Friday, February 11, 2011

Kairos in Cairo: Seizing the Moment of Moral Courage

I was among the million people who marched through London on February 15, 2003, to protest the imminent invasion of Iraq. I don't think anyone in the crowd thought a single march would stop the Anglo-American coalition from launching a war of aggression, but most felt it was important that the widespread anger and dismay at this murderous course of action be embodied, literally, on the streets, by a broad cross-section of the public.

This was done. And it was not totally unimportant, as an act of bearing witness. But now, years later, the people of Egypt -- especially the young people -- have shown us what a small, feeble act that 2003 march really was, and how we all let thuggish leaders play us for fools. We showed up, we marched, we massed -- then we quietly went home, back to our lives, and let the brutal machinery of aggressive war roll on.

What would have happened had we possessed the courage and commitment that the Egyptians are demonstrating today? What if we, like them, had refused to go home, and had stood our ground, thronged in the center of London, day after day, railing against a regime bent on aggressive war: "the supreme international crime, only different from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of all the others," as Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal put it. (It also added: "To initiate a war of aggression is a crime that no political or economic situation can justify.")

Day after day after day, the Egyptians have withstood the blows of a vicious police state, the savage attacks of paid goons, the strain, exhaustion and deprivation of constant vigil under threat of arrest or death -- and still they are standing there, more and more of them all the time, in a remarkable, near-miraculous display of moral courage that will undoubtedly topple the criminal regime, despite the desperate, clueless delaying tactics that Hosni Mubarak pulled on Thursday night.

But in London on that long-ago day, which now lies behind us across a surging river of blood choked with the bodies of a million innocent dead, we simply melted away in the course of an afternoon. A single day; a few hours; a few speeches -- then nothing. How Blair and Bush and all the militarist apparatchiks must have laughed at that! "Let them have their little march. Who gives a shit? Give them their permits, redirect the traffic for them, let them wave their signs. What does it matter? When it's over, they'll just go home, and we can get on with our business."

But what if we had stayed? By the tens of thousands if not the hundreds of thousands? What if we, like the Egyptians, had gotten in the way of business as usual, and brought more and more pressure to bear on the system, forcing the issue of aggressive war on the public consciousness, unavoidably, day after day -- and by this, as in Egypt, forcing officials of the system to declare where they stood? How badly would the power structure and its functionaries have been shaken? How many of the latter would have been emboldened to begin at least asking questions and demanding more information about the senseless rush to war? How many indeed might have voted "no confidence" in a government so deeply enmeshed in a scheme of deliberate deception aimed to perpetrate mass murder?

Maybe it would not have stopped the war. There's no way of knowing now. But we have seen in Egypt and Tunisia how an explosion of mass moral courage -- and physical courage -- can tear a hole in the zeitgeist and make a space for new realities, for transformations which seemed unthinkable only days before. Such kairotic moments (to borrow Tillich's phrase) are rare, and if they are not seized, the window closes. There we were, a million people in the center of London, of all classes, all races, all creeds, all professions, united against war. Kairos hung heavy in the air, like the invisible pressure before a thunderstorm.

But we turned away. We let it go. The moment passed. "And the war came."

That's why February 15 will remain nothing more than a brief footnote in a long, still-churning saga of atrocity and slaughter, while January 25, the day the Egyptians first took to the streets -- and stayed in the streets -- will be honored for generations as a landmark of human liberation.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Silent Surge: A Shocking Act of Political Violence

Americans showed their remarkable collective wisdom once again last week, when a shocking act of violence was met with a steady calm across the political spectrum. Indeed, it seemed the entire country was united in a steadfast effort to downplay any disturbing implications of the despicable act and to keep doggedly to business as usual.

We speak of course of Barack Obama's latest "surge" in Afghanistan: his third such escalation of the murderous militarist misadventure in that ravaged land, now heading toward its 10th year of American occupation. Yes, while everyone -- including our leading progressives -- were occupied first with the sight of the orange vulgarian John Boehner waggling the sacred Speaker's gavel then with the latest mass shooting by an American following what George Bush called "the path of action" (i.e., the pursuit of politics by deadly violence) -- the Nobel Peace Laureate was sending 1,400 more troops into the killing fields of Afghanistan.

This move guarantees that there will be an "uptick" in civilians deaths, to borrow the hideous argot of Vice President Joe Biden during the very first Obama "surge" -- which took place less than a month after Obama's inauguration. More killing, more resistance, more extremism, more grief and hatred, more corruption and war-profiteering -- but what of that? These have been the results of every "surge" in the Terror War, from Afghanistan to Iraq to Somalia to Yemen to Pakistan -- and to the many other fronts in the "secret war" of death squads, bombings, kidnappings, gun-running and other terrorist acts that Obama has escalated to mind-boggling heights, and which he is now further entrenching and consolidating with a brand-new HQ for "Special Ops." ("Wetwork Central," perhaps?)

But let us not, in this moment of national grief -- when the Laureate is linking hands across the aisle with the orange vulgarian, putting aside political vitriol in a new spirit of comity (which will doubtless culminate in the bipartisan gutting of Social Security and other such acts of "serious," savvy governance)-- be too critical of our leaders. For surely the main intent of this latest "surge" is not the increase in killing, corruption, chaos and sorrow in Afghanistan (although that will be the inevitable result). No, the primary goal of this act of violence by the Peace Laureate is to provide cover for his political posterior later this year, when he announces the beginning of the long-promised, much-vaunted "drawdown" of troops in the Bactrian satapry.

Can't you see it now? The deadline for the July 2011 "drawdown" approaches. There are earnest articles in the New York Times and Washington Post and other establishment redoubts examining the "internal battles" within the administration on whether Obama will keep his promise to begin winding down the war or else acquiesce to the desire of the "hawks" to maintain troop levels. The agonizing moral debates in the inner circle will be judiciously leaked to favored reporters. Progressive bloggers will enter the fray, calling on the president to be true to his word -- or else this time they really, really, really will be .... really sort of upset with him. The deadline arrives, Obama steps into the pressroom, or into the Rose Garden, or onto the stage at a military base, and he announces .... "The drawdown has begun. Our promise to the American people has been kept."

Then there is rejoicing throughout the progressivosphere ("I've criticized Obama a lot and I'm sure I will again, but you have to give the man credit on this one!") and raging throughout the rightosphere ("Another act of treason by the surrender monkey -- and no, that phrase is not racist!"), and judicious nodding of centrist heads ("We'll just have to wait and see how this plays in Peoria, Jim."). Then you will read down to the fifth or sixth or seventh paragraph in the Times story on the drawdown, and you'll see something like this:

"The first drawdown might be small in overall numbers -- Pentagon officials say that approximately 1,400 troops will be withdrawn over the next two months -- but it is a highly significant milestone. Administration officials are already calling it a political 'home run' for the president ..." And so on and so forth in the usual manner.

In other words, this latest "surge" is a way to increase troop numbers now so that a few troops can be withdrawn later in a symbolic act that will still leave the pointless war-profiteering boondoggle operating in high gear until the cows come home.

It is the kind of bloodsoaked cynicism that only a Nobel Peace Laureate could pull off. And it will doubtless be greeted with hosannas from our progressives ... who in any case will still be ranting about crosshairs on a website -- while ignoring the innocent people being blown and shot to bits by their champion in Afghanistan and Pakistan and elsewhere in his relentless surging of the Terror War.

Note: To understand the deeper implications of this latest escalation, see this remarkably powerful article by Arthur Silber on Obama's last surge. It is a deeply informed and moving essay. And while you are there, please consider contributing to Silber's website. He is in very poor health, and the website is his only means of support. His voice is vital; help him if you can.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Mondo Inferno: The Endless Echoes of America's WMD Atrocity

For years, I have been writing about the American use of chemical weapons in the savage assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah in late 2004. The results of this deployment of WMD began emerging a few months later. The clear evidence of chemical weapons damage among the civilians of the city -- uncovered by Iraqi doctors working for the American-backed government -- was scorned and dismissed at that time, including by many stalwart anti-war voices, apparently frightened that such "extremist" charges would somehow detract from their own "reasonable" opposition -- perhaps even cost them their perches in the mainstream media.

(Oddly enough, my own pieces on the matter were also appearing in the mainstream media -- the pages of The Moscow Times, the decidedly centrist, pro-business, English-language newspaper in the Russian capital, which supported my column from all attacks, including heavy hints from the American embassy that it should be dropped.)

In any case, the evidence of American WMD in Fallujah kept mounting, year after year, until finally, in mid--2010, even the BBC's most respected voices were reporting on the effects of the chemical weaponry -- primarily on the children of Fallujah, some of whom were not yet born when the attack was launched.

Even without the WMD, the attack itself was one of the most horrific events of the still-unfolding act of aggression in Iraq. Presented in the U.S. press as an old-fashioned, gung-ho, WWII-style "battle," it was in fact a mass slaughter, largely of trapped civilians; almost all of the "terrorists" and "insurgents" in the city had long escaped during the months-long, oddly public build-up to the assault. It seemed clear that the intent was not to quash an insurgent nest, as stated, but to perpetrate an act of condign, collective punishment -- primarily against civilians -- in order to terrorize the rest of Iraq into submission. As I noted at the time of the initial attack in 2004:

"There are more and more dead bodies on the streets and the stench is unbearable. Smoke is everywhere. It's hard to know how much people outside Fallujah are aware of what is going on here. There are dead women and children lying on the streets. People are getting weaker from hunger. Many are dying are from their injuries because there is no medical help left in the city whatsoever. Some families have started burying their dead in their gardens."

This was a voice from the depths of the inferno: Fadhil Badrani, reporter for the BBC and Reuters, trapped in the iron encirclement along with tens of thousands of civilians. ....

One of the first moves in this magnificent feat was the destruction and capture of medical centers. Twenty doctors – and their patients, including women and children – were killed in an airstrike on one major clinic, the UN Information Service reports, while the city's main hospital was seized in the early hours of the ground assault. Why? Because these places of healing could be used as "propaganda centers," the Pentagon's "information warfare" specialists told the NY Times. ...

So while Americans saw stories of rugged "Marlboro Men" winning the day against Satan, they were spared shots of engineers cutting off water and electricity to the city – a flagrant war crime under the Geneva Conventions, as CounterPunch notes, but standard practice throughout the occupation. Nor did pictures of attack helicopters gunning down civilians trying to escape across the Euphrates River – including a family of five – make the TV news, despite the eyewitness account of an AP journalist. Nor were tender American sensibilities subjected to the sight of phosphorous shells bathing enemy fighters – and nearby civilians – with unquenchable chemical fire, literally melting their skin, as the Washington Post reports. Nor did they see the fetus being blown out of the body of Artica Salim when her home was bombed during the "softening-up attacks" that raged relentlessly – and unnoticed – in the closing days of George W. Bush's presidential campaign, the Scotland Sunday Herald reports.

The wanton, unnecessary destruction of Fallujah is one of the central stories of our time. Yet it is almost entirely forgotten, especially among the people in whose name this vast crime was committed. But the marks of this atrocity live on in its victims. Over the holidays, while America's high and mighty were making merry, yet another detailed study was released confirming a major spike in birth defects in Fallujah following the attack. The Guardian reports:

A study examining the causes of a dramatic spike in birth defects in the Iraqi city of Falluja has for the first time concluded that genetic damage could have been caused by weaponry used in US assaults that took place six years ago.

The findings, which will be published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, come prior to a much-anticipated World Health Organisation study of Falluja's genetic health. ... The findings are likely to prompt further speculation that the defects were caused by depleted uranium rounds, which were heavily used in two large battles in the city in April and November 2004.

... One case documented in the report is of a mother and her daughter who after the 2004 battles both gave birth to babies with severe malformations. The second wife of one of the fathers also had a severely deformed baby in 2009. "It is important to understand that under normal conditions, the chances of such occurrences is virtually zero," said Savabieasfahani.

...Birth-defect rates in Falluja have become increasingly alarming over the past two years. In the first half of 2010, the number of monthly cases of serious abnormalities rose to unprecedented levels. In Falluja general hospital, 15% of the 547 babies born in May had a chronic deformity, such as a neural tune defect – which affects the brain and lower limbs – cardiac, or skeletal abnormalities, or cancers.

No other city in Iraq has anywhere near the same levels of reported abnormalities. Falluja sees at least 11 times as many major defects in newborns than world averages, the research has shown.

The new report follows on the harrowing findings reported by the BBC and The Independent (but strangely omitted from the American media) in mid-2010:

Iraqi doctors in Fallujah have complained since 2005 of being overwhelmed by the number of babies with serious birth defects, ranging from a girl born with two heads to paralysis of the lower limbs. They said they were also seeing far more cancers than they did before the battle for Fallujah between US troops and insurgents.

Their claims have been supported by a survey showing a four-fold increase in all cancers and a 12-fold increase in childhood cancer in under-14s. Infant mortality in the city is more than four times higher than in neighbouring Jordan and eight times higher than in Kuwait.

Dr Chris Busby, a visiting professor at the University of Ulster and one of the authors of the survey of 4,800 individuals in Fallujah, said it is difficult to pin down the exact cause of the cancers and birth defects. He added that "to produce an effect like this, some very major mutagenic exposure must have occurred in 2004 when the attacks happened".

US Marines first besieged and bombarded Fallujah, 30 miles west of Baghdad, in April 2004 after four employees of the American security company Blackwater were killed and their bodies burned. After an eight-month stand-off, the Marines stormed the city in November using artillery and aerial bombing against rebel positions. US forces later admitted that they had employed white phosphorus as well as other munitions.

As I noted at that time:

The background here is good as far as it goes, but it omits the salient point of that mutilation of American mercenaries; it followed a series of security shoot-em-ups that killed a number of innocent civilians in Fallujah. The attacks on the Blackwater mercenaries were a violent reprisal for murders committed by foreign agents in the midst of an illegal act of military aggression. But, as always, the American revenge for the attacks was vastly disproportionate: an entire city destroyed, thousands of people killed -- and generations of terrible suffering for innocent children -- all to get "payback" for four mercenaries.

The Independent reported in July:

In the assault US commanders largely treated Fallujah as a free-fire zone to try to reduce casualties among their own troops. British officers were appalled by the lack of concern for civilian casualties. "During preparatory operations in the November 2004 Fallujah clearance operation, on one night over 40 155mm artillery rounds were fired into a small sector of the city," recalled Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, a British commander serving with the American forces in Baghdad.

He added that the US commander who ordered this devastating use of firepower did not consider it significant enough to mention it in his daily report to the US general in command. Dr Busby says that while he cannot identify the type of armaments used by the Marines, the extent of genetic damage suffered by inhabitants suggests the use of uranium in some form. He said: "My guess is that they used a new weapon against buildings to break through walls and kill those inside."

As I noted then, the effects of these wonder-weapons were, to borrow Barack Obama's term for the Bush Regime's "surge" in Iraq, "an extraordinary achievement." From the Independent:

The study, entitled "Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005-2009", is by Dr Busby, Malak Hamdan and Entesar Ariabi, and concludes that anecdotal evidence of a sharp rise in cancer and congenital birth defects is correct. Infant mortality was found to be 80 per 1,000 births compared to 19 in Egypt, 17 in Jordan and 9.7 in Kuwait. The report says that the types of cancer are "similar to that in the Hiroshima survivors who were exposed to ionising radiation from the bomb and uranium in the fallout".

Researchers found a 38-fold increase in leukaemia, a ten-fold increase in female breast cancer and significant increases in lymphoma and brain tumours in adults. At Hiroshima survivors showed a 17-fold increase in leukaemia, but in Fallujah Dr Busby says what is striking is not only the greater prevalence of cancer but the speed with which it was affecting people.

A city whose birth defect rate is 11 times the world average. A city where children are suffering from cancers "similar to that in the Hiroshima survivors" -- indeed, where the increase in leukemia is far greater than among the first victims of American WMD. O where are our great American moralists, who rant and rage at the exposure of a nipple or the thought of gay sex? Why have they not seized on this terrible crime "against the children," this horrible, criminal overreach of "big government?" O where are our great American progressives, who stood so tall and proud against the American war machine when it was led by an embarrassing vulgarian, but now occupy themselves with handwringing and bead-counting about the political fortunes of his bloodstained predecessor, now perpetrating his own mini-Fallujahs week after week against defenseless villagers in Pakistan?

I'm going to finish by repeating my conclusion of the July 2010 piece. Hell, I might just repeat it every six months from now until kingdom come:

I have written about Fallujah over and over for a long time. In many respects, these stories are like the ones I've written about the American-abetted horrors in Somalia: no one gives a damn. Well, I don't give a damn that no gives a damn. I'm going to keep ringing this bell until my arm falls off. We -- Americans -- have committed and countenanced a great evil in Iraq. I can't change that -- and it's obvious that I cannot prevent the "continuity" of such hellish atrocities by the progressive Peace Laureate now in the White House, and by whatever similar blood-soaked poltroon comes to lead the never-ending Terror War for Loot and Power after him. But by god I will not let it be said that I stood by and failed to bear witness to this raging filth. 

From 2004 (see original for links):

"The inferno…is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space." -- Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

"Why Aren't You Dead Yet?" The Enlightened War Policies of the Peace Laureate

One of the most important stories of the day continues to be almost universally ignored, both by the corporate media and most 'progressive' bloggers, eternally absorbed with the shallow and pointless factional foolery amongst the cliques at the imperial court. But Jason Ditz at has continued to shine a high, harsh light on this sinister development, which is adding a vast storehouse of anguish, hatred and violence that will be the Peace Laureate's chief legacy to future generations.

We refer of course to the Obama Administration's escalation of air strikes in Afghanistan. As Ditz has been noting for some time, the coming of the media-sainted General David Petraeus to take direct command in the contentious satrapy has seen a spike in civilian deaths, as the vaunted "counterinsurgency" expert has "loosened the reins" that had temporarily curtailed the constant dropping of heavy ordnance on civilian residential areas.

Ditz has been doing an expert job of lacing together the few scattered mentions of the Obama-Petraeus Luftkrieg in the American press, along with the considerably more copious coverage in foreign papers. The picture emerging from this pointillist approach is grim: not only are American forces dropping more bombs and killing more civilians, they are increasingly dismissing all reports of collateral carnage as "Taliban trickery." As Ditz notes in his most recent report (see the original for links):

... the Obama Administration is said to be further escalating its air war in Afghanistan, and officials are confirming a “loosening of the reins” of the restrictions on air strikes. Officials warned that the McChrystal rules, aimed at reducing civilian deaths, meant “some officers were exerting excessive caution, fearing career damage if civilians were mistakenly killed.” With Petraeus now in charge, concerns about killing civilians have faded.

Isn't that wonderful? Isn't that a heartwarming indication of the deep humanitarianism that lies at the heart of America's ever-reluctant war machine (whose blood-greased gears are inscribed with the noble motto: "More in Sorrow Than in Anger")? It was the possibility of "career damage" that made American officers act with "excessive caution" with respect to civilian casualties -- not the horrific thought of taking an innocent human life, not an apprehension of the destructive, unbearable sorrow of the survivors, not even the savvy realpolitik notion that killing civilians only multiplies your enemies and makes them fight harder. No, it was terrifying idea that they might miss out on some of the lifelong perks and privileges of higher rank in our militarist state, if they overstepped the very minimal "restraints" put in place by Gen. Stanley McChrystal -- a former commander of death squads and torture centers in Iraq -- before his sacking.

Meanwhile, the lies about the level of civilian killing keep coming. As Ditz notes, even as Obama officials mouth drivel about the civilian death toll dropping, the Pentagon's own official statistics show that the Americans "are actually killing considerably more civilians than in 2009" -- 11 percent more, to be exact.

This is precisely the same kind of crude and blatant perversion of the truth that incenses our good progressives when it is churned out by the genuinely loathsome corporate toady, Glenn Beck. But it raises few hackles when it is employed by Obama and his minions -- who, unlike Beck, are not only regurgitating vicious nonsense but are also killing actual innocent human beings, right here and now, and not in some future "Republic of Gilead" under Mullah Beck and Prophetess Palin, or any other of the rightwing dystopias so feared (and promoted) by progressive fundraisers.

But lying about the death count is only part of the pernicious story. Even those Pentagon stats which belie Obama's Beckian propaganda only count the deaths that the American humanitarians are willing to admit to publicly. The earlier Wikileaks dump about Afghanistan detailed a number of cases of civilian killings that American forces catalogued -- and kept quiet. And of course, the Afghan survivors of bombing runs and night raids come forth in a steady stream to testify about the death and mutilation of their loved ones and the destruction of their homes.

But, as Ditz reported last week, many American officials are now systematically dismissing any testimony of Afghan civilians deaths that come from ... actual Afghan civilians. Indeed, the Marine commander of the violent Helmand district of Sangin says that "every single instance" of civilian deaths in his district is caused by the Taliban -- despite a flood of complaints from locals about American berserkery since taking over control of the district from the British.

The US denies the allegation of the killings, but admitted that they don’t both the investigate the vast majority of the complaints because they assume them to be “Taliban propaganda.” The commander of the Marines is the district says that the Taliban are to blame for “every single instance” of a civilian casualty in the district.

The US took over the district in September from British forces, who had been holding it for years and expressed concerns that any good will they built up with the locals would quickly be lost when the more aggressive US troops took over and started launching operations. It seems this fear is panning out.

Indeed, tribal elders regularly complain to the Marines about the killings. Officials said no investigations would be taken on the basis of the elders complaints, and said the fact that the elders haven’t been killed by the Taliban was “proof” that they were in league with the Taliban and the complaints were a trick.

So there you have it, the essence of humanitarian war as waged by Nobel Peace Laureates in the 21st century: The fact that you're not dead yet proves you are an enemy.

Is it any wonder that civilian casualties are soaring under the aegis of such an enlightened philosophy?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The FIRE Next Time: End-Game for the Elite’s One-Way Class War

Michael Hudson has consistently been one of the best guides through the labyrinth of lies that surround the monumental act of elite thievery known as the “economic crisis.” Patiently and perceptively, he applies his economic expertise to the realities behind the blather, laying out – in grim, heart-sinking detail – how our great and good are using the crisis they created to move in remorselessly for the final kill on any dreams of a decent life for the rabble – that is, the 99 percent of us who fall outside the golden circle of the rentier class.

So when Hudson speaks, we should pay serious heed. And his latest piece in CounterPunch is heedful – and heart-sinking – indeed. We are, he says, entering the end-game of a decades-long process of wealth transference in which the entire burden of sustaining society – a degraded, hollowed-out, inhumane society – and a bloated, belligerent militarist oligarchy falls entirely on working people and the poor, while the elite reap all the profit.

Hudson sees yet another manufactured crisis hitting the battered system next spring: the “debt” crisis, when Republican legislators and Blue Dog Democrats refuse to raise the federal debt ceiling, “forcing” a most willing (yea, eager) Barack Obama to effect an “historic compromise” to “save” the government from closure and collapse: a flat tax.

You should read Hudson’s entire analysis, which is set up carefully with very pertinent historical background, but here are some disturbing excerpts:

The danger the United States faces today is that the government debt crisis scheduled to hit Congress next spring (when Republicans are threatening to vote against raising the federal debt limit as the government deficit soars) will provide an opportunity for the wealthy to give a coup de grace on what is left of progressive taxation in this country. A flat tax on wage income and consumer sales would “free” the rentiers from taxes on their property. …

The flat tax actually would tax wage earners much more steeply than the wealthy, whose income it would largely exempt! … The tax does not fall on “empty” pricing in excess of value – what the classical economists termed “economic rent,” that element of price (and income) that has no counterpart in actual cost of production (ultimately reducible to labor) but is a pure free lunch: land rent, monopoly rent, interest and other financial fees, and insurance premiums. This economic rent is the major return to wealth. It is grounded in the finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE) sector.

The effect of untaxing the FIRE sector is twofold. First, it increases the power of wealth, privilege, monopoly rights and property over living labor – including the power of hereditary wealth over the living. Second, it helps “post-industrialize” the economy, creating a “service” economy. A service economy is mainly a FIRE-sector economy.

And now for the end-game, the kabuki theater in which the FIRE-breathing – or rather, FIRE-bought -- politicians of both parties finally give the One Percenters what they’ve always wanted: everything.

The wealthy want just what bankers want: the entire economic surplus (followed by a foreclosure on property). They want all the disposable income over and above basic subsistence – and then, when this shrinks the economy, they want the government to sell off the public domain in “privatization” giveaways, and they want people to turn over their houses and any other property they have to the creditors. “Your money or your life” is not only what bank robbers demand. It is what banks themselves demand, and the wealthy 10 per cent of the population that owns most of the bank stock.

And of course, the wealthy classes want to free themselves from the share of taxes that they have not already shed. The flat-tax ploy is their godsend.

Here’s how I think the plan is intended to work. Given the fact that voters have already rejected the flat tax in principle, it can only be introduced by fiatunder crisis conditions. Alan Simpson, President Obama’s designated co-chairman of the “Deficit Reduction Commission” (the euphemistic title given to what is in reality a “Shift Taxes Off Wealth Onto Labor” commission) already has suggested that Republicans close down the government by refusing to increase the federal debt limit this spring. This would create a fiscal crisis and threat of government shutdown. It would be a fiscal 9/11, for the Republicans to trot out their “rescue plan” for the emergency breakdown of government.

The result would cap the tax shift off finance and wealth onto wage earners. Supported by Blue Dog Democrats, President Obama would shed crocodile tears and sign off on the most right-wing, oligarchic, anti-labor, anti-black and anti-minority, anti-industrial tax that anyone has yet been able to think up. The notorious Flat Tax would fall only on wage income (paid by employees and employers alike) and on consumer goods (the value-added tax, VAT), while exempting returns that accrue to the wealthy in the form of interest and dividend income, rent and capital gains.

Barack Obama is already one of the most right-wing presidents we’ve ever had, building upon and expanding virtually every pernicious policy of his oligarchic predecessor. But as Hudson warns us, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Downward Road is Crowded

A few quick takes, whilst we seek to repair the damage from the latest attack on the main site.

Money for Old Rope
This is what $70 billion a year in whiz-bang, top-shelf "intelligence" buys you: Taliban Leader in Secret Talks Was an Impostor.

The United States of Insouciance
Since his return from a self-imposed hiatus, Paul Craig Roberts has been a man on fire, penning a series of riveting, ravaging articles that speak hard truth to the imperial state -- and to a society seemingly content to countenance, if not cheer, that state's worst malefactions. Roberts has done it again with his latest piece: "Insouciant Americans." Get thee hence, and read.

Mission Accomplished
It's hard to understand why all our serious commentators are writing that Barack Obama's presidency is in trouble, and offering sage advice, from right, left, and center, on what he needs to do to "get back on track." The truth, of course, is that Barack Obama's presidency is a smashing success -- indeed, a record-breaking success -- and that he is accomplishing exactly what he was put into office to do, as the New York Times reports today: Corporate Profits Were the Highest on Record Last Quarter.

Chronicles of Corruption
My old Moscow Times comrade Matt Taibbi adds another chapter to his on-going -- and jaw-dropping -- series of stories on the deliberate evisceration of ordinary Americans by their monied and minatory betters. Taibbi has few equals when it comes to explaining the true depth and extent of American corruption -- and almost no equal when it comes to actually reporting on it from the front lines. He is creating a record of the reality of our times that future historians (yes, yes, if there are any) will find invaluable.

The Dissident Path
Chris Hedges is another incendiary voice, burning through the threadbare curtain of liberal piety and exceptionalist myth to expose the corroded heart of a nation sliding into barbarity. His latest piece at Truthdig is an excellent example, so we'll finish here with a few choice quotes:

There is no hope left for achieving significant reform or restoring our democracy through established mechanisms of power. The electoral process has been hijacked by corporations. The judiciary has been corrupted and bought. The press shuts out the most important voices in the country and feeds us the banal and the absurd. Universities prostitute themselves for corporate dollars. Labor unions are marginal and ineffectual forces. The economy is in the hands of corporate swindlers and speculators. And the public, enchanted by electronic hallucinations, remains passive and supine. We have no tools left within the power structure in our fight to halt unchecked corporate pillage.

The liberal class, which Barack Obama represents, was never endowed with much vision or courage, but it did occasionally respond when pressured by popular democratic movements. This was how we got the New Deal, civil rights legislation and the array of consumer legislation pushed through by Ralph Nader and his allies in the Democratic Party. The complete surrendering of power, however, to corporate interests means that those of us who seek nonviolent yet profound change have no one within the power elite we can trust for support. The corporate coup has ossified the structures of power. It has obliterated all checks on corporate malfeasance. It has left us stripped of the tools of mass organization that once nudged the system forward toward justice. ....

Our worst premonitions are becoming reality. Our intuition has proved correct. We are reaching the breaking point. An explosion, unless we halt the increased pressure, seems inevitable. And what is left for those of us who cannot embrace the contaminants of violence? If the system shuts us out how can we influence it through nonviolent mechanisms of popular protest? How can we restore a civil society? How can we battle back against those who will mobilize hatred to cement into place an American fascism?

I do not know if we can win this battle. I suspect we cannot. But I do know that if we stop resisting, if we stop rebelling, something fundamental will die within us. As the corporate vise tightens, as the vast corporate system begins to break down with fossil fuel decline, extreme climate change and the expansion of global poverty, even mundane and ordinary acts to assert our common humanity and justice will be condemned as subversive.

It is time to think of resistance in a new way, something that is no longer carried out to reform a system but as an end in itself. African-Americans understood this during the long night of slavery. German opposition leaders understood it under the Nazis. Dissidents in the former Soviet Union knew this during the nightmare of communism. Resistance in these closed systems was local and often solitary. It was done with the understanding that evil must always be defied. The tiny acts of rebellion—day after day, month after month, year after year and decade after decade—exposed to everyone who witnessed them the heartlessness, cruelty and inhumanity of the oppressor. They were acts of truth and beauty. We must take to the street. We must jam as many wrenches into the corporate system as we can. We must not make it easy for them. But we also must no longer live in self-delusion. This is a battle that will outlive us. And if we fight, even with this tragic vision, we will lead lives worth living and keep alive another way of being.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Good Corporal

This one goes out to Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, Daniel Ellsberg, Sibel Edmonds, and "all those who speak the hard truth to the state."

The Good Corporal
Good corporal, good corporal, now what have you done?
You've laid out the dead in the light of the sun.
You've opened the door where the dark deeds go on,
Where the fine words of freedom are broken like bones.

Good corporal, good corporal, you tell us of crime
Done in the name of your country and mine.
Of torture and murder, corruption and lies,
In a land where no echo will carry the cries.

Good corporal, good corporal, now who do we blame
For the horrors you bring us, for this undying shame?
Should we lay all the guilt on the grunts with no name,
Or the high and the mighty who rigged up this game?

Good corporal, good corporal, don't you know the fate
Of all those who speak the hard truth to the State
And all who trouble the people's sweet dreams?
They're mocked into scorn and torn apart at the seams.

Good corporal, good corporal, what have you done?
You've laid out the dead in the light of the sun.

© 2010 by Chris Floyd