A Single Answer to Every Question: Kill More People

Written by Chris Floyd 07 September 2015 3594 Hits

Our bold Saudi allies, using US weapons and guidance, struck another blow for freedom in Yemen this weekend, slaughtering 44 civilians including mourners at a funeral for people killed by the Saudis' enemies. The US is currently helping the extremist, misogynist, anti-Semitic, terrorist-supporting, head-chopping Saudi tyrants "restore" a former Yemen leader who took power in a single-candidate election. Because, as we all know, spreading freedom and democracy is the only reason we are involved in the Middle East. That's why we're working with the Saudi tyrants to overthrow the Syrian tyrant with the help of the religious tyrants of ISIS and al Qaeda whom we are also fighting when we are not working with them to overthrow the Syrian tyrant with whom we used to work closely in torturing suspects in the War on Terror but whom we now seek to overthrow just like we did Libya's Gadafy with whom we also worked until we overthrew him and turned his country over to ISIS and al Qaeda whom we are now fighting in Syria when we are not working with them in Syria (and Yemen) along with the terrorist-supporting religious extremists in Saudi Arabia. All of this, of course, springing from the deeply humanitarian exercise in freedom-spreading known as the Iraq War of 2003 (not to be confused with Gulf War of 1991, or the super-righteous War of Humanitarian Annihilation Against Children and the Elderly 1991-2003, during which the progressive Clinton administration openly accepted responsibility for the deaths of at least 500,000 Iraqi children at the time -- "We think it's worth it") which opened the door for al Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni extremists groups whom we armed and funded during the famous "Surge" and later went on to become ISIS whom we are now fighting when we're not working with them to overthrow the Syrian tyrant and I think this is where we came in … but God almighty, is there no way out?

"Oh, of course there is," say our bipartisan leaders, from Jeb and Donald to Hillary and Bernie and everyone in between: "MORE WAR!"

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The Unplucked Eye: Sinister Machinations Behind Kentucky’s Manufactured Martyr

Written by Chris Floyd 04 September 2015 3162 Hits

(UPDATED BELOW.) The Kim Davis gay marriage license case is a completely manufactured scandal, designed precisely to produce the current result: a “martyr” jailed for her beliefs, exciting media frenzy and fueling profitable fundraising and grassroots recruitment for ideological agitators. The actual issue is quite simple, and doesn’t involve “religious freedom” at all. But there is something more sinister going on behind these Kentucky conniptions.

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis swore an oath — before God — to “faithfully execute the duties of my office” when she took the post. These duties now include issuing same-sex marriage licenses, in line with the laws of Kentucky and the United States. If she now feels, upon her conscience, that she cannot do that, then she should simply resign her office. If she stays in the job but still refuses to execute the duties of her office, then she is literally breaking her oath to God. Obviously, she prefers to be an oathbreaker before the Lord than to give up the manufactured status of “martyr” she and her well-off backers are now promoting.

There is no issue of “religious freedom” here. If she believes that same-sex marriage violates the divine order — as, in my lifetime, millions of people believed (and some still believe) about interracial marriage — then she is free to express that belief and proclaim it throughout the land. No one will stop her. She does not, however, have the right to serve as a public official and, in violation of her sacred oath, refuse to carry out the required duties. “If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out,” said Jesus. If thy job requirements offend thee, Kim Davis, pluck them out — quit the job which you admit you can no longer perform, and move on. But there is more to this manufactured martyrdom than meets the (offended eye).

Jesus also once picked up a coin that was stamped with the emperor’s image, and said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” This was his answer to those trying to provoke him into advocating a refusal to pay Roman taxes: a criminal offense. If you use Roman coinage, then pay Roman taxes; this is part of the murky compromises of every day life, in any political system — it was not, in his view, part of “the things that are God’s.” Kim Davis made the decision not only to make the murky compromises we all must make in order to eat and live (including using the coinage of a system we may oppose or despise); she went even further, and became part of the government system itself.

The “things that are Caesar’s” in such a secular system include the law. If you voluntarily put yourself into a position of executing the law — of becoming, in that sense, a “thing that is Caesar’s” —then you must either do it, or walk away from it. Again, this is not a situation where she is being forced to carry out this law, forced to hold this office; she has every right to say, “I cannot in good conscience do this thing; I cannot render this unto Caesar. Thus, I must walk away, and attend more to the things that are God’s.”

Isn’t that what someone who genuinely sought to follow the Jesus depicted in the Gospels would do? But this is not what Davis has done. Following the dictates of what has become a politicized perversion of Christianity into a militant, militarized cultural nationalism, Davis has instead provoked a “crisis,” to make herself a whited sepulchre of hypocritical righteousness — and rightwing media fame. Who knows, maybe she’ll end up with her own reality show out of this; the nation surely needs another good Christian TV family after the sad martyrdom of the Duggars. At the very least, she should get a guest shot on Duck Dynasty, some gab-time with Sarah Palin, and years of riding the rubber-chicken circuit, telling the story of her persecution.

Then there is the problem of precedent — which is precisely what Davis and her ideological backers are trying to create. She is, in fact, asserting the primacy of a Christian sharia: there is a “higher law” above secular law — and secular institutions must conform to it. Building on the “Hobby Lobby” decision —which extended the already pernicious doctrine of “corporate personhood” to a metaphysical level, declaring that corporations can actually have religious beliefs — Davis and her Christianist defenders are seeking to advance and entrench the “principle” that religious beliefs trump (pardon the pun) all other considerations, in all situations.

But wait a minute: what’s good for the fundamentalist Christian goose is good for the fundamentalist Muslim gander, right? What would stop a Muslim office from evoking sharia and refuse to carry out a secular law? Or how about this? imagine the outcry among these same political Christianists if, say, a fervent Catholic refused to issue a marriage license to Davis because of her multiple marriages and divorces? Davis’ serial traducing of the sacred rite of marriage in the Catholic understanding would be highly offensive to many. Should she then be denied a marriage license the next time she decides to get married — and would the Catholic official who denies it be considered a martyr by Fox News?

But course, Davis and her Christianist backers don’t worry about that. They are not concerned with the logical conclusion of their stance, because logic doesn’t enter into it. It’s a matter of militant faith.They are not asserting the primacy of religious belief in general over secular institutions — only the primacy of their own horribly constricted, culture-bound, hollowed-out, hysterical understanding of one sliver of Christian sectarianism. It’s “their” Christianity that should reign supreme, not any other religion, or any other understanding of Christianity.

So make no mistake: when Davis and her backers speak of “religious freedom,” they mean the freedom to impose their own religious beliefs on everyone else. Their ultimate goal is to merge the things that are Caesar’s with the things that are God’s — and they alone will determine what the will of God should be for every person, every institution.

(UPDATE): A couple of further thoughts. In writing the above, I don't mean to make a fetish of the "law," or to deny that there are moral considerations "above" or outside the law. Law is a human construct, not a Platonic form or divine order. It can be and is used, often, to countenance and perpetuate evil. Many if not most of the worst atrocities in history were "legal." For example, slavery was once "legal" in the US; although the practice was restricted to the Southern states, it was upheld on the federal level in the Dred Scott decision: slaves were the "legal" property of their masters, and were to be "lawfully" returned to their owners if they "illegally" escaped from their captivity.

A "law," then, can certainly be morally wrong. (Indeed, as laws are written -- and enforced -- by the powerful, largely to protect their own interests, injustice and immorality are inevitable in the framework of "law," to varying degrees.)

But that is not at issue in this case. Davis has willingly made herself a servant of the law; she has actually sworn before God to uphold the law as a public officeholder. Her malefaction here is not that she is somehow insulting a sacrosanct ideal of "law" by her action (or rather, her inaction), but simply that she is deliberately refusing to carry out a task which she has freely taken on. No one is compelling her to act against her conscience; she is simply refusing to give up her perks and powers while denying same-sex couples the rights to which they are entitled in the society in which they live. Her "crime" is not holding a certain religious belief; her offence is abuse of office.

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The Gruesome Gray Line: No Mystery in Hiring of West Point Wacko

Written by Chris Floyd 02 September 2015 2467 Hits

In the Atlantic, Matt Ford probes the works of William Bradford, the controversial (and now dismissed) West Point professor whose berserker visions of unhinged state terror, at home and abroad, in the “war against Islamism” give General Buck Turgidison (“I’m saying no more than 10 or 20 million killed, tops!”) a run for his money. After a thorough examination of the views Bradford has been teaching the nation’s future military leaders, Ford ends in puzzlement at how this situation arose in the first place. But surely there is no mystery to that.

Bradford believes that all those who are guilty of “skepticism of executive power,” “pernicious pacifism” and “cosmopolitanism” — especially among his fellow law professors and their enablers in the media — can and should be targeted as “unlawful enemy combatants,” just like the Taliban and al Qaeda. Not only are the traitors themselves “legitimate targets,” but also the institutions that employ them or transmit their evil into the public discourse: universities, law schools, media companies. What’s more, with iron Cheneyian logic, Bradford also says the traitors’ homes should be targeted too — presumably, as Ford notes, with the targets’ spouses and children inside.

Bradford also likes to muse aloud in learned journals about a “hypothetical” military coup in, say, 2017 to be exact, against a “US president attempting to ‘fundamentally transform the United States of America.’” This, as Ford points out, is the mindset of a man “charged with instructing the nation’s officer corps.”

As the Guardian notes, Bradford also argued that

“total war” against terrorism ought to include military targeting of “Islamic holy sites”, in order to restore an American deterrent. He acknowledged “great destruction, innumerable enemy casualties and civilian collateral damage” were entailed in his proposal, and suggested that dissent ought to be curbed. “[D]oubts and disputes about this war [should] be muted lest around them coalesce a new set of self-imposed restraints that prevent Western forces from waging war with sufficient ferocity and resolve so that either Islamism is discredited and the political will of Islamist peoples to prosecute a jihad collapses, or, if necessary, all who countenance or condone Islamism are dead,” Bradford wrote.

A ludicrous but sinister figure then, meet to be made into media mulch and cast aside. But in the conclusion of his article, Ford, bless his heart, is baffled by what appears to him to be an impenetrable mystery. He writes:

Bradford’s resignation severs his affiliation with the United States Military Academy. But it leaves unanswered the question of how he got hired there in the first place, given his checkered past and allegedly exaggerated credentials. And it also fails to explain how a scholar pushing these ideas seems not to have raised red flags any earlier.

But, as noted above, there is absolutely no mystery at all about how “a scholar pushing these ideas” got hired by the nation’s Big Brass mill, or why these visions of murder, tyranny and the ‘moral’ necessity of military rule did not raise any “red flags” at the Point or in the Pentagon.

Obviously they hired him because they liked the cut of his unhinged jib, saw nothing unusual or dangerous in his ideas and were more than happy to have them pressed upon the future leaders of America’s “generational” war against the terror it somehow keeps creating in one nation after another. Bradford was unlucky that his record — which includes exaggerating his military service, and clouded sojourns at other institutions — was rumbled by the Guardian, so West Point moved quickly to flush away the bad PR. But there can be little doubt that Bradford’s views resonated on many levels with those who hired him.

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Bernie's Progressive Pledge: A Kinder, Gentler Killing Machine

Written by Chris Floyd 31 August 2015 2475 Hits

So Bernie Sanders wants a "kinder, gentler" program of extrajudicial drone killings. Well, isn't that nice? Isn't that "progressive"? He'll "try" to "limit" the number of children blown into pieces by joystick commandos 10,000 miles away watching a computer screen. What hope, what change! Oh well, he's just doing what anybody has to do to climb that big ole greasy pole of power. As long as he sticks with the Terror War program, the elite will be glad to let him pursue domestic "reforms" that they can easily block, dilute or co-opt -- just as they've done with the eagerly complicit Obama (who is now off to Alaska on a "bold" push to combat climate change ... just after giving Shell Oil the OK to drill in pristine waters there). In the immortal words of Elvis Costello: "Clowntime is over/Time to take cover...."

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Anti-Social Media: Wealthy NY Wankers Bash the Poor

Written by Chris Floyd 27 August 2015 2546 Hits

As the old joke goes, “the Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz.” Or another variant: “America will never forgive blacks for slavery.” Oppressors and abusers (and the beneficiaries of past abuses) often project their own guilt, self-loathing and dehumanization onto their victims, then hate them for being evidence – the living (or dead) proof – of the abusers’ moral rot. So it is with the rich and the poor, as a new story at Alternet demonstrates.

Tana Ganeva’s story focuses mainly on a Facebook page, “Third and 33rd (and Beyond),” put up by “residents of Murray Hill and Kips Bay, predominantly wealthy neighborhoods on the east side of midtown Manhattan, where buildings have doormen and British-sounding names like the Wilshire, the Sycamore and Windsor Court.” These wealthy denizens seem to spend an inordinate amount of their incalculably valuable time prowling their neighborhoods looking for homeless people upon which to pour their digital vitriol. And, of course, bashing Mayor Bill de Blasio for actively encouraging such “dangerous scum” to pollute their classy surroundings and drive the city as a whole straight into the gutter.

I won’t excerpt the story here, but do give it a read. Especially the part where Ganeva goes in search of the “scum” being shamed not only by UCTs (Upper Class Twits) on social media but also by big-time blunderbusses like Fox News and the NY Post, and, shockingly, finds a collection of actual human beings instead.

The story is good, but unfortunately there is nothing new about the theme. Every time a Democrat is elected mayor of NYC, the city suddenly becomes a hellhole of crime and filth where the lower orders are turned loose by hateful liberals, who shackle the noble NYPD whenever it tries to impose order and protect the propertied. And every time a Republican is elected, NY is suddenly transformed into a sleek, clean, efficient city where people know their place and cheerful cops keep the “bad people” in line. It doesn’t matter what the actual statistics are, what the actual realities might be: the same perceptual dynamic plays out over and over.

Then again, it’s ALWAYS been this way in NYC, pre-dating today’s Dem-Rep split. The wealthy NY elite and their servitors in the press and the business world have always railed about the “degeneration” of the city at the hands of one grubby, grasping minority or another. The Irish, the Italians, the Jews, the Hispanics – and of course, the African-Americans, who have been the eternal scapegoat of NYC’s ruling class since the days when those elites were buying and selling black people in the slave market on Wall Street – all have had their turn in the pillory.

But this story is a nice encapsulation of what our modern elites are thinking, and how much so many of them utterly despise all those who have been damaged, lost, hobbled or destroyed by our unjust and inhumane system – or by personal tragedy, psychic demons and the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” Their pitilessness is breathtaking; and sick-making.

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Panic Attackers: Grass-Roots Challenge Sparks High-Level Hissy Fit

Written by Chris Floyd 19 August 2015 2536 Hits

I have of late been much pestered with electronic message from an outfit called the “Centre for Policy Studies.” It styles itself the “leading independent think tank in Britain” — and it probably is as rigorously independent and open-minded as any gaggle of titled lords, Big Money poobahs, reactionary academics, epic tax-dodgers, Murdoch moochers and imperialist cheerleaders gathered in an institution co-founded by Margaret Thatcher can be.

I have actually had occasion to meet one of these ponderous grandees — a one-time Murdoch minion who also served faithfully as a mouthpiece for Moloch at several other ritzy rightwing rags before finding himself translated into the upper reaches of Davosian Valhalla at a global financial firm. It was a work assignment; I was interviewing him about his munificent philanthropy — but upon learning that I was an American, he spent almost the entire session complaining of what a raw deal poor Dick Nixon got: a leader whose greatness Americans were too stupid to see. (In a similar vein, I also interviewed the husband of one of the titled CPS members; he spent most of the interview talking about how much he had loved San Francisco — “before the gays got hold of it.”)

This gives you some flavor and measure of the “minds” behind the most top leading independent tank of leading top thinkers that there ever was in Blighty.

Now you would think these well-tanked thinkers would be feeling pretty chill nowadays, as their eager dogsbodies in the new Tory government proceed fiercely and furiously to impose the CPS vision of despoliation and repression — sorry, “freedom and responsibility” — on the worthless rabble whose bestial needs must be contained and exploited — for their own good, of course! — by their betters. Hayek's in his heaven, all’s right with the world.

But no; like the rest of the bipartisan British Establishment, the Thatcher-Tankers have been thrown into a towering tizzy by the distinct and increasing possibility that someone outside the cozy club of crony capitalism might actually ascend to the leadership of the Labour Party. Jeremy Corbyn – a long-serving MP who has been frequently, and at times vociferously, at odds with the sad sacks of warmongering, corporate-coddling shinola that have constituted the party’s leadership for many years — now holds a huge lead in polls for the top post. Although he is a man of “radical” views — radical, that is, to the pro-biz, pro-war, austerity-embracing centre-right technocrats who run Labour — Corbyn has surged ahead by using a sneaky, sinister tactic virtually unheard of in our day: democracy.

To a Labour Party left moribund by Blair’s war crimes, Brown’s floundering and the boundless ineptitude of Miliband, Corbyn has brought thousands of enthusiastic new members. More than 400,000 people have joined Labour since Corbyn’s campaign began. This is in marked contrast to the tenure of Tony Blair at the top of the party — a period that saw 200,000 members exit Labour, most of them stage left.

Here too you might think Labour would be pretty chuffed by this remarkable turn of events. A party more invigorated than it has been in almost 20 years, bringing a wider circle of people into the ranks, including the young and the long disaffected; what’s not to like? But the Clinton-style “triangulation” technocrats who dominate the party structure — and have turned “New Labour’s” pro-business tilt into a lucrative revolving door for themselves as they leave political life for cushy corporate jobs — have thrown a hissy fit of historic proportions at Corbyn's unexpected rise. Not to mention the ghastly thought that the party’s ordinary members might actually elect a leader who actually advocates policies they actually support. For as we well know, such things are not supposed to happen in the “managed democracies” of our modern era.

That’s why Labour and its media mouthpieces have been in a full-blown, five-alarm freak-out for the entire summer. The lip service they long paid to Labour ideas have been canker’d o’er with the pustular panic they’ve displayed so brazenly. Instead of genuinely debating Corbyn’s policies and principles— and lacking any of their own, beyond the promise of maybe hopefully perhaps being two percent less evil than the Tories (the supine stance so beloved by America’s savvy “progressives,” bless their hearts) — the Establishment candidates and party leaders have denounced Corbyn with red-baiting rhetoric taken straight from Tory tabloids, while also wailing about his “unelectability”.

One by one, the “big beasts” of Labour have lumbered out of hibernation to denounce the Corbyn “threat.” Even Tony Blair emerged from his intimate embraces with dictators and other assorted sleazebags to declare that Corbyn’s election would “annihilate” the party. (Er, see membership figures above.) Blair’s plea was so panicky that it was actually headlined: “Even if you hate me, please don’t take Labour over the cliff edge.” Well, a man who bears a deep, direct moral and legal responsibility for the deaths of upwards of a million innocent people (according to the measurement techniques used by his own government) in a war of pure aggression that has led to even more murderous chaos, ruin and extremism, surely knows a thing or two about going over the edge and “annihilating” support for his own party.

Blair’s intervention has been accompanied by similar squeaking of pips from such luminaries as Gordon Brown, the former PM who could not defeat two sad sacks of shinola like David Cameron and Nick Clegg, and by the whole range of party bigwigs who recently presided over an even bigger loss to the Tories’ upper-class twits. The general line goes like this:

“Sure Corbyn’s policies are popular, even among many non-Labourites; sure, he is galvanising the third of the electorate who have stopped voting in the kabuki contests between Tory Tweedledees and Labour Tweedledums; sure, he is bringing back tens of thousands of people who’d stopped voting for us — the very people whose support would have given us victory in the last two elections; sure, he is now one of the most popular and respected politicians in the country. But he can’t get elected!”

Again, this is from party leaders who have lost two straight elections by adopting Tory policies and providing no genuine alternative to a deeply corrupt and dysfunctional status quo. (Sound familiar?) Whatever other skills the current Labour establishment might possess, “electability” is definitely not one of them.

At first, the Tories were happy about the Corbyn surge, glad to see discord in the Labour ranks. (Or rather, in the Labour hierarchy. The “ranks” themselves are the ones who have propelled Corbyn to prominence.) But as the once-distant possibility of his winning the leadership turned more and more into a likelihood, the Conservative elites unlimbered their big guns in the press and political forums, and began frantically firing whatever mud and mendacity they could lay their hands on. (Much of which has since been recycled by “savvy” Labourites in their own attacks. Remarkably, Corbyn has not returned fire, but simply keeps stressing that the campaign is about policies, not personalities. This is, perhaps, his most radical and disruptive notion, and seems to have thrown the entire media-political class into a tailspin.)

So while the Tory tabloids handle the gutter work, the glittery poobahs and pundits of CPS take the high road of “policy,” producing “reports” like they one they had the temerity to send over my electronic transom last evening. Ordinarily such items are relegated swiftly to the trash (if they somehow snake their way through various blocks and filters), but, laid low with an ailment at the time, I – in an idle, perhaps addled moment –  opened the message.

There I found a long, larded piece of handwringing and breast-beating entitled, “Corbynomics: The Road to Penury.” Here was rich and bitter comedy right off the bat. We have indeed been on the “road to penury” for lo these many decades: a road built by the ravaging financial bulldozers of the elite, with the aid of their diligent servants in the political class: two groups well-represented in the CPS ranks. The report goes on to —

No, I won’t do it. Life is too short to go through this kind of excreta at any length. It is not a political or economic argument, but a religious tract, put out by self-deluded moral morons who believe they are shining saints of goodness and reason — even while the rivers of shit and oceans of blood unleashed by their own extremist beliefs rise all around them. These are people who, like that pitiful plutocratic propagandist in Chicago, long for a universal “Katrina” to sweep away the lesser breeds — and all vestiges of genuine community, all efforts at seeking the greater common good — so they can impose their vision of a “clean,” corporatized, strictly managed, data-crunched and digitally controlled system of enrichment for the “right” people, and endless helotry for the rest.

So, from my sick couch, I roused myself long enough to send off this brief reply.

Sad, sad, sad, how very sad you neoliberal cargo cultists are. Waiting for the God of the "market" (i.e., a rigged system of crony capitalism) to create universal prosperity by enriching an ever smaller circle of wealth devourers and war profiteers, while nations, communities, and individual lives continue to deteriorate. We have been on a "path to penury" -- your path, the jihad of greed and corruption-- for decades. Now we are trying desperately to get off your noxious road and find a different way. Please keep your money-grubbing, extremist bilge out of my inbox. I don't need, don't want, don't believe and cannot endure any more of your witless, cud-dripping spatterings of spam.
Have a nice day.

I’m not saying that Corbyn is a shining knight or saviour, who will magically transform the system and make all things right again. (Although at least his message of “hope and change” is not bankrolled by Wall Street world-wreckers and war profiteers, like that of a former hopey-changey guy who ran for office in America awhile back.) But he is offering a resonant alternative to the cargo cult of austerity and money-worship pushed by the Labour-Tory ruling cliques: an approach clearly supported by a substantial portion, perhaps a majority, of party members. And it’s fascinating to watch the panicked bipartisan ruling clique pull off their masks of concern for good of the country, and show their one true and abiding concern: power for their own sweet selves.

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Permanent Post-Bellum Blues: How the Old Whip Keeps Cracking

Written by Chris Floyd 13 August 2015 2197 Hits

I read this book a few years back: Worse Than Slavery, by David Oshinsky. An eye-opening read for anyone interested in the genuine history of these deliberately divided United States. After I read it, I sat down and wrote the piece below, which is, of course, still relevant today -- as it has been all-too-relevant these past 150 years.

As I said, this was written about nine years ago, but I just musicked it upduring our most recent days of rage and grief:

https://soundcloud.com/chris-floyd/sons-of-the-south

 

 

 

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Dung Bettles: Pope Denounces Davos Dominionists

Written by Chris Floyd 31 July 2015 2431 Hits

*This is an edited version of my latest Counterpunch Magazine column.*  We are living in a world gone through the looking glass when the most strident, unequivocal -- even scatological! -- denunciations of capitalism and its discontents are coming from … the Bishop of Rome. While Bernie Sanders pushes centrist notions as "radical" reforms and Britain's so-called Labour Party tries to recover from the defeat of Michael Dukakis -- sorry, Ed Milliband -- by kowtowing even more abjectly to corporate power (and demonizing the only leadership candidate not bending the knee to Big Money), Pope Francis is out there literally likening the capitalist system to shit.

Speaking in Ecuador at the World Meeting of Popular Movements, a gathering of groups representing the poor, the dispossessed and others pushed to the wall -- or off the cliff -- by the Davos Dominionists who now hold sway over so much of the world, Francis said that behind the neoliberal economic order, "there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea called 'the dung of the devil.'"

I don't suppose we'll be hearing anything like from Hillary at her next Wall Street fundraiser. Francis went on to give a perfect description of the system that our bipartisan transatlantic elites have done so much to impose on the world -- by force or, as in Greece, by blackmail. Thus saith Mr Bergoglio:

"An unfettered pursuit of money rules. The service of the common good is left behind. Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home."

The pope, introduced by Ecuadorean President Evo Morales (who was sporting a Che jacket), kept hammering at a slogan that he said must undergird a new economic order: "Land, Lodging and Labor," guaranteed for all. Lenin would be spinning in his grave (if Stalin hadn't mummified him) to hear the distinct echoes of the slogan he coined just about 100 years ago: "Land, Peace, Bread."

In September, Francis is heading to Washington, where John Boehner may now be re-thinking his plans for a gala "inauguration-like setting" for the Pope's speech to the joint houses of Congress. Barack Obama too might find it awkward when he recalls the pope's words in Ecuador about the kind of liberty-stripping, corporate-coddling trade pacts he and Boehner have been pushing so relentlessly. Francis called these treaties by their true name: “the new colonialism," which, like Old Cloot himself, takes many forms:

"At times [the new colonialism] appears as the anonymous influence of mammon: corporations, loan agencies, certain 'free trade' treaties, and the imposition of measures of 'austerity' which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor." (Francis also apologized for the old colonialism in the “so-called conquest of Americas,” and for the Church’s part in the many evils committed against the indigenous peoples by the European invaders and their successors.)

To escape the capitalist dung we’re now mired in, Francis called for a "truly communitarian economy" where "human beings, in harmony with nature, structure the entire system of production and distribution in such a way that the abilities and needs of each individual find suitable expression in social life." All this, plus guaranteed "access to education, health care, new technologies, artistic and cultural manifestations, communications, sports and recreation."

Ordinary people controlling, er, the means of production and distribution? Guaranteed access to all available social goods? Perhaps the pope should have borrowed Morales’ jacket for the speech. But despite the rhetorical resonances, Francis is no Leninist. For one thing, Lenin would never have accepted the idea that the kind of wholesale transformation of society the pope is seeking could be accomplished without a revolutionary vanguard laying down the party line. Yet Francis concluded his call to action with a remarkable statement from someone who supposedly has a direct line from God on how the world should be ordered:

“Neither the Pope nor the Church have a monopoly on the interpretation of social reality or the proposal of solutions to contemporary issues. I dare say that no recipe exists. History is made by each generation as it follows in the footsteps of those preceding it, as it seeks its own path.”

This actually might be the most radical thing that Francis said in the speech, although it’s unlikely that he grasped the deeper implications of the remark. For, taken seriously and literally, it not only undermines the doctrine of papal infallibility but the authority of any ideology or belief system, religious or secular. It looks not to divine truth or the putative laws of history or economics, but to the creative — and always provisional, ever-changing  — attempts of imperfect human beings to make something better of the turbulence of existence they are thrown into. (This creativity would include, of course, proposed solutions to such “contemporary issues” as contraception, abortion, gay marriage and several other “social realities” on which Francis still holds hurtful, hidebound doctrine-shackled views.)

Francis called the workers and peasants in his audience “social poets,” creating new structures, new realities, in the ruins that “the world market” has made of their lives and their societies. They cheered, then gave him a miner’s helmet, which he promptly put on.

It was perhaps the most noble — and hopeful — headgear any pope has ever worn.

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Searching for a Soldier's Grave: The Ones Who Lost the Music

Written by Chris Floyd 17 July 2015 2425 Hits

(Another recent column for the print version of CounterPunch.) It was a run-down house in a bad neighborhood. In the front yard, a gray Chevette with a smashed grill. The porch sagged and creaked as I walked across it. The front door was unlocked. I went in. It was not dark yet, but late in the day. The wide front room was shadowy; no furniture except a folding card table, a couple of folding chairs and a clapped-out recliner. The table was heaped with a jumble of loose papers, unopened mail, empty beer cans, a dead computer. A slight whiff of spoiled food coming from the back of the house.

I found my brother on the floor, crawling slowly across the bare wood. Although I hadn’t seen him for a year, maybe two, he showed no surprise at my sudden appearance. “Do you see them?” he said, looking up briefly then returning to his intense scrutiny of the card-thin space between two floorboards. “The little red things. A line of them.”

I didn’t see anything. “Ants?”

“No, the little creatures, the things. They come out, then go down into the other place. I’ve got … I’ve got to … I can’t tell what they’re saying.”

“They must be gone,” I said.

He got up. “No, but forget it. How ya doin’, boy?” He padded over in his bare feet and gave me a hug. He was a shambling mess, in baggy, stained tracksuit bottoms, baggy t-shirt over his bloated belly, his thinning hair long and greasy, his beard unkempt. But in his eyes, I could see, for a moment, a gleam of his old self.

We sat down and talked. He was as lucid as you please, catching me up on the latest disasters of his life. Fired from his third job in a year. Banned from Wal-Mart after some kind of unspecified altercation. The car wreck. The tense encounters with our father, who was paying his rent and buying his groceries while hiding his true state from our mother. The guitars he had to sell. The meds.

The meds. Thirty years of them by now. It began in the service. His luck had already started turning sour in the aimless years after his ultra-hip, high-school hero days, but it took a sudden, deep plunge when his draft lottery number came up. He rushed to join the Air Force before he was drafted and fed into meat grinder in Nam. He never saw combat; somehow he ended up working in the psych ward of a military hospital in Biloxi, Mississippi, dealing with those driven out of their minds by the war.  Day after day of bad craziness, doling out pills — and scarfing them down himself, trying to stay just this side of sane amidst the howling pain of the maimed and mad.

Never got off the pills. Never made it all the way back. He lived a dazed and stunted half-life, burying himself in conventional tropes, strangling his bohemian spirit, letting the music in his mind wither away. His sporadic attempts to break out always ended in disaster and defeat. Then his son got killed by a drunk driver, and the brittle conventional facade fell to pieces. The unhappy marriage collapsed from dry rot. The sinecure at the post office was lost. Always the meds, legal and otherwise. He sought help at a VA hospital; they put jumper cables to his head and volted his brain. He came out more confused, flailing in a downward spiral.

Now here he was. Here we were. When he went to the kitchen for more beer, I looked at the open page of a spiral notebook on the table. Among cryptic scribbles — “She’s the daughter, not the wife She will be the wife Or both Closing song Allmans? New set?” — I saw this:

“Today is Thursday. It’s May 24. I live in Lebanon, Tennessee. Bill Clinton is the president.”

The whole set-up was depressing, but it was this that broke my heart — his struggle to hold on to reality, clinging by his fingernails to the rock, trying to keep from being swept away by the waves and lost in the thrashing depths of “the other place,” where little red creatures spoke in unknown tongues and a ghost tour filled with music and romantic intrigue rolled through an alternate universe. (A universe that I soon learned could be entered — when certain conditions coalesced — through a damp spot on the bedroom wall.)

Even this was not rock bottom. That came later, with him living stranded in a seedy motel room, with a broken TV and an air-conditioner that couldn’t be turned off, broken glasses, teeth falling out, shivering, crying, menaced by the dealers and gang-bangers who’d set up camp in the surrounding rooms.  Through tears, he said: “I’ve become them. Back then.” The ones he’d treated in the psych ward; the maimed and mad. The ones who lost the music.

Then came a rescue of sorts. My mortally ailing father and my aunt finally got him into decent housing back in our hometown. A new doctor — a Muslim who had somehow fetched up in the rural depths of Tennessee — flushed the mind-bending meds from his brain. He and the doctor had long talks, about Islam, Christianity, war, old movies. His drug-swollen body slimmed down. He was still fragile, still shell-shocked, but starting to wake up, bit by bit.

One day my father got a call from my aunt: she hadn’t heard from my brother for two days. My father dragged his frail frame to the nearby apartment block. He had a key; he opened the door. My brother’s body was on the couch; he had died, peacefully, in his sleep.

They buried him in a military grave.

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Bachmann Terror Overdrive: The Age of Rapture

Written by Chris Floyd 16 July 2015 2601 Hits

A clutch of headlines over a span of two days in April: US dispatches elite troops to Ukraine. US sends warships to Yemen to join naval blockade. BP taking more oil from Iraq in payments as government coffers dwindle. Saudi bombs boost al Qaeda. Sale of US arms fuels wars in Arab states. Michelle Bachmann says all signs point to the Rapture. For the first time in my life, I agree with Michelle Bachmann.

(Note: This was my column in the May edition of CounterPunch magazine.)

You remember Bachmann, don't you? She was once considered a serious candidate for the presidency. On the campaign trail, she would describe the road-to-Damascus moment that led her to become a Republican: reading Gore Vidal's "snotty novel," Burr. "If that's what Democrats believe," she said of Vidal's mordant look at the corruption and conniving of our Founding Dads, "then I must be a Republican." (Thank god she didn't read Myra Breckinridge, eh? Who knows what she would have become?)

Anyway, during those busy April days, Bachmann was interviewed on a Christian radio station and declared that the disastrous results of America’s foreign policy were clear harbingers of the coming Rapture: that blessed time when the Lord, like a celestial Mr. Scott, will beam up the saved to the heavenly Enterprise — then destroy the earth and kill billions of people with ravaging fire and photon torpedoes.

(You can see why Bachmann and her literalist ilk don’t worry too much about climate change; why bother to save a planet that’s going up in smoke any day now? And why bother to tend the sick and feed the hungry and all that other jazzmo Jesus talked about, when most of them are going to have their flesh fried and their souls shipped to hell? But oddly enough, the prospect of imminent departure doesn’t seem to stop these pious paragons from padding their portfolios with long-term investments. Well, faith is a mystery, as they say.)

Of course, the apocalyptic foreign policy Bachmann talked about was not Obama’s insane dance along the nuclear tripwire in Ukraine. Nor his brutality in helping impose a naval blockade of Yemen — a nation that imports 90 percent of its food, mostly by sea. The fact that Yemenis were starving and dying and running for their lives under the bludgeoning of American bombs dropped by Saudi aggressors did not trouble Bachmann at all.

Nor was it the fact that the Saudi assault has been a tremendous boon to al Qaeda, who had been stymied by their enemies, the Houthis, but were now free to capture airports and take chunks of territory with the help of their frequent allies, the Americans. (See Syria, Libya, etc.) Nor did she care about Obama’s record-breaking arms sales to some of the most repressive regimes on earth. Her only quibble with any of this would be that it did not go far enough — that there weren’t more troops in Ukraine bellying up to the Russkis, that there weren’t more bombs and starvation in Yemen, doing God’s work in killing heathen Muslims, that there weren’t more arms going to the Islamic extremists in Saudi Arabia so they too could kill more heathen Muslims.

This is not what set Bachmann off. On all these things there is remarkable comity and unity across the breadth and depth of the American political establishment, from the far right wing that Bachmann represents to the, er, not-quite-as-far-right wing that Obama and Hillary Clinton and other system-supporting “progressives” represent. The only “debate” in our militaristic empire is how fast we kill, how many we kill, and with whom we kill at any given time.

No, the great sign of the impending end of the world that Bachmann saw was … a prospective agreement to keep Iran from making nuclear weapons. (Which they have not done, are not doing, and have repeatedly declared they will never do — even though Israel has a vast arsenal of illegal, uninspected nuclear weapons aimed at them.) The slightest chance of a temporary pause in Iran’s eternal punishment for its demonic lèse-majesté — kicking America’s imperial stooge out of their country 36 years ago — is, for Bachmann (and for many others in the political establishment) an abomination unto the Lord, for which He will soon implement the mother of all final solutions.

Now here we come to a splitting of theological hairs. I do agree with Bachmann that there is decidedly something mephitic and end-timesy in the air these days, a blind, reckless — even willful — rush toward catastrophes beyond imagining. And I agree that American policies — foreign and domestic — are, like the Gadarene swine, the main receptacles of the deathly spirit driving us toward the cliff. However, I don’t think the proposed agreement with Iran is a divine blazon of the end. Nor do I think that God’s little sunbeams like Michelle will be plucked away to escape the consequences of our maniacal folly.

But in her own ignorant, horse’s-ass way, I think Bachmann has, as through a glass darkly, touched on the pulse of our times.  For this is indeed the Age of Rapture — a word taken from the Latin, meaning “seizure, rape, a snatching away.” The sense of what is best in us — most human, most real and connected — is being brutally violated and snatched away. But there will be no transporter to save us; we are all, right now, in hell.

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