Written by Chris Floyd
Thursday, 08 May 2014 22:29
Crossing the tripwires, counting up the sins, standing in the midnight breeze ...
Written by Chris Floyd
Thursday, 01 May 2014 16:20
Here is my latest column in CounterPunch Magazine.
The Shock Doctrine vultures are coming home to roost. The intensifying crisis in Ukraine is one of the many malign, long-reverberating consequences of the West's decision to bludgeon Russia when it was reeling from the crack-up of the Soviet Union. Instead of giving the country breathing space, helping it find its way from the shattered socialist past toward its own new forms of civic life and economic organization, the West rushed to impose a brutal "market fundamentalism": the now-familiar horror show of "austerity," privatization, ruinous debt, plunging life expectancy, and rising infant mortality -- the pitiless devouring of the common good by crony capitalism.
This dish was served up by willing Russian stooges -- dazed patsies like Boris Yeltsin and the wild-eyed market zealots, converts to "Chicago School" economics, who filled his first government and tried, in the space of a few months, to transform a land that had never known capitalism (except in a few slivers of the economy, for a few decades, a century before) into the wet dream of Margaret Thatcher and Milton Friedman. The country was turned over to gangsters and hucksters, and to murky operators in the bowels of the security apparat. These were adherents of a different "Chicago School" -- the school of Al Capone.
I lived in Moscow when the Shock Doctrine was reaching its full fury. Murder was rampant: high-flying businessmen were gunned down on the steps of the metro, reporters investigating corruption were blown up in their newspaper offices. Used car salesmen became nation-straddling oligarchs; nuclear engineers and factory managers became drivers and janitors for Western-owned businesses. Ordinary people in threadbare clothes lined the streets and train stations, hawking their few private possessions and family mementos for ever-more worthless rubles. Homeless children -- the besprizorniki -- roamed the city, in packs or alone, abandoned, dirty, feral, scared. Drunks killed by rotgut turned up in the snow beneath gleaming billboards for Revlon and Marlboro. Casinos proliferated, while local bakeries and health clinics disappeared.
Meanwhile, in the Kremlin, the jihad of the market extremists raged on. With the encouragement of Western governments and the assistance of Western privateers and consultants, the government "auctioned" off a trillion dollars’ worth of public assets to oligarchs and insiders -- for $5 billion. Much of this money -- up to $350 billion from 1992-2001 -- was stripped from the country in capital flight and parked safely and profitably in Western financial firms. It was the greatest fire sale in human history.
The death toll of the first 10 years of "demokratsia" in Russia is astounding: an in-depth study published in the British Medical Journal found that "an extra 2.5 million to 3 million Russian adults died in middle age in the period 1992-2001 than would have been expected based on 1991 mortality rates." Up to 3 million unnecessary deaths -- as many as were killed in the Vietnam War.
It's no wonder that while I was there, in the mid-1990s, the general public had already come to regard "demokratsia" as a dirty word, synonymous with the endemic corruption, ruin and violence that the Western-backed elites had visited upon the country. This cynicism was confirmed by the election of 1996 -- my last hurrah in Moscow -- when a half-dead Yeltsin, supported vigorously by the West, miraculously overcame a 2 percent popularity rating to win "re-election." The price of this pyrrhic victory was the final surrender of the state to the oligarchs and security apparatchiks who, along with their American campaign operatives, had engineered the outcome. Flush with victory, they proceeded to push the country into yet another major crash in 1998, when life expectancy rates plummeted to the lowest levels since the famine years of the 1930s.
This is the rotten foundation upon which the increasingly ugly regime of Vladimir Putin is built. A culture, a country, a people savaged over and over through a century of unprecedented upheaval and violence were once again subjected to a firestorm of chaos that killed 3 million innocent people and left millions more stripped of hope, of opportunity, of meaning. Now Putin, who emerged from the dark nexus of power blocs that saved Yeltsin, fills this moonscape with empty symbols that play upon the fears and resentments of a battered people: hysterical nationalism, cartoon history, blustering machismo, fake religiosity, and "traditional values" more aligned with American Tea Party tropes than anything that has actually existed in Russian culture. He rails against the West but he rules a mirror image of it: a violent, militarized crony-capitalist pigsty that degrades and deceives its own people while directing their anger and confusion toward outsiders. In many ways, it's the American Cold Warriors’ dream come true: we have finally turned the Russians into us.
The conflict in Ukraine has many causes -- not least the meddling of American apparatchiks and oligarchs to engineer the overthrow of the elected government and destabilize the region. But if Western governments find themselves puzzled by the motives and moves of the Russian regime that now vexes them, they need only look in the mirror, and it will all become clear.
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 29 April 2014 12:32
I had in mind to write about Tony Blair's remarkable regurgitation of bloodlust and bile last week. The former British PM managed to tear himself away from his consulting work for dictatorships and other lucrative sidelines long enough to make a "major speech" calling for -- guess what? -- even more military intervention in the endless, global "War on Terror." The fact that this war on terror -- which he did so much to exacerbate during his time in power, not least in his mass-murder partnership with George W. Bush in Iraq -- has actually spawned more terror, and left the primary 'enemy,' al Qaeda and its related groups, more powerful than ever, has obviously escaped the great global visionary. No doubt his mad, messianic glare -- coupled with the dazzling glow of self-love -- makes it hard for the poor wretch to see reality.
Anyway, I was going to take up Blair's genuinely lunatic barrage at some point, but I find that Patrick Cockburn, as you might expect, has covered it well in a new piece, quoted below. The idiocy and irrationality of Blair's speech are obvious, but they bear scrutiny because, unfortunately, they represent the dominant strain of thinking among Western leaders. We are led by people whose vision of reality is every bit as insane as those who think a suicide belt will send them to paradise: leaders who believe that all human activity, across the entire globe, must be bent to their will, and to their advantage -- and that they have the right, the duty, to kill or ruin anyone who stands in the way of this pathological obsession.
I'm not speaking metaphorically. The behavior exhibited by Western leaders, especially since the launching of the Terror War -- and especially in the Anglo-American alliance -- would be regarded as criminally insane by any dispassionate diagnosis. This is seen in large matters -- such as the hundreds of thousands of innocent people slaughtered in their criminal aggression in Iraq -- and in small matters. For example, a story in the Guardian this week related how the courageous statesfolk in the U.S. Senate once again kowtowed to their masters in the National Security apparat, and removed a very mild requirement that the United States government issue an annual report telling us how many civilians it killed with its drone-assassination programs the previous year. No dice, said the security archons -- and the Senate said, OK, boss!
But in the course of the story, the Guardian recalled how top Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein has been a staunch supporter of the remote-control assassination program, noting that "during a February 2013 confirmation hearing for CIA Director John Brennan, Feinstein stated that the CIA’s targeting procedures kills only “single digits” of civilians annually." Try to imagine an ordinary human being standing up in court to defend a serial killer by saying that he only kills single digits of people annually." Is that so wrong? Or hell, imagine your co-worker turning to you in the office and saying, "I ain't such a bad person, you know; I probably don't kill more than six or seven innocent people a year." Try to imagine what kind of mindset believes that as long you hold your murder rate of innocent people to "single digits," then that's OK. What would you say if someone talked to you in that way? You would say, quite rightly, that they were insane. Criminally insane, and very dangerous.
Yet this is precisely the kind of madness that our leaders, across the political spectrum, exhibit day in, day out, year after year. And today, that mindset -- a monomaniacal need for dominance coupled with a pathological lack of empathy and a delusional view of reality -- is on the cusp of blundering us into some unimaginable conflagration with Russia, after bankrolling the armed overthrow of a democratically elected government in Ukraine. (More on this in an upcoming post.)
But perhaps no one exemplifies this madness better than Tony Blair. It seems to leap out from his unhinged face, you can see it in his frantic gestures and bulging eyes. Not for him the affectless cool of Barack Obama or the phlegmatic doddering of Dubya Bush; Blair foams with the fury of a desert zealot -- albeit a zealot in a thousand-dollar suit, not a hairshirt or sackcloth and ashes. Cockburn takes his mad measure and dices up his idiocies well. It bears reading in full, but here are some excerpts:
Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of the core group of al-Qa’ida, may well chortle in disbelief if he reads a translation of Tony Blair’s latest speech on the Middle East delivered last week. If Blair’s thoughts are used as a guide to action, then the main beneficiaries will be al-Qa’ida-type jihadist movements. Overall, his speech is so bizarre in its assertions that it should forever rule him out as a serious commentator on the Middle East. Reading it, I was reminded of a diplomat in Joseph Conrad’s Secret Agent called Mr Vladimir who fancies himself an expert on revolutionaries: “He confounded causes with effects; the most distinguished propagandists with impulsive bomb throwers; assumed organisation where in the nature of things it could not exist.”
The speech, entitled “Why the Middle East matters”, is about the threat from radical Islam, what it consists of and how it should be countered. Mr Blair says that “there is a titanic struggle going on within the region between those who want the region to embrace the modern world and those who, instead, want to create a politics of religious difference and exclusivity.” On one side stand those who want “pluralistic societies and open economies”, on the other those who want to impose an exclusive Islamic ideology.
Here the reader might suppose that Blair is building up towards some sharp criticism of Saudi Arabia and its fundamentalist Wahhabi creed. What could be more opposed to pluralism in politics and religion than a theocratic absolute monarchy such as Saudi Arabia which is so notoriously intolerant of other versions of Islam, such as Shi’ism, as well as Christianity and Judaism, and is, moreover, the only place in the world where women are not allowed to drive? Here is the home country of 15 out of 19 of the 9/11 hijackers and of the then leader of al-Qa’ida, Osama bin Laden, whose religious views are rooted in mainstream Wahhabism.
Blair denounces those who espouse an Islamist ideology in which the ultimate goal “is not a society which someone else can change after winning an election”. Surely he should be thinking here about King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, his namesake in Jordan and the Gulf royals who inherited their thrones. But Blair goes on to make the astonishing claim that the guilty party in fostering extreme jihadist Islam is none other than the Muslim Brotherhood which stood for and won an election in Egypt before it was overthrown by the military.
It is worth quoting Blair again to get the flavour of his thoughts about what happened in Egypt last year. “The Muslim Brotherhood was not simply a bad government,” he says. “It was systematically taking over the traditions and institutions of the country. The revolt of 30 June was not an ordinary protest. It was the absolutely necessary rescue of a nation.”
This is demented stuff. If the Muslim Brotherhood had indeed been taking over Egyptian institutions such as the army, police and judiciary, they would not have been so easily overthrown by the army on 3 July. And what great Egyptian traditions were being eliminated by the Brotherhood other than that of rule by unelected military governments? ... In reality, events in Egypt can only encourage recruitment by jihadi al-Qa’ida-type movements which will argue that the fate of the Brotherhood, which tried to take power democratically, shows that elections are a charade and the only way forward is through violence.
On Syria, Blair is a little more ambivalent about the future though he has no doubts what we should have done. He says that “in Syria, we call for the regime to change, we encourage the opposition to rise up, but when Iran activates Hezbollah on the side of Assad, we refrain even from air intervention to give the opposition a chance.” Presumably, by “air intervention” he means a Libya-style change of regime to put the opposition in power. But in Syria the armed opposition is dominated by the very jihadists – Jabhat al-Nusra, the official al-Qa’ida affiliate and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, formerly al-Qa’ida in Iraq – against whom Blair is warning the world. They now control an area the size of Britain in north and east Syria and north and west Iraq and can operate anywhere between Basra and the Mediterranean coast of Syria.
… As I read Blair’s speech I could not quite believe he was going to conclude by proposing the absolute monarchies of the Gulf, some of the most authoritarian and corrupt countries on earth, as suitable models for the rest of the Islamic world. But that is exactly what he does do, advising the West to stick by our allies “whether in Jordan or the Gulf where they’re promoting the values of religious tolerance and open, rule-based economies, or taking on the forces of reaction in the shape of Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, we should be assisting them”.
It is a curious fate for the man who claims to have tried as prime minister to modernise Britain and the Labour Party that he should end up lauding these ultra-reactionary states. In the past few months Saudi Arabia has criminalised almost all forms of dissent, the Sunni monarchy of Bahrain is crushing democratic protests by the Shia majority and Qatar last year sentenced a man to 15 years in jail for writing a poem critical of the emir.
As for combating jihadi Islam: nothing is more likely to encourage its spread than the policy supported by Blair of persecuting moderate Islamists, who did stand for election, while giving full backing to autocratic kings and generals.
Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 23 April 2014 00:23
I wrote here Monday of an Easter weekend full of death in Yemen, ordered up hot and steaming by the progressive American president and his assassins. But death was feasting elsewhere too -- in the president's hometown of Chicago, as the Guardian reports:
A senior Chicago police officer said that parts of the city are being overwhelmed by gun violence, after a weekend in which nine people were shot dead and at least 36 – including six children – were wounded.
Ronald Holt, the commander of the Chicago police department’s special activities division, said that the city was witnessing “fratricide” among young men who had come to believe “that the only way to resolve a conflict is to get a gun and go shoot to kill”.
“To tackle gun violence where it is overwhelming communities with the extraordinary loss of lives at an alarming pace, we must deal with it as a social disease and health issue,” Holt, whose 17-year-old son Blair was shot dead on a bus in 2007, told the Guardian in an email.
His remarks came as Chicago suffered its bloodiest weekend of the year. Dozens of residents were shot in a series of separate incidents. On the city’s south side, five children aged between 11 and 15 were shot while walking home from a park on Sunday evening.
This outburst of violence and hopelessness is the "strange fruit" of the implacable, relentless hatred that American society has always felt toward its black citizens. Since the end of slavery -- which was only achieved by a Civil War that killed more than 600,000 people (in contrast to the peaceful end of serfdom, in the same period, achieved by the 'barbaric' Russians) -- African-Americans have been subjected to an unforgiving barrage of legal blockades and economic terrorism to keep them broken down, broken apart, struggling for crumbs of survival in the midst of affluence and opportunity for others.
For a few years, in the 1960s, a few very mild measures were adopted with the aim of beginning to address the ingrained injustice and inequality imposed on black people during a whole century of supposed "freedom." And even these few measures would almost certainly not have passed except for the national trauma of John Kennedy's assassination, which produced a powerful Democratic majority for his successor, Lyndon Johnson, and -- temporarily -- a national mood that major changes needed to be made in an obviously sick society.
But let us be clear: as momentous as they were in context, the Civil Rights laws of the 1960s were, again, very mild, preliminary measures in relation to the vast injustice and institutionalized hatred they were meant to address. I mean, think of it: how a nation celebrated the fact that after arduous political warfare, civil unrest, many deaths and much suffering, it managed to strike down some of the laws that prevented or hindered black citizens from voting. And this in the seventh decade of the 20th century. Any civilized nation would have been ashamed that it took so long to accomplish even this barest minimum of democratic rights for a substantial part of its population; but America has never stopped congratulating itself for its magnificent benevlolence in letting the darkies cast a ballot in the "world's greatest democracy."
This back-patting still goes on today, even among political factions -- such as those bankrolled by the Pulitzer-lauded friends of humanity, the Koch Brothers -- who are spending millions of dollars to turn blacks away from the voting booth ... by any means neccessary. Yet just five years after these mild measures were introduced, the government -- and its corporate allies -- were already working assiduously to undermine them. Who can forget the sage counsel of Patrick Moynihan, who urged his boss, Richard Nixon, to practice "benign neglect" toward "issues of race," letting "the Negroes" stew in their own "social pathologies." (Moynihan, of course, went on to become a famously "progressive" Democratic senator from New York, then handed off his seat to Hillary Clinton.)
No matter; most white Americans believe, firmly but vaguely, that "all that Civil Rights stuff" in the Sixties settled America's racial issues once and for all. So if "the Negroes" have any trouble these days, it's their own damn fault. It's their "social pathologies," as Moynihan said 45 years ago; or a problem of "inner city culture," as Paul Ryan put it this year. Hey, after all, there's a black president, right? What else do these damn people want?
This is all unspeakable, evil tripe. The American system has never, for a single instant, treated African-Americans as equal citizens, of equal worth to those with white skin. It has always practiced not benign but malign, malevolent neglect toward its black citizens. Prejudice and fear toward black people is deeply ingrained in white Americans, and not just in the South. It is there, it is part of white Americans' cultural heritage and psychology; it is a stain, a presence that for most white Americans must be consciously, effortfully overcome. And of course, in many, many cases, it is not overcome. It is surrendered to; it is simply accepted, without reflection, as the natural order of things. It is expressed in almost 150 years of organized economic deprviation and denial of opportunity, in social, economic and political policies aimed at destroying black families, black communities, leaving them at the mercy of gangs, hoods and criminal -- those perfect replicators of the ruling class ethos of unjust domination backed by violence.
Look at Detroit: a major city fallen into unprecedented ruin and abandonment, now in the hands of appointed managers, with all pretense of democracy stripped away. It is inconceivable that this would happen to any city with a white majority -- or any city in a genuinely civilized, democratic country. Detroit's fate is one of the scandals of the century -- yet is is completely ignored ... even by the "first black American president," who has joined with the rest of the power structure in letting "the Negroes" in Detroit stew in "their social pathologies." Trillions of dollars are spent to bail out financial criminals who wrecked the entire global economy; billions of dollars are being sent to aid the ailing economy of Ukraine. But bailing out Detroit, all those shiftless darkies? No chance, man.
Proportionally, more blacks are imprisoned than any other Americans; more blacks are executed than any other Americans. More blacks are denied loans and jobs, more blacks are relegated to substandard, underfunded schools. Subsequently, more blacks begin life several rungs down the ladder from their white compatriots. And on every rung of that ladder, there are powerful forces waiting to beat them down, repress them, belittle them -- then blame them for not rising higher, faster, for daring to complain about the hammers pounding down on their fingers as they try to grasp the rung above.
The election of the first black president (actually, a half-white president) has done little to alter this state of affairs -- except, as Glenn Ford at Black Agenda Report has pointed out, to disarm the resistance of African-American leaders to America's still horrific, still deeply racist system. The violence in Chicago -- and the nihilistic dearth of hope and opportunity and common human feeling it represents -- is just more evidence of a terrible reality that no one will acknowledge. Brutalized, abandoned, bludgeoned, hated and scorned, the gangs of black America are reflecting the lessons taught by our elites, from the gilded corporate boardrooms and the heights of geopolitics: Money is god; power is king; violence is the way; there is no such thing as the common good.
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 21 April 2014 12:50
Here's a video of a heinous "material supporter" of violent Islamist extremism, brazenly pledging to give millions of dollars to armed "holy warriors" fighting to overthrow a secular government. This shocking footage shows us some of the deepest roots of the sectarian violence raging across the globe today -- untold mountains of cash and arms shovelled to some of the most violent, retrograde religious gangs in the world by the leaders and war profiteers of the Western world and their economic cronies in Saudi Arabia. And this destructive dynamic is still going strong, still spreading death, destruction and hatred, most notably in Libya, Syria and Iraq. (Via the Angry Arab)
Or as Khurram Zaki, who posted the video, puts it:
Watch how the "free world" supported the same group of people (the "mujahideen") along with notorious dictators they are fighting with right now to "free the world". That is how they imposed the extremist ideology upon us in the name of "Jihad" only to later confront it with the name of war against "terror". Check how a so-called "secular", "liberal" state invoked the name of God and religion again and again only to further their strategic interests in the region.
"You left a godless country because you refused to live under a godless communist system which is trying to destroy your religion,; [know that] the hearts of the Free World are with you." -Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, on a visit to the border with Afghanistan, during a state visit to Pakistan, 1981
UPDATE: Meanwhile, the beat goes on. On Monday, the Peace Prize Laureate launched his third drone strike in Yemen in as many days. (It is of course superfluous to point out that the United States is not at war with Yemen.) The latest strike followed one on Easter Sunday, when Barack Obama celebrated the Resurrection of his Lord and Saviour by killing 30 people in Yemen, by the usual courageous method of having an underling in a padded chair somewhere thousands of miles away courageously push a button while courageously viewing a video screen.
This heroic action was preceded by a strike on Saturday, in which 13 people were killed, including at least three civilians. This was purportedly a "signature strike," a common practice in which the courageous Americans actually have no earthly idea who they are courageously killing from thousands of mile away -- they just push the button because a bunch of people they are tracking seem to be "acting like" terrorists in some way or another. For all we know, all 13 people killed that day were civilians, like the 15 people on their way to a wedding whom the Peace Laurate killed last December.
In fact, we have no way of knowing if any of the dozens of people killed by the Peace Laureate during his busy Easter holiday were civilians or militants. Or what "civilian" and "militant" even mean in the context of the Peace Laureate's never-ending violation of other nation's sovereignty to kill people, many if not most of whom are completely unknown to him and his assassins.
We are simply told that all the shredded corpses are "al Qaeda militants." Which of course leads to the question: Are these the same "al Qaeda militants" whom the United States is supporting in Syria, or the "al Qaeda militants" it supported in Libya, or are they some other kind of "al Qaeda" militants? If the "al Qaeda militants" in Yemen suddenly decided to aim their attacks on, say, Iran, would they suddenly become "good" or "moderate" al Qaeda militants, like we have in Syria? And are these Yemeni "al Qaeda militants" of a different stripe from the "al Qaeda militants" the West supported in, say, Bosnia, or Afghanistan?
Anyway, who cares? The point is that Obama's peaceful, progressive expansion of the drone bombing and death squads initiated by George Bush is obviously quelling the spread of violent extremism. Whereas "al Qaeda" was once a handful of militants concentrated largely in one corner of Afghanistan, it is now a large, loose, proliferating confederation of violent extremists operating over vast swaths of Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Mali, Somalia, Nigeria and other countries. As both an ideological brand and physical force, "al Qaeda" is more powerful today than ever before -- after 13 years of unrelenting "war on terror." Every drone strike -- and the deep, horrific, constant dread and fear instilled in the multitudes of innocent people who live under the dead eye of American drones, never knowing when and where the bolt may fall -- are all incomparable recruiting tools for "al Qaeda militiants" around the world.
Every step taken in the blind, brutal "war on terror" has been counterproductive. Every step has increased terrorism, exacerbated hatred for America and the West, destabilized vast regions of the earth, destroyed all vestiges of constitutional government in the United States, militarized and corrupted Western democracies and visited unspeakable horror and suffering on millions of innocent people.
Yet it never stops. It just goes on and on, plunging the world deeper into darkness day by day, year by year. It's done by icky conservatives like George Bush and Margaret Thatcher; it's done by cool progressives like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. No one, none of our leaders and would-be leaders, will call it off. They don't know how. And they don't want to. So they will go on bombing and killing -- thus making even more "militants" to bomb and kill. They will pursue this literally insane course while the world burns up around them and their own nations fall to pieces. It is an astounding situation.
Written by Chris Floyd
Sunday, 20 April 2014 22:30
In any power structure, at any level, it's not enough -- it's never enough -- that you simply acquiesce to it, or grudgingly accept it, or silently go along with it, or even openly compromise with it. No, you must also sing its praises. It's never sufficient just to obey the system of power; you must love it, you must laud it -- and you must do this sincerely.
This is what power always demands. You must acknowledge that the system is essentially good, doing essentially good things. Of course, it might veer from its essential goodness now and then: mistakes are made, good intentions can go awry, and yes, sometimes bad people can abuse the system and do bad things. But that's when bold voices are needed to step up and spark debate, instigate reforms and return the system to its true moral equilibrium once more.
However, a lack of proper enthusiasm, a failure to appreciate the essential goodness of the system, can leave you under a cloud of suspicion: What are you, some kind of radical? A wrecker? Are you ungrateful, spiteful, envious? Some kind of purist, prig, holier-than-thou? You think you're above the rest of us, who love the system and work so hard to make it better?
You can see this process at work in institutions everywhere, throughout history. From family dynamics to office politics to military hierarchies to every kind of government. After all, what were Stalin's purges but "reforms" of a system whose unquestionable goodness had been traduced by the mistakes and crimes of a few bad apples (or a few million bad apples)? The system hadn't failed; no, it had been failed. The system itself remained inviolate -- and the imperative to praise it, loudly and long, was still in force. Indeed, it was more powerful than ever; the "mistakes" made it even more important to hymn the system, lest people get the idea that it was not good, that its power was not legitimate.
Another example -- on a considerably less draconian scale -- cropped up recently. As Tarzie notes, Glenn Greenwald has been spending some of his post-Pulitzer time tweeting plaudits to oligarchs for their laudable social activism. Glenn sent kudos to the Koch Brothers for "using social media to protest abuses and racism in the criminal justice system." He was referring to an April 16 panel discussion in Austin, Texas, that was sponsored by an institute set up by one of the Koch brothers, Charles. The topic was prison reform, and the Charles Koch Institute had put up a Facebook post about it.
Greenwald linked to a story by another new media outlet, Ezra Klein's Vox. The story itself doesn't say anything about the Koch Brothers "protesting abuses and racism" in the American gulag, nor does the blurb on the Charles Koch Institute website. Here we read about a rather staid panel discussing various options on prison reform. The Koch group does note the vast number of people incarcerated in the United States, and mentions the deleterious impacts of this on society at large. But nowhere does it mention racism or abuses.
However, these topics probably were mentioned at the forum, because of what Vox considered the most newsworthy aspect of the story: along with usual powerful white men, the Charles Koch group had invited an actual black man to speak -- the head of the Texas NAACP, no less. This was unusual, considering the fact that Charles Koch's father, Fred, had been a founder of the rightwing extremist group, the John Birch Society, and that his sons Charles and David have long used the unearned wealth they inherited to roll back civil rights laws at every opportunity.
So yes, I suppose it was unusual that the Koch group let the leader of an African-American institution have a microphone at one of its forums. And I suppose it is laudable that Charles Koch, the sixth richest man in the world, is on record advocating the end of the mandatory sentencing laws that have swelled the American gulag to bursting. I'm not sure what kind of prison "reform" Mr. Koch would support; given his virulent opposition to government activity in almost every form (save corporate welfare and tax breaks for the rich), I would venture to guess it would involve an even greater role for the "private prison industry" -- those profiteers of human misery.
But yes, let's grant that it's nice that the sixth richest man on the planet and one of the most powerful right-wing figures in the world since Franco died is interested in prison reform, and actually let a black men speak under his aegis. That's swell. It might be a little surprising that someone who'd just won a Pulitzer Prize would use his newly elevated platform to trumpet this somewhat underwhelming fact, but what the hey.
However, that tweet was coupled with second one lauding yet another oligarch, Michael Bloomberg, for planning to use $50 million of his money to ape the hardball tactics of the NRA and punish politicians who don't vote the way he wants them to. Here, however, Greenwald is more explicit in the point he's trying to make. Linking to the NY Times story on Bloomberg's initiative, he asks: "Is this bad because an oligarch is using his vast wealth to influence political outcomes or good because of the goal?"
Greenwald's answer is implied in the question; it's a rhetorical exercise, not a topic for debate. He now works for an oligarch, Pierre Omidyar, whose profit-driven philanthropy and government connections make him the very model of a modern oligarch. It's obvious that Greenwald approves of oligarchs "using vast wealth to influence political outcomes," if that influence-peddling accords with Greenwald's beliefs. He has no problem with this system of power.
But if his question had been genuine, then the short answer would be, of course: "Yes, Glenn, it's bad. It's another confirmation that we live in a system where a very few titanically rich people decide 'public' policy and control 'public' debate. That is not a democracy."
And what, ultimately, is the "goal" of Bloomberg's initiative? It is to set up a powerful political organization that is explicitly intended to make politicians beholden to the organization and jump to its tune, just as the NRA's political puppets do. And in this case, the organization will be funded and controlled by one man -- a man whose vaulting political ambitions have never been a secret. It's hard to believe that a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist cannot see the self-aggrandizing angle of Bloomberg's initiative.
What's more, Greenwald's tweets came in the same week that a Princeton University study confirmed what many people already know: "U.S. No Longer an Actual Democracy," as the headline on the very mainstream Talking Points Memo aptly put it. From TPM:
A new study from Princeton spells bad news for American democracy—namely, that it no longer exists.
Asking "[w]ho really rules?" researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page argue that over the past few decades America's political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield most power.
Using data drawn from over 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, the two conclude that rich, well-connected individuals on the political scene now steer the direction of the country, regardless of or even against the will of the majority of voters.
"The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy," they write, "while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence."
As one illustration, Gilens and Page compare the political preferences of Americans at the 50th income percentile to preferences of Americans at the 90th percentile as well as major lobbying or business groups. They find that the government—whether Republican or Democratic—more often follows the preferences of the latter group rather than the first.
There you have it, from the very bowels of the respectable Establishment: the United States is now, by any measure, an oligarchy. That is the system of power that controls the country. And, as we know, systems of power must always be praised. Our oligarchs must be praised: "Look, oh look, at their benevolence, look at their concern for us! Look how they let a black person speak in public! Look how they want to buy politicians for us! Look how they want to fund dissident journalism in the system that has made them wealthy and powerful! Are their goals not noble? Should we not encourage our overlords to be merciful toward us? Should we not work with them -- and for them -- to reform the system that they control and manipulate for their own benefit? Praise them, tweet them, for the system is good. Oligarchy is good."
This is what we are seeing now from Glenn Greenwald, with these tweets aimed at exalting the good works of oligarchs. He's not saying, "Well, it's a dirty world, it's a dirty system, but I'm making this compromise -- working for an oligarch -- because I believe it's the least worst option I have in the world I've been given. It's not what I would want to do, and I'm certainly keeping a wary eye on the Boss Man's hijinks -- but I honestly believe it's the most effective way I can try to do at least a small amount of good in the system we have." That's a legitimate position; some might argue against it, some might draw the line of compromise at different places, but it's a choice that people have always had to make in systems controlled by malevolent forces.
But he's not saying anything like that -- not even remotely. He's saying that the system itself is good. Our new, Princeton-recognized system of oligarchy is good; all power is out of our hands now, but the oligarchs can do good things, and we should encourage them to do more. If we can just reform this business of overactive surveillance by the state --- which impinges even on the activities of our oligarchs! -- then all will be right again. The fact that oligarchs control the political system, control the economy, bankroll the destabilization of foreign countries, monetize philanthropy and control the media -- even the "dissident" media -- this is of no concern. The idea that we are seeing this kind of overreaching by the state precisely because there is no longer even a pretense of democratic accountability to the citizenry by a government that is now wholly in the hands of a small, monied elite -- this doesn't even occur to our new-style, oligarch-funded dissidents. How can it? Such a viewpoint would undermine the legitimacy of the oligarchs who are now underwriting "dissent" and other noble goals like gun control and prison reform.
So it's not enough to work for an oligarch -- grudgingly, or warily, or quietly. It's not even enough to praise the particular oligarch who funds your own noble work. No, you must praise other oligarchs. You must laud their work without skepticism or suspicion -- even if they have spent decades funding virulent neo-fascism, racism and the degradation of the common good. You must not even check out their activities before accepting millions of dollars from them -- as Greenwald has proudly hailed his own willful ignorance of Pierre Omidyar's activities before signing on with his media venture.
Power demands your praises -- and it demands them sincerely. I have no doubt that Greenwald now sincerely believes that oligarchy is a force for good. (I'm not as sure that the Greenwald I used to know would have believed this -- but then again, perhaps he did.) But what it is interesting here -- and chilling -- is to watch this age-old dynamic of power-praising being played out yet again, in the super-techno, hyper-modern world of "dissident media."
While finishing up this piece, I ran across a new article by Thomas Franks on a similar theme, taking off from Bloomberg's new initiatives: "Why Elite billionaire liberalism always backfires." Below are a few excerpts:
During the nineteenth century, a long string of saintly aristocrats fought to reform the state and also to adjust the habits and culture of working-class people. These two causes were the distinctive obsessions of the wealthy liberals of the day: government must be purified, and working people must learn to behave. They had to be coerced into giving up bad habits. They had to learn the ways of thrift and hard work. There had to be sin taxes. Temperance. Maybe even prohibition.
On the single greatest issue of the time, however, these sanctimonious reformers were of no use at all. They were in favor of clean government, to be sure, but when it came to organized money’s war on the world, which was then bringing impoverishment and industrial combat and dislocations of every description, they were indistinguishable from the most stalwart conservatives. Describing the patrician “Mugwump type,” the historian Richard Hofstadter writes,
[T]he most serious abuses of the unfolding economic order of the Gilded Age he either resolutely ignored or accepted complacently as an inevitable result of the struggle for existence or the improvidence and laziness of the masses. As a rule, he was dogmatically committed to the prevailing theoretical economics of laissez faire. . . . He imagined that most of the economic ills that were remediable at all could be remedied by free trade, just as he believed that the essence of government lay in honest dealing by honest and competent men.
If that description hits uncomfortably close to home, well, good. We’ve returned to the Gilded Age, laissez-faire is common sense again, and Victorian levels of inequality are back. The single greatest issue of then is the single greatest issue of now, and once again people like Bloomberg—a modern-day Mugwump if ever there was one—have nothing useful to say about it, other than to remind us when it’s time to bow before the mighty. Oh, Bloomberg could be relentless in his mayoral days in his quest for sin taxes, for random police authority, for campaigns against sugary soda and trans fats. But put a “living wage” proposal on his desk, and he would denounce it as a Soviet-style interference in private affairs.
During the Occupy Wall Street protests, he declared that we should stop criticizing investment banks; it would cost us jobs: “If you want jobs you have to assist companies and give them confidence to go and hire people.” Later on, when confronted with a successor who didn’t share his views, he graduated to straight-up trickle-down: “The way to help those who are less fortunate is, number one, to attract more very fortunate people.” Only by helping the rich, and helping them more, and then helping them even more, can we ever hope to do something for the poor. ...
To say that there is no solidarity in this form of liberalism is to state the obvious. This is not about standing with you, it is about disciplining you: moving you out of the desirable neighborhoods, stopping and frisking you, prodding you to study the right things. Or, at its very noblest, it is about enlisting you in some fake “grassroots” effort whose primary purpose is to demonstrate the supreme moral virtue of the neo-Mugwump who’s funding the thing—to foam the runway for him as he makes his final approach to Heaven International Airport.
Written by Chris Floyd
Friday, 18 April 2014 23:55
We knew peace, but we'll know peace no more.
We knew strife, and there is strife yet in store ....
We knew blood, that dread word, would find its way to our door...
We knew peace, but we'll know peace no more.
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 07 April 2014 21:02
Sy Hersh has a long piece in the London Review of Books detailing the strong evidence indicating that the Turkish government worked with Syrian rebels in a "false flag" operation of the worst sort: staging a chemical weapons attack near Damascus in August 2013. The intent was to throw blame for the attack on the Assad regime, thereby drawing the United States directly into the conflict; the use of chemical weapons against the rebels was a "red line" repeatedly laid down by Barack Obama as the trigger for an American intervention.
As we know, the gambit very nearly worked. In addition to the deep background behind the sarin attack, Hersh's story also reveals the extent of the military operation planned by Obama. Although at the time, administration officials were speaking of "surgical strikes" and a limited response, the White House was in fact planning a massive attack involving the armed forces of three Western powers (the U.S., Britain and France) that would devastate the entire country and topple the regime. As Hersh writes:
In the aftermath of the 21 August attack Obama ordered the Pentagon to draw up targets for bombing. Early in the process, the former intelligence official said, ‘the White House rejected 35 target sets provided by the joint chiefs of staff as being insufficiently “painful” to the Assad regime.’ The original targets included only military sites and nothing by way of civilian infrastructure. Under White House pressure, the US attack plan evolved into ‘a monster strike’: two wings of B-52 bombers were shifted to airbases close to Syria, and navy submarines and ships equipped with Tomahawk missiles were deployed. ‘Every day the target list was getting longer,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The Pentagon planners said we can’t use only Tomahawks to strike at Syria’s missile sites because their warheads are buried too far below ground, so the two B-52 air wings with two-thousand pound bombs were assigned to the mission. Then we’ll need standby search-and-rescue teams to recover downed pilots and drones for target selection. It became huge.’ The new target list was meant to ‘completely eradicate any military capabilities Assad had’, the former intelligence official said. The core targets included electric power grids, oil and gas depots, all known logistic and weapons depots, all known command and control facilities, and all known military and intelligence buildings.
Britain and France were both to play a part. On 29 August, the day Parliament voted against Cameron’s bid to join the intervention, the Guardian reported that he had already ordered six RAF Typhoon fighter jets to be deployed to Cyprus, and had volunteered a submarine capable of launching Tomahawk missiles. The French air force – a crucial player in the 2011 strikes on Libya – was deeply committed, according to an account in Le Nouvel Observateur; François Hollande had ordered several Rafale fighter-bombers to join the American assault. Their targets were reported to be in western Syria.
Yet even while the war plans kept racheting up to new levels of violence -- including the targeting of civilian infrastructure, a blatant war crime which the United States now routinely commits, even celebrates, in all of its major military operations -- the "intelligence" behind the loudly trumpeted charges of the Assad regime's guilt in the attack was rapidly unraveling. Hersh details this process at length, and I won't repeat it here. But no super-duper gazillion-dollar "intelligence" operation was needed to question the propaganda being catapulted about the attack at the time. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the situation knew that it made no sense for Assad to launch a small, strategically and tactically ineffective chemical weapons attack when he knew this was the one thing that would bring the full weight of the American military machine down on his head. Especially as his forces had clearly gained the upper hand in the civil war at that time. Indeed, his position of strength was the very thing that led the plotters to instigate a false flag attack; the only way to turn the losing tide, they reasoned, was to force an American military response.
In the end, at the last moment, when all signs were pointing to war with Syria, Obama called off the attack. It is not clear why, but several factors doubtless played a part. As Hersh describes, there was strong resistance to the attack from some segments of the military itself, which knew the ostensible casus belli was almost certainly false and feared the much larger, longer, debilitating conflagration that was certain to follow a massive American attack. More publicly, there was the remarkable vote in the UK parliament against military action against Syria -- even as the ever-slavish British government was already sending its planes to join their American masters in the attack. This was undoubtedly significant, but one wonders now if it was the actual tipping point against war that it seemed at the time. After all, the Americans didn't need their little dogsbody's handful of planes nor its ever-diminishing diplomatic muscle to go through with the strike. (And in any case they retained the far more substantial support of France.) If Washington had wanted to act unilaterally, it would have done so. (And had a wider war ensued, Britain would certainly have entered on the American side.) There was also considerable domestic unease at the idea of war with Syria, which was also important. Although, again, once "our boys" were "in the field," fighting for freedom against the new Hitler, no doubt there would have been a good deal of rallying around the flag.
But in the end, we can't say for sure what caused the reversal. There may have been other factors we have no inkling of. And that's another valuable aspect of the Hersh story: it shows, once again, how the world is really run -- in almost total secrecy, behind thin facades of hype, hypocrisy and auto-hypnosis that have little or no connection to the reality of power's operations. Almost nothing we are told is true; yet billions of words are poured out every year in earnest disquisitions on the meaning and import of the dumb shows and distractions our betters put on for us while they pick our pockets and set our world on fire.
There is much more in the Hersh piece, including more details on how the administration of the Peace Prize laureate has assiduously pushed policies that it knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, would result in deadly weapons getting into the hands of some of the most virulent religious extremists on earth. It's odd, isn't it? In order to overthrow a repressive regime in Syria, the Peace Laureate allies himself in clandestine gun-running and the fomenting of sectarian violence with a regime, the Saudis, whose repression makes Assad's Syria look like Haight-Ashbury in the Sixties. And while telling us that al Qaeda is such a deadly foe to all human values that our fight against it requires us to give up our own freedoms, violate our constitution, institute death squads, set up all-pervasive surveillance, and wage overt and covert wars all over the earth -- the same Laureate is ensuring that groups openly allied with al Qaeda are being crammed full of weapons so they can spread sectarian violence across the Middle East and Africa.
Here, as everywhere in the Berserker Imperium, the dichotomy between rhetoric and reality is immeasurably vast, and widening all the time.
Also worth reading, as always, is the latest Anti-Empire Report from Bill Blum. He takes up the astonishing lies and historical misrepresentations Obama made in his recent European trip to re-ignite the Cold War. It was a jaw-dropping performance, as the Peace Laureate heartily defended the Hitlerian war of aggression against Iraq, and the war crimes in Serbia of his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton. It was Clinton, you remember, who, before launching that splendid little war, rejected a Serbian peace offer that would have given him everything he demanded to "protect" Kosovo -- save for a free pass for a complete military occupation of Serbia. Clinton then proceeded to pulverize Serbia's civilian infrastructure in a vicious bombing campaign that ended with an agreement which... gave Clinton everything he asked for except, er, a free pass for a complete military occupation of Serbia. In other words, Clinton took the original offer -- but only after killing hundreds of innocent people, just to show everybody's who's boss.
Here again we see the reality of the "progressive," "liberal," "centrist," "moderate" (or whatever) side of the American imperium: behind their noble words, their evocations of the "common good," of justice, freedom, and human rights, there is the same murderous, pointless quest for dominance.
Written by Chris Floyd
Saturday, 05 April 2014 23:32
One last word on the recent contretemps here involving Glenn Greenwald. I want to own up to a misstatement I made in my reply to Glenn. It was, literally, a parenthetical comment made in passing, not a main part of the argument, but it did contain a misstatement of fact, for which I apologize, and which I can only ascribe to the failing memory of an aging brain. The comment was this:
... (I have never advocated a "total dump" of the data, by the way; in fact, I don't know anyone who has.) ...
This is not factual. A writer I've quoted very often here -- Arthur Silber, whose medical crisis was in fact the subject of the original post that sparked another post that eventually led to Greenwald's comment -- has indeed called for a "total data dump," and has done so for a long time. Being familiar with his work, I knew this, of course, but in writing my somewhat hurried reply to Glenn (hurried because, for god's sake, one can't spend untold hours chewing blogospherical cud when there is a real life to be lived out there in the real world), I forgot Silber's very powerful and penetrating arguments for, yes, opening all the secrets of the national security state -- or as he terms it, more accurately, the Death State -- to the eyes of the world.
Silber has usefully reminded us of this fact in a new post, which takes off from my erroneous statement and lays out once more his compelling case for exposing all of the corrupted innards of our national security apparat. In addition to his own arguments -- which directly address the various objections to this course -- he also brings in a searing quote from Hannah Arendt on the issue of "irresponsibility" when confronted with the implacable power of a state based on fear, violence, conformity and "projecting dominance." I recommend anyone interested in these issues to read Silber's piece in full.
Please keep in mind that we are dealing with a state that believes it has the arbitrary, unchallengeable right to kill any of its citizens, at any time, without any judicial process whatsoever, simply at the whim of the president -- or any of the innumerable agents he empowers to kill on his behalf as they see fit. This is the reality we live under -- a reality reconfirmed just this week by a federal judge, who ruled that the families of American citizens murdered by their own government have no standing to challenge this action in a court of law. And of course, this system extends its arbitrary license to kill to every human being on earth. It claims the right to kill anyone, anywhere, at the order of the president -- who meets every week with his advisers to pore over hit lists, just as Stalin did with the Politburo, and decide which of the targets will live and which shall die.
Now, you may be happy with such a system policing itself with a few "reforms" which are devised and supervised by the system itself. A system which remains, at every point, completely hidden to the public that pays for it, and which at every turn, day after day, year after year, exacerbates the very extremism, violence, instability and chaos it purports to combat. (When it doesn't just fund it and arm it outright, as it is is doing in its backing of violent, head-chopping, heart-eating extremists in Syria, for example.) You may be comforted by the thought that a small number of legislators whose careers are funded by this system -- and very often directly by war profiteers and "security" profiteers -- will be "overseeing" whatever "reforms" of the system eventually become law (assuming that any of them actually do).
But some people aren't comforted by this. Some people continue to believe -- or hope against hope -- that we can do better than this. If such people see promising openings -- like the exposure of NSA documents -- falling short of the effect they could have, if they see these opportunities slowly being swallowed up in toothless "reforms" and "debates" by the very system they hope to break down and do away with, can they not question, criticize, even rail against this state of affairs, without being accused of envy, personal pique or irresponsibility? Why can't they, like Robert Kennedy, "dream of things that never were, and ask, why not?"
UPDATE: Greenwald and Snowden appeared, via video link, at an Amnesty International conference in Chicago on Saturday. They rightly decried the weakness of the NSA "reforms" proposed by White House, pointing out that this pig-lipsticking exercise by the powers that be allows for -- among many other sinister activities -- the continued harvesting of meta-data. And meta-data, as the duo note, is actually more useful to the nefarious activities of the surveillance state than the content of individual phone calls. As Snowden put it: "Metadata is what allows an actual enumerated understanding, a precise record of all the private activities in all of our lives. It shows our associations, our political affiliations and our actual activities."
Greenwald also promised new dynamite revelations that will finally rouse the people to anger, as the Guardian reports:
Greenwald, who met with Snowden 10 months ago and wrote about the leaked documents in the Guardian and other media outlets, promised further revelations of government abuses of power at his new media venture The Intercept.
"My hope and my belief is that as we do more of that reporting and as people see the scope of the abuse as opposed to just the scope of the surveillance they will start to care more," he said.
"Mark my words. Put stars by it and in two months or so come back and tell me if I didn't make good on my word."
It's good to hear that we will eventually see more revelations -- especially ones that provide details on specific crimes and abuses being perpetrated by the USSA (United States Stasi Apparatus), as opposed to stories on, as Greenwald says, "just the scope of the surveillance," which most people already assumed was vast and pervasive. (Not that it isn't useful to have details on this as well -- which is sort of the whole point: the more we know, the better.) I don't know if questions were allowed or even technically possible at the Chicago link-up, but if they were, I would have been interested in hearing Greenwald's response to a few follow-up questions, such as:
1. If you have in hand revelations that you know will actually rouse people to anger and action, that will make them "start to care more" and demand genuine changes, not just the cosmetic efforts you have rightly criticized today, could you explain why you have waited 10 months -- and might wait a couple more -- before releasing these explosive revelations?
Obviously these stories lie within the agreement you and Snowden made on which parts of the truth that the public should be allowed to hear and which parts should be kept from them; otherwise you wouldn't be promising to publish the coming new material. So if your agreement with Snowden has not prevented the publication of these secrets, what is the reason for keeping back these shocking and galvanizing revelations for so long?
2. You and Snowden today forcefully pointed out the weakness of the "reforms" proposed by the White House and Congress. What does this situation say about the strategy of withholding the vast majority of the NSA secrets? If 10 months of the trickle-down strategy has produced nothing but these transparently cosmetic reforms (which, as you note, will actually further entrench and 'legitimize' many sinister practices), and what's more, has also left the public unmoved, is it unreasonable to consider reassessing the current strategy and consider other options that might prove more effective?
3. Finally, on a somewhat lesser matter: Given the reality that you have described today -- a public unroused, still needing "to care more" after 10 months of trickle-down, a government offering cynical jokes as "reform" etc. -- can it really be true that all questions or criticisms of the current strategy should be summarily dismissed as nothing more than "moral cowardice" and personal animus? Is it really impossible that there might be at least a modicum of objective substance to at least some questioning of the strategy thus far employed?
And do you honestly think that people who raise such questions -- because they would like to see even more damage done to the monstrous imperial machine of death squads, drone bombs, military aggression, oligarchy, lawlessness, intervention, subversion and "total information awareness" by predatory and clandestine security services -- can actually be equated morally with "neocon warmongers" who support all these things?
Then again, perhaps it wouldn't have been all that interesting to hear the response, because one can be fairly certain what it would be: a ripping attack and character assassination of anyone who dared raise even these very narrow and circumscribed questions. As for other issues, I think it would have been pointless to ask Greenwald about, say, any concerns he might have over his new system-challenging enterprise being funded solely by someone whom the system has made one of the richest people on the planet, and who has eagerly cooperated with the national security state, most recently in its interesting activities in Ukraine. Greenwald has made it clear that this does not trouble him at all.
Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 02 April 2014 01:44
Glenn Greenwald stopped by the place Tuesday to respond to my last post. I thought I would bring his reply out of the comments and feature it here, along with my response. Glenn's statement is a lengthy and, to my mind, remarkable document: a powerful piece of emotional invective put together in the guise of an argument, based on wild and sometimes bizarre leaps of illogic that pack plenty of heat but tend to be short on substance.
Although he begins in friendly tones, and says he welcomes good-faith criticism, especially from the left, the piece becomes fiercer -- and more personal -- as it goes on, until it is abundantly clear that, in his eyes, it is impossible to offer any criticism of the handling of the NSA documents in good faith. Anyone who questions any aspect of the enterprise is a moral coward on a par with the neo-cons of "circa 2002/2003" who supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq but didn't want to go fight them. (It might not have been entirely wise for Glenn to refer to this particular stance during this particular time period, but more on that later.) Such critics also secretly wish to see Snowden put in more danger, and disparage his bravery.
There is a great deal more in this vein, some of which touches upon things I have actually said, and many of which do not. But enough intro. Here is Glenn's statement in full, to be followed by my reply.
Glenn Greenwald writes:
Hey Chris – I’m visiting “these run-down precincts” to address a couple points you’ve made here and elsewhere because, as you know, I’ve respected your work for a long time, and that hasn’t changed despite the barrage of intense (and, I think, often unfair) criticisms you’ve directed at me over the past several months. I’m sure I’ll be attacked for responding here on the grounds that it shows how “thin-skinned” or “obsessed” with criticism I am or whatever, but I prefer that to being insular, non-responsive and unaccountable, which are the adjectives I think apply to those who ignore criticisms simply because they can. I actually do believe that one responsibility that comes from doing things that affect others is that you engage rather than ignore valid criticisms that are made in good faith, even if those criticisms aren’t made in some huge media venue.
Nobody contests your right to criticize how I’ve reported these leaks, or the propriety of voicing such criticisms, nor should Edward Snowden be immune from being criticized. To argue against any of that is to engage a strawman. I’m personally glad that at least a small fraction of the critiques I hear come from the pro-transparency left rather than the trite, predictable, dreary sloganeering of the pro-national-security-state authoritarians about how we’re Endangering Lives and Helping the Terrorists. I’m glad that the uber-nationalistic fear-mongering about our actions from the Michael Haydens and David Frums of the world at least have some counterpart, even if much less amplified, in the form of “publish-more!” missives from the Chris Floyds.
As I’ve said many times, I consider the criticism that we haven’t published enough (or quickly enough) to be far more valid and serious than the accusation that we’ve published too much or recklessly. I am certain that if someone else were doing this reporting, I’d also be questioning why more hasn’t been published by now. For 10 consecutive months, I’ve put a huge amount of pressure on myself to publish as much as possible and as quickly as possible and in as many countries around the world as I possibly could (which is why I’ve published far more documents on my own than anyone else with access to large troves of Snowden documents has, including the largest media institutions, and why this has been the largest leak of Top Secret documents in US history, with plenty more to come), but I’m still glad for the external pressure to publish more.
For all the accusations of “profiteering” and the like, I could easily have stopped after the first few stories, collected all the accolades and prizes, written a lucrative book, and – in the process - been threatened with far fewer dangers and recriminations for myself and the people closest to me. I didn’t choose that far more limited course because – as my work over the last 8 years demonstrates – my commitment to opposing the grand excesses of the Surveillance State specifically and the American National Security State generally are authentic. I didn’t need to publish story after story, document after document, in country after country, month after month, in order to get the personal benefits: if anything, doing all that has created more enemies and increased the threats. I know what motivates me and so I sleep very well at night, with a clear conscience. Still, critics keep one honest, and I’m glad for the better ones I have.
All that said, there are two vital points I think are most often overlooked, in your critiques:
(1) When Edward Snowden came to me as a source with the documents he had, he had very strong opinions on how they should and should not be published. We spent a good amount of time talking about that, but ultimately, there were several conditions on which he insisted and to which we, as journalists, agreed.
I think it would be unconscionable – despicable even – for me to violate my agreement with him in how I publish these materials. To do so would be to subject him to a wide array of legal and other risks he did not choose to undertake. It would be an act of great treachery to accept these materials based on an agreement that I then just disregard. It would ensure that no source in their right mind would in the future take these hugs risks to come forward to me – or other journalists – with classified materials if they know journalists are willing to violate agreements the minute it becomes convenient to do so.
The terms Snowden insisted on are not a mystery. They’re not secret. He’s been very clear publicly - both through his representatives and himself - about what they are:
He did not want all the documents uploaded to the internet (had he wanted that, he could have just done that himself: he did not need us for that). He did not want many of the materials he gave us to ever be published because their publication would harm innocent people in all sorts of serious ways (he gave them to us for background, or context, or in some cases because he thought they were borderilne cases). He wanted certain types of documents withheld. He wanted the documents published one by one, in a journalistic context, for both legal and strategic reasons: he primarily believed that an incremental release would be far more effective for generating a sustained global debate than a massive, indiscriminate dump or even a series of massive simultaneous releases. He left it up to us to decide what to publish and how and in what order, but this was the framework he created at the start.
Obviously,anyone should feel free to criticize him for those assessments. For multiple reasons, I happen to agree with him that this has been by far the optimal strategy in this case. As someone who spent years defending WikiLeaks and Chelsea Manning, I know that the most effective tactic used to demonize them and distract from the substance of their revelations was to focus the public on a few snippets of disclosed information that could be said (falsely but to many people persuasively) to put people in danger.
Snowden wanted to render that tactic ineffective, and to keep the public – and the media’s – interest high for a long period. I think he achieved both goals because of the method he wanted, certainly far more than a one-time dump of all the documents would have achieved.
But it’s of course reasonable to contest Snowden’s assessment, to have a different view. One can, if one really wants to, also argue that I should use a different method for reporting these documents, even though I entered into an agreement with Snowden about what I would and would not do here.
But those who want to criticize the method I’ve used should have the intellectual honesty and courage to expressly state exactly what they are actually advocating: namely, that I purposely violate my agreement with my source; that I subject him to massively increased legal risks and political attacks that he did not and does not want for himself; and that I override the agency and autonomy of the person who actually risked his life and liberty to make these documents available.
You made a point of saying that you’ve almost never criticized Snowden. That’s exactly the point: you can’t rationally criticize the methods I’ve used to report these documents without criticizing Snowden. That’s because the methods I’m using are the ones he insisted upon.
If you want to argue that I should release all the materials, or publish them outside the context of journalistic outlets, then at least have the honesty to admit that what you’re really advocating is that I violate my agreement with him. If you want to depict the methods we’ve used as some sort of pro-state, obsequious, insufficiently radical servitude to American empire - as you've done - then it’s necessary to acknowledge that these are Snowden’s methods for the disclosures. And that’s why critics like you don’t want to acknowledge that: because it’s facially absurd to try to depict Edward Snowden – facing multiple felony charges and decades in the US Prison State –as some sort of cowardly, government-subservient patsy. So you just pretend that it’s all my doing because that critique is easier.
(2) I won’t speak for Carl Kandutsch, whom I don’t know, but his criticisms of your post resonated with me (not the part about Arthur Silber’s fundraising, but the substantive points about your arguments). But in responding to him, I don’t think you fairly characterized his points, opting instead to fight against easy strawmen.
Again, nobody contests your right to criticize me, or Snowden, or anyone else involved in this matter. Nobody thinks you should have to first take similar risks yourself in order to have a perfect right to criticize. What we’re doing is public and has an effect on others, so everyone has the full right to articulate whatever criticisms they have, no matter what they have or have not done themselves.
He was addressing one particular line of attack: the notion that Snowden’s actions (and ours as well) are insufficiently radical, cowardly, too subservient to the state, etc. etc. That’s the critique for which I harbor particular scorn when voiced by people who refuse to take any risks themselves. It reminds me exactly of the neocons circa 2002/2003 who demanded that others go fight their wars and then pranced around as though they were tough, stalwart Churchillian warriors because of it: I wrote a whole book about those people: demanding that others take risks for a Cause rather than taking those risks themselves, and then feeling good and pure about themselves because of it
Edward Snowden is charged with multiple felonies, faces an almost certain prison term of decades if he returns to the US, and has been condemned as a traitor by America’s most influential factions. Senior national security officials and other influential figures have repeatedly and publicly called me (not Bart Gellman, not the NYT, but me) a criminal and an accomplice; argued that I should be prosecuted; detained my partner for 9 hours under a terrorism law and took all of his possessions; and are actively threatening criminal prosecutions under that terrorism law against him and me and Laura Poitras and others. Our lawyers have repeatedly told David that it’s not safe to travel to the EU and told us that it’s a big risk to try to return to the US.
To claim, in the face of all that, that we’re performing some sort of subservient service to the US National Security State for which they are grateful strikes me as a joke. The claim from Arthur Silber and others that we only publish what the government says we can is an outright lie: at least for the stories that I’ve worked on, the NSA and DNI’s arguments about why we shouldn’t publish – often made vehemently and threateningly - have been rejected in almost every case. Whatever else anyone wants to say, we have been subjected to all sorts of threats,
recriminations, and attacks by the government and its apologists. That’s especially true, obviously, of Snowden.
So yes, there is something ugly and untoward about having a bunch of people who don’t take any risks themselves castigating the risks we’ve taken as insufficient and insubstantial. To be told by people who are too afraid even to use their real names on Twitter that we are cowards or state-servants for not taking even more risks is mind-boggling in its self-delusion.
It’s so incredibly easy – and cheap - to sit around demanding that others be more radical and risk-seeking. It’s a lot harder, but more valuable, to lead by example. The very ordinary and powerless people who broke into the FBI in 1971 and exposed COINTELPRO took matters into their own hands. That, to me, is what actual radicalism is about: not running around beating one’s chest proclaiming how radical one is, but taking actual steps to challenge and undermine corrupted power factions.
None of these radical heroes threw caution to the wind. The 1971 burglars didn’t take all FBI files: they only took what they thought the public should know. Chelsea Manning talked about her goals as sparking “debate” and “reform”, the same terms that prompt ridicule from self-proclaimed Super Radicals when used by Snowden. Aaron Swartz, if he were alive, would be mocked endlessly for his reformism by many of the same people who now exploit him as a martyr because he's dead. Dan Ellsberg made all sorts of arguments back then that would now be castigated by our self-proclaimed Super-Radicals as piecemeal and incrementalist. WikiLeaks redacted materials and sought the government’s advice on what to withhold. Tom Drake and other people I admire, who have been viciously persecuted, took very partial steps within all sorts of existing structures.
I spent years defending those people (and engaging in activism for them), not castigating them as insufficiently radical, because whatever else was true, they took a lot more risks than I was taking, and did more than I was doing, to challenge those I thought needed challenging. I felt free to criticize them, but not to attack them as cowardly servants of the state. That’s because I knew that doing so would be absurd until I was prepared to take similar action myself, and that ultimately, the real test of one’s convictions is not a willingness to sit around disparaging other people’s risk-taking as insufficient but rather a willingness to take those risks oneself.
Chris Floyd replies:
Well, that's a fine settling of hash, and no mistake! It begins with professions of continuing respect and ends with vitriolic personal denunciations. Along the way it attacks me for several things I haven't said or done -- often, as I noted earlier, in a bizarre fashion.
For example, what is this about "people who are too afraid even to use their real names on Twitter" when launching attacks? There certainly are creatures like that out there, but what has that got to do with me, or with anything I have said, in my own name, about the Snowden archive or First Look? Glenn knows perfectly well that everything I have ever written on the internet or in print has been under my own name. I've been doing this since I first began writing critically about politics and the national security state many years ago. This includes the earliest days after 9/11, when I received several death threats for harshly criticizing the Bush administration -- at a time many other people were "ready to stand behind President Bush" and "strongly approved of his performance," as Glenn wrote of himself in his book, How Would a Patriot Act? These death threats included a couple that were more serious than the usual anonymous sputterings and had to be investigated more formally; one ardent supporter of the president in those days was stalking my elderly parents, staking out their house, even learning of its internal layout and dropping heavy hints to me about what would happen to them, and where in the house it would happen, if I kept writing.
This was also during the time when I was, to my knowledge, one of the very few people writing in a mainstream publication about the Bush Administration's creation of arbitrary death squads. I stated plainly that this was murder and that the government was now morally illegitimate. Again, this was when Glenn's "confidence in the Bush Administration" was growing, "as the president gave a series of serious, substantive, coherent and eloquent speeches." I was calling Bush a murderer, denouncing an out-of-control national security apparatus, in print -- and being threatened by the US Embassy in Moscow (and threatened with specious but crushing lawsuits from plutocrats connected to the Bushes) for doing so -- while Glenn was, by his own admission, growing ever more supportive of Bush and "wanting an aggressive response from our government."
In his comment above, Glenn likens me -- equates me -- with "neocons circa 2002/2003 who demanded that others go fight their wars and then pranced around as though they were tough, stalwart Churchillian warriors because of it." But in that exact period, I was writing frantically, relentlessly about the obvious deceptions the Bush Administration was using to push the country into a criminal war of aggression. I wrote of this in newspapers in Russia and America, drawing almost exclusively on published reports in mainstream sources available to any journalist, or any citizen. I was one of the very first writers in an American newspaper to detail PNAC's long-term plans for provoking war with Iraq and a vast militarization of American policy.
What was Glenn doing at that time? Well, despite some doubts, he tells us that "I had not abandoned my trust in the Bush Administration. ... I believed then that the president was entitled to have his national security judgment deferred to, and to the extent that I was able to develop a definitive view, I accepted his judgment that American security really would be enhanced by the invasion of this sovereign country." He didn't, however, sign up for the war. He was then, at that time, "exactly [like] the neocons" of that era, happy to support a war that he wasn't going to fight.
I am sincerely glad that Glenn later repudiated these beliefs, and now, after many years, no longer defers to the national security judgment of the president. I wish he had added his obviously passionate voice and ferocious energy to those of us who felt that way before the serious, substantive, coherent and eloquent President Bush set in motion the pointless destruction of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives. I'm sorry that it took the instigation of mass murder on this scale to shake Glenn's patriotism and turn him toward dissent.
I do not mean in any way to compare the relatively few, sporadic and unsystematic risks I faced in those days -- the threat of my parent's murder, my murder, the destruction of my livelihood, the ruin of my family -- with the dangers faced today by Edward Snowden, Glenn and David Miranda, and others, who face not a few lone nuts or wild Bush cronies but the full weight of a national security state that is now much bigger and more sinister than the one Glenn supported a few years ago. The risks they face are deadly serious, and their courage in facing them is unquestionable. And I have never questioned it, despite Glenn's wild imputations to the contrary. To question the efficacy or decisions of someone at risk is not all the same as questioning their courage in facing that risk -- although almost all of Glenn's "arguments" are based on this false premise.
But I bring up all this ancient history because I resent, with every fiber of my being, the accusation that I am or have ever been some kind of sniveling coward hiding behind anonymity, afraid to put my name or my person on the line for my political beliefs. I especially resent it coming from someone who -- at the very time I was facing my admittedly minor threats (although the murder of my parents was not a minor thing to me personally) for attacking the national security state -- was himself blithely ignoring the mountains of evidence about that state's crimes and giving it "the benefit of the doubt" as it planned and carried out mass murder.
I don't think Glenn's thunderous claiming of the moral high ground is appropriate in this case. Even if I were guilty of every wild accusation he throws at me, every imputation and insinuation, what, in the end, would I really be guilty of? An egregious failure to appreciate the courage and sacrifice of some people trying to do good. Well, that is indeed a serious failing. If I were guilty of that, I'd feel bad about it. But not as bad as I would feel if I had supported aggressive war and mass murder by "deferring" to the judgment of a blatant fool surrounded by a sinister clique of known warmongers. Now, I don't think that supporting such a thing is some kind of unforgivable sin; people can come to new understandings, and thank goodness they do, and thank goodness Glenn did. But had I been that morally blind as a full-grown, highly educated adult -- especially when millions of people around the world saw the obvious evil of this action, and stood up against it -- I think I might be somewhat more circumspect today about berating others for their moral failings.
To cut more quickly to the chase. In regard to any criticism about the way the NSA documents are being disseminated, Glenn refers to his agreement with Snowden. It's a valid point, up to a point. I would never want any journalist to dishonor an agreement they've made with a source, especially a whistleblower in grave danger -- and I'm not aware of ever calling on Glenn or anyone else to do so. However, such agreements are not set in stone. In his early interviews about the NSA material, Glenn stated that he was in touch with Snowden every day. Presumably he can still get in contact with him. It would be entirely possible to try to renegotiate terms in a way that still addressed Snowden's concerns, if Glenn felt there was now a better way to disseminate these documents. Glenn here states very plainly that feels that the initial agreement is in fact the best way to handle the material. That's fine. It all seems straightforward, and Glenn says that people of good faith can disagree on this. And that's true too.
But then he goes on almost immediately to say that anyone who criticizes the current method is guilty of intellectual dishonesty and cowardice, because they won't "admit" that what they're "really doing" is asking Glenn to violate Snowden's trust and put him in further danger. This is an example of emotional invective masquerading as an argument. It's such a bizarre piece of non-logic that it's hard to frame a coherent response to it. But let's try, slowly and simply.
I feel that, on balance, the method of dissemination has not been as effective as other approaches might have been. (I have never advocated a "total dump" of the data, by the way; in fact, I don't know anyone who has.) I feel that it is regrettable that the current course was the one that was chosen. I believe it would be possible for the custodians of the data to try to renegotiate those terms with Snowden, if they felt it was best, and always bearing in mind his very legitimate concerns.
There is absolutely nothing in these statements that calls for anyone to act dishonorably, or to betray anyone's trust. It is entirely possible to hold the positions stated above without secretly wanting Glenn to "violate my agreement with my source" or "subject him to massively increased legal risks" or override the agency of someone who risked their life and liberty. Such a thing never crossed my mind, and I have never seen anyone else advocate such a thing. Nor is it the logical conclusion -- or, in Glenn's strict binary world, the only conclusion -- one can draw from criticism of this methodology. Glenn berates me for attacking "straw men," but the amount of fury and space he expends on this single wisp is astonishing. He has whupped it good and proper; but as it is not a position I have ever held, I don't quite see the point.
This sort of furious illogic runs all through the comment. He says: "You made a point of saying that you’ve almost never criticized Snowden. That’s exactly the point: you can’t rationally criticize the methods I’ve used to report these documents without criticizing Snowden." Well, I didn't make a particular point about it; I was merely replying to the accusation of Carl Kandutsch that I had "repeatedly disparaged" Snowden. I said, no, the only direct criticism I've made concerned his recent remarks to the EU about the need to cooperate with "government stakeholders" in dealing with whistleblower revelations. Given the fact that he is now being hounded by the relevant government stakeholders in our national security system, I felt this might not be the wisest course. I did agree with Arthur Silber that if the state was brought into the loop on such revelations, then we could indeed end up with what are, in effect, state-sanctioned leaks.
However, if Glenn insists that to criticize the method of disseminating the NSA archive is to also criticize Snowden, then yes, I will plead guilty of questioning Snowden on this point as well. But as I said above, criticizing an action or decision of someone in danger is not at all the same thing as disparaging them or denying their courage or anything of the sort.
I am glad that Glenn disputes the notion, implied by Kandutsch, that only those who are at risk themselves can criticize others under threat. Glenn says that "everyone has the full right to articulate whatever criticisms they have, no matter what they have or have not done themselves." This is certainly gracious of him. Yet he immediately says that if anyone actually exercises this freedom, and says, for example, that they wish Glenn and Snowden had been more radical in their approach, then such critics are "exactly" like the armchair neocon warriors of 2002/2003 who joined Glenn in supporting the invasion of Iraq.
In other words, anyone is free to criticize Glenn -- as long as they don't actually criticize him. If they offer their opinion that Glenn isn't radical enough, then they are just like the moral cretins who supported the Iraq War without fighting in it. If they criticize the methodology, then they secretly want to put Snowden in more danger and make Glenn betray his word. If they advocate radicalism, but aren't actually handed secret documents by a whistleblower and given the chance to put their convictions to the test on a public stage (as opposed to the many unheralded ways that someone offering an opinion about radicalism on a blog might actually be practicing their radicalism in their lives and communities), then they should just shut up. If they express their concern that the national security state will try to turn the revelations to its own advantage, despite the sincerity of its challengers, then they are being cheap, ugly, untoward and delusional. As far as I can see, there is literally no criticism that can be offered of any aspect of this enterprise that is not, in Glenn's view, a mark of bad character, bad faith or cowardice.
Again, one is not even allowed to wish that the keepers of the NSA secrets were more radical in their attack on the war-making national security state -- without being "exactly" equated with the most ardent champions of the war-making national security state. The irrationality of this position boggles the mind. It is impossible to argue with, because it is a closed circle -- a circle of impenetrable and unchallengeable virtue.
Glenn makes several other points and accusations which deserve answering or debating, but I'm too exhausted to go on throwing myself against that ironclad cueball of virtue. And I'm sure anyone still reading is exhausted as well. But it is a strange experience to see a cartoonish misrepresentation of one's views set up and gnawed to pieces in this way.
But so what? I think that over the years I have established a record that can withstand the bizarre charges of cowardice and anonymous Twitter attacking and similarity to neocon warmongers and the rest of the katzenjammer Glenn has tossed around here. I know what I've done in challenging corrupted power factions, and the many ways I've fallen short. (I'm afraid I'm not possessed with the invincible moral superiority that Glenn so obviously enjoys.) I know what I stand for, and what I strive for. I've never denigrated Snowden's courage, or that of Glenn Greenwald or Laura Poitras or anyone else "taking actual steps to challenge and undermine corrupted power factions." (Some of my views on people like Chelsea Manning and Snowden can be found here.) But enough -- more than enough -- of all this for now.