Saturday, March 21, 2015

Return of the Strangelove Generals: Cornering Russia

Russia Under Attack

by Paul Craig Roberts 


While Washington works assiduously to undermine the Minsk agreement that German chancellor Merkel and French president Hollande achieved in order to halt the military conflict in Ukraine, Washington has sent Victoria Nuland to Armenia to organize a “color revolution” or coup there, has sent Richard Miles as ambassador to Kyrgyzstan to do the same there, and has sent Pamela Spratlen as ambassador to Uzbekistan to purchase that government’s allegiance away from Russia. The result would be to break up the Collective Security Treaty Organization and present Russia and China with destabilization where they can least afford it.

For details go here

Thus, Russia faces the renewal of conflict in Ukraine simultaneously with three more Ukraine-type situations along its Asian border. And this is only the beginning of the pressure that Washington is mounting on Russia.

On March 18 the Secretary General of NATO denounced the peace settlement between Russia and Georgia that ended Georgia’s military assault on South Ossetia. The NATO Secretary General said that NATO rejects the settlement because it “hampers ongoing efforts by the international community to strengthen security and stability in the region.”

Look closely at this statement. It defines the “international community” as Washington’s NATO puppet states, and it defines strengthening security and stability as removing buffers between Russia and Georgia so that Washington can position military bases in Georgia directly on Russia’s border.

In Poland and the Baltic states Washington and NATO lies about a pending Russian invasion are being used to justify provocative war games on Russia’s borders and to build up US forces in NATO military bases on Russia’s borders.

We have crazed US generals on national television calling for “killing Russians.”

The EU leadership has agreed to launch a propaganda war against Russia, broadcasting Washington’s lies inside Russia in an effort to undermine the Russian people’s support of their government.

All of this is being done in order to coerce Russia into handing over Crimea and its Black Sea naval base to Washington and accepting vassalage under Washington’s suzerainty.

If Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, Assad, and the Taliban would not fold to Washington’s threats, why do the fools in Washington think Putin, who holds in his hands the largest nuclear arsenal in the world, will fold?

European governments, apparently, are incapable of any thought. Washington has set London and the capitals of every European country, as well as every American city, for destruction by Russian nuclear weapons. The stupid Europeans rush to destroy themselves in service to their Washington master.

Human intelligence has gone missing if after 14 years of US military aggression against eight countries the world does not understand that Washington is lost in arrogance and hubris and imagines itself the ruler of the universe who will tolerate no dissent from its will.

We know that the American, British, and European media are whores well paid to lie for their master. We know that the NATO commander and secretary general, if not the member countries, are lusting for war. We know that the American Dr. Strangeloves in the Pentagon and armaments industry cannot wait to test their ABMs and new weapons systems in which they always place excessive confidence. We know that the prime minister of Britain is a total cipher. But are the chancellor of Germany and the president of France ready for the destruction of their countries and of Europe?

If the EU is of such value, why is the very existence of its populations put at risk in order to bow down and accept leadership from an insane Washington whose megalomania will destroy life on earth?

Dr. Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy and associate editor of the Wall Street Journal. He was columnist for Business Week, Scripps Howard News Service, and Creators Syndicate. He has had many university appointments. His internet columns have attracted a worldwide following. Roberts' latest books are The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic Dissolution of the West and How America Was Lost.

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Provoking Hizbullah, Invoking Iran: Israel's Cynical Assassinations

The Strategy Behind Israel’s Attack on Iran and Hizballah

by Jonathan Cook - ICH 

Israel’s claims of an imminent threat of Hizballah attack are not credible. More likely it wants to subdue the Lebanese militia so that it has a free hand to manipulate the Syrian battlefield to its advantage

Israel has good reason to fear that the Lebanese militia Hizballah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard will seek dramatic revenge for the killing of 12 senior figures from the two organisations in an air strike in Syria on Sunday.

Israel’s concerns were underscored on Wednesday by the decision of its military chief of staff, Benny Gantz, to cancel a trip to meet his European counterparts, as the Israeli army remained on high alert.

Earlier, on Monday, Israel moved an Iron Dome anti-missile battery to the northern border, in case of rocket fire from Hizballah. That is precisely what Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah had vowed only last week if Israel continued to launch attacks on Syrian soil.

“We consider that any strike against Syria is a strike against the whole of the resistance axis, not just against Syria,” he said, adding that he had many long-range Iranian rockets that could reach deep into the Galilee.

General Ali Jafari, commander of the Revolutionary Guard, echoed that warning on Tuesday, saying Israel should wait for “devastating thunderbolts”, and that Israel’s air strike had created “a new beginning point for the imminent collapse of the Zionist regime”.

Rhetoric aside, however, Hizballah and Iran are likely to try to avoid the inevitable direct military confrontation with Israel that would follow a decision to fire some of Hizballah’s thousands of rockets into the Galilee.

That certainly appears to have been Israel’s calculation in launching the attack.

Hizballah and Iran – both stretched militarily in Syria as they try to bolster Bashar al-Assad’s regime from the threat posed by various opposition and extremist groups – have no interest in opening an additional front, this time with Israel.

In addition, Iran is suffering economically from a US-Saudi engineered fall in oil prices and cannot risk an intensification of sanctions – currently being advanced in the US Congress – by being blamed for a major escalation of hostilities with Israel.

Likewise, Iran will be averse to falling into a trap set by Israel, aggravating tensions with western powers as Tehran tries to negotiate a deal with them on its nuclear programme. Israel would be only too delighted to see the talks collapse.

And Iran has invested heavily in arming Hizballah with rockets and missiles to provide a deterrent against Israel launching a strike on Iran. Using that arsenal now, as one Israeli analyst surmised, would be “wasting [it] on border skirmishes that have no strategic significance for Iran”.

Hizballah, meanwhile, will be reluctant to fire rockets for fear of weakening its domestic political position. It has no popular mandate – explicit or implicit – to drag Lebanon into another devastating confrontation with Israel, like the one in 2006, in retaliation for military losses it sustained on Syrian rather than Lebanese soil.

Boutros Harb, Lebanon’s telecoms minister, warned as much: 
“It’s not in anyone’s interest for a front to be opened [with Israel] and for Lebanon to enter a war.”

More likely Iran and Hizballah will seek revenge at a later time, either by attacking Israel from Syria or by hitting a high-level target abroad. Such a strike could itself escalate into a wider conflict, as occurred both in Lebanon in 2006 and in Gaza with Hamas last summer.

Power vacuum

It is not surprising that Quneitra province, the area of southern Syria next to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights where Israel’s air strike occurred, has become a flashpoint. Israel, on the one hand, and Hizballah and Iran, on the other, have been sucked into the relative power vacuum created there since the Syrian army lost its grip on the territory last summer.

Al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate, is reported to have strongholds in the area and controls the Quneitra crossing on the 1967 ceasefire line with the Golan Heights.

Israel has engaged in a range of activities in the Quneitra region in support of the rebel groups.

It appears to have been quietly trying to gain a foothold by recruiting collaborators among the local population, in what Hizballah fears may eventually become a replication in Syria of the South Lebanon Army, a militia Israel created to help destabilise southern Lebanon throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Israel has also assisted rebel groups, including al-Nusra Front, allowing its wounded fighters to access its medical services, as a report last month by United Nations monitors in the area confirmed. Israel is also said to have been arming and training these groups, and providing them with maps and intelligence. The strong suspicion is that Israel is trying to forge links with these fighters to help them attack Hizballah and the Syrian army.

According to some reports, Israel’s downing of a Syrian military aircraft over the Golan Heights in late September was intended to aid al-Nusra Front as it fought for control of Quneitra crossing.

And most visibly, Israel has carried out a series of air strikes against targets in Syria, of which Sunday’s was only the latest. The Israeli media have claimed that the earlier attacks were designed to stop Syria and Iran transferring weapons to Hizballah to strengthen its fighters as they take on opposition forces. However, there are also reports that Israel is trying to weaken Syria’s military infrastructure to assist the rebels and give its own aircraft unhindered access to Syria’s skies.

However unlikely the alliance may seem, there are strategic reasons why Israel might wish to help al-Nusra Front and even the more extremist fighters of the Islamic State group.

Israel appears to prefer that the Syrian army, Hizballah and Iran remain trapped in an endless struggle against the opposition – whatever their hue – that saps their resources and military strength, leaving Israel to control the playing field.

Nasty wake-up call

Hizballah, by contrast, has every reason to want to cement its position in southern Syria. Nasrallah and Assad received a nasty wake-up call last summer when the rebels seized Syrian positions in the Quneitra area.

Sunni opposition forces thereby gained control both of the border with the Golan Heights, giving them access to Israel, and moved into position next to south Lebanon, home to much of Lebanon’s Shia majority and Hizballah’s heartland.

For this reason, Israeli leaks to the media that Hizballah and Iran have been trying to establish missile bases in the Quneitra area cannot be discounted.

However, claims from Israel that it was under imminent threat of a Hizballah attack from the Quneitra area – justifying the strike – are implausible. If Hizballah is now averse, as seems to be the case, to hitting Israel after it killed so many of its commanders, why would it have been preparing to attack Israel before the strike, when it had far less cause?

Israel appears to prefer that the Syrian army, Hizballah and Iran remain trapped in an endless struggle against the opposition.

More likely, the team were there to assess ways to tighten their hold on the area, compensating for Syria’s weakness, to prevent both further territorial losses to opposition forces and Israel’s continuing military interference.

Veteran Israeli military analyst Alex Fishman observed: 
“The Iranians and the Syrians reached the conclusion that Israel is no longer deterred on the Syrian front and is carrying on uninhibited.”

For this reason, they are under pressure to create a new “balance of deterrence” with Israel.

Israel’s Channel 2 TV quoted Lebanese sources on Tuesday confirming that the team were establishing missile bases in southern Syria, presumably with Assad’s assent. If that was the case, then most likely the goal was to create a stockpile of rockets similar to the one that exists in south Lebanon to deter Israel both from striking in Syria and from helping rebel groups.

Israel’s desire to stop Hizballah and Iran’s counter-move – and thereby keep its free hand in Syria, launching attacks when it pleases – seems a more probable explanation for its attack on Sunday.

Jonathan Cook is a Nazareth- based journalist and winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism

Friday, March 20, 2015

Steve's Reign of Terror: How Harper Harnessed Canadian Horror

Terrorizing Canada With Stephen Harper

by Murray Dobbin - CounterPunch

Powell River, British Columbia

The Harper government’s pursuit of its odious Secret Police Act (C51) is just another chapter in the most through-going, and massive social engineering project in the history of the country. Social engineering used to be one of the favourite phrases of the right in its attack on social programs – accusing both liberal-minded politicians and meddling bureaucrats with manufacturing the welfare state. They conveniently ignored the fact that there was huge popular demand and support for activist government.

That was the so-called golden age of capitalism and it wasn’t just because of expanding government services. It was so-called because of a much broader and well-informed citizen engagement – both through social movements and as individual citizens. The level of trust in government was much higher than it is today. And absent from the picture were the factors that today dominate the political conversation: fear and economic insecurity.

Exactly how historians will describe this period in Canadian history is anyone’s guess but one approach could be to look upon the Harper era as an experiment in revealing how vulnerable democracies are to political sociopaths bold enough and ruthless enough to bend or break every rule and tradition on which democracy’s foundation rests.

It’s not just the institutions that are vulnerable though they certainly are. It’s a familiar list including Harper’s bullying of Governor General Michaelle Jean to force the proroguing of the House, his guide book on how to make parliamentary committees ineffective, the use of robo-calls and other election dirty tricks, his attempt to break the rules in appointing a Supreme Court Judge and his neutering the House of Commons question period through a deliberate strategy of refusing to answer questions – a practice that institutionalizes a contempt for Parliament that spreads outward to the general public. At a certain point it doesn’t matter who is responsible – the institution itself becomes risible and irrelevant to ordinary citizens. Which is, of course, exactly what Harper intends.

And that brings us to the other element of democratic politics – the actual citizens who are supposed to be the raw material of democracy. The whole institutional edifice theoretically rests on the foundation of the voting public. The extent to which the institutions of democracy can be assaulted and eroded with impunity is directly proportional to the level of civic literacy. The lower it is, the easier it is for malevolent autocrats like Harper to abuse his power.

In terms of civic literacy we are somewhere between Europe where it is relatively high and the US where it is frighteningly low. While the question is obviously more complicated than this, it’s not far-fetched to suggest that there is a continuum – with consumerism at one end and highly engaged citizenship at the other. We live in a hyper-consumer society – not a citizen-society characterized by the oft-repeated disclaimer “I’m not interested in politics.” The growing basis for our culture is not community or cooperation but conspicuous consumption and possessive individualism.

So long as the political elite accepted the basic premises of modern democracy and activist government, so long as the institutions they controlled functioned more or less within their defined mandates (that is, they were only occasionally abused) society could function with a minimal level of civic literacy. We could all go shopping more or less assured that the stuff of government (in substance and process) would continue undisturbed. If all political parties accepted the precepts of civil liberties, for example, it didn’t matter that much if there was a low degree of public awareness of the importance of civil liberties to our daily lives.

But when a politician suddenly their appears on the scene willing to systematically violate democratic principles as if they simply don’t apply to him then the demand for increased civic literacy is just as suddenly urgent and critical. Yet it is not something can be accomplished easily or quickly. Three sources come to mind: schools, the media and civil society organizations and activity.

Despite the best efforts of teachers and their unions over the decades civic literacy is extremely low on the curriculum totem pole in Canadian schools. Provincial governments have resisted such pressures which should hardly come as a surprise. There is a built in bias in a hierarchical, capitalist society against critical thinking – precisely because in liberal democracies the over-arching role of government is to manage capitalism with a view to maintaining it along with all its inherent inequalities. Too many critical thinkers is not helpful.

The media, of course, are largely responsible for helping put Stephen Harper in power. Ever since the Machiavellian Conrad Black bought up most of Canada’s dailies they have been used (by him and his successors) as an explicit propaganda tool for the dismantling of the post-war democratic consensus. While there are some tentative signs that they now recognize they’ve created a monster (Globe editorials criticizing the PM on a number of issues like C51) it’s a little late. Twenty-five years of telling people there is no alternative to unfettered capitalism has had a pernicious effect on both democracy and civic literacy.

That leaves voluntary (for the most part) civil society organizations. Yet, despite their objective of informing people about the myriad issues we face, here, too, the model falls short of significantly expanding the base of engaged, informed citizens. Ironically, much of the defensive politics of the left are the mirror image of Harper’s reliance on fear (of Muslims, criminals, niqabs, terrorists, environmentalists, unions, the CBC) to energize his base. We peddle more mundane but substantive fears – of losing Medicare, of climate change, of higher tuition fees, of unprotected rivers and streams and dirty oil.

If Canadians are scared silly, it’s no wonder given the mode of politics directed at them.

Regrettably there is no model from Canadian history that points us in the direction of serious commitment to civic literacy. We have to look to the Scandinavian countries. According to Canadian author Henry Milner “Swedish prime minister Olof Palme once said that he preferred to think of Sweden not as a social democracy but as a ‘study-circle democracy.’ The idea …is associated most of all with the efforts of the ABF (the Workers’ Educational Association). …The ABF offers courses in organizing groups and co-operatives, understanding media, and a broad range of contemporary issues, as well as languages, computers, art, music, and nature appreciation.” There were ten other groups doing study circles – many of them subsidized by the government. Half of all Swedish adults were involved in them

Even in Sweden the model is no longer as robust as it was when Milner wrote this assessment (2002). But even after the defeat of Social Democratic governments, no party has dared undermine Swedish social programs or run roughshod over its democracy. That’s because informed citizens are not easily manipulated by fear and their level of trust in government remains high.

Given our shamefully biased media Canadians still manage to resist Harper’s continued assault on our political sensibility. The first polls on the Secret Police Act (don’t call it by any other name) were alarming with upwards of 80% agreeing with the need for tougher anti-terror laws. But things are changing very quickly as the result of a determined fight-back by civil society groups, a phalanx of heavy-hitting experts and the NDP. A Form Research poll this week showed support for the Act was down to 38% with those disapproving at 51% – an amazing turn around. The highest levels of disapproval were amongst “…the youngest (64%), New Democrats (77%), the best educated (65%) and the non-religious (70%).”

Yet the Forum results are decidedly mixed and demonstrate how much work there is yet to be done to neutralize the fear campaign. When respondents were presented with specific parts of the bill the percentage disapproving actually decreased and supporters increased.

The polling will no doubt continue to demonstrate confusion, a desire to deal with the real problem of terrorism and condemnation of the attempt to at the idea of labelling environmentalists and First Nations as terror suspects.

Yet a huge effort will be needed to completely immunize Canadians against the next wave of Harper fear-mongering. Imagine if all these efforts and similar warning campaigns had instead been put into creating something similar to the Swedish “study circle democracy.” That’s the only lasting solution to voter manipulation and a healthy democracy. Until we realize that, progressive politics will remain crisis management and we will continue to pin our desperate hopes on coalitions and proportional representation. But without a high degree of civic literacy these institutional fixes will be ultimately dissatisfying.

Murray Dobbin is a writer living in Powell River, British Columbia.

Calling All Debts: Greece Remembers Occupation "Loans"

Greece: Memory and Debt

by Conn Hallinan - CounterPunch

Memory is selective and therein lays an explanation for some of the deep animosity between Berlin and Athens in the current debt crisis that has shaken the European Union (EU) to its foundations.

For German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble, “memory” goes back to 2007 when Greece was caught up in the worldwide financial conflagration touched off by American and European speculators. Berlin was a major donor in the 240 billion Euro “bailout”—89 percent of which went to pay off the gambling debts of German, French, Dutch and British banks. Schauble wants that debt repaid.

Millions of Greeks are concerned about unpaid debts as well, although their memories stretch back a little further.

In July, 1943 Wehrmacht General Hubert Lanz, commander of the First Mountain Division, was annoyed because two of his officers had been threatened by civilians in the Western Greek town of Kommeno. It was dangerous to irritate a German commander during the 1941-45 occupation of Greece.

Lanz first murdered 153 men, women and children—ages one to 75—in Mousiotitsas, then surrounded Kommeno, where his troops systematically killed 317 people, including 172 women. Thirteen were one-year old, and 38 people were burned alive in their houses. After the massacre, the soldiers ate their lunch in the village square, surrounded the by bodies of the dead, and then pushed on to other villages, killing more than 200 civilians.

It was not the first, nor the last massacre of Greeks, and most people in that country can recite them like the beads on a rosary: Kondomari (60 killed); Kardanos (180 killed); Alikianos (118 killed); Viannos (over 500 killed); Amari (164 killed); Kalavryta (over 700 killed); Distomo (214 killed). All in all, the Germans destroyed more than 460 villages, executed 130,000 civilians, and murdered virtually the entire Jewish population—60,000—during the occupation.

On top of that, Athens was forced to “lend” Germany 475 million Reich marks—estimated today at 14 billion Euros—to pay for the occupation. Adding interest to the loan makes that figure somewhere around 95 billion Euros.

Greece’s public debt is currently 315 billion Euros.

The Greeks “remember” a few other things about those massacres. Gen. Kurtl Student, the butcher of Kondomari, Kardanos, and Alikianos, was sentenced to five years after the war, but got out early on medical grounds. The beast of Mousiotitsas and Kommeno, Gen. Lanz, was sentenced to 12 years, served three, and became a major military and security advisor to the German Free Democratic Party. In 1954 he wrote a book about his exploits and died in bed in 1982. Gen. Karl von Le Suire of Kalavryta fame was not so lucky. Captured by the Soviets, he died in a Stalingrad POW camp in 1954. Lt. Gen. Friedrich-Wilhelm Muller, who ordered the Viannos massacre, was tried and executed by the Greeks in 1947.

It is not hard to see why many Greeks see a certain relationship between what the Germans did to Greece during the occupation and what is being done to it today. There are no massacres—although suicide rates are through the ceiling—and no mass starvation, but 44 percent of the Greek people are now below the poverty line, the economy shattered, and Greeks feel they no longer control their country. Up until the last election, they didn’t. The Troika—the European Central Bank, the European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund—dictated the price of the loan: layoffs, wage and pension reductions, and huge cutbacks in health care. True, their occupiers did not wear the double thunderbolts of the SS or the field green of the Wehrmacht, but armies in pinstripes and silk ties can inflict a lot of damage.

Germany dismisses the Greek demand for reparations—estimated at anywhere from some 160 billion Euros to over 677 billion Euros—as a long-dead issue that was decided back in 1960 when the Greek government signed a Bilateral Agreement with Berlin and accepted 115 million Deutschmarks in compensation.

“It is our firm belief that questions or reparations and compensation have been legally and politically resolved,” said Steffen Seibert, a spokesperson for German Chancellor Angela Merkel. 
“We should concentrate on current issues and, hopefully what will be a good future.”

But that is a selective reading of history. There was never any “resolution” of Nazi Germany’s post-war debts because the country was divided between East and West. The 1953 Treaty of London cut Germany’s obligations in half and stretched out debt payments, but the Treaty did not address reparations because they were supposed to be resolved in the final peace treaty. However, with Germany divided, there was no such agreement.

When Germany was unified in 1990, the Greeks raised the issue of reparations, but the Germans dismissed the issue as resolved by the combination of the London Treaty and the 1960 payoff. But not according to historian Hagen Fleischer, who has studied the reparations issue and the original loan documents. Fleischer says that Germany first argued that as long as the country was divided, Berlin could not consider repaying any debts. “Then after German reunification Helmut Kohl [then Chancellor] and Hans-Dietrich Genscher [then Foreign Minister] said that it was now much too late. The matter was ancient history.”

According to the Syriza government, the 115 million marks Germany paid in 1960 were only in compensation for Greek victims of Nazism, not the physical damage to the country, the destruction of the economy, or the forced loans.

“Germany has never properly paid reparations for the damage done to Greece,” argues Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tspiras.

“After the reunification of Germany in 1990 the legal and political conditions were created for this issue to be solved. But since then, German governments chose silence, legal tricks and delay.”

Many Greeks refuse to accept what they consider a paltry sum for the vast crimes of the occupation. Four descendents of the 214 civilians massacred by the 4th SS Panzergrenadier Division at Distomo sued and, in 1997, were awarded 37.5 million Euros, a ruling upheld by the Greek Supreme Court in 2000. When Germany refused to recognize the verdict, the defendants took their case to Italy, and in 2008 an Italian court ruled that the plaintiffs had the right to seize German-owed property in compensation for the Greek award, including a villa on Lake Como.

Germany appealed the Italian decision to the International Court at Hague, which found in favor of Berlin on a principle of international law that countries are immune from the jurisdiction of other states.

However, Germany has assets in Greece, including property and the Goethe Institute, a leading cultural center in Athens. Justice Minister Nikos Paraskevopoulos says he is ready to begin seizing German assets in Greece.

Tsipras says Germany has a “moral obligation” to pay reparations, a sentiment that some on the German left agrees with.

“From a moral point of view, Germany ought to pay off these old compensations and the ‘war loan’ that they got during the Occupation,” says Gabriele Zimmer of Die Linke, a party closely allied to Syriza in the European Parliament.

Addressing the Greek Parliamentary Committee for Claiming the German Reparations on Mar. 10, Tsipras asked “Why do we tackle the past” instead of focusing on the future? “But what country, what people can have a future if it does not honor its history and its struggles?”

Dismissing the argument that reparations are ancient history—“The generation of the Occupation and the National Resistance is still living”—Tsipras warned about the consequences of amnesia: “The crimes and destruction caused by the troops of the Third Reich, across the Greek territory, but also across the entire Europe” are memories “that must be preserved in the younger generations. We have a duty—historical, political, ethical—to preserve, remember forever what Nazism means, what fascism means.”

Nazism is not a memory that needs a lot of refreshing in Greece. Sometime this spring some 70 members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party, including 16 current and former Parliament members, will go on trial for being members of a “criminal organization.” The anti-Semitic and racist Golden Dawn Party has been associated with several murders, attacks on leftists, trade unionists, and immigrants, and has close ties with the police and several of the billionaire oligarchs who dominate Greek politics and the economy.

Indeed, its profile is eerily similar to that of the German National Socialist Party (Nazi) in its early years. Golden Dawn has 17 members of Parliament and is the third highest vote getter in the country, though its support has recently dipped.

Old memories certainly fuel Greek anger at Germany, but so do the current policies of enforced austerity that Berlin has played a pivotal role in inflicting on debt-ravaged Greece. “Germany’s Europe has finished,” says Greek Social Security Minister Dimitris Statoulis, the Europe “where Germany forbids and all other countries execute orders.”

Conn Hallinan can be read at

Thanks to Kia Mistilis, journalist, photographer and editor, for providing material for this column 

Passing: Danny Schechter, the News Dissector

Danny Schechter (1942-2015)

by Greg Palast

March 19, 2015 

Today, we lost a journalist’s journalist, the moral commander of investigative reporters from New York to Johannesburg.

Known for bringing the world the story of Nelson Mandela, Danny gave up cushy jobs at ABC and CNN, the big bucks and a steady flow of mainstream awards to blow the whistle on the degradation of American news. Danny exposed what he called the "news goo" of talking hair-dos—denouncing them as repeaters, not reporters. One of his searing books told it all in the title: "The More You Watch, the Less You Know."

It was Danny Schechter who, two decades ago, hectored and harassed me until I gave up a darn good job as an investigator, pushing me to become an investigative reporter. (He did demand I wear a wig so I could get on the US boob tube. (No way. Instead I went into journalistic exile at BBC London.)

And it was Danny Schechter who first brought my investigations back to our benighted America in his film, Counting on Democracy.

Once, in Bosnia, when I ran into some reporters from Kazakhstan, and I told them I was from New York, they asked me, "Do you know Danny Schechter?" When I said yes, they were dazzled. But in America, Danny was, sadly, a prophet outcast in his own land. The hair-sprayed pseudo-news puppets, with their phony tales of derring-do, exiled Danny’s clarion reports to the confined pool of dissenting websites and DVDs.

It had been my plan to surprise Danny by dedicating our current film to him. I will do that still, and, as well, dedicate myself to the Sisyphean task he demanded of me and the many others he mentored: to tell the stories of the brutalized, cheated, hurt and silenced; to be a voice for the voiceless.

Alev ha-shalom, Danny Schechter, rest, finally, in peace.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Man of Jeju Island


by Kathy Kelly - TeleSur

Among some families on Jeju Island, discussions of the past are still considered off-limits. By the time I leave Kentucky's federal prison center, where I'm an inmate with a three month sentence, the world's 12th-largest city may be without water. Estimates put the water reserve of Sao Paulo, a city of 20 million people, at sixty days.

Sporadic outages have already begun, the wealthy are pooling money to receive water in tankers, and government officials are heard discussing five-day shutoffs of the water supply, and the possibility of warning residents to flee.

This past year United States people watched stunned as water was cut off, household by household, to struggling people in Detroit, less due to any total water shortage than to a drying up of any political power accessible to the poor in an increasingly undemocratic nation.

A local privatization scheme left the city water department underfunded, while dictatorial "emergency management" imposed by the state chose to place the burden of repaying a corrupt government's bad debt on Detroit's most impoverished people. U.S. people were forced to remember the guarantee offered by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, entered into as a treaty obligation by world nations after WWII, that access to water is an inalienable human right.

All over the world, water scarcity is becoming a dire threat to the possibility of, as Prof. Noam Chomsky phrases it, decent human survival. Faced with such news, it is perhaps odd that I think of Professor Yang Yoon Mo, a South Korean activist I have met who, far from any area of drought, has fought instead, and with beautiful and irrepressible courage, to save a small lush rocky outcropping ringed by ocean, and with it the shoreline, and hopes for a peaceful future, of his home village.

In 2008, he returned to Jeju island, having left a rewarding life as a famed artist and film critic in the capital, Seoul, to join protest against construction of a planned naval base on the shores of Gangjeong, a village in Jeju Island. Though described as part of South Korea's national defense, the base's dimensions are fitted to the massive size of United States nuclear submarines and Aegis destroyers, part, as Larry Kerschner notes, of a military buildup forming a semi-circle of naval and other bases surrounding China," the United States' "Asia Pivot" away from focus on the Middle East and toward its traditional superpower rivals.

Nobody in Jeju is to be made safer by the base. Professor Yang Yoon Mo was born on Jeju in 1956, when it was already illegal for traumatized survivors there to mention the recent massacres. Under U.S. occupation between 1948 and 1952, the military government had killed tens of thousands of independence protesters and militants.

After a half century of official silence, the South Korean government has apologized and erected a memorial on Jeju memorializing perhaps 40,000 people killed on Jeju Island alone, many in their prison cells, during a tragic time referred to locally as the April 3rd genocide. Many residents are understandably less than eager to welcome a U.S. military presence back to the island.

When he was born, Professor Yang's mother resolved to protect her son from the tragedy that had befallen her father and uncle, both killed in the massacres. She wanted to steer her son into a safe position in life, even if it meant becoming part of the government establishment. But, at an early age, Professor Yang showed talent as an artist and he simply didn't "fit in" to the narrow, safe routes his mother's great fear for him dictated.

As a teenager, he became fascinated by cartoons, including, to his mother's alarm, political cartoons, and he tried to correspond with mainland South Korean cartoonists. His mother interfered with his correspondence and took to destroying his art. He began to mistrust her and even hate her. Understanding has come to him, since.

It was through extensive research and time for reflection, during a recent imprisonment, that he finally began to understand why his mother had wanted so badly to protect him. Among some families on Jeju Island, discussions of the past are still considered off-limits. But professor Yang steadily developed his artistic instincts and his readiness to step beyond borders of acceptable communication. As an artist, he found that his mission was to discover beauty, to protect it, and make it known to the world. When I met him, he told me, "I have become someone who was willing to die for a rock."

In 2008, the Gureombi Rock was a kilometer-long volcanic outcropping rising stubbornly above the waves somewhat in the manner of a never-suppressed memory of injustice and lying squarely in the way of base construction. In 2008, after participating for 7 nights and 8 days in a pilgrimage to resist the construction, Prof. Yang decided to move to Gangjeong, and in 2009, he pitched a tent on the Gureombi Rock, an exquisitely beautiful, tiny island off the shore of Gangjeong, where he stayed until he was forcibly removed in 2011.

"I focused on Gureombi and not anything else," he told me. "I felt full devotion, full immersion, full absorption." 

Over the coming years he would be imprisoned four times, for a total of 555 days. He almost has died. Along with his imprisonments Professor Yang, who is nearly sixty, has endured three prison fasts ranging in length from fifty to seventy-two days, refusing solid foods as a sign of his longing, his hunger, to protect the environment near his home. His most recent prison fast only ended when environmental and peace movement activists came to the prison to persuade him to continue working alongside them. I visited Gangjeong, and met Professor Yang, in the spring of 2014.

Taking a cue from organizers who have spent years protesting U.S. military bases elsewhere in the Pacific Basin, the activists in Gangjeong hold daily protests. Each morning, we would all assemble at the construction site gates, from which South Korean police would carry many of us away in our chairs to allow the passage of construction vehicles and crews to and from the site. Assemblies included Buddhist prayer chants, celebration of the Catholic daily mass and rosary recitation, dances of universal peace, songs and chants. After several hours of spirited witness and protest, villagers and guests would go to the Gangjeong community kitchen, open seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and enjoy delicious meals together, accepting a free will offering.

One afternoon, at the community kitchen, most of the activists had finished their lunch and left when I noticed a slight, unassuming man slipping into the dining hall, fixing himself a tray, and sitting down to eat, alone. I recognized Prof. Yang from the banners and posters that lined roadways up to the construction site and adorned the village community center, the library and the coffee house. His most recent imprisonment had lasted 435 days. Along with Professor Yang, I met his friend and mentor, Br. Song, a Mennonite minister who, while the Gureombi Rock still stood, nonviolently resisted its destruction by attempting to swim to it, every day. Security posted at the site would roughly throw him back into the water every day, but Br. Song was undeterred.

The protests continue, the kitchen is still open, while inside the construction site, crews assault Gangjeong's beautiful shoreline. Day and night, the South Korean government, in collusion with major companies like Samsung and Hyundai, deploys "construction" crews to rip up plant life, destroy coral reefs, bulldoze and explode entire small islands, threatening the way of life that villagers have long preserved, and arming the United States for cold war competition with China.

Sasha David, at the start of his book The Empire's Edge (p.7) writes that the U.S. military buildup in the region "is less about being able to defeat China militarily (that is already possible) and more about leverage in being able to dictate terms of trade in the region." 

Gureombi rock is gone from its place on the Jeju coastline. The base plans required its complete demolition: It can no longer be seen. "Gureombi is inside of me," says Prof. Yang. Professor Yang Yoon Mo said that earlier in his life, he would have felt defeated after destruction of the Gureombi Rock and the continued construction of the naval site. Now, he says, he realizes that the purpose for peace and environmental action continues, and he is excited to continue envisioning demilitarized islands working together for peace and environmental protection.

When I last met him, along with Br. Song, it was in Seoul, South Korea, upon Professor Yang's return from a conference, held in Okinawa, Japan, uniting island activists throughout the region. They were coordinating future plans, and Professor Yang Yoon Mo said that he could even contemplate a fifth imprisonment if it would help broaden and diversify the movement. I don't think Gureombi is gone, with the way it has changed Prof. Yang, and his community, and incidentally me.

We're not permitted to ignore the beauty and hope of the present. If we close our eyes we can put ourselves in an all-too-plausible future where the water is gone, and the human community, and the world is already barren, and by implication not worth working to save. That's when we need become someone willing to live and work for a rock.

Back at home, and growing in part out of Occupy Sandy's grassroots humanitarian response to the recent climate-driven disaster in New York, the Detroit Water Brigade has responded to its own city's horror both with political agitation and water distribution programs. They're posting on their sites about Sao Paulo. Prof. Yang's sometime mentor, the activist Bruce Gagnon writes

"From the point of view of corporate capital we are all expendable. We are not going to defeat these corporate forces by remaining isolated inside our single-issue silos ... There is a direct connection between the massive $1 trillion a year Pentagon budget .... and the destruction of social progress. There is a direct connection between the military's huge carbon bootprint and climate change." 

The swim to our neighbor islands will tend to be part of saving our own. Living, as I briefly do, in a world of imprisoned beauty, on an island inside that archipelago of U.S. prisons so unacceptably similar to that of our old superpower rival, it's no wonder I'm thinking of Prof. Yang Yoon Mo. What we do to the environment, we're doing to each other.

What we let our state impose on those walled beyond our borders we will tend to inflict on more and more people walled up within them, until there is no world of beauty left to keep safe for our own use, and no trust left on which any safety can be built. Until it all dries up. Whereas if we recommit to risk and beauty, refusing paths of alleged safety which avoid temporary danger by leading us to certain doom, if we seek our security in treating other people fairly, we may find our way to decent lives, along the way toward "decent human survival."  

Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence (, is in federal prison for participation in an anti-drone protest. Shecan receive mail at: KATHY KELLY 04971-045; FMC LEXINGTON; FEDERAL MEDICAL CENTER; SATELLITE CAMP; P.O. BOX 14525; LEXINGTON, KY 40512.

The Whys on Iraq Wars: Worse Than Blood for Oil

How Bush won the war in Iraq - really!

by Greg Palast for Vice Magazine

March 18, 2015

If you thought it was "Blood for Oil"--you're wrong. It was far, far worse.

Because it was marked "confidential" on each page, the oil industry stooge couldn't believe the US State Department had given me a complete copy of their secret plans for the oil fields of Iraq.

Actually, the State Department had done no such thing. But my line of bullshit had been so well-practiced and the set-up on my mark had so thoroughly established my fake identity, that I almost began to believe my own lies.I closed in. I said I wanted to make sure she and I were working from the same State Department draft. Could she tell me the official name, date and number of pages? She did.

Bingo! I'd just beaten the Military-Petroleum Complex in a lying contest, so I had a right to be stoked.

After phoning numbers from California to Kazakhstan to trick my mark, my next calls were to the State Department and Pentagon. Now that I had the specs on the scheme for Iraq's oil – that State and Defense Department swore, in writing, did not exist – I told them I'd appreciate their handing over a copy (no expurgations, please) or there would be a very embarrassing story on BBC Newsnight.

Within days, our chief of investigations, Ms Badpenny, delivered to my shack in the woods outside New York a 323-page, three-volume program for Iraq's oil crafted by George Bush's State Department and petroleum insiders meeting secretly in Houston, Texas.

I cracked open the pile of paper – and I was blown away.

Like most lefty journalists, I assumed that George Bush and Tony Blair invaded Iraq to buy up its oil fields, cheap and at gun-point, and cart off the oil. We thought we knew the neo-cons true casus belli: Blood for oil.

But the truth in the confidential Options for Iraqi Oil Industry was worse than "Blood for Oil". Much, much worse.

The key was in the flow chart on page 15, Iraq Oil Regime Timeline and Scenario Analysis:

"...A single state-owned company ...enhances a government's relationship with OPEC."

Let me explain why these words rocked my casbah.

I'd already had in my hands a 101-page document, another State Department secret scheme, first uncovered by Wall Street Journal reporter Neil King, that called for the privatization, the complete sell-off of every single government-owned asset and industry. And in case anyone missed the point, the sales would include every derrick, pipe and barrel of oil, or, as the document put it, "especially the oil".

That plan was created by a gaggle of corporate lobbyists and neo-cons working for the Heritage Foundation. In 2004, the plan's authenticity was confirmed by Washington power player Grover Norquist. (It's hard to erase the ill memory of Grover excitedly waving around his soft little hands as he boasted about turning Iraq into a free-market Disneyland, recreating Chile in Mesopotamia, complete with the Pinochet-style dictatorship necessary to lock up the assets – while behind Norquist, Richard Nixon snarled at me from a gargantuan portrait.)

The neo-con idea was to break up and sell off Iraq's oil fields, ramp up production, flood the world oil market – and thereby smash OPEC and with it, the political dominance of Saudi Arabia.

General Jay Garner also confirmed the plan to grab the oil. Indeed, Garner told me that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld fired him, when the General, who had lived in Iraq, complained the neo-con grab would set off a civil war. It did. Nevertheless, Rumsfeld replaced Garner with a new American viceroy, Paul Bremer, a partner in Henry Kissinger's firm, to complete the corporate takeover of Iraq's assets – "especially the oil".

But that was not to be. While Bremer oversaw the wall-to-wall transfer of Iraqi industries to foreign corporations, he was stopped cold at the edge of the oil fields.

How? I knew there was only one man who could swat away the entire neo-con army: James Baker, former Secretary of State, Bush family consiglieri and most important, counsel to Exxon-Mobil Corporation and the House of Saud.

(One unwitting source was industry oil-trading maven Edward Morse of Lehman/Credit Suisse, who threatened to sue Harper's Magazine for my quoting him. Morse denied I ever spoke with him. But when I played the tape from my hidden recorder, his memory cleared and he scampered away.)

Weirdly, I was uncovering that the US oil industry was using its full political mojo to prevent their being handed ownership of Iraq's oil fields. That's right: The oil companies did NOT want to own the oil fields – and they sure as hell did not want the oil. Just the opposite. They wanted to make sure there would be a limit on the amount of oil that would come out of Iraq.

There was no way in hell that Baker's clients, from Exxon to Abdullah, were going to let a gaggle of neo-con freaks smash up Iraq's oil industry, break OPEC production quotas, flood the market with six million barrels of Iraqi oil a day and thereby knock its price back down to $13 a barrel where it was in 1998.

Big Oil simply could not allow Iraq's oil fields to be privatized and taken from state control. That would make it impossible to keep Iraq within OPEC (an avowed goal of the neo-cons) as the state could no longer limit production in accordance with the cartel's quota system..

The problem with Saddam was not the threat that he'd stop the flow of oil – he was trying to sell more. The price of oil had been boosted 300 percent by sanctions and an embargo cutting Iraq's sales to two million barrels a day from four. With Saddam gone, the only way to keep the damn oil in the ground was to leave it locked up inside the busted state oil company which would remain under OPEC (i.e. Saudi) quotas.

The James Baker Institute quickly and secretly started in on drafting the 323-page plan for the State Department. In May 2003, w ith authority granted from the top (i.e. Dick Cheney), ex-Shell Oil USA CEO Phil Carroll was rushed to Baghdad to take charge of Iraq's oil. He told Bremer, "There will be no privatization of oil – END OF STATEMENT." Carroll then passed off control of Iraq's oil to Bob McKee of Halliburton, Cheney's old oil-services company, who implemented the Baker "enhance OPEC" option anchored in state ownership.

Some oil could be released, mainly to China, through limited, but lucrative, "production sharing agreements".

And that's how George Bush won the war in Iraq. The invasion was not about "blood for oil", but something far more sinister: blood for no oil. War to keep supply tight and send prices skyward.

Oil men, whether James Baker or George Bush or Dick Cheney, are not in the business of producing oil. They are in the business of producing profits.

And they've succeeded. Iraq, capable of producing six to 12 million barrels of oil a day, still exports well under its old OPEC quota of three million barrels.

As George Bush could proudly say to James Baker: Mission Accomplished!

* * * * * * *

Palast is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Armed Madhouse and the highly acclaimed Vultures' Picnic, named Book of the Year 2012 on BBC Newsnight Review.

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Taking the "We" out of The People: The New American Order

The New American Order: 1% Elections, The Privatization of the State, a Fourth Branch of Government, and the Demobilization of "We the People"

by Tom Engelhardt  - TomDispatch

Have you ever undertaken some task you felt less than qualified for, but knew that someone needed to do? Consider this piece my version of that, and let me put what I do understand about it in a nutshell: based on developments in our post-9/11 world, we could be watching the birth of a new American political system and way of governing for which, as yet, we have no name.

And here’s what I find strange: the evidence of this, however inchoate, is all around us and yet it’s as if we can’t bear to take it in or make sense of it or even say that it might be so.

Let me make my case, however minimally, based on five areas in which at least the faint outlines of that new system seem to be emerging: political campaigns and elections; the privatization of Washington through the marriage of the corporation and the state; the de-legitimization of our traditional system of governance; the empowerment of the national security state as an untouchable fourth branch of government; and the demobilization of "we the people."

Whatever this may add up to, it seems to be based, at least in part, on the increasing concentration of wealth and power in a new plutocratic class and in that ever-expanding national security state. Certainly, something out of the ordinary is underway, and yet its birth pangs, while widely reported, are generally categorized as aspects of an exceedingly familiar American system somewhat in disarray.

1. 1% Elections

Check out the news about the 2016 presidential election and you’ll quickly feel a sense of been-there, done-that. As a start, the two names most associated with it, Bush and Clinton, couldn’t be more familiar, highlighting as they do the curiously dynastic quality of recent presidential contests. (If a Bush or Clinton should win in 2016 and again in 2020, a member of one of those families will have controlled the presidency for 28 of the last 36 years.)

Take, for instance, “Why 2016 Is Likely to Become a Close Race,” a recent piece Nate Cohn wrote for my hometown paper. A noted election statistician, Cohn points out that, despite Hillary Clinton’s historically staggering lead in Democratic primary polls (and lack of serious challengers), she could lose the general election. He bases this on what we know about her polling popularity from the Monica Lewinsky moment of the 1990s to the present. Cohn assures readers that Hillary will not “be a Democratic Eisenhower, a popular, senior statesperson who cruises to an easy victory.” It’s the sort of comparison that offers a certain implicit reassurance about the near future. (No, Virginia, we haven’t left the world of politics in which former general and president Dwight D. Eisenhower can still be a touchstone.)

Cohn may be right when it comes to Hillary’s electability, but this is not Dwight D. Eisenhower’s or even Al Gore’s America. If you want a measure of that, consider this year’s primaries. I mean, of course, the 2015 ones. Once upon a time, the campaign season started with candidates flocking to Iowa and New Hampshire early in the election year to establish their bona fides among party voters. These days, however, those are already late primaries.

The early primaries, the ones that count, take place among a small group of millionaires and billionaires, a new caste flush with cash who will personally, or through complex networks of funders, pour multi-millions of dollars into the campaigns of candidates of their choice. So the early primaries -- this year mainly a Republican affair -- are taking place in resort spots like Las Vegas, Rancho Mirage, California, and Sea Island, Georgia, as has been widely reported. These “contests” involve groveling politicians appearing at the beck and call of the rich and powerful, and so reflect our new 1% electoral system. (The main pro-Hillary super PAC, for instance, is aiming for a kitty of $500 million heading into 2016, while the Koch brothers network has already promised to drop almost $1 billion into the coming campaign season, doubling their efforts in the last presidential election year.)

Ever since the Supreme Court opened up the ultimate floodgates with its 2010 Citizens United decision, each subsequent election has seen record-breaking amounts of money donated and spent. The 2012 presidential campaign was the first $2 billion election; campaign 2016 is expected to hit the $5 billion mark without breaking a sweat. By comparison, according to Burton Abrams and Russell Settle in their study, “The Effect of Broadcasting on Political Campaign Spending,” Republicans and Democrats spent just under $13 million combined in 1956 when Eisenhower won his second term.

In the meantime, it’s still true that the 2016 primaries will involve actual voters, as will the election that follows. The previous election season, the midterms of 2014, cost almost $4 billion, a record despite the number of small donors continuing to drop. It also represented the lowest midterm voter turnout since World War II. (See: demobilization of the public, below -- and add in the demobilization of the Democrats as a real party, the breaking of organized labor, the fragmenting of the Republican Party, and the return of voter suppression laws visibly meant to limit the franchise.) It hardly matters just what the flood of new money does in such elections, when you can feel the weight of inequality bearing down on the whole process in a way that is pushing us somewhere new.

2. The Privatization of the State (or the U.S. as a Prospective Third-World Nation)

In the recent coverage of the Hillary Clinton email flap, you can find endless references to the Clintons of yore in wink-wink, you-know-how-they-are-style reporting; and yes, she did delete a lot of emails; and yes, it’s an election year coming and, as everyone points out, the Republicans are going to do their best to keep the email issue alive until hell freezes over, etc., etc. Again, the coverage, while eyeball gluing, is in a you’ve-seen-it-all-before, you’ll-see-it-all-again-mode.

However, you haven’t seen it all before. The most striking aspect of this little brouhaha lies in what’s most obvious but least highlighted. An American secretary of state chose to set up her own private, safeguarded email system for doing government work; that is, she chose to privatize her communications. If this were Cairo, it might not warrant a second thought. But it didn’t happen in some third-world state. It was the act of a key official of the planet’s reigning (or thrashing) superpower, which -- even if it wasn’t the first time such a thing had ever occurred -- should be taken as a tiny symptom of something that couldn’t be larger or, in the long stretch of history, newer: the ongoing privatization of the American state, or at least the national security part of it.

Though the marriage of the state and the corporation has a pre-history, the full-scale arrival of the warrior corporation only occurred after 9/11. Someday, that will undoubtedly be seen as a seminal moment in the formation of whatever may be coming in this country. Only 13 years later, there is no part of the war state that has not experienced major forms of privatization. The U.S. military could no longer go to war without its crony corporations doing KP and guard duty, delivering the mail, building the bases, and being involved in just about all of its activities, including training the militaries of foreign allies and even fighting. Such warrior corporations are now involved in every aspect of the national security state, including torture, drone strikes, and -- to the tune of hundreds of thousands of contract employees like Edward Snowden -- intelligence gathering and spying. You name it and, in these years, it’s been at least partly privatized.

All you have to do is read reporter James Risen’s recent book, Pay Any Price, on how the global war on terror was fought in Washington, and you know that privatization has brought something else with it: corruption, scams, and the gaming of the system for profits of a sort that might normally be associated with a typical third-world kleptocracy. And all of this, a new world being born, was reflected in a tiny way in Hillary Clinton’s very personal decision about her emails.

Though it’s a subject I know so much less about, this kind of privatization (and the corruption that goes with it) is undoubtedly underway in the non-war-making, non-security-projecting part of the American state as well.

3. The De-legitimization of Congress and the Presidency

On a third front, American “confidence” in the three classic check-and-balance branches of government, as measured by polling outfits, continues to fall. In 2014, Americans expressing a “great deal of confidence” in the Supreme Court hit a new low of 23%; in the presidency, it was 11%, and in Congress a bottom-scraping 5%. (The military, on the other hand, registers at 50%.) The figures for “hardly any confidence at all” are respectively 20%, 44%, and more than 50%. All are in or near record-breaking territory for the last four decades.

It seems fair to say that in recent years Congress has been engaged in a process of delegitimizing itself. Where that body once had the genuine power to declare war, for example, it is now “debating” in a desultory fashion an “authorization” for a war against the Islamic State in Syria, Iraq, and possibly elsewhere that has already been underway for eight months and whose course, it seems, will be essentially unaltered, whether Congress authorizes it or not.

What would President Harry Truman, who once famously ran a presidential campaign against a “do-nothing” Congress, have to say about a body that truly can do just about nothing? Or rather, to give the Republican war hawks in that new Congress their due, not quite nothing. They are proving capable of acting effectively to delegitimize the presidency as well. House Majority Leader John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to undercut the president's Iranian nuclear negotiations and the letter signed by 47 Republican senators and directed to the Iranian ayatollahs are striking examples of this. They are visibly meant to tear down an “imperial presidency” that Republicans gloried in not so long ago.

The radical nature of that letter, not as an act of state but of its de-legitimization, was noted even in Iran, where fundamentalist Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei proclaimed it “a sign of a decline in political ethics and the destruction of the American establishment from within.” Here, however, the letter is either being covered as a singularly extreme one-off act (“treason!”) or, as Jon Stewart did on “The Daily Show,” as part of a repetitive tit-for-tat between Democrats and Republicans over who controls foreign policy. It is, in fact, neither. It represents part of a growing pattern in which Congress becomes an ever less effective body, except in its willingness to take on and potentially take out the presidency.

In the twenty-first century, all that “small government” Republicans and “big government” Democrats can agree on is offering essentially unconditional support to the military and the national security state. The Republican Party -- its various factions increasingly at each other’s throats almost as often as at those of the Democrats -- seems reasonably united solely on issues of war-making and security. As for the Democrats, an unpopular administration, facing constant attack by those who loath President Obama, has kept its footing in part by allying with and fusing with the national security state. A president who came into office rejecting torture and promoting sunshine and transparency in government has, in the course of six-plus years, come to identify himself almost totally with the U.S. military, the CIA, the NSA, and the like. While it has launched an unprecedented campaign against whistleblowers and leakers (as well as sunshine and transparency), the Obama White House has proved a powerful enabler of, but also remarkably dependent upon, that state-within-a-state, a strange fate for “the imperial presidency.”

4. The Rise of the National Security State as the Fourth Branch of Government

One “branch” of government is, however, visibly on the rise and rapidly gaining independence from just about any kind of oversight. Its ability to enact its wishes with almost no opposition in Washington is a striking feature of our moment. But while the symptoms of this process are regularly reported, the overall phenomenon -- the creation of a de facto fourth branch of government -- gets remarkably little attention. In the war on terror era, the national security state has come into its own. Its growth has been phenomenal. Though it’s seldom pointed out, it should be considered remarkable that in this period we gained a second full-scale “defense department,” the Department of Homeland Security, and that it and the Pentagon have become even more entrenched, each surrounded by its own growing “complex” of private corporations, lobbyists, and allied politicians. The militarization of the country has, in these years, proceeded apace.

Meanwhile, the duplication to be found in the U.S. Intelligence Community with its 17 major agencies and outfits is staggering. Its growing ability to surveil and spy on a global scale, including on its own citizens, puts the totalitarian states of the twentieth century to shame. That the various parts of the national security state can act in just about any fashion without fear of accountability in a court of law is by now too obvious to belabor. As wealth has traveled upwards in American society in ways not seen since the first Gilded Age, so taxpayer dollars have migrated into the national security state in an almost plutocratic fashion.

New reports regularly surface about the further activities of parts of that state. In recent weeks, for instance, we learned from Jeremy Scahill and Josh Begley of the Intercept that the CIA has spent years trying to break the encryption on Apple iPhones and iPads; it has, that is, been aggressively seeking to attack an all-American corporation (even if significant parts of its production process are actually in China). Meanwhile, Devlin Barrett of the Wall Street Journal reported that the CIA, an agency barred from domestic spying operations of any sort, has been helping the U.S. Marshals Service (part of the Justice Department) create an airborne digital dragnet on American cell phones. Planes flying out of five U.S. cities carry a form of technology that "mimics a cellphone tower." This technology, developed and tested in distant American war zones and now brought to "the homeland," is just part of the ongoing militarization of the country from its borders to its police forces. And there’s hardly been a week since Edward Snowden first released crucial NSA documents in June 2013 when such “advances” haven’t been in the news.

News also regularly bubbles up about the further expansion, reorganization, and upgrading of parts of the intelligence world, the sorts of reports that have become the barely noticed background hum of our lives. Recently, for instance, Director John Brennan announced a major reorganization of the CIA meant to break down the classic separation between spies and analysts at the Agency, while creating a new Directorate of Digital Innovation responsible for, among other things, cyberwarfare and cyberespionage. At about the same time, according to the New York Times, the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, an obscure State Department agency, was given a new and expansive role in coordinating “all the existing attempts at countermessaging [against online propaganda by terror outfits like the Islamic State] by much larger federal departments, including the Pentagon, Homeland Security and intelligence agencies.”

This sort of thing is par for the course in an era in which the national security state has only grown stronger, endlessly elaborating, duplicating, and overlapping the various parts of its increasingly labyrinthine structure. And keep in mind that, in a structure that has fought hard to keep what it's doing cloaked in secrecy, there is so much more that we don’t know. Still, we should know enough to realize that this ongoing process reflects something new in our American world (even if no one cares to notice).

5. The Demobilization of the American People

In The Age of Acquiescence, a new book about America’s two Gilded Ages, Steve Fraser asks why it was that, in the nineteenth century, another period of plutocratic excesses, concentration of wealth and inequality, buying of politicians, and attempts to demobilize the public, Americans took to the streets with such determination and in remarkable numbers over long periods of time to protest their treatment, and stayed there even when the brute power of the state was called out against them. In our own moment, Fraser wonders, why has the silence of the public in the face of similar developments been so striking?

After all, a grim new American system is arising before our eyes. Everything we once learned in the civics textbooks of our childhoods about how our government works now seems askew, while the growth of poverty, the flatlining of wages, the rise of the .01%, the collapse of labor, and the militarization of society are all evident.

The process of demobilizing the public certainly began with the military. It was initially a response to the disruptive and rebellious draftees of the Vietnam-era. In 1973, at the stroke of a presidential pen, the citizen’s army was declared no more, the raising of new recruits was turned over to advertising agencies (a preview of the privatization of the state to come), and the public was sent home, never again to meddle in military affairs. Since 2001, that form of demobilization has been etched in stone and transformed into a way of life in the name of the “safety” and “security” of the public.

Since then, “we the people” have made ourselves felt in only three disparate ways: from the left in the Occupy movement, which, with its slogans about the 1% and the 99%, put the issue of growing economic inequality on the map of American consciousness; from the right, in the Tea Party movement, a complex expression of discontent backed and at least partially funded by right-wing operatives and billionaires, and aimed at the de-legitimization of the “nanny state”; and the recent round of post-Ferguson protests spurred at least in part by the militarization of the police in black and brown communities around the country.

The Birth of a New System

Otherwise, a moment of increasing extremity has also been a moment of -- to use Fraser’s word -- “acquiescence.” Someday, we’ll assumedly understand far better how this all came to be. In the meantime, let me be as clear as I can be about something that seems murky indeed: this period doesn’t represent a version, no matter how perverse or extreme, of politics as usual; nor is the 2016 campaign an election as usual; nor are we experiencing Washington as usual. Put together our 1% elections, the privatization of our government, the de-legitimization of Congress and the presidency, as well as the empowerment of the national security state and the U.S. military, and add in the demobilization of the American public (in the name of protecting us from terrorism), and you have something like a new ballgame.

While significant planning has been involved in all of this, there may be no ruling pattern or design. Much of it may be happening in a purely seat-of-the-pants fashion. In response, there has been no urge to officially declare that something new is afoot, let alone convene a new constitutional convention. Still, don’t for a second think that the American political system isn’t being rewritten on the run by interested parties in Congress, our present crop of billionaires, corporate interests, lobbyists, the Pentagon, and the officials of the national security state.

Out of the chaos of this prolonged moment and inside the shell of the old system, a new culture, a new kind of politics, a new kind of governance is being born right before our eyes. Call it what you want. But call it something. Stop pretending it’s not happening.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Haymarket Books).

[Note: My special thanks go to my friend John Cobb, who talked me through this one. Doing it would have been inconceivable without him. Tom]

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt's latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2015 Tom Engelhardt

Drone Base Booked by Peace Activists - Arrests Made

Seven Just Arrested Using Giant Books to Close Drone-Murder Base

by Mary Anne Grady - War Is a Crime

At 9:15 am on March 19, the 12th anniversary of the U.S.’ illegal invasion of Iraq, seven members of the Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars shut the main gate of the Hancock Drone Base (near Syracuse, NY) with a giant copy of the UN Charter and three other giant books – Dirty Wars (Jeremy Scahill), Living Under Drones (NYU and Stanford Law Schools), and You Never Die Twice (Reprieve).

The nonviolent activists also held a banner quoting Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution, stating that every treaty signed becomes the supreme law of the land. They brought the books to Hancock to remind everyone at the base of the signed treaties that prohibit the killing of civilians and assassinations of human beings.

The group attempted yet again to deliver a citizens indictment for war crimes to the Hancock Air Base chain of command. In the indictment, the activists state, “There is hope for a better world when WE, THE PEOPLE, hold our government accountable to the laws and treaties that govern the use of lethal force and war. To the extent that we ignore our laws and constitution and allow for the unchecked use of lethal force by our government, allowing the government to kill who ever it wants, where ever it wants, how ever it wants with no accountability, we make the world less safe for children everywhere.”

One of the giant books, Living Under Drones: Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians from US Drone Practices in Pakistan, states that such missions are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of noncombatants, including women and children, in that region.

One of those arrested, Fr. Bill Pickard of Scranton, PA, stated, “The Reaper drone not only kills and maims humans; it destroys homes and displaces and terrorizes whole communities. U.S. taxpayers pay for such terrorism which perpetuates the violence and generates enormous ill will against the United States.”

Hancock hosts the 174th Attack Wing of the NY Air National Guard – the MQ9 Reaper drone hub. Drones flying over Afghanistan are piloted from the base. It is also a training center for drone pilots, sensor operators and maintenance technicians

Today’s action at Hancock’s main gate is one chapter in the Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars’ (

) five-year scrupulously nonviolent campaign to expose the Hancock war crimes. Since 2010 there have been over 160 anti-Reaper arrests at Hancock, resulting in extreme bails, maximum fines, incarcerations, and Orders of Protection…as well as some acquittals.

Those arrested were:

Danny Burns, Ithaca
Brian Hynes, Bronx
Ed Kinane, Syracuse
Julienne Oldfield, Syracuse
Fr. Bill Pickard, Scranton
Bev Rice, NYC
James Ricks, Ithaca

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Islamic State's Western Provenance

‘Islamic State’ as a Western Phenomenon? Reimagining the IS Debate

by Ramzy Baroud -

No matter how one attempts to wrangle with the so-called ‘Islamic State’ (IS) rise in Iraq and Syria, desperately seeking any political or other context that would validate the movement as an explainable historical circumstance, things refuse to add up.

Not only is IS to a degree an alien movement in the larger body politic of the Middle East, it also seems to be a partly western phenomenon, a hideous offspring resulting from western neocolonial adventures in the region, coupled with alienation and demonization of Muslim communities in western societies.

By “western phenomenon,” I refrain from suggesting that IS is largely a creation of western intelligence as many conspiracy theories have persistently advocated. Of course, one is justified to raise questions regarding funds, armaments, black market oil trade, and the ease through which thousands of western and Arab fighters managed to reach Syria and Iraq in recent years. The crimes carried out by the Assad regime, his army and allies during the four-year long Syria civil war, and the unquenchable appetite to orchestrate a regime change in Damascus as a paramount priority made nourishing the anti-Assad forces with wannabe ‘jihadists’ justified, if not encouraged.

The latest announcement by Turkey’s foreign minister Meylut Cavusoglu of the arrest of a spy “working for the intelligence service of a country participating in the coalition against ISIS” - presumably Canada - allegedly for helping three young British girls join IS, was revealing. The accusation feeds into a growing discourse that locates IS within a western, not Middle Eastern discourse.

Still, it is not the conspiracy per se that I find intriguing, if not puzzling, but the ongoing, albeit indirect conversation between IS and the West, involving French, British and Australian so-called “Jihadists,” their sympathizers and supporters on one hand, and various western governments, intelligence services, rightwing media pundits, etc on the other.

Much of the discourse - once upon a time located within a narrative consumed by the “Arab Spring,” sectarian divisions and counter revolutions - has now been transferred into another sphere that seems of little relevance to the Middle East. Regardless of where one stands on how Mohammad Emwazi morphed into a “Jihadi John,” the conversation is oddly largely removed from its geopolitical context. In this instance, it is an essentially British issue concerning alienation, racism, economic and cultural marginalization, perhaps as much as the issue of the “born, raised and radicalized” attackers of Charlie Hebdo is principally a French question, pertaining to the same socioeconomic fault lines.

The conventional analysis on the rise of IS no longer suffices. Tracing the movement to Oct 2006 when the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), uniting various groups including al-Qaeda was established, simply suggests a starting point to the discussion, whose roots go back to the dismantling of the Iraqi state and army by the US military occupation authority. Just the idea that the Arab republic of Iraq was lead from 11 May, 2003 until 28 June, 2004 by a Lewis Paul Bremer III, is enough to delineate the unredeemable rupture in the country’s identity. Bremer and US military chiefs’ manipulation of Iraq’s sectarian vulnerabilities, in addition to the massive security vacuum created by sending an entire army home, ushered in the rise of numerous groups, some homegrown resistance movements, and other alien bodies who sought in Iraq a refugee, or a rally cry.

Also conveniently missing in the rise of “jihadism” context is the staggering brutality of Shia-dominated governments in Baghdad and militias throughout Iraq, with full backing by the US and Iran. If the US war (1990-1), blockade (1991-2003), invasion (2003) and subsequent occupation of Iraq were not enough to radicalize a whole generation, then brutality, marginalization and constant targeting of Iraqi Sunnis in post-invasion Iraq have certainly done the job.

The conventional media narrative on IS focuses mostly on the politicking, division and unity that happened between various groups, but ignores the reasons behind the existence of these groups in the first place.

The Syria civil war was another opportunity at expansion sought successfully by ISI, whose capital until then was Baquba, Iraq. ISI was headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a key player in the establishment of Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Nusra Front). The highly cited breakup between al-Baghdadi and al-Nusra leader Mohammed al-Golani is referenced as the final stage of IS’s brutal rise to power and ISI becoming ISIL or ISIS, before settling finally at the current designation of simply “Islamic State,” or IS.

Following the division, “some estimates suggest that about 65% of Jabhat al-Nusra elements quickly declared their allegiance to ISIS. Most of those were non-Syrian jihadists,” reported Lebanon’s al-Safir.

Militants’ politicking aside, such massively destructive and highly organized occurrences are not born in a vacuum and don’t operate independently from many existing platforms that help spawn, arm, fund and sustain them. For example, IS’ access to oil refineries says nothing about its access to wealth. To obtain funds from existing economic modes, IS needed to tap into a complex economic apparatus that would involve other countries, regional and international markets. In other words, IS exists because there are those who are invested in their existence, and the highly touted anti-IS coalition has evidently done little to confront this reality.

Particularly interesting is the rapidly changing focal point of the debate, from that pertaining to Syria and Iraq, to a western-centric discussion about western-styled jihadists that seem removed from the Middle East region and its political conflicts and priorities. 

In a letter signed by over a hundred Muslim scholars that was published last September, the theologians and clergymen from around the Muslim word rightly disowned IS and its bloodthirsty ambitions as un-Islamic. Indeed, IS’ war tactics, are the reverse of the rules of war in Islam, and have been a God-send to those who made successful careers by simply bashing Islam, and advocating foreign policies that are predicated on an irrational fear of Muslims. But particularly interesting was the Arabic version of the letter’s emphasis on IS’s lack of command over the Arabic language, efficiency which is a requirement for making legal Islamic rulings and fatwas.

The letter confronts the intellectual arrogance of IS, which is based mostly on a misguided knowledge of Islam that is rarely spawned in the region itself. But that intellectual arrogance that has led to the murders of many innocent people, and other hideous crimes such as the legalization of slavery - to the satisfaction of the numerous Islamophobes dotting western intellectual landscapes - is largely situated in a different cultural and political context outside of the Middle East.

In post-September 11 attacks, a debate concerning Islam has been raging, partly because the attacks were blamed on Muslims, thus allowing politicians to create distractions, and reduce the discussion into one concerning religion and a purported “clash of civilizations.” Despite various assurances by western leaders that the US-led wars in Muslim countries is not a war on Islam, Islam remains the crux of the intellectual discourse that has adjoined the military “crusade” declared by George W. Bush, starting with the first bomb dropped on Afghanistan in 2001.

That discourse is too involved for a transitory mention, for it is an essential one to the IS story. It is one that has involved various schools of thought, including a breed of Muslim “liberals,” used conveniently to juxtapose them with an “extremist” bunch. Yet between the apologists and the so-called Jihadists, a genuine, Muslim-led discussion about Islam by non-coopted Muslim scholars remains missing.

The intellectual vacuum is more dangerous than it may seem. There is no question that while the battle is raging on in the Middle East region, the discourse itself is growingly being manipulated and is becoming a western one. This is why IS is speaking English, for its language complete with authentic western accents, methods, messages and even the orange hostage jumpsuits, is centered in some other sociopolitical and cultural context.

Ramzy Baroud – - is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of He is currently completing his PhD studies at the University of Exeter. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).