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Skull and Bono: The Sound of ONE Hand Clapping
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 17 June 2013 22:24

As the G8 gathers here in my adopted homeland of Blighty to settle the world's hash with the great wisdom and gravitas of such world-historical figures as Barry Obama, Davy Cameron and Val Putin, George Monbiot reports on the sinister diversions of that perennial gate-crasher of the great and good at Davos, Bilderberg and wherever the masters of the universe gather behind their bristling security gates: none other than that globe-trotting friend to all humankind -- Bono.

It was bad enough in 2005. Then, at the G8 summit in Scotland, Bono and Bob Geldof heaped praise on Tony Blair and George Bush, who were still mired in the butchery they had initiated in Iraq. At one point Geldof appeared, literally and figuratively, to be sitting in Tony Blair's lap. African activists accused them of drowning out a campaign for global justice with a campaign for charity.

But this is worse. As the UK chairs the G8 summit again, a campaign that Bono founded, with which Geldof works closely, appears to be whitewashing the G8's policies in Africa.

Last week I drew attention to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, launched in the US when it chaired the G8 meeting last year. The alliance is pushing African countries into agreements that allow foreign companies to grab their land, patent their seeds and monopolise their food markets. Ignoring the voices of their own people, six African governments have struck deals with companies such as Monsanto, Cargill, Dupont, Syngenta, Nestlé and Unilever, in return for promises of aid by the UK and other G8 nations.

A wide range of activists, both African and European, is furious about the New Alliance. But the ONE campaign, co-founded by Bono, stepped up to defend it.

… I discovered is that Bono has also praised the New Alliance, in a speech just before last year's G8 summit in the US. The second thing I discovered is that much of the ONE campaign's primary funding was provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, two of whose executives sit on its board. The foundation has been working with the biotech company Monsanto and the grain trading giant Cargill, and has a large Monsanto shareholding. Bill Gates has responded to claims made about land grabbing in Africa, asserting, in the face of devastating evidence and massive resistance from African farmers, that "many of those land deals are beneficial, and it would be too bad if some were held back because of western groups' ways of looking at things". (Africans, you will note, keep getting written out of this story.)

The third thing I discovered is that there's a long history here. In his brilliant and blistering book The Frontman: Bono (in the Name of Power), just released in the UK, the Irish scholar Harry Browne maintains that "for nearly three decades as a public figure, Bono has been … amplifying elite discourses, advocating ineffective solutions, patronising the poor and kissing the arses of the rich and powerful". His approach to Africa is "a slick mix of traditional missionary and commercial colonialism, in which the poor world exists as a task for the rich world to complete".

…Bono claims to be "representing the poorest and most vulnerable people". But talking to a wide range of activists from both the poor and rich worlds since ONE published its article last week, I have heard the same complaint again and again: that Bono and others like him have seized the political space which might otherwise have been occupied by the Africans about whom they are talking. Because Bono is seen by world leaders as the representative of the poor, the poor are not invited to speak. This works very well for everyone – except them.

The ONE campaign looks to me like the sort of organisation that John le Carré or Robert Harris might have invented. It claims to work on behalf of the extremely poor. But its board is largely composed of multimillionaires, corporate aristocrats and US enforcers. Here you will find Condoleezza Rice, George W Bush's national security adviser and secretary of state, who aggressively promoted the Iraq war, instructed the CIA that it was authorised to use torture techniques and browbeat lesser nations into supporting a wide range of US aims.

Here too is Larry Summers, who was chief economist at the World Bank during the darkest days of structural adjustment and who, as US Treasury secretary, helped to deregulate Wall Street, with such happy consequences for the rest of us. Here's Howard Buffett, who has served on the boards of the global grain giant Archer Daniels Midland as well as Coca-Cola and the food corporations ConAgra and Agro Tech. Though the main focus of ONE is Africa, there are only two African members. One is a mobile phone baron, the other is the finance minister of Nigeria, who was formerly managing director of the World Bank. What better representatives of the extremely poor could there be?

This is actually the same vein that Obama himself has been mainlining for years: I'm cool, I'm hip, I'm down with the poor and downtrodden -- even as he rides shotgun for some of the most rapacious corporations and policies on the planet. One can only agree with Monbiot here:

I found the sight of Bono last week calling for "more progress on transparency" equally revolting. As Harry Browne reminds us, U2's complex web of companies, the financial arrangements of Bono's Product RED campaign and his investments through the private equity company he co-founded are all famously opaque ….

There is a well-known if dubious story that claims that at a concert in Glasgow Bono began a slow hand-clap. He is supposed to have announced: "Every time I clap my hands, a child in Africa dies." Whereupon someone in the audience shouted: "Well fucking stop doing it then." It's good advice, and I wish he'd take it.

 
Absolving Obama, or The Lamentable Sigh of the Depressed Progressive
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 17 June 2013 02:44

Something very, very bad happened over the weekend.

President Obama made Digby sigh.

What did President Obama do that made Digby sigh? Well, that thing about increasing American military involvement in Syria. Digby quotes, and agrees with, a piece by Mark Lynch which she calls "a deeply skeptical and very depressing assessment of the decision to intervene in Syria."

Digby -- like most other sentient beings on the planet, and at least 85 percent of all Americans in the most recent polls -- believes that intervening in Syria is a bad decision and will in all likelihood make the situation, already a vast cauldron of human suffering, worse.

So who is to blame for this terrible decision, this stupid decision, this bad decision that will almost certainly extend, expand and prolong the suffering of multitudes of innocent human beings?

Now you and I might think that the person responsible for the decision to send American weapons to the Syrian rebels rests with the commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces and the Chief Executive of the U.S. government, positions subsumed within the office of the President of the United States -- a post currently held by Barack Obama.

But it turns out that President Barack Obama is not responsible for the decision of the commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces and the Chief Executive of the U.S. government to send American arms to the Syrian rebels.

So who is responsible, if Obama is not? You'll never guess.

Circumstances.

Yes, apparently, once again our noble Nobelist has been torn away from his true intentions and, very reluctantly, with heavy heart -- indeed, with the kind of tragic grandeur that perhaps only President Daniel Day-Lewis might have known in the grimmest days of the Civil War -- been forced, forced against his will, against the very inclination of his soul, to send the American war machine into yet another country.

For who can forget his anguished reluctance to escalate the Afghan War with his Bush-like surge? Or the heart-tormented nights he spent before intervening illegally in Libya? Or the sweat-drops of blood he shed in fervent prayer before escalating the drone attacks on Pakistani villages? Or the spiritual torment he must go through each and every week before, sadly, reluctantly, he orders a new raft of "extrajudicial killings" by his globe-spanning death squads?

And now, once again, despite what we may be sure were weeks of fervent petition to the Lord to let this cup pass from him, the president has been forced to act against his will and make another bad, stupid, murderous decision. As Digby puts it:

Everything I read says that President Obama, unlike many in his cabinet (including his former Secretary of State) has been extremely reluctant to engage but finds himself hemmed in by the circumstances.

You see, he has been "hemmed in by circumstances." Despite his extreme reluctance to use the American military machine in dubious, sinister and counterproductive operations -- and despite his position as commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces, the most powerful military in the history of the world, and as Chief Executive of the U.S. government, likewise the most powerful state in human history, he has been "hemmed in by circumstances" and forced to make this bad decision.

Yes, he can order the assassination of anyone on earth. Yes, he can read the emails and web trails of anyone on earth. Yes, he can launch a nuclear war tomorrow and destroy the planet. But he cannot resist the "circumstances" that have compelled him to intervene in Syria. Poor man. Poor,  powerless, tragic man.

And what are those circumstances? Well, that is not crystal clear in Digby's lament, but apparently the main circumstance is the fact that a "red line" which Barack Obama himself freely decided would be the trigger for intervention has, apparently, according to assertions by his "intelligence" chiefs -- including many of the same people (such as his hand-picked Director of National Intelligence, James "Saddam moved his non-existent WMD to Syria" Clapper) who provided the "slam-dunk" intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

These are the "circumstances" that have "hemmed in" Obama. These are the iron chains which this poor man, who has no power -- not even the power to change his own mind about red lines and triggers -- is now bound with.

But it's not just Obama. Sadly, all our presidents are poor, powerless men, hemmed in by similar circumstances. As Digby tells us:

He certainly isn't the first president to find himself in that situation. America's military empire has perhaps been the most "exceptional" thing about us in recent decades.

Why, I suppose even poor, powerless George W. Bush found himself in such a hemming situation, forced by his own rhetoric and bullshit "red lines" to invade Iraq. And poor old Big Dawg Bill Clinton found himself forced to press the sanctions on Iraq that killed more than half a million children. And .....

It is all, as Digby says, very depressing. Depressing that America keeps going around the world fomenting war, chaos, bloodshed, instability and ruin, bankrupting its own people in the process while stuffing the pockets of war profiteers. And depressing too that none of our presidents apparently have the power to stop this from happening. They are all "hemmed in by circumstances," by the American military empire ... that same military empire that each one of them fought tooth and nail to get control of.

Digby concludes:

I hope he resists the pressures that Lynch illustrates above [i.e., sliding into ever-deeper involvement]. But the first step is always the hardest. The next ones will probably be easier which argues for not taking the step in the first place.

Sigh.

I must confess that my first reaction to the news that Obama is intervening militarily in Syria -- I'm sorry, that circumstances are intervening militarily in Syria -- was not exactly a sigh. But hey, maybe Digby's right. For really, what else can we do, but sigh and shrug and frown a little frown? He's "our guy" after all, right? Not perfect, but the best "we" can do for now, right? "We" fought like hell to re-elect him, so when he does something stupid, destructive, repressive or murderous, what else can you do? Turn on him? Leave the progressive "tribe"? God forbid! No, "we" can do so much more from inside the tent, bringing progressive pressure to bear by judicious but respectful criticism (and maybe some on-line petitions or something), tempered with "our" general support. Right? Right?

Sigh.

 
Collusion Course: Machinations of the Double-Headed Beast
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Wednesday, 15 May 2013 15:41

Who would have thought that oil barons -- of all people! -- would be involved in dirty back-room dealings to gorge their gobs with even more swill from the trough? From the Guardian:

The London offices of BP and Shell have been raided by European regulators investigating allegations they have "colluded" to rig oil prices for more than a decade. The European commission said its officers carried out "unannounced inspections" at several oil companies in London, the Netherlands and Norway to investigate claims they may have "colluded in reporting distorted prices to a price reporting agency [PRA] to manipulate the published prices for a number of oil and biofuel products" .. It warned: "Even small distortions of assessed prices may have a huge impact on the prices of crude oil, refined oil products and biofuels purchases and sales, potentially harming final consumers."

Of course, these manipulations of "self-policing" mechanisms for setting prices are endemic across the economic heights commanded by our most illustrious financial and industrial elites, as Matt Taibbi noted last month. And I'm sure the dastardly deeds of the oil companies in fixing prices will be dealt with just as harshly and thoroughly as the recent Libor scandal was: with a few chump-change fines that put not the slightest crimp in the criminals' operations nor impeded their ready access to the inner circles (and outer fundraisers) of government power.

So while continuing a fierce vigilance against the relentless encroachments of an unhinged, unrestrained and openly murderous government, let us also recognize that the "free market" -- often posited as some kind of purer alternative to the state, a mystic realm where the free play of individual desires and activities combine ineffably to produce the best of all possible worlds -- is, and always has been, a rigged game where vicious predators seek tyrannical control, by hook, crook and vast corruption, shackling the 'free play of individual desires and activities' in every way possible to squeeze out more unjust advantage for themselves.

Of course, the 'state' and the 'free market' are simply two halves of the same rough beast. The modern 'free market' is the result of massive, continual and pervasive state intervention on its behalf -- that is, on behalf of the vicious predators exercising tyrannical control of economic activity -- while the state is in practice little more than a vehicle for elite aggrandizement. (Yes, even in America, even from the very beginning. For more, see this piercing piece by Arthur Silber, in which he points us to the remarkable book by Terry Boulton, Taming Democracy: "The People," the Founders, and the Troubled Ending of the American Revolution, which I highly recommend.) If they don't get you with one head, they'll get you with the other.

Or as the old song says: "nobody save you now."

UPDATE: We were remiss in omitting one of the most important benefits (or should that be 'entitlements') that the state provides to the 'free market': protection from the laws of, er, the state. Again,Taibbi points out a recent example.

 
Are You Down With the Plan?
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 14 May 2013 23:05

Once more, with feeling. Why? Because they're still getting fat -- and we ain't.

 

 
Horse Sense: Big Brother by the Back Door
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 10 May 2013 16:28

Not to be paranoid or anything….

Biometric Database of All Adult Americans Hidden in Immigration Reform

From Wired:

The immigration reform measure the Senate began debating yesterday would create a national biometric database of virtually every adult in the U.S., in what privacy groups fear could be the first step to a ubiquitous national identification system.

Buried in the more than 800 pages of the bipartisan legislation is language mandating the creation of the innocuously-named “photo tool,” a massive federal database administered by the Department of Homeland Security and containing names, ages, Social Security numbers and photographs of everyone in the country with a driver’s license or other state-issued photo ID.

Employers would be obliged to look up every new hire in the database to verify that they match their photo …. Privacy advocates fear the inevitable mission creep, ending with the proof of self being required at polling places, to rent a house, buy a gun, open a bank account, acquire credit, board a plane or even attend a sporting event or log on the internet. Think of it as a government version of Foursquare, with Big Brother cataloging every check-in....

For now, the legislation allows the database to be used solely for employment purposes. But historically such limitations don’t last. The Social Security card, for example, was created to track your government retirement benefits. Now you need it to purchase health insurance.

David Bier, an analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, agrees with the ACLU’s fears. “The most worrying aspect is that this creates a principle of permission basically to do certain activities and it can be used to restrict activities,” he said. “It’s like a national ID system without the card.”

Once again, we see an all-too-common, sinister dynamic at work: even when our guardians appear to be at least attempting to do something worthwhile -- in this case, sorting out a few of the difficulties faced by millions of immigrants living in legal limbo -- their efforts turn out to be a Trojan Horse, hiding nefarious intentions.

 
Radical Notions
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Thursday, 09 May 2013 16:34

John Knefel at Rolling Stone dispels the widespread belief in the security apparat that young Muslims are being "radicalized" into violence through exposure to extremist through a "funnel" of manipulation by media and mosque. Knefel writes:

That theory was set out in a 2007 NYPD report called Radicalization in the West, which focuses exclusively on Muslims, and describes a four-stage progression – a "funnel," the report says – in which each step towards violence is intrinsically linked with increased religiosity. … There's only one problem, according to critics: It's reductive and simplistic at best, and at worst is a thin justification for racial profiling of Muslims.

"Nobody watches YouTube or reads Inspire and becomes a terrorist. It's absurd to think so," says John Horgan, director of the International Center for the Study of Terrorism at Pennsylvania State University. "YouTube videos and reading Al Qaeda magazines tends to be far more relevant for sustaining commitment than inspiring it."

The mistaken belief that the earliest stages of terrorism can be seen at "radicalization incubators" – Muslim bookstores, hookah bars, mosques, virtually anywhere Muslims congregate in person or online – has resulted in a focus on so-called "preventive policing," a policy whose stated aim is to prevent a terrorist attack before one happens. Since the theory says adopting radical ideas is the first step toward someone becoming violent, officials say they're justified in surveilling places where "radical" ideas might take hold.

According to Horgan, though, that's just not how it works. "The idea that radicalization causes terrorism is perhaps the greatest myth alive today in terrorism research," he says. "[First], the overwhelming majority of people who hold radical beliefs do not engage in violence. And second, there is increasing evidence that people who engage in terrorism don't necessarily hold radical beliefs."

…Despite all this, law enforcement organizations have used the flawed logic of "radicalization" to justify investigating innocent Muslims in almost every part of their daily lives. Under "preventive policing," critics say cops and FBI agents aren't focusing on actual crime, but on protected first amendment activities – like the NYPD's surveillance of student and political groups, or reports "that the FBI has infiltrated mosques simply to learn about what was being said by the imam leading prayers and by those attending"  – without a clear reason to suspect criminality.

The whole piece makes for interesting reading. But here's one further thought on  the "counterterrorism" efforts of the ever-watchful Guardians Of Our Nation (GOONs).

If they really are so concerned about the  'radicalization' of young Muslims, then why do all the undercover agents they send into Muslim communities pose as extremists, sowing the most radical ideas possible, preying on any vulnerable or troubled soul they come across, egging them on to violence and hatred and often even arranging terrorists plots for them to take part in? If their real concern was to quell "radicalization," shouldn't they be sending in people to talk up peace, tolerance, non-violence, etc.? [Leaving aside the quaint, barnacle-encrusted notion that the state should not be infiltrating any groups at all; I mean, get with the 21st century already, grandpa!]

Indeed, it's almost as if they want to foment scarifying plots, keeping the public scared, obedient -- even slavishly grateful -- to their GOONs and (coincidentally, of course!) justifying an never-ending stream of loot and power flowing to their own noble selves and their institutions of domination, which have killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world in the last decade and stripped away the last vestiges of personal liberty (and prosperity) from those they are meant to be "guarding."

I wonder who radicalized them into such violent extremism?

 
The Shining Rocks: No Taint of Man or of Machine
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 03 May 2013 23:24

Something for the weekend (as they say in Blighty) ... Yearning for that place where the torments of the world are ten thousand miles away.

 
Pay in Blood: May Day and Modern Politics
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Wednesday, 01 May 2013 11:54

Here's a really weird "alternative history" thought experiment on this day set aside to celebrate workers around the world. Try to imagine a President of the United States standing up before Congress and saying something like this:

"There is one point … to which I ask a brief attention. It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government. … Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration."

Isn't that wild? Of course, it's the kind of thing only some ignorant goober from the sticks -- or maybe even from some other century -- would come out with. Today, fortunately, we know that people who work for wages are just moochers and takers: parasites feeding on the noble blood of their bosses and betters. Being advanced, savvy and modern, we now know that Labor deserves no 'consideration' at all (much less a higher one!): no safe work places, no job security, no secured pensions, no bargaining rights, no privacy, no decency, no dignity. Labor should be glad and grateful to give whatever it takes (and take whatever they give) to serve the interests of our precious elites -- our crusading corporate chieftains, our visionary venture capitalists, our wise shepherds of inherited wealth -- who graciously provide their beasts of burden with store of provender.

Unless, of course, the provender provisioning threatens to cut into the nobles' bloated profit margins too much. In that case, of course, the higher considerations of capital must take precedence, and the jobs have to go. And when that happens, Labor should humbly bow its head, without complaint, without whining, and quietly, meekly, accept its fate, in accordance with the ruling principle that governs our glorious modern world.

And what is that principle? Well, it just so happens that I addressed this theme in my latest column for Counterpunch Magazine, now offered for your perusal below.

Pay in Blood: Modern Politics Made Simple
Modern politics can be hard to fathom, a bizarre mix of mind-bending complexities and bone-stupid banalities coming at us in a howling sandstorm of chaotic noise. How to sift the relentless, contradictory arcana of current events and make sense of it all? I find that a simple phrase helps thread the labyrinth – four little words that capture the grand, overarching political philosophy of the age:

Fuck Off And Die.

This is the lodestar guiding leaders of every political stripe across the breadth of western civilization. If you want to make your way through their billows of bullshit, hold fast to this phrase. It’s what they’re really saying to you.

Of course, elite attitudes toward the lower orders have never been exactly tender; but in times past, a rather large number of sufficiently quiescent peasants and proles were required to create the wealth for plutocratic plundering and maintain the machinery of power and privilege. Thus some attention had to be paid to the rabble’s basic needs and even -- occasionally – their pitiful aspirations for a more meaningful, more humane life for themselves, their families and their communities. But now the means of production (to borrow a phrase) are largely mechanized and digitized; you don’t need many warm bodies -- and certainly not skilled or experienced or well-paid ones – to keep the money rolling in. And perhaps more importantly, the means of control -- the technologies of violence and surveillance -- are now vastly more powerful and pervasive and efficient than ever.

To put it plainly, the elites don’t need us anymore -- or not many of us, anyway. And thanks to runaway population growth -- and the greasy mobility of global capital -- those few of us they do still need to keep the machinery going can be easily replaced, at any moment, by some other desperate chump trying to avoid destitution. So there is no longer any reason for elites to concern themselves with the wearisome creatures out there beyond the mansion gates and the penthouse glass. No need to worry about workers’ rights: if they get out of line, sack them, or even better, send the whole operation overseas, where sweatshop fodder is thick on the ground and comes dirt cheap. No need to worry about communities, the personal, social, economic and physical structures that gave a richer embodiment to ordinary life: just strip them, gut them and leave them to die -- and when the rot gets bad enough, as in Detroit, send in an unelected “manager” to pick the carcass clean.

And no need to worry about mass uprisings of the dispossessed, debt-ridden, insecure, angry, overwhelmed, isolated, media-dazed rabble. With hyper-militarized police forces, cameras on every corner, spies and provocateurs infesting every possible base of dissent, and gargantuan data-harvesters mining every public move and private click of the populace, repression is a piece of cake. And if by chance some pocket of protest does reach critical mass somewhere, your hi-tech, heavily armored goons can easily beat it, tase it and pepper-spray it into submission.

So the elites no longer need us or fear us. We are superfluous to their requirements. And their policies are now ever more nakedly geared to hammering this truth home.

The Great Crash of ’08 gave them the excuse to rip off the mask at last. For five years now, the iron hand of “austerity” has been pressed down hard upon ordinary people. We had no part in the criminal folly that caused the disaster -- yet we are the ones left paying for it, in lost jobs, lost homes, lost services, lost freedoms, lost opportunities, and cramped, crippled, diminished lives. From the "progressive" Obama to the Tory toff Cameron to the pseudo-Socialist Hollande to the dour centrist Merkel -- and all the other clowns, clerks and ciphers turning their self-proclaimed “great democracies” into cash cows for their cronies and controllers -- the infliction of pain on ordinary people is the only game in town. ‘O my gosh,’ our leaders cry, throwing up their soft, unblemished hands, ‘there's just no more money left, no money for your schools, your roads, your jobs, your pensions, your rights, your benefits, your elderly, your sick, your poor, your vulnerable. The money's all gone, what can we do?’

But of course the money is not gone, not at all. A new study -- by an inside man, James Henry, former chief economist at McKinsey -- shows that up to $32 trillion has been stashed away by the world’s elites in offshore accounts and other hidey-holes. Even a modest portion of this mountain of swag would completely alleviate the draconian “budget crises” and ludicrous “sequesters” that have been artificially imposed on nation after nation. All of the suffering, chaos, ruin and degradation being caused by these policies -- all the “skin in the game” that’s being flayed from the backs of ordinary people -- all of it is unnecessary. The money is there to solve these problems -- if our leaders wanted to solve them.

But they don’t. For “austerity” isn’t designed to fix our problems; it is instead meant to be a permanent condition, a new normal, the endless, changeless natural order. (Just as the “emergency” of the “War on Terror” has now morphed into a permanent way of life.) It’s all out in the open. Obama is eagerly offering to slash the social compact to ribbons. Cameron is driving the poor and sick to their knees. The IMF is breeding Nazis in Greece. They’re not even pretending to care about anyone outside the golden circle anymore.

Fuck off and die: that’s it, that’s all they’ve got to say. The rest is show-biz -- strip-tease and shell games -- to fleece us of our last few coins as they shove us out the exit.

 
The Portion: Evil Deams, Blue Snow, Great Souls
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Thursday, 25 April 2013 22:16

For your potential delectation, a rambling disquisition on some aspects of our fractured reality, with cameos by Sigmund Freud, E.M. Forster, kings, slave singers, and love that burns beyond the grave.

The Portion by Chris Floyd


 
Send in the Klowns: Deadly Dithering in a Locked-Down Land
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Wednesday, 24 April 2013 22:39

In a veritable ocean of witless, sinister media gabble about the Boston bombing -- and the successful tryout of the "Major City Martial Law Revue" that followed (doubtless coming soon to Broadway, the Beltway and conurbations from coast to coast) -- Arthur Silber, as you might expect, cuts through the foaming sludge with this perceptive and powerful look at the "Killer Klowns" who rule us. The often darkly comic piece is studded with gems, but two particularly important points stand out: first, the absolute idiocy of relying on "the farcical charade that is 'intelligence'" when assessing any situation; and second, the malevolent effects of the "idealization of authority." Read it in full as an effective antidote to our ever more poisonous public discourse.

 
Darkness at Dawn: Tainting Democracy for Power and Profit
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 23 April 2013 16:38

Who would have thought that the brutal Burma junta had not really and truly reformed itself when it made its much-ballyhooed leap forward toward democracy by releasing dissident Aung San Suu Kyi and loosening restrictions on the officially recognised political opposition -- a move that brought the much-sought pat on the head (and easing of sanctions) from the American Imperium, and even a visit from Caesar himself?

Having witnessed this miracle, who would have believed that this same militarist junta -- which has retained all its power and maintained its repressive forces in place -- would now be using Suu Kyi and "democracy" to provide a PR fig leaf for a vicious campaign of ethnic cleansing? Yet, strangely enough, that appears to be what is happening. The Burmese regime has overtly and covertly been assisting in the ongoing sectarian strife led by violent fundamentalist Buddhist monks against the small Muslim minority in the country -- particularly the Rohingya and Kaman Muslims, stateless people who have been forced into refugee camps by the junta and subjected to constant attacks by the Buddhist majority in Rakhine state and elsewhere around the country.

The outpouring of violence has shaken the moral authority of Suu Kyi, as she tries to maintain the momentum of democratization through negotiation and cooperation with the power structure. Many have found her statements on the violence to be remarkably muted. This too plays into the hands of the Burmese rulers: they get kudos for freeing dissidents and making gestures toward democracy, while at the same time they weaken the opposition by co-opting it.

(This dynamic might not be totally unfamiliar to observers of American politics, particularly in the relationship between the militarist-corporatist, drone-bombing, extrajudicially-murdering, indefinitely-detaining, force-feeding, whistleblower-quashing Obama administration and what is laughingly known as the 'left.' Although naturally our morally tough and savvy progressive pundits deliver themselves of fierce criticisms of this or that particular policy or political move of the Administration, their opposition is fatally compromised by their need to maintain their own much-sought pats on the head from the Imperium (don't want to be disinvited from the next Oval Office confab with progressive bloggers or -- gasp! -- dropped out of rotation on the Chris Hayes show!) and by their own fervent efforts to keep the militarist-corporatist, drone-bombing, etc. Administration in power last year.)

The Washington Post reports:

A leading international rights group on Monday accused authorities in Myanmar, including Buddhist monks, of fomenting an organized campaign of ethnic cleansing against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority that killed hundreds of people and forced 125,000 from their homes.

Human Rights Watch also described the bloody wave of violence and massacres in western Rakhine state last year as crimes against humanity, and slammed the government of President Thein Sein for failing to bring the perpetrators to justice months after mobs of Buddhists armed with machetes and homemade guns razed thousands of Muslim homes.

While state security forces sometimes intervened to protect fleeing Muslims, more often they fueled the unrest, the rights group said, either by standing by idle or directly participating in atrocities. One soldier reportedly told a Muslim man whose village was ablaze: “The only thing you can do is pray to save your lives.”

The allegations, detailed in a new report by the New York-based rights group, came the same day the European Union lifted all sanctions on Myanmar except an arms embargo to reward the Southeast Asian nation for its progress toward democratic rule.

Burma seems to be playing out a scenario we have seen with grim regularity in the past several years, where the introduction of "democratic reforms" is eventually (or immediately) hijacked either by existing elites or new forces in league with elements of the power structure, or by satraps installed by outside powers via regime change. The new "democratic" governments are either woefully ineffective (e.g. Afghanistan, Egypt) or brutally repressive (Iraq, Libya) or a combination of the two (Russia, Ukraine). But in almost every case, the end result is that "democracy" becomes associated with collapse, corruption, economic ruin, sectarian violence, rampant crime. The very concept becomes tainted for those suffering under "democracy"; in many cases, the word itself becomes an insult, used as a bitter, cynical joke. (I saw this first-hand in Russia during the 1990s.)

People thus subjected to the ravages of "democracy" become much more amenable to authoritarian "solutions" to the problems their "freedom" has caused. This is, of course, because they have neither democracy or freedom but just another set of elites (or the same elites in new drag, like the suddenly "civilian" leaders of the Burmese military junta, or the KGB-connected cronies who have feasted on the Russian carcass for years) ruthlessly exploiting the fears and uncertainties of societies in upheaval.

None of this is likely to stop the accelerating American embrace of Burma's militarist regime. (After all, they're just killing Muslims!) But it is, yet again, a depressing coda to another bright story of a "democratic dawn."

***
(This is not the only route to authoritarianism, of course; we're seeing another model at work in the United States even as we speak. But that's another story, although you'll find good stuff on this theme here and here.)

 
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