Unguarded Guardians: The Rampant Abuses of our Prison Profiteers

Written by Chris Floyd 20 October 2011 8452 Hits

The ACLU has just released documentation of the rampant sexual abuse of female immigration detainees at the hands of our enlightened guardians. The latter include the Corrections Corporation of America, the private prison company that has parlayed its insider poitical connections to become one of the nation's largest profiteers of human suffering.

This news brought to mind a story I wrote awhile back on the origins of prison profiteering and one of its founding fathers, Lamar Alexander. Unfortunately, this was one of the stories that were completely destroyed in the many hack attacks on this website. So I thought I would take this opportunity to repost it. The subject is still all too germane; indeed, the cancer of prison profiteering has only grown more and more malignant since the story's first appearance in 2009, fueled by the Nobel Peace Laureate's record-breaking (and profit-making) round-ups and expulsions of immigrants.

So below is a reprise of the text (most of the links were also lost) of that vanished piece from March 2009.


1. Ex Nihilo

Lamar Alexander is certainly one of the biggest non-entities in the history of modern American politics. You would have to range far and wide to find a more negligible, pointless, unproductive figure on the national level than Alexander, the senior U.S. senator from Tennessee; indeed, you’d be hard-pressed to find such a one on the smallest school board or city council in the remotest corner of the country.

Perhaps only George Walker Bush could match Alexander in the "coasting through life with corporate coddling" sweepstakes. Like Bush, Alexander was once a Republican governor who did almost no work in office, letting the Democratic leaders of the state legislature — with whom he had some cozy business entanglements — handle the nitty-gritty of governing while he whiled away the hours greasing wheels for his cronies and cutting sweetheart deals to enrich himself.

And like Bush with his Crawford dude ranch, Alexander adopted an entirely faux pose as a son-of-the-soil type in a cynical campaign ploy. Following a first, failed attempt at the governorship in 1974 — in which he had his head handed to him on a platter by a genuine son of the soil, the genially corrupt Ray Blanton, who hammered away at the fact that L’il Lamar had gotten his political schooling in the bowels of Richard Nixon’s White House — Alexander ditched his five-hundred dollar suits for a plaid work shirt, to show that he was jes’ plain folks. In the race to replace the scandal-scarred Blanton in 1978, the plaid-clad Alexander thundered that his opponent, obscure country banker Jake Butcher, owned an interest in an establishment that served — gasp! — demon rum. The fact that Alexander also owned shares in an upscale eatery that served liquor did not, of course, deter him from his attack on Butcher’s lack of Christian morals. Alexander’s PR machine swept past Butcher’s bumpkinish campaign and got him into the statehouse for his eight years of goofing off.

He then floated into the presidency of the University of Tennessee (where he signed my paychecks for three years), again doing nothing but scratching his ears and feathering his nest. In 1991, George Herbert Walker Bush summoned Alexander to Washington, naming him Secretary of Education — an obvious joke on George Herbert’s part, given Lamar’s previous call for the Department of Education to be abolished.

(George Herbert’s literally wicked sense of humor is too little appreciated, I think. Like a lot of humor, Herbie’s jokes involved the cloaked expression of savage malice — in this case, malice toward the country he was supposedly governing. For example, there was his deliberate, knowing choice of an incompetent, unstable political hack — Clarence Thomas — to take the place of the venerated Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court. And then of course, there was Bush’s supreme joke: choosing frat-boy goofball Dan Quayle to stand a heartbeat away from the presidency. This level of Coriolanus-like contempt for the rabble was not matched until 2008, when John McCain picked dimbulb Christianist warrior Sarah Palin as his running mate — while Barack Obama picked the plagiarizing corporate bagman Joe Biden as his. But we digress.)

After Herbie lost the White House to Bill Clinton, the man he now considers his "son" — and with whom he curiously shared his leading benefactor in 1992 — Alexander was forced onto the corporate board breadline, where he eked out a meager existence on a few hundred thou a year, plus the usual sweetheart stock deals, while launching his two hilariously abysmal bids for the White House in 1996 and 2000.

Finally, in 2002, this suit of clothes — or rather, this puffed-up plaid shirt — walked into the wasteland that has become the U.S. senatorship of Tennessee, where such egregious goobers as Fred Thompson, Bill Frist and Bob Corker (who is actually giving Lamar a strong run for the money as the nation’s greatest political non-entity) have prowled around to very little purpose other than their own self-aggrandizement. Lamar was the choice of the Bush organization to fill the shoes of jowly, growly Fred when he ambled off to television, and Alexander duly served George Walker faithfully, most signally in his staunch support for Bush’s criminal invasion of Iraq.

"A slight unmeritable man," then, "meet to be sent on errands," as Marc Antony says of the non-entity Lepidus in Julius Caesar. And yet despite the big blank spot that Alexander has left in American politics, he should be rightly regarded as a Founding Father of one of the most profound and far-reaching developments in American society, one which will reverberate in a myriad of ways through generations: turning convicts into cannon fodder for corporate profits.

II. Miracle Money and Failing Upward

As is well known, the United States of America locks up more of its people — both in bulk and by percentage — than any other nation on earth. According to the International Centre for Prison Studies at King’s College, London, there were 2,293,157 people behind bars in the United States at the end of 2007, the latest year for which totals are available. The incarceration rate is 756 prisoners per every 100,000 of the general population: a staggering rate that far surpasses the closest competitor, Russia, which jails 626 out of every 100,000 of its people, or Communist China, which jails 119 out of every 100,000. Indeed, America’s total prison population outstrips China’s by more than half a million — even though China’s population is five times larger than America’s. It also far outstrips Russia’s puny total of 887,000 prisoners. With the possible exception of the Soviet Union under Stalin, no country in history has ever incarcerated more of its citizens than the United States does today.

The prison population saw runaway growth under George Walker, but, as I wrote almost three years ago:

Bush is merely standing on the shoulders of giants – such as, say, Bill Clinton, who once created 50 brand-new federal offenses in a single draconian measure, and expanded the federal death penalty to 60 new offenses during his term. In fact, like the great cathedrals of old, the building of Fortress America has been the work of decades, with an entire society yoked to the common task. At each step, the promulgation of ever-more draconian punishments for ever-lesser offenses, and the criminalization of ever-broader swathes of ordinary human behavior, have been greeted with hosannahs from a public and press who seem to be insatiable gluttons for punishment – someone else’s punishment, that is, and preferably someone of dusky hue.

The main engine of this mass incarceration has been the 35-year "war on drugs": a spurious battle against an abstract noun that provides an endless fount of profits, payoffs and power for the politically connected while only worsening the problem it purports to address – just like the "war on terror." The "war on drugs" has in fact been the most effective assault on an underclass since Stalin’s campaign against the kulaks.

It was launched by Richard Nixon, after urban unrest had shaken major American cities during those famous "long, hot summers" of the Sixties. Yet even as the crackdowns began, America’s inner cities were being flooded with heroin, much of it originating in Southeast Asia, where the CIA and its hired warlords ran well-funded black ops in and around Vietnam. At home, criminal gangs reaped staggering riches from the criminalization of the natural, if often unhealthy, human craving for intoxication. Ronald Reagan upped the ante in the 1980s, with a rash of "mandatory sentencing" laws that can put even first-time, small-time offenders away for years. His term also saw a new flood — crack cocaine – devastating the inner cities, even as his covert operators used drug money to fund the terrorist Contra army in Nicaragua and run illegal weapons to Iran, while the downtown druglords grew more powerful. The American underclass was caught in a classic pincer movement, attacked by both the state and the gangs. There were no more "long, hot summers" of protest against injustice; there was simply the struggle to survive.

Under Reagan, Bush I and Clinton, the feverish privatization of the prison system added a new impetus for wholesale, long-term detention. Politically-wired corporations need to keep those profit-making cells filled, and the politicians they grease are happy to oblige with "tougher" sentences and new crimes to prosecute.

And here we come to little ole Lamar. As noted, the floodgates into prison gaped wide in the 1980s. This human flotsam was too tempting a resource to remain unexploited. Also, there was big money to be made from the harsh and vengeful spirit coursing through the political landscape in those days, with the continuing call to build more and more prisons to hold the Drug War captives and the "three-strikers" who were being sentenced to life in prison for a string of often minor offenses. Anyone hot-wired into a major political establishment – a state government, say – could coin it like crazy from those cooped-up cons.

Enter the Corrections Corporation of America, a private prison company co-founded and led by Tom Beasley, a long-time Alexander operative and former chairman of the state GOP, who had helped manage Lamar’s campaigns, and had even lived in his house for a time, as AgainstPuryear.org notes. Beasley and his partners were staked by a venture cap maven named Jack Massey – another old pal of Lamar’s. While CCA was lobbying the state government run by their friend for a $250 million contract to take over the state’s prisons, it emerged that Alexander’s wife, Honey, has somehow acquired $8,900 worth of CCA stock – the kind of sweet deal that jes’ plain folks rarely run across.

To avoid embarrassment, Honey traded her stock straight up for shares in an insurance holding company owned by none other than CCA bankroller Jack Massey. When Honey sold off her insurance stock, her $8,900 had miraculously turned into a $142,000 windfall. (The Alexanders have been the lucky recipients of several such miracles. For example, Lamar picked up corporate board goofing-off pork for years from Chris Whittle, the Knoxville tycoon who spearheaded the corporate invasion of public schools. When Lamar became Education Secretary, and very ethically left Whittle’s service, one of Whittle’s other minions "bought the Alexanders’ Knoxville home for $977,500 – more than $400,000 more than they had paid for it a year before," as the Ethical Spectacle reports. Whittle also bought back $10,000 worth of his company’s stock from Alexander – for the tidy sum of $330,000.)

In the end, CCA’s handling of Tennessee’s prisons turned out to be so cack-handed that the state had to take back all but one of them. But Lamar was long gone by that time, with Honey’s miracle money in his pocket, while CCA – benefiting from that "failing upward" phenomenon so typical of American business – had inexplicably established itself as the major player in the burgeoning prison privatization racket. As Global Research reports:

Private prisons are the biggest business in the prison industry complex. About 18 corporations guard 10,000 prisoners in 27 states. The two largest are Correctional Corporation of America (CCA) and Wackenhut, which together control 75%. Private prisons receive a guaranteed amount of money for each prisoner, independent of what it costs to maintain each one. According to Russell Boraas, a private prison administrator in Virginia, "the secret to low operating costs is having a minimal number of guards for the maximum number of prisoners." The CCA has an ultra-modern prison in Lawrenceville, Virginia, where five guards on dayshift and two at night watch over 750 prisoners. In these prisons, inmates may get their sentences reduced for "good behavior," but for any infraction, they get 30 days added – which means more profits for CCA. According to a study of New Mexico prisons, it was found that CCA inmates lost "good behavior time" at a rate eight times higher than those in state prisons.

Building on its success in skimping on such fripperies as sufficient guards and food in order to squeeze maximum profits out of its prisons, CCA soon expanded its operations across the sea to the UK, where it found an even more eager audience of well-connected grease merchants. George Monbiot reports:

Encouraged by the committee’s report, the Corrections Corporation of America set up a consortium in Britain with two Conservative party donors, Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd and John Mowlem & Co, to promote privately financed prisons over here. The first privately-run prison in the UK, Wolds, was opened by the Danish security company Group 4 in 1992. In 1993, before it had had a chance to evaluate this experiment, the government announced that all new prisons would be built and run by private companies.

The Labour party, then in opposition, was outraged. John Prescott promised that “Labour will take back private prisons into public ownership – it is the only safe way forward.”(Jack Straw stated that “it is not appropriate for people to profit out of incarceration. This is surely one area where a free market certainly does not exist”. He too promised to “bring these prisons into proper public control and run them directly as public services.”

But during his first seven weeks in office, Jack Straw renewed one private prison contract and launched two new ones. A year later he announced that all new prisons in England and Wales would be built and run by private companies, under the private finance initiative.

Well, what else would you expect from a party – "New" Labour – that modeled itself on Bill Clinton’s "triage" strategy: i.e., adopting a endless slew of right-wing policies and simply calling them "progressive." This philosophy – which has been adapted wholesale by the Obama Administration and its horde of Clinton and Bush retreads – was succinctly summed up by George Orwell: "Four legs good, two legs better."

III. Bringing It All Back Home

Of course, wholesale privatization is only one prong of the fork that sweetheart dealers have plunged into that juicy prison pork. As Global Research reports, major corporations have moved into state prisons as well, tying their own profits – and increasing proportions of the American economy – to the need for an endless, expanding supply of convict labor:

Who is investing? At least 37 states have legalized the contracting of prison labor by private corporations that mount their operations inside state prisons. The list of such companies contains the cream of U.S. corporate society: IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, TWA, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and many more. All of these businesses are excited about the economic boom generation by prison labor. Just between 1980 and 1994, profits went up from $392 million to $1.31 billion. Inmates in state penitentiaries generally receive the minimum wage for their work, but not all; in Colorado, they get about $2 per hour, well under the minimum. And in privately-run prisons, they receive as little as 17 cents per hour for a maximum of six hours a day, the equivalent of $20 per month. The highest-paying private prison is CCA in Tennessee, where prisoners receive 50 cents per hour for what they call "highly skilled positions." At those rates, it is no surprise that inmates find the pay in federal prisons to be very generous. There, they can earn $1.25 an hour and work eight hours a day, and sometimes overtime. They can send home $200-$300 per month.

Thanks to prison labor, the United States is once again an attractive location for investment in work that was designed for Third World labor markets. A company that operated a maquiladora (assembly plant in Mexico near the border) closed down its operations there and relocated to San Quentin State Prison in California. In Texas, a factory fired its 150 workers and contracted the services of prisoner-workers from the private Lockhart Texas prison, where circuit boards are assembled for companies like IBM and Compaq.

[Former] Oregon State Representative Kevin Mannix recently urged Nike to cut its production in Indonesia and bring it to his state, telling the shoe manufacturer that "there won’t be any transportation costs; we’re offering you competitive prison labor (here)."

There’s a real stimulus plan for you! There’s a way to bring the big manufacturers back to America’s shores. Forget targeting their tax havens and tax dodges: give ‘em cheap, captive labor, and they’ll come running.

Of course, today’s rampant exploitation of convict labor — with its attendant, inevitable corruption of individual officials (such as the Pennsylvania judges recently convicted of selling children into detention for kickbacks from a privateer), and the political process and the economy at large – is itself something of a coming home for American society. For example, it played a key role in rebuilding the post-Civil War fortunes of the elite in the "New South" – the same states that now employ more private prisons than any others. As we noted in a piece here awhile back ("Postcards of the Hanging: Race and Sex in Tennessee"):

Side by side with the lynching – indeed far surpassing it in terms of depth and reach through the black community – was the money angle. The end of slavery didn’t mean the end of servitude by any means. As each Southern state was returned to the control of its defeated white elites after the Civil War, they quickly gamed the legal system to provide them with a virtually unlimited supply of convict labor – without rights, without protection, in chains, under the bullwhip, just like the good old days. The smallest infractions of the law, petty fines, bad debts – or often, nothing at all but the need of the local bossman – swept multitudes of black men and women into minor jail terms that would be extended by months, sometimes years through draconian "fees" and "court costs" they would have to "work off" – in the fields, in the mines, laying rail, building roads, draining swamps. Savvy brokers contracted with state and local governments to manage the trade in these convicts, many of whom were simply worked to death or crippled for life. There was no profit in looking after them anymore; they were no longer someone’s valuable "property" but just so much ever-replaceable fodder churning endlessly through the legal machine.

Freed but disenfranchised, emancipated but still in chains, balked by law and brutal custom from full participation in society, the Southern blacks also made handy targets to divert the anger and dissatisfaction of the "poor white trash" from the elites that exploited them as well, albeit less severely. If even the poorest white man could consider himself superior to someone, if you could keep him tied up in psychological and emotional knots about inferior darkies messing with his women, going to his schools, sitting at his lunch counters, drinking from his water fountains, swimming in his public pools, living in his neighborhoods, why then he’d never make common cause with his black brothers and sisters in poverty to fight for a better life. Canny patricians played whole decks of such race cards to win the votes of the crackers and rednecks they privately despised: "Don’t vote for that commie over there talking about unions and fair wages and equality; vote for me, vote for the man who’ll keep your women and children – and your drinking water – safe from the Negro!" [For much more, see the book, Worse Than Slavery, by David Oshinsky.)

As the economy craters around the world, governments and their servitor intellectuals are sounding clarion calls about a coming tide of "unrest" amongst the newly pauperized rabble. This is to be met not with sensible economic policies designed to rectify the vast imbalances, injustices and virulent corruption of the sweetheart-deal world, but instead with multitrillion-dollar bailouts of bankers, venture capitalist and privateers – and with "contingency plans" for "security operations" to keep the rabble in line. The jails, prisons and detention centers will soon be full to bursting with those forced into petty crime by need and desperation – and with anyone who dares to venture outside a  specially designated, often fenced-in "free speech zone" to protest the continuing greed of the elite. Meanwhile, the failed Drug War keeps on raging, doing nothing to stem the flow of narcotics but enriching a few people immensely, and providing justification for an every-expanding array of draconian police powers that too many states find too useful to give up now. So there will be no end of backroom operators and government frontmen ready to work their correction connections to squeeze money from this rising tide of human suffering.

The career of Lamar Alexander is of little moment in itself; he’s just another garden-variety corruptocrat gliding through life on a stream of grease. But like the life of George W. Bush, it is a highly instructive example of the poison fruit that even the most bland, feckless non-entity can produce in a system that is willfully, brutally blind to its own injustices. The phrase "banality of evil" comes all too readily to mind.

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Family Values: The Roman Rigor of Obama's Death Squad

Written by Chris Floyd 18 October 2011 16817 Hits

It is not enough for the Peace Laureate to murder American citizens without charges, without trial and without warning; he must also murder their children too -- in the same cowardly, cold-blooded fashion.

Last week, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki -- an American teenager -- was ripped to shreds by an American drone missile in Yemen. The boy, like his father, Anwar al-Awlaki -- had not been charged with any crime whatsoever, much less convicted and sentenced. So what was his offense? He missed his father -- who had been in hiding from the Peace Laureate's publicly stated intention to assassinate him -- and he went off to find him.

His search took him into one of the areas of Yemen where there are groups opposed to the murderous regime now controlling the country and slaughtering its own citizens in cold blood -- with American weapons, American money, and the full support of the Peace Laureate and his peace-loving administration of peaceful peaceniks. People in such regions -- not only in Yemen but all over the world -- are of course subject to instant, agonizing death from the Peace Laureate's brave, bold robot drones, guided by noble warriors nestled in cushioned chairs behind fortress walls thousands of miles away.

And so a button was pushed, and 16-year-old Abdulrahman -- and his 17-year-old cousin -- were turned into steaming lumps of coagulate gore by the drones of the Peace Laureate. The Laureate's minions and satraps then spread the story that the child was actually a grown man, "suspected" of being a "militant." It was, of course, an arrant and deliberate lie, but it did its work. The first -- and only -- thing the public at large heard about this murder was that yet another dirty terrorist raghead had bitten the dust, and so big fat what?

The boy's family had a somewhat different view:

“To kill a teenager is just unbelievable, really, and they claim that he is an al-Qaeda militant. It’s nonsense,” said Nasser al-Awlaki, a former Yemeni agriculture minister who was Anwar al-Awlaki’s father and the boy’s grandfather, speaking in a phone interview from Sanaa on Monday. “They want to justify his killing, that’s all.”

The teenager, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who was born in Denver in 1995, and his 17-year-old Yemeni cousin were killed in a U.S. military strike that left nine people dead in southeastern Yemen. ...

Nasser al-Awlaki said the family decided to issue a statement after reading some U.S. news reports that described Abdulrahman as a militant in his twenties. The family urged journalists and others to visit a Facebook memorial page for Abdulrahman.

“Look at his pictures, his friends, and his hobbies,” the statement said. “His Facebook page shows a typical kid. A teenager who paid a hefty price for something he never did and never was.” The pictures on the Facebook page show a smiling kid out and about in the countryside and occasionally hamming it up for the camera. Abdulrahman left the United States with his father in 2002.

Nasser al-Awlaki said Abdulrahman was in the first year of secondary school when he left Sanaa to find his father. He wrote a note to his mother, saying he missed his father and wanted to see him. The teenager traveled to the family’s tribal home in southern Yemen, but Anwar al-Awlaki was killed Sep. 30 in Yemen’s northern Jawf province, about 90 miles east of the capital. “He went from here without my knowledge,” Nasser al-Awlaki said. “We would not allow him to go if we know because he is a small boy.” He said his grandson, after hearing about his father’s death, had decided to return to Sanaa.

The American boy went off to find his father. Upon learning that his father had been killed by the Peace Laureate, he tried to go back home to his family. But he stopped to have a meal with some men -- perhaps friends of his father? Perhaps "militants"? Perhaps neither? We cannot know, because the Peace Laureate and his minions do not discuss their arbitrary killings of people without charges or trial.

So Abdulrahman was blown to bits. The "soldier" who pushed the button or squeezed the joystick that fired the missile got up from his comfortable chair and got into his comfortable car and drove to his comfortable home, where -- who know? -- he might have had a delicious meal with his wife and kids, then later kicked back for a little R&R with the Wii. The peaceful Peace Laureate went out on the campaign trail, seeking to extend his mission of peace for another term. And the regime he supports in Yemen with peaceful weapons and peaceful money and peaceful pearls of wisdom about peace went on killing its own citizens.

Methinks the Peace Laureate, long derided by some for his youthful callowness, a dearth of proper gravitas, is growing into his imperial role more and more with each passing day. The outright, open murder of an imperial citizen -- followed by the completely gratuitous slaughter of the victim's son -- has the authentic ring of ancient Rome about it. That's how they did it in the high, palmy days of the Caesars; that's how we do it today. Everything old is new again. Ave, Peacenik!

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A Personal Opinion: I Don't Get It

Written by Chris Floyd 18 October 2011 8193 Hits

I have to say, I honestly don't understand why so many 'dissidents' want the OWS crowd to either a) overturn the government tomorrow morning, or b) be mowed down by the cops as soon as possible. These seem to be two of the strongest reactions to the Occupy movement from lots of people who have spent years railing against the Empire and its many depredations.

I mean, it seems obvious to me that this particular instance of protest in Wall Street is going to "fail" -- i.e., at some point, they will be removed, peaceably or otherwise, from the sacred precincts of Mammon. But so what? I mean really, pardon my French and all, but so fucking what already? Who out there actually expects OWS will overturn the empire? Do you think the protestors themselves think that? If it's not all wrapped up neatly at the end of a 30-minute sitcom episode with parades and ponies and peace on earth, does that mean it's all meaningless? No conglomeration of human beings has ever produced anything that even remotely approximates perfection, or has ever failed to exhibit the common human frailties and failings we all are heir to. Again, I say, so what? Does this fact render pointless even the slightest attempt to try to find different paths that just might possibly be better than the one we're on now? 

It seems to me that the whole point of the Occupy movement, in its multiplicity of forms, is to MAKE A START. To not simply bow the head and bend the knee, and give up and say, Oh Lordy, the Man is too powerful for me, He controls everything, there's nothing anyone can do. The point, it seems to me, is just to show up and stand up and say out loud, as Thoreau said, "We disassociate ourselves from this rigged, corrupt, immoral system."

Isn't this what dissidents have been urging people to do for years now? I know this site has been full of commenters -- and my own blog posts -- calling for something exactly like this. Saying: Do it individually, if you have to, do it en masse -- but DO SOMETHING! Stand up, speak out and disassociate yourself from all this evil. Start looking for other ways: try this, try that, try the other, and if all that fails, try something else -- but DO SOMETHING.

And now here we have people doing exactly that -- in a vast, variegated number of ways -- and what is the main reaction among so many of our dissidents? In large part, it seems to me the reaction is some kind of scorn, if not an outright eagerness to see the Empire strike back and show these stupid kids that there is no alternative, there is nothing anyone can do, anywhere, anytime, about anything. The Man is too powerful, the Empire is too perfect, it knows all, sees all, controls all, it is nothing less than a god.

Well, I happen, respectfully, to disagree with all that. It seems to me that many dissidents have gone through the looking glass and now practice a kind of negative worship of the Empire, of the System, of the Powers-That-Be. Anyone who actually DOES anything to TRY to shake the system is instantly dismissed as some kind of Pollyanna Pie-in-the-Skier, due for a rude and bloody awakening from our godlike superiors.

I honestly don't get it. Where did all this cravenness come from? This scorn, this broken spirit, this surrender, these sidelong, servile glances at the gleaming Masters of the Universe? What if it does all fail? (Whatever "failure" might mean in this case. It seems to me that only people who expect, or demand, instant gratification would see 'failure' in a protest movement -- or, if you like, a stance of disassociation and an openness to alternatives -- that might not bear fruit for years, even generations.) But if it fails, so what? You don't want to go down fighting? It's too great a sacrifice of your deep savvy to cheer on people who are actually doing something, trying something, putting their bodies on the line to challenge a system you've spent years railing against?

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, of course. And I have no way of knowing how the particular coalescence of elements represented by OWS and similar movements will play out, in the immediate future or in the long term. Perhaps nothing will come of it. Perhaps, as some seem darkly to hope, it will all end in a bloodbath and further repression. But I will say that I've been surprised by the hostile reaction of many who count themselves rock-ribbed dissidents against the imperial warmaking corporcracy to a movement that is doing what so many dissidents have dreamed of for years: refusing to acknowledge the system's authority and legitimacy, and exploring alternatives to the rapacious, bloodsoaked brutality of our global elites.

As for me -- and again, this is just my personal opinion -- I'm glad about the Occupy movement. I'm glad to see sparks and glimmers and partial, provisional expressions of some of my own most deeply held principles showing up here and there on the streets of the world. I hope the movement keeps growing, I hope it stays chaotic -- I hope it gets even weirder. I hope it continues to make the comfortable uncomfortable, to the greatest degree possible. If it collapses, if it's co-opted, then I won't like it. But if that happens, it won't crush my spirits, or make me nod my head with a sour, savvy, "Told you so." It will just mean that this particular (partial, provisional) expression of some of the 'better angels of our nature' has been put down -- for now. It will just mean that somewhere along the line, we will have to try again, in a different coalescence of elements.

But right now, they're on the streets, they're raising merry hell, and all I can say to that is: More power to them.

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A Revolution of Values: Brooms and Bravery in the Oligarchy's Park

Written by Chris Floyd 17 October 2011 6769 Hits

While other matters keep me from my appointed rounds in these precincts for the nonce, Chris Hedges has a few pertinent things to say:

Resistance, real resistance, to the corporate state was displayed when a couple of thousand protesters, clutching mops and brooms, early Friday morning forced the owners of Zuccotti Park and the New York City police to back down from a proposed attempt to expel them in order to “clean” the premises. These protesters in that one glorious moment did what the traditional “liberal” establishment has steadily refused to do — fight back. And it was deeply moving to watch the corporate rats scamper back to their holes on Wall Street. It lent a whole new meaning to the phrase “too big to fail.”

Tinkering with the corporate state will not work. We will either be plunged into neo-feudalism and environmental catastrophe or we will wrest power from corporate hands. This radical message, one that demands a reversal of the corporate coup, is one the power elite, including the liberal class, is desperately trying to thwart. But the liberal class has no credibility left. It collaborated with corporate lobbyists to neglect the rights of tens of millions of Americans, as well as the innocents in our imperial wars. ...

The Occupy Wall Street movement, like all radical movements, has obliterated the narrow political parameters. It proposes something new. It will not make concessions with corrupt systems of corporate power. It holds fast to moral imperatives regardless of the cost. It confronts authority out of a sense of responsibility. It is not interested in formal positions of power. It is not seeking office. It is not trying to get people to vote. It has no resources. It can’t carry suitcases of money to congressional offices or run millions of dollars of advertisements. All it can do is ask us to use our bodies and voices, often at personal risk, to fight back. It has no other way of defying the corporate state. This rebellion creates a real community instead of a managed or virtual one. It affirms our dignity. It permits us to become free and independent human beings.

Martin Luther King was repeatedly betrayed by liberal supporters, especially when he began to challenge economic forms of discrimination, which demanded that liberals, rather than simply white Southern racists, begin to make sacrifices. King too was a radical. He would not compromise on nonviolence, racism or justice. He understood that movements—such as the Liberty Party, which fought slavery, the suffragists, who fought for women’s rights, the labor movement and the civil rights movement—have always been the true correctives in American democracy. None of those movements achieved formal political power. But by holding fast to moral imperatives they made the powerful fear them. King knew that racial equality was impossible without economic justice and an end to militarism. And he had no intention of ceding to the demands of the liberal establishment that called on him to be calm and patience.

“For years, I labored with the idea of reforming the existing institutions in the South, a little change here, a little change there,” King said shortly before he was assassinated. “Now I feel quite differently. I think you’ve got to have a reconstruction of the entire system, a revolution of values.”

... On the eve of King’s murder he was preparing to organize a poor people’s march on Washington, D.C., designed to cause “major, massive dislocations,” a nonviolent demand by the poor, including the white underclass, for a system of economic equality. It would be 43 years before his vision was realized by an eclectic group of protesters who gathered before the gates of Wall Street. ...

What kind of nation is it that spends far more to kill enemy combatants and Afghan and Iraqi civilians than it does to help its own citizens who live below the poverty line? What kind of nation is it that permits corporations to hold sick children hostage while their parents frantically bankrupt themselves to save their sons and daughters? What kind of nation is it that tosses its mentally ill onto urban heating grates? What kind of nation is it that abandons its unemployed while it loots its treasury on behalf of speculators? What kind of nation is it that ignores due process to torture and assassinate its own citizens? What kind of nation is it that refuses to halt the destruction of the ecosystem by the fossil fuel industry, dooming our children and our children’s children?

... Hope in this age of bankrupt capitalism comes with the return of the language of class conflict and rebellion, language that has been purged from the lexicon of the liberal class, language that defines this new movement. This does not mean we have to agree with Karl Marx, who advocated violence and whose worship of the state as a utopian mechanism led to another form of enslavement of the working class, but we have to learn again to speak in the vocabulary Marx employed. We have to grasp, as Marx and Adam Smith did, that corporations are not concerned with the common good. They exploit, pollute, impoverish, repress, kill and lie to make money. They throw poor families out of homes, let the uninsured die, wage useless wars to make profits, poison and pollute the ecosystem, slash social assistance programs, gut public education, trash the global economy, plunder the U.S. Treasury and crush all popular movements that seek justice for working men and women. They worship money and power.

...What took place early Friday morning in Zuccotti Park was the first salvo in a long struggle for justice. It signaled a step backward by the corporate state in the face of popular pressure. And it was carried out by ordinary men and women who sleep at night on concrete, get soaked in rainstorms, eat donated food and have nothing as weapons but their dignity, resilience and courage.

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Changing of the Guards: The New Road of the Occupation Movement

Written by Chris Floyd 11 October 2011 8239 Hits

Bob Dylan, when a young man, knew the enemy: the "masters of war," the profiteers and bureaucrats of death and domination, who wring money and power from bloodshed, torment and fear. He knew too that these wretches of lamed humanity were not confined to a single country or culture or political structure or time.

Beyond this, though, he also knew that conventional politics was not the answer to the evils that beset -- and tempt -- us. Instead, he saw that the answer was "blowing in the wind" -- which is to say that there is no answer, there are only the questions: how many roads, how many times, how many years, how many deaths will it take to shatter the hardened heart, to break down the walls that seal us up in lies, in hate, in fear, in greed, in ignorance, in pain?

These chiming questions are really calls to the endless task of enlightenment: to keep asking them over and over and over -- in every age, in every situation, in every confrontation with reality -- is a way to form your understanding of the world, and your individual morality. It's not an answer but a discipline, a way of being, and becoming. (For as the young man also said: He not busy being born is busy dying.)

It is an ancient quest, taking on a multiplicity of forms through the ages, young Dylan's lightning flash of insight being but one expression. And while it is laid upon each individual in every age, it can, at times, erupt on a wider plane, unlooked for, in a sudden upsurge, like a subterranean stream breaking into the sunlight and flooding the land. "Kairotic moments," Tillich called them. Not magical, miraculous transformations of human nature or the entirety of human culture, but outbursts of heightened consciousness, of creative engagement and exploration, experimentation. And no matter how much these moments are later diluted, dimmed, beaten back, twisted or lost, they leave behind new soil to build upon, new insights to draw upon, new fragments to shore against our ruins.

There's nothing mystical about it. These eruptions are brought into being by a coalescence of unimaginably vast and varied elements, on every level of human life in the natural world. And they aren't clearly defined, like cut glass, but amorphous, shifting, mixed, volatile, like a chemical reaction -- a process, an elan vital, not a fixed property or party platform.

They are, invariably, a movement of the young, although naturally they can spread to touch the lives of all those in the bright penumbra of the moment. But they grow out of and belong to the young, to generations suffocating beneath the silt of the past, the betrayals and failures and deep-rutted inertia of those who came before them. They belong to the young, who can see the world fresh, who haven't "learned" the false lessons of cynicism and conformity and fear, who have nothing to lose and the wide, beguiling expanse of the future to gain. The young, alive with possibility, charged with sexual energy, with the churning, forging fires of chaos and discovery, who have not yet the breath of mortality shiver through their bones. Generations who, for a myriad of reasons, wake up and realize that the world is theirs, to grapple with and shape and push in new directions.

The Occupation movement, which has erupted across the world this year -- and is now spreading through the United States from the epicenter of Wall Street -- is not the Sixties come again. It might, in small part, build upon some of the fragments left by that now long-dimmed eruption -- and others that came before it in history. After all, as the Preacher says, there is nothing new under the sun. But of course to the young, everything is authentically, genuinely, thrillingly new: a leap into the unknown, exhilarating, bewildering, vivid.

Yet whatever it antecedents, the Occupation movement is in essence, and in practice, very much its own thing, its own moment, its own upsurging through the silt into the open air. It will make its own breakthroughs, its own spectacular mistakes, its own many permutations, all formed by the younger generation's unique experiencing of the world -- which older generations can never fully know, having been formed in a different time, under different conditions.

Today, due to the intolerable pressures from the heaped-up follies and failures of the past, the times have been torn open in a special way, and there is now a chance for new energies, new approaches and understandings to pour in. It's time for us, the older generations, to give way to this new energy -- supporting and helping it as far as we are able, but with the realization that it is not ours to direct or shape or scold or instruct. (Young Dylan understood this as well: "Your old road is rapidly fading; please get out of the new one if you can't lend your hand.")

We have had our future, but it's over; we have used it up, and, in so many ways, botched and wasted it; the future now belongs to the young. The kairotic moment of the Occupation movement is theirs, to make of it what they can. It won't be easy -- it may be more difficult, even more horrific than anyone can envision, as the powers that be strike back with growing force against this unexpected, leaderless, shape-shifting challenge to the dead hand of their corrupt dominion. The dangers are great; but this moment -- this opening, this rip in time -- is alive with rare promise. A slightly older Dylan presciently limned today's situation well:

"Gentlemen," he said,
"I don't need your organization. I've shined your shoes,
I've moved your mountains and marked your cards.
But Eden is burning: either get ready for elimination,
Or else your hearts must have the courage
For the changing of the guards."

Let's have the courage. Let's lend a hand, stand with the young, and not let them face the dangers alone. Let's go with them down their new road.

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A Low, Dishonest Decade: Marking 10 Years of Quagmire

Written by Chris Floyd 08 October 2011 6098 Hits

Simon Jenkins fires a powerful salvo of scorn and spleen to mark the 10th anniversary of the imperial quagmire in Afghanistan. Among the glories and triumphs of this magnificent adventure, Jenkins notes the fact that international agencies are now calling for emergency aid to combat the imminent threat of mass starvation in the liberated land. This is what 10 years, thousands of deaths and trillions of dollars worth of "nation-building" have produced: a broken, brutalized, bankrupt society on the verge of murderous famine.

The whole piece is well worth reading, but here are some highlights:

Ten years of western occupation of Afghanistan led the UN this week to plead that half the country's drought-ridden provinces face winter starvation. The World Food Programme calls for £92m to be urgently dispatched. This is incredible. Afghanistan is the world's greatest recipient of aid, some $20bn in the past decade, plus a hundred times more in military spending. So much cash pours through its doors that $3m a day is said to leave Kabul airport corruptly to buy property in Dubai. ...

The opening decade of the 21st century has been marked by two epic failures by the western powers that so recently claimed victory in the cold war; failures of both intellect and leadership. One is the inability to use the limitless resources of modern government to rescue the west's economy from prolonged recession. The other is the use of an attack on America by a crazed Islamist criminal as an excuse for a retaliatory war embracing a wide swath of the Muslim world. The decade-long punishment of Afghanistan for harbouring Osama bin Laden has been an act of biblical retribution. The demand that it also abandons the habits of history and adopt democracy, capitalism and gender equality was imperial arrogance. ...

The occupation of Afghanistan has been a catalogue of unrelieved folly. America is spending staggering sums on the war, which it is clearly not winning. Congressional studies show virtually no US aid reaches the local economy, most remaining with contractors in the US or going on security or being stolen. Local democracy has failed, as warlords feud with drug lords and tribal vendettas resurface. The "training of the Afghan police and army" has become a dope-befuddled joke. ....

What is strange, as Barbara Tuchman wrote, is not the folly of policy as such but its immunity to correction even when known to be folly. .... As during Vietnam, some wars pass the stage where politicians and generals dare step back and look. Pride, a craving for glory, an aversion to defeat, above all, the institutionalising of the war in its surrounding territory, come to drive strategy. Kabul is occupied by tens of thousands of soldiers, diplomats, NGO officials and contractors. Afghanistan has become a stew of the military/industrial complex, with aid mixed in. ...

The irony of this great folly is that its chief beneficiaries are likely to be those who lost the cold war, Russia and China. As the west's leaders struggle to rescue embattled armies and embattled economies from morasses of their own creation, they have left their old foes laughing with glee. Democracy has snatched defeat from the arms of victory – without a shred of a reason.

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Absence of Evidence: The Progressive Policy of Imperial Murder

Written by Chris Floyd 30 September 2011 14355 Hits

The president of the United States murdered two American citizens this morning. He had some nameless functionary -- who was sitting comfortably and safely at a computer console somewhere on a well-guarded, probably secret military base -- push a button. A missile was then fired from a robot drone buzzing maleovently in the sky over Yemen. The missile then murdered two American citizens who -- let it be carefully noted -- had not even been charged with a crime, much less tried and convicted in a court of law of any offense.

The New York Times story on the murders relates a number of accusations against the chief target of the attack, Anwar al-Awlaki. Assertions are made, mostly by anonymous officials, that al-Awlaki was "operationally" involved in terrorist plots, although not a shred of evidence for this "operational" involvement has been offered. (Another American, Samir Khan, was also reported to have been killed in the drone hit. It goes without saying that Khan had also not been charged with any crime nor was there any evidence that he ever took part in a terrorist operation.)

It is true that the two American citizens murdered by the president did engage in a great deal of fiery rhetoric urging violent uprising against the American state. This might not be very nice -- but it does happen to be protected speech under the Constitution of the United States. Of course, that quaint document from the horse-and-buggy era has long since ceased to apply, even fitfully and imperfectly, to the operations of the United States government.

It may well be true that with their words Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan "inspired" someone to commit, or attempt to commit, heinous deeds. So has the Bible. So have The Beatles. But to inspire is not to command. Again, no evidence and certainly no proof has been offered that al-Awlaki or Khan ordered anyone to do anything, or that they were in any "operational" role to do so. (Unlike, say, the Nobel Peace Laureate who holds the top "operational" role in the American war machine, which has killed vastly more innocent people than even the most inspired terrorist groups.) If such proof existed that al-Awlaki or Khan played such a role, they easily could have been charged.

But they were not charged -- and were never going to be charged -- with any crime that would have brought their cases into the judicial system. The whole point of these high-profile murders was to establish, yet again, the "right" -- and the power -- of the U.S. president to kill anyone on earth, including American citizens, at his arbitrary command.

The open assertion of this arbitrary power is not an innovation of Barack Obama, of course. He is merely faithfully following in the bloodsoaked footsteps of his imperial predecessors. As I noted in a piece in a piece five years ago:

Bill Clinton's White House legal team had drawn up memos asserting the president's right to issue "an order to kill an individual enemy of the United States in self-defense," despite the legal prohibitions against assassination, the Washington Post reported in October 2001. The Clinton team based this ruling on the "inherent powers" of the "Commander in Chief" -- that mythical, ever-elastic construct ....
The practice of "targeted killing" was apparently never used by Clinton, however; despite the pro-assassination memos, Clinton followed the traditional presidential practice of bombing the hell out of a bunch of civilians whenever he wanted to lash out at some recalcitrant leader or international outlaw -- as in his bombing of the Sudanese pharmaceutical factory in 1998, or the two massive strikes he launched against Iraq in 1993 and 1998, or indeed the death and ruin that was deliberately inflicted on civilian infrastructure in Serbia during that nation's collective punishment for the crimes of Slobodan Milosevic. Here, Clinton was following the example set by George H.W. Bush, who killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Panamanian civilians in his illegal arrest of Manuel Noriega in 1988, and Ronald Reagan, who killed Moamar Gadafy's adopted 2-year-old daughter and 100 other civilians in a punitive strike on Libya in 1986.

In an earlier piece, in 2005, I noted how the clackety bones of the Clinton Doctrine of Unrestrained Murder was given flesh and blood by George W. Bush after 9/11 (scroll down for 2005 extract, and links):

On September 17, 2001, George W. Bush signed an executive order authorizing the use of "lethal measures" against anyone in the world whom he or his minions designated an "enemy combatant." This order remains in force today. No judicial evidence, no hearing, no charges are required for these killings; no law, no border, no oversight restrains them. Bush has also given agents in the field carte blanche to designate "enemies" on their own initiative and kill them as they see fit.

The existence of this universal death squad – and the total obliteration of human liberty it represents – has not provoked so much as a crumb, an atom, a quantum particle of controversy in the American Establishment, although it's no secret. The executive order was first bruited in the Washington Post in October 2001. I first wrote of it in my Moscow Times column in November 2001. The New York Times added further details in December 2002. That same month, Bush officials made clear that the dread edict also applied to American citizens, as the Associated Press reported.

The first officially confirmed use of this power was the killing of an American citizen in Yemen by a CIA drone missile on November 3, 2002. [This was Kamal Derwish, born and raised in Buffalo, New York, who was killed in a drone attack targeting alleged al-Qaeda operative Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi.] ....

But most of the assassinations are carried out in secret, quietly, professionally, like a contract killing for the mob. As a Pentagon document unearthed by the New Yorker in December 2002 put it, the death squads must be "small and agile," and "able to operate clandestinely, using a full range of official and non-official cover arrangements to…enter countries surreptitiously."

The dangers of this policy are obvious, as a UN report on "extrajudicial killings" noted in December 2004: " Empowering governments to identify and kill 'known terrorists' places no verifiable obligation upon them to demonstrate in any way that those against whom lethal force is used are indeed terrorists…  While it is portrayed as a limited 'exception' to international norms, it actually creates the potential for an endless expansion of the relevant category to include any enemies of the State, social misfits, political opponents, or others."

Indeed, like the "inherent powers" of the "commander-in-chief," the definition of an "enemy" subject to arbitrary assassination is most elastic, as I noted in that 2006 article:

In an December 2002 story in the Washington Post, then-Solicitor General Ted Olson described the anarchy at the heart of the process with admirable frankness:
"[There is no] requirement that the executive branch spell out its criteria for determining who qualifies as an enemy combatant," Olson argues.
"'There won't be 10 rules that trigger this or 10 rules that end this," Olson said in the interview. "There will be judgments and instincts and evaluations and implementations that have to be made by the executive that are probably going to be different from day to day, depending on the circumstances."
In other words, what is safe to do or say today might imperil your freedom or your life tomorrow. You can never know if you are on the right side of the law, because the "law" is merely the whim of the Leader and his minions: their "instincts" determine your guilt or innocence, and these flutterings in the gut can change from day to day. This radical uncertainty is the very essence of despotism -- and it is now, formally and officially, the guiding principle of the United States government.

The murders of Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan are simply more public confirmations of this firmly established truth. As I wrote back then, "it's hard to believe that any genuine democracy would accept a claim by its leader that he could have anyone killed simply by labeling them an "enemy." It's hard to believe that any adult with even the slightest knowledge of history or human nature could countenance such unlimited, arbitrary power, knowing the evil it is bound to produce. Yet this is exactly what the great and good in America have done. Like the boyars of old, they not only countenance but celebrate their enslavement to the ruler."

In the coming days, we are certain to hear loud, full-throated praise of Barack Obama's murder of uncharged, untried American citizens. And most of these encomiums will come from heartsworn, true-blue "progressives" -- the very people who savagagely denounced George W. Bush for his "murderous tyrannny" when he carried out the very same crimes, in the very same way, in the very same place.

And they will be telling us, yet again, why we must must must support Barack Obama in his quest to win one more term atop the greasy pole of power. They will tell us, yet again, that we must forget these murders -- and the killing of many hundreds of innocent people in similar robo-slaughters in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan -- and work hard to perpetuate and entrench our own slavery in a lawless system whose leaders can kill any one of us at the push of a button, at the pulse of a whim, without charges, without trial, without mercy.

This is not just the usual partisan amnesia, this is not just moral blindness: it is active, open, undeniable complicity with evil.

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Injustice, Aggression and the Instruments of Evil

Written by Chris Floyd 22 September 2011 6976 Hits

Our guest blogger today is Lev Tolstoy. The passages below are from Tolstoy’s Letters, Vol. II, 1880-1910, translated by R.F. Christian. First is  an excerpt from a letter sent in December 1899 to Prince Grigory Mikhailovich Volkonsky, who had sent Tolstoy some pamphlets criticizing the Boer War:

…When people tell me that one side is solely to blame in a war, I can’t agree. You may admit that one sides acts worse in any war that flares up, but an analysis of which one it is that acts worse doesn’t explain the immediate cause of thee origin of such a terrible, cruel and inhuman phenomenon as war. To any man who doesn’t shut his eyes to them, these causes are perfectly obvious, as they are now with the Boer War and with all wars that have happened recently.

These causes are three: first – the unequal distribution of property, i.e., the robbery of some people by others; second – the existence of a military class, i.e., people brought up for and intended for murder; and third – false, and for the most part deliberately deceitful religious teaching, on which young generations are forcibly brought up. And so I think that it’s not only useless but harmful to see the cause of wars in [this politician or that leader], and thereby conceal from ourselves the real causes which are far more immediate and to which we ourselves are a party.

We can only be angry with the leaders and politicians and abuse them; but our anger and abuse will only spoil our blood, not change the course of things: the leaders and politicians are blind instruments of forces which lie a long way behind them. They act as they have to act, and can't act otherwise. All history is a series of just such acts by all politicians as the Boer War, and so it's completely useless, even impossible, to be angry with them and condemn them, when you see the true causes of their activity and when you feel that you yourself are to blame for this or that activity of theirs according to your attitude to the three basic causes I mentioned.

As long as we go on enjoying exceptional wealth while the masses of people are ground down by hard work there will always be wars for markets, goldmines, etc., which we need to support our exceptional wealth. Wars will be all the more inevitable as long as we are party to a military class, tolerate its existence, and don't fight against it with all our powers. We ourselves serve in the army, or regard it as not only necessary but commendable, and then when war breaks out we condemn some politician or other for it. But the thing is that there will be war as long as we not only preach but tolerate without anger and indignation that perversion of Christianity which is called ecclesiastical Christianity whereby it is possible to have a Christ-loving army, the blessing of guns and the acceptance of war as an act justified by Christianity. We teach our children this religion, we profess it ourselves, and then say that this or that politician is to blame for the fact that people kill one another.

That is why I disagree with you and cannot reproach blind instruments of ignorance and evil, but see the causes of war in those phenomena, the evil of which I myself can help to reduce or increase. To help to share out property equally in brotherly fashion, and to enjoy as little as possible the advantages which have fallen to one's lot; not to be party to war in any aspect and to destroy the hypnosis by means of which people transform themselves into hired murderers and think they are doing a good deed by doing military service; and above all to profess a reasonable Christian doctrine, trying with all one's powers to destroy the cruel deceit of false Christianity on which young generations are forcibly brought up – this threefold activity, I think, constitutes the duty of any man wishing to serve good and rightly disturbed by the terrible war which has disturbed you too.

Tolstoy’s idea of “reasonable Christian doctrine” was, of course, a highly subversive notion drained of all vestiges of divinity and the miraculous, and implacably hostile to organized religion. It was instead based on the radical love preached by the figure of Jesus of Nazareth in some parts of the Gospels, a love that stripped away all distinctions of class, nation, religion, race, culture or gender. In any case, it has nothing to do with “Christianity” as it is increasingly understood – and practiced – in the United States; that is, a nationalist, militarist, wilfully ignorant cult devoid of human compassion.

Tolstoy explains his idea of religion in another letter, two years later, to Pavel Ivanovich Biryukov:

The religious understanding of life, which, to may way of thinking, can and should become the foundation of life for people of our time, could be expressed very briefly as follows: the meaning of our lives consists in fulfilling the will of that infinite principle of which we recognise ourselves to be a part; and this will lies in the union of all living things, above all of people – in their brotherhood, in their service to each other. From a different angle, this religious understanding of life can be expressed like this: the business of life is union with all living things – above all the brotherhood of men, their service to each other.

And this is so because we are alive only to the extent to which we recognise ourselves to be a part of the infinite; and the law of the infinite is this union.

Of course, one often disagrees with this or that aspect of Tolstoy’s thought. (Indeed, even to use a phrase like “Tolstoy’s thought” is, in a real sense, improperly reductive of the restless, contradictory, constantly shifting intellectual and spiritual quest of this troubled, conflicted, hypocritical and altogether marvelous and inspiring creature.) For one thing, he was, like many people of his day – and ours – altogether too obsessed with ideas of sexual “purity” and so on. (Although, given his station in life, he often evinced an insightful awareness of the power dynamics that can obtain in sexual encounters – an insight often lost to us today, until cases like that of Dominique Strauss-Kahn bring it forcefully to mind.)

And to be sure, Tolstoy himself very often launched powerful and detailed condemnations of the specific actions of specific politicians and leaders engaged in fomenting or abetting or acquiescing in evil. The principles espoused in the letters quoted above were not meant to be calls to quietism – something of which Tolstoy could never have been accused, to the sorrow of the Orthodox Church that excommunicated him and the government that sought to muffle the immense moral authority he exercised in the national consciousness. (A moral authority derived, ironically enough, not directly from his political and ethical writings but from the power of his artistry, his fiction, which transcended politics and normative understandings of “morality” and spoke instead the indirect but deeper, broader, more diffuse and meaningful truths that only the highest art can convey.)

But given all these caveats and nuances, I think the quoted passages have much to say to us today.  And so they are offered here not as gospel truths but simply as matter for further contemplation.

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Riddle Me This: Paper of Record Puzzled by Death Count Claims

Written by Chris Floyd 18 September 2011 8980 Hits

The New York Times puzzles and puzzles until its puzzler is sore, but it still can't figure out the deep, deep mystery addressed by this recent story: "Libya Counts More Martyrs Than Bodies."

The Paper of Record -- primus inter pares of the national press, shaper and sifter of the zeitgeist itself -- struggles for 27 whole paragraphs in its Sept. 16 story, trying to account somehow for the vast discrepancy between the "martyr count" claimed by Libya's NATO-nudged rebels and the actual number of bodies found so far in the wake of the conflict.

Rebel leaders claim that the dastardly minions of Moamar Gadafy killed well nigh 50,000 innocent people in the dictator's paroxysm of berserkery to preserve his brutal rule. But, the Times notes, "in the country's morgues, the war dead registered from both sides in each area are mostly in the hundreds, not the thousands. And those who ware still missing total as few as 1,000, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross."

The Times doesn't bother to add up the various regional body counts it throws around in the story, but a very rough estimate from this rigorous and detailed reporting would put the overall death total somewhere around 5,000 or so. Yet over and over, NATO's new nabobs in Libya declare that tens of thousands of people were killed by government forces in the conflict.

(We know, of course, that not a single innocent person was killed by NATO bombs and missiles in the relentless barrage of humanitarian ordnance the Western alliance heaped on Libya during the many months of fighting. NATO bombs are programmed with super-secret computer chips that can detect a person's ideological aroma and will kill only those isolated individuals who stink of evil, while enveloping all innocent bystanders with a protective foam that keeps them safe, shines their shoes and moisturizes their skin at the same time.)

The Times chews over this discrepancy at great length, quoting rebel leaders (at great length), and making several references to "well-documented war crimes by the Gadafy regime (while finding room for only the briefest, barest mention, after 20 paragraphs, of another well-documented war crime: the "ethnic cleansing" of black immigrants by the rebels, including mass murder).

But still, despite bringing all the professional firepower of higher journalism to bear on the question, the Times can simply find "no explanation" for the gap between the new nabob's numbers and the actual death count.

Poor little newspaper. Poor little fond, foolish pollyanna. Oh, how it rends the heart to shatter such sweet, trusting, adorable innocence. But what can one do? The cosseted little lamb must learn the sad truth sometime. And so, in sorrow, we beckon the Times to toddle toward us, so we can whisper, gently, in its delicate ear:

"The rebels are lying, sweetheart. They're using false, inflated numbers because it makes them look better and their enemies look worse. Oh, please don't cry. That's just the way it is in the wicked world of grown-ups. Leaders lie -- constantly, continually, incessantly, obsessively -- to serve their own purposes."

Now, you know and I know that the Times knows that the rebel leaders are lying about the death count. But you know and I know that the Times also knows that it cannot come out and state this plain fact in a plain fashion. The rebel leaders are still under the aegis of imperial favor; thus their credibility cannot yet be directly contradicted by our court scribes and chroniclers. If and when the rebels lose this favor -- if their Islamist faction comes too publicly to the fore, say, or, even worse, if the oil deals with their "Western partners" aren't sweet enough -- why then, we will hear in no uncertain terms what a great pack of rotten liars they all are, and always have been.

But until that time, the Unshakeable Somnolence of America will not be disturbed by any such plain truths.

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What Lies Beneath: The Essence of Modern America in Somalia’s Blood-drenched Soil

Written by Chris Floyd 11 September 2011 13387 Hits


For days, weeks on end, we have been bombarded with earnest disquisitions on the “meaning” of 9/11, its implications for America and the world ten years down the line. Oceans of newsprint and blizzards of pixels have been expended on this question. But in all the solemn piety and savvy punditry surrounding the commemoration of the attacks, almost nothing has been said about the place where the true “legacy of 9/11” can be seen in its stark quintessence: Somalia.

That long-broken land is, in so many ways, a hell of our own creation. Year by year, stage by stage, American policy has helped drive Somalia ever deeper into the pit. Millions of people have been plunged into anguish; countless thousands have lost their lives. It seems unimaginable that the situation could get even worse – and yet that is precisely where we are today: on the precipice of yet another horrific drop into the abyss.

By now it should go without saying that the Nobel Peace Laureate in the White House has continued, entrenched and expanded his predecessor's failed and corrupt policies in Somalia, as he has in so many parts of the degraded American imperium. And it is in Somalia that our serious, savvy bipartisan elite -- and their innumerable enablers on both sides of the political fence -- are building up what may turn out to be the mother of all blowbacks: generations of implacable hatred sprung from unfathomable suffering, inflicted on innocent people by vicious warlords in the pay of the CIA, by America's own death squads ranging through the land, and by the entirely predictable (indeed, predicted) extremist insurgencies that arise in the chaos our elites create in their imperial marauding. Here, if anywhere, is the true legacy of 9/11.

The Way of the Warlord
All of this is captured vividly in a new article by Jeremy Scahill in The Nation. His piece, based on solid reporting in the field, is by far the best overview I've seen of the situation in Somalia today -- and of how we got to this horrendous pass.

Scahill notes how the current situation is exemplified by one of the many warlords now being funded by the Peace Laureate:

The notorious Somali paramilitary warlord who goes by the nom de guerre Indha Adde, or White Eyes …is not simply a warlord, at least not officially, anymore. Nowadays, he is addressed as Gen. Yusuf Mohamed Siad, and he wears a Somali military uniform, complete with red beret and three stars on his shoulder. His weapons and his newfound legitimacy were bestowed upon him by the US-sponsored African Union force, known as AMISOM, that currently occupies large swaths of Mogadishu.

… Yusuf Mohamed Siad was not always known just as Indha Adde. As one of the main warlords who divided and destroyed Somalia during the civil war that raged through the 1990s, he brutally took control of the Lower Shabelle region, which was overwhelmingly populated by a rival clan, earning him the moniker “The Butcher.” Then ... he remade himself into an Islamic sheik of sorts in the mid-2000s and vowed to fight foreign invaders, including rival warlords funded and directed by the CIA.

Perhaps more than any other figure, Indha Adde embodies the mind-boggling constellation of allegiances and double-crosses that has marked Somalia since its last stable government fell in 1991. And his current role encapsulates the contradictions of the country’s present: he is a warlord who believes in Sharia law, is friendly with the CIA, and takes money and weapons from AMISOM. …Over the past year, the Somali government and AMISOM have turned to some unsavory characters in a dual effort to build something resembling a national army and, as the United States attempted to do with its Awakening Councils in the Sunni areas of Iraq in 2006, to purchase strategic loyalty from former allies of the current enemy -- in this case, the Shabab. Some warlords, like Indha Adde, have been given government ministries or military rank in return for allocating their forces to the fight against the Shabab. Several are former allies of Al Qaeda or the Shabab, and many fought against the US-sponsored Ethiopian invasion in 2006 or against the US-led mission in Somalia in the early 1990s that culminated in the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident.

This was precisely the same policy adopted by George W. Bush in 2002, when it was apparently feared that the tiny handful of scattered individuals then in Somalia who might possibly have some loose connection or vague adherence to "al Qaeda" would ... er ... build rocket ships that would drop atom bombs on the Super Bowl, or something. In any case, in the vast, Big Bang-like expansion of power and profiteering that gorged the military-security complex after 9/11, it was thought that “something” had to be done in Somalia. And that “something” was taking American taxpayer money away from schools, roads, hospitals and parks and giving it to Somali warlords, who proceeded to terrorize their own people … and fuel an Islamic insurgency, ostensibly the very outcome the policy was designed to prevent. Scahill notes:

The “US government was not helping the [Somali] government but was helping the warlords that were against the government,” Buubaa, the former foreign minister, tells me. Washington “thought that the warlords were strong enough to chase away the Islamists or get rid of them. But it did completely the opposite. Completely the opposite.” … By the beginning of 2006 (if not well before), the CIA’s warlords had become universally despised in Mogadishu. Nearly everyone I interviewed in Mogadishu about this period characterized them as murderers and criminals. The warlords formed a formal coalition whose title reeked of CIA influence: the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism.

“This was a turning point in Somalia,” says Aynte. At the time, he explains, the Islamic courts were little more than small groups of poorly armed, autonomous militias who supported the implementation of Sharia law and the provision of social services in their regions as a counterbalance to the warlord-sponsored lawlessness that infected the country. They had no central authority. “But they realized that the sooner they unite, the sooner they can defend these innocent people who have been murdered across the city.” And so they formed the Islamic Courts Union, and local businessmen funded it, allowing the ICU to purchase weapons to take on the warlords. “People started siding with the Islamic courts,” says Buubaa. The ICU “brought about some semblance of order and stability to Mogadishu. And a lot of people in Mogadishu appreciated that.”

In the summer of 2006 the ICU, along with fighters from the Shabab, ran the CIA’s men out of town. “The warlords were ejected out of Mogadishu for the first time in sixteen years. No one thought this was possible,” recalls Aynte. From June to December 2006, the ICU “brought a modicum of stability that’s unprecedented in Mogadishu,” reopening the airport and the seaport. “You could drive in Mogadishu at midnight, no problem, no guards. You could be a foreigner or Somali. It was at total peace.”

Peace is No Object: The Essence of Imperium
But of course peace was not what Washington had in mind for Somalia. It is never the object of imperial foreign policy. The object was, as always, domination. Obedience. A regime that toes the line – and crosses the palms of Western elites with the proper amount of silver. The Islamic Courts Union was outside of Washington’s control. One couldn’t “do business” with them. They were the wrong kind of Muslim fundamentalist – not like those nice head-choppers and hand-choppers and palm-crossers in Saudi Arabia. So the ICU – and Somalia’s brief window of peace – had to go. Scahill:

Most of the entities that made up the Islamic Courts Union did not have anything resembling a global jihadist agenda. Nor did they take their orders from Al Qaeda. The Shabab was a different story, but it was not the most influential or powerful of the ICU groups. Moreover, clan politics in Somalia held the foreign operatives in check. “We deployed our fighters to Mogadishu with the intent of ceasing the civil war and bringing an end to the warlords’ ruthlessness,” says Sheik Ahmed Mohammed Islam, whose Ras Kamboni militia, based in the Jubba region of southern Somalia, joined the ICU in 2006. “Those of us within the ICU were people with different views; moderates, midlevel and extremists.” …

But by most credible accounts, the Al Qaeda influence at the time was small -- consisting of about a dozen foreign operatives and a handful of Somalis with global jihadist aspirations. A UN cable from June 2006, containing notes of a meeting with senior State Department and US military officials from the Horn of Africa task force, indicates that the United States was aware of the ICU’s diversity, but would “not allow” it to rule Somalia. The United States, according to the notes, intended to “rally with Ethiopia if the ‘Jihadist’ took over.” The cable concluded, “Any Ethiopian action in Somalia would have Washington’s blessing.” Some within the US intelligence community called for dialogue or reconciliation, but their voices were drowned out by hawks determined to overthrow the ICU.

Note well the telling phrase in the passage above: the United States would “not allow” the ICU to rule Somalia. There, in sum, in microcosm, is the essence of the American Imperium, its guiding philosophy and modus operandi for more than 65 years: no nation has the right to determine its own destiny. Only the American power elite can make that decision: it can “allow” a government to rule, if it suits American interests – or else it can institute “regime change.” This is the bedrock principle that informs and determines American foreign policy across the board, across both parties, and across many decades.

(Of course, this principle cannot always be put into practice to the extent that our elites would like: a frustration that accounts for, say, the vindictive strangulation of Cuba for more than half a century – during which time Washington has “done business” with regimes far more repressive. But it is the pliability of a regime, not its political structure – and certainly not its attitude toward human rights – that determines its “legitimacy” in Washington’s eyes.)

Scahill goes on:

...The United States “had already misread the events by aiding heinous warlords. And they misread it again. They should have taken this as an opportunity to engage the Union of Islamic Courts,” asserts Aynte. “Because out of the thirteen organizations that formed the [ICU], twelve were Islamic courts, clan courts who had no global jihad or anything. Most of them never left Somalia. These were local guys. Al Shabab was the only threat, that was it. And they could have been somehow controlled.”

Perhaps. But control of Shabab was not the issue. Control of the ICU was. And since this was not forthcoming, then many, many thousands of innocent people had to be murdered. This is what Washington proceeded to do. The Bush Administration instigated the slaughter; the bipartisan foreign policy establishment gave its approval.

.....The Ethiopians invaded on December 24. It was a classic proxy war coordinated by Washington and staffed by 40,000-50,000 Ethiopian troops. “The US sponsored the Ethiopian invasion, paying for everything including the gas that it had to expend, to undertake this. And you also had US forces on the ground, US Special Operations forces. You had CIA on the ground. US airpower was a part of the story as well. All of which gave massive military superiority to the Ethiopians,” says Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, director of the Center for the Study of Terrorist Radicalization …

The US-backed Ethiopian forces swiftly overthrew the Islamic Courts Union and sent its leaders fleeing or to the grave. Many were rendered to Ethiopia, Kenya or Djibouti; others were killed by US Special Operations forces or the CIA. ….“If you know the history of Somalia, Ethiopia and Somalia were archenemies, historical enemies, and people felt that this was adding insult to the injury,” says Aynte. “An insurgency was born out of there.”

Again, as we have seen constantly, repeatedly throughout this low, dishonest decade, a policy ostensibly designed to quell extremism and insurgency instead creates it. Given the clock-like regularity of this outcome, a cynic might be forgiven for beginning to detect a pattern that could almost be described as deliberate.

As in Iraq, the lawless invasion bred an endless cycle of further crimes, which I wrote about extensively at the time. [For more, see “Silent Surge: The Bipartisan Terror War Intensifies in Somalia,” especially the links at the end.] Scahill gives a capsule description of the American-induced invasion and its aftermath:

The Ethiopian invasion was marked by indiscriminate brutality against Somali civilians. Ethiopian and Somali government soldiers secured Mogadishu’s neighborhoods by force, raiding houses in search of ICU combatants, looting civilian property and beating or shooting anyone suspected of collaboration with antigovernment forces. They positioned snipers on the roofs of buildings and reportedly responded to any attack with disproportionate fire, shelling densely populated areas and several hospitals, according to Human Rights Watch.

Extrajudicial killings by Ethiopian soldiers were widely reported, particularly in the final months of 2007. Reports of Ethiopian soldiers “slaughtering” men, women and children “like goats” -- slitting throats -- were widespread, according to Amnesty International. Both Somali government and Ethiopian forces were accused of horrific sexual violence.

.... If Somalia was already a playground for Islamic militants, the Ethiopian invasion blew open the gates of Mogadishu for Al Qaeda. Within some US counterterrorism circles, the rise of the Shabab in Somalia was predictable and preventable. ....

Predictable. Preventable. Again, the same old pattern. Terrorize people with your warlords and proxies, your black ops and secret armies – and you will breed terror in return.

The Death Squads of the Peace Laureate
In 2008, of course, the United States finally had its own “regime change.” The despised and discredited Bush Regime left office, and a fresh-faced “agent of change” swept into power, riding in on a wave of global goodwill unprecedented in modern times. Lauded, laureled, he stood at the center of a transformative moment in history, when, lifted on that mighty wave, the ship of state could have been turned from the course of empire and set in a new direction.

That never happened, of course. It was never going to happen. Obama himself had made clear, throughout his campaign, that he did not have the slightest interest in changing the imperial course (as opposed to recalibrating the imperial PR a bit). And so it has proven – nowhere more so than in Somalia, as Scahill notes:

When President Obama took office in 2009, the United States increased its covert military involvement in and around Somalia, as the CIA and JSOC intensified air and drone strikes in Somalia and Yemen, and began openly hunting people the United States alleged were Al Qaeda leaders. In September of that year, Obama authorized the assassination of Saleh Ali Nabhan, in his administration’s first known targeted-killing operation in Somalia. A JSOC team helicoptered into Somalia and gunned down Nabhan. JSOC troops then landed and collected the body.

By late 2010 the Obama administration unveiled what it referred to as a “dual-track” approach to Somalia wherein Washington would simultaneously deal with the “central government” in Mogadishu as well as regional and clan players in Somalia. “The dual track policy only provides a new label for the old (and failed) Bush Administration’s approach,” observed Somalia analyst Afyare Abdi Elmi. “It inadvertently strengthens clan divisions, undermines inclusive and democratic trends and most importantly, creates a conducive environment for the return of the organized chaos or warlordism in the country.”

The dual-track policy encouraged self-declared, clan-based regional administrations to seek recognition and support from the United States. “Local administrations are popping up every week,” says Aynte. “Most of them don’t control anywhere, but people are announcing local governments in the hopes that CIA will set up a little outpost in their small village.”

The New York Times had more on Obama’s “dual-track approach” in a story over the weekend:

For the first time in years, the Shabab Islamist group that has long tormented Somalis is receding from several areas at once, including this one, handing the Transitional Federal Government an enormous opportunity to finally step outside the capital and begin uniting this fractious country after two decades of war. Instead, a messy, violent, clannish scramble is emerging over who will take control.

… Already, clashes have erupted between the anti-Shabab forces fighting for the spoils, and roadblocks operated by clan militias have resurfaced on the streets of Mogadishu, even though the government says it is in control. Many analysts say both the Shabab and the government are splintering and predict that the warfare will only increase, complicating the response to Somalia’s widening famine.

“What you now have is a free-for-all contest in which clans are unilaterally carving up the country into unviable clan enclaves and cantons,” said Rashid Abdi, an analyst for the International Crisis Group, which studies conflicts. “The way things are going, the risk of future interregional wars and instability is real,” Mr. Abdi added, “even after Al Shabab is defeated.”

More than 20 separate new ministates, including one for a drought-stricken area incongruously named Greenland, have sprouted up across Somalia, some little more than Web sites or so-called briefcase governments, others heavily armed, all eager for international recognition and the money that may come with it.

Officials with the 9,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force, the backbone of security in Mogadishu, say they are deeply concerned by this fragmentation, reminiscent of Somalia’s warlord days after the government collapsed in 1991. ...

So we are witnessing a return to the darkest days of Somalia’s decades of hell: hydra-headed warfare among merciless warlords carving out petty fiefdoms for themselves through terror, robbery and murder. And what does the Obama Administration think of this development? One unnamed (of course) American official told the NYT:

“It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to have a local leader with some charisma and grass-roots support.”

The hell of warlordism is A-OK with Washington, in other words – as long as the terrorizers, murderers and thieves play ball with the Potomac overlords, of course.

The Killing Cult of Profit and Control
Scahill also tells the story of how the fruits of imperial policy in Somalia have turned ploughshares into swords, tracking the conversion of a non-violent aid group into one of the most deadly fighting machines in the land. Here too we see how one of the most sinister developments of our age has entered the killing fields of Somalia: the ever-accelerating rise of corporate mercenaries, killing for private profit, bankrolled by public funds.

One of the more powerful forces that has emerged in Somalia’s anti-Shabab, government-militia nexus is Ahluu Sunna Wa’Jama (ASWJ), a Sufi Muslim paramilitary organization. Founded in the 1990s as a quasi-political organization dedicated to Sufi religious scholarship and community works -- and avowedly nonmilitant -- ASWJ viewed itself as a buffer against the encroachment of Wahhabism in Somalia. Its proclaimed mandate was to “preach a message of peace and delegitimize the beliefs and political platform of … fundamentalist movements.”

…By some accounts, the ASWJ has been among the most effective fighters battling the Shabab outside Mogadishu, winning back territory in the Mudug region and several other pockets of land. But like most powerful paramilitary groups in Somalia, the ASWJ is far more complex than it may seem.

This past July, the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia declared that some ASWJ militias “appear to be proxies for neighboring States rather than emergent local authorities.” According to the UN report, ASWJ also received support and training from Southern Ace, a private security firm. Technically registered in Hong Kong in 2007 and run by a white South African, Edgar Van Tonder, Southern Ace committed the “most egregious violations of the arms embargo” on Somalia. Between April 2009 and early 2011, according to the United Nations, Southern Ace operated a 220-strong militia, paying $1 million in salaries and at least $150,000 for arms and ammunition.

Southern Ace began acquiring arms from the weapons market in Somalia, including scores of Kalashnikovs, heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and an anti-aircraft ZU-23 machine gun with 2,000 rounds of ammunition. Its arms purchases “were so substantial” that local officials “noted a significant rise in the price of ammunition and a shortage of ZU-23 rounds.” The company also imported to Somalia “Philippine army-style uniforms and bullet-proof jackets in support of their operations,” according to the UN.

Backed by Ethiopia and Southern Ace, ASWJ conducted a series of major offensives against the Shabab that the UN alleged were supported through violations of the arms embargo. While Ethiopia and the United States undoubtedly see ASWJ as the best counterbalance to the influence of the Shabab and Al Qaeda, in just three years they have transformed a previously nonviolent entity into one of the most powerful armed groups in Somalia. “To a certain extent, the resort to Somali proxy forces by foreign Governments represents a potential return to the ‘warlordism’ of the 1990s and early 2000s, which has historically proved to be counterproductive,” the UN soberly concluded.

Counterproductive, indeed. Unless, of course, your main concern is not bringing peace to Somalia, but imposing your fanatical agenda of domination and war profiteering– whatever the cost. On that score, the record of American policy toward Somalia over the past two decades is clear. Through Republican and Democratic administrations, through many changes of partisan control of Congress, Washington has pursued the path of domination, exacerbating violence, division, corruption, and plunging millions of people into anguish, despair, starvation and death.

As I’ve noted here before, the leaders of the American Imperium are not cartoon villains, twirling their moustaches as they cackle over photos of dead babies and disembowelled mothers. They consider themselves good people: righteous, caring, humanitarian. If they could impose the strictures of their extremist cult without bloodshed or suffering, they would do so. Osama bin Laden was the same. But as leaders have found throughout history, humanity is a recalcitrant element. All too often, people stubbornly refuse to bow to the vision of reality proffered by the high and mighty, the wise and the worthy. In such cases (which is to say, in all cases), it thus becomes necessary to impose the worthy vision by force. The fate of individual human beings must give way to the higher calling. “Collateral damage” is an unfortunate but unavoidable necessity. As Stalin said, in explaining away the millions killed by the wise and worthy policy of collectivization, “when wood is chopped, chips fly.”

As for Somalia, the chips – that is, the absolutely unique, immeasurably precious lives of individual human beings who love, yearn, fear, rage, weep, laugh, hope and dream with just as much depth and reality as anyone else on earth (including, yes, those killed on 9/11) – will continue to fly. That is the inevitable result of the policies of the Nobel Peace Laureate, as Scahill notes in his conclusion:

Perhaps the Shabab is truly on the ropes, as the Somali government claims. Or maybe the group is implementing [its late leader’s] vision of a guerrilla terror campaign that gives up territory in favor of sowing fear throughout the country. In any case, the Shabab’s meteoric rise in Somalia, and the legacy of terror it has wrought, is blowback sparked by a decade of disastrous US policy that ultimately strengthened the very threat it was officially intended to crush. In the end, the greatest beneficiaries of US policy are the warlords, including those who once counted the Shabab among their allies and friends. “They are not fighting for a cause,” says Ahmed Nur Mohamed, the Mogadishu mayor. “And the conflict will start tomorrow, when we defeat Shabab. These militias are based on clan and warlordism and all these things. They don’t want a system. They want to keep that turf as a fixed post -- then, whenever the government becomes weak, they want to say, ‘We control here.’”

That is precisely the vision and the goal that also drives our righteous, caring, humanitarian bipartisan elite in Washington: They want to say, “We control here.”

This is the foundation stone of the modern American imperium. This is what it is all about. This is the ugly, evil secret beneath all the displays of piety and patriotism, the stirring calls to “defend our values,” the endless evocations of our goodness and specialness. All of it is meaningless. All of it is belched forth in order to disguise – both from the victims and, in many cases, the perpetrators themselves – the true nature of the bizarre, brutal and barbaric cult of money and militarism that now controls American society: They want to say, We control here.


UPDATE: In Monday's Guardian, Madeleine Bunting outlines how American policy in Somalia has been a crucial factor in the catastrophic famine that now threatens to kill up to 750,000 people by the end of the year.

The predicted death toll didn't reach the top of television bulletins last week. Attention was focused on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. But what is almost routinely overlooked – except by longtime observers of Somalia – is that its plight is bound up with 9/11 and the way that the war on terror shaped US foreign policy....

Somalia's catastrophe is about how "humanitarian space" – the principles of neutrality crucial to effective intervention – has been destroyed by US policy in Somalia since 9/11. This is the key difference with the famine of the early 1990s, when the warring clans still recognised the neutrality of humanitarian aid rather than seeing it as a tool of western political strategy. Now the fringe extremist Islamist al-Shabaab militia, who control many parts of Somalia, will not allow access to most western aid agencies .... The result is that there is no one who can engineer the massive logistical effort required to provide the food needed.

The hostility of al-Shabaab to western aid is in all the media reports on the famine. It plays easily into stereotypes of senseless and cruel violence in obscure African conflicts. But what is often omitted is any explanation of why al-Shabaab are so hostile to westerners – one honourable exception is the US journalist Jeremy Scahill, who uncovered CIA sites in Mogadishu. His reports trace how al-Shabaab's suspicion is rooted in the experience of a decade of devious US manipulation.

Much of that manipulation is noted above. But Bunting also points to another important factor:

Soon after 9/11, the US froze the assets of Somalia's biggest remittance agency and a pillar of the economy, al-Barakat, and many lost money. Another US counterterrorism measure criminalised organisations whose support could end up in the hands of those with terrorist links. This has made any negotiations with al-Shabaab over aid to the regions they control very difficult for aid agencies.

There is much more in the article, which also draws on Scahill's work, and adds other information and insights as well. Both pieces should be read in full.

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