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The Petroleum Commons

Sam Mitrani

Gerald Horne
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Kathy Deacon
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1. All land and natural resources (including mineral resources) within the Ijaw territory belong to Ijaw communities and are the basis of our survival.

2. We cease to recognize all undemocratic decrees that rob our
peoples’ communities of the right to ownership and control of our lives and resources, which were enacted without our participation and dissent. These include the Land Use Decree and The Petroleum Decree.

-The Kaiama Declaration (December 1998)

Introduction: Oil and Water

The struggles over the ownership of the two most important political liquids of this era, petroleum and water, have had different fates. Though water has been proclaimed to be either private, state or common property throughout history, the novel feature of this neo-liberal period has been the move by corporations to totally privatize it. The powerful struggles waged against the corporate privatization of water from Cochabamba (Bolivia) to Soweto (South Africa) have focused world attention on the question: Who owns water? The consequent efforts to keep water as a common property on a local and global level are now among the most important initiatives of the anti-globalization movement.

Petroleum, on the other hand, has in the last hundred and fifty years been considered exclusively as either private or state property. Thus, the pages of the history books on the petroleum industry have been filled with “magnates” like John D. Rockefeller or government “leaders” like Saddam Hussain and Winston Churchill. Similarly, the “struggle over oil” has been largely seen as a struggle between oil companies and governments, since its beginnings in the mid-nineteenth century.

However, over the last fifteen years, there has been a major shift in the physiognomy of the protagonists of the oil struggle. National governments and huge energy conglomerates no longer dominate the scene. The new protagonists include: “peoples” like the Ijaws, the Ogoni, the Chiapanecos, the U’wa, the Cofan, the Secoyas, the Huaorani, the people of Ache (Sumatra); border-transcending social movements under the star of Islam and subscribing to “Islamic economics;” elements of the UN system like the World Bank, claiming to provide the “global governance” of the “global commons.” These peoples, movements and global entities have entered the struggle for the control of oil production, legitimizing themselves with a new (and at the same time quite archaic) conception of property: common property.

Why is the notion of a petroleum common emerging now, and what are its consequences for the oil industry?

There are three levels of claims to petroleum as a common property, correlating with three kinds of allied communities that are now taking shape, for there is no common property without a community that regulates its use:

*First, some local communities most directly affected by the extraction of petroleum claim to own and regulate the petroleum under their territory as a common.

*Second, Islamic economists claim for the Islamic community of believers, from Morocco to Indonesia, and its representative, the 21st century Caliphate in formation, ownership of and the right to regulate the huge petroleum fields beneath the vast territory corresponding to the countries of the ummah.

*Third, UN officials claim for the “coming global community” the right to regulate the so-called global commons: air, water, land, minerals (including petroleum) and “nous” (knowledge and information). This imagined global community is to be represented by the dizzying array of “angels” that make up the UN system, from NGO activists to UN environmentalist bureaucrats to World Bank “green” advisors.

All these claims and their legitimizing discourse are displacing, with different results, the monopoly hold of governments and corporations over the ownership and regulation of the planet’s petroleum. There is much that is shared by these different conceptions of the petroleum commons, but they are also often in conflict. These conflicts will determine how the ownership of petroleum and the regulation of its extraction and use will be transformed by the entrance of the “commoners” into a field dominated for over a century by nation states and global corporations.

The Local Petroleum Commons: Nigeria, Chiapas, the Amazon

One of the most important areas where the petroleum commons is emerging as a political reality is the Niger Delta. This area is at the meeting point of many crossroads in the world market. Three centuries ago the region from Escarvos to Calabar was the main place for the storage and transshipment of African slaves bound for the plantations of the Americas. The slave trade poisoned social relations in the Niger Delta, but the people of the Delta continue to be poisoned, physically, economically, as well as socially, today by the global oil industry. They have been resisting this fate with great courage and originality, taking a political road that has begun with the demand for reparations for the damages caused by petroleum extraction, and has evolved into the declaration that petroleum in the Delta is a commons.

The story of this struggle begins in the early 1990s, when the Ogoni people decided that the time was ripe to transform what had been a long-fought but largely unknown local struggle against the Nigerian government and the oil companies into an internationally-recognized one. The Ogoni are a relatively small ethnic group in Southeastern Nigeria (with a population of less than a million), but they have been at the center of oil production from its beginning and have suffered greatly for it. In the 1990s they realized that if they had to fight a global oil company–in this case, Royal Dutch Shell– to obtain reparations, they had to become global themselves. How could a small, impoverished ethnic group, in the midst of an “obscure” part of Africa, do that? Parochial, ethnic politics had to be transcended so that the Ogoni struggle could be connected to the worldwide ecological struggle against the oil companies. On the heals of the “No Blood for Oil” campaign against the 1991 Gulf War, the Ogoni proclaimed that they too had paid a high price to fuel Shell’s profits and the industrial machines of Europe and the US. With the help of one of their leaders, playwright Kenule Saro-Wiwa, who had built up an international audience with his writings, this message reached the environmental groups across the planet.

The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) stimulated a recomposition of the anti-capitalist movement, as it made it clear that the Ogoni’s demand for reparations from Shell was an integral part of the broader demand by grassroot movements internationally that corporations everywhere pay for the destruction caused by capitalist development. In 1995, Saro-Wiwa was arrest and hanged, together with another eight Ogoni leaders, on fabricated murder charges by the Nigerian military regime of General Sani Abacha. Simultaneously scores of Ogoni villages were attacked, often razed to the ground by the Nigerian army, plausibly with the complicity/assistance of Shell. In response to these events, which left many people dead on the ground and thousand of refugees, Greenpeace and other environmental groups organized a worldwide boycott against Shell, protesting the exchange of blood for oil blood in Nigeria as in the Middle East. Ken Saro-Wiwa paid with his life for connecting the Ogoni with a world environmentalist movement, but his organizational model has been used again and again by other small ethnic groups throughout the world.

In Nigeria itself, the high cost paid by the Ogoni for their struggle was noted by other militant groups in the Niger Delta, who have since de-emphasized the international aspect of their organizational efforts and focused, instead, directly on negotiations with the oil companies and with the Nigerian government, based upon their capacity to hinder or halt production or shipment of oil. These groups have also pushed the demands of the struggle to a new level. Instead of demanding reparations, as MOSOP had done, they are have been claiming ownership of the petroleum underneath their territories, defining it as a common property.

The most prominent movement in the Delta after the decline of MOSOP has been the Movement for the Survival of Ijaw Ethnic Nationality (MOSIEN). It is one of the largest ethnic groups in the Delta (with a population of approximately eight million). The Ijaw have abandoned the non-violence tactics sponsored by the Ogoni and resurrected the militant symbols and memories of their collective past. The cult of Egbesu, their traditional war god, has been the recruiting ground for young militants who in its name have liberated their leaders
from government prisons, taken over oil installations, and kidnapped oil workers.

Ken Saro-Wiwa and the other Ogoni leaders had been convinced that it was folly to presume that a small ethnic group could directly confront the mighty Nigerian army at the time controlled by a military government. Thus they had preached non-violent resistance. The Ijaw militants have rejected this path, though they have faced devastating attacks by the Nigerian military–including the horrendous Christmas massacre at Odi in 1999 that left 2,000 dead. This shift in tactics has put into question much of the international support that the Ogoni struggle and Saro-Wiwa’s martyrdom had engendered for the struggles in the Niger Delta.

There were other important changes in the struggle of the Ijaw with the government and oil companies. As stated in the Kaiama Declaration, the Ijaw have formally declared the petroleum within Ijaw territory as common property of the Ijaw community. Presently, the idea of a petroleum common is at the center of the discourse of the resistance to oil companies in the Nigeria Delta. An example is the reply which the former president of the Ijaw Youth Council and current militia commander, Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, gave to a Financial Times reporter when asked how much his men take from the pipelines each day. “As much as we can. It’s free,” Dokubo-Asari answered. Another example is the scornful graffiti that the invading army soldiers left behind after the Odi massacre: “Na you get oil? Foolish people.” (“Does the oil belong to you? Foolish people.”)

A further dramatic political development in the struggle for the “petroleum commons” was the entrance in it of women’s organizations. Local women from the Ijaw and Istkeri ethnicities remembered in this context the old tactic of shaming soldiers by appearing before them collectively naked–which had been used to effect against the British in the Aba Women’s War of 1929. In November 2002, after being brutally beaten by the oil company guards, one group of women protesters in the Delta threatened that “within 10 days from today, if our hospital and rehabilitation bills are not paid, we will all come out en masse fully naked, and we shall occupy not only their gates but their flow stations throughout the Niger Delta.” The showing of one’s genitals, especially for women past the age of reproduction, is a formidable curse, in many areas of Africa. But what was more threatening to the oil companies and the Nigerian government than the occupation of the oil installations by thousands of naked women was the fact that these women came from different ethnic groups, often in conflict with each other. The most powerful weapon in the hands of the government and the oil companies against the demand for reparations and the recognition of communal ownership of oil are the division existing between the different ethnic groups that populate the Delta, which have already resulted in thousands of deaths over the last decade. Thus the fact that women from the oft-warring Itsekiri, Ijaw, Ilaje and Urhobos groups could join in a united front is a troubling sign that women at least have understood the secret of power. Whether their unity will set the pace for the petroleum commons movement in the Delta remains however an open question.

The early 1990s was a turning point in the struggle to claim communal ownership of petroleum not in the Niger Delta alone. New organizations of indigenous peoples formed around similar demands in Mexico, Ecuador, and Colombia. At the time of the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas, launched on New Years Day 1994–the precise moment in which NAFTA took effect– sub-commandante Marcos frequently pointed out that when the indigenous cut firewood for their homes they are arrested and fined, but when oil developers cut huge swathes through the forest and destroy trees with dynamite, they are congratulated for their productivity!

As fate would have it, post-rebellion Zapatista communities are often located near or directly over oil deposits. Consequently, the San Andres Accords–the main document arising from the peace talks between the Zapatistas and the Mexican government–included the recognition of the indigenous communities’ “collective right to evaluate federal and state plans to exploit strategic resources in their region in order to determine those plans’ effects on indigenous territories.” This provision which, in effect, gave the indigenous communities a veto over oil exploration and exploitation, was certainly one of the main sticking points that prevented the approval of the Accords. Similar developments took place in Ecuador in the early 1990s. Although oil exploration and extraction began in the Ecuadorian Amazon in the 1960s, it took time for the indigenous peoples affected by the environmental pollution and the disintegration of social life caused by the oil industry to organize: first to demand a clean-up and reparations, and then to proclaim oil a common resource to be dispose of only by the community, and not by the state’s or the oil companies.’

“The [community’s] Right To Say ‘No'” climaxed in the struggle of the U’wa in Colombia against Occidental Petroleum’s decision to drill for oil in their territory, beginning in 1993. The U’wa threatened to commit collective suicide if the company, which was granted exploration rights by the Colombian government, actually carried out this plan. Occidental Petroleum Company had calculated it could extract over a billion barrels of oil from this area, and was anxious to verify the estimate. But a combination of lawsuits in Colombian and international courts, shareholder resolutions, demonstrations in front of the company’s California offices and the home of its CEO, carried on by the U’wa and their allies –compounded by the threat of mass suicide by the entire U’wa community– put the plan to rest and avoided what promised to be an ecological as well as social disaster. Occidental Petroleum pulled out of U’wa territory without making a second try, in contrast to the standard procedure. Subsequently, Ecopetrol, the Colombian state oil company has also planned exploration activities in the region of the U’wa, but these too are likely to be resisted.

The U’wa are among the many peoples across the planet who now refuse to approach the oil industry as supplicants, demanding compensation for the harm oil extraction has caused on their lands. The growing activism by non-corporate, non-state actors who claim communal ownership of petroleum is having a decisive impact on the oil industry’s development, especially in this period with the expansion of oil exploration into the “margins” –areas that had previously been too distant from the main centers of the oil industry to be taken into consideration. But it is here that the oil industry comes continually in confrontation with people who still have a sense of the commons, since they often have common property resources such as land, and methods to regulate them. Consequently, the state and market paradigms of oil ownership are clashing with dozens of new, often “small,” local movements and communities that, when integrated across the planet, are beginning to have an impact on the legal status of oil ownership.

The Islamic Petroleum Commons: From Morocco to Indonesia

Another conception of a petroleum commons has developed in Islamic economic theory and political practice since the 1970s. It claims that petroleum found beneath Islamic territory is the common possession of the worldwide Islamic community (Ummah) and consequently it is neither state nor private property. This conception is challenging the relations that have been worked out between the oil companies and Islamic nation-states since World War I.

A key event in the development of the international oil industry was the destruction of the last Caliphate, the Ottoman Empire, at the end of World War I. A Caliphate requires a secular military-political entity that is pledged to defend the worldwide Islamic community. The Ottoman Turks had been performing this role of “defenders of the faith” since the 15th century. Their imperial lands included Iraq, Kuwait, and parts of Saudi Arabia–i.e. the center of the main oil reserves of the planet. In order for the petroleum industry to operate on a capitalist basis, the large international oil companies and main imperialist powers at the end of World War I (US, Britain, France) tore up the Ottoman Caliphate and created a number of rentier states that were largely under their control.

The incompatibility between the existence of the Caliphate and the for-profit operations that were required by the oil industry is evident. An Islamic Caliphate had to be committed, at least in principle, to specific re-distributive economic principles (including the concept of a petroleum common owned by the ummah, the entire Islamic community) that were in contrast with the corporate control envisioned by the founders of the oil industry in the Middle East in period between 1918 and 1945. A genuine Caliphate would have had to invest in ways that would have made it autonomous from the directives of the imperialist powers (governmental or corporate). Last, a genuine Caliphate would have had worldwide reach, and would have had to be committed to intervening in areas where the Islamic community resided. These areas, however, were often essential parts of the empires of Britain, France and Holland. (e.g., India, Algeria, and Indonesia).

What is presently called Islamic fundamentalism, or political Islam, or Islamism, is in part an effort to revive the Caliphate almost a century after its end. This gives these social movements a “global reach,” as they claim to unite and “protect” the Islamic community presently stretching from Morocco to Indonesia and, through immigration, into the heart of Europe and North America. Whatever the ultimate fate of this type of patriarchal politics and whatever its class composition, this drive towards a Caliphate represents an important reality for the oil industry since both are operating at the center of the major oil reserves of the planet. Indeed, if one correlates the nation-state members of the Organization of Islamic Congress with the oil reserves that are estimated to lie in their territories, one sees that nearly two-thirds of the world’s petroleum is “Islamic” Such a drive is toward an “imagined community”–but then, what community except the most intimate is not imagined?

Along with the revival of Islam as a political force has come the development of an “Islamic economics” that has a number of tenets relevant to the oil industry. First, since oil is a sub-soil resource, from an Islamic perspective, it is seen as a gift from Allah and hence a community good. Although Islamic economics respects private property –after all, Islam is a religion founded by a merchant– it also recognizes the role of communally shared resources. Islamic economics accepts the standard division of private, state, and common property, and oil is definitely included in the category of common property. It is now traditional to repeat at this juncture the famous statement of Mohammed: “The people are partners in three things: water, pastures and fire .” The recognition of an Islamic petroleum commons is seen as a first step in the realization of an Islamic economics.

True, some common property must be mined (like oil, gold, silver, and iron), but the minerals themselves remain the common property of all Muslims. The Caliphate itself might mine them or sub-contract their collection, but all revenues gained from their sale should be kept in the Bait al-Mal–the same treasury that the zakat, or redistributive tithe, is destined for.

The second principle of Islamic economics is the redistributive one. Islam, for all of its respect of private property, instituted from its beginning a system of income transfers. Even non-Muslims know of the zakat, but there are many other re-distributive mechanisms (e.g., the prohibition of charging interest) that make the doctrine of neo-liberalism anathema in Islamic discourse. A Caliphate is duty-bound to fund the poor, the needy, the travelers, the debtors and its jihad from the funds in the Bait al-Mal. This is especially true of revenues derived from oil, since they are directly derived from the sale of a communal good. Thus the charges of corruption hurled against the Saudi Arabian elite by Islamists are especially damning, since the Saudi elite’s extravagant ways of living can be accused of denying bread to the mouths of the poor children Allah destined it for.

The third principle of Islamic economics is based on the prohibition of waste and the concern for conserving scarce resources. Islamists can plausibly argue that if the conspicuous consumption and self-protective expenditure on military hardware indulged in by the present elites are ended, more oil could be left in the ground. Such an economic policy would clearly have a significant impact on the price of oil, since oil would no longer be considered a state or corporate commodity to be sold to the highest bidder, and instead would be viewed as a common good whose conservation would be valuable in itself.

Common property in the Islamic tradition is often not emphasized in academic expositions of Islamic economics, where the pride of place is given to a symbolic zakat and a banking system that denies a role to interest. The works of Pakistani social thinker Savyid Abul-Ala Mawdudi (1903-79), martyred Egyptian Islamist Sayyid Qutb (1906-66) and Iraqi writer Muhammad Baquir al-Sadr (1931-80) –the intellectual progenitors of Islamic economics– are often taken to task for imposing unrealistic constrains on the development of capitalism in the Islamic world. Nevertheless, if the doctrine of the petroleum commons were implemented as the basis of social planning, in an Islamic world that counts more than a billion people, we can presume it would have a far greater impact than any other of its economic recommendations.

If Islamic nations turned their petroleum resources into a commons, then three major, even revolutionary changes would follow. First, this would lead to a tighter control of the pace of extraction and a willingness to exercise the “Right to say ‘No’,” resulting in much higher oil prices. Second, the surplus of the commons would flow into re-distributive projects in the Islamic world, rather than being channeled into the economies and financial systems of Europe and the US. Last, the neo-liberal program for the Middle East (as outlined in George W. Bush’s plan for the outcome of the Iraq war) would be challenged.

The Global Petroleum Commons of the Future and the United Nations System

If we combine the local claims to petroleum as communal property with those by Islamic economic theorists, we find that more than 70% of the oil on the planet is considered to be a part of a commons. There is, however, a third concept of petroleum as a global commons that incorporates all oil deposits, whether discovered or not. The proponents of this notion argue that the consequences of the exploration, extraction, distribution, and consumption of petroleum are so problematic for “humanity” that they cannot be left to the devices of private companies or nation states, but have to be managed by international organizations. According to this view, there exists a global petroleum commons that needs an adequate regulative community, most commonly identified with the United Nations system.

Thus, in the 1990s, the concept of a global commons has given new luster to the UN system, suffering from an identity crisis after the end of the Cold War. Increasingly, the UN system has claimed to represent a global community that does not exist, but presumably represents the horizon of UN activities. On this basis, the UN system has negotiated a number of accords with mining and energy companies according them ideological legitimacy. These include the Global Compact and the Global Mining Initiative, as well as the Kyoto Accords. This makes of the UN system–which includes the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF)–the global “partner” to and regulator of the planetary oil, gas, and coal companies.

It is crucial to understand why, in the last fifteen years, the UN system has dared to claim the right to regulate petroleum as a global commons. During this time the extractive industries, with special emphasis on mining and oil, have been in crisis, mostly because of the refusal by millions of people across the planet to accept the social and environmental destruction caused by mining and oil drilling activities. What appears to be the “natural” limit of extraction (as explained by the Club of Rome’s “asymptotic depletion curves” or by M. King Hubbert’s “peak oil” graphs) is indeed the resistance of an ever-broader circle of people to suffering the consequences of private or state sponsored mineral or oil extraction with no compensation or redress. Global warming, environmental pollution and illness, hazardous working conditions have increasingly been the source of anxiety, protest, and disruption of operations in the extractive industries. The loss of trust suffered by these industries has been due to such resistance and the problems it addresses, more than to the difficulty of finding new fields of coal, copper or petroleum. Thus, the need of the extractive industries for some “legitimate partner” to negotiate with, not posing threatening demands such as those workers’ organizations and local communities increasingly present.

Just as the extractive industries were undergoing their crisis, the UN system was facing it own. It had been set up to negotiate the conflicts between Capitalism and Communism, Colonialism and Anti-Colonialism. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the collapse of apartheid in South Africa, its mission seemed to vanish. Here is where the call of the extractive industries, especially the oil industry, provided a new lifeline, appointing the UN not only as the partner of the extractive industries but as their regulator as a representative of the coming global community, a task akin to the surrogate service the Catholic Church is expected to provide in anticipation of the “the City of God” in the period before the Second Coming!

The difficulties of such a surrogate global community have been brought to every one’s attention in the course of more than a decade of activism by the anti-globalization movement. Central to this movement has been a critique of the UN system’s most powerful bodies besides the Security Council: the World Bank and IMF. As “No-global” activists have documented, the problems of the nation state have not been transcended by the rise of global forms of government such as the World Bank, IMF, and UN presume to provide. The neo-liberal turn of the World Bank and IMF demonstrates that the UN system magnifies the problems of nation-state capitalism. Indeed, the UN-based “coming global community” offers a classic solution to all distributive problems: “What’s yours is mine, and what’s mine is mine.” For instance, in the name of this “virtual community,” the UN-system and its satellite NGOs advocate themselves the right to demand that indigenous people in the South respect designated “ecological zones” or “conservation regions” to the point of ceasing to use them for their own sustenance and economic well-being, even when no other alternatives are available to them, and they have lived upon the now off-limit lands for time immemorial.

The Petroleum Commons as Conflict and Opportunity

The entrance of “commoners” (indigenous peoples, Islamists, UN officials) into the world of oil ownership and production on the three levels discussed here is undoubtedly creating major changes in the oil industry worldwide. The logic of both market and state rationality is increasingly losing its compelling power to determine the future of oil extraction and, with it, the whole system of capitalist production it energizes.

Critics of capitalism, however, cannot be complacent about the rise of the petroleum commoners. This social reality also poses political problems that can easily divide the anti-capitalist movement as well as make neo-liberalism stumble. Every local commons requires a regulatory community with insiders and outsiders, and the outsiders might rightly demand to become insiders, with all the attendant possibility of conflict. Similarly, the regulation of the Islamic petroleum commons can conflict with the rules of local communities and their claimed commons. Finally, the demands of the global commons have already conflicted with the needs of local communities and the prescriptions of the Islamic ummah. Whatever the results of these actual or potential conflicts, the assumption that petroleum is a different political liquid from water has been put into doubt by the demands and struggles of petroleum commoners. Will petroleum become one day as “common” as water still is at least in our political imagination? Or will water reach the market-price and give rise to the same conflicts, and undergo the degree of monopolization that has characterized the history of petroleum in our times?

GEORGE CAFFENTZIS is a professor in the Department of Philosophy, University of Southern Maine and a coordinator of the Committee for Academic Freedom in Africa. He is author, with the Midnight Notes Collective, of “Midnight Oil: Work, Energy, War, 1973-1992” and “Auroras of the Zapatistas: Local & Global Struggles of the Fourth World War”. He can be reached at: GCAFFENTZ@aol.com

This article is based on the text of a talk given at the Fusion Arts Museum in New York City on Nov. 7, 2004. The article originally appeared on www.ww3report.com.




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Revolution in Reverse?

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Gerald Horne’s The Counter-Revolution of 1776 was overlooked by most liberal media when it was published last spring, but it really can be considered one of the more notable books of 2014. It is actually a very short but dense and abundantly sourced book, original and broad in its scope—in many ways a magisterial work.

During the 1970s, South Africa used to be characterized by the U.S. government as “partly free” because its white minority had rights. In like manner, the American War of Independence, cast as a battle over kingly prerogative and unfair taxation, is deemed to be liberating except for slavery. Horne argues instead that preserving slavery was an impelling motivation for colonial secession and the outcome proved a human rights disaster. Not only did it lay the basis for a continuation of slavery for 87 years and a subsequent apartheid state in the South (and unofficially in the North)—and this at a time when abolitionist mass sentiment was growing in England and elsewhere in Europe. But because slaves (and indigenous people) were perceived as a subversive element during the war, the rebel victory cast them in the longstanding role of “intestine enemies” of the state.

Abolitionism in the late 18th century was not simply an intellectual current (whose colonial adherents, taking into account practical problems involved, tended to favor a more gradualist approach). The legality of slavery had come under serious challenge in London’s courts. The historic Somerset decision of 1772 may in fact have delivered the coup de grace to slavery, making it illegal in Britain, a development that would logically extend to the American colonies, where the prospect of ending slavery created a firestorm, as reflected in the newspapers of the time.

Horne argues that there was little ambiguity about the Founding Fathers’ intention to preserve slavery. Notwithstanding the inspirational language of the Declaration of Independence, they “had normalized this form of property as any other.”

“In Boston, those who were pro-London often represented the enslaved in court, while rebels routinely represented masters.” John Adams “served . . . as a counsel for slaveholders and once argued that Massachusetts presumed all Africans to be slaves.” Even Ben Franklin “struck back vigorously” against the abolitionist Granville Sharp, and the list goes on. Africans pretty much had to rely on Tories to get a fair hearing in the court system, and understood that severance from Britain would only worsen their situation.

Fears of violent reprisals at the hands of African slaves fueled the colonists’ animosity and sense of persecution by Britain.
When Lord Dunmore, the Royal governor of the British colony of Virginia, ultimately threw down the gauntlet in November of 1775, issuing his famous proclamation offering to free all slaves, it added yet more fuel to the fire. Africans, for their part, according to Horne, almost universally sided with England and were hoping for an English victory, which they believed would deliver them from slavery.

Lest we assume some inherently humane response to suffering on their part, Horne assures us the British attitude toward slavery was no less pragmatic than the Americans’ (whose hopes for economic independence were predicated upon the continuation of the slave system in agriculture). In these years predating the explosive growth of cotton manufacturing, the British found slavery incompatible with the needs of a global empire that had come to rely by default on using Africans as soldiers to defend British interests in the hemisphere and elsewhere.

Britain, of course, had long been heavily invested in the African slave trade. Part and parcel of their own “democratic” development, it was the “Glorious” revolution with its Bill of Rights that weakened the monopoly of the Royal Africa hornecounterCompany, leading Parliament to mandate “the trade in Africans would be open to ‘all his majesty’s subjects.’” “This deregulation of the trade in human flesh fomented a kind of free trade in Africans. This aided immeasurably in providing the forced labor needed to develop the mainland, which in turn brought this local elite into increasing conflict with London, particularly when it sought to trade with neighbors who happened to be foes of the Crown . . . “

Britain experienced violent African resistance in its Caribbean colonies. The dangers induced many slave owners to migrate to the American mainland, where they attempted to overcome these conditions. The drawbacks continued to manifest themselves on the mainland as well. Florida became a rear base for “rebellious and runaway slaves.” In the 1740s Spanish troops were attacking Georgia from forts in Florida peopled by hundreds of armed Africans. Slavery was “delivering stupendous profit—while simultaneously threatening colonialism . . . in the form of African revolt, assisted by the indigenous, European foe, or both.” Horne delves into the history of slave rebellions and the colonists’ stratagems to overcome them:

“Carolina had been the designated firewall protecting Virginia and points north, but then the formation of Georgia was a damaging admission that a new firewall had to be constructed and extended further south to the border with Spanish Florida. But this was a poisoned chalice since now London’s subjects were ever closer to armed brigades of Africans, many of whom sought revenge against these rapacious settlers. London was forced to defend a profoundly unsettled mainland with an unusual conception of patriotism that did not rule out intimate relations with the Crown’s bitterest enemies.”

To Britain it seemed only rational to limit the number of slaves—which they attempted to do through taxation. This policy was a longstanding source of the most bitter contention. Northern slave traders and Southern planters were equally up in arms against Britain’s attempt to limit the number of slaves through this means.

The colonists may have expected British protection, but they were as loath to be taxed to pay for it as they were to take up arms themselves. Of course they could not countenance arming Africans and providing them with the customary pay. Relying on armed Africans from the Caribbean, Britain won the French and Indian War, whose most profound outcome was the ouster of Spain from Florida (rather than the defeat of France). Destroying this refuge for fleeing Africans set the stage for an increase in slave importation to Georgia and Carolina and for a de facto alliance of the American colonists with London’s former antagonists. It “proved to be a catastrophic victory for London, for when pressure was eased on mainland settlers . . . they seized the opportunity to revolt against the Crown with ample aid from the ‘Catholic powers.’ Ultimately this led to the creation of a slaveholders’ republic that then ousted the European powers from leadership in the African slave trade . . .”

Although the book is arranged into chapters with nominal themes, it seems to read more like a running essay. Horne digresses, and he keeps unnecessarily repeating many of the points he’s already made—which sometimes distracts from an otherwise fascinating work. Drawing from a broad array of sources that includes fresh archival material, he has written a strong and convincing reinterpretation of the American War of Independence. The Counter-Revolution of 1776 brings into focus fundamental facts that have been hitherto ignored or unknown–revealing much about this republic’s origins that is needed to understand where we are now.

Kathy Deacon is a freelance writer living in New York.

Carrots for Cuba, Sticks for North Korea

Posted By John Feffer On In articles 2014 onward | Comments Disabled

Cuba and North Korea share a great deal in common. They are both led by dynastic rulers. They retain their nominal affiliation to revolutionary Communism. They suffer under U.S. embargoes that have been in place for decades. And although they registered significant economic and social progress in the 1960s, they have become increasingly impoverished as a result of their isolation from the global economy.

Recently, however, the two countries have struck out in very different directions. Cuba just normalized its diplomatic relations with the United States after months of secret negotiations and a surprise announcement by the Obama administration. North Korea, on the other hand, remains very much on America’s blacklist amid a conflict over a controversial film.

Why has the United States extended an olive branch to an adversary near at hand while continuing to brandish a stick at an adversary halfway around the world?

President Obama promised in his initial campaign in 2008 to sit down with any world leader willing to negotiate in good faith. The track record of this diplomatic offensive has been mixed. The United States has orchestrated an opening to Burma after the military junta there agreed to significant reforms. Negotiations are ongoing with Iran over its nuclear program. But the Obama administration has not invested much political capital in going beyond this short list.

The détente with Cuba has been long in the making. In 2001, thanks to a change in federal trade law, individual states began to send agricultural exports to Cuba. Over $4.6 billion in corn, chicken, and soybeans from states like Georgia and Virginia went to the island through the middle of 2014. In fall 2013, Washington and Havana began negotiations to resume direct mail service.

The rapprochement between the two long-time adversaries began to accelerate for two related reasons. Under Raul Castro, the brother of the country’s first revolutionary leader, Cuba began to liberalize. Economic reforms have included a rehaul of agriculture, the encouragement of small business, and the shrinking of the government sector. The government released political prisoners. For the first time, citizens didn’t need exit visas to leave the country. In the first six months after the law went into effect in January 2013, nearly a quarter of a million people went abroad.

At the same time, public opinion in the United States began to shift in favor of normalizing relations with Cuba. In 2009, 66 percent of Americans in a Washington Post/ABC News poll supported establishing diplomatic ties with Cuba. Five years later, even more Americans support ending the economic embargo and eliminating all travel restrictions.

In other words, President Obama’s decision to pursue a new era of relations with Cuba responds both to measurable changes on the island and a significant shift over time in U.S. opinion. From a policy point of view, it was a no-brainer. The good offices of Pope Francis and the Canadian government also helped to facilitate negotiations. And the threat of closer Russian-Cuban relations – the two countries reached an agreement in July 2014 to reopen a Soviet-era spy base – added a certain amount of urgency for the Obama administration to alter the geopolitical calculus.

The only significant resistance to this détente comes from within Washington itself. Congress is the ultimate arbiter of the economic embargo, and the Republican Party will soon control both houses. Top Republican leadership, including Florida’s Marco Rubio and Arizona’s John McCain, are dead set against rapprochement, even though better relations with Cuba would translate into more dollars for the business community, a key Republican constituency.

North Korea has been waiting for normalized relations even longer than Cuba. But the country has not embarked on any significant liberalization. Nor is there a strong constituency in the United States in favor of changing the status quo with North Korea. The only thing North Korea has going for it, in fact, is its nuclear program, which it has used as bait to keep the United States interested in negotiations.

For most Americans, alas, North Korea remains an object of ridicule. Over the years it has been a safe target for comedians and filmmakers. The most recent effort, The Interview, offers Seth Rogen and James Franco as dim-witted Americans recruited by the CIA to assassinate Kim Jong-Eun. The film pokes as much fun at Americans as it does at North Koreans, but Pyongyang is understandably upset at an “entertainment” that depicts the murder on screen of its current leader. Imagine if a Cuban comedy depicted the assassination of President Obama: relations between the two countries would experience an immediate freeze.

The U.S. government has pointed the finger at North Korea for instigating a recent hack against Sony Pictures as well as death threats that forced an initial cancellation of the film’s debut. The Obama administration also promised a “proportional response” against Pyongyang, which may have already happened when North Korea’s limited Internet mysteriously went down last week.

But the evidence the FBI has presented against North Korea is rather tenuous. The hackers could have come from anywhere. They might not even sympathize with North Korea but deliberately made it seem as if the country were responsible. The initial threatening email from the hackers to Sony didn’t even mention The Interview, and a subsequent message to a reporter ended in a Korean phrase that contained obvious errors.

Hackers love to fool people. Somewhere someone might be rolling on the floor laughing out loud that they managed to prank both North Korea and the United States.

North Korea, meanwhile, denies responsibility, wants to clear its name, and has proposed to participate in a joint investigation. The Obama administration isn’t going to follow the Cuba example and recognize Pyongyang any time soon. Nor will it lift the economic embargo or even negotiate with North Korea. North Korea isn’t Cuba. But Washington would be wise to stop brandishing a stick at Pyongyang, particularly when the evidence of its crime is so flimsy. A cold peace with North Korea is not as good as détente, but it’s still better than war.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus.


The Police Were Created to Control Poor and Working Class People

Posted By Sam Mitrani On In articles 2014 onward | Comments Disabled

In most of the liberal discussions of the recent police killings of unarmed black men, there is an underlying assumption that the police are supposed to protect and serve the population. That is, after all, what they were created to do. If only the normal, decent relations between the police and the community could be re-established, this problem could be resolved. Poor people in general are more likely to be the victims of crime than anyone else, this reasoning goes, and in that way, they are in more need than anyone else of police protection. Maybe there are a few bad apples, but if only the police weren’t so racist, or didn’t carry out policies like stop-and-frisk, or weren’t so afraid of black people, or shot fewer unarmed men, they could function as a useful service that we all need.

This liberal way of viewing the problem rests on a misunderstanding of the origins of the police and what they were created to do. The police were not created to protect and serve the population. They were not created to stop crime, at least not as most people understand it. And they were certainly not created to promote justice. They were created to protect the new form of wage-labor capitalism that emerged in the mid to late nineteenth century from the threat posed by that system’s offspring, the working class.

This is a blunt way of stating a nuanced truth, but sometimes nuance just serves to obfuscate.

Before the nineteenth century, there were no police forces that we would recognize as such anywhere in the world. In the Northern United States, there was a system of elected constables and sheriffs, much more responsible to the population in a very direct way than the police are today. In the South, the closest thing to a police force was the slave patrols. Then, as Northern cities grew and filled with mostly immigrant wage workers who were physically and socially separated from the ruling class, the wealthy elite who ran the various municipal governments hired hundreds and then thousands of armed men to impose order on the new working class neighborhoods.

Class conflict roiled late nineteenth century American cities like Chicago, which experienced major strikes and riots in 1867, 1877, 1886, and 1894. In each of these upheavals, the police attacked strikers with extreme violence, even if in 1877 and 1894 the U.S. Army played a bigger role in ultimately repressing the working class. In the aftermath of these movements, the police increasingly presented themselves as a thin blue line protecting civilization, by which they meant bourgeois civilization, from the disorder of the working class. This ideology of order that developed in the late nineteenth century echoes down to today – except that today, poor black and Latino people are the main threat, rather than immigrant workers.

Of course, the ruling class did not get everything it wanted, and had to yield on many points to the immigrant workers it sought to control. This is why, for instance, municipal governments backed away from trying to stop Sunday drinking, and mitraniwhy they hired so many immigrant police officers, especially the Irish. But despite these concessions, businessmen organized themselves to make sure the police were increasingly isolated from democratic control, and established their own hierarchies, systems of governance, and rules of behavior. The police increasingly set themselves off from the population by donning uniforms, establishing their own rules for hiring, promotion, and firing, working to build a unique esprit des corps, and identifying themselves with order. And despite complaints about corruption and inefficiency, they gained more and more support from the ruling class, to the extent that in Chicago, for instance, businessmen donated money to buy the police rifles, artillery, Gatling guns, buildings, and money to establish a police pension out of their own pockets.

There was a never a time when the big city police neutrally enforced “the law,” or came anywhere close to that ideal (for that matter, the law itself has never been neutral). In the North, they mostly arrested people for the vaguely defined “crimes” of disorderly conduct and vagrancy throughout the nineteenth century. This meant that the police could arrest anyone they saw as a threat to “order.” In the post-bellum South, they enforced white supremacy and largely arrested black people on trumped-up charges in order to feed them into convict labor systems.

The violence the police carried out and their moral separation from those they patrolled were not the consequences of the brutality of individual officers, but were the consequences of careful policies designed to mold the police into a force that could use violence to deal with the social problems that accompanied the development of a wage-labor economy. For instance, in the short, sharp depression of the mid 1880s, Chicago was filled with prostitutes who worked the streets. Many policemen recognized that these prostitutes were generally impoverished women seeking a way to survive, and initially tolerated their behavior. But the police hierarchy insisted that the patrolmen do their duty whatever their feelings, and arrest these women, impose fines, and drive them off the streets and into brothels, where they could be ignored by some members of the elite and controlled by others. Similarly, in 1885, when Chicago began to experience a wave of strikes, some policemen sympathized with strikers. But once the police hierarchy and the mayor decided to break the strikes, policemen who refused to comply were fired. In these and a thousand similar ways, the police were molded into a force that would impose order on working class and poor people, whatever the individual feelings of the officers involved.

Though some patrolmen tried to be kind and others were openly brutal, police violence in the 1880s was not a case of a few bad apples – and neither is it today.

Much has changed since the creation of the police – most importantly the influx of black people into the Northern cities, the mid-twentieth century black movement, and the creation of the current system of mass incarceration in part as a response to that movement. But these changes did not lead to a fundamental shift in policing. They led to new policies designed to preserve fundamental continuities. The police were created to use violence to reconcile electoral democracy with industrial capitalism. Today, they are just one part of the “criminal justice” system which continues to play the same role. Their basic job is to enforce order among those with the most reason to resent the system – who in our society today are disproportionately poor black people.

A democratic police system is imaginable – one in which police are elected by and accountable to the people they patrol. But that is not what we have. And it’s not what the current system of policing was created to be.

If there is one positive lesson from the history of policing’s origins, it is that when workers organized, refused to submit or cooperate, and caused problems for the city governments, they could back the police off from the most galling of their activities. Murdering individual police officers, as happened in in Chicago on May 3rd 1886 and more recently in New York on December 20th, 2014, only reinforced those calling for harsh repression – a reaction we are beginning to see already. But resistance on a mass scale could force the police to hesitate. This happened in Chicago during the early 1880s, when the police pulled back from breaking strikes, hired immigrant officers, and tried to re-establish some credibility among the working class after their role in brutally crushing the 1877 upheaval.

The police might be backed off again if the reaction against the killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and countless others continues. If they are, it will be a victory for those mobilizing today, and will save lives – though as long as this system that requires police violence to control a big share of its population survives, any change in police policy will be aimed at keeping the poor in line more effectively.

We shouldn’t expect the police to be something they’re not. As historians, we ought to know that origins matter, and the police were created by the ruling class to control working class and poor people, not help them. They’ve continued to play that role ever since.

Sam Mitrani is an Associate Professor of History at the College of DuPage. He earned his PhD from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2009. He is the author of The Rise of the Chicago Police Department: Class and Conflict, 1850-1894 (University of Illinois Press).

This essay was originally published by LAWCHA, t he Labor and Working Class History Association.

America Stumbles Through Another Year

Posted By John Chuckman On In articles 2014 onward | Comments Disabled

The Palestinians are seeking a vote in the United Nations’ Security Council on a resolution favoring their statehood, unquestionably a reasonable proposal in the minds of most of the world’s people. Of course, the United States, a permanent member of the Security Council, would automatically veto such a resolution, as it vetoes all efforts to restore order to the chaos of the Middle East. And of course, were such a resolution somehow miraculously to pass, Israel would simply ignore it, as it has ignored a long list of binding UN resolutions. But a veto and certain contempt are not enough for an upright, God-fearing Southern gentleman like US Senator Lindsey Graham. He busied himself recently with threatening America’s withholding funds from a United Nations that gets involved in the “peace process.” Imagine, the United Nations getting involved in peace? That is a chilling thought. Since the United States has a history of withholding its UN dues against its solemn treaty obligations to bully its way to certain changes, such threats do carry weight.

Senator Graham, regarded neither as an idealist nor a  voice for peace, is only doing what so many American politicians do under the unbelievably corrupt, money-drenched American election system, and that is to make ridiculous public statements about the Middle East in return for generous dollops of campaign funds from the world’s most tireless political lobby, that for Israel. You might think that the lobby itself would tire of funding backwater blowhards demanding the other ninety-five percent of humanity play the game by America’s rules or America is picking up its marbles or chips or whatever and going home, but clearly it does not.

“The peace process” is the longest running farce on the planet, continuing for nearly fifty years. It might have been funny in the vein of The Mouse That Roared, but there is nothing remotely funny in the killing of thousands of people and the extreme abuse and hopelessness of millions. You just could not make a worse hash of a diplomatic and human welfare situation than America has made in the Middle East. And the situation has only intensified in its cruelty and injustice. Today, Israel openly and regularly steals homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. It threatens ancient Muslim shrines and desecrates some of them. It has savaged Gaza, the world’s largest open-air prison camp, twice, killing close to four thousand including nearly a thousand children. It has attempted to starve Gaza’s people out with a years-long embargo, and is making ugly noises about still another invasion. It is about to steal Syrian oil on the occupied Golan Heights, drilling there illegally, and it is busy arranging the theft of offshore natural gas that belongs to Gaza and Lebanon. It does all of this with complete impunity and not even a cross word from the likes of Senator Graham. I do think the Middle East provides the strongest possible evidence of the complete unsuitability of the United States to play a dominant role in international affairs. It is genuinely a case of the inmates running the asylum.

In another example of chaos mixed with farce, the United States pretends to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and while that charade continues, planes loaded with American weapons keep flying out of Turkey to make the seeming lunatics even stronger. Indeed, the various ragtag factions trying to overthrow the Syrian government, cutthroats assembled by the US and its friends from all corners of the globe in a kind of hellish foreign legion, announced a new alliance, so telling Washington’s approved terrorists in the conflict from those who haven’t made the cut is more difficult than ever. Recently, one or another of the lunatic mobs shot down two fighter jets, and how do you think they managed that without American anti-aircraft missiles? Turkey’s certifiably unbalanced president, Tayyip Erdoğan, one day makes fiery speeches threatening Israel (to please the poor fools voting for him) and the next makes new secret deals with Israel. Remember, this is a man who just built a one-thousand room palace for himself – yes, that’s right, exactly one thousand rooms – and it is the ugliest, most pointless large structure built since the early Soviet era, a kind of gigantic sprawling warehouse incrusted with jewels and filled with porcelain.

Well, dippiness is no barrier to membership in a secret club in the region which includes the UAE, Saudia Arabia, and Israel, all lovingly assisted by the US. They are all governments who regard change as desirable only when it results in an even more rigid status quo, as in Egypt.  Never mind the welfare of the region’s people or democracy or human rights or national boundaries. These guys resemble twelfth century lords seeing paupers cross their paths: they run them down and proceed to a rollicking good dinner in the great hall. The club is all about security for hereditary monarchs, security for America’s crusader fortress colony in the Middle East, and security for helper states in the American agenda. We’ve had many reports recently of secret air-freight flights between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi. We also have reports of flights out of Turkey into Syria. The never explained events at Benghazi were undoubtedly blowback from an operation collecting unemployed thugs and arms for secret shipment to Turkey and then into Syria. Saudi Arabia is voluntarily taking a bath by pushing oil prices down, a favor to the US and Israel and Turkey and a way of hurting Russia, Iran, Syria, and even Venezuela – all current members in good standing of Captain America’s ever-changing galaxy of villains – aka, the Axis of Evil. The US is willing to sacrifice for the time being its booming shale oil industry, whose more costly production requires higher prices than Saudi conventional crude, in return for the Saudi sacrifice.

Since both countries are desperate to hurt Russia, Iran, and Syria, the deal is a marriage made in Realpolitik heaven. Russia has helped Syria and does business with Iran, and Saudi Arabia and Israel hate Iran and Syria. The US has made a large investment in toppling Syria for Israel’s benefit, but the plan has been thwarted by Syrian endurance and Russian help. The plan also overlooked the loyalty of important Syrian societal groups to President Assad, but America often overlooks details as it attempts to reshape the world to its liking with bombs. Of course, there was also the precedent of Iraq, a bloody fiasco that achieved nothing but a million deaths and splintering a country into pieces. That splintering, by the way, continues with the ISIS fiasco: Iraq’s Kurds are being used against ISIS to strengthen their own region’s quasi-independence from Iraq.

The chaos the secret club-member countries have created in Syria – perhaps 200,000 killed and a couple of million refugees – appears not to bother them in the least, just so many paupers in the roadway when galloping home to dinner at the great hall. The victims do provide useful free material for the propaganda war being waged, the understanding implicit in America’s and Canada’s and Europe’s press being always that President Assad is responsible for the catastrophe. The US, and cheerleaders on the sidelines like Canada’s current dismal right-wing government, are doing virtually nothing for the refugees, or for the many civilians crippled or wounded. Ironically, Israel actually accepts for treatment in its northern medical facilities some of the very fanatics wounded in the dirty work. After all, it is ultimately Israel’s dirty work they do, regardless of their fanaticism. It’s a phenomenon we might call selective terrorism: fanatical killers who do America’s work, or Israel’s, are not treated as terrorists at all. No matter how many women and children you kill, no matter how many places you bomb, you only become a terrorist if you oppose the interests of America or Israel.

The toll in killed and wounded and homeless in Eastern Ukraine continues to mount. New punitive measures come regularly from Kiev, undoubtedly with American advice about possible vulnerabilities – after all, a top cabinet minister in the coup-created government is American. Only the other day we read reports of Ukrainian militia-types, the kind of right-wing thugs who helped the US overthrow an elected government in Kiev, blocking food traffic into the East. Attempting to starve people into submission is defined in international law as a war crime, but we hear no word of concern from America, just as we heard no word of concern for Israel’s original blockade of Gaza which actually included a calculated level of calories intended to just keep the population alive (since modified under intense secret international pressure).

In all these induced chaotic situations, we hear little or nothing from the UN, an institution which should be among the first condemning aggressive behavior. But the UN, despite the many differing private views of its members, is now in all official capacities under the thumb of the US. Its current Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, a candidate favored by America, is ineffectual and behaves at times almost as though he headed an organization having nothing to do with peace or human rights.

Well, there is some intimidating history. Boutros Boutros-Ghali was the only UN secretary-general not to be elected to a second term in office, and the reason was an American plan to be rid of him, one of Madeleine Albright’s glorious career achievements. America vetoed his second term because it was most unhappy when he did not embrace the bombing of Bosnia, and they disliked other of his views which tended to be thoughtful and compassionate. Earlier, Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, a much admired man, was assassinated in an engineered plane crash, said to have been the work of Belgian mining companies unhappy with the UN’s policies in Congo, a place the mining companies had drained of wealth for decades of brutal exploitation, but I think it unlikely anything of that nature happened without at least a nod of approval from Washington, which after all was a major customer for the products of Congo.

The evidence is piling up, despite delays and many irregularities in the official investigation into the crash of airline Flight MH-17 in Ukraine, that a Ukrainian pilot deliberately shot the plane down. His fighter is said to have been armed with air-to-air missiles on take-off, something completely out-of-the-ordinary in the conflict since Eastern Ukrainians have no air force. It returned, according to an eye-witness, with no missiles and the pilot’s muttering cryptic phrases. Of course, this would be the kind of act you might expect from people who used sniper rifles earlier this year to kill many hundreds of civilians in Maidan, the central square of Kiev, in order to terrorize the population and start the coup. But where is America’s voice in these grotesque doings? As Russia has patiently pointed out, an American spy satellite was virtually overhead at the time of the crash, so definitive evidence exists without a doubt but is not produced. But then neither is it produced for the destruction of Flight MH-370 in the Indian Ocean, an event it is virtually certain was the work of American forces at the secret Diego Garcia base as the plane came their way for whatever unknown reason.

The irregularities around Flight MH-17’s investigation include Malaysia, owners of the airline, being excluded from the group conducting the investigation and include the fact that segments of the wreckage were left behind at the crash site, and that after taking a very long time to get there in the first place, making manipulation of forensic evidence possible and even likely. We also have the absence of any American satellite or radar records, and we have not a word about the autopsy on the pilot, something which might solve the entire mystery, as from the discovery of Ukrainian missile fragments in his body.

What kind of world do we want to live in? One where coups and civil wars are engineered for the pleasure of others? One where airliners full of people are shot down deliberately? This is the chaos, and just part of it, America has bestowed upon us in the twenty-first century. I won’t even go into the financial tsunami it created in 2008 with the same lack of caution for others and concern about doing things correctly. The full impact of that has yet to strike us all.

But America brings laughable trivia, too. The President of the United States spending time and breath on the hacking of a private company’s web site? A Japanese company, no less? And turning the relatively trivial business of hacking, which happens every day now somewhere, into an international incident by blaming, almost certainly incorrectly, North Korea?

The President said the FBI had investigated and assured him that North Korea was responsible. What he didn’t tell us was that the FBI has a decades-long record of being wrong, seriously wrong, a great deal of the time. Given the FBI’s history, it certainly is in the running for the title of Most Incompetent Security Organization in the Western World, although, like other national security institutions in the United States, it is grossly over-funded with money gushing out like water from broken plumbing. Americans pay more per unit of misinformation than likely any other people on the planet.

Anyone familiar with the record of the FBI listens to assurances like the President’s with a sarcastic smile at best (see FOOTNOTE for a partial list of the FBI’s viciousness and incompetence over the years). Shortly after the president’s silly words, we had several world-class tech experts tell us why it could not have been North Korea, and I’ll take bets against the FBI on this one from anyone.

It likely was someone at Sony doing a publicity stunt to promote what by all reports is a dud of a film, but why should the man with the biggest job in the world join in? Consider also the fact that if you make what can be viewed as a threatening comment or presentation of any kind against the President of the United States, you will be visited and interviewed by the Secret Service, who will then keep you on file permanently. Why is it okay to make a movie about the assassination of North Korea’s president then, the subject of The Interview? Sony certainly has right to do stupidly foolish things, but it is more than a little muddled for the President eagerly to support it. Will he now address the rights of porn actors in California to work without condoms?

As I write this, a British newspaper reports that some Sony employees have been quietly dismissed. Reported also is the discovery of a web site strongly suggesting disgruntled employees. See what I mean about America overlooking the facts before it acts?

John Chuckman lives in Canada.

FOOTNOTE ON HOW WRONG AND DISHONEST THE FBI HAS BEEN: The FBI was wrong in claiming there was no such thing as the Mafia, something J. Edgar Hoover insisted for many years while he gambled at their racetracks and stayed at their resorts for free, some biographers believing Hoover had been compromised by the Mafia with photos of his secret gay, cross-dressing life. The FBI was wrong in focusing huge resources for many years on the pathetic American Communist Party, half of whose small membership is said to have consisted of FBI agents. The FBI was wrong about the threat of Albert Einstein, seeking his extradition for a time and checking the contents of his garbage to his dying day. The FBI was wrong about the danger of Dr. Martin Luther King, and it played judge and jury with his personal life. The FBI was wrong about Dr. Wen Ho Lee of Los Alamos being a spy, although it ruined his career. The FBI was wrong about the crash of TWA Flight 800, taking an inordinate amount of time trying to let public interest cool and avoid the obvious fact that the crash was an accidental shoot-down by the American military, there being a radar track showing something like a missile rising towards the plane. Despite its vast resources, the FBI never saw 9/11 coming. One of its own senior agents, Robert Hanssen, was one of the more damaging spies of modern times, a man whose carelessness in many details, classic indicators of a paid spy, went unnoticed for years. The FBI was wrong in the Atlanta Olympic bombing, ruining the life of another innocent man. It couldn’t have been more wrong in its handling of the sad kooks at Waco, effectively murdering them all. So, too, at the Ruby Ridge standoff where an FBI sniper killed a woman and her child needlessly. The FBI Crime Labs were cited in the 1990s by the Inspector General for misconduct and manipulating evidence, something many had suspected for years. The FBI specialized for years in hurting the reputations of those it didn’t like or those it merely suspected, as by asking questions at their place of work and neighborhood, not have any proof of wrong-doing. The FBI, at least under J. Edgar Hoover, held career-threatening information obtained by spying over the heads of many prominent congressmen and government leaders, effectively blackmailing them to do its bidding. It did the same with non-government officials where it felt so inclined. The FBI was wrong about the assassination of President Kennedy, it being the only investigative agency for the lamentable, embarrassing Warren Commission, thereby assuming at least equal responsibility for its inaccurate, dishonest report. Indeed, the FBI did not reveal at the time that Oswald secretly worked for them as a paid informant (since documented). It also lied about evidence a senior FBI agent destroyed after the assassination, a note Oswald had written.

The Outlook for the New Year

Posted By Paul Craig Roberts On In articles 2014 onward | Comments Disabled

Washington has shaped 2015 to be a year of conflict.  The conflict could be intense.

Washington is the cause of the conflict, which has been brewing for some time. Russia was too weak to do anything about it when the Clinton regime pushed NATO to Russia’s borders and illegally attacked Yugoslavia, breaking the country into small easily controlled pieces.  Russia was also too weak to do anything about it when the George W. Bush regime withdrew from the ABM treaty and undertook to locate anti-ballistic missile bases on Russia’s borders.  Washington lied to Moscow that the purpose of the ABM bases is to protect Europe from non-existent Iranian nuclear ICBMs.  However, Moscow understood that the purpose of the ABM bases was to degrade Russia’s nuclear deterrent, thereby enhancing Washington’s ability to coerce Russia into agreements that compromise Russian sovereignty.

By summer 2008 Russian power had returned.  On Washington’s orders, the US and Israeli trained and equipped Georgian army attacked the breakaway republic of South Ossetia during the early hours of August 8, killing Russian peacekeepers and civilian population. Units of the Russian military instantly responded and within a few hours the American trained and equipped Georgian army was routed and defeated.  Georgia was in Russia’s hands again, where the province had resided during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Putin should have hung Mikheil Saakashvili, the American puppet installed as president of Georgia by the Washington-instigated “Rose Revolution”, and reincorporated Georgia into the Russian Federation.  Instead, in a strategic error, Russia withdrew its forces, leaving Washington’s puppet regime in place to cause future trouble for Russia.

Washington is pushing hard to incorporate Georgia into NATO, thus adding more US military bases on Russia’s border.  However, at the time, Moscow thought Europe to be more independent of Washington than it is and relied on good relations with Europe to keep American bases out of Georgia.

Today the Russian government no longer has any illusion that Europe is capable of an independent foreign policy. Russian President Vladimir Putin has stated publicly that Russia has learned that diplomacy with Europe is pointless, because European politicians represent Washington’s interest, not Europe’s.  Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently acknowledged that Europe’s Captive Nation status has made it clear to Russia that Russian goodwill gestures are unable to produce diplomatic results.

With Moscow’s delusion shattered that diplomacy with the West can produce peaceful solutions, reality has set in, reinforced by  the demonization of Vladimir Putin by Washington and its vassal states. Hillary Clinton called Putin the new Hitler.  While Washington incorporates former constituent parts of the Russian and Soviet empires into its own empire and bombs seven countries, Washington claims that Putin is militarily aggressive and intends to reconstitute the Soviet empire.  Washington arms the neo-nazi regime Obama established in Ukraine, while erroneously claiming that Putin has invaded and annexed Ukrainian provinces.  All of these blatant lies are echoed repeatedly by the Western presstitutes. Not even Hitler had such a compliant media as Washington has.

Every diplomatic effort by Russia has  been blocked by Washington and has come to naught.  So now Russia has been forced by reality to update its military doctrine. The new doctrine approved on December 26 states that the US and NATO  comprise a major military threat to the existence of Russia as a sovereign independent country.

The Russian document cites Washington’s war doctrine of pre-emptive nuclear attack, deployment of anti-ballistic missiles, buildup of NATO forces, and intent to deploy weapons in space as clear indications that Washington is preparing to attack Russia.

Washington is also conducting economic and political warfare against Russia, attempting to destabilize the economy with economic sanctions and attacks on the ruble. The Russian document acknowledges that Russia faces Western threats of regime change achieved through “actions aimed at violent change of the Russian constitutional order, destabilization of the political and social environment, and disorganization of the functioning of governmental bodies, crucial civilian and military facilities and informational infrastructure of Russia.” Foreign financed NGOs and foreign owned Russian media are tools in Washington’s hands for destabilizing Russia.

Washington’s reckless aggressive policy against Russia has resurrected the nuclear arms race.  Russia is developing two new ICBM systems and in 2016 will deploy a weapons system designed to negate the US anti-ballistic missile system. In short, the evil warmongers that rule in Washington have set the world on the path to nuclear armageddon.

The Russian and Chinese governments both understand that their existence is threatened by Washington’s hegemonic ambitions.  Larchmonter reports that in order to defeat Washington’s plans to marginalize both countries, the Russian and Chinese governments have decided to unify their economies into one and to conjoin their military commands.  Henceforth, Russia and China move together on the economic and military fronts.

The unity of the Bear and the Dragon reduces the crazed neoconservatives’ dream of “an American century” to dangerous nonsense.  As Larchmonter puts it, “The US and NATO would need Michael the Archangel to defeat China-Russia, and from all signs Michael the Archangel is aligned with the Bear and its Orthodox culture. There is no weapon, no strategy, no tactic conceivable in the near future to damage either of these rising economies now that they are ‘base pairs.’”

Larchmonter sees hope in the new geopolitics created by the conjoining of Russia and China.  I don’t dispute this, but if the arrogant neoconservatives realize that their hegemonic policy has created a foe over which Washington cannot prevail, they will push for a pre-emptive nuclear strike before the Russian-Chinese unified command is fully operational. To forestall a sneak attack, Russia and China should operate on full nuclear alert.

The US economy–indeed the entire Western orientated economy from Japan to Europe–is a house of cards. Since the economic downturn began seven years ago, the entirety of Western economic policy has been diverted to the support of a few over-sized banks, sovereign debt, and the US dollar.  Consequently, the economies themselves and the ability of populations to cope have deteriorated.

The financial markets are based on manipulation, not on fundamentals. The manipulation is untenable. With debt exploding, negative real interest rates make no sense. With real consumer incomes, real consumer credit, and real retail sales stagnant or falling, the stock market is a bubble.  With Russia, China, and other countries moving away from the use of the dollar to settle international accounts, with Russia developing an alternative to the SWIFT financial network, the BRICS developing alternatives to the IMF and World Bank, and with other parts of the world developing their own credit card and Internet systems, the US dollar, along with the Japanese and European currencies that are being printed in order to support the dollar’s exchange value, could experience a dramatic drop in exchange value, which would make the import-dependent Western world dysfunctional.

In my opinion, it took the Russians and Chinese too long to comprehend the evil that has control in Washington.  Therefore, both countries risk nuclear attack prior to the full operational capability of their conjoined defense.  As the Western economy is a house of cards, Russia and China could collapse the Western economy before the neoconservatives can drive the world to war. As Washington’s aggression against both countries is crystal clear, Russia and China have every right to the following defensive measures.

As the US and EU are conducting economic warfare against Russia, Russia could claim that by wrecking the Russian economy the West has deprived Russia of the ability to repay loans to the European banks. If this does not bring down the thinly capitalized EU banks, Russia can announce that as NATO countries are now officially recognized by Russian war doctrine as an enemy of the Russian state, Russia can no longer support NATO’s aggression against Russia by selling natural gas to NATO members.  If the shutdown of much of European industry, rapidly rising rates of unemployment, and bank failures do not result in the dissolution of NATO and thus the end of the threat, the Chinese can act.

The Chinese hold a very large amount of dollar-denominated financial assets.  Just as the Federal Reserve’s agents, the bullion banks, dump massive shorts onto the bullion futures markets during periods of little activity in order to drive down the bullion price, China can dump the equivalent in US Treasuries of years of Quantitative Easing in a few minutes.  If the Federal Reserve quickly creates dollars with which to purchase the enormous quantity of Treasuries so that the financial house of cards does not implode, the Chinese can then dump the dollars that they are paid for the bonds in the currency market.  Whereas the Federal Reserve can print dollars with which to purchase the Treasuries, the Fed cannot print foreign currencies with which to buy the dollars.

The dollar would collapse, and with it the power of the Hegemon.  The war would be over without a shot or missile fired.

In my view, Russia and China owe it to the world to prevent the nuclear war intended by the neoconservatives simply by replying in kind to Washington’s economic warfare.  Russia and China hold all the cards.  Not Washington.

Russia and China should give no warning.  They should just act.  Indeed, instead of step by step, Russia and China could simultaneously use the counter-measures.  With four US banks holding derivatives totaling many times world GDP, the financial explosion would be the equivalent to a nuclear one.  The US and Europe would be finished, and the world would be saved.

Larchmonter possibly is correct. 2015 could be a very good year, but pre-emptive economic moves by Moscow and Beijing could be required.  Putin’s current plan seems to be to turn away from the West, ignore the provocations, and mesh Russia’s strategic and economic interests with those of Asia.  This is a humane and reasonable course of action, but it leaves the West untroubled and undistracted by its economic vulnerabilities.  An untroubled West remains a grave danger not only to Russia and China but also to Americans and the entire world.

Paul Craig Roberts is a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal. Roberts’ How the Economy Was Lost is now available from CounterPunch in electronic format. His latest book is How America Was Lost.

Lenin in 2015

Posted By Alexander Reid Ross On In articles 2014 onward | Comments Disabled

A Historic Struggle

A strike would ignite another strike. The army would fire on peaceful protestors, killing scores. A general strike would be declared, with infrastructure of popular power blossoming out of new councils comprised of a mixture of political ideologues and working class organizers. Barricades would be built in the streets, and army battalions would mutiny, razing barracks to the ground.

This was the climactic year of 1905, but what laid the roots for this struggle, and how was it eventually, and temporarily, defeated?

The story stretches back a long ways, to the heroic liberals of the early 19th Century who opined sanguinely on the plight of the serfs, and rose up from the upper echelon of the army in attempts to depose the tsar. This era, as Bakunin noted during the next phase of revolutionary tumult, could make reform, not revolution, because it did not emerge from the “people.”

Bakunin was writing in the 1860s, the start of the next, great movement of Russian revolutionism, and his critique landed squarely on the shoulders of the bourgeoisie liberal class which dominated the peasantry even after reforming the law and emancipating the serfs. As radicals from Marx to Bakunin to Tkachev insisted, the emancipation of the peasants could not bring true liberation, because the relations of capitalism over feudalism simply layered a new class onto an old nobility.

From the 1860s until the 1880s, the greatest revolutionary trend in Russia took the form of conspiratorial terror, assassinations, bomb-throwings, and sabotage. It was not until the establishment of greater organizational leadership through various working class associations, as well as the Russian Social Democrat Labor Party by Plekhanov and collaborators, that an organized strategy towards revolution embraced the working class as an instrumental agent in its own future.

Lenin Emerges

Fighting his way into this movement with a vicious, incisive pen, a man of various pseudonyms proved himself capable of sweeping analyses of agricultural and economic problems, maligning those who disagreed with his essential point of view. His main points were, to put it succinctly, divisive. The peasantry’s ignorance could not be underestimated, this writer, who settled on the nom de guerre of “Lenin” insisted, and the proletariat’s job was to liberate rural life by establishing working class consciousness through peasant councils. As for those who believed in peasant-led revolution, he scoffed in his early, 1893 essay, “Scratch the ‘friend of the people’—we may say, paraphrasing the familiar saying—and you will find a bourgeois.”

“[T]he merging of the democratic activities of the working class with the democratic aspirations of other classes and groups would weaken the democratic movement,” Lenin declares from exile in 1897. “The proletariat must not regard the other classes and parties as ‘one reactionary mass,’” he writes two years later. There are clear, decisive distinctions that separate the peasants from the proletariat, and even there, the rural poor are distinct from the privileged, “enterprising muzhiks” who mark the origins of capitalist development.

But as history began to take a turn into the 20th Century, Lenin would find his doctrine compromised. A split developed within the party organ that he had helped to found, Iskra (Spark), with one side insisting that a more diffuse, autonomous editorial structure be utilized, against Lenin’s strict interpretation of the party platform. As the split deepened, his writings turned with an astonishing transformation, back to his bread-and-butter: legal issues.

The Fight Against the Police State

As a trained lawyer, Lenin’s inward turn marked an important confirmation of external occurrences. By the beginning of the century, the popular uprising against the police and the military could not be ignored. The idea of “a single class struggle of the proletariat,” of which Lenin would write in 1899 would give way somewhat to more open language the next year, when he notes that “[d]uring recent decades, hatred for the police has grown immensely and has become deep-rooted in the hearts of the masses of the common people.” The “net” of law enforcement, Lenin professes, is “all-entangling,” the “canker” is persistent,” and “can only be removed by abolishing the whole system of police tyranny and denial of the people’s rights.”

Through his analysis of the legal code, Lenin’s hatred of absolutism is reinforced, and he proceeds into the 20th Century with a prophetic tone: “the workers are struggling for the interests of the whole people, and when that has been done, the day of the victory of the revolutionary workers’ party over the police state will come with a rapidity exceeding our own anticipation.”

As workers organize throughout Russia into councils to fight the mobilization of the police state, Lenin sees his opportunity. From his 1901 Review of Home Affairs: “Public unrest is growing among the entire people in Russia, among all classes, and it is our duty as revolutionary Social-Democrats to exert every effort to take advantage of this development, in order to explain to the progressive working-class intellectuals what an ally they have in the peasants, in the students, and in the intellectuals generally, and to teach them how to take advantage of the flashes of social protest that break out, now in one place, now in another.”

Finally, the turning point: Lenin releases What Is to Be Done?, arguably his masterpiece, in 1902, divorcing himself from the school of “tactics-as-process,” and hardening his stance on the strategic fight against the police state. Unifying the Party under a consolidated vision with “the will of an army that follows and at the same time directs its general staff” becomes crucial. But he envisions that the first step on the way to abolishing the autocracy is to legalize aspects of the movement forced underground by state repression; he has no clue of what is to come, and it shows.

Bringing the People Together

Even 1902, just three years before the upheavals, Lenin worries about distinguishing the reactionary peasants from the radicals who understand proletarian consciousness—a problem that will seem to evaporate as the militant events of 1905 begin to unfold. As the strikes sweep through Russia, towns raise the red flag, mutinies strike Sevastopol, and generalized insurrection emanates from St. Petersburg, Lenin identifies the peasantry as the “tens of millions… The ‘people’ par excellence,” but also “the unstable elements of the struggle.” His ultimate aim, he insists, is that ““all power—wholly, completely and indivisibly—[rests] in the hands of the whole people,” and to do that, the radical democrats of both bourgeois and peasant classes must be united.

As the reactionary, paramilitary movement of the “Black Hundreds” set in to fight the peasants and workers, Lenin insists that “only an armed uprising” can instill revolutionary order. “[T]he revolutionary army and the revolutionary government are ‘organisms’ of so high a type, they demand… a civic consciousness so developed, that it would be a mistake to expect a simple, immediate, and perfect fulfillment of these tasks from the outset,” he writes, marking the first instance where the Bolsheviks begin to agitate within the Russian army while creating disciplined self-defense groups and openly advocating the arming and training of the people in street “fighting.”

Today, at the end of 2014, we in the US stand on the precipice of a similar event in history. It is, perhaps, a breaking point. The success of the Black Lives Matter protests surrounding police violence has crystalized a sense of integrity within the populace in the same way that the Civil Rights Movement had done in the late-1950s. But this is a long and arduous struggle. With the class analysis brought to the fore through the Occupy movement, we might look to this year’s important protests against consumerism in various malls and Walmarts across the country, and their intersections with the state repression of people of color.

Concluding Thoughts

Is it sensible to try and take Lenin’s intensive strategy to heart, and follow his path to our own 1905? Even the most hardcore Leninist in the USA today will say “absolutely not.” Lenin is seen by his followers as a motivating presence who attempted to consolidate voices towards a universal emancipation from oppression of class, nation, and race.

Of course, his divisiveness and the co-optation of the popular movement towards the aims of vanguardism remain critical points to dismantle the authoritarianism that his legacy has wrought over the world, but assessing Lenin’s strategic deployment of slogans and hegemonic positions as his ideas grew increasingly general during the waves of paroxysms crashing over Russia in 1905 gives us both a chance to see how horizontal movements can catalyze tremendous new flows of energy and how they can be compromised (for instance, the co-optation of the Saint Petersburg Soviet, which was originally radical and anarchist-run).

People of color rising up in the US has brought world-changing results. Their leadership presents the opportunity, not to compromise, misdirect, or co-opt the movement, but to deepen the struggle. The fight against the police state, which opened up even the most hardened rhetoric of Lenin, himself, produces the most revolutionary of circumstances. We must take our lessons from the outcome of 1905, and not waver in defense of egalitarian principles in the struggle for a better world. It is a long fight, but perhaps the most important of all.

Alexander Reid Ross is a contributing moderator of the Earth First! Newswire and works for Bark. He is the editor of Grabbing Back: Essays Against the Global Land Grab (AK Press 2014) and a contributor to Life During Wartime (AK Press 2013). This article is also being published at earthfirstjournal.org/newswire.

US Republican Congress’ First Salvos

Posted By Jack Rasmus On In articles 2014 onward | Comments Disabled

In the recent November 2014 midterm elections, Republicans assumed majority control of the USA Congress. They deepened their previous control of the US House of Representatives and swept the US Senate. They now have solid, nearly veto proof majorities in both houses of Congress. They may even have enough votes to override Obama’s rumored plans to govern by executive action, should he go that route in 2015 (which, except for an occasional token effort in that regard, is unlikely).

The past six years of Congressional gridlock is therefore about to end in 2015—but on terms highly favorable to Corporate America and, simultaneously, at the direct expense of American workers, their unions, and middle class households in general.

Technically, the Republican legislative offensive should not begin until the new Republican majorities are sworn into office in late January 2015.  However, it now appears those initiatives—i.e. the Republicans’ new legislative offensive—are not on hold until the new Congress is officially seated in January 2015.  With the help of many of the Democrats they defeated, the Republicans’ new legislative offensive is now already being rolled out.

In early December 2014, the US Congress passed a 1600 page so-called ‘Omnibus’ spending bill. In an Omnibus bill, all kinds of unrelated legislative proposals are thrown together into one large pot, i.e. one bill. That makes it difficult to vote against any particular proposal. To oppose, to vote against, a particular proposal, one would have to vote against other proposals one supports.  For example, to vote against a big tax cut for business might mean necessarily voting against an extension of unemployment insurance as well. So one ends up voting for a big corporate tax cut when actually opposed to it.  The ‘Omnibus’ bill is a legislative tactic that was employed typically under prior Republican dominated Congresses, especially during the George W. Bush regime between 2001-2006.

The Omnibus bill just passed by the USA Congress, in which the Democrats still had majority control of the US Senate this December, includes numerous pro-banker, pro-corporate proposals that will soon become law.  Senate Democrats have gone along with their Republican counterparts in passing ‘Omnibus’.

Senate Democrats’ excuse, their political cover, for voting Republican is that if they voted against the bill, when Republicans officially take control in January the bill would be ‘even worse’ than voting on the December proposal.

That argument and excuse is just typical politician double-talk to give them—Democrats— a CYA (cover your ass) excuse.  What will now happen, in actual fact, is that Republicans, welcoming Democrat Senators’ concessions and their voting support in passing the current Omnibus bill, will follow up in January 2015 anyway with the even worse, more aggressive pro-corporate, anti-worker legislation. Democrats will have gained nothing, except providing themselves convenient political cover.

The Omnibus bill passed last week provides $1.1 trillion in spending by the US government for the coming fiscal year, through September 2015. Among its many provisions, however, are several very big benefits for Corporate America.

Corporate Benefit #1: Banking Deregulation Returns

First, the bill—supported by Obama and quickly signed into law—means the beginning of the end of efforts to regulate the big banks in order to prevent another repeat of the 2008-09 banking crash.

A bill enacted in 2010, called the Dodd-Frank Banking Regulation Act, will now be fundamentally gutted by the Omnibus bill.  Dodd-Frank was passed in 2010, but was conveniently (for bankers) left largely undefined at the time. Definition of bank regulation was to be implemented piece meal in the next four years, between 2010-2014, by regulators, according to the Act.  During the interim years since 2010, banker lobbyists fought furiously to prevent the implementation of many of the Dodd-Frank Act’s provisions.  In many cases they succeeded in ‘defanging’ it.  But not completely.  However, the Omnibus bill’s provisions will complete what bank lobbyists have not yet achieved in terms of rolling back Dodd-Frank. The Omnibus bill’s several provisions addressing banking regulation are designed to stop bank regulation in its tracks, blocking bank regulatory efforts that bank lobbyists were not able to achieve themselves.

For example, Dodd-Frank contained a particular provision that prohibited banks from trading potentially highly financially destabilizing derivatives, especially the high risk so-called ‘credit default swaps’ (CDS), by banks’ commercial units that also took average Americans’ deposits. Bank units taking deposits from US households  were units that were also insured by the US Government’s Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, FDIC.  High risk CDS trading, and other derivatives’ losses by the banks, could technically in the event of another financial crash wipe out average households deposits in the banks. That would require the US government, and taxpayer, to bail out banks that mixed CDS losses with household depositors savings and checking accounts.  Bankers and their shareholders would reap the profits from highly risky and volatile derivatives trading; but US household depositors and US taxpayers would pay the bill for derivatives trading in the event of a bust.

That’s exactly what happened in 2008-09.  Big banks like Citigroup and others mixed deposits with derivatives and, when the latter crashed in 2008, it threatened the loss of general depositors’ savings. The government had to step in and bail out the banks, which it did, including Citigroup, a massive financial conglomerate that technically went bankrupt in 2009 but was bailed out by a $300 billion guarantee by the US government.  Dodd-Frank provisions in the 2010 Act were supposed to prevent this from happening again, by requiring banks to trade derivatives, like CDSs, in bank business units that were separated from bank units holding depositors’ savings accounts.  But bankers like the idea of using depositors money to invest in derivatives like CDSs.  So they lobbied hard since 2010 to eliminate the Dodd-Frank provision. Reportedly in the business press, Citigroup actually wrote the language on exempting derivatives that was passed by the US House version this past summer. Lobbying by Citigroup and other big US banks then intensified over the summer. It paid off in the Omnibus bill just passed.

The derivatives exemption passed the US House version of the bill without even a recording of the vote.  It passed the US Senate by a 56-40 vote in the Omnibus bill, with more Democrats (31) voting for the bill than even Republicans (24). Less than half of the Democrats in the US Senate (only 21) voted against the spending bill and its derivatives deregulation.

One Senator, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, publicly described the Omnibus, and specifically the derivatives provision, as follows: “Congress proved tonight that if you’re a Wall Street bank, Washington works great for you”—which is not exactly a recent revelation to most Americans since 2008. Nor is Warren’s recognition that the stripping out of the derivatives provision will result more money for the bankers.  So ‘Chalk up’ one big one for big banks in the Omnibus bill just passed by the US Congress, a Christmas gift by Senate Democrats to their Republican counterparts even before the latter take control!

Corporate Benefit #2: Corporate Tax Cut Machine Leaves the Station

Another big win for Corporate America in the Omnibus is big business tax cuts, of which there are many in the 1600 page bill.  Too many to list and describe here. But to note just a few:

Special tax cuts for big health insurers, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which were to be eliminated by the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), were conveniently deleted by the Omnibus bill just passed.

The Omnibus provides another $41 billion in what is called ‘tax extenders’ tax cuts, many of which are corporate related cuts already in effect, for yet another year through 2014. Just three corporate tax cut extensions—for multinational companies offshore income, business expensing, and business research & development—amount to $18 billion.  Conspicuously excluded from the ‘extenders’, however, were previous tax cuts for workers in the form of costs due to loss of a job as a result of free trade and health care costs tax cut eligibility.

Much of the debate on taxes in the Omnibus bill concluded, by both parties, that a major tax code overhaul is high on the agenda of the 2015 Congress. No doubt even more corporate tax cuts are in the works.

Corporate Benefit #3: Gutting the Environmental Protection Agency

The Omnibus bill signals the beginning of a major rollback of environmental initiatives in the USA once again, providing significant benefits to the dirtiest polluting industries in the USA—i.e. oil, coal, utilities, agribusiness, transport, chemicals, etc. The major means by which these rollbacks have been accomplished in the past, under George Bush and Ronald Reagan, has been to gut the funding of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The bill returns to this process by reducing the EPA’s budget for 2015 by a further $60 million—a budget which has already been reduced by 21% below its 2010 levels.

The Coal Industry in addition got a provision that reduces US government limits on coal-fired power plants. The Clean Water Act’s regulatory scope was reduced, exempting ponds and irrigation systems.  Big farm and cattle ranch companies were excluded from reporting greenhouse gas emissions from methane.  And in a direct attack on work environments, the Omnibus bill eliminates previous rules for US truck drivers, whose maximum workweek was set at 70 hours; truck drivers may now be required by their employers to work as much as 82 hours a week—i.e. and 11 hour day, seven days a week!

Corporate Benefit #4: Defense Corporations ‘Pig-Out’ Again

Another major benefit for big business is the Omnibus bill’s authorization for at minimum half of the $1.1 trillion bill, at least $554 billion, to be spent on national defense, much of that for jet aircraft, missiles and submarines.  That includes $94 billion to big military equipment manufacturers like Lockheed and Boeing. $64 billion for new military research & development. Another $64 billion earmarked for more spending to fund Syrian rebels and for offensives against ISIS forces in Iraq.  Plus an immediate $175 million minimum for emergency military equipment and aid to Ukraine’s new pro-USA government in its fight against separatists in its eastern regions, another $810 million for new rapid deployment forces in east Europe and the Baltics, as well as unknown further bailout funds for Ukraine’s collapsing economy.

More defense spending, and therefore profits, for US war contractors is still to come, however. The Omnibus specifically left out spending for ‘Homeland Security’ beyond January 2014 in the Omnibus. That will be taken up by Congress in another bill in February 2015 again.  It will mean still further military spending, now targeted for the USA itself, financing still more surveillance of US citizens, more use of drones, electronic spying, military-police equipment, training, and cooperation, and no doubt other nefarious domestic control initiatives in the works.

Corporate Benefit #5: More Corporate Money for Political Parties

During the Obama years, the US Supreme Court rendered decisions that essentially allowed, contrary to prior US laws since the 1970s, individuals and corporations to spend as much money as they pleased on US elections. US corporations were declared ‘persons’ and spending money in elections was determined to be ‘free speech’.

Not satisfied with this massive corruption of American democracy and voting processes, both Republicans and Democrats in passing the Omnibus bill opened the corporate money spigot still wider—allowing wealthy political donors to give more money to political parties and not just to individual candidates, as per the Supreme Court’s decisions. A previous maximum limit of $97,200 a year donation by an individual to a political party was raised to $777,000 a year.

Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, a research and advocacy group, concluded that the political money provisions of the Omnibus bill essentially wipes out one of the few remaining campaign contribution limits for corporations and the wealthy in the USA. Weissman added, “This is only about the parties’ ability to solicit donations from the super-rich”. Despite efforts by numerous citizens groups to ask Obama to veto the Omnibus bill’s “most corrupt campaign finance provisions ever enacted”, Obama White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, publicly replied “the present made a tactical decision to go ahead and support this piece of legislation”.  Some sources report that the political money provisions were actually drafted by Democrats and added to the bill, in order to allow the Democratic Party’s National Committee to pay for its $20 million debt that remains from last November’s elections.

Workers’ Benefits Rollback #1: Cutting Private Pension Plan Payments

In sharp contrast to the many benefits and funding increases for big businesses, bankers, and investors in the Omnibus bill, American workers are forced to give back benefits; specifically their wages they deferred over decades in order to fund their pensions after retirement.

An important provision of the Omnibus bill will allow companies and their pension fund administrators, for the first time ever, to unilaterally cut their pension benefits. More than 10 million American workers in construction, retail, trucking and manufacturing industries will be negatively impacted by reductions in their monthly pensions.

Despite record business profits since 2010, many employers have continued to refuse to make payments to their union pension funds. Many have dropped out of what are called ‘multiemployer pension plans’. Deficits in these plans have consequently risen from $8.3 billion to $42.4 billion in just the past year.  Even though the pension plans still have enough to fund pensions for another 15-20 years, according to business press sources, the Omnibus bill gives employers and fund managers the authority to start reducing pension payouts now for retired workers less than 80 years old.

This action by the US Congress toward workers pension funds, which are a financial institution, contrasts dramatically with the more than $14 trillion in US government and Federal Reserve Bank bailouts of big banks, mutual funds, hedge funds and other financial institutions since 2010 where the wealthy keep their investments and income.  A more blatant, crass discrimination against workers in the USA has not been seen in many years.

Equally disturbing is that the Omnibus, joint Republican-Democrat, bill’s clear authorization for employers to start the process of a final destruction of workers’ multiemployer pension plans established a clear precedent and signal for other private sector employers with ‘single’ private pension plans to start planning to do the same.  In addition to the 10 million workers covered by multiemployer pensions in the USA, there are an additional 31 million covered still by single employer plans.

As Karen Friedman, executive vice-president of the Pension Rights Center, noted in the wake of the Omnibus bill’s passage, the bill will almost certainly encourage similar cutbacks in state and local government pension benefit payments.  Friedman added, thereafter possibly even Social Security and Medicare.

The politicians and employers are thus now taking aim at all that remains of collective pension plans in the USA. More than 50 million workers’ deferred wages (i.e. pension benefit payments) are thus now coming under direct attack. And if the practice of pension cutbacks expands to Social Security retirement benefits, that’s another 58 million retirees, spouses, and disabled workers and their families.

The Omnibus spending bill just passed by Congress, and signed by Obama, indicates clearly that the Republican Legislative Offensive is being rolled out faster than otherwise predicted. The rollout is made possible, moreover, by wide Democrat support for many of the initiatives, in both Houses of the US Congress and from the White House as well. The bill is no doubt a harbinger for more pro-Corporate and anti-worker legislation to come.

Jack Rasmus teaches economics at St. Mary’s College in California. He is the author of the book, ‘Obama’s Economy: Recovery for the Few’, Pluto Press, 2012, and ‘Epic Recession: Prelude to Global Depression, Pluto, 2010.  He hosts the weekly radio show, Alternative Visions, on the Progressive Radio Network. His blog is jackrasmus.com, his website www.kyklosproductions.com, and twitter handle @drjackrasmus. This article first appeared in teleSUR English.

The Imperial Presidency Comes to Kaneohe Klipper’s 16th Hole

Posted By Gary Chartier On In articles 2014 onward | Comments Disabled

Partisan combatants have quickly taken up sides in the public debate over US president Barack Obama’s preemption of a wedding planned by two US Army captains at a course at which he wanted to golf.

Obama’s defenders stress that the White House was unaware of the planned wedding until after scheduling the president’s game. They emphasize that he apologized to the happy couple. And they note that those planning to use the course are alerted to the possibility that they might be booted to make room for POTUS.

Critics say the president is insensitive for evicting a wedding party. And in Obama’s decision to play at the expense of a military wedding they see more evidence of what they believe is his disrespect for the armed forces he is charged with commanding.

But notice what both sides seem to be accepting without question: What legendary Democratic historian Arthur Schlesinger called “the imperial presidency.” While presidents have always enjoyed considerable power and prestige, the presidency turns full imperial when, as is true today, the president is expected to oversee an expanding global military and economic empire, when the president is treated, not like an ordinary citizen but instead like a demigod.

Take a moment to think of the president as an ordinary American, with no special privileges or opportunities other than those directly required to allow her or him to perform the duties associated with the presidency. You don’t need a golf course to yourself in order to perform those duties. A president who was treated, legally and socially, as one of the people would be expected to share a golf course with everyone else.

But even if the president doesn’t deserve to be treated as socially superior to everyone else, don’t we all benefit if the president is protected from attack by an enormous security bubble? It’s not obvious that we do. Presidents can be effectively protected while they’re still treated like ordinary people. And, while no one ought to be the victim of aggressive violence, and it makes sense to take precautions against assassination attempts, presidents aren’t so important that their interests trump everyone else’s. Bluntly put, if the president is out of action for one reason or another, the sky won’t fall.

Even if you think it’s really necessary for the president to operate within an absurdly large security bubble, why think that she or he should get to use that bubble to exclude ordinary people going about their business? Believers in the bubble might insist that the president could demand an oversized protective zone when engaged in official business. But why imagine that the bubble could be put in place to allow the president to socialize or to engage in recreation or fundraising?

And it’s worth emphasizing that the imperial presidency makes violence against the president more likely. The more power presidents exercise over people’s lives, at home and abroad, the more people may resent the way that power is used, and sometimes seek to respond with violence. That kind of violence isn’t OK; but that it’s not doesn’t change the fact that treating presidents like emperors raises the odds that they’ll be targets for would-be assassins.

The problem with Obama’s golf course preemption isn’t a problem unique to Obama. And it doesn’t have much, if anything, to do with respect for the military. The problem is the imperial presidency. As long as we’ve got an emperor, we shouldn’t be surprised if he acts imperial.

Gary Chartier is Professor of Law and Business Ethics and Associate Dean of the Tom and Vi Zapara School of Business at La Sierra University and a senior fellow and trustee of the Center for a Stateless Society. He is the author of Anarchy and Legal Order (Cambridge 2013), Radicalizing Rawls (Palgrave 2014), Economic Justice and Natural Law (Cambridge 2009), The Conscience of an Anarchist (Cobden 2011), and The Analogy of Love (Imprint Academic 2007) and the co-editor (with Charles W. Johnson) of Markets Not Capitalism (Minor-Compositions-Autonomedia 2011). His byline has appeared nearly forty times in journals including the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies,Legal Theory, and Law and Philosophy. He holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge and a JD from UCLA.

Peace on Earth in 2015

Posted By Robert Dodge On In articles 2014 onward | Comments Disabled

At the beginning of each new year people around the world express their hopes and desires for seemingly elusive peace on earth. In the past year there have been many strides toward that goal. The greatest threat to peace and our survival, nuclear weapons, are at long last on the road to abolition. The people have spoken and leaders have heard. This new year we must recommit to the steps necessary to make this a reality.

In the words of Pope Francis,

Nuclear weapons are a global problem, affecting all nations, and impacting future generations and the planet that is our home. A global ethic is needed if we are to reduce the nuclear threat and work towards nuclear disarmament.

Nuclear deterrence and the threat of mutually assured destruction cannot be the basis for an ethics of fraternity and peaceful coexistence among peoples and states. The youth of today and tomorrow deserve far more. They deserve a peaceful world order based on the unity of the human family, grounded on respect, cooperation, solidarity and compassion. Now is the time to counter the logic of fear with the ethic of responsibility, and so foster a climate of trust and sincere dialogue…

The desire for peace, security and stability is one of the deepest longings of the human heart…  This desire can neither be satisfied by military means alone, much less the possession of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction….

…peace must be built on justice, socio-economic development, freedom, respect for fundamental human rights, the participation of all in public affairs and the building of trust between peoples.

This profound message was delivered Dec. 7 to representatives of 158 nations, the UN and more than 100 international, civil society, academic and religious organizations in two days of testimony about nuclear weapons from experts on health, humanitarian and environmental law, climate change, agriculture and the global economy at the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons.

This conference focused on the recent scientific reports on global humanitarian effects of these weapons and the impotence of any effective response to their use.  These weapons long known to threaten our extinction if large numbers were used are now recognized to be much more dangerous threatening the lives of approximately two billion people from the climatic disruption that would come with the firing of only 100 weapons—representing just 1/2 of 1 percent of the global nuclear arsenals.

This meeting was followed days later by the annual Nobel Peace Laureate Conference in Rome where the Peace Laureates stated,

If we fail to prevent nuclear war, all of our other efforts to secure peace and justice will be for naught.  We need to stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons…

We welcome the pledge by the Austrian government “to identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons” and “to cooperate with all stakeholders to achieve this goal.”

We urge all states to commence negotiations on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons at the earliest possible time, and subsequently to conclude the negotiations within two years. This will fulfill existing obligations enshrined in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which will be reviewed in May of 2015, and the unanimous ruling of the International Court of Justice. Negotiations should be open to all states and blockable by none.

And yet the governmental actions of the principle nuclear nations of the United States and Russia who hold ~94 percent of the global stockpiles fail to recognize the reality of the people’s demands. As though stuck in a Cold War time warp, the U.S. is planning to spend a trillion dollars over the next 30 years on modernizing our nuclear arsenals and Russia is unveiling its rail ICBM system as we are all held hostage to these immoral weapons of genocide. The mythological illusions of security based on deterrence only serve to fuel an ongoing arms race robbing our children and indeed the poorest nations of the world of precious resources creating the very conditions that foster additional conflict and violence.

This is not acceptable and the growing chorus of world leaders and the people are getting louder every day. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The diminishing Hibakusha survivors of these explosions are a daily reminder of the atrocities that mankind has wrought.

Let 2015 be the year when the words of President Eisenhower move closer to a reality. “I like to believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it.”

When your children’s children ask what you did to make peace a reality, what will be your response? Now is the time to take action and make your voice heard. Let there be peace on earth.

Robert F. Dodge, M.D., is a practicing family physician and serves on the boards of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Beyond War, Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles, and Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions.

Peace Parenting and Non-Violent Resistance

Posted By Tom H. Hastings On In articles 2014 onward | Comments Disabled

Frida Berrigan sat straight up at the long dinner table. She was 12. Her younger brother Jerry and little sister Kate alternately jabbered and listened respectfully. It was a large table because her home was a community founded by her parents, Jonah House, in a tough neighborhood in Baltimore. Frida was the oldest child, clearly wise beyond her years as she sat eating, daughter of the most famous nonviolent resistance couple in US history except Martin and Coretta King. Before dinner the network news came on in the living room. Frida’s father, Phil Berrigan, waved us all into the small room, and sat down right next to the TV and turned it on precisely as the news started. All was quiet and the broadcast drudged through some latest foreign policy disaster. At the end of the national news, Phil, still sitting next to the TV, reached out and snapped it off, turning to me and meeting my eyes with his famous piercing look, “Shameless, Tom. They’re shameless.” And that was that. Kids knew better than to ask; no more TV until tomorrow evening news.

Now Frida has become a mother herself and written a sweet book (It Runs in the Family: On being raised by radicals and growing into rebellious motherhood)  about her childhood, her mother and father, their community, the many purposeful lessons as seen by a child of that marriage and that community, and of her own journey into motherhood.

Like her mother, Frida chose a movement man, Patrick Sheehan-Gaumer as her husband, but unlike her parents, both she and Patrick are noteworthy second-generation peace figures. Patrick’s mom is in the leadership of the War Resisters League and WRL International. His father, Rick, is a very liberated man who stands down from leadership and offers amazing movement and organizational support. So Frida and Patrick have parents who are authentic, inspiring leaders and Frida writes of their own struggle to identify and situate themselves in the world of peace and justice and a strong family life.

Berrigan is a much more readable writer than either of her two illustrious (but heart-attack serious) parents. Phil passed on 10 years ago and was a straightforward writer, quoted by Frida to give a flavor of his approach to blending community with family with activism. Liz McAlister, matriarch of Jonah House and the Atlantic Life Community, is a careful writer, someone who, like Phil, was always persuading and justifying and dismantling the malefactions of militarism. Frida writes with far more bonhomie and lovely transparency. I recommend all readings by all three.

I was laughing by page four and crying by page 16. I’m a slow reader but this one was all read up quickly. I’m making it a supplementary text in my Participating in Democracy class. Frida gives her readers a grounding in a livingscape of resistance, a map of possibilities for parenting for peace and justice without making a single claim that she is something special.

But she is. This is a tender but frank recollection of a childhood in tumultous times in the house that was Ground Zero of nonviolent resistance to the war in Vietnam, to nuclear weapons, and Frida carried it on to found a movement against torture and to try to shut down the prisons at Guantanamo. She reveals a great deal. I loved her parents for decades and came to love and admire Frida as she carved out her own identity as a brilliant young arms analyst for a think tank, and then a Catholic Worker. Now she’s home with babies herself. She brings a different balance to it all than her pioneering mother, and explains her learnings exquisitely in this little book.

Tom H. Hastings is a mentee of Frida Berrigan’s parents, offering two acts of nonviolent Plowshares resistance in the movement her folks founded. He is a professor in the Conflict Resolution department at Portland State University and directs PeaceVoice.

Who Was Behind the Cyberattack on Sony?

Posted By Gregory Elich On In articles 2014 onward | Comments Disabled

The cyberattack on Sony Pictures unleashed a torrent of alarmist media reports, evoking the image of North Korean perfidy. Within a month, the FBI issued a statement declaring the North Korean government “responsible for these actions.” Amid the media frenzy, several senators and congresspersons called for tough action. Arizona Senator John McCain blustered, “It’s a new form of warfare that we’re involved in, and we need to react and react vigorously.” President Barack Obama announced his administration planned to review the possibility of placing North Korea on the list of states sponsoring terrorism, a move that would further tighten the already harsh sanctions on North Korea. “They caused a lot of damage, and we will respond,” Obama warned darkly. “We will respond proportionally, and we’ll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose.”

In the rush to judgment, few were asking for evidence, and none was provided. Computer security analysts, however, were vocal in their skepticism.

In its statement, the FBI offered only a few comments to back its attribution of North Korean responsibility. “Technical analysis of the data deletion malware used in the attack revealed links to other malware that the FBI knows North Korean actors previously developed,” it reported, including “similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks.” The FBI went on to mention that the IP addresses used in the Sony hack were associated with “known North Korean infrastructure.” Tools used in the attack “have similarities to a cyberattack in March of last year against South Korean banks and media outlets, which was carried out by North Korea.”

The major problem with the evidence offered by the FBI is that it is self-referential, all of it pointing back to the 2013 attack on South Korean banks and media that was carried out by the DarkSeoul gang. At that time, without supplying any supporting evidence, the United States accused North Korea of being behind DarkSeoul. In effect, the FBI argues that because the U.S. spread the rumor of North Korean involvement in the earlier attack, and some of the code is related, this proves that North Korea is also responsible for the Sony hack. One rumor points to another rumor as ‘proof,’ rendering the argument meaningless.

The logical fallacies are many. To date, no investigation has uncovered the identity of DarkSeoul, and nothing is known about the group. The linking of DarkSeoul to North Korea is purely speculative. “One point that can’t be said enough,” emphasizes Risk Based Security, “is that ‘attribution is hard’ given the nature of computer intrusions and how hard it is to ultimately trace an attack back to a given individual or group. Past attacks on Sony have not been solved, even years later. The idea that a mere two weeks into the investigation and there is positive attribution, enough to call this an act of war, seems dangerous and questionable.”

Consider some of the other flaws in the FBI’s statement. The IP addresses that were hard-coded in the malware used in the Sony hack belonged to servers located in Thailand, Poland, Italy, Bolivia, Singapore, Cypress, and the United States. The FBI implies that only the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK – the formal name for North Korea) could have used these servers. The Thai port is a proxy that is commonly used in sending spam and malware. The same is true of the Polish and Italian servers. All of the servers used in the Sony attack have been previously compromised and are among the many computers that are widely known and used by hackers and spam distributors. Anyone with the knowhow can use them.

Whether or not these machines were used is another matter. Hackers often use proxy machines with phony IP addresses to mislead investigators. No hackers use their own computers to launch an attack. Vulnerable systems are hijacked in order to route traffic. For the FBI to point to IP addresses either reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of cybersecurity or a cynical attempt to deliberately mislead the public.

The Sony hack also bears similarities with the 2012 Shamoon cyberattack on computers belonging to Saudi Aramco. Those responsible for that attack have never been identified either, although the United States accused Iran without providing any evidence. Using the FBI’s logic, one could just as easily argue that the Sony hack was the work of Iran. One groundless accusation is used to buttress another. As evidentiary matter, it is worthless. It should also be recalled that in 1998, the United States blamed Iraq for the Solar Sunrise hack into Defense Department computers, only for it be ultimately revealed that it was the act of a few teenagers.

Nor do the similarities in code between the Sony hack and the earlier Shamoon and DarkSeoul attacks indicate a shared responsibility. Malware is freely available on the black market. Hackers operate by purchasing or borrowing, and then tweaking commonly available software, including both illegal and legal components. Code is shared among hackers on forums, and malware is assembled by linking various elements together.

One of the components used in the Sony cyberattack was the RawDisk library from EldoS, a commercial application that allows direct access to Windows hardware bypassing security. Anyone can legally purchase this software. There is nothing to tie it to the DPRK.

“There’s a lot of malware that’s shared between different groups, and all malware is built on top of older malware,” reports Brian Martin of Risk Based Security. “They’re also built on top of hacking tools. For example, you’ll find lots of malware that uses pieces of code from popular tools like Nmap. Does that mean that the guy who wrote Nmap is a malware author? No. Does it mean he works for North Korea? No.”

Robert Graham of Errata Security regards the evidence offered by the FBI as “complete nonsense. It sounds like they’ve decided on a conclusion and are trying to make the evidence fit.” Graham adds: “There is nothing unique in the software. We know that hackers share malware on forums. Every hacker in the world has all the source code available.”

Trojan-Destover, the malware used in the Sony cyberattack, included at least six components utilized earlier by Shamoon and DarkSeoul. “Even in such damaging scenarios, the cyber attacker’s tools are reused,” points out Sariel Moshe of CyActive. “For them, if it worked once, tweak it a bit and it will work again. The attack on Sony demonstrates quite clearly that this method works quite well.” Indeed, while Shamoon and DarkSeoul are the most commonly mentioned predecessors to the Sony hack, it is thought that this software has been used on several occasions in the past against multiple targets.

The software utilized in the Sony cyberattack is atypical for a nation state. “It’s a night and day difference in quality,” says Craig Williams of Cisco’s Talos Security Intelligence and Research Group. “The code is simplistic, not very complex, and not very obfuscated.”

Four files used in the attack were compiled on a machine set to the Korean language. That fact proves nothing, notes computer security analyst Chris Davis. “That is pretty weak evidence. I could compile malware code that used Afrikaans and where the timestamp matched JoBerg in about five seconds.” Any reasonably competent hacker would change the language setting in order to misdirect investigators. Had North Korean conducted this attack, it certainly would have taken the basic step of changing the language setting on the machine used to compile code.

What about North Korean resentment over Sony Picture’s tasteless lowbrow comedy, The Interview, which portrays the assassination of DPRK leader Kim Jong-un? It is doubtful that Americans would find themselves any more amused by a foreign comedy on the subject of killing a U.S. president than the North Koreans are by The Interview.

Among the emails leaked by the cyberattack on Sony was a message from Bruce Bennett of the Rand Corporation. Bennett was a consultant on the film and opposed toning down the film’s ending. “I have been clear that the assassination of Kim Jong-un is the most likely path to a collapse of the North Korean government,” he wrote, adding that DVD leaks of the film into North Korea “will start some real thinking.” In another message, Sony CEO Michael Lynton responded: “Bruce – Spoke to someone very senior in State (confidentially). He agreed with everything you have been saying. Everything.” Lynton was also communicating with Robert King, U.S. Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues in regard to the film.

The Western media portray North Korean reaction to The Interview as overly sensitive and irrational, while U.S. officials and a Rand Corporation consultant saw the film as having the potential to inspire the real-life assassination of Kim Jong-un. The scene of Kim’s assassination was not intended merely for so-called ‘entertainment.’

The mass media raced to attribute the Sony hack to the DPRK, based on its reaction to the Sony film. A closer look at the cyberattack reveals a more likely culprit, however. The group taking responsibility for the hack calls itself ‘Guardians of Peace’, and in one of the malware files the alternate name of ‘God’sApstls’ is also used. In the initial attack, no reference was made to the film, nor was it mentioned in subsequent emails the attackers sent to Sony. Instead, the hackers attempted to extort money: “Monetary compensation we want. Pay the damage, or Sony Pictures will be bombarded as whole.”

In an interview with CSO Online, a person represented as belonging to Guardians of Peace said the group is “an international organization…not under the direction of any state,” and included members from several nations. “Our aim is not at the film The Interview as Sony Pictures suggests,” the hacker wrote, but mentioned that the release of a film that had the potential of threatening peace was an example of the “greed of Sony Pictures.”

For two weeks following the cyberattack, the media harped on the subject of North Korean culpability. Only after that point did the Guardians of Peace (GOP) make its first public reference to The Interview, denying any connection with the DPRK. Yet another week passed before the GOP denounced the movie and threatened to attack theaters showing the film.

It appears that the narrative of North Korean involvement repeated ad nauseam by the media and the U.S. government presented a gift to the hackers too tempting to pass up. The GOP played to the dominant theme and succeeded in solidifying the tendency to blame the DPRK, with the effect of ensuring that no investigation would pursue the group.

For its part, the Obama Administration chose to seize the opportunity to bolster its anti-North Korea policy in preference over tracking down the culprits.

There are strong indications that the cyberattack involved one or more disgruntled Sony employees or ex-employees, probably working together with experienced hackers. The malware used against Sony had been modified to include hard-coded file paths and server names. System administrator user names and passwords were also hard-coded. Only someone having full access with system administrator privileges to Sony’s computer network could have obtained this information.

The GOP could have hacked into the Sony system months beforehand in order to gather that data. But it is more likely that someone with knowledge of Sony’s network configuration provided the information. Arguing against the possibility that critical information had been siphoned beforehand through a hack, cybersecurity expert Hemanshu Nigam observes, “If terabytes of data left the Sony networks, their network detection systems would have noticed easily. It would also take months for a hacker to figure out the topography of the Sony networks to know where critical assets are stored and to have access to the decryption keys needed to open up the screeners that have been leaked.”

The most likely motivation for the attack was revenge on the part of current or former Sony employees. “My money is on a disgruntled (possibly ex) employee of Sony,” Marc Rogers of CloudFlare wrote. “Whoever did this is in it for the revenge. The info and access they had could have easily been used to cash out, yet, instead, they are making every effort to burn Sony down. Just think what they could have done with passwords to all of Sony’s financial accounts.”

Nation states never conduct such noisy hacking operations. Their goal is to quietly infiltrate a system and obtain information without detection. Sony had no data that would have been of interest to a nation state. Computer security blogger The Grugq wrote, “I can’t see the DPRK putting this sort of valuable resource onto what is essentially a petty attack against a company that has no strategic value.”

It would have been reckless for a North Korean team to draw attention to itself. Cybersecurity specialist Chris Davis says, “All the activity that was reported screams Script Kiddie to me. Not advanced state-sponsored attack.” Davis adds, “Well, the stupid skeleton pic they splashed on all the screens on the workstations inside Sony…is not something a state-sponsored attack would do…Would ANY self-respecting state-sponsored actor use something as dumb as that?” The consensus among cybersecurity experts is clear, Davis argues. “The prevalent theory I am seeing in the closed security mailing lists is an internet group of laid off Sony employees.”

Following his cybersecurity firm’s investigation, Kurt Stammberger of Norse echoes that view. “Sony was not just hacked. This is a company that was essentially nuked from the inside. We are very confident that this was not an attack master-minded by North Korea and that insiders were key to the implementation of one of the most devastating attacks in history.”

“What is striking here is how well they knew to exploit Sony’s vulnerabilities,” reports Nimrod Kozlovski of JVP Labs. “The malware itself is not creative or new; there are plenty of actors that could have manifested this particular attack.” The hackers “knew more about the company, Sony, and its vulnerabilities than they knew, or needed to know, about hacking.”

As an indication of the hacker’s real motivation, it should be noted that the first communications focused on a different issue than the Sony film. The content of an email sent by the GOP to the IDG News Service refers to Sony’s restructuring, in which thousands of employees lost their jobs: “Sony and Sony Pictures have made terrible racial discrimination and human rights violation, indiscriminate tyranny and restructuring in recent years. It has brought damage to a lot of people, some of whom are among us. Nowadays, Sony Pictures is about to prey on the weak with a plan of another indiscriminate restructuring for their own benefits. This became a decisive motive for our action.” In an email to The Verge, the GOP wrote, “We want equality. Sony doesn’t…We worked with other staff with similar interests to get in.”

Seeking to diffuse tensions, North Korea proposed to conduct a joint investigation with the United States into the Sony cyberattack. Predictably, the United States quickly rebuffed the offer. National Security Council spokesman Mark Stroh arrogantly responded, “If the North Korean government wants to help, they can admit their culpability and compensate Sony for the damages this attack caused.” North Korea can hardly be expected to accept blame for an act it did not commit. But getting to the truth of the matter was the farthest thing from the Obama Administration’s mind. Similarly, U.S. officials are ignoring requests from cybersecurity experts to be allowed to analyze the Destover code. “They’re worried we’ll prove them wrong,” Robert Graham concludes.

The Obama Administration’s outrage over the Sony attack contains more than a small measure of hypocrisy. It was the United States that launched the Stuxnet attack that destroyed many of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges. According to a Washington Post article published in 2013, the United States conducted 231 cyber operations throughout the world two years before. The National Security Agency, as is now well known, regularly hacks into computer networks, scooping up vast amounts of data. The GENIE program, the Post reported, was projected to have broken into and installed implants in 85,000 computers by the end of 2013. It was reported that GENIE’s next phase would implement an automated system that could install “potentially millions of implants” for gathering data “and active attack.” According to former deputy of defense secretary William J. Lynn III, “The policy debate has moved so that offensive options are more prominent now.”

Contrast the mild treatment the media gave to the recent large-scale hacks into Target, Home Depot and JP Morgan, in which millions of credit cards and personal information were stolen, with the coverage of the cyberattack on Sony Pictures. It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that political considerations are driving the media furor over the latter case.

After six years in office, the Obama Administration has yet to engage in dialogue or diplomacy with North Korea. It prefers to maintain a wall of hostility, blocking any prospect of progress or understanding between the two nations.

Already, North Korean websites have been targeted by persistent denial of service operations. Whether the attacks were launched by a U.S. government cyber team or independent hackers inspired by media reports is not known. In any case, President Obama has already promised to take unspecified action against the DPRK. Actual responsibility for the Sony attack is irrelevant. Backed by media cheerleading, U.S officials are using the cyberattack as a pretext to ratchet up pressure on North Korea. Any action the Obama Administration takes is likely to trigger a response, and we could enter a dangerous feedback loop of action/counteraction.

Gregory Elich is on the Board of Directors of the Jasenovac Research Institute and the Advisory Board of the Korea Policy Institute. He is a member of the Committee to Defend Democracy in South Korea and a columnist for Voice of the People. He is also one of the co-authors of Killing Democracy: CIA and Pentagon Operations in the Post-Soviet Period, published in the Russian language.


Cuba at the Crossroads

Posted By Horace G. Campbell On In articles 2014 onward | Comments Disabled

When the Cuban revolutionaries took power on January 1, 1959, the political leaders of the United States were initially ambivalent towards the Castro leadership but after the leadership nationalized foreign capital and set about major land reforms for the majority of the population there was total opposition to the Cuban Revolution. The US government launched political, psychological, economic and military warfare against Cuba and vowed to remove the leader – Fidel Castro. As documented in the book, The Brothers by Stephen Kinzer, on March 17, 1960 less than four months after the revolutionaries had come to power, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Allen Dulles presented “A Program of Covert Action Against The Castro Regime” to the US National Security Council. “It proposed a multi-stage operation to bring about the replacement of the Castro regime with one more devoted to the interests of the Cuban people and more acceptable to the US, in such a manner as to avoid any appearance of US intervention…. The CiA would build a covert network inside Cuba, saturate the island with anti-Castro propaganda, infiltrate small teams of guerilla fighters, use them to set off domestic uprising, and provide a ‘responsible, appealing, and unified‘ new regime.”

This plot to remove the Cuban leadership went through many different phases and there was confidence that the strong colossal power 90 miles north of Cuba could topple this revolution. This confidence came from their successes in removing other governments who they claimed were communists. In 1953, the United States government in alliance with oil companies had removed Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh as Prime Minister of Iran. He had been an incorruptible leader who wanted to use the oil resources to transform the country to uplift the standard of living of the people. The next year in 1954, the CIA staged a revolt against President Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala. His crime was that he wanted to redistribute the large landowners to sell the uncultivated part of their holdings to the government for distribution to destitute peasant families. This same United States government had in 1960 allied with the Belgian colonialists to kill the Prime Minister of the Congo Patrice Lumumba, who wanted self-determination for his country.

It was this spirit of intervention that guided the US policies toward Cuba for 55 years.

This effort has failed.

On Wednesday December 17, 2014, President Barack Obama announced his intention to normalize diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. For the first time in more than half a century, the United States will have an embassy in Havana. This is a tremendous victory for the Cuban Revolution, for those who want world peace and for those who have been in the trenches struggling for a new social order. This victory of the Cuban Revolution can be added to the other great feats of the struggles against exploitation and racism such as the Cuban support for socialism in the Americas and its role in the victories against imperialism in Angola in 1975 and at Cuito Cuanavale in 1988. Not only did the Cubans make tremendous sacrifice in that important struggle in Southern Africa but for the past fifty years the Cuban leadership has been in the forefront of the fight for a New International Economic Order (NIEO) and has provided the necessary leadership in the G77. This victory now requires a new strategy to guard against new forms of subversion and ensure the kind of vision that will support the consolidation of the gains of the Cuban experiment. The consolidation of the opening can give courage to the fighters for independence in Puerto Rico, Martinique and the other 20 colonial territories in the Caribbean. More significantly, this victory will have a demonstration effect all over the world that it is possible to stand up to the Barons of Empire and win. Will the progressive forces internationally learn this lesson?

Consolidating the social composition of the alternative order

For the past 55 years, the existence of the Cuban Revolution was a symbol of the struggles against imperialism. Of the revolutionary breakthroughs in the western hemisphere – United States in 1776, Haiti in 1804 and Cuba in 1959 – it is the Cuban Revolution that has been the most tenacious in persitently advancing claims for human emancipation. The liberals of the 1776 revolution in US soon exposed their genocidal traits in the extermination of the indigenous peoples and the brutal enslavement of Africans. It was the revolutionary C.L. R. James who, in reflecting on the spurts, leaps, and catastrophes associated with revolutionary change in the Caribbean, saw a clear linkage in the search for freedom from Toussaint L’Ouverture to Fidel Castro. At the dawn of the Cuban process James had noted that “what took place in French San Domingo in 1792–1804 reappeared in Cuba in 1958.”

While the imperial forces had worked hard over 200 years to roll back the Haitian Revolution, the success of imperialism in supporting counter revolution had depended on the fact that the Haitian revolution did not have the space to consolidate the
global natorevolution. Despite the fact that the Haitians had supported Simon Bolivar and the independence struggles in Central America and South America, the growth of racism and chauvinism divided the working poor of the Americas so that the Haitian repressive forces were always in collaboration with the racists and capitalists of the Americas.

The victory of the Cuban process in 1959 brought with it the lessons of Haiti with the added vigilance of social forces who grasped the need to build strong bases among the people. Younger readers of this piece will need to re-acquaint themselves with the tremendous breakthroughs made by the Cubans in their efforts to build a new system. These efforts took on greater significance after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. At the time of the Revolution in 1959, the Cuban leaders changed the property relations and nationalized the assets of the foreign capitalists and the big land owners.

These forms of expropriation of the top oligarchy of the Cuban society were supported because by 1961, the leadership of the revolution had declared for socialism. In the following year the USA instituted an economic embargo against Cuba. It was this political climate that forced the alternative paths for the Cuban experiment and the leadership worked hard to deliver social services for the people. The impressive gains in the areas of the delivery of social services such as health care and education ensured that the social content of the alternative was acknowledged by international organizations such as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). These transformations of education and health services have been associated with the kind of popular leadership that can mobilize a society for defensive purposes. It was in the society’s defense against natural disasters such as hurricanes where the full importance of the committees for the defense of the revolution emerged. These committees were associated with organizations of workers, students, women, cultural artists, writers, and small-scale agricultural workers. Pitted against these social elements were the expropriated Cuban elements who had retreated to Florida and parts of Latin America and who for fifty years worked with the CIA to undermine the Cuban experiment. In the Caribbean there were many instances of this counter revolutionary activity and the downing of the Cubana airliner over Barbados in 1976, killing 73 exposed the US support for terrorism in the Caribbean, Central America and South America.

Attacking the Cuban Revolution

The successful mobilization of the poor in a society was a threat to international capitalism and imperialism. Less than ten years after the independence struggle by the Cubans in 1896, the Cuban space was turned into a playground for the rich and powerful in the United States.. After the independence struggles of the Cubans in 1896, the US had repeatedly occupied Cuba militarily under the guise of protecting United States interests, stabilizing Cuba and other justifications for imperial interventions. With the intervention of the USA after 1902, the Southern code of conduct of Jim Crow was introduced into Cuban society to super exploit the African descendants who formed the overwhelming majority of the population.

After the successful removal of the hated Batista dictatorship in 1959 under the leadership of Fidel Castro, Juan Almeida and Che Guevara (along with others), the US capitalists led by the Dulles brothers worked hand in glove with corporate elements, the mafia and assorted dictators in Central America to reverse the Cuban experiment. Under the Eisenhower administration when John Foster Dulles was the Secretary of State, his brother at the head of the CIA, Allen Dulles, launched numerous plans for invasions and assassinations. The debacle of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 had demonstrated the popular strength of the Cuban revolution and the US capitalists never gave up their commitment to remove the political leadership in Cuba. Under the direction of these conservative forces the plotting against the Cuban revolution reached the high point of the integration between capitalists, the intelligence services and the mafia. The book JFK and the Unspeakable has documented the deep integration of the plotting with the anti Cuban forces to eliminate John F. Kennedy.

Younger readers of the struggles for socialism will in future grasp the role of operatives such as James Jesus Angleton and the fixation of the US system to remove the political leadership of Cuba. The US intelligence services hunted down and killed Che Guevara in Bolivia in 1967 while it intensified its plots to kill Fidel Castro and the Revolution. In 2006 a British TV documentary revealed the more than 638 ways that the various agencies in the USA devised to kill Fidel Castro. Henry Kissinger, while Secretary of State in the 1970s carried forward the fixation with the elimination of the revolution after the Cuban intervention in Angola in 1975 to repel the three-pronged South African invasion. In the aftermath of the Cuban intervention, there was an unexpected outbreak of Dengue fever in Cuba. Bioterrorism had been added to the attack against the Cuban Revolution. The recent book, Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana by William M. LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh outlined in depth the machinations of Henry Kissinger to invade Cuba and destroy the revolution.

Cuba and the black liberation movement

“I would like to say that we have always been in solidarity with the struggle of the Black people, the minorities, and all the poor people in the United States. We have always been in solidarity with them and they have always been in solidarity with us.”

— Fidel Castro, 1990

This statement by Fidel Castro in 1990 was an acknowledgment that one of the pillars for the defense of the Cuban Revolution was the black liberation movement in the USA. The ruling class in the USA understood this reality and the very conservative anti-Castro lobby in South Florida intensified their work to strengthen the networks of white racism across the USA. From the start of the revolution there were open and clear linkages between the black liberation movement in the USA and the Cuban leadership. Every respected revolutionary from the Black Liberation movement made their alliance with the revolution so that today it is not by accident that even while there is talk about the normalization of relationship, the Cubans will not entertain the arguments of the neo-conservatives of the USA to hand over Assata Shakur, the black revolutionary who has received political asylum in Cuba.

The Cuban leadership understood very early from the years of Eisenhower that the Black movement provided a base for the progressive and anti-imperialist forces to neutralize the draconian plans of the intelligence agencies. In his first major visit to the United Nations in 1960, Fidel Castro had repaired to Harlem – to the Hotel Theresa under the support of Malcolm X. Rosemary Mealy, herself one of the leading revolutionary figures from that period, had documented this diplomatic and political tie between Malcolm X and Fidel in the book, Fidel & Malcolm X: Memories of a Meeting.

In November 1964, Che Guevara, Malcolm X and Abdurrahman Babu met in New York City on the sidelines of the United Nations to plan for the liberation of the Congo. Four months later Malcolm X was assassinated and the US system intensified its plans to eliminate Che Guevara.

Fidel’s base in Harlem and the Black Community became even clearer after the collapse of the USSR when Fidel traveled to the USA for the UN Millennium Summit. At the meeting of Fidel Castro in Harlem, the lines of peoples who wanted to attend stretched for blocks. This was at a moment when the counter revolutionary forces such as those associated with Posada Carilles and elements such as Brothers to the Rescue were carrying out provocative acts to ensnare the USA and Cuba in overt and direct military confrontations.

Quifangondo and Cuito Cuanavale

Quifangondo and Cuito Cuanavale are two sites in Angola which now bear historical testaments that the Cuban revolution was internationalist and anti-racist. In 1975, Henry Kissinger and the US security services had urged the South African racist regime to invade Angola to prevent the MPLA from coming to power. South Africa had embarked on a three-pronged attack by air, sea and land to take Luanda. Troops of the FNLA supported by the Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire and CIA were coming from the North to seize Luanda. Fidel Castro personally oversaw the dispatch and supervision of the Cuban forces that arrived just in time to repel the South Africans and to stop the imperial forces at Quifangondo, the main reservoir for Luanda just outside the capital. Angolan independence in November 1975 was celebrated under the cloud of military, political and diplomatic intrigue where the US launched an all-out effort to change the political balance of forces in Southern Africa. When the Nigerian President Murtala Mohammed made the decisive decision to support African liberation and the MPLA in 1976, he lost his life. Nigeria has not yet recovered from that assassination.

The most decisive action of Cuba in Africa was the intervention to defeat the racist South African armed forces at Cuito Cuanavale in Angola in 1987-1988. As in 1975, the South African military forces had taken the initiative to seek the military defeat of the ruling MPLA and roll back the gains of the African liberation process. When Ronald Reagan had come to power in 1981, the State Department and the intelligence services mobilized conservatives in all parts of the world to oppose the African National Congress and to stop the path of independence of Namibia. Chester Crocker, who had worked on the staff of Henry Kissinger, carried the diplomatic war while the CIA under Bill Casey carried forward the covert funding of anti-liberation forces. Fighting from occupied Namibia (which was in 1987 one of the most militarized spaces on earth), the South Africans launched an invasion of Southern Angola in 1987 to reverse the pace of African liberation.

One year earlier, in 1986, the conservative forces had conspired to bring down the plane and kill President Samora Machel of Mozambique. The neo cons had launched economic, psychological, political and military warfare across the region of Southern Africa. For good measure, the US Congress labelled Nelson Mandela as a terrorist and the ANC as terrorist organizations. Margaret Thatcher was given the task of mobilizing forces far afield as Saudi Arabia, Morocco and sections of Nigeria to support this anti -liberation front. The decisive intervention of the Cuban forces to support the Angolans, the Namibian and the South African freedom fighters ended with the withdrawal of Apartheid South African troops in 1988.

At one point, the siege of Cuito Cuanavale had become so tense that the President of South Africa, P.W. Botha flew to the front of the war when the military generals requested tactical nuclear weapons for attacking the Angolans and the Cubans. At that time the international climate of sanctions and divestment had been so strong against South Africa that the Apartheid South African generals were ordered to press on with conventional weapons. This battle, which raged between October 1987 and June 1988, brought about a decisive stage in the liberation of Africa. The South African military was routed and the South African forces ran on foot out on Angola. Although in the West, Chester Crocker has taken credit for the “diplomatic openings” that led to the independence of Namibia and the release of Nelson Mandela, the decisive victory of Cuba and Angola at Cuito Cuanavale changed the history of African liberation. Fidel Castro noted that Cuba had staked everything, including the existence of the revolution itself in the battle of Cuito Cuanavale.

How far we slaves have come

The book, How Far We Slaves Have Come, by Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro has now chronicled for posterity some of the sacrifices of the Cuban revolution for the liberation of all peoples. Nelson Mandela, Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales and the Zapatistas are the well-known freedom fighters that are associated with the Cuban process. With the successful defense of the revolution, for fifty years Cuba became a base to expose what was possible for revolutionaries. This society became a beacon for revolutionaries and Fidel Castro had made a special point to link himself to the revolutionary traditions of humanity.

Castro while welcoming Nelson Mandela to Cuba stated clearly, “Where did injustice come from? Where did poverty come from? Where did underdevelopment come from? Where did all these calamities come from? If not from Capitalism?”

Imperialism grasped the role of Cuba as the forerunner for socialism in the Americas and doubled down on seeking to subvert the independence of Cuba. The more than 600 plots to kill Castro were shelved in favor of the more modern form of subversion which involved the mobilization of sections of so called “civil society” and NGOs through the Office of Transition Alternatives. Earlier this year, I wrote on the role of US State Department and the top “development” contractors for the USAID in planning for regime change in Cuba and Venezuela. Alan Gross who had been caught in this web of subversion had been arrested in Cuba in 2009 for smuggling broadband satellite communications equipment.

Gross was released in December as part of the exchange of prisoners between Cuba and the United States when Barack Obama declared that the USA would resume diplomatic relations with Cuba.

The Cuban opening and the victory for progressive forces

In July 2014, after the BRICS summit in Brazil, President Xi Jinping of China visited Argentina, Venezuela and Cuba. This visit, along with the meetings of numerous heads of state from Latin America in Brazil, exposed the deep isolation of the United States in Latin America. This isolation was further on display after the October 2014 UN General Assembly debate for the USA to lift the economic embargo against Cuba. “The General Assembly adopted a resolution which for the twenty-third year in a row called for an end to the United States economic, commercial and financial embargo on Cuba.

Exposing an intractable demarcation of the international community, 188 Member States voted in favour and, as in previous years, the United States and Israel voted against. Three small island States — Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau — abstained from the vote.

In Latin America and the Caribbean China had been making great strides in building new economic relations. The major infrastructural projects of China all over the region were crowned with the launch of the $50 billion canal across Nicaragua.

This isolation of the USA provides the context for understanding the announcement of President Barack Obama on December 17. Alan Gross was swapped for the US intelligence agent Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, a Cuban who had worked as an agent for the CIA and had been in a Cuban prison for nearly 20 years. Both had been incarcerated in Cuba.

In his announcement, President Obama stated that: “The United States will ease restrictions on remittances, travel and banking, while Cuba will allow more Internet access and release 53 Cubans identified as political prisoners by the United States.” Although the embargo will remain in place, the president called for an “honest and serious debate about lifting it, which would require an act of Congress.”

This statement that it will require an act of Congress to lift the embargo against Cuba is a reminder of the nature of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Helms Burton Act of 1996. Under this act foreign companies were penalized for trading with Cuba. Progressives internationally will have to work harder to pressure the Republican controlled Congress to repeal the Helms Burton Act of 1996. Here, the role of Pope Francis in the future struggles will be invaluable. After the cooperation between the neo conservatives of the USA and the anticommunists of Eastern Europe in places such as Poland, the intervention of Pape Francis in writing to both Raul Castro and Barack Obama and the proactive role of the Catholic Church in playing a mediating role has created a new moment in Latin American politics.

The future of socialism in Cuba

Three days after the announcement of President Obama and Raul Castro on the reopening of diplomatic relations, Raul Castro reaffirmed the goals of the struggle for a new social order when he declared that Cuba would not abandon its socialist ideas. Speaking at the National Assembly in Havana in December, Castro said he is open to discussing a wide range of issues with Washington, but added his country would not bow to pressure to change its core political principles.

“Just as we have never proposed to the United States to change its political system, we will demand respect for ours…. There are profound differences between the governments of the United States and Cuba that include, among others, differing concepts about exercising national sovereignty, democracy, political models and international relations.”

Despite this clear position, progressives everywhere will need to reflect on the opening up of China and Vietnam to global capital to see what possibilities lay ahead for the Cuban people. What the CIA and the varying intelligence services failed to achieve in their attempts to roll back the Cuban experiment will now be engaged with zeal by US corporations. US corporations in agriculture, automobiles, heavy machinery, hospitality industry and biotechnology are eagerly waiting to get into the Cuban market to flood the consciousness of the Cuban peoples with the consumerism and waste of the current form of capitalism. The role of Western corporate interests in the destabilization of Libya offers a critical lesson for Cuba.

Ralph Nader drew out the implications of the coming onslaught when he noted that, “Cuba needs to significantly improve its infrastructure and expand the manufacturing of household goods. … It is not likely that Cubans can hold true to their principles in the face of an unimpeded flood of U.S. junk food, credit gouging, deceptive TV advertising, one-sided fine-print contracts, over-promotion of drugs, commercialization of childhood with incessant and often violent programming and other forms of harmful corporate marketing. …Few societies can absorb the sensual seduction of Western corporate/commercial culture’s onslaught and not succumb to becoming a mimicking society. If it can happen to China – the Middle Kingdom – it can happen to any country.”

The Castro brothers may be looking at Vietnam as a model. There the Communist Party is still strictly in charge, but there is a burgeoning “capitalist” economy expanding quite rapidly. In addition, Vietnam has seen the expansion of public corruption, pollution, profiteering, inequality, a painful generation gap and upheaval of cultural traditions.”

The announcement by Barack Obama came in a moment when the mobilization of the anti-racist forces had reached new heights in the United State in the wake of demonstrations affirming that #BlackLivesMatter. The very same racist forces in the USA are linked to the anti-Cuba forces of South Florida and New Jersey. These forces are in turn tied up with the Barons of Wall Street who are fleecing humanity.

Cuba is confronting the crossroads of global capitalist invasion at a later period than China and Vietnam and can learn from the positive and negative lessons of the opening up of these economies. One of the negative consequences of the expanded relationships between China and Western capitalism has been the intensification of exploitation of Chinese workers, ecological destruction and the deep alienation of the youth. In Cuba it will be crucial for the organization of workers, small farmers, students and cultural workers to strengthen their organizations and institutions so that the working poor are not offered up as cheap labor to Global Capital as in China.

Cuba has for the past sixty years maintained relationships with the anti-racist and anti-imperialist forces in the USA and the Cuban position on Assata Shakur is a reminder that Cuban stands with Black Revolutionaries. However, this needs to be taken further so that Cuba continues to engage with the Durban Declaration and Program of Action for the intensified global fight against capitalism, sexism, racism and xenophobia. In his address, President Obama declared that he would like to see Cuban doctors working beside US doctors in the fights against Ebola. This is another example where progressives will have to demand that the US government come forward to renounce the use of biological and chemical weapons and for the US to sign the United Nations Convention on Biological weapons.

Horace G .Campbell, a veteran Pan Africanist is a Visiting Professor in the School of International Relations, Tsinghua University, Beijing.  He is the author of Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya, Monthly Review Press, 2013. 



Missing Flight Syndrome

Posted By Binoy Kampmark On In articles 2014 onward | Comments Disabled

As European flights lay freezing in airports across the capitals, with various de-icing procedures being implemented, the news about missing AirAsia flight QZ8501 began to makes its own way through the various channels. That sent a different sort of chill through discussions about air safety. The flight in question, with its 162 passengers, lost contact with air traffic control after take off on Saturday over the Java Sea heading to Singapore from Surabaya.

It has been a tragic year for air travel, and its promoters. The body count relative to other accidents or incidents in travel is always negligible relative to the actual loss of life in the air, but scale tends to be distorted in the context of the macabre and the spectacular. Adding to that the zest of conspiracy, sweetened by cloudy narratives and apologias behind the demise of a flight, and one is already inhabiting a very different world of reasoning.

The conspicuous, heavily reported loss of the AirAsia airliner craft adds to this troubling ledger, which already weighs heavily with the loss of Malaysian Airlines flights MH370 and MH17, the former a continuing vanishing act whose remains have yet to be found, the latter the victim of a missile over the troubled areas of Ukraine.

The loss has all the hallmarks of commentary that is running out of constructive breath, of speculation that is hugging, rather desperately, some reason as to why 162 people would perish without coherent, let alone obvious reason. The search for some rational explanation seems to be a permanently flawed quest, much of it undertaken in the twenty-four hour news cycle of chatter.

The talking heads, centred around aviation specialists and safety analysts, bubble with speculation even as the search continues. A host of theories always tend to make their noisy march in search of the vain truth, masquerading under the title of “known facts” however disputed those facts may be. The AirAsia airline was likely at the “bottom of the sea”, claims the latest confetti line from cable television networks and self-designated official channels.

Then there is that of the troubled pilot, an almost caricature-like beast and product of undergraduate psychology who manifests power at the cockpit and afflicts an act of lethal madness. The account from AirAsia is somewhat milder: the pilot in question had requested a “deviation” in response to bad weather, wishing to take the aircraft to a higher altitude.

Experience and skills are also thrown into the analysis, if one can call it that. Again, it is the pilot who fronts the criticism, and brings a rather pointed accusation of prevalent incompetence in the Southeast Asian aviation industry. This is notwithstanding the remarks by AirAsia that the pilot was more than experienced, an observation that is casually dismissed by some critics.

Joshua Kurlantzick of Bloomberg Business (Dec 29) theorises that the pummelling to the region’s aviation industry was occasioned by its approach to the embrace of “low-cost carriers, leading to a proliferation of flights throughout Southeast Asia, stretching air traffic controllers, and possibly allowing some airlines to expand too rapidly.”

The conclusion to be drawn by Kurlantzick here is that safety regulations have been weakened even as the demand for pilots and personnel has increased. While he concedes that AirAsia’s safety record till now have actually been near faultless, he takes note of specific pilot behaviour, a view that doesn’t shy away from a good lashing of innuendo.

Experience was what tickled his interest regarding the AirAsia pilot, who had 6,000 hours of flight experience on the Airbus he was flying. But did he have experience in flying at 34,000 feet or higher? Then there were three pilots from the Indonesian charrier Lion Air – an unconnected matter, you would think – that the author proceeds to link by association. They were arrested for the use of methamphetamine use, something not entirely unusual for those working long shifts.

Not that this suggests a good deal of imperiousness on the part of commentators who see superior, experienced staff in the airline companies of Europe and the Middle East. After all, pilots of other nationalities are not infrequent in the new budget airlines, and the missing AirAsia plane did have a French co-pilot, Rémi-Emmanuel Plesel. What the Wall Street Journal (Dec 29) poses is a problem rather than a flaw in the argument. Diversity does not defeat the argument on inexperience and skill, but instead suggests “a big management challenge”. Innuendo again takes flight as truth puts its boots on.

Naturally, this necessitates the hunt for the holy grail – the black box, which has become something of a mystical solution. (Little is said about the fact that a black box is only ever as useful as what is said on it, and unlocking its code is not necessarily a solution to anything.)

Then come the head numbing statistics about dramatic changes of course, dizzying fall in altitude, and such other disruptions, including faulty wiring. “Let’s break this down for you…” poses the resident CNN weatherman, who merely proceeds to lard a table already heavy with presumptions. This is where plausible officialdom retreats before salaried speculators on the fate of doomed passengers.

Turbulence is usually treated as a red herring, a child hood presumption that a plane will be knocked out of the sky by a bolt from Thor. Weather alone is not deemed sufficient to direct the plane to an imminent doom, though in such cases, the lines between mythological surmising and supposed scientific speculation seem on common ground.

This is evident in Alex Davies’ account in Wired (Dec 29), which notes that, for all the strengths standard aircraft have against weather challenges, the old terror of the “thunderstorm” is still to be taken seriously. “About 60 people in the US are injured by turbulence annually, according to the FAA, and three people died between 1980 and 2008.”

The disappearance of yet another airline has also provided ample, excruciating aviation speak, including that of such boisterous types as Richard Quest of CNN fame, whose observations act like a prophylactic against cognition.

The accounting types have also found themselves busy this year. Flight companies risk going bankrupt, with a run being made on their stocks. There are plummeting shares and profits. The insurance companies move into less than enthusiastic gear.

What such events seem to reveal is that, even as the state of technology in human life emphasises increased connectedness and identification, spectacular incidents of disappearance can still happen. The contemporary age does nothing to upset the historical trend associated with grand and supposedly mysterious disappearances. We are linked in an unprecedented way, but we are still unable to locate crash sites in open oceans. The missing flight syndrome is bound to continue in the new year.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was as Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

I am a 20th Century Escaped Slave

Posted By Assata Shakur On In articles 2014 onward | Comments Disabled

My name is Assata Shakur, and I am a 20th century escaped slave. Because of government persecution, I was left with no other choice than to flee from the political repression, racism and violence that dominate the US government’s policy towards people of color. I am an ex-political prisoner, and I have been living in exile in Cuba since 1984.

I have been a political activist most of my life, and although the U.S. government has done everything in its power to criminalize me, I am not a criminal, nor have I ever been one. In the 1960s, I participated in various struggles: the black liberation movement, the student rights movement, and the movement to end the war in Vietnam. I joined the Black Panther Party. By 1969 the Black Panther Party had become the number one organization targeted by the FBI’s COINTELPRO program. Because the Black Panther Party demanded the total liberation of black people, J. Edgar Hoover called it “greatest threat to the internal security of the country” and vowed to destroy it and its leaders and activists.

In 1978, my case was one of many cases bought before the United Nations Organization in a petition filed by the National Conference of Black Lawyers, the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, and the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice, exposing the existence of political prisoners in the United States, their political persecution, and the cruel and inhuman treatment they receive in US prisons. According to the report:

“The FBI and the New York Police Department in particular, charged and accused Assata Shakur of participating in attacks on law enforcement personnel and widely circulated such charges and accusations among police agencies and units. The FBI and the NYPD further charged her as being a leader of the Black Liberation Army which the government and its respective agencies described as an organization engaged in the shooting of police officers.

This description of the Black Liberation Army and the accusation of Assata Shakur’s relationship to it was widely circulated by government agents among police agencies and units. As a result of these activities by the government, Ms. Shakur became a hunted person; posters in police precincts and banks described her as being involved in serious criminal activities; she was highlighted on the FBI’s most wanted list; and to police at all levels she became a ‘shoot-to-kill’ target.”

I was falsely accused in six different “criminal cases” and in all six of these cases I was eventually acquitted or the charges were dismissed. The fact that I was acquitted or that the charges were dismissed, did not mean that I received justice in the courts, that was certainly not the case. It only meant that the “evidence” presented against me was so flimsy and false that my innocence became evident. This political persecution was part and parcel of the government’s policy of eliminating political opponents by charging them with crimes and arresting them with no regard to the factual basis of such charges.

On May 2, 1973 I, along with Zayd Malik Shakur and Sundiata Acoli were stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike, supposedly for a “faulty tail light.” Sundiata Acoli got out of the car to determine why we were stopped. Zayd and I remained in the car. State trooper Harper then came to the car, opened the door and began to question us. Because we were black, and riding in a car with Vermont license plates, he claimed he became “suspicious.” He then drew his gun, pointed it at us, and told us to put our hands up in the air, in front of us, where he could see them. I complied and in a split second, there was a sound that came from outside the car, there was a sudden movement, and I was shot once with my arms held up in the air, and then once again from the back.

Zayd Malik Shakur was later killed, trooper Werner Foerster was killed, and even though trooper Harper admitted that he shot and killed Zayd Malik Shakur, under the New Jersey felony murder law, I was charged with killing both Zayd Malik Shakur, who was my closest friend and comrade, and charged in the death of trooper Foerster. Never in my life have I felt such grief. Zayd had vowed to protect me, and to help me to get to a safe place, and it was clear that he had lost his life, trying to protect both me and Sundiata. Although he was also unarmed, and the gun that killed trooper Foerster was found under Zayd’s leg, Sundiata Acoli, who was captured later, was also charged with both deaths. Neither Sundiata Acoli nor I ever received a fair trial We were both convicted in the news media way before our trials. No news media was ever permitted to interview us, although the New Jersey police and the FBI fed stories to the press on a daily basis. In 1977, I was convicted by an all- white jury and sentenced to life plus 33 years in prison.

In 1979, fearing that I would be murdered in prison, and knowing that I would never receive any justice, I was liberated from prison, aided by committed comrades who understood the depths of the injustices in my case, and who were also extremely fearful for my life.

The U.S. Senate’s 1976 Church Commission report on intelligence operations inside the USA, revealed that “The FBI has attempted covertly to influence the public’s perception of persons and organizations by disseminating derogatory information to the press, either anonymously or through “friendly” news contacts.” This same policy is evidently still very much in effect today.

On December 24, 1997, The New Jersey State called a press conference to announce that New Jersey State Police had written a letter to Pope John Paul II asking him to intervene on their behalf and to aid in having me extradited back to New Jersey prisons. The New Jersey State Police refused to make their letter public. Knowing that they had probably totally distorted the facts, and attempted to get the Pope to do the devils work in the name of religion, I decided to write the Pope to inform him about the reality of’ “justice” for black people in the State of New Jersey and in the United States. (See attached Letter to the Pope).

In January of 1998, during the pope’s visit to Cuba, I agreed to do an interview with NBC journalist Ralph Penza around my letter to the Pope, about my experiences in New Jersey court system, and about the changes I saw in the United States and it’s treatment of Black people in the last 25 years. I agreed to do this interview because I saw this secret letter to the Pope as a vicious, vulgar, publicity maneuver on the part of the New Jersey State Police, and as a cynical attempt to manipulate Pope John Paul II. I have lived in Cuba for many years, and was completely out of touch with the sensationalist, dishonest, nature of the establishment media today. It is worse today than it was 30 years ago.

After years of being victimized by the “establishment” media it was naive of me to hope that I might finally get the opportunity to tell “my side of the story.” Instead of an interview with me, what took place was a “staged media event” in three parts, full of distortions, inaccuracies and outright lies. NBC purposely misrepresented the facts. Not only did NBC spend thousands of dollars promoting this “exclusive interview series” on NBC, they also spent a great deal of money advertising this “exclusive interview” on black radio stations and also placed notices in local newspapers.

Like most poor and oppressed people in the United States, I do not have a voice. Black people, poor people in the U.S. have no real freedom of speech, no real freedom of expression and very little freedom of the press. The black press and the progressive media has historically played an essential role in the struggle for social justice. We need to continue and to expand that tradition. We need to create media outlets that help to educate our people and our children, and not annihilate their minds. I am only one woman.

I own no TV stations, or Radio Stations or Newspapers. But I feel that people need to be educated as to what is going on, and to understand the connection between the news media and the instruments of repression in Amerika. All I have is my voice, my spirit and the will to tell the truth. But I sincerely ask, those of you in the Black media, those of you in the progressive media, those of you who believe in true freedom, to publish this statement and to let people know what is happening. We have no voice, so you must be the voice of the voiceless.

Free all Political Prisoners, I send you Love and Revolutionary Greetings From Cuba, One of the Largest, Most Resistant and Most Courageous Palenques (Maroon Camps) That has ever existed on the Face of this Planet.

Assata Shakur lives in Havana, Cuba.

Goodbye Privacy, Hello Censorship

Posted By Pete Dolack On In articles 2014 onward | Comments Disabled

Internet privacy and net neutrality would become things of the past if the secret Trade In Services Agreement comes to fruition. And on this one, the secrecy exceeds even that shrouding the two better-known corporate giveaways, the Trans-Pacific and Transatlantic partnerships.

Yet another tentacle in the octopus of multi-national corporations’ attempt to achieve dictatorial control, the Trade In Services Agreement (TISA) is intended to eliminate government regulations in the “professional services” such as accounting and engineering but goes well beyond that, proposing sweeping de-regulation of the Internet and the financial industry.

Another snippet of TISA’s text has been leaked, this time by the freedom-of-information organization Associated Whistleblowing Press. Without this leak, and an earlier leak published by WikiLeaks in June 2014, we would know absolutely nothing about TISA and its various annexes. No matter what a negotiating government might claim about it, should one actually deign to discuss it, TISA is not about your right to hire your accountant of choice. Here is Article X.4 on “movement of information”:

“No Party may prevent a service supplier of another Party from transferring, accessing, processing or storing information, including personal information, within or outside the Party’s territory, where such activity is carried out in connection with the conduct of the service supplier’s business.”

What that proposal means is that any regulation safeguarding online privacy would be deemed illegal. (“Party” in the quoted text refers to national governments.) European rules on privacy, much stronger than those found in the United States, for example, would be eliminated. Further, any rule that in any way mandates local content (Article X.2) or provides any advantage to a local technology (Article X.3) would also be illegal. Thus the domination of U.S.-based Internet companies, such as Google or Facebook, would be locked in, along with their vacuuming of your personal data. A French anti-dumping law intended to help bookstores withstand predatory practices by Amazon.com is the type of law likely to come under attack.

What this has to do with the provision of “professional services” is not clear. TISA seems intended to be a catch-all to eliminate regulation and allow multi-national corporations to muscle their way into as many areas as possible unimpeded, and the benign-sounding surface purpose of liberalizing access to foreign engineers may be intended as a wedge to force open all barriers to corporate profiteering.

Taking aim at net neutrality

The text is written in sufficiently ambiguous language that net neutrality seems strongly at risk. A reference to “open networks” contains the caveat that Internet usage is “subject to reasonable network management.” An analysis prepared by Professor Jane Kelsey of the University of Auckland and Burcu Kilic of Public Citizen in Washington says:

“ ‘Reasonable network management’ is code for an exception to ‘net neutrality,’ whereby everything on the Internet is treated the same. There is no guidance on the meaning of ‘reasonable network management.’ The concept has been highly controversial when the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed it in the US. The FCC says it ‘consists of practices which are reasonable,’ which is a vague and circular meaning that could be a rubber stamp for anything the network operator wants to do.” [page 22]

U.S. telecommunications corporations bitterly oppose net neutrality because, under this principle, they can’t speed up or slow down online content according to who pays them, or doesn’t, for special treatment. And any dilution of net neutrality opens the floodgates to censorship of the Internet, whether government or corporate.

The analysis by Professor Kelsey and Dr. Kilic discerns three broad goals of TISA on the part of the U.S. government, which is pushing hardest for it, as it does with other “free trade” agreements:

*To advance the commercial interests of its services industry that supplies services across the border. There would be particular gains to the information telecommunications and technology sector, but would protect U.S. competitive advantage and monopoly rights over intellectual property and technology.

*To serve “a range of ‘national security’ and commercial purposes” by consolidating data repositories to the benefit of the U.S. government, transnational companies and third-party commercial interests.

*To prevent or restrict government regulation that impedes the activities and profits of the major global services industries, and guarantees unrestricted cross-border movement of data.

A letter sent to TISA negotiators by 342 civil society groups based in Europe and elsewhere in 2013 asking that the negotiations be immediately halted, states:

“The proposed TISA is an assault on the public interest as it fails to ensure that foreign investments in service sectors actually promote public goals and sustainable economies. We are particularly wary of further undermining of essential services such as health care and insurance, water and energy provision, postal distribution, education, public transportation, sanitation, and others if they are handed over to private and foreign corporations motivated only by profits and available only to those who can pay market rates.”

Restrictions on the financial industry would be illegal

TISA, as revealed by WikiLeaks in June, also would require signatory governments to allow any corporation that offers a “financial service” — that includes insurance as well as all forms of trading and speculation — to expand operations at will and would prohibit new financial regulations. These offensives are incorporated in TISA’s Financial Services Annex, which would:

*Require countries to change their laws to conform to the annex’s text (Annex Article 3).

*Require countries to “eliminate … or reduce [the] scope” of state enterprises (Article 5).

*Prohibit any “buy local” rules for government agencies (Article 6).

*Prohibit any limitations on foreign financial firms’ activity (articles 7 and 10).

*Prohibit restrictions on the transfer of any data collected, including across borders (articles 8 and 11).

*Prohibit any restrictions on the size or expansion of financial companies and a ban on new regulations (Article 15).

*Require any government that offers financial products through its postal service to lessen the quality of its products so that those are no better than what private corporations offer (Article 22).

The ninth, and most recent, round of TISA negotiations took place on December 1 to 5 in Australia. In a typically bland statement providing no actual information, the Australian government said:

“Good progress was made in advancing the enhanced disciplines (trade rules) for e-commerce and telecommunications, domestic regulation and transparency, financial services, temporary entry of business persons, professional services, maritime and air transport services and delivery services. There was also further discussion of proposals on government procurement, environmental and energy services, and the facilitation of patient mobility. Parties reported on progress in bilateral market access discussions held since the September Round and committed to advance these further in 2015.”

Canberra’s likely overstating of “progress” is nonetheless more than is offered by other governments. The office of the United States Trade Representative, for example, last issued a public update about TISA negotiations in November 2013, and then merely said that the then-latest round of talks “was positive and productive.”

Tightening secrecy of “free trade” agreements

The next round of TISA negotiations are scheduled for Geneva February 9 to 13, 2015. Fifty countries are negotiating TISA, including the 28 countries of the European Union, which are collectively represented by the unelected and unaccountable European Commission. Among other countries are Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Norway and Switzerland. The negotiating countries, with perhaps more transparency than intended, refer to themselves as the “Really Good Friends of Services.” Good friends of working people they are not.

Although any sections detailing enforcement have yet to be leaked, TISA would likely depend on the “investor-state dispute mechanism” generally mandated in “free trade” agreements. Deceptively bland sounding, the mechanism is a secret tribunal to which a “dispute” is sent when a corporation wants a safety or environmental regulation or law changed so as to increase its profits. One of the most frequently used of these tribunals is an arm of the World Bank.

Many of the judges who sit on these tribunals are corporate lawyers who otherwise represent corporations in similar disputes with governments, and there is no appeal to their decisions. These rulings become a benchmark for subsequent disputes, thereby pushing the interpretations further in favor of multi-national capital.

That the Trade In Services Agreement, or the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), have to be negotiated in total secrecy, with only corporate lobbyists having access to texts or meaningful input, speaks for itself. The empty shell of formal democracy under capitalism gets ever emptier.

Pete Dolack writes the Systemic Disorder blog. He has been an activist with several groups.

The CIA’s Torture Program Breeds Hate

Posted By Kourosh Ziabari On In articles 2014 onward | Comments Disabled

The recent report issued by the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence disclosing the sophisticated torturing methods used by the CIA against the terrorism suspects has stirred widespread debate across the world on the permissibility of using such torture techniques against prisoners of war.

An American historian and political commentator says the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation program which oversaw the torturing of tens of prisoners in the overseas jails of the US government, including the Guantanamo bay detention facility, the Bagram air base in Afghanistan and the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq has not only failed to address the United States’ national security concerns, but has turned “much of the world against America.”

According to Prof. Norman Pollack, the United States used the soil of third countries to set up its jails and detention facilities there in order to escape accountability before the international law.

Prof. Pollack tells Fars News Agency that such methods as waterboarding, rectal feeding, sleep deprivation and chaining to wall that were used by the CIA agents and operatives against the terrorism suspects are utterly illegal and “represent the full negation of human rights.”

Norman Pollack is a professor of history emeritus at the Michigan State University. He got his Ph.D. from the Harvard University in 1961 and has been a recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship and Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. Pollack regularly writes commentaries and essays for the CounterPunch newsletter. His book “The Populist Response to Industrial America” was published in 1962 by the Harvard University Press.

Prof. Norman Pollack talked to FNA about the recent Torture Report and its repercussions for the United States intelligence apparatus and how this scandal has embarrassed President Obama internationally. The following is the text of the interview.

Kourosh Ziabari: Do you think that the CIA officials deceived the Bush and Obama administrations regarding the efficacy of the torture methods used against the terrorism suspects held in the overseas US-run prisons, referred to as the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques? Have the CIA operatives really been able to elicit useful information from the inmates through resorting to the complicated torture methods detailed in the SSCI’s recent report? Has the torture program contributed to the solidification of US national security?

Norman Pollack: The antecedent question, not did the CIA deceive these administrations about the efficacy of EITs, but, as the Senate Report claims, were the administrations even aware of the programs? The Senate Report is seeking to give Obama deniability—i.e., that he was kept in the dark—lest he be held accountable for war crimes. I am in no position to judge whether EITs yielded relevant information. But on solidification of security, no; if anything, torture has turned much of the world against America, and has created the basis for the rise of militant groups and the desire for retribution.

KZ: There have been different reports regarding the outsourcing of the CIA’s “interrogation programs” and that about 85% of the interrogation teams consisted of private contractors, not the CIA employees. Does it mean that the CIA operatives refused to take part in torturing the inmates at Guantanamo bay detention facility, Parwan Prison at the Bagram air base and other US jails?

NP: First, I don’t accept the 85% figure; in addition to CIA, there were US service personnel, e.g., Bagram, as well as foreign nationals at the black sites [in] Poland, Thailand, etc. Outsourcing, of course was to shield US individuals from prosecution for war crimes, but outsourcing [was] also for giving vent to sadism. My sense is that once black sites are involved, Americans were perfectly willing torturers, their identities protected.

KZ: Had the torture methods used against the 119 individuals detained by CIA following the invasion of Afghanistan been authorized by the Bush administration and the Justice Department? Was George W. Bush personally aware of the fact that the terrorism suspects were subject to the most humiliating and degrading types of torture and persecution?

NP: I have no specific knowledge about how much Bush knew, but it is clear [that] the Office of Legal Counsel, especially under John Yoo, crafted legal opinions which were then taken as authorizations drawn in such a way as to keep pace with the tortures. In turn, these memos served as rationalization and legitimation for the practices. The Eichmann Syndrome, we were only following orders.

KZ: What’s your viewpoint regarding the complicity of some 50 nations with the United States in its extraordinary rendition program? It’s said that countries such as Egypt, Morocco, Thailand, Spain, Germany, Portugal, Romania, Finland and Poland allowed the CIA to abduct, secretly imprison and torture terrorism suspects in their soil. Most of these countries have resisted accountability and refused to comment on their cooperation with CIA. What do you think about that?

NP: Complicity is the operative term. The US has a vast web of political, economic and military penetration, both through the establishment of bases and the granting of military aid, to the countries named—and a good deal more. The purpose of rendition, the prison system, etc., on foreign soil is to discourage and deny accountability. Why else black sites? Accountability should by rights lead directly to The Hague and the International Criminal Court. Essentially, this whole aspect of the counterterrorism effort is that it is a covert operation.

KZ: Jose Rodriguez, the former director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service and the officer who was in charge of running the torture and abuse program has recently argued that the interrogation techniques were quite legal and effective. We’ve already talked about their effectiveness. What about their legality? Are there certain legal gaps in the US statutory laws that permit the intelligence apparatus to use coercive means of torturing against the inmates held on political and security charges?

NP: I am not a lawyer, and therefore not versed on US statutory laws, but the whole point of covert action, torture, drone assassination, is to be able to practice with impunity what are viewed as imperative means of creating and operating The National Security State. We don’t need Kafka to recognize that Law is readily perverted in a totalitarian state. To address these activities, one must start with the nature of the society itself. In a democracy, statutory law sanctioning these known practices would be nullified and the practices themselves exposed, perpetrators tried and imprisoned, and the general public properly angered and disgusted.

KZ: Have the policies adopted by the Bush administration following the 9/11 attacks, including the National Security Agency’s eavesdropping program and monitoring the phone calls and email conversations of the American citizens, the enforcement of the USA PATRIOT Act and unwarranted searches and seizures been consistent with the principles of the US Constitution? Don’t such practices undermine democracy and civil liberties in the American society?

NP: The questions answer themselves. These practices are abhorrent to constitutionalism. By themselves, the individual is stripped of privacy and identity, exactly the human condition on which totalitarianism thrives. Democracy and civil liberties are misnomers under condition of massive surveillance. That NSA has been given such wide latitude, including eavesdropping on foreign leaders, all pretence at guidance or enforcement by the FISA court a sick joke, speaks to the repressive nature of state and society.

KZ: Which officials have been complicit in the wrongdoings that paved the way for the illegal invasion of Iraq and the intensified US military presence in the Middle East, contributed to the withholding of the documents that showed Saddam Hussein didn’t possess Weapons of Mass Destruction and embroiled the US government into a horrific program of prosecuting terrorism suspects across the world and torturing them using the most complicated and brutal methods?

NP: My take is quite different. Specific individuals—members of national security staffs, leaders of the military and intelligence communities, public intellectuals and think-tank members of Neo-con persuasion, and the list goes on, to Congress, major industrial, financial, commercial leaders, Treasury and other Cabinet officials, the president himself—names, in most cases, with whom I am unfamiliar, all have a significant role to play, but more important, one starts with the historical development of public policy, the actual record of intervention, the clear delineation of US foreign-policy goals, a total context within which all that is mentioned, Middle East, Iraq, WMD, counterterrorism measures, could not otherwise arise. Policy, however irrational as measured by democratic-humanistic standards, is consecutive, integrative and systematic, perfectly in order from a society bent on unilateral global hegemony, including the expansion of its political economy. The names mentioned are implementing a course whose boundaries have been in progress for decades, predicated on, among other things, the ideology and political economy of the society. But yes, individuals do count, primarily those at the highest levels of government and business, themselves holding policies, views, goals defining a common core.

KZ: With the disclosure of the Senate’s Torture Report which shows the terrorism suspects held by the CIA in Afghanistan , Iraq, Cuba and other countries were treated in the most denigrating and humiliating ways, it seems that the United States has lost its moral standing for criticizing other countries for their alleged violation of human rights, because these torture methods, including waterboarding, rectal feeding, sexual harassment, sleep deprivation and psychological persecution explicitly represent the most cruel violations of the human rights one may think of. Do you agree?

NP: Yes, emphatically, [they are] practices which represent the full negation of human rights. The question is, why such depravity of conduct? Here one enters a cold realm of psychopathology, not just the torturer, but societal leadership indifferent to, if not perversely wanting to destroy, human rights—and for clues one must go to the foundations of the society. What factors engender moral emptiness? What promotes the desire to hurt, injure, even kill? Rather than try for an explanation, I would emphasize the abnormality, yes, evil, itself. A society must be judged by how it treats its human beings and all others with which it comes in contact. And as part of that evaluation of society, one must not neglect its institutional features: culture, law, political economy, etc. Too, one must take such cases, e.g., waterboarding, and demand prosecution and punishment, no matter how high up the ladder—and in these cases labeled as war crimes committed by war criminals.

Kourosh Ziabari is an independent journalist from Iran.

Citizen Activism has Shut Down the Vermont Yankee Nuke

Posted By Harvey Wasserman On In articles 2014 onward | Comments Disabled

The Vermont Yankee atomic reactor is now permanently shut down.  Citizen activists have made it happen.  The number of licensed US commercial reactors is now under 100, where once it was to be 1000.

VY pumped out its last few electrons yesterday, December 29, 2014.

Had it not been for decades of hard grassroots roots campaigning by dedicated, non-violent nuclear opponents, working for a Solartopian green-powered economy, the reactor’s corporate owner might have let it limp along for years to come.

Entergy says VY was losing money.  Though fully amortized, it could not compete with the onslaught of renewable energy and fracked gas.  Throughout the world, nukes once sold as generating juice “too cheap to meter” are financial failures.  Even with their capital costs long-ago stuck to the public, these radioactive junk heaps have no place in today’s economy—except as magnets for massive ratepayer and taxpayer handouts.

So in Illinois and elsewhere around the US, their owners are begging bought and rented state legislators and regulators to force the public to eat their losses.  Arguing for “base load power” or other nonsensical corporate constructs, reactor owners are trying to prolong operations while losing out in the market.  Where they can throw their “campaign donations” around, they are gouging the public to keep increasingly dangerous radioactive jalopies on line.


Such might have been the fate of Vermont Yankee had it not been for citizen opposition.  Opened in the early 1970s, VY was the northern tip of clean energy’s “golden triangle.”  Down the Connecticut River, grassroots opposition successfully prevented two reactors from being built at Montague, Massachusetts, where the term “No Nukes” was coined.  A weather tower was toppled, films were made, books were written and an upwelling of well-organized grassroots activism helped feed into a rising global movement.

A bit to the southwest, in the early 1990s, it shut the infamous Yankee Rowe reactor, which had been hit by lightening and could not be subjected to a verifiable test of its dangerously embrittled core.

But VY persisted.  Entergy, a “McNuke” operator based in New Orleans, bought Yankee from its original owners about a dozen years ago.  It signed a complex series of agreements with the state, then brazenly trashed them to keep VY spiraling ever-downwardhoin its fleet of heavily-subsidized decaying reactors.

But hard-core organizers like Deb Katz’s Citizen Awareness Network never let up.  Working through a network of stage and local campaigns, the safe energy movement has finally forced Entergy to flip the off switch.

Harvey Wasserman wrote SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH and edits www.nukefree.org.  His Green Power & Wellness Show is at www.prn.fm


10 Good Things About the Year 2014

Posted By Medea Benjamin On In articles 2014 onward | Comments Disabled

It’s been a year of fervent activism on police accountability, living wages, climate change, personal freedoms, immigrant rights, an open internet and diplomacy over war. The electoral beating the Democrats received has prompted both the Administration and some spineless congresspeople to realize that support for progressive issues could reinvigorate their base —a realization that has already led to Obama’s executive action on immigration and the opening to Cuba.

So here are some of the 2014 highlights.

1. Uprising for police accountability. The movement for police accountability has swept the nation, spawning brilliant new leaders from communities most affected, giving a voice to the families who have lost loved ones and opening people’s eyes to the militarization of our police forces. It is an organic, grassroots movement destined to have a transformative impact on the struggle for racial equality. Keep an eye out in 2015 for CODEPINK’s campaign to demilitarize the police, Communities Organize to Demilitarize Enforcement.

2. Historic opening with Cuba. President Obama’s announcement that the US would work to restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time in over 50 years was historic. It including a prisoner swap that led to the release of the final three members of the “Cuban 5”—a group unjustly imprisoned for trying to stop terrorist acts against Cuba. And it marks the end of Cuba policy being dominated by a small cabal of right-wing Cuban Americans. (CODEPINK is taking a delegation to Cuba for Valentines Day, learn more about it at codepink.org/cuba.)

3. Progress in talks with Iran. Iran and the six world powers announced they would extend an interim nuclear deal seven more months, and gave themselves four more months to reach a political agreement for a comprehensive nuclear accord. Despite intense opposition from the Israel lobby group AIPAC, as well as Republican and Democratic hawks, the U.S. and Iran are closer than ever to securing a historic agreement. It is a rare and commendable example of the Obama administration engaging in Middle East diplomacy instead of militarism.

4. Triumph of the fractivists. Out of a year of environmental progress ranging from the People’s Climate March to the US-China bilateral agreement on climate change, one of the most monumental victories has been in the anti-fracking movement. The New York State ban on fracking imposed by Governor Cuomo followed a long campaign waged by tireless grassroots activists. But that wasn’t the only victory. Voters in eight locales from Mendocino County, California to Athens, Ohio to Denton, Texas, won fracking bans on the ballot in the 2014 election. So did Canadian citizens in Quebec and New Brunswick. These victories have spawned a national conversation on fracking, with public support for the practice plummeting.

5. New gains for legalizing marijuana. With the majority of the country now supporting legalization, and Colorado and Washington proving that it actually works, new gains were achieved at the ballot box in Oregon, Alaska and Washington D.C. World leaders like former UN head Kofi Annan and presidents from Latin America called for an end to the drug war and for legally regulating drugs. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder continued to speak out against racist mandatory minimum drug laws and mass incarceration, while President Obama made national news declaring that marijuana is not more harmful than alcohol.

6. Massive wins for gay marriage. In decision after decision, courts in 18 states struck down gay marriage bans. It is now legal for gay couples to marry in 35 of the 50 states. A year ago, only about a third of Americans lived in states that permitted same-sex marriage. Today, nearly 65 percent of Americans do, making 2014 perhaps the biggest turning point in the history of same-sex marriage in the United States.

7.  Raises for minimum wage workers. From ballot initiatives and grassroots organizing to major legislative efforts, campaigns to raise the minimum wage gained momentum across the country. Voters, cities and statehouses passedminimum wage increases. The states included Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, New Jersey and South Dakota; cities included San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Louisville and Portland,OR. And the calls for raises came from workers themselves: Black Friday saw the largest strikes ever against Walmart, with pickets and strikes at 1,600 stores in 49 states. And on December 5, fast-food workers went on strike in 190 cities. Congress might not be able to push through national legislation, but workers and local communities are not waiting!

8. Reform of immigration policy. In November, President Obama signed an executive order stopping five million people from being deported and allowing many to work legally. While it does not offer a pathway to citizenship, it does provide relief for millions of immigrants. And it was only possible because of the sophisticated organizing and sacrifices made by so many activists in the immigrant community.

9. Release of the torture report. For years, human rights advocates have been pushing for the release of the 6,000-page torture report compiled by the Senate Intelligence Committee–against vehement opposition from the CIA. The full report remains classified, and the 600-page executive summary was redacted by the CIA itself. The public deserves to see the entire report, but the fact that any of it was released is also a tribute to Senator Dianne Feinstein and her colleagues. It marks the beginning of our nation coming to grips with this sordid page of our history. The next chapter should include accountability–bringing to justice all those who authorized and participated in these shameful acts.

10. Palestine solidarity becomes mainstream. 2014 was horrific for Palestinians, with the Israeli war against the Gaza killing nearly 2,200, mostly civilians. But the invasion spawned unprecedented international solidarity with Palestine and huge steps forward for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. BDS won the support of Christian congregations including the Presbyterian Church USA and academic groups like the American Studies Association. Activists shut down ports in California to stop the unloading of Israeli ships; they forced SodaStream to close its settlement-based factory, and the online shopping site GILT dropped AHAVA cosmetics, made in an illegal Israeli settlement in Palestine. In Europe, the movement has been hugely successful with country after country voting to recognize Palestine as a state and the European court ruling to remove Hamas from its list of terrorist organizations. Keep an eye out in 2015 for CODEPINK’s new campaign, No Open House on Stolen Land, targeting RE/MAX real estate company for selling illegal Israeli settlement homes.


The 2014 low electoral turnout and the Democratic defeat revealed how unenthused the public is about national politics. But it also revealed the popularity of progressive ballot measures. And the campaign pushing Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders to run for President is putting populist economic issues into the national limelight and already influencing the positions of likely presidential contender Hillary Clinton. With this framework and the new energy infused into social justice and environmental activism, the progressive movement is poised to make significant gains in 2015.

Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of the peace group CODEPINK and the human rights organizations Global Exchange. She is the author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.

Words Alone Won’t End Torture

Posted By Cesar Chelala On In articles 2014 onward | Comments Disabled

“We are going to smash your hands to pulp like the Chileans did to Victor Jara.” Those were the words of the torturers in a Uruguayan prison spoken to my friend Miguel Angel Estrella, a pianist from Argentina. They were referring to the fate of the imprisoned Chilean singer and guitarist Victor Jara, whose hands were destroyed so that he would never play the guitar again. Jara, a fervent opponent of the Pinochet regime, was brutally tortured and later machine-gunned to death following the coup that brought Pinochet to power in 1973.

Estrella was being held in Uruguay’s Libertad prison, accused of being a guerrilla from Argentina fighting the Argentine military regime. Unable to prove the charges against him, and given the unprecedented international pressure, the Uruguayan government released him in 1978 after having kidnapped him at the end of 1977.

Estrella was luckier than most of those imprisoned by the South American military. Although tortured and held for a long time in isolation, Estrella eventually recovered, leads a brilliant career as a musician, and is now Argentina’s ambassador to UNESCO.

One of those who trained the Uruguayan torturers was an American operative, Daniel (Dan) Mitrione, who was later captured and killed by Uruguayan guerrillas. According to A.J. Langguth, a former New York Times bureau chief in Saigon, Mitrione was among the U.S. advisers who taught torture to the Brazilian police.

Mitrione’s method for the application of torture was carefully orchestrated. Langguth reports that the method was described in detail in a book by Manuel Hevia “Cosculluela,” a Cuban double agent who worked for the CIA, “Passport 11333, Eight Years with the CIA.”

This is Mitrione’s voice: “When you receive a subject, the first thing to do is to determine his physical state, his degree of resistance, through a medical examination. A premature death means a failure by the technician. Another important thing to know is exactly how far you can go given the political situation and the personality of the prisoner. It is very important to know beforehand whether we have the luxury of letting the subject die . . . before all else, you must be efficient. You must cause only the damage that is strictly necessary, not a bit more. We must control our tempers in any case. You have to act with the efficiency and cleanliness of a surgeon and with the perfection of an artist..”

In Uruguay, Mitrione was the head of the Office of Public Safety, a U.S. government agency established in 1957 by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower to train foreign police forces. At Mitrione’s funeral, Ron Ziegler, the Nixon administration’s spokesman, stated that Mitrione’s “devoted service to the cause of peaceful progress in an orderly world will remain as an example for free men everywhere.” Thanks to former U.S. Sen. James Abourezk’s efforts, the policy advisory program was abolished in 1974.

Mitrione’s case was far from unique. Through the School of the Americas, thousands of military and police officers from Latin America were trained in repressive methods, including torture. On Nov. 16, 1989, six Jesuit priests, a coworker and her teenage daughter were massacred in El Salvador. I knew one of those killed, Ignacio Martin-Baro, vice rector of the Central American University. He was the closest I have ever been to a saint.

A U.S. Congressional Task Force concluded that those responsible for their deaths were trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Human beings make culture. And we also make torture, that bastard child of culture. It is up to us to change this situation. When running for president, Barack Obama stated, referring to the Iraq war, “It is not enough to get out of Iraq; we have to get out of the mind-set that led us into Iraq.”

A similar assertion could be made about torture. It is not enough to say that torture will not be practiced any longer by the U.S. We need to get out of the mind-set that made torture possible in the first place.

Dr. Cesar Chelala, a writer on human rights issues, is a winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award and a national journalism award from Argentina.

Cops and Ideological Profiling

Posted By Douglas Valentine On In articles 2014 onward | Comments Disabled

Cops. I’ve never met one that wasn’t about to crack. Put 10,000 of them together at a copy funeral, you got mass hysteria in uniform, the armed rank and file, a brown shirt show of military force, more than an overt threat to the political leadership, a gun to the head: do what I say, or else….

Cops. Call them St. Patty’s Lynch mob, that deadly combination of Patrick Lynch, PBA, and racism on parade, the triumph of ill-will, of corruption, as the purest expression of the fascist American state.

Cops. Mock the porkers till they squeal like stuck pigs, the only way to stop them from terrorizing you, from torturing you and killing you for stepping out of ideological line, for not kissing their fat asses, for not showing your moral support for their supremacy.

Cops. They’re so fucking bound, so emotionally uptight, they have only one purpose, to control you, so you don’t upset their fragile, homicidal sensibilities, the myth they believe of their heroism, of their centrality in their delusional universe.

Cops. Tip your hat and spit in their wind, resist, disobey as if your freedom depended on it, and it does, the revolution has begun, the oinkers are working for the oligarchs, the Omidyars, not for you, they are the shock troops, watching your computer, studying your habits, ready to administratively detain.

Cops will be the ones to judge, unless you put them in their place.

Doug Valentine is the author of The Strength of the Wolf: The Secret History of America’s War on Drugs, and The Strength of the Pack: The Personalities, Politics, and Espionage Intrigues that Shaped the DEA.


Why Capitalism Will be the Death of Us

Posted By William Blum On In articles 2014 onward | Comments Disabled

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria – the “superbugs” – if left unchecked, could result in 10 million deaths a year by 2050. New drugs to fight the superbugs are desperately needed. But a panel advising President Obama warned in September that “there isn’t a sufficiently robust pipeline of new drugs to replace the ones rendered ineffective by antibiotic resistance.”

The problem, it appears, is that “Antibiotics generally provide low returns on investment, so they are not a highly attractive area for research and development.”

Aha! “Low returns on investment”! What could be simpler to understand? Is it not a concept worth killing and dying for? Just as millions of Americans died in the 20th century so corporations could optimize profits by not protecting the public from tobacco, lead, and asbestos.

Corporations are programmed to optimize profits without regard for the society in which they operate, in much the same way that cancer cells are programmed to proliferate without regard for the health of their host.

William Blum is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War IIRogue State: a guide to the World’s Only Super Power . His latest book is: America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy. He can be reached at: BBlum6@aol.com


The Need to Know

Posted By Fred Russell On In articles 2014 onward | Comments Disabled

News organizations are the beneficiaries of two basic but unrelated principles: the right to know and the need to know. The first is grounded politically and gives these organizations the license to invade our privacy and conceal sources of defamatory or illegally obtained information. The second is grounded existentially and is related to our survival, and like all evolutionary principles, once it is established it operates blindly and indiscriminately. Therefore, just as all dreams are reflexively distorted in order to protect us (the Freudian censor), whether or not their secrets are potentially harmful to our peace of mind, so the need to know operates in us whether or not a given piece of information is essential to our well-being, and therefore it expresses itself even when nothing is at stake but the satisfaction of our curiosity. This curiosity does not require a correct reading of events to satisfy itself. Any plausible set of facts will do. Curiosity then is very much like hunger: any food will alleviate it. Ironically, this is precisely what enables the news organizations to flourish despite the fact that more often than not their reading of events is anything but correct.

Evolution provides us with the tools of self-preservation. One of the most essential of these tools is our ability to recognize danger, namely the ability to read the environment correctly. Consequently, when matters are in doubt, the ensuing state of uncertainty produces anxiety and unrest as an evolutionary response, driving us, as it were, to clarify matters, whether they are life-threatening or trivial. Unless we are unconnected to the world or to ourselves, we always want to know what we do not know, what ISIS is up to, if it’s going to rain in the afternoon and who is sleeping with whom in Hollywood. And since very little that is labeled “news” has a direct and immediate effect on us, it is, again, really irrelevant what version of events we receive. Any version that is the least bit plausible will serve to establish order, satisfy curiosity, alleviate anxiety, calm the nerves. No one is keeping score. No one holds the pundits accountable for what they said a week ago or a month ago. No one even remembers. Nor does anyone remember who said the latest serial killer was twenty-five years old or who said he was twenty-eight years old, married or unmarried, born in Florida or Mississippi. It doesn’t matter which set of circumstances applies. It is not knowledge that we seek in the news but reassurance.

This is paradoxical of course, since the journalistic profession represents itself as setting great store by getting the facts straight. That is its entire raison d’être. Yet not only do they fail at this, it isn’t even required of them. It is not required because these facts are for the most part irrelevant to our daily concerns, though at the same time facts as such, any facts, are necessary for our peace of mind. Does this call into question the entire value of truth? Certainly it does insofar as journalistic truth is concerned, for when they aren’t entirely irrelevant, journalistic truths are generally shortsighted. They do not reveal social and historical processes, for the simple reason that journalists are not equipped to recognize such processes. They are not historians, scholars or political scientists. They are not writers or thinkers.

What journalists generally do get right are their headlines or news bulletins. Anything beyond this basic recitation of information that is gleaned from official sources, including the weather report and ball scores, quickly degenerates into opinion, speculation, gossip, innuendo and calumny. That is how talk shows and newspaper columns fill their time and space. At the end of the day an extremely distorted picture of the world is obtained, put together by people who rarely understand the languages and consequently the culture, religion, history and politics of the countries they report from and comment on and also lack the perception to understand their own country. For the public, this suffices. Half-digested in any case, it gives ordinary people something to hold on to, a version of reality that does not necessarily correspond to anything but is at least coherent and thus helps them get through the day.

Fred Russell is the author of the novels Rafi’s World  and The Links in the Chain.

Partners in Apartheid

Posted By T.J. Petrowski On In articles 2014 onward | Comments Disabled

Branches of Indigo Books and Music and its subsidiaries Chapters, Coles, SmithBooks, and IndigoSpirit are a familiar site to Canadians from coast to coast, thanks to the company’s monopoly control of retail-bookstore sales in Canada. But behind the inviting facade of each store there lies a terrible reality – the murder of Palestinians.

Heather Reisman, the founder and CEO of Indigo Books and Music, and her husband, Gerry Schwartz, the co-founder of Onex Corporation, are among the most rabidly pro-Zionist capitalists in Canada. With a combined net worth between $1.5 billion and $2.5 billion they donate millions of dollars to support Israeli soldiers in their occupation of Palestine through the Heseg Foundation, an organization they founded that provides scholarships and other support to foreign-born soldiers that serve in the Israeli military and participate in the oppression of the Palestinian people. The Heseg organization handed out over a hundred thousands of dollars worth of rewards to Israeli soldiers that participated in the 2008-2009 assault on Gaza.

The assault, which had nothing to do with ending rocket fire, an act of resistance legal under international law when a nation is occupied, but to murder Palestinians and to weaken the democratically elected Hamas into submission, killed 200 Palestinians in a single day, and killed more than 1, 400 Palestinians, including 400 children, in total. Reisman and Schwartz are close to several powerful Israeli military leaders and war criminals. “On the Heseg board are army and air force chiefs of staff, the head of Israeli intelligence (Mossad), and Maj General Doren Almog who has been charged with war crimes by Britain for his role in bombing civilians.”

During Israel’s genocidal war on the people of Lebanon in 2006, a war that killed thousands of Lebanese civilians and destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure, Reisman and her husband, in a highly publicized spectacle, switched from supporting the Liberals to supporting the Harper neo-conservatives due to Harper’s support for Israel. Kate Gilmore, speaking for Amnesty International, dismissed claims that Israel tried to avoid civilian casualties: “Many of the violations identified in our report are war crimes, including indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks. The evidence strongly suggests that the extensive destruction of power and water plants, as well as the transport infrastructure vital for food and other humanitarian relief, was deliberate and an integral part of a military strategy,” she told the press.

The level of destruction in Lebanon invalidates Israeli claims of ‘collateral damage’ and indicates that the war was about much more than ‘self-defense’. The Lebanese government estimated that 30, 000 houses, 900 businesses, 120 bridges, 94 roads, and 31 other vital points were destroyed in the 7, 000 Israeli airstrikes and 2, 000 naval shells launched against targets in Lebanon. The firing of over a million cluster bombs has left large swathes of southern Lebanon uninhabitable, and the extensive use of cluster bombs near the end of the war “looked suspiciously as if Israel had taken the brief opportunity before the war’s end to make south Lebanon – the heartland of both the country’s Shi’ite population and its militia, Hezbollah – uninhabitable, and to prevent the return of hundreds of thousands of Shi’ites who had fled Israel’s earlier bombing campaigns.” The use of white phosphorus shells, a chemical weapon that “causes skin to melt away from the bone and can break down”, a clear war crime committed by Israel. In total an estimated 700, 000 Lebanese were displaced and around 1, 100 murdered by Israel forces in the 34 day campaign against the people of Lebanon.

All peace loving people should support the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid’s boycott of Indigo Books and Music.

T.J. Petrowski is a member of the Central Committee of the Young Communist League of Canada. His articles are available on his website tjpetrowski.com