The Ordinary Oak, the Unseen Flower

Written by Chris Floyd 15 April 2011 5946 Hits

One side lies about money; the other side does the same. The only sure thing in this sinister kabuki is that the rich will make out like the bandits they are, and the weakest will go to the wall. You can waste your time trying to parse every little twist and turn of the "policies" of these murderous poltroons, as they set about gutting the carcass of their own country and bombing the hell out of several others; you can pretend their words have meaning, that they aren't the howls and grunts of brutal degenerates given over, sad wretches, to evil ... But me, I'm off to read Machado, to hear him

Sing of the ordinary oak,
the branch cut off by the axe,
and the flower that no one looks at.


Let the damned bury the damned in those vast marble tombs along the Potomac. I'm going to wash away their stench with a cool breeze from the blue hills of the Guadarrama. His words -- sharp, etched, subtle, true -- will take me there.

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After Lear: Questions and Enactments

Written by Chris Floyd 11 April 2011 5943 Hits

After Lear, walking unfamiliar streets in search of a pub, we found that we had circled back behind the theatre. There was a crowd bunching in a passageway, gathered around a small, white-haired man in a trim blue blazer; he was smiling politely, responding affably, signing programs proffered mostly by aged hands.

Not twenty minutes before, we had seen him die on the stage beside his hanged daughter, in the great existential boomerang of their earlier, rapturous reunion."No cause, no cause," she had said then, as her hands sought his ravaged face – the shattering scene, the heart of the oeuvre, the enacted ritual of transcendent forgiveness, so much harder-striking, deeper-delving than any seen in the cathedral up the street.

Was this wiped out by the double deaths, by the whispered roar of nothingness – its mocking laughter – that brings down the curtain? Or does the moment of enactment engender its own truth, incarnated, which survives independently of the onrush and backwash of time? The small old man, now returned to our common contingency, and strangely gnomish here with his sprightly manner, gave no hint of an answer, or of the slightest awareness that an answer might even exist.

Or were the gentleness, kindness and show of interest he displayed, in each moment of flickering encounter, themselves the enactment of an answer?


9 April 2011, Bath, England

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Drifting Too Far From Shore: The Unresisted Rise of the Elite

Written by Chris Floyd 08 April 2011 8781 Hits

In the LRB, David Runciman provides some telling insights in a review of recent books about the “off-shoring” of the world economy into tax havens, where the hyper-elite hide their money from the taxes and regulations that ordinary citizens are subject to. The review also deals with the political machinations involved in this corrosive process, which lies behind much of our dysfunctions and discontents. You should read the whole article, which provides rich historical context, but are some excerpts, in medias res:

When officials from Delaware toured the globe in the late 1980s advertising their services (and hoping, among other things, to provide a haven for all the hot money that was expected to flow out of Hong Kong in the run-up to the handover to China), they did so under the slogan ‘Delaware can protect you from politics.’ Shaxson defines a tax haven as ‘a place that seeks to attract business by offering politically stable facilities to help people or entities get around the rules, laws and regulations of jurisdictions elsewhere’. But this is the crux: where is the politics? Why aren’t these moves more politically unstable, or at least politically contentious? In the case of Delaware, as with other goldfish bowl communities, size probably tells (for a long time Delaware politics was shaped by the influence of the Du Pont family, whose vast chemical operations dominated the local economy). What, though, about Washington, where the shift to an offshore mindset at the national level might be expected to run up against some serious political opposition? What happened to the representatives of all those people who don’t have lots of money to move around, who can’t relocate even if they wanted to, and who have an interest in a fair, open and broadly progressive tax system? Didn’t they notice what was going on?

This is the question that Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson tackle in Winner-Take-All Politics. They don’t spend much time talking about offshore, but the story they tell has striking parallels with the one laid out by Shaxson. One of the ways you can identify an offshore environment, according to Shaxson, is that local politics gets captured by financial services. In that sense, Washington has gone offshore: its politics has been captured by the interests of a narrow group of very wealthy individuals, many of whom work in finance.

For Hacker and Pierson this, more than anything else, explains why the rich have got so much richer over the last 30 years or so. And by the rich they don’t mean simply the generally wealthy; they mean the super-rich. The real beneficiaries of the explosion in income for top earners since the 1970s have been not the top 1 per cent but the top 0.1 per cent of the general population. Since 1974, the share of national income of the top 0.1 per cent of Americans has grown from 2.7 to 12.3 per cent of the total, a truly mind-boggling level of redistribution from the have-nots to the haves. Who are these people? As Hacker and Pierson note, they are ‘not, for the most part, superstars and celebrities in the arts, entertainment and sports. Nor are they rentiers, living off their accumulated wealth, as was true in the early part of the last century. A substantial majority are company executives and managers, and a growing share of these are financial company executives and managers.’

Hacker and Pierson believe that politics is responsible for this. It happened because law-makers and public officials allowed it to happen, not because international markets, or globalisation, or differentials in education or life-chances made it inevitable. It was a choice, driven by the pressure of lobbyists and other organisations to create an environment much more hospitable to the needs of the very rich. It was even so a particular kind of politics and a particular kind of choice. It wasn’t a conspiracy, because it happened in the open. But nor was it an explicit political movement, characterised by rallies, speeches and electoral triumphs. It relied in large part on what Hacker and Pierson call a process of drift: ‘systematic, prolonged failures of government to respond to the shifting realities of a dynamic economy’. More often than not the politicians were persuaded to do nothing, to let up on enforcement, to look the other way, as money moved around the globe and up to the very top of the financial chain.

As Runciman notes, Hacker and Pierson make a vital point on the true nature of the “political engagement” we see today among our partisan flag-wavers:

One of Hacker and Pierson’s complaints about the way we usually regard politics is that we miss what’s really going on by focusing on the show of elections and the competition between parties. This is the theatre of electoral politics, to set alongside the theatre of probity. Too often, they say, we reduce politics to the level of sport: ‘This is no doubt why politics as electoral spectacle is so appealing to the media: it’s exciting and it’s simple. Aficionados can memorise the stats of their favourite players or become experts on the great games of the past. Everyone, however, can enjoy the gripping spectacle of two highly motivated teams slugging it out.’

Certainly this has been borne out, to a glaring degree, by our stalwart “progressives” since the election of Barack Obama. There are mounds – mountains – mountain ranges of evidence showing “progressives” staunchly defending, or meekly countenancing, a whole raft of outrageous crimes and follies that they once decried with furious indignation  ... simply because it is now the guy from “their” team commiting them, instead of that goober from the other team. And even among those progressives who do bestir themselves to sternly denounce this or that policy of the Obama administration – one of his many, many “continuities” and exacerbations of Bush’s record on military aggression, civil liberties, torture, the manipulation and overthrow of governments, the orgasmic embrace of Wall Street, the deficit hawkishness, tax cuts for the rich, etc., etc. – you will hear, almost uniformly, the anguished cry that despite all this, we must fight to re-elect Obama. Because otherwise, one of those right-wing extremists might get in and ... er ... continue all the Bush policies that ... er ... Obama is continuing.

This is a politics almost entirely without substance, based on unsifted tribal loyalties and unsupported myths – just as we see on the Right.

Runciman and the authors also make a very important point that is almost universally overlooked. The true acceleration of the brutal rule of the hyper-rich that we see today did not begin with the ascension of Ronald Reagan (however avidly he helped the process along); its true origins can found in the grand collapses of political will, the surrender to the elite’s most pernicious power blocs, under the administration of the hapless Jimmy Carter:

Elections are seductive, and these days the build-up is so protracted that they can drown out the real business of politics: the way organised groups use pressure – money, lobbying, threats – to squeeze whichever politicians happen to be in power, in order to influence the shaping of policy. Elections also suggest false historical turning points. It is easy to assume that if the rich have been winning in recent decades, the process must have started with the election of the pro-big business, anti-big government Ronald Reagan in 1980 (and concomitantly, Margaret Thatcher in Britain in 1979). But Hacker and Pierson argue that the real turning point came in 1978, during the presidency of Jimmy Carter. This was the year the lobbyists and other organised groups who were pushing hard to relax the burden of tax and regulation on wealthy individuals and corporate interests discovered that no one was pushing back all that hard. Despite Democratic control of the White House and both Houses of Congress, 1978 saw the defeat of attempts to introduce progressive tax reform and to improve the legal position of trade unions. Instead, legislation was passed that reduced the tax burden on corporations and increased the burden on their employees (through a hike in the payroll tax, a regressive measure). All this happened because the politicians followed the path of least resistance – as elected politicians invariably do – and the better organised and better-funded resistance came from the representatives of big business, not organised labour.

What took place in the 1980s was therefore an extension of the Carter years, not a reversal of them. The process of deregulation and redistribution up the chain accelerated under Reagan, who was broadly sympathetic to these goals. Yet it happened not because he was sympathetic to them, but because his sympathies were allowed free rein in a political environment where the opposition was muted and the expected coalition of interests opposed to the changes never materialised. After all, as Hacker and Pierson point out, Richard Nixon, who might have been expected to share some of Reagan’s sympathies, had gone the other way in his actual policies a decade earlier, shoring up the legislative framework of the welfare state and maintaining a broadly progressive tax system. ... He acted like this because he felt he had little choice: the organised pressure ready to resist change appeared much too strong. It was only during the Carter years ... that this pressure turned out to be weaker than anyone thought. The politicians of the Reagan/ Thatcher revolution did what they did not because they were committed ideologues, determined to stick to their principles. They did it because they found they could get away with it.

This is an important point. Politicians are, with the rarest of exceptions, venal, preening, shallow-minded third-raters. Many of them are psychologically damaged, which is what draws them into the pursuit of power – of dominating other people -- in the first place. Mostly, they like the perks (material and emotional) of power. They are not figures of deep character and solid principles. Strong political resistance -- or even a great lot of noise -- can scare them out of whatever “principles” they find it expedient to hold at any given moment. The Right has triumphed because no one has resisted it. Big Money has bought off and/or subsumed almost all of the institutional forces that once offered some resistance to its iron-fisted rule. Runciman then takes up the obvious question:

So where did the resistance go? This is the real puzzle, and Hacker and Pierson take it seriously because they take democracy seriously, despite its unhealthy fixation on elections. Democracies are meant to favour the interests of the many over those of the few. As Hacker and Pierson put it, ‘Democracy may not be good at a lot of things. But one thing it is supposed to be good at is responding to problems that affect broad majorities.’ Did the majority not actually mind that they were losing out for the sake of the super-rich elite? In the American case, one common view is that the voters allowed it to happen because they minded more about other things: religion, culture, abortion, guns etc. The assumption is that many ordinary Americans have signed a kind of Faustian pact with the Republican Party, in which the rich get the money and the poor get support for the cultural values they care about. Hacker and Pierson reject this view, and not just because they don’t think the process they describe depends on there being a Republican in the White House: they see strong evidence that the American public do still want a fairer tax system and do still see it as the job of politicians to protect their interests against the interests of high finance. The problem is that the public simply don’t know what the politicians are up to. They are not properly informed about how the rules have been steadily changed to their disadvantage. ‘Americans are no less egalitarian when it comes to their vision of an ideal world,’ Hacker and Pierson write. ‘But they are much less accurate when it comes to their vision of the real world.’

Why is no one paying attention? ... Hacker and Pierson’s argument ... does not see the weakness of democracy as a matter of the voters wanting the wrong things, or not really knowing what they want. They know what they want but they don’t know how to get it. It’s because they don’t understand the world they live in that democracy isn’t working. People aren’t stupid, but when it comes to politics they are ignorant, lazy and easily satisfied with pat answers to difficult questions. Hacker and Pierson recognise that it has become bad manners to point this out even in serious political discourse. But it remains the truth. ‘Most citizens pay very little attention to politics, and it shows. To call their knowledge of even the most elementary facts about the political system shaky would be generous.’

The traditional solution to this problem was to supplement the ignorance of the voters with guidance from experts, who would reform the system in the voters’ best interests. The difficulty is that the more the experts take charge, the less incentive there is for the voters to inform themselves about what’s going on. This is what Hacker and Pierson call the catch-22 of democratic politics: in order to combat what’s taking place under the voters’ radar it’s necessary to continue the fight under the voters’ radar. The best hope is that eventually the public might wake up to what is going on and join in. But that will take time. As Hacker and Pierson admit, ‘Political reformers will need to mobilise for the long haul.’

Yet time may be one of the things that the reformers do not have on their side. As Shaxson points out in his account of the rise of the tax havens, one of the reasons for the drift towards deregulation is that politics has been too slow to resist it. This, again, is one of the traditional critiques of democracy: while decent-minded democrats are organising themselves to make the world a better place, the world has moved on. In a fast-moving financial environment, it is usually easier to assemble a coalition of interests in favour of relaxing the rules than one in favour of tightening them. Similarly, it’s easier not to enforce the rules you have than to enforce them: non-enforcement is the work of a moment – all you have to do is turn a blind eye – whereas enforcement is a slow and laborious process.

And of course, what happens in a world ruled by Big Money is that the “experts” themselves are bought off; or rather, as time goes by, the system itself breeds “experts” who do not and cannot rise in the system unless they already, naturally, unthinkingly buy into the basic premises of elitist rule. In such a world, even the “reformers” accept the underlying assumptions – and agenda – of the elite, and seek, at the very most, only the most tepid reforms. Do the hyper-rich – the 0.1 percent – now control 12 percent of the nation’s income? Why, goodness gracious, we’ve got to get that down to ... 10 percent, maybe, or even – why not shoot the moon? – 8 percent! That’ll show ‘em! Power to the people, man! But of course, to do that, we must not raise their taxes, or regulate their dodgy investment schemes, or punish them when they crash the world economy; and we must continue the valiant humanitarian interventions and assassinations for peace we are conducting in dozens and dozens of nations all over the world, at exorbitant cost year after year – campaigns which perpetuate the extremism and instability they profess to combat, and which ensure there is no money in the treasury to address the actual needs and aspirations of ordinary citizens.

There are no easy answers to this situation, no Gordian knot to cut with one bold stroke, no single doctrine or program that will answer all ills. Especially given the conundrum that Runciman identifies, between the hard, slow slog of genuine change and the rapidity with which the worst elements in society (and in ourselves) can strike. But one thing is certain: adhering blindly (or even with grudging, gritted-teeth "savvy") to organizations and leaders – such as the Democratic Party and its bloodstained standard-bearers – who have demonstrated, time and again, beyond all doubt, their willing, eager embrace of the elitist agenda will only further entrench and empower the very forces that are devouring and degrading the world.

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Success Stories: The Imperium Strikes Back

Written by Chris Floyd 06 April 2011 7050 Hits

Wise man William Pfaff speaks the truth like rolling thunder here:

The struggle is under way to re-establish American control over the successors to those despots whom popular uprisings have ousted from Tunisia and Egypt, threatening the careers of still other abusive absolute monarchs and presidents-for-life (and their offspring).

The report that Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh is to be thrown to the crocodile crowds by the American government, allowing for bids by the CIA for a successor, was “leaked” (meaning not announced at a press conference) to The New York Times. His fault, in American officials’ eyes, is not so much the killing and other violence he has deployed against citizen protestors of his rule, tolerable until now (as in the earlier cases of Presidents Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Ben Ali in Tunisia), as it is the failure of this violence to suppress popular uprising. These figures are not disqualified by despotism but for unsuccessful despotism.

...The authentic sources of revolutionary unrest were deeper than perceived in Western government offices. Obviously there was social distress, callous maldistribution of wealth and arbitrary rule through powerful security establishments. However, these are not “underdeveloped” nations. To apply that term to Lebanon or Syria, or to pre-2003 Iraq, or Iran, or to Egypt, the most ancient and sophisticated civilization of all, is preposterous.

Their political problem might be described as overdevelopment; these civilizations have seen everything.

The Arab states created out of the Ottoman Empire in the 1920s were assigned artificial frontiers that often disregarded established ethnic, sectarian, historical, dynastic, and tribal interests and realities. Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Libya are all cases of political artificiality and Western intervention to suit European colonial interests. Into this, the new and non-Arab, non-Islamic state of Israel was imposed in what was historic Palestine, ostensibly to right the atrocity of the Holocaust, a European crime for which Islamic civilization bore no responsibility whatever. The notion that the U.S. and the European states automatically possess solutions relevant to all of this is absurd.

...The worst outcome is, however, the one that seems most likely: a new American effort to manage the region through chosen political clients and favorites, in the self-deluding belief that this is “democratization”—the identical policy that has already given the region wars in or around Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the threat of war with Iran and now the Libyan intervention.

Pfaff nails it cold. The American imperium has indeed found its feet after being stunned for a few weeks by the outbreak of the Arab Awakening. Now it is moving full-speed ahead on a variety of fronts to strangle the regional uprising against corrupt, oppressive elites. Pfaff outlines one approach being taken: wait until ordinary people have been killed in droves seeking a better life for themselves and their families, then turn on your client dictator -- and replace him with another.

In Yemen, the administration of the Nobel Peace Laureate is backing extremist military figures to step in for the inefficient despot, Saleh, as As'ad AbuKhalil notes:

The Arab (Israeli-supported) Counter-Revolution is gaining strength.  Saudi Arabia and Qatar are now mid-wifing the change in Libya, and House of Saud are now in charge of Yemeni transition at the behest of US.  The lousy corrupt Gen. Ahmar (who was the sponsor of Bin Ladenites in Yemen) is now receiving Saudi support and attempting to hijack the opposition movement.

Meanwhile, in Egypt, after Mubarak's despotic attempt to quell the uprising was unsuccessful, the Laurel-Bearer decided to throw him over, and bring in a military junta -- that promptly cleared the streets and "restored order." The Egyptian Awakening was too powerful to quell completely, and heroic attempts continue to forge a better system. But even as these efforts continue -- in the face of the still-entrenched elites of the Mubarak era -- the American Imperium is moving swiftly to yet another reliable weapon in its arsenal: economic warfare. AbuKhalil -- an absolutely indispensible voice for anyone who cares to understand what's going on in the region -- points us to a telling article in the Washington Post, where a series of the serious are trotted out to tell us of the American elite's earnest concern for Egypt's economic "reforms," now that Mubarak and his presumptive heir, son Gamal, are gone:

"Corruption investigations against former president Hosni Mubarak and other former high-ranking officials and business figures are proceeding as part of the country’s political transition. But they have also raised questions about whether the economic reforms championed by those such as Gamal Mubarak, the ex-president’s son who is due to be questioned in a corruption probe next week, will give way to a more government-oriented economy less open to global corporations and capital."

Oh dearie me, it might not be open season for the privatization vultures, the Shock Doctrinaires who sweep to feast on the chaotic ruin left behind by fallen regimes! What a terrible fate, for a fat-cat somewhere to lose even a single drop of cream! The Post story notes, in passing, one of the most significant aspects of these post-collapse lootings: "capital flight" -- i.e., corrupt elites sending their ill-gotten gains out of the country as fast as they can, just in case anything like a genuine democracy pledged to real economic justice might take hold. We saw the same thing in Russia, as hundreds of billions of dollars were siphoned out of the country -- where they could have been invested in building a vibrant new society (or at least keep alive some of the millions of people who died premature deaths as the Shock Doctrine ravages took hold). Where did this money go? The same place the Egyptian elite are parking their money now: in the highly respectable financial institutions of the West.

The Post also notes, sadly, that the Imperium's strongarm outfit, the IMF, has not yet been called in to rescue the poor, primitive Egyptians; but they're circling round and round over Tahrir Square, don't you worry:

Egypt has not requested help from the IMF, but Egyptian Finance Minister Samir Radwan in recent days has openly discussed the country’s possible need for outside assistance to prop up an economy suffering multiple shocks: growth undercut by a still-unsettled political crisis, a sharp drop in its foreign reserves, an outflow of wealth, and exorbitant borrowing costs. ...

In Egypt “the macroeconomic situation was not that bad before the crisis. But it’s a country, like many in the Middle East, where beyond the macro figures the distribution was a big issue,” IMF Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said Tuesday. “The increase in prices of food and fuel understandably creates the temptation to help with subsidies. A big change is happening there with the push towards democracy; at the same time they must be careful not to create problems for their fiscal sustainability.”

Oh my gosh: subsidies to help people eat! Please, dear God in Heaven, please help the Egyptians avoid such a terrible temptation. One mustn't let silly scruples about hunger, heat and clothing "create problems for fiscal sustainability."

Meanwhile, the Wreathed One's staunch anti-democratic allies, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, are quietly turning the latter into a locked-down Stasi state. You won't hear much about this in the American press, but as you might expect, AbuKhalil has been all over it like a duck on a June bug, with reports directly from Bahrain, such as this one:

A source sent me this:  "It seems like the Bahraini government has finally succeeded in their crackdown.  Yesterday they closed down Al Wasat Newspaper - the country's only opposition newspaper and then reopened it with a new editor that is pro-government ... Everyone in Bahrain is silent now.  No one is talking.  Human rights activists, journalists and bloggers who under their real named have completely disappeared.  Many have been jailed whilst others are in hiding.  Mohammad Al Masqati, a human rights activist who is in his mid 20s, has been in jail for the past 5 days.  He was first threatened by a member of the royal family on twitter and then he got arrested.  His family has apparently only spoken to him once so far.  Businessmen and CEOs are also being interrogated and threatened for not firing striking workers and cutting their wages.  Most are no longer in control of their companies and now mass firings have begun.  Most are not willing to take any stance because they are too scared. ... Shia families living in mixed neighborhoods are moving out because they are being threatened either by letters sent to their houses telling them to leave or in checkpoints.  ... We are definitely back in the 90s but it is worse because the army is more brutal and there is disguising sectarianism and blatant discrimination against shia. ... The media is completely silent and the Obama administration has completely stopped commenting on Bahrain."

Well, why should they comment? After all, Bahrain -- backed by American-armed Saudi troops now fraternally occupying the country -- has killed, beaten and bullied its people back into submission. The Saudi people were warned early on, in no uncertain turn, that they would be cut down without mercy if they dared utter a peep of protest against one of the most repressive regimes on earth.

These are shining examples of successful despotisms. That's why the Commander-in-Chief-of-Peace-on-Earth has nothing to say about them.

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Ageless Emblem

Written by Chris Floyd 05 April 2011 5960 Hits

The tombstone of Flavinus,
from the Ala Petriana,
stationed in Britain,
shows him horsed, rearing
above a naked captive.
This is the pose he desired
to carry his name
into eternity: brandishing
the standard, proud, honored.

The captive is lion-faced,
wild and bearded,
on all fours,
clinging to a post,
tensed for the blow.
He could have come from Blake,
some lost engraving,
the carved lines charged
with living frenzy,

history’s flesh.

 

 

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Eternal Punishment: Obama Leads Third Century of Imperial Revenge on Haiti

Written by Chris Floyd 02 April 2011 10415 Hits

The blood and thunder (or is it thud and blunder?) of the American-led intervention in Libya has obscured one of the more revealing episodes of our times -- especially for those many millions who still cling to the idea that Barack Obama is somehow an improvement, however slight, over the ruthless, lawless, corroded souls who preceded him in the post of imperial manager.

We speak of course of the American rigging of the election in battered, helpless Haiti -- a brazen effort to disenfranchise the majority of the population and ensure the election of a vicious -- but acquiescent -- client to the presidency. This sordid episode comes complete with a personal intervention by the Nobel Peace Laureate himself to try to continue the exile and persecution of the democratically elected Haitian president overthrown by George W. Bush in a brutal coup.

Even as he was scheming with the CIA to put covert American "boots on the ground" in the Libyan civil war, Obama and his dream team have been maneuvering like mad to put one of a pair of right-wing fanatics into office in Haiti while excluding any other candidates from the running -- including those from Haiti's biggest political party. Obama also personally called South African President Jacob Zuma to ask to keep holding Bush-ousted former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Africa and prevent him from returning to his native land before the election.

With the sublime hypocrisy that has become the hallmark of this most mendacious militarist administration, an Obama spokesman said the Peace Laureate opposed Aristide's return due to "deep concerns that President Aristide's return to Haiti in the closing days of the election could be destabilising," adding that the defender of freedom and democracy believes "that the Haitian people deserve the chance to choose their government through peaceful, free and fair elections."

Even from Team Obama, this is pretty rich. After blocking the largest political party from running, then forcing a run-off between two former supporters of vicious coups, Obama said he didn't want Haiti's democratically elected former leader to return to the homeland he was trundled from at gunpoint by Bushist goons in order to give the Haitian people "a free, fair election."

The result has been a record-low turnout and run-off so riddled with corruption that it may be weeks before one of America's hand-picked stooges is declared the winner. Meanwhile, Aristide did return -- Zuma told Obama plainly that Astride was a free man, he had a passport from his home country, and "I cannot hold him hostage." He did not interfere with the election, he endorsed no candidate. Most of his supporter simply boycotted the election, because of its blatant illegitimacy.

So this is what Barack Obama and his partner in imperialism, the globe-trotting Hillary Clinton, have been up to on the side while they are killing children in Libya and bluntly declaring to Congress that Obama will not acknowledge any restriction on his imperial will to wage war where whenever and wherever he damn well pleases. As John Caruso notes in a blistering post:

In an episode that makes the importance of democracy subversion in Haiti eminently clear, even while the popular uprising in Egypt was peaking, our Secretary of State was dispatched to Haiti to ensure that Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly advanced to the presidential runoff election rather than Jude Celestin (she flew there literally right after she'd finished putting out the administration's Egypt spin on the Sunday morning talk shows).  So just who is this U.S. favorite?

Seven months after his inauguration, President Aristide was overthrown by a US-backed neo-Duvalierist military putsch on 30 September 1991. "Sweet Micky" was one of the principal cheerleaders of this three-year coup, which claimed some 5,000 lives, according to Amnesty International.

In the years following Aristide's restoration to power in 1994, Martelly became obsessed with hatred for the man. In a video from not too long ago, which can be seen on YouTube, the candidate threatens a patron in a bar where he has performed. "All those shits were Aristide's faggots," he says. "I would kill Aristide to stick a dick up your ass."

You can certainly see why Clinton made the trip.  And if the Obama administration doesn't manage to get this homicidal homophobic Duvalierist into power, they'll still end up with the Secretary General of the right-wing RDNP party (and wife of a former right-wing "president" of Haiti).  Win-win!

...As I've written before, anyone who feared that our first black president might not be sympathetic to the need to smash the democratic aspirations of the first free black nation in the hemisphere can rest assured: Obama will never let race—or anything else—stop him from doing the empire's dirty work.


No, indeed. Doing the empire's dirty work is the Obama Administration's raison d'etre. Caruso helpfully points us to this incandescent post by Linh Dinh:

As firemen and cops are being fired across America, as teachers are being told they must accept austerity measures, the country is broke, after all, as public radio and television, with their supposed liberal bias, lay on the chopping block, as more homeless sprawl and tent cities spring up, as casinos, a sure sign of desperation, mushroom, the United States has entered another costly war without any fanfare or discussion whatsoever. Obama didn’t have to persuade anybody, no sending a Secretary of State to make a fool of herself in front of the United Nations’ General Assembly, no congressional vote, which, last time I checked, was supposed to be a Constitutional requirement, no media blitz. No lies even. He simply ordered more than a hundred Tomahawk missiles, so far, to rain down on Libya, with many more to come. In any case, this it not even a war, but merely a “kinetic military action,” according to an Obama aide. Such straight faced butchery of language, even as one butchers real people, shows that the United States has entered a deep psychotic state. Upon winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama himself declared, “I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence.”  ...

The President of the United States is a traveling salesman for the military industrial complex. In 2010, Obama came to India to visit the Mumbai home of Gandhi, a hero of his, someone he would most like to dine with, very touching, before announcing a mega arms deal of GE fighter jet engines and Boeing military transport planes. Now, as he bombs Libya, Obama tries to sell F-18 fighter planes to Brazil. According to an aide, “President Obama underscored that the F-18 is the best plane on offer” as he made a “strong pitch” to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

The President of the United States is also a spokesman for murderers and crooks. He doesn’t rule, but obeys. His main job is to deceive the masses as he serves his enablers. He can say anything at any time, and means none of it. The President of the United States is the world’s most visible actor, in short. Campaigning in 2007, Obama said, “If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I’m in the White House, I’ll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself. I’ll walk on that picket line with you as president of the United States.” Quite a performance. This year, as Wisconsin teachers fight to retain their right to collectively bargain, Obama has said absolutely nothing. One would have to be a fool to think he would join them. ...

As Obama fizzles out, as he loses legitimacy, the power brokers will come up with other figureheads and slogans for American liberals and conservatives to become passionate about. These candidates will jabber, jab and insult each other. As in professional wrestling, the battle will appear fierce. Barack, meanwhile, can look forward to a lucrative memoir and six-figure speaking fees. Even that man of malapropisms and snafus, the much despised Bush, is getting $150,000 each time he opens his mouth these days.

In any case, the latest draconian farce in Haiti is only par for a savage course that Obama and Clinton have been carrying out from the get-go, standing on the shoulders of that giant statesman, Dubya. As I noted here almost two years ago (again following in Caruso's footsteps):

Haiti has been a cursed nation throughout its existence. As I noted in a piece in 2004:

Exactly two hundred years ago, Haitian slaves overthrew their French masters -- the first successful national slave revolt in history. What Spartacus dreamed of doing, the Haitian slaves actually accomplished. It was a tremendous achievement -- and the white West has never forgiven them for it.

In order to win international recognition for their new country, Haiti was forced to pay "reparations" to the slaveowners - a crushing burden of debt they were still paying off at the end of the 19th century. The United States, which refused to recognize the country for more than 60 years, invaded Haiti in 1915, primarily to open it up to "foreign ownership of local concerns." After 19 years of occupation, the Americans backed a series of bloodthirsty dictatorships to protect these "foreign owners." And still it goes on.

It certainly does -- even under the "enlightened" foreign policy of Barack Obama. As John Caruso reports (in separate pieces in A Distant Ocean and A Tiny Revolution), Obama and his "superstar" secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, are loudly championing the latest egregious, brutal farce that Washington and the West have foisted upon the uppity natives of Haiti.

Senatorial elections held this month by the government imposed on Haiti after the U.S.-backed coup of 2004 (more on this below) produced a turnout of less than 10 percent of eligible voters: a result that mocks any notion of a popular, legitimate democracy. But this is not because the Haitians are so lazy and disinterested that they couldn't be bothered to vote. Nor that they are so satisfied with the benevolent, paternal care of their American-appointed masters that they saw no need to let silly electoral contests trouble their bucolic life.

No, the 90 percent refusal rate was in fact a massive protest action, driven chiefly by the fact that the American-backed government would not allow the most popular party -- the party of the government ousted by the 2004 coup -- to run a slate of candidates in the election. By clerkly hook and bureaucratic crook, Haiti's election overseers banned the Fanmi Lavalas slate back in February. At that moment, the April elections became a dead letter, a meaningless farce -- yet another cruel joke played on the people of Haiti.

Another April, another joke -- and a third century of imperial revenge goes on.

NOTE: For more background, especially on the 2004 coup that led to the current crisis, see "Operation Continuing Sweatshop." Below is an excerpt:

This week, the Bush administration added another violent "regime change" notch to its gunbelt, toppling the democratically elected president of Haiti and replacing him with an unelected gang of convicted killers, death squad leaders, militarists, narcoterrorists, CIA operatives, hereditary elitists and corporate predators - a bit like Team Bush itself, in other words.

Although the Haiti coup was widely portrayed as an irresistible upsurge of popular discontent, it was of course the result of years of hard work by Bush's dedicated corrupters of democracy, as William Bowles of Information Clearinghouse reports. Bushist bagmen funded the political opposition to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, smuggled guns to exiled Haitian warlords, and carried out a relentless strangulation of the county, cutting off long-promised financial and structural aid to one of the poorest nations on earth until food prices were soaring, unemployment spiked to 70 percent, and the broken-backed government lost control of society to armed gangs of criminals, fanatics and the merely desperate.

Meanwhile, Haiti was forced to pay $2 million a month on debts run up by the murderous U.S.-backed dictatorships that had ruled the island since the American military occupation of 1915-1934. The Haitian press, controlled by cronies of the former dictators, supplied the lazy American media with reams of stories about Aristide's "tyranny." These were swiftly followed by thunderous denunciations from the Bush Regime. Wholesale murders of government officials and Aristide partisans by Bush-backed opposition gangs were, of course, demurely ignored -- as were Aristide's own condemnations of violence by his supporters. The old reliable "madman" trope was also brought out for an airing, with constant press drumbeats about Aristide's "mental instability." (America's designated targets are always "deranged monsters," although sometimes, when they prove politically useful again, they miraculously recover their wits, like Libya's Moamar Gadafy.)


[Note 2001: Although, as we can see today, our good reformed monsters always relapse -- when it suits the imperial agenda.]

[Aristide's] real crime, of course, was not the Florida-style election follies or the reported "tyranny." ... No, Aristide did something far worse than stuffing ballots or killing people -- he tried to raise the minimum wage, to the princely sum of two dollars a day. This move outraged the American corporations -- and their local lackeys -- who have for generations used Haiti as a pool of dirt-cheap labor and sky-high profits. It was the last straw for the elitist factions, one of which is actually led by an American citizen and former Reagan-Bush appointee, manufacturing tycoon Andy Apaid.

Apaid was the point man for the rapacious Reagan-Bush "market reform" drive in Haiti. Of course, "reform," in the degraded jargon of the privateers, means exposing even the very means of survival and sustenance to the ravages of powerful corporate interests. For example, the Reagan-Bush plan forced Haiti to lift import tariffs on rice, which had long been a locally-grown staple. Then they flooded Haiti with heavily subsidized American rice, destroying the local market and throwing thousands of self-sufficient farmers out of work. With a now-captive market, the American companies jacked up their prices, spreading ruin and hunger throughout Haitian society.

The jobless farmers provided new fodder for the factories of Apaid and his cronies. Reagan and Bush chipped in by abolishing taxes for American corporations who set up Haitian sweatshops. The result was a precipitous drop in wages -- and life expectancy. Aristide's first election in 1990 threatened these cozy arrangements, so he was duly ejected by a military coup, with Bush I's not-so-tacit connivance.

Bill Clinton restored Aristide to office in 1994 -- but only after forcing him to agree to, yes, "market reforms." In fact, it was Clinton, the privateers' pal, who instigated the post-election aid embargo that Bush II used to such devastating effect. Aristide's chief failing as a leader was his attempt to live up to this bipartisan blackmail. As in every other nation that's come under the IMF whip, Haiti's already-fragile economy collapsed. Bush family retainers like Apaid then shoved the country into total chaos, making it easy prey for the warlords whom Bush operatives -- many of them old Iran-Contra hands -- supplied with arms through the Dominican Republic, the Boston Globe reports.

When Aristide called for an international force to stem the terrorist attack, Bush refused. When Aristide agreed to a deal, brokered by his fellow leaders in the Caribbean, that would have effectively ceded power to the Bush-funded opposition but at least preserved the lineaments of Haitian democracy -- Apaid and the boys turned down the offer, with the blessing of their paymasters in Washington, who suddenly claimed they had no influence over their recalcitrant hired hands. When Aristide asked for American protection as the rebel gang closed in on the capital, Bush refused.

Instead, Aristide was told by armed American gunmen that if he didn't resign, he would be left to die at the hands of the rebels. Then he was bundled onto a waiting plane and dumped in the middle of Africa. Within hours, the Bush-backed terrorists were marching openly through Port-au-Prince, executing Aristide's supporters.

Guess they won't be asking for two dollars a day now, eh? Mission accomplished!

This policy is what the Nobel Peace Laureate -- the first African-American president in history -- is now perpetuating in the only nation to liberate itself from slavery. But of course, the most important thing is not the dispossessed in Haiti, nor the innocent people in Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan being killed, day after day, by the Laureate's bombs, bullets and assassins. No, the main thing is -- he's not John McCain! And we must put aside these trifles, these heaps of corpses, and rally around the prez to "defend our gains and regroup for a progressive counter-offensive in 2012!" The best is yet to come!

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An Urgent Call: Act Now to Save a Valuable Voice

Written by Chris Floyd 30 March 2011 7191 Hits

Arthur Silber, one of the most incisive and eloquent analysts writing today, is, in his own words, "sick, broke and scared." Silber is wracked by chronic and worsening health problems, which he is having to endure in dire poverty. Voluntary contributions to his website are his only source of income; but of course, when he is sick, as he often is, he can't post new material, and therefore donations drop off.

He is in a particularly bad spiral at the moment, with mounting medical bills and an all-too-real prospect of homelessness. This is what often happens to fearless truth-tellers in our God-led land of Hope and Plenty, with liberty and justice for all, etc. We cannot change this grim reality overnight -- but we can take immediate action to help one of our most valuable voices.

I know times are hard all over (except for the gilded few), but if you have anything at all to spare, please head over to Silber's website, and drop something in the PayPal coinbox. Thanks.

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A Hundred Years of Rain: Air War Comes Full Circle in Libya

Written by Chris Floyd 21 March 2011 8209 Hits

Ian Patterson notes that the air war unleashed on Libya by the Western powers last week coincides very neatly with the 100th anniversary of the first military air strike -- which was launched by a Western power against ... Libya. From The London Review of Books:

The world’s first aerial bombing mission took place 100 years ago, over Libya. It was an attack on Turkish positions in Tripoli. On 1 November 1911, Lieutenant Cavotti of the Italian Air Fleet dropped four two-kilogramme bombs, by hand, over the side of his aeroplane. In the days that followed, several more attacks took place on nearby Arab bases. Some of them, inaugurating a pattern all too familiar in the century since then, fell on a field hospital, at Ain Zara, provoking heated argument in the international press about the ethics of dropping bombs from the air, and what is now known as ‘collateral damage’. (In those days it was called ‘frightfulness’.) The Italians, however, were much cheered by the ‘wonderful moral effect’ of bombing, its capacity to demoralise and panic those on the receiving end.

A hundred years on, as missiles rain down on Gaddafi’s defences and sleeping Libyan soldiers are blasted and burned, we hear claims of a similar kind: the might of the western onslaught will dissipate all support for Gaddafi’s regime and usher in a new golden age for everyone. Just as Shock and Awe were meant to in Iraq. Or bombing and defoliation were meant to in in Vietnam. Or as the London Blitz was meant to break Britain’s spirit. Yet all the evidence suggests that dropping high explosive on places where people live increases their opposition, their solidarity and their resolve. Happy Anniversary.

Note: For more on how the little acorn of atrocity planted by Lt. Cavotti has grown into the monstrous forest that shadows the world today, see this informative piece by Tom Englehardt.

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Ancient Poison Bears New Fruit: Western Frenzy Grows in Libya

Written by Chris Floyd 21 March 2011 9132 Hits

The American war against Libya grew in intensity on Sunday, raining death in all directions -- including on civilian vehicles and Libyan forces in full retreat. Behind the full-scale barrage launched by the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, the armed opposition led by recent henchmen of Moamar Gadafy pressed forward in a military offensive. Libyan soldiers were gunned down as they fled -- a reprise of the "turkey shoot" American forces conducted on retreating Iraqis back in the first glorious Gulf War.

(But weren't they supposed to retreat? Wasn't that the purpose of the UN directive? Oh, it's so confusing!)

Here's what happened today, following yesterday's hell-storm of 110 Tomahawk missiles:

American warplanes became more involved on Sunday, with B-2 stealth bombers, F-16 and F-15 fighter jets and Harrier attack jets flown by the Marine Corps striking at Libyan ground forces, air defenses and airfields, while Navy electronic warplanes, EA-18G Growlers, jammed Libyan radar and communications ...

Rebel forces ... began to regroup in the east as allied warplanes destroyed dozens of government armored vehicles near the rebel capital, Benghazi, leaving a field of burned wreckage along the coastal road to the city. By nightfall, the rebels had pressed almost 40 miles back west...

For miles leading south, the roadsides were littered with burned trucks and burned civilian cars. In some places battle tanks had simply been abandoned, intact, as their crews fled. ... To the south, though, many had been hit as they headed away from the city in a headlong dash for escape on the long road leading to a distant Tripoli.

In other words, the "no-fly zone" supposedly imposed to stop the fighting in Libya and secure the safety of its civilians morphed very quickly into what it was always intended to be: a military intervention on behalf of one side of a civil war, leading to more war -- and to many, many more civilian casualties.

Let us put it as plainly as possible: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and Nicolas Sarkozy and the ludicrous upper-class twit called David Cameron do not give one good goddamn about the "security and freedom" of the Libyan people. They simply do not. They care about one thing only: imposing the domination of their monied, militarized elites.

Or as Alexis de Tocqueville put it following his tour of the society that Europeans had imposed -- with great savagery and deceit -- in America:

"The European is to other races of men what man in general is to animate nature. When he cannot bend them to his use or make them serve his self-interests, he destroys them and makes them vanish little by little before him."

It seems that the hapless Arab League -- whose call for a no-fly zone in Libya gave the perfect cover for the new Western war -- have belatedly recognized the truth of de Tocqueville's insight. They are now decrying the berserker frenzy of the Western forces; it was not what they had in mind at all:


The Arab League chief said on Sunday that Arabs did not want military strikes by Western powers that hit civilians when the League called for a no-fly zone over Libya.

In comments carried by Egypt's official state news agency, Secretary-General Amr Moussa also said he was calling for an emergency Arab League meeting to discuss the situation in the Arab world and particularly Libya.

"What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians," he said.

Support for Gadafy himself was virtually non-existent in the Arab world -- but unlike the spoon-fed, misinformed, incurious TV-gawkers back in the United States, the people of the region recognized full well the true nature and intentions of the onslaught:

The overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt and Tunisia's Zine al Abidine bin Ali -- as well as mass protests against leaders in Yemen and Bahrain -- have restored a dormant Arab pride which was crushed by decades of autocracy and foreign intervention.

But many people in the Arab world, while anxious to see the end of Gadhafi's rule, felt that the resort to Western military action has tarnished Libya's revolution.

"Who will accept that foreign countries attack an Arab country? This is something shameful," said Yemeni rights activist Bashir Othman.

Support for military action was also muted by deep-seated suspicions that the West is more concerned with securing access to Arab oil supplies than supporting Arab aspirations.

"They are hitting Libya because of the oil, not to protect the Libyans," said Ali al-Jassem, 53, in the village of Sitra in Bahrain, where protests by the Shi'ite Muslim majority against the Sunni ruling Al-Khalifa family have triggered military reinforcement by neighboring Gulf Arab forces.

A spokesman for Bahrain's largest Shi'ite opposition party Wefaq questioned why the West was intervening against Gadhafi while it allowed oil-producing allies to support a crackdown on protesters in Bahrain in which 11 people have been killed.

"We think what is happening in Bahrain is no different to what was happening in Libya," Ibrahim Mattar said. "Bahrain is very small so the deaths are significant for a country where Bahrainis are only 600,000."

Yet on the same day the Peace Laureate was drawing his first blood in Libya with his Zeus-like hurtling of a hundred and ten thunderbolts, his Secretary of State was publicly supporting the Saudi incursion into Bahrain, which enabled the murderous crackdown there. At the same time, American officials admitted that they did, in fact, know of the Saudi incursion in advance -- despite their heartsworn denials just a few days ago.

Again: Obama, Clinton, Sarkozy and Cameron do not give a damn about the killing of unarmed protestors in Bahrain -- any more than they give a damn about the killing of protestors, armed or unarmed, in Libya. It suits their current purposes to wage war in Libya, and so they wage war in Libya. It suits their current purposes to stand with one of the most oppressive and extremist regimes on earth to suppress, with deadly force, the yearning for democracy in Bahrain; so that's what they do.

The Peace Laureate and the bipartisan war-lovers in the American political and media elite tell us over and over that the assault on Libya is a "humanitarian intervention" aimed solely at "protecting the Libyan people." Yet at the same time, the ever-bellicose but often brutally frank Clinton states plainly, in public: "a final result of any negotiations would have to be the decision by Colonel Gadhafi to leave.”

How much plainer can it be? It is not a humanitarian intervention; it is a military operation to impose regime change -- which is, needless to say, patently illegal under the international laws which the US and the UN say they are upholding. But who cares about that?

The fact that anyone takes anything these compulsive, demonstrable liars say at face value, even for a micro-second, is one of the great mysteries of our age. Yet how many oceans of newsprint, how many blizzards of pixels have already been spent in earnest disquisitions on the serious import of their statements!

2.
Then again, there is nothing novel about this muderous absurdity, as Arthur Silber reminds us in his latest incendiary work of outrage and insight:

There isn't any "news" in these latest events. Another day, another set of war crimes. Where's the news in that? That's what the United States does now, as it has regularly and systematically for over a century. Wait, that's not right: as it has since before it even became the United States. But hell, you don't want to think about any of that too deeply or too long. If you did, how could you continue with your lamentations about the "death" of the once-noble United States and its "true" values? What are the "true" values of a nation founded and developed in very significant part on not one, but two, genocides that lasted for centuries?

Silber has much more to say; read it all -- and the links as well. (And give him any financial support you can while you are there; he continues to be one of the brightest, deepest lights we have, even as he battles excruciating -- and expensive -- health problems.)

You can also find more insight into the deep roots of our current predicament in a remarkable book by Paul VanDevelder: Savages and Scoundrels: The Untold Story of America's Road to Empire through Indian Territory.  While the book is filled with little-known historical detail about the vast legacy of deceit and destruction in the forging of the American Empire, VanDevelder also looks deeper into history for the antecedents of the bloody actions we see across the world today. For example, he points out that "laws" used by our interventionists to justify their profitable carnage are secularized versions of the arbitrarily declared papal laws and edicts which lay behind --- what else? -- the Crusades.

VanDevelder outlines the thinking of the instigator of the Crusades, Pope Innocent III, who sought ways to "legitimize" the seizure of "the property and estate of pagans, savages and infidels" -- the land-grabbing and looting which were the essence of the Crusades. He found it in the amorphous idea of "natural law" -- whose precepts were, of course, determined by the divinely directed Church.

In his encyclical Quod super his, Innocent "had given his successors the tools with which to secure and enforce the papacy's authority over all secular powers, [Christian or pagan]. ... The pope was empowered by a universal right, one recognized in natural law, to enforce the union of Christian civilization with that of the infidel races..."

"Consequently," VanDevelder writes, "the pope not only had jurisdiction over the wandering infidels, he was also duty-bound to intervene in situations where those infidels were found to be in violation of natural and divine laws." And of course, failure to surrender to Christianity -- and its militarized elites -- was an egregious violation of "natural and divine law," punishable by death, decimation and destruction.

Building on this, Church doctine later declared that the pope had a duty to "deny that infidels had any valid legal right to own property and rule over their own lands." They could only do so on sufferance from the power that held "universal jurisdiction" over world affairs. Pope Eugenius IV "decreed that the pope could intervene in the internal affairs of foreign lands as the guardian of the wayward souls who lived there."

Reformation powers like Elizabthean England secularized these notions to justify their own conquests. As VanDevelder notes, both crown advocates and Protestant clergymen advanced the notion that "'the just quest by the sword' of savage pagans in foreign lands was the solemn duty of civilized people. ... Where the English were concerned, justifying the conquest of foreign lands was a simple matter of replacing hieratic authority with the secular crown. Lord Coke bundled all these arguments into one by telling King James I that his foremost responsibility as king was to subjugate the savages to civilized laws of natural justice and equity."

After the Revolution, the American elites adopted these by-now ancient -- and arbitrary -- principles of domination. They took on the mantle of "universal jurisdiction" -- i.e., the right to determine "the right way of life for mankind," as Innocent III had put it -- along with the solemn duty to impose civilization, by force if necessary, on all the wayward savages who lack it -- or even worse, refuse it. The end result, of course, was a relentless record of deceit (every single treaty signed with sovereign Indian nations in the course of the 18th and 19th centuries was broken), rapine and ethnic cleansing.

Today this militarized "universal jurisdiction" which sprang from the ambitions of the Crusader Pope has passed, nominally, to the United Nations (although as we have seen in recent years, our American elites still consider themselves to be the true possessors of this "right," and will eagerly use it unilaterally whenever the UN proves recalcitrant). Substitute "the will of the international community" for "Christianity" and so on, and you need hardly change a word from the historical documents reaching back centuries.

But from the horrendous atrocities of the First Crusade to the computerized carnage being wrought in Libya today, the noble rhetoric of freedom, enlightenment, protection and liberation has masked base self-interest, murderous racism, bottomless corruption, outrageous deceit and wanton destruction. As Silber notes, what we are seeing today is nothing new; it is just another deep, dirty, self-inflicted wound to the human spirit.

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First Blood: American Missiles Rain Down on Libya

Written by Chris Floyd 19 March 2011 8942 Hits

When the UN intervention into Libya was first announced, we immediately heard how the United States would not be in the forefront of the military action; the lead would be taken by other nations, with US acting largely as a supplier and facilitator for the "broad-based coalition" arrayed against Libya (including some real live Ay-rabs! as the interventionists enthusiastically noted.) But it took less than two days to give the lie to this claim.

On Saturday, just after the French -- who have extensive oil interest in Libya -- jumped the gun on the UN coalition and started attacking Libyan ground forces, the United States joined in with a missile attack on Libyan cities. Not a few missiles; not 10 or 30 or 50 missiles -- but a full barrage of 110 Tomahawk missiles, slamming into Tripoli and Misurata.

This was always in the cards, from the earliest mooting of a "no-fly zone."  This PR concept conjures up the idea of knightly pilots chasing the aircraft of the evil ones from the sky -- a jousting between combatants high in the heavens, far removed from the people below. But "no-fly zones" are always accompanied, of necessity, by attacks to "degrade" the "command-and-control centers" of the designated enemy of the day. (Almost always a heinous dictator swimming in arms and money given to him by the West before he did something to displease his patrons and business partners.) This means attacks on ground installations and headquarters -- which, as in the United States, are often located in the midst of civilian areas, and, as in the United States, filled with civilian workers. It also means, invariably, attacks on regular miltary forces of the designated enemy who are helping sustain the miscreant's operations. A "no-fly zone" always means a full-scale military attack with everything except ground troops, with an inevitable harvest of civilian deaths. Hell, you can even conduct a whole war with this mechanism, as the United States and its allies did against Serbia.

In any case, the game is now afoot. Barack Obama has drawn his first blood from Libya, which now becomes the sixth (at least) Muslim nation in which he has launched deadly military actions, joining Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. (Of course, the Administration has bragged that it is carrying out secret wars and covert operations in more than 70 countries, with several other Muslim nations certainly among that number.) The West and its reliable dictators in the Arab world are now fully committed to one side in the Libyan civil war, and are actively seeking to bring to power an armed opposition group led by a man who was a chief agent of Gadafy's repression. (As As'ad AbuKhalil has noted, Gadafy's erstwhile strongmen have "hijacked" the Libyan revolution.) Meanwhile, the autocratic allies of Barack Obama and the other interventionist powers continue to kill and repress unarmed civilians in Yemen and Bahrain without the slightest negative consequence, beyond a few hackneyed harrumphs served up briefly for public consumption by their string-pullers back in Washington.

But this too is another invariable by-product of armed intervention: murderous hypocrisy.

Meanwhile, Abdel al-Bari Atwan (editor-in-chief of Al-Quds Al-Arabi, the pan-Arab newspaper based in London) asks some pertinent questions about the intervention in a Guardian piece aptly titled, "Relief will fade as we see the real impact of intervention in Libya":

First, what motives lie behind this intervention? While the UN was voting to impose a no-fly zone in Libya, at least 40 civilians were killed in a US drone attack in Waziristan in Pakistan. And as I write, al-Jazeera is broadcasting scenes of carnage from Sanaa, Yemen, where at least 40 protesters have been shot dead. But there will be no UN no-fly zone to protect Pakistani civilians from US attacks, or to protect Yemenis. One cannot help but question the selective involvement of the west in the so-called "Arab spring" series of uprisings. ...

Gaddafi knows how to play the Arab street, too. At the moment he has little, if any, public support; his influence is limited to his family and tribe. But he may use this intervention to present himself as the victim of post-colonialist interference in pursuit of oil. He is likely to pose the question that is echoing around the Arab world – why wasn't there a no-fly zone over Gaza when the Israelis were bombarding it in 2008/9? ...

Finally, there is the worry that the Arab spring will be derailed by events in Libya. If uprising plus violent suppression equals western intervention, the long-suffering Arab subjects of the region's remaining autocrats might be coerced into sticking with the status quo.

The last point may be the crux of the matter. Western leaders have obviously been casting about for  some way to put the brakes on the Arab Awakening before it sweeps away any more of their reliable client-dictators. Libya presents the perfect opportunity for them to muddy the waters, and try to turn the whole movement into the usual murky, bloody quagmire of global power politics. In any case, it is hard to believe that a burning, yearning solicitude for the people of Libya is what is actually motivating our noble interventionists -- who haven't shown the slight crumb of concern for the Libyan populace until now.

NOTE: To decry the course of action being taken by the interventionists in Libya is not to "support" Gadafy. (Unlike his present attackers, who have supported him most sumptuously for years.) This should go without saying, but of course it can't; this witless denunciation is invariably trotted out against anyone who does not immediately jump on the bloodsoaked bandwagon whenever our leaders start killing people. (You can only oppose this mass production of foreign corpses after it's over -- and even then, you can only describe it as a mistake, or an example of good intentions gone awry through incompetence or happenstance.) But as I noted in the comments here recently:

To oppose an outside military invention is not the same thing as "supporting" whomever the intervention is aimed against. It is simply to look at the historical record and see what the fruits of these interventions actually are. They are, invariably, a widening of the conflict, a vast increase in civilian suffering (even in interventions ostensibly launched specifically to prevent civilian suffering), years of widening, rippling instability, pervasive corruption by war profiteers, and a further militarizing of world society. It is exacerbating an evil by contributing an equal or even greater evil to the mix.

This is especially true in this case, as at present, the Libyan opposition is being led by a breakaway faction of Gadafy's own thuggish regime. The leader of the opposition was, until just a few weeks ago, an integral part of Gadafy's use of "brutality against his people." If he and his clique are the ones who take power after an intervention, we will have merely exchanged one faction of Gadafy's regime for another. But I doubt if this would bother our humanitarian interventionists; they have been making profitable deals with Gadafy for years. They can go on making profitable deals with one of his former henchmen just as well.

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Further Thoughts on Politics and Despair

Written by Chris Floyd 19 March 2011 6820 Hits

I don't want to make a habit of using blog posts to respond to comments, but a reply to a recent piece in which I did just that seemed to me to call for a more substantial response than a comment thread can easily contain. So, begging your indulgence once again, here is the exchange: first the commenter's message, and then my answer.

From "Pjerome58:
As much as I admire, and regularly read, Chris Floyd's blog, this response to Pinquot was disturbing in itself.  Politics is more than a toxin to be flushed and "waste managed."  Although I can agree that "politics" in the sense of parliamentary shenanigans is mere shadow boxing, a ruse to make us think that our votes somehow affect the way a nation or state or city is governed, "politics" in the broader sense affects us all the time.  It is nice to contemplate astronomy and musical chords and the origins of cognition, but at the end (and beginning) of the day, everyone eats/works/lives in a world where wars are fought, people are imprisoned, children are deprived of food, women are not safe in their own homes, and on and on.  Particularly for Americans, there is an undeniable responsibility to try to counter the violence and militarism that is stampeding across the globe, to somehow take on the banksters robbing many of us blind, and to pierce the mythology of two-party "politics" in this country.

So what are we to do?  Mr. Floyd seems to be telling us to compartmentalize "politics," that cesspool of human behavior, and get on with life.  That's fine, but now that we know (via Mr. Floyd and many other commentators and some reporters, and through our daily experiences), do we ignore the dark side of life?  I work on behalf of incarcerated people, providing legal assistance and often relieving some of their daily suffering.  It is grueling, often demoralizing, but ultimately more satisfying for me than learning to play the piano or taking up watercolors.  In my spare hours, I often carry a sign in support of Bradley Manning or to end wars fought in my name, try to organize to combat FBI surveillance on my friends, and take up other "political" causes.   And here I can identify with Pinquot's plight in the sense that I often like to think I am making a difference in the bigger world, that my work is changing things, that my political work is important, but then I read about horrors going on in places I have never been and will never likely visit (Somalia, Pakistan, Iraq, Japan) and despair.  What's the use?  Why bother?  Sometimes, despair is overwhelming, although I have not yet considered heroin.

So Mr, Floyd, what to do?  Yes, there is much more to life than struggle, but I cannot turn away from it.  I won't turn away from it.  I read a novel every now and then, listen to music daily, try to exercise regularly and all that, but still, there is despair.  I would like a better answer than to simply "treat" the "waste product" that you call politics.

My reply:
First of all, your main objection or concern about my post seems to come down a matter of semantics. I described "politics" in terms of toxic waste; you read that, and said, "Hey, I consider my activist work a form of politics -- and I don't think it's a toxin." It's just a matter of how one defines the term "politics." In my post, I set out -- very early on, and very clearly -- what I meant by "politics." Here is what I said: "Politics -- the machinations of the stunted, damaged souls and third-rate minds who hanker for power."

Ironically, this is very close to your statement: "I can agree that "politics" in the sense of parliamentary shenanigans is mere shadow boxing, a ruse to make us think that our votes somehow affect the way a nation or state or city is governed." Right then, we are in perfect agreement. So what exactly is the problem? I defined "politics" -- a large, amorphous term -- in a specific way for the purposes of the blog post, and set out clearly what I meant by it. I'm surprised that anyone could construe this usage as some kind of devaluation or undermining of activism. 

In any case, here is how you yourself describe the political world, the 'world of power,' as I called it: "a world where wars are fought, people are imprisoned, children are deprived of food, women are not safe in their own homes .... [where] violence and militarism [are] stampeding across the globe ... banksters robbing many of us blind ...."

What is all that, then, if it is not toxic? And yes, we all have to deal with it, every day, in a myriad of ways, short-term and long-term -- and that 'dealing with it' is precisely the "waste management" I was talking about. We have to devise ways to deal with the sewage and trash our bodies and our behaviors produce as we live our daily lives; it is just the same with politics, as we deal with the toxins produced by those who pursue and wield power.

If you like, we can extend the metaphor and say that "politics" -- in the sense of those strange people who crave domination over others seeking office, and the policies and practices they carry out in power -- constitutes the rawest kind of sewage, the highly toxic, sick-making material that taints and degrades anyone who plunges into it and stays there, churning around in partisan fervor, etc. And the efforts that others make to alleviate or mitigate or, yes, even remove the sewage produced by power-seekers are what constitute the "waste management" of this toxic by-product. You might not find the term "waste management" noble enough, and that's a fair point. I think it's a pretty honorable profession myself, but again, this is just semantics. Call it anything you like, come up with some other metaphor. But the realities -- the toxic nature of domination over others and the necessity to deal with it -- remain the same.

You say that I call on people to "compartmentalize politics" and "get on with life." Then you seem to imply that I advocate "ignoring the dark side of life." But when I say clearly that "waste management" is an unavoidable part of life,  how is that "ignoring" the "dark side"? (And how do you square this criticism -- that I advocate ignoring the dark side of life -- with my observation that a sense of the tragic element in life is part of a deeper understanding of reality -- an understanding that "politics" lacks?)

As for "compartmentalizing" aspects of one's life -- so what? Everyone 'compartmentalizes' all manner of things, all day long, if only for moments at a time. That's just an ordinary function of consciousness. But of course our awareness of all the aspects of life permeates our consciousness as a whole; the "dark side" doesn't disappear when we concentrate on something else -- but neither do, say, the beauty and wonder and numinous qualities to be found in life, which I sketched briefly in the post in this way:

...Beyond the thunder and spectacle of this ape-roaring world is another state of reality, emerging from the murk of our baser functions. There is power here, too, but not the heavy, blood-sodden bulk of dominance. Instead, it's a power of radiance, of awareness, connection, breaking through in snaps of heightened perception, moments of encounter and illumination that lift us from the slime.

It takes ten million forms, could be in anything – a rustle of leaves, the tang of salt, a bending blues note, the sweep of shadows on a tin roof, the catch in a voice, the touch of a hand, a line from Sappho or John Clare. Any particular, specific combination of ever-shifting elements, always unrepeatable in its exact effect and always momentary....

And yes, you can add political moments in that catalogue of "moments of encounter and illumination," as I say very clearly in the post, noting that "the greatest moments, the epiphanies ... do happen in politics on rare occasions, one must admit."

So in the main, I have to say that I don't quite get the drift of your message. You seem to feel that I am advocating some kind of quietism, when that is demonstrably not true. You ask me to tell you "what are we to do," when, for what it's worth, I said exactly what I thought we are to do, as plainly as I could, in the very piece you are commenting upon. Such as here:

So do we counsel fatalism, a dark, defeated surrender, a retreat into bitter, curdled quietude? Not a whit. We advocate action, positive action, unstinting action, doing the only thing that human beings can do, ever: Try this, try that, try something else again; discard those approaches that don't work, that wreak havoc, that breed death and cruelty; fight against everything that would draw us down again into our own mud; expect no quarter, no lasting comfort, no true security; offer no last word, no eternal truth, but just keep stumbling, falling, careening, backsliding, crawling toward the broken light.

How much clearer do you want me to be? Should I draw up a list of specific actions we all should take, lay down some doctrinal line that should be enforced on everyone?

But here is the most ironic thing of all: You yourself are already doing exactly what I advocate doing. You say: "I work on behalf of incarcerated people, providing legal assistance and often relieving some of their daily suffering."

You spend your life relieving the daily suffering of human beings in distress -- I honestly believe this is a very noble, even heroic thing to do. It is precisely the kind of action I have advocated and praised and encouraged over and over and over again, year after year after year, in my writing.  You do it on a direct, individual basis -- you help mitigate the suffering of a fellow human being, and in doing so, you set an example for the rest of us on how to fight against those elements of reality -- and of our own psyches -- that would "draw us down again into our own mud."

So why on God's earth are you asking me to tell you what we should do? What I have already plainly said we should do, you are doing. You are doing it in the most real, concrete way possible. You help prisoners, you advocate for Bradley Manning, you march against war, you try to combat government encroachments on liberty, and so on. This is precisely, exactly the way I believe we should "treat" the "'waste product' that [I] call politics." This is precisely what I believe we should do to defy, resist and mitigate the cruelty and brutality and machinations of power.

Where -- in the post in question or throughout all of the millions of words I've blathered out in print and blogosphere -- can you find anything, even the slightest hint, that I advocate that people should "turn away from struggle," or that such activity is worthless, pointless, or that we should set it aside and "get on with life," ignoring the "dark side" in favor of (as you put it with what seems to be a bit of unfortunate sneering) "learning to play the piano or taking up watercolors"? (If you find activism more satisfying that playing the piano, that's fine; but of course, some people find both of them satisfying. So why sneer at them?)

So again, I don't really catch your drift. You say you don't turn away from struggle, but you do "read a novel every now and then, listen to music daily, try to exercise regularly and all that"; how is that any different from what I was writing about? Again, you ask me "what to do?" Well, you are doing all that I would advocate. I don't know what more you want me to tell you.

Unless you want me to tell you how not to despair about horrors going on in other parts of the world -- or somehow convince you that the work you do alleviating human suffering "makes a difference in the bigger world," that it "changes things" and that your "political work is important." I don't know how to answer that. If you don't find relieving some of the daily suffering of prisoners to have sufficient meaning in itself, to be of sufficient importance to do in its own right, then what can I say? I do find such things to have the most utmost importance, the most profound meaning -- whether they "change things" in some ultimate sense or lead to some kind of eventual transformation of society, or not.

"What's the use?" you say you sometimes feel. "Why bother?" Well, I guess the answer to these questions can be found in another question: "Why do you do these things in the first place?" Is it not precisely because you want to alleviate the suffering of individual human beings? Then what more "importance" do you need? Is it worthless or pointless to help someone even if it doesn't change the world, or even if someone else is suffering elsewhere? Should you stop doing it -- should you not help a prisoner, should you not try to stop a war or an atrocity -- just because it won't magically change human nature, and that wars and atrocities and the suffering of prisoners will still go on? Would you refrain from saving an individual child from drowning just because, well, children are always going to drown sometimes no matter what, and even if I save this kid here, some child in Somalia is drowning, so what's the point? Of course you wouldn't say that. But this is exactly the same logic that seems to be animating your despair.

Finally, why do you think you can or should live without despair? Are you really asking me to tell you how to do that? What do you want me to say? That God or Science or the dialectic will make it all work out in the long run? Would that give you comfort? Well, I can't say that, because I don't believe it. I don't believe that a thinking, feeling person can exist in the world as it is without knowing despair. That's part of the tragic element of existence that I was talking about.

But such despair doesn't "overwhelm" me, or make me think that efforts to alleviate the suffering of individual human beings are of no use. Despair exists, and I feel it often and deeply, but it doesn't make me think that those moments of connection, awareness, encounter, radiance and beauty I spoke of above are meaningless. I am not overwhelmed by despair because I believe that reality exists in moments and only in moments, and that at any given time, a moment can be redeemed, can be suffused with profound and, if you like, ultimate meaning, in and of itself. There are many ways of redeeming the moments of existence -- and one way, certainly, is by doing precisely what you are doing in your prison work and activism.

The moment of connection, the moment of helping, the moment of awareness -- each is important in and of itself. Now, it may be that these moments can build upon one another; that one moment of helping or awareness can lead to another. They might serve as an example to others to seek out such moments for themselves. I am sure this is true on an individual level. And I'm not saying that there cannot be, over vast stretches of time, an accumulation of such moments -- and the legacies they leave -- that could lead to greater changes in human nature and society. I don't know if that's true or not, if that's how reality works or not; but precisely because I don't know, I can't discount this latter possibility out of hand.

But again, whether this is possible or not doesn't really matter to me, or leave me overwhelmed. The moments of connection, awareness, numinosity, etc. that occur within Being -- within reality as it is now, as I can comprehend it with my limited understanding  -- these moments are enough for me, they hold sufficient meaning in themselves. I don't require them to be part of some grand cosmic scheme, or some greater march toward progress.

These are the apprehensions and comprehensions of reality that I have come to over many decades of thinking about such things -- and of dealing with the tragedies and joys of life. Of course, these understandings are constantly being refined -- and challenged -- by new knowledge, new experiences, new reflections on the past, and so on. But what I wrote in the post -- and especially in the older passages quoted in that post -- set out as clearly as possible the broad outlines of my thinking on these matters. If you want an "answer" from me, that's all I've got.

If you want a "better answer" -- as well you might -- then you'll need to ask someone else .... or even figure it out for yourself.

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Bloodbath in Yemen: No UN Action for the Peace Laureate's Pal

Written by Chris Floyd 18 March 2011 6395 Hits

(UPDATED BELOW)

(UPDATED AGAIN)

This just in: spurred on by the United States and Saudi Arabia, the UN Security Council has just authorized immediate military intervention in Yemen to stop the government's wanton slaughter of innocent civilians engaging in peaceful protest.

The vote came just hours after government security forces in Yemen opened fire on unarmed, peaceful protestors in the capital city of Sana. Tens of thousands of ordinary citizens had turned out for the demonstration, which was part of  an ongoing campaign of non-violent dissent against repression, injustice, inequality and deprivation in the nation, ruled by strongman President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that "we cannot stand by and watch authoritarian governments gun down their own unarmed citizens in the street."  The Security Council authorized a wide range of military actions against Yemen, although an outright military occupation was not authorized. "These creatures who do terrible things to their own people must know they will be held accountable by the world community," said Clinton, after arriving in Bahrain for what she called "friendly talks" with King Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa on "securing stability in the region."

Oh wait, that didn't happen. The regime in Yemen will not face military intervention by the UN to stop its slaughter of unarmed civilians. There will be, at most, a few stern words from the Obama Administration urging "restraint on both sides" -- even as the Peace Laureate carries on his secret bombing campaigns and covert military operations in Yemen, with the eager cooperation of Saleh. "Restraint," in the degraded imperial parlance of our day, means that unarmed people should allow themselves to be mowed down by American-backed governments without making a big fuss about it. In exchange, Washington will then publicly urge its local client tyrant to "move" on "the reform process" -- even as it sells him more weapons and kills more of his people in its covert ops.

But as the world's attention was drawn to Libya, here's what the Peace Laureate's good buddy in Yemen has been up to today. From the NYT:

Security forces and government supporters opened fire on demonstrators on Friday as the largest protest so far in Yemen came under violent and sustained attack in the center of the capital, Sana. At least 10 people were killed and more than 100 injured, according to a doctor at a makeshift hospital near the protest. ...

Government supporters in plain clothes fired down on the demonstration from rooftops and windows almost immediately after the protesters rose from their noon prayers, conducted en masse in the street on Friday. ...

A man walked through the crowd with a microphone yelling, “Peaceful, peaceful! Don’t be afraid of the bullets!”

At the same time, a large number of riot police officers massed at the south end of the protest, opening fire with guns and a water cannons in an effort to keep demonstrators from moving further into the center of the capital. ...

As the violence escalated, many in central Sana took cover. “Today is the worst day; this is a new Qaddafi,” said Khalil al-Zekry, who hunkered down in his video shop along the protest route.

But you will wait in vain to see a UN Security Council intervention directed at this new Gadafy. Instead, we will no doubt soon hear from the Peace Laureate's staunch ally in secret Terror War that the slaughter on Friday was "unauthorized," carried out by "rogue elements," and that -- wait for it -- "an investigation will immediately be launched."

That's how it's done when you're in good standing with the imperial bosses back on the Potomac -- and when there is no other potential client strongman waiting in the wings, as in Libya.

UPDATE: The death count in Yemen is now 30, and will almost certainly rise higher.

UPDATE 2: Well, just as we said, Yemen's "president" -- if that's what you call someone who has ruled a country for 32 years -- has denied that government forces were involved in the mass slaughter of unarmed protestors in the capital today. [The death toll has now risen to 40.] The NY Times reports:

At a news conference in Sana, Mr. Saleh claimed that the clashes on Friday were between “citizens and demonstrators” and that “the police were not present and did not open fire.”

The Peace Laureate finally managed to comment on the killings, sternly wagging his finger at his Terror War ally, telling him that he must live up the "set of universal rights" that "the United States stands for."

It is not known if the President then went down to the war room to watch video of the latest killing of young children and other unarmed civilians by his Predators and Reapers and helicopter gunships in Afghanistan, Pakistan -- and Yemen.

Meanwhile, here's a taste of what his pal was up to in Sana today. From the Guardian:

"They shot people in the back of the head as they were running away," said Mohammed al-Jamil, an Indian doctor treating the wounded. "Whoever did this wanted these people to die."

Children were also caught up in the violence.

"My brother is twelve years old, they shot him twice, once in the arm and once in the leg," shouted a young man through a crackling microphone to a roaring crowd of thousands outside the mosque. "Saleh would rather shoot us all before stepping down."

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