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Pakistan, US Drones and Idle Threats

Mon, 2017-12-11 21:05

Should US drone operators and the officers responsible for them be concerned by the latest sentiments from the Pakistani Ministry of Defence?  The head of the Pakistan Air Force, Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman, made the most pointed remarks yet that the defence forces are not pleased.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the Air Tech Conference and Techno Show in Islamabad on Thursday, Aman seemed spiky and unequivocal.  “We will protect the sovereignty of the country at any cost.”

That protection entailed a prohibition against the drones from any state operating in Pakistani airspace.  “We will not allow anyone to violate our airspace. I have ordered the PAF to shoot down drones, including those of the US, if they enter our airspace, violating the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The upshot of his comment was one of competition rather than any new found moral fancy: the US, having monopolised drone warfare in the region, needed to be encouraged to pull out of it. Pakistani authorities, long lagging and ambivalent in the subject and the application of such force, has decided to pitch in with its own variant of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

Outsourcing killing, notably when it involves almost three thousand civilian deaths since 2004 from 429 drone strikes (the figures come from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism), doesn’t look good for the image, as tarnished as the one Islamabad’s is.

The other context of this supposedly new approach lies in the trumpeted successes of the Pakistani security forces.  This reclaiming of sovereignty is largely based on an assertion of competence: that Pakistan can fend for itself when it comes to dealing with Islamic militancy.

Sen. Nuzhat Sadiq, chairman of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, has been bold enough to suggest that removing and eliminating militants and terrorists within its borders has been, for the most part, successful.  The need for controversial drone strikes initiated under the aegis of US imperial power has abated.  “It is the policy now of the government not to allow any more US drone strikes on our soil, and the air chief has effectively conveyed it to the Americans.”

The history of US drones and their bloody harvest in the Pakistani context stretch back to June 2004.  Under the Obama administration, drone warfare became a matter of elevated priority, a form of sanitised killing from afar that moved beyond the initial confines of Iraq and Afghanistan.  The sweetness of his 2009 Cairo speech, full of conciliatory promise, and the heavily weighted olive branch to the Middle East, were soon forgotten.

The poll readings back in the US were good: slaughtering those with appropriate labels (militants, terrorists, primitive, freedom-hating darkies) was perfectly permissible even if it is did involve wholesale annihilation of families.

Pakistan was then both the host and undermining force of its own sovereignty, internally torn and compromised between ties with the very militants it was hoping to expunge.  The ties to the Taliban remained strong within a certain factions, a nostalgic reminder of successes in previous conflicts of the mujahedeen.

US forces were effectively given a green light to wage robotic inflicted mayhem from the skies, a process that had the obvious appeal of perceived success.  From 2011, the butchering in such areas as the tribal zones of Waziristan had become unsustainable for relations between Islamabad and Washington, at least from the perspective of public relations. The US duly relocated its drone bases to Afghanistan, another state with a troubled concept of sovereignty.

In April 2012, the Pakistani Parliament demanded an end to the CIA-directed drone strikes within Islamabad’s territory, reiterating the same point made in 2008.  The only reason drones made their appearance in the outline of Parliament’s demands stemmed from pressure made by the Pakistan Muslim League-N party.

Then spokesman of the US State Department, Victoria Nuland, sounded a touch patronising in her reaction to the jitters from Pakistan’s politicians. “We seek a relationship with Pakistan that is enduring, strategic and more clearly defined. We look forward to discussing these policy recommendations.”

The Foreign Minister in June that year went further, describing the attacks as illegal, a crisis compounded by an incident in November 2011 when 24 Pakistani soldiers had been killed by NATO aircraft.

The not so attractive head that keeps rearing its head in these announcements is that of reliability.  Such statements of defiance and indignation have been made before, not to mention the odd remark about shooting down US drones.  Behind the scenes, strategists plot, shake hands and reach tacit understanding.  Pakistani intelligence has played a role rather different from the public voices in Parliament, supplying the US with material on select militants.  Complicity accompanies condemnation, the true voice of impotence.

On this occasion, the chatterers on the grape vine are claiming that something new is afoot.  Aziz Ahmad Khan, a former diplomat, suggests that the “matter has already been settled with the Americans in some recent high-level meetings.”

A common form of unconvincing reasoning is frequently found in these musings: the drone strikes, deemed illegal, could now stop, because the militant threat has been minimised; but the drone strikes had, in any case, been reduced, enabling the Pakistan air force to work on its own unmanned aerial vehicles.  The contradictions are bound to persist, with Islamabad continuing its troubled association with, and against, the predations of US foreign policy.

The British Government’s Approach To Brexit Is Slovenly, Chaotic And Delusional

Mon, 2017-12-11 19:56

The rallying cry of the Brexiteers prior to the European Union membership referendum was “take back control”. This slogan resonated with those who felt ignored, not listened to and struggling to pay for the necessities of life. They wanted to deliver a slap in the face to the country’s elite who were urging them to vote remain. The leave campaigners managed to convince enough people that being in the EU is the reason for their misery.

With that, plus the promise of £350 million a week for the NHS if we left the EU, the Brexiteers won. However, the latest twists and turns in the Brexit negotiations have shown that the EU is in the driving seat and in control of events with Britain having to make concession after concession even before moving to trade talks. Britain is losing control. Extra money for the NHS, forget it; it is not going to happen.

And what about the thorny Irish problem? Britain has to find a solution that satisfies the Republic of Ireland and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The Republic wants the status quo to continue, namely a frictionless border with the north and freedom of movement across the whole of Ireland. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) will not accept special treatment for Ireland; it wants whatever applies to Northern Ireland to apply to the whole of the United Kingdom. Let us not forget that the DUP is keeping the government in power following a bribe of £1billion.

The Republic of Ireland is strongly supported by the rest of the EU which will not accept any compromise that is not acceptable to Ireland. The Brexit Secretary, David Davis (he of the phantom Brexit impact assessments) assured the house of commons that Northern Ireland would not be treated as a special case and whatever arrangement agreed for Northern Ireland would apply to the whole of the UK. Does that mean the whole of the UK must stay in the customs union and the single market? Theresa May, however, has ruled that out in an attempt to placate the hard Brexiteers,

As I write this (8 December 2017) it seems that an agreement has been reached with the EU that no hard border should exist between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland; however, the devil is in the details. How that translates on the ground will be the subject of intense negotiations, spanning the British government, the EU, the DUP, and the Republic of Ireland. Good luck with that! What a mess!

What about the divorce bill? Remember Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, told European leaders to “go whistle” if they expected Britain to pay. Now it seems the UK has agreed to pay a figure between £35bn and £39bn and with that the European negotiators agreed to move to phase two, namely, trade, which may take years. So on what basis did Mr. Johnson made his whistling remark? Did he not know that there are legal commitments binding on the UK to pay a substantial divorce bill? It is all indicative of the lack of foresight and the cavalier delusional mindset of the Brexiteers.

An objective observer will be at a loss to see what advantages Britain will be gaining on leaving the EU. Britain in the EU has had its cake and eating too, having all the privileges of membership and avoiding the two negatives by (a) not being in the Eurozone and thus in control of its currency and (b) in control of its borders by not being in the Schengen area.

It is now becoming blindingly obvious that another referendum on EU membership is necessary as the complexities and the negative consequences of leaving are mounting up. The Labour Party should now join forces with the Greens and the Liberal Democrats and demand another referendum prior to Brexit. Not to do so is a dereliction of duty towards the people of Britain.

Britain outside the EU will be losing control rather than taking it back. The misery that drove people to vote Brexit was not caused by the EU but by free-market economics and Tory-imposed austerity. This combination has seen wealth being siphoned upwards from the many to the very few at the top.

The “Last Martyr”: Who Killed Kamal Al-Assar?

Mon, 2017-12-11 14:04

When I learned of the death of Kamal al-Assar, a few years ago, I was baffled. He was only in his 40s. I remember him in his prime, a young rebel, leading the neighborhood youth, armed with rocks and slingshots, in a hopeless battle against the Israeli army. Understandably, we lost, but we won something far more valuable than a military victory. We reclaimed our identity.

Kamal al-Assar’s mother, Nuseirat Refugee Camp

At every anniversary of the First Palestinian Intifada, a popular uprising that placed the Palestinian people firmly on the map of world consciousness, I think of all the friends and neighbors I have lost, and those I have left behind. The image of Ra’ed Mu’anis, in particular, haunts me. When an Israeli sniper’s bullet plunged into his throat, he ran across the neighborhood to find help before he collapsed at the graffiti-washed walls of my house.

“Freedom. Dignity. Revolution,” was written in large red letters on the wall, a pronouncement signed by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Only later I learned that Kamal was the one who carried Ra’ed out of the firing zone. But it was too late. Ra’ed, a skinny and feeble teenager, with a distinct black mark on his forehead had bled alone at the steps of my home. When he was buried, hundreds of refugees descended on the Martyrs Graveyard. They carried Palestinian flags and chanted for the Intifada and the long-coveted freedom. Ra’ed’s mother was too weakened by her grief to join the procession. His father tried to stay strong, but wept uncontrollably instead.

Kamal was revitalized by the Intifada. When the uprising broke out, he emerged from his own solitude. Life made sense once again.

For him, as for me and many of our generation, the Intifada was not a political event. It was an act of personal – as much as collective – liberation: the ability to articulate who we were at a time when all seemed lost. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) languished in Tunisia after being forced to leave Lebanon in 1982. Arab governments seemed to have lost interest in Palestine altogether. Israel emerged triumphant and invincible.

And we – those living under protracted military occupation – felt completely abandoned.

When, on December 8, 1987, thousands took to the streets of Jabaliya Refugee Camp, the Gaza Strip’s largest and poorest camp, the timing and the location of their uprising was most fitting, rational and necessary. Earlier on that day, an Israeli truck had run over a row of cars carrying Palestinian laborers, killing four young men. For Jabaliya, as with the rest of Palestine, it was the last straw.

Responding to the chants and pleas of the Jabaliya mourners, the refugees in my refugee camp – Nuseirat – marched to the Israeli military barracks, known as the ‘tents’, where hundreds of soldiers had tormented my camp’s residents for years.

In the morning of December 9, thousands of Nuseirat youth took to the streets and vowed to avenge the innocent blood of the Jabaliya victims of the previous day. They swung large flags made of silky fabric that swayed beautifully in Gaza’s salty air and, as the momentum grew and they became intoxicated by their own collective chants, they marched to the ‘tents’ where the soldiers were uneasily perched on the tops of watchtowers, hiding behind their binoculars and automatic machine guns.

Within minutes, a war had started and a third generation of refugee-camp-born fellahin peasants stood fearlessly against a well-equipped army that was visibly gripped by fear and confusion. The soldiers wounded many that day and several children were killed.

Kamal was on the front lines. He waved the largest flag, chanting the loudest, threw rocks the furthest and incessantly urged young men not to retreat.

Kamal hated school as well as his teachers. To him they seemed so docile, adhering to the rules of the occupier which decreed that Palestinians not teach their own history, so that the fellahin were denied even the right to remember who they were or where they came from. The Intifada was the paradigm shift that offered an alternative – however temporary, however chaotic – to the methodical humiliation of life under occupation.

Within hours, Kamal felt liberated. He was no longer tucked away in a dark room reading the works of Marx and Gramsci. He was in the streets of Nuseirat fashioning his own utopia.

The Intifada was that transformational period that saved a generation from being entirely lost, and Palestine from being forgotten. It offered a new world, that of solidarity, camaraderie and wild youth who needed no one to speak on their behalf.

Within weeks of bloody clashes in which hundreds of youth fell dead or wounded, the nature of the Intifada became clearer. On one hand, it was a popular struggle of civil disobedience, mass protests, commercial and labor strikes, refusal to pay taxes and so on. On the other hand, militant cells of refugee youth were beginning to organize and leave their mark, as well.

The militancy of the Intifada did not become apparent until later, when the repression by the Israeli government grew more violent. Under the banner of the ‘Iron Fist’ campaign, a new Israeli stratagem was devised, that of the ‘broken bones’ policy. Once captured, youth had their hands and legs broken by soldiers in a systematic and heartless manner. In my neighborhood, children with casts and crutches seemed to outnumber those without.

Kamal was eventually detained from his home. He attempted to escape but the entire neighborhood was teeming with soldiers, who arrived at night as they always do. They commenced the torturous rite in his living room, as his mother – the resilient, Tamam – shoved her body between him and the ruthless men.

When Kamal regained consciousness, he found himself in a small cell, with thick, unwashed walls that felt cold and foreign. He spent most of his prison time in the torture chamber. His survival was itself nothing less than a miracle.

When the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, officially ending the Intifada, Kamal’s generation felt betrayed. Nothing good came out of that ‘peace’, except that a few rich Palestinians grew even richer.

Kamal died a few years ago. I learned that his revolution never ceased. He became a teacher, laboring to reconstruct the history of his people at a local Gaza university. His mother, now an old refugee in Nuseirat, is still heartbroken over her son’s death. She told me that Kamal’s wounds and physical ailments from prison never healed.

Kamal was a martyr, she told me. Perhaps the last martyr in an uprising that was not meant to liberate land, but liberate people from the idea that they were meant to exist as perpetual victims; and it did.

Dying Ecosystems

Mon, 2017-12-11 13:37

Earth’s ecosystems support all life, though collapsed ecosystems would be like stepping outside of the international space station not wearing a space suit. Pop! Bam! Gone!

A recent academic study about signals of ecosystem collapse throughout history fits the space suit analogy. Terrifying truth is exposed: The all-important biosphere is sending out warning signals of impending crises… worldwide. It does not seem possible that ecosystems collapse and life dies off.  That’s too hard to believe… but, what if it does collapse?

The Earth’s biodiversity is under attack. We would need to travel back over 65 million years to find rates of species loss as high as we are witnessing today.1

Biodiversity increases resilience: more species means each individual species is better able to withstand impacts. Think of decreasing biodiversity as popping out rivets from an aircraft. A few missing rivets here or there will not cause too much harm. But continuing to remove them threatens a collapse in ecosystem functioning. Forests give way to desert. Coral reefs bleach and then die.2

It’s already happening! Imagine flying in an aircraft while watching the rivets pop, one by one. At some point in time screaming overrides thinking. But, thank heavens; we’re not quite there yet.

Scientists from University College London and the University of Maryland studied 2,378 archeological sites and discovered that every society for thousands of years gave early clues to its own demise. Of course, demise happened precisely because those early warnings were ignored, while thinking: “it’s impossible, can’t happen.”

The determinate signal of upcoming demise is referred to as “flickering,” which is a change in society’s responses to perturbations resulting in a society caught in a socio-ecological trap that reinforces negative behavior that started the issue in the first instance, thus, preventing adaption.3

The formula: Every time a society flickers, losing rivets, it loses recovery time, thereby moving closer to collapse. In every case study, with nearly 100% accuracy, researchers found flickers precedent to eventual collapse.  All but 2 of 27 test cases showed statistically significant results. Every case experienced massive population growth as a result of the emergence of agriculture followed by technological advancements. Sound familiar?

Societal decline is empirically signaled by any number of drivers such as (1) changing climate, (2) declining environmental productivity, (3) disease, (4) warfare, or (5) combinations thereof. Today, we’ve got ’em all.

Rivets are popping all across the globe; e.g., the Great Barrier Reef, the largest living structure in the world, is signaling its demise like there’s no tomorrow. “Many scientists are now saying it is almost too late to save it. Strong and immediate action is required to alleviate water pollution and stop the underlying cause: climate change.”4

According to David Attenborough, the world’s most famous naturalist:

The Great Barrier Reef is in grave danger… The twin perils brought by climate change – an increase in the temperature of the ocean and in its acidity – threaten its very existence.

In point of fact, Attenborough’s remarkable new film Blue Planet 2 details the damage wreaked in the seas by climate change, plastic pollution, and overfishing. This final episode of his series lays bare shocking damage.

Compared with what was happening before the 20th century, three-times as much sediment, twice as much fertilizer and 17,000 extra kilograms of herbicide wash over the reef each year. When the coral dies, the entire ecosystem gets hit. Fish that feed on the coral, use it as shelter, or nibble on the algae die or move away. The bigger fish that feed on those fish disappear. But the cascading effects don’t stop there. Birds that eat fish lose their energy source, and island plants that thrive on bird droppings are depleted. And, of course, people who rely on reefs for food, income or shelter from waves lose their vital resource, as the final rivets pop followed by high-pitched screaming.

The signal or flicker of the Great Coral Reef is not nature’s way. It is an anomaly.  It is easy to read about it and dismiss it and go on with life, but, in large measure, that’s the problem haunting and overriding ecosystem disintegration. It’s easy to read but punishingly painful to fix. Unwavering commitment is simply not there but for a select few like David Attenborough or Sylvia Earle, the world famous marine biologist.

Alas, groundswell of public opinion is not extant for collapsing ecosystems. It’s just not there at all. Yet, one hundred million people will be glued to TVs watching Super Bowl LII on Sunday, February 4th, 2018, whilst the fate of the world’s largest and most important ecosystem rests in the hands of Attenborough, Earle and a handful of dedicated naturalists/marine biologists. Singularly, as well as unfortunately, ecosystem collapse is warranted based upon mathematical calculations alone: One hundred million (100,000,000) watch football while a handful of scientists work at fixing the world’s seas. Football’s more immediate.

Ad interim, massive environmental degradation flickers around the world, including climate change-derived crop losses for which the Federal Crop Insurance Program pays out $17.3B.

Meanwhile, heavily sprayed agrichemical pesticides and fertilizers bring about the absolutely shocking discovery that parts of the ecosystem are dropping dead right before society’s eyes, seventy-five percent (75%) insect loss detected in a major 27-yr. German study. How in the world is it possible for a 75% insect die-off, if not for chemically infested environmental degradation?

As it happens, the list of collapsing/flickering ecosystems is a very long list indeed. Here’s only a smattering:

Oceans have lost 40% of plankton production over past 50 years, threatening loss of one of the major sources of oxygen for the planet.5

If the same amount of global heat that went into top 2000m of ocean from 1955-2010 went instead into atmosphere, temps would warm by 36 C and destroy all life.6

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.7

The ocean’s acidification rate of growth is unprecedented in Earth’s known history.8

Ocean acidification occurring at least 1oxs faster than 55 million years ago based upon paleoclimate record.9

Nearly all marine life that builds calcium carbonate show deterioration due to increasing levels of CO2 and acidification.10

A foreboding flicker haunts the Arctic Circle, as permafrost melts away as a result of anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming, awakening forgotten pathogens from the depths. A Russian team analyzed material from 125 feet below surface in permafrost. They found extremely abnormal viruses; e.g., Pithovirus Sibericum, which survived 30,000 years frozen in ice. All of which brings to mind John Carpenter’s spectacular film The Thing (1982), and likelihood that zombie pathogens are buried in super-charged-melting-like-crazy permafrost.

Seven thousand (7,000) pingos discovered in Siberia… new development in permafrost science, never reported before, there could be 100,000 explosive methane pingos extant.11

The East Siberian Arctic Shelf has reached “thaw point,” the turning point from linear to exponential release of CH4 leading to runaway global warming.12

Methane emissions in East Siberian Ice Shelves are 100xs higher than normal.13

Tibetan Plateau headwater glaciers for Lancang River (Danube of the East) down by 70%- similarly for Yellow River and Yangtze River- that flow into Mekong Delta, which feeds the entire SE Asia basin of countries.14

According to YaleEnvironment360: “As Oceans Warm, the World’s Kelp Forests Begin to Disappear,” Nov. 20,2017: “Kelp forests – luxuriant coastal ecosystems that are home to a wide variety of marine biodiversity – are being wiped out from Tasmania to California, replaced by sea urchin barrens that are nearly devoid of life.” Tasmania’s kelp forests hit by a devastating loss of 95%. In northern California, magnificent bull kelp forests along hundreds of miles of coastline have collapsed into an ecological wasteland, ocean desert.

Venice, Italy risks going on the UN’s endangered heritage site list unless it bans humongous cruise ships from the city’s lagoon, which is rapidly deteriorating into a state of utter disrepair.

Greenland’s entire surface experienced melt for the first time in scientific history.15

Greenland 2012 melt of the entire island not expected by scientific models for decades ahead, but it hit in 2012.16

The all-important Atlantic ocean conveyor belt circulation pattern, aka: Thermohaline, has already started to slow down way ahead of schedule as predicted by scientific models – a result of global warming. This has strong negative ramifications for Europe. Models claimed it wouldn’t start slowing until 22nd century. It’s already started slowing down and could be sudden, maybe within decades!16

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.17

Positive Climate Feedbacks just starting to influence the warming process, meaning the planet itself is now emitting one molecule of CO2 via positive feedback for every two molecules of CO2 emitted by human activity.18

The scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has reported that the Earth is already in the stages of the sixth mass extinction, which will see the world’s wildlife and plants die out. The research found that species, including those, which are not endangered, had reduced in number due to habitation shrinkage, hunting, pollution and climate change.

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.19

According to YaleEnvironment360, d/d April 2017, a survey of 12,000 adults and children shows that people have lost a closeness or connection with nature. “It is increasingly normal to spend little time outside.”

In the face of people mindlessly staring at very small and/or super large screens, the planet’s ecosystems are flashing signals all the way from Patagonia to Burrow, Alaska with bells clanging, alarms blaring, sirens screeching, but not a word on Good Morning America.  Ergo, people really do not know what’s going on, which in a strange, twisted macabre fashion may be a blessing in disguise, until the final rivets pop.  Then, loud screaming will register all across the land: Off with their heads! But whose?

Postscript: For each of the past 5 mass extinctions the one common factor has been massive increase in CO2, but none of the mass extinctions in the past compare to the spike in CO2 today.20

  1. James Dyke, “The Ecosystem Canaries, Which Act as Warning Signs of Collapse”, The Guardian, August 19, 2016.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Sean S. Downey, et al, “European Neolithic Societies Showed Early Warning Signals of Population Collapse”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 113, no. 35, March 2016.
  4. Michael Slezak, “The Great Barrier Reef: A Catastrophe Laid Bare”, The Guardian, June 6, 2016.
  5. Boris Worm, Dalhousie University.
  6. Grantham Institute.
  7. D. Laffoley, IUCN Global Marine and Polar Programme.
  8. Jane Lubchenco, NOAA.
  9. C.L. Dybas, Oxford
  10. Richard Feely, NOAA.
  11. Vladimir Romanovsky, geophysicist University of Alaska.
  12. Natalia Shakhova, Int’l Arctic Research Centre.
  13. Igor Semiletov, Int’l Arctic Research Centre.
  14. Yang Yong, Senior Chinese Geologist.
  15. Jason Box – Geologic Survey of Denmark & Greenland.
  16. Michael Mann.
  17. NOAA.
  18. Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
  19. Alex Rogers, Oxford, scientific director State of the Ocean.
  20. Jen Veron, Australian Institute of Marine Science.

The Fate of the Pine Gap Pilgrims

Sun, 2017-12-10 22:55

It barely registered a murmur across the Australian press, though it caused the traditional ripples over the protester fraternity.  Christian activists, collectively known as the Pine Gap Pilgrims, had received sentences pursuant to the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act 1952 (Cth), a cold war relic used by the Australian government to conceal the nature of Canberra’s association with the joint US-Australian signals facility.

The prosecution of Margaret Pestorius, Paul Christie, Jim Dowling, Franz Dowling, Andy Paine and Tim Webb centred on their entering of the clandestine base in September 2016 had been obstinate and typical.

The grounds advanced by Michael McHugh SC for the government made weak reference to the history of peaceful protest that had marked the practice of Australian democracy. He even drew a curious precedent from the archives of history about how the Suffragettes had, in their day, shown the way on civil disobedience.  They, it should be noted, were deemed to have acted illegally, though ultimately successfully, in their cause.

The Crown certainly got what it wanted in terms of verdicts, but Justice John Reeves was not proving totally cooperative to the holy shrine of US power in Australia.  The judge had initially given an inkling that the charade around Pine Gap and its secrecy might continue.  For one, he found little to accept the defence made under the Commonwealth Criminal Code that the conduct of the six in trespassing had been in response to a sudden or extraordinary emergency.

The nature of that emergency was drawn from the targeting information for drone strikes supplied by the facility, disruption of which would purportedly save lives. The ruling effectively took a good deal of the carpet from under the protestors, given that the jury was disallowed from considering that evidence in reaching their verdict.

On December 4, the court refused to impose prison sentences, despite the guilty jury verdict.  “I do not accept the Crown’s submission,” said the judge dismissively, “that your offences potentially struck at the heart of national security.”  All six were fined for unlawful entry to the tune of $1,250 to $5,000, and Paine was found guilty of the additional charge of carrying a photographic defence on the base.

The judge felt that the actions of the younger Pilgrims did not warrant custodial sentences.  Jim Dowling was a considered a more complex matter, him of the serial non-violent direct action type with a mischief making record dating back to 1986.

Justice Reeves’ preference was not to flatter Dowling’s notoriety (he had been committed for 27 similar trespass offences), but to make him pay the highest fine of the six.  “If I imprison you, I think that would likely to make you a martyr to your cause, rather than to underscore the law breaking to which you were involved in.”

The role of these committed protestors can, in a broader sense, be seen as a fact-finding one.  Tipped with the express purpose of making sure Australia desists in its folly of being the unwitting janissaries of US-led war efforts, they seek to puncture the veil of secrecy that has made more than a mild mockery of Australian democracy and parliamentary credibility.

During the course of trial, testimony was elicited by various figures which formed the public record.  Former Greens Senator Scott Ludlam spoke with conviction from the stand.  “There are moral and ethical questions,” he charged; “there are also deep legal questions about the authorities relied upon by the United States Government to undertake drone assassinations in at least six countries that I am aware.”

Ludlam’s point has been made before: complicity expands rather than contracts, and Australian funding and hosting of the base invariably places risks to Australian citizens from the perspective of drone strikes, and, in another sense, the vantage point of future prosecutions for crimes against humanity.

With each provocation, with each daring exposure of the ludicrousness of secrecy, crumbs are filling the gaps, data filling the files.  “Since our action,” claims Paine, “more evidence has emerged detailing the role of Pine Gap in extrajudicial assassinations, in nuclear weapons targeting and in illegal mass surveillance.”

During the course of the trial, Paine insisted that the prosecution’s purpose was always going to be founded in the realms of dull and constipated procedure. “While the prosecution has been concerned with facts about land titles and fences, we hope to ask deeper questions in the court about what is the moral and ethical responsibility of a person who is aware of extreme and unjustifiable violence happening within their own country.”

One of the most moving displays of the proceedings came from Pestorious herself, whose faith in moving minds remained powerful through the case.  In the final hearings, she appeared in her wedding dress, a tribute to her late husband who had been one of the Pine Gap Four found guilty for entering the prohibited surrounds, then acquitted on appeal in 2005.

She urged the jury to consider the silence and denial behind the making of war, its sowing of grief, its sheer relentlessness.  In everything, even the most depressing, and the most clandestine, was a crack, and that crack would, in time, let light in.

These prosecutions have only yielded some success for bureaucrats in Canberra.  The apple cart on Australian-US relations has certainly not been upset, but the public is being supplied bigger, and juicier morsels about the risks posed by running the base.  To hide behind the petticoats of power – but at what cost?

The Careful Craft

Sun, 2017-12-10 22:16

“The truth, carefully crafted, is the biggest lie of all.”

One of the most important lessons to be learned from the Brexit fiasco has scarcely been picked up on, and that lesson is this: the mainstream media are not only wholly unfit for purpose, they are primarily responsible for this unfolding slow-motion catastrophe. It’s not just the misinformation that was widely pedalled at the time of the UK referendum on Britain quitting the EU, it was the years, and years, and years of misinformation before that which did the real damage.

This issue about our mainstream media is desperately serious. People cannot form sound opinions or make good decisions unless the information they receive is beyond reproach. The overwhelming majority of us obtain most of our information about the world around us through the mainstream media, therefore it’s abundantly clear that the duty to provide good, faultless information is a very serious responsibility. But the hard fact is that day in and day out, year in and year out the mainstream media not only fail in this critical duty, their output frequently borders on criminality. The evidence for this is so voluminous that it actually provides a good example of the expression about not being able to see the wood for the trees: there is so much proof of the routinely irresponsible, occasionally-criminal activities of our news providers that it’s difficult to see the fact, and effect of it.

It’s not the purpose of this article to provide detailed and comprehensive examples supporting my case; such proofs are easily found elsewhere. But it is, of course, relevant to cite a few examples. Once people see the truth, there’s no further need to keep on proving it. Like the little boy who pointed out that the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes, doing it once was sufficient.

Journalism is, or should be, a fine and very important vocation. There have been a number of truly great journalists, people who value the truth, together with a sense of humanity above all else; people who frequently endanger their own lives in order to try to communicate to us the awful truths they witness, and the importance of those truths to humanity. Phillip Knightley was one such journalist. He wrote a book titled “First Casualty”, which is an excellent comprehensive account of the routine deceits and deceptions of news providers, and those who control them, going back to the very earliest days of newspapers. One of the numerous examples he provides is an account of a cinema newsreel that was shown to British audiences during the Boer War at the dawn of the twentieth century. It purported to be film of a savage Boer attack on a largely defenceless British Red Cross tent. What those cinema audiences didn’t know was that the film was a fake, shot with actors on Hampstead Heath, a suburb of London.

Falsehood in Wartime is a book written by Arthur Ponsonby, and published just after the First World War. It’s a fairly comprehensive account of some of the outright lies told by the press about the war, whose purpose was to trick the British people into supporting what everyone now knows was an horrific and unjustifiable abomination.

These are just two sources of the abundant proof which supports the central argument of this essay: that our mainstream media must be completely reformed. There are many other sources of proof of this need: Chomsky and Herman, for example, William Blum or John Pilger. Nor is this a case of isolated historical wrongdoing that should be consigned to the history books because it was once a problem that’s now been eradicated. Media Lens, the most excellent media watchdog in Britain, continues to document some of the many current lies and deceptions of today’s so-called “news” providers. Media Lens’ tireless efforts provide a continuous litany of examples of the deliberately cynical manipulation of information by those we trust to tell us the truth.

The impending disaster of Brexit is a shining victory for Britain’s tabloid press, because it is they who, over many years, decades even, have poisoned the minds of British voters. It’s the tabloid press that never miss an opportunity to stoke the flames of racism and xenophobia, so that when the economic austerity policies so loved by capitalists inevitably inflict hardship and suffering on the poorest and weakest sections of society, their anger and frustration can be easily directed to focus on immigrants, asylum seekers, and “foreigners” generally. There’s no escaping the fact that most of those who voted for Brexit did so for xenophobic reasons, blaming Eastern European workers for the economic austerity policies of British elites. This distraction of voters’ attention away from the real causes of Britain’s economic woes was the singular achievement of the tabloid press – which, unsurprisingly, are mostly owned by the same elites who benefit from the distraction.

The mind-numbing banality, stupidity and outright lies that have long passed for news in the tabloids influenced and changed the so-called “serious” broadsheet papers about fifteen years ago, when they began to use the tabloid format. But it wasn’t just the size of the pages that followed tabloid form, the quality of journalism in the broadsheets quickly deteriorated too, adopting the sensationalist style of what was known, with good reason, as the gutter press.

Local newspapers, radio and TV news all copied the growing trend. “Dumbing down” became a widely recognised phenomenon all over the country. The editor of the local newspaper where I once had a weekly column told me that I should imagine the readers of my articles all lived on the most deprived council estate in the town (a mere 5% or so of the actual population), suggesting that my pieces should not be intellectually challenging. I pretty much ignored him.

The fact that a sizeable number of people are clearly impervious to the best efforts of the mainstream media to treat them like dribbling idiots is always a source of comfort to me, for that shows there is hope. When the iniquitous Blair regime frogmarched Britain into an illegal war with Iraq in 2003, for example, it relied on, and received, wholehearted unquestioning support from all the mainstream media. But even so, over a million people marched through the streets of London protesting what they knew was wrong. The majority of Britain’s politicians, and nearly all the nation’s press, lied, and claimed to believe the lies of the US empire, but still a million people marched.

The Brexit referendum was quite different. For that, both of Britain’s main political parties advised voters to remain in the EU. So too did the US, the IMF and World Bank. But Britain’s main tabloid papers all promoted the “leave” campaign. Most British voters will usually support the status quo, and seldom go against their rulers. So the only plausible explanation for them defying their leaders must surely be that they believed the vitriolic misinformation and outright lies about Brexit that were published in the most widely-read tabloids. To repeat myself, however, it wasn’t just the misinformation and lies about Brexit that did this, but also the years and years of racist and xenophobic bile produced by the tabloids long before the referendum that had already prepared the ground. For years beforehand the tabloids churned out countless sensationalist stories about immigrants defrauding the welfare system, for example, or about new European rules that appeared to be ridiculous. Many of these stories were no doubt based on truth (although many were not), but their unimportance and extreme rarity, compared with the far greater number of cases where immigrants benefited society, and European rules helped protect the weak, were invariably ignored altogether. And, of course, the real cause of Britain’s economic woes – a corrupt and criminally irresponsible system of government, was hardly ever suggested. Thus were the minds of British voters softened up to believe that their hardships will all disappear by the simple expedient of Britain quitting the EU. “Taking back control” was one particularly false slogan that was widely promoted by the Bexiteers and their propagandists. It’s highly significant that the one individual who, perhaps more than any other was responsible for Brexit, Nigel Farage, ran for the hills and immediately quit the leadership of UKIP, his political party, once the result was in. Not for him the task of resolving the disaster he almost single-handedly created – with the full support of the tabloid press.

So there can be no real argument about the detrimental effect of the mainstream media in general, and the tabloid press in particular. This communication system, upon which most voters totally rely for their information about the world around them, is not only wholly unfit for purpose, it is also deceitful, dishonest and often criminally culpable. It’s obvious that it must be changed.

Some might think that this is an argument for censorship. It isn’t. Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are absolute fundamentals in a free society, which is the only acceptable type of society. Furthermore, censorship of the media is simply unnecessary. All we need is, firstly, proper education of the citizenry to better understand the role of news providers; and secondly, a state-operated public information service whose standards are second to none, and beyond any reasonable reproach in terms of accuracy and ethical values.

At the moment we have nothing like this. Our citizenry are poorly educated in the cynical wiles of government and their active complicity in providing poor information; and the one public information service we have, the BBC, has never been anything other than a solid supporter of Britain’s corrupt and frequently criminal system of government.

The privately owned media should always be free to produce whatever rubbish they like; but the people should be properly educated to recognise rubbish, and to be careful about what they believe. The public information service should be driven by two goals – to produce the truth, and to provide it with a humane perspective. This is no trivial matter.

The BBC frequently promotes itself as being honest and impartial in its news reporting, as do many other so-called news providers. But there are countless examples which disprove this claim, and Media Lens, for example, has a sizeable catalogue of proofs. One standard trick used by these honest purveyors of “news” is the telling of the half-truth, whereby they relate with a fair amount of accuracy one side of an issue, but ignore, minimise or distort any other side that doesn’t conform to their propaganda model. Take, for instance, the many British wars the BBC has reported on over the years. From their positions as routinely “embedded” with the British army, they provide endless coverage of a war through the perspective of the troops. This creates a massive popular base of support at home for the war. What the BBC almost never does is provide the perspective of the victims of the army, or challenge why there’s a war at all, why British troops are even in some foreign country killing defenceless people. There are countless examples of this. What we need is a news provider that tells the real truth about war – the real reasons wars are fought, and the many horrors inflicted on the many victims of wars – on all sides.

A properly organised state news provider would do this, as well as the many other serious issues which are currently improperly reported, or hardly reported at all – the disastrous effects of capitalist economics, for example, or the catastrophic situation with our fragile, overpopulated planet’s dying ecosystem – all things the BBC routinely fails to do.

Although our education system is also a major problem in that it fails to teach people how to think rationally, and how to search for truth, and how to apply a sense of humanity to knowledge, the single most important area for reform is our so-called news providers. Because even with poor basic education, people could soon begin to properly understand the world as they grow into adulthood if the world was always being properly explained to them by a thoroughly reliable public information service.

The great journalist John Pilger recalled the words of American journalist TD Allman who once said,

Genuinely objective journalism’ is that which ‘not only gets the facts right, it gets the meaning of events right. Objective journalism is compelling not only today. It stands the test of time. It is validated not only by “reliable sources” but by the unfolding of history. It is reporting that which not only seems right the day it is published. It is journalism that ten, twenty, fifty years after the fact still holds up a true and intelligent mirror to events.  (My emphasis).1

That says it all in a nutshell. Those words should be the guiding principle of a new public information service, and engraved on the hearts of everyone who works there – but perhaps add the word “humane” to the type of mirror we use.

During a recent BBC “news” bulletin the presenter was talking to a couple of politicians about Brexit. He asked one of them if he thought that voters had properly understood the issues involved before they voted. The politician waffled and never answered the question. The answer was, of course, no they didn’t, and still don’t.

A couple of days later, the same BBC newsreader said the programme would be discussing the subject of “fake news”, and asking whether viewers would recognise fake news if they saw it. The answer once again is, in the main, no they wouldn’t. The question was related to the supposed influence of the Russian government in the election of Donald Trump, and the Brexit result. The “news” item focussed on information obtained mainly through social media – especially twitter feeds – and never went anywhere near the far more important role of mainstream news providers. It was actually a little gem of fake news in its own right.

Although the misinformation and outright lies of most of the mainstream media are frequently infuriating to endure, I wouldn’t support any move to silence them – because we don’t need to. What we do need is a properly-funded, properly effective public information service.

  1. Hidden Agendas, John Pilger, p. 525.

How will US Jerusalem Move Affect Israel’s Far Right?

Sun, 2017-12-10 21:46

Donald Trump’s recognition this week of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, overturning seven decades of US policy in the region and effectively ending hopes of a two-state solution, has provoked dire warnings.

But the focus by commentators on Palestinian reactions, rather than the effect on the Israeli public and leadership, might have underestimated the longer-term fallout from Trump’s move, analysts say.

Predictions have included the threat of renewed violence – even an uprising – from Palestinians; the possible collapse of the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinians’ government-in-waiting, and its diplomatic strategy for two states; and the demise of Washington’s claim to be serving as a credible peacemaker.

But according to analysts, more far-reaching – and disruptive – undercurrents will likely be set in motion by Trump’s decision.

Few have factored in the likely effect of Trump’s new Jerusalem policy on the Israeli public, which has been shifting steadily to the right for most of the past two decades. The city and its contested holy sites have gained an increasingly powerful religious and national symbolism for many Israeli Jews.

The fear is that Trump’s effective rubber-stamping of the right’s political goals in Jerusalem will further radicalise both sides of the divide – and accelerate processes that have been turning a long-standing national conflict into a more openly religious one.

‘Tipping point’

“We may remember this date as the tipping point, as the moment when a new consensus emerged in Israel behind the idea of total Jewish supremacy,” journalist David Sheen, an expert on Israel’s far-right movements, told Al Jazeera.

Similar concerns were expressed by Yousef Jabareen, a Palestinian member of Israel’s parliament.

“We can expect to see a move rightwards across Israeli society,” he told Al Jazeera. “The centre-left parties were already tacking much closer to the right. They will now want to align themselves with Trump’s position. Meanwhile, the right will be encouraged to move to the extreme right.”

Both noted that Avi Gabbay – the recently elected leader of the Zionist Union, the official opposition and the party that was once the backbone of the Israeli peace camp – had begun espousing positions little different from those of right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Last week, Gabbay backed Trump’s announcement, saying that recognition of Jerusalem was more important than a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Sheen said that traditionally, the centre-left had been restrained in its political positions by concerns about alienating the United States: “Netanyahu has shown that he can bring the US round to his way of thinking by staying the course. In many Israelis’ eyes, he has now been proved right. The centrists may decide it is time to come onboard. Allying with the Republican right and the Christian evangelicals in the US may now look like a much safer bet.”

Settler movement spawned

The possible effects of Trump’s announcement on Israelis have been largely overlooked, even though previous turning points in the conflict have consistently resulted in dramatic lurches rightwards by the Israeli public.

Given Israel’s power over the Palestinians, these changes have played a decisive role in leading to the current impasse between Israel and the Palestinians, analysts note.

Most obviously, Israel’s seemingly “miraculous” victory in the 1967 war, defeating the armies of neighbouring Arab states in six days, unleashed a wave of Messianic Judaism that spawned the settler movement.

A new religious nationalism swept parts of the Israeli public, driving them into the occupied Palestinian territories to claim a supposed Biblical birthright.

Other major events have had a decisive effect too. Unexpectedly, the Oslo peace process, launched in the mid-1990s, persuaded many non-religious Israeli Jews to move into settlements in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, doubling the numbers there in a few years.

Into the far right’s arms

Alan Baker, a legal adviser to the Israeli foreign ministry in that period, explained Israelis’ peculiar reading of the Oslo Accords. In their view, Oslo meant Israel was “present in the territories with their [the Palestinians’] consent and subject to the outcome of negotiations”.

In other words, many Israelis believed that the Oslo process had conferred an international legitimacy on the settlements.

Later, in 2000, after the Camp David summit collapsed without the sides agreeing to a two-state solution, Ehud Barak, Israel’s then-prime minister, blamed Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians. He said they were “no partner” for peace.

As a result, Israelis deserted the peace camp and drifted into the arms of the right and far-right. Netanyahu has reaped the benefits, leading a series of ultra-nationalist governments since 2009.

Now Trump’s decision on Jerusalem effectively gives Washington’s blessing to Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem and five decades of creating facts on the ground there, said Jabareen.

“Trump has legitimised the far-right’s argument that Israel can control all of Jerusalem by sheer force, by denying Palestinians their rights and by creating facts on the ground,” he said.

Demands for annexation

With their policy of aggressive unilateralism now paying dividends in the US, the settlers and the ultra-nationalists were unlikely to be satisfied with that success alone, he added. “The danger is that the religious right’s narrative will now seem persuasive at other sites in the occupied territories they demand, such as Hebron and Nablus.”

Since Trump’s election a year ago, Naftali Bennett, the Israeli education minister and the leader of the main settler party, has begun calling for Israel to seize the opportunity to annex West Bank settlements.

Pressure is likely now to mount rapidly on Netanyahu to shift even further to the right.

On the 972 website, Noam Sheizaf, an Israeli analyst, observed that Trump’s declaration had boosted the settlers’ position that “in the long run ‘facts on the ground’ are more important than diplomacy and politics, and that Israel will eventually win legitimacy for its actions”.

Effects in Jerusalem

The most immediate effects, according to Ir Amim, an IsraeIi human rights organisation, will be felt in Jerusalem itself. Government ministers have already drafted legislation to bring large West Bank settlements under Jerusalem’s municipal authority, as a way covertly to annex them.

There are also plans to strip large numbers of Palestinians of their Israeli-issued Jerusalem residency papers because they live outside the separation wall Israel built through the city more than a decade ago. That would cement a new, unassailable right-wing Jewish majority in Jerusalem.

Last week, Ir Amim warned in a statement that Trump’s move would be certain to “embolden” such actions by the Israeli right and provide a “tailwind” to those determined to pre-empt a two-state solution.

Assad Ghanem, a politics professor at Haifa University, told Al Jazeera: “Trump has given a legitimacy to the right’s Messianic agenda. He has adopted the language of the extreme right on Jerusalem – that it is Israel’s eternal, united capital. The far-right will declare this a victory.”

In parallel, Trump’s seal of approval for Israel’s takeover of Jerusalem is likely to intensify the city’s religious symbolism for Jews – and the importance of Israeli sovereignty over al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Ghanem noted.

Temple movements

In recent years, a growing number of rabbis have been overturning a centuries-old consensus that al-Aqsa compound is off-limits to Jews because it was not known where the ruins of an earlier Jewish temple lay. In Jewish tradition, it is forbidden to walk over an inner sanctum, known as the Holy of Holies.

Today, Jews regularly enter the compound and some even pray there. Settler rabbis and far-right government ministers have called for dividing the compound between Israelis and Palestinians, creating huge tensions with Palestinians.

Meanwhile, a once-fringe movement of Jewish supporters who wish to destroy the mosque to rebuild the ancient Jewish temple in its place, are gradually moving into the mainstream. Trump’s move will be a shot in the arm to their ambitions and their credibility, said Sheen, who has studied the temple movements.

He pointed out that immediately after Trump’s declaration, these groups had uploaded a cartoon of Trump standing in al-Aqsa compound, in front of the golden-topped Dome of the Rock, imagining the Jewish temple in its place. Trump is shown saying in Hebrew: “This is the perfect spot!”

Sheen said: “This will be treated as a call to arms by these groups.”

New tools of resistance

Will the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital have similarly dramatic long-term effect on Palestinian public opinion? Analysts believe it will. The lack of an outpouring of significant anger – even after Palestinian leaders called for three days of rage last week – could be deceptive.

Israeli analysts have suggested that there is often what they term an “incubation period” – a delay between a major change in Israel’s favour and a popular reaction from Palestinians. That was true of the second Intifada, which came months after the collapse of the Camp David summit.

An expectation of knee-jerk anger to Trump’s decision may be misplaced, say analysts. The decision may result in a slower and much deeper process of adjustment to the new reality.

“Palestinians will now have to abandon the old tools of national struggle, because they have been shown to be ineffective. We need new tools of resistance, and that will require a grassroots struggle. We need a return to mass protests,” Jabareen said.

Ghanem noted the danger that, with the likely growth of a Jewish religious extremism in Israel and among the settlers, some Palestinians might drift towards violence.

But he expected that a more significant trend would be Palestinians reassessing the end goal of their struggle and opting for mass civil disobedience.

“The two-state solution is obviously now finished, and that is likely to mobilise a new generation to struggle for a single state,” he said. “Activists and the leadership will need to rebuild Palestinian nationalism.”

• First published in Al Jazeera

An Afghan Year: My Road from Soldier to Socialism

Sun, 2017-12-10 21:24

Hell is everything that Christian mythology paints it as. Hell is pain, death, suffering, bleakness, and fire. But it isn’t some mystical dimension where rapists and Hitler are suffering for eternity. Hell is right here on earth, war is hell; it’s not made to punish evil people, it’s made by evil people and it’s the innocent who suffer. It’s children, parents, brothers, sisters, people just trying to live their lives, all being tortured and killed, brutalized and raped. The innocent are the ones left weeping while the evil ones reap rewards. War is indeed hell in ways that no one can understand unless they’ve seen it. I have not been to hell, but I could see it from where I stood.

Welcome to Kandahar

I joined the National Guard to pay for college. I didn’t really think of the consequences at the time. After all: I’m an American, I was raised to worship my country and adore the military, and I did. Receiving a college education seemed like fair payment for “service to my country.” But that whole illusion of patriotism and “American exceptionalism” began to break down the moment I found myself stepping off an AC-17 into the blinding sun of Kandahar, Afghanistan, in the spring of 2012.

It was surreal, like living inside the beginning of a war movie. But unlike all those movies where the grizzled veterans jeered at the new arrivals, everyone just ignored us as we walked down the tarmac to the building where we would receive our briefing. It was also loud, beyond what I had expected. There was an absolutely constant roar of aircraft taking off, landing, being run-up for maintenance. Aircraft of every size, purpose, and origin, were there. They told us later that Kandahar Airfield, or KAF as it is “affectionately” called, is the busiest airport in the world. I can certainly believe it. The roar was so deafening, so constant, that there was no escaping it. Not during the day, not when you tried to sleep at night. It was the first constant companion I was introduced to, and it started to wear me down in just the first few days.

Once inside a small domed building, the civilian contractor gave his “welcome to Kandahar” brief, of which I paid zero attention. I was too busy looking at the building I was sitting in. It was ancient, and apparently it was a madrasa (Muslim school) before the U.S. occupation of the airfield. It was also the last-stand of the Taliban in Kandahar, and was riddled with bullet-holes. After the briefing, we all shuffled out into the street and waited for the buses that would take us to our RLB’s (Ready to Live Barracks.) It was at this moment I was introduced to the second constant companion that everyone is stuck with in Afghanistan: dust. And I mean DUST. There is no dirt. It’s talcum powder. It just hangs in the air, sticks to your everything, and forces you to breath it all the time. I also realized as I stood next to the dust bowl they called a street, that KAF is a city, not a base. Most of the buildings are simple plywood, and there really isn’t any order to most of them. The streets are mostly unpaved dusty roads, but it is still a city nonetheless.

The runway is almost 2 miles long, and the area from one row of hangers on the north side of the runway to the row on the south side is almost half a mile wide. All that was just the operations area of the base. The south side of the base was all housing and the DEFAC’s (dining facility). It had an area they call the boardwalk, which had shops and restaurants run by both locals and contractors alike. The base even had its own water purification and bottling plant, also operated by contractors working for the company KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton. I would see a lot of this company during the next year.

On our way to our RLB’s we passed the “poo-pond.” It’s exactly what it sounds like: a huge pond of human waste, sitting out in the heat right in the middle of the base. Despite its scale and its age, KAF still didn’t have a more sanitary way to dispose of sewage. KAF still hadn’t caught up with the l9th century in this regard. It smells as nice as it sounds.

After rolling around in the buses (crappy ten passenger vans with 20 people shoved in them) for a half hour, we finally arrived at the RLB’s. These “Ready to Live Barracks” would be our “homes” for the next year. They are shipping containers that have been cut in half and stacked like an apartment building. On the open end they put a door and a window. They were designed to house two people, and we would be living in them 3 per unit. We unloaded our bags and moved into our units. The rest of the day was spent aimlessly walking around the base. It was strange, like standing in the eye of a hurricane. But it was the last calm day we would experience.

Blood on the rocks

About a month in we had our first rocket attack. A sudden boom and then a mushroom cloud in the south part of the base. Frankly I had expected more. Looking back on it now, I should have been terrified. Normally you don’t have fiery death-tubes lobbed at you. But the locals had no way to aim them, and I never heard of anyone being killed by one on KAF. The sirens would go off and we were supposed to run to the bunker to hide until the all-clear was sounded, but we never did. Instead we usually ignored it if we could, and stayed where we were to “watch the show” if we couldn’t ignore it. One morning we were attacked pretty badly just as I was getting up, but I wasn’t having any of it. I had a routine, and this routine was everything to me, it kept me sane. I was going to have my shower and coffee made with my french press, even if it killed me. While I was in the shower I felt the whole stack of RLB’s shake. I didn’t hear the rocket roar overhead above the sound of my shower, but a couple of the other guys did, and it shook them up pretty badly.

A rocket had managed to strike just a few yards from where I was standing in the shower. It struck a metal container and sent shrapnel flying all over the place. Apparently it shook the DEFAC pretty good, ruining everyone’s breakfast. When I felt it explode, I chuckled a little bit at the thought of it killing me in the shower: “He made the ultimate sacrifice, naked and wet.” I’m not trying to paint myself as brave, I’m not brave. I was fearless. Fearlessness isn’t a virtue, bravery is. Bravery is doing what you know needs done, despite your fears. Fearlessness is just a lack of fear. Fearless people are those who just don’t care anymore. Fearlessness is a kind of depression, a mental illness.

The American response to these attacks always seemed a bit ridiculous. The Apache attack helicopters, that circled KAF at all times, would descend and kill everything in the vicinity of where the rocket was launched. It was like watching someone kill mosquitoes with a shotgun. They often did this before the rocket even struck. They had some kind of tracking system that could tell where the rocket came from before it hit. And they could respond faster than the rocket traveled. Of course, usually the rockets were on some kind of timer, and the people who set them up were long gone by the time they actually launched. But they didn’t always set them up in an empty field. Often they launched them near houses, in a place where they knew people would be. All to ensure that innocent people died.

Noises like this were constant. You could always hear gunfire in the distance, it was like thunder that never stopped. Like natural thunder, the thunder of man heralded a storm. But that storm was one of fire, metal, and death. That storm never stopped. Not for the time of day, nor the change of season. It was constant. And it swirled all around me. I couldn’t escape it.

My job on KAF was to supervise a squad of CH-47D mechanics during daytime operation hours. It was a fast, chaotic and sometimes painfully boring job. During the first few months in the summer though, it was nonstop chaos. It was the height of the fighting season, and we were running a lot of missions in extreme weather and dust. This caused all kinds of problems with the aircraft, especially the engines. I lost count of how many we changed, but I know that we were up to doing two a day. All the other units that worked around us were just as busy. The air force parajumpers (PJ’s for short) were flying non-stop to rescue downed pilots and other people injured in battle. The regular medevacs were doing the same. They both would land on the rocks next to the tarmac to wash the blood out of their aircraft with fire-hoses. I watched them with a morbid fascination, and I could see the red waterful wash out of the opposite side of the aircraft. This would happen every day, all day, for months. The rocks were permanently stained a dark red in that spot.

The Undead

The summer was a blur. I honestly do not remember much beyond the fact that I was tired and stressed the whole time. However, in the fall it got boring. As the weather got colder, the fighting died down. It was most boring while the aircraft were out on missions. We had 13 aircraft, but only 3 or 4 would be used for missions in a day. This was necessary during the summer because they were being pushed so hard that if they weren’t on a mission they needed maintenance. But now everything was slower, the missions were shorter, so there was much less to do. We had almost nothing to do for the several hours the aircraft were out on missions. This was the most difficult time. During the summer I could just focus on my work. There wasn’t time for anything else. But in the fall I had hours each day where I had nothing to focus on but my own thoughts, and those were not pleasant thoughts.

Our pace may have been slower in the fall, but the war still raged all around us. The heat was still there, the noise of war still thundered, the dust was still choking. It all slowly ate my mind. But the worst part was what I was slowly being forced to accept: everything I had believed in my whole life was a lie. I had always been a patriotic American. I believed we weren’t perfect but that we were “the good guys.” I truly believed that the Afghans wanted us there, that we were protecting and helping them. But now, as I saw the war around me, and why it was being fought, as well as the inhuman attitude towards even the Afghan civilians that my fellow soldiers had, I couldn’t keep believing this lie.

There was no greater example of the lie than the contractors who were there. It was these contractors that first started to hammar cracks in the walls of my mind built by this system. I came to find out that they outnumbered military personnel ten to one. And all of them were doing jobs that they still train and deploy the military to do. But our system doesn’t allow direct investment in the military, they have to invest in companies. So the government gives multi-million dollar, even billion-dollar contracts to these companies which perform tasks that the military is still capable of doing, but for quadruple the cost. The politicians who awarded the contract now have a safe investment, because they know exactly how much the contractor is going to make since those same politicians are the ones who gave them that money in the first place, straight out of government funds. The roads: built by KBR contractors. The food: cooked and distributed by KBR contractors. Our laundry: washed by KBR contractors. All despite the fact that the military still trains and deploys construction engineers, cooks, and even laundry personnel (or they could have just given us a washing machine and let us do it ourselves). But none of those military personnel doing these jobs can be used to make money for a capitalist. I wrote a Facebook post at that time that explained how I now believed capitalism was heartless. I hadn’t read a single word from any socialist literature at that point. I had come to that conclusion purely based on what I had seen.

Every time a gunfight broke out in the distance, every time an Apache descended to kill “mosquitoes,” every time the base security apathetically fired their weapons beyond the fence, and every time I saw contractors doing the job that there were already military personnel there to perform, another crack formed in the wall that shielded my comfortable false narrative from the reality of the world.

I took pictures of everything because I wanted to find some kind of beauty in that place. And it was there if you looked hard enough. More often than not, though, it was a sort of dark beauty, like the art that was painted on all of the bunkers around the base. Some of it was just pretty pictures, but most of it was anti-authority stencils or graffiti. The sunsets were also amazing, but always marred by helicopters. I really enjoyed watching the farmers outside the fence, who grew watermelons – of all things. I took pictures of all that, and it gave me some relief. It reminded me that there was still a world out there where people were just living their lives, where people weren’t using death to make themselves rich, a world where blood wasn’t being washed out of helicopters with fire hoses.

One time, as we were riding back to the RLB’s in those crappy little vans, we were passing a point along the fence where we always did. Outside this section there was an old Soviet minefield. The U.S. could have removed it, but that cost too much money. What they did instead was to offer a reward to any locals who brought them mines from that field. This was cheaper, and didn’t risk American lives, but it was far more dangerous for the locals than it would have ever been for Americans. The locals had no equipment to detect or remove landmines. Sometimes we would see them working out there at the end of the day as we passed by. But this day there was only one figure out there: a little girl. She couldn’t have been older than 5 or 6, her clothes were rags, and she was covered from head to toe in mud and gore. She raised an arm above her head and stared at us as we drove by. I learned there that the undead are real, but they aren’t walking corpses, just the opposite. Their bodies are very much alive. It’s their souls that have died. Her eyes were hollow and haunting, they were a knife to my heart, and it was the final hammer that brought that wall in my mind down. There in the abyss of her eyes died the last excuse I had to defend what I used to believe. They begged one question at me: “why?” And I had no answer that could defend this system. Capitalism hurt that girl, and the culture that supports it. Greed and the need to increase profits kept that minefield there. I learned in that moment what we all are to Capitalists: a source of wealth, nothing more. And when we cannot give anything more to them, then we are worthless to them. I never took a picture of that girl.

Casualties, Apathy, and The End

A few weeks after that, as we were all smoking inside of a bunker, listened to an old sergeant brag about the moped he had bought from one of the spec-ops guys. He gleefully told the story of how the operator (military slang for special-operations soldier) killed a kid (yes, he said kid) who tried to run away from the operator on that moped. The operator left his body there for his parents to find, and kept the moped as a trophy. Who knows if the kid actually was a terrorist, his only crime was running away. But to them only guilty people run away. The story still makes me want to throw up.

On November 9th, 2012, Spc. Daniel Carlson, a blond haired 2l year old kid who worked in the parts room, put his rifle in his mouth and blew his brains out in his RLB. I had spoken to him no more than a few hours before. He wasn’t someone I knew very well, an acquaintance really, but I did talk to him every day. I had made my job the “parts and tools fetcher” so that my guys could focus on maintenance and didn’t have to run all over the place. SPC Carlson was the only person in that tool room who did their job. Everyone else all but refused to do anything. I don’t know exactly what made him take his own life, but I do know that he had requested emergency leave from his superiors 3 times, and 3 times he was refused because his work ethic “made him too valuable.”

Thanksgiving came, and we were all required to attend dinner at the DFAC for a photo-op, and pretend to be happy patriotic Americans. No one wanted to attend. It really reminded us all of what big tools we were; we were just pawns to make politicians and citizens feel patriotic and supportive of this charade. I hated it most of all, and I scowled right into the camera. All the officers and higher enlisted were smiles from ear to ear. That’s when I learned what a bootlicker really looks like.

By winter the heat suddenly went away. It was replaced by cold and rain showers. The rain pretty much ended most flight missions; there were actually snowstorms in the mountains around us. We kind of coasted our way to January and the end of our deployment. Before I knew it, we flew our last mission, us maintainers posed on the ground as the aircraft took off in the background of the picture. After that, we broke down our aircraft for transport back to the U.S. Then we climbed aboard a C-17 headed for Kyrgyzstan, and eventually the U.S.

I sat on that plane in the dark morning and did what I had fantasized about for a year: I took off my helmet, took out my beat up clunky ipod, closed my eyes and listened to “violence and variations” by Bear McCreary as the plane lifted off and took me away from that place. I had imagined that music as the end of my story, the part of the movie where the credits roll and the audience stretches their legs. But as those promising notes lifted tattered remains of my soul, I knew this wasn’t the end of my story. With all the things I had seen, and all the ways they had changed me, I knew this was just the prologue.

In the morning we landed in Kyrgyzstan. We had been in Afghanistan for only 9 months, not even a year, but no one called it less than a year, it sure felt like even longer. Time is different there, surrounded by all that. It was an Afghan year, and what a year it had been. But all of it was over now, all the things I had taken for granted back home now seemed so alien, and wonderful. There was snow, mountains, and trees: My god, there were TREES. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

I found a secluded grove at one end of the base and just sat in the snow for a long time. The air was clear and cool, there was no dust, no mud, no aircraft exhaust, no rockets, no gunfire, no minefields, no waterfalls of blood being washed out of aircraft, and no hollow eyes of little girls. It was just quiet. Everything just sort of hit me at once, and I cried.

• First published in Planning Beyond Capitalism

The Snare of Escapism

Sun, 2017-12-10 15:23

Many things in modern life have an epicurean appeal, a flare that even the most ascetic among us may be hard done by to resist. While it is certainly true that a contemporary, urbanised life demands much of us, sometimes to the point of inducing breakage, this same life also affords us much time to indulge in activities and offerings that were proscribed to our agrarian forebearers. The homestead, with its round-the-clock duties and chores, akin to the care of an infant that a parent must provide, was no friend to a life of leisure and indulgence. But to the extent that some of us modern humans, presently, take our penchants for self-satisfaction is an overshoot into the territory of decadence and self-harm, unwitting as it may be.

All cultures have their rites, rituals and ceremonies in celebration of things, from the ordinary to the auspicious. One common event among some of the most lasting and prosperous cultures was, and remains, the celebration of the harvest at the end of the growing season. This was a time of merriment and appreciation for the bounty reaped from the collective efforts of all those in the community. Celebrations could include anything from the sharing and distribution of annual crops, the sharing of fermented drinks, folk dance, theatre and song, and fireworks displays. When one considers the many arduous forms of work involved in farming, it only makes sense that people would rejoice at its end-stage.

Juxtapose this rustic lifestyle to the modern work week — with its oft life-force pilfering stresses — and you can, perhaps with little cajoling, begin to see that although the modern version allows for a more variegated selection of activities, hobbies, and experiences, it also happens to be more fractionated, more extreme. For those beholden to drab forms of work in order to make ends meet, the end of the work day, or more gratifyingly the end of the work week signals the end of growing season, and the arrival of the proverbial harvest. Celebrations abound, the throngs of drone-like worker bees shed their workday skins, and rebirth themselves into the attire, and attitude, of enjoyment and entertainment. Although this mass transition may appear, at least ostensibly, to be similar to the metamorphosis that would occur during an agrarian harvest festival, there is a crucial difference. The former version was a genuine celebration of life’s work, a ceremonious collective tribute to the importance of work performed in support of an enduring life. The modern, metropolitan version, conversely, is a distraction from the drudgery of life; an escapist endeavour.

These seemingly dichotomous scenes are not without overlap. One could easily reason that there were (and still are) escapist activities in more traditional societies, and even more certainly in ancient civilisations. Take, for instance, the Piraha people of the Brazilian interior. A hierarchical, hunter-gatherer society, the Piraha forage for nuts and seeds, and barter for canoes that aid them in fishing. Understandably, these are a people who do not really have the free-time for gratuitous recreation. While the Piraha generally do not pursue it, they sporadically indulge themselves in the consumption of brew, which they refer to as ‘fire-water.’

In eighteenth century China and India, under the tyranny and repression of the British regency, peasants and noblemen alike would scurry to the seedy opium dens, then a ubiquitous, albeit disreputable, feature of the neighbourhood, comparable in banality to a Starbucks; perhaps, also, similar in the manner in which the common angst is quelled by the preparations offered by both. The opiate induced voyages undertaken by its patrons were undoubtedly a means of transient escape from the destitution of indigence or aristocratic mundaneness.

In the ancient Roman empire, entire crowds of imperial subjects and the less numerable nobility who ruled over them would flock, or be carried, to the Colosseum to be entertained by the sunder of prisoners and slaves (really, one and the same). If you’ve ever spectated a semi-pro hockey league game, a similar sort of thrill has likely, seductively, revealed itself to you.

And it requires very little in the way of an exposition to see that the local watering hole has been a feature enduring for time immemorial, surviving the booms and busts — in fact, invariably booming during a bust — of various civilisations, ancient and modern.

New day, old world.

What is the common thread that weaves itself through all these unique, often disparate, scenarios? Iniquities in their social, moral, and spiritual forms are a source of resentment, which, if left to fester can egress disastrously.

Mental illness has always been a platitude in civilisation, and at probably no time since its emergence approximately ten thousand years prior has this been more apparent. A far cry from the medieval-era witch hunts that immolated innumerable helpless victims suffering from various mental diseases, our modern psychiatric institutions have taken a more enlightened approach to evaluation and treatment. Our post-industrial, technological feats coupled with the advent of petrochemical potions have provided us with such marvels as ECT (electroconvulsive therapy), trans-cranial lobotomies, and suicide-inducing psychotropic medications. Yet, evidently, mental illness is a worsening sprawl within the industrialised, civilised world. I know what you’re thinking, and no, this increase isn’t simply a result of a widening array of diagnoses and diagnostic criteria, as purveyed by that manifesto of mental afflictions, the DSM.

What is always witnessed and seldom decried time and again, is that concomitant with the arrival and spread of civilisation is the burgeoning of neuroses and psychoses. Civilisation makes us insane. It kills us degenerately. And as Lierre Keith, in her succinct and splendidly simple manner describes, it also kills off so much more than just our collective human spirit. With the population swell that accompanies civilisation, there is also an invariable spike in hunger. To provide fodder for all those bodies, entire self-sustaining ecosystems must be cleared away to make room for the fecund farmland. But the fertility of our earth, just like that of a human, is not infinite. Farming requires the pillaging of topsoil, and this inevitably produces dry rock that historically could not be farmed. With our contemporary innovations, however, we can transform even the most inhospitable land into a greenhouse. Alternatively, entire forests can be, and are simply logged away or sacrificially set ablaze to accommodate the industrial mega farms that feed us. The marauding of the earth is a grim allegory for how our spirits are culled as we refine ourselves into advanced beings.

There are those who will argue that illness alleviating measures are needed in order for a modern society to endure. With the advancing of our technology, our ailments also advance. This latter advancement, however, serves as a gauge of just how morbid our developed societies and individual lives truly are. Dr. Weston A. Price in his book Nutrition and physical degeneration showed us that the most industrialised, civilised societies are also the most sickly, both physically and psychically. When you’ve been so far removed from how you evolved (or were created) to live and function, you may certainly adapt, but those adaptations come at a cost. That cost is the acquiescence of our holistic agency and sovereignty. We become the wards of the very systems and structures that rule over and ensnare us. It’s these very same institutions that then instruct us on how to remediate and resolve our challenges, both the diagnosed and the obscure.

Create the problem, control the response, offer up the solution. This Hegelian dialectic seems to be the only self-sustaining element of the civilised world. All else appears ephemeral.

What if there were a Zen-like middle path, a roadway that allowed one to be able to take mini-trips away from a bleak or stressful reality, without a full-scale departure, but with an enriching yield? Terence McKenna was a biologist and researcher who studied and took Ayahuasca, the Amazonian psychedelic used ceremoniously by native shamans. Through his experimentation, both personal and empirical, he came to regard Ayahuasca and other psychedelics (especially psilocybin fungi, or magic mushrooms), as especially salubrious for humans. These substances not only tipped, towards a spiritually enriching tilt, the psychic states of people, but were also responsible for their advent in the evolutionary timeline. In other words, drugs made us humans who we are today. Without them, we may never have developed the colossal cognitive and even physical faculties we possess.

It’s both placating and motivating to think that psychedelic substances, at least the natural ones, may have played the critical role in the watershed of our evolutionary history. It’s heart-wrenching, however, to think that we may be squandering nature’s bounty, and our own relationships to it by misusing it to drown out our civilisational grievances.

Escapism, both in the long and short ranges, is a disservice to most. It disempowers and distracts us. Whether by amassing ourselves in the pews of affluent ministries, congregating in dives, staring into a screen that programs us, or using recreational drugs masochistically, we do ourselves no favours by way of self-awareness and shared knowledge. What we do, on the contrary, is siphon off our power to the already mega-powerful. This, by definition, is servitude. Disservice to self and our kin, and service to and for the master-class. In the end, we haven’t escaped anything; we’ve only entrapped ourselves ever deeper.

There may certainly come a time when we, both as individuals and as a collective, become roused from our trance-like lull, and reclaim and restore our natural inheritances. But until then we, sapien homo, will continue to take to remedying our maladies in all manners of action and inaction. It starts with a thought. The next time you’re thinking of binging on a Netflix series, or a bag of chips, or both together, or of blowing a car payment’s worth of cash on a night of alcohol/drug induced stupor, think also about who you’re serving.

Remember the Balkans?

Sun, 2017-12-10 15:10

“The Balkans” – this notion that signifies more a state of mind than geographic location, usually derisively associated with powder kegs, ancient hatreds and “Asiatic” primitivism “in the heart of Europe” – has long ceased to occupy the headline pole position of the Clinton era. Used since the 1990s mostly as code for the violent dissolution of former Yugoslavia and the various spillover effects regionally and beyond – the term and its theme have been since displaced by waves of other real (and some imaginary) news, only occasionally to briefly flash back through mainstream Western media. The recent flare with the final verdicts of the Hague tribunal (ICTY) – replete with the almost ritual hara-kiri of a convicted Croatian general in open court – is no different, as it will quickly fade back into apparent oblivion. However, this is a good opportunity to bring up some of the many lessons and occasional pointers still relevant today.

To clarify – this is not a requiem for the Hague kangaroo court, as many measured reviews of the subject have been done to date. Let’s simply summarize that this caricature of the Nurenberg war tribunal has failed miserably in its purported main goals of bringing truth, justice and reconciliation to an area in dire need of it, along with a greater accountability in world affairs. Quite the contrary: its glaring political dependence, selective local justice and, above all, complete blindness to any outside culpability – all have considerably set back these necessary processes. They will simply have to wait for some more dispassionate – and more autochtonous – vehicle for the dispensation of real justice. Likewise, a critical analysis of the South Slav national project – and specifically, of the post-WW II socialist, nonaligned Yugoslavia – is beyond the scope of this short note. Suffice it to say that this was a country of some relevance, warranting careful study that eschews glib and summary pronouncements. So, the main focus here is to briefly explore a couple of key issues going forward.

At first it is hard to see much hope in the post-Yugoslav wasteland: a familiar picture of dysfuntional banana-republics with corrupt quasi-democratically elected governments (fiercely nationalist locally, pliably globalist beyond), botched privatizations, plundered public assets, brain-drain exodus, rampant unemployment, torn safety nets…  Although Serbia fits well this general mold, there are important differences. Specifically, there is resistance to joining the EU – certainly on the demeaning terms of territorial dismemberment currently proposed, but increasingly in general as well – along with almost universal aversion to entering NATO, a declared military neutrality with refusal to participate in the anti-Russian sanctions regime, and an increasing openness to economic partnerships and investments from China, Russia, Gulf states etc. These are not policies that the Serbian power structure can abandon easily, regardless of outside pressure or its neighborhood with virtually universal membership (or aspiration) to both the EU and NATO, with Western-sponsored propaganda ceaselessly implying that resistance is futile: “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”. Many suspect that they would if they could – numerous WikiLeaks dispatches show regular promises made to US/EU interlocutors to that effect — except for the amorphous but ominous pressure of the Serbian body politic.

In many ways, this might appear paradoxical. In the aftermath of the wars, sanctions and international ostracism — followed by a disappointing “transition” and copiously aided in all that by Western propaganda outlets — the Serbian body politic at large has become mostly dispirited and apathetic. The collapse of the larger country at the dawn of the New World Order was never properly fathomed, the response mostly reactive and ambivalent, the disappointment of apparently lost (both shooting and information) wars quite thorough. An objectively most honorable collective history for much of the 19th-20th centuries gave way to bitter feelings of resentment, self-doubt and insularity.

Nonetheless, the Washington-Brussels-Berlin axis somehow failed to secure the needed coup de grace, with the requirement of Serbia formally abandoning its occupied Kosovo province in exchange for further EU accession steps never materializing – despite the fact that every Serbian government since 2000 has been anointed (if not effectively appointed) by Washington.  However, these politicians — and, in particular, the currently well-entrenched government of the (grossly misnomered) SNS Progressive Party — are generally well aware of the local “red lines” whose crossing could easily lead to loss of  the driving seat and associated privileges (not to mention some more vital values). Relatively calcified over the years, this state of affairs is unlikely to change without major shifts.

There have certainly been many objective outside factors from our century that may have contributed to this: from the 9/11/01 attacks, to the ensuing US-led military misadventures in Asia, the Great Recession, the irrevocable demise of the EU project (in its current form), refugee crises, the rebound of Russia and rise of China – to name but a few. Nevertheless, this is not an accident — there is a deeper historical logic to it all, in some ways related to the genesis of Yugoslavia itself — that might help explain it better (with possible elaboration to be left for another time).

The movement behind this process is admittedly messy — mostly intuitive, heterogenous and spontaneous. It lacks a real “vanguard”, claiming only token representation in the national parliament, with any attempts at better articulation and organization facing forceful discreditation methods by the government and its captive media. It frequently seems flirting dangerously close to the fringes of retrogressive movements that are no different than various chauvinistic counterparts regionally and in much of Europe. It often appears unaware of its natural allies in a broader struggle. Nonetheless — and this is important to understand — there is a real and progressive element here that must not be discounted. The reality is that the pulse of this broadly understood Serbian public opinion has, willy-nilly, informed key elements of its government’s policy for some time now, and remains the bulwark precluding this last East European domino to fall in line with basic imperial precepts. And while their exploits hardly make Western media headlines, the constant stream of sundry Eurocrat commissars and ministers, along with plenipotentiary DC apparatchiks — visiting Belgrade with various carrot and stick combinations — is pretty conspicuous and just as clearly indicates their staunch interest in addressing the issue on their terms.

The Serbian body politic was the backbone of a functional and prosperous Balkan federation once before, and it has the potential to be a catalyst for positive and unifying processes again. Of course, for this resistance to yield any broader anti-imperial fruit, a few more dots need be connected.  Likewise, there should be no illusions of this being an easy or straightforward process. For starters, some of the painful but required regional truth and justice issues from the opening paragraph are still ahead, and the many salutary lessons from Yugoslavia’s collapse will have to be understood better. Furthermore, a currently missing realization of the real common goals with other regional forces — for example, the Greek Left, most certainly including its KKE Communist Party — will have to emerge. However, the stakes are simply too high for this not to be attempted in earnest, loudly barking populist ruling regimes notwithstanding. The disillusionment among the masses in the rest of the Balkans is too high not to be harnessed. And history has repeatedly shown that once the globalist neoliberal “prosperity lifting all boats” narrative runs its local course, the choices become rather stark: either a nationally-aware but internationally-oriented progressive coalition, or the scourge of xenophobic reactionary demagoguery. Let’s hope for the former, with the metaphor of the Balkan Sprachbund prevailing over its derogatory tinderbox alternatives.

A Delicate Disentanglement

Sun, 2017-12-10 11:04

She rose up out of the Autumn leaves,
swiping cobwebs from her hair and face.
Yawned thrice, shuddering like
‘Someone Had Just Walked Over Her Grave’
and looked around with wide eyes
which were regaining their colour and sparkle.
Physically ‘Stuck’ for months,
she had travelled acres inside,
traversing rocky terrain and cavern bottom.
Look, a magpie…
squinting slightly, she half-smiled,
it was so nice to be focusing
upon something other than herself for a change.
The Woods-edge brought the Light back in,
as she baby-stepped out into the rolling meadow.
A church bell in the distance,
signalled late afternoon…
and stepping towards its homely sound,
she noticed blackberries bursting ripe
in amongst the ancient, thorny hedgerow,
and was so very glad indeed
to be back walking into the land of the ‘Living’

journeys we start

Sun, 2017-12-10 11:03

poetry is badly written prose
when sentences fail
and our dreams compose
the spaces between the dark
and silence
in a language
we have yet to learn
the first steps
in a childhood dance
where words
step on others’ toes
by chance
No orchestra plays
But birds stretch
their wings
candles flicker
and hearts would sing
a feather falls
beneath their feet
and ink drops
mark the place
where they meet.

The Turn of Stoicism

Sun, 2017-12-10 11:02

The consent of the majority impedes the winter morning
‘You’ve lost that loving feeling’ plays, and I am angry.

Here is the December march put to bed
This years war planning; the soldier looks to the new year.

You do not need to vocalise this, yet I have of late
I see presents and trees in a thousand homes;
There will be that few left out there.

When we were young they did set the stars by us

The general from the US calls

‘What is my fate?’ an unwanted politician needs to ask me
And I listen
To the radio.

Articles I tried to read
Truth and poetry the tide suggests we can get closer to.
But the tide is static on the army’s line;
These are considerations friends

Later I will lose myself in religion if you approve
And laugh in friendship about how much your diet means
to you.

For instance did you know Buck Mulligan is on the street?

For those not currently active, you will not know what my
smile means

I meant to say, I put him there
Because of the weather.

Church beckons at 5:45. I know the republicans to be
around the serpent

Do you pray too?

I do often these days. Mostly for those in construction of a
new world.

This turns my heart.

Spring, growing, ice; where is your fire?

Lesson

Sun, 2017-12-10 11:02

Troop of monkeys
Barged into our house
Rampaging tables and chairs
Throwing out pictures
Dancing on beds
Preying on fruits and vegetables
Meticulously stored in refrigerator
Hidden in a room interior

Leaving with the booty
Causing catastrophe
They seem to convey
In a symbolic way

How we humans
Supposed to be their descendants
Are destroying forests
And natural resources
Leaving the wild animals
Clueless and homeless
In utter distress
To commit offences

We are denigrating nature
And finishing every creature

Monkeys disturb human habitat
But humans disrupt whole environment
Pollute climate

Watching The River Freeze

Sun, 2017-12-10 11:02

Just how are you supposed to respond
when you watch a revolution die?
How do you not become a hardened cynic,
or bleed away into rusty apathy,
crushed under the thumb of the oligarchs?
All lofty idealism I had has turned to despair,
as I watch these shameless rich
try to sell us on their false morals
and pretend that they aren’t all corrupt.
When the river freezes over, do the fish beneath perish?
A voice in the wilderness guides this lost wanderer.
It speaks; its voice restores true north
to this confused compass.
What winds can blow, rage on.
Do not be afraid.
Fear lets false prophets and salesmen control you,
takes away your liberty.
Face this sad world with compassion,
turn your dark eyes toward the desolate,
and fear not poverty, suffering or death,
for these come for us all.
Do not hide in the cult of youth and pray never to feel old.
Instead, seek that which unites us, binds us, makes us one.
Trade greed for love, and let justice, true justice, of the earth itself, be done.

A Young Plant at Khyber Pass

Sun, 2017-12-10 11:02

Be they a hundred years old,
patriarchs of conquest cold
nodding on thrones of porphyry,
never have they seen, like Mehri at ten,
what she had witnessed then,

When metallic brutes of prey
stole her father’s breathing dear,
bedimming the daylight’s way,
bloodying her beauty clear.

In the playground of oligopolies,
of dirty old orders of war which sear small birds still,
ambulant, benumbing hostilities
ravage the biophile ethic of Summerhill.

The loess of bellicosity
in Badsha Khan’s tenacious hills
obscures those archaeologies
which bring forth nobility
through solar, gentle pedagogies.

In a lair as blind as this,
what could she have learnt of
art, and logic, and peace?

 

Broken Arrow

Sun, 2017-12-10 11:02

Did you see them?
The Indians.
Sitting against a wall on St. Mark’s Place,
All those many cold winters.

This street was once a stream, he said.
This island was once our home.
We slept on the big round rocks, hot in the sun,
And the women smiled.
You could fish there and live forever.

Now our hands are always dirty
And will never be clean,
Until the Great Day
When not even the liquor man will look for us.

Now you talk with the hand signals of the hunt.
The rocks are hot in the sun.
The stream flows.
The women smile.
The fish live forever.

Will you buy me a bottle?
They won’t serve me.
They say I stink.
Will you buy me a bottle?
I have the money.

We cross the river of shit.
Are you sure you want it?
I’m sure.

Vines

Sun, 2017-12-10 11:02

Vines attach
their grip
while continuing to
expand in proportion

just as my heart
is set in place
with you
yet still growing

only so
I can learn
how to love you
even more

Vacant Kismet

Sun, 2017-12-10 11:02

My guardian angel hovered over me one night,
In a glowing halo,
Sparkling so bright
That I had to close to my eyes
To be able to discern what He wanted from me!

See you, said He, see you the reality of the world
See you the suffering, the anguish of unlucky souls
See you the chains which bind them to their actions
See you the impositions which have been forced down their throats?

Pray, you live only by swirling to the beats of my tunes
You live merely by seeing up to the tip of the nose
Though you are made of a kind nature
You remain a selfish one, like so many others, like you!
For, of what use is crying over the agonizing souls
If you attempt not in setting them free?

I was then thrust into a cyclic passageway
Which took me to the future
And what I saw scared me!

Salty water lashed out everywhere, as if it raged at being
People, or the few who managed to save themselves,
Sat in despair on a patch of dry land
While, seemingly waiting for the water to rise some more
And to engulf them in its abyss!
Their faces were worn and hunger could be seen in their irises
Diseases could be smelled all over their being,
Making the atmosphere a darkened one
Gloomier than the limits of Hell!

Why, it would seem that their souls were lashing out at them
Regretting having ever wanted to take birth in this weird world!

Pray, wondered I, as I sat up in my bed
What is this world,
Where is the sustainable future that everyone expects to see?

The world, said my guardian angel
Is naught but a huge mess revolving upon itself
The world is trapped in her own fate,
Consequently, she has no means to soothe herself
Other than trapping us along in our own fates
Fates which have been bestowed to us by herself!

My guardian angel hovered over me
In a glowing halo
Sparkling so bright
That I knew right away
That should I ambition to be liberated from my own bondage
I would need to put my hands into serving the world
By helping her take care of her anguishing children!

Sartre and Sewers of Time

Sun, 2017-12-10 11:02

In the sewers of time lie the detritus of humankind. The left-over sediments that smolder or get swamped by the putrid waters or pushed deeper into a hard soil by the stubborn fingers of relentless history marching on, often muddying or reddening the channels running underground the cities.

And they were called out for cleaning the debris and the flotsam. The ghosts that dived in or out of the warrens crisscrossing beneath the City that rose vertically on that network discharging the noxious and the dead into somewhere- someplace.

The shadowy figures were once humans but now zombies stuck up in those hell-holes of the urban centers—unlikely to be recognized for their essential worth or talent in the tech-driven entrepreneurial space, post-modern…until the day one of the task force, low-paid and mocked as low-life of the pyramid of success and enterprise—discovered a fragment in an unlikely place: The Paris of 2017.

What is this? Asked his mates, drenched in the smells and residue of the stinking river full of rats and vapours.

I hate victims who respect their executioners!

They were stunned — the underground army ragtag.
Who is the author?
Well, well, it is a typed line only, a piece discarded and found in this dark place.
They were all impressed, the walking shadows of men, weary-eyed, smelling of cheap liquor and tobacco.
The very dredges of humanity working beneath the streets of the City made up of standard glass menageries with automatons wearing ties.
The message resonated within those damp walls, while the over- ground folks discussed rising stocks.
In the evening, there were riots!
The ghosts had risen!

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