Sunday, September 25, 2016

Prison As the American Way

There Oughta Be a Law... Should Prison Really Be the American Way?

by Rebecca Gordon - TomDispatch

September 25, 2016
You’ve heard of distracted driving? It causes quite a few auto accidents and it’s illegal in a majority of states.

Well, this year, a brave New Jersey state senator, a Democrat, took on the pernicious problem of distracted walking. Faced with the fact that some people can’t tear themselves away from their smartphones long enough to get across a street in safety, Pamela Lampitt of Camden, New Jersey, proposed a law making it a crime to cross a street while texting. Violators would face a fine, and repeat violators up to 15 days in jail. Similar measures, says the Washington Post, have been proposed (though not passed) in Arkansas, Nevada, and New York. This May, a bill on the subject made it out of committee in Hawaii.

That’s right. In several states around the country, one response to people being struck by cars in intersections is to consider preemptively sending some of those prospective accident victims to jail. This would be funny, if it weren’t emblematic of something larger. We are living in a country where the solution to just about any social problem is to create a law against it, and then punish those who break it. 
Tomgram: Rebecca Gordon, Arresting Our Way to "Justice"
The figures boggle the mind. Approximately 11 million Americans cycle through our jails and prisons each year (including a vast “pre-trial population” of those arrested and not convicted and those who simply can’t make bail). At any moment, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, there are more than 2.3 million people in our “1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 942 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,283 local jails, and 79 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the U.S. territories.” In some parts of the country, there are more people in jail than at college.

If you want a partial explanation for this, keep in mind that there are cities in this country that register more arrests for minor infractions each year than inhabitants. Take Ferguson, Missouri, now mainly known as the home of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager shot and killed in 2014 by a town policeman. The Harvard Law Review reported that, in 2013, Ferguson had a population of 22,000. That same year “its municipal court issued 32,975 arrest warrants for nonviolent offenses,” or almost one-and-a-half arrests per inhabitant.

And then there are the conditions in which all those record-breaking numbers of people live in our jails and prisons. At any given time, 80,000 to 100,000 inmates in state and federal prisons are held in “restrictive housing” (aka solitary confinement). And those numbers don’t even include county jails, deportation centers, and juvenile justice institutions. Rikers Island, New York City’s infamous jail complex in its East River, has 990 solitary cells. And keep in mind that solitary confinement -- being stuck in a six-by-nine or eight-by-10-foot cell for 23 or 24 hours a day -- is widely recognized as a form of psychosis-inducing torture.

And that, of course, is just to begin to explore America’s vast and ever-expanding prison universe. The fact is that it’s hard to fathom even the basics of the American urge to lock people away in vast numbers, which is why today TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon focuses instead on what it might mean for justice in this country if we started to consider alternatives to prison. Tom

There Oughta Be a Law... 

Should Prison Really Be the American Way?

by Rebecca Gordon

I’ve been teaching an ethics class at the University of San Francisco for years now, and at the start of every semester, I always ask my students this deceptively simple question: What’s your definition of justice?

As you might expect in a classroom where half the students are young people of color, up to a third are first-generation college goers, and maybe a sixth come from outside the United States, the answers vary. For some students, justice means “standing up for the little guy.” For many, it involves some combination of “fairness” and “equality,” which often means treating everyone exactly the same way, regardless of race, gender, or anything else. Others display a more sophisticated understanding. An economics major writes, for instance,

“People are born unequal in genetic potential, financial and environmental stability, racial prejudice, geographic conditions, and nearly every other facet of life imaginable. I believe that the aim of a just society is to enable its citizens to overcome or improve their inherited inequalities.”

A Danish student compares his country to the one where he’s studying:

“The Danish welfare system is constructed in such a way that people pay more in taxes and the government plays a significant role in the country. We have free healthcare, education and financial aid to the less fortunate. Personally, I believe this is a just system where we take care of our own.”

For a young Latino, justice has a cosmic dimension:

“My sense of justice tends to revolve around my idea that the universe and life are so grand and inexplicable that everything you put into it comes back to you. This I can trace to my childhood, when my mother would tell me to do everything in life with ‘love, faith, and courage.’ Ever since, I believe that any action or endeavor that is guided by these three qualities can be considered just.”

Justice Is Punishment

The most common response to my question, however, brings us back to those street-crossing texters. For most of my students -- for most Americans in fact -- justice means establishing the proper penalties for crimes committed. “Justice for me,” says one, “is defined by the punishment of wrongdoing.” Students may add that justice must be impartial, but their primary focus is always on retribution. “Justice,” as another put it, “is a rational judgment involving fairness in which the wrongdoer receives punishment deserving of his/her crime.”

When I ask where their ideas about justice come from, they often mention the punishments (“fair” or otherwise) meted out by their families when they were children. These experiences, they say, shaped their adult desire to do the right thing so that they will not be punished, whether by the law or the universe. Religious upbringing plays a role as well. Some believe in heavenly rewards for good behavior, and especially in the righteousness of divine punishment, which they hope and generally expect to escape through good behavior.

Often, when citing the sources of their beliefs about justice, students point to police procedurals like the now-elderly CSI and Law and Order franchises. These provide a sanitary model of justice, with generally tidy hour-long depictions of crime and punishment, of perps whose punishment is usually relatively swift and righteous.

Certainly, many of my students are aware that the U.S. criminal justice system falls far short of impartiality and fairness. Strangely, however, they seldom mention that this country has 2.2 million people in prison or jail; or that it imprisons the largest proportion of people in the world; or that, with 4% of the global population, it holds 22% of the world’s prisoners; or that these prisoners are disproportionately brown and black. Their concern is less about those who are in prison and perhaps shouldn’t be, than about those who are not in prison and ought to be.

They are (not unreasonably) offended when rich or otherwise privileged people avoid punishment for crimes that would send others to jail. At the height of the Great Recession, their focus was on the Wall Street bankers who escaped prosecution for their part in inflating the housing bubble that brought the global economy to its knees. This fall, for several of them, Exhibit A when it comes to justice denied is the case of former Stanford student Brock Turner, recently released after serving a mere three months for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. They are (perhaps properly) outraged by what they perceive as a failure of justice in Turner’s case. But they are equally convinced of something I struggle with -- that a harsher sentence for Turner would have been a step in the direction of making his victim whole faster. They are far more convinced than I am that punishment is always the best way for a community to hold responsible those who violate its rules and values.

In this, they are in good company in the U.S.

There Oughta Be a Law

Of course, the urge to extend punishment to every sort of socially disapproved behavior, including texting in a crosswalk, is hardly a new phenomenon. Since the founding of the United States, government at every level has tended to make unpopular behavior illegal. Just to name a few obvious examples of past prohibitions now likely to stop us in our tracks: at various times there have been laws against having sex outside marriage, distributing birth control, or marrying across races (as highlighted in the new movie Loving).

In 1919, for instance, a constitutional amendment was ratified outlawing the making, shipping, or selling of alcohol (although it didn’t last long). You might think that the experience of Prohibition, including the rise of violent gangs feeding on the illegal liquor trade, would have given us a hint about the likely effects of outlawing other mind-bending substances, but no such luck.

One big difference between the 18th Amendment and today’s drug laws was that, although Prohibition outlawed traffic in alcohol, it didn’t mention consumption. No one got arrested for drinking. By comparison, as the Huffington Post reported last year,

“Law enforcement officers made just over 700,000 arrests on marijuana-related charges in 2014... Of that total, 88.4 percent -- or about 619,800 arrests -- were made for marijuana possession alone, a rate of about one arrest every 51 seconds over the entire year.”

One marijuana arrest every 51 seconds. It should be no surprise, then, that drug possession is a major reason why people end up in debt (from court-imposed fines), locked up, or both -- but hardly the only reason. Punishment is the response of choice for all kinds of behavior, including drinking in public (which is why people wrap their beer bottles in paper bags and kids who look up to them do the same with their soda cans), indecent exposure, “lewd conduct,” prostitution, gambling, and all kinds of petty theft.

But doesn’t punishing undesirable behavior have a deterrent effect, and more and harsher punishment increase that effect? This is obviously a hard thing to measure, but there is data available suggesting that lighter penalties for a particular crime do not necessarily result in more of that crime.

Take petty theft. Different states have different thresholds for what counts as “petty” and what is the more serious crime of “grand” larceny. Petty theft is usually classified as a misdemeanor, a category of crime that carries sentences of up to a year in a county jail. Above a certain dollar amount, thefts become felonies, which means those convicted serve at least a year -- and often many years -- in state prison. Depending on the state, some felons also lose their voting rights for life. Those convicted of federal felonies may not serve on juries, may not be able to work for the federal government, and are often not permitted to work for labor unions. A felony conviction is a big deal.

The Pew Charitable Trusts wondered what would happen if states treated fewer thefts as felonies by raising the dollar cutoff for a felony prosecution. Pew asked: Would there be more minor theft because the penalties were lower? (Some state felony thresholds were, in fact, shockingly low. Until 2001, in Oklahoma, stealing anything worth more than $50 would throw you into that category. Even that state’s new limit, $500, is still on the low side.)

The Pew researchers examined “crime trends in 23 states” that have raised the dollar threshold for felony theft and concluded that it had “no impact on overall property crime or larceny rates.” In fact, since 2007 property theft has been declining across the country, with no difference between states with higher and lower felony thresholds. So at least in the case of petty theft, threatening to send fewer people to state prison does not seem to raise the crime rate.

What’s the Alternative?

In the late 1980s, the United Kingdom’s first woman prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, adopted the slogan “there is no alternative,” often shortened to TINA. In Thatcher’s case, she meant that there was no imaginable economic alternative to her campaign to destroy the power of unions, deregulate everything in sight, and gut the British welfare state. It’s hard indeed to imagine other ways of organizing things when there is -- or at least is believed to be -- no alternative. It’s hard to imagine a justice system that doesn’t rely primarily on the threat of punishment when, for most Americans, no alternative is imaginable. But what if there were alternatives to keeping 2.2 million people in cages that didn’t make the rest of us less safe, that might actually improve our lives?

Portugal has tried one such alternative. In 2001, as the Washington Post reported, that country “decriminalized the use of all drugs” and decided to treat drug addiction as a public health problem rather than a criminal matter. The results? Portugal now has close to the lowest rate of drug-induced deaths in Europe -- three overdose deaths a year per million people. By comparison, at 45 deaths per million population, the United Kingdom’s rate is more than 14 times greater. In addition, HIV infections have also declined in Portugal, unlike, for example, in the rural United States where a heroin epidemic has the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention worried about the potential for skyrocketing infection rates.

All right, but drug use has often been called a “victimless” crime. Maybe it doesn’t make sense to lock up people who are really only hurting themselves. What about crimes like theft or assault, where the victims are other people? Isn’t punishment a social necessity then?

If you’d asked me that question a few years ago, I would probably have agreed that there are no alternatives to prosecution and punishment in response to such crimes. That was before I met Rachel Herzing, a community organizer who worked for the national prison-abolition group Critical Resistance for 15 years. I invited her to my classes to listen to my students talk about crime, policing, and punishment. She then asked them to imagine the impossible -- other methods besides locking people up that a community could use to restore itself to wholeness.

This is the approach taken by the international movement for restorative justice. The Washington, D.C.-based Centre for Justice and Reconciliation describes it this way: “Restorative justice repairs the harm caused by crime. When victims, offenders, and community members meet to decide how to do that, the results can be transformational.”

Similarly, “transitional justice” is the name given to a range of measures taken in countries that have suffered national traumas, including ethnic cleansing and other massive human rights violations. According to the International Center for Transitional Justice, such measures to heal a wounded country and deal with often terrible crimes do “include criminal prosecutions,” but the emphasis is often placed on “truth commissions, reparations programs, and various kinds of institutional reforms,” or even, as the Centre for Justice and Reconciliation suggests, “meetings between victims, offenders, and other persons” to emphasize accountability and make amends.

The most famous of such experiments has undoubtedly been South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. From 1948 to 1994, South Africa operated under the official policy of apartheid, the legal separation of South Africans into four different racial categories with four different levels of rights. The South African government employed all the usual tools of state terrorism -- murder, torture, beatings, incarceration, and daily repression -- to keep the oppressed majority out of power. Eventually, international sanctions and internal resistance, followed by an extraordinary negotiation between African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela and then-president F.W. De Klerk, brought a peaceful end to apartheid.

In 1994, after Mandela had become president and the crimes of that country’s white regime were at an end, that Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to confront the country’s history of apartheid atrocities. Behind that process was a recognition that there could be no peaceable future without a public acknowledgement of the harm that had been done by those who had done it. In South Africa, even torturers and murderers under the apartheid system were granted amnesties for their crimes as part of a social healing process, but only after they had publicly admitted their actions and genuinely asked for forgiveness. It was not punishment but the acknowledgement of wrongdoing that marked the beginning of justice in that country and it seemed to work for many of those who had suffered grievously under apartheid.

A similar approach might work in the United States. Indeed, it already happens all the time on a small scale around the country, through community mediation services. These organizations help neighbors settle disputes that might otherwise result in a trip to civil courts or the pressing of criminal charges. An important aspect of the process is listening to and acknowledging the harm others have experienced. It might be possible to expand this kind of mediation to address more serious instances of harm to individuals or a community, and to work out means of restitution that did not involve prison time.

There are other alternatives to punishment as well. For example, as Critical Resistance suggests, instead of training police forces to “deal” with people experiencing mental health breakdowns by arresting them and putting them in the “justice” system, we might begin to treat such events as what they are: health crises. It’s a horror that jails and prisons have become the biggest mental “hospitals” in the country -- with the Justice Department reporting that half of those now incarcerated have some form of mental illness.

Some communities have also begun to question the wisdom of the “broken windows” approach to policing first proposed by criminal justice scholar George Kelling and political scientist James Q. Wilson. They argued that when the police enforce laws and informal rules against nuisance behavior in neighborhoods, reductions in more serious crimes followed. In their seminal 1982 article on the subject in the Atlantic, Kelling and Wilson suggested that just as an “untended” building with one broken window was eventually likely to end up with all its windows broken, “‘untended’ behavior also leads to the breakdown of community controls.” They wrote approvingly of a police officer who made a habit of arresting for vagrancy anyone who broke the “informal rules” of the neighborhood to which he was assigned -- by begging for money at a bus stop or drinking alcohol from an unwrapped container or on the sidewalk of a major street.

Bill Bratton, New York City’s just-retired police chief, championed this “broken windows” approach to policing, including a race-based “stop-and-frisk” policy in which police searched New Yorkers on the streets of their city five million times between 2002 and 2015. Nearly 90% of those stopped were, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union, “completely innocent” of anything and of the remaining 10%, only one-quarter, or 2.5% of all stops, resulted in convictions -- most often for marijuana possession. But hundreds of thousands of people, mostly young African American and Latino men, lived with the expectation that, at any time, the police might stop them on the street in a humiliating display of power. In a landmark 2013 decision, a New York federal court found the police department’s stop-and-frisk policy unconstitutional.

Here’s another idea: Even people of goodwill who are not yet ready to jump on any prison abolition bandwagon might agree that we could stop sending people to jail for many misdemeanors.

In my state, California, there were 762,002 arrests for misdemeanors in 2014 alone. Of these, 92,469 were for drug possession, 1,265 for glue sniffing (a “crime” of the truly poor and desperate), and another 90,061 for being drunk in public. The largest single category, however, was driving under the influence, or DUI, with 151,416 arrests. That’s a total of almost 335,000 people arrested in one state in one year for crimes connected with the use of either legal or illegal drugs. Add to that the 58,569 people arrested for petty theft, imagine similar figures across the country, and you can see how the jails might begin to fill with record-setting numbers of prisoners.

Even when never convicted, those arrested often end up spending time in jail because they can’t afford bail. And spending time in jail can cost you your job, your children, even your home. That’s a lot of punishment for someone who hasn’t been convicted of a crime. In August 2016, the U.S. Justice Department filed documents in federal court arguing that holding people in jail because they can’t afford to bail themselves out is unconstitutional -- a major move toward real justice.

So the next time you find yourself thinking idly that there oughta be a law -- against not giving up your seat on a bus to someone who needs it more, or playing loud music in a public place, or panhandling -- stop for a moment and think again. Yes, such things can be unpleasant for other people, but maybe there’s a just alternative to punishing those who do them.

I’ll leave the last words to a student of mine, who wrote, “My definition of justice is some sort of restitution and admission of wrongdoing from someone who wronged you in the past... My family has influenced my definition of justice in teaching me that even if someone does something wrong there should always be room for forgiveness and, if they are sincere, forgive them and that is justice.”

Now, it’s your turn to define the term -- and so our world.

Rebecca Gordon, a TomDispatch regular, teaches in the philosophy department at the University of San Francisco. She is the author of American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes (Hot Books). Her previous books include Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States and Letters from Nicaragua.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt's latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2016 Rebecca Gordon

AP and Assad

AP interview with Bashar al Assad

via offGuardian

September 25, 2016

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) He's been stigmatized internationally, a contentious figure presiding over a ruinous civil war that seems to slip into further depravity every day. But in his power base in the Syrian capital, President Bashar Assad projected confidence — conceding nothing to his critics, and accusing the U.S. of derailing a cease-fire and lacking the "will" to fight extremists in his country.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Assad rejected U.S. accusations that Syrian or Russian planes struck an aid convoy in Aleppo this week and that his troops were preventing food from entering the city's rebel-held areas. He maintained deadly airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition on Syrian troops last weekend were intentional, dismissing American officials' statements that they were an accident.

President Assad gives his view of recent and dangerous developments in the proxy war between NATO and the Syrian Arab Army, and the short-lived “ceasefire.” 

Read the transcript here.

Being and Not: Between the Dock and the Boat

Decision Making for Dummies

by Ray Grigg - Shades of Green

September 25, 2016

The Books for Dummies series now comprises 274 titles, ranging from Tarot for Dummies and Hockey for Dummies to Sex for Dummies. So, in the complex and often confusing world of environmentalism, perhaps a few words on decision making are timely. As news reports on unfolding environmental crises stream from multiple directions, the pressure to make intelligent decisions has become palpable.

How do we function within this milieu of heightening pressure? Some people just shut down because the tension is too great, an escape strategy that is ultimately unhealthy for both themselves and everyone else. Avoidance is no longer an option.

Others feel overcome by idealistic expectations, immobilized by countless demands, as if the weight of the world — like Atlas in Greek mythology — has been placed on their shoulders. But a way does exist to ease this overwhelming sense of burden.

Begin by accepting that nothing you can do singularly will save the planet from ecological trauma. This spares you the debilitating burden of owning the whole problem as personally yours. But you can contribute to solutions. As a small part of a vast movement of altered awareness and behaviour, great changes can be effected. So, how do you participate wisely?

Begin with principles. Once you understand and accept the veracity of a particular principle, then the direction of many detailed decisions is essentially determined — once gravity is accepted as universally operative, then separate decisions do not have to be made about the safety of high places. Similarly, if you accept the notion that our planet is being overheated with anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, then the integrity of your thoughts and actions requires at least a token respect of this principle.

This doesn't necessarily mean a rigid and radical adherence to every detail relating to the principle. Once the principle is acknowledged and respected in general terms, your thinking and behaviour will automatically move in the direction of compliance and consistency. Education and simple awareness will reduce the effort required to adhere. Informed opinions are wise investments of consciousness — whatever is lost in efficiency will be gained in a clear sense of purpose and peace of mind. Inner contentment is worth more than outer gratification.

As another general principle, you might remember that you're only passing through this world; you're not staying here. If you can't improve the ecological fabric of your surroundings then, as a gift to future generations, try to leave it no worse than you found it.

Give less attention to your ego and self-gratification; you're not as important as you think you are. A sense of humility will help you make concessions to the living world that enfolds you. You are part of an ecological wholeness that is constantly striving for balance. You belong to it; it doesn't belong to you.

Go gently, patiently and respectfully wherever you are. Show compassion — moths, earthworms and even trees are engaged in the same struggles that occupy you. Avoid being forceful and aggressive. When the circumstances are not ready, change will be resisted; when the circumstances are ready, change will be received.

If, in the beginning, this seems difficult, it will eventually become easy enough to be effortless. Then you will wonder why instructions were necessary.

So Long Blue Planet: TPP Spells End of Climate Hopes

TPP Will Effectively Kill Climate Treaties


September 25, 2016

The Trans-Pacific Partnership will undermine the ability of countries to control polluting and extractive industries, says Ben Lilliston.

Ben Lilliston is the author of the Climate Cost of Free Trade. He has written frequently about climate change, trade and farm policy. He has worked as a researcher, writer and editor at a number of organizations including the Center for Study of Responsive Law, the Corporate Crime Reporter, Multinational Monitor, Cancer Prevention Coalition and Sustain. He�s a frequently published writer, most recently as a contributor to Mandate for Change (Lexington), and previously as the co-author of the book Genetically Engineered Foods: A Guide for Consumers (Avalon). 

Propaganda's Allies in "Alternative" Media

Syria propaganda in the alternative news

by Richard Hugus

September 25, 2016  

Are anarchists carrying water for Uncle Sam? SubMedia, a website that publishes "anarchist news and resistance updates" in video form, is featuring the video, "What Is Mutual Aid?" Toward the end, the narrator tells us, "glimpses of the anarchist ideal of mutual aid can be seen in... "the bravery of the White Helmets of Aleppo who risk their lives to pull children from the collapsed ruins of buildings hit by Assad's barrel bombs."


This is hard to square with reporting from journalists like Vanessa Beeley, who has researched the White Helmets on the ground in Syria, and found that most people there have never heard of them, that they are a creation of western propaganda.

Vanessa Beeley reports that

"with over $60 million in their back pocket courtesy of USAID, the UK Foreign Office and various EU nations like the Netherlands, this group is possibly one of the most feted and funded entities within the west’s anti-Syrian NGO complex, a pivotal part of the clandestine shadow state building enterprise inside of Syria. Like many other ‘NGOs’, the White Helmets have been deployed by the west to derail the Syrian state, first by undermining existing civic structures and by disseminating staged PR to facilitate regime change propaganda, through western and Gulf state media outlets."

Felicity Artbuthnot in another recent article quotes the Ron Paul Institute as saying:

"We have demonstrated that the White Helmets are an integral part of the propaganda vanguard that ensures obscurantism of fact and propagation of Human Rights fiction that elicits the well-intentioned and self righteous response from a very cleverly duped public. A priority for these NGOs is to keep pushing the No Fly Zone scenario which has already been seen to have disastrous implications for innocent civilians in Libya, for example."

SubMedia has not responded to a query as to whether it was simply mistaken in promoting the White Helmets, nor has it edited the video. As things now stand, it appears subMedia is part of an effort to promote these poseurs as humanitarians, coincidentally in sync with that much larger other video outlet, Netflix, who has just rolled out an exclusive documentary promoting the White Helmets as heroes.

According to Rick Sterling, the group Code Pink actually put out a press release promoting the Netflix movie. And, where there are PR campaigns, there are suddenly awards. According to Sterling,

"[O]n 22 September 2016 it was announced that the Right Livelihood Award, the so called ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’, is being given to the US/UK created White Helmets ‘for their outstanding bravery, compassion and humanitarian engagement in rescuing civilians from the destruction of the Syrian civil war.’"

Sterling continues:

"The Right Livelihood organizers may come to regret their selection of the White Helmets because the group is not who they claim to be. In fact, the White Helmets are largely a propaganda tool promoting western intervention against Syria. Unlike a legitimate rescue organization such as the Red Cross or Red Crescent, the ‘White Helmets’ only work in areas controlled by the armed opposition."

One must beware of radicals sneaking a bit of poison into an otherwise good message. The famous anarchist Noam Chomsky decried the NATO attack on Yugoslavia in 1999, but agreed with the major premise of that attack, which was that Slobodan Milosevic was a brutal dictator who had to be stopped. This went a long way to defusing an antiwar effort leading up to the NATO bombing campaign.

Likewise, SubMedia has lots of good information on anarchist principles, but inserts talking points straight out of the US State Department, like the one about "Assad's barrel bombs." We are led down a moral road, only to be confused.

In another subMedia video, "Requiem for Syria", the anonymous narrator called "Stimulator" would have us believe that an anarchist revolution is struggling to be born in Syria, on a par with that in 1930's Spain, and that Bashar al-Assad is responsible for destroying that revolution. According to Stimulator,

"leftists believe that Assad has been targeted for regime change by the United Snakes and its allies and that Syria is being protected by staunchly anti-imperialist homies, Russia and Iran. But putting aside the fact that Russia and Iran are both gangsta imperialist states in their own right who oppress the fuck out of their own citizens, there's an even more obvious flaw in this logic -- the fact that the United States isn't trying to overthrow Assad at all. The real threat to Assad's fascist fucking regime has come from Syrians themselves, who, after growing sick and motherfucking tired of having their peaceful protests bombed and machine-gunned, launched a popular fucking uprising, and it's racist as fuck to ignore that."

Hidden amid the hip language is another US State Department talking point -- that the war in Syria was started by Assad attacking his own people. SubMedia is attempting to deny the fact that Israel, the US, Saudi Arabia, and NATO are indeed seeking regime change and have demonized Assad in order to bring that about. Stimulator is in perfect agreement with the main premise of the aggressors: Assad is a brutal dictator, killing legitimate protestors trying to free themselves from his oppression.

According to Stimulator,

"there’s only one person who can end this civil war in Syria – I’m talking about Syria’s greasy, sunken-eyed, goose-necked dictator himself, Bashar al-Assad."

We are led to believe that one man is the sole cause of this country’s problems. We heard the same with Milosevic, Saddam, and Gaddafi.

Stimulator goes on to interview Robin Yassin-Kassab, British author of Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War, who agrees with Stimulator that the left has been duped into believing "that this is a regime change plot directed by the United States against the glorious resistance regime in Syria, and the facts don't bear that out at all."

The people of Syria are in revolt, he claims, and Assad is trying to put down the revolt. Yassin-Kassab asserts, without evidence, that "women have been subjected to a mass rape campaign which the regime organized." This was a propaganda talking point in the attack on Libya, and, for that matter, Yugoslavia.

People living outside Syria lack first-hand knowledge, but a number of sources in Syria have said that Assad actually has the support of the majority of the people there. Lily Martin writes that

"as an eye witness to the entire war in Syria, from March 2011 to present, I can state this was no revolution. I am an American citizen living permanently in Syria, which is my husband’s birthplace. I have been here 24 years. A real revolution would have the support of the people, inside Syria, not Syrians living in Paris and London for the past 40 years. To have a real grassroots uprising, you need the support of the people living inside Syria, who would share your views. If it had been a real uprising/revolution, the whole process could have taken 3-6 months, because the Army would have followed the will of the people, given the fact the Syrian Army is made up of Syrians of all ethnic and religious sects. The Syrian Army is a true representative of the Syrian population. If the population wanted the goals stated by the ‘protesters’, which was to establish Islamic law in Syria, and to abolish the current secular government, the Army would have eventually followed along, expressing the will of the people."

Lily Martin and Vanessa Beeley are, finally, more credible than the anonymous figures at subMedia. SubMedia is also, like Chomsky, silent about Israeli and US government partnership in the September 11, 2001 attacks, when such perceptive radicals as these should certainly know better.

It is not above the practitioners of deception to create an opposition that says a lot of the right things, but does the essential dirty work. Indeed, this is an important part of their trade. The avalanche of lies provided in the mainstream media can be organized by run-of-the-mill propagandists. The real propagandists are the ones who cultivate people who actually look like they're on our side.

If there ever was a revolution in Syria, it was quickly overwhelmed by zionist manipulation of the United States into destroying yet another country on the list of nations that threaten Israel, and, for good measure, getting the US and Russia to destroy each other so that Israel will emerge as the world’s new superpower, presiding over the ashes. Such is the insanity of current world events.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Remembering the Sabra-Shatila Massacre

34 Years After the Sabra-Shatila Massacre

by Franklin Lamb - CounterPunch

September 23, 2016 

Shatila Palestinian Refugee camp, Beirut  - The intense summer heat was gone and the evening was breezy and cool that fateful Thursday evening, September 15, 1982, according to survivors of the Sabra-Shatila Massacre who, 34 years later, still remember and recount many details of the slaughter that was soon to follow.

Palestinian families marching and
remembering their loved ones murdered
34 years ago at Shatila camp, Beirut.
Photo: Franklin Lamb

It was following the 9/14/1982 assassination of President-elect Bachir Gemayel, leader of the Lebanese Forces militia and senior Kataeb Party official, that Israeli forces closed in with their tanks and blockaded the Shatila refugee camp and the adjacent Sabra neighborhood.

By prearrangement with their Christian phalange allies, the Israeli invaders led the Kataeb affiliated Phalange militia from Beirut airport north two miles to inside the camp, in violation of their agreement with the US Reagan administration.

The militia’s intent was to slaughter Palestinians but anyone they encountered including some Lebanese among others, became targets. What followed were nearly three days of slaughter , rape and dismemberment of the civilian population, men, women and children as the Christian militia penetrated the camp and conducted a frenzied, partly drug fueled, killing spree slaughtering an estimated 1, 800 to 3,500. The carnage was aided by Israeli forces that surrounded Shatila, lighted the night sky with flares turning the night into day, provided heavy equipment to bury and hide bodies, communicated with the Phalange terrorists and blocked camp residents from fleeing Shatila during the carnage while ushering reinforcement killer militia inside.

Neither the Israeli organizers-facilitators nor their Lebanese designates were ever held accountable. The latter’s amnesty was assured by the political and moral corruption among the increasingly polarized sects in Lebanon. This fact transformed the killers and ‘warlords’ into “political lords”, several of whom still hold political “leadership” positions with a couple vying to be Lebanon’s next President. Their past crimes seemingly long forgotten.

In Lebanon’s 12 camps, among the Shatila Massacre victims family and community who along with international supporters, relive and re-examine the decades old massacre annually at Shatila’s Martyr’s Cemetery, there is increasing Despondency, Cynicism, and Determination.

Despondency over the fact that Palestinians here in Lebanon and elsewhere are still awaiting justice, as Saeb Erekat, the Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) reminded the UN Security Council last weekend.

Despondency over the fact that the government of Lebanon continues to outlaw the elementary civil rights to work or to own a home. Both fundamental human rights which by international law are granted to refugees in every country, except Lebanon which continues to flaunt its obligations under binding Treaty and Customary International Law.

Sixty eight years after the 1948 Nakba and 49 years after the June 5, 1967 Naksa forced more than 100,000 Palestinians fleeing for their lives to seek refugee across the nearest border to their Zionist targeted homes and to enter Lebanon, despondency deepens. Refugees who crossed over from north Palestine into Syria were immediately granted full refugee rights but no civil rights still for Palestinians in Lebanon.

Despondency over the fact that in their camps nearly every indicia of social well-being, including but not limited to, health care, social development, education, housing, security, and ability to earn money and care for their families, continue an accelerating downward spiral toward an abyss and with no reversal in sight.

Armed Clashes in Ain el Hilweh camp, the largest in Lebanon and located 40 miles south of Beirut, between Fatah and an Islamist group led by Bilal Badr are continuing as of 9/22/2016 with other groups also fighting intermittently. One cause of the increased violence is the outlawing of the right to work and other civil rights which continue to be blocked by Lebanon’s Parliament. Despondency over the sounds of machine guns, bombs and rocket propelled grenades near a vegetable market and the camp’s al Fawqani Street where a taxi driver was murdered a few days ago, just as children started the school year. For two days this week, camp residents held a general strike in Ain al Hilweh to protest the recurrent killings. Violence is also on the increase in Lebanon’s other 11 Palestinian camps. Tensions fueled again by being deprived of the civil right to work and to own a home and feelings of general hopelessness over lack of opportunities among the despondent youth.

Nearly three and one half decades since the 1982 Massacre, Cynicism is also widespread and growing among Lebanon’s Palestinians. With good reason. Few if any Palestinians this observer knows in Lebanon or Syria, have much confidence in the current leadership of the PLO. Or in politicians in the region, Arabs, Iranians, Turks or others, who continue to babble “Resistance” rhetoric while they collaborate with right wing anti-Palestinian officials in blocking Palestinian rights in Lebanon. Simultaneously with their varying political posturing while playing the “Palestinian Card.”

Thirty-four years after the Sabra-Shatila Massacre, and ten years after the 2006 “Devine Victory” of the Lebanese “Resistance”, Cynicism is spreading. Hezbollah is now also openly criticized, even among a growing number of Shia, for playing the “Palestinian Card” while doing little if anything for the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

One hears in the camps increasingly, comments like these chronicled by two Palestinian Arab University students from Burj al Barajneh camp in south Beirut.

“What has the Resistance ever done for Palestinians in Lebanon’s 12 camps?”

“Resistance” begins at home by helping rebuild camp infrastructure not by attacking Yarmouk and other Palestinian camps in Syria or by besieging, starving, blocking humanitarian aid or killing Palestinian in Syria.”

“The road to Al Quds is south and direct, it does not wind all over Syria.”

“After May of 2000 when the Israeli were forced from Lebanon, we were grateful to Hezbollah and Hassan Nasrallah was much admired. Also in 2006 despite 1.300 civilian casualties. That respect and support has eroded due to

“Resistance” projects in Syria.”

“Few Palestinians or Syrians support the “Resistance” as they did before it invaded Syria.”

“The “Resistance” has killed more Palestinians in Syria during the past five years than the Zionists have killed Palestinians over the past 68 years since the Nakba. What kind of “Palestinian Resistance” is this?”

Some of these strong comments may not be agreed to by many, but one way the “Resistance ” can help Palestinians in Lebanon regain confidence is if Hezbollah will take 90 minutes in Parliament, 60 minutes to grant Palestinian refugees in Lebanon the same elementary civil right to work that every other “Resistance” movement and country grants refugees.

Hezbollah can then use the remaining 30 minutes in Parliament to repeal the racist 2001 law that forbids any Palestinian from owning a home outside one of Lebanon’s squalid and deteriorating camps. Resistance actions speak louder than just Resistance words. Ninety minutes and the political will to push Parliament will unblock the elementary civil rights to work and to own a home for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. It is all that Palestinians in Lebanon ask of Hezbollah to be true to their cause.

Against this backdrop of Despondency and Cynicism one feels in the camps also a remarkable Determination to Return to Palestine. This observer observes a similar determination among a newer influx of refugees in Lebanon, those from Syria.

Virtually every Syrian refugee I have encountered in Lebanon or elsewhere wants one thing. For the civil war in their country to end so that they can return to beloved Syria. The Lebanese politicians who regularly bleat about the Palestinian and Syrian refugees taking over this sinking country hide from their supporters the fact that few if any of these refugees-Syrian or Palestinian- want to remain in Lebanon one day longer than absolutely necessary.

As part of a deepening Determination to Return, a third Intifada is increasingly being discussed. But it will likely not be confined to occupied Palestinian territory but rather will involve many of the 4 million Palestinians in the Diaspora and well as their growing number of international supporters. It will be led by Palestinians themselves not the Arabs or international community who have mouthed some slogans and nodded but have done little if anything at all to advance Full Return.

Thirty four years after the 1982 Massacre at Sabra-Shatila, the dream of Return to Palestine endures, and the struggle for Full Return shall never die. Not until the victims of 34 years ago in Beirut, and all Palestinians martyred before and after the 1948 Nakba receive posthumous justice. Determination among Palestinians in Lebanon to Return exceeds their Despondency and Cynicism caused by injustice. And it gives rise to hope for a better future.

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. He is reachable c/o
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Princes of Peace Polish Off Syria as Prelude to Greater War

US-Turkey Lurch to World War in Syria

by Finian Cunningham - SCF

September 24, 2016

Following US President Barack Obama’s dubious stellar performance this week at the UN General Assembly recounting a litany of lies for almost one hour before the eyes of the world, it was the turn of Turkey’s leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan to insult humanity’s intelligence.

Like his American ally, who inverted reality by claiming that US war crimes against numerous nations were a virtuous legacy, Erdogan performed a similar spellbinding conjuring trick.

In his address to the UN, the Turkish president said his military has rendered peace to the Middle East region by invading Syria last month.

Can you imagine Adolf Hitler declaring to the then League of Nations that Germany had just invaded Poland to restore peace to Europe? It is astounding, when you think about it, how the august international forum in New York City indulged Erdogan and Obama with such polite attention, when they are both responsible for the supreme war crime of aggression against the sovereign state of Syria?

Turkish and American troops are occupying a 100-km wide swathe of northern Syria after they both launched Operation Euphrates Shield on August 24, with tanks and warplanes in support of ground forces. Syria and Russia have both expressed concern over the incursion, with Damascus denouncing it as a violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity. American warplanes have been violating Syrian sovereignty for nearly two years. Just because Turkey and the US claim that the latest operation is aimed at fighting the ISIS terror network, that still does not confer legitimacy.

Four weeks on from the US and Turkey launching the incursion into Syrian territory, Ankara says that it is expanding its occupation.

Earlier this week, Erdogan said his troops would push further south into Syria to take a total area of 5,000 square kms – about five times the area already under its present control. In Orwellian jargon, the Turkish-US forces are labelling the annexed territory as «safe zones». Exactly to whom this is being made «safe» for is not yet clear.

While in New York City, the Turkish leader urged the US to step up its military cooperation with Ankara to, as he put it, «finish off Daesh [ISIS]» in Syria. Erdogan is pushing Washington even harder to get onboard with the long-held Turkish objective of setting up «no fly zones» in the occupied northern Syrian territory.

Erdogan also hinted that he expected a Clinton presidency to be more gung-ho about escalating military involvement, and in particular implementing no fly zones. Hillary Clinton has already said that she would take a more hostile line towards Syria and Russia, going as far as declaring she would deploy military force to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

It is notable that Erdogan is making his appeals solely to Washington for greater military intervention «to finish off Daesh» in Syria. Surely, if Turkey was serious about this stated objective then it would be entreating Russia to join forces, given that Russia has shown itself to be the most effective military power against the terror groups, after it was requested to intervene by the Syrian government last year.

That Erdogan wants to go it alone with the US on his supposed «anti-terror» mission in Syria points to an ulterior agenda. That agenda is nothing less than war on Syria. Using the pretext of «fighting terrorism» is a risible cover for the fact that Turkish and American military forces are illegally operating on Syrian soil. And as they expand their presence towards the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, what should become apparent is that these two NATO members are involved in a full-on invasion of Syria.

Forget about ISIS or any other terror outfit that Washington and Ankara are publicly claiming to be combatting. Turkish media last year exposed the Erdogan government’s cross-border weapons supply to illegally armed insurgents in Syria. The notoriously «porous» Turk border is porous because that is part of Ankara’s covert war on Syria, in league with Washington and other NATO members, Britain and France, as well as the Wahhabi terror-funding Saudi regime.

Russian military surveillance footage has also proven that the Turkish authorities were colluding with terror groups in running oil-smuggling operations, until, that is, Russian aviation forces obliterated this Erdogan war racket.

The so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) militias that Turkish military are collaborating with in their latest offensive into Syrian territory are equally complicit in horrific crimes of terrorism as the more infamous ISIS and Al Nusra extremists. The FSA terror gangs are sanitized in the Western media as some kind of «vetted opposition». But they were involved, for example, in the massacre at Kassab in Latakia Province back in March 2014, along with the Al Qaeda throat-slitters and Turkish military support.

For Turkey to claim now to be working with FSA militias to «cleanse» border areas from «terrorists» is a derisory illusion.

Far more conceivable is that Erdogan’s Ankara regime feels that the US-led «regime change» plot against Syria is facing defeat at the hands of the Syrian army bolstered by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. The battle for Aleppo is the last stand for the foreign-backed proxy army of terror gangs, which were unleashed on Syria in March 2011 for the purpose of waging covert war for regime change.

The US-led criminal conspiracy against Syria is failing, largely due to Russia’s intervention a year ago this month. In 12 months, the tide of war has been turned in favor of the Syrian state’s victory against the foreign-backed insurgency.

Given the grim prognosis for the regime-change conspirators, Turkey and the US appear prepared now to ratchet up direct military intervention. In short, they are moving to fully-fledged war on Syria.

Erdogan seems to be using the failed coup in his country in mid-July as added leverage on Washington. Reeling from Turkish accusations that the US was somehow complicit in aiding the coup attempt (probably overblown), Washington seems keener to accommodate Erdogan’s demands over Syria.

During negotiations with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the UN this week, US Secretary of State John Kerry was talking the language of Erdogan by calling for no fly zones around Aleppo as a condition for restoring a shattered ceasefire.

Erdogan’s Turkey has always been the most belligerent protagonist among the US-led gang of state terror-sponsors. After the failed coup, Erdogan appeared to abandon the secret war agenda towards his southern neighbor. The Turkish president went on a charm offensive towards Russia and Iran, the main allies of Syria. He even muted earlier bellicose demands for regime change against Assad. That apparent conciliatory attitude was short-lived though. Maybe it was a foil to catch Russia and Iran off guard when Erdogan ordered his tanks to roll over the Syrian border. It seems so.

As the rhetorical smoke and mirrors clear away, what should be evident is that Turkey and the US are openly at war with Syria. That puts in proper context the massacre of Syrian troops at Deir ez-Zor last weekend by US warplanes. American claims of it being an «accident» are as ridiculous as other tenuous American claims of «fighting terrorism».

If the analysis presented here is correct, then the startling conclusion is that a world war is underway, with Russia and the US being pitted against each other. And if we are honest, we would have to admit that that war has been coming for a long time, a war that Washington bears responsibility for.

Syria "No-Fly Zone" Code for Broader Middle East War: Will Obama's Last Act Be Starting WWIII?

Top US general warns Syrian “no-fly” zone means war with Russia

by Bill Van Auken - WSWS

24 September 2016

The enforcement of a “no-fly” zone in Syria would mean a US war with both Syria and Russia, the top US uniformed commander told the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday.

Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spelled out the grave implications of the policy advocated by both predominant sections within the Republican Party as well as Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton amid rising violence in Syria and increasing pressure by Washington on the Russian government to unilaterally agree to grounding its own aircraft as well as those of the Syrian government.

Secretary of State John Kerry has repeatedly demanded that Russia adhere to what would essentially be a one-sided “no-fly” zone under conditions in which US warplanes would continue carrying out airstrikes.

Kerry presented his proposal as a means of reviving and restoring “credibility” to a ceasefire agreement that he and the Russian Foreign Minister negotiated on September 9. This cessation of hostilities collapsed less than a week after its implementation in the face of hundreds of violations by US-backed Islamist “rebels” who have refuse to accept its terms, as well as two major back-to-back attacks.

The first was carried out by US and allied warplanes one week ago against a Syrian army position, killing as many as 90 Syrian soldiers and wounding another 100. Washington claimed that the bombing was a mistake, but Syrian officials have pointed to what appeared to be a coordination of the airstrike with a ground offensive by Islamic State (also known as ISIS) fighters who briefly overran the bombed position.

This was followed on September 19 by an attack on a humanitarian aid convoy in Aleppo that killed at least 20 and destroyed 18 trucks. The US immediately blamed Russia for the attack, without providing any evidence to support the charge. Russia and the Syrian government have denied responsibility and suggested that the so-called “rebels” shelled the convoy.

The US position was reflected in the testimony of both Dunford and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter before the Senate panel Thursday. The general admitted to the committee, “I don’t have the facts,” as to what planes carried out the attack, but quickly added, “There is no doubt in my mind that the Russians are responsible.” Similarly, Carter declared,

“The Russians are responsible for this strike whether they conducted it or not.”

The collapse of the ceasefire under the weight of these incidents abrogated an agreement that had been bitterly opposed by both Carter and the Pentagon’s uniformed command. The latter have publicly declared their opposition—in terms bordering on insubordination—to the deal’s provision for coordinated actions and intelligence sharing with Russia, which America’s top generals see as the main enemy.

This view was reiterated Thursday by General Dunford, who declared that based on the “combination of their behavior and their military capability, Russia is the most significant threat to our national interests.” Asked if he supported the proposal for intelligence sharing, Dunford responded, “We don’t have any intention of having an intelligence-sharing arrangement with the Russians.”

Speaking in New York Thursday night after the so-called International Syria Support Group ended a meeting with no progress toward restoring the US-Russian ceasefire agreement, Secretary of State Kerry declared:

“The only way to achieve that [cessation of hostilities and violence] is if the ones who have the air power in this part of the conflict simply stop using it—not for one day or two, but for as long as possible so that everyone can see that they are serious.”

After leaving the same meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov rejected the demand that the Syrian government take “unilateral steps” under conditions in which the US-backed “rebels” reject the ceasefire.

“We insist and find support for steps being taken by the opposition as well, so as not to let Jabhat al-Nusra take advantage of this situation,” he said.

This, however, is precisely the aim of Washington. The US military and intelligence complex is increasingly concerned that with the backing of Russia and Iran, the Syrian government is on the brink of breaking the five-year-old siege waged by the Islamist militias armed and paid by the CIA and Washington’s principal US allies, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar. Syrian and Russian planes began intense bombardment of “rebel”-held eastern Aleppo Friday in what has been reported as preparation for a major ground offensive to retake this area of the city. If the offensive proves successful, the US war for regime change will have suffered a strategic reversal.

Al Nusra, the Syrian affiliate of Al Qaeda, which is formally designated by both the US and the UN as a terrorist organization, constitutes the backbone of the proxy forces employed by US imperialism to effect regime change in Syria. One of the major controversies surrounding the US-Russian truce agreement was its call for the US to persuade the “rebels” on its payroll to separate themselves from Al Nusra. This Washington was unable and unwilling to do, both because they are so closely integrated with the Al Qaeda elements and because they could not survive as a fighting force without them.

The imposition of a no-fly zone over Aleppo and other Al Nusra-controlled areas is increasingly seen as a life and death matter for the US-backed Islamists. As Thursday’s Senate hearing indicated, while Kerry is appealing to Russia to voluntarily stand down, there are significant elements within the US state that are calling for the imposition of the no-fly zone by force.

Gen. Dunford was asked by Mississippi Republican Senator Roger Wicker if the US could take “decisive action” in imposing a no-fly zone. Wicker indicated that he had discussed the matter with Democrats, who indicated that they would support such a venture if the US intervention were given another name.

“For now, for us to control all the airspace in Syria would require us to go to war with Syria and Russia,” Dunford replied to the Senator.

“That’s a pretty fundamental decision that certainly I’m not going to make.”

Dunford’s remark provoked an intervention by the committee chairman, Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, who pushed him to clarify that total control of the Syrian airspace would require war with Russia and Syria, while a no-fly zone could potentially be imposed short of that.

The hearing provided a chilling exposure of the discussions going on within the US state and its military over actions that could quickly spiral into an all-out confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia, bringing humanity to the brink of catastrophe.

In separate remarks the day before the Senate hearing, both Carter and Dunford stressed that the US will maintain its military deployment in the Middle East long after the defeat of ISIS, the pretext for the current interventions in Iraq and Syria.

Speaking to the Air Force Association conference, Dunford declared, “If you assume, like I do, that we’re going to be in that region, if not Iraq, for many, many years to come,” decisions would have to be taken on the establishment of permanent military headquarters and command-and-control infrastructure.

“What is obvious and very clear is that we’re going to be in that region for a while,” Carter declared in a “troop talk” streamed live on social media. He added:

“ISIL is a big problem, but one we’re going to take care of through defeat. But we have Iran over there, we have other issues in the Middle East.”

In other words, Washington is planning the continuation of its unending wars in the Middle East, including military action directed against Iran, with the aim of imposing American hegemony over the region’s vast energy resources and strategically weakening the principal targets of US imperialist aggression, Russia and China.

The Power of Sitting: Not Standing for Injustice

Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?

by Mike Whitney - CounterPunch

September 23, 2016 

If black athletes in the NFL honestly think that African Americans who live under Old Glory are as ‘equally protected ‘as whites, then they should stand up during the national anthem and sing-along.

But if they know that blacks aren’t getting a square deal, and that blacks can be gunned down at any time by trigger-happy cops who never face the consequences, then they owe it to themselves and their country to demand change by remaining seated.

I’m sorry that football players have to go through this. I’m sorry they find themselves in a situation where they’re forced to make a political statement. After all, they’re not politicians and they don’t want to be. They’re private citizens like the rest of us who just want to do their jobs, make some money, and be left the hell alone.

But what choice do they have now? The epidemic of cop killings around the country is forcing people to stand up and say “Enough”. So now black athletes are being asked to either stand up, sing along and act like highly-paid circus animals, or follow in the steps of Rosa Parks and Malcolm X and Mohammed Ali and the other people of conscience who put themselves at risk by acting on principal.

That’s the choice they’re faced with, isn’t it? Do I act like a man and stand on principal or take the easy-way-out and go along with the crowd?

There is no third option.

Football players are not going to be able to sweep the whole matter under the rug like the Seattle Seahawks did last week by standing with arms linked (while the anthem was played) to demonstrate their solidarity with the victims of police violence. That was a total bullsh** response. It doesn’t matter if you stand separately or stand and link arms; when you “stand” you are paying tribute to the flag. Period.

In contrast, sitting is a demonstration of defiance. Sitting is an act of protest. Sitting is an act of colossal courage. Sitting is an act of solidarity with the victims of police violence. And, regardless what anyone says, sitting is an act of supreme patriotism, the kind of patriotism that surpasses empty displays of ritual conformity and heel-clicking submissiveness. Sitting is a jarring, thought-provoking way of forcing Americans to look themselves in the mirror and ask the painful questions they try to avoid at all cost, like why are all these young, unarmed black men getting blown away with such maddening frequency, and why do these killer cops never pay for their crimes, and why is it still so goddamned hard for black Americans to get any goddamned justice in this country?

No one wants to talk about these things because they make us feel bad about ourselves, they tarnish our sense of “exceptionalism” and our idiot belief that we are a “post-racial” society.

Post racial, my ass. There’s a large group of people living in this country whose rights have always been provisional and who’ve never gotten a fair shake, and that sure as heck hasn’t changed since Obama got took office, in fact, the situation is worse than ever.

When living under the American flag means that everyone is protected equally from killer cops, then I’ll gladly stand for the national anthem. Until then, forget about it.
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
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Friday, September 23, 2016

Line 5: Enbridge's Great Lakes Time Bomb

Pressure Mounts Against Aging Enbridge Oil and Gas Pipeline Through Great Lakes

by Larry Buhl  - DeSmog

September 21, 2016

Public pressure is mounting to decommission two 63-year-old underwater pipelines that rest in an environmentally sensitive waterway between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. About 540,000 barrels of oil and liquid natural gas flow daily through the 20-inch pipelines, called Line 5, which lie in an exposed trench on the public bottomlands of the Mackinac Straits west of the Mackinac Bridge.

Image: Mussles cover the Line 5 pipeline.
Credit: University of Michigan

Built in 1953, Line 5 is now owned by the Alberta, Canada-based petroleum company Enbridge, Inc. Many fear the aging pipeline is an accident waiting to happen, with recent modeling showing a single oil spill could impact more than 150 miles of coastline.

Enbridge has been boasting about the findings of a state pipeline safety task force report released a little over a year ago that found no signs of internal or external corrosion on Line 5.

Critical Gaps

What the company doesn’t say is that even the authors of the report aren’t convinced of its validity, due to “gaps” in information provided by Enbridge on its own pipelines.

“Substantial questions remain and can only be resolved by full disclosure of additional information, and rigorous, independent review by qualified experts,” the 2015 report reads.

In a press conference following the release of the report, Michigan’s Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette and Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) director Dan Wyant said Enbridge had not been forthcoming about the methods of pipeline integrity inspections performed by its contractors.

Enbridge says it continually monitors metal loss, cracks, and pipeline movements, and in some cases sends divers to visually inspect the pipelines.

The company maintains the pipelines could operate safely for another half-century, though it acknowledges that a heavy crust of invasive mussels cover parts of the pipelines.

Environmental groups claim these invasive species are likely corroding the pipeline coating.

Line 5's Days Numbered

Enbridge has been trying to assure the public through a series of barbeques and community gatherings that Line 5 is completely safe.

Schuette said in 2015 that Line 5’s days “are numbered,” and that the pipeline would never be built today under modern environmental standards. Gov. Rick Snyder promised to address recommendations included in the report quickly.

But critics say the state has been anything but quick to respond to the concerns about Line 5. A pair of independent studies that could lead to recommendations on Line 5’s future are planned but won’t be completed until mid-to-late 2017.

“The state has been studying (Line 5) since 2014, using data from the company,” Sierra Club’s Michigan Chapter Chair, David Holtz, tells DeSmog.

Holtz says an independent third party assessment of Line 5 would probably refute the company’s claims that everything is fine.

“There is no real deadline for the state to do anything and no political will to confront the oil industry,” Holtz says.

Environmental lawyers say the governor and the attorney general have the authority to decommission the pipeline at any time as part of the 1953 easement agreement that granted the original owner of Line 5, Lakehead Pipe Line Partners, the right to occupy the bottomlands.

Liz Kirkwood, an environmental attorney and director of the Traverse City-based nonprofit Flow for Water, tells DeSmog that Michigan faces all of the risks from Line 5 and gets almost none of the benefit.

She said, “The state of Michigan agreed to never allow private interests to pollute public trust waters. Michigan has a heavy burden here because 20 percent of the world’s fresh water is in lakes bordering the state.” 

Dire Straits

Concerns were galvanized earlier this year when University of Michigan computer modeling was released showing that 152 miles of shoreline on Lakes Huron and Michigan were at risk from a single Line 5 oil spill.

Environmentalists and citizens in the region bring up the company’s 2010 pipeline break — the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history — as an example of what could happen.

In July, Enbridge agreed to pay $177 million, including $61 million in penalties, as part of a consent decree with the U.S. government tied to the company’s 2010 pipeline rupture near Marshall, Michigan. The spill affected nearly 40 miles of the Kalamazoo River. Enbridge did not admit negligence in the rupture.

In a poll released by the National Wildlife Foundation in May, nearly two-thirds of Michiganders said companies should not be allowed to operate pipelines running under the Great Lakes.

A majority of Michigan’s 12 federally recognized Native American tribes have passed resolutions opposing Line 5, and the Chairman of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians said Line 5 threatens the sovereign rights of tribal members to fish the lakes.

More than 50 municipalities across Michigan — liberal, conservative, and everything in-between — have passed resolutions calling for all pipelines operating in the Straits of Mackinac to be shut down.

Calls For Risk Reduction

On September 14, the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign sent a letter to Michigan's Pipeline Safety Advisory Board co-chairs Heidi Grether and Valerie Brader, urging the panel to endorse four actions before an independent study commences. Their requests were to:

  • Require Enbridge to shut down the flow of oil in Line 5 in the Straits during the winter months, when ice and strong currents make oil capture nearly impossible.
  • Investigate at least eight alleged violations by Enbridge of easement requirements for operating Line 5 in the Straits, including pipeline corrosion.
  • Require Enbridge to hire an independent contractor to evaluate Line 5 before installing anchors that would keep the pipeline from popping out of its trench.
  • Have the Michigan DEQ conduct a full environmental review of Line 5 under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act before issuing a permit to Enbridge to install 18 additional pipeline anchors.

Those recommendations were brought up by board member Craig Hupp of Grosse Pointe when the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board met on Monday night, September 19.

But according to the Environmental Council's spokesperson Andy McGlashen, most of the two-hour meeting was spent discussing how to ease public fears about the difficulty of cleaning up oil spills in the winter and just paid “lip service” to the recommendations. “The board basically said they didn't have the technical expertise to evaluate those recommendations,” McGlashen told DeSmog, adding that the board adjourned without a plan to find technical experts or take any action before its next meeting on December 12.

Enbridge, like other companies operating pipelines, has pointed out that the alternative ways of moving oil — by rail and by truck — are even less safe, and that decommissioning Line 5 would ultimately increase the risk of oil spills or explosions.

Holtz tells DeSmog he thinks the company’s line of reasoning is bogus, saying,

“There are other pipelines in the region that aren’t under water. Line 5 is just a shortcut. Line 5 is Enbridge’s problem. It shouldn’t be Michigan’s problem.”

Enhanced Listening: Torture Chamber Music

Torture Chamber Music

by David Yearsley  - CounterPunch

September 23, 2016

With the transfer last month to the United Arab Emirates of fifteen prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, and with word yesterday that one of two long-term Malaysian detainees may be headed home to continue “de-radicalization” in a maximum security prison there, Obama lurches towards bitter fulfillment of his long-ago campaign pledge to close the notorious prison and torture center. He has 118 days to deal with the last 61 detainees.

In thinking musically about the grim legacy of Guantanamo’s torturous regime the obvious place to start is with the hits—ones that leave no bruises—the CIA used in its “enhanced interrogations.”

Among the weaponized pop deployed was Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady” played so relentlessly, reported Binyam Mohamed, who was released in 2009 after seven-years detention, that he could hear other inmates “screaming and smashing their heads against walls.” The track was forced on Mohamed for twenty consecutive days. I barely made it through the four-minute video with the audio squeaking out of my laptop’s speakers.

Instead of surveying this appalling record, it is time to take stock in the last days of the Obama a, and for this the Musical Patriot turns to a reliable source.

Bach on torture is hard to forget. He treats it rarely in his vocal works, but when he does, no composer matches his uncanny ability to evoke its procedures’ harrowing extortion of truth and lies, and the shattering recriminations it visits on both the tortured and the torturer. This is not music of the lash and the rack, but of mental terror.

Many interpreters of Bach’s cantatas and their libretti might claim that references to torture in these works are merely metaphorical, literary weapons used to make religious arguments about morality and salvation. But then as now, torture was an omnipresent, much-debated practice, thought to be a crucial means not so much for establishing guilt, but for confirming it. When Bach’s music referred to torture it was not an abstract, merely figurative, turn of phrase, but summoned thoughts of horrific punishments potentially to be visited on anyone accused—and for their own good.

How important and much-discussed the topic was in Bach’s time can be gauged by opening up the forty-fourth volume of the largest encyclopedia project of the eighteenth century and reading the article on “torture.” Published in Bach’s Leipzig from 1732-1754, Zedler’s Universal-Lexicon includes a main article on torture that extends to thirty folio pages of dense type. One of the longest articles in the encyclopedia, this essay and the ancillary entries on related aspects of torture consume more ink even than the thirty-pages devoted to Martin Luther.

The “torture” article begins by following a by-then familiar circuit of logic, one that suggests to me that even its eighteenth-century apologists knew their position was untenable. If torture weren’t effective, runs this argument by tautology, then the world would be full of criminals, since the innocent would have so often been convicted and the guilty freed.
 The main purpose of physically aggressive interrogation is not necessarily to bring the truth to light, since “the painful question” [die peinliche Frage] as torture was also known in German, should only be resorted to when overwhelming evidence indicates guilt. Rather, the idea is to force the accused to acknowledge their crimes and duly repent. In this sense torture is a favor to the tortured: verbal expiation holds the possibility of redemption rather than damnation. Even if the death penalty is convict’s immediate worldly fate, salvation might be the eternal reward of even the most heinous earthly criminal. According to this reasoning, torture becomes a means towards truth and reconciliation.

But the violent extraction of a questionable “truth” suggests that much of this has to do with assuaging society’s guilt about the possibility of putting someone to death falsely; an admission of guilt, even if brought to the light of day with the instruments of torture, confirms for the benefit of the accusers that justice has been done. Hardened refusal to admit to the crime seals the damnation of the unrepentant criminal. Bach’s choirboys sang at public beheadings and hangings in Leipzig: even ten year-olds were deemed fit to watch and to sing at such spectacles.

The vast juridical and philosophical literature on torture is referred to throughout the Zedler article, while the still-current critique of it is also presented at several junctures. Simply put: torture doesn’t work. The article cites several sources that assert that those with hardy constitutions can better resist torture, but those who are weaker will admit to anything just to stop the agony. In response, the article’s author admits that torture doesn’t always work and that it can extort false admissions. But failing other more effective means, torture is an essential tool when used properly and legally.

In the Zedler article the practice of torture, then as now, is defended on technological and legalistic grounds that merely serve to divert attention from the brute fact of its wrongness. Refining the techniques of interrogation raise the Germans over the infidels. Merely tying up the accused and whipping him is condemned by the author as “just plain Turkish and downright barbaric.” By contrast, the modern instruments of torture are markers of civilization: the thumbscrews; the Spanish boots; resinous pine splints under the fingers; water torture (both drop treatment and what we would come to call waterboarding)—all these are just fine. Among dozens of other techniques, that separate enlightened Europeans from the barbaric Turks are abrading the skin and then putting hornets or mice or other of “vermin” under a glass pressed above the wounds. Christian civilization also condones the slathering cut feet with salt and letting a goat lick them off .

The most meager of prisoner’s rights are recognized in Zedler, though this only highlights the brutality of the entire practice: nursing mothers with infants younger than six months cannot be legally tortured, nor the deaf and speechless. Procedures should not permanently disfigure or cripple the victim, and—surprisingly—if accidental death ensues, the overseeing judge can be held accountable and accordingly punished.

As for military combatants, the author’s approach turns from legalistic argument to commonsense. Since you can never trust your enemy anyway, you shouldn’t believe what he says when, for example, he is pressed naked between two coffin-like plates and ropes on geared-spools are tied around his toes and then cranked.

The most harrowing part of the article is not the list of instruments, ranging from the elaborate and simple, but the transcripts of sample torture sessions included in order to demonstrate to stenographers on how to take proper notes. One runs as follows:

“The Torturer [he’s also the Executioner, which adds to the horror] ties up the Accused. The Accused says he has done nothing illegal and that he is innocent. The Torturer applies the thumbscrews. The Accused says he knows nothing. The Torturer cranks the screws. The Accused says he knows nothing. The Torturer cranks the screws again. The Accused screams: ‘No, No, Lord Jesus.’ The Screws are tightened. The Accused screams for mercy. The thumbscrews have failed to be effective. The Torturer fits the Spanish boots to the Accused. The Torturer hits the boots. The Accused screams that he did indeed commit the robberies. The Accused is asked who is accomplices are and without further torture quickly names his henchmen as Schnabsack, Tall Abraham, and the Pole.

The much shorter Zedler article on “Torture Chamber” stresses that, like Guantanamo, the venue of interrogation should be placed far, far from the sites of civic life.

Within two months of taking up his position as Director of Music in Leipzig in 1723, one of the most prestigious civic musical positions in Germany, Bach
led a performance of his cantata, “Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht mit deinem Knecht” (Lord, do not go into court with your servant). Paraphrasing the second verse of Psalm 143, the text of Bach’s opening chorus assumes that in the Godly courts all are guilty of heinous crimes. The orchestral introduction is simultaneously tenuous and inexorable, resisting judgment but realizing that there is no escape from its dark decrees. A series of doubting harmonies moves forward because there is no going back, the melody concluding with a series of sighing supplications just before the chorus enters with full, oppressive force. In spite of these pleas not to be brought into court, the chorus realizes it must face judgment. Once the choir enters it, too, trudges ahead in solemn, if reluctant procession.

In setting the second line of the chorus “before You, no living person is just,” Bach suddenly animates the texture with a frantic fugue, one that brilliantly conveys the turbulent, ephemeral rush of earthly life and sin, the perpetual conflicts fought with the self and with others. Like life, the chorus careens to a preemptory end that ushers the individual, heard in the subsequent alto recitative, before God. Here no torture is necessary to elicit the truth. God is a “just judge,” and the individual’s admission of guilt is complete and untroubled:

I state my confession freely to you
and do not throw myself into danger
by denying, by concealing
the errors of my soul

The central aria, “Wie zittern und wanken, die Sünder Gedanken” (How they tremble and waver, the thoughts of the sinners) follows immediately with high throbbing strings. There is no real bass-line, no foundation to the sound. The shimmering, major-key harmony hovers like mist, or, as it turns out, deadly poison. A plaintive oboe soars into and above these yearning, trembling sonorities. The music seems to offer comfort, in spite of the dark minor tinges at the end of the oboe’s rapturous phrase that concludes its introductory solo.

The voice that emerges is also high, ethereal: the soprano describes “How the sinner’s thoughts tremble and waver / while they bring accusations against each other / and on the other hand dare to make excuses for themselves.” Bach unspools long arcs of striving melody on the words “accusation” and “dare” that bring to mind the tensions of legal wrangling and internal rationalization. What makes this music so unsettling is the mysterious way that Bach imbues this atmosphere of recrimination with a glowing aura of solace. For the sinner, the earthly courts of justice and opinion and the internal arguments one makes with the judge that is one’s own conscience, promise distant hope.

But this hope cannot be sustained, as is clear already before the final line of the aria turns to the evil-doer’s “troubled conscience torn apart by its own torture.” In contrast to the long melismas heard over the first lines of the aria, Bach treats the word “torture” and the violent verb “to tear apart” [zerrissen] with grimly controlled emphasis. Only at the last repetition of “torture” does the soprano emit a high, agonized note over the central vowel, like a long cry of pain. The cadence comes as an expression of relief, like the deliverance from pain that the torturer plays on when he at last allows the victim a gasp of air after near-drowning immersion, or releases pressure on the thumbscrews, or removes the electrodes.

After the voice falls silent, relieved of its anguish, the music of the long introduction returns in full, leaving listeners to contemplate the psychological implications of the aria. At the close, the music evaporates in a cloud of doubt with the vain hope of earthly validation still hanging in the air.

More than merely a figurative turn, the torture this music portrays attains its impact more through its calm serenity than its occasionally sharp inflections that work like decisive turns of the crank. This is a torture conducted in the isolated chamber of the mind.

From here the cantata proceeds to a forward-striving bass recitative, which overturns the “sentence of condemnation” by moistening the legal document with the blood of Jesus. An affirmative tenor aria with triumphant trumpet renounces Mammon and the vanities and pleasures of the world. A final chorale looks forward to the calming of the troubled conscience in a heaven reserved for those “full of faith.”

Bach’s Leipzig was a paradoxical place, a theocracy that also hosted important strains of the Enlightenment and witnessed the rapid growth of modern modes of leisure and consumerism. Many of these tensions are evident in the modern world, too, and help explain why this darkly powerful cantata is as alive today as it ways nearly three hundred years ago at the time of its first performance. The moral to be drawn from it still holds: torturers must face not only their own conscience, but also the judgment of the highest court.
DAVID YEARSLEY is a long-time contributor to CounterPunch and the Anderson Valley Advertiser. His recording of J. S. Bach’s organ trio sonatas is available from Musica Omnia. He can be reached at
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