoop down from the financial heights and feed on the carcasses of ruined economies.

Singer put a new twist on an old piece of legal boilerplate – the "pari passu" clause – that had been part of debt instruments for more than a century, as Charles D. Schmerler notes in the New York Law Journal. The clause essentially means that all creditors of the debtor nation must be treated equally. When Peru, which had been devastated by the financial crises that shook global markets in the 1990s, struck a deal with governmental and private creditors that would allow it to manage some $3.7 billion in reduced debts, Singer – who had bought $20 million of Peruvian debt for $11 million on the secondary markets – refused to go along. Under pari passu, Singer said, it didn't matter that the other creditors were willing to restructure Peru's debt; he was their equal (despite the minor chunk he owned), and so his needs must also be met. After losing one round, he found friendly courts in America and Belgium that agreed and declared that Peru's debt relief program could not go through until Singer was paid – not just the $20 million he had purchased at knock-down prices, but an extra $38 million in capitalized interest as well. What's more, Peru's assets were frozen until the vulture got his feed. The country was unable to pay its other creditors under the $3.7 billion restructuring, and was thus in danger of defaulting on the new deal, which would have had catastrophic effects.

Peru fought the case but could make no headway against the multibillion-dollar deep pockets of Elliott Associates. Finally, just before defaulting, it bowed to main force and paid Singer the full $58 million. (The strongarm boodle arrived in Singer's coffers on October 7, 2000 – just in time for the home stretch of Bush's presidential run and the successful machinations that followed his second-place finish.) What's more, as Schmerler notes, the Elliott rulings have destabilized the entire structure of international debt relief, giving vultures a new weapon to hijack major restructuring programs and shake down cash-strapped debtors.

II. Broken Mercy

But let's be clear about one thing. What the vultures are doing is legal. They are building on two decades of precedents in which Western courts have "all but abandoned the protections against liability previously afforded sovereign (nations)," as Schmerler writes. "The debate now centers firmly on issues of enforcement."

And here we see financial law echoing long-running trends in foreign policy and domestic governance: first, the steady erosion of the idea of national sovereignty in the face of bristling official doctrines of military "pre-emption," then the equally relentless encroachment on individual liberties – personal sovereignty – in the Anglo-American "homelands." In these areas too, the debate centers firmly on "enforcement": What country do we strike next? Which freedom should we curtail now? Are there any limits to the powers of the "unitary executive" to spy and torture and jail indefinitely as he sees fit? The rise of the vultures is of a piece with this growing institutional bias toward authoritarianism and punishment. The quality of mercy is increasingly strained, often to the breaking point.

Taking advantage of this draconian zeitgeist, the vultures operate profitably in the moral murk that shrouds the system of international debt. As noted, the debts accrued by poor nations are often the result of foolish or venal choices by despots (and a willing lack of due diligence by lenders). But it is hard to prove that a given debt is, technically, an "odious debt" – financial obligations "knowingly contracted without the consent of a population and without benefit to it," as New York attorney Jeff King told me. Odious debts are more narrowly defined than vulture funds. But with the standard practice of "developed" governments pushing arms deals and cozy arrangements for cronies on corrupt or unstable Third World regimes, the line marking off "odious debt" is vague indeed.

"Vulture funds may be morally odious, but the debts they enforce are not necessarily odious debts," said King, a research fellow at the Center for International Sustainable Development Law. "For example, the original debts in the Donegal case were meant for the purchase of agricultural machinery from Romania for the use of Zambia, a seeming benefit. Zambia later defaulted on that debt, and Romania sold it to Donegal."

Ironically, Donegal stepped in to buy the debt just before Zambia itself was about to redeem it. The original 1979 debt had a face value of $15 million; Romania had agreed to accept $3 million for it in 1999. Then Donegal intervened, offering approximately $3.3 million for the debt. In last week's court hearing, Zambia – whose case, in a further irony, was argued by Tony Blair's older brother, William – charged that "Donegal's local agent had bribed civil servants to pass the debt to Donegal rather than allowing Zambia to pay it off at a heavily discounted rate to Romania," the FT reports. But the court ultimately rejected the bribery charges.

"Thus the debt generated legally by Donegal was itself not necessarily odious in the technical sense," King said. "The moral outrage generated by this case is that Donegal seeks to realize an enormous profit at the expense of Zambia's desperate population."

That indeed is the crux of the matter: the disparity between the legality of vulture funds and the immorality of their pernicious effects on the world's most vulnerable people. It is this brutal disparity that teaches the dispossessed of the world the true meaning of the fine words that flow from the mouths of the powerful. "Blowback" doesn't always come from the launching of reckless wars or other high-profile depredations; it can also come from the sight of one's child dying of a preventable disease, while the guardians of civilization reward predators armed with the rule of law.

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