Bush, the Revolution and the Iraq War

Dawson Gage
Bring Back the Fun in Democracy

T.J. Petrowski
Partners in Apartheid

Harvey Wasserman
Citizen Activism has Shut Down the Vermont Yankee Nuke

Horace G. Campbell
Cuba at the Crossroads

William Blum
Why Capitalism Will be the Death of Us

Gregory Elich
Who Was Behind the Cyberattack on Sony?

Cesar Chelala
Words Alone Won’t End Torture

Medea Benjamin
10 Good Things About the Year 2014

Douglas Valentine
Cops and Ideological Profiling

Kourosh Ziabari
The CIA’s Torture Program Breeds Hate

Assata Shakur
I am a 20th Century Escaped Slave

Fred Russell
The Need to Know

Binoy Kampmark
Missing Flight Syndrome

Pete Dolack
Goodbye Privacy, Hello Censorship

Gary Leupp
A Chronology of the Sony Hacking Incident

David Macaray
Who Is the “Most Evil” American in History?

Peter Gelderloos
A World Without Police

Jon Flanders
Why We Supported the Hawkins Campaign for Governor of New York State

Patrick Cockburn
The West Needs More Than a White Knight to Defeat ISIS

Cesar Chelala
Challenges of Water Access in Africa

Clancy Sigal
A Wildly Unproven Theory About “The Interview” Based on Ancient Hollywood Wisdom

Norman Pollack
Turned Backs, The Mayor and the Police

Matt Peppe
Broken Countries Policing

Linn Washington Jr.
Sea Change In US-Cuba Relations Makes Waves Deep In Desert

William Blum
American Exceptionalism and American Torture

Mike Whitney
Irreversible Decline?

Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero
The Company that Almost Ruined Cuban Hip Hop is a Profitable Global Operation

Dave Lindorff
Marketing Madness

Mateo Pimentel
Preying on Mexican Populism

Fred Gardner
Why Aaron Sorkin is No Ring Lardner, Jr.

Uri Avnery
Nothing Changes as Much as the Past

Peter A. Coclanis
The Year of Piketty

Larry Doyle
in bed

Christopher Brauchli
The Impoverished Imagination of Seth Rogen

Junaid S. Ahmed
Afghan Refugees and the Displacement of Blame

Robin Llewellyn
Across Colombia by Train, with Garcia Marquez

Brandon L. Garrett
too big

Dady Chery
Inside the Occupation of Haiti

Franklin Lamb
The Greatest Threat to Cultural Heritage in Syria

John Halle
Pomo Agonistes and Dada Anti-Science

Patrick Bond
Has the IMF Been Reformed?

Geoffrey McDonald
The Contrition of Warlords

Raul Castro
Cuba Will Not Renounce Its Ideas

Louis Proyect
Reading Trotsky While Watching Kurosawa

Janine R. Wedel
unaccountable

Janvieve Williams Comrie
From Panama to Ferguson

Gareth Porter
Why Obama Won’t Reach a Deal With Iran

George Wuerthner
Poison Pills in the National Defense Authorization Act

Joel Schlosberg
Escape from Guantanamo Bay

Rena Steinzor
why not

On July 4th, 2007, President Bush compared the U.S. struggle in Iraq with the American Revolution. He reminded his audience of West Virginia Air National Guard personnel and their families that the first July 4th celebration in 1777 took place in the midst of “a bloody and difficult struggle that would not end for six more years before America finally secured her freedom.” Although “it is hard to imagine the Revolutionary War coming out any other way,” he said, “at the time, America’s victory was far from certain.” He then turned to the war in Iraq. “You’re the successors of those brave men,” he told the crowd. “Like those early patriots, you’re fighting a new and unprecedented war.” He commended them for “showing that the courage which won our independence more than two centuries ago is alive and well here in West Virginia.”

What makes the American Revolution an inspirational example to people everywhere is that the first Americans were, like the Iraqis today, trying to end an occupation. Bush never got it, even though he pointed out that in 1777 “we were a small band of freedom-loving patriots taking on the most powerful empire in the world.” Today it is the Iraqis who are “taking on the most powerful empire in the world” and our own military that constitutes the occupation. This is the stark and obvious analogy between the American Revolution and the Iraq occupation and it does not bode well for U.S. military success.

The American Revolution jettisoned foreign rule and subjection to the English throne. It should not be surprising to Americans that other peoples want to free themselves from occupation and foreign rule. Being a colony and suffering foreign troops on our soil infuriated our ancestors and would infuriate most of us today. The U.S. currently has over 160 thousand military personnel occupying Iraq, yet Iraq is a country with less than 10% of the population of the U.S. If a proportionally equal number of foreign troops were occupying our nation, more than 1,600,000 foreign troops would be in our cities, on our streets, and in our neighborhoods. There is no question about what would happen-we would create an insurgency of unprecedented ferocity that would drive the foreigners out. This is precisely what the Iraqi insurgents are trying to do today.

It is difficult to believe that some of the strategists in Washington D.C. are not fully aware that the occupation itself creates the Iraq insurgency. Even President Bush in his April 2004 press conference acknowledged that the Iraqis are Anot happy they’re occupied” and added that AI wouldn’t be happy if I were occupied either.

What is shameless is that Bush used the example of our own American Revolution against a foreign occupation to pump up an audience of National Guard and their families as he told them to be ready for even “more sacrifice” (the euphemism for casualties) in our war of occupation.

BART GRUZALSKI is Professor Emeritus at Northeastern University. His most recent book is “On Gandhi.”

 

 

 

Bring Back the Fun in Democracy

Presidential politics in the United States have long been a repository, and a vehicle, for the people’s aspirations towards a better life and a better country. Quite apart from the mechanics of elections and the actuarial plausibility of various contenders, any number of wild presidential dreams can be found—guarded, nurtured, cherished—among the citizenry. All across America, multitudes of ordinary civic-minded people sit at home reading, chatting, watching C-SPAN (especially C-SPAN); amid the morass of stupidity and pettiness that characterizes our public life, these disenchanted Americans, desperate for a tonic to cure their democracy blues, allow themselves to daydream: “If only _________ were president, we just might have a chance!”

The corollary to such furtive bursts of optimism, naturally, would be that if we continue to ratify, four years at a time, different versions of business-as-usual, then America is finished. For the conscientious voter, then, it becomes a serious question: how much longer do we have before it’s too late? Does the future depend, in an absolute way, on the outcome of the next election—that is to say, would the wrong choice mean that the next election would also be the last one?

In the universe of America’s political journalism, questions like these—altogether justified and urgent in light of present circumstances—matter not at all. Our media’s approach to the democratic process is indistinguishable from the kind of speculation and analysis one finds on ESPN. This actually makes perfect sense, in that the well-appointed elites who cover politics have a stake in the outcome of elections only in the sense that Dick Vitale has a stake in the outcome of the NCAA tournament: they might harbor passions for this or that contender, but whatever happens, the only certainty is that come next March (or November, as it were) they will still be well-payed and comfortable in their court-side seat.

This athletic analogy can be fruitfully extended. With elections in general, and the presidency especially, the rules for deciding who makes the playoffs are most important limiting factor. In the world of sports, different arrangements allow for varying measures of “democratic possibility”. At one extreme, the NCAA basketball tournament makes room for sixty-six teams. The resulting contest, where the mighty fall with delightful frequency and the lowly win glory, is thrilling precisely because of this “egalitarian” openness.

Contrast the spontaneity of March Madness with the tamer and more exclusive playoffs in the major professional leagues. The leagues are divided up regionally, and records in the regular season tabulated like the delegates in party primaries. Admission to the playoffs rests on strict mathematics, which are taken as a fair abstraction of the truth of matters on the field of play. (Elections are taken to express the “will of the people” rather in the sense that the “ball don’t lie”—the only caveat being “…except when it do”) Interestingly, most leagues have provided for a “wild-card” playoff bid, which in a fashion concedes that chance must be allowed a foot in the door.

Lastly, consider the process used, until very recently, to determine which two teams would compete for the NCAA Football championship. Simply put, an obscure and unaccountable computer algorithm was applied to the raw data of the college football season, and the machine would render a judgment. In parallel, an arbitrarily chosen assortment of college-football bigshots would vote for their own choices of the best two teams.

The computer and human results were then mashed together in some unfathomable way to produce the pair of teams for the championship game. The result, which frequently offended the football-following public, was rightly seen as an outrage against democratic sensibilities; in the most infamous instances of decisions widely at variance with popular opinion, the ensuing scandals had something of the flavor of popular uproar over the 2000 election.

Having surveyed the range of playoff procedures in the world of sports, I expect the reader will readily see the significance of the analogy with electoral politics. The field of American politics is not nearly so vibrant as that of NCAA basketball—go ahead, try to come up with 64 remotely plausible presidential candidates…32?…16?….8?….4?….and you get the picture.

Insofar as the competitive logic of sport obtains in presidential politics, we find it most readily in the formalized, televised debate. The beau-ideal for such contests, the Lincoln-Douglass debates, is far enough in the past to serve as an empty signifier for an admirable, if utterly unattainable, democratic ideal. The “debates” held today are thoroughly sterilized by minute procedural rules, and circumscribed by the artificial requirement of concision; as Noam Chomsky wisely pointed out, concision imposes a marvelous ideological discipline while appearing to be neutral, since 90 seconds is just enough to parrot conventional pieties, but hardly enough time to get across an unconventional point.

As if the heavy regulation of debate conduct were not enough, participation in the debates for both the primaries and the general election is jealously guarded by the political parties, separately as well as in concert. In the primary phase, where ideological diversity is at least nominally encouraged, this is harder to pull off—you have to let the Ron Pauls and the Mike Gravells the chance, however fleeting, to speak. However, in this case the cunning of reason is on the side of the status quo. As if animated by the spirit of conformity herself, the candidates team up in felicitous combinations to enforce the party line. The result is an antipathy toward ideologically proscribed opinions as powerful and effective as any Stalinist central committee.

The systematic suppression and frustration of democratic aspirations, election after election, in the interest of a monolithic bipartisan consensus, has taken its toll, and left us where we now find ourselves as a nation. We have streamlined the democratic process in such a way that the element of chance has been seemingly banished; the hopes of citizens for anything better than the choice between “inevitable” centrisms have been consigned to the realm of wistful fantasy. In short, we have all but abolished democracy, because true democracy is fun, and politics these days sure ain’t fun.

Hunter S. Thompson was perhaps the first to equate “the death of fun” in America with a more profound and pervasive tendency of national decline (variously known as “the grim slide”, “the downward spiral of dumbness”, and other vivid Thompsonian monikers). Thompson knew a thing or two about elections, having masterfully covered the saga of 1972 in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. He also knew something about sports. In much of his best work, the line between politics and sport begins to blur and melt away. In Campaign Trail 72 the long and hard-fought Democratic primary race is punctuated throughout by Thompson’s successful gambling, in the manner of sports, on the outcomes with other members of the press. And along the way, he manages to score an exclusive audience with Richard Nixon in the back of a limousine, on condition that the only subject for discussion would be football.

Any reader of Thompson’s election coverage will likely appreciate how that older world of electoral politics, suffused with whimsy, chaos, and popular enthusiasm, is so completely different and alien to our own. Can you imagine the journalists of today wagering hard money (for more plentiful, in their case, than for their predecessors) gambling on a presidential election? At this point, there isn’t much to bet for.

On the other hand, the very windlessness and boringness of the 2016 contest so far might just be a spell of calm before a glorious storm of surprises. No one’s counting, much less betting, on a savior candidate to emerge from obscurity to win the White House and solve all our problems—we’ve spent the past six years watching how that turns out. But a more modest hope can, indeed must, be entertained. Namely, that the fates will conspire, over and against the vacuums of imagination, to make democracy fun again. Place your bets.

Dawson Gage is a writer living in Wilmington, North Carolina.

 

Partners in Apartheid

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

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

Citizen Activism has Shut Down the Vermont Yankee Nuke

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.

vermontyankee

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

 

Harvey Wasserman wrote SOLARTOPIA! Our Green-Powered Earth. His Green Power & Wellness Show is at www.prn.fm

Cuba at the Crossroads

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. 

 

 

Horace Campbell is Professor of African American Studies and Political Science, Syracuse University. He is the author of Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya, Monthly Review Press, 2013.  Notes.

Why Capitalism Will be the Death of Us

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

 

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

Who Was Behind the Cyberattack on Sony?

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.

 

Gregory Elich is a Korea Policy Institute associate and on the Board of Directors of the Jasenovac Research Institute. He is a member of the Solidarity Committee for Democracy and Peace in Korea, a columnist for Voice of the People, and one of the co-authors of Killing Democracy: CIA and Pentagon Operations in the Post-Soviet Period, published in the Russian language. He is also a member of the Task Force to Stop THAAD in Korea and Militarism in Asia and the Pacific. His website is https://gregoryelich.org  Follow him on Twitter at @GregoryElich.  

Words Alone Won’t End Torture

“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.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

10 Good Things About the Year 2014

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.

Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of the peace group CODEPINK and the human right organization Global Exchange. Follow her on twitter at @MedeaBenjamin.

Cops and Ideological Profiling

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.

 

Douglas 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.

The CIA’s Torture Program Breeds Hate

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.

Kourosh Ziabari is an independent journalist from Iran.

I am a 20th Century Escaped Slave

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.

The Need to Know

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.

Missing Flight Syndrome

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

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

Goodbye Privacy, Hello Censorship

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.

Pete Dolack writes the Systemic Disorder blog and has been an activist with several groups. His first book, It’s Not Over: Learning From the Socialist Experiment, is available from Zero Books and he has completed the text for his second book, What Do We Need Bosses For?

A Chronology of the Sony Hacking Incident

In January 2013 Google CEO Eric Schmidt visited North Korea with an aide and his daughter, as well as frequent DPRK visitor, former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson. He was of course given VIP treatment by his hosts in Pyongyang, and taken to Kim Il-song University to view students studying on the Internet. It was a private visit and the U.S. State Department did not endorse it any more than it endorsed Dennis Rodman’s trip the following month

In April in a Wall Street Journal interview Schmidt questioned whether those he had viewed at the university were really students (as opposed to actors whose presence was staged to impress outsiders) and generally pooh-poohed the DPRK’s cyber competence. And after all, while the U.S. has 150,000 BGP routes, and South Korea has 17,000 BGP routes, North Korea has only four. While about two million North Koreans now have cell phones (imported from China), most have never had access to the Internet.

The average North Korean consumes 738 kilowatt hours of electric power per year, as opposed to the average South Koran who consumes 10,162 or the U.S. resident who consumes around 11,000. While the DPRK’s education system implants strong math skills, it does not emphasize computer science. The Pyongyang University for Science and Technology provides all of 30 computers for graduate students’ Internet use.

Nevertheless, U.S. planners and “security experts” have warned for years of the formidable capabilities of the DPRK army’s Unit 121, formed in 1998 and comprising at that time a force of 17,000 hackers. (This at least according to a report by defensetech.org on Military.com posted in 2007.) North Korea was supposedly the 8th ranked cyber–spying-capable country on earth.

Now the FBI confidently attributes what has been described as the most sophisticated cyber-attack in history, on the Japanese-owned Sony Pictures Entertainment Corporation, to this high-tech backwater. And President Obama has proclaimed that he knows who’s responsible.

But some considerations about the Sony hacking affair.

1. The U.S. government, including the security apparatus and the State Department, have a long history of bald-faced lies, and the corporate media has a long history of taking its talking points from the State Department. I don’t even want to waste time reprising the litany of lies that accompanied the preparations for the criminal assault on Iraq. Anyone paying attention knows what happened

2. U.S. policy has long been to produce “regime change” in North Korea. Dick Cheney famously said in regards to North Korea “we don’t negotiate with evil, we defeat it.” (Recall how Dubya lumped Iraq, Iran, and North Korea together in his 2002 State of the Union speech as members of an Axis of Evil?) John Bolton so enraged the North Koreans, as a participant in talks over its nuclear program, that it labeled him “human scum.” (This could be dismissed as typical DPRK vituperativeness were it not for the fact that the British felt the same thing when he was involved with them in talks in Libya and it was felt by the UN in general when Bolton served as UN ambassador.)

George W. Bush dismayed then-South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung in 2001 when he refused to endorse Kim’s “sunshine policy” vis-à-vis his northern neighbor. As in most things, the Obama policy has been a continuation of the Bush policy.

Put these two together and what do you have, but the real possibility of a calculated effort to use the Sony hacking incident to advance the cause of regime change, regardless of what is actually true?

Lawrence Wilkerson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief-of-staff, actually implied to an interviewer December 23 that he saw parallels between the campaign to charge the North Korea with the Sony hacking and the Bush-era neocon-led effort to smear Saddam Hussein with the false charges raised against him. That–from such an establishment figure–should make everybody think.

I don’t know much about hacking, data detection malware, hard coding of paths and passwords, time-stamped data, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, etc. These are just terms to me. I find some of the claims and critiques of the claims difficult to follow. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, and the tendency of many will be to simply rely on the “experts” (like those in the FBI, who are supposed to know this stuff) to assign blame

But whenever there’s a contemporary controversy that puzzles me, my impulse is to create a timeline, a simple, straightforward chronology. Sometimes that alone helps to clarify the issue. So here’s my timeline on the Sony hacking incident, offered as a study aid, with minimal commentary.

*****

June 11, 2014: In a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the North Korean government denounces the Hollywood film The Interview as “undisguised sponsoring of terrorism, as well as an act of war.” Pyongyang, well known for its bluster, promises “decisive and merciless countermeasure [if] the U.S. administration tacitly approves or supports” the movie.

Late June: Sony CEO Michael Lynton consults with Bruce Bennett, a “senior defense analyst” at the RAND Corporation, author of Preparing for the Possibility  of a North Korean Collapse, about the  film. He particularly asks his opinion about the final scene in the “comedy,” in which Kim Jung-un’s head is blown off by U.S. journalists working with the CIA. (He perhaps asks whether or not this might threaten U.S. national security.

(The RAND Corporation is a government-linked think tank whose trustees have included Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice, and whose researchers have included Francis Fukuyama and Zalmay Khalilzad. During the 1980s RAND researchers were deeply involved in the effort to vastly exaggerate Soviet military strength to undo détente and justify Reagan’s massive military buildup. )

June 25: Bennett emails Lynton: “I… thought a bunch more about the ending [of the film]. I have to admit that the only resolution I can see to the North Korean nuclear and other threats is for the North Korean regime to eventually go away… I have been clear that the assassination of Kim Jong-Un is the most likely path to a collapse of the North Korean government. Thus while toning down the ending may reduce the North Korean response, I believe that a story that talks about the removal of the Kim family regime and the creation of a new government by the North Korean people (well, at least the elites) will start some real thinking in South Korea and, I believe, in the North once the DVD leaks into the North (which it almost certainly will). So from a personal perspective, I would personally prefer to leave the ending alone.”

June 25: Lynton emails Bennett: “[I] [s]poke to someone very senior in [the] State [Department] (confidentially). He agreed with everything you have been saying. Everything. I will fill you in when we speak.  (This may have been Daniel R. Russell, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs.)

Comment: In other words, the State Department agreed that it would be good to have the comedy conclude with Kim Jong-un getting his head blown off by U.S. agents. It would set of “some real thinking” among North Koreans viewing DVDs of the film smuggled into the DPRK

Late June: Lynton arranges a screening of a rough cut of The Interview to at least two U.S. government officials who approve the film, including the ending.

Around this time:  U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues (Robert R. King) is also consulted by Sony on the film.

June 27: North Korean ambassador to the UN Ja Song-nam requests that the Security Council adopt the DPRK’s statement against the film.

Five Months Pass By…

November 21: A person or group of persons identifying as “God’s Apostles” (“God’sApstls”) sends an email to Lynton and Amy Pascal, co-chairman of SPE, threatening to hack Sony Pictures Entertainment and demanding money. “We’ve got great damage by Sony Pictures. The compensation for it, monetary compensation we want. Pay the damage, or Sony Pictures will be bombarded as a whole. You know us very well. We never wait long. You’d better behave wisely.”

November 24: All employees at Sony Pictures Entertainment headquarters in Culver City, California see the image of a skull and long skeletal fingers on their computer screens and the message: “This is just the beginning… [W]e’ve obtained all your internal data” and warn that they will release Sony’ “top secrets” unless the company agrees to “obey” their demands. The hackers identify themselves as “Guardians of Peace.” But since they also say, “We’ve already warned you, and this is just the beginning” we can probably surmise that they are the same as “God’s Apstls.”

November 25: Cyber-security experts Jacob Kastrenakes and Russell Brandom see the hacking as an inside job, and post the article “Sony Pictures hackers say they want ‘equality,’ worked with staff to break in,” on ”The Verge” website.

November 28: Appearance of the first news reports that North Korea may have been responsible. Technology news site Re/code report is picked up by Reuters and other news agencies

December 3: Skeptics emerge. “Sony Hack: Studio Security Points to Inside Job,” in The Hollywood Reporter, questions North Korean responsibility.

December 3: In an interview with Voice of America an unidentified North Korean diplomat denies any involvement in the hacking.

December 4: Associated Press reports some cyber-security experts say they’ve found “striking similarities between the code used in the hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment and attacks blamed on North Korea which targeted South Korean companies and government agencies last year.” Experienced hackers say this proves absolutely nothing since such codes are easily stolen, sold, or shared.

December 5: A message from hackers claiming to be Guardians of Peace is emailed to SPE employees: “Many things beyond imagination will happen at many places of the world. Our agents find themselves act in necessary places. Please sign your name to object the false of the company at the e-mail address below if you don’t want to suffer damage. If you don’t, not only you but your family will be in danger.”

December 7: North Korea denies involvement calling the charge “a wild rumor.” But it calls the hacking a “righteous deed.”

December 8: On a file-sharing site GOP warns Sony to “Stop immediately showing the movie of terrorism which can break regional peace and cause the War!” This is the hackers’ first apparent implicit reference to The Interview.

December 15: Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton tells employees that the ongoing investigation is being handled at the “highest level” of the FBI.

December 16: GOP makes their first direct reference to The Interview, 25 days after the first threat sent to Lynton and Pascal. Reporters receive an email declaring: “We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places The Interview be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to. Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made. The world will be full of fear. Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time.”

December 16: The FBI states, “We are aware of the threat.”

December 17: Sony Pictures scraps the planned Christmas Day release of the film.

December 17: Professional computer security experts begin to weigh in on the Sony hacking story. Kim Zetter, senior staff writer at Wired (a well respected news site and magazine covering technology), writes the article,  “North Korea Almost Certainly Did Not Hack Sony.

December 17: Jason Koebler, Motherboard, posts article, “Reaction to the Sony Hack Is ‘Beyond the Realm of Stupid.’”

December 17: Jeffrey Carr (cybersecurity expert, CEO of Taia Global),  posts “Why You Should Demand Proof Before Believing The U.S. Government On North Korea and Sony,” on Digital Dao.

December 18: White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest tells reporters: “I can tell you that, consistent with the president’s previous statements about how we will protect against, monitor and respond to cyber incidents, this is something that’s being treated as a serious national security issue.

December 18: More computer security specialists question allegations of North Korean responsibility. British security blogger Graham Cluley writes, “US reportedly blaming North Korea for Sony Pictures hack. But why?”

December 18: Marc Rogers–director of security operations for DEF CON, the world’s largest hacker conference, and the principal security researcher for the world’s leading mobile security company, Cloudflare–writes: “Why the Sony hack is unlikely to be the work of North Korea.”

December 19: Sony announces it will completely cancel the film’s release. Hackers contact Sony, praising the pulling of the film as a “wise decision.

December 19: FBI publicly fingers the government of North Korea as the instigators of the hack and threats towards moviegoers.  “As a result of our investigation, and in close collaboration with other U.S. Government departments and agencies, the FBI now has enough information to conclude that the North Korean government is responsible for these actions…. North Korea’s actions were intended to inflict significant harm on a U.S. business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves.”

(It has been suggested that the “other U.S. Government departments and agencies” include most significantly the National Security Agency or NSA.)

December 19: At his year-end press conference President Obama repeats the FBI’s allegation and decries Sony’s decision to pull the film. U.S. media universally accepts without question the U.S. charge that North Korea hacked Sony.

December 19: More critical analyses appear. These include Jeffrey Carr, “Sony, the DPRK, and the Thailand – Pyongyang Connection,” on Digital Dao and Paul Wagenseil, “North Korea Hacked Sony? Don’t Believe It, Experts Say,” on Tom’s Guide.

December 19: Reuters reporter Julie Noce briefly interviews convicted hacker and security expert Kevin Medwick who questions North Korea link and suggests Sony was hacked by insiders.

December 20: North Korea again denies responsibility, demands the U.S. agree to a joint investigation.

December 20: Further critiques of the FBI story. Robert Graham (CEO, Errata Security), “Sony hack was the work of SPECTRE,” Errata Security; Christina Warren, “How the FBI says it connected North Korea to the Sony hack — and why some experts are still skeptical,” Mashable; “Lets blame our perennial adversary!,” the grugq; “Fauxtribution?” at Krypt3ia (pseudonymous hacker).

December 20:  First piece of mass media journalism to question North Korean responsibility: Michael Hiltzik’s piece “These experts still don’t buy the FBI claim that North Korea hacked Sony” in the Los Angeles Times.

December 20: CCTV (Chinese government-sponsored English-language cable TV) report from Los Angeles notes that many cyber experts doubt the North Korea link.

December 21: More questioning: a Comment by Marcus Ranum, e-security expert, posted at Free Thought Blogs; Marc Rogers, “Why I Still Don’t Think Its Likely that North Korea Hacked Sony,” on Marc’s Security Ramblings.

December 22:  The U.S. rejects the joint investigation proposed by Pyongyang. State Department spokeswoman tells reporters: “The government of North Korea has a long history of denying responsibility for its destructive and provocative actions, and if they want to help here, they can admit their culpability and compensate Sony for the damage they caused.”

December 22: North Korean internet is shut down for 9 hours. U.S. does not comment. U.S. mass media states that the problem is mysterious and avoids blaming U.S. government.

December 22: Expert criticism continues, although largely ignored by the mass media. Bill Blunden, “The Mighty Wurlitzer Plays On: Sony Propaganda,” on CounterPunch;. Jason Ditz, “Lacking Evidence, Obama Mulls Action Against North Korea,” on antiwar.com. Also Charles C. Johnson, “BREAKING: We Can Conclusively Confirm North Korea Was Not Behind #Sony Hack” on gotnews.com.

December 22: Small media breakthrough when news anchor Chris Hayes interviews Marc Rogers briefly on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes. Hayes begins: “But here’s the thing. There are some very smart people out there including computer security experts and hackers with no allegiance to North Korea and no dog in this fight who say they just aren’t necessarily buying that North Korea did this either.” The interview is short and cut off, but at least begins with this noteworthy admission by Hayes.

December 23: Sony announces it will release the film after all and Obama praises the decision. The entire corporate mass media rejoices in the triumph of free expression versus North Korea’s attempt to suppress our free speech.

December 23: Col. Larry Wilkerson is interviewed by Paul Jay on Real News. Jay asks him “Why do you think President Obama is so out front on this when the evidence seems so flimsy?” Wilkerson replies, “I’m confused about it myself. I think the media have made a mountain out of a mole hill.”1

Asked: “And is there another agenda with North Korea here? Or is this mostly a PR exercise by the president?” Wilkerson replies: “I certainly hope there’s not another agenda, but I smell one, because in the summer of 2001, as the Bush administration was laboring over who in the axis of evil it was going to take on, Korea was first and foremost in many people’s eyes. Once they were sobered up by the military and others, including yours truly, about what it would mean to have a war on the peninsula… they sobered up quickly. They didn’t want anything to do with that. And, of course, we know where they turned. They turned to the low-hanging fruit of Iraq.”

(In the interview Wilkerson says he has no trust in the national security circle around Obama.)

December 24: Marc Rogers again lays out the case against North Korean involvement in the hacking, in the eminently respectable mainstream website The Daily Beast, in a piece entitled “No, North Korea Didn’t Hack Sony.”

Again: Rogers is director of security operations for the world’s largest hacker conference, and the principal security researcher for the world’s leading mobile security company. This appears to be the most definitive, authoritative debunking of the NSA/FBI/State Department/Barack Obama claim.

(You would hope that this sharp critique would incline the official press to back off from its knee-jerk acceptance of the Obama version of reality, and to abandon its weasel words like “It is thought that…” You’d hope that the talking heads would shift towards a more nuanced approach, such as, “While security analysts widely dispute the charge, the Obama administration claims that…” But no, this is not happening.)

December 24: New York Times’ Nicole Perlroth, “New Study May Add to Skepticism Among Security Experts that North Korea Was behind Sony Attack” reports that computational linguists at Taia Global, a cybersecurity agency, have concluded the hackers are more likely to be Russian speakers than Korean.

December 25: Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich states in a press briefing that the U.S. has failed to offer any proof of North Korean involvement in the Sony hacking.

December 25: Film critic David Edmund Moody, on Huff Post Entertainment, writes “The Interview — Painfully Bad.” Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter, calls it “an intensely sophomoric and rampantly uneven comic takedown… doesn’t rate anywhere near Borat or Team America: World Police.”

December 26: CNN suddenly reports that the North Korea hacking story appears to be very questionable. This should be the end of the story. But neither the FBI nor Sony when asked for comment has answered calls.

*****

It’s as though the managing editors of the entire corporate press, deferring by habit or inclination to the pronouncements of the FBI, had for weeks instructed their talking heads and print journalists to spin the story as they did–as a clear-cut case of North Korean “cyber-vandalism” if not “cyber-terrorism.”

It’s been oh, so typical! After the sarin gas attack in Syria on August 21, 2013, the Obama administration declared that the government of Bashar al-Assad was responsible, although that allegation was questioned then and now, by the Russian Foreign Ministry and investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, among others.

After the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine on July 17, 2014, the U.S. State Department immediately blamed pro-Russian separatists and by association Moscow for the tragedy. But Robert Parry, another award-winning investigative reporter, has questioned this and suggested that the Pentagon actually suspects that Ukrainian government forces are responsible, as intimated by the Russians. The latter have provided some of their surveillance data while the U.S. has provided none.

It’s still not really clear who’s to blame in either episode. What is clear to thinking people (a category excluding most bought and paid for cable news anchors) is the U.S. proclivity to fix intelligence around policy–to lie to the people to justify aggressive moves, whether against Serbia or Iraq or Syria or Libya or Iran or Russia or North Korea.

Sooner or later the truth will out, as it did in the case of the S.S. Maine, the Tonkin Gulf attacks, or Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Those who’ve studied the episodes realize that “genocide” charges against Serbian forces in Bosnia (1995) and Kosovo (1999) were hyped in order to establish NATO hegemony over what was once the proud neutral country of Yugoslavia, and that allegations that Muammar Gadafy was about to annihilate civilians in Benghazi (2011) were pulled out of thin air.

But the truth usually comes out after it’s too late to make a difference, and the liars responsible for high crimes against peace sleep peacefully in their beds. Milosevic died in prison while fighting charges of war crimes. Saddam Hussein was hanged. Gaddafi was murdered, sodomized with a knife. But Bill Clinton is lionized by the Democratic Party establishment and his bloodthirsty wife will likely become the next president. Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz live in comfort and are treated as elder statesmen by much of the media.

Those perusing an agenda for North Korean regime change (as “smelled” by Col. Wilkerson) could feel free to cherry-pick intelligence just as the neocons did so systematically before the invasion of Iraq. That’s the system under which we live, especially post-9/11, and it will not die easily. But fortunately in this instance a Big Lie is dissolving as we speak, thanks to the honest geeks in the cyber security industry. It may be harder to justify further measures against Pyongyang after this.

To paraphrase RAND’s Bennett quoted above: The only resolution I can see (for the regime of lies under which we suffer) is for the regime to eventually go away. I believe that talk about its removal, and the creation of a new government by the people of this country, might start some real thinking.

I myself will not propose any particular dramatic “ending” to the tragicomic drama in which we live. And I wouldn’t endorse a light-hearted sophomoric farce about an Obama assassination (although I see absolutely no legal nor moral difference between such and the State Department-endorsed Sony film). But I’d hope that at minimum the farce of the North Korean “cyber-terrorism” accusations further undermines–in the minds of many of its own subjects–the credibility of the world’s most consistently violent, destructive regime.

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu

Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu

Who Is the “Most Evil” American in History?

Journalist Pete Hamill liked to tell the story of the time (before he quit drinking) when he and a writer friend were pounding them down in a New York City saloon, back in the late 1970s. After consuming a sufficient amount of alcohol, the two of them decided to list on a cocktail napkin the names of the three individuals they considered to be “the most evil men” in the history of the world. Clearly, a tall order.

After writing down their choices, they swapped napkins, and were surprised to discover that each had not only written the names of the same three men, but had placed them in the identical order: Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Walter O’Malley.

For those unfamiliar with baseball history, Walter O’Malley was the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the man who, in 1958, uprooted the team from Brooklyn and relocated it in Los Angeles, a move that simultaneously brought major league baseball to the West Coast and broke the hearts of a million New York baseball fans. Although O’Malley’s inclusion was obviously done tongue-in-cheek, it was clear that, even two decades later, Hamill and his buddy were unwilling to forgive.

Over the years, some friends and I have conducted a similar, silly exercise—silly because anything as reductive, arbitrary and subjective as this is bound to yield bizarre results. But silly or not, we nonetheless asked people (young and old, from varying backgrounds) to name who they thought was the single “most evil American” in history. The results were interesting.

Among those named were: Richard Nixon, Tim Leary (blamed for having “introduced drugs” to America), Charles Manson, Senator Joe McCarthy, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, John D. Rockefeller, Julius Rosenberg, Lyndon Johnson, William Randolph Hearst, George Custer, and Earl Warren.

Someone, a middle-aged woman, actually listed the Beatles (claiming they had “undermined” America’s youth), an odd choice given that the Beatles were a group and not an individual, and were British, not American.

Although my own personal choice wasn’t mentioned, I would challenge anyone to name a more “evil” American. Indeed, the argument could be made that the person I chose not only did more damage to more good people—ruined more careers and more lives—but single-handedly abrogated the political conversation that was going on in this country at a time when such a conversation could have actually had a salutary effect. I’m speaking of J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI from 1935 until his death in 1972.

According to everything we’ve read about Hoover, his power, his authority—both official and “unofficial”—was staggering, almost beyond comprehension. The following is a quote from President Truman, back before Hoover had even hit his stride. “We want no Gestapo or secret police. The FBI is tending in that direction. They are dabbling in sex-life scandals and plain blackmail. J. Edgar Hoover would give his right eye to take over, and all congressmen and senators are afraid of him.”

Not only did Hoover have the power to smear as “subversive” or “treasonous” anyone who expressed a remotely leftist or European Socialist point of view, he had compiled secret, incendiary files on hundreds of influential Americans, potentially ruinous dossiers that prevented anyone (including U.S. Presidents) from standing up on their hind legs and launching a campaign to unseat him.

While corrupt or reactionary politicians—from the president all the way down to state assemblyman—can, in principle, be voted out of office, Hoover was in no such position. Not only wasn’t he elected, with his choke-hold on the government, he was immune to public opinion. This evil man was a true “Untouchable.”

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor,” 2nd edition), is a former union rep.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

A World Without Police

In two previous essay, I discussed the role of the Left in protecting the police through cautious reformism, and the effectiveness of a pacified, falsified—in a word disarmed—history of the Civil Rights movement to prevent us from learning from previous struggles and achieving a meaningful change in society.

The police are a racist, authoritarian institution that exists to protect the powerful in an unequal system. Past and present efforts to reform them have demonstrated that reformism can’t solve the problem, though it does serve to squander popular protests and advance the careers of professional activists. Faced with this situation, in which Left and Right unwittingly collude to prolong the problem, the extralegal path of rioting, seizing space, and fighting back against the police makes perfect sense. In fact, this phenomenon, denounced as “violence” by the media, the police, and many activists in unison, was not only the most significant feature of the Ferguson rebellion and the solidarity protests organized in hundreds of other cities, it was also the vital element that made everything else possible, that distinguished the killing of Michael Brown from a hundred other police murders. What’s more, self-defense against state violence (whether excercized by police or by tolerated paramilitaries like the Klan) is not an exceptional occurrence in a long historical perspective, but a tried and true form of resistance, and one of the only that has brought results, in the Civil Rights movement and earlier.

What remains is to speak about possibilities that are radically external to the self-regulating cycle of tragedy and reform. What remains is to speak loudly and clearly about a world without police.

We don’t want better police. We don’t want to fix the police. On the contrary, we understand that the police work quite well; they simply do not work for us and they never have. We want to get rid of the police entirely, and we want to live in a world where police are not necessary.

Far from being a naïve position, I believe it is the only one that can withstand serious scrutiny, whether in the form of a comprehensive historical analysis of the role and evolution of police and the effectiveness of reform movements, or of an examination of the breadth of possibility that human societies have already demonstrated.

No one can effectively argue that the police are necessary in an absolute sense. They are a relatively recent invention, as far as institutions go. The only question is what kind of society needs police, and whether that kind of society makes the systematic murders, torture, beatings, and surveillance worth it.

Dennis Sullivan and Larry Tifft have compiled a great deal of information on societies that use various forms of conflict resolution in which an organization such as the police has no place. From the Diné (Navajo) to the Semai, there are dozens of societies—all of them impacted to varying degrees by Western colonialism—that have practiced restorative or transformative justice, dealing with cases of conflict or social harm without ever having to be so brutal as to lock people up in cages or create an elite body designed to surveille people or mobilize organized violence against those who transgress set laws. They compare neighboring societies that face similar socio-economic conditions but use different strategies for dealing with harm, as well as Western societies that make minimal usage of policing and judicial apparatuses.

A pattern that becomes immediately evident is that police and prisons are only necessary in societies that are based on exploitation and inequality. The police are not an instrument fit to protect a society; on the contrary they are an instrument fit to protect an elite, parasitical class from society. Any society with a minimal practice of cooperation and solidarity can protect itself from individuals who would harm others. A hierarchical, militarized force such as the police, or an institution like the prison designed to remove conflict and transgression from the social sphere, only makes sense where there is a parasitical social class that exists in antagonism with the rest of society, and needs to manage social norms of right and wrong and monopolize violent force in order to preserve its power. Such a class also needs a justice mechanism, such as courts and a legislative body, to formalize its conception of right and wrong, and a propaganda mechanism, whether a state religion or mass media, to ensure that the exploited majority identify with their masters and reproduce the norms of the elite. When a normal person speaks out against throwing rocks at the police or destroying businesses, they are expressing values that originate at the top of the social pyramid.

Of course it gets more complicated when you realize that interests are always subjective, and people often get more out of identifying with a larger community, no matter how fictitious, than they do out of having food to eat or a roof over their heads. In the end, everyone from the CEO to the news anchor to the taxi driver or homebum with conventional ideas all participate in reproducing the same system, and they probably all sincerely believe in the positions they espouse, but some clearly have more influence than others, and can be identified as originators of certain aspects of the present system.

Therefore, we are not speaking for the masses when we assert that the police and the prisons exist to control them, but we should also not shy away from espousing a radical position just because it will be unpopular. We need to have faith that a great many people might eventually come to support radical positions regarding the police. Many people already support parts of these positions intuitively or implicitly, and the reason that more people don’t, at least not expressly, is that so few people currently dare to declare the police an intractable enemy of freedom or to openly advocate a world without police. At this juncture, the last thing that we need is for more people to espouse tepid, inane suggestions for reform that are completely untenable and unrealistic. But as long as proposals for meager reform are taken seriously, that’s what we’ll get.

We can’t get rid of police brutality without getting rid of the police, and we can’t get rid of the police without getting rid of an entire system based on exploitation, oppression, and hierarchy. There is no easy, band-aid solution to this problem, and bandying them about only perpetuates the problem. Foregrounding difficult, far-reaching changes does not mean, however, fixating an abstract gaze on a pre-designed future and blinding ourselves to immediate problems. On the contrary, we need to focus on how we fight now for a better world, and part of that means avoiding forms of action that make real changes even more improbable.

As I argued in Part II, most of what was achieved in the Civil Rights movement in terms of short-term changes was achieved when people armed themselves, took over their streets, and fought back without worrying about ruling class taboos against lower class violence. If we fight for total social transformation without proposing naïve reforms, those in power will trip over themselves trying to buy us off with quick fixes and opportunities to participate in the system.

This in fact is how most social movements in history have gone down. Whatever improvements have been won were actually won by those who fought for radical positions, using uncompromising methods and aggressive tactics, though the victories were claimed by the reformers, who tend to be a combination of dissident members of the ruling structures, opportunists who wish to climb the social ladder, and sincere people who have been duped by a discourse of pragmatism. Their own methods are too sedate to shake things up and force a change, in fact their timidity demonstrates to authority that they are ultimately a loyal opposition undeserving of repression. They must ride the coattails of the radicals in order to be in position when the rulers realize that some change is necessary in order to avoid an actual revolution. The reason that these movements always stop after an incomplete reform, and that the most ineffective sectors of these movements tend to get the credit, is because the reformers have a tendency to throw the radicals under the bus, helping the State eliminate them in exchange for access to power in its newly reformed configuration. After all, who better to discern what reform will best fool the people on bottom than someone who has recently come up from the bottom?

I previously mentioned that a police apparatus cannot exist without a hierarchical society, a prison system, a justice system, and some kind of culture industry, whether religious or mediatic. All of these institutions defend a ruling structure against the conflicts generated by its antagonistic position towards society. Modern democracies go a step further, however; if conflict with society is inevitable, why not manage it rather than trying to suppress it?

In Ferguson, the managers of social conflict were in large part those activists who preached nonviolence and denounced the rioters, as I mentioned in Part I. But there is an important kind of management I neglected to mention.

Those of us who are critical of the mass media may have a hard time explaining the sympathetic position that Time Magazine or Rolling Stone occasionally took with the rioters. Of course, a couple articles hardly make up for thousands of syndicated columns objectively refering to rioters as some kind of pathological parasite, radio hosts calling looters “idiots” and worse, TV spots spreading fear about savage hordes of demons and outside agitators, days long NPR marathons urging peaceful protest, and so on. Nonetheless, the phenomenon is curious as well as significant. In the case of Rolling Stone, we could suppose that this old establishment rag is afraid of all the ground it has lost in the risqué news niche to dynamic newcomers like Vice; however the explanation would be insufficient.

The seemingly subversive behavior of a few outliers is hardly unprecedented. In the recent insurrection in Greece, a large part of the media expressed sympathy with the rioters, albeit in a very formulaic way. In the media lens, young students were justifiably protesting in the streets after the police murder of 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos, anarchists were hijacking the event to burn police stations, and immigrants were taking advantage of the situation to loot stores. None of these characterizations are based on fact. Millions of young people and old, Greeks and immigrants, participated in the uprising, in a variety of ways. Many students looted, many immigrants walked along with protests. A frequently expressed sentiment was that participation in the insurrection blurred all of these pre-established identities, in which case the media operation clearly intended to reassert them. With all three subjects, the media caricature refers to a prefabricated figure that the entire population was already familiar with—the socially concerned student, the pyromaniac anarchist, the criminal immigrant—that only ever existed on the glowing screen, because it was the media themselves that created it. That’s the brilliance of the media: they rarely have to verify their claims, because they operate within a virtual universe that they themselves have created.

In the Greek example, it is obvious why the media would sympathize with student rioting: to discourage non-students from participating or identifying with the uprising; and to establish a limit of acceptable tactics, implicitly criminalizing the looting and the attacks on police stations. After all, the intensity of street fighting over three uninterrupted weeks was forcing the government to consider calling in the military. They were willing to tolerate burning barricades and illegal protests if things didn’t go further.

Likewise, when people start to bring guns to protests as in Ferguson, there will be those among the forces of law and order who begin to see the wisdom in tolerating the smashing of banks. It’s noteworthy that the media only begin to stomach property destruction when talk of shooting back begins to resonate throughout society. And though within the confines of American dialogue, it feels like a breath of fresh air that Time Magazine would sympathize with rioters, it is a more or less calculated move that functions to limit the growth of resistance. Even if the editors of a magazine are not scheming consciously and explicitly about how to maintain social control, they are still individuals with a vested interest in the current system. People fighting fiercely for their freedom, unlike those who compulsively walk in circles or stage die-ins, often force a recognition of their humanity and win a limited sympathy from their enemies. They also make the existence of a social conflict undeniable. In such a case, people in power may come to accept tactics that they had previously condemned, to acknowledge errors they had previously denied, but their condemnation of forms of rebellion that are irreversibly destabilizing will only crystalize. People can be permitted to blow off steam, even in illegal ways, but they cannot be permitted to blunt or sabotage the instruments of the State. And when the police confront an armed population, they are suddenly much less effective.

Another way that exceptional dissent might manifest is in the realm of discourse and research. I am by no means the first person to express the idea that the police should be abolished, nor is this idea entirely strange in acceptable discourse among people who are much better dressed than I am. However the elaboration of these discourses must be couched in certain ways to signal their usefulness to the State, and their separation from communities in struggle.

If we assert that it is not permitted to speak of a world without police, this is only true if we understand the police as one function in an interlocking system of domination, and the abolition of the police means the abolition of that entire system. Otherwise, there is a great deal of research and debate that maps out the possibilities of prison abolition or an end to policing as we know it. But what is the actual meaning and effect of this discourse?

I would start by arguing that the vast majority of those who conduct this theoretical labor have good intentions. But we also know what they say about good intentions, and the paving stones on the road to hell are not nearly as substantial as the ones being thrown at cops in Ferguson and elsewhere. With this facile figure of speech, I actually mean to suggest a different criterion for evaluating our actions.

I gladly admit that the information produced by academics or activists who theorize about prison abolition or a world without police is thought-provoking and useful. I have cited a few examples of it in this essay. But just as we must ask why Time Magazine would sympathize with rioters, we should ask why there exist paid positions for people to study prison abolition. Either capitalism isn’t a totality, or the prisons and the police are not an integral part of power, or power benefits somehow by studying its own abolition.

I believe the answer lies between the second and the third possibilities. Even though the abolition of prisons is not a likely future, from the present vantage, democratic capitalism increases its chances for survival by exploring contingency plans for extreme cases, and by giving opponents employment opportunities. The advantage is increased if “prisons” or “police” can be discursively transformed from an integral element of a whole system into a particular appendage that can be discarded or modified. And there are few methods of discourse more suited to carrying out this transformation than the academic—which favors specificity and an analysis of parts over wholes—and the activist—which tends towards single-issue messaging that favors the myopic over the radical.

Someone in the academy or in the world of professional activism can study the police for all the right reasons, personally holding a global analysis of the integral role of police within a greater whole, but the institutional formulae of applying for grants, publishing articles, and claiming concrete improvements all modulate those individuals’ activity to favor a piecemeal worldview and to direct discourse at other power-holders.

It may sound like a platitude but I believe experience in struggle bears it out: you cannot abolish that with which you dialogue. State authority above all thrives on being present in every social conversation. A conversation with employers, legislators, grant-writers, or experts about the abolition of the police necessarily assumes the replacement of one form of policing with another.

The modern prison was born out of the abolition of the scaffold. Community policing was a survival mechanism after the defeats and the unpopularity of the police caused by the struggles of the ’60s. The danger is real.

Even without a far-reaching reform that allows the powerful to regenerate their methods for accumulating power, radical discourses in professional channels present other problems. One I have already hinted at can be thought of as misdirection.

Let’s imagine an organization that focuses on prison abolition. Their employees are sincere, dedicated activists, some of them proven veterans of past struggles. Nearly all of them are college graduates, and some might be academics; otherwise they stay in close contact with the experts who produce facts that make it easier to argue for prison abolition in polite circles. They produce many valuable materials that can be useful for supporting prisoners or changing people’s opinions about the prison system, and they may even have a pilot project on a couple blocks in a specific neighborhood, designed to decrease reliance on the prison industrial complex.

Taken individually, all of these things are great. We need more people who are talking about a world without prisons. But the ideas that this hypothetical organization spreads, how do they direct people’s attentions, particularly in a moment of social rebellion?

When such an organization, with paid staff, non-profit status, cred, but also rules to play by and bills to pay, proclaims that “We need to abolish the police and the prisons,” what is the practical implication? “Therefore this organization should receive more grants and this law should not be passed,” or “therefore these people who took up arms against the police deserve our support”? Clearly, it’s not the latter.

A professional approach to tackling the social problems underscored by Ferguson rarely returns people’s energies and attentions to the streets, where real change is created. True, most of the time, we don’t have something like Ferguson going on, so a patient, gradualist method seems to make sense. However, the conservatism of the professional approach often leads activists to play a pacifying role when a moment of intense struggle arises, as we abundantly witnessed this August and again in November. All across the country, even where they refrained from denouncing rioters, activist organizations called for vigils and speak-outs, when it was clear that the time for mere words had passed. Directly or indirectly, these mobilizations allowed a middle-class constituency to monopolize the social response and prevent rioting, at a time when an unprecedented number of people were ready to fight back.

What’s more, the assumptions are all wrong. Ferguson is only exceptional in its extension, not in its spirit. Not a month goes by when someone does not shoot back at the police in America. Most of the time, however, they are a lone shooter, they often kill themselves or die in the act, and the media always publish unsavory details about their personal lives, true or invented. They also portray the cops as heroes, no matter what kind of people they actually were, and they never entertain the possibility that the shooters were justified, as they always do when it’s cops doing the murdering (actually, this is too charitable a description; many media outlets assert from the beginning that the killing was justified, not even allowing a debate). The recent shooting of the two cops in NYC fits the pattern perfectly, but earlier cases like that of Christopher Monfort in Seattle, Eric Frein in Pennsylvania, or Christopher Dorner in LA also apply. None of this should be surprising. There is a certain schizophrenia in a society that glorifies the police and suppresses or distorts any honest conversation about what people actually experience at the hands of police and what sort of countermeasures are adequate or justified. If large numbers of alienated people feel entirely alone in their brutalization and dehumanization by police, collective resistance becomes impossible. The only people to express an active negation of the police will be individuals who reach a certain limit and then snap. By the very nature of the problem they are not going to be the stable ones, especially if mental health is defined as an infinite capacity to accomodate misery.

In Ferguson, rioters spraypainted the QT with the phrase, “free Kevin Johnson”, referring to a black man from an aggressively gentrifying St. Louis suburb who is on death row since 2008. Johnson shot to death an infamous bully of a cop who refused to help his kid brother as he lay dying from a heart condition. There is a direct connection between what are portrayed as isolated outbursts of senseless violence, and the massive rebellions that force society to at least stop and pay attention. I don’t, however, see the professionals making this connection. Typically they are either silent or help pathologize the lone wolves. The tragedy is, such incidents are only isolated as long as people in power AND people in social movements continue to actively isolate them.

Recognizing the basic legitimacy of these acts isn’t to glorify the shooters as heroes. There is something sad in any death, no matter who the victim is, and we’re in dire straits when the only available means of resistance that people think they have are directly suicidal. The point is, there is a direct connection between the systematic brutality of police and the appearance of people who shoot back. Denying it only maintains the schizophrenic condition that forces us to pathologize a sensible human response to systematic abuse, preserves our psychological loyalty to a system that treats us like fodder, and prevents the development of collective measures.

There have been attempts in the US to develop and spread methods of resistance to police that are collective, that brook no compromise, and that are less dangerous, less suicidal, than the method of the lone gunmen. The best known is probably the “black bloc.” And though it is clearly an imperfect tool, the bloc typically faces blanket denunciations by people who make no attempts to propose alternatives. In NGO-land, the trope that has been circulated is that the black bloc is the domain of young white men. Never mind that there are many testimonials by women, queer, and trans people attempting to counter this lie (and at great personal risk, since it requires speaking about personal involvement in an illegal activity); never mind that American anarchists have learned about the tactic not only in Europe but also in Latin America, where it is widely popular. The denunciations cannot be taken seriously as criticisms because they do not rely on realistic portrayals of the black bloc, they are formulated to silence rather than to engage, and they do not propose any alternatives for seizing space or collectively fighting back against police.

The extent to which this trope has been circulated by the corporate media reveals just how liberatory the thinking behind it truly is.

But the black bloc is just one possibility among many, and while it helps demonstrators protect themselves in rowdy street confrontations, it does not suggest to most people the vision of another world. Talking about a world without police in the here and now, without paving the way for our own co-optation is a big order to fill. Fortunately, the conversation is already ongoing.

We have the examples of societies that thrived without police, which I mentioned towards the beginning of the essay. Those stories belong to other cultures. I don’t think Westerners should use them as models or as ideological capital, but I think we should recognize their existence, to break the stranglehold that Western civilization has over definitions of human nature and human possibility, and we should also recognize that those other forms of being were violently interrupted by processes of colonization that are still ongoing. They are not marginal, idyllic stories of “primitive” societies with no bearing on modern reality, they are histories of peoples who are still struggling for survival. If, in the worlds we dream of, there is no room for them to reassert themselves independent of our designs, then whatever we create will only be a continuation of the thing we are fighting against.

More appropriate as inspiration for our own action are a number of stories of struggle in Western or westernized countries in which people created police-free zones on the ground. After all, a holistic critique of the police means that by the very nature of the problem, we cannot ask government to institute the needed changes. Real steps towards a world without police can be found in the riots in Ferguson and other cities around the country where people surpassed their self-appointed leaders and actually fought back, rather than just manufacturing yet another spectacle of symbolic dissent. The riots in Ferguson were not only important in an instrumental way, forcing all of society to consider the problem; they also suggested the beginnings of a solution as neighbors came together in solidarity, building new relations amongst themselves, and forcefully ejecting police from the neighborhoods they patrol.

Christiania is an autonomous neighborhood of Copenhagen that has been squatted since 1971. The area, with nearly a thousand inhabitants, organizes itself in assemblies, maintains its own economy and infrastructure, cleans up its trash, produces bicycles and other items in collective workshops, and runs a number of communal spaces. They also resolve their own conflicts, and with the exception of some aggressive incursions and raids, Christiania has been a police-free zone for most of its existence. Initially, the Danish government opted for a soft strategy, hoping that Christiania would eventually fall apart on its own. In the same era, the autonomous movement in the Netherlands and Germany was fighting major battles to defend their squatted spaces, sometimes defeating the police in the streets or burning down shopping malls in retribution for evictions. In context, the Danish approach made sense. However, Christiania thrived. Some suspect that the government was behind the crisis that threatened the autonomous neighborhood’s existence in 1984 when a motorcycle gang moved into the police-free zone to begin selling hard drugs (soft drugs have always been widely used in Christinia, while addictive drugs are vehemently discouraged).

Earlier in Christiania’s history, there had been a fierce debate about how to deal with the problem of drugs. Over intense opposition, a part of the neighborhood decided to request police assistance, but they soon found that the cops were arresting the users of non-addictive drugs and ignoring or even protecting the proliferation of hard drugs. After that, Christiania decided to keep the police out, and their autonomy was well established by the time the motorcycle gang moved in. The gangsters thought they had picked an easy target: a neighborhood of hippies who not only disavowed making use of the police, they actively kept the police out. These drug-pushers, however, had fallen for capitalist mythology, which presents us all as isolated individuals, vulnerable to organized delinquents, and therefore in need of the greatest protection racket of them all, the State. Christiania residents banded together, exercising the same principle of solidarity that was at work in all the other aspects of their lives, fought back, and kicked the motorcycle gang out, using a combination of sabotage, public meetings, pressure, and direct confrontation.

It is no coincidence that the same tools and capacities that allow us to fight back and free ourselves from policing are also the ones we need to protect ourselves from the forms of harm that capitalist democracies prosecute under the rubric of “crime”. Crime and police are two sides of the same coin. They perpetuate each other, and they each rely on a vulnerable, atomized society. A healthy society would have no need for police, no more than it would lock people in cages and hide its problems out of sight rather than deal with the conflicts and deficiencies that led to an act of harm being committed in the first place.

The mutual relationship between police and crime was exquisitely revealed during the popular uprising in Oaxaca in 2006. In June of that year, police viciously attacked the massive encampment staged annually by striking teachers. But the teachers fought back tooth and nail, quickly joined by many neighbors. They pushed police out of Oaxaca City, which remained autonomous for five months along with large parts of the countryside. People built barricades, which became an important space for socialization as well as self-defense, and they organized topiles, an indigenous tradition that provided volunteers to fight back against police and paramilitaries as well as to look out for fires, acts of robbery, or assault.

The defenders of Oaxaca soon learned that the police were releasing people from their prisons on the condition that they go into the city to commit crimes. In protecting their neighborhoods against these acts, the topiles did not function like Western police forces. They patrolled unarmed, they were volunteers, and they did not have a prerogative to arrest people or impose their will, the way cops do. Upon coming across a robbery, arson, or assault, their function was not only that of first responders, but also to call on the neighbors so everyone could respond collectively. With such a structure, it would be impossible to enforce a legal code against an activity with popular participation. In other words, the topiles could stop a stranger who was robbing the store of a local, working class person (as were many of the neighborhood stores in Oaxaca), but they couldn’t have stopped the neighbors themselves from looting a store they already had an antagonistic, classist relationship with, as was the case in Ferguson.

People in Oaxaca also had to defend themselves from police and paramilitaries, and they did so for five months. The topiles and many others were unarmed. They had to fight back with rocks, fireworks, and molotov cocktails, many of them getting shot in the process. Their bravery allowed hundreds of thousands of people to live in freedom for five months, in a police-free, government-free zone, experimenting with the self-organization of their lives on social, economic, and cultural levels. All the beautiful aspects of the Oaxaca commune are inseperable from their violent struggle against police, involving barricades, slingshots, molotov cocktails, and thousands of people who faced down armed opponents, over a dozen of them giving their lives in the process. In the end, the Mexican state had to send in the military as the only way to crush this flourishing pocket of autonomy.

If we learn from examples like Christiania, Oaxaca, and Ferguson itself, we can fight for a world without police and everything they represent, beginning here and now by creating blocks, neighborhoods, or even entire cities that are at least temporarily police-free zones. Within these spaces we can finally experiment and practice with solutions to all the other interrelated forms of oppression that plague us.

There is something beautiful about people finding the courage to fight back against a more powerful enemy, and people also flourish in surprising ways when they liberate space and take the power to organize their own lives. Neither of these things can be overemphasized. But neither should we romanticize. In the streets of Ferguson and other liberated spaces, much of the ugliness that infuses our society rears its head. But dealing with what had previously been invisible or normalized is an inevitable part of any healing process, and our society is nothing if not sick. Calamities like uprisings and riots can be important catalysts in processes of social healing, and liberated spaces, by forcefully casting aside the previous regime’s norms and relationships, that only functioned to reproduce and invisibilize all the ongoing forms of harm, can give us the opportunity to create new, healthier patterns, and engage in conversations that previously had been impossible. Empowering ourselves to fight back against those who have traumatized us, like the police, can be an important step in upsetting oppressive relations, healing from trauma, and restoring healthy social relations.

This is, however, a dangerous proposition. Fighting back against the police, especially shooting back at them, as was happening in Ferguson, is not a safe activity. Change is never safe. And if we can successfully overcome the police to create a liberated zone, the State will eventually send in the military. Are the soldiers still loyal enough, after these last wars, to open fire on us? Has enough been done to encourage dissension in the ranks, or is the government firmly in control? There is only one way to find out.

It is understandable that many people would not want to face the extreme risks involved with uprooting the oppressions that grip our society. There is nothing wrong with being afraid, so long as you have the courage to admit it. Some people, however, do a great disservice by muddying the waters with myopic proposals that have no hope of making an actual difference.

In the streets, we need to learn how to seize space, to make sure that those who fight back are never isolated, to make collective responses possible so no one has to react in an individual, suicidal way again, and to build a struggle that has room for young and old, for the peaceful and the bellicose, for those who know how to fight and those who know how to heal. It will be a long process, and in the meantime, there is a great need to speak loud and clear about a world without police, so everyone will know there is another way, beyond the false alternatives of obedience or ineffectual reform.

Peter Gelderloos has participated in various initiatives to support prisoners and push the police out of our neighborhoods. He is the author of several books, including Anarchy Works and The Failure of Nonviolence.

Peter Gelderloos has participated in various initiatives to support prisoners and push the police out of our neighborhoods. He is the author of several books, including Anarchy Works and The Failure of Nonviolence.

Why We Supported the Hawkins Campaign for Governor of New York State

Howie Hawkins is not a lawyer, businessman or scion of a wealthy family. Yet as a line worker for the United Parcel Service (UPS), he has managed to run for office numerous times from local to statewide, in the process helping to make the Green Party of New York State the real left opposition here. He has done this despite the default of the labor movement of which he is an active part as a Teamster; New York unions by and large have have rejected political independence and have chosen the path of least resistance, endorsing “winners” like Andrew Cuomo for governor, in the hopes of picking up a few fallen crumbs off the bargaining table.

So if you ask me why Howie Hawkins appealed to me and many other increasingly frustrated union members in the state, as we watch the conditions of workers worsen from year to year, the answer is easy to understand, Howie stands with us and for us. He is not a lawyer looking for a political career using his or her skills in argument, whether the arguments are believed or not. He is not a product of “a penumbra of quasi-political institutions—think-tanks, consultancies, lobbying firms, politicians’ back offices” to quote an article in the Economist on how countries create a “political class.”

Howie argues from the point of view of his class, the working class, and we know when we support him, that when the election is over, win or lose, he is one of us. He has worked the midnight shift (still works it in fact), in the cold and dark, shared coffee with co-workers commiserating about a bad boss, poor safety conditions and low pay and benefits.

Howie first came to my notice in his 2010 campaign for governor, which I enthusiastically supported among my co-workers on the railroad. And I found a positive response from many of them, enough to have me encourage Howie to campaign outside the rail yard, which he did successfully. I then joined him at other work sites, always with a good response from workers.

In 2013, I took a ride out to Syracuse to support Howie’s second run for city council there. Campaigning door to door in his district, I saw first hand the support and respect he has earned in his base in that city.

In 2014, Howie went from getting individual supporters like myself, to actual endorsements from labor bodies. This reflects the growing understanding among workers that they need their own political representation and political party. His campaign got nearly five percent of the vote, leapfrogging the labor backed Working Families Party for fourth spot on the ballot. In my county he got 10 percent of the vote. Howie’s campaign in 2014 has dramatically confirmed, in a big statewide race, increased support for an independent party for workers, and all of us in labor owe him a debt of gratitude for this.

Jon Flanders spent 25 years as a Railroad Machinist, member and past President of IAM 1145. Steering committee member of Railroad Workers United. Retired. He can be reached at: jonathan.flanders@verizon.net.

Jon Flanders spent 25 years as a Railroad Machinist, member and past President of IAM 1145. Steering committee member of Railroad Workers United. Retired. He can be reached at: jonathan.flanders@verizon.net.

The West Needs More Than a White Knight to Defeat ISIS

There is a scene in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass in which Alice meets the White Knight who is wearing full armour and riding a horse off which he keeps falling. Alice expresses curiosity about why he has placed spiked metal anklets on his horse’s legs just above the hoofs. “To guard against the bites of sharks,” he explains, and proudly shows her other ingenious devices attached to himself and his horse.

Alice notices that the knight has a mouse trap fastened to his saddle. “I was wondering what the mouse trap was for,” says Alice. “It isn’t very likely there would be any mice on the horse’s back.” “Not very likely, perhaps,” says the Knight, “but if they do come, I don’t choose to have them running all about.” It’s as well “to be provided for everything”, adds the Knight. As he explains his plans for countering these supposed dangers, he continues to tumble off his horse.

The White Knight’s approach to military procurement is very similar to that of the American and British military establishments. They drain their budgets to purchase vastly expensive equipment to meet threats that may never exist, much like the sharks and mice that menace Alice’s acquaintance. Thus the Pentagon spends $400bn (£257bn) on developing the F-35 fighter (Britain is buying planes at a cost of £100m each) to gain air superiority over Russia and China in the event of a war with either power. Meanwhile, equipment needed to fight real wars is neglected, even though no answer has been found to old-fashioned weapons such as improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that caused two-thirds of the US-led coalition’s casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A strange aspect of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is that there has been so little criticism of the failure of expensively equipped Western armies to defeat lightly armed and self-trained insurgents. This is in sharp contrast to the aftermath of the US Army’s failure to win the war in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s. The question is of more than historic interest because the US, UK and other allies are re-entering the wars in Iraq and Syria where they are seeking to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis).

Perhaps the military are not being blamed for lack of success in Iraq and Afghanistan because the failure there is seen as political, rather than military. There is some truth in this, but it is also true that army commanders have been agile in avoiding responsibility for what went wrong. A senior US diplomat asked me in exasperation in Baghdad five or six years ago: “Whatever happened to the healthy belief the American public had after Vietnam that our generals seldom tell the truth?”

Iraq this year has seen a more grotesque and wide-ranging failure than the inability to cope with IEDs. The Iraqi Army was created and trained by the US at great expense, but this summer it was defeated by a far smaller and less well-armed force of insurgents led by Isis. It was one of the most shameful routs in history, as Iraqi Army commanders abandoned their men, jumped into helicopters and fled. The new Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, admits that 50,000 “ghost soldiers” in the Iraqi Army had never existed and their salaries fraudulently diverted into their officers’ pockets.

The Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police Service, some 350,000 soldiers and 650,000 police, had been built by the US at a cost of $26bn since 2003, according to the recent report of the US Special Investigator General for Iraq Reconstruction. It is a fascinating document that demands answers to many questions, such as how did $9.4bn get spent on training, staffing and supplying the Iraqi police, though this force is notorious for its corruption and incompetence. Another $3.4bn went on supplying the Iraqi Army with tanks, aircraft, boats, armoured personnel carriers and other equipment, much of which was later captured by Isis. Curiously, Isis was immediately able to find crews for the tanks and artillerymen for the guns without any lengthy and expensive training programmes.

The 3,000 American soldiers President Obama has sent back into Iraq are to start training the remaining 26 brigades of the Iraqi Army all over again, without anybody asking what went wrong between 2003 and 2014. Why is it that Isis recruits can fight effectively after two weeks’ military training and two weeks’ religious instruction, but the Iraqi Army cannot? Maybe the very fact of being foreign-trained delegitimises them in their own eyes and that of their people.

Renewed foreign military intervention in Iraq and Syria is primarily in the form of air strikes of which there have been more than 1,000 since bombing started in Iraq on 8 August. What is striking about these figures is that there have been so few compared to the 48,224 air strikes during the 43 days of bombing against Saddam Hussein’s army in 1991. A reason for this is that Isis is a guerrilla force that can be dispersed, so only about 10 per cent of missions flown actually lead to air strikes against targets on the ground.

Only against the Isis forces besieging the Syrian-Kurdish town of Kobani in northern Syria is the US Air Force able to inflict heavy casualties. It is not clear why Isis continues with a battle where it is most vulnerable to air power, but the probable reason is that it wants to prove it can win another divinely inspired victory, despite heavy air attacks.

In more than 10 years of war in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, it is the insurgents and not those in charge of Western military policy and procurement who have developed the most effective cocktail of military tactics and methods of attack suited to local circumstances. These include various types of IEDs supplemented by booby traps that make those few areas reconquered from Isis dangerous for soldiers and uninhabitable for civilians.

IS has turned suicide bombing by individuals or by vehicles packed with explosives into an integral part of their fighting repertoire, enabling them to make devastating use of untrained but fanatical foreign volunteers. Isis deploys well-trained snipers and mortar teams, but its most effective weapon is spreading terror by publicising its atrocities through the internet.

Gruesome though these tactics are, they are much more effective than anything developed by Western armies in these same conflicts. Worse, Western training encourages an appetite on the part of its allies for helicopters, tanks and artillery that only have limited success in Iraqi conditions, although bombing does have an impact in preventing Isis using a good road system for attacks by several hundred fighters in convoys of pick-up trucks and captured Humvees.

While Isis may be suffering more casualties, it is in a position to recruit tens of thousands fighters from the population of at least five or six million that it controls. Six months after the Islamic State was declared, it has not grown smaller. As with the White Knight, the US and its allies are not undertaking the measures necessary to fight their real enemy.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of The Jihadis Return.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of War in the Age of Trump (Verso).

Challenges of Water Access in Africa

One of the most notable changes in modern times is the rapid urbanization of our planet, which began in the 19th century. While in 1950, 29 percent of the global population lived in cities, that figure is estimated now at 50 percent and by 2030 it will reach 61 percent. In Africa, urbanization experienced a rapid shift from 15 percent in 1950 to 41 percent today. It is estimated that by 2030, 54 percent of the population in that continent will be living in cities. Not only are more people living in cities but the cities themselves are becoming larger and more densely populated. This situation poses unique problems related to the provision of water, sanitation and a healthy environment.

Africa has now 19 cities with populations of more than one million inhabitants. Because of slow economic growth, lack of effective development policies and limited resources, the development of infrastructure has not kept up with the increasing needs for shelter and services in growing urban populations.

Waste management and sanitation

This is the case for many African cities, where local governments have been unable to keep pace with change and, as a consequence, have also been unable to provide dwellers with proper infrastructures related to the provision of water and the collection, transportation, processing and disposal of waste materials.

In developing countries with economies under stress, waste management is a problem that often endangers health and the environment. In addition, this is given low priority by governments often besieged by other problems such as poverty, hunger, children’s malnutrition, water shortages, unemployment and even war.

Water supply, sanitation and health are closely related issues

Poor hygiene, inadequate management of liquid or solid waste and lack of sanitation facilities are contributing factors in the death of millions of people in the developing world due to diseases that are easily preventable. In addition, people living in un-serviced or poorly serviced areas value the increased convenience and privacy associated with improved sanitation.

For example, lack of sanitation and inadequate disposal or storage of waste near houses can provide habitats for vectors responsible for several infectious diseases such as amebiasis, typhoid fever and diarrhea. Uncontrolled and inadequate landfills are a danger to the environment and a health risk to the population since they may lead to contamination of water and soil. The health risks associated with poor sanitation tend to be higher in densely populated low-income urban areas. At a global level, more than 5 million people die each year from diseases related to inadequate waste disposal systems.

Water contamination

Contamination of water leads to a whole range of diarrheal diseases such as cholera that kills 1.8 million people worldwide. An estimated 90 percent among them are children below five, mainly from developing countries. Most of the burden can be attributed to unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene practices.

The children that are affected the most are those living in low-income urban areas. According to UNICEF, Infant Mortality Rates (IMRs) are almost always higher in poor urban areas than the national average and than those in rural areas. A great proportion of the high mortality among the children of the urban poor can be attributed to diseases common in urban areas such as diarrhea, tuberculosis and parasitic diseases (intestinal worms) that are frequently associated with lack of safe water and sanitation. Malnutrition in children is often a consequence and a complicating factor.

Germs, particularly those present in water, food or on dirty hands are the most frequent cause of sickness worldwide. Although lack of safe water and sanitary facilities are significant problems, they are made even worse by ignorance in the general population, particularly mothers, about the connection between dirt, germs and childhood diarrhea.

Several naturally-occurring and human-made chemical substances present in drinking water can have a serious effect on health, particularly in high concentrations. Among chemicals that can be dangerous at elevated levels are fluoride, arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury, nitrates and pesticides.

All these factors stress the need to implement policies that ensure the provision of safe water to the population, particularly in marginal areas lacking basic health and social services.

Sanitation needs

Africa has the lowest water supply and sanitation coverage of any other region in the world. It is estimated that one in three Africans has no access to improved water or to sanitation facilities and the number of people lacking those basic services is increasing. The majority of those lacking basic services live in informal or suburban areas and rural communities. Unless actions are taken now, the absolute number of people lacking basic services will increase from 200 million in 2000 to 400 million in 2020.

Despite progress, however, many Sub-Saharan countries will find it difficult to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set for 2015, particularly the MDG 7 which stipulates to halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

It is necessary to overcome the lack of integration between the various components of environmental sanitation: excreta, domestic and industrial waste-water, solid waste and storm water which are often run by separate agencies or institutions. Better use of synergies can lead to more sustainable and cost-effective solutions.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is an international public health consultant and a winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

A Wildly Unproven Theory About “The Interview” Based on Ancient Hollywood Wisdom

Here’s how I figure: Sony’s Amy Pascal, producer Scott Rudin and the marketing people took one look at Seth Rogen’s dog and knew it was a loser. Desperate, they devised a quietly brilliant marketing strategy to make it look as if the North Koreans were criminally responsible for the hacking fiasco so that the film, on line and in theatres, would be sold out because patrons would go to see it as their patriotic duty. (In Atlanta’s Plaza theatre the audience stood and sang “God Bless America” before the picture went on.)

It would not surprise me if Sony had somehow persuaded, or maneuvered, Kim Jong-Un to do what he did (or didn’t do). Convince me otherwise.

Ancients ago as an agent I “repped” a sweet, innocent, virtually sexless comedy “The Moon Is Blue” by a client F. Hugh Herbert. Two aging bachelors (client David Niven and William Holden) campaign to seduce a young woman who stubbornly, propagandistically remains a virgin. No physical sex, no bad words, and we didn’t expect much box office despite its Broadway success.

The moralists rode to our rescue. The then-reigning rating czars at the Motion Picture Association banned it because the script reflected an “unacceptably light attitude towards seduction, illicit sex, chastity and virginity,” among other things. Hooray!

But we really lucked out when the Catholic church’s cardinal Spellman and his bishops from pulpits commanded their flocks to stay away which of course just added to our box office. One day my boss burst into my office shouting gleefully, “We’re in! The Pope just banned us!”

How did we ever manage that? I asked.

She grinned evilly. “Ah, we have our ways.”

Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Hemingway Lives.

Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Black Sunset

Turned Backs, The Mayor and the Police

The funeral of Officer Ramos on Saturday, Dec. 27, turned into a Fascist spectacle as many in the ranks of the police turned their backs on NYC Mayor de Blasio—a Fascist spectacle because, already heavily militarized, already implicated in wanton killings of blacks nationwide, the police, many coming from far and wide, used the funeral to demonstrate their demand for acting with impunity and their contempt for authority to reign them in. The funeral symbolized the police as enemies of the rule of law, unable and unwilling to bear scrutiny for lawless acts of an ongoing nature but brought to national attention through a sudden condensation of events over the last several weeks. We stand in fear of our own public servants, just as we do toward the CIA on the international plane, a militarization of American life which internalizes, collectively, the repression America as a nation presents to and imposes on the world and internally demands of itself lest its global/domestic Power be questioned.

Turning backs is a gesture of contempt, the surface of a culture, here, a police culture, impossible to achieve and realize had it not rested on wider authoritarian foundations. That gesture, in Queens, was meant to say, de Blasio, and beyond you, all liberal do-gooders, Get Out of Our Way, it is we the vanguard of a New America, proudly defiant of civil authority seeking to safeguard basic human rights, just as our brothers in the CIA are waging the same battle—we’re mutually reinforcing one another–to bring into our respective spheres of activity and society the obedience to a vision of Order sanitized to be absolute in its scope, hierarchical in the deference expected of those not entitled to respect of their betters judged so by their loyalty to principles of true Americanism, whether knowing one’s place in the Great Pecking Scale of capitalist democracy at home, market fundamentalism abroad, or simply America the impregnable in all matters, bar none.

De Blasio showed weakness where confrontation was demanded, humility, feeding the sadistic juices of those who will continue to trample on human rights, a sincerity and eloquence of mourning, viewed by his detractors as a pushover in their arrogant jealously-guarded claims to the real center of authority in protecting America from its baser self. This fascistic mindset does not register unless it is replicated and reinforced on many levels, again, an interconnectivity of CIA and local police even though not formalized because the integrative bonds of an authoritarian culture, itself fed continuously through the operations and requirements of advanced capitalism, are now too strong seemingly to break. Yet, instead of the police turning their back on de Blasio, it is the American government which has turned its back on the American people, the CIA emblematic—and performing a vanguard role—of the National Security State sinking its roots down into the cities, towns, villages of the nation, the smaller the unit as if to say to the citizenry, there’s no place left to hide.

***

The failure to prosecute the CIA for torture indicts the Obama administration in its complicity, Obama personally implicated in every water-boarding, sensory deprivation, electric shock treatment, starvation tactic, rectal feeding, Russian roulette scenario, because their very occurrence requires his authorization literal or tacit. But by the American rule of percolation of tyranny downward, this failure to prosecute gives the green light to local police to practice mayhem and murder, knowing the political-ideological climate encloses and justifies their actions. One cannot fault de Blasio, he did what was right and moral in expressing his feelings. Yet, like Weimar, a stand must be taken before it’s too late—severe disciplinary action, squeezing the fascist pus out of those disrespectful of the honor and responsibilities of their badge: force the issue; abide by the restraints of lawful authority, or GET OUT. (Liberals may squirm at that recommendation—mild though it is, but it was Weimar liberals who let the Nazis run all over them and crush a democratic-inclined society.)

When I criticize Obama for his silence on CIA war crimes, and those similarly authorized by the Bush administration, I get from liberals the same response: Go after Bush-Cheney. Period. And we thought Reagan was the Teflon-president. Obama cannot be touched, nor, it appears, the Democratic party, when in fact war criminality has reached its zenith in present-day America by him and on his watch. It is precisely liberalism which fuels international aggression, favors Wall Street, promotes IMF/World Bank solutions for all countries resistant to US financial-commercial penetration and takeover, a liberalism which wraps traditional imperialism and domestic conformity in a purported humanitarianism which equates capitalism with freedom and democracy. Cuba is next on the assault list. Republicans are the easily dispensed with shock troops when it comes to sophisticated capitalist planning; they can shake the trees for internal critics, give vent to their permanent ideological rant about the “Castro Brothers,” etc., but in corporate board rooms the mellifluous sound of money, investment, markets, goes on, essentially undisturbed and finding the shrill patriotism generated a useful cover.

But why blur the emphasis on the police? Actually, I do the reverse, because the wider picture brings our topic into better focus. Police brutality is the distillate of American international practice combined with a long history of anticommunism, the former, counterrevolutionary in purpose in the fullest sense, the latter, its domestic analogue, anti-labor, anti-radical, racist, each having unsavory derivatives which spin off of an ethnocentric core. Capitalism in America, that core, rules the waves: possessiveness, the property right, alienation, commodity fetishism, war, intervention, aspirations to global hegemony—all integral, systemic, historically/structurally cultivated to the process of advanced capitalist development. This process does not occur in a societal vacuum. Not when the vast proportion of the population are losers who may or may not recognize this fact, a fact of widening class differences and opportunities, a fact of extreme deprivation for bottom social groups, the results disguised—again, the mailed fist of liberalism, itself disguised as humanitarianism—so as to engender compliance with the groundrules that are prescribed from above. Police brutality? Why not, when the privileged status, if not the survival, of ruling groups is at stake?

The American elite, as an objective stratum, even though they may not work in concert, or not even know each other well, are good at multitasking, i.e., in the service of the conservation of their power. Their needs are met by a generalized stance of authoritative repression; hence, the local police and the CIA (perhaps the FBI as midwife) in fashioning a common bond of resistance to social change inimical to the interests of their sponsors. Government is the bulwark of hierarchy (often measured in control over wealth and property ownership), national and international. Here though a corrective: this is not meant as a screed directed against all police—my overreaction to officers who turned their backs on de Blasio because he seeks to end brutality and the slaughter of innocents—because we have before us examples of the very opposite, as in the splendid work of Chief Magnus in Richmond, CA, written up by Steve Early in a recent CounterPunch article. The alternative of compassionate, intelligent, humane policing, we are reminded, is still possible and highly effective in providing community safety, dependent, I say, as one who is not a determinist, on the will and moral bearing of those who work to that end. Not so, the CIA, which has proven itself unredeemable, and by all democratic rights, should be abolished.

***

Here my interest shifts to the CIA as the umbrella sheltering repression under which such incidents as that at the Ramos funeral take place. Mark Mazzetti’s NYT article, “After Scrutiny, C.I.A. Mandate Is Untouched,” (Dec. 27), is a crackerjack description of the complicity in repression saturating America’s political culture. Mazzetti begins with DCIA Angleton’s complaint in 1976 about the Church Committee’s investigation of the CIA, as though the Agency were “a medieval city occupied by an invading army,” the army being of course Congress—and (mine), the import here being the rejection of all oversight on its activities, which continues down to the present. Already in the 1970s and before, the CIA was engaged in domestic spying and other abuses, and Mazzetti views it “in the midst of convulsions that would fundamentally remake its mission.” The Church Committee, coming at the close of US intervention in Vietnam, disclosed “C.I.A. assassination schemes and spying on Vietnam War protesters” which “fueled a post-Watergate fury among many Americans who had grown cynical about secret plots hatched in Washington.”

The mood had now changed. Mazzetti writes: “Nearly four decades later, another Senate committee’s allegations that the C.I.A. had engaged in torture, lying and cover-up have stirred echoes of the Church era—raising the question of whether the agency is in for another period of change.” His heading, “Mandate Is Untouched,” alerts us to its unlikelihood, although he may have overestimated what had earlier been achieved. Under the best of motives from outside, the C.I.A. remains largely impervious to change. And Diane Feinstein is no Frank Church, having protected the CIA all these years. Here the reporter strongly implies the Agency’s steadfast and obvious resistance to oversight (much as in my example of the police and not only de Blasio but whomever seeks to make the police accountable for their actions, especially not promising when, from the top, POTUS and DOD, the drive is to militarize local police forces): “But the scathing report the Senate Intelligence Committee delivered this month is unlikely to significantly change the role the C.I.A. now plays in running America’s secret wars. A number of factors—from steadfast backing by Congress and the White House to strong public support for clandestine operations—ensure that an agency that has been ascendant since President Obama came into office is not likely to see its mission diminished, either during his waning years in the White House or for some time after that.” I sense the tentacles of fascism wrapping around democratic governance.

As for earlier, he continues (driving home the contrast in historical periods): “The grim details, shocking at the time, led to a gutting of the agency’s ranks and a ban on assassinations, imposed by President Gerald R. Ford. They also led to the creation of the congressional intelligence committees and a requirement that the C.I.A. regularly report its covert activities to the oversight panels.” Obama is no Ford; one who could not walk and chew gum at the same time proved the greater guardian of freedom than the fluent, sophisticated Harvard Law-trained master of doublethink and doubletalk who skillfully fronted for the military and intelligence communities, the CIA particularly close to his bosom. Evidence of torture is obvious and abundant in the Senate Intelligence report, but as Mazetti almost predictably notes: “But the Obama administration has made clear that it has no plans to make anyone legally accountable for the practices described by the C.I.A. as enhanced interrogation techniques and the Intelligence Committee’s as torture.” The ACLU and Human Rights Watch called on AG Holder “to appoint a special prosecutor to examine the report’s allegations, but the request will almost certainly be rejected.” Stonewalling done in the name of a higher good, variously termed American Exceptionalism or now Counterterrorism, but I prefer Imperialism abroad, Social Regimentation at home.

The “folks” (Obama’s favorite term) who brought you massive surveillance of the American people, also brought you the exoneration of the CIA. Even critics fall into line. Mazzetti uses Sen. King, Independent from Maine and member of the Committee, for illustration. King first expressed skepticism about the need to release the report, then “spent five straight evenings reading it in a secure room on Capitol Hill,” and decided “the C.I.A. abuses needed a public airing.” King: “’It went from interest, to a sick feeling, to disgust, and finally to anger.’” Yet, the collapse of political integrity, not just of one man, but the party, the president—one might say, USG per se. For as Mazzetti observes, “And while Senator King called the Intelligence Committee’s report ‘Church Committee, II,’ he, like many other [Committee] Democrats, … remains a broad supporter of the C.I.A.’s paramilitary mission that Mr. Obama has embraced during his time in the White House.” He grimly closes: “And as America’s spying apparatus has grown larger, richer and more powerful than during any other time in its history, it has become ever harder for those keeping watch over it.” I believe this contempt for oversight translates downward through the entire social structure, hence the police turning their backs on Mayor de Blasio, in contemptuous disregard for placing checks on “paramilitary operations” (what police functions are increasingly coming to represent) in the military-style maintenance of order, location no longer specified, each fighting force to its own bailiwick.

My New York Times Comment on the Mazzetti article, same date, follows:

When an anti-democratic cancer arises in the Republic, using the US Constitution for toilet paper, you don’t change it, you ABOLISH it–exterminate it as a threat to the very definition of democracy.

America has faced a choice since the days of the Church Committee, a test of honor, and it has failed the test miserably. From Angleton through Casey to, now, Brennan, it has been one long slog in fascistic hidden government.

The chief democratic political principle is ACCOUNTABILITY. By that token, whatever happens in USG, here, torture, waterboarding, drone assassination–all acknowledged war crimes–goes directly up to the president. The conclusion: Pres. Obama is a war criminal, no DOJ eloquence, no silver-tongued public intellectuals, can distort that unvarnished truth.

Therefore, as a war criminal, he has committed treason against a democratic America and should be discharged from office for treasonous conduct. Again, unvarnished truth. And then, unceremoniously handed over to the International Criminal Court.

America must live by the rule of law, or it is nothing. We’ve had decades of subterfuge, promoting a standard from which we exempt ourselves as a nation. When you compare Gerald Ford and Barack Obama, you see at once this is not a partisan issue–save that there are few around of either party with Ford’s integrity, Democrats today, in particular, basking in torture and assassination as get-out-of-jail cards to show their patriotism.

America rudderless in a sea of infamy.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

Broken Countries Policing

Despite being disproven as a strategy for reducing crime, the broken windows policing theory is still utilized in New York and throughout in the United States to crack down on disorder and nonviolent crime. To think that harsh enforcement of this type of “crime” would prevent serious crime like homicide and assault is patently absurd on its face. If you want to rid society of the most serious crimes, you should be enforcing the most serious crimes, like aggressive war. Call it broken countries policing.

In the United States in 2014, you may be arrested for selling loose cigarettes, jumping turnstiles, dancing on the subways, and having small amounts of marijuana, but not for assassination, torture, anal rape, illegal surveillance, or invading, occupying and bombing sovereign countries.

The “broken windows” theory that you can nip violent crime in the bud by punishing minor “quality of life” violations like smoking and drinking in the street or sleeping on the subway is so transparently nonsensical it is hard to believe anyone could even consider it seriously.

It is equivalent to a diet to prevent obesity that consists of forgoing vegetables and grains because foods with the least calories are a gateway to fatty, fried foods with no nutritional value. Corn seeds are not twinkies, and sleeping on a subway train is not murder.

Basic common sense and years of empirical data demonstrate that broken windows theory has no effect on preventing serious crime. When you understand this, it is easy to see that the broken windows theory put into practice is about something entirely different than its professed aims.

There is a strong correlation between race and socioeconomic status in the U.S. Racial minorities suffer disproportionately lower socioeconomic status compared to whites, creating a racial caste system. With the drastic decline in recent decades of agriculture, manufacturing and other forms of manual labor, populations previously depended on for cheap labor have become disposable in the modern economy.

The state has undertaken a system of social control to prevent any solidarity and political opposition that would recognize and oppose unjust racial castes. Not coincidentally, broken windows policing has been carried out predominantly against African American and Latino citizens.

“The public is constantly getting out of control,” Noam Chomsky says. “You have to carry out measures to insure that they remain passive and apathetic and obedient, and don’t interfere with privilege or power. It’s a major theme of modern democracy. As the mechanisms of democracy expand, like enfranchisement and growth, the need to control people by other means increases.

This is accomplished by employing a police force that operates like an occupying army in poor neighborhoods of color under the guise of crime prevention. It would be impossible to admit publicly that the police mission in these communities is repression and subjugation. The idea of broken windows as a deterrent to violent crime provides cover to justify what is in reality a racist, punitive, paramilitary occupation.

As Henry Giroux wrote in a Truthout article on December 5 (State Terrorism and Racist Violence in the Age of Disposability: From Emmett Till to Eric Garner) we are living in “an age of disposability” which has seen “the rise of the punishing state as a way to govern all of social life.”

“Under assault are those individuals and populations considered excess such as poor youth of color and immigrants” who are controlled by “fear of punishment, of being killed, tortured, or reduced to the mere level of survival,” Giroux writes.

Raven Rakia describes in a Truthout article on November 20 (Subways Are an NYPD Hotspot in de Blasio’s New York) how low-level infractions have been disproportionately enforced against people of color, sweeping thousands into the criminal justice system and further marginalizing people already struggling economically.

“Arbitrary rules such as ‘no sleeping on a subway car in a way that is hazardous or interferes with others’ have turned into the NYPD brutally arresting a man on his way home from work in an almost empty subway car. He was later charged with resisting arrest, obstructing governmental administration and violating local law (the MTA rules),” Rakia writes.

Repressive policing has long been used to maintain political and economic domination over minority groups in the United States. After African Americans were nominally liberated from slavery following the Civil War, southern states manipulated the legal system to replicate their control over freed slaves.

In his Pulitzer-prize-winning book Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans From the Civil War to World War II, Douglas Blackmon describes how southern states criminalized black life, using the legal system to punish black and then lease them to corporations to work in coal mines, steel furnaces, farms, quarries and factories. This served the dual purposes of marginalizing blacks politically and supplying cheap labor to capitalist commercial interests.

“The original records of county jails indicated thousands of arrests for inconsequential charges or for violations of laws specifically written to intimidate blacks – changing employers without permission, vagrancy, riding freight cars without a ticket, engaging in sexual activity – or loud talk – with white women,” Blackmon writes.

The criminalization of black life has continued since the Reconstruction era, morphing into a new form. Whereas once there was convict leasing, now there is mass incarceration. People are warehoused in prisons at the highest rate in the entire world. Public prisons create jobs for construction workers and corrections officers in rural, mainly white communities, while private prisons turn prisoners into profit centers for corporations and their investors.

One hundred years ago, African Americans were persecuted through the criminal justice system en masse. Today the system is remarkably similar. Besides exploitation for profit, criminalization of African American enables many of same types of discrimination as previously existed under Jim Crow.

Michelle Alexander notes in her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness that discrimination against African Americans today is arguably even more pernicious than under Jim Crow because it is carried out under a nominally colorblind legal system. However, the mindblowing numbers of imprisoned ethnic minorities who are imprisoned mostly for nonviolent crime make the racial aspect of the system indisputable. The result is eerily similar to post-Civil War discrimination against blacks.

“The ‘whites only’ signs may be gone, but new signs have gone up – notices placed in job applications, rental agreements, loan applications, forms for welfare benefits, school applications, and petitions for licenses, informing the general public that ‘felons’ are not wanted here. A criminal record today authorizes precisely the forms of discrimination we supposedly left behind – discrimination in employment, housing, education, public benefits, and jury service,” Alexander writes.

If we pretend for a minute that the criminal justice system was meant as a deterrent to prevent the most serious violent crimes then we could imagine the most severe punishment for such crimes. The worst crimes are those of violence – murder, rape, torture, assault, etc. – and white-collar crimes like fraud that rob people of their financial security.

While individuals can commit atrocious crimes on their own, states and corporations, by virtue of their size, money and influence, can magnify the size of serious crimes exponentially. International crimes are committed on a scale much larger than retail crime committed by individuals or local criminal organizations. The Holocaust is six million times worse than a single homicide in New York City.

As the enforcer of domestic law, the state has the obligation to lead by example and follow international law if it expects its citizens respect its law enforcement at home. It is not possible to break the law abroad while claiming moral authority inside the country’s borders. Why should anyone listen to someone who says: “Do as I say, not as I do?”

Martin Luther King, Jr. articulated a damning indictment of the U.S. government – which at the time was engaged in a murderous war in Southeast Asia that killed 3 million Vietnamese – in his speech at Riverside Church in 1967 when he pointed out that one cannot oppose crimes of individuals while ignoring much larger crimes of the state:

As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.

King notes the dissimilarity of one person throwing a Molotov cocktail with the U.S. state using 30 billion tons of munitions in Indochina – including napalm, Agent Orange, cluster bombs, “pineapple” bomblets, daisy-cutter bombs, artillery shells, rockets, grenades and countless other weapons of mass destruction.

Aggressive war was deliberately defined Nuremberg Trials as the “supreme” crime “differing only from other crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

The U.S. government has been guilty of aggression multiple times since World War II, in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Grenada, Panama, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The President himself maintains a “kill list” that he uses in his extrajudicial drone assassination program that has killed thousands of people since the start of his Presidency. Among the victims have been at least two American citizens who were never convicted or even faced a single charge in any court of law.

Why should any U.S. citizen show indignation against a common street criminal who kills someone, but not against the President of the country who has executed people many times over? Since when did the President of what is supposed to be a democracy, where no one is above the law, gain the powers of judge, jury and executioner?

Earlier in December, the Senate released the Executive Summary of its “Torture Report” (while the remaining 6,300 pages remain classified. The details of the summary are so horrific, they make crimes of Japanese general hanged for torture after World War II seem mild.

In addition to the many well-known cases of waterboarding, the Senate Report details instances of “rectal feeding and rectal hydration” which consisted of a detainee’s lunch “consisting of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts, and raisins, [being] ‘pureed’ and rectally infused. Additional sessions of rectal feeding and hydration followed.”

These heinous, savage acts are anal rape. Never was the detainee tried or convicted of anything in a court of law. What makes this any different than a man who forces himself on a woman in a dark alley?

There is no one alive that would claim a rapist who violates a woman walking home from the subway would deserve to be let free because we need to “look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” yet that is exactly what President Obama said about rapists and other torturers after taking office in 2009.

If there could possibly be any doubt morally about the actions described in the Senate Torture Report, legally there is not. The Convention against Torture makes indisputably clear that “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” Furthermore, the state where torture takes place is obligated to “submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution.”

There is no room under the law for someone’s opinion – a person on the street or in the White House – whether we should look forwards, backwards, or sideways. The law and the obligations of each party to the treaty could not be more clear: torture is never justifiable, and must always be punished.

As Tom Engelhardt explains in his book Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World: “Today, in the wake of the rampant extralegality of the Global War on Terror – including the setting up of a secret, extrajudicial global prison system of ‘black sites’ where rampant torture and abuse were carried to the point of death, illegal kidnappings of terror suspects and their rendition to the prisons of torture regimes, and the assassination by drone of American citizens backed by Justice Department legalisms – it’s clear that national security state officials feel they have near total impunity when it comes to whatever they want to do. They know that nothing they do, however egregious, will be brought before an open court of law and prosecuted.”

Since President George W. Bush took office, the countries of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya lie in complete ruins. In Iraq alone, estimates run as high as 1 million dead as a result of U.S. military intervention. Many millions more have been wounded, displaced, widowed and orphaned. That is in Iraq alone. The situations in Afghanistan and Libya are equally as serious. Syria and Ukraine have been destroyed by destabilization and proxy wars encouraged every step of the way by the U.S. government. Millions cannot farm their fields in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia without fear of being incinerated by U.S. drones.

Until the criminals who cause untold death and destruction abroad are held accountable, it is impossible to preach respect for the rule of law at home. The imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the rash of unpunished police killings of unarmed black men like Michael Brown and Eric Garner, have made clear that the criminal justice system is not an impartial arbiter serving the nation to uphold justice but a weapon for those who control it, alternately enabling their own criminal actions and punishing others for actions that pale by comparison.

Matt Peppe writes about politics, U.S. foreign policy and Latin America on his blog. You can follow him on twitter.

Matt Peppe writes about politics, U.S. foreign policy and Latin America on his blog. You can follow him on twitter.

Sea Change In US-Cuba Relations Makes Waves Deep In Desert

Tinduf, Algeria. News about the historic change of relations between the United States and Cuba triggered cheers across the five Sahrawi refugee camps located near this Sahara Desert city located 1,100-miles southwest of Algeria’s capital of Algiers on the Mediterranean Sea.

That news elevated hopes among many Sahrawi that the major changes in relations between the U.S. and its longtime, bitter enemy Cuba would lead to the U.S. pushing for changes with its longtime ally – Morocco.

Morocco is the country that has illegally occupied the Western Sahara, the ancestral homeland of the Sahrawi, since a 1975 invasion. Morocco controls 80+ percent of the Western Sahara, including its mineral rich inland region and coastal fisheries that generate billions of dollars in exports annually -– money that helps fund Morocco’s expensive occupation.

Since 1991, when Morocco and the Polisario Front (which represents the Sahrawi) ended a 16-year long war over Morocco’s invasion, America’s major ally in North Africa has repeatedly reneged on its agreement with the United Nations to hold a voter referendum in the Western Sahara where residents would decide their future through a democratic vote.

“We woke up very happy with the historical announcement of President Obama establishing new relations with Cuba. We hope that Mr. Obama will take another historic position and enforce international law on the Western Sahara. We are tired of waiting,” Adda Ibrahim said.

Ibrahim is the governor of Smara, the largest of the five Sahrawi refugee camps surrounding Tindof. Over 160,000 Sahrawi live in those camps, many ever since they fled Morocco’s 1975 invasion. Other camp residents were forced to flee over the years from Morocco’s brutal occupation of the Western Sahara. All camp residents live in bleak conditions on barren desert land where summer temperatures hit 130 degrees.

The government formed by the Polisario Front for the Western Sahara is the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). The SADR is the government for the liberated zones of the Western Sahara and for the Sahrawi living in the refugee camps around Tinduf.

“What President Obama did with Cuba gives us hope that there will be a clear vision for the Western Sahara,” Khadija Hamdi, Minister of Culture for the SADR said, one day after headline news announcements of the historic thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations during her meeting with journalists from America.

The U.S. broke relations with Cuba in the early 1960s following a revolution in that Caribbean nation that overthrew a brutal but pro-American dictator Fulgencio Batista. The US justified its half-century-long, punishing (and still running) embargo against Cuba by contending that nation needed democratization and a greater respect for human rights.

The Moroccan occupation of the Western Sahara is rife with human rights abuses condemned in reports by the Obama Administration and other monitoring organizations like Amnesty International. Sahrawi inside the Western Sahara are routinely beaten savagely and imprisoned by Moroccan authorities for peaceful protests. Women and children are frequent targets of beatings on the streets that include baton strikes, kicks, punches and stomping by riot-gear-clad police. Sahrawi in West Sahara endure high unemployment and other forms of discrimination.

The 2014 democracy/human rights rankings issued by Freedom House list Cuba as better than Moroccan domination in the Western Sahara. The Washington, DC-based Freedom House gives Moroccan occupation with its worst ratings in the categories of freedom; civil liberties and political rights. Cuba, meanwhile, received the worst rating in only Freedom House’s political rights category. Freedom House, a research institute, was co-founded in 1941 by then U.S. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

For decades the U.S. denounced the allegedly autocratic control of Cuba by Cuba’s revolutionary leader and long-time president Fidel Castro. Yet, Morocco is a monarchy ruled for centuries by absolutist kings, while the Polisario Front has democratically elected officials at the local and national levels.

The residents of Morocco, the Western Sahara and the refugee camps outside Tinduf share the same religion – Islam — and even belong to the same Sunni Islamic sect.

“The U.S. having better relations with Cuba is in the interest of the entire world,” Brahim Mojtar, SADR’s Minister of Cooperation said. Mojtar has held SADR posts in the U.S. and many countries across West, East and Southern Africa.

“The time must come for the U.S. to realize it is in its interest to put an end to this impasse and put the U.N. referendum in place,” Mojtar said.

That U.N. supervised referendum for the Western Sahara would enable the Sahrawi to vote for three options: independence for the Western Sahara, autonomy of that nation under Moroccan control or complete integration within Morocco.

Morocco contends it has an ancient claim over the Western Sahara dating from when the Kingdom of Morocco was dominant in a section of North Africa prior to European colonization. International legal and political bodies have consistently rejected those claims to the Western Sahara, which is located south of Morocco on the Atlantic Ocean coast of North Africa.

The African Union, the body representing 54 nations in Africa, supports the call for a U.N.-backed vote to determine the future of the Western Sahara. Morocco is the only country on the African continent that does not belong to the AU – having left the AU’s predecessor (the Organization of Africa Unity) in 1984 when the OAU recognized the SADR’s claims on the Western Sahara.

Morocco has been able to defy the United Nations and other bodies demanding a referendum due to overt support from France and tacit support from the United States.

Morocco’s position to extend autonomy to the Western Sahara enjoys bi-partisan on Capitol Hill –- support that embraces strange bedfellows. For example liberal black Democratic Congressman from South Carolina James Clyburn, a staunch supporter of President Obama, supports Morocco’s autonomy scheme as does South Carolina conservative white Republican Congressman Joe Wilson, who uttered the infamous “You Lie!” insult at Obama during the president’s 2009 State of the Union address.

While most Americans view Cuba through a decades-long anti-Castro/pro-embargo prism, most Africans praise Cuba for its contributions of economic, educational, medical and military assistance. Legendary South African leader Nelson Mandela frequently credited Cuban assistance as pivotal in the defeat of apartheid. America fully supported South Africa’s white minority racist government until the late 1980s.

Cuban assistance to the Sahrawi includes having trained thousands of Sahrawi in areas from education to medicine without charging fees. SADR Minister Hamdi said proudly that one of her children received training as a journalist in Cuba. Minister Mojtar noted that during “400-years of colonialism, just one Sahrawi was trained as a doctor.”

Seven of the 14 doctors working at the Bachir Saleh Hospital serving the refugee camps near Tinduf are from Cuba. The six Sahrawi doctors at that hospital received their training in Cuba. Cuban Dr. Maria Borego said she works six-hour shifts, six days a week. Borego said the work at Saleh is difficult because of differences in language and culture.

In early November, many Americans applauded the 25th Anniversary of the removal of the Berlin Wall, that once divided Germany’s largest city, unaware of the ‘Moroccan Wall’ that is ten times larger.

Morocco built its 1,677-mile long wall (nearly a third as long as China’s Great Wall) to enclose its occupied area of the Western Sahara. That wall, stretching across the length of the Western Sahara, is constructed of sand, rock and metal.

Over 100,000 Moroccan soldiers man this wall, which is buffered on the non-occupation side by 5-to-7-million land mines. Operating the ‘Moroccan Wall’ costs Morocco nearly $3-million per day, with the funds for operation of the wall generated by plundering natural resources in the occupied parts of Western Sahara according to European experts.

Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He lives in Philadelphia.

Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He lives in Philadelphia.

American Exceptionalism and American Torture

In 1964, the Brazilian military, in a US-designed coup, overthrew a liberal (not more to the left than that) government and proceeded to rule with an iron fist for the next 21 years. In 1979 the military regime passed an amnesty law blocking the prosecution of its members for torture and other crimes. The amnesty still holds.

That’s how they handle such matters in what used to be called The Third World. In the First World, however, they have no need for such legal niceties. In the United States, military torturers and their political godfathers are granted amnesty automatically, simply for being American, solely for belonging to the “Good Guys Club”.

So now, with the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture, we have further depressing revelations about US foreign policy. But do Americans and the world need yet another reminder that the United States is a leading practitioner of torture? Yes. The message can not be broadcast too often because the indoctrination of the American people and Americophiles all around the world is so deeply embedded that it takes repeated shocks to the system to dislodge it. No one does brainwashing like the good ol’ Yankee inventors of advertising and public relations. And there is always a new generation just coming of age with stars (and stripes) in their eyes.

The public also has to be reminded yet again that – contrary to what most of the media and Mr. Obama would have us all believe – the president has never actually banned torture per se, despite saying recently that he had “unequivocally banned torture” after taking office.

Shortly after Obama’s first inauguration, both he and Leon Panetta, the new Director of the CIA, explicitly stated that “rendition” was not being ended. As the Los Angeles Times reported at the time: “Under executive orders issued by Obama recently, the CIA still has authority to carry out what are known as renditions, secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States.”

The English translation of “cooperate” is “torture”. Rendition is simply outsourcing torture. There was no other reason to take prisoners to Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Egypt, Jordan, Kenya, Somalia, Kosovo, or the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, amongst other torture centers employed by the United States. Kosovo and Diego Garcia – both of which house large and very secretive American military bases – if not some of the other locations, may well still be open for torture business, as is the Guantánamo Base in Cuba.

Moreover, the key Executive Order referred to, number 13491, issued January 22, 2009, “Ensuring Lawful Interrogations”, leaves a major loophole. It states repeatedly that humane treatment, including the absence of torture, is applicable only to prisoners detained in an “armed conflict”. Thus, torture by Americans outside an environment of “armed conflict” is not explicitly prohibited. But what about torture within an environment of “counter-terrorism”?

The Executive Order required the CIA to use only the interrogation methods outlined in a revised Army Field Manual. However, using the Army Field Manual as a guide to prisoner treatment and interrogation still allows solitary confinement, perceptual or sensory deprivation, sensory overload, sleep deprivation, the induction of fear and hopelessness, mind-altering drugs, environmental manipulation such as temperature and noise, and stress positions, amongst other charming examples of American Exceptionalism.

After Panetta was questioned by a Senate panel, the New York Times wrote that he had “left open the possibility that the agency could seek permission to use interrogation methods more aggressive than the limited menu that President Obama authorized under new rules … Mr. Panetta also said the agency would continue the Bush administration practice of ‘rendition’ … But he said the agency would refuse to deliver a suspect into the hands of a country known for torture or other actions ‘that violate our human values’.”

The last sentence is of course childishly absurd. The countries chosen to receive rendition prisoners were chosen precisely and solely because they were willing and able to torture them.

Four months after Obama and Panetta took office, the New York Times could report that renditions had reached new heights.

The present news reports indicate that Washington’s obsession with torture stems from 9/11, to prevent a repetition. The president speaks of “the fearful excesses of the post-9/11 era”. There’s something to that idea, but not a great deal. Torture in America is actually as old as the country. What government has been intimately involved with that horror more than the United States? Teaching it, supplying the manuals, supplying the equipment, creation of international torture centers, kidnaping people to these places, solitary confinement, forced feeding, Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Chicago … Lord forgive us!

In 2011, Brazil instituted a National Truth Commission to officially investigate the crimes of the military government, which came to an end in 1985. But Mr. Obama has in fact rejected calls for a truth commission concerning CIA torture. On June 17 of this year, however, when Vice President Joseph Biden was in Brazil, he gave the Truth Commission 43 State Department cables and reports concerning the Brazilian military regime, including one entitled “Widespread Arrests and Psychophysical Interrogation of Suspected Subversives.”

Thus it is that once again the United States of America will not be subjected to any accountability for having broken US laws, international laws, and the fundamental laws of human decency. Obama can expect the same kindness from his successor as he has extended to George W.

“One of the strengths that makes America exceptional is our willingness to openly confront our past, face our imperfections, make changes and do better.” – Barack Obama, written statement issued moments after the Senate report was made public.

And if that pile of hypocrisy is not big enough or smelly enough, try adding to it Bidens’ remark re his visit to Brazil: “I hope that in taking steps to come to grips with our past we can find a way to focus on the immense promise of the future.”

If the torturers of the Bush and Obama administrations are not held accountable in the United States they must be pursued internationally under the principles of universal jurisdiction.

In 1984, an historic step was taken by the United Nations with the drafting of the “Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment” (came into force in 1987, ratified by the United States in 1994). Article 2, section 2 of the Convention states: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

Such marvelously clear, unequivocal, and principled language, to set a single standard for a world that makes it increasingly difficult for one to feel proud of humanity. We cannot slide back. If today it’s deemed acceptable to torture the person who supposedly has the vital “ticking-bomb” information needed to save lives, tomorrow it will be acceptable to torture him to learn the identities of his alleged co-conspirators. Would we allow slavery to resume for just a short while to serve some “national emergency” or some other “higher purpose”?

If you open the window of torture, even just a crack, the cold air of the Dark Ages will fill the whole room.

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

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

Irreversible Decline?

“Saudi oil policy… has been subject to a great deal of wild and inaccurate conjecture in recent weeks. We do not seek to politicize oil… For us it’s a question of supply and demand, it’s purely business.”

– Ali al Naimi, Saudi Oil Minister

“There is no conspiracy, there is no targeting of anyone. This is a market and it goes up and down.”

– Suhail Bin Mohammed al-Mazroui, United Arab Emirates’ petroleum minister

“We all see the lowering of oil prices. There’s lots of talk about what’s causing it. Could it be an agreement between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to punish Iran and affect the economies of Russia and Venezuela? It could.”

– Russian President Vladimir Putin

Are falling oil prices part of a US-Saudi plan to inflict economic damage on Russia, Iran and Venezuela?

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro seems to think so. In a recent interview that appeared in Reuters, Maduro said he thought the United States and Saudi Arabia wanted to drive down oil prices “to harm Russia.”

Bolivian President Evo Morales agrees with Maduro and told journalists at RT that: “The reduction in oil prices was provoked by the US as an attack on the economies of Venezuela and Russia. In the face of such economic and political attacks, the nations must be united.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the same thing,with a slightly different twist: “The main reason for (the oil price plunge) is a political conspiracy by certain countries against the interests of the region and the Islamic world … Iran and people of the region will not forget such … treachery against the interests of the Muslim world.”

US-Saudi “treachery”? Is that what’s really driving down oil prices?

Not according to Saudi Arabia’s Petroleum Minister Ali al-Naimi. Al-Naimi has repeatedly denied claims that the kingdom is involved in a conspiracy. He says the tumbling prices are the result of “A lack of cooperation by non-OPEC production nations, along with the spread of misinformation and speculator’s greed.” In other words, everyone else is to blame except the country that has historically kept prices high by controlling output. That’s a bit of a stretch, don’t you think? Especially since–according to the Financial Times — OPEC’s de facto leader has abandoned the cartel’s “traditional strategy” and announced that it won’t cut production even if prices drop to $20 per barrel.

Why? Why would the Saudis suddenly abandon a strategy that allowed them to rake in twice as much dough as they are today? Don’t they like money anymore?

And why would al-Naimi be so eager to crash prices, send Middle East stock markets into freefall, increase the kingdom’s budget deficits to a record-high 5 percent of GDP, and create widespread financial instability? Is grabbing “market share” really that important or is there something else going on here below the surface?

The Guardian’s Larry Elliot thinks the US and Saudi Arabia are engaged a conspiracy to push down oil prices. He points to a September meeting between John Kerry and Saudi King Abdullah where a deal was made to boost production in order to hurt Iran and Russia. Here’s a clip from the article titled “Stakes are high as US plays the oil card against Iran and Russia”:

“…with the help of its Saudi ally, Washington is trying to drive down the oil price by flooding an already weak market with crude. As the Russians and the Iranians are heavily dependent on oil exports, the assumption is that they will become easier to deal with…

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, allegedly struck a deal with King Abdullah in September under which the Saudis would sell crude at below the prevailing market price. That would help explain why the price has been falling at a time when, given the turmoil in Iraq and Syria caused by Islamic State, it would normally have been rising.

The Saudis did something similar in the mid-1980s. Then, the geopolitical motivation for a move that sent the oil price to below $10 a barrel was to destabilize Saddam Hussein’s regime. This time, according to Middle East specialists, the Saudis want to put pressure on Iran and to force Moscow to weaken its support for the Assad regime in Syria… (Stakes are high as US plays the oil card against Iran and Russia, Guardian)

That’s the gist of Elliot’s theory, but is he right?

Vladimir Putin isn’t so sure. Unlike Morales, Maduro and Rouhani, the Russian president has been reluctant to blame falling prices on US-Saudi collusion. In an article in Itar-Tass, Putin opined:

“There’s a lot of talk around” in what concerns the causes for the slide of oil prices, he said at a major annual news conference. “Some people say there is conspiracy between Saudi Arabia and the US in order to punish Iran or to depress the Russian economy or to exert impact on Venezuela.”

“It might be really so or might be different, or there might be the struggle of traditional producers of crude oil and shale oil,” Putin said. “Given the current situation on the market the production of shale oil and gas has practically reached the level of zero operating costs.” (Putin says oil market price conspiracy between Saudi Arabia and US not ruled out, Itar-Tass)

As always, Putin takes the most moderate position, that is, that Washington and the Saudis may be in cahoots, but that droopy prices might simply be a sign of over-supply and weakening demand. In other words, there could be a plot, but then again, maybe not. Putin is a man who avoids passing judgment without sufficient evidence.

The same can’t be said of the Washington Post. In a recent article, WP journalist Chris Mooney dismisses anyone who thinks oil prices are the result of US-Saudi collaboration as “kooky conspiracy theorists”. According to Mooney:

“The reasons for the sudden (price) swing are not particularly glamorous: They involve factors like supply and demand, oil companies having invested heavily in exploration several years ago to produce a glut of oil that has now hit the market — and then, perhaps, the “lack of cohesion” among the diverse members of OPEC.” (Why there are so many kooky conspiracy theories about oil, Washington Post)

Oddly enough, Mooney disproves his own theory a few paragraphs later in the same piece when he says:

“Oil producers really do coordinate. And then, there’s OPEC, which is widely referred to in the press as a “cartel,” and which states up front that its mission is to “coordinate and unify the petroleum policies” of its 12 member countries…. Again, there’s that veneer of plausibility to the idea of some grand oil related strategy.” (WP)

Let me get this straight: One the one hand Mooney agrees that OPEC is a cartel that “coordinates and unify the petroleum policies”, then on the other, he says that market fundamentals are at work. Can you see the disconnect? Cartels obstruct normal supply-demand dynamics by fixing prices, which Mooney seems to breezily ignore.

Also, he scoffs at the idea of “some grand oil related strategy” as if these cartel nations were philanthropic organizations operating in the service of humanity. Right. Someone needs to clue Mooney in on the fact that OPEC is not the Peace Corps. They are monopolizing amalgam of cutthroat extortionists whose only interest is maximizing profits while increasing their own political power. Surely, we can all agree on that fact.

What’s really wrong with Mooney’s article, is that he misses the point entirely. The debate is NOT between so-called “conspiracy theorists” and those who think market forces alone explain the falling prices. It’s between the people who think that the Saudis decision to flood the market is driven by politics rather than a desire to grab “market share.” That’s where people disagree. No denies that there’s manipulation; they merely disagree about the motive. This glaring fact seems to escape Mooney who is on a mission to discredit conspiracy theorists at all cost. Here’s more:

(There’s) “a long tradition of conspiracy theorists who have surmised that the world’s great oil powers — whether countries or mega-corporations — are secretly pulling strings to shape world events.”…

“A lot of conspiracy theories take as their premise that there’s a small group of people who are plotting to control something, to control the government, the banking system, or the main energy source, and they are doing this to the disadvantage of everybody else,” says University of California-Davis historian Kathy Olmsted, author of “Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11″. (Washington Post)

Got that? Now find me one person who doesn’t think the world is run by a small group of rich, powerful people who operate in their own best interests? Here’s more from the same article:

(Oil) “It’s the perfect lever for shifting world events. If you were a mad secret society with world-dominating aspirations and lots of power, how would you tweak the world to create cascading outcomes that could topple governments and enrich some at the expense of others? It’s hard to see a better lever than the price of oil, given its integral role in the world economy.” (WP)

“A mad secret society”? Has Mooney noticed that — in the last decade and a half — the US has only invaded nations that have huge natural resources (mainly oil and natural gas) or the geography for critical pipeline routes? There’s nothing particularly secret about it, is there?

The United States is not a “mad secret society with world-dominating aspirations”. It’s a empire with blatantly obvious “world-dominating aspirations” run by political puppets who do the work of wealthy elites and corporations. Any sentient being who’s bright enough to browse the daily headlines can figure that one out.

Mooney’s grand finale:

“So in sum, with a surprising and dramatic event like this year’s oil price decline, it would be shocking if it did not generate conspiracy theories. Humans believe them all too easily. And they’re a lot more colorful than a more technical (and accurate) story about supply and demand.” (WP)

Ah, yes. Now I see. Those darn “humans”. They’re so weak-minded they’ll believe anything you tell them, which is why they need someone as smart as Mooney tell them how the world really works.

Have you ever read such nonsense in your life? On top of that, he gets the whole story wrong. This isn’t about market fundamentals. It’s about manipulation. Are the Saudis manipulating supply to grab market share or for political reasons? THAT’S THE QUESTION. The fact that they ARE manipulating supply is not challenged by anyone including the uber-conservative Financial Times that deliberately pointed out that the Saudis had abandoned their traditional role of cutting supply to support prices. That’s what a “swing state” does; it manipulates supply keep prices higher than they would be if market forces were allowed to operate unimpeded.

So what is the motive driving the policy; that’s what we want to know?

Certainly there’s a strong case to be made for market share. No one denies that. If the Saudis keep prices at rock bottom for a prolonged period of time, then a high percentage of the producers (that can’t survive at prices below $70 per barrel) will default leaving OPEC with greater market share and more control over pricing.

So market share is certainly a factor. But is it the only factor?

Is it so far fetched to think that the United States–which in the last year has imposed harsh economic sanctions on Russia, made every effort to sabotage the South Stream pipeline, and toppled the government in Kiev so it could control the flow of Russian gas to countries in the EU–would coerce the Saudis into flooding the market with oil in order to decimate the Russian economy, savage the ruble, and create favorable conditions for regime change in Moscow? Is that so hard to believe?

Apparently New York Times columnist Thomas Freidman doesn’t think so. Here’s how he summed it up in a piece last month: “Is it just my imagination or is there a global oil war underway pitting the United States and Saudi Arabia on one side against Russia and Iran on the other?”

It sounds like Freidman has joined the conspiracy throng, doesn’t it? And he’s not alone either. This is from Alex Lantier at the World Socialist Web Site:

“While there are a host of global economic factors underlying the fall in oil prices, it is unquestionable that a major role in the commodity’s staggering plunge is Washington’s collaboration with OPEC and the Saudi monarchs in Riyadh to boost production and increase the glut on world oil markets.

As Obama traveled to Saudi Arabia after the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis last March, the Guardian wrote, “Angered by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the Saudis turned on the oil taps, driving down the global price of crude until it reached $20 a barrel (in today’s prices) in the mid-1980s… [Today] the Saudis might be up for such a move—which would also boost global growth—in order to punish Putin over his support for the Assad regime in Syria. Has Washington floated this idea with Riyadh? It would be a surprise if it hasn’t.” (Alex Lantier, Imperialism and the ruble crisis, World Socialist Web Site)

And here’s an intriguing clip from an article at Reuters that suggests the Obama administration is behind the present Saudi policy:

“U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sidestepped the issue (of a US-Saudi plot) after a trip to Saudi Arabia in September. Asked if past discussions with Riyadh had touched on Russia’s need for oil above $100 to balance its budget, he smiled and said: “They (Saudis) are very, very well aware of their ability to have an impact on global oil prices.” (Saudi oil policy uncertainty unleashes the conspiracy theorists, Reuters)

Wink, wink.

Of course, they’re in bed together. Saudi Arabia is a US client. It’s not autonomous or sovereign in any meaningful way. It’s a US protectorate, a satellite, a colony. They do what they’re told. Period. True, the relationship is complex, but let’s not be ridiculous. The Saudis are not calling the shots. The idea is absurd. Do you really think that Washington would let Riyadh fiddle prices in a way that destroyed critical US domestic energy industries, ravaged the junk bond market, and generated widespread financial instability without uttering a peep of protest on the matter?

Dream on! If the US was unhappy with the Saudis, we’d all know about it in short-order because it would be raining Daisy Cutters from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea, which is the way that Washington normally expresses its displeasure on such matters. The fact that Obama has not even alluded to the shocking plunge in prices just proves that the policy coincides with Washington’s broader geopolitical strategy.

And let’s not forget that the Saudis have used oil as a political weapon before, many times before. Indeed, wreaking havoc is nothing new for our good buddies the Saudis. Check this out from Oil Price website:

“In 1973, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat convinced Saudi King Faisal to cut production and raise prices, then to go as far as embargoing oil exports, all with the goal of punishing the United States for supporting Israel against the Arab states. It worked. The “oil price shock” quadrupled prices.

It happened again in 1986, when Saudi Arabia-led OPEC allowed prices to drop precipitously, and then in 1990, when the Saudis sent prices plummeting as a way of taking out Russia, which was seen as a threat to their oil supremacy. In 1998, they succeeded. When the oil price was halved from $25 to $12, Russia defaulted on its debt.

The Saudis and other OPEC members have, of course, used the oil price for the obverse effect, that is, suppressing production to keep prices artificially high and member states swimming in “petrodollars”. In 2008, oil peaked at $147 a barrel.” (Did The Saudis And The US Collude In Dropping Oil Prices?, Oil Price)

1973, 1986, 1990, 1998 and 2008.

So, according to the author, the Saudis have manipulated oil prices at least five times in the past to achieve their foreign policy objectives. But, if that’s the case, then why does the media ridicule people who think the Saudis might be engaged in a similar strategy today?

Could it be that the media is trying to shape public opinion on the issue and, by doing so, actually contribute to the plunge in oil prices?

Bingo. Alert readers have probably noticed that the oil story has been splashed across the headlines for weeks even though the basic facts have not changed in the least. It’s all a rehash of the same tedious story reprinted over and over again. But, why? Why does the public need to have the same “Saudis refuse to cut production” story driven into their consciousness day after day like they’re part of some great collective brainwashing experiment? Could it be that every time the message is repeated, oil sells off, and prices go down? Is that it?

Precisely. For example, last week a refinery was attacked in Libya which pushed oil prices up almost immediately. Just hours later, however, another “Saudis refuse to cut production” story conveniently popped up in all the major US media which pushed prices in the direction the USG wants them to go, er, I mean, back down again.

This is how the media helps to reinforce government policy, by crafting a message that helps to push down prices and, thus, hurt “evil” Putin. (This is called “jawboning”) Keep in mind, that OPEC doesn’t meet again until June, 2015, so there’s nothing new to report on production levels. But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to get regular updates on the “Saudis refuse to cut production” story. Oh, no. The media is going to keep beating that drum until Putin cries “Uncle” and submits to US directives. Either that, or the bond market is going to blow up and take the whole damn global financial system along with it. One way or another, something’s got to give.

Bottom line: Falling oil prices and the plunging ruble are not some kind of free market accident brought on by oversupply and weak demand. That’s baloney. They’re part of a broader geopolitical strategy to strangle the Russian economy, topple Putin, and establish US hegemony across the Asian landmass. It’s all part of Washington’s plan to maintain its top-spot as the world’s only superpower even though its economy is in irreversible decline.

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com.

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com.

The Company that Almost Ruined Cuban Hip Hop is a Profitable Global Operation

Shortly before the US and Cuba reestablished diplomatic relations on December 2014, Associated Press exposed a cartoonish caper by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) (1). Apparently running out of ideas for undermining the Cuban revolution, the agency turned to funding hip hop rappers. This bizarre scheme, denounced by US Senator Patrick Leahy as “reckless” and “stupid”, was contracted out to Creative Associates International Inc. (CAII), a little known private company that happens to be one of USAID’s largest contractors. This is the same company that earlier in 2014 had been caught in another USAID scheme to ensnare Cuban youth, this one involving Twitter.

CAII deserves a closer look. In the last three decades this company has popped up in the middle of major political, diplomatic, military and intelligence operations of the US government worldwide.

“Creative Associates International provides outstanding, on-the-ground development services and forges partnerships to deliver sustainable solutions to global challenges”, explains the company web site. “Its experts focus on building inclusive educational systems, transitioning communities from conflict to peace… engaging youth… and more. Creative is recognized for its ability to quickly adapt and excel in conflict and post-conflict environments.”

From its unusual origins–it was started in 1977 by four women from diverse ethnic backgrounds–it has expanded into a global profit-making operation, with a current presence in 20 countries and over 1,000 employees. “The Company’s portfolio has grown considerably and now includes economic growth, stabilizing communities, enhancing good governance, promoting transparent elections and more”, boasts CAII’s web site. Its current work includes school dropout prevention programs in Tajikistan, East Timor, Cambodia and India, a crime and violence prevention project in El Salvador, an education crisis response program in Nigeria, support for education reform in Jordan, support for livelihoods of Tibetans in China, education and community development programs in Yemen, and literacy promotion in Pakistan. CAII has also done work in Central and South America, Angola, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, the former Yugoslavia, Lebanon and Uzbekistan, among many other countries.

In Libya, a country recently ravaged by war and brutal foreign intervention, CAII launched a community grants program “to strengthen the capacities of civil society organizations”, with the support of the US State Department. The State Department also funds a CAII project in Libya that “seeks to strengthen the ability of civil society organizations to build regional and national consensus and to influence Libya’s formal constitutional drafting process”.

CAII has not missed out on the action in Afghanistan, one of the single most profitable markets for US government contracting. In this war-torn country the company has billed USAID top dollar for a variety of tasks, including primary education, teacher training, literacy, vocational training, promotion of civil society, and technical assistance to local NGO’s.

Not surprisingly, the company’s work has a very political side to it. And it is not pretty.

“CAII’s track record… testifies to a relentless pursuit of free market fundamentalism and vigorous counterinsurgency”, said a 2012 Counterpunch article by Mark Graham (2). According to University of Massachusetts education professor Kenneth Saltman, CAII has been involved in “projects that merged development work with political, military, and economic influence strategies on the part of the U.S.”  since the start of the ‘‘Reagan revolution’’ in ‘‘democracy promotion’’ (3). Saltman found that the company has worked “reintegrating Contra terrorists into Nicaraguan civil society through work training; influencing Nicaraguan elections; participating in both coups against Aristide in Haiti; and privatizing, commercializing, and Americanizing Haitian media and journalism particularly around election coverage.”

According to Graham:

“In Afghanistan the purported goal of ‘promoting democracy’ in reality fosters dependency on foreign sponsors, and privatizes and depoliticizes education and the media.  Recently the Afghan Ministry of Education, which works closely with CAII, has decided to omit all recent history (read the past thirty years of war) from its curriculum.  You can’t buy that kind of thought control—unless you have a few hundred million…”

“In 2009, Pakistani journalists Ahmed Quraishi and Shireen Mazari reported that the CAII headquarters in Peshawar was being used as a front for Blackwater/Xe mercenaries (aka the CIA’s private army) to stage raids into the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

USAID contracted CAII to rebuild US-occupied Iraq’s education system- everything from school buildings and textbooks to teacher training, curriculum and administration. According to the muckraking Center for Public Integrity:

“In addition to its USAID contract for educational reform in Afghanistan, worth at least $60 million, Creative was awarded a USAID contract in March 2003 for educational development work in Iraq. That contract, which may be extended by two years, is meant to cover everything from desks and blackboards to textbooks, curriculum reform, academic standards and teacher training and is worth up to $157 million. Creative was the 10th largest recipient of government-funded contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Center’s analysis.” (4)

In 2003 the company’s dealings received the unwelcome attention of the US Congress and the press, which were asking how it got its Iraq contracts without a competitive bidding process. Other corporations the benefited from no-bid contracts in Iraq included Halliburton and Bechtel. The latter was subcontracted by CAII to rebuild schools.

In spite of its Cuban fiascoes and Middle East shenanigans, CAII’s promo materials are extraordinarily cheerful. CAII “partners with civil society organizations, multilateral donors, national governments, the private sector and others to improve education, stabilize neighborhoods and enhance community resiliency”, proclaims its web site. And the contracts they keep a-coming.

Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero is a Puerto Rican investigative reporter. http://carmeloruiz.blogspot.com/search/label/eng On Twitter: @carmeloruiz.

Notes.

1)  Associated Press. “USAID op undermines Cuba’s hip-hop protest scene”. December 11 2014 http://bigstory.ap.org/article/7c275c134f1b4a0ca3428929fcece82d/us-co-opted-cubas-hip-hop-scene-spark-change

2) Mark Graham “USAID in Afghanistan” Counterpunch, December 5 2012. https://www.counterpunch.org/2012/12/05/usaid-in-afghanistan/

3) “‘By denying politics and fostering privatization… CAII diminishes the capacity of educative institutions to be a public sphere where such genuine civic engagement is possible. Of course, CAII’s way of ‘promoting democracy,’ though it may not foster genuine democratic politics through engaged political debate and deliberation, does forge allegiances to the sponsor of the gifts and unite dissenting views under the umbrage of USAID money. The emphasis on shifting media control away from the state and towards a private for profit system stands to encourage a reliance on foreign provided expensive equipment, a depoliticized media system in which the market and concerns with profit largely becomes the ‘neutral’ fabric of the new media. (Saltman, 2006: 46)” Sourcewatch. http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Creative_Associates

4) Center for Public Integrity. “Winning Contractors: U.S. contractors reap the windfalls of post-war reconstruction”. October 30 2003 (updated May 19 2014) http://www.publicintegrity.org/2003/10/30/5628/winning-contractors

Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero is a Puerto Rican journalist.

Marketing Madness

Is it just me or does anyone else think like me that this whole uproar over the supposed foreign “threat” to Americans’ freedom in the form of warnings against showing a low-brow Hollywood comedy, “The Interview” is a pathetic farce?

It hit bottom for me today when I read in the New York Times that viewers who flocked to one theater to see this over-hyped move kicked it off by collectively pledging Allegiance and singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”

First of all, let me point out that if the tables had been turned and some other country’s film industry had cranked out some movie depicting the assassination of the current president of the United States, does anyone think that the US government would not go ballistic in protest, no doubt threatening trade boycotts or worse — maybe drone attacks on the studio in question? (Certainly that would be a possibility if the offending nation were Islamic.)

But on top of this, we already know that the initial claim that the threats against theaters showing the film, and the hack of Sony, the film company that made the movie, was wrong, and that they were not the work of the North Korean government, but rather of some private hacking organization. It wouldn’t surprise me to someday discover that Sony, stuck with what looked like a dog, paid some shady outfit to “hack” them and make threats all in order to build “buzz” around the film’s release.

Whatever or whoever it was behind the threats against this film, it worked like a charm. Americans, who probably would have ignored this movie like a remake of “Ishtar,” have been flocking to it in a jingoistic fervor to see Kim Jong-un’s head explode, even as the US government, which had been threatening retaliation against North Korea, has now had to back away from those threats as it becomes clearer that Pyongyang was not behind them.

What is really sad though, is to see US citizens proudly emptying their wallets for inflated tickets to see this sorry production (which was actually long before North Korea even protested about the film) and crowing that they are “standing tall” against threats to American “freedom of expression.”

Where were these supposed heroes of free expression when Washington was pressing the cable companies not to include the English version of Al Jazeera in cable packages? Where were they when we learned, in 2004, that the Bush/Cheney administration had successfully pressured the NY Times to withhold from publishing, from September until after the presidential election, an exclusive article by reporter James Risen that the NSA was massively spying on all Americans — keeping that issue out of public discourse until Bush was successfully–and narrowly — re-elected? Where are these ardent defenders of media freedom today as the Federal Communications Commission prepares to approve a merger of Comcast and Time Warner to create on single monopolistic cable company? And where are they as the government sits on a secret indictment of Wikileaks founder Julien Assange, the Australian journalist whose only “crime” is exposing documents proving the corrupt, authoritarian and criminal behavior of the US government. Assange has been trapped for over two years in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London dodging extradition to Sweden on a spurious charge of sex abuse — a charge which is widely known to be merely a device to get him to Stockholm, where the US prosecutors could get him extradited trial on espionage charges in the US.

The jingoistic yahoos who are flooding theaters to watch Kim’s head explode on screen are not defending media freedom. They are participating in just another marketing campaign by a huge media corporation that needed to do something to rescue a dog of a film that it found itself stuck with.

If they really wanted to be freedom’s heroes, US filmgoers would be lining up at theaters that are showing the movie “Kill the Messenger,” an excellent drama based on a real story. It exposes how the CIA used its contacts and perhaps even paid agents who work inside the largest and supposedly “free and independent” corporate media organizations, to spread lies and destroy the reputation of Gary Webb, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who had exposed an incredibly cynical and criminal program by the CIA in the 1980s to facilitate the massive import into the US of cocaine from Latin America in order to raise money from the drug cartels which it used to fund arms for the Contra army fighting to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

(Such viewers could have even had their exploding head, since Webb, either in an act of despondent suicide after having his career and marriage destroyed, or as a treacherous act of CIA murder as many suspect, ultimately died of two shots fired into his mouth, the first of which blew away his jaw, and the second of which entered his cranium and killed him.)

Instead, the over-hyped film “The Interview” is now a blockbuster, with theaters packed by jingoistic bozos, while “Kill the Messenger” is relegated to a handful of art houses.

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

Preying on Mexican Populism

“The violence is not a new thing,” says Jose-Pablo Buerba about Mexico’s civil unrest and protest in recent weeks. An international political economist from Mexico City, Buerba works with heads of state around the world on matters economic. He is a native of Mexico City, where he has lived and worked these last few months.

Before his December 2014 departure from the Distrito Federal (Mexico City), Buerba had asked not to have his identity revealed in an interview he had granted me within twenty-four hours of protestors setting fire to Mexico’s National Palace door. “Please don’t,” he had requested, adding that he would “rather not get killed-off.” Now, Buerba agrees to weigh in for a follow-up interview, and to go on record about key issues that international and Mexican presses have either failed to report, or outright ignored. Specifically, Buerba’s insights nuance current depictions of the polemics surrounding Mexico’s Missing 43. Despite the fact that Buerba’s opinion elucidates the dodgier elements that continue to shape unfolding coverage, it is an opinion that remains virtually absent from the overall story.

Indeed, the violence associated with Mexican politics does not seem new. Buerba broaches the obvious, namely that the frequent sequester of and killing of people in Mexico has appeared in news almost conventionally—and for quite some time. Per the foreign perception of Mexico, violence has become a sensationalizing hallmark that the media uses to mystify the nation. Thanks to mass media, international onlookers are conditioned to “accept” Mexico as despotic and violent. But this recent “news story” happens to be cloaked in a layer cake of political prestidigitation that strongly suggests local and international coverage have been all but earnest. Specifically, the violence reported seems more than a self-sustaining newspiece; it is a red herring that helps distract and take away from other issues surrounding the Missing 43.

There was a story last year, in 2013, about a handful of young Mexicans who went to a club, were kidnapped, subjected to a ransoming, and eventually killed. Yet, when compared with the ugly fate of the 43 students that transpired only recently, relatively little came of the club-goers or their story. Buerba invokes the disparity in the coverage of these two current events didactically. Juxtaposing the two events, and the press they each received, evinces the overall media bias apropos the violence in Mexico, which it either elects to cover or not. In fact, the reason as to why the Missing 43 (and the polemics surrounding their disappearance and murder) garners maximum attention nowadays has less to do with the heinous act itself, than with those who control the media in Mexico and the US. This is not to say, however, that such a “story” does not warrant full attention. It does!

“So, why now the 43 students; why did it even make international news?” asks Buerba, rhetorically. “The real reason why it gets media attention is not because of the act itself,” says Buerba, “but because…the people controlling the media [in Mexico] are inflating the stories for their own purposes.” He cites the employment of media by powerful elites to manipulate popular sentiment and political fervor, especially through the dissemination of information/disinformation through television. “Essentially,” says Buerba, “the most important powers in Mexico are the Bible, and Televisa,” a mass media corporation. A lack of education, coupled with a “religious attachment” to television, exacerbates the problem, and it presents an inroad into the public conscience that is easily accessible to powerful Mexican media magnates.

Buerba states it is peculiar that “43 students would rise-up randomly,” and congregate somewhere for their own political reasons. Then he summons Esther Gordillo, the leader of the largest labor union in Latin America since 1989 (the 1.4-million member Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, or SNTE). “Peña Nieto, when he came to power,” says Buerba, “put her behind bars because she allegedly embezzling hundreds of millions of the union’s dollars.” Gordillo has been one of the most powerful people in Mexico for the last few decades, and Buerba suggested that Peña Nieto’s actions apropos Gordillo were a political attempt to solidify his status as a “doer.” In fact, jailing Gordillo was one of the first political actions to take place within Peña Nieto’s presidency.

Peña Nieto also helped pass a contentious educational reform, along with many others. While some believe the passage of this reform would raise the standards of education within Mexico, others reacted vehemently; the new reform implies alterations to professional titles, demoting students’ and teachers’ socially, lowering their market value in the Mexican workforce. The popular reaction to the reforms indicates it was definitely perceived as a move to disempower teachers and their union. Logically, the less economic power the workers (teachers, etc.) wield, the less powerful and less threatening the SNTE is relevant to the power of the Mexican government.

Wielding influence from behind bars, Gordillo yet incited political action in her union. “She is controlling the teachers,” says Buerba, “and the teachers are protesting a lot.” Another common suspicion is that Gordillo’s union organized the would-be 43 protesters that gathered in Iguala, in the State of Guerrero, in order to protest the speech of the Mayor’s wife—who allegedly had them killed. “So, another problem with the situation in Iguala, with the 43 students who were going to be teachers, and who were supposedly going to protest,” says Buerba, “is that the populists believe the PRI—the party that doesn’t care about the people—is responsible; however, the Governor of Iguala is from the PRD, the populist party, and so people who are upset don’t see that members of their party is killing them.”

Far from absolving the president of any ties to Mexico’s current strife, Buerba cites Peña Nieto’s policy an undisputable yet ignored piece of the puzzle: “What people don’t understand about Peña Nieto is that he has been able to pass eleven structural reforms unlike presidents before him.” In this light, some argue that Peña Nieto has truly endeavored to better Mexico, and that he follows through with his policies. Of course, this is a contentious claim in Mexico and elsewhere. “Now,” says Buerba, “people don’t see this because all they see is the 43 students, and they hate [Peña Nieto].” Moreover, the problem is not just one of violent, state-sponsored oppression; it is one of antagonistic economic struggle.

Peña Nieto’s reforms have affected Mexico in many ways. Yet, not all forms have received an equal response from the public. “Most businesses are seeing the fiscal reforms as a bad thing,” says Buerba, adding, “they only see the micro-economics.” Small businesses in Mexico have to pay more taxes now, “but what they don’t realize,” says Buerba, “is the upside of the macroeconomics at work: paying higher taxes might eventually make the whole country better.” The energy reforms are a much more concrete example that justify the logic behind Peña Nieto’s policy. Buerba asserts that, “The energy reform is set to make PEMEX—Mexico’s state-run petroleum company—a more productive firm; without the energy reforms, PEMEX will not have the resources necessary to exploit all the resources that Mexico has.” Thus, collecting new taxes seems an attempt to cover what PEMEX is losing, including salaries, and to allow it the space to become as competitive as possible for the supposed benefit of the people. But when the public at large sees taxes go up “30 to 40 percent,” they also perceive the looming specter of a corrupt government trying to rob them even more.

“The most important part of all this is the telecommunications reform,” says Buerba. He signals Carlos Slim’s monopoly on market share, represented by tens of millions of Mexico’s telecommunications customers. “He can charge whatever he wants,” says Buerba, “and Televisa is similar.” To liberalize the sector, Buerba claims that Peña Nieto’s reforms were anti-monopolistic in theory, favoring a much more competitive market of multiple companies vying for customers and adjusting prices in accord with competition. But what these already powerful firms see is that Peña Nieto and his reforms constitute a direct threat to their business profitability.

Buerba suggests a crucial aspect of the current state of unrest and strife in Mexico pertains specifically to the fact that violence has mutated into such a scandalizing focal point for news reporting national affairs. A port of entry into the backstory of the Missing 43, questioning the emphasis on violence and civil unrest yet encompasses the need to question why international media—especially that of the United States—has taken it up so readily and vociferously. There has been a widespread exposition of photos and videos of Mexicans decapitating and burning effigies of the Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto. Due to a conflict of business interest, and the direct intervention of the Mexican government in the private sector and its telecommunications monopolies, Buerba surmise, “The media is behind all of this, and it shows who has real power in Mexico.”

Understanding the media coverage of the violence also requires understanding the powerful figures that lurk behind the propagation of images and video. Certain reports hold that Slim is one of the largest stakeholders for the New York Times, and that he could own roughly a fifth of the New York Times Company come 2015. Buerba asks, “How many articles are published in the New York Times are about Peña Nieto’s incompetence?” He adds, “It’s not a coincidence; they want him to lose popularity at home and abroad, and to oust him, essentially.”

In all, the tragedy of events remains unmuted. Clearly the Mexican public, as well as that of other nations, is upset by wanton violence. Moreover, the gathering of the 43 students/protestors, or of anyone else for that matter, ought not routinely warrant any form of corrupt, political violence or deadly retribution—no matter who is behind it. If organizers and students are commissioned, and subsequently murdered to maintain a power that leeches off the Mexican status quo, then questioning the motives of those behind political demonstrations also becomes imperative. For that matter, the repercussions from policy or reforms that in some way get students and demonstrators killed, are also suspect, and they should be subjected to democratic scrutiny. The same applies to the media’s coverage of violence in Mexico, and the reasons behind the press it receives. If not, then justice remains a chimera, and the struggle between suspect powers is the only thing the media helps to further. Not to explore the reasons why certain stories, images and videos get published, and not others, obfuscates the real news in its absolute complexity, and which seldom gets disseminated in the international press or media.

Mateo Pimentel lives on the Mexican-US border. You can follow him on Twitter @mateo_pimentel.  

 

Mateo Pimentel lives on the Mexican-US border. You can follow him on Twitter @mateo_pimentel.

Why Aaron Sorkin is No Ring Lardner, Jr.

Two big stories had just broken: “Senate Exposes CIA Torture” and “Sony Chiefs’ Racist Emails Revealed.” Immediately —and in concert— the National Security Apparatus denied the torture charge and Sony staged a boffo misdirection play.

The hackers had made available documents exposing the  workings of a major corporation. Presumably they revealed the extent of income inequality (who gets paid what), tax avoidance strategies, etc. Of primary interest to the media were the vile, demeaning and literally racist  emails between Sony executives Scott Rudin and Amy Pascal. It is Scott  and Amy —and people like them at the other studios— who decide what movies and TV shows get made in Hollywood. The Scotts and Amies create the culture desired by the 1%. They make movies and TV shows promoting the belief that the world is a very dangerous place divided into “good guys” (generally associated with law enforcement) and “bad guys.”

Remember the tremendous hullabaloo last year when racist remarks by the owner of the San Diego Clippers, Donald Sterling, were made public? The nation could not rest until the old dementoid sold the team. Why is there no clamor for Sony to get rid of Scott Rudin and Amy Pascal?

Sony strategists devised a brilliant damage-control line: anyone publishing the hacked material is an accessory to terrorism. The line was eloquently set forth by  Aaron Sorkin in a December 14 New York Times op-ed. Sorkin, a super-successful writer, asserted his leftiness as he led the counterattack:

“As a screenwriter in Hollywood who’s only two generations removed from probably being blacklisted, I’m not crazy about Americans calling other Americans un-American, so let’s just say that every news outlet that did the bidding of the Guardians of Peace is morally treasonous and spectacularly dishonorable.”

Aaron Sorkin was so adamant, and so obviously carrying water for Sony, that it got me thinking… They promoted the absurd “North Korean threat to U.S. moviegoers” story  to stop the hacked material from getting published! The original statement from the so-called Guardians of Peace made no reference to blowing up movie theaters in America.  The National Security Apparatus —wanting bury the CIA torture story ASAP—  announced that both the hacking of Sony and the supposedly credible threat to moviegoers at the Bijoux in Peoria emanated from North Korea!  The ploy worked perfectly. Today, anyone who says that the racist creep Scott Rudin should be fired is doing the bidding of Kim Jong-Un. Amy Pascal, after a 90-minute meeting with the Reverend Al Sharpton, promises not to be “insensitive” in the future. The CIA torture story has vanished —John Brennan’s denial was the last word. And paying to see “The Interview” —which preview audiences thought was snore bore—is now seen as a patriotic duty.

Applied Leftiness

When Aaron Sorkin was head writer of West Wing, pro-cannabis activists eagerly watched an episode said to be based on the experience of Dr. Joycelyn Elders, the surgeon general who had been fired by Bill Clinton after acknowledging that marijuana has medical uses and masturbation is normal.

It turned out that any connection between the real Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders and the West Wing version was just name-dropping and p.r.

In the TV show, a female surgeon general (Caucasian, BTW) tells an interviewer that marijuana is “no more harmful than alcohol and nicotine” and “no more addictive than heroin or LSD.”  (Both comments contain misinformation. Marijuana is much less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes. LSD is not addictive. Joycelyn Elders would not have made such misstatements.)

President Martin Sheen is out of town when the Surgeon General does her supposedly outrageous supposed truth-telling. Top aides tell her to resign immediately so that the Prez doesn’t have to fire her.  Meanwhile, one of the Prez’s daughters, a med student, phones a reporter and says her dad would never fire the surgeon general. The Prez returns from abroad, is furious at the surgeon general (who happens to be Godmother to the daughter now coming to her defense), and furious at the daughter, whom he feels doesn’t love him.  Soap-a-roonie! The surgeon general explains to Martin Sheen that his daughter really does love him, and was showing filial admiration by saying that he would never fire her.  The Prez is flattered and refuses to accept the surgeon general’s resignation.  It’s a happy ending with the flag flying and the White House glowing and patriotic chords tugging at our sentiments.

In real life there was a female Surgeon General (Black, BTW) who spoke the truth in terms the President, a Democrat, considered impolitic. He offed her immediately and ignominiously.

When radical movements and leaders emerge, practitioners of leftiness —using NGO money and/or media access— start speaking for the movement and eclipsing the real leaders. They come on like allies —”we’re helping you reach a wider audience,” etc.— but actually they’re weakening the movement’s message and demands.

The blacklisted Hollywood writers whose mantle Aaron Sorkin claims were not opponents of the North Korean regime. They were opponents of capitalism and imperialism. After World War Two, the U.S. had propped up a regime in  South Korea dominated by the former ruling elite, many of whose members had collaborated with the Japanese occupiers. “Our” regime in the South prevented Korea from being unified under leaders who had fought against the Japanese fascists. Anyone wishing to understand how North Korea became so insular and anti-U.S. should read “The Korean War” by University of Chicago historian Bruce Cummings (Random House, 2010).  And anyone wishing to understand McCarthyism —the taunting, firing and blacklisting of American dissenters — should review the coverage of Dennis Rodman’s trip to North Korea with a team of ex-NBA players. Especially chilling for those who remember Senator McCarthy’s voice and interrogation style was Piers Morgan’s hounding of Kenny Anderson on CNN. If you can find it on YouTube… it’s almost as if Morgan, a teabag, had studied McCarthy’s sneering inflection and cadence.

I knew Ring Lardner, Jr. slightly —he played in my in-laws’ poker game, we talked politics on several occasions— and you, Mr. Sorkin, are no Ring Lardner, Jr.

Empty Apartments, Theirs and Ours

At the Emerald Cup in Santa Rosa I ran into David Bienenstock, the writer/editor and cup impresario who left High Times for a job at Vice.com.  I expressed appreciation for Vice backing Dennis Rodman’s visits to North Korea. “To open doors and bridge a gap,” was Rodman’s stated intention, and who could not dig that? According to Bien, Vice honcho Shane Smith was with Rodman’s crew when they were driven in limos to the basketball court, which was in a sports complex surrounded by tall apartment buildings. Upon his return, Smith looked at the site on Google Maps and noticed that the buildings were dark at night —nobody lived there, they were just for show. “They’re so weird,” said Bien about the North Koreans. I told him that one summer night I was walking along the shore in Palm Beach, Florida, and noticed that most of the high-rises looming above were completely dark; in a few the lights were on in a single apartment. The people who owned those apartments used them in the winter. In the summer they go to their places in the Hamptons or the Poconos. In September it’s back to the apartment in Manhattan… North Korea’s empty apartments may be a manifestation of absurd pride, but Florida’s are a testament to material inequality… I sent Bien a song written to console Rosie, who was upset by the way Rodman had been ridiculed and villified.  I wish I could get it to Rodman. Or to some musicians who don’t aspire to a contract with Sony.

And the Winners are… Most hopeful slogan on a tee-shirt at this year’s Emerald Cup: “Marijuana Cures Racism.”  Most useful slogan on a product (a cookie from Kurova Chocolates): “You Can Always Eat More, But You Can’t Eat Less.”

Fred Gardner is managing editor of O’Shaughnessy’s, the journal of cannabis in clinical practice, online at BeyondTHC.com

Fred Gardner is the managing editor of O’Shaughnessy’s. He can be reached at fred@plebesite.com

Nothing Changes as Much as the Past

WHEN I was 15 years old and a member of the Irgun underground (by today’s criteria, an honest-to-goodness terrorist organization), we sang “(In the past) we had the heroes / Bar Kochba and the Maccabees / Now we have the new ones / The national youth…” The melody was a German military marching song.

Why did we look for heroes in the remote past?

We were in desperate need of national heroes to emulate. For 18 centuries, Jews had not fought. Dispersed throughout the world, they saw no reason to fight for emperors and kings who mostly persecuted them. (Though some of them did. The first authentic hero of the new Zionist entity in Palestine was Josef Trumpeldor, one of the few Jewish officers in the Czar’s army, who lost an arm in the 1905 Russian-Japanese war and was killed in a skirmish with Arabs in Palestine.)

So we found the Maccabees, the Zealots and Bar Kochba.

THE MACCABEES, in whose honor we celebrated Hanukka this week, revolted against “the Greeks” in 167 B.C. “My Glorious Brothers” Howard Fast called them in his famous novel.

Actually, “the Greeks” were Syrians. When Alexander the Great’s empire was divided between his generals, Seleucus acquired Syria and the countries to the East. It was against this mini-empire that the Maccabees rose up.

It was not only a national-religious struggle against a regime which wanted to impose its Hellenic culture, but also a cruel civil war. The main struggle of the Maccabees was against the “Hellenizers”, the cultured modernist Jewish elite who spoke Greek and wanted to be part of the civilized world. The Maccabees were fundamentalist adherents of the old-time religion.

In today’s terms, they were the ISIS of their time. But that is not what we learned (and what is being taught today) in school.

The Maccabees (or Hasmoneans, their dynastic name) set up a Jewish state, the last one in Palestine, that lasted for 200 years. Unlike their successors and imitators, they had a lot of political acumen. Already during their rebellion they made contact with the up-and-coming Roman republic and secured its help.

Yet the Maccabees won by a quirk. Their revolt was a very risky adventure, and they owed their eventual victory to the problems that beset the Seleucid empire.

The irony of this story is that the Hasmonean kings themselves became thoroughly Hellenized and adopted Greek names.

THE NEXT great rebellion started in the year 66 AD. Unlike the Maccabee revolt, it was a totally mad affair.

The Zealots belonged to diverse competing groups, who remained disunited to the bitter end. Their rebellion, called “The Great Revolt”, was also a fanatical national-religious affair.

At the time, messianic ideas filled the air in Palestine. The country absorbed religious influences from all directions – Hellenic, Persian, Egyptian – and mixed them with the Jewish traditions. It was in this feverish atmosphere that Christianity was born and the Book of Job and other later books of the Hebrew Bible were composed.

With the Messiah expected any moment, Jewish fanatics did something that now seems incredible: they declared war on the Roman Empire, which was then at the height of its power. As if Israel today would declare war on the US, China and Russia at the same time – something even Binyamin Netanyahu would think twice about doing.

It took some time before the Romans gathered their legions, and the end was as could be foreseen: the Jewish community in the country was squashed, the temple was destroyed (perhaps by accident) and the Jews evicted from Jerusalem and many other places in Palestine.

Throughout, the Zealots believed in their God. In besieged Jerusalem, already starving, they burnt each other’s wheat, sure that God would provide. But God, it seems, was otherwise engaged.

At the height of the siege of Jerusalem, the venerable rabbi Yochanan Ben-Zakkai was smuggled by his pupils out of the city in a coffin, and the Romans allowed him to start a religious school in Yavneh, which became the focus of a new kind of anti-heroic Judaism.

HOWEVER, THE lesson of the catastrophe caused by the Zealots was not learned. Less than 70 years later, an adventurer called Bar Kochba (“Son of a Star”) started another war with the Roman Empire, even more hare-brained than the last.

At the beginning Bar Kochba, like the Zealots, won several victories, before the Romans could gather their forces. At that time, the important rabbis supported him. But his megalomaniac nature caused him to lose their support. He is said to have told God: “You don’t have to support me, but at least don’t obstruct me!”

The inevitable defeat of Bar Kochba was an even greater disaster than the previous one. Masses of Jews were sold into slavery, some were thrown to the lions in the Roman arena. A legend recounts that Bar Kochba fought a lion with his bare hands and killed it.

However, the basic Zionist tenet that the Jews were expelled from Palestine by force and that this was the beginning of the Diaspora (the “Exile”) is a legend. The Jewish peasant population remained in the country, and most became Christians, and later Muslims. Today’s Palestinians are probably mostly descendants of this Jewish population which clung to their soil. At one time, David Ben-Gurion supported this theory.

The Jewish religion was actually born in the Babylonian exile, some 500 years before Christ, and from the beginning the majority of the Jews lived outside Palestine, in Babylon, Egypt, Cyprus and many other countries around the Mediterranean. Palestine remained an important religious center which played a significant part in the transition of Judaism into a Diaspora religion based principally on the Talmud.

THE HANUKKA feast symbolizes the basic change of Judaism after the destruction of the Temple – and the counter-change effected by the Zionists in modern times.

The rabbis were against the cult of heroism, whether God-fearing or not. They belittled the battles of the Maccabees and found another reason to celebrate. It appears that a great miracle had happened, which was much more important than military victories: when the Temple was re-dedicated after being defiled by the “Greeks”, the sacred oil left sufficed only for one day. By divine intervention, this small quantity of oil lasted for a whole week. Hanukka was dedicated to this huge miracle. (Hanukka means literally inauguration, dedication).

The Book of the Maccabees, which recounts the struggle and the victory, was not included in the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew original was lost.

(Hanukka, like Christmas, was originally a pagan festival celebrating the winter solstice, much as Passover and Easter are based on the pagan celebration of the spring equinox.)

The Jewish sages were determined to stamp out, once and for all, the craving for revolts and military adventures. Not only was Hanukka turned into an innocuous feast of sacred oil, but the Zealots and Bar Kochba were ignored or belittled in rabbinical writings, which shaped Judaism and Jewish life since then until this very day. Jews were supposed to adore God, not human heroes.

Until Zionism appeared on the scene. It resurrected the ancient heroes and turned them retrospectively into Zionists. The Maccabees, Zealots and Bar Kochba became our models. The mass suicide of the Zealots on the Masada mountain after the Great Revolt was celebrated as a glorious deed, generations of children were and are taught to admire them.

Today we have national heroes in great abundance, and really do not need all these ancient myths any more. But myths die slowly, if at all. Still, more and more voices of historians and such are cautiously raising doubts about their role in Jewish history. (I may have been the first, in an essay I wrote some four decades ago.)

ALL THIS may reaffirm the saying that “nothing changes as much as the past”. Or, in the words of Goethe: “What you call the spirit of the times is nothing but the spirit of the lords in which the times are reflected.”

Zionism was a great spiritual revolution. It took an ancient ethnic-religious Diaspora and re-shaped it into a modern European-style nation. To effect this, it had first of all to re-shape history.

It could base itself on the works of a new generation of Jewish historians, led by Heinrich Graetz, who painted a new picture of the Jewish past influenced by the German nationalist historians of their time. Graetz himself died a few years before the First Zionist Congress, but his impact was and remains immense.

While the Germans resurrected Hermann the Cherusker and built a huge statue of him on the site of his great victory over the Romans in the Teutoburger forest, shortly before the Jewish Great Revolt, the early Zionists resurrected the Jewish heroes, ignoring the disasters they caused. Many European peoples, large and small, did the same. It was the Zeitgeist.

Three generations of Israeli children were brought up from kindergarten on these myths. They are almost completely cut off from world history. They learn that the Greeks were the people whose yoke was thrown off by the Maccabees, but learn next to nothing about Greek philosophy, literature or history. It creates a very narrow, egocentric state of mind, good for soldiers, but not so good for people who need to make peace.

These children learn nothing at all about the history of the Arabs, Islam and the Koran. Islam, for them is a primitive, murderous religion, bent on killing Jews.

The exception is the autonomous Orthodox school system which teaches nothing much except the Talmud, and is therefore immune to the cult of heroes, but also to world history (except the pogroms, of course).

The great political change we need must be accompanied by a profound change of our historical outlook.

URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.

The heroes of antiquity are perhaps due for another revision of their status.

 

URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.

The Year of Piketty

Just a few years ago the notorious “G word” — globalization — was constantly on the minds and lips of the chattering classes. But globalization, so yesterday, has increasingly been replaced by the “I word” — inequality — which now flows mellifluously from the mouths and pens of today’s bien pensants. Indeed, in the year of Thomas Piketty, discussions of inequality, often punctuated by the introduction of another G word, Ginis (as in coefficients), have become de rigueur in (almost) all analyses of the world’s economic ills.

If one manifestation of concern over inequality, the OWS (Occupy Wall Street) movement in the United States, faded out after its Warholian fifteen minutes of fame, a concept it popularized — “the one percent” — is alive and well. Seldom a day goes by, it seems, without numerous (frequently censorious) pieces in the mainstream media pointing out how unequally distributed income is in Country X and wealth is in County Y, with the simplified assumption that inequality anywhere always means the same thing.

Although it would be a mistake to downplay the often-deleterious consequences of egregious income and wealth inequality, sometimes questions about inequality are thornier than they appear on the surface. To invoke the title of the 2009 film starring Meryl Streep, “It’s Complicated” to talk about inequality. For example, although income inequality appears to have grown within individual countries in recent decades, Branko Milanovic and others have demonstrated that global income inequality across countries (and calculated on the basis of individuals regardless of country) has fallen over time.

Moreover, the aggregated data we typically rely on can cause us to miss interesting and important points regarding the differences between and among countries with more or less the same levels of inequality. One such comparison involving the United States, one of the most unequal countries in the world in terms of income- and wealth-holding patterns, provides a case in point.

In terms of GDP per capita, the U.S. is one of the richest countries in the world —certainly, the richest large country in the world. According to IMF estimates for 2013, the U.S., with a mean figure of $53,001, ranks ninth in the world in nominal terms, and tenth when measured in terms of purchasing power parity. Recently released estimates for 2014 raise the U.S. average in to $54,678 in nominal terms, which, once comparable estimates are compiled for other countries, should keep the U.S. in more or less the same place in international league tables.

The U.S. is not only a rich country, but also a very unequal one, whether measured in terms of income or wealth. This can be seen by employing the measurement referred to above, the Gini coefficient. This numerical measure varies between zero and one, depending on the degree of inequality in a given distribution — in this case income in individual countries. If everyone in a given country had the same income, the Gini would be zero; if all of the income in a given country was garnered by one individual, the Gini would be one. In the real world countries fall somewhere in between.

Income in less- developed countries is generally more unequally distributed than is the case in developed countries. According to data compiled by the World Bank, most EU countries today have Ginis between the mid-twenties at the low end to the upper thirties at the high end. Income inequality in the U.S. is much higher (.48 in 2011) which places it at the highest (or most unequal) level among developed economies, beside Singapore (.481) and a little behind Hong Kong (.533).

Gini coefficients for wealth holding are generally higher for both less -developed countries and developed countries but, even so, the U.S. (with a coefficient of over .80) is very high for a developed country. In contrast, the wealth Gini for Canada is .688, for France .73, Germany .667, the UK .697, and Japan .547.

Okay, so the U.S. is a very unequal place. Everyone knows that, right? Isn’t that what the OWSers were talking about? Well, yes, but while the U.S. is unequal, income and wealth-holding patterns are quite complex. A brief look at Swaziland, an under-the-radar LDC (less- developed country), will attest to that.

Swaziland is tiny, absolutist and poor. Its population is generally estimated at somewhere between 1.25 and 1.42 million, it is ruled by a hegemonic monarch, and its GDP per capita in 2013, according to the IMF, was $3473 in nominal terms and $7646 (114th in the world) when measured by PPP (purchasing power parity). Given such considerations, it is hardly surprising that the country is marked by high levels of income and wealth inequality, with Ginis of .51 for income and .78 for wealth. In both cases these coefficients approximate those of the U.S.

If we stopped here, however, we would miss a lot of interesting issues regarding inequality in the U.S. and Swaziland — especially wealth inequality. Although it is difficult for researchers to obtain good data on the wealth of individuals, Forbes magazine collects useful information on the world’s richest people. If these estimates are reasonably accurate — and periodic estimates by Bloomberg Businessweek are often pretty close — they can be used to demonstrate just how different «similarly» unequal countries such as the U.S. and Swaziland really are.

Every year Forbes compiles data on America’s wealthiest people, the world’s wealthiest people, the world’s billionaires, etc. From these compilations information can be gleaned about the wealthiest slice of the «one percent.» In its 2014 compilation of the 400 wealthiest individuals in the U.S. — a list topped by Bill Gates ($81.6 billion), Warren Buffett ($68.7 billion) and Larry Ellison ($49.4 billion) —Forbes put the combined wealth of those on the list at $2.29 trillion, a staggering figure, suggestive of the massive, perhaps even unsurpassed, economic power of such individuals in and on their national economy. Right? Well, maybe. Read on.

In another Forbes’ compilation — its 2014 listing on the world’s billionaires (which is updated in real time) — we find, most surprisingly (at least to me), a citizen of Swaziland: Nathan Kirsh. Currently, Kirsh’s wealth is estimated at $3.7 billion, placing him # 434 on the list of the world’s “ten-figure billionaires.” Although he was born in South Africa in 1932 and now spends much of his time in the U.K., the U.S. and Israel, Kirsh has been a citizen of Swaziland since the mid-1980s and made his first fortune there in the late ’50s after establishing a corn-milling business in the country. His wealth is based on a diverse international business portfolio including real estate, retail/food distribution, agribusiness and security companies (in which the most prominent is Jetro Holdings, a wholesale food distributor in the New York City area), but he retains lots of business and property  interests in Swaziland, where he is also a major  philanthropist.

If we consider him a citizen of Swaziland — his preference, despite possessing residency status in the U.K. and the U.S. — his wealth level is staggering in relation to the size of the economy of his home country. A little comparative exercise involving the U.S. and Swaziland will give readers a sense of just what I mean. GDP falls into a category economists refer to as a flow, measuring a quantity over a fixed period of time (typically a year), while wealth is generally conceived of as a stock concept, measuring something at one fixed time. Yet for analytical purposes, stocks and flows are often brought together into measurable ratios of one type or another such as capital/output ratios and wealth/income ratios. If we do the same and compare the ratios between the wealth held by the richest individuals in the U.S. and Swaziland and each country’s respective GDP, we can see just how different these two countries, purportedly with similar levels of inequality, really are.

First, the U.S. In this massive, wealthy, unequal country, the $2.29 trillion in wealth held by the 400 richest Americans is equal to 13.65% of the country’s 2013 GDP ($16,768 trillion). In the teensy, unequal, poor country of Swaziland, Kirsh’s $3.7 billion (down a $100 million or so this year) is slightly greater than Swaziland’s entire GDP in 2013 ($3.62 billion) when measured in nominal terms, and about 44% of the country’s GDP ($8.4 billion) when measured in terms of purchasing power parity. Measured in this way, Kirsh’s wealth, relatively speaking, is far greater than that of the 400 richest Americans.

None of this is to suggest that Kirsh plays the same economic role in (and for) Swaziland that Gates, Buffett, Ellison et al. play in (and for) the U.S. Moreover, because the protocols for handling global portfolios of wealthy individuals are different in different countries, it is unclear precisely how Kirsh’s wealth is treated by government accountants and just what his billionaire status actually means for Swaziland.  All these considerations serve to underscore the fact that inequality is a complicated business, with lots of uncertainties, ironies, paradoxes and contradictions, as the ongoing discussions of Thomas Piketty’s monumental work demonstrate.

Let me end with some wealth data regarding France. According to Forbes, the ten richest «people» in France, as I write, have combined wealth-holdings of $147.1 billion. In five of the ten cases, however, their estimated wealth holdings are for families, while in the case of the U.S. four different members of the Walton family (heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune) appear among the listing of the ten richest Americans (only one of whom is listed “with family”). Are we, then, comparing apples and oranges, pommes et oranges? As I said at the outset, commenting on inequality is complicated.

Peter A. Coclanis is Albert R. Newsome Distinguished Professor of History and Director of the Global Research Institute at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (US).

This article appears in the excellent Le Monde Diplomatique, whose English language edition can be found at mondediplo.com. This full text appears by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique. CounterPunch features two or three articles from LMD every month.

Peter A. Coclanis is Albert R. Newsome Distinguished Professor of History and the Director of the Global Research Institute at UNC-Chapel Hill.

in bed

inbed

The Impoverished Imagination of Seth Rogen

The world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel.

Horace Walpole, Letter to the Countess of Upper Osory

It’s too bad that Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg didn’t create a funny and historically accurate movie about Kim Jong-un. It’s not that they lacked material-it’s that they lacked imagination.

The Interview is a comedy about the fictitious assassination of Kim Jong-un, president of North Korea. Judging from the response, the only criticism associated with the movie was criticism of Sony for withdrawing it from theaters before it premiered, a decision it soon reversed.  No one has suggested that getting laughs from showing the assassination of a buffoon, who, nonetheless, is president of a country, might be considered tasteless. A fake execution of Kim would not be needed to make a really funny movie about him.  Ordinary events embellished by a bit of artistic license would serve equally well.  A movie about Kim could be introduced by some snippets from the life of another great president, Vladimir Putin. It might, for example, begin with the video showing Mr. Putin dressed in an all-white costume mounted on a motorized deltaplane ready to lead young Siberian cranes on their first annual migration. He dressed in white so the young cranes would think him one of them.  A later picture could be included showing Vladimir airborne with the young cranes dutifully following their president.  Another scene might be the one in which he emerges from a small submarine following his inspection of the remains of the naval frigate “Oleg” that sank in the 19th century. Linking Kim to Vladimir would establish that Kim is, like Vladimir, a truly great world leader.

Following the introduction we would be taken to Switzerland and Kim’s activities in Swiss schools that he attended for seven years. According to reports he was a mediocre student and by the time he left Switzerland   in 2000, had not earned even one General Certificate of Secondary Education. His close school friend, Joao Micaelo, said he and Kim were not “the dimmest kids in the class but neither were we the cleverest.  We were always in the second tier.” While in school Kim had a cook, driver, private teacher, and lived in a lavish apartment.  Joao said Kim’s favorite music was the Korean national anthem which Joao said he must have heard 1000 times.  Kim’s years in school could have provided great opening scenes for a comedy about the hapless youngster.

From school in Switzerland Messrs. Rogen and Goldberg would have moved on to the life of the glorious leader as shown on countless websites. As a starting point they might have gone to The Telegraph that published 17 photos of Kim engaged in day-to-day activities.  The 17 photos show Kim at his best and would require little creativity to elicit laughs from the audience.  Photo 8, for example, shows Kim laughing heartily, amused by a lubricant that is being extruded from the machine in which it is made.  A worker beside him watches solemnly having seen the event hundreds of times and no longer finding it amusing. In photo 9 Kim and soldiers accompanying him are laughing while visiting a breeding station. The foregoing is not meant to suggest that Kim does not have a serious side.

Photo 11 shows him, brow furrowed, carefully inspecting a sock at the Phongyang Hosiery Factory.  The caption says that Kim gave ‘precious instructions’ for improving the management and operation of the factory.  He may have found a hole in the sock which would explain the furrowed brow. In photo 17 Kim is standing in a small, aged, wooden rowboat waving at the camera.  The boat could comfortably accommodate three people plus an oarsman.  In the photo, however, there are eleven people standing around Kim and eight men in knee-deep water attempting to push the boat into the bay.  Another photoshowing Kim’s serious side shows him commanding a Romeo class submarine declared obsolete by the Soviet Union in 1961. That would tie in nicely with the video of Vladimir’s submarine ride

Messrs. Rogen and Goldberg would not, of course, have had to rely exclusively on photos for their comedy.  Another scene could have depicted the report of the execution of Kim’s uncle and one-time mentor, Jang Song Thaek. NBC news and countless other news organizations reported that Jang and five aides were killed by being placed in a cage with 120 hunting dogs that had been starved for five days and, according to that report, witnesses said the men were “completely eaten up.”  That narrative was later shown to be the product of a satirist’s imagination but it would nonetheless have provided good fodder for the movie.  Another sequence that could have been used to good comedic effect would show the chief of the Presidium of the Supreme Assembly of North Korea conveying Kim’s birthday greetings to Queen Elizabeth on June 14, 2014.  And there could be another sequence showing North Korean citizens lined up in registrars’ offices to obtain new birth certificates in order to comply with the terms of a 2011 decree, first made public in 2014, ordering anyone in North Korea bearing the name Kim Jong-un to obtain a new birth certificate with a different name.

The possibilities for a comedy about the life of Kim without including a fictitious assassination are endless. The imaginations of Messrs. Rogen and Goldberg were not.  A pity that.

Christopher Brauchli is an attorney in Boulder, Colorado. He can be emailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu

Afghan Refugees and the Displacement of Blame

As Pakistan continues to mourn and grieve over the horrific attack last week in the city of Peshawar, there has naturally been a strong desire on the public’s part to figure out how to eliminate the disease of murderous radicalism. However, the ubiquitous calls for revenge and ‘their blood’ do little to shed light on sensibly understanding and tackling the problem. The frenzied rush to ‘do something,’ or that ‘we must respond,’ very often tends to lead to both counterproductive and grossly immoral actions on the part of nations. In this context, Pakistani society has seen the reemergence of, sadly, a tired, favorite punching bag of s the nation: Afghan refugees.

One would think that after suffering both decades of vicious internecine warfare in their own country, and assuming the ‘wretched of the earth’ refugee status in another – Afghan refugees would be the quintessential candidate of an oppressed people in need of sympathy, solidarity, and support. The irony is that the opposite happens in Pakistan, particularly when some terrorist incident takes place which can immediately (albeit nonsensically) be laid at the footsteps of the entire Northwest of the country – as well as on Afghanistan. The country undergoes a collective psychosis wherein Pakistanis are asked to suspend any critical thinking – or thinking period – and simply accept a narrative of ‘who’s to blame’ that’s handed to the public on a platter.

A question rarely asked is what the heck are so many millions of Afghans doing in Pakistan in the first place, and how many of them are now second and third generation ones residing here and still not so keen on returning to their home country. The history should be familiar to every Pakistani by now: Afghan refugees came to Pakistan because of a vicious, bloody war that began in Afghanistan in the late 1970s, and which has plagued the country ever since. And outside powers, including Russia, Pakistan, Sauda Arabia, the US, and the entire Western establishment, played no small part in fueling that war then. A simple conflict inside Afghanistan for genuine Afghan self-determination was converted into a global proxy war between the two superpowers, with the rise of militant Islam being one of the major consequences. But the other significant one was the natural flight of poor Afghans from their country into neighboring Pakistan. The desire to escape bombs, Soviet troops, and reactionary elements within the ‘mujahideen’ does not seem unreasonable, and since Pakistan saw no compunction in interfering and sending ‘its boys’ (who were heavily armed) into Afghanistan – the movement of people in reverse (Afghans to Pakistan) should not, in principle, have been a problem for Pakistanis either. To put it rather bluntly: boys and weapons (and related training and funds) were sent from Pakistani to Afghanistan, and the chickens simply came home to roost. The innocent millions trying to seek refuge in Pakistan were simply ‘collateral damage’ of these power plays.

Therefore, before Pakistanis see themselves as so benevolent, demonstrating their magnanimity toward poor – but ‘bothersome’ – Afghan refugees, it would be useful to pause and reflect on this: do Pakistanis really think that millions of people all of a sudden one day enthusiastically decide to migrate across the border, leaving their entire lives behind them? No, it is almost always the result of a forced displacement, of conditions becoming so unbearable that there is no other choice left. The Pakistani state was deeply complicit in producing those conditions in Afghanistan, in the same way that the US was directly responsible for creating horrible socio-political conditions in Central America in the 1980s that led to hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing to Uncle Sam – only to be told now they are an ‘undeserving menace’ to society and need to be deported and/or criminalized, or even worse if the Tea Party had its say. The rhetoric sounds eerily familiar, and has parallels in Pakistan when it comes to the Afghans.

Indeed, Pakistanis ought to be pleased that their country has fulfilled its minimal responsibility of accepting these refugees and accommodating the millions of them over the years – despite the less-than-satisfactory conditions they have had to endure. In fact, an open-door policy toward the dispossessed Afghan refugees should have been the approach of all of the outside powers that were principally responsible for fueling the wars in Afghanistan. But it was not their policy. Forget about millions, those countries have not even been willing to receive thousands or even hundreds of these refugees. After the ‘war on terror’ begin in 2001, a new phase of the exodus of Afghans emerged. Rather scandalously, there was a huge debate about the mere entry of a few dozen Afghan refugees in Australia, and even they were deported. Sadly enough, such a disturbing act on behalf of a rich nation that supposedly was so concerned with the plight of the Afghan people under the Taliban – went largely unnoticed.

It is abundantly clear that Western nations or the ‘international community,’ which has not lived up to its responsibility to assist in the relocation of Afghan refugees, have no moral authority to lecture Pakistan or any other country about either accepting/rejecting or deporting these refugees. However, Pakistanis themselves are certainly in the moral position to demand just treatment of their sisters and brothers who have migrated from across the border. And they should, since it is a moral imperative.

In light of the tragedy in Peshawar, there are those who argue that it is the Afghans who are responsible specifically for the scourge of terrorism in Pakistan. They are living in a world of fantasy, a complete denial of reality. Those who are a part of militant groups carrying out acts of terror today come from all corners of the country. They will often seek refuge in the mountainous terrain of the Northwest, especially since that region is a natural extension of the original war effort – the war to expel NATO from Afghanistan. Add to this the glaring ignorance often displayed in Pakistani society in distinguishing between an Afghan, a Pathan, a Baloch, etc. They are all the same because they are all different from us. The privileged position from which this ‘us’ – a possibly Punjabi, or urban, or educated ‘us’ – speaks should be obvious.

But it is important to note that yes indeed, the conditions in which Afghans have been living, including in refugee camps but also in a general situation of squalor, can be breeding grounds for violence. Those breeding grounds are omnipresent throughout the country, and other oppressed ethnic and religious minorities, and impoverished people generally, suffer that same plight. Most are not criminals or terrorists, but simply human beings trying to make ends meet in really tough circumstances. On the other hand, it should be a truism to recognize that there are obvious linkages between one’s social conditions and the behavior and responses one often exhibits.

Acknowledging that the policies the Pakistani state has adopted toward its Western neighbor since the late 1970s is what has caused so many poor Afghans to flee and migrate to the East – is a great first step at a collective reality check by Pakistanis. Feeling a profound sense of culpability and guilt for the plight of Afghans both in Pakistan as well as in their own country should be an important second step. This collective leap of consciousness in Pakistan is what is required. The full and equitable integration of Afghans into Pakistani society is the way forward, not their deportation and ongoing marginalization – which is being exacerbated during the recent tidal wave of anger being channeled to their direction.

Afghan refugees must not be Pakistani society’s scapegoats for all of its problems. That is simply pure displacement of guilt meant to obfuscate a more intelligent understanding of the context. Rather, the faces of Afghans in Pakistan should be a mirror the holds up to itself – compelling Pakistanis to an honest interrogation of the crimes and failed society policies of their own nation in (not) upholding dignity and justice both at home and abroad.

Junaid S. Ahmad has been teaching law and politics at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Pakistan.

Across Colombia by Train, with Garcia Marquez

He was already a veteran of two civil wars, a war-hero grown sick of fighting who arranged to be abroad for all of Colombia’s Thousand Days War (1899-1902). In 1901 he told the Pan American conference in Mexico:

In times past it was the Cross or the Koran, the sword or the book that accomplished the conquests of civilization; today it is the powerful locomotive, flying over the shining rail, breathing like a volcano, that awakens people to progress, well-being and liberty. …Those who do not conform to that progress, it crushes beneath its wheels.

The speaker was General Rafael Reyes, a moderate conservative impatient with the religious—secular divide that so animated the country’s two competing parties. His youth had been spent searching for routes through the Amazon to Brazil in a quest that saw one brother eaten by cannibals and another killed by the fever. When the Thousand Days War ended leaving 100,000 dead and Panama lost, a weary nation saw him elected president with Liberal support in 1904.

Reyes proceeded rapidly with a nation-building agenda: he centralized governance, involved both Liberals and Conservatives in his government, invested in infrastructure and encouraged foreign investment. His political model would continue, with minor changes, until the Wall Street Crash, through a period that saw Colombian railways grow from 565 km in 1904 to 2,434 km in 1929. Following the development of transport links, the country became the world’s second largest exporter of coffee and a significant producer of bananas and petrol.

The rhetoric that Reyes evoked in Mexico has been echoed by current Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, who has promised that promotion of the “locomotive of energy and mining” will modernize the country. Outside of political imagery, the rail network Reyes developed has largely fallen apart: passenger services have been abandoned for decades, and roads and air are used to transport most commodities. But in literature one can still discover journeys that shine light on a society which remains locked in conflict with itself.

The Nobel Prize-winning novelist Gabriel García Márquez, who died in April this year, structured his memoirs around a train journey he took on the 20th of February 1950, a journey he would later describe as the most important of his life. It was a Sunday and Márquez had been travelling all night into the early morning simply to reach the train; first he had taken a boat to cross the network of waterways outside the northern town of Barranquilla, and then he rode in a horse-drawn carriage towards the rail station of the town of Ciénaga. The given reason for the expedition was to accompany his mother to sell the family house in his birthplace of Aracataca, but in reality the journey had another aim; both were to end, fortuitously, in failure.

The expedition also became a tour through memories. The sea glimpsed through the left window of the carriage sparked a recollection of a day when Márquez was three or four years old, holding the hand of his grandfather, a liberal veteran of the Thousand Days War, Colonel Nicolás Márquez. They had stood together on the jetsam-strewn shore, looking out at the waves.

“It’s the ocean,” his grandfather had said.

This first encounter with the sea had not been a happy one. Beyond a “sordid mass of water,” he claimed to have seen a “vast extension of green water belching foam, where an entire world of drowned chickens lay floating.” Disenchanted, he asked his grandfather what was on the other shore.

“There is no shore on the other side.”

Márquez would later write:

“Today, after seeing so many oceans front and back, I still think that was one of his great responses.”

The carriage continued towards the station past the red-light district on the other side of the tracks, “with its little painted houses and rusty roofs and old parrots from Paramaribo that sat on rings hanging from the eaves and called out to clients in Portuguese.” They passed the old watering site for the locomotives, with its “immense iron dome where migratory birds and lost seagulls took shelter to sleep.” Then, at a square close to the station, his mother pointed and said:

“Look, that’s where the world ended!”

In 1928, pressured by the United Fruit Company and an American warship waiting offshore, the Colombian Army massacred striking banana workers assembled in Ciénaga. Márquez later wrote “I knew the event as if I had lived it, having heard it recounted and repeated a thousand times by my grandfather from the time I had a memory: the soldier reading the decree by which the striking labourers were declared a gang of lawbreakers; the three thousand men, women, and children motionless under the savage sun” The number of dead is still unclear but many on both sides say it was over a thousand, and it shocked a country which had grown unaccustomed to massacres.

Following the killings a young Liberal had asked on the floor of Congress why the Colombian Army was shooting banana workers instead of protecting the country from the American warship. His name was Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, and by 1948 he had finally become leader of a Liberal Party whose dominant families still distrusted his radical agenda. Gaitán promised to overturn the “oligarchy” represented by both parties, and declared that “the people are superior to their rulers.” Polls suggested he would win forthcoming elections against the incumbent Conservatives, but he was murdered on 9 April 1948, prompting an outbreak of mass violence that forced Márquez to leave Bogota for the north.

Márquez briefly continued the legal studies he had abandoned in the capital, attending the University of Cartagena, but by the time he embarked on the journey to his birthplace he had absconded and was earning a pittance as a journalist in the now-censored press of Barranquilla. Gaitán’s death had sparked dispossession and violence across the countryside that continues to the present day, and the efforts of some to stem the violence failed then, as they have ever since.

As Márquez travelled with his mother in the horse-drawn carriage he described to her his first encounter with the sea. She replied that the drowned chickens floating on the waves had been a childhood hallucination, and the story offered Márquez a brief respite from his mother’s sustained efforts at persuading him to return to his legal studies to gain an academic degree, an achievement that had eluded and preoccupied his father.

At the station the train was delayed. When it arrived they entered a carriage that was once part of the “finest railroad in Colombia,” built under Reyes’ premiership in partnership with the same United Fruit Company of Massachusetts. Now the upholstery was torn and the springs creaked as the train slowly pulled out of Ciénaga. They were the only passengers and Marquez took refuge in Faulkner’s Light in August as the train picked up speed to cross the saltmarshes outside town.

His memories of Aracataca were of a town flanked by the white peaks of the Sierra Nevada, yet so sun-baked that as a child he had “dreamed of shaping balls of the perpetual snow and playing war on the parched, burning streets. For the heat was so implausible, in particular at siesta time, that the adults complained of it as if it were a daily surprise.”

The train slowed as it entered the “hermetic realm of the banana region” where at intervals among the symmetrical rows of trees there remained towns established by the United Fruit Company. They passed the only banana plantation to have a nameplate, Macondo, which would become the town established by José Arcadio Buendía in Marquez’s masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude, on the spot where the story’s hero dreamed of a town of mirrors as he slept by a river.

Its opening line describes José Arcadio’s second son and Liberal leader, Colonel Aureliano Buendía, facing the firing squad while remembering “that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” Later we see seven generations of the Buendía family confront the changing realities of the town, to which a new railroad brings the banana company that transforms the region but then provokes a strike ending in a massacre of workers, whose bodies are transported along the railroad in their thousands to be dumped into the sea.

Aracataca, like Macondo, was built beside a river of transparent water that ran over “a bed of polished stones as huge and white as prehistoric eggs.” The train approached the town past land his grandfather had bought on the promise that there was gold in it, past the house of the Adventist preachers with its sign in English reading “The sun shines for all” — the only English that Márquez ever learnt, past the yard of the little Montessori school in which Márquez had learned to read.

“The station!” exclaimed his mother. “How the world has changed if nobody’s waiting for the train.”

They were the only ones to alight, and as they were left alone on the platform the town appeared still grief-stricken by the departure of the banana company. The house in which Márquez had been raised would prove so dilapidated it was unsellable; indeed the tenants who had seemed interested in purchasing it said the building only remained standing because of what they had spent to maintain it. But Marquez would leave with new subjects for his writing in the stories that the household had selflessly given him in his infancy, when he had been raised with his grandfather as the only other male in a household of women.

Márquez had already had poems and short stories published in the press of Bogota, including in El Tiempo, the newspaper owned by former president Eduardo Santos, great-uncle to current president Juan Manuel Santos. But it was in Aracataca that he realised he already possessed the materials to unlock the creativity that would breathe life through his most famous works. The women of the house had told the pale, story-telling, insomniac infant Márquez “their secrets, their sorrows, their rancours, as if I did not understand, not realising I knew everything because I tied up the loose ends that they themselves left dangling.”

One day a group of young men with crosses of ash on their foreheads had arrived at the house to give their respects to the colonel; they were his sons fathered throughout the province during the Thousand Days War, and were warmly welcomed into the family by the colonel’s wife. The house and its rewoven legends would spawn not only the town of Macondo, but also the writing career of Márquez itself, another journey composed of mirrors through which to see Colombia, so similar to the town that José Arcadio Buendía dreamed of in the wilderness.

Forty years after Márquez rode the run-down carriages along the line on that momentous journey, the age of the locomotive that Rafael Reyes heralded had come to an end; passenger rail services in Colombia had been abandoned for over a decade. Colombia had witnessed new levels of violence from guerrillas and drug trafficking cartels: The FARC, formed out of survivors from dispersed rural communes in the mid ‘60s, sought the violent seizure of power, while the Medellin Cartel of Pablo Escobar conducted terrorism against any politicians and journalists they were unable to buy.

Three leading candidates were murdered in the 1990 presidential elections and the efforts of the left, including some guerrillas, to challenge the traditional dominance of the Liberals and Conservatives through the Unión Patriotica party were met with sustained violence, killing thousands and effectively eradicating the party.

A year after the election a ship named Melquíades (after the wandering Gypsy in One Hundred Years of Solitude who brings telescopes, ice, and magic carpets to Macondo) was sailing around Latin America with the support of the French Government, loaded with circus performers from Royal de Lux and musicians from the then wildly popular punk-reggae band Mano Negra. The band’s singer Manu Chao noted the lack of any rail service in Colombia and resolved to return to reactivate a form of transport “so crucial to a country’s social and geographic fabric.”

By 1993 his band, together with many circus performers from Royal de Lux and a support band named French Lovers, had returned to Colombia, taken charge of a hurriedly restored train from the sidings of the Ferrovias depot outside Bogota, and were rumbling through territory fought over by guerrillas and paramilitaries to mount musical and spectacular extravaganzas at abandoned stations along the line to Aracataca. “The Train of Ice and Fire” was a locomotive and 21 carriages that, according to Manu’s father and journalist Ramón Chao who documented the journey, resembled “a load of bric-a-brac put together by inexpert but passionate hands.”

The expedition rejected all offers of an escort from the Army to the alarm of the French embassy, one of whom responded resignedly, “What can we do? It’s too late. I never thought this train would actually leave.” The Fire carriage was lined with asbestos and sheet metal, designed to burn in flames through the performances, while an ice wagon contained “the biggest diamond ever seen — a five-cubic-meter six-ton block of ice, pure and translucent like crystal.”

Then came a cage-wagon home to an enormous mechanical dragon cum flame-thrower, while the ice-wagon was a grotto in which a snowstorm would be unleashed when a “child-friendly sleepy polar bear” woke up. Other carriages housed trapezes for the circus acts, or the stages for French Lovers and Mano Negra.

By the time the train arrived at Aracataca after nightfall to a crowd of 2000 and a children’s choir singing the Marseillaise in Spanish, the Train of Ice and Fire had become the talk of Colombia after a string of widely reported concerts in the tumble-down stations along the line. The carriages had derailed numerous times on a line afflicted by years of neglect, but the musicians, circus actors, and staff from Ferrovias would simply crow-bar the carriages back onto the tracks and the train would slowly continue to another town, another concert-cum-extravaganza.

Awe-struck townspeople were unable to buy tickets for the events; instead they had to write down their dreams in order to gain admittance. The children were astonished by the ice sculptures, one little girl said the ice made her “skeleton tremble,” but it was Roberto the dragon who, according to Ramón Chao, fulfilled “the role played many years ago in Aracataca by Melquíades’ ice. “The young, and the not so young, open their eyes wide, go into ecstasies, scream blue murder, and recoil with fear every time Roberto sweeps the station with his piercing eyes and blows ten metres of flame, to a deafening crash of sirens and decibels.”

The concert in Marquez’s hometown was a success but marked the beginning of the end for Mano Negra with several band members leaving for France two days later, the tour still unfinished. Away from the train the violence of Colombia continued unabated. News of the killing of Pablo Escobar reached the train as it travelled from Bosconia to Gamarra, and the effects of sustained mass displacement were clear when the group reached Dorada in the coffee growing highlands.

The train would proceed all the way back to Bogota, with Mano Negra’s remaining band members having to use synthesizers to mimic those who had abandoned the adventure. The band would never reform. The promises of politicians to use the Train of Ice and Fire to regenerate the railways were not fulfilled: Ferrovias was liquidated in 2003 and while cargo is still moved along some lines, passenger services have never been restarted. Pablo Escobar’s death saw new gang wars emerge, and the rise of AUC paramilitaries backed by the military saw massacres increase to unprecedented levels.

The dreams that gained access for their authors to the concerts have been preserved:

My dream is that there will be no need for children or teenagers to go hungry. Obviously we have to have pain in our lives, but not so much. —Franklin Muñoz, 13

Pineapple, lemon, lemonade.
If you don’t love me why do you kiss me? —Damaris, 15

One of my biggest dreams is that there’ll be peace in Colombia, and to do that we have to stop the drug traffickers. As for me, I hope that when I’m eighteen I’ll have a good job so I can help other people and be a good person. —Illegible signature

I dream of travelling in a train. —Ana Gonzalez, 12

How beautiful Colombia would be without war! Here a man loses his life and leaves a wife and children. A rifle shot ends an existence, mothers cry for their children, wives cry for their husbands. No more wars, no more bombs, no more violence. Why does everything have to end with a rose on a grave? —Rita Santos, 24

Today the imagery of the rail age has been reborn, however, in current President Juan Manuel Santos’s echoing of Rafael Reyes over a century ago: Colombia’s economy will now be driven by the “locomotive of energy and mining” whose development will propel the country forwards. This has been supported by government policy: 60% of Colombian territory is now under mining concessions or has applications pending, and 65% of Colombia’s energy is produced by hydro-power. Mining and energy have become the largest recipients of foreign direct investment, and the government claims the sector’s growth is supporting a rise in GDP.

But as with the export economy that Reyes created, some are in danger of being crushed beneath the wheels of the new priorities. Colombia now has the highest number of environmental conflicts in Latin America, and the second highest in the world, according to the Environmental Justice Atlas. Most vulnerable are those already displaced by conflict; Colombia has between 5.3 and 5.7 million internally displaced people, the highest number in the world. In the communities of the Cauca valley in Antioquia, for example, among the survivors of the numerous massacres committed in the valley by the AUC, new displacements are occurring to make way for the Ituango hydro-electric dam, forecast to produce 2400MW.

The town of Ituango sits on a ridge above the river valley, its population swollen by refugees from on-going conflicts in the area where the army and the Urabeños narco-trafficking gang each seek to secure control of the area from the FARC. In a set of unfurnished rooms behind a front door buckled by a bomb planted to attack the jail opposite, four children pass their time in games, chasing a white rabbit around the sad house. Two are children of bargemen who have received death threats for opposing the dam. The other two are the son and daughter of Nelson Giraldo, who led those resisting the dam project. After around 50 local people had fled to the University of Antioquia campus in Medellin citing threats made against them, Giraldo had returned to Ituango, reportedly to see if the families could return to the area. His decapitated and bullet-ridden body was later found by the river.

Edwin Villegas lives by panning the river for gold. He has taken Nelson’s place as the regional leader against the project.

“We who live from the river will lose our livelihood, and for what?” He asks. “For the rich to get richer.”

Walking along the dusty road through the Cauca gorge he claimed that the energy the dam would produce is not needed locally, but is instead earmarked for future gold mining operations.

“Never once has there been a fair consultation with all of the people affected by the dam. And they call this development.”

Rios Vivos (Living Rivers), the organization once led in the town by Nelson Giraldo, now represents other threatened river communities throughout Colombia. Its spokesperson is Isa Zuleta, whose family first moved to Ituango to escape a wave of massacres that hit the region’s hinterland in the ‘nineties. She has been forced to live in hiding following death threats.

“There is no legal avenue open to us; we are those displaced by development, and under the law the government does not displace people,” she says.

Last month the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights heard submissions related to the Ituango dam and other development projects in Colombia, that claimed forced dispossession and threats have become intrinsic to the construction of such megaprojects.

Rios Vivos participates in a process known as the “Minga,” a movement started by indigenous alliances against the government and the export-led development model that can trace its antecedents back to Rafael Reyes. While some of the government’s critics question the amount of royalties gained to the public purse from the mining and energy sectors, participants in the Minga prefer to stress the primary importance of the rights and wellbeing of peoples and their territories, guided by a conception of Mother Earth which flourishes in indigenous Colombia.

The “mingueros” say that their movement aims to ‘walk’the word (“caminar la palabra”) of resistance. In contrast to talk of the locomotive age, their expression emphasises the slowness of a movement determined to “weave” a new society in a country torn apart by war. Sometimes they walk in processions that have reached the cities of Cali and Bogota from the indigenous communities of the south, the coffee growing farms of the once-profitable Western Cordillera, or from the Afro-Colombian towns of the violence wracked Pacific coast. Sometimes they have demonstrated against concessions for mines that pollute local water sources, or against the Quimbo and Sogamosa dam projects.

The government has claimed that the guerrillas are supporting the Minga, despite frequent FARC attacks on the indigenous activists involved. Rural workers striking because their produce is no longer competitive in a currency inflated by mining and energy exports have also been declared subversive by the authorities.

Such dynamics have a long history in Colombia. A year before the “world ended” in Ciénaga, the Minister of War, Ignacio Rengifo, had warned that “the impetuous and devastating wave of corrosive and revolutionary ideas from Soviet Russia…has come to beat Colombian beaches threatening destruction and ruin, and watering the fatal seed of communism.”

Following the violence that followed Gaitán’s death and which forced Márquez to leave Bogota, such language became more widespread, and by the time the Train of Ice and Fire trundled towards Aracataca the vocabulary had become engrained in the political lexicon of the state. The expedition instigated by Mano Negra had sought to challenge such conceptions by rejecting the protection of all sides, and also, in the words of Manu Chao, by mounting “a show reconciling the two hereditary enemies, fire and ice.”

The concerts gave back to Aracataca a take on the marvellous Colombia evoked by Macondo, the returning of a gift from the transforming journey Márquez had undertaken 43 years before. Thanks to that journey the world has learned not only of Melquíades, but also of the strong Úrsula Iguarán, the earth-eating girl Rebeca, and the artistic war leader Aurelio Buendía.

Márquez’s grandfather emerges from the military defeat of his youth as a figure from another age and time, with values out of place in the emerging Colombia. Despite being a known spendthrift he had always travelled in the third class carriages of the poor, which were no more than converted banana wagons, and when asked why he would answer “Because there’s no fourth!”

He spent his later years making little golden fish to sell around the town, which did almost nothing to stem the financial decline of the family. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, Colonel Aureliano Buendía has tired of the battle between Liberal and Conservative ideologies he has come to see as sterile squabbles between the elite. Buendía also makes little golden fish, but each evening melts them down and begins anew, an image said to represent the endlessly repeating present he has come to inhabit. It could also serve as a metaphor for the history of Colombia, a country almost always at war, yet forever racing ahead without time for delay in the belief that it is forging itself as a nation.

Robin Llewellyn is a freelance journalist focusing on human rights and environmental issues.

This article appears in the excellent Le Monde Diplomatique, whose English language edition can be found at mondediplo.com. This full text appears by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique. CounterPunch features two or three articles from LMD every month.

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Inside the Occupation of Haiti

The peaceful territory of Haiti, which has the lowest crime rate in the Caribbean, is occupied by more than 19,627 armed personnel. Specifically, at the last count on October 31, 2014, there was a domestic force of 11,228 established police and 1,144 in training, plus a United Nations force of 4,965 “peacekeeping” troops and 2,290 police officers. This occupation force amounts to about one machine-gun toting individual for about every 500 Haitians or fewer, even without counting the ubiquitous security people who guard the businesses and homes of the rich.

A national police trained by DynCorp

In principle, there is a distinction between the personnel from the United Nations Mission for the (de)Stabilization of Haiti (MINUSTAH) and the men and women of Haitian law enforcement, because the latter presumably all reside in Haiti and are Haitian nationals who have never renounced their citizenship. In practice, however, the UN force and the increasingly foreign-trained “Haitian police” force have become quite indistinguishable. The Director General of the Haitian National Police (PNH), Godson Orélus, formally commands this domestic force and is called to answer for its actions; nevertheless it is trained by advisors from the Virginia-based United States private military and security contractor (PMSC) DynCorp, who are inserted in the UN, probably as part of its supposed “international civilian personnel” (343) or “Volunteers” (130). In April 2013, DynCorp received a $48.6 million contract from the US State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, for a one-year base period with three one-year options, for the insertion of its trainees into the UN police force in Haiti. On the occasion, DynCorp boasted of having already trained over 400 “Haitian police.”

From gendarmerie to FAd’H

Such a US-controlled police force was tried before in Haiti during the 1915-1934 occupation. Then a US-loyal gendarmerie, which answered directly to the US Secretary of State, was set up to replace the highly regarded national army. The gendarmes functioned like a mafia that lived from extortion; furthermore, even after the occupation, they stood ever ready to organize countless bloody coups d’état on orders from Washington. For example, General Paul Magloire’s coup against President Dumarsais Estimé in 1950 was a US-sponsored action via the gendarmerie, as was the 1991 coup against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The only respites from this bloody army have been its castration in the 1960s by Francois Duvalier’s Tontons Macoutes, a militia of peasants loyal only to him, and Aristide’s disbanding of the army altogether in 1995. Aristide replaced the army, by then renamed the Armed Forces of Haiti (Forces Armees d’Haiti, FAd’H), with a civilian police force, the Police Nationale d’Haiti (PNH), on the advice of Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sánchez and after reasoning that Haiti ought not to spend 40 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on an army of 7,000 soldiers, even though the country has no hostile border.

Rape, murder and mayhem

In keeping with their training by MINUSTAH, or rather DynCorp via MINUSTAH, more than 600 members of the PNH (variously calledBIM, CIMO, UDMO, BLT, DCPR, Politour, etc. for their specializations) have been dismissed from the force for crimes that include rape, drug trafficking, and murder, the most recent purge being in June 2014. On August 10, 2014, five PNH members organized a prison break involving 329 prisoners as a cover for an escape by the rich scion Clifford Brandt. MINUSTAH admitted that it had trained all five individuals who had taken bribes to organize Brandt’s escape.

Members of the PNH have been involved in countless arbitrary arrests, tear gas launches that have resulted in deaths, as well as deliberate killings of peaceful protestors who have opposed the government’s policies, and massacres of peasants who have objected to the theft of their lands. Opposition Senator Moise Jean Charles was nearly killed by a tear-gas canister that was launched directly at him during a protest on October 17, 2014. Subsequently, an unrepentant Godson Orélus told the Senate’s Justice and Security Committee that as long as there is “disorder”, the PNH will launch tear gas at protesters.

Haitian Senator Westner Polycarp has accused the PNH of serving as a “militia in the hands of Michel Martelly,” and there is much to support this assertion. For example, for some time, the regime has used the PNH as a place in which to hide armed personnel who could not legally police Haitian territory. In particular, the PNH is routinely supplemented on special occasions, such as protests, with Haitian-American officers from the New York and Miami police departments (NYPD and MPD).

An incubator for Tontons Macoutes

The National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (Réseau National pour la Défense des Droits Humains, RNDDH) published in an open letter dated December 17, 2014 its discovery that 38 individuals close to the executive branch, who had returned from military training in Ecuador, were being sequestered in the PNH’s 25th graduating class. These named individuals, who were disguised as normal police trainees, drew attention to themselves because many could not read or write, although admission to the police force requires a junior high school education at a minimum; the great majority (32 out of 38) were 31 to 45 years old, although entry into the force is restricted to people between 18 and 30 years old, and finally, many were so arrogant and undisciplined that normally they would have been dismissed from the force, had it not been for their influential sponsors.

These paramilitary troops were hand-picked by Martelly for training in Rafael Correa‘s Ecuador, and they look very much like the kernel of a new Tontons Macoutes. Indeed they are meant to become the core of a new military force. Officially, they go by the inoffensive title of “military engineering corps,” and the regime says they are based in Artibonite, although they are hidden in the PNH. A “Defense White Paper,” to be released in July 2015, will elaborate the details of this supposed defense force for Haiti. Five workshops on the document have already been held, and Martelly’s Defense Minister Lener Renauld, who is also a former Major of the disbanded and disgraced FAd’H, seems to be very much in charge of this project. According to Renauld, the last meeting for the completion of the action plan will be “in February in Washington, at the Inter-American Defense Board” (IADB, Junta Interamericana de Defensa, part of the Organization of American States, OAS). Given the exclusion of the Haitian population from these discussions, and the extensive overlap between the member countries of OAS and MINUSTAH, this project looks like a cover for the perpetuation of MINUSTAH as a force of Tontons Macoutes loyal to Martelly.

What army for Haiti?

Clearly, Haiti needs a force that can safeguard its sovereignty and at the least prevent its democratically elected presidents from being kidnapped by foreign governments. Throughout Haitian history, the main threats to sovereignty have been invasions by large western forces and the ravages of their megalomaniac client dictators. Such attacks are best countered by a militia system like the one that existed during Toussaint L’Ouverture’s rule in 1801-1803, or the one that prevented Hitler’s army from invading Switzerland during World War II. A militia system involves arming all citizens and is, by nature, decentralized and locally controlled. As such, it cannot attack, but it presents a formidable defense. According to Stephen Halbrook:

“The reason that Switzerland was too difficult to invade—in contrast to all the other nations which Hitler conquered in a matter of weeks — was the Swiss militia system. Unlike all the other nations of Europe, which relied on a standing army, Switzerland was (and still is) defended by a universal militia.

“Every man was trained in war, had his rifle at home, was encouraged to practice frequently, and could be mobilized almost instantly. The Swiss militiaman was under orders to fight to the last bullet, and after that, with his bayonet, and after that, with his bare hands. Rather than having to defeat an army, Hitler would have had to defeat a whole people. ”

“The Swiss governmental system was decentralized, with the separate 26 cantons, not the federal government, having the authority. The federal government did notify the Swiss people that in case of a German invasion, any claim that there had been a Swiss surrender should be disregarded as Nazi propaganda. And because the military power was in the hands of every Swiss man, the federal government would have been unable to surrender had it ever wanted to.”

Under Toussaint’s rule, all men were required to serve in the state militia, and it was this universal militia that served Haiti so admirably at the decisive Bataille de Vertières of November 18, 1803. Such a militia system would work well again for Haiti, and it has the advantage of being the sort of project that could not involve “foreign friends.” Haiti should never again relegate its defense to a professional army. Such armies have proven again and again to be predatory. Instead, as a civic duty and for the sake of genuine stability, every Haitian man and woman should be trained to defend the territory.

Dady Chery is the Editor of Haiti Chery and the co-Editor in Chief of News Junkie Post. This article was originally published in Haiti Chery. 

Dady Chery is the Editor of Haiti Chery and the co-Editor in Chief of News Junkie Post. This article was originally published in Haiti Chery. 

The Greatest Threat to Cultural Heritage in Syria

Kalat al-Numan citadel, Idlib province Syria 

Can the worst patrimonial disaster since World War II be stopped?

During the 45 months of the Syrian crisis, war damage inflicted from all sides has created massive damage to our shared global cultural heritage that has been in the custody of the Syrian people for more than ten millennia.

Few would dispute the fact that the level of destruction of Syria’s archaeological sites has become catastrophic. Unauthorized excavations plunder and the traffic in cultural goods in Syria is a serious and escalating problem and threatens the cultural heritage of us all. Due to illicit excavations, many objects have already been lost to science and society.

Today, the single greatest threat to our cultural heritage in Syria is looting. It is rampant and being done from many sources. One virulent source is Da’ish (IS) and like-minded jihadists who desecrate and destroy irreplaceable artifacts and lay siege to and loot more than 2000 archeological sites under its control in Syria and double that number in Iraq. Jihadists in Syria are estimated to have reaped more than $ 20 million from looted artifacts during 2014 and they rationalize their frenzy of wonton obliterations by sighting religious obligations. Also increasingly active in looting Syria’s cultural heritage are local residents who, with no jobs, income or tangible economic prospects, are increasingly turning to age-old plunder taking advantage of a growing cash market.

The trade in looted Syrian cultural artifacts has become the third largest market in illegal goods worldwide. Current laws at the national and international level are woefully inadequate to prevent the illicit traffic in looted antiquities and even less, effectuate the return of stolen antiquities to their countries of origin. In the 1960s, according to experts, it was a buyers’ market as there were few national collectors interested in Islamic art or other antiquities in Syria. But that that has now dramatically changed since the Gulf countries, Qatar and Abu Dhabi started collecting, it is also a seller’s market.

Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and a crossroads for trade, and culture for countless centuries, has been particularly hard hit. Its vast labyrinthine souk was gutted by fire in 2012. The Citadel, a castle that dates back to 3000BC, has also been damaged, while the minaret of the Umayyad Mosque was toppled by fighting in 2013. But hundreds of other sites have also been looted and shops selling Syrian antiquities dot the Turkey side of the border just w0 miles form Aleppo.

“Syria is the worst-case scenario. It is the worst situation I’ve ever seen. Satellite imagery shows massive, mechanical looting of sites,” says France Desmarais of the International Council of Museums. Palmyra, another ancient settlement founded around 2000BC, has also been partially stripped by illegal excavations and plunder. What is true with respeoct to looting in Syria obtains also in Iraq and Libya.

Last month Syrian authorities confiscated three busts from Palmyra (Tadmor) dating from 200AD that had been hacked off a tomb. But looting and illegal trade in antiquities has been escalating over the past nine months with large numbers of antiquities of dubious provenance being found on the rapidly growing illicit antiquities market. A majority of looted artifacts from Syria are being held in antiquity investment storage pits and other stash-sites for future sale at higher prices once the buyers’ market glut of cultural heritage artifacts dissipates.

One of the main problems with combatting looting is that many looted artifacts end up in someone’s house – as a status symbol. Eyewitness accounts report that reliefs and mosaics looted from archaeological sites in Syria being built into walls above fireplaces in homes in the region and no doubt also in the west. Those to whom these cultural heritage artifacts belongs will never see them again given that the main market for looted antiquities has moved from Europe and the United States to Asia, particularly China, where a ravenous appetite for archaeological artifacts continues to spread.

Looting also threatens to deprive Syria of one of its best opportunities for a post-conflict economic boom based on tourism, which, until the conflict started 18 months ago, contributed 12% to the national income. Partly for this reason it is not surprising that looting carries a fifteen-year prison sentence in Syria. With no end in sight for a regional conflict that has claimed the lives of more than 200,000 the prospect for ending looting of Syria’s cultural heritage must be viewed as pretty bleak. Once a site is looted it is largely destroyed it as an archaeological site. The knowledge sought and uncovered that comes with how, with what, and where an object was found, is lost, probably forever.

As documented by a just released assessment of Syria’s Tentative World Heritage sites using high-resolution satellite imagery, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project documents the growing problem in remarkable detail Dura Europos, Ebla, Hama’s Waterwheels, Mari, Raqqa, and Ugarit. The soon to be released second part of the assessment will present the projects finding and analysis regarding Apamea, the Island of Arwad, Maaloula, Qasr al-Hayr ach-Charqi, Sites of the Euphrates Valley, and Tartus (Tripoli).

American experts have claimed this past week that there has been a 150% percent increase in American imports of Syrian cultural property between 2011 and 2013. An investigative report by the German broadcaster NDR documented evidence that Syrian antiquities looted by terrorist groups were being sold through German auction houses. The report revealed how Syrian conflict antiquities were smuggled as handicrafts, laundered with obscuring or outright false documentation, and then sold on the open market. It also exposed the transfer of antiquities to Gulf States, where they were falsely “re-documented” for resale in Western Markets.

There are just a few positive signs that looting Syria’s cultural heritage can be curtailed.

According to Gaetano Palumbo, the World Monuments Fund program director for North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia, there is general agreement among many of the top auction houses to be more cautious about what they auction. At the most UNESCO meeting regarding Syria a representative from Christie’s was present and claimed that they are scrutinizing artifacts carefully and not putting anything on sale that is not clearly provenanced. Just last year Christie’s withdrew six works of art in a sale in London that had been stolen. “We work closely in partnership with UNESCO, Interpol, the US Department of Homeland Security and Scotland Yard’s art and antiques unit. And we have strict procedures to ensure we only offer works of art which are legal to sell,” Christie’s said in a statement to The National newspaper. Yet, according to Desmarais, these promising signs are offset by a whole range of smaller actors are involved in trading is Syria’s looted cultural heritage and these include some of the smaller auction houses, crooked dealers and the underground internet, known as the darknet.

The International Council of Museums’ (ICOM) Emergency Red Lists which document cultural objects at risk of looting in Syria, include clay tablets that preserve some of the earliest writing in the world, intricate stone carvings and coins, in addition to the dozens of other items. They are expanding their lists for public distribution to governments and law enforcement agencies.
What must be done immediately?

Global awareness of the serous assault on the cultural heritage of all in Syria is growing but much more needs to be done according to France Desmarais of the International Council of Museums (ICOM). “As long as it will be chic and posh for you to have an archaeological piece in your living room that guests can admire, we’ll be talking about this. We need to get this message across that it’s a crime. Collecting looted antiquities is a white-collar crime. People have died for this. People buying looted artifacts from Syria are feeding insurgencies, the purchase of arms, financing of foreign extremists and mercenaries and other types of criminality.”

There are two main agreements that deal with looted and trafficked antiquities. One is the 1970 UNESCO convention, which from an international law perspective is weak and exacts at most a slap on the wrist for violators. A stronger convention is the 1995 UNIDROIT convention. It potentially could enforce more robust international law. Yet, for this very reason far fewer countries have ratified this convention fearing it might target their citizens, auction houses and museums. Moreover, quite frequently the law is different in the source country from which artifacts are looted than in the country to which it’s smuggled or in which it is sold. A defense lawyers dream come true.

Amidst the maelstrom of violence in this region, the 2003 UN a resolution calling on all 197 UN members to stop the trade in Iraqi antiquities without verified provenance also applies to Syria. And the European Union has recently banned the import of antiquities from Syria, but inexplicably this prohibition has not been followed by the International Council of Museums (ICOM). Interpol has drawn up ‘red lists’ of material known to be stolen from Syria and UNESCO has held workshops on how to combat the illicit trafficking of cultural heritage property from Syria and elsewhere. The workshops include national authorities, Interpol, local community organizations, scholars, artists and local citizens and auger well for enhancing global involvement to combat looting.

A petition signed by many archaeologists and accompanied by 17,000 signatures was sent to the UN in September and a ban is expected in the near future. In addition, a new law in Germany could point the way forward. This will require a certified export license for an antiquity in order to secure an import license. The dealers will inevitably argue that it presumes guilt, but it doesn’t, any more than hygiene certificates for food do. And it won’t be perfect – there will still be forged certificates, but it’ll make a big difference according to Sam Hardy a London based antiquities researcher and blogger.

All countries could help target looting of our shared cultural heritage in Syria in a major way if they adopted the Germany’s law that will oblige dealers and collectors to present an official export license for any ancient artifact showing where the object originated, in order to receive an import license. The German government seeks to cut the supply of illicit antiquities to the market, and thereby cut the flow of money to looting and smuggling mafias and militants.

There is also an urgent need for international support to the institutions in the relevant countries through the provision of training and education programs and financial support. Work to control the border in neighboring countries to prevent the smuggling of cultural property. Provide technical and substantive support to the work of documentation of archaeological sites in the relevant countries.

It is nearly unanimously agreed at the United Nations that it must establish additional controls to prevent smuggling and illegal excavation and to identify and put into effect control mechanisms in each of the 197 UN member states so as to eliminate the trade in looted and smuggled artifacts by encouraging the filling in of gaps in national laws in order to combat and close down channels of smuggling. Another pressing need is to increase the number of specialists who work in customs offices and at airports and seaports. Given the past decade of increased screenings of passengers and cargo searching for drugs, explosives, weapons, hazardous chemicals etc. adding looted antiquities to the list should not be all that problematical for national and international authorities.

There is also a great need for international support for countries through the provision of training and education programs and financial support. Specifically, working to control the borders in neighboring countries in order to prevent the smuggling of cultural property while at the same time providing technical and substantive support to the work of documentation of archaeological sites.

In addition there is an urgent need to establish controls to prevent smuggling and illegal excavation and to identify and put into effect control mechanisms in each of the 197 member states of the United Nations so as to eliminate the trade in of looted and smuggled artifacts by filling in gaps in national laws in order to combat and close down channels of smuggling. Another pressing need is to specialists who work in customs offices and at airports and seaports. Given the past decade of increased screenings search for drugs, explosives, weapons, hazardous chemicals etc. adding looted antiquities to the list should not be problematical for national and international authorities.

As Dr. Maamound Abdel-Kardar, Syria’s Director General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM)pointed our this month during a Conference on the subject in Berlin, that the international community has yet to effectively join the fight against the looting of our shared cultural heritage. Our global village needs to provide direct aid to the archaeological and cultural institutions of Syria which faces dire consequences from the looting of archeological sites.

Franklin Lamb’s most recent book, Syria’s Endangered Heritage, An international Responsibility to Protect and Preserve is in production by Orontes River Publishing, Hama, Syrian Arab Republic. Inquires c/o orontesriverpublishing@gmail.com. The author is reachable c/ofplamb@gmail.com

Franklin Lamb volunteers with the Lebanon, France, and USA based Meals for Syrian Refugee Children Lebanon (MSRCL) which seeks to provide hot nutritional meals to Syrian and other refugee children in Lebanon. http://mealsforsyrianrefugeechildrenlebanon.com. He is reachable c/o fplamb@gmail.com.

Pomo Agonistes and Dada Anti-Science

The pushback to my CounterPunch piece “The Two Cultures: Can the Left Bridge the Gap?” reminded me of what is often said about Dada- that each generation discovers it for itself and imagines that it is discovering something new. What flooded over my social media transom in reaction to it amounted to a flash back to the academic dadaism of my early college years.  All of the buzzwords which defined the early 80s came rushing back: paradigm shift, Thomas Kuhn, normal science, Feyerabend, the penetrability of cognition by perception, social constructivism, Husserl, the inference/observation distinction, etc.

These notions were now being circulated by fresh faced twenty somethings, as I was when I was hyping them back then. Of course, I was running with a herd, and so are they now. It was not until a few years later that lingering doubts that I only dimly understood what I was reading became impossible to ignore and were later confirmed.

Of course, post modernism had always been in the cross hairs of reactionaries, dead set on destroying all manifestations of sixties radicalism from the moment it appeared. Included among these were bad faith critiques of postmodernism emanating from Hilton Kramer, Roger Scruton and George H.W. Bush whose 1988 University of Michigan speech (where I was a student at the time) kicked off the right wing backlash against academic “political correctness”-all these were easily dismissed.

The criticism which mattered came from within-from who those who saw post-modernism as a perversion of the left’s roots in the enlightenment and in rationality and rational discourse.

Chomsky’s seminal 1995 paper Science/Rationality/ was foremost among these and so it was natural to return to the positions which Chomsky felt it necessary to argue against then.  Among these was the view of science as

thoroughly embedded in capitalist colonialism, . . . used to create new forms of control … screening out feeling, recreating the Other as object to be manipulated . . . the subjective is described as irrelevant or un-scientific (by those for whom) to feel was to be anti-science … There is something inherently wrong with science (which is) used for astoundingly destructive purposes…to create new forms of control mediated through political and economic power. (While) claim(ing) to a monopoly of knowledge . . . (its conclusions are grounded in) superstition, belief, prejudice. . . (offering no better guidance than) the world of story and myth creation.

Chomsky, as noted, made short work of these and other related absurdities. Given that he did so almost two decades ago, it seemed reasonable in my piece to follow up by asking whether Chomsky’s concerns had been addressed.

These appeared to me to be relatively important matters-now more than ever for reasons I will allude to later. So it was disappointing to find that in the response to the piece very few expressed much interest. Rather, as it turned out, almost all were concerned with defending the anti-science attitudes Chomsky catalogs.

In so doing, they effectively answered the main question: left anti-science is not only alive, it is thriving.

Also, as I had suspected, they gave little indication of any awareness of Chomsky’s arguments. Rather than challenge Chomsky’s understanding of the anti-science, anti-rationalist positions cited by him, their approach was to dress what Chomsky takes to be the absurdities of postmodernism in scholarly garb conferring on them a veneer of respectability and authority.

Among those doing so was a moderately well known British Trotskyite (hereafter BT) who appealed to the “elementary concept of theory ladenness of perception” claiming that this provided a basis for a fundamental suspicion of the empirical basis of science and hypotheses which derive from it.

With this BT invoked the Kuhnian correlate familiar from my undergraduate years: any scientific conclusion can be subject to revision at any time, arbitrarily withdrawn or replaced due to the fashions of the moment. Thus, to take the example BT cites, we can have no confidence that the DNA molecule serves as a mechanism for genetic inheritance. That’s because subsequent work has demonstrated that additional biochemical structures, most notably, RNA have also been shown to play a crucial role in the transmission of genetic information. Another anti-science leftist chimed in at that point to propose that we need to reconsider the very notion of Darwinian inheritance itself, asserting that recent work in developmental biology provides evidence for the long discredited Lamarckian view of evolution.

At this point we have reached the orbit of right wing creation science and its close cousin climate change denial. The latter connection was confirmed by BT, who in response to a query as to his opinions on climate change denying Senator James Inhofe noted that there is “no doubt he and I would concur on many things.”

Also taking issue with the piece was another self-described leftist albeit one who has made clear his abiding hostility to socialism, especially the brand of revolutionary socialism associated with BT. While taking a similarly skeptical view of science, he rejects “briefly fashionable” Gallic inspired postmodernism, preferring the Teutonic anti-science variant of Frankfurt School luminaries having antecedents in Husserl and Heidegger.  For HL the “scientific-technological juggernaut of the past two hundred years is not an objective bedrock of truth about anything but a self-fulfilling quest to vanquish a world it always already presupposes at mere dead externality.” Continuing along these lines he locates the roots of science within “a historically conditioned impulse to construct nature and man as ‘objects’ to be manipulated and dominated by technique–a subjective urge to vanquish what it presupposes as mere object.”

While HL’s characterization here appears to recall Chomsky’s left allies’ view of science as “recreating the Other as object to be manipulated” the impression that HL’s critique is based on a familiarity with Chomsky’s essay is quickly refuted by his claim that science assumes itself to be “a self-sufficient domain of unassailable truth.” Indeed, Chomsky states the exact opposite, repeatedly stressing, as do all responsible scientists, the provisional nature of any scientific hypothesis: not only are they not unassailable they are constantly, by the very nature of scientific inquiry, under assault by scientists themselves.

*  *  *

Another anti-science assumption uniting BT and HL and other critics of the piece mirrors those referred to by Chomsky as condemning science for embodying “hidden political, social and economic purposes . . . thoroughly embedded in capitalist colonialism.” BT appears to concur that science is embedded within a political agenda, finding it “very strange . . . . that scientific practice is somehow exempt from political overdetermination, unlike any other form of human activity.”

Leaving aside the dubious notion that all other human activities are “politically overdetermined”, the assumption of science as inherently politicized is refuted by numerous instances of scientific results achieved by scientists of radically differing political commitments under dramatically different political conditions. If science were an expression of a politicized world view it would be impossible to explain the for example, the solutions to the brachistichrome problem, derived more or less simultaneously by four noted natural scientists (l’Hopital, Newton, Huygens and Leibniz) one living under a repressive monarchy, two others under nascent parliamentary democracies and the last then in a minor outpost of the feudal aristocracy. The same applies to the development of fundamental ideas in genetics initially devised by Mendel, an Augustinian monk in Moravia, soon advanced by de Vries, von Tschermak and Correns (Austrian, Dutch and German researchers) and William James Spillman, an agricultural economist from Missouri then teaching at Washington State University. Subsequent foundational work in genetics by the left icon Salvatore Luria (referred to in the previous piece) was developed by his now notoriously reactionary student James Watson. Twentieth century advances in physics, as can be seen by consulting the list of Nobel Prize winners, have been similarly international and cross political, as reflected, for example, in the 1965 Nobel for the laser, being awarded, during the peak of the cold war, to Charles Townes a hawkish American physicist building on the published work of two Soviet scientists Nikolay Basov and Aleksandr Prokhorov. All this is sufficient to dispense with the idea that scientific practice can in any way read into the political sympathies of its practitioners or even the political systems within which it is practiced.

HL would go further than BT viewing science not only as inherently politicized, but as directly responsible for “unimaginable catastrophes–among them Hiroshima and impending mass extinctions from global warming”. These examples give the game away, because it is not science which bears responsibility but the state institutions and the political classes controlling them who apply science to serve their ends. When science, and the institutions surrounding it are under the control of corporate and financial elites, it will, needless to say, reflect their agenda. But insofar as science is exercised “in the public interest” or deployed “for the people” (to borrow the names of two venerable, and it would seem, largely forgotten, left organizations) it not only has the potential to benefit the vast majority, it is now likely our only hope for maintaining conditions on the planet in anything like those “in which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted,” in the words of James Hansen.

Indeed, we would not know that this is the case without science, namely, climate science, and specifically the empirical observations and theoretical models compiled and advanced by researchers in the field. Furthermore, any response to this grim reality will necessarily involve a transformation to a carbon neutral society, one which will be impossible without an all hands on deck approach combining, most prominently, the energies of theoretical and applied scientists from a range of disciplines necessary to construct the required infrastructure. By assuming a priori that science can only be in the service of repression, anti-science not only is incapable of diagnosing the problem but denies the society access to the only mechanism through which a decent future can be secured.

*   *   *

Of course, within a broader context, the significance of left anti-science of the sort purveyed by BT and HL should not be exaggerated. The left itself having by now become almost entirely marginal, the pseudo and junk science promoted by right wing sources such as the Heartland Institute has become far more influential on state policy than anti-science tracts having their roots in academic post-modernism.

But observing this begs the question as to whether there is a connection between the left’s abandonment of the enlightenment traditions which Chomsky takes as fundamental to its identity and its failure to communicate its message to a broad public and advance its agenda within state institutions.  This is the issue which Derek Ides in a perceptive discussion identifies as “left-wing academics’ language and every-day, small scale interactions sublimat(ing) material reality and large-scale, institutional structures.” Ides takes as representative the field of subaltern studies which, as Vivek Chibber has recently noted, has focussed “on the irredeemable flaws of . . . . the Enlightenment — how (it is) implicated in imperialism, (its) reductionism, essentialism, etc.” characterizations virtually identical to those which Chomsky criticized two decades ago. According to Chibber, all this served as “a palliative, a balm, to soothe their nerves” to “allay any anxieties followers might have about the foundations of (the subaltern studies) project”, which has repeatedly failed to offer the means for combatting the neoliberal development model and the savage austerity regimes imposed on much of the third world.

Also in this category, as Ides notes, is Michel Foucault who, as Daniel Zamora has recently observed, is similarly hostile to enlightenment conceptions, in particular his perspective which situates power not as “originat(ing) in either the economy or politics or economics” but rather within an “infinitely complex network of ‘micro-powers,’ of power relations that permeate every aspect of social life”. The view of our ultimate target not as a system operated by real people with names and addresses but as abstract, intangible and mysterious has, not surprisingly, according to Zamora, ended up “disorienting the left . . . actively contributing to its destruction . . . in a way that was entirely in step with the neoliberal critiques of the moment.”

According to Ides, what has replaced the enlightenment tradition and its engagement with the world of tangible facts and logic is the “linguistic turn” in which language and discourse are viewed as the main field of contention, objective institutional power having been for several generations ceded to increasingly repressive and predatory elites against whom the left intellectuals have consistently failed to advance a critique capable of resonating with and finding its place within a mass oppositional movement.

Now, as Naomi Klein has compellingly argued, it is time for the left to recognize that everything has changed: the domain where the left has the most to offer is precisely in the realm of applying logic, reason and rational discourse to the conduct of “large scale institutional structures”. Indeed, if the left, does not take control of these institutions from those who are now completing their endgame of planetary degradation, it now seems almost certain that there will little future to be worth arguing about.

Chomsky recognized these tendencies two decades ago. Rather than genuflecting before him, we should listen to, understand and act based on what Chomsky has to say about the enlightenment, rationality, science and the left.

John Halle blogs at Outrages and Interludes

John Halle blogs at Outrages and Interludes. He tweets at: jghalle.

Has the IMF Been Reformed?

In a Washington Post op-ed last week, ‘The IMF’s Perestroika Moment’, Boston University political economists Cornel Ban and Kevin Gallagher suggested ‘conventional wisdom’ about the International Monetary Fund is ‘outdated’ because the IMF is no longer ‘a global agent of economic orthodoxy.’ Hmmm.

Also last week, Counterpunch economic columnist Mike Whitney surmised that at a critical moment in April 2011 at the Brookings Institute in Washington, IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn (‘DSK’) ‘made his pitch for “progressive taxation”, “collective bargaining rights”, “protecting social safety nets”, “direct labour market policies” and “taxes on financial activities”.’ Hmmm.

Given that no one has done more to challenge the IMF on capital controls than Gallagher, and that few write about economic injustice more forcefully than Whitney (I read them both religiously), it pains me to again take issue with such excellent allies.

To be sure, Whitney recognises the IMF did not implement the pitch; apparently the financial oligarchy didn’t appreciate DSK’s bolshi sentiments. Recall how DSK also apparently suffered periodic Viagra overdoses – oh, and somehow in the process, attracted repeated charges of sexual predation akin to a ‘rutting chimpanzee’. In May 2011 Strauss-Kahn was suddenly forced to stand down from the IMF and also from what would soon have been a run at the French presidency. New York’s finest whisked him off his first-class Air France seat at JFK Airport for the perp walk and rape charges.

Looking beyond ‘that shite’ (sic), Whitney recounts, ‘Strauss-Kahn was headed in a direction that wasn’t compatible with the interests of the cutthroats who run the IMF. That much is clear. Now whether these same guys concocted the goofy “honey trap” at the Sofitel Hotel, we may never know. But what we do know is this: If you’re managing director of the IMF, you’d better not use your power to champion “distribution” or collective bargaining rights or you’re wind up like Strauss-Kahn, dragged off to the hoosegow in manacles wondering where the hell you went wrong.’

Sorry, it is hard to take seriously the argument that because the oft-‘honey-trapped’ (sic) DSK momentarily adopted ‘a Keynesian approach’ (a matter not in dispute given how close the world financial system was to melting down), he was suddenly ‘off the reservation and no longer supported the policies that the establishment elites who run the IMF wanted to see implemented.  They felt threatened by DSK’s Keynesian approach and wanted to get rid of him.’

Actually, from late 2008 through early 2011, the shakiest period for world capitalism, Strauss-Kahn ran the reservation – and from a hedonistic financier’s perspective, quite well indeed. The 2008-09 crisis and the IMF’s April 2009 $750 billion recapitalisation provided an unprecedented power boost (recall that for many months until then, the fast-contracting IMF had been nicknamed the ‘Turkish Monetary Fund’ because it had only one substantive client, lost 75% of its interest income and as a result fired 15% of staff).

Critically, IMF exploitation of the world’s poor did not change substantively on Strauss-Kahn’s watch. As Rebecca Solnit recalled, the IMF very nearly re-wrecked Haiti in the immediate wake of its 2010 earthquake by refusing to forgive debt and instead pushing more loans; only activists like Camille Chalmers stopped that.

The most transformative intra-capitalist strategy would have been a return to Keynes’ idea of penalising trade surpluses, which Greek political economist Yanis Varoufakis believes Strauss-Kahn once hinted at – but China, Germany and the Middle East would quickly veto that idea.

In contrast, the fiscal and monetary laxity Strauss-Kahn facilitated was merely system preservation. Alongside World Bank president Robert Zoellick, he bandaged the crisis by shifting and stalling it across space and time using his new Special Drawing Rights and associated credit binges. In the process, bankers were bailed out, inequality soared and most countries were left with a higher foreign debt.

North Africa Tests the IMF

In what would be his last IMF press conference, Strauss-Kahn was asked about North African activists carrying Che Guevara flags: “Do you have any fears that there is perhaps a far left movement coming through these revolutions that want more, perhaps, closed economies?” His answer: “We’re in a globalized world, so there is no domestic solution.”

Two and a half years earlier, Strauss-Kahn was awarded the Order of the Tunisian Republic (the country’s top honour) by pro-Western dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Strauss-Kahn returned the compliment: ‘Economic policy adopted here is a sound policy and is the best model for many emerging countries.’

In September 2010, in its ‘Article IV Consultation’ (each country’s marching orders), the IMF advised how that ‘best model’ should continue, given ‘that the tax burden on businesses is relatively high in Tunisia, and that there is scope to increase the yield from taxes on consumption.’

IMF economists cherish the Value Added Tax (VAT), which hits poor people far harder than it does the wealthy, as a percentage of income. In Tunis, they brazenly called for ‘a reduction in profit tax rates offset by an increase in the standard VAT rate.’  But while enthusiastically calculating the revenue benefits, they neglected the social costs, especially increased pressure on poor people including ordinary fruit sellers (e.g. Mohammed Bouazizi). (Philip Rizk observed the same problem in Egypt: VAT as the IMF’s ‘poor tax’.)

Still, thanks to Strauss-Kahn’s leadership, the IMF quickly adapted on the difficult new terrain of class struggle, prior to the 2011-14 counter-revolutions that swept away North Africa’s democratic hopes.

Some new phraseology would come in handy, e.g. ‘country ownership’, ‘poverty reduction’, and ‘social protection’. In June 2011, Strauss-Kahn’s temporary replacement, John Lipsky, was even heard pronouncing the words ‘social justice’ as his top priority objective, when seducing Egypt to borrow more so as to repay $33 billion of the dictator Hosni Mubarak’s old loans.

The South African name of this game is ‘talk left, walk right.’ If such incidents teach us anything, it is that IMF orthodoxy forever represents regime maintenance for financial imperialism, even if that requires innovative semantics.

The IMF was already becoming flexible 17 years ago

In contrast, Ban and Gallagher insist the IMF has undergone ‘deep transformations that often point in a more Keynesian direction’ and now has an awareness of ‘the systemic risks posed by the interconnectedness of global banks.’

(To be clear, again, I do credit Gallagher as much as any applied scholar for creating this awareness. But we must always exercise caution, explained African revolutionary Amilcar Cabral: ‘tell no lies, claim no easy victories.’)

Really, how deep does this ‘transformation’ go? The answer: ‘Since the 1970s, the IMF has been heavily criticized for being insensitive to the diversity of domestic conditions.’ Surely though, that’s the ‘heavy criticism’ of reformist Keynesians? A broader political economic critique does not stop at ‘diversity’. It considers the IMF’s role in the reproduction of world capitalism, especially when stressed.

Geopolitically, for example, isn’t it still true that ‘The IMF is a toy of the United States to pursue its economic policy offshore,’ as even an establishment economist, Rudiger Dornbusch, once frankly confessed?

Economically, the overall IMF objective is stabilising crisis-prone world capitalism on behalf, mainly, of Western financiers. The best rebuttal from Ban and Gallagher: ‘Surprising its critics, the IMF has endorsed capital controls.’

Yet these are not usually controls on outflows and capital flight, instead on hot-money inflows. (Only when Iceland and Cyprus were about to default were outflow bans allowed.

Anyhow, we’ve heard all this before. In the wake of Mexico’s 1995 crisis and the 1998 East Asian meltdowns, ‘capital controls could be acceptable to the IMF, for a transitional phase,’ conceded IMF second-in-command (now deputy Fed chair) Stanley Fischer.

‘The IMF recognizes the problem of surges of short-term capital across borders and the need to find ways to deal with that,’ said Fischer, including Chile’s so-called ‘speed-bump’ against hot-money inflows, a strategy ‘that needs to be considered.’

Such language was not uncommon, legal scholar Timothy Canova reminds, due to ‘a very real and growing split within the world of finance’ regarding ‘the use of temporary controls and prudential restrictions on the flow of short-term hot money.’

Malaysia’s exchange controls were much stronger: they also halted outflows and speculative currency trading. Yet during a November 2012 Kuala Lumpur speech, Strauss-Kahn’s replacement Christine Lagarde was still only willing to concede that in some cases, ‘temporary capital controls might prove useful.’

A dozen years before, an IMF report had already approvingly acknowledged, ‘The controls gave the Malaysian authorities some breathing space to deal with the crisis.’

BRICS pull the IMF left?

Aside from overestimating internal ideological change at the IMF, Ban and Gallagher misidentify a catalyst: the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) bloc. According to Gallagher, the BRICS ‘defend “cooperative decentralization” to regulate capital flows’ and so ‘the establishment of the BRICS bank might bring competition to the IMF.’

That’s not how it appears from South Africa, reviewing the recent evidence. To illustrate, the BRICS spent $75 billion helping recapitalize the IMF in 2012, providing a sole mandate I could identify in the public domain: more ‘nasty’ (sic) policies for southern Europe, as South Africa’s finance minister insisted while preparing the funding transfer.

(Disclosure: my political heart aches, because thirty years ago this week, the same man – Pravin Gordhan – taught me revolutionary guerrilla theory at Mahatma Gandhi’s former Durban ashram, I kid you not.)

Last July, the BRICS devised a ‘Contingent Reserve Arrangement’ (CRA), that actually empowers the IMF, as even the eloquent pro-BRICS economist Mark Weisbrot admits: ‘Note that CRA currently has a 30% provision limit requiring an IMF programme, which is disturbing – and reveals the problem of politics within those five states and whether to adopt a neoliberal or alternative path.’

That choice was already explicitly made in China, India and South Africa. True, there may still be pressure from the crony-capitalist Russian right and Brazilian social democrats, providing Weisbrot ‘whether to’ weasel words.

But as a unit, BRICS is actually a subimperial (not anti-imperial) project. It reinforces not only prevailing world financial policies, but also do-nothing-until-it’s-too-late climate change mitigation. The BRICS represent not ‘competition,’ but collusion in financial imperialism.

Article IV-ed again

In Pretoria, Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress chose to move from apartheid to neoliberalism after 1994, instead of to the party’s 1955 Freedom Charter. In this spirit, finance minister Nhlanhla Nene announced that when his next budget is revealed in February, we should expect ‘tough times’, ‘a new age of pain.’

As if egging him on, the World Bank’s Pretoria office soon claimed that South Africa’s world-leading Gini Coefficient measure of inequality falls dramatically, from 0.771 to 0.596, once welfare spending is calculated. But though ‘fiscal tools’ are supposedly counted ‘comprehensively’, Bank staff entirely ignore Pretoria’s vast state subsidies to corporations, which means their inequality conclusion is merely a biased thumb-suck.

Likewise, consider the IMF’s Article IV Consultation here last week: ‘the current account deficit remains high (5.8% of GDP in 2013), reflecting persistent competitiveness problems, soft terms of trade, supply bottlenecks, and subdued external demand.’

In reality, there is another far more important reason, one that right-wing Harvard economist Ricardo Hausmann also completely neglected during his recent visit: the unjustifiable outflow of corporate profits, including massive illicit capital flight.

As for macroeconomic policy advice, the IMF ‘called for decisive structural reforms to unblock supply-side constraints, lift growth, and rebalance the economy towards exports and investments… and highlighted that containing the wage bill and raising taxes will be essential.’

In sum, renewed commitment to economic orthodoxy.

To their credit, Ban and Gallagher do concede, ‘a schizophrenic division has come to characterize the IMF’s approach to policy research on the one hand and policy practice on the other’ because ‘not much has changed in terms of how the IMF acts regarding relations between states and their creditors.’

Exactly! So if the IMF talks left, we need to ask: is it doing so in order to walk right?

Patrick Bond directs the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society. He can be reached at: pbond@mail.ngo.za.

Patrick Bond is professor of sociology at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa. He can be reached at: pbond@mail.ngo.za

The Contrition of Warlords

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture raises a dilemma for the world’s superpower: how will America regain its moral leadership? If all the evils that are done under dictatorship are done under the world’s great flagship of democracy, how is the world to know what’s so good about American-sponsored democracy?

Laws of war

The release of the Senate Report is the first step in reclaiming America’s moral superiority: America investigates itself, publicly confesses its sins, and vows change. This isn’t enough, according to the New York Times editorial writers (“Prosecute Torturers and Their Bosses,” Dec. 21, 2014). They call for prosecutions of the Bush administration officials, as stipulated by international agreements on torture which the US has signed.

It’s kind of incredible that there are internationally ratified laws on war. Why have the states of the world gotten together to make agreements about the proper and improper ways of killing and destroying? They are not only preparing for war, fighting wars and doing whatever they can to win wars, but also agreeing to self-restrictions as part of a universal restriction.

In practice, they do not give up war, but agree to rules of war: you can go so far in killing and destroying, but no further. This fine line establishes a good side and a bad side of war. States really want to claim there is a moral basis for war. Fight a war properly and it’s ok for the right reasons. States don’t just say that war is a horrible thing; they always say: we are forced into it. There are good wars and bad wars.

The only way to make this moral distinction is to divide the methods of war. States establish rules for types of weapons, the killing of civilians, the treatment of prisoners of war, and so on. There is always something arbitrary in these distinctions: Poison gas is a violation of the laws of war, but not nuclear weapons. The morality of landmines is still debated; they are condemned for being “indiscriminate,” but part of their usefulness is their indiscriminate nature and the deliberate terror of war. Torture is very discriminate, but hard to define, so lawyers are called in to decide what constitutes torture.

The fact that it takes decades for states to ratify treaties regarding the laws of war indicates that it’s a calculation on all sides whether they consider these distinctions useful to make. On the one hand, they are reluctant to give up their means of waging war; on the other, they want to make these distinctions. If one nation could set the rules, this would not be the case; but the world’s leading power, the USA, has not been the impetus for banning methods of war, usually joining them late in the game. All states – Israel, Syria, China, Russia, etc. – have an interest in signing laws of war. What are they aiming at?

The criterion is: this is a method of warfare that is too disgusting for a civilized nation. We don’t do it, whether we get something from it or not. We have to be better than the ones who do. A rule of war is universal and by adhering to it we put ourselves in the ranks of moral powers. The calculation is to be able to make a distinction between our good methods and their moral depravity.

When one side makes a case that it is adhering to moral standards when fighting a war, it uses these standards. It uses them as a diplomatic weapon against other states and as a propaganda tool to organize its own population. It represents itself as following universally agreed on standards. This universality is supposed to elevate one’s own state above the particularity of the other nation.

This moral point of view justifies one’s own wars and castigates those of enemies. This is the practical aspect of war morality: it is always a restriction of the other state. No state wants to restrict itself. It says that the enemy’s wrong methods show they rule badly. It doesn’t matter if everything the US accuses its enemies of is something the US does; that if ISIS beheads its enemies, the US uses drones. This hypocrisy is the basis for advertising oneself as a good power.

Scoring points

The defenders of the Bush administration and the CIA never say they reject the laws of war, but that the laws of war must fit the new kind of war the US is waging against a new kind of enemy. They tried to one-sidedly set new standards for their own war which differed from the universal agreements of the 20th century. They still recognize torture as bad, but revise what they want to call torture.

It turned out that in a multipolar world the laws of war can’t be re-written; they take lots of agreement. The US wasn’t successful in imposing its interpretation of international law on the rest of the world. Obama’s criticism of Guantanamo has always been that America can’t lead the world, organize alliances and point fingers at other states when it’s caught violating international agreements by running a giant torture camp. In Obama’s view, Bush’s foreign policy caused a dissension among America’s allies that was counterproductive to American goals in the world. Rather than just putting facts on the ground and declaring American interests to be decisive, America would have more success in the world by acknowledging the critique of it by other states.

This is welcomed by America’s European allies, who thereby use the laws of war for their own national interests. They get to say: we are joining America in accusing America. They congratulate themselves on playing a bigger role in the world and being the good conscience of their alliance with the superpower. This is hardly a concern about tortured Muslims. Likewise, Putin and Iran have been making hey with the CIA torture revelations; he’s also a party to the standards of war and making use of them as a diplomatic weapon against his adversary.

Morality in war = success in war

The headlines announcing the findings of the Senate’s report were revealing in a back-handed way: torture is “brutal and ineffective.” On the face of it, the two points of view would seem to clash. Is torture condemned because it’s morally repugnant or because it doesn’t work? Both views are held, so a connection is being made: If a war is successful, then everything that was done to win it was justified; but if you don’t win, everything is on the table.

The laws of war governing the treatment of prisoners of war are useful to victorious powers for representing themselves as the good guys to the conquered population. A state can’t expect to win the population over by saying: we’re exactly the same as the guys we beat. There always has to be something better promised to the defeated nation under the new rulers. Today Germans and Japanese will say the Americans liberated them from the wrong kind of rule. They have accepted their moral education: the bad guys had concentration camps and the good guys didn’t. There isn’t much to this distinction. In reality, the US shot German prisoners dead rather than take them to POW camps and dropped two atomic bombs on Japan. But it’s said this was “saving lives.”

The failure of Bush’s Iraq policy is the background of the Senate report. The use of torture by the CIA was hardly unknown before the images from Abu Ghraib became a public scandal; the moral outrage in elite circles occurred when it became clear that the Iraq war had gone completely wrong; that the conquest and pacification of Iraq had turned out to be more problematic than projected; when the occupation had turned into a dirty war. The images were seen as evidence the US did not have things under control. That’s when the war became morally “senseless” for the American political elite. Their moral outrage was fueled by the doubt that Bush could make a realistic claim that success was on the horizon or had an exit strategy. It was publicly wondered how long the morale of American soldiers could be sustained.

If the Bush administration had succeeded in its objective of installing a reliably pro-American bastion in the Middle East, it is a safe bet that American neither politicians nor editorial writers would now be talking about “America’s shame.” They never talk about the shame of American actions during world war two, the last time America won a war to its satisfaction.

Part of the US making amends for torture is to win the world population over to its side in its war on terror. The US is still facing a worldwide resistance to western hegemony from its Islamist enemies, who are gaining recruits like mad from the US and Europe. In the question of who is fighting the good fight, many think it is on the side of the Islamic State. The Obama administration urgently wants to pacify the Middle East so that it can concentrate on the Pacific, but it can’t put its old wars behind it. Every attempt to make inroads just makes the situation worse.

So how can America distinguish itself from ISIS? By saying: their violations of the laws of war are systematic; ours are individual excesses, deviations, “un-American.” Guantanamo was a “mistake” – as if it was set up by mistake!

The New York Times editorial makes clear the political calculation behind all the moral outrage about torture coming from elite circles in the USA: this is about “regaining [America’s] moral credibility to rebuke torture by other governments” (Dec. 21, 2014). No without reason, they say: crime without punishment means there was no crime. If the perpetrators are in jail, then it will not be just words, but the state is behind it. This is the small difference they want. They still presume the CIA’s legitimacy and its purpose.

Cheney’s unrepentance also stands on war morality. He does not say the US is an immoral power, but that these “enhanced” methods were required to defend freedom and democracy and therefore these methods are moral. We did it because we had to and it worked. Cheney might be an extremist who is out of step with those who are currently in power, but his view has many adherents around the world.

Sometimes the weapon of war morality is turned against oneself. One doesn’t abandon the weapon, but makes amends. One recognizes the immorality of torture because the laws of war are a good weapon for war in American hands. The fact that the US doesn’t abandon the laws of war only shows that it does not intend to abandon war and that it will never be honest about the purpose of war.

Geoffrey MacDonald co-edits Ruthless Criticism.

Geoffrey McDonald is an editor at Ruthless Criticism. He can be reached at: ruthless_criticism@yahoo.com

Cuba Will Not Renounce Its Ideas

We have all lived through intense and exciting moments in the last few days.

In this very month of December we successfully held the Fifth CARICOM-Cuba Summit. Last Sunday we held the Thirteenth Summit of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America and, on that occasion, we paid a well-deserved tribute to their founders: our close friend and Bolivarian President, Hugo Chávez Frías, and the Commander of the Cuban Revolution, Comrade Fidel Castro Ruz.

Present in this session are Gerardo, Ramón and Antonio, a source of genuine rejoicing and happiness for all of our people –I will elaborate on this important even towards the final part of my statement. Also present here are comrades Fernando and René and the relatives of the Five Heroes, as well as the young Elián González, his father Juan Miguel and Colonel Orlando Cardoso Villavicencio, Hero of the Republic of Cuba, who endured a harsh incarceration for more than ten years in Somalia.

As has been the usual practice in the sessions of our Parliament, it is now my turn to make a review of the country’s economic performance throughout the year that is about to conclude, as well as of the economic plan and budget for the year 2015, which have been thoroughly discussed by deputies in all the 10 commissions of the Assembly and also in yesterday’s plenary session.

The Ninth Plenum of the Central Committee of the Party that was held on Thursday last was also devoted to the discussion of these issues. That is why I will just refer to them very briefly.

As has been already explained, the Gross Domestic Product, known as GDP, increased by 1.3 per cent, a figure below the originally planned rate, as a result of the insufficient economic performance during the first semester of the year, when we were faced with significant financial constraints deriving from the failure to meet the expected level of revenues from abroad, the adverse weather conditions and the internal insufficiencies in economic management.

Although, in fact, during the second semester of the year, we managed to modestly reverse that trend and achieve better results.

Next year’s economic plan will consolidate and reinforce the trend towards a more solid growth of the Cuban economy, based on the optimal use of our reserves in terms of efficiency; the restoration of productive sectors, particularly the manufacturing industry; a more efficient use of energy sources and a higher number of investments in infrastructure and material production, while preserving social services, such as public health and education, for our population.

A GDP growth of a little more than 4 per cent has been projected for the year 2015. This is an attainable goal, considering that, as different from the situation faced in the early months of 2014, a better funding has been guaranteed with sufficient time in advance, which in no way means that it will be an easy task. We will have to continue coping with the effects of the global economic crisis and the US blockade that still remains in force and creates undeniable obstacles to the development of our economy.

At the same time, we will continue to strictly honor the commitments entered into when we rescheduled our debts with our main creditors, thus contributing to the gradual recovery of the international credibility of the Cuban economy.

Yesterday afternoon, the National Assembly approved the Law on the State Budget for the year 2015, which envisages a 6.2 per cent deficit in the GDP, considered to be an acceptable rate under the present circumstances. New taxes will be implemented and the tax burden on the business system shall be reduced in accordance with the gradual implementation of the Tax Law.

Likewise, a series of steps have been taken to improve tax control against indiscipline and tax evasion by both juridical and natural persons.

In this regard, we should not only penalize those who fail to comply with their duties, since impunity would be an encouragement to the infringement of the legal norms in force. We have also considered it to be necessary to promote among all institutions, enterprises, cooperatives and self-employed workers a culture of civic behavior towards taxation as well as the view that taxes are the main formula to re-distribute national income in the interest of all citizens.

Furthermore, the process of implementation of the Guidelines of the Economic, Political and Social Policy of the Party and the Revolution, approved by the sixth Congress has continued. As has already been announced, we are now on a qualitatively higher stage of this process in which we are addressing extremely complex tasks, the solution of which will affect all the aspects of national affairs.

I am referring, first and foremost, to the process aimed at unifying both currencies, an area in which a very sound progress has been achieved during the second half of this year from the conceptual point of view. We have managed to streamline a comprehensive program of measures in order to avoid damages to the economy and the population.

The decision to generalize sales in CUP at the hard-currency stores has been positively welcomed by citizens, and this process will continue to expand in a gradual way.

This is an auspicious occasion to ratify two concepts that we should not ignore.

The first is that the Unification of Currencies is not the universal or immediate solution to all the problems our economy faces.

This important decision should be complemented by a series of macro-economic measures that would favor the ordering of the monetary regime of the country through a series of instruments that would guarantee a proper national financial balance, which will decisively contribute to improve economic performance and the construction of a prosperous and sustainable socialism in Cuba.

The second, and no less important concept, is that all bank accounts in foreign currency, Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) and Cuban pesos (CUP), as well as the cash in the hands of the population and the national and foreign juridical persons shall be protected.

We have known about the well-intended and not very-well intended opinions that are being expressed both inside and outside the country about the rhythm of the process to update our economic model.

There has also been an open encouragement from abroad to speed up privatization, even of the main production and service sectors, which will b equal to laying down the flags of socialism in Cuba.

It seems as if the latter have not bothered to read the Guidelines which clearly states as follows, and I quote: “The economic system that shall prevail in our country will continue to be based on the people’s socialist ownership over the fundamental means of production, governed by the socialist principle of distribution: “from each according to his/her capacity to each according to his/her contribution”, end of quote.

We will continue to implement the agreements adopted by the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba in a responsible and firm way, at the speed that we may sovereignly determine here, without jeopardizing the unity of Cubans, without living anyone to his or her own fate, without resorting to shock therapies and without ever renouncing the ideals of social justice of this Revolution of the humble, by the humble and for the humble.

Next year we will initiate the preparations for the celebration of the Seventh Congress of the Party in April of 2016. Prior to that there will be a broad and democratic debate among all Communist Party members and the entire people about the process of implementation of the Guidelines.

Closely associated to the updating of the economic model is the process for the gradual, I repeat, gradual decentralization of faculties from the ministries down to the business sector.

This is not something that can be done overnight, if we want to succeed. We will require a reasonable time to prepare and train, as we have been doing, our cadres at every level; modify the old-fashioned mentality and get rid of old habits; and work out and implement the legal framework and specific procedures that would enable all of us to see to it that the decisions are adequately implemented and mistakes are timely corrected, thus avoiding unnecessary setbacks.

Among other steps, a decision was made to expand and make more flexible the social object of the Socialist state-owned enterprises in order to increase their autonomy. The mission assigned to them by the State was redefined and they were entrusted with the faculties required for the marketing of their production surplus. Likewise, the removal of administrative limitations, which will allow for the payment of salaries based on results, was also established.

These transformations shall be gradually implemented, without haste, in an orderly, disciplined and rigorous manner.

The just aspiration of earning higher salaries is a very sensitive question. We can not allow ourselves to make any mistakes, nor letting ourselves be drawn by desire or improvisation.

We would be happy to see that the salaries earned by those workers who work in those sectors recording the most efficient results and reporting benefits of particular economic and social impact are gradually increased.

However, I should state very clearly that we can not distribute a wealth that we have not been capable of creating. Doing so would have serious consequences for the national economy as well as for the personal finances of each and every citizen. Pouring out money into the streets without an equivalent increase in the offer of goods and services will generate inflation, a phenomenon that, among other harmful effects, would reduce the purchasing power of salaries and pensions, which will particularly affect the most humble. And we can not allow that to happen.

The first year of implementation of the new salary policy in quite a few enterprises has revealed that there has been a violation of the salary cost index per every gross value-added Peso. In other words, higher salaries have been paid without the corresponding backing in production. On several occasions I have warned that this should be considered as a serious, very serious indiscipline that should be resolutely confronted by the administrative cadres and trade union organizations.

The fact that in our social system, trade unions defend workers’ rights is secret to no one. To effectively do so, trade unions should be the first to look after the interests of any given workers group, but also the interests of the entire working class, which are essentially the same interests defended by the entire nation.

We can not leave any room for selfishness and greed to thrive and consolidate among our workers. We all want and need better salaries, but first we have to create wealth and then distribute it according to the contribution each one can make.

Obviously, there are many other issues related to the updating of the economic model which I have not mentioned. In several of them there have been deviations that we are called to correct in due time, in the spirit of never having to back. But for that we have to work in a very serious and responsible way.

No one in the world could ignore Cuba’s outstanding international record in the course of the year that is about to conclude. Cubans are faced with a huge challenge: We must put the economy on a par with the political prestige that this small Caribbean Island has earned thanks to the Revolution, the heroism and the resilience of our people. Economy remains the most important unresolved matter and it is our duty to place it, once and for all, down the right path towards the sustainable and irreversible development of socialism in Cuba.

As I said at the beginning, the deputies and the entire people feel deeply moved and excited about the possibility of sharing the presence in Cuba of Gerardo, Ramón, Antonio, Fernando and René, which makes true the promise made by Comrade Fidel thirteen years ago. The extraordinary example of firmness, sacrifice and dignity of the Cuban Five has filled with pride an entire nation that struggled tirelessly for their liberation and now welcomes them as true heroes (APPLAUSE).

I should reiterate the profound and sincere gratitude to all solidarity movements and committees that struggled for their release and to innumerable governments, parliaments, organizations, institutions and personalities for their valuable contribution.

The Cuban people are grateful for this just decision made by the US President, Barack Obama. Such decision has removed one obstacle that hindered the relations between our two countries.

The entire world has had a positive reaction to the announcements made last Wednesday; it has assessed their importance for international relations, particularly for the US links with the region. They have led to favorable statements being made by governments, presidents and well-known personalities, which we sincerely appreciate.

This has been the result of talks held at the highest level and under absolute secrecy, thanks to the contribution made by Pope Francis and the facilities offered by the government of Canada.

Besides, this result has been possible thanks to the profound changes occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean, a region where governments and peoples call for a new US Cuba policy.

We welcome the decision announced by President Obama to begin a new chapter in the relations between both countries and introduce the most significant changes in the US Cuba policy in more than 50 years.

We likewise recognize his willingness to hold discussions with the US Congress about the lifting of the blockade and his desire to achieve a better future for both nations, our hemisphere and the world.

We share the idea that a new stage could open up between the United States and Cuba that will begin with the resumption of diplomatic relations, which should be based on the Conventions governing Diplomatic and Consular Relations and regulating the conduct of Diplomatic and Consular Missions and their officials.

We will engage in the high level contacts between both governments with a constructive, respectful and reciprocity spirit and with the purpose of moving towards the normalization of relations.

As I expressed last December 17, a very important step has been taken, but the essential problem still remains unresolved, which is the lifting of the economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba, that has been further tightened during the last few years, particularly in the area of financial transactions, through the application of skyrocketing and illegitimate fines on banks from several countries.

Our people should understand that, under the circumstances that have already been announced, this will be a long and hard struggle which will require the international opinion and the US society to mobilize in order to continue calling for the lifting of the blockade.

Every data indicate that the majority of US citizens and an even broader majority within Cuban émigrés favor the normalization of bilateral relations. Within the US Congress, which codified the blockade provisions into law, there is also an increasing opposition to that policy.

We hope the US President would resolutely use his executive prerogatives to substantially modify the implementation of the blockade in those aspects in which Congress approval is not required.

At the same time, we will analyze the scope and the form of implementation of the positive executive measures announced by President Obama.

The instructions he has given to review Cuba’s unjustifiable inclusion in the List of States that Sponsor International Terrorism is encouraging. Facts have shown that Cuba has been a victim of multiple terrorist attacks, many of whose perpetrators have so far enjoyed impunity. As we all know these attacks have taken a toll on thousands of human lives and maimed persons.

The pretexts used to launch those attacks are absolutely groundless, as is known by the entire planet. They only serve political interests under the false pretense of justifying the tightening of the blockade, particularly in the financial sector.

Never has any terrorist action against any US citizen, interest or territory been organized, financed or perpetrated from Cuba; nor will that ever be permitted. Every time we have received any information about terrorist plans against the United States we have relayed that information to the US Government to which for several years now we have been suggesting the establishment of a cooperation agreement in that area.

We have always been ready to establish a dialogue, on an equal footing, to discuss a wide range of issues on the basis of reciprocity and without casting a shadow on our national independence and self-determination and, as Fidel has pointed out, without renouncing any of our principles.

I reiterate that it will only be possible to move forward based on mutual respect, which involves the observance of the principles of International Law and the UN Charter, among them, the sovereign equality of States, peoples’ equal rights and self determination, the peaceful settlement of international controversies, the principle of refraining from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or independence of any State and the obligation not to intervene in matters which are within the domestic jurisdiction of States, which means that any form of interference or threat to the political, economic and cultural elements of any given State is considered a violation of International Law.

In accordance with the proclamation of the Latin American and Caribbean region as a Zone of Peace, which was signed by the Heads of State and Government on January 29 this year in Havana in the context of the CELAC Summit, all States have the inalienable right to choose their own political, economic, social and cultural system, without any interference whatsoever from another State, which is a principle of International Law. That document was signed here in Havana by all Heads of State and Government of this continent, with the exception of the United States and Canada, which were not invited to attend.

Between the governments of the United States and Cuba there are profound differences which include, among others, different views about the exercise of national sovereignty, democracy, political models and international relations.

We reiterate our willingness to establish a respectful dialogue on our differences based on reciprocity. We have firm convictions and many concerns about what is happening in the United States in terms of democracy and human rights, and we would agree to talk on the basis of the principles referred to previously, about any issue, and about all what the US might be willing to discuss, about the situation here Cuba but also about the situation in the United States.

No one should expect Cuba to renounce the ideas for which it has struggled for more than a century, and for which its people have shed lots of blood and run the biggest risks in order to improve its relations with the United States.

It is necessary to understand that Cuba is a sovereign State whose people, through a free referendum held to approve the Constitution, chose a socialist path as well as its political, economic and social system (APPLAUSE).

We will demand respect for our system in the same way that we have never intended the United States to change its political system.

Both governments should take mutual steps to prevent and avoid any action that might affect the progress achieved in bilateral relations, based on the observance of the law and the constitutional order of both Parties.

We do not ignore the vicious criticisms that President Obama has had to put up with as a result of the already mentioned announcements by some forces that are opposed to the normalization of relations with Cuba, including some lawmakers of Cuban descent and ringleaders of counterrevolutionary groups who refuse to lose the means of support granted to them by the several decades of conflicts between our two countries. They will do whatever it takes to sabotage this process. We should not rule out the perpetration of provocations of every sort. On our part, a prudent, moderate and reflexive –though firm- behavior shall prevail.

In Cuba there are numerous and different mass, trade union, farmers, women, students, writers and artists and social organizations, which have even a representation at the Council of State, as well as non-governmental organizations, many of them represented by several deputies in this Assembly, which will feel offended if they are mistaken for a few hundreds of individuals who receive money, instructions and a breath of air from abroad.

At the multilateral organizations, such as the United Nations, we will continue to advocate for peace, International Law and all other just causes, and we will continue to denounce the threats to the survival of the human species posed by climate change and the existence of nuclear arsenals.

We will continue to promote the exercise of human rights, including the economic, social and cultural rights, by all persons, as well as the right of all peoples to peace and development.

The Cuban Revolution is deeply grateful to the peoples, parties and governments from which it has received an unwavering and permanent solidarity, and shall continue to orient its foreign policy based on our unshakable allegiance to principles.

A symbol of the above are the special relations that we maintain with the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, to which we will continue to offer our support, in the face of the attempts to destabilize the legitimate government that is headed by Comrade President Nicolas Maduro Moros. We reject every attempt to impose sanctions against that sister nation (APPLAUSE).

As I said a few days ago, we are willing to cooperate with the United States at the multilateral and bilateral levels, as well as in the event of any dangerous situation that may require collective and effective humanitarian responses that should never be politicized.

Such is the case of the combat against the Ebola virus in West Africa and its prevention in the Americas, as was proclaimed by the ALBA Special Summit that was held in Havana on this issue on October last.

Just as I have stated in the recently held CARICOM and ALBA Summits, I appreciate the invitation conveyed to me by the President of Panama, Juan Carlos Valera, to attend the Seventh Summit of the Americas and I confirm I will attend in order to explain our positions, in an honest and respectful way, to all Heads of State and Government without any exception.

Cuba’s attendance to that Summit has been the result of the solid and unanimous consensus achieved within Latin America and the Caribbean, a region that is living through a new era and has united, amidst its diversity, under the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC) which Cuba was honored to preside last year.

We do not forget that ALBA, with its continued appeal and the support of all countries of the region, managed to remove the old and opprobrious sanctions imposed against Cuba back in 1962 by the Organization of American States, at a meeting held in the Republic of Honduras, where hardly one month later a coup d’état was perpetrated that ousted Comrade Zelaya, the president of that country.

Comrades all:

Within just a few days we will be celebrating the upcoming New Year and the fifty sixth anniversary of the Triumph of the Revolution. Only two days ago, on December 18, we marked the fifty eighth anniversary of the occasion when we reunited with Fidel at a place called Palmas de Vicana, in the Sierra Maestra mountains, in the heart of the Sierra Maestra, and Fidel’s historical exclamation when he knew that, in total, we had seven rifles to resume the struggle: Now we will for sure win the war!

The unshakable faith in victory that Fidel instilled in all of us shall continue to lead our people in the defense and further improvement of the work of its Revolution.

Happy New Year!

We salute the new fifty-seventh year of the Cuban Revolution!

Raul Castro is president of Cuba.

This is a translation of Raul Castro’s speech to the closing of the Cuban National Assembly on December 20, 2014.

Raul Castro Ruz is the president of Cuba.

Reading Trotsky While Watching Kurosawa

A couple of weeks ago an Australian friend and fellow Marxist raised some interesting questions about film:

I have just moved to the capital city of the state and attended my first film festival. I have always enjoyed movies but in the past have been living in regional centers.

It got me thinking about what constitutes a “good movie” and yourself and David Walsh are the only two Marxist movie critics I can think of. David never seems to like anything very much and his discussion of culture – which is interesting- relies heavily on Trotsky’s ‘Literature and Revolution’.

I know you have written in passing about the sort of movies you like but wondered if you’d written more systematic about Marxism movie criticism.

Despite having written over nine hundred film reviews in the past twenty years or so, I have never really given much thought to the question of “Marxist movie criticism”.

Unfortunately Walsh has stopped writing film reviews for the World Socialist Website, which for my money was the only thing worth reading there. It’s a dirty little secret but most of the material that appears on wsws.org is extracted from the bourgeois press and then spiked with Marxist rhetoric about how evil the capitalist system is, as if we needed any reminding. I’d rather read the NY Times and make such observations myself.

Unlike Walsh, I stay away from Hollywood films except for the end of the year when I am obligated to watch a sufficient number of films like “Gravity” or “Zero Dark Thirty” to make sense out of the nominations my colleagues in New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) put forward at our annual awards meeting. Most of what I review is either documentaries or gritty neorealist films from “foreign” countries (nothing is more foreign to me than Hollywood) so I have a much lighter burden than Walsh.

For an interesting exchange on Marxism and film, I recommend the emails between Walsh and screenwriter John Steppling. In Steppling’s view, “film art is rarely talked about seriously “. I would only add that it is not even thought about much except in academic journals like Cineaste.

The focus of the Walsh-Steppling correspondence was on the crisis in filmmaking that Walsh described:

I think it’s fairly indisputable that there is a crisis in American filmmaking, and filmmaking (and art) in general. Of course there are honorable exceptions, but the studio products at this point are largely execrable — shallow, pointless, trivial, aimed at some imaginary demographic. I don’t feel that cinema audiences are particularly satisfied by what they experience. They go out of habit, dutifully, but present-day films don’t provide much — in some cases, a few violent shocks to the nervous system, in others, mild titillation, etc. I don’t think one would get much of an argument about the deplorable state of the American film industry, even from many within that industry.

Interestingly enough Armond White, my colleague in NYFCO and former president of the prestigious New York Film Critics Circle, who was expelled this year for heckling the arty Afro-British director Steve McQueen at their awards ceremony, has pretty much the same take on American filmmaking despite being a rock-ribbed conservative. White, an African-American, is passionately devoted to Pauline Kael’s legacy and like Walsh and me views Hollywood as a wasteland. His reviews are archived at the National Review, where he currently holds forth. Despite my being on the opposite side of the fence politically from White, I had pretty much the same reaction as him to “The Imitation Game”, the Alan Turing biopic:

Years after the gay romantic Oxbridge drama Another Country (1984) and Merchant Ivory’s deeply felt film of E. M. Forster’s Maurice (1987), it’s peculiar that The Imitation Game depicts Turing’s life so coyly. But Tyldum’s coyness is part of the awards-season, agenda-pushing soft-sell strategy. The Imitation Game is not geared toward making sense of Turing’s reticence, self-doubt, or awkwardnesses; these are just tics for the actor Benedict Cumberbatch to play with. The film means to sentimentalize Turing, a cheap form of martyrdom that mostly goes to the advantage of imprecise, weakly declared political interests. This year Hollywood can flatter itself for disdaining homophobia just as it congratulated itself for disdaining slavery thanks to last year’s horror show 12 Years a Slave.

Frankly, I couldn’t have put it better. Which leads to the key question: what exactly is the Marxist approach to a film like “The Imitation Game”? If I can see eye-to-eye with a National Review critic, perhaps reviewing films requires a different skill set than one used for analyzing the role of the informal economy in the Sandinista revolution or the tendency toward a falling rate of profit.

Although I am loath to admit that I am reliant on Leon Trotsky’s writings on art and literature since that would put me in the same camp as wsws.org, Walsh is correct to count him as a major influence. When I joined the Trotskyist movement in 1967, it was partly on the basis of discovering that the founder was partial to the writings of Louis-Ferdinand Céline who when he wasn’t writing some of the 20th century’s greatest novels was extolling fascism. When I read Ezra Pound’s “ABC of Reading” in 1961, it mattered less to me that he was a fascist than that he could come up with formulations like “Literature is language charged with meaning”.

In terms of the relationship between Marxism (or any other radical worldview, including anarchism) and film criticism, I think there is less of a direct connection than there is between Marxism and filmmaking itself. In my pantheon of great filmmakers, there is almost always some evidence that the director and/or screenwriter were on the left.

seven-7-samurai-akira-kurosawa-1954

Toshiro Mifune in “The Seven Samurai.”

In some cases, it is obvious with the Italian directors of the 1950s and 60s who were members of the Communist Party (CP). There are also some directors who traveled in the same circles and were certainly influenced by the milieu. In an article on Kurosawa based on a PBS documentary, I note that he traveled in CP circles as a youth and that some of his early student works were “socialist realism” exercises. After WWII began, he went to work in the Japanese film industry turning out propaganda films that glorified test pilots and female factory workers. Once it ended, he returned to his leftist roots but not in an obvious propagandistic method. His “Seven Samurai” is about as passionate and artistically realized a film that has ever been made about commoners fighting collectively against evil.

Satyajit Ray also made films that empathized with the poor but were much more focused on them as individuals than as political subjects, so much so that the Indian CP castigated him as bourgeois. Considering the fact that Ray made “Distant Thunder”, a film that exposed the role of British imperialism in the Bengal famine during WWII, you can see what a dead-end leftist dogmatism can be. Complaining that Ray did not offer class struggle formulas misses the point. Art is not propaganda. It is instead a way for people to connect with deeper humanitarian impulses that lay buried beneath the grime of daily life in a capitalist society growing ever more barbarian by the day.

As an illustration of that, I can only refer you to “Stand Clear of the Closing Doors”, a film included in my 2014 survey for CounterPunch and that was made possible by a $35,000 Kickstarter campaign. On the surface, it is a family drama about a mother’s desperate search for her autistic son who has wandered away to ride the New York City subways. But it is also a drama about immigrant workers who are pushed to the limits by poor pay and a fraying social system that is largely responsible for such children getting lost because of malign neglect. You would not expect such a film to conclude with a call to arms but by the same token you are transported to a higher place by seeing the world through the eyes of an exceptional young man.

Such a resolutely non-commercial film will never get its foot through the door of a major Hollywood studio, starting with Sony, a corporation that is revealed through the hacks as run by utter cretins who publicly spout platitudes about social justice while privately making racist wisecracks to each other. It is exactly such films that I am committed to reviewing. In a period of deepening capitalist decay, the role of art is not that much different than it is for radical politics, namely to present alternatives to the status quo.

At the risk of self-plagiarism, I would conclude with the final paragraphs of something I wrote about 15 years ago under the title “Trotsky on Revolutionary Art” . It is probably close to what David Walsh believes, even though I doubt that we agree on practically anything else (he remains one of my favorite film critics.)

The illusions that the Abstract Expressionists had in the civilizing beneficence of American society seem quaint nowadays. The signs are all around us of a culture whose ruling class has lost all ability to either support or inspire high or popular art. Some examples drawn at random:

–The NY Times runs article after article about the crisis in classical music, while its FM station plays nothing but short dribs and drabs of the most banal war-horses, with ads for Volvos and vacations in the Bahamas taking up at least ten percent of every hour of air-time.

–The Whitney Museum’s biennials of current art have become the laughing stock of the critical community and for good reasons. As clients of the ruling class who fund them, these artists lack inspiration and technique, thusly mirroring the barbarism of their benefactors. Their half-hearted attempts at radical criticism embody the postmodernist sensibility and naturally defy any attempt by ordinary people to identify with their messages buried in irony and kitsch.

–Hollywood is at the end of its tether. The golden age of cinema is finished, as the post-WWII generation has either died or retired. Films today are the product of the accountant’s spreadsheet and are based entirely on demographics. Screenwriters are drawn from the world of television and demonstrate all of the vapidity of the medium.

The decline of culture is tied up with the decline of capitalist civilization. Attempts to reform art are doomed to futility, just as attempts to make the media more accountable are doomed. There are structural impediments that are insurmountable.

A radical critique of bourgeois society cannot be limited to problems of unemployment and war, as serious as these matters are. The loss of beauty and spirituality (yes, I chose that word specifically) are also oppressive. If the ecological crisis can cause the disappearance of blue-fin tunas or the orangutan, two of the most sublime animals in the world, we must take up arms against that crisis. A world devoid of all species except homo sapiens, his household pets, crows, and rats hardly seems worth living in.

By the same token, the inability of this culture to foster the environment necessary for what Trotsky called the “artistic personality” condemns it. What Trotsky did not spell out is that the “artistic personality” includes each and every one of us. To enjoy art as well as to create it requires a total transformation of the way society is organized.

Louis Proyect blogs at http://louisproyect.org and is the moderator of the Marxism mailing list. In his spare time, he reviews films for CounterPunch.

Louis Proyect blogged at https://louisproyect.wordpress.com and was the moderator of the Marxism mailing list. In his spare time, he reviewed films for CounterPunch.

unaccountable

unaccountable

From Panama to Ferguson

“I was eleven years old when the invasion happened. It did not matter that there were Christmas lights blinking all over the country, or that in many houses the sunkissed clothing lines filled the air with the fragrant aroma of lavender.   What mattered is that for many, something horrible was going to come, despite not being sure what that would be. It could be sensed in the conversations, the empty sidewalks void of young people hanging out, or the lack of Christmas chaos in a tropical country. But no one would know the intensity of the sounds. Sounds many described as the end of the world. Sounds of the explosions, machine guns, hummer tanks, and loud blood curdling screams that would begin and then stop. And after a short, yet long silence, destruction continued. That’s when I realized that the devil that we feared all those years, would have done less damage to my soul, my country and my land.”

— Marta L. Sanchez, Afropanamanian artist.

Twenty five years ago on December 20th 1989, El Chorillo, an Afro-Panamanian neighborhood in the center of Panama city was the scene of a criminal assault by the military forces of the United States government. A vigorous assault from the most powerful military body on the planet was unleashed by President George H. Bush to execute an arrest warrant issued by a U.S. court on General Manuel Antonio Noriega, the De facto head of the sovereign state of Panama, and up until that time an obedient servant of U.S. interests in the region.

Significant elements of the outgunned Panamanian defense forces had barracks in the El Chorillo community and as a consequence was turned into a free fire zone by the invading forces, despite the fact that the invaders knew that thousands of civilians also were embedded in the densely populated community. As Marta Sanchez and others who experienced the assault remembered, the people of El Chorillo, descendents from the Caribbean who came to Panama as cheap labor to build the canal, never knew what hit them when they awoke to the sounds of machine gun fire from the 82nd Airborne division. When the firing stopped and the smoke from the fires that finally subsided on their own thousands were dead and the neighborhood largely destroyed.

Black Lives Matter is a refrain whose importance is reflective of the value that black people place on our lives, yet we must disabuse ourselves of the illusions that we black lives or any other lives matter when they stand in the way of the political and capital interests of U.S. elites and that it is not limited to black communities in the United States. As human rights strategist Ajamu Baraka points out ,“The black lives taken by the murderous assault on Panama 25 years ago should be a sober reminder that U.S. state violence is not confined to ghettos and barrios of the U.S. but is a central component of the racist, colonial, capitalist project that is the U.S. We cannot pretend that police brutality in the United States and the devaluation of black life that it represents is restricted just to the black experience in the heart of the U.S. empire. ”

The attack on Panama and the massive loss of life and destruction was a harbinger of the lawlessness and aggression that would characterize U.S. policies in the unipolar world of the late 20th and early 21st century. When General Noriega failed to support U.S. efforts to destabilize Nicaragua and had the audacity to publicly defy the U.S. state with his defiant rhetoric, President Bush had a perfect opportunity to establish the terms for what he referred to a new world order of unchecked U.S. power.

Panama became a demonstration project to communicate to the nations of the global South that resistance to U.S. hegemony would be met with ferocious violence. The fact that scores of black lives would be lost as part of the demonstration was of no consequence to the policy makers of hegemony.

Making the link to Ferguson

The structures and relations of repression are linked from the center of the empire to its periphery states. United States police forces train police departments throughout the world through programs such as the International Taskforce Agent Training Class, (conducted by US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations) including police officers that work in communities like El Chorillo. The U.S. police forces bring with them their military, interrogation, intimidation and racially biased tactics involve use of excessive force on civilians. It is also internationally known that police are quicker to use force, shoot and kill black people, the same way that the United States is quick to invade smaller countries with less power, because in the scope of the political reality is that they matter less.

Violence is integral to the project of Western colonial capitalist domination from Palestine to Ferguson. “On this 25th anniversary of the US invasion to Panama, we need to remember that the struggle for Black liberation is ongoing. U.S. authorities must be made to understand that the value of black life is not determined by the borders that those black bodies find themselves. The destruction in Panama is a reminder to my generation that our demand is not new.” says Alicia Garza, National Domestic Workers Special Projects Director and Cofounder of #BlackLivesMatter

While we remember the victims of the U.S. invasion of Panama, the families of the thousands of victims of U.S. criminality in Panama are still demanding justice and accountability 25 years later. Like the families of Eric Garner and Mike Brown and the hundreds of victims police violence in the U.S., they are part of the long line of victims of U.S. criminality globally.   Crimes that will continue until the people, black people in particular are able to build the power necessary to ensure that black lives really matter in the U.S. and across the globe.

Janvieve Williams Comrie is a human rights strategist at Four Americas Consulting.  Her previous professional experience include the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights Central America Regional Office and the US Human Rights Network in the United States.

Why Obama Won’t Reach a Deal With Iran

Everyone following the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program and the lifting of economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic agrees that the Obama administration would like to have an agreement with Iran.  It would be in line with the real interests of the United States to be able to cooperate openly with Iran against the common enemy of Sunni terrorists of ISIL.  And it would be the one major accomplishment in foreign affairs that Obama could cite in his two terms in office.

But the evidence suggests that the administration won’t make the compromises with Iran necessary to get a comprehensive agreement.  On one hand, the political and legal system of the United States has been so thoroughly reshaped over more than two decades by Israeli interests that the hoops Obama would have to jump through to lift sanctions against Iran would be far more politically demanding than what he had to do to lift sanctions against Cuba.

And on the other hand, despite its differences with Benjamin Netanyahu over the negotiations, the administration actually believes in the false narrative of covert Iranian nuclear weapons program and “nuclear deception” that Israel has long promoted.   As the lead negotiator for the United States with Iran, Wendy Sherman (the protégé of the hardline anti-Iran and pro-Israeli Secretary of State Warren Christopher and the choice of Secretary of State Clinton to be Undersecretary of State) told a Congressional committee in October 2013, she didn’t trust Iran, because, “we know deception is part of the DNA.”

But an even more important, the evidence indicates that the administration feels that it has no incentives to reach an agreement with Iran, because it is getting most of what it wants already under the status quo.

Sometimes it is what is not asserted more than what is said that provides a crucial insight into official thinking. Secretary of State John Kerry said in explaining the extension, “We would be fools to walk away from a situation where the breakout time has already expanded rather than narrowed, and where the world is safer because this program.”  He was referring, of course, to the Joint Program of Action signed by the P5+1 and Iran in November 2013, which was supposed to provide a temporary bridge to the comprehensive agreement to follow.

In a sense, he was merely stating the obvious.  He did not add, however, that without achieving a comprehensive agreement, the temporary gains would all be lost.  That omission raised the obvious question whether the administration had begun to hope that it could use the JPOA as a device to keep the negotiations going until Iran finally had to go along US terms.  The answer
portercrisisappears to be that the administration assumes that Iran will ultimately be forced to make the additional concessions Washington has been demanding – or that the talks will continue for another two years.

Politico’s report on the decision to extend the talks elaborated on the administration’s negotiating calculus.   Administration officials, it said, “strongly dispute the idea that Kerry is wasting his time or that the extension amounts to a disappointment.” The reason, they explained, was that Iran’s nuclear program “is frozen in place” and “its growth capped by a November 2013 agreement that provided limited relief from international sanctions.” The officials further argued that time was on the side of the US negotiators, “because continued economic sanctions are grinding away at Iran’s economy.”

The strategy suggested by that outline was clearly one of playing out the negotiations for as long as possible in the belief that Iran would ultimately be forced to accept the US demands on enrichment and abandon its own demands on the lifting of sanctions.

A similar strategy was suggested in a column the following day by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, well–known for reflecting the thinking high-ranking national security officials to whom he has long had unparalleled access.  Mirroring the view of the unnamed administration officials quoted by Politico, Ignatius said the economic pressure on Iran “seems to be working in tine West’s favour,” even though Iranian negotiators did not yet have the freedom to accept US terms.

He went further, however, likening the situation in the talks with Iran to a labour negotiation in which both labour and management find the option of breaking off the talks too costly, so they continue the negotiations “without a contract”.   Each side, Ignatius wrote, “for different reasons, seems to agree that for now, ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’,” as long as they “keep talking”.

Kerry made a special point in his press availability of the fact that the United States was holding on to its ultimate card – the entire sanctions regime – until Iran agreed to US terms.  “We will remove sanctions as the agreement is reached,” he said.

Kerry was thus emphasizing what it views as the central fact of the negotiations:  The United States can hold on to the gains from the JPOA while at the same time maintaining its bargaining leverage over Iran.

That posture depends on the perception that Iran cannot afford to walk away from the negotiating table.  Six weeks before the November 24 cut-off date, the Obama administration State Department’s non-proliferation official Robert Einhorn until January 2013, who had detailed the administration’s thinking about the key negotiating issues earlier in the 2014, observed that the rollover strategy was available as an alternative to reaching agreement, because Iran would go along with it. “The option of simply throwing in the towel and calling it quits is not something that appeals to any of the parties,” Einhorn told the Los Angeles Times.  A few days later Einhorn pronounced the option of rolling over the negotiations

And even as early as December 2013, Gary Samore, who had been Obama’s primary adviser on the Iran nuclear issue until he left the administration in January 2013, predicted at the Manama, Bahrain “regional security summit” that the most likely outcome of another six month of negotiations would not be yet be an actual comprehensive agreement but rather another “interim agreement”.  Even more significantly, Samore suggested, that what he called a “process of rolling interim agreements” could last through the remainder of Obama’s term.

Samore is both Executive Director for Research at Harvard’s Belfer Center on Science and International Affairs and President of the organization United Against Nuclear Iran, which takes positions on the Iran nuclear issue that reflect Israeli interests.  So it is revealing that Samore was openly promoting an extension of the talks in October 2014, telling the New York Times, “[W]e would favour an extension because it keeps the nuclear program frozen.”

The remarks by Samore and Einhorn strongly suggest that the Obama administration has a strong incentive to maintain its hard line demand for a major reduction in Iran’s enrichment capabilities – a demand that Iran to which Iran is unlikely to accede.  And that was before the collapse of oil prices, putting even more pressure on the Iranian economy, which makes the administration even more confident about it diplomatic posture.   It is very difficult to imagine the administration rethinking its hard line unless and until Iran walks away from the negotiations at the end of the current extension and threatens to resume the development of its enrichment capabilities that it chose to freeze as a confidence-building measure.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and historian writing on US national security policy.  His latest book, “Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare,” was published in February 2014.

This article originally appeared in Middle East Eye.

 

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

Poison Pills in the National Defense Authorization Act

“The middle of the road is where the white line is – and that’s the worst place to drive.”

— Robert Frost

The recent passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA H.R. 3979): signed into law by President Obama is being hailed by many green groups as a big win for conservation. Some suggest it is an example of what can be accomplished when you seek compromise. But as Robert Frost noted decades ago, being in the middle isn’t always a good place to drive or argue conservation gains.

Though a coalition of 47 of mostly regional environmental organizations called on Congress to abandon the public lands riders to the legislation, most of the larger national organizations wrote glowing accounts about “victory”, “significant achievements” and used other positive descriptive adjectives.

CELEBRATING THE NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT

For instance, Collin O’Mara, National Wildlife Federation president and CEO, said:

“It’s the holiday season and Congress has given Americans an early gift – protection for roughly a million acres of watersheds, fish and wildlife habitat and prized recreation areas on public lands.”

And the National Parks and Conservation Association characterized the bill as “a remarkable achievement” because it expanded a number of national parks, and created some new park units

And the Wilderness Society asked members to write Congress and thank them for designation some new wilderness areas. And then they go on to suggest that “Congress has proven that protecting our public lands is not a Republican or Democratic issue, but an all-American value.”

Some groups noted that there were some parts of the Defense bill that were not positive for public lands. For instance, PEW Charitable Trusts noted “Although the Pew Charitable Trusts did not favor some provisions of the bill, we supported passage of the land protection pieces of the bill and worked toward that end.”

While PEW noted they had some reservations about some aspects of the bill, they do not mention them. Neither does any organization that supported the bill’s passage, and for good reason. If the supporters of these groups knew the real contents of the Defense bill, not only how public lands were assaulted, but other nebulous provisions as well, I do not think one would be celebrating. They would be crying instead.

A friend of mine used to say you can lie in two ways. By distorting the truth or by omission. In these ecstatic pronouncements, there was a great deal of omission.

So what are we celebrating? As one wilderness advocate said to me: “There was some really bad negotiating from our collective side on this bill. Rather than mostly good bills with a few poison pills it was mostly poison pills with a few nice decorative ornaments as distraction.

SOME DECORATIVE ORNAMENTS?

Here’s some of the “ornaments” in the legislation. The NDAA designated 246,000 acres of new wilderness including additions to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in Washington (22,000 acres), Rocky Mountain Front in Montana (67,000 acres), as well as new wilderness areas like the 45,000 acre Columbine—Hondo Wilderness in New Mexico, the 38,000 acre Hermosa Creek Wilderness in Colorado, and the 48,000 acre Wovoka Wilderness and 26,000 acre Pine Forest Wilderness in Nevada. It might seem like a good day for wilderness but when the last public lands Omnibus wilderness bill passed in 2009, more than 2 million acres of wilderness were protected.

I am not trying to denigrate the designation of new wilderness. Certainly it has been a long time without significant new acreage added to the National Wilderness System. I’ll take whatever I can get from Congress, but whether these additions were worth the “costs” in other bad provisions is not so clear. Most of these lands were not threatened in any way, and would, I feel, have eventually been designated wilderness by Congress sooner or later.

As conservationist Andy Kerr noted: “Just putting some acres on the scoreboard at the cost of other lands is not a good way to behave.”

Some wild lands advocates are quick to note that other designations besides wilderness included  in the bill offer some additional protections. For example a 208,000 acre Conservation Management Area was established along the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana as well as a 70,000 acre Special Management Area in the Hermosa Creek drainage in Colorado and a mining/oil drilling ban for 430,000 acres along the North Fork of the Flathead near Glacier National Park.

Mind you these particular protections do not necessarily ban logging, ATVs, livestock grazing, and other exploitative activities, but they do provide greater protection than the status quo.  Jennifer Ferenstein, the Montana senior representative for The Wilderness Society, acknowledged that the major value of the Heritage Act is largely a “status quo” legislation. “Basically the goal is to try to keep the current uses on the land in place,” she said. Thus ATVs, mountain biking, logging, livestock grazing, and so on will continue–albeit with limits on some of these activities. For example, no new roads can be constructed more than a 1/4 miles from specific main roads and all temporary roads must be removed within a three year period.

REMARKABLE ACHIEVEMENT?

In addition to new wilderness areas, there were some worthy national park units created. The transfer of Valle Caldera Preserve from National Forest administration to the Park Service will definitely be a long-term improvement for this special area.

Creation of 23,000 acre Tule Springs National Monument near Las Vegas from BLM lands will protect some fossil sites on the growing northern edge of the city. These lands were administrated poorly by the BLM and basically suffered from the BLM’s careless attitude.

Yet I would be hesitant to use the phrase “remarkable achievement” that National Parks and Conservation used to characterize the NDAA park additions. Calling these park additions a “remarkable achievement” seems like hyperbole to me.

The remarkable achievement includes what I would characterize as “pork” for local communities and I have serious doubts about their value and “national” significance. For instance, the new Parks package includes Lower East Side Tenement Museum National Historic Site (New York) and the train station at Gettysburg where Lincoln “stepped on the platform” on his way to give the Gettysburg address. While I might suggest that the Gettysburg address is an important historic event, protecting a train station where he stepped is hardly a “remarkable achievement” in my eyes.

The expansion of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park to include some working agricultural fields and irrigation system hardly seems worthy of excitement.  Do we really need the NPS to preserve Ag fields and irrigation canals?

The Manhattan Project’s nuclear reactors and history is celebrated at three sites: Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Hanford in Washington. Whether telling this story requires three sites, or even one, can be debated.

There is Coltsville National Historical Park established in Connecticut to “celebrate” the Colt gun manufacturing, but I would suggest this hardly qualifies as “national significance”.

There is the Blackstone River Valley Historic Park, already designated as the Blackstone Valley River National Heritage Corridor that will “celebrate” the industrial revolution by protecting several old mills along the Blackstone River. How this differs significantly from other similar sites celebrating water power and the Industrial Revolution like Patterson Great Falls Historical Park in New Jersey and Lowell Historical Park Massachusetts is not clear. It just seems like another one of those national park pork sites designed to pump money into local economies by creating a nationally sponsored tourist attraction.

In short, if you are just counting numbers, then this legislation has added more new National Park units than any other Congress in recent history. But none of these units qualifies as “remarkable” and I even question whether some of them deserve to be part of our national park portfolio.

The Defense bill which had at best very little in the way of significant conservation, and at a great cost to public lands, demonstrates how little in the way of any conservation successes that many of us are willing to promote as progress. I can celebrate the new wilderness areas and parks, but I would be quick to note that overall the NDAA was a loss for public lands and conservation.

THE BAD

More importantly the NDAA had some very bad, bad, provisions that jeopardize millions of acres of public lands, and also sets bad precedents.

The NDAA authorizes the transfers of 70,000 acres of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest to a private corporation to log. In other words the giveaway—at no cost– of our land to a private company! In Arizona, another 2,400 acres on the Tonto National Forest were approved for transfer to Rio Tinto, an Australian-English company to ease the creation of a large open-pit copper mine on lands sacred to the Apache Indians. In Nevada, 11,500 acres of BLM lands were transferred to the city of Yerington to facilitate mining.

As part of the blood drawn for support of wilderness in the Rocky Mountain Front, two wilderness study areas (WSA) in eastern Montana totaling 14,000 acres were declared unsuitable for wilderness protection so that coal mining could occur, and another two WSAs near the Missouri Breaks (15,000 acres) are to be studied for potential oil and gas exploitation—a net total of 29,000 acres that will no longer be designated as wilderness.

As bad as giving away public lands to private corporations or eliminating WSA status to permit coal mining or oil/gas development may be, perhaps the piece of the NDAA that has the most far-reaching implications is a provision that mandates the Forest Service and BLM to automatically renew grazing permits while exempting them from public oversight and environmental review. This has the potential to permit the continued degradation of millions of acres of public lands by domestic livestock. Just this one provision alone is not worth the potential gains from new wilderness areas or parks.

Other provisions while affecting relatively small areas could become common-place. For instance, mountain bikers succeeded in changing the boundary of the 50 year old Wheeler Peak Wilderness in New Mexico to accommodate creation of a 15 or so mile, three-hour jaunt above 10,000 feet “on ripping-fast singletrack.”Also, the boundaries of the Stephen Mather Wilderness in North Cascades National Park will be adjusted against the wishes of the National Park Service to rebuild and relocate the long washed out remote part of the Stehekin road.

Of course some cynics would argue that the BLM and Forest Service basically exempts ranchers from environmental review and oversight now, so that this provision will not change grazing effects on the ground, while the wildlands and park additions will bring about real tangible positive protections.

Is the cup half empty or half full depends on your perspective. One can make the argument that as bad as the NDAA is for public lands, at least we got some positive outcomes. Supporters of the legislation argue that we may not have been able to stop the bad amendments from being included as riders anyway. We will never.

But what I do know for certain is that calling the NDAA a “victory”, a “remarkable achievement”, an early holiday gift and/or a cause for “celebration” begs the question of what wouldn’t these groups celebrate?

George Wuerthner is an ecologist who has published 37 books, most recently Keeping the Wild: Against the Domestication of the Earth.

 

George Wuerthner has published 36 books including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy

Escape from Guantanamo Bay

Last Saturday, the Guantanamo Bay detention camp released four of its 136 uncharged detainees from custody. Six years late, Barack Obama is inching closer towards keeping his promise: “I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that.”  But as for the pledge to restore habeas corpus that accompanied his making an anti-Guantanamo stance central on the campaign trail, he’s not so inclined to “follow through on that.”

Obama told CNN that “there’s gonna be a certain irreducible number that are gonna be really hard cases, because we know they’ve done something wrong and they are still dangerous, but it’s difficult to mount the evidence in a traditional Article III court, so we’re gonna have to wrestle with that.”  And yes, this is the same Obama who issued an executive order two days after becoming president aimed “promptly to close detention facilities at Guantanamo” stating clearly that “the individuals currently detained at Guantanamo have the constitutional privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.”

This is what democracy looks like.

It has taken the president until the lame-duck section of his second term to take such a baby step towards closing a facility which, even in purely realpolitik terms, is a liability on par with the Bastille of pre-revolutionary France (whose Ancien Regime could likely have hung on longer by making a show of releasing a couple of inmates now and then).  Not that its cost making regular US prisons look like models of fiscal restraint gives pause to its unblinking defense by Nile Gardiner, the Heritage Foundation’s director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom.

Meanwhile, Voice of America shifts the blame to “obstacles imposed by the U.S. Congress,” a move reminiscent of bygone calls to “let Reagan be Reagan” and implement the laissez-faire he really wanted to all along.

Emma Goldman wrote in “Prisons: A Social Crime and Failure” that “the natural impulse of the primitive man to strike back, to avenge a wrong, is out of date. Instead, the civilized man, stripped of courage and daring, has delegated to an organized machinery the duty of avenging his wrongs, in the foolish belief that the State is justified in doing what he no longer has the manhood or consistency to do. The majesty-of-the-law is a reasoning thing; it would not stoop to primitive instincts. Its mission is of a ‘higher’ nature.”

A century later, the hypertrophied growth of the prison bureaucracy bears this out, as well as her insistence that “The hope of liberty and of opportunity is the only incentive to life, especially the prisoner’s life. Society has sinned so long against him—it ought at least to leave him that. I am not very sanguine that it will, or that any real change in that direction can take place until the conditions that breed both the prisoner and the jailer will be forever abolished.”

Joel Schlosberg is a contributor to the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org). He lives in New York.

Joel Schlosberg is a contributor to the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org). He lives in New York.

why not

whynot