Don’t Speak, Memory: Resistance Apes Trump in Weaponizing Amnesia

Written by Chris Floyd 05 January 2019 1493 Hits

Making the social media rounds at the moment is a transcription of Rachel Maddow’s “utterly terrifying” and “deeply chilling” take on one tidbit from Trump’s surreal and probably drug-addled rambling in front of his Cabinet this week. At one point, Trump said the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in order to fight Islamic terrorism. But Maddow assures us, in great detail, that no one, anywhere — not even among Trump’s most rabid supporters, not even the bug-eyed goobers on Fox and Friends — has ever advanced the notion that the Soviet incursion had anything to do with terrorism. In fact, the only place in the history of the world in which this notion has ever been bruited is — of course — Putin’s Kremlin, which is planning an official “reassessment” of the Afghan invasion. (Which, rest assured, is not all like the “reassessment” being done by our stalwart Resisters today of the murderously criminal regime of George W. Bush.)

Maddow says plainly that this idea does not exist anywhere "in nature" except within the bowels of Putin’s United Russia party. (Though how Maddow herself found about the proposed resolution when no one else in nature could have ever even heard of it outside of Putin’s party circles is not explained.) This notion cannot be found anywhere “in American politics, in American media, in American academia, in American fantasy football chat rooms.” Not even “among weird, conservative fringe media figures that you might not know about, but the President might love.” No one has ever written, spoken or heard anything remotely like this until it was cooked up by Putin’s party hacks. And you should be absolutely, utterly, deeply terrified that Trump has somehow got hold of a mangled, drug-addled version of this idea, because he could have only gotten it from Putin’s own party members. Because, again the idea does not exist in nature anywhere else. And Maddow knows this, people, because she spent one whole day looking to find some trace of this non-existent in nature idea! And if you aren’t absolutely chilled to the bone, to the marrow, chilled all the way down to your quantum particles by this, then God help you. You must be a Kremlin dupe, like those Black Lives Matter rubes or those Dakota Pipeline saps. Or a paid Kremlin stooge.

Yet if I may paraphrase the great Ronald Reagan — whom that fightin’ progressive Nancy Pelosi favourably cited in her first speech as Speaker this week — facts are stubborn things. They exist, and persist, whether anyone notices them or not. And the fact that Afghanistan's jihadi extremists were sowing chaos with acts of violence (which in our day we call terrorism but back then were called "freedom fighting"), and that this chaos was exacerbating the turmoil in the faction-ridden Soviet-backed secular government and was a factor in the Kremlin’s tortured decision to intervene, was once considered rather standard fare back in the distant days before history was displaced by hysteria. 

When the Soviets went in, their claim that the US was backing Islamic terrorists was widely dismissed as empty propaganda. But it was later confirmed, cheerfully, by the very architect of that policy, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who told Le Nouvel Observateur in 1998 that he persuaded Jimmy Carter to secretly arm and support the jihadis precisely in hopes of provoking a Soviet incursion. Here's what Brzezinski had to say:

Question: The former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, stated in his memoirs that the American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahiddin in Afghanistan six months before the Soviet intervention. Is this period, you were the national security advisor to President Carter. You therefore played a key role in this affair. Is this correct?

Brzezinski: Yes. According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahiddin began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan on December 24, 1979. But the reality, closely guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.

Q: Despite this risk, you were an advocate of this covert action. But perhaps you yourself desired this Soviet entry into the war and looked for a way to provoke it?

B: It wasn’t quite like that. We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.

Q: When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against secret US involvement in Afghanistan, nobody believed them. However, there was an element of truth in this. You don’t regret any of this today?

B: Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, essentially: “We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war." Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war that was unsustainable for the regime, a conflict that bought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.

Q: And neither do you regret having supported Islamic fundamentalism, which has given arms and advice to future terrorists?

B: What is more important in world history? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some agitated Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?

This is not to say that the Soviets should have intervened in Afghanistan, as Trump was ignorantly asserting the other day. Indeed, the intervention was fiercely contested inside the Kremlin itself, by future leader Andropov among others, but the opponents were overruled by more hardline militarists. (The Politburo PNAC, you might say.) Nor would any knowledgeable person say that the sole reason the Soviets went in was to “fight terrorism" (which is what Putin's party is apparently getting ready to claim.) But the notion Maddow is pushing here -- that Putin’s Kremlin is the only place anyone has ever mentioned anything remotely resembling the idea that Islamic terrorism was a factor in the Soviet invasion is, to put it mildly, ignorant nonsense. 

Of course, Trump is ignorant too, but I’m not concerned here with his obvious incapacities. No, what troubles me most about this episode is the increasing historical amnesia of the “Resistance,” which is reducing complex issues  – with long, detailed, nuanced histories – to fearmongering simplicities. How is this going to help us move forward with any kind of informed, substantive wisdom and insight? How is this “progressive”? Why does every single evil in the world — and every single thing that’s wrong with American politics and society — have to be attributed to a conniving little mastermind cackling in the Kremlin? It’s a childish, cartoonish and dangerous way to look at the world — yet increasingly it is the only take that’s given any space in our “liberal” media. 

I’ll say again what I’ve said many times: you don’t have to prove that Trump is a puppet dancing on Putin’s strings to get rid of him. Right down the street from the White House is a hotel. Trump owns the hotel and profits directly from it. Every single day of his presidency, he has been corruptly pocketing personal gains from foreign governments and companies who use his hotel. This alone is an impeachable offense. It’s cut and dried. The Democrats now in control of the House could immediately begin impeachment hearings on this basis alone -- if they wanted to.

I’m not saying Russian skullduggery should be ignored, but if even one-tenth of the media energy spent in the last two years trying to prove Trump is getting orders from Putin had been directed at exposing Trump's open, manifest, plainly impeachable corruption (the hotel is just one example), then we might have built a great public groundswell of outrage and disgust that, at the very least, would have taken us much further down the road to impeachment than we are today. 

(And as a side issue: if another one-tenth of that energy had been spent building support for abolishing or reforming the Electoral College system, then we would be well on our way to avoiding yet another presidency by vicious right-wing vote-losers like George W. Bush and Trump.)

Anyway, pace Maddow, there were Islamic terrorist groups in Afghanistan (although they were called “freedom fighters” when they were later invited to Reagan’s White House.) They were engaged in wholesale violence that further destabilized an already unstable, badly governed state. The Soviets did point to this as a factor in their disastrous decision to intervene. The United States did covertly support this jihadi uprising before the Soviets moved in, and continued this support throughout the conflict (including, as the Washington Post reported, providing training manuals for terrorist tactics and even schoolbooks for children that promoted jihad against the secular infidels). All of these facts have been discussed and debated openly and freely in the US media and academia for years. Whole books about the complexities of the Soviet invasion, including these facts, have been written by reputable academics, diplomats and historians. Perhaps Maddow spent too long doing her serious journalistic research in “American fantasy football chat rooms” to avail herself of any of this information. I learned these things from reading readily available mainstream books and articles — some of them published even before Putin was elevated to the Russian presidency by America’s favourite dipsomaniac, Boris Yeltsin. I didn’t get them from Putin party insiders or encrypted Kremlin text messages or even from Facebook memes.

Trump shows us over and over, day after day, that historical facts don’t matter anymore. You say whatever you need to say on any given day to scare and outrage people into turning their brains off. But it’s sad to see the “Resistance” adopting this same attitude and, like Trump, continually reducing the world to a frenzied, fearful cartoon, one which distracts us from the complexities of reality and carries us further away from any kind of genuine change in our woeful situation.

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Sucker Punch: Screwing the Rubes in Bipartisan Comity

Written by Chris Floyd 16 December 2018 2458 Hits

As the Trumps Dodged Taxes, Their Tenants Paid a Price (NYT)

A cheap, greedy crook damaging the lives of ordinary people: that's what Trump always was, that's what he is today -- albeit on a monstrously larger scale. Of course, his MAGA mooks will just pull their red caps (made in China) down a little further over their eyes when confronted with this news. Then again, most of them will never hear it, because it won't be on FOX or its equally sinister propaganda partner, the vast web of Sinclair-own local TV stations.

Meanwhile, the happy, hypocritical few at the top of our brutal economic food chain will just keep counting the money they got from Trump and Paul Ryan's trillion-dollar Yacht Club tax cut (money which they are hoarding, by the way, instead of using it to "stimulate the economy" -- the eternal scam line behind every tax cut). They don't care if a crook's in charge, as long he doles out the rake-off in the right direction. And they certainly don't give the slightest damn about rubes who've been overpaying rent for decades because a spray-tanned Capone and his morally rotten family wanted to shove a few extra dollars into their pockets.

One would hope this kind of thing will be picked up the #Resistance and given the kind of scrutiny currently paid to the slightest crumb of a possible Russian connection. (Because, as is well known, it was Putin's $4,000 worth of Facebook ads that mesmerized a handful of former Obama voters [and, in the '08 primary, Hillary Clinton voters] in a few broken-down, ignored counties in three swing states to switch their allegiance to Agent Trumpovsky and cunningly provide the margin of victory. And if you think that even a marginally more focused, energetic -- and meaningful -- campaign, offering these and other voters even the slightest modicum of genuine change [instead of the very inspiring slogan: "We're Already Great, So Just Shut Up Already"] would have outweighed Putin's super-powered Facebook ads, then you are obviously a Kremlin stooge.

But history shows that such hijinxs as revealed in the new Times article are generally ignored by our liberal legislative heroes. Because if one starts delving into tax-dodging schemes and other business practices designed to screw over ordinary citizens while milking them dry, why, who knows what one might find amongst one's party brethren and sisteren? Best to keep the focus on the impenetrable murk of foreign espionage and, when possible, any saucy sexual angles you can find. I mean, come on: pay-offs to strippers? Get in!  

(We saw this dynamic at play in the Kavanaugh hearings, where our Democratic champions simply skated over the judge's egregiously dubious finances and put the focus solely on the sexual assault charges. Which were heinous, and obviously should have been examined. But in the end, the Republicans were happy to have it all come down to a "he said-she said" situation from decades before, and make that the sole basis for voting yea or nay on the vicious little partisan hack. Because there was never going to be a smoking gun in such a case -- unlike, say, an actual, physical paper trail of dirty, dubious financial dealings by the snivelling bagman for far-right interests.)

Of course, sometimes even the sexy sexual sex stuff must be shied away from, if it involves, let us say, the same kind of Tip-n-Ronnie bipartisan comity that all good centrists long to see. Which is why -- as we have often, even tediously, noted in these pages -- the Clinton campaign could not use the nuclear bomb of sex scandals against Trump: his long-time, high-profile involvement with pedophile/pimp Jeffrey Epstein (who even recruited one of his victims from Trump's own plutocrat's playground down in Mar-a-Lago). But this button couldn't be pushed because good old Bill Clinton also had a long-time, high-profile involvement with the pedophile/pimp Jeffrey Epstein. And so it goes.

Anyway, maybe there will be some House committee not dominated by Democratic slumlords and tax dodgers in the next Congress, and we might see a little light on this facet of Trump's wide-ranging criminal and immoral activities. Stranger things have happened, I suppose. But I wouldn't bet next month's jacked-up rent on it.

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Бесы: The Oily Eaters of the Planet

Written by Chris Floyd 14 December 2018 2276 Hits

The Oil Industry’s Covert Campaign to Rewrite American Car Emissions Rules (NYT)

 

It doesn't matter if the planet burns and our children choke to death on dirty air. The only thing that matters is that the Koch Brothers and their cronies make a bit more money to add to their already-monstrous piles of wealth (much of it inherited) which they could never spend in a thousand lifetimes. The earth will fry, our children and grandchildren will suffer and die in an utterly degraded and destabilized world, because these bloated, well-wadded, manipulative "malefactors of great wealth" (to quote an old Republican president) are sick with greed and a perverted lust for domination and power. They own one whole political party and 90% of the other; through their extremist ALEC vehicle, they literally write laws to enrich themselves and give them to the legislators they own to pass into law.

If (as seems increasingly doubtful) anything remotely resembling independent, truthful history is still being written a hundred years from now, people will look back in abject horror and disgust at the system we have today -- and be especially sickened at the way we destroyed the future of our own offspring while telling ourselves how wonderful and righteous and good and great we are.

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Criminal History: BCCI, the Bushes ... and Mueller

Written by Chris Floyd 02 December 2018 3697 Hits

As the newly dead George Herbert Walker Bush luxuriates in the accolades of America's bipartisan political/media establishment, I thought it meet to look again at the article below, which I wrote in 2006, detailing one of the great glories of his great and glorious reign: the thwarting of the investigation into BCCI, "one of the largest criminal organizations in history." Strangely enough, I saw a now-familiar name popping up as one of the key figures in this nefarious cover-up operation by the Bush crime family (who make the Trump Gang look like the two-bit pikers they are): one Robert Mueller, champion of the Resistance and incorruptible shield of the Republic.

Anyway, here’s the lowdown, from 12 years ago. You probably won't see these facts mentioned in any of the upchuckings of hagiography being churned out by our tough, savvy seekers of truth in the Fourth Estate.

This week, the Washington Post offered a grim overview of Iraq's epidemic of mental disorders, produced by years of war, upheaval and neglect ("Iraq's Crisis of Scarred Psyches," March 6). Of course, much of this psychological damage is the fault of Saddam Hussein and the brutal regime he installed: militarism, tyranny and the gross deceit required to maintain them wreak serious havoc on the human mind, as Americans are coming to know too well. But there is a deeper history behind the unfolding nightmare in Iraq – a method to the induced madness – that is inextricably linked to the political and personal fortunes of two sinister twerps named George Bush.

As historian Roger Morris has usefully reminded us, Saddam's regime was midwifed by not one but two coups supported by the CIA: the first brought the Baathist Party to power, the second, an internal coup, engineered the ascension of Saddam's family-centered faction to the top. It is unlikely that Saddam would have ever been a position to impose his perverted militarist vision on Iraqi society without the assistance of the elitist operatives whose headquarters now proudly bears the name of George Herbert Walker Bush.

Let us also remember that Saddam was sustained in his harsh rule with the eager support of Ronald Reagan and theaforementioned George H.W. Bush. Indeed, the latter's passionate embrace of Saddam seemed to know no bounds, so avidly did Bush ply the dictator with money, agricultural credits (which allowed Saddam to use his scarce hard currency for weapons) and advanced technology – includuing "dual-use" gear for weapons of mass destruction – despite the strong warnings of his own Cabinet against such reckless policies, and a 1989 report by the CIA that Iraq had greatly accelerated its nuclear program, and was now the world's largest maker of chemical weapons. 

Bush also used the global criminal network of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) to secretly funnel cash and weaponry to Saddam – then intervened to quash federal investigations of the scam. What was BCCI? Only "one of the largest criminal enterprises in history," according to the United States Senate. What did BCCI do? "It engaged in pandemic bribery of officials in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas," says journalist Christopher Bryon, who first exposed the operation. "It laundered money on a global scale, intimidated witnesses and law officers, engaged in extortion and blackmail. It supplied the financing for illegal arms trafficking and global terrorism. It financed and facilitated income tax evasion, smuggling and prostitution." Sort of an early version of the Bush Regime, then.

The Italian bank BNL was one of BCCI's main tentacles. BNL's Atlanta branch was the primary funnel used to send millions of secret dollars to Saddam for arms purchases, including deadly chemicals and other WMD materials supplied by the Chilean arms dealer Cardoen and various politically-connected operators in the United States like, weapons merchant Matrix Churchill. 

As soon as the BNL case broke, Bush moved to throttle the investigation. He appointed lawyers from both Cardoen and Matrix to top Justice Department posts – where they supervised the officials investigating their old companies. The overall probe was directed by Justice Department investigator Robert Mueller. Meanwhile, White House aides applied heavy pressure on other prosecutors to restrict the range of the probe – especially the fact that Bush cabinet officials Brent Scowcroft and Lawrence Eagleburger had served as consultants for BNL during their pre-White House days as spear-carriers for yet another secretive international front that profits from war, weapons, and the avid greasing of highly-placed palms: Kissinger Associates. The U.S. Senate later found that the probe had been unaccountably "botched" – witnesses went missing, CIA records got "lost," all sorts of bad luck. Most of the big BCCI players went unpunished or got off with wrist-slap fines and sanctions. 

One of the White House aides who unlawfully intervened in the BNL prosecution was a certain factotum named Jay S. ByBee. In 2004, said factotum was appointed by George W. Bush to a place on the federal appeals court – a lifetime sinecure of perks and power. Mueller, meanwhile wound up as head of the FBI, appointed to the post in by George W. in July 2001. Well done, thou good and faithful servants!

Then came Bush's "Gulf War," when he turned on his protégé after Saddam made the foolish move of threatening the Kuwaiti royals – Bush's long-time business partners, going back to the early 1960s. Saddam's conflict with Kuwait centered on two main issues: first, his claim that the billions of dollars Kuwait had given Iraq during the war with Iran was simply straightforward aid to the nation that was defending the Sunni Arab world from the aggressive onslaught of the Shiite Persians. The Kuwaitis insisted the money had been a loan, and demanded that Saddam pay off. There was also Saddam's claim that Kuwait was "slant-drilling" into Iraqi oilfields, siphoning off underground reserves from across the border. These disputes raged for months; a deal to resolve them was brokered by the Arab League, but fell apart at the last minute when Kuwait suddenly rejected the agreement, saying, "We will call in the Americans."

How worried was Bush about the situation? Let's look at the historical record. In the two weeks before the invasion of Kuwait, Bush approved the sale of an additional $4.8 million in "dual-use" technology to factories identified by the CIA as linchpins of Hussein's illicit nuclear and biochemical programs, the Los Angeles Times reports. The day before Saddam sent his tanks across the border, Bush obligingly sold him more than $600 million worth of advanced communications technology. A week later, he was declaring that his long-time ally was "worse than Hitler."

Yes, the Kuwaitis had called in their marker. Like a warlord of old, Bush used the US military as a private army to help his business partners. After an extensive bombing campaign that openly – even gleefully – mocked international law in its targeting of civilian infrastructure (a tactic repeated in Serbia by Bill Clinton – now regarded as an "adopted son" by Bush), the brief 100-hour ground war slaughtered fleeing Iraqi conscripts by the thousands – while, curiously, allowing Saddam's crack troops, the aptly-named Republican Guard, to escape unharmed. Later, these troops were used to kill tens of thousands of Shiites who had risen in rebellion against Saddam – at the specific instigation of George Bush, who not only abandoned them to their fate, but specifically allowed Saddam to use his attack helicopters against the rebels, and also ordered US troops to block Shiites from gaining access to arms caches. It was one of the worst, most murderous betrayals in modern history – and has been almost entirely expunged from the American memory.

Then came the Carthaginian "peace" of the victors – Iraq sown with the salt of sanctions, which led to the unnecessary death of at least 500,000 children, according to UN's conservative estimates. The sanction regime actually strengthened Saddam's grip on Iraqi society, as the ravaged people were reduced to surviving on government handouts of food.

Now another George Bush has visited havoc on Iraq, launching a war that has led to the complete breakdown of Iraqi society, to year after year of deprivation, religious extremism, illegal occupation and unbridled violence. The psychological hell wrought by this sinister consortium – the CIA, the Bushes and Saddam – is unimaginable, a slowly-unfolding atrocity that will chew up victims for decades to come.

Saddam is now on trial for some of his crimes; when will his co-conspirators join him in the dock?

From "Scar Tissue: How the Bushes Brought Bedlam to Iraq," March 6, 2006, Empire Burlesque.

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A Quick Pre-Election Peek into the Palantír

Written by Chris Floyd 05 November 2018 4820 Hits

Here are my last-minute predictions for Election 2018. Rather gloomy ones, I’m afraid — but as with almost everything else I’ve written about politics in this century, I hope I’m badly, embarrassingly wrong. Anyway, here goes.

The Republicans will hold the Senate, as most people expect. They will hold the House as well, although with a reduced — perhaps greatly reduced — majority. (This despite the fact that, as in 2016, more Americans across the country will vote for Democrats in congressional elections.) 

Given this result, in the months afterward the mainstream news media will begin to slowly evince a more respectful, “objective” tone toward Trump, owing to his “unmistakable appeal to the American people, which must be taken seriously.” The remaining “never-Trump” Republicans will jump on the Dear Leader’s bandwagon. (Most of them have already.) The “threat” of the so-called “Caravan” will suddenly and magically dissipate. But the election will have “proven” to the GOP that the use of totally false, inflammatory, openly racist and authoritarian fearmongering, blasted at top volume 24/7, is the best way to win elections, so we can expect the 2020 campaign to be completely off the scale in that regard, making George Wallace — or even George Lincoln Rockwell — look like Mahatma Gandhi. 

Of course, if the Democrats do win big, or narrowly retake Congress, we can expect the latter as well: Trump will be absolutely unhinged in his fury, and he and the GOP will double down — triple down — on their far-right ranting and apocalyptic rabble-rousing. But a Democratic win — even with our current crop of Democrats, who have been just about the most useless, toothless, clueless political opposition I’ve ever seen in my lifetime — will put some at least some impediments in our mad rush toward klepto-plutocratic-theocratic nationalist authoritarianism. And as the Scarlet Pimpernel once said so plaintively, “Odd’s fish, that’s something, isn’t it?”

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Toxic Tropes: "Skyrocketing" Racism Through Respectable Journalism

Written by Chris Floyd 30 October 2018 5766 Hits

Exclusive: Trump to terminate birthright citizenship (Axios.com)

Even in a straightforward news story, which gives valuable information about the latest planned Trump outrage on immigration, we can see how the "objective" language is weighted toward inflammatory interpretation. The story notes:

Between 1980 and 2006, the number of births to unauthorized immigrants — which opponents of birthright citizenship call "anchor babies" — skyrocketed to a peak of 370,000, according to a 2016 study by Pew Research. It then declined slightly during and following the Great Recession.

You scarcely notice the scarifying language on a first reading. But look again: "skyrocketed." We are talking about the birth of 370,000 children over a period of 26 years. 370,000 -- in a population of 325,000,000. We are talking about a cohort of children spread out over more than a quarter of a century, eventually reaching a total of ... 0.1 percent of the population.

This slow, minuscule, scarcely measurable increase in the population is described as a skyrocketing -- explosive, soaring, kinetic, dangerous. And this isn't in an article that is consciously attempting to inflame the immigration debate. It's an example of how inflammatory language can and does infect public discourse -- especially when "balance" has become a fetish to the point that extremist tropes are given such wide play that they become normalized.

Any ordinary, quick reading of that passage would leave the lingering idea that the extremists' mendacious concern about "anchor babies" does have a kernel of truth. Even if readers opposed Trump's approach to immigration, they could easily come away thinking, "Trump is awful, of course, but this problem has skyrocketed. It should probably be looked at one way or another."

But of course there has been no "skyrocketing." There has been a slow rise in "the number of births of unauthorized immigrants" over the course of a quarter of a century: from the time when Jimmy Carter was president and Leonid Brezhnev ruled as still-extant Soviet Union, before personal computers and cell phones, before 60 percent of the people alive on the planet today even existed. 

This rise has actually had no discernible demographic impact at all. The only "concern" it can genuinely evoke is among those who can't bear the fact of even a small increase in the number of other-skinned people who have become American citizens. In other words, it is a "problem," a "skyrocketing" only to racists, to extremists -- and to those who use racism and extremism to further their own political or professional careers. 

And yet here we find this inflammatory language being used casually -- and, one assumes and hopes, unconsciously -- in a straight news story. And we see this across the board on the subject of immigration (among others): the lazy promulgation of racist and other extremist tropes in the most ordinary of circumstances.

This one story hardly matters in itself, of course. But it is indicative of the poisonous "background radiation" that we all must live with nowadays. Even if you put aside the multibillion-dollar operations -- like Fox, Sinclair, the Kochs, etc., which openly and relentlessly seek to inflame the populace and drive it toward extremism -- we are still immersed in the toxic language of hate and demonization that has crept into "respectable" discourse in a thousand insidious ways.

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The American Mirror: Darkness Visible

Written by Chris Floyd 02 October 2018 8198 Hits

Quinlan: Come on, read my future for me.
Tana: You haven’t got any.
Quinlan: Hmm? What do you mean?
Tana: Your future’s all used up.

A grotesquely bloated, corrupt cop stumbling through a self-created mire of lies and death, sick of the world and his own ugly, irredeemable self. Glints and flecks of a better person, far in the past, appear, reflected not in his own time-assaulted visage but in a despised Other, a strong brown man with a beautiful wife, the kind of glamorous woman he used to have. A lowly Other, as he sees it, an inferior creature putting on airs … yet embodying the gritty nobility and thirst for justice that he, the bloated one, the one whose soul is already rotting in its putrescent flesh, once held in his own heart as his ideal. This comes out every time he speaks the Other’s name, in a slurred drawl that mixes loathing and yearning in equal measure: “Vargas.”

Orson Welles’ portrayal of Capt. Hank Quinlan in his 1958 film “Touch of Evil” is perhaps the most courageous self-immolation in cinema history — even Marlon Brando in “Apocalypse Now” makes sure there is a kind of ruined beauty and grandeur in his portrayal of Kurtz. But Welles —himself once a glamorous golden boy of American culture, at one time married to one of the most alluring women in the world, Rita Hayworth — cuts himself no such slack. There is no ruined grandeur in the jowly, sweating, loathsome wretch he pushes at the audience — often in large, intense close-ups. This is what we can come to, he says, using himself as a canvas of human degeneracy. Perhaps, he hints, this what we are — this is all we are — at the core.

To cover up his own long-term corruption, Quinlan tries to frame both the upright Mexican detective, Miguel Vargas, played by Charlton Heston (not a brown man at all, of course; but then again, the Other is always a fiction, generated by a fearful mind) — as well as Vargas’s new wife, played by Janet Leigh. (This “mixed marriage” is another rumbling undercurrent in the film.) In the end, Quinlan is shot by his disillusioned partner, and dies in a pool of industrial wastewater. 

Just before this, Quinlan visits a brothel-keeper, with whom he once had a relationship. He’s now so rotten and bloated that she can barely recognize him. She’s played by yet another person once considered one of the world’s most alluring women: Marlene Dietrich. He thinks she’s reading cards for fortune-telling —she says she’s just doing accounts — and he asks her to tell his future. That’s where the dialogue above comes in.

This exchange comes to my mind more and more as I read the staggering farrago of the daily news. In this light — or rather, in this darkness visible — Quinlan increasingly appears not just as an emblem of universal, institutional and individual corruption, but as a prophecy of America’s present reality… and its destiny.

As many have noted, Donald Trump’s presidency does not represent some kind of aberration in the nation’s politics, or in its character; it is much more of an apotheosis. Or perhaps a long-simmering impostume finally swollen to the bursting point, dousing us all with fountains of rancid pus, built up over many generations. Trump has held a mirror up to America’s nature — and shown us, in its reflection, a gigantic close-up of Quinlan. 

The chronicle of a nation’s death is oft foretold, of course, without the prophecy necessarily proving true. But it’s hard to escape the feeling that we are now in uncharted waters, with the ship of state fatally holed. Just as Trump is bringing the country’s racist, grifting, shallow, violent, psychosexually disturbed quintessence to the fore, we are also witnessing the collapse of almost every institutional force that once stood as a bulwark — or at least a light brake — against our worst instincts.

The political opposition is utterly enfeebled, clueless, corrupt and compromised. The media is, if anything, even worse: vapid, ignorant, juvenile, and largely in the hands of corporate behemoths and oligarchs; its main act of “resistance” has been the resurrection of a rebooted McCarthyism that paints America as the innocent victim of a Kremlin ogre, while letting Trump skate on the manifold and manifest ordinary crimes this cheap hood and his ilk have perpetrated over decades. Academia? Also on its knees to corporations and oligarchs. The justice system? Forget it. It’s now a killing machine running wild in the streets, combined with a shakedown operation looting the people with fines, fees, bail and confiscation. Hollywood? You mean the industry making movies with the military and the CIA, when it’s not bludgeoning us with vigilante superheroes and mind-numbing CGI spectacles, all of them featuring dehumanized, demonized Others who deserve destruction? (They also slashed up “Touch of Evil,” then relegated it to B-movie drive-in fare.)

No one can see what’s yet to come. But the image we see in the American mirror today – a corpulent, desolate wreck, sinking into poison water, grunting out his last breaths of humanity – makes one fear the nation’s future is indeed all used up.

(This was my column in the June issue of CounterPunch Magazine, which I somehow failed to post at the time.)

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Dial “N” for Mayhem: Wording Our Way to a New Level of Hell

Written by Chris Floyd 22 August 2018 9834 Hits

This piece appeared first on CounterPunch earlier this week.

It’s odd. A few months ago, I made a prediction that Donald Trump would bring the “n-word” back into public use by the end of this year, or next year at the latest. At the time, I thought it would play out like this: some right-wing figure would use the insult, and Trump would come to his defense, e.g. “Bad word choice by X, but it’s just a word. He’s no racist, he’s a great guy, loves all Americans. No need for this lynching by the PC brigade!”

And then we’d see “serious” discussions in the “serious” media about whether the use of the word should automatically banish someone from public discourse or get them fired, or if there is “perhaps some room for nuance and context on this issue.” No doubt there’d be a somber think piece in the NYT: “Is it Time to Speak the Unspeakable?” Maybe it would be Ross Douthat or David Brooks weighing in, or perhaps Bari Weiss would commission one of her “dark web intellectuals” to write it; Jordan Peterson, for example. I can see it now: “What if, as Trump says, the n-word really is ‘just a word?’ For as we know, any word or object or ritual that is placed under a taboo acquires immense power in a culture. Perhaps it’s time to strip this crude pejorative of the power we have given it, by ending the knee-jerk hysteria that ensues every time it’s used.”

That’s how I thought it would go, following the pattern we’ve seen over and over in recent years, with so many tropes of white nationalism entering mainstream politics and media as subjects of “debate” and “discussion,” often triggered by Trump dog-whistles – or his outright appropriations of racist rhetoric. For we are bound to get there at some point; indeed, the n-word seems to lie at the very heart of modern conservatism.

When people decry how “the PC police” are throttling free speech, I always want to ask them: “What is it you want to say that you feel you can’t say today? I mean, really, what is it? After all, you can take the most extreme political positions and be given a national platform by vastly powerful media empires, or by the political party that controls all three branches of government and most states as well. You can start a gutter news site, spewing lies and hatred about minorities, and be given millions of dollars by oligarchs like the Mercers. You can refuse to serve somebody in your store or even give them a prescription if they somehow offend your ‘religious sensibilities.’ And so on and so forth. So again, I ask: in what way – in what specific way – do you feel throttled or thwarted or oppressed in expressing yourself? Again: what is the specific thing you feel you can’t say?”

And I think it comes down to this: they want to say the n-word. They want to be able to call black people that word, in public, in print, on the web, wherever, and not face any consequences for it. That seems to me to be the very core of “anti-PC” ideology. (And of course, if they could use that word again, then all the other racist, sexist, ethnic slurs could come back as well.)

I’ve always felt this was a key element to the wide-eyed adulation we see at Trump’s rallies. He’s already licensed them to express so many other nasty, brutal, primitive feelings they used to bottle up in polite company, and they sense that one day he will finally give them permission to use the n-word. Then they can throw off the last restraints of empathy, reason and decorum, and let the beast that lives in each of us run free, rabid and ravaging, soothing all their anxieties, self-loathing and doubts with the false certainties of hatred, the false promises of “supremacy,” the false self-regard of “specialness” – and the powerful intoxicant of projection, putting everything that’s wrong in your life, and in the world, onto the back of a Judas goat to be mocked, rejected and sacrificed.

I still believe that’s going to happen, but it looks as though the mechanics – and timing – of the scenario might be a little different. It seems more likely now that some instance of Trump himself using the word will emerge; after all, even his most faithful Wormtongue, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said she couldn’t “guarantee” there was no tape of Trump saying it. But this will not derail the process described above; it will only accelerate it, skipping over the interim step of Trump defending someone else and go directly to him defending himself for using the word. This will also accelerate the acceptance, for Trump’s supporters will fall all over themselves to find ways to defuse the controversy by downplaying, “contextualizing,” dismissing – and finally doubling down on it: “Yes, he said it; so what? It’s just a word. In fact, his critics are the real racists, because they believe blacks are so weak and pitiful that they need special protection from a word.”

The usage of the n-word won’t become widespread in serious public discourse, of course; it will still retain a taint of vulgarity. After all, even when I was growing up in the rural, segregated South, it was considered unseemly to bandy the word about in public (or in our household, even in private). But it will come back. It will cease to be a career-killer. And it certainly won’t “destroy” Trump politically, any more than “pussy-grabbing” or the Charlottesville fascist-praising or any of this other verbal outrages have done.

Yet the further degradation of public speech will not be the worst of it. It will be, as noted, the license that it gives to the worst instincts and elements in our society. It will open the door to a whole new level of hell.

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Sword Play: Centrists and Right Unite to Support Saudi Extremists

Written by Chris Floyd 21 August 2018 9467 Hits

Female Activist in Saudi Arabia Faces Death Penalty

A nation led by violent extremists is moving to behead a woman for taking part in peaceful demonstrations for human rights. It's not Iran, not North Korea, not Syria, not Russia. It's Saudi Arabia, the firm and friendly ally of the US & UK. The same nation we are supplying with bombs, planes, targeting and intelligence to kill thousands upon thousands of innocent people in Yemen. Now our good friends are going to cut off a woman's head for talking about freedom. 

Where is the right-wing outrage machine over these Islamic extremists committing an atrocity? (Oh, that's right; for years, Fox News was partly owned by a Saudi prince.) Where are our angry centrists, so quick to rightly condemn human rights abuses in other countries? They're too busy feasting with and celebrating the ruthless Saudi crown prince who wants to cut off this woman's head, too busy praising him in the New York Times for his "reforms." (He's going to actually let women drive cars! Wow! Of course, if they talk about more freedoms, he'll cut off their heads, but still, what a guy!) 

How many time do we have to be shown this: our governments and media mandarins and political operatives DO NOT CARE about genuine human rights, genuine human freedom. Their outrage and condemnation is always -- ALWAYS -- selective. As long as a nation is considered useful or necessary to the aggrandizement of our elites, then it will not be denounced or rejected or shunned or sanctioned, no matter how many atrocities it commits against its own people and others. 

If Iran decided to give its oil to Exxon and open Wal-Marts and support US military interventions here and there and everywhere (while buying billions from US war profiteers, like the Saudis do), then Teheran would be our friend, and any repression or abuses it perpetrated would be ignored. Any nation that gets with the program will be rewarded, protected or left alone; any nation that doesn't is automatically an enemy or "adversary" to be attacked and condemned. All that matters is how they suit our agenda; what they actually DO -- good, bad, indifferent -- does not matter in the slightest. It's best to keep this in mind when sorting through the maddening 24/7 cacophony of news and "analysis" that assails us from all sides. This grim fact will help you thread the howling labyrinth and make more sense of the chaos and confusion.

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Yemen: The Damning Silence of Liberals Leaves a Legacy of Shame

Written by Chris Floyd 31 July 2018 11660 Hits

 

Hudaydah ‘one airstrike away from unstoppable epidemic’: UN humanitarian chief in Yemen. (UN News)

In the US and UK, the war in Yemen is only ever mentioned (and that rarely) as a "humanitarian crisis": "Oh, those poor people starving and suffering and dying from epidemics. Hey, what did Trump tweet? What's Mueller up to?" There is no acknowledgement that the US & UK are directly involved in the prolonged mass slaughter of civilians in Yemen and the destruction of the nation's infrastructure, which has led to famine and epidemic on a horrendous scale. No mention that the US & UK are supplying weapons, logistics, military intelligence and supplies (along with occasional bombings and ground raids) to one of the most tyrannical regimes on earth, Saudi Arabia, led by extremist sectarian tyrants. No mention that this horrific and obscene atrocity, this unholy alliance for mass murder, began under Barack Obama and has worsened under Donald Trump. The "Resistance" says nothing -- nothing -- at all about it, ever.

You wouldn't expect them to acknowledge Obama's deep, crimson-stained complicity in this -- because in "progressive" politics (just as on the Right), principles end where partisanship begins. But you'd think they'd at least use it to bash Trump: "Trump is a war criminal! Trump is helping Islamic extremists kill innocent people!" Yet you hear nothing of this.

This silence is one of the most amazing and shameful things in American politics and media today. And it is damning a whole generation of "liberal" partisans and pundits with a complicity every bit as deep and sinister as that of all those who championed the war crime of the Bush-Blair invasion of Iraq. I say this to all progressives: Is this where you want to stand? Is the company you want to keep? Is this the legacy you want to leave behind?

When your children ask, "How could you not even say a word when innocent people were being murdered and starved and sickened in your name, by a president you supported and even a president you didn't support? How could you have just stood by and said nothing, nothing at all? What kind of person are you?" What will you say in answer to them?

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Echoes Past and Future: Helsinki Goon Show Masks the Real Rot That Bedevils Us

Written by Chris Floyd 17 July 2018 12654 Hits

“There’s the cue: an echo from the future…”
Boris Pasternak, “Hamlet,” from Doctor Zhivago

I.
It’s true Trump behaved like a chump and a lackey with Putin during their press conference on Monday. But if Don really has done a deal with Vlad — as opposed to, say, simply acting out his deeply disturbed need to be stroked by tough-guy daddy figures who have killed people — then Trump has also treated the Russian leader the same way he’s treated everyone he’s ever made a deal with: he’s cheated him. Putin has gotten very little of real substance from Trump’s presidency so far, and as Jeffrey St. Clair has pointed out, the political fallout from the bizarro goon show in Helsinki will probably make it even less likely that Moscow will wring any concessions out of Washington in the near future.

For even after the fawning cringefest today, this is still the situation: No sanctions against Russia have been lifted. Trump is forcefully insisting that NATO spend even more money on troops, weapons and vast war games along the Russian border. The annexation of Crimea has not been recognized. Ukraine is now receiving deadly weaponry from the United States — a move Obama had blocked — and this strengthens Ukraine’s hand and gives it hope of militarily defeating the Russian-backed forces in the breakaway regions, which would be a major humiliation for Putin. It certainly makes any negotiated settlement in which Putin’s favorites might wring a partial victory more unlikely.

So despite the swagger of the little face-lifted man as he deftly held court with the lumbering, spray-tanned goober at his side, Putin still faces more heat on his western border, more heat on his southern border, continuing sanctions hobbling his economy and no approval of his Crimea annexation. 

II.
That’s not to say that Putin has got nothing at all from Trump’s presidency. It’s just that most of the benefits have not come from Trump, but from his opponents. The obsessive focus on Russian meddling in the 2016 election has led the “Resistance” to paint Putin as an all-powerful, superhuman force, able to control world events with a crook of his finger and the tweak of a tweet: an image that does wonders for his domestic political standing. 

Not only is Vlad able to control the minds of 63 million American voters, he has also been able to transform lifelong liberal stalwarts into full-blown reactionaries. Instead of focusing on, say, the relentless, murderous brutality being dealt out to the African-American community by America’s hyper-militarized police forces, the "Resistance" launches scarifying screeds about evil Russkies “seeking to divide us” by running reports about Black Lives Matter on RT or Twitter. They send reporters to the parents of murdered children and demand they be scandalized because some putatively Russian-connected account has retweeted stories about their horrific loss. The actual police murders are marginalized — if not obliterated — by the heinous fact that the “wrong” people are talking about them.

We see this process also in the truly astonishing embrace of America’s “security apparat” by liberals and progressives. Institutions like the FBI and CIA  — which have engaged in demonstrably criminal, deliberately deceptive and deeply immoral activities for decades on end — are praised to the skies and defended as noble truth-tellers and defenders of democracy. Despite the fact that our apparatchiks have played key roles in launching unjust wars of aggression, in stoking fear with self-created “terrorist” plots, in torturing and caging innocent people, in destroying wedding parties and family gatherings with drones, in operating death squads around the world, in infiltrating peaceful groups in order to subvert and control American political life, in imposing surveillance regimes on the population that outstrip the dreams of the Stasi and the KGB in their reach and depth over almost every aspect of our lives … despite the fact that our liberals and progressives have seen all these things happen — just within this century alone — they now give instant, unquestioning credibility to whatever assertion these deeply stained agencies make. 

What’s more, they condemn anyone who expresses even a scintilla of reluctance to treat the security apparatchiks as dispensers of Holy Writ. Someone who says, “Wow, I hope all these charges against Trump and his gang are true — I’d love to see them all go down in flames — but I think it’s always prudent to be somewhat cautious about simply taking the (usually anonymous) word of these agencies, who have lied to us so brazenly so many times, at face value” will be immediately attacked as a Trump-loving, Putin-loving neofascist in the pay of the Kremlin. This accusation is also beginning to be applied to almost anyone who criticizes any disturbing feature of American life or foreign policy. “Why are you helping the Russians spread discontent and dissension among our people by talking about police murders and pipeline protests or FBI entrapment, or dissing our now-sacred CIA for its own incessant meddling in the sovereignty and political processes of countries all over the world?”

III.
This is a very old strain in American political life: the Russkies are always undermining us from within. Russia can’t even pave all of its own roads, but it has somehow always possessed the magical power to control the minds and behaviour of countless Americans, through various forms of mass deception: The loose morals of Hollywood movies and the degenerate jungle sounds of jazz. (Henry Ford spent a fortune pushing square dancing as a wholesome, white alternative to the demonic temptations of Negro jazz.) The primitive rhythms and rebellious attitudes of rock and roll music, destroying the moral fiber of our youth. The Civil Rights movement stirring up our good, obedient colored folk and causing race riots. Feminazis and queers attacking the very foundation of civilization: the heterosexual patriarchal family. The draft-dodgers and hippies protesting our crusade to bring democracy to Southeast Asia. The anti-nuke protestors trying to disarm us in the face of first-strike Commie aggression.

In all of this — and much more besides — we have seen the Russians blamed for either directly creating or constantly stoking “disunity and dissension” among what would otherwise be a happy, satisfied, unified American populace. Of course, down through the decades our liberals and progressives have rightly denounced and ridiculed such notions. Whatever “special measures” the Kremlin did or didn’t take in any reform movement or societal change (and or course, it had nothing to do with most of them in any way), this did not vitiate the native authenticity and legitimacy of the cause itself. (Just as the CIA’s extensive involvement in disseminating Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago did not strip that novel of its inherent moral and literary integrity.)

But now, in the second decade of the 21st century, we have seen a vast sea change. The very people who had long rejected such a primitive idea of social and political upheaval (“Yeah, right, Goldwater, the universal human yearning for civil rights comes straight from the Kremlin basement!”) have now embraced it with a vengeance. Trump — and Trumpism — and the hardcore 30-40% of Americans who support the brutal, thieving, racist bastard — have been brought to power solely by the machinations of a handful of Russians under the direction of Vladimir Putin, the evil master-fixer of the age. 

This is what liberals and progressives now tell us. It’s not because of deep, foundational flaws in the American system. (Such as, for example, the Electoral College, devised by 18th century slaveowners to keep ordinary Americans from electing their leader; or the overwhelming, corrosive power of Big Money over both main parties; or the insanely immoral war-profiteering machine that has utterly devoured the American state and its foreign policy, etc.) No; it’s just the Russians. If we can just magically undo what they did in 2016 with their tweets and YouTube videos, everything will be back to “normal.” And anyone who questions, in any way, the actions of the security apparat in protecting us from these Russian machinations is either a dupe or a traitor. I’ve been following American politics since Goldwater’s run in 1964, and I’ve never seen such a huge, disheartening reversal in all those years as what we’re witnessing now among so many liberals and progressives.

IV.
I’ve said from day one of Trump’s vile presidency that there are dozens (if not more) straightforward criminal actions and connections that could and should lead to his impeachment and removal. Whole books have been written about his mob ties and extensive corruption in his business deals. However, I’ve also said, and still say, that if even the most tenuous collusion with Putin can be found (much less a substantial one), I’ll be overjoyed to see him go down. (Just as people were happy to see Al Capone finally locked up on tax evasion charges, instead the manifold murders and crimes he was guilty of.) 

So if what it takes to get rid of him (and his whole crime family) is a dubious “pee tape” or an email saying, “Thanks, Vlad, I owe ya one, buddy” — instead of one of the many ways Trump embodies the deep rot at the core of our system — well, that’s fine with me. But when he’s gone, the rot will remain. The same rot that led Barack Obama to partner with Saudi Arabia in one of the most ghastly atrocities of this ghastly century — the murderous slaughter in Yemen. (Still ongoing under Trump today.) The same rot that saw Obama signing off on death lists in his office every Tuesday of “suspects” (including American citizens) to be murdered without charges, trial or warning. The same rot that saw Hillary Clinton exulting with laughter at the rape and murder of a foreign leader after his country had fallen to radical extremists and slave-dealers. The same rot that led Obama to go to the CIA (yes, the now-holy agency) in the first days of his presidency and tell them that none of them would ever be prosecuted for brutally torturing people under Bush. The same rot that saw our progressive politicians bail out the frauds who had destroyed the global economy while letting millions of people go under. The same rot that saw the progressive president wildly accelerate the militarization of city police forces begun under his war criminal predecessor, George Bush. The same rot that has seen our bipartisan neoliberal elite working hand in hand to destroy the middle class, the working class and the poor in favor of the super-rich. The same rot that sees the US spending ever-increasing amounts of public money on out-of-control, world-spanning military adventurism while the lives, opportunities and the infrastructure of ordinary American citizens literally fall to pieces. 

Get rid of Trump — hell, get rid of the loathsome Putin — and all of that rot will still be here. And if we don’t deal with that — as well as dealing with Trump — then nothing will really change. And something even worse than the spray-tanned abomination will almost certainly be coming down the line.

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Even the hapless saps of Weimar put up a better fight than this

Written by Chris Floyd 27 June 2018 13262 Hits

 

Imagine living in this universe -- much less being an actual politician working in DC today -- and thinking that Donald Trump would ever, under any circumstances, make a "centrist" choice for the Supreme Court. Just imagine being that naive, that jejune, that blind, that clueless, that completely and utterly, wilfully ignorant of reality. A newborn kitten has more political insight and savvy than this "heavyweight" of the Democratic "opposition." Even the hapless saps of Weimar put up a better fight than this.

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