Fear of a Black Prophet: The Lowdown on the Takedown of Cornel West

Written by Chris Floyd 23 April 2015 2661 Hits

Glenn Ford says, with eloquent heat, exactly what I was thinking: that Michael Dyson's brutal character assassination of Cornel West in the historically racist pages of the New Republic was, above all else, an application for a job in the upcoming Hillary Clinton administration. Ford writes:

But, of course, there is method to Dyson’s meanness. The true purpose of his elongated smear of Dr. West is to demonstrate to Hillary Clinton’s camp that Dyson remains a loyal Democratic Party operative who is available for service to the new regime. Having observed how hugely Al Sharpton prospered as President Obama’s pit bull against Black dissent, Dyson offers unto Caesarius Hillarius (“We came, we saw, he died,” as she said of Gaddafi) the iconic head of the nation’s best known Black dissident. …

Dyson has resorted to icon assassination because West’s highly visible critique of Obama’s domestic and foreign policy is an embarrassment to the administration, to the Democratic Party as an institution, and to the sycophantic Black Misleadership Class that has been more loyal to Obama than to Black people as a group.

There is much more in Ford's piece; do read the whole thing. Meanwhile, Tarzie has also been on the case -- one of the first out of the gate, actually -- with an analysis that notes how useful West's dissent has been to the Democratic Party … and why the Establishment, represented by Dyson, has now decided to tear him down. (Tarzie also comes up with one of the best encapsulations of the Democratic dynamic -- especially regarding our earnest Digbian/Kossian progressives -- that I've seen: "Of course, anguished support is the bread and butter of the Democratic Party, without which it would cease to exist." Anguished support covers it all; the hand-wringing our progressives do as they are forced to support a politician who happily, eagerly oversees a global death machine and the most intensive, intrusive, pervasive surveillance operation in human history, who bailed out the banks instead of the people and left tens of millions submerged in debt and despair. Oh, how anguished they are, as they write millions of words in support of their leader and millions more in relentless attacks on his enemies and critics. The Israelis have another apt term for this sort of thing: "shooting and crying.")

Tarzie writes:

To answer “why now?” it’s important to understand that despite all of his public handwringing over Obama, West has been a good partisan soldier when it counted. He counseled people to vote for the president, not simply the first time around, but in 2012, a year after he’d concluded the president was “a Black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a Black puppet of corporate plutocrats.” Of course, anguished support is the bread and butter of the Democratic Party, without which it would cease to exist. So people like West, who qualify their tactical support with a blistering critique from the left, are uniquely useful to legitimizing the process and suckering the people most likely to sit out the election back into the booth.

The problem is, when they’re not acting as role models of irrational compliance, people like West are simply a pain in the ass and a risk, ungratefully injecting things like class, oligarchy, imperialism, capitalism and white supremacy into the insipid national “debate.” …

West, on the other hand, seems to be getting genuinely less compliant as the years go on … That West is more and more identified with Black Lives Matter — something that is surely giving people in high places hives — only adds to the risk he poses as a Black public figure potentially sitting out Hillary’s coronation. History shows that there is nothing more terrifying to the ruling class than resistance to racism tethered to left rather than liberal politics. From a ruling class perspective, Black Lives Matter goes from skin rash to cancer the moment liberals and libertarians lose control of it. The widely respected West challenges that control in ways that thoroughly marginalized ANSWER and CPA members don’t, especially given his unwillingness to overlook liberal opportunists on the grounds of solidarity.

If it seems I’m overthinking this, you really don’t understand how few risks the political establishment takes, the extent to which it fears Black radicalism, the importance it places on elections, nor the extent to which marginalizing genuine lefts is the primary function of liberal Democrats and the thing they do best.  Every election year features at least one heavily signal-boosted attack on recalcitrant lefts that comes from an ostensible ally.  In 2012, Rebecca Solnit did the honors with her famous, and widely reproduced, Letter to My Dismal Allies of the US Left, which provided the talking points for hippie-punching that year. Dyson’s offal goes well beyond that, by viciously singling out a widely venerated individual for ostracism. Since this person happens to be Black, it is a twofer of ruthless political discipline, instruction to both the media establishment and the rank and file, that resistance from Black people and radicals must not be tolerated.

UPDATE: Cornel West has responded to Dyson's attack:

The escalating deaths and sufferings in Black and poor America and the marvelous new militancy in our Ferguson moment should compel us to focus on what really matters: The life and death issues of police murders, poverty, mass incarceration, drones, TPP (unjust trade policies), vast surveillance, decrepit schools, unemployment, Wall Street power, Israeli occupation of Palestinians, Dalit resistance in India, and ecological catastrophe.

Character assassination is the refuge of those who hide and conceal these issues in order to rationalize their own allegiance to the status quo. I am neither a saint nor prophet, but I am a Jesus-loving free Black man in a Great Tradition who intends to be faithful unto death in telling the truth and bearing witness to justice. I am not beholden to any administration, political party, TV channel or financial sponsor because loving suffering and struggling peoples is my point of reference. Deep integrity must trump cheap popularity. Nothing will stop or distract my work and witness, even as I learn from others and try not to hurt others.

But to pursue truth and justice is to live dangerously. In the spirit of John Coltrane’s LOVE SUPREME, let us focus on what really matters: the issues, policies, and realities that affect precious everyday people catching hell and how we can resist the lies and crimes of the status quo!

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Heart of Darkness: An Exceptional Danger

Written by Chris Floyd 05 April 2015 2717 Hits

*** This is my column from the latest print version of CounterPunch Magazine. *** According to latest report from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the United States currently deploys some 2,080 nuclear warheads, ready to launch at a moment’s notice. It has 500 tactical nuclear weapons — for combat use, not strategic strikes — primed in bases across Europe. There are also 2,680 American warheads in storage. They can be brought out at short notice and added to the active arsenal. Including retired but still intact weapons, the United States possesses 7,100 nuclear warheads, any one of which could destroy a metropolis and kill tens or hundreds of thousands of people in a single eye blink.

The United States is the only nation to have used such weapons. They were used on targets consisting almost entirely of civilian populations. In the years that followed, the country vastly expanded its nuclear arsenal, declaring that it could and would launch a “first strike” against any other nation, should the leaders in Washington decide that it was in the strategic interests of the country to do so.

This threat was unprecedented in all of world history. No nation had ever possessed the power — or expressed the intention — to totally annihilate another nation in a single act of military aggression. This threat — and the reality behind it — has been the ultimate foundation of American dominance of world affairs for 70 years.

The full force of this threat diminished somewhat during the height of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union amassed an arsenal that presented a counterweight to American weaponry. But the dissolution of the USSR led to break-up of that nation’s nuclear arsenal. Russia now has some 1,800 missiles deployed. Its entire stockpile of weapons — deployed and in storage — is about 4,500. The nuclear balance has once again shifted significantly in the United States’ favor.

This, at least in part, accounts for Washington’s more aggressive stance toward Russia, especially in the Ukraine crisis. The old doctrine of “mutually assured destruction” is no longer so firm. The possibility exists once more that an American first strike could wipe out the Russian capacity for counter-response. This isn’t certain, but it’s a greater possibility than it has been for several decades.

Russia’s involvement in a dispute in a region on its border has been translated by the Western Establishment into an imminent, Hitler-like threat to take over Europe. Whatever one thinks of the odious Putin regime, any rational observer would have to say that Western propaganda surrounding the crisis has been absurd, exaggerated, and highly dangerous. But even if the Kremlin were guilty of everything it accused of doing in Ukraine, this would be nothing more than what the United States does day after day, all over the world: aggressively interfering in the affairs of other nations, supporting and fomenting armed conflict in order to advance its own agenda, and behaving with brutal disregard for the ordinary people who die and suffer as a consequence.

The U.S. has brought death, terror, ruin and persecution to millions of people in the Middle East, in just the past 12 years alone. It is a record of astonishing, deliberate, cold-blooded evil carried out solely for profit and political dominance. Whatever evil the Putin regime has done and is doing in its limited sphere cannot be remotely compared to what the United States is doing across the globe.

And yet the bipartisan narrative is: Russia is evil, while we are pure and holy, trying only to put the world to rights. This is, essentially, the only frame for discussing policy toward Russia and the Ukrainian crisis. It is so mind-boggingly stupid, so disconnected from reality, that it virtually defies understanding. We kill a million people, for no good reason at all, in a small, weak country thousands of miles away; and we are good. Even our super-savvy liberals, who scornfully reject the primitive doctrine of American Exceptionalism, still believe that America can hold some kind of moral high ground in global affairs.

Look again at those figures: 2,080 warheads on a hair-trigger right now, aimed at spots all over the earth, ready to — in the immortal words of Hillary Clinton in her 2008 campaign threat against Iran — “annihilate” millions of innocent human beings. This power, this threat, hangs over the entire world. However remote the likelihood of its use in any given situation, it is still present, it is still a possibility. (As our leaders like to say with nauseating regularity, “all options are on the table,” always.) It is still in the hands of, again, the only nation that has used such weapons, a nation that publicly reserves the right to use them again, aggressively, in a first strike. A nation that launched a war of aggression in Iraq that killed a million people, dispossessed millions more, destroyed the society, deliberately inflamed sectarian divides and sowed violent chaos where extremism thrives. A nation whose presidents now openly proclaim that they have the right to assassinate any individual on earth at their arbitrary order, and have the power to carry this out.

What then, is the greatest threat to the greatest number of people in the world today? There are many horrible regimes and groups, but none of them possess all of these capabilities and exhibit all of these dangerous attributes; none of them have come close to killing as many people and wreaking as much destruction as the United States has in this century.

One April day 48 years ago, in New York City’s Riverside Church, Martin Luther King Jr. descried the heart of darkness in his time, declaring that “the United States is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” How can it be that we have come so far since that day, gone through so much, and still his dread words hold so true – indeed, are truer than ever?

Yet here we are, here we are: even deeper in the heart of darkness.

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Another Week, Another War: The Iron Logic of America's Middle East Madness

Written by Chris Floyd 27 March 2015 4222 Hits

Another week, another war. And yet another American alliance with the forces of Islamic extremism. Washington is clearly the guiding force between the Saudi-led invasion of Yemen -- a move that will almost certainly lead to a protracted and ruinous conflict, spilling over many borders and, as usual, creating fertile ground for more extremism. In other words, America's war profiteers and military imperialists have given themselves another rich seam of loot and power. And in Yemen, as in Syria, the Yanks are fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with their old allies, al Qaeda, once again.

As usual, some of the best analysis of the latest berserk spasm of Potomac fever comes from the redoubtable As'ad AbuKhalil, the "Angry Arab." Here's an excerpt from one of his trenchant observations of the situation:

This war is also an American war: it is a gift from the US to the GCC countries who didn't like US policies in Egypt, Syria, and Yemen.  The Saudi regime is now pursuing the Israeli option: that it will now be more clearly aligned with the Israeli interests in the region and that it will also be aggressive and violent in pursuing regime interests. … On every issue in Arab politics, the Saudi regime is aligned with Israel. Make no mistake about it: Israel is the secret member of the GCC coalition bombing Yemen. 

In the 1960s, the Saudi regime ignited a war in Yemen to thwart a progressive and republican alternative to the reactionary immamate regime (and Israel supplied weapons to the Saudi side in that war).  In this war, the GCC countries are supporting a corrupt and reactionary puppet regime created by Saudi Arabia and the US.  Saudi Arabia never allowed Yemen to enjoy independence. It saw in itself the legitimate heir to the British imperial power in peninsula. The Houthis (with whom I share absolutely nothing) are a bunch of reactionaries but were created due to the very policies and war pursued by the Saudi regime in Yemen and their then puppet, Ali Abdullah Salih.  South Yemen had the only Marxist state in the Arab wold and the experiment was sabotaged by the reactionary House of Saud. 
In all the Yemeni wars, the Saudi regime always sponsored the option that guaranteed more longevity for war and destruction. This is no exception.

Simon Tisdall in the Guardian notes how the Houthis were transformed from a peaceful movement preaching tolerance and cooperation to a militant sect of warriors. See if you can guess how that happened:

The group was radicalised by the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. Anti-American demonstrations brought the group into conflict with the government of the then president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. In 2004, it launched a fully-fledged insurgency. The group has sporadically battled both government forces, which have been backed in recent years by US special forces and drones, and Sunni Muslim extremists belonging to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which set up bases in Yemen after being expelled from Afghanistan.

For committing the heinous crime of protesting an act of aggressive war against an Arab nation, the Houthis were repressed by the Washington-backed Saleh. When they took up arms in response -- just like the Washington-backed rebels in Libya and the Washington-backed rebels in Syria -- the Americans joined in the crackdown with, as Tisdall notes, the usual round of death squads (aka "Special Forces") and village-shredding, child-killing drones.

And now Peace Prize Laureate is back for more, "coordinating" operations for the Saudis, who have 150,000 troops massed on the border, and expecting more from several other nations -- including Sudan, led by Omar al-Bashir, who, as Tisdall notes, just happens to be "wanted for genocide and war crimes." Meanwhile the Saudi-led attack will give great succour to one of the Houthis' main enemies -- al Qaeda.

Just to recap: the President has lined up the United States shoulder to shoulder with a wanted war criminal, al Qaeda and, of course, the world's primary supporter of violent Islamic extremism, Saudi Arabia.

This is taking place at the same time that Barack Obama is massively escalating U.S. military operations in Iraq, launching a bombing campaign in Tikrit, ostensibly in aid of the Iraqi government's attempt to recapture the city from ISIS but more likely just to keep Iranian-led Iraqi Shiite militias from retaking the town. (Alternatively, some have suggested, not entirely implausibly, that the bombing is actually a bid to save ISIS from defeat by the Iranians, and keep both sides embroiled in conflict; the same strategy followed by the U.S. in the Iran-Iraq War.) In any case, the American bombing campaign has had the entirely predictable -- and no doubt desired -- result of making the fiercely anti-American Shiite militias withdraw, at least temporarily, from the battle for Tikrit.

Obama's intervention in Tikrit is so murderously stupid that even the New York Times -- that ever-eager cheerleader for imperial violence -- calls it "a dangerous escalation": "President Obama has escalated America’s involvement in the fight against the Islamic State without providing a shred of evidence showing how it could advance American interests, or what happens once the bombs stop falling. The strikes are part of a campaign that from the outset has been waged without the authorization from Congress required by the Constitution."

But in some ways, attempting any kind of rational analysis of the situation and its strategic ramifications is pointless. The burning hell that the United States has made of the region with its war of aggression against Iraq and its repeated violent interventions is beyond any sensible comprehension. Washington supported Islamic extremists in Libya -- now its trying to combat those same extremists. Washington fights with al Qaeda and ISIS in Syria, and against al Qaeda and ISIS in Iraq. Washington wages war against Iranian-backed militias in Yemen while fighting alongside Iranian-backed militias in Iraq. Washington backed and participated in Ethiopia's aggressive war that destroyed Somalia's first stable government in a generation -- and now has spent years fighting the extremists who arose in the vacuum … while putting the leader it originally ousted back in power. Washington's aggressive, repressive military-security apparatus has grown to gargantuan proportions for the ostensible reason of fighting Islamic extremism -- while Washington is the strongest ally and chief weapon-supplier to the chief source of Islamic extremism in the world today, Saudi Arabia. Washington (belatedly) backed the overthrow of the military dictator Mubarak in Egypt and now supports the restoration of the Mubarak regime under another military dictator. Washington sanctions and condemns as a war criminal the leader of Sudan -- and is now fighting alongside the war criminal leader of Sudan in Yemen.

The one certain thing you can say about this bizarre goulash of iron and blood is that it doesn't make any rational sense. At least, not in the terms usually used to discuss policy goals, geopolitical concerns and the national interest. Nor in the terms used by the policymakers themselves for their aims: fighting terrorism, national security, advancing democracy, establishing peace and stability, etc. Look at the situation in the region before the "War on Terror" and look at it today: Libya, Syria, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen torn by war and chaos, extremist militias controlling cites and whole regions, the armed forces of many nations on the attack, millions of people displaced, atrocities on every side. The present horror far surpasses the worst case scenarios of those who warned of the wide-ranging disasters sure to come from the invasion of Iraq.  

There is no rational way to reconcile the stated goals with the policy outcomes of the War on Terror (or whatever one wants to call the incessant, ever-expanding military campaigns of the United States and its extremist, repressive allies). The War on Terror began as a monstrous hybrid of imperialist adventurism, blood-money boondoggle and psychosexual power trip for the stunted, blunted second-rate souls who hold sway in our corrupt system. Its only real purpose is to perpetuate itself in any way it can, both wittingly and unwittingly. It has become the system, it is now the organizing principle of the American state and its relations to other countries.

Seen in this light -- not the light of reason or coherence or consistency, but the shooting flames of a drone-bombed house -- American policy makes perfect sense. 

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Children's Crusade: The Nightmare-Makers of the West

Written by Chris Floyd 18 March 2015 2340 Hits

The defenders of Western values are always bold and brave: Israeli Soldiers Raid Homes, Question Kids as Young as 9 (NBC). Yes, it takes enormous courage for a gang of armed and body-armored men to barge into private homes in the middle of the night, haul children out of bed, point their weapons at them and batter them with threats and questions. We are indeed fortunate that such a bastion of our precious Western ideals exists in the Middle East, which is otherwise filled with brutal barbarians. And now that King Bibi has been re-anointed, the beat -- and the batterings -- will go on. To be fair, had his "liberal" opponents won, this would still be the case, as Yonatan Medel notes in the LRB. Here is a quote from an ad for the great progressive hope, Isaac Herzog:

"Herzog grew up in military intelligence, which means he knows the Arab mentality. He saw Arabs on different occasions; he saw them on the other side of the gun-sight, and behind the gun-sight … The most important man in this business is the person who knows what the state of Israel needs to do with a piece of information. Whether this means firing a rocket, or sending troops forward, or wiping out these people."

"Wiping out these people." There is your modern progressivism in a nutshell. Pamper the rich, screw the poor, and "wipe out these people" -- whoever "these people" happen to be at the moment. Knock down their doors, drone bomb their villages, kidnap, kill and terrorize them without mercy, without respite. This is what our "progressives" stand for, in Israel, in Britain, in the United States. It is, in every essential, the same program of the neocon, neoliberal, nationalistic, militaristic right-wing parties that dominate these countries. It's just "sicklied o'er with the pale cast" of hand-wringing PR and arrant hypocrisy. ("Yes, we bomb and murder and subvert and repress and support dictators and degrade our own country to give more spoils to the rich -- but we do it more in sorrow than in anger, don't you see? We do it with Hollywood celebrities yukking it up at our side. Doesn't that make us so much better?")

With no other choice, electorates keep choosing the real deal -- the unashamed, unabashed right-wingers -- over this simpering, pandering copy. Conviction trumps callowness every time, especially in societies where the discourse is controlled almost entirely by rich elites, and genuinely dissenting views are rarely heard. And so the darkness keeps growing -- and the nightmares of the brutalized, terrorized children go on and on.

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A Reasoned Response to a Washington Post Call for War With Iran

Written by Chris Floyd 14 March 2015 3546 Hits

I was going to write a careful, reasoned commentary on this article in the Washington Post -- “War With Iran is Probably Our Best Option" -- written by a highly respected fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, Joshua Muravchik. But in the end all I could find to say was this:  I hope this slavering, shrivelled-up, dead-souled little coward finds himself on the front lines of the war he advocates.

I’m sick to death of these timorous motherfuckers sitting on their well-wadded asses pushing for wars they’ll never fight. I want to see Muravchik standing on the Iranian frontier with a rifle in his hand.

I want to see him put his puffy gray face and his well-coifed hair in the line of fire. He’s so goddamned tough with other people’s lives. “Yes, we might absorb some strikes," he writes. He knows damn well he’ll never “absorb” a strike; that’s for other people, that’s for the cannon fodder this piss-ant empire sends to its wars.

No, by God, if he wants war, if he thinks it’s “probably our best option,” then let him drag his ageing ass over to Iran and put it on the line. Or else let him his shut his fucking mouth.

And I’m sick to death of the gilded robber barons like Jeff Bezos who publish bellicose bullshit like this day after day, wailing for war on Iran, on Russia, on Syria. I want to see Bezos in the front line too. Let him slap on some body armor and wade into the fight, in Tikrit, in Aleppo, in the Donbass.

He won't do it. Muravchik won't do it. None of them will do it. Every single one of our war-mongers and war-profiteers and policy wonks and politicians who endlessly call for war and war and more war, every single one of them would run a mile — would run a hundred miles — from the slightest threat to their own soft, pasty, well-protected persons.

They want OTHER people to die. They want OTHER people to kill. It makes them feel good. It makes them feel tough. It makes them feel righteous. It makes them want to run to the toilet in their sleek, comfy, carpeted office buildings and jerk themselves off at the excitement of it all.

Just as long as THEY don’t have to fight. Just as long as THEY don’t have to “absorb” any strikes. Just as long as some piece of riffraff does the dirty work for them.

I wish I could stand in front of this blood-thirsty coward and tell him this to his face. And then spit in his face. Then put a goddamned rifle in his hand and parachute him into Tehran. Go ahead, Muravchik. Go ahead, Bezos. You boys are so bad, you’re so tough, you’re so hard and hot for war. Go fight it yourself, you cowardly motherfuckers.

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Master’s Degree: Teaching Torture as a Western Value

Written by Chris Floyd 10 March 2015 2808 Hits

In a recent London Review of Books article detailing the abysmal horrors of Egypt's prison system -- a multi-circled hell with visible and invisible layers, all of them wretched, some of them unspeakably so -- Tom Stevenson noted, in passing, this piece of historical context:

“The prison system in Egypt is the legacy of a long period of British control, followed by the successive autocracies of Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak. It was in a British prison during the Second World War that some of the torture techniques now employed by Egyptian intelligence were refined. The Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre was annexed to a British army camp in the Cairo suburb of Maadi. The camp had a cinema, boxing ring and ice-cream parlour for the soldiers, but a few hundred metres away British interrogators were experimenting on as many as sixty prisoners at a time, attempting to induce hallucinations with thyroxine, or trying to break them psychologically by forcing them to dig their own graves.”

This is an important fact to remember. Far be it from me to deny agency to the creative peoples of the Middle East, who like all other human groupings are entirely capable of devising their own methods and traditions of tormenting each other. But this tidbit of recent history reminds us of the true nature of the "Western values" said to be under attack by the "savages" of Islamic extremism. (Always excepting the Islamic extremists that our Western Valuists arm and support, of course, such as the Saudi royals or the Libyan extremists ushered to power by the humanitarian application of NATO bombs.) It also reminds us that today's incessant Western "interventions" in the region are not some new direction forced on civilization's defenders by the sudden and unfathomable rise of Islamic extremism, but a continuation of old polices, all based on the unexamined assumption of Western superiority -- and the entirely transparent lust for power and loot on the part of Western elites.

For just as Hitler and the Nazis looked to America's enthusiastic eugenics programs (some of which continued until the 1970s) for inspiration and "scientific" confirmation of their own racist policies, so too much of the "savagery" now rampant in the "Arc of Crisis" was learned at the feet -- and the fists -- of the Western powers who spread their enlightenment over the region for so many decades. Indeed, who can forget the bitter joke told by Iraqis during America's invasion in 2003 to overthrow its former client, Saddam: "The pupil has gone; now the master has come." And of course the American headmaster taught his new pupils in Baghdad many valuable lessons during his stay in Iraq: how to sow sectarian hatred to augment your power, for example, how to sell off your national patrimony to the highest bidder, how to line your pockets with public loot while beggaring your people and leaving them exposed to violence, chaos and extremism.

There is little in Stevenson's harrowing description of Egypt's prisons, and the brutality meted out there, that could not be found in America's 21st century Terror War gulag. Of course, the Egyptians have had decades of authoritarianism to work out their own approaches to punishment and persuasion -- but they have been aided, supplied, trained and tutored by American military and security experts every step of the way. That iron-hand-in-fisted-glove cooperation continues under the Peace Prize Prez today, of course -- despite the murderous repression of the Sisi regime, which, as Stevenson rightly notes, outstrips even the atrocities of Hillary Clinton's long-cherished family friend, Hosni Mubarak.

The greatest service America has performed for the torturers of the world is not the training, teaching, S&M gear and money it has given them; it’s legitimization. America has brought torture over from “the dark side,” as Dick Cheney called it, from the shadow world where, although long practiced, it remained tinged with shame and criminality. Instead, Bush and Obama – especially Obama – has taken torture boldly into the shining light of day, as a legitimate, official necessity of statecraft: no longer a crime subject to prosecution, no longer shameful or secret but a matter of public debate on how best to implement it “in a way in keeping with our values.”

For of course, American torture still goes on: from the force-feeding of strapped-down captives in Gitmo to the psychological and physical terror Obama inflicts on thousands of innocent people every day as they watch the lizard-eyed drones hovering over them and wonder if this is the hour they’ll be ripped to shreds or burned alive to whatever the hell goes on in the secret cells our humanitarian leaders still keep in bases, basements and hidey holes all over the world.

Every day, the Keepers of our Sacred Values teach the world that death and torture, lies and torment, loot and terror are legitimate means – the only legitimate means – for taking and holding power. They teach it from the podiums where they mouth their obscene pieties. They teach it in their nation-raping, terror-spawning interventions. And they teach it, every day, on the bodies of their victims.

***This is my column in the latest print version of Counterpunch Magazine.

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Useful Idiots: The Clueless Gooberism of First Look’s Fallen Heroes

Written by Chris Floyd 28 February 2015 4202 Hits

I don’t really want to go too far down the road on this when there are far more important things happening in the world, but really, take just a moment to look at the language in the Ken Silverstein piece on the world-historical tragedy of him finding out that it was less than ideal to work for a rapacious, dodgy billionaire:

“[Matt Taibbi] hired some incredible writers, including Alex Pareene, Edith Zimmerman and other insanely talented people [for the oligarch-funded vehicle called Racket] …. During my short time at Racket, we talked about how we should have the courage to write whatever we wanted—and not to worry about whether First Look management liked what we did or whether we offended potential future employers. At bottom, that is the true formula to produce fearless, independent journalism. You will never produce fearless, independent journalism if you live in fear of angering your media boss or to please your sources or even your friends.”

I mean, just look at that phrasing. All of Silverstein’s pals at racket were not just good journalists, they weren’t just talented people; no, they had to be INSANELY talented. They were all (him included) people endowed with talent beyond all normal measuring.

And then, in those deep, soulful conversations he reports having with Taibbi and the other god-like creatures assembled at Racket, Silverstein talks of the “fearless, independent journalism” (a phrase repeated in two successive sentences) they were all courageously pledged to create, no matter what the oligarch who was giving them tens of millions of dollars might think.

But really: who on god’s green earth talks about themselves in this way? Who beats their chests and shouts about how FEARLESS and INDEPENDENT they are, how INSANELY TALENTED all their colleagues are? Who, who actually was fearless and independent, would sign up with a bloated billionaire techno-oligarch in the first place? And what genuinely talented person needs to proclaim anxiously to all the world how talented — sorry, not just talented but INSANELY talented — they and their friends are?

And again, really: Alex Parene, INSANELY talented? You might, at a stretch, say that Tolstoy or Shakespeare were INSANELY talented; that is, that their talents seem to exceed those of most other writers. But some guy who used to write pieces for Salon? He’s incomprehensibly talented, is he? Couldn’t he be, like, just talented, or even less hyperbolically, just a good writer? Is that not good enough?

And again, as with Glenn Greenwald, who famously declared that he took no interest at all in Omidyar’s background or politics before he took his multimillion dollar checks, Silverstein too declares that he “knew little” about Omidyar when he took the oligarch’s money, and that the oligarch — whatever he did or stood for — “wasn’t a big part of my decision-making.”

Not to belabor the point, but again we are talking about self-proclaimed FEARLESS INDEPENDENT journalists — Greenwald and Silverstein — who freely admit that they did virtually no due diligence, no FEARLESS investigation, of the oligarch who was waving fat wads of money at them. They just took the money. And now we are supposed to feel sorry for Silverstein and Taibbi and the other INSANELY TALENTED FEARLESS INDEPENDENT JOURNALISTS who discovered that working on Petey’s Farm was not the utopia they thought it would be. I suppose being INSANELY TALENTED and FEARLESSLY INDEPENDENT doesn’t preclude you from being MONUMENTALLY STUPID and WILFULLY IGNORANT. But such glaring evidence of the latter does tend to tarnish somewhat one’s savvy, dissident cred, does it not?

So what is the upshot of the whole Omidyar FUBAR? The end result has been 1) to shut down for months on end some of the few ‘dissident’ writers able to publish in the mainstream media; and 2) undermine their credibility and make them all look like stupid, self-aggrandizing, money-grubbing goobers. If you had deliberately designed a scheme to cripple the already minuscule portion of mildly oppositional stances toward our militarist empire allowed to surface on the margins of the national discourse, you could not have been more effective than the long slow-motion train wreck of First Look Media.

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History Never Sleeps: The Empire of Amnesia Rolls On

Written by Chris Floyd 24 February 2015 2581 Hits

As always, Bill Blum gives us meet food to feed upon in his latest Anti-Empire Report. I was going to quote some pertinent excerpts, but why not just read the whole thing. Of special interest is Blum’s look at the true history of today’s “Greek crisis”— and, given that history, the grim prospects ahead for Syriza; the jaw-dropping (but not surprising) ignorance of history evinced by the “experts” in our State Department; and the all-consuming ideology of the “non-ideological” American media. In the latter, he digs up one choice quote from Brian Williams’ former boss at NBC, Bob Wright, who defended the beleaguered anchorman thus: “He has been the strongest supporter of the military of any of the news players. He never comes back with negative stories.” That one quote speaks volumes, vast tomes, about our own recent history, and our current predicament. Anyway, the full Report is here.

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Deadly "Dissent": Hidden Hell Lurks in New Critique of Syria Policy

Written by Chris Floyd 19 February 2015 3398 Hits

Robert Ford, once one of the most vociferous champions of an aggressive American policy toward Syria has now changed his mind, McClatchy reports. Ford, who famously resigned from his diplomatic post last year in protest at the Obama Administration's "weak" support of Syrian rebels, now says the United States should not give any weapons to the rebels at all; they are too "disjointed and untrustworthy because they collaborate with jihadists."

Ford, at one time Obama's ambassador to Syria, had long insisted that "moderate rebels" in Syria could turn the tide in their war with both the Syrian government and the jihadi groups that have poured into the war zone. As McClatchy notes, just six months ago he was trumpeting the moderates in the Establishment journal Foreign Policy, saying they had broken with al Qaeda's Nusra Front -- one of the most powerful rebel groups -- and just needed more American weapons to take charge of the war and drive the Assad regime from power at last.

But now he says the scales have fallen from his eyes: the moderate rebels are barely clinging on, they're weak and disjointed, and they continue to collaborate with the Nusra Front. He said that giving the moderates more weapons is tantamount to handing the deadly goods to al Qaeda -- which has already happened time and again during the American-backed, Saudi-fuelled civil war. (Whether this pass-through of weaponry to violent extremists is a bug or a feature of American policy in Syria -- and elsewhere -- is another matter, but too large to be dealt with here.) 

The new Obama initiative -- to essentially replace the fractured moderates now losing out to jihadis Syria by arming and training a new "moderate" army from scratch -- is, Ford rightly says, doomed from the start:

Syrian rebels are more concerned with bringing down Assad than with fighting extremists for the West, and there are far too few fighters to take the project seriously. “The size of the assistance is still too small,” he said. “What are they going to do with 5,000 guys? Or even 10,000 in a year? What’s that going to do?”

Ford's road to Damascus conversion from militant interventionist to skeptical opponent of American policy in Syria seems at first like a positive development; it's always good to have another voice raised against America's knee-jerk militarism -- and it's even better PR for anti-war forces if that voice comes from the center of the Establishment itself, right? So Ford's new stance is getting some play and praise among the dwindling circles of "progressives" who oppose the Peace Prize Prez's policies of permanent war.

But a closer look at Ford's position reveals that his "opposition" to the new Obama approach is based on the same argument as his earlier criticism of the president's policy: that it isn't bloodthirsty enough.

Ford may now concede that the "moderate" rebels are not up to the job of overthrowing Assad and defeating the jihadis in order to clear (or raze) the ground for a properly pro-US regime. But he still believes that this violent razing and regime implantation should be America's goal in Syria. What he calls for now is not the amateur hour of the cobbled-together moderates, but a "professional ground force" to come in and do the necessary bloodwork of empire.

Of course, Ford is a savvy realist. (He wouldn't be writing for FP if he weren't!) He recognizes the political difficulties of such a course, as McClatchy reports:

Ford said the time had come for U.S. officials and their allies to have a serious talk about “boots on the ground,” though he was quick to add that the fighters didn’t need to be American. He said a professional ground force was the only way to wrest Syria from the jihadists.

Two things to note here. First, see how the original, ostensible purpose of American involvement in Syria -- to help democratic forces liberate themselves from an authoritarian regime -- has now morphed into a campaign to "wrest Syria from the jihadists." Of course, it was the involvement of "U.S. officials and their allies" that led to the presence of the jihadi armies in Syria in the first place. The covert and overt intervention of Washington and the, er, authoritarian regimes it supports, such as Saudi Arabia, has created and maintained the conditions for an all-out civil war, spreading the chaos and hatred that is the sine qua non for jihadi movements to thrive. Now we're told we must put "boots on the ground" to fight the forces we ourselves have spawned.

Every intervention in the region has produced a catastrophic result, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people, displacing millions more, destroying whole societies and fomenting ever-more violent and virulent extremism, not just in the region but around the world. Every single application of the policy Ford now espouses has led to this result. There can be no doubt whatsoever that "seriously" putting "boots on the ground" in the Syrian civil war will have the same consequences: more war, more chaos, more death, more extremism.

Second, Ford is "quick" to assure people that these "boots" don't necessarily have to be American. He doesn't offer any other specific alternatives. It is not likely that the military forces of America's allies in the region -- devoted as they are almost solely to oppressing their own people and pocketing baksheesh from America's war profiteers -- could "wrest Syria from the jihadists" or do anything else except shoot unarmed protesters conveniently grouped in a city square. Of course, Iran's  "professional ground forces" would probably make short work of the jihadis in Syria; but no savvy, FP-published Establishment professional is going to suggest bringing the Iranians into Syria.

So who does that leave? Either the Americans, or the Israelis, or perhaps some kind of vast army of mercenaries -- a counter-jihad, where soldiers of fortune, professional killers, psychopaths and profiteers gather from around the world to wage merciless war. Ford's savvy realism doesn't extend to explaining who would actually be doing the killing for Ford's dream of a new, purged and purified Syria. But in any case, the ultimate goal remains: Assad must go, the jihadis must go, and this must be accomplished by the use of a massive "professional" force from outside -- accompanied, to be sure, by a strongly "centralized" group of local rebels, gathered and controlled under a single guiding hand. (Whose hand would that be, one wonders?)

Ford shows another flash of "savvy" insidery in his conclusion, which veritably reeks of Washingtonia in its implicit message: "It's my way or the highway." Ford says that his solution to the Syria crisis -- his new solution, that is, not the one he was peddling six months ago -- is the only solution. If his sage advice for a full-blown "professional," "boots on the ground" invasion of Syria by outside forces is not followed, "then we have to just walk away and say there's nothing we can do about Syria."

Diplomatic solutions? All-party talks? Ceasefires and demilitarization? UN mediation? Racheting down the terror-producing War on Terror? Nope, none of that, and nothing else that human creativity -- and a genuine will for achieving genuine peace and stability in the region -- could possibly devise. It's either war -- or just let the Syrian people stew and die in the bloodbath we have drawn for them.

That's what passes for "opposition" to America's berserk militarism these days: even more militarism. No doubt Ford is angling for a choice position on Hillary Clinton's national security team -- or Jeb Bush's, for that matter; there won't be a dime's worth of difference between them. But there is no dazzling, life-changing light on his road to Damascus -- only more death, only more darkness.

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The Wrong Kind of Victim: No Hashtag for Dead Hostage in ISIS War

Written by Chris Floyd 16 February 2015 3782 Hits

Ordinarily the death of an American hostage held by Islamic extremists is the occasion of bellicose, ballyhooed, bloody shirt-waving rage, stoked in tandem by government and media. It usually evokes widespread calls for retaliation, for taking the gloves off at last and exterminating the barbarians once and for all. Today, it almost always comes with its own hashtag, so that people can immediately identify themselves with the victim, who is seen invariably as a martyr for the goodness and specialness of America.

But it turns out that some victims are less special than others. In a time when the killing of French journalists whom no American had ever heard of, working at at magazine no American had ever heard of, brings forth a flood not just of sympathy but of direct, personal identification with the victims -- JeSuisCharlie! -- the death of a young American woman captured by ISIS has been remarkably muted. Where is the global flood of JeSuisKayla hashtags?

Not only has the death of 26-year-old Kayla Mueller failed to evoke the usual spasm of anger and grief -- it has actually been celebrated by some of America's most rock-ribbed, hardcore, give-no-quarter opponents of Islamic terrorism (which they broadly define as the merest expression of Islam in any form anywhere on earth). You would think our stalwart halal-haters would be the first to mourn the death of an honest-to-goodness real human being -- a white American! -- while she was in the grip of the most monstrous Muslimy monsters who ever lived. 

(There are conflicting reports on how Mueller died; ISIS claims she was killed in a Jordanian airstrike on the building where she was being held; the official line is that ISIS killed her some time before, and was just using the airstrike claim for propaganda value. With conflicting claims from such noble and honest adversaries, it is of course hard to ascertain the truth of either claim. One may make the observation, however, that the historical record provides ample scope for skepticism of the "official line" in such matters, going all the way back to the Gulf of Tonkin, and beyond )

But however she died, it seems that Kayla Mueller forfeited her sacred American citizenship -- indeed, her very humanity -- by committing the heinous crime of … supporting Palestinian rights. That's all it took for her to be branded "a Jew-hating bitch." That's all it took for inveterate foes of the "savage barbarians" in the Middle East to tweet and trumpet their jubilation at her death. As Rania Khalek reports at The Electronic Intifada:

Mueller participated in nonviolent protests with Palestinians against Israeli home demolitions and walked Palestinian children to school to protect them from harassment by Jewish settlers — the kind of work [the International Solidarity Movement] is known for.

A serious malefactor indeed! Taking part in non-violent protests, walking children to school -- offenses surely worthy of death. Khalek continues:

American-born Rabbi Ben Packer shared Kaplan’s op-ed on his Facebook page along with the comment, “All sympathy - GONE!!”

Packer, who served as the “Rabbi on Campus” at Duke University and the University of North Carolina (UNC) after a stint in the Israeli army, is currently “Supreme Commander” of “Heritage House,” a Jewish settlement in occupied East Jerusalem that provides lodging for Jewish tourists and “lone soldiers,” essentially foreign fighters recruited from abroad to participate in Israel’s military occupation in Palestine.

Packer went on to respond enthusiastically to a friend who remarked that Islamic State should have burned Mueller alive like it did the captured Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasassbeh.

In a blog post titled, “Dead ISIS Hostage Was Jew-Hating, Anti-Israel Bitch,” conservative blogger Debbie Schlussel calls Mueller “a Jew-hating, anti-Israel piece of crap who worked with HAMAS and helped Palestinians harass Israeli soldiers and block them from doing their job of keeping Islamic terrorists out of Israel.”

Schlussel concludes her post with the following farewell: “Buh-bye, Kayla. Have fun with your 72 Yasser Arafats.”

This is perhaps just par for the course, the kind of thing one would expect from -- in the scornful words of Atticus Finch -- "minds of that caliber." But Khalek notes that America's respectable mainstream media -- while certainly not glorying in Mueller's death -- went to great lengths to eradicate the reality of her life:

In a timeline of Mueller’s humanitarian work, USA Today completely erased her work in Palestine, saying only that between 2010 and 2011, she worked in “Tel Aviv, Israel, volunteering at the African Refugee Development Center.”

Although a more in-depth USA Today article specified that Mueller worked with ISM for the Palestinian cause, the article claimed she did so in Israel, vaguely noting that Mueller “would walk to school with children in the morning and then make sure they returned home safely later in the day.”

Mueller escorted Palestinian children to school in Hebron in the occupied West Bank, not “Israel,” to protect them from violent Jewish settlers. Leaving out such crucial details obscures the reality of Israeli violence.

While some outlets shied away from emphasizing Mueller’s Palestine activism, others framed her death as a consequence of it.

The liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz implied that her involvement in Palestine led to her death with the headline, “US idealist Kayla Mueller’s road to ISIS captivity went through West Bank.” The Washington Post seemed to agree, with an article titled, “How Kayla Mueller’s pro-Palestinian activism led her to Syria.” …

Between the Zionist backlash against Mueller, the outlets erasing her Palestine activism and those using her death to advance their own agendas, there is one constant: Mueller’s support for Palestinians against Israeli oppression is a taboo that must be ignored, obscured or ridiculed.

Same as it ever was. In death, as in life, certain people are accorded the full dignity and respect of personhood; others are stripped of their humanity and turned into lumps of meaningless meat whose lives and concerns don't matter.

In the memory of many people still living, this was precisely the treatment meted out to the Jews of Europe by the Germans (and many of their helpers, like Ukraine's Stepan Bandera, being celebrated today by America's allies). This was the treatment meted out to the Iraqi people, in the extraordinary 20-year American campaign to strangle their country to death, with sanctions that Washington itself admits killed half a million innocent children and a war of aggression that killed up to a million more people, and led directly to the depredations of ISIS and other extremists in the region.

This is the treatment meted out every single week by the White House death squads of the Peace Prize Prez, as they rain drone death on villages, houses and farms, killing women and children, killing the sick and elderly, killing masses of men who may or may not have behaved in a manner that a distant button-pusher looking through an electronic bug-eye in the sky believes might possibly be construed as the arbitrarily designated, insanely broad "signature" of someone who might possibly carry out some unspecified act of terrorism against an unspecified target at some unspecified location at some unspecified point in the future. For this alone, they and everyone in their proximity can be blown to pieces or burned to death by the defenders of civilization.

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