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Merchants of Death: America’s Toxic Cult of Violence Turns Deadly

Mon, 2018-02-19 19:38

Mass shootings have become routine in the United States and speak to a society that relies on violence to feed the coffers of the merchants of death. Given the profits made by arms manufacturers, the defense industry, gun dealers and the lobbyists who represent them in Congress, it comes as no surprise that the culture of violence cannot be abstracted from either the culture of business or the corruption of politics. Violence runs through US society like an electric current offering instant pleasure from all cultural sources, whether it be the nightly news or a television series that glorifies serial killers.

— Professor Henry A. Giroux, “Gun Culture and the American Nightmare of Violence”, January 13, 2016.

We are caught in a vicious cycle.

With alarming regularity, the nation is being subjected to a spate of violence that terrorizes the public, destabilizes the country’s fragile ecosystem, and gives the government greater justifications to crack down, lock down, and institute even more authoritarian policies for the so-called sake of national security without many objections from the citizenry.

Take the school shooting that took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Valentine’s Day: 17 people, students and teachers alike, were killed by Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old former student armed with a gas mask, smoke grenades, magazines of ammunition, and an AR-15 style semiautomatic rifle.

This shooting, which is being chalked up to mental illness by the 19-year-old assassin, came months after a series of mass shootings in late 2017, one at a church in Texas and the other at an outdoor country music concert in Las Vegas. In both the Texas and Las Vegas attacks, the shooters were dressed like a soldier or militarized police officer and armed with military-style weapons.

As usual following one of these shootings, there is a vocal outcry for enacting more strident gun control measures, more mental health checks, and heightened school security measures.

Also as usual, in the midst of the finger-pointing, no one is pointing a finger at the American police state or the war-drenched, violence-imbued, profit-driven military industrial complex, both of which have made violence America’s calling card.

Ask yourself: Why do these mass shootings keep happening? Who are these shooters modelling themselves after? Where are they finding the inspiration for their weaponry and tactics? Whose stance and techniques are they mirroring?

Mass shootings have taken place at churches, in nightclubs, on college campuses, on military bases, in elementary schools, in government offices, and at concerts. In almost every instance, you can connect the dots back to the military-industrial complex, which continues to dominate, dictate and shape almost every aspect of our lives.

We are a military culture engaged in continuous warfare.

We have been a nation at war for most of our existence.

We are a nation that makes a living from killing through defense contracts, weapons manufacturing and endless wars.

We are being fed a steady diet of violence through our entertainment, news and politics.

All of the military equipment featured in blockbuster movies is provided—at taxpayer expense—in exchange for carefully placed promotional spots.

Back when I was a boy growing up in the 1950s, almost every classic sci-fi movie ended with the  heroic American military saving the day, whether it was battle tanks in Invaders from Mars (1953) or military roadblocks in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).

What I didn’t know then as a schoolboy was the extent to which the Pentagon was paying to be cast as America’s savior. By the time my own kids were growing up, it was Jerry Bruckheimer’s blockbuster film Top Guncreated with Pentagon assistance and equipment—that boosted civic pride in the military.

Now it’s my grandkids’ turn to be awed and overwhelmed by child-focused military propaganda in the X-Men movies. Same goes for The Avengers and Superman and the Transformers. (Don’t even get me started on the war propaganda churned out by the toymakers.)

Even reality TV shows have gotten in on the gig, with the Pentagon’s entertainment office influencing “American Idol,” “The X-Factor,” “Masterchef,” “Cupcake Wars,” numerous Oprah Winfrey shows, “Ice Road Truckers,” “Battlefield Priests,” “America’s Got Talent,” “Hawaii Five-O,” lots of BBC, History Channel and National Geographic documentaries, “War Dogs,” and “Big Kitchens.” And that’s just a sampling.

It’s estimated that U.S. military intelligence agencies (including the NSA) have influenced over 1,800 movies and TV shows.

And then there are the growing number of video games, a number of which are engineered by or created for the military, which have accustomed players to interactive war play through military simulations and first-person shooter scenarios.

This is how you acclimate a population to war.

This is how you cultivate loyalty to a war machine.

This is how, to borrow from the subtitle to the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, you teach a nation to “stop worrying and love the bomb.”

As journalist David Sirota writes for Salon: 

[C]ollusion between the military and Hollywood – including allowing Pentagon officials to line edit scripts – is once again on the rise, with new television programs and movies slated to celebrate the Navy SEALs…. major Hollywood directors remain more than happy to ideologically slant their films in precisely the pro-war, pro-militarist direction that the Pentagon demands in exchange for taxpayer-subsidized access to military hardware.

Why is the Pentagon (and the CIA and the government at large) so focused on using Hollywood as a propaganda machine?

To those who profit from war, it is as Sirota recognizes:

a ‘product’ to be sold via pop culture products that sanitize war and, in the process, boost recruitment numbers….At a time when more and more Americans are questioning the fundamental tenets of militarism (i.e., budget-busting defense expenditures, never-ending wars/occupations, etc.), military officials are desperate to turn the public opinion tide back in a pro-militarist direction — and they know pop culture is the most effective tool to achieve that goal.

The media, eager to score higher ratings, has been equally complicit in making (real) war more palatable to the public by packaging it as TV friendly.

This is what professor Roger Stahl refers to as the representation of a “clean war”: a war “without victims, without bodies, and without suffering”:

‘Dehumanize destruction’ by extracting all human imagery from target areas … The language used to describe the clean war is as antiseptic as the pictures. Bombings are ‘air strikes.’ A future bombsite is a ‘target of opportunity.’ Unarmed areas are ‘soft targets.’ Civilians are ‘collateral damage.’ Destruction is always ‘surgical.’ By and large, the clean war wiped the humanity of civilians from the screen … Create conditions by which war appears short, abstract, sanitized and even aesthetically beautiful. Minimize any sense of death: of soldiers or civilians.

This is how you sell war to a populace that may have grown weary of endless wars: sanitize the war coverage of anything graphic or discomfiting (present a clean war), gloss over the actual numbers of soldiers and civilians killed (human cost), cast the business of killing humans in a more abstract, palatable fashion (such as a hunt), demonize one’s opponents, and make the weapons of war a source of wonder and delight.

“This obsession with weapons of war has a name: technofetishism,” explains Stahl. “Weapons appear to take on a magical aura. They become centerpieces in a cult of worship.”

“Apart from gazing at the majesty of these bombs, we were also invited to step inside these high-tech machines and take them for a spin,” said Stahl. “Or if we have the means, we can purchase one of the military vehicles on the consumer market. Not only are we invited to fantasize about being in the driver’s seat, we are routinely invited to peer through the crosshairs too. These repeated modes of imaging war cultivate new modes of perception, new relationships to the tools of state violence. In other words,we become accustomed to ‘seeing‘ through the machines of war.”

In order to sell war, you have to feed the public’s appetite for entertainment.

Not satisfied with peddling its war propaganda through Hollywood, reality TV shows and embedded journalists whose reports came across as glorified promotional ads for the military, the Pentagon turned to sports to further advance its agenda, “tying the symbols of sports with the symbols of war.”

The military has been firmly entrenched in the nation’s sports spectacles ever since, having co-opted football, basketball, even NASCAR.

This is how you sustain the nation’s appetite for war.

No wonder entertainment violence is the hottest selling ticket at the box office. As professor Henry Giroux points out:

Popular culture not only trades in violence as entertainment, but also it delivers violence to a society addicted to a pleasure principle steeped in graphic and extreme images of human suffering, mayhem and torture.

No wonder the government continues to whet the nation’s appetite for violence and war through paid propaganda programs (seeded throughout sports entertainment, Hollywood blockbusters and video games)—what Stahl refers to as “militainment“—that glorify the military and serve as recruiting tools for America’s expanding military empire.

No wonder Americans from a very young age are being groomed to enlist as foot soldiers—even virtual ones—in America’s Army (coincidentally, that’s also the name of a first person shooter video game produced by the military). Explorer scouts, for example, are one of the most popular recruiting tools for the military and its civilian counterparts (law enforcement, Border Patrol, and the FBI).

Writing for The Atlantic, a former Explorer scout described the highlight of the program: monthly weekend maneuvers with the National Guard where scouts “got to fire live rounds from M16s, M60 machine guns, and M203 grenade launchers… we would have urban firefights (shooting blanks, of course) in Combat Town, a warren of concrete buildings designed for just that purpose. The exercise always devolved into a free-for-all, with all of us weekend warriors emptying clip after clip of blanks until we couldn’t see past the end of our rifles for all the smoke in the air.”

No wonder the United States is the number one consumer, exporter and perpetrator of violence and violent weapons in the world. Seriously, America spends more money on war than the combined military budgets of China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Italy and Brazil. America polices the globe, with 800 military bases and troops stationed in 160 countries. Moreover, the war hawks have turned the American homeland into a quasi-battlefield with military gear, weapons and tactics. In turn, domestic police forces have become roving extensions of the military—a standing army.

So when you talk about the Florida shooting, keep in mind that you’re not dealing with a single shooter scenario. Rather, you’re dealing with a sophisticated, far-reaching war machine that has woven itself into the very fabric of this nation.

You want to stop the gun violence?

Stop the worship of violence that permeates our culture.

Stop glorifying the military industrial complex with flyovers and salutes during sports spectacles.

Stop acting as if there is anything patriotic about military exercises and occupations that bomb hospitals and schools.

Stop treating guns and war as entertainment fodder in movies, music, video games, toys, amusement parks, reality TV and more.

Stop distributing weapons of war to the local police and turning them into extensions of the military—weapons that have no business being anywhere but on a battlefield.

This breakdown—triggered by polarizing circus politics, media-fed mass hysteria, militarization and militainment (the selling of war and violence as entertainment), a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness in the face of growing corruption, the government’s alienation from its populace, and an economy that has much of the population struggling to get by—is manifesting itself in madness, mayhem and an utter disregard for the very principles and liberties that have kept us out of the clutches of totalitarianism for so long.

Stop falling for the military industrial complex’s psychological war games.

Nikolas Cruz may have pulled the trigger that resulted in the mayhem in Parkland, Fla., but something else is driving the madness.

As Stahl concludes, “War has come to look very much like a video game. As viewers of the TV war, we are treated to endless flyovers. We are immersed in a general spirit of play. We are shown countless computer animations that contribute a sense of virtuality. We play alongside news anchors who watch on their monitors. We sit in front of the crosshairs directing missiles with a sense of interactivity. The destruction, if shown at all, seems unreal, distant. These repeated images foster habitual fantasies of crossing over.”

We’ve got to do more than react in a knee-jerk fashion.

Those who want safety at all costs will clamor for more gun control measures (if not an outright ban on weapons for non-military, non-police personnel), widespread mental health screening of the general population and greater scrutiny of military veterans, more threat assessments and behavioral sensing warnings, more CCTV cameras with facial recognition capabilities, more “See Something, Say Something” programs aimed at turning Americans into snitches and spies, more metal detectors and whole-body imaging devices at soft targets, more roaming squads of militarized police empowered to do random bag searches, more fusion centers to centralize and disseminate information to law enforcement agencies, and more surveillance of what Americans say and do, where they go, what they buy and how they spend their time.

All of these measures play into the government’s hands.

As we have learned the hard way, the phantom promise of safety in exchange for restricted or regulated liberty is a false, misguided doctrine that has no basis in the truth.

What we need is a thoughtful, measured, apolitical response to these shootings and the violence that is plaguing our nation.

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the solution to most problems must start locally, in our homes, in our neighborhoods, and in our communities. We’ve got to de-militarize our police and lower the levels of violence here and abroad, whether it’s violence we export to other countries, violence we glorify in entertainment, or violence we revel in when it’s leveled at our so-called enemies, politically or otherwise.

Our prolonged exposure to the toxic culture of the American police state is deadly.

There Is No Time Left

Mon, 2018-02-19 15:00

Imagine a scenario with no temperature difference between the equator and the North Pole. That was 12 million years ago when there was no ice at either pole. In that context, according to professor James G. Anderson of Harvard University, carbon in the atmosphere today is the same as 12 million years ago. The evidence is found in the paleoclimate record. It’s irrefutable.

Meaning, today’s big meltdown has only just started.

And, we’ve got 5 years to fix it or endure Gonzo World.

That’s one big pill to swallow!

That scenario comes by way of interpretation of a speech delivered by James G. Anderson at the University of Chicago in January 2018 when he received the Benton Medal for Distinguished Public Service, in part, for his groundbreaking research that led to the Montreal Protocol in 1987 to mitigate damage to the Ozone Layer.

At the time, Anderson was the force behind the most important event in the history of atmospheric chemistry, discovering and diagnosing Antarctica’s ozone hole, which led to the Montreal Protocol. Without that action, ramifications would have been absolutely catastrophic for the planet.

Stratospheric ozone is one of the most delicate aspects of planet habitability, providing protection from UV radiation for all life forms. If perchance the stratospheric ozone layer could be lowered to the ground, stacking the otherwise dispersed molecules together, it would be 1/8th of an inch in thickness or the thickness of two pennies. That separates humanity from burning up as the stratospheric ozone absorbs 98% of UV radiation.

In his acceptance speech, James G. Anderson, Harvard professor of atmospheric chemistry, now warns that it is foolhardy to assume we can recover from the global warming leviathan simply by cutting back emissions.

Accordingly, the only way humanity can dig itself out of the climate change/global-warming hole is by way of a WWII type effort with total transformation of industry off carbon and removal of carbon from the atmosphere within five years. The situation is so dire that it requires a worldwide Marshall Plan effort, plus kneeling in prayer.

Additionally, Anderson says the chance of permanent ice remaining in the Arctic after 2022 is zero. Already, 80% is gone. The problem: Without an ice shield to protect frozen methane hydrates in place for millennia, the Arctic turns into a methane nightmare. This is comparable to poking the global warming monster with a stick, as runaway global warming (“RGW”) emerges from the depths. Interestingly enough, the Arctic Methane Emergency Group/UK, composed of distinguished scientists, seems to be in agreement with this assessment.

Assuming professor Anderson is as accurate now as he was about the Ozone dilemma, then what can be done? After all, the world’s biggest economy, which has over-reaching influence on the biosphere, is under the influence of anti-science leadership. In fact, the Trump group is driving scientists out. France is hiring left and right under its “Make Our Planet Great Again” initiative. Thirteen of the initial eighteen French science grantees are from the U.S.

The world cannot count on leadership from America. In fact, quite the opposite as America gears up for massive fossil fuel production like never before just as the biosphere starts crumbling. Leadership by arrogance is a deadly deathly exercise.

Donald Trump claims the Paris ‘15 accord will hurt U.S. business because it requires reduction of emissions. That’s costly. He’s got it backwards. U.S. business and neoliberal tenets destroy the climate whilst creating an inverted pyramid of wealth that undermines the entire socio-politico-economic fabric. It’s the one-two punch, (1) ignoring and abusing the biosphere because “care for the planet” requires extra costs that eat into corporate profits whilst (2) undercutting upward mobility as American wages are exported and destroyed when U.S. manufacturing offshores to low wage countries like China and Mexico and Thailand. What could be worse for American workers than competition with the lowest common denominator in the world while living in a dicey biosphere? In part, it’s why the American middle class is almost broke, actually appended to credit cards in debt up to eyeballs.

As such, between squeezing the daylights out of middle class pocketbooks and abusing the biosphere, U.S. leadership stinks so badly that it demands outright change, similar to France in the late 18th century when thousands of arrogant aristocrats were beheaded in the streets, and the American Revolution (1775-83) when colonists got fed up with the madness of their leader, King George III. Except, King George was the first British monarch to study science. Still, the king suffered from “acute mania.”

Good News: There is a silver lining to the Trump presidency: Inept, arrogant, stupid leadership often times serves as a catalyst, often times revolutionary, for major changes in the socio-politico-economic fabric of society. This is seen throughout history. The reasoning is simple enough. Inept leadership brings to surface all of the warts for all to see. The deficiencies and inequities are not only exposed but also hit citizenry over the head like a leaden hammer. Suddenly, people awaken from their deep coma and kick the bums out. In the case of King Louis XVI of France, he was beheaded before a crowd of tens of thousands in the streets of Paris. In the case of King George III, his ineptness led to the American Revolution. Both leaders served as catalyst to radical change.

Today, the warts are (1) neoliberal globalism with its tail of inequities, leaving 90% of society choking on dust. “The one percent” says it all, and (2) fossil fuel use/abuse, as the planet chokes on a dust cloud so thick that it’s losing its breath (new research shows that global warming destroys oxygen). There’s one powerful catalyst, amongst many!

Making Mugs of Voters: Mueller’s Russia Indictments

Mon, 2018-02-19 03:29

Tagged to the Trump presidency like an insistent limpet, the investigation into Russian interference in the US elections of 2016 provides constant fodder for the unimaginative political animals in the United States. But any diet that remains unvaried is bound to induce illness or nutritional deficiency.  Variety is strength.

US politics, and its political culture, distinctly lacks nutritional health.  Estranged, polarised, and paranoid, it has ceased being a green house of hope and governance.  Little wonder, then, that its politicians see external forces of such character and effect, agents of influence that can alter the destiny of the imperium.  Scant regard is paid to a system so putrescent it had to produce a Trump or conjured up the demonic properties of a Steve Bannon.  Foreign interference remains, not merely a red herring but a fairly insignificant one.

On Friday, thirteen Russians and three Russian entities were charged by special counsel Robert Mueller for conspiring in interfering with “US political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.”  While there was tooting and trumpeting on the media circuit, the more astute were less impressed.  Various intelligence professionals preferred to see the indictments as reflecting “a different level of certainty, confidence and evidence.”

The charges, interestingly enough, omit the issue of hacked Democrat emails (Podesta and the DNC) and computer systems connected with the election itself.  They focus, rather, on such housekeeping matters as fraud and identity theft.

The first count, for instance, alleges a conspiracy by the 16 defendants to defraud the United States with the purpose of “impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful governmental functions of the United States by dishonest means to enable the Defendants to interfere with US political and electoral processes, including the 2016 US presidential election.”

The defendants supposedly interfered with the administration of the Federal Election Campaign Act by the Federal Election Commission touching on political spending by foreign nationals during elections, the Justice Department’s overseeing of the Foreign Agent Registration Act regarding registering foreign agents working within the US on political matters, and the State Department’s visa program for foreign individuals entering the United States.

Then come charges of wire and bank fraud centred on Richard Pinedo, who operated “Auction Essistance”, an online business ostensibly formed to frustrate standard security safeguards of online payment companies.  This, in turn, became the vehicle for purchasing rallies and political ads.

For Andrew Prokop, these “don’t add much to what was already publicly known about exactly how Russians tried to interference with the campaign – and they don’t contain any new allegations about anyone in Trump’s orbit.”

One entity stands out in what must be regarded as the huffing effort of an information war: the kremlobots of the Internet Research Agency, supposedly behind the various rallies, online advertisements and social media agitation.  The St. Petersburg based Agency was allegedly charged with a strategy favouring Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein.  Hillary Clinton and Republican contenders such as Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, were subjects of denigration.

Such a strategy, however, would not be etched in stone.  The theme of chaos was central.  Trump may well have been favoured, but that hardly prevented the staging of both pro-Trump and anti-Trump rallies in various parts of the country, including New York City.  Dysfunction and disorientation, in other words, was exploited.

The genius of the Agency lies in the art of the masquerade, turning the Internet into a medium of dancing stories, narratives and fictions.  Fake US personas were supposedly created; identities were stolen to open PayPal and bank accounts.  This was politics as theatre.

What is easier to ignore in this fuss is that material, to generate any momentum, must have some pre-existing inspiration.  The US political classes are continuing that now established tradition of treating those who vote them in as mugs, fools easily swayed by the next hoax or the next marketable story.  This hardly charitable attitude means that changes can be avoided and electoral dissatisfaction ignored. Thank god for the Kremlin.

The nature of the indictment will be exactly what Democrats, in particular, want to hear.  Trump is partly right in claiming this to be a “phony excuse for losing the election”, though detractors will naturally remove the first word of that observation.  Mueller is certainly convinced that he can make these charges stick.

In of itself, these actions, including the social media campaigns and advertising, were matters of minor significance, even if they did simulate the idea of grand chaos.  To suggest that they somehow tipped the balance is self-comfortingly delusional.  What these indictments may well inadvertently show is that such Russian operations were a form of revenge for US meddling, notably in Ukraine in 2014. The target of that meddling was the pro-Russian leader, Viktor Yanukovych.

Then comes the actual effect of such indictments, which even hard-nosed analysts admit will be minimal.  As the staff at Lawfare (February 16) concede, “None of the defendants indicted Friday for their alleged influence operation against the US political system is likely to ever see the inside of an American courtroom.  None is in custody.  None is likely to surrender to US authorities.  And Vladimir Putin will probably not race to extradite them.”  The illusion of busy fury can be all powerful.

Netanyahu’s Ruthless Instinct for Political Survival Remains Undimmed

Mon, 2018-02-19 02:34

The recommendation by police to charge Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu with two counts of bribery – there are more cases looming – marks a dangerous moment for Israel and the region.

For the past three decades, corruption scandals have swirled around a succession of Israeli leaders. Ehud Olmert, Mr Netanyahu’s predecessor, was forced to resign over suspicions he took cash in envelopes, and later ended up in jail. But Mr Netanyahu is the first to face the possibility of criminal corruption charges while in office.

This is new political terrain and Mr Netanyahu shows no signs of preparing to go quietly.

After 12 years at the head of various governments, Mr Netanyahu was on course to become the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history, beating even the record set by David Ben Gurion, the country’s founding father.

No one alive knows how to manipulate the levers of power in Israel better than Mr Netanyahu. And no one has a stronger and more ruthless instinct for political survival.

That has led to extreme arrogance. In late 2016, as his wife, Sara, was brought in for police questioning, the couple were still receiving from businessmen shipments of jewellery, luxury cigars and pink champagne whose value reached $280,000.

Mr Netanyahu is accused of offering many favours in return, in particular to Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan, a self-declared former Israeli spy and arms buyer. Those included efforts to change Israel’s tax laws, help Mr Milchan with TV interests and lobby on his behalf for a US residency visa.

Reportedly, the prime minister also tried to aid Mr Milchan and other investors by planning unsuccessfully a free-trade zone in the West Bank to build cheap cars and by participating in the murky dealings of a security firm.

In the second bribery case, Mr Netanyahu is on tape apparently offering Arnon Mozes, head of Israel’s most influential media group, legislation to damage a competitor in return for supportive coverage from his newspapers.

In another, as-yet unfinished investigation, Mr Netanyahu’s closest aides are suspected of receiving huge kickbacks from a deal with a German submarine manufacturer.

None of this has yet delivered a knockout blow, not least because members of the governing coalition fear moving against him.

These scandals have split Israeli society down the middle. While thousands have turned out to march against Mr Netanyahu, his core electorate is still behind him.

Rivals seen to be turning on the prime minister at this stage risk alienating the right-wing public, dooming their political future. Instead they are waiting to see whether Israel’s law chief, attorney general Avichai Mendelblit, agrees to put him on trial.

Mr Mendelblit is in no hurry. He is Mr Netanyahu’s appointee, and fears being seen toppling a popular government. He could take as long as a year to decide.

In the meantime, to bolster his position, Mr Netanyahu is already provoking a damaging confrontation at home and might yet engineer a regional crisis.

The first casualty is a further erosion of what is left of the threadbare rule of law in Israel. In a sign of desperation, Mr Netanyahu’s allies have attacked a former government minister, Yair Lapid – a potential centrist challenger – for testifying that the prime minister asked him to change the tax laws to help Mr Milchan.

They have publicly labelled him a “snitch”, as if senior politicians ought to lie to police investigators.

Meanwhile, rather than denying the findings, Mr Netanyahu has launched a frontal assault on the probity of the police and its commander, Roni Alsheikh, suggesting they are organising a politically motivated “coup”.

That is rich, given that Mr Alsheikh was parachuted into the post by Mr Netanyahu. And, as a former long-time resident of the Kiryat Arba, one of the most extreme settlements, Mr Alsheikh is firmly in the same ideological camp as Mr Netanyahu.

The latest attacks follow years of Mr Netanyahu’s coterie lashing out at every institution that threatens the right’s rule – from the media, courts and human rights organisations to the United Nations and Europe. All have been presented as “enemies of the people”.

But there are larger dangers. Mr Netanyahu’s legal troubles come as Israeli intelligence services have warned of potential crises on multiple fronts that need careful management.

In the south, the suffering in Gaza is pushing Palestinians there to the brink of endurance. Clashes escalated at the weekend, when Israel struck more than a dozen sites and left at least two Palestinians dead.

On the western flank, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is running out of credibility and options as Israel and Donald Trump’s administration deprive him of any realistic prospect of achieving statehood.

With the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, Iran, Russia and jihadists drawn into the fray in southern Syria, on Israel’s northern border, tensions could explode at any moment. That was powerfully illustrated this month when an Israeli war plane flying over Syria was shot down. Addressing the incident on Sunday, Mr Netanyahu told a security conference in Munich that Israel was ready to act “against Iran itself”.

And Mr Netanyahu is assumed to be meddling already behind the scenes with Mr Trump to tear up the nuclear accord with Iran.

The man deciding how to handle each of these inherently incendiary matters has crowned himself “King Bibi”, his wife “the First Lady”, and had been grooming his eldest, Yair, as heir – until Yair self-sabotaged by posting anti-semitic memes online.

All signs suggest Mr Netanyahu has a massively inflated ego and an insatiable sense of entitlement. Where it might push him in a time of profound and prolonged personal crisis should worry us all.

• First published in the National

The Trump Base and Year 2

Mon, 2018-02-19 02:23

Trump’s much trumpeted first State of the Union address came and went… The event is traditionally meant to sum up achievements and challenges of the administration’s first year, setting the stage for the remaining three, all in the somber, live presence of the entire US government in all branches, with the rest of the nation tuned in through other means. But as even the BBC commentator quickly remarked, the luster of this special occasion has objectively long disappeared — and all the more so with this president who has missed few opportunities to communicate with his subjects far less formally, usually drawing (and duly receiving) attention by elliptic zingers in channels designed for frivolous social small talk. Now, sure, this speech was still promptly and critically combed over: relative emphases subtly weighed, numerous liberties with the facts meticulously inventoried, and trademark oxymorons (like “beautiful clean coal”) duly noted. But in the end, the carefully choreographed and executed event revealed little news, which frames it more as one of the occasional subliminal proofs that this chief US executive can still stick to the script, moderating Twitter with teleprompter, and ultimately, as another reassurance to his supporters among the masses (the “Base” for short here), that they can still count on him.  Which brings us then to some important broader questions as we enter Year 2 of this administration.

The main one, rather bluntly, is: how does this Base still persist? Really, there is no good reason for Trump to have a base any wider than the slim top of the wealth pyramid that he so blatantly represents. After all, in the broad spectrum of more modern right-wing populism — from a Thatcher to a Hitler — most had a modicum of lower-class personal pedigree that allowed some identification from rank-and-file followers. But there’s no such thing here, not even some sappy “rags-to-riches” myth — just inherited wealth, shrewd business dealings and pure, unabashed Veblenian “conspicuous consumption”, Mar-a-Lago style. This question is even starker in this post-Great Recession era when Reaganesque neoliberal fairy tales have lost most currency. Furthermore, these 15 months (just since the election, with many more before) of continuous faux pas, scandal and turmoil are objectively discrediting. Finally, this administration has by now really shed most of its “anti-establishment” veneer, revealing openly pro-elite, anti-public core policies. So, why has the Base not disintegrated yet? What is it in the Trump brand and message that actually still resonates with some broad segments of the proverbial “99%”? And what will it take to change that?

There are certainly no simple answers here, but we might turn for some clues to president’s apologist Newt Gingrich, who commented the day after the infamous January 11 immigration vulgarities:

Trump relies on the fact that his opponents are so nihilistic and elitist that they’ll react hysterically to something like this. […] And [Trump’s] base isn’t remotely corroded by this. Almost anything he does that is outside the establishment resonates in the end with people who say, well, at least he’s sticking it to the powerful.

Please parse this carefully. Ignoring details and exaggerations, it does accurately reveal the basic play: regardless of the ostensible recipient, Trump’s communication is mostly aimed at the Base: cementing at the core, extending around the edges. There is no need to cozy up to Republican party establishment. By now, they have no choice but to fall into line. No need to harangue the moneyed elites. They’ll be getting their payback and they know it. And no need bothering to soften up outright opponents. The message is targeted at reaffirming his populist brand directly, and even more so by eliciting predictable opposition reaction that reinforces that.

There is nothing particularly original about this age-old approach of divide-and-conquer. It was quite prominent in the US even in the post-Civil War era and ensuing Gilded Age. Among many others, Robert Reich articulated its pitfalls in his 1997 resignation speech. More recently, in her excellent  latest book, “No is Not Enough – Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need”, meticulously analyzing this kind of multilevel shock therapy, Naomi Klein states:

In truth, nothing has done more to build our present corporate dystopia than the persistent and systematic pitting of working-class whites against Blacks, citizens against migrants, and men against women.

In the present context, this generally might mean: Stop playing the Trump game and falling for his tricks, provocations and divisiveness. Stop being reactive.  A sensible resistance should start defining its own frame and game. Somewhat more specifically, offered are three interrelated modest suggestions:

Look at the big picture and stop preaching to the choir.  It’s a globalized world out there, with the many well known negative effects ranging from the “race to the bottom”, all the way to global climate impacts and beyond. This is a deeper subject, but suffice it to say that the same basic systemic problems of the political economy that have generated countless refugees fleeing wars in large swaths across Africa and Asia, along with scores of economic migrants fleeing destitution in other parts of the Global South, have also adversely affected various US “demographies”, including much of the Base. Mobile global capital can play many games, but few are net-gain, with most being zero-sum and the discontents paying the price far out of sight.  As such, raising the awareness of these global connections, and shifting the primary focus away from specific underprivileged groups, might take some wind out of the deleterious anti-immigration populism sails and rock the Base. To quote Klein again:

Instead, the overarching task before us is not to rank our various issues – identity versus economics, race versus gender […]  It is to understand in our bones how these forms of oppression intersect and prop each other up, creating the complex scaffolding that allowed a kleptocratic thug to grab the world’s most powerful job […].

Granted, this is not easily done. However, one step in this direction is to stop knee-jerk rallying to the cause of one identity group — just because Trump baldly singled it out — at the effective expense of other ones.

Let go of the 2016 election. The spectacle of the heavily politicized Mueller investigation, with its sometimes byzantine complexity, claims and counterclaims, should be left squarely out of this discussion. This might seem even harder with the just announced bombastic indictments of “13 Russian nationals”. To be clear, this is not to say that alleged campaign illegalities should not be duly investigated: perjury, obstruction of justice, whatever…  nobody should be above the law. But nothing here seems to really go beyond the boundaries of a seriously flawed electoral system, and a legacy of smear campaigns that runs deep in US politics. The stubborn insistence on some hackneyed, game-changing “Russian interference” belies the Democratic establishment’s effort to exonerate its own, much more evident, consequential and damaging culpability in shifting the 2016 election away from the high road paved by the Sanders campaign. Period. The Base understands that pretty well, and such hypocrisy plays right into the hands of reaffirming it.

Never forget foreign policy. When the going gets rough, the one staple entry in the US executive playbook is the good ol’ “rally ‘round the flag”. Not foolproof — thankfully — but still tried, tested and dangerous. Under the guise of benevolent global hegemony and axiomatic American exceptionalism many scapegoats can be found, with rather facile bipartisan support and perilous consequences. Ample modern evidence has shown that behind semi-abstract “wars” (on Terror, Drugs, etc.) lie identifiable targets; and the most recent mainstream media pronouncement of “Russian plot to disrupt America’s democracy“ is ominous enough. More generally, “America First” could be interpreted as a focus on domestic needs at the expense of fewer foreign adventures or something much more sinister. Seeking clarity here might go a long way to disarming one of the administration’s levers on the Base.

In the end, the “Trump base” is not some mystical bunch. They are an amorphous and heterogenous group of flesh-and-blood humans. We all know some personally. Many certainly suffer from various prejudices. But leaving extremist fringes aside, probably most are decent people, with at least a general sense of fairness and a healthy dislike for hypocrisy. Admittingly or not, many are part of that group simply for apparent lack of better options.  To a significant enough degree, these are bona fide members of the proverbial “99%”. To paraphrase what Gore Vidal (and many others) once astutely said, the challenge is to make them realize and vote their own interests.  Of course, none of this will be easy nor can it yield quick results. The (often perceived as paramount) drive to galvanize Democratic base support and “get out the vote” for next election cycle can easily be tempted by the lowest hanging fruit of patently scandalous Trump administration excesses.  But to be effective, an American progressive movement (broadly understood) must dissociate itself from the trite “merely liberal” tropes with a much narrower, “major-partisan” agenda, a significant contributor to the deeper problems of which Trump is but a symptom. As Andre Vltchek recently lamented on these Dissident Voice pages (albeit with an emphasis beyond just the US):

It is now absolutely clear that the Western left lost patently and shamelessly. It has almost no power, it has no courage to fight or to take risks.

Among other risks to be taken in Year 2 is to get out of the comfort zone and engage Trump at his very base.

George Brandis, the Rule of Law and Populism

Sun, 2018-02-18 01:16

Nothing stimulates frankness like an imminent departure from politics.  From the deceptions, dissimulations and general obtuseness offered by the political craft, a person appointed to a diplomatic position can be reassured to lie in a different way.  Mendacity is less taxing and always more civil, away from the dirt and dust of political tussling.  Views can be expressed with more sophistication and, even occasionally, candour.

Senator George Brandis, Australia’s conservative Attorney-General, was one such creature.  A political beast given to punching holes in the law, he has been given a chance to pursue the Sylvan fields in London as Australian High Commissioner.  He will be suitable for this station, a period of easy living in London lubricated by the Australian tax payer.  As an ideological hard knocker in the Liberal Party, he has earned his stripes.

His valedictory speech to fellow parliamentarians should have created more waves than it did.  Australian journalists and commentators tend to nod off on such occasions.  A man without glamour, a product of the law, will never stir the heart.  But his words were worth noting on several levels.

Brandis has witnessed, during his tenure, a greater centralisation of security matters in the form of a Home Affairs ministry overseen by Peter Dutton, a ruffian immune to the finer points of jurisprudence.  In his farewell speech, thinly veiled swipes were taken against various figures of his own side of politics, notably those to the Right. Interestingly enough, Brandis was leaving as a self-described moderate, a champion of some holy middle ground.

Brandis noted what should be a common place assumption: that the attorney-general’s duty is to defend the rule of law, even “from political colleagues who fail to understand it, or are impatient of the limitations it may impose on upon executive power”.  The senator had not “disguised” his “concern at attacks upon the institutions of the law – the courts and those who practice them.  To attack those institutions is to attack the rule of law itself.”

His own awkward positioning as defender of the law and doyen of propriety, doesn’t survive closer scrutiny.  He cites “several robust occasions” where he supposedly took issue with recalcitrant colleagues.  One such occasion was the stance taken on stripping those convicted of terrorism charges of sole Australian citizenship.  That decision would lie with the Immigration minister, a certain Dutton.

Despite backing the authoritarian suggestion, then Prime Minister Tony Abbott met resistance from cabinet colleagues.  Brandis is reputed to have said at one meeting concerning the draconian proposal that, as attorney-general, it was his “job to stand for the rule of law”.  But in all fairness, he was hardly a voice in the wilderness, keeping company with a host of other colleagues from foreign affairs to communications who voiced similar concerns.

It was under Brandis that a security regime suspicious of journalists and loathing of whistleblowers took further root.  Definitions on espionage were adjusted to supposedly keep pace with modern technology, and legislation effectively providing immunity for the commission of crimes by Australia’s intelligence services was passed despite Brandis expressly ruling out torture as a policy.

The National Security Amendment Act (No 1) 2014 jolted media professionals from their complacent slumber.  The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance duly issued a statement claiming that the legislation “overturns the public’s right to know.  It persecutes and prosecutes whistleblowers and journalists who are dealing with whistleblowers. It imposes ludicrous penalties of up to 10 years jail on journalists. It imposes outrageous surveillance on journalists and the computer networks of their media employers”.

The words of MEAA federal secretary Christopher Warren furnish us a corrective to Brandis as defender and stalwart of rights.  “At a time when the parliament should be defending and promoting freedoms in our society it has instead chosen to strip them away.”  A figure suspicious of the activities of the Fourth Estate can hardly be counted as a friend of the rule of law.

For all his claimed loyalties to a profession he has supposedly cherished, to legal principles that he might have defended with zeal, Brandis’ achievements must be regarded as more modest.  In certain instances, he did genuine harm to the patchwork of Australian liberties and protections, all vulnerable to the dictates of parliament.

Educating Prime Minister Abbott about such fanciful notions as the rule of law would have been challenging, but less acceptable is the normalised state of security Australia finds itself.  Instead of halting it, the senator propelled it.  Courting the reassurances of the police state, in other words, proved to be a recurring feature of the Brandis era, notably under Abbott and Turnbull.  In some exceptional instances, it pays to keep the law away from lawyers.

Academic Freedom? How Nasty Can a University Be?

Sat, 2018-02-17 23:04

The present era of reactionary institutional responses to violations of political correctness is exposing the fact that “academic freedom”, of both professors and students, does not really mean much, except what it has always meant.

In the concluding paragraphs of her chapter on academic freedom in her 1986 book No Ivory Tower, Ellen W. Schrecker brilliantly states what modern academic freedom has always been and was always meant to be:

The academic world of Schaper and Cattell, Ely and Nearing, was to change considerably over the next few decades. Especially in the years following the Second World War, the American system of higher education was to expand in size and to become a more democratic and less genteel place. Yet its treatment of political dissidents changed little. The same pattern of pressures and responses that set the early precedents determined the later cases as well. There were some differences to be sure, especially in procedural matters. There was more faculty participation, for example. This was largely the result of the academic profession’s success in establishing the principle of tenure. Though its possession did not invariably protect controversial professors from being fired, by the 1940s and 1950s it did usually ensure that they got some kind of a faculty hearing.

Procedures apart, however, there were fewer differences than we might assume. Institutional loyalty was the overriding concern. In almost every situation, faculty members and administrators responded to outside pressures for the dismissal of dissenting faculty members in accord with what they believed would best protect or enhance their schools reputation. The rhetoric of academic freedom obscures those concerns, as, in many instances, it was designed to. After all, even the famous academic freedom statement that the University of Wisconsin released after the Regents reinstated Richard T. Ely in 1894 was planned in part as a piece of institutional promotion-as, in the words of the man who suggested it, “an excellent advertisement for the institution.” Stripped of its rhetoric, academic freedom thus turns out to be an essentially corporate protection. And, as we trace its development during the Cold War, we should not be surprised to find that it was invoked more often to defend the well-being of an institution than the political rights of an individual.1

Nonetheless, it is interesting to ask: Just how far can a Western university, in a so-called free and democratic society, go in violating the freedom of expression and the professional independence of a tenured professor?

My own case gives a graphic answer to this question.

First, here is the background of what was actually happening in the classroom. This letter from a parent on one of my students was published in Canada’s largest national newspaper on February 9, 2009:

“Free to Learn” by Julia Debono

Windsor, Ont. — In 2006, while shadowing my daughter, then a student at the University of Ottawa, I attended one of Denis Rancourt’s classes (Professor Makes His Mark, But It Costs Him His Job – Feb. 6). Prof. Rancourt, clearly a dedicated, principled teacher, moderated a spirited, engaging, intellectually provocative discussion in which about 50 students eagerly participated.

Other undergraduate classes that I attended consisted of the professor lecturing while students chatted, surfed the Net or took verbatim notes. Few asked questions and there were no discussions, even when the professor asked for some.

Prof. Rancourt’s class resembled classes I had at the University of Michigan’s Residential College in the mid-1970s, right down to the use of narrative summaries instead of grades to evaluate learning.

His class was an example of the kind of educational experience I sent my daughter to university to be a part of.2

There were hundreds of such letters to the university and to media, and a large petition. Here is my report of how my first-year (freshman) physics course had developed: “How to Not Teach Physics”.3

In addition, I was publicly critical of the university administration on my “U of O Watch” blog and I practiced reform wherever I could legally do so, given the on-paper guaranties of my academic freedom and professional independence.

Twice the university disciplined me for allegedly not following the curriculum. Both times the university was rebuffed by binding arbitration decisions and the discipline was removed. I established that in Ontario a university professor is allowed to be political in the classroom, in addition to covering the curriculum, even in a science course. This irked the reactionary administration to no end.

As a result, sometimes the political activism would spill over into students demanding their rights within the institution. There was an upsurge of student activism in the years that I taught, which I mostly attribute to reactions against oppressive policies and an influx of politically savvy international students. But, of course, the administration blamed me and scribbled network diagrams about it in their notes (I saw this in access-to-information records).

In one such “spill over”, the president — experienced trial lawyer, former Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations and former Liberal prospective candidate for Prime Minister of Canada, Allan Rock — was publicly exposed intimidating a student complainant, in the president’s office. The student’s audio recording was played on regional cable TV, and a link of it was sent to all the university’s students by email. The president never did that again.

Within a few weeks after the cable TV show aired, my many research graduate students and I were locked out of our laboratory without notice and, as I learned in 2017, the university destroyed my large collections of valuable scientific samples, and immediately made the laboratory inoperable.

The violations of my academic and constitutional rights that also occurred prior to and after the lock out are difficult to grasp, but they did occur, and many “respectable” high officials were knowingly involved. Now I want the new president to fix this and the university to be accountable. This recent letter is how I presented the case to the new president:

January 8, 2018

Jacques Frémont
President and Vice-Chancellor
University of Ottawa
550 Cumberland, Room 212
Ottawa, ON  K1N 6N5

f: 613-562-5103
e: ac.awattOunull@tnediserp
By email and by fax

Re: Ending the University of Ottawa’s unrelenting punishment of me

Dear President Frémont,

I was a professor in the department of physics at the University of Ottawa from 1987 until 2009.  I occupied the highest academic rank of Full Professor beginning in 1997.

I am recognized as an expert in my profession and have taught thousands of students.  I am a much appreciated teacher and research supervisor and I have published over 100 articles in leading journals in several areas of science (my present h-index score is 35).

I taught the Senate-approved course “Science in Society”, which I created following campus-wide student demand, in the largest auditorium on campus.  It was informally known as the activism course.

I was a critic of the university and I defended students against what I saw as institutional discrimination and racism.  In so doing, I used Malcolm X’s political term, “house negro”.  I did this in the context of a struggle for justice and in good faith, as attested to by the attached letters to you from community activists: Hazel Gashoka, Jean-Marie Vianney, and Cynthia McKinney.

The university dismissed me in 2009 using the pretext of my having assigned high grades to all 23 students in one advanced physics course, and then spent over $1 million sponsoring a large defamation lawsuit against me.

You have emptied out my bank account by court order, you have repeatedly threatened to take my family’s home, and you have asserted that you will continue to enforce recovery of your legal costs in excess of $1 million.  Therefore, I am not able to pursue my work as a teacher and scholar, since you would take every penny.

You destroyed my career and took everything I have. You have done enough. I’m hoping that your sense of decency will cause you to grant this request for relief.

The university’s punishment of me has been relentless, including the following.

Destroyed scientific samples

Recently this year, as I sought to continue my scientific work, the university said that it destroyed my large and unique collection of scientific samples — when it locked me and my students out of our laboratory while I was still a full professor.

Many of the samples are irreplaceable and priceless, and I considered myself their custodian on behalf the scientific community.  The Association of Professors of the University of Ottawa (APUO) has assumed my $1.25 million grievance concerning this destruction.

The destroyed scientific samples included:

(a) The only large non-oxidized piece of the Santa Catharina meteorite, in which the meteoritic metallic phase “antitaenite” was discovered.

(b) The only large sample of remnants of the K/T boundary meteorite that may have killed the dinosaurs, collected in the field by a leading-expert collaborator, and kept in a sealed atmosphere.

(c) Unique suites of synthetic layer silicate compounds, which led to several fundamental discoveries.

(d) Suites of loess-paleosol samples (ancient soils) from two sites, in China and Eastern Europe.

(e) Preserved samples of sediments from 100 lakes in Canada, from the largest study of its kind in the boreal forest.

(f) Several suites of samples of synthetic compounds and alloys having unique electronic, magnetic, and magneto-volume properties.

For years the university threatened to destroy my personal papers, too.  Since 2008, the university refused to give me access to my belongings from my personal office in the physics building.  The materials were research notes, original course content, unpublished book manuscripts, two decades of correspondence, specialized books, and much more.  Only recently, thanks to your direct intervention, was I able to recover the more than 200 cubic feet of paper materials.

Student spy

The university hired a student spy (Maureen Robinson) to covertly surveil me for more than one year while I was a professor.  Her actions were condoned by her immediate supervisors (the dean and the legal counsel of the university) and included using a false cyber identity (“Nathalie Page”) and falsely representing herself personally to third parties.  The student spy provided weekly reports about me to the university.  Her role was described by an Ontario appellate-court judge in his motion ruling in the following terms:

Maureen Robinson

[15] The circumstances of Maureen Robinson’s involvement in this entire matter is troubling at best.  Throughout the relevant portion of the Award by Arbitrator Foisy, Ms.  Robinson’s written notes were referred to [as] “the report on Professor Rancourt’s address prepared by a University of Ottawa student”.

[16] Pursuant to the Udell Affidavit, and based on evidence from the hearing, the student being Maureen Robinson was the editor of the student newspaper who had been hired by the University in what the University described as in a clerical capacity to assist Professor Rancourt in his office, without his input on her hiring.

[17] Either in consultation with her employer, the University, or on her own, she monitored the activities of Professor Rancourt both on and off campus and reported her finding back to the University.  In an email to Dean Lalonde, she admitted to having a “personal grudge” against Professor Rancourt and went so far as to liken her monitoring of Professor Rancourt as “posing as a young girl to catch a pedophile”.  Ms. Robinson was not called as a witness at the hearing and, the parties agreed that her “report” would be considered as an “aide memoire” only.

[18] The University referred to the “report” thereafter as a transcript which such description was objected to by the APUO.  Similarly, Arbitrator Foisy made certain findings which appear to be based solely on the report which was not evidence.  [Underlined sub-title in original]

Covert psychiatric report

In 2008, the university’s VP-Governance coordinated a capture of my intimate childhood information for use by a hired psychiatrist to make a written “psychiatric opinion” of me without my consent or knowledge.

The university thereby violated my constitutional privacy rights, my personal dignity and integrity, and numerous ethical codes regarding expert medical diagnoses.

The university followed this by not informing me of its actions, and by vigorously opposing my access to the psychiatric report until the final hour of an appeal in litigation for access in 2017.

You have a reputation as an advocate of human rights, and you recently took charge of the university’s case with me.

I write to you now to ask for a fair resolution that will allow me to resume my work as an educator and scientist, and to earn my living in this way. As it stands, the university would seize all of my income, just as it recently seized my bank account. The interest alone that you seek is more than $30,000.00 per year.

Please assure me that you will instruct the university lawyers that a settlement is needed that will allow me to resume my career.

Yours truly,

[original signed]

Professor Denis Rancourt
[address]

Encl.:  Letters from Hazel Gashoka, Jean-Marie Vianney, and Cynthia McKinney [three attachments in the original].4

That is how nasty a university in a free and democratic society can be. I know other public institutions behave the same way but we rarely find out. I have been dedicated to uncovering as much as I can.

I have been guided by this quote:

One knows … that the university and in a general way, all teaching systems, which appear simply to disseminate knowledge, are made to maintain a certain social class in power; and to exclude the instruments of power of another social class. … It seems to me that the real political task in a society such as ours is to criticise the workings of institutions, which appear to be both neutral and independent; to criticise and attack them in such a manner that the political violence which has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight against them.

— Foucault, debating Chomsky, 1971.5

  1. The two last paragraphs of Chapter I: “An Excellent Advertizement for the Institution”: The Development of Academic Freedom, 1886-1918; in Ellen W. Schrecker’s No Ivory Tower – McCarthyism and the Universities, Oxford University Press, 1986.
  2. Letter to the Editor, Globe & Mail (National Edition), February 9, 2009.
  3. Rancourt, Denis. How to Not Teach Physics. Dissident Voice, January 2, 2013.
  4. “2018 01 08 Letter to end the University of Ottawa’s unrelenting punishment of Denis Rancourt”, and direct link to the document as PDF file.
  5. Human Nature: Justice versus Power”, Noam Chomsky debates with Michel Foucault, 1971.

The US needs “Eureka!” Moments re “Vetting; “Displacement”; “Discernment”; “Integration”!

Sat, 2018-02-17 21:17

Eureka! Eureka! (I have found it!)
— Archimedes

Having played with fire, one knows inner forms, inner function.
— Kijima Hajime

Let’s first debunk the “fake news”!  Famed scientist and mathematician, Archimedes, probably did not cry out “Eureka! Eureka!” (Greek for “I have found it!”) when he sat in a public bath in Syracuse, Sicily, discovering one of his—and our—“laws of buoyancy”!

But, as with most good, apocryphal stories—the parables in the Bible, for example—there are grains of truth, lessons to be vetted and discerned—pieces to be integrated into the bigger puzzle.

Here’s the story/myth: Hiero, the local tyrant, suspects a goldsmith of replacing a measure of gold with silver in a golden crown.  Hiero contacts Archimedes to verify his suspicions.  But… how?

During a trip to a local bathhouse, “the Arch” observes that the more he sinks in the bath, the greater the displacement of water.  And, that displaced water correlates with his body’s weight and volume!  Now he reasons: gold is heavier than silver; therefore, a crown of silver and gold would be bulker than a crown solely of gold—thus displacing more water!  “Voila!” he cries (or, more precisely, “Eureka!”) And he leaps out of the bath, runs naked through the Greek colony, declaring his discovery.  (Whether or not the ladies were amused or alarmed is not reported….)

It’s a good story about the way critical minds work: they “vet.”  They test ideas and propositions.  They theorize and test their theories and then they vet their own conclusions with careful observations, records and consideration.  They test—again and again.  It’s a shining example of “trust, but verify”:  The critical mind trusts the methodology—the scientific/methodical/hypothetical approach.  But the results need to be noted, verified, repeated.  Modulations of methodology and results also need to be noted and recorded.

Can the US Empire learn a thing or two about critical thinking?

In addition to his “laws of buoyancy”—much less apocryphal than the bathhouse story—the Arch thought a lot about levers.  “Give me a lever big enough,” he said—“and a place to stand…and I will move the Earth.”  (When imperialist Theodore Roosevelt spoke about his “big stick,” was he echoing the ancient Greek?  Or merely being “salacious”?)  Do we have levers big enough now to “move the Earth”?  Do we have “a place to stand”?

Let’s start with “vetting.”

In 2017 it seemed to have become a wing-sprouting, ubiquitous neologism.  That’s because Trump had campaigned on “building a big, beautiful wall” along America’s southern border—“vetting” illegal aliens, as well as legal immigrants, passing through Mexico.  Now that the victorious presidential candidate intended to carry through with his campaign promise, the opposition party suddenly balked: unfair to immigrants!  Unfair to “dreamers.”  Not in the “tradition” of America’s “nation-of- immigrants” policies.

What balderdash!

Odd how our “opposition party”—either one–always seems to make its strongest case—and loudest complaint—at just the wrong time!  I recall John McCain squawking about “campaign finance reform” before that (s)election.  After defeat, not a peep!  (Why would he bother?  He had lost, and he was a one-trick pony!)  Back to the old system!  After the 2016 election, we suddenly heard much more strident voices about the phoniness of the “electoral college”!  When those vocal chords had belonged to those convinced they would win both popular and electoral votes—they had been mum on the subject!  Not justice, not fairness, but opportunism rules our day.

Overload the system, and there can be no “vetting”!  Much of our problem in the US today is not so much about “fake news” (a major problem in itself), but about a glut of news—both the fake and the legit.  We are overwhelmed!  What, and whom, to believe?

Don’t like “vetting”?  Do you like your skin?  If you don’t like “vetting,” remove your skin—a “vetting” agent between your internal organs and the enveloping world…of dust, toxins, microorganisms, etc.  How about your lungs—“vetting” the air you breathe, taking in oxygen, expelling CO2?  How about ideas?  If we are lucky, we are “vetting” throughout our lives: determining what works, what doesn’t; who are the “good kids,” who are the “bullies”; what’s smart and what’s dumb; what lessons to take from teachers, parents, books, the arts; and what to file away—there if we need it (if we can discern).  Cerebellum and cerebral “vetting”…to maintain physical and mental balance!  And moral balance, too!

Why wouldn’t we want to “vet” who comes into America and who does not?  Trump is right about this: “without borders, you have no country.”  He might have said, “without skin, no body; just an exoskeletal-muscular system and a blob of organs.”

Our “nation of immigrants” mantra is nonsense.  We’ve been a nation of conquerors from the beginning!  The greatest growth in our numbers occurred in the 16-year period following the French and Indian War to our American Revolution!  Americans don’t like to pay much attention to that war—probably because it had much more to do with defeating France’s “Indian” allies than with defeating the 60,000 French colonists.  Britain’s 1,600,000 American colonists (in what would become the US eastern states), led by our “Great White Father”—General Washington—easily made mincemeat of the “savages” allied with the French.  (“Savages,” btw, is how Jefferson referred to our “Original Peoples” in our “sacred” Declaration of Independence.  Of course, most Americans never get past the first few flourishing, hyperbolic sentences.  “All men are created equal”!  Really?)

Having defeated the uppity, dandified French and their “savage” allies, we—i.e., the Brits–were now free to import boatloads of folks from Europe—mostly poor Brits, some Dutch, some Germans.  “Immigrants!”—though, of course, only wealthy white men could vote!  (We were also mercilessly packing non-immigrant African Blacks into sailing “cattle cars,” destined for “concentration camps–i.e., “plantations–in the South.)  We had nearly doubled our population by 1776—the year of our own “Glorious Revolution.”  And we’ve been growing like crazy ever since—more than 160-fold since 1763!  (And about 150% in just the past allotted 3-score and ten—about my lifetime up to now!)

And what was all that “largesse” about?  Helping out “the wretched of the earth”?  Much more to do with getting wealthy on slave labor in the South, indentured servitude and close-to (and sometimes worse than)-“slave labor” in the factories in the North.  Much more to do with constant displacement of those remaining “savages” in that vast Western “territory” conquered from Mexico.  More to do with consolidating the Empire, knitting it together with railroads, and stretching past its borders (its skin!) to conquer the Caribbean (by 1898; we already had the “Monroe Doctrine” justifying all that, didn’t we?), and then across the Pacific to conquer the kingdom of Hawaii, the betrayed Philippines (handy “coaling stations there!), butting heads with land-starved Japan, and always justifying all our conquests, all our “interventions,” with pleasant-sounding platitudes; e.g.:

Give me your tired, your poor; your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.

Pretty good for a platitude…, but, what about “displacement”?  Archimedes discovered the correlation between body weight, volume and displacement of water.  It was measurable, quantifiable.  In the US, we ignore “displacement.”  Yeah, sure—we brought in all these “pioneers” from Britain, etc.—but what about the “savages” displaced?  Yeah, sure, we bring in all these tawny, olive-skinned people from southern Europe—some relatives of mine included!–but what about the people “displaced” in our factories, spewing pollution to the now unemployed, no-longer-needed “deplorable” masses?  (And consider this, George M. Cohan, et al.: No doubt we would have far fewer people wishing to immigrate here if we made far fewer wars “over there”!  And, is it not strange that no one talks about the Ehrlichs’ “Population Bomb” anymore?)  The more the merrier?  Really?

Is our “Labor Movement” getting a bit too big for its britches?  Let’s pollute the “Movement”—bring in more immigrants!  Let’s crowd our laboring masses into crime-ridden cities like Chicago and Detroit where they can be better “managed” by political “bosses” and our militarized police.  And let’s just keep feeding the masses their fast-food slop, and fake-news and glut-of-news B.S.! The people are overwhelmed!  They cannot “vet.”  Education has been displaced by political, rhetorical nonsense.  Media, including “the Arts”—their own kind of “media”—for the most part: titilate, inundate, reiterate, eviscerate and regurgitate!  They don’t educate, certainly don’t elevate.  Whether it’s a TV “anchor,” late-night mouthpiece “host,” Hollywood predator-producer, or some other hyped-on-self-importance android…for the most part the name of the game is degrade and evade.  Students at the “best” universities do not learn “how” to think, but “what” to think.  Techno-humans (and non-humans) displace the extended family, the nuclear family, the individual, et al..

It takes most of us a long time to “discern”: to put the puzzle pieces together, to vet ideas and notions, weigh, observe and correlate.  Do people still read books?  Is there time?  I finally got around to reading Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle last year!  (One upsetting, unsettling capsule of a lesson learned: “Adulteration”!—of food, of truth.  It’s been an egregious, omnipresent fact of life since Sinclair’s time…and before….)  I still haven’t read War and Peace!  Much as I like Mark Twain for work like The Mysterious Stranger, isn’t it time for our public schools to replace Tom Sawyer with The Jungle?  Might we replace Julius Cesar with Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children?  Could we be a little more “relevant”?)

Life is short; and the grains of sand flow ever-faster through the hour-glass, and the algorithms now reach “conclusions” before we passing mortal beings can even stammer out a premise.  What are our “human” values now?  The very notions of “humanity” and “The Humanities” seem fading flowers.

One idea still lingers: after the vetting, and the discernment and recognition of the pain of “displacement”–the idea of “integration” remains.

After the old monuments are dismantled, what new monuments can we assemble?  Do I have the right to destroy a man or woman’s pride in his/her heritage because it differs radically from my understanding?  Does that “other” have a right to destroy my pride?  Where are the teachers to help us understand our history, to help us reconcile our differences; to help us recognize who we are, who we have been, who we may become?

It is not a dreamy, nationalist, “melting-pot” fantasy we’ve nurtured, about forming a “greater Union”—as Lincoln had it.  (Shall we tear down the Lincoln Memorial or blow up Mt. Rushmore?  The greatest mass-hanging in American history was ordered by “rail-splitter!” and “Indian-fighter!” President Lincoln, when hungry, destitute and desperate Sioux “Indians” wandered off their open-air-prison-“reservation” to gather food for their starving families.  Over 30 hanged in a few shivering moments.  A spectacle to teach them kind their place!)

Whom shall we lionize; whom condemn?  While victorious and prosperous Americans were jitter-bugging during the “Roaring Twenties,” German children were starving in the streets…and their parents prayed for a “savior”!  Who is “innocent”; who is “guilty”?  What generation has been free of folly…or delusions of grandeur…or solipsistic violence?  Is the pain of disenfranchised Palestinian children less keen than the “never-forgotten” pain of the Jewish holocaust?  Is that holocaust less terrible, or more terrible, than the holocausts of North and South American native peoples…, or those holocausts in Ukraine under Stalin, or in Russia during World War II when 20 million died; and Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Dresden?  Their embers burn in our hearts evermore.

Not a greater “nation-state” to win the competitive economic battles ahead—and possible sanguinary battles—with an emergent China, a persistent Russia, or some new alliance based on the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) or OBOR (“One Belt, One Road”—China’s own super-version of the American rail system that knit our land-empire together, and our Interstate highways that changed our culture forever)!  Nein! Nyett! No!  We need a greater Eureka vision now!

When I think about “integration” it is Martin Luther King’s words that I hear—about “all God’s children” being “free at last.”  That is the “freedom” and “integration” of a greater vision, a greater calling.  But, how can there be “freedom” without knowledge, without understanding?  (“Where shall wisdom be found?” Job wondered. “Where is the place of understanding?” And, a long time after, “The Preacher” pondered: “In much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.”  And yet, he pondered: “A wise man’s heart discerneth both time and judgment.”)

On this tiny, threatened planet–this electron whirling around our flash-bulb-sun–can we possibly transcend to a higher vision—a Carl Sagan/Archimedes kind of vision of that miniscule “blue-dot” of Earth in a spiraling galaxy? Transcend to a sensibility that courageously vets ideas and concepts rationally, educates our children honestly, and recognizes/discerns the pain we have inflicted by displacement, “deplorable” put-downs, and our ignorance and prejudices?

Can we rectify the names (as Kung Fu-tzu/Confucius taught)?  Can we correlate, and balance the equations?…judge between real gold and fool’s gold?  Is it too late?  Is it time to give up?

Then, who will tell the children?

Ethiopia: Final days of The TPLF Regime

Sat, 2018-02-17 20:48

Under relentless popular pressure the Ethiopian Prime-Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, has been forced to resign, and other members of the government are expected to follow. The ruling party responded with panic, and instead of entering into talks with opposition groups, imposed another State of Emergency – this follows on from the previous one, which lasted ten months (from October 2016), and achieved nothing. It is another mistake in a long line of errors by the government, who will do anything, it seems, to hang on to power.

In his resignation speech Hailemariam Desalegn acknowledged that, ”unrest and a political crisis have led to the loss of lives and displacement of many,” Reuters reports. ‘Loss of lives’ of innocent Ethiopians at the hands of TPLF security personnel to be clear. “I see my resignation as vital in the bid to carry out reforms that would lead to sustainable peace and democracy.”

This is a highly significant step in what may prove to be the total collapse of the ruling party. It has been brought about by the peaceful movement for democratic change that has swept across the country since late 2005. Protests began in Oromia triggered by an issue over land and political influence and spread throughout the country.

A little over a month ago, former Prime-Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, announced that the government would release ‘some political prisoners’, in order, Al Jazeera reported, “to improve the national consensus and widen the democratic space.” Since then a relatively small number of falsely imprisoned people (some western media claim 6,000 but this is unconfirmed – nobody knows the exact number, probably hundreds, not thousands) have been released, including some high profile figures (Merera Gudina, chairman of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress, Journalist Eskinder Nega and opposition leader Andualem Arage, for example). Many of those set free are in extremely poor health due to the ill treatment and, in some cases, torture suffered in prison.

Despite these positive moves and the ex-Prime-Minister’s liberal sounding rhetoric, the methodology of the ruling party has not fundamentally changed: the TPLF dominated government continues to trample on human rights and to kill, beat and arrest Ethiopians as they exercise their right to public assembly and peaceful protest.

The total number killed by regime forces since protests erupted in November 2015 is unclear: hundreds definitely (the government itself admits to 900 deaths), tens of thousands probably. A million people (Oromo/Somali groups) according to the United Nations have been displaced – due to government-engineered ethnic conflict – and are now in internal displacement camps (IDP’s) or are simply homeless. Tens of thousands have been falsely imprisoned without due process; their ‘crime’ to stand up to the ruling party, to dissent, to cry out for democracy, for freedom, for justice and an end to tyranny.

All ‘political’ prisoners, including opposition party members (British citizen Andergachew Tsige, e.g.), and journalists, should, as Amnesty International rightly states, “be freed immediately and unconditionally… as they did nothing wrong and should never have been arrested in the first place.” Not only should all political prisoners be released forthwith, but the laws utilized to arrest and imprison need to be dismantled, and the judicial system — currently nothing more that an arm of the TPLF – freed from political control.

The primary weapons of suppression are the 2009 Anti-Terrorist Proclamation and The Charities and Societies Proclamation. Draconian legislation both, allowing the ruling party to detain anyone expressing political dissent in any form, to use torture and information elicited during torture to be used in evidence — all of which is illegal under the UN Convention against Torture, which the Ethiopian Government signed, and ratified in 1994.

Unstoppable Movement for Change

The release of a small number (relative to the total) of political prisoners and the resignation of the Prime Minister does not alter the approach of the government or their brutal method of governance. It is simply a cynical attempt by the TPLF to subdue the movement for change and to appease international voices demanding human rights be upheld.

Arrests and killings by TPLF security personnel continue unabated. Reports are numerous, the situation on the ground changing daily, hourly: At the end of January, soldiers from the Agazi force arrested an estimated 500 people in northern Ethiopia reports ESAT News. In Woldia (also in the north), TPLF soldiers forced “detainees [to] walk on their knees over cobblestones. They [TPLF soldiers] have also reportedly beaten residents including children and pregnant women.” These arrests follow the killing of 13 people in the town; “several others were killed in Mersa, Kobo and Sirinka.” And the BBC Amharic service relates that six people were killed at the Hamaressa IDP camp for internally displaced persons (IDP) (according to UNOCHA Hamaressa IDP camp was home to over 4,000 people internally displaced by the Oromo-Somali disputes) in Eastern Ethiopia. The victims were protesting against the appalling conditions in the camp and demanding they be allowed to go back to their villages when they were shot.

No matter how many people are killed, falsely imprisoned and beaten, the movement for lasting democratic change will not be put down. The principle target of protestors and activists is the dominant faction within the EPRDF coalition, the TPLF, or Woyane (relating to men from the Tigray region), as it is known. This small group took power in 1991 and has controlled all aspects of life in the country including the judiciary, the army, the media and the sole telecommunication supplier (enabling the regime to limit internet access and monitor usage) ever since. The issues driving the protests are broad, interconnected and fundamental; the fact that Ethiopia is a single party state in all but name; the wholesale abuse of human rights; the lack of freedoms of all kinds; the partisan distribution of employment, businesses, and aid; the regime’s dishonesty and corruption; state orchestrated violence false imprisonment and torture.

The people will no longer live under the suffocating blanket of intimidation that has stifled them for the last 27 years, and are demanding fundamental change, calling on the government to step down and for ‘fair and open’ democratic elections. Until now the regime’s response has been crude and predictable; rooted in force, shrouded in arrogance and unwilling to respond to the demands of the people, the government consistently falls back on the only strategy it knows: violence and intimidation; as the people march in unison, the regime unleashes its uniformed thugs. But whereas in the past fear kept people silent, now they are filled with the Fire of Freedom and Justice; they may well be frightened, but in spite of the threats more and more people are acting, engaging in organized acts of civil disobedience (stay-at-home protests) and taking to the streets in demonstration against the regime. Gatherings of thousands of people, men and women, young and old, who refuse any longer to cower to the bully enthroned in Addis Ababa. And with every protestor the regime kills, beats and imprisons the Light of Unity glows a little brighter ,the resolution of the people strengthens, social cohesion grows.

The demand for change is, of course, not limited to Ethiopia; throughout the world large groups are coming together demanding freedom and social justice, cooperation and unity; the reactionary forces resist, but it is a global movement that, while it may be denied for a time, cannot be stopped. The TPLF is in chaos. Their tyranny is coming to an end.  They may cling on to power for a while yet, a few months, a year or two perhaps, but even if they remain in office, they no longer have a hold over the population. The Ethiopian people have a common foe, a unified cause, a shared purpose. The TPLF is the foe, the cause is their removal and the purpose is to bring lasting democratic change to Ethiopia, and no matter what the regime does, this time the people will not be stopped.

Who is burying the Olympic Movement and Why?

Sat, 2018-02-17 14:05

By the time the 2018 Winter Olympic Games opened in PyeongChang last week, the masterminds behind the so-called Russian doping scandal had finally lost their control of the narrative, causing irreparable damage to the Olympic movement and to sports in general.  The politically motivated actions of a tiny group of functionaries in the sports industry have discredited the very concept of the purity of athletics and have resulted in a sharp drop in the world’s interest in the Games in PyeongChang.  This is evident in the disastrous attendance figures (a month before the competitions began only 60% of the tickets had been sold, and the most popular events, hockey and figure skating, had the highest number of unclaimed seats) and could also be seen in the significant drop in the IOC’s ad revenues.

The reason for this downward spiral is obvious, when some athletes are discriminated against based on their nationality while others run mad with impunity, this not only ruins the element of suspense in the competitions, it also kills off spectator interest and advertising contracts.

*****

Let’s take a quick look back at the time line of events.  After the Russian Olympians’ stunning victories in 2014, which did much to spur the success of the “Russian Spring in Crimea” three weeks after the closing ceremonies in Sochi, influential Western players began investing serious money into hyping the scandal over the so-called “Russian doping file.”  

Back in December 2014, Germany’s ARD television channel produced a documentary featuring Russian track and field athlete Yuliya Stepanova and her husband, Vitaly Stepanov, a former employee of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA), in which they “exposed” the system of doping in Russia.  The fact that one year previously Stepanova had been disqualified in Russia, losing her eligibility for two years for doping, and that her violations had only been revealed after her husband left RUSADA in 2011, had somehow escaped the attention of the documentary’s creator Hajo Seppelt (for more information on the first round of efforts to promote the doping scandal, see our July 2016 article, “The Olympics as a Tool of the New Cold War”).

A month later WADA established a commission to investigate the alleged use of doping in Russian track and field athletics.  It consisted of three people: the chairman and first president of WADA, Richard Pound (Canada), a law professor from the University of Western Ontario, Richard McLaren (Canada), and a former criminal investigator at Interpol, Günter Younger (Germany). On November 9, 2015, this commission published a report that included accusations against RUSADA.  The report also stated that in December 2014, the director of the Moscow Anti-Doping Laboratory, Grigory Rodchenkov, had ordered the destruction of more than 1,400 athlete doping tests, three days before a WADA audit team was to arrive in Russia.  On November 10, 2015 Rodchenkov resigned from his position and in January 2016 he emigrated to the US (for more details on this individual’s background, please see the article mentioned above, “The Olympics as a Tool of the New Cold War”).

Richard Pound

On May 12, 2016 the New York Times published a media bomb based on information provided by Rodchenkov.  It alleged that a special “doping program” was developed in Russia before the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, involving several dozen athletes, and its “specialty” supposedly consisted of anabolic steroids that were washed down with alcohol (!).  Then, in order to verify these borderline-bizarre allegations, WADA, at the IOC’s request, established yet another commission, this one headed by McLaren, which in July 2016, just a few weeks before the start of the Olympic Games in Rio, released the first (apparently urgent) section of its report that made the unsupported claim that the doping program in the world of Russian sports had the backing of the Ministry of Sports, the Sports Training Center for Russian Teams, and the Russian Federal Security Service.  On the basis of this “document,” which was never subsequently deemed convincing by any judicial authority, practically all Russian track and field athletes, as well as several competitors from other events, were banned from the Games in Rio.  

In November 2016 a new legislation took effect in Russia making it a criminal offense, with a punishment ranging from a fine to 3-5 years imprisonment, to induce an athlete to use doping drugs.

On December 9, 2016 the second part of the McLaren commission’s report was released.  It claimed that the samples taken from 12 of the Russian medal winners at the 2014 Winter Olympics had been doctored.  It also stated that more than a thousand athletes might have been involved in or benefited from manipulations to conceal positive doping tests.  On the basis of this report, the IOC decided to strip the Russian national team of 13 of its medals won at the 2014 Winter Olympics.  But on February 1, 2018, the CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) issued its own verdict, restoring the rights of 28 of the 42 Russian Winter Olympians affected by the IOC’s actions, including all of those who had lost their medals, and this fact would seem to put into question the legality and validity, at the very least, of McLaren’s report, based on the following statement found in that verdict:

In 28 cases, the evidence collected was found to be insufficient to establish that an anti-doping rule violation was committed by the athletes concerned.

Decisions about what to do with the remaining athletes were either postponed because it was no longer a pressing matter (the athlete in question had already retired) or else the plaintiffs’ appeals were partially upheld.  The lifetime ban on participation in the Olympic Games was lifted from all the applicants.

Despite the fact that the court blocked the IOC’s arbitrary decision to strip the Russian athletes of the medals they had won in Sochi, there was not time to challenge another egregious verdict: suspending the Russian Olympic Committee’s membership in the IOC and forcing the Russian team to compete in PyeongChang under a neutral Olympic flag.

Before we try to get the lowdown on this story, we must emphasize once again: both of these “investigative commissions” were established in the immediate aftermath of the made-to-order and in many respects fake news reports in the Western media about “doping in Russia.”  The biggest tipoff that they were fake was the fact that the main protagonists of this “investigative journalism” were individuals who had been justifiably punished or prosecuted in Russia for either using doping drugs or inducing others to use them, and under pressure from their media patron, those individuals extrapolated from their own sad experiences in front of the cameras to condemn the entire Russian sports community.  The hack jobs by Hajo Seppelt and the New York Times on the subject of Russian doping are examples of fake news in its purest form.

Richard McLaren

*****

So, to all appearances, shortly after Russia’s triumphant performance at the Sochi Olympics, a small group of predominantly Anglo-Saxon sports functionaries made the decision (at present it’s hard to say whether they did so independently or at the behest of someone higher up) to ensure that there would be no more unpleasant surprises in the future.  They hired several professionals, the most publicly visible of whom were Richard McLaren and Hajo Seppelt, to help out with the media on their project and lend it an air of expertise (proof that McLaren is in no way an “independent lawyer” can be seen in his outraged reaction to the February CAS decision).

Hajo Seppelt

In addition to the challenging task of discrediting Russian athletics in the international media, these individuals had to conduct a backstage war with the International Olympic Committee at the same time.  Far from everyone in the IOC’s leadership was delighted at the prospect of the nascent scandal and the serious damage to the Olympic movement that was being broadly predicted three years ago.  This is quite evident from the copies of the email correspondence (seemingly quite genuine) between IOC officials in regard to the doping scandal that have recently appeared on the Internet.

Without question the most illustrative example of these was the exchange of harshly worded letters between McLaren and the Director General of the IOC, Christophe de Kepper, which took place in March 2017. They were prompted by de Kepper’s February 24, 2017 memo that was circulated to the members of the IOC Executive Board, the National Olympic Committees, and international sports federations, which contained criticism of McLaren.  In particular, it noted that “the work of the Oswald Commission and of the IFs is not easy,” as McLaren’s mandate “did not involve any authority to bring Anti-Doping Rule Violation (‘ADRV’) cases against individual athletes.”  In regard to accusations that a “state doping system” exists in Russia, de Kepper stated with bewilderment that in his reports McLaren could not even stick to a consistent terminology: in some places he speaks of a “state sponsored system” whilst in the final full report he described an “institutional conspiracy.”  The main problem, as de Kepper acknowledges, is the lack of sufficient evidence to back up the accusations against the Russian athletes:

The establishment of acceptable evidence is a significant challenge, as some IFs have already experienced; where in some cases they have had to lift provisional suspensions or were not able – at least at this stage – to begin disciplinary procedures due to a lack of consistent evidence.

As can be seen both from the text of the memo and in other publicly available confidential IOC documents (for example, a stunningly open list of questions for Prof. McLaren, dated December 19, 2016 and drafted by the IOC Disciplinary Commission chaired by Samuel Schmid after examining his final report), in the first days after the report’s publication, the IOC and international federations were faced with the difficulty of digging up any shreds of evidence backing McLaren’s allegations.  Questions have even been raised in regard to the accuracy of the translation of the materials found in the report (apparently translated from Russian):

At the recent meeting (21 February) held by WADA in Lausanne to “provide assistance to IFs regarding how to analyse and interpret the evidence”, it was admitted by WADA that in many cases the evidence provided may not be sufficient to bring successful cases. IFs were told by WADA to make direct contact with the IP team to try to obtain further information. WADA also explained that the translations used by the IP team were not adequate and was obtaining official translations of some of the texts.

International sports officials had a foreboding even back then that they could expect a real grilling once matters made it to the courts and arbitration tribunals:

It is already evident from the appeals filed against some International Federations provisional suspension decisions that the IOC decision will have to stand up to a strong legal challenge.

It is also interesting that in his memo de Kepper makes it clear that WADA’s flawed and one-sided efforts were much to blame for the scandal over “Russian doping”:

The IOC is also pursuing the reform of the WADA system… We are driving forward to establish an independent testing authority – independent from sports organisations and from national interests… Sanctioning should be delegated to the CAS as the IOC successfully did at the Olympic Games Rio 2016… The IOC has made proposals for more accountability, transparency and diversity [of WADA].

The Belgian lawyer and IOC Director General Christophe De Kapper was one of the few officers inside the Committee who tried to follow the rule of law during the “doping scandal”.

You are unlikely to have read Prof. McLaren’s March 2, 2017 response to this memo.  But it’s quite interesting and a few passages from it deserve to be quoted here.

First of all, the professor expresses his intense dissatisfaction with the fact that he was not informed in advance about the drafting of the memo and also that the issues in dispute were never discussed with him:

It would have been helpful if you had spoken to me in advance so that I could have addressed the various issues you raise in relation to my Report.

Second, he tries to argue that he had never been tasked with searching for evidence of doping by any specific Russian athlete:

It was not my mandate to bring violations against individual athletes. I am concerned that the IOC seems to be on a quest to re-define my mandate by attempting to establish that my Reports are inadequate for a purpose for which they were never intended.

In regard to the confusion about the terminology (“state sponsored system”), McLaren acknowledges that the fantasies of those who fabricated information for him about “Russian doping programs” did not rise higher than the ministerial level (“My evidence stopped at the Ministry of Sport”).

Finally, as for the inaccuracies in the translations, it turns out that he had no intention of making those official:

The translations into English by my team… were never intended to be ‘official’. They were provided on the Evidence Disclosure Package (EDP) to assist users and not to certify the translation for some legal purpose.

Incidentally, in later comments with respect to the last passage, de Kepper’s office quite sensibly remarked:

It should be pointed out that the IOC as well as (and maybe even more so) the IFs are being asked to take some very tough decisions, with serious legal and non-legal consequences, on the basis of the Report(s).

In general, de Kepper’s team’s reaction to Prof. McLaren’s letter and their stiff response indicate that the IOC had a pretty accurate picture of both the motives driving the Canadian lawyer as well as the mandate assigned to him:

It seems that Robert (sic) McLaren’s first Report was intended to lead to the complete expulsion of the Russian team from the Rio Games, and the second – to expulse the Russian team from Pyeongchang Games, but not to deal with athletes on an individual basis. Perhaps McLaren and WADA should have thought this through in more detail prior to the Reports being made public – in particular, to themselves to have had the courtesy to discuss this matter of principle with the IOC in further detail, before WADA went down the path of using the (first) Report to try to have the Russian team excluded from the Rio Games, rather than McLaren and WADA considering to go down the path that the IOC intended to take, namely, to deal with the individual athletes on a case-by-case basis. This put the IOC and the IFs, and the Olympic movement in general, in a very difficult position.

It should be noted that the insiders at the IOC Executive Board peppered their letter from McLaren with comments that indicate that the Canadian professor is lying at every turn:

As a result, de Kepper’s response has some harsh things to say about McLaren’s claims that he supposedly always cleared his reports with the IOC in advance:

I am sorry to inform you that this has simply not been the case. We made multiple requests to be allowed to have advanced view of your documents with the promise of total confidentiality ahead of publication but sadly this was never forthcoming. Indeed, in the case of the first interim report you even told us that “this content does not primarily concern you.”

De Kepper even twice transparently drops hints to McLaren, implying that the latter, in his role as a professional lawyer, must, after all, easily be able to see for himself how decisions that will inevitably face a strong legal challenge must be drafted:

As a senior and respected international lawyer, you will certainly appreciate that the process of gathering credible evidence against individuals, sufficiently robust to ensure convictions in a manner which justice is done and seen to be done, is a long and detailed process. It was for this reason that it was felt necessary and important to send a communication to the Olympic Movement on the work by the two IOC Commissions to explain the process and describe the work that was being done. Indeed, it was the very fact that your mandate did not extend to individual cases that impelled us to explain to our stakeholders the process that is underway to complete this work.

This may well be the case – but as a law professor I hope you will agree that this is another instance where the standard of evidence we will need to successfully prosecute cases is higher than the evidence you have provided.

In general, de Kepper’s letter in many places deserves to be quoted verbatim:

As for the matter of you changing your description of the affair from a ‘State sponsored’ system to an “institutional conspiracy” this does seem to mark a change in attitude on your part. However, whatever your final conclusions, whilst your report does indeed uncover a conspiracy there is precious little evidence as to who would be involved in such a conspiracy. Would this again be a case that ‘goes beyond your mandate” or would you be able to indicate and provide evidence of who exactly may have been involved in this conspiracy. At present you have left us with good evidence that a crime has been committed but little evidence of those who were responsible.

Let us both agree that cooperation has not always been what it should have been between the IP team [Independent Person – a sleek euphemism, used by Prof. McLaren to indicate himself in his reports – OR] and the Olympic Movement. You have brought to our attention the limits of your mandate. However, please note that, in view of these limits, the IOC and, in particular, the IFs have ended up bearing a huge and very difficult burden in trying to convert the material/information referred to in your Report into Anti-Doping Rule Violations against individual athletes. A further problem was created by your Report (and the previous Report regarding this subject) seemingly being used to try and justify a total ban of the complete Russian Olympic team from the Rio Games and the Pyeongchang Games when, in fact, the IOC and the IFs are/were simply not of the view that a collective punishment should be, or should have been, imposed upon all Russian athletes [all emphasizes done by OR].

It is clear that such cooperation [between the IOC and IP team – OR] is now needed if we are to do our job and to turn your general conclusions about an ‘institutional conspiracy’ into concrete findings against individuals and organizations and also if we are to successfully prosecute individual cases with at least a chance of success at CAS. WADA has said that International Federations need to contact your team directly to receive materials. It would be good to receive your cast iron agreement that your team will offer this full cooperation and allow us to go beyond your mandate and prosecute successful cases against individuals and organizations based on evidence that will stand up in a court of law.

*****

It is interesting that during those same few days when de Kepper was working with his staff to draft the letter answering McLaren, de Kepper was also corresponding with the chief executive officer of the US Olympic Committee, Scott Blackmun.

Scott Blackmun

That correspondence was in reference to the statement from the US Olympic Committee, circulated on March 10, 2017 by the leading global news agencies, that it was preparing some kind of “position paper” in advance of the March 11-12 World Anti-Doping Agency Symposium in Lausanne (Switzerland), which would include American proposals for reforming WADA, specifically stipulating that “there must also be a clearly independent anti-doping body with overriding global authority of those national anti-doping organization (NADO) programs, with the responsibility to test, investigate, and sanction when necessary – ensuring consistency across countries and sports.”  This was undoubtedly an attempt by the US to head off the initiative announced by de Kepper in his February 23 memo about needing reform and better balance from WADA.  De Kepper’s urgent email to Blackmun leaves no doubt that the USOC statement was entirely unexpected for him:

In his reply, Blackmun feigns surprised innocence:

The IOC’s position could not be clearer, based on the following correspondence:

De Kepper:

My point is rather that USOC had an opportunity also to show unity with the rest of the Olympic movement by openly supporting the IOC/OM positions on reforms and in particular the ITA [Independent Testing Authority – OR].

And the essential:

There is however one problematic point and this is a fundamental one. USOC is pleading for WADA to have sanctioning powers and we strongly disagree with this. The same organisation cannot be legislator, police and judge at the same time. Recent history has shown where this can lead even more so if it is a political body with only limited cultural and geographical diversity in its boards.

*****

During those same few days (March 11-12, 2017), battles were raging even at the level of the Athlete Commissions (AC) between WADA and the IOC about the future of the anti-doping system.  Judging by mails coming from the same source, at the March 12 WADA AC meeting, an attempt was made to remove that body from the orbit of the IOC, and the meeting apparently became very heated.  The sponsor of the scandalous initiative was WADA’s Director General Olivier Niggli, and it was prompted by WADA’s dissatisfaction with the IOC’s position on the work of the McLaren commission:

Those who want to get a better feel for the nuances of the disputes between WADA and the IOC regarding the work of the world anti-doping agencies can study the draft presentation paper, which the Athlete Commission of the IOC drafted in the wake of Olivier Niggli’s maneuver. In our opinion, the main correction introduced into the text that day was the recommendation that WADA AC be composed with a majority of elected members and that its Chair should sit on the WADA Executive Committee as a full member:


Perhaps sports-industry insiders will be able to glean other interesting nuggets from this document.

Craig Reedie (right), president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, and Olivier Niggli, its director-general

*****

Here is the picture that is emerging based on the material available to us: There is indeed a conspiracy at the heart of the “Russian doping” scandal, but it’s quite a different one than what the global media has so fervidly described so far.  This conspiracy involves WADA bureaucrats and a few national Olympic committees (the USOC is among them for certain), and their goal is to establish complete control over the system of regulating doping in sports, independent of the IOC.  They need that control, on one hand, to prevent any PR damage from the systematic use of doping by Western athletes, and on the other – to acquire some effective leverage in the form of political and propaganda pressure that can be used on any sport nation they think needs to be hog-tied.

Even more condemning conclusions over the doping deadlock the WADA is leading the international top sport into, were articulated by the late honorary member of the IOC Hein Verbruggen in his letter to Thomas Bach on October 13, 2016. If you haven’t read it yet, we strongly recommend to do it now.

A couple of key quotations:

The dramatic events of the last months in anti-doping have made us all think about WADA’s role and responsibilities. I think we have suddenly all realized that this organisation has in fact during 17 years been in the hands of four people: Mr Pound, Mr Howman, Mr Reedie and Mr Niggli. I left out Mr Fahey who unexpectedly was put into the WADA chair without having any experience in anti-doping (which was perhaps convenient for those who wanted to retain the power but definitely not good for WADA).

With all respect for President Reedie, I think nobody familiar with WADA will contest that Mr Pound still has a dominant position within that organization.

The current WADA has to a large extent failed to be a viable and universally trusted and respected anti-doping organization, because – as well as for genuine anti-doping – it has from the beginning (17 years ago) also been used for politics. We all know – but we usually do not dare to say – that there exists a sound anti-IOC and anti-Europe attitude at the level of the WADA leadership. This WADA-leadership (appointed by the IOC, which is the cynical part of the story) usually teams up with a small group of (mainly) Anglo-Saxon NADO’s (USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, United Kingdom and Norway/Scandinavia on the sideline) and this has created a division that has allowed the same people to stay at the helm for a way too long period. This “coalition” can also be seen from the composition of the WADA committees (including panels and expert groups)…

We have to face up to the inconvenient fact that many within the Olympic Movement are afraid of criticism by WADA and Mr Pound in the sensitive and mediatic field of anti-doping. This fear explains in my view why Mr Pound and friends do not seem to worry about not being nominated anymore and why they have been able to maintain their WADA positions for 17 years, as if there were no other competent people and good governance would not recommend a change from time to time. But of course Mr Pound sees that fear also and it explains why he feels so strong in his lecturing (and in my opinion: even insulting, see e.g. his “redemption” article) the IOC.

Even recognizing the work that WADA and its leadership have done for the fight against doping, that does not allow to turn a blind eye on what went wrong. This has recently culminated in WADA arrogating a public call on the IOC to impose a last minute ban on all Russian athletes from the 2016 Olympic Games, whereas it was precisely WADA that largely contributed to this very problematic situation by not following up promptly and adequately the information it had received since 2010.

My battle was, and still is, also for what I consider to be WADA’s genuine mission in an effective fight to protect clean sport, and in support of the IOC that has the moral leadership of the fight against doping and was and still is repeatedly chafed by the WADA leadership.

A harsh critic of WADA and honorary member of the IOC Hein Verbruggen (1941-2017)

*****

As we know, despite the desperate struggle for legitimacy in sports, at least by the Director General of the IOC Christophe de Kepper, the International Olympic Committee was eventually forced to yield to the pressure of the international doping lobby.  The question as to what types of leverage were being used in mid and late 2017 might be the topic of a separate investigation.  It is obvious, for example, that McDonalds’ June 2017 decision to terminate its sponsorship contact with the IOC ahead of schedule, after a 40-year partnership, did not happen in a vacuum, but was instead part of a campaign to exert pressure on the IOC leadership.

It is also symptomatic that in January 2018, United States prosecutors issued grand jury subpoenas against the biggest sports organizations, including the International Olympic Committee, on “racketeering, money laundering, and fraud charges related to various elite competitions.”  An additional juicy detail is that the New York Times story on this subject not only came out within mere hours of the CAS’s verdict exonerating the Russian athletes, but also was written by the same Rebecca Ruiz, who in May 2016 was ordered to draft the fake article that triggered McLaren’s “investigation.”

Global Warming Zaps Oxygen

Fri, 2018-02-16 14:11

Take a deep breath. A recent scientific study reveals disturbing loss of ocean oxygen. Unnerving climatic events like this justify ringing and clanging of the bells on the Public Square, all hands on deck. In particular, and as expected, the culprit is too much anthropogenic-induced global warming or idiomatically speaking, human activities such as planes, trains, and automobiles… burning tons of coal. Somebody must do something to fix it… ah-ah-ah!

According to Denise Breitburg, lead author marine ecologist with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center:

The decline in ocean oxygen ranks among the most serious effects of human activities on the Earth’s environment.1

A team of scientists with GO2NE (Global Ocean Oxygen Network) created by the UN Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission conducted a sweeping all-encompassing study of the state of ocean oxygen:

In the past 50 years, the amount of water in the open ocean with zero oxygen has gone up more than fourfold. In coastal water bodies, including estuaries and seas, low-oxygen sites have increased more than 10-fold since 1950. Scientists expect oxygen to continue dropping even outside these zones as Earth warms.2

According to Vladimir Ryabinin, executive secretary of the International Oceanographic Commission that formed GO2NE:

Approximately half of the oxygen on Earth comes from the ocean.

Today, there are actual dead zones where oxygen has plummeted so low that life suffocates. Not only low oxygen that doesn’t suffocate life still stunts growth, hinders reproduction, and promotes disease. In short, low oxygen stresses the entire ecosystem. According to the “legendary ocean researcher” Dr. Sylvia Earle, as recognized by the Library of Congress, and referred to as “Her Deepness” by The New Yorker and former Chief Scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) but resigned and started Mission Blue “to save the ocean”: “The ocean is dying… All of us are the beneficiaries of having burned through fossil fuels, but at what costs?  If we continue business as usual, we’re in real trouble.”

If only, a wish list, key federal positions that impact the planet, like the presidency (Trump) and heads of departments, like the EPA (Pruitt), had a smidgen of Dr. Earle’s mindset, knowledge, and consciousness, the great biosphere Earth would have a fighting chance, but no. Regrettably, they are at war with the planet. Their timing in office could not be worse! Indeed, the U.S. economy is the world’s largest at 25% of world GDP.  Its impact on the climate system exceeds all others.

Metaphorically, comparing biosphere Earth to a passenger plane traveling from NY to Paris, nobody notices when half a dozen rivets pop off the fuselage. And, nobody knows when another 10 or 20 pop off. The plane still flies, but as rivets continue to pop off and the fuselage loosens and opens up the plane starts losing altitude. Passengers notice.

Similarly, biosphere Earth has lost many, many rivets but in contrast to the passenger plane scenario, scientists like Dr. Sylvia Earle and Dr. James Hansen, former top climate scientist of NASA, have already noticed, and they forewarned society before the fuselage rips apart, before passengers notice. Consequently, according to Paris ’15, the world takes warnings by scientists seriously and acts to repair the damage, but will it be soon enough? Some scientists don’t think so.

Examples of earthly rivets popping off: (1) “Ocean seasons are changing as a result of too much heat and CO2… The scale of ocean warming is truly staggering with numbers so large that it is difficult for most people to comprehend.”3 , (2) In 2017, the Gulf of Mexico’s Dead Zone, where oxygen is so weak that fish die, is the largest ever at 8,800 square miles.4, (3) The deadly trio, or fingerprints, of mass extinctions, including global warming, ocean acidification, and anoxia or lack of ocean oxygen at current rate of change are unprecedented in Earth’s known history.5, (4) Oceans have lost 40% of plankton production over past 50 years, threatening loss of one of the major sources of oxygen for the planet.6 Many more examples of earthly rivets popping off are extant but time and space limit.

What if the aforementioned airline pilot announced: “This is an urgent message from your pilot: Rivets are popping off the fuselage. Fasten your seat belts!”

In reality, that’s happening now. Earthly rivets are popping off all over the place, and even though scientists are warning of rivets popping off or “tipping points” in the climate system, America’s president Trump relies upon sources like Fox News and the Heritage Foundation for science knowledge. Therefore, it’s guaranteed he’ll never even hear the compulsory final announcement: “Fasten your seat belts.” Well, come to think of it, it’s way too late then anyways.

  1. “The Ocean Is Losing Its Breath”, University of Californian-San Diego, Science Daily, January 4, 2018.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Dan Laffoley, IUCN Global Marine and Polar Programme.
  4. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
  5. Alex Rogers, Oxford, scientific director State of the Ocean.
  6. Boris Worm, Killam Research Professor, Dalhousie University, Halifax.

Korean Olympic Diplomacy Moves Forward Despite U.S. Intransigence

Fri, 2018-02-16 09:53

By many accounts, the Koreans – North and South – have prevailed over the disruptive desires of the United States, coming together in a series of very public actions, clearly meant to turn down the political heat generated by President Donald Trump and the U.S. pressure for military action. This pressure can be seen as a continuation of President Barack Obama’s “Asia Pivot,” a policy that called for full U.S. dominance in the region, including by containing China and the new emerging regional powers through a set of expansive, coordinated, and aggressive military alliances with Japan and other Pacific Rim countries.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, right, talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong as they watch a concert by Pyongyang’s Samjiyon Orchestra at a national theater in Seoul on February 11, 2018. (AFP/Getty Images)

The high-profile actions taken by the North and the South – both acting independently of Washington – left U.S. Vice President Mike Pence pouting and twiddling his thumbs on the sidelines during some very effective international diplomacy. In this regard, there does indeed seem to be a new and genuine desire on the part of the president of South Korea to forge a more peaceful and cooperative relationship with the North, even though U.S. officials and commentators seem to be dead set against it, portraying the warming relations between North and South as an attempt by the North to subvert the long and close relationship with the South.

In congressional hearings this week, the moves toward North-South de-escalation were dismissed by a leading Republican, Sen. James Risch of Idaho, as a “smile campaign.”

“The South Korean people seem to have been charmed to some degree, some of them seem to have been captivated by it,” Risch fretted.

Meanwhile, on the media front, CBS reported that its rival network NBC “was forced to fire one of its Olympic analysts after he inexplicably said Koreans are grateful for Japan’s role in their economic development – while ignoring the one-time imperial power’s brutalization of the peninsula.”

I spoke to writer and regional expert, K.J. Noh, about the Olympics and the big-power politics swirling around the Olympic Games in Seoul. Noh is a special correspondent for Flashpoints show on Pacifica Radio.

Dennis Bernstein: Welcome back, K.J. Noh. We want to get to some of the bigger political issues but let’s start with a media story. We’ve heard that NBC fired one of its analysts because it turned out he didn’t have a clue about Korean history and ended up insulting Koreans while trying to somehow curry favor with Japan.

K.J. Noh: This commentator, Joshua Cooper Ramo, is the Co-CEO of Kissinger Associates and a supposed expert on the geopolitics and culture of Asia.  The history is that Korea was brutally colonized and subjugated by Japan for three and a half decades.  As the Japanese athletes were coming in, Ramo said “Now representing Japan, a country which occupied Korea from 1910 to 1945.  But every Korean will tell you,” he went on to say, “that as a technical, cultural and economic example, Japan has been so important to the transformation of Korea.”

This didn’t go over well with Koreans.  As one Korean put it, “After decades of human rights violations, exploiting our resources and attempting to destroy our heritage, Japan is not in a position to expect our gratitude.”  This is just one example of the extraordinary ignorance surrounding Korea, by so-called “experts.”

DB: What do you think was the significance in terms of diplomacy between the North and the South?  You have the United States swearing up and down that this is a ploy by the North to get in the way of our tight relationship with the South Koreans.

KJN: As you know, the Winter Olympics are usually not as well attended as the summer games and not as much a source of interest for the general global audience.  But these Olympics, held in the South Korean county of PyeongChang, have reached out to the North Koreans.  And the North Koreans have responded.

In fact, they responded very rapidly, sending over 500 of their citizens, including a cheerleading squad, an orchestra, a Taekwondo demo team, the head of the North Korean assembly, 22 athletes, and most surprisingly, Kim Yo Jong.  Kim Yo Jong is a  high-ranking Politburo member, and Kim Jong Un’s younger sister.  Just the fact of the North Koreans defying expectations and showing up was a propaganda coup.

The allegation was that the North Koreans were going to use the Olympics as a propaganda offensive. Actually, that battle was lost before it even started, because so much of the Western media has gone overboard to portray the North Koreans as brainwashed zombies or belligerent monsters.  So when these representatives of North Korea show up and they are not cowed zombies or desperate monsters, but rather vivacious, congenial, and self-possessed women, that shattered a lot of received stereotypes.

DB: It does seem that there is a strong spiritual push by the new leadership in the south to bring the two countries together.  There have been some pretty warm words, haven’t there?

KJN: Absolutely. To give some more background, although technically North Korea and the US are still at war, North Korea and South Korea signed a Treaty of Reconciliation, Cooperation, and Non-aggression in 1992.  The letter of that agreement has not always been observed and, especially during conservative administrations, the hostilities have escalated.  But the current president of South Korea, Moon Jae In, was the chief of staff of Roh Moo Hyun, who headed a progressive administration and worked very actively toward reconciliation with the North in a program known as the “Sunshine Policy.”

To a certain extent, this small break in the clouds is an attempt to return to that policy of reconciliation.  What is notable is the congeniality with which the hand was extended toward North Korea.  For example, when the North Korean and South Korean athletes entered the stadium as one team, under a single flag, a standing ovation erupted as 35,000 people rose to their feet in a celebration of this very powerful coming together.

DB: Just watching on my TV, I was totally moved.

KJN: The other thing that was notable was that Vice President Pence was the only person who did not stand up. Here’s a man who criticized African American football players for “taking the knee” and has said that sports should not be politicized.  The Korean Times described Pence’s gesture as “mean-spirited and stupid arrogance, making America look bad in the eyes of the world.”  Professor Alexis Dudden at the University of Connecticut, called it “a new low in American bullying.”

DB: These Olympics come in the context of some pretty crazy policy on the part of the United States government.  The permanent war government wants this kind of policy because it helps the weapons industry.  Can these meetings at the Olympics mean anything in this context?

KJN: It’s hard to say right now.  There seems to have been a bit of an about-face on the part of Pence, some have said because the enormous criticism he has received.  He has now said that he is willing to meet and talk with the North Koreans without preconditions. At the same time, he has said that he intends to maintain maximal pressure and that there are even more extreme sanctions in the pipeline.  Meanwhile, South Korean President Moon met with the sister of Kim Jong Un on four separate occasions over three days, including a performance by the North Korean Orchestra. During a state luncheon, Kim Yo Jong extended an invitation to President Moon from Kim Jong Un to visit North Korea for a summit meeting “at the earliest date possible.”

In the visitor’s book, she wrote:  “I hope Pyongyang and Seoul get closer in people’s hearts and move forward for the future of a mutually prosperous unification.”

• First published in Consortium News.com

Assange, Judge Arbuthnot and the Arrest Warrant

Fri, 2018-02-16 04:54

Justice is an elastic concept.  Like other terms in law, it has room to expand and contract.  But one weakness burdens legal strictures that supposedly have an objective reality to them: power.  Power brutish, power as a spectral force, and power arbitrarily exercised.

Any reading of Julian Assange’s case must be, to that end, understood as a dynamic less of law than power.  Having challenged its operations in the international system, he was bound to be its recipient.  In assessing his conditions of detention on the Ecuadorean embassy in London, black letter lawyers prefer an interpretation without the influence of power, clean and clear.  Focus is had on individual volition and purpose: up stakes, Assange, and face the legal music!  That music remains the score sheet of a warrant for his arrest.

Such reasoning is woefully inadequate given the feathers the man has rustled.  A number of states, the United States most preeminent amongst them, has demanded his pound of flesh.  Mike Pompeo of the Central Intelligence Agency has admitted with refreshing candour how US authorities are considering avenues on prosecuting Assange and those associated with WikiLeaks.

Having soiled many a stable with the work of WikiLeaks and disclosures of classified information, treating Assange as a minor offender, one merely deserving of a parking ticket, is entirely erroneous.  But it is a view that persists, even after the collapse of the Swedish case against him.

Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot, taking a view shared by many members of her profession, proved inelastic in assessing Assange’s appeal against the arrest warrant.  She did not, for instance, feel that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had much truck in its 2016 decision favourable to him.

Assange, she was more or less surmising, was an unconscionable brat, a person who believed laws insufficient to bind him.  “I find arrest is a proportionate response even though Mr Assange has restricted his own freedom for a number of years.”  The arch manipulator had to come clean and descend from his Olympus.

“The impression I have, and this may well be dispelled if and when Mr Assange finally appears in court, is that he is a man who wants to impose his terms on the course of justice.  He appears to consider himself above the normal rules of law and wants justice only if it goes in his favour.”

Some observers were not immune to the sense that the judge had gotten personal.  Rather than focusing on the finer points of the ruling, a moral assessment was in order. “At times,” went ABC correspondent Lisa Millar, “it felt like a character assessment that went beyond what was needed for this ruling.”

The only way Judge Arbuthnot could understand Assange’s case was like any other defendant, an understanding both flawed and naïve.  “Defendants on bail up and down the country and requested persons facing extradition, come to court to face the consequences of their own choices.  He should have the courage to do so.”

The problem with this reasoning is that the “choices” in question have been shown to be thinly manipulated grounds, notably those centred on a prosecutor’s brief from Sweden that was pursued till it expired with time.  At no point was Assange ever charged for sexual offences, a niggling point that the righteous followers of positive law forget.

When concessions were finally made to interview him in the Ecuadorean embassy on his Swedish sojourn, nothing of substance emerged. What did, however, lurk with sinister force was the role played by British authorities to prolong the matter.

It is beside the point that Assange may leave his confines at any time.  But removing a police presence before a minefield doesn’t remove the mines.  He may well walk out and face the heralds of law.  But the issue of skipping bail is not a stand-alone matter of legal delinquency. The grounds for extraditing him to Sweden have evaporated, making the issue academic. What remains is the prospect of surrender to the United States, a point that is far from negligible.

None of this matters to the judge, who decided she knew geopolitical malice, or issues of trust, better than most. “I do not accept that Sweden would have rendered Mr Assange to the United States.”

A good dose of speculation followed.  “If that had happened there would have been a diplomatic crisis between the UK, Sweden and the US, which would have affected international relationships and extradition proceedings between states.”

Not in the least.  What all three states have demonstrated are strong ties in terms of extradition, common grounds when it comes to dealing with international trouble makers.  The Lauri Love decision does, admittedly, offer some room for hackers and those of Assange’s ilk to avoid the fate of ending up in the US prison system.

Far from precipitating a crisis, rendering Assange or extraditing him would have been seen as the ridding of a problem, removing a chaos maker, as it were, from the already troubled soup of international relations.  Charmingly for such judicial officials as Judge Arbuthnot, the rule of law remains immune from political influence, despite scant evidence of its practice.

Atlas Shivered

Fri, 2018-02-16 04:26

A recent article by Matthew Moore appeared in The Times titled “Trump’s philosopher is heading for your local”. The piece not only suggests that Donald Trump is capable of reading a book, which seems unlikely enough, but that he’s also capable of reading a philosophical book. Quite frankly, that would be stretching credulity a little too far.

The so-called philosopher in question is Ayn Rand, a White Russian émigré to the US who died almost forty years ago. Her two best-known books are “The Fountainhead”, and “Atlas Shrugged”, both novels, rather than philosophical tomes. I read them when Rand was still alive. I’m now ashamed to admit that I thought they were pretty good at the time, but then I was young, and living a privileged five percenter existence at the time in a racist, semi-fascist country, and didn’t know any better. Today the suggestion that Rand’s writing is enjoying growing popularity is truly scary.

Rand’s so-called philosophy is easy to summarise: “selfishness to the point of total exclusion of anyone or anything else is the highest form of morality”. If Donald Trump ever actually read Ayn Rand, rather than have some flunky tell him about her, I can see why he might find her appealing. She does pretty much sum up the principle behind the fabled “American Dream”. There’s nothing commendable about Ayn Rand’s work, and I know from personal experience it can cause seriously conflicted emotions in young people.

In 1980 I worked on a kibbutz in Occupied Palestine for a few weeks. One of the kibbutzniks I remember was a young chap who had grown up on the kibbutz. I’ll call him David. He had recently discovered Rand, and was totally confused by the message in her writing. David liked talking to me because I was one of the few people who had also read her, and could understand the conflictions he was suffering. Here he was, raised from birth in a totally communist environment, where everyone was treated equally, and shared everything, and now he was being taught by Ayn Rand that these values were not only wrong but that they were almost evil. He seemed to me almost at the point of nervous breakdown. I don’t know if I helped him, because my experience was the exact opposite. I had been raised in an environment which was not very far away from Rand’s ideal, and was then living real-life communism. I too was being blown away by new lessons, but in a totally different direction. We were ideological ships crossing in the night.

I could almost have ignored The Times article were it not for one very worrying part of it. Towards the end of the article, we learn that:

Last year Rand was added to the A-level (the UK’s matriculation level examination) politics curriculum after a row about the sidelining of female thinkers.

So the people who get to choose fine role-models of female thinking, upon which today’s generation of young women should presumably mould themselves, can do no better than pick an exponent of fascism. To be fair, the article does not say if the A-level politics curriculum also includes female thinkers who would be outraged by the writing of Ayn Rand, and if that’s the case I suppose there’s a reasonable case for including her; but does it? Are young politics students also being exposed to the writing of Emma Goldman, for example? Or Rosa Luxemburg, Mary Wollstonecraft, Helen Hunt Jackson or Martha Gellhorn? What about more contemporary female writers, such as Naomi Klein, Arundhati Roy, Nancy MacLean, Ellen Brown or Nomi Prins? If the writing of these female thinkers is being included in the A-level curriculum, all of whom, I suspect, would not be fans of Ayn Rand, then fair enough. But is it?

Rand’s work has long appealed to the far-right extremists who pretty much control the United States — and therefore the rest of the world. It’s somewhat less well-known in Britain. But The Times article tells us that “Ayn Rand discussion groups” are appearing around the country and that one besotted disciple, Razi Ginsberg, “is in the process of setting up the Ayn Rand Centre, the UK’s first organisation devoted to spreading the philosophies of the US novelist”.

Apparently Mr Ginzberg wants “to create an appetite for Rand’s individualist, free-market ideas as an antidote to socialism”.

An “antidote to socialism”? Does Mr Ginzberg think that after forty years of unbroken capitalism socialism actually exists in the UK, and needs an “antidote”? How far to the right, or delusional, or both, must you be to think that Britain is a socialist country?

Mr Moore’s article opens with the words:

If you see a group earnestly debating objectivism and rational self-interest in your local pub, don’t be alarmed. They are probably from an Ayn Rand discussion group.

I have a different opinion. I think that if you see such a group in action you should be very alarmed indeed. You should be about as alarmed as seeing a group discussing the virtues of Adolph Hitler.

Regime Change Fails: Is A Military Coup Or Invasion Of Venezuela Next?

Fri, 2018-02-16 04:03

Speaking at his alma mater, the University of Texas, on February 1, Secretary of State Tillerson suggested a potential military coup in Venezuela.  Tillerson then visited allied Latin American countries urging regime change and more economic sanctions on Venezuela. Tillerson is considering banning the processing or sale of Venezuelan oil in the United States and is discouraging other countries from buying Venezuelan oil. Further, the US is laying the groundwork for war against Venezuela.

In a series of tweets, Senator Marco Rubio, the Republican from Florida, where many Venezuelan oligarchs live, called for a military coup in Venezueala.

How absurd — remove an elected president with a military coup to restore democracy? Does that pass the straight face test? This refrain of Rubio and Tillerson seems to be the nonsensical public position of US policy.

The US has been seeking regime change in Venezuela since Hugo Chavez was elected in 1998. Trump joined Presidents Obama and Bush before him in continuing efforts to change the government and put in place a US-friendly oligarch government.

They came closest in 2002 when a military coup removed Chavez.  The Commander-in-Chief of the Venezuelan military announced Chavez had resigned and Pedro Carmona, of the Venezuelan Chamber of Commerce, became interim president. Carmona dissolved the National Assembly and Supreme Court and declared the Constitution void. The people surrounded the presidential palace and seized television stations, Carmona resigned and fled to Colombia. Within 47 hours, civilians and the military restored Chavez to the presidency. The coup was a turning point that strengthened the Bolivarian Revolution, showed people could defeat a coup and exposed the US and oligarchs.

US Regime Change Tactics Have Failed In Venezuela

The US and oligarchs continue their efforts to reverse the Bolivarian Revolution. The US has a long history of regime change around the world and has tried all of its regime change tools in Venezuela. So far they have failed.

(a) Economic War

Destroying the Venezuelan economy has been an ongoing campaign by the US and oligarchs. It is reminiscent of the US coup in Chile which ended the presidency of Salvador Allende. To create the environment for the Chilean coup, President Nixon ordered the CIA to “make the economy scream.”

Henry Kissinger devised the coup noting a billion dollars of investment were at stake. He also feared the “the insidious model effect” of the example of Chile leading to other countries breaking from the United States and capitalism. Kissinger’s top deputy at the National Security Council, Viron Vaky, opposed the coup saying, “What we propose is patently a violation of our own principles and policy tenets .… If these principles have any meaning, we normally depart from them only to meet the gravest threat . . . our survival.”

These objections hold true regarding recent US coups, including in Venezuela and Honduras, Ukraine and Brazil, among others. Allende died in the coup and wrote his last words to the people of Chile, especially the workers, “Long live the people! Long live the workers!” He was replaced by Augusto Pinochet, a brutal and violent dictator.

For decades the US has been fighting an economic war, “making the economy scream,” in Venezuela. Wealthy Venezuelans have been conducting economic sabotage aided by the US with sanctions and other tactics. This includes hoarding food, supplies and other necessities in warehouses or in Colombia while Venezuelan markets are bare. The scarcity is used to fuel protests; e.g., “The March of the Empty Pots,” a carbon copy of marches in Chile before the September 11, 1973 coup. Economic warfare has escalated through Obama and under Trump, with Tillerson now urging economic sanctions on oil.

President Maduro recognized the economic hardship but also said sanctions open up the opportunity for a new era of independence and “begins the stage of post-domination by the United States, with Venezuela again at the center of this struggle for dignity and liberation.” The second-in-command of the Socialist Party, Diosdado Cabello, said: “[if they] apply sanctions, we will apply elections.”

(b) Opposition Protestsion

Another common US regime change tool is supporting opposition protests. The Trump Administration renewed regime change operations in Venezuela and the anti-Maduro protests, which began under Obama, grew more violent. The opposition protests included barricades, snipers and murders as well as widespread injuries. When police arrested those using violence, the US claimed Venezuela opposed free speech and protests.

The opposition tried to use the crack down against violence to achieve the US tactic of dividing the military. The US and western media ignored opposition violence and blamed the Venezuelan government instead. Violence became so extreme it looked like the opposition was pushing Venezuela into a Syrian-type civil [DV Ed. “Syrian-type civil” (sic)] war.  Instead, opposition violence backfired on them.

Violent protests are part of US regime change repertoire. This was demonstrated in the US coup in Ukraine, where the US spent $5 billion to organize government opposition including US and EU funding violent protesters. This tactic was used in early US coups like the 1953 Iran coup of Prime Minister Mossadegh. The US has admitted organizing this coup that ended Iran’s brief experience with democracy. Like Venezuela, a key reason for the Iran coup was control of the nation’s oil.

(c) Funding Opposition

There has been massive US investment in creating opposition to the Venezuelan government. Tens of millions of dollars have been openly spent through USAID, the National Endowment for Democracy and other related US regime change agencies. It is unknown how much the CIA has spent from its secret budget, but the CIA has also been involved in Venezuela. Current CIA director, Mike Pompeo,  said he is “hopeful there can be a transition in Venezuela.”

The United States has also educated leaders of opposition movements; e.g., Leopoldo López was educated at private schools in the US, including the CIA-associated Kenyon College. He was groomed at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and made repeated visits to the regime change agency, the National Republican Institute.

(d) Elections

While the US calls Venezuela a dictatorship, it is, in fact, a strong democracy with an excellent voting system. Election observers monitor every election.

In 2016, the economic crisis led to the opposition winning a majority in the National Assembly. One of their first acts was to pass an amnesty law. The law described 17 years of crimes including violent felonies and terrorism committed by the opposition. It was an admission of crimes back to the 2002 coup and through 2016. The law demonstrated violent treason against Venezuela. One month later, the Supreme Court of Venezuela ruled the amnesty law was unconstitutional. US media, regime change advocates and anti-Venezuela human rights groups attacked the Supreme Court decision, showing their alliance with the admitted criminals.

Years of violent protests and regime change attempts, and then admitting their crimes in an amnesty bill, have caused those opposed to the Bolivarian Revolution to lose power and become unpopular.  In three recent elections Maduro’s party won regional, local and the Constituent Assembly elections.

The electoral commission announced the presidential election will be held on April 22. Maduro will run for re-election with the United Socialist Party. Opposition leaders such as Henry Ramos and Henri Falcon have expressed interest in running, but the opposition has not decided whether to participate. Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost to Maduro in the last election, was banned from running for office because of irregularities in his campaign, including taking foreign donations. Capriles has been a leader of the violent protests. When his ban was announced he called for protests to remove Maduro from office. Also banned was Leopoldo Lopez, another leader of the violent protests, who is under house arrest serving a thirteen year sentence for inciting violence.

Now, the United States says it will not recognize the presidential election and urges a military coup. For two years, the opposition demanded presidential elections, but now it is unclear whether they will participate. They know they are unpopular and Maduro is likely to be re-elected.

Is War Against Venezuela Coming?

A military coup faces challenges in Venezuela as the people, including the military, are well educated about US imperialism. Tillerson openly urging a military coup makes it more difficult.

The government and opposition recently negotiated a peace settlement entitled “Democratic Coexistence Agreement for Venezuela.” They agreed on all of the issues including ending economic sanctions, scheduling elections and more. They agreed on the date of the next presidential election. It was originally planned for March, but in a concession to the opposition, it was rescheduled for the end of April. Maduro signed the agreement even though the opposition did not attend the signing ceremony. They backed out after Colombian President Santos, who was meeting with Secretary Tillerson, called and told them not to sign. Maduro will now make the agreement a public issue by allowing the people of Venezuela to sign it.

Not recognizing elections and urging a military coup are bad enough, but more disconcerting is that Admiral Kurt Todd, head of Southcom, held a closed door meeting in Columbia after Tillerson’s visit. The topic was “regional destabilization” and Venezuela was a focus.

A military attack on Venezuela from its Colombian and Brazilian borders is not far fetched. In January, the New York Times asked, “Should the US military invade Venezuela?” President Trump said the US is considering military force against Venezuela. His chief of staff, John Kelly, was formerly the general in charge of Southcom. Todd has claimed the crisis, created in large part by the economic war against Venezuela, requires military action for humanitarian reasons.

War preparations are already underway in Colombia, which plays the role of Israel for the US in Latin America. The coup government in Brazil, increased its military budget 36 percent, and participated in Operation: America United, the largest joint military exercise in Latin American history. It was one of four military exercises by the US with Brazil, Colombia and Peru in Latin America in 2017. The US Congress ordered the Pentagon to develop military contingencies for Venezuela in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.

While there is opposition to US military bases, James Patrick Jordan explains on our radio show the US has military bases in Colombia and the Caribbean and military agreements with countries in the region; and therefore, Venezuela is already surrounded.

The United States is targeting Venezuela because the Bolivarian Revolution provides an example against US imperialism. An invasion of Venezuela will become another war-quagmire that kills innocent Venezuelans, US soldiers and others over control of oil. People in the United States who support the self-determination of countries should show solidarity with Venezuelans, expose the US agenda and publicly denounce regime change. We need to educate people about what is really happening in Venezuela to overcome the false media coverage.

Share this article and the interview we did on Clearing The FOG about Venezuela and the US role in Latin America.  The fate of Venezuela is critical for millions of Latin Americans struggling under the domination of US Empire.

A Stock Market Primer in Six Easy Steps

Fri, 2018-02-16 03:55

What is the stock market?

  1. It’s not real economic activity—it’s a form of mass hysteria or mass psychosis.
  2. Stock prices reflect a mass-hysteria impression of the worth of a piece of paper you hold—a stock certificate. The worth of that piece of paper is sometimes tethered to some economic reality of some corporation—at least partially—but sometimes not. Often a stock price bears little relation to the economic health of a company, as illustrated in the wildly gyrating stock price-to-earnings ratios through the decades. Hence the stock price is often a matter of caprice, covert manipulation, and/or unfathomable crowd psychology, not necessarily real economic “health” or productivity.

If, say, you are fortunate enough to own a stock that has doubled or tripled in price, this does not mean that you have accrued new wealth—that stock valuation is meaningless as long as you still own the piece of paper (the stock certificate); you realize that wealth only by selling the stock. And if you do cash out—sell the piece of paper—to someone else, you are transferring to another person the hazard of seeing that valuation drop or evaporate—an opportune fobbing off of risk to someone else, a transfer of cash to you, but no real creation of wealth—just the passing on of a piece of paper in exchange for currency. Eventually, down the road, your gain will be someone else’s loss when the music stops playing and the last holder of the piece of paper finds there is no chair for him to land on—the stock market as Ponzi scheme.

If everyone or most people decide to sell their pieces of paper—to take their profits—all at once, then the stock prices tumble, so the idea that everyone can cash out and realize this imaginary wealth equally and universally is a mirage: if everyone tried to access it at once, it would evaporate. Hence the common notion that rising stock prices indicate a general increase in wealth or national prosperity is delusional. A stock crash does not erase billions or trillions in “wealth” overnight, as we are commonly told. There was never any “wealth” there to begin with, in the sense that a stock price rationally or measurably reflects the worth of tangible goods or services; that price is just a mass fever dream, a collective, chaotic, bidding war about the worth of pieces of paper.

  1. The stock market is a swindle. Much of the movement of these equities markets originates in the decisions of large funds or high-speed traders who have access to esoteric information, advanced algorithms, or trading networks from which Joe Trader, playing the market at home on his laptop, is excluded. Hence Joe Trader inevitably gets screwed. The author Michael Lewis draws the veil from this complicated high-tech rigging in a 2014 interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes:

Steve Kroft: What’s the headline here?

Michael Lewis: Stock market’s rigged. The United States stock market, the most iconic market in global capitalism, is rigged.

Steve Kroft: By whom?

Michael Lewis: By a combination of these stock exchanges, the big Wall Street banks and high-frequency traders.

Steve Kroft: Who are the victims?

Michael Lewis: Everybody who has an investment in the stock market. . . .

Steve Kroft: And this is all being done by computers?

Michael Lewis: All being done by computers. It’s too fast to be done by humans. Humans have been completely removed from the marketplace. “Fast” is the operative word. Machines with secret programs are now trading stocks in tiny fractions of a second, way too fast to be seen or recorded on a stock ticker or computer screen. Faster than the market itself. High-frequency traders, big Wall Street firms and stock exchanges have spent billions to gain an advantage of a millisecond for themselves and their customers, just to get a peek at stock market prices and orders a flash before everyone else, along with the opportunity to act on it. . . . The insiders are able to move faster than you. They’re able to see your order and play it against other orders in ways that you don’t understand. They’re able to front run your order.

Steve Kroft: What do you mean front run?

Michael Lewis: Means they’re able to identify your desire to, to buy shares in Microsoft and buy ‘em in front of you and sell ‘em back to you at a higher price. It all happens in infinitesimally small periods of time. There’s speed advantage that the faster traders have is milliseconds, some of it is fractions of milliseconds. But it’s enough for them to identify what you’re gonna do and do it before you do it at your expense.

  1. The MSM commentators on the markets are all industry touts. Their unvarying counsel, under all circumstances, is this: Get into the market. Get in if you’re not in already. Stay in if you’re already in. A plunge is a buying opportunity. A surge is a buying opportunity. A buying opportunity is that which puts a commission in their pockets. A mass exit from the stock market is the end of their livelihood. I don’t know the Latin term for the logical fallacy at work here, but I think the English translation is something like this: bullshit being slung by greedy con artists. These are people with no more conscience or expertise than the barking guy with the Australian accent on the three a.m. informercial raving about a miracle degreaser or stain remover.
  2. This market, more than most, is a big fat bubble, ready to pop. This bubble is a cloistered biosphere of Teslas and beach houses, of con artists, kleptocrats, and financial sorcerers. It is rigorously insulated from the dolorous real economy inhabited by the 99 percent: declining living standards; stagnant real hourly wages; lousy service-industry jobs; debilitating consumer and student debt peonage; soaring medical insurance premiums and deductibles that render many people’s swiss-cheese policies unusable; crumbling cities and infrastructure; climate disasters of biblical proportions; and toxic food, water, and air. This stock-market bubble has been artificially inflated by historically low interest rates (so the suckers have to go into the market to get a return on their money) and Fed “quantitative easing,” a technocratic euphemism for a novel form of welfare for the one percent that has left untold trillions of “liquidity” sloshing around among the financial elites with which to play Monopoly with one another and pad their net worth by buying back shares of their own companies to inflate stock prices. Moreover, this bubble is even more perilous and tenuous than previous ones because the “air” inside is being pumped by unprecedented levels of consumer and institutional debt that will cause a deafening “pop” when some of the key players start to lose their shirts, and suddenly all the Peters start calling in the debts of all the Pauls who can’t pay.
  3. The end game is near. We can console ourselves that these latest innovations in financial prestidigitation and fraud are stretched about as far as they can go. The financial elites are out of three-card monte scams to suck the wealth out of the economy. The heroic productivist heyday of capitalism, celebrated by Marx himself, is over in this country—no more driven visionary builders of railroads, factories, skyscrapers, and highways to a better tomorrow: just endless financial skullduggery and hoarding at the top, and for the rest of us the cold comforts of cell phones, smart televisions, and the endless streams of plastic consumer junk circulating through Amazon and Walmart. What Baudrillard called “the mirror of production” is a prison for the planet earth and every species on it. All that is left for the bipartisan predator class of the United States is scavenging: massive tax breaks for the rich today and tomorrow, perhaps, no more Medicare, no more Social Security, no more public schools—if they have their way, and they probably will. Pop goes the stock market, the illusion of prosperity, the whole unsustainable carbon-poison “economy,” and pop goes the planet and the human race. But look at it this way: it’s a buying opportunity.

Greece’s Colossal Cave In

Fri, 2018-02-16 02:39

Europe’s Left has finally renounced the Syriza Party (acronym for Coalition of the Radical Left), as Jean-Luc Mélenchon of France Insoumise or “Unsubmissive France” calls for Greece’s Syriza booted out of the Alliance of Leftists. Greece’s PM Tsipras of the Syriza Party faux Left is way too far Right!

In stark contrast to Syriza’s Greek PM Alexis Tsipras, Monsieur Mélenchon, a Member of the European Parliament (“MEP”), calls for (a) an end to “presidential monarchy in France,” (b) enhanced environmental protections, (c) increased labor rights, and in harmony with his hard left sympathies, lo and behold, (d) a 100% income tax on those earning over €360,000 a year.

As for Syriza, Mélenchon says it has become “impossible to rub shoulders” with Syriza and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras given attacks on working people. Unfortunately for hard working Greeks, that may be a gross understatement. It now appears they were sold a bill of goods by PM Alexis Tsipras representing the Left since January 2015, as he infamously serves to please, time and time again, whenever Wolfgang Schäuble (DE), the Eurozone’s notorious Hatch Man, frowns, oh so frequently!

According to SocialistWorker.org:

In January 2015, the Coalition of the Radical Left, or SYRIZA, was swept into office on a huge tide of votes in national elections. There was immense hope that the new government led by a party that had remained uncompromising in its opposition to austerity would finally stand up to the European Union and defend working class living standards ravaged by the economic crisis and the punishing Memorandums demanded by the lenders. Yet by July of that year, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had capitulated, signing up to a new Memorandum. The attacks on workers, the poor and immigrants have continued unabated.

After years of bending over to spread-em, Greece is so bloody exhausted from hard right European Troika aka: European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF screwing that the country resembles a haggard dark-eyed nymphomaniac hard-core heroin addict at the first break of dawn, squinting into blinding brightness, too hacked to sit up in bed. Now, after years of raw naked brutality, Greece has morphed into a forlorn soulless zombie with nothing more to lose.

In its latest installment of “Robbing Greece Blind,” big bad Troika has instituted (1) a new raft of privatizations and (2) benefit cuts, including cuts to child care, as well as disability benefits, (3) the sale of 14 additional public assets, and (4) stern measures to facilitate repossession and sale of properties of families who fall behind in payments. Oh yeah, also, (5) longer working hours for teachers; thus, providing some kind of arrangement for kids when their parents are evicted.

In order to approximate the impact of Troika’s version of Panzer Division-type-hybrid attacks, consider the following: Recently pensions were cut once again for the 17th successive pension reduction in seven years, which may be a new world record for enforcement of austerity measures to satisfy neoliberal spirits. Meantime, the Greek health system is crumbling under the weight of “one of the greatest economic and social catastrophes in the whole history of international capitalism.”1

Not only, Greece’s GDP has fallen by 27% as a result of a makeover program that was strongly suggested, by Troika, to help the economy grow, not fall apart, down and out for the final count. Astonishingly, nowadays Greece mirrors the Great Depression of 1929-33, and it’s already embedded ten (10) years of continuous recession, which sets another record. Evidently, somebody at Troika forgot to push the “start button.”

Mysteriously, but maybe not so mysterious, this particular Greek Tragedy does not pass the sniff test. Something is rotten, somewhere. In order to get to the bottom of it, according to Dimitris Konstantakopoulos, member Secretariat of Syriza:

The Greek Reform Program was no mistake but was and remains the premeditated assassination, by economic and political means, of a European nation and its state, for reasons of much wider significance than the significance of the country itself.2

Which prompts: Why so brutally horribly dehumanizing?

According to one analysis, Greece is the scapegoat for all European ills, thus it represents  a looming threat to all other abusers of neoliberal dicta. The rationale: Other delinquent southern European countries were spared the hatchet only because, if Troika brutalized them as well, it risks alliances of like-minded protagonists and revolt all across half of Europe. Which would exceed the wherewithal of the grand neoliberal crusade and possibly blow its covert operations wide open for all to see. As it happens, Greece was/is low hanging fruit and a perfect whipping boy that hopefully knocks some sense into spendthrift Mediterranean lefties, or so the Troika likely assumes. Otherwise, why destroy Greece?

As it happened, Troika misrepresented good intentions, and, in fact, lied by publicly claiming Greece was receiving enormous amounts of financial support from its European partners, whereas 95% of those funds zip-zip right back to Deutsche Bank, PNB Paribas, and other U.S. and European banks, bypassing Greece’s banks and citizens as quickly as a finger click. But wait! Of course, Greece keeps five percent.

In order to receive Troika’s financial bailout, Greece has undergone a massive transfer of public assets, all the best stuff, to privatization interests, part of the hardcore hypothesis behind neoliberalism; e.g., (1) 14 major regional airports sold to Germany’s Fraport; (2) the Port of Piraeus, one of the largest ports in Europe sold to China’s Cosco; (3) the Port of Thessaloniki, which is Greece’s second largest city, sold to a German consortium; and (4) privatization funds created, under Germany’s direction, for water utility transfers to private hands, prompting the president of the Greece water company trade union to forewarn that the for-profit model often times raises prices for consumers and sometimes service degrades. But then it’s too late to do much about it.

And, come to think of it, why should water be a for-profit enterprise in the first instance? And, why should ports, as old as the city of Athens, be for-profit private enterprises? By longevity alone, it is an iconic attachment to Greece, dating back centuries upon centuries. Maybe some precious things in life should escape the dictates of profit for the few in favor of the common interests of the many.

Regardless, financial colonization is ripping Greece to shreds same as 19th century European colonization of Africa, in harmony with the Industrial Revolution, shredded natural resources. But, nowadays Industrial Revolution is passé as the Internet revolutionizes everything, other than the onslaught of neoliberalism’s transnational elite special forces.

Postscript:

Close to chaos, because the market is not just, you’re far away from the country which was your cradle.

What was searched and found with one’s soul, is now considered to be as worthless as scrap metal…

Booze at last, drink! [European] Commissioners’ cheerleaders shout.
However, Socrates gives you back the [hemlock poison] cup full to the brim.

Curse you as a chorus, which is characteristic of you, will the gods, whose Mount Olympus you want to steal.
You’ll waste away mindlessly without the country, whose mind invented you, Europe.

A Poem (portions of) by Günter Grass, 2012

  1. Dimitris Konstantakopoulos, member Secretariat of Syriza, The European Left and the Greek Tragedy, Defend Democracy Press, May 22, 2017.
  2. Ibid.

Old Movies and Patriarchy from the Days of HUAC and the Blacklist

Thu, 2018-02-15 18:49

Watching old movies is a journey back through time, revisiting the social attitudes of our past.  A lot has changed during the last six or seven decades, much of it for the better. Thank goodness I don’t have to wear a white shirt and necktie just to go downtown nowadays, but back in the 1950s that was the norm, the required male attire. I remember my father somewhat awkwardly putting on his dress-up clothes, struggling with his necktie. Being a former fisherman, Dad was skilled at tying all sorts of complicated knots, but that necktie was one he never quite mastered.

The differences between then and now are many, among the most significant being the gender roles.  Male dominance was the accepted norm; this comes out in most movies of the era, in some more intensely than others.  One that really lays it out thick and heavy is Fritz Lang’s 1952 film Clash by Night, produced nearly two decades before the feminist revolution of the late 1960s.

Clash by Night was filmed on location in Monterey and opens with picturesque shots of the seacoast, the fishing fleet, and Cannery Row, back then the center of a thriving fishing industry. The characters in this movie are fishing folk, the story centering on a love triangle in which Barbara Stanwyck plays a woman having an affair with her husband’s best friend. The lover, played by Robert Ryan, is an angry, cynical fellow, the kind of guy who’d seduce his best friend’s wife. The husband, Paul Douglas, is just the opposite; he’s a trustworthy, amiable guy, good-hearted but rather childlike and simple-minded. Ryan says to Stanwyck, “Your man is the salt of the earth, but he’s not the right seasoning for you.”

While Stanwyck, Douglas and Ryan are an ill-starred threesome who get things wrong, the movie also presents us with a counter-example of a couple who get things right, at least according to the ethos of the time. This couple, played by Marilyn Monroe and Keith Andes, have their conflicts, but they work things out: she accepts him as the boss, the dominant partner. Andes portrays the proper masculine ideal of that era — a guy who knows how to handle his woman and keep her in line.

Andes is Stanwyck’s younger brother; together they own a house, presumably inherited from their parents. He’s a crewman on a fishing vessel — a purse seiner. Douglas is the owner and skipper. We see the two men (Douglas and Andes) on deck, repairing nets, using the traditional wooden net-needles.

Monroe, Andes’ girlfriend, works in one of the sardine canneries along the waterfront.  We first see her and Andes together in a scene where he meets her after work and they stroll down Cannery Row, chatting as they go.  Monroe is telling Andes about a co-worker who showed up that morning with a black eye.  “That fellow she married,” Monroe says, “came down last night. Wanted her to go back upstate and live with him again. So when she wouldn’t, he just beat her up awful.”

“Well, he’s her husband,” Andes says in a matter-of-fact tone.  Here, in four short words, the movie gives us Andes’ philosophy of male entitlement.

A few scenes later they’re at the beach, where Andes playfully puts a towel around Monroe’s neck, as though to strangle her. He’s just kidding, of course, just having fun, his idea of harmless fun.  She seems to be okay with this; he now seems to have her in his grip, and it looks like she’s going to be the underdog in this relationship. (There’s a movie poster using that scene; it’s on the jacket of the DVD and also online.)

Andes strangling Monroe

Weeks and months pass. The couple become engaged, and Monroe proudly shows Stanwyck the ring she has just received from Andes. “We had a fight,” Monroe says, “and were never going to see each other again. At 10 o’clock [he] came to the house and was going to kick the door down. I never thought I’d like a guy who’d push me around.” Stanwyck admires the ring and tells Monroe that she’s made the right decision. “[He] will make you happy. He knows who he is and what he is. Some of us don’t. Always take the man who’ll kick the door down. Advice from Mama.”

Andes can be very sweet, Monroe says, but the movie doesn’t show us much of his sweetness. In scene after scene, he comes across as rigid, righteous, and abusive, a guy who could hardly be a joy to live happily ever after with, though he certainly does possess the manly qualities that were respected and perhaps even idealized in the ’50s. Or at least that’s my impression.  But what did contemporaries say about it? I went to the library.  A lot has been written about both Marilyn Monroe and Director Fritz Lang.  The film Clash by Night is mentioned in quite a few books, articles and reviews, but not much is said about the Monroe/Andes subplot.  What little I could find seemed to express approval of that relationship. A 1969 biographer of Marilyn Monroe described the Keith Andes character as “a stern young man of high ideals.” And in the view of film critic Lotte Eisner, Andes and Monroe “provide a tender comedy.”

Those are fairly old reviews; maybe the film critics, being people of their time, were oblivious to sexism. Attitudes changed radically during the feminist revolution of the 1960s. Nevertheless, Andes’ disposition does seem rather extreme, even by the standards of the early ’50s, when this movie was made, and I must wonder what could’ve motivated Director Fritz Lang to present that character as he did.

There was also Alfred Hayes, who wrote the script. I don’t know what discussions may have gone on between Lang and Hayes, but clearly, both were artists capable of putting negative traits to work in a positive way, bringing characters to life on the screen, and using the story to tell us something about the world we live in.

Relationships, not romance, is the theme of Clash by Night. Patriarchy is the kind of relationship this movie’s about, and it could be seen as intentionally promoting such values. Conversely, the exact opposite interpretation is also possible.  Could it be that Lang and Hayes subtly intended the Monroe/Andes subplot as social criticism? In considering this possibility, let’s remember that filmmakers had only limited freedom in what they could say or show on the screen. The First Amendment did not apply to film making.

Hollywood film studios were then governed by “The Code,” which required that the movie industry be “directly responsible for spiritual or moral progress, for higher types of social life, and for much correct thinking.” The Code’s notion of “correct thinking” included a bizarre list of dos and don’ts which today we can regard as ridiculous or even disgusting: Prohibitions concerning sex went to weird extremes; even married couples had to be shown sleeping separately, in twin beds. References to homosexuality were banned. Traditional religion could not be questioned. The laws of the land, including Jim Crow laws, were beyond censure.

Interracial romance or marriage was also a big no-no. When MGM made Pearl Buck’s novel The Good Earth into a movie, the studio considered Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong for the role of wife and mother. The story was about a marriage between two Asians, so an Asian actress would seem a logical choice; however, the husband’s role was played by a Caucasian actor. Even that, in the eyes of the Code, would’ve constituted an interracial romance, so to avoid such objections, actress Wong was rejected in favor of a Caucasian.

For two decades, from 1934 till 1954, the Code was rigidly enforced by Joseph Breen, a right-wing Christian moralist who inserted himself in the movie-making process at every step along the way, from start to finish. When a studio considered a novel for a movie production, it first had to get Breen’s okay. Then Breen would edit the script, censoring this or that. Finally, he’d screen the finished movie, imposing additional censorship, often butchering films, sometimes even rearranging scenes. (Ever wonder why some of those old movies contain non sequiturs, as if something were missing?) The details of Breen’s interventions were kept secret from the public till 1986 when files of censorship comments on about five thousand movies were finally released.1

Joseph Breen’s primary obsession had to do with suppressing sexual content. He was also a notorious anti-Semite.  “[T]hese damn Jews are a dirty, filthy lot,” he wrote to a colleague in 1932. “To attempt to talk ethical values to them is time worse than wasted.”  On the other hand, he was more tolerant of the Nazis, and during the rise of Hitler, managed to prevent the production of It Can’t Happen Here, The Mad Dog of Europe, and several other anti-Nazi films. A variety of right-wing pressure groups as well as the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover loved and approved of what Mr. Breen was doing. Despite such blatantly pro-fascist censoring, his tenure in office survived World War II. The end of the war found him still running the show as Hollywood’s censor-in-chief. The Cold War was beginning; that era became the heyday of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), with the jailing of the “Hollywood Ten,” and the blacklisting of actors, screenwriters and directors — a very repressive and scary time, especially for movie people.

HUAC, J. Edgar Hoover and Joseph Breen intended that Hollywood movies should serve as propaganda instruments for their agenda, and it might seem ironic that a society which touted its freedoms and democracy for all the world to see, admire and emulate would allow such totalitarians to tyrannize our film industry.  Actually, that was not an ironic anomaly; a lot more was happening behind the scenes.  There was “Operation Paperclip,” bringing hundreds of ex-Nazi scientists, engineers and intelligence experts to the U.S.  In 1947 the CIA was founded; it overthrew governments in Iran and Guatemala, created Operation Mockingbird to manipulate the media, and even promoted Modern Art.  All that and a whole lot more went on behind the scenes in our democracy, and speaking of democracy, or lack thereof, for black people there was Jim Crow and segregation.  Perhaps more than at any other time in our history, in the late 1940s and early 1950s we were effectively intimidated by our government.  It’s often called “the McCarthy Era,” though as bad as Senator Joe McCarthy was, his role was relatively minor.

And that’s when Clash by Night was made. The movie was based on an play by Clifford Odets, a former Communist. It was adapted for the cinema by screenwriter Alfred Hayes, also a former supporter of the Communist Party  and the poet who wrote the lyrics of “I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night.” Director Fritz Lang was an Austrian whose work had already achieved fame in the German cinema. Though apparently not especially political, Lang detested Hitler and refused to work under Joseph Goebbels. So he came to America, a refugee, where he found himself under the dominion of another Joseph — Joseph Breen, who had to be somehow accommodated.

It would seem that there was not much that Lang and Hayes or anyone else could do about this censorship. Nevertheless, even under that supposedly airtight system, Hollywood filmmakers often found ways to push the envelope and outwit the censors. In the classic noir film Maltese Falcon, Sam Spade (played by Humphrey Bogart) snarls, “Keep that gunsel out of my way!” Mr. Breen apparently assumed “gunsel” meant “gunman” and let it pass. The word is used three times in the script, referring to a young guy who’s the homosexual companion of an older man.

Some movie makers found subtle ways of getting around the censors.  They might make the bad guys sympathetic and lovable while presenting authority figures as distasteful and repulsive and stupid.  Meanwhile, the messages of some movies were quite overt. High Noon is the story of a man (and his wife) who are left to face the bad guys alone; it was written by Carl Foreman as an allegory about members of the Hollywood film community who abandoned their colleagues and failed to stand up to HUAC.  Foreman was summoned by HUAC, even as he was making the movie, and his partner in this production abandoned him.  Several of the actors were also “gray” listed.  Like many blacklisted movie makers, Foreman left the country and moved to England.

Carl Foreman was not the only one to speak out.  Playwright Arthur Miller took up the theme of the Salem Witch trials and wrote The Crucible as an allegory of the HUAC hearings, implying that the honorable congressmen of that committee were a bunch of witch hunters.  Though it wasn’t made into a movie till decades later, it was produced on Broadway in 1953.  The play was popular, but not with HUAC; Miller was blacklisted and denied a passport.

Among my favorite movies of that era is The Underworld Story in which a cynical reporter winds up doing the right things for his own opportunistic reasons, fighting the privileges of corrupt mainstream newspapers.  The movie is a biting exposé of upper-class privilege, racism and the media.  I really wonder how this movie got past Joseph Breen. Well, somehow it did, but HUAC didn’t overlook it.  Director Cy Endfield, actor Howard Da Silva and screenwriter Henry Blankfort, were blacklisted.

While these and some other movie makers inserted subversive messages into their movies, sometimes subtly, occasionally openly, many more went along with the HUAC program, ratted on colleagues, named names of co-workers and friends, and made propaganda movies for the national security state.  So much of Hollywood became part of that huge propaganda machine, along with radio, newspapers and even our schools, extolling the liberties which made this country so unique, constantly telling us how fortunate we were to live in this country we could speak freely without fear of retribution from the authorities.

So, in this situation, what did director Fritz Lang and screenwriter Alfred Hayes do?  I’m suggesting that in creating Clash by Night, they conspired to present a strong social criticism of patriarchy.  And they got away with it.  Of course, it wouldn’t have been wise for them to reveal such a ploy; it could’ve gotten them in serious trouble.  Even as it was, they were both viewed with suspicion by the FBI and HUAC.

Here’s what I think happened: Hayes and Lang knew the tastes of Joseph Breen, that he would find the Monroe/Andes subplot much to his liking, considering it a wonderful example of a relationship that would serve as the proper role model for young people. So what better way to ridicule Breen, that Nazi-loving fascist, than to present his beloved patriarchal values in the form of an abusive relationship? Satire disguised as a morality play.

In scene after scene where Monroe and Andes are together, we see Andes acting out his will to dominate her.  Capping it off towards the end of the movie, there’s a scene which plays like a parody of a HUAC hearing — one of those hearings where many intimidated filmmakers cowered before their inquisitors, trying desperately to present themselves as obedient citizens.

“Listen to me, Blondie!” Andes bursts out.  He rages on, berating her. This is not a gentle, kind and considerate lover asking for a commitment. He’s a patriarchal, authoritarian figure demanding an oath of loyalty. “Now which way is it gonna be?” he barks. Monroe looks at him aghast, then sobbing, throws herself into his arms. We see the expression on her face — sad, terrified, humiliated, perhaps feeling she has no place else to go in a world where every guy who seems worth having buys into those same abusive ideals.

The tragedy in Clash by Night is that we see the Monroe character, a feisty woman who is more than able to defend herself, end up dominated, beaten down, and resigned to her diminished role. It’s an incisive look at a culture where people wind up in dead-end relationships where they’re lonely, unhappy and abused. It’s also an allegory of our society’s mistreatment and subjection of film artists.

I was only nine when this movie was made, and I don’t recall seeing it back then. But I do remember the HUAC hearings, the loyalty oath requirements, and the experience of growing up in an atmosphere where you simply did NOT criticize the government. Fear alone was not what really kept people in line. The victory in World War II, the post-war prosperity, the end of the Great Depression and the automobile, plus the A-bomb, all contributed to an incredible mystique amounting to a moral force that held people in thrall, so much so that the adults around me perceived the powers that be as our benevolent protector, as the ultimate patriarch. People wanted to be in good with them, the way Monroe wanted to be in good with her abusive boyfriend.

  1. For a two hundred-page sampling of Breen’s comments, see The Censorship Papers by Gerald Gardner.

Burying Canada’s Anti-Palestinian Consensus

Thu, 2018-02-15 05:31

The anti-Palestinian consensus among Canada’s three main political parties is crumbling and NDP members could bury it this weekend.

After taking an all-expense paid trip to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s conference in Washington and participating in a Jewish National Fund event in Israel 14 months ago, the NDP’s foreign critic has begun challenging Canada’s contribution to Palestinian dispossession. Hélène Laverdière has repeatedly criticized the Trudeau government’s silence on Donald Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. In response she tweeted, “a devastating day for those who believe in peace, justice and security in the Middle East. Where is Canada’s voice in protest of Trump’s decision on #Jerusalem? I urge Canada to condemn this decision in the strongest of terms.”

The party’s foreign critic also asked the federal government to condemn Israel’s detention of 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi and hundreds of other Palestinian children who are usually tortured by Israeli forces. Similarly, Laverdière has pressed Ottawa to properly label products from illegal Israeli settlements and submitted a petition to Parliament calling “upon the Government of Canada to demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.”

Two weeks ago I received an email on behalf of party leader Jagmeet Singh titled “all people deserve the same human rights”, which listed the party’s recent support for Palestinian rights. It noted, “the NDP shares your concerns about Palestine. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and his team of New Democrats have a consistent record of defending Palestinian rights as well as raising concerns over Islamophobia.”

A series of factors are likely driving Laverdière’s shift. She probably never backed former NDP leader Tom – “I am an ardent supporter of Israel in all situations and in all circumstances” – Mulcair’s position. Additionally, last year’s NDP leadership race unleashed ever bolder expressions of support for the Palestinian cause.

Amidst the campaign, Laverdière was criticized for speaking at AIPAC’s 2016 conference in Washington and participating in an event put on by the explicitly racist Jewish National Fund. In August the NDP Socialist Caucus called for her resignation as foreign critic and it has submitted a motion to this weekend’s convention calling for her to be removed from that position.

Ottawa’s high-profile abstention at the UN General Assembly after Donald Trump announced that he would move the US Embassy to Jerusalem has given the NDP an opportunity to distinguish itself from the Trudeau government. And media coverage of subsequent Palestinian resistance, most notably Ahed Tamimi’s courageous slaps, has provided additional opportunities to highlight the Liberal’s extreme anti-Palestinianism.

The NDP leadership is also trying to head off members’ calls to boycott Israel (according to a 2017 Ekos poll, 84% of NDP members were open to sanctioning Israel). At least five resolutions (among more than ten concerning Palestine/Israel) submitted to the convention call for some type of boycott of Israel. The NDP Socialist Caucus has called on the party to “actively campaign” in support of the (just nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize) Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions‘ movement’s demands.

With probably more backing than any of the 100+ resolutions submitted, 30 riding associations and youth committees endorsed “Palestine Resolution”, which calls for “banning settlement products from Canadian markets, and using other forms of diplomatic and economic pressure to end the occupation.” Of course, party leaders fear the media response to any type of boycott resolution being adopted.

Whatever the reason for Laverdière’s shift away from anti-Palestinianism, it remains insufficient. As I’ve detailed, the NDP continues to provide various forms of support to Israel and the party has an odious anti-Palestinian history. In the mid-1970s the party opposed Palestinian Liberation Organization participation in two UN conferences in Toronto and Vancouver and party leader Ed Broadbent called the PLO “terrorists and murderers whose aim is the destruction of the state of Israel.”

That year NDP icon Tommy Douglas also told the Histadrut labour federation: “The main enmity against Israel is that she has been an affront to those nations who do not treat their people and their workers as well as Israel has treated hers.” (Douglas’ 1975 speech was made while Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and Sinai, after it repeatedly invaded its neighbours and ethnically cleansed 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland.)

A progressive party worth its salt campaigns on an international issue in equal measure to its government/society’s contribution to that injustice.

Over the past century Canada has played no small part in Palestinians’ dispossession. Hundreds of Canadians provided military force to realize the crassly anti-Palestinian Balfour Declaration and this country’s diplomats played a central role in the UN’s decision to give the Zionist movement most of Palestine in 1947.

Today, Ottawa regularly votes against Palestinian rights at the UN and subsidizes dozens of charities that channel tens of millions of dollars to projects supporting Israel’s powerful military, racist institutions and illegal settlements. Additionally, Canada’s two-decade-old free trade agreement with Israel allows settlement products to enter Canada duty-free and over the past decade Ottawa has delivered over $100 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority in an explicit bid to advance Israel’s interests by building a security apparatus to protect the corrupt Palestinian Authority from popular disgust over its compliance in the face of ongoing Israeli settlement building.

Hopefully, in the years to come the NDP can help Canada make up for its sad anti-Palestinian history. Perhaps this weekend the party will finally bury official Canada’s anti-Palestinian consensus.

I will be speaking about “What’s Wrong with NDP Foreign Policy?” on the sidelines of the convention.

The Boomerang Effect: How Netanyahu Made Israel an American Issue, and Lost

Thu, 2018-02-15 00:32

Despite massive sums of money spent to channel public opinion in the United States in favor of Israel, unmistakable trends in opinion polls are attesting to the changing dynamics of Israel’s support among ordinary Americans.

Not only is Israel losing its support and overall appeal among large sections of American society, but among young American Jews, as well — a particularity worrying phenomena for the Israeli government.

The trend promises to be a lasting one, since it has been in the making for years, starting some time after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

It was on that date that the affinity between Israel and the US purportedly grew to unprecedented levels, since both countries claimed to be fighting “Islamic terror.” In reality, the attacks, the ensuing media discourse and subsequent wars have all coagulated the support of Christian Evangelists behind Israel, as they saw the widening conflict in the Middle East as part of a long-awaited prophecy.

It was precisely then that the support of Israel by American Liberals, especially those identifying with the Democratic Party, began to weaken.

With time, supporting or not supporting Israel became a partisan issue, which is, itself, unprecedented.

While the Israeli government under Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, exploited every opportunity to maximize support for Israel in order to achieve objectives deemed important by the Israeli right wing, ultra-right and religious parties, Netanyahu’s conceited and confrontational style has alienated many Americans, especially Democrats.

Worse, Netanyahu’s policies of entrenching the Occupation, blocking any peace efforts and expanding illegal Jewish settlements, also began to shift the kind of support that Israel has historically taken for granted, that of American Jews.

A comprehensive Pew poll published in October 2013 indicated that a growing number of US Jews question the sincerity of the Israeli government in its alleged efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Palestine. Only 38% thought Tel Aviv was sincere, and only 17% agreed that the illegal Jewish settlements are conducive to Israel’s security. 44% thought otherwise.

The Israeli government, aware of the generational gap within the US Jewish communities, seemed more fixated on maximizing the unprecedented trend of support it was receiving from US Republicans and religious conservatives, especially Christian Evangelists.

Fast forward to January 2018 and Israel’s ratings among American Jews has plummeted even further.

According to a recent Brand Israel Group study, “support for Israel among Jewish college students in the United States has dropped 32% between 2010 and 2016,” reported the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

The report was accompanied by stern warnings from the CEO and director-general of the influential Jewish Agency, Alan Hoffman, who described the findings as “extremely worrisome.”

However, no contingency plan is likely to reverse these numbers any time soon, since they are consistent with the overall perception of Israel among the US population.

The assumption that the US Jews is an insulated group which lends support to Israel, irrespective of political trends in the country as a whole, no longer suffices.

US Jewish communities are changing, and so is the entire country:

The number of those identifying as ‘liberal’ in the US has leaped from 27% to 41% between 2000 and 2015, respectively.

This change was accompanied by rising sympathy towards Palestinians by that same group as indicated by a May 2016 Pew poll. More liberal Democrats said they sympathized with Palestinians than with Israel, in a ratio of 40% vs. 33%, respectively.

At the time, it was prematurely concluded by various media analysts that the growing disenchantment with Israel had much to do with the feud between Netanyahu and then US President Barack Obama. Netanyahu had repeatedly challenged – and often humiliated – popular Democratic President, Obama, on various issues, notable amongst them is the expansion of the illegal settlements and the Iran nuclear deal.

The trend, however, continued, simply because once an issue falls in the realm of Washington’s partisan politics, it immediately becomes a polarizing one.

For decades, Israel was considered the only issue that united all Americans regardless of their political and ideological affiliations. That is no longer valid, and Netanyahu has played a major role in this.

The trend among Liberal Democrats was countered with another trend among Republicans, who have adopted the cause of Israel as their own. According to Pew, 79% of conservative Republicans support Israel, while 65% among liberal Republicans share their views.

While Christian Evangelists succeeded in making the unconditional support for Israel the litmus test for any candidate who seeks their vote, the Israeli cause is no longer a rally cry for Democrats.

Pew concluded that “the share of liberal Democrats who side more with the Palestinians than with Israel has nearly doubled since 2014 (from 21% to 40%) and is higher than at any point dating back to 2001.”

More studies by Pew were conducted in January 2017 and January 2018, all confirming that the trend is a lasting one.

Of all Democrats, only 33% sympathized with Israel according to Pew’s January 2017 poll. It was the “first time ever” that the Democratic Party “was split in nearly half between the support for Israel and the support for Palestinians.”

And as support for Palestinians grew among Democrats, so did the margin between the two major parties as the most recent January 2018 Pew research indicates.

While support for Israel among Republicans has remained high, a whopping 79%, support for Israel among Democrats has sunk even further, to 27%.

True, Netanyahu’s strategy in courting US conservatives has proved a success. However, the price of that success is that the relationship between Israel and the American public has fundamentally changed.

Netanyahu has shoved Israel into the heart of polarizing American politics, and although he has achieved his short-term goals (for example, obtaining US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel) he has irrevocably damaged the decades-long consensus on Israel among Americans, and in that there is a great source of hope.

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